February 26, 2011

More Good News for Smokers

Smokers are of course positively buffetted with good news all the time about all the positive results of smoking.

Let me enumerate ome benefits of smoking at random: a smoker is more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart disease, lung cancer, bones heal more slowly, Alzheimer's, etc.

And one more feather has been added to this much feathered crown:


Oh, how lucky could smokers get!!!

All of us ahve a high probability of becoming Stephen Hawking then ... cheers!

February 24, 2011

What Motivates Us

I’ve been thinking about what motivates us to be who we are. And what is quite surprising is to realize how much our minds are not really our own in some ways. Sam Harris acknowledges how much our minds are subject to societal influences. The truth of that is obvious and needs to be underlined and highlighted.

What constitutes basic needs and what is a luxury? The answer to that would depend on the level of affluence (or the lack thereof) of the society in which you raise that question. Is ownership of a car a sign of affluence?

Similarly, what is appropriate clothing for females is again subject to societal norms. There’s a whole spectrum of what is right in this context. Is this IMPORTANT? It would appear it is. We tend to often accept things as the right thing without realizing how relative and contextual things really are.

Culture is obnoxious. So is religion. They impact us in ways big and small. I find it uplifting to see and read Richard Dawkins. I find it offensive when Deepak Chopra utters a lot many words without really saying anything meaningful at all.

It’s impressively disgusting to see the intellectual dishonesty of Chopra or for that matter Ram Dev, Ravi Shanker, Sai Baba, etc.

It’s uplifting to have some modicum of understanding about the universe we live in. the theory of evolution has done a spectacular job of explaining the complexity of life on Earth. Modern medical science performs miracles everyday. A heart that has stopped beating can be made to beat again. Or, we can purposely choose to stop a human heart from beating and then restart it like a clock.

Cosmology lets us understand the lifecycle of stars. We now know that we are starstuff. We routinely theorize about the evolution of galaxies.

Modern astronomy has been spectacularly successful in letting us know precisely where we are. The observations made thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope have forever altered humans as a species.

We routinely drive vehicles on the surface of Mars and explore its rocky surface. Someday, we’ll make vehicles that will explore the surface of Titan. But that day is not yet upon us.

Meanwhile, what I observe in India is a blind subservience to dogma. The dogma of religion and tradition and rituals. That clearly and greatly frustrates and infuriates me. The problem with dogma is this. When people choose to (voluntarily or otherwise) circumscribe and surround their lives with dogma, they deprive themselves from leading richer lives. They basically sell themselves short.

Man is a social animal as the old saying goes and so we always look for co-conspirators. The scientific method with its need for observational evidence and experiments that can be repeated exhilarates me. I disproved the existence of god for myself a long time ago when I was a kid. I made a simple experiment: I stood on open ground and said to god that I’ll close my eyes for five seconds and then open them and in the meanwhile there should be a large sphere of gold lying in front of me on the grass — let god drop a large sphere of gold from the sky to prove his existence. My wish was never granted. I never saw that sphere of gold.

February 22, 2011

Before the Toothbrush

What was there before the toothbrush? The twig of course. Has it died down? No sir! Not in India. It’s still very much the in-thing in rural India. But what surprised me somewhat is this spectacle of seeing policemen using twigs in Gurgaon. Well, I guess you discover many unexpected facets of India on those early morning walks — if you bother to venture outside of the confines of your apartment complex.

I am left wondering if the policemen use twigs out of cultural habit or to save money or out of convenience. I would be interested in hearing the opinion of the readers about what they think. I saw more this morning. One sturdy Haryanvi policeman climbed a tree on the periphery of the police station this morning — presumably to collect a twig for brushing his tooth. I am not quite sure as to the purpose of this energetic activity as the line of sight from me to him was not quite unobstructed.

What does this say — about policemen in particular and Indians in general? I do not know.
I am only wondering if the twig will last unto the next century too. I remember when Rajiv Gandhi used to talk about taking India to the 21st century. I used to be thrilled and used to wonder about how specifically India is going to be different in the next century. Bullock carts are a somewhat unique mode of transport that is omnipresent in rural India. I used to make annual trips to my ancestral village those days while going to school the rest of the year in a small steel town. So, I sort of used to associate bullock carts with villages and with being backward. I used to imagine that surely in the great 21st century, there will be nothing as archaic as bullock carts plying the streets and fields in rural India. But alas, we are more than one decade into that futuristic century and oxen can still be seen doing a sterling job of carrying paddy and more in the parts of India where paddy is grown.

Who knows … who will bet that the bullock cart won’t last into the next century as well when Facebook and Twitter and iPhones and Google will perhaps have vanished altogether…

The Scientist and the Ivory Tower

The Tevatron is going to close. The Superconducting Supercollider never came to fruition. Remember the scare when the LHC began running — all that talk about how black holes might get created at the LHC that might accidentally devour the planet.

It’s commonplace to hear all and sundry pontificating about the benefits and harms of science to society. Religious people somehow feel automatically qualified to interpret god’s intentions and talk casually about the universe.

Scientists however are a different species. They like to be humble and polite and mostly profess ignorance about much of the world and indeed, much of the broad tapestry of science. This is quite admirable of course and in tune with the spirit of science. But this creates a vacuum. And that vacuum is more often than not filled by opportunistic egomaniacs.

It’s in this context that one must look at the lives of a few exceptional scientists. A few names stand out easily: Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Steven Weinberg, etc. This tribe is fortunately growing.

When one scientist does something such as write a popular science book explaining some of the arcane topics of science to a non-technical audience and in the process dilutes some of the complexities of science, other professional scientists often attack the popular science writer cum scientist rather witheringly. This can have many reasons though some of it might be plain envy as some of the names mentioned above are recognizable names the world over which is something one can’t say about most Nobel laureates.

I believe it’s the right path to take for scientists to try and partake in the ongoing discourse — be there in the public square as it were rather than retreating to their laboratories and ivory towers.

After all, scientific endeavor is a part of what we do as a species. It’s as much a part as engineering and technology and religion and politics and literature and cultural revolutions and everything else.

As it happens, science has reached a point today where it necessarily has to confront some deeply held beliefs on the one hand and makes extraordinary demands on scarce financial resources on the other.

Talk of stem cell research. Clearly, the broader society has to be part of the dialogue and has to develop some broad understanding about the advantages versus the overblown risks. To argue that stem cell research is immoral and against religion would be similar to saying that we should not go beyond the atmosphere into space because that’s god’s terrain — there’s where god lives, where heaven is and we should not dare to enter such holy places. Luckily, that argument was not made in the early days of space exploration — or who knows, may be someone might have made that argument but mankind was able to persuade itself that that was an enterprise worth pursuing. And today we have made preliminary visits to most of the planets in our Solar System. And we continue to expand our knowledge by mounting ever more challenging planetary missions. Not that many people in the world care much about these things, but we have crafts in orbit around Saturn. We sent a lander to Titan — one of Saturn’s moons. Extraordinary achievements. New Horizons is on its way to Pluto. And it’s a tribute to the persistence and perseverance of the scientific community that they were able to persuade the U.S. Congress to approve the necessary budget. And this kind of big science projects are exactly why scientists must get out of their ivory towers and explain what they are doing to the public. Otherwise, why will the public bother with these projects? And if the public is not bothered, is there any likelihood that politicians will bother?

In spite of all that is said about politicians in democratic societies then, the fact that NASA remains the leader in space exploration shows that in the U.S. at least, politicians show the requisite foresight.

But of course it’s far from enough. As I mentioned at the beginning, the SSC project in Texas got cancelled for lack of money and the Tevatron is going to close in the near future. Luckily, European nations have rallied together to take the next step in this arena of vital fundamental research.

There are many other areas of science that surely suffer for lack of funding. And better public awareness might have resulted in better funding. Fusion research seems to be progressing with a global effort. Imagine what the benefits would be if and when we are able to have a viable working fusion reactor. Clearly, the research that is ongoing is insufficient.

Look at the space exploration. The U.S. Air Force is luckily keeping track of near Earth objects that might impact Earth. What is the value of this effort? A large asteroid impact might lead to the extinction of our species just as such an event led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. And yet, how many nations are bothered to keep an eye out for any rogue objects out there. Clearly, a failure of scientists to communicate to the public about the grave danger lurking in space.
What about manned spaceflights to Mars? A project that will probably cost more money than any other single project ever undertaken in the history of humanity. But, so what? Pyramids would never have been built if men had thought then that they had never been built before and so we can’t build them. Exploring the planets and setting human footprints on them is clearly the next step in the long history of exploration for our species. We have spent the last few thousands of years in exploring our planet mostly by traversing the length and breadth of the planet through the great oceans. Traversing the great ocean of space is next. What are the benefits? Ultimately, we will learn to terraform Mars and we will learn how to colonize other planets. In time, our technology will become smart enough to build starships that will take humans to planets around other nearby stars.

And yes, that leads to the other great project which is getting insufficient funding. We are just beginning to detect planets around other stars. What a time of fundamental changes in our perceptions about our place in the universe. What theoreticians have always said is coming to fruition with observational confirmation. What is needed is more funding to build great space telescopes that will enable us to observe these extrasolar planets directly rather than having to infer about their existence from the gravitational tug they exert on their home stars.
All in all, what a great time to be alive! Science has enabled us to make such wonderful progress and yet unfortunately, the public is mostly in the dark about the aims, achievements, and hopes of science. We desperately need Carl Sagan today!

Not Yet Hanged ...

Although the High Court today agreed with the judgment of the lower court about the death sentence given to Kasab, I'm sure we are still some distance from the final denouement. The Supreme Court is still there. Most likely, it will agree with the opinion of the High Court as it does in most cases. And the villainy in this case was probably perpetrated in a rather public manner making it quite easy for the Court and the prosecutors and quite tough for the defense.

Oh, and we should not forget that this is what passes for a fast trial in India. The usual humdrum trial takes far longer than Kasab's trial has taken. After the Supreme Court, there's the appeal to the President of India. The President likes to take a lot of time — historically.

All in all, may be by November 26 next, Kasab will still be around and then there will be some hue and cry about why he is still around. Beyond that, I am not sure.

The Great Indian Revolution

Or, rather why that is an unlikely event. Dreaming of revolutions might appear quite romantic for middle class Indians but when you dig deep, you’ll see that the situation is both better and worse than Egypt of 2011 or America of 1776.

The American War of Independence was driven mostly by economic factors and Britain enacting a host of draconian laws to augment His Majesty’s revenue not to mention to offset the losses suffered in misadventures against the French. All of which sound suspiciously familiar to an Indian … the British apparently learnt nothing and went on to repeat the same things in India in the early part of the 20th century.

The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 is too recent and the discontents that may have fuelled it are yet to be distilled by historians. The per capita GDP of Egypt however is way higher than India’s.

It would appear that people in different nations have different thresholds of tolerance towards what is broadly known as ‘poverty.’ Indians seem to have an extraordinary affinity with poverty. At least, Indians don’t like to rock the boat (so to say) too easily. The fabled Indian struggle for independence was hardly a pan-Indian affair. The British were apparently too tired after fighting Hitler and just wanted to go home when empire turned unprofitable and the going seemed tough.

Indians seem to have a strange set of priorities. They love their gods. They love to have kids. They love to have a large family — and I mean LARGE … numbering in the hundreds. There are festivities of one sort or the other every month or the other. Indians are too busy either worshipping their numerous gods, or attending a family marriage, or some other celebration because someone had a baby or because someone died …

Indians do not have time for intellectual diversions into the meaning of life or trying to understand the workings of nature.

Reflect on the typical way that an Indian kid grows up. What is the kid told? Perhaps she is told about the various gods not to mention their inexplicable and mercurial ways. And kids are told to ‘respect’ their parents. Yeah, Indian parents love to get RESPECT from their kids. And kids are told to respect not only the parents but all and sundry ‘elders’ in the family too. No questions asked.

So, that’s the way kids grow up. Schools and the education curriculum can be formulated in such a manner as to maximize the natural curiosity inherent in kids. But in India, everything is designed precisely to squelch and smother any such ‘ideas’ that kids may have.
Who do Indians look up to? Who inspires Indians? Who do Indians want to be like when they ‘grow up?’ If you ask the average kid or teenager, perhaps they will be hard put to name five heroes. Or, they might mouth some platitudes such as naming the usual suspects such as Gandhi or Nehru or Mother Teresa. Not that Jawaharlal is poor role model material.

I am curious why we do not worship ‘real’ heroes and achievers or ‘other’ people who have stellar achievements to their credit. Think of Subrahmanian Chandrasekhar. Someone who had the intellect to use the tools of mathematics to understand stellar structure. Someone who understood how galaxies form and evolve. Someone whose mind roamed the far corners of the visible universe. A polymath whose calculations led inexorably to the conclusion that black holes must be a physical reality. Difficult to conjure anything more exotic and exciting than black holes. And yet, black holes have become commonly accepted today in cosmology and astrophysics. Of course, when the idea was first proposed, it was received with derision and more.

What about Abdul Kalam? Or, Kalpana Chawla. Other scientists. Doctors. Cardiothoracic surgeons perform open heart surgeries daily and save lives daily. Yet, they are not worshipped for being the miracle workers that they are. Indian prefer to flock to hear bearded men (and un-bearded women) who should be rather old-fashioned in their dress sense. Godmen (and women). Yes, Indians just love the tribe. That is one commodity you’ll never find in short supply in India. And that’s a business where you can never go wrong in India.

Where’s the Indian with the creative imagination of a Jules Verne or Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke? Where are our Konstantin Tsiolkovskys and Robert Goddards? Einstein and Newton. Copernicus and Tycho Brahe. What made the Wright Brothers think that they could invent an aeroplane and succeed where the best aeronautical engineers of the time had failed?

The story of human civilization is a story of change. We do not confront the same questions or challenges. Old mysteries get resolved and old challenges are overcome and we are faced with fresh ones. We frame questions for ourselves — that’s the at heart who we are as a species. We build computers. And we explore. Well, we first understand the nature of the world around us. We come to understand the realm of atoms. Then we slowly learn to make atoms do our bidding in the shape of microprocessors. Who are the giants of this gigantic new intellectual leap taken by mankind? Bohr and Rutherford and their contemporaries and successors. From Heisenberg to Schrödinger to Dirac and Pauli and Feynman and Schwinger. What an age of intellectual leaps the 20th century has been! And Indians on the whole have been mostly sleeping through it. The worldview and outlook of Indians remains strangely unaffected by these many different cataclysms which have transformed different domains of science and human knowledge.
Take biology. From the great ideas of Darwin that started us on our journey to understanding about our own evolutionary past to the 20th century discoveries about the double helix structure of the DNA. What extraordinary advances have taken place in different disciplines of medical science! The human genome has been mapped in its entirety.

Great projects and tasks yet confront our species. Cancer is yet to yield completely to human ingenuity. The human genome will provide various insights into the workings of the human body and into where there’s scope for improvement. We are slowly rising to the challenge of trying to understand how the human brain functions. Clearly, a century would be too short a time to understand something which has evolved over millions of years. And we continue to ask about our origins and our place in the universe. The 20th century has answered some questions which had remained unanswered for thousands of years. We now know the age of the visible universe to be around 13.7 billion years. What a number and what an astounding feat of human intellect to have discovered that truth. And still, we discover more mysteries in the form of dark matter and dark energy and so, more questions to answer.

We now deliberate about multiverses and multiple big bangs and worm holes and more. Will Indians remain mere spectators as humanity seeks to solve these and other mysteries? It’s a matter of setting priorities and Indians seem to have their priorities set somewhat erroneously.

February 20, 2011

The babbling, rambling prime minister of India

Manmohan Singh is hardly Hosni Mubarak. Although most Indian prime ministers occupy the office only in the seventh or eight decade of their life — that's about the only similarity. Be that as it may.

At the end of the day, I do not like to paint all politicians with the same brush. I also do not believe in blaming politicians for all that ails India. Indian voters choose who they wish to represent them.

Indians are a nation of believers. Hinduism has a range of gods across the whole spectrum of possibility. Some gods are male while others are female. Some are neither male nor female. Some gods like vegetarian dishes while others prefer non-vegetarian dishes. Some gods are benevolent while others are ferocious as well as capricious.

Indians love their gods. They not only love them, they like to anoint ordinary humans with godly qualities too. So, we have a plentiful supply of demi-gods too. The office of the prime minister has been elevated to that level as well where the occupant gets to enjoy some mythical status like the emperor of Japan. This too is a voluntary act of Indians. So, who won't want to be treated like a demi-god ... not to mention getting to zip around New Delhi without having to worry about traffic lights and TRAFFIC ... that too in a comfy 7-series.

No wonder Manmohan Singh wishes to soldier on ... Let it be said on the record that all the praise lavished on Manmohan Singh by everyone from Obama to George Bush do not mean a damn thing. It simply shows that unlike what Indian perceive Americans to be, Americans are a polite people who too like to show respect to elders just as it's in our culture to do.

What drives me bonkers is when Manmohan Singh wants to be like Ceasar's wife. Yeah. Why does he want to be someone's wife? Well, he is clearly Sonia Gandhi's wife in an Indian sense.

What makes him think that he is contributing anything of value to this country by being the prime minister? He does not want to take responsibility when ministers in his government commit loot under his nose. He shows no overriding vision about where this country is going. I do not think he is a hero for the hundreds of millions of youngsters in this country. He is neither John Kennedy nor Gorbachev.

Does Manmohan Singh think the prime minister's job is merely to chair meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Security and the Cabinet Committee on Appointments?

Oh, wait — he is an expert economist! That he might be. But India is a country that has many of the tribe. So much so that India has exported many of them who are now teaching economics in many universities in the United States. There's nothing spectacular that Manmohan Singh has achieved as an economist. If expertise in economics were to be the yardstick, then Amarya Sen, Jagdish Bhagwati and the late C. K. Prahalad are more qualified to be prime minister.

February 18, 2011

Stockholm Syndrome

Indians seem to have a propensity for this. Once some high profile scamster gets caught committing some scam or crime and is sent to jail, one hears reports about how they are being treated like other jailed folks. We get to hear about how they are having to make do with simple prison accommodation and dal-roti stuff.

What does this say? Should we feel sympathetic to these criminals? What do we know about what all crimes they have committed? How much they might have eaten literally and otherwise.

When people commit frauds running into hundreds and thousands of crores, what can they do with all that money? Do people have any idea of that? If people feel so much about the inconveniences being visited upon these folks, then simply let them free to commit whatever crimes they wish to commit.

People of India have a really weird sense of right and wrong. I wish we would have a stricter law enforcement mechanism and see some serious criminals who have committed some serious crimes being given the death penalty and actually hanged. That would deter many wannabe criminals for sure.

What is wrong after all with the idea of hanging the top 100 scamsters of this country? Are we so concerned about the 'sanctity' of life that we won't want to see anyone killed? Well, then, people need to care as much for the hundreds of people who die everyday in senseless accidents on the roads of India. How many kids die in this country from childhood cancers?

Why Are Politicians so Shameless?

I am thinking of Ambika Soni having some fun at L. K. Advani's expense by wondering that she thought that he was retired. I am wondering who is Ambika's boss??? Who does she answer to? Who is the superboss of everyone in her party including as it happens the babbling, mumbling prime minister of India?

It is a sad fact of Indian politics that someone like Deve Gowda has been a prime minister. It's also sad that at various times other politicians including Mulayam Yadav, Laloo Yadav, Mayawati, Chandrababu Naidu, and many others have been possible prime ministerial candidates.

L. K. Advani's suitability to be prime minister may be open to debate. But surely, no one has less locus standi to be the prime minister than Sonia Gandhi.

I wonder how these people can sleep well at night. After all, one can lie all one wants to the world at large but you can't lie to yourself.

February 07, 2011

Why Religion Endures

It's lazy thinking mostly. As anyone who has seen Hitchens obliterate the illogic of religion will say, it's a crazy situation why anyone can continue to believe in this nonsense. Again, anyone who has seen the elegant Dawkins beautifully explain the logic of evolution will wonder how anyone can be left untouched by this beautiful tale. But how many people will have heard of Dawkins to begin with.

And so this ancient hogwash endures. There are many more reasons for the endurance of religion of course. People are mostly poor — that's the unfortunate reality as it applies to most parts of the world. That being the case, people are mostly busy worrying about how to put food on the table and into their tummies. Intellectual queries are a luxury that only a few can afford to indulge in ...

It's odd to see how people regress when they are faced with personal difficulties. Even in prosperous societies such as America, one sees people finding solace in religion when they are in difficulty ... such as when they are out of a job.

Of course, people respond in such different ways to tragedies ... when natural disasters strike close to home, people respond with shock and more. But when similar tragedies strike people in other countries, people are not nearly as touched by the human toll of it all.

The recent snowstorms across much of the U.S. was perhaps given way more coverage than, say, the floods in Pakistan a few months back. And yet if you look at the human toll, the floods completely uprooted the lives of a few tens of millions of people not to mention a few thousands of fatalities.

Clearly, on the whole, humans have a long way to go in terms of developing a robustly neutral approach to judging tragedies. I guess how people respond to these at present is clear enough. Family, community, region, country and beyond — that seems to be the motto. When someone in the family dies and more so, if someone in the family dies 'unexpectedly,' that leads to an awful lot of analysis including analysis about the 'purpose' and 'role' of God in that event ... people will talk about the 'inscrutable' ways of God or they will say that God's will is all-powerful and we are not to question it ... or that He must have some grand 'design' or that it's all part of His grand 'plan' ....

Of course, when just 'people' die in accidents or in other ways, we do not do so much analyzing ... Religion has this great advantage — accidents by definition are accidental and they do not occur often enough. And mostly people live through their boring lives with their mundane issues and concerns which keeps them busy enough. So, people mostly do not have any occasion to challenge or question the things they have been brought up with and they do not have much of a reason to go out of their way and do a deep study about the history of religions or learn about the ideas of evolution or the ideas of astronomy or cosmology or quantum physics.

Religion is like one of those other falsehoods .... (in some ways) like astrology or homeopathy.

Of course, religion is evil. But again, to reach that level of understanding, one will need to indulge in a deep study of these things.

Then again, how evil or otherwise is it that people mostly choose to remain silent about the Gujarat genocide of a few years back or the Rwandan genocide a decade and a half back. What about the floods of Pakistan? Can that too be termed a genocide perpetrated by nature but still in some ways humanity can be tried for genocide for being a silent spectator ...

Not much can be said really about a species that has invented many religions (thousands of them?) over millennia and above all, the absurd spectacle endures where you have simultaneously existing major different world religions (that's the jargon) which have got completely non-overlapping creation myths and more ...

How could the universe have been created in many different ways by many different gods? Clearly, beats me. And people are mostly charitable towards other religions of course (unless one is of a fanatical sort, I guess) and they will say that they believe in 'all' the religions of the world ... which is, well, it's like saying that 2 and 2 can equal 4 or 6 or 8 or 10 or zero depending on your 'belief.'

How to ...

As you type this into Google, can you guess what Google suggests???

You will never guess ... the top suggestion is how to get pregnant.


Well, who would have thought that on a planet bursting to the seams with seven billion humans, the top challenge folks are facing is how to make more babies ... poor westerners.

Clearly, the folks who are mostly responsible for this baby boom are of the sort who do not use Google so much and the folks who are into Google are rather ... bad(???) ... at making babies.

Whatever ...

February 05, 2011

Grim tales

Alzheimer's is a strange disease yet to yield to modern medicine. Cancer can be pretty devastating in its own way but Alzheimer's exacts quite a different toll by stripping a person of his or her personality.

It's quite odd and perhaps impossible really to imagine what it would feel like to lose memory slowly and inexorably to a point where one no longer recognizes one's closest family members or friends.

I do not even know how to analyze this disease ... where does this fit in in the story and context of human evolution for example. And why is it that this scourge is only rearing its ugly head now and not before in our civilization's history. Well, that's perhaps simple. The average human life span is increasing thanks to modern medicine and that unfortunately creates other demons that were so far latent — from cancer to heart disease to Alzheimer's.

Well, humanity has seen and come to terms with other challenges and I hope we'll deal with this challenge effectively as well.

Here's one perspective ...


February 03, 2011

Sleep is good ...

Here's more support for my 'thesis' that sleeping is essentially good for us.


Flood Predictions

Apparently, computer models in Europe were giving clear indications five days before the event that floods were imminent in Pakistan.

It remains to be seen whether these kind of modeling capabilities will be harnessed by nations in South Asia who tend to have a rather peculiar sense of priorities.


Worth a moment's reflection ... what a heavy toll of human suffering.

Facelift makes people satisfied and happy

It makes them look on average 12 years younger and enhances their self-esteem too ....

What more can one wish for ...


My Mubarak to Hosni

The uprising in the ancient and fairytale land of Egypt should be interesting to observe for people in India which is also an ancient land in its own right. A country with a continuous civilization that has lasted 5,000 years. What is the likely nature of men and women of such a country? Are they likely to be 'revolutionaries' in spirit? Can people in such a country suddenly become all impatient revolutionaries after seeing all the wealth in the Western countries? How much of a factor has technology and the Internet been in all this?

And oh, the obvious question — what implications for India? When will the hoi polloi of India also rise up? Will we see gatherings of millions in the heart of New Delhi ... perhaps in the sprawling area near the iconic India Gate (mind you, a British built monument). Not many people can fit into Central Park in the heart of Connaught Place unfortunately ...

Necessity is often the mother of invention and in that spirit, the question that arises is what prompted this uprising at this moment in history. Are things so bad (like perhaps in North Korea) that people have got nothing to lose? Or, are the young people impatient for better lives and a freer, more democratic society? Intellectual concepts have rarely been at the core of revolutions. People rise up only when things have reached rock bottom and people realize that there is nothing else left to do but rise up in revolt.

But of course the danger in any revolution is that it might raise expectations to unrealistic levels and then people will be disappointed with the aftermath ... something like postpartum depression.

My Date With the RBI

Yesterday was interesting. Being old-fashioned as well as being old, I still like crisp bank notes. So, I went to this land of Kuber in India to get some of those new notes.

I was impressed with the security measures in place. One had to get a photo-pass after showing some photo ID. But once inside the main building, it was all a quaint government office — though clean. As you'll find in any government office, there were countless counters numbering 40 plus. However, pretty much all of those counters were closed with only one or two being functional. And lo and behold, when I joined the queue, they ran out of money ! So, a few of us folks had to twiddle our thumbs for a while waiting for cash to arrive which it eventually did and I returned with my meager 'cache' of new notes.

It was interesting to visit the old heart of New Delhi with its numerous government offices with employees all sitting outside enjoying the balmy weather. The odd reporter from outside might even have mistaken that huge gathering for some sort of uprising even ... like in Cairo. Of course, it was nothing of the sort ... just Indians being Indians.

February 01, 2011

Radio tagging or radio collars ...

I am mostly trying to avoid this frivolous controversy which is just erupting about some Indian students studying in the U.S. But it does remind me again about how wonderfully Indians are able to zoom in on issues that are of absolutely zero importance while ignoring the important issues.

Any day of the year, you will find some 'news' related to some movie stars ... either someone being spotted with someone or someone breaking up with someone else.

Remember that other story which went on for a while about Indian students being beaten up down under.

How many days ago was it when more than a hundred people died in a stampede at Sabarimala? Does anyone remember?

What does that tell us about ourselves? I think our priorities are misplaced. It's okay to do candle light vigils about Jessica Lall's killer going scot free but it matters as well when people die who are not models.

I think Indians inherently and automatically put a value on human life ... the richer you are, the more value your life has. The richer you are, the more licenses you can take with the law. The richer you are, the more violations of the law you are allowed.

The sad reality perhaps is this: Indians are not democratic in spirit, incapable of rational thought, and one of the most deeply racial societies or people in the world.

Bon voyage!

Missing Link

There is this 'myth' of there being some steps in the story of human evolution which are as yet unexplained as there is no fossil evidence to back that up. This myth persists because lazy folks like me do not like to read the many books authored on these matters by extraordinary men like Richard Dawkins.

So, here's how my good friend cleared my own misconceptions on the matter:

"The main argument against Evolution is that there are several missing links; in other words no transitional fossils have been found to show the existence of intermediate species.

Firstly, Evolution is not progressive.For example several cave dwelling animals lost their eyes; similarly the common ancestor of horse and humans had five digits but horse has simple single digit feet. So human foot is more primitive.

Man is not the pinnacle of evolution. Evolution is mostly managing with what is in hand; natural selection making subtle changes; not going back to the designer board to correct errors. For example dolphin which evolved from a land mammal that went back to water, could not get gills for breathing; instead it had to make do with lungs; the technique nature adopted was a blow hole in the top to manage to inhale air as soon as it breaks surface every now and then.

Biological transition is not immediate - it happens over a period of thousands of years. It is not like a monkey one day gave birth to a human child. It is more like humans and apes share a common ancestor. The ancestors of homo sapiens were Australopithecus, Homo habilus etc.,

There can be no transitional fossil between an Australopithecus and a Homo habilis because any fossil found would be promptly categorized into either of the two. There has been several disputes as to which category a particular fossil would fall in. And if at all a fossil, say B, intermediate to A and C is found, the creationists would then say, 'now there are two missing links - between A and B and between B and C.' (So says Dawkins in his book Evolution, The Greatest Show on Earth).

Contrary to popular belief the human body is not perfectly designed. There are several imperfections - sinus cavity that opens at the top (makes sense when we were four-legged as then it would be in the front and easy to drain fluid); eye has a blind spot and so on. Dawkins gives the example of the laryngeal nerve in the Giraffes which takes a long detour, running throughout its neck, instead of just hopping across, which is what a designer would have done. Animals appear perfectly designed from the outside - eg., cheetah, gazelle; inside they are a mess. Not something a decent designer would be proud of.

Dawkins' book clarifies a lot of things. Nobody in their right mind can dispute the fact of evolution after reading this.
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