Archive for February, 2013

Sometimes skill and execution are rewarded by luck …

February 23, 2013 2 comments


and you get a hole in one.  First one , ever, for me.  I golf on and off back in the USA for 35 years – nothing.  Then I come to India – get my first hole in one.  Go figure.

1st hole, Poona Golf ClubThe Scene: Poona Golf Club, in the Yerwada district of Pune.  I have played there a few times since coming to India last August.  I wanted to show Kim the course so off we went.  On Thursday I called my regular caddy, Ganesh, and he got us a Saturday time at 1:30.

We started on the back nine.  I was playing good for me, starting par-bogey-bogey, until going double-triple-double on 13-14-15.  Then we come to #16, a 3-par of 185 yards.  The hole is flat and fairly straight on, and is bunkered right, left and back.  However the green is guarded by large, branchy trees on right and left – a veritable Scylla and Charybdis of dendritic menace (if you will pardon a perhaps too-florid allusion).  As you look at the green from the tee, there is only a 7-yard or so clear space in very center of the green.  It is possible to loft over the trees, but it is very hard for average golfers to hit shots that are high, carry 185 yards, and then stop.

I played a 5-iron from the blue tees.  Now, my irons are TaylorMade Burner 2 irons.  The lofts on these clubs are stronger than “traditional” clubs – my 5-iron is about the same as a typical 4-iron from even just year 2003 or so.  Anyway I’m happy to be able to say I hit 5-iron 185 yards – though back in the day you had to be an actual golfer to be able to say that.

So, there I am with my 5-iron back on #16 tee.  The pin is on the left, about 1/3rd of the way from the edge of the green.  I figure I’ll aim at the pin and try to hit a full, high shot.  The shot is full and high alright, but pulled a bit left – into the compass of one the aforementioned trees.  It was hard to follow and I assumed my ball pinballed back and forth amongst the branches and dropped on the left side of the green or just off.

However when my caddy Ganesh and I arrive at the sinister side of said green – no ball.  Five minutes we search, in the bunker, short, long, another fairway … nothing.  Finally Ganesh declares my ball must be lodged up in the tree somewhere. I am of course irritated.  That was a good shot, and if this leafy Rakshasa had not taken it, my ball would be on the green.  I put down a ball and proceed to play from where I figured my ball probably would have been.

My chip goes long, towards the back edge of the green.  By now Kim has also played a 2nd shot onto the green and as we are lining up our putts, Kim’s caddy goes to tend the pin.

Hole-in-one ball

“Sir, sir!” the caddy excitedly demands my attention. “You ball is here sir!”

“You have got to be kidding me,” I reply.

No kidder he. We all gathered round the cup to stare skeptically downwards.  Sure enough, there was my #3 TaylorMade TP Black LDP golf ball.  We all agreed the ball had indeed caromed around through the branches, but for some reason – will of the golfing gods, intercession of Lord Ganesh, or plain dumb luck – it happened the ball should roll into the hole.

Now Ganesh and his fellow caddy, Bundu, were convinced this good fortune should be laid at Kim’s feet – “Because Ma’am is with you first time today,” they explained.  Maybe so, but how much pressure can one woman stand?  Mother of my children, helpmeet, business partner, muse, obligatory laugher-at for my jokes, and now, golfing good-luck charm?  Oh, heavy burthen.

Anyway, that is the story of my first hole in one.  The rest of the round was pretty good, with three more pars and a chip-in birdie on #5, totaling a not-too-shabby 86.

We did capture some photos.  Here’s Kim and myself with the hole-in-one ball (now to be an heirloom of my house), and our caddies, Ganesh (on the left) and Bundu:


I end with some golfing poetry I found:

To hole in one

or at last let go of your boy
on his new bike as he makes it
the length of the drive, down the hill,
along the carriageway,
between the weighbridge and the bottle bank –
just a dot now –

and through the gates of the big school without

Ok, so it is only golf.  But I can now say a hole in one is kind of like that, something you send on a long, uncertain journey then – against expectations – in one motion arrives somewhere great.

Now, according to the ancient tradition, I go to buy drinks for the house … which in this case is just Kim and me. Till next time.

Categories: Expat life, Travel Tags: ,

Seeds of Innovation?

February 17, 2013 3 comments

Monsanto timeline

The New York Times reports on a suit coming to the US Supreme Court.  The suit is brought by Monsanto against 75 year old Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman.  The matter at hand is Monsanto’s “Round-up ready” soybean seeds.  Roundup-ready is a gene, developed by Monsanto, that they insert into various plant genomes.  It confers immunity against the herbicide Roundup – after planting these seeds, farmers can douse their fields with Roundup, which kills all weeds but leaves the immune crops alone.

Farmer Bowman is a Monsanto customer and has been using Roundup-ready soybean seeds for a number of years.  What offense does Monsanto allege?  That Bowman did not sell or use all of his grown crop, but instead – as farmers have done since agriculture was invented – held back some of his crop to plant next year.  This, Monsanto alleges, is illegal “copying” of their patented organism.  The bottom-line is Monsanto wants farmers to buy seeds every year, instead of buying them once and “growing their own”, as it were.

I am not against genetically engineered foods (GEF), per se.  Like any technology GEF should be judged on its real merits and risks.  As you can read here, there’s significant evidence that Roundup-ready crops are actually inferior products.  Also as it turns out weeds are developing resistance to Roundup, so who knows how long the technology will remain even superficially useful.

The pros/cons of GEF are not what interested me here, it is more the what this case says about the state of IP law.  In their brief, Monsanto alleges:

Without reasonable license restrictions prohibiting the replanting of second- and later-generation soybeans, Monsanto’s ability to protect its patented technology would effectively be lost as soon as the first generation of the product was introduced into the market.

The Monsanto license does in fact prohibit any use of 2nd-generation seeds other than selling “… the harvested crop through customary distribution channels as a commodity, or for use as animal feed.”

SCOTUS will in part rule on whether such a license is “reasonable” and should be enforced.  There’s also a lot to be considered in the method of these “inventions”.  While the gene-insertion method does seem like an actual invention to me, the way the actual Roundup-ready gene was created was more like observation – expose plants to the herbicide and examine the genes of those that are resistant.  Observations, no matter how arduous or costly, cannot be patented.

Without going through the twists and turns of IP law on this, my thinking comes down on the side of Farmer Bowman.  Yes, Monsanto created a better seed.  They should charge more for it and let the marketplace decide on its merits.  But it is still a seed.  I don’t see that Monsanto’s activities warrant any change in the 1,000s of years-old practices of agriculture and the normal use of seeds.

I find it troubling that the Business Software Alliance has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case.  In it they contend:

A legal rule eliminating patent protection for “self-replicating” seeds that had the same result with respect to temporary copies of software programs would facilitate software piracy on a broad scale.

The BSA of course is concerned about licensing and doesn’t want anything to interfere with current software industry practices, where you don’t actually buy software, you license it.  I went through the brief – it is quite vague, and calls for “balance” as if they were Jedi knights and not corporate executives.  Essentially the BSA hates copies of software and resale of software. Now, the chances of Bowman vs. Monsanto being relevant to software are low.  Soybeans are self-replicating, and right now the only meaningful category of self-replicating software is the computer virus  I guess the BSA wants to keep the door open for Microsoft to create a useful virus and to charge everyone who ever gets infected.

Alas, in all this customers are rarely mentioned.  Everything is about protecting industries – farmers, who exert massive effort and resources growing those 2nd generation contraband soybeans, are never mentioned.  Nor are software users, who sadly often spend more time working on their software than the software spends working for them.

On the plant front seems to me there’s a lot of innovation happening with heirloom seeds – breeds that have been re-discovered, either on farms or in the wild.  Finding, cataloging, assessing, distributing – all that is innovative and, frankly, looks pretty tasty too.

The first I have seen …

February 16, 2013 2 comments

Elephant in Pune

My first elephant here in India, that is.  We came upon this calm, apparently easy-going fellow driving in the area of Lakshmi Rd. here in Pune.  Only as I was posting this picture did I notice the cruel implement leaning to the driver’s left.

I took this from our car.  You can’t really see but this elephant passed to our left, even though you drive on the left in India.  That is because here, elephant always has the right of way.

Stay well, elephant.

Categories: Expat life, Pictures Tags: ,

Watching What You Watch

February 10, 2013 1 comment

India film certification

Indians love movies.  India produces more movies than the US – about 1,300 per year compared to US production of 700 or so.  Even though movie admissions have dropped in recent years (as they have worldwide), in 2009 about 2.9 billion movie tickets were sold in India, compared to 1.4 billion in the US.  India has 3 times the population of the US, so that’s fewer tickets per capita.  But the cost of a movie ticket here is anywhere from Rs. 100 to 450.  That’s a major expense here, where average families have an income of Rs. 10,000 – 20,000 per month – imagine spending a 1/10th of your monthly salary to take the family to the movies?  My guess is if you look at the top 1/2 of earners here, per capita movies attendance would be way more than in the US.

But the movies here are heavily regulated.  What you see above comes from my TV.  Before any film is shown – on TV or in a theater – the certificate is first displayed.  This is issued by the Central Board of Film Certification.  The CBFC is responsible for film ratings: “U”, unrestricted, “UA”, unrestricted but with adult themes, “A”, adults-only, and “S”, special audiences only (I don’t know what these “S” films would be).

In addition to setting ratings, the CBFC also has a censor role and can block the display of films that are deemed to not be “ … responsible and sensitive to the values and
standards of society”.  Between 2001-2011, 256 films were denied certification, including The Mexican (2001), starring Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, and more recently The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011); essentially movies showing nudity are not allowed in India.  Now, violence is OK, even extreme violence, but T & A is forbidden.

The rules the board operates under include many prohibitions, including these: 

(iv) pointless or avoidable scenes of violence, cruelty and horror, scenes of
violence primarily intended to provide entertainment and such scenes as may
have the effect of desensitising or dehumanising people are not shown;
(v) scenes which have the effect of justifying or glorifying drinking are not shown;
(vi) Scenes tending to encourage, justify or glamorise drug addiction are not shown;
(vi-a) Scenes tending to encourage, justify or glamorise consumption of tobacco or
smoking are not shown;
(vii) human sensibilities are not offended by vulgarity, obscenity or depravity;
(viii) such dual meaning words as obviously cater to baser instincts are not allowed;

Considering rule VIII, it’s clear that Benny Hill will never make it to India.  Typical scene:

British gentlemen to girl in maid’s uniform: “Are you to be let with the room?”

Girl: “No sir, I am to be let alone.”

The public must be protected.

Anyway, once the films pass here, the process is not over.  The script of each film is reviewed and possibly offensive words are removed or changed, especially anything having to do with sex or religion.  This is what we saw on TV watching The Matrix Revolutions:

India subtitles

Here Capt. Mifune remarks to the Kid, “Ain’t that the damn truth”.  The audio is unbleeped, but oddly the subtitles have to be sanitized.  Other changes you’ll see watching an English language movie include “nonsense” for bullshit, “crap” for shit (??), and “backside” for ass.  I’m sure readers can imagine the peculiar wordings that this “nonsense” sometimes leads to.

Something else that comes up constantly in movies here is a flashed-in anti-smoking message, typically reading “Neither this film nor the actors endorse smoking, which is a serious health hazard.”  I have to say, this is utterly ridiculous.  There’s no question tobacco use represents a health crisis in India; tobacco-caused cancers lead to a million deaths each year in India.  However there is virtually no public health spending here; India ranks 171 out of 175 countries.  There are no anti-tobacco campaigns, educational resources, nothing that would have actual impact.

Ok, reading what I have above, seems I have to lighten up.  Yes, censorship, nanny-statism, ineffectual bureaucracy, linguistic cleanliness, all bad stuff.  On the other hand, here in India you can turn on TV anytime night or day and see this:

Baser-instincts or no, you just can’t be in a bad mood after you watch one of these.

Categories: Expat life

The Age of Miracles is Here

February 9, 2013 4 comments

Recently a Facebook friend posted a question on miracles: What were they, and could they be verified.  I don’t believe in the traditional definition, loaves, fishes, all that.  But I do agree with the poster who said that it is really the unfolding of the natural world by science that deserves the label “miraculous”.

What better proof than the video above.  Home Sapiens … sometimes we get it right.

Categories: Sundries, Technology

No One Makes You Shop At Wal-Mart

February 6, 2013 3 comments

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At Brad DeLong’s blog I came across this book by Tom Slee, which is from 2006.  The subject is how individual choice – the unquestioned mantra of libertarians and most conservatives – in the aggregate leads to outcomes that are collectively disadvantageous, like the demise of downtowns and their replacement by the Wal-Mart monoculture.

You can read chapter 1 for free here.  An excerpt:

What became known as the Chicago School had been busy attacking the then-dominant Keynesian ideas that government spending could be used to carry economies through recessions and even pull them out of depressions … One weapon that the school used was the idea of "rational choice." It took the idea of self-interested exchange–a theory introduced in the 18th century by Scots economist Adam Smith–to, and many would say beyond, its logical extreme. The members of the Chicago school insisted that all decisions, including even non-economic ones, could be understood as the product of self-interested rational individual choices, and they therefore announced that the market was the pathway to prosperity and growth.

During the "Me Decade" of the 1980s these ideas found their way out of academic journals and into the public arena. The centrality of the individual and the rejection of community found its voice in Thatcher’s famous declaration, "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families."

Hmm.  The Iron Lady is still with us, though it seems likely not for much longer; but one has to wonder, if there was no such thing as “society”, what was she Prime Minister of?

Back to the book, I’d like to get the whole thing but it doesn’t seem to be available as an e-book; when next back in the US I’ll have to look for a used copy.  Meanwhile Slee’s blog has some interesting stuff, like this post on Peer-to-Peer Hucksterism, where he takes to task services like Uber (the ride-sharing virtual taxi app) and AirBnB (the service that let’s people rent rooms out of their homes).  Slee’s contention, which I agree with, is that far from liberating resources and choice for the benefit of consumers, these services extract large fees but take no responsibility for the services being negotiated.  There are reasons we have regulations on taxis and hotels.  They are mainly so I as a consumer can engage a car or a room with expectation of a certain quality of service – and, to give me a standard channel for recourse when I don’t receive that level of service.

Anyway, individual choice vs. collective goods.  Neat topic.  Leaping from economics to literature, I wonder why there aren’t any/many anti-libertarian dystopian novels.  there’s plenty of pro-libertarian novels, from 1984 to Atlas Shrugged and even The Hunger Games.  Maybe I’ll save this thought for another post.

Categories: Economics