Friday, April 28, 2006

Krugman on Bush

Krugman's column today (sorry, subscribers only) talks a little about the history of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, which recently fell flat on its face in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A Senate Committee has just recommended abolishing FEMA and replacing it with a new agency. One of the reasons FEMA failed was a lack of qualified people, somehow the new agency will be able to rectify this.

Krugman points out that FEMA was a nesting ground for Bush Senior's cronies, and FEMA flubbed its response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Clinton appointed a professional to head FEMA, and gave him the leeway to hire other professionals, and FEMA came to be regarded as one of the best Federal Agencies. Bush Junior, however, resumed his father's ways, and reduced FEMA to "a shambles and beyond repair" (Senator Susan Collins' assessment).

...the history of the Bush administration, from the botched reconstruction of Iraq to the botched start-up of the prescription drug program, shows that a president who isn't serious about governing, who prizes loyalty and personal connections over competence, can quickly reduce the government of the world's most powerful nation to third-world levels of ineffectiveness.

King George has no clothes; and it is to the lasting shame of this generation that they gave him not one, but two terms in office. If the generation of the Depression and World War II has a claim to being the greatest generation, then this generation has an even stronger claim to being the dumbest.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Say again?

Sign in a barracks of the Israeli army: Privates will refrain from giving advice to officers.

- From Leo Rosten's Giant Book of Laughter

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Pa's book


My father has published a book, the cover of which is shown above. What is the book about? To paraphrase - the book is not about the science and technology of rockets, nor is it a history of rocket science in India. Rather, it is an exposition of the thought processes and work practices that have made the Indian space effort a success.

Nevertheless, detail is necessary and is presented, because otherwise it would be too "hand-wavy".

Despite all the hype, India is and will remain constrained in resources for R&D for the foreseeable future. Moreover, as noted here by Sunil

From an Indian perspective though, it’s not only the money that needs to increase. The money is very, very important. But, to use a hackneyed scientific phrase, the money is necessary but not sufficient. There is a cultural shift that’s needed to change “mindsets” and re-energize research. There remains a institutional/systemic roadblock to innovation and research in India.,,,

The book says that the Indian Space Research Organization has worked its way around most of those roadblocks, and the message is that this success can be repeated if the lessons learned are taken to heart.

Garden pic


Garden pic


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Excerpts from the Prithvi Sukta

Clifford, at Cosmic Variance reminds us that it is Earth Day, today. So here are some excerpts from the Prithvi Sukta - Hymn to the Earth - from the Atharva Veda.

You can read one version here: the 1897 translation by Maurice Bloomfield. I'm using a recent translation by Shrinivas S. Sohoni.

May this Earth, replete with seas, rivers and water sources, excellent foodgrain from agriculture, prolific vegetation and abundant living creaters, bestow upon us munificent nutrition!

May the Earth who is in the nature of a mother, hold us, her sons, close to her life-endowing self, protect us, and may Parjanya (the rain-bearing clouds) in the nature of a father, tend our upbringing.

May this Earth so charged with positive force, neutralise that element which impels ill-will, aggressive intention, subjugation of human beings and their elimination.

May the Earth give us, her progeny, the capacity to speak pleasantly with each other, may our languages enable harmonious interaction between ourselves.

May the Earth which imbues men and women with good fortune and good appearance and gives fleet-footedness to the horse and the deer and strength to the elephants, may this Earth imbue us also with radiance; let none be averse to us!

In daily life, on Earth, whether we are sitting, standing, or in motion, may our activity be such as would never cause injury or grief!

I evoke the Earth which gives shelter to all the searchers of truth, to those who are tolerant and have understanding, to all things strength-giving, nutritious; the source of creative spirit, we depend on you, O Earth!

O Earth, in the villages, forest, assemblies, committees and other places on Earth, may what we express always be in accord with you.

Some of the lines from Bloomfield:

These creatures all together shall yield milk for us; do thou, O earth, give us the honey of speech!

That fragrance of thine which is in men, the loveliness and charm that is in male and female, that which is in steeds and heroes, that which is in the wild animals with trunks (elephants), the lustre that is in the maiden, O earth, with that do thou blend us: not any one shall hate us!

In the villages and in the wilderness, in the assembly-halls that are upon the earth; in the gatherings, and in the meetings, may we hold forth agreeably to thee!

Meanwhile in secular land...

SC warns: India is secular, behave
Press Trust of India
Posted online: Friday, April 21, 2006 at 1513 hours IST
Updated: Friday, April 21, 2006 at 1604 hours IST

New Delhi, April 21: The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Orissa government to provide police protection to a Muslim couple who were forced to separate after local clerics issued a fatwa that they were divorced even though they wanted to live together.

The husband of petitioner Nazma Biwi had pronounced triple talaq in an inebriated condition in 2004 but later realizing his mistake, he decided to live with his wife and three children.

However, local clerics at Bhadrak issued a fatwa that they were divorced and hence could not live together. Thereafter the couple was forced to live separately by the community.

"No one can force them to live separately. This is a secular country. All communities---Hindus or Muslims should behave in civilised manner", a bench of Justice Ruma Pal, Justice C K Thakker and Justice Markandey Katju observed.

The observation came after the petioner's counsel complained that the couple continue to be ostracised by the Muslim community at Bhadrak in Orissa.

Orissa government counsel Shibo Shanker Mishra sought two weeks to file reply to Nazma's petition and the court obliged.

Earlier Nazma had approached the High Court against the fatwa and had sought police protection from her community men who were allegedly harassing the couple.

The incident had created a nation-wide controversy with various women organisations and civil society groups taking up cudgels on behalf of the harassed couple.

The clerics had said that if Nazma wanted to live with her husband, she must perform 'halala' (she must marry another man and the marriage must be consummated, after which she can get a divorce and then re-marry her first husband).

However, Nazma refused to do so, and instead knocked at the doors of the court.

Life as a dhimmi - 3

Malaysia demolishes century-old Hindu temple

Malaysian authorities have demolished a century-old Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur, bulldozing the building as devotees cried and begged them to stop, Hindu groups said today. The Malaimel Sri Selva Kaliamman Temple was reduced to rubble after Kuala Lumpur's city hall sent in bulldozers, they said. In a complaint to police the temple's vice president, Subramaniam Ragappan, said about 300 devotees were praying Tuesday when the machines arrived, accompanied by police and city hall officials. "We were forced to stop our prayers and (rituals) halfway as they proceeded to tear down the temple," he said in a copy of the complaint obtained by AFP. A copy of a letter from city hall to a local lawmaker, who had asked for the temple to be left intact, said the demolition was going ahead to make way for a building project.

City hall officials were not immediately available for comment. Subramaniam said city hall tried in 2001 and again in 2004 to tear down the building, which was on government land, but had been dissuaded by politicians. "Everybody was crying and saying how could the government do this, but they still broke the temple," he told AFP. "For 100 years we prayed there. How could they come to remove the temple?" he said, adding that they were given just one day's notice of the demolition.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Garden pic


Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Last Days of Mecca and Medina

Rajan Parrikar sent me this news-item.

" What we are witnessing are the last days of Mecca and Medina."

Sami Angawi, quoted in the Independent (UK).

As per this news article, the Sauds are in the final stages of a vandalism that will erase all physical traces of the Prophet Muhammad's history when it is complete. To me this is not different from blowing up the Bamiyan Buddhas.

The grave of Amina bint Wahb, the mother of the Prophet, found in 1998. was bulldozed and gasoline was poured on it.
The house of Khadijah, first wife of the Prophet was demolished to make way for public lavatories.
The house of Abu Bakr, a companion of the Prophet and the first Caliph, made way for a Hilton hotel.
The birthplace of the Prophet will be covered with a concreted car park.

Hardline clerics have their eyes on the cave where the Prophet is said to have received the first verses of the Quran. They want it destroyed.

Behind this destruction is the idea that people's reverence for these sites is idolatry, and that doesn't fit in with the Saudi version of Islam. So the historical geography of these ancient cities needs to be destroyed. Fourteen hundred years they have stood, and are now gone in fanatic madness.

Just about a thousand years ago, Mahmud of Ghazni, a professed follower of the Prophet, swept with his army like a tornado across Northern India. Of the magnificent ancient city of Mathura he estimated that it would take two hundred years and untold gold and craftsmen to create the like. And then he had it razed to the ground. Today the Prophet's relics face the same insanity. Poetic justice, some might say. But it is an occasion for sorrow. Though no doubt, it is of less importance than cartoons published in some newspaper in Denmark.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Potentilla pointed me to a BBC article on organic lawn care. One of its recommendations is to grow clover. Clover used to be part of the American lawn - according to a Scotts publication (Scotts is a gardening supplies company), clover used to be included with Kentucky bluegrass in the 1940s and 50s, making clover one of the most widespread lawn weeds. It attracts bees and thus a hazard to the barefooted. :)

The organic tracts say that clover fell out of fashion with the advent of lawn herbicides, which could not be made to spare clover.

Anyway, no local outlet seems to stock clover seed. The web lead to an old friend, Nichols Garden Nursery in Oregon, from whom I've mail-ordered, in the (distant) past. They have an intriguing recommendation - their Northern and Southern Ecology lawn seed mixes -

The Southern mix has "Improved Turf Type Tall Fescue, Strawberry and Dutch White Clovers, Yarrow, California Poppy, Pimpernel, Baby Blue Eyes, Creeping Thymes". The Northern mix has "Colonial Bentgrass, Strawberry and Dutch White Clover, Wild English Daisies, Roman Chamomile, Yarrow and Baby Blue Eyes", said to be like old English lawns. (I'm on the boundary of their regions).

I wonder what an "old English lawn" actually looks like?

Friday, April 14, 2006

The myth of the Passive Indian

This is about the New World - but it has resonance with the history of India as well.
Reason: The Myth of the Passive Indian


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More pics

You can see some of my lawn problem below. The grass should be a bright emerald green at this time, instead of the yellowish stuff that is there. The tree and yard in the foreground is mine, but the house in the background is a neighbor's.



Monday, April 10, 2006

Executive Overcompensation

Mother Jones has more on executive (over)compensation.

One of the links, to this NYTimes article details the compensation of the former CEO of ConAgra, Bruce Rohde.

For his 8 years at the top, Rohde received $45 million + a $20 million retirement package.
But the company, a food giant with more than 100 brands, struggled under his watch. ConAgra routinely missed earnings targets and underperformed its peers. Its share price fell 28 percent. The company cut more than 9,000 jobs. Accounting problems surfaced in every one of Mr. Rohde's eight years.

Even when ConAgra restated its financial results, which lowered earnings in 2003 and 2004, Mr. Rohde's $16.4 million in bonuses for those two years stayed the same.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Chemical-free lawn?

I've been wondering whether it is possible to have a healthy, green lawn without the use of pesticides, herbicides and perhaps even inorganic fertilizers.

Well, apparently, it can work for sugarcane.

On going organic, initially the yield of Balbo's fields fell.
"People said to me, 'You are going to ruin the family business,' " Balbo recalled.

But Balbo persuaded his partners and bosses to stick with the Green Cane Project, as the conversion was called, through the 1995-97 transition years. By 2000, Sao Francisco's yields had surpassed the best harvests achieved using conventional methods.

The saga of Arkansaurus Fridayi

The Arkansas Roadside Travelogue is the type of website full of the kind of stuff that I enjoy. Here in three parts is one of the stories I enjoyed, a dinosaur hunt of sorts, hope you like it too!

Part one
Part two
Part three

Some of the short rants are also gems.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

More Sudarshan Patnaik

This Puri webpage narrates a legend, and claims that sand sculpture has been a folk art since the fourteenth century. It thus places Sudarshan Patnaik within a tradition. Anyway, you may enjoy the pics. on that page, or some others, of Sudarshan Patnaik's work, gleaned from the web, here.



India Fest Houston 00025





More on the Ijaz Shah story

Pakistan Daily Times

Dr Buttar, who returned from Pakistan this week, told Daily Times that the said that a top intelligence official, who also happens to be related to her, came to see her on December 16 last year at her family home in Lahore and assured her that there was no difference between the objectives for which ANAA was working and the ones the Musharraf government had dedicated itself to. He told her that Gen Pervez Musharraf was a very emancipated man with liberal views who could be president of ANAA itself.

Citing family connections, including Dr Buttar’s brother who is settled in Australia and whom the had met on a recent visit, he spoke to her about “the hazards of doing the kind of work I am doing, and how certain agencies were very dangerous, and people disappear without anyone every finding them”.

“He said he had known when I was arriving in Pakistan, and if he knew that, other agencies must have known it too,” Dr Buttar said. “He said anything was possible anywhere and actually it would be easier to get things done in the USA. ‘If we so wish, we can get anything done in New York too and, in fact, it is easier. All we have to do is to give some money to some black and get anyone killed and nobody would ever find out what happened’ were almost his exact words,” she said.

“I was stunned by this. I was sitting across the room from him and I got up and went and sat next to him and said, ‘Shah Sahib, you were saying that you met my brother and asked him about my personality, so perhaps he did not tell you what I am like. I am not afraid of the sort of threats (you have made) because it is my faith that it is Allah’s will what day death will come. The day death is due to come, whether through a bullet or a heart attack, that is the day it will come.’ Then he said, ‘I am not threatening you, only telling you how powerful we are.’ To which I replied, ‘From where I come, this is a threat.’ Nothing more was said between us.”

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Brigadier Ijaz Shah

In today's New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes that rape survivor Mukhtaran Bibi is being threatened for speaking up, especially to a international audience.

The allegation goes as follows:

The threats have come from high up. Brig. Ijaz Shah, a buddy of President Musharraf's, traveled to Lahore in December to deliver a personal warning. He met Dr. Amna Buttar, an American citizen who has interpreted for Mukhtar in the U.S. and heads a Pakistani-American human rights organization that is supporting her (

According to Dr. Buttar, Mr. Shah started by defending the president's record on women's rights. But then, alluding to a planned visit by Mukhtar to New York, he added: ''We can do anything. We can just pay a little money to some black guys in New York and get people killed there.''

Who is Brigadier Ijaz Shah?

On bharat-rakshak, the following was traced by laxmibai:

Here are some more dots to be connected on Brig(R) Ijaz/Ejaz Shah.

In end-February 2004, Ijaz Shah was appointed by Gen. Musharraf as the new Intelligence Bureau chief.


In 2003, Ijaz Shah was mentioned by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

MARCH 10, 2003

Ilyas Mehraj, Weekly Independent
Weekly Independent

Punjab Home Secretary Ejaz Shah telephoned Mehraj, publisher of the Lahore-based, English-language newspaper the Weekly Independent, and warned him, "Enough is enough. ... The Punjab government has finally decided to proceed against your newspaper for working against the national interest," according to an account published by the weekly. Shah denies making these remarks and told CPJ that he did not speak to anyone at the Weekly Independent that week.

The Weekly Independent's editor told CPJ that Shah—a retired army brigadier, former head of the Punjab division of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, and a close associate of President Pervez Musharraf—advised Mehraj to "roll back" the weekly's operations if the journalist wanted to stay in business and stay safe. Shah allegedly criticized the newspaper for writing against the army and warned Mehraj to consider the example of Rana Sanaullah Khan, an opposition politician who has been twice arrested and tortured in custody for his criticism of Pakistan's military government.

Brig (R) Ijaz Shah was Home Secretary, Punjab on February 5 2002 when Omar Saeed Sheikh, implicated in Daniel Pearl's kidnapping, surrendered to him. Omar Sheikh's surrender was announced only a week later. (Ijaz Shah had been in regular touch with Omar Sheikh after Sheikh's release by India in a hostage-swap deal to end the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Khandahar in December 1999, soon after Gen. Musharraf took power in a military coup).

What Gen. Musharraf said about Daniel Pearl and his murder soon after:


"Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says that the murdered US journalist Daniel Pearl was "over-intrusive" in his pursuit of a story. General Musharraf said in Islamabad that the murder was unfortunate, but journalists needed to be aware of the risks they face and act accordingly."


"Pakistan's president has said that Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, whose killing at the hands of kidnappers was confirmed last month, had been "over inquisitive" and got "over-involved" in pursuing his story."

More here on the connections between Omar Sheikh and Ijaz Shah:

A couple of snippets:

In June 1994, he[Omar Sheikh] begins kidnapping Western tourists in India. In October 1994, he is captured after kidnapping three Britons and an American, and is put in an Indian maximum-security prison, where he remain for five years. The ISI pays a lawyer to defend him. [Los Angeles Times, 3/9/2002; Daily Mail, 8/16/2002; Vanity Fair, 9/2002] His supervisor is Ijaz Shah, an ISI officer. [Guardian, 8/16/2002; Times of India, 4/12/2002]

A US grand jury secretly indicts Saeed Sheikh for his role in the 1994 kidnapping of an American. The indictment is revealed in late February 2002. The US later claims it begins asking Pakistan for help in arresting and extraditing Saeed in late November. [Newsweek, 4/13/2002; Associated Press, 3/26/2002] However, it is not until January 9, 2002, that Wendy Chamberlin, the US ambassador to Pakistan, officially asks the Pakistani government for assistance. [Associated Press, 3/24/2002; CNN, 3/24/2002; Los Angeles Times, 3/25/2002] Saeed is seen partying with Pakistani government officials well into January 2002. The Los Angeles Times later reports that Saeed “move[s] about Pakistan without apparent impediments from authorities” up until February 5, when he is identified as a suspect in the Daniel Pearl kidnapping. [Los Angeles Times, 3/13/2002]

The Pakistani Fox

Regarding Pakistani reaction to the proposed US-India nuclear deal, Vaylan on writes: seems like a severe case of the fox and the sour grapes. An ordinary fox would say the grapes were sour and leave it at that.

What would a Pakistani fox do ( apologies for associating a noble animal with a despicable entity )?

* Threaten to burn, poison, chop down the tree for not giving up the grapes
* Declare that it would plant a new tree right next to the first one, and make the first tree jealous
* Threaten to f*rt till the tree is blown away
* Claim that the grapes are poisonous, not just sour
* Promise to come back with other foxes and destroy the tree
* Complain that the tree's intention is to starve the fox to death
* Claim that the tree owes it grapes because the fox p*ssed on its roots, once upon a time.
* Threaten to find a new tree with better grapes, leaving the first tree high and dry
* Claim that God will strike the tree dead because it refused to give up the grapes

Monday, April 03, 2006

More flowers

A rather meagre forsythia, and a magnolia.



Sunday, April 02, 2006

New words

I don't want to lose track of these words, so using the blog as a personal memo.

Masturbiblation - PZ Myers
Scriptural hairsplitting to make some absurd point.

Stuplicity and Dupidity - CapitalistImperialistPig
Stuplicity is a combination of Stupidity and Duplicity that characterizes certain politicians (e.g., see Kaloogian below) and Dupidity is the word describing the stupid dupes who buy their cr*p.

Kaloogian - reported here
It describes "the use of a false or out-of-context image in order to advance an idea."
More on Kaloogian.

India's Forest Academies

Once upon a time, India's spiritual and intellectual centers were in its forests. The great seers, philosophers and composers lived there, as did their students. Those who are familiar with the epics - the Ramayana and the Mahabharata - have absorbed this and take it for granted. That is why almost no one remarked at what otherwise is a very paradoxical statement in today's reading of Swami Dayananda Saraswati's commentary on the Gita; namely

Having lived {in exile from his kingdom} in the forest, Arjuna had met many great people (mahatmas).

Saturday, April 01, 2006

GRE and IQ

I was planning to write a full response to this blog entry by Prof. Motl, about IQs as deduced by the GRE scores of applicants to various doctoral fields. But who cares? You can find and download Powerprep from the GRE website and examine the data for yourself. You'll need a Microsoft Windows PC.

I'll simply post two charts here, and note that if GRE scores are linearly related to IQ (as presupposed in the link) then the candidates for graduate school are not normally distributed in IQ. But it should be clear that GRE quantitative scores do not serve well to distinguish between candidates at the high end of the scores.