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.