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Showing posts from February, 2011

More Good News for Smokers

Smokers are of course positively buffetted with good news all the time about all the positive results of smoking. Let me enumerate ome benefits of smoking at random: a smoker is more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart disease, lung cancer, bones heal more slowly, Alzheimer's, etc. And one more feather has been added to this much feathered crown: Oh, how lucky could smokers get!!! All of us ahve a high probability of becoming Stephen Hawking then ... cheers!

What Motivates Us

I’ve been thinking about what motivates us to be who we are. And what is quite surprising is to realize how much our minds are not really our own in some ways. Sam Harris acknowledges how much our minds are subject to societal influences. The truth of that is obvious and needs to be underlined and highlighted. What constitutes basic needs and what is a luxury? The answer to that would depend on the level of affluence (or the lack thereof) of the society in which you raise that question. Is ownership of a car a sign of affluence? Similarly, what is appropriate clothing for females is again subject to societal norms. There’s a whole spectrum of what is right in this context. Is this IMPORTANT? It would appear it is. We tend to often accept things as the right thing without realizing how relative and contextual things really are. Culture is obnoxious. So is religion. They impact us in ways big and small. I find it uplifting to see and read Richard Dawkins. I find it offensive when Deepak

Before the Toothbrush

What was there before the toothbrush? The twig of course. Has it died down? No sir! Not in India. It’s still very much the in-thing in rural India. But what surprised me somewhat is this spectacle of seeing policemen using twigs in Gurgaon. Well, I guess you discover many unexpected facets of India on those early morning walks — if you bother to venture outside of the confines of your apartment complex. I am left wondering if the policemen use twigs out of cultural habit or to save money or out of convenience. I would be interested in hearing the opinion of the readers about what they think. I saw more this morning. One sturdy Haryanvi policeman climbed a tree on the periphery of the police station this morning — presumably to collect a twig for brushing his tooth. I am not quite sure as to the purpose of this energetic activity as the line of sight from me to him was not quite unobstructed. What does this say — about policemen in particular and Indians in general? I do not know. I am

The Scientist and the Ivory Tower

The Tevatron is going to close. The Superconducting Supercollider never came to fruition. Remember the scare when the LHC began running — all that talk about how black holes might get created at the LHC that might accidentally devour the planet. It’s commonplace to hear all and sundry pontificating about the benefits and harms of science to society. Religious people somehow feel automatically qualified to interpret god’s intentions and talk casually about the universe. Scientists however are a different species. They like to be humble and polite and mostly profess ignorance about much of the world and indeed, much of the broad tapestry of science. This is quite admirable of course and in tune with the spirit of science. But this creates a vacuum. And that vacuum is more often than not filled by opportunistic egomaniacs. It’s in this context that one must look at the lives of a few exceptional scientists. A few names stand out easily: Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Steven

Not Yet Hanged ...

Although the High Court today agreed with the judgment of the lower court about the death sentence given to Kasab, I'm sure we are still some distance from the final denouement. The Supreme Court is still there. Most likely, it will agree with the opinion of the High Court as it does in most cases. And the villainy in this case was probably perpetrated in a rather public manner making it quite easy for the Court and the prosecutors and quite tough for the defense. Oh, and we should not forget that this is what passes for a fast trial in India. The usual humdrum trial takes far longer than Kasab's trial has taken. After the Supreme Court, there's the appeal to the President of India. The President likes to take a lot of time — historically. All in all, may be by November 26 next, Kasab will still be around and then there will be some hue and cry about why he is still around. Beyond that, I am not sure.

The Great Indian Revolution

Or, rather why that is an unlikely event. Dreaming of revolutions might appear quite romantic for middle class Indians but when you dig deep, you’ll see that the situation is both better and worse than Egypt of 2011 or America of 1776. The American War of Independence was driven mostly by economic factors and Britain enacting a host of draconian laws to augment His Majesty’s revenue not to mention to offset the losses suffered in misadventures against the French. All of which sound suspiciously familiar to an Indian … the British apparently learnt nothing and went on to repeat the same things in India in the early part of the 20th century. The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 is too recent and the discontents that may have fuelled it are yet to be distilled by historians. The per capita GDP of Egypt however is way higher than India’s. It would appear that people in different nations have different thresholds of tolerance towards what is broadly known as ‘poverty.’ Indians seem to have an ex

The babbling, rambling prime minister of India

Manmohan Singh is hardly Hosni Mubarak. Although most Indian prime ministers occupy the office only in the seventh or eight decade of their life — that's about the only similarity. Be that as it may. At the end of the day, I do not like to paint all politicians with the same brush. I also do not believe in blaming politicians for all that ails India. Indian voters choose who they wish to represent them. Indians are a nation of believers. Hinduism has a range of gods across the whole spectrum of possibility. Some gods are male while others are female. Some are neither male nor female. Some gods like vegetarian dishes while others prefer non-vegetarian dishes. Some gods are benevolent while others are ferocious as well as capricious. Indians love their gods. They not only love them, they like to anoint ordinary humans with godly qualities too. So, we have a plentiful supply of demi-gods too. The office of the prime minister has been elevated to that level as well where t

Stockholm Syndrome

Indians seem to have a propensity for this. Once some high profile scamster gets caught committing some scam or crime and is sent to jail, one hears reports about how they are being treated like other jailed folks. We get to hear about how they are having to make do with simple prison accommodation and dal-roti stuff. What does this say? Should we feel sympathetic to these criminals? What do we know about what all crimes they have committed? How much they might have eaten literally and otherwise. When people commit frauds running into hundreds and thousands of crores, what can they do with all that money? Do people have any idea of that? If people feel so much about the inconveniences being visited upon these folks, then simply let them free to commit whatever crimes they wish to commit. People of India have a really weird sense of right and wrong. I wish we would have a stricter law enforcement mechanism and see some serious criminals who have committed some serious crimes being given

Why Are Politicians so Shameless?

I am thinking of Ambika Soni having some fun at L. K. Advani's expense by wondering that she thought that he was retired. I am wondering who is Ambika's boss??? Who does she answer to? Who is the superboss of everyone in her party including as it happens the babbling, mumbling prime minister of India? It is a sad fact of Indian politics that someone like Deve Gowda has been a prime minister. It's also sad that at various times other politicians including Mulayam Yadav , Laloo Yadav , Mayawati , Chandrababu Naidu , and many others have been possible prime ministerial candidates. L. K. Advani's suitability to be prime minister may be open to debate. But surely, no one has less locus standi to be the prime minister than Sonia Gandhi. I wonder how these people can sleep well at night. After all, one can lie all one wants to the world at large but you can't lie to yourself.

The Civilian Cost of the Iraq War

Important studies have come out and are publicly available. It's a different matter altogether as to how nations will react to it.

Why Religion Endures

It's lazy thinking mostly. As anyone who has seen Hitchens obliterate the illogic of religion will say, it's a crazy situation why anyone can continue to believe in this nonsense. Again, anyone who has seen the elegant Dawkins beautifully explain the logic of evolution will wonder how anyone can be left untouched by this beautiful tale. But how many people will have heard of Dawkins to begin with. And so this ancient hogwash endures. There are many more reasons for the endurance of religion of course. People are mostly poor — that's the unfortunate reality as it applies to most parts of the world. That being the case, people are mostly busy worrying about how to put food on the table and into their tummies. Intellectual queries are a luxury that only a few can afford to indulge in ... It's odd to see how people regress when they are faced with personal difficulties. Even in prosperous societies such as America, one sees people finding solace in religion when they are in

How to ...

As you type this into Google, can you guess what Google suggests??? You will never guess ... the top suggestion is how to get pregnant. Yes. Well, who would have thought that on a planet bursting to the seams with seven billion humans, the top challenge folks are facing is how to make more babies ... poor westerners. Clearly, the folks who are mostly responsible for this baby boom are of the sort who do not use Google so much and the folks who are into Google are rather ... bad(???) ... at making babies. Whatever ...

Grim tales

Alzheimer's is a strange disease yet to yield to modern medicine. Cancer can be pretty devastating in its own way but Alzheimer's exacts quite a different toll by stripping a person of his or her personality. It's quite odd and perhaps impossible really to imagine what it would feel like to lose memory slowly and inexorably to a point where one no longer recognizes one's closest family members or friends. I do not even know how to analyze this disease ... where does this fit in in the story and context of human evolution for example. And why is it that this scourge is only rearing its ugly head now and not before in our civilization's history. Well, that's perhaps simple. The average human life span is increasing thanks to modern medicine and that unfortunately creates other demons that were so far latent — from cancer to heart disease to Alzheimer's. Well, humanity has seen and come to terms with other challenges and I hope we'll deal with this challeng

Flood Predictions

Apparently, computer models in Europe were giving clear indications five days before the event that floods were imminent in Pakistan. It remains to be seen whether these kind of modeling capabilities will be harnessed by nations in South Asia who tend to have a rather peculiar sense of priorities. Worth a moment's reflection ... what a heavy toll of human suffering.

My Mubarak to Hosni

The uprising in the ancient and fairytale land of Egypt should be interesting to observe for people in India which is also an ancient land in its own right. A country with a continuous civilization that has lasted 5,000 years. What is the likely nature of men and women of such a country? Are they likely to be 'revolutionaries' in spirit? Can people in such a country suddenly become all impatient revolutionaries after seeing all the wealth in the Western countries? How much of a factor has technology and the Internet been in all this? And oh, the obvious question — what implications for India? When will the hoi polloi of India also rise up? Will we see gatherings of millions in the heart of New Delhi ... perhaps in the sprawling area near the iconic India Gate (mind you, a British built monument). Not many people can fit into Central Park in the heart of Connaught Place unfortunately ... Necessity is often the mother of invention and in that spirit, the question that arises is w

My Date With the RBI

Yesterday was interesting. Being old-fashioned as well as being old, I still like crisp bank notes. So, I went to this land of Kuber in India to get some of those new notes. I was impressed with the security measures in place. One had to get a photo-pass after showing some photo ID. But once inside the main building, it was all a quaint government office — though clean. As you'll find in any government office, there were countless counters numbering 40 plus. However, pretty much all of those counters were closed with only one or two being functional. And lo and behold, when I joined the queue, they ran out of money ! So, a few of us folks had to twiddle our thumbs for a while waiting for cash to arrive which it eventually did and I returned with my meager 'cache' of new notes. It was interesting to visit the old heart of New Delhi with its numerous government offices with employees all sitting outside enjoying the balmy weather. The odd reporter from outside might even have

Radio tagging or radio collars ...

I am mostly trying to avoid this frivolous controversy which is just erupting about some Indian students studying in the U.S. But it does remind me again about how wonderfully Indians are able to zoom in on issues that are of absolutely zero importance while ignoring the important issues. Any day of the year, you will find some 'news' related to some movie stars ... either someone being spotted with someone or someone breaking up with someone else. Remember that other story which went on for a while about Indian students being beaten up down under. How many days ago was it when more than a hundred people died in a stampede at Sabarimala? Does anyone remember? What does that tell us about ourselves? I think our priorities are misplaced. It's okay to do candle light vigils about Jessica Lall's killer going scot free but it matters as well when people die who are not models. I think Indians inherently and automatically put a value on human life ... the richer you are, the

Missing Link

There is this 'myth' of there being some steps in the story of human evolution which are as yet unexplained as there is no fossil evidence to back that up. This myth persists because lazy folks like me do not like to read the many books authored on these matters by extraordinary men like Richard Dawkins. So, here's how my good friend cleared my own misconceptions on the matter: " The main argument against Evolution is that there are several missing links; in other words no transitional fossils have been found to show the existence of intermediate species. Firstly, Evolution is not progressive.For example several cave dwelling animals lost their eyes; similarly the common ancestor of horse and humans had five digits but horse has simple single digit feet. So human foot is more primitive. Man is not the pinnacle of evolution. Evolution is mostly managing with what is in hand; natural selection making subtle changes; not going back to the designer board to correct errors.