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Showing posts from June, 2009

A Tipping Point for the Planet

Paul Krugman had some harsh words for climate change deniers in his recent New York Times column:

With his customary clear-thinking, he has wondered about the implications of the narrow margin with which the Waxman Markey bill passed in the House.

The scary part about all this is if legislators in advanced nations find it hard to come to a consensus about climate change, what would be the fate of similar bills in legislatures in less developed nations such as China and India ...

Will people realize the gravity of the issue only when the dire consequences predicted by scientists become real and people start dying?

When hurricanes with the ferocity of Katrina become annual events rather than unusual anomalies and droughts become commonplace around the world, perhaps people will begin to realize that we can't go on burning fossil fuel without suffering consequences.

Death of Michael Jackson

This day marks the end of a tumultuous life … I was thinking oddly enough about whether MJ will be part of the In Memoriam section on Oscar night next year …

The extraordinary levels of fame that accrues to people in the entertainment industry is a strange and new phenomenon of the 20th century and beyond … the extraordinary power of music to touch people in the deepest possible way is something quite mysterious.

Bob Dylan talked about people listening and liking a song that he had written and thinking that they knew him … but really, of course, they didn’t. That’s true for all music and all musicians.
Unlike Bob Dylan, most musicians revel in the public adulation that they get … indeed, it tends to be the primary purpose of their music to gain that public acclaim.

But what’s it in a person’s ability to sing well or dance well that makes them so appealing to so wide a spectrum of the population? Are humans so fundamentally a species hardwired to ‘like’ these talents? From an evolutionary …

Running A Marathon

I read just the other day that Mark Bittman is preparing to run the New York Marathon.
I find that astonishing as he's someone with a 30-year-old daughter.
It's also a challenge to a 30-something guy like me and to all persons who are in a similar age group.

Here's a link to the story:

I have only just started walking a little bit whenever possible ... I try to do it everyday. Even that is a big achievement for me ... but I've realized the age-old wisdom of health is wealth after being especially ill for a somewhat prolonged period of time ...
I am unfortunately still carrying the damage sustained from a fall on the stairs on my right foot, which starts paining when I put too much stress on it ...

Not to mention, of course, the other manifold damages that I carry such as those from smoking ...

Be that as it may, if I can someday run …

Climate Change

Yesterday, I tried to view Dr. John Holdren releasing the latest report on climate change but could not download it after several attempts because of some intermittent power troubles ... even could not watch it from the White House page on YouTube as it was not playing in a continuous manner ... don't know if there was some issue with my net connection or with the speed of YouTube as I am usually able to watch streaming videos without much trouble ...

With respect to my broad opinions/inclinations about climate change, I can say that I've watched with fascination both of Al Gore's famous Senate depositions — the older one before the Senate EPW Committee and the newer one before the Senate FRC. Of course, I've watched An Inconvenient Truth.

Recently, I learned that Freeman Dyson is a 'skeptic' about the effects of human actions on climate change. I very much believe that the issues related to climate change need to be examined with proper scientific skepticism but…

The Perils of Tradition

Today the news pages report that Aamir Khan is going to have a baby.
Today also marks the end of a life — Habib Tanvir.
And a celebrity has been arrested for carrying declared jewellery into the country.
The stock markets continue their see-saw movements.
dead bodies continue to be found from the Air France plane crash.
Some trifling developments from the T20 World Cup.
Federer of course has equalled Pete Sampras' career Grand Slam wins.
A random day in the life of India.
"The Perils of Tradition" basically references the fact that Indians tend to be happy to live their everyday lives.
People basically don't like upheavals in their lives.
Even the young generation isn't necessarily designed to seek out revolutions.
That's a sad fact that I've discovered recently.
Perhaps, someone like Jawaharlal Nehru who lived almost a century ago was more progressive than most Indians who are alive today.
Come to think of that!!!

Obama and the Clash of Civilizations

President Obama was in Cairo recently and addressed students of Cairo University.
Egypt is of course one of the oldest civilaztions on the planet with the pyramids having been built some 5,000 years ago — the human mind with a human lifespan of 60/70 years is certainly incapable of making sense of a timeframe that long.
A city like Cairo must have seen so much through the thousands of years of its history.
Today, it stands at the crossroads of the 'Clash of Civilizations' debate between Western and Islamic civilizations.
President Obama sought to 're-connect' with the 'alienated' Muslim world by this speech.
He addressed some central issues:
Iran's march towards acquiring nuclear weapons,Israel's right to exist,the right of the Palestininian people to a homeland,the threat of Al Qaida and Taliban in Pakistan/Afghanistan,the plight of women ... or, the 'right' of women to live the way they want to ... whether they want to get educated and pursue a care…

Does India Need an Obama?

There was an interesting debate/discussion on TV a month or two ago on the subject of whether India needed an Obama ...
I realized some time later as I was thinking about the topic that India has had a few leaders in its recent history who have been Obama-like in many ways ...
Who would dispute the fact that Nehru was an ideal kind of leader — someone who combined democratic thinking with a rational/scientific spirit and great intellect/intelligence.
Nehru was a great writer and a good orator as well ...
So, do we need an Obama? Well, one could rephrase that and say: Do we need a Nehru for the 21st century?
And the answer to that would certainly be 'Yes.'
Nehru was probably more 'progressive' in his thoughts and beliefs and actions than most Indians living today.
Nehru was famously an 'agnostic' — perhaps that was more of a nod to the age and the country that he lived in ... if he didn't have to make allowances for the fact that he was a public person in a backwar…

Do Gray Hairs Signify Wisdom?

In traditional societies like that of India, old people are accorded a lot of respect.
Is this well-deserved or a relic from the past?
I believe the 'tradition' of respecting one's elders is a relic from a time in our past when society was essentially agrarian.
If you think of how such a society functions, skills are handed from generation to generation — farmers' kids grow up to become farmers and carpenters' kids grow up to become carpenters, and so on . . .
In such a society, kids acquire their 'professional' skills from their fathers . . . so, obviously they need to 'respect' their elders as the elders are the ones with the 'knowledge.'
In the modern world, kids acquire their life skills in schools and colleges and make of their lives whatever they wish to by learning the necessary skills.
As far as the color of the hair goes, scientists can tell you about the technical reasons behind hair turning gray.
Black hair is black because of the melani…

The Miracle of Flight

The recent crash of an Air France A330 over the Atlantic Ocean reminds one what a miracle of technology aeroplanes really are.
They're truly a marvel of technology and engineering — no words can really capture how fascinating this technology is for me.
From the halting baby steps taken by Orville and Wilbur Wright in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina some 106 years ago to the transoceanic flights of today — humanity's genius and ingenuity has produced quite an extraordinary piece of equipment.
As with everything else in life, of course, we don't appreciate how astonishing this all is — we have gotten used to the fact of 400 people flying on a airplane for 15 hours non-stop and crossing continents.
These aeroplanes fly at a cruise altitude of some 35,000 feet where the atmospheric temperature is about minus 30 degrees Celsius.
These airplanes fly at a speed of some 800-900 kms.

Need to condemn homeopathy?

Researchers have urged WHO to "publicly condemn homeopathy as a treatment for serious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria."
The researchers are concerned as some patients have reportedly paid with their lives as a result of choosing homeopathy over more effective treatment options.
Homeopathy may not be the only culprit of this nature — one wonders how many Indians take the nonsense propounded by sadhus/yogis and other varieties of Godmen seriously.
These self-proclaimed "learned" folk don't hesitate to propound remedies to all sorts of diseases — whether it be AIDS or cancer or any other life-threatening or serious condition.
These claims are never put to a scientific scrutiny — the kind of scrutiny that every drug goes through before getting to the market.
These Godmen are allowed to escape scot-free no matter how many people might have died as a result of following their hair-brained advice.
People of India are of course very fond of "miracle cures.&q…

Drink — and earn bowel cancer

Researchers have found a connection between excessive drinking of alcohol and the incidence of bowel cancer in that population — apparently, more than seven drinks per week leads to a 60 percent greater probability of acquiring the disease.
The ill-effects of smoking are of course too well known to need any repetition whatsoever.
One is likely to acquire — or the probability of one's acquiring increases — about 50 different types of cancer on account of smoking.
With all the links that researchers have found between smoking and disease in particular, one would have thought that non-smokers would be immortal. But that doesn't seem to be the case apparently . . .

Reevaluating Reagonomics

Sometimes knowledgeable people have the tendency to show off their knowledge too much by intentionally complicating their message.
Then there are others who make it their business to communicate complicated ideas to the general public using language that everyone can understand.
In the sphere of science, no one comes close to Carl Sagan when it comes to explaining science to everyone using spectacularly passionate language.
Paul Krugman's columns are similar — bereft of economic technobabble and illuminating.
His latest column in the New York Times makes interesting reading — if nothing else, it was good to see someone criticizing Reagan.
I've been watching with some skepticism all the praise that has been praised on President Reagan — particularly since his death(?).
Apart from all the logical historical analysis, it seems somewhat implausible that a minor Hollywood actor would necessarily have the qualities required to make f…

The Australian Prophecy

The recent 'outbreak' of 'racist' attacks against Indian students has created quite a stir in India.
Indians — some of them, at least — have suddenly discovered that Australians are a racist bunch . . .
I wonder what happened to all the happenings on the cricket field from years past which gave very voluminous hints that Australians were not quite a combination of Mahatma Gandhi/Nelson Mandela/Dr. Martin Luther King . . .
I am completely at a loss to understand why some Indians expect to be treated as anything but 'outsiders' in a foreign land . . .
I do not understand why Indians have to go to Australia . . . Oh, they apparently go there to 'study' . . .
Well, I don't know that Australia boasts of many world-class universities . . .
I am sure India has got many institutions of caliber . . .
Somehow, I suspect the reason why some Indians like to go to Australia is not purely because of 'academic' reasons — I think these folks just want to get out o…

General Motors is Bankrupt

This day marks the end of the road for an icon of American industry . . .
Such is the nature of free-markets and capitalism . . .
This is good actually — even dinosaurs dominated the planet in their own heyday, but when they could not adapt to a changing planet, they perished entirely . . .
GM is trying to evolve from a dinosaur to something more agile and nimble . . . may be, become a mammal like a cow or something that would be more in tune with the planetary environment of today . . .
This is of course a novel and unprecedented experiment in corporate evolution whose eventual outcome is far from certain . . .
The eventual shape of the global automative industry is pretty unclear and not many experts would dare to stick their neck out and predict a definitive direction that this process is going to travel in . . .
Who knows whether the coming decades will see a predominance of hybrid vehicles or electric vehicles or hydrogen-powered vehicles or whether we will see the creation of nation-w…