Thatzwhy (Buffalo and Bangalore Edition)

May 30, 2009

The President of the United States, Mr Obama, recently announced that he would eliminate a notorious tax law loophole that rewarded companies for creating jobs in Bangalore and punished them for doing so in Buffalo. American corporations will no longer be able to get away with not paying tax on their income from foreign operations!

Unfortunately it turns out that the Canadians are determined to foil his plans. Toronto and Calgary have the lowest tax rates in G-7 countries, and American companies are expected reincorporate and shift their head offices over there. In effect, American companies will turn themselves into foreign subsidiaries of Canadian ones.

There should be strong regulations to prevent American companies from reincorporating themselves in other countries to run away from strong regulations.

The New Government Gets to Work

May 29, 2009

My aunt who runs a hospital informed us today that the Central Government Health Scheme (the single payer health system for Indian central government employees) has mailed hospitals all over the country. It has informed the hospitals that they can no longer get away with continuous empanelment and lax standards. To remain empanelled with the CGHS, they must get accredited with the National Advisory Board for Hospitals.

So far, any private or charitable hospital could get empanelled with the CGHS. Once this was done, it would get an endless stream of central government employees as patients. It would then conduct say one test and one surgery, and send the CGHS a bill for ten tests and five surgeries. This is an example of how the corrupt private sector commits atrocities upon the government.

Fortunately as soon as the last date of campaigning ended, the CGHS moved to ensure that this disgusting state of affairs does not continue. Now all these hospitals will have to be accredited with the NABH. Since this is a long and complicated process, it will ensure that hospitals can no longer exploit the CGHS’s unwillingness or inability to audit and control the reimbursement process. Now at least some of the money they are making will return to CGHS officials to hasten and ensure the accreditation.

We are greatly fortunate that we are getting strong regulations in healthcare. It will ensure that the new health minister and his administration are able to raise the necessary funds.

Ambikapathi and Amaravathy

May 29, 2009

In a comment to my previous post, Manojar informs me about Ambikapathi and Amaravathy, Chozha Nadu’s very own doomed in louw couple. The story is elaborated in detail elsewhere on the Internets. It turns out that:

The King sentences Ambikapathi to death. But Amaravthi intervenes, claiming equal responsibility for whatever may have been the crime that Ambikapathi is said to have committed. In the ensuing argument, the King condemns Ambikapathi as sham poet who could write only verses that cater to man’s baser instincts. Ambikapathi is outraged at this slur on his poetic capabilities. The upshot is that if Ambikapathi could sing 100 devotional songs in succession, the King promises him Amaravathi’s hand in marriage. If he failed in this challenge, he would be executed forthwith. Amaravathi visits Ambikapathi in prison that night and urges caution. Ambikapathi laughs away her fears, assuring her that he is wholly confident of his own capabilities. A relieved Amaravathi says that she would be counting the songs, and would appear before him at the end of the ordeal.

The court assembles next day at the vasantha madapam, and in the august presence of the King, ministers and scholars, Ambikapathi commences his soiree with a short invocation to Saraswathi, the Goddess of learning. Amaravathi mistakenly counts this as one of the hundred songs, and so at the end of the 99th song, she appears happily in front of Ambikapathi to signal his victory. Overjoyed at sighting his beloved, and thinking that he has completed the hundred songs, Ambikapathi bursts into a verse in praise of Amaravathi’s appearance. Rising with grim satisfaction, Ottakoothar points out that only 99 devotional songs had been sung, and hence Ambikapathi has lost the challenge. Kamban’s anguish-filled plea for clemency falls on deaf ears, as the King orders the death sentence to be carried out. Ambikapathi is put to death, and the grief-stricken Amaravathi too falls dead… their souls unite in heaven.

This is remarkable. Normally it is only a problem when the guy comes early.

Update: On reflection, I realise that actually Ambikapathi did ejaculate (with joy) prematurely.

Question to Loyal Readers

May 29, 2009

Dear non-Punjabi readers,

Punjab’s famous couples are Laila and Majnu, Heer and Ranjha, Sohni and Mahiwal, and Shirin and Farhad. I am curious. What are the equivalent doomed romances in Bongland, Ghaatiland, and South of Hebbal Flyover? Please tell me in comments.



More Sinister Ducks

May 29, 2009

The most excellent PeeGeeKay sent me the link to youtube videos of Garfunkel and Oates. Including this one about sex with ducks:


We already know that ducks are sinister fascists. They also break the law, and rape and pillage. And new evidence has emerged that they acted as Stalinist enforcers. Indeed, it was a shared loathing for these scum from the pond that brought me and the darling girlfriend together.

Garfunkel and Oates have also pointed out that pregnant women are smug:


In some cases the smugness lasts well beyond the pregnancy, and thus we have the Mad Momma.

The Middle Class Myth

May 29, 2009

In the last post, I said that middle class voter apathy was a myth. In fact the problem is worse. Where India is concerned, the middle class is itself a myth, which is why I used the scare quotes. It’s neither middle, nor a class.

Let’s look at ‘middle’ first. What Barkha Dutt and similar luminaries call a ‘middle class Delhi audience’ is by no means in the middle of anything – it’s probably in the top 20% of all income earners, if not top 10% or even top 5%. Considering at least 15% of the population is below a poverty line which is drawn incredibly low, and another 20% is struggling above it, people with five figure salaries and cars are very very far above the middle.

Next, ‘class’. Using the word class implies that there are mostly shared characteristics. But how shared the characteristics are depend on how flexible or granular you go. They’re split mostly evenly between the Congress and the BJP. You could call it a preference for national parties, but isn’t that a bit of a stretch?

Occupationally – the middle class includes salaried people working for MNCs, salaried people working in Indian family owned businesses or publicly listed professionaly managed IT firms, family business owners, traders, successful artists and performers, and SME owners. They all have different incomes and different agendas. One single middle class. Really?

The middle class has social liberals who send pink chaddis to Muthalik and social conservatives who go on Rediff and abuse the liberals for supporting drunkenness and immorality. It has vocal supporters of karza maafis and vocal opponents of government waste. One single middle class?

The middle class includes IAS officers who set up the Sanskriti school so that their kids don’t have to go to Kendriya Vidyalayas and people who do dharnas to protest school fee hikes. More pertinently, it includes people who have government employees in their family and can tap on a network of government servants, and people who don’t have that access and have to either spend huge amounts of time or money or both when they need to get anything done. One middle class, eh?

So speaking or writing about the middle class is not terribly productive. There are many middle classes, and unless you talk about which one you mean – salary-earners in IT companies and MNCs, SME or public sector employees with much smaller earnings, the self-employed – you’ll trip up. If you don’t control for regional and caste differences you’ll trip up again.

What classification you do chose is up to you. You can flatter me by using my hippie-yuppie-lala behavioural categorisation. You can go with the NCAER’s classification of people along consumption patterns – Destitute, Aspirants, Climbers, Consuming Class, and Rich. You can invent your own. But as long as you talk about the middle class, your argument will be muddled.

The Middle Class Apathy Myth

May 11, 2009

It’s pretty much an article of faith in India that the educated middle class doesn’t vote. (Some recent blogposts and articles that touch on this: SainathThe Acorn and Great Bong) But this election is beginning to shake up that assumption.

Yes, the super-rich South Bombay had a 44% turnout rate, the lowest in Bombay. But Delhi’s most “middle” “class” constituency, New Delhi managed 56%, the highest in any Delhi constituency. But forget that. Patna had a turnout of 37%. Lucknow had 35%. Are Lucknow and Patna really full of middle class Barista-visiting dilettantes? According to Google’s Lok Sabha portal, New Delhi’s poverty rate is 15%, Lucknow’s is 18% and Patna Saheb’s is 49%. That means that at least half of New Delhi’s richer-than-poor voted, and at least a third of Patna’s poor didn’t.

I don’t think middle class apathy is a complete myth, but the Patna and New Delhi counterfactuals seem to show that blaming all low voter turnout on middle class apathy is not feasible. If someone ran the numbers, it could show that the urban poor too are disinclined to vote, or that middle class apathy is true in some constituencies or circumstances but not all of them. Just breaking the cliche would be a very worthwhile activity.

I think the cliche has two origins – the first is that middle class apathy is much more visible than the apathy of the poor simply because the middle class is much more visible. The second is that condescension and sanctimony are definitive Indian middle class traits, and talking about how you vote but everyone else in your class doesn’t allows you to express this very effectively.

By the way, I didn’t vote. But that was because my name wasn’t on the list even though I registered in time. How apathetic does that make me according to Sainath?

Teen Movies

May 11, 2009

Last week, I discovered the awesome Penny and Aggie webcomic (via). The archives only had 840 strips back then, so reading them all didn’t take too long. This is a good thing, because Penny and Aggie is one of the few webcomics where I’ve dropped everything to go and read the whole thing from the beginning. It has American high school teenagers, rich dollops of teen angst, pop culture references that aren’t overdone, and pretty good drawing.

Anyway, in the course of reading the archives I realised that there are hardly any successful teen movies these days. Starting from when I was in Class 9 or 10 to the time I was in third year of college, Hollywood cranked out teen movies almost endlessly. They spawned franchises and created superstars. You couldn’t go six weeks without seeing a new movie with scatological jokes and awkward sex and romance in the US Top 10. But these days, nothing. Even the teen movies that show on HBO and Star Movies these days are all from the 90s or early 2000s. Stuff like The Princess Diaries and 10 Things I Hate About You.

The simplest explanation for this is that as I’ve stopped watching movies and stopped being a teenager I no longer notice teen movies. But I notice and appreciate teen webcomics and old teen movies. And besides, what good is a simple explanation for a blogpost?

Sure, you can cite the High School Musical movies, but they are not teen movies despite being about teenagers. This is because they have no sex or references to bodily fluids. The High School Musicals are movies about teenagers for preteens. Similarly Juno is a movie about teenagers for adults.

Not only that, but if you look at parody or spoof as a measure of success – Not Another Teen Movie came out in 2001. Since then there’s been Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie and three Scary Movies, but no more teen movie spoofs. Clearly, on the Weird Al Standard of Arrival, teen movies have departed. 

Here, then, are three explanations for the Dark Age of the Teen Movie.

  1. The Generational Cohort Theory: I would probably never have thought of this theory if I hadn’t started reading Penelope Trunk, and as a consequence, reading anti-baby-boomer blogs. But anyhow. According to this theory:
    • The traditional audience for teen movies now consists of post-Gen Y kids who prefer to get their entertainment from YouTube and MySpace instead of movies.
    • American kids these days go to college and then go to graduate school and then move back with their parents to discover themselves (you can really tell I’ve been reading too much Penelope Trunk now). Therefore adulthood starts later and later in life. So all coming of age movies have to be set in first jobs instead of high school. You can actually see this in Questionable Content, though that’s a webcomic, not a movie.
  2. The Seeds of Its Own Destruction Theory: According to this theory, teen movie producers all thought Lindsay Lohan was the Next Best Thing and staked their hopes on her and inflated her salary to astronomical levels. The genre as a whole became dependent on Lindsay Lohan. Then, when she burnt out and had to stop doing movies, she dragged the whole teen movie industry down with her. Like Lehman Brothers, Lindsay Lohan became so big that her failure spread systemic risk to the entire industry. It’s horrifying.
  3. The George W. Bush is Evil Theory: This theory basically pins the blame on the Bush tax cuts for the rich and the stimulus checks. When Americans got their enormous tax refunds or stimulus checks, they went out and bought new means of entertainment like iPods, Nintendo Wiis, Tivos, and HDTVs. Faced with this, the teen movie languished and died. So it’s all Dubya’s fault. But now Obama’s tax cuts for 95% of Americans, which provide a slow trickle of funds instead of one time windfalls will change the situation. With 20 extra dollars a month and a recession on, Americans will spend money not on expensive durable goods but on one-time luxuries like teen movies. And a thousand poop jokes shall bloom!


    So Much for a Happy Series Finale

    May 8, 2009

    Moving back to Delhi has meant that I now watch TV that is not Balika Vadhu and Bigg Boss. My mother usually has FRIENDS turned on when I get home. These days, Star World is showing the final season again. And this made me realise…

    So FRIENDS wrapped up in 2004, right? And in the last few episodes Chandler and Monica buy a house in the suburbs and move there with two newly adopted infants. Hmmm.

    So basically they bought a house in the suburbs at what was almost the peak of the housing bubble. And now the housing bubble has collapsed. It’s possible that their mortgage is underwater and they owe more than the house is worth. Not only that, they have to pay for kids. But even worse than that, look at their jobs. Chandler is in advertising, which is the first thing that gets hit in a recession. And Monica is a chef and relies on people putting discretionary expenditure, which is also just not happening in these harsh times. Unemployment therefore looks very likely. And they live in New York, where health insurance is very much employer-dependent (my uncle is avoiding early retirement for this very reason). So, to summarise:

    • they’re paying much more in EMIs than their house is worth
    • they’re probably unemployed
    • and they have to take care of two small children

    Their lives are truly miserable. Which means that there is actually hope for them – they now have a bright chance of getting on to a show on Colors.