Friday, December 26, 2008

Easy Economic Stimulus for India?

In India now. Not very impressed with Rs 52 per liter petrol when crude oil is trading at $40 a barrel.

A liter of petrol costs around Rs 52 in India right now. That translates to $4.06 a gallon. That's how much the US used to pay, back in July, when everyone was weeping about how unaffordable everything was. Right now, average cost of a gallon of gas is around $1.70 in the US. That is Rs 21 per liter (after taxes). When times were bad the US paid $4.10 per gallon, India paid $5.

Now, then, India is clearly a low income tax nation (i.e. there's very few rich blokes who pay their 33%). So, of course, the petrol tax must be a significant cash cow for the government. Reducing the petrol tax to zero, therefore, is not a tenable solution. And kicking it up to infinity also will kill tax revenues by asphyxiating demand. Clearly, there is a case for an optimum tax rate which shall yield maximum revenue to the government.

My expectation is that this "optimum" tax rate is probably not what is being levied right now. I believe that the petrol tax rate ought to go down - and that petrol ought to be available at a cheaper rate. Perhaps Rs 35 a liter or so. We're probably in the regime where lower tax rates equal larger revenues by stimulating demand.

Clearly, there shall be ecological repercussions. Indians consuming more shall emit more. And in a warming planet that would not be good news. But one must keep Shyam Sharan's words in mind while comparing Indian CO2 emissions with the emissions of the developed world. "Ours are survival emissions. Yours are lifestyle emissions". Worrying about Indians consuming a tad bid more when Americans (and the rest of the world) are hedonistically over-indulging is misplaced, stupid altruism. The bottom line is, India must consume more, emit more to raise its billion from poverty. Any reduction in emission must come from the developed world. Not India.

So, here's my suggestion to MMS and Chidambaram (and whoever else it may concern).

Cut fuel taxes. People will buy more cars. (Roads will get more congested - but that will result in greater and quicker infrastructure development and public transport use). More cars mean more demand. More manufacturing. More jobs. This will act like a stimulus which shall not be financed by a deficit. A win-win situation for all. (Even the environment as the resulting increase in demand shall increase fuel prices around the world a bit) - therefore increasing petrol prices in regions that use it inefficiently (the US basically).

Europe has a good incentive to keep prices low. They're plenty rich anyway and they need to curb their per-capita emissions. India can afford to keep it cheap. We're desparately, miserably poor. We need to emit more to develop more. Cut fuel prices now!

Monday, December 15, 2008


Why would anybody do this? Is there a rhyme or a reason to the way some people behave?

You take a leap of faith and send in your troops to liberate a country from a tyrant (even though the tyrant probably was not going to harm you or your people, making this deed all the more altruistic). You sacrifice 5000 of your troops in this noble endeavor.

You take a beating in the court of public opinion in your own country because you sacrificed 5000 precious lives to liberate a nation of 25 million from the throes of an evil, genocidal dictator.

Clearly, having been such a savior, you would expect a little gratitude. You would expect, perhaps humble words of thanks. Tears of affection, perhaps. But shoes? Would you expect shoes to be thrown at you when you were so instrumental to the state of freedom Iraq is in?

What was the attacker thinking? Every Iraqi is obviously happy now, that he has been liberated from the evil dictator. How can anyone bear animosity towards such a benevolent benefactor? Human beings are such ingrates. Dear reader, let this be a lesson to you: the next time you see a dictator, don't liberate his subjects. They will throw shoes at you later.

Or, you could refrain from killing 4% of the subjects while liberating them. That could help.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Few Thoughts on the Indian State Elections

The media is rife with stories about maturing Indian voters "not being swayed by divisive rhetoric" purveyed by the BJP. The liberal in me likes that take, but the skeptic in me cannot help but wonder, Really?

Terror has been a given in India for a long time. Terrorists slaughtered 24 in Delhi a few weeks ago. And people must remember the horrible incidents in Modi- governed Ahmedabad (and almost in Surat) earlier this year, not to mention Guwahati, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi... . These attacks in Mumbai don't change anything. The common man in India knows that. Analysts, of course, have an elitist bias - and to them the Mumbai attacks have a deeper emotional significance.

National issues in India seldom outweigh local issues. One of the rare occasions they did outweigh local issues was when the elecorate threw out Indira Gandhi's paranoid emegency. But terror is nowhere as significant as the emergency. Terror in India is little more than an unpleasant irritant - something that should certainly be dealt with - but not something that should occupy center stage when farmers are commiting sucide by the lakh.

If any national party wants to make terror a national issue in the elections, I am sure that the electorate will reject it - because it is not as significant an issue as others. Last time the BJP tried something stupid like this, it lost badly. (Remember India Shining? What a travesty that was!. When farmers on the verge of commiting suicide and the desperate poor struggling to eke out a living were informed that their nation was shining, the boot is what they got).

To me, it is not as if the electorate has developed a maturity overnight. India has always had a functioning democracy (as has been proven by the voters booting out Ms. Indira Gandhi - and rejecting the irrational "India Shining" campaign). The voters have voted for development in Delhi. Ms. Dixit is doing a great job over there. Voters appreciate the MP and Chattisgharh BJP governments - which are actually doing good work.

And that's why Modi stays in power in Gujarat. Whatever we liberals might say about him, he does have a staunch development record. The Indian voter is trying to vote his/her way out of poverty. And statistically, terror is a little too minor to scare the electorate right now.

Friday, December 05, 2008

How big a problem is terrorism in India?

Based on the list of terror attacks for 2008 in Wikipedia (,_2008), the question (title) has been addressed.

Here are the results:

Iraq: 728 deaths, at 29.12 deaths per million people
Sri Lanka: 214 deaths at 10.7 deaths per million people
Pakistan: 646 deaths at 3.91 deaths per million people
Israel: 13 deaths at 1.9 deaths per million people
India: 364 deaths at 0.4 deaths per million people

These statistics cannot be fully accurate, because terrorism is a tough term to define. For instance, all the Sri Lankan deaths are essentially because of Hindu terrorists (LTTE). Those deaths are included in this survey, wheras shootings like the Virginia-tech massacre would not be. That's why the US has 0 deaths. Statistics pertaining to India also include Naxalite encounters - but not muders.

Compare that with crime rate. India has 32,000 murders every year - which is 29 deaths per million. Basically that means one is 100 times more likely to be killed by a murderer than an islamic terrorist. And now, let's get to India's 130,000 annual road accident deaths - or 150 deaths per million. This makes India's roads five times more dangerous than terrorism in Iraq, by far the world's most terrorist encumbered state. If India re-allocated 90% of her defence budget to road-infrastructure, even in these apparently "troubled" times, more Indians would live.

These statistics make one question very basic assumptions regarding security. Islamic terror is certainly not a problem worth losing sleep over, if statistics are to be believed.

People contend that statistics hide more than they reveal - a thoroughly debatable contention. What does one have to go by, if one doubts the credibility of statistics?

Is outrage proportional to how wealthy the victims are? 180 dead in Rich Mumbai, the whole planet comes to a standstill. 200 dead in Mumbai (2006) - and hardly anybody notices. Clearly, socio economics is a factor.

What do you think?

As an aside, clearly, terrorism is a problem in Iraq. That's something that statistics show immediately. And this is considered one of the better years for Iraq. Iraq witnessed the destruction of its entire middle class and death of a million people - and the ruin of 20 million more - all because of "bad intelligence".

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

No War, Please

There seems to be word that the Indian Government is planning to take out some "terrorist training schools" in Pakistan. India must avoid doing so at all costs. Because doing so will be (justifiably) looked at as a deed of agression - and before we know it, a nuclear war looms in the sub-continent, pushing the planet closer to doomsday.

Firstly, the civilian government in Pakistan seems to be well-intentioned. The president, Mr. Zardari, seems to be as dovey as they come in Pakistan. Clearly, the politicians want peace - as do the people.

With Pakistan, one can never be too sure about its Army - and certainly not about the ISI. They could very well be aiding the terrorists, analysts feel. (But why they would like to blow up their own hotels, and keep killing their own people is beyond me). So, there's probably rogue elements of the army and rogue islamist elements of the ISI which are creating these problems.

Since the expectation ias that these radical elements are rogue - and not the norm, there could be a strong case to force the apparently well-intentioned government's hand - and make the army bomb the terrorist camps - or authorize the Indians and Americans to bomb the areas in question.

It is imperative that the Pakistani government in power be treated with care. Because, if some islamist nutjob yanks power away from Zardari through a coup (because of some way-too-unpopular measures Zardari is forced to take), we have a terrorist state with a nuclear bomb - which is a bone-chilling possibility. The terrorists would not think twice before using said bomb on India.

Whatever is done has to be done with care; with minimal entropy generation. Because disgruntlement today means more terror tomorrow. And there's a whole lot of potential terrorist recruits. Pakistan's population is 160M.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Few More Thoughts on Terror in Mumbai

CNN, FOX News and MSNBC are carrying live feeds from Mumbai from various local news channels. They did not do this during the 2006 August / Sep Attacks that killed 200. They did not do it in the Delhi Blasts. Not during the Hyd Blasts. But they're covering this non-stop today. Why this sudden interest? Clearly, the answer must be in who is being targeted. With business interests and American citizens being targeted, the issue clearly demands more coverage in the US media.

All that is understandable, but calling this India's 9/11 (as analysts on various networks have repeatedly asserted) is incorrect. India has been grappling with terrorists for the best of 10 years right now - and is probably one of the most terror-incident prone places on the planet. This is certainly not India's 9/11. India has had more deadly terror attacks in the recent past. If any thing, this could be considered one of India's vast array of mini-9/11s.

Clearly, the perpetrators have roots in Pakistan or at least have been backed by the Pakistani ISI - an educated guess most people are making on TV. The "Deccan Mujahideen" is probably just a front for this. But I sincerely hope this does not derail talks between the Indian and the Pakistani governments. Pakistani democracy is probably one of the only hopes for stability in the region. The Pakistani government is too impotent and powerless to deal with these creeps - and is more in need for help than blame. The leigitimate Pakistani governemnt needs to be strengthened.

Perhaps the strongest response to this horrible issue would be a joint statement issued by Pakistani Prime Minister Zardari (or the Prime Minister, Gillani) and their Indian counterpart, MMS, affirming friendship in this time of terror. It is important not to fall into the animosity trap. Pakistanis are just like Indians - just as terror prone, just as scared. The terrorists want confrontation with India. Bellicose rhetoric would stifle encouraging signs shown by Zardari recently - a victory for the terrorists.

Who isn't sick of terror?

It's a sick feeling, knowing that right now, at this very moment in time, there is a horrible, perverted army of terrorists targeting one of the world's densest and most populated cities: Mumbai.

I do hope that every one of the perpetrators is either killed tonight - or brought to justice, sentenced as strictly and as soon as possible. This is one of the times that makes me glad that India has the death penalty.

Of course, there is an expectation that these attacks are somehow associated with Islamic terror. It is indeed a very likely scenario that the bunch of loons that call themselves the Indian Mujahideen are responsible for this - but I suppose the "Hindu terror" angle will also be investigated. (Personally, I don't think the Hindu terror angle is tenable here - but how can one be sure without investigating?)

I hope Mumbai does not over-react to this. Mumbai has a tendency to riot - as has been ignominously demonstrated in 1992. Mumbai has been experiencing terror periodically after 1992 - and large scale rioting has not taken place.

I wish the people of Mumbai a speedy recovery from this horrbile incident. I hope the death toll does not go up anymore, and I hope that the terrorists get what they deserve - imprisonment in an Indian jail with angry Indian inmates who like beating people up (not killing them). I don't want the guards providing any security to these terrorists.

If this kind of terrorism (the killing of innocents) is martyrdom in any faith, any place on this planet, we need to question whether the purveyors of such rhetoric ought to be regarded as human beings at all - or ought they be anhillated, like the small pox virus has been anhillated from the face of the planet?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Problems with Prop 8

Firstly, I don't remember what the correct answer to Prop 8 is. I know that it concerns gay marriage - but I don't know whether the correct answer is "yes" or "no". If you support gay marriage, do you have to vote "yes" or "no"? It's confusing. Wonder how many people were as confused as I am right now. Is there even a minor chance that it tipped the election one way or the other? Or did these votes cancel out?

But my real problem with all the hullabaloo about prop 8 is that the whose issue is merely token. Besides the symbolic "right" of getting married, there was little else at stake. Current civil unions in most US states are pretty much as good as marriages, legally. Homosexuals are not being persecuted in America - even in extremely conservative Texas. Spending vast amounts of money on campaigning for this largely token and symbolic right (of little practical value) when actual homosexuals are being stoned to death in the muslim world; being harassed for bribes by corrupt policemen in India is a shame.

Gay rights groups are being selfish. They are fighting for a luxury in this country when they could spend the same money on actual gay rights (and human rights, for that matter) around the world.

I expect that my viewpoint is unique in that it has a more international perspective considering that I am not an American citizen. I don't blame American liberals for not sharing this with me - being raised in the most prosperous society on the planet does blind and insulate one from actual ground realities around the rest of the planet.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Traffic Monitoring

I have always suspected that at least a million people frequent my blog every week - and that they are too nice to leave comments. So, in order to track them, I have installed a traffic monitor widget (which you shall find if you scroll down). This will help me show off my huge traffic. Maybe I can install some google ad thingy and become a millionaire overnight.

In other news (not that this is a news site), they're sending traffic policemen to the moon to regulate all the cars that are probably being driven there.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On banning Deshdrohi

Arguments regarding social stability might be enticing - and quite convincing. But I urge the government not to give into the temptation of playing big brother.

Usurpage of personal liberties starts with something minor like banning a movie - but it is a slippery slope - and eventually, India will be a liberal democracy no more. Making people pay for merely expressing their own opinion goes against the very fabric of our democracy - the same democracy that Gandhi, Patel and countless others laid down their lives for.

Most of the Indian electorate is vastly conservative (and does not have a liberal bone in the body) - and would probably not be fully opposed to some measure like this. This perhaps poses an existential question to the notion of free speech (which the west takes for granted). Should the government compromise on free speech for the sake of public safety?

When faced with such a choice, the solution is clearly a no-brainer. Free speech is a luxury in comparison with the right to live. Free speech, alas, seems to be more of an elitist notion in a nation of unfathomable poverty.

There goes another ideal.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Congratulations, America!

As a liberal libertarian, I am very happy with Obama's victory. He is a smart man who probably will do an excellent job as US presidents go.

He will probably stick to the center-center-left of mainstream American politics - which would put him at the center-right of International politics. Anything is a welcome change from Bush's extreme right policies.

The election of a black man president indicates that a sufficiently well educated and prosperous society can indeed transcend racial bigotry, by and large. Now I know for sure that India will reach this state in a few decades - and I am glad.

Mr Obama's stand on the Iraq war is that it is a waste of American lives and resources. I sincerely hope that this is mere political posturing - and that he deems the damage to 1 million + Iraqi lives a shame of equal or greater magnitude than the damage to 5000 odd coalition troop lives (just by mere magnitude) . I hope he believes in his heart that all humans are fundamentally equal - even if they are not potential voters.

Mr Obama wants to do the sensible thing. Sit down and talk to Admedinijad, Chavez and the like. Of course they're thugs. (The same applies to Bush in many people's eyes all around the world)
But talking to thugs never hurt anybody - especially when there's nothing to lose and peace to gain.

Prof. Noam Chomsky's view is that Obama "is the lesser of the evils". I hope that Prof. Chomsky is being pessimistic. But looking at Clinton's Wag-The-Dog-esque bombing of a pharmaceutical plant (for instance) in Sudan killing innumerable people directly and indirectly (and still being referred to as a centrist president) perhaps justifies Prof. Chomsky's assertion that one ought not have illusions about Obama.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Adventures of Peer Review Man 1: The Beginning

In a world with information corrupted by vested interests, is there any way one can get pure fact untainted by opinion; truth without spin? It's not that easy.

In this milieu of mistrust and lies was born Peer Review Man - a crusader for truth; a crusader for intellectual honesty. A crusader for all that the world holds dear.

There are many stories as to how Peer Review Man acquired his super power. Some are downright improbable. For instance there's one about him watching television as an inspired teenager as Ramar Pillai (a Indian charlatan) concocted petrol out of nowhere - defying all laws of thermodynamics. The fable goes on to say that the subsequent disillusionment of finding out that Mr. Pillai was little more than a hoax led the teenager to take a solemn vow that he would verify all that sounded fishy with peer reviewed literature. And then he proceeeded to read scientific journals day in and day-out.

There's another equally fishy one - which says that Peer Review Man is not a human being at all - but a hyper-evolved highly intellegent artificial neural network which has a built in connection to the internet (and therefore wikipedia). All fishy claims are googled and wikipediaed (this is a new word which I am coining. Webster owes me royalties.). Links are followed until peer reviewed sources are found - and therefore the truth is finally isolated.

Of course, the above sketches are abundantly improbable. Here's how he really came about.

Nagappa was an infant back then in a rural hamlet in northern Andhra Pradesh. His family wasn't particularly well to do economically. But it was a well educated family - a family well versed in the natural sciences. The Dad was a Physics enthusiast - and had lots of papers and textbooks stowed away in cabinets. The Mum was a biologist of sorts - and had her books by Darwin, Maynard Smith and the like stowed in the same cabinet.

And now, let's talk about Muriel, the mouse. (why a mouse in the middle of Andhra Pradesh has an Anglican name is beyond me). The enthusiastic mouse was scavenging for some tasty little slice of cheese (presumably) in the cabinet. Muriel, of course, did not find it, so it started nibbling on pages of Newton's Principia mechanica. After chewing Newton, it made its way to copies of Einstien's 1905 papers on special relativity and bit off the corners. Portions of Hiesenberg's thesis, Mendelleev's periodic table and Sclichting's "Boundary Layer Theory" were consumed too. As were works by Darwin, Feynman, Keynes and Fiegenbaum.

Muriel had by then pretty much binged on a rather significant quantity of paper. Most veterinarians who specialize in mice (there are a couple of the planet, I suppose) will tell you that what Muriel did was not good for its weight and cholesterol. But Muriel was a rather intrepid little mouse. She then decided to kick it up a notch - and started sipping from a tumbler of country liquor that the dad had left on the shelf. Knowing Muriel, it shall come as no surprise to the reader that what was consumed was excessive.

Muriel started feeling queasy. Nauseous. Felt like vomiting all that she had eaten. She found a little bowl on a table somewhere and just let loose in the same.

The bowl was Nagappa's cerelac (that's what infants are fed in India - and I promise, it tastes yummy!) bowl. So, nagappa made a meal of the mouse's vomit which consisted of a rather potent cocktail of portions of copies of some of seminial scientific literature laced with ethanol (and some of Muriel's gastric juices).

And thus was created Peer Review Man. AKA (to friends and family only) as Nagappa.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What's wrong with Socialism?

If you listen to the current political rhetoric in the US of A (and it is impossible not to, with elections between two people with almost identical stands on everything so close at hand), you would get the feeling that the ideals of compassion towards the poor are dead wrong - and that poor people should not get a helping hand.

And if the government were to help the poor financially, it would be the worst thing in the world since it would be depriving an angry fat man a jacuzzi in his kitchen (or something equally excessive and ridiculous).

Defenders of capitalism seem to overlook one very fundamental flaw. All people are not born equal. Some are born rich and some are born poor. A person born rich (or at least into a well educated family) is more likely to be more successful in life. Where is the level playing field if a significant proportion of the population can just be born unlucky? Let me get this straight: capitalism as is, is certainly not a meritocracy.

Every principle of Austrian economics, every idea that Raegan's and Thacher's (or Ron Paul, for that matter) people ever had, every "free market" notion that has every come out of the university of Chicago is all brilliantly correct - except for one major, major (some would say existential) flaw. Capitalism is not a meritocracy. All are not equal in a capitalist society. This holds true when one talks about the most prosperous country in the world; the US - and even more so, when one talks about the planet as a whole. Where are the opporunities for 95% of Indians; 80% of Chinese people? I was lucky. I was born into a rich, well educated Indian family. More than a billion other Indians were not so lucky.

Alas, trying to "simulate" a genuine level playing will involve something as utterly ludicrous as the state conficiating every child and teaching them all the same way. That's never going to happen, that never should happen - and that never will happen if one is in a democracy (phew!).

So, what are the options left to equitise capitalism? How does one keep the inherent advantages of capitalism intact? Of course one has to spread the wealth around. Because the poor are poor for a reason - they were unlucky - it is not as if they are lazy. Hell, they work as hard (if not harder) as anyone else.

So, the next time some loudmouth (like Joe the Plumber, say) likes to complain about his taxes, I would like him to stare into the eyes of an impoverished 7 year old from the ghetto and say "It's your bloody fault that your parents can't feed you. I'm not going to pay my taxes. I don't care if your home is cold at night; I don't care if you don't have enough to wear. ".

Perhaps one reason why there are people like Joe the Plumber (who make a big deal out of paying their taxes) is that there's so few genuinely poor people in the US. Living in such a rich land, perhaps, has de-sensetised the average American from poverty. Stands that the average American takes over taxes might seem cruel in any other part of the world - but just rational in America.

And that's why ALL political parties in India are essentially socialist. If they were not, it would be a travesty of democracy. Non-socialistic tendencies (such as Naidu's AP and BJP's "India Shining") are usually rejected outright in India.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Turbulent Natural Convection

A long long time ago, when I was a graduate student at IIT Madras, I had taken a course on turbulence, and pretty much fell in love with the physics of turbulent flow.

I was already in love with natural convection - which I found fascinating - right from my undergraduate years - when our professor did a splendid job in teaching us the same. (Some "good professors" of IIT Madras are probably among the best philosophers in the world!)

Since I was in love with these subjects, in all naivete, I had put in "turbulent natural convection" as field of interest while applying for higher studies (PhD) in the US three years ago.

When I wound up here at Texas A&M, I worked on turbulent flow on the experimental side. As "application engineers", we really don't worry about quantities such as Reynolds Stresses and Turbulent Kinetic energies. We deal with deliverable and tangible quantities such as the skin friction coefficient and heat transfer coefficient. As far as experiments are concerned, the Reynolds stress might as well just go hang itself.

This is, of course, a fascinating line of inquiry. The kind of work we do is so miserably turbulent, it would be foolhardy to even try to predict some of our results analytically. This justifies our existence as experimenters. It is fascinating to note that computational tools are doing a pretty good job of reproducing experimental data.

Now, then, let's not digress. So, here I am, working on high Reynolds numbers. Such right reynolds numbers that Buoyancy does not stand a chance.

We also deal with rotating systems - which are subject to coriolis and Centrifugal forces. The centrifugal force acts like buoyancy - but for the ranges which we were studying, its effect was not that profound.

But a closer examination of experimental data indicated that it is INDEED affecting playing a significant role - we just did not know it. There's probably a nice natural convection boundary layer that set iself up in our test section - but we just did not have the resources to identify it.

Things have a bizzare way of coming true. I wanted to work on turbulent natural convection. I am working on something more complex turbulent natural convection: turbulent "mixed" convection. Just not in the way I would have visualized earlier.

(In another bizzare irony, the wife, incidentally works on transitionary natural convection all the time as she tries to clone her DNA in her lab).

My two cents on Economic Stimulus plans

I'm no Economist - and perhaps that isn't such a bad thing - if all economists do is dream up stupidities like the economic stimulus plan. (I allude to the $600 check that Bush and company sent every resident earlier this year and are threatening to do something similar again this year).

Because, as an engineer (and mind you, not an economist), I see that what got the whole world into this mess was, basically, Americans spending more than they could earn. (This is pretty much an American Mantra - just look at the US' fiscal deficit - which is more than India's GDP).

So, basically, America does not produce as much as it consumes. If America were a family, here's what an analogous scenario would look like:

Dad and Mum earn enough money to pay for groceries, but not enough to bankroll trips to the mall every week. But the daughters love going to the mall and buying their high fashion dresses; the sons like going to the sports shops and purchasing rifles to go hunting every week. The family likes to go on long vacation getaways and cruises to Bermuda in winter and Alaska in summer.

If they were living on a fixed income, this would never do. But what they do do is take loans, sink themselves deeper in debt. They were considering taking loans ad-infinitum to bankroll the said excesses.

If you are a family, you run into one problem: your credit history is well known. You just can't keep taking loans ad-nauseam. The lenders will know when to stop giving you money - because the lenders will lend only if there is reasonable a probability of getting the money back. The Mum and Dad are in for a rude shock one day.

But if you're the world's pre-eminent super power, things are a little different. You can keep borrowing money until ... well, until, probably, you're no more a super-power - but that's going to take a lot more time.

America is currently cutting taxes, spending like crazy on a war it it had no business starting (killing more than a million innocents (this tally includes 5000 odd coalition troops) - but let's not get started on that now). The American government is also bailing out companies such as AIG, Goldman Sachs and Freddie Mac (companies which contribute nothing directly to society) - swallowing all their sins, so to say.

On top of all that, America wants to send some more money to its citizens to spend. Given that the problem was essentially created by hedonistic overindulgence, the American government wants to rescue people from this mess by more hedonistic overindulgence. After all, alcholism has only one cure: alcohol. Or that's what Bernanke thinks.

To me, currently, the whole west is grossly unsustainable - both from an economic perspective and even more so from an environmental perspective.

What keeps me optimistic is that the current western model is so hopelessly inefficient that there's almost (almost) infinite room for improvement if prices of certain inputs go up. Suppose real "gas" prices go up from and stay at $5/gallon in the US - then the economy can adapt by becoming a little more efficient - increasing the number of hybrids, for instance and using more rail road transit. With little or no sacrifice on the standard of living front, Americans can live more "efficiently". I am sure they can do without all the useless junk mail in the mailbox, excesses as times square.....

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bible dictating policy in India?

You can't get more ridiculous than this.

There's some crazy stuff going on in the Delhi high court. I'm talking about gay sex - or at least discussions regarding the legality thereof.

Delhi's Additional Solicitor General, Mr. PP Malhotra was defending the government's stand - that gay sex should stay illegal. And what did he quote defending this point of view? A passage from the holy Bible. I am not kidding. This is real. A passage from the Holy Bible.

You can read the news report here. (Why does the writer of the article use "homosex" as if it were a real word? Maybe it ought to be.)

The holy Bible is not literally used as law in almost all liberal democracies. Even George Bush's policies are not in complete agreement with the Bible. To quote the Bible to justify a ban on Homosexuality is retrograde - and just plainly out of touch with ground realities.

The Delhi high court, thankfully, would have none of this. The judge pretty much thew the Solicitor general's defense out and asked him to cite reports from UN (and other credible sources - not scripture or opinion). The courts seem sensible.

Which brings me to another question. Was the judge doing the legistature's job? Should the judge be deciding the legality of a constitutional provision? Does he have the authority to do this? If he does, then what makes him different from a ruler - and a dictator? Just because he seems more in touch with reality does not mean that he ought to impose his ideas on people. Surely a mere judge does not have the authority to amend the constitution.

I would love to hear your take on this.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Homosexuals in India

When the president of Iran (a loudmouth paralleled only by the current American leadership as a purveyor of religious and bellicose rhetoric) was asked a question about the mistreatment of Homosexuals in Iran while speaking at Columbia university exactly a year ago, his response as "there are no homosexuals in Iran".

I am positive that if Dr. Manmohan Singh were asked the same question he would give an equally ludicrous response if he is in agreement with the stinking pile of manure his home ministry is defending in India. Men having sex with men (gays are called MSMs in India) is illegal in India. There are an estimated 22 million felons in India - a popuplation the size of Australia - if one wants to keep count.

While the relatively progressive Ministry of health wants to legalize homosexuality (aided by the courts in India - which satirically recommend banning sexual intercourse in resonse to the Home ministry's contention that Homosexualily helps spread AIDS), the home ministry (which in my opinion should be spending most of its time trying to fight terror in cities and stopping stampedes in temples) wants to keep it illegal. This is the stupidest thing I have heard in a long while.

With ~ 22 million homosexual men (and at least half as many homosexual women in India), I think it is high time that some pragmatism takes precedence. What to me is disconcerting is that the government at the center is actually a left on center government. If the real conservatives come into power (say a Modi or an Uma Barthi), things will get only get much, much worse.

Of course, I understand that the country is too poor to be socially liberal - and I understand that expecting any socially liberal reform is asking for too much from some of the poorest and least educated people on the planet. But these are injustices which ought to be corrected. I am writing this piece not with the hope of seeing liberalization of Indian society in the immediate future. I understand that it is a long journey - but a journey of a thousand miles (1600km) starts with a single step. Hell, even the richest nations on the planet (such as the US) have leaders who are homophobic.

Death of American Capitalism

Before I start bloviating, I would like to take a moment to talk about Prof. No am Chomsky. Because, thanks to today's bizzare set of circumstances, a lot of Prof. Chomsky's assertions regarding American economic policy have come astronishingly true. If he were a malicious soul, he would be saying "I told you so".

Prof. Chomsky contends that America is a socialist state to a great degree - and cites all "high technology" - which is almost always due to taxpayer money - as evidence. Where it differs from a socialist state is that the profits due to these high technologies are privatized. Today's bail-out is pretty much a text-book case of the taxpayers assuming risk and saving large private institutions that are "too big to fail".

Prof. Chomsky's contention that democracy is America is an illusion often draws a lot of flak. But looking at the house of representatives turn down a bill and then pass it on the second iteration gave one the feeling that they just did not have an option - because if they did not pass it today, it would come back tomorrow.

Prof. Chomsky's media-propaganda model stands vindicated by the shameless advocacy in the media for this plan. Fox, CNN, CBS, MSNBC, NY Times - you name it. Everyone told you you had to get this plan voted for - otherwise....

If I were Prof. Chomsky, I would certainly say "I told you so".


This blog would have lost all credibility had it not sounded off on the current demise of capitalism in America. I had contended earlier that American capitalism was incredibly robust and fail-safe - and this robustness made up for its apparent heartlessness. Turns out, it was not robust. And that's why, it went bust (that's a miserable doggerel - the kind I keep talking about in thet title of this blog)

Let me summarize how the Goliath that is American capitalism was felled.

Companies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (and other mortgage under-writers) decided one fine day to make some money from the toil of poor people who do not have good "credit scores". Since these people were less likely to get loans (and everyone in the world wants to build a dream house), they were prepared to pay a little more for the loan. So they borrowed money at higher "sub-prime" rates.

So far so good. Good for the poor people - they at least got a loan and had an honest stab at living happy lives in their own roomy homes.

At that time, house prices were increasing every day. People borrowed X to buy a house with "adjustable rate" mortgages. The mortgage would charge a lower value in the beginning and would reset to a higher rate a little while later. The house would probably be worth 1.05X next year - and the 0.05 X was profit. They could then "re-negotiate" their mortgage to a lower rate - bascially using the profit to pay off some more of the principal.

All was well when everything went well. But everything can't go on perfectly forever. The housing bubble burst. Home prices did not keep going up every year. People were stuck in mortgages which they just could not afford - especially when the rates reset. Having eaten a sumptuous meal in a pricey restaurant, Americans reached for their wallet and found it empty. And the equivalent to doing their dishes was, well, foreclosure.

It does not end here. The "mortgages" were packaged and traded (before people realized that all was not well). The local banks that made these loans - well, they sold these loans (they actually sold the "risk") to investment banks and other institutions. Lehmann brothers, AIG, Bear Sterns - they all failed to see the downswing coming - and were basically destroyed by these "toxic" mortgages.

To "rescue" the market, the govenment had to do what Indian Mythology contends Lord Shiva did. It (the government) had to swallow the toxic assets (much like Lord Shiva had to swallow poision to save the angels (devas)).

One hopes that these latest developments silence the rhetoric of "small government" once and for all - but one knows that they will not. Political spin is such a powerful tool.

Friday, September 05, 2008

CV9ap - X414a

The year is 2049. The day is September 1st. Labor day.

Incidentally, his wife went into labor today. Everything went well. They had a baby girl.

And they were faced with the unenviable task of picking a name for their daughter. After a lot of brainstorming, they settled on CV9ap-X414a, with a small 'a'.

They chose the name because it was a unique name. A name that meant business. How many people called CV9ap would you not take seriously? They know that she would thank them for the wonderful name that they had blessed her with.

There was a catergory 5 hurricane which was forecast to hit the city that day. He had caught the forecast early in the morning, so he was prepared. He took an umbrella out of his bag and shielded little CV9ap from the 300kmph wind gust. He was quite proud of his paternal instincts.

As the author of this improbable sketch, I can perceive a certain puzzlement; a certain confusion amongst my readers. If I continue on these lines, I run the risk of sounding like a raving lunatic. So perhaps I should clear the air and make the circumstances a little more comprehensible. Shed some light, if you get my drift.

The planet has heated up thanks to human emissions (and bovine flatulence). This increase in enthalpy of the planet has created all sorts of problems. It has created more intense summers. Warmer oceans. And warmer oceans imply more intense hurricanes. And more intense hurricanes mean more death and destruction.

The real problem was not created by the hurricanes. But it was created by America's hurricane warning center. In a land with a finite number of first (and last) names, giving hurricanes people's names (and then "retiring" the deadly ones) created a rather unique problem: a shortage of first names. If you had a baby in 2006, then you would call her anything but Kartina and Rita. 2009 depleted Gustav, Fay, Hanna and Ike from the name pool. By 2015, almost all western names were out. No more Jack. No more Rob. No more Dick. No more Andrew - or Dmitri.

And with more hurricanes, the number of ineligible names started to increase exponentially with time. By 2030, even Indian names such as Vikram and Ravi were taboo.

This crisis was not without resistance. The committee to rescue names (CRN) was formed - and attempted to stop hurricanes on their tracks by dropping nuclear bombs on their path. This turned out to be a particularly ill conceived idea - because these bombs heated up the water all the more, creating the world's first catergory six storm. Saffir and Simpson were really spinning in their graves.

Attempts were made by parents at using more exotic names - any word that sounded phonetically correct was used as a name. But this scheme failed too. Here's a scenario why:

Mother: Oh wow! I am so happy to see that we have had a son. Let's see what we should call him. Let me mix some random phonetic syllables in my mind. Ah. Let us call him "purugu".

Dad: Nice. Purugu sounds nice.

Telugu Guy (appears from nowhere): You might want to reconsider that. In my native tongue, "purugu" means insect. Nothing aganist those little critters - but do you really want to call your son that?

Dad: Aw. Let's try "Kamina" instead,

You get the drift. With the world becoming more of a melting pot, one just could not find any pronounceable word which did not imply something demeaning in some language or was not a killer Hurricane.

As you can see, the only way out was to use alpha numerics. And one fine day, CV9ap-X414a became the leader of the free world. She became the president of the planet. (By 2049, all countries coalesced into one large union).

Oh. And umbrellas are a lot stronger in 2049. They can withstand category sixes with ease. Though catergory 7s (created by CRN by using a hydrogen bomb on a hurricane) are a whole different ball game.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

God and the Hurricane

Picture this.

There's this monster of a hurricane churning in the Gulf of Mexico. And no one knows where it will go. From Mexico to West Florida. It can go anywhere. A large section of the US bible belt coast-line is in the firing line, as is south Texas and northern Mexico. Everyone is worried.

Now, let's focus on a typical rural scenario. There's this small town-by-the-sea somewhere in Louisiana. There's a rather unusual absence of vehicles on the roads. The place bears a deserted look. Because all the cars that are not on the road are at Church. Because, they reckon, only god can save them from the hurricane. Having seen New Orleans after Katrina, their sentiment is understandable. So, they pray. They pray for the hurricane to go away. They pray for the path of the hurricane to spare their helpless little parish.

The aforementioned scenario is generic. Take that scenario and multiply it by the number of churches on the gulf coast (an octillion or so).

And that's how many prayers god received in his inbox one morning, much to his chagrin. All these requests to alter the path of the hurricane posed quite an ugly problem to him. Because, one man's request was another man's nightmare. By responding positively to a prayer from church A in Louisiana, he could in fact be going against a prayer from Church B in Texas - which would cause a mass-loss-of-faith in Texas - something undesirable to god. For religion is all about making people gain faith, not lose it.

God was faced with an extremely tough optimization problem. What course could he undertake to minimize the damage to his good name? He could choose to inflict the damage in the most sparsely populated area along the gulf coast;hHe could also choose to inflict the damage on the area with the least density of believers; on the area with the least number of churches or perhaps the area with the largest number of criminals. To god, the objective function of the optimization problem itself was quite nebulous.

Before we talk about god's decision, let us take a minor digression. Let us talk about a hypothetical little village in northern Mexico. Let's call it D. A wretched, poor little village. A village so poor that most people do not have access to news on TV. A village where most people did not know about the hurricane until the government asked them to evacuate. No time for prayers.

It was quite unfortunate for the residents of D that god decided to go by the "prayer density" objective function. He decided to direct the hurricane into the area from which he received the least number of prayers per hundred documented residents. Thousands perished. D was below sea level.

Moral of story:

Pray. Watch TV. Don't be poor.

Friday, August 22, 2008

To Hell With Endangered Species

Ecosystems on this planet are in an eternal state of flux. Life adapts to its environment in a perpetual sequence of birth and extinction. While few species become dominant and successful - thriving on the available resources, many go extinct, unable to cope up with competition for the eternally scarce resources.

The human race, of late, has found the planet quite welcoming. You can find a human being almost everywhere. From the parched deserts of Saudi Arabia to the frigid infinities of Siberia; from the torrid heat of Sub-saharan Africa to the fertile plains of the Ganga; from the lowlands of death valley (I'm sure there's a guy living there) to the hills of Switzerland.

Just like cancer spreads around the body, the human race has spread around the planet. The human race is a miracle of evolution (so miraculous that most humans themselves, unable to believe it themselves, believe in a "god" to fill up the blank). I feel reasonably sure in contending that it is probably the only race in this history of planet earth which figured out how life came about - or at least made an effort in that direction. (Almost all cultures have made efforts in that direction - even the tribals have dieties that they worship. No culture pulls a blank when they are asked "How did the world come about?".)

The human race has placed a great strain on earth's the eco-system. Modern humans do not compete with other species for resources. Humanity usurps resources at will, driving all competition to extinction. Humanity is to its colleagues in the eco-system what Vito Corleone is to the New York city mobsters. (Only, humanity is not out to exact revenge.)

I am a firm believer in Darwinism. If I were alone in pristine wilderness and I saw an animal wounded, I would not stop and save it. I would let it die (it will feed other littler creatures that count of these sorts of windfalls for their very existence). So, I am more than happy to see the unfit perish.

Animals that are being driven to extinction are being driven to extinction because they are weak. Let them die. Why should we save them?

Additionally, what is the point of saving the tiger in India? Its numbers have dwindled so drastically, that it is as good as inexistent in the larger picture. Its impact on the overall eco-system is exactly zero. I say, to hell with the tiger. Don't waste money trying to conserve it.
They're going to die as soon as we stop pouring money into them. Because they roamed a huge area before. A few square kilometers in a national park are never going to do them any justice.
Spend that money on other environmental causes. Like increasing the number and size of national parks.

The same applies to the california condor (there's about 50 of them left). Because as soon as the efforts stop, the condors will begin their descent into extinction all over again. They just have no habitat left.

The human race likes to get the impression that it is having the cake and eating it too. Just like people get a warm fuzzy feeling when they witness their philanthrophy feeding an underpreviliged third world kid, they get the same feeling when they see their donations rescue a tiger from "extinction".

And to me, there is something fundamentally unethical and hypocritical about eating meat (when there are extremely healthy and tasty vegetarian alternatives) and then making attempts to save endangered species.

The only sustainable way out is to just forget about the tigers and the condors. To hell with endangered species.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

77% of India below Rs 20 a day?

Mr. Budhadeb Acharya, a Marxist made this proclamation on the floor of the parliament. Frankly, this analysis scared me. I am quite comfortable with my "feel" of macroeconomic indicators of nations that "matter" (to me). This Rs 20 a day statement confounded me.

And here's why. India's nominal per-capita income is Rs 40,000 per year (and this is the average of multiple sources). This becomes Rs 110 per day, a far cry from Rs. 20 per day. So, if 80% of the country lives (as alleged) on Rs 20 per day, then the other 20% (220 million) must be living very, very prosperously.

So, I went ahead with some fact-checking.

Turns out, Mr. Acharya was quoting a very, very confused study. The sudy in question was conducted by National Commission for Enterprises in Unorganized Sector (NCEUS). This article from the Indian arm of Rupert Murdoch's WSJ put things in perspective. The study "accounted" for purchasing power parity. The reality is that 80% of India lives on less than $2 a day - or Rs 80 a day. (The corresponding income is 2400 per month - or Rs 10k per month for a familty of four).

The geniuses behind the study recognized that Each American dollar becomes Rs 10 in "purchasing power" - and went ahead and proclaimed that 80% of India earns Rs 20 a day. This statistic is true only if an Indian works in India, earns his Rs 80, somehow spontaneously materializes in the US, converts his Rs 80 to $2, goes grocery shopping in the US, dematerializes from the US and re-materializes in India to work again.

The study ought have said "80% of India earns $8 a day".

What disconcerts me is that there are absolutely no editorials, no comments about this blunder which was uttered in the parliament. For isntance, The Hindu carried his comments as if this were some factoid.

I think Mr. Acharya got carried away when he was trying to quote some "statistics" to butress his cause. I don't blame him - any statistic is a good statistic if you're trying to make a point.

This sadly proves to me that the best minds in India certainly don't go into mass media.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Case for Vegetarianism

I am scared right now. Petrified. Mortified. The whole world is in big trouble right now. The proverbial shit has more or less hit the fan.

Fidel Castro, in what is now a classic letter (written in 2007), lamented about the growth in use of biofuels. He felt it fundamentally unethical to put food inside the fuel tank.

A little more than a year down the line - and here we are. Food prices are headed north all around the world. Inflation in India has reached double figures. All the gradual progress that was made over the last few decades .. uplifting the 100 million people or so from poverty .. all that could disappear if the prices do not drop quickly.

Let me go on a limb here and make some guesses. I am assuming that the reader of this article is not accustomed to feeling hunger (because, in all probability, he or she is rich enough to afford a decent meal). Almost all the people I know in India and in the US are rich. Almost all the people that we know are rich. As a consequence, all of us are more or less spent forces in actually empathizing with the billions of hungry on this planet.

The planet (populated like never before) is facing a massive shortage of food grains. It is not as if the planet is not growing enough food. We're growing enough to feed 9 billion vegetarian people. It's just that the rich have billions of cows, pigs and hens to feed (and eventually eat) - and they do so by snatching the food away from the mouths of the poorest of the poor in India, Africa and China.

When billions of people on this planet cannot afford a decent meal, does it make ethical sense to consume foods which eat what the poorest of poor could eat? Is is humbling to know that more crops are consumed by animals that are eaten as meat than actual human beings.

Add to this the further ethical bankruptcy of causing pain to a sentient being when one could very well have avoided doing so. Animals suffer when killed. They don't like it. Ought we be torturing them like this?

Further, it takes much more energy to raise animals to be killed and eaten. It requires much more resources. And with the planet boiling over - a gram of CO2 saved from going up into the atmosphere is worth its weight in gold.

I only hope that people eat meat because they are ignorant of these hard facts. But I have a deeper, more nagging suspicion. Evolution has hard wired a certain hypocrisy into humans. People can live happy lives fully cognizant of the fact that their actions have contributed to the silent genocide that is third world hunger - but not care enough to mend their ways. Because all there is to life is fornicating and passing on one's genes.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Look East, Not West

There is this tendency among a lot of well-to-do Indians of looking at America as a model of development. This could owe a lot to the US' pre-eminence as a super-power on this planet; its (relatively) liberal immigration policy (creating a million or so Indian immigrants); mind-boggling technological breakthroughs in its universities and corporations and the perception of glamour (a "sexiness", if you will) associated with all things American (such as Hollywood and the ipod).

Americans are a pampered lot. They have a lot of area for each person (there's only 36 people per square kilometer here: that's 10 times area per person than India) - which makes being an American an inherently prosperous proposition.

A more relevant model of development can be found further to the west of the US - across the international date-line. Japan.

With 330 people per square kilometer - the same as the Indian population density - Japan is the world's third largest economy in absolute terms (China replaced Japan in the second spot a few years ago). With the same amount of "geographical luck" as an Indian has, the Japanese have managed to make their people some of the most prosperous in the world.

Japan's per capita GDP (ppp) is $33k per year. Japan's energy consumption is ~4000 kgoe/year (kilo-grams of oil-equivalent/year), whereas the American values are $45k per year and 8000kgoe/year. Simply put, the average Japanese person is twice as green and twice as lean as the average American. (Links to GDP and kgoe data)

There's this interesting metric to measure how "energy-efficiently" each dollar of GDP is produced. It's the GDP per-capita on the ordinate and the GDP per MBTU on the abcissa plot, which is reproduced below:

Japan is clearly more efficient than the US even this perspective. (If you ask me, this perspective is skewed in measuring efficiency. Supposing a nation were to grow a lot of crops and throw them away in trash cans (like the US does - check out any fast food chain trash cans!), the above metric of energy efficiency would consider the energy in growing the crops energy well spent. As a matter of fact, I consider this a garbage metric for this very reason).

Japan's economic growth was characterized by decades of 10% + GDP growth (fueled by a cocktail of government protectionism and foreign investment). This was called the "Japanese Economic Growth Miracle", for that it was. This period of stellar growth culminated in a major recession - and finally in a hopelessly inverted population pyramid. It is unlikely that Japan will achieve significant growth again: but Japan is still an extremely prosperous nation. A Japan (or an America or a Europe) in recession is still in a much better shape than a 10% per-year growing India (or China) from the most important perspective: the social perspective.

Indian development will be more like Japan's than America's. (China's, on the other hand is more likely to be like a more slightly efficient version of America's - China lot more people (130) per square kilometer than the US (36)).

When this optimistic argument about India's future is made in front of people, they come up with a ridiculous theory of the Japanese being "genetically industrious" and that the Indians are "genetically lethargic". I think this is a load of poppycock. The Indian economy has grown leaps and bounds after Dr. Singh set it free in 1991; poverty has fallen (though the rich have become a tad bit richer) beyond what people could contemplate in the 1980s. (Yes, there are still pockets of poverty in India - farmers still keep committing suicide - but it is indeed becoming an actual electoral issue. This is exactly the kind of issue that populism can solve, I believe.).

And the next time people tell me that compared with democracies in the developed world, Indian democracy is too ugly: I have a few aces up my sleeve. I will tell them about the incredibly stupid gridlock in the Japanese parliament that let a $1 per gallon petrol tax expire for a few days - dropping the price of petrol ("gas") at the pump immediately. (Yes, this did happen! And the prime minister apologized for this retrograde step.).

Friday, June 06, 2008

Beedle Beedle Beedle

Jim Davis has given Jon Arbuckle (and Garfield, the fat feline) cell-phones. These cell-phones don't tring-tring or beep beep. They beedle-beedle-beedle.

My current cell-phone allows me to use any peice of music (any mp3) as a ring-tone. It allows me to use a midi of Beethoven's ninth (that I can download off the internet). It has that "I like big butts" disaster built in as a ring tone.

But when one searches for something that sounds like a phone ringing, alas, my cell-phone does not even get as close as beedle-beedle-beedle. The best I can do it that ghastly tune that at&t bundles every phone with.

I have toyed with the idea of tweeting into the phone (tring-tring). But I suspect that it would be extra-embarassing - so I won't do it. I could get one of those birds to tweet into the phone and record a ring-tone. But (a) Birds have an understandable tendency to wing it when one makes oneself proximate to them (b) Even if one does (somehow) manage to sneak up to a location close enough to one of those birds to record a statement, birds are remarkably recalcitrant.

Technology has scored one over me. It is almost impossible to install a respectable ring tone on my cell-phone. I shall enviously look back at the old days when men sounded like men, phones sounded like phones and little furry creatures from alpha centauri sounded like little furry creatures from alpha centauri.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Eternally Damned?

I had an interesting discussion with a "journalist" today. He walked up to me and started to talk about religion. Now, if someone comes and talks to me about whether I am religious, I lose all inhibitions and start talking about my atheism. So, when asked the reason for my lack of faith in all things religious, I informed him of my faith in the theory of Evolution and its ability to explain every little feature of life.

As this point, I had no idea that the gentleman in question was not a journalist and the book he held in his has was in actuality, the Bible. Turns out he was trying to convert me into Christianity. This was an opportunity I was waiting for for quite some time. I had always fantasized about arguing with someone who is trying to convert me. And this gentleman in question did not disappoint. His mentors had coached him what to say when people confronted him with arguments regarding their enemy no 1: Darwinism. So he was armed to the teeth with quotes from the Bible and information regarding apparently evolution-defying bacterial flagella (though this paper would beg to differ). If nothing else, he was passionate about his job.

His main contention was the following:

1. Everybody has sinned. (lied, lusted and so on)
2. God hates sinners who do not acknowledge His (God's) existence.
3. One must acknowledge God's existence (and then can presumably continue to sin)
4. Failure to perform (3) will result in eternal damnation in hell.
5. The planet is 6000 years old. Dinosaur bones (and the like) were planted on the planet by God (a-la-Slartibartfast).
6. The only truth in the world is the Bible. (The other religious books are just pure sophistry)

I am proud of myself not laughing out at these ludicrous contentions. But I did manage to squeeze in a few alternate competing faiths, viz. great-green Arcklesiezurism (the dominant faith of the Viltvodlites) and the Kansan Flying Spaghetti Monster. I informed him regarding the equally strong (weak is more like it) cases favoring the worship of each faith.

And then the discussion moved on to the other standard cliche: "there's a little of god in everyone. That's what tells people the difference between good and bad.". I told him it's my ego that tells me the difference between good and bad - and God has precious little to do with it. He looked a little taken aback: so I had to go into the details of being a left-libertarian.

And then the wife materialized and immediately joined this discussion. She's quite well read about Hinduism, Buddhism and the like. She holds the "comfort zone" theory: believe in whatever makes you feel comfortable. And she gets worked up like no tomorrow when someone tells her what to do. (I would know). So, clearly, some guy clutching the Bible telling her what to do (otherwise go to hell) would be unlikely to gain favor with her. And he did not.

But, I am sad to say, we lost the condescension-war. I did manage a few gems including "religion is a placebo that makes people happier - and that's why I am in favor of it". He pulled this beauty out of his hat: "I will pray for you guys".

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Horrible Week.

Take all the people that have been killed by "islamic terror" in the last couple of decades on one side. The same islamic terror that John McCain and Barack Obama and Bush keep talking about like their lives depended on it. (It is interesting to note that most of those lives lost are in India - not in the U.S, not in Israel.).

And then take, for instance, just the people killed by Earth-Quake in China on the other side. It is sobering to realize that the Earth-Quake in China killed much more people than the entire of islamic terror did in the last 20 years. []

And then add the Mayanmar Cyclone. The number of people killed by the tragic combination of a horrific natural disaster and a murderously incompetent (genocidal seems apt) military government is more than double the death toll in the Chinese cyclone. And last year's Bangladesh Cyclone that killed 10,000.

Let's not even get into the South Asian Tsunami. I think I've made my point without it.

And then you understand how idiotic the infatuation with islamic terror is in American politics (or in world politics). It is distressing to see international politics governed by fear rather than rationality. (But that's how democracies are hard-wired to function, so let's face it). Fear Sells.


If we were to consider terror unleashed in Iraq and Afghanistan by unjust wars, then perhaps numbers would start adding up - but calling these deaths islamic terror is unrealistic as the root cause of this terror is unjustifiable foreign aggression which goes against every bit of international law.

* There's this pathetic argument that apologists for the Iraq invasion often keep giving: Saddam Hussein was killing as many people as are being killed in Iraq right now. He did mercilessly kill people; no doubt - but he certainly did not kill 100,000 in the space of 5 years. And certainly not a million.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Ineffeciencies in the US

This post is a response to George Bush's assertion that the Indian Middle class is the "root" of the world food crisis.

Americans, "stratospheric-gas prices" notwithstanding, are indeed the planet's pampered children. In this post, I will point out a few inefficiencies in the American way of life: a consequence of having more per-capita resources than the rest of the planet - and devising a system to exploit these abundant resources to the hilt: free market capitalism.

Since denying "man-made" global warming (and evolution, for that matter) is such a passionate pursuit for the disciples of Limbaugh, O'rielly, Hannity and (presumably) Dobbs, I will refrain from looking at inefficiencies from a global warming perspective. This does not mean that I count myself as a global warming denier (the term "skeptic" sounds a little too erudite for a disciple of Limbaugh). I want to prove that the American way of life is grossly unsustainable - and would still have been unsustainable had the world not been boiling over.

Vehicles for Everyone

Does everybody in this country have to be driving? Even if they have to be driving, why SUVs? Why not a Honda Civic or a Toyota Corolla?

Don't answer these questions. We know why Americans* drive their Ford F150s. They could afford to. Fuel was cheap. That's because the rest of the world (China, India, Africa...) was so poor that the Americans* could do their consuming for them. And fuel was so cheap that mass transit was never a priority for most parts of America. (If you go to Houston and utter the word "mass transit" in a bar, I am convinced that people will look at you like you're an alien from outer space).

Meat, Wastage and Biofuels

It might trouble a few people to know that the pigs, cows and chicken that Americans* raise to eat are better fed than actual human beings in Asia and Africa.

It is fairly well established that consuming meat is more environmentally unsustainable than eating vegetables (I won't even go into the ethics of causing a sentient being pain - and into carbon foot-prints.). Food from plants (American* attitude towards plants: "That's what food eats!") tastes extremely good - and has all the requisite proteins and carbohydrates . And it does not need animals fed with what lots of people on this planet cannot afford.

In my younger days, when mum used to run around the house attempting to shove some food down the throat of a recalcitrant yours-truly she would inevitably meet with stern resistance. But then she would say "Think of all the people who don't have enough to eat! You're lucky. Throwing food is a terrible idea.". These statements would usually suffice in humbling yours truly into consuming the remainder of the solids on the plate.

In stark contrast, when I turn on the TV, I see Dr. Sanjay Gupta (that CNN "fitness" mascot, ironically of Indian ancestry) advising the hoi-polloi to push half-full plates away to avoid resembling an obese sphere. Food wastage in the US is as American as that half apple pie in the trash.

A distorted subsidy policy encouraging the conversion of food into fuel has been ranted about before. So I won't sound off on it here.

Huge Mansions; Climate Control

What's worse than living in a castle with six bedrooms, seven bath-rooms, three massive living rooms, two kitchens the size of the average inner city apartment and an outdoor swimming pool? Air conditioning the whole damn place.

The place I have described above is a typical upper-middle class American house. (The more "liberal" Americans add on a little solar panel on top of the house to power a reading light).

I still have no idea why kitchens, bath-rooms, foyers and corridors need to be air conditioned. Air conditioners are energy hogs (running that hermetically sealed compressor kills you). If the whole world decided to live like this, I am sure the then World-President-Equivalent would be Bombing Mars (or something) to take over their oil. (The disconcerting fact is that China and India (less so) are beginning to try to live like this - as Bush contended in his speech).

Other inherent inefficiencies include 42" plasma TVs, 23" monitors (like the one I am using to type this post on), that huge 120 page monster that is the Sunday News-Paper, massive distances in most American Cities, to name a few.

I would like to emphasize that I do not hold Americans responsible for these massive inefficiencies. Americans are rational agents - as greedy as any other average human being. It's just that they managed to create a system of free-enterprise that allows people to get whatever they want. Anybody would have acted like this if they had all they wanted. Not to be forgotten: America has only 30 people per square kilometer - compared with India's (and Japan's) 330.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tibet, IPL and "Earth Days"

It's been a long time since the last post - a hiatus attributed to work and Cable TV (whose days in our apartment are numbered, so the wife tells me). The hiatus (at a personal level) was punctuated by a trip to the Grand Canyon (a travelogue to follow eventually) and the pilferage of our cycles. (Both mine and the wife's). Suffice it to say that the individual responsible for the abstraction of the bicycles is none too popular with both of us right now. We are not sure what we would like happen to the robber in question - we are still choosing between water-boarding (which is not a form of torture) him (or her) at Guantanamo Bay - or getting him (or her) bitten by rabid weasels.

Of course our personal issues fade into insignificance in comparison with what other people are going through on this planet. Take, for instance the recent protests by those "peace-loving" Tibetans against the Chinese government - and half hearted efforts around the world to lend them a supporting hand. The utter-impotence of these protests just implies the following: China is indeed a world super-power. This is not a unipolar world anymore.

The protests about Tibet are a tad bid odd - and naive. Tibet's per capita income has gone up and order of magnitude since the Chinese took over- and more tellingly, the life expectancy has risen from 35 to 67 years. China's autocratic rule, from a fundamental point of view, is terrible - but isn't this mind-boggling economic progress (thanks to Tibet being a part of the Chinese Juggernaut) a form of human-rights enhancement? N. Ram (an editor of the Hindu) seems to agree.

Of course, the pseudo Apartheid in Tibet makes one sympathize with the Tibetans - but in my opinion we have bigger fish to fry on this planet. The exploited Sudanese, the Iraqis, the Palestinians, those Israelis living under the shadow of Hamas/Hezbollah fire - and the millions of Indians and Africans living under the poverty line - to mention a few.

This blog endorses the Indian government's apparently pusillanimous stand on this issue.

And then let's talk about Cricket, more specifically, the Indian Premier League.

This blog has always held that the cricket market in India is massively under-tapped. Therefore, the current (albeit "shamelessly capitalistic" as some inconsequential communist put it) venture gets a thumbs up. Finally, the number of cricket tickets sold every year in India will exceed those sold by the Texas Aggies every year.

Turns out, almost all the IPL matches are running house-full (save, for some reason, Hyderabad and Chandigarh Matches). And more than 10 million Indians are watching each match on TV, making this a goldmine of sorts for the franchisees and BCCI. But you can't please everyone - and it comes as no surprise that some conservatives still fiercely contend that the "essence of the game is lost" - and that the "bowlers have lost relevance" (This claim is downright stupid. What has happened is that the terms "a good over" and "a bad over" have been redifined - and good bowlers can win matches for you in this format!). Money talks better than any loud-mouth can. The people love 20-20; that cipher, Mukul Kesavan's (who the hell is he anyway?) article notwithstanding.

I say that the people love the game with such vehemance for the following reasons : almost all games are running full-capacity; people are addicted to it on TV; I can't even get sopcast to open a single live streaming match (indicating that the traffic is tremendously high); I feel the adrenalin rushing when I see the ball-by-ball update on and a search for "IPL cricket" on google news brings up a gazillion matches (as opposed to "Ranji Trophy").

And let me weigh in on the venom directed toward the scantily clad women (the so called "cheer-leaders"). And I am opposed to the idea of cheer-leaders not because of any "ethical reason" or a "cultural reason". I oppose the idea because the Indian public has no maturity when it comes to scantily clad women - or sex, for that matter. (The recent "refusal" by Maharashtra to allow sex education - in my opinion an unintentional approval for the sexual abuse of minors - is a case in point.). If you allow children to get raped in India (by refusing to teach them about "taboos" like sex) - then how much safety and decency can a scantily clad woman expect in a stadium filled over-overwhelmingly with lecherous young men? And don't give me that nonsense about it being "against our culture". Because, if you do, I will be more than willing to take you on a trip into Ajanta, Ellora and Kajuraho. Hinduism is one of the most liberal religions when it comes to sex. (And clearly we Indians have a lot of it - just look at how many there are of us - 336 per square kilometer - more than any other large country in the world).

I think we're a few years away from safe ("American style") cheer-leading. I expect Bollywood will take us there. And arguments about the "dangers of American-style materialism in sports" miss the point entirely. Can any other nation produce a basket-ball team like the Americans could (if they wanted to?). Q.E.D.

And now, the "Earth Week".

This blog has been severely critical of the free-market when it comes to saving the environment. These "green measures" are just P.R. and little else. Because buying a Lexus Hybrid that gives 22 miles to the gallon is still worse for the environment than buying a Tata Nano (which gives a slightly higher mileage than the Prius). As a matter of fact, the only thing that puts me off more than a Lexus Hybrid that gives 22 miles to the gallon is an identical non-hybrid Lexus which gives 12 miles to the gallon.

Needless to say, the preceding earth-week was a mindless farce, organized by corporate America in an attempt to put a price on that warm-fuzzy feeling one gets when one does something one deems "good for the environment". Corn ethanol is a case in point: once touted as America's answer to rising petrol ("gas") prices (an argument few would go for looking at the pump right now) - it is now proven to be an artifice of a flawed subsidy policy. It takes almost as much fossil fuel energy to make the damn ethanol from corn; it results in third world hunger - and the carbon dioxide emissions prevented by the hypothetical forest the the extra corn crop replaced all further weaken (if not destroy) the environmental case for corn ethanol. This Time magazine article will make the environmentalist in you weep, I swear.

And with China slated to buy 20% more cars next year (and Ford still running a world-wide profit, disaster in the American Market not-withstanding), it would seem that even if we repaced all the weeks from now until infinity with earth-weeks, we will not be able to stop global warming.

This is because the stability of the current "free"-market system is phenomenal. Environmentalism is an ideal; a principle; much like "morality" and "loyalty". Look at what jokes the market has made of them. Environmentalism does not have a chance - because the people who pay the price for neglect either do not belong to this generation or do not belong to the set of the decision makers. They are the poor in coastal Bangladesh and Coastal India; the victims of genocide in Darfur (yes, Darfur has a climate change connotation - google it!) and so on.

However, unlikely as it may sound, I will end this on an optimistic note. The time is ripe right now for some innovation. With fuel prices rising sky high ($120 a barrel right now), clearly more funding must have gone into more efficient modes of transport. More effective public transport perhaps? (EESTOR comes to mind, as does the new X prize, Google Energy - and more encouragingly, the TATA NANO and Tara Tiny.).

Friday, March 28, 2008

Of Free Speech and Closed Borders

Some insignificant Dutch MP is trying to buy his 15 minutes of fame by offending all the Muslims on this planet (all 1.2 billion of them) by quoting some passages from the Quran and correlating them with "terrorism" in his amateur 16 minute movie called "Fitna" (which I refuse to watch).

Obviously, his brain is minute and absolutely incapable of long term memory and logical analysis. I can point out further intellectual and personal inadequacies right now - but I won't. This post isn't about him. It's about his hate-filled, short sighted message - and the utter hypocrisy it is immersed in.

Apparently, his movie shows the 9/11 attacks and the Madrid attacks - and quotes passages from the Quran seeming to justify the same. And then he reaches the audacious conclusion that the Muslim holy book is a fascist manifesto of sorts. He then sees the increase in Muslim population in Europe - and feels justified in demanding closed borders and discriminatory immigration.

Making such movies is possible only in free societies. How ironic that its message, if implemented would convert a free society into a discriminating (and therefore, fascist) one?

(We won't go into other obvious inaccuracies such as the implicit claim that the only terror in the world is Islamic. How many people (non-Muslims) has islamic terror killed in the last decade? How does it compare with 100,000 dead Iraqis? (More realistic estimates put it at 1 million)).


Just to be clear, the Author believes that Osama Bin Laden is a homicidal criminal - and hopes everyday that Osama has been caught - or at least lynched.

The author is not a fan of Islamic regimes that tend to be repressive - and is opposed to them tooth and nail.

The author also believes that misusing free speech knowing fully well that doing so will incite fatal reactions is tantamount to murder - an equivalent of firing a bullet into a crowd knowing fully well that someone will die.

Monday, March 24, 2008

4000 Dead In Iraq

To the uninitiated observer, 4000 dead in Iraq would not seem like a particularly big deal. Five years of military occupation in Iraq resulting only in 4000 dead people? Looks like what's happening down there is love, not war.

Then, one digs a little deeper. 4000 people died in Iraq, because the Americans are the only "people" in Iraq. When it is said "4000 people dead in Iraq", it basically means 4000 dead American troops.

The number of "unpeople" who died in Iraq is a statistic that is most certainly of the order of at least 100,000 - and some (this one is peer reviewed) estimates put it closer to a million. (Here we use the Noam Chomskian convention: people = people from developed world; unpeople = people from under-developed world. This convention is implicitly used in all western (US) media agencies with a few conscientious exceptions.).

A MILLION in a population of 25 Million. 4% of the population of the country. That's the population of Dallas and Houston metro areas put together, if the country in question were the US. The population of Delhi and Mumbai put together if the country in question were India. (The fact that 60% of India is unpeople notwithstanding).

But who cares? Iraqis clearly are not people. 4000 dead American troops? Now, that's a whole different story.

A dead man is a dead man is a dead man. The author of this post laments the fact that even in death all are not equal. Reality is not just 4000 American troops dead. It is probably a hundred times worse (from a mortality stand-point). It just makes me sick to see the disproportionate amount of time spent on TV on the American deaths - when the number of Iraqis killed is a couple of ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE HIGHER because of a blunder on the American side.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Boomerangs Work in Space*

For a moment, when I read this story I was shell shocked. Could it be that all the aerodynamics I learnt in my life until now was fatally flawed? Could the fact that airplanes fly be a bizarre coincidence?

Why on earth (or more aptly, Why in space) would a rotating shaped solid actually come back in space when it (theoretically) was experiencing no lift, no drag (by virtue of the all-pervasive vacuum surrounding it)? My heart was beating faster. My head was in a serious existential tail-spin.

I was sure I knew (in a hand-wavey way that we engineers are used to) how boomerangs operate. Just to make sure I was correct, I looked at this web page. I wasn't wrong. Phew.

So, how on earth did the damn thing come back in space? Does there really exist a God? Is he trying to deceive us into thinking that we understand how a little of nature works by letting some of our theories be experimentally verifiable? Have I been wrong all along? Is he having fun with us letting us think that we know why airplanes fly? By planting dinosaur bones on the surface of the planet? By planting DNA very similar to yours and mine in a Chimpanzee?

I followed up by a few frenetic Google News Searches.

Apparently the (astro) nut threw a paper boomerang INSIDE THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION and was ecstatic that it came back. Duh. Of course it'll come back. That's its job in a room filled with air at more or less atmospheric pressure. (Air faithfully follows the Kutta-Jukowski theorem - creating a lift force on moving airfoils - as opposed to vacuum). A boomerang coming back has nothing to do with gravity. Actually gravity is BAD for a boomerang as it might hit the ground before coming back - therefore not completing a cycle.

This basically tells me that astronauts are only semi-educated in science - and are far from the "best of the best" that NASA proudly proclaims they are.

And .. Oh Yeah.. There's still no god.

* Where space is defined as any volume within the international space station.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nasik's Ethnic Cleansing

The fragility of India's democratic structure scares me. A functional democracy in one of the world's poorest and most illiterate societies is nothing short of a miracle; It is indeed a bigger miracle that India hasn't fragmented into gazillion little pieces (like Europe has) - so the Recent brand of divisive politics played by Raj Thakeray (and his minions) does not surprise as much as it disappoints me.

National unity, it turns out, is a relatively liberal* ideal. (Any idea that requires people to think beyond their narrow immediate self-interest, is, in my opinion, liberal). And liberalism (as I have noted on numerous occasions) is something that the average poor man just cannot afford the luxury of. Petty regionalism will almost always seem more attractive. And that's why India seems an enigma to me.

I noted (in a sanguine note, it turns out) in my previous post that Mr. Thakeray's campaign in Mumbai would implode against him. Certainly his campaign is pretty impotent in Mumbai (with 4 million North Indains out of 20million people, this whole idea was a non-starter). But there's 76million other people in Maharashtra whose emotions are extremely amenable to manipulation.

I spent 10+ years of my life calling Nasik my Hometown. But Mr. Thakeray's buffoonery has more or less destroyed the city's creidibility: driving out 30,000 North Indians. In my mind this is plain ethnic cleansing. If 30,000 out of Nasik's 1.4 million are kicked out, this scales up to 3 million out of Maharashtra's 100 million. This is nothing short of a Humanitatian Disaster - remember Clinton went to war with Milosevic over 400,000 refugees? This is a humaniatian disaster.

In my book, this is ethnic cleansing - plain and simple. The only thing that separates this downright Lunatic Raj Thakeray from Hitler is a few gas chambers. It is a shame that news media is balking from drawing parallels between these two mad-men.

I might have railed against the follies and inequities of dividing the planet into little nations in previous posts, but here's a concession that I need to make: Nationality is a certainly a more broad minded (and therefore more equitable) notion than regionalism - the lesser evil, if you will. And hence, the necessity of patriotism - though I hate to say it.

Nobody has ever told me that I am not wanted here in the US. Neither implicitly nor explicitly. It turns out that there's a significant likelihood that they (the locals) might cleanse me ethnically if I drop anchor somewhere in India, say, Nasik. (I am not a local to any specific place, having been here, there and everywhere.). How ironic.


* Patriotism would be a liberal ideal in a nation where regionalism is rife, like in India. But patriotism in the developed world is secretly frowned upon by the intellegensia as it is often considered a form of pandering to the more base instincts of the hoi-polloi.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Comment Issues

For some reason beyond logical comprehension, the previous post does not have a comment section.

I request people to leave all pertinent comments on the comments section of this post instead. I am unable to enable comments on that post right now.

I have absolutely no clue why this has happened. I am confounded.

Ethnic Cleasing in Mumbai? Give me a break.

Mumbai is a city of 21 million people; arguably one of the world's most diverse and cosmopolitan cities. It has among the highest population densities on the planet; it has the one of the world's largest slums; approximately 100,000 prostitutes; the world's most over-burdened sub-urban railway system and a film industry that makes more movies than Hollywood in a given year.

And if the developments in the last few days are considered, we realize that there's no shortage of imbeciles in Mumbai either. And I speak of none other than one "Raj Thakeray"; a political cipher trying to emulate his uncle's (Bal Thakeray's) openly racist and divisive politics (with only limited success). His passionate efforts to rid Mumbai of North Indian immigrants are so doomed from day one that it will be extremely enjoyable to see his entire movement implode.

Here's why. Let's consider some numbers now:

With 20% of the population of Mumbai being North Indians, Mr Thakeray has confronting him the unenviable task of deporting 4 million people, (which is half the popluation of Israel if anyone's keeping count). If he manages to do this without much bloodshed, then this would be a first in the history of humanity. And if he does manage to do this, I am sure some American politicians (and Lou Dobbs) would give an arm and a leg to learn how to repeat this feat with Mexican "illegal" immgirants (12 million of whom seem to have set permanent anchor in the US).

So, how would Mr. Thakeray go about this task?

Certainly, the most practical way out of Mumbai would be by train. Mr. Thakeray would have to give away each one of those 4 million people one-way tickets home. Some of those tickets will have to be air-conditioned. I know a few North Indians who would rather die than travel in three tier during the summer. And once the train reaches wherever it is supposed to, he must sabotage its engine such that it never comes back. (But this m.o. involves sacrificing a Marathi Saboteur - a suicide Saboteur, if you will - for an enraged North-Indian public will certainly lynch the gentleman in question.). This venture is unlikely to be financially lucrative either. Mr. Thakeray will have to spend an average of Rs. 500 per ticket - a grand total of 4million x 500 = Rs 2 billion. (The option of advertising on the train will be of little use too, since he does not expect those people to come back to Mumbai).

Clearly, this is not a tenable solution. Even if Mr. Thakeray were to procure the money by begging, borrowing or stealing, (the latter being the most probable) most North Indians would either

(a) Not go, sell the ticket to someone else (and ask them to change their name while traveling)
(b) Go, say Hi to Mum and come back

leaving his scheme doomed, like one of Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge's bizarre capitalistic ventures.

Mr. Thakeray could consider going to each house and weeping in front of the principal bread-winners. He could sob (in Marathi) "You're taking opportunities away from my people. Please, starve your family for my people's sake. Please be humane.". Alas, this scheme would only give him a black eye on lucky days.

He could try putting an economic squeeze by holding businesses in ransom from doing business with North Indians. This again is unlikely to work, since a majority of the businesses are not run by Marathi. This, as a matter of fact is bound to back-fire.

And, finally, one hopes, it will dawn upon Mr. Thakeray that only a simultaneous repeal-ment of the entire Indian constitution and the second law of thermodynamics will allow his fantasy to come true. But given that politics is all about inciting emotions, Mr. Thakeray is doing the rational thing.

The second law of thermodynamics talks about "spontaneity" - whenever there is a disparity, things tend to try to even out. (If they wouldn't try to even out, then there wouldn't have been a disparity in the first place.) That's why Mexicans come by the millions ("illegally") to the US; That's why Bangladeshis come by the millions to India - and people migrate by the millions to Urban Areas like Mumbai.

There is little one can do to stop free will, as Mr Thakeray will no doubt learn.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Corruption, Bird Flu and India

A quick rant (I've got a Dynamical Systems class in 20 minutes):

That corruption is the biggest threat facing the third world is emphasized by the fact that people are shielding infected chicken from culling - and also by the fact the government is just plainly unable to take any significant action.

And when corruption comes with incompetence (children being fed eggs and chicken curry in Bengal) then it is quite evident that society is in a suicidal tailspin, 9% growth rates notwithstanding.

The sooner we convert to a greedy capitalistic society, the better. If everyone really does a good job of looking out for themselves - such blatant incompetence will not proliferate.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The New York Model

We recently made our annual Christmas pilgrimage to the great American "North-East" - the New York Metro area. The trip was one of contrasts: the serene isolation of Princeton at one end of the spectrum and the bustling multitudes of Manhattan at the other.

Manhattan is a tiny island which houses 1.2 million people - a staggering population density of 26,000 per square kilometer - a ratio similar to that of another financial hub, Mumbai, the densest city in the world. (Why New York City is not in the top twenty list in population density is because its other "boroughs", Staten Island, Queens, The Bronx and Brooklyn are relatively sparsely populated - though dense by American Standards.).

Our trip to New York city was punctuated by suppressed restroom-visiting urges. The damned place is filled to the brim with establishments doing their best to cram a pretzel, a hot dog or a burger of some sort into your throat - but their attitudes towards letting one relieve oneself in the privacy of a urinal leave a lot to be desired. In New York city, it is fair to say that one is more or less water-tight.

The life-line of the city is the sub-way. With such phenomenal population densities, it would be unimaginable if New Yorkers drove like the average American. If almost every grown adult in Manhattan had a vehicle (something like the average Dallas or Houston inhabitant), the resulting chaos on the street would probably make Bangalore streets look as lonely as Siberia. New York relies on its sub-way - all 229 miles of it - almost exclusively to get its people from Point A to Point B - often via Points C,D and F - but never in more than half an hour. The Sub-way is unobtrusively underground in Manhattan - and operates each and every hour of the day, every day of the year.

Turns out, we experienced almost all the cliches associated with subway riding in New York City. Grumpy passengers who utter expletives into infinity when their foot is inadvertently trampled upon; broken down ticket vending machines (which accept every cash denomination except the one you have in your wallet); book shop clerks reluctant to break a $10 (change is worth its weight in gold, apparently in NYC); noisy infants raising a racket in the train; condescending reservation booth attendants (who love informing the masses that they don't accept credit cards)...

Housing in Manhattan is compact - and the average person lives in a minuscule (but optimally designed) apartment. Apartments are invariably in multiple story buildings - and bungalows as a concept do not exist in Manhattan. Groceries are sold in small roadside shops - and not in those walmartish monstrosities that have proliferated elsewhere in the US. A new trend is to get groceries delivered home - after shopping for the same over the internet- but one does not get "the everyday low price". But all that being said, the average Manhattan Dweller earns much more than the average New-Yorker.

Consider, on the other hand that epitome of American prosperity, Dallas, Texas. Dallas houses are nothing short of palaces - all (invariably) centrally air-conditioned in summer and centrally heated in winter. Dallas residents are ostracized from society unless they possess one of them vehicle thingamajigs. (For the area is so tremendous that the apology that they have for "public transport" is almost laughable at). It is no surprise to see that the average Dallas Resident consumes 16,000 (kW-hr) units of electricity a year; wheras the average New Yorker consumes only 5000: and this includes the obscene lighting excesses at Times Square at night! Remember, New York is miserably cold (much colder than Dallas) in Winter and just a little cooler than Dallas in Summer. And now considering the biggest offender: petrol (Gas to the American). The average New-Yorker hardly uses any petrol directly, wheras the Dallas resident almost swallows it by the bucketful.

Dense developed cities such as NYC, Chicago, Tokyo and London are marvels of efficiency - their entire infrastructure system: the water supply, the emergency management, the waste management is nothing short of a modern wonder.

Common sense tells us that the future of Indian cities is going to be just like New York. I feel fears of an imminent infrastructure crisis hastened by the arrival of one "Tata Nano" are ill founded in the long run. And I would believe the additional pressure imposed by the likes of the people's car on the infrastructure will just hasten the eventual completion of Mass Rapid Transit Systems.

To me, the trip to New York was an eye opener. It made me optimistic about the future of India - for New-York style population densities are common in India. And evidence that things are moving in the right direction: the New Delhi Metro - and the initiatives to mimic the same in all other cities. We're not headed for an armageddon with Nanos flooding the streets in these big cities: trust me, the free market will see to it (because parking prices and fuel prices will sky-rocket, creating a significant dis-incentive from using personal transport). People will find keeping vehicles in the cities as expensive as New Yorkers find keeping cars. The future still looks bright!