Friday, December 31, 2004

Tsunami sand art

In Puri, Sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik.

Original Link

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Moral versus the Practical

A comment on Sean Carroll's blog reminds me that many people believe there is a distinction between the moral and the practical. Perhaps this distinction is viable when the belief in some idea confers morality even when that idea leads to no action, and no action may even be possible (because the moral idea conflicts with reality).

Thus, perhaps, possession of the idea that "no one in the world should go hungry" makes its possessor a moral person, even if it leads to no actions to that end. I see the attraction of valuing the sentiment "no one should go hungry" over "I don't care", a society full of "I don't care" people is perhaps less likely to do something about hunger than a people with the other sentiment. But then, the "I don't care" people may have decent economic policies in place which, in practice, mean fewer people go hungry, than, say, a overly-regulated economy of the "no-hunger" folks.

India is a case in point. It started making dramatic progress in lifting its people out of poverty only after it abandoned its several decades of socialist economic policies. Of course, we do not know the final answer yet; the widening gap between the urban rich and the rural poor may politically destabilize India to an extent that will wipe out all the economic gains.

Morality thus perhaps expresses itself in a harmony between means and ends, intentions and actions.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Pre-British India

India has always been a country of villages. Undivided India had about a million of them. The village had a degree of self-government. This was the panchayat system. This is a system of consensus, and operates mostly informally. The village was primarily agricultural. Part of its produce was used by the village for public purposes. The village had a schoolmaster. It carried out public works - the building and maintenance of reserviors, wells, public buildings. It also had the task of sanitation, of providing a police/watchman force. It engaged in poverty relief. It provided civil and some criminal justice. The village owed taxes to a central authority; but in times of distress the taxes were forgiven. One of the most important features of the system was that there were not non-cultivating proprietors in the system.

We know this from the surveys that British officers took, while these institutional arrangements were still around.

One of them, Thomas Munro wrote, in 1824:

"The ruling vice of our Government is innovation; and its innovation has been so little guided by a knowledge of the people that, though made after what was thought by us to be mature discussion, it must appear to them as little better than the result of mere caprice. We have in our anxiety to make everything as English as possible in a country which resembles England in nothing, attempted to create at once, throughout extensive provinces, a kind of landed property which had never existed in them; and in pursuit of this object, we have relinquished the rights which the sovereign always possessed in the soil, and we have in many cases deprived the real owners, the occupant ryots, of their proprietary rights, and bestowed them on zemindars and other imaginary landlords. Changes like these can never effect a permanent settlement in any country; they are rather calculated to unsettle whatever was before deemed permanent."

This destruction of the village was what was the British rule's worst crime, and what resulted in India's poverty, in its supposedly apathetic masses.

Let us talk about the evil caste system, which brutal system one Anonymous poster is certain, killed many people. Well, people like Munro observed in the Madras Presidency in the 1820s, that about one fourth of the boys received a school education, and considering those who were taught at home, about one third of the boys received an education . Who attended the schools? According to the 1823-24 survey, 45% were Sudras.

Here is a quote (from, regarding the survey:

Begin quote:

In the Tamil speaking areas where the twice-born ranged between 13% in the south Arcot to some 23% in Madras, the Muslims were less than 3% in South Arcot and Chingleput to 10% in Salem, while the Soodras and the other castes ranged from about 70% in Salem and Tinnevelly, to over 84% in South Arcot.

In Malayalam-speaking Malabar, the proportion of the twice born was still below 20% of the total. Because of a larger Muslim population, however, the number of Muslim school stu-dents went up to nearly 27%, while the Soodras and the other castes accounted for some 54% of the school going students.

In the largely Kannada-speaking Bellary, the proportion of the twice-born (the Brahmins and the Vysees) went up to 33%, while the Soodras, and the other castes still accounted for some 63%.

The position in the Oriya-speaking Ganjam was similar: the twice-born accounting for some 35.6%, and the Soodras and other castes being around 63.5%.

It is only in the Telugu-speaking districts that the twice born formed the major proportion of the school going students. Here, the proportion of Brahmin boys varied from 24% in Cuddapah to 46% in Vizagapatam; of the Vysees from 10.5% in Vizagapatam to 29% in Cuddapah; of the Muslims from 1 % in Vizagapatam to 8% in Nellore; and of the Soodras and other castes from 35% in Guntoor to over 41% in Cuddapah and Vizagapatam.

End quote.

(Sudras or Soodras are the lowest caste.)

The other area that fell early to the British, Bengal/Bihar had a similar situation regarding schooling, and participation in it.

Several points -

1. All this is based on British writings data, and not that of Indian nationalists.
2. The wiser of the British recognized the damage they were doing.
3. When the indigenous school vanished, it was the upper castes who used the schools provided by the English. For a variety of reasons, the lower castes did not or could not.
4. India's 1800 figures compare well with those of Europe of that time.
5. Whatever we may think of caste today in terms of today's standards, it was not "brutal" as Anonymous thinks, and it was more humane than the institutions that the British introduced.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The Eastern Trade

Arrighi, Ahmad and Shih write

"The original and most enduring source of Western power in Asia has been the capacity of Western states to disrupt the complex organization that linked Asian societies to one another within and across jurisdictional and civilizational divides. This capacity has been rooted in Western advances in military technology on the one side, and in the vulnerability of Asian societies to the military disruption of their mutual trade on the other side."

Before the 17th century, Asia dominated world trade. Then the western nations stuck their oar in. Now, the pendulum is swinging back towards Asia.. Will this be the cause of the wars of the future?

Civilizing the Natives

A little about Congo


The territory has a long history of plunder. After the slave trade ended, ivory and rubber made it the bloodiest European colony in Africa, the real-life setting for Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." For 23 years, it was the private property of King Leopold II of Belgium, who made a huge fortune by turning most adult male Congolese into slaves to gather wild rubber. His private army worked hundreds of thousands of men to death and shot down 20 years of uprisings. Just as today, disease took the greatest toll, ravaging a traumatized, half-starving people, many of whom hid unsheltered in the rain forest. Demographers estimate that the population was cut by half - a loss of some 10 million people - during Leopold's rule and its immediate aftermath.

End quote.

Ukraine - about oil?

The struggle for democracy in Ukraine may really be all about oil. Oil transit really, see this article from 2003.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

On the nature of belief

As noted, the holding of a (religious) belief has been given a moral value. In an example from modern Indian history, Maulana Muhammad Ali said of Mahatma Gandhi : ""However pure Gandhi's character may be, he must appear to me from the point of view of religion inferior to any Mussalman, even though he be without character.".... 'Yes, according to my religion and creed, I hold an adulterous and a fallen Muslim to be better than a Mr. Gandhi." Belief trumps conduct.

Now, the belief-based systems have been dominant in the world for many centuries - Islam, Christianity, etc., and the moral value of belief has been secularized, i.e., it now exists independent of its religious origin. Thus, for instance, it seems to matter more to people, that George W. Bush is by belief a fiscal conservative than the fact that he is running up enormous deficits. His heart is in the right place, and that counts more than anything else. Belief in an ideology now makes one good or bad.

The dominance of belief has also made the social scientists interpret every culture in terms of belief. Thus, for instance, Hinduism is analyzed in terms of "beliefs". (Let me add that the modern Hindu has lost his bearings, and also is beginning to embrace the notion of belief).

Finally, belief is conflated with truth. The belief in Jesus, for instance, requires belief in the truth, the factuality, of a particular narrative of history. So far has this conflation gone, that it is very difficult for the modern mind to disentangle the two. How can belief have anything other than truth-value going for it? It is difficult to explain, but let me try.

The "Hindu belief system" is not a belief-system, such as, e.g, is represented by, say, the Nicene Creed. Rather, at its most basic level, the "belief" lies in the idea that performing certain actions (call them rituals, if you like) is efficacious. Being a possessor of this belief/creed confers no value. Value lies in the performance of the actions. Overall, the "belief-system" is a kind of manual of "how to go about in the world", and the "belief-system" explicitly recognizes that there is no unique or best manual to living. Moreover, the "belief-system" is not tied to the factuality of its stories and symbols, any more than the teaching of Jesus in the story of the prodigal son is tied to the specifics of any such incident. The stories or so-called myths are not pseudo-history, nor are they explanations.

The best I think of for the modern Western/Westernized soul is the metaphor of music. Music is not based on fact, and thus has not truth-value. There is no virtue in "believing in" classical music or jazz or whatever. We would not say of someone, he's a great musician, if all he produces is noise. The value lies in the performance - playing or composing - and not in any belief. A school of music, or a musical tradition represents an accumulation of knowledge of method and style of performance. Musicians explicitly realize that there are many other valid ways of producing music other than the ones they know.

The metaphor ultimately fails, because one does not see how to go from "good music" to "good person". The point is that the belief "Classical music is true" is merely a point of view, and the belief "Classical music is the best music" confers no moral elevation to its holder.

Certainly, I'm not claiming that within the "Hindu belief-system" Hindus don't fall prey to errors of fact or judgment. It doesn't mean that Hinduism doesn't have explanations which are simply wrong - it is just that these explanations are not essential to the system. Since belief (need to perform certain actions) and factuality are separated, Hindus may keep doing something even when the context in which the actions made sense has passed. This is the dreary desert sand of dead habit in Tagore's poem. The point is that this is a different approach to life, with no claims of being a better one or a worse one than the one the modern person is likely to be familiar with.

No to Victimhood

The past few posts began on Lubos' blog, where Lubos and I had a fundamental disagreement about the rightness of interference in Ukraine's elections by the US and the Russians, and spilled over into other areas, such as current affairs in Iraq and colonialism.

The burden of history is not on me. The world owes me nothing. I claim no privileges, no consideration for past injustice done to my ancestors. I do not seek to convert anyone to my religion, my beliefs, my culture, my way of life. To you, your way, to me mine!

The burden really is on those who believe that they somehow represent a civilizing force, something so wonderful and great, that they have the right to shove it down the throats of others, like a doctor giving a recalcitrant patient his medicine, with sanctions and war and aerial bombardment of cities. Examine history, go past the shallow lies, and find out what happened, the whitewashed record.


One more thing. Belief and intention have no moral value. In the ancient "pagan" world, belief may have served as a marker of a boundary or identity. Perhaps with the first Christians, the idea that belief has a moral value began. It was not possible to be saved without a belief in Jesus as the savior. Those who did not believe in Jesus had lesser moral value, and would be barbecued into eternity (borrowing a phrase from Vivekananda). It was not just that the unbelievers were outsiders, not part of the family; they were evil. This has been now secularized, and believing in some ideology or the other makes one either a good person, or the enemy to be feared and dehumanized. The moral stature of a person is determined by conduct, not by belief. Hypocrisy is a major vice of societies of belief, where public statements of the upholding of a belief confer stature to a person, and thus, benefits. Our polity is so corrupted because we focus so much on what the politicians say and not what they do. Just as a scientist or artist is finally known by her works, so is every person.

The war with Iraq is evil. If Iraq indeed posed an imminent threat with weapons of mass destruction, then the war may have been the least of evil choices. Our responsibility is always to choose the good, or under force of circumstances, the least of the evils. We should not delude ourselves that in choosing the least evil choice we are doing good. The burden of having to make a choice is always upon us, we cannot abdicate it. Our beliefs and intentions cannot sanctify an evil choice, even the least evil of choices. If moral order underlies the universe, then consequences are inevitable, and we should be prepared for these, call it blowback or karma. The struggle is to create at least some good out of the consequences of an evil choice.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Salt Tax

For more than a hundred years in India, the British levied a tax on salt. No some small tax, but so much that it would take about one-sixth of a laborer's income to obtain enough salt to live. You can find easily enough the effects of chronic salt deprivation, including susceptibility to diseases, of which epidemics raged in India. Remember, India is a tropical country, and the body needs more salt. Of course, with high taxes came smuggling and attempts to evade the tax; and the British built the Great Hedge.

Gandhi's Salt Satyagraha in 1931 was much after the punitive taxes were abolished. Westernized, Anglicized India had forgotten, apparently, but India's villages seemingly still remembered.

When you read the link above, remember that the native Oriental despot typically would not collect land revenue in famine years, unlike the East India Company or, later, the British Government.

This is just one tiny way in which the British compete with the Nazis. Did people rise up against the British for such deprivation? Yes, they did! What happened to them?

More later.

In the meantime, read about the European locusts in India. Seek and ye will find!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Promise of the spring to come

Friday, December 17, 2004

Illusions of European History

The English history of India is akin to one written from the point of view of the locusts, not of the farmer. The scale of destruction the English wrought in India would rank them with Stalin and Hitler and Pol Pot as the great destroyers of the world. But history is written by the victors, and so they claim they brought Civilization.

Hitler, in a way, and unintentionally, of course, was a great liberator. His war once and for all put an end to the colonial powers, and after World War II, European empires were dismantled and Asia and Africa were decolonized. But the damage these empires wrought was enormous, and the world is yet to recover.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Messing up the world, one country at a time

John Pilger writes about the US intervention in Kosovo as being justified by lies. Claims were made of genocide, of hundreds of thousands killed. All lies. This quote sums it up : "The Kosovo-Albanians played us like a Stradivarius," wrote the UN Balkans commander, Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, last April. "We have subsidised and indirectly supported their violent campaign for an ethnically pure Kosovo. We have never blamed them for being the perpetrators of the violence in the early 1990s and we continue to portray them as the designated victim today in spite of evidence to the contrary."

Jude Wanniski says that the evidence for mass killings in Iraq by Saddam is scant. "It turns out that in 19 months H[uman] R[ights] W[atch]’s experts have not been able to find the missing 100,000 bodies it said were of Kurds who had been rounded up and trucked south of Kurdistan, machine-gunned to death and buried in mass graves."

Congressman Ron Paul remembers how upset we all were at the possibility that the Chinese tried to interfere in an American election, by channeling money to the Clinton campaign, and asks what are we doing in Ukraine? "Consider the Ukrainian NGO International Center for Policy Studies. It is an organization funded by the U.S. government through PAUCI. On its Web site, we discover that this NGO was founded by George Soros' Open Society Institute. And further on we can see that Viktor Yushchenko himself sits on the advisory board!"

Wherein lies the truth?

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Dollar meltdown

The New York Times says that the falling dollar tests nerves of Asia's central bankers [subscription required].

There is a gigantic money circulation pattern that has made East Asia prosperous. In this cycle, Americans spend to the hilt, in the process, absorbing an enormous quantity of goods manufactured in Asia. The Asians get a flood of dollars, which presumably should drive up the value of their currencies relative to the dollar, making their goods more expensive, and exerting a brake on this cycle. Instead, the Asians buy US securities, making going into debt cheaper for the Americans, and spurring further consumption. The Asians get rapid economic growth, driven by exports, and the Americans get to live the good life with plenty of goods. There are some unfortunate effects, such as the distress of American workers who lose jobs in manufacturing industries that are no longer competitive, but statistically, the world is overall better off. And who can deny the evidence of the sparkling new skylines of the burgeoning cities of China?

The question is, can this cycle continue indefinitely? If not, can the world wean itself off of this cycle in a gradual fashion, avoiding major economic disruptions, and moving smoothly into a new pattern? The answer to both questions is, seemingly, no. As US deficits and debt climb to record levels as a percentage of the US economy, the limits to the cycle are becoming evident. And it seems that getting off this cycle is not going to be easy.

Japan now has around $820 billion, China around $600 billion, Taiwan $235 billion, South Korea around $193 billion of foreign currency holdings. The bulk of these holdings is in dollars, and are thus vulnerable to a fall in the value of the dollar. Ideally, these countries would gradually diversify their holdings, and also let their currencies rise gradually against the dollar. Gradually domestic spending would take the place of exports in driving their economies. They would also buy more from the Americans. This would enable the Americans to gradually get their economic house in order.

But as the NYT puts it : "The problem for Japan is that it is in so deep that to a large degree it is chained to its American debtor....anything Japan might do to slow its dollar purchases would only create a self-inflicted wound". The economist Richard Koo is quoted "If they could move it all out of dollars in one day, I am sure they would do it in an instant. But if they move 10 percent, and the dollar goes down by 20 percent, they are stuck with 90 percent of the portfolio worth 20 percent less." NYT reiterates: "Japan and China hold too much American debt to be able to diversify discreetly".

What could happen is that the dollar drops rapidly. American interest rates will have to rise to finance the ongoing deficits. American consumption will slow. Asian export-driven growth will vanish. The global economy might shrink.

We are living in interesting times.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Pet Peeve: Powerpoint

A discussion on Lubos' blog set me off on another of my pet peeves - Powerpoint. Lubos dismisses problems with Powerpoint as "pronouncements of left wing morons who want to fight against America, capitalism, Microsoft". I, of course, think differently. The problem is not with the technology as such, it is with the bad habits that it promotes.

Let me give an example of something else that puts me at risk of being a moron who wants to fight against America, capitalism, Verizon and Cingular. The cellphone is a very useful tool. But I've been in too many meetings, where people constantly receive calls on their cell, from their management, and so keep losing the thread of the meeting. It is not that the meeting is disrupted; people do put their phones on silent mode, and slip out of the room to talk and so on. But you do not know who has missed what part of the meeting, and whether any important points have been missed. "My boss can interrupt me at any time" becomes counter-productive.

In a similar way, Powerpoint promotes certain bad habits. In my experience, the problem is foreign to a physics department. Imagine a professor giving a physics talk with some slides as an exhibit. If physics is still done as I remember it, the slides are used as an outliner, or to display a complicated equation, or a figure, or a list of collaborators, or citations. The slides represent skeleton, the speaker provides the flesh and blood.

In the corporation, however, (and apparently in NASA as well, see Tufte's criticisms below), a powerpoint presentation may begin as something similar. For instance, an engineer may talk about a technical solution using some slides. But the slides take on an existence independent of the engineer. The slides, sans talk, accompanying notes, explanations, may be fed up the management hierarchy. An accompanying technical report is needed. But who wants to read? The next phenomenon is that managers stop accepting anything that is not given to them as a terse hierarchical bullet-point list.

Powerpoint became a pet peeve of mine many months ago, after some incidents at work. When I went online, I found that many criticisms pre-date mine and are more comprehensive. I do not really have much to add to the following, garnered from the net.

Feynman apparently was no fan of bullet lists, as some of his commentary on the first space shuttle disaster indicates.

Peter Norvig shows us how Powerpoint mangles Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. He explains further, here.

Some of the problems with Powerpoint are explored in this essay from The New Yorker. The essay also gives the history of the Powerpoint software.

Edward Tufte has written extensively on the drawbacks of Powerpoint. A parody of his ideas in Powerpoint is available here. Tufte's own writings (and readers' comments) are available at his web-site. Two of the most relevant are this, and this which talk about the role of Powerpoint communications in the space shuttle Columbia disaster.

Global Warming or Not?

The US administration has signed an agreement targeting methane, a greenhouse gas. The treaty involves only a relatively small amount of money - $53 million - which is to be invested in companies to control methane emissions.

Methane is present in much smaller concentrations than carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 1998, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was 365 parts per million (ppm) and methane was 1.75 ppm. Moreover, the rate of concentration change in the preceding decade was 1.5 ppm/year for carbon dioxide, and 0.007 ppm/year for methane. The EPA also says that, molecule for molecule, methane traps 21 times more heat than carbon dioxide. So, for global warming, methane does not seem to be as significant as carbon dioxide.

Now, if one believes that global warming is nonsense, then why sign the treaty?

Possibilities are:

1. The administration does not believe in global warming, but is throwing this as a sop to its critics on global warming. One might call it buying a little political capital.

2. The administration believes that global warming is nonsense, and signing the treaty is simply because of the irrationality that afflicts large organizations, of which the US Federal Government is a prime example.

3. The administration knows that global warming is not nonsense. However, the cost of reforming the economy to limit carbon dioxide emissions is enormous, and might require a lot of change in people's lifestyles. The administration does not want to spend its political capital on this. So the administration encourages its cheerleaders to attack the idea of global warming, in general. However, when something is doable relatively on the cheap, the administration will do it, despite its public rhetoric.

But I expect the scientists who say that global warming is not happening or is happening but not because of human activities, to clearly state that this treaty is a waste of money, and not just because it is an insignificant part of the overall problem.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Pet Peeve: People are not Resources

This is directed to anyone out there who is a manager. People are not resources. Mistaking the two seems to be a common problem among Information Technology Managers.

Resources are things like PCs and software licenses and servers. Money is a resource. Time is a resource. People are, well, people. There are many bad decisions that would obviously be nonsensical and that might be avoided, if one realizes one is dealing with people, and not with resources.

Certainly, there are types of jobs where daily hire-and-fire might make sense. For example, digging ditches. If you have a highly knowledgeable workforce, then you can move them around rapidly on an adhoc basis to put out the fires of the day. In that case, mistaking people for resources may not do any harm. But when you are short of people who know your business and your systems software and how it all works together, then you have to remember that people are not like toasters that you can plug in and plug out. Developing people from fresh hires takes time. Trying to staff up today to meet your next month's deadline will not work. Laying off people to meet some target and then trying to get some back to meet another target is both poor planning and is also mistaking people for appliances.

Anyway, enough said.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Limits of scientific explanation?

Following a discussion at Sean Carroll's blog-post on science and god :

Physical color (mixtures of wavelengths of light) maps into perceptual color (what I perceive). We can compare the maps between physical to perceptual color between two individuals. For instance, the perceptual differences between a "normal" person and a "red-green colorblind" person would be objectively established by their ability or lack of ability to distinguish between two different physical color stimuli.

If we simplify and say color is defined by Red, Green, Blue color coordinates that are in the range (0,255) and as displayed by a particular computer monitor, then we can do some easy computer experiments to construct the map of the physical to perceptual. For instance, I could have the computer display a solid area colored with one color (r1,g1,b1) surrounded by a solid area of another color (r2,g2,b2), and have it ask me whether I perceive a difference. Based on what I can and cannot distinguish, the nice 256 x 256 x 256 cubical lattice of Red, Green, Blue color coordinates will map into possibly some smaller set of points, representing the adjacent colors that I can distinguish. (I'm leaving out complications like the possibility that my ability to distinguish two adjacent colors may be affected by the presence of a third, distant color in my field of view.)

But speaking for myself, because I do not know how to pose this as anything but a subjective question, I can imagine two different physical-to-perceptual maps. I can do this via a physical transformation. The second digital image is derived from the first simply by exchanging the red and green channels.

Tulips by the fence

Tulips by the fence(2)

Subjectively, I can imagine someone, who sees the world like image 2 and not image 1. Identical neural nets in my brain and his brain may be firing, our physical-to-perceptual maps may be identical. Nevertheless, subjectively, I can ask whether what he sees is like image 2. I cannot see how to turn this into a scientific question, but I think this is a valid question nevertheless.

My reality is subjective. I'm the product of an enormous amount of natural selection, and so my reality corresponds closely to the physical reality that we can measure, capture in our equations, reason about. Nevertheless my reality is different from that physical reality. Scientifically, we can construct the physical - subjective reality map, verify that the maps are more or less homologous among all humans, and are different between, say, humans and parrots. With such maps, we may be even able to manipulate or enrich subjective reality. E.g, if today I can distinguish between 256 shades of physical red but only 180 shades of physical blue, perhaps some tweaking of some neuronal circuit or gene might make my blue perception expand to 256 shades of blue. But some subjectively essential ingredient eludes the scientific grasp, I think.

All that is required in order for humans to be able to communicate amongst themselves is that the physical-subjective reality maps for almost all humans are homologous to each other.


At the core of the Indic Traditions (which include the so-called religions of Hinduism and Buddhism), stripped of its sacred stories, deities, rituals, etc., is speculation about subjective reality, and the use of meditation as a tool to unlock its secrets. If we insist on calling this "religion", then it is very different from the Biblical or Quranic religions. If anything like "God" exists, this is the only place in the world left for him.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

On the non-creation of the world

(Taken from A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, Moore & Radhakrishnan),
this is from a section of Kumarila Bhatt's (7th century AD) `Slokavartika'.

1. On God's Not being the Creator of the World


45. At a time when all this (earth, water, etc.) did not exist, what could have been the condition of the Universe ? As for God himself, what could be his position ? And what his form ?

46. And at that time (when no men existed) who would know Him and explain His character to the later created persons ? (If it be held that He cannot be perceived by any man, then) without perception (or cognition of some sort, by some person), how can we determine this (fact of His existence) ?

47. Then again, in what manner do you believe the world to have had a beginning in time ? (If it be held that it is brought about by a desire on the part of God, then) since God is (held to be) without a material body, etc., how could He have any desire towards creation ?

48-9. And if He has a body, assuredly this body could not have been created by Himself; thus then we would have to postulate another creator (for His body)(and so on, ad infinitum). If God's body be held to be eternal, then (we ask)-- so long as earth (water, etc.) have not been produced, of what material would that body be composed ?

49-50. Then again, in the first place, how is it that He should have a desire to create a world which is to be fraught with all sorts of troubles to living beings ? For at that time (of the beginning of creation) he has not got any guiding agencies, in the shape of virtue (or sin) etc., of the living beings themselves. Nor can any creator create anything, in the absence of means and instruments.

51. Even the production of the spider's net is not held to be without some sort of a (material) basis; as (the net is spun out of) the saliva, which is produced out of the body of the animals (flies, etc.,) eaten (by the spider).

52. (If it be held that God creates the world out of pity, then we say) in the absence of objects of compassion (in the shape of living persons), no pity (or compassion) could be possible for Him. And if He were urged to creation by pure compassion, then He would create only happy beings.

53. If it be urged that "without some pain, neither the creation nor the continuation of the world would be possible," - then (we reply that ) when everything depends upon the mere will of the Creator Himself, what could be impossible for Him ?

54. And if He were to depend upon laws and agencies, then this fact would deprive Him of His (boasted) independence. (You say He desires to create the world, -- will you let me know) what is that end which He desires, and which could not be gained without creating the world ?

55. For without some end in view, even a fool does not act. Then if He were to act so (without any end in view), then what would be the good of His intelligence ?

56. If the activity of the Creator were due to a desire for mere amusement, then that would go against His ever-contentedness. And (instead of affording any amusement), the great amount of work (required for creation) would be a source of infinite trouble to Him.

57.And His desire to destroy the world (at pralaya) [time of destruction] too would be hardly explicable. And (above all) such a Creator could never be known by anybody.

58. Even if He were known in form, the fact of His being the Creator could never be known. Because at that time (i.e., in the infancy of creation) what could the living beings, appearing at the beginning of creation, understand ?

59. They could not understand wherefrom they have been born; nor could they know the state of the world prior to creation, or the fact of God being the Creator.

60. Nor could the idea that they would derive from His own assertion (with regard to His being the Creator) be altogether trustworthy, because even though He may not have created the world, He might speak of having done so, in order to show off His great power.

61. In the same manner, the Word [Veda] that would proceed from Him would only be doubtful, and hence could not be admitted as sure proof of His existence (and creative power). And as for that (Veda) which is eternal, how could it make a mention (of facts with reference to the creation of living beings, etc.) ?

62. For, if the Veda existed before the objects (created), then there can be no connection between this (Veda) and the objects created. Therefore the passages (occuring in the Veda) (which appear to describe the process of creation) must be interpreting something else.

.....after this it starts getting more technical (starts using concepts
that when translated, would have to be shorn of all the connotations the
translated word has ) and so I quit.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Battlefield Ruminations

Wandering over the Monmouth battlefield, I idly wondered, whether the American patriots who fought there so long ago, would be so passionate, if they knew that their fight included me, a brown-skinned Hindu. Though such thoughts were probably farthest from their minds. They would eventually drive Cornwallis out of America, and he would next go to India, where his career was a tad more successful. No one can trace the chain of events, but I land up on these shores. If they knew, perhaps they would apologize to Cornwallis.

And today I wonder, about the soldiers in Iraq. I don't want them to be there, I do not want to accept their sacrifice, I do not want their protection against a non-existent threat, a war based on non-truths.

Reluctant they may have been, but they have no say in the matter, I walk on their battlefield, invoking their ghosts. Reluctant am I, but I have expended my choice fruitlessly, and they continue to march into battle.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

The way forward?

This is what I wrote elsewhere, soon after the election:

If we are indeed tolerant of differences, and cultural relativists in the best sense of the word, then perhaps we need to stop trying to impose our values on the whole country via the Federal Government.

Roe v. Wade, gay marriage are cultural issues based on which Democrats lost their say on truly national issues such as the
war in Iraq or budget deficits.

The truly fundamental rights are those which are required to keep democracy running - the right to vote, to dissent, to not be subject to arbitrary arrest, held without trial, etc. Those we defend at all levels.

All cultural issues, which do not destroy democracy, we pledge not to impose on anyone via Federal/Supreme Court fiat, except if we have a state by state consensus, enough to get a constitutional amendment.

The culturally liberal states can convert their openness into an economic and demographic advantage over the states that are illiberal. So liberal get their say on matters of national import.


One reason I wrote the above is that, e.g., I think Roe vs. Wade is doomed, and the liberal states are going to have to put the right of choice into their constitutions, and stand on state rights against any federal law. It will come down to a state-by-state struggle.

Now threatened are the very self-corrective mechanisms of democracy, that are operative because of our rights. Without minimizing the pain and suffering of people who would be adversely affected by restrictions on abortion, or marriage, I think keeping the system capable of reversing these restrictions is far more important in the scale of things.

I know that there are difficult issues, like guns, where the porosity of state borders makes any state-wise regulation practically useless. But that porosity also works in our favor, I really think that people will vote with their feet, and to the blue states' advantage.


Clinton famously declared - The era of big government is over. How about the era of small, effective government?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Microprocessors hit a speed bump

"Somewhere between 130 nanometres and 90 nanometres the whole system fell apart. Scaling stopped working and nobody seemed to notice."

-B Meyerson, Chief Technologist, IBM

So far, with every process shrink, the microprocessor folks have been able to crank up the clock speed of the processor. But now they've hit a wall, it seems, and the fastest Pentium will not exceed 4 GHz any time in the near future.

So far, the preferred way to increase processor performance seems to have been to crank up the clock. Now, engineers will have to be much more clever. They had to be pretty clever before - today's processors run hundreds of times faster than memory, and so, they'd be spending most of their time waiting for data fetches to complete without some serious ingenuity. There are good articles around the web on this, but it might be fun to solidify my understanding by trying to list them out.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election results

As I head off to sleep, the election results seem to be trending towards Bush.

The scary thing is that whichever way it goes, half the nation doesn't get it.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Re: Genetic superiority

Some thoughts on the discussion at Sean Carroll's blog about women in physics, genetics, etc.

The genetic argument, I imagine, goes something like that in The Bell Curve.That is, there is some quantity, like I.Q., that may be reliably measured, and that may correspond to something real, and for any population, the distribution falls into a bell-curve. The peak of the bell-curves for men and women are slightly different, supposedly for genetic reasons. Physicists are drawn from the extreme tail of the bell-curve, and so the small difference in means produces a significant difference in the ratio of men to women in the field.

Every statement in the above is debatable. Anyway, that is only one part of the problem. But if such a description is true (which, incidentally, I do not believe), then physics will be male-dominated. Nevertheless, some women qualify to play, and it is a fair question to ask whether they face obstacles above and beyond the usual ones in physics, simply because they are women. The talk given by Georgi, referenced here, would indicate that the answer is yes.


The top three reasons not to vote for re-electing President Bush:

1. Dropping the ball in the war on Islamist terrorism : Osama bin Laden is still out there.
2. Starting the war in Iraq : Iraq, whatever threat it might have posed, was not an imminent threat. Nor did Iraq have anything to do with Islamist terror.
3. Botching the war in Iraq : If WMD was the primary reason for going to war, then why did so many of the nuclear sites end up looted? One would have expected them to be secured for searches for WMD. You can wade through the humungous Duelfer report or see much the same thing in this editorial

The top three reasons to vote for Kerry:

1. He understands that Islamist terrorism is a specific threat, which cannot be solved by invading random countries.
2. He has better prospects than Bush of fixing Iraq - though the mess is so bad that we have Newsweek reporting that Colin Powell says in private that the insurgents are winning.
3. He will bring back budgetary discipline to the government. The fiscal deficit is one of those icebergs we are going to run into; and unlike in the past, foreigners are more reluctant than ever to hold this debt. China has indicated that it is diversifying - buying euro or yen or commodities or building up a strategic oil reserve, and reducing the amount of US treasuries that it buys.

P.S. GOP endorsements of Kerry

Political misfit

Two web-sites that I follow are Lew Rockwell and Common Dreams.

The first is conservative. Its pro-market, limited government ideas appeal to me. The writers on this site are consistent, for instance, since war involves big government, they are generally non-interventionist, and oppose the war in Iraq. This is unlike many other conservative websites, where the war in Iraq is a good thing. The main problem is that the conservatism is tied to Christianity, and that too, of a type that I find repellent; and the limited government ideas are tied to the Confederacy. Now, Lincoln did change the relationship between the states and the Federal government in a fundamental way, and that is worth thinking about, whether that change should be undone. But since the Confederacy was also a defense of slavery, it would be good to free these ideas about States Rights from that historical association.

The Common Dreams site is a liberal site. ( I don't like the word progressive, because it doesn't mean anything, e.g, aren't there progressive diseases?). The main charm of liberals is that they are tolerant of a much wider range of folks than are conservatives. Their main problem is that they tend to think reality is very malleable, so that good intentions are all that count, the means (fiscal) are merely an annoying detail.

So, I find myself in sympathy with both, in part, and that means I belong to neither group.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Missing Halloweeners

This year hardly anyone showed up for trick & treating. It was a nice warm October day, so I went this morning to add to the stock of candy we have. Should have known better. Now the question is how to avoid eating all that candy ourselves.

Name of this blog

Physicist Jacques Distler has a blog, titled Musings, which I visit regularly. However, I had a column, with the same title, Musings sometime ago, (thanks to Rajan Parrikar!) on the South Asian Women's Forum. So I don't think I need back away from this name.

In any case, the readers of this blog if any are likely very different from those of Distler's blog.

Types of fools

The Yahoo egroup, Indian Civilization, used to be a place to learn more about Indian culture. Nowadays, the discourse is about real and imagined enemies of Indian culture, and I visit it less and less often.

In the good old days, one member had posted an interesting commentary on Bhagavad Gita Verse 15:19. He remarked that the verse can be rendered as

One who knows Me wisely thus as
the Most Exalted Person (Purusha), not left out in anything,
any concept, or any being, and worships me with all his
heart, all his soul, and all his might and all of
everything, he receives me unmitigatedly.

and notes "Here the Lord has choosen to describe wisdom not as wisdom but being not a fool! He does not say, "Know Me in your wisdom" but, "Know me by being not a fool".

Presumably it is easier to recognize the fool than the wise man.

Anyway, the above was followed by a classification of the subtle kinds of fools; the student of the Gita should already be able to recognize the grosser kinds of fools. These were

  • The Close-Minded Fool (mu_daha - the word used in the verse) : One who closes the doors to new experience. One such makes a rule and restricts oneself to that rule as being the best.
  • The Stale Fool (makku) : One who clings to old stuff.
  • The Organized Fool (matti) : Mata is an organization - a monastery, a church a political party. One who clings blindly to an organization is such a fool.
  • The Folded Fool (madayan) : Here I quote, rather than paraphrase : "This fellow is limited by his/her vision. Even though the full sheet is available to him or her, he/she folds the sheet and says that he would work only with the folded sheet. The famous poet SubraManya Bharathiya_r refers to this kind of foolishness in a song: "Ma_dhar Thammai Izivu Ceyyum Madamaiyaik Kozuththuvo_m: We will ignite and set fire to the folded foolishness by which we put down women". Putting down women and not treating them as equals is precisely folding the sheet into half and working with the folded sheet. It is the best example that I know of a folded fool."
  • The Walled Fool (mutta_l) : This is the frog-in-the-well kind of fool, who thinks that the world consists of what is bounded by his four walls.

    One reason that the classification of fools amuses me is that one gets to see examples of all the types in this political season.
  • Sri Ganesh