Friday, October 17, 2008

My views / opinions on the ballot initiatives and elected officials for this election (2008)

My thoughts on the elections - on the propositions and the elected representatives for the executive, legislative and judiciary branches.

Prop 1a. High speed rail line: YES (me); LATimes (Yes)

Authorizes $9.95 billion in bonds for a high-speed rail line connecting Northern and Southern California. From LATimes: The "backbone" segment from Los Angeles to San Francisco is projected to cost $33 billion, with about 75% from federal and private sources. Until those funds are secured, the state won't issue most of its bonds. If the line never gets built, the state's losses will be well under $2 billion. That's not too much to wager on a visionary leap that would cement California's place as the nation's most forward-thinking state. -- Makes sense to me!

Prop 2. Standards for Confining Farm Animals: YES (me); LATimes (No)
The ultimate cruelty is eating the animals so at some level this proposition leaves me wanting a stronger statement against cruelty to other lifeforms but such is the case usually with the propositions. I am voting yes because the proposition is a no brainer. The LA Times makes a lame argument stating that this will drive up coasts of producing eggs here and we will end up with cheaper, imported eggs. Well.. it is ultimately up to the consumers at that point to reject this and the economic argument is rather silly to continue support for cruelty and mistreatment of another species.

Prop 3. Children's hospitals: MAYBE (me); LATimes (Yes)
Authorizes nearly $1 billion in general obligation bonds to benefit hospitals that treat seriously ill children, is a testament to the problems in the state's healthcare system and the need for comprehensive reform. Previous bond measure was for 750M - all but 350M is spent but rising construction costs and increasing reliance on these hospitals (all are UC system hospitals which treat state-insured and uninsured children) leads LATimes to recommend it.

What makes me pause is the opposite question - what if we don't approve this bond? Do we end up closing these hospitals? What happens?

Prop. 4: Waiting period & parental notification: NO (me); LATimes (no)
No brainer I think! If the parent and child don't have a good enough relationship where the daughter can talk to the parents, its probably not a wise idea to enforce the daughter to have to wait and deal with parents in an otherwise difficult situation. This is an attack on the right to have an abortion and should be rejected. How come we never see propositions aimed at better sex ed., and if "you" (using the famous McCain airquotes) really care about life, a proposition against the death penalty!

Prop. 5: Drug rehab program bond: NO (me); LATimes (no)
On the surface, the program seems nice because it argues to give drug rehab instead of jail as an option to those arrested and found guilty. However, the LATimes makes a convincing argument against it here.

Prop 6. Police and Law Enforcement funding: NO (me); LATimes (no)
Another request for money to increase funding for the criminal justice system. While crime rates are coming down, there is no demonstrated need for this measure. Moreover it promises to not increases taxes so the billion dollars come from other social service programs which would likely have helped keep people from ending up in jails in the first place. No wonder every sheriff in the state supported this measure.. but we should not be working towards a police state.

Prop 7. Renewable energy generation: NO (me); LATimes (no)
Requires specific goals for generating green energy but its poorly written and has a large number of loopholes which make it unclear whether it will actually achieve any of the desired goals. Almost everyone on both sides of the energy debate are against this measure which makes it easy to vote against it.

Prop 8. Eliminates right of same sex couple of marry: NO (me); LATimes (no)
ABSOLUTELY not! This is Christian evangelical movements continuing attempts to outlaw behavior they do not like. Not too long ago we had laws against interracial marriage and this smacks of similar terrible discrimination. It saddens me. Prop 8 is horrifying and should be defeated. I can't believe its as close as it is today in the polls.

Prop 9. Victims rights - further input from victims at all stages of system: NO (me); LATimes (no)
Again no evidence that this is not already being done and no evidence that this is needed. Should be defeated because the law already provides victims with the right to provide input in the process. Morever is expected to cause increases in jail and court costs which are unnecessary.

Prop 10. Alternative fuel and energy bonds: NO (me); LATimes (no)
Gives tax payer money to green "sounding" initiatives but most money goes to "natural gas" vehicles not truly green cars for instance. The measure is,
apparently funded and meant to enrich one single person - T. Boone Pickens of Texas.. hmm.. why don't we make a proposition to prevent out of state residents from trying to influence / benefit from us in this way! Voting NO.

Prop 11. Redistricting Initiative: YES (me); LATimes (yes)
Basically passes the redistricting duty to a commission. Though not ideal, this is needed because very few of the State races are competetive these days and the redistricting is left to legislators - it is not in their interests to make thir own districts competetive. So this is a step towards a more fair redistricting initiative.

Prop. 12: Homes for vets: Maybe (me); LATimes(yes)
From LATimes: " would replenish funds in the CalVet Home Loan program, which provides mortgages to military veterans at below-market interest rates. The tax-free bonds authorized by this proposition would cost an estimated $1.8 billion over 30 years, but the principal, interest and expenses would all be covered by the borrowers. There's no direct cost to the general public, just the indirect cost of tax revenue foregone on the bonds..." The Times claims that the default rate is very low and this is a good idea.

While I am thankful for veterans and people who choose to serve the country, I do not want to encourage the overall behavior of violence. If we approve this, why not approve an equivalent program for people who serve the people directly like teachers, peace corps volunteers, nurses etc. I don't think that we should not single out one group and vets are often used as a litmus test for patriotism.

COUNTY Measures:

Measure R: 0.5 cent increase over next 30 years for Metro: YES (me)
Although most cities are not for this measure, nearly every environmental group and citizens groups are for it. The cities like Pasadena, South Pas are upset because they feel they won't get enough money back and don't have much say but they need to look beyond their own needs and recognize that their citizens commute and visit other places in SoCal and are sick of sitting in traffic all the time! This will reduce the traffic congestion in the long run and allow us to get to the beach and airport using Metro.

Measure TT: Pasadena Unified Bond measure: YES (me)
Even though I don't have kids in school, this is a desperately needed and bold measure to improve our school systems. I am happy to contribute a tiny bit because having a strong public education system is good for the society.

My choice for the elected officials:

President: Obama / Biden
US Representative: Adam Schiff
State Senate: Carol Liu
State Rep: Anthony Portantino

Judicial: Merritt, Loo, Connolly, O' Gara, and Jessic
All of these based on LA Times opinion here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Darfur and Sudan...

Tonight as I ate my dinner and flipped on the Boob Tube.. nothing was on that seemed appetizing on any channel except, of course, PBS which had the show "Wide Angle". The show tonight was called "Heart of Darfur" and I thought what more could I learn but after flipping through all the channels again, I came back to it. And never blinked an eye as the show drew me in and I sobbed..

Not that the story was surprsing or new but a reminder. Since the beginning of this year, 180,000 more refugees! Rape and murder still the mark of the Janjaweed, a world apparently oblivious. And yet there was hope -- the UN general who reminded us that Sierra Leone was a UN success. And earlier Mozambique. And Krystoff's conclusion that the US could do more - it has had previous success at least 4 times with the Sudanese government - and the knowledge that only one declaration from China - that they would shipping arms could change the tenor / the policy of Sudan in a heartbeat -- all seemed like simple and obvious solutions. So what do we do next? I don't know but the fact that Mia Farrow alone shamed China into allowing UN troops in there was inspiring - what US congress person is standing up for Darfur. Obama? McCain?

I am going to write to Schiff..

Krystoff's description of the courage and self-sacrifice of a young woman to save her 12 year old sister from rape -- offering herself up to the Janjaweed made me sob.

I washed the dishes next.. and couldn't help but think of all the water flowing down the drain here -- as freely as blood probably flows in Sudan but certainly not water! How can we live with ourselves in peace? or sleep at night?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Traavel Blog from Ecuador - Still being completed..

Travel Log - Quito, Ecuador

December 22 & 23, 2007

For nine months or more I had been dreaming about Ecuador - about being in the Galapagos. I even went through SCUBA diving certification so when I flew out early last week from Los Angeles, I couldn{t have been more excited about this three week trip. On the way over, I tried to read the Rough Guide but it just didn´t hold my attention. Landed at Miami and have decided that at least the American airlines wingo f it is terrible. There is not a single decent book store in the entire area and the lounge is so so.. Its crowded and not very inviting at all. My flight to Quito was delayed by an hour and a half - a broken captain´s chair.. >I wonder how it broke since it was the same plane that we took from LAX. Anyhow ' we get a different plane and we finally take off -- I am looking forward to being in Quito.. we arrive over Quito in time only to be put in a holding pattern by ground control because the fog (neblina) is too thick. Our very Gringo captain´s admirable efforts at spanish are quickly deteriorating and he is mixing in English words with his very American accented spanish. After circling for nearly an hour we get diverted to Guayaquil because we are low on fuel. All indications seem to be that we may spend the night in Guayaquil.. at this point I realize that my phone is working on roaming but who knows how much it is per minute. I try to call the numbers I have for Cristina who is supposed to be picking me up at the airport but realize I have the wrong numbers. Then amazingly we take off from Guayaquil at about 1am and land in Quito around 2am.. so now we are over 4 hrs late and guess what - yup one bag does not make it -- by the time I go through the American airlines lady to report this and say that I am at hostal Arupo (which I thankfully remember having discussed with Cristina) -- its nearly 2:30 am! And when I walk out - there is no one to pick me up - no Cristina. I panick slightly - the person in the seat next to me '- who by the way has given me this nasty cold that i am still fighting - is also without a ride. We are standing around like deer caught in the headlights fumbling with my phone to make a call when a kind person asks in english 'Can we help you?¨' these are a mom and her son who has just flown in from houston i think and they offer to give us a ride to La Mariscal area where my hostal is supposed to be. At 3 am when you are desperate you will clutch at anything.. so my row'mate and I get into the car.. it has a Yale sticker so it can´t be that bad right? Anyways - how awesome of these people to take us to our hotel - I am very excited abouyt Ecuador - so nice of these folks to be so kind!

I ring the bell at the hostal - a man opens the door and in my broken spanish, i tell him i have a room reserved by cristina vallejo - he doesn¨t even ask for an ID - just takes me to a room and goes to bed! I sleep very poorly - dream about getting in touch with Cristina with a mixture of made up signals and diving signals.. i wake up around 7am.. after having only slept a few hours. Cristina, in the meanwhile has called and left her numbers. i call her and we connect finally and make plans to meet in a couple of hours. i eat a sumptuous breakfast and have a nice conversation with an english woman, camilla, about their travels in Ecuador. I am excited to see and experience all that is Ecuador..

Cristina and I meet up around lunch time and head over to old town. Plan for the day is to do some shopping, see some of old town and then go to her younger sister{s for a xmas dinner. We go to old town and walk around - its a fantastic experience - see photos and captions. We have a loverly 3 hour meal at this cafe near Plaza San Francisco and do some shopping and head to her parents place - from there to Carmen Marie and Jose´s place in the valley of Cuyamba.. past the University where Cristina and her sisters studied. Its an awesome experience at the party - reminds me a lot of India as there are like 20-30 people in this small townhome all having a good time - eating and drinking - although the food is not as central to the party as it would be in an Indian event. I catch about 10% of the conversations in Spanish ' its incredibly difficult because there are so many people talking and I make up my own stories in my head - which are funny to me and I laugh along, perhaps out of step but its even funnier when Kitty explains the real story to me.

So then we return back to Quito.. its nearly 11am. I am dead tired and hungry - after Kitty drops me off, I start walking to the hostal door and promptly trip at a tiny step that I didn't know was there. I fall hard and jam my hand, esp. my index finger on my right hand.. it is still sore! Worse yet, but I don't discover till later, the fall damages my Mac and its dead.. it works but the screen is 75% white.. anyways I discover this when I return from getting a quick dinner around the corner at this fantastic place called casa de boca or something.. its a litle pink house with really fanatastic food in gringoland that is La Mariscal.. so I come back - discover the computer is dead and just give up on the day and go to sleep. My cold is getting worse..

December 24th, 2007

Friday, July 6, 2007

Practical Jainism

I believe that Jainism is a philosophy and not a religion, regardless of how it might be currently practiced. This is mine and only my interpretation of what I consider one of the most simple, yet sophisticated and elegant set of rules to build ones life around.

In one sentence, my philosophy is to spend this life trying to improve and better my soul using the principles below to move it towards perfection, to its ultimate release from the cycle of life and death.

1. Ahimsa - lacking the desire to kill. But its more than that. I believe that all life - every bug, every plant, every animal, every fish, every human is equal, sacred and worthy of achieving Moksha (enlightenment, release from life and death). I do my best every day to cause as little pain in thought, word and deed to any life process as possible.

2. Aparigraha - lacking attachment. I interpret this as nothing in my life should control me. This means not being addicted to anything or anyone. This includes types of food, material things like my car, my stereo, my Mac (trust me that is hard!). I should be completely adjustable to any situation no matter how difficult or easy.

3. Anekantvaad - Non-absolutism. All opinions are equally likely. This means I want to respect people who disagree with me. I want to accept and listen and really hear what the person is saying and what the person is trying to say. I want to try and be empathetic and not become angry when someone disagrees or attacks me.

4. Kshamapna - Forgiveness. It is important for me to be able to forgive and forget. I want to forgive those who I think have hurt me, and also learn to forgive myself for my own transgressions.

Basic questions faced by me and tried to solve in context of Jain philosophy:

1. To drink or not to drink alcohol
  • I think it is okay to drink alcohol as long as you do not lose control of your senses, i.e. as long as alcohol does not control you! It is true that excessive drinking harms your health, and has a host of other social, economic and health issues associated with it but in moderation and an occasional drink seems okay to me. Let's examine it in terms of the 4 principles - drinking alcohol is not violating Ahimsa, Anekaantvaad, Kshamaapna for sure. Its only the principle of Aparigraha that needs to be looked at carefully in context of drinking alcohol.
2. To recite Navkaar Mantra for X number of times as a rule per day
  • Often elders in our community say you must recite this Mantra this many times. Why do we make such rules? What is the purpose? I think its a good suggestion because I believe this mantra reminds you to be humble but doing it as a rule without the emotions and purpose seems to be a waste, a farcical exercise with no real purpose!
3. To eat potatoes, onions, and other things that grow underground

  • Again - let's examine where this comes from. It is related to the very first principle of Ahimsa. The idea was that if you eat potatoes, onions and other things that grow underground you have to uproot the plant and that would be committing himsa. But let's look at the current status of food. Eating anything that you have not grown, that you have
4. To drink milk, yogurt, cheese and other animal products
  • In the spirit of the philosphy, animal products could be used when they were by-products but now that we know how most, if not all, animal products are made/produced, I do not believe we can use most of them. In the US this is particularly true when it comes to the dairy industry. Check out the short documentary Meet your Meat! but a fair *WARNING* This video might change your eating habits. After watching this, knowing that one of our main goals is to be free of violence / harm to others, I believe one cannot eat/drink animal products.
5. To bike vs. drive
  • A no-brainer here. Harm to the environment is as integral a part of Ahimsa as there can be. Often our convenience / way of life harms others and the destruction of the environment is one of the most dangerous acts. So obviously biking vs. driving - duh!? Biking.
6. To hold grudges against people who I think have wronged me
7. To debate or not to debate the merits of Jainism to other Jains
8. To call Jainism a religion or a philosophy
9. Is there a hell? Is there heaven? Does it matter?
10. Who was Mahavir? a God?
11. Is there a God in Jain philosophy?
12. How do you deal with parents / siblings who don't really listen to you?
13. How do you deal with parents / siblings who do not treat you like an adult?
14. How do you deal with passive aggressive people?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Travelling Blues

It has been a long few months. Waaay too much travelling.
Jan, Feb - India
March - home
April - CARMA, Tenerife
May - Hawaii
July - NJ
August - China
Oct - Grinnell
Nov - home
Dec - Ecuador?

Is that crazee or what? I have to stop travelling!!!!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

An Inspiring Afternoon Seminar with Tom Friedman and Dr. Nate Lewis

Yesterday I went to the first seminar in a new series launched here at Caltech entitled "Sustainable Energy Seminar Series." Endowed by a couple of Caltech grads who were inspired by a lecture by Dr. Nate Lewis, a professor in Chemistry, this series brings guests for discussions about what may be the most important topic / crisis this planet has faced to date.

Before I go further and you lose interest - let me just note that there is a March on DC - to put pressure on our govt. to make climate change a central issue. Please go and see this web site and if you can go - go! :)

The first guest was Tom Friedman from the NYTimes. Appropriately the moderator / interviewer was Dr. Nate Lewis who was, in retrospect, as much a star of the show as Mr. Friedman. In less than two hours, the two managed to cover an amazing amount of ground and left the audience both depressed and inspired at the same time. This blog is an attempt at capturing the main points from the seminar. These are not in any order - these are just points I jotted down because they struck me as interesting / unique (trying to paraphrase the speakers in italics):

Coal and Ethanol are Geo-political alternatives - They are NOT Environmentally Sound Alternatives: There is no such thing as clean coal despite what you might hear in the media! Even if you could burn coal, and capture all the by-products like CO2 - where are you going to put them? If you try and bury them underground, you have to ensure they remain there for about a thousand years so that they can then be absorbed into the earth and not released into the atmosphere. (My additions: The oceans are one of our most important CO2 reservoirs - but as the temperature warms their ability to absorb the CO2 will decrease. Even more scary is the impending release of methane - a substance 8 times worse than CO2 as a green house gas - as the oceans warm, methane trapped in the Earth's crust will be released increasing dramatically the global warming cycle. I thought about adding links here but you can google this as well as I can I am sure. )

Ethanol - another politically idiotic idea. It takes more energy to produce ethanol than is saved by burning it as a fuel in cars. The only reason ethanol (like even more ridiculous hydrogen fuel cells) is hip is because it is being pushed by corn producing states! Even if one could produce ethanol more efficiently -- think about the infrastructure required to get ethanol engines, gas stations, pipelines put in! Does this make sense? Any respectable scientist will be able to tell you why ethanol is not a panacea for our energy problems. We need to go to solar, wind or nuclear energy - the latter being the most difficult to sell because of the general fear amongst people about the word "nucular"!

Global Dimming:
At the end of the seminar, I mentioned in the question and answer session the incredibly disturbing new research on global dimming. See more about this here or see this documentary! Basically the pollutants we have created (the soot particles) have gone into the upper atmosphere and created new sites for ice nucleation thus increasing the earth's reflectivity (ice!) and reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the earth. As a result the measured 1 degree temperature increase is really more like 5 or 6 degrees - and our horizon for global warming is not 50 years as Gore says but more like 10 years!! This is one of the most troublesome new findings!

Changing the Vocabulary Green vs. Geo-political / geo-strategy / geo-economics: Paraphrasing Tom Friedman here: When the word green first came into existence, environmentalists were portrayed as sissies, girly-men, wimps by the establishment. For their part, environmentalists accepted these labels because they didn't feel that everyone was entitled to be part of the green/eco-movement. They wanted to create a more boutique-y group. But now more and more people are recognizing that being eco-friendly is a good thing and the word green has come to Main Street. But we still need to change the language to make being green a more holistic approach - people have to start realizing that the environment or a green outlook affects every aspect of their life!

Although Green has come to Main Street, it has not gone anywhere - not a SINGLE member of the Congress has suggested, for instance, a tax of say a mere 10 cents on use of gasoline! You would think that just one member would go out on a limb in the last few years and suggest such an idea - but such an idea is out-rageous - we have no green policy - we have faux green realism / green politics. The mid-western states want Ethanol front and center (even though Ethanol and using Ethanol is LESS fuel efficient than using oil or even coal!), the coal states like Penn, W.Va want "clean coal" - again no such thing exists (see more below).

We need to start changing our language because language is very powerful. We need to not have a environmental policy that encompasses becoming green in context of geo-politics
(my additions here: think Iraq and oil, famine and sub-saharan Africa, clean drinking water and Bolivia! etc.), geo-economics and geo-strategy.

Failure of Politicians: As noted above the US politicians have completely failed. We have said that there is a war on terror now and either you are with us or against us - but when it comes to the environment and the Kyoto protocol, we are not with anyone! How can anyone expect the world to follow us or believe us! And its not just he politicians - its the failure of each individual voter for not making their politicians listen - it is NOT enough to go see An Inconvenient Truth and talk about it, or to buy a Prius. (my addendum: These are necessary but not sufficient requirements for each of us.) However the voters who will be most affected by the environmental disaster we are creating have not even been born yet! So they cannot march to DC and demand change -- what we need to do - is to appeal to the Ethic of Stewardship. For our children and grand-children! (my addition - there is march being organized next month - go here:

Recognizing the Enormous Scale of the Problem: If you wanted to convert all energy usage to nuclear in the world, we would have to build a new nuclear plant every other day for the next 50 years! That is the scale of the problem we are talking about. That is the amount of energy we are using today! Yes, conservation is critical and will help (more below) but recognize that this is an enormous challenge and without a obvious reward for innovation (next)...

Innovations: Imagine this: When the first person invented a cell phone, s/he could have gone to someone in the world and said - hey here's a phone you can carry around with you! The consumer would have said "Wow - that's incredible - here's five hundred dollars for it!" - these five hundred would then be re-invested to produce more and cheaper phones and innovation would thus proceed. However the case is different for clean energy because there is nothing new for the consumer when s/he flips on the lights whether their electricity comes from coal or wind energy. This is a serious issue and the only way out is to create policy that dis-incentivizes using fossil fuels - i.e. a tax on gasoline! instead of current model where we actually pay a premium for being green!

Another nuggest of info was in a conversation with someone at GE. This person at GE health division said they were in the 7th generation of innovations in medical technology at GE. At the same time - guess how many innovations there have been in generating energy? One! Nuclear energy in the 50s. Except for that we have developed no new technology and one of the reasons is a lack of political, economic and social emphasis on energy generation techniques.

The China Price: It is not feasible nor fair to expect someone in China or India making $500 a year to pay the high premium of alternative energy. What we need to avoid the impending crisis that seems inevitable is to be able to create energy at the China price. My addendum: Best way is to make a huge investment in basic R&D (research and development) - the market is certainly out there and given an equivalent choice, it seems to me that people would choose an alternative energy source that is clean and not a contributor to global warming. Again it goes back to us, as voters, and as part of one of the richest and most technologically advanced country (and more broadly any citizen of a western country) to push our politicians to make this investment - this must be our top priority.

Market Pragmatist vs. Market fundamentalist: I colored this purple hoping to draw attention to one of the classic right-wing / old school arguments - oil reserves in the world are part of the market and if we don't buy it, someone else will. So why should we not get it ourselves! Certainly China and India will buy the fossil fuels if we don't. There are several problems with this market fundamentalist point of view promoted by some analysts at think tanks like the Kato institute. One, oil is not an unlimited resource - so should we not reduce our dependence on it. If we reduce the demand for oil, its price should go down. The price of oil is inversely correlated with the index of freedom around the world (this is in a recent Friedman article) - basically when the price of oil goes down, countries seem to elect more liberal politicians, institute more market reform and improve on human rights and civil liberties. When I find a link to this article I will post it here. In any case - point is that the market fundamentalist way of thinking is very old school - as an exmaple, Friedman noted that if people thought that way, slavery would never have been challenged and abolished.

CO2 costs zero dollars: CO2 is invisible, odorless and costs nothing to release into the atmosphere! Again - government + public pressure is the only way to regulate this. Stringent cap and trade policies / laws would make a difference here.

California Rocks! In 1979 California elected (?) appointed someone who has been incredible at keeping our environmental footprint in check. In fact the average Californian is no worse in their environmental footprint today than they were 28 years ago!! In the meantime, the rest of the country has increased its footprint by 50% per person! This means that if the rest of the country adopted California standards for cars, emissions, power plants etc - we would see an INSTANTAENOUS reduction of nearly 50% in our contributions to global warming and pollution!

Schwarznegger's popularity and ability to bridge the Dem/Rep divide on the environment issue is attracting other states and other politicians. Now if we can only make the current administration utter the words "Conservation!" and make the presidential candidates more green!!

Optimistic or Pessimistic? When asked this question - Friedman replied - pessimists are usually right but optimists bring about change! So he prefers to be an optimist but he believes we may have to wait till another crisis before America and the world take heed! If Katrina had hit NYC or LA or DC - things would be moving at a very different pace.

Doing it in the Dark: Williams College has a competetion between its dorms to see which one can conserve the most energy. They have adopted the Kyoto protocol standards on campus and the slogan on campus is "let's do it in the dark!". Catchy huh? Anyways - what we need to do is to educate the next generation of students in green technology and a greener future. No architect, chemist, engineer etc. should be able to get their degree without taking at least one class in green or eco-friendly designs and technology.