How do you define racism ?

For no particular reason, racism crossed my mind this morning.
What is racism if not personal discrimination.

When you look at it that simply, it comes down to personal preferences; personal preferences that are not always logical. We have our choice of brands, our choice of holiday destinations, our choice of fruits…the list goes on. How many of these preferences are logical. More importantly, how many of these are subject to moral or ethical arguments ?

When you say that such and such a business establishment discriminates against such and such ethnicity, I believe you are only projecting a moral point. To take the concerned establishment to court based solely on this point is stretching things a little too far. I would go to the extent of saying that this is a violation of the freedom of the establishment. They have the right to exercise their personal preferences. (Whether these preferences contradict the interests of the stakeholders is a matter that needs to be looked at through a different lens)

Consider an uptown bar which does not allow blacks (in an imaginary country where such discrimination is still going on). Now, if you were to pass a law that such discrimination is illegal, you are preventing the bar from exercising its fundamental business right viz to be able to decide the profile of its clientele. Does this business practice leave a bad taste in the mouth ? maybe. Is this ethically wrong ? maybe..depending on what your ethical upbringing was like. Does it violate any freedoms ? not so sure.

Let me clarify myself. If it so happens that the government owns this bar and they have decided to discriminate against me based on my color, I have a legal point. Since the government collects taxes from me, it is legally obligated to discontinue this practice of discrimination towards me. Also, I have a way of putting pressure on the government till it discontinues its policies (the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa being a prime example of such pressure). I have a similar way of putting pressure on the afore-mentioned private-owned bar to discontinue its discrimination. There are ways of applying this pressure (subtle as in spreading a message of boycotting the bar across ethnic lines; or not so subtle as in organizing protests in front of the bar). But the judiciary or the government has no right to put pressure on the bar.

Unless I hold a regular job, no bank has an obligation to lend me money. Of course, I will overlook temporarily the fact that the bank has a business reason for not lending me money. Should I be allowed to go to court saying that the bank is discriminating against un-employed youth ? Can I term this racism ?

I am groping in the dark here. The more I think of it, the more unclear it is. The government has an obligation to treat all its citizens as equals since it taxes them all without discrimination and it gets votes from all without discrimination (a government by the people, for the people and so forth). That much is correct.
But to stretch that point further and say that all privately-owned business establishments should also treat all citizens equally, does not hold water. It may be an ethical or moral argument. In the end, it may even be a lousy business practice (very few businesses can depend on a clientele coming from a limited profile). However, there ought to be no legal point here.

I know we have laws, though. I am reminded of the famous case of Mahatma Gandhi being thrown out of a train in South Africa. There is a legal point here in so many ways. Number one: the railways was state-owned and the state owed Gandhi some privileges as a law-abiding citizen (or whatever his immigrant-status in SA was at that point in time). Number two: he had paid for his ticket and the railways was reneging on a business contract by denying him the services he had already paid for.
When courts look at racism, that is the point they should focus on: did the accused party renege on a contract with the accuser ? If yes, put the accused in jail. If no, please do not dig up a sentimental argument about all men being equal. It does not suit the supposed-to-be-objective judiciary.

Help me here….I so want my argument to be wrong..its in my flesh and upbringing. But my gut says that the above argument is correct.
Where am I wrong ? what do you feel ?

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Gearless travel

Maybe it is just me. Maybe I am getting old. I see scores of women riders in gearless two-wheelers (mostly Honda Activa) these days on the streets of Hyderabad. And these are not your typical women riders: they drive aggressively, twisting and turning, overtaking “slow” vehicles at will, getting impatient at the signal, trying to squeeze into every tiny place available…the gender gap indeed is closing down.

There is nothing wrong in women getting skillful with their vehicles; in fact, it is good news. I wonder, though, if this has anything to do with the kind of vehicles they ride.

You see, when you ride a geared two wheeler, you need more reaction time. Supposing you are going at 45 kmph in the fourth gear: you see a car braking suddenly in front of you, or a kid running on to the road. You need time to shift into lower gears, apply the breaks, take your feet off the break pedal or the gear lever (if you are riding a bike) and balance the vehicle before it comes to a stop. With a gearless two-wheeler, you just apply the breaks with both hands and the vehicle stops !

Now, why is that a problem ? Most people are of the view that driving on a busy road is all about watching what is in front of you. I believe that driving is more than that; you need to be aware of vehicles in front of you, behind you, beside you; of vehicles coming from the opposite direction, vehicles turning left or right….There are gearless two-wheelers which will break from 45 to zero in a sec: good for them ! But what about the person riding just behind them ? Will he/she be able to achieve the same feat with his/her geared two-wheeler ?

Gearless travel is one free of all hassle. You just get on the vehicle, push a button and you are on the road ! But I wonder if they are getting all the wrong driving habits into people who use them. Are they taking away the art of anticipation from riding ?Are they encouraging people to be more aggressive on the roads ?

Geared vehicles are not just some fancy of the older or macho generation. They are more fun to ride because they give you more control over your vehicle, you get to decide how much power you extract from your vehicle. They are also good for the engine (It is common knowledge that in the US, geared cars have a longer transmission life than the automatic ones). You see, even gearless vehicles have gears in them; the only difference being that while we manually shift gears in our geared ones, these gearless ones have a mechanism where the machine figures out how much torque you need and automatically shifts gears for you. The smoother your transition from one gear to the next, the easier it will be on the drive train. Hence, you are always advised to speed up or down in a gradual, smooth manner. Geared vehicles not only allow you to do that, they virtually force you.

There is nothing wrong as such with gearless vehicles. As with all of science, how we use it is up to us. Riding is a difficult activity which needs all your attention and focus on the road. Any help in the form of automation is welcome. However, I think we need a discipline on the road to maintain safety for all. Unfortunately, I fear that the freedom that gearless vehicles give us is being used to drive more aggressively and with less discipline.

But then, maybe I am getting old …

Infinity Puzzle…

Update: If you came here looking for “Eternity ii Puzzle”, please go here

I noticed recently that this blog has been getting a lot of hits from the google search string “infinity puzzle 2”. I swear to God I have no idea what Search Engine Optimization is !

Anyway, here is today’s infinity puzzle :

I had written a post sometime back titled “Infinity Puzzle 2“. For some reason beyond my limited mental capabilities, a lot of folks are recently using that exact search string in google. So, if I write a post every day and just fill it with the term “infinity puzzle 2”, will I keep getting more and more hits ? Will there be an end to it or will it keep on increasing till Google does a repeat of its Florida dance ?

There, that should boost the hitrate on my blog ! I am satisfied….

Notes on “Thirteen Days” — the movie

Watching “Thirteen Days” for the 9th time, I get the feeling this movie should be a regular part of any class on decision making.

For those who haven’t had a chance to watch this movie, it is based on the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961 that pushed the US, and the world in general, to the brink of a nuclear war.

As Kennedy tittles and tattles between various options trying to fuse the crisis while trying not to blink at the Soviets, you get a feeling that decision making is not such a rational process after all. Logic takes a backseat as emotions take over. Your colleagues, family, friends…everyone wants a piece of the action. You almost get to a stage where you feel that there is no one right decision. Every decision is correct and logical to an extent and the only difference is the frame of reference you chose to look at it from.

This is one of my favourite movies — all time. Each time I watch it, I get a new frame of reference. To this day, I believe Kennedy was more charismatic than effective. But then, that is a belief that is open to challenge.

Censorship and public awareness

Watching the movie “Black Friday”, I wonder.

This movie was kept under wraps for five years since the 93 blast cases were going on. Personally, I am not sure that was a good enough reason for preventing the release of this movie. However, I am wondering…if the govt decides to let go of censorship and lets the public decide what is viewable/readable and what is not, maybe the raw nature of the material available for public consumption could shake us into action. Maybe, it is in the government’s interest that our eyes and ears be kept away from the reality around us.

I wonder…I seriously do.

Does Federer love a challenge ?

As I write this, I am watching Federer battle Nadal for that elusive French Open crown.

I havent watched too many Fedex-Rafa battles so I do not know the trend. From what I am watching, I get the feeling that Fedex is missing his most potent weapon : the effect of being at the right place in the court at the right time. Somehow, without anyone noticing, he is always there to retrieve the ball or make that impossible angle.

In this match, however, I see that missing completely. The balance is not there, he is somehow struggling to reach the ball. The number of unforced errors is uncharacteristically high. There is an almost a sort of defensiveness about his game. Pray why, I ask.

There are two types of greats in the sporting arena: those who love a challenge, and those who do not. When as a sportsperson or a team, you reach a position where you are considered invincible, there is an aura around you. The opposition feels that aura. It becomes more and more and difficult to beat you as that aura spreads. The mere idea of competing against you becomes a mental block.

And then, just out of the blue, comes an opponent who is able to put it across you. One or two losses are considered flukes.But the opponent finds a niche where he is able to consistently challenge you. Think about Rafa beating Fedex on clay; think about the Indian cricket team consistently beating the Aussies at home (till recently i.e) — the “final frontier”. Now, suddenly, the shoe is on the other foot. You, the champ, have a mental block of your own to overcome: can you beat this opponent in this niche area ? It becomes harder with each loss, the block becomes bigger and bigger and, eventually, it starts to affect your entire game. Take the example of Ivan Lendl, the number one tennis player before Boris Becker came on the scene. Lendl was unbeatable, he was my favourite player. Unfortunately, for him, he could never win the Wimbledon. Experts told us that grass did not suit his game, but I refused to believe that. Then, along came Boris Becker, his biggest nemesis. He repeatedly beat Lendl on grass. As a Lendl fan, it was painful to watch. The block, for Lendl became so huge that other areas of his game started to drop. Becker was now beating him on almost all kinds of courts. Slowly, Lendl faded. Like I said, the decline was painful to watch :I remember a game between these two when Lendl was disputing a call with the umpire (a rarity for the calm and self-effacing Lendl). He was imploring “I am already in a lot of trouble, please do not make it more difficult for me”. Becker eventually won that match and that was that.

So, as I watch Federer today, I ask: is this the weak spot that is going to bring his downfall ? Can he overcome this ? Maybe I am oversimplifying, maybe I am reading too much. However, I get the feeling that Federer just does not cherish the challenge to his aura. It is shaking him up that Nadal is not so easy to beat, especially on clay. It probably started as a minor irritant for him a few years back, but it has now developed into a major mental block. His movement on the court is listless, the backhand slice shot shows up meekly on most of the major points, the forehand slap-shot just cannot deliver the punch. Does he enjoy playing Nadal on clay courts ? On a different note, is this what differentiates him from the all-time-great, Sampras ?

This is where I admire the Australian cricket team. They just love a challenge. They know they are the dominating number one, but that is not enough for them. What they are so good at is not just playing better cricket than other teams, it is about playing better cricket under all circumstances: slow wickets, quick wickets, preliminary games, exhibition matches, tournament finals, one-dayers, Twenty20s, test cricket…everything. They do not have a nemesis. Till two years back, India was the “final frontier”. That was taken up as a challenge and not as a mental block. The Aussies just kept coming back every time — with newer ideas, better preparation, better players each time. They finally won. The Ashes loss in 2005 was a major event for them, they came back to retain the Ashes with a whooping 5-0 whitewash of England. A challenge to their supremacy is taken up with lip-smacking. They are aggressive when they take on their closest opponents; they are sure-footed every time. Defeats do not put in self-doubt, they are just vehicles for feedback, for improving the weak links; they are an opportunity to iron out the chinks in their formidable armor.

As I complete writing this post, I hear that Nadal eventually won the French Open. Things are falling into patterns. The experts will tell us that Nadal’s power game is better suited to clay, but I think otherwise. I forsee a great rivalry between these two, but I feel the intensity of the rivalry will be lowered unless Fedex loses his mental block. I hope he unleashes the true champion in himself.

In any case, I can always get back to watching the Aussies if my other sporting heroes disappoint me !

Video karaoke, possible ?

Ever remember when you went out for a movie with your friends and then you came to a sad scene where a friend made a funny comment and you all started laughing uncontrollably ?

Ever remember watching a cricket match and your friends shouting “Come on Kumble, dive man !” etc ?

I am dreaming of a software (or a hardware) which will allow me to record viewer comments while the video is running. Then when I get a chance to replay the video (through a DVD or a VCD), I would have the option of choosing either the original soundtrack or the karaok’ed soundtrack.

That would be a great way of enhancing the watching experience. It also has a nostalgic value: I want to recollect all those comments my friends made when we were watching a movie or a cricket or tennis match.
There is one more reason for this longing: I despise the cricket commentary on display these days. I feel my friends read the game better than the bloke speaking on TV. If I ever buy a DVD or VCD of my favourite cricket game, I would like to be able to over-write the on-TV commentary with that of my friends or myself.

What do my readers say ?