Friday, April 06, 2007

In Which I Am Disappointed

Annie Zaidi has finally lost it. There goes one of the few hopes I had from the feminist side of affairs.

I think that men have a right to 'look' if we happen to be in their line of vision. But they do not have a right to assume that a woman is available (even if she is stark naked), or open to insults, or that she will appreciate their admiration and attention. Unwelcome attention will simply provoke defensive-aggressive behaviour. And every woman has the right to define her own boundaries of (un)acceptable behaviour, and to defend those boundaries as she sees fit.

Indeed. And every man has the right to blow off the head of any other guy who calls him a prick. As also the duty to divine the limits of acceptable behavious for any woman he might see anywhere. There is no need for any kind of consensus on this - on differentiating between name calling, lewd comments and groping. No, it must be absolutely left to each individual. And a man has the right to look only in his "line of vision". Incidentally, all people , at all times, look only in their line of vision. Or is she suggesting that a man's "line of vision" be static?

It had been happening for some time. Ever since the attempts to replicate Arundhati Roy in form and content started happening. One-word paragraphs. Stream-of-consciousness images. I kept reading her - because she knows the heartland, because she writes about things people don't bother about. But this ??

Apologies to the sisters I offended by my opinions earlier. I stand corrected, and wiser.

References to "sisters" should be disallowed unless you're Beyonce in a hot music video. (Lil Kim would do too, it's just that she doesn't make any music worth tolerating even for the video.)

Aman feels this one is a great blogger. I've read her - erudite but far too biased. And, over-reliant on the term "dehumanizing". As well as on caricatures of typical desi grad students who have probably stopped existing outside of low-budget NRI movies. She finds the concept and the activity of strip clubs "dehumanizing". My thought process about this is -

1) Even if one doesn't know the term "dehumanizing", everyone has an instinctive understanding of what counts as "dehumanizing". The fact that strippers prefer stripping to some other profession they could have gone into says something(I am not talking about those who are being forced to do anything against their wishes - that is coercion and is a crime under every legal system in the world).

2) A stripper may then choose stripping to one or more of the following reasons - a) she enjoys that b) it makes her good money, or c) it makes her a moderate amount of money but she doesn't have the skills to make better money elsewhere. Case a is a no-brainer. Case b and c imply that the stripper chooses the option of getting touched by unknown men over choosing poverty. Which is to say that in her value system, poverty is more dehumanizing than random male contact. Why should anyone call a strip-club dehumanizing then?

Random plugging - Aman has begun writing. Have you checked him out yet? Crisp style, intelligent humour, tangy opinions. I likes.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Was too lazy to hyper-link to various sources of my information for the last post. Most of it was stuff I already knew. But search for the following keywords on Google and Wikipedia - you should come across what I did.

1. Hunting ranches
2. Endangered Species Act
3. Game Reserves
4. "African Parks"
5. White rhinos + Africa
6. National parks + Africa
7. Wildlife conservation + US
8. Bison
9. Masai Mara
10. Nature Reserve
11. Hunting Safari
12. World Conservation Union

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Reason

why journalists who fancy themselves as economists should not write - this. (Free registration is required).

Right now, our wild animals are a wasted resource. Only private companies can unlock their true value by turning them into a dollar-earning tourist attraction. Wild animals flourish in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana because these nations treat their wildlife as an industry. They give land owners full property rights over the wild animals that roam on their land. The rights include hunting the animals and selling their meat, hides and horns. Thousands of privately owned ranches in these countries have switched to wildlife and safari tourism. They attract wealthy Americans and Europeans who pay $500-1,000 a day to go on photographic or hunting safaris, which typically last two to three weeks. So we have a paradox. These countries have booming wild animal population. But India’s wildlife diminishes even though shooting a partridge is a criminal offence. The paradox stems from a simple reason. Landowners of southern Africa protect their wildlife because they earn from it.

Right, so that's the crux of the argument - privatise the wild animals and the land that contains them. So if I own some land and wild animals are an attraction, I have an incentive to keep these animals alive. Brilliant - I have an incentive to keep, say, elephants alive so that I can earn from them when others want to shoot and kill them, I keep them alive so that they can later be killed! And this is apparently a successful and sustainable conservation model, so, once a few of my elephants have been killed and their tusks etc sold, I still have an incentive to invest in the breeding and nourishment of more elephants, so much so that the number of new jumbo babies I want will exceed the number of jumbos I sell or allow to be hunted and their overall numbers will increase. Can someone please tell me how a business model in which you procure more goods than you sell (and bear in mind that procurement here entails life-long maintenance and care, while sale involves a one-time payment) so as to keep increasing the overall number in your inventory is feasible? The reason these private efforts have worked very simple - hunting of protected animals is not allowed in wildlife reserves, whether they are private or public. Private landowners in Africa protect these animals from hunting not because they can hunted later, but because hunting of those animals that are considered endangered is banned. They make their money by tourist safaris, not by allowing hunting. So yes, the article is blatantly wrong with its facts. Hunting licenses are offered only for those animals that are not considered critical, and poaching is still quite common.

India’s tigers or elephants die because nobody owns them. Tragically, their killing is encouraged by their protectors—government forest guards who split the Rs2 lakh or so a poacher makes from killing a tiger. Official figures tell the story. Between 1999 and 2004, India saw the poaching of 53 tigers, three lions, 179 elephants and 23 rhinos. Other official figures say that despite this, a natural increase has raised the number of these animals. These numbers are suspect.

Brilliant again. So the official figures that support my case are correct, while those that contradict my case are suspect. Subjective and selective use of data is the oldest trick in the game.

After all, 24 tigers were reported to roam the Sariska game sanctuary in Rajasthan in 1997. But a recheck two years ago found that not a single tiger remained. Could the misreporting apply to other reserves? Perhaps yes. Tiger numbers are compiled by the very forest departments which connive with poachers. Depressingly, half of India’s tiger population of around 3,642 is found in India’s worst-governed states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa. So, the longer wild animals are safeguarded by the Indian state, the closer they’ll get to extinction.

Once you have pronounced judgement - "the very forest departments that connive with poachers", why even bother substantiating your argument. If conniving with criminals is the be-all and end-all of government departments, there is no case whatsoever for the very existence of a government.

Nelson Mandela acknowledged that his poor HIV-stricken continent didn’t have the resources to save its priceless wildlife. Today, four of South Africa’s game reserves are run by Africa Parks, a private company owned by a Dutch conservationist. The experiment has been so successful that the company has been approached by several other African nations to run their game parks. Kenya has also given charge of one-third of its Masai Mara game reserve to a private management firm, Mara Conservancy.

Listen, these parks have been given to wildlife conservationists dammit, not to ranchers who allow hunting on these premises. They are private yes, but not private in the sense of 'come hold property and do what you like with it, find an incentive and conserve wildlife'. For a conservationist, conservation is an end in itself, not the by-product of a business incentive. Once the goal of conservation is considered paramount, the business incentives are created around it by the way of tourism.

Wildlife remains when it’s self-supporting. As an African saying goes, “If it pays, it stays.” Rhinos flourish in South Africa because South Africans buy, sell, breed and ship them as if they were racehorses. A white rhino there can sell for more than $30,000. Private lands in Zambia hold more big game than state-owned lands. Wildlife flourishes so much in the US that the state earned over $1 billion in 2000 from selling 15 million hunting licences and 30 million fishing licences to outdoor-loving Americans. Thanks to sustainable wildlife policies, the wolf and the bison have made such a comeback that their hunting is now allowed in America. Texas has some 500 hunting ranches stocked with all kinds of exotic species. Hunters pay $8,500 for killing one big animal. It’s very sad, virtually tame animals being shot by somebody who wants a trophy on a wall. But if that ‘hunting’ wasn’t allowed, nobody would even stock those animals.

Juvenile mix-up of cause and effect. The hunting of bisons has been allowed because they have made a comeback and are no longer endangered. The hunting is the effect of the comeback, not the cause of it. The "sustainable wildlife policies" that saved the bison included banning its killing. In any case, only those states have allowed bison-hunting where they have grown so much in numbers that culling is required to maintain a target population. Such culling happens in India as well, for eg. in the case of Nilgai in Gujarat. Those private parks in Botswana that hold big game do not allow them to be hunted. US hands out licenses for killing non-endangered animals and fishes, not for endangered animals. There are 11,000 remaining white rhinos in Africa, of which 5,000 are found in the Kruger National Park which is owned and managed by the SA government. As white rhinos are considered endangered and protected, the only sale that happens is between private individuals who already run and manage the private parks in Africa - which is to say that the sale and all is from one nature park to another, from one conservationist to another. Texas ranches do not have indigenous "exotic species" that are allowed to be hunted. Those exotics that are not protected have been brought in from outside the US (the Barasingha, for e.g) and the Us thus has no intention of conserving them in the first place. Of course, as a journalist, Mr. Kala is not required to concern himself with the details of the matter.

India’s wildlife vanishes also because the Indian state has no expertise in managing it. Maintaining a wildlife balance requires special knowledge. For example, one grown elephant eats 200 kg of vegetation a day and a herd can devastate an area. If the elephants rise in number, should they be culled, sterilized or relocated? Which IAS officer will know the answer?

Mr Kala has not heard of the Indian Forest Service apparently. A mere technicality, no doubt, in his mind. As of today the Indian government employs more than 1500 officers in the IFS and many more in the state services, who specialise in precisely this kind of knowledge. I know, my father is one of them. They (the IFS guys) also tend to know lots of other such things that are related, for e.g., what is the sustainabale ratio of blackbucks to predators in a conserved area, what is the correct canopy cover that has to be maintained in a dry deciduous forest that acts as the habitat of the Asiatic Lion (Gir), what is the sustainable amount of timber and non-timber forest produce that can be extracted from a wet deciduous forest without damaging it irreversibly, how to keep these figures under control while not upsetting the needs and demands and culture of the local tribal populace, how to manage and motivate the "corrupt forest guards" who sometimes find time away from "conniving with the poachers" to save the forests and often end up clashing physically with armed people from timber and veneer lobbies who do not mind flouting laws that have been framed to protect forests. (Of course, the free-marketeer in Mr Kala will argue that these honourable businessmen are driven to adopt such tactics only because of flawed policies, otherwise they'd be pure as babies feeding on breast milk.)

The entire article is a classic example of the way free-market fundamentalist journos approach any given situation. Some facts are collected, which are never verified, nor scrutinised for details. All the resultant conclusions then drawn by viewing these facts from the purpled prism of unrelenting ideology. Connected but different issues are mixed up. The government is pronounced as terrible at every given opportunity and lame pot-shots are taken at it.

Here, Mr Kala has mixed up the issues of privatization of conservation efforts, relaxing hunting laws, and distribution of public and private property w.r.t natural resources. The first point has some merit if argued well and needs to be explored, the second is superfluous and more of a concern to American conservatives - there isn't a demand for hunting in India, and the third has ramifications and implications far beyond wildlife conservation and deserves to be argued in detail elsewhere. He conveniently forgets or doesn't bother to find out, or glosses over the following details

1. Wildlife "flourishes" in Africa and US because they have a better base (more species, more number of animals) to begin with, and those species that have increased in numbers have been able to make a come-back because they were classified as endangered and hunting and trade in them was banned. In any case, he has provided no numbers to support his theory of flourish, for e.g., any figures before and after the privatization of those parks in Africa.

2. Nature Parks that are privatized in Africa have been given to conservationists, not just anyone. Those lands that already exist as private property allow hunting only in non-endangered and non-protected species. The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 in India classifies the commonly found animals in India under various schedules, and lays down the guidelines of what trading or activity is allowed for what species. The tiger is a Schedule-I animal any hunting or trade in a tiger or tiger products are prohibited. Even if we were to adopt the private model based on the spurious examples that the article mentions, trading in tigers would still be illegal, the only point worth arguing would be if the private companies manage the conservation efforts better than the government. Such acts exist in all countries, including the US (Endangered Species Act, 1973) and all of Mr Kala's African examples. The success of wildlife conservation in Africa owes largely to the efforts of the local governments in tandem with teams of conservationists from all over the world. The forest department in India also regularly works in tandem with animal conservationists to chalk out strategies regarding relocation, culling, captive breeding, etc. to keep the wildlife "flourishing".

3. Mr Kala has not proved, apart from pointing out some recent tiger deaths, the pressing need for privatisation of either management or ownership of wildlife parks. India's tiger population is 3642 today, what was it earlier? How does the increase match up to other such conservation efforts elsewhere in the world? Gir has 327 lions now, it had 255 in 1990. (Of course, Mr Kala would say - these numbers are suspect, they are provided by the forest department themselves. Nevermind the fact that any wildlife census involves independent wildlife experts, how is one to bother over such piffling details) What species, Mr Kala, is on its path to extinction due to mismanagement by the big, bad Government of India? As far as preventing the tragedy of the commons is concerned, most forest departments are working out ways of developing eco-tourism, ala African safaris.

More generally, the ill-researched piece brings to light the reasons people with real day jobs tend to dismiss the views and opinions held by most freelance econo-journos (Sauvik Chakraverti of ToI comes to mind immediately). Loads of armchair theorising, a reluctance to get some real data and scrutinise it before forming opinions and passing judgements, the tendency to interpret facts so as to suit long-held theories rather than allowing one's ideologies to be moulded by facts, the tendency to make this-solution-will-end-all-woes kind of pronouncements, a ridiculous lack of awareness about the government and its bodies, and a compulsive desire to pronounce every single govt functionary as corrupt, conniving with the criminals. Mint claims to be fighting for the cause of "freedom", economic and social. It would do itself a great favour by ensuring its opinion pieces are tighter and less shallow. Of course, irrespective of whether they make sense or not, Amit will root for them.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Of Ex-Cricketers, Blame Games & Cricket

Mike Atherton brings in the grand conspiracy theory -it is the corporates who keep Sachin's career going. Brilliant.

"The truth is that Tendulkar has been marketed as a brand for some time, advertising many of the biggest commercial names in India. There are many interested parties who are keen to see Tendulkar wearing India's colours for a while yet...

A man who has achieved almost everything there was to achieve in his own field is kept going because there are interested parties who want him to don his country's colours as he is a valuable brand. Indeed. What about this shocking hypothesis - he goes on because he believes he is good enough, because he feels that he has still something left to achieve. Delusion, maybe. But corporate pressure ??? Maybe Atherton was paid some money by Coke to write that. Makes sense no - you play because company wants you to, I write bullshit because company wants me to.

Meanwhile, Greg Chappell believes that 5 senior players did India in, and makes it seem like a conspiracy again. Even if the report is true - so what? All the senior players had a difference of opinion with you, the captain went with them and not you. History proved you right. So that means that the "senior players had no respect for the management"? Listen Chappell, the team is not your bloody fiefdom. Don't sulk and name names and reveal shit to the media just because some people don't agree with you, ok? You can do the "I told you so , I told you so, uh-oh, I told you so" dance ala Will & Grace. Don't take it as a personal affront. Or do even that, but don't act all self-righteous in front of the media and act as if everyone was bound by law to take your words as the gospel truth.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Management & Cricket

After India's loss at the world cup, everyone has been pitching in with their two paise worth on the issue. The most idiotic instances occur when the business papers try and get some random manager or consultant or CEO-Mentor to comment on various issues and these luminaries proceed to analyse and comment not based on their knowledge of the game, but based on their knowledge of the 'principles of strategic management' .

We all respect you Mr Narayan Murthy. But we also realise that there is a difference between creating a company that is reasonably good while providing IT services, and creating a team that brings home the world cup. Your experiences with Infosys, however valuable they are, are not universal. When you build a team, you are dealing with individuals who have graduated from one of the numerous faceless engineering colleges of India, who will provide middling services to numerous faceless clients over a product that did not exactly change the world of Information Technology. When you build a business, you try and create markets where there were none, you try and gain share in markets which actually exist, and you do not necessarily need to defeat the other guy to do supremely well yourself. That, you will agree, is not similiar in form or spirit to working on the game of the top 15 people in the country so that they can defeat the top 15 players of other countries and win a sporting event.

Sport is different, it is zero-sum. It is also not very long term. Structural and process deficiencies do not explain everything -in fact, at the highest level in sport, structures and processes hardly seem to matter. Else, Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes would not have dominated middle distance races, Brazil would have never won the football world cup, and Pakistan would have never produced a single cricketing great. A call of 'Don't criticise the process, follow it' is valid only when the process in question is definitely correct. A process that destroyed the form and confidence of the premier fast bowler of the country is not correct. The relationship between software engineers and their team leaders is also not the same as that between a cricketing team and its coach. So, "we have debates and discussions, but once we decide on something, everyone knows who the leader is and follows him" is also not a golden mantra to be applied to the cricketing team. Greg Chappell was not/is not/should not be the 'leader' of the Indian cricket team as you understand the term 'leader'. And lest we all forget, there are two teams that play out there - sometimes no matter how good you are, it's just not good enough. There are times when this shows and people are happy because you put in a fight. There are times when this doesn't show, and that's simply because the other team didn't allow you to be any good. Wipro engineers cannot curb the enthusiasm of your team members by coming up with a brilliant product, but Muralitharan can within an over force many of our newer cricketers to do a re-think on whatever they have ever learnt about cricket.

And please, a sincere request - before anyone analyses the cup debacle - please read this.

There is one main reason why the structure of our game is weak - parents won't let their children play for a living. Please stop blaming BCCI, regional selection, etc. It has more to do with attitude than with incentives. The attitude may or may not have been the result of a lack of incentives, but it surely survives even in these days of surplus incentives. There is one main reason why the national team did not do so well - we are not good enough today, on talent as well as on form. Greg Chappell's processes have something to do with it. Every team passes through some evolutionary phase shifts. Sri Lanka was in one such phase shift in 1999, Pakistan in 2003, West Indies in 1987, Australia in 1983. Add India,2007 to the list.