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.

Air India in the news

Air India has been in the news in recent for a lot of wrong reasons.

The New York Times has an article about the Airline here ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/31/business/global/31airindia.html?em

I guess all one can say in all fairness to a democratic government is that bailing out Air India is not as bad as bailing out the swarthy, shameless, devious, scheming millionaires on Wall Street.

October 29, 2009

Armageddon

What I fear most of all - being a resident of the National Capital Territory - is an earthquake.

I just had a strange feeling of something 'quaking' underneath me and being a resident in a multistoried building, my first thought was whether there was an earthquake ...

A killer earthquake can really devastate Delhi ... with millions of fatalities. I don't think people are adequately conscious of that possibility.

However, the only silver lining is that Delhi has been around for thousands of years without any Great Earthquake hitting it.

Although that is no guarantee that a major earthquake won't hit Delhi in the near future, the likelihood is perhaps not too great.

Certainly, we are probably in a better position than Tokyo ... one certainly has to hope so!!!

Maya Angelou Quotes

I thought to share these quotes from Maya Angelou...

Read on to see how special they are!

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, lauch, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.

People will forget what you said
People will forget what you did
But people will never forget how you made them feel.

There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.

I am capable of what every other human is capable of. This is one of the great lesons of war and life.

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

If we are bold, love strikes away the chains of fear from our souls.

Love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
A Brave and Startling Truth.

It is possible and imperative that we discover
A brave and startling truth.

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
And without crippling fear.

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonders of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

Hail NASA!!!

One can't be completely dispondant about the human condition as long as there are organizations like NASA in this world.

Take a random moment in time like today and let's see what NASA is upto right now.

Of course, Ares 1X was launched successfully on its first flight yesterday ... hopefully heralding a new era of manned exploration exploration of space.

Shuttle Atlantis will be launched in November ... as we approach the end of the Shuttle Era.

NASA also does fundamental science ... with the Great Observatories such as Hubble and Chandra.

The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has completed one year in space.

It's doing spectacular science!

October 28, 2009

Go Ares Go!!!

So, NASA was finally able to launch the first flight of Ares 1X today!

Spectacular!!!

And to think that this two and a half minute flight cost about half a billion dollars!

Of course, it's future is still uncertain ...

Primarily because of financial constraints ...

Underscoring how challenging it is going to be for countries like India to launch manned missions to the Moon.

Which explains why I take ISRO's confident predictions to that effect with a pinch of salt

October 27, 2009

And The Maoist Menace Grows ...

Today, the Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani was hijacked for some time by Naxalites ...

One more incident showing the growing threat posed by the movement.

One wonders how much of the movement is idealistic, what portion is self-serving, how much pure terrorism, what portion is out of coercion, etc.

I think the same combination is at work also in other places as well: be it Kashmir, or Taliban infested Afghanistan, and the many trouble spots in Africa.

It would seem therefore that it won't do much good to look at any of these problems as a one-dimensional law and order issue and try to crush them using crushing military strength.

Recently, I read that the Government of India was considering banning pre-paid mobile services in Kashmir as that was being misused by the terrorists ... imagine, the Govt. does not mind alienating 38 lakh innocent civilians to inconvenience a few thousand outlaws!

Amelia

Mira Nair's movie starring Hillary Swank has mostly drawn flak from critics for being too oversimplistic or too hagiographic or anodyne ... I saw one positive review in The Huffington Post though ...

I think Amelia Earhart's story is an inspiring human tale ... perhaps, if not in the United States, it should be compulsory viewing in the rest of the world ... especially those countries where females don't get the sort of life opportunities that they deserve ... particularly in some Muslim nations may be. Even in Hindu, traditional India, females need to be more like Amelia ...

A Grim Battle

Some extraordinary human stories that cancer brings into shart relief have been highlighted by Gina Kolata's story about the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/health/research/25anderson.html?em

The battle continues - between medical science and cancer. Who will win? That is probably not going to be decided in my lifetime ...

Humans have won occasional battles - some miracle drugs that cure some forms of cancer and other forms of treatment that manage to keep cancer under control ...

The war continues ...

I was just wondering why is it that it's only our spcies that suffers from this scourge - what about all the other thousands and millions of animal species? Why don't they suffer from cancer? Or, may be, they do, but evolution ensures that they don't survive and are thus weeded out.

Run Forrest Run!!!

That famous line now has scientific backing!

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/health/27well.html?_r=1&em

Tara Parker-Pope cites experts who have shown evolutionary advantages to humans being long distance runners.

I wish my right foot were all right in whcih case I could have tried to do jogging ...

My smoking also of course does not help the case as my lungs are in a pretty run down condition because of excessive smoking ...

Well, what the hell!

New Chairman for ISRO

Dr. Radhakrishanan.



Let me put the cat out of the bag right away! I would have loved to have been the Chairman!!!



Oh well ... may be, in my next incarnation ...



ISRO is of course doing quite well ... achieving laurels for the country. One looks forward to a successful completion of the GSLV launch with an indigenously built cryogenic stage.



That will eventually be used to power a true ICBM of course ...



Next, one looks forward to a manned space program ... all our own.



I don't know about sending Indians to the Moon though ...

At the height of the Cold War, NASA was able to achieve that feat only because National Pride was at stake.

Even the mighty Soviet Union has never managed to achieve that feat!!! Quite extraordinary when you come to think of that!!!

Let's us see if China and India are able to overtake Russia in that regard ...

October 25, 2009

IIMs to Travel Abroad

The Government of India has allowed the IIMs to open their branches abroad. This is a welcome development.

The IIMs have acquired immesurable amount of esteem within India. It is another issue how much Brand Equity they may have abroad.

Quanity does not always translate to quality - the fact that IIMs get 100 times as many applicants as the seats they have on offer is a fact but that is merely to do with the rather large population of the country itself.

I think it's also important to maintain a sense of exclusivity. The top B-schools of the world haven't necessarily spread their wings throughout the world.

INSEAD is the only top B-school which has campuses in two places: Paris and Singapore.

Be that as it may, one can only wish God Speed!!! to the IIMs in their new adventures

The Lure of the IITs

Education provides a ticket to get out of the dehumanizing poverty which is still a reality for many Indians.

In the case of the IITs, it's a passport to prosperity for the vast majority of middle-class Indians.

Very few HRD ministers seem capable of resisting the desire to meddle with the IIT JEE.

The latest move to give more weightage to scores in Class 12 seems designed to reduce the role of the coaching institutes.

Teachers in some of these institutes get a whopping 2 crores per annum. That was quite an eye-opener. But, it's just capitalism at work - meritocracy in full bloom. So, nothing wrong with that.

Although, one might argue that the skill to enable someone to qualify through the JEE should not be valued so much.

It just shows how much competition there is in India to try and get into these institutions and thereby ensure a prosperous life.

It's a complex web of events indeed.

Capitalism Redux

This is definitely an instance of capitalism in full bloom when brothers fight a battle in the Supreme Court of India to get richer.

The natural resources of a nation should benefit the people of the country. The entrepreneurs who help to harness those resources also deserve their fair share of benefit.

The problem arises when investors try to get access to the resources on the cheap and then proceed to derive extraordinary benefits from them without commensurate benefits accruing to the people.

Telecom licenses and spectrum are no less of a national resource than natural gas in today's world.

Inevitably, it appears that the awarding of licensing did not happen in as transparent a manner as it could have. The CBI is trying to find out if any wrongdoings were committed but it's hamstrung by the barriers that surround its functioning.

It's disgusting to see senior functionaries - old people basically - trying to make money using underhand means. I guess it's difficult to resist money when an opportunity presents itself to earn huge amounts of it.

No amount of changes to the statutes can take care of this malaise as it's a moral issue more than anything else.

When people are willing to do the wrong thing when they don't see any danger in so doing, they will find a way to do so.

October 17, 2009

Settling of the West

The story of how the American West came to be settled is a heroic human story. The men and women - the pioneers - chose to take many risks and leave behind their roots and venture into uncharted territory.

Not many people dare to do that. The hardships that they went through were real and backbreaking.

The victories that they won against various obstacles were truly remarkable.

I sometimes wish Indians were like that ... had some of that pioneer spirit.

The Holy Grail of a Weight Loss Drug

Pharam companies have tried for years to come up with a wonder drug to fight obesity in America. Mostly, that effort has been fruitless for various reasons.

The human body simply seems to be reluctant to let go of its weight.

Three California companies seem to be having some success in developing drugs. Let's see whether the FDA gives them the go-ahead and how well they fare in the marketplace.

Of course, eating less food and exercising would appear to be the best medicines.

In wealthy countries, food being relatively cheap compared to the incomes of people, it's easy to overeat. In poor countries, people tend to be lean as food is quite an expensive proposition and people have to spend their incomes judiciously and decide what to eat and not spend money needlessly on excess food.

It would be great if people in rich countries were to donate their extra money to people in poor countries but I don't think people would be inclined to do that. And that includes me as well.

I think when you want to give money to others, you also want to be able to influence their thinking at the least.

I can easily imagine helping others ... poor people in my own family, but I don't think I would be able to influence or change their thinking. And that fact makes me hesitant to want to help.

October 15, 2009

The Afghan Conundrum

President Obama is pondering what to do about Afghanistan. General McChrystal has asked for 40,000 more troops in addition to the existing 65,000 already on the ground.

The American military planners are trying to implement a policy of trying to win the hearts and minds of the local people and marginalize the Taliban.

Many others have tried to conquer the rugged terrain that is Afghanistan and failed.

America's recent 'success' in Iraq has given it hope that it can adopt a similar policy in Afghanistan.

But it's sobering to realize that Afghanistan is almost 50% larger than Iraq with almost as many people.

The people of Afghanistan are fare more poor and less educated that the people of Iraq. The population of Afghanistan consists of numerous tribes.

American forces in Vietnam totalled more than 5,00,000 at their peak but failed in their mission as they failed to win over the local population.

Hopefully, whatever America tries in Afghanistan will take into account all the lessons learnt in battles past.

There are probably lessons to be learnt for the Indian security forces operating in Kashmir as well.

Recently, there's talk that the govt. might ban pre-paid mobile services in the Valley as it was a 'security' threat. Well, that would be alienating 40 lakh people to tackle a 1,000 terrorists ... not a very bright idea.

October 14, 2009

The Future Preventing LHC from Working???

Dennis Overbye has written an intriguing article in the New York Times about some researchers who are giving a very interesting reasoning about why the Large Hadron Collider is going through so many birth pangs.

The scientists think that the Higgs boson which they think they will find at the kind of energies that the LHC will be able to generate is trying to prevent its own creation.

In what is certainly a pretty interesting thought, the scientists think that this is a case of the future trying to make sure that that future does not occur.

This is certainly interesting, if possible, as it shows that the idea of time travel is fundamentally not impossible.

October 13, 2009

Endless Current in Metal wires

Physics geeks at Yale University have found tiny currents ... really tiny!!! ... flowing in tiny rings of metal wires perpetually. This is like superconductivity but what we are talking about here is normal temperatures and normal materials - not superconducting stuff...

This is of course a quantum phenomenon and the kind of stuff which might win the researchers the Nobel Prize at some point in the future.

Way to go!!!

October 11, 2009

Medical Science vs. Religious Faith

In an interesting case, one couple was handed a jail term for failing to seek medical treatment for their sick kid. The parents, instead of taking the poor sick kid to a doctor, decided to pray for his recovery.

The kid died from his diabetes.

It's extraordinary to think that such superstitious or ill-informed people are there in the United States. But then half of the people in the United States do not believe in the Theory of Evolution. So, no wonder ...

Big Blue in Justice Net?

The Justice Department has launched an investigation into IBM's business practices as they pertain to mainframes.

IBM seems to be stifling competition in its core mainframe business which is highly profitable for it.

The result of this is not yet certain. It will be interesting to see what those will be.

October 10, 2009

Bill Safire Dies

William Safire died a few days ago. I remember reading his wonderful columns on language some years ago.

Tim Russert had died last year quite unexpectedly. Two wonderful commentators belonging to complementary fields.

I wonder if there are similar commentators in Indian media -- or, if that is at all possible.

I think the media and the powers that be in India might be too much hand in glove -- the media tycoons would be reluctant to upset the applecart by having straight-talking columnists on their payroll.

The reading public is also perhaps not looking so much at learning about the unvarnished truth as it's seeking to get some 'entertainment.'

People of India tend to have a rather convenient moral sense and their value system often tends to be 'relative.'

We need people who question Supreme Court decisions (and the necessary legal framework so that judges do not hide behind a 'contempt of court' wall) and who call a spade a spade or 'congenital liars.'

Astronauts and Nobel Winners

I was wondering if it's a bigger achievement to win a Nobel Prize or to become an astronaut.
Hundreds of people have won the Nobel Prize while only a dozen astronauts have landed on the Moon and two dozen in all have left Earth orbit.

Even the total number of astronauts who have been to space numbers in the hundreds -- I guess, in time, space travel will become commonplace once the technology for that is developed and then rocket travel might become as common as air travel.

Obama Wins Nobel

So, the Nobel Committee has sprung a surprise -- or, as one might say, sprung a rabbit out of the hat.

And the deabte is raging in full bloom!

My first reaction was one of happiness as I have no qualms admitting that I'm an Obama fan.

Is this premature?

Perhaps as the Nobel Committee has said this is a recognition of the window of opportunity that Obama has been able to open by the very fact of his being President.

Whether these opportunities turn into real victories ... only time will tell.

Often, or usually, that depends on many players ... in complex international affairs.

If one were to debate the deservedness of Nobel winners, one might debate whether Peres, Rabin and Arafat were deserving winners ... did they manage to carve out some sort of enduring peace deal out of their efforts?

I guess these are often open-ended questions with no definitiveness about them.

I have a feeling that Bill Clinton might have reacted with a lot of surprise ... I would love to see his public reaction. Being a smart guy that he is, I'm sure he'd give an appropriate reaction. Inside, he might be feeling that he has had more influence on people's lives through what he did during his years as President and through the work of his AIDS initiatives as well as the Clinton Global Initiative.

Really, it's an interesting point to think about -- how much of what happens can be credited to leaders and how much is a happenstance of history.

If one were to look at the golden run of the U.S. economy during the 90's, how much of the credit should go to the Administration and how much to the beneficial impact of technology and the transformative powers that it engendered.

I think a substantial portion of the credit for the U.S. economy's continuous growth goes to the initiative and innovative spirit of enterpreneurs.

When a crisis is 'man-made,' the role of leadership becomes more critical.

When one talks about the Second World War, for example, the role of leaders such as Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill as inspirational figures was important. But then, Stalin provided the bullwork on the Eastern front and that was a critical factor which is not to be forgotten. And Stalin was no saint -- no nation has sacrificed so much as the Russians in terms of human lives.

Churchill -- such a thoughtful thinker -- was an obstinate colonialist who wanted to perpetuate the British Empire.

October 08, 2009

What a Country!!!

I remember Tom Brokaw saying that in cocluding his tribute to Tim Russert at the Kennedy Center.

I want to say that in regards to my own country after coming across today's extraordinary news about a woman delivering a baby on a moving train's lavatory and the baby falling through on to the tracks and then miraculously surviving!

Here's a link to this extraordinary story in case you find this to be incredulous:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/6274383/Newborn-baby-falls-through-train-toilet-onto-tracks.html#

I rest my case ...

October 07, 2009

This Stupendous ... Humunguous Stupidity

Called "Karva Chauth" or some such thing.

I remember 20 or 30 years ago, my mom would go to the terrace of our officicial govenrment quarter and do some worshipping of the Moon on some day of the year.

I don't know what the occasion was but I was skeptical of that even then.

And now I find out that in North India, married folks have this crazy thing called Karva Chauth ...

I would never have thought it possible that people who appear to be so educated on the surface and make good money doing professional jobs would fall for all these non-sensical, meaningless rituals and traditions.

And sure enough I happened to see one channel airing the Bachchan family's observance of the same ...

I do not know how truly religious the Bachchans are ... since Amitabh almost came back from the dead after his famous accident, that experience might have made him particularly religious ...

Although for someone trained in science like me, such near death experienes would not necessarily lead me to suddenly become all pious and religious ...

Let me put this on the record: If I were married, I would not mind if my wife had affairs with other men (as long as she was honest with me about that), but I would certainly not tolerate such illogical nonsense as Karva Chauth, etc.

October 05, 2009

Mr. Ahuja and Mr. Polanski - and Mr. Letterman also

It's not incorrect to relate them is it???

The common thread being 'rape.'

What do you think about Shiny being accused of raping his maid? I think, plainly, the maid is trying to take advantage of her 'star' boss: a simple case of blackmail.

Mr. Letterman was smart enough not to give in to some blackmailer - although, there's no rape involved in his case.

People of France are rather tolerant about these matters. So, Mr. Polanski gets a patient ear on the continent.

He seems to have been caught in some game of global geopolitics. First, America forced the Swiss bankers to reveal to Uncle Sam about the folks who had 'secret' Swiss bank accounts. I am sure if the Indian government were to make a similar request, they would be swiftly rebuffed.

By the way, whatever happened to all that talk that about Indians having Swiss bank accounts which was happening around the time of the last national election? Now that the elections are over, everyone has conveniently forgotten about it. Of course, that was only to be expected. Probably, every bureaucrat worth his or her salt and every politician has got a secret Swiss bank account. So, any scheme to unearth these secret stuff would damage everyone's reputation. So, better to push the whole thing under the carpet as long as possible.

The case of Mr. Polanski and his 30-year-old case is rather curious. It's difficult to say with any amount of certainty what would be the right course of action to take in this case. Should one forgive and forget? Well, if it was a 'normal' case, of course, everybody would say 'No.' But, just because the accused in this case is a major movie director, should the wheels of justice move differently? Clearly, people should not get different treatment because of who they are.

So, at a simple level, it seems easy to say that Mr. Polanski should be punished just like any other defendant would be.

What Baby Boom!

Give me a break!

Probably that's how Indians would react if they knew about this phenomenon that's described as the post-World War II Baby Boom.

It's the generation of Bill Clinton and others who belong to his age group.

For those interested in arcane Americana, this Baby Boom refers to the eggregious increase in the number of babies that people were having ... this increase took place in the boom years following the end of the Second World War.

Those years, late 40s and all of the 50s saw Americans having more than 4 million babies a year. Of course, that's a laughable boom by Indian standards. Indians would defeat Americans in this game any day: Indians today give birth to anywhere between 20 million to 30 million babies in a year.

So, what boom are Americans talking about??? It's positively a baby drought rather than a baby boom.

Americans would need to do a lot more to compete with Indians in this regard.

And frankly, Americnas can't even hope or dream of matching Indians in this game.

And Indians have been at it, like, for ever!!!

Indians don't wait till their country wins a war, or some such silly occasion to get busy doing what they do best ...

So, I say, three cheers to the 'real' baby boomers, that is, Indians!!!

Keep it up, folks!

Don't let Americans, or anyone else for that matter, come close!

UC Berkeley and IITs

I read in a Bob Herbert column in the New York Times that UC Berkeley is suffering from all the woes afflicting California's budget.

I saw once that California has an economy that's larger than Russia's. UC Berkeley is apparently the pinnacle of California's public higher education system.

When governments face budget deficits, they often look at education expenditures as a low-hanging fruit. This is unfortunate, but perhaps pure 'research' into the origins of the human race or into the private life of some long-dead writer seems to be rather academic to budget planners compared to, say, unemployment allowance or health-related expenditures.

Again, within the broad umbrella of education, it's topics such as music education in schools which is often the first one to bear the brunt of budget cuts when times are tough. There is this wonderful movie called Mr. Holland's Opus starring Richard Dreyfus that depicts something of this over a 30 year period.

The travails afflicting UC Berkeley bring to mind the curious case of IIT professors indulging in hunger strikes, etc. closer to home.

The argument that IIT dons should be paid more because the students, once they graduate, get astronomical pay packets in the corporate world does not cut much ice to me. The job of a teacher is devoid of the kind of tension that people working in the corporate world are exposed to.

If anyone wants to earn fat pay packets, frankly, they should leave the teaching profession and enter the cutthroat world of business - academia is for those who are willing to be content and happy with moderate salaries. All that dons should demand should be world-class libraries and research facilities.

It would be odd indeed if you want to adopt the career of a teacher - a nobel profession - that is almost synonymous with the word 'stability' and seek the financial rewards that go with the uncertainties of the world of business.

The corporate world no doubt offers astronomical pay packets, but when you are not needed, you can be fired no matter how fat your pay packet might be. At that moment, many of these high-flyers yearn for the stability and job security of academic life although the pay packet might be lower.

In general, it's basically a case of the grass being green on the other side. And it's always going to remain that way.

Unique In-Flight Entertainment

The recent case of in-flight fighting between the pilots and cabin crew of an Air India must have been a heart-stopping experience for the passengers. I would love to hear from one of the 'lucky' ones who witnessed it.

I'm sure they would board their next flight with more than a slight sense of trepidation.

But, all is well that ends well - since nobody really got 'hurt' in this incident, it will merely be an amusing anecdote for the 'guinea pigs' to tell their grandkids.

I wish something similarly entertaining - of course, harmless - takes place the next time I fly. Frankly, I'm not all that attached to life that I would have paroxisms thinking that I'm going to die. The only thing I'd worry about is getting wounded seriously but not dying - leading to a life as a handicapped person.

October 04, 2009

India finds water on the Moon

So, India found water on the Moon!!!

That was the over-simplied headline in all the newspapers and on TV channels. However, the reality is, of course, as usual a little bit more complicated than that!

The simple truth is that a NASA payload, the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) found spectroscopic evidence of trace quantities of water on the Moon.

This is not really all that of a revolutionary finding. In fact, this was kind of a discovery waiting to happen or waiting for confirmation.

It is of course not as if anyone has found great flowing rivers or oceans of water on the Lunar surface - that ain't gonna happen, ever!!!

The fact is this: the Moon is not where the game is as of now in terms of space exploration! All the big boys of space (U.S., Russia) have explored Moon in the sixties.

The game, if India wants to play, is on Mars right now.

It really is a simple matter of how much resource(a.k.a. money) you are willing to put into it. Space science is pricey and nations have to decide how much taxpayer's money they can spare for the effort.

Even NASA doesn't have access to limitless resources - in fact, NASA is hamstrung because of lack of resources.

So, a developing nation such as India won't be able to devote more than token amounts of money towards these 'luxurious' endeavors.

India is awash in problems that are far more down to earth: problems of poverty, of lack of education, of mannutrition, of too many babies dying too young, too many women dying during childbirth, drinking water shortages, lack of adequate road infrastructure, lack of electricity in the villages, overpopulation, etc. etc.

It would be futile to expect Indians to suddenly expect to acquire the foresight tha space exploration is where the true future of humanity lies and to devote limitless resources to it.

Of course, I believe the next great age of human exploration will happen once humans acquire the means to look for other habitable planets around other stars in nearby regions in the Milky Way galaxy.

Then, nations will compete to send craft and humans to those planets. This might be some sort of a replay of rivalries that took place on the oceans of the world a few centuries ago when countries such as England, France, Spain, Portugal and others fought to colonize nations of the globe.

The inevitability of humanity turning into a space-faring civilization, however, lies in a still dim and distant future from the perspective of the early 21st century.

I am sure I would be long dead by when all this happens. But, that doesn't make it meaningless to talk about that future!!! In fact, it is absolutely relevant and essentiall to already look forward to such a glorious future.

What else is there to do? Worry about what to eat tomorrow or what to wear tomorrow?

The European sea-faring nations showed remarkable prescience when they chose to venture into the unknown seas and it remains to be seen which nations show similar vision when it comes to exploring the vastness of space. By all evidence, it seems that Americans and others are again to be the winners in this race as well - alas, India is nowhere in the picture!

Obama explains his Olympic failure

I am sure journalists would be chafing at the bit to ask Obama for his reaction regarding his apparent failure to win for Chicago the 2016 Olympics.

So, here's a fictitious Q-and-A about the same.

Q: Mr. President, how would you react to Chicago losing the bid to host the 2016 Olympics inspite of you being personally present in Copenhagen?

A: Well, I am happy that you asked that question. First of all, I want to congratulate Rio on their excellent bid - as it turned out, the winning one.

I am sure Rio will host an wonderful Olympic Games.

With respect to Chicago, it's my home town and I love Chicago and I was asked to go and support their bid and that's what I did because I was convinced and I am still convinced that Chicago would do a stellar job of it.

However, the IOC is an independent body and they have their rules of the game and they applied those rules and it turned out that Chicago came up short and I respect the IOC and agree with their decision.

I am sure Chicago will get another chance and they will do an even better job of bidding for it than they did this time around and then they'll be able to convince the folks of the IOC.

Chicago - 0, Rio - 1, New Delhi - Minus 4

So, Chicago lost the bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics despite President Obama's presence to support the city's bid.

May be, the former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich would have been more suited to the job.

Now that 2016 has gone to Rio and Copacabana, where does that leave sadi Delhi?

I think we can forget about Delhi 2020.

Although, considering the population of Asia, it won't be illogical to expect that in 2020, it should be an Asian city'g turn to host the Games.

But that Asian city would most likely be a South Korean or Japanese city, not an Indian one.

That would mean 2024 would go to an African nation - it should really.

So, the earliest India can eye hosting the Olympics appears to be 2028 or 2032.

I don't see myself hanging around anywhere near this planet at that time!!!

Kobad Ghandi

The recent arrest of Kobad Ghandi was the first time I came to learn about this remarkable life.

I say this is a remarkable life because it's definitely an unusual life: this was a person born with a silver spoon in his mouth who chose to forego pursuing all the opportunities that naturally open up if you have the privilege of education as he had.

I remember Robert Kennedy talking about this and the natural desire to live a life of personal ambtion and financial success: that's what most of us aspire to do.

It's good to see in this atmosphere of overwhelming conformity as exists in Indian society that there are still individuals who are willing to live life on their own terms.

The benefits or otherwise of the naxal movement are of course open to debate. What's important is that there should be people with different points of view: such as an Arundhati Roy.

People claim that she's an useless armchair intellectual taking up fashionable causes. People complain about human rights activists when these activists complain about police staging fake encounters.

The dangers of cutting corners with the core values of democracy may not be apparent too quickly: but when the values corrode, the damage will become apparent eventually.

It's important in a democratic set up to have room for debate: after all, British society had rebels such as Bertrand Russell who didn't agree with the official position about the War.

We need more subersives in India, and not less ...

Being a child of the sixties

The other day, my boss referenced a speech by Prince Charles wherein he talked about 'cabuncles.'

That was a speech the Prince had made in 1984 - as I later found out.

I didn't know about that speech. I have fascination for the decade of the sixties. The reason for that being that the 60s were a tumultuous decade. That decade saw a lot of turbulence but turbulence is often the fountainhead for human creativity.

People need to have tumult in their lives for them to question conventinal wisdom and accepted truths.

Every generation should try to 'reinvent the wheel'; indeed, think of it as a sacred duty to do that. I am thinking of the values of life or what is handed down to us as revealed truth.

In the India that we live in today, there's too little of the kind of questioning that took place in the United States during the decade of the sixties.

So, we see this younger generation of Indians so at ease with their cellphones clinging on to some very old and meaningless rituals that have been handed down to them from their parents.

I find that astonishing: the use of cellphones or other high-tech devices doesn't make a person modern. Particularly, if the person's thinking is rooted in the 17th or the 19th century.

The entire purpose of education is lost when people study merely to get a degree but do not absorb any values from whatever education they may have had.

To illustrate, if we have been fortunate enough to have studied about 'evolution,' we should think deeply about it and whether the principles are in accord with our own received beliefs or whether there's any conflict between the two.

And I believe there's in fact a fundamental conflict between all religions and the principles of evolution. In that case, we have to dare to take sides: either the side of our parent's religions or the side of evolution in which case we have to be brave enough to be able to say that our parent's religious beliefs are mostly wrong to the extent that they talk about any historical occurances. Religions might provide a solid moral fabric or guidelines to live one's life by, but that's all that they can claim to do. They can't claim to be 'true.' Religions are merely fables. And if people need fables to help them live moral lives, then so be it. But it's rather infantile that people should need the fear of God to be 'good' human beings.

Similarly, if we have been fortunate enough to have studied about quantum physics and modern astronomy and astrophysics, we should take that to heart. The spectacular insights that these branches of science offer into the nature of the universe we inhabit is incredibly suprior to anything that is provided by any religion. But, science is hard. It takes time and effort to learn the principles of science. So, it's understandable why people prefer to believe the easy solutions offered by religion.

Also, religions have had far more time to percolate into people's minds: hundreds and thousands of years literally.

On the other hand, science is relative new.

Hopefully, in time, say 500 years from now, people will look back with incredulity at how gullible humans in the 20th century were to believe such silly things as there are in any religion.

October 01, 2009

On Gandhi

I was wondering what would a Gandhi do if he were born in the India of today … If the country that he was born in were not under British rule, what would he do?

May be, grow up to become a lawyer as he had done originally and become a practicing lawyer — may be in the Supreme Court — and make money … Or, would be notice the inequities existing in society and find them incomprehensible and intolerable and seek to remove them?

May be, he would notice the glaring differences in living standards: such as people traveling in cars and simultaneously people begging.

But then socialistic notions of distributing wealth amongst everyone in an equitable manner probably doesn’t work: as has been shown by the failures of socialism/communism in Russia or China. The Soviet Union of course imploded while China’s leaders were smart enough to recognize the imminent failure and decided that “a cat has to be able to catch mice whether it’s black or white.”

Another thought is this: what if Gandhi were to revisit the land he helped free … perhaps, he would be disappointed with all the inequities that still exist. On the other hand, he might feel completely at home in the India of today … that is to say, he would feel that his country had not changed all that much! Which perhaps doesn’t say too much about us!

In the same vein, I was wondering what if all the founding fathers of America were to revisit the United States today — I’m sure they would be mighty proud of all that America has accomplished in the ensuing 200 years after their spectacularly successful revolution. But slowly as they see the rising discord in the political arena and how much of a pseudo-democracy it has become and how much the lobbyists are able to influence the decision-making process in Washington, they might slowly get somewhat disenchanted that the system they had built had been compromised to such a sorry extent.

I guess both the United States and India are in some ways still works-in-progress — the task of building a more perfect union continues.

When Manmohan Singh and Barack Obama have their prolonged get-together in Washington in Novemember, may be they will have time to reflect on all this ... or, may be, they won't ...
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