Saturday, November 06, 2010

On Turning 10

Where we write about turning 10...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday, October 08, 2010

On Why I'm A Marxist-Leninist - Part the First

Sorry, typo. Marxist-Leninist.

On Why I'm A Martinist-Lennonist

John would've turned 70 today. Imagine. [This post was supposed to go out on October 9. At this rate, it will never get done, so splitting and publishing.]

I love the Beatles. I don't know why this is. I do know when it roughly started. In 1995, The Beatles Anthology documentary came out. It was even shown on DD Metro. I didn't know who the hell The Beatles were; the sum total of my exposure to Western pop music up until that point consisted of Jim Reeves (does anyone even remember this guy and how big he was in India), thanks to some LPs my dad had saved, Boney M from Juristic Person knows where, the "Yesterday Once More" song by The Carpenters, and Matilda by Harry Belafonte. The reason I know this so precisely is because that was literally the 4 western pop things I'd ever heard with any level of seriousness.

Then this anthology thing came along and my neighbour, who was from the metropolis of Nellore, kept running off to the common room in the evenings. I tagged along, mainly to find out what sort of band penetrates through SPB and Ghantasala into the very recesses of outer Nellore.

I was spellbound. I think it's the documentary that did me in. Just watching those boys from Liverpool first turn into scarecrows in a Hamburg cellar, and then into musicians, and then stars, and then musicians again, oh it was magic.

The Nellore fellow had a cassette with him that was doing the rounds in those days, a black cover "Top 20" thing. Borrowed the cassette, borrowed a Walkman from a Hyderabad fellow and just guzzled. After this staggering breakthrough, I learned to like The Doors, Deep Purple, Def Leppard, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and some other suchlike bands, mainly because that's what the fellows whose rooms we got drunk in (Venkataramanav vodka in steel tumblers with water from the hostel mess) would play.

Can't say any of that made a lasting impression, some of it is still nice, but it doesn't grab by the collar and shake the way the Beatles did. The Beatles, and oddly enough, Itzhak Perelman playing The Four Seasons, were the only two things that offered any sort of transcendental musical sustenance.

Friday, August 27, 2010

(Not So) Free Association

(I)

Read this.

Which is as good a time as any to remember that the thespian in question, this leader of a large Middle Eastern country with a finger on the nuclear button, is this (YouTube link) fellow.

Wonders will never cease.

(II)

Large poster at Teynampet signal. Beaming countenance, saffron robes, Afro.

"I am in you. You are in me. Blah blah blah."

Hmm.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

On The Economics Of The Madras Autorickshaw

Netizens of Bangalore have apparently gathered under the banner of Meterjam. In their own words:
ecause strikes need a strike back! We're tired of meter that always reads more than it should, drivers who refuse to ply and demand return fare whenever they want. And if all that wasn't enough, now we have to deal with strikes too, any time the 'unions' decide!

Everyone is holding the janta to ransom. How much more will we pay? It's time to turn the tables.

So on 12th August, shake your head and say NO if an auto driver offers a ride!
If the Bangalore fellows can evoke such a reaction, the reputation of the Chennai auto fellows will possibly set off something like the Long March. At least in Bangalore, they'll pretend that the meter is jammed, there won't be a return savaari back from just the place you want to go to and so on. In Madras, there's no pretense. The meter is just an ornament, a pro forma declaration of intent to provide transportation.

When the subject is broached with the average Madrasi and the average visitor to Madras from those delightful orderly places ("In Bombay you know, the autowallah will even give back Rs. 0.50 in change, you know."), you will find a small vein near the temple start to throb in an alarming fashion. Invective gushes forth; destinations are suggested for auto drivers that make a Siberian gulag seem like Mylai Karpagambal Mess; summary public punishments are proposed that leave the entire Saudi ruling class gasping in admiration.

The Meterjam fellows are definitely entitled to protest, more power to them. There is however, one problem. Why, the anguish?

Most of the people I know who crib about this state of affairs are honest Joes and Janes, strong believers in the glories of such things as Private Enterprise, Free Markets, "easier" Labour Laws, Libertarianism and so on. And yet when faced with this particular example of private enterprise, there seems to be a problem.

After all, what goes on during your typical Madras auto haggle? You quote a ridiculous (to him) price, he quotes a ridiculous (to you) fare, you do the +10/-10 dance for a bit, some emotional appeals to honesty and conscience, and finally either you agree, or both of you move on. Isn't the price of a thing (or service) that magic number which the consumer is willing to pay and the provider is willing to accept? I submit to you that the Chennai auto haggle is the closest thing you will ever see to a scene from "Atlas Shrugged"! Whence cometh the moaning and groaning?

Thinking about it differently, what if all techies were forced by law to work for Rs. 15,000 per month as salary (50% above meter if they put night-outs!)? No more performance based incentives, no more premium for being smarter or knowing more or being willing to do boring and distasteful jobs. Nice, no? So why are you complaining about Manikyam?

One objection I've heard when I've framed the issue in this manner is that it's still not truly a "free market". In a truly free market, anyone would be allowed to operate an auto, there won't be barriers to entry into the business and so on, and this will be a "fair" system and whatever price point results is the "fair" price.

The argument has merit, but I'm not buying it entirely. My feeling (admittedly un-verified/-verifiable) is that even if into that heaven of freedom this city awakes, the cribbers will crib about how auto drivers are colluding to jack up prices etc., as long as they can compare it to the "fixed price" systems in other cities.

To conclude:

1. Madras (and such) are the only places that have truly free and fair autorickshaw service markets. This is closer to the free market utopia that we're all so keen on, than all other "fixed meter" places. You might want to try and remember this the next time you begin to declaim on such matters.

2. Shut the fuck up, pay up, and enjoy the ride.

3. You may perhaps have noticed these other strange long contraptions with numbers etc. on the road. In the alphabet of public transport, if you can't stand 'A for Auto', the next best bet is 'B for the fucking Bus'. Try taking one ever so often.

4. Also, if you stand straight and look straight down towards the floor, right above it, most of you will find 2 columns, banana tree trunk like. They are called "legs". The remainder of this proof is left as an exercise to the discerning reader.

5. That's all.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Tony Who?

Tony Judt died. His name had registered very peripherally a few times, but I had never read anything by him. The flurry of obits and other pieces over the last few days made me root around for more information.

Among the highlights from the New York Times obituary:
Mr. Judt (pronounced Jutt)...began as a specialist in postwar French intellectual history, and for much of his life he embodied the idea of the French-style engaged intellectual.

An impassioned left-wing Zionist as a teenager, he shed his faith in agrarian socialism and Marxism early on and became, as he put it, a "universalist social democrat" with a deep suspicion of left-wing ideologues, identity politics and the emerging role of the United States as the world's sole superpower.
...
His views on Israel made Mr. Judt an increasingly polarizing figure. He placed himself in the midst of a bitter debate when, in 2003, he outlined a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem in The New York Review of Books, proposing that Israel accept a future as a secular, bi-national state in which Jews and Arabs enjoyed equal status.
Strangely (maybe not) there was no hyperlink to the essay in question, but it's easy enough to find.

What a punch in the stomach piece of writing this is! Went into my head like a lance etc. It is worthwhile to put aside whatever you are doing now and reading this one carefully.
...an American statesman is going to have to tell the truth to an Israeli prime minister and find a way to make him listen. Israeli liberals and moderate Palestinians have for two decades been thanklessly insisting that the only hope was for Israel to dismantle nearly all the settlements and return to the 1967 borders, in exchange for real Arab recognition of those frontiers and a stable, terrorist-free Palestinian state underwritten (and constrained) by Western and international agencies. This is still the conventional consensus, and it was once a just and possible solution.

But I suspect that we are already too late for that. There are too many settlements, too many Jewish settlers, and too many Palestinians, and they all live together, albeit separated by barbed wire and pass laws. Whatever the "road map" says, the real map is the one on the ground, and that, as Israelis say, reflects facts. It may be that over a quarter of a million heavily armed and subsidized Jewish settlers would leave Arab Palestine voluntarily; but no one I know believes it will happen. Many of those settlers will die—and kill—rather than move. The last Israeli politician to shoot Jews in pursuit of state policy was David Ben-Gurion, who forcibly disarmed Begin's illegal Irgun militia in 1948 and integrated it into the new Israel Defense Forces. Ariel Sharon is not Ben-Gurion.
The Palestinian-Israeli problem is just too depressing to think about, and this article doesn't make it any easier. Nevertheless, it does present future scenarios in stark relief, and a jolt of clarity is definitely in order.

[Aside: An eminently readable history of the conflict is to be found in Sowing the Wind.]

Sorry to have missed you when you were alive Mr. Judt, and more power to universalist social democrats.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On Writing

Have you ever sat alone in front of a blank page or screen trying to coax words out of you, and the ghost of every memorable writer and the shade of every unforgettable piece you've read start showing up somewhere behind your right shoulder, jostling against each other, and start pushing your diffident fingers this way and that?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Yeh Mera India

Ever so often there will come along a really good reason for liking ye olde maadar-e-watan. They come far and few in between, for example you find reasons to like Sweden more often than you find reasons to like India.

But when they do come, it is bril. I would go so far as to say it is chelpark even. Be that as it may...

There is now a weekly train, 6687/6688 that connects Mangalore and Jammu Tawi, rejoicing in the dry sawdust like name Navyug Express. It plods for 67 hours over 3600 odd kilometres up and down the deathless vistas of the sub-continent etc. The timetable is magical. Thalassery, Tiruppur, Tirupati, Tenali, Sevagram, Faridabad, Tohana, Malerkotla, Phagwara, Tanda Urmar (!!) and Kathua all linked by one pantry car. And if that wasn't enough, one portion of the train actually starts in Tirunelveli and joins the mother ship at Soil Degradation, Tamil Nadu (also called Erode, sometimes).

The thought that someone from Kovilpatti may be booking a ticket to Kathua is giving me goosebumps this fine Saturday afternoon.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dance Baby, Dance

For those who want to know, this is how I dance (when sober):



When not, however, this is how I dance. More accurately, this is how I think I dance:

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

With A Little Help From My Friends

It's apparently Ringo's birthday today. He's been interviewed.
A few weeks ago the Vatican finally gave its approval to the Beatles. How did you feel about that?

It didn't affect me in any way, but I do believe that the Vatican have better things to deal with than forgiving the Beatles. I don't remember what it actually said — it had some weird piece in it, too. That they've forgiven us for being, what, satanic? Whoever wrote it was thinking about the Stones.
Priceless. Man, I wish that band was still around. Peace and love. Happy birthday, Ringo. Seeing as it is the season of soothsaying octopi,


I do hope Panzerdivision Mannschaft runs roughshod over the cephalopod ("Paul is dead!") tonight.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Rukaavat Ke Liye...

...not too much khed. Regular transmission may or may not resume in a while. Meanwhile, transmission of a sort continues here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Best Football Match Ever

It's that time again. I present to you, the most thrilling and entertaining football match ever played (Germany v. Greece, Munich).



It's good to watch football, because it's so boring and languorous most of the time, with flurries of excitement ever so often. More than anything else, it is a chance to hang out with friends and/or chemists and drink and eat pizza and idiappam and shoot the breeze.

Meanwhile, certain other team of interest is doing rather well, more power to them. Boston is everything Los Angeles is not: small, pretty, smart, negotiable via public transport, livable. Here's to the Celtics slitting eviscerating until the floor is slick with the Lakers' blood.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Haunted Household

How many of these have happened to you?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sadness


This is among the sadder things I've seen recently. A sign of more such things to come?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lynx Lynx

No blogging has happened in ages. Here, anyway. Nowadays time and energy are consumed here, with the occasional update here.

Nevertheless, lots and lots of links and "thoughts" have been piling up. So here we disgorge.

0

Is there an age after which Sergeant Pepper's starts to become more appealing than Abbey Road? If so, it has happened, I think. Not that I like Abbey Road any less now than before, but Sgt. Pepper seems to have aged better. Oh well.

I

The Economist carried a lovely article on "re-drawing" the map of Europe (to accommodate Syldavia, Borduria etc.) Priceless comments like so
In Britain’s place should come Poland, which has suffered quite enough in its location between Russia and Germany and deserves a chance to enjoy the bracing winds of the North Atlantic and the security of sea water between it and any potential invaders.
And
The Ukrainian shift would allow Russia to move west and south too, thus vacating Siberia for the Chinese, who will take it sooner or later anyway.
And finally
The rest of Italy, from Rome downwards, would separate and join with Sicily to form a new country, officially called the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (but nicknamed Bordello).


II

Gobbledygook. The original source (PDF) of said g. It would've been funny, if it were not for the fact that there are millions (hundreds of millions!) of "educated" Hindus who will swallow this sort of stuff hook, line and sinker.

III

There is a very interesting but fairly heavy duty argument going on in the "blogosphere", essentially about whether you can derive "ought" from "is". This is a good starting point, but you will have to unravel the thread yourself. In a nutshell, it began like so:

"Militant" atheist, neuroscientist Sam Harris (at a TED talk): Science can answer moral questions.

Physicist Sean Carroll: No it can't. It will tell you what is, but not what ought to be. But that's OK.

Enjoy.

And that will be all for now.

(One fairly interesting and important thought has occurred and escaped. Maybe it will come back.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Phase Forward ACE 2010 Corporate Quiz

Edition #6 happeneth in short order.

Date: June 12, 2010
Venue: Indian School of Business, Gachi Bowli, Hyderabad

Details on the website.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My IPL Support Algorithm (Redux)

Last year, I was jobless enough to present a programming version with suitable cultural and historical references thrown in. This time, it's a bit sooner, and it's more like the laws of robotics.

Hereby presenting:

Law I: Deccan Chargers (DC) win all their games.
Law II: Mumbai Indians (MI) win all their games (except when it conflicts with Law I)
Law III: Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) win all their games (except when it conflicts with Laws I & II)
Law IV: The team with the lower net run rate wins its game (except when it conflicts with Laws I, II and III)

Very tidy.

Forthcoming Results

KKR wins CSK v KKR (IV)
RR wins RR v RCB (IV)
CSK wins CSK v DD (IV)
DC wins KXIP v DC (I)
MI wins RCB v MI (II)
KKR wins KKR v RR (IV)
KXIP wins KXIP v CSK (III)
DC wins DD v DC (I)
MI wins KKR v MI (II)

Points Table

Semifinalists

MI - 14 - 11 - 22
DC - 14 - 8 - 16
RR & KKR - 14 - 7 - 14

Sad, sorry, losers

RCB - 14 - 6 - 12
DD - 14 - 6 - 12
CSK - 14 - 6 - 12

Fair Play Award, hugs from Preity
KXIP - 14 - 5 - 10

Thank you, thank you.

P.S. Forgot the Zeroeth Law

DC will (do you hear that, Adam? WILLLLLLLLL) play VOLCANO VENU!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

On Bathrooms, And Trains

toilets; aesthetics of

Thanks to a winged friend who shall remain nameless, I have recently come into possession of one book by name of In Praise of Shadows by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki. It is fairly short, more a long essay than anything else. I first heard about it in the preface of What is Good? and the couple of paragraphs that Grayling quotes was enough to whet the appetite and shamelessly ask said winged personage to lug one copy across the Atlantic and the Eurasian landmass.
The essay consists of 16 sections that discuss traditional Japanese aesthetics in contrast with change. Comparisons of light with darkness are used to contrast Western and Asian cultures. The West, in its striving for progress, is presented as continuously searching for light and clarity, while the subtle and subdued forms of oriental art and literature are seen by Tanizaki to represent an appreciation of shadow and subtlety.
I have finished reading about half of it, and so far so good. Tanizaki does tend to get a little too hi-falutin' about the Japanese way of life, a mildly annoying undercurrent of "Oh it was all so nice in the good 'ol traditional days..." permeates the thing. And he is a little too critical of "Western progress", but beyond that no major cribs. Some parts are just lovely. And when he gets into the aesthetics of toilets I am, of course, spellbound.
The parlor may have its charms, but the Japanese toilet truly is a place of spiritual repose. It always stands apart from the main building, at the end of a corridor, in a grove fragrant with leaves and moss. No words can describe the sensation as one sits in the dim light, basking in the faint glow reflected from the shoji, lost in meditation or gazing out at the garden. The novelist Natsume Soseki counted his morning trips to the toilet a great pleasure, "a physiological delight", he called it. And surely there could be no better place to savor this pleasure than a Japanese toilet where, surrounded by tranquil walls and finely grained wood, one looks out upon blue skies and green leaves.

As I have said there are certain prerequisites: a degree of dimness, absolute cleanliness, and quiet so complete one can hear the hum of a mosquito. I love to listen from such a toilet to the sound of softly falling rain, especially if it is a toilet of the Kanto region, with its long, narrow windows at floor level; there one can listen with a sense of intimacy to the raindrops falling from the eaves and trees, seeping into the earth as they wash over the base of a stone lantern and freshen the moss about the stepping stones.
And so on he goes, for a good 2-3 pages.

The whole thing immediately whisked me back to holidays at the grandparents' house in Marx's own country. Some of the toilets there were outside the house, you had to walk through the garden/grove/plantation (vaLappu for the Mallu unchallenged) to get to it. In June and in the winter, the ground is wet and squelchy all the time, and every nook and cranny is just crawling with life in every form imaginable on 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10++ legs (and sometimes slithering greenly over the undergrowth on its belly). A trip to the loo was a minor expedition, and once safely ensconced and enthroned inside, you could watch a patch of blue sky, framed by the tiles of the eaves and by coconut fronds and betel nut leaves. Or watch the rain come down in a din, sousing all of existence.

Of course, this is all a 20-20 hindsight thing. As kids I think we mostly hated this whole business of having to go outside the house, and having to put up with assorted insects and amphibians while abluting (yes, it's a new word). Why couldn't we just have vitrified tiles and a flush and all that city stuff, we wailed. Going to the loo at night was an endeavour that scared the bejesus out of us. It was bad enough that you had a decent probability of copping it from snakebite, but when assorted relatives had filled you with stories of the brahma rakshas (The Ghost Formerly Known As Strapping-Young-Namboothiri) in the temple peepal, you were, so to speak, emitting bricks, as opposed to what you wanted to in the first place.

Photos of ye olde countryside house are appended for your kind information.




toilets; cleaning of

There is only one secret to cleaning a toilet (or any bathroom, in general).

YOU HAVE TO WANT TO CLEAN IT

You must desire it deeply, uncompromisingly. With the sort of steadfastness that only an Ekalavya type can possess. When you have decided to clean a bathroom one morning, it must seep into every pore, and take over your being. A whole morning, nay a whole day is nothing. You are willing to give up the brunch with friends, the afternoon snooze, the curling up with the book, the checking email, the cup of filter coffee, the long run, or whatever it is that is floating your nautical vehicle at the present time.

You have it in you, or you don't.

I have it.

Note carefully that this is very different from a general desire to keep bathrooms clean on a regular basis, which boatloads of people have. Even I have it, in a very general and non-obsessive way. We are speaking here of a primeval urge to clean. Scrub. On hands and knees. The mildew. Off every fucking tile.

This doesn't happen often. In my case it approximately coincides with return trips of Halley's comet. Nevertheless, the point is to DO IT. And DO IT SUPREMELY WELL. No amount of chemical help is enough. It's a mind game, it's a marathon. And the wall is really a goddamn wall that is laughing in your face.

My autobiography will be called It's Not About The Bathroom Cleaning Chemical Thing.

Indian Railways; obsessions hereto and thereunder

It is impossible to praise IRFCA too much. Pure treasure trove of information. I recently hopped onto their hyper-active mailing list. And I thought I was train obsessed. These guys take it to the next level. For example, here is the story of one thread that I followed. A couple of days back, a new train from Vizag to Kurla (more properly VSKP-LTT) was started.

Several days before this historic event, people on the list had begun to conjecture on

(i) What will be the composition of the train?
(ii) How will it get to Kurla, i.e. which locos from which loco shed will haul it on which stretches?
(iii) Mother of God, is it possible that the thing will be pulled by a diesel engine all the way from VSKP to LTT?!!!!!!
(iv) Taking point # (iii) further, is it true, oh-please-Lord-Laupathgamineshwara-make-it-so, that the same VSKP shed WDM loco will be used all the way to Kurla? I mean, will we have a darshan of diesel in Dombivili? That too an ECoR, VSKP diesel?

et cetera

And sure enough, when the train was flagged off, railfans showed up at stations along the way to gaze lovingly upon this miracle (this is just an ordinary superfast train, mind you) whizzing over the permanent way, past the platform.

In BZA (Vijayawada to you rail challenged), Jayakar took a photograph. In BMT (Begumpet to you all !$#@!%), Vrij actually filmed the train.



And from Kurla came a breathless email, the VSKP diesel was used all the way to Bombay!!!!

Regular readers will be aware that I am the sort of person who will die of joy upon seeing a VSKP locomotive in far off places, but what a joy to find a kindred gang. I love these guys.

Monday, March 08, 2010

WTF, Hon. SC of India?

In which we may have invited judicial retribution...

Prelude:

In 2003/2004 Sushma Tiwari, a Brahmin from UP married Prabhu Nochil, an Ezhava from Kerala. They were in love. 7 months after they got married, to erase the insult to their caste and recover their honour etc. her brother Dilip and some accomplices murdered Prabhu, his father and 2 children in their Mumbai home, and left 2 others injured. A pregnant Sushma escaped because she was visiting a relative.

Cut to Now:

Today's Hindu carries a brief story. It says:
Although the fast track sessions court in Maharashtra, and later the Bombay High Court, awarded the death penalty to Sushma's brother Dilip Tiwari and his accomplices, the Supreme Court in December 2009 reduced the sentence to 25-year imprisonment.
And why did the Supreme Court reduce the sentence? Lo and behold...
The Supreme Court, explaining its decision to revoke the death sentence, said: "It is a common experience that when the younger sister commits something unusual and in this case it was an inter-caste, intercommunity marriage out of [a] secret love affair, then in society it is the elder brother who justifiably or otherwise is held responsible for not stopping such [an] affair."

It added: "If he became the victim of his wrong but genuine caste considerations, it would not justify the death sentence... The vicious grip of the caste, community, religion, though totally unjustified, is a stark reality."
clap clap clap clap.... WTF! WTF WTF WTF?!! Is there some jurisprudential nuance I'm missing here?

While capital punishment is demonstrably wrong, even if the SC had reduced some non-capital punishment in this case [added 2010-03-08 11:50 a.m. IST]for the reasons it lists[added ends], it would have been just a mega WTF.

I hope someone is doing him a favour and sending Ajmal Kasab this vital piece of information. Here is a sentence to get him started:

"If I became the victim of my wrong but genuine religious and patriotic considerations, it would not justify the death sentence... The vicious grip of religion and nationalism, though totally unjustified, is a stark reality." etc.

If only somehow the Delhi High Court of IPC Section 377 fame was promoted en masse into the upper echelons of the country's judiciary...

Can this blog post be construed as contempt of court? Nevertheless WTF ya.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Random Juvenile Humour

The below might be construed as poking fun at short people, disabled people, gay people and poets. It may disgust or offend you, to varying degrees. You have been warned.

Last week, That Man Keynes And His Homosexual Intrigues, self and S were lounging in TMKAHHI's house in Bangalore. Two somewhat dissimilar threads of conversation interleaved. On the one hand, all of us had lived in Amherst, MA at some point in our lives, and so we were therefore talking about Robert Frost. On the other hand, TMKAHHI was, in the way he does, telling us about the time a deformed midget (a flipper for one arm or something, his words) of some sort had accosted him while he was waiting at a Bangalore traffic signal and attempted to fondle him.

In the usual manner, we attempted a synthesis so that we could braid the two threads into one and save us the trouble of surreal context switching. Of course, the following resulted:

Stopping By An Autorickshaw At A Noisy Signal
     -- Lewd Short Person

Whose wood this is I think I know.
Isn't his auto going rather slow?
He will not mind me stopping here
To watch his wood grow and grow.
...

And so on. At the time it seemed very clever and we nearly died of ROFLMAO. Perhaps only the fact that TMKAHHI had cremated his mother that morning kept things in check.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Avogadro's Number And Other Stories

Not stories, really. Links. Hmph.

Homeopathy

Homeopathy has been in the news lately. Last Saturday, at 10:23 a.m. local time, people all across the United Kingdom stood outside Boots pharmacies and ODed on homeopathic "medicines". 45 died after hours of agony, while over 230 had to be hospitalized.

Not.

The whole shebang was organized by 1023.org. I suppose the standard homeopath defense of this whole thing will be on the lines of, "Oh, but that's not how the medicine is supposed to be taken." and "Ah, but the precise reason why nothing happened to them was that the dosage was too high."

Whaddeva. Make up your own minds.

Other related items. The House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology had what they call an Evidence Check. The uncorrected transcript is here. One of the people who gave evidence was Paul Bennett, described as Professional Standards Director and Superintendent Pharmacist, Boots. The following curious exchange happened at the beginning of the hearing.

Q1 Chairman: ...You actually manufacture and sell homeopathic remedies. Do they work beyond the placebo effect, very briefly?

Mr Bennett: First, I need to correct you actually, I am afraid. We do not manufacture products.

Q2 Chairman: You sell them though?

Mr Bennett: We do sell them.

Q3 Chairman: So you sell them?

Mr Bennett: We do indeed sell them and there is certainly a consumer demand for those products.

Q4 Chairman: I did not ask you that question. I said do they work beyond the placebo effect?

Mr Bennett: I have no evidence before me to suggest that they are efficacious, and we look very much for the evidence to support that, and so I am unable to give you a yes or no answer to that question.

Q5 Chairman: You sell them but you do not believe they are efficacious?

Mr Bennett: It is about consumer choice for us. A large number of our consumers actually do believe they are efficacious, but they are licensed medicinal products and, therefore, we believe it is right to make them available.

Q6 Chairman: But as a company you do not believe that they necessarily are?

Mr Bennett: We do not disbelieve either. It is an evidence issue.


So basically they sell it because people will buy it. Makes perfect business sense. Which brings us to the whole, "the homeo people are small time, innocent, peaceful, Luke Skywalker types against whom the baleful forces of the Evil Pharmaceutical Empire are arrayed" type melodrama. Boots is the equivalent of the Death Star as far as pharma companies goes. They're selling homeo pills. The last thing you can accuse big business is about being nitpicky about ideology. If it sells, they'll sell it, whether it's vaccines or $8 a pop sugar pills.

Apparently the report of the Select Committee will be published next week. Watch this and other spaces.

Sam Bowles

Not many people have heard about this gentleman. Indeed, I wouldn't have, had it not been for That Man Keynes And His Homosexual Intrigues. Bowles and TMKAHHI have collaborated academically, and TMKAHHI is in awe of Sam.

The Santa Fe Reporter has a piece on Bowles (who looks uncannily like an oldish Gregory Peck) and his work. It's titled "BORN POOR? SANTA FE ECONOMIST SAMUEL BOWLES SAYS YOU BETTER GET USED TO IT" and is an absorbing read. Most absorbing is the fact that Bowles' collaboration with TMKAHHI is mentioned ;) I'm tho totally absorbed only re baba.

Among the more interesting things he's looked at, are measures of inequalities in society.
The Gini is an expression economists use to measure equality or inequality in a society.

Zero describes the ultimate level playing field, a nonexistent land in which everyone has all the same stuff. A completely unequal society, in which one person has sole control of literally everything, would have a Gini of 100. New Mexico’s Gini score (45.7) reveals this state is more unequal than most. Utah is the most egalitarian state (with a 41.3 Gini), while the District of Columbia (53.7) is the most economically polarized, according to the most recent Census report, from 2006.

The second figure, 23, is the Gini for Sweden, the world’s most egalitarian country. Whereas most of Europe, Canada and Australia have Ginis in the low 30s, the US has over the past several decades developed inequalities usually found only in poor countries with autocratic governments.

So what? Isn’t inequality merely the price of America being No. 1?

“That’s almost certainly false,” Bowles tells SFR. “Prior to about 20 years ago, most economists thought that inequality just greased the wheels of progress. Overwhelmingly now, people who study it empirically think that it’s sand in the wheels.”
More
Again with the numbers:

30

32


The first number is the likelihood, expressed as a percentage, that a child born to parents whose incomes fall within the top 10 percent of Americans will grow up to be at least as wealthy.

The second is the percentage likelihood that a person born into the bottom 10 percent of society will stay at the bottom.

Just to drive the point home, here’s a third number: 1.3

That’s the percentage likelihood that a bottom 10 percenter will ever make it to the top 10 percent. For 99 out of 100 people, rags never lead to riches.
So much for trickle down.

Bowles' father was Chester Bowles, US Ambassador to India for Truman and Kennedy. Sam spent part of his childhood in Delhi, and a few slices from those days can be found in Chester's book about his days as ambassador in Delhi (can't recall the name of said book, although crumbling copy belonging to Dad is lying at home somewhere). Sam apparently saw Bhakra-Nangal and told Chester he wanted to be a Civil Engineer :P The kids went to some Indian school in Delhi, unlike the children of other diplomats who went to international schools, and TMKAHHI tells me that his formative years in India influenced the directions of departure of Sam's later work.

On a personal note, TMKAHHI + wife and I have spent more than one evening at Sam's lovely book filled house in a lonely-ish corner of Montague, MA. The snow outside, music inside, and the "gurgle" of books, is what one chiefly remembers.

How To Fall 35,000 Feet And Survive

Truly amazing article from Popular Mechanics. Sample this:
You have a late night and an early flight. Not long after takeoff, you drift to sleep. Suddenly, you’re wide awake. There’s cold air rushing everywhere, and sound. Intense, horrible sound. Where am I?, you think. Where’s the plane?

You’re 6 miles up. You’re alone. You’re falling.

Things are bad. But now’s the time to focus on the good news. (Yes, it goes beyond surviving the destruction of your aircraft.)
...
...
By now, you’ve descended into breathable air. You sputter into consciousness. At this altitude, you’ve got roughly 2 minutes until impact. Your plan is simple. You will enter a Zen state and decide to live. You will understand, as Hamilton notes, "that it isn’t the fall that kills you—it's the landing."

Keeping your wits about you, you take aim.
Outstanding stuff. Take a bow, Popular Mechanics and Dan Koeppel.

How Vasili Alexandrovich Arkipov Saved The World (And Shame Shame Puppy Shame You Didn't Even Know His Name Till Now)

Via Wikipedia:
On October 27, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group of eleven United States Navy destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph trapped a nuclear-armed Soviet Foxtrot class submarine B-59 near Cuba and started dropping practice depth charges, explosives intended to force the submarine to come to the surface for identification. Allegedly, the captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, believing that a war might already have started, prepared to launch a retaliatory nuclear-tipped torpedo.

Three officers on board the submarine — Savitsky, the Political Officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and the Second in command Arkhipov — were authorized to launch the torpedo if they agreed unanimously in favour of doing so. An argument broke out among the three, in which only Arkhipov was against the launch, eventually persuading Savitsky to surface the submarine and await orders from Moscow. The nuclear warfare which presumably would have ensued was thus averted.
Reads suspiciously like the plot of Crimson Tide, if you axe me.

Even if you don't axe me, actually.

Actually, I don't think your hacking away at me with a metallic cutting implement will change anything one way or the other.





So don't.















Axe me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

About Time, Neh?

I

I don't know why this makes me so happy, but I'm so happy this happened. About bloody time, I think.

Here are couple of things that are vitally important to know.
  • When the Filmfare award for Best Cinematography went to Murthy for Kaagaz Ke Phool, he was actually in Greece where Guru Dutt had sent him, to learn what he could from the making of The Guns of Navarone!
  • There is a long and lovely audio interview with Murthy available on the Kamla Bhatt Show website.
  • There used to be a lovely interview with Murthy in PDF format at Sarai, can't seem to find it now. I'm pretty sure I have it downloaded somewhere, let me see.
II

Some data are presented, thanks to Cricinfo's wonderful searching, filtering, sorting and querying capabilities.


Of course, several of you will scream bloody murder. In the interest of fairness, we present this.


Determining who the better batsman is, is left as an exercise for the reader. [Hint: The relevant numbers that should help clinch the issue are marked in bold in the pictures.]

P.S.: Inspiration? This.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I Would Be Going To Listen To The Saxophone In The Park

Rant

It's been an age since I cribbed about the abuse of English. Maybe I'm an older, kinder, wiser, more forgiving man now. More likely I'm just a lazy bastard. To compensate for this horrifying neglect of language rants, I present the misuse of the word "would" as the #1 candidate for Most Misused Word in Indlish.

The thing is, "would" can be used correctly in many contexts. As far as I can tell, there is only one egregious goof; unfortunately it has permeated the qaayanaat, somewhat in the manner that the arterial blood of the next person who, in my presence, screws up "would" would permeate his/her clothes.

There, I've done it. Alea iacta est. Using "would" to talk about things that WILL happen in the future, ay there's the rub. "I would be coming to your house tomorrow." And I WILL detach your goolies from you and play ping pong with them. [I'm not sure what goolies are, don't ask. Everyone has them. They're inside you. And getting them out involves the supreme pleasure of punching through your flesh with my talons and ripping them out, as you would look on, somewhat surprised and puzzled. This is all before the excruciating pain starts, of course.]

This Darth Vader of "woulds" shows up in all kinds of places, I can't pinpoint the rule which makes it incorrect, but I'm pretty damn sure that it's wrong when I hear/read it. Apparently, lesser minds than mine have given some thought to this. The British Council, for example. Englishpage.com has an excellent matrix where they nicely docket "would" and "wouldn't" into pockets.

[The #2 candidate for godawful desi officialese is "revert". But for that rant you'll have to wait for me to revert back to you.]

Saxophone in the Park

It is kind of nice that on a cool-ish January evening, I can walk out of my house, past several T-junction pillayars, to a park, buy a plate of porotta with pepper chicken, and listen to the dolorous notes of a saxophone singing Carnatic. Thanks, Chennai Sangamam.

Of course, lots of kacheri type fraud taaLam putting maamas and maamis were frowning away at all the decadent non-veg eating happening till their brows seemed to be frozen in that knotted fashion, but who cares? It was hard to decide whether the pepper chicken was more satisfactory, or the sax. I do wish they allowed some Mallu joint to put up a beef fry stall, that would be delicious in all respects! Through all this, some of the evening-park-circumambulating maamas continued the good work, and could be seen rotating around the whole scene like so many planetoids.

Candy floss for dessert!

French Puppets

This Sangamam thing just gets better and better. Today they had French "puppets". 8 giant (30 ft.+) giraffes, made of some silken fabric thing, manipulated from below by 2 fellows each, a woman all tarted up and singing arias while lashing out with a whip at a hapless and yet simultaneously scary clown! All this on a street named Venkatnarayana Rd.!! They paraded down the street, went into a park, did some time pass there (fiery hoops were involved) and then finally played 'Mustafa Mustafa' and the giraffes and the gathered throng danced together, while the clown and the woman rode their respective giraffes. Surreal, and smashing! Chennai Sangamam rocks!! Photos in the papers tomorrow, hopefully.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Carnatic Krithi, A Rock Classic

In which the title of the post is a con

Brachevarevarura

Seeing as there was a Facebook meme going on a couple of days back about this subject, this may be relevant.

Not for the weak of stomach. The essay describes how a "surgeon" removed a tumor from Abigail "Nabby" Adams' breast in 1811, without the use of anesthesia. You have been warned. Thanks to Orac for the link. This is how it was done.
Warren then straddled Nabby's knees, leaned over her semi-reclined body, and went to work. He took the two-pronged fork and thrust it deep into the breast. With his left hand, he held onto the fork and raised up on it, lifting the breast from the chest wall. He reached over for the large razor and started slicing into the base of the breast, moving from the middle of her chest toward her left side. When the breast was completely severed, Warren lifted it away from Nabby's chest with the fork. But the tumor was larger and more widespread then he had anticipated. Hard knots of tumor could be felt in the lymph nodes under her left arm. He razored in there as well and pulled out nodes and tumor. Nabby grimaced and groaned, flinching and twisting in the chair, with blood staining her dress and Warren's shirt and pants. Her hair matted in sweat. Abigail, William, and Caroline turned away from the gruesome struggle. To stop the bleeding, Warren pulled a red-hot spatula from the oven and applied it several times to the wound, cauterizing the worst bleeding points. With each touch, steamy wisps of smoke hissed into the air and filled the room with the distinct smell of burning flesh. Warren then sutured the wounds, bandaged them, stepped back from Nabby, and mercifully told her that it was over. The whole procedure had taken less than twenty-five minutes, but it took more than an hour to dress the wounds. Abigail and Caroline then went to the surgical chair and helped Nabby pull her dress back over her left shoulder as modesty demanded. The four surgeons remained astonished that she had endured pain so stoically.
What an unbelievable woman she must've been! Must've got her genes from mum (Apparently the first recorded use of "Mere paas maa hai." is from this era.) Abigail Adams (the mother, the daughter was named for her) was a major intellectual studmuffin. When her husband John Adams, later to be the second president of the newly formed United States, was part of the Continental Congress, trying to cobble together a constitutional form of government, she wrote him:
"...remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
And on slavery she
...explained that she doubted most of the Virginians had such "passion for Liberty" as they claimed they did, since they "deprive[d] their fellow Creatures" of freedom.
Respect.

Tern, Tern, Tern

The Arctic tern undertakes a "colossal" (where colossus = 70,000 k.m.) journey every year from Greenland to the Weddell Sea. Scientist type fellows fitted the birdie type fellows with little tracking devices. Surprisingly, the devices don't work off of GPS or other such sat nav technologies. Instead
The devices record light intensity. This gives an estimate of the local day length, and the times of sunrise and sunset; and from this information it is possible to work out a geographical position of the birds.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Clearance Sale - Mylapore

Friends are moving. See below if you're in Chennai and want to pick up any of the below.

I am moving from Chennai to Mumbai in the next 3 weeks. In that context, we are planning to sell off a few items from here before we go. If interested please email me at choultry [AT] gmail [DOT] com

Moving Sale (All items to go by Feb 1 2010) - Mylapore, Chennai

Please also find below the list of products and expected prices. Most of the items (all except Maruti Swift) are only about 1.5 years old and each equipment in fine working order.

List of items: (Please go to link above for details)

Red Maruti Swift Vxi, 26000 KM run: Rs 3.25 lakhs
Honda Activa (1.5 years old): Rs 35000
LG 2 tonne Split A/C: Rs 20,000
LG 1 tonne Split A/C: Rs 10,000
Whirlpool Fridge (6th Sense, 250L): Rs 12500
Cane Furniture with jhoola: ~ Rs 10,000 (Can discuss if you need individual pieces)
Whirlpool Washing Machine (6th Sense, 6.5 litres): Rs 10,000
2 large King sized beds: Rs 10,000 each (only the cot, not the mattress)
Shoe Rack: Rs 2000
Rotating TV Stand with rollers (ideal for large drawing/study rooms): Rs 4000
Metallic Study Chair: Rs 750

Friday, January 08, 2010

See? Links...

Cannot be bothered to bring forth original content all the while, so we'll do with industrial quantities of links.
  1. Group Gives Up Death Penalty Works. Via Veena.
    Last fall, the American Law Institute, which created the intellectual framework for the modern capital justice system almost 50 years ago, pronounced its project a failure and walked away from it.
  2. Astonishing pictures show how a Devon kayaker got up close and personal with a humpback whale feeding frenzy
    When you’re in a tiny kayak and a 40-ton giant of the deep decides he’s a bit peckish, the sensible option is to scarper as fast as your paddle can carry you.

    But wildlife photographer Duncan Murrell does the opposite. To capture images of humpback whales feeding and surging through the surf off Alaska, he often ventures within 15ft of the fearsome creatures.
    And while we're on the cetacean theme...
  3. Seaquake Theory
    The concept that mass stranded pods of whales and dolphins were injured three to six weeks prior to the beaching by excessive and rapid changes in the surrounding water pressure generated when the rocky bottom jerked violently in the vertical plane during certain undersea earthquakes was first presented in 1987...
  4. Fruitful Decade for Many in the World
    IT may not feel that way right now, but the last 10 years may go down in world history as a big success. That idea may be hard to accept in the United States. After all, it was the decade of 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the financial crisis, all dramatic and painful events. But in economic terms, at least, the decade was a remarkably good one for many people around the globe.
  5. A visual map of the arguments for and against human-caused global climate change - Looks like an excellent place to get a quick-ish summary of the pro- and anti-AGW arguments.
  6. What does it take to save a species? Sometimes, high-voltage power wires
    Then, one bright June day in 2006, eureka: The bee was found in a hillside meadow...

    ...Even more remarkable, though, was the environment where this find was made: In a 250-foot-wide power line corridor off Route 163 in Southeastern Connecticut. Transmission corridors have long been considered symbols of environmental degradation, with their enormous steel skeletons and high-voltage lines slicing through forests, wetlands, and salt marshes; they divide the landscapes that thousands of species need to survive. Yet now they are gaining a new reputation: As critical homes for faltering species of birds, bees, butterflies, plants, and a host of other species.
  7. Apparently, mobile phone radiation 'protects' against Alzheimer's. Notwithstanding what the fair city of San Francisco wants, I think I'm going to permanently strap my phone to the side of my head. [All sidey remarks about how this will serve the dual purpose of keeping me from losing the phone will be treated with the contempt they deserve.]

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Publius Trivius Vigneshwasaurus

Every few days or so, I go walkabout around T. Nahar to see that which is to be seen and learn that which is to be learned. The other day, one train of thought came, on Platform No. 3.

Anyone who knows Madras knows that at all T junctions, there will be a small shrine to Pillayar a.k.a Vinaayakudu, Ganapati, Vighneshwara, Vishwaksena (depending on geography, caste etc.) The P. man will be facing directly down the stem of the T. It's not clear why this practice started. One side-splitting internet explanation goes like so:
The figure of lord ganesh is a auspicious figure which is full of cosmic energy. The figure of lord ganesha has got wave length equal to the wave length of T- Junction the T- Junction in front of a main entry of a building is inauspicious and it obstruct the flow off energy in a building. Hence to rectify the negative impacts of T - Junction the figure of lord ganesha should be placed at the main entry.
So the dude has a "wave length" now? I suppose if I lived on a T junction street I could say "Ganapati and me understand each other completely, we are on the same wavelength, I say."

Anyway, the other explanation I've heard is that he's put facing the stem of the T so that he can ward off any Trouble that comes hurtling straight towards the house. Very curious. Apparently, Trouble is capable of charging down streets in the manner of a cavalry division, but hasn't quite figured out how to turn corners.

Now T. Nagar is chock-a-block full of these quaint little shrines. Each of them is scrupulously maintained. There's fresh flowers usually, a lamp, various condiments pasted on the stone etc. There also seems to be a small-ish army of motorcycle riding priests who dart around (from Pillayar to post, as it were) servicing these temples.

Here begins the Paranoid Conspiracy Theory. In some distant past, when they were doing the town planning for T. Nagar, did some cabal of pujaris strike a deal with the powers that be? Did the powers that be draw the map so that T. Nagar got more than its fair share of T junctions? Is the very name T. Nagar a code word for T Junction Nagar? Were quantities of karpooram handed over from priestly hands to the civic authorities in those days of yore? Do the descendants of those enterprising priests pay off their municipality counterparts even today? Are illicit and illegal massively parallel chantings of the Vishnu Sahasranaamam available to the elected ward council members? Am I insane? (This one we know the answer to.)

Other random points in respect of the jolly god of trivia:
  1. At what point does a Ganesha become necessary at a 3-way junction? In other words, when is a T junction truly a T junction? At what limiting value of θ, where θ is the (acute) angle between the stem and the cross of the T?
  2. There are a couple of places where the 3 streets meet at 120 degrees in respect of each other, like the Mercedes logo, as opposed to T. Here, the conservative builders of houses have, bless their souls, in some cases installed 3 statues! A Holy Mexican Standoff! These Vinaayakas are surely overtaxed. Imagine having to switch constantly between 2 streets while looking out for Trouble. Anything could happen.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

On New Year's Day I...

  • Drank

  • Danced (using a very very generous interpretation of the word "dance")

  • Wrote a little bit

  • Slept well

  • Made breakfast at home

  • Was driven in a car...

  • ...to a delicious home-made lunch

  • Watched a little TV

  • Took a train...

  • ...to Mambalam and drank filter coffee in Pondy Bazaar

  • Got some work done

  • Took a bus...

  • ...to a katcheri...

  • ...and into the bargain discovered what seems to be a rather nice temple

  • Contrary to default behaviour, took the initiative to catch up with friends and older friends, rendezvouses have been planned

  • Took a share auto...

  • ...and bought a biryani

  • Read a little bit...

  • ...and went to bed at a civilized hour.

On the whole, a highly satisfactory day. There are 3 VERY IMPORTANT and very pleasurable things I did not do yesterday, but on balance, all is well.

On the katcheri

Despite many promises to myself and others, I only managed to go to 2 performances (and more importantly 0 caterers) the whole month. Viral fever, trip home and so on more or less became eastern Iberians in the machinery. The concerts I did manage to go to were rather nice. The first was Sanjay Subhramanyam in a cavernous and freezing auditorium, but a most enjoyable concert. I am definitely more partial to Carnatic vocal than instrumental, so this was a good one to go to. Although, I have it from unimpeachable sources that 2 hours before the concert, the artist was doing Farmville updates on his Facebook profile, which makes the whole experience fluctuate between charming and disturbing.

The Ramani concert was a more intimate affair, a small-ish hall next to the temple tank. The performance was superb, even to Philistine ears. The violinist also sounded like a very manodharmam, paddhati, thirukuzhikundram sort of fellow. Enjoyed the whole thing thoroughly. The vennai on the pongal, as it were, was a speech by one sabha organizing mama that punctuated the performance. "Andha Todi! Enna Todi!! Onnume vidaame oru Todi!!! Todi si bewafaai..." and so on. Just scintillating.

Part of the concert paisa vasool is, of course, watching audience maamas and maamis putting taaLam. I have spawned a theory, bear with me.

Personally, I find it impossible to listen to both the main performer and the percussionists at the same time. If I start foot-tapping with mridangam, I can't pay attention to the other fellows, and vice versa. This reminds me rather of the time that my sister tried to measure my pulse rate, and thereby hangs a tale. And honestly, I suspect that the audience M&Ms (multi-coloured as they are in pattu podavais and angavastrams) are in the same boat :P It just comes us an utter surprise to me and the candies when on some downward foot-tap, some momentous conclusion occurs on stage, and we're all very thrilled with each other and much mutual pleasurable beaming occurs.

Usually, I end up scouting the neighbourhood to see if there is a competent and authoritative looking taaLam putter, and try to copy-paste her gestures. Once in a while, I will lose my count, but will catch up sooner or later. Unfortunately, ever so often, I end up picking some number which is mutually prime with the actual beat, and will only catch up after 17x8 beats. Ah well....

Finally, the audience demands the sabhas next year that the promising artiste on the tanpura yesterday become a feature during the season!

Friday, January 01, 2010

What Is Good?

What is Good? - The Search for the Best Way to Live is not a bad book to finish on a December 31. Or a bad thing to write about on a January 1. A.C.Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, reviews the answers to this quite profound question that various Western philosophers tried to come up with.

Grayling starts with the classical Greeks - Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. The Cynics, Epicureans and Stoics are considered and the "religions of the book" are (rightly) dismissed. The train stops next at the Renaissance, addresses the Enlightenment, and so onto the age of Darwin, Bentham and Mill. He ends with today's headaches (terrorism, medical ethics, free speech) and concludes like so:
To the question 'What is good?', then, the answer can only be: 'The considered life - free, creative, informed and chosen, a life of achievement and fulfillment, of pleasure and understanding, of love and friendship; in short, the best human life in a human world, humanely lived.'
That's quite enough, for 2010. Good night.