Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cash for clunkers is not Green

You get a rebate of $4500 from the US government if you turn in your old low mileage vehicle for compaction and purchase a new high mileage vehicle. It is being touted by almost everyone as a smart idea. A green initiative.

I have my misgivings about the whole plan.

(1) Since a clunker has a low mileage, the high cost of refueling the thing acts as a disincentive from driving long distances.

(2) Since the new vehicle has high mileage, (and is in all probability much safer than the clunker in question) will that not increase the amount of joy rides? More vacations to Yellowstone from Texas? Since the economic need for car-pooling to work reduces, will people not feel tempted to just go it alone and keep their routines flexible?

(3) And here's the most important issue. If you were using your clunker, you would not be purchasing a new vehicle. Building and transporting a new vehicle constitutes ~ 30% of its lifetime energy costs. So, by tempting people to get rid of their clunkers and replace them with high mileage Prius-types, you are inadvertently creating a spike in greenhouse gas emissions.

I intend to elaborate on point 3 a little while later, with actual figures regarding the energy consumption (carbon footprint, if you will) of manufacture of vehicle.

Cash for clunkers is far from green. It is a stimulus program aimed at rewarding bad behavior, little else. As a matter of fact, the only way legislation can be green is if it mandates steep fuel taxes / energy costs. (I am pessimistic about cap-n-trade.It might have a tough time getting passed in the US senate, what with climate change denial being quite the rage in republican circles these days.).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Frisk 'em all

This was a bad month for the great Indian VIP ego. Things started with an American airline (Continental) frisking Dr. Abdul Kalam, India's most popular president ever (who was not popular enough with the politicians because he had a conscience, so was consigned to just one term, but that's a different story. The post of the president in India is as redundant as the appendix in humans, but that is another different story.). Everyone except Dr. Kalam himself seemed quite outraged about the whole thing. Is it not arrogant on the part of the lowly employees of a commercial airline to frisk a former head of the state of the world's largest democracy? Does Indian Airlines ever frisk Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton? This is clearly American arrogance!

The only reason that Indian Airlines does not frisk former American heads of state on visits to India is that they don't fly Indian Airlines. They do not fly Continental airlines either. Their country considers them important enough to fly them using either in Air Force One or some other state plane. If India does not care enough about her former heads of state and lets them travel like the common man, then the former head of state must be treated like a common man wherever he goes -especially when the person in question goes abroad, where there is little face recognition.

Every airline based in India must frisk any traveling VVIP, if it is also frisking the common man. And the VVIP must sit down and enjoy it. If the VVIP feels outraged and creates a fuss then he must be detained. Indians are reluctant to do so. Most people have this fear of the VVIP, the feeling that they're better than us somehow. It was this servile mentality that got the Indian parliament attacked a few years ago. The parliamentarians felt insulted when their vehicles were checked. If India needs to be taken seriously as a democracy, we must reaffirm our commitment to the notion that all people are equal. Some are not more equal than others.

And let's come to the whining by King Khan, India's most famous actor, who was detained in Newark because his name appeared in a watch list. It happens to everyone, Mr. Khan. You are not alone. Don't whine about it. None of your fundamental rights were violated. America is justifiably worried about people who enter it (especially after 9/11). Increased security is probably the best way to deal with it - it creates only minimal inconvenience and does not kill people in far-away lands (like other methods adopted by the US do). The TSA dude screening you did not know who you were. He did not see your movies. It's possible. You're not that famous here. You're one of us. Deal with it.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

If you have the flu now

... it's probably the swine flu. Go ahead. Get checked.

Looks like the pandemic has spread its tentacles into India. Here's to hoping that this will be nothing like 1918.

Why do Indian Professors in the US work on Weapons?

Anybody who is living right now should have realized that

(a) War is miserable - especially for people that are being bombed.
(b) A significant proportion of current wartime death is being brought about by America's military misadventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and now (alas) Pakistan.

Professors are supposed to be smart. They should be the first to understand this point. Especially professors who began their learning career elsewhere - say at some IIT in India. This is because (a) they are smarter than the average human being (by mere virtue of them being professors) (b) They are not subjected to the patriotic propaganda that Americans have been subject to.

So there's essentially two possibilities.

One. Maybe there is not anything unethical with killing millions of innocent people in war (I kid you not, the Iraq death toll alone exceeds a million) in order to achieve ill-defined goals. Maybe I've been wrong all along. Maybe there's something to be said for the Limbaugh-Bolton-Cheney worldview which I have not been able to fathom. Maybe these smart professors know something that I don't.

Two. Maybe the professors are doing what is best for their career, treating money from the military as they would money from other sources. Their families won't feed themselves after all. Since the money only implicitly tainted, most people won't know the difference. And since this taint is that implicit, it's nothing that going to a church/temple/mosque won't solve.

I don't have anything against the poor joining the military in the US. They're doing this because they are convinced that they're doing the right thing for god and country. They are doing this because they are convinced that the other side is evil. Military recruits in the US (much like anywhere else) are overwhelmingly lower middle class. They are doing this for opportunity - and also because they been subjected to propaganda from the get-go. I'm not judging these people who are convinced they're doing the right thing. They are brave enough to put their lives on the line for a cause they believe in. They are more victim than oppressor. I am also willing to give professors who were educated entirely in the US the benefit of the doubt.

But professors who underwent a significant amount of education beyond the US borders are a different story. They have a choice to take a conscientious stand. Some refuse to work on military projects. A tip of my hat to them. But some sell their souls and participate in the mass goring of people elsewhere. And in my book, they rank lower than GS employees.