Monday, May 25, 2009

To watch this

Niall Ferguson's 'Ascent of money' needs a reading. Or better still, a viewing. It has spent way too much time on the NY Times bestseller list to be ignored.

I intend to do so as soon as I get some 'me' time. Probably will make some inroads into it tonight.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

W.T.F., Texas!

The state of Texas, in an attempt to increase average university grades across the board is considering allowing concealed handguns on campus. This is by far the worst and stupidest of laws I have ever seen passed by an elected government since that law in Afghanistan that legalized raping one's wife. This is disgusting. I suddenly feel like an endangered species.

This bizarre even by Austin's ridiculously perverse standards. It takes a phenomenal amount of brainwashing for a bunch of fully grown men (and women) to sit in a room together and pass a law to allow notoriously emotional 21 year olds to carry guns into class. How on earth can a teacher feel safe handing out Ds and Fs in a class - when it is not impossible that one of the students might fly into a rage and whip out one of those weapons? It looks like that pompous fool, rush limbaugh has done his fair bit of brainwashing.

That A&M and U T Austin said NO to this legislation (the former, a staunch republican school) apparently had no impact on those making decisions. W.T.F. And they call this a democracy.

I am not a US citizen. As an F1 student, I am not allowed to carry a gun. When I did make my decision to come here, this stupid legislation did not exist. I did not think that I could ever end up in a situation where people around me in the univeristy would be allowed to carry guns. I feel ripped off. I feel decieved.

You know what this is? This is an incentive for myself and wife to get done with our PhDs ASAP and get out of Texas before someone kills us here. Because staying alive is a priority. You could say I'm pro-life here. Mine.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Congratulations, India!

Democracy in India is doing well. The world's largest and most improbable democratic exercise is not just surviving, it is thriving. India has voted overwhelmingly for a progressive yet conservative fiscal agenda; for a liberal social policy. They have voted out the politics of jingoism and polarization based on religion.

Voters have rejected non-performing social engineers such as Lalu Yadhav - and have hammered Mayawati. Voters seem to have voted for performance - and have rejected incompetence. (Except in the case of Maharashtra - because all parties in contention were, well, incompetent!). Nitish (from the NDA) hammered Lalu - and it was most gratifying to see this. Modi won because, though he slaughters minorities in his free time, he actually does a lot of developmental work. Muslims in Gujarat are better off economically than Muslims in UP for this very reason.

And this decisive mandate in these elections is excellent news for India. Since India does not have to dilly dally trying to maintain a coalition on a knife's edge - the government will have more time and resources to face the hostile current economic climate. Indian markets will see a boom.

The overwhelming numbers of India's poor need a compassionate government. The American style republican garbage will not work in India - because you're talking about life and death situations here (i.e. if the govt. is not compassionate, the poor will die in larger numbers). Policies at the center MUST be conservative enough to spur growth and generate wealth - and liberal enough to ensure that growth is inclusive the wealth is spread around. And Dr. Singh has done just that in his first term. And now that he has a freer hand, it looks likely that he will do a better job. The left, purveyors of a failed, archaic and corrupt ideology have been thoroughly 'decimated' in these elections. Good riddance.

The hope is that the current elections send the following message to our political parties. Dividing the electorate among caste and religious lines shall work, at best, for one election cycle. To be consistently successful - one needs to keep the electorate happy by making their lot better. (Unless you're in Maharashtra).

Am I being too optimistic? Would a healthy dose of scepticism be needed for my conclusions to be more realistic? Am I cherry picking results to justify my arguments? Am I indulging in a certain amount of truthiness? Please feel free to sound off in the comments section.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A very, very important week

This is possibly the most important week of the decade for India.

Keeping my fingers crossed for a somewhat fiscally conservative, socially progressive, non-chauvinistic government in India, which selects its leaders based on merit rather than nepotism. (Unfortunately, this disqualifies every major party in the fray in the polls).

I will probably not be distraught if either the BJP or Congress come to power again this time. As long as it isn't those stupid Marxists who are doing their best to perpetuate the rule of corruption in India by keeping the multitudes extremely poor. Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that the Marxists are about to get gored in Bengal and Kerala.

Both t BJP and Congress are likely to follow 'liberal' economic policy (which, ironically means fiscal conservativism). And this is the key to lifting India's millions from extreme poverty. But that said, the BJP comes with horrible baggage of overseeing India's latest Genocide - the indiscrimimate slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat. If had a vote (which I do not, because I am not in India), I would have voted for congress for this very reason.

Awaiting the 16th of May.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Dying Newspapers in the US of A

I keep myself abreast of world affairs - by reading many newspapers. The New York Times, The Hindu, The Times of India and the Telegraph (UK) to name a few. If I'm in a foul mood, I get some comic relief reading the garbage in the WSJ editorial pages. But I don't purchase these; I just go to their websites.

If I need the funnies, I look at the Pearls before Swine page in I follow the Huffington post and I see Drudge often (if I want to know how the right wing is spinning things). I laugh at Glenn Beck's antics ( which are often ridiculed on Huffington Post). For quick breaking news, I use google news and For news pertaining to India, I check out NDTV and The Hindu.

A common theme among all these is that I don't like to pay for information. I am a free rider. Since information is available for free, I would have to be absolutely irrational actually pay for these. But this tendency (which seems to be the way with most people these days), is actually posing an existential problem for newspapers.

More people are reading the New York Times than they ever were, mostly on the internet. Not many are buying it. Advertising revenues do not seem to be enough to justify their costs. Every passing day, it is becoming more and more evident that the business model of the newspaper business is fatally flawed. Soon shall come a time when the New York Times will not be able to afford correspondents in far flung places.

And this will be a sad day for Journalism. The New York times is a remarkable institution. It is, in my opinion one of the US' most reliable newspapers. A change in the NY Times will change the world as we know it - for the worse. The times is a liberal bulwark in the US - a reasonable, moral counter to Murdoch's garbage.

I would not mind paying for newspapers if I had to. But a subscription based model for the newspapers on the internet is a non-starter. If the NY Times charges money, some devotees will purchase subscriptions; but most people will just move on and start frequenting other websites. Factual reporting will take a hit (except in the TV).

Another issue is that if I buy a subscription to NYTimes and not to Washington Post, and one of the blogs on links to Washington Post, I will not be able to access that information. The internet surfing experience will cetainly deteriorate.

Two options come top mind here:

1. Newspapers adopt a cable-tv type model, where you purchase a 'news package' from your internet service provider. Let's say $30 a month, which gives you access to all sites that get their cut from the internet service provider / package provider. This ensures that links are not broken.

2. Perhaps newspapers ought to be allowed to have stakes in TV channels (like Murdoch has been allowed to). Maybe if the NY Times merged with MSN or someithing, perhaps their online presence could become more profitable (by sharing resources). This will result in a contraction in the industry - but at least the most important players (the fact-gatherers) will not collapse.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Toying with Minimalism

I am experimenting with blog layouts, as the avid reader would doubtlessly have realized by now. There is something to be said for the soothing effect of a plain white background and a basic, uncomplicated font. I've also tried to keep the page clutter free, and various components easy to find.

I hope this layout stays for a while. I like it a lot.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Pitfalls of Technology?

The other day, I was going through one of the newer editions of New Scientist. It is an excellent magazine - and it gets one up to date on advances in science and technology. One of the articles in the magazine talked about little robots which can climb the wall and walk on the ceilings - a design inspired by the gecko. Essentially geckos have little hair on their feet, which allow them to cling on to the wall using intermolecular van-der-wall's forces. But this is not what the post is about.

The story was very nice, well written and all that. But one particular line left a jarring impression on me. It was regarding potential applications of the upside-down robots. The inventors reckoned that their little robots could be used by people to paint walls and ceilings.

This set me off on a tangent which has little to do with the actual nitty gritties of said technology. Are little robots scouting the walls excreting paint what the world needs right now, with hundreds of thousands of people (especially in the third world) paying their monthly rent and feeding their families with day jobs as painters? Should we, at this point in time, be encouraging technology which will result in further unemployment?

I also do understand that this line of thought is not new. Mulayam Singh Yadhav, head of the UP based Samajwadi party, came up with a manifesto recently (which Sonia Gandhi calls a 'stone age manifesto'). The manifesto promised to minimize the use of computers in government - among other things. The argument, of course, was that computers do the work that people could do instead - therefore, technology destroys employment.

Let us consider a thought example. Suppose a company makes a significant breakthrough in dish-washing technology. It is willing to sell dishwashers that cost Rs 10,000 - which use very little water and electricity (and therefore do not have a significant monthly running cost). What possible impacts could this have on the Indian society? What about the servant maids who labour twelve hours a day seven days a week? Would it be fair to say that technology did indeed destroy employment - or forced their wages down?

Of course, some jobs were created in the factory which manufactures these dishwashers. But these just cannot replace the jobs lost by the servant maids (in number). The argument goes, that the money saved by the people by utilizing this technology could actually go into further investment - and this could end up creating employment opportunities. (You could ultimately start a business if you kept saving money, employing more people). This is exactly how it has worked so far in the west. But the question is: is the same model valid in India - where poverty is more extreme - and when an immediate denial of employment will result in immense financial hardship? (It seems that India's disastrous experiment with socialism for the first 40 years after its independence would indicate that shunning technology is just not an option),

This seems to indicate to me that there's a certain type of technology that opens doors - and there's technology that destroys jobs. A computer is a good example of technology that creates more opportunities (Mulayam Singh's manifesto notwithstanding) - just by making information easier to access. Cell phone service in India alone has created a lot of employment . But robots that paint the roof could be a different story altogether.

I'm no economist. I'm just thinking on a tangent here. I would not be surprised to hear that there's a gazillion papers building upon, corroborating, disproving and downright rejecting this notion in the literature.