Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hold on, that's not on

Andrew Symonds on January 7:

"This is what happened before our confrontation," Symonds said in the Herald Sun. "Brett Lee had just sent down a delivery and Harbhajan took off down the wicket. When he was returning to his crease, he decided to hit Brett on the backside. I have no idea why he did it. I was standing nearby and when I saw what happened, I thought, 'Hold on, that's not on'. I'm a firm believer in sticking up for your team-mate..."

From Justice Hansen's judgment on January 29:

Anyone observing this incident would take it to be a clear acknowledgement of "well bowled". However Mr Symonds took objection to this...

Mr Symonds appears to be saying that he finds it unacceptable that an opponent makes a gesture that recognises the skill of one of his own team mates. In the transcript he stated:

"MR MANOHAR: You had any objection to that patting on the back?

MR SYMONDS: Did I have an objection to it -- my objection was that a test match is no place to be friendly with an opposition player, is my objection."

If that is his view I hope it is not one shared by all international cricketers. It would be a sad day for cricket if it is.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


The news is full of people holding their heads in despair as they stand outside the Bombay Stock Exchange gazing at the plummetting Sensex; of Rs 18 lakh crore being wiped out in two days; of Gujaratis going bankrupt; of angry investors demanding the Finance Minister's resignation.

All because the markets all over the world reacted to jitters about the health of the US economy, and Indian investors followed suit. The huge selloff that resulted sent the sensex down to levels it hadn't seen since, well, four months ago. If you invested before September 2007, and have a reasonably diversified portfolio, you're probably ahead of the game.

Or suppose you did lose some money. Suppose you invested when the market peaked, earlier in January, and lost about 20% of your investment. How long would it take before you got it back? Nobody can predict, but we can look at the past. If your portfolio performed similarly to the Sensex, and you had invested at the peak in May 2007 and rapidly lost about 25%, you'd have gained it back by about October 2007; and today your investments would have appreciated another 40% or so, after the crash. If you had invested at an earlier peak, in January 2004, you'd have lost about 20% when the UPA took office in May 2004; you'd have gained it back by November 2004, and gained about 200% in a little over 3 years since then (again, after the present "meltdown").

So even if you put your life savings in a reasonably diversified portfolio, you probably haven't lost more than about 20%, and can reasonably hope to gain it back in months. Yet rediff reports that many "small investors" (not day traders) have "gone bankrupt". Who are these people and how did they manage to go bankrupt? The article quotes an investor who bought Reliance Petroleum at Rs 270 and is lamenting the sight of people selling it at Rs 130. (It's silly to put all your eggs in one basket, but this particular basket is likely to be around for the long term.) But why would he want to sell, and even if he wants to and gets half the price he paid, why does that make him bankrupt? I can only imagine one scenario: he (and the other small investors) borrowed heavily to invest in the stock market, at exorbitant interest rates that they hoped the Sensex would outstrip, and now their creditors are calling.

But of course the past doesn't predict the future. How do we know the markets will recover? I think there are two points of view: if you think the fundamentals of the Indian economy are sound and growth will continue regardless of what happens in other countries, and most importantly if you believe that stock valuations today reflect the actual market worth of companies, you should stay invested. If you think the US economy will imminently go down the toilet and take the rest of the world with it, or if you think Indian stocks are overvalued, you should dump your stock now and invest in safer vehicles. But in that case why did you wait for the crash? People have been talking about the shaky US economy for a year or more, about overvalued Indian stocks for even longer, and the US subprime crisis hit many months ago. (Of course, if you had dumped the day the subprime crisis hit, you'd regret not having stayed invested until today.)

One last thing. Suppose you really believe that there are serious concerns about the health of the US economy, and that it will affect the rest of us. Why would Mr Bernanke's interest rate cut reassure you? Is there anyone in the world who thinks it will actually prevent a crash, as opposed to delaying it (and making it bigger when it comes)? Who are all these people who sent the markets rebounding today (and is it a safe prediction that they will panic again tomorrow, on seeing the jitters today in Europe and the US?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Candidates for the Bharat Ratna

The BJP has been demanding our highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, for former PM Vajpayee. Now, to stress the point that age should not be a limiting factor for the Bharat Ratna (or maybe to stress some other point that eludes me), the BJP's parent organisation, the RSS, is demanding one for Bhagat Singh, who was born 100 years ago and died over 75 years ago.

So we don't need to confine ourselves to individuals of contemporary importance. Good. Now that we're clear on that, here's a list of Indian individuals that have regrettably not been awarded our highest civilian honour; I think the omissions should urgently be rectified.

  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • Rabindranath Tagore
  • Thyagaraja
  • Tansen
  • Akbar
  • Adi Sankara
  • Ashoka
  • The Buddha
  • Lord Rama

I'm sure I've left out a few deserving names above. But no doubt our government will speedily attend to the matter.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

From Lennon to Ponting

I've been seeing variations on this all over the place. Though not original, it's too good to pass up...

Ishant Sharma's gonna get you,
Gonna knock you right on the head,
You better keep your stumps together,
Pretty soon you gonna be dead.
How in the world you gonna see,
Laughing at balls from me,
Who on earth do you think you are?
A superstar? Well, right you are...

(The reference, of course, is to this song.)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The company he keeps

I first heard of US Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul via, a libertarian, "palaeoconservative" news site/blog that I had been keeping an eye on for a while.

LRC articles tend to be a curious mix of common sense (eg, their views on the Bush wars) and crackpotness (eg, their regular tirades against evolution). Recently I exchanged a couple of mails with Lew Rockwell on the evolution/creationism question and why a "libertarian" website should promote Christian fundamentalism. The answer seemed to be that it's Lew's site and he'll post whatever he likes. (I may revisit this shortly.)

As for Paul, he's stirred up a lot of people via his no-nonsense philosophy: constitutionalism, limited government, sound money (based on the gold standard), non-interventionist foreign policy. It is probably the last two that have attracted a lot of people, from the left as well as the right: the falling dollar and the Iraq disaster clearly worry a lot of Americans but are not being addressed very much by the candidates, especially on the Republican side. (Also in common with liberals, he opposes the war on drugs and the numerous infringements on civil liberties committed by the Bush administration.) Regardless of what one thinks of his extreme laissez-faire economic and social philosophy, his vision of a non-interventionist US is a tempting one.

But more recently, Paul has (not for the first time) been attacked, particularly in a recent article by James Kirchick in The New Republic, over newsletters that went out under his name in the 1980s and 1990s that express virulently racist, anti-semitic and xenophobic views. Paul's official response has been that he did not edit those newsletters or approve the articles in question, denounces such "small-minded thoughts", and takes responsibility for not overseeing better what went out under his name. Meanwhile, was full of infuriated posts claiming that all this was old hat and already adequately addressed, and attacking Kirchick for his young age and his alleged pimples.

But inquiring minds elsewhere wanted to know: if not Paul, who wrote those newsletters? Now Reason magazine thinks they know the answer: Lew Rockwell.

To an outsider like me, Reason's article raises serious questions. Even if Rockwell himself did not pen all (or any) of the offending articles, he seems to have had editorial oversight of the newsletter and undoubtedly approved the articles. And in contrast to the furious response to the New Republic article, I saw no mention, let alone discussion, of the allegation against Rockwell on LRC.

And what of Paul? Lew Rockwell is not a former rogue writer whose identity is long-forgotten. He is closely associated with the Paul campaign and his website has been the most consistent cheerleader for him. If he was the author, it is inconceivable that Paul was unaware of it; the decent thing would have been for Rockwell to raise his hand, and recant his views (one is allowed to change one's opinions, after all). And if Rockwell was not the author, surely he'd have denied it unequivocally by now.

It very much looks like the articles had, at the very least, Lew Rockwell's approval, and probably his authorship; and for Paul to finger Rockwell at this stage would be devastating for both of them. I await the outcome of all this with great interest. Most likely there will be no confirmation or denial of the authorship; the negative publicity will have its effect on Paul's numbers, his campaign will fizzle out, and LRC will continue as it used to, little-known outside a certain fringe group of libertarians.

Pity. Paul and Dennis Kucinich were the only candidates talking about the war and civil liberties. They'll both be out of the race soon. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Monkey business

So the row has blown over, the third Test is on, and India has gained a big first-innings lead; but the racism charge against Harbhajan remains. He now claims that he wanted to say "Maa ki..." which is vulgar abuse in India but acceptable in Australia. Several people have observed that "monkey" ("bandar", "korangu" etc) is not racial abuse in India: it is widely used of unruly children, regardless of complexion. But then why call Symonds a monkey, rather than Ponting or Clarke? It is doubtful that these people had an innocent interpretation in mind.

But is it only people of African ancestry that get compared to our simian relatives? Go to, type "chimp" and hit "I'm feeling lucky": this page is what you get (as of this writing).

Now google "Bush Ponting" -- it seems many people have noticed a physical resemblance between the two.

So would it be a very subtle form of racial abuse to tell Symonds: "You remind me of Ponting", leaving it unstated that Ponting reminds you of Bush, and Bush reminds you of a chimp? Personally, I'd find the Bush comparison the most insulting and offensive, with the Ponting comparison a close second. But the point is, why single out racial abuse? Why not take action against all forms of abuse on the field?

Monday, January 07, 2008

"There's no way I grounded that ball!"

Said Ponting to an Indian journalist, ""There's no way I grounded that ball. If you're actually questioning my integrity in the game, then you shouldn't be standing there."

What is he talking about? This:

That picture was sent to Prem Panicker by a reader; click on it for Prem's take. (UPDATE: Prem Panicker points out that Rashid Latif was banned for five games in 2003 for the identical offence: falsely claiming a catch that hadn't been taken cleanly. The match referee was the same in both cases: Mike Procter. Sauce, gander, geese?)

(UPDATE: Video showing the ball resting on the ground, with Ponting's hand on top of it, for a full half second or so -- about 00:32 into the video.)

And what of Adam Gilchrist, the "walker" who claims to play fair, yet appealed loudly for his "catch" off Dravid when he was in the best position to see Dravid's bat safely tucked behind his pad?

Martin Williamson says on cricinfo that standing one's ground for an umpire's decision, instead of "walking", is not cheating; but falsely claiming a catch is cheating. Gilchrist, please note. Williamson also quotes Steve Bucknor as saying "The umpire should not depend on someone who is a walker. Otherwise, that same walker may embarrass the umpire." And Bucknor, and his colleague Mark Benson, have been well and truly embarrassed in this test.


  • Ponting and Kumble had a pre-series agreement to take each others' fielders' words for it where catches were concerned.
  • Ponting grossly violated the agreement.
  • Ponting blew his top when an Indian media person challenged him on it, and tried to take the moral high ground.
  • Ponting later made umpire Mark Benson take his word for it when Michael Clarke claimed to catch Sourav Ganguly at a crucial stage in the second innings.

It is far worse than what Rashid Latif did. But both the ICC and the BCCI already have zero credibility; I predict Ponting will face no consequences and the BCCI will do nothing to take up the matter -- after all, they want Aussies to play in the lucrative IPL.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

I think it's time to start wondering...

...whether cricket umpires have also succumbed to temptation.

We haven't heard much about match-fixing in recent times, but maybe the bookies have just changed focus.

Tribute to Dr S C Bhargava

This blog has been mostly silent for a month now, for several reasons. One reason is that one of the best teachers -- and best human beings -- whom I have ever known, Dr S C Bhargava, who taught for about 3 decades at St Stephen's College before retiring in 2002, died in his hometown, Jaipur, on December 13. Trying to write a tribute brought out to me my inadequacies as a writer. I could not write something that satisfied me; and I did not want to write anything else.

Now a much better writer has published a tribute: Ram Guha, in The Hindu. He says everything I could have hoped to say, and much more. Go and read it.

Why would a relatively unknown undergraduate college physics teacher merit an obituary by an internationally-known writer, who's not a physicist, in one of India's most widely read national newspapers? Everyone who knew "Bhargava Sahib" knows the answer. People like him are rare, and needed.

St Stephen's College is known for excellence and pretentiousness, depending on whom you talk to; Bhargava sahib, as Guha points out, was the most unpretentious man you could hope to meet, a committed teacher, and a tremendously supportive person when you had problems or needed advice. I first met him, at my father's suggestion (they had known each other since their student days), when I needed to do a high school physics project. (I was one of the many Rahuls that Guha mentions.) Subsequently I interacted closely with him on joining St Stephen's College, and stayed in touch in later years, though not as often as I would have liked. We last corresponded about a year ago; he mentioned general poor health, but I had no idea of the subsequent recurrence of his lung cancer, so it was a shock to learn of his passing. He was one of three memorable teachers I had at St Stephen's; all three are no more, and all died before their time.

Some excellent younger people have joined since I graduated, of course. Undergraduate science education is in a crisis in this country, and we need more people like him. Academic pressures are taking their tolls on young students, and for that too we need more teachers like him. Dr Bhargava mattered immensely, more than most people who earn long obituaries in national newspapers; and I'm glad that Ram Guha and The Hindu have chosen to remember this man before a wider audience.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy new year, everybody!

Hope 2008 is the best year yet.

Posting has been slow, and probably will be for a while.