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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

WTF?

I rarely get offensive. I'm the kind of guy who'd go to all lengths to avoid a confrontation. You have a different viewpoint, let me hear about it; a different faith, fine; you're a gay, enjoy; you're pro-abortion, you're anti-abortion, well I'm pro-choice. But when ignorance is perpetuated as wisdom, it bothers me.


A girl born with two faces (Craniofacial Duplication) is worshiped as a reincarnation of a godess. We already have too many gods, godesses, saints and satans running around. Get a life, guys!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Walking on the Chesil Beach

The process of falling in love is, to use a cliche, beautiful & tender. And to get those authentic feelings in words, another cliche, next to impossible. Ian McEwan's On the Chesil Beach is a beautiful and tender work accomplishing a near impossible task of capturing the thought processes of a young couple. Just before the seventies which indulged the young men & women into sexual liberation, was the sixties where courtship was marked by formalities. It was commonplace for English men and women to remain virgins on the first night of their marriage, which precisely is the central scene of novel. Though sex is the crux, the themes McEwan touches are more mature and universal.

Florence 22, is an ambitious violinist; Edward 23, is close to clueless about his career. Her poise belongs to upper class; he has gotten into street fights. She's rich and he's not. But their diversities dissolve completely in their admiration for each other. She listens to rock'n roll because he brought it to her and let's him touch her so that he'll be happy. But the kind of touch she enjoys the most is arm-in-arm walk down the park or hugging and cuddling in the bed - all fully clothed. She's terrified at the very idea of sex, as if a foreign missile directed at her private space. Edward, like most of the men his age is extremely excited at the very prospect of charting into virgin territories. This clash of bedroom interests leads to moments of youthful foolishness that defines their life.

These are the opening lines: They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it is never easy. You couldn't blame the lady, for how could she openly discuss her sexual preferences (not inadequacies) with a man who has monstrous expectations on that night. And no point blaming the gentleman - his age and the weighty occasion put him on a high-speed lane. Where he merely suffered conventional first-night nerves, she experienced a visceral dread, a helpless disgust as palpable as seasickness. He desperately tries to control his emotions which want him to explode while she bravely wears a happy-face mask in order to accommodate him.

Like in 'Atonement', there's a defining moment in this plot which places their lives on a forked road. Saying something stupid, or not saying anything at all might alter the course of lives. It's not enough to love; sometimes patience with love is what keeps us sane, is what holds a marriage together, is what keeps the family wheel spinning, McEwan reminds us. As soon as I finished the novel, I hugged my wife and said "You know I love you and.... just bear with me".

Friday, April 04, 2008

Resurrection of the Art

I know that most of the regulars (5, well, may be 6 readers including my family of 4) are here because of my movie-blog ScreenArt. I didn't find myself very passionate about writing for movies and had to cut down on directing my writing skills there. Not anymore. I'm back with a small piece, and plan to chop off a formal tone that I had maintained over there. I plan to write in a more conversational tone and worry less about the completeness of the post. They won't be reviews, just a collection of my thoughts about the movie presented as a coherent piece. Let's see how well this goes!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Technology.Is.Cool



The objective of the video game is to direct any crudely drawn closed figure that you draw to a crudely drawn star on the screen. But forget the objective - just observe your entities perfectly obey the laws of physics on the screen roads you've carved. May not be useful. But an enjoyable way to waste time.

Here's a demo that you can try.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Elite Prostitution & the Art of Listening

In a very good article on prostitution in NYC and other global cities, Sudhir Venkatesh writes:
What high-end clients pay for may surprise you. For example, according to my ongoing interviews of several hundred sex workers, approximately 40 percent of trades in New York's sex economy fail to include a physical act beyond light petting or kissing. No intercourse, no oral stimulation, etc. That's one helluva conversation. But it's what many clients want. Flush with cash, these elite men routinely turn their prostitute into a second partner or spouse. Over the course of a year, they will sometimes persuade the woman to take on a new identity, replete with a fake name, a fake job, a fake life history, and so on. They may want to have sex or they may simply want to be treated like King for a Day.
The writer quotes figures north of $10K a month for these sex workers. And it's not for flesh but to listen to what the guy has to say. I guess the terribly busy workforce womenfolk in the cities don't have as much time or patience or willingness or tolerance or empathy or a combination of these to listen to what their husband has to say when they hit the bed. Now, isn't it usually an accusation on men that they never listen?

Thinking about it seriously, I think these men treat these women not as sex workers but as a tool to relieve their stress. I guess it makes a man in his 40s or 50s feel good (say a top executive in a Manhattan office) to have a young beautiful woman listen to what he has to say with fake compassion. He would very well know that the woman might be least interested in the topic he brings to the table; but the point is that he carries home an image of a good looking girl who has also been a good listener which makes him feel good. Now, for someone who makes top dollars, that's better than sex.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Political Activism

Why is there not an age for retirement from politics? Hunger for power is something I can understand when someone is in his/her 40s or 50s. When one steps into 60s, he/she can't just keep up with the pace at which events happen in the world. Brain being just another biological machine, cannot process information into knowledge & that knowledge into wisdom effectively when its been around for 60 years. And not being abreast with the developments - not just politically, but economically, technologically & socially, the best public service a leader can perform is to retire and let the relatively younger folks take over.

Experience is of no use after a threshold. In fact, too much experience in politics is detrimental as one loses the vision to steer the statre. Jyoti Basu (W Bengal), Karunanidhi (TN), Karunakaran (Kerala), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Suharto (Indonesia).... This is not to say that they did/doing a bad job in their old age; but a sad realization that things could have been better if only someone else had been at the helm. As mentioned earlier, when one needs an assistant to help him stand up (literally) it's quite difficult to understand their love for a chair.

That funny & sad cartoon was published in the Time magazine when Fidel handed over the reins to his brother Raul Castro, 76.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Potlatch Effect

Potlatch is a festival among the natives of the Pacific Northwest where a family or an individual establishes or exhibits his supreme status over his neighbors by throwing away his valuables. Though the wealth is shared in some rare cases, in most of the cases Potlatch was marked by burning material. Now, the basic idea should be something like this: I can continue to live (comfortably?) even without these items which are considered essential in the society. Sounds very stupid right?

But this effect continues to exist in other forms in almost all the cultures. Status symbols linked with waste of resources is quite common. Most of the Indian marriages can be labeled a distant cousin of Potlatch. All that needless extravaganza just for the visitors to go gaga! What's worse is that such events continue to raise the bar; money down the drain marriages are seen as benchmarks which the future event organizers will try to match or surpass. Consider tipping at restaurants - I don't have a problem with the waiters making some extra money. But the idea of showing off one's wealth by over-the-top tipping sets the snowball rolling and effectively raises the average because of peer pressure. In a manner of speaking, sometimes some people spending inline with their income can up the ante for those a rung or two below in the economic ladder who are bent on playing a cat & mouse game to catch up - only in the means of spending, but not in income generation. Modern day Potlatch is very vibrant. It almost makes someone frugal like me seem unfit to be a social animal.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

She


Starry night,
white clouds,
gentle and soothing,
cool & blue, just like you.

But why erupt,
fierce and red,
time & again,
very unlike you.




Image Couresy: Wired

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Oh... the choices



Barry Schwartz, a professor of Social Theory talks about the perils of too many choices in affluent western societies in this TED talk. His focal points are that when people are presented with too many choices, they either
  • get confused and procrastinate decision-making
  • make a hasty choice and repent for not making the perfect choice
  • feel dissatisfied with even the best of choices for not meeting their expectations
I disagree with him on all counts. Barry cites a statistic where the number of people opting for retirement benefits go down with the increasing number of fund options available. Well, if someone is such a dud as to be baffled by the options and decides not to make a decision or keep procrastinating, it speaks of the preparedness, foresightedness and responsibility towards life of the person. The point that these guys would have made a decision had there been only a few choices is not only a bad argument, but means that a self-contained market without progressions of any sort is how we get people to buy. This is not only illogical, but also insane.

Barry is of the opinion that when the buyers don't get their choice right, they repent and brood. This scenario doesn't occur when there are only a few, or even better just one choice (in which case, there's no choice at all). It's true that people are unhappy if their selection turns out to be less than what they had in mind. But isn't that how one sharpens their decision making abilities? If there were only one cellphone available in the market, you wouldn't bother to look into its configurations. Just because there are so many brands with varying degrees of features, the user takes the pain of educating himself about all the features, assesses if he needs them and then makes an informed decision. There's still a chance that he may brood, but at least he learns from the experience, owns up responsibility for his decision and in the process becomes a shrewd decision-maker.

The third point doesn't have much to do with the number of options available rather than the personality we're talking about. If one is not satisfied with, say the top of the line Bose stereo system, may be he should just wait for the field of acoustics to get better or sponsor a sound research institute. A negligible chunk of the demographics will always be unhappy because of their ridiculous expectations. They're only a minuscule and the market hadn't cared for them.

Update: Barry is correct when he says that multiple options lead to a little bit of confusion and/or hesitation. But he clearly blames the market and exaggerates the multitude of choices instead of researching how people can and should decide from the pool of options.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fashionophobia

Jessa Crispin on fashion guides:
Instead of alleviating our body fears, however, so many books advising what to wear do nothing but exaggerate them. The entire structure of Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine’s book 'What Not to Wear' is built to help you define your particular version of body dysmorphic disorder. Do you think you have short legs? A big butt? Big arms? There’s a chapter telling you how to dress around each perceived flaw. It’s hard to walk out the door feeling hot and feisty when your entire dressing process has been focused on your main source of anxiety. If I tried to dress to hide all the parts of my body I have ever been self-conscious about, the only thing left to wear would be a hazmat suit.
That's bang on target. Any trend that sets in, should at the least be comfortable. If a dress or a decoration comes into vogue inspite of its lack of comfort, the chances are good that it won't sustain. As pointed out by the writer, any guide that provides a fancy work around to hide what you think is your weakest or ugliest organ just feeds to your anxiety. There's nothing wrong in trying to present yourself beautifully; but it shouldn't come at the cost accepting your body as it is.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tom Evslin writes on failure:
set only low goals; then you’ll fail even if you meet them.
Brevity is beauty.

Gender Equality

Amit Varma writes:
... more divorces = less women trapped in bad marriages. An increasing divorce rate indicates that women are being empowered with more choices...
But Amit is biased: the increasing divorce rate also frees men trapped in bad marriages who would otherwise have silently put up because of a pseudo moral obligation to hang on to a financially incapable woman. The society would mercilessly foul-mouth an earning man divorcing his home-maker wife even if she's the reason for ruining the marriage. But I believe such cases have always been in the minority and mostly its been men wearing the pants.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Poor Dear

Sharjah has enforced dress code for mannequins. Great. The next logical step would be to allow only men to touch men mannequins & women near women mannequins. And then the minimum distance between those two mannequins. And then the beautiful world of mannequins would be compliant.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Grand Engineering Challenges

Some of the top brains got together to list the top engineering challenges of the 21st century. Most of the challenges are abstract, a view from 50,000 feet without fleshing out any concrete action plans. Here is what they came up with:
  1. Make solar energy affordable.
  2. Provide energy from fusion.
  3. Develop carbon sequestration methods.
  4. Manage the nitrogen cycle.
  5. Provide access to clean water.
  6. Restore and improve urban infrastructure.
  7. Advance health informatics.
  8. Engineer better medicines.
  9. Reverse-engineer the brain.
  10. Prevent nuclear terror.
  11. Secure cyberspace.
  12. Enhance virtual reality.
  13. Advance personalized learning.
  14. Engineer the tools for scientific discovery.
Number 9 personally resonates because I recently read Phantoms in the Brain, a popular science book that explains how the brain works, and how we think the brain works. V.S.Ramachandran, the author explains that reverse engineering may not be the answer to understand how our body parts work. For example, if one were to understand how a human stomach works just by reverse engineering, one would have to analyze the food consumed and the drops that come out and with these two samples the scientist would construct a blackbox that will transform food into excretion. But the actual digestive process is thoroughly complex and in now way deducible by looking at a blackbox model. And brain, which is extremely superior and probably the most complex organ in this planet cannot be understood by reverse engineering, in my opinion.

Number 14 piques my curiosity. I have some ideas about what the panel may mean when they say 'engineer the tools for scientific discovery'. They aren't talking about scientific inventions, but scientific discoveries which could range from anything between understanding the genetic make up of human species to unearthing fossils or lost civilizations. Scientific discovery in the field of medicine can enable better living standards and in other fields like archeology or paleontology can offer valuable insights about how the earth came to be what it is today and where it may be headed. But this is something only the rich countries can afford to do while the rest are busy either catching up (like India & China) or go down (central African countries).

Number 11 is a no brainer. By the end of the century computers/internet would have radically transformed the way people live. They would have taken new shapes, forms, acquired immense power, would have great reach and will play a vital role in how the economic engine of countries works. Within my lifetime, I'll probably have my preferences set in a repository which will contain data about how hot my bathing water should be, my video rentals, my cuisine choices, etc. When I check into a hotel, they'll have access to these information and will be able to provide personalized services. Now, with this kind of personal data on the internet, security is something that will strongly touch a common man.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

On Rape

In a bestial act, seven men raped a 12-year-old girl child in Kanpur, India. This happened in front of her younger siblings; after the act she was battered to death. A crime well accomplished, but a question lingers. Why? It's a open-ended question, with so many possibilities after that 'why' and before that '?' but that was all I managed to come up with. Again: why? It's a helpless cry; you cry because the event warrants an outburst and the cry is helpless because policemen, who were supposed to maintain the law & order were involved in the gang-rape.

Rapes happen all over the world. But such events can almost certainly never happen in the first world countries. It's the animal inside a man that pits him against a hapless tender female body. In a country like U.S.A, I'm sure that for seven men to have cornered a young girl, all of them need to be certified pedophiles working out a well coordinated plan to commit such a crime. Whereas in countries like India and other poor ones, these are normal guys walking the streets. They might have a history of harassment (lightly dismissed as eve teasing) but the police wouldn't bother to pursue, punish or prune such rogues, because they know the taste of female flesh themselves. I know I run the risk of generalization by blaming the entire police force. Mind you, Indian police is one of the 10 most corrupt police forces in the world. Had there been a survey on how they treat women, they would have been in the top 5. Which is why, on popular public demand, India has women-only police stations - such a shame.

Bloodthirsty hounds in human form, the rapists wouldn't even have a fetish for young girls. They rape because they can. That's how dark it can get in such societies. When they see a door open with a young girl in the absence of strong muscles, they jump on her. We have long tolerated a culture of physically over-powering men reminiscent of hunter-gatherers fighting over a piece of skin. And this toleration arises from a multitude of factors with the top 3 being: the offenders have political clout; they belong to the mafia; even worse, they are the police. For an average Indian middle/lower class to fight any of the three mentioned goons is a high stake game. You should be ready to forgo your life to bring them to the book. Since most of victims are aware of the emotional expenses involved in pursuing the criminals, they just put up with the event and get on with their lives.

How are we to prevent such incidents? Women empowerment? Minimize the segregation between men & women in closed cultures? A clean police force? More stringent punishments?.... There are many more bridges that will close the gap. But the primary driving force will be education. I know that I sound very text-bookish when I say education. I refer to education that produces an expanding mind that understands women's role in the progress of a society, a culturally open mind that doesn't fit womenfolk into roles which their grandmothers performed, a loving mind that addresses the need for women's freedom to express. Such a mind cannot be shaped by school education (though it will help to some extent). For a faster & efficient growth, men need to understand that societies need to be built with both hands.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Insomnia

By the time I hit the bed, she was in the middle of her journey. I slowly moved the hair strands at the back of her neck. Her weight has been oscillating for a while now, a constant flux around her tummy and cheeks. But her neck, which I remember how it was exactly since I met her, has remained the same size.

There are some events, which are of absolutely no significance that have stayed in my mind. I recall an evening when she was talking to our neighbour. Nothing special about the day: neither breezy nor sultry; nothing special about her appearance: neither flashy nor simple; nothing special about her mannerisms: neither forced nor natural. But then, I remember almost every movement she made then, from her shift in balance to hair adjustments, from her lazily elegant leaning on a wall to a semi-brisk walk, from her lullaby of a silence to her cascade-flow words. A happy life, I think is constituted by a collection of such undecorated but memorable, insignificant but worthwhile events.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Freudian Slip

My wife recently gave a presentation on the book 'Rise & Fall of the Third Chimpanzee' by Jared Diamond. Diamond would argue that if aliens were to figure out earthly animals' sexual fidelities, they would conclude that humans are mildly polygynous - because an average man is slightly taller and broader than a woman of that society. Though not a very convincing point, he would proceed the discussion as to how the species' mate-loyalty can be deduced by the size of the male versus female in that society.

In a slide that discusses this aspect, my wife typed 'Mindly Polygynous' instead of 'Mildly Polygynous' (which now stands corrected) and a friend promptly asked if it was a Freudian Slip and the whole crowd started giggling at me. Just a thought: when it's a man's fidelity that's discussed in a crowd in a somewhat conservative society, it can be treated as a joke; but I'm quite sure that had it been a woman's fidelity questioned in a similar society, the discussion would have assumed serious proportions. If you want to understand the paranoia associated with a woman's loyalty to her partner, read the book, or at least go through the slides which are fairly indicative.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Smoke Signals

Let me do a minor dissection of a piece from Wall Street Journal:

About 40% of countries still allow smoking in hospitals and schools, according to the WHO report. Additionally, only 5% of the world's population lives in countries with comprehensive national bans on tobacco advertising and promotion. Services to treat tobacco dependence are fully available in only nine countries.

Yet tobacco tax revenues are more than 4,000 times greater than spending on tobacco control in middle-income countries and more than 9,000 times greater in lower-income countries, the WHO says.

When the report says that 40% of the countries allow smoking in hospitals & schools, it fails to mention exactly what percentage of the population have the freedom to smoke in such places. I'm quite sure that those countries all are rich or poor. The rich think of smoking anywhere they want as a symbol of freedom and the poor don't care. Usually the middle-world countries like India & China which assign secondary preferences for personal freedom don't encourage such stupidities. There is no point in keeping a hospital sterile when the patients become passive smokers. Schools are cat-on-the-wall places where kids who're susceptible to peer pressure or who try to look smart & cool pick up the habit.

5% of the world's population lives in countries with comprehensive national bans on tobacco advertising and promotion. Now we're talking about population, which I think is a more concrete and useful figure compared to the % of countries where the actual number of smokers is hidden. I wonder if the lack of advertisements has any effect at all. Well, in a country like India where movie/cricket stars are demigods, their smoking may cause a considerable impact. But I still think the major driver here is your neighbor/friend/colleague/mate. When they stand next to you smoking, the chances are high that you either pick up the habit (given that you're vulnerable) or resume (how many times smokers quit) or increase your frequency (just for the sake of company). Moreover, there are alternatives when it comes to marketing: most of the alcohol beverage brands available in India advertise their.... yeah.. their music CDs.

Yet tobacco tax revenues are more than 4,000 times greater than spending on tobacco control... The writer again glosses over and fails to provide concrete numbers through which an educated reader can gain some insights. How much does a country spend on tobacco control? In middle-income countries, which is where I guess India & China would comfortably fall under, the fund allocated to combat such public menaces would line the pockets of bureaucrats and only a ludicrous amount would come into the fore. What kinds of techniques are used to fight tobacco? Billboards, radio/TV advertisements, short films... Do the government officials actually care about these messages reaching its intended audince? I'm not surprised at all that the tax revenues paid by cigarette manufacturers are thousand-fold the budget to fight smoke. This is the only way how it could be and the way the writer puts it hardly shocks me.

Fighting tobacco, comparable to quitting drugs or alcohol, involves a good deal of will and strong encouragement & support from family. I also believe that the formative years between 13 and 21 will heavily decide the course of one's personal traits. As for the WSJ piece, there are a few numbers & names thrown here and there, but not much food for thought.



Sunday, February 03, 2008

The.Moral.Science

In a piece that starts softly, wavers a little bit but then progresses strongly and ends with a bang, Frank Furedi writes:
The slippage between a scientific fact and moral exhortation is accomplished with remarkable ease in a world where people lack the confidence to speak in the language of right and wrong. But turning science into an arbiter of policy and behaviour only serves to confuse matters. Science can provide facts about the way the world works, but it cannot say very much about what it all means and what we should do about it. Yes, the search for truth requires scientific experimentation and the discovery of new facts; but it also demands answers about the meaning of those facts, and those answers can only be clarified through moral, philosophical investigation and debate.
Frank brilliantly argues how under-informed, misguided people are trying to replace moral & religious authorities with a shadow of science. In most cases, I try to be a man driven by reason and science is a wonderful tool that helps me wade through the multitude of options available on a daily basis ranging from the trivial like the brand of tooth paste to weighty issues like child psychology.

But an extreme insistence on science in every walk of life (anatomically comfortable sexual position, your TV viewing angle shouldn't exceed 30 degrees, sun screen lotion with an SPF of 12.5.....) makes decision-making robotically boring. As humans with free will (don't we?) the fun comes with owning responsibilities for our actions. By thoroughly turning towards scientific proofs/experiments we deny ourselves in breathing a fresh whiff of air.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

On Celebrity Break-Ups

Celebrity marriages are celebrity marriages. But this is special: Eddie Murphy & Tracey Edmonds who tied the knot on a island just two weeks back are busy untying it. Two weeks is by any standards a honeymoon phase. You can't even have gotten over your sexual appetite before you say 'enough' (Well, its Murphy's fifth, so I guess he's seen enough). What I find amusing about these break-ups are the sugar sprinkled words they use: 'irreconcilable differences', 'decided to remain friends', 'with admiration for one another'. To suppress bitterness & to ooze magnanimity, you need PR guys.

Monday, January 14, 2008

On Jallikattu

Jallikattu, a festival that coincides with Tamil new year (today), which involves taming a bull that runs wild through the narrow streets of villages filled with men who've satiated themselves with cheap liquor has been temporarily suspended by the supreme court citing safety (and other pragmatic reasons) and the state government with all its intentions of being the vanguard of a supreme culture (and in the banner of continuing the tradition) has filed a petition to review the situation.

There was a time, when the young woman of the house didn't have much say as to her choice of partner, and the father would deem a young man capable of taming a wild bull fit for his daughter. This is not a far fetched idea as there weren't many other means of evaluating the life-earning skills of a man. It wasn't just brute force (to discipline the animal), but the process also involved timing (when to get hold of the bull, when to let go of it), positioning (attack from a vantage point), sense of safety (how well/less bruised he is once done), reflex (avoid those sharp horns & U-turns) and maturity (an crude analysis of the bull's thought process and how best it can be contained in the running field). So, if someone is successful at getting the animal to its knees, by a very rough estimate, he is considered capable of wading his family through tough times - a mark of physical & mental strength.

But what does all of this have to do today? In an age of tractors, fertilizers and electric pumps and in a time when grooms are chosen based on their bank balances, why bother running after an intoxicated bull whose tail has been adorned with fire crackers? Oh yes! Its called 'our mighty culture & tradition'. I saw this guy on TV who has shaved his head as a mark of protest for not allowing him to display his valour. He said that if the supreme court doesn't give a favorable response, he'll shave his head again. Now, in all probability, he'll remain a healthy bachelor!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dreaming of a Painless Future

V.S.Ramachandran in his lucid and accessible book 'Phantoms in the Brain' writes:
As with most nature/nurture debates, asking which is the more important variable is meaningless - despite extravagant claims to the contrary in the IQ literature. (Indeed, the question is no more meaningful than asking whether the wetness of water results mainly from the hydrogen molecules or from the oxygen molecules that constitute H2O!). But the good news is that by doing the right kinds of experiments, you can begin to tease them apart, investigate how they interact and eventually help develop new treatments for phantom pain. It seems extraordinary even to contemplate the possibility that you could use a visual illusion to eliminate pain, but bear in mind that pain itself is an illusion - constructed entirely in your brain like any other sensory experience. Using one illusion to erase another doesn't seem very surprising after all.
Phantom limbs, for those who don't know what it is, are imaginary limbs that continue to exist in the mind in spite of a specific limb being amputated. Strangely, some of those who have phantom limbs feel extra-ordinary physical pain in those limbs. Sounds crazy from a common sense perspective to realize that someone who doesn't have an arm is boggled down by unimaginable pain in that arm. As neuroscience has put the spotlight on, the pain is very real and V.S.Ramachandran, a leading neuroscientist has developed a gimmick of a solution which involves a mirror through which the patient can see his/her phantom limb to get rid of it and eventually the pain born out of it.

I didn't know until I read this book that physical pain is an illusion constructed in the brain. I've read before that there are no pain receptors in the brain (which is why those who contemplate suicide try to shoot themselves in their brains). But this fact makes sense from an evolutionary vantage point - pain is the brain's way of instructing the animal: guard your body & keep it safe so that you remain fit enough to pass on your genes. Just for a crazy split-second, I thought: if the wiring in your brain is screwed up where you don't feel pain anymore, wouldn't that be cool?

The author mentions that in some cultures women don't experience any pain during labour. With these women as inspiration, you rewire your circuit such that the pain receptors are out of the brain's normal functioning (I don't think the medical technology is yet there, but let me just hypothesize). You're a cop operating on a risky route; you bust gang and in the process you get shot on your shoulders. You don't feel any pain but you can see blood gushing out of you. With a cool head, you wrap a piece of cloth or get whatever first-aid possible. Call an ambulance, explain your situation and give them your location. Of course, there's a lot of exaggeration involved in that scenario, but I hope the point is clear.

And then I got back from my reverie. My knowledge of physiology, brain's response to a biological crisis & human immunity is just damn flimsy. But wishful thinking never hurt anyone.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

You, I & Bad Journalism

From a fine piece by a Samanth Subramanian for The New Republic
The truth, of course, is that in India, and in every other large nation in the world, there can be found many shades of gray between the black of one statement and the white of its exact opposite. The grays aren't hard to find, but spotting them might involve the terrific discomfort of occasionally taking off those designer sunglasses and squinting, for a while, into the sun.
Every day a reporter talks rapidly on a very pressing issue as if it might change the economic/political/social landscape of the country immediately. Once the fake storm dies, there is no follow-up. As the writer points out, there are pieces daily that flood our news papers and magazines that fail to offer a shred of insight. But blaming the media doesn't take us anywhere. They are just treading a time-tested model: like the movies, give them something hot for now. When the news cools down, jump on to the next hot thing. Journalism in India, like in most other places has become a act of throwing bone to the dog. Is the dog really hungry? Is it selective in its intake? Does it avoid junk food?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Fair & Hard

1) One of the letters to the 'The Hindu' states that Bucknor should have been awarded the man of the match as he played better than players from both the teams. Funny & sad. But isn't it already late when it comes to reaping the fruits of technology to ensure fairness in a game? How long does the ICC plan to burden the shoulders of umpires? Occasional errors are acceptable; but match-swinging series of decisions result in frustration & loss of morale for a team.

2) No doubt that the Australian team is better than the second best team by miles. By the end of the fifth day of the second test match, they lost something invaluable which the West Indies team of the late 70s still enjoy - respect. It's understandable when a batsman holds his ground in case of a negligible deflection. Michael Clarke CUT the ball towards slips and he stood there for the umpire's decision. Again, Clarke would have been 100% damn confident when he took that half-volley catch to dismiss Ganguly. To put the spotlight on a player like Michael Clarke, you need some one like Steve Waugh. Instead by defending him, Ponting has sunk low.

3) Walking. I believe that a batsman is not morally compelled to walk towards pavilion if he knows that he's out. Because there are a number of times when an umpire wrongfully adjudges and the batsman anyway has to walk out and I perceive this as a sort of 'moral compensation'. When Symonds decided to stay, his team was in doldrums and it was in good spirit that he hanged on to bail out his team. Obviously, this can't be a gentleman's game anymore and though we were colonized by the English people, the only thing that's English about today's cricket is 'Tea Break' at the end of second session.

4) Racism is a subjective issue. How does calling one a monkey inferior and hurting that abusing him or his family with as many unprintable four-letter words? Symonds being an aboriginal of Australia with his thick lips and wheatish complexion can take the remarks to be accusatory of his race. But was it Harbhajan's intention? Did Harbhajan actually try to insult Symond's race or was he trying to rebut remarks from another Australian player? Was it a planned verbal assualt or a mere spur-of-the-moment retaliation? Of course, in a different world, the word 'monkey' may have emotionally destabilized Symonds and make him perform lesser than his abilities.

5) I very strongly feel that batsmen should be allowed to express their disapproval when they're wrongfully given out. They're human beings and when umpires are allowed to make incorrect decisions, the human being on the other side should be allowed to vent his disappointment. Umpires are not gods and the ICC is still wallowing in a 19th century reverence imparted on these guys. With the increasing applications of technology, we can have one umpire to call no-balls and the rest can be taken care by the third umpire. And the next generation will replace him with a robot.

6) In a world crying for more 20-20, this test match proves how wonderful it is to watch a finely carved test century. If we're to lose this format, the oncoming generations will never know the taste of gourmet only fast-food.