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Friday, September 28, 2007

Vanishing hyphen and National Punctuation Day

Is it a coincidence that the venerable Oxford Dictionary is dumping the hyphen (always a source of confusion for writers) just around the National Punctuation Day in the US?

Last week, the sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary knocked off hyphens from around 16,000 words. (BBC report)

But the dictionary still hasn't been able to knock out the confusion. Earlier, the doubt was whether a compound word is one word, hyphenated or two words. But still there still no clarity on when is a compound word one word and when two words.

Fig-leaf is now fig leaf and pot-belly is pot belly -- two words; while a few others have fused to become one words, like, pigeon-hole has become pigeonhole and leap-frog has turned into leapfrog. Similarly, ice-cream is now ice cream, but post-modern is postmodern.

Maybe someone with a strong knowledge of English language can throw some light on this.

Shorter OED editor Angus Stevenson doesn't give a clear explanation on why some words have split into two while others have merged into one.

"We only reflect what people in general are reading. We have been tracking this for some time and we've been finding the hyphen is used less and less," he says.

Why people are using the hyphen less? One version doing the rounds is they don't have the time or inclination to reach for the hyphen key while typing.

By the way, around the time the Oxford Dictionary knocked hyphens off, in the US National Punctuation Day was celebrated on September 24.

The official website says, "But what started as a clever idea to remind corporations and professional people of the importance of proper punctuation has turned into an everyday mission to help school children learn the punctuation skills they need to be successful in life."

No doubt punctuations are so important, wrong usage can change the meaning. "My sister, who is in the US, will come tomorrow" implies I have only one sister. But the same sentence without the first comma, could mean I have more than one sister, and it's the one in the US who is coming tomorrow.

But the most celebrated example is this:

An English teacher wrote these words on the whiteboard: "woman without her man is nothing". The teacher then asked the students to punctuate the words correctly.

The men wrote: "Woman, without her man, is nothing."

The women wrote: "Woman! Without her, man is nothing."

(My earlier post: Punctuations are important)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

India Twenty20 World Champions

What a telling picture this is. India's players celebrate after the dismissal of Pakistan's Misbah-ul-Haq at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, last evening. (AP Photo by Themba Hadebe)

For a change, it was Pakistan that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

I wonder what reception awaits Misbah back home; the awkward scoop that he played wasn't the last ball of the match, there were three more deliveries to go, and Pakistan needed only 6. Given the way Misbah was playing -- only the previous ball he had clubbed a low full toss over the ropes for a six -- he could have done it.

Here is the Cricinfo commentary of the last over:

19.1 Joginder Sharma to Misbah-ul-Haq, 1 wide, short of a length and far outside the off stump, that one barely lands on the pitch. Nerves here for Joginder Sharma. Big, big wide. Easily called.
12 needed from 6 now

19.1 Joginder Sharma to Misbah-ul-Haq, no run, short of a good length and outside the off, play and a miss, the tension mounts.
12 from 5 needed

19.2 Joginder Sharma to Misbah-ul-Haq, SIX, full-toss outside the off, that's not the place to bowl at this time. Misbah is cool as ice, lines this up and pounds the ball straight back down the ground. This is a baseball style home run. Such incredible hitting under pressure. You have to give it to Misbah.
6 needed from 4 balls now

19.3 Joginder Sharma to Misbah-ul-Haq, OUT, India! It's all over here! Full and on the stumps. Misbah goes for the scoop shot over short fine-leg. That is a risky shot to play with only 6 needed from 4 balls. Straight up in the air and Sreesanth takes the catch. India have won by 5 runs in the inaugural ICC World Twenty20.
India win by 5 runs, three balls to spare.

This match last evening at Johannesburg, the final of the first Twenty20 Championship, was much closer than India's semifinal against Australia. That victory looked much more emphatic than this one. Actually, this seemed to be drifting perilously to the earlier India-Pak match which ended in a bowl-out.

Pakistan was so close, they were almost there. In such situations, unlike wide-margin results, it's the slightest error that does one team in. It looked like Joginder's loose final over was gifting the match away to Pakistan, but before Joginder could do that, Misbah did.



Reuters photo by Juda Ngwenya of India's players posing with the ICC World Twenty20 trophy.

With each Twenty20 match, I am getting more and more convinced that this abridged version tests the cricketing skills to the maximum. Cricketing fame has been biased towards the batsmen. It has been always thought batsmen won matches. T20 will change that.

Bowlers are so crucial to this form of cricket, more than, if not as much as, batsmen. Like I said in an earlier post, each ball sent down has to be of perfect line and length. A skilful bowler who can keep his cool, will strike gold here, since batsmen under pressure are bound to miscue a shot.

Can't believe it has been 24 long years since India won a Cricket World Cup. Hopefully the Cup will come home again sooner. Kapil's win was in the pre-cable TV era. Then we all crowded around the radio. And for the vast number of teenagers and twenty-somethings, who dominate the world so much now, this is their first cricket World Cup.

What is T20 is for Sachin, Sourav, Dravid was ODI for Gavaskar, Vengsarkar and Viswanath! What a generational change cricket itself has undergone!

By the way, I don't know if anyone of us realised that it was only six months and one week back (on March 17) India lost to Bangladesh by five wickets in a Group B ODI World Cup match at Port of Spain. Then, on March 23rd, Sri Lanka drove the final nail defeating India by 69 runs. What a humiliating run it was. People vowed never to watch this game ever again. It's all forgotten and forgiven!

The next action isn't far off. Not the T20 but the ODI: India take on Australia in Bangalore on September 29, the coming Saturday, just four days away!
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

India-Pak dream final

What a game it was last night! The best part is how Indians held their cool.

Yuvraj is turning out to be pointsman. After it was 41 for 2, it was he who changed the scene -- 70 off 30 balls. Who said style has gone out of cricket with T20? Some of Yuvi's strokes were just executed with great style and beauty. And, the way he waited for one of the deliveries to come up so he could power it over the ropes... That was a majestic six, I think it was the third one.

And, each time the bowler sent down a dot ball, a roar went up, as if a wicket had fallen. I love this focus on tight bowling. I get great pleasure in seeing a batsman tied down by the bowler.

Heard of this guy called Joginder Sharma? Everyone, surely the Aussies, thought the match could be won off him. Since all the other bowlers had done their quota, Joginder was the inevitable choice. But instead of letting the match slip away, off the second last ball of the match, he cracked the stump of Lee.

The best comment was made by Sharad Pawar: "See how the boys are playing well without a foreign coach."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Success story of Malaysia

Malaysia turned 50 on August 31. From being a poor poverty-stricken, Communist insurgency-plagued nation, today it is a fast-developing multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, tolerant society. Much of the credit goes to Dr Mahathir bin Mohammed, who served as the nation's Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003.

"The Malaysian Miracle" by Joseph Stiglitz, traces its mainly economic success story. The author is University Professor at Columbia University. In 2001, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Twenty20 is cricket

We are in the midst of cricket's latest form entertainment Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa. We are also in the midst of discussions and debates on whether this truncated version of the game is a success or failure.

Maybe it is too early to pass a verdict. But after watching a few matches, including the thrilling Indo-Pak bowled-out tie, I think this will be a success. Just give it some time.

The shorter duration is the key. One doesn't have to sit through long hours to watch the match. And look at the pace at which the game is being played. The speed gives it an added attraction. It's much faster than the 50-over one-day internationals.

One casualty, I admit, is the graceful defensive stroke, which we could see even in the ODIs. Here, no batsman can allow a dot ball. So, he has to swing the bat in some direction. But on the plus side, this form of cricket gives full expression to the saying: "attack is the best form defence".

There is an argument going around that Twenty20 is only slam-bang, and is just not cricket. I strongly disagree with this view. There is cricket in Twenty20, complete with all the strategy, if only one cared to notice and play that way.

The point that is being missed is how important the accuracy of bowling has to be. No bowler can afford to let go a loose one. He has to keep a perfect line and length. He can't let even one run slip by and also he has to lure the batsman into playing a stroke. There aren't many overs to make good the mistakes.

That makes field placing very important. It has to be accurate: one, to check the runs and two, to take the catch off the miscued shot. A bowler has to bowl to the field like never before.

Twenty20 takes the battle between the bat and the ball to new heights of intensity. In a Test or ODI, a batsman can play safe to a ball that is not "scorable". Either he lets it go through to the keeper or gets on top of it to smother it down. In Twenty20, there is no such luxury, the batsman has to convert even "non-scorable" deliveries to scorable ones. And the challenge here for the bowler is, how to penalise the batsman for daring to do that.

I think the Test matches will survive. Because it is a different form of cricket altogether. The battle is on a different level. What Twenty20 has encroached upon is the 50-over version. They are very similar to each other in approach and with T20 more racy, it could eventually overtake the one-day internationals.

One last point. When I watched the bowl-out in the Indo-Pak match, I was reminded how we used to practise. The coach used to say: every ball should hit the stumps. That's the foundation of bowling.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bad society gets tough laws

Aren't rules and regulations determined by the lowest denominator in a society? More hardened the criminals, tougher the laws. When rules are framed, the determinants are the possible offenders!

Rules are tightened so that the worst offender doesn't get away. Ironically, the law abiding people pay a heavy price, adjusting their lives to rules that have been indirectly dictated by the criminals.

We've railway level cross gates because society has crazy people who would attempt to cross the track when a train is approaching. We've most inconvenient speed breakers, because of a few reckless drivers. Security at public places are ridiculously tight, often casting suspicion on people who are very much law abiding.

So can we say how good or bad a society is, is indicated by the type of rules it has for its people? Rules are rarely relaxed, they are mostly tightened.

Is that a good sign? As we progress rules should get relaxed, is it not?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My blog is 3 years old

Today my blog completes three years. Started on a 9/11, three years after the deadly attacks

Read my first post here

Friday, September 7, 2007

Kerala must change

Today's New York Times has an article on Kerala: Jobs Abroad Support 'Model' State in India. Click here to read the article.

The Trivandurm datelined story by Jason DeParle starts off thus: "This verdant swath of southern Indian coastline is a famously good place to be poor." The author says: "It (Kerala) is poor, even by India’s standards, with an annual per capita income of $675, compared with $730 nationwide. (The figure in the United States is about $25,000.)"

My understanding has been that the large majority of Keralites don't live in poverty. It could be so in a few in interior villages, but that's too few when seen in the whole context of the state. If Kerala is poor, then what about many other states, which are actually poor?

People in Kerala have enough income, and to know that, all it takes is a drive through the interiors. Most of the families are more than self-sufficient financially. On the contrary, I think, it's the flush of funds in Kerala that has made Keralites complacent and resistant to any change.

The author follows up the "poor" statement above with: "But Kerala’s life expectancy is nearly 74 years — 11 years longer than the Indian average and approaching the American average of 77 years. Its literacy rate, 91 percent, compares to an Indian average of 65 percent, and an American rate (the United Nations estimates) at 99 percent."

The author also says: "Talk of the Kerala model began after a 1975 United Nations report praised the state’s 'impressive advances in the spheres of health and education.'..... Amartya Sen, a future Nobel laureate in economics, wrote widely on Kerala, arguing (in a book with Jean Dreze) that its “outstanding social achievements” were of “far-reaching significance” in other countries."

The dramatic opening sentence of the NYT article is misleading as the thrust of the article isn't poverty of Keralites. It's about how there's lack of employment opportunities in Kerala and how Keralites are going outside the state in search of jobs. If the author thinks that lack of employment opportunities in Kerala hasn't rendered the state poor, that, I think, is misplaced.

The Socialist policies have done Kerala a world of good. The author has to accept that fact. But where I would agree with the author is that today's socialists and Leftists can't live in the past, which they are doing. That's the problem with Kerala. This is where Kerala, its politicians and people have to change.

Migration to another place in search of work, per se, isn't bad. Today, in the globalised world migration happens in all directions. Look at the number of foreigners coming to India for
training in IT and on work. Keralites began to migrate to other places because the small state didn't have enough jobs for the large number of employable people, and at the same time, the rest of the country had a shortage.

Now the scene has changed. Many hitherto poor and educationally backward states have caught up, leaving Keralites with more competition outside the state too. That's why, employment opportunities in Kerala, should now be in focus.

The issue is not migration, the issue is lack of employment opportunities. The current policies not just that of the Congress-led United Democratic Front, but of the ruling Communist-led Left
Democratic Front) aren't entrepreneurship. Besides, there is the Leftists baggage from the past, which sees entrepreneurship in poor light. This has to change.

Looking at a pan-India level, lack of development is not a Kerala-specific issue. The contribution of anachronistic policies of the Leftists is only one part of the problem. Since Kerala has a Leftist
government, for some, the state is an easy example. For example, the author says suicide rates (in Kerala) are four times the national average. But suicides aren't because someone is poor or because one member of the family had migrated. What about the rich -- who live with the whole family and all material comforts -- committing suicide?

What Kerala must do is capitalise (pun intended) on the achievements that socialist policies have delivered. With the momentum that the state has gained, it should lead India in many fields, and be a model to the world itself.

What politicians and policymakers, in particular, and Keralites, in general, must guard against is the danger of the state slipping back. For that:

1. Politicians, especially those in power, should look beyond themselves and their party. People's comfort and well-being should take precedence over party policies. If an accepted practice has to be reversed because that will serve people better, politicians should have the guts to do it.

2. Kerala must work against the high level of inertia. The attitude of "Why we should change. Let things be as they are" has to go.

3. Kerala must be open to modern economic concepts. They may not be panacea for all ills, but it has its pluses too, which Kerala's Leftists must be progressive enough to accept and put into practice. For example, trying to curtail private entrepreneurship, when state enterprises are
themselves are functioning below par is akin to being a dog in the manger.

4. Kerala's trade unions (belonging to both Communist and Congress groups) should change their obstructionist policies. The trade unions have served their time, and served well. Let us be fair and acknowledge that. Now they must change. For example, they should stop the practice of calling for strikes at the drop of a hat. Stopping others from working is not just a negative and perverse attitude, it achieves nothing in today's world. It's a defeatists approach that will only lead to doom.

5. Finally, Keralites must bother as much about their responsibilities as their rights.

Monday, September 3, 2007

India's middle class and development

This section of India is as much talked about as the economic boom. Naturally so, because it's the middle class that is fuelling the boom. I stumbled on this analytical article -- India's middle class failure by Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad. The author says that the economic boom will have little meaning unless the middle class engages itself politically. But the author doesn't clearly say how they can do it in a way different from how the middle class engages now.

While there is lot of truth in what the author postulates, one must remember that politics as an institution in India is far from evolved, even though we have had 60 years of trouble-free democracy, stable government transitions etc. We have had good governments and ministers (who are good individually), but we haven't had any good governance, especially at state and village levels, which matter the most.

If middle class in India has to participate in politics, and by extrapolation, I mean, in governance, there has to be decentralisation of governance, not in theory but in practice. Even this (panchayati raj, which former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi began) is a total failure.

If, for example, something as basic as road has to be repaired, a citizen (middle class usually) doesn't know whom to call up, if at all he or she is able to call up, there is no proper response, if at all someone responds, there is no clear guarantee that the problem is set right; and at the end of the whole process, the road is just not repaired, for days and months together. There is no accountability. This is because, development is linked to politics.

In the south Indian state of Kerala, the public works department minister is on his way out, and as a result the tarring of roads has come to standstill. Can one believe that! Look at how the state of road is linked to state minister. This is not the way it should be.

Glitzy malls are fine, but where is the road to get to the mall? Lots of colleges are fine, but where is the electricity to run them, and for children to sit and study. Malls are good to look at, and shop in them, but they themselves are no indicator of the citizens' standard of living. It's a huge myth. More malls don't mean the society is more developed. The development indices are still the same: the basic amenities for citizens like food, shelter, clothing, transportation and other necessities that make one's daily life comfortable.

Middle class can involve themselves in societal development only if basic development activities are depoliticised. We need good road irrespective of the party in power. There can't be politics in development issues.

What is needed is not more political involvement by middle class, but more involvement in social reconstruction in a depoliticised environment. For that, first politicians will have to let go of their monopoly on development.

PS: This blog is being cross posted on The Prospect Magazine blog.