January 31, 2010

God and natural calamities

People have an uncanny ability to see the 'hand of God' in the unlikeliest of places.
The unpredictable nature of natural calamities is a perfect fit for that.
The article below shows how little human perceptions have changed when it comes to how they see the role of the Almighty.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/24/opinion/24wood.html?pagewanted=1

I always find it incredibly selfish when people who survive an earthquake thank God for taking care of them.

Then there are those chaps ... astrologers. They always claim to have predicted the natural calamity after the fact. Nobody that I know of has said definitively as of now about what disasters are going to strike the planet in the next 10, 20, or 50 years.

But when the big catastrophe strikes, these astrologers will come out of the woodwork and seek to take credit for having predicted it.

January 29, 2010

Animals and Man ...

The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth. -Henry Beston.

Wonderful and lyrical ...

Seems similar to Loren Eiseley …

Man is an animal as well …

All animals have reached where they have through evolution spanning millions of years …

I think of the planet as it would have been in the age of the dinosaurs … a reptilian world.

Go back a hundred thousand years in time and the planet was lush with greenery and mammals would have been roaming all over the North American and South American and African plains … wildebeests and zebras and bisons and lions and tigers and wild horses perhaps … not many humans around.

Today, humans have come to be the lord and master of this planet … the keeper as well as the destroyer to some extent.

What of the future?

I think of a future without humans …

Humans are after all products of some random mutations.

May be, evolution might have stopped with our simian brethren …

I am trying to imagine a world with only the humans somehow eliminated. Who would dominate such a planet?

May be, a dynamic balance would prevail between predator and prey as it does in jungles all over the world.

Can evolution stop? Does evolution stop? Is it inevitable that once life and evolution begin, that process would eventually and relentlessly lead to the creation of ‘intelligent’ species such as humans?

Certainly, there’s no shortage of time for evolution to proceed at its own languorous pace.

We ourselves bear witness to perhaps millions of years of evolutionary heritage. The Earth was arguably mostly barren until the time of the Cambrian explosion some 500 million years ago.

So, for about 4,000 million years, the planet was in some ways mostly barren.

And out of its 4,700 million year history, humans have appeared on stage in the last 0.1 million years.

And the planet has probably as many years ahead of itself.

If nothing occurs to destroy the planet, there’s no reason why it would not go on and on … revolving around its home star … until that star itself reaches the end of its life and begins to die.

What are humans going to accomplish in all those millions and millions of years ahead of us?

The pace of human development is ever accelerating …

In the last one hundred years, we have accomplished more technologically than in all our past history combined.

Surely, in this century, we’ll accomplish at least 10 times as much as we accomplished in the last.

And so on.

In a thousand years from now, when we will be long gone from the stage of the world and our memory will be long gone (is that the understatement of the century?), humans will …

I do not know where our descendants will be then …

I think we will have evolved into some sort of bionic creatures … half human and half machine … perhaps immortal.

I think the galaxy is teeming with planets around other stars.

I look forward to humanity discovering all those planets. I don’t know whether those planets would be mostly teeming with homegrown life already. Else, we humans can colonize them and terraform them.

Humans will become a species that grows from being residents of one planet to having outposts across the galaxy … a long range process that will surely take thousands upon thousands of years.

We will certainly need to spread to other planets …

I believe humans will some somehow learn to solve the riddle of life and death and humans will also always want to have kids.

So, we will need more and more planets where all these billions of humans can be located.

Too fascinating a future.

What of our time on this planet? Is it the best of times or the worst of times?

Many have written (I think I have Carl Sagan in mind as I write this) that they have felt lucky to have lived when they did.

May be we are lucky that we live in a time when science has revealed to us most of the workings of nature and we are not mystified when natural processes occur … rain, storms, earthquakes, tides in the oceans, solar eclipses, lightening, etc.

The flip side is that we are still a relatively primitive society in terms of technology … and what is worse is knowing that certain things will inevitably become possible in the future … but not now.

For example: I am sure in a hundred years from now, people would be travelling to Mars over the weekend … if not to the edge of the Solar System just to take a look back at our home planet which would appear to be a ‘pale blue dot’ (to borrow again from Sagan) from near the orbit of Uranus ...

January 22, 2010

End of Life Issues ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/health/12seco.html?em

Not so Idiotic After All ...

That's how I would rate 3 Idiots.

I am loath to apply different yardsticks to judge Bollywood and Hollywood movies.

So, when I saw 3 Idiots, I immediately sought to measure it against the best of Hollywood that I had experienced.

And I thought I could immediately name 10 Hollywood movies that are 10 times better and that I have seen multiple times and would continue to watch in the future ...

I thought like every Bollywood movie, this movie was too long as well ... the jokes seems forced ... and not so funny.

Let me mention a few random Hollywood movies that are my favorites ...

  1. Crimson Tide
  2. Clear and Present Danger
  3. Armageddon
  4. Forrest Gump
  5. A Few Good Men
  6. The Pursuit of Happyness
  7. Enemy of the State
  8. Terminator 2/Men in Black/Mission Impossible I/II/III
  9. As Good As It Gets
  10. Something's Gotta Give

Well, that's my random list ... as the list shows, I am no connoisseur of Hollywood movies, but ...

Mr. Justice

The controversy regarding the appointment of a judge of a High Court to the Supreme Court continues off and on. The said justice is accused of being involved in some land scam.

Very sad state of affairs indeed. But, perhaps it's the least hidden secret that one can bend the judiciary to one's will by spending the required amounts of money.

Well, I will be fighting my own battle with ABN AMRO Bank, which seems to be a thoroughly corrupt organization. So, I will have my day in court and shall have an opportunity to witness first hand how corrupt or otherwise the Indian judiciary is.

I guess people like Justice J. S. Verma are rare creatures indeed.

Generally Speaking

Our revered Army Generals after all turned out to have feet of clay.

Surveys generally tend to show the Army as the most 'trusted' institution, as the one institution that has not succumbed to the rot that has become an intrincsic part of most or all other institutions of India.

But I always thought that this was a somewhat wishful sort of thinking. If the Army is not as tainted with corruption as other institutions, may be the simple reason for that is that the Army does not have too much scope for indulging in corrupt activities.

Where there is some scope for indulging in corruption, Army men show themselves as susceptible to the lure of the lucre as any other Indian.

So, the recent land scam in which top generals seem to be involved was not really unexpected. In a country where politicians and bureaucrats and others routinely indulge in scams running into thousands of acers, what is a few acres of land ...

I say, let's give them some slack, shall we?

The Greatest Injustice

In the midst of the plethora of problems afflicting India, there is one problem which stands out. It is the problem of child labor, of kids working as rag pickers.

Just yesterday, as I was out on a walk near my home, I saw a little girl standing on the side of the road crying with a sack on her shoulders.

It turned out she was not lost or in any great danger. Her 'home' was quite close ... one of those roadside affairs.

But that image has stayed with me ... I think it is the greatest failure of Indian society that we are willing to tolerate such injustices. I wish I could or would do something for that kid, for her education.

What would she grow up to become?????????????????????????????????????

How does it matter what car or bike we drive or how big our home is? How does it matter how big our refrigerator or TV is?????????????????????????????????

Life has got to be bigger than that. Let's do something about these kids!!!

I hope my conscience will prick me enough that I will choose to do something tangible about these dire problems of India.

The Most Important Thing

I wander sometimes about the most important thing that we are doing as a species.

In the broadest sense possible, I think it has got to be our scientific endeavors because science is the only human endeavor which has some universal validity.

Of all the diverse scientific undertakings of human beings, the single endeavor that can be a game changer is the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

More than other possible pathbreaking breakthroughs, say finding a vaccine for AIDS or a cure for most types of cancer, if we find intelligent civilizations elsewhere in the universe, that will fundamentally change our place in the universe.

Unfortunately, most of us humans are too engrossed in our mundane, daily affairs to think too much about these abstract things. Indeed, I believe this search is a far from abstract quest.

In spite of great communicators such as Carl Sagan, humanity's other more ancient instincts continue to hold sway over its thinking.

Alas ...

January 20, 2010

Dot Com Boom ...

It almost seems light years away since all that boom and bust but lessons have hopefully been learnt.

This book is about one part of that orgasm of greed.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704381604575005324219222924.html?mod=WSJ_article_MoreIn

Who can blame all these folks in finance when all of society including the media seems so breathless in talking about and applauding their money-making genius.

We never get similarly breathless in discussing scientific achievements ...

Did you hear about the Fred Hutchinson scientists who have managed to find a way to shorten the time it takes for the human body to accept cord blood!!! That one is going to be a life saver for leukemia patients but it's not quite as exciting to talk about that as it to talk about fancy yachts belonging to a multimillionaire.

How exciting to see that final Hubble servicing mission happen in real time live on NASA TV!!!

Or, may be not as exciting as celebrity gossip ...

Harried as we are with our stressed out lives, we look for relaxation in soft news and democracy slows turns into a caricature of itself. Few people in key positions learn to manipulate laws and regulations to their advantage and proceed to become overnight millionaires and billionaires.

The irony is that it is precisely this competitive and egotistic aspect of human nature which often leads to our progress.

So, may be, we'll just have to learn to live with the many distortions ...

Savita Bhabi

Well, it seems the Government of India is up to its usual censoring ways ...

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126327347865425871.html?mod=WSJ_hp_us_mostpop_read

It's not as bad as what the Chinese are doing in battling Google. The Internet is awash in pornography and the feeble attempts of the Govt. of India won't be able to stem the tide.

The Govt. should merely restrict itself to ensuring that there's no child pornography or trafficking of humans.

There are problems galore for the Govt. to worry about as it is ...

January 18, 2010

Remembering Jyoti Basu

Are we indulging in that old practice of "do not speak ill of the dead?"
The truth of the matter is that West Bengal, once home to the capital city of the British Raj, is in decline.
But perhaps that reflects on the caliber of the people of the state more than it does on the caliber of the leadership or the ideology of governance.
Jyoti Basu's achievements in the area of land reforms is touted as a great achievement and it is one. In a country as endemically poor as India, providing land to millions of landless peasants is indeed a great achievement.
But Bengal has lagged behind in industrialization in comparison to other states.
Perhaps the present government realizes that fact and is trying to make up for past mistakes.
My wish is to see Bengal prosper since Bengalis are a people with great intellectual abilities.

I also remember all these encomiums being bestowed on Reagan when he died and I was wondering about all his achievements as a President.
I was also wondering yesterday about how many of the young generation of Indians would have heard of this man ...
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