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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai Attacks: Is Gun Control To Blame?


In the final tally, the Mumbai siege lasted three days and resulted in a dead body count of nearly 200.

The most thought-provoking comment I've come across thus far has been from Ashish Gulhati.

His point essentially is -- reduce dependence on the state by allowing civilians to arm and defend themselves against tyranny.

Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and final Guru of the Sikh religion, had the same recommendation for very similar reasons, i.e. to combat Mughal tyranny against the Hindus and the Sikhs in India.

Skeptics would do well to read this enlightening overview of the pros and cons of gun control.

And as Sauvik Chakraverti insightfully points out in his blog, the 1984 massacres of the Sikhs in Delhi, which many believe were state-sanctioned, would probably have turned out very differently if the citizens had been as well armed as the state.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why I Love Facebook


In a sense, I envy friends who live and work in the cities or towns where they grew up. (Although, they often remind me that it can get a bit tiring when you can't run a quick errand around town without running into someone you know!) For the rest of us, there's Facebook, which helps me reconnect with family and friends scattered all over the world.

My favorite apps, which I recommend for any current affairs aficionado: Deadline (by AFP, with tens of new questions added daily) and The New York Times News Quiz (five questions refreshed daily).

But more than any app, I think what makes Facebook click is the ability to post statuses, notes, photos, videos, links etc and have friends comment and share reactions on all of the above.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mumbai Attacks: Retire the Sledgehammer!


As I write, we're just beginning to understand the full impact of today's bombings, shootings and hostage-taking at seven of Mumbai's (formerly Bombay) most recognizable venues including the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, the Trident Oberoi hotel, the Chhatrapati Shivaji (formerly Victoria) Terminus (Mumbai's largest ground transportation hub), Chabad House (formerly Nariman House and now a base for the orthodox Jewish group Chabad Lubavitch), and Leopold Cafe.

Most reports coming out of India's financial capital, Mumbai, are citing over 100 fatalities and 300 injured, many of them foreign citizens. I am keeping my fingers double-crossed. I lost a family member in the Delhi bombings of October 29, 2005 - two days prior to Divali - while she was shopping with her fiance at South Delhi's popular Sarojini Nagar market. And now this - one day prior to Thanksgiving!

To borrow Obama's terminology, all sides need to learn the use of a scalpel; the sledgehammer approach will only give us more innocent victims and moderate-turned-fundamentalists. The folly of the sledgehammer approach has most recently been demonstrated via America's blundering extension of the "war on terror" into an Iraq that was completely devoid of Al-Qaeda, Islamic fundamentalism or weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Iraq doesn't yet have WMD but, thanks to America's sledgehammer tactics, it does now have plenty of the other two - Al-Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism.

Can we resolve to retire the sledgehammer before it consumes us all?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Barack Obama and the Black Vote


Lately I've been hearing people assert that perhaps Barack Obama won the 2008 US presidential election primarily due to the black vote. I don't believe that is the case. Let me explain why.

The Democratic Party has been winning the black vote by huge margins (high 80s) since the black majority shifted from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party starting with, you guessed it, FDR in 1932.

Obama won 95% of the black vote, which is only 1% higher than the previous record of 94% set by LBJ in 1964, following LBJ's support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Obama's 7 point spread with respect to the overall popular vote (Obama's 53% versus McCain's 46%) is better than many including Bush (2000, 2004), Carter, Nixon (1968), JFK.

Obama's electoral college majority (364 versus 163, with Missouri still pending) is at the Clinton levels and is better than many including Bush (2000, 2004), Carter, Nixon (1968), JFK.

Finally, the 2008 voter turnout has been estimated at 64%. The previous voter turnout record was 63% for Kennedy/Nixon. The Bush/Kerry turnout in 2004 was 56%. The 20% increase in the 2008 black voter turnout (from 11% to 13%) is entirely in proportion to the overall increase in turnout of 20% (from 56% to 64%).

Friday, November 7, 2008

Barack Obama and the White Vote


It is well known that Barack Obama won the vote in many constituencies including the college educated, the youth, most (if not all) minority groups, and women.

However, there is a misconception among most people that he did poorly among whites.

It is true that Obama got a minority of white votes. He received 43% as compared to McCain's 55%. Hence, a 12 point spread.

However, it is critical to note how Obama's performance among whites compares with that of previous Democratic Party nominees. Many people aren't aware that the Democratic Party has traditionally struggled to win the white vote. Obama's 12 point spread is actually the same as that of Al Gore in 2000 and better than John Kerry's 17 point spread in 2004.

Apparently, no Democrat has won a majority of the white vote since Lyndon B Johnson in 1964. And LBJ was the only Democrat to win the white vote since Roosevelt won it in 1932.

Further reading.

Could the Barack Obama Story Happen Only In America?


Lately I have grown a bit tired of the "Only in America" sentiment that has been going around in the aftermath of Barack Obama's historic win in the 2008 US presidential elections.

I am proud to have been a very early supporter of Obama's candidacy. I joined his Facebook fan club when he was a long shot for the Democratic Party's nomination and had 300K odd fans. He now has 2.5M fans on Facebook.

However, we ought to remember that there are many other nations that have been electing women and other minorities as heads of state, in some cases since decades ago.

Women have been elected heads of state in the UK (Margaret Thatcher), Canada (Kim Campbell), India (Indira Gandhi) and elsewhere.

Similarly, ethnic minorities have been elected/appointed to the top in France (Sarkozy), Peru (Fujimori), Argentina (Menem), India (Manmohan Singh), Bolivia (Morales), Venezuela (Chavez) and elsewhere.

Barack Obama's election is a huge milestone for America, but let's maintain a reasonable perspective. The winner in the US baseball leagues isn't the world champion and Obama's victory, while commendable, rests on the shoulders of many other nations that have elected minorities to the top.