Monday, May 21, 2018

What would SP Mookerji have thought?

Last week, in the din of the Karnataka assembly elections and the aftershocks of the hung assembly there, news from Bengal barely made any noise. Democracy died there, with the TMC winning 90% of the Panchayat seats through ruthless intimidation, outright booth capturing, murder, and anarchy. When SP Mookerji fought to have Bengal partitioned so that its Hindu residents could still have a homeland, he probably never envisioned that the land that he helped preserved would devolve into exactly what the racist Winston Churchill said it would.

Of course, for the Lutyen's media, this was a mere blip, a sad turn of events that were unnecessary. Some commentators took it to a new low, 'blaming' the BJP for making inroads and forcing the 'poor' TMC to resort to such violence... obviously, to protect secularism, that exalted child at whose altar anything and everything can be sacrificed to. It was thus with great irony, just as her goons had run an election that Stalin would've been proud of, that TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee congratulated the JD(S) for stopping the BJP's supposed attempts at horse-trading to manufacture a majority. Nobody in the English media saw the two-facedness of this - a ruthless dictator that just snubbed democracy under a jackboot in her state, talking about protecting it elsewhere. But what else can be expected from the Pidi media?

An article in OpIndia stated that the Delhi establishment had gone back to scavenging for crumbs from the dynasty, having tried to take power directly through AAP. They are wrong - in Rahul Gandhi, they have found not just an incompetent politician, but a politician who is willing to give a free run to the establishment. Gandhi only reads from a script, and only shows up whenever it suits his image. He is a puppet being controlled by the Deep Congress, and he is happy to be that. The Deep Congress is no longer looking for the crumbs of the dynasty - rather, it is the dynasty that is reduced to begging for crumbs from the Deep Congress.

The Panchayat elections in Bengal just goes to show what is at stake - after over half a century, India has a shot at being an actual democracy. But if the secular gang stitches up an unholy alliance in 2019, all will be lost. That will be the last free and fair election in India. Perhaps Mookerji should've moved to East Pakistan.

Dismiss the Special Counsel

It's been one year since Congress appointed Robert Muller as Special Counsel to look into the alleged Russian interference. Since then, not a day has gone by when CNN hasn't proclaimed that there was "huge news" and quietly implied that President Trump's indictment was days away. Indeed, Muller did taste success when he indicted former NSA Michael Flynn, who remains the biggest mistake of this administration. However, since then, the investigation has gone nowhere - far from catching some collusion with Russia, the Special Counsel is indulging itself in every random straw that the liberals are trying to clutch on to.

Pat Buchanan, writing in TAC, rightly said that the Special Counsel has turned into an attempt to impeach Trump for cheap. Instead of some James Bond-level conspiracy, the whole Russia angle has devolved into fake ads on Facebook and clinches on the idea that voters are stupid. Now the latest liberal opium is the hope that Trump will say something stupid under oath, making it perjury and thus get himself indicted for that. It's a race to play gotcha with the President. And it was not the point of the Special Counsel.

That Trump is a pathological liar and narcissistic maniac is pretty well-known even by his supporters. He's no angle, and nobody who voted for him expected to act like one either. His alleged affair with Stormy Daniels surprised nobody. But if liberals want to get rid of Trump, they'll have to do it through the political route - bring in a formal impeachment motion in Congress and take it to its logical conclusion. That is where liberal hold back, because they know that it will be extremely hard and will open them up to collateral damage. And indeed, that was the point of making it so hard to impeach a president - to prevent mere allegations from destroying an institution.

One year after the Special Counsel's appointment, outside the world of liberal comedians and CNN, it is apparent that there was no Russian collusion. There was interference, and it goes to President Obama that he failed to protect the US from it. But that is beyond the Special Counsel's brief, and it is far beyond its brief to look at every other perfidy that Trump indulges in. He's a terrible person, but he's also a very popular person, and if liberals want to get rid of him, they're going to have to take their case to the people, like old-fashioned politics. Right now, the Special Counsel is a waste of time and needs to be dismissed. Enough is enough. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Kumar overthrows Sultan

With the exception of Mizoram, which the BJP is eyeing in order to bring the entire Northeast under the NEDA banner, Karnataka marks the beginning of the big assembly elections in India to states where both the Congress and the BJP are directly at each other's throats. Following this will be MP, Chhatisgarh, and Rajasthan, all of which will be extremely hard for the BJP to retain, particularly the last one. No wonder then that the Congress threw whatever it had at this election - it needed the momentum, not to mention the funds from at least one big state. This was a battle royale.

In the last decade or so, over 90% of elections in India have thrown up a clear verdict. But whenever there is a hung assembly, all hell breaks loose. While the BJP won the most seats, effectively ending the reign of the incumbent Siddharamaih (also called Sultan due to his crass Muslim appeasement and extremely arrogant attitude), it fell short of a majority. The party lost 8 seats by margin of less than 1,000 votes. Indeed, while the incumbent CM was defeated in one constituency by the JD(S), he one by less than 1,000 votes in the other against the BJP. A few voters here and there could've titled the balance.

It is terrible for a state to have a regional party that can be best described as sub-regional: far from winning a majority, such a party knows quite well that it cannot possibly win a majority, but it can win enough to stop anybody else from winning a majority, and then extract its pound of flesh. You see many of these in north India, but in south India, Karnataka (and perhaps Telangana in the form of the MIM) is the state, and JD(S) the party, that seem to find it alright to basically hold the entire state to ransom for their small number of seats, despite knowing full well that they did not and cannot win from most of the state. While the JD(S) did punch above its weight this time, it still won largely in its old Mysore region, with only crumbs from elsewhere. And yet, it is this party that holds the keys now. This is the sort of situation that created the corrupt behemoth that was the UPA government. Indeed, with the Congress offering Kumaraswamy, who controls less than a quarter of the MLAs in the Assembly, the Chief Ministership, the risk of non-existent leadership and government paralysis are even greater.

Perhaps the only good outcome of this election is the decimation of Sultan Siddharamaiah, who used religion, caste, language, and everything else possible to divide the state from the rest of the country, and the people of the state from each other. The Muslim League would've been proud of his polarizing campaign, if it had won. The fact that his government has fallen is testimony to the fact that the people of Karnataka do not want to a start a civil war, either inside their state or outside of it within the country. For Sultan would've done that if it were possible and could've helped him retain power. This man was a Jinnah-wannabe, and his political death could not have come sooner.

While the floor test is scheduled tomorrow, the most likely outcome seems to be a JD(S) minority government backed up by the Congress, purely to keep the BJP out. And it will not last - this story is old. The Congress pulls the plug from smaller parties whenever it wants, and it will do the same with the JD(S). Kumaraswamy may become CM tomorrow, but his days are already numbered. As for the BJP, it is clear now that it has only one route to power - an absolute majority. Nothing else will work. 

Exciting but poor ending

The Third Twin
By Ken Follett

So I walked around the public library and tried to find a new author I could like. I failed. So I decided to go back to the ones that I knew I'd like. I found Ken Follett, and thought that I had already finished all his books. His Century Trilogy is still one of the finest examples of historical fiction I had read. And yet, The Third Twin was mystery (and apparently a dash a science fiction too), which is an odd combination. But since this was usually a safe author, I went ahead.

My reactions are mixed. The book is thoroughly riveting to read, with only a few subplots and lots of surprises laid out for the reader. It's apparent that Follett thought out his plots and characters carefully. A little too carefully, because the undoing of the novel is at the very end. Follett deliberately stretches it, no doubt for dramatic effect, but it ruins what was otherwise a good, solid plot. The book should've ended 50 pages earlier.

Nonetheless, as I battle insomnia in this warm weather, it was a good read.  

Sunday, May 6, 2018

When another Rahul got me thinking


Rahul Roushan (not Gandhi), journalist and founder of what used to be an extremely popular account in the early days of Facebook in India, Faking News, ran an AMA on the subreddit r/IndiaSpeaks, which is one of the primary right wing subreddits and directly opposes the left wing r/India. Roushan is well-known for hit humor and witty one-liners, but having heard him before on panel discussions, I also knew that he was a thinker and could critically analyze situations well - especially political ones.

On the AMA, Rahul brought up a point that hit me right in the face - the Congress is not just a party, but a state of mind. There is a Congress in every Indian. And that Congress is the ability to hide duplicitous behavior through virtue-signaling. Everyone does it. We will talk about the importance of cleanliness without batting an eyelid while tossing garbage out the bus window. We will complain about corruption until we're in a position to make a quick buck ourselves - and we'll keep complaining about it even after that! We will talk about the importance of sports while telling our kids to study and not play.

It goes much deeper: India has been infamous at the UN for pretending to support all manner of humanitarian missions while itself being unable to lift hundreds of millions of its own people out of poverty (which is changing ever so slowly). We are fully capable of the double-speak it requires to call ourselves a secular country in which your religion determines your association with the state and its laws, to guarantee freedom of speech along with laws that can get you in jail for years for merely saying something that anybody (especially some special people) don't like, to vow to fight casteism while making caste the basis to receive doles and favors from the state, to demonize America while doing everything in our power to send our children there... the list just goes on.

And worse, we don't even realize it: we are so used to saying high-sounding nonsense that we've basically learned to lie to ourselves. Political parties represent the society in which they act, and the Congress party represents this society to the T. 

A new start


It was a long shot when I first signed up for it. The relentless cold spell that kept me away from training for weeks, and the ACL injury that kept me at home for months. And neither of those was any chance for the biggest hurdle of all: my nearly two-decades of lethargy, of ignoring the fact that I was physically not well, and being mentally sharp did not make up for it.

And then, on that fateful day, I did it. Right around my training time at 32:31 - by no means a good number going by the average, but certainly an unthinkable number for me just a few years ago. A great start to hopefully a better future. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Flight of fantasy... and why not?

Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive
By Ethan Siegel

Ah Star Trek, that epitome of human creativity and endeavor. When I look at the night sky, I imagine zooming through the cosmos, faster than light, through nebulas and around stars. And then I remember my one class in special relativity to realize that it's impossible. Or is it?

In this grand collection of all the quirks from Star Trek, Ethan Siegel, of Starts with a Bang! fame, takes us through what can best be described as a history of the franchise as it relates to real life. I've heard of the Alcibierre Drive before, and I could guess that the flip phones both became a reality and are nearly extinct now too. But there's plenty more - from tricorders to deflector shields to replicators (although I don't agree that 3D printing is the same as replication).

This wonderful book is easy to read, with lots of pictures and a casual style. For all us nerds out there, it's quite a pleasure. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Of change in the old south

The Last Juror
By John Grisham

When I'm out of ideas on what author to pick up at the library, I default to John Grisham. The stories are mostly legal thrillers with good plots, not too convoluted, but full of depth. You gave to love Grisham's attention to detail and fine research, as he builds his stories and characters. I didn't really have to think too much - I knew it would be good. And I was right.

Setting the story, as he usually does, in the Deep South, Grisham sets his tale in the backdrop of the end of segregation and the 'instant' integration of schools, touching on a variety of social themes that come out in the midst of a murder trial. However, as it is fiction, he does take liberties with the facts, especially the facts about laws, but then, you shouldn't really be trying to learning the law from a novel.

So while I continue my search for an author worth becoming addicted to, I suppose I'll always have Grisham to fall back on. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Never crash a trilogy

The Sins of the Father
By Jeffrey Archer

For many young adults, Jeffrey Archer is somewhat of a right of passage - it is pop-fiction, but it is sophisticated stuff, meant for the new connoisseur of modern fiction. It is fast-paced, but still has enough depth. All that's OK, except that The Sins of the Father (a rather enigmatic title with biblical references) is actually Part 2 of the Clifton Chronicles, and I haven't read Part 1. So the story didn't make much sense to me, and yet I kept on reading.

Big mistake. Not only were the characters somewhat unfamiliar, the story was also... boring. Stuff happened, and kept happening, but there was no theme, no reason. It was truly like reading a soap opera - and I'm someone who likes historical fiction, which is laid in a grand scheme. So obviously this book was a letdown. I suppose I should stop going by big-name authors that high society seems to lionize, and just stick to reliable themes instead. 

A heavy dose of realism

BRAD'S STATUS (2017)

Produced By: Amazon Studios and others
Director: Mike White
Starring: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, and others
Pros: Relatable story, excellent acting
Cons: Monochromatic characters
Rating: *** of 5 (3 of 5)

One of my constant gripes with so-called mainstream movies is their utter lack of connection with real life: the characters are there and yet don't belong there, the themes and issues (if any) are just not something you'd except to come across in your life. Some might say that the purpose of cinema is escapism, and therefore themes that are disconnected from reality are kosher. And I might agree (after all, I watch Transformers!), but every now and then, it's good to have a movie that's based on Planet Earth once again. The last movie that I can recall that did this was Manchester By The Sea, and although Brad's Status is far removed from that, it is still a refreshing watch.

Exploring the story of a mid-life crisis and the importance of family, the movie comes across as very relatable for anyone that has been through the agony of college admissions, or whose own children might be. The backdrop is as simple as that, and yet it's a theme that has hardly been explored. Ben Stiller puts up a strong performance in a role that is full of conflict, ably supported by Austin Abrams. The story is not slow, but it is not fast-paced either: it moves along gradually, and the father-son relationship keeps it fueled up.

My only grouse with the movie was that many of the characters were cliched and monochromatic - there was little depth to any of them. There was a nice story, and the acting was good, but it wasn't thought out too well. However, the good music score did help improve it a bit. This one below was my favorite. (OTFS)

A Unique Movie

THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017)

Produced By: New Line Cinema and others
Director: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, and others
Pros: Unique movie, excellent ending, excellent acting
Cons: Slow
Rating: **** of 5 (4 of 5)

Once in a blue moon, you come across a movie that you can't quite put your finger on, "so bad it's good" being a particularly catchy way to describe it. Of course, I've never seen The Room, so I was a little unsure about watching a movie about that movie - an odd thing to make. But watch it I did, and I am quite glad I did. This is a unique movie, a mockumentary if you may. But it is anything but a joke - director James Franco puts in a lot of effort towards his goal of recreating events from the original movie, and that effort shows quite well.

The movie does get somewhat boring in between as the movie tries to capture every event from The Room, but the ending makes up quite well for that - the audience, both inside and outside the movie, are truly captured by it, which was a rare experience for me. Moreover, Franco and his brother put up a grand performance that endears them to the viewers. Overall, a great movie. (OTFS)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

What a wave looks like

In 2013, the BJP, then under the Delhi gang led by LK Advani, contested all the seats in the Tripura Assembly elections on its own - and lost its deposit in each of them but one. It won a measly 1.5% of the vote. And this was no surprise - while there was a regional version of the party in the state, it was nothing more than an office. The BJP had no real ground presence and no understanding of the state. Plus, it was pitted against the dominant CPM that had ruled the state for decades and seemed invincible - the Congress did pick up about 35% of the vote, but it never really stood any chance. So while Mamata Banerjee had made history in Bengal by defeating the Left Front after 32 years, there was no such luck for any party in India's other Bengali-speaking state.

And then came Narendra Modi, and the BJP reinvented itself into an election machine. And it has firmly set its sights on winning the entire Northeast region, both for ideological reasons as well as to offset any losses in North India in 2019. When this BJP met the formidable CPM in 2019, it was a landslide - it increases its vote share to 43%, completely taking over the Congress' share. The Grand Old Party of India was left with a royal duck, its third since 2014 after Andhra Pradesh and Delhi, in a state where it once was the ruling party. That's the extent to which the party has collapsed, even if it is in such a small state.

But the BJP did even better than simply gobble up the Congress' votes. It smartly partnered with the IPFT and took a major chunk of the tribal votes that were once guaranteed to the CPM. It was these two things combined that put it past the 2/3 majority in the Agartala House. This partnership was by no means easy or natural - the BJP is completely against dividing the state, which was one of the key planks of the IPFT that differentiated it from its rival, INPT. But hard work from BJP members as well as RSS volunteers eventually sealed the deal to push the hegemonic Left out of the state.

Although on a much smaller scale, the BJP has become only the second party in the country's history, after the TMC, to unseat a dominant Left government (they never really enjoyed that kind of dominance in their original bastion, Kerala). It is also a historic opportunity for the party to bring Tripura into the mainstream of India, through infrastructure and industrialization that the state badly needs. The people of Tripura, having grown up under the CPM for an entire generation, took a lot of risks to elect the BJP. The test has just begun.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Of Pakodas and Employment

As the Karnataka elections approach and the Congress party is looking to throw the kitchen sink to keep the last big state that it still controls, a lot of noise has been generated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's comment in a TV interview, asserting that his government'd MUDRA scheme provides small loans to entrepreneurs to, among other things, sell pakodas. The Opposition and the virtue signaling classes have latched on to this to claim that selling pakodas on the streets is akin to begging. Saner voices have said that it's about income and not employment - indeed, an interesting study points out that India does not have a jobs problem but an income problem.

In all this, I am reminded of a scene from my childhood, when I used to wait at the bus stop early in the morning. As I have been raised to do, I'd almost always be the first and therefore, with nobody to talk to, I'd have plenty of time to look around at the big wide world around me. I recall a lady who used to come to the bus stop with a cart that contained what was certainly her most precious possession: an LPG cylinder. She'd look around several times to make sure nobody saw the cylinder as she turned on the valve. I used to think she was afraid it would be stolen, but now that I think about it, it could be that she didn't want any policeman to see the color. It was red, which is supposed to be used for domestic cooking and not commercial activities. DBT has probably gotten rid of that distinction now.

The lady would turn on the gas, pour some oil into a wok, and fry puris. She'd also have some pickle on the side. That early in the morning, only a few customers would stop by, but the few times the bus was late, I remember that she had a decent crowd and probably made a small profit for the day. She was obviously doing it illegally and didn't have a permit to just sell her stuff on the street - maybe that's why she did it in the morning, hoping there weren't enough people to notice.

I don't remember how often I saw her - she didn't come everyday. I suppose she changed her location to keep the cops off her trail. But in all the discussion about pakodas, I was reminded of that lady I saw. Was she a beggar? No, she was not begging. She was asking for money in exchange for what seemed to be decent food, which means she was doing business. She was an entrepreneur. Not the suit-wearing ones that make the rounds of angel investors in Bangalore (although there's nothing wrong with them). She was an entrepreneur of the kind that managed to survive despite the crony socialism in India that does its best to destroy small businesses. She was the kind of person who will keep India afloat if ever the crazy Communists and their allied socialists ever come to power and take the country backwards (again).

I salute that woman. I have no idea if she ever got a MUDRA loan herself. 

Just another superhero story

THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

Produced By: Marvel Studios, Disney, and others
Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, and others
Pros: Fast pace, lots of humor
Cons: Incoherent, boring start
Rating: ** of 5 (2 of 5)

Superhero movies are a dime a dozen right now, you have a new one coming out every few weeks. Ever since Disney got into the game, there's almost become a set formula to them, which is sad. Once upon a time, Superman and Spiderman had a context and personality. Now, all the characters seem the same. And Thor is no different in this edition of the franchise as he fights to stop Ragnarok. Ho hum.

It's not all bad. The movie is certainly fast-paced after a rather boring start. Stuff is happening every other minute and you do stay glued to your chair. The problem is, that is absolutely on purpose, because the director keeps introducing new characters and events right up to the ending. There's a small semblance of a coherent plot, but it needs to be backed up by a vast army of subplots to push the runtime to over 2 hours. To make up for that, there's a fair bit of humor from The Avengers (just goes to show how similar all these movies are getting). You'll find a joke in every subplot, but it doesn't amount to much - even a stand-up comedy act is more coherent.

Which is really what the whole problem is: the movie is incoherent. It's a lot of stuff, a lot of people, and a lot of places, but they're all very random and don't really add up to anything. This movie is Chris Hemsworth and a lot of supporting artists. You might as well stare at the poster. (OTFS)

Monday, January 29, 2018

UCC: The Unfinished Agenda of the Constitution

Let me be blunt: the Indian Constitution does not go far enough. It is an incomplete document. Its lofty claims of guaranteeing equality in law to all citizens in the Preamble does not square up with its minorityism and acceptance of barbaric personal civil laws that do not belong to a modern era. Indeed, the Constitution itself recognizes this flaw, because the Directive Principles restate much of the lofty goals in the Preamble while also making it clear that they are not legally enforceable. Moreover, many amendments, including the first (curbs on free speech) and eighty sixth (sectarianism in education), run counter to the spirit of those lofty goals and, in many respects, the last 69 years feel like we've gone backwards in many ways as far as constitutional law is concerned.

Changing gears
There is an obvious need to reverse the tide and bring in a truly liberal Constitution. A good place to start would be by abolishing personal civil laws with a modern, uniform code - the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). Among the variety of personal laws in the country today, only the Hindu Law is directly codified by Parliament via a series of bills, and is regularly updated as social preferences change. Reform of Hindu Laws have ensured equality and justice among Hindu households and have no doubt propelled Hindus into the new century, prepared to take on the world.

In comparison, other personal laws languish in ancient customs, many of which do not have any place in a modern society. The Rajya Sabha is currently trying to pass a bill to criminalize the regressive practice of Triple Talaq, which is already banned in dozens of countries. Of course, there is political opposition to the Bill - that has and will always be the case in a democracy. However, Triple Talaq is just one among a variety of regressive practices, ranging from polygamy to discriminatory inheritance laws, all of which are permitted by the Constitution, while at the same time being discouraged.

One nation, one law
A UCC, aside from correcting these terrible anomalies that are permitted by the Constitution, would also serve to further erode the credibility of the Two Nation Theory, the theory on the basis of which our homeland was violently partitioned into two (and now three) entities. India was created in opposition to that theory, and the existence of separate personal laws is a blot on our face and a rare endorsement of that theory. It must go.

On this Republic Day, we remember the countless people who have suffered at the hands of regressive personal laws that serve not to deliver justice, but to deny it. Such laws are not laws at all. The Constitution needs a UCC.

Happy Republic Day! 
Jai Hind!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Remembering the Holocaust in Kashmir

Last week, two significant events happened in India. The Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu made a historic visit to India, becoming only the second Israeli head of government in three thousand years to visit India. There, he gave a historic opening address to the flagship Raisina Dialogue, a government-backed strategic conference, in New Delhi. There, he proudly stood as the elected representative of the Jewish nation, a nation that was nearly annihilated seventy years ago. And he stated, with great confidence, the reason why his nation survived: strength. The Jewish nation, along with the Chinese, are arguably the strongest, with the longest history and still using their own ancient language.

Another event last week was the anniversary of the holocaust of Kashmiri Pandits by Islamist terrorists, reducing a sizable minority whose history went back thousands of years to a negligible spattering of people living in extremely dangerous circumstances. Like the Jewish holocaust, it was preceded by a systematic ostracization of the Pandits, spread virulently by extremist mosques, accompanied by a complete denial of any role they had to play in Kashmiri society and history. The holocaust in Kashmir scattered the Pandits around India and the world, and those people remain refugees in their own country.

Netanyahu's visit and message send a significant message to Hindus in not just India, but also neighboring countries. The weak have always been conquered in history - countless nations no longer exist. India's classical language, Sanskrit, is on the verge of extinction while we push a language, Hindi, that essentially arose as a result of foreign invasions. Being strong does not mean that we conquer others - it only means that we can defend ourselves. Without strength, we cannot survive. If we cannot survive, nothing else matters.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Long Night

It's been a long two weeks. Stretching out all the way from Christmas Eve to today, Champaign, and almost the entire Midwest, has been covered in snow and blanketed by a thick arctic air mass that has sent temperatures plummeting. In the last four and a half years, I've gotten used to cold temperatures in this town - indeed, on the whole, December was actually quite warm. However, the last week in particular, as the arctic air mass has descended even further south (amazingly, bringing snow to Florida for the first time in a century), saw records lows being broken and prolonged periods of wind chill watches/warnings. It's rarely been this bad, and never for this long, as far back as I've been here.

This extraordinary weather has been hard to deal with. I've been too scared to drive anywhere because of all the snow still on the roads, I've avoided going to the gym for weeks for fear of the cold, and of course, my heating bill doubled. Oh, it has been very hard indeed.

Fortunately, the forecast looks to be warm next week (unfortunately, most of my time then will be spent in DC), followed by one last shot of frigid air, and then a return to normal. Although it's become cliche to say that I can't wait, I actually can't wait to graduate and leave this place. I really don't know how people manage to live here in this weather their entire lives!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Resolutions for 2018

As has become somewhat of a ritual, I went back to my post from a year ago, on New Year's Even, 2017. A very different day indeed!


Also, as has become a ritual, I make some resolutions, some promises, to nobody in particular, except myself, perhaps. Most of the time, these resolutions bomb and I keep having to move them forward by another year. Somehow though, 2017 was different. Magnificently different, for I seem to have not only met every resolution, but moved well beyond them as well. I would daresay that 2017 has been the best year of my life.

Let's review. I taught my first ever class in the Spring semester, a momentous event that was mixed in outcomes but hugely enriching in terms of what I learned. Contrary to my fears of becoming disillusioned by teaching, I loved the experience, and I am sure that this is the right career choice for me. It was also a challenging semester as I was determined to take my prelim this year, for which I had to fight tooth and nail. And of course, I took perhaps the most satisfying course I ever took, CSE 566, where I had my first go at using a supercomputer, and put my recently-acquired Linux skills to use.

Come the summer, and I finally took my prelim, passing it with ease, and thus setting up the stage to make my final lap as a student. I then bought by car (finally!) and learned the many intricacies and costs associated with having one. At the same time, my exercise goals came ever so close to fruition - I reached 155 lbs, just 5 lbs below my target. But as always, the storm clouds were gathering. Towards the end of that summer, I made my first trip to Hong Kong for a conference after going through hell to get my visa. I took the time to also visit India and renew my visa - and got hit by a 221(g). While that turned out to only be a minor delay, it really opened my eyes to how temporary everything was, and why I need to decide my future sooner rather than later. I was very, very scared. A silver lining though, was the acceptance of my fourth journal paper, and thus making my entire MS Thesis published. 

I did come back to the US though, missing only a week of the semester, and also Quad Day, unfortunately. I also moved in to my new apartment, a studio, thus finally ridding myself of the menace of roommates. The following weeks took me to Canada after just barely getting my visa, and Newfoundland was a wonderful place to visit. Back in Champaign, I tried to continue my muscle-building regimen and hoped to lose the weight I had put on in India. And that's where I tore my ACL. I never imagined before in my lifetime that I would have a sports injury - someone who never played a sport can't get injured by one, right? But there I was, limping around, in excruciating pain, at least for the first couple of days. After the headache of the rest of the summer, I had had it. I was going to pick myself up.

And raise myself I did. I attended my first ever concert, with The Script at the SFC, dragging my sorry leg to the venue. I got back to the ARC, which I permanently moved to. I signed up for next year's 5K and have put myself to training for it. I took one of my most challenging classes, ME 411, here. I never got back to the 150-160 lbs range, but my weight remained stable. And then, I won my second award at the 6th Student Symposium, adding a totally unexpected line to my CV. Talking about CVs, I began my one year as a Mavis Fellow, and thus began the long process of preparing for the job market (website - check, teaching statement - check, CV - check). I've also doubled-up on things to do to finish my dissertation and graduate.

So yes, it has been a long and eventful year, and I did everything that I wanted to do. Now, what's left? Here are my resolutions for next year. I would like to defend - this is a very big one that will be hard to keep, but I will definitely try my best. That will entail finishing (and in many cases, starting) some big-ticket projects that won't be easy, but they have to be done. I hope to also drive on the interstate at least one more time, once the weather improves. I resolve to submit at least four new journal papers this year - very ambitious by all counts, but do-able. I resolve to get the Graduate Teaching Certificate to cap off the "Awards and Honors" section of my CV. And I resolve to keep my mind-condition 4.0 GPA (that just barely survived this semester).

That's the academic part, but there's more. I will finish my first 5K this year - hopefully under 30 min. I hope to come to about 160 lbs, again, quite do-able. Three years after completely overhauling my diet, which played perhaps the most significant role in lowering my weight, I hope to add more vegetables and fiber to it. Being able to drive to Aldi should make it easier, right? And of course, I resolve to keep reading, and to be happy, for everything I've achieved.

Five years ago, I chose to follow a dream, a dream that has taken me very far from where I started. The dream if far from realized, but I came much closer to it last year. Next year, I hope to reach the final lap.

Happy New Year!

An unspeakable idea

Conclave
By Robert Harris

When I finished reading all of Robert Harris' books - especially his Cicero trilogy - I went into a sort of withdrawal. Harris is one of the best writers of historical fiction that I have read, and it was hard to find a replacement - truth be told, I never really did. When I discovered that he had recently written a new one though, I quickly picked it up. Conclave is not exactly historical fiction, because it is set in the future (a specified future, but not really in form). And what a future it is.

Revolving around the intriguing and highly anachronistic election of a new Pope in the Vatican, it goes into a variety of issues that make the Roman Catholic Church so very anachronistic - the ceremonies, the dogma, even the language. But Harris is not questioning the Catholic Church here - if anything, he is providing it with a ray of hope, sunshine to remove the rot, if you may. And in his characteristic style, quite unlike John Grisham, the other author that I am reading, it ends quite dramatically, with plenty for the reader to ponder over. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Where were the fact-checkers?

In the just-concluded Gujarat Assembly elections, the Congress Party's new president, Rahul Gandhi, essentially ran a fact-free campaign. From lying about the Tata plant in Sanand to claiming that more land was given to the Mundra Port than there was on the entire planet, his campaign rhetoric and manifesto consisted of the same of socialist freebies that brought India to bankruptcy, together with old-fashioned divisive casteism that the MSM likes to call India's composite culture.

Since 2014, a number of propaganda websites masquerading as fact-checkers have popped up on the Indian web. All of them like to attack the BJP, usually using their opinions as facts to counter the BJP's so-called errors. The good people at OpIndia have worked hard to reveal these lies. During the Gujarat elections though, these fact-checkers were entirely absent. Not one MSM journalist (apart from Republic TV, which the Congress hates very much) or website in the Left ecosystem fact-checked Rahul Gandhi - they let him lie through his teeth. Nay, they cheered his lies on.

This brings us to the same conclusion that I have been making for sometime: facts, FoE, secularism, science, etc. are meaningless for the Left. They use these high-sounding words when it suits them, and dump them as soon as they don't. The basic agenda is spreading a sophisticated propaganda to help their ecosystem. The Left ecosystem, of which the Congress is the linchpin, is a totalitarian regime that has no sense of shame or hypocrisy. They are fascists who call themselves liberals.