May 27, 2011

A Confession

Heaven uses an open-source, Linux based email server.


Since Oprah is now over, let me confess on my blog. I've fathered three babies unbeknown to my imaginary wife. My co-conspirators were sequentially: my office intern, a member of my household staff, and inevitably, the proverbial (but quite literal) maid. The inspirations for these acts (and therefore the owners of authorial credit) are messers Clinton, Arnold, and DSK.


So, I'm giving them due acknowledgement. Also, thanking them for not copyrighting or trademarking these techniques. Instead, these are available to all those who seek to enjoy the benefits of democracy combined with atheism under the Creative Commons License.


Anyone can therefore use these techniques and modify them to suit their specific needs and then share the results with the world at large.


There. I've done it! Or is there more? Well, I just remembered a fourth baby that I had with the hot, young TV journo lady. That was inspired by Mr. Edwards. Ok. That's it.


Now I've confessed the great sin of my life. I'm completely CLEAN now. My soul is light as a feather ... or a size-zero model.


Do I need to go to the Ganga now for a holy dip? No. I think I'll skip that. The damn river is too dirty with human excrement ... not to mention rotting corpses of cows and humans.


Should I visit a dingy confession box? Well, my forefathers were not hot about Jesus and neither am I. No need to change a good, old tradition.

May 25, 2011

Conjoined Twins

This is so intriguing, ever fascinating and touching:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/magazine/could-conjoined-twins-share-a-mind.html/

I remember Laleh and Ladan Bijani and their surgery in Singapore and how that happened to go wrong.

May 23, 2011

A River Runs Through It

A movie about fly fishing that somehow manages to make one ponder about what it means to be alive.


A kid who wants to grow up to be a fly fisherman. Another kid who wants to be a boxer.


A preacher who's devoted to his calling of inspiring and soothing his people through the power of words as revealed by his God. The kids grow up. The elder one turns into the responsible one while the younger is more adventurous. Love and a stable career are the ambitions for one. The other aspires to and enjoys taking life on.


But risk taking can exact grim reapings. One can get killed. This is almost inevitable. But perhaps that's precisely part of the allure of this kind of life.


In time, the kid grows old. And reflects on the meaning of it all. The river meanwhile is the one constant. What a wonderful metaphor for life a river is! Always flowing, never stopping. With hidden dangers lurking beneath the surface.


We are responsible for the decisions we make in our lives. The consequences are for us to bear. Life and people's decisions can be inexplicable at times.


But the larger truth to absorb is that we'll all be old. And dead. Some sooner. Some later. Those who die young can be like those bright burning huge stars that have short life spans. It's for those who live to be old to reflect and remember. To persist and persevere.





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Terms of Endearment

Can a movie make us think about life? Can a movie have anything to teach us about living life? One can pose these questions in relation to this movie. That already shows how much this movie has accomplished.


The movie stars Jack Nicholson as a retired bachelor much attracted to and interested in the opposite sex. It so happens that the character is that of a retired astronaut. Is that so far fetched? I don't know. In terms of physical appearance, there's nothing unusual about Jack that would somehow disqualify him from playing the part of an astronaut.


In fact, Jack takes quite a resemblance to one of the crew members of STS-134, the mission that is currently in space, the boyish looking Michael Fincke. Apart from this, I also think that there's some resemblance between Jack and the legendary Bob Crippen of STS-01.


Then there's Shirley MacLaine. An aging woman who's over-protective of her daughter and suspicious of the world at large, grown somewhat bitter with life with the passing of the years. Basically, she could be your average old lady.


The beautiful Debra Winger is a small town girl with typical family ambitions: get married and start a family. he world may have changed a lot now a days and those sort of ambitions to be a housewife might appear quaint in today's world, but it makes perfect sense in its own frame of reference. And like many impressionable young women, Debra falls in love with a handsome young English teacher who's good with words ... and ladies too. But it turns out that the teacher enjoys the perks of working at a co-ed. Surprise surprise!


Life moves on. Babies come along and romances bloom: some likely and some less likely.


Then the unexpected happens. Life turns upside down all of a sudden for these four people whose lives are so intertwined. And crises bring out our true character. The people who truly care ant to stand by you in a time of crisis. The opportunists soon go away.


The movie ends with the ending of a human life and the beginnings of other relationships. People move on. Always. Life moves on.


So this movie is quite like life. Remarkable and touching.



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Rajneeti: A Stupendous Masterpiece

When a director manages to combine the mythic heritage of the Mahabharata with the cauldron that is contemporary Indian politics, you inevitably get a searing saga.


Unlike the usual Bollywood movie, Rajneeti is painted on a broad canvas and events happen at a fast clip and the movie does not grow stale at any point.


From the start itself when it tells of a romance between an ageing idealist and a young protege, the movie somehow manages to acquire a mythic ambiance.


The movie moves on to scheming politicians and feuding family members, a romance that is one-sided, one brother who's only too trigger happy and the younger brother, who's a cool schemer, and Nana Patkar cool as always.


As we witness one planned murder after another, one is reminded of gangster country. But this is really the reality of life in politics in India and indeed, perhaps, the reality of life itself, in India.


I don't know why the movie did not garner greater accolades. May be, people are not ready to look reality in the eye.

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May 21, 2011

Imagining Immortality

I am thinking of a scheme of how immortality might come to be real in the coming decades.

Perhaps, there will be storage tanks which will house millions upon millions of brains that will be alive and will be connected to a global network of news and everything.

When we are old, our brains will be put there and we will continue to live in a virtual sort of world or a mental world perhaps forever essentially being an observer.

Or, may be, we will have something like fish tanks in our homes where we will have the brains of our ancestors. Perhaps they will continue to live in our drawing rooms observing their progeny lead their daily lives.

How would that be like to have our grannies and granddaddies around? Or, at least, their brains.

Imagine an Alien Earth

I think of a future ... may be a few decades from now ... when we'll discover somewhere in the vastness of our own galaxy a planet eerily like our own.

A planet in the Goldilocks zone with the same kind of temperatures as the Earth and with oceans and land.

I think that would be the most tantalizing prospect of all ... what would happen on such a planet given billions of years? Will life spontaneously evolve inevitably? Or, can a planet remain barren of life for billions of years altogether?

Imagine that life does evolve. Simple unicellular organisms. Then, tiny multicellular organisms. Then, it will be fascinating.

What routes does life take? Will amphibians evolve? Birds? Fish? Trees? Reptiles? Dinosaurs? Mammals?

Just think of the diversity of the history of life on Earth and ponder how much is going to remain the same and how much is going to be different on such a planet.

How fascinating would it be when we detect such an inviting world and send across our robotic explorers for a closer look. How exciting would it be to see from Earth when these robotic explorers send in their videos.

Would we see a planet where animals roam the land? Strange animals and yet animals that we can relate to ... may be 10-legged creatures or something.

Will such a planet have animals of two different sexes for procreation?

I want to live to see the answer to this question.

10 Billion Human Beings

As I observe people living their daily, humdrum existence, I wonder about these prophecies and what the future holds for humanity.


There's clearly no hesitation on my part in sticking my neck out if it means that and saying that I wish the projection said instead that the world's population would reach 2 billion by the end of this century.


What will happen if the planet becomes a planet of plenty like some middle eastern Asian nation with a lot of oil. Will people become lazy and uninnovative?


That's of course unlikely in any case. What is instead likely to happen is a continuation of the present trend.


Think of the competitive nature of life today. Really, there's so much competition happening where everyone is trying to show himself to be smart or make money.


So many smart people working in alternative energy and physics and other sciences like automobiles to space.


There's this extraordinary race which exists where so many have to fail for a few to succeed.


Is that how it has to be for the human race not to become lazy?


Are humans intrinsically designed to have prosaic perspectives and only a few like Carl Sagan or Loren Eiseley are given the cosmic insights ... the ability to enjoy the cosmic beauty of nature?


Look at the average human life. Say, in America. As they lead their daily lives comprising of tours to the gas station, the supermarket or mall, the kids school, beauty parlor, office, highway, paying bills, etc. life has an utterly humdrum quality. Although, if you took a peasant from an Indian village and placed him in the middle of America, he will surely find America to be a land of wonders.


Similarly, the life of a peasant in India takes place at its own humdrum pace. And if an American were to come and witness it, surely he will be appalled at the lack of what he would consider to be basic amenities.


It's easy to sympathize with the story of a Lara Logan when seeing her on 60 Minutes. It's even more easy to sympathize with the kids in Florida who were shown on a recent episode of 60 Minutes.


But the bigger reality is this. At this very moment, and in a quite unremarkable way, thousands of children and millions of children continue to suffer in India.


One has to only go to near a temple on a Tuesday evening here in the North of India, say Delhi, when people's piousness overflows and the street kids gather for food.


One has to only be at any traffic light on a Delhi street to see kids plying their trades, turning tricks or selling books, etc.


I consider this to be a failure of civilization as a whole.


I don't know if I was able to make myself very clear ...

May 11, 2011

India Pakistan Nuclear War

Unexpectedly (or may be, expectedly), the killing of bin Laden had some ramifications in the India Pakistan realm.

Pakistan issued thinly veiled threats against India that it should not even think about doing anything similar to what the U.S. Navy SEALs did. Hmmmm ...
Clearly, Indian generals were engaging in needless bluster when they declared that India had the capability to mount the same sort of mission that the U.S. did.

In an worst case scenario, Pakistan will resort to the use of nuclear weapons against India. I've a funny thought in this regard: what if Pakistan lets one fly into India, say New Delhi, and the missile ends up a dud.
I can well imagine the breathless reporting of the Indian TV news channel reporters. Imagine young reporters blabbering breathlessly with a sense of excitement that would be perhaps second only to if aliens make contact or if E.T. lands on Earth.

How would India respond to such an attack? Will trigger happy generals want to do as Pakistan did? Well, the ultimate control for the Indian nuclear weapons lies with the civilian leadership. Is the Indian leadership likely to indulge in some activity that will lead to thousands or hundreds of thousands of deaths?
Do leaders in India think that the general Pakistani population harbors some deep seated ill feeling or mistrust towards India?

Of course, I am equally certain that Pakistani leadership will consider all the ramifications before launching a nuclear attack against India.

My thoughts turn to the Western nations who clearly were the pioneers in this arena. The United States and the Soviet Union each possessed once upon a time more than 20,000 active nuclear warheads once upon a time. So, when Western nations talk about how India and Pakistan are, sort of, juvenile, I tend to consider the track record of these two superpowers.

After all, what does it say about a nation or nations that does not worry about possessing 20,000 plus nuclear weapons. The doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction is well known. But does it make sense?
If the superpowers were crazy enough even to consider a MAD scenario and indeed perhaps tout it as the highest kind of strategic vision, then India and Pakistan merely planning to kill millions of individuals would appear to be lesser evils.
The assumption of superiority by certain nations is unwarranted. Clearly, it's a dangerous possibility that nuclear weapons or designs might fall into the hands of various kinds of fanatics such as Islamic demagogues. And one must fight such possibilities with all the force one can muster. One must remember that all sorts of religious overzealousness is bad.




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May 04, 2011

Incredibly Scary

This post is about an old bugbear. But that does not make it any less of a danger. Population growth across the world is going to be relentless for as long as the end of the present century. Human numbers will have crossed the astonishing figure of 10 billion by then according to new projections from the U.N.


http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Excel-Data/population.htm

The major part of it will apparently happen in Africa which continues to be mired in a circle of poverty and ignorance apart from many other problems.


The decisions we need to make as a society are these: what constitutes a good life. The challenge merely is not whether there will be enough to feed these billions even though that is going to be one of the major challenges. But more than food and water, I am concerned about the quality of life all these billions will have.


With the relentless spread of science & technology, individuals are ever more empowered. Single humans are able to do more and more and as standards of living rise, each individual consumes more and more of resources. In such a scenario, if the total population also keeps increasing, I do not see how we can avoid a crisis.


To put it bluntly, there is no need for so many humans. As more and more jobs become doable by computers, humans become more and more dispensable. It's only those who have extraordinarily high skill sets that are irreplaceable.


So, my worries are these. What will all these people do when they are grown ups with perhaps just a smattering of education but no extraordinary qualifications such as PhDs. There might be enough to feed people, but will there be enough land left to build decent living quarters for all these people. Will there be enough land to build great roads where people can drive their cars.


Doomsday projections have been shown to be false often enough in the past. I hope there won't be wars among nations in the future for water resources. But even if new technology in food production is able to feed all the teeming millions and billions, I am not so sure that they will have quite a thriving quality of life. This is sad.

May 01, 2011

A Dubious and Tenuous Basis

The unusual sway that cricket holds over people of India represents a cause for concern. The extraordinary sense of joy expressed when the Indian cricket team won the World Cup was quite out of line with the actual achievement.


The achievement, such as it was, was simply this. The Indian team won a few cricket matches. Cricket by definition is a rather unpredictable game that has many vagaries.


Cricket is played in precious few nations of the world. Keeping in mind the population of those other countries puts things in a rather stark perspective.


Here is the COMPLETE LIST of countries (and their populations) where cricket is played with some seriousness: England (60 million), Australia (20 million), New Zealand (3 million), South Africa (40 million), India (1,200 million), Pakistan (150 million), Bangladesh (150 million), Sri Lanka (20 million), and West Indies (1 million).


As the population figures show, the entire world of cricket will easily fit inside India.


Population figures apart, there is a deeper question. What does it say about Indians if they can attach a sense of national pride with the 'team' winning a game of cricket. Clearly, the team comprises a few young men who have a very specific set of skills and this skill is rather useless in many ways. In giving pride of place to people with this skill, people of India are making their choices very clear.


It would appear that for Indians, cricketing skills are more important than many other kinds of skills. What other skills are Indians dismissing by choosing them over cricket?
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