Sunday, January 28, 2007

A question and a answer

This is from TheHeathenInHisBlindness yahoo egroup; since it is open to anyone, I do not feel it wrong to post it here. The following is to be understood. It is part of an effort to understand a culture (and oneself). My apologies in advance to those who do not understand.

what does 'hindu does not believe that God's will govern the universe' mean? i cant seem to understand it at all.



Sunil writes:


I am still not clear what you mean. Let me make some propositions that is based on the shrutis (Madhva school of thought)-

1. Creation is a spontaneous activity of God, just like a blissful person spontaneously breaks into a song without any rhyme or reason.

2. The creation of the world does not serve any purpose of God. He is "AptakAma" - there is nothing he does not have nor is there anything he will ever need.

3. The 'creation' of the universe is just the transformation of the prakriti from its "avyakta" state to "vyakta" state. All the laws of the universe are an expression of prakriti's innate triguna svabhAva.

4. God is at all times impartial and as an antaryami immanent spirit, He is the power behind all the 'being' and 'becoming' (ie, expression of their individual svabhAvas) of souls as well as prakriti.

Hence He governs the universe.

Now what you say in (1) contradicts my understanding as above. Probably you are using certain terms in a very strict sense that i dont grasp.

Balu replies:

Dear Sunil,

If we want to grasp the nature of the discussions in the Indian traditions, there is much we need to do beforehand: (a) identify the entity they were talking about; (b) identify the specific questions they were answering; (c) identify the generic questions that defined both the outlines of the acceptable answers and the formulation of the specific questions; etc. (The 'cetera' indicates that I do not know how to enumerate all the things we need to grasp.) In the case of the propositions you have formulated, I assume that 'God' is Vishnu (or even Krishna) and not, say, Shiva or Brahma because you are talking about the Madhvas. However, to keep the discussion faithful to your formulations, I will use the word 'God' to refer to Vishnu.

Your proposition 1: "Creation is a spontaneous activity of God, just like a blissful person spontaneously breaks into a song without any rhyme or reason."

Apparently, this is answering the specific question 'why' (in the sense of 'KaaraNa', mostly translated as 'the reason why') God created (the Universe?). The analogy to a blissful person is a very strict one. That is, in exactly the same way a blissful person does not break into a song for a reason, God does not create for a reason. The underlying thoughts are these: normally, one sings a song to express some emotion or the other or even because he/she is feeling some emotion or another (love, sorrow, devotion, or whatever else), that is, the person "intends" to express something. The blissful person does not need to express anything; he/she is not in need of anything, including the need to express the bliss. That is what bliss (ananda) is all about.

So, the assumption is that 'bliss', something we human beings experience, is what God also feels. The only difference is that God feels this all the time, whereas only some of us can (either occasionally or after some tremendous effort) feel that bliss. (Additional claims that God's Bliss is our bliss raised to "the power of infinity" and such like tell us the same thing: there is no difference in kind but, at best, a difference in degree, between God's emotion and ours.)

In other words, the analogy explicates the nature of spontaneity (and the meaning of that word), whether it is God's spontaneity or human spontaneity: doing something not because one is in need of (or lacks) something. There is no difference in kind between us human beings and God but only one of degree. Your next proposition elaborates on this.

Your proposition 2: "The creation of the world does not serve any purpose of God. He is "AptakAma" - there is nothing he does not have nor is there anything he will ever need." (The 'he' here must also be read strictly: Vishnu is sexed and he is a 'male'.)

This further tells us that creation (of something by human beings) serves some purpose or another. Consequently, one might be inclined to say that God is "in need" of something that he does not have, and hence the creation. This proposition tells us that God has "everything": he is more beautiful than the most beautiful; stronger than the strongest; richer than the richest; the teacher of teachers; braver than the bravest, etc. Again, these are all differences in degree: he has more of everything we "desire", he is "more" than any of us or other 'gods'; and so on. He really does not need anything; he is bliss personified. Therefore, creation should not be seen as making up for some or another lack in God. In this sense, creation does not serve any purpose: one should say that God has "no purpose" in creating. He just creates. In other words, there is no intention behind God's creation. Spontaneity is the absence of intention or purpose of any sort, and the analogy drawn in the first proposition shows that action without intention is typical of a blissful person. Because God is bliss personified, God's creation does not exhibit his purpose or express his intention. (Should it do so, then God needs to express his purpose, which makes God into someone "in need" of such an expression.) Hence the notion of creation as God's "lila". That is to say, creation is completely without purpose. To use a modern terminology, to speak of the universe as an expression of God's intention or God's purpose is to commit a category mistake.

Your proposition 3: "The 'creation' of the universe is just the transformation of the prakriti from its "avyakta" state to "vyakta" state. All the laws of the universe are an expression of prakriti's innate triguna svabhAva."

Therefore, God 'functions' as a catalyst (to use this term from high-school Chemistry) in the process of creation. This function enables the 'potentiality' of Prakriti to become 'actuality'. The laws of the universe, consequently, do not express what God 'desires' or God 'wants' but express the 'nature' of prakriti. That is, the universe retains its character of not being the product of God's intention or God's plans or God's purpose. Universe expresses what universe is like, what it always has been and always will be: namely, "it is in the nature of the universe to be what it is". God has added nothing to the universe that was not already there, nor has he taken away something that was there earlier. "This is the way universe has been, is, and will be, because it belongs to the nature of the universe to be the way it was, is, and will be."

Your proposition 4: "God is at all times impartial and as an antaryami immanent spirit, He is the power behind all the 'being' and 'becoming' (ie, expression of their individual svabhAvas) of souls as well as prakriti".

Because God is bliss personified, he cannot be attached to anything or anybody. Therefore, he is strictly impartial. He is the 'power' behind everything and is everywhere: both in the individuals and in 'the universe' (using 'the universe' for 'prakriti'). He must be an 'antaryami' (present internally in everything and everywhere) because he would not "have everything" if he was not. Were he not to be in a gnat or an ant, he would lack something, namely "what it feels to be like a gnat or an ant". So, he has to be everywhere.

Now, we can begin to sense the generic question behind these propositions: If this is what 'bliss' is, that is, not lacking anything, and if this entity is bliss personified and is present in each one of us (and elsewhere too) are 'we' not, in reality, or in our essence, also identical to this entity? Tat Tvam Asi, 'thou art that': is not this what one of the mahAvAkya tells us? 'Aham Brhmasmi", as another of the mahAvAkya also tells us. Does it really matter what you call this 'blissful entity' as? And so on.

From these propositions, if you draw the inference, which you want to, "hence, he governs the Universe", you need to understand 'governing' as (a) an impartial act; (b) by the 'power' in the 'core' of each one of us and (c) present in the rest of the Universe. One could also identify oneself with one's 'core', and hence with the 'power' present in that 'core', and become an advaitin. Alternately, one could differentiate this 'power' from oneself and postulate 'another' entity: and hence the dvaita traditions.

In other words, the generic question behind these propositions brings us to the Indian debates and Indian traditions, which are far, far removed from the Semitic theological debates. The Biblical God is distinct from, and alien to, the creatures He has created; he has plans and purposes in creation; His intention (or will) expresses itself as the laws of the Universe; we cannot know (or ask) why He created the Universe; even when He tells us (through His revelation) why He did what He did, we do not understand it adequately, and so on and so forth. This is what Jakob was trying to tell you.

Friendly greetings

Friday, January 26, 2007

The excitement of discovery

Over on, new member physicist John Conway conveys the excitement of discovery in physics very well in this two part blog post, Bump Hunting, Part 1 and Part 2.

Don't you wish you were a physicist?

Physicist Tommaso Dorigo with some more insight.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Writing off pharyngula

Pharyngula turned from a great place to learn biology to a rather mediocre anti-religion/atheist site.

Nobel Laureate physicist Abdus Salam

"Abdus Salam is known to be a devout Muslim, whose religion does not occupy a separate compartment of his life; it is inseparable from his work and family life. He once wrote: "The Holy Quran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah's created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of His design is a bounty and a grace for which I render thanks with a humble heart."

PZ Myers, on "The unfortunate prerequisites and consequences of partitioning your mind", quotes approvingly a blog post that a person like Abdus Salam has no understanding of science, (I cannot but conclude that this person literally doesn't know why you have to look at things. They may have been taught a certain ritual of experimentation, but they don't understand the reason for it.)

and concludes:

"It's like asking someone if they understand science, and they can recite a string of facts at you … but they haven't absorbed the concept."

The facts are contrary to what PZ Myers believes them to be, and he has great difficulty adjusting his mind to that.

The blog would be far more interesting if, e.g., it was discussed why it was that Abdus Salam could do great science (like many other great scientists) while partitioning their mind.

Equally painful are the almost all equally-dumbed-down-by-ideology commenters on pharyngula.

This is not an occasional phenomenon, but an ever-growing one that has taken over the blog.

So, I will go there no more.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

We are eating our planet to death

So claims Kathy Freston.

"The researchers found that, when it's all added up, the average American does more to reduce global warming emissions by going vegetarian than by switching to a Prius."

-- At this point I expect the science of global warming to become much less acceptable to a large number of people. The last time I brought this up, the comment was "But they are so tasty!"

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mr Straight Talk Express

""Do you know why Chelsea Clinton is so ugly? Because Janet Reno is her father.""

Senator John McCain, Republican fundraiser event, 1998.

An interesting exchange

Senator Arlen Specter: "The Constitution says you can’t take it away except in case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn’t that mean you have the right of habeas corpus unless there’s a rebellion or invasion?”

Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales: “The Constitution doesn’t say every individual in the United States or citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas corpus . It doesn’t say that. It simply says the right shall not be suspended” (except in cases of rebellion or invasion)."

-- Harvard Law School should revoke his degree.

PS: contains an excellent discussion of the issues involved.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Colbert on AT&T

Colbert's hilarious take on telecom divestitures and mergers:

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ruddy Idiot Guiliani

New York City Police Department


"How many police officers are there in NYPD?

The NYPD's current authorized uniformed strength is 37,038, which is scheduled to increase to 37,838 in January 2007."

The New York Times, January 11, 2007

We glean from there that some 15,000 American troops were engaged in "Operation Together Forward II" to secure Baghdad in August 2006. Bush just announced another 5 combat brigades to be deployed - an increase of about 17,500 troops.

Therefore, total American troops engaged in securing Baghdad : about 32,500


"Five brigades are to be sent to improve security in the greater Baghdad area — an increase of about 17,500 troops that will double the American force involved in security operations there."

Frank Rich, NYT, January 14, 2007


"The one notable new recruit [to President Bush's bunker-world] is Rudy Guiliani, who likened taming Baghdad to "reducing crime in New York" without even noticing that even after the escalation there will be fewer American troops patrolling Baghdad than uniformed officers in insurgency-free New York City."

Added a couple of hours later:

Frank Rich informed us a week ago that the Army counterinsurgency manual calls for a minimum of 20 troops per 1000 population. Say Baghdad has a population of 5 million (actually, Baghdad's population is 6 million or greater, at least 20% more). That means 100,000 troops minimum. After Bush's escalation, the US troops will be at 40,000 (actually about 20% less). Thus a minimum of 60,000 reliable Iraqi forces dedicated to Baghdad will be needed. Do they exist?

If it is true as the President says that Iraq is the central front in the decisive ideological struggle of our time, then we have to hope that what the army faces a problem in Baghdad with significantly less manpower requirements.

Otherwise, for success, the President really has only two options:
1. Raise American forces
2. Raise International forces

The US would probably have to pay for troops under the UN flag, but if the international community can be brought on board, there will be immediate availability of manpower. If the US can make no diplomatic headway there or it is unacceptable, then the President must probably call for a draft. In either case, funds will have to be raised via new taxes.

If this war is indeed vital, then the way to win it is to call for a general mobilization.


Atrios on how the calculation above is being fudged.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Whither the Weather?

From the point of view of a crabapple (the very same one in all cases):

2004, April 24:

2006, March 29:

2007, January 10:

PS: the 2004 picture added later.
PPS: in 2003 also, the crabapple flowered in the last week of April.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Curse of (over) Development

Rajan Parrikar's photo-essay on the slumification of Goa is heartbreaking. The over- and ugly- development in the name of tourism that is going on will kill Goa as a tourist destination. It may become a place with merely some cheap sun 'n' sand.


KOed in Iraq


He told us of turning points: The fall of Baghdad, the death of Uday and Qusay, the capture of Saddam, a provisional government,the trial of Saddam, a charter, a constitution, an Iraqi government, elections, purple fingers, a new government, the death of Saddam. - Keith Olbermann

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On the iPhone

Three views of Apple's iPhone from the material at


This is a reworking of a familiar interface into something new and more useable.

How many other unnoticed opportunities are out there?

David Pogue, NYT

"Remember the fairy godmother in “Cinderella”? She’d wave her wand and turn some homely and utilitarian object, like a pumpkin or a mouse, into something glamorous and amazing, like a carriage or fully accessorized coachman."

"Evidently, she lives in some back room at Apple."

"Every time Steve Jobs spies some hopelessly ugly, complex machine that cries out for the Apple touch — computers, say, or music players — he lets her out."

Why can't the world compete in reinventing itself in this way? (instead of e.g., like the Taliban?)

The project to put together the iPhone was launched two and a half years ago, when Apple's stock was between 6 and 20. In most places I know of, such dire straits means a severe cut back on innovation.

Why doesn't Detroit have this sense of style?

Pedestrian industrial components can be put together into gorgeous product.

I'm hanging on to my few Apple shares!

Why isn't visioneering like this encouraged at work?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bob Herbert on class warfare

Bob Herbert in NYT TimesSelect:

"There’s a reason why the power elite get bent out of shape at the merest mention of a class conflict in the U.S. The fear is that the cringing majority that has taken it on the chin for so long will wise up and begin to fight back."

What will rile up the cringing majority?
Perhaps these numbers from Andrew Sum of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

Between 2000 and 2006, labor productivity in the nonfarm sector of the economy rose by 18 percent, real wages rose by 1%.

The (excluding farmworkers) 93 million production and nonsupervisory workers' combined real annual earnings from 2000 to 2006 rose by $15.4 billion, which is less than half of the combined bonuses awarded by the five Wall Street firms for just one year.

"Fairness plays no role in this system."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Flamenco, Tabla, Kathak, Gypsies and India

A few weeks ago, B. gave me a CD titled "Curandero, Flamenco guitar meets Indian tabla". The music is by Miguel Espinoza (guitar) and Ty Burhoe (tabla).

Some days later when I was playing the CD at home, N. heard it, and told me about this:

Here, flamenco guitar and tabla encounter the Indian dance form of Kathak.

From youtube comments I learned that flamenco and tabla have had a wider experimentation, e.g., IndiaLucia.

A comment there reminded me also of a speculation that I'd heard long ago, that the Romani - Gypsies - are the descendants of a 10th century diaspora from India, from somewhere around the Indus. In the comment, it is said that Flamenco and Kathak are related, because of the Romani people.

I've been intrigued by that because the only event I know of in the tenth century to cause such a migration would have been the devastating attacks by Mahmud of Ghazni.

In the words of his courtier, Alberuni (E. Sachau translation):

"Now in the following times no Muslim conqueror passed beyond the frontier of Kabul and the river Sindh until the days of the Turks, when they seized power in Ghazna under the Samani dynasty, and the supreme power fell to the lot of Nasir-addaula Sabuktagin. This prince chose the holy war as his calling, and therefore called himself Al-ghazi (i.e., warring on the road of Allah). In the interest of his successors he constructed in order to weaken the Indian frontier, those roads on which afterwards his son Yamin-addaula Mahmud marched into India during a period of thirty years and more. God be merciful to both father and son! Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country, and performed there wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions and like a tale of old in the mouth of the people."

What crystallized this post, is that this morning, S. brought to my attention the following:

Kosovian traces 1000 year old lineage.
24-four-year old Miradiya Giozic from Kosovo is in India attempting to trace her roots.

Also see this.

Note to the unwary - take the gypsies out of India as something to be proved; presumably DNA or literary or linguistic evidence will eventually shed light on this hypothesis. There are many indications that it may be true. But there are other plausible routes for cultural and linguistic influence that result in commonalities.

Do enjoy the music and dance!

Third world government comes to the United States

This kind of trouble with the government bureaucracy used to be a trademark of third-world countries only.

Thank you, George Bush!


Glenn Greenwald describes some of the worst of the media's opinion makers.

I disagree on only one point, namely, that for all the errors that they are not acknowledging and are trying to make us forget this class of people "have suffered no lost credibility, prominence, or influence". These folks might still have the job titles they do, but I think, more and more people are tuning them out.

Class warfare impending

This daily kos diary that contrasts two exit packages, both recently in the news, is just a beginning.

Frank Rich on the Saddam snuff video

"The awful power of the Hussein snuff film derives not just from its illustration of the barbarity of capital punishment, even in a case where the condemned is a mass murderer undeserving of pity. What really makes the video terrifying is its glimpse into the abyss of an irreversible and lethal breakdown in civic order. It sends the same message as those images of helicopters fleeing our embassy in April 1975 : Iraq, like Vietnam before it, is in chaos, beyond the control of our government or the regime we’re desperately trying to prop up. The security apparatus of Iraq’s “unity government” was powerless to prevent the video, let alone the chaos, and can’t even get its story straight about what happened and why.

Actually, it’s even worse than that. Perhaps the video’s most chilling notes are the chants of “Moktada! Moktada! Moktada!” They are further confirmation, as if any were needed, that our principal achievement in Iraq over four years has been to empower a jihadist mini-Saddam in place of the secular original. The radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr , an ally of Hezbollah and Hamas, is a thug responsible for the deaths of untold Iraqis and Americans alike. It was his forces, to take just one representative example, that killed Cindy Sheehan’s son, among many others, in one of two Shiite uprisings in 2004 ."

Frank Rich in the New York Times; unfortunately behind the TimesSelect firewall.

My thoughts before reading this included that Moktada al-Sadr deserves the death penalty just as much as Saddam did. Yet who is going to arrest him, let alone try him and punish him? All that Bush has done is replace one set of monsters with another set. Decent people never had a chance in Iraq. The monsters sedulously uproot them.


PS : Frank Rich

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Take that, Lou Dobbs!

The Financial Express reports that among other things:

"AnnaLee Saxenian, study co-author and dean of the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, estimated immigrants founded about 25 per cent of Silicon Valley tech companies in 1999.

The Duke study found the percentage had more than doubled, to 52 per cent in 2005. The research debunks some recent myths about the notion that immigrants who come to the United States take jobs from Americans."

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Delivers the mail and reads it too!

From now on, please address all mail to me as "To Arun and the President".

Jihadis freed in Pakistan

The Telegraph, UK reports:

"Senior officers [in Pakistan] say they are "back to square one" in their fight against international terrorist groups after the release of dozens of militants by Pakistani courts. High-ranking police officials say that as many as 80 hard-core militants are on the loose after being cleared by the courts or released on bail.".....

"Last month, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, warned of the growing threat from within Pakistan. She said young British Muslims were being groomed to become suicide bombers and that most of the 1,600 suspects being tracked by her agents were British-born but linked to al-Qaeda in Pakistan."....

"Anti-terrorism officers in Pakistan say they are deeply alarmed by the security situation. "We are back to square one and the situation is more precarious than it was before 9/11," one senior officer told The Sunday Telegraph. "They are planning more attacks. They have got huge backup. There are so many youths who are joining them. The old ones who are released from the prison are guiding and training the new cadres."....

"Among those released recently are Sohail Akhtar (aka Mustafa), the operational commander of the outlawed Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami group. He has been blamed for a campaign that included a suicide attack in Karachi in which 11 French engineers died, the suicide attack on the US consulate, and the failed attempt on the president's life......Other militants released by the courts include Fazal Karim, who is believed to have been present at the killing of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, and Qari Mohammed Anwar (also known as Abu Darada). Anwar was arrested at an al-Qaeda safe house in Karachi along with Khalid al-Atash — who is wanted by the FBI in connection with the USS Cole bombings off Yemen — and Ammar al-Balochi, who was allegedly involved earlier this year in a plot to attack Heathrow airport".

(via bharat-rakshak).

No commentary is needed.

Taking on Hate Radio

This could be subtitled: In which ABC/Walt Disney show themselves to value profit over elementary decency.

A blogger, Spocko, took umbrage at the hosts at KSFO radio calling for the torture and murder of a citizen in Lincoln, Nebraska, burning someone alive, stomping a antiwar protester to death, calling for the editors of major newspapers to be hanged, and for ""We've got a bulls-eye painted on her big laughing eyes." [her referring to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi] - among other things.

Spocko wrote polite letters to various companies that advertise on the radio station, asking them politely if they wanted their brands associated with this kind of rubbish.

The result is that as advertisers ponder pulling their ads, ABC radio lawyers are after Spocko. For copyright infringement.

Monday, January 01, 2007

2006 Top Ten Astronomy pics

I had failed to provide a link to the top ten astronomy pics. of 2006; here it is: