Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rampant consumerism needs a cutback

Couple of posts earlier I wrote about how increasing leverage and spending was risky. 

At least someone agrees with me. The savings rate in the US is on the increase from -6% to 3.4%. 

Its interesting to note that most economists and government still think that increasing spending is the answer. What matters is how the increase spending is used. As an individual if you are under financial stress you curtail your expenditure and save a little to get out of strife. So why is it so different for the country as a whole. Well if you can borrow some money and invest in improvement in productivity etc that gives you a higher return than what you borrowed at, well then you are creating value. However, if you  borrow to spend, that's digging a deeper hole. I guess what matters more is not whether you have big bailouts but how you use the money to get higher returns than what you borrowed it for.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday Darwin! - May your theory rest in Peace

If after 200 years of your birth people still on a daily basis debate what you said, you have had an impact on society. Today is the 200th Birth Anniversary of Charles Darwin and many people all over are recognising his great achievement. While there is widespread debate and awareness of his theory, the understanding however is lacking. I think many people are either misinformed or misinterpret what he said over 150 years ago. 

The biggest misconception is that Darwin proposed the entire theory of evolution and either you believe it or you don't. While this is somewhat right, it is not accurate. Darwin proposed, in his book 'on the Origin of Species' in 1859 the Theory of Natural Selection. "He introduced the theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. Darwin's book contains a wealth of evidence that the diversity of life arose through a branching pattern of evolution and common descent – evidence which he had accumulated on the voyage of the Beagle in the 1830s and expanded through research, correspondence, and experiments after his return."

Darwin proposed an overall mechanism but did not propose the exact mechanism on species arise. However, Gregor Mendel's work on the Laws of Inheritance provided the exact mechanism of how mutations are passed on through chromosomes. I can never forgot his great experiment regarding the common fruit fly I learnt in 11th grade. 

Since then several works have further refined the the Theory of evolution and established the link between genetics, natural selection and evolution of species. In particular was the work of Theodosius Dobzhansky in 1937. Many other works, experiments and evidence has led to what is called the 'Modern evolutionary synthesis'

No matter how much work is done or evidence provided, it is not sufficient for many. Here is an excellent poll on evolution that reveals that Majority of Americans don't believe in it. 


As per the Gallup the implications of the survey are

"As Darwin is being lauded as one of the most important scientists in history on the 200th anniversary of his birth (on Feb. 12, 1809), it is perhaps dismaying to scientists who study and respect his work to see that well less than half of Americans today say they believe in the theory of evolution, and that just 55% can associate the man with his theory. 

Naturally, some of this is because of educational differences. Americans who have lower levels of formal education are significantly less likely than others to be able to identity Darwin with his theory, and to have an opinion on it either way. Still, the evidence is clear that even to this day, Americans' religious beliefs are a significant predictor of their attitudes toward Darwin's theory. Those who attend church most often are the least likely to believe in evolution, and most likely to say they do not believe in it."

What's most disappointing are the reasons cited for not believing. While some say that "it doesn't explain everything" others say "even scientist debate it" and still others that "there isn't enough evidence". Of course everything in Science is open for debate. That's how scientific theories progress. Each theory builds upon prior work and sometimes theories are overturned. We generally accept scientific theories that are discussed, debated and published as the best explanations given our current knowledge. No doubt that more work will be done and theory modified to adapt to the new evidence. However, it is unlikely that it would change the basic premise of the theory. 

It appears then that most people who do not believe in the theory do so because of religious convictions. They then find reasons or rationalisation to support their point of view rather than it being the other way around. Among the scientific community there is overwhelming agreement that the Modern Evolutionary synthesis is correct. The question is, what would it take to convince the rest. 

P.S> Just stumbled upon this immediately after posting this blog
This is exactly what I was talking about when I mean future discoveries and progress.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Movie Recommendations

I have seen some interesting movies of late so I thought I would put togather a post.  I have also put a score on a 5.0 scale. I hope to follow this post with a post on Book recommendations as I have read some interesting books of late and I know that atleast a couple of people follow my book reding list.

Couple of movies that I found funny and entertaining were 'How to lose friends and alienate people' (3.5) and 'Madagascar:Escape to Africa'(4.0), though the latter was not as good as the first part. I also caught up on a couple of crafty Christopher Nolan movies, 'Following'(4.0) and 'Insomnia'(4.0).  'Following' was Nolan's first movie that he wrote, directed and produced on a budget of just $6000. Amazing story teller this fellow.

I saw a couple of interesting movies on relationships with 'Revolutionary road'(4.5) talking about very real issues and rather depressing state of social structure. However 'Vicky Cristina barcelona'(4.0) which I never thought I'd see has a totally different take on possibilities which I found very interesting and entertaining. 

'A good year'(3.5) featuring rusell crowe raises interesting questions on work life balance that would be very relevant for a graduating MBA. My favorite however was 'Choke'(4.5) based on a Chuck Palahnuik novel. Though the story deviated from the book it is thought provoking and revolts against existing social norms.

I was pleasantly suprised by some excellent Indian productions. While 'Slumdog millionaire'(4.0) has been making headlines, I found 'Aamir'(5.0) to the best movie I have seen recently. It is about a muslim middle class guy trapped by a terrorist to execute a fatal planning have to make some real life choices. Excellent acting and direction. 'A Wednesday'(4.0) is another terrorism related plot which is quite interesting. 'Khosla ka Ghonsla' was another very entertaining movie with interesting storyline about getting even with a real-estate baron.

I have also been trying to catch up on artistic European movies. My favorite has to be 'Il Postino'(5.0), A story about a ordinary postman who is influences by his contact with a poet and a communist. 

'Delicatessen'(3.5) is a pretty weird artsy and entertaining movie about a household that has fallen to cannibalism to sustain themselves during the world war. Its a different take on what would be a depressing setting. 'Manon des source'(3.0) a suposedly great french classic form the 60s didn't out to be that impressive. However'Belle de jour' (4.0) turned out to be a great movie very much ahead of its times. If you like Paris you will definetly enjoy 'Paris je T'aime'(4.0). Finally if you can watch slow and sad movies you will be moved by 'Il y a longtemps que Je T'aime'(I loved you so long) (4.5). A story about a mother released from jail on charges of killing her son and trying to get back into society. The acting in this movie is very impressive.

I hope you get to see some of these and I really enjoyed most of them. 

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