Category Archives: Arbit

Narendra Modi reminds me of Manchester United

Being half way around the planet from all the NaMo and RaGa and MaBa and ArKe waves during the election campaign, I have had little to no direct exposure to the ground realities in India. All my ‘information’ came from Facebook status messages, newspaper headlines quoting politicians out of context, memes, satire posts on Faking News and some input from my parents who are seeing all this first hand in Bangalore. So in order to get real information, I have had to make additional effort to look through the biased media, read a very long list of ‘expert’ opinions on both sides of the story, find compilation of statistics on so many issues that are being debated and of course, frame my own opinion at the end. In any case, the general gist of what I am hearing is this:

Screw Mario. Here comes NaMo

There is this NaMo dude who is the Uber Dude and who is expected to simply win the next election. Then there is RaGa who is going all out to let people know he has an IQ less than Timmy. New kid on the block ArKe is trying all in his power to just play spoilsport. Didi MaBa just wants to run for elections. The Left parties – wait, do they still exist?

Already the next Prime Minister of India

The common thread running through all the bits and pieces of information I am getting is not regarding RaGa, ArKe or Didi. It is almost exclusively about NaMo. But before I get to that, a little bit of football.

When I started watching football, it took me a while to start supporting Chelsea. Everyone around me was either a Manchester United fan or an Arsenal fan. The Arsenal fans were mostly proud of the whole ‘youth development’ ideal that the club apparently stood for. All good. The Manchester United fans on the other hand were mostly proud of their trophy collection and were generally branded as glory hunters. I get it. Every fan wants the sport team he supports to win trophies on a regular basis. It is a very natural state of mind.

But what was different with United fans was the unquestioned glorification of the club and everything associated with it. Most of the fans were convinced that Manchester United was the only true club in England. They would quote the rich history associated with the club and also point to the massive trophy collection. They would also point to one Sir Alex Ferguson as a ruthless winner who would stop at nothing to win trophies – and all the fans were proud of his long tenure at the club. But it didn’t stop there. United was considered to be a team that was beyond criticism. Going a step further, no other team was considered to be a valid team to support. If you were new to football and were still looking for a team to choose to root for, you would be made to believe that you had no choice. You would be made to believe that Man United were the only team worth supporting and it was some kind of a default choice.

United was also the club which had the largest fan base (and still does) in India and Asia. There were definitely reasonable United fans here and there that I have gotten to know over the years but for the most part most of them were just plain cocky about it. They just refused to even entertain the idea that the club was anything less than just the best damn club on the planet. There would never be any admittance of any imperfections in any of the club’s aspects. Nobody could level any amount of criticism without getting a good amount of backlash from its supporters. Moreover, supporters of all other clubs were looked down upon as if they did not deserve to be a fan.

All this inevitably led to a lot of distaste among a lot of fans who supported other clubs – including myself. So much so, that there was a fair amount of hate brewing against United. These people were our friends who we got drunk with and whom I am still in touch with. But the dislike and hate that was brewing was directed more at the club than at the supporters. Sure the schadenfreude that we experienced whenever we saw United lose grew exponentially. But the important thing to note was the strict polarization that Manchester United’s image had created. You either fully embraced it and considered it to be the flawless club ever, or you considered that to be the most vile, cocky, exaggerated, pretentious, falsely publicized, all powerful, corrupt sports organization in the world. There was almost nothing in between. And all this was a creation not of the club. (I am sure the club wouldn’t have wanted it this way). But this big divide was really a creation of the supporters.

The Panacea all Indians have been waiting for

And now I see the same exact thing happening with NaMo in India. He is considered untouchable and beyond criticism from the eyes of his supporters. There is so much pro-Modi rhetoric that there seemed to be little that he could not accomplish. He is treated as the solution to all problems. There is not a single ounce of criticism that can be thrown at him without ten counter responses coming from his supporters. (In the eyes of the supporters, they feel they are right because they are offering the statistically proven, reasonable response to a guy who is just making wild accusations against Modi). He is considered to have zero imperfections and his supporters quote the ‘development’ that has taken place in Gujarat over the course of more than a decade as proof of his awesomeness. And just like United fans sing the ‘Glory Glory Man United’ chant, there is now also a NaMo NaMo (and many more apparently) chant/song that all the Modi supporters consider their war cry. There is even a Modi-Brigade that you can join by giving a missed call or something.

All this isolation from criticism, unquestioned glorification of his past achievements and a level of expectations never before associated with an Indian politician have inevitably generated a strong anti-Modi fan base – just like it happened with United. Endless arguments and debates – both online and offline, opinion pieces from every Tom, Dick, Harry and his brother-in-law, articles listing statistics that prove the point each side of the argument is trying to make (never mind that they contradict themselves) – all have contributed heavily to the strong polarization of the Modi image.

The Rise of the Indian Youth or the beginning of a new Hitler Youth – depending on whom you ask

 

You are either a strong supporter and think he is the panacea all Indians have been waiting for, or you think he is the nightmare scenario waiting to happen where he ends up becoming India’s Hitler creating a Hitler Youth organization equivalent and there will be a genocide in his first month in office. The stronger the isolation and glorification, higher is the criticism and hate. Higher the criticism and hate, more is the isolation and glorification. It is like a feedback loop which just feeds one off the other but they both grow in size and content. And just like United, all this is a making of the supporters. Modi for one would have never wanted this divide. Part of it, admittedly, can be attributed to the hate against the UPA Govt and our current impotent PM. But most of the responsibility of this rests on the supporters.

I suppose there is a cut off point beyond which there would be no significant growth of pro-Modi or anti-Modi rhetoric. Perhaps that point will be reached after he is elected PM. Or Not. I for one can only hope that his supporters and haters can get to a more reasonable level of opinion. The worst outcome of this would be an American styled Democrat-Republican divide.

If you have not been able to figure out yet, this post is nothing more than an observation. It is not a criticism, support or judgment of anyone involved – from the politicians to the avid supporters and haters. It is merely a perspective which I have been looking through for a while. A lot of Modi and Man United supporters will inevitably disagree with me and some will even offer detailed explanations of their disagreement which are supposed to be interpreted as their idea of reason. First of all, do check out this thing called the Backfire Effect. Secondly, if you have you gone as far as trying to dispute what I have pointed out, you have already proven my point. So just calm the fuck down and think about it for a while.

When did an Indian Politician ever become so cool that he had his own Merchandise?

In all seriousness, I personally want to see Modi in the PM office and am really curious what this guy is all about. And at this point, I offer no response to speculation or the possibility of a genocide happening in India as a result of his election. But really, considering his competition is a circus clown in a politician’s disguise…..

…well you get it.

Americans unable to communicate verbally after Congress bans use of the word ‘Like’

In a bizarre turn of events, young Americans under the age of 35 all over the country have stopped talking to each other after Congress accidentally passed a new law that banned the use of the word ‘Like’ – the most widely used word by Americans. The word ‘Like’ has been in popular usage not as a verb or a conjunction, but as a filler that is used in between ANY two words in any sentence in a role of complete redundancy that serves absolutely no purpose. However, in spite of it not serving any purpose, young Americans have shown a very strong affinity to throw in as many ‘Likes’ as possible while talking to each other. Now all this has been banned under the new law which took effect last week.

No more Likes allowed

Now anyone using the word ‘Like’ in a redundant manner while talking will first receive two warnings. A third offence will invite a fine and more than 10 offences will make it mandatory for the culprit to take English classes demonstrating the redundancy of the word in regular grammar. As part of the law, employers will also be able to check how many offences any job applicant has to their name before hiring.

All this has not gone down well with Americans for whom the word ‘Like’ is fundamental to the successful construction of a sentence. A normal sentence such as:

After a long working day, he said, “I am feeling really tired and want to go home”

has always been spoken out as

After, like, a long, like, working day, he is like “I am, like, feeling really, like, tired, and want to, like, go, like home”

Young Americans have regularly demonstrated their inability to speak more than 2 sentences without using their favorite word. Linda, an American teenager, spent tremendous amounts of energy to focus and avoid using the word LIKE in order to tell us how she felt about the new law.

“I ….. don’t know …… what I’ll …..do……My friends…..cannot …..talk to ….each other anymore. I guess…I’ll have to….text them if I ….want to ….. say anything.”

This appears to be the ready made alternative to this new law. Teenage girls in America have always communicated with each other via text messages even when they are with each other, so this has become the go-to option for them.

Like here, like there, like everywhere

Following this new law, demands for speech therapists has increased astronomically. John, a New York based speech therapist, had this to say about the new law and its impacts:

“This has always been an epidemic. It is not just Americans who have been affected with this disability. All immigrants who have stayed in the country long enough and interacted with other Americans on a regular basis have shown growing symptoms of this condition. So, I believe this really is an epidemic that keeps spreading and affects even those who speak without using redundant words.”

Some young folks have tried to protest the law by shouting slogans in front of the White House. But almost inevitably, their slogan shouting included the redundant use of the word LIKE (e.g. “We, like, like our like, right, to use, like, whatever, we like, like, when, we like, speak to , like, each other!”) and were subsequently slapped with a hefty fine and asked to enroll in English classes.

Guest speculators on the official Republican Speculation Channel Fox News have laid the blame squarely on Obamacare. Their Democratic counterparts on the Democratic Speculation Channel MSNBC have, as expected, blamed the existence of the Republican party for the consequences of the new law.

The international media, on the other hand, were perplexed about why anyone would be using the word LIKE in this manner in the first place. Most English speaking countries just failed to understand the idea of a spoken sentence such as

Like, I’m, like, very irritated to know, like, I, like, cannot even, like, talk to, like, my own, like, friends, like how I, like, want to. 

Most English speaking people outside America said that by the time they heard the full sentence, they could not remember what it meant.

Everyone’s Tale of Acceptance

Sometimes things work out. Sometimes they don’t. Mostly they do. Or we just make it work.

We have all seen it. People living together and staying together. People moving to a new city and staying there for the rest of their lives. People sticking to one job or profession all their lives.

Because that’s what people do.

They stay.

Yes marriages and relationships fail. People move to different places and change jobs. But then that was never the argument. My argument is that if you stay long enough, you will stay for good.

As far reaching as my contention may appear, I wish to elaborate.

When two people get into a relationship, there is attraction at some level to start with. Always. Then comes the part about getting to know the other person. New things are discovered about the partner. Some are likable. Some, not so likable. Barring one or many shocking revelations, the relationship continues.

When someone moves to a new city, they move for reasons that span the entire spectrum: from an exciting new job to blindly following a sweet heart. It could be an opportunity or it could be a compromise. Take your pick. But irrespective, there is a period of getting to know the city – all it has to offer, what it lacks, the people, the places, the weather. And again, barring one or many shocks, they continue to live in the city.

When someone takes up a job, the reason is more likely just pure necessity. It gives money, it pays the bills, it gives peace of mind, and it helps you feel secure about the future. But then over time the rigors of a regular job are revealed. Some things are likable and some things are not. But yet again, barring a deep rooted hatred for the job or the boss, people continue to show up every single working day at the same place.

But why? Why don’t more people seek new relationships, new city experiences or new job challenges?

The answer is simple:

Because everyone’s ongoing predicament is not sufficiently bad.

That’s pretty much it.

Unless acted upon by sufficiently bad circumstances

A relationship need not be passionate or significantly compatible to work out for the long term. If the two people involved like each other to some minimum extent and don’t hate each other’s guts on a day to day basis, there is usually very little motivation to leave. They just learn to live with it.

A city need not be exactly what one is looking for. As long as there are things to keep people occupied, friends to hang out with, and some basic fulfillment of expectations, people will stay. The city may not have a vibrant social life but the light traffic and laid back lifestyle is perhaps a relief. Or put it the other way around, the traffic may be a pain, but there may be so many things to do and places to go to, that it makes everything else worth it. So unless there is something that is completely unacceptable or when even the most basic of expectations are not met, people will just stay.

A job need not be a dream job. The security the regular income provides goes a long way in making a job pretty darn comfortable. Not necessarily enjoyable, but very comfortable. The coworkers maybe a pain but the boss is good and there is some pride and recognition for the work. Or perhaps the work is monotonous and the boss is just barely manageable, but the work ultimately provides for the family and helps people stay close to their loved ones. So yet again, unless there is a complete breakdown in professional relationships or the hatred for the job is intense, people will just continue to stay.

There is an obvious and clear thread running through these situations. All of them involve spending significant time in a particular set of circumstances. Then follows the revelation and understanding of the good and the bad the situation has to offer. And then comes the part where people just get very comfortable wherever they are.

And then they just stay.

So ultimately, if under any set of circumstances involving a person, place or job, as long as you like the things that it has to offer and can put up with the things that it lacks or goes against your preference, and you spend sufficient time under those circumstances, you are likely to stay wherever you are. You will get comfortable too, and will even begin to feel lucky that you are able to experience all the good things that everything has to offer.

It is called a trade-off. And the longer you find the trade-off worth it, the more you are never likely to seek new challenges, experiences or relationships. It is the reason why arranged marriages work. It is the reason why people don’t move around as much. It is also the reason why the whole economy works like a clock.

People just get comfortable if things aren’t sufficiently bad. They ACCEPT, ADJUST and ADAPT.

There are a couple of lines in one of the songs in Steven Wilson’s new album. It goes thus:

Eliza dear, you know there is something I should say

I never really loved you but I’ll miss you anyway…..

- The Watchmaker

It is really scary to contemplate the depths of the message in those two lines. Familiarity, comfort and security are not necessarily things to strive for. Sometimes they are just obstacles to a better life.

The grass maybe greener on the other side. But the pasture here is not bad enough to make people want to climb that hill and see what’s on the other side.

There is rarely any pride in inertia.

Millions of people around the world go into depression after realizing Democracy does not work

In a surprising development towards the end of yesterday, hundreds of reports from all over the world poured in claiming large masses of people going to depression simultaneously. The reason : Democracy – or more specifically the realization that it does not appear to be working.

It first started with people in Japan reporting en masse to psychiatrists and psychologists complaining about general depression and a growing inability to trust anything. People were seen making long lines outside pharmacies waiting to pick up their prescription medication to battle depression.

Meanwhile, many reports started coming in about similar developments in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Italy and a few other European nations. This was then followed by reports in the United States where millions of people were first confused if their depression was the result of the extended winter this year. However, after continuing to watch their preferred News Channel  - Fox or MSNBC – just to see the ‘other party’ get thrashed, the people found their depression getting worse and ultimately attributed it to the failure of democracy.

Depression is the only consequence

Common questions the people seem to be asking all around the world included: “Why isn’t anything getting done here at all?”, “If a party is elected by the people, then why doesn’t it get to do anything?” “Majority means they should be able to pass all the bills right?”, “I thought Obama had won the reelection. But then why is he still campaigning against the Republicans instead of getting things done?”

Questions like these were asked repeatedly by people when journalists inquired about their depression and what they thought of the economy.

A worldwide survey had shown a few years ago that democracy was “The Shit, Yo!”. It was apparently not just a ‘good system’ of governance, it was also the ‘only system’ of governance. People all around the world appeared to agree that the United States was ‘just awesome’ because it kept bringing in ‘democracy’ to all those poor souls in the middle east who were ‘totally suffering without democracy’.

A noted commentator who has been supporting democracy setups all his life had this to say about the new democracies in the Middle East: “It’s cool yo! I mean, there are a lot more people getting killed, more religious persecution, more security problems, more economical problems, and on top of it all, nobody is able to do shit about it! But it’s cool because they have a democracy, right?”

Another pro-democratic intellectual masturbator said this in response to all the increased violence and unrest in the new democracies: “Hey! At least now they get to feel awesome and brag to the rest of the world that they live in democracies right? I mean, now they actually have a RIGHT to brag and feel awesome! Yeah, take that Bitchas!”

Actually, this reporter was unable to find anybody who held anti-democratic views who could talk about the other perspective. Apparently, it was just ‘not cool to be anti-democracy’. Why? The only answer this reporter was given repeatedly to that question was “Because Democracy is the Shit, Yo!”

When more people were interviewed to hear their perspectives about why they felt democracy would not work, many of them echoed similar thoughts.

“I was told from my days in middle school that democracy is the shit. I never understood it back then but just thought it was something cool that everybody liked. So I  began to trust it as well. But I just don’t see it working ANYWHERE.”

Citizens of India, the largest democracy in the world, were initially upbeat about the next elections so that they could vote the ruling Congress party out. But then they realized that even a different party would never be able to satisfy the needs and demands of hundreds of retards  who will still be in the parliament- all thinking differently.

“The only thing that will continue for sure is the regular adjournments of the parliament sessions. No bills will get passed and no reforms will take place. Because this is democracy right? So you get to put down a bill just because it won’t help you win reelection.”

The only people who appear to be celebrating democracy and those that have not gone into depression are the folks who have been making their lives out of subsidy and welfare money from the governments. Social Security, disability, medicare, medicaid, unemployment benefits, you name it. People who utilize these welfare schemes appear to be extremely happy about democracies.

“I hope democracy continues. This way nobody will have the balls to take away my disability checks and Medicaid because if they do, I will vote for the other guy who promises me my free money. Isn’t that awesome? I  hope the people in the Middle East also begin to reap the benefits of democracy soon. Go welfare schemes!”, said a 43 year old American who has been claiming disability checks simply because his ‘back hurts a bit when he tries to stand up’.

It appears that only people who work, making money and leading generally better lives were affected by the depression epidemic that has swept the globe. The poor who have been living mediocre lives through welfare schemes and subsidies appear to be more than happy to continue to live in mediocre conditions as long as they keep getting their free money that in turn supports their mediocre existence.

All the people living off subsidies and welfare schemes were of the strong opinion that ‘Democracy indeed is THE SHIT!”.

When President Obama was asked about this mass depression epidemic, he responded with a prepared statement with beautifully crafted sentences, messages of hope, general GOP bashing, and a lot of promises and by the end of his speech, people were so excited and enthusiastic that they seemed to have forgotten what it was that they had asked him in the first place.

The President did refer this reporter (who pressed him with the same question a second time) to the following video from The Dictator…..

…..thus missing out the whole point altogether.

In conclusion, it appears that Democracy is not just ‘The Shit’, it is simply SHIT.

The Sports Illustrated Jinx and Chelsea’s Striker Problem

No. Fernando Torres’ woes in front of goal are not going to be attributed to him appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated – and I don’t even think he has made it to the cover at all. This is about something more fundamental.

Sports Illustrated

The Sports Illustrated cover jinx is an urban legend that states that individuals or teams who appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated magazine will subsequently be jinxed (experience bad luck). A star athlete makes it to the cover of the magazine after having a remarkable season or a particularly outstanding performance. Following his appearance on the cover, his performances suddenly see a dip or his very next performance (after the outstanding one) turns out to be a really bad one. There are dozens of instances that corroborate this jinx, and there will no doubt continue to be many more in the future. And as much as this is a clear cut case of confirmation bias, I will argue later in the post that there is another fundamental principle underlying this urban legend.

Now let us look at Chelsea FC. For anybody who knows me even remotely, I am a well established Chelsea supporter – (you know that team in the Premier League that plays football with at least 2 different managers every year. The same team that went on to win the Champions League last season only to get knocked out in the group stage this season. Yeah, that one).

Being a Chelsea fan for close to a decade now, I have seen many many transformations in the team – thanks largely to a bankrolling AND trigger happy owner. I have seen many successful years and many unsuccessful years. However, the past couple of seasons have been particularly frustrating and energy sapping for any Chelsea fan. (Yes, we did win the Champions League last season, but it could have as well gone all wrong so easily). And the biggest factor in all of that has been Chelsea’s inability to field a striker who can score goals.

Torres: Chelsea’s official non-scoring Striker

We all know the story. Fernando Torres comes in after a few scintillating seasons with Liverpool and for a hefty transfer fee. Didier Drogba, a fan favorite, is approaching his twilight years and will make way for Torres in the front line. It all looked good on paper. And then reality sunk in. Torres barely scored. His record of goal scoring was so pathetic that Emile Heskey began to sound like a better option. And this continues to this day – even after the departure of Drogba and with the infusion of creative midfielders like Hazard and Oscar.

But before we pass around judgments, let us take a step back here and go over recent Chelsea transfer history – specifically on the strikers. Chelsea has been widely accused of being the club that buys world class center forwards for big money, only to make them mediocre players as soon as they started playing for their new club. Even a hardcore Chelsea fan like me cannot deny the dip in performances of the TWO actual instances – Torres and Shevchenko. However, upon closer look, one sees a more fundamental principle at work here.

Torres and Shevchenko were world class strikers before they came to Chelsea, after which they suffered a terrible dip in form and are/were never likely to regain the top form that they displayed at their previous clubs. But ‘joining Chelsea’ was not the reason why their form dipped. The reason Chelsea even purchased them was because the club had a reputation of spending big money on players who were at the peak of their careers. Torres and Shevchenko definitely fit the bill then and their services were acquired for significant sums of money. But where does anyone go from the peak of their careers? There is only one way – and that is down. So when reaching the peak of one’s playing career is followed by going to Chelsea FC, the headlines are already written. A simple correlation is easily mistaken for causality.

Not only does this bring about an image of being a club that apparently spoils players’ talent and form, but more importantly, the team is now playing someone who is on the way down in his career. Add to this a change in the system of play, the psychological barrier that comes with the hefty fee and the intense media and fan scrutiny/expectations involved – and you have a perfect recipe for disaster. The player stops performing and the club’s results begin to go down in a spiral. Sound familiar? Well, it should. Because this is exactly what has happened with Chelsea’s striker position.

Torres was already on the decline at Liverpool. His performance at the World Cup before joining Chelsea was laughable and I personally rated him to be the worst player at the tournament. Spending 50 million in that situation was never a good idea. Didier Drogba, on the other hand, was brought to the club under none of the above circumstances. He was young (24-25), far from his peak, didn’t cost as much, and Chelsea built their playing system AROUND him. As a result, he gave his best years to the club and no wonder the club’s best years coincided with his career peak.

Demba Ba is not the solution. He is a temporary fix who is expected to be better than Torres. So what then is the permanent solution? Well, for one, it does not involve anyone whose name has either Falcao or Cavani in it – for acquiring the services of players like Cavani and Falcao in their current situation clearly falls under the same set of circumstances in which Torres was bought. (Yeah sure they may give a couple of good seasons but that is not the objective here is it?) And if Mr. Abromovich does not intend to repeat the same mistakes, he would be better off buying someone younger and who has not yet reached his peak.

Going back to the Sports Illustrated jinx, it is now quite easy to draw the analogy. A star athlete makes it to the cover BECAUSE he is at the peak of his career or at the least,  a local maxima – and there is only way to go from there – down. Not only is this just a case of confirmation bias, it also serves as a textbook case of correlation being mistaken for causality.

This underlying principle deserves a closer and more detailed look – especially with regard to how football teams are built and its correlation with the success the team achieves. But that is a topic for another post – hopefully sometime soon.

Taking the Placebo Test to the Other Extreme

For people with no knowledge of the Placebo, I will start with what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

“A placebo is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient. Sometimes patients given a placebo treatment will have a perceived or actual improvement in a medical condition, a phenomenon commonly called the placebo effect.”

A small variation of this test is the generally accepted standard of testing for any new treatment or drug, and is known as the double-blinded placebo test. To summarize it (from India Uncut):

“The standard test in medicine for seeing whether a treatment works is a double-blind placebo-controlled test. In this, patients are randomly divided into two groups, one of which is given the treatment being tested, and the other is given placebo—such as pills that look like real ones, but are actually inert. Neither the patients nor the doctors know which group is getting the treatment and which the placebo (that’s why it’s ‘double-blind’), thus eliminating psychological biases on their part. The mere belief that they are being treated often helps patients, so the true test for a treatment is if it can do better than placebo.”

Sugar Pills and Placebos

This appears to be a fair and effective method to weed out non-performing drugs – and it is. This has been used for many many decades, even centuries, and so has passed the test of time. Drugs from many alternative systems of medicine have failed these tests repeatedly – due to which, these tests have served as the primary basis for these systems’ criticisms. These tests imply that the drug is to be considered ineffective if it cannot outperform the placebo. In other words, a patient needs to be getting better because he has taken the drug in question – not because he has taken just ‘some medication’ that he has been told will cure his ailment (in this case the placebo). My question now is not targeted at the veracity or the fairness of these tests. My question, however, concerns the implications of these tests when they are taken to the other extreme.

Consider a situation where a patient is given a medicine – from any system of medicine – for a particular ailment that he is suffering from. This drug is made specifically for the patient taking into account ALL necessary information needed as per the corresponding system of medicine to treat him. The medication is taken by the patient at the intervals the doctor/practitioner has recommended and the full dose is completed. However, there is a small difference. In this situation, the patient is completely unaware that he is taking ANY medication at all.

I am not going to get into ‘how’ the above mentioned situation can be executed in reality. I am also not going to get into a debate about the ethics and responsibilities at play here. My interest in this is purely that of inquiry and so if it means that ethics are broken during the potential implementation of this situation, I am fine with that.

What I AM interested in, however, are the results of a series of such potential tests on many patients. A slight variation of this test could include some patients being administered a known placebo – again, without their knowledge. But perhaps the best situation would be what I have outlined below:

For the sake of argument, let us assume that these tests are to be conducted on 100 randomly selected patients with no particular pattern in their medical history – but who are suffering from the same ailment. These patients are then divided into three equal sets. (Well OK smartass, one group will have 34, happy?). Set 1 will have the corresponding drug administered, as tailored to meet each particular patient’s needs, without any knowledge of consumption of ANY medication. Set 2 will have a known placebo administered into them, again without any knowledge of the same. Set 3 will have absolutely NOTHING done to them AND they will not be aware that nothing is deliberately being done to them. The full recommended dose of the medicine/placebo (or the lack of it) will be administered for all patients. The condition of the patients are monitored continuously and the progress (or lack thereof) is noted.

At first glance, administering a known placebo without a patient’s knowledge can appear to be ridiculous. But it is necessary to measure and compare the effects of the drug itself against a similarly induced placebo. Similarly, the absence of a treatment is also necessary to measure a situation where the patients get better ‘anyway’ and to see if the drug was needed at all.

Now let us look into all possible result scenarios and the corresponding implications for the drug and the placebo effect:
Scenario 1: Set 1, for whom the medicine was administered, show a general improvement and/or curing of the ailments. Set 2 and Set 3 do not show any signs of improvement over the same measured time frame. This is perhaps the most expected situation of a drug that actually works. One does not expect the unknowingly-administered placebo patient to recover without any of the subjectivity involved in the knowledge of having taken the placebo. Set 3’s results also go as per expected.

Scenario 2: Set 1 do not show any marked improvement in their ailments as compared to Sets 2 and 3. This is the other extreme and clearly shows that the drug is completely ineffective as compared to those taking the placebos and those having no treatment at all.

Scenario 3: All sets show general improvement at similar rates. This is similar to scenario 2 in that the drug has not outperformed the placebo and the non-treatment.

Scenario 4: Set 1 has not shown any signs of improvement whereas Sets 2 and 3 have exhibited improvements in their ailments. This is clearly a sign that the drug is actually inhibiting improvement and/or making matters worse, and should not be used at all.

Other scenarios include those wherein the patients in Set 2, who have had the placebo administered to them, suddenly display symptoms different from those in Set 3 (they could be better or worse). If this were to indeed happen, it would be the most curious case of clinical trials ever studied. Such tests have indeed been administered, albeit with the knowledge of the patients, and so cannot be referenced here.

But the bigger implications of these tests lie elsewhere. Consider Scenario 1 wherein it can be stated with good certainty that the drug does indeed work. Would the converse be true? That is to say, would the same drug pass the standard double-blinded placebo test? Is there a possibility that it would fail the standard placebo test but pass the modified placebo test as described in this post?

Looking at it differently, can this modified placebo test be viewed as both a necessary AND sufficient condition/test for a drug to be declared effective? I would certainly think so. If a drug is working without the patient being aware of its administration, it should certainly work (perhaps even better) if the patient is indeed aware of it. That, in fact, is the crux of the placebo effect. The effects of the knowledge of ‘something’ being consumed that is ‘supposed to’ cure an ailment is what lies at the root of the placebo effect. With that in mind, it follows that drugs passing the modified placebo test should definitely pass the standard placebo test.

If the modified placebo test is accepted to be the necessary AND sufficient condition for a drug to be considered effective, then it also follows that every drug that passes this test must be accepted as effective – irrespective of the system of medicine and without regard to its composition. Now, this is where things can get a little tricky.

For instance, consider Homeopathy. This system of medicine has long been criticized and ridiculed for prescribing drugs that have minuscule and even negligent concentrations of the active ingredient in them. Irrespective of any explanation that may have been put forth by the proponents, the extreme low levels of concentration can make one wonder how something like that can have ANY effect at all. But in my current inquiry, all this is completely irrelevant and beside the point. My only proposition is that ANY drug passing the modified placebo test should be considered effective.

The next question is obvious. What if there are instances wherein Scenario 1 was replicated in reality with Homeopathic drugs? That is to say that a patient was unknowingly administered homeopathic drugs and got better in a relatively short time – as compared to the time he spent suffering from the ailment with no medication. In such a situation, the exact workings of the drug – biological and chemical – become irrelevant and fade into the background. What matters then first and foremost is the fact that this drug indeed works.

Note that this particular illustration is definitely not restricted to Homeopathy. It can be used with ANY system of medicine and the implications will still remain the same. Sure, there will always be questions asked (and mostly answered) about the composition and workings of the drug itself. But in any case, the drug should simply be accepted as something ‘that works’. I am saying that it is OK if one is unable to explain how or a why a drug is working – as long as it passes this modified placebo test. But going back to an earlier observation, what if these very drugs, that have passed the modified placebo test, fail the standard placebo test?

Ideally, they should not. If they do, then the very mechanism and thinking behind the standard placebo test will have to be questioned. Fortunately or unfortunately, we will NEVER have sufficient data to ever make either claim with complete certainty. For one, this modified placebo test will almost certainly never gain approval in the medical community – not with all the ethical issues involved. And secondly, it would be very difficult to actually find a way to administer these drugs (or placebos) without the knowledge of the patient. And finally, and perhaps more importantly in the current scenario, nobody will ever publish such data even if such tests were indeed conducted, due to obvious ethical and professional reasons.

It is a shame that such a test cannot be conducted in the real world. It would answer so many questions and raise so many more. I suppose I can now relate to the pains of economists like Stephen D Levitt when they talk about the need for a controlled randomized experiment to explain the dynamics of this world. (A big smug follows).

In any case, I invite more discussion and differing points of view on this. Please feel free to point out possible misconceptions and overlookings.

A Hidden Gem in ‘The Bonnie Situation’

So there is this movie that was released in 1994. It went on to win the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and brought to limelight a certain Quentin Tarantino. The movie goes by the name of Pulp Fiction. You may have heard of it. If you have watched it, you probably worship it. If you haven’t watched it, you WILL watch it….. and THEN you will worship it.

The Bonnie Situation: Pulp Fiction

I classify in the former. I can probably justify the worshiping aspect with the small fact that I have watched it at least 50 times (That is to say I lost count after 50). And perhaps the reason why I revisit the movie every now and then is because every time I watch it, I find something new – something I hadn’t noticed earlier. It is usually something very subtle, but profound. These moments usually get lost in the build up to a more memorable piece of dialogue which we generally look forward to on every repeat viewing. One such moment came to my attention a few weeks ago.

This takes place during ‘The Bonnie Situation’ part of the movie. This is where Jules and Vincent come to Jimmy’s (Tarantino) house to clear up the mess in their car after Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in it. Needless to say, Jimmy is visibly upset with the situation he finds himself in and does not appreciate Jules much for putting him in it. This is the part where Tarantino utters one of the most memorable dialogues ever:

“Did you notice a sign in the front of my house that said ‘Dead N****er Storage’?!!!??!!”

Everybody who watches the movie is inevitably looking forward to this piece of dialogue – whether they like to admit it or not. The sheer audacity and the matter of fact nature of Tarantino’s character helps pull it off without sounding particularly offensive or explicit. But there is no need for me to talk about that. What I intend to draw your attention to is something that follows this above mentioned line. Specifically, it is how Jules reacts to Jimmy explaining that it “ain’t there to storing dead ni**ers in his fucking business!”. Watch the clip and see if you are able to catch what Jules exactly  says to Jimmy in response to his explanation.

Caught it? Jules says it exactly at 1:00 but Jimmy overrides him with a dismissive “No, no, no…”. See it?

Well, in essence, what Jules says to Jimmy is this:

“Jimmy, we’re not gonna STORE the motherf***er…..!”

Do you believe it??!!? Amidst all the drama and tension that Jimmy is expounding, Jules makes a sincere and genuine effort to actually CLARIFY to Jimmy that they do not intend to actually STORE the ‘motherf***er’ in his house! Now how is THAT for comic and ironic humor??!??  I can’t decide which part is more funny – the sincere intention and attempt to clarify, or Jules referring to the corpse as ‘the motherf***er’! It really is a gem of a line!

Now go watch it again….and again..and again!

As I had pointed out earlier, this is one of the many instances in the movie which can easily be missed while we look forward to all the memorable parts. There really are plenty more like this. The true joy is when you discover it for yourself. I have given you a sample. Now go watch the movie a dozen times and find more for yourself! Then feel happy that you got it!

Of Haircuts & Atlas Shrugged

So I needed a haircut. When it comes to haircuts, my policy is to get it cut as short as possible, the only objective being to avoid going to the salon for the maximum time possible. And if you are in Des Moines, Iowa, if you want to get a haircut on a Saturday evening, then apparently the only way to get it done is to go to a small shop in the biggest mall in Iowa.

And so I found myself at Jordan Creek Parkway Mall, wearing PJs, a Tshirt and sandals. I was extremely tempted to walk around the mall with a White Russian in my hand. But alas, I found my ‘shop’ much too early for that. 10 mins and a bunch of hair lighter, I found myself standing in front of a movie poster and staring at it.

Apparently, there had been some things going on in the world of cinema while I had forgotten about it. There was POC-IV, there was Hangover 2, the mandatory sequel to a successful movie, and a bunch of other movies. And then there was Atlas Shrugged, the poster in front of which I was standing. I had absolutely no idea whatsoever that a movie was being made based on the 2nd (unfortunately) most influential book in the world. I looked at my watch. It was 6:50 PM. The movie was going to start at 7:10. At this point, I looked at myself in the mirror next to me. And this was what I found:

A T-shirt saying “My Phone number is 17. We got one of the early ones.” A blue pyjama clinging onto my waist. And a pair of brown sandals which could very easily be mistaken for my bathroom slippers. But more importantly, I had just had a haircut.

And where I am from, the only thing that should be on your mind after having a haircut is taking a headbath after making sure that you do not make any contact whatsoever with any household item, living or non-living. Your clothes need to be set aside and soaked separately. And only after the headbath will you be allowed to re-engage your sense of touch and taste.

So there I was, just after a haircut, in my to-be-discarded-separately night clothes, with all these thoughts going on in my head. After thinking for all of 5 seconds, I just said, “Ah! F*** it!” and bought tickets for the show and a big scoop of choco-nut ice cream for timepass.

Remember, I had no clue that this movie was even being made. So when the first scene showed that the movie was set in 2016, I feared that I was watching a movie which was mistakenly named after the book. But then I figured out that the writers had cleverly worked around the irrelevance of the railways in present day America by creating a partly dystopian world where trains are the only feasible means of transport. So this way, the main theme of the book was made to seem relevant.

The movie was good. I really liked it. One of the really good things the producers have done is to split it into two parts. Again, I was not aware of this until the screen showed “End of Part -I” at the end of the movie. Another really useful thing about the movie was that the cast does not include one single well known actor. This works for the better as the on screen persona of a well known actor could have easily spoilt the character’s true image in the movie. That being said, the casting is almost inch perfect. Dagny Taggart and James Taggart, Hank Rearden, Ellis Wyatt, Wesley Mouch all seem very much the part. Special mention to Francisco D’Anconia’s role. There could not have been a better casting for that.

The acting is quite convincing too, for the most part. And again, that is largely helped by the actors actually looking their parts. John Galt’s character is still kept in the shadows and is not revealed fully. The movie as such goes on until Wyatt’s Torch. (You will know what it means if you have read the book). There are some truly well-shot sequences in the movie. First among them is the train journey across the first Rearden Metal track. Really well shot, exploring the Colorado landscape to the maximum.

Even though the pace, characters and script stick true to the spirit of the book, there are a few things that I was really hoping to see. For instance, Francisco D’Anconia’s speech about Money is totally ignored. I was really looking forward to that. But having said that, the movie does cover most of the important aspects of the book.  And I am already looking forward to the 2nd part.

But whatever maybe the case, there is still no substitute for actually reading the book.

Breaking News: Arsene Wenger wants 1-Team Tournament to end Arsenal’s Trophy Drought

Unable to end his 6 year trophy drought with Arsenal during the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City, Arsene Wenger has mooted the idea of a 1-Team tournament exclusive only to Arsenal. Speaking to reporters just hours after his side were defeated to an Obefami Martins goal, Wenger said, “This is getting more and more difficult day by day. I have come to realize that if we are to give our fans what they deserve, then we have to think in different ways.”

Arsenal have not won a single trophy since the 2005 FA Cup, having come close on many occasions such as the 2006 UEFA Champions League final and having stayed in contention for the Premier League title during most of the seasons as well. The fact that Arsenal have not won the Premier League for a long time despite being title contenders most of the seasons have led some critics to brand Arsenal as “the perpetual title contenders.”

Arsene Wenger is finally looking forward to a new trophy.

When a reporter asked the Arsenal manager about his thoughts on the comparison, Wenger said, “I know we have always been strong contenders for the Premier League- always. Whats so new about that? Didn’t you already know that?” When pointed out that the comparison was supposed to be treated as a mockery, he quickly responded, “Oh! Is that why Sir Alex Ferguson starts laughing every time I remind him that we are still in the title race? Next time I will be careful.”

On the very idea of the 1-Team tourney, Wenger sounded quite upbeat. “This has never been done in the history of the game! We are all very excited. Yes I know that we have just lost one more Cup final and that we should be feeling bad that we have failed yet again. But the mood in the dressing room has quickly changed! I just now informed the boys about this idea and it has gotten everyone on their feet and raring to go!”

When asked about the exact format of the game, Wenger responded, “Well we are yet to work out the exact format. But the way I see it, there will be players from only 1 team playing. We will probably play 22 players on the pitch, but all of them will be players from Arsenal. We will call 11 of those players to be from Arsenal and the other 11 players to be from Arsenal. So no matter who wins or loses, Arsenal will eventually emerge as Champions! And more importantly, we will end our 6- year trophy drought! Isn’t this a great idea?”

The Gunners manager was also showing some consideration for the fans who have had nothing to brag about for a long time now apart from their passing style of play. “I really feel sorry for the fans. They have put their faith in the club for so long now having got back nothing in return. I think it is time that we give them something back. And I think the 1-Team tournament will be the best way to go forward. I am sure the fans will love to see a new addition in our trophy collection.”

Arsene Wenger did not have to think hard when he was asked what the new tournament would be named as. “Its a no brainer really. We will be calling this tournament as The Gunners Trophy. This of course, is in reference to the fact that Arsenal will be the only team playing in the tournament! Isn’t that so creative and original?”

Arsenal skipper Cesc Fabregas seemed to share the enthusiasm. “I have been here in the club for so long and have worked so hard. So I would definitely like to have some kind of a winner’s medal with me. The Gunners Trophy would be ideal solution to that. I just do not know what it feels like to be lifting a trophy with my hands. I really hope this idea goes through…and I hope that it happens for more than just that.”

When pressed what he meant by ‘for more than just that’, Fabregas revealed, “Well, think about it. The main reason Arsene Wenger is holding on to me is because he believes that I can win him trophies. Now if I help Arsenal win The Gunners Trophy, then I can convince him that my work here is done. And then he can make a lot of money by selling me to Barcelona. In fact, he will make a lot more money than winning any of the other tournaments! Isn’t that ironic?!!?”

Samir Nasri, the rising star in Arsenal, chose to look at it in a slightly different way. “It will be a very valuable experience for the young boys in here without any experience of big games.” He stopped for a while to think about what he had just said. Then he continued, “Oh wait. We are all young ones here without any big game experience. Anyway, like I was saying, this trophy will give us that necessary experience and will help us mature as players with big game experience.”

On the other hand, Sir Alex Ferguson was not at all amused when informed about this in a press conference. “What nonsense is this? Manchester United is the greatest club in the world. We are the only team that should be supported in England simply because we have a rich history and we win trophies!” When reminded of the issue at hand, he then composed himself and responded, “How can a team be crowned tournament winners if there are no other teams playing in there? Here in Manchester United, we believe only in winning trophies. Trophies aren’t everything to us. They are the only thing. We work so hard to win trophies. Thats why our fans are rightly called Glory Hunters. But the only difference is that we try to win trophies in which other teams also participate.”

Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti had a different view. “It is actually not a bad idea. Come to think of it, if we can implement that same idea here in Chelsea, no manager will ever get fired! I mean, all Abramovic ever cares about are trophies. If we can have our own 1-Team tournament, then we can at least make sure that we land some trophy every year. At least my job will be safe.” Then he proceeded to call his agent and asked him to begin negotiations over a new deal saying that he will definitely be winning some trophies this year.

Shebby Singh, the expert on all matters concerning football and being smug (both at the same time that is), seemed to have some very strong opinions about this idea. Speaking to John Dykes and dressed in a suit which appeared to be part of his anatomy, he said, “John I think this is a very good and a very clever idea from Arsene Wenger. It is bound to be successful on so many fronts. Firstly, it will increase the confidence of the Arsenal players who do not know what it means to win something. Secondly, this will further help in the team gaining more big game experience which will in turn help in them performing better in the Champions League, FA Cup and Carling Cup where every game is a big game. Thirdly, this idea need not necessarily be restricted to just Arsenal. A lot of other teams can give it a try too.”

“Also John, the manager is really brilliant. He thinks so far ahead for the club. First he invests in youth and saves a lot of money that way while making sure that he has a good team for the future as well. Now this idea of his makes his team gain plenty of big game experience so that they go on to win other tournaments as well.” he continued, not realizing that he had just repeated his earlier point.

When John Dykes asked another guest on the talk show if he found anything negative about the idea, Shebby Singh interrupted, “Yes John. Like everything in this world, even this has a good and a bad part. You see Arsenal can finally begin to win trophies. I mean, Arsene Wenger may even decide to keep 2 or more The Gunners Trophy in a calendar year and Arsenal will win all of them. Even though the club might become more successful trophy-wise, it is extremely important that they do not become complacent. If they do, they will just become engrossed in that trophy and neglect all the other ones.”

The Arsenal fans are extremely excited about the prospect of finally getting to brag about some silverware after a long time. One enthusiastic North Londoner said, “This is the best news I have had in a long time mate! Now I can finally look forward to Arsenal winning a trophy BECAUSE they play awesome passing football! Take that up your asses all you other-clubs-winning-trophies-by-playing-boring-football! Now when can I buy the tickets?”

It remains to be seen if this idea actually transpires into reality. The FA have been informed about the plans and further developments are awaited. If approved, this could potentially create a revolution in the world of football.

 

PS: My previous posts on football fake news and Arsenal can be found here.

 

The NFL Draft: Communism inside Capitalism

Yes I do watch American football. I do find the game interesting at times but I tend to restrict myself to just College football. When I was at Virginia Tech last year, I did go to a few games there at the Lane Stadium and it was nice fun (especially the night game against Georgia Tech!). With regard to the NFL, I just watch the AFC and the NFC title games followed by the Superbowl. I have no allegiance to any team and I usually find myself rooting for the team that is lagging behind in the scoreline. I particularly despise the aspect of the game which gives rise to so many interruptions, which in turn gives rise to the inevitable ads. But I am not here to talk about that. Instead, I would like to talk about this one thing that I discovered recently that has fascinated me to no bounds. I am talking about the NFL Draft.

The NFL draft is an annual event in which the NFL teams recruit the best college football players who either just graduated or are ready to stop their college education in order to pursue their NFL dreams. This appears to be something totally boring and routine. But on the contrary, it has been one of the most fascinating revelations to me over the past few weeks. What has particularly caught my attention is the order in which the best college football players are picked.

You see, the way things would have been expected to work normally would primarily include the Super Bowl winning team to have the first pick in the draft. This can be looked at as some kind of a benefit for winning the Super Bowl. But the way the draft order is actually done is exactly the opposite. The Super Bowl champions get to pick the college football players right at the end. In fact, the first team that gets to have its pick among the best of the  best players is the team that had the worst record in the previous season.

So if you finish with a 0-13 record (Zero wins and 13 losses), then you get to pick the best college quarterback in the country! And you are likely to get some leftover mediocre college kid to pick up if you are the Super Bowl champions (also called Mr. Irrelevant). So the basic idea is that the worse you perform, the earlier you get to have your pick among the new crop of the best college football players, thereby closing the gap to the champions.

The underlying idea behind this is what got me thinking. Rewarding the successful is what strikes as the most obvious and even the right thing to do. But this drafting policy goes beyond just that line of thinking. The underlying idea appears to be to create and maintain a level playing field among the many teams that compete in the NFL. So if one team is very weak and performs very bad, then they can be assured that they get to strengthen their team with the addition of the best college quarterback in the country. This also makes sure that the most successful or the strongest don’t become stronger. This is very much reflected in the results of the NFL teams. All except just 4 have won the Super Bowl at least once and have made their presence in the Super Bowl probably more than that.

Lets look at this another way. Say you are a business college graduate and there are a bunch of companies eyeing to recruit you and all fellow graduates into their companies. If the graduate is extremely brilliant and if the choice is up to the graduate, which is usually the case, he/she would choose the company which has shown to be the largest and the most successful. So the already successful company will increase its chances of becoming even more successful. And at the other extreme, the least successful company gets to choose only the leftovers or the big company rejects. This does not necessarily improve the chances of the smaller companies to become more successful. It may even hinder it. But hey! This is a free world. Mutual agreement and benefit should be totally free of any outside interference.

The situation I described above is the trademark feature of a capitalistic way of thinking. And this is usually what happens. The strong become stronger and more successful while the weak and the not so successful become weaker and do not really achieve any comparable success. Now at the other extreme, you have the communistic way of thinking which specifically aims at creating a level playing field and maintaining it that way. Add to this, the fact that America is pretty much considered to be the bastion of capitalism. And you have a fascinating presence of blatant communism right inside the bastion of capitalism!

Dont get me wrong. I am not at all saying that this is a wrong thing or that this is not fair. On the contrary, I feel that if at all one aspect of this world needs to be treated in a communistic perspective, it should be sports. And I am just fascinated to see this being implemented right inside the country which has long been accepted to be the epitome of capitalism.

 

 

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