Sunday, April 27, 2008

Oder Neisse radweg - II

Going southwards on Oder-Neisse radweg from Frankfurt (oder), I planned to reach Cottbus. The usual wrestling with online maps revealed a rough estimate of ~120 km to reach Cottbus if I were to travel along the radweg to Forst and then hit the motorway. (or atleast normal streets)

The problem this time was finding the trail. I got stuck on the L381 (it had a cycle lane thankfully) but after reaching Lossow where it met with the highway(L112) I had to scamper to find the radweg. It is here that I could quantify the effect strong wind has been having on my trips of late. With no wind in the afternoon, I hit an average 24kmph easily and reached Eisenhuttenstadt.
After reaching Neuzelle, the terrain became hilly(or I should say slopy as the road was still very good). Tall trees with creepers growing along their lengths were to be found along the way.

Somewhere between Eisenhuttenstadt and Guben, I came across this piece of (farm?)land. On closer inspection, the sandy parts seemed like they'd been recently harvested.
Its been a long time I must admit, since I just lay down in the grass in broad daylight.

In Guben, I found this beautiful street. Germany's answer to Japan's sakura?

And finally the object of much shame, disgust, disgrace et al. The plan was to go to Cottbus, (from where I would catch a train back to Frankfurt oder), but it seems the distance mentioned in the maps was erroneous. If I were to take the radweg, Forst would be 40 km and Cottbus a further 25km (this on the highway). On the other hand If I took the normal road to Cottbus, I had option of taking L380(33km) or L112(45km) and I went by road leading out to L380 until I reached this junction.

Speed Limit of 80kmph and hardly any space to dodge. A Car every 5-10 sec at 18:30. Long story short, after about 15 min of trying to find another way around it, I turned tail, rode back to Guben's railway station and took a train back home at 19:44. A ride of 75-80km had never felt so incomplete.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Checkpoint charlie

After coming to Germany, I've read (tried to, am reading) about its history. The first time I went to Berlin, I ended up buying "The Berlin Wall" by Frederick Taylor. A very interesting read and suggested for anyone trying to find out more about the politics behind one of the most dramatic stand-offs in 20th century. The historic events that shaped Germany after war are described in a style that makes you feel as if the events are unfolding right in front of your eyes.
However, I feel that the author's bitterness about abolition of Deutschemark in exchange for Euro after unification is misplaced. (I won't claim to know too much about Economics, but I doubt a more stable currency is bad for the economy under any conditions).

I visited Checkpoint Charlie today- the most famous/infamous crossing point between East and West Berlin that saw many cat and mouse games between the Allies (now England, France and US) and the Soviet.

The walls from the blockade time are converted to a memorial with history behind this iron curtain posted for all to see and ... remember.

Also check out some of these pics taken from the Berlin TV tower(203m high which the elevator takes you about 40 sec)

In the "Memorial for fallen Jews of Europe", I bought a book called "Five Germanys that I have known" by Fritz Stern. I didn't know who the hell this guy was, just bought it on a whim after reading the preface.
An interruption due to "The undercover economist" in addition to the amount of time I'm reading these days(~40 min a day, mostly on the tram) means it took a long time getting this off the blocks, but the story has become quite interesting, and I hope to finish it soon.

Oder Neisse Radweg

Followed the recipe from last saturday. The target this time - Oder Neisse Cycling trail. Its a cycling way along the river (the small print being for most part which I conveniently didn't notice). Without a map, I ended up in this slush:
Navigating my way through it, I managed to reach this small hillock. A customary hike to the top meant it was already 16:30 and I had to get back to find the route.

The path promised a lot. Far from vehicles zooming past you and threatening to grind you to pieces and a lot of greenery on either side with river in sight for the best part.
However, this dream crashed as soon as I passed Lebus. Here the road was more open and it was mighty tough riding against a stiff breeze blowing at 20-30 km/h.

It got bad enough that I thought of returning from Reitwein, but I'm glad I stuck through till the end.

Only trouble is cold wind that keeps blowing into you numbs your hands completely. I saw a couple of fawns, a deer, and some other animal I couldn't identify and a number of birds. But, by the time I could get the camera out , it would get away. At one point, I tried to unzip my blazer so quickly that I'm sure the fawn ran away just from the sound.
And I did see a couple of hunting wagons parked by the way. My imaginative brain, already on a high due to the breathtaking surroundings began dreaming of getting hit by a stray bullet from these hunters.

Kostrzyn - Check

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Trip to poland

A late night on friday and I was thinking that a trip across the country was as probable as the nice lady* at immigration office gift wrapping my visa and coming home to deliver it as a belated valentine's gift. Waking up at 11 and lazily dragging myself off to the gym just reinforced that belief as it was already 3 in the afternoon by the time I'd showered and settled down.
Having cold cereal (brunch? lunch? evening snack? ) gave me a brainwave(Damn! I should've paid heed to this warning)

But off I went taking my cycle along
Make that "when I got onto my bicycle"

I came to the bridge across the stream that people here like to call "river Oder", on the other side of which lay the sister town of Slubice(Poland). Lured by the promise of unspoken riches and unbelievable beauty, I cycled across the bridge and to circle from one end to the other for about an hour when I saw a road leading out.

On cycling a bit further and out of slubice, I found a sign that said
"kunowice :3km
Osno lubuskie :26km."

A 3km stretch didn't seem like much so I went to kunowice. Ofcourse, I had to make sure that I saw the entire town/village/settlement, so I cycled to the place where they have "town ends" sing - A board with a red line striking across the town's name.

There was another sign next to the "town ends" that read "Nowe Biskupice : 4km".
I had to see this. So off I went again, and in the same way the villages of Sullow, Kowalow, Serbow were all graced by my cycle's presence. Having come this far, I also dragged myself off to Osno Lubuskie. By this time it was already 5:30 in the evening and I thought it prudent to head back when the sun is still shining.
Although I didn't take a camera with me I found this picture of town hall in Osno Lubuskie, at the poland tourism center. Hope they don't mind it.

Thus I fell victim to the devious trap of the Poles who put tempting signs that to me read
"Come one, Come all, Next village is only 3 km ahead. Don't miss this opportunity..."

The road map
View Larger Map

Talking shit about a pretty sunset

Oh, noose
Tied myself in, tied myself too tight

Looking kind of anxious in your cross-armed stance
Like a bad tempered prom queen at a homecoming dance
And I claim I'm not excited with my life anymore
So I blame this town, this job, these friends, the truth is it's myself
And I'm trying to understand myself and pinpoint who I am
When I finally get it figured out, I've changed the whole damn plan

Oh, noose
Tied myself in, tied myself too tight
Oh, noose
Tied myself in, tied myself too tight

Talking shit about a pretty sunset
Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon
Changed my mind so much I can't even trust it
My mind changed me so much I can't even trust myself

-Modest Mouse

* My troubles with the hot lady in Immigration/Foreign office here in Frankfurt(oder) who has made me visit the same office 5 times and still not issued the schengen visa required for my real eurotrip are beyond the scope of this study.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Anyone can cook - Part II

I have read the paper linked by anonymous reader on my last post. For the interested the abstract is here and the full paper is here.

I have tried to review the paper critically. I loathe to admit it, but I don't understand the statistical methods used in this paper entirely. However, I'm always sceptical when it comes to media, and this will be no exception so I will talk about the issues that bother me.

Looking at the wiki page for the regression method to be used correctly, I find that

"1)The sample must be representative of the population for the inference prediction."

The sample used was equal number of applications from the dalit, muslim and upper class population which violates this basic assumption.(population ratios are 12% muslims, upperclass 25-44% , dalits 24%)

I need not go further but let me add, the study might still have been valid if the "12 applications" sent by the authors of this paper to each job were the only applications they received.
But by their own admission, these were jobs at "entry level" to which any graduate could have access to and advertised widely(a fair assumption).

It doesn't need a genius to figure out that this study falls flat when the number of graduates churned out by our education system each year are considered. Also consider that the number of responses they received (total) was less than 10%.

Even if the "correlation" claimed by this study were to be true, it doesn't imply causation.
On the other hand as some people have pointed out in here, it might be a case of market adaptation.

However, I do realize that we all have stereotypes and bias as demonstrated over at IAT.
I just think that reservations only help in promoting these stereotypes and exacerbating the situation.

Lastly about the concept of introducing reservations in private institutions, it is infringing on personal rights.

PS: on the same note watch this brilliant interview

Anyone can cook

Now that everyone and her grandma has already written about their views on the reservation, I will pull out my post which I had written in response to this post.

I had expressed my opinions in the comments which I will post below with a few edits.
First the assumptions that "Forward castes = Brahmins" and OBC = "dalits" are lazy metaphors at best and at worst, poisonous opportunist rants.

For all the talk about “upper-caste reactionaries”, in the last 10-20 years or even 50 years after independance, hardly has one law been implemented that can be termed “upper caste reactionary” in nature. On the other hand, many laws have been passed “intended for hte benefit of the downtrodden” Whether they have achieved that is a different matter altogether.

According to the surveys at hand, OBC population is between 32-52%. ( a 52% population was shown as rationalization for 27% reservations for OBCs). An SC/ST population combine of 24% in total means that the forward castes make up about 26-44% of the population. In a properly functioning democracy that means no greater clout than the rest of groups and in a skewed system like ours even less so. In such a case, the argument that "upper classes hold all the aces" doesn't hold.

It is true that performance is not solely decided by genes. It is also dependant on nurture. But that is all the more reason that we do away with reservations. Reservations were drafted in with the "noble intention" of leveling the field for socially disadvantaged. However, it is serving only to promote mediocrity.

Whatever be the rationale of caste system, it is a fact that it was used as a vehicle for oppression. It doesn't mean that the upper classes shall now be punished for the sins their ancestors committed.

Unfortunately, reservations in India are seen as a) punishment for the centuries of oppression and b) opportunity to gain (unfair) advantage. The rhetoric of hatred against upper classes attains new heights by each passing day. For example this part of which I will quote below

is one-sided diet itself, that was loaded with cereals—then seen as the cheapest, and the most easily available source of calories. Consequently, this decision, in turn affected the minimum daily wages, the determination of the poverty line, and not to mention, making the Public Distribution System what it is today, i.e. a machinery doling out rice and wheat at cheap rates, but no meat, egg or nuts, or any non-vegetarian food at all. So in a country where vegetarians are a definite minority, we now plan our daily meals based on a notion of a Brahminical notion of a “easily available, balanced diet” *

Anything and everything is turned into a upper class conspiracies against lower classes. We also have people like this who can say something like this

"We should close down the IITs and the IIMs as they pander to the upper-caste economy of the country. Those who pass out from these institutes use their technical and managerial skills to earn dollars abroad. Are they using their skill sets to the benefit of the agro-based economy of the country? Tell me, with rising incomes of our B-school graduates are farmer suicide rates coming down? So what is the use of such education if it cannot be put to any use within the country or for the uplift of the majority of the population who live in villages?"

Its stupid enough that I wouldn't bother commenting about. But turns out he is the HOD at political science department, Osmania university. He also featured on a debate on TV, in which he was calling for "intellectual equality". Excuse me! but I would like to start an agitation for athletic equality. (London 2012, here I come!).

Did I forget to mention that nobody ever cares about or even dares to mention caste in a private organization? People like Mr.HOD above will still argue that its because everybody there belongs to upper class, the organizations are dominated by upper classes and therefore we need reservations there too. However, it might just be respect born out of the fact that everyone there has earned it.

Hatred and revenge will not lead us anywhere. "The Holocaust" is perhaps the most glaring example of where hatred can lead us.

I will borrow a quote from the movie Ratatouille, "Not everyone can be a great artist, however a great artist can come from anywhere".

Monday, April 07, 2008


I have to admit that I've been underestimating the power of knowledge for a longtime. Even when the RTI act was passed, I wondered how knowing would empower us. Its not until I visited Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Berlin that I'd realized.

This memorial has some of the most haunting memoirs written by many Jews from the times when the noose was just starting to tighten, to when they were in ghettos or just before they were hauled away to the concentration camps. The most disturbing theme throughout these is the most effective way in which Nazi's obfuscated their knowledge of what was happening. Very little was known about the fate that lies ahead. All knowledge they had was from stories of others and in times of crises their credibility is low, a fact highlighted quite brilliantly in The Schindler's list as a nighttime dialogue in a ghetto

"No, I can't believe it's true. We are their work force. What sense does it make to kill your own work force ? To go to all this trouble of assembling a work force only to--
No, it can't be true."

This theme of propaganda and censorship recurs in most authoritarian regimes but is most conspicuous in Soviet during Stalin's times, in East Germany during Ulbricht and Honecker and most recently in our good old friend China. In India, we needn't look farther than the emergency and ofcourse the mouthpiece

I couldn't fathom the far reaching consequences of propaganda until I met a colleague from China. When asked about the communist regime he said that he'd thought it was the best system until he'd seen the other side and that probably people outside China knew better history about China including important events like Tiannamen Square incidents. The worst though was his dismissal of Tibetan uprisings as "stupid, because no one will let them go anyway". Perhaps patriotism. But it will be hard to explain the apathy to human rights violation with that alone.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


She felt confident. A lifetime of struggles and identity crises lay behind her. As she lay contemplating about the events that shaped her, a familiar voice called out to her. It seemed to be a voice from long back, back when she was still a little cub, scared and confused.
As they sat chatting, talk turned philosophical. She was confident, confident enough to acknowledge the uncertainties of life. As she talked about them, the voice questioned, shocked, "What happened to all your confidence? You were so confident back then".

It was her turn to be stunned. Was she such an hypocrite earlier? or Did she evolve into someone who could express her emotions better now? or Did she forget how to hide them? or was there any reason anymore to even try to hide? Interesting questions to keep her company even as they parted ways perhaps never to cross paths again.

Confidence for quiet

What a day, that I’ve left behind
You forgave, said I’ve done my time
I’ve been good, animation ryhme
Sisterhood, can I find that line
Not anymore, I don’t feel it
I’m not hopeless, tragic
No, nothing no more to say
I’ve got freedom, no more calling

I don’t care
I’ll walk away
‘Cause I’ve got confidence for quiet
I’m not afraid

I’m not hungry, no I’m over fed
Satisfied, with the life I’ve led
Moving on, to where you can’t see
What is me
Well it’s just for me

Mine end of the line
You don’t hear it crashing silent
You’re all gone left me behind
Is this freedom no one’s calling

I don’t care, I’ll walk away
‘Cause I’ve got confidence for quiet
I’m not afraid

No nothing no more to say
Is this freedom, no one calling

I don’t care, I’ll walk away
‘Cause I’ve got confidence for quiet
I’m not afraid
No I don’t care
I’ll walk away
‘Cause I’ve got confidence for quiet
I’m not afraid
I’ve got confidence
I’m not afraid
-The Corrs