Advertisements

Monthly Archives: September 2012

Gangnam Style

You’ve already heard this song called Gangnam Style by a South Korean named PSY. If you have not, seriously, in what corner of the world are you? 🙂 So, this is the song ( I think) that has the most views ever on Youtube–276,998,929 and still rising! At first, I started wondering what so was special about the song but as I listened to it, and saw parodies and flash-mobs performing the song, I realized that the song had a more global appeal than I had previously imagined.

Isn’t it amazing how YouTube (and the Internet of course) has revolutionized our world and made it seem smaller? One lucky chap in one corner of the world puts a video on YouTube and instantly becomes a global celebrity! Keep your dreams and hopes alive people–you never know how you’ll get that lucky break!

Here are other imitations for your viewing pleasure:

Advertisements

Iran vs Israel

Now that the world is once again riveted to the Mid-East, it is time to examine the drums of a more sinister conflict that has been beating there for some time now. I am talking of course about the escalating talks about a possible nuclear showdown between Iran and Israel. Let us start with some relatively open facts:

First, despite the hysteria whipped up by Israel to the contrary, Iran does not yet possess a nuclear weapon. However, this does not mean that the international community is too naïve to understand that Iran is actively pursuing that goal even though they have strenuously denied any intention of doing so.

Secondly, even though Israel is officially not counted or recognized as a nuclear state, anyone would be foolhardy to believe they do not have nuclear capability.  Decades long military, economic and intelligence co-operation between Israel and the United States guarantees that the Jewish state is properly spoken for when the subject is nukes. Remember, US tax-payers give foreign aid to Israel to the tune of $3 billion every year. That is enough to help significantly boost her military—in fact Israel and Pakistan are the only countries in the region that ostensibly possess nuclear deterrence.

Lastly, in the mad jostle for military superiority in the Mideast, it is useful to remember that the majority of the Sunni Arab countries in the region harbor deep resentment and suspicion for both Israel and Iran. One is seen as an illegal occupier of Muslim lands and a front for Western imperialists; the other is viewed as a rising over-ambitious regional power (bully) and a possible military threat.

It is against this backdrop that one must carefully weigh these escalating calls for war from both sides of the aisle. If we go down memory lane, we realize that in June 1981 Israel unilaterally acted in attacking and destroying the Iraqi Osirak reactor believed at the time to have been put in place to aid Iraq get nuclear weapons. At the time, Israel was roundly rebuked by the UN Security Council, but that surprise attack critically damaged Iraq’s nuclear program and I do not think that they recovered from that blow ever again. When one sees how empty Saddam Hussein’s military boasts turned out to be during the second US-led invasion of Iraq, it would seem that the verdict of history has been that the Israel’s bold preventive strike was not altogether without great merit.

Now, we are entering the season of saber-rattling again. The leaders of both countries have openly entertained the prospect of war, and from their hard stances it is evident that each side believes that not only would their side emerge victorious in any possible military confrontation,  a confrontation so specified may very well be nigh inevitable!

Each side has reasons to be super-confident I suppose:

i)Iran in recent years has increased her economic trade relations with Russia and China to the tune of over $3 billion every year. Since Iran is a strategic business and trade partner of these two countries, we have seen that Russia and China as permanent members of the UN Security Council have repeatedly come to the aid and defense of Iran against US-led acts of containment at the UN. It is even possible to imagine that were the US to carelessly wade into an armed conflict against Iran, the US would have to expect Russia and China to get into it. So, we have seen and heard Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cockily dismiss Israeli threats. This however does not mean that Russia and China are not carefully weighing their stance on the whole contentious issue of a nuclear-armed Iran and the possible nuclear race it could spark off in the Middle East.

ii)Israel, rightly or wrongly, believes that her continued existence depends upon Iran never getting a nuclear weapon. Many of the hardline clerics in Iran have openly stated that Israel has no right to exist in the Middle East, and I am sure the Israelis are taking their threats seriously. If we can extrapolate from the sentiments prevalent in Tehran, one might be led to conclude that a nuclear attack against Israel is indubitably in the works whenever Iran finally manages to join the nuclear club.

So, we find ourselves at a nervous impasse. The US does not have formal relations with Iran even though it is determined to see to it that Iran does not enrich uranium to make nuclear weapons. However, the US has been severely weakened militarily from two unfunded and perhaps needless wars in the region; as a matter of fact, she can scarcely afford a third war in the region against Iran in the midst of these current bleak and crippling economic downturns. However, it is easy to imagine that the US can easily wage a proxy war using Israel as her tool. The unfortunate thing for fanatically pro-Israel and neoconservative types who would doubtlessly wish to see that scenario come to pass is that the one man who could easily help to orchestrate this (his name is Obama)  is firmly against it. Inasmuch as the Obama administration wants to be seen as friendly to the Jewish state, sources inside the White House have readily confirmed that the relationship between Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is far from gratuitously warm and cordial. It is perhaps because of Obama’s restraining influence on his Israeli partner, and his administration’s emphasis on sanctions and diplomacy, that the soaring rhetoric of war has not reached a deafening crescendo.

At this time, it would seem that Bibi Netanyahu and his counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are simply bidding their time as they wait to see the result of the oncoming US elections. I’d hate to say this, but my impression is that this is far from over. If Romney wins the election, the prospect of a US direct or proxy war against Iran exponentially increases; if Obama wins, the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran exponentially increases.

How best should this issue be handled? We’ll just have to wait and see.

SNL Spoofs Ann Romney

 

Personally, I like Ann Romney. She looks and sounds very polished and First Lady-like. It is always interesting to see the wives of these politicians speak and show the fire in their bellies and the passion they often have for the political process. It is really noteworthy that despite everything that has been said, Mitt Romney is still the best candidate the Republicans could have offered.

 

Romney Will Lose The Elections

Given the events of the last two weeks, anyone can see that Mitt Romney’s campaign for the presidency of the United States is in serious danger of fatal derailment. If he eventually loses the election, I am going to identify the shocking sequence of mutilating strokes he dealt to himself and to his campaign over the last 2 weeks as the primary cause of his defeat. There are already many republicans who cannot understand and quite frankly openly wonder why Romney had been struggling in the polls to convincingly beat a president they have universally acknowledged as the worst president ever.

There is simply no easy way to slice this: given the suboptimal state of the economy, the degree of vilification that Obama has received from Republican quarters, and the active push by targeted ads financed by Romney’s rich sponsors and donors, it was simply baffling to notice how Romney had consistently found it difficult to spring forward in this hotly-contested race. Why, someone might ask, is Romney not handily beating Obama amongst likely voters if this election truly was a referendum on the performance of the Obama administration? Please hold that thought.

As if Romney wasn’t having a hard enough time convincing many Americans that he should be given the nation’s top job, the events of the past few weeks have all but put a nail on the coffin of Romney’s presidential aspirations. Indeed, as things stand now, this election is all but over. Let me take the remainder of this brief write-up to give reasons why I do not think that Romney will win come November 6:

A –  Reminiscent of John McCain’s hasty and uncoordinated  over-reaction in ‘suspending’ his campaign at a time when America stared at a crisis, [thereby prompting wide-mouthed disbelief and concern over his emotional state or his ability to perform under pressure] Mitt Romney has unwittingly generated serious concern over his ability to perform in times of great national or international uproar.  Only last week when the nation was quietly mourning the loss of an ambassador, several embassy personnel, countless innocent lives, and the breaching or burning of American embassies or consulates in an orgy of violence that has erupted all over the middle East, Romney chose that singular moment of subdued national outrage to try to score a cheap political point. Without waiting to get the full picture or the facts in the case, he mistook a tweet emerging from a US embassy under siege, as the official statement of the Obama White House and launched off into a tasteless self-serving rant about how Obama (and  his administration by extension I suppose) was supposedly apologizing to the Muslim world about American values; how Obama was not projecting strength and how his own administration would undoubtedly have risen to the challenge posed by the events that were yet unfolding.

Apparently, what happened was that some Coptic Christian Egyptian-American posing as an Israeli to secure funds had made a disparaging video about Islam mockingly titled “The Innocence of Muslims” a few months back. A 14-minute trailer could be found on YouTube. The poorly produced and directed documentary (if at all it could be called a documentary) features actors with American accents and since the producer of the film was also resident in the US, the Arab world took that as sufficient casus belli to rail against American interests in the region. The aftermath? Scores died and several American embassies faced mob assaults all over the Middle East. It was at this moment of heightened national anxiety and concern that Romney chose to launch a baseless criticism. The fact was that the tweet he thought represented the Obama administration actually came from the embassy facing down hordes of angry Muslims. The official Obama statement on the matter sought to give avenues for peace even when condemning in strong terms the attacks on American embassies and embassy personnel. It furthermore re-iterated the commitment to freedom of speech. Frankly, a lot of Americans especially the undecided were able to see in glaring detail that Gov. Romney would say just about anything if he thinks it would get him elected even if that means going against the conventions of good taste. He was roundly criticized for his thoughtless remarks, but rather than apologize for his hastiness, he simply doubled down on his earlier statements. Brilliant strategy!

B – As if that was not enough headaches for a campaign quickly spiraling out of control, a video was leaked showing what Romney really thinks about 47% of the electorate. It turns out that in a secret, private fundraiser organized for Mitt Romney, one of the people in attendance had wondered why Romney wasn’t more popular and more visible than he currently was, and wanted to know what the appropriate response should be to people who still could not find Romney appealing enough as to vote for him. In a remarkable moment of candor, Romney coolly stated his indifference to 47% of Americans whom he said would never vote for him anyway because they were tax-nonpaying, handout-seeking, Obama-loving lackeys afflicted with some form of victim mentality and who doubtlessly think that government exists solely to cater to their needs. Shocking as that characterization of nearly half of the electorate is, the simple truth of the matter however is that Romney was right. There are indeed people who will never vote for him no matter what. The problem however is that that sort of frank assessment is not something you would expect out of the mouth of someone campaigning for the presidency. In writing off people who are or were former supporters of Obama, he is effectively shutting himself off from thousands of people who might have voted for Obama in 2008 (people who would fit the description he gave) but who for whatever reason best known to them might have decided that Obama was not the change they hoped for or imagined.

You see, it is now becoming increasingly difficult to construct a scenario where Romney wins campaigning only for the votes of the 53% he imagines are willing to give him a fair shot. Statisticians and public relations personnel fully realize this. The odds are heavily stacked against him if he thinks that he will be elected on the backs of rich, white conservatives alone. This is because the statement that was credited to him strongly reinforces the view that he is an unfeeling and emotionally disconnected shill of the big business or corporate class, and that if his ideas were fully known, would pose a disaster to more than the 47% he imagines are ideologically attached to Obama’s hip. They will in fact affect a great deal of the people (like seniors, veterans, failed small business owners etc) who might ordinarily have looked upon him more favorably.

C – Lest we forget, presidential elections in the United States are not decided by the popular vote but by something called the Electoral College vote. Now, I am convinced that Obama will definitely win the popular vote i.e the number of people that voted for him nationally will be more than the number that voted for Romney. All it will take are a few of the big  and densely populated states like California and New York for instance massively voting for Obama to see the wide gap he will gather  by the time all the votes have been cast. Fortunately for Romney, America uses a ‘weighted’ Electoral College method which I shall not start explaining in detail here. In a nutshell, every state has a specified number of electors which a presidential candidate will win if he wins the popular vote in that state. These are apportioned in such a way as to make the votes of people in the American suburbs and hinterland matter. The winner of the election thus becomes the man who first surpasses 270 electoral votes gotten by adding up all the Electoral College votes apportioned to each of the individual states. The use of the Electoral College method means that it is possible for Obama to get the higher number of votes and still lose an election. This is the reason why you would hardly see Obama campaigning in states that are traditionally democratic; or hardly see Romney campaigning in states that are traditionally republican. In effect, it means that both the Obama and Romney campaigns will be focused on those battleground states with a somewhat equal balance of republican or democratic voters hoping to tilt the voting scale in their favor. These are the states that are inundated with millions of dollars of targeted negative ads.

However, a critical look at the Election map shows that Romney is trailing Obama in some of these key states. In other words, Romney’s path to the Whitehouse is ALREADY tougher than Obama’s. Romney would need to basically sweep through these critical states if he wants the Electoral College votes in his corner to surpass those in Obama’s corner—and there is no suggestion on the ground that such a scenario is shaping up. With Obama suddenly jumping ahead out as much as 5-7% in national polls this week, it becomes even more difficult to see how Romney will flip enough votes to effectively win many of the battleground states which Obama won in 2008. The math is just not looking favorable for Romney at this point—and if Obama is able to distance himself from any and all costly political scandals, it is downright impossible to see how Romney would  win in Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada,  and New Hampshire to get enough Electoral College votes to get him to the magical 270.

D – Despite the RNC’s strenuous efforts to humanize Romney, the undisputable fact is that Romney still has a perception chasm battling his efforts at becoming more appealing to most people. Some view his Mormon faith with something akin to scorn and derision; many are still upset and rightly suspicious of Romney’s decision to hide his tax returns from previous years from the public. What is he hiding? In addition, a lot of people who decry foreign tax shelters also find that they cannot reconcile their views with a president who has hidden most of his wealth in the Cayman Islands and in Swiss accounts. It certainly does not sound like the actions of someone who has much faith in America. There is no denying that he is an extremely wealthy man—and that has perhaps spawned the perception that Romney is altogether emotionally and psychologically far-removed from the plight of the suffering masses. This is a thorny perceptions issue, and he has battled it vainly for a long time. Indeed, there is no shortage of republicans who, regardless of their overwhelming disapproval of Obama, are nevertheless indifferent or even perhaps harshly critical of Mitt Romney. If some members of Romney’s party can be hostile to him based on their own negative perceptions, I leave you to ponder how much less appealing he would be to Independents.

It is on the strength of these assessments that I fail to see how Romney will eventually emerge the winner of the 2012 presidential elections.  But as we all know, the truth (life) is sometimes stranger than fiction. We have a few weeks left before the country votes and something might still happen which could potentially zero out the scales in Romney’s favor. Until such a cataclysmic event happens, the die is cast against Romney.

The Race To Wembley Begins

The Champions League has finally kicked off in earnest. Yesterday we saw some good first matches and today it is Barca’s turn to get their Champions League campaign off the ground. FC Barcelona gets ready for its UEFA Champions League campaign today against Spartak Moscow at the Nou Camp at 2.45pm EST. I expect a good match today and a convincing defeat of Spartak Moscow. Indeed, If pressed to predict a score-line at the end of the match, I’d say that it would end either a 2-0 or a 3-1.

This does not mean that Unai Emery, the coach of Spartak Moscow, who was formerly the coach for Almeria and Valencia, will not be trying very hard to beat the Cules. However, if history is anything to go by, he has never defeated Barca in 12 attempts, and I am not sure he is about to start today.

Birthday Cake….

Birthday Cake

You may have heard it said that birthdays are just nature’s way of telling us to eat more cake. I don’t know how true this saying is, and frankly I don’t care about cakes or birthdays. But on my birthday this year, as strange as this might sound to you, someone surprised me with a personal cake for my birthday. This year is the second year in a row that I’ve had my birthday celebrated in the company of friends and family. I am not usually one for big mushy moments, so l sometimes find myself wondering why my friends and family are always secretly organizing these overly sentimental get-togethers and putting me smack dab at the receiving end of suspiciously warm and elaborate well-wishes. At any rate, the event was a rousing success and it helped remind me once more the invaluableness of genuine friends and a loving family.

As for that cake, it did not have an amazing evening I am sorry to say. Hungry souls devoured the cake no sooner than I had dropped the knife with which I cut the cake. All’s fair in a gathering of hungry but emotional birthday well-wishers, and they did justice to the cake and the food that were prepared on that day. If I am alive to see another birthday, I hope I can have some much needed peace and quiet. You know what? I think I’ll just skip town when the time comes. Why? There is a limited number of times I want to see close friends and family get misty-eyed and cheerful at the same time.  What about you? How did you celebrate your birthday?

End Of A Glorious Season

After what must have seemed to some like an interminable span of time, the second season of the Godfather’s General Knowledge Trivia (GFGKT) game has now officially come to an end. It was a very memorable and powerful season for me personally, and I know that it was for you too. Over the course of 10 different episodes, our amazing Bunibuni contestants jostled fiercely for a spot on the leaderboard of Bunibuni’s distinguished intellectual giants—and that did not fail to come with its fair share of high and low moments. At any rate, I want to use this medium to express my deepest appreciation and regard for these sharp minds who have participated in these grueling mental games. My hope is that at the end of it all (when you cast your mind back over the entire season), you would have genuine cause to say that the questions asked were challenging and that you learned or took home a thing or two.

Season 2 was very different from the pilot season.

First, the grading was different. For those who were around in season 1, you might remember that we used a winner-takes-all formula. The first person to answer a question correctly walked away with all the possible 5 points for that round. As a result, we had an unsettling situation where many people knew the answers to questions, but could never get on the leaderboard because they just weren’t that fast in typing. It was also doubly frustrating when you consider that the time interval between the first 3 correct answers could in some cases literally be milliseconds! It did not seem fair to me that people would struggle to type in a correct answer and lose out simply because a faster typist got to the screen a hair-raising millisecond first.

To that effect, I tweaked the grading scheme for Season 2 games. I began to accept the first three correct answers to hit the screen:

  • first person got the full 5 points;
  • the 2nd person gets 4 points if his or her answer immediately followed the first person’s answer  OR 3 points if there is any incorrect answer before the 2nd correct answer gets to the screen;
  • 3 points if the 3rd answer immediately followed the 2nd person who got 4 points OR 2 points if the third person’s answer came immediately after the 2nd person gets three points OR 1 point if the third person’s answer came after an incorrect answer follows the 3 points earned by the 2nd person.

This may sound complicated and perhaps unfathomable to some, but do not worry, I have done it often enough times that it is second nature to me now, and I take due diligence to honestly and accurately give each contestant the point(s) he or she has worked hard for. At this juncture, if you are a new participant, you can always go here to read the basic rules of the game to see how we play.

The second thing that was different about season 2 was the increased number of participants who came out week after week. At first I had my doubts about the level of interest that Bunibuni members would show for this game. Let’s face it—there are a number of things that people might as well be doing rather than spend the 2.5- 3 hours it takes for us to get through an episode. Besides, not too many people are eager to sit in an adrenaline-packed atmosphere slugging through hours of rigorous mental activity against other equally highly-motivated competitors. Far too many people would fold like cheap suits under that sort of pressure. It was therefore amazing to observe that more people actively participated in season 2 as is reflected by all the names which found their way to the leaderboard. Of course, not everyone who participated found a way to get on the score sheet which is why we must sincerely congratulate anyone who made it to the board at all. It is a testimony to the mental brawn in glaring supercharged display evident at any one of these trivia games. If you missed this season due to one circumstance or the other, do not fail to be part of Season 3; I can guarantee that you will find it richly rewarding.

I am sure that one can find other things that made Season 2 stand out but one more thing that readily comes to mind was the way with which we mixed in the highly entertaining Spelling game with regular trivia. I know that most people preferred the spelling games because they were somewhat easier and more entertaining so it was utterly unfair for them to amass points from the Spelling Game which previously counted for nothing. In order for people to pool their Spelling Game points towards their grand total, I incorporated the Spelling Game into the trivia. It has worked out well. I am sure as we go on in future seasons there will be other tweaks and changes so that this trivia game will continue to achieve the stated purpose of providing a multifaceted intellectually stimulating experience.

Season 2 had a lot of memorable characters. I shall first of all doff my hats to the top 10 people. These ladies and gentlemen were certainly the crème de la crème. I am of course talking about titans like the abrasive Vicker, the patient Ninja, the competitive Molade, the missing-in-action Fringe, the hilarious Bruno, the completely-vanished Olabisi, the hardworking Camila/Jennifer, the peacefully adorable Princess Juubs, the tactically clever Gem, and the deceptively-named but keenly astute polyamorist Nitwit/Tintin. These are truly high-bar setters; in season 3, I’d be curious to see if new players might break into the ranks of the top 10.

I shall not forget to mention people like Siarani, Haryour, Balotelli, Timberlake, President Joe, Saganity, HoneyChocolate and Mikkey for their easy-going, laughter-inducing quips and contributions. These guys helped to ease the fierce competitive tension in the room and I am frankly grateful for all their contributions. In the same vein, I must also personally remember and thank Honeybee for blessing the trivia with her unique brand of humor. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself laughing at the way she was giggling and laughing while she interacted with the questions. She was an absolute delight on the microphone during the Spelling Games as she made me laugh so many times when she would point out how bizarre and off-the-mark some of the answers were. Her attitude and disposition towards the game is the best—she was always chuckling and enjoying herself in sharp contrast to some people (you know yourselves) who were, in a number of instances, almost ready to come to blows. I wish everyone would adopt her comportment during these games when they realize that while we want to compete fervently, this is still intended to be a fun exercise and not a blood-sport.

Finally, on behalf of this our beloved website, and as a means of encouraging participation, I wish to sincerely thank the top three contestants and to remind us once again that as the winners of this season’s GFGKT they have respectively won $500, $350 and $150. They totally deserved it and I hope no one begrudges them the fruits of their diligence and labor. In any case, this should provide some motivation for others to strive to do better than they did this season.

Even though we’ve just come to the end of Season 2, and Season 3 seems very far away, I’ll urge you not to rest on your oars or disappear completely. Here’s the cliffhanger: ever before we officially get to the beginning of Season 3, I may periodically drop announcements in the chatroom or on the Facebook discussion group for an impromptu pre-season Spelling Game or Trivia. It is therefore in your best interest to not disappear completely. This is because even though we’d have only 10 episodes in Season 3, these random pre-Season games will definitely count. The reason for this is simple: we wouldn’t want a situation where people disappear altogether at the end of the season hoping to swoop in during the beginning of a season to compete against the people who have faithfully continued to come to the site in the intervening months. Therefore, be on the look-out for random Facebook notifications about impending Spelling Games or Trivia. Talk to your friends about this; invite them to come and play. You might not know what surprises may lie ahead!

I wish you the very best with your academic work or your professional career till the beginning of Season 3. As usual there will be prizes to be won! Adios!

P.S If you have any comments, questions, suggestions or concerns, please use the comment box below to bring it to my attention.

%d bloggers like this: