Monday, October 12, 2009

Crazy Signage.

These crazy signs on from all around the world are sure to crack you up. My personal favorite: WARNING Trespassers will be prostituted. Hehe.

Check em' out here!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Paul Van Dyk - Nothing but you (Cirrus Mix).

I've never really been a fan of trans music but this one by Paul Van Dyk has an awesome tune.


Friday, October 2, 2009

S.L. Kirloskar on Mahatma Gandhi

Last night, as I was reading some of the blogs I follow, I found this fascinating account of India's history by one of first few entrepreneurs, S. L. Kirloskar. One incident in his life in particular caught my attention – his meeting with Mahatma Gandhi.

Today, October the 2nd is Mahatma Gandhi's birthday and his birthday is being celebrated all over the country – especially in Gujarat which has kept the prohibition on liquor based on Gandhi's ideas, I thought it would be instructive to understand Kirloskar's evaluation of Gandhian philosophy and the reasons for his judgment.

Some background: During the Indian independence movement, Gandhi had popularized a small wooden spinning-wheel known as the Charkha which spun Khaddar cloth. His purpose in doing so was to discourage the use of foreign goods among Indians and promote local, Indian made goods. The Charkha in the early 1920's in India was a real patriotic symbol. Gandhi then introduced a competition in April 1931 to improve the charkha and laid down the rules of competition that the desired charkha "could be run by one person and which would produce 15,000 yards of 40-count yarn within 8 hours of working." An engineer working under Kirloskar's father had though of an ingenious simple machine doing exactly what was required by the competition. However, the engineer later received a letter informing him that Mahatma Gandhi "did not approve of the charkha". Kirloskar, his father, the engineer and an entourage went to meet Gandhi to find out why he had not approved of the Charkha in spite of the fact that it fulfilled all the requirement as laid down in the competition.

The following is the conversation that they had according to Kirloskar:

Gandhi: "Your charkha is good but I felt it is more like a modern machine than a simple device. I did not want a machine."

Mr. X: "You had stipulated how much output you expected from the new charkha, but you never laid down a condition that it should not look like a machine."

Gandhi: "I agree with you. But we must consider that it is the uneducated villager who is going to use this charkha. You know how scared villagers are of anything that looks like a machine."

Kirloskar's dad: "I know how scared the farmers get of new machines. But they also get used to them; and if their experience convinces them of their benefits they enthusiastically use machines. Farmer's now-a-days use bicycles, sewing machines and even pumping sets. So, in my opinion, once they know the benefits of this new charkha they will accept it."

Gandhi: "And supposing, your charkha breaks down?"

Mr. Y: "We guarantee immediate attention for its repairs and will also make the spare parts available"

Gandhi: "I know you would but what I had visualized was a Charkha of my dreams, so simple in construction and operation that even a village carpenter should be able to make one. I don't think your charkha is according to my dream."

Kirloskar: "Then the best way for you was to give us a blue-print of your Dream-charkha."

Kirloskar expands on the conversation elsewhere in his book saying:

"And here lay the heart of my difference of opinion with Mahatma Gandhi and his followers. Like Papa before me, I am, have always been and shall always be, a "machine man". I see the machine as the friend and helper of man, not as a demon devised for man's economic and spiritual destruction, which is the way Gandhians regard it. Our own experience had conclusively proved the benefits which thousands of farmers derived from our ploughs, our pumps, our crushers and shellers and other labour-saving devices. Were we now to scrap all these benefits and revert to the traditional reliance on human and animal muscle-power, with all its slowness and inefficiency? No. a hundred time No! On the contrary I was convinced that India needed machines and prime movers in thousands. And what applied to agriculture, I would equally apply to textiles. If pumps and cane-crushers and groundnut-shellers were good for our economy could spinning-frames and power-looms be bad? I could find no virtue in the slow and tedious spinning of yarn by human finger-power."

Personally, Gandhi has never had any influence on my thinking whatsoever. Call it blasphemy, but I really do think his philosophy is pretty nasty. I do not think that one should offer another cheek when one is slapped right across the face. I think evil should be labeled as evil and fought every step along the way. Imagine the absurdity of telling the Jews during WWII to surrender to Hitler, have their lives wrecked on the hope that Hitler the monster would feel any remorse and based on that remorse would stop the war and leave the Jews alone. Would anybody make such an insane claim? Well, the answer to that question is a resounding "Yes" and the man who offered that advice was unsurprisingly -- Gandhi himself. He said:

"I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions...If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them."

Here is what Ayn Rand had to say about dealing with force and tyranny:

"When someone comes at you with a gun, if you have an ounce of self-esteem, you answer with force, never mind who he is or who's standing behind him. If he's out to destroy you, you owe it to your own life to defend yourself."

If Indians view the occasion of Gandhi Jayanthi with respect and hope – if it represents everything good Indians would like to see their country achieve, one should not only take the time to really get to know the facts about Gandhi but also take the time to understand and put in place a philosophy for living one's own life. My recommendation in the marketplace for a philosophy is definitely Ayn Rand. Pick up Atlas Shrugged and see what you think about it. (For sources on introduction to Ayn Rand's philosophy, go here.)

Without an understanding of the framework of moral principles grounded in reality, there is no way on earth to determine what is good or bad for you, let alone the whole nation. It is philosophy that we need the most today because if we default on that critical issue, there will be a million more Gandhi's on the way offering the same kind of advice they did the last time around. So, on Gandhi Jayanti, as ironic it may seem, do take the time to think who is right – Gandhi or Kirloskar. Do take the time to think as to what makes a thing or an ideology good or bad because in the long run – human life depends on it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Today's Random Thought

Mahatma Gandhi is known the father of India. In accordance with his philosophy, politicians have banned liquor in the State he was born. The man called for non-violence even in the face of evil. I think his claim amounts to, "Don't defend the good, don't kill for any cause even if barbarians initiate force."

Here is what Gandhi had to say to the British people when an invasion from Nazi Germany looked imminent:

"I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions...If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them."

Yeah right!

Monday, September 7, 2009

The BCCI bans galli cricket.

Cricket is the most loved and followed game in India. It is probably the only sport that most Indian kids play after school. Many players who made it to the national team started out playing on narrow streets [gallis] in India. In this format, the game is usually played with a tennis ball so that people can play without using pads and gloves for safety. Even kids in my college play with a tennis ball. Just get a bat and a ball and we are good to go.

Here is the cracker: the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) has decided to ban all forms of galli, indoor games played by kids and adults alike with tennis, hockey or plastic balls!

An official said, ""We are specially warning children playing cricket without wearing shoes, pads and gloves, or using tennis balls or any non-cricket ball — stop it or face our fury, which will be unleashed ruthlessly, by placing a life ban on you, preventing you from watching any IPL matches, having your thumbs cut off if you persist, or your TV cables blocked out of all cricket telecasts,"

Somebody remarked a little while earlier that "It was always there openly in front of the public. The alphabet 'C' in BCCI stands for control…why cricket or cricketers need control, no one questioned. This is the logical end of it." I fully agree.

This is without reservation – crazy! Who the heck are they to tell me how to play a game cricket with a couple of my friends by setting rules none of players accept in the first place? Is it not total lunacy to hijack a game and use nothing but force to implement ones arbitrary wishes? What is even more surprising is the long line celebrities and cricketers endorsing such an absurd view. If somebody would have told me a few years ago that people -- and I mean the elite could defend such a preposterous view – I would have laughed hysterically at the speaker that it was impossible for so many people to give into such absurdities. After watching the global warming hysteria, I have come to see that most people have no limit for stupidity. Even by that account, banning galli cricket is a far cry.

It really is a mad, mad, mad, mad world!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

It happened to me.

I am really, really proud to announce that I have been accepted for the four year undergraduate program for Objectivism at the Objectivist Academic Center. It is "is currently the only academic institution to offer systematic instruction in Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism." I was not accepted last year or even during this year's early application process. I was informed that I would be reconsidered for the regular deadline but I was pretty skeptical. The chances seemed slim when I was weighing it then but I think applying early was the one thing that really helped. Like most students, I have received a tuition waiver and a phone scholarship to cover my costs. I've told a few people at home about my acceptance and they don't really know what to make of it yet. I am not sure I do at this point!

On a different note, I was actually prepared to write the entrance for the next decade if I had to in order to gain that kind of necessary understanding. The course is really that good.

I am a pleasantly shocked with my acceptance. I read Atlas Shrugged in my first year of college when a friend told me that it was ranked second most influential book and that it was fiction. Who would imagine I would come this far! It is ironic that I read the book in Sector 24, Gandhinagar in the state of Gujarat in India where nobody would ever imagine a guy going nuts reading Atlas. Or maybe it is not so ironic because I read it in my first year of college wherever the college was. It really depends on which way you look at it. Another contextual absolute.

I am overjoyed with the prospect of working the staff at the OAC when I go to law school in the US next year. It is kind of hard to digest the fact that I don't have wonder about what courses to take next or whether I will chew on the material presented to integrate challenging ideas. Moreover, if college class rooms are filled with ideas such as "right to food" and whatnot, one has to ask: if I don't get to hear the truth in class, then where the heck am I supposed to go? Happily for me, I simply have to go class and report back to the faculty at the OAC with a remark to the effect of "Here is what happened in class" and they will help me integrate all the cool stuff. Is that awesome or what!

I still do have my doubts about how well I'll do in the course itself. I don't think I have ever taken a course which required me to do stuff like assess the viewpoints of major philosophies and then defend my view on the subject. Hell, most of my education consisted of memorizing stuff that was way too soporific. I am mildly tensed how the training will turn out to be and insanely happy for the opportunity provided. I will, without a doubt, do my very best in this course.

Overall, I am really glad to make it and am also looking forward to improve my writing and sharpen my skills on Objectivism. It's a rare opportunity to study with the leading and rational intellectuals of our time. To put it another way, Objectivism is being served on a platter – if you are thinking of applying, DO IT!

Here is a video by the Ayn Rand Institute outlining the basic structure of the course –

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gujarat’s Prohibition.

I have been schooling in the state of Gujarat in India for the last four years. It is one of the few places in India that still has a prohibition on consuming liquor. If you are wondering whether liquor is available contrary to established laws then yes – it is available and it is no secret. Historically, the ban was in place before India's independence and has continued to stay in place in an attempt to uphold the "values" of Mahatma Gandhi's. The man also wanted to ban beef and whatnot.

After consuming illicit liquor, about 136 people had died last month in the State's capital city. Critics have zeroed the cause of death to the prohibition imposed by the State. The prohibition outlaws the manufacture and sale of liquor in the State. Those who cannot afford the smuggled liquor fall back on illicit liquor which is literally speaking – the highway to hell. Smuggles don't face competition on a free market and as a consequence don't face bankruptcy. Competition absent, they have little or no thought for their reputation when they end up killing people with adulterated liquor. Most people who would have otherwise provided quality booze disappear because smuggling liquor is illegal and even face a death penalty for bootlegging. At least two commissions, one headed by Justice M N Miabhoy and another later by Justice A A Dave had said that prohibition has not worked well.

Undeterred, the ministers are coming up with twisted arguments to still keep the prohibition. For instance, the Ministers have stated repeatedly that deaths by illicit liquor have occurred in other parts of the country and are not exclusive to Gujarat. However, this does not provide any indication as to why the deaths happened in the first place. I think most people consume illicit liquor in other parts of the country for the same reason they consume it in Gujarat where there is a prohibition. In the case of Gujarat, it is smuggled liquor and in the case of the rest of the country its taxed liquor. In most cases, the taxes imposed on liquor are prohibitively high for the purpose of "constructive social change" or whatnot resulting in the fact that not many can afford safe liquor and end up drinking illicit liquor which is available for a cheaper price.

I think the minister's observation that people elsewhere [not living under prohibition] are also dying from consuming illicit liquor has profound significance – just not in the way he would like us see. The prohibition in Gujarat forces people to consume adulterated liquor if they wish to have a drink by eliminating competition while taxes in other States force people to resort to adulterated liquor which would not have been the case in the absence of taxes. In both the cases, the principle that the government shouldn't dictate the way I choose to live my life is conceded. The only real difference between both the cases is that of measurement or of how much intrusion by the government is acceptable.

The question debated is not whether the government should violate both the rights of the seller and the buyer by making it impossible for them to agree to a certain price but what is being debated is how to curb the deaths by illicit liquor while ignoring the cause that led to the deaths itself: government intervention. Without the prohibition and the taxes, buyers would be left free to buy safe liquor provided by sellers. If the seller sold adulterated stuff, he would be held liable and charged accordingly in a Court of law. Cheaper prices means buyers would have more money left to invest or spend elsewhere entailing more jobs and more wealth for all.

Any of this doesn't mean that one should associate themselves with alcoholics and their likes in a free society. To the contrary, one is free not to associate with or not finance their booze. But when the government steps in enacting laws prohibiting trade in liquor – the field is left open for all sorts of twisted individuals to sell illicit liquor without any regard to reputation of their product nor to human life.

The only real alternative to death is the path of freedom. The path where people are left free to think and then act accordingly to one's highest judgment. Man doesn't live by means fangs, claws or the legs of a cheetah. His sole means of survival is thought followed up by action. The government can choose to ban the liberty to think and act on it but it cannot choose to escape the consequences of its policies. Man is man and if one ignores the requirements of human life then death necessarily follows.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Nature of Miracles.

Every time I discuss the issue of religion with any non-Objectivist, I usually cover all the bases I understand best: identity, causality, the "super" natural and mans means of knowledge – revelations v. reason. However, my favorite ground for disqualification of the notion of a god lies in the nature of miracles.

Most people confuse miracles with magic tricks. They confuse illusory tricks with metaphysical impossibility. Could magicians really get a normal rose to speak? Could Jesus really break a normal piece of bread and break into a thousand parts? No, the discussion here is not about whether they have found a special rose that could speak or special bread that would break itself into a thousand different pieces. If there was really something special about the thing, then why would such an act even qualify as a miracle? It doesn't. And it doesn't because there is nothing "miraculous" about things acting the way they are supposed to act. In essence, a miracle has to this: It has to make a thing act in violation of its properties, its identity, its nature. In technical terms, it has to violate causality. It has to make a thing act against its nature – it would require that a normal rose speak instead of blooming and that a regular piece of bread break into a thousand parts.

As Greg Perkins puts it in his great essay, "In short, a genuine miracle requires a thing to act against its own identity—to have a contradictory identity—to literally not be what it is, which is incoherent."

As far as the magicians go, any successful magician will tell you that magicians have to closely conform to the identity of things to perform a trick. If he expects a heavy rock to fly in spite of gravity expecting a miracle in the course of a trick, he will without doubt end up making an ass of himself.

Update: A few corrections.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

An Awesome Commercial.

I've always been a sucker for creative commercials and this one by BMW definitely makes the cut.

The Cheapest Car In The World.

Enter the cheapest car in the world. TATA Motors has recently announced the release of its car, the TATA Nano which has caused quite a flutter among the middle class families in India. It costs roughly about $2500. The great news for most of them is that people will now switch from using motorbikes to cars. Unlike Western countries a lot of folks drive around on bikes in India because it is cheap and gets you from point A to point B. It's great news for them.

Also, the Nano is quickly becoming the symbol for progress. A few hate it because it will cause even more global warming and a larger group hates it becuase it will end up clogging already overcrowded roads owned by the government. A friend of mine had a sharp retort for the later complaint -- "Would you privatize regulated roads or regulate private car companies -- how would you roll?" A no-brainer by all means!

Here is a review by Autocar

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The bizarre airlines “bailout”.

There have been a series of bizarre events over the past few days in the Indian domestic airline sector. What triggered it off though was not. The government owned airline, Air India which was facing dire losses asked the government for a bailout for about Rs 20,000 crores. The government was aware of the losses and the finance ministry made it mandatory for all government officials to fly Air India while travelling on work, on both domestic and international sectors. A couple of days later the airlines popped the big question – "Could we get some of that booty you stashed away from the taxpayers?" The aviation minister, Praful Patel went to the extent of saying that a government bailout was on the cards for Air India with the only condition being that the government would only dole out a fraction of the requested amount.

Watching this trend, the domestic private airlines jumped in and apparently asked to be bailed out with the ultimatum that if the government failed to bail them out – all services were slated tp be terminated on August 18th or worse – even indefinitely if the government refused. Barely a day after the airline chiefs announced that they wouldn't fly on August 18, Delhi based low-cost carrier Indigo withdrew from the industrial action. The government flatly refused to yield and even cut Air India's bailout "which was on the cards" and the other airlines gave in.

In my opinion, the airlines demand does not even constitute a bailout in the first place. Responding to a question in an interview Ajay Singh, Director, Spice Jet said,

"Let me just clarify. You said when introduced the story that the airlines were looking for a bailout. The airlines are not looking for a bailout. Essentially, what the airlines are saying is that let us create an environment for aviation in which the cost of aviation in India is comparable to the cost of aviation anywhere in the world. Today, airlines in India are paying 60-70% higher tariff on aviation turbine fuel (ATF). Sales tax is averaging 26-30% and we are requesting that this sales tax be put in a level of which is sustainable and which is comparative to any other airline in any other part of the world. Similarly, airport charges landing and parking fees are very high. There is a new ground handling policy, which increases the cost of aviation further. We believe that we should be in terms of cost put at the same level as airlines in other parts of the world."

The private airlines are not asking for a positive – i.e. a sum of money from the government but on the other hand are asking for a negative – to cut back breaking taxes which are making it impossible for the aviation industry to stay in business. Praful Patel, Minister of State for Civil Aviation said, "The government understands the difficulties of the sector and also would see whichever way we can be of help. We understand aviation is very important to the economic development of the country but to say we will cause inconvenience to the passengers and to the people, I think, that is not acceptable." If the government really understands the difficulties of the sector and would like to be of service, why don't they simply roll back all the crushing taxes they have enacted in the first place?

The answer to that would most likely be that government needs the revenue from taxes to fund all the programs that they would enact in favor of the "public good". Even speaking only in terms of free market economics and "public good", one could point out that taxes have the seen and the unseen effects as illustrated by Frédéric Bastiat in the Broken Window fallacy. Were the money from the airlines not snatched away then they could have more money to spend on building their business which would result in creation of more jobs, cheaper air fares and more "public good" than any government program could ever attain. If anyone ever doubted the efficacy of freedom in a market, one simply has to look at India before and after 1991 – and what's more, all the fruits were a result of only partial freedom that was allowed to seep in.

But the good as the minister puts is that the individuals in the airlines industry should self-sacrificially work themselves and run a business that is hardly profitable but what's "unacceptable" in the whole matter is that they may "cause inconvenience to the passengers and to the people". Mr. Minister, could we please ask how do you expect any good if you pursue policies that are contrary to man's life such as the initiation of force against private individuals who decide to sell their product at a particular price? What is "unacceptable" then is for people to ask the question: "What's in it for me?" As long as the airline industry is willing to slave away, devoid of any profit to their own selves, for the general public – they are moral and good and to the extent that they would like benefit from their own actions, they are immoral or at best amoral. I think this is the root cause that is literally plaguing mankind on earth. All welfare programs that are eating away the freedoms of individuals eventually justify themselves that they are noble because the beneficiary of one's actions is somebody else.

If the airlines are to stand a chance the next time around, it is the principled stand against such arbitrary power they must take. They should do precisely what they are omitting to do now – assert that the governments function is to protect individual rights from agencies that initiate force which includes the government also. If the principle is conceded that the government may initate force and collect taxes – the question then is only how much should it tax or take away. How much of taxation is permissible is only a measurement with the principle conceded. They should not employ pragmatism by conceding that such taxes are great in theory but impractical in reality. It is not merely the "non-initiation of force principle" that they should invoke but also assert that being moral consists of acting in a fashion that promotes man's life and that anything that thwarts it is evil – and deserved to be condemned to be so. As Leonard Peikoff puts it his famous essay, "Health Care is not a Right",

"This is not a case of noble in theory but a failure in practice; it is a case of vicious in theory and therefore a disaster in practice. I want to focus on the moral issue at stake. So long as people believe that socialized medicine is a noble plan, there is no way to fight it. You cannot stop a noble plan—not if it really is noble. The only way you can defeat it is to unmask it—to show that it is the very opposite of noble. Then at least you have a fighting chance."

Russell Peters is hilarious!

Russel Peters, the Indian stand up comedian -- plainly speaking -- is funny as hell. He has been my favorite stand up comedian ever since I watched his show the first time. One of the greatest things he ever did, I think, was to get Indian people interested in stand up comedy. At least I do not recall most Indians interested in comedy before they watched him. Yeah, Chris Rock is pretty funny and was around for a while but does not make the cut in India by a far cry.

He is especially great with the Asian and Indian people -- and he is frickkin hilarious. Here are a few. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Group or Arrange?

I have been working for my LSAT's from the Logic Games Bible lately and found something interesting I thought I would share. When a problem discusses linearity [arranging or ordering given variables into fixed positions] and grouping [which sets rules as to which variables can go together and which cannot or which variables can be chosen and which cannot be chosen with a given variable], do you first order the variables in accordance with the linear rules or group with the grouping rules?

The answer to that is one has to group before arranging the variables. Taking an example from the book – if I win ten tickets to the Super Bowl I don't start off by putting people in the second, the fifth or the tenth seat. Instead I would first select the group that I intend to invite and then arrange if necessary. Thus, one always groups before starting out with the linear component of the game.

Explaining such an abstract principles with reference to a simple example is really, really smart.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Saint Joe's Magic.

The solo by Joe Satriani in his song, "Flying in a blue dream" is right on. He makes it seems like the guitar is a part of his body -- he is just so comfortable with it!

One of the reason I love this song is not only because it consists of many amazing guitar solos but also because it has an overall tune to it. There is a relatively slower "chorus solo" that he keeps reverting back to after each fast one. The mix makes the music all the more amazing.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Great Review

The article, "Property and Principle: A Review Essay on Bernard H. Siegan's Economic Liberties and the Constitution" by Larry Salzman totally kicks ass.

Check it out!

Update: If anyone is interested in property rights and legal history, do take a moment to check out the footnotes -- there are some great recommendations out there.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Genda Phool

I usually don't listen to Bollywood music but the song, Genda Phool from Delhi-6 is pretty awesome. The song is originally a folk song from the Chhattisgarh region in India and was improvised for the movie. As this author puts it, it is "a well known Chhattisgarhi folk song, performed in almost all Chhattisgrahi marriages. The pains of a newly wed daughter-in-law is being depicted through this song."


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hilarious Stuff in the Mail.

Sardar Jokes are very common in India. They are the equivalent of Blonde Jokes in the United States.

Wikipedia states, "Many of the Sardarji jokes are variations of other ethnic jokes or stereotype jokes. Some of them also depict Sardarjis as witty. Researcher Jawaharlal Handoo associates some traits of the Sardarji jokes with the stereotype of Sikhs being associated with jobs where physical fitness is more important than knowledge of the English language or intellect.

Although such jokes have come under criticism from the Sikh community, it was said that the jokes were best said by Sardar's themselves presenting Khushwant Singh as an example . As Vir Sanghvi writes, "The Sardarji joke, like all ethnic humour, is part of a good-natured Indian tradition and hardly an example of any kind of anti-minority feeling."

I received a couple of great Sardar jokes in the mail and couldn't resist posting them. For the record, I obviously don't see any merit in the claim that Sardar's are of low intellect and whatnot. I have known many of them who are intelligent and confident people.

Here are a few:

A Teacher lecturing on population - "In India after every 10 seconds a women gives birth to a kid."
A Sardar stands up- "We must find her and stop her!."

Teacher: "I killed a person" convert this sentence into future tense.
Sardar: The future tense is "You will go to jail".

A Sardarji is travelling for the first time in a plane, headed for Bombay. While the plane is landing, he starts shouting "Bombay, Bombay!".
The air hostess says, "Be silent".
Sardaji says, "OK", and starts shouting "ombay, ombay".

Monday, July 20, 2009

Books On Islam In India.

Every once in awhile, people encounter works of art or new knowledge which makes them pause, think and admire. One of the symptoms of such an encounter is when a person can't stop talking about it or literally lecturing friends about the profound effect of new knowledge and the anticipation of all such effects it may have on man's life. My first such encounter without doubt was when I borrowed a copy of Atlas Shrugged from one of my seniors. I couldn't contain myself, let alone telling my friends of how great the experience was. I was thrilled, exalted and found tears running down my cheeks in the college library out of all the places in the world. I obviously wouldn't say that I understood the whole book the first time around but even the inkling that such knowledge existed gave me great joy. Ever since, there have always been such pauses; the difference has only been in the intensity or the measurement of such pauses – but the essential principle of furthering human life was always present.

I bring all of this up only because I've been encountering such a phase since last night. I can't stop recommending a couple of books to all and any Indian who wants to protect a semblance of a civilized society which is at great stake today – from Islamic totalitarianism. However, there are many Muslims and non- Muslims around us who would like to challenge the facts itself and proclaim that Islam is a peaceful religion and that Prophet Muhammed is a great man. If you've gotten into an argument with any Muslim about the nature of Islam, you would notice that he will inevitably allege that any verse in the Quran which propagates violence against non-believers is read "out of context" or is taken from some sort of Zionist sites. The argument in most cases gets personal and name-calling is often resorted to. John David Lewis has written an excellent piece on one such onslaught he encountered. While one is debating the need to attack Islamist Iran, the Muslim stops his opponent and tells him that he does not know the nature of Islam or Islamic theology. According to his version, Islam is a peaceful creed and Prophet Muhammed was a virtuous man. To any objection you raise you will be told that you are quoting the passage out of context and misrepresenting a peaceful religion. If you tell him about the slaughter of Bani Quraidha tribe where 900 Jews were killed in broad daylight, he will teIl you that the Prophet only did it because the tribe engaged in mutiny by negotiating with the enemies. If you cite a verse that says do not take non-beleivers as friends, he will say that the Prophet only meant "do not take them as allies" and not "do not take them as friends". If you tell him the doctrine of Taqqiya -- the order that one can lie to further Islam -- he will tell you that only the Shia's engage in Taqqiya and that Sunnis don't. I for one am not prepared for a strident defense of Islamic jihad and Sharia law. From the material I have read, I understand that the Prophet killed non-Muslims if they refused conversion. I see Muslim women everyday wearing burqas which cover their body from head to toe. But no matter what objection you raise, you are always quoting the passage "out of context" and sometimes the even worse "You are not a Muslim so you don't know".

I think the same trend occurs in the global warming propaganda. Mainstream media is full of the "science" behind the global warming theories and how certain it is that we are going to die if we continue to progress. Such claims give it the semblance of genuine facts.

Although it's impossible to become a philosopher, climatologist and a scholar in Islamic theology in a specialized society, I think one needs to spend at least sometime evaluating these claims for one selfish reason only: self-defense. Our culture is full of nonsensical ideas and weeding such ideas out requires that one seek out facts that one has to process to ascertain the truth of such claims. One can do as John David Lewis did. "In answer," to an angry questioner Mr. Lewis writes, "I re-read a series of quotes in which Islamic leaders—as well as a young girl on Lebanese television—call for jihad, war, and death; and I pointed out to the monologist that he must be quite angry at these Muslims for their incorrect view of jihad. But instead of being angry at those who give his presumably peaceful religion a bad name, he condemned me for reading their quotes. This is evasion par excellence—to condemn those who raise Islam's violent past and present rather than have to face the fact that the vision of idyllic peace that one associates with one's religion has no basis in reality." On the issue of global warming, Yaron Brook does a great job.

Of course, if one finds a field to be of particular interest, he can delve into the issue. I think the real challenge is to identify, narrow down one's interests and then really nail those issues down. As for me, I have lived in India and had many, many Muslim friends as a kid. This documentary opened my eyes to Islamic totalitarianism and was a rude shock – to say at best. Ever since, I have been following people like Robert Spencer and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I have been thinking about pursuing and investigating Islam and it has been quickly developing into a hobby of mine. I have decided that apart from studying Objectivism I would also like to study Islamic theology and history to the extent that I can.

Last night, after a few Google searches, I found this page which hosts free e-books on the nature of Islam. It piqued my attention because a few of the books which are offered are about the Jihad in India. Although our first Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, was adamant that after the Muslim invasion, Hindus were treated properly and that the Mughal rulers were peaceful, there was a blood bath in India. Two of the authors I had wanted to read – K.S Lal and Seetha Ram Goel – were among the e-books. Here are a few I plan to read in the next couple of days:

  • The Calcutta Quran Petition by Sita Ram Goel
  • Indian Muslims – Who Are They by K.S. Lal
  • The Legacy Of Muslim Rule in India by K.S Lal
  • Muslim Slave System In Medieval India by K.S Lal

I think my real education in Islamic history will come from Scott Powell in his A First History For Adults which I plan to take in the next year. In the meantime, I am going to do what I can to further my values. I think these books should be compulsory reading to any Indian if he wishes to understand the Kashmir issue or the string of bombings in the name of Allah because such issues can be sanely understood only when one looks into the theory that's behind such atrocious acts: Islam.

I welcome any book or course suggestions for beginners in the study of Islam.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Rock N' Roll Queen.

Here's a fast number that has been buzzing in my head for the past few days. It's from the movie RocknRolla.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Man With A Beer.

Here's a picture of me drinking beer from a couple of months ago.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Loving Life: The Morality of Self-interest and the Facts that Support It

I have recently finished reading Craig Biddle's book, "Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It" and loved it. I think it should be compulsory reading for any just-discovering Objectivist who is looking to understand and integrate the philosophy of Ayn Rand into his life. I've read a lot of Biddle's articles from his quarterly journal,The Objectivist Standard and think of his work as completely awesome. He specializes in bringing complex abstract problems to the readers in extremely simple terms. This book was the first book of his I've ever read and really enjoyed it.

I had written sometime earlier that, "What we need today is not just a defense of the free market from economists; people like Henry Hazlitt and Von Mises did that decades ago but we still see socialism and fascism around us every day. It is the notion of altruism that we need to dismantle and bomb away. Until it is accepted that a person has a duty to live for somebody else, the growth of the mixed economy will not stop nor the growth of regulations until we get to a point of no return. To fix it, its not just free market economics we need but cultural change that will show that a person should be selfish and pursue his chosen values as he sees fit."

Craig Biddle does exactly that. He demonstrates that morality is not a matter of divine revelation, social convention or personal opinion-but, rather, is the factual requirements of human life and happiness. My favorite parts from his book are the early chapters where he is setting the context of the rest of the book. He starts off by explaining the false alternative of religion v. subjectivism and very plainly and clearly reasons that both – religion and subjectivism – uphold sacrifice as the moral virtue and selflessness as the moral ideal.

But what I take away from the book – the thing that made the cut – was his explanation of the is-ought problem and the nature of values. I had never been aware of the is-ought problem or David Hume's theory until now. The theory says that one can never go from the realm of facts to the realm of values – that there is nothing in the what is that tells us the what we ought to do. As Biddle puts it, "But reason allows us to identify facts and only facts, which alone does not seem to tell us about anything about what we morally ought to do. There simply is no fact labeled "ought" out there." If one witnesses a murder, then the relevant facts are that one man is stabbing the other while the other is trying to resist or run away. Hume asked, in essence, where is the notion or concept good in facts? How does one get from facts to values? By analyzing such a premise, Biddle sets a context to the discovery of Ayn Rand and why her discovery was so fundamental in nature. The answer to the is-ought problem lies in the nature of values.

Biddle notes that Ayn Rand did not start out by asking what are values but asked why does man need values in the first place? The need for values arises from the fact that life – any life is conditional. The notion of good stems from acknowledging this fact and doing everything that sustains and promotes life. The only morality that grasps the fact that genuine happiness comes from the achievement of one's values is Ayn Rand's theory of selfishness. The notion of value is not a primary; it presupposes the questions: value for what? and value to whom? Rocks, for example, don't value staying in one piece or not whereas I definitely do. I value food and shelter precisely because my life is ultimately at stake. It is precisely because one's ultimate value -- life -- is at stake – that at each moment one may or may not exist – one has to take life affirming actions if they seek the stuff of good living. The standard for which one judges a thing to be good or bad is: man's life. Thus, all that promotes man's life is good for man and everything hinders it is bad for man.

The other question a value presupposes is a value to whom? I was always unclear what value to whom precisely meant and Biddle gave me a lot to chew on and process. Biddle writes, the question value to whom, put another way is asking: Who should be the beneficiary of values? Should the beneficiary of values be the subject himself or some other person or entity? If we are to take actions that promote life we must grasp the fact that life is the attribute of an individual. To promote life, the beneficiary of a value should be the individual himself. The morality that holds that the individual himself is the beneficiary of values is the morality of rational egoism.

Resolving the is-ought gap, Ayn Rand wrote, "The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do." In other words, she said that concept of values like all other concepts is the grasp of certain facts: it is the fact that life is conditional that make the transition from facts to values possible and necessary – if one chooses to live.

If one chooses to remain in existence, then one must use the faculty of reason that arranges the data gathered from our senses in conceptual form, by the method of logic. Reason, like life, is the attribute of the individual since it is only the individual who can observe, think, make deductions and understand the world around us. If the individual chooses to sustain his life, then, in short, he must be productive. I really enjoyed Biddle's desert island examples to concretize higher abstractions. On the point of productivity, if one were on a desert island one would have to produce to live, the relationship with reality doesn't change even in a specialized society because one still has to produce to live. Other lively examples involving desert islands scenarios occur when he explains the nature of rights and the requirements of a civilized society. Desert island examples, I think, reduces the perceptual data one has to hold in their RAM thus making the reasoning easier to follow.

The chapter on Objective Moral Virtues is wonderfully written and is filled with examples underlying the principle that one can never fake reality and get away with it. The primary virtue is rationality. As Miss Rand puts it, "it is the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action." Since rationality as such does not offer specific guidance, it is narrowed down into other virtues like independence, productiveness, integrity, justice, honesty and pride Examples given range from the dishonest manager who occasionally promotes his employees on the basis of seniority or gender or race and to the "selfish" activity of cheating on a test. The book does a great job of analyzing higher level abstractions and concretizing them into great examples.

Loving Life engages and introduces complex principles for readers who have no prior knowledge of philosophy. If anybody is looking for a genuine book on self-improvement, this is it.

[Update: The first two chapters of the book are available for the subscribers of The Objectivist Standard here and here.]

Sunday, July 12, 2009

That LSAT thing.

Tomorrow is Day 1 of the LSAT preparation in the college library. I have studied some for the LSAT's already and there is a long way to go. The whole test comprises of four sections with equal marks each.:

  • Logical Reasoning [takes up 50% of the test]
  • Logic Games [25%]
  • Reading Comprehension [25%]

    All the marks are calculated on a scale of 120 to 180. Basically, there are four sections of about 25 questions each -- and to get a good score one has to get about 20 questions right on each section. That's 80 out of 100 questions. The test takers are advised to take a sample test before starting any prep. I scored about a 140 in them and that's only getting 40 answers correct! I did decent in the Logical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension section but did awful on the Logic Games section. I am confident I'll do well in all the sections except Logic Games. Gives me the jitters. If I plan to do well, then I'll have to really well on the other sections if I am to cut some slack on the Logic Games thing.

It's about four hours of study per day from tomorrow and I have some real muscle flexing to do.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

College Blues.

I am back in college after the summer break. I've done some reading, listened to the podcasts of the Objectivism seminar and worked some on my LSAT's at home. I am in my final year of college and life here is just too boring! We just have a lecture a day which ends at 10am and we are free the rest of the day. The last I heard, people go to work at 10 in the morning and here we are – done for the day. The final year students have a pretty light study load. There are some projects to be submitted, a few reports on the forthcoming Court visits and that's that. We've been settling in for the last week and I have watched the show, Dexter and played loads of poker with my friends. I think this is just the beginning; seniors end up getting so bored in the final year that they organize cricket matches to pass time.

Happily for me, I have my LSAT's to nail this semester so I won't be quite as jobless as my batch mates are. I plan to start studying in the college library for the next few weeks and do about 25 hours of studying per week.

I've recently seen a pair of Vibram Five Fingers at NoodleFood and absolutely loved them. Also Richard at Free The Animal has an interesting post on walking and why Five Fingers does a great job at it. I usually wear flip-flops to almost everywhere I go; I just love the comfort they offer and also are so easy to take off and put on. But Five Fingers is something else. The safety of a second layer of skin and the feel of walking barefoot at the same time must feel just awesome. Great pair of shoes!

Here is a great song by Kings of Leon called Notion. I love that tune.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Great workout songs.

Anyone who reads my stuff knows I am a sucker for good music and that am always on the lookout for more. Scott Colby, the creator of The Abs Expert, has put up a post of his favorite 21 workout songs here. Be sure to check out the comments for recommendations from his readers too!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Flippin' Stuff

'I've never cooked before but the prospect of flipping omelet's sounds way too coool!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Two excellent pieces.

I've received my copy of the latest edition of The Objectivist Standard and I couldn't resist recommending two excellent articles in it.

The first is "Justice Holmes and the Empty Constitution" by Thomas A. Bowden [accessible for free]. It surveys the dissenting opinion of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in the case of Lochner v. New York. The article introduces the reader to early 20th century New York and the Bakeshop Act of 1895. The case challenges one of the first few regulations that were set on bakery shop owners. "The Act made it a crime for the owner of a bakeshop to allow a laborer to work more than 10 hours in one day, or more than 60 hours in one week." Lochner, a bakery owner was found guilty for violating the provisions of the said law. He decided to challenge it on the ground that his contract rights were being violated. Although his claim was rejected by the lower Courts, it was upheld by the Supreme Court -- on fickle grounds conceding the principle of liberty. Justice Holmes reframed the issue and asked a more fundamental question: What if, the constitution doesn't specify the relationship between the State and the individual itself? As he saw it, it is the opinion of the majority that subjectively shapes and shifts the law and that the constitution does not support any political theory.

Each time, the validity of the constitution is thwarted for the opinions of the majority, I find myself asking, "What is the whole point of writing a constitution in the first place?" The purpose of a constitution is to limit the power of the majority -- to make sure that democracy or mob-rule does not exist. To claim that a constitution does not limit the power of the government is absurd; it means annihilating the essence of the document while retaining the word. It is absurd to deny that Americans do not have individual rights even when the right to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness are clearly enumerated.

I highly recommend the article or maybe it is the fact that I am a law student that I could not let it pass without mention.

The interview I recommend is, "An Interview with a "Capitalist Pig" Jonathan Hoenig on Hedge Funds, the Economic Crisis and the Future of America". Until I'd read this interview, I had absolutely no idea what a hedge fund was and never really understood what "speculating" was all about. Although it is relatively easy to prove that the financial mess was not caused by capitalism (thanks to Yaron Brook), it gets pretty tough to really understand and comprehend the articles and posts that delve deep into the economic crisis. However, this interview is free of such jargon and makes for an excellent introductory piece to a layman.


Monday, June 22, 2009

The Sparrowhawk series – Book One: Jack Frake

I strongly recommend the book, "Book One: Jack Frake" by Edward Cline. The book is the first in the Sparrowhawk series which sets the scene and the context in which the American Revolution took place. In Book One, we are introduced to 18th century England whose various trades are heavily regulated by the Crown by means of taxes and customs. Amidst all of this we meet Jack Frake who is a boy of ten. Jack is independent in thought, values privacy more than hunger, born in a lowly class and has a keen interest in studying. We also meet his rash father, Cephas, his mother Huldah Frake, his notorious uncle Isham Leith and his parish, Parson Parmley who also happens to be Jack's teacher. The parish quickly acknowledges the talent in Jack and requests his parents to send him to a good boarding school to which they flatly refuse on the account that there would be nobody to help with the household chores.

Later in the book, Jack ends up running away from home and through a series of events joins the smuggling gang of Augustus Skelly. The gang routinely smuggles various goods into the country which were otherwise taxable by the Revenue men appointed by the Crown. There are constant rumblings in the public of high taxes and they secretly welcome the smuggling gang from whom they can purchase materials at a much cheaper price. Jack also meets Redmagne, who is a member of the gang and an intellectual figure. Jack receives most of his education from him and is a big brother figure for Jack. In the book, we encounter Augustus Skelly, who as a leader of the gang sets the policies that the gang must follow. They are often referred to as thieves by the Revenue men but we soon learn that in fact, there is nobody they steal from. They enter into voluntary exchanges by men such as themselves and don't recognize the authority of the Crown on their lives and on their spirits. Skelly remarks in his first encounter with Jack Frake, "There is more freedom in these caves, Mr. Frake, than in our towns. And chains – these things – are a more honest form of slavery than the specious liberty enjoyed by most of our countrymen, who are chained to the laws….You will notice something about the men here, which is that the prospect of being swaddled in chains like these frightens them less than being swaddled in chains of laws, of which there are many more links. We will submit to chains, but we none of us will submit to their paper and ink parents!" Book One closes with Jack leaving England to serve an eight-year sentence in the colonies in the ship Sparrowhawk.

We also encounter the James Taggart-ish, Henoch Pannell, Commissioner Extraordinary of His Majesty's Revenue, and his likes to whom the Crown represents all the privileges they can curry favor with. To them, Augustus Skelly stands as the symbol they dread; a free England where they would have to earn a living.

The narrative of the book is the best I've read in recent times. I was even surprised to see a few tears run down my cheek in response to some of the lines in the book. A few of my favorite passages were one's that described egoism so passionately and the passages that described 18th century London, Paris and Vienna in such awesome terms. The reader is also treated to a firsthand experience of "tragedy of the commons" and the "seen and unseen effects of taxes".

All in all, the book was a great read and I just can't wait to get my hands on Book Two. I can say without any reservation, "This, is great art".

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Great song.

I've fallen in love with this song since I heard it for the first time a couple of years ago. It's always been there in my 'Favorites' playlist. The soothing Chinese music really does it for me.

Hope you like it as much as I did!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Angels and Demons II

For the better or worse, I've watched Angels and Demons twice. I felt the first review didn't address the central question the movie asks over and over again: Could one ever bridge the gap between religion and science? Here is my take:

Metaphysically Speaking

Science is the product of observation and the application of reason to understand the physical and natural world around us i.e. understanding the natural world which is independent of our consciousness. Now what does it mean for a thing to be "supernatural"? Nature is all there is even including everything that there is in the outer space. If a star ends at a particular point, then it ends at that point. It is not limitless. For that matter, any entity be it on earth or outerspace or wherever, if a part of the natural world and exists, then cannot shrug the restrictions placed by identity. It has to act in accordance with its identity and properties. If a thing exists, it has to follow natural law that to be is to be something. A thing that is not something specific cannot exist. If there is nothing, then there really is nothing.

Lets consider another angle. Leonard Peikoff tells us in OPAR, there can be no fact of this reality and this world that transcends everything we know. Thus, any inferences from the natural can only lead to more of the natural, not to something that does not exist. Take rocks. If we decide to research rocks, then all inferences drawn from it will lead to only more of the natural world. For instance, a discussion on rocks may lead us to understand that there are different kinds of rocks viz., igneous rocks, sedimentary rocks, metamorphic rocks and so on. There can be no evidence that will arise that will lead us an entity beyond the whole of existence itself. The realm of evidence itself then becomes inapplicable.

Craig Biddle nails it in his book, "Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It" when he says:

"But that raises the question: How can anyone know anything about that which is "not an aspect of nature" or "greater than the universe" or "beyond our sensory abilities"? Nature is all there is; the universe is the totality of it; and our senses are our only source of information. In other words, such "knowledge" would require understanding of a non-thing from a non-place by the means of non-sense.

This is why religionists of all walks ultimately echo the famous words of Saint Augustine: I do not know in order to believe, I believe in order to know."

Epistemological Stand

If man wishes to survive on Earth, then his survival entails a long chain of factual requirements he has to fulfill in order to live. Ayn Rand summed up the factual requirements succinctly as, "One cannot place an 'I wish' above 'It is'". These 8 words sum up such a vast quantity of knowledge that one needs to delve a little deeper into the issue. To refrain from placing an "I wish" above "It is" presupposes that one acknowledges that a world exists "out there" and exists independently of our wishes, feelings and desires. It acknowledges the responsibility that it is the duty of the individual to conform to facts and not the other way round. This view towards reality is known as the primacy of existence viewpoint according to Objectivism. It acknowledges the fact that a reality exists out there independent of our consciousness and that it is our duty to conform to facts through the faculty of reason. The opposite kind is exhibited by the primacy of consciousness viewpoint. It is the view that reality should shrug off the restrictions placed by identity and conform to ones whims and feelings. To them, it's not the duty of the individual to conform to the identity of things to live but the duty of things to act according to their wishes. True, nobody actually states it in such explicit terms but the primacy of viewpoint is assumed in any argument for religion or subjectivism.

Reason is the faculty that helps us draw relationships, deduce, induce, connect ideas, observe data and build it up into a consistent sum of knowledge. Using the faculty of reason presupposes the fact that one acknowledges the primacy of existence of viewpoint; that there is a world independent of us which requires observation and study. On the opposite side of reason stands faith. Faith is precisely this: the belief of the existence of a thing for which no evidence exists. Having faith presupposes the primacy of consciousness viewpoint; that one can close their eyes to facts and pray that reality conform to ones desires. Application of reason, leads us to knowledge and progress while the application of faith leads us voluntary blindness and ignorance.

If reason is our faculty of knowledge, then one looks outwards for knowledge and corrects his mistakes through a span of time. It is pertinent to ask then, what is the means of knowledge of the faithful? Since metaphysically speaking, God doesn't exist or since in fact, God doesn't exist, it is metaphysically impossible for God to inject knowledge into an individual head through the means revelations, intuitions and whatnot. A person disavowing his distinguishing characteristic of reason, has only one other guide to action: feeling. He does a thing and acts in a particular fashion because he feels so. He feels that God magically appeared in his head and told him to take a course of action. He obviously cannot prove the existence of a god, let alone entering his head but that doesn't concern him – it is not consistency that matters to him but having "a little faith" totally does.

Coming back to the question: can one bridge the gap between religion and science? To state the question differently: can one bridge the gap between reason and faith? Can one bridge the primacy of consciousness viewpoint and primacy of existence viewpoint? Can one bridge the rational means of knowledge with revelations? Can one bridge emotionalism with reason as our primary means of knowledge? Can one take two extremes [science and religion], extremes from all different angles and claim to bridge them? Could one bridge clear logic with the twistedness of the arbitrary? Could one bridge the method that furthers man's life and the method that hinders it?

The answer is painstakingly obvious: a resounding, "No!"

Update: Minor edits.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Some of the Stuff Around Me #3

I am back from a trip to Delhi. I've stayed there for about a week for the yearly ritual of hanging out with a few school friends who get together once a year. I've been in a boarding school for 12 years and have made some great friends in that time. Each year, we get together, hang out in a friend's apartment and load ourselves with lots of drinks and surround ourselves with roars of laughter. Here is some of the stuff that came up --

1. I've always got a mixed response when the movie Slumdog Millionaire comes up. I know of many Westerners who like the movie and many Indians who say it's totally not Oscar material and that it's just ok. I agree with the Indians and definitely think that the movie was not all that great. I mean, it's not even the case that the guy actually studies hard and answers questions, he luckily encounters situations in his life where he comes across the questions that would be asked in the game show he participated in. But I think why Westerners generally end up liking the movie is because of it was multi-ethnic. It brought forth a whole new culture, poverty unimaginable by Westerners and two brothers fighting through it. The presentation of the movie was pretty good I admit. However, when it comes to the central story or the theme of the movie, it gets pretty bad. If the purpose of the movie was to show a kid fighting poverty and answering questions in the game show by his own conviction and relentless work and not by chance, then the movie utterly failed at it.

Here's what Ayn Rand had to say about the movies

Today, the movies have gone all the way back to the pre-Griffith days; or rather, they have accepted, on a broad scale, the error that destroyed D. W. Griffith: the belief that a movie is primarily a director's art, that content, story, and cast do not matter—i.e., that it is an art concerned only with the "how," not the "what"—i.e., that it is an art of means, without ends—i.e., that it is the field of trick photographers, not of artists.

If anybody is looking for a great Indian suspense movie, I highly recommend Johhny G. I really, really liked that movie. Although, I don't think its great art, it is just so much more intelligent and well-written than Slumdog Millionaire.

2. Whenever I call terrorism by its proper name, Islamic terrorism, people [Muslims and non-Muslims alike] end up getting pretty pissed. One of the most oft-repeated retort I've been offered is that if Islam is really that totalitarian, with so many Muslims around me in India, one of them would have surely done me in. I usually tell angry Muslims [at this point] that if the Quran enshrines violence [which it does], and the followers don't, then they simply aren't good Muslims – good people probably. You can't eat your cake and have it staring in front you too, you know. But I think we should find something that unites the Muslim attitude towards life if they believe in Islam [to whatever extent that they actually do believe in it]. It was startling to discover that most old cities – i.e. the part of city which is usually the least developed consists of Muslims. Consider a few examples: Old Hyderabad, Old Delhi, Old Ahmadabad, Old Calcutta. These are the ones I know of but I am sure there are more to add to the list.

3. Over a couple of beers, I was introduced to a friend of a friend. He was a strict vegetarian and it came as a kind of a shock to me. Upon some polite enquiry, he told me that his girlfriend was against the killing of "innocent" [as they could be anything else] animals. I asked him what did he think about it. He said he was convinced that eating meat was not a bad thing to do and was sure that his girl would somehow be convinced otherwise. I told him that, to the contrary, he was emboldening her stand and was not even close to convincing her.

She is the third girl I've heard of who is a vegetarian and wants her boyfriend to convert too. I've been dating a girl for a couple of years now, and she seems to have a big problem with using animals as viable values for humans. Of course, she doesn't force me to convert. I think that the animal should be given a good life when it's alive and given a quick death. She tells me that it's hardly the case in India and that animals are tortured on a regular basis. Her solution: meat eaters should quit eating meat which would in turn force the producers to rethink their ways. My take on the issue is that if there was a choice and somebody to offer good, torture-free meat, I would definitely go for it but I am not sure, devoid of such a choice, if one could transfer the guilt of the torturing producer to the consumer who purchases it. Moreover, killing higher animals is still a big no-no. I wonder how will the animals that are never to be hunted sustain themselves in the first place. Consider whales. Even if all the countries unanimously passed an anti-hunting law against whales, there would still be poachers who will kill animals for free because they don't have to nurture them anymore. More so, I don't think any police force could actually police the seven seas. Since each poacher knows that sparing a whale only means leaving it for the next poacher, why wait? Kill as many as possible and drive them to extinction. People and governments alike will come along crying along that people are just too corrupt and "selfish" for their code. Never once do they question their code since resting the blame on human nature is so much more convenient. We've had so many heated arguments about the whole thing that we don't talk about it much anymore. I am happy that she doesn't scorn at me like the girlfriend of a "friend of a friend" for eating meat and lets me do my thing. Still, what is it with women and vegetarianism?

4. All in all, the trip to Delhi was great and most of my friends are on the side of "common-sense". However, there are a few downsides like think "America shows off too much" and the likes. I told them that only seems so because to each country, the relationship to the US is a pretty important one and one shouldn't be surprised to find the US almost ubiquitous.

Anyway, that's that.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Angels and Demons.

I went out and watched Angels and Demons today. It had a pretty good plot with a lot of twists and turns. Although it was cleverly written and directed, (to the extent that I overheard a girl exclaim, "Awesome" in the interval), I have to state the not so obvious -- God does not exist.

It might be true that the Illuminati as a group existed to safe guard themselves from the persecution of the Catholic Church, but I would think it idiotic to say that they are still plotting and are ruling the World. Scientists and academicians don't have to be fearful of the tyranny of the Catholic Church as of now. Moreover, the other thing I didn't understand was the transfer of guilt from the old Catholic people to ones now and actually killing them. I mean, if members of the Church killed then, it would not really justify transferring their guilt to members now and calling it revenge. The movie piles on premise after premise until you stop caring about the whole thing and just go with the story.

The movie clearly states the reports of the Catholic Church on man: flawed. Objectivism thinks the exact opposite. As Leonard Peikoff puts it, "Man qua man is a hero -- if he makes himself into one". One definitely trumps the other and each man has to do the "trumping" himself because eventually, that will determine what kind of a person one will end up becoming.

As of movies, I have long given expecting any great art given the movies that release nowadays. Did you guys watch the movie, The Reader which won an Oscar. I thought the whole movie was completely stupid. The woman lets Jewish prisoners burn and then testifies in Court arguing something to the effect of, "But they were my responsibility!". Angels and Demons was far better and way more intelligent.

In any case, I guess it would be wishful thinking to expect a principled stand against religion by Dr. Robert Langdon. No doubt about that!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Some of the Stuff Around Me #2

Here are some of the things that have been buzzing in my head for the past few days --

1. What does it mean to serve the society or the public good?

Let's zoom out a bit.

Individuals could live on desert islands but prefer not to because an individual can reap a great amount of value from people around him in a division of labor society. A tailor stitches his clothes, Bill Gates makes computers and the pleasure of watching Adam Gilchrist bat of course. Now what does it mean for a person to propagate the idea of altruism in any form -- whether one should serve the Lord, the society or weeds. It especially comes out very nicely when somebody asks young people to live not for their now little "selfish" dream but for the greater public good. I mean, individuals chose to live in a society precisely because it would benefit each of them; so that they can trade values, grow richer and live a more fulfilling lives. But for somebody to ask me in a society, to serve the society [other people] instead of selfishly pursuing my chosen values is total lunacy. Here is what Hank Rearden had to say from Atlas Shrugged:

I could say to you that you do not serve the public good–that nobody's good can be achieved at the price of human sacrifices–that when you violate the rights of one man, you have violated the rights of all, and a public of rightless creatures is doomed to destruction. I could say to you that you will and can achieve nothing but universal devastation–as any looter must, when he runs out of victims. I could say it, but I won't. It is not your particular policy that I challenge, but your moral premise. If it were true that men could achieve their good by means of turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above and against my own–I would refuse, I would reject it as the most contemptible evil, I would fight it with every power I possess, I would fight the whole of mankind, if one minute were all I could last before I were murdered, I would fight in the full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being's right to exist. Let there be no misunderstanding about me. If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their good requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it! [Bold Added]

As Kevin from Logical Disconnect put it: Hank is the man!

2. A mixed economy is an anti-system -- literally speaking. If it sounds too far fetched, then simply take a look at the current financial mess. Something definitely failed. Identifying the elements that failed is the first setp towards repair and prevention of such a mess ever again. It is a fact that what failed were not the elements of the free market process but those elements of government intervention. Now take a look at who is blamed. The evil free market of course!

The cure: more regulations and an even worse day to wake up to in the following years. The mixed economy literally sucks the good blood out of the economy and injects venom into to it. As Ayn Rand put it:

One of the methods used by statists to destroy capitalism consists in establishing controls that tie a given industry hand and foot, making it unable to solve its problems, then declaring that freedom has failed and stronger controls are necessary."

What we need today is not just a defense of the free market from economists; people like Henry Hazlitt and Von Mises did that decades ago but we still see socialism and fascism around us every day. It is the notion of altruism that we need to dismantle and bomb away. Until it is accepted that a person has a duty to live for somebody else, the growth of the mixed economy will not stop or the growth of regulations will not stop until we get to a point of no return. To fix it, its not just free market economics we need but cultural change that will show that a person should be selfish and pursue his chosen values as he sees fit.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Status of Property Rights In India – A First Hand Account.

Since I am home for the summer break from college, I've been doing some great legal work with my grandpa who is a lawyer in the High Court Of Andhra Pradesh. It's been a great ride. All the things and lively discussions I expected at law school that never materialized did actually happen in my grandpa's office. I am insanely happy to know that life after law school will be so much more than the boring rants by college professors in soporific classrooms. Incidentally, the case that we have been working on for the past week or so is in relation to the property we own, or more precisely speaking, relates to the property I own. Applying and integrating Objectivism to the facts of the case gives the awesome feeling of a sum and I logically feel the pride oozing through my head. Wow!Whoever said pride was a sin!!

Putting on my legal hat for awhile here is a brief background of the case: My grandpa bought a piece of property in the 1960's which was worth pennies but which later turned out to be a great investment. I mean, the value of the land which my grandpa bought was worth about Rs. 500 then and now is valued at about Rs. 5 crores of so. An Act was passed by the legislature of India called the Urban Celing Act in 1975 which mandated that a family unit may own land upto a certain extent only and any land beyond the ceiling limit would be confiscated by the government and would be redistributed as the government saw fit. However, there was a clause in the Act that said that a family unit would only include the mother, father and their minor children excluding the major child. In other words, if there existed a major child when the Act came into force he or she would be considered as a separate family unit and could own land as apart from the parents and the minor children. Like any man wanting to protect his property, my grandpa transferred the then worthless piece of land to his son (herein after referred to as 'The Idiot'). A partition was executed in good faith and the said land went to The Idiot who later taking advantage of the good faith and soaring prices declared that it was indeed his land and that a real partition was executed, thereby depriving my grandpa of his rightful property. However, our case against The Idiot is that there are many adverse circumstances to the case as The Idiot did for a long time behave like his partitioned land was a part of the joint family property and so on and so forth. There is a long story after all of this but not relevant to the purpose of this post.

Here is case that is directly a consequence of the Urban Ceiling Act through which the government unjustly tried to deprive men of their property which they earned and rightfully deserve to keep. Such cases are rarely tracked and remain to be the unseen effects of such monstrous statutes. God only knows, how many partitions and what kind of other twisted means were resorted to by good men to protect their property – and god only knows how many people were defrauded in ways we cannot imagine like we were in the present case. Now we are forced to go to Court and plead that the partition was nominal and fictitious -- to which the Court will reply a partition is a partition in law and that there is no such thing as a fictitious partition in law. We are now forced to ask the Court to look at the whole context instead of looking at the partition as an isolated fact in a vacuum. THIS is the status of property rights in India today.

Such statutes are the direct implication of altruism in the realm of politics. As I noted earlier, if it is widely accepted today that one person has a duty to other people then nothing stops the government from initiating force to fulfill a cause so 'noble'. Altruism, as Ayn Rand pointed out, does not require one's consent and is far from benovolence to which altruism is equated with today. As long as the fact that living for onself is not accepted as proper and moral, it is only the names and the means of statutes that seize people's wealth will differ, but their goals and intentions will remain the same.

As Ayn Rand correctly noted, property rights are the practical implementation of the right to life and liberty. If man does choose self-preservation and takes the liberty to think and act according to one's highest judgment and is denied the fruits of his labor, just what is the point of saying that one still upholds the right to life and liberty? None! When the purpose of the law is inverted in so gross a fashion, that it becomes not the protector of men's rights but its chief destroyer, who then, in reason, is the guilty party: the man who secretly acts in self-preservation [as a result seeks to protect his property] or the government who usurps its citizens rightful labor? I swear the first thing that hit me when I was evaluating the issue was the following quote by Ragnar Danneskjöld from Atlas Shrugged: "When robbery is done in open daylight by sanction of the law, as it is done today, then any act of honor or restitution has to be hidden underground."

Well said, Miss Rand.