Friday, December 19, 2014

ஹூட்ஸ்பா ..

தமிழ் வாசகர்களுக்கு சாரு அடிக்கடி செய்யும் உபயம், புதிதாக ஏதாவது ஒரு ஆங்கில வார்த்தையை அறிமுகப் படுத்துவது.  இரண்டு ஆங்கில வார்த்தைகள் அவரிடம் சிக்கிப் படாதபாடு வருகின்றன.  ஒன்று – “philistine”, மற்றது – “transgressive writing”.  நேற்று, அவர் தளத்தில் இன்னொரு வார்த்தை – “palimpsest”.  இந்த வார்த்தை என்ன பாடு படப் போகிறதோ? எனப் பீதியாகத் தான் இருக்கிறது.  இந்த வார்த்தைகளில் முதன்மையானது – ஃபிலிஸ்டீன் – என்ற வார்த்தை தான்.  சாருவிடம், பேச மைக்கைக் கொடுத்தால் (அதுவும், தமிழ் நாட்டின் எல்லையைத் தாண்டிச் செல்லக் கூடிய ஆங்கில ஊடகங்களாக இருந்து விட்டால்) போதும், ஒரு கையளவு தமிழ் ஃபிலிஸ்டீன் கலாச்சாரத்தின் குறைகளைப் பட்டியலிட்டு, ஒரு படியளவு எண்ணையூற்றித் தன்னைப் போன்ற transgressive எழுத்தாளரை மதிக்காத தமிழ்ச் சமூகத்தைச் தாளித்து, கொஞ்சம் கழிவிரக்கத்தையும், மேலை நாட்டு பெயர்களைத் தெளித்து, ஒரு சாம்பார் வைத்து விடுவார்.  இதை ரொம்ப காலமாக செய்து வருகிறார்.  இதைப் பார்க்க ஒரு ரசிகர் வட்டாரமே இருக்கிறது.  சரி, விஷயத்திற்கு வருவோம்.
இதில் இந்த முதல் வார்த்தையை, அது தான் அந்த ஃபிலிஸ்டீன் என்ற வார்த்தையைக் – கொஞ்சம் கவனிக்கலாம். இந்த வார்த்தைக்கு, நான் ஏதாவது விளக்கம் சொல்லப் போய், அது தவறாக இருந்து விட்டால் என்ன செய்வது?
Cartoon from: http://goo.gl/h6NCqK
ஃபிலிஸ்டீன் என்பதற்கு சாருவே கொடுக்கும் வரையறை:. “யாரெல்லாம் கலை, இலக்கியத்துக்கு எதிரானவர்களோ, கலாச்சார சுரணை உணர்வு இல்லாதவர்களோ அவர்கள் ஃபிலிஸ்டைன்.  அந்த வகையில் ஒட்டு மொத்த தமிழ்ச் சமூகமே ஃபிலிஸ்டைன் என்கிறேன் நான்”. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Texas Democrats fight hard to neutralize mid-term malaise: What do EV results portend?

Fewer people voted during early voting period in 2014 compared to 2010:

At the end of 2014 early voting period, roughly 1.715 million votes have been cast in 2014 in the top 15 counties in the state of Texas, and this is roughly similar to 1.731 million votes cast during the early voting period in 2010 for the same counties. 

Although the total number of registered voters (in these 15 counties) in 2014 was higher in 2014 (8.978 million vs 8.339 million), a slightly lower percentage of people cast their ballot during EV period (19.11 % vs 20.76 %).

Therefore, voter malaise is real.

Does this mean Republicans have a big advantage?


No. Contrary to popular wisdom, the republican advantage due to slightly lower turn-out may not be high.  In most of the counties that democrats won in 2010, the EV percent is roughly similar in 2014, indicating that there was not a huge drop off in democratic voters.  There is also not a big uptick in the EV % in the counties won by republicans.

Early voting compared to 2010 in the top 15 counties in Texas.  The horizontal axis indicates the percentage point margin that democrats had over republican in each of the counties.  Positive numbers mean democrats won those counties, and negative numbers mean democrats lost these counties.  The vertical axis indicates the early vote differential in 2014 compared to 2010.  Positive numbers indicate more voted in 2014 than in 2010.  The size of the bubble indicates the size of the county.  Of the two largest counties, Tarrant county might turn blue this time, and Harris county might turn red. (see text)


Two large counties stand out.  First, Harris county which former Mayor Bill White - democrat, won narrowly in 2010, has seen a sizable drop in EV percentage (5 %), and most likely Harris will swing to republicans in 2014.   Second, EV in Tarrant county is up by 3% compared to 2010, and this may be because the democratic gubernatorial candidate Ms. Wendy Davis is from Tarrant county.  So, this district may swing democratic in 2014.  The swings in these large counties may offset each other.
Based on the analysis of EV in the top 15 Texas counties, it looks like that the democrats may have kept their head above the water in the early voting.

Get out the vote:


So, it boils down to who shows up at the voting booth on election night.  It appears that the Texas democrats are better organized than usual this time around, and there is no evidence of the 2010 tea-party wave fueled by anti-Obamacare sentiments roused by candidates such as Ted Cruz.  

In the absence of any wave, if each of the 30,000 volunteers that Ms. Wendy Davis’s campaign claims to have on the field, bring just 10 otherwise unlikely voters to the polling booth, this could be a very close election than most predictions.


Let us see tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Epic right wing fear mongering about Ebola

Right wing hysteria about Ebola has reached a new high.  It is not just the usual, uninformed talk show blowhards who are whipping up the hysteria, but respected senators, and senior leaders of the republican party heartily take part in it.

Dr. Rand Paul – a physician,  proclaimed in the Glenn Beck show that, “…“I do think you have to be concerned. It’s an incredibly transmissible disease that everyone is downplaying, saying it’s hard to catch. Well, we have physicians and health workers who are catching it who are completely gloved down and taking every precaution and they’re still getting it.” 

Really, Dr. Paul? Physicians and health workers who are completely gloved down and taking every precaution are still getting it?  It is this monstrous disease that we know nothing about, and we are underplaying it?  The respected NEJM, published a paper on Oct 16th from the WHO team after analyzing 4000+ cases from the current epidemic, and the authors unequivocally state:

Although the current epidemic of EVD in West Africa is unprecedented in scale, the clinical course of infection and the transmissibility of the virus are similar to those in previous EVD outbreaks. The incubation period, duration of illness, case fatality rate, and reproduction ratio R 0 are all within the ranges reported for previous EVD epidemics.

Time between the exposure and onset of symptoms based on data from all three west African countries.  The gray bars indicate the frequency of candidates, and the thick red line is the model fit.  Symptoms start at 5 +/- 4 days after exposure.  (Courtesy; NEJM)

Thanks to the heroic work of physicians and scientists, we know a lot about the current Ebola epidemic,and this epidemic is biologically no different to other Ebola epidemics of the past.  What we need is effective control measures to bring the reproduction rate of Ebola to below 1.  That requires personal protection equipment (PPE), and other logistical support for the health-care workers in West Africa – in short aid.  Well, what is Senator Paul’s position on foreign aid?  He wants to eliminate it – gradually.  Yes, the senator who wants to eliminate foreign aid, is the one who is keen on whipping up panic based on unproven hypotheses.


Other prominent right wing panic mongers include republican senate hopefuls such as Scott Brown demanding a blanket travel ban , Louisiana Senate candidate Bill Cassidy accusing CDC of downplaying ebola risk, and Mike Rounds of South Dakota insisted on a travel ban.  The Republican party establishment from Boehner, Mitch McConnel, Chris Christie, etc. have all hyper-ventilated about how to respond to ebola:  they have insisted on a blanket travel ban or on quarantine. 
The prestigious NEJM strongly argued against calls by republican (and some democratic) calls for quarantine.  In plain language, NEJM stated the following about calls for quarantine, “… is not scientifically based, is unfair and unwise, and will impede essential efforts to stop these awful outbreaks of Ebola disease at their source, which is the only satisfactory goal


Obama deserves credit for keeping a cool head amidst all this hyperventilation. 

The facts are: (a) Ebola is difficult to spread.  It spreads via droplet transmission and is not airborne; (b) If the patient is not symptomatic, the subject cannot transmit the disease (Mr. Duncan’s family was not infected during the early stages of the development of the disease, whereas the nurses who took care of him when he had the full-blown symptoms did); (c) US has tremendous knowledge about Ebola and (d) US has the necessary healthcare infra-structure to handle it.

Both nurses who were infected at the Dallas hospital have now been cured of Ebola.  A couple of dozen people who came into contact with Mr. Duncan, who were monitored, are now beyond the window for developing the disease, and have been cleared.




Does this mean that we will not have any more Ebola outbreaks in the US?  No.  It is just that we know how to deal with it.  

Let us follow the scientists, and not give in to irrational fear whipped up for crass, short-term political advantage.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Some more thoughts in Texas Early voting

Six days into the early voting, it is clear that the percent of early voting in 2014 in the 15 most populated counties in the state of Texas is roughly comparable to 2010.

A total of about 43,000 additional people have voted after six days of early voting compared to 2010.

Data summarized from the Texas Secretary of State EV totals published on 10/25/2014

I think it is safe to make a few observations after six days of early voting, including a weekend day.

1) It is a particularly negative sign for the democratic party that the largest county in Texas, Harris county is lagging in the early voting so far.  In 2010, Rick Perry and Bill White essentially split the number of votes cast.  It may not be a big deal.  But, even if a couple of percent of the usual democratic voters do not show up at the polls in Harris county, the deficit may be difficult to overcome with increases in other counties.  So, if you have friends who live in Texas call them and ask them to cast their ballot.

2) While there is a net increase in the number of votes in the Hidalgo county (compared to 2010), there is a net drop in El Paso county.  Both counties broke strongly in favor of democrats in 2010. So, that is an area to watch.

3) Lastly, this may be the silver lining for the Texas democrats.  There is no evidence to suggest that the republican efforts to increase their turnout has paid any dividends.  Thus far, it looks like 2014 may be yet another Texas mid-term election where fewer than 50% of Texans will participate in.  In the past, such elections overwhelmingly broke for the republican party. In this cycle, it looks like that the democrats have upped their game in canvassing, and micro targeting of their voters.   It remains to be seen, if these efforts are sufficient to win in November.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Texas : Slowly trending blue?


To be a liberal in Texas (especially in the suburbs) can be dispiriting.  There is not a single democrat elected for statewide office.  For example, in TX-22 congressional district (where I live), Republicans traditionally have enjoyed a 2-1 advantage in voting compared to democrats, and that sort of advantage is fairly common across Texas.  For many positions, there are not even qualified democratic candidates on the ballot.  Well, that was the recent past.

I volunteered today to block-walk canvassing for Wendy Davis, who is running for the governor of Texas.   It was an interesting experience.  A couple of things were worth noting.

1)      I walked in and a gentleman gave me instructions about canvassing.  I walked out with a detailed map of potential democratic voters, and when I returned three hours later, the data was tabulated, and uploaded to a server.  This operation was run by “Battleground Texas”, and the level of sophistication was something that I have never seen before in Texas.

2)      While the volunteers were quite enthusiastic, it remains to be seen, if these efforts translate to votes.  

Based on the early voting results so far (from the top 15 counties), it looks like 2014 early voting trends are very similar to the most recent mid-term election (2010).  Five days into early voting, four of the top five most populated counties, (Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis) all show an early voting trend that is very similar to 2010.  However, newspaper reports suggest that early voting is up in Tarrant, and Hidalgo counties, compared to four years ago.

Graph generated with data from Texas Secretary of State's website.


In 2010, Rick Perry got about 20% of the registered voters to beat the democratic challenger Bill White who got 15% of the registered voters.  Compared to four years ago, Wendy Davis has run a more visible campaign, and definitely has a better ground operation. 


Whether all these factors are sufficient to put Wendy Davis in the governor’s office remains to be seen.  In any event, the increasing organizational capacity of the democrats, and the changing demographics of Texas, should concern the Republicans.  

Less than 40% of the registered voters cast a ballot in 2010.  Even if a small percentage of the unlikely voters turn up to vote democratic in this election, it might make for an interesting night on November.