Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bloggers Are Writers Too

JK has written a great post about the writing process, something I'm keenly interested in as well. JK says that we bloggers can benefit from a more disciplined approach to writing as practiced by professional writers like Orhan Pamuk, Suketu Mehta and Kathy Sierra, all of whom JK profiles. An important quote:
Pay attention to the structure of the post, spend time editing it and finally make it interesting to read.
Lessons I have repeatedly learned and forgotten (often within seconds of each other). It's hard enough to write something interesting on a daily basis that the blogosphere demands, but writing and then editing is a never-ending struggle for me. This is why I write so infrequently, and when I do, the most I can manage is a few paragraphs, often only a couple of sentences (that is why I like twitter and tumblr so much). Writing is not easy. I can take comfort in the fact that writing is not suppose to be easy-- even for professional writers!

There are two things in my mind that can make a blogger better: reading and writing Obvious, I know, but hear me out. It's no coincidence that good writers are often good readers. Good readers in that they not only read widely, but pick good books to read. Quality is important here. After all, reading John Grisham, Tom Clancy, cereal boxes, and People magazine will only take you so far. Not surprisingly, most writers read the classics. Classics are classics for a good reason, they are a fount of good writing. Bloggers should read more of them.

But reading takes time. Time is a precious commodity in our fast-paced culture, where bite-sized blog posts is all we have time to digest. We value doing many things as possible in the shortest span of time, hence the mantra: volume is more important than quality. I suffer from this problem acutely. I'm always obsessed with reading as many books as I can before I die, only realize that there was no way I was going to read all the books I wanted to read, even if I did nothing but read and live to 200. It's just not possible. So I have become more pickier in what I read. And instead of trying to read a book as fast as I can. I read slowly. Letting the author's word sink-in. To meditate on the books meaning. In my opinion, a good book cannot be read once, but twice, even thrice. Each time something new, absent in previous readings, comes to the surface.

The second part, of course, is writing. Reading provides a foundation, in that you learn what good writing is. Nevertheless, reading and writing are two different functions. I've read Charles Dickens or Jane Austen and wonder why I can't write like them. My writings are consistently filled with choppy sentences (or run-on sentences), grammar mistakes, misspellings, incoherence, or is downright banal. The only way to improve my writing, I find, is practice, practice, and more practice.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Castro Lovefest...

Frontline magazine, the unofficial news magazine of the Left Front, has devoted the cover of its latest issue to Fidel Castro, who is reluctantly stepping down from his various posts due to poor health. Surprisingly, there are no articles by foreign editor John Cherian, Fidel Castro's number one fan (though Aijaz Ahmed comes in a close second with this sycophantic article), and is no doubt rushing to Cuba this very second to kiss El Presidente's ass, and write glowing articles about him, before he expires.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Manny Wants To Stay, Do The Red Sox?

Manny Ramirez is in the final year of his guaranteed contract. The club holds options for both 2009 and 2010 season. Though Manny may be acting nonchalantly about it, claiming that its up to the Red Sox if they want him or not, he has repeatedly dropped hints that he wants to finish his career in a Red Sox uniform. If not, he'll just play elsewhere next year. Yeah, he can do that-- for a lot less money, though.

Let's be honest. The current management has never really liked Manny. He's a holdover from the previous regime; and his commitment and work ethic have often come under question. The club has tried to trade him repeatedly, but his hefty contract was a nonstarter. And it may be a nonstarter for the Red Sox at the end of the season as well. Though I don't have Manny's numbers in front of me, he is overvalued. Manny will need to have a monster season if he wants the Red Sox to exercise his option.

I don't think Manny will be signed, but, then again, I never thought the Red Sox would re-sign Curt Schilling, who the Red Sox knew had a bum shoulder.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Stimulate This....

What will I do with my share of the economic stimulus plan? Not what President Bush wants: to spend it on goods and services in order to give the good ole' GDP a major kick in the ass. Like most Americans, I'll use it to pay down some debt, specifically, a car loan.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pakistan Elections: The Day After

What to say about Pakistan’s recent election that hasn’t already been said elsewhere: the elections were not rigged as previously feared, no protests of the results, and there was very little violence leading up to, during, and after, the elections. The question is: where will Pakistan go from here? Specifically, what will Musharraf do now that the National Assembly is under the control of the PML(N) and the PPP, two parties he has completely antagonized during his near eight year reign. Can he work with them? Will he work with them?

I strongly believe this election asks more questions than it answers.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Castro Replaced By Castro

Fidel Castro, who is 81, has finally stepped down as President of Cuba for health reasons. His brother Raul, who has been acting President, will take his place. Raul was not elected-- not by the people, nor by the rubber-stamping parliament-- but hand-picked by his own brother. Like all dictatorships, I guess, politics is a family affair.

It will be interesting to see if Raul can hold on to power. Fidel possessed a forceful personality, a charisma, that allowed him to lead a country on shear willpower alone. Raul, on the other hand, is the complete opposite: a heartless, soulless technocrat. Raul is also 76 years-old, so it's very doubtful he'll last very long. Regardless, Cuba will soon have to deal with a post-Castro world.

And, hopefully, the United States will stop acting like an ass and finally normalize relations with Cuba! Republicans are beholden to the Cuban community as a vote bank, so I can understand their obstinate but foolish position; but Democrats should muster the courage to say that enough is enough. Communism is dead. Cuba ceased to be a threat when the Soviet Union collapsed. So why keep up pretenses?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Non-Apology Apology

Eric Gagne, who proved to be a stiff in his brief stint with the Red Sox, apologized to his Brewer teammates today for being a “distraction”. Gagne was named in the Mitchell Report for taking Human Growth Hormones, or HGH. He doesn’t apologize for taking the drug—the cheater—but for being a distraction. Big difference, no?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

New Job, New Priorities

As I have mentioned a couple of time through Twitter, I’ve accepted a full-time position as a Staff Consultant/Business Analyst with CSC, a major IT consulting and outsourcing company. I start this Monday.

After nearly fours years of being a contractor, I realized that I miss the structure full-time employment offers. Financially, I made a lot more money as a contractor, but I realized that I was no really going anywhere; and there are relative few opportunities available for contractors, like managing people, project management, and even a little software development, other than accomplishing the project at hand.

Now I’m on a career development track and I need to buckle down. I realized in the past that my priorities have been misplaced which has cost me dearly: for example, blogging too much. With this new job, I need to reorder my priorities and concentrate on being the best at what I do.

So starting Monday, my blog will no longer be as important to me as it was once before. This is not to say I’m giving up blogging. I’m not. But expect fewer posts than before. Blogging will be more of a hobby than a lifestyle.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Random Quote #1

From Patricia Highsmith's Strangers On A Train, a telling quote, and the novel's defining theme:
Any kind of person can murder. Purely circumstances and not a thing to do with temperament! People get so far-- and it takes just the least little thing to push them over the brink.

Europe: In Defense Of Free Speech

In defense of free speech, Danish newspapers will republish controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, which sparked a maelstrom of protest, some violent, from the Islamic world.
Three of Denmark's largest newspapers said they would reprint the cartoon on Wednesday to show they would not be intimidated by fanatics. It was one of 12 Muhammad cartoons published in 2005 and then again in 2006 that led to protests in Muslim countries.
Good for them. At least someone in Europe realizes that these protests by Islamic fanatics, and threats of boycotts by Islamic countries, are nothing more than intimidation tactics to silence any negative criticism of Islam, a religion that deserves to be put under a microscope like any other religion.

Islamic nations adopt a double standard regarding the criticism of religion, many of which have a long history of not only condoning but also spreading disparaging comments against Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and every other religion, large or small. Protests by Western nations often fall on deaf years.

Europe is not Islamic (or Christian, for that matter) so it has no obligation to protect it. Truth be told, the secular foundations of European society mock Christianity with more frequency and more viciousness than it does Islam. In many left-wing circles, Islam has an exalted status, where it’s treated as culture, not religion.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Yahoo! Mail And Spam

I don't know what the deal with Yahoo! Mail is lately but the increasing levels of spam is troubling. Ever since the switch to an AJAX-powered model, spam has been simply out of control. Much of the spam are porn-related and dealings with prescription pharmaceuticals (the usual suspects).

I would gladly switch to another e-mail provider, but switching e-mail addresses these days is akin to switching phone numbers-- a royal pain in the ass; something to be avoided at all costs. Yahoo! Mail is my lifeline in this electronic world, so I'm willing to to tolerate a certain level of spam. Nevertheless, I have my limits, and unless Yahoo! rectifies the situation quickly, I will be forced to go elsewhere, like GMail, whose spam filter works much better than Yahoo's.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Obama On A Roll While Clinton Flounders

Sen. Obama has swept Democratic primaries in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. The results can be found on Yahoo’s political dashboard. It was no contest. Obama clobbered Clinton at each turn. As a result, Obama not only leads in the delegate count but also has momentum for upcoming elections being held next week in Wisconsin, and in Ohio and Texas on March 4th.

Why is Clinton faring so badly? She had, at the beginning, in almost insurmountable lead in the polls, but now is trailing behind Obama. Part of the reason, I believe, has to do with the fact that Obama has more charisma, and is a better speaker, than Clinton, whose skills are more attune to working behind the scenes. Another issue is that Clinton is perceived as an establishment candidate, a creature of Washington; while Obama is perceived as a genuine outsider, who is willing to shake things up. It doesn’t help, of course, that Clinton has a history of flip-flopping on key issues, like the war in Iraq.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Amy And Kanye Win Big At Grammy's

Congratulations are in order for Amy Winehouse’s multiple Grammy wins. Well deserved, in my opinion. And boos for Kanye West, who is increasingly becoming an insufferable, pompous windbag. His Grammy wins will do nothing except to burnish his already oversize ego. And he's not even a good rapper. He may be a great producer, but his pop rants are just that, rants. Obviously, members of the musical establishment that vote for the Grammy’s have no clue what hip-hop is.

UPDATE: Singer Natalie Cole is complaining that Winehouse didn’t deserve to win:
“I don’t think she deserved it,” previous Grammy-winning singer Natalie Cole said. “I think she needs to get her life together first, and then get the awards later."

…Cole also called Winehouse “crazy,” and complained that we are teaching youngsters that they can get rewarded for bad behavior.h
Unfortunately, rock n’ roll rewards bad behavior, and in the case of Amy Winehouse, she is the archetypical rock princess—simply bad, bad, bad. And people love her for it. Whether this is a good or bad thing is debatable; or it simply doesn't matter. Perhaps Winehouse was judged on her talents alone?

Friday, February 8, 2008

"Super-Delegates" Are Key In Democratic Primary

This AFP article gives a good overview on “super-delegates,” who will likely play a key role in the Democratic primary, currently in a deadlock between Clinton and Obama. An excerpt:
With no clear winner after months of wooing voters, the tight race for the Democratic White House nomination may leave the choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to "super-delegates."

The super-delegates are party leaders and lawmakers, including all Democratic members of Congress and former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as well as ex-vice president Al Gore.

If no candidate has a lock on the 2,025 delegates needed to secure the nomination before the party's convention in August, the 796 "super-delegates" would be decisive.

Unlike "pledged" delegates chosen through primaries and caucuses, super-delegates are free to vote for whomever they choose. Many have already promised to back one candidate or another, "and most of the others will at some point before the convention," said Michael Tanner, a political analyst with the Cato Institute.
Does anyone find this sordid process undemocratic? What is the point of even holding primaries if the the end result is solely left to these "super-delegates"? After all, no one elects them; and they are not answerable to anyone, making the whole system suspect in my eyes.

Nevertheless, if I had to bet money on who can make the system work, it would have to be the Clintons, who are more adept at working the backrooms than Obama, who is both inexperienced and more than naïve about such matters.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Last Republican Standing: Romney Suspends Campaign

At the CPAC conference, Mitt Romney has announced that he’s suspending his campaign. Given his lackluster performance on Super Tuesday, the low number of delegates he has so far garnered (which eliminates him mathematically), and, not to mention, the personal wealth he has personally staked to the campaign, it is no surprise he’s suspending his run.

Romney’s withdrawal is a sure sign that conservatives have run out of steam. They have no energy left. They gave it all to President Bush, who quickly squandered it. President George Bush was conservative as they come, and he’s been a disaster. Name any cherished conservative principle, and George Bush has trashed it. Whatever the results of Iraq, success or failure, the Bush Administration botched it from the beginning.

With no real choice other than to sit home, conservative will now, albeit reluctantly, throw their support over to McCain, whom they revile but will vote for anyway because an imperfect conservative is better than a perfect liberal.

The Sweet Sounds Of Baseball

Saturday is Truck Day in Boston, when the Red Sox sends a truck filled with equipment to their spring training site in Fort Meyers, Florida. It’s an annual ritual that is well reported by the Boston media, and it's also a sign that spring will soon be upon us, and with it the 2008 baseball season. Will the Red Sox repeat? Let’s hope so. Some key dates:
  • Feb. 14 -- Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Fort Myers.
  • Feb. 16 -- First workout for pitchers and catchers.
  • Feb. 20 -- Reporting day for Sox position players.
  • Feb. 22 -- First Red Sox full squad workout.
  • Feb. 28 -- First Red Sox spring training game.
The entire Red Sox Spring Training schedule can be found here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pakistan Army Is Corrupt

Many Pakistanis hold its army in high-esteem; the only solid institution Pakistan has, many will argue. But as this Spectator article clearly states, the army, defender of Pakistan, is also one of the most corrupt. An excerpt:
All too often, there is no dividing line. In her 2007 book Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy Dr Ayesha Siddiqa exposes the rampant commercialism pervading every aspect of the country’s military forces, until recently headed by President Pervaiz Musharraf. Dr Siddiqa, a former researcher with the country’s naval forces, estimates the military’s net worth at more than £10 billion — roughly four times the total foreign direct investment generated by Islamabad in 2007. She found that the army owns 12 per cent of the country’s land, its holdings being mostly fertile soil in the eastern Punjab. Two thirds of that land is in the hands of senior current and former officials, mostly brigadiers, major-generals and generals. The most senior 100 military officials are estimated to be worth, at the very least, £3.5 billion.

Many of the country’s largest corporations are also controlled by the military, thanks largely to an opaque network of powerful ‘foundations’ originally set up to look after the pension needs of army personnel. The largest three — the Fauji, Shaheen and Bahria foundations, controlled by the army, air force and navy respectively — control more than 100 separate commercial entities involved in everything from cement to cereal production. Only nine have ever published partial financial accounts, and all are ultimately controlled by the Ministry of Defence, which oversees all of the military’s commercial ventures.
The army (and the military at large) still accounts for a very large slice—after loan repayment—of the budgetary pie, which funds operations, weapon purchases, pension for soldiers, etc. On top of this, the Pakistan military has received more than $10 billion from the United States to fund anti-terrorist activities on its border with Afghanistan. But we all know that money went to boost Pakistan’s defenses with India instead. Money well spent, no?

The last question is: how is Musharraf benefiting? He fosters this air of incorruptibility, but he was also, until recently, an Army man. Musharraf knows the system well because he’s been part of it, and still benefits from it: he will get his allotment of land, his cut of the profits, and, not to mention, his pension.

The army has been doing this for so long, it has developed a sense of entitlement.

Super Tuesday Results: McCains Surges And Clinton Splits

Yahoo has a great interactive dashboard displaying the results of Super Tuesday that is worth checking out.

I say I was surprised by Mitt Romney’s very poor showing given how conservative media types like Rush Limbaugh were hammering McCain (and Huckabee) for not being a true conservative. Nevertheless, it seems many conservatives decided to stay home rather than vote. And the conservatives who did vote, mostly the evangelicals, voted for Huckabee instead. Don’t know if Romney’s Mormon faith had anything to do with, but Huckabee picked up some key Southern states (also known as the Bible belt) so it may have been a factor.

On the Democratic front, not surprisingly, no clear winner has emerged, both Barack and Clinton managed an even split. This one is going to be bloody one; and chances are good it won’t be decided until the convention.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Better Team Won

The Super Bowl was an utter and complete disappointment for me. Living in the New England area as I do, it was only natural that I’d be rooting for the New England Patriots even while most of the country rooted for the New York Giants because, as we all know, everybody likes an underdog.

I give credit to the Giants for playing a great game. Their defense was suffocating, which essentially won them the game, in my opinion. And let’s be honest, the Giants had a lot of luck on their side too. But they had one thing the Patriots clearly did not: the indefatigable spirit to win, which clearly manifested itself in almost every play.

Congrats to the Giants! And to the Patriots: better luck next season.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Private Phone Companies Gaining Ground In Bangladesh

The Bangladesh government showed great nerve when it shutdown a money-losing entity like the Adamjee Jute Mill, after failing repeatedly to make it profitable. It should do something with the Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB), the state-owned telecommunication company, which is bleeding red ink as nimble competitors steal its customers. Some choice quotes from this Daily Star article:
The number of private land phone users more than doubled in 2007, while state owned BTTB saw its number of subscribers drop, being unable to compete with the better service and cheaper connection of its private rivals.

So far BTTB has been unable to capitalise on this market as it is burdened by a reputation for bureaucracy, delays and hidden charges.

Among the private PSTN operators RanksTel is the largest with 1.13 lakh customers by the end of 2007, up 148 percent in the year. RanksTel started commercial operation in April 2005 and invested around Tk 300 crore to expand its services.

“From the beginning, we have followed a strategy of bringing the telephony services to the customers' door,” said Masrur Nawaz Waiz, head of operation and coordination for Rankstel.

“It is very easy to have a telephone within an hour if anyone wants it now, this is a real contrast with the past when it was so tough to get phone. This change helps us to attract customers,” Waiz said.

“In the case of BTTB, its bad reputation for not providing services in time to the customers is the main reason for them loosing customers,” said a high official of Telecom Ministry, adding that BTTB will lose more customers in the coming years even after restructuring.
The accompanying graphic says it all, in my opinion. But unlike Adamjee and Biman, BTTB is a good candidate for privatization.

The days of government owning the lines of communications—telephone and telegraph, radio and television, and postal services—are long over. The telecommunication industry has become too fragmented (and less strategic) to be controlled by a monopoly, and the loss of revenue for BTTB is commensurate with this fragmentation.

Microsoft Goes For Online Gold

Microsoft has just announced a bid to purchase Yahoo. No surprise given the latter’s poor performance lately, making it a good takeover target—plus Microsoft has the cash. I think it’s a good fit. By purchasing Yahoo, Microsoft gets a bevy of online companies with great brand recognition. Honestly, hard as Microsoft has tried, it’s MSN properties lag behind both Google and Yahoo. I hope the deal goes through.