Sunday, September 04, 2016

The Ugly House

It was an ugly house.

The old house, and old it was, was an unsightly mess.  Chipped off paint, mold and seeping water, poorly designed pillars, broken steps, overflowing septic tank, a "garden" full of weeds and insects, garbage strewn around, decomposing left-over food, ...

People who had seen other houses passed by this house and cursed loudly at it.  "What a horrible ungodly pigsty it is."  "It should just be razed to the ground."  "What an eyesore." "Don't the people who live here have any sensitivity?" "Are they even human?"

An old man lived in that house.  Nobody had bothered to ask him why his home was the way it was.  And he was too old, and too frail, and too naive, and perhaps even too ignorant, to explain it.

But if you looked closely, and carefully, it was apparent that he had lived an irregular life.  His right arm, amputated, was just a stump.  He had a hunchback, it seemed he had carried heavy burdens.  There were concussion marks on his head, and marks of lashings on his back.  Who had tortured him so brutally?  It was a miracle that he was even surviving.  It was said that he was a slave for many decades, but after his masters set him free, his own brothers enslaved him and tortured him even more.

There was no supply of water to his home, even though he paid his monthly bill.  He was unwashed and so was his house.

He had tried to go to a hospital once.  He was abused and chased out.

At the end of his tether and teetering at the brink of giving up and dying, he was so scared, so scarred, so witless and so inward-looking that notions of beauty, aesthetics and even good health were meaningless to him.

When I see my fellow countrymen and countrywomen, the easy option is to deride them for their underdevelopment and unwholesomeness.  But when I see the scars of their history, the unwritten history, and believe me it is unwritten as yet, of their brutal oppression by their tyrannical masters, and the fear in their eyes, and also the hope that their children will win an Olympic medal, have better hair and a good haircut and will read books not just in the syllabus, I see them not as flawless vessels of glass but as sometimes ashen embers in a clay oven burning so that the jade that comes out of the hearth will be more beautiful and will reflect the sun's rays with more fierceness than the dull deathly despondence of their fathers and forefathers who lived in ugly houses because all the beauty and truth and hope and songs of gaiety and freedom had been robbed from them.

The Rat Race

The two rats were lounging back, engaged in discussion.

The first rat exclaimed: "But what's the point of racing our fellow rats?  At the end of the race, whether we win or lose, eventually a cat will swallow us anyway."

The second rat retorted: "But a cat might pounce on us here too.  So what is to be done?"

They both started pondering over this predicament, and became silent.

It was a grave impasse.  How, indeed, to live if death anyway was going to end it all?

Zorba the third rat joined them after having stolen some cheese and brought some for them too.  He asked them why they were so sullen?  Both the rats explained their quandary.

Zorba laughed.

He asked them: "Are you trying to avoid the cat while going about your daily life?"  Both of them nodded yes.

He asked them: "Why? Why not give up and offer yourself to the cat right now?"

Both the rats loudly proclaimed: "Because we want to live, Zorba!"

"But why do you want to live, my brothers?", continued Zorba.

They had no answer.  They just wanted to live, because that was their nature: to live and not to invite death.

Then Zorba sat down in front of them, and said, "Remember what I am going to tell you now."

"Whether you live this way or that way, death will overtake you.  Therefore death is irrelevant.  It is not a factor in how you should want to live your life.  If you win the rat race, the cat will devour you.  But if you don't join the rat race, the cat will still devour you.  Therefore, the cat is only an excuse for you to not do anything, anything at all.  There might be other reasons why you are not interested in this particular race: perhaps because you want something different."

"But never, ever blame the cat.  The cat is a constant, an invariant in whatever you do.  Therefore the cat is to be disregarded.  Completely, utterly, absolutely."

"If you live bemoaning the impermanence of life, it is perhaps that someone has told you that there is something other than this impermanence, which makes you want THAT and not THIS."

"Beware of those false prophets.  They will bring you nothing but misery."

And then he gave them some bits of cheese.  Impermanent though the sensation of taste was, the rats were thankful.  And hopeful.

McDonald's is not selling food in India

It is selling professionalism, hygiene and process.

Chicken burgers are available elsewhere too.  Aloo tikki is a staple of Indian street food.

But upwardly mobile folks all go to western fast food joints.  There are birthday celebrations and dates in McDonald's.  Haldiram's etc. are doing reasonably well, but there is a lingering suspicion that behind the scenes the bania must be cutting corners in terms of either material quality or training.

In developed countries, where all three of the above are ubiquitous, McDonald's is a matter of convenience and cheap food.  However, in India, all three are scarce.  People go to McDonald's to experience the features of a western developed country: modern machines, quality control, trained and courteous employees, quick service, etc.

Western fast food is unhealthy, though probably no more than Indian fast food (dosa, pakoda, paratha, etc.).  It is the brand and what it represents that makes the opening of a McDonald's or a KFC outlet an event in a small town in India.

One might criticize big corporations for various reasons, but it is clear to me that there is immense need and desire for people in poorer countries for the higher quality and streamlined processes that can only happen with planning, technology and investment.

At least, till that quality and process-orientation becomes more common in the society at large.

Monday, August 22, 2016

My Support of Donald J Trump

Some of my friends on social media are aghast that I support Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton.  Some of them think I am being a contrarian for the fun of it, some think I have changed for the worse, and others, in a well-intentioned manner, are trying to drill, at least in their minds, some sense into me.

I wrote an earlier post explaining why I support Donald Trump.  I encourage you to read that post before going ahead.

This post is an elaboration of that earlier post.  Also, now that the nominations of both parties have been finalized, it is time to contrast the candidacy of DJT vs HRC.

I will talk about five issues on which I believe DJT and HRC have opposing positions, and why I favor the position of DJT.  In the end, I will make some general remarks, and also outline where I disagree with DJT.

Before continuing, I will clarify that I am a libertarian at heart.  For that reason alone, I find most of the positions of the Republican party, which believes in limits to the power of the federal government and a more decentralized form of governance at the state and local level, to be more true to the libertarian creed.  So, even if we don’t consider the candidates, I have a predisposition toward the Republican party.

Let us talk about some of the central issues of this election:

Immigration: I believe that in a democracy, people who follow laws should be rewarded, and those who break laws should be punished.  I know many fellow immigrants who have followed the legal process and waited for decades to get their right to work and stay in the United States.  I know many heartbreaking stories where spouses and parents have remained apart and patiently followed the process, to finally be together.  For reasons of fairness to these law-abiding people, I am not sympathetic to lax enforcement of existing laws, or the policy of allowing amnesty to those who have fraudulenty or illegally entered this country.  If we disagree with the immigration laws, we should change them.  But to allow flagrant violation of those laws, and to forgive those violations, is injustice and cruelty to the law-abiding people.  Not just that, rampant illegal immigration drives down wages and burdens taxpayers for no fault of their own.  And of course, terrorists can enter the country in the guise of being refugees, as is happening in western Europe.  For all these reasons, I support Donald Trump’s strong position of LEGAL and SAFE immigration versus the unjust and dangerous policies of HRC.

Trade: In today’s globalized world, lower wages in a developing country like India or China have the potential to destabilize markets and wages in a developed country.  The business owners like this globalization, and it does enrich the developing countries to some extent, but it hurts the local and domestic population.  It does lead to cheaper goods, but it leads to lower wages and decimation of local manufacturing and industry.  The global trade deals which HRC supports, and which both DJT and Bernie Sanders oppose, need to be negotiated properly so that the American workers and families can hope for a financially secure and prosperous future.  DJT has gone against even the Republican establishment in insisting that trade must be fair, and not just free.

Defense and Security: I find it absolutely astounding that otherwise peace-loving people cannot see that of the two candidates, DJT is by far the candidate of peace.  The media has relentlessly portrayed him as “dangerous” and “scary” while he has always called for less intervention, more collaboration, more negotiation, a re-thinking of military coalitions from the time of cold war, a criticism of even his own party’s President in going into Iraq, and a repudiation of nation-building and regime changes in other countries.  With similar information, many politicians at that time opposed going into Iraq, while HRC voted in its favor.  HRC was responsible for catastrophic decisions related to Libya, Syria and Iran.  HRC was probably just going along, as I don’t think she had much judgment of her own.  But it is time to focus on America’s domestic issues instead of war-mongering around the world.  For that reason, I support DJT.  And of course, only the Republicans are able to call Islamic terrorism for what it is, while Democrats still have their head in the sand.

Healthcare: Obamacare has been a disaster.  Many previously uninsured have gotten insurance, but a majority of law-abiding paying insurance customers now face much higher premiums and lower choice.  I regard Obamacare as a massive and unjust market intervention which has gone horribly wrong, and cost the country billions of dollars.  It will probably die its own death due to a massive financial burden on the government.  The focus must be on more competition, and lowering the actual cost of healthcare which is currently the highest in US compared to most other countries.  Obamacare is a “health tax” (you pay a tax penalty if you don’t want to get health insurance), and as a libertarian, it is against my ethos.

The Bill of Rights: Republicans don’t want a dilution in the first and second amendments.  While liberals and feminists would like nothing better than to enshrine hate-speech laws and gun-licensing in US.  I regard the bill of rights as the greatest constitutional document in human history.  It limits the power of government to tyrannize its population.  And it has withstood challenges for hundreds of years.   United States is an open society because of the first amendment, and I vehemently oppose anyone who tries to curtail this right.  Left-liberal governments in UK and Germany have limited expression of politically incorrect opinions, and I regard that as a tragedy for Europe.  The second amendment rights, aka gun rights, is a complex subject.  Without going into details, I support the right of private citizens to own and carry guns.  Republicans, and DJT, support the second amendment far more than Democrats and HRC.   And lastly, the due process right is sought to be repealed by third-wave feminists and their ilk.

But apart from these boring policy positions, I see DJT as a more authentic person than HRC.  He is not a career politician and he speaks from the heart.  Sometimes he says stuff which seems like political suicide, and the media never forgives him for it.  But it is undeniable that this aspect of his personality has endeared him to millions of people who have voted for him in the primaries.  His persona may be brash, but I think his character is clean, at least when compared to the political class in this country.

HRC is a thoroughly corrupt (Clinton foundation, DNC, demonizing Bill Clinton’s rape victims), inept (emails, Benghazi, Iran, etc.) and in fact cruel individual who every honest, law-abiding and kind-hearted individual must oppose.

I disagree with DJT on a few issues.  Historically, the republicans have been seen as anti-science with not enough focus on issues like the environment and global warming.  I believe it is possible for Republicans to both friendlier to the domestic industry as well as be more informed about these challenges.  Secondly, I believe Edward Snowden is a national hero, and Republicans (including DJT) regard him as a villain.  If we need surveillance, citizens must vote on it and it must be legally authorized.  Organizations like NSA cannot be allowed to circumvent laws and mock the existing laws.  And thirdly, I don’t think Islamic terrorism can be solved militarily.  It will require careful diplomacy, healing the wounds of the past, and correcting injustices that in many cases the United States itself perpetrated.

Both the parties are not able to articulate the past sins of United States foreign policy, but at least DJT is brave enough to go against his own party in criticizing Iraq war.

I would also like to say that I respect the supporters of Bernie Sanders.  He too was an anti-establishment candidate.  At least he offered a new vision.  I applaud those who supported him.  Hillary Clinton is a status-quo candidate, and supporting her shows an utter failure of imagination.

DJT is not a perfect candidate or a flawless human being, but he is certainly BY FAR preferable to a corrupt, inept and cruel candidate that is Hillary Clinton.

But these words won’t matter to those who have made up their minds.  What will matter is something that many don’t realize.  Hillary Clinton is in bad shape, health-wise.  Her brain is under medication and is not quite stable.  She has understandably tried to avoid any press conference and ad-lib pronouncements.  It is not her “fault”, but it makes her a very, very dangerous choice.  Before November, we will see some alarming symptoms of her ill-health which will turn the course of this election.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

The Golden Era

Man's history is a record of the neural overcoming the genetic.  Good neural patterns get established as "social" patterns.

Man does not live by instinct alone.  And that is the prime reason for his alienation and his feeling that he has been evicted from the Garden of Eden.

The Mind, as contrasted to the Heart, is the fundamental cause of man always feeling like he is not home.

The Heart is predominant in infancy, and that is the only golden era.  In that though there might be pain but there is no suffering, since there is no conflict and contradiction.

There is unity and holism in feeling and instinct.  There is division and opposition in thought.

But man is thought.  Without his brain, man is not more than an animal or an infant.

To rail against thought and the mind in order to achieve lasting bliss is a wish to be back in infancy, to be back in the womb, to be back in Eden, to be back with God.

If the 21st century man thinks that socialized, digital, cosmopolitan life is unnatural, so did the 20th century man think that the industrial, mechanized, time-governed life was unnatural, and so did the men in earlier centuries feel unnatural about science, agriculture, and the written word.

So did the caveman think about living in a cave as against under the sky.  So did the hunter gatherer think about saving for winter instead of living in the "present".

If the modern, nuclear family with a possibility of divorce is felt as unnatural today, so did community life feel unnatural to the wandering tribes, so did monogamy feel unnatural to the hunter, so did long-term cohabitation feel unnatural to the neanderthal, ...

To want to go back to the way one's parents and grandparents lived ("what stability! what a feeling of being rooted!") is understandable, but they too felt un-rooted and alienated throughout life.  Perhaps less so than us, but they were also not home.

The feeling of not being home is the inescapable consequence of having a developed mind.

The mind manipulates nature, that is its essence.  The mind is part of nature, but it is obvious that its learning, training and effectiveness can be developed orders of magnitude faster than evolution in nature.  This difference in velocity of change, and an accelerated subjugation of entropy, is the central distinction between mind and the rest of nature.

Nostalgia is also part of man.  But if you go to your childhood home, the home is there, but you are not a child anymore.  You can connect to your childhood friends, but it is no longer childhood.  You can look wistfully at your toys that your mother and your father gave you, but those toys will not engage you today.

Nostalgia is the awareness of conflict and a wish to go back to feeling whole.

Just like man was an infant, mankind had its infancy when as a species its brain was not developed.

The golden era was millions of years ago.

A feeling of not being truly home was always there, that is why thousands of years ago the Buddha and the other mystics sought their "true" abode, the final resting place.

But in the last hundred years, there is another order of velocity now threatening man.  If the Genetic was honed over millions of years, the Social was developed over centuries, and the Mind is shaped over decades, the pace of change is now annual.  The way of living is being ripped apart every few years.

It's not just that life is governed by norms instead of instincts.  But those "norms" are changing every few years.  That has never happened.

In no other era have humans migrated and traveled so much at such pace and such frequency.  In no other era the essential tools to navigate life have changed every few years.  In no other era has the rate of divorce been so tragically high.  In no other era were psychotropic medicines so heavily prescribed.

Man was already uprooted, now he is being blown around by the hot, unpredictable winds of an arid earth.

The golden era never existed, but the pace of change today is probably more than what as a species we can handle.

The common man has already surrendered his autonomy to the information-global-industrial economy and lives in fear of change.

This stress of constant change is what will finally lead to a global surrender to Artificial Intelligence.

Unable to cope, billions of humans will regress to fast food and mindless entertainment and porn and myriad other addictions while the elites and the "big data" digital infrastructure optimize every consumption pattern, every click, and every last bitcoin of monetization from them.

"... and blew the suffering of ... naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years." (Howl, Allen Ginsberg)