Sunday, October 31, 2010

Just give up on Kashmir. End the intifada

Earlier today, when I was jumping from one hyperlink to another, I came across a link to this decade-old paper, which is in the context of the Balkan crisis.  Forget that context and merely read the following sentences:
An unpleasant truth often overlooked is that although war is a great evil, it does have a great virtue: it can resolve political conflicts and lead to peace. This can happen when all belligerents become exhausted or when one wins decisively. Either way the key is that the fighting must continue until a resolution is reached. War brings peace only after passing a culminating phase of violence. Hopes of military success must fade for accommodation to become more attractive than further combat.
Since the establishment of the United Nations and the enshrinement of great-power politics in its Security Council, however, wars among lesser powers have rarely been allowed to run their natural course. Instead, they have typically been interrupted early on, before they could burn themselves out and establish the preconditions for a lasting settlement. Cease-fires and armistices have frequently been imposed under the aegis of the Security Council in order to halt fighting.
Isn't this what the Kashmir issue, too, has been for sixty-plus years?  The cease-fire and the "line of control" in place has merely perpetuated the war, instead of ushering in a sense of peace.

I am with Arundhati Roy (such agreement doesn't happen often!) when she says that Kashmir has never been an integral part of India and maybe Indians should just let go of that territory.  I, too, have expressed such sentiments in this blog.  I would extend the same logic to Nagaland, Mizoram, ...

The difference though is that as a nobody, and an American nobody, my words don't invite the Indian government's attention as do Roy's.  The latest news of a mob gathering outside her home doesn't bode well either.

Photo of the day: Chennai's T Nagar

So, this is a sample of what I will see in a little more than a month, round the corner from my parents' home :)
Caption at the source: Rains doesn't seem to deter these Chennaiites who are indulging in Deepavali shopping in T. Nagar, Chennai's famous marketplace. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Americans do the right thing--after trying Republicans and everything else

Every once in a rare while Maureen Dowd writes something that is worth quoting; in her latest column, Dowd writes about President Obama:
In 2008, the message was him. The promise was him. And that’s why 2010 is a referendum on him. 
That is a neat way to summarize the dynamics of this election.  Which is also why it is bloody dangerous to have personality-driven politics and leaders.  Bill Clinton's re-election was not about Clinton the person at all--not with all that baggage he carried around.  But, during the campaign season, the stock that Obama sold was himself, and now as President he has a tougher problem making a repeat sale.

Meanwhile, Nicholas Kristof, who seems to have taken time off from the gruesome stories that otherwise he forces us to recognize, wants us to give Obama a break:
go ahead and hold Mr. Obama’s feet to the fire. He deserves to be held accountable. But let’s not allow economic malaise to cloud our judgment and magnify America’s problems in ways that become self-fulfilling.
I am not so sure about this argument. 

The problem is that the alternative, in terms of Republican leadership, is an even more pathetic joke.  If the GOP takes over the house, Kevin McCarthy will become number 3?  I remember him from my days in Bakersfield, and a few days ago I watched him on C-Span and the guy is as lacking as ever.  At least Bill Thomas, whose retirement paved the way for McCarthy, was a really sharp guy and, unfortunately, even more ruthless!

So, to some extent, I am with Paul Krugman who is worried about a Republican Congress:
This is going to be terrible. In fact, future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness.
However, I wish, for the nth time, that Krugman would be less shrill and less hyperbolic, and engaged more like the economist he is; did he really have to write "Be afraid. Be very afraid" ...?

David Brooks lays out what Obama's problem is going to be if (when?) Republicans take over the House (and Senate?):
[If] Obama is to rebound, he is going to have to suppress his natural competitive instincts. If he gets caught up in the Beltway fight club, the Republicans will emerge as the party of limited government and he’ll emerge as the spokesman for big government — surely a losing proposition.
Thomas "master manipulator of metaphors" Friedman, too, has something sensible, for a change, when he writes on why this election matters, as he looks at it from India while talking with some of his favorites (does Friedman talk to the 400 million poor there, I wonder!):

It looks, said Srivastava, as if “what is happening in America is a loss of self-confidence. We don’t want America to lose self-confidence. Who else is there to take over America’s moral leadership? American’s leadership was never because you had more arms. It was because of ideas, imagination, and meritocracy.” If America turns away from its core values, he added, “there is nobody else to take that leadership. Do we want China as the world’s moral leader? No. We desperately want America to succeed.”
This isn’t just so American values triumph. With a rising China on one side and a crumbling Pakistan on the other, India’s newfound friendship with America has taken on strategic importance. “It is very worrying to live in a world that no longer has the balance of power we’ve had for 60 years,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express newspaper. “That is why everyone is concerned about America.”
Well, we--in the US and in the entire world--will find out real soon.

My long term bets are always on the good ol' US of A.  As Winston Churchill said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.”  And with a Republican victory in the midterms, we would have exhausted everything, and we will start doing the right thing.

Music video for Halloween: MJ's Thriller, of course

The Mumbai McMansion: The Ambani Attila, er, Antilia

So, India's richest man builds the world's most expensive "home"
Mukesh Ambani is having a few friends round to celebrate moving into his new Mumbai pad. But as the home has 27 storeys, soars to 173 metres and is worth an estimated £630m, it will be a housewarming like no other.
The building – named Antilia, after a mythical island – will be home to Ambani, the richest man in India and the fourth richest in the world, plus his wife and their three children. It contains a health club with a gym and dance studio, at least one swimming pool, a ballroom, guestrooms, a variety of lounges and a 50-seater cinema.
Good for him--he and his brother, Anil, have not squandered away the wealth they inherited, but have gone on to multiply it many times over.

But, somewhere along the road, I hope the Ambanis will remember a golden rule from India: the "dharma" of a rich person is to create a lot of wealth, and to donate wealth to charity.  The old Indian wisdom recognized that creating wealth is not only ok, but is the duty for some.  But, what comes after that wealth .... something like the "noblesse oblige" in the Western contexts.  Here is one:

संपदो जलतरंगविलोल
   यौवनं त्रिचतुराणि दिनानि ।
   किं धनैः परहितानि कुरुध्वम् ॥
- सुभाषितसुधानिधि
Wealth is as temporary as a wave on still water. Youth is just a matter of few years. Our life it self is as uncertain as a cloud of Sharat month (where clouds could get formed and dispersed in a matter of minutes. No rain.) What is the use of all the wealth that you accumulate? Spend them in a way that is helpful to others.
A friend emailed me the link to this commentary, where the author notes:
What I would like to see Ambani do now is emulate Gates on another front: philanthropy.
Gates (and his wife), who have said their children will not inherit their wealth, have proceeded to give it away and also managed to successfully convince several other people like them to follow suit.
Given Ambani’s considerable wealth and influence, a similar move by him could kick-start the all-but-non-existent corporate philanthropy scene here.
BTW, Antilia? ... Seriously! 
I think "Attila" might be more appropriate :)
No wonder then there is this news item:

The house which has become the talk of the town — Mukesh Ambani's new high rise at Mumbai's posh Altamount Road, may soon sport a new name. Apparently, the quaint Antilia, according to insiders, doesn't have as much positive energy as the traditional occupants would like. However, nobody is quite sure yet as to what the new name of the 27-floor apartment would be, which is said to be the world's costliest address. The name is likely to be announced at a traditional function, followed by a high society gathering in the evening of November 28, at Ambani's new abode.

Don't vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards

"Politics is a vulgar fucking subject," O'Rourke writes by way of apology for his repeated swearing. "I have resorted to barnyard words because of the amount of bullshit, horseshit and chickenshit involved in politics,"
O'Rourke seems to be channeling his inner George Carlin :)

I heard him earlier this morning on NPR, and absolutely loved the way he described the politics of climate change; I find it at the Guardian, too:
Take his intentionally short chapter on the issue of climate change. It is one page and begins with the words: "There's not a goddamn thing you can do about it." By way of explanation he adds: "There are 1.3 billion people in China and they all want a Buick." He accuses western leftists of being self-deluding hypocrites when they raise taxes on people wealthier than themselves as a way of creating a more just society. It depends on your perspective, he argues, pointing out that even a poor westerner is unimaginably rich to a developing world slum-dweller."You're farting through silk as far as that person in Karachi who's looking for a job as a suicide bomber is concerned ... let he who is without anything anybody wants cast the first vote," he writes.
I have blogged about this many times (like here), and have pointed out the hypocrisy of a few million affluent Westerners telling billions of poorer people around the world that they and their consumption are the problem!

Of course, there are a number of issues where I would part company with O'Rourke.  But, there is a lot of common ground between this libertarian-Democrat and O'Rourke's libertarian-Republican view of the world.

And, BTW, that George Carlin spiel on not voting?  No harm on re-blogging that one; too damn funny and serious all in one

Quote of the day: on higher education

The vision of a college education that Hacker and Dreifus advance is as timeless as Cardinal Newman's classic 19th-century account, The Idea of a University. "College should be a cultural journey, an intellectual expedition," the authors write. A major like sport management or sign-language interpretation has no place in this vision: "It isn't education. It is training." What should colleges do? Make undergraduates "more interesting people," Hacker and Dreifus say.
So writes Professor David Kirp, of UC-Berkeley, while reviewing a couple of books on higher education, of which one is the recent book from Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, who list in their book Western Oregon University as one of the best places to get educated for the money spent.

Of course, as I have blogged earlier, and as difficult as it might be to imagine, the recognition from Hacker and Dreifus was not actually well received in the university.  Academe is a strange place where even compliments can become controversies :)

Anyway, I wonder if Hacker and Dreifus did all their homework then: the university where I teach, which they applaud, has a big sign language interpretation program, and a minor in sports management too.  If despite all that they are willing to applaud the university, then the state of most other American universities must be highly crappy, eh!

Quote of the day: on geography

Geography is the new hot discipline.  A new generation of geographers is integrating the myriad concerns of the world, whether economic or political, social or environmental.
That is Fred Pearce while reviewing a new book, The World in 2050.

Geography is a fantastic intellectual field of inquiry, where there is a natural recognition of the multiple factors that influence even a local issue.  And given the inter-linked, global, and complex set of issues that we often talk about--particularly when it comes to the big issues like climate change--geography, with its integrative approach, is naturally suited for those discussions.

Unfortunately, geography is like Rodney Dangerfield in that it doesn't get any respect.

In April 2011, I will be one of the panelists who will discuss this issue at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers.  What will our discussions be about?
Geography and the liberal arts and sciences are moving toward a mutually reinforcing, symbiotic relationship, largely for two reasons.  First, many of today's crucial problems are being recognized as the result of processes - political, economic, cultural, and ecological - unfolding at a global scale.   Second, geography has always been "the synthetic discipline," providing a context for integrative analysis of people, places, and environments.   Learning to think geographically is a process that engages concepts specific to the discipline of geography, but also one that complements a suite of cognitive abilities such as scientific inquiry, humanistic discourse, and critical thinking – all hallmarks of liberal education.

This panel session will explore ways of strengthening the role of geography in liberal education in the early 21st century.   Key questions for discussion will include:

1) To what degree does the undergraduate geography curriculum support the goals of liberal education?  Is the geography major as currently designed fulfilling the evolving needs of a liberal education?

2) How effectively are geography programs preparing majors with the knowledge, skills, and perspectives they need for successful careers in industry, business, government, or for continuing education?

3) What are the most-compelling intellectual and practical reasons for non-majors to take geography classes?

4) In what ways are geography programs succeeding in providing strong learning experiences and opportunities for students of all backgrounds?

5) Are geography programs failing to interface with institutional efforts to enhance liberal education, and if so, what can be done about it?
ht for the Pearce link

Oh, Pearce writes of the author of the book that is reviewed:
Smith is a major new writer on the new geography of the 21st century.  He is as fluent and insightful in discussing political power, cultural nuance, and ethical dilemmas as he is in analysing climate models and economic forecasts.  His study of the “new north” is valuable and timely.  Move over, Jared Diamond.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Elections and ... how about those wars?

It is an awful state of civics and democracy that the two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have horribly expensive both in material and human costs, have rarely been discussed this election campaign season.  There is something seriously wrong with this ... Instead of tough questions on the wars, and the many domestic topics, we are witness to all kinds of bullshit.
As much as I joke with my neighbor that political theater is the best entertainment that our taxes can get us, it is a shame that it is all entertainment and nothing else.
I am just so close to informing the election folks that I don't care for a ballot anymore
And then there are all kinds of discussions on a war with Iran. Are we f***king so messed up?

Mara Liasson's $2 million contract? :)

Way back, in February 2009, was my blog post that NPR should not renew the contracts with Juan Williams and Mara Liasson.  Well, she is the "other" NPR analyst over at Faux Noose, and I wonder if it is only a fistful of dollars that Roger "fat cat" Ailes is dangling in front of Liasson.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Remembrance of things past: Ek duje ke liye

I didn't realize that this is now almost 30 years old, which is how long since I completed high school :)

Am not sure if I have those "mark sheets" with me, or if they have been lost in the shuffle somewhere ... All I remember is the aggregate score of 332 out of 400 (though that sounds way too low ... I scored only a 83 percent?  really?  maybe that is how scores were then? editor: did you consider the possibility that you were not all that smart, and maybe not even now?  Awshutup)

I am not sure whether I can sit through this movie now though--such an awful formula, leave alone the very strange outfits of that time period :)

Image of the day: on Juan Williams and NPR

I was one of the many who had opined that Juan "I fear Muslims" Williams ought to be fired from NPR as soon as I watched that video.  And, was glad that NPR did, though the "psychiatrist" remark ought to have been avoided.

Well, I came across this tweet today:
(on Twitter, I am "congoboy," which is how I sometimes called my dog, Congo, who died almost five years ago!!!)
I suppose Ceeb2 will be happy to know that my faculty and administrative colleagues decided that I am not qualified to be a "Professor" and I am only an Associate Professor :)

How Winston Churchill starved India. Literally :(

Soutik Biswas writes in reviewing Madhusree Mukherjee's Churchill's Secret War:
Some three million Indians died in the famine of 1943. The majority of the deaths were in Bengal. In a shocking new book, Churchill's Secret War, journalist Madhusree Mukherjee blames Mr Churchill's policies for being largely responsible for one of the worst famines in India's history.
Why is the war time prime minister, Churchill, to be blamed?  Well, the acute shortage of food
was caused by large-scale exports of food from India for use in the war theatres and consumption in Britain - India exported more than 70,000 tonnes of rice between January and July 1943, even as the famine set in. This would have kept nearly 400,000 people alive for a full year. Mr Churchill turned down fervent pleas to export food to India citing a shortage of ships - this when shiploads of Australian wheat, for example, would pass by India to be stored for future consumption in Europe. As imports dropped, prices shot up and hoarders made a killing. Mr Churchill also pushed a scorched earth policy - which went by the sinister name of Denial Policy - in coastal Bengal where the colonisers feared the Japanese would land. So authorities removed boats (the lifeline of the region) and the police destroyed and seized rice stocks.
And, what was Churchill's response when this was discussed at cabinet meetings?  The soon to be appointed Viceroy, Archibald Wavell, writes:
"Apparently it is more important to save the Greeks and liberated countries than the Indians and there is reluctance either to provide shipping or to reduce stocks in this country," writes Sir Wavell in his account of the meetings. Mr Amery is more direct. "Winston may be right in saying that the starvation of anyhow under-fed Bengalis is less serious than sturdy Greeks, but he makes no sufficient allowance for the sense of Empire responsibility in this country," he writes.
As Shakespeare wrote, "And Brutus is an honourable man" .... :(

Quote of the day: on men, masculinity, and feminism

Men are caught between an old-fashioned breadwinner ideal and an economic era that no longer delivers the family wage, and are left facing two choices: They can feel terrible about themselves, or they can help to change an outdated ideal. Feminists need to engage men on this issue.
 From this essay (ht) which itself is from Reshaping the work-family debate, by Joan C. Williams.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Was the war in Iraq worth all that?

From Der Spiegel:
America's war in Iraq lasted seven years, longer than its war against Adolf Hitler. The Iraq war has claimed the lives of 4,426 US soldiers and about 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Now DER SPIEGEL, the New York Times the Guardian and other media have been given access to almost 400,000 documents compiled by the website WikiLeaks: the war logs of soldiers in the US military. According to an initial analysis of these documents, the number of dead is even higher than previously believed.
What was the outcome of this war? Iraq is rid of a tyrant. Today Iraqis can vote for their leaders, and millions have already made use of this right.
But for this war the United States violated international law, vilified allies and mocked the United Nations. It squandered its authority as a military and moral superpower. It spent more than $1 trillion (€720 billion). It was triumphant at first, but then it gave up hope for a moment and allowed terrorists to push it to the brink of an historic defeat. Then it rallied once again -- not to emerge victorious but to avert defeat, a strategy that resulted in many, many casualties.
Was it worth it? Does the outcome justify this war?
The title of Spiegel's report answers this question: "A Dumb War"
Maybe things will turn out well. Everything is possible in this devastated country. The interpreter fidgets with his mobile phone and wipes his forehead. Then he shouts out the words he has been wanting to say all along: "You can leave again, but we have to stay behind."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Currency wars reach the Indian shores

A few days ago, I quoted Martin Wolf, who wrote in the Financial Times that:
To put it crudely, the US wants to inflate the rest of the world, while the latter is trying to deflate the US. The US must win, since it has infinite ammunition: there is no limit to the dollars the Federal Reserve can create. What needs to be discussed is the terms of the world’s surrender: the needed changes in nominal exchange rates and domestic policies around the world.
And ...?  Here is the NY Times:
The Indian rupee is soaring — up 9 percent against the dollar in the last 16 months. That has taken a toll on exports like textiles by making them more expensive on the world market. And the strong rupee poses longer-term threats of overheating the economy.
So, one would expect India to take appropriate action?  Not yet ...
instead of fighting currency appreciation, as Brazil and some other countries have done, India has been willing to let the rupee rise — for now, at least.
India is simply too hungry for the foreign capital that is drawn to the strong rupee and is driving it higher, because that influx of money is helping support this country’s approach to developing a modern consumer economy.
Makes sense,right?  A developing country will need capital for all kinds of investments, and if foreigners are eager to send their money across, hey, grab that:

The influx of capital has helped fuel a nearly 9 percent annual growth rate for India’s economy. It has also powered the Indian stock market to near record highs. A big beneficiary of the stock rally has been the government, which is selling shares in state-owned firms like Coal India, the world’s largest coal miner.
The government, which has a large budget deficit, plans to raise $9 billion in the current fiscal year from share sales and spend the money on jobs for the rural poor and other welfare programs. A stronger rupee also reduces India’s bill for commodities, like oil, that it needs to import.
Imagine if China too allows its currency to appreciate ...

Cartoons for today: war and WikiLeaks

The Daily Show and Colbert on Juan "I fear Muslims" Williams

Hilaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarious :)
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Monday, October 25, 2010

Quote of the day: "moderates" in American politics

Whatever connotations it once had, the word moderate has now come to mean liberal or even left-wing in American politics. It has been a long time since moderate Republicans were regarded as important, centrist assets by their party. Nowadays, they are far more likely to be regarded as closet lefties and potential traitors. Moderate Democrats, meanwhile, no longer exist at all. In their place, we have "Conservative Democrats." Nobody pays attention to them, either
Anne Applebaum on "why this Jon Stewart rally is such a gloomy development."  Why you ask?
I'm sure his Million Moderate March, if it happens, will be amusing, and I wouldn't want to spoil the fun by calling it tragic. But if that's the best the center can do, then "blackly humorous" wouldn't be that far off.
Hey, politics is live theater, and only the crazy and dramatic characters appeal to the audience!  Let us see if the "drama" of the center becomes a hit

Will someone please shut Krugman up

Leave it to the British (and Slate, here in the US) for bold and punny headlines.  In this case, a bold headline at the Daily Telegraph that says it all!  Really, I have borrowed the title for this post from there ...

Even before I get to the content, I could not understand why there is no question mark at the end of the headline :)

About the content itself, it is a squabble over the Lib-Con government's recent decision in favor of massive budget reductions.  Cameron is doubling down on a gamble that such reductions during this feeble recovery will actually do Britain good.  Krugman blasts that in his column and, hence, the response from Daily Telegraph, which is typically right of the political/economic center.

I suppose we will know in five years whose policy decisions turn out to be the correct ones.

As far as I am concerned, I yet again wonder if Krugman is diluting his value by pontificating a tad too much.  Even if Krugman is always correct, it might become like the nerdy guy in the class who always puts his hand up and provides the correct answer while the rest of the class begin to hate him for being so smart :) 

So, from a PR perspective, if not for the sake of content, perhaps Professor Krugman ought to chill for a while?

I am a NPR listener

In the traditions of "I am Spartacus" :)

I will leave it James Fallows, who has an excellent post on the importance of defending NPR against the ruthless and unprincipled attacks from Faux Noose:
We don't have so many first-rate institutions -- in general, and especially in journalism -- that we can afford to let one this valuable be delegitimized. Its leadership made a mistake in its handling of Juan Williams, but people who care about the news environment should recognize how much it has done right and defend it against the current cynical attack....
Imagine for a moment what NPR's Robert Siegel or Neal Conan or Scott Simon or Melissa Block, among many other long-experienced interviewers, might have done with such an opportunity. This is an illustration of different standards. More simply, NPR could have said: You want to continue being a personality and commentator on Fox? Fine -- it's your choice. That's a different kind of operation from ours, and we wish you all the best there.

*** Here are two illustrations of how I have seen the sense of personal embarrassment about something inaccurate getting on the air.

One: During early stages of the Iraq war, I was on "Talk of the Nation" in the studio with Neil Conan. I carelessly said "soldiers" when I should have said "troops," because the operation in question involved Marines. ("Soldiers" = Army; "airmen" = Air Force; "seamen" = Navy; "Marines" = Marines. "Troops" = any and all.) A pained look came across Conan's face -- he didn't want his show to contain an error -- and, without saying anything directly, he steered the conversation over the next two minutes so that both he and I had several opportunities to talk about the "Marines" who were fighting.

Two: A few months ago, I recorded a discussion with Guy Raz of Weekend All Things Considered about increasing polarization and logjam in Congress. As an illustration, I said that Obama's stimulus plan had received "no Republican Congressional votes." What I meant was, "no votes from Republican Congressmen" -- ie, members of the House, which was accurate. But half an hour later, just before airtime, producers called back to re-record the segment at the last minute, so I could use proper language to clarify the House/Senate difference -- and note that in the Senate three Republicans had voted for the plan. They were that determined not to have an error on their show.
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Cartoon of the day: Sarah Palin

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Read this and tell me if India is a poor country!

A Financial Times report:
New Delhi considers an $11bn deal to buy 126 multi-role combat fighter jets to rearm India’s out-of-date air force and boost defence capabilities against Pakistan and China.
Lockheed Martin and Boeing are among six foreign companies competing for the sale.
India is one of the world’s largest arms bazaars with a military budget of Rs1,420bn ($32bn). Mr Obama’s visit will be followed this year by those of Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, and Demetri Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister. Both would like to supply India.
 Hey, that is a lot of rupees to throw around, right?  So, rich country or poor country?

Warmaking is an industry with no recession, and knows no poor country, eh :(

Would you buy jeans from Brett Favre?

Every once in a while SNL does something really funny; here is one:

Just in case you missed out on the news that is the reason for this "advertisement," here is a recap
And here is the original ad that SNL parodied

I am a lucky professor ...

... to have known quite a few students with wonderfully warm and generous hearts.  Two of them have been profiled in today's Statesman Journal: Philip Gray and Leah Loe. Philip is currently serving in Afghanistan:
Gray had plenty of reasons to stay home.
He had just started his first business with his girlfriend of three years, and was set to graduate from Western Oregon University in the spring of 2010.
His mother was recovering from breast cancer, and he'd been doing his best to care for her through that ordeal.
In his spare time, he worked to restore his 1963 Chevy Nova Super Sport.
At age 27, his life was coming into focus. Still, doing his part in Afghanistan proved a compelling idea for Gray.
"I've been in the military since May 2001," he recalls. "And I've never deployed. I didn't want to finish my service without getting overseas."
Philip and Leah own a photography business, if you are looking for an event photographer

Quote of the day: on free market and free men

In reviewing Nicholas Phillipson's book, Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life, Adam Gopnik writes in the New Yorker (subscription required) that
[Adam Smith] believed not that markets make men free but that free men move toward markets.  The difference is small but decisive; it is most of what we mean by humanism.
This sentence is essentially now being tested through the so-called Chinese model of economic development, which countries like Rwanda are too glad to adopt.  In this model, it is clearly not a case of free men moving toward markets.
Yet another test of that sentence comes through the likes of hard core Republicans and the the Wall Street Journal ideologues who believe that freeing the market will lead to free men. 

In both these Chinese and WSJ approaches to market and men, the priority is clear: economic interactions.

But, Adam Smith the philosopher was focused on humans, which is why Gopnik writes of humanism. "Sympathy alone, Smith makes plain, isn't enough to make us good. ... For Smith, the market is imaginative sympathy on speed."  How does the market make us sympathetic?  "Mere love is not sufficient for it, till he applies in some way to your self love. A bargain does this in the easiest manner."  Where do you find this bargain among a sympathetic community?  The market.   

Gopnik writes about Smith's other book that all these free marketers ignore at our peril--The Theory of Moral Sentiments--and weaves in David Hume into this narrative and the mentoring role he played.  After reading this book review, I am all the more curious about David Hume--his life and intellectual contributions.  Will begin the hunt for a book on this; any recommendations? 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Obama to take a break from campaigning

Once again, only America's Finest News Source has the scoop that "Obama To Take Break From Stumping To Preside Over United States":
HARTFORD, CT—Following a speech tomorrow afternoon in support of Senate hopeful Richard Blumenthal, top Democratic Party member Barack Obama is expected to take advantage of a brief lull in his hectic schedule to govern the United States of America, sources reported Thursday. "Barack should have a little bit of free time in the car when we travel between the get-out-the-vote rally in East Hartford and the fundraising dinner for [Connecticut gubernatorial candidate] Dan Malloy," said Obama aide Lisa McMaster, admitting that most of the business of being leader of the free world would have to wait for the few days between the end of the midterm election cycle and the start of the 2010 presidential campaign. "Those 15 or so minutes should allow him to skim the past week’s national security briefings, sign a few pieces of legislation, and shoot a 45-second call to South Korean prime minister Kim Hwang-sik to hammer out a free-trade pact." McMaster added that if everything goes perfectly, Obama might have a moment between the dinner's salad and entrée courses to authorize a missile strike on suspected al-Qaeda sites in Yemen.

Corporations serve us, or do we serve corporations?

Many years ago, while still a high school kid reading every potboiler novel around, I read The "R" Document, by Irwing Wallace.  (I confess that as a teenager, whose biology was rapidly changing, I was way more fascinated by his "The Seven Minutes"!)

The novel, which my cousin from the big city of Madras had loaned me, was set in an America of chaos and violence, and a near breakdown of law and order.  The answer to this was going to be a constitutional amendment that would suspend the first ten amendments to the Constitution--the Bill of Rights.  And, of course, there is a much deeper conspiracy driving all these, and one of the conspirators is an all powerful multinational corporation, "Supranat Co." (at least, this is how much I recall from memory, which is fading by the day!)

Fast forward a few years, and I was among the audience at USC to listen to Ralph Nader who was critiquing the powerful rights that the government and the Supreme Court had awarded to corporations.  Nader was worried that scheming corporations will subvert civics and the Constitution.

Over the years, I have had my own love-hate relationship with mega corporations.  The one thing I know for sure that I hate is their ability to participate in elections.  If democracy is for, of, and by the people, only humans can participate in governance.  Yet, time and again, the Court re-affirms corporations as individuals, which is one hell of a screw-up.  Now, after reading this interview with Joseph Stiglitz, who is no dunce, I am really, really concerned:
"Corporations are a legal entity," Stiglitz explained. "We create them. And when we create them we create all kinds of rules. They can go bankrupt. And that means they owe more money and they get away scot-free. They can create an environmental disaster, and then go bankrupt and again go away scot-free. So, as legal entities we have the right to make the rules that govern them."

"As individuals we have certain basic rights," Stiglitz continued. "We aren't created by the law. We exist by nature. But corporations are man-made. They are supposed to serve our interest, our society's interests. And we are creating them with powers that are not serving our society's interests."

Profiles of adjunct professors

A caricature which is not that far from the reality that I have observed over the years
Come to think of it, the graphic could apply to the species called "teaching assistants" too--I was one decades ago ... which one of these was I, you ask?  You figure it out :)

A good year in sports: the Yankees lose :)

Every time the NY Yankees fail to win it all, I am all the more happier because it is yet another reminder that money can't buy one everything

And what a fitting end it was: A-Rod swinging his bat in the air for the final out.  A former Texas Ranger who left the team to follow a contract that was unheard of.  His gazillion dollar contract can't make his bat hit the ball, and the game and the series ends. 
What a Hollywood ending!!!
Rodriguez made the final out of the series, striking out against Neftali Feliz. The former Ranger marveled over the fact that he was the one to end the series, adding, "I'm sure it made it a little bit sweeter for them."
Made it absolutely sweet for me, yes :)

And thus the team with the highest payroll goes home. How sweet that the highest paid guy loses swinging his bat to the lowest (well, second lowest) paid player of the other team.  Makes up for a lot of crap this year!

Friday, October 22, 2010

A neat letter to Juan "I fear Muslims" Williams

A simple one, which responds to the latest development that Faux Noose has upped the ante for Williams.  It says a lot in just these sentences:
Juan: You are not a hero. You're a decent guy who said something dumb. Apologize, try to improve, and move on. More importantly, these people, these newfound supporters, Sarah Palin and Bill O'Reilly and Mike Huckabee and Pat Buchanan and Roger Ailes, are not your friends. They are using you, Juan. They are using you because of who you suddenly are: a black, moderate, journalist who was fired from NPR for saying you don't like Muslims. Those credentials are extremely valuable for Fox News, and for the right wing at large. Because they can be easily presented in a way that bolsters the myth of the "liberal media," a myth which the right wing has used to shockingly successful effect over the last two decades, to systematically erode the influence of media outlets that they don't like. Respected, earnest, good media outlets. Like NPR. Now, Juan, you are a convenient tool in their furtherance of this campaign. $2 million is cheap, for them.
If you had said that you feared white people, Juan, would you have so many new friends? No, you would not. But you fear Muslims, just like they do, and so there they are. This episode is nothing for anyone to be proud of. At the same time, it doesn't need to be the beginning of the end of your legitimate career. Of course you're angry at the people who fired you. But letting go of that resentment and moving forward will be its own great reward. Simply apologize, go get a new job with a real media outlet that is not a propaganda arm of the Republican Party, and this will all soon be forgotten. Once you climb aboard Fox New for good, Juan, all of the respect that you've earned in your long career will immediately begin to disappear, until it is all gone, and you are just one more empty talking suit on the shameful, dishonest panorama of American cable news. You can do better.

BTW, that letter refers to Juan Williams justifying himself after NPR fired him.  This justification further confirms his bigotry and how he doesn't understand that it is bigotry:
Yesterday, NPR fired me for telling the truth. The truth is that I worry when I am getting on an airplane and see people dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims.
This is not a bigoted statement.
I wish we could do a new version of "Guess who's coming to dinner" ... Put together a great surprise party honoring Juan Williams and everybody in the room will be in "garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims" ... wouldn't that be hilarious!

A season of China bashing for short-term wins!

So, China has become one heck of a bogeyman for political and electoral points.  There are plenty of valid reasons to beat up on China, but the way the candidates and parties are abusing the China dimension cannot possibly make us more endearing to the party bosses across the Pacific.

The following ad (via James Fallows) is almost creepy:

The Daily Beast notes:
No less than 30 candidates across the country are running ads that negatively tie their opponent to China. On a trip to Ohio this week, my television was flooded with campaign ads, including a telling salvo against incumbent Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy, featuring Chinese money, Mao, and the red communist flag. Anti-China themes are also evident in late-inning videos from California and Nevada to Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
And then there is all the punditry that beats up on China. Yes, including Paul Krugman.
It will be one hell of a G20 meeting, I imagine.

It gets better

First Hillary Clinton, and now Barack Obama. Am mighty glad they did the videos

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What for a college degree?

More on this long running topic:
Some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree.
I am not sure how many of these entered these professions after earning their college degrees; I would assume that they are the majority.  In any case, do colleges and universities provide students with this data?  I guess not--it won't serve their enrollment business, right? 

The end is near ....

Meanwhile, student debts keep going up.
The class of 2009 graduated with an average of $24,000 in debts from student loans, up 6 percent from the previous year,
And the result in these awful economic conditions?  Examples like this story of a college grad working in the custodial services of the same university from where he graduated with a "degree in network and information-technology administration last December"

Obama chickens out: The Golden Temple fiasco

In the emotional response after 9/11, a Sikh was shot dead in Arizona--the turban that he wore, like many Sikhs who do for religious reasons, made the assailant think the Sikh was one of Osama's followers.  That ignorance about Sikhism as a religion cost an innocent Sikh man his life.

That was almost ten years ago. 

Now, it is not an uninformed person but the president of the United States who is apparently falling into that same ignorant trap.  The NY Times reports that Obama's people don't want the president to visit the Golden Temple because a few ignoramuses might then conclude that Obama visited an Islamic shrine because he is really a Muslim:

Mr. Obama was expected to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, next month, but there were questions about how he would cover his head. Sikh tradition requires that men tie a piece of cloth on their heads before entering the spiritual center. The president, who is Christian, has fought the perception that he is Muslim. Sikhs are regularly mistaken for Muslims.
“There’s a xenophobic trend in this country, where some people are calling him Muslim,” said Jasjit Singh, associate director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a Washington-based civil rights group. “If he gives in to this trend then effectively he’s emboldening them.”
It will be unfortunate if such stupid politics make a chicken out of the allegedly most powerful man on the planet.

Now, as even the same news item indicates, there are plenty of security reasons for the President to avoid going there.  Amritsar, which is the city where the Golden Temple is located, is not too far away from the Pakistan border.  Lahore, in Pakistan, is just about twenty miles from Amritsar.  It is all that close. 

But, how come this administration seems so hell bent on messing things up, as if the South Asian situation is not crisis enough? :(

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Free Falling: the US Dollar :(

Wiretapping: President Barack O'Bush

NPR should fire Juan Williams

Back in Feb 2009, I blogged my hope that NPR would get rid of Juan Williams and Mara Liasson.  Now, Williams has provided all the more evidence for why he belongs only at Faux Noose and not anywhere else.  What did he say?  Over to the Root:
On Monday's O'Reilly Factor, Fox News analyst Juan Williams told Bill O'Reilly that he supported his statement that "Muslims killed us on 9/11," and he feels nervous when he sees Muslims on the same plane he's on. In the words of ghetto prophet Ed Lover, "C'mon, son!" Is this another version of The Sixth Sense? Does Williams bury his head under his airline blanket and whisper, "I see Muslim people"? Guess what? We get nervous whenever Williams is about to speak. However, Williams should know nervousness, since plenty of paranoid folks feel nervous when they see him as a black man walk onto a plane or just walk down the street. Too bad he can't make the leap from one example of fear and paranoia to another, probably because of his Fox-induced coma.

Some Kool Aid they have at Faux Noose for Williams to preface these comments with "I am not a bigot." Yes, you are a bigot to say what you said.

It gets better

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stayin' Alive in The Wall

One of the best remixes I have seen/heard recently.  If we can create such things, then I am all the more in favor of Lawrence Lessig's proposal to teach remixing.


I wish I could vote for "none of the above"

Couple of years ago I watched the fantastic thespians at Ashland enacting Shakespeare's Coriolanus.  I had no idea of the story and, therefore, found the play that much more engaging.  Coriolanus is an arrogant Patrician, and does not heed to the advice that he has to pretend that he can relate to the plebes--which is how the other patricians behave.  As I was watching the play, all I could think of was our own arrogant politicians (editor: aren't politicians by definition arrogant?) who pretend that they are one of the "middle class" common folk.  And we are supposed to play along as well.  I would rather that politicians revealed their inner Coriolanus and went around boasting why they are the elite while the rest of us are suckers.

Last August, George Packer's depressing essay was yet another layer of revelation regarding how our elected officials work to promote themselves and ensure their re-elections--and not to advance the country's agenda.  If that didn't depress us enough, the same magazine, the New Yorker, now has a fine essay on how any meaningful action on an energy policy died in the Senate.
No diagnosis of the failure of Obama to tackle climate change would be complete without taking into account public opinion. In January, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to rank the importance of twenty-one issues. Climate change came in last. After winning the fight over health care, another issue for which polling showed lukewarm support, Obama moved on to the safer issue of financial regulatory reform.
In September, I asked Al Gore why he thought climate legislation had failed. He cited several reasons, including Republican partisanship, which had prevented moderates from becoming part of the coalition in favor of the bill. The Great Recession made the effort even more difficult, he added. “The forces wedded to the old patterns still have enough influence that they were able to use the fear of the economic downturn as a way of slowing the progress toward this big transition that we have to make.”
A third explanation pinpointed how Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman approached the issue. “The influence of special interests is now at an extremely unhealthy level,” Gore said. “And it’s to the point where it’s virtually impossible for participants in the current political system to enact any significant change without first seeking and gaining permission from the largest commercial interests who are most affected by the proposed change.”
Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman were not alone in their belief that transforming the economy required coöperation, rather than confrontation, with industry. American Presidents who have attempted large-scale economic transformation have always had their efforts tempered—and sometimes neutered—by powerful economic interests. Obama knew that, too, and his Administration had led the effort to find workable compromises in the case of the bank bailouts, health-care legislation, and Wall Street reform. But on climate change Obama grew timid and gave up, leaving the dysfunctional Senate to figure out the issue on its own.
I know what the solution is: stop reading the likes of the New Yorker!  if I didn't read them, I would not know how awful every one of these politicians are, right?  I truly wish for that blissful ignorance.

Oh well ...

The good news?  Coriolanus is soon coming to a movie theater near you.  Has some heavy-hitting actors: Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler (ok, not a great actor!!!) ...

Monday, October 18, 2010

My blog attracts traffic. even for searches like ...

I thought I might check the keyword searches that apparently generated some of the traffic to my blog. Interesting patterns.

Get this: my blog comes out as the first link (at least when I checked last) for quite a few.  I was impressed with these examples (all are Google searches)
  • For readers who are curious about the intellectual (and personal) debate between Paul Krugman and Raghuram Rajan: the search for krugman rajan shows that my post is #1, even ahead of Greg Mankiw :)
  • For those who are thinking of quitting engineering in favor of a different profession; such a search results in traffic to my page 
Who would have thought! 

And, of course, all the interest in the Ambanis and Tina Munim :)

Don't watch this video: it is a killer :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cornwallis defeated by Washington. Becomes India's Viceroy

A huge battle of historic significance came to an end in 1781.  Of significance simultaneously to the US and India.  The common denominator was the British general, Lord Cornwallis, who on October 17th began to negotiate the terms of surrender.

Yes, it was this very day that many years ago.

After two days of discussions, on October 19th, Cornwallis,:
signed orders surrendering his British Army to a combined French and American force outside the Virginia tobacco port of Yorktown. Cornwallis' second-in-command, Charles O'Hara, attempted to deliver Cornwallis's sword to French general, Comte de Rochambeau. But Rochambeau directed O'Hara to American General George Washington, who coolly steered the British officer to Washington's own second in command, Major General Benjamin Lincoln.
He then went home to England.

And then?

In 1786 Cornwallis headed to India to take over as the Governor General, and helped consolidate the colonization of India, particularly through the extremely successful divide-and-conquer strategy that the British so successfully pursued.  If only the various kingdoms had seen through the divisive approach, the outcomes--particularly in the military conquests--would have been disastrous for Cornwallis and the British.

Conwallis defeating Tipu Sultan was a tragic story that I read as a young boy.  Of course, there is no end to controversies related to Tipu Sultan and his father Hyder Ali.  But then, hey, remember that it is a land of argumentative Indians :)

I vaguely recall a romantic story involving the very religious Tipu Sultan and a Hindu woman ... maybe it is my imagination?

China's Charter 08, and the Nobel Peace Prize

Liu Xiaobo was one of the first to sign on to a document, Charter 08, the contents of which will/should astonish every American because we have, and take for granted, the basic rights and treatment that this document seeks for every Chinese.

The NY Review of Books presents the entire Charter, and the notes before and after are wonderfully explanatory both about the Charter itself, and about the people involved.
The planning and drafting of Charter 08 began in the late spring of 2008, but Chinese authorities were apparently unaware of it or unconcerned by it until several days before it was announced on December 10.
Soon, the authorities knocked on several doors, including that of the Nobel Peace Prize recipient:
It was also late on December 8 that another of the charter’s signers, the literary critic and prominent dissident Liu Xiaobo, was taken away by police.
I just can't see how the Chinese system can continue with its authoritarian structures forever.  I wonder what the endgame will be.  After all, how many experts--inside and outside--predicted the quick and sudden collapse of the Soviet Union?  And along with that, a redrawing of the political maps of Europe?  Most were caught flat-footed, including the CIA and even Condi Rice!

Here is to hoping for a quick and peaceful collapse of the Chinese Communism.

A shot at universities heard around the blogosphere

Like most people, I had no idea about the Thiel Fellowships until I read about it at Slate, where Jacob Weisberg rips into the idea and the man behind it.  Peter Thiel made his first huge gazillions from PayPal, and he is now an investor in new ventures including, yes, Facebook.

Thiel is offering fellowships to young and creative entrepreneurs.  So, what set off Weisberg?  Because, of the logic that the fellowships are founded on:
"University is a tremendously valuable experience, but when entrepreneurs are ready to launch, they should do so immediately, rather than sticking around to satisfy expectations of a full four years of college or eight of grad school,” said Elon Musk, who co-founded Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and PayPal. Musk himself stopped out of his graduate program before classes began to co-found his first company Zip2, which he sold to Compaq for $307 million.
It is pretty much a Kobe Bryant approach--Thiel says that if you are entrepreneurially as talented as Bryant is in basketball, then why go to college and waste time when you can get going right away?  And even more:
"Because education seeks to impart past knowledge, when you are trying to create a technological breakthrough, you have to create new knowledge, and there is no way to teach that. There was no course at University of Arizona on ‘‘how to cure aging.' Hopefully, this program will allow others to work on ambitious projects themselves, before they've taken on a crippling amount of student debt,” said William Andregg, CEO and co-founder of Halcyon Molecular.
There are many reasons to applaud this idea, and a whole bunch of reasons to critique it as well.  However, looks like Weisberg kind of lost it and let his emotions take over:
Where to start with this nasty idea? A basic feature of the venture capitalist's worldview is its narcissism, and with that comes the desire to clone oneself—perhaps literally in Thiel's case. Thus Thiel fellows will have the opportunity to emulate their sponsor by halting their intellectual development around the onset of adulthood, maintaining a narrow-minded focus on getting rich as young as possible, and thereby avoid the siren lure of helping others or contributing to the advances in basic science that have made the great tech fortunes possible. Thiel's program is premised on the idea that America suffers from a deficiency of entrepreneurship. In fact, we may be on the verge of the opposite, a world in which too many weak ideas find funding and every kid dreams of being the next Mark Zuckerberg. This threatens to turn the risk-taking startup model into a white boy's version of the NBA, diverting a generation of young people from the love of knowledge for its own sake and respect for middle-class values.
Secular Right points out, correctly, that most students (and their professors, too?) are not in universities because of their love of knowledge for the sake of knowledge:
Knowledge for “its own sake”? What planet does Jacob Weisberg live on where American university students are seeking knowledge for “its own sake”? The American university racket is by and large one of credentialing and signalling. Most college graduates are unabashed philistines. Their primary goal in life is to seem intelligent, not be intelligent.
 Reason summarizes Weisberg:
 as a critique, this is shoddy stuff. But as a window into the Weisberg worldview, it's very valuable indeed. Count the assumptions:
1. Intellectual development halts when you leave school.
2. Entrepreneurs do not "help others" or "contribute to advances in basic sciences."
3. Launching a startup is a "white boy" thing.
4. Respect for middle-class values and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake are inconceivable if you avoid the higher-education path that Jacob Weisberg followed. But Thiel's the guy who wants to clone himself.
As Ken Robinson so charmingly and funnily describes, education in its current structure is geared mostly to create university professors in the image of the current ones.  It is heights of narcissism right there.  If Thiel wants to provide another opportunity for the young, talented and creative minds, why not?  The only unfortunate aspect of the Thiel Fellowships seem to be the ideological motivations of the backer.  But, hey, aren't a good chunk of the university faculty dogmatically ideological as well?

Above all, I would argue that the Thiel Fellowship is merely yet another piece of evidence pointing to the growing unhappiness with the academic-industrial-complex.

BTW, Claudia Dreifus tweets that she and Andrew Hacker will be on BookTV on Sunday, Oct 24th @ 7:00 ET, to discuss their book, Higher Education?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Remembering Mandelbrot ...

Benoit Mandelbrot and Buckminster Fuller were impressive thinkers in their own ways and in their fields, and even if I didn't always understand their works, I was blown away by their innovative approaches.  Mandelbrot died.
Mandelbrot traced his work on fractals to a question he first encountered as a young researcher: How long is the coast of Britain? The answer, he was surprised to discover, depends on how closely one looks. On a map an island may appear smooth, but zooming in will reveal jagged edges that add up to a longer coast. Zooming in further will reveal even more coastline.
"Here is a question, a staple of grade-school geometry that, if you think about it, is impossible," Mandelbrot told The New York Times this year in an interview. "The length of the coastline, in a sense, is infinite."
A wonderfully gifted scientist.  As the old saying goes, they don't make too many of 'em anymore :(
When asked to look back on his career, Mandelbrot compared his own trajectory to the rough outlines of clouds and coastlines that drew him into the study of fractals in the 1950s.
"If you take the beginning and the end, I have had a conventional career," he said, referring to his prestigious appointments in Paris and at Yale. "But it was not a straight line between the beginning and the end. It was a very crooked line."
I recall watching a PBS program years ago that was all about fractals and fractal geometry and, of course, it included Mandelbrot's observations as well.  I tracked down this video Mandelbrot delivering a TED talk:

What would a Libertarian-Democrat platform look like?

I suppose I run into problems with unprofessional obnoxious arrogant ideological loud faculty leaders on campus not because I am from the conservative right, but because I am a libertarian-Democrat.  The flavor of libertarianism that runs counter to many of the issues that are near and dear to the social-Democrats and self-professed Socialists ....

What might be in brief the guiding principles of a libertarian-Democrat approach to social organization and governance?  Here is Terry Michael:
The government should assure liberty by staying as far away as possible from our bank accounts, our bedrooms, and our bodies. Spread pluralistic democracy and free markets by example, understanding that neither can be planted by force on political real estate lacking indigenous cultivators for their growth. Restore the moral authority of mid-20th century civil rights, fashioning public policy around individuals, not tribal identity groups.
More here on Michael's manifesto

My favorite libertarian-Democrat public intellectual? Camille Paglia, of course ... too bad for people like me that she has taken time off from public discourses ...

Middle East immigrants, milk, and European growth

Spiegel's report, from where I got this map as well (ht), notes:
New excavations in Turkey, as well as genetic analyses of domestic animals and Stone Age skeletons, paint a completely different picture:

  • At around 7000 BC, a mass migration of farmers began from the Middle East to Europe.
  • These ancient farmers brought along domesticated cattle and pigs.
  • There was no interbreeding between the intruders and the original population.
Mutated for Milk
The new settlers also had something of a miracle food at their disposal. They produced fresh milk, which, as a result of a genetic mutation, they were soon able to drink in large quantities. The result was that the population of farmers grew and grew.

Why is there something instead of nothing?

How did the universe come about?  Why is there something instead of nothing?  While offering ten testable explanations, Michael Shermer articulates the argument that I have offered in my own less sophisticated ways for a number of years:
in answer to the question Why is there something instead of nothing?, it is okay to say “I don’t know” and keep searching. There is no need to turn to supernatural answers just to fulfill an emotional need for certainty and comfort. Science’s uncertainty is its greatest strength. We should embrace it.
I have always felt people have been drawn to religions because of the sense of security those narratives offer.  Which is also why most of the people who feel "secure" within their religious explanations of how all these came about and where we will end either make fun at the obvious holes in other religious narratives, or even feel threatened by them.

My only problem with some of the science-based explainers is that their preference to mask this uncertainty of science and, instead, project that as the absolute truth.  Now, I understand that a great majority of the non-science population might not appreciate the nuance when we talk about science's uncertainty.  But, then neither am I happy with beating the life out of them by telling them that the scientific knowledge we have is definitive.

A few years ago, my parents were describing to me how my dead grandmother spoke through my cousin.  In a respectful tone I told them that this was not possible, and perhaps it was nothing but some psychological aspect of my cousin's that needed to be understood.  My mother asked me a few questions and at the end of it all I told her something like this: a long time ago, the Hindu religious narrative explained the eclipse as a war between the good and evil forces.  Scientific thinking--even in the old India--explained that there were no gods and demons involved here, and that one could even predict when eclipses would occur.  Slowly, in many aspects of life, we have been able to drive out the old incorrect explanations, and offer rational ones that withstand scrutiny.  We have a long way to go, but it does not mean that we will have to fill the gaps with "faith."

Come to think of it, that might have been the last time we discussed our respective approaches to understanding this universe.