Archive for the ‘General’ Category

What Next?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Anger in India is currently focused on its own Government. The mindless bloodbath that followed some previous attacks has not happened. What we see instead is a quieter rage, one that can be channeled to something constructive. For, rage has its uses too.

Every one, the US Sec State included, seems to be counseling the Indian Government against an overreaction. Certainly, no one wants a war between two Nuclear-Armed adversaries.

But what of the dangers of under-reaction? What will be the consequence to India and to the world if they are allowed to get away with it?

There seems to be consensus that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is behind this attack: (more…)

The Obama Criteria

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama is about to announce his foreign policy team.No matter who is on it, Obama promises that the policy will be set by him. Nowhere is his intellect more needed than on policy towards Pakistan.

On 1 Aug 2007 Obama said:

The first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said he would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in US military aid to Pakistan conditional on the following actions by the Pakistani government:

  1. substantial progress in closing down terrorist training camps
  2. evict foreign fighters
  3. prevent the Taleban from using Pakistan as staging area for attacks in Afghanistan

I have not heard a clearer analysis yet. There is more: (more…)

Mumbai Culprits

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

At this early stage, public information has to be gleaned from the Indian media: most sources here are quoting Indian reporters. Indian TV is aggressive in its reporting. But it can also be even more sensationalist and exploitive than the American media. Imagine CNN on acid and you get their partner IBN. The FOX sister channel in India is SKY-TV; the reporters are much like Geraldo Rivera only without the restraint and sophistication.

The print media in India is better, as here. The Times of India, for example, is a usually reliable source. They report that at least one terrorist has been captured alive. He is

21 year old Azam Amir Kasav, who hails from tehsil Gipalpura in Pakistan’s Faridkot.

That is in Punjab, the largest of the four provinces of Pakistan. (more…)

Mumbai Lesson: Defund The Pakistani Military

Friday, November 28th, 2008

So what do we know so far about what is going on in Mumbai? (more…)

What Is A Tall Americano?

Friday, September 12th, 2008

At the campus Starbuck’s Coffee Shop:

“I would like a small coffee please”

“Actually, our coffee machine is broken. So we don’t have coffee today”


“You can get a Tall Americano.”

I look around. There are many Americans around, most of them taller than me. Confused.

“What is a Tall Americano?”

“Small coffee”.

“Oh Ok.”

Musharraf Loses

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

The most important election this year could be the one just concluded in Pakistan. In spite of the rigging, and the low turnout from an electorate in mortal danger, it looks like a fairly credible result. Musharraf’s allies lost. A good first step on a long road to recovery for Pakistan. (more…)

North Vs South

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

Raj Thackeray
North Indian migrant workers in Mumbai are being attacked by a militant organization (known by the acronym MNS) which exploits the resentment of the local population. The most odious of the political leaders egging the violent mob on is Raj Thackeray. A generation ago the same folks (Raj’s uncle Bal was the leader back then) were targeting South Indians. What changed? (more…)

The Trolley Problem

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008


Whenever a nation has done something deeply embarrassing, which shames its decent citizens, moral philosophy thrives. As though the obvious atrocity can somehow be hidden behind sophisticated reasonings about abstract thought experiments. Psychologists must have some fancy name for this phenomenon.

We live in such a time now. You cannot open the New Yorker or the New York Times Magazine without running into a conundrum designed by the best and the brightest to teach us lessons on moral values. The difference between us and the ancients is that we look to science, not religion, as the source of our values. Thus, neuro-scientists emerge as the Deep Thinkers of our time. Supposedly their knowledge of how our brain is wired allows them to deduce ab initio what is right and wrong.

One the most fundamental of these puzzles is the Trolley problem. It goes something like this.

On your morning walk, you see a trolley car carrying five passengers. It is hurtling down the track, the conductor slumped over the controls. The passengers are oblivious to the danger. You are standing at a fork in the track and can pull a lever that will divert the trolley onto a spur, saving the five people. Unfortunately, the trolley would then run over a single worker who is laboring on the spur. Is it permissible to throw the switch, killing one man to save five? Almost everyone says “yes.”

But wait a minute. Here is the twist. The single worker is Mr. Average Joe, who is working an extra shift so he can pay off his mother’s hospital bill. You just received a text message identifying the five conscious occupants of the Trolley car as Steven Pinker, Niall Ferguson, Philippa Foot, Judith Jarvis Thomson and Joshua Greene. (You are carrying an iPhone. Duh.) And you have just enough time to Google these names before making the decision.

Now, which way would you throw the switch?

Who is more valuable? Five moral philosophers or an honest working man?

Those with the correct answer will be entered into a raffle for the complete works of Ayn Rand.

What Would Gandhi Drive?

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

The Nano

Nano Nano
Nano has been a buzz word in physics for a while. Now it is also the name of a car, made by Tata Motors of India. It is cute, looking more like a toy car than a real one. It is small. I have seen potholes in Calcutta that are bigger. And most of all it is cheap. It costs less than the DVD player in the SUV that some of my neighbors drive. The Nano is unlikely to be another Yugo: India is not in danger of breaking up, destroying its supply chain. The dream is that will be the next Volkswagen Bug. More likely it will be the next Trabant. Not too bad.

Whether the Nano succeeds or not, it is part of a larger trend. This is what engineering for the masses will look like in the future. What the iPod did to the record industry and the arxiv did to costly journals is about to happen to many well-established businesses.

So what do the $2,500 car and the $200 laptop tell us? Driving and computing are not the only things that can be done much cheaper and smaller. (more…)


Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Our publisher has described the origin of his name elsewhere. Interesting names are all around us.

The Roman Catholic Church had a Cardinal named Sin. He was the Archbishop of Manila, (more…)

Helluva Job Mushie!

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

Other articles on Pakistan
Excerpt from an interview with President Bush by ABC News Nov 2007.

What’s his name has agreed to hold elections in January, and he’s agreed to take his uniform off. Frankly, I think he should do that in the privacy of his own home, but hey, everyone wants the man to take off his own uniform, so lets let him do it anyway he wants. Make sure you cover it live Charlie.

Do you mean Musharraf?

Yeah him. Have trouble remembering his name. General. General something. Hey, he knows how to call me, I don’t need to remember his name. (more…)

Reduction or Emergence

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Earnest Rutherford used to say that all science is either physics or stamp collecting. This could have been a dig at the biologists of his time, who were still collecting samples and classifying species. He probably would have thought more highly of modern molecular biology, which is a lot like his physics in outlook: everything is determined by the DNA. It is said that Rutherford’s worst insult for a student who had done something stupid was–Chemist. The chemists had the last laugh though: Rutherford was awarded the Nobel Prize not in Physics but in Chemistry for having achieved the transmutation of elements.

Should we understand the world bottom up or top down? Which is the proper scientific view? (more…)

Medieval Navigation in the Arabian Sea

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Read First: Longitude Zero

Indians call the bay between Africa and India the Arabian Sea. Throughout the medieval times it was controlled by Arab sailors. They established settlements down the East coast of Africa, as far down as Malindi in Kenya. (more…)

Longitude Zero

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Continued in: Medieval Navigation in the Arabian Sea

One of the early achievements of Indian Mathematical Astronomy (jyotisha) was the system of latitude (aksha-amsa) and Longitude (rekha-amsa). The prime meridian passed through Ujjaini, the capital of the country of Avanti. (more…)

The Almanack

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

What is the date today? A simple question, but with a complex answer.
Poor Richards Almanack
The story of calendars is the story of human civilization itself. The millenial 1 article by Amartya Sen tries to disentangle fact from fantasy in the history of calendars. Never an easy task in history, especially hard in the keeping of time itself. (more…)

White Elephants

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

NASA claims that at The International Space Station (ISS) , “astronauts are working to improve life on Earth”. Originally supposed to cost under $10B, it has cost at least 30 billion of our tax dollars so far; maybe even $100B. It was given the go ahead even as the Superconduting SuperCollider (SSC) was shut down as too expensive. (more…)

The Other Pope 2

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

The Politics

Read First Part I: The Theology
For some one outside of the two ancient faiths, the power game between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church is interesting as a case-study in politics: the longest continuing political struggle in human history. (more…)

The Pope and the Patriarch

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

The Theology

His All-Holiness Bartholomew I is the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the city now called Istanbul. He is considered the equivalent of the Pope for the 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world. He is the `first among equals’ of the four Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem who are successors to the Apostles. (Several Patriarchates have been added more recently to reflect the growth of the Church in Eastern Europe, such as those Serbia, Moscow and Bulgaria). (more…)

Kalla Yoga 2

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

Continued from Part

I need to hurry up and launch my own brand of yoga before the inevitable yoga backlash sets in. It must be distinctive, eye-catching and easily patented. More than a set of exercises. A whole way of life, which will require many accessories. (more…)

Kalla Yoga 1

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

Yoga means `union’ in Sanskrit. It could be your union with the universe. Or it can simply mean a meeting, as in a political or cultural gathering. In mathematical texts, yoga means sum. It is a rather common word in all Indian languages descended from Sanskrit.

But in America, Yoga has come to mean a system of physical exercise. It is a mystical and esoteric word. It is also a multi-billion dollar industry, a lifestyle, even a religion in all but name. Twenty million people practice it in the US alone. Like wine for France and pasta for Italy, yoga has become India’s defining export, its brand identity. (more…)

Grief in The Buddhist Ramayana

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

The Jaataka tales are a collection of parables about the 500 lives of the Buddha until he achieved Nirvana, salvation. After that there are no more re-incarnations. The stories proceed from simple morality tales in which the Bodhisatva ( the soul of the Budha) was alive in the body of a lower life-form: a rabbit, an elephant and so on. Until he attains human form and the stories get more sophisticated. Various versions of these stories have been told and retold over many generations all over the Eastern World.

Another Namesake

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

Mira Nair’s movie `Namesake’ is about a man with an odd name
(Gogol) for an Indian. I have my own situation to deal with.
My name is usually written as Sarada G. Rajeev.

Practical Vedanta

Saturday, April 14th, 2007

Vedaanta is the end of all knowledge. End as in goal, or as in the ultimate kind of knowledge. It is a theory of what knowledge itself is. What practical use could it be? Volumes have been written on how to translate the abstract concepts of Vedanta to every day life. The ultimate authority in `modern times’ (only about a few hundred years ago) is Sankara Acharya. His Vivekachoodaamani and Bhajagovindam are attempts to explain this most abstruse of all branches of classical Indian philosophy to the masses; or at least to laymen.