Yearnings of an MR2 owner

I drive a Toyota MR2, a genuine Mark I built in 1988. I got it in 1994 with 30,000 miles on it and since then I have added another 107,000 miles. The car is a beauty. It is small, low to the ground, light in weight and an overmatched engine that delivers 145 horses (108 kW). It has a pair of cute pop-up headlights and exactly 2 seats, one for the driver and one for the passenger. I love my car. It is fun to drive, easy to park (okay, not easy to locate because it is lower, slimmer and shorter than just about anything else) and it gives great gas mileage (30 miles to the US gallon or 12.75 km/l or 7.84 litres per 100 km).

But, after 18 years of constant use (and a little misuse), it needs to be replaced. No, not right away but soon. I have been on the lookout for a new car for some time. My requirements are simple -- a two seater, simple, not too many frills, with an extra oomph for the engine and easy on the gas. But it seems that Toyota overdid themselves all those years ago and there still isn't anything that can be considered an heir to the MR2. I am hoping to find something that gives 40 - 50mpg, has about 140hp and weighs less than 2500 pounds.

In 1998, gasoline was about $1.20 per gallon, now it is roughly $3.30 per gallon. So, you would think that the American public would be clamouring for such a vehicle. But, it seems that everyone is looking for a "house on wheels". These SUVs on the road are basically small houses! You can watch movies, play video games, have 20 cupholders to keep your coffee, seats that adjust in myriad ways, heating and cooling to go from Alaska in January to Death Valley in June and an engine powerful enough to tow two horses, a boat and a mobile home!

Please, Toyota, give me a car that is thrifty to buy, thrifty to operate and has a pep to it. Oh and please make it a two-seater so that I can pretend that I am still single...




Human history is a history of movement. Our ancestors migrated out of Africa, establishing themselves on 6 of the 7 continents. Our ancestors and their cousins conquered almost all available lands on Earth, from the frigid Arctic to boiling Sahara and everything inbetween.

Why did humans spread? Well, I am sure some did it out of sheer adventure but for most it was a matter of opportunity. Back when our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, the seasonal migration of "food on hooves" - deer, antelopes, mammoths, gnus etc as well as availability of fruits, nuts, mushrooms, berries and other edible leaves and roots drove the seasonal migration. But as these peoples discovered other food sources or means of comfort or just better places to live, they followed other migration paths. When natural resources shrank in supply, humans were forced to migrate in search of these resources. Discovery of unmolested, unutilized lands surely caused new waves of migration.

Even after all but Antarctica was inhabited, migration continued. Within Europe, many tribes moved from place to place seeking better opportunities in terms of food, shelter, political power and protection from real and imagined enemies. Speakers of proto-Indo-European language spread out from the Caspian sea, pushing against and merging with many other populations including the Basque. Migration has been an important aspect of our history right to the present day. There is a continuous movement of people from villages to cities, from country to country, chasing opportunities or escaping dead-ends. During times of prosperity, a city or country attracts migrants from other places while during times of poverty, it supplies immigrants to other loci of prosperity.

Within my own ancestory, in the last 10 generations, people have moved from city to city trying to exploit the opportunities presented or have stayed in the city of their birth hoping to take advantage of the social and political networks.

So, why such a high immigration rate to USA? Well, through most of American history, the government has felt the need to attract immigrants. And the events unfolding in Europe provided large numbers of people trying to escape persecution, war, famine, disease or sheer lack of opportunity. I would personally put the share of the last reason upwards of 99%. Another set of immigrants were the slaves from Africa who were brought to improve the economic yield of various endevours such as farming. In the mid- to late-1800s, a third set of immigrants arrived on the scene - Chinese workers willing to work hard on construction of railroad. From the response to the third set, it is obvious that the US govt and a majority of the public saw the US as a European society, not as a global melting pot.

In the 1960s, the govt changed direction once again and started admitting large numbers of people from everywhere. One of the major groups who took advantage of this new policy were skilled professionals, especially engineers, doctors and nurses, from Asia. The US economy had been galloping at a high rate and there was an acute need for such people. Ofcourse, the immigrants usually do not come alone. They come with spouses and children and soon want to reunite with their parents and siblings. There is demand for other elements from their culture which leads to immigration of priests, musicians, chefs and other such people.

US, because of its sizeable population from every country, province and city in the world, makes it easier to immigrate. Britain, being the largest colonial power, sowed the seeds of English language in many countries. Knowledge of English language further eases immigration to USA. The biggest factor though is the worldwide marketing. The American economy, though mature, is still growing at a good pace. This means that American companies need more skilled professionals than what is available at home. Therefore, we try to attract such people from across the globe. But if you are a skilled professional in say India or Brazil where the economy is growing faster still, why would you want to leave everything and come to USA? Because, as the marketers would tell you, you have freedom and money and opportunity and all your dreams would come true. This messsage has permeated the globe so well that to someone looking to make a fresh start, USA is at the top of a very short list of potential destinations.

In contrast, today there are many people in USA who believe that immigration needs to be drastically curtailed. Yes, it is possible but remember, it is not going to be easy. The last 100 years have seen a massive influx of people to USA and they have contributed heavily towards the economic growth of this country. We have also attracted a large amount of capital and thus this symbiotic relationship between talent, capital and enterpreneurship has propelled USA to be an economic superpower. If the immigration of skilled people is curtailed, what would happen to the capital inflows? Perhaps some other country (or group of countries) would become the new economic magnet and the talent and capital would flow there instead.

Others believe that it is only illegal migration that is bad and should be ratcheted down. Towards this goal, the US government is spending a fortune in stopping the flow of "illegals", primarily through the Mexico border. But I believe that this too is a failed idea. You cannot market the American Dream to the engineers in Egypt and doctors in Ghana without also marketing to the hardworking manual laborers in Mexico. Sure, we want to accept only the "creme de la creme" of the world but it is not so simple.

Why are we in such dire need of skilled workers? Well, one reason is that we, as a society, do not want to invest in education. We are telling our kids that if they want to be a doctor, either be lucky enough to have your parents pay for your decade-long education or graduate with $200,000 in debt. If we don't have enough doctors, we would import them from some other country where the state pays for the education and the doctor arrives here fully trained and debt-free!

The flip-side of the question is: Why do we need so many unskilled workers? Well, we are a fairly wasteful society. And at the same time, we are addicted to cheap prices. We don't want one pair of great shoes that would last a lifetime. We want 10 pairs of shoes and don't mind if they wear out in a year as long as they are really cheap. Therefore, there is a need for unskilled and semi-skilled workers and the budget to pay them is really small. The only group that is keen on getting such jobs is people who are in the country illegally and cannot be employed legally. If tomorrow, by some miracle, we grant legal status on everyone and ensure that there is not a single person in USA illegally, we can expect to see a dramatic rise in the costs of many labor-intensive tasks. While we may have our moral reservations about illegal immigration, we need to understand what we are going to do when cheap labor disappears.

What do you think?


Bullfight in Madrid

Recently, I was in Madrid on vacation. Despite my reservations, I was cajoled into going to a bullfight. I have always maintained that bullfights are barbaric (though I am a carnivore...). Lacking any knowledge of Spanish (except for a few tourist words and phrases), I was lucky to receive a booklet (with our tickets) which explained the process of a bullfight in 5 languages. And my neighbors on both sides were unlucky to have a decent knowledge of English language...

After seeing the entire bullfight process (6 bullfights in total), I have reached a different conclusion - Bullfights are barbaric not because a bull gets killed but because the entire process is about slaughter. The bull doesn't stand a chance. Let me explain:

First, the torero (matador) enters the ring with 3 assistants. Then, the bull enters. He is very energetic and a dangerous 1100+ pound animal at this stage. The torero and his assistants make the bull run around the ring before a horseman on a fully padded horse shows up to lance the bull in the nape. Then, either the torero or his assistants stick 3 pairs of barbs in the bull's nape. These steps are not without danger but after being lanced, the bull strength is being sapped through blood loss. Then, the matador uses his cape to make the bull charge again and again till it is time to finish the game. The matador thrusts a sword into the same nape wound and usually, the bull falls a few seconds later. Then the bull is dragged off by a team of horses.

While many may feel that it is exciting (and certainly many do by the crowds at the bullring), I felt that it was just stylized slaughter. It would be much more fun to watch if the bull had a chance to live to fight another day. My vision goes something like this:

Skip the horseman. There is no challenge. Next, make the matador and his assistants stay within the central circle (often they would run out into narrow wooden slits made in the side walls to escape the charging bull). If they go out of the central circle, they are out of the game. Also, if they lose their cape (it happened twice when I watched), out they go. I believe these changes would make for a more exciting match. Yes, the match would also get more dangerous but then again, this is not a game for the cowards. The flow would definitely change but it would also be more relevant for the era we live in.

Just some food for thought...