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Earth Hour/G20 and doing somethig real for the environment

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These pictures of various landmarks all over the world during last Sunday’s Earth Hour are quite breathtaking.

But can someone tell me why is it necessary to keep the lights on at that swimming pool Water Cube thingie in Beijing for the remaining evening and all the other evenings in the year (unless some event is on)? Or why the Eiffel Tower needs all those lights (as if some Parisians or tourists would bump into it accidentally at night) ?

I always get pissed off by these gimmicky let’s save the environment by doing doing something symbolic for a short time movements.  Why switch of lights for just that one hour ? Be sensible, and switch off whatever lights/fans/AC is not necessary every day; replace all your incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones; don’t leave your desktop running overnight; drive less, walk more. There are quite a many ways in which you can contribute to saving the environment, and save yourself some cash while doing so.

Which brings me to the G-20 summit currently being held in London. One of their agendas is to do something about the environment. Dudes, just do your discussions via tele-conferencing and save the environment by not flying world leaders and their entourages (to say nothing of the press, or the emissions from all those protesters making their trip to London) halfway around the globe for meaningless photo-opportunities. And the countries save money as well. Would be such a better gesture, if symbolism is what you are looking for.

Finally, in context of the G-20, wanted to point out this recent remark by British PM Gordon Brown: “The option of doing nothing is not available to us” ( heard on the Bugle podcast), in essense admitting that governments were doing nothing previously !

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 1, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Question to all the US residents……

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Has Obama solved the financial crisis, prevented torture, made global warming go away,  stopped war etc (oh, and found me a nice, cushy job) !? I mean he has had 24 hours to work on these stuff, come on !

On a serious note: I am quite happy that the US finally has a president who can more than put together two consecutive coherent sentences – in fact, one who is truly a great orator. I am even happier as a scientist that the new President does not share his predecessor’s disdain for intellectualism, and in fact has gone out of his way to court scientists in his administration. And I do realize it is quite an historic occasion for the US to be electing an African-American president, barely a few decades removed from an era when in some parts of the country they were not even allowed to ride in the  same portion of the bus.

However, what does  irk me is the group of Twitterers, bloggers and Facebook-ers who seem to view the inauguration of Obama as the 44th US president as the coming of some sort of a Messiah. The manner of going into raptures over every bit of  utterings/actions of the new President and the examples of  near-worshipping devotion I have noted on the internet are simply beyond satrical proportions. And the sad thing is that these people are setting themselves up for a big disappointment, because whatever he is, Obama apppears to me firstly as a very pragmatic politician.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

January 22, 2009 at 12:24 am

Posted in Politics, Rants, Science

The Day Comedy Died

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January 20th 2009.

After eight years of endless ready-made material, where will the likes of The Daily Show, Colbert Report, Wait Wait..don’t Tell Me etc turn to ?

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

January 20, 2009 at 8:54 am

Posted in Ect., Personal, Politics

Steven Chu to be Energy Sec’y

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According to various media outlets,  Barack Obama is expected to tap Nobel-laureate physicist, Stanford faculty, and current  director of Lawrence Berkeley LaboratorySteven Chu as his Energy Secretary.

Considering the importance of energy policy – not just for US, but the world – in the coming years, this is a great decision by Obama. Not just because it is a welcome departure from the anti-intellectual stance of the current administration, but also Chu is really serious about global warming.

On a personal level, there are some trivially interesting connections: Chu is an alumni from my graduate school and I have heard him present a really entertaining talk, plus I have been involved in a bit of research emanating (though much much downstream) from his pioneering work on single molecule fluorescence imaging.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

December 11, 2008 at 7:53 am

A Spanish approach won’t work

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Amitav Ghosh writes an op-ed in New York Times, continuing the western liberal media (mainly BBC/NYT) motif of equating India and Pakistan as equal sufferers of terrorism:

The choice of targets in Mumbai clearly owes something to the September bombing of the Islamabad Marriott, another high-profile site sure to include foreign casualties. Here already there is common ground between the two countries — for if this has been a bad year for India in regard to terrorism, then for Pakistan it has been still worse.

Ghosh isn’t as bad of an apologist as some of the other recent commentators, but his political opinions are equally naive. Ghosh recommends a Spanish-style response in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings:

If 9/11 is a metaphor for one kind of reaction to terrorism, then 11-M (as it is known in Spanish) should serve as shorthand for a different kind of response: one that emphasizes vigilance, patience and careful police work in coordination with neighboring countries. This is exactly the kind of response India needs now, and fortunately this seems to be the course that the government, led by the Congress Party, has decided to follow.

While Spain has suffered from internal terrorism at the hands of the Basque militants, I doubt if the the Portuguese are as single mindedly devoted to the cause of seeking destruction of its neighbor as ours. In the last 30 years or so, isn’t only Pakistan that India has had to face, but other neighboring countries like Nepal or Bangladesh haven’t been the friendliest either, often harboring suspected terrorist, if not providing a launching pad for them.

While a non-(military)confrontational approach might not be a bad idea itself (although, as I will try to explain in another post, some flexing of military power is probably good in order to force a political solution), hoping for a great deal of co-operation from our neighbors is bit far-fetched.

And I have much less faith in the Congress Party than Ghosh.

——————————————–

Speaking of political parties, Ghosh inserts a rather pointless descriptor early in the article:

The secretary general of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the leading Hindu nationalist political faction,

Now whether you agree with BJP’s political views or not,  you have to admit that it is a mainstream political party in India, and the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha. Calling it a nationalist political faction, makes it sound like an Indian version of the BNP or Family First.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

December 3, 2008 at 9:11 pm

Obama and Science

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The election of Barak Obama last night has rightly brought about a whole lot of cheers from the scientific community. I suspect large majority of scientist supported Obama’s candidacy and he was even endorsed by more than seventy Nobel laureates, including this year’s winner in Chemistry. Given the embarrassingly idiotic anti-science stance of his opponent, this was no surprise.

The next question is obviously, how will an Obama administration actually help science ? Noted science writer and blogger Chris Mooney addresses the question in details.

Personally, I am quite pragmatic about any real changes in scientific policy that will directly affect me. Given the budget deficits and the grim economic scenario, I am not expecting a NIH budget-doubling any time soon.

However, what I do find comforting (and I am pretty much echoing most scientists here) is that come January 20th next year, USA will be lead by a person, who is clearly well-educated, has an understanding and respect for science  – shown by his articulate response to SciDebate08 questions – and does not indulge in the anti-intellectual rhetoric of the current administration.

It is also interesting to note that apparently this is the first time in history that both the president and vice-presidents along with their spouses have some connection with higher education.

Taken together, the Obamas and the Bidens have amassed decades of experience at colleges and universities. Mr. Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 until 2004, when he took office in the U.S. Senate. His wife, Michelle, has worked in the administration at the same university and is on leave from her job as vice president for community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals.

The Bidens also have spent considerable time in academe. For the past 17 years, Mr. Biden has taught as an adjunct professor at the Widener University School of Law. His wife, Jill, is an English instructor at Delaware Technical and Community College’s Stanton-Wilmington campus. (link)

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

November 5, 2008 at 9:34 pm

Posted in Politics, Science

Tagged with , ,

Obama wins….

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….the election !

….the earliest votes in Dixville Notch and Hart’s Location, N.H. These are the two places in the US where votes are tallied first as per tradition.

As Nate Silver says at 538, this isn’t predictive of even the state’s voting patterns, much less the whole country. But the tiny New Hampshire towns have not voted in favor of a Democrat since 1968,  so  perhaps it is indicative of something (however, if you are looking out for portends, beware that in ’68 the Democrat Hubert Humphrey eventually lost to Richard Nixon)  !

Anyhow, it is the start of an interesting day for the US; voting begins in a few hours on the east coast in the culmination of – if not anything else – certainly the longest democratic process to elect a leader.

And what campaign it has been, starting with the primaries in both parties throwing up the underdog as the candidate, Obama’s message of hope versus McCain’s claims of maverick-ism, the circus over Sarah Palin, the economic shocks – all will hopefully and thankfully come to an end tomorrow (except for the economy which may shock us further still).

Most polls suggest Obama will win, some even suggest a landslide, so Republicans are banking on the fallibility of poll prediction models.

Thankfully, I will be asleep and miss majority of the yakking punditry through the day, by the time I wake up tomorrow morning (Oz time), a clear picture will hopefully have emerged.

[update ~9pm AWDT]: Its showtime ! I reckon polling has begun on the eastern states. And whole world is watching.

[update ~745am AWDT]: As they say down under, G’day mate. Some of the polls are just about to close. Haven’t seen any exit poll results, but given their inaccuracy in 2000 and 2004, would not go by them anyway. Its going to be constant refreshing of fivethirtyeight.com from now on.

The Lord predicts a possible near 400 electoral votes for Obama. Being a bit far away from the action its tough getting a read on the pulse of the election, so I won’t venture any predictions, except that  watching some of the polls leading up to the race tightening up, I would be a bit less optimistic. Lets see in about two hours time.

Voter turnout seems to be in record numbers (for recent history, I suppose) and early voting numbers are huge. Both, and certainly the early voting should favor Obama.

[post coffee]: 538 final projections are Obama 349, McCain 189. Still, some Republican supporters are optimistic. See here and and particularly here, where the guy claims to have ’45 years of experience’ of never  calling wrong on the elections and predicts a McCain landslide!!!!

[830am AWDT]: I mentioned earlier that high voter turnout is usually good news for Democrats . But really it could be either way: the so-called tightening of the polls in the last few days of the elections could enthuse the Republican base to come out in hordes to vote turning the tide towards McCain.

Also regarding this closing gap in the last few days between McCain and Obama, I wonder how much of it is real polling and how much made up by the media ? A landslide victory and early calling of the elections does not earn much viewer time for the TV networks. Of course, the point is moot if you care to beleive the right-wing conspiracy theory of liberal bias in the media, which wants Obama to win. In that case, networks would be all too eager to call it for Obama as soon as possible. Then again, they committed the mistake of calling it early or at least being positive about Kerry in the last two elections.

In short, who knows !

[855am AWDT]: Polls close in battleground states Georgia, Indiana and Virginia in 5 mins, and in about 35mins for Ohio and NC. These will provide an early trend. An Obama win in Virginia and Ohio plus any of the other states pretty much closes the door on McCain. The real clincher however will be Pennsylvania later in the night (10am AWDT).

Going through comments sections of various blogs, mood  seems to be: Democrats are either cautiously optimistic or paranoid about another election ‘stolen’ from them, Republicans are strangely confident of a miracle. Hmmm……

Also, some early exit poll numbers at Gawker. As expected, encouraging for Obama, but again, as expected, Democrats don’t beleive them because they have been burnt before and Republicans just don’t want to beleive them.

[9am AWDT]: Ok, really early returns, being shown live at Yahoo! or NYT website, shows lead for McCain. Yahoo seems to have even called KY for McCain, which is no surprise really. However, with 10% reporting, Obama is trailing only by 4%, while most polls put McCain ahead by about 13% in that state.

Indiana is neck and neck and NH is going Obama, but very early days yet in those states.

[920am]: Again very early results, just a few counties really in FL and VA shows McCain leading. But northern VA results arent in yet, and those should go Obama’s way. IN tilting towards Obama. MeanwhileVT called for Obama. No surprises there.

[945am]: Nothing new. No news from NC or OH. Obama is doing better in IN than Kerry did in ’04. Early voting from rural VA still showing McCain lead.

[1000am]: VA, a supposedly ‘safe’ Dem hold, is not looking good for Obama. With 14% reporting, McCain has a 12% lead. However, Northern VA results are yet to be in, but can Obama make the deficit there ? FL, meanwhile is going big time towards Obama.

CNN has called SC for McCain, but latest results at NYTimes shows Obama leading quite a bit. NC, my ‘home state’ doing well for Obama as well.

[1030am]: Obama doing well in NC and FL. Quite a few rural counties going for Obama in NC, which is surprising. Northern FL counts are not in yet.

Breaking news: Fox called PA for Obama (NBC and MSNBC had called it earlier). That should settle it !

[1100am]: As things stand now, if Obama takes NC and FL along with IN and MO, along with other safe states he will end with 361 electoral votes.Not bad.

Another update: VA race is tightening. According to this site it is a 2% difference with 56% reporting.

[1120am] The gap is closing in VA, only 12000 votes lead for McCain with 65% reporting. And the remaining ones are the northern VA suburbs.So a chance there still.

And, OH has been called for Obama. Its possibly a matter of margins now.

[1140am]: According to the Lord, Fox has pretty much admitted it is Obama’s election. NC is tightening though in favor of McCain, while VA gets closer for Obama (just about 6000 votes).

[1200noon]: To put it impolitely, Obama is kicking ass in PA, no wonder it was called early. With 36% reporting, he is leading by 27% of the votes !Will be interesting to see how many votes he is picking up in the ‘rust belt’.

And for the first time, Obama is actually leading in VA !!!

[1230]: Pretty much certain, that Barack H. Obama will be the next President of the USA. Its just the question of margins.

Obama is behind by 4000 votes and leads by the same number in IN and NC respectively. The lead in VA is increasing. Even if Obama loses in IN and NC, it will be a great showing in states that were overwhelmingly Republican in the last elections. But if he takes them along with NM, NV and perhaps MO (WA, CA, OR, HI etc being given), he will reach 375 electoral votes.

Btw, the NYTimes site is the best place to check the progress of the election results.

[to be updated]

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

November 4, 2008 at 3:08 am

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