Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for March, 2008

In Germany, they first came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic.
Then they came for me — and by that time there was nobody left to speak up.

Martin Niemoller

Read Full Post »

In an interesting experiment, two Times correspondents drove from London to Geneva. One of the cars was a Toyota Prius hybrid while the other was a BMW 520D.

The results?

The Prius averaged 40 mpg (48.1 miles per imperial gallon) over the whole journey while the BMW achieved 41.9 mpg (50.3 miles per imperial gallon).

Admittedly, the test wasn’t completely fair. Prius’ strong point is city mileage and the vast majority of the journey was along a fast highway where they drove at 78 miles an hour with a strong headwind. Besides, the BMW ran on diesel which always gives better mileage than petrol (but also emits more CO2). Still, I think it was an interesting experiment and showed that at least some of the claims about the Prius are overstated. 

Read Full Post »

This is rather old news but I got to know if it only today. Elizabeth Whelan writes in National Review –

Earlier this year in New York City, a public-heath regulation went into effect that set a new and very troublesome precedent, one that insinuates government agencies into personal medical matters.
In mid-January, the city began legally requiring laboratories that do medical testing to report to the Health Department the results of blood-sugar tests for city residents with diabetes — along with the names, ages, and contact information on those patients.
City officials are not only analyzing these data to assess patterns and changes in diabetes prevalence in the city, but are planning “interventions.” Simply put, diabetics will soon receive letters and phone calls from city officials offering advice and counsel on how to effectively deal with their medical condition. If you wish to keep your medical data confidential, you cannot.

And this may just be the beginning. As the writer notes, the next stage of intervention “may be a harshly punitive one, with fines and other restrictions on those who fail to heed the health warnings. The message will be: Live a healthy life or the government will punish you.”

This is one of those occasions when my words can simply not convey the outrage I presently feel, so I will not say anything more.

Read Full Post »

Quite literally.

Amnesty International cited a case on March 7, when three members of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were ordered by intelligence officers to take down election posters.

According to Amnesty, the officials forced the opposition supporters to chew the posters and swallow them.

For those living in democracies like the US or India, such repression of free speech is unimaginable. Indeed, it may be tempting, in the light of such news, to view the daily complaints we libertarians make about infringements of freedom in the United States as somewhat flimsy. To me, however, this serves as a reminder about how important and precious our freedoms are, and the need to fight constantly to prevent them from getting eroded. As I’ve noted previously, once a certain level of freedom becomes unacceptable, the bar is lowered and the next act of censorship is not only easier but also more extreme. News such as those coming from Zimbabwe or China should not make us complacent but instead remind us of the importance of our vigil.

Read Full Post »

Two tracking polls, opposite trends.

Hillary vs Obama : Gallup, Rasmussen.

Look at the period March 15 – March 24.

What to make of it? 

Update: Mark Blumenthal points out that at least a large part of this variation can be attributed to statistical ‘noise’.

Read Full Post »

“The essence of mathematics lies in its freedom.”

George Cantor.

Read Full Post »

Ron Paul was perhaps the most interesting candidate from either party. A libertarian, his positions on the economy, the war in Iraq and the role of the government were refreshingly different from everyone else’s. He advocates a minimal government, abolition of most subsidies, immediate withdrawal from the war, repeal of the Patriot Act and legalization of victimless crimes like drug possession and prostitution, all positions that I strongly support. However, some of his other propositions were baffling. His prescriptions relating to monetary control (he would abolish the Federal reserve and return to the Gold Standard) and foreign policy (he wants the US to withdraw from international organizations and treaties) were isolationist and potentially disastrous. On the important issues of immigration (where he takes a highly nativist stance) and abortion, I was disturbed by his stands, which are a complete anti-thesis of the libertarian philosophy. However, despite these major differences, Ron Paul probably came closer to representing my political and personal ideology than any other presidential contender.

Yet, I never really went crazy over his candidature. Of course, I supported him, but it was a qualified support, not an enthusiastic embrace. Part of it had to do with the policy differences quoted above but the rest had to do with the man. I didn’t think he was the right man for the job. He was simply not presidential enough. He seemed more an angry uncle than a statesman who could convince a country of the value of individual freedom. Besides, some of his supporters and associates were obvious bigots and I wasn’t sure how these associations would play out in the long run. To put it bluntly,  I was afraid that his candidature may do the cause of libertarianism more harm than good. I was also disturbed by his strange practice of voting ‘no’ to bills that improved upon the present scenario, but didn’t quite realise his ideals of perfection. That struck me as revealing a certain unreasonable aspect of his personality that was quite incompatible with the demands of the job he was aspiring for. Still, I was willing to overlook these deficiencies … till that fateful day when the newsletter scandal broke in the New Republic. That was the day when he lost the support of most of the sane world.

But this post is not really about Ronald Ernest Paul and his failed presidential bid. It is about his campaign and his support — the effect they had and the truths they revealed. That, to me, was the most uplifting aspect of the entire episode and Ron Paul’s greatest gift to us.

The Ron Paul campaign, while it lasted, wasn’t just a movement, it was a revolution. From Montana to Texas, California to Maine, his supporters were a passionate, galvanised bunch, overwhelming the message boards with their opinions, marching on streets in support of their leader, waving signs that screamed “Ron Paul cured my apathy.” With a few exceptions, they were all young, internet-savvy, and deeply committed to the cause of libertarianism. Occasionally they were loud and boorish – many a blogger has been inundated with hate-mail from passionate Paulites for daring to criticize Paul. But without a doubt, most of them were sincere to the core. This was a grassroots campiagn if there ever was one. Paul’s level of support in the opinion polls never crossed 10% of the general population but it was impossible to realise that by scouring the internet. Unlike the major candidates, Paul had little backing from the mainstream media or big businesses, yet his legions of small supporters raised incredible amounts of money, including $6 million on a single december sunday, an all-time American record.

And that brings me to my point. What could have electrified these young people, ‘cured their apathy’ in their own words? Paul, while intelligent and sincere, wasn’t the most charismatic candidate nor the best speaker around. In fact, as I’ve noted, some of his policy offerings didn’t even make sense. If he could galvanise all these young people who had never before cared about politics, they must have been attracted to the message, not the messager. And Ron Paul’s central message was liberty. Fiscal discipline. Non-encroachment into others’ lives or money without their consent. Live and let live.

In other words, libertarianism is not just alive and well, but in fact strikes a deep chord with those of the facebook generation. It is just waiting to be tapped into by a serious, inspirational candidate with a real chance of winning. That is perhaps the best news that we will learn out of election 2008.

Read Full Post »

Now that’s a cool way to commit suicide!

Of course, there are other less stylish, but equally effective ways to do it. The one that I’d likely use if ever such need arises,  is the beautifully simple plastic-bag technique from Final Exit

Read Full Post »

I was driving from Pasadena to Palo Alto on Tuesday when at one point the freeway started looking rather unfamiliar – too much traffic, too many exits. A short investigation revealed that as a result of staying on the wrong lane about twenty miles back, I was going north along the 99 rather than north-west along the 5. I dug out my map and decided that the best course of action would be to take the 58 West and rejoin the 5. Not more than a half-hour lost, no big deal.

So I took the 58, which goes through the suburbs of Bakersfield before turning into an undivided single lane rural highway. By then, dusk had morphed to night and the moon shone through softly. And as I drove along, something indescribable happened – it was an intense feeling of oneness with the eerie quietness around me. I usually take freeways and they are aloof, overpowering entities. They make their way dismissively in a straight line and are too wide to see what lies beyond them. This narrow rural highway, however, truly belonged to the earth. The road was lined on either side by tall trees, that to my eyes, looked like the keepers of some secret too terrible to divulge. My car speeding at 80 miles, I held the steering wheel firm with my two hands and looked out of the window on my left. The terrain, all the way to the horizon, was washed by a pale, beautiful, ghostly moonlight and there was no sign of intelligent life anywhere.

It gave me the chills.

Read Full Post »

Alas, I cannot give a more considered response right now as I have to get on the road. But I do want to say that this searing, nuanced, gut-wrenching, loyal, and deeply, deeply Christian speech is the most honest speech on race in America in my adult lifetime. It is a speech we have all been waiting for for a generation. Its ability to embrace both the legitimate fears and resentments of whites and the understandable anger and dashed hopes of many blacks was, in my view, unique in recent American history.

The full post.

Read Full Post »

My impressions? It was powerful, nuanced, insightful and moving. I wrote yesterday that this speech would be Obama’s sternest test as a politician and an orator. I believe he lived up to it.

For those who missed it, here’s the transcript, though the emotional impact, I suppose, is somewhat muted when one merely reads it.

Update: And here’s the video.

Read Full Post »

There is little doubt that the Wright controversy is the biggest crisis that the Obama campaign has faced so far. Some commentators have hastened to declare that it is, in fact, over for Obama. There is virtually no chance of him winning the general election anymore, they claim, even if he somehow manages to cling on to the nomination. Undoubtedly, the reaction of the blogosphere has been mostly negative, with some notable exceptions like Andrew Sullivan. Opinion polls have shown Obama’s support plummetting, especially among whites. Posters at message-boards who have already voted for him have declared their outrage at being fooled by the man’s charm and some of them have vowed to make amends, come November.

There is only one way to respond to a crisis like this — to take it head-on and respond. And Barack Obama is going to do just that, tomorrow, when he addresses the nation from Philadelphia in what might just go down in history as one of the defining speeches of our times.  In my opinion, he should have done this long ago — after all, the Wright sermons are old news for anyone who follows the news — but better late than never.

I expect Obama to address the role of race in this campaign and in the broader arena of public service. I expect him to also talk about his own faith, elaborate on what drew him to Wright’s church, mention the words that have inspired and supported him, even as he reiterates his total rejection of Wright’s divisive messages. But above all, I hope that he will say something about the pitfalls of viewing things in black and white (and I am not talking of race here). Far too often we make the error of seeing things through an absolutist lense. People, and issues that matter, are generally too complex to be summarily dismissed with a value judgement. There are sometimes elements of good in the most inflammatory rhetoric. There is hope and beauty, truth and inspiration, to be taken from everyone, and it is possible to do so while simultaneously rejecting other viewpoints of the same person. Obama’s greatest quality is his inclusivity — he can see both sides of an argument, disagree without being disagreable and by extension, I think he can stay twenty years in a church and only take away certain positive aspects of its philosophy. Yes, the tapes and the Youtube clips being played over and over today do not speak highly of their author, but to get a balanced picture of Wright one should also go through his other sermons, like the one that inspired the title of Obama’s book, and I expect him to talk of that.

Will he be able to convince those who have turned against him? I don’t know. Changing people’s minds is an exceedingly difficult task, especially when the issue is complex and etched in shades of gray, as here. But if anyone can do it, it is Barack Obama. He is one the best orators of this age, and tomorrow will be his sternest test.

Read Full Post »

“The sonatas of Mozart are unique: too easy for children, too difficult for adults. Children are given Mozart to play because of the quantity of notes; grown ups avoid him because of the quality of notes … Mozart is the most inaccessible of the great masters”

Artur Schnabel

Read Full Post »

I haven’t had much time to blog this weekend. Ideas for posts came and went. News broke, and got stale. I gave them all a haughty ignore and, with single minded devotion, concentrated on my L-functions.

One of the drawbacks of being a fourth year grad student is that you need to do a lot of research quickly enough to produce a decent body of work by next winter — for the perusal of the grim committee that will go through your job application. And I am a fourth year grad math student. My research consists of proving things — by the power of thought. Which means I work when I think and I … umm … think when I walk. So when do I blog?

Yet, being a student comes with its perks. One of them is that I get student-priced tickets for concerts. So I went to the Pasadena symphony yesterday to hear an evening of music. They were playing three piano concertos by Mozart, my favourite composer.

The pianist was superb. He played beautifully. The music was pure and simple and true. It was mostly joyous, sometimes moving and deep, but without an iota of negativity. It was a bit like the best kind of mathematics.

Read Full Post »

New theme

Muse Free sports a clean new look. Hope you like it!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »