December 31, 2009

The Population Nightmare

Or, is it a ticking time bomb?

Call it what you will, but I think Indians are not adequately appreciative of the lurking dangers that lie ahead.

The United States has a population of just over 300 million. India's population is soon going to reach 1,200 million.

United States has a land area that is three times as much as India's. I do not think anyone will disagree that this is the most important 'natural reource' that a nation needs.

So, let's do some basic maths.

Four times as many people are crammed into an area that is one-third as much.

If my arithmatic is accurate, that simply means a population density 12 times that of the United States.

So, considering the land surface of India, it should be having a population of 300 million to start with — equal to that of the United States. But even then India will have three times the population density of the United States.

So, to match the population density of the U.S., India's population will need to go down to 100 million.

Clearly, we are on the right track to meet that target.

A New Year Reflection

I was thinking back to the days when I was younger and living at home.

My father was not so much into these festivities and would go to sleep early ... as usual.

He would wake up early next morning ... as usual and go to office at the appointed time.

I wonder if that work ethic is worth emulating or what.

We live in a time when we 'celebrate' so many things. It's not unusual now a days to see youngsters celebrating the birthdays of their parents!!!

Would have been unheard of in my time.

I will definitely feel a bit silly, I think, if my birthday were to be celebrated when I am 50 or 60 or 70 years old.

Anyways, a new year is beginning and also a new decade.

I wonder if I will live to see the end of this new decade and welcome another new decade.

If I were asked to choose one thing I would love to see happen before I die, I will say this:

I have thought about that and my only query about nature that I would love to see answered before my death is this: Are we alone in the Universe? Is there intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe? I suspect, as do scientists that life must be 'common' in this vast universe. It's just that we are a relatively primitive technological society and therefore we are just mastering the tools required to search for intelligent life elsewhere.

I would only ask scientists to 'hurry up' and find an answer before I die.

So, my answer to this question: What is the single most scientific endeavor that is ongoing at this moment? is obvious. It's the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

December 30, 2009

That Bogey Again

The Ruchika case has attracted a lot of media attention.

There's talk of giving death sentence to the perpetrator. That's a question which might seem an easy one on the face of it but when you delve into it, there are complexities involved.

The obvious danger of course is misuse. Same goes for how stringent punishment for dowry related torture should be. One can think of the maximum punishment to deter people from committing these heinous crimes.

But in today's society, there's scope for people using these laws to blackmail innocent people.

When there's not a shred of doubt about the fact that such a crime has taken place, then there is really no problem with the death sentence.

India really needs some strict laws and some people to be punished in an exemplary fashion.

The desire to take short cuts in life needs to be curbed among the people of India. In a country that is beset with so many intractable problems and so much economic disparity, this desire is particularly rife.

But whatever problems bedevil India, they are all entirely the creation of the people of India. So, Indians might as well learn to live with them and poor people have to learn to live in poverty and not be tempted to commit burglary to get rich quick.

December 29, 2009

Still Battling Small Pox

Small pox has been eradicated since a long time with the help of vaccines — one of the major triumphs of medical science ever.

But scientists continue to do research on a few samples kept in highly secure locations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is not an idle quest. When we have better understanding of how the small pox virus causes such havoc, we will be ready to face other similar viral foes in the future.

Here's a link ...

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/174679.php

Terms of Bereavement

We often deal with grief with more resilience than we might have thought possible. This is one of the interesting themes of a book reviewed in the New York Times ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/29/health/29book.html?emc=eta1

I have no hesitation with agreeing with the above contention. The ease with which people cope with tragedy is commonplace ... it would have some relation to various factors such as how 'important' financially the deceased person may have been to the grieving one.

In India certainly, it's imperative to demonstrative one's grief in a very public and melodramatic fashion. I am one who would prefer to keep grief private.

In traditional societies such as India, society plays a part in how anyone copes with a death. There are a bunch of meaningless rituals which must be complied with at all costs.

People of India being exceptionally strong believers in a benevolent God take solace in ascribing some one's death to His inscrutable will and better judgment.

Interestingly enough, I have seen people rage at God when someone in the family had an untimely death. It would appear to me childish to first of all imagine God as having any sort of a role to play in any sort of human affairs: whether it's birth, marriage, death, or anything else.

It's extraordinarily vain to think of ourselves as important enough on the scale of the universe that the Creator of the entire Universe would bother Himself with our fate.

Correct me if I am wrong ...

December 28, 2009

Still Trying to Save the Tiger

I say let's give Tiger some slack.

May be this will help put things in perspective.

1. Tiger didn't murder anyone, did he?
2. He didn't inspire some suicide bombers, did he?
3. He didn't steal taxpayers' money, did he?
4. He didn't set up phony financial schemes to cheat people, did he?
5. He didn't rape or molest women or minors, did he?
6. He didn't pontificate about leading a 'moral' life or doing 'God's work,' did he?
7. He didn't point fingers at others or blame others, did he?
8. He didn't act as if he was entitled to anything, did he?
9. He didn't break the law, did he?
10. Unless of course sex between two consenting adults means breaking the law.

December 25, 2009

Throwing Sand in the Voters' Eyes

India's Ministers and Members of Parliament are extremely proficient in this. They are aware that most of India's voting electorate is illiterate and too worried about earning their daily bread to follow the goings on in a parliament in distant Delhi that is light years removed from the reality of their lives.

So, the lawmakers do not mind framing and passing into law a bill that offers more free airline tickets to their own relatives as well as 'companions.' It's an interesting word to include in the bill. It seems our members of Parliament have become quite modern and want to take along on their free junkets people who may not be their spouses or children or relatives.

Case in point: Suppose I am a powerful MP or better still, a minister, I might get to become 'friends' with models or other members of the Page 3 fraternity. So, when I go on vacations to Goa or elsewhere at the taxpayer's expense, I would also like to take along the beautiful female 'companion' rather than the long-suffering wife or the progeny. The current legislation did not cover that possibility. So, the rulebook has been changed.

It helps that the rulemakers are themselves framing the rules that concern themselves. It's no wonder that they have been rather generous towards themselves. Who would not be?

In other countries, I am sure, some sort of professional body would have recommended a suitable law in this domain. Did not it occur to the Government to ask some retired judge to help frame the bill?

The Power of Prescription Drugs

Being a regular user of amlodipine and atenolol for controlling high blood pressure, I am somewhat aware of the power of prescription drugs.

I had carelessly taken more than what my doc had prescribed for a few days and my blood pressure went sharply in the other direction — from too high to too low.

Hollywood has seen some untimely deaths due to misuse of prescription drugs. Last year saw the death of Heath Ledger and this year has seen the death of Brittany Murphy. Michael Jackson's is a somewhat different story, I guess.

So, the lesson to learn is to beware of prescription drugs — these are not things to play with. These powerful substances can be extremely helpful to the body but when not used properly, they can cause havoc as well.

December 15, 2009

The Islam Question

It's a complex issue but one that needs to be confronted head on.

All religions are old belief systems and naturally reflect their age. All religions need to change to keep up with changing times and advances in human civilization.

There's no way that one can cling on to ways of life propounded in texts written thousands of years ago — no matter how suited those ways of life might have been to the times and climes they were written in.

Let's face it: religions came into being as humans tried to make sense of a perplexing universe. There was no science then. So, religions provided simplistic explanations for natural phenomena. Pretty much all religions have concepts of heaven and hell. They talk about living a pious or righteous life here on Earth so that one gets to go to heaven in the afterlife instead of getting punishment in hell for eternity.

This is certainly as silly as it sounds. I don't know how people can believe in childish stuff such as this.

Beyond this, different religions have different idiosyncrasies. The problem with evangelical religions is that they proselytize. The problem with expansionist religions is that they believe in going to battle to fight for their religions. The particular problem as I see it with the religion that I was born to — Hinduism — is that it has got rather peculiar practices of worshipping idols which is unique to this religion only. Nothing wrong perhaps with worshipping gods who might have four heads or ten hands — it's just silly as hell!!!

If some religion proclaims that all those people who don't follow that particular religion are infidels and must be either converted or killed, well, that's dangerous. People must stop believing such nonsense and must not be and cannot be allowed to act upon such nonsensical beliefs. It would appear some sections of the Muslim world believe in this. May be this is not unique to Islam. But because of various historical circumstances, Muslims feel victimized and have reacted to that sense of victimization by resorting to violence.

It's a basic, inconvenient fact that 19 or 20 people decided to fly airplanes into buildings and managed to kill about 3,000 people. They had lots of help and they had lots of grouses. And they want to kill even more people. This is pure madness. People continue to kill almost everyday using the almost invincible method of suicide bombing. Another monstrous caricature of religions teachings.

Be it on the record that other beliefs have prompted nations to commit murder and slaughter on far larger scales. Let us not forget the brutal history of the Second and First World Wars. Killing civilians or soldiers in the millions cannot be redeemed by any explanations. Nuclear weapons are not less brutal ways then using suicide bombings. Fire bombings, gas chambers, napalm, machine guns, etc. — each one is equally bad.

The nationalistic pride and notions of racial superiority which led to such barbarity for centuries has hopefully come to an end.

The religious zealotry of a few fanatics can hopefully be dealt with in this century using a combination of education and opportunities for self-growth.

Saving Quarters for Diapers

Americans are having to scrimp … saving quarters for diapers … Americans luckily have access to a few social safety nets provided by the government such as Medicaid, unemployment benefits, food stamps, etc. Then, non-governmental organizations and religious charities pitch in to provide whatever help they can.

The effects of this prolonged recession are definitely going to be far-reaching on the psyche of those who will have gone through long periods of unemployment. This is happening after some seven decades. So, very few are alive today who had experienced it the last time it happened.

The last recession was followed by an economic boom aided by both government policies as well as the ‘martial’ nations of Europe who still wanted to fight one last great, climactic mother of all wars after the Great War.

The lessons for India? I think the message is a very sobering one.

If a nation as advanced and prosperous can suffer such havoc from economic cycles of boom and bust, what chance does India have of escaping from such cycles?

None, I think.

And how can India prepare to face such cycles? First, India must wake up to these possibilities. India has taken baby steps towards globalization and achieved a modicum of economic growth and development in the last decade or so.

The lesson to learn is to stay alert and not become complacent. Growth and prosperity and development are not preordained. Second, India must begin to think in terms of creating safety nets similar to what is available to citizens in the more developed nations.

Of course, the creation of these safety nets will require enormous amounts of resources. India clearly lacks the resources. The fundamental problem is that so many millions and hundreds of millions of Indians live near the edge of a precipice. My fear is that when things go even slightly wrong, the repurcussions will be stunning. The problems could come in the form of any of a multitude of ways.

We are utilizing natural resources like there’s no tomorrow. The greenhouse gas emissions from all the fossil fuels that we burn could yet come to haunt us. Even slight changes to the climate patterns could cause havoc to the farming cycle leading to catastrophic crop failures.

India is still massively and overwhelmingly dependent on rainfall during the harvest seasons.

If the rains fail, India will starve.

Climate of course is a dynamic system. It will change in the future as it has in the past — with human intervention or without it.

As people become more advanced and prosperous, they tend to consume more and more resources on a per capita basis. People in general tend to consume more non-veg food which is in general more resource intensive. People will buy more furniture causing more damage to forests. In simple terms, the “footprint” of a single individual grows ever larger as he or she becomes more affluent.

It’s said that a baby in the U.S. consumes about 40 times as much resources as a baby in India. Unfortunately, Indians are still clinging on to some traditional ways of thinking … which includes the desire to have multiple progeny and large families. Having babies is considered almost a sacred birthright and a duty.

While people hold on to these traditional beliefs, some of the other realities have meanwhile changed. Infant mortality rates have declined precipitously with the widespread availability of antibiotics and other advances in medical science.

Remember that the land area of a nation does not grow whether the population of a nation increases or decreases. So, as India’s population has grown from somewhere around 100 million at the turn of the 20th century to nearly 1,200 million today, the land area remains the same. Perhaps this is an exaggeration. Perhaps, 200 million lived in the land area that is India today. At the time of India’s independence, the population was 320 million. Now, at 70 years of age, India is on course to become four times as populous.

This is clearly unsustainable. If we want every Indian to live a good life, then we must find a way to make sure that there are not that many Indians. This is a simple truth. If I may propose a brutal truth here — we must find a way to make sure that India’s population starts declining gradually.

Is that such a preposterous idea? I don’t think so. Name any advanced nation of the world and their population is already on a downward slide as we speak. Nations such as Japan, Russia, Italy and others are not concerned about burgeoning populations but are providing incentives to their citizens to persuade them to have more babies. We in India of course do not need to persuade or incentivize our people to procreate. They are unfortunately motivated enough themselves to do this.

That might have been a good thing per se, but under the present circumstances, it’s clearly not at all a good thing. Or, may be, this is too much of a good thing. So, we need to find a way to curb people’s desire to procreate.

This is the ultimate “who will bell the cat” situation. Do Indians have the vision and foresight to put some sort of a voluntary ‘moratorium’ on the uncontrolled population growth rates? If we don’t, then of course, nature will find a way, as it always does. Nature will find a way to control our population — it will do so brutally, through starvation and floods and earthquakes and tsunamis, through heat waves and cold waves.

The choice is ours.

December 14, 2009

The Search Continues ...

The Large Hadron Collider is back in action ... this time without the hoopla and the misunderstanding.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/10/science/10collide.html?th&emc=th

It's great to see a pure science project of this magnitude getting completed in the current global economic climate.

December 13, 2009

Celebrating the vision of 2012

I admire the visionary thinking behind 2012. It's easy to dismiss it as typical Hollywood production-line stuff but I think the movie has a message if only people are willing to ponder.

Of course, the movie could have done without all the razzmatazz: the special effects and the biblical allusions. But that's perhaps necessary to engage an audience with very short attention spans.

I would perhaps have preferred a movie that debated not only this particular possibility that might put a spanner in all our corporate-ladder-climbing careers but other possibilities as well. But may be that's up to Seth Sostak and Discvoery Channel.

The world may not quite turn turtle come 2012 and the Mayans may not quite have gotten it right — I certainly hope so — but there are dangers on the horizon for humanity. This permanent fiesta can't last. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, as Newton's Third Law says.

What we are doing to the planet will have an equal and opposite reaction. Then there are the imponderables. It's churlish of humanity to imagine that we have a 'spcial' place in the universe. The reality is that planet Earth is a speck of dust and an oasis in an universe that is essentially a place of endless darkness.

As we go about our daily routines, it's worth remembering that our planet continues to rotate ... endlessly, unceasingly, relentlessly ... suspended in space, in nothingness.

And it continues to revolve around its star, the Sun ... some unseen force binding it to its parent. Imagine that ... imagine the blackness of space and imagine this fragile, blue marble in the vastness of space.

No religious philosophy can exceed the beauty of this reality of the universe we inhabit.

The Ordinary and the Extraordinary

I was wondering about how great the differences are ...

Most of the people on the planet live engrossed in the occurences of their daily lives. Without giving much thought to abstract issues.

Then we have other people who devote their lives to the same abstract issues. I have particularly great respect for scientists/physicists. Where would humanity be, or rather how poor would humanity be without the contributions of Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan, and so many others like these.

There are great scientists in the biological sciences who have found cures for diseases and contributed so much to our understanding about our own selves.

Great scientists in the various physical sciences who have helped invent so many of the tools that have helped improve the quality of our lives.

And we take all of these things for granted ...

And continue to live in our tiny, little rat-holes.

It's like much of humanity is like parasites that lives off of the greatness of a few human beings.

Let's hope the supply of geniuses does not dry up any time soon as humanity has got limitless potential if only we are willing to raise our eyes upwards and think about the endless possibilities.

Save the Tiger

The way Tiger Woods is being hounded, it would appear as if he were an elected official who had been caught with his hand in the till.

But this is not the case. So, why all this fuss? Why do people want to foist greatness on someone?

Tiger's genius lies in how he can hit the golf ball. Nothing has changed on that front.

His golf skills enabled him to earn millions. His skills are exceptional. So, is his wealth.

Why do people expect him to live an ordinary life like the rest of us ... the no-skills folks? What is the purpose of slogging so hard and having all that money if you can't go out and spend it the way you like?

Why do people expect that everyone will accept the moribund rules of our society? Let's face it: the rules and regulations that govern our society are pretty old-fashioned and not really suited to our times and realities. If people are not brave enough to dump those rules in their entirety, that's people's problems.

Through all of human history, people have found various ways to skirt and manipulate those rules or have fun in spite of those rules.

Whether it be, JFK or Michael Jordan, Hugh Hefner or Magic Johnson, Tiger Woods or Bill Clinton, exceptional men will always live their lives in exceptional ways.

And I admire them all ...

Hubble Legacy

It's good that there are people out there who are involved in these endeavors and that there are nations who are willing to finance these intellectual endeavors.

It's not possible to put a price on what they find. How do you put a picture on Hubble's look at the edge of the universe?

http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2009/31/

When we are all consumed in various ways by various concerns in our daily lives, Hubble's images do help to put things in perspective.

Humans though are motivated by things that have a more immediate resonance for them. What a pity...

December 09, 2009

A Nobel Obama

Theodore Roosevelt's lasting legacy as a President is perhaps what he did to preserve and protect the extraordinary wilderness of America for posterity. The role he played in bringing to an end the war between Russia and Japan is open to interpreations. It may have indirectly led to Pearl Harbor.

Woodrow Wilson's exertions in forming the League of Nations are known. However, the eventual outcome of that endeavor might have been war rather than peace.

Nobody can argue with the true greatness of some of the other winners: King or Mandela. Gandhi of course remains a jarring omission from that roster of winners.

But overall, if one thinks of all the winners over more than one hundred years, does the list comprise of mostly great men and women with a few ordinary folks, or is the list mostly populated by ordinary people and even some very controversial winners such as Henry Kissinger?

In a hundred years from now, Obama would become a footnote in the story of human civilization and we would all be long since forgotten ...

December 07, 2009

Risible Rituals

India is a nation of meaningless rituals. Indians tend to their risible rituals with the utmost devotion so as to avoid the difficult task of having to think.

Indians like to celebrate various yearly rituals ... of both happy as well as sad occasions. One such recent anniversary was that of the Bhopal gas tragedy. Not long before that, there was the anniversary of Indira Gandhi's assassination. Then, people also remembered the Babri Masjid demolition. A more recent tragedy from Mumbai a year ago was also piously observed. Even Sachin's playing for 20 years occasioned an outpouring of admiration and adulation.

Sadly, I think people don't have any sense of proportion at all. Otherwise, we would not have seen the absurd eulogizing of Sachin.

Public outrage about the death of a model fortunatly led to the incarceration of a playboy-turned-murderer. Similar outrage is unfortunately completely absent when the dead happen to be the ordinary people of India. This dichotomy is deeply rooted in people's psyche.

Indians believe there are different rules that apply to the common people and those that apply to the ruling class. In earlier times, the ruling class comprised of kings and emperors. Today, the rich and the powerful constitute the ruling class who are automatically judged by different yardsticks.

The powerful are allowed a few transgressions. It's considred okay if they happen to break a small law here and there.

The definition of democracy itself of course gets buried when some people become members of a privileged class with a sense of entitlement.

That's Indian democracy for you. People won't rise up in revolt as long as they get to celebrate their daily and deadly rituals ... monotously pestering their imaginary gods and following other age old rituals with predictable passion.

Actions of course have consequences. What Indians are sowing today, they will be reaping the results tomorrow or a few decades hence. I feel lucky that hopefully I won't be around when Indians at last realize that no gods will come to their rescue when they start dying in their millions from the millions of stupidities that they have committed.

Caged Tiger

I didn't know that Tiger Woods was the first billionaire sportsperson of the world.

One doesn't become a billionaire without being extraordinarily driven.

Being rich has its advantages ... just as being powerful has its.

History tells us that Moghul Emperors had many wives in their harems — one of the perks of being an Emperor. Even some present-day kings continue to follow in their footsteps.

Today though, money mostly has become equivalent to power.

So. those with money can afford to lead rather laissez faire lifestyles.

I don't see any problems with that — as long as they don't preach and pretend to be modern day Mahatma Gandhis.

I am only thinking of how Donald Trump would react to Tiger's troubles: he would remind everyone again with his signature style how crazy it was not to have "pre-nuptials."

http://betting.betfair.com/sports/oddly-enough/the-10-richest-sports-stars-in-the-world-and-what-160309.html

One's respect for the genius of Tiger on the course should not get diminished by all this. He has merely shown that he is as human as anyone else.

Let me confess: I would have done pretty much the same things...

November 23, 2009

Marriage and Millionaires — not Related

A recent survey shows that China is home to nearly half a million millionaires … I don’t know but presume that these folks are dollar millionaires …

I wonder how many similar millionaires are there in India …

On a different note, lots of folks got married yesterday including an accidental celebrity who goes by the name of Shilpa Shetty. I don’t know how much the rituals and customs that are associated with marriage really mean to these folks …

It’s good to see people choosing to live life on their terms like Kareena and Saif Ali Khan.

Also, Lara Dutta saying that she’s ‘seeing’ Mahesh Bhupati but not only him …

Sushmita Sen has always taken the road less traveled …

So also Nandita Das.

When you learn about what Amelia Earhart had written when she got married … some 80 odd years ago, you realize how backwardish Indian mentalities are …

November 22, 2009

Celebrity Patients

Notable sufferers from Parkinson's Disease include:

Muhammad Ali, Michael J. Fox, Pope John Paul II, Eugene O'Neill, Salvador Dali, , Billy Graham, Janet Reno, Adolf Hitler, Francisco Franco, Deng Xiaoping, Mao Zedong, and Doborah Kerr.

Notable sufferers from Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia include: Kareem Abdul-Jabber.

Notable sufferers from Alzheimer's disease include: Ronald Reagan, Iris Murdoch, Charlton Heston, Rita Hayworth,

Notable sufferers from AIDS include: Rock Hudson, Freddie Mercury, Arthur Ashe, Magic Johnson, Greg Louganis, and Isaac Asimov.

A more exhaustive list of people with AIDS is available here ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_HIV-positive_people

26/11 Anniversary

As we approach the one year mark of the attacks in Mumbai, quite predictably my prediction that nothing much will happen has come true.

I don't blame the government. There is really not much that the government could have done. Pakistan is a semi-failed state and the terrorists who attacked Mumbai might have originated in Pakistan but one can't consider the Pakistan state to be an accomplice in the attacks.

Pakistan is suffering copiously from terrorism on its own soil as terrorists mount ever more daring attacks against the Establishment, the ISI, etc.

The U.S. continues its drone attacks in the border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan which shows how much Pakistan has ceded its sovereignity to that country ...

At Last Some Good News

Well, smoking, it seems, does have some benefits — it helps reduce weight gain.

Well, unfortunately, it seems women don't want to quit smoking as they fear that they will gain weight once they quit smoking!!!

And so researchers want to reassure them that it ain't so ...

Well, things are pretty bad for smokers in the Big Apple. In some aprtment complexes, you are not even allowed to smoke inside your own darned home!!!

Things haven't gotten that strident in my own country — they eventually might, but I should be 'old and dying' and dead by then. So, no worries ...

This also offers one more reason why I don't want to migrate to the U.S. — just admire them from afar ... also, one is not allowed to hang one's dirty linen outside which one can do perfectly legitimately here in India.

November 20, 2009

rice@100

I was wondering what would happen when rice sells for a 100 rupees per kilo. Same goes for floud.

We have seen a steep rise in the prices of dal, vegetables, cooking oil, sugar, etc. People can cut back on their consumption of these cooking inputs. But what will happen when food staples become expensive themselves? Will people skimp on rice and rotis? Which is the same as going hungry.

I think that is inevitable.

The lack of foresight of Indians will come to haunt them.

Let's REJOICE!!!

The United Nations Population Fund has projected that India's population will be overtaking that of China by 2050 and then INDIA WILL BE NUMBER ONE IN THE WORLD in population.

Certainly, this calls for celebration!!!

Even as other nations struggle with declining birth rates and shrinking populations, India continues to hold the fort on behalf of mankind quite valiantly ...

I say: Keep it up guys!!! The current reproductive generation has a challenge to live up to ... as our ancestors and forefathers were far more fecund in making babies than our generation.

We must take pledges to raise India's population figure to 200 crores as soon as possible. A hundred years ago, India's population would have been around 20 crores. So, a ten-fold increase would be a nice achievement.

Flying Prez. and NO to Fighting Female Flyers

Well, India's FIRST female prez. is going flying in a Sukhoi ... smacks of "me too" after Abdul Kalam did so some years ago.

Anyways, good for the 'morale' of the ladies in India, I guess ...

Meanwhile, in the 'personal' opinion of a senior Indian Air Force officer, it would be a bad 'investment' to train female fighter pilots as they will inevitably go on their 'maternity' leaves and the Govt. will be left holding the baby!!!

Seems quite a reasonable thing to say to me ... but the statement has created some controversy quite expectedly ... plain speaking is not quite appreciated in these politically correct times ...

Hungry Americans

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report says that 49 million Americans had food insecurity last year. That's about the same number as the number of uninsured Americans.

The New York Times has reported about it here ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/us/17hunger.html

Of course, one has to be careful about what the report really talks about and the methodology it used to reach its finding.

"Food insecurity" in America has got to be vastly different than the kind of endemic, gross undernutrition which is a daily reality for hundreds of millions of people in India and many countries in Africa.

The difference is this: it's considered to be an issue in America while in India poverty is a fact of life almost on a par with a rule of nature like the Sun rising every morning from the East.

Uncle Sam also has deep pockets and so hands out food stamps to those who are eligible ...

Exercise But DON'T Lose Weight

Well, that's disappointing. At least, would be to some people ... people who are in it to reduce weight, look slim, etc. But if people look for short term gains from exercising, they are — as it were — looking to make a quick buck in my opinion.

The New York Times has a story about how exercising doesn't necessarily lead to weight loss and why ...

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/04/phys-ed-why-doesnt-exercise-lead-to-weight-loss/

One has to be able to take into account the numerous other benefits of exercising ... not just weight loss.

The human body is fundamentally designed to work!!! It's as simple as that.

The muscles that we have are meant to be put to their test and we are definitely not designed through evolution to slouch all day in front of a computer.

Those who might feel disheartened when exercising doesn't lead to weight loss would do well to consider what would have been the case if they had not been exercising ... they would have been fatter with overall, less of a sense of wellbeing.

Keep Running ... or Walking !!!

Exercise reduces stress

Well, that might be self-evident to some folks.

But researchers like to find out exactly how the brain works.

And with the help of our good old friends, researchers have seen how rodents that exercise are less stressed-out than those that don't.

Here's the story from the New York Times ...

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/18/phys-ed-why-exercise-makes-you-less-anxious/?em

Personally, it makes me feel less tired and more active during the day, I guess ...

I mean, we all do such sedantary jobs now-a-days ... which primarily involves sitting in front of a computer the whole day.

In the old days — and to a certain extent even today — people would spend some time in front of an image of some Hindu deity in the morning and do some chants or something ... that would a regular way of doing worship ... In the modern era, it's as if we have all now decides to 'worship' the computer deity and do so by sitting in front of the 'God' the whole day!!!

Ohhhhhhhh!!! What the hell ...

November 17, 2009

World Coming to an END ... A - G - A - I - N !!!

2012 is when the world is going to end!!!

Well, last year, the starting of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was supposed to bring it all to a close.

I would not haved cared too much if it had happened then or if it would happen this time around.

But, unfortunately, I am skeptical.

Nostradomus of course is the one who's supposed to have forseen all of this ...

This time though people are alluding to some Mayan calendar.

In our own country, people have their own versions of really old documents ... which are dusted off and folks claim that it was all preordained ... after the fact.

Gail Collins has a good article about all this here ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/14/opinion/14collins.html?_r=1&th&emc=th


Dennis Overbye also debunks the doomsday sayers here ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/science/17essay.html?hp

November 16, 2009

Heroes ...

I thought to jot down a few thoughts on some of the folks I admire ...

Jawaharlal Nehru — Some people are skeptical about Nehru. They say: “what did Nehru do?” Often, of course, they tend to have minimal knowledge of history. I happen to be truly a ‘student’ of history as I never studied it as part of a curriculum but have tried to read some of it as an adult. As I try to learn a little more about the man, I realize how ignorant I was and my admiration for his increases by leaps and bounds.

It’s easy to be skeptical … particularly in the modern Indian context where people in public life are so mired in corruption and all sorts of unethical practices. But one should not take one’s skepticism too far and latch on to some minor human imperfection of a man like Nehru and proceed to pass judgment on him on the basis of that slight imperfection. Well, I don’t know if I ever will get the time to get to read enough about Nehru and by Nehru (remembering that he was a prolific writer as well) to consider myself qualified enough to pass judgment on him. Suffice to say, he was more a man of the “21st century” though he lived in mid-20th century India than most Indians alive today.

I like the way M. J. Akbar describes him as: “the agnostic visionary of modern India.” My suspicion is that Nehru was only an agnostic because he was a public figure … that at heart, he was as much an atheist as me.

Thomas Jefferson — Another visionary who found nothing much to admire in Christianity. Of course, he wrote the Declaration of Independence at the age of 32 … It is astonishing that the institutions that the Founding Fathers founded to govern a newly created nation have endured for so long … the amount of prescience is just astonishing … the present young generation of Indians already considers the story of India’s independence which happened some six or seven decades ago to be of little relevance … while Americans still talk of the Founding Fathers after two centuries.

Abraham Lincoln — A self-made man who can be an inspiring role model for any human being anywhere around the world and also a story of a man that can happen … as they say … ‘only in America.’ His story is particularly inspiring as it shows the power of ideas and how men of ideas can make a difference through being public figures. Of course, other public figures come to mind as well: FDR, Winston Churchill, etc.

JFK/RFK — They didn’t achieve too much really. They were like Obama of today — held lots of promise but assassinated before they could either prove their mettle or their opponents proved that they had no ‘substance’ and were just handsome, Irish cads. But, again, to some extent they showed the power of ideas in public life and so admirable …

Arundhati Roy — Being an iconoclast is important to me. Particularly in a society like India where following the herd is considered to be an admirable quality, she has the courage to question many forms of ‘conventional wisdom.’ It’s easy to criticize her as an worthless ‘armchair intellectual’ who does nothing to help India by pointing out all the warts and imperfections and not singing paeans to the wonders of ‘liberalization’ and ‘globalization,’ I think it’s important not to hide all the problems under the carpet while only talking about the tiny islands of prosperity and the other usual meaningless obsessions that Indians have … obsessions such as cricket, Bollywood, Page 3 stuff, salacious and voyeuristic stuff of all sorts.

Nandan Nilekani & N. R. Narayan Murthy — Men who built a company without falling prey to the easy temptation to cut corners. In India, being a ‘businessman’ used to be considered a synonym with being a ‘crook,’ but this talented duo showed that one could run an ‘ethical business’ and that there was nothing oxymoronic about the phrase. Of course, many factors let them achieve what they have. Their genius lies in spotting an opportunity pretty early in the day and pursuing the opportunity with dogged determination in spite of many obstacles … Bill Gates was a genius as well who spotted a similar opportunity before almost anyone else and created wealth for himself and built a great company.

Albert Einstein — The life of Einstein shows that if you believe in something and you happen to be the only person in the whole wide world who believes in it and everybody else believes you’re wrong, you could still be ‘right’ and the whole world ‘wrong.’ That’s an important lesson to remember for everyone. We in India are fond of and fondly follow many forms of ‘received wisdom.’ Einstein also famously said that he treated everyone equally: whether a janitor or a billionaire … something along those lines. He lived his life with humility. Many, many lessons indeed. His life was his message, one can say, quoting Gandhi out of context. Of course, one can easily add Gandhi to this list … but I never said that this list was meant to be ‘exhaustive.’


Richard Feynman — He was one of those guys who can be truly described as a ‘genius.’ The word is misused sometimes … applied too easily to all and sundry … but it’s absolutely apt to use the word to describe Richard Feynman. He was such a gifted physicist that how his mind worked in Physics was a mystery to even other professional physicists. He had incredible mental capabilities in performing mathematical computations. His flashes of mental brilliance dazzled his contemporaries. He had deep skepticism about religion, about anything ‘formal,’ and about authority.

Paul Dirac — Paul Dirac was one of the founders of Quantum Physics. He had incredible powers of insights into the workings of nature. He was in many ways a ‘strange’ man personally. His mathematical prowess was legendary. He will forever remain a seminal figure in the story of Physics as long as humans continue to be a technological civilization. Not for nothing did he win a Nobel Prize at the age of 31.

Werner Heisenberg — Heisenberg had some breathtaking insights into the workings of the physical world at the quantum level. The Uncertainty Principle that bears his name goes so much against common sense that even Einstein refused to accept it as something representing the reality of nature. But it remains a central principle of Quantum Physics even today and sets the limits of miniaturization.

Stephen Hawking — Stephen Hawking has probably accomplished more in terms of fame than real accomplishment. His contributions to Physics are in the arena of black hole physics … certainly one of the most interesting physical concepts. His personal story, however, is truly inspiring. As many other professional scientists, Hawking is deeply skeptical about the concept of ‘God’ saying … ‘it’s difficult to imagine that God cares about us or even knows about our existence.’

S. Chandrasekhar — An Indian theoretician who had prodigious mathematical powers and has made immense contributions to the world of Physics. His accomplishments are probably better appreciated outside of India than inside India. Even NASA honors him with the X-ray space telescope being named as ‘Chandra’ in his honor. His students include Carl Sagan … there are many interesting anecdotes about the man … about how strict he was as a teacher/professor. His works in stellar dynamics, radiative transfer, and other domains continue to be compulsory reading for students.

S. Ramanujan — Ramanujan was a ‘genius’ mathematician in a world that seems to be so full of them. Ramanujan can stand shoulder to shoulder in any gathering of mathematicians … he was a genius mathematical creature who achieved incredible feats without any formal training in mathematics. He virtually reinvented 150 years of mathematics that had unfortunately been already discovered by others like Gauss before him. He lived for only 32 years of course and yet left more than 1,000 theorems that continue to occupy mathematicians even today. One wonders how much more he would have achieved if he had lived a normal human lifespan …

Carl Sagan — Carl Sagan was a scientist who was not necessarily confined to one domain or area of science. He was a planetary biologist who did professional scientific work on the planets of Venus and Mars. He was involved with many of NASA’s unmanned spacecraft explorations of those planets. More than his scientific work though, it was his role as a popularizer of science that is probably more important. Like science fiction writers, his books and TV programs about science must have inspired many youngsters to pursue a scientific career. His prodigious and wide-ranging imagination makes him almost a unique figure in the history of science.

Freeman Dyson — Not many childhood prodigies continue to make the grade as adults. That is strange and I would love to look at some study which explores what happens to these young geniuses as they grow up and older. This does not apply to Freeman Dyson, however. He was a prodigy who continued to show remarkable mathematical ability as an adult and worked with many of the great physicists of his generation including Richard Feynman. He describes himself as a ‘subversive,’ a descriptive that I like. It’s important in free societies to have subversives like him who do not simply and unquestioningly accept ‘conventional wisdom’ as the truth. Recently, he has become a forceful opponent of ‘global warming’ agreeing with scientists who say that there is no scientific basis for the claims of global warming made by scientists. While I think the preponderance of evidence and peer-reviewed science points to a clear linkage between human activity and a rising trend in global temperatures, and therefore would have to disagree with Dyson, that’s no reason not to admire him.

November 14, 2009

Remembering Nehru

I happen to be reading Nehru's biography by M. J. Nehru at the moment ... at least, I try to. And my respect and admiration for him grows.

I wish Indians would imbibe more of the character and characteristics of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Today is his birthday.

When you compare the amount of media coverage provided to Sachin's 'anniversary' vis-a-vis that provided to Nehru's birthday, one would think that Sachin has contributed more to building modern India than Chacha Nehru. Of course, one guy is dead while the other is a contemporary. But having some sense of history helps when one is taking steps into the future.

Ohhhhhhhhhh Sachin!!!

The hero-worshipping continues ... The "Little Master" of India has completed 20 years on the international cricket stage and the media is tripping over itself devoting tons of newprint covering this 'milestone.'

Sachin is described as somone who is a nice human being, a gentleman, humble, great friend, husband, father, son, brother, mentor, teacher, student, etc. etc.

I am rather tired of all this.

What does Sachin have to complain about?

Preventing Cancer

Gina Kolata talks about the less than expected rates of success of some medicines that might help 'deter' some forms of cancer here ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/13/health/research/13prevent.html?_r=1&em

Cancer is a strange beast ... there is still an enormous amount of misinformation and fear in the public's mind about the disease and what it is. Some people have an irrational amount of fear of the disease and think that it's a sort of a death sentence. That's far from the truth. 80 percent of patients suffering from childhood leukemia are cured.

Enormous strides have been made in the treatment of other forms of cancer such as Chronic Myelogeous Leukemia (CML) and prostate cancer and breast cancer.

It remains a difficult challenge nevertheless for medical science. Our increasing insights into the structure of the human genome will help tame a few more types of cancer over the years.

But ultimately cancer will win. It's simply a basic premise of the design of the human body that it's built to last for a limited lifespan. When we seek to extend its life artificially, we naturally run against some pretty stiff barriers.

An interesting and continuing battle that will go on ...

November 11, 2009

World's First

Pilot was Louis Bleriot ... or, so it would seem.

He was the first person to get a pilot's license.

Of course, the Wright Brothers were the guys who invented the whole apparatus of flying!!!

This Wikipedia page has some interesting info about aviators including pilots' pay in the United States at present ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aviator

The first Indian to acquire a pilot's license was of course J. R. D. Tata.

The D.C. Shooter ...

... not Shot.

He is dead alright but not shot dead.

It would perhaps have been just punishment for the guy to have been shot dead rather than be killed by lethal injection.

I was a bit surprised that those shootings in the Washington, D.C. area that terrorised the residents there occurred such a long time back ... some seven years. Time flies ...

So Which Language Do You Cry In?

Researchers have come up with definitive findings that babies cry differently depending on their mother tongue!!!

And I thought all babies cry the same way ...

The logic behind this, according to the scientists who spent hours listening to French and German babies crying, is that babies listen to their moms' voices while in the womb and the baby brains are smart enough to adjust themselves accordingly so that when the time comes, the babies will be able to learn their mother tongue rather efficiently.

The human brain certainly is one heck of a smart device!!!

November 10, 2009

What Travesty!!!

It is quite telling that Manu Sharma is enjoying the good life doing the rounds of 5-star lounges in New Delhi while out on parole for having committed murder.

The shameless CM of Delhi doesn't mind defending his parole ... for "good conduct."

This sure shows what a farce the legal system truly is.

There's surely a divide in India: a class of people of India who are law-abiding and are "under" the law and another class of Indians who are clearly above the law.

Politicians definitely belong to that "upper" class. Some businessmen and other rich people also belong there as well.

Once a person becomes rich, of course, all his sins are forgiven ... whatever means he might have adopted to acquire his wealth become irrelevancies ...

I have knowingly adopted a "male" tone in writing the above paras as there are hardly any females who would qualify as being someone who has made a lot of money using underhand means.

India definitely needs a "Rang De Basanti" type of action in real life.

The problem, of course, is that once you shoot the corrupt politicians, other corrupt politicians will take their place.

So, even the revolutionary fervour of Rang De Basanti won't really do the trick ...

Is there a solution at all???

Well, the question of a "solution" will only arise once people acknowledge that there's a problem to begin with!!!

And people of India, being the complacent race that they are, are quite happy to lead their daily, miserable lives as long as they get their daily bread and their family and near and dear ones are okay.

India is definitely never going to see an "Indian Revolution" mounted on the same scale as a "French Revolution" or the War of Independence in the United States.

Agassi Saga ...

Should an "icon" write a book where he reveals how imperfect he is?

I think it shows courage on Agassi's part that he chose to reveal the many cupboards in his skeleton ... or, rather, the many skeletons in his cupboard.

Agassi was a boyhood hero for me and many people of my generation.

I have grown up watching the likes of Agassi and Sampras and Becker and others of that generation.

Now, they are retired and married and settled and we are busy with our mundane lives.

It's good to hark back to those "golden" days when we were all younger and the world seemed so full of possibilities ...

That BOMB Again ...

Seymour Hersh has an enviable knack for generating controversy with everything that he writes. May be, he has what might be called the 'Hersh Touch', a latter day version of the Midas Touch.

His New Yorker article about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal has predictably generated strong reactions from Pakistan.

Well, what can one expect if Hersh is basically saying that there's a secret argument between the Pentagon and the Pakistan Army whereby if things get out of hand in Pakistan and the Taliban are on the verge of getting hold of nukes, then Special Forces from the United States will swoop in and "secure" the assets.

It would be quite something for one nation to share the exact locations (Bunker No. 9) where each component of a discombobulated nuclear device is located with another nation no matter how friendly that nation might be.

On a related note, I recently read some scholarly piece about the history of India's nuclear posture ... how it slowly evolved from being a purely "peaceful" energy program to a dual-use program and which ultimately led to an overt nuclear weapon status.

There is nothing wrong of course in India being an overt, declared nuclear weapon state. It is never out of place to remind ourselves as well as the rest of the world that India is a nation of 1.2 billion people.

If tiny nations such as the U.K. and France — with about 55 million people each — can possess a complete triad of nuclear capability, then India certainly has the right to aim for the same.

India should ultimately have a true ICBM once the indigenous cryogenic stage is "proved" in the GSLV by ISRO.

The ATV program is now out in the open. Once an SLBM is successfully mated to the ATV, India will then have a nuclear triad.

Hopefully, everything will be in place by 2020.

Crude Oil and other interesting possibilities

It never occured to me before today to think of the phrase "crude oil."

When you think about it, "'crude' oil" has an interesting ring to it ... just think.

I remember Helen Hunt wondering in the movie As Good As It Gets if conscience was really spelled that way: 'con'-science!!!

Bill Safire would be the master of this game ... and I do not claim to be his heir.

November 09, 2009

An Elevator to Space

And I am not talking Arthur C. Clarke kind of science fiction.

"A start-up company from the Seattle area won $900,000 on Friday in a NASA contest to build a miniature prototype of a machine that could one day climb from Earth to outer space," according to a New York Times article here ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/science/space/08nasa.html?hpw

Arthur Clarke has of course envisioned high-rise buildings going all the way up to geostationary orbit at 36,000 kms.

Well, I would not be around to witness any of that ...

Which is just as well because I don't have the brains either to develop something like that ...

As each generation gives way to the next smarter generation, humans will eventually acquire the smarts to realize what might seem today to be crazy dreams.

But then the cellphones that we find to be so commonplace today would have seemed quite magical one century ago ... same goes for airplanes.

There's no reason why people won't go to Mars for their honeymoon in the next 100 years ... may be only the rich would get to do that and others would enjoy it only vicariously ... by watching it on a show on the Discovery Channel or the Travel & Living Channel or the National Geographic Channel ...

What do you think?

Let me see ...

a Merc S400 Bluehybrid costs about $90,000 according to the article here ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/automobiles/autoreviews/08mercedes.html?hpw

And the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport costs about $2.1 million according to another article here ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/automobiles/autoreviews/08bugatti.html?_r=1&hpw

So, how many S400s can one buy for the same money as a Bugatti Veyron?

Well, it seems one can comfortably buy 20 of them but perhaps one won't be able to buy a couple dozen ...

Well, you win some and you lose some as they say ...

It's Tough

I mean, being a "rich" girl.

I mean it.

I was thinking of N. R. Narayan Murthy's daughter who used to work at Siderian Ventures before her recent marriage.

She is apparently worth about 1,600 crores on account of her holding in Infosys.

Narayan Murthy, being the good guy that he is, has given himself the least amount of wealth in his family — doling out more to his wife and son and daughter.

As I was saying though, I think it's a tough spot to be in — being the daughter of a rich dad.

I mean, they must be having to make some difficult choices in life, I believe ...

For example, when it comes to choosing a life partner, they must be weighing their options ... on the one hand, they might like to hitch up with a rich guy who, being rich himself, would not drool over her net worth.

On the other hand, she might choose to opt for a non-so-rich guy ... but John Galts and Howard Roarks only exist in the realm of fiction...

Last but not the least, if you are already worth a thousand crores plus, how do you persuade yourself to get up in the morning and go to the office?!?!?! Noooooooooooooo, I'm just kidding ... I am sure being a venture capitalist is a very exciting job ... irrespective of one's net worth.

BTW, would it be a crime to say that VC funding is a little bit — just a little bit — like gambling???

How Deep Does Religion Run!!!

This is not a question but a statement.

I was just thinking about Nehru's famous last will and testament where he poetically talks about wanting some of his ashes to be mixed with the Ganga river at Allahbad — something a traditional, ritualistic Hindu would dearly love to do.

And this was the "agnostic visionary of modern India" who expressed this wish. And of course he opted for a typical Hindu cremation and nothing else.

When I think of myself, I too find that cremating a dead body is a logical thing to do rather than burying it like Christians. And I am supposed to be a staunch atheist.

I am wondering how much of my thinking is ultimately colored by the fact that I was born a 'Hindu' and how much by pure logic. The only logic that I can see to burning a dead body rather than burying it is this: when you bury a dead body, you are basically occupying a piece of ground for ever ... and to think that our time on this planet began when we were born ... we didn't exist before that. But once we are dead, we will continue to occupy a piece of land on planet Earth FOR EVER!!!

Imagine doing that for all 6 billion of us humans and who knows how many more of us!!!

In fact, there was a story recently in the papers that London is running short of burial ground for its 8 million residents ... quite understandable for what has been a major center of human civilization for a 1,000 years.

Well, I guess religions run deeper in us than we realize ... sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...

H. R. 3962

The Affordable Healthcare for America Act has been narrowly passed by the House of Representatives.

A milestone moment in the history of healthcare legislation in the United States.

The Bill is of course famously 1990 pages long and I am wondering if I can go through the entirety of it.

I don't think I will find the time to do that ... may be I am unaware of some secret formula which would allow me to digest the bill in its entirety in a fraction of the time period which I would ordinarily require.

After all, there is a lady who is reading a book a day in the United States and documenting her exploits on a blog here ... http://readallday.org/

The denoument of this Bill is not yet clear.

The healthcare system is too vast and too complex and the interested parties are too numerous and the numerous lobbyists would have spread their tentacles too deeply into the law making process to allow Obama to make a clean break from the status quo.

People of course have their ideological moorings and these are some of the strongest to unmoor. When everything else seems to fall apart, people tend to go back to their religious and cultural belief systems as that sort of provides them something enduring that they can hold on to, something that seems untarnished by corruption, undiluted by questioning, and simple to understand.

Religion has this advantage over science that it is simple enough that any nincompoop can understand it ... unlike science which is messy and complex and a lifetime studying science only results in a feeling of inadequacy. Many Nobel Laureates have questioned the value of thier lives ... although to the outside world, a brilliant scientist might seem to be spectacularly smart, to themselves, they often tend to be tortued souls. It is in the nature of science itself, in the vastness of the enterprise itself, in the vastness of human knowledge and the vastness of the universe, that its sages and savants seem so puny in comparison.

In contrast, religious gurus often seem to be all-knowing, omniscient as their field of study is often limited so that they have the luxury of "complete" mastery of their field of stury.

Oh, well!!! I guess I should stick to talking about healthcare ...

Japan Shows the Way

The Japanese Space Agency is planning to put prisms up in space by 2030 that will help to concentrate sun light and then the generated solar power will be beamed back to Earth.

This is futuristic thinking typical of the Japanese but very much a viable plan.

What the implications of this might be on the global environment is for scientists to study and understand.

The Japanese are of course very poor when it comes to natural resources, but they have more than made up for that poverty with their abundant human and intellectual resources.

One can only wish God Speed to the Japanese!!!

Nehru and Edwina

The story of Jawaharlal Nehru's relations with Edwina Mountbatten continues to be an issue in contemporary India. This is of course reflective of how primitive a society India is.

People tend to be morons when it comes to issues of sex or anything that even seems to suggest any "physical relations."

I think this is because most people lead very unfillfiled lives sexually and they are envious of those who get such "opportunites" in life.

I wish Indians would grow up.

It would be so childish to pass judgment on Nehru on the basis of whatever relations he might or might not have had with Edwina and Padmaja Naidu and anyone else for that matter.

One has to look at the broad sweep of his life and the vastness of his influences on the course of modern India and find fault, if any, with the policy decisions that he took.

People tend to blame Nehru for the partition of India and that's of course a fair debate to have. People blame Nehru for the festering Kashmir issue — people claim that Nehru mishandled it by taking it to the U.N. This is again a fair criticism and debating point.

But while discussing Nehru's personal life, one perhaps should not forget that Nehru was around 58 years old at the time of India's independence — exactly the age at which people retire from Government jobs ...

Defending Arundhati Roy

Indians need to be more self-critical.

Indians who belong to the middle and upper classes are all too happy at the way things are.

They are happy with the situation where there are really only a very few people who are wealthy in this country and the rest are in wretched poverty. This, of course, serves the wealthy as they can employ the poor to take care of their numerous needs ... there's someone to drive the car, someone to babysit, someone to wash the clothes, someone else to do the dishes, someone to wash the car, someone to do the gardening, someone else to do the cooking, and may be someone to bring the vegetables from the market as well ...

Rich Indians live a royal life in many ways. And they go outside of India for holidays and come back and talk about how nice and wonderful things are abroad and how wrteched things are in India.

Then there are others like Arundhati Roy who like to point out the wretchedness of life that is the reality for many Indians. People like her want to point out all the warts rather than hiding them under the carpet.

But this makes the chattering classes uncomfortable as it will force them to confront some hard realities and may be they will need to make "adjustments" to their comfortable lives as well.

The fact is that there's a life-and-death struggle happening when India is trying to develop.

When new industries are sought to be set up or new mines or new dams built, that means displacement for huge swathes of people.

India is not a vast country like Russia — although India might be vast compared to many tiny European nations.

So, there are no vast unpopulated areas in India like, say, Siberia in Russia.

Therefore, when India is trying to develop, it also has to take into account the displacement that many people are going to suffer as a result of that development process.

People like Ms. Roy certainly have a right to raise the voice of protest on behalf of the displaced people ... although such a voice might be awkward sounding to the middle class of this country that is too busy trying to ape the West in an all-too-shallow way.

A Coda to Koda

It's interesting that a 4,000-crore scam involving former chief ministers doesn't cause too much heartburn in the public's imagination.

It's perhaps only the media that starts creating a flutter as it smells something to increase TRPs.

These scams have unfortunately become all too common.

This particular one comes so soon after the one involving telecom licenses.

People have become jaded with these all-too-numerous scams.

People don't see that much can be done about these and so have come to expect these as the natural order of things. Indians, as it is, are rather fatalistic and like to leave things to a "higer power."

So, I guess one can say: "even this shall pass." And the Koda affairs would not be even a footnote in the history of modern India when historians write it.

I guess one can still feel happy about this broken state of governance and a less-than-perfect form of democracy.

The Coen Brothers

I saw No Country for Old Men today.

The cop played by Tommy Lee Jones in this movie is almost poetically verbose compared to the cop played by Frances McDormand in Fargo.

Both movies are full of violence and show the meaningless of life to a certain extent.

Both movies have as a central theme somebody getting hold of a lot of money and then getting chased and killed.

Both movies have characters that are ruthless killers.

I wonder if Bollywood can make such movies.

I think real life is so bleak in India that people want to go to the movies precisely because the movies offer somr sort of a respite from the bleakness of real life.

So, if movies depicted the bleakness of life as well, people would not appreciate that as they would react ... "so, what's the big deal about it?"

People mostly live somewhat meaningless lives and death mostly visits without announcing and of course always wins. But of course people want to pretend otherwise.

November 07, 2009

The End of Detroit

This Wall Street Journal article by a journalist with a seemingly Indian name lists the myriads of misfortunes Detroit is in ...

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704013004574517700766354972.html?mod=djemEditorialPage

I remember Lee Iaccoca's autobiography where he he remembers landing at the train station and asking for the direction to Detroit and someone telling him: "Go West young man."

Times have changed drastically since those days when the automobile industry was the throbbing heart of a vibrant manufacturing economy.

Today, we live in a world and the services sector dominates and the knowledge economy is where everyone wants to be. Old fashioned factory townships with assembly lines manufacturing goods that everyone wants to have ... that has pretty much shifted out of advanced economies like the United States to developing economies like China and India.

To a large extent, that's a positive development for these countries as basically manufacturing jobs don't require too much intellectual ability ... as shown by the fact that high end automobile manufacturing work is performed by robots today everywhere from Japan to Germany and other countries as well.

Humans have moved on to performing jobs that require a higher level of intellectual ability. But such a shift leaves people with less education and skills in a difficult spot.

Being a moderately educated person in an advanced country like the United States would offer a person with very limited work opportunities indeed.

It's a challenge for these advanced nations to stay ahead of the intellectual curve and yet have enough of social safety nets so that those happen to fall by the wayside in the "rat race" are taken care of in an adequate manner.

The Justices of the Supreme Court

It is not so funny to see the messy happenings in the Supreme Court where two justices have a financial interest in the case they are hearing pertaining to the Ambanis. Even the judges' family members work for companies that have links to the Ambanis.

It would appear that the Ambanis have spread their tentacles to every vein of India, as it were.

This is sad. In the U.S., there are strict ethical standards which judges have to maintain. The President's wealth is of course managed by a blind trust for the duration of his presidency so that he is not tempted to take decisions that would benefit him personally.

India is a long distance away from formulating the required rules and regulations and practicing them.

That Patronising Tone Again

A Wall Street Journal journalist named Amol Sharma has written an article called My Seven Wonders of India here ...

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125722422411624519.html

This talks about the usual suspects. This is a newcomer to India and he finds the peculiarities of living in India to be rather funny and describes them with a typical American patronising tone.

But I think no country is perfect and you have to adapt yourself to the peculiarities of that particular country.

I am sure Amol would be familiar - far more so than me - with the parts of New York City or Harlem that he should avoid going to at night since he would be mugged at gunpoint otherwise.

I am sure there are many cities in America where lawlessless is a problem: Chicago, Atlanta, etc.

Unemployment rate in Double Digits

The U.S. Unemployment rate at last hit double digits.

This is certainly interesting to see for a non-economist that the economy has started growing again but companies are still shedding employees and the unemployment rate is growing.

In fact, a story in today's New York Times states that the broader measure of unemployment stands at 17.5% ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/07/business/economy/07econ.html?_r=1&hp

In a country as fiercely individualistic as the United States, one can only imagine the effect this must be having on the people there.

Remaining unemployed for prolonged periods of time will tend to diminish one's sense of self-worth and self-confidence.

I can say that from personal experience.

2012 is Here!!!

Well, not quite.

But the opinion piece columns in the New York Times as well as the Wall Street Journal were analyzing the results of the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia and a few Congressional elections and it was interesting to see the contrasting conclusions that they drew from the same results.

While Obama supporters like Gail Collins and Maurren Dowd described the results as being not connected to Obama's presidency and local in nature and therefore having no bearing at all on Obama's performance or lack of it, WSJ columnist Peggy Noonan describes these results as a wake up call for the Obama White House.

It seems to me that the results might be described using that rather ungainly phrase: "anti-incumbency" factor.

That's a very popular phrase during elections in India when the voters find an outlet to show their anger at the government and throw out whoever is in power.

I think it might be the same in the U.S. as well where lobbyists have taken over the decision making process in Washington.

November 04, 2009

And Who Shall Open The Batting

Who should be the one-down batsman?

Questions of such grave import!!!

I say, what about Amisha Patel as first-down?

I think Rakhi Sawant would do a terrific job as opener!!!

What a waste!!! I can't understand for the life of me how can anyone watch this non-sensical waste of time called Cricket ...

I myself of course have spent enough minutes and hours and days and months and years passionately following this most idyllic of sports.

But there's a time for everything in life.

There's a time for cricket even.

But I can't imagine how middle-aged people can waste their time watching cricket and not regret it ...

I wish I could do so much more in the short life that I have been given on this Earth ...

I wish I could better my guitar skills.

I wish I could improve my Oracle and Java skills.

I wish I could read more books ... novels and biographies, etc.

I wish I could write more ... for fun and for money.

There is just SO MUCH to learn in this short life.

I hope to become an amateur astronomer.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ...

So, the question still remains: who should be India's LAST batsman?

Well, what about me??? I can be a mean swinger of the willow ...

What Dreams We Dream ...

Its truly extraordinary how our brains serves up such illogical yet compelling dreams ...

I recently had a dream where I refused to follow some stupid ritual which occurs when somebody dies ...

in my case, my father had died. And imagine what! I refused to follow the herd and said 'No' to everyone including my father !!!

Even my father failed to persuade me that I should follow the stupid rituals which were taking place when he died ... and then the news of my ritual reached the PM who sort of belonged to an area nearby and so he came and tried to persuade me as well but I refused him as well. As far as I can understand about the sudden appearance of the PM, I think that happened because I had just seen a discussion on NDTV about the legacy of Indira Gandhi. This was an episode of We The People hosted by Barkha Dutt ... who happens to be a competitor of mine ...

44 going on 25?

It's a bit perplexing to see so much coverage being provided to stars' birthdays ... not to mention other aspects of their lives such as their love affairs, marriages, divorces and what not!

This is the kind of brainless entertainment that people prefer and enjoy instead of "serious" stuff.

Who wants to understand the complexities of space exploration when one can simply enjoy some gossip about the latest twists and turns in some star's love life?

Who bothers about the complexities of biological sciences and the complex nature of the battles that scientists are fighting with diseases such as cancer and AIDS? Better to just listen to the sacharine sweet advice of some God man who advises that all is well with the world and there's an Almighty and benevolent and watchful God watching over all our actions.

I wish of course that people would tire of inanities some day and focus on the real issues and realize that our destiny is shaped by the actions we take and is not subject to the whims and fancies of a fictional Superpower ...

Obama Anniversary

So, it's one year now since Obama won a historic election.

We — not to mention the media — tend to overuse the 'historic' word all too often and thereby have devalued it quite a bit. I think Obama's win was one of those occasions that truly deserves this epithet.

We humans are at a stage in our evolution when our ethnic, national, racial, etc. identities mean a lot to us. We have not yet learnt to transcend these narrow definitions of who we are. In India, of course, we still continue to cling — like our lives depended on this — to our religions, our caste, and sub-castes and what not.

And so the media will predictably spend hours discussing Obama's successes and failures in these past 365 days. Perhaps in a set-up as complex as that prevailing in the United States, it's not much that a President can do. Crises of course present opportunities. FDR was a "war President" who rose to the multiple challenges that he was presented with. Lincoln of course shines for the ages for how he tackled a crisis that threatened to put an end to the very nation he led.

George W. Bush responded in his manner to the challenge presented by 9/11 and history will give him his proper due. Obama has basically inherited many crises ... two wars and a severe economic collapse. His term will be defined by how he tackles these challenges. He was elected on a promise and platform of "change." His attempts to bring about major change to the healthcare and energy sector in the U.S. continue and it remains to be seen at this point in time what fruits those endeavors will bear. I remain hopeful ...

Tom and Maureen - from the pages of the New York Times

Tom Friedman writes about how the U.S. Govt. has basically outsourced the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to outside contractors and what the implications of that might be ...
Maureen Dowd describes the horror named Rush Limbaugh. It's astounding to hear that he has got a contract for $400 million for doing his radio hosting ...

India Buying IMF Gold

India is becoming rich. At least, the Government of India is. It's out buying gold from the IMF. 200 tonnes might seem like a lot of gold. Now, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has 700 tonnes of the yellow metal in its possession. But if you try to put that into perspective by taking into account the total population of India, you realize that it's not that much. Assuming a population figure of one billion, 700 tonnes equates to 0.7 grams for every Indian. Similarly, a population figure of 1.1 billion means some 0.63 grams of gold for every Indian. Also, a population figure of 1.2 billion translates to 0.58 grams of gold for every Indian. Well, you can check that out yourself. My arithmetic might be wrong.

PM Security and Level Crossing Insecurity

Another instance of security overkill. What is the price of the life of an Indian? Not much, it would seem.

This day brings news of another man dying because of the security bandobast surrounding the visit of the Indian PM. I had the opportunity to see this first hand in my home town once when the then PM was there for an election rally ... may be in 1996 ... I don't quite remember now. The PM was of course the chanakya of Indian politics P. V. Narasimha Rao. The reality on the ground might have been more complex than the facts reported in the papers. In New Delhi, of course, residents are used to it. Even I have on occasion had to suffer because the PM's cavalcade happened to be passing by ... It seems like an enjoyable tamasha when that happens ... you just have to cool your heels for a while ... assuming of course that the Sun is not in full blaze and you weren't going anywhere in a hurry.

In India, of course, appointments are 'flexible.' Everyone would understand if you told them that you got delayed as the PM's cavalcade was passing by. The U.S. President probably inconveniences the citizens of the United States by an equivalent amount. One can't hope for the kind of minimal security which surrounds the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom ... not in an India where people have many and myriad grievances and two PMs have been murdered within a span of seven years.

The other astounding news in the morning papers was about the death of about a dozen people in railway level crossing accidents. How strange is it that six ordinary people get killed when a train runs over them! How does one even try to understand such senseless tragedy? Even a two-year-old kid was killed in one of these incidents. Try thinking about that for a couple of minutes! What a way to die!!! But then India sees all sorts of deaths ...

One of my relations who was a 'God man' or a 'holy man' in the 'holy' city of Puri was 'murdered' a few months back. He was involved in many different kinds of nefarious activities, of course. Imagine dying when two or three people come at you and basically hack you into pieces using axes or something.

November 03, 2009

Intellectual Sustanence

Bob Herbert talks about President Obama promoting solar energy in his New York Times column here ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/opinion/03herbert.html?_r=1&hp

Meanwhile, David Brooks of the New York Times has written an interestingly argued article about the chaging nature of relationships in the age of texting and cellphones here ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/opinion/03brooks.html?hp

Roger Cohen of the New York Times both reminisces about the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as pines for a different outcome to the recent semi-uprising/revolt in Iran here ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/opinion/03iht-edcohen.html?hp

What more do you want?

Enough nutritious intellectual fodder for a day?

The Amazing Never Ending Baby Boom

That's how I would describe the phenomenal capacity of Indians to have babies.

I wonder if Indians are just stupid or there is more to it than meets the eye ... something like that saying ... "the meek shall inherit the Earth."

I think there are ways in which India's strength in numbers might her well. But, mostly I think India's burgeoning population is India's biggest problem rather than its biggest strength.

Fast breeding nations of the third world such as India and China are plaining helping bring the standard of living down for the whole world.

The key to world prosperity and the progress of human civilization lies not in being a leadeing breeder ... because then we would need to compete with other animals and they might in fact beat us hands down. The decisive advantage humans enjoy is not even brute, muscle strength which other species possess in far more abundance than us.

What provides humans our unique survival advantage is our brain power and that has no links at all with numbers.

I mean, unless of course, if the fact that there are so many competitors for limited numbers of seats at the IITs somehow converts average kids into geniuses ... does that happen??? In which case, one could say, more the merrier.

The Urge to Splurge

I am wondering about what shopping does for us.

People in affluent societies and rich people in poor countries indulge in this.

This is even considered a sort of therapy. I think therapy is close to the truth. People who need to go shopping are definitely not happy with the life that they have to lead otherwise.

People are probably trying to escape the drudgery that their life/job otherwise is.

When someone buys a new shirt/trouser or shoes or watch or some other gear, they are looking for something new to have a little sense of excitement in their boring lives.

It is interesting to see the emergence of this shopping culture in the New India and the New Generation of Indians take to it with gusto. This is old hat in the West of course and people there are more or less tired of or jaded with this form of therapy and looking for something else in its place ...

I guess Indians in turn will tire of this in another 40 or 50 years.

November 02, 2009

Are Marriages all that they are made out to be?

I am wondering about this "relevant" issue as an Indian. For Indians, life is basically doing things as per predefined "rules" instituted by "sages" and "wise men" from time immemorial.

Baiscally, it's a load of crap of course.

What is truly saddening is to observe the young generation that thinks it's so "modern" and "hip" behave in the same old asinine ways as their ancestors. I pity this pseudo-modern young generation ... it's of course frustrating as well to see these young chaps so unquestioningly accept such half baked ideas.

"Tradition" is this catch-all phrase that is used to include everything including religion and marriage rituals and birth rituals and death rituals and everything in between.

I would be truly amazed if youngsters really think that all these hand-me-down stuff must be correct just because everybody else is doing the same thing ...

Einstein did not propose his theories of relativity because everybody else was saying the same thing!!!

If humans had always just continued what they were told to do by their "old" folks, then we would still be cavedwellers doing what Tom Hanks was doing in Cast Away when he was left stranded on that South Pacific island.

The fundamental advantage that we humans enjoy over all other animals on this planet is that we have a large brain folks!!! I say, let's use it!!!

As to the value of marriage - of the arranged kind or otherwise - I think it's mostly a load of compromise that most married folks would love to get out of but don't have the courage to do so. Else, after a period of time, they get used to each others' stupidities and find it rather convenient to stay married rather than be single.

The wife mostly takes care of the cooking and dish washing and laundry responsibilities not to mention the business of preparing the kid for school in the morning. And the man of course is in charge of making money for the family which helps put food on the table and which helps pay all the bills, etc. It's also useful to have a man around in case any "heavy lifting" is required ... literally. It also falls on the male of the family to drive the family two-wheeler or four-wheeler as the case may be.

I guess marriage is too old a concept and too deeply ingrained in the human psyche and it will take a while for humans to grow out of the habit.

Same goes for the crap that is religion, but that's a story for another day ...

The Idiotic Government of India

At last, the Government has chosen to adopt the easy route of banning pre-paid mobile services in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This is such an asinine decision that it boggles ones mind.

Are we living in a democracy or what!

Just because a few individuals are using mobile phones to plan their anti-India activities, the Govt. thought it fit to issue a dictat that will inconvenience hundreds of thousands of innocent people going about their daily lives.

What do the ordinary people of J&K use their pre-paid connections for? I imagine they would use it for the same purposes as people anywhere else in the country would ... to enable families to stay closer and stay connected, to share the family gossip, youngsters of course would be using these connections to pursue their illicit love affairs, or secret love affairs, I should say, traders and small businessmen would be using phone connections to keep their ears close to the ground and be one up on the competition, the owner of an apple orchard would be using his connections to talk to his people on the ground, enabling him to stay abreast of how the apples are doing, and so on ...

Has the Govt. thought about the innocent family whose infant kid suddenly falls sick in the middle of the night? Earlier, they would have made full use of the usual Indian family "network" and got a doctor home in the middle of the night. But now without the prepaid connection, they will wait helplessly till morning. And that wait might prove to be too long for the kid ...

Obviously, I do not have access to the "intelligence" inputs that surely must have been the basis for this ghastly decision, but I would argue that prepaid cellphones are misused not only in J&K but all over India.

So, why doesn't the Govt. go ahead and ban them all over the country!

"Stupid is as stupid does," as Forrest Gump said.

Definitely applies to the Government of India.

The Obamas' Marriage

One year is an age in politics. As President Obama nears one year since his historic win, I wonder if anyone is still hopeful of revolutionary change in Washington.

The New York Times article that looked at the Obamas' marriage provides instructive insights as to who they are as individuals.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/magazine/01Obama-t.html

As far as the issue of bringing revolutionary change to Washington is concerned, that's a different issue ...

We live in this media saturated world where every little issue is maginfied out of all proportions. So, if anything truly revolutionary were to take place, people who are affected would react so vociferously to it that the media would project that as if Armageddon was at hand.

For example, I believe that "Wall Street" should be a backwater of America and the industrial heartland of Detroit and Flint and the many factory townships across Pennsylvania and the Mid-West should be the true prioneers and leaders.

Everyone seems to have accepted it by now that financial industry executives "deserve" their multi-million dollar paychecks. I don't see why banking can't be made a safe and boring profession with very low wages.

The speculators on Wall Street with their arcane "instruments" certainly do not add anything of value to the productive economy.

Their "innovations" do not add value to human society ... much less advancing the cause of human society or bettering the chances that human civilization will survive or progress in the long run.

I think we need to remind ourselves that there are those folks whose life's work does contribute to a betterment of human civilization: scientists and researchers in physical and biological sciences whose breakthroughs ensure that once incurable diseases are now curable and crop scientists whose GM foods help feed the multi-billion throngs of this world.

Really, there can be no comparison between what these true geniuses contribute to the cause of mankind vis-a-vis the sleight-of-handers (if not tricksters) on Wall Street.

Bringing a rabbit out of a hat is not exactly true magic.

Finding cures for cancer most certainly is.

And understanding the origins and structure of the universe.

October 31, 2009

Smart People Destroyed Wall Street

This is another short and sweet analysis of the Wall Street malaise as well ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/14/opinion/14trillin.html

Of course, you could argue that what this really says is that it was an excessive abundance of money or opportunity to make money using financial gerrymandering which led to this outcome.

A Governance Issue

Peggy Noonan has questioned the maturity of the people in goverance in America today in a compellingly argued article here ...

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703363704574503631430926354.html?mod=djemEditorialPage

She has talked about people becomeing "disenchanted" or "disheartened" with government. People do not think that the Government can make it better, she says. Also, the leaders are showing a mindless ... something akin to optimism, she continues.

Fascinating perspectives indeed. I am wondering what relevance do these have for Indians. If anyone thinks they are irrelevant, well, I would beg to differ.

I think all of us Indians can identify with the feeling of being "disheartened" with Government.

India, of course, has never been the "hope of the world," or the "savior of mankind," or the "strongest nation of the world."

But, the lesson to learn there is that we have to aspire to such things.

Unfortunately, Indians become content too easily. At some level it might be good if people are easily content and do not all inspire to become millionaires like people in America do. But that same sense of contentment also includes a lack of vision, a lack of ability to think about the day after tomorrow, about what crises might arise ... and that's a pretty dangerous thing.

Humans after all are different from others in the animal kingdom because of our ability to plan ahead. I do not think Indians have the prescience to plan ahead adequately.

That will have repurcussions, of course.

I don't know if Indians will change only after millions of people die because of lack of foresight of various sorts ...

Entitlement on Wall Street

The travails of Wall Street forces one to think about some fundamental facts.

  • Is there any specific reason why bankers and other financial industry executives should be millionaires?

The New York Times has an interesting analysis about the troubles of the financial industry here ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/30/business/30norris.html

  • How much pay do doctors and teachers and research scientists in the physical and biological sciences earn?
  • Does a person need millions of dollars of pay per year to maintain a good standard of living?
  • How does society benefit by having some people who are spectacularly rich while others live in poverty?
  • Do these millionaires contribute anything of value to society that would justify their earning those pay packets?

Of course, in a free market economy, these are difficult choices to make ...

But society can come to a consensus as to what are the really important activities that a society must engage itself in and what are not so important.

I do not believe derivatives trading has any fundamental significance to the future of humanity ... in the way that research into clean energy alternatives has.

One could, in fact, think of many things which have obvious significance and long-term value ...

All sorts of research into genetic medicines which will help us understand cancer better ... not to mention other diseases such as AIDS and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, etc.

Research into GM foods which will help tackle the looming problem of food shortage for the ever-growing population of the planet.

Space science which has many aspects to it ... some day we will find other habitable planets in far corners of the universe which is a must if we ever want to grow beyond living on this tiny outpost in a forgotten corner of the universe ... other space scientists are ever on the lookout to see if any wayward space objects are on a collision course with our planet ... if Armageddon visits our planet again as it did to lead to the extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, these scientists will help us survive that.

There's so much pure science research that would help us understand the structure of the universe better.

Perhaps we are lucky that there are people in this world who are willing to devote their lives to these pursuits with very little financial return ... unlike financial industry executives who measure everything in terms of money.

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