October 23, 2012

Incredible October

October 15:

We inch towards (or gallop towards -> depending on how you feel about this year) the closing of 2012. I don't know if the present month of October has been more frenetic than the rest of the months. But it feels to me as if it has been. So I am inclined to do a running summary of the month as a diary entry for future reference.

Among the many October surprises have been the *win* attributed to Romney in the first Presidential debate as we approach the quadrennial presidential election in the U.S. Felix Baumgartner jumped from 40 kms up in the atmosphere and thanks to the magic of TV, perhaps billions of human beings -- sitting in their drawing rooms, waiting at the airport lounge, drinking beer in the bar or elsewhere -- were witness to the successful accomplishment of this feat of superhuman dare-devilry. There are not many records to be made left to make - this was one of the last for the forseeable future and the door is now closed on this one as well. Unless someone wants to go up to 50 kms in a balloon and perhaps attach a jet pack to his back and after jumping towards Earth, fires the jet pack to propel him to a speed of 2,000 kmph momentarily before opening that parachute. Is there anyone out there crazy enough to try something like that? Well, not likely. But who knows. May be that supersonic car that holds the land-speed record could get yet faster.

All the Nobel Prizes have been announced as per their October schedule -> predictably, the Nobel Committee has flummoxed the betting types and the prizes have gone to folks whose names we all have conveniently and easily forgotten one week after the prize announcement. The last Nobel Laureate in Physics that I can recall right from the top of my mind is John Mather - he of COBE fame from my favorite institution in the whole wide world -- what else but NASA. Wolfgange Ketterle is a modern-day genius experimental physicist too but he won a while back. Lastly, the Economics Nobel is yet to be awarded as I write this on the 15th of October. But it's not like the Nobel is going to go to Kaushik Basu or anything. Krugman has got one already which rules him out. Same for Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen. Ok. It can still go to the perennial contendor Jagdish Bhagawati adding one more item to the list of October surprises.

October 17, 2012

Second U.S. Presidential Debate: Obama vs. Romney 2012

Hopefully President Obama will have managed to silence the commentators with his spirited performance during the second debate. Maureen Dowd won't be pointing to Barack Obama's biographies in next column pointing out how the President is averse to confrontation and how that's at the core of who he is.

I thought the over-reaction to the 1st debate had been unjustified -> I knew Mr. Obama will be in a feisty-er mood this time around since that's what the constituency demanded. Mr. Obama stood up to the pretentious and oh-so-fake Romney without appearing to be jarring or a bully -> both qualities that are the trademark of Mr. Romney.

The candidates got to almost a dozen questions with a tough-to-rollover Candy Crowley as the moderator. On Libya, Romney was particularly egregious as a foreign policy novice. On financial matters and tax issues, Romney sought to show that he had a plan -> the only problem was that this was a plan that is entirely distinct from the other plans he has presented through the campaign season.

Romney refused to even defend his own record as governor of Massachusetts -- on gun violence for example. He had signed into law an assault weapons ban there but he was not willing to stand up for that decision today.

On tax policy, Romney's proposals simply do not add up -- the math doesn't work, as President Obama pointed out. On the auto industry bailout, Obama defended his own decisions which clearly saved a million jobs. Romney meanwhile sought to distance himself desperately from W. -> and this from a candidate whose policy seems to be 'Drill Baby Drill' combined with 'tax cuts for the rich.' The voters are old enough to remember how the Bush tax cuts have worked out.

On immigration too, Romney sought to portray a 'kinder and gentler' face to the key Latino voters. Obama's record in office shows that he has been the toughest president ever with more deportations of illegal immigrants than any previous president.

Mr. Romney was harping on how he was going to be a job creator while his entire career in private business has been focused on cutting jobs. He has often been a pioneer in off-shoring jobs to China and elsewhere even when he was the Governor of Massachusetts.

Mr. Romney himself sought to distance himself from his unfortunate 47% comments and cleverly enough, the President mentioned that faux pas only in his closing remarks so that Romney had no opportunity to respond to that.

Now we move to the last debate which will be entirely about foreign policy. I wonder how Mr. Romney is going to last 90 minutes on what is clearly his weakest area.

Like I wrote after the first debate, I think Mr. Obama has the race in the bag. We know what the headlines will say on Nov. 7.

Ayn Rand Was Right

Do we exalt the John Galts and Howard Roarks among us or despise them? Do we admire the ultimate, self-centered and selfish capitalists or the selfless, self-sacrificing altruists?

Oh sure there are the Martin Luther King, Jr.s and Mahatma Gandhis and Nelson Mandelas and Aung Sun Suu Kyis we like to point to as icons and worthy role models for our children. But look deeply and we find that we are obsessed with the wealthy. And who are the wealthy? Why do we let the Robert Rubins, Sandy Weills, Jakc Welchs, Jamie Dimons and their Wall St. brethren keep their millions? Because we consider that right and their right.

Let alone the hedge fund people whose entire purpose is to become billionaires.

How many people explicitly make life choices that will lead to a life of service -> not be a charlatan like Mother Teresa but just helping the underprivileged without trying to 'achieve' greatness by so doing. So Lance Armstrong and Greg Mortensen and the Evangelical Christian blowhards such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell don't count. All the Indian Hindu godmen -- who are too numerous to make a comprehensive list -- are in it to become gods themselves. I hope nobody thinks for a moment that a Sai Baba or Ravi Shankar or Ram dev or the others are in it to do 'service.'

Think of the obsessive listing of the wealthy in the media -> what does that show except that We The People are obsessed with wealth and the wealthy. Think of the self-promotional crazy stunts of the Hollywood celebrities who are clearly not in the business of doing charity by any stretch of the imagination.

Coming down from these Olympian levels to levels of ordinary mortals like you and me, what motivates the average successful individual?

October 11, 2012

Why Obama Will Still Win in November

The historical record which clearly shows that presidents don't get re-elected when the unemployment rate is high doesn't much reflect the demographic reality of today.
There are not that many white, young, unemployed people who buy into Romney's vision of the free-market creating umpteen millionaires and hence removing poverty and making Social Security, Medicare and other safety nets unnecessary.
May be Obama will win because of these factors even if he comes across as wonky or lackluster or not-aggressive-enough in the debates as the media and all the pundits have been harping on.
It's tough to believe that Americans can be so forgetful about recent economic history when W. came into office with a surplus and there was debate between Gore and W about what to do with that surplus. Bush explicitly cut taxes for the rich as he had promised to do (at a cost of a trillion dollars) and ran up a trillion dollar bill for an unnecessary war in Mesopotamia. The TARP designed by Bush and Hank Paulson cost nearly another trillion dollars.
So Obama got handed the economic mess that he was. He tried to salvage whatever he could from the mess created by Wall. St. and ensured that the economy didn’t  fall off the cliff and also passed Obamacare which gets more Americans insured.
Meanwhile, Romney peddles some utter untruths even going so far as to say that private insurance is cheaper. Obama at least pointed out in the debate about independent studies showing that Medicare has lower administrative costs than pvt. insurers.
No Drama Obama also crushed Hillary Clinton, and then McCain.
Does he have to descend into the mud and remind Americans who killed bin Laden or rub it in to Romney about the "47%" business?
Aren't Americans smart enough to reach their own conclusions? Also, I don't think many hardcore Democrats or Republicans are going to cross over to the other side no matter what the candidates do at this stage.
It's only to persuade the fence sitters. I think No Drama Obama will do a better job of attracting them as well -- unless all those fence sitters happen to be millionaires.
It seems to me the bar was set too low for Romney and when he came out shamelessly swinging and did not commit any gaffes, everyone is going gaga about his performance.
Conversely, the bar was set too high for Obama and when he stuck to the facts, people are saying he failed by his Great Orator standards.
I think it's just that the Democrats are saying: "It's not that *I* have been persuaded by Romney's performance, but I am concerned about the possibility of the *other guy* being persuaded."
Well, relax.
I think, after two more of these are done and Nov. 7 comes around, the headline we'll see will be this:"OBAMA REELECTED"

I posted my 'quick' impressions about the first debate here.

October 10, 2012

Strange Creatures of Planet India

So, who are you? Or, what?

Are you a Congi? A CRT? Perhaps a pseudo-secular Indian. Or an Internet Hindu. Or a right winger. A Hindu nationalist (dwelling outside India?).

These are some of the gems that one comes across as the frenetic debate rages in this country about the direction we wish to take.

Clearly, India is 'resurgent.' India is not the first nation in the history of the world where people suddenly acquire a heightened sense about who they are just on the basis of their imagined or real history. History is fact -> except when it's entirely fiction that people want to believe.

Nationalistic pride has not been a positive force in world history - just think of Japan, Italy and Germany in the 20th century. A sense of superiority based on notions of nationality, race, or religion makes people blind to reason and facts. Yet in the 21st century, despite the world wars and the Rwandan and Balkan genocides of the '90s, we are again seeing resurgent nationalism and tension between China and Japan over a few insignificant, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

The resurgent Hindu typically loves to hate the Congress and its leaders such as Indira, Rajiv, Nehru, etc. There are variations -> many love Patel as the 'strongman' who should have been 'rightly' appointed the first prime minister of India who then would have proceeded to do wonders. Some 'hate' Gandhi too for his 'scheming' in appointing Nehru and depriving Patel of his deserved premiership.

Dress Sense and Common Sense for Women

I read one more article by one female about how women have the right to wear what they want, when they want, where they want, etc.

I would love it if women wore revealing clothes whenever they were in a public place -- not merely skin-hugging tight jeans, but short, short skirts like those Hollywood celebs wear which reveal their panties intentionally or otherwise.

The top of the dress should reveal good amount of the boobs as well or preferably have wardrobe malfunctions - manufactured or otherwise.

Young good-looking women wearing these clothes should preferably visit areas of Delhi at 2 a.m. which are particularly untouched by the rule of law. May be they can have their grandmother accompanying them who should be carrying 2 lakhs in cash or wearing a good amount of gold jewelry.

The amount or number of incidents of rape in India seems not-too-high -> that's probably because most such incidents are in fact not even reported to the police either because the perpetrator is known to the victim or because the family do not wish to bring such incidents to the notice of the police as they know that the police will essentially do nothing. In a small number of incidents, the perpetrator might be powerful enough that he might be able to intimidate the victim.

One of the reasons for these incidents of course is the skewed sex ratio prevalent in India because of whatever weird social values we have inherited. The problem with Indians in a very broad sense is that they tend to choose to only be as civilized as necessary. I don't even known if I can explain what I mean by that so I won't try. Of course, when your morality only extends so far, the chicken might come home to roost at some point.

October 06, 2012

The Abortion Debate

Just want to put my thoughts on the topic on the record here.

I haven't thought about this issue much. But it seems to be a recurring issue in developed nations such as the United States and the U.K.

It seems obvious to me that there are far more important and serious challenges facing the world out there. In India, the far bigger issues facing women have got to be issues such as domestic violence. I believe millions of women must be silently suffering from malevolent males -- drunk or otherwise. Society in India is structured in such a manner that women have very little explicit economic value and in a poor society, it's the men who make the money -- howsoever little it might be -- who hold the strings.

To change this state of affairs, women will need to realize that taking care of kids and cooking have got to be secondary to developing skills and expertise. It's a kind of long term change that is tied in with a lot of other issues and in the next 30 years, we'll see some changes thanks to the disruptive interventions of technology. The old guard unfortunately plays the role of a dead weight holding the new generation down. The new generation is a bit slow to recognize that our ancestors were mostly assholes.

The old realities of what it meant to be human have fundamentally and irrevocably changed and we have to learn to live with new realities. Progress is a one way street. Our history lies in the forests, in foraging and hunting and gathering. But that history is over forever. We were farmers once upon a time but that time is over too. We have to move on to an era where technology determines the pace and substance and future of our lives.

October 04, 2012

First U.S. Presidential Debate: Obama vs. Romney 2012

This is the early take from the media pundits on this debate.
The verdict being that Obama lost the 1st debate.
I think that's a bit over-the-top because:

  1. Remember Obama's "long-game"?
  2. This is the 1st one. Two more to go.
  3. Are voters going to vote based on Romney's enthusiastic lying or Obama's soberly pointing out the fact that Romney doesn't really have an alternative, that Romney talks about repealing Obamacare without saying much about how.
Here are the takes from a few pundits.

Well, I’m with all the other talking heads: Mitt Romney won this debate. Barack Obama lost it. I mean, he got his butt kicked. It was, in fact, one of the most inept performances I’ve ever seen by a sitting President. Romney–credit where it’s due–was calm, clear, convincing (even when he was totally full of it) and nearly human. The real mystery was Obama. Where on earth was he? Why was his debate strategy unilateral disarmament? Why did he never speak in plain English: “Mitt, you’re selling a fantasy. Bill Clinton proved it. He raised taxes on the wealthy and the economy boomed. George Bush lowered taxes drastically and the economy tanked. How’s your plan any different than Bush’s?” Actually, the President did say something like that but it was well past most of America’s bedtime, about an hour into the debate–and he didn’t do it clearly, concisely, directly.

Joe Klein in TIME Magazine.

If Gandhi Were Alive

Let’s consider a few fun possibilities that would occur if Gandhi were around today.
  1. What would happen to all the self-proclaimed Gandhians? Would Gandhi be in favour or opposed to Anna Hazare?
  2. What would Gandhi do with lying lawyers like Kapil Sibal or tendentious toadys like Digvijay Singh?
  3. May be Gandhi would go on an obligatory spin in the skies in the Sukhoi and the LCA Tejas.
  4. Would Gandhi have been miffed at Pokhran II àIndia’s famed nuclear tests of 1998? May be he would have gone on a fast unto death. And how would the glacially moving poet Vajpayee have reacted to that?
  5. Though he was lean and thin, still Gandhi would need a knee-cap replacement surgery at this age.
  6. Would Gandhi hum along with the catchy Kolaveri D tune or criticize it as nonsense … somewhat like … err … Javed Akhtar?
  7. May be Gandhi would have preferred Gangnam Style and we would all be seeing a YouTube video of him dancing merrily.
  8. Would Gandhi be for Narendra Modi or against him?
  9. How would Gandhi have dealt with or liked the nation to deal with the multiplying members of our House of Infamy à the Kalmadis, Rajas, coal-kings, and other assorted industrialists, corporate scammers, politicians, dalal-bureaucrats, etc.?
  10. What would Gandhi say about the love for the good life that some Indians have developed – the multi-crore apartments and multi-crore supercars. Not to mention a 30-story home built to house one family.
  11. How would Gandhi weigh in on the current global hot conflicts à the Japan China boxing over those tiny uninhabited islands and the steaming hot tension over Iran’s nuclear ambitions or ambiguities.
  12. What about contraception? Mother Teresa and the Vatican Popes are all against using any type of contraception since they consider sex as a means to procreate and procreation and conception to be in god’s hands à thus making the use of contraception something which puts a spanner in god’s work. Where would the traditionalist Gandhi stand on that?
  13. What about Gandhi’s three famous monkeys? May be they would have names today à say, Tiwari, Sibal, Singhvi, and such. And their motto would be: speak evil, see evil and listen to evil.
  14. Lastly he would be way too old @ 144 years.

The Inscrutable Enslaved Indians

The rich Indian shall spend her honeymoon basking in the sun draped sands of the beaches in Mauritius and Seychelles and Pattaya and elsewhere.

She shall go saree and shoe shopping in Dubai and London. Depending on her social class, she shall sashay down the London High Street (is that where the top brand-name shops or boutiques or whatever they are called are located?) and shoo in to Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and then Bergdorf Goodman and also visit the Bijan boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

These are surely the immutable laws of nature --> enforced more stringently by the ruling gods of the universe than other may-be laws such as those said to have been discovered by Newton upon the fall of an Apple iPhone. Indians will surely continue to perform these activities even in the 22nd century. Or till all the hydrogen in the interior of the sun runs out and the dying sun blows out like a grotesque, bloated corpse in another five billion years and devours Earth itself.

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