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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On Blasphemy in Afghanistan

Ahem. So the Talibans have been ousted. Wasn't it quite sometime ago? They were BAD. The new government is democratic, moderate, friendly.

Umm, not so sure about that second one right about now.


The upper house of the Afghan parliament has supported a death sentence issued against a journalist for blasphemy in northern Afghanistan.


What went wrong?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

On Intentions, Incentives, and Consequences

There has been a spate of articles on the law of unintended consequences in the most popular econ blogs. Amidst all that, there was the news about California farmers planning to sell the water they get for irrigation.
Because farmers get their water at subsidized rates, some of them see financial opportunity this year in selling their allotments to Los Angeles and other desperately thirsty cities across Southern California, as well as to other farms.

Hmm. Could there by any more disconnect?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On Blogging

I am writing for the blog section of our college newspaper. Please check out my posts at Round Table on Collegiate Times Talk.

I will cross-post some of them here as well.

Monday, January 21, 2008

On Snowfall and Global Warming

It had snowed during the night, a thick layer of whiteness all around. Walking to the bus stop early in the morning, I was cozy inside three layers of clothing. The snow made a crunching sound under my sneakers, as if squealing in happiness--somehow the snow knew it was my first time. I was happy. Nature in its pristine beauty had capped the treetops in heavy snow; the phat sound they made falling to the ground an affirmation of the gaiety all around.

Then I saw a pickup rumble past, the old serviceman at the wheels of his trusty four-wheel drive. The snow shovel had its place of pride, jutting above other cans and sundries in the trailer. It was 7:30 in the morning, and most of the sidewalks had already been cleared.

Maybe global warming is not such a bad thing after all.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

On Curb on Wedding Expense and on Dowry --practices and laws

Via Kalki's article in Smoke Signals , this piece of news regarding another example of stupidity in Indian laws.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court has asked the Punjab Police to crack down on expensive wedding celebrations.

This on the basis of the Anti-Dowry law that says that number of guests from the groom’s family shouldn't be more than 25, no money above Rs 11 will be offered and no more than two meals will be served.



Kalki's article seems to oppose this directive, which is good. Unfortunately, he goes off on an unrelated tangent of how big weddings are part of Tamil (and, presumably Indian) culture, and how this directive goes against that spirit. I don't plan to address these non-issues here; we'll discuss more about the directive, and the law behind it. Interested readers can read Kalki's article for their dose of emotionally charged ideas. Here are the problems with the directive:

1. It tramples on the freedom of a person to spend whatever he/she choses to spend on whatever catches the fancy.
2. What would have happened to the money if it was not spent on the wedding? Well, it would have been spent some other way (good for the economy), or stayed locked up somewhere(bad). There is no rational basis for criminalizing one form of expenditure, as the court's directive effectively does. Evidently, the court is not into economics as much as it is into the laws.
3. Which brings us to the most important point, what the hell is that monstrosity of a law doing in the constitution in the first place? Two consenting parties, perfectly capable of taking decisions, strike a deal where one party agrees to feed another party for free, give the other party money, whatever. There is no reason for the constitution or anybody else to interfere in that.

Now people will bring up how anti-dowry act is meant to help against the practice of dowry and its evil effects. I don't see why or how dowry is a bad thing except when it is coerced. There can be no case against a father wishing to give his daughter what essentially is a gift. Besides, how on earth can any groom's family force a bride's family to give the dowry if the bride's family is unwilling to give? It's the stupid bride's family which has the money (or will arrange to have it) to pay the dowry! If the case is that it's societal pressure that forces the bride's family, well, no amount of law can help that, except maybe shame a scant fraction of the population to agreeing that taking money from the bride's family is not a good idea.

Compare the benefits of the anti-dowry act against the costs. It creates stupid directives like the case in question, gives manipulative girls a wonderful weapon against the in-laws family, and a host of other stuff. Meanwhile, all the evils of the dowry practice can effectively be curbed using other more meaningful laws.

The problem with this law, and others similar to it, is that it interferes in places it has no business to. Coercion is bad-as simple as that. If some guy feels he is being coerced to hand over money to somebody else, there is enough recourse in the law. If a family tortures a girl for dowry, well it's torture! Why do we need any other stupid act to act against that? Let's see some cases where a father is forced to pay dowry.

1. In the case where a poor father borrows money to pay dowry because the groom's family demanded it, well, the poor father could have just chosen not to.
2. In the case where such a choice is not possible because of societal pressure, obviously it's the society at fault-and the father as well-to adhere to stupid traditions of the society.
3. If the society discriminates against the father for not paying dowry, there are anti-discrimination provisions in the book to take care of it.
4. If the father unwillingly pays the dowry (out of his own pocket or by borrowing the money) only because others will look down upon him for a small wedding, well it's his choice and nobody is forcing him to spend so much. He could just as well have decided not to.

So, I don't find any reason for this anti-dowry act, and its monstrous provisions, to exist. Dowry cannot and will not be rooted out of the society by a law, it will happen only when the girls' fathers decide not to pay it. The onus is clearly on the individual to stand against dowry. There is enough provision in law for the individual to recourse to in case of any discrimination, harassment, or torture resulting from a refusal to pay the dowry. The law and order and judicial machinery should concentrate on other matters. It's not like there is nothing else for them to do; and when there isn't, they better don't go about creating nuisance.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

On Curiosity

Commenting on the Gladrags Swimsuit Calendar, the author in Rediff asks, "Who says swimsuits are all about bikinis?"

I am also curious, really, who?

On Conservatism--Economic and Socio-Religious

The Republicans in USA are said to be conservative. When I was in India, I thought they were conservative in a religious way. Or, they were conservatives in their social life. It was too easy to stereotype the Republicans in this way, given their stance against stem-cell research, evolution, gay rights, etc.
However, now that I am in the US and more exposed to US media, I have learned that the Republicans are called conservatives because they are supposed to be conservative economically--they support smaller government, lower taxes, free market, etc. Since US tries to follow the dictum of separation of Church and State, conservatism in the political arena implicitly refers to economic conservatism--there is no scope for religious/social conservatism in governmental context.
However, most of the prominent figures in the Republican party at present seem to take their conservatism beyond the constitution mandated economic level--which leads to the term neo-cons. The economic and fiscal policies of the current Republican administration, however, do not seem to follow the economic conservatism the party is supposed to stand for. The Tories in UK are conservatives in a similar way.

I was confused as to what the term 'conservative' meant. I hope this post will help someone similarly confused if one stumbles upon it. This post is not meant to be judgemental, and I do not draw any conclusions whatsoever. However, as disclosures go, I am a conservative economically and not in a socio-religious sense. Hence, I prefer the label libertarian to dispel any confusion. My religious leanings are a topic for another post.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

On Isn't We Supposed To Be Havin A Fiesta!

Ever known the sensation where a song keeps on playing inside your head?
I am in that state right now, livin la vida loca. Nobody can hit it quite like Donkay and Puss-in-Boots at the end of Shrek 2!

She will make you live her crazy life but she'll take away your pain
Like a bullet to your brain!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

On Disappointment with Hindi Films

When I was a high-schooler, there was this film Pyar To Hona Hi Tha. How I liked that one! I bunked classes twice to go watch that movie. Later, I came across the movie French Kiss, and was so disappointed that one of my favourite movies was a rip-off!

Deja vu, repeats all over again! I just found that Life In A Metro took the lending-out-the-apartment-to-superiors idea from The Apartment. Saving grace, that idea remains one of the various sub-plots in the movie and the meat of the story takes a different angle, who knows copied from where.

Gah!

Monday, January 7, 2008

On "Crib"

Gah! Can someone enlighten me how on earth the word 'crib' got to mean 'whine' in Indian English?
"I have been cribbing about blah blah blah"--how many times I have heard that usage and cringed!
'Crib' DOES NOT mean 'whine'. PERIOD. The way people go all eloquent "Oh! But I don't want to crib about it...". Bloody hell you don't!
'Crib' as a verb has two meanings--a) To confine, as if to put in a crib and b)to plagiarize or cheat. THAT'S IT.
Do you want to do that now, Ms Oh-I-speak-so-goddamn-good-English-look-how-sexy-I-am?