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Showing posts from March, 2011

Way Bigger Than SuperBowl

Article first published as A Match that Merits a Different Language on Technorati.

Cricket is a rather obscure game that’s favored mostly by countries that were once part of the British Empire. It’s quite easy in fact to list out ALL the nations of the world where cricket is played with some seriousness: England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, West Indies, South Africa.

That list tells you everything. Cricket is played in England and a couple of other nations where the English migrated to. And it’s played in the Indian subcontinent.

For some odd reasons that are clearly beyond my ability to understand, cricket has become a national passion in India. And India has a great historical rivalry with Pakistan. India and Pakistan have gone to war thrice and wars being messy affairs, the countries are trying hard to avoid another battle.

Cricket therefore offers the opportunity to wage a war by proxy. The World Cup of cricket is clearly the bigges…

The Most Important Question of Your Life

Facebook or Twitter?

Yes. Choose. Between Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor if you like. Or, Aishwrya Rai and Katrina Kaif.

Twitter it is for me. Hands down. No contest.

Reason: it lets me keep in touch with so many and so much ... from news sources to my heroes to celebrities.

Please weigh in with your choice and the reasons thereof.

Wild. Life. Conservation

One more leopard dies in India. Another leopard was burnt to death. This has become common place and these incidents do not even make it to the mainstream media. So, what chance does wildlife have in India? I am thinking about the reality of life for Indians and trying to guess where saving tigers or leopards would fit in in their spectrum of priorities.

Let's look at a few lives across the economic spectrum.

Think of the guy who runs a tea stall or a cigarette stall or does ironing of clothes. Income per month: 5,000 rupees. Family members: one wife and three kids. What are his priorities? A grown up daughter at home who needs to be married off. The kids in school who need money for books and fees. The wife has been falling ill. There is talk of widening of the road and so the stall might need to be relocated. Does this guy wonder about the vastness and beauty of the cosmos? Does the guy wonder if there's life elsewhere in the universe? Does the guy think about the diversity of…

Grieving for the Famous Dead

To elaborate on the above, I find it a bit mystifying that we seem to have so much of reserves of ... sympathy perhaps ... for an Elizabeth Taylor. Was she a poor little women who suffered through her life and she deserved better? I think the fact is that she was lucky beyond compare. Perhaps she was the luckiest one in a population of one million. Which is to say, I am counting her as one of the roughly 7,000 luckiest people in the world.

Contrast this with the tragedy in Japan. And even more so, other natural disasters of the past few years. Also, the everyday disasters that permeate this world.

I consider myself one of the people who enable this situation ... having read three obituaries and seen perhaps a similar number of photo albums of Taylor.

But I'm wondering about some psychological or biological/evolutionary explanation as to why this is so.

What is it in our make-up that makes us do what we do? Is there some evolutionary advantage to doing this? Or, is it a fault?


The Old Men And The Religions

Yeah. Sorry. Could not resist that nod to Hemingway.

It occurred to me just today. So dumb of me really ... to realize this so late in the day.

Why is it that "men of religion" ... and they tend to be invariably and without exception 'men' ... God men, the "leaders" of the various religions, whichever way you want to put it, they all are WITHOUT EXCEPTIONold men.

I am thinking of the 'Father's of Christianity, the myriad gurus and god-men littering the land of the Hindus (with their saffron attire, perhaps a fashion beard and hairstyle) , the Islamic clergy with their long beards, the Jewish Rabbis with their beards, the Tibetan monks ... well, I can think of only one I guess ... Dalai Lama with his fashionably bald pate and mild, kindly disposition, Sikh holy men of the gurudwaras too, etc.

Yeah. So, what's the story? What's the logic? Is it that we are willing to defer to old men more than, say young men ... or women? And, if so, why? Are old …

What Price Heartbreak

Is the end of a relationship a little like dying? But what does it mean to say that ... die a little.

Is it like losing a little part of oneself? Sighhhhhh.

Is there some evolutionary basis to this?

What brings two people together? Perhaps just self-interest. And is that bad? Perhaps not.

It seems to me that heartbreak is not so much like one's own death. It's more like the death of someone beloved.

So we grieve. For a day or a few days or any other suitable length of time. But then we pick ourselves up and life moves on.

And so it is, I think, with heartbreak.

Heartbreak can be overcome. Ignorance can last a lifetime.

The Nuclear Scarecrow

Article first published as The Nuclear Scarecrow on Technorati.

The events of this past week in Japan have predictably resurrected the dormant nuclear scarecrow. The usual arguments are being trotted about how nuclear power generation is an off-the-charts risky enterprise. It’s time therefore to slay the scarecrow again. Gun ownership in the United States is a peculiar left over from the 17th century and earlier. It serves no useful purpose. Yet the number of fatalities from gun-related causes is of the order of 100 per day. The number of non-fatal injuries is clearly twice or thrice as many. Yet gun ownership prospers. Thousands of coal miners die every year. Tuberculosis and malaria account for some three million deaths every year. Malnutrition and diarrhea account for millions more deaths every year. The oil and gas industry sees thousands of deaths from accidents every year. Road accidents lead to hundreds of fatalities around the world everyday. Actually, about 300 die in road accid…

Trillion Dollar Trouble

One can get some sense of the mindboggling size of the U.S. healthcare business from the sort of figures mentioned in AHRQ's report.

U.S. community hospitals billed insurance companies and federal and state programs $1.2 trillion in 2008 for inpatient care.

Read more here.

Revised Ramayana

I was thinking of a revised version of this ancient Indian tale. Something more suited to the 21st century. I am thinking of the empowered females of today who are so unlike the women of yesterday.

So, let's tweak the storyline a little bit.

I imagine Ram being a rather boring guy ... perhaps rather like the Indian cricketer Sachin and lacking some of the swashbuckling character of, say, cricketers from other countries ... you can think of any cricketer that you admire in particular. Gul Panag recently admired one from Pakistan on Twitter which generated some angry responses ... Sania of course showed her preferences in her own unique way as well.

So, Sita being an empowered and emancipated female decided not to give in to fate and instead to make her own destiny. So, in a true pioneering spirit, she sought to seek out new frontiers in the relationship domain.

She had heard of this wise and powerful king in a foreign land ... a King with an intriguing name Ravana ... yeah, clearly…

Where did all the screen gods go?

I was wondering about the actors who portrayed various gods on those TV serials about two decades back.
Many of the 'important' gods of course managed to leverage their roles in quite remarkable and unrelated ways.
Many of the gods became politicians and representatives of the people of India.
But then their political careers sort of fizzled out as the people decided that perhaps they didn't want these gods to represent them.
Even as actors, I do not think any of these guys either were exceptional in their profession to begin with or rose to any great heights afterwards.
Perhaps this shows that playing god is a rather easy job as far as acting jobs go. Which would seem to indicate that the 'story' itself was rather weak if the main characters are rather unremarkable.
Indeed, the mythologies are more or less like children's fables written millennia ago that have lost much of their relevance today.
The basic assumption that something written ages ago would contain somet…

Deepak Chopra = The Pope !!!

Do I need to explain how or why? OK. I will.
DC is the latest beneficiary of the fascination that people in the West have with the mysterious East. The fact that he was able to persuade a few Hollywood celebrities has clearly helped his cause immensely as well.
He is a trained medical doctor and PhD too as he will readily inform you. The essence of his philosophy is intricate and intriguing. Well, that's really the secret to being a New Age guru. A SUCCESSFUL one, that is.
You take the latest from modern science ... medicine/physiology/genetics, nuclear physics/quantum physics and general relativity and whatever else you can put in the mix without appearing too wacko.
You correlate this 'latest' scientific stuff with some 'ancient' wisdom. And you say that all this was already known to the ancient wizards living and meditating in the jungles. And then you've to do a very effective presentation about the 'new' insights you've gained into these 'ancie…

Sam Harris, Christopher Hitcheens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennet

One can describe them as the elegant future, the fighting present, the glorious past, and the dinosaur ...

Before folks turn on me in all their fury, let me explain ...
I admire them all of course ... they've been the guiding lights of my life who've given me confidence that I was not some lone loony who properly belonged in the slammer of one sort or another.
Those who are still unfamiliar with these names of course are merely intellectually spectacularly impoverished.
How does one give a brief 'summary' of who these people are? Here, let me try.
Sam Harris. He's a great scientist who knows 'everything' about science. Now, if you introduce him as such in front of an audience, I know that he will protest. He will add the caveat that he does not know about all science. Okay. He has got a PhD in neuroscience. So, perhaps I can narrow the broad tapestry of science and say that Sam is an 'expert' on neuroscience. But he has done deep research into various ea…

The Best Indian Bloggers

I am wondering who they are. I can't find any compilation on the web. I am sure M. J. Akbar, Shashi Tharoor, Swaminathan Aiyar, and Chetan Bhagat, etc. would automatically be on any such list.

Of course, some of them may not have a personal blog. But I believe all thinkers should be open and daring and share their thoughts with the world at large. It's their noble responsibility to society.
We need robust exchanges of ideas to keep this a thriving civilization of new ideas. We need to hold everything up to scrutiny. Democracies consist of imperfect people in charge of institutions created only by the same imperfect humans.

I find M. J. Akbar's writings to be peerless. I want to offer my assessment that he's the best in contemporary India. His articles seem to be like perfectly formed marbles that need no further refinement. It's tough to even add a comment to his articles. What can one add beyond just saying something cliched like 'Perfect.'

Chetan Bhagat see…

Not Again !

The Pope has apparently authored some book and pontificated as is his habit ... I can't believe how people let someone who's completely unqualified to talk about anything lecture about everything!
Just give it a thought. The Pope gives about the use of contraceptive techniques. Is he a professional gynecologist or something of a related nature? The Pope opines that science should not investigate about what happened before the Big Bang. Is he a trained general relativist which makes him qualified to talk about this? The Pope does not like the idea of embryonic stem cell research. He considers it an example of humans playing god. Is he an embryologist ... a microbiologist ... a geneticist perhaps?
What about the theory of evolution? Clearly, the religious potentates won't be so stupid as to look at the fossilized remains of a dinosaur and dismiss it entirely as a figment of human imagination. At the same time, they can't give their stamp of approval to the theory of evolut…

Boson Dreams

Simon van der Meer is clearly not a household name. But he has made many seminal contributions to the technologies used by particle physicists.

Here's how CERN remembers Simon van der Meer.

The story of how we have burrowed ever deeper into the secrets of nature in particle physics in the last century is utterly fascinating. The story of how the W and Z particles came to be predicted and then detected is a small part of the larger story. Simon van der Meer along with Carlo Rubia got their Nobels in Physics for designing the experiments that led to the detection of these particles at CERN. Weinber, Glashow, and Salam were of course the ones who combined the elctromagnetic and weak interactions. The W and Z particles are carriers of the weak nuclear force just as the photon is the carrier of electromagnetic force.

The Higgs boson is one part of the puzzle which still remains to be solved.

The list of particles already discovered and some…

The Groom And The Horse

I witnessed a typical marriage procession in Delhi yesterday evening ... got caught in one as I was going somewhere. It's something to behold of course. The absurdity is clearly off the charts.

What a silly superficial show it is! The noise and lights and above all riding a horse ... perhaps pretending that you're a king returning after conquering a new kingdom in battle.

Why does this absurdity persist? Why do educated people let themselves be put through such absurd, silly rituals? Why don't people have the common sense to admit that this is something stupendously silly and that it's time to stop doing this?

Why can't the young generation simply put their foot down and say 'to hell with it.' Why does not anybody have the imagination to recognize this as a symbol of extraordinary stupidity?

Clearly, this is evidence that Indians in huge numbers lack the quality of imagination. Perhaps Indians' obsession with the game of cricket is further substantiation of…

Dirac and Pauli on Religion

Werner Heisenberg [in Physics and Beyond, 1971] recollects a friendly conversation among young participants at the 1927 Solvay Conference, about Einstein and Planck's views on religion. Wolfgang Pauli, Heisenberg, and Dirac took part in it. Dirac's contribution was a poignant and clear criticism of the political manipulation of religion, that was much appreciated for its lucidity by Bohr, when Heisenberg reported it to him later. Among other things, Dirac said: "I cannot understand why we idle discussing religion. If we are honest — and as scientists honesty is our precise duty — we cannot help but admit that any religion is a pack of false statements, deprived of any real foundation. The very idea of God is a product of human imagination. [...] I do not recognize any religious myth, at least because they contradict one another. [...]" Heisenberg's view was tolerant. Pauli had kept silent, after some initial remarks. But when finally he was asked for his opinion,…

The Genius Business

How many problems does humanity face? Over-population, lack of clean drinking water, lack of sanitation, food shortages, energy shortages, and so on.

Peter Diamandis was talking about how we are on the verge of an age of abundance. And I was struck by how counter-intuitive that is to the way things appear to be right at this moment.
So, are we on the verge of an age of conflict or an age of abundance? And what has that got to do with being a genius?
The odd thing that struck me is how few of these geniuses are there. When you look through history, how many names can one think of who have been responsible for fundamental changes.
I can think of these people:
The Wright brothers showed that heavier than air powered flight was possible. The aviation industry basically followed from that. Whittle's jet engine led to the current great age of aviation.Goddard's idea of multistage rockets lies at the heart of rocketry of all sorts to this day. It has enabled us to send communication satel…

Religion is Sinister AND Funny

Today is as good a day as any to reflect on this tragi-comic situation.

Religion committed one more murder the other day.

And Hindus commemorated Shiva, one of the numerous gods of Hinduism just the other day. For the uninitiated, Shiva is the guy who's responsible for the destruction of the world as opposed to Vishnu who is the creator of worlds ... Brahma is responsible for the day-to-day upkeep of worlds ... correct me if I am wrong since it's a long time since my childhood when I learnt these things.
So, you've got a guy who's basically responsible for the Big Bang and another guy who's responsible for the Big Crunch ... so to say. Pretty nifty.
Anyway, this god Shiva or Lord Shiva as Hindus would have it has got some interesting characteristics such as:

He lives on the top of one particular mountain named Kailash ... in the Himalayas of course. I would imagine it would be pretty cold (as in sub-zero temperatures) up there. But clearly, since he's a god, he does…