Saturday, March 31, 2007

India's Highway Code

I might have posted this before, but can't find it, so here goes:
American world traveller G.R. Frysinger's humorous take on India's chaotic road traffic.


"Article III: All wheeled vehicles shall be driven in accordance with the maxim: to slow is to falter, to brake is to fail: to stop is defeat. This is the Indian drivers’ mantra."

Friday, March 30, 2007

History - the Congress vs the British

Jinnah's Muslim League made a big deal about the Congress "non-recognition" of it as a major force in the country. Specifically, certain remarks of Nehru were cited, and continue to be cited, as a sign of his arrogance.

I will provide links to demonstrate the above at some later date. In the meantime, it is to be noted: (from The Partition of India, Policies and Perspectives, 1935-1947, editors C.H. Philips, M.D. Wainwright; B.R. Nanda - The Indian National Congress and the Partition of India, 1935-47)

"Nehru was aware of the fact that the Congress was anathema to the official world. In September 1936, he came across a copy of a circular letter from the secretary of the court of wards, Allahabad to all district officers advising them that it was 'essential in the interests of the class which the Court of Wards represents, and of agricultural interests generally to inflict as crushing a defeat as possible on the Congress with its avowed socialistic principles. To this end it is of the utmost importance to avoid to the greatest extent practicable a split in the landlord vote, and a consequent dissipation of the voting power of the elements opposed to the Congress'."

"It was after reading this letter that Nehru issued a statement to the press on September 18, 1936: 'The real contest is between two forces - the Congress as representing the will to freedom of the nation, and the British Government of India and its supporters who oppose this urge and try to suppress it....Let this position be clearly understood by our people as it has been understood and acted upon by the Government. For the Government, there is only one principal opponent - the Congress.'"

"This statement was directed not against the Muslim League - which later was to make much play with it - but against the government. It is noteworthy that Nehru had described the contest as between 'two forces', not between 'two parties'. What he was stating was the obvious truth: the Congress represented the main anti-imperialist force in India."

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Reflections on the Indian Traditions

Prof. Balagangadhara (Balu) has begun a series on India Forum of reflections on the Indian traditions.

A central question is - what do we find valuable about the Indian traditions? What should we discard and what should we keep - try to propagate to the next generation?

The first obstacle we hit is that we ourselves do not understand the traditions well enough to answer that question. The framework within which we discuss them is flawed.

Balu mentions as flawed the notions of Hinduism as a religion and of Indian social structure as the caste system. This will be controversial, and will require further explanation and elaboration.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bush fans in Kerala?

President G.W. Bush and his tax-breaks for the rich policies have their fans in the very Leftist state of Kerala in far-away India.

Purchasers of residential real estate used to pay a tax of 3.1% of the value of the property to register the sale. Under new rules effective from April 1, purchasers of stand-alone houses on their own plots of land will continue to pay the 3.1% tax. Purchasers of apartments or flats, however, will pay at a 15.5% rate.

With the land values skyrocketing in the cities, the type of housing the middle class can realistically hope to own there is apartments.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Why do I like this photograph?

Via - sorry I cannot link to the photograph directly, I hope you are able to view it without having to register on the forum.

Why does this black-and-white picture of a freighter appeal to me? I haven't been able to figure it out.

Libertarians Against Shampoo

The Libertarians have launched a campaign against shampoo, thereby preserving key libertarian principles that corporations are free to sell us useless junk and we are free to reject that.

1. Matthew Parris in The Times of London.

2. Richard Glover in the Sydney Morning Herald.

3. Norman Swan interviews Dr. Hugh Molloy on Australian radio.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Physics, then and now

I get into a tin can, and make a long flight to my parents' home. While trying to keep awake to get over jetlag, I see an oldie in my father's bookshelf - "Elementary Particles - A Short History of Some Discoveries in Atomic Physics - The Vanuxem Lectures, 1959", by Chen Ning Yang.

It begins thus (emphasis added by me):

"AT THE TURN of the century the world of physics was clearly coming into the dawn of a new era. Not only did the brilliant achievements of classical mechanics and of the Faraday-Maxwell theory of electromagnetism bring to a successful termination the era of classical macroscopic physics, but there were already in the air everywhere new phenomena, new puzzlement, new excitement, and new anticipation. Cathode rays, photoelectriciy, radioactivity, the Zeeman effect, X-rays, and the Rydberg law of spectral lines were all recent discoveries. What the new era would have in store was of course difficult to predict at that time. Among other things, there was much discussion of the possible atomic structure of electricity. But let us recognize that although the concept of the atomic structure of matter had been speculated upon since early times, such speculation could not be entered into the books of scientific knowledge. For without quantitative experimental verification, no philosophical discussions can be accepted as scientific truth. For example, as late as 1897, Lord Kelvin, a giant in the world of physics in the latter part of the nineteenth century, still wrote that the idea that "electricity is a continuous homogenous liquid" (rather than having an atomic structure) deserved careful consideration."

Physics, now, via Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong, where Peter does a great job of recording the atrocities:

Physicist Mark Srednicki:

"We see that the big issue for Brian, and for just about all scientists (though with the apparent exceptions of Lee Smolin and Peter Woit), is what is TRUE. Not what corresponds to some philosophy of what science is or is not. Lee writes that the landscape must be rejected because “it would mean the end of our field” (page 165). It should be obvious that this is not the basis that is traditionally used for accepting or rejecting a theory! Peter’s (essentially the same) argument that string theory must be rejected because (at the moment) it does not appear to be sufficiently predictive (for Peter) is also irrelevant to the question of whether or not string theory is TRUE.

If the landscape is right, we may never get anything more than circumstantial evidence that it’s right. But that’s often the case in science. We’ve been spoiled in particle physics by having extremely precise data and highly predictive and quantitative theories for the past few decades. Most of the rest of science has not been so lucky. Perhaps we will not be so lucky going forward. The only way to find out is to do more work and see where it leads."


Bears repeating:

"For without quantitative experimental verification, no philosophical discussions can be accepted as scientific truth."


I'll also venture to say that particle physics faces the prospect of a new generation of physicists who actually know less than their predecessors. For all the personal knowledge of the interplay of experiment and theory may vanish as one generation retires, and is replaced by a new generation that knows mainly extremely sophisticated mathematics. We have to hope that Nature is more providential.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Essential for a camera.
Good for a person.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Yet more on 300

Monday, March 19, 2007

A note on the history of the Partition of India

"...before 1947 the "Hindus" were relentlessly and viciously vilified by Jinnah as being power-hungry for not agreeing to partition India into two independent states as he demanded (this appears to have been Jinnah's single-point political platform in this period). And yet, it is mystifying that after 1947, many have refused to acknowledge this patent fact about Jinnah, preferring to vilify "Hindus" and the Congress as power-hungry for agreeing to partition India into two independent states, while declaring Jinnah completely innocent of wanting any such partition.

The deep sense of tragedy, loss and of "failed" nationalism felt by countless millions in India after Partition occured could be a perfectly understandable reason for this "inconsistency" in the general public. Such an inconsistency is however not quite as understandable where informed historians are concerned, and carries the odor of intellectual dishonesty."

From here

Organ Donation

I read in the newspapers that hospitals are increasingly eager to harvest organs, waiting as little as 75 seconds after heart stoppage to begin taking organs. Further, there are proposals that everyone be assumed to be a donor in the absence of explicit instructions to the contrary.

I understand that organ donation does alleviate death and suffering for people. But it seems to me that the chief beneficiary in all this is the medical and pharmaceutical industries.

Cost of a liver transplant

"According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), estimated charges for liver transplantation are:

Estimated First-Year Charge: $314,600
Estimated Annual Follow-up Charge: $21,900".


Therefore, this is my public statement - in the absence of a signed and witnessed statement from me to donate part or all of my body, I explicitly forbid that any donation of my body parts.

Finally, the only circumstances in which I will execute a statement of organ donation is either for a loved one, or if every step in the organ transplantation is non-profit.

The Privatization of War

One of the neocon products has been the privatization of war.

Most troubling is that the contractors seem to be shielded from Congressional oversight. Even less than with the military do Americans know what is done in their name.

Also, until recently, the mercenaries operated outside both civilian law and military law; i.e., they were not answerable to anyone except company management.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

More on 300 the movie

Right-wing bloggers and 300 the movie:
Digby is a must-read.

1984 Grammar

The Bush Administration's common "Mistakes were made" is said to be in the past exonerative tense.

Heard on NPR, then googled

"The nonconfessions inspired William Schneider, a political guru here, to note a few years ago that Washington had contributed a new tense to the language. “This usage,” he said, “should be referred to as the past exonerative.”"

Saturday, March 17, 2007

300 - The Movie

300 - The Movie is made for stupid people.

PS: what makes it stupid is the speechifying.

For instance, as per Wikipedia,

"The Spartans sent 45,000 men under the command of Pausanias, 5,000 Spartiates (full citizen soldiers), 5,000 perioeci and 35,000 helots; this was the largest single Spartan fighting force ever to appear in battle. Spartan forces typically included relatively few actual Spartan soldiers, and mostly consisted of perioeci, helots (serfs, servants of the state) and soldiers provided by their allies."


And elsewhere:

"Every autumn, according to Plutarch (Life of Lycurgus, 28, 3–7), the Spartan Ephors (Classical Greek Ἔφοροι) would pro forma declare war on the Helot population so that any Spartan citizen could kill a Helot without fear of blood guilt. Unarmed, the Krypteia were sent out into the countryside with the instructions to kill any Helot they encountered at night and to take any food they needed. This could be used to remove any Helots considered troublesome and provide the young men with a manhood test and experience of their first kill. Such brutal oppression of the Helots permitted the Spartans to control the agrarian population and devote themselves to military practice."


Friday, March 16, 2007

Rotten at the Top

The Glasshouse explains why the Chief Justice of Pakistan is in trouble. You should read the whole piece, but this stands out:

"Previously relatives of the missing people would file writs of habeas corpus in the courts. The judges would then formally request the Interior Ministry for information. Characteristically, the ministry would reply that the secret agencies had no clue as to the person's whereabouts, and the matter would end there.

The Chief Justice changed all this by diligently following up these cases and compelling the authorities to trace the missing citizens. As a result, many missing people suddenly reappeared in the strangest of circumstances; many of them accusing the secret agencies of incarcerating and torturing them. The CJ then put the cat among the pigeons by ordering these agencies to appear in court in front of him."


So Pakistan's rulers (its military and security agencies) are intent of getting rid of the Chief Justice. And their actions, like nothing else in the last decade, have enraged and energized what remains of civil society in Pakistan.


But contrary to any belief you may have formed so far, this post is not about Pakistan.

Reaction from Australia

"Thu Mar 15, 4:42 AM ET

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia on Thursday threw its support behind Pakistan's beleaguered President Pervez Musharraf, calling him an important figure in the global fight against terrorism.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he hoped Musharraf could "hold on" in the face of an outbreak of protests over the suspension of the country's top judge."


If the leaders of the West had any belief in democracy, civil society, liberty or any of that stuff they keep prating about, they'd all unanimously be calling for Musharraf to step down.

Or at worst, maintaining a discreet silence.

It must be dismaying to them to see a magistrate who honors habeas corpus!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

How Gandhian!

In the US's most-valued non-NATO ally, the moderately enlightened Dictator has been trying to push out the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It has provoked some public reaction.

(For those that don't follow the news from that part of the world, we have going on a wrestling match of General Musharraf versus Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.)

Whatever the Chief Justice's faults, by all accounts, he was at least activist regarding human rights. It is not clear however why the General is after him. Charges have been brought against him, to be heard by a Judicial Council. In the meantime the C.J. is subject to various harassment.

Dawn columnist Ayaz Amir :

"When the Chief Justice and his wife, Begum Iftikhar Chaudhry, walked out of their house on Tuesday morning, refusing to sit in any official car and insisting they would rather walk to the Supreme Court – where the Chief Justice had to appear before the Supreme Judicial Council to answer the reference filed by Gen Musharraf – the Chief Justice was roughed up by the Islamabad police and pushed into a waiting car."

"....when the car carrying him finally arrived before the gates of the Supreme Court, the people assembled there, unable to keep their emotions in check, lost all control and stormed the vehicle and pulled him out. Amidst deafening cheers and much jostling (but this was jostling of another kind) they swept him towards the doors of the Supreme Court.

They would have broken the doors and entered the building itself but it was the Chief Justice who bade them go back. And you know what? Even in that melee the crowd obeyed. This is what moral authority is all about. With it you don’t need bayonets to have your way. Without it, not all the bayonets in the world can come to your rescue."


Perhaps at this auspicious hour in their history, I should resist reminding them of the cunning Hindu that the Pakistanis detest.


B Raman at points out that Musharraf's campaign against al Qaeda is a charade, and that many Pakistanis have been "disappeared" on that pretext.

"7. Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury, who has been suspended by Musharraf as the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court provoking an embarrassing controversy, suspected that there was a large element of charade in respect of the arrests of Al Qaeda suspects and tried to go into it while enquiring into a large number of petitions regarding missing persons. This is not the first time that Musharraf has tried to intimidate Judges. He has done it at least 20 times since he seized power in October,1999. Whereas in the past he let his subordinates do the intimidation and avoided his personal involvement, this time he personally got involved by calling the Chief Justice to his office and unsuccessfully trying to force him to resign on the ground that he was damaging the reputation of the army and the ISI. His personal involvement this time shows the state of his panic and his anxiety to prevent the truth from coming out. "


See, being a tinpot dictator is no good! If you want to disappear people without consequences, you have to be the POTUS. Anyway, count Justice Chaudhury among the collateral damage of the "Global War Against Terror".

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bigma and SigMonster

Yesterday's post gave a couple of links to Canon's 1200mm focal length monster super telephoto prime lens.

More practical than that lens are the Bigma and SigMonster - the nicknames supposedly indicate the fondness with which professional photographers regard these lenses.

The Bigma is the Sigma 50-500mm telephoto zoom lens. Some commentary is here.

The SigMonster is the Sigma 300-800mm telephoto zoom lens. Find a paean to this lens here.

You may appreciate better the size of these beasts by going
here, and scrolling down to the picture of the much smaller Canon 500mm prime lens standing alongside a little girl.

One must take up body-building in order to be able to efficiently lug one of these around the countryside for wildlife photography. Or hire a Sherpa.


Thanks to Rajan for catching the typo about the SigMonster. Actually, the last link was also from him (pic of the Canon 500mm).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Canon 1200 mm lens

Canon 1200mm monster lens, no longer made. Worth a small house. Or a very nice car.

More about it here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Curious Case of Rachel Paulose

The Curious Case of Rachel Paulose.

"Kerala-born Rachel Kunjummen Paulose is the 40th U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota and the first Asian American ever named to that post."

(from an India-West article linked from the link above).

Also from the India-West article:

"Her maternal grandparents, Daniel and Sara Kunjummen, immigrated to the U.S. from Kerala in the 1960s, and raised their family in Minnesota. Her paternal grandparents, both deceased, also lived in Kerala."

From a Powerline Blog article on Rachel Paulose:

"When I spoke with her before she met with Senator Dayton on Wednesday, I told Rachel that if things didn't work out for her in the legal profession, she could always go into modelling. Rachel laughed and recalled her grandparents, who had fled persecution by the Communists in East Asia to come as immigrants to the United States with seven dollars in their pockets. She said she thought it would take a miracle for her confirmation to occur this session, but that her family (devout Christians) believes in miracle."

The FreeP has this:

"Her grandfather, a government official in India, came to the United States to study theology in the 1960s.

"I have a hard time talking about this without becoming emotional," Paulose says, her eyes suddenly welling with tears. Her family, she explains, "came here hoping for the American dream at a time when the Communists were basically sweeping across Southeast Asia."

IMO, "fleeing Communist persecution in Kerala in the 1960s" is hogwash. A government official fleeing Communist persecution in Kerala in the 1960s is even more hogwash.

To recall events in Kerala from those days, see, e.g., this
Wikipedia on EMS Namboodiripad:

"India achieved its independence in 1947 and the state of Kerala was formed in 1956 . In 1957 , EMS led the Communists to victory in the first election for the state government, making him the first communist leader anywhere to head a popularly elected government.On5th April 1957 he was appointed as the first chief minister of Kerala.He soon introduced the Land Reform Ordinance and Education Bill . His government was dismissed in 1959 by the Central Government, which invoked the controversial Article 356 of the Indian Constitution . He became the Chief Minister of Kerala for the second time in 1967 . This time his tenure lasted for two years.

EMS was the Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Legislative Assembly from 1960 to 1964 and again from 1970 to 1977 . He influenced Kerala society by his vision on decentralization of power and resources ( People's Plan ) and the Kerala Literacy Movement."


Mid-60s was when my parents moved from the US to Kerala.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Daylight Saving Time

The US Congress extended Daylight Savings Time to begin earlier and end later each year, starting this year. DST used to begin on the first Sunday in April and end on the last Sunday in October. It will now begin on the second Sunday in March and end on the first Sunday in April.

DST is supposed to help save energy. This story says that since the energy savings may be negligible, the extended DST may be rolled back, within an year.

PS: corrected typos.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Death of the Republic - continued

Christopher Manion explains very clearly what has happened to our civil liberties, they now belong to history. He carefully explains the US Court of Appeals (4th circuit) ruling in the El-Masri case, and what it all means.

"Thus, if you are kidnapped, raped, tortured, or even killed by persons "whose identities must remain confidential in the interest of national security," you and your heirs have no recourse under the laws of the Land of the Free.

"But wait," I hear you saying (or, perhaps, screaming), "the judge is able to decide for himself whether the "state secrets" claim is bogus, right?"

Wrong. The Executive Branch, all on its own, has the right to assert that the secrets are so sensitive that even the Federal Judge himself cannot see them."


"As always in things governmental, there is a certain irony here. In the Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers condemned the insane and tyrannical King George III for the outrages committed by his foreign mercenaries, including, "For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states."

At least the Colonists were given a "mock trial" that exonerated the Hessian criminals. In modern cases involving "national security,"the criminals need not worry about being subjected to any trial at all."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

NYT's Sunday Styles

Some of the most putrid stuff in the New York Times is in the supplementary sections.

A seventeen year-old Australian model, Catherine McNeil is taking the fashion world by storm. She opened the Givenchy show in Paris last week, which is supposedly a sign of great favor for a new model.

Here is how Guy Trebay of the New York Times tells the story in his column Fashion Diary, which appears in the Sunday Styles section.

Supposedly "we" (and "we" is a very particular "we", it would not include me or anyone east of the Danube probably) have a long standing, virtually instinctive, Pythagorean standard of beauty, derived from simple mathematical proportions of features. "A forehead should be as high as the nose is long. The space between the nostrils and the upper lip should be a third of the length of the nose." etc.

Then the big bad corporate world, and the growth of markets in China, Japan, Korea, etc., robbed "us" of this kind of beauty. Asian faces started infesting the fashion show catwalks. Then horror of horrors, Russia, Romania, Slovakia and the Ukraine took over "70 percent" of the castings for runway shows! Designers did not want beautiful faces to draw attention away from their designs, and so were happy to use these non-Pythagorean commodities - "vacant, plain, colorless".

And now Catherine McNeil walks in, and "our" old standard of beauty has been reinstated! "She is beautiful in a way that people used to be".


The NYT columnist is clearly unhappy with any notion of beauty other than his own. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for the rest of us, especially those of us not included in his grand "we", he is a columnist in an increasingly parochial and irrelevant newspaper.

Pruning roses

In principle, pruning roses is simple. One first cuts away all the dead wood. Then one trims away stuff to end up with a neat set of finger-thick straight canes in a neat cone with the apex at the base.

In practice, it is not so simple. I've yet to see a rose bush so obliging as to grow in a fashion that such canes are available. Then, to reach the dead wood, one first has to hack away at other stuff first. And there are thorns. Leather gloves don't help, the thorns break off and work their way through the hide. The thorns cling to the jacket and jeans. It is best to wear eye protection, by the way. The cut branches don't pile neatly into the wheel barrow. As you're carting them off, they cling onto everything on the way, as though actively resisting their fate on the compost heap.

One also worries about cutting off so much living tissue, opening up so many points for pests and infections. Is one cutting too deep and reducing the vitality of the bush? And so on.

And the weather is cold, and the wind blows. And to add insult to injury, the chickadee that frequents the bird feeder hops onto one of the bushes and sings a protest song. That does love to sit in the dense thicket.

Anyway, the job is done, the bushes are down a very naked three feet. Let's see how they do in the spring.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Gardening 2007

A mild first weekend in March marks the beginning of the 2007 gardening season.

Supposedly the rose bushes are dormant now, and this is the time for pruning them - at least according to Roses for Dummies. One is not supposed to prune the roses in the fall, because that supposedly keeps them from going dormant, and makes it likely that they will be injured by the cold.

The pruning can't wait for a week or two, because once the leaf buds awaken, it is too late. Pruning at that point will greatly reduce the vigor the plant.

I note that the fine art of procrastination, which is practiceable by a gardener in the tropics, is simply not possible in the temperate zone. The calender and the seasons are relentless and unforgiving.

Anyway, it takes me about an hour per bush. Two down, five more to go.

Death of the Republic - continued

Prior to the "Patriot" Act, the appointment of US Attorneys required Senate confirmation, otherwise the appointment would lapse after 120 days. After the Patriot Act, the US Attorney General has the authority to make appointments that can serve indefinitely without confirmation.

1. It is not at all clear how this power serves to reduce terrorism.
2. It is another grab of power by the executive.

Since December 2006, eight US Attorneys have been summarily fired, and for no good reason. Only recently, and mainly because of bloggers, has there been focus on this, and a scandal is emerging.

Friday, March 02, 2007

North Korea

Matthew Yglesias summarizes the New York Times on the North Korean nuclear program thusly:


  • The 1994 Agreed Framework froze the DPRK efforts to build a nuclear weapon using plutonium.
  • In 2002, the Bush administration pulled out of the Agreed Framework, arguing that the DPRK was cheating by running a secret parallel uranium program.
  • In the intervening years, the DPRK has succeeded in using its now-unfrozen plutonium program to build some bombs.
  • They have not, however, had any success in building uranium bombs.
  • This looked like pretty shitty policymaking for the Bush administration.
  • It looks much worse, however, after we learn today that the uranium program may never have existed.


    My question is - was the 2002 intelligence also cooked, like that on Iraqi WMD?
  • Thursday, March 01, 2007

    The Death of the Republic - continued

    The New York Times makes it appear that the Supreme Court Justices are sympathetic to the argument that the citizen can challenge in court only Congressional statutes that seek to establish religion, but cannot challenge actions of the Executive.

    To quote the Solicitor General

    "taxpayers should not have standing to challenge “an internal government church.”"

    And SCOTUS is sympathetic to this.