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Archive for September, 2007

This is a great post.

(Link found via India Uncut.)

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There, I said it!

No seriously, it is beautiful, has plenty of great features, and works like a dream. The only trouble I’ve had so far is some compatibility issues with one third-party program, and it got fixed once I wrote to them.

It is astonishing how many people engage in Vista bashing because it is a Microsoft product and it is cool to hate Microsoft; and what confounds me more is that when I ask them some questions I realize that most of them haven’t even tried out the darned OS

But by far the funniest group are the Mac fanboys. They are like the weather at London; it is impossible to try to reason with them (and no, I do NOT claim that Apple makes bad computers). Anyway here is a nice article for those who think Apple is holier than Microsoft.

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I. 

Any one who has tried to change another person’s position on a political issue (and I use the word political in the broadest possible sense) will attest to the immense difficulty of the task. Human beings are rational creatures, or at least we like to think we are, and it is expected that two rational beings with the same set of data and the same fundamental axioms will come to the same conclusions. But we don’t, and the primary reason of course is that we don’t live by the same axioms.

That may seem strange, in view of the fact that most people value a few core ideals like freedom, happiness and social and economic well-being, but the fact is that even two people who profess the same ideology tend to put put slightly different weightages on the core components of their axioms. (Note however that I make a subtle distinction between the words axioms and ideology. Broadly speaking, the former is the set of basic assumptions that every person has within himself. They are his reasons to live, the fundamental goals that all his actions drive at. The latter is his intellectual blueprint for achieving these goals. )

Difference of axioms are often difficult to spot. Indeed all debates exist on the presumption that the participants have essentially the same axioms. So Mr. Libertarian rails on about the foolishness of socialism and the merits of free-market while Mr. Left-liberal counters him and praises eloquently the virtues of job-security and protectionism. Each thinks that his methods will make the world a better place and the other’s argument is flawed or naive. And sometimes that is indeed the case. After all, the majority of people are, to put it unkindly, not particularly smart, or have pre-existing biases which clouds their reasoning, or judge policies by their intent rather than results.

Yet there are times when two extremely intelligent and reasonable people, having the same data and having had years to chew on them, nevertheless disagree on ideology and are frustrated by the other’s failure to see the light.

Perhaps they should stand back and ask if they mean the same thing by a better place?

II.

Let me now include a simplistic summary of my own political axioms. I intend this to serve the additional purpose of being a useful reference for future posts.

The basic value I consider most important is individual freedom (using the term in a libertarian or classical liberal sense, thus it refers to negative freedom, as opposed to the so-called positive freedom). Broadly speaking, I view the rights to life, property and liberty (=to do as one pleases with life and property as long as one doesn’t initiate force that infringes upon another’s similar liberty) as natural rights, by which I mean the following : I associate a large cost factor to any law that curtails freedom, and I support such an undertaking only if it can be reasonably demonstrated that there are ample gains (enough to balance out this large cost-factor) in doing so with regards to other values (such as security, social justice, convenience or opportunity). Thus my hypothetical support for any law restricting freedom of contract will always be on pragmatic grounds – as a necessary evil. Needless to say, this account is highly simplistic, as it does not specify the size of the cost factor and more crucially, how I generally compare gains and costs with regard to different values. The reader who wishes to deduce approximately my weightages for these quantities is advised to go through all my posts ;)

There is a fine distinction between my position and more standard flavours of libertarianism. Right theorists tend to take a more moral/fundamentalist view of natural rights and are less flexible with allowances. On the other hand, consequential libertarians (like Milton Friedman, who I revere) believe that actions which maximise freedom of contract also tend to maximise other values, such as economic equality and overall happiness. Consequentialism (when well-researched and well-reasoned) is a powerful tool because it can be used to justify libertarian positions on purely utilitarian grounds. Thus consequentialist arguments are more likely to sway those who do not believe in freedom as the fundamental value. Nevertheless, I feel that an inclusion of consequentialist principles in my axioms would be a limiting force and afford me less flexibility on complex issues. If I have to label myself, I’d call myself a pragmatist libertarian.

III.

Just for the record, here are my positions on some issues.

I support:

a) Complete freedom of expression

b) (A certain level of) mandatory taxation

c) Legalization of drugs, prostitution and other victimless crimes, including the right to die.

d) Some gun-control

e) Most free-market initiatives

In the above list, a), c) and e) increase freedom, and they can also be defended on other, purely utilitiarian grounds. On the other hand, b) and d) decrease individual freedom but I support them as necessary evils. I should mention here that my support of gun control, being purely pragmatic, applies only to the present-day scenario and is based on my belief that the current costs of unlimited freedom of gun possession are sadly, too high (incidentally I differ on this point with most traditional libertarians, who oppose gun-control).

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Newindpress.com reports:

Several civil rights activists on Tuesday signed a petition saying they were willing to go to jail for making public statements against former Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal.

The petition is in protest against the Delhi high court order sentencing four journalists of Mid Day for writing articles against former chief justice Y K Sabharwal. The civil rights activists said that since they were committing the same offence, they should also be sent to jail.

The former bureaucrats and civil rights groups have joined the Campaign for Judicial Accountability launched by eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan. The groups are demanding amendment in the contempt law.

Read my earlier post on the topic here.

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March for freedom

Ten thousand Buddhist monks, along with many more civilians, are marching in Myanmar to put an end to the military regime.

Related: Wikipedia entry on Aung San Suu Kyi.

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I came across Omniverse quite by accident from (surprise!) a wikipedia entry.

I was intrigued, fascinated, exhilarated. I read on. I dug into the archives voraciously, with the excitement of a little boy who has just received a fabulous gift.  

Marvelous writing, like all marvelous things, has few true practitioners, and I am elated every time I discover someone.

Why did she stop blogging?

Update: The wikipedia entry has since been edited, and no longer links to the blog entry in Omniverse. For those who are interested in reading that particular entry, here is a link.

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If Kate and Gerry McCann are innocent, as appears increasingly likely, my heart goes out to them. If it is terrible to have your child missing, how much more terrible is it to have most people, influenced by inaccurate media reports and a bungling police, believe you have killed her?

It is a tragedy that we as a public are so fascinated with sensationalism and so easily manipulated by mass media. Meanwhile, the child continues to be missing, and I have this perverse suspicion that no one really cares about her rescue any more, except perhaps the two people who continue to hold the status of prime suspects in the case.

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A contemptible law

Three Mid Day journalists are sentenced to four months imprisonment for contempt of court.

It seems that Mid Day published articles alleging that

orders passed by Justice Sabharwal in the high-profile Delhi sealing case benefited the companies of his sons,

thus angering the honourable judges.

Contempt of court is a perfect example of a bad law. It is vague, sweeping, unnecessary and against all notions of equality and free-speech. Court directives can be enforced through weaker and more exclusive means, while there already exist laws against defamation. Letting a court pronounce a sentence of contempt is akin to letting the accuser adjudicate the case. Indeed, I cannot think of any other widespread law that is so fundamentally flawed. The fact that the judiciary is the cornerstone of a democracy is no argument; in fact that makes it all the more important that it be possible to criticise and question it without fear.

In the present case, the defendents state that they will appeal the decision on grounds of truth. I wish them luck, and if their allegations are true they should be freed and adequately compensated (and the honorable judge prosecuted). But even if they made it all up, is there any good reason why they should be prosecuted under the Contempt law and not existing laws against defamation?

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It took a long time coming but it is here at last. Hillary Clinton finally unveiled her healthcare plan this week.

The key feature of her plan is what she calls individual mandate. It requires that every American buy health insurance. A similar law already exists in the state of Massachusetts and is supported by the governors of several other states, including California.

However her clever choice of phrase does not obscure the fact that this is essentially a plan for individual coercion. Forcing an individual to pay money for a service which deals with the well-being of his own body -something that is no one’s concern except his- is wrong, in my opinion.

Most Americans agree that the health-care system needs an overhaul. Hillary Clinton, whose political career has been a mix of leftist righteousness and clever opportunism (displayed for instance by her history of voting on Iraq and her defence of it) realises that healthcare is the issue that will decide this election. Unfortunately she fails to realise – or worse, perhaps realises yet chooses to ignore for political expediency – that the American system is broken primarily because government interference and regulations over the last fifty years have driven insurance premiums through the roof. Plans such as Clinton’s or Edward’s are further steps in the wrong direction. They push health-care towards a heavy-handed bureaucratic system with more controls, apart from being an assault on personal liberty.

A much more reasonable and effective first step would be to distribute vouchers to families that they can use only for insurance, while simultaneously eliminating the regulations on private insurers and retaining one government-owned catastrophic health insurance program. The next step would be to formulate policy that would encourage – for the purpose of basic health needs – a paradigm shift away from insurance. On that note, read Milton Friedman’s excellent article on this subject.

Sadly, the most effective solutions are often not the ones with most political pizzazz.

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Karunanidhi reiterates his views about Ram. The saffron brigade howl in horror at the blasphemy and promptly immolate themselves. (Ok, I made up the second sentence. But wouldn’t that be great!) Meanwhile, there is a fatwa against Salman Khan for attending Ganesh Puja.

I laugh at the farce. Then I realise it is real, and grieve at the tragedy.

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A new start

When I look back at my old posts today I squirm at the lack of polish in the writing and sometimes the content as well. However I do not wish to lose them and so they have found a home here, thanks to Wordpress’ excellent import feature. 

Why did I move to WordPress? I wanted to blog again. After such a long hiatus, I needed to make a fresh start. I also wanted more control over my posts, such as tags and password-protection.

So I am back, and I hope to write more regularly.

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