The Predicate

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Monday, 30.01.06

Federer, Anand and more

1. Viswanathan Anand won Corus tournament for the fifth time yesterday. With that win, his ELO rating crosses 2800 for the first time in his career. This is a big moment in Anand's career. Crossing 2800 is a magnificient achievement. I think, over the years Indians have taken Anand and his achievements for granted. We don't appreciate him enough, for what he has done and achieved. He has stayed in the top of the rung for so long now. He is just the fourth person in history to cross 2800. I picture him as the lone Indian against the onslaught of Russian/East-European chess machines, going on and on, year after year, scaling new peaks and constantly improving his game. Since he made it big, Chess became a big fad in India, but the fact that no one has even come close to Anand's stature shows how ahead of the pack he is. That said, I frequently read articles on Anand's tournaments and somehow, PTI and UNI constantly refer him as the "NIIT brand Ambassador". Wonder why. Why do they find it necessary to mention in a chess article that Anand endorses NIIT? Will they refer to Tendulkar everytime as the "Boost promoter"?

2. Roger Federer won the Australian Open and no one batted an eyelid. I missed watching the match live Saturday night. Early Sunday morning, while driving, I was listening to Fox Sports Radio and ESPN, and it took more than half an hour and a couple of sports bulletins before they mentioned in passing that Federer won. I know Tennis is not popular enough, but the lack of coverage and emphasis on Federer's performance was disappointing. Watch out, Federer is on his way to become one of the best Tennis players ever. He has won more titles than other superstars of the game like Becker, Edberg. His win-loss record in each of the past four years is 12-0, 81-4, 74-6 and 78-17.

3. Enough with Jerome Bettis and his homecoming and his parents and all that.

4. I don't really care for who wins the Superbowl. I will probably just catch the highlights of the game instead of sitting through a six hour ad-fest.

5. After pre-season hype and optimism that this will be the year of the Warriors turnaround, it is back to familiar turf. Warriors are losing as usual, Byron Davis & co are not heading to the playoffs, they have a losing record yet again, and talking heads are quickly jumping off the bandwagon. May be next year.. May be with a different coach.. Anyway, I will be going to the Spurs-Warriors game this thursday.

6. Winter Olympics.. huh, whatizzit?

7. On the India-Pakistan series:
a. The series has not been worth the hype.
b. They should ban the use of heavy rollers at each innings break. The pitch yesterday was behaving very differently when Pakistan came to bat. This causes unfair advantage for the home team.
c. There should be a ban on the likes of Moin Khan from writing syndicated articles.
d. Let's skip the ODIs, I can't wait for the India-Eng Tests to start.
e. Gambhir, Jaffer and Parthiv Patel, hope you guys did at least a good amount of sightseeing.
f. Apparently, Shoaib Akthar's action has gone from bad to worse. It is high time chuckers are sent out of the game.
g. Irfan Pathan's first over hat-trick not withstanding, I think he is still a disappointment as a bowler. If Zaheer Khan gets his act right and Balaji gets healthy again, let Pathan stay as a batting allrounder!
h. Yuvraj/Ganguly will have competition from Mohd.Kaif, especially if Kaif leads his team to victory in the Ranji Trophy finals (Kaif scored 92 yesterday against Bengal).

- Balaji.

balaji - pencil 17:14:07 - Sports - pencil permalink - [01.02.06 07:43]

Thursday, 19.01.06

Wacko Dads

Sports has seen more than its fair share of wacko fathers. More nut cases turn up as Dads of famous atheletes. Steffi Graf's father Peter Graf was involved in a scandal with a Playboy model and tax evasion. Be it Gata Kamsky's control-freak father Rustam who announced that Gata Kamsky would leave competitive chess for good to study medicine (because he could make more money as a doctor than as a chess player) or Richard Williams, the father of the Williams sisters, or Jim Pierce, father of Mary Pierce (who used to shout from the stands, "Mary, kill the bitch"), or Mirjana Lukic's dad Marinko who beat up the women in his family, colorful personalities have invaded the sports world with talented kids in tow. For sheer lunacy however, no one comes close to Damir Dokic, the father of tennis star Jelena Dokic.

[read more]

balaji - pencil 00:24:00 - General - pencil permalink -

Tuesday, 17.01.06

Golden Globes

Overall, the Golden Globes were fun. Rachel Weisz looked like she came right out of the next Dracula movie, Scarlett Johannson looked very gorgeous, Reese Witherspoon was in a bad fancy dress competition, Natalie Portman looked more anorexic than ever, George Clooney's wise-ass quip about Jack Abrahmoff came off very well, Ang Lee took himself very seriously, Harrison Ford looked very drunk, I missed seeing the four Sex and the City girls, a few more biopics on singers were ordered after Johnny Cash's pic won big awards (as did 'Ray' last year), Paul Giamatti had his King Kong make-up on and big thumbs down for Melanie Griffith and Geena Davis (is she really that huge?). Now, let's wait for the Oscars.

[read more]

balaji - pencil 15:10:00 - Movies - pencil permalink -

Supreme Court Upholds Oregon Suicide Law

The first big news this morning is that the Supreme Court upheld the Oregon suicide law. More details in yahoo through AP. The law deals with terminally sick people and their right to die with the assistance of a doctor. It is cruel that the doctors should not help end the suffering of patients who would rather end their life than continue to suffer. The law was passed in 1997, but Ashcroft tried to overrule it and impose the federal drug law over it. It is good to see the Supreme Court upheld it and push back the Bush Administration's attempts to intrude in our rights.

As expected, Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented, as did John Roberts, who was appointed by President Bush. As of now, the conservative bench is not in the majority, but expect it to gain more strength if Alito gets on to the Supreme Court.

From the NYTimes article:

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, acknowledged that the long-running battle over the Oregon law is part of a "political and moral debate." But the issue for the court, he noted, was a more technical, down-to-earth one: Did the attorney general go beyond his powers under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970?

Clearly, he did, Justice Kennedy wrote, in an opinion joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. The Controlled Substances Act "gives the attorney general limited powers, to be exercised in specific ways," the court ruled.

Those limited powers, however, do not include the ability to declare illegitimate "a medical standard for care and treatment of patients that is specifically authorized under state law."

In deferring to the will of Oregon lawmakers and voters, the high court majority said Congress had explicitly envisioned a role for the states in regulating controlled substances when it enacted the 1970 law. Nothing in the act allows the attorney general to interpret prescriptions for assisted suicide as "drug abuse," Justice Kennedy wrote.

Moreover, the majority concluded, the language of the 1970 law signals a clear unwillingness to allow medical judgments to be made by an executive official who lacks medical expertise. And the former attorney general's assertion that he was making a legal decision, not a medical one, does not hold up under scrutiny, the justices said.

- Balaji.

balaji - pencil 10:44:08 - Politics - pencil permalink -

Friday, 13.01.06

Indian Real Estate - The Next Big Thing?

Several desis here in the US have started looking at the Indian real estate market as a potential investment opportunity. Here are a couple of articles today at the Indian Economy Blog that talk about the Indian real estate: Real Estate the New IT? , Reality of Indian Realty!.

In Chennai and its surrounding areas, the land value has skyrocketed over the past few years. Agricultural land and dried up lakes are all now budding neighborhoods. This kind of unregulated growth has led to a lot of problems, as the recent rains in Chennai showed. In this context, it will be interesting to see what will happen when mega-malls like Wal-Mart enter the real estate market and gobble up space. Proper city planning, zoning and regulations are needed before the real estate market is opened up to foreign players. It looks like the boom we've seen in residential properties is just a precursor to the jump in commercial/office properties in the future. A statistic like 'Manhattan has more hotel rooms than the whole of India' clearly shows the vast potential in this sector.

Another thing to ponder: Will we finally see properties registered with their full worth with the government during any transaction, or will the value on paper continue to be just a fraction of the real purchase price?

- Balaji.

balaji - pencil 01:48:13 - Indian - pencil permalink - [13.01.06 16:00]

Friday, 06.01.06

My Radio Show on Indian Cricket Team's Pakistan tour

I guest hosted on the show "Its Different" on KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM yesterday. I talked for a bit more than an hour about the upcoming Indian cricket tour to Pakistan. I covered the squads, the selection issues, the Saurav Ganguly angle, what to expect, the matchups, the pre-game hype, trash talks by the players, weather conditions etc. I also talked in detail about the history of India-Pakistan Tests, memorable moments over the years and a perspective on the rivalry in the past. We got a few callers call in (it was from 7.30 am to 8.45 am, so getting anyone to call that early in the morning was a plus).

I also DJ-ed a few songs in between, from 'Rang De Basanti', 'Water' etc. I've left them out in the clips, but if you want to hear the full show with all the songs, go to http://www.itsdiff.com/ .

To listen to the show, click below.

Part I , Part II , Part III (which deals with the history).

- Balaji.

balaji - pencil 01:46:23 - Sports - pencil permalink - [12.01.06 09:04]

Wednesday, 04.01.06

Politicians and Lobbying

A few days back, Aniruddha Bahal (ColdPost.com) exposed the corruption among Indian Members of Parliament. He formed a fictitious organization, got access to the MPs through brokers, paid them bribes and got them to ask those questions in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The questions didn't make any sense, as a cursory examination would have revealed. But, all the MPs cared for was their bribes and they were willing to take up any issue if they were paid adequately. The whole thing was videotaped secretly and was exposed on Television. Images of MPs taking cash flashed all over again and again. The issue quickly grabbed the headlines and the MPs were banned from the Parliament.

Yesterday, once-powerful lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty in federal court to fraud charges. His lobbying tentacles reached far and wide and lots of politicans in Washington had received his money for their campaigns. This political corruption investigation issue is still developing. From the looks of it, more people are likely to fall after Abramoff. Even the white house is quickly trying to distance itself from the case, with President Bush giving up $6,000 in campaign contributions that was linked to Abramoff to charity. The potential impact of this issue on DC might be huge.

Looking at both of these issues from an abstract level, I started thinking about how an ideal and practical democracies would work. A representative needs to represent the people on their issues. He needs to know the pulse of the people and take up their grievances. He needs to then follow up on the Parliament/Senate and try to resolve the issues. Now, practically, how will a representative know what issues to take up? How will a representative know what side to take on issues that he probably has only peripheral knowledge on?

On the other hand, if I have an issue that I need my representative to take up, how will I bring it to his attention? Will simple things like mail/appointments/face-to-face meetings work? If every tom, dick and harry start bombarding their representatives with their issues, what will happen? Things will be lost, there will be no one to hear my issues. So, it looks like lobbying is inevitable in the current setup.

The fine line between lobbying and bribery is very thin. Ideally, Representatives should just hear out the lobbyists and then form their own judgements independently. But, frankly, the Representatives don't have that kind of time or intelligence to take that decision. If I need to push for a bill banning Intelligent design, I would rather have a lobby tell them clearly that Intelligent design needs to be banned, rather than leave it to the Representative to figure it out with his intelligence. Intelligence and taking the right stand on issues are not prerequisites to winning an election.

So, the more I think about, the more it looks like the nexus between lobbies and politicians cannot be broken easily. The nexus will continue to exist in one form or the other. Big money transactions may be curtailed, but it will be very difficult to establish corruption and it would be easy enough to bypass it and do "soft contributions" to the politicians' coffers.

What do you think? Can a Representative ideally function without a lobby, without someone giving him an incentive to promote an issue, without someone telling him to take a stance on issues that he has little knowledge/wisdom on?

- Balaji.

Update: Looks like the scandal is gathering momentum. President Bush and numerous lawmakers hastily jettisoned campaign donations linked to lobbyist Jack Abramoff on Wednesday as Republican Party officials pondered the impact of a spreading scandal on their 2006 election prospects."You can't have a corrupt lobbyist unless you have a corrupt member (of Congress) or a corrupt staff," former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in a lunchtime speech. "This was a team effort."

balaji - pencil 15:32:45 - Politics - pencil permalink - [01.02.06 02:13]
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