30 October 2006

Limbaugh Vs Fox

Rush Limbaugh made some politically incorrect comments about Michael J Fox's appearance in a TV ad (for a pro-stem cell research Democratic candidate) and everybody went ballistic. Even the Republicans were too embarrassed to defend Limbaugh.

For once I think I am on the side of the much-maligned conservatives. Fox's movements do appear a little exagerrated. I remember seeing Mohammed Ali at an Oscar ceremony, and his tremors weren't even 10% of Fox's.

But Limbaugh should have been more civilised in his criticism. Just a suggestion that Fox might have been exagerrating would have done. But then he wouldn't be Rush Limbaugh, would he?

23 October 2006

20 October 2006

Red States and Blue States

This is a subject I've been reading and thinking a lot about lately. The key to understanding US politics, especially Presidential elections, is the division of the country into two halves: the Republican (red) and the Democrat (blue). Pages upon pages can be written analysing this phenomenon. Here I will confine myself to some basic numbers. (Most of them are approximate)

First, out of the 50 states, the Blue: Red division is 20:30. Population wise, the division is less skewed - 48%:50%, with the Reds having a slight edge. These translate into an electoral-votes ratio of 250:275. [The exact figures are: out of the 51 states (including District of Columbia) the blue: red ratio is 19:29. Three are 'purple' states - Iowa, New Hampshire and New Mexico. These 3 changed their colours in the 2004 polls and account for the missing 2% population you are wondering about]

A small note here - I was under the impression that America was majority Blue, but due to the screwed-up electoral college system, the Reds end up winning. I was wrong. While it's true that many Red states are sparsely populated, there are also some very small Blue states (in the north east). So, ladies and gentlemen, the rednecks are not a minority. They represent mainstream America. It's the liberals who are the minorty. They are confined to 3 pockets: the North East (12 states), the West Coast (3 states) and the Great Lakes (4 states).

On with our analysis. So the question arises: what decides if a state is Blue or Red? There are many factors, but one that almost everybody mentions is the urban/rural divide. The Blue states are supposed to be largely urban/industrial, and the Red states are supposed to be largely rural/agricultural. I decided to put this theory to the test. I tried to see if a state's Blueness/Redness is linked to its degree of urbanisation. I got the data for the states' urbanisation from the 1990 US census and voila!

[A caveat here: 'rural' does not mean the state is less than 50% urban. That way we'll get nowhere. We must remember that the US is a developed country with 75% of its people living in urban areas. Once we define an urban state as a state whose urbanisation is 70% or more, we can make some progress]

1. About half of America's states are urban (urbanisation is 70% or more). Among these the Blue: Red split is 16:7. So an urban state is twice more likely to be Blue than Red. If we look at the top 20 most urbanised states, the split is 12:7. Yes, the Blues' advantage has gone down. But the 12 states left are comfortably Blue with an average victory margin of 15% (The margin for each state will be the average of the margins in the 2000 and 2004 polls). Whereas out of the 7 Red states, 3 look shaky - with margins of less than 4%. Two of these are large states: Florida and Ohio. So in the 20 most urbanised states, only 4 are comfortably Red. Two of these deserve special mention: Utah and Texas - they have urbanisation rates of 87% and 80%, and Red victory margins of 42% and 22% respectively! How could such highly urbanised states be so heavily Red? The simplistic answers are Mormonism and George W Bush, respectively.

2. Now let's look at the rural states (urbanisation is less than 70%). These are 27 in number, and the Blue: Red split is 3:22! No contest there. And the 22 states are comfortably Red, with an average victory margin of 19.5%.

That ends our little investigation. The hope is that as urbanisation increases, more states will turn Blue. Till then, the strategy for the Democrats remains the same: attack Florida and Ohio, and hold Pennsylvania and Michigan! :-)

16 October 2006

West Wing

I don't put up more than two postings in a day. But today I'm in the mood to write a little bit more.

Since we are on the subject of US politics, we can talk about 'West Wing'. I have been catching up on the series on DVD. I finished Seasons 1 and 2. Now I'm into Season 3 - which I had already seen on TV, but I am watching it again to have some continuity when I watch Season 4. Also, since I saw the first two seasons, it's worth watching Season 3 again as I can now understand what's going on - especially with regard to the re-election campaign, the Multiple Sclerosis fallout and the investigations.

I can't get the last episode of Season 2 out of my head. Bartlet goes public with his MS. Immediately the #1 question is: Will he run again? Nobody knows: not the public, not the press, not the staff, not the family, not the man himself. But the decision has to be taken soon. Meanwhile Mrs Landingham, the President's secretary, whom he has known since he was in high school, and who's been like an elder sister to him, dies. After the memorial service he has to go to a press conference where he has to have an answer. Bartlet remembers Mrs Landingham telling him,"If you don't want to do it, I'll respect you. But if you are not doing it because you think you'll lose or because it's too hard, then I don't want to know you."

The song "Brothers in Arms" starts playing as Bartlet stands outside in the rain and ponders. He then makes his way towards the press conference. Sure enough, the first question is "Will you run for re-election?"

Bartlet puts his hands in his pockets, smiles and says,"Yeah. And I'm going to win."

End of a Revolution

There seems to be no end to the Republicans' woes. Iraq, the economy, corruption scandals - and now Foleygate. The biggest albatross around their neck is the President himself, with approval ratings of below 40%. Seen as the main vote getter for the party just 2 years ago, he will take much of the blame if the Republicans do badly in November.

TIME magazine's cover story this week talks about the end of the revolution of 1994 (when Republicans siezed control of the House of Representatives after 40 years of Democratic domination). "Every revolution begins with the power of an idea and ends when clinging to power is the only idea left." Wow! It seems to be an original line. Click here for the article.

13 October 2006

The Numbers Game

Talk about coincidences: just yesterday, when I mentioned the death toll in Iraq as 45,000, a new study came out putting the number at 6,55,000! The research was carried out by John Hopkins University, and published in the Lancet.

As expected, the Bush administration and the Republican party have rubbished the findings. The last thing they want one month before the US Congressional elections is to admit they started a war that has wiped out a population the size of Baltimore.

I think the study is quite credible. For an excellent analysis, see

12 October 2006

A New Horror Story

My musings on novels will have to wait. Today it's back to the real world.

Just when you thought the situation in Iraq couldn't get worse, a new horror story comes from the war zone: Shia death squads are doing the rounds of Baghdad's hospitals, systematically killing Sunni patients. The Iraqi Health Minister happens to be a loyalist of Muqtada al-Sadr, the extremist Shia cleric and leader of the Mahdi militia.

To be fair, the Sunnis are no saints. They have been busy bombing Shia shrines (including Samarra in February this year, which triggered the civil war).

http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ reports that 45,000 civilians have died in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003. That's how much innocent blood George W Bush has on his hands. Are you proud, George?

06 October 2006

Three Favourite Novels

Of late I have been thinking of which would be my favourite novels. Most people would have a Top 10 list. But I have read very few novels (much of my reading is non-fiction). So I have to limit myself to a modest Top 3. Here they are in chronological order:

1. War and Peace (1869) - Leo Tolstoy
2. One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
3. Shantaram (2003) - Gregory David Roberts

1. War and Peace
No, I am not being high brow. I really liked this book. It took me almost 2 months to finish, but it was worth the effort. An epic set against the backdrop of Napolean's 1812 invasion of Russia, it traces the fortunes of about half a dozen aristocratic families. The three central characters are Pierre Bezukhov, Natasha Rostova and Andrei Bolkonsky. For me the hero is Pierre Bezukhov, and the book is nothing but the story of his journey through life and his search for truth. He starts off as an earnest seeker, deeply interested in philosophy. (The account of Freemasonry's metaphysics given here sounds remarkably like Vedanta!) But the end is disappointing - Pierre concludes that there's no point in philosophy and one must just enjoy the simple pleasures of life (read marriage and children).

I'll talk about 2 and 3 later...