Saturday, June 30, 2007

Invading the Sacred

Aditi Banerjee has written a great essay in Outlook India - Invading the Sacred. I recommend reading it through and through (thanks, Rajan!)

The story they have cleverly created about Hinduism goes something like this: Hindus were too occupied with earthy pleasures and pursuits to develop an authentic spiritual and philosophical tradition of their own; therefore, whatever Hindus find valuable in modern day Hinduism has either been imported from elsewhere or conceals something pathological that can only be exposed through Freudian psychoanalysis.


Since it is brought up in the essay, I want to just mention something about the idea that the Bhagavad Gita is a Buddhist work.

The Gita is embedded in the Mahabharata, which today is a stupendous epic of over 100,000 verses - we are told seven times as long as the Bible, ten times as long as the Illiad and Odyssey combined. Its original core was probably of the order of 8000 verses, so you can understand the accretion over the ages.

So it is entirely possible that the Gita is a later interpolation. I think in the opinion of most philologists it is indeed an interpolation.

To this I want to add that it is an interpolation of an extremely interesting kind. One of the themes in the Mahabharata that we have today is the evenhanded treatment Krishna gives his warring cousins, Arjuna and Duryodhana. In the Mahabharata minus the Gita, however, I think only Duryodhana is vouchsafed a Vishvarupa darshan (vision of the cosmic form) of Krishna, this when Krishna is trying to dissuade him from war. Arjuna has his darshan only later, during the exposition of the Gita, when the first battle is about to fought. So the interpolation of the Gita had to be accompanied by a reaching back into the story and making an interpolation there as well - it is inconceivable that in the story before the Gita, only Duryodhana had this privilege and not Arjuna.

So this was not some random appropriation of some work, it was sewn into the story in a seamless way.

Even if it is some later expansion of an earlier tradition that simply said, Krishna had to inspire a dejected Arjuna to fight, i.e., there was a placeholder in the original story, the coordinated addition of vishvarupa darshan had to have taken place to the epic.


A remark about the quest of philologists for the "original" work and what it meant - in my opinion, this is based on a mental model of the Bible as the original word of God. Firstly, Indian traditions are much more malleable/much less canonical, and second, the reason for preservation of the tradition, handing down from one generation to the next is more likely because of the meaning of the text in the living tradition, and not some "original" meaning that is anyway obscured, and that the traditionalists were blissfully unaware of.

What I'm asserting is that to understand the Indic traditions, one has to take seriously the tradition itself; its (long-forgotten) origins have very little to say.
The philologists want to understand your grandfather purely from his first year of life, but what your grandfather has of interest to tell you comes from his accumulated life experience.

New York curbs on photography

New York City is considering new rules about photography on city property (this includes sidewalks). The NY Times story is here.

It begins:
Some tourists, amateur photographers, even would-be filmmakers hoping to make it big on YouTube could soon be forced to obtain a city permit and $1 million in liability insurance before taking pictures or filming on city property, including sidewalks.

Why the new rules now?

The NYT explains:

In May 2005, Rakesh Sharma, an Indian documentary filmmaker, was using a hand-held video camera in Midtown Manhattan when he was detained for several hours and questioned by police.

During his detention, Mr. Sharma was told he was required to have a permit to film on city property. According to a lawsuit, Mr. Sharma sought information about how permits were granted and who was required to have one but found there were no written guidelines. Nonetheless, the film office told him he was required to have a permit, but when he applied, the office refused to grant him one and would not give him a written explanation of its refusal.

As part of a settlement reached in April, the film office agreed to establish written rules for issuing permits. Mr. Sharma could not be reached for comment yesterday.

What are the new rules like?
New rules being considered by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting would require any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a single public location for more than a half hour to get a city permit and insurance.

The same requirements would apply to any group of five or more people who plan to use a tripod in a public location for more than 10 minutes, including the time it takes to set up the equipment.

What is the effect of the rules?
The rules define a “single site” as any area within 100 feet of where filming begins. Under the rules, the two or more people would not actually have to be filming, but could simply be holding an ordinary camera and talking to each other.

i.e., in short, if you're brownskinned and carrying a camera, the NY police can harass you at their own discretion.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Take a look if you can, Imagemaster's bathing hummingbirds, on

Monday, June 25, 2007


Heh, I carefully rolled back exposure compensation (I thought), but I was actually rolling back the Flash Exposure Compensation of the absent flash. So this came out underexposed.

But I liked the dark colors. Here it is.


PS: I have properly exposed snaps as well.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Exposure variations

Short story: please go to this Picasa album, view the slide show with captions on, and come back here and tell me which exposures with Flash:off and which exposures with some value of Flash Exposure Compensation you liked. Refer to the number, e.g., "I330" at the beginning of each caption.

Longer story:

Y'day, a number of what would have been good photographs I blew because I didn't get the exposure right. The photographic situation is: person in the shadow, bright background. Hence this set of two series.

The constants are:
Canon 5D on tripod
24-105 mm f/4 lens at 105.0 mm
580 EX II flash.

All files are jpgs from the camera, dragged into the Picasa upload tool.

There were some light clouds, occasionally obscuring the sun. The series was taken between 12:10 and 12:30.


My conclusions:

If you don't have flash handy, use spot or partial metering to get the face correctly exposed. You will likely sacrifice the background, but you don't have much choice.

Things greatly improve if you have a flash. Use evaluative metering, and (on the 5D) set exposure compensation to -1/3 to -1 - this will preserve highlights in the background. Set flash exposure compensation to -1 or more, otherwise you will overexpose the face.


Yes, I know post-camera RAW file processing opens a whole new large parameter space. But for the most part, I don't think I want to spend a lot of time in front of the computer, I want the exposure to require minimum to zero touch up.


Criticism, better technique, suggestions for another experiment with other settings, I'd really welcome.

Postscript: Remember, this is for unposed photographs of people who are not going to stay still. I don't think I'd have the time to meter on middle gray, exposure lock and then reframe and take the picture.

Mentarch's 8 principles of incompetence

Mentarch proposes these eight principles of incompetence, fully explained on

Zeroth Principle: Incompetence is driven by intellectual sloth.
First Principle: Incompetence surrounds itself with incompetence.
Second Principle: Incompetence is ethics-impaired.
Third Principle: Incompetence abhors transparency and accountability.
Fourth Principle: Incompetence does or says anything to defend itself.
Fifth Principle: Incompetence always supports incompetence.
Sixth Principle: Violence is the last refuge of incompetence.
Seventh Principle: Incompetence is nothing but consistent with itself.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ring Out Solstice Bells

The song is for the winter solstice, really, but who cares?

( Jethro Tull Rare Promo Vid for Solstice bells 1976 )

Another version.

Garden learnings

Petunias in outdoor pots need **daily** watering, rain or shine.

My few pots are gradually recovering from being some critter's snack bar. If they continue on their current trajectory, I will post photographs. 'course I can't post the lovely delicate scent petunias have en masse.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

How the Free Market Really Works

In the typical Econ. 101 class, we are told that price is determined by the balance of supply and demand. Since higher prices give incentives to suppliers to increase the supply and the purchasers to consume less, while lower prices will depress supply and increase demand, the price will stabilize where supply = demand.

But how does this happen in the real world? Take the case of a wedding photographer. He must charge enough so as to remain alive and to pay for equipment and supplies. But how much should he actually charge beyond that?

One might imagine that the photographer adjusts his charges till he gets sufficient work to fill the fixed resource that he has - the number of events that he can go to in an year. If he gets more work than he can fulfill, he can raise his rates, etc. In practice, one would imagine that he has a fixed price list and offers discounts if necessary - it would not be good to be constantly fiddling with his published rates.

In the real world, however, he asks other photographers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

(Most) Terrorists are Criminals not Enemy Combatants

Conceptual Guerilla explains the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

Well worth a read. The point is that apart from cases like al Qaeda fighting in Afghanistan alongside its (erstwhile) national government constituted by the Taliban, terrorists are criminals governed by criminal law (innocent till proven guilty, need to be charged with a crime and have their day in court, etc.) and are not enemy combatants (e.g., prisoners of war).

A person suspected of crimes in the context of his association with Al Qaeda must be charged with a crime, and put on trial with a reasonable opportunity to establish his innocence of such crimes. Because remember, just because the government SAYS you are a "terrorist," doesn't mean you are. Our centuries-in-the-making legal system requires the government to prove its case -- as well they should.

C.G. makes the observation

They complain that the rule of law gives certain advantages to insurgents and outlaws. They're actually right about that. The rule of law is what prevents any government -- and the hegemonic forces that support it -- from becoming what we would call "totalitarian." It is what forces any government to confront political opposition by means other than force. It is what promotes and leads to "political solutions" and forces otherwise coercive government to deal with grievances, and build broad based support.

The Xi_b Baryon

Think of it as the elder brother of the protron, made up of a down, a strange and a bottom quark, and six times heavier. Just recently discovered, read about it

here, and

Bizarro Empire

Justin Raimondo, at

The Air Force has to show it is part of the solution in Iraq, whether or not it can actually play a significant positive role on the battlefield, because that is the road to increased pull on the Hill and in the White House, which means more funding. Within the Empire are all these little empires, competing for tax dollars, prestige, and political primacy, and it is this civil war – always being fought, albeit at various levels of intensity – that is the ultimate undoing of the imperial order.

It doesn't matter that air power exacerbates the problem in Iraq, rather than solving it. It doesn't matter that we're alienating ordinary Iraqis, who often are the victims of U.S. air raids; all that matters is that the Air Force's rivalry with the Army (and the Navy) requires air strikes. What determines our "strategy" is a shifting concatenation of competing agencies and political factions that meet on the battlefield of congressional committees and the higher councils of U.S. policymakers. The outcome of this war – the intra-bureaucratic turf war – determines the strategy and conduct of the external war. And that is the road to certain defeat.

and this dire warning:

America, having exhausted itself militarily, economically, and spiritually, will one day be found washed up on some foreign shore, a hapless Gulliver overrun by hordes of angry Lilliputians and bound by a thousand threads to their feuds. When the history of the American Empire is written, any fair and objective author will have to concur that it didn't have to turn out that way: if we choose the prerogatives of Empire over the ascetic ideals of our republican tradition, we go willingly to our doom.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Screened out

Note to self: Need to spend less time in front of screens.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


A review of Michael Moore's new documentary, Sicko.

California Nurses give Moore, Sicko 8-minute standing ovation.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Local Canidae

Third time I've seen these on my early morning walk. The first pic shows the closest I got today with the 70-200 mm lens. Second and third show crops. I'm annoyed (at myself) that the crops are not sharp.

Not sure what the animals are - foxes or coyotes? I think the pics are merely an existence proof. Will try again.

Since coyotes are supposedly very shy, I tend to think these are not. On the other hand, the county news has been carrying news of coyotes, so that is why my thoughts veer that way.




On this last one, you can see that the camera is really focused on that vegetation at the bottom left of the frame. Grrr.....novice still!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Burke's Commentary on the Bush Administration

Via digby, Scott Horton in Harper's writes out Edmund Burke's condemnation of the Bush Administration. It includes this quote, about Bush's cheerleaders:

The poorest being that crawls on earth, contending to save itself from injustice and oppression, is an object respectable in the eyes of God and man. But I cannot conceive any existence under heaven (which in the depths of its wisdom tolerates all sorts of things) that is more truly odious and disgusting than an impotent, helpless creature, without civil wisdom or military skill, without a consciousness of any other qualification for power but his servility to it, bloated with pride and arrogance, calling for battles which he is not to fight, contending for a violent dominion which he can never exercise, and satisfied to be himself mean and miserable, in order to render others contemptible and wretched. - Edmund Burke, "Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol", 1777.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Kala Pani

Kala pani - "black water" - among other things, refers to the jail in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands where freedom fighters were imprisoned. "Blackwater" has an equally inauspicious meaning in the US.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Yes, yes, you are POTUS

Via digby

But by all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness.

Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated "I am the president!" He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of "our country's destiny."