Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Caveat fail!

I was renting a car for some christmas travel when I learnt that my new Visa credit card obtained through bank of america covers collision damage waiver, that is, if you hit some vehicle with the rental car, it covers all the cost of damage to the rental car. I was reading through the fine print of 'what is not covered' on the Visa website to make sure I didn't leave any loopholes that they might later exploit in order to not pay the damage costs. That is when I noticed there was one cleverly inserted caveat in the terms and conditions which was sure to heavily tilt the odds in favour of their not having to cover the costs. Please see that caveat in image below:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Divided we stand, united we fall?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Thought for the day

Success is the stepping stone to failure - By yours truly.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

John Locke and Swiss minarets.

This article is worth a read, primarily for John Locke's powerfully worded message.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Notes from 'Feet of Clay' by Anthony Storr

Since this book is concerned with some gurus who were less than admirable, I want to affirm at the outset that I recognize that morally superior individuals exist whose integrity, virtue, and goodness are far beyond the reach of most of us. Such people, unlike gurus, usually influence other by their examples in daily life rather than by swaying crowds with rhetoric, surrounding themselves with adoring disciples or claiming access to esoteric wisdom which the ordinary person cannot reach unaided.

Many gurus appear to have been rather isolated as children, and to have remained so. They seldom have close friends. They are more interested in what goes on in their own minds than in personal relationships, perhaps because they do not believe that anyone else really cares for them. In other words, they tend to be introverted and narcissistic.

Gurus tend to be intolerant of any kin of criticism, believing that anything less than total agreement is equivalent to hostility. This may be because they have been so isolated that they have never experienced the interchange of ideas and positive criticism which only friends can provide. It is also because revelations are in a different category from works of art, in that they cannot be criticized, only accepted or rejected.

Conviction of a special revelation must imply that the gruru is a superior person who is not as other men are. Gurus attract disciples without acquiring friends.

Gurus must possess charisma...Charisma is closely linked with intensity of conviction. The ability to speak fluently in public and good looks are helpful additional assets. Some of the gurus discussed in this book were so fluent that, without reference to notes, they could hold an audience entranced for hours at a time.

Almost by definition, charismatic leaders are unpredictable for they are bound by neither tradition nor rules; they are not answerable to other human beings. If a leader is accepted as having charismatic authority, he is often accorded the right to direct every aspect of his followers' lives. For example, he may dictate where they live, with whom they form sexual relationships, and what should be done with their money or other possessions.
(Self-note: Same working principle for Astrology.)

A guru's conviction of his own worth depends upon impressing peole rather than upon being loved.

Moreover, it is those who are high in the dictator's hierarchy who are most likely to be seen as threatening. Paradoxically, the 'friends' and allies on whom a normal leader might depend for advice and support during crises, often constitute the greatest threat to the paranoid dictator. Hitler's purge of Ernst Rohm and his Stormtrooper lieutenants in 1934 is a typical example.
(Self-note: Reminiscent of Saddam's approach of keeping 'dumb relatives' in important senior positions for the same reason as above)

As we shall see, some gurus are dictators on a small scale. Although their message is ostensibly religious rather than political, they behave like dictators, thrive on adulation, have no true friends, attempt to exercise absolute power, and are afflicated by the same kind of paranoid suspicions. Let us look at two gurus who fit this description:

On Nov. 18, 1978, over nine hundred people, including two hundred and sixty children, drank or were injected with cyanide in Jonestown, Guyana. This self-annihilation of the members of the People's Temple was ordered by its founder, Jim Jones,...On April 19, 1993, eighty-six people, including twenty-two children, perished in the flames of Ranch Apocalypse, Waco, Texas. This self-immolation was at the instigation of the cult leader David Koresh...Their aim was absolute power, and the ultimate expression of power over others is to bring about their death.

As a youth, he invited an acquaintance for dinner. When the lad said that he must leave before Jones wished him to do so, Jones fired a gun at him, narrowly missing him.

Jones claimed divinely inspired clairvoyance, which he invoked as explaining his knowledge of the personal histories and secrets of those whome he called up. In reality, he employed spies who discovered these secrets by passing on information gleaned from personal enquiries, unauthorized entries to homes, and even from combing through dustbins.

Jones specialized in services of healing, for which he claimed he had a divine gift. Many of his so-called cures were faked. People brought in in wheelchairs would be told they were healed and could walk. In fact, these were disguised members of the People's temple who had been trained for the role. Jones had no hesitation in claiming to cure cancer. An individual would be told that he had cancer of the bowel and instructed to go to the lavatory. Then, a bloody mass of animal intestine would be produced as evidence that the cancer had been miraculously evacuated. Complicity in his deceptions as healer was one way in which Jones gained control over the members of his cult. Sexual confessions were another. Some were compelled to sign confessions to crimes which they had not committed. Members of the Temple had to abrogate anything which ministered to their sense of individuality: possessions, children, spouses, and ownership of their own bodies. Everything was to be held in common. Jones, like many other gurus was good at raising money. By 1975, the Temple's assets were rated at $10 million.

Eugene Chaikin, a Californian attorney who became a member of the Temple, described him as the most loving, Christ-like human being he had ever met. Another law graduate, Tim Stoen, called Jones 'the most compassionate, honest and courageous human being the world contains'. in 1972, Stoen signed a paper requesting that Jones sire a child by his wife, since he himself was unable to do so. Jones acceded to Stoen's request.

In 1977, Jones moved to Guyana, and established a settlement in Jonestown, so remote from the capital Georgetown, that it took thirty-six hours to reach it by steamer and river boat. Guyana was chosen because it had a history of offering sanctuary to a variety of fugitives, including a number of criminals and the black leader Michael X. (A convert to Islam and Black Power, he was expelled from Britain for dope-dealing, fled back to Trinidad, and, after committing murder, fled to Guyana.)

About 70% of those who followed Jones to Guyana were black; about two-thirds were female.

Jones' need to bring everyone and everything under his own cotrol came near to fulfillment in this remote place.

According to Deborah Blakey, a former financial secretary of the Temple, who managed to get out in April 1978, the commune lived under a reign of terror. Most people were required to work in the field for eleven hours a day on grossly inadequate rations. As a result, extreme weight loss, chronic diarrhoea, and recurrent fever affected half. The settlement was constantly patrolled by armed guards. Jones threatened that anyone who tried to escape would be killed, forbade telephone calls to the outside world, ensured that mail was censored and confiscated passports and money. He also told them that the settlement was surrounded by mercenaries of by the Guyanese Army, who would capture and torture and defectors and castrate any males who attempted to escape.

Jones affirmed that heas the only truly heterosexual male in the settlement and alleged that many of the other males had not come to terms with their homosexual feelings. To demonstrate this, he found it advisable to bugger some of them. One such victim is reported as saying: 'Your fucking me in the ass, was, as I see it now, necessary to get me to deal with my deep-seated repression against my homosexuality'. 'Father' could do no wrong, and sex with Father was generally reported as an incomparable experience.

Punishments were generally carried out in public on the stage of the church. Beatings were inflicted with a three-foot paddle, and some beatings lasted half-an-hour. Grace Stoen saw her son John Victor beaten in public, but when she finally escaped from the settlement in July 1976, she had to leave the child behind. Victims of beatings had their cries amplified by microphones held to their lips. A child who soiled his pants was forced to wear them on his head, forbidden food, and made to watch others eating. Children were sometimes tossed into a well near Jones' bungalow and pulled down into the water by aides already swimming there. Other offenders had a hot pepper stuffed up the rectum. Another punishment was to be confined in a crate too small to permit standing for days at a time. Some offenders were given electric shocks from a machine known as Big Foot.

Yet, as Shiva Naipaul indicates in his book 'Journey to nowhere' there was another side to Jonestown. Dr. James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist who interviewed a number of survivors over a period of ten years, was impressed with the fact that none regretted their stay in Jonestown. It is evident that some people who had been alienated from conventional society felt themselves part of a new community in which they were for the first time accepted and valued.

His sexual behaviour indicates that he used sex as a way to dominate others rather than as an expression of love.

Although the People's Temple accumulated considerable funds, he does not seem to have been attracted by conventional trappings of wealth in the shape of Rolls-Royces, yachts, or gold trinkets. What fascinated him was the exercise of power over people.

Jones was a confidence trickster. He once broke a window and claimed that a brick on the floor had been thrown at him. Unfortunately for him, the absence of broken glass within the room...In Jonestown, he claimed that enemies had fired at him, and produces bullets in evidence. In fact, his adopted son Jimmy had fired the shots, and was seen to do so by Vincent Lopez.

Jones began to announce himself as God around 1974. Drugs made him more inclined to claim divine status but how he believed in his own divinity is an open question.

The inhabitants of Jonestown were prepared well in advance for their eventual death. Jones kept on telling them that he expected the settlement to be attacked by a variety of foes, and that if this happened, the only way out might be suicide. Reports by survivors, and examination of the site of injection in the corpses suggest that more were murdered than was originally supposed.

Let us turn from Jonestown to Ranch Apocalypse. Born to a 14 year old girl, who placed him in her mother's care, reclaimed him when she married a merchant, who thrashed him frequently. Did poorly at school, called retard, knew the whole of New Testament by 12. Impregnated a 16 yr old who refused to live with him on the grounds that hewas unfit to bring up a child. This shattered his confidence. Mood swings of pathological intensity, sometimes believing himself to be uniquely evil, sometimes thinking he was especially favoured by God. Soon infatuated with a Pastor's daughter, behaviour became so outrageious that the pastor and his congregation expelled him. His intial periods of depression were succeeded by an ever mounting confidence that he had been specially selected by God; a conviction which may have been reinforced by LSD, which he started using in his late teens.

Koresh started a similar cult similar to Jones' Guyana, but in Waco, Texas.His annual income amounted to $500,000 (financed by a number of rich businessmen who were persuaded) He taught that God would return to earth with fire and lightning and establish a new kingdom in Israel with Koresh on the throne. He persuaded his followers that death was only a prelude to a better life to come, in which they would be among the army of elite immortals who were destined to slaughter all the wicked on earth.

Similar starvation practices as Jones.

Punishments also as savage as Jones'. He taught that children as young as eight months old should receive corporal punishment for misbehaviour. Another punishment was to immerse offenders in sewage and not allow him or her to bathe.

Derek Lovelock, and English survivor of the terminal siege insisted that Koresh was 'a very caring compassionate man'. "We were one big family,"

Koresh was as sexually rapacious as Jones, but his tastes were different. In 1983, Koresh married Rachel, the daughter of an official of the Branch Davidian Church. She was only fourteen years old, but no one objected. She bore him three children. In 1986, Koresh began sleeping with her younger sister, then twelve years old. When Koresh took command of Ranch Apocalypse, he split up families by ensuring that the men slept on one floor, the women on another. Severing family ties was one way of reinforcing allegiance to himself, and also made it easier for him to seduce the women he wanted. Koresh considered himself entitled to have sexual relations with any of the females in the compound, including girls of twelve and thirteen. One child who was too small for penetration was urged to use large tampons in order that her vagina might become able to accommodate him.

He was less obviously a confidence trickster than Jones; "Vernon (Koresh) gets a craving. Then he finds the theology to justify that craving. When others buy into his doctrine, he starts believing it himself.

When Ranch Apocalypse finally went up in flames, seventeen of the twenty-two children who perished has been fathered by Koresh, who claimed that only he was allowed to procreate, and that part of his mission was to fill the world with righteous children.

The final holocaust was initated by members of the cult, who used kerosene lamps to start the blaze. Not everyone who died was burned alive. Twenty-seven cult members, including Koresh, were shot.


There were very few defectors from either camp. It appears that once a guru has convinced a follower of his Messianic status, his actual behaviour, as judged by ordinary human standards, becomes largely irrelevant. Belief in a guru, whilte it persists, entirely overrules rational judgement. Dedicated disciples are as impervious to reason as are infatuated lovers.

There is a well-known psychiatric phenomenon called 'folie a deux.' If two people live together and one is mad, the other may become convinced by at least some of the delusions expressed by the psychotic partner. If the psychotic partner is removed to hospital, the other partner usually recovers his or her sanity. Shared delusions are mutually reinforcing, and membership of a sect led by a psychotic leader reassures both the leader and the disciple who has fallen under his spell of the truth of their beliefs.


Gurdjieff claims our interest because he, or his doctrines as propounded by his disciple Ouspensky, bewitched so many interesting and intelligent people, including the writer Katherine Mansfield, A. R. Orage, Margaret Anderson, Jane Heap, Kenneth Walker, Olgivanna, John Godolphin Bennett, James Young, Maurice Nicoll, David Eder, T.S. Eliot, David Garnett, and Herbert Read.

Gurdjieff claimed to have learned much from a three months' stay in 'the chief sarmoung monastery'...The Sarmoung monastery cannot be identified. His own autobiographical account, in 'Meetings with remarkable men' is contradictory and chronologically unreliable.

Gurdjieff was a dictator. He had the capacity so completely to humiliate his disciples that grown men would burst into tears.

Eugen Bleuler, the famous director of the Burgholzli mental hospital in Zurich and the originatoor of the term 'schizophrenia', quotes a patient who wrote:
'At Apell plain church-state, the people have customs and habits partly taken from glos-faith because the father wanted to enter new f. situation, since they believed the father had a Babeli comediation only with music. Therefore they went to the high Osetion and on the cabbage earth and all sorts of malice, and against everything good. On their inverted Osetion valley will come and within thus is the father righteousness.

Gurdjieff is said to have believed in God, to whom he referred as 'Our Almighty Omni-Loving Common Father Uni-Being Creator Endlessness'.

His theories: "Man, like every other living being, cannot, in the ordinary conditions of life, tear himself free from the moon. All his movements and consequently all his actions are controlled by the moon. If he kills another man, the moon does it; if he sacrifices himself for others, the moon does that also. All evil deeds, all crimes, all self-sacrificing actions, all heroic expoloits, as well as all the actions of oridnary ilfe are controlled by the moon."

Perhaps I have extracted enough to give the reader some idea of Gurdjieff's picture of the cosmos, and to demonstrate that Gurdjieffe's own writings are both voluminous and obscure.

His own account of how he survived his early wanderings reveals how expert he was at deception. Gurdjieff wrote that he coloured sparrows with aniline dyes and sold them as 'American canaries' in Samarkand. He also wrote that he found out in advance which villages and towns the new railway would pass through, and then informed the local authoriteis that he had the power to arrange the course of the railway. He boasted that he obtained large sums for his pretended services, and said that he had no pangs of conscience about doing so.

He became skilled at extracting money from Americans to support his enterprises at the Chateau du Prieure, and he referred to this activity as 'shearing sheep'.

When he and his followers were in danger from the conflict between the Cossacks and the Bolsheviks, Gurdjieff managed to get transport from the Provincial Government by spreading rumour that he knew of enormously rich deposits of gold and platinum in the Caucasus mountains which would fill the Government's coffers.

Fritz Peters recounts an elaborate hoax in which Gurdjieff diluted a bottle of vin ordinaire with water, and the covered it with sand and cobwebs. Two disgintuished women visitors were tricked into believing that Gurdjieff was serving them with wine of a rare vintage, and dutifully pronounced it the most delicious they had ever tasted.

In 1933, he went to New York where he gave a dinner for some fifteen New Yorkers. When the diners had drunk a certain amount, Gurdjieff began to tell them that it was a pity that most people - especially Americans - were motivated only by genital urges. He picked out a particularly elegant woman and told her in crude terms that she took so much trouble with her appearance because she wanted to fuck. The guests were soon behaving in an uninhibited fashion and becoming physically entangled with each other. Gurdjieff then announced that he had proved his point that Americans were decadent and demanded that he be paid for his lesson. According to Peters, he collected several thousand dollars.

Yet confidence trickery cannot be the whole explanation of Gurdjieff's teaching. If Gurdjieff could support himself so easily by deception, why should he bother to invent a cosmogony? All and Everything is enormouly must have demanded considerable dedication to complete. Gurdjieff began his dicatation of the first part of the book in Dec. 1924 and finished only in Nov. 1927. Could anyone devote so much time and energy to something he did not believe himself, with the deliberate intention to deceive? We hover on the borderline between confidence trickery and psychosis.

But he did, at times, show considerable interest in people, and compassion for those who were suffering. He sometimes exhibited a capacity for intense concentration upon individuals, which was certainly one component of his undoubted charisma.

Fritz Peters wrote: "Whenever I saw him, whenever he gave me an order, he was fully aware of me, completely concentrated on whatever words he said to me; his attentoin never wandered when I spoke to him. He always knew exactly what I was doing, what I had done. I think we must all have felt, certainly I did, when he was with any one of us, that we received his total attention. I can think of nothing more complimentary in human relations."...When in the late summer of 1945 Peters suffered from severe depression with insomnia and anorexia, he sought Gurdjieff in Paris. Gurdjieff realized that he was ill, forbade him to talk and at once offered him a bedroom for as long as he needed it. He made Peteres drink strong, hot coffee, and concentrated upon him intesely.

However, not everything about Gurdjieff was so impressive. His personal habits could be disgusting. Peters wrote:
"What he could do to his dressing room and bathroom is something that cannot be described without invading his privacy; I will say that, physicall, Mr. Gurdjieff, at least so I gathered, lived like an animal...There were times when I would have to use a ladder to clean the walls."

Gurdjieff, like many other gurus, was unashamedly elitist and authoritarian.

Gurdjieff's sexual behaviour was unscrupulous, in that he coupled with any female disciple whom he found attractive, and not infrequently made her pregnant. When Peteres went to Paris to visit him, there were about ten children there.

Similar work load on disciples as Jones and Koresh.

However, he did not bring pressure upon followers to stay with him.

Rajneesh is best known to the general public as the guru who owned 93 Rolls-Royces and who celebrated sex as a path to enlightenment. Any guru who promotes technology, capitalism, and free love is likely to win support, and Rajneesh was hugely successful in attracting followers, especially from the white middle class.

Rajneesh, like Gurdjieff, was personally extremely impressive. Many of those who visited him for the first time felt taht their most intimate feelings were instantly understood; that they were accepted and unequivocally welcomed rather than judged.
Hugh Milne said "I had the overwhelming sensation that I had come home. He was my spiritual father, a man who understood everything, someone who would be able to convey sense and meaning into my life.' Ma Yoga Anurag wrote: 'Only a Master to whom you can entrust your very being - physical, mental and spiritual - is capable of taking you on such a journey. Listening to Bhagwan, I gradually came to realise that he knows, he has the power, that if I can only say, "Yes, I leave everything to you," everything will be taken care of'.

He was finally imprisoned in, and then expelled from, the United States. After being refused entry by various countries, he eventually returned to India.

Grandfather terminally ill when Rajneesh 7. Refused to eat or leave bed for 3 days after death.

As a boy, isolated, self-absorbed, and clever.
Suffered from asthma and came close to death on several occasions. He played with death, taking risks in order to come to terms with his fear of it. For example, he would dive into whirlpools in the river Shakkar and let himself be sucked down until, at the bottom of the whirl, he was thrown free.

Read enormously. Eastern and western philosophies. Turbulent, aggressive and arrogant. Habitual liar. Was so argumentative and difficult that he was asked to leave his first college. Got admitted into a second but decided to stay at home. Went into a depression mixed with poor health. Ran up to 16 miles a day in order to try and feel himself again, and started to mediate. His parents, believing that he was mentally ill, took him to see a number of different doctors;

On March 21, 1953, when he was 21 years old, Rajneesh's illness terminated with what he called 'enlightenment'. This was the end-point of 7 days during which he ceased to strive, seek, or struggle, but passively let go and waited. He entered an ecstatic state in which 'everything became luminous, alive, and beautiful,' and he himself felt 'mad with blissfulness'.....This series of events sounds like a psychotic episode.

It appears probably that Rajneesh suffered from a fairly severe depressive illness between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one which came to an end with a hypomanic state in the form of an ecstatic experience.

There are strong hints that he suffered from further depression after he had become established as a guru. In 1974, he withdrew from all activities and went into complete silence for a few weeks. In 1981, he also went through some months in which he failed to respond to those caring for him, and apparently did not even read.

I think it reasonable to conclude that, as in the cases of many other leaders, his personality was both narcissistic and manic-depressive, manifesting itself in actual illness from time to time.

B.A, M.A philosophy. 1960 asst. prof. philosophy at U. Jabalpur.

When the centenary of Gandhi's birth was celebrated throughout India in 1969, Rajneesh seized the opportunity to outrage conventional wisdom by alleging that Gandhi's fasting was masochism, and his abstinence from sex a form of perversion.

His remarkable range of reading ensure that his teaching was a pot-pourri of all the great religious leaders of the past, including Lao Tzu, the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. He could quote - not always accurately - from every well-known western thinker from Plato to Freud. When Bernard Levin visited his ashram, he reported that Rajneesh talk for an hour and three-quarters with no pause.

Rajneesh wrote nothing himself; but devoted disciples recorded his discourses and commentaries and made books out of them. Assuming that the edited discourses are accurate, one can understand that Rajneesh must have been a riveting and fluent speaker.

I could understand that his vision could bring new meaning to life for those who were in search of it. The main thrust of his teaching was what he called a 'religionless religiousness'; by which he meant a religious attitude to life without commitment to any particular creed or church.

Rajneesh always hated and despised poverty, and unashamedly claimed to be the rich man's guru.

Live in the moment philosophy. Same as Gurdjieff.

Rajneesh affirmed that sex was a way to enlightenment.

All inhibitions and possessiveness must be discarded and sexual experimentation and free love with different partners should be encouraged. The sexual act should be prolonged as long as possible in order to reach what he called 'valley orgasm' as opposed to 'peak orgasm'.

Too much in the book worth taking down. Others analysed in the book:


I am buying this book along with 'Kluge' so that I get free shipping from amazon (above $25).

Recommendation: High

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Notes from 'Kluge: The haphazard construction of the human mind'

I make notes from most books I read, fiction, and non-fiction. Most of it is stored in some chaotic manner in my hard drive and I have often found it cumbersome when I wished to trace a particular quotation, dialogue or trivia I know I've recorded in one of several word files titled 'Random notes 1/2/3/...n.doc' Also, usually my notes are not thorough because somewhere along the way I either lose continuity in my reading and forget to take notes when I resume after several days, or I get too involved in the book and say to hell with notes. Sometimes also, the books are too big and there's too much to write down (non-fiction) so I just give up. This book, the one mentioned in the title, is not too big and I have been very systematic in taking down notes, so I thought I'd store it online on my blog, from where I find it is easier to retrieve information compared to my hard drive. Also, I wished to share it with my blog readers to get feedback. I hope it is sufficiently well-documented that a blog reader can follow the tid bits and, hopefully, appreciate them like I did. Please let me know if the notes make for very chaotic reading for someone who hasn't read the book. In that case, I'll just create another blog to store these notes. (Note: The book isn't esoteric in the least bit so if its still not clear, then it must only be due to the fragmented nature of my notes than the contents of the book.)



If people had good source memory, they would have spotted the ruse. Instead, most subjects knew they had seen a particular name before, but they had no idea where. Recognizing a name like Sebastian Weisdorf for the name of a bona fide celebrity whom they just couldn't place. The same thing happens, with bigger stakes, when voters forget whether they heard some political rumor on Letterman or read it in the New York Times.

Take, for exapmle, the truly sad study in which people were shown pictures of one of two children, the child, let's call him Junior, had just thrown a snowball, with a rock inside it, at another child; the test subjects were then asked to interpret the boy's behavior. People who saw the unattractive picture characterized Junior as a thug, perhaps headed to reform school; those whon the more attractive picture delivered judgments that were rather more mild, suggesting, for example, that Junior was merely "having a bad day." Study after study has shown that attractive people get better breaks in job interviews, promotions, admissions interviews, and so on, each one an illustration of how aesthetics creates noise in the channel of belief....And, in a particularly shocking recent study, children of ages 3 to 5 gave higher ratings to foods like carrots, milk, and apple juice if they came in McDonald's packaging.

Studies show that in virtually any collaborative enterprise, from taking care of a household to writing academic papers with colleagues, the sum of each individual's perceived contribution exceeds the total amount of work done....Realizing the limits of our own data sampling might make us all a lot more generous.

As a rough guide, our thinking can be divided into two streams, one that is fast, automatic and largely unconscious, and another that is slow, deliberate, and judicious.

Although many emotions (such as fear) are arguably reflexive, emotions like schadenfreude - the delight one can take in a rival's pain - are not.

When we are stressed, tired, or distracted, our deliberative system tends to be the first thing to go, leaving us at the mercy of our lower-tech reflexive system - just when we might need our deliberative system the most.

While all normal human beings acquire language, the ability to use formal logic to acquire and reason about beliefs may be more of a cultural product than an evolutionary one, something made possible by evolution but not guaranteed by it.
Formal reason seems to be present, if at all, primarily in literate cultures but difficult to discern in preliterate ones.
The russian psychologist alexander luria went to the mountains of central asia in the late 1930s and asked the indigenous people to consider the logic of syllogisms like this one: "In a certain town in Siberia all bears are white. Your neighbor went to that town and he saw a bear. What color was that bear?"
His respondents just didn't get it; a typical response would be, in essence, "how should i know? Why doesn't the professor go ask the neighbor himself?" Further studies later in the twentieth century confirmed this pattern...This does not mean people in those societies cannot learn formal logic - in general, at least the children can - but it does show that acquiring an abstract logic is not a natural, automatic phenomenon in the way that acquiring language is.

'Prisoner's dilemma....the catch in this particular study was that before people began to play the game, they sat in a waiting room where an ostensibly unrelated news broadcast was playing in the background. Some subjects hear prosocial news (about a clergyman donating a kidney to a needy patient); others, by contrast, heard a broadcast about a clergyman committing murder. What happened? You guessed it: people who heard about the good clergyman were a lot more cooperative than those who heard about the bad clergyman.'

..."the attraction of the visceral." It is one thing to turn down chocolate cheesecake in the abstract, another when the waiter brings in the desert cart. College students who are asked whether they'd risk wasting 30 minutes in exchange for a chance to win all the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies they could eat are more likely to say yes if they actually see (and smell) the cookies than if they are merely told about them.
Hunger, however, is nothing compared to lust. A follow-up study exposed young men to either a written or a (more visceral) filmed scenario depicting a couple who had met earlier in the evening and are now discussing the possibility of (imminently) having sex. Both are in favor, but neither party has a condom, and there is no store nearby. The woman reports that she is taking a contraceptive pill and is disease-free; she leaves it up to the man to decide whether to proceed, unprotected. Subjects were then asked to rate their own probability of having unprotected sex if the were in the male character's shoes. Guess which group of men - reader or video watchers - was more likely to throw caution to the wind? (Undergraduate men are also apparently able to persuade themselves that the their risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease goes down precisely as the attractiveness of their potential partner goes up.)

Kill one save 5 by hitting a switch, kill one save 5 by pushing one person off the trolley. Most people say yes to former, no to latter, even though in both cases, 5 lives saved to one lost. Possible reason: Something more visceral about latter.

One historical example of how visceral feelings affect moral choice is the unofficial truce called by British and German soldiers during Christmas 1914, early in World War I. The original intention was to resume battle afterward, but the soldiers got to know one another during the truce; some even shared a Christmas meal. In so doing, they shifted from conceptualizing one another as enemies to seeing each other as flesh-and-blood individuals. The consequence was that after the Christmas truce, the soldiers were no longer able to kill one another. As the former president Jimmy Carter put it in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture (2002), "In order for us human beings to commit ourselves personally to the inhumanity of war, we find it necessary to dehumanize our opponents."

fabrique de Nimes (originally made in Nimes, France) -> denim -> now in France as les blue jeans

According to legend, the first machine translation program was given the sentence "The flesh is weak, but the spirit is willing." The translation(into Russian) was then translated back into English yielding, "The meat is spoiled, but the vodka is good."

Similar findings...apply even in our attitudes toward other people: the more we need them, the more we like them.

To be sure, evolutionary psychologists have tried to find adaptive value in at least one of these variations (homosexuality), but none of the explanation are particularly compelling. (There is, for example, the "gay uncle" hypothesis, according to which homosexuality persists in the population because gay people often invest considerable resources in the offspring of their siblings. The trouble is there's no evidence that all that good uncle-ing (for relatives that are only one-eighth genetically related) offsets the direct cost of failing to reproduces. Other popular adaptationist accounts of homosexuality include the Sneaky Male theory (favored by Richard Dawkins) and the Spare Uncle theory, by which an uncle who stays home from hunt can fill in for a dad who doesn't make it home) A more reasonable accounting, in my view, is that homosexuality is just like any other variation on sexuality, an instance of a pleasure systme that was only broadly tuned (toward intimacy and contact) rather than narrowly focused (on procreation) by evolution, co-opted for a function other than the one to which it was strictly adapted. Through a mixture of genetics and experience, people can come to associate all manner of different things with pleasure, and proceed on that basis.

My note: A little web research suggests "Explanations buried in Pleistocene history are always less convincing where reproduction, rather than survival, is at stake."

Something similar happens in our eternal quest for control. Study after study has shown that a sense of control makes people feel happy. One classic study, for example, put people in a position of listening to a series of sudden and unpredictable noises, played at excruciatingly random intervals. Some subjects were led to believe that they could do something about it - press a button to stop the noise - but others were told that they were powerless. The empowered subjects were less stressed and more happy - even though they hardly even actually pressed the button. (Elevator "door close" buttons work on a similar principle.)

Gilbert(Daniel Todd) has another favorite example: children. Although most people anticipate that having children will increase their net happiness, studies show that people with children are actually less happy on average than those without. Although the highs ("Daddy I wuv you") may be spectacular, on a moment-by-moment basis, most of the time spent taking care of children is just plain work. "Objective" studies that ask people to rate how happy they are at random moments rank raising children - a task with clear adaptive advantage - somewhere between housework and television, well below sex and movies. Luckily, from the perspective of perpetuating the species, people tend to remember the intermittent high points better than the daily grind of diapers and chauffeur duty. paraphrase Mark Twain, dissecting our own happiness may be like dissecting frogs: both tend to die in the process.

The psychologist Melvyn Lerner, for example, identified what he called a "Belief in a Just World"; it feels better to live in a world that seems just than one that seems unjust. Taken to its extreme, that belief can lead people to do things that are downright deplorable, such as blaming innocent victims. Rape victims, for example, are sometimes perceived as if they are to blame, or "had it coming."...Blaming victims may allow us to cling to the happy notion that the world is just, but its moral costs are often considerable.

People committed to eating in a healthful way are, for example, more likely to turn to junk if something else is on their mind. Laboratory studies show that as the demands on the brain, so-called cognitive load, increase, the ancestral system continues business as usual - while the more modern deliberative system gets left behind...When mentally (or emotionally) taxed, we become more prone to stereotyping, more egocentric, and more vulnerable to the pernicious effects of anchoring.

Procrastination is, in short, the bastard child of future discounting (that tendency to devalue the future in relation to the present) and the use of pleasure as a quick-and-dirty compass.

DSM-III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, third edition) listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. Has been changed in DSM-IV.

The classic example of a physical disorder with a clear corresponding benefit is sickle cell anaemia. Having two copies of the gene is harmful, but having a single copy of he gene alongside a normal copy can significantly reduce one's chance of contracting malaria. In environments where malaria has been widespread (such as sub-Saharan Africa), the benefits outweigh the potential costs. And, accordingly, copies of such genes are fare more widespread among people whose ancestors lived in parts of the world where malaria was prevalent.
But while some physical disorder do demonstrably bring about offsetting benefits, most probably don't...There are few, if any, concrete illustrations of offsetting advantages in mental illness...
It's true that many disorders have at least some compensation, but the reasoning is often backward. The fact that some disorders have some redeeming features doesn't mean that those features offset the costs, nor does it necessarily explain why those disorders evolved in the first place...
At the very least, it seems plausible that some disorders (or symptoms) may appear not as direct adaptations, but simply from inadequate "design" or outright failure....especially those that are extremely rare extremely rare, may result from little more than "genetic noise", random mutations that convey no advantage whatsoever.
Even if we set aside possibilities like sheer genetic noise, it is a fallacy to assume that if a mental illness persists in a population, it must convey an advantage. The bitter reality is that evolution doesn't "care" about our inner lives, only results. So long as people with disorders reproduce at reasonably high rates, deleterious genetic variants can and do persist in the species, without regard to the fact that they leave their bearers in considerable emotional pain.

Addiction can arise when short-term benefits appear subjectively enormous (as with heroin, often described as being better than sex), when long-term benefits appear subjectively small (to people otherwise depressed, who see themselves as having little to live for), or when the brain fails to properly compute the ration between the two.

Depressives...often distort their perception of reality by fixating on the negative aspects of their lives - losses, mistakes, missed opportunities, and so forth - leading to what I call a "ruminative cycle", one of the most common symptoms of depression. An early, well-publicized set of reports suggested that depressives are more realistic than happy people, but today a more considered view is that depressives are disordered in part because they place undue focus on negative things, often creating a downward spiral that is difficult to escape.

Man a schizophrenic, for example, has come to belive that he is Jesus and has then constructed a whole world around that notion, presumably "enabled" in part by the twin forces of confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. The psychiatrist Milton Rokeach once brought together three such patients, each of whom believed himself to be the Son of the HOly Father. Rokeach's initial hope was that the three would recognize the inconsistency in their beliefs and each in turn would be dissuaded from his own delusions. Instead, the three patients simply became agitated. Each worked harder to preserve his own delusions; each developed a different set of rationalizations.

I don't mean to say that depression (or any disorder) is mpurely a byproduct of limitations in our abilities to objectively evaluate data...Most common mental disorders seem to depend on a genetic component, shaped by evolution - but also on environmental causes that are not well understood. If one identical twin has, say, schizophrenia, the other one is considerably more likely than average to also have it, but the concordance percentage is only about 50%.

...Darwin, who started his legendary work 'The Descent of Man' with a list of a dozen "useless, or nearly useless" features - body hair, wisdom teeth, the vestigial tail bone known as the coccyx. Such quirks of nature were essential to Darwin's argument.

Few theories are as well supported by evidence as the theory of evolution, yet a large portion of the general public refuses to accept it. To any scientist familiar with the facts - ranging from those garnered through the painstaking day-to-day studies of evolution in the contemporary Galapagos Islands (described in Jonathan Weiner's wonderful book 'The beak of the Finch') to the details of molecular change emerging from the raft of recently completed genomes - this coninued resistance to evolution seems absurd. Since so much of it seems to come from people who have trouble accepting the notion that well-organized structure could have emerged without forethought, scientists often feel compelled to emphasize evolution's high points - the cases of well-organized structure that emerged through sheer chance.
Such emphasis has led to a great understanding of how a blind process like evolution can produce systems of tremendous beauty - but at the expense of an equally impassioned exploration of the illuminating power of imperfection. While there is nothing inherently wrong in examining nature's greatest hits, one can't possibly get a balanced and complete picture by looking only at the highlights.
The value of imperfections extends far beyond simple balance, however. Scientifically, every kluge contains a clue to our is no exaggeration to say that the history of evolution is a history of overlaid technologies, and kluges help expose the seams.
Every kluge also underscores what is fundamentally wrong-headed about creationsim: the presumption that we are the product of an all-seeing entity. Creationsists may hold on tto the bitter end, but imperfection (unlike perfection) beggars the imagination. It's one thing to imagine an all-knowing engineer designing a perfect eyeball, another to imagine that engineer slacking off and building a half-baked spine.

naturalistic fallacy - confusing what is natural with what is good.

Scientific reasoning is not something most people pick up naturally or automatically.
And, for that matter, we are not born knowing much about the inner operation of our brain and mind, least of all about our cognitive vulnerabilities. Scientists didn't even determine with certainty that the brain was the source of htinking until the seventeenth century. (Aristotle, for one, thought the purpose of the brain was to cool the blood, inferring this backward from the fact that large-brain humans were less "hot-blooded" than other creatures.)

...Studies in teaching so-called critical thinking show increasingly promising results, with lasting effects that can make a difference. Among the most impressive is a recent study founded on a curriculum known as "Philosophy for Children", which, as its name suggsts, revolves around getting children to think about - and discuss -- philosophy. Not Plato and Aristotle, mind you, but stories wirtten for children that are explicitly aimed at engaging children in philosophical issues. The central book in the curriculum, Harry Stottlemeier's Discovery, begins with a section in which the eponymous Harry is asked to write an essay called "the most interesting thin in the world." Harry...chooses to write on his thinking: "To me, the most interesting thing in the whole world is thinking. I know that lots of other things are also very important and wonderful, like electricity, and magnetism, and gravitation. But although we understand them, they can't understand us. So thinking must be something must be something very special."
Kids of agest 10-12 who were exposed to a version of this curriculum for 16 months, for just an hour a week, showed significant gains in verbal intelligence, nonverbal intelligence, self-confidence, and independence.
Harry Stottlemeier's essay - and the "Philosophy for Children" curriculum- is really an example of what psychologist call metacognition, or knowing about knowing. Bu asking children to reflect on how they know what they know, we may significantly enhance their understanding of the world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why I didn't get the swine flu shot

Chat transcript from earlier in the day:
me: hey they are giving swine flu shots in student health services
just fyi
until 4 apparently
Heather: thanks for the info
3:30 PM I'm not going to get the shot
me: why not? :) just curious
3:31 PM Heather: I've never had a flu shot, so I'm not going to start now. And I remain fairly isolated from people....don't figure there's such a high risk... don't have kids who can catch it at school and bring it home, take two classes but otherwise barely see people during the day....take the bus, but wash hands afterwards and take it at hours where it is not crowded and have minimal contact...
3:32 PM me: :)
fair enough
Heather: did you get it?
me: of course, i'm not getting it either :p
Heather: lol
why not?
me: well, i'm already a swine, so for me it would just be a regular flu

Monday, November 02, 2009

Poignant irony

Contemplating the strange irony of the doctor's profession: The better he is at his job, the lesser people will pay a second visit.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why I've never believed in 'To each his/her own'

It is an irrational statement to say 'to each is own' and the religious folks use it all the time as an excuse for their false beliefs. I would like to recommend Eliezer Yudkowsky's brilliant piece 'what is evidence' from the fine blog

p.s: I love the way this guy elucidates things:

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Don't you get it stupid?

Thought for the day: A majority of humans think that a majority of humans are stupid.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Pondering the psychology of holding hands in romantic love

Why do couples in love hold hands? Is there a non-"imitation of society" (a.k.a environmental) based argument to it? Assuming that not all couples in romantic love that hold hands have acquired the practice from TV and neighbours, how then does this form of affection originate? I'm fascinated because unlike the more primitive forms of affection that have a basis in instinct, hand holding seems a touch more sophisticated. But only a touch. I am well aware that the fingers have a very high nerve density and since the underlying principle of almost all forms of physical affection is stimulation of regions with high nerve density, I am not entirely surprised. Nonetheless, I would put it a tad above the more explicit forms of love. I wonder if hand holding has been studied to be a means of affection among primates? And to what extent? Especially in the great apes? Anyway, leaving the apes and nerve density factors aside for a moment, I see a psychological angle to this too. Could it be that we recall the practice because we held hands as young kids? But then, how do we suddenly recall a practice we never held in our conscious for 20 odd years? Is the subconscious playing such a powerful role? Besides, if it has an origin in our holding hands as young kids, then it is essentially a reminder of maternal/paternal love, implying that couples who hold hands might be seeking a substitute for that love. I wish I had test groups of people to work with. A group of people who are made to fall in love away from home and another who are made to fall in love while staying at home. It would be interesting to see what fraction of couples end up holding hands after falling in love, in both groups. But since I have limited powers in this world, I am resigned to contemplation for now. If any of you have any interesting journal papers to recommend on this subject, please leave the url in the comments section. (I tried a few key words on google scholar but found nothing noteworthy) Thank you.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Kids :)

My advisor's now 5 year old son was until recently under the impression you can't see him when his eyes are closed. So if he is sneaking up from behind you and you turn around, he freezes, clenches his eyes and covers them with his hands just to make doubly sure you can't see him :)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Aaaaaaaaaaaah, these F***ing Chinese!!

I'm sorry, decorum goes out the door in this post. I hate these f***ing Chinese who don't brush their f***ing teeth, and if my experience is anything to go by, that is pretty much ALL OF THEM! Argh! In my first year, I was a teaching assistant and I shared space with a Chinese dude in the common teaching assistant's room. This dude neither brushed his teeth nor bathed regularly. He was a walking garbage can. But he was a really nice guy and I didn't know how to keep him away from me. So every time he came into office he'd walk up to me and socialise. I don't remember the details of any conversation because during most of them I would be asphyxiating. The only thing that I could think in that debilitated condition was how does he have a girlfriend? (Now he even has a child but today I have come to understand how and you'll see soon too!)

Since this fall, there's a new phd student in my group, a chinese female. This female, too, never brushes her teeth! Now another thing common to most of these chinese who don't brush their teeth is they come godawfully close to you. Like they'd rather kiss you than have a conversation with you. Only problem is I'd rather send them to the dentist than do either. Early this morning when I was all happy and jolly for no reason at all( like I usually am) this female comes up to me in her usual kissing conversation style and opens her mouth to ask me something letting out a putrid rat's ass kind of stench that has now spoilt my whole morning! Hence the post.

As for those who are still curious as to how the chinese dude has a child, this female has a child too. So the funda is that it is the norm among them to have putrid breath, and perhaps even socially expected. And perhaps the more putrid the more of a turn on? So while you and I might chew gum before meeting the opposite sex, they eat rotting fish and wash it off with old curdling milk before their date.

p.s: My rant isn't entirely arbitrary apparently:

1 as in Hullo?!

I just called Lenovo customer support to cancel the order of a wireless keyboard and mouse for my bro(who is also in amrica now) that has now been pending for a month. Not surprisingly, it went to an Indian call centre. Now this Indian lady I'm sure had practiced and perfected her profession, which meant her eyes merely read off from the instruction sheet in front of her while her head remains in cold storage:

Call centre lady(CCL): How may I help you sir?
Me: I'd like to cancel my order.
CCL: Now if I understand you correctly sir, you'd like to cancel your order, is that correct sir?
Me: :|
CCL: May I ask Sir, why you'd like to cancel your order?
Me: I am extremely annoyed that it has been more than a month and the product is still pending shipping.
CCL: Now if I understand you correctly sir, you are extremely annoyed sir that it has been more than a month sir and the product is still pending shipping, is that correct sir?
Me: @#$@#%(#!
CCL: Sir, it seems this product is being delayed because it is an old model that is not in stock sir. If you give me a minute I can transfer you to our sales...
Me(interjecting): I'll tell you what, you cancel this order for me now, and I'll go online myself and get a better and newer one from lenovo, ok?
CCL: Ok sir. Sir may I have your order number sir?
Me: Its 2DRTEK
CCL: Let me verify that sir. So its 2 as in Delta, D as in... I'm sorry sir....

Friday, September 18, 2009

Human tendencies

I list below as points a short paragraph in the introduction of a paper[1] that highlights some common human tendencies:

Individuals have self-control and time inconsistency problems.
They can give into short-run temptations and later regret it.
They can have strong feelings about others that drive them to commit both generous and spiteful acts.
They often passively accept defaults rather than make active choices.
They let the institutions around them make choices for them.
And they may misread new data in ways that fit their beliefs.

These may be obvious. But I thought it is a tidy summary, and one well worth remembering by each individual. An awareness of one's propensities is a useful tool in preventing oneself from injuring oneself and others with one's fallibilities.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why I oppose gay marriage rights

1) I do not oppose gay marriage rights to genetic gays, if they exist.

2) But a significant fraction of today's gays are acquired gays. It may be a conscious choice. OR, as is more often the case, it may be due to disturbing environmental circumstances that change them into gays.This statement is supported by this wiki page in the following text:
Overall, the environment shared by twins (including familial and societal attitudes) explained 0-17% of the choice of sexual partner, genetic factors 18-39% and the unique environment 61-66%. The individual's unique environment includes, for example, circumstances during pregnancy and childbirth, physical and psychological trauma (e.g., accidents, violence, and disease), peer groups, and sexual experiences. [...] In men, genetic effects explained .34–.39 of the variance, the shared environment .00, and the individual-specific environment .61–.66 of the variance. Corresponding estimates among women were .18–.19 for genetic factors, .16–.17 for shared environmental, and 64–.66 for unique environmental factors.

(Journal references are also available if you still suspect the claim)

This much having been made clear at the outset, I make my case for why I oppose legalisation of gay marraiges when it is not genetic (as is the case with a majority):
No matter how sophisticated and evolved we may be, there are the natural/inherent traits in us and the acquired. When gayness is an acquired trait, it is a mental imbalance, arising from disturbing environmental circumstances. Like with a person wishing to commit suicide or a person who turns a serial killer. In the latter two cases, what we do as concerned citizens is to try and counsel them and get to the root of what factors are causing them to behave in this unnatural way. While serial killers are punished first, to immediately restrained them, they are also later counseled and studied. Yet in the case of gays, some people are arguing to let them suffer the imbalanced state and not trying to address the problem. (If you say gays are happy doing gay acts, and it is not a disease, serial killers are also in a similar perverse state of mind where they are happy after they commit that particular crime which their disordered mental state thinks pleasurable. But neither is behaving in keeping with the natural order of things. That is why they are both forms of mental imbalance). So the right thing to do would be to counsel gays and try to get to the root of what environmental factors are causing them to behave this way, rather than encourage them to continue in their disordered state by sanctioning marriage and other demands they may eventually make. As for the liberty argument, which states that serial killers cause societal harm whereas gays do not and hence must be allowed to do what they please, it is just that the former is obvious physical harm whereas the latter is pernicious mental harm, to themselves and to those around them. For instance, it is not the natural state for a child to be reared by two males. And at the level of infant psychology, instinct dominates over the liberal reasoning and tolerance capacity that adults have. This would thus result in unhealthy children. A similar example to gayness would be why drugs are made illegal in many countries. Although the physical harm might only be to the individual, there is pernicious mental suffering caused to those around him. Or for that matter, why sodomy is illegal in many countries. Sodomy is a good example. It may be a private and consensual act but sanctioning sodomy is sanctioning that disorderly state of mind that the concerned individuals might acquire that could eventually lead to an unhealthy set of moral values which can lead to instability in society if the practice becomes widespread.

I encourage rational discussion.


One of the biggest conundrums in life is whether or not to vent anger at a bad barber when he inadvertently but repeatedly slashes your skin.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The art of giving bad news

This is a mail sent out by the technician in charge of the Scanning Probe Microscope (SPM). I find the grandiose style juxtaposed with the depressing news hilarious!


The Agilent 5500 SPM is down until further notice. Sorry for any inconvenience this causes and I will let you know as soon as I have any information on when it will be back up and running. Have a good day.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fish fry ya bheja fry

Today at the grocery store, my friend picks up the advertisement sheet containing items on sale, stares at a thumb nail image of a plate containing some unskinned fish, turns to me and says earnestly, "Abey ye dekh, ye fish kitne fresh hai nahin?" ("Look here, these fish look fresh, don't they?"

Friday, August 28, 2009

Origin of cash for clunkers :p

Really admire their marketing spirit though! :) If not for this hilarious ad there's no way I would have read a boring ad for vacuum leak detectors! :|

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Home sick

The recreation complex was closed at 6 pm today so my Russian racquetball partner and I couldn't play. So we decided to play table tennis at a community centre he thought would be open. We stopped at my home on the way there as I had to pick up my racket. When we entered my home, he politely stood at the entrance while I searched for my racket in my bedroom. I thought he might get bored waiting so I said he could come in and wait. He walked up to my room and had a horror-stricken expression on his face. I quite well knew it was because of how dirty and unkempt it was with everything including bedding(sleeping bag), clothes, books, cereal boxes, fruits, and sporting equipment strewn on the same floor. What I wasn't prepared for however was when I said, "So now you know how I live!", he promptly replied, "I don't."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Balanced life

I,too, was laughing all the way to the bank. I couldn't believe I was walking that far to see my balance.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Statement for the day

I am religiously atheist.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Random thoughts

1) Why do american undergrads make strange faces while taking photographs?

2) Why is it catching on to Indian grad socially active men and women?

3) I love the fact that Indian clothing still comes with a spare button attached. For someone like me, that's a few years added to the piece of clothing.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Thought and PJ for the day

Thought for the day - Some people need to roll the newspaper to get high, I need to unfold it.

PJ for the day (copyright Sriram, my bro):
Sriram: Why is it rational to have to stand in a line to take a leak?
me: :-?
see below for answer
Sriram: pee by queue is rational.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

You too can make your cities pollution free

This is a fantastic show by the government and citizens of Calcutta! Wish our cities could do this too!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Amusement in the most odd places

So usually the business of going to various journals and scouring them for interesting papers (which usually translates to useful papers(which usually translates to comprehensible papers)) is a rather grim affair and I don't expect to be smiling first and then positively laughing out loud in the lab! But that is just what happened today and the sequence of images below will illustrate why.

p.s: I'm not sure if you will find the twitter feed for Applied Physics Letters funny. I thought twitter was some random thing where people sign up and put status messages. But a couple of friends to whom I sent this said it is sort of expected since twitter is a very big thing. So please excuse. I still find it very funny!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Air Turbulence (Part II of my journey home)

The second leg of my flight from Phoenix to Hyderabad on board British Airways was from London to Hyderabad. Going by the first leg's boarding calls I knew leech uncle and I would be called at different times again. Also, looking at the number of Indians crowding at the boarding entrance(unlike the last flight, this flight was almost entirely Indians so it was the natural thing for everyone to crowd at the boarding line) I was more hopeful that all the seats would be full. So I had a less anxious wait for boarding. In fact, once leech uncle was called for boarding and disappeared down the passageway, I just stepped back and sat on the benches seeing how terribly anxious everyone else was to board. I hate the notion of standing in a line to board a flight when I have a reserved and confirmed seat. So I usually tend to wait for the line to clear out before boarding. So that meant I was the very last passenger to get on board.

When I climbed on board the aircraft and went to take my seat(window), I found that some uncle was already sitting there! I said it was my seat to which he replied that he was with family(the usual!) and wanted to be with them. He did have his wife and mum/mum-in-law beside him. But I insisted that I wanted my seat. At this point, he continued to sit and asked his wife to get up and go take their 'actual' seat which was the middle seat in the row in front of where they were presently sitting. At this point, the old grandmum on the aisle seat started to make an effort to get up. Just seeing that effort I realised it would be a nightmare for both her and me if I wanted to go to the loo! So I said I would take their seat in stead. Two unfortunate things happened as a consequence of this change of seat: 1) I had requested vegetarian meals on the BA website beforehand and he ended up taking one of them. (I had informed him of this but for some reason he just dug into the food in stead of passing it on to me). 2) The reading light on his seat wasn't working! This was painful. I was actually reading furiously in the US-London leg and wished desperately to continue. In stead, I ended up watching some shitty movie (rab ne bana di jodi). Anyway, while the aircraft was still at the aerobridge waiting for the check in baggage to finish loading, there was an old grandma who started clamouring urgently for headphones the moment she sat on her seat, while the stewards and stewardesses were still assisting other passengers and tucking in the carry on baggage. She made fuss in spite of each stewardess taking the trouble to explain "The headphones haven't arrived yet!" I think she was under the impression the headphones were for radio communication and that she was the pilot! :| Then a lady immediately beside her opened up some pudina biryani or similar variant and the entire flight was now smelling like Hyderabad House(the famous Biryani store). With most of the Indians failing to understand the proper british accent, every steward/stewardess had to repeat each request 10 times. When the lady beside me was asked 'tea or coffee?' She nodded her head in approval. And when I went to the loo I discovered the entire rear half of the aircraft was smelling like a Sulabh complex. So much so that when the stewardess was going in to the aircraft's rear kitchen, I actually overheard her tell her colleague 'Oh god! It stinks SO BAD in there!' Then there was one uncle(very well-dressed) who got up when the captain had the seat belt sign on when there was perceptible turbulence! A steward had to come rushing in from where he was seated and warned the uncle to sit down. The uncle shows his little finger(the Indian male's notation for wanting to urinate) to the steward. The steward says, "Sir, please sit down now!!" and the uncle still lingers around. Then the steward says, "Sir, you are going to sit down right now! We cannot permit you to risk your life and so I am going to have to force you to sit down if you don't!!" And then he sits down! :| And, in general, when the seat belt sign was not on, people were just ambling about and socialising like they were at some get-together! I noticed one uncle pair standing in the aisle and conversing for a whole half-hour!! And as if all this wasn't enough, during landing there were two young couples with infants who happily fastened themselves to their seatbelts while the kids were on their highly protective torsos! :| When the steward came by checking if everyone had fastened their belts he requested both couples to fasten their infants also under the belt. While returning from the inspection he found they still hadn't done it. This time he gave them an annoyed warning. Then when he came by for a final collection of trash, he found they still hadn't fastened the infant to the belt! By the time the steward gave his third warning, he was just nodding his head in disbelief and disgust at our whole race I think. He was just constantly nodding with this "I can't believe you people!" expression because the poor fellow said multiple times, "Sir, this is for your own safety and the safety of your child. In case of a rough landing your child's life is in severe risk. Please try to understand!" I saw him nodding vehemently in incredulity as he forcibly strapped the child and dad onto the seat! What had me nodding in horror was that the dad removed the child from under the belt as soon as the steward left.

Most people on the flight were either people taking the second leg after a flight in from US or people who were in UK! That nothing can seem to civilise us is so heart-breaking. Almost all of them were educated too! That grandma clamouring for headphones was speaking English the whole time! The best part was, one stewardess had such a good humour in spite of all this. When she got the headphones to the clamouring grandma, she said, "Here you go my love, we haven't forgotten your headphones!! :)" She was the same one who complained about the stink. But she tried to keep up her spirits. When she was serving water and orange juice. Some lady looked at the glass of water and said, "Is this water?" to which she took on the exact same accent that the lady had for 'wat' in water and said "This is wat-ka!" It was fun to see the lady's eyes bulge up in horror. Then she immediately corrected and said, "I was joking. This is water sweetheart!" :)

Acknowledgement: Encouragement courtesy Silverine.

Flight . ( Part I of my journey home)

My flight on board British Airways from Phoenix to Hyderabad was an odd mix of amusement, bemusement and despair.

After clearing security at phoenix, I reached my gate from where I was to board for the first leg of my journey, from Phoenix to London. Since I had a good 50 minutes to kill before boarding, I tried to find myself a place to sit and read. Unfortunately, all the seats directly under lights were taken except for one spot quite far away from the gate. So I took that lone spot. As I was pulling out my book from my bag I heard someone say, "Meeru kooda Hyderabad ki pothunaara andi?" ("Are you going to Hyderabad as well sir?") I looked up to see an old Indian uncle in a safari suit.(In my dad's generation, the typical telugu's notion of being well-dressed is the safari suit and a bright gold painted watch. Anyone who has any intention of showing status in this community dresses in it.) I was filled with shock and despair. Shock because I couldn't believe that the uncle could make the assumption that I must be a Telugu just because I might be flying to Hyderabad(the US-London and London-Hyd legs were different flights and hence independent of each other - to the extent that we had to go through security again at London). Despair because I was well aware of the average Indian's oblivion to the notion of individual privacy. I was certain he would initiate conversation that would kill my precious 1 hour's reading time. And so he did! :) In response to his question I replied in English that I was going to Hyderabad. (I know telugu very well though I'm not one myself. However, I was making an attempt at keeping some distance to see if he might get the hint.)He started with a very frank declaration, "I have been desperately looking for one of our people. I am so glad I found you." (From this point on, I will report all conversation with this uncle in English for convenience though it actually alternated between the two languages when I found out that it made no difference whatsoever which language I spoke!) I felt sorry for the old man. But I felt sorry for myself too. He felt alone. I wished to be alone :)

During the next 50 minutes I made occasional attempts to give myself some reading time by quickly peering deep into my book whenever there was a lull in conversation. But I found that made no difference either because he would ask his questions anyway. I even made a desperate phone call to my US cousin and tried to kill time in talking mundane stuff but I am not a very good phone conversationalist and the call lasted all of 5 minutes(and that because I spent 2 and a half minutes laughing at my own joke). Anyway, early in the conversation I learnt that his green card holding doctor son had dropped him off at the airport at 2 pm for a 7 pm departure flight because he was off to buy a new benz car :). On learning this I felt really sorry for the old man. So I gave in to his desire to leech on to me. During the course of the conversation I learnt that his daughter and son were both married and settled in the US and fairly well-to-do. He is a retired professor and his loneliness back home was obvious. Somehow, he kept up the conversation, mostly by making enquiries into my personal life, my educational qualifications, my family, their educational qualifications, etc: Later, he asked me my seat number and said we should find adjacent seats. This really scared me because I wasn't really prepared for 9 hours of conversation although I was willing to humour him for 50 minutes. Somehow, he didn't really seem to care what I thought. He never asked me if I desire it. He must have thought it was the natural thing that two people going to Hyderabad must want to be together? (There weren't many other Indians in this leg because, like I said, this was an independent Phoenix-London flight). I didn't know how to say "NO!" to the old man. So I remained silent on the issue. A good 20 minutes before the start of boarding the anxious old uncle dragged me to the boarding line with him. At that point, there was no line. Just an empty pathway with hand rails on either side, and a board at the end of it reading 'entrance for boarding gate A23'. I was terribly embarrassed. People all around were looking at the curious pair(presumably father son?) who were guarding the boarding entrance so furiously. Besides, most flights nowadays are very systematic and board in 'zones', i.e., they call a small set of numbers at a time, so that people don't have to form long haphazard queues. I tried hinting that it was still early and that we should probably go sit. He said that we needed to be at the front of the line so that we can make our seat change request. I failed to see the correlation but I didn't know how to argue. So I tried to amble around a few feet away from him and the entrance as if I wasn't really waiting to board. Then when it did come to boarding time, something curious happened. As he and I were standing in the line, someone came up from behind and gave a huge slap on my back! I turned around in tremendous surprise, and so did a lot of the other people in line. "Aapko finally ticket mil gaya??" ("So you finally got a ticket??") a middle-aged bearded north indian with mehndi dyed hair said loudly as the curious americans watched on. . "Ji?" ("Sorry?") I responded, completely baffled. "Oh, I"m sorry. Were you not the one who was still looking to get a confirmed ticket?" "NO!?!?" I said, still feeling the pinch of the slap. Meantime, the old uncle beside me interjects "He is over there(pointing in the direction of some Indian standing near the boarding counter)". Then, as if that slap on the back was a stamp of friendship the northie uncle comes uncomfortably close to me and asks, "Aap faisalabad jaa rahe hai kya?" ("Are you going to Faisalabad?") "Ji nahin, mein Hyderabad jaa raha hoon." ("No sir, I'm going to Hyderabad"). Hearing this he suddenly decides my existence on this planet doesn't matter and quietly turns around and walks off to join his family.

During boarding, the old uncle and I were in different zones so he got called off first and I was happy to be relieved of him for a bit. I was fiercely praying that I wouldn't see him sitting beside my seat when I got in to the aircraft! As luck would have it, both seats beside my window seat were occupied. I was glad to take my seat! A funny thing happened then. The uncle seems to have got up from his seat and come looking for me. I spotted him a few seats ahead searching anxiously for my seat number. I was dead scared that he had an empty seat beside him so I actually ducked down the moment I saw him, and stayed that way. As luck would have it, he came all the way to my seat when I was still ducking! I quickly put my hand to my shoe as if to suggest I was redoing my shoe lace. "Hello Karthik!" he said. "Hello Uncle?" I said, a little worried. "So you are seated here." "Yes." "I am in front." I smiled. I knew the seats beside him were full too. I was safe. For the moment. I still had that dreaded second leg.

But at that time, I was glad to regain my private space, and to read quietly, after two people had tread precariously on the thin line between friendliness and harassment :)

To be contd...

Acknowledgement: Encouragement courtesy Silverine.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The unchanging life

Last time I went to India(Dec. 07), I was a bit more naive. I gathered from the grapevine that India was growing at a tremendous rate, and rather innocently I assumed that would translate to things looking very different at home. However, nothing had changed in my immediate life. If anything, it was worse. The power cuts were longer, the water supply more restricted, the traffic worse and the pollution worse still. Of course, a few more malls dotted the city landscape but they made so little difference to my daily life and I felt let down on the whole.

This time, I am more informed. I am aware that there has been little or no infrastructural development. The monsoons have been bad. I expect the power cuts to be worse still. The water supply as restricted as ever. The apartment management as lousy as always, so that my dad and grandmother will still have to climb 8 flights of stairs to get to our fourth floor apartment. The traffic and pollution as suffocating as usual. This time, I have no expectations of change. This time, I think I will be happy.

Friday, June 26, 2009

MJ - Musician, Juvenile

So today the whole english-knowing world mourns the death of michael jackson; led from the front by musicians, followed closely by plastic surgeons, with the end of the line comprising confused confounded children.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Howlarious cousin - Part II

So the he/him in the chat below is a reference to my overambitious 17 year old cousin. I understand his desire to stamp his name on the world of science and all but this is downright hilarious!! =))

me: i'll fwd the chat
worth a read
Sriram: :D
me: max trippy da
secretly married an american it seems
Sriram: :)
vivid imagination
me: ya, totally awesome consideration of possibilities
Sriram: when i met him this summer, he kept describing some physics contraption arrangment for a perpetual motion machine, and said he would become rich etc
me: LOL
what da
total trippy fellow he is
Sriram: apparently he had suggested that idea to his teacher there and he/she had sent a mail to HC Verma about it
me: :-|
Sriram: and HC verma mailed him back saying nice try
me: ROFL
dei, total wtf prof. also
did u hear his idea?
Sriram: ya, he gen puts reel also
me: what was it?
i'm curious
Sriram: ya, don't remember now.
it was something about starting a motor in space
me: hehe
Sriram: basically some zuk frictional loss set up for relative motion between some coil and magnetic field
me: he didn't learn carnot's cycle-a?
Sriram: I don't think we did it in 12th.
me: oh :-/
don't remember


So today I spent 5 minutes holding my key bunch in my hand and searching for it everywhere. I even cursed my carelessness.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Whatay quote!

"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma." - Eartha Kitt

Too good.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Howlarious cousin!

So there is this cousin of mine who has recently grown into a big boy and is now joining college and all. He and I haven't been in touch all that often these past three years of my stay in the US. Suddenly, he decided to add me on skype and pinged me on gchat asking me for my skype id. So I gave him what I thought was my skype id and this ensued(cast: Srinivas - cousin; Sriram - Bro):
Srinivas: something ridiculous happened
i added someone else in skype thinking its u
i rang him
me: lol
Srinivas: and a lady took
i asked her who she is
and she told she was karthik's wife
and i said WHAT
me: LOL
Srinivas: and she asked me whu i was
and i told i was his cuzz
and i didnt know
wether any of yur frnd were playing prank on me
and sriram came in
and finally confirmed about the mixup
we all had a good laugh
me: ROFL!
Srinivas: for a moment i thought u married an american
me: ROFL!
Srinivas: secretly
me: lol
my id is ....

p.s: This dude is funny!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Google ads fail

Not for kids, prudes and Hindus

I am a devout Hindu too. I worship my dick everyday. Its more respectable than worshiping someone else's AND it leads to more miracles.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Conspiracy theory

What if the biggest conspiracy of the 21st century is not 9/11? What if it is not even a conspiracy of evil? Perhaps the greatest conspiracy of the 21st century is the conspiring of reputed economists the world over to spread the myth of recession and recovery in stead of depression and doom. Because they realise that in that falsehood lies the solution to changing the course of the world for real.

p.s: There is more truth to this theory than a lay reader may assume. In real world economics, psychology matters.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

One of a kind

I was on the volleyball court at lunch time. A player on the opposition team stalled play to tie his shoelaces. At that time I glanced at my laces to make sure they were in place too. That is when I discovered to my utter horror and morbid embarrassment that today I went to work wearing two shoes from two different pairs. One was made of strips of grey and purple with little patches of orange. The other of strips of white and blue with patches of red. They were also two different brands. It was a long day but fortunately nobody seemed to have spotted it(I was in shorts too, not trousers!), or may be they spotted it and thought it nothing unusual coming from me. Either way, I am glad not to have faced someone in this awkward situation, trying to explain my abstractedness during the whole morning shoe picking up and tying routine!

It did make a very comic sight though and I was most amused by it!

p.s: Socks, I can tell you from personal experience, are even tougher to hide :(

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Lighter side

On my way back to the US from India in Dec '07, the customs check was at rush hour thanks to some delayed incoming flights to Los Angeles. Yet the customs officer saw me pulling in my lone suitcase for the check and asked, "You have only one bag? Really?? You are the first such Indian I have seen all day!"


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Spending its way out of poverty - a solution or stagnation?

In today's news from the Press Trust of India is this article:

Govt to rely on market borrowings to raise public spending: FM

New Delhi, May 27 (PTI) Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee today said the government would continue to rely on market borrowings to spur economic growth and restore the growth momentum witnessed earlier.
"This (increased spending by incremental borrowing) would need to be further continued in 2009-10, the current year," the minister told the reporters saying fiscal consolidation could take two to three years.

"Let me say unambiguously that we are committed to restoring growth and employment and that would not have been possible without increased spending funded by incremental borrowing," Mukherjee said.

The government during the current fiscal aims to borrow Rs 3,08,647 crore, about 17 per cent more than the last fiscal.

As regards fiscal consolidation, he added, "We are equally committed to the process of fiscal consolidation over a period of say two to three years." The government since December has been trying to arrest the impact of financial consolidation on the country by raising public expenditure and reducing taxes which led to increase in fiscal deficit.

Once you take into account off budget government expenditures, fiscal deficit is already more than 10 percent of the GDP. India's debt is over 80 percent of the GDP. This move by the government will only further crowd out private investment(by eating into the chunk of private savings available for investment) while simultaneously raising the deficit. Ultimately then the growth rate won't be able to offset the debt burden. There is no rationale behind this decision by the Finance Ministry. The minister is pretending that government spending is what produced growth in India whereas it had everything to do with the economic reforms first under Narasimha Rao and then under Vajpayee. The government is taking a false step by thinking it can just spend its way out of poverty. Unless serious efforts are taken to control the deficit, our nation is going to take a severe hit in the future.

p.s: In keeping with this overspending, the Centre has already breached the deficit targets stipulated under the FRBM Act and the Fin. Min. is asking the new government to amend it to its convenience!

An excellent follow up article that clearly and elaborately explains India's situation

Friday, May 22, 2009

My thoughts on the oft-raised 'India does not invent because we are taught to memorise, not think' argument

It is a topic that has come up a few times now in my interactions with various people. Since I made an effort at documenting my thoughts for a blog comment this time, I decided to modify it quickly and put it as a post here so that I may get valuable feedback and so that I may store it for posterity, when I'm sure I'll hear this argument several times more.

First let us look at India as an inventor nation without temporal constraint. Let us also not narrow down to the special case of scientific and technological inventions. Without these two contraints, India has invented much. Every outfit of every culture in India is an invention that is uniquely Indian. The zillion varieties of clothes, the shoes, the bangles, the nose ring, the toe ring, the numerous other jewelry, the 'lota' (a type of tumbler), the 'shoulder pai' (shoulder bag), the earthern pot and many such inventions. What more do you expect to be invented from a land of farmers ruled by kings?

But the issue most desire to have addressed is the lack of scientific inventions. The answer to this problem lies in education. However, it is not so much in our system of education as when we started having a formalised system of education. The most significant progress in science, discovery and inventions have happened in the West after the era of systematic and formal education began. Whatever may be the flaws of such a schooling system as was existent, it was precisely the Christian emphasis on schooling that ultimately led to the flowering of indepdendent and rational thought that eventually not only led to great scientific and engineering progress but also to questioning to a great extent the very dogma of the Christian system that led to this tradition. It is indeed that foundation of formal schooling, initiated by the Christians of the West, that has spread to the east, including to nations such as India, and ultimately led to a glut of scientific minds in the late 20th and 21st centuries even in our country! There has been much contribution by India to technological progress (If you observe, the recent past is not an era of grand individual scientific inventions. The inventions are mostly by communities of people for which the head of the group might be popular, that's all.). However, I concede that there is more contributed by Indians brought up and/or spending time outside our country than those within it(on a per capita basis). This I attribute to the fact that inventions and discoveries(discoveries more so than inventions) require a certain amount of aristocracy. Serious pursuit of scientific and technological progress cannot happen in an atmosphere of daily strife and the struggle for survival. It requires the creation of an environment that leaves the thinkers free of other daily worries and able to contemplate ideas. Hence, this progress is deeply intertwined with economic progress and you'll see our research and technological progress advance as we grow economically.

Another case in point that the education with its emphasis on rote learning isn't really the fundamental cause of anything catastrophic is that it is this very rigid schooling structure that existed in Britain for nearly 500 years and still led to a spawning of scientific minds by that tiny island nation. Whether you concede it or not, although the evaluation of merit is rote based, the process of rational thought is still inculcated during the process of teaching and imbibing. That doesn't go to say that the education system in our country needn't be reformed. There is much that needs to be changed. But the root to our changing into an inventor nation lies in economic progress that leads to aristocracy for intellectuals, not a poverty stricken nation with a reformed system of education.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Some hopes

Congress is going to come to power again. It is good that they won by a near majority. At least we'll have a stable government. One also hopes coalition politics will be weaker as a consequence. For these two reasons, one hopes the government will do tolerably ok this time. A BJP victory might also have ratified the religious fundamentalists. So there are some reasons to cheer this victory. However, Congress is very populist in its policies. If its previous term is any indication then there are some serious concerns as the effect of their last set of policy measures will reflect during this term period. In spite of knowing the Congress mindset, I hope:

I hope the government takes the tough decision to raises indirect taxes to increase revenue to offset the already 8% and rising fiscal deficit. I also hope the government will slowly and subtly remove redundant subsidies and improve fiscal efficiency to reduce the deficit. In effect, I hope the government will try to fulfill the goals set by the Financial Responsibility and Budget Management Act, even though it has already failed to meet the time deadline.

I hope the deficit is controlled so that the debt-to-GDP ratio which is already at 60% does not increase further.

I hope reforms are implemented to increase the growth rate and thus offset the debt ratio. In particular: Labour law reform, privatization of banks and opening up of the retail and manufacturing sectors to FDI. Rural infrastructure must be developed too, but I don't know how the government will do that with such a high existing deficit. Using the huge RBI reserves is a contentious issue and may not go down well with the export community if the reserves are flooded into the market for infrastructure development.

Ultimately, I sincerely hope that mounting debt combined with economic slowdown do not lead to loss of public confidence, resulting in capital flight and culminating in a full-fledged macroeconomic crisis and hyperinflation! I know all this is much to hope for from the present government. But I think this is essential to continue to pull our country out of the clutches of poverty and push ahead on the path of welfare to all.

In the end, I wish our government good luck! :)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A lesson in Hyderabadi Hindi

So there is this Bangalore girl who works in my building. She thinks I am a Tamizh, which I sort of am, but she also thinks I am from Chennai because she knows I did my undergraduate there. So she thinks I don't know anything except tamil and English. The other day, I was flexing my arm in the corridor, just to relieve stiffness and not because I'd hurt myself. But she looked concerned.

She: "kya uvaacha?"
Me: "What did you just say???"
She: "kya uvaacha?"
Me: "What language is that?" (politely)

I was seeking clarification. I was aware that 'uvaacha' in sanskrit means 'said' but the combination of words baffled me. She gave me a smug smile.

She: "Its Hyderabadi indi!"
Me: "Oh REALLY?"
She: "Yes, yes. It means 'what happened?'"
Me: "Well, I've never heard of such a thing."
She: "Of course you wouldn't know! They speak a different Hindi in Hyderabad. When I was in PSU(she did her masters there) I had many Hyderabadi friends!"
Me: "Perhaps you've heard them saying something along the following lines: 'aise-ich hua'?"
She: "Ah, yes!"

I just completely burst out laughing my guts out at this point. She assumed adding 'ch' at random locations was what made the 'indi' hyderabadi! :) (Little she did know that I had grown up playing gully cricket with the 'basti' kids in my neighbourhood in Hyderabad :)....)