Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Country’s Parliament Isn’t Your Personal Plaything

If I remember correctly, it was in the fifth grade that my school organized an excursion to a ceramic factory for our entire class. The factory belonged to a classmate’s father and we were treated as VIPs by all the employees for we were guests of the owner. The memory of that trip came flooding back to me as I watched President Zardari deliver a speech to the parliament. Seated amongst the guests was the President's son, flanked by a group of his gora teenaged friends.

(skip to 0:38)

Is our Parliament now a more comfortable 'third world experience' excursion?

Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to invite more deserving and accomplished individuals to hear this important address?

Perhaps I'm overreacting, but this just didn't seem right to me.


Is Zarari officially trying to replace Jinnah with Benazir? This is the latest in a series of appearances by the President where BB’s portrait has been prominently displayed whereas the Quaid’s portrait is nowhere to be found.

[Correction: An earlier version of this post wrongly stated that this was Pres. Zardari's first speech to Parliament. Reader MZ alerted us that this was not the case, the President first spoke to the Parliament on 20-09-08.]

Links For The Weekend

It's been a while since I posted links. Lots of stuff to keep you guys busy on the weekend. Let's get right into it.

Here's a bunch of Pakistan/security related stuff. First, a report on the suicide bombing in Khyber agency which has killed more than 50 people. You may be perceptive enough to notice that there are no candle-light vigils or communal prayers or Facebook groups for these people. They are nameless, faceless victims, and will always remain so.

By the way, this report in Dawn calls the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan "defunct". Either I missed some very big news recently or Dawn doesn't understand the meaning of the word "defunct".

Anyway, here's the well-traveled NYT story from earlier in the week which detailed the continuing links between intelligence agencies in Pakistan and the Taliban. I strongly suggest you read the entire thing carefully and come to your own conlusions about what is being definitively said and what is not being definitively said. And finally, here's a story detailing the closer cooperation between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban -- the division of which I have always maintained was overblown.

Let's move on. Those who read my conversation with JJY might be interested in these two posts from Five Thirty Eight. First, Nate Silver has a very interesting post on the fact that financial services people might indeed be overpaid, and why this is so. Even if you disagree with that idea, I really encourage you to read it. Second, he has a friendlier post toward Wall Streeters by talking about his Indian American friend, and how not everyone on Wall Street is actually evil.

Here's an unbelievable video of a man being robbed in an ATM in Karachi. What amazes me is how matter-of-fact the entire episode seems to be (via Karachi Metroblogs).

Mearsheimer asks what the future of Israel on its present trajectory looks like. Are you trying to tell me you're not going to click on a link which features the words "the Battle of Armageddon and then the Second Coming of Christ"?

Staying on the topic of religion, Amit Varma is bemused at the fact that a woman in UP thought she was a mere rhino sacrifice away from marriage.

Funniest video of the week award goes to The Onion, for this report on Prague's airport. The line at the end about the Dostoevsky hotel killed me.

Prague's Franz Kafka International Named World's Most Alienating Airport

And if you're interested in the general concept of "funny", please make sure to watch the latest episode of South Park. It was the funniest episode in about two or three seasons. No question.

You didn't really think I would go through this big a links post without anything on Obama, did you? Here's a story in the Chicago Tribune on how Obama's time as a Con Law prof at the U of C law school influenced him and his ideas (via Freakonomics). There's also a bunch of quotes from people he knew here. As usual, it's everyone but that Epstein fellow with good things to say.

Staying on the U of C theme, here's an article on how the underground economy (drugs, prostitution etc) is suffering in the recession (link courtesy the W). The article is centered on Sudhir Venkatesh, the famous sociologist who got his PhD from Chicago, and spent his years here researching the drug-and-violence-ridden projects on the South Side. I wrote about Venkatesh's book Gang Leader For a Day about a year ago, for those who are interested.

Finally, a great column in the Guardian on the greatest midfields ever. Reading the comments, the consensus picks seem to be: Brazil in 1982, AC Milan in the late 80s and early 90s, France in the late 90s, and a few others. This, however, was my favorite comment:
Wittgenstein - Hegel - Marx - Nietzche

Oh, those Guardian readers. But wasn't Wittgenstein Austrian? Oh, well. I guess Austrians are half Germans anyway.

Have a good weekend, guys.

Friday, March 27, 2009

YouTube Of The Day

I'm a child.

Lost Season Five: Episode 10

I've had an incredibly busy few days and its only going to get worse over the next week, so let's quickly go over the high points of yesterday's episode, 'He's Our You'.

- Last week I speculated that Sayid would try to kill Little Ben but that he wouldn't be successful. It feels good to be at least half right but boy did Ben look like he was killed by that shot to his heart. But next week we're going to find out he survived, aren't we? Maybe the Island won't let him die. Or maybe Ben is dead and our favourite character has been a ghost all along, ala Christian Shepherd.

- If we assume that Ben is alive then this is a real game-changer. It would mean that he knew all along who would come back to the Island, thatr Sayid would try and to kill him, what time period the Oceanic 6 would come back to and that Jin is still alive. Ironically, being shot gave Ben a big advantage. But also consider this possibility. The Ben we see is at a cross roads. He is leaning in the direction of the Hostiles but he hasn't fully committed yet. What is being shot by Sayid was the catalyst that finally drove him to the other side and made him the heartless Machivellean schemer we love so much? Alternately, consider how Ben being dead would be an even bigger game-changer. Actually, don't. It will just make your head spin. I'm going to have to brush up on my time travel this week by rereading Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and rewatching Twelve Monkeys.

- This episode was old-school Lost, with glimpses of a character's past revealing more about his motivations in the present (or the present-past as the case may be). This is actually a lot of fun when it is used sparingly. And we really got to know a lot of explanations for Sayid's conflicting views on his violent nature. Anyone who has criticized Naveen Andrews' acting will surely have to eat their words now.

- The opening scene of Little Sayid killing the chicken so that the other kid wouldn't have do reminded me of Mr Eko shooting the kid to protect his brother. I just love the parallels on this show.

- Ben telling Sayid that he thinks Locke has been murdered. Finally we know more about what's going on than the characters themselves.

- When the Dharma guys find Ben shot (or dead), Jin unconscious and Sayid gone, they are going to smell a rat. LaFleur's life of peace and harmony is about to come to an end.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Conversation With A Wall Streeter

So over the last couple of days, JJY and I have exchanged a bunch of emails. JJY is originally from Bombay/Mumbai and was my roommate at college. Of course, we chose different career paths. He decided to sell his soul and work for what he describes as a "large bulge bracket bank" in New York. I decided to remain true to myself and go to grad school to study Political Science. I also have no idea what the hell "bulge bracket bank" means.

We covered a lot of topics: the AIG exec who quit via a letter to the New York Times, bonuses on Wall Street, the structures of compensation in academia vs. finance, Barack Obama, newspapers, health care, and whom we'd like to be with on a deserted island for a week. Without further ado...

Ahsan: Did you read the AIG exec who quit with a letter to the New York Times? It's all over all the blogs.

JJY: Yes. I emailed you the link, in fact. From knowing my broad views on the subject and my chosen (well, sort of anyway) course of employment, I'm assuming you already know that I sympathize with his plight.

Michael Lewis had an excellent article on Bloomberg on the subject as well.

What did you think?

Ahsan: I think it's tough to feel sympathy toward people who have been overpaid their entire lives, but we'll get to that shortly.

Let's talk a little bit about his "plight" as you call it. His plight, it seems to me, is that he now works for a company that is not just answerable to the usual set of movers and shakers, but instead to all of its stockholders, including the larger public. And given his boss is answerable to the larger public, he (his boss that is) has found it convenient to throw some people under the bus.

Is that a fair characterization of his plight, or am I missing something?

JJY: The "overpaid" statement is debatable, but I'm sure we'll get to that in due course. I completely agree that in general, the Financial Services industry is a bubble that is fairly disconnected from other industries, but I'm not sure that's the fault of the people being paid, but may have more to do with how we, i.e. society, measure the value of their services. Anyway, we'll get to that in a bit.

As far as his plight - yes, that's fairly accurate, with one additional point - he was not at fault for AIG's current state. I thought the electrician - plumber analogy quite apt.

Ahsan: Here's my problem with this woe-is-me-ness of this AIG exec. If it wasn't for public money, he would not have a job. End of story. They would be like Lehman: a footnote, consigned to the dustbin of history. And now he has the gall to question a certain degree of accountability? The only reason he gets to wear an Armani suit to work every day is because of taxpayers' dollars helping him and his company out. When you help someone out, you get to direct the show a little bit.

Look, I understand mobs are unruly and unfair. No question -- many people have been demonized when they don't deserve to be. But equally disturbing is these people's warped view of the world, where they have been singularly wronged. I don't think these people understand how ludicrous their arguments seem to the world that doesn't live on Wall Street.

JJY: I disagree with you there. He wouldn't have a job with AIG. He's the head of their Commodities desk, and I'm sure he would have no trouble finding work with another FI. You'd be surprised at the number of senior folk that jumped from Lehman to the other large, and small, banks when the Barclays deal happened. He stayed at his current job, working 12 hrs a day etc, only because of a sense of loyalty to the company. Relax, I'm only was clearly for the money he was promised at the end of the year. Which he has now essentially been cheated out of. And what's more, he's being villainized for something he had nothing to do with! What does his situation have to do with questioning accountability?

Here's my problem with this public bloodbath: Yes, AIG did bad things. But the people that did those bad things were clearly only a fraction of the 400 people employees in this division. Why does everyone have to suffer as a result?

To use an obviously hyperbolic analogy - if one person in Company A was caught stealing money, would you send everyone employed by Company A to jail?

Ahsan: Well, I think that's a fair point, but it ignores the very obvious parallels to the entire crisis. In many ways, we've ALL been sent to jail because SOME people were caught stealing money. The U.S. economy is losing something like 700,000 jobs a month -- forget economies around the world in bigger trouble like Iceland and Spain.

I did not take a too-easy loan to buy a house whose price I thought I would continue to rise irrationally. I did not work at a financial institution that made that loan possible, nor did I work at a financial institution that leveraged that loan into godknowswhat to make a profit. I was not a regulator who continued to look away, nor was I a financial journalist or economist who saw no trouble with this house of cards (and I use that phrase in all senses of the term). And yet I, like many others who did nothing wrong whatsoever, am suffering from this crisis, because my wife is now working part-time with no health benefits, and I'm still at grad school, and our short and medium term future is not exactly secure.

So I guess my point is: we're all paying the price of other people's mistakes; the only difference between me and this AIG douche is that I wasn't paid a million dollars a year before the shit hit the fan to mitigate the effects of those mistakes.

JJY: Fine - not disagreeing with you there - we're all suffering. I am, given my reduced compensation, a little more directly than you are, but clearly not as terribly as your dear wife. I have a few thoughts in response - I'm going to put them down in numeric form so i can easily separate them and minimize rambling.

1) How does his having gotten paid before justify not paying him now? I agree it puts him in a better position than you, but who's to say he didn't generate enough value for his company / clients to not deserve being paid what he got paid? Moreover, he's obviously more directly affected than you or your wife, because he was guaranteed a sum of money, which he didn't receive (or did receive and is being asked to return). While your wife obviously lost something, I don't think she was explicitly robbed, which he clearly was.

2) I don't understand why the first set of people you mention - those that took the too-easy loans, are not suffering from nearly the same amount of ire as the people working on Wall Street. Your thoughts?

3) How come the public was okay with the $175 Billion, or for the sake of easier, $175,000 Million outlay to AIG, but has raised such a (comparatively) ridiculous hue and cry about the $165 Million that employees of the firm were legally owed? Insert xkcd cartoon here.

4) How are people okay with a family making more than $250,000 a year, being taxed 90% of anything above that number? Not a single person, but a family. I'm not all that worried about the legislation for a few reasons: a) I'm not over the threshold (but I would be if I was married and my wife made anything comparable, so score another point for being single). b) If it does pass in the senate, it will be with many, many caveats that will render it essentially ineffectual. c) FIs will find a way around it - deferred comp, raised salaries/reduced bonuses, stock awards, etc.

But still, how are people okay with that number? $250,000 a year, for a family of 4 living in Manhattan, is really not that much money. Definitely not enough to be classified as executive compensation anyway. I mean, you know how expensive this city is, come the fck on.

Ahsan: We can talk about all of those issues, and frankly, I'm happy you put number 1 first up, because it's a convenient segue into something I wanted to talk about.

You write, "but who's to say he didn't generate enough value for this company/clients to not deserve being paid what he got paid"?

I want to discuss this point at some length, because (a) I don't think I understand it very well, and (b) what I do understand pisses the hell out of me. Bear with me as I talk about this, because you obviously know more about this than I do, and please correct me whenever and wherever you think it's necessary.

As I understand it, money is made by Wall Streeters by making more efficient use of their clients' money than would otherwise be the case. In other words, let's say I'm a gazillionaire and I'm stuffing it in my mattress at night. A trader or broker or whatever will make money by saying he could use that gazillion by sending it places where that money could be more useful than my mattress (say a new business), and that that money will be so much more useful there, that it will be worth more: a gazillion is now effectively worth 1.1 gazillion, and the Wall Streeter takes a cut of that additional 0.1 gazillion.

Here's the problem, as I see it, with that framework: that bump up in value is purely arbitary and in the eyes of the beholder. It's not real in any sense of the word. We don't know that my 1 gazillion is now worth 1.1 gazillion, we're estimating it. And the problem with those estimates, as we have seen, is that they can be incredibly wrong-headed.

So, in effect, the Wall Streeter is not paid for actually making money for his client. He is paid for the promise-cross-my-heart of making money for his client. And those promises, while the product of smart analysis most of the time, can collapse under their own weight.

The problem, for me, with Wall Street compensation -- which is so out of whack from everyone else's experiences -- is that people are given money for moving money. And it's not just that they're given money, it's that they're given boatloads of money. Money people like me in academia can only imagine.

JJY: Completely agree with everything you've said, including people not understanding them making so much - most of the time, I don't either. But...

Simplifying things, let us for the moment, ignore M&A and Financing and focus just on portfolio managers, or their sexier, unregulated avatar, hedge fund managers. Typically, in the good old days (of 2007), HF managers would charge a client 2 + 20, which means the charge is basically 2% of total assets, plus 20% of profits above a certain threshold (typically Libor, but it varies significantly). Point of reference: in my experience, old school Smith Barney type asset managers generally charge more nominal fees, like 1% of assets, while something like Vanguard (mutual funds) is even lower depending on the kind of fund.

So, that being said, depending on your risk profile and contingent on the amount of cash you have, you can invest in anything from a simple savings account in a bank, which would pay you a guaranteed 2% or so a year (not anymore - it's under 1% now I think), to a hedge fund, where the risk/reward payoff, and corresponding fees to the manager of your monies, is much higher. That is a decision made by you, which you will make in your best interests.

Here's my question then: If 100 people decided to invest 1 million dollars each with George Soros, knowing what they were getting into, and he made them 100K each, then what's wrong with him taking 20% of the profits, given that it was his stated fee structure from the very beginning? Is it a ridiculous sum of money? Of course. Does he deserve it? Why not?

Similarly, if an FI or Equities trader makes his company $100MM, why shouldn't he be entitled to 2% of that? In all honesty, I'm not sure what compensation ratios are for traders so I'm not going to guess, but you see my point, yes?

And I understand your frustration with implied value vs. realised value - but that's not always the case. Often money is actually made, e.g., with the buying and selling of stock, or even in the case of buying a company, tearing it down to it's individual assets, and then selling them for huge profit.

Basically, these people are getting paid for realizing the value of something better than anybody else does. Discovering a bargain, so to speak.

On the flip side, in the case of certain products, you're right in saying that the value is implied. In that case, if the transactions are long term, while they're definitely in the money today, they may very well not be tomorrow. Therefore, it's important to tie the compensation paid to the folks who made those transactions to the long term returns on said transactions, and not just the short term profits. Only, since firms had never been burned to this extent (LTCM notwithstanding...or maybe people just forget), it just didn't occur to them. It's entirely possible we'll see bonus escrow accounts in the future, where traders will have to return bonuses awarded them if decisions they made in Year 1 result in losses even in Year 3 or Year 5. I'm really interested in seeing how this situation unfolds.

I think it's often easy to impute the value-added by some of the people mentioned above, which is why it's easier to pay them. However, with a doctor, or a fireman, how do you quantify their value add? Do I think doctors deserve to make more than bankers - absolutely! But how do you determine what their services are worth?

Another point I've been wanting to make - people go on and on about how much bankers get paid and how it's ridiculous. What about entertainers? Does Kobe deserve $20mm a year for putting a ball through a hoop? Or worse still, Tim Thomas for not even succeeding in doing that? Or worst of all, reality TV stars, like Anna Nicole Smith and Jade Goody, may their souls rest in peace; why are their pay packets justified? And what about lawyers? Shouldn't our legal systems be simple enough that we be offered due process in court without having to dish out millions of dollars in the process?

On the other hand, why do teachers, one of the most important cogs of a progressive society, get paid so little? I think compensation structures are deeply flawed in society as a whole, and it's definitely not just Wall Street centric, which people often tend to forget.

Ahsan: I definitely agree with that last point. The W once told me that Paris Hilton gets paid $20,000 to show up at a party. The whys and hows of that somehow go over my head.

I want to make one last point about Wall Streeters' compensation and then move on. You don't necessarily have to reply to this, but I want to make the point nonetheless.

What really gets me is the complete obliviousness that they tend to show. Not a rule -- it is clear from your comments that you, for instance, know that by virtue of working in finance, you are paid high sums of money relative to the rest of the population -- but often enough. One thing that has struck me during Bonusgate is that these people think making many many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and then being paid a bonus is normal. It's almost like: "what? Why're you looking at me like that?" when they have goddamn ketchup all over their face. They simply have no idea. And the self-serving nonsense about how they work harder and "deserve it" is utter crap. The guy who lays bricks on the CTA red line station at Belmont (which is my stop, and it's an above-ground stop) in -25 Celsius weather works his ass off, ok? The really smart high school teacher who's realistic ceiling for a salary is about 50-60k is extremely bright, ok? So let's drop this "we're smarter and we work fucking hard" crap. It's incredibly insulting.

One thing I think you might find interesting is academics' compensation. In many ways, academia -- that bastion of left-wingism -- is more market-oriented than Wall Street. Let me explain.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of academic jobs in the West: teaching jobs and research jobs. Almost always, teaching jobs are lower paying than research jobs, for reasons that will become clear.

A teaching job is one where you have a relatively heavy courseload -- around 5-6 courses a year, at least. It is usually at a smaller school, the type of place you and I went to college. And because you end up teaching so much, you get very little time to pursue your own research -- maybe just in the summer, if that.

A research job is one where you teach less -- maybe 3-4 courses a year at the most -- and are expected to produce top-notch scholarschip. These schools are usually bigger in terms of the student body, and the interaction between professor and undergrad is almost wholly replaced with interactions between TAs and undergrads. You get time to produce your own work.

Why does this distinction matter? It matters because scholars are almost wholly dependent on the quality and quantity of their published work to advance in their field -- even at teaching schools.

Let's say I get my PhD in 2012. In the fall of 2011, I would go on the market, and (hopefully) be asked to visit various schools to give a "job talk", where I basically talk about my dissertation and what contributions it makes to the field.

Let's say I impress the people at one of these job talks enough such that they give me a tenure-track job. A tenure-track job is one, as the name suggests, where I can potentially get tenure 5-6 years down the road IF I produce good work (and am a good professor). The key is the quality of my production: in those 5-6 years, I have to have produced at least one book and a number of published or publishable articles. And these works have to be well-received by the rest of the field.

So you see how market-oriented it is? You rise only if peers and competitors, after much deliberation, think you're worth it. Otherwise you sink.

Another point: salary raises. In most jobs, such as the one you have, raises are somewhat built into the compensation structure. So the assumption is that your salary will rise x% every year or every two years. Academia is very different. You can only really negotiate pay raises if there's competition for your services.

So, let's say I am a professor at ABC college and within the subfield of IR and Comparative Politics, I suddenly write a kickass book on ethnic conflict. Well, the good people at XYZ college see this, as do the people at PQR college, and both come in with offers. They want to make their Poli Sci departments more attractive, and they'd like someone in ethinc conflict to be there. So they email me, and tell me they'll give me tenure (if I don't already have it at ABC) and a raise.

The problem is, I don't want to leave ABC. For one, my wife likes it here. For another, XYZ is in a small town, and PQR is in the South. So I go to the dean and the chair of my department at ABC, and tell them: "look, I have other offers. This is what they're prepared to give me. Are you prepared to match?" And given I've just written a kickass book on ethnic conflict, they invariably are. So I get a raise, and tenure, and a new office.

So in effect, academia is one of the most market-oriented professions out there. It doesn't matter what you think your skills are. It matters what everyone else (i.e. the market) thinks your skills are. And you only get raises and job security if your market value rises, and never otherwise.

JJY: This will be a very short reply: I think people at a more senior level in investment banks, consulting firms, etc, do exactly what you describe (only the pay may be structured slightly differently - guaranteed bonus instead of a salary raise). The annual raise etc, is much more prevalent at the analyst / early associate stage, when you're just one of many in a "program". Bonuses are also standard at that level, although tiered, so better employees are still compensated accordingly, but definitely not according to scale, i.e., if as an investment banking first year analyst, you really suck - your bonus will be $60K, while if I was the star of my program, I wouldn't make more than $80K. Is the $60K too high? Absolutely. Is the $80K unjustified? I'm not as sure...

And I have a slight issue with your "they think they deserve it because they work sooo hard." That's not it all - the truly obnoxious ones believe that they're actually underpaid because of the absolutely immense VALUE they add to society. They really do. But most of them (us?) don't. We understand that we're paid higher than the average bear, but at the same time, the pay is what drives people to banking in the first place. It's almost a bribe to give up your real dreams and aspirations. For some, anyway. Others just enjoy it because it allows them to be the tools they've always yearned to be. Bottles and models, baby!

Anyway, let's move on to the remaining points from my email at 4:12PM - or, to be more exact, your thoughts on those points.

On a different note, I really enjoyed your post on informal sports btw. It's something we've obviously known, internalized, and participated in for ages, but it was nice to see it in writing. and good writing, at that.

Ahsan: Alright. Your second point is why is there no ire directed at people who took out too-easy loans to buy houses whose potentially increased value they used as a credit card to buy flat screen plasmas when they made 40k a year? Is that a fair characterization of that point?

My best guess is that those people have suffered enough: they've lost their homes and their livelihoods and can no longer afford to send their kids to college, if they ever could in the first place. The difference between that, and Wall Streeters still living it up on company escapes to resorts and getting million dollar bonuses, is obvious and stark.

But I agree that the culture of excess and easy credit and not saving for a rainy day have not received enough attention.

JJY: Isn't much further one can go with this. Fair enough is all I have to say - our exchanges have been disappointingly lacking in argument. It's funny how closely aligned our views are, but we still seem to be on two sides of a dividing line...albeit within touching distance of each other.

Wait, does that sound weird? You know, I bet that if I had never met Farooq, that thought wouldn't even have occurred to me.

Ahsan: Your third point was on the bonuses, and why such a hue and cry was raised over 0.1% of the federal bailout to AIG. Again, I think there's a very easy and compelling explanation: one was framed as serving the greater common good (the bailout) and the other (the bonuses) was framed as excess and greed of people whose excess and greed in large part is held as one of the major reasons for this crisis

JJY: But goshdarnit that just ain't right.

Ahsan: Are you smoking a joint at work right now? The quality and length of your responses has dropped off considerably.

JJY: Hahaha. Just left work. Let's continue this tomorrow. Didn't really have much to add, is all.

It just feels like a lynching you know...its the only reason I'm defending this largely douchy selection of folk. So what if they're rich - its sill not fair.

Ahsan: [The next day] I'm going to sidestep your 90%-bonus-tax point because we've been talking about these issues quite a bit and it's already been sort of covered. I want to switch gears for a second, and ask you about politics.

Now, it's a well-known fact that rich people vote Republican. It is also a well-known fact that big cities vote Democrat. How is that tension resolved on Wall Street? Is it a fair assessment when I say younger people that you know on Wall Street (say, younger than 35) voted for Obama and people in more senior positions voted for McCain?

JJY: Without generalising too much, that seems fairly accurate. I think Obama made it really hard for rich people to vote for him. Young people, primarily for the following two (fairly obvious) reasons, still voted for him: 1) they're not as rich...yet & 2) they still have a few dregs of idealism left that haven't yet been entirely wiped out by the cynicism of age/working in finance.

However, while I know zero senior people who voted for Obama, I do know a few young people who voted for McCain. Perhaps they're more forward-looking? And I'd move the definition of "younger" from 35 to around 28 or 30.

Ahsan: Another reason to hate Wall Street.

What do you think of Obama and his team's efforts to get out of this crisis?

JJY: I'm not going to let your negativity get me down. I'm a lifer, baby!

But that aside, I did want to share one of my favorite aspects of Wall Street with you. So, pretty much every group, in every bank has an annual "Volunteer Day." This is where we go out and do nice things for the not-as-fortunate folk in the community around us, after which, we all hit up a dive bar and bask in the glow of our feel-goodness, play beer pong, and in general, feel like men (and women) of the people. The activities themselves are more often than not, fairly useless, e.g., painting murals on walls of elementary/middle schools, planting trees and well, plants, in the already well-maintained park at Washington Square, and I should have had one more example but last year's was sadly cancelled because the person who organizes these things just had too much real work to do. That may not sound so bad, and even though we're not helping all that much, at least we're helping, right? But here's the kicker - we pay to do these things. Citi actually pays organizations to let us plant plants and paint murals. How about we just give the money to a charity organization, and stay in and do the work we're paid to do. Stupid "managing public perception."

As for Obama's efforts - to be honest, I'm not sure I have an opinion. I mean, I obviously think the 90% tax is ludicrous, but I don't know if I'm qualified to make judgments on the amounts/nature of the bailouts and to what extent they're going to alleviate the current situation. I'm just trying to understand it as we go along. That being said, what's your take?

Oh, one other point I wanted to make - I think it's really idiotic that the media takes comparatively small items and makes a huge deal out of them, sometimes resulting in an even stupider outcome than the original. Take the Citi corporate jet fiasco, for example. Now that was something agreed to a couple of years ago, and while it's obviously unfortunate timing, reneging on the order and extending the lease of the current jet/paying for it's maintenance, will actually end up costing Citi more than it would have if the firm had just gotten the new jet. I know it's an easy target, and serves as a great avenue for directing public ire, but shouldn't the media be held to some sort of standard to promote rational behavior?

Ahsan: Obama is not responsible for the 90% tax, Congress is. In fact, Obama has expressed reservations about that measure, though he did exhort Geithner to use any legal means possible to get the AIG bonuses back.

It's hard to say anything meaningful about Obama's plan(s) to mend the economy, only because these are highly technical issues on which very few people have expertise. I do my best by reading a number of economists' blogs, from across the ideological spectrum (read both Krugman and Mankiw, for instance) and yet I still find myself fumbling in the dark on many of these issues.

What I would say is that, at least in this point in his presidency, I trust Obama to hear from all sides on an issue and give every idea a fair hearing. Unlike his predecessor, he is an empiricist, not an ideologue. He's not going to fudge the intelligence on this, so to speak.

I would also say I wholeheartedly support Obama's focus on energy and healthcare. Many seem to suggest (the David Brooks of the world, for instance) that the Obama team is biting off more than it can chew, and should concentrate only on the crisis. I'm with Rahm Emanuel on this point: you should never let a crisis go to waste. If now is the only time that Obama is going to be able to get serious and much-needed reform on America's healthcare system (which is truly an abomination for a rich country), and refocus attention on the relationship between the environment and sustainable growth, then so be it.

In a few months, almost irrespective of what happens, Obama's popularity will have declined, and he would find it harder to get these big-item things on the agenda. This is the mistake Clinton made in his first term: waiting. When you wait, you lose. Now's the time.

To go to your point on the media, completely agree. But it's hard for the media to promote rationality when they themselves are so irrational. I instantly lose respect for a person if I find out they watch news or news shows on TV (Jon Stewart doesn't count). If you're getting your information and opinion from that lot, you're in trouble. Newspapers and blogs are the way to go.

Of course, newspapers are dying, so there's that problem.

JJY: Speaking of responsible journalism, especially the print kind, I received an offer from the New Yorker yesterday where I could get a year's subscription for $.40 an issue. Considering the fact that the New Yorker is my favorite print publication, I should have been delighted, but instead, I just felt sad; the kind of sad one feels when Free Willy is trapped in the net with nowhere to go, or when ol' Sidney pops off to do his "far, far better thing" than he has ever done, etc.

As for the "waiting" strategy - would it be presumptuous, and more importantly, unwise for a president to adopt an 8-year strategy/agenda as opposed to a 4 year one? This isn't directed at Obama because, quite frankly, he's landed himself smack dab in the middle of arguably America's greatest economic crisis, and I think he's perfectly justified in using the crisis to drive long-overdue reform on healthcare and the environment.

Diverting from our main topic for a quick second, I wanted to get your thoughts on the swamp that is America's healthcare system. Why are healthcare costs in the States so ridiculously high? Is it:

a) the for-profit driven insurance companies?

b) a resulting overly complex/expensive administrative system?

c) pharma companies charging ridiculous amounts for prescription drugs?

d) doctors having to pay absurd insurance rates to keep ambulance chasing lawyers at bay?

e) all of the above and then some?

Healthcare in India, while comparatively inferior, is so ridiculously cheap, that there is still a huge gulf between price per unit of quality medical service. For example, my family dentist in Bom charges me nothing for check-ups because he's my family dentist. But even if he wasn't, I think his charges are approximately ~40 USD. I messed up my insurance when I went to a dentist in New York, and I was charge ~$300 for a regular cleaning. Another, even more ludicrous example - I got the same X-Ray with the same machine in Bom and New York, and the respective costs were $15 vs. $105. Even after adjusting for purchasing power, and perhaps a more expensive x-ray technician/nurse, I don't think the two costs are even close to comparable. Wtf?

Also, to address most of the points in you make in your email, yes, Obama rocks. He's a fair, rational, well spoken, and incredibly intelligent individual who can be relied upon to listen to any and all sides of an issue before making a decision. Even if it's 3am when his phone goes off.

Lastly - if you had to pick between spending a week on a deserted island with either Obama, Jon Stewart, Michael Jordan, or any Victoria's Secret model, whom would you choose?

Ahsan: On the healthcare question, I think it's a mix of (a) and (b); the other two are logical implications of the first two points. The fact of the matter is that the U.S. spends significantly more per capita on healthcare for decidedly worse outcomes (shorter life expectancy, greater infant mortality etc etc) than other Western countries. There are close to 50 million people without any health insurance at all, and more tens of millions who are underinsured (i.e. those who cannot afford to have anything seriously bad happen to them because the truly bad stuff is not covered). For the richest country in the world, that is a goddamn joke, and a sick one at that.

But even your points (a) and (b) are logical implications of a grander point: the fact that healthcare in America is fully privatized (except for Medicare and the emergency room, but those are minor exceptions). One hopes Obama corrects this imbalance before his four or eight years are up.

Your dentists stories are crazy. Everyone has a crazy healthcare story in this country. That should tell the leaders of this country something.

On the journalism point, it's scary how good the New Yorker is. There is no better reporting or writing done anywhere else. For breadth of coverage, the Economist is very good too. The NYT Sunday Magazine is also good, if inconsistent.

Time and Newsweek suck balls. Those two publications, along with USA Today and the Wall Street Journal (right wing trash) need to be dispensed with.

As for your Obama vs. Stewart vs. Jordan vs. VS model question, I have a clarification question. Are we assuming I'm still married in this scenario?

JJY: Haha, I'm surprised that it even came to that, but I'll play along. No, you're not.

Ahsan: Then the VS model (Alessandra Ambrosio), no question. The difference between watching the Daily Show on the one hand versus talking crap with Stewart for a week on the other is MUCH smaller than the difference between, uh, perusing a Victoria's Secret catalog and having my way with dear Alessandra for a solid week. The Jordan option is kind of stupid, because I really would have nothing to say to him, and him me, because I'm much more intelligent than he is, and we have nothing in common. The Obama option is tempting to be sure, but not as tempting as this.

You? (You can change Jordan for Tendulkar or Dravid in your case, or even Fabregas).

JJY: See, here's the thing I hate about answering these deserted island questions: what on earth makes you think Alessandra will let you have your way with her? Yes, you'll have a week alone with her, so after a few days she may sleep with you out of desperation alone, but the odds of even that aren't all that high. Smoking with either Obama or Stewart on the other hand, is a guaranteed good time.

Anyway, if I had to set up my ideal desert island scenario, the choices would probably be Obama, Stewart, one of Bergkamp/Henry/Fabregas, and one of Aniston/Portman/Elsa Benitez. (Note: I've left Stockton off this list because I think he'd be incredibly boring. Also, I didn't think it would be pair to pick the entire Indian political much as I would have loved to have stood there and shot every one I deemed not worthy of political office).As far as the soccer players go, I'd pick Fabregas over Henry and Bergkamp, and then spend the whole week trying to fervently convince him to spend the rest of his career at Arsenal. With regards to the gorgeous women, I'd probably go with Portman, simply because she's intelligent as well, and I'd probably have the best shot of wooing her with my razor sharp wit, brilliant sense of humor, effusive charm, and boyish good looks. Not to mention the whole being hung like a horse thing, but that would impress the other two as well, so it's not really relevant to the point I'm trying to make. Just thought I'd throw it out there...

Having narrowed the finalists down, I'd have to go with Portman. I think I could marry that girl.

Also, I think that's a fantastic note/image on which to end what has been an immensely entertaining series of exchanges. I look forward to the paradoxical combination of intelligent/ludicrously over the top comments that are sure to follow.

As always, it has been a pleasure.

Ahsan: Dude, are you fucking kidding me? OF COURSE she'd sleep with me. I'm not even going to bother arguing this point. If that crater-face Seal can get Heidi Klum to let him bang her for the rest of their lives, I think I have a pretty good shot with Alessandra.

And yes, it's been fun. You might even get a regular reader or two out of the entire exercise.

You can read JJY's blog here.

Poll Post

You can comment on the poll here, if you so desire.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An Ode to Bhuttoness: by Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Readers on our blog have occasionally commented that our 'western-educated, secular-liberal-elite, honda-driving, bubblegum-Pakistani' background bars us from opinining on actual social issues, or on Pakistani values. The flip side of that argument is that by merit of our skewed orientation, we should be utter experts at discerning what constitutes effective diplomacy in the West. Given that its apparently my forte', I guess it would be fair to discuss Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK.
Recently, he wrote a 1596 word article, about I don’t know what. I do know that its a pompous, right-click-thesaurus bulk of shit. Shout out to Ali Khan for recommending it.

The article has 2 main themes:

1) March is Shamsul Hasans favourite month for a variety of inane reasons
2) The Bhuttos and now the Zardaris are God’s ordained vice-regents on this earth

Given that everyone is smarter than me and thefore unlikley to read the entire thing, here are 10 highlighted excerpts, which I will blog as I read through the article. I'll award points to each highlight for originality, veracity, sentiment and insight (or lack thereof) and tally at the end.

Highlight 1: (his opening sentence)

"London: March is a landmark month for Pakistan. Notwithstanding the Shakespearean ides of March, it became a historical land mark for us as a nation when under the leadership of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah Muslim representatives of from all over the sub-continent decided to seek, strive and achieve a separate homeland."


- 10 Points for the dumb reference to the Ides of March to sound cool
- 5 Points for saying 'land mark' twice within the space of two sentences.
+10 points for the shout out to Jinnah (I know, I’m a sucker.)

Highlight 2:

"The road to democratic goal post was strewn with the noblest blood of martyred Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. She had ended her self-exile and was forewarned that blood hounds were waiting to be unleashed upon her by those who had opposed her populist politics of empowerment of the people and who wanted her out of their way to devour and scavenge whatever was left of Pakistan."

Incidentally, the road to the goal post of crap is strewn with the complete tripe written in this article. If after the last couple of weeks you had to pick a single incumbent politician who has attempted to oppose populist politics of empowerment and who has a record of devouring and scavenging what was left of Pakistan, it would be Zardari.

Score :
-30 points for disingenuousness
-5 points for the inane meandering about blood hounds.

Highlight 3

“we can only look forward to a national turn-around if our leadership adopts singularity of purpose and devotes whole-heartedly to solving the excruciating problems faced by the common people and mobilises the nation to fight terrorism and extremism to save the country from being taken over by barbarians who are on the rampage to destroy Mr Jinnah's Pakistan and convert it into a theocratic state."

+5 points for the populist lip service.
–15 points for the phrases “singularity of purpose” “excruciating problems” and “barbarians who are on the rampage”
+1 point for the Jinnah reference (I know its less than last time, but marginal utility bro)

Highlight 4:

“The nation needs to be warned that these warring pagans are after our territory and want to destroy whatever progress we have achieved. They are in fact-hirelings of our enemies-out there to destabilize Pakistan so that there is excuse good enough for them for take over of our vital national assets.”

Your mum was a hireling of our enemies. -300 points for being really annoying.

Highlight 5

"The masses also need to distinguish between those leaders who are committed to the preservation of the federation for which Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and martyred Benazir Bhutto laid down their lives and those who do not get tired of pledging their lives for the country but only seek their survival through parochial slogans as were heard in 1988 when Benazir Bhutto was denied landslide victory in Punjab by General Hameed Gul who had created IJI and clobbered a gang of anti-PPP leaders."

I'd venture that this is the most ridiculous paragraph ever written by a High Commissioner in the history of Pakistan (I say paragraph, but its actually an 85 word sentence that begins with the words “the Masses”.)

+300 points for distinguishing yourself. High five high commissioner!

Highlight 6:

"Much similar slogans invoking Punjabi chauvinism were raised recently during the judicial crisis. In this context what the nation needs to be cautious about is that the President who is the symbol of federal unity-ever since he ushered in an era of reconciliation and politics of consensus as part of Benazir Bhutto legacy-has been singled out as a target for character-assassination through a most volatile media blitzkrieg. Those hidden hands pulling the media strings to malign democracy and persistently coaxing men on horseback to intervene-are not well-wishers of Pakistan. They are quislings."

Ok I understand now. This fellow lives in the mystical world of Wajid Shamsul Hasan.

According to Bhutto-Ditta Wajid Shamsul Hasan, he often spends the month of March riding a spotted Namibian mare on a giant aircraft carrier made of kheer and dead quislings. He floats hundreds of kilometres above the heavens, on the outer edges of the holy abode reserved exclusively for assassinated PPP leaders. Liaquat Ali Khan, Hayat Sherpao and Murtaza Bhutto are dumb and are not worthy of being remembered in the holy month of March.

-10 points for not elaborating how Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto threw the one Shamsul Hasan into the fires of Mount Doom.

Highlight 7:

"Pained by what is happening in and around Pakistan and being fed up sitting on the fence as a silent witness to the national failure to rise to the occasion, I decided to write about another March event that played a historic role in the shaping of Pakistani politics. It was a coincidence that on March 23,1929 to Isphanis of Karachi was born a daughter-Nusrat Khanum. She was chosen by destiny to be the great woman behind two great leaders of our time-Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto martyred Benazir Bhutto. "

-5 Points for your awful decision to not stay a silent witness.
- 5 Points for compounding our national failures with your atrocious articles.
-10 Points for the bald attempt to link your article with the birth of Benazir's mother.
-1 Point for thinking that Nusrat Khanum was destined to bear a leader of Pakistan, just because she was born on the date of the Lahore resolution.

[On this highlight, I had originally awarded Mr Shamsul Hasan -100 points for something dumb that he actually hadn't written. Apologies]

Highlight 8: (By this point, Shamsul Hasan is waxing lyrical about Nusrat Bhutto)

"Now 80 when I saw her last her eyes were overly blank but there was an aura of
melancholy blanketing her beautiful mien that continues to retain its noble
grace in its fragility.”

What. A. Line.

+300 points. No questions asked. Just take it and go.

Highlight 9:

“Her [i.e. Her Majesty Nusrat Bhutto] ancestry leading to the legendary Salahuddin Ayubi” – I will spare you this paragraph because it just rambles on profusely and ends predictably with – “brave daughter Benazir Bhutto by her side”.


Highlight 10:

"In 1947-48 as a young member of the Women's National Guard she carried out personally huge amount of relief operations to provide shelter and succour to the millions of the uprooted refugees at a time when Pakistan had no resources. At that hour of crisis, she stood tall among the tallest of ladies that had plunged themselves in one of the biggest relief operations ever undertaken. "


+5 points for the part about ‘standing tall amongst the tallest of ladies’, which made me laugh.

Highlight 11: (Forgive me. I know I promised 10, but they just keep coming)

“[Nusrats] marriage to ZAB was also a great turning point in his life. Though himself a highly qualified and richly endowed scion of an illustrious parentage and heritage, stability at home provided to him by Begum Sahiba, enabled him to harness his energies in the service of the nation to the best of his abilities. As the youngest minister he was seen as a great man in the making and the woman behind him was Nusrat Bhutto.”

Dude, I know you don’t want to bite the dick that feeds you. But seriously. This shit goes way beyond sycophantic fiction (Sycofantasia?). Please STOP.

-200 points for the unabashed fellatio

Highlight 12:

"When he became minister her responsibilities multiplied--as a wife who had to accompany her husband on foreign tours, play perfect hostess to her husband's dignitary guests, look after four growing children whose high quality education was her responsibility and then she had tremendous social responsibilities besides her commitment for the empowerment of women and less privileged."

- 800 points for not stopping.

Highlight 13:
“The true strength and greatness of her character--manifested itself-“ blah blah blah blah I write things blah blah blah blah P is the best letter of the Alphabet blah blah blah blah blah I Like Being High Commissioner blah blah blah – “Benazir Bhutto”.
Minus 1 point for every additional word written after "true strength" because frankly marking your gas has gotten boring. According to my new per-word marking scheme, that means a further –506 points.

Highlight 14:

“Politics is a game of uncertainty especially when egomaniacs are on the loose."

Yes. Not only a game, but a game of uncertainty. All the other games in the world, are of course based on certainty.
And if there are political problems in Pakistan borne of large egos, please stop writing about them. Unless of course it is to make some heartfelt admission about your embarrasing public affection for your boss, his wife, his wifes mother, his wifes mothers father's father (to the power of ten - i.e. Saladin Ayyubi), their children, and anyone else within political sucking up distance.

I’ll leave this one for the comments section.

Final Score:
Mr Shamsul Hasan's final score (Subject to the commenter’s Marks for Highlight 14) is negative Seven Hundred and Seventy Five Points. Nice.

The Culture Of Informal Sports

I was thinking of writing a post on this topic for a long time, and this column by Stanley Fish finally persuaded me to stop being lazy.

For as long as I remember, I have played sports for fun and competition. I think I started playing cricket at about age 5 -- my eldest brother, then 13, taught me the forward defensive shot and the straight drive -- and basketball at about age 7 or 8 (not coincidentally, fellow by the name of Michael was about 28 years old then, and doing some pretty ridiculous things). Between the ages of 10 and 19, I would say I played some sport for some part of the day about four or five times a week. I stopped playing sports in college mainly because I was too nerdy and refused to leave my room for anything other than the library, but every now and then we would get a cricket game going amongst all the South Asians at our tiny college. Only when I got to grad school did I start playing regularly again -- basketball two or three times a week.

Leaving aside how much fun it was and is, I want to talk about the culture that pervades informal sports. My only experiences have been with pickup basketball and tape-tennis cricket, but I'm sure this applies to many other people's experiences with many other sports.

Here's the most interesting passage from Fish's column:
Why? Why continue to do something I wasn’t any good at nine times out of ten? Well for one thing basketball players are by and large generous. (There are exceptions.) If you’re not very skilled, if you’re old and slow, they will make a place for you in the game. In his recent book “Give and Go: Basketball as a Cultural Practice,” Thomas McLaughlin speaks of the ethical practices that emerge in the course of a game even though no rules have imposed them: “Every time one of the players in our game says to a weak player as he is taking an open shot that he will likely miss ‘Good shot,’ he is weaving the ethical fabric of the game.”

I have often been the beneficiary of that ethical fabric, even when those weaving me into it are perfect strangers. For one of the great things about being a basketball player (or pretending to be one) is that no court is closed to you which is why I always have a basketball in the trunk of my car. You can just show up wherever there is a hoop and a game and you will be included. (This holds also in foreign countries where there may be a language barrier, but never a basketball barrier.)

That's the most important and most amazing thing about informal sports: everyone gets a chance. I speak from experience: when I was in Pakistan, I was always one of the three best players on the basketball court; in Chicago, I am always one of three worst. In cricket, depending on the setting and the people there, I could be anywhere from the best player there to just barely in the upper quartile (top 25%). The point is, I've experienced informal sports from a variety of different perspectives, and the result is always the same: bad players are still allowed to play, still given the ball or bat ahead of someone who might deserve it; everyone is made to feel welcome and no one is shunned on the basis of their ability (the bigness of their mouths might be another matter entirely).

It really is unbelievable when you think about it. Economists from places like the University of Chicago would tell you that human beings act almost always as rational agents in their own self-interest, and most people's self-interest is to win. And yet, very rarely do teams and players act completely like they want to win. Note, I'm not saying people don't want to win. I'm saying they sometimes act in ways that makes their winning less likely.

In cricket, for instance, it is a time-honored trait that a player has to be given either at least one over (for Westerners, read: be allowed to bowl, which is cricket's equivalent to pitching in baseball) or bat in the top three or four. I've played a tape-tennis game of cricket about 4 gazillion times in my life. Almost every time, the team batting second makes its decisions on the batting order according to the following criteria: (a) how big a score are we chasing? and (b) who didn't get a chance to bowl?

Though these options are often in opposition to each other -- for the simple fact that if a player didn't get to bowl, it probably means he sucks, which probably would get in the way of successfully chasing the first team's score -- they are almost always handled pretty adroitly by whoever is in charge of selecting the batting order. Usually you'll send a really good player with the sucky guy (for Westerners: in cricket, two players bat at any one time, in effect in rotation), hope the sucky guy does something productive or gets out quickly, and take your chances by interspersing sucky guys with talented guys in the order.

In basketball, it's very similar. If a sucky guy is open, everyone will encourage him to shoot, even if the sucky guy's open shot is less likely to go in than the good player's contested shot. Good defensive plays (which rely less on skill and more on effort) are always applauded. And I've never been in a game -- ever -- where someone is made fun of for their lack of ability (unless it's between friends, in which case all bets are off).

Again, think about how weird that is. In every other walk of life, be it in an office building or a school or even a home, people with less skill are usually marginalized for (and by) people with more skill. And yet in sports, where winning and losing is a very discrete and binary outcome (you can't "sort of" win the way you can "sort of" be friends with someone or "sort of" be good at your job), where dog-eat-dog Darwinian logic should be in full play, where every minute should be a heroic battle for establishing one's manhood, we actually see something very different: empathy and the sense of unity. And the crazy thing is, it is often expressed by people who don't know each other at all -- by people who have almost nothing in common except a passion for the sport.

At the U of C gym where I play pickup basketball, for instance, there are white guys and black guys and East Asian guys and Hispanic guys and, um, one South Asian guy (guess who?). There are undergrads and grad students and people who work at the U of C hospital and people who simply live in the neighborhood here in the South Side of Chicago. There are rich guys and middle-class guys and poor guys. Occasionally, there's a girl too. And unlike Cheers, very few people know everyone else's name. They just shoot for teams, ones and twos to 11, winner stays, and repeat. It's a pretty simple formula, really.


I know this is going to make me sound like one of those old dudes who hates that his time has passed, but I really can't believe kids these days. The amount of time they spend indoors on their goddamn Xboxs and PS3s and Nintendos and Civilization and Prince of Persia and whatnot is really beyond me.

Look, I understand there are a lot of virtues in playing sports that are replicated in video games: the idea of wasted effort, the idea of losing despite trying your hardest and having to accept it, the idea of camaraderie and team spirit, and the idea of using past failures to overcome future obstacles, to name just a few. But no one is going to convince me it's the same experience, and one of the main reasons is the stuff I've talked about in this post: the delicate balance between altruism and winning that is commonly struck in informal sports. If anyone under the age of 20 is reading this, please stop and get your ass out of the house and throw around a goddamn ball with someone your age. Trust me, it'll be fun.

Even if you suck.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pakistani TV Producers / Directors / Hosts Are Idiots

Daniyal Raheel, the host of Driven - a car show which airs on the Pakistani channel Style 360, reviews a fancy American car from 1964. He's quite an insightful man so let's hear what he had to say about the car's interior:

"the interior of the car is pretty dark, maybe could've done with some wood finishing, looks a bit dangerous. I don't know if I can say this on TV, this interior makes me feel like a nigger."

Aired 21:30 PST, 23-03-09.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fun Fact Of The Day

In La Liga this year, only one team has scored more goals than the combination of Messi, Eto'o and Henry. That team is Real, with 66. Barca's three up front have 59. No other team has more than 56.

The 6-0 demoilition of Malaga today was an absolute joy to watch, even if it was on a grainy-ass web feed. Malaga are not a joke; promoted this year, they have been challenging for a Champions League spot for months now. But they were simply blown away by the wave-after-wave form of attack Barca have mastered this year. At their best, they simply give you no room or time to breathe. And honestly, 6-0 is a flattering scoreline for Malaga -- it could easily have been 8 or 9. Easily.

Also, FYI, you definitely want to Youtube "Messi Malaga" some time tomorrow.

UPDATE: See how nice I am? I even do your Youtubing for you:

But no, really, Ronaldo is the best player in the world.

Some Plugs

Since I don't feel like putting any of my own thoughts today, I thought I would direct you to other people's production.

Regular reader Wasay has started the "Maila Times" with a friend of his at college. It's modeled on The Onion, except it focuses on Pakistan. The problem, of course, is that reality in Pakistan is ridiculous enough without satire. Despite these obstacles, they are bravely soldiering on. Check it out.

We got an email from the people over at the Brave New Foundation, telling us about their new documentary "Rethink Afghanistan" (it's the same crew responsible for "Outfoxed"). It's a two part documentary and the second part focuses in large part on Pakistan. Here's the trailer:

You can watch the entire piece on their website, as well as sign a petition calling for more congressional oversight hearings on the U.S.'s war in Afghanistan. Check it out.

A friend of mine from high school wrote this story for NYU's Street Level magazine, which runs the best pieces from undergrad journalism students. The story is about Pakistani women running small businesses in Brooklyn. Of course, Anam has now moved on to bigger and better things: writing about fashion, entertainment and the rich and elite of New York -- which, frankly speaking, is all I care about in the world.

There were a couple of other plugs I had to make but Dodgeball is on TV so I'm going now. Happy weekend.

UPDATE: One of the other things I wanted to mention is this blog devoted to FC Barcelona, for the Barca fans out there. Pretty comprehensive (previews and reviews for all the games, plus some good if biased comments) so check it out.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The last thing I wanted to mention was Fuck My Life. I think most people already know about this, but for those who don't, let me tell you: it's the best time-waster in the world. I challenge you to spend less than half an hour on it the first time you visit. It's bloody hilarious.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama Wishes Iranians Happy Nowruz, Quotes Saadi, Gives Liberals Everywhere Massive Hard-On

Holy cultural sensitivity, Batman! In the midst of the greatest economic crisis in almost 100 years, and a massive and near-unprecedented overhaul of domestic priorities, Barack Obama has decided to wish Iranians a Happy New (Iranian) Year. In his message, he managed to quote an ancient Persian poet. He also posted transcripts of his remarks in English and Persian at (I kid you not) No, seriously.

The IR interpretation of this is pretty simple: Obama is a defensive realist, conceives of Iran as a security-seeking and not a greedy state, and is attempting to reassure them in an attempt to strike a Pareto efficient bargain on the nukes question. The only problem with this plan, I think, is that Iranian acquisition of nukes is fueled -- no pun intended -- more by Israel than by the U.S. [to be clear, this is just my personal opinion and in no way represents a consensus in the security/IR worlds].

I also think the timing of this is not coincidental in the sense that he is probably seeking to influence the Iranian election this year by trying to secure a more moderate leadership. Though the extent of his influence on that issue is also questionable, at least for me.

But man, no one can say that dude isn't trying.

Champions League Draw

Villarreal v Arsenal (YES!!!)
Manchester United v Porto
Liverpool v Chelsea (Not again.)
Barcelona v Bayern Munich (The one to watch.)

(Villarreal or Arsenal face Man U or Porto in the Semifinal)

Lost Season Five: Episode 9

Perhaps it was the anticipation caused by the two-week break but I really enjoyed Lost this week. 'Namaste' did not break any new structural ground and there were no gasp-worthy twists but even the weaker actors like Matthew Fox and Evangeline Lilly were in great form while Sawyer's new-found authority and the calmness that accompanies it has allowed Josh Holloway to show off his acting range. And the tantalizing glimpses of Dharma life from the first four seasons have now been fully fleshed out. Is it any surprise that the Hostiles were able to gas these guys so easily; they're really nothing more than a bunch of hippies with a knack for science singing songs in their commune.

- The most pressing question that needs to be answered is why Sun is the only member of the Oceanic Six to be stuck in a different timeline. My guess is that John Locke, as the leader of The Others (or at least the figurehead leader), did not want Sun to come back to the island because of Jin's request, and so she is separated from the rest of the gang.

- The scene between Sayid and young Ben sets up all sorts of possibilities. Most likely, Sayid will unsuccessfully (remember, Daniel said the future can't be changed) try to kill young Ben to exact revenge for whatever betrayal Ben perpetrated back when they were off the island. But it is also possible that Ben is already leaning towards The Others and Sayid will have to come an alliance of convenience with them to escape from his holding cell.

- A sharp-eyed commentator on one of the forums posted a screenshot of the scene between Sun and Christian Shepherd. There is another woman hovering in the background. The ghostly apparation is probably Claire but could also be the newly-departed Charlotte.

- Seeing Lapidus' co-pilot speared by a branch reminded me of the pilot when the pilot (no pun intended) was also brutally killed. The Island doesn't seem to like those who bring visitors.

- The reunion at the start of the episode was really quite touching. Reunions are something the show has always handled really well. Jin and Sawyer returning with the Tailies in season 2, Sawyer and Kate escaping The Others in season 3, Desmond and Penny and the Oceanic 6 and their families in season 4 and Jin returning from the dead in season 5 were all brilliant. For a show about a bunch of survivors stuck on an island, Lost really does have a lot of separations.

- While I want Sawyer to stick with Juliet and could really do without a protracted love triangle, or quadrilateral if you include Jack, I really loved the scene between Juliet and Kate. I wouldn't be surprised if Juliet deliberately left Kate out of the new recruits list just so she could show her who was in charge.

- Sawyer really asserted his leaderhsip in the scene with Jack and he seems to be far more successful in his new role then Jack and Locke ever were. He's managed to keep everyone alive and living comfortably in the Dharma compound. Will Jack be happy in his new subordinate role or is a power struggle, perhaps mirroring that between Dharma and The Others, in the offing?

- It was Ethan! And boy did Juliet recoil when Michelle Dreschller told her the baby's name.

- You really need good recall to catch everything on Lost. Radzinsky, the guy who found Sayid, had been last mentioned three years ago in season two. In Desmond's flashback, his hatch-mate Kelvin tells him that he was living down there with Razdinsky. Kelvin, by the way, was the dude in the US army who introduced Sayid to torture. So this means that not everyone in Dharma was killed during the Purge.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Resume of the Day

Via Ugly Doggy

If you can't read it, there is an enlarged image here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mid-Week Links

Even by Pakistani standards, the last has month has been quite intense politically. Let's forget about that for a moment and see what the rest of the world is up to.

A writer for the Atlantic Monthly describes a dining experience with Larry David. Apparently Larry David the person bears more than a passing resemblance to Larry David the character.

You've got to love the intellectual tenor of intra-Republican debate. John McCain's daughter Meghan criticized some right-wing personalities for their personal attacks on her father. Their reply, "Shut up, you fat bitch." (I paraphrase slightly). Meghan told them to "Kiss my fat ass."

Sometimes you can't help but laugh at another person's misfortune:

Hashmat Ali must have exhausted all options to persuade his father to get him married before reaching the Peshawar Press Club holding a banner Tuesday to publicly voice his grievance.

The banner carried an appeal by him in Urdu, complaining that his father Shahzad Gul despite being a wealthy man was refusing to arrange his marriage. “My younger brothers have got married even though they were jobless. I am the oldest and am employed but my father has yet to arrange me marriage,” read the appeal.

According to Hashmat Ali, he was a chowkidar at the girls’ hostel at the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar and was getting Rs5,000 monthly salary. The girls’ hostel apparently was the nursing hostel at the biggest public hospital in the NWFP. Imagine being a guard at a hostel full of young girls and still unable to find a wife.

A Cricinfo blogger makes a list of the worst bowlers in Test history. Anyone who followed cricket in the 90s will not be surprised to learn that Ian Salisbury (20 wickets at an average of 76.95) is the runaway victor.

What good could possibly come from placing a Christian fundamentalist and athiest pervert (I do not use the term perojatively) in the same room? Only the most hilarious interview you could hope to read.

Site recoomendation: Want to catch up on the latest celebrity gossip but feel like a loser for staring at pictures of Britney? Get updates on the Chris Brown/Rihanna situation and much more at What Would Tyler Durden Do? where the irony and snark will allow you to slum without losing your sense of superiority.

And finally, major props to the W (to borrow Ahsan's phrasing) for introducing me to Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. In the scene embedded below, obnoxious super hero Captain Hammer explains the origins of his moniker to arch-nemesis Dr Horrible.