Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On GG's latest - Cause and Effect in the Terror War

Greenwald's main point is that military action against al Qaeda is [xxxxx] counterproductive. It is not clear whether Greenwald means [xxxxx] to be "sometimes" or "always".

I'd argue that wherever there is an effective government (as is the case in Yemen), al Qaeda should be treated as a intelligence plus law-and-order problem.

The comments are uniformly depressing. One, omooex, did say what I did when I quit writing on that forum:

Glenn, the disagreement

Its in the reality that merely stopping our wars in those countries won't stop the terrorism. Wars have only exacerbated the problem, but its one that stems from US economic, cultural and political hegemony in the Islamic world. Certainly, stopping our wars is a really good idea, and that should be our first step. But I don't think it would stop the violence.

Monday, December 28, 2009


or Londonabad?

“There are basically two meccas,” argues Egyptian-born Mamoun Fandy of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “There’s a Mecca that Muslims should visit, and the mecca of jihad that is London.” — quoted in the Christian Science Monitor

PS: from the same article
“I’ve felt for a long time that if radical Sharia law comes to the rest of the world it will start on the streets of London,” says a Pakistani expert on militant Islam who asked not to be identified....The Pakistani analyst, who has close ties to London mosques, argues that nearly every Pakistani radical he knows in London has gone through a “night club” phase. They try out a “clubbing life” that is ultimately unsatisfying. “They try to experience something like a dream of life in the west. About a year later they show up in the mosque, grow beards and are ‘good Muslims,’” he says.

Krugman's Zero Decade

Prof. Krugman suggests that 2000-2009 be called the Big Zero decade. "It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true."

So here’s what Mr. Summers — and, to be fair, just about everyone in a policy-making position at the time — believed in 1999: America has honest corporate accounting; this lets investors make good decisions, and also forces management to behave responsibly; and the result is a stable, well-functioning financial system.

What percentage of all this turned out to be true? Zero.

PS: For instance, NYT: Banks that bundled bad debt also bet against it

“The simultaneous selling of securities to customers and shorting them because they believed they were going to default is the most cynical use of credit information that I have ever seen,” said Sylvain R. Raynes, an expert in structured finance at R & R Consulting in New York. “When you buy protection against an event that you have a hand in causing, you are buying fire insurance on someone else’s house and then committing arson.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bush the Messiah

If I extrapolate from current trends, where already George W Bush inherited the 9/11 attack from President Clinton, and he was fixing unemployment instead of watching it rise from 4.2% to 6% over his first two years in office, then no doubt in a few years, he will be the Messiah, risen to save humanity.

PS: Steve Benen:
Bush was arguably one of the biggest and most painful presidential failures in American history, which makes Republican operatives like Matalin all the more anxious to keep the "blame Clinton for everything" meme going strong, even now.

The underlying spin isn't exactly compelling. The Matalin pitch, in a nutshell, is, "Sure, Obama inherited the Great Recession, two wars, a job market in freefall, a huge deficit, and crushing debt, a health care system in shambles, a climate crisis, an ineffective energy policy, an equally ineffective immigration policy, a housing crisis, the collapse of the U.S. auto industry, a mess at Gitmo, and a severely tarnished global reputation. But what Bush got from Clinton wasn't exactly a walk in the park."

Except it was. After cleaning up H.W. Bush's mess, Clinton bequeathed a prosperous, peaceful country, held in high regard around the world, with a shrinking debt, and surpluses far into the future. There was a burgeoning terrorist threat emerging, but Clinton's team provided Bush with the necessary tools and warnings necessary to keep the nation safe. Bush failed miserably, despite having been given an incredible opportunity to succeed.

Matalin would have us believe Bush "inherited" a mess. If she were capable of shame, she ought to be embarrassed peddling such nonsense on national television.

PPS: The Onion, ever-prescient, Jan 17,2001 : "Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'"


See it. In 3-D.

To repeat here something S. said to me: The Panchatantra was composed for the education of some little princes who refused to apply themselves. James Cameron has similarly made this movie for the education of a culture that is similarly playing the truant.

An observation

Since CIP's blog's Haloscan comments is not working, I'm posting this here, maybe he will see it.

Radicalized in the London mosque/coffee house scene, more or less trained in his mother's home country of Yemen, this child of extreme privilege epitomizes the vulnerability of Muslim youth to the siren call of preachers of violent jihad. I worked for a Muslim owned company for a number of years and observed first hand the process of peer recruitment of youthful fanatics in England.

The consensus (ijma') based nature of Muslim understanding of what consitutes Islam and,what does not, makes small groups of young people recruited initially by peers susceptible. Is this true of other religions as well? Yes, to some extent, but religions that are hierarchically "driven" in terms of acceptance of types of behavior are not so easily exploited by small group pressure.

This vulnerability to small group radicalization is a phenomenon that will persist. It is only made worse by the invasion and occupation of Muslim countries by Western forces. pl
From turcopolier

Zeppelin Adventure

Rajan Parrikar coasted over the Bay area.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Carol of the Bells

Variations (or in 3 movements?)

And to cleanse the palate:

Desi Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Friday, December 25, 2009


Shiv, trying to make bharat-rakshaks have a sense of proportion:
...Don't let NDTV, Zee and Star fool you into thinking that India is wonderland. Just like RAPE** we insist that all is hunky dory in India and that these bloody Mohammad worshipping Mooslims are the biggest threat. That is cloud cuckoo land.

Indian Muslims may be a problem community but the threat they represent is hardly the biggest or the most severe. Allah may try his best to be the biggest threat but he just can't compete with what India throws back at him and at everyone else. It's just one more problem - one more fracture in a body full of crushed bones. No water No food. No money. No health. No justice. No education. No opportunity. No nothing for 600 to 700 million Indians - of whom 300 million are children and suddenly Allah is worshipped here as the biggest threat. Allah is a pipsqueak as problems go.

**RAPE: Rich Anglophone/Anglicized Pakistani Elite.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all who read this!

May the world be plagued with a serious outbreak of peace!


Somewhere I have Pierre Ramond's slim volume on QFT. And binders full of John Preskill's lecture notes. Warren Siegel's Fields. Oldies like Itzykson & Zuber, Bjorken & Drell. The newest are a pair of books by Gregory Naber. There is a two-foot high pile in front of me. To what purpose?

Thursday, December 24, 2009


A leading expert, Gregory Johnsen, is interviewed by Glenn Greenwald. Worth a listen (or read the transcript).

To highlight a few points, al Qaeda in Yemen was decimated by November 2003. It since has resurrected since February 2006, and has been gaining strength since. Johnsen says it will be difficult to dislodge and it does pose a threat to the United States. Glenn Greenwald asks questions to test his belief that if the US just leaves them alone, they won't harm the US; and Johnsen disabuses him of that.

Johnsen says that there are structural problems in Yemen - declining oil reserves, high birth rate, declining water supply, and so on - that make Yemeni youth susceptible to radicalization. Johnsen thinks that al Qaeda will keep being able to resurrect itself there unless the US undertakes a {huge} development effort to address some of these structural problems.

The one point on which Johnsen validates Greenwald is that the current military strikes against al Qaeda are counterproductive. However, while Greenwald thinks (or used to think) they are unconditionally counterproductive, Johnsen thinks that with the proper preparatory work, they are required. (The population must be first alienated from al Qaeda before any strikes are made.)

There is a further irony in this. Ondelette is the pen-name of a commenter on Greenwald's blog, who is a humanitarian - who believes that the US has an obligation to help develop Afghanistan. In contrast, most of the other commenters are either libertarians or isolationist-leftists. They think the US should simply leave Afghanistan, not worry about development, and likewise elsewhere in the world. In their simplistic worldview, absence either makes the heart grow fonder or makes for forgetfulness. If the US had no presence in Afghanistan, they believe, then no terrorist plots targeting the US will be hatched there. They, including Glenn Greenwald, have made life unpleasant for Ondelette, and essentially driven him off the board. Now the expert on Yemen that Greenwald has interviewed has essentially validated Ondelette - Yemen needs long term US military AND development involvement, and without that, there is a growing threat to the US.

Depending on your point of view, Greenwald's questions can be considered to be penetrating, or a desperate try to preserve his world-view. The real test of the man is whether he can change his mind. We shall see. Here are excerpts of some of his questions:

* How would you characterize what is being called al-Qaeda in Yemen in that spectrum, and how significant of a threat it is really to the United States, not within Yemen, but outside of Yemen and in the homeland?

* You say attacks throughout the region - is there evidence of any substantial plots against the United States itself that have originated with al-Qaeda in Yemen?

* I guess my question really was: is there any evidence of any credible or significant plots originating from al-Qaeda in Yemen that have been directed against the United States. Not rhetoric, not "death to America", but actual plots.....Right. I don't mean if we have a presence in Yemen or in Saudi Arabia, I mean against the United States itself.

Glenn Greenwald at his best

In pointing out the inconsistencies and utter lack of principle of the US media, Glenn Greenwald has few equals.

When it suits them -- meaning when the CBO issues negative findings about Obama's domestic policies -- Reason holds up the CBO as an authoritative oracle not to be questioned. Three weeks ago, Reason's Nick Gillespie warned of "massive premium hikes" based on "the CBO's latest assay of the Senate's health-care reform plan." In March, Reason's Jacob Sullum cited CBO decrees to warn that "federal deficits will total $9.3 trillion during the next decade if Congress implements President Obama's fiscal proposals." Just last month, Suderman himself cited the CBO's conclusions to argue that health care reform was not deficit neutral. In September of this year, Suderman claimed that the CBO had contradicted Obama's statement that "nobody is talking about reducing Medicare benefits" and wrote: "this sort of direct contradiction from an agency as respected as the CBO isn't going to do much to calm seniors' fears." The same month, even Welch himself cited CBO reports -- using the verb "analyzed" -- to argue that Obama "lied" in his claims about health care.

For the first half of the year, Obama's right-wing opponents heaped praise on the CBO's authoritative stature because, back then, the CBO was reporting that the Democrats' health care proposals would increase the deficit. These same individuals then completely and shamelessly shifted gears once the CBO began reporting that the revised iterations of the proposal would actually decrease the deficit. And the "principled non-partisan libertarians" at Welch's Reason led the way in this rank intellectual dishonesty.

But read the whole thing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Noor Jehan remembered

Dawn has a nice article online.

Her legend begins thus:
When Allah Wasai was born on September 21, 1926 to an impoverished musician Madad Ali in Kasur, her aunt rushed out to greet her father thus: ‘Congratulations brother! This girl will change your fortune for she cries in tune.’

Some notes

The title "Ann Coulter of Pakistan" was apparently bestowed on Shireen Mazari by Khalid Hasan (Dec 28, 2008).

Also from that article:
And now the unvarnished truth.

Since 2006, Pakistan, against better advice and reasons that have been blown sky-high by Mumbai, had kept the [United Nations Security Council] sanctions from being clamped [on Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jama'at-ud Dawa] with the help of China. However, after the Mumbai attacks, China informed Pakistan that it could no longer block the terrorist group and individuals from being sanctioned. The question the neocons and the super-patriots should ask, but don’t, is: Why was Pakistan blocking sanctions against a terrorist group?

And this takes me back to Pervez Musharraf’s first visit to the US after his coup. At a meeting with a group of journalists among whom I was present, my dear and much lamented friend Tahir Mirza, then the Dawn correspondent, asked Musharraf why he was not acting against Lashkar-e Tayba and Jaish-e Muhammad. Musharraf went red in the face and shot back, “They are not doing anything in Pakistan. They are doing jihad outside.”

Irfan Husain
Talking of extremism, I was bemused recently by the sight of large bearded men blocking the aisle and access to the galley and toilet in a Sri Lankan Airways flight as they spread out mats and knelt and bowed in prayer. It was bad enough when the small club class section was thus used as a flying mosque, but when passengers from economy seats began encroaching, people complained to the staff.

Apparently, these devout Pakistanis were members of the Tablighi Jamaat; one of them, no doubt taking me for a Sri Lankan, suggested in English that I study Islam. I was so annoyed by this time that I told him rather brusquely in Urdu that I did not need his advice or guidance.

This kind of thing often happens in PIA flights, but to inconvenience other passengers is hardly Islamic, especially when there is a clear dispensation from praying for travellers. And there is nothing to prevent people from praying quietly in their seats.

The hypocrisy of these people was exposed when we were waiting for our baggage at Karachi airport. The maghrib azan was relayed over the sound system as our bearded fellow-passengers stood around the luggage belt. Not one of them moved to pray, although there was ample space available. So clearly, their ostentatious display of devoutness while we were airborne was purely for show.

Glen Greenwald on Michael Crowley

 Glenn Greenwald in his blog today:
Americans love to believe that the differences in perception between themselves and the Muslim world are due to the fact that Americans are rational, well-informed, free and advanced, while those in predominantly Arab or Muslim countries are propagandized, irrational, primitive, conspiratorial, and misled (here's a classic case of that self-loving view from The New Republic's Michael Crowley today, fretting that anti-Americanism is so high in Pakistan not because of what we do [God forbid] but because those Muslims are so paranoid and irrational that they insanely fantasize that we're up to all sorts of nefarious things).

The problem with the above is that Michael Crowley's article is correct. Michael Crowley is rather careful - he writes of the prevailing atmosphere in Islamabad (and nowhere even implies that this extends to all of Pakistan), and the contribution of Pakistan's media to that environment (nowhere does he implicate all Pakistanis). Even his historical incident from 1979 - the torching of the US embassy because of a rumor that the US attacked Mecca - occurred in Islamabad.

The problems with the Pakistani media are pointed out by Pakistanis themselves. Examples abound (e.g., this, a humorous one).

Glenn Greenwald's reaction?
"What a shock that macgupta jumps in to agree that Pakistanis are primitive, irrational, conspiratorial, misled, and any other negative adjective you want to apply.

Whether they are or not is not the point. If Crowley condemns Americans for being the same way when it comes to Muslims, you'd have a point. The point is that Americans typically think this about Muslims when it's often true of themselves."

But, to quote Irfan Husain (please read the whole column at dawn.com)(emphasis added)
In a sense, our relations with the US have become hostage to a virulent media that seems hell-bent on bashing Washington at every turn. Over the years, I have opposed American policies in many parts of the world. But I recognise that the US has global interests and can be a force for good.

So who is whipping up this anti-American sentiment? A lot of the blame must be placed at the White House gate. The blank cheque to Israel is the source of much anger. The invasion of Iraq fuels some of the fury. Avoidable civilian deaths in Afghanistan are another cause. In Pakistan itself, the drone attacks that have killed so many Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders have also caused considerable collateral damage.

But there’s more to it than these policies and perceptions.
In the current venom-laden environment, it is clear that ordinary Pakistanis are being manipulated by cynical groups. Unfortunately, our media is more accustomed to pandering to existing prejudices than challenging them. So if anti-West sentiments are the flavour of the day, TV channels are happy to fan the flames to improve their ratings.

Currently, the religious right, the liberal left and the military establishment are riding the same anti-American bandwagon. The mullahs tacitly support the Taliban and what they stand for; the left hates the US more than it does the Taliban; and the army is sick of being told by Washington that it isn’t doing enough. By amplifying these anti-West feelings through the media, our generals can tell Americans that they cannot act take tougher action against the militants in Fata as it would inflame public sentiment and might destabilise the government.

Note the emphasis. Glenn Greenwald's oeuvre focuses primarily on the first - American actions - which is fine, because the reform of America is what he wants. Where I think he goes wrong is in never conceding any importance to the second - that there is more to anti-Americanism than just reaction to America's actions - "But there’s more to it than these policies and perceptions."

Whatever mirror Glenn Greenwald wants to construct for Americans to peer into to see their own defects, the Crowley article is the wrong material.

PS: Irfan Husain wrote: "the left hates the US more than it does the Taliban". If the US is taken to mean the Federal Government, then this is true of a section of the US Left as well - they hate the US more than the Taliban.

Measurement in QM

A conference was held at Boston University in 1996, the proceedings of which are in "Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Mechanics", edited by Tian Yu Cao (amazon.com link). The conference included philosophers and physicists. Quantum Field Theorists included Steven Weinberg, David Gross, Bryce DeWitt, Arthur Wightman, Sidney Coleman.

Excerpt from one of the discussions:
Saunders: .....in measurement processes we have what appears to be a violation of unitary dynamics. It seems we cannot implement measurement processes unitarily....
Colseman: There is a position on measurement theory which grossomodo is shared by at least Bryce and me and probably other people, which eventually goes back to Hugh Everett and which denies the existence of non-unitary process of measurement, and says that it is just a process that can be eliminated. That's easy to prove but hard to believe. And I don't want to go into it now, although I would be happy to go into it privately. And during your stay at Harvard I gave a public lecture on this topic....
I want the transcript of that public lecture. I haven't been able to locate it yet.

In the excerpt above, Saunders might be Simon Saunders, in which case he was at Harvard during these relevant time periods:
1995-96: Associate professor, Department of Philosophy, Harvard University.
1990-95: Assistant professor, Department of Philosophy, Harvard University.

This is a rather long period over which to search :(.

PS: As per Wolfgang's comment, it is "Quantum Mechanics in Your Face (streaming video)" (A lecture given by Sidney Coleman at the New England sectional meeting of the American Physical Society (Apr. 9, 1994).)

On the climate deal

In this Mark Lynas piece, mostly China and a little bit India comes in for criticism for the failure of the climate talks at Copenhagen.

Let us look at some numbers, provided by Wikipedia.

As of 2006, per capita, China emitted 4.6 tons of carbon dioxide annually, India 1.3 and the US 19. If we take Denmark as the exemplar, (as Thomas Friedman does), note that it is at 9.9 tons of co2 per capita per annum and falling.

It is simply not politically feasible for the governments of India or China to yield on the theoretical increased standard of living for their people, when their economies use more energy and increase emission — in the case of China double, and in the case of India, increase 7-fold — to the level of Denmark any more than it is politically feasible for the US to agree to halve its per capita annual emission of carbon dioxide from 19 to 9.5 tons per annum.

Of course, the bargain being sought is to balance theoretical future growth (of China, India) versus existing standards of living (of the United States, other OECD countries).

Yes, this is overall suicidal for humans on the planet. Even the Denmark-level of co2 emission on a global per capita basis is too high for the planet. But get realistic. Unless it is provable that a high standard of living is possible at a lower level of emission, or that everyone on the globe aims for the same lower level of emission and standard of living, there will be little agreement.

PS: let us also note that the US has in effect shifted a portion its emissions to China by outsourcing manufacturing but not reducing its material consumption.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An element of fun

Bee is recently appointed professor of physics at Nordita in Sweden; her husband Stefan is resident in Germany. They're together for Christmas - read their baking adventures :)

Longevity in 18th century England

The NYT carried a book review by Andrea Wulf, of "Behind Closed Doors" by Amanda Vickery.
Amanda Vickery, a reader in history at Royal Holloway, University of London, finds them in fashionably decorated Yorkshire mansions and dirty London lodgings, in downstairs kitchens and gilded parlors and gloomy garret rooms. She opens resolutely shut doors and peeps into the private lives of servants, aristocrats and the “polite and middling sorts” — merchants, clergy members, doctors and lawyers. “Behind Closed Doors” examines what privacy meant in 18th-century Britain and how people negotiated both their domestic space and their domestic relationships.

My purpose here is to highlight one interesting thing the reviewer says (emphasis added).

“Behind Closed Doors” also leads the reader into the rooms of spinsters and widows, an important inclusion, since in 1700 the average marriage lasted only 10 years.

Marriage ended with death (not divorce). The very different life expectancy back then should not be forgotten when thinking of history. Imagine, say you're married at twenty (probably considered a late marriage?) and it can be said that you or your spouse will, on the average, have expired by 30.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

...Strange New Worlds....

Water World (at dkos). I hope some descendant of humanity gets to wander the galaxy.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

AMNH's The Known Universe

Via dkos:

The Process of Mathematical Creation

What little we know (PDF).

Global Warming, Illustrated

The shift of plant hardiness zones, 1990-2006, in the continental US is displayed by the Arbor Day Foundation.

PS: How the map was produced.

PPS: USA Today article explains more.

1. The 1990 map (Kramer, Marc Cathey) is based on 13 years of data.
2. Climatologists say a 30-year average is appropriate.
3. "Kramer's 2003 map rejected by the USDA was based on data from 1986 to 2002 and showed a significant march northward of boundaries for warm-weather plants. For example, plants that for decades had frozen and died in Nebraska suddenly were doing just fine."
4. Example by USA Today of the effect of the time-span:

"For example, the average annual low temperature for Columbia, S.C., based on the 1990 map (1974-1986) is 10 degrees. The 2003 draft map (1986-2002) is 16 degrees. The new map is based on data from 1976-2005. Using data from those years, the average is 13.5 degrees."

5. New USDA map using 30-year averages to be released Fall 2008 (but I can't find it).

6. SF Chronicle article about controversy

Although the USDA denies it, there is also lingering suspicion that the Bush administration's discomfort with the concept of global warming played a role in the rejection of the 2003 map. "The fact that the map shows warming put a big exclamation point out there," says Kramer. The draft map remained on the AHS Web site for several months until the USDA's Kaplan asked the organization to take it down or alter it: "We wanted them to make it clear this was not the official USDA map."

Three years later, the National Arbor Day Foundation released an updated version of the rejected map. "It's basically a duplicate," Kramer says. "They added some years to it, so it's not identical."

In the meantime, the USDA decided its next update should reflect 30 years of data. Oregon State University's PRISM Group is working on the new version. Kaplan says the result will allow users to zoom in on locales, or type in their ZIP codes and get back a zone. "Doing this at the GIS level, we can work at a much finer scale than ever before," she explains. "The zone borders will be much more refined." How soon will it be available? "The best I can tell you is the near future," says Kaplan. "The running joke," says AHS's Ellis, "is that it's not going to come out until we get a new president in office.
[AHS=American Horticulture Society]

Friday, December 18, 2009

Revealing a mind-set

The Friday Times of Pakistan reports on the Pakistani press: [TFT is a subscription site, I'm relying on the bharat-rakshak forum]

Wrongly explained state

Chief Editor Jinnah [of The Nation] wrote that PPP spokesperson Fauzia Wahab told the press that Pakistan was not a security state but an economy-based state. He took strong exception to this and observed that Ms Wahab should not have said this in the open. Because not terming Pakistan a security state could harm the PPP government. He stated that if Ms Wahab had said it in rage (tap gai) she should learn to control herself. He thought an economy-based Pakistani state would have to normalise relations with India and that was not acceptable.

The Epicenter of Terrorism

A revised version of deceased Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's autobiography "Daughter of the East" has been released by Simon & Schuster, as per this link, and a new chapter has been added. Supposedly Bhutto writes there:
"I really do think that there is at least some degree of causality that most major terrorist attacks took place when the extremists did not have to deal with a democratic Pakistani government...this includes both the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Bombay blasts, the Indian Parliament attack, the attack on the US embassies in Africa and the USS Cole in Yemen."

The blame-America-only crowd (as found in the comments section on Glenn Greenwald's blog on salon.com) needs to think about that. The "but-that's-arch-rival-India's-propaganda-only" crowd need to ponder it too.

h-bar in HTML

, the reduced Planck's constant (h/2 π) is ℏ

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On the Pakistani middle class

Mohammed Waseem in The Dawn (Karachi)
More than any other section of society, the middle class is ideologically oriented in the two domains of religion and nationalism. It adheres to scriptural Islam as opposed to syncretic Islam. It supports the madressah-oriented written tradition as opposed to the shrine-based oral tradition of Islam. It is pan-Islamic in its vision. It seeks the unity of the Muslim world and upholds a dichotomous worldview based on conflict between Islam and the West. Secondly, the middle class supersedes all other classes in its nationalist framework of thought, which operates essentially in negative terms. In six decades, it has projected nationalism in the context of the perceived enemies of the nation. It has been all along anti-Indian, anti-Soviet Union in the first four decades and anti-American in the last two decades. It is also anti-communist and anti-secular.

The composition of the middle class has changed in two generations. Previously, it came from the impoverished aristocracy, politicians, the intelligentsia, lawyers, judges and public careerists of various kinds.

In recent decades, the professional middle classes — doctors, engineers, architects, accountants, corporate managers and information technologists among others — have been the descendants of military officers and bureaucrats in increasingly larger numbers. Their political outlook reflects their social background.

The middle class, most typically if not universally, hates democracy. Partition shaped the social, cultural, political and economic views of the emergent middle class along security-oriented lines and a state-centred rather than society-oriented policy framework.

This class lacks a social reformist vision and a public conscience. It distrusts the capacity and thus the right of what it considers the uneducated, irresponsible, superstitious and ‘primitive’ masses to exercise their vote and elect governments.

An absolute majority of the middle class is rightist in its collective thrust for policy and ideology. This includes: the moneyed right, i.e. the commercial elite committed to the preservation of the current privileged structures; the moral right, as the upholder of a conservative code of ethics; and the religious right, with its increasingly radical Islamic worldview. The rightist middle class, or parts of it, often served as a constituency of army rule in Pakistan.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The price of progress?

The NYT has a review of "Perfect Rigor", Masha Gessen's book about Russian mathematician Gregory Perelman, famous for proving the century-old Poincaré conjecture.

By the time Perelman got to university, his fingernails were so long they had begun to curl. He wanted little more than to continue his work undisturbed — and protected by a Who’s Who of Russian mathematicians, he seems to have gotten his wish. After emerging from graduate school as the Soviet Union crumbled, Perelman taught briefly in the United States in the early 1990s (where he wore the same brown corduroy jacket day after day and survived on a diet of black bread and fermented milk). But soon he returned to St. Petersburg and the seclusion of his mother’s apartment. It was there that he would spend most of a decade working on the Poincaré conjecture.
He then resigned from the Steklov Institute in 2005 with a letter that read, “I have been disappointed in mathematics and I want to try something else.”

What kind of life is this? Why did those mathematicians encourage Perelman in this? A pox upon them!

If this is the price of progress, then in my opinion it is too much to pay. We cannot offer up such human sacrifices in the name of the advancement of mathematics.

Monday, December 14, 2009


I *love* the "alternative" take on the Indian wedding.

I was only recently lamenting the low standards to which we hold a non-Indian photographer's take on an Indian wedding. It's supposed to be full of great colors and shapes. And it is, it really is. It's like having a porsche instead of a minivan. Or Gisele for a model instead of Rachel Ray. It should be really f$%ing easy to get nice shots. And we get all giddy when we get (or see) some reasonbly-nice images from an Indian wedding. Woohoo. Where is somebody doing something different with all this great material. Where is somebody actually looking past the pretty colors and seeing everything else?
On fredmiranda.com Follow the link if you can.

Dil dhadakne ka sabab yaad aya

Sorry, the sound quality is rather poor.
PS: A somewhat better version:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

God is Back?

A book review by John Gray worth reading, again with a theme emerging:
More generally, they assume that ideas which emerged from within western Christian traditions can be applied anywhere. But as energy and power flows eastwards, the secular ideologies that developed from Christianity are likely to dwindle in influence.

Rightly, Micklethwait and Wooldridge note that the grand secular belief systems of the past two centuries continued Christian ways of thinking: “Marx found it impossible not to think in terms of grand eschatologies . . . He employed numerous religious tropes – communists are latter-day gnostics, communism is heaven on earth, the revolution is the Last Judgement, workers are saved and capitalism is damned.”

In other words, God never really went away, for secular political projects were continuations of Christianity by other means. But if Marxism is a post-Christian creed that is now obsolete, why should liberalism – in its militant, proselytising form – be any different? In fact, it has been in decline for some time, a process that began with the fall of communism.

However, it goes much deeper than just these religious tropes. Christianity underlies today's social theories just like Euclid's fifth postulate fixes his geometry. A different postulate is possible and leads to just as consistent and complete a geometry.

A second insight is this:
Another is their assumption that modernity is a Good Thing. Like so many western commentators, the authors berate the Muslim world, supposedly stuck in medieval torpor, for its failure to modernise. One had hoped that it was now understood that Lenin, Stalin and Hitler were not throwbacks to the Middle Ages. In their different ways, all three were radically modern – just like al-Qaeda today. If a certain type of pluralism appears only in modern times, the same is true of totalitarianism. There are many ways of being modern, some of them far from benign.


One of Balu's messages is that much of what passes as the social sciences is really secularized Christian theology. (This essay of his perhaps may be easier reading.)

So this in today's NYT immediately caught my eye (emphasis added)
Yet the rise of China means more than the emergence of a new great power. Its deeper import is that the ideologies of the past century - neoliberalism just as much as communism - are obsolete. Belief systems in which the categories of western religion are reproduced in the guise of pseudo-science, they are redundant in a world where the most rapidly advancing nation state has never been monotheist.
The John Gray essay from the New Statesman from which this is taken is here.


The ideas that shaped a decade

Neoliberalism: Three policies central to the neoliberal "Washington consensus" were low taxation, privatisation and the deregulation of financial services. Key thinkers: Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick.
Neoconservatism: The term was originally applied to disillusioned liberal critics of the welfare state. By the beginning of the 21st century, neoconservatism was associated principally with an aggressive US foreign policy. Key thinkers: Henry "Scoop" Jackson, Leo Strauss.
Political Islam: "Islamism", or political Islam, is dominated by two distinct and extreme strands of thought: the Salafist or Saudi Wahhabi tradition; and the work of Sayyid Qutb, who saw Islam as a political movement based on Quranic principles and from whom Osama Bin Laden derived the doctrine of violent jihad. Key thinkers: Sayyid Qutb, Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Feed the Birds



India joins the club

According to this, India has joined the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Canada and South Korea in having decoded the human genome.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ranjish Hi Sahi Dil Hi Dukhane Ke Liye Aa

An attempted translation of the lyrics.

PPS: The first lines I think are more accurately described by this [spellings corrected]
Ranjish means bahut purani dushmani..[a longstanding enmity] In Mumbaiya bhai log ka lingo.. Purana Locha.. What this ghazal by Mehdi Hassan means is, even if you have problems with me, even if you consider me an enemy, even if you want to only inflict pain on me.. even then .. please come.. (All he wants is the beloved should come.. whatever else happens .. it doesnt matter...)



Ondelette on salon.com

And just for once, it would be nice to live in a society where of the two entities, the one most likely to fail the Turing Test was the computer.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Dil Ke Jharoke Mein

Listening to the CD (the CD sounds much clearer than the youtube):

From the 1968 movie:

Sri Ganesh

A decades' worth of accumulated loose change was transmogrified into a new lens. All in the interest of a neater household :)

Sri Ganesh

Wide open, with 12mm extender tube, at Minimum Focal Distance, very dim lighting.
PS: not a good example of what the lens can do.

Reading list

This is just the non-fiction that I have an intention to read. This effort is an act of faith that some understanding and perhaps even some use of the ideas will follow. Some of it will probably never be completed, as new directions reveal themselves.

Grouped together, but in no particular order:-

Russell L. Ackoff's Ackoff's Fables, Recreating the Corporation, The Art of Problem Solving; Ralph de la Vega's Obstacles Welcome;

a 1996 symposium - Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Field Theory, edited by Tian Yu Cao; Gregory Naber's pair of books on Topology, Geometry and Gauge Fields; Roger Penrose's The Road to Reality as a sort of overarching road-map;

Shrikant Talageri's The RigVeda and the Avesta (he may be wrong, but he is brilliant); Jaswant Singh's Jinnah - India, Partition, Independence. These last two books are part of a long ongoing "project". Then I have for pride of ownership's sake a book I cannot really read - Christoph Luxenberg's "The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran. There is the comforting thought that perhaps another lifetime will be vouchsafed for me to get some understanding of this field. Hey, what is the point of being a Hindu without punarjanma?

Lastly but not leastly - remember these are in no particular order- Don Margulis' Photoshop Lab Color, a basic book, Richard Harrington's Understanding Photoshop CS4 and Tom Ang's Digital Photography Masterclass.

So, if I neglect to pick up the phone, you can imagine what I might be doing :)

PS: Luxenberg's book is the 2007 **English** edition.

A sad reflection

In his Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan books, K.M. Munshi writes of the wife as sahadharmachaarini. The modern bania has a strange conception of dharma. The radiant presence of the Lakshmi of the house is not what is sought, instead, gold, cash and goods, from her father's savings is what is ardently desired. The Lakshmi herself is secondary.