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Life as I'm learning it

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Location: Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, United States

"It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Match'd with an agèd wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me."

Friday, June 30, 2006

Time - the great leveler

Two weeks ago, Esteban Cambiasso was the toast of the world, finishing the most perfect goal to be scored in this World Cup finals. Today, the Argentinian walks back, a lone man, holding his head in his hands, hating himself for missing a penalty.

What a great change two weeks can bring!

P.S.: And think of Roberto Ayala too. The defender scored what could have been the winning goal for Argentina, only to miss a penalty just about an hour later. And ponder about Germany too, dear reader. They played so poorly for most of the game, yet they are through!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Is Brazil divided?

Brazil have beaten Ghana 3-0 to progress to the quarter-finals of the World Cup. It could have been much worse for the Africans, though, truth be told, they played rather well for the most part. The one thing that didn't work for Ghana was their offside trap; all three goals stolen by Brazil were due to some deft line play by their scorers. Ghana did look like scoring, and they did get some good shots on goal, but they lacked two things -- finishing and width. They played very narrow, and really that is not the way to play Brazil if you want to score goals.

I noticed something midway through the game, and as the game progressed, I find me telling myself that I could be right. Of course, I could be wrong. It could be this devil's workshop working overtime, but as of now I cannot convince myself that I am wrong.

Most of the Brazilian players do not pass the ball to Ronaldinho, unless it is absolutely necessary. Like, if he is the only player around to receive a pass, he gets the ball. Else he is overlooked for someone else, although the World Footballer of the Year might be in a better, more attacking position. I'm not referring exclusively to the incident when Cafu tried a shot on goal, when he could have passed it Ronaldinho for a simple tap-in. There is a whole gamut of incidents.

Ronaldo and Ronaldinho do not embrace each other, even if it is the latter who sets up balls for his older teammate. However when Adriano pulled off a goal, Ronaldinho and he were in a prolonged embrace, though Ronaldinho neither set up the goal, nor was he even in the frame when Adriano converted. In earlier games, one could have observed Ronaldinho not passing the ball freely to Ronaldo. It could have been a case of him not trusting the poaching skills of other, but in any case, do note that point, Your Honour. When Cafu decided to go for glory in front of goal, Ronaldinho displayed a rare gesture that spoke of his frustration and disappointment. Were there more (untold) emotions / frictions behind it?

As I said earlier, I could be wrong. However, if you do get to watch a replay of this game, notice how many times the ball is passed to Ronaldinho and how many times it is passed to his teammates who are not in a better position than he is in.

There are some ways to explain this, rather than to point out at a divided dressing room. In Brazil's midfield, there is only one player who has the pace to match the smiling assassin - Kaka. Ronaldo, for all of his three goals, isn't the kind that will run his heart out to be at the end of delightful crosses. Something like the Tendulkar-Ganguly combination when it comes to running between the wickets, the former being a perfectionist, and the latter sluggish.

Secondly, Ronaldinho's favoured position is the left side of midfield -- like the President of Brazil, he is left-of-center! In Barcelona, it is Giovanni van Bronckhorst who plays behind him -- a workhorse-type passer. For Brazil, Roberto Carlos plays at left-back, a crosser, who plays balls into the box rather than forward, into wider attacking positions. Thus Ronaldinho the midfielder doesn't get enough balls to feed into the forward areas. Naturally, to accommodate Carlos, he has to move into a more central area, which is quite crowded because Kaka, Ze Roberto and Emerson are all there already. In contrast, we can observe how unobstructed Cafu's movement is. He can move into wider positions and cross, or cut into the box and play short passes. This in part explains why Brazil haven't got many goals from the left, because Ronaldinho has to make allowances for the playing style of his teammates. Which restricts his influence on the game, and adds to his frustration.

I'm thinking how much more effective Brazil's attack can be if they played the Barca-style 4-3-3 with a narrow midfield and strikers from out wide. Since Cafu and Carlos are excellent wingers, they can synergise with their attacking wide midfielders (say Robinho on the right and Ronaldinho on the left). But for that, they need to play as one single unit. Which is what I am questioning. Are they playing as one team?

As of now, Brazil are through. They can think about setting things right as they wait for Spain or France to join them in the next round. I'm backing Spain; but why do I have this nervy feeling about les Bleus just pipping their southern neighbours?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Two advertisements

The World Cup broadcasts come with their own share of advertisements -- a small set which gets repeated over and over again. Minus the longer Airtel ad, nothing is worth a mention...

... except for the HDFC Standard Life Insurance advertisement, which should rank as among the most insensitive ever to appear on Indian television. You couldn't have missed this one. An old man isst about to get down from the train, and his son proffers his hand in aid. The old man frowns at his son, and alights on his own.

We are to assume that this depicts the old man's self-respect and self-reliance. Which is fine. But isn't there a better way to depict this? Should it be done in such a cheap and demeaning way? What of family values? A son wants to help his father alight from a train -- how can it affect the old man's self-respect? It is a simple act of caring for elders, a value ingrained into Indian society (and any society, in general).

The ad seems to mock at this value. It tells us, "No self-respecting father will ever take his son's help to get down from a train." What utter nonsense!

Express yourself

The ads for Airtel Prepaid which extol the advantages of instalments are pathetic. One shows a peon advising a guy loaded with work to sift through one file at a time. Another depicts a stranger informing a guy to gift a costly necklace to his girlfriend pearl by pearl.

In contrast, the longer Airtel ad is splendidly done. All of Airtel's ads (the sensible ones) have a single theme -- "the power of human expression". And this ad shows it better than any other.

It starts with a shot of the Quit India Movement: "Two words can bring down an empire". Then it cuts to Martin Luther King Jr's famous "I have a dream speech". Caption: "One dream can change the world." The next frame shows David Shepherd giving Tendulkar out, followed by the obvious caption: "One raised finger can break a billion hearts." This is followed by an image of Winston Churchill addressing a huge gathering during the War. The caption continues from the previous image "... and two can win a war!"

The images that follow are of the Dalai Lama ("a whisper can inspire hope"), Mother Teresa ("one touch can instill faith"), Lata Mangeshkar ("some voices can move a nation"), Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan ("yet some others can dissolve boundaries"), the demolition of the Berlin Wall ("one act of defiance can spark a revolution") and finally, a army of people holding candles ("one hundred thousand candles can end a war"). The AR Rahman-composed Airtel tune is sounded like an anthem, as the words "That is the power of human expression" appear.

Whereas some might question the ethics behind the use of emotionally-charged images to convey a business theme, one cannot deny that the ad is a masterpiece in its ability to communicate a simple idea in a simple manner -- black-and-white images, no sound effects, and no cavalier themes. This ad is a treat!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The "weird" meme

Tagged by Vinayak. Here are 6 weird things about me:

1. I listen to one song at a time, in the repeat mode. If I like it, I'll listen it all day long, for weeks. I consider Johann Pachelbel's Canon to be among the finest pieces of music ever composed. I should have listened to James Galway's rendition of it a few thousand times till date -- arguably the most number of times for someone who is neither a student nor a practitioner of the flute.

2. I can manage with about four hours of sleep daily. And without solid food for two days on the trot. Seriously!

3. I failed my first test for a driving license -- on a TVS Champ!

4. Whenever I read a book, I tend to resonate with one particular character -- and it is generally NOT the main character. Like in The Hound of the Baskervilles, I found Mr. Frankland the most like me, for Doyle describes him thus: "He fights for the mere pleasure of fighting and is equally ready to take up either side of a question..."

5. The last Hindi movie I watched was Parineeta. Before that, I don't remember watching any Hindi movie, not in the ten years before that at least. In fact, I have watched more French than Hindi movies.

6. I enjoy wordplays, and I attempt them ad nauseum. While speaking in the Youth Parliament when in college, as a member of the Opposition, I closed the debate on a bill seeking reservation for women in Parliament thus: "The Government seeks to give women a fair representation in the legislating bodies. But, Mr. Speaker, I think it would be fairer if the fairer sex fare well in a fair competition."

Despite (3), my driving record is quite impeccable. And given my recently-acquired tag as a male chauvinist, I think (6) is a bold confession to make, what say?

I hereby tag Vatsan, KG, Praveen, Vijay R and Anu.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Indian football

Sportolysis hardly needs an introduction. One of India's best sports blogs, it covers a wide spectrum of sports and sport-related issues. For a single-person effort, it is surprisingly regular and consistently good.

As part of the Visitors series, Pratyush has invited me to write for Sportolysis -- a piece on the state of Indian football. Please to read, dear reader, and share your opinions / insights on the same.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

In praise of normal woman

[This is a long post, I warn you. It is a faithful reproduction of an essay by J.B. Priestley. If you are a feminist or a women's lib type, you may stop reading right here. ]

A large number of men, for the most part elderly men, are secretly terrified by the new type of woman, the emancipated woman, who has put down her fancy-work, left home, received a man's education, taken a man's position in the world, and partly adopted masculine habits. The protests, the sneers and growls of such men are fed by this secret terror. The very sight of one of these young women, so determined, business-like, efficient, makes them shake in their shoes; for they know that the game is up, that no longer will they be able to swagger and boast of their professional capacity before an admiring female chorus; the women have penetrated behind the scenes in the theatre of man's business and have noted the fraility of the players. Now, like these fellows, I have protested, have even ventured a little sneer at times, but I flatter myself that it has been for a very different reason. To speak frankly and without boastfulness, this new type of woman does not terrify me in the least. On the contrary, she puts me at my ease; she is so like myself. The only difference is, she does not do it so well as I do. Moreover, she has lost something very valuable, to wit, feminine reserve, dignity, grace, without which she will never be able to check my raging conceit, my swelling vanity, never be able to put me in my place as her gentler sisters can with only a faint smile or a slight gesture. That is why I protest against her, for if her kind multiply, we shall live in an entirely man-made world, and we men will strut and swagger unchecked, to the peril of our souls.

It is the other and older type of woman, who with her fancy-work and fancy puddings, her slight knowledge of Italian and painting in water-colours, that terrifies me. It is the frail silvery old ladies with fine manner and much knowledge of the world, who can put me in my place. And, like all men, I ought to be put in my place every now and again, or I should become insufferable. That is why the intellectual young men who figure as heroes in our novels of Chelsea life are so insufferable; they spend all their time among advanced women (who have gone into the world in pursuit of a career -- as the phrase goes) and so are suffered to go their ways unchecked; whereas any ordinary woman would quickly send such fellows very briskly about their business, for all their talk would not hide from her quick feminine glance their hundred-and-one little meannesses. For in addition to some qualities already mentioned, the ordinary woman usually possesses something that her more 'advanced' sister plainly lacks, and that is commonsense; and a measure of feminine commonsense is fatal to pretentious and designing males. It usually seeks expression in a curious sort of cool yet sparkling irony, essentially feminine, which will prick the inflated balloons of masculine conceit in a trice. Nothing could be better for the purpose. Every man, if he will but speak the truth, will admit that his grand egoistical self has suffered more discomfort from this very feminine verbal weapon than from all the other more boisterous devices of his fellow men put together. As for the free-and-easy banter of the mannish women, their pontifical airs, their pedantry, their shrill sarcasms, they are simply ineffectual, a mere play of shadows, compared with this older method of feminine attack and defence, the method of polite smiling irony.

Jane Austen, of course, used it to our admiration, and, if we are men, occasionally to our discomfort. There is a fine squib in G.K. Chesterton's brilliant firework display, The Victorian Age in Literature, which can be aptly exploded here. 'Jane Austen,' he says, 'was born before those bonds which (we are told) protected woman from truth were burst by the Brontës or elaborately untied by George Eliot. Yet the fact remains that Jane Austen knew much more about men than either of them. Jane Austen may been protected from truth: but it was precious little of truth that was protected from her. When Darcy, in finally confessing his faults, says, "I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice though not in theory," he gets nearer to a complete confession of the intelligent male than ever was hinted by Byronic lapses of the Brontës' heroes or the elaborate exclupations of George Eliot's. Any man wishing to preserve his own unbounded conceit of himself would rather face ten women like George Eliot or George Sand than one like Jane Austen, a delicate and fastidious little spinster who spent her life in a secluded village. But for company and for the good of my sould give me Jane Austen and all such cool feminine intelligences that know too much to flatter my sex by imitating it.

The woman who lives a normal life is able to check the swelling conceit and egotism of her menfolk simply because her outlook is so different. It is more personal and yet more impersonal. Her interests are at once narrower and wider than those of men. She is primarly concerned with very little things, the minutiae of talk and behaviour for example, on the one hand, and with very big ones, the colossal elementary facts of life, such as birth, mating, and death on the other. The first are personal and particular; whereas the second, those enormous facts about life which woman is never allowed to lose sight of, are, of course, universal, meaning just as much in the Fiji Islands as they do here. And both ranges of interest make her what only fools deny her to be, namely, essentially practical; her eye is steadily fixed on the concrete thing, and she mistrusts that chasing of the wild goose which is one of the chief pastimes and delights of man, She is concerned with persons, solid unmistakable individuals, and judges ideas according to their capacity for making persons happy. Her peculiar and intense devotion and loyalty are meant for persons, for the family and not for the world, and when, by some accident, there is a temporary dislocation, a change in the objects of this devotion of hers, the result is rather pathetic and, I think, not entirely harmless. Thus, at the present time, there is more than one woman who goes out to business and gives to the trade, say, of money-lending that intense devotion and loyalty of hers which Nature meant her to give to human beings, a man and helpless little children -- a very unfortunate displacement.

Now somewhere between these two extremes, the minutiae and the colossal universal facts, come man's interests, all the philosophies, arts, sciences, political systems, dreams, fantasies, abstractions, and what Stevenson called 'logical Aunt Sallies'. These are the things that men take seriously, and these are the things that woman (I do not mean Miss So-and-So or Mrs. What's-her-Name, but Woman) does not take seriously -- not, that is, in the last resort. From this comes, what Stevenson again called, woman's 'motherly, superior tenderness to man's vanity and self-importance'. But the fact that is 'superior' tends in any healthy man o check that vanity and self-importance. He takes his interests for once into an atmosphere in which they are regarded as the ingenious play of a great child; his values are for once not merely questioned but quietly set aside and a new scale erected in their place; his monstrous egoism receives a shrewd blow and, if he is not a megalomaniac, he finds himself swallowing an unfamiliar dose of humility. If a man is hurt he can run to his womenfolk for comfort and sympathy and he will not ask in vain, but he is only doing what his child who burnt itself playing about the hearth did a few minutes before, and what comfort he receives he has to accept on the same terms. If he is not a Sir Willoughby Patterne, the experience will do him good. Many a time when I have been brimming over with self-importance because some little affair of mine, which I imagined was as significant to all the world as it was to me, has prospered, I have encountered some quiet-spoken, almost timid lady, whose faint but perceptible contempt for the whole world of ideas I was living in suddenly brought me down to the ground again and gave me a right sense of proportion once more. Most men (with the exception of the Patternes) who are whole-heartedly devoted to this art of that science, who are ambitious in their profession or their politics, must have remarked this queenly indifference, this unspoken but obvious contempt for their great concerns, and benefited by it. This tolerant and tender smile keeps us in order when al the shouts and groans and menacing gestures of our fellow men are of no avail. It puts us in our place, among the largest and noisiest of children. Once all women have left their citadel and descended, with shrill cries, into the battlefield, as some are doing now, then man's conceit will flourish unchecked for ever. He will become the Superman; a sight for the gods, rolling in inextinguishable laughter.

[If you want to flame someone, it has to be Mr. Priestley. But since he is in deep sleep now, I can step in for him!]

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Where to draw the line?

Yesterday, Slashdot linked to an interesting article about a teenager and her mother suing MySpace.com, a social networking site for $30 million.The complaint: that the website had failed to protect her (the teenager) from a sexual predator who molested her on their first date.

More than the article itself, the comments which follow it provide an insight into the general thinking on this issue -- that the lawsuit is downright ridiculous. The lawyers representing the girl, who is a minor, argue that "the Web site does not require users to verify their age" and that "the security measures aimed at preventing strangers from contacting users younger than 16 utterly ineffective."

The question to be asked here is how much security can a social networking site provide to its users. Especially to the foolhardy, irredeemable ones (like this girl)? Driving license verification? Credit card verification?

Where is the personal control here? The site didn't fool the girl into believing the guy. If MySpace.com's raison d'etre was to aid the molestation of this girl, then the lawyers have a case. Rather, we are told that the two communicated via emails and over phone as well. Doesn't that make it consensual? How can the mother, who now has the guts to sue the site, have any claim at all, as she failed to regulate / monitor her daughter's internet usage?

As someone pointed out, if the guy and the girl communicated over phone, why not sue the phone company?

Just like the phone, the Internet (in this case) is just an enabler. This incident could have been avoided at many levels -- the girl could have been more cautious, the mother could have regulated her daughter, a freer offline dialogue at home.

They say that a bad workman blames his tools. Here too, it is the same. Instead of owning up for their mistakes, people are simply passing the buck.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Marriage musings

Last week, one of my cousins (so close that I consider him as an elder brother) got married. His was probably the first marriage in the family which I could observe from close quarters. There are many who say that cinema and sport best reflect the culture of a people. I pity them, for I'm sure they have not witnessed a South Indian marriage. A few observations:

1. Everyone who comes to the marriage tend to ask the boys next in line, "So, you are next, right?" Some say it for fun, some are pretty serious. I tried different answers: "Oh no, I'm still young", "Not really, I'm planning to study further", "Well, I'll ask the groom for an opinion. If he says 'Don't risk it', I'd stay on my guard."

Relatives are tired of such answers - after all, they keep doing this to every boy in every marriage they attend. And everyone says the same thing. So, I had to invent an answer: "You're correct, I'm next in line. Maybe as soon as next year. There is this beautiful Muslim girl I'm going out with..." Ghastly silence follows.

2. The one aspect of a marriage that has to be impeccable is not the bridal make-up. Nor is it the groom's hairstyle. It is the food which take centre-stage. I've been to many functions where the food has turned off many a gourmand. However, in this case, the food was top-draw, in terms of quality and taste both -- good enough to satisfy innumerable tough-to-please palates.

3. Marriages can be much more fun if you stop staring at the girls, and start attending to long-lost relatives / friends instead. These are among the few occasions where you get to meet that periappa or this athai or the once-neighbour whom you've only heard talked about in conversations. They crave for someone to talk to them, to accost them for a few minutes, to inquire about their health or the progress of their grand-daughter in kindergarten. A few minutes spent with them warms their hearts, and leaves you with the feeling of having "made their day". A smile to welcome them, or a shake of the hands when they leave wins accolades. A namaskar is a Parthian shot.

4. One of the problems with relatives though is to identify them correctly. If you can't, it is safe to say so. I try a sheepish smile despite knowing well it doesn't look nice. My mom would also do her best to compound my troubles. She would drag me to someone and say, "They wanted to meet you. Don't you identify / know them?" For God's sake, no! Sheepish times again.

5. The marriage is great fun for everyone, except the bride and the groom (indicative of the future?). Standing in front of a camera and doing nothing is worse than a sentence. I cannot imagine how the newlyweds have the patience to greet every guest and pose with them for a snap. A few hundred snaps in a single day! God bless...

6. Card games are universal favourites. What better way to spend a nice evening with a bunch of kids and a deck of cards. But don't ever teach the kids, "Bluff". You would live to repent it. Kids are such experts.

7. Nalangu can be great fun, but in order to be awake to attend it, you shouldn't be playing "Bluff" with kids the previous night!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Le problème

Alan has listed the French equivalents of some common footballing terms. The one term he seems to have missed is le problème - the problem with French football.

World Cup winners in 1998. European Champions in 2000. Knocked out of the first round in the 2002 World Cup! Toothless in Euro 2004. And a tame draw against the Swiss in the first game, a few days ago. What is the problem with the French side?

The French look depleted. Most of the players of that inspiring midfield that trampled over opponents at the turn of the century are either missing or are past their prime. Zidane, for example, is hardly the player we used to regard with awe and admiration. So is Vieira, who seems to have taken to the Italian value of efficieny rather than pace, creativity and slick passing which marked his Gunner days. Trezeguet... the lesser said, the better.

They do have some quick and effective players though. Wiltord and Malouda who play for French Champions, Olympique Lyonnais, are fleet-footed. But their main man is Thierry Henry. France now see Henry like what India used to see Tendulkar as in the 90s. If France go on to win the World Cup, you can be certain that Henry will be one of the contenders for the Golden Boot.

Maybe I'll be accused of being radical or stupid or both... but can France afford to drop Henry? The reason behind this suggestion is that the Henry we know and we see all around the year plays at the head of a very young Arsenal midfield. There is Fabregas, Hleb, Reyes and even Pires (whose pace hides the fact that he is on the wrong side of 30). The Henry who plays for Arsenal relies on them to provide him with excellent through-balls, to play one-twos with him and bomb the opposition with the swiftness of their attack.

Sadly, Raymond Domenech cannot provide him with what Arsene Wenger does. Domenech gives Henry a big-name player called Zizou. He can give him a sluggish Trezeguet. At the head of such a midfield, Henry will get limited service. He cannot play a ball from wide position and expect the quick feet of van Persie to tap it in. It was on view during the Swtizerland game. Domenech cannot create an El Dorado for Henry. Despite his credentials as one of the top strikers in the world, he cannot produce goals unless he is fed amply.

Given this situation, Domenech can (and I'm sure he won't; no one expects him to, not even I) ask some other striker, someone who can tolerate a depleted midfield, who can be slow enough to strangle the French advance, to train instead of Henry. Thierry Henry is a great player. But it is not his burden to win the World Cup for his country -- surely not with this team. Let us relieve him of such a strain.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Tarot gazing

Headlines Today should immediately be conferred with India's silliest news channel award. While every other news channel is analysing Argentina's rout of Serbia & Montenegro, and van Persie's wonderstrike against Ivory Coast, HT sent one of its reporters to spend time with a tarot expert.

The tarot woman was so much fun.

Reporter: "What does the World Cup hold for Thierry Henry?"

Tarot Reader: "Please pick a card... As we can see from the card, Henry is very talented. France is a good team. Both of them should be doing well, much better than their current showing. The tarot points to the fact that they will go a long way."

(I wonder how people manage to joke without actually laughing.)

Reporter: "What about Ronaldo? Everyone's been saying he is uninterested, clumsy and fat" (unmindful of the size of the tarot reader!)

Tarot Reader: "Please pick a card... Ronaldo is blessed with a lot of intelligence. He should be doing better. The card shows it. It says 'beyond greed', so he can shatter every record."

Reporter: "What about Tomas Rosicky?"

Tarot Reader: "The card says he seems bogged down, tired. He should go back to nature. Try yoga, meditation. Maybe he will shine in another World Cup. Not this one."

Reporter: "Will Wayne Rooney save England?"

Tarot Reader: "The card says, in 9-10 days, Rooney will be able to take England to greater heights. Not immediately, but in a few days' time."

Reporter: "Lionel Messi, the young Maradona, is touted as the next best thing..."

Tarot Reader: "The card says it can only get better for Messi."

Fifteen solid minutes of fun came to an end thus. I don't understand how tarot cards work. At least, those who read horoscopes have something to base their predictions upon. But tarot cards? Suppose I asked this lady, "How will I fare in the World Cup?", and I picked the same card which was picked up for Messi? Does that mean I, Vijay, am going to score in the next game against Netherlands?

With regard to sporting competitions, always take such predictions with a jar of salt. Didn't some popular astrologers predict that New Zealand will face the West Indies in the 2003 Cricket World Cup Final?

And in any case, Ronaldinho won't pull off a magic strike just because I picked a card. It simply doesn't happen that way.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Oh my! Argentinaaaaa

Take a look at this wonderful goal. Esteban Cambiasso scores at the end of a 24-pass move. Truly a treat for any football fan.

Brazil, here we come!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ronaldo or Crouch?

I have nothing against fat men. I belong to that tribe anyway. But Ronaldo... what was he doing on the pitch that night? A sordid display that had disinterest written all over it. Carlos Alberto Parreira might be committing a grave mistake playing him in front of top-draw playmakers like Ronaldinho and Kaka. He simply doesn't deserve that kind of service.

Ronaldo might have had to face even more criticism, but he should be thankful to Peter Crouch for diverting some away from him. These were some comments from the England - Trinidad & Tobago game... Crouch is played an excellent ball, it comes right to his scoring foot, at just the right height, an easy tap-in for anyone at that level. Crouch sends it wide, almost 70 degrees away from goal. The commentator remarks: "... an excellent ball played to Crouch. Peter Crouch! Goodness me, he almost sent it for a throw-in!"

On another occassion, the 6ft 7in Liverpool striker misses an easy header. Comment: "Must say, the ball hit Peter Crouch, rather than Crouch hitting the ball!"

Crouch seems like a person being played by Eriksson because he is short of players, or because Crouch is a tall man. Yes, of course he scored. But if you get David Beckham to play such wonderful, measured crosses a hundred times during the game, surely anyone can convert one of those.

It's not just Crouch, the whole English team looks off-colour. The only player who seemed comfortable in an England shirt during the T&T game was Aaron Lennon. Wayne, save these folks!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Mark, his name

Last week, I was speaking to a neighbour who had come home for vacation from the USA. The conversation beat upon the normal lines, and moved (predictably) to the battle for Washington 2008.

From whatever little gyan we get from our local media, we might be led to believe that Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton would be the undisputed Democrat nominee. And that to take her on, the Republicans would field Condoleezza Rice (despite her opting to play club football). My neighbour revealed that Senator Clinton, though a probable candidate, isn't by any means the automatic choice. One of the strong contenders from the Democrats is Mark Warner.

Mark R. Warner stepped down as Governor of Virginia in January 2006, after four years at the helm, in which time, he turned around Virginia's fiscal position -- from a $6 billion deficit to a $544 million surplus! He is considered as one of the most popular governors of Virginia (with an approval rating of 74%, the highest ever recorded), and was named in Time's Top 5 Governors last year.

A Southern Democrat (like Bill Clinton), Warner is considered a strong contender "because of his wide appeal to independents and moderate Republicans, and his high popularity in a relatively Republican state." (Wikipedia).

He can also take heart from the fact that history is on his side -- every Democratic President since Lyndon B. Johnson has been from the South.

Johnny Johnny, No Papa

What's wrong with the BJP, I wonder. Why are they wasting their energies on such arbit issues? First it was the ban on Fanaa in Gujarat. Now, the Madhya Pradesh Government has decided that nursery children won't learn "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star", "Ba ba Black Sheep" and "Johnny Johnny, Yes Papa" from now on.

The state claims that these rhymes smack of feudal mindsets and that's why they are being replaced by poems that are inspired by nationalism.

Says state education minister, Narottam Mishra, "We have removed some poems from the school syllabus. The decision was taken as our committee feels nationalist poems need to be taught to school kids."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Next up... Google Spreadsheet

Stop reading for a moment, and click here to sign up for a trial of Google Spreadsheet.

An online spreadsheeting program that will let you do spreadsheets from anywhere, upload existing sheets, collaborate and allow others to edit your sheets online! You know what these guys are targeting, right?

Check out this online tour of Google Spreadsheet.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Let's go on strike, comrade!

The Petroleum Minister has finally increased fuel prices - petrol will be dearer by 4 rupees and diesel by 2. That is in fact lesser than what was expected, and therefore is heartening.

You can predict what the Communist parties will now do. They have called for a strike on June 13. They will protest for a couple of days; some Left leaders will meet with the Prime Minister and the Union Cabinet, and then the prices will be reduced by 4 paise and 2 paise respectively. The Left will claim a victory for the people and all protests will be called off.

It is worth pondering what the Left wants to and has actually achieved by being in power for the past two years. Of course, they are not in power technically; but that doesn't stop them from arm-twisting the Government from time to time. Yet, when was it that these folks succesfully stalled a price hike? Their actions make everyone more doubtful. It is almost like a set plan: "Protest. Meet. Call-off. Claim victory."

Bad economics - that's what these people preach and practise. And they win brownie points everytime. Has the Left ever dared to withdraw support to the Government? Ask them this, and the response will be, "Oh, the country will then be under the control of communal forces!"

In conclusion, one has to salute that exalted mind which once quipped, "If the Left has a future in India, India has no future left!"

Jaffer scores 200

Wasim Jaffer has just battled his way to his maiden double hundred, against the West Indies in Antigua. In doing so, he has joined a select band of Indian test cricketers - the 200-club is indeed elite.

What he has also done is to walk into the media's glare as another hero who will now be mercilessly targeted every time he fails to impress.

Good luck, Wasim!

The irony

Practitioners of the medical profession are supposed to take an oath - the Hippocratic Oath - so named because it is believed to have been written by Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine according to the Greeks. It begins thus:

I swear by Apollo the physician, by Æsculapius, Hygeia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgement, the following Oath.
Going by the current debate on all the English news channels, one can spot an irony. It has now been concluded by these channels that the Apollo report was doctored (wow, an unintentional wordplay, really!).

I wonder what would have happened had this report been considered as true. In court, Rahul Mahajan's lawyers would have said:

Your Honour, my client is not guilty; I swear by Apollo!
And had the doctors who prepared the report been asked to testify in court, what would that have been called? The hypocritic oath?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

How to get more traffic

Marketing guru Seth Godin has a huge list of ways to get more traffic for your blog. Many of the tips are obvious:

#8 Announce news
#15 Be sycophantic. Share linklove and expect some back.
#38 Write about blogging.
#39 Digest the good ideas of other people, all day, every day.
#46 Edit yourself. Ruthlessly.
#48 Be patient.
#50 Ping technorati. Or have someone smarter than me tell you how to do it automatically.
Some are controversial:

#10 Encourage your readers to help you manipulate the technorati top blog list.
#14 Be snarky. Write nearly libelous things about fellow bloggers, daring them to respond (with links back to you) on their blog.
#21 Use photos. Salacious ones are best.

And some are contradictory:

#2 Be topical... write posts that need to be read right now.
#5 Be timeless... write posts that will be readable in a year.
#9 Write short, pithy posts.
#12 Write long, definitive posts.
#11 Don't write about your cat, your boyfriend or your kids.
#13 Write about your kids.
But in all, it is a funny, interesting read. You better read it, because it isn't a nice idea to mess up with the gurus!

All for a movie!

This week, a movie festival was organised at my company. Originally, 2 Tamil movies, 2 Hindi movies and an English movie were planned to be screened. Because of some unforeseen circumstances, one of the promised Tamil movies could not be screened. And this happened to Chandramukhi - the Rajnikanth starrer, the most successful Tamil movie ever.

The Tamil brain has suspicion and conspiracy hardwired into it -- someone suggested that the movie was not screened because the earlier Tamil movie was not well-accepted by the non-Tamil audience. Wow, what a way to trigger the Northie v/s Southie debate!

The subsequent debate which raged on in the bulletin board had all the elements of the usual slanging match. Funny as it might to a sane individual, it also brought out the differences hidden in the deepest corners of many hearts. Some suggested that a conspiracy was being hatched against Tamil movies; some others criticised non-Tamils for not being receptive enough; to which the response was the usual rant -- that Hindi was India's national language, and that everyone must learn to appreciate Hindi movies. An additional spin was given to this -- those who do not know Hindi are a national shame! Ouch!

And the root cause -- the distributor who had promised the Chandramukhi movie reel could not provide it. Goodness me!

Why would someone be so passionate about something as trivial as a movie screening? My Tamil friends, you could have accepted the inability of the organisers to screen a particular movie. And my non-Tamil friends, you could have chosen to act "as the Romans do". After all, you are aware that Tamils feel strongly about their culture. More importantly, our popular culture is not dictated by what happens in the Hindi heartland, but is pretty indigenous. It isn't such a bad thing to partake in our way of life, or is it? At least for a couple of hours?

This argument about Hindi being our national language reminds me of an interesting scene from Cho Ramaswamy's classic Mohammed bin Tughlaq. The Council of Ministers are in a meeting and the problem being discussed is which language should be ascribed the status of India's national language. The usual debate rages on, and it turns into chaos. Tughlaq, the Prime Minister, intervenes and declares, "From this day, I declare Persian as India's national language!" Everyone looks puzzled. Tughlaq explains, "Yes, Persian will be our national language. It is a language alien to India. The Hindi speakers do not know it. Nor do the Tamils, nor the Bengalis, no one... So, if Persian is elevated to this status, there will not be any quarrels. Everyone has to learn a new language, and no one will dare complain of favoritism!"

Friday, June 02, 2006

Kalaignar turns 83

You may not agree with him; you may not like his views on many issues; you may not vote for him. But that doesn't take anything away from Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi, who turns 83 today.

This man, who started his journey in the small village of Thirukkuvalai in 1924, is still relentless. Just think of what those eyes would have beheld all these years - it's staggering!

Very few contemporary figures can rival him in his status as a Tamil icon. I salute you, Sir!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Flying Spaghetti Monster

Till yesterday, error messages in Technorati used to be, "We're sorry. There is a huge server load. Try later." Suddenly, they have decided to become cool.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster has arrived and we have all been taken to planet Zeus 94 to kneel before Zod. All this is a little much for us to handle at the moment so come back later please. And leave a quarter in the collection tray on your way out.

That sounds better than "No donuts for you", doesn't it?