Wednesday, July 31, 2013

India: Dolphins are Non-Human Persons

Via, India's Ministry of Environment and Forests has pronounced as follows.
“Whereas cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that the unusually high intelligence; as compared to other animals means that dolphins should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose,” the ministry said."
Now, if only the rest of the Government of India treated humans as highly intelligent and sensitive :)


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Poverty worse than drugs!

The NY Daily News story has this headline:

‘Crack baby’ study finds poverty is worse for child development than exposure to drug in womb

In 1989, Hallam Hurt, who was then the chair of neonatology at Philadelphia’s Albert Einstein Medical Center, began to study the long term health prospects for children born to mothers who had smoked crack during pregnancy.....This past June, after 25 years of following people born at the height of the city’s crack epidemic, Hurt unveiled the results of her study, which concluded that, in terms of overall negative health effects, a mother’s crack use was not as harmful as whether or not the child grew up in poverty.

“Poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine,” Hurt said in a recent lecture.
The nation has a war on drugs, but long ago gave up on the war on poverty.

Aside: the British East India Company followed by its colonial governments helped addict the Chinese to opium and impoverished India.  Now it is difficult to say which was the greater crime.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Politically Incorrect!

The nexus between Arab charities promoting Wahabi and Salafi traditions and the extremist Islamic movements has emerged as one of the major threats to people and governments across the globe. From Syria, Mali, Afghanistan and Pakistan to Indonesia in the East, a network of charities is funding militancy and mayhem to coerce Muslims of diverse traditions to conform to the Salafi and Wahabi traditions. The same networks have been equally destructive as they branch out of Muslim countries and attack targets in Europe and North America.

Despite the overt threats emerging from the oil-rich Arab states, governments across the globe continue to ignore the security imperative and instead are busy exploiting the oil-, and at time times, blood-soaked riches.

The European Parliament's report though is a rare exception to the rule where in the past the western governments have let the oil executives influence their foreign offices. From the United States to Great Britain, western states have gone to great lengths to ignore the Arab charities financing the radical groups, some of whom have even targeted the West with deadly consequences.
 From here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

States with Stand Your Ground Laws

Thursday, July 18, 2013


An example of Stand Your Ground in action (courtesy the Tampa Bay Times)

On Nishkaam Karma

"Nishkaam karma" is variously translated as "selfless action" or "disinterested action".    We have luminaries such as Hegel and Humboldt,  or more recently, Amartya Sen, (and Gurcharan Das) weighing on what this means.  Does it mean acting without regard to the consequences, does it mean being self-effacing,  does it mean doing duty for duty's sake?  

"You have a right to the effort, not to the results, therefore act without attachment to the results".  This is the rough translation of the verse in the Gita that so puzzles the above mentioned authors.

To one, no attachment to the results means no consideration of the consequences of actions.

To another, it means since one is not attached to the results, so for instance, one lets someone else take the credit, and so one is self-effacing.

To the third, if one is not attached to success or failure, then one is acting for duty's sake alone.

The simplest way of conveying what I think as the meaning is as follows - With the best intentions, best means, and best effort, the outcome is uncertain, there is always an element of luck or providence or God's Will or whatever you want to call it; success and failure is never fully within one's control.  Therefore, "be with an even mind in success or failure".

The whole of the Gita is about Yoga (the physical postures taught in modern Yoga studios are merely one branch of Yoga).  The Gita variously tells us that Yoga is excellence and proficiency in action, Yoga is evenness of mind.   The Gita tells us to distinguish between right action, wrong action and inaction. 

One undertakes certain actions to achieve certain goals.  One's goals must be right (the Gita talks about this).  One performs Yoga by undertaking the right actions.  One performs Yoga by being excelling in the effort. One performs Yoga by accepting the outcome with equanimity.  Performing Yoga will lead one to a state of abiding peace and joy.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Treatise on Dharma

1. "Sanatana Dharma" or the "The Eternal Dharma" is how Hindus refer to their system.

2. Dharma is untranslatable into any single English word.

3. "Dharma" most emphatically does not mean "religion"***.

4. The ancient Chinese translated "Dharma" as "Fa".  "Fa" has the meanings of "order", "rites", "human laws" and "control".  I don't claim that the Chinese got it right; just that they got it different, and very different from "religion".

5.  The separation of religion from state is a meaningful concept.  The separation of "Fa from state" or "Dharma from state" is very problematic, if not entirely meaningless.

6. Pointing out this out apparently turns one into a Bill O'Reilly.   This in the minds of those who see religion as a human universal.

7. This leaves one the task of not just demonstrating that Dharma is not Religion, but also to point to what Dharma is.  

8. The Mahabharata of itself says that its discourses on Dharma, Artha, Kaama, Moksha dispel the ignorance of mankind.   The ancient text is thus a good source for describing Dharma.

9. The problem is that the readily available translations use some English word or other for "Dharma", so you do not know when the text is talking about Dharma and when it might be talking about something else.

10. Fortunately for my purposes, Gurcharan Das, high-schooled in Washington D.C., Harvard-educated, retired CEO of Proctor & Gamble, India, has written a book The Difficulty of Being Good: On the subtle art of dharma.  This book is available for $9.99 as a Kindle edition on, and as a Nook book on Barnes & Noble for some pennies more.  Wisdom for cheap.

11. The book has a few defects.  From reading it, you might be misled into thinking that only Westerners and a few Indian Leftist intellectuals had written commentaries on the Mahabharata.   There are some omissions that might be significant, and some one or two things the author, in my opinion, may have misunderstood.

12. The Great Virtue of the book is its unrelenting focus on Dharma.   By explaining what the Mahabharata says about Dharma, only one of mentality parallel to the Tea Party members could read this book and then assert that Dharma means religion.

The other virtues of the book are its instant availability, at least for American readers, and its literary references will be familiar to the Western reader.

The final virtue, for me, is that I do not have to do any work, posting stories from the Mahabharata here or any such.  

My request is, please read the book before engaging in further debate.

***While Dharma is not religion, one could ask, does Dharma include religion?  This merits some discussion, but after understanding Dharma, and from my point of view, the idea of Swadharma, which I shall translate as "intrinsic nature/responsibilities&duties".  Everyone and every group has a Swadharma; I think my ancestors saw Muslims as their Swadharma.  There is certainly in modern days the Gandhian exhortation for Christians to be better Christians, Hindus to be better Hindus, etc., sticking to their Swadharma instead of trying to be something else.   (It should also be clear that Dharma is not normative ethics.) 

A collection of commentary on the Zimmerman trial & Trayvon Martin

Alex Fraser's open letter to George Zimmerman
For the rest of your life you are now going to feel what its like to be a black man in America. You will feel people stare at you. Judging you for what you think are unfair reasons.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Theological Underpinnings of Secularism

The court case in California challenging the teaching of Yoga in schools helps show the theological underpinnings of "secularism".
See here.

Many people have come to think the secular can be a neutral space for co-existence within a plural society. Such a construal misses the theological underpinning of the ‘secular’. In The Heathen in his Blindness, Balagangadhara further shows how the distinction between the religious and secular is drawn by and within a religion. Within such a theological framework, the secular is a zone where practices of a false religion, cleansed of its idolatrous practices, are assigned as an alternative to assigning it to the place of true religion. Perhaps those enunciating ‘Christian yoga’ are engaged in doing the latter, as Rajiv Malhotra’s discussion of the trend indicates. That is, they are engaged in purifying it for Christians to adopt as a religious practice. Judge Meyer in Sedlock appears to have done the former, ostensibly persuaded by the carefully calculated arguments submitted by the defendants that the yoga classes had had the cultural and religious elements removed from them, with the names for various asanas having been substituted with other terms, and Sanskrit terms and mantras having been dropped.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Netflix Culture

The 126 slides here, termed 'The Most Important Document Ever To Come Out of The {Silicon} Valley' are a powerful presentation of Netflix Corporate Culture.  Even with the usual layer of cynicism one must treat any corporate communication, this is pretty powerful stuff.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Alcohol - the great enabler of feminism?

I happened to read this NYT article more than a day ago, about the hook-up culture on American college campuses.  The article describes the term as: "“hooking up” — an ambiguous term that can signify anything from making out to oral sex to intercourse — without the emotional entanglement of a relationship."

The article examines this following, and validates it:
Until recently, those who studied the rise of hookup culture had generally assumed that it was driven by men, and that women were reluctant participants, more interested in romance than in casual sexual encounters. But there is an increasing realization that young women are propelling it, too.
The article however also notes the following.   It stuck in my mind, and that of many other people.  It stuck enough that by posting it, I want to unstick it.  It was noted in the readers' top pick of 789 comments (which noted "And if you can't do something without being drunk, it's not a feminist statement or a statement of power or choice.")
Women said universally that hookups could not exist without alcohol, because they were for the most part too uncomfortable to pair off with men they did not know well without being drunk.
What a massive societal failure to have to drown life in alcohol!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A curiousity

We start with this quote from Feynman (via here)

If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or the atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied...
(Six Easy Pieces, p.4)
We next pass to this slide from a talk by Ulrich Haisch, which tells us that likely only 5% of the matter in the universe is made of atoms.    If instead of just one, two sentences were allowed to be passed on to the next generation of creatures,  would this be mentioned?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

More Literary Chit-Chat

Carlyle-Macaulay-Sydney Smith
A.—Is he {Thomas Carlyle} as good a talker as Macaulay?
H.—He is not so neat, brilliant and epigrammatic, but he is more cordial and exhibits a greater ardour and generosity.  Carlyle opens the hearer’s heart—Macaulay closes it.  There is an under current of sarcasm and contempt in Macaulay, as if he felt it a condescension to talk with inferiors, and, with all his external courtesy, people rarely feel quite at their ease in his company.   Carlyle exhibits none of this offensive condescension.   His associates feel safe in his presence,  and do not anticipate that he will laugh at his retreating guest as soon as the door is closed behind him.
A.—You do not surely believe that Macaulay so treats his visitors?
H.—I do not say that he does; but he always left on my mind the impression that he might do so, without much pain to his conscience.   He is amongst the sneerers—a race I abominate.  I always dreaded to ask him his opinion of any man whom I esteemed and loved, and, though he uniformly treated me very kindly and courteously, I used to remember the fine observations of Mrs. Norton, quoted by Leigh Hunt in a note to his Blue Stocking Revels—“We are too apt to think only of how we are treated; too little accustomed to observe what is the treatment of others by the same person.  Watch and weigh.  If a man speak evil of his friends to you, he will also speak evil of you to his friends.  Kind and caressing words are easily spoken, and pleasant to hear; but the man who bears a kind heart bears it to all and not to one only.  He who appears to love only the friend he speaks to, and slanders or speaks coldly of the rest, loves no one but himself.”
A.—What exquisite observers of society are intelligent women!  Every word of that quotation is perfect truth.  Mrs. Norton is something of a poetess, too.  The Quarterly dubs her the female Byron.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Neanderthals, language, etc.

News of some interesting scientific speculations.
Neanderthals and speech.
Ancient connections between languages.

(via rajsand on The Heathen... group)

Literary Chit-Chat

Previously mentioned on these pages were the literary works of Captain D.L. Richardson,  which were contemporaneous with Macaulay’s (Thomas Babington) presence in Calcutta.
D.L. Richardson’s “Literary Chit-Chat” is available on Google Books. In the foreword, D.L.R. expressed the hope that via this work, he might “contribute, however indirectly, to raise the tone of conversation in the homes of the rising generation of Hindus”.   Some excerpts might serve as a suitable memorial to the civilizing mission of the imperialists.  An added benefit is an amusing view of Macaulay.