July 31, 2010

To Be Or Not To Be

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/books/review/Verghese-t.html?_r=1&hpw

Well, not quite. But the quest for immortality seems somewhat like that in some ways.

When you come to think of it, if it were possible to be immortal, it's indeed a valid question whether being immortal is worth it.

We pass through the usual stages of life. And that reminds me that we often hanker for the halcyon days of wore — somehow, memory can play tricks and we tend to remember the good parts and forget the bad parts and we wish to be young again, perhaps to be kids again with not a care in the world ...

But the idea behind immortality is different ... it's simply to extend life forever. But then, at what stage will we be ... for that 'forever'? Clearly, we will perhaps remain adults ... I am sure nobody wants to live as a doddering old toothless guy forever. Death seems to be a better choice than living with the body failing in so many ways.

The process of aging is so, so deeply imprinted into the design of the human body that it seems to be a really tough task ... I don't know if scientists will come up with a way to keep us immortal ... and more importantly, whether that will be worth it.

Although, like Sagan says, I am also interested in being a witness to 'how history turns out.'

I am curious to know where humanity will be a hundred years from now ... and I am curious to know where we will be in A.D. 3001. Perhaps Arthur Clarke has written that there will be buildings then that will stretch from the ground to the geostationary orbit.

Will that come to pass in another ... 990 years from now? Or, will people then read the book and chuckle at the idea ... who knows what direction humanity's future will take ... who knows if we will survive our technological adolescence ... though, the specter of Armageddon in the form of a nuclear Final War has perhaps gone, other global killers might be there out there somewhere ...

Perhaps a meteor like the one that decimated the dinosaurs might yet take us out. Who knows, the Earth's core might become unstable ... what if something goes wrong with the Sun and it grows 10 times its present size and the average temperature on the surface of the Earth becomes 800 degrees centigrade ...

Well, there I go ... painting doomsday scenarios galore ... ah well, let's not worry about things that we can't do much about ... let's make babies ... that's what Indians are good at, after all.

Cheers!!!

July 28, 2010

The Second World War by Martin Gilbert

The number of those who died in the Second World War will never be known with precision. Tens of millions of men, women and children were killed without any record being made of their names, or of when or how they died. Millions of soldiers were killed in action without anyone recording their names, or marking the place where they fell.

Many calculations have been made of the number of war dead. In the war between China and Japan, which began two years before the war in Europe, it has been estimated that six million Chinese civilians were killed. The Soviet Union suffered ten million deaths in action, on land, in the air and at sea. A further 3,300,000 Soviet soldiers were killed after they had become prisoners-of-war. Seven million Soviet civilians also died; a death toll in excess of twenty million Soviet citizens. The Germans calculate 3,600,000 civilians dead, and 3,250,000 soldiers. The Japanese calculate two million civilians and a million military deaths, the largest single death toll being the 138,890 deaths recorded at Hiroshima as a result of the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Six million Polish citizens were killed while Poland was under German occupation, three million of them Polish Jews. A further three million Jews from other parts of Europe were killed, bringing the Jewish death toll to six million. More than a million and a half Yugoslavs were also killed after the German conquest. In this listing only of those groups that suffered a million dead or more, a total is reached in excess of forty-six million.

In every war zone, and behind every front line, loss of life was enormous. The British, who had entered the war in September 1939, suffered 264,433 army, navy and air force deaths, as well as 60,595 civilian deaths from bombing, and 30,248 merchant navy deaths. The total number of British Commonwealth deaths in actions was 129,196, making a total British and Commonwealth death toll of 484,472.

In Greece, which was first attacked, by Italy, in October 1940, and then, in April 1941, by Germany, 260,000 civilians died from privation and hunger between 1940 and 1945, 70,600 were executed by the occupying forces in reprisals, and 50,000 were killed in the Resistance: a total civilian death toll — not counting the 60,000 Jews deported to their deaths — of 380,600. A further 79,743 Greek soldiers were killed in action in 1940 and 1941. In all, 420,343 Greeks lost their lives.

The United States, which entered the war in December 1941, suffered 362,561 army, navy and air force and Marine Corps deaths.

In Holland, 185,000 civilians perished as a result of war and occupation, more than 104,000 Jews, and 16,000 civilians from hunger and disease during the famine in the northern part of the Netherlands, when, still under German rule, it was cut off from the war zone at the end of 1944.

The number of Indian war dead was 36,092, killed in action in the Far East, North Africa and Italy. The number of Australians killed on the same battlefields, and in New Guinea, was 27,073.

Every warring country suffered losses; even small countries on the periphery, and far from the war zone, could not avoid losses which were heavy for them. Finland, for example, lost 27,000 soldiers in the winter war of 1940. The Spanish Legion lost 4,500 dead during its action alongside the Germans during the siege of Leningrad. The South African Air Force lost 2,227 pilots killed in action over Europe.

There were also deaths from among the solders brought from black Africa, including 1,105 Basutos who volunteered to fight for Britain in Syria, Sicily and Italy; and 498 Askaris from Southern Rhodesia, who fought in the Mediterranean, Europe and Burma.

With the return of the soldiers, sailors and airmen from the war zones, and from the prisoner-of-war camps, it became clear that the legacy of the battlefield was far more than its heroism, statistics and victories. Of the Australian servicemen who returned to Australia in 1945, among them her own father, Germaine Greer has written: "Thousands of them came home to live out their lives as walking wounded, carrying out their masculine duties in a sort of dream, trying not to hear the children who asked "Mummy, why does that man have to sleep in your bed?""

No one has been able to calculate the number of wounded, certainly amounting to several millions, whose lives were permanently scarred as a result of the war. Physical scars, from the severest disability to disfiguring wounds, and mental scars, accompanied these millions for the rest of their lives. Many died as a direct result of them. Others lived in pain, discomfort, fear or remorse. For those civilians who were fortunate to survive privation, deportation and massacre, similar scars, physical, mental and spiritual, remained — and still remain — to torment them. The greatest unfinished business of the Second World War is human pain.

July 25, 2010

The History of Yoga ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/books/review/Mishra-t.html

Well, two books that details the story of Yoga's growth in the U.S. Pankaj Mishra has written an elegant review of the books.

To continue my line of thought, how wonderful to see Americans pursuing this apparently ancient Indian ... thing? whatever ... with some passion ... along with their many, many different passions of course even as the young Indian generation seeks to ape everything American included rap, hip-hop and the variegated hairstyles of the rebel American youth ...

It's all good!!!

One thought: will a future come to pass when folks in Europe and America start eating with their hands while Indians finally learn to use elaborate cutlery to perform the same activity of ingesting food ... ummmm, I think not likely, but then stranger stuff have become reality ...

The American Dream ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/business/25elon.html?th&emc=th

Someone from South Africa founds PayPal ... at least, he is one of the co-founders ... makes money by selling it to eBay.

Then he starts a company building electric cars and another company to launch rockets into space and one more company making solar panels!

Well, all this in one life! I think that's the kind of story that would gladden the heart of Tom Friedman who keeps complaining about how America is falling back in innovation.

Well, so, I say the American Dream is certainly alive ...

Business of Yoga ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/magazine/25Yoga-t.html?pagewanted=1&th&emc=th

One more Yoga teacher emerges ...

It's intriguing to see Americans rushing to Yoga in such numbers. It's important to remember that Americans are fickle and rush to many things.

Strange also to see this peculiar Indian thing called Yoga transformed into something so quintessentially American ... molded and Americanized.

Well, it's all right I guess ... as Indians trample over themselves to Americanize themselves by hankering for larger cars and hamburgers and 500-Lt refrigerators and 100 inch LCD TVs and other items of conspicuous consumption in general, Americans try to imbibe this form of 'ancient' Indian wisdom ...

Good thing ... the West trying to emulate the East and the East trying to ape the West!

July 18, 2010

On Golden Pond

A dear friend suggested that I am like Henry Fonda in this movie ...

And so I guess it's up to others to decide if I am like that.

I surely enjoyed the touching movie and its many wonderful one-liners.

I realized as I was watching the movie that I was continuously grinning ... I don't know why.

So much good stuff ... everything from his wondering who the person was in the photograph to his immediately saying 'someone is at the door' ...

Wonderful acting and wonderful background score too.

500 Days of Summer

A nice feel-good romantic movie.

But it occurred to me that it's so typical for a movie to be made where the characters 'fall in love' with each other based on their physical attractiveness only.

Clearly, Hollywood stars possess that (good looks) in plenty and it's sort of 'understandable' when they thus fall in love.

But I was wondering about the real world and how folks fall in love.

I think a preeminent factor tends to be carriers. Someone who is a doctor in a hospital might fall in love with another doctor ... since they work together.

Similar hobbies can bring people together. Whether it's books/literature or music or space or science or some other such thing.

People need to have some sort of common political/historical/sociological outlook too to have a lasting relationship ... I mean, if one partner still believes that Lenin was the best thing that ever happened in all human history, then it would be better if the other partner believes that too. Then they can perhaps live happily ever after.

My point broadly is that somehow movies don't tend to reflect the complexity of real life. Well, I guess they can't do that ... since real life is a lot longer than one and a half hours ...

I didn't understand the female character of this particular movie though. She says at the beginning that she wants a non-serious relationship and so the guy agrees though he wanted a serious relationship himself. And towards the end of the movie, the girl ditches the guy and marries another ... dude? And her explanation to the guy was that she never felt sure about him ...

That left me wondering??????????????

So, is it that the guy should have insisted to her that he wanted a serious relationship and wanted to marry her ... I mean, are all females like that? Do they say one thing and mean another thing altogether???

Mysterious ...

July 15, 2010

Cryonics and Marriage

Truly strange bedfellows!

One would never have guessed that there could be a link between the two but apparently there can!

Here's the proof:


http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/magazine/11cryonics-t.html?hpw

Well, I guess every couple has to tackle the issue in their own way.

I want the folks who want to preserve themselves to be allowed to do so if they have got the money and want to do so.

Perhaps, some of the 'geniuses' of the present age might be preserved in such a way ...

Just a thought ... how about preserving the brain of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Wolfgang Ketterle ...

Explaining Gravity

The nature of science has always been to hold nature up to examination and ask again and again why it is the way it is, as Steven Weinberg put it.

And as the sphere of our understanding of the working of nature grows ever wider, we understand deeper and deeper truths.

And so, for a while now, we have known that there are four fundamental forces of nature: gravity, electromagnetism, and strong and weak nuclear interactions.

Theoretical advances have remained somewhat static since then with string theorists trying to develop some sort of a quantum understanding of gravity even as scientists excitedly await the confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson at the LHC.

It's heartening at this juncture to hear of someone throwing a heavy stone into this somewhat quiet pond and creating ripples:


http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/science/13gravity.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=gravity&st=cse

To be able to explain the laws of Newton as the effect of something deeper would be one of those advances in our understanding of science which happens perhaps once in a century.

The community of theoretical physicists must be excited indeed about this development.

Oh, how exciting it would be to live a thousand years from now ...

How much more broader our understanding of nature would grow in the centuries to come ...

July 10, 2010

Adam

If only all of were simpleton geniuses and had beautiful girls move in as neighbors. SINGLE and young girls ...

Watching raccoons in Central Park and talking about an expanding universe and having a planetarium at home.

No, unfortunately, this is not real life. Mostly, people tend not to suffer from any of the disorders belonging to the autism spectrum.

And about beautiful, single females .... sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Forget neighbors ... it would be quite a blessing if one could have females at work with whom one could associate with. But even that turns out to be impossible.

Females tend to be mostly strange creatures. Terribly shallow and interested in clothing and food and make up.

And so the story of Adam is purely engineered to appeal to our wildest fancies. And what about that girl? Would she ultimately choose to take the risk of sticking to a guy who has an autism spectrum disorder and works at an observatory or would she marry an investment banker? I think, in time, she would come to realize that marrying an investment banker would be a wise choice.

Remember Vicky from Woody Allen's movie? She ultimately decided to stick with her 'boring' husband ...

Monster's Ball

Stretching the limits of human emotions.

We have a woman whose husband chooses the electric chair as the mode of death. And she gets involved unknowingly with the corrections officer who was in charge of the execution. The woman's clinically obese son dies too.

The police officer's son is not as heartless as his father and grandfather. Then, there is racism too.

Too many coincidences lead to these two lives getting intertwined. And they realize in time who they are.

But they realize that the pros outweigh the cons. And they choose to stick together. A simple tale really of how humans seek happiness above all and look for the best possible life they can give themselves.

In the process, perhaps there's some amount of redemption ... getting over old prejudices. Americans fighting with the remnants of old habits.

We in India, I am afraid, are yet to even acknowledge that we still carry many such prejudices. Perhaps, those prejudices are so ingrained in us that we don't even recognize them as such. Perhaps, we look upon them more as laws of nature. I think Indians have a lot of growing up to do in times to come.

The Kite Runner

Why is it such a touching story?
Because we are still just simple humans. We are individuals who have weaved some things ... rules? cultures?
No matter if we can cross continents and oceans in our airplanes and have built buildings that touch the sky.
We remain at heart simple beings.
Our childhoods can leave scars that last a lifetime.
And we feel at home with people of our own kind. Language, culture, stuff which define us.
No matter how long we are away from our homes and our languages, they always remain with us. Forever.
The land where we are born is where we belong ultimately.

But beyond all that, how strange we are. How simple really at heart! Billions of us but really stories that are not much different. Happiness out of things that we like. Competition and winning. Death and sadness. Birth and death. The cycle of life. Constant as ever.

And yes, the same old tribal prejudices.

And music. And dance.

And the beastly nature too. The need to dominate the week.

Courage. A somewhat rare quality. Sometimes we choose to be meek ... take the easy path. The instinct for self-preservation. Understandable really from an evolutionary perspective.

All those things that make us human.

Oh, the human condition!

How simple and yet how complex at the same time ...

And so a wonderful movie based on a wonderful story.

July 08, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing?

See this NYT article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/07/business/economy/07generation.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=homepage

We see youngsters out of college who are having trouble finding jobs!
I am sure that won't be 'news' to millions of college graduates in India.
Well, I guess one could say to these young hopefuls: 'Welcome to the New World!'
I am sure to a certain extent, part of the reason for their remaining unemployed is of course the reason that some of the jobs have been outsourced to China and India.
And it's instructive to see their salary expectations as well.
People below the age of 30 with a degree in Pol. Sc. earning $75,000 per annum!
And unemployed people of 24 rejecting job offers that pay 'only' $40,000 per annum!
Shows really how far ahead of the curve of economic advancement such countries really are ... which is a sad realization in some way.
You talk to young hotshot IT professionals here in India and tell them 'ironically' that well, India is only 50 years behind America.
And they come back at you with ... 'No, India is only 10 years behind.'
That's such an ignorant point of view.
One only has to leave the big cities of India such as Mumbai, New Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Pune, Bangalore, etc. and move to the heartland, the interior of India to see how much poverty there still exists.
Indeed, one does not even have to do that. One only needs to keep one's eyes open and then one will see degrading poverty right here ... in the heart of what is supposedly 'posh' India.
I see poor kids from slums walking on paved roads with nothing on their feet ... at 1 p.m. on a hot summer Indian day. And I see that right in front of my office in 'posh' Gurgaon.
India is may be not 50 years behind ... but 75 years behind ... I don't know.
Perhaps, it's pointless to debate how far 'behind' India is.
What we need to work at is how long is it going to take to bring the people out of abject poverty.
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