Monday, August 28, 2006

T. J. Simers Talks to The Big Lead

He's a funny man. And he's always rubbing it on the BIG FAT sports egos. Love him, or hate him, he's right there with the wits of Woody Allen albeit in the world of sports.

The guy, officially known as T. J. Simers, is a sports columnist of the Los Angeles Times. The Big Lead did a terrific job interviewing him, although I'd have probed more on Simers' daughter who doesn't get dates. But I guess that's a small matter of taste.

I don't know how the interview was done--whether it was a face to face with a tape+video-recorder or just an exchange of emails, but if there's a video recording, I'd love to see Simers' face when asked "Is Scoop Jackson a hack or just an assclown?" Infact I'd even pay to see it.

Of course, like any other reasonable (do you think by using reasonable and Simers in the same sentence I just committed a felony?) journalist, Simers simply noted that he doesn't read or listen to Scoop to comment on him.

I'm sure there's a good deal of athletes and managers out there who'd love Simers to apply the same standard when it comes to sports.

Labels: ,

Terrorism, Road Accidents and Smoking

Regardless of what you think about the ongoing war on terror, you should check out these articles on terrorism and its impact on our daily lives.

1. Lionel Shriver thinks we should worry more about road safety and smoking, and less about terrorism.

2. Natalie Bennett argues that responses to threats are typically disproportionate and represent irrational use of resources.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Darrell "The Flippin" Hair

Had there been a competition of the most dubious cricket umpire in our lives, Darrell Hair would be a runaway winner. When I say "runaway winner" I mean no one, not even Steve "please ... please slooooooooooooooooowly give the finger a raise" Bucknor would come close.

I agree with the most aggrieved minds who think Bucknor had been brutal recently, and the cricketers from the subcontinent were the worst victims of his reckless decisions. I know some of the wounds are still fresh in our memory, like the one in Kolkata test (coincidentally it was also Bucknor's 100th Test match) when Bucknor adjudged Tendulkar leg before leaving the modern Don of cricket in tears.

If you remember, the ball missed Tendulkar by miles and no one but Abdul Razzaq, the bowler, appealed. Yeah, Bucknor is horrible, but don't forget that the victims of poor cricketing decisions in cases as above have also been the recipient of numerous benefit of doubts. Okay, Tendulkar walks but he's an exception like Adam Gilchrist and Brian Lara while majority of the cricketers don't.

No matter how insane it sounds now, there used to be a time (if you were too young then, ask your dad) when Steve Bucknor was widely respected. People who survived through the golden age of Shakoor Rana and Khizar Hayat would vouch that the mere sight of Bucknor would bring a sigh of relief. Those days are well past us.

Back to Darrell Hair. He's the longest running comedy soap in the cricket fraternity. He's not only ahead of Bucknor in goofing up, he's also the most versatile. Yesterday, the Guardian ran a story on Darrell Hair's long and illustrious bungling history.

The late Shakoor Rana (you are not forgiven if you cannot recall Rana and Gatting working out together) at his peak would have given Hair a run for his money. But Hair beats him by sheer longevity — his vitality is Viagra-esque. Never in the history of cricket an umpire has been so consistently incompetent over a span that extends more than a decade. Unbelievable!

It boggles mind that he continues umpiring at the highest level despite a steady production of tragedy of errors that has only brought disrepute to the game and to everyone concerned. The reason why he's still around despite a stellar resume of screw-ups is because he's as competent as his ICC bosses. For all practical purposes I honestly think there should be a reality TV show where the ICC chief Malcolm Speed would interview Hair. For good fun we can also have all his past victims including Inzamam and Murali in the audience. I know I will be watching.

Once again Hair is at the focal point of a needless fiasco that anyone with an I.Q. of 23 (give or take 5) would have handled like Einstein. Since we have been fed the details to death, I am not going to bore you repeating the same sob story. We know how it began, how it ended, and what went in between, up to five decimal places.

The only poor guy who's caught in the cross fire and has nothing to do with the entire thing is Billy Doctrove, Darrell's on field partner. The guy is from the West Indies (and he might as well be suffering from Bucknor Syndrome) and he's so junior to Hair, he nodded at everything Darrell said. He's going to be remembered for just being there, at the wrong place, wrong time, although his role at best was marginally marginal. I feel bad for him.

The other aspect is that something truly novel happened. Pakistan forfeited the match — the first of its kind in the 129 years of the history of test cricket. Apparently there's not even an iota of evidence supporting Darrell's ridiculous actions — no TV camera catching a footage of ball tampering, despite 26 of them positioned to capture the moles on your right elbow and nose hairs. So I am just guessing here when I deduce Darrell must have been on crack when he hallucinated the entire episode.

Darrell Hair is the man of choice if we would like to have controversy for fun. Nobody does it better than him. And keeping with tradition he is in a mess, rather everyone but him in a mess for reasons that begin and end with him.

And, Darrell Hair is an obvious idiot — the Graham Poll of cricket — a class by himself, benchmark of all aspiring wannabes of mental disorder. If there was ever a shed of doubt, Darrell's latest cameo should put all doubts to rest — he's now officially dethroned the late Shakoor Rana as the most dubious umpire ever.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 21, 2006

Stay Away from Racial and Religious Profiling

Although the Bush administration is noted for aggressively endorsing unconstitutional methods as critical tools in its declared war on terror, so far it has apparently stayed away from techniques based on racial, ethnic, and religious profiling.

In the wake of the alleged massive terror plot uncovered in the United Kingdom, Representative Peter King (R-NY), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, thinks selected groups of people should undergo extra security checks at the airports. Newsday reports that King doesn't think "political correctness should hamper airport screens. King has gone so far as to endorse "people of "Middle Eastern and South Asian" descent to undergo additional security checks because of their ethnicity and religion."

King argued, "if the threat is coming from a particular group, I can understand why it would make sense to single them out for further questioning."

I am not sure what Peter King smokes, but I do see some clouded judgment there.

And he's not alone. His juvenile sentiments are recently shared by the conservative Talk Show host Mike Gallagher. In a recent debate in Fox News' Dayside, Gallagher said, "It’s time to have a Muslims check-point line in American airports and have Muslims be scrutinized. You better believe it. It’s time."

If I am not mistaken I have come across equally fascinating views echoed in Blogcritics and Desicritics where I often contribute. And I won't be wrong in my assessment that a large number of people do find the opinions of Peter King and Mike Gallagher acceptable. Now, Peter King and Mike Gallagher may not be racists and neither the people who agree or tend to agree with them. It seems to me that this is an issue of why not? After all, isn't it factually correct that most terrorists are Muslims?

Last year, when New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered random searches of subway passengers after the tube bombings in London that killed 53 people, two city councilmen urged police not to waste their time by searching people who are visibly not a threat when the real threat comes from men of Middle Eastern and Asian men.

The Newsday report also mentions that the U.S. Justice Department issued a policy three years ago banning racial profiling, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is quoted as saying, "I think that, you know, taking action against someone solely because of their race and solely because of their religion I think is problematic." As Senor Gonzales is one of the chief advocates of illegal practices adopted by the Bush Government his stand in this issue calls for some close scrutiny. Gonzales thinks the practice is problematic. He doesn't think that it is flat out and fundamentally wrong. May be he means so but doesn't explicitly say so.

What exactly does he think is problematic about the practice, if may I ask? Is it an ethical and moral problem? Or is it a problem because it's illegal and unconstitutional? For all I know, Senor Gonzales cares about the law and constitution as much as Ahmadinejad cares about the Jews and Israel.

Maybe Gonzales believes it poses a logistical problem. Maybe he's realized that it is an ineffective weapon and will totally alienate the moderate Muslims whose support is sorely needed to win this war on terror, and therefore shouldn't be pursued. If so, it's not bad for someone whose track record on protecting freedom and civil liberties is as glorious as that of Bud Selig protecting Baseball from steroids.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

In Martin Luther King Jr.'s test, the Bush administration and its loyal supporters like Peter King have failed miserably. The least they could do now is save themselves from further delusional thoughts.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Freedom and/or Security

You, like any other good citizen have put your faith in the Government to do everything in their power to guarantee your security and freedom. And you, an honorable tax-paying law abiding citizen also expect the Government to do so without violating your rights under the constitution, and without encroaching your privacy and without dooming your civil liberties.

As it has become increasingly evident in recent times, we have a situation here.

Fundamentally, our way of life stands on the legs of Freedom and Security. We cannot have one without the other. We also cannot have both stretched to their limits. So, when we make our wishes, we also, perhaps begrudgingly accept the fine prints.

Only a fool would understate the difficult balance we seek today. We don't want to get blown up into pieces by the terrorists--we are also not ready to allow the Government to listen to our phone conversations and read our emails indiscriminately.

The Government wants us to choose between the two--freedom or security. That is, we cannot exercise our constitutional rights to have both--freedom and security. The Government forgets, quite willingly that it was sworn to uphold the constitution.

While we fight an invisible enemy hell bent to take us hostages in this war on terror, and who would go any length to destroy our core values--and vandalize our way of life, we also face the obligation to protect everything our enemies want to send to the graves with us.

Which is why today's ruling by a Federal Judge that the warrantless wiretapping program promoted by the Government and carried out by the National Security Agency is unconstitutional and must be stopped immediately, should bring congruous smiles to the faces who realize the significance of the Statue of liberty.

This is an embarrassment to the present administration, which has demonstrated time and time again and beyond reasonable doubts their aggressive intent to bypass the Constitution and the due legal procedures.

Such frivolous practices were part of the former Soviet Union.

I don't think anyone would object to the fact that it is necessary to carry out wiretapping surveillance program for national security purposes. The question is how should it be done. You might be surprised but the answer is childishly simple.

All they--the smart folks in the NSA and Justice Department have to do is to go and convince a judge to give them a warrant to carry out their investigation. I don't see a problem as long as they have valid reasons.

In criminal investigations, such surveillance is routinely carried out by the law enforcement agencies after obtaining proper warrants. I never heard anybody complaining.

I understand that the authorities believe they have justifiable reasons for wiretapping individuals who are terrorists or perceived as threats to the national security. But their insistence to avoid the due process and reluctance to get a proper warrant is incomprehensible--unless of course the whole monitoring business is entirely without merits, or perhaps they have widened their net as much as they could and hoping to get lucky.

To me this looks like incompetence.

Yes, the authorities say that this is not being done indiscriminately--and these are the same people who lied to the country to get into a war that has now cost thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

Sorry, George — you had the trust of your people. You lost it.

By all means listen to the phone conversations, read the emails if that helps making everyone safer and more secure. But before you do so, get yourself a warrant.

Now, why is it so difficult?


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Pint of Independence

My take on independence day hasn't changed much over the years for I know amidst all the hullabaloo, the people who actually fought for our freedom are largely forgotten. If you care to remember, our freedom was not exactly handed over to us on a platter served with mango pickles and rice. It was a hard fought one.

Celebrating independence is a good thing by itself. Among other things, we are reminded of our good fortune that our forefathers never had. We are indeed a lucky bunch.

There is another aspect to it. Celebrating independence in a country where freedom is guaranteed by the constitution is even better. Pakistan also celebrates its own independence day, but hardly they can celebrate freedom. Again we are far better off than our neighbors who attained their independence only a day before ours.

So what? What good is our freedom when to an average Indian it makes absolutely no sense? True--even after fifty nine years of independence, an average Indian is not happy, nor he or she is feeling good. And there are millions of reasons why. But I am not here to chew upon the deficiencies, which we have in plenty.

Because that is pointless. We take our freedom for granted. We go on and on about our pathetic corrupted system, how our rights and true freedom can only be found in the pages of the constitution and rarely anywhere else. If you call it reality, yes but only half of it.

Despite the agonizing picture we can rightfully paint, we are still in good shape. Our institutions are in place. A corrupt system cannot last forever because that's what the institutions are going to take care of, eventually.

For a poor country like ours, burdened with a billion population and poverty, progress comes with a price tag--time. We can speed things up, sure. But you are mistaken if you think sending a bunch of decent folks to the kursi in New Delhi will actually help improving things. It won't. Good and efficient governance has little to do with good people but has more to do with people who get things done.

Of course the disgruntled ones would still throw their hands up and say, why bother, we are all but fucked up. That might carry an inkling of truth, but is that all there to say? Haven't you noticed any significant change from the days you were growing up till now?

And by the way, there used to be a time, a lot of people cared about independence and freedom. It was when we didn't have any of those. They cared so much that they gave their lives for it. They didn't hesitate to forsake the allures of the world, and the comfort of family, friends and chose the road less travelled.

They might have been wrong in their way. They might have been right. But they made the ultimate sacrifice by putting their lives under the British sword so that we don't have to.

So that we can talk about freedom over a pint of independence.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mainstream Media versus Blogs

Better late than never. After about eight months of blogging, I finally realized that I could never become a prolific blogger. For one, I am too lazy and secondly, I am full of "what's the point" attitude. This is not to say that I am giving up, for I am not. At the same time I know that there will be unavoidable gaps between successive posts.

So, here's my plan to keep the blog running and updating it as often as possible. When I am not posting, I will post the links to the articles that I have enjoyed, perhaps with a short commentary.

The Calculus of Blogs

Do you think Blogs are derivative of the mainstream media? May be you do or may be you don't. But Malcolm Gladwell thinks so. He went as far as to say that without the New York Times, there would be nothing for the bloggers to blog about. You can read it here.

My opinion is different. Not because, I look at the blogs or my fellow bloggers as some kind of divine gift to keep the free speech flowing. But because, the concept of derivative is misleading in this context. It is also inappropriate.

Why is the big brother angry?

Sunny Hundal at the Guardian asks, why do newspapers hate the bloggers.

One answer is of course, the fear of competition. And may I also add, the fear of unknown?--they have no clue how to safeguard their interests, that is, to hold onto their source of revenue--their readers. Given that the playing field in the bytespace is more open now than it ever was, the mainstream media faces serious existential problems. Not that they are going to be wiped off anytime soon, but they would likely notice a significant drop in the readership in the future.

I am also concerned about the pay per view strategy of the New York Times: You have to pay to read Thomas Friedman or Maureen Dowd and I find that disturbing. Although this is not adopted by other major newspapers like the Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times, but who knows what they are going to do in the future.

You don't have to pay a dime to read the blogs--and the quality could be as good.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Sourav Ganguly: One Last Fling


Sourav Ganguly is back. Not quite. He has found his place in the 30-man preliminary team for the Champions Trophy, selected by our four wise men. After all the rumors about how the team management has insisted for a shorter list of 22-25 to keep Sourav out of contention, his inclusion must have raised a few eyebrows here and there.

Whether Sourav is going to make the final cut is a trillion dollar question. If the past is any indication, and Greg Chappell still serving as the commander in chief, he's a long shot by miles. For committed Sourav worshippers, this seems to be the beginning of a new episode of a Salim-Javedesque drama, the familiar script ending in a forlorn fashion.

To the selectors, I say, you could have spared him the trouble. You never gave the man the respect he deserves. The least you could do is to leave him alone. How I wish.

The man himself makes no bones about his wishes to play in the next year's world cup. Of course if wishes are horses beggars would ride. That doesn't make Sourav exactly a beggar, that puts him in the not-so-glorious family of cricketers who never quite made it to the big stage but have always been picked to fill the last couple of slots only to be dumped later. Which is a shame, for he should have known better. He's a smart guy. I find it hard to believe he failed to read the writing on the wall. The only explanation is his failure to keep his gargantuan ego under check.

But hey, we've been through this charade before. So much so, it became comical till he got unceremoniously dumped after playing a few fighting knocks. He must have kicked himself goddamn hard when he failed to build on the starts during the Sri Lanka and Pakistan series. At least a couple of fifties would have ensured his place in the squad and the obituaries written since then would have been put on hold, for the time being.

Never mind. That he's back again in the form of probables is already making the headlines. He may not be good for cricket any more, but he's still good enough for grabbing the attention. The funny thing about probability which works so well for the casinos in Vegas, is, you are considered a winner till you become a loser. And Sourav--the last optimist standing, might have started looking for flight tickets to the Caribbean next summer.

When he was dropped after the Pakistan series, I felt bad for him because he looked assured and confident. He didn't go on to score big but was hitting the ball well.

Now, he's playing pathetic. He has failed miserably in the county cricket. It might as well be a rough patch for all I know but the timing of his inclusion makes no sense at all. For one, he's out of form, and secondly, this doesn't quite endorse the looking forward theory the selectors so wanted to us to believe.

But of course, it is only a list of probables. Not the final cut. Not even the playing eleven. And make no mistake--he's not going to make it to either sparing a divine intervention, which is why seeing him on the list made me very confused. And disturbed.

We are not talking about anyone who can be picked and dumped at will or wisdom or under influence. We are not talking about a Joe Nobody. We are not even talking about any freaked out, pig-head piece of tripe.

We are talking about the most successful skipper in the history of Indian cricket and therefore I have a problem.

I love him. I adore him. He's one of the best things that ever happened to the Indian Cricket — give credit to Chappell and Rahul if you must, but the truth is, they are building on the solid foundations laid by Ganguly and Wright. I will go as far as saying that he saved cricket from the match fixing scandal by invoking the much needed naked passion and love for the game on the playing field.

Love him, hate him. There is no middle ground. He's no fake. He's the anti-hero of the Indian cricket, as much as big B was in the 70s hindi movies.

The record speaks for him. History speaks for him. You will tell your grandchildren the stories of the holy trinity - Sachin, Sourav and Rahul. That says a lot about the man who has been mercilessly vilified by the mainstream media except those from Kolkata where he is still a dear icon.

He's even few months younger than me - so technically he always had my blessings.

I didn't want to see him back. His legacy is secured. He's been a terrific servant of Indian cricket. And he cared. He deserved a better farewell into the sunset. It is not his fault that he didn't get one. We failed to bid him a grateful goodbye.

We moved on. Now tell me again--why is he here?

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Afterthoughts on Road to Middle East Peace

I am still collecting my incoherent thoughts to get into some of the deeper issues in the Middle East. In my last post I argued that any UN resolution must seek to balance the aspirations of the conflicting parties. In hindsight I feel that it was an incomplete assessment.

In my analysis I ignored the entirety of the situation--the tangle involving Palestinians, Hamas, Syria and Iran and instead focussed only on Hezbollah and Israel. The complexity of the situation, however merited a thorough analysis involving everyone having a stake in the region and not just Hezbollah.

In short, unless the Palestinian concerns and grievances are addressed in full, credibility of any peace process will always remain a question.

The secondary problems can be resolved, amicably and diplomatically if the international community is willing to put controlled checks on Syria and Iran. The mullahs in Tehran are ambitious, power hungry and crazy enough to jeopardize chances of a sustainable peace. They pose a far greater risk than the Syrians who are simply not capable of venturing alone without an Iranian hand.

Still, I am hopeful. The task ahead of us is difficult but not impossible.


A Fair Road to Middle East Peace

Since Israel was carved out in 1948, creating the largest refugee population at that time, a few things have stood the test of time: Israel enjoying a free hand without facing any consequences whatsoever, Arab refugees never having their concerns really addressed, the US pursuing a sugar daddy policy towards Israel and ignoring pleas for a more compassionate and balanced approach, and the United Nations failing to do any better than thumb-sucking.

Over the years, the dynamics of the Arab-Israel conflict changed, most notably after the Iranian revolution: the mullahs in Tehran promptly recognized the crisis and, ambitious as they are, engaged themselves in the proxy war against Israel through Hezbollah, a Shiite militia group formed to resist the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

The current war, entering its twenty-eighth day, has already claimed almost a thousand Lebanese civilian lives, displaced more than a quarter of its population, destroyed elements of the country's infrastructure, and pushed the country's recovery from past war damage back by a decade, if not more. What both sides don't realize is that ruining lives is not in anyone's best interest.

One can argue that the Israeli military should have shown more prudence before lunging into a wholesale assault on Lebanon, for they knew they were more than capable of inflicting incomparable damage. It's a pity that after almost 60 years of brutality against the Arabs, they have failed to grasp what constitutes the right way to act and react.

We urgently need a resolution acceptable to both sides without further delay and before more innocent lives are lost. The task is not easy and is now in serious jeopardy after the recent UN draft proposal jointly worked out by France and the United States was flatly rejected by Hezbollah, Lebanon and Syria.

As opposed to the Iraq war, where the United States invaded a sovereign country for no palatable reasons, the irony of the Lebanon-Israel war lies in both sides claiming to be exercising their right to defend, their right to exist, and each blames the other side as the aggressor. Surprisingly enough, both sides make sense.

Here is where the slippery slope to peace gets a bit tricky. Standing in the way of an effective and long lasting peace has now become a well-defined binary object — it is either the terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, supported by the rogue states of Syria and Iran or the heavy handedness of the Israelis and their disgraceful attitude toward their Arab neighbors.

For a peace resolution to be effective everything above must change. And a meaningful change can only be attained with sincerity and accountability. The resolution must be fair to both sides, keeping them on an equal footing. Israel shouldn't receive the kind of preferential treatment they have always enjoyed under the US umbrella. If Israel wants good neighbors, it's time they start behaving like one.

Following a cease-fire, Israeli forces should be required to leave Lebanon immediately. Before the UN forces take over, the Lebanese army can do the job temporarily. Whether they can do a thorough job is anybody's guess but as long as Israeli forces remain in Lebanon, a cease-fire will not work.

The buffer zone that has been proposed should be on both sides of the border. Having one comprises only of Lebanese territory just highlights the partisan treatment the Arabs have become accustomed to. Why there should not be any buffer zone on the Israeli side when they routinely abduct Arab leaders? If the objective is to prevent the kind of incidents that led to this war, it should also address the concerns of the Arabs--only couple of weeks before this all started, Israel abducted two Palestinians from Gaza.

Let's remember that invoking moral authority in an environment of distrust requires fairness and equality. Asking Hezbollah to disarm following the Security Council Resolution 1559 of September 2004, is the right thing to do, but lest we forget Israel ignored Security Council Resolution 425 of March 1978 calling for its unconditional retreat from Lebanon for 22 years.

The double standards must go.


from QbiT