Archive for June, 2009

In about ten hours, I will leave on a long trip in my car to explore lands from California to Utah, Colorado to Wyoming, Montana to Oregon. I expect to be on the road for three to four weeks, and hope to post descriptive reports from time to time.

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While I am not an expert on global warming, the available literature seems to indicate that when everything is considered, the damage of global warming is probably not as high as the damage of the proposed solutions to global warming. That’s of course not to discount the danger or reality of the phenomenon — global warming is undoubtedly real and very serious — but merely to say that too many proposals will achive very little at too much cost (both in terms of actual GDP and in their effect on the lives and cultures of peoples).  The existence of a serious problem does not mean we should jump and “do something”, we need to analyse whether what we do might actually make our overall lives much worse than if we did nothing.

Here’s Jim Manzi making the case against a carbon tax or similar approach to address global warming.

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I am supposed to be writing a paper but here I am browsing through the website of James Milne (famous mathematician) who has climbed many mountains. Particularly breathtaking is his account of his Everest attempt (he was 61, reached within 350 m of the summit before turning back). Go to this page and read the sections under Tibet 2004. The description and pictures are awesome and it is chilling to read the last section where he describes his fellow climbers who died or almost died while trying to climb the peak .

I also found this great quote on his page, taken from some book:

The next thing an aspiring mountain climber should do is choose which mountain to climb. Mountain climbers that are still alive (usually because of luck and not for long) will probably advise that you should start with a fairly easy mountain to ascend so that you aren’t killed or maimed or disfigured. However, that is total nonsense since as a mountain climber it is inevitable that you will be killed, maimed, and disfigured, possibly in that order. So, if you want to climb Mt. Everest first, go for it and God have mercy on your soul.

Why am I suddenly browsing mountains? Well, I’ve always dreamt of climbing some serious peaks but at this conference I met this Polish guy who is an experienced mountaineer and he offered to take me up Mont Blanc this fall (highest peak in Alps but relatively easy climb) and eventually with enough practice, we hope to go up the Matterhorn!

Talking of the Matterhorn, watch this video, and you will know why it is such an iconic emblem and everyone’s dream climb.

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Nicolas Sarkozy wants to outlaw the wearing of the burqa in public places in France:

The problem of the burka is not a religious problem. This is an issue of a woman’s freedom and dignity. This is not a religious symbol. It is a sign of subservience; it is a sign of lowering. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France.

I suppose the logic goes something like this: The burqa is demeaning; it offends my values. So the woman who chooses to wear it, whether out of social pressure or personal choice (*), is not truly free. Thus, I must make them free by taking away this choice from them.

Come to think of it, this kind of argument is a remarkable tool. Sarkozy did not invent it — precisely the same justification is used all the time to critique everything that the vanguards of public morality consider degrading: from prostitution to pornography, taking drugs to working for low wages. But he — like other petty dictators of this world — sees the real power of this infantilizing logic, because it allows him to restrict individual freedom by invoking supposedly liberal values. That’s masterful. Of course, most people do not understand or care about the fundamental difference between the moral and the legal, the personal and the political, social disapproval and actual coercion; thus this charade continues.

*I am discounting from this discussion any women who are actually coerced (by threats of violence or similar means) to wear the burqa; obviously we need to prevent this from happening, but there are already laws to deal with such situations.

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1. I am currently in Hawaii. It is most wonderful. And there is something truly special about doing math on the beach. Some day I hope to find out if it is as good as having sex on the beach.

2. I am in the final couple of months of my US stay. This is not the post to express all the things I feel about the last five years of my life — that would take far too long — but I’ll just note a few things. Doing a PhD, at least in math, is much more about learning than research. The USA has its good and bad sides, but I came here, like a lot of Indians, with a somewhat negative view of this country and over the years I have come to love it and much of what it stands for. I really enjoyed my grad life and I think I grew as an individual — my political and philosophical views got more refined, my view of relationships and people got more mature. I will be sad to leave, sad to no longer be a student, sad to leave my friends, a close ex-girlfriend and a lover behind on this continent. But change is a wonderful thing, in spite of everything it entails; and while there are many aspects of my identity I consider significant — libertarian, atheist, mathematician, dreamer — I am perhaps above all a dynamist.

3. Talking of girlfriends and lovers, I completely agree with Kerry Howley’s take on the issue (stated only for marriages, but surely applicable to any meaningful relationship).

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I had to share this. Politicians are generally fools, and Mausavi is probably only marginally better than his opponent, but there is no reason to doubt his assertion that “these masses were not brought by bus or by threat, they were not brought for potatoes; they came themselves.”

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