Thursday, June 28, 2007

Life on Mars or Life on Earth?

I have always wondered what is more important - finding out if there was/is life on mars? or if we can save life on earth?  It is true, the scientific establishment spends more money on exploring outer space and building new technology for traveling to the outer-reaches of our solar system than figuring out how to remove hunger and death from earth.

Is earth not important? Even if life exists on Mars - would it change our perceptions of who we are so drastically? I don't think so, as long as we don't value all human life to be the same.  While, millions perish to preventable diseases in the developing world - the developed world looks for ET life.  Is it that as a evolving race - we have come to believe too much in Darwinism? Do we think that only the fittest will survive? Do we believe that the millions who die around the world every year - are bound to their fate because they were born in the wrong place?

We need a fundamental change to our very notion of what life is - before we go finding it on Mars. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

British imperialism - today's world

I am not a big believer in world police. Specially, a superpower that thinks it can encroach upon the sovereignty of other nations, particularly, when the occupied lands have resources that are valuable to the superpower (read invader).

I am a person who believes that Americans are a proud and honest race and those who believe in the freedom of an individual. Individual includes a poor child in Sudan and not just Paris Hilton driving drunk on LA streets.

I feel so discouraged that the US just sits and watches while millions perish in regions like Sudan and makes a big issue about the tyranny of Saddam in Iraq. It chooses to pick its fights, fights which will protect its strategic interests. IF the war was fought publicly for oil, instead of the current freedom facade, I would have been happier. It is a great injustice to millions who perish under cruel regimes in Africa and elsewhere while the US fights a lost cause in Iraq. I am not of the opinion that it is US's responsibility to fight tyranny in the world. However, if they do choose to do it, I want them to do it for the real cause. US has already lost tremendous political equity in the world today. I wish the next administration is more prudent in its foreign policy decisions.

A short detour into British history, before I make another point in this post. In the mid nineteenth century, cotton that was grown in India was taken by the British to their homeland, spun into cloth at the famous Manchester mills and brought back to India to be sold to Indians. The cotton growers gained little value in this process, and this was classic exploitation - a characteristic trade tactic of the imperialistic british empire. It does not matter what anyone says about the noble burden of the white man to civilize the third world. Encroaching on the freedom of another human being cannot be tolerated - irrespective of what the underlying reason.

I see an analogy that is really close to what had happened during British imperialism. The interests of the nations that had the resources were shattered at the expense of businessmen and bankers in London. In the present times, countries like Venezuela and Iran are trying to create an alliance and gang up against the US because they fear Big Oil - companies that stand for a good portion of US interest in sensitive regions of the world as of today. Big Oil will not benefit the countries where it drills for oil.

It is easy to blame these countries for their perils and say that they elect ineffective regimes that have caused more damage. I agree. However, what is it that the rest of the world has done to help build stable institutions in such countries? Do we have the right to point fingers hen we have no interest except looting these off their most valuable national resource?

US fights the war in Iraq in the name of freedom, at the same time supporting a military regime in Pakistan and a monarchy in Saudi Arabia and tolerating a communist trading partner. Such strategic positioning makes me wonder, if my belief in what the US stands for is wrong after all.

I like the American way of life - freedom and honesty, as much as I hate its insularity and ignorance of other cultures. I wish, things change. I wish the US had a more sensible foreign policy and respect the interests of other nations as well.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The iphone hype

My rationality went into hyperdrive after I heard that Apple is launching its iphone on June 29th. 

I am close to completing my 2-year cell phone contract with AT&T in about 2 months from now.  I am definitely looking forward to getting a phone that will double up as a PDA and probably a GPS as well. I hate carrying around multiple gadgets and would really love to have a device that can help me multi-task.  However, although iphone can do all these things for me, a 500 USD price tag seems too much to me.  That's when my rationality took over.  I convinced myself that iphone is for people who want their phone to browse the web, downloads videos and music, and finally (phew!) to make calls.

I guess, my lookout for a phone that can be a PDA/GPS will continue.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Apathy is a crime

In my opinion there is no bigger crime than apathy.  We are all guilty of it.

Most of us live our lives oblivious to what goes in the "world" that we are not exposed to.   We lead our selfish lives with ease - some thank god for the daily bread while some think they have earned it. Some just steal it and some dream of it. 

Thousands die around the world due to hunger and disease everyday, and yet we pay little or almost no attention to the stats of the world that we are in.  I am guilty of this crime too.  I am often preoccupied with my own work and do not even think of things that do not directly affect me.  I guess, most of us are like that.  We have our microcosms and we live in them creating barriers around us that bless us with nothing but apathy.

I have always made a conscious effort of getting out of this "little" world and look beyond.  I realize my crime, whenever I reach out.  I am guilty of apathy.  Apathy towards the millions of children who die in the developed world - of hunger and disease.  When the guilt strikes me I make a monetary contribution.  I would like to be involved at a grass root level, but, my world does not allow me to.  I do not have grandiose dreams of giving up my life to serve the needy. But, what I do know is that I can make a difference through my monetary contributions to NGOs and other relief organizations.  I urge that you do the same.  Apathy is a crime. Crime against humanity.

A few sites that you might want to check out.  I have had a positive experience with these organizations.  I have made a pledge that I will give away a small portion of my income to charities every year.  take the pledge. Keep it up.  Even if it is just to free yourself off your guilt, that's fine.  At least a hungry child will eat a happy meal somewhere in the world.

The big Indian immigration scam

Let me clarify that I have nothing against being an Indian.  However, I do hate the fact that there are some among us who deserve to be labeled "scamsters".

This post follows my previous post on immigration, in which my essential point was that the US is ignoring the issues of legal immigrants and pursuing a self-destructive path.  Here, I take an alternative view as to how Indian firms have essentially exploited the loopholes in the US immigration rules to export thousands of Indians to this country.

After years of contemplation, I have decided to write on something that I feel strongly about - the perils of the H1 system.

I first heard about a H1b visa back in 1997 when my mother's colleague gave up his job in an Indian bank to pursue the american dream. He found a "consultant" who trained him on SAP and sent him to the US to work on a project with a US client.  Later I heard that his project was over and that he was on the bench. " Bench" essentially means that this individual does not have a job with a US firm directly, but is on the payrolls of an Indian consultancy firm that will pay him a meagre salary (800 USD a month at times) till they can find another job for him.

Eventually, the consultant managed to find another project and the individual moved to another firm.  This process continued for over a 6 years and meanwhile the Indian consultant filed a permanent residency application on this person's behalf and at the end of six years this person got a job.  I have nothing against it as long as it does not affect me.  Let me explain how this affects me.

I came to this country in 2002 to pursue a PhD.  By the time i finished my PhD and can get in line for immigration, there are thousands of individuals, such as the person I wrote about, who have already filed for their immigration through Indian consultancy firms. H1Bs are supposed to be issued for those jobs that cannot be filled up by american born persons.  But what are the Indian consultancy firms upto ? All they do is hire Indians and get them to the US, even through they technically don't have a job yet.  This is sheer exploitation. Why are these H1Bs being allowed to enter this country when they don't "technically" have a job yet?  The federal government has no clue. The consular generals back in India have no clue.

People like me who have pursued advanced education in the US and seek immigration through employment are suffering the consequences of this scam. The Senate has made a few moves in addressing this issue by questioning Indian firms on their hiring practices.  Indian firms do not hire americans, period.  They just get ill-trained individuals to this country and dump them her - much to the disdain of people such as me.

I have to admit that some of my own friends, relatives and well-wishers have been beneficiaries of such scams. But, that does not make it right! What about doing the right thing? What about people like me?

I say, the US should move to a point based system.  A system that values education, job and contribution to society before prioritizing the immigration applications. Do not let individuals who do not work directly for US firms apply for immigration.  That is where the exploitation essentially lies!  Screw the Indian IT consultants!

The immigration debate

I am appalled. Apalled at this farce called the immigration debate.

I had always believed that the US is (read was) a country that valued talent more than anything else. This belief is being shattered as I watch the house and the senate focus on immigration issues that deal with illegals than legals. Let me explain.

I am from India - a country that sends one of the largest student groups to the US. India gets more attention for the large number of H1Bs that are supposedly taking away american jobs and less attention for the thousands of students who come to the US. Students who have and will graduate from US universities every year and contribute to the US economy. The famed silicon valley is full of beaming entrepreneurs with ideas who have come here to pursue their education and fulfill their aspirations. There is no belittling the contribution made by Indian or Chinese immigrants to the US.

The problem with the current debate on immigration is that it does not effectively deal with issues that concern "legal" immigrants. A discussion with any Indian or Chinese immigrant (most probably a Master's or a PhD grad from a US university) will reveal that there is a long waiting line to get a green card - in cases that runs into years. The administration in all its wisdom is more concerned about tobacco pickers than PhDs, I suppose. I see US hurtling down a dangerous path - a path that is filled with hubris. The world is becoming more competitive due to globalization and the dominance of US as a destination for talent can no longer be taken for granted. As long as the US can attract and retain talent, the US economy stays vibrant. The moment it ignores talent and value, it is bound to suffer the consequences.

Who will add more value to the US: a person whose only skill set is laying down bricks or the person whose skill set is designing jet engines? The answer is obvious.

However, reality does not reflect this. The voice(read an english voice) of legal immigrants is lost in the cries (read in hispanic) of illegals this country.

Even with a PhD in business, I am not so sure of my future in this country. It might be five or six years before I get a permanent residency in this country. It might take even longer. Is all I can do just wait and watch as illegals jump the fence and get amnesty?

I have always believed US being a free country that is indifferent to religion, social class, race or gender and that it will be a vibrant place that will always attract immigrants like me. I am troubled that US is slowly losing the mantle it has occupied for so long. I want a change. I am not sure how I can contribute, but I want to. This is the only place where I can be who I am and be really happy about it. I want the US to realize its mistake on the immigration issue. I want my voice to be heard. I want legal immigrants to be treated differently and with priority.

Watch out for my next post on the bane called "the Indian IT firm"