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.