Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book Review

This week was a reading week - mix of good and bad.

The Conscience of a Liberal - Paul Krugman: A book on inequality in America, with plenty of historical references over the past 100 or more years, plenty of supporting economic data from the outstanding economist, and his views on issues and fixes for range of topics such as CEO pay, healthcare, immigration etc. Good reading, except Paul is a hardline liberal, so you also need to read other books to get a balanced opinion.

The Science of Evolution & The Myth of Creationism - Ardea Skybreak: What shall I say? Must-read for The Pope! For the scientifically oriented, this book is a treat. For the religiously oriented, it depends if you are fundamentalist or moderate. The book does an amazing job of exposing biblical myths with scientific proofs, bashing fundamentalist beliefs, while respecting religious moderate faith. For example, myths such as God created the earth 6000 years ago, with all beings in 6 days, all at once is all proven false, with evidence that rocks on earth are 4.5 billion years old, and fossil and DNA evidence showing that evolution of life happened over billions of years starting from chemical soup that earth was, and lab experiments how species evolve and become extinct at different times. Outstanding and worth the time. You don't have to read the Bible to get a balanced opinion!

Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity - John Stossel: This was quick and easy to browse through, explaining why conventional wisdom is not necessarily the truth. The one that stood out in my mind: "Women earn less for same work" - if this is true, why would any employer hire men, when they can make more profit by hiring women? The truth is women care more about flexibility and make compromises in salary, while men care more for salary, and dont make those compromises. However, I am not sure I agree with all of the truths.

If Democrats Had any Brains, They'd be Republicans - Ann Coulter: It was quick as well, as I gave up after a few pages. Lot of political, conservative, republican brazen remarks that reassures we still enjoy freedom of speech and expression, but I couldn't get on the same wavelength.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gay Marriage - should it be legal?

Recent news is Gay marriage is illegal in California due to Proposition 8, and legal in Connecticut due to court ruling. Obviously, we wonder, should gay marriages be legal?

But, here is my rhetorical question - why should "marriage" be legal? Why should the law take positions on concept called marriage? Why should governments spend public funds issuing licenses, tracking who is "married" and so on? The answer is easy - taxes, benefits like medical insurance or social security, inheritance, immigration, liability such as spousal and child support and host other things are tied to "marriage". The religious believe marriage strengthens families and hence good for overall society, but that's not quite why governments are tracking marriages.

If that is the case, we should address the problem of social benefits, and not get caught up on the more religious notion of marriage. Why not let individuals form communities regardless of gender, regardless of gay or straight, and regardless of how many want to be together? For example, why can't two straight men who are just roommates, declare they are forming a community or household and get a license, so they can get tax benefits, be able to add an unemployed roommate to medical plan, allowed to make decisions during emergency etc. This will obviously strengthen the their well being. What if someone is living with a cousin and a grandmother? After all, if the idea is to strengthen society with people helping out one another, it should not matter if dependents are from a particular sex, have specific sexual orientation etc, or what relationships exactly can form a community. In fact, we don't restrict who can be together in a household, but just don't want to extend the typical benefits, possibly due to fear that it will be misused. In fact, we also enforce certain responsibilities such as child support, regardless of someone is married or not.

One thought I read somewhere is to issue marriage licenses for 7 years, and have people renew, if they are still together and value the relationship. Likewise, community or household licenses could be issued to any set of people, so they can avail themselves of benefits and share responsibility. Another example, in India, there is a legal concept of "Hindu United Family" to determine taxes, inheritance and benefits pertaining the patriarchal families which comprise of so many married couples in a large household as well as children, parents, grandparents, and potentially some older single uncles, aunts living in the same large household as well. A "Ration Card" that lists the names of people in the household is really the license to many other benefits - most people in India don't even apply or have a marriage license from the government! Truth is most of us are going to remain wedded, and live with our spouses, regardless of whether the government issues us a license or not.

I think there is a way to redefine the way we form these associations, and how we let the government and law deal with them, and not get caught up whether the check box should read bride & groom or bride & bride or whatever. Maybe we should just call everything a civil union and the problem will go away. I just don't think a proposition that we can't call marriage as a as civil union will gather support.

Vegetarian in Japanese

In 2001, I went to Japan on my first business trip. I wanted to be sure I knew how to ask for vegetarian food, so I asked my Japanese-American colleague. He taught me a complicated phrase in Japanese, and explained it meant "Vegetable Eating Principle". He said this was the closest, since there is no equivalent word for vegetarian in Japanese. My trip was successful, thanks to local sales folks that helped translate and me keep alive, but on a couple of occasions I was on my own. I tried using the phrase he taught me, but it drew a blank - not sure if it was my accent or if it was that phrase. They would respond "Fish ok?" or "Chicken Ok?" and I finally settled for Ice-cream as a safe option!

After several years gap, I made a few trips down this year. Now, I have picked up the taste for Okonomiyaki, Soba, Udon soup, Teriyaki, Cucumber sushi rolls in respective vegetarian versions, so it isn't that difficult anymore. But, in my recent trip, I finally found an english speaking waitress at a Thai restaurant in Tokyo, and asked the question - "How do you say vegetarian in Japanese?". Her response, "Actually, it's the same word as english - vegetarian"! That was very filling indeed!