December 03, 2013

Sagan and Russell Destroy Religion and Invisible Gods

Russell's Teapot or the Celestial Teapot is an analogy intended to refute the idea that the burden of proof lies upon the skeptic to disprove the claims of religions. By using an intentionally absurd analogy, Russell's Teapot draws attention to the formal logic behind the burden of proof and how it works. The celestial teapot is similar to the more recent and perhaps equally paradoxical examples of the invisible pink unicorn, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the dragon in astronomer Carl Sagan's garage, the latter of which can be found in his book "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark". Here Carl Sagan used Russell's teapot in the chapter "The Dragon In My Garage" in which he described the discussion as follows:

"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage" Suppose (I'm following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin. I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity! "Show me," you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle--but no dragon.

"Where's the dragon?" you ask. "Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon." You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints. "Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air." Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire. "Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless." You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible. "Good idea, but she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick." And so on.

I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work. Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?

Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so." - Carl Sagan "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" (1996) The original analogy can be found in an article titled "Is There a God?" commissioned, but never published, by Illustrated magazine in 1952.

Here Russell wrote: "Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time."

November 24, 2013

Scientific Spirit in India

I posted a long comment on this Livemint article about the lack of a scientific spirit in India.

How does one even begin to comment about 'science' in India?

I wrote probably 1,000 words here in Disqus in half an hour or so and then 'lost it' as the power suddenly went off.

Enough said?

I will try to re-write it all but it might appear even more disjointed or incoherent than when I wrote it the first time. I will post the comment and then keep adding to it.

"Dare Mighty Things" is the logo the MSL Curiosity project uses. Indians, on the other hand, are probably more like 'should I dare mighty things?' or 'dare I? Mighty things??'

Nora Ephron, in her commencement address, urged the graduating females of Wellsley to 'break a few rules ... create a little trouble.' Indians are more inclined to 'leave no rule of *tradition* unfollowed' or 'break no rules that the *wise* old guys in the family have laid down.'

About Americans and their love affair with cars ... that's of course a unique and strange love affair.

November 17, 2013

Doris Lessing

Excerpt from Doris Lessing's Nobel Lecture:

We are a jaded lot, we in our threatened world. We are good for irony and even cynicism. Some words and ideas we hardly use, so worn out have they become. But we may want to restore some words that have lost their potency.
We have a treasure-house of literature, going back to the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans. It is all there, this wealth of literature, to be discovered again and again by whoever is lucky enough to come upon it. A treasure. Suppose it did not exist. How impoverished, how empty we would be.
We own a legacy of languages, poems, histories, and it is not one that will ever be exhausted. It is there, always.
We have a bequest of stories, tales from the old storytellers, some of whose names we know, but some not. The storytellers go back and back, to a clearing in the forest where a great fire burns, and the old shamans dance and sing, for our heritage of stories began in fire, magic, the spirit world. And that is where it is held, today.
Ask any modern storyteller and they will say there is always a moment when they are touched with fire, with what we like to call inspiration, and this goes back and back to the beginning of our race, to the great winds that shaped us and our world.
The storyteller is deep inside every one of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is ravaged by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise. But the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us -for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.
That poor girl trudging through the dust, dreaming of an education for her children, do we think that we are better than she is - we, stuffed full of food, our cupboards full of clothes, stifling in our superfluities?
I think it is that girl, and the women who were talking about books and an education when they had not eaten for three days, that may yet define us.

October 18, 2013

Do Advanced Civilizations Self-Destruct?

I think it's quite possible or likely. With reference to our own civilization, I think of the near future, say a hundred years from now. I think we'll master the technology of nuclear fusion. There's no greater panacea for all our energy needs than fusion. So, we'll be tempted to build that ultimate fusion reactor, the ultimate power source that'll power an entire continent.

These reactors will of course generate enormous amounts of power. The major challenge lies in how to tame this suddenly generated energy and use it in a controlled fashion.

The margin for error in these endeavors will be very small. Something might go wrong in how the lasers are calibrated or the hydrogen fuel is measured or assembled and a catastrophic fusion reaction might ensue generating enough energy to blow a continent-sized hole on one side of planet Earth.

Here's a report about the latest advances in laser fusion at the NIF. Interestingly, here's another article which trashes the BBC story. It seems the ongoing U.S. government shutdown meant there was no Public Affairs officer at the NIF belonging to the LLNL to 'clarify' what those results meant. So, BBC went on a merry joyride of its own making.

Seems we are quite a long, long distance away from realizing true nuclear fusion or harnessing it for our use. It is most probably not going to happen in my lifetime.

Oh well. Many things won't happen in my lifetime. Above all, detecting extraterrestrial life or making contact as a 'successful' result of SETI.

October 14, 2013

Global Debt Clock

Why is everyone in the world living beyond their means? I do not know.

Was it Mahatma Gandhi who said 'there is enough to meet everyone's needs but not enough to meet everyone's greeds'? Also, often many famous well-known quotes are 'attributed' to various persons but they have really never actually said them.

Also, many quotes are 'mis-understood' intentionally or otherwise. For example, people like to claim that Einstein believed in God because he sometimes referred to 'nature' metaphorically using the word 'God.' Of course, in his detailed writings and correspondence, Einstein made it abundantly clear he did NOT in fact believe in God but well ...

Anyway, here's the alarming graphic about the "ever rising" global debt of nations from The Economist:

October 13, 2013

When Jerry Coyne Met James Watson

Of course they talked about Sex During The Time of Watson And Crick but they talk about a lot else.

They talk about how their joint papers came to be written by Watson and Crick' and not the other way round.

And OF COURSE both were atheists and Crick was a 'militant atheist' who once joked "Christianity may be OK between consenting adults in private but should not be taught to young children."

October 10, 2013

What Is Wrong With The Modern World

How can I "NOT" agree with the apocalyptic vision of Jonathan Franzen.

This is also of course the article that led to a response from Salman Rushdie.

October 08, 2013

Richard Stallman

Richard Stallman sure appears to be a curious character.

No wonder, Mr. Stallman was NO FAN of Steve Jobs. Here's what he wrote when Mr. Jobs died:

Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died.
As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, "I'm not glad he's dead, but I'm glad he's gone." Nobody deserves to have to die—not Jobs, not Mr. Bill, not even people guilty of bigger evils than theirs. But we all deserve the end of Jobs' malign influence on people's computing.
Unfortunately, that influence continues despite his absence. We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective.

Here's what you need to keep in mind if you intend to invite him as a speaker.

Here's an article in The Guardian about the free software movement that Mr. Stallman pioneered.

The wiki page.

October 07, 2013

Such A Shame For India And Pakistan

Former ISS Commander Chris Hadfield tweeted this picture.

October 06, 2013

Shameless Shenanigans of Manmohan Singh

Put this comment on MJ Akbar's latest Sunday Guardian article.

Well, mostly *facepalm* at all the "praise" MJ has heaped on Chamcha Mukherjee. After all, the Prez is merely enjoying the 'fruits' today of more than 40 years of 'faithful' service to The Family. Pranab-da would be the first to accept that.

If you say 'but he is nowhere as disreputable as other ministers of MMS such as oily minister Moily or Sanjay's sidekicks like Kamal Nath (oh, what a long list of 'infamy' this man can lay claim to)' well, that would be a low bar. I thought Mr. Mukheree was the 'prime' culprit responsible for this government's mis-handling of the economy by taking two steps forward and 2.5 steps back. Although on the 'positive' side, President PM is surely an 'improvement' over his globe-trotting predecessor. And, well, also this: who, if not Pranab?

As to MMS, I don't know how shameless a person has to be to continue to be PM despite all the opprobrium being heaped upon him from all sides ... Does that Beemer one gets for free beckon one so strongly? Are the seats on those BMWs and Air India Ones so soft and cushy? I don't know. It's quite something that two of the closest ministerial 'colleagues' of MMS are Kamal Nath and Rajiv Shulka. I don't even know enough about that guy to think of an appropriate adjective for him.

September 29, 2013

About Ayn Rand and Individualism

Well, the economic philosophy of Ayn Rand as sought to be implemented by one of her chief acolytes, Mr. Greenspan, has already been shown to be a massive failure. I think.
But here's the more important 'Idea of Ayn Rand.' I think it's about applying some THOUGHT to one's place or role in society and having some idea about the purpose or meaning of life.
Looked in that sense, the idea that Indians (even the 'elites' coming out of those top B schools or engineering colleges) might be something of individualists or non-conformists has got to be the most hilarious idea.
I mean, Indians are the most conformist, conservative kind of people/society out there. Even when they go abroad (to places such as where you live), they take their silliness with them and become Baba Ramdev devotees or Double Sri Ravi Shankar devotees. Can you think of anything more ridiculous and a more egregious example of 'non'-thinking?

September 26, 2013

What Is Wrong With Indians

Why Explore Space?

This question is being raised today and it was being raised 40 years back during the Apollo era. Dr. Neil Tyson answers that question beautifully in his various popular stage lectures and in a testimony to the U.S. Congress.

In 1970, Dr. Enrst Stuhlinger answered this very same question in a powerful way.

"How do you justfiy spending billions on research about sending missions to Mars when there are children starving here on Earth," asked a nun from Zambia.

Dr. Stuhlinger, then the Associate Director of Science at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center wrote back:

May 6, 1970

Dear Sister Mary Jucunda:

Your letter was one of many which are reaching me every day, but it has touched me more deeply than all the others because it came so much from the depths of a searching mind and a compassionate heart. I will try to answer your question as best as I possibly can.

First, however, I would like to express my great admiration for you, and for all your many brave sisters, because you are dedicating your lives to the noblest cause of man: help for his fellowmen who are in need.

You asked in your letter how I could suggest the expenditures of billions of dollars for a voyage to Mars, at a time when many children on this Earth are starving to death. I know that you do not expect an answer such as "Oh, I did not know that there are children dying from hunger, but from now on I will desist from any kind of space research until mankind has solved that problem!" In fact, I have known of famined children long before I knew that a voyage to the planet Mars is technically feasible. However, I believe, like many of my friends, that travelling to the Moon and eventually to Mars and to other planets is a venture which we should undertake now, and I even believe that this project, in the long run, will contribute more to the solution of these grave problems we are facing here on Earth than many other potential projects of help which are debated and discussed year after year, and which are so extremely slow in yielding tangible results.

September 23, 2013

The Talented Mr. Kejriwal

While I see no reason at all why Mr. Kejriwal should not get a chance to be the CM of Delhi if he wishes to, in India's Westminster-style democracy, AAP will have to win in enough MLA constituencies to form the next government.

The challenge lies in finding 30 or 35 honest and capable candidates. I can think of Mr. Kejriwal, Mr. Sisodia, Ms. Shazia Ilmi, Mr. Yogendra Yadav, and Mr. Prashant Bhusan. I am not sure if all of them are candidates. At any rate, who are the other 20 or 30 candidates? Are they as honest and purposeful as Mr. Kejriwal or just moneybags?

The other challenge for honest people to make an entry into politics is campaign financing. On the one hand, the legal limit is said to be laughably low and everyone is supposed to be spending up to 20 or 40 times the artificially low limit.

Even otherwise, I think a really honest person may find it tough to be able to 'splurge' 10 lakhs on an election. Do the candidates pay that out of their own pockets or does the AAP provide financial support to the candidates? And if the party does help, where does the party get the money from?

The tussle about bringing political parties under the RTI has thrown up figures of 1,000s of crores that the Congress /BJP/SP/BSP and others get in anonymous contributions. There is no accounting of who are these dedicated patriots who are so generous with their hard-earned money to so freely contribute it to our 'oh-so-honest' politicians such as everyone from Kamal Nath to Sharad Pawar to Mulayam and Laloo to Mayawati and so on.

More likely, unscrupulous businessmen make cash donations to their favorite political parties (or indeed to all the political parties) expecting various favors in return. To take a random example, a leather tannery owner in Kanpur might make donations to the SP and the BSP and the quid pro quo may be that he gets to evade a few crores in various taxes or that his tannery gets preferential electrical power during times of shortage, say during the summer months.
This process, this unholy nexus, between the corrupt businessmen and politicians, is going to be a really tough problem to solve.

Are middle-class Indians willing to put their money where their mouth is? Can Mr. Kejriwal mount an online funding drive like Obama did in 2008? I suspect, many millions of Indians who are outraged about headline corruption cases such as 2G, Coalgate, Adarsh, Vadragate and so on may hesitate to donate thousands of rupees to any political formation; whether it's the AAP or anyone else.

At any rate, the hotshot 20-something voter typically tends to be a blind supporter of Mr. Modi. On the money front, after the usual 'priority' expenditures for youth such as alcohol and may be installments on that four-wheeler (or flat screen TV), I doubt if very many folks have any 'spare' money left to 'donate' to that honest politician or political party.

People are somehow always strapped for money. As middle class folks grow older, they take on traditional responsibilities which can be captured in one word: family.

Once you got a spouse to feed plus a kid or two and their schooling and that home loan and may be those old parents too, man, it gets really, REALLY tough, you see.

That salary of 1,00,000 rupees per month does not go as far now as it used to earlier.
Not to mention the government which keeps whining and pestering for its 'fair share' in the form of ever increasing taxes which are sadly deducted at source from the salaried folks and hence no scope for egregious evading.

And the wife keeps nagging about that long-promised 'honeymoon' trip to Thailand ...

So, all in all, sorry Mr. Kejriwal: you are on your own.

September 21, 2013

Are Indians Racists?

I posted this comment on this Open magazine article about that Indian-origin winner of the Miss America contest.

Agree with Madhavan obviously ... 

I see in the comments that the 'HIndu warriors' are out in force ...


But that is an easy thing for me to do. I want to pause and really think about this.

Of course, what matters is 'discrimination' and not whether you want to define it as 'racism' or 'caste-ism.'

So, let's talk 'racism' in America. It was 'allowed' till the '60s. Then the Civil Rights movement led to enactment of 'laws' during the Johnson administration which officially 'abolished' discrimination.

September 16, 2013

The Euphoric Indian?

While the debate about Raghuram Rajan being portrayed as a 'sex symbol' might be worth having, the thing I noted was this unnecessary sense of euphoria in the avalanche of articles that came out when Mr. Rajan assumed the office of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.

It got me thinking. Is this euphoria limited to article writers who need fodder for their articles or is more widespread? Well, certainly the stock market types need any peg they can find to 'talk up' the markets. So it serves their purpose too if the markets 'rally' on the basis of the 'pep talk' given by the new RBI Guv.

But probably the larger population is not so easily driven to euphoria. Actually, if you see, there is this pattern in media reporting where they go into paroxysms of joy whenever someone new comes along.

Look at these articles that came out when Mr. Chidambaram 'returned' to the Finance Ministry last year.

My thoughts on the state of the Indian economy are as follows:

(And this was posted as a 'comment' on a Livemint article)

LOL. I agree with the pessimistic outlook presented in this article.

But you guys had a 'gung-ho' article yesterday which was full of optimism.

My sense is that the media tends to get into these phases of 'irrational exuberance' over "personalities" which is based on hype rather than fact.

Tales of Voyagers

Does there have to be a human at the apex or tip of an endeavor — a historic endeavor — for that project to register in the human imagination? Think of Apollo and it's most closely associated with Neil Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins of Apollo 11 fame. Then there are the many other well known names from that era of historic space exploration.

But surely Apollo was a project that required the efforts of a million talented men and women and not a dozen or two dozen astronauts.

The old explorers such as Columbus and Magellan were financed by kings and emperors of that time. They were sizable exploration efforts requiring money and many humans and yet they are associated with a few individuals.

Same with the climbing of Everest and the first humans to reach the poles.

Perhaps the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids are the only major achievements of humanity that are not associated with specific individuals.

David Foster Wallace — This Is Water This Is Water

Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address - May 21, 2005

(If anybody feels like perspiring [cough], I'd advise you to go ahead, because I'm sure going to. In fact I'm gonna [mumbles while pulling up his gown and taking out a handkerchief from his pocket].) Greetings ["parents"?] and congratulations to Kenyon's graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story ["thing"] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

September 13, 2013

You Want A Physicist To Speak At Your Funeral — Aaron Freeman

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly. Amen.

September 12, 2013

Top 10 Reasons Against Marraige

So you think you've found your soulmate -> the guy who has the exact same crazy hobbies as you and wants to spend time doing the exact same goofy things as you do.
  1. You were always looking for a partner who was into reading classic literature and now you are sooo looking forward to spending the next months, years, and the lifetime itself together reading wonderful books to each other. But what if your interests doing quite coincide? You are sure you can reconcile your differences? So you're both into Hemingway and Faulkner and not into maudlin romances. But what if one of you suddenly develops a liking for 50 Shades? No gray areas? Well, you never know. You haven't spent 30 years talking about your interests. Indeed, your interests might change as you grow older and who knows, two people might grow old differently. They might be possessed of different demons.
  2. So you're both ornithologists. But what if one of you is interested in migratory birds while the other is more into water birds?
  3. So you're both doctors. But one of you might be interested in the theoretical stuff, extending the envelope, crazy experimental stuff, trying to understand the "junk" DNA, or grow spare body parts in the lab for autologous transplants, while the other might be into epidemeology and public health issues.
  4. So you're both lawyers. But one of you is into constitutional law or fighting for civil liberties or interested in doing pro bono work primarily while the other wants to make millions being a corporate lawyer. What if one of you is in favor of giving the death penalty to the maximum number of people while the other takes up cases to reverse the death penalty given to those on death row.
  5. May be you both love sports. May be you both love baseball or football of hockey or cricket or soccer. But what if you support different teams? A Yankees fan cohabiting with a Red Sox fan? Eww.
  6. What if 'He' is a Republican (and speaks with an Austrian accent too) and 'She' is Democrat. And look at how THAT turned out!
  7. What if you're both religious --> but belong to different religions and worship different gods. May be one of you is Amish and the other is a Mormon. Millions have been killed because of differences of opinion regarding which god created the universe.
  8. What if both are in the IT business? Well, that might work out as both will be busy and .... well, there are successful precedents such as Marissa Mayer and Mr. Mayer who's also the SurveyMonkey guy, right?
  9. What if the bossman is a banker or hedge fund guy or some such Wall St. millionaire/billionaire and she's the former blonde model who's 30 plus now and retired. Well, that will probably work out as well.
  10. What if both are Hollywood actors? You mean like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman? Or Cruise and Aniston? Or ... well, they are ACTORS. So, it doesn't matter either way.
Also, all good memorable legendary stories of romances are those where one of the parties suddenly dies in youth. There's the story of Edward VIII but there's also the story of Diana, Princes of Wales.

What if one of the partners is for the death penalty and the other is against it?

What if one of the partners loves Game of Thrones and the other is in love with Homeland.

September 11, 2013

Data Center News

The interesting thing about technology is that it keeps advancing at a relentless pace. While this may be disorienting for some or at times, it is better than being stuck in millenia-old ideas or concepts or technologies.

High Performance Computing is the leading edge of computer science in many ways. The race to build the next fastest supercomputer continues non-stop.

Here's a story about the Oak Ridge Supercomputer Facility. Will we get exaflop supercomputers by 2018? An exaflop is 1,000 petaflops. One petaflop is 1,000 teraflops. One teraflop is 1,000 gigaflops. So, an exaflop refers to one billion billion floating point operations per second.

Here's a Google technical paper about large, distributed systems such as what Google uses.

Here's a story about when fire threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Here's a look at the Top 10 Supercomputers at that time.

Here's a look at the NYSE's data center.

The Lawrence Livermore Sequoia Supercomputer which is an IBM Blue Gene system put the U.S. at the top of the Top 500 list at that time.

September 04, 2013

Syria As A Cautionary Tale For India

How are we sure that India won't end up in the same chaos that Syria is experiencing today?

As I read this excellent article about why the Syrian crisis is pretty much intractable, I was thinking about how India with its enormous diversity could well be a much larger version of Syria.

India too can be said to be an artificial creation of a European colonial power. India is of course an 'old' civilization with a long history but does that afford any obvious advantages?

Does India's long history or civilization or diversity unite or divide Indians?

How many of us look at ourselves as 'Indians'? Frankly, nobody does; if only because that would be essentially ridiculous in such a diverse nation. We have certain 'roots' that tend to trace to one state or one mother tongue.

While exceptions exist, mostly Indians live in self-contained communities within linguistic and state boundaries. With modernity and industrialization, migration is taking place and hopefully, people become more and more aware of their 'Indian' identity.

September 02, 2013

India's Economic Troubles

I would not have written this but for the fact that I put in a comment on M. J. Akbar's article today.

I came across the article in Mr. Akbar's Facebook feed although it may have been penned for his Times of India blog.

All of Mr. Akbar's articles are available on his blog.

There is much consternation and hand-wringing going on about India's current economic woes. So, is it entirely the fault of the UPA? Of Manmohan Singh and his co-conspirators Mr. Mukherjee, and Montek? Or Chidambaram and the ultimate Big Boss Sonia?

I doubt it. For example take the currency de-valuation.

It is interesting to note that while China attracts much criticism from its main business partner USA for keeping the remnimbi artificially under-valued, we see some weird nationalistic pride getting hurt when the rupee devalues.

It seems almost axiomatic that the rupee's moderate de-valuation will help the export sector and India's dreams of becoming an economic superpower presumably depend on export-led growth.

Like Krugman asked on his blog recently while talking about the rupee devaluation: "What am I missing?"

I suspect India's economic woes emanating primarily from a slowdown in GDP growth has much to do with the recession or the anemic growth conditions afflicting the developed economies.

If the U.S. and European economies were to grow at 4%, I think the boat of India's economy would happily make it to the shore as our exports would be "booming" which would create lots of secondary employment.

For a country as dependent on oil imports as India is, exports are the only way to earn the dollars to pay for those imports. Japan is probably the only other country which is so dependent on energy imports.

Is India as innovative as Japan?

August 29, 2013

New York Times and DNS Hacks

As long as we use the Internet, we have to have some basic understanding of how this behemoth works.

We cannot just pretend that we are technologically-illiterate. All of us have to be somewhat technologically literate.

The attack on the domain is a good opportunity to educate ourselves about how to pull such a trick. Of course, the idea is not that EVERYONE should then try to pull similar tricks but just educate ourselves about HOW STUFF WORKS.

Here's the Washington Post explaining the attack on the NYT.

Here's one more technical look at the whole fracas.

August 27, 2013

Redefining Marriage

A huge majority of Indians appear to be stuck in some 19th century mindset when it comes to marriage and sex.

I do not know why that is so. Whether it was the British or the Moghuls who made Indians into such boring conservatives or it is a legacy of the Hindu religion.

At any rate, it's time to change the rules of the game.

No more 'arranged marriages' between a guy and a girl who do not even know each other. No more parents 'deciding.' No more idiotic 'horoscope matching.' No more looking at caste equations. No more dowry negotiations.

I propose that marriage be made 'temporary' rather then its present 'permanent' form. Let us have 'stations' in life at various intervals where you can choose to 'get off' the bus or train if you so wish.

Let every married couple have the 'option' and the right to leave a marriage at the 1-year interval, then at the 2-year, 3-year, and 5-year intervals. If people stick to each other for 5 years, then they are probably perfectly 'compatible' with each other and they will stick with each other for life.

Otherwise, there is no need for people to forcibly stay in a suffocating relationship.

This idea of 'polyamory' seems interesting. It's great to see people in the West 'experimenting' with various forms of relationships rather then just sticking to some 'traditional' definition of 'marriage.'

When will this occur in India?

August 23, 2013

Let Jagannath (And Other Gods Too) Go To Hell

In a nation where millions of children have to work to 'earn' a living rather then going to school, the banality of discussions about 'God' and temples is breathtaking.

Also, it baffles me that the so called 'educated' youth of India continue to believe in outdated ideas such as 'God.'

I wish people would attempt to WAKE UP from their deep slumber and realize that this is the 21st century!!

God and religions are responsible only for too much trouble, hatred and bloodshed in the world.

What good is God?

I do not see anything 'good' about God.

If anyone argues that we get our moral bearings from God/religion, well, then there would be no need for an IPC and a criminal justice system and police.

August 19, 2013

Top Universities of the World

This is not new but nevertheless no less cringe-worthy for an Indian.

Here are the Top 500 University rankings for 2013.

You have to search hard ... REALLY HARD ... to find an Indian institution on the list. IIT Bombay and IIT Roorkee are there towards the end. Look for institutions from Asia and use Ctrl+F and type 'India' and you will be able to locate. Indian institutions are languishing somewhere outside of the top 200 institutions.

Is not this truly cringe-worthy? Look at the nations featured in the Top 100.

All sorts of nations feature in the Top 200 list: Belgium, Taiwan, Singapore, Sweden, Israel, Netherlands, Austria, Australia, Ireland, Korea and so on. Of course, Britain, France, Germany, and Japan feature there by default.

The Guardian does some nice stuff with the rankings.

One more place where you can find the rankings.

Economic Troubles and National Mindsets

I put a long, somewhat rambling comment on a Newslaundry article.


The 'anger' in this article may be well-founded but it perhaps mangled the economics in comparing India with Greece and in using debt-to-GDP ratio as a barometer of a nation's overall economic health.

I don't know how Britain and Japan managed to have such high debt-to-GDP numbers but they are among the most developed and richest nations on Earth — both being members of the G8. How do or did Britain and Japan manage to become so extraordinarily wealthy? Well, the history aside, in the 20th century and after the Second World War, they have been at the cutting edge of various kinds of technological innovations. While Japan has been the center of the automobile revolution in many ways, Britain is home to British Aerospace, Rolls Royce, and many similar companies.

I bet if we look at the data of per capita number of doctors or engineers in those countries, the ratio would be better than in India. India produces a million engineers per year but it's doubtful how technically competent they are. India is in many ways at the bottom end of the scale whereas these two countries are at the top end.

Finally, it always makes sense to keep the population in mind. So, Japan has 120 million people today and the UK has 60 million.

Greece is a nation of 10 million. Cyprus has 800,000 population, somewhat less than half of Delhi's population.

August 13, 2013

News Roundup on Independence Day Eve

So what's making the news around the middle of August 2013?

Here's a random summary.

The staggering corruption being committed by the Gandhi family in general and Robert Vadra in particular is back in the news as Mr. Khemka's official response to the Haryana government has turned up in the media.

Here's a news round-up of all articles related to Robert Vadra.

Clearly, officers like Mr. Khemka deserve much appreciation from the Government for his extraordinary career of exceptional uprightness. What about a National Award such as a Padma Sri or Padma Bhusan? Clearly, if cricketers and other worthies can be so awarded, it'd not be out of place to confer honest officers with such awards.

August 07, 2013

Reflections on a Death

So much must have been written by better writers than me about death that it is probably superfluous for me to try and add anything on the matter. But of course I will go ahead and add my two cents worth.

After all, everybody has babies and everybody wants to experience the 'joys' of parenthood and sex and so on.

Probably we won't all perish suddenly and unexpectedly when something happens at the center of our Milky Way with the supermassive black hole though those black holes do spin at crazy rates and generate a huge amount of x-rays which are no good for living beings like us.

We are probably lucky that the Sun is about 30,000 light years away from the center of the Milky Way. We live in the boondocks or the suburbs.

The threat of a nuclear Armageddon in a third world war has pretty much disappeared as well. So, we'll all probably live out our lives and slowly fade away.

So the question that arises is: what is the right time and manner to do so?

My drink-buddy died a few days ago. He was 65. But did he know that he was going to die? He seemed to be losing weight and was pointing to some health problems he was having. He probably shared stuff with me that he did not share with his family.

I did not have any inklings that any of this was near. No fore-warnings. He was apparently somewhat sick for a few days before things went downhill quite suddenly and he died in a few hours. He was just a retired guy from the private sector who had no current income and was dependent on an unemployed son and employed daughter-in-law's income plus the rents he received from owning the house where I live.

He managed to take care of his drinking habit with some difficulty thanks to fellow alcohol users such as me but I am nowhere near as heavy a drinker as he was.

It's all a conundrum without a solution.

Did he think/worry/reflect about his possible impending death? I sure hope anyone and everyone who is over the age of 50 or 60 does worry about their mortality. It would be childish not to do so.

July 30, 2013

Longform Journalism

This is surely a bonanza for readers but how, pray, is one going to find the time to go through it all?

This list by publications is interesting.

Bunch of articles from the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, The Verge, WSJ, Businessweek and so on and on and on and so forth.


A Civilization and a Species in Retreat?

We used to celebrate the rebels ... the misfits ... now they're all dying young.

Aaron Swartz, Michael Hastings, and now Barnaby Jack.

What happened to us?

Are humans becoming conformists and conservatives?

Look at all the crazy people who are still about the various medieval religions and the men who wear funny clothes.

Have the challenges of living in the modern world of constant change become so big for most humans that we have decided 'Enough is enough!'

'We do not want any more new information; we are happy with the old shibboleths.' That seems to be the attitude ... about abortion, about marriage, about religions, about science & technology.

Look at how timidly people have fallen in line with the government's line about 'not spying on Americans.'

I worry about Edward Snowden.

Seems to me if we were living in a segregated society of the pre-Civil Rights era, people would be okay with that too rather than coming out on to the streets.

No? You disagree? Well, then, what about Dubai jailing and then showing 'mercy' and "pardoning" a woman for getting raped? What about the medieval punishments still being meted out in Saudi Arabia? How come the Taliban are doing their craziness without any challenge in Afghanistan? Why is nothing getting done about Syria?

Why is John Kerry more bothered about re-starting the peace process in the 'Middle East' by which he means the Israel-Palestinian issue?

Karan Pandey and the Death of Humanity

It's not by being solicitious towards our parents that we show our humanity.

Our humanity should embrace all of humanity.

When individuals are killed in cold blood by the police, people should not be egging the police on.

Sadly, people of India have decided that the right way to deal with stunt bikers doing crazy stuff on the roads of Delhi at night is to shoot one of them dead.

It is not this particular instance which worries me. It's the thought process of people that this reveals which is worrisome.

See the comments supporting Delhi Police.

See the naked display of religious bigotry.

What does that reveal?

The mother is complaining.

But who's listening?

See the media's priorities as they ponder over Katrina's bikini photos ... oh, wait, I think I should have said the media is worried about the 'privacy' of celebrities.

And the media is discussing the disappearance of a young man in Pakistan who went there in search of his love.

July 29, 2013

Diana Athill on Sexual Fidelity in Marriage

When spouses are concerned, it seems to me that kindness and consideration should be the key words, not loyalty, and sexual infidelity does not necessarily wipe them out.

Fidelity in the sense of keeping one's word I respect, but I think it tiresome that it is tied so tightly in people's minds to the idea of sex. The belief that a wife owes absolute fidelity to her husband has deep and tangled roots, being based not only on a man's need to know himself to be the father of his wife's child, but also on the even deeper, darker feeling that man owns woman, God having made her for his convenience. It's hard to imagine the extirpation of that: think of its power in Islam!

July 11, 2013


Couple of resources for lovers of Shakespeare.

Quotes from Shakespeare with explanatory notes and arranged by play.

All of Shakespeare's plays in one place! Will I ever get the time to read them? Shakespeare is so tough to get one's head around.

July 05, 2013

News Update for the Day

Let's take a 'pulse' on the many news items of today. Why today? No reason really.

The heroic Edward Snowden continues to look for a 'safe' place and a safe country to live in as the U.S. government — I don't know whether to describe the Obama administration as Fascist or Soviet-style — continues to try and arrest him and put him in jail for life.

Mr. Snowden left Hong Kong and we know now that the U.S. government got a 'secret' arrest warrant from a court in Virginia and tried to get the Hong Kong government to arrest him. He has landed in Moscow and his future destination remains unknown although the speculation is that he will leave Moscow and go to Cuba en route to Ecuador which is considering giving him asylum.

The Snowden saga is of course one-of-a-kind. Here are the other events that the news media is tracking.

July 04, 2013

Top Business Books

What business books to read? Andrew Ross Sorkin lost a lot of the regard I had for him when he opined that Glenn Greenwald should be 'almost arrested' for exposing NSA spying through the whistle-blower.

That is the problem with 'experts' in one domain butting into other domains which are not their bailiwick. Sorkin is good in finance though and he wrote this column about the best business books for this 'summer' in America.

He lists some good books and readers have added their own favorites in the comments.

The list includes everything from The Art of War to Machiavelli to Warren Buffett, Michael Lewis, Michael Porter, Malcolm Gladwell, to Andrew Sorkin himself. The well known books such as Barbarians at the Gate and books about insider trading feature in the list.

June 28, 2013

Delhi University Cut Offs

For as long as I can remember reading newspapers ... which has been a pretty long time by now, like 20 years, I remember this annual summer 'tamasha' called 'Delhi University cut off.' And 10 or 20 years ago, I was NOT living in Delhi but Delhi news sort of gets transmitted all over India. This was probably more true years back when newspapers did not have so many 'city' editions.

But let's talk about this 'cut off' business. What does this tell us?

  1. I think the fact that the 'cut off' is 95 or 97 or 99 or even 100% says that the exams in which these students scored that much are more or less farcical. So, how come CBSE exams have come to this sorry pass. I believe the reason is that in India, all sorts of competitive exams have been converted into multiple-choice type exams. Thus, Indian students are mostly good at cramming information for exams and then regurgitating those. The reason why we have multiple-choice type exams is of course also to do with the fact that this makes the evaluation 'watertight' in a manner of speaking. The answer sheets can be evaluated by OCR readers and computers eliminating human intervention and therefore the ever-present danger of 'corruption.' Indians seem to be genetically predisposed to be corrupt and really no class of people are free from the 'temptations' of money. Teachers can be corrupt; the police can be corrupt and often are corrupt; government servants are 'famous' for taking bribes and businessmen are famous for paying those bribes!

June 25, 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness, it seems to me, is both more difficult and easier to attain in the modern age.
As educated people, Americans and Europeans are expected to know all the 'basics' ... such as the fact that money can't/doesn't buy you happiness. And yet survey after survey seem to point to the fact that people in less developed nations such as India tend to be happier.
What gives? I think the difference lies in what one's life goals are, what one is striving for, what one chooses to measure one's life by. The 'BIG' "Meaning of Life" question.
We take our cues from our parents, family, society, surroundings, and so on. The horizons of someone who lives in a village in India or China is limited. He/She sees folks grow up, pursue the same activities as his or her parents, then get married and have kids and slowly grow old. The cycle of life tends to repeat itself. The 'desires' tend to be basic and simple and easily obtained. Hence, happiness and contentment are easy to attain.
The modern world has turned everything into a mess. We are bombarded with endless information, endless temptations, endless possibilities. We do not know where to draw the limit. For the new middle class in India, buying a small car costing $8,000 may be a major life achievement leading to much contentment and wide celebration. For Americans, a $30,000 sedan may be a 'basic necessity' rather than a luxury.
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