Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Open Magazine: Good magazine whose standards are beginning to fall

Over the past year, I have come to really like the Open Magazine and have recommended it to many of my friends. The magazine is surprisingly free of cliche and aims to entertain and inform. It sits right in the middle of the spectrum of Indian magazines - far from the textbook-like Frontline and equally far from the Tabloid-ish India Today.

Some of their articles are provocative, some are funny, and some are very informative. Generaly, the quality of writing is of a reasonably high standard.

However, after the bright start, the magazine has started writing articles for which I can only assume they are being paid by the protagonists. The last two issues had an article each on Shashank Manohar and John Abraham. I can only hope that the Open got paid well by these two.

Sample this on Shashank - Positively cringe-worthy

When asked what he observed in the way Manohar handled the Modi/IPL issue, Ratnakar Shetty, the Board’s chief administrative officer, says, “He was firm. He is one person who cannot be pressured.”. Hahaha - What is he? An sllrounder who has to score 12 off the last over?

On that hectic 26 April afternoon, Manohar showed that he had the smarts, the conviction and the larynx to be a worthy president of the country’s most powerful sports federation. The smarts, the conviction and the larynx?! Really?!

Even if some of his answers seemed unsatisfactory, he demonstrated a grip on facts and an ability to argue a case. (How does one do that).

He was unreadable, a walking-breathing BS Chandrasekhar delivery. This is awesome.

He is atypical because he does not seem to hanker after the trappings of power and wealth. He already has them. Manohar owns a couple of Mercedes E Class cars. He has two Merc E class, then he must not want more money

True, Shashank Manohar is not the first BCCI president who is rich. But somehow he does not show it. And he is not driven by naked ambition. So, when everyone around him is overdressed or busy looking busy and important, Manohar strolls in wearing a half-sleeved shirt. What about the Merc E class then, that too two of them?

What is Manohar’s special talent? “Administering the game in a clean, professional manner is what is important to him,” says Rajan Nair, This is a classic. Spoken like a Miss World contestant. Guys, he is an administrator. Not a rocket scientist. Reminds me of an immortal piece from Catch-22

"Flying combat missions for General Dreedle is not exactly what I had in mind," he explained indulgently with a smooth laugh. "I was thinking more in terms of replacing General Dreedle, or perhaps of something above General Dreedle where I could exercise supervision over a great many other generals too. You see, my most precious abilities are mainly administrative ones. I have a happy facility for getting different people to agree."

"He has a happy facility for getting different people to agree what a prick he is," Colonel Cargill confided invidiously to ex-PFC Wintergreen in the hope that ex-PFC Wintergreen would spread the unfavourable report along through 27th Air Force Headquarters. "If anyone deserves that combat post, I do. It was even my idea that we ask for the medal."

"You really want to go into combat?" ex-PFC Wintergreen inquired. "Combat?" Colonel Cargill was aghast. "Oh, no - you misunderstand me. Of course, I wouldn't actually mind going into combat, but my best abilities are mainly administrative ones. I too have a happy facility for getting different people to agree."

The old VCA Stadium, however, has a tragic history. In 1995, during a Test between India and New Zealand, a wall collapsed, killing nine spectators and injuring over 70. Manohar, who was very much a force in the VCA then, was criticised for the condition and handling of the ground.

Manohar also faced public condemnation after his son, Adwait, was chosen to play for Vidarbha in the 2000-01 Ranji Trophy. Vidarbha experts say that Adwait was drafted in the team even though he had not been playing much or with any consistency. Manohar has characteristically kept quiet about the issue. Characteristically kept quiet about this issue? What could he have said? I tried it, but you guys caught on.

Shashank Manohar is a filthy rich lawyer from Nagpur who presided over one of the worst tragedies in Indian cricket, who tried to get his son into the domestic circuit by underhand means. He has accomplished nothing of note as cricketer or administrator but presides over the most powerful cricket body in the world. The way Open magazine has spun this story to paint him as being second only to Moses is brilliant. I thought the Open Magazine was above this kind of random trash. Looks like they are falling away.

The John Abraham article is even more cringe-worthy. I am seriously considering stopping my subscription.

All of us know Indian media is bit of a joke. I just thought there was a purple patch somewhere. Looks like another false dawn.

It is on occasions like these that I like to revisit this Ram Jethmalani tirade. I have become a big fan of this guy purely because of this. Anyone who can bury a journalist like that deserves a fan club.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Arvind Adiga's White Tiger - A very good book

I read "White Tiger" over the weekend. Excellent book. I found the book to be different from the stereotypical hi-funda Indian author book. In my mind, there are two categories of books by Indian authors. They are either written in such fantastic English that they become heavy reads. Or, they are stabs at "wit"/different topic that become boring/repetitive by about page 40.

This one is different - the fiction is well-woven into the narrative on India. The setting is not based on confident, resurgent India but on the other India. The author could have gone to town narrating horrifying stories about poor Indians. That would have become repetitive and boring, and in the end left the mind numb to the suffering. Adiga's style of conveying the starkness is refreshing. He has chosen a setting that strikes home because it is very realistic. It strikes at the very root of Indian oppression - the indifference of the urban middle class. And this without sounding sanctimonious and preachy. The pace is good, the book is laced with dark humour. Excellent read overall.

The one comparison that sprang to my mind when I finished reading the book was of this Balachander-kamalhasan movie called Varumayin Niram Sivappu. Awesome movie depicting the struggles of aspiring, educated, unemployed youth in India of the 80's. Stark setting, but one in which the protagonists poverty is depicted without resorting to cheap tricks. One of the best scenes in the movie is one in which the hero and his two friends pretend to be having a big meal while the heroine waits outside in the living room. Awesome scene. A lesson in using humour in critical scenes.

Beautiful movie. No other movie captured the angst of the 80's youngster better, in my view.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Global Warming - When will science stand up and speak for itself?

Global warming is a bandwagon like few others. Almost everyone is green these days, and whoever is not is planning to turn green . Corporates are doing it, associations are doing it, even individuals are doing it. Tom, dick and harry (and of course Al) is going around giving advice on how one should be careful. Couple of guys have picked up nobel prizes for it as well. It is such a fantastic thing that almost everyone in the world is happy that something like this has come along. I am bl00dy sick of it. I have had enough of this global warming love-in.

I resent the idea that even investment bankers can take it upon themselves to provide the moral compass when in comes to global warming.

I hate it when people who have little to no knowledge about the scientific back-drop start thinking that they 'get' global warming because they have read two scare mongering articles. Dont even get me started on the scare-mongering articles.

I ran away a little bit from religion because of the fundamental role guilt plays in it. On the issue of guilt-tripping, religion cannot hold a candle to climate change.

The scientific basis to global warming is a mountain of conjecture. Thats about it. There is nothing incontrovertible there. In fact, there have been theories that state that cutting down rain forests could help fight global warming. And this from an article from The Economist. The environmentalists try desperately to make everyone feel guilty by repeating conjecture after conjecture. Remember, only 40 years ago, we were paranoid about Ice Age. And in climate pattern change studies, 40 years is nothing.

This latest mail from from Professor Harold Lewis is fantastic. Talks about how money is influencing research.

Excerpts -

It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.) I don’t believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.

Awesome stuff. Climategate was another episode that laid bare the fact that vested interests of a huge scale were operating all over the research world. Someone, somewhere realized that religion was somehow not doing enough with people's ability to feel guilty came up with climate change. So far so good.

The most disappointing thing about all this is that the mainstream debate (in as much as handwringing guilt-mongering and chest-thumping can be called debate) has been dominated by politicians, environmentalists (what do they do for a living. who pays their wages?), and page 3 jokers. Reputed scientists have been conspicuous by their absence. Is it because their agenda has been hijacked, or is it because having a scientific outlook has prevented them from talking about anything without proof. The few voices that have come out, have cautioned us against this bandwagon-jumping. But, when mob frenzy takes over, reason goes out. Everyone is turning green with a vengeance these days. If you cannot beat them, join them.