December 26, 2012

Columbia's Last Flight from The Atlantic by William Langewiesche

Space flight is known to be a risky business, but during the minutes before dawn last February 1, as the doomed shuttle Columbia began to descend into the upper atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean, only a handful of people—a few engineers deep inside of NASA—worried that the vehicle and its seven souls might actually come to grief. It was the responsibility of NASA's managers to hear those suspicions, and from top to bottom they failed. After the fact, that's easy to see. But in fairness to those whose reputations have now been sacrificed, seventeen years and eighty-nine shuttle flights had passed since the Challenger explosion, and within the agency a new generation had risen that was smart, perhaps, but also unwise—confined by NASA's walls and routines, and vulnerable to the self-satisfaction that inevitably had set in. 

Moreover, this mission was a yawn—a low-priority "science" flight forced onto NASA by Congress and postponed for two years because of a more pressing schedule of construction deliveries to the International Space Station. The truth is, it had finally been launched as much to clear the books as to add to human knowledge, and it had gone nowhere except into low Earth orbit, around the globe every ninety minutes for sixteen days, carrying the first Israeli astronaut, and performing a string of experiments, many of which, like the shuttle program itself, seemed to suffer from something of a make-work character—the examination of dust in the Middle East (by the Israeli, of course); the ever popular ozone study; experiments designed by schoolchildren in six countries to observe the effect of weightlessness on spiders, silkworms, and other creatures; an exercise in "astroculture" involving the extraction of essential oils from rose and rice flowers, which was said to hold promise for new perfumes; and so forth. No doubt some good science was done too—particularly pertaining to space flight itself—though none of it was so urgent that it could not have been performed later, under better circumstances, in the under-booked International Space Station. The astronauts aboard the shuttle were smart and accomplished people, and they were deeply committed to human space flight and exploration. They were also team players, by intense selection, and nothing if not wise to the game. From orbit one of them had radioed, "The science we're doing here is great, and it's fantastic. It's leading-edge." Others had dutifully reported that the planet seems beautiful, fragile, and borderless when seen from such altitudes, and they had expressed their hopes in English and Hebrew for world peace. It was Miracle Whip on Wonder Bread, standard NASA fare. On the ground so little attention was being paid that even the radars that could have been directed upward to track the Columbia's re-entry into the atmosphere—from Vandenberg Air Force Base, or White Sands Missile Range—were sleeping. As a result, no radar record of the breakup exists—only of the metal rain that drifted down over East Texas, and eventually came into the view of air-traffic control. 


December 11, 2012

GETTING BIN LADEN from The New Yorker by Nicholas Schmidle

Shortly after eleven o’clock on the night of May 1st, two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters lifted off from Jalalabad Air Field, in eastern Afghanistan, and embarked on a covert mission into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden. Inside the aircraft were twenty-three Navy SEALs from Team Six, which is officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU. A Pakistani-American translator, whom I will call Ahmed, and a dog named Cairo—a Belgian Malinois—were also aboard. It was a moonless evening, and the helicopters’ pilots, wearing night-vision goggles, flew without lights over mountains that straddle the border with Pakistan. Radio communications were kept to a minimum, and an eerie calm settled inside the aircraft. 

Fifteen minutes later, the helicopters ducked into an alpine valley and slipped, undetected, into Pakistani airspace. For more than sixty years, Pakistan’s military has maintained a state of high alert against its eastern neighbor, India. Because of this obsession, Pakistan’s “principal air defenses are all pointing east,” Shuja Nawaz, an expert on the Pakistani Army and the author of “Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within,” told me. Senior defense and Administration officials concur with this assessment, but a Pakistani senior military official, whom I reached at his office, in Rawalpindi, disagreed. “No one leaves their borders unattended,” he said. Though he declined to elaborate on the location or orientation of Pakistan’s radars—“It’s not where the radars are or aren’t”—he said that the American infiltration was the result of “technological gaps we have vis-à-vis the U.S.” The Black Hawks, each of which had two pilots and a crewman from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, or the Night Stalkers, had been modified to mask heat, noise, and movement; the copters’ exteriors had sharp, flat angles and were covered with radar-dampening “skin.” 


November 28, 2012

Inspirational Heroes

I want to talk about real heroes today à not the kind we elevate to the status of demi-gods too easily and unthinkingly.

“There’s a secret society of geniuses who weave and shape the fabric of our culture,” somebody had said about Subrahmanian Chandrasekhar (he was known among his colleagues as ‘Chandra’) on the occasion of awarding a medal to Chandra.

Yes. Chandra was such a genius and so was Srinivasa Ramanujan.

It is not widely known that one of NASA’s space telescopes (‘Great Observatories’) is named after him? à the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. The most well-known of the space telescopes is of course the Hubble Space Telescope which has revealed so much about the wonders of our universe in its 20 year long lifetime.

Every educated person must consider it his or her bounden duty to be acquainted with the images and the results of these great space projects.

To give just a bit of a primer about Chandra, some of his areas of work included these
·         stellar structure,
·         theory of white dwarfs,
·         stellar dynamics, theory of radiative transfer,
·         quantum theory of the negative ion of Hydrogen,
·         hydrodynamic and hydromagnetic stability,
·         equilibrium and the stability of ellipsoidal figures of equilibrium,
·         general relativity. mathematical theory of black holes and theory of colliding gravitational waves.
Just reflect for a moment – if you will – about the greatness of the scientific endeavor which has given us mere humans the tools – mathematical – which we can manipulate to understand the interiors and evolution of stars or when a star will turn into a black hole and when it will end up as a white dwarf or a neutron star.

November 16, 2012

James Acord — Alchemist for the Nuclear Age

That's the title of an article about him in The New Yorker. All I can say is ... What a Life !

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/backissues/2011/01/postscript-james-acord.html

The only private individual in the world who had license to handle nuclear materials.

More related tales here:

http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/park/di21/art_tech_ec_files/acord.htm

November 14, 2012

Remembering Nehru

I realized with a start that this week is the birthday of my favorite character from the pages of history.

When I flip through the pages of history and of course I am no professional historian, I find that I have more regard and affection for Jawaharlal Nehru than anyone else.

Of course, there is Mahatma Gandhi. And there are others belonging to India and to other nations whose achievements I find awe inspiring or admirable or creditable or inspirational.

Internationally, there were men like Washington to Jefferson to Lincoln – three of the great presidents of the United States. There was Napoleon and there was Lenin. And Mao. The 20th century was a period that provided enough scope for megalomaniac men of varied hues to chase their dreams. So, recent history is replete with larger than life characters – some who achieved an astonishing amount of infamy such as Hitler and Stalin and Mussolini to others who have left their mark on human history which is essentially positive: men such as Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. Of course, the position of President of United States seems to offer an undue amount of scope to create heroes out of ordinary men. So, may be, some of those who have held that position probably don’t deserve the kind of fame and recognition and greatness that they have been endowed with. As the immortal Bard had said: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

November 11, 2012

Is Life Beautiful

When people are ‘lucky’, they tend to reflect on their good luck and tend to thank providence profusely for it and reach conclusions such as “Life is Beautiful.”
I always wonder if life is indeed beautiful – and, even more pertinently, how valid an argument it is to reach that conclusion when one happens to get “lucky” by chance.
I recall numerous instances of people who survive natural disasters thanking the Lord for letting them live while others died. Without citing any particular incident, let us just think for a moment how fair that is – to thank God for letting you live. How about the others who died? Were they at fault somehow and deserved to die? The recent serial blasts in Jaipur killed many people. Did the good Lord decide that these people were unworthy of living and so deserved to die and so the terrorists were in fact agents of God. So, why spend so much resource in trying to find them and punish them?
The September 11, 2001 attacks in the US were carried out by people who were convinced that they were explicitly messengers of God and carrying out God’s work. So, perhaps those who died in the twin towers of WTC and in the Pentagon and the passengers in the planes were all somehow being punished by God for their wrongdoings.
The kids who died in the Bhuj earthquake a few years back on the Republic Day were also scheduled to die that day and the earthquake was merely the tool that God used to take their lives – is that it?

November 10, 2012

Richard Feynman on the Gap Dividing Science and Human Culture

A few quotes from the incomparable Feynman:
"
… people — I mean the average person, the great majority of people, the enormous majority of people — are woefully, pitifully, absolutely ignorant of the science of the world that they live in, and they can stay that way … And an interesting question of the relation of science to modern society is just that — why is it possible for people to stay so woefully ignorant and yet reasonably happy in modern society when so much knowledge is unavailable to them?
Incidentally, about knowledge and wonder, Mr. Bernardini* said we shouldn’t teach wonders but knowledge.
It may be a difference in the meaning of the words. I think we should teach them wonders and that the purpose of knowledge is to appreciate wonders even more. And that the knowledge is just to put into correct framework the wonder that nature is.
"
"
… as I’d like to show Galileo our world, I must show him something with a great deal of shame. If we look away from the science and look at the world around us, we find out something rather pitiful: that the environment that we live in is so actively, intensely unscientific. Galileo could say: ‘I noticed that Jupiter was a ball with moons and not a god in the sky. Tell me, what happened to the astrologers?’ Well, they print their results in the newspapers, in the United States at least, in every daily paper every day. Why do we still have astrologers?
[…]
I believe that we must attack these things in which we do not believe. Not attack by the method of cutting off the heads of the people, but attack in the sense of discuss. I believe that we should demand that people try in their own minds to obtain for themselves a more consistent picture of their own world; that they not permit themselves the luxury of having their brain cut in four pieces or two pieces even, and on one side they believe this and on the other side they believe that, but never try to compare the two points of view. Because we have learned that, by trying to put the points of view that we have in our head together and comparing one to the other, we make some progress in understanding and in appreciating where we are and what we are. And I believe that science has remained irrelevant because we wait until somebody asks us questions or until we are invited to give a speech on Einstein’s theory to people who don’t understand Newtonian mechanics, but we never are invited to give an attack on faith healing, or on astrology — on what is the scientific view of astrology today.

"

November 07, 2012

My Billion Dollar Building

I am planning to build a house to live in. I am thinking out-of-the-box and thinking big. Really big. I am planning on building a 50-storey residence for myself and my little family. You think that’s a bit big for a single family? No, no, let me explain.
The first five floors of the building will merely constitute the car park for all my cars and those of my guests.
The next five floors will be service floors that will house various amenities such as a laundry and warehouses to stock food supplies, etc.
Then, the next ten floors will be for my guests. There will be master bedrooms and massage rooms and Jacuzzis and gyms and sprawling bathrooms and facilities for playing lawn tennis and basketball and squash.
The next five floors of the building will house a common library to provide intellectual stimulation to my friends as well as me.
There will be five floors on top of these devoted to entertainment. There will be 5 movie theaters with various seating capacities.
There will of course be an IMAX theater in there as well. You see, I just love watching the crazy stuff that these NASA astronauts do up there in space. So, I would like to enjoy watching some of that on an IMAX screen.
The five floors on top of those will be devoted to gyms and bowling alleys and an indoor golfing green. Of course, I like to play the odd round of lawn tennis and basketball and squash at times, so, those will be in there as well. You see, I have got only one life to live and I want to live it fully.

November 03, 2012

October 23, 2012

Incredible October

October 15:

We inch towards (or gallop towards -> depending on how you feel about this year) the closing of 2012. I don't know if the present month of October has been more frenetic than the rest of the months. But it feels to me as if it has been. So I am inclined to do a running summary of the month as a diary entry for future reference.


Among the many October surprises have been the *win* attributed to Romney in the first Presidential debate as we approach the quadrennial presidential election in the U.S. Felix Baumgartner jumped from 40 kms up in the atmosphere and thanks to the magic of TV, perhaps billions of human beings -- sitting in their drawing rooms, waiting at the airport lounge, drinking beer in the bar or elsewhere -- were witness to the successful accomplishment of this feat of superhuman dare-devilry. There are not many records to be made left to make - this was one of the last for the forseeable future and the door is now closed on this one as well. Unless someone wants to go up to 50 kms in a balloon and perhaps attach a jet pack to his back and after jumping towards Earth, fires the jet pack to propel him to a speed of 2,000 kmph momentarily before opening that parachute. Is there anyone out there crazy enough to try something like that? Well, not likely. But who knows. May be that supersonic car that holds the land-speed record could get yet faster.


All the Nobel Prizes have been announced as per their October schedule -> predictably, the Nobel Committee has flummoxed the betting types and the prizes have gone to folks whose names we all have conveniently and easily forgotten one week after the prize announcement. The last Nobel Laureate in Physics that I can recall right from the top of my mind is John Mather - he of COBE fame from my favorite institution in the whole wide world -- what else but NASA. Wolfgange Ketterle is a modern-day genius experimental physicist too but he won a while back. Lastly, the Economics Nobel is yet to be awarded as I write this on the 15th of October. But it's not like the Nobel is going to go to Kaushik Basu or anything. Krugman has got one already which rules him out. Same for Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen. Ok. It can still go to the perennial contendor Jagdish Bhagawati adding one more item to the list of October surprises.


October 17, 2012

Second U.S. Presidential Debate: Obama vs. Romney 2012

Hopefully President Obama will have managed to silence the commentators with his spirited performance during the second debate. Maureen Dowd won't be pointing to Barack Obama's biographies in next column pointing out how the President is averse to confrontation and how that's at the core of who he is.

I thought the over-reaction to the 1st debate had been unjustified -> I knew Mr. Obama will be in a feisty-er mood this time around since that's what the constituency demanded. Mr. Obama stood up to the pretentious and oh-so-fake Romney without appearing to be jarring or a bully -> both qualities that are the trademark of Mr. Romney.

The candidates got to almost a dozen questions with a tough-to-rollover Candy Crowley as the moderator. On Libya, Romney was particularly egregious as a foreign policy novice. On financial matters and tax issues, Romney sought to show that he had a plan -> the only problem was that this was a plan that is entirely distinct from the other plans he has presented through the campaign season.

Romney refused to even defend his own record as governor of Massachusetts -- on gun violence for example. He had signed into law an assault weapons ban there but he was not willing to stand up for that decision today.

On tax policy, Romney's proposals simply do not add up -- the math doesn't work, as President Obama pointed out. On the auto industry bailout, Obama defended his own decisions which clearly saved a million jobs. Romney meanwhile sought to distance himself desperately from W. -> and this from a candidate whose policy seems to be 'Drill Baby Drill' combined with 'tax cuts for the rich.' The voters are old enough to remember how the Bush tax cuts have worked out.

On immigration too, Romney sought to portray a 'kinder and gentler' face to the key Latino voters. Obama's record in office shows that he has been the toughest president ever with more deportations of illegal immigrants than any previous president.

Mr. Romney was harping on how he was going to be a job creator while his entire career in private business has been focused on cutting jobs. He has often been a pioneer in off-shoring jobs to China and elsewhere even when he was the Governor of Massachusetts.

Mr. Romney himself sought to distance himself from his unfortunate 47% comments and cleverly enough, the President mentioned that faux pas only in his closing remarks so that Romney had no opportunity to respond to that.

Now we move to the last debate which will be entirely about foreign policy. I wonder how Mr. Romney is going to last 90 minutes on what is clearly his weakest area.

Like I wrote after the first debate, I think Mr. Obama has the race in the bag. We know what the headlines will say on Nov. 7.

Ayn Rand Was Right

Do we exalt the John Galts and Howard Roarks among us or despise them? Do we admire the ultimate, self-centered and selfish capitalists or the selfless, self-sacrificing altruists?

Oh sure there are the Martin Luther King, Jr.s and Mahatma Gandhis and Nelson Mandelas and Aung Sun Suu Kyis we like to point to as icons and worthy role models for our children. But look deeply and we find that we are obsessed with the wealthy. And who are the wealthy? Why do we let the Robert Rubins, Sandy Weills, Jakc Welchs, Jamie Dimons and their Wall St. brethren keep their millions? Because we consider that right and their right.

Let alone the hedge fund people whose entire purpose is to become billionaires.

How many people explicitly make life choices that will lead to a life of service -> not be a charlatan like Mother Teresa but just helping the underprivileged without trying to 'achieve' greatness by so doing. So Lance Armstrong and Greg Mortensen and the Evangelical Christian blowhards such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell don't count. All the Indian Hindu godmen -- who are too numerous to make a comprehensive list -- are in it to become gods themselves. I hope nobody thinks for a moment that a Sai Baba or Ravi Shankar or Ram dev or the others are in it to do 'service.'

Think of the obsessive listing of the wealthy in the media -> what does that show except that We The People are obsessed with wealth and the wealthy. Think of the self-promotional crazy stunts of the Hollywood celebrities who are clearly not in the business of doing charity by any stretch of the imagination.

Coming down from these Olympian levels to levels of ordinary mortals like you and me, what motivates the average successful individual?

October 11, 2012

Why Obama Will Still Win in November

The historical record which clearly shows that presidents don't get re-elected when the unemployment rate is high doesn't much reflect the demographic reality of today.
There are not that many white, young, unemployed people who buy into Romney's vision of the free-market creating umpteen millionaires and hence removing poverty and making Social Security, Medicare and other safety nets unnecessary.
May be Obama will win because of these factors even if he comes across as wonky or lackluster or not-aggressive-enough in the debates as the media and all the pundits have been harping on.
It's tough to believe that Americans can be so forgetful about recent economic history when W. came into office with a surplus and there was debate between Gore and W about what to do with that surplus. Bush explicitly cut taxes for the rich as he had promised to do (at a cost of a trillion dollars) and ran up a trillion dollar bill for an unnecessary war in Mesopotamia. The TARP designed by Bush and Hank Paulson cost nearly another trillion dollars.
So Obama got handed the economic mess that he was. He tried to salvage whatever he could from the mess created by Wall. St. and ensured that the economy didn’t  fall off the cliff and also passed Obamacare which gets more Americans insured.
Meanwhile, Romney peddles some utter untruths even going so far as to say that private insurance is cheaper. Obama at least pointed out in the debate about independent studies showing that Medicare has lower administrative costs than pvt. insurers.
No Drama Obama also crushed Hillary Clinton, and then McCain.
Does he have to descend into the mud and remind Americans who killed bin Laden or rub it in to Romney about the "47%" business?
Aren't Americans smart enough to reach their own conclusions? Also, I don't think many hardcore Democrats or Republicans are going to cross over to the other side no matter what the candidates do at this stage.
It's only to persuade the fence sitters. I think No Drama Obama will do a better job of attracting them as well -- unless all those fence sitters happen to be millionaires.
It seems to me the bar was set too low for Romney and when he came out shamelessly swinging and did not commit any gaffes, everyone is going gaga about his performance.
Conversely, the bar was set too high for Obama and when he stuck to the facts, people are saying he failed by his Great Orator standards.
I think it's just that the Democrats are saying: "It's not that *I* have been persuaded by Romney's performance, but I am concerned about the possibility of the *other guy* being persuaded."
Well, relax.
I think, after two more of these are done and Nov. 7 comes around, the headline we'll see will be this:"OBAMA REELECTED"

I posted my 'quick' impressions about the first debate here.

October 10, 2012

Strange Creatures of Planet India

So, who are you? Or, what?

Are you a Congi? A CRT? Perhaps a pseudo-secular Indian. Or an Internet Hindu. Or a right winger. A Hindu nationalist (dwelling outside India?).

These are some of the gems that one comes across as the frenetic debate rages in this country about the direction we wish to take.

Clearly, India is 'resurgent.' India is not the first nation in the history of the world where people suddenly acquire a heightened sense about who they are just on the basis of their imagined or real history. History is fact -> except when it's entirely fiction that people want to believe.

Nationalistic pride has not been a positive force in world history - just think of Japan, Italy and Germany in the 20th century. A sense of superiority based on notions of nationality, race, or religion makes people blind to reason and facts. Yet in the 21st century, despite the world wars and the Rwandan and Balkan genocides of the '90s, we are again seeing resurgent nationalism and tension between China and Japan over a few insignificant, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

The resurgent Hindu typically loves to hate the Congress and its leaders such as Indira, Rajiv, Nehru, etc. There are variations -> many love Patel as the 'strongman' who should have been 'rightly' appointed the first prime minister of India who then would have proceeded to do wonders. Some 'hate' Gandhi too for his 'scheming' in appointing Nehru and depriving Patel of his deserved premiership.

Dress Sense and Common Sense for Women

I read one more article by one female about how women have the right to wear what they want, when they want, where they want, etc.

I would love it if women wore revealing clothes whenever they were in a public place -- not merely skin-hugging tight jeans, but short, short skirts like those Hollywood celebs wear which reveal their panties intentionally or otherwise.

The top of the dress should reveal good amount of the boobs as well or preferably have wardrobe malfunctions - manufactured or otherwise.

Young good-looking women wearing these clothes should preferably visit areas of Delhi at 2 a.m. which are particularly untouched by the rule of law. May be they can have their grandmother accompanying them who should be carrying 2 lakhs in cash or wearing a good amount of gold jewelry.

The amount or number of incidents of rape in India seems not-too-high -> that's probably because most such incidents are in fact not even reported to the police either because the perpetrator is known to the victim or because the family do not wish to bring such incidents to the notice of the police as they know that the police will essentially do nothing. In a small number of incidents, the perpetrator might be powerful enough that he might be able to intimidate the victim.

One of the reasons for these incidents of course is the skewed sex ratio prevalent in India because of whatever weird social values we have inherited. The problem with Indians in a very broad sense is that they tend to choose to only be as civilized as necessary. I don't even known if I can explain what I mean by that so I won't try. Of course, when your morality only extends so far, the chicken might come home to roost at some point.

October 06, 2012

The Abortion Debate

Just want to put my thoughts on the topic on the record here.

I haven't thought about this issue much. But it seems to be a recurring issue in developed nations such as the United States and the U.K.

It seems obvious to me that there are far more important and serious challenges facing the world out there. In India, the far bigger issues facing women have got to be issues such as domestic violence. I believe millions of women must be silently suffering from malevolent males -- drunk or otherwise. Society in India is structured in such a manner that women have very little explicit economic value and in a poor society, it's the men who make the money -- howsoever little it might be -- who hold the strings.

To change this state of affairs, women will need to realize that taking care of kids and cooking have got to be secondary to developing skills and expertise. It's a kind of long term change that is tied in with a lot of other issues and in the next 30 years, we'll see some changes thanks to the disruptive interventions of technology. The old guard unfortunately plays the role of a dead weight holding the new generation down. The new generation is a bit slow to recognize that our ancestors were mostly assholes.

The old realities of what it meant to be human have fundamentally and irrevocably changed and we have to learn to live with new realities. Progress is a one way street. Our history lies in the forests, in foraging and hunting and gathering. But that history is over forever. We were farmers once upon a time but that time is over too. We have to move on to an era where technology determines the pace and substance and future of our lives.

October 04, 2012

First U.S. Presidential Debate: Obama vs. Romney 2012

This is the early take from the media pundits on this debate.
The verdict being that Obama lost the 1st debate.
I think that's a bit over-the-top because:

  1. Remember Obama's "long-game"?
  2. This is the 1st one. Two more to go.
  3. Are voters going to vote based on Romney's enthusiastic lying or Obama's soberly pointing out the fact that Romney doesn't really have an alternative, that Romney talks about repealing Obamacare without saying much about how.
Here are the takes from a few pundits.

Well, I’m with all the other talking heads: Mitt Romney won this debate. Barack Obama lost it. I mean, he got his butt kicked. It was, in fact, one of the most inept performances I’ve ever seen by a sitting President. Romney–credit where it’s due–was calm, clear, convincing (even when he was totally full of it) and nearly human. The real mystery was Obama. Where on earth was he? Why was his debate strategy unilateral disarmament? Why did he never speak in plain English: “Mitt, you’re selling a fantasy. Bill Clinton proved it. He raised taxes on the wealthy and the economy boomed. George Bush lowered taxes drastically and the economy tanked. How’s your plan any different than Bush’s?” Actually, the President did say something like that but it was well past most of America’s bedtime, about an hour into the debate–and he didn’t do it clearly, concisely, directly.

Joe Klein in TIME Magazine.

If Gandhi Were Alive

Let’s consider a few fun possibilities that would occur if Gandhi were around today.
  1. What would happen to all the self-proclaimed Gandhians? Would Gandhi be in favour or opposed to Anna Hazare?
  2. What would Gandhi do with lying lawyers like Kapil Sibal or tendentious toadys like Digvijay Singh?
  3. May be Gandhi would go on an obligatory spin in the skies in the Sukhoi and the LCA Tejas.
  4. Would Gandhi have been miffed at Pokhran II àIndia’s famed nuclear tests of 1998? May be he would have gone on a fast unto death. And how would the glacially moving poet Vajpayee have reacted to that?
  5. Though he was lean and thin, still Gandhi would need a knee-cap replacement surgery at this age.
  6. Would Gandhi hum along with the catchy Kolaveri D tune or criticize it as nonsense … somewhat like … err … Javed Akhtar?
  7. May be Gandhi would have preferred Gangnam Style and we would all be seeing a YouTube video of him dancing merrily.
  8. Would Gandhi be for Narendra Modi or against him?
  9. How would Gandhi have dealt with or liked the nation to deal with the multiplying members of our House of Infamy à the Kalmadis, Rajas, coal-kings, and other assorted industrialists, corporate scammers, politicians, dalal-bureaucrats, etc.?
  10. What would Gandhi say about the love for the good life that some Indians have developed – the multi-crore apartments and multi-crore supercars. Not to mention a 30-story home built to house one family.
  11. How would Gandhi weigh in on the current global hot conflicts à the Japan China boxing over those tiny uninhabited islands and the steaming hot tension over Iran’s nuclear ambitions or ambiguities.
  12. What about contraception? Mother Teresa and the Vatican Popes are all against using any type of contraception since they consider sex as a means to procreate and procreation and conception to be in god’s hands à thus making the use of contraception something which puts a spanner in god’s work. Where would the traditionalist Gandhi stand on that?
  13. What about Gandhi’s three famous monkeys? May be they would have names today à say, Tiwari, Sibal, Singhvi, and such. And their motto would be: speak evil, see evil and listen to evil.
  14. Lastly he would be way too old @ 144 years.

The Inscrutable Enslaved Indians

The rich Indian shall spend her honeymoon basking in the sun draped sands of the beaches in Mauritius and Seychelles and Pattaya and elsewhere.

She shall go saree and shoe shopping in Dubai and London. Depending on her social class, she shall sashay down the London High Street (is that where the top brand-name shops or boutiques or whatever they are called are located?) and shoo in to Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and then Bergdorf Goodman and also visit the Bijan boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

These are surely the immutable laws of nature --> enforced more stringently by the ruling gods of the universe than other may-be laws such as those said to have been discovered by Newton upon the fall of an Apple iPhone. Indians will surely continue to perform these activities even in the 22nd century. Or till all the hydrogen in the interior of the sun runs out and the dying sun blows out like a grotesque, bloated corpse in another five billion years and devours Earth itself.

September 23, 2012

Trying to Defend Religion

It's tough to find a single good thing about religion. Let me try.

Shivam Vij argued at Kafila how and why he' s a Hindu and not a terrorist. I am wondering what's the thing about being a Hindu that appeals to him.

He says Hinduism is a religion of peace. So what? Many people also say that Islam is a religion of peace. Which doesn't seem to be the case right about now considering the violent reactions of Muslims in many of the world to the silly Prophet Mohammed film.

Muslims always react with violence to similar acts that they consider to be 'insulting' to the Prophet. Islam is a religion where there's no scope for argument. The case is permanently closed.

That is of course not unique to Islam by any stretch of imagination. Closer to home, Hinduism has many mythologies which are funny and ridiculous and otherwise intelligent people somehow suspend their disbelief to agree with obviously stone-age notions.

September 11, 2012

Who After Manmohan Singh?


The irony about Rahul Gandhi's failure is this.
People may be rejecting his charms -- such as they are -- but in its place, what are they opting for?
I think they're opting for something worse. I think people are becoming ever more conscious of various local identities based on religion, language, caste, etc.
So you have regional Hitlers springing up all over the country.
Since you mention Uttar Pradesh, the guy who eventually won, one Mulayam Singh, is apparently known to run his district in such a manner that the district is 'untouched' by the rule of law or the machinery of law enforcement. Mulayam is The Law there.
Then there is the satrap named Narendra Modi who taught a lesson to the Muslims in 2002 and runs a financially uncorrupted administration focused on development of the state and now based on his record in Gujarat, aims to become the Prime Minister of India.

September 10, 2012

Preparations for the Afterlife

So how do people prepare for the time when they are dead? How well prepared are you? You could say that some people tend to be better prepared than others.
People like Steve Jobs had cancer and battled it. Some forms of cancer like what Jobs had or what Christopher Hitchens had are incurable or on the borderline between curable and incurable.
If you happen to get one of these ailments, of course you know that your time on Earth will soon be up. Not that anyone is ever immortal. So far.
So I don’t know if it really matters much if we happen to get a form of cancer or inoperable brain tumor or glioblastoma like Ted Kennedy.
And what does one do about one’s vast wealth after one’s body becomes one with nature?
Well, luckily or unluckily, most of us in India don’t have to worry about such matters as not many of us are billionaires with our personal 30-storey buildings.
But here are a few examples of some famous folks and their instructions about stuff to be done when they died.

Solution to the Economic Problems of America

I read the cover story on Newsweek which talks about whether a college degree is all that it is cracked up to be.
I don't even want to talk here about stingy and weird American parents who pretend to be martyrs or heroes just because they 'paid' for their kids' college education. I mean ...
Anyway, here's a look at the economic brute facts of life for Americans and people of other advanced/developed nations.
Some things appear obvious to me as an Indian:


  • Americans whose mother tongue is English should not have to go to university to learn English. Not in the 21st  century.
  • Less lawyers are better.
  • Progress is unidirectional and not cyclical. The assembly line of Ford is not going to be re-invented. Ever. Hopefully we'll also never again be making airplanes and tanks by the thousands in assembly lines. Thousands of women are not going to be sitting at telephone exchanges. Managers typically work without secretaries now.
  • We live in a world of robotic assembly lines. The new jobs will be in clean technology or shell oil exploration or other new areas where humans have not been made obsolete yet.
  • In a few years, driving cars will become unessential or deprecated as a skill as we move towards a world of driverless cars.
  • Genetics and biotechnology and healthcare will produce jobs.
  • High technology manufacturing such as microprocessors and nanotechnology will be the wave of the future.

September 09, 2012

Let Us Build A Second Moon

I have had this idea probably since a decade and a half.
My idea is simply this: why can’t there be a permanent full moon out there in the evening sky? Of course, those of you who have always been city dwellers need to get out of your cities and go into the countryside and experience a moonless starry night for yourselves and see the dazzling vista that it presents. And you need to sit on a sea beach on an evening when there is a full moon in the sky and experience something which is awe-inspiring and timeless. We need to find time in our busy lives to spend some time in the lap of nature and reflect on the grandeur of the universe which has been there for almost forever and unless we humans do something drastic selfishly, will go on almost forever as well. Why I use the word ‘almost’ is because, of course, nothing in nature is permanent – nothing really lasts forever. Even the mountains and the oceans and indeed this planet that we inhabit and the moon that we admire and the sun which gives us almost all of the energy – all these have a lifetime. All of these came into being some time in the distant past and will eventually turn into something else after millions and billions of years.
But on the scale of a human lifespan, so much of nature appears unchanging and eternal.
The Moon, for instance.
So, my idea regarding a second moon is what if we send a second moon up into the sky. Well, not another moon in 3D exactly, but something that will have the circular disc shape of the natural Moon that we see on the night sky of a full moon day. So, my idea is to send a structure into geostationary orbit – say, a honeycomb structure. We certainly have powerful geostationary satellite launchers in the United States and Russia and Europe and even Japan and China and India have taken strides in that direction.
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