Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Times of the Hindustan

I don't normally spend time pointing out trivial mistakes in English usage of the kind we see in our press every day (it would be a never-ending and pointless exercise). But what I saw today in the Hindustan Times today really got to me. It's a "correction" in a box and it reads as follows:


Correction: "200 flights were cancelled across the north India" should have read "200 flights were cancelled across the northern India".


Yes! Standards of the English are declining in the India!

Happy the New Year!!

Monday, December 29, 2008

It's about class

Today a Kolkata based writer called Soumitro Das (why does it seem like they are all called that?) wrote an op-ed piece in the Hindustan Times ("The man in the middle") in which he frontally attacked the Indian middle class and its attitudes vis a vis the terrorist situation. He said a lot of things that are not normally said because social class, like its cousin caste, is the "elephant in the living room" for Indians. We're not allowed to talk about it because officially it doesn't exist.

Mr Das points out that "the middle class has an abiding fantasy of a benevolent dictator who will rule with an iron hand, restore order and commit everything to making material progress". In light of this he analyses the middle class outrage against Indian politicians and Pakistan post 26/11. One thought this article inspired in me is that some day we might go the Thai way, with the middle class clamouring to scotch the voting rights of the rural poor because the latter are (allegedly) responsible for electing low-grade politicians.

Even if I possibly don't share all of Mr Das's views, his article helped me focus my thoughts a bit. But something else I read in HT yesterday focused my thoughts in a different way, into an irrationally extreme rage. It was an interview of a lady who had been dining at the Oberoi/Trident on 26/11 and managed to escape alive. Here is what she had to say: "The fact that I chose to dine at the India Jones restaurant at the Oberoi Hotel that fateful night of 26/11, and the manner in which I escaped death by a whisker, reinforces my belief that there is a driving force that governs the entire universe. While the staff at Oberoi's ushered us into safety through the service entrance, I kept praying to Santoshi ma. It is her grace that I could make it out alive that night".

These words provide distressing (to me) insight into the thought process of a certain type of Indian. The driving force, or Santoshi ma, that saved her from death - why, pray, did it condemn many dozen others to die in the Oberoi? It seems she's really trying to say, without putting it in those words, that she personally possesses the virtue that made Santoshi ma take notice of her. By implication, presumably those that died were some kind of impious losers that S. ma could barely find time to think about! Notice also that the "driving force" (she's not referring to her own chauffeur I presume) made her choose to dine at the Oberoi that night. So why did this driving force choose her, and not for example the urchins hanging around outside the hotel, to savour a dinner at such a luxurious establishment? (I'll spare you the rest of the interview, in which the lady alleges that "...astrology is one of the most evolved sciences in India".)

Either Santoshi ma is the most biased deity around, or this is how some section of the Indian middle class constructs its world-view. It is divine grace that gives them the comforts they enjoy, never mind that equally deserving others are denied the same comforts. It is divine grace that saves their lives, never mind that other innocent people perish tragically.

In short I'm appalled by this lady's incredibly self-centred and self-serving comments (even ignoring her idiotic views on astrology). But perhaps I judge her too harshly as she's clearly conditioned by her family background? Not quite. Her late grandfather held a rather different world-view that accommodated the complex and varied aspirations of a truly enormous variety of Indians. Without that quality, he could hardly have launched the Quit India movement.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Security matters

Like everyone else in Bombay, I keep thinking about security issues these days. It's not so much because I'm personally afraid (I am, but not enough to keep worrying) but because I do care about this city and country and I keep hoping that our security apparatus is up to the task of protecting both.

Now I happen to live in Navy Nagar, one of the most protected parts of the city, and what I see post 26/11 is not terribly encouraging. To enter Navy Nagar you now have to pass a group of men in army fatigues carrying guns. So far, so good. But what do you have to do to convince them to let you in? It turns out, they would like you to show them a photo-identity card. Any photo-id will do. I don't like to make fun of security forces since I appreciate their work, but the reading skills of these gentlemen are not very impressive and I fear that a photo-id saying "Residence: Faridkot" and "Profession: Terrorist" might work just as well as any other.

Indeed the emerging picture is that they let in anyone who "seems OK". Sometimes I get waved on, and occasionally with a salute (i.e. they mistook me for a Navy officer). Several other cars, possibly of genuine Navy personnel, just race through the check point as if they were Formula 1 drivers. The checkers don't bat an eyelid. Even worse, I find that if I look determined to drive through then they let me through quite happily, while if I stop for them then they invariably check my ID.

In short, anyone upto mischief and possessing the tiniest brain can easily get through. So what's the point of the barrier then?

This is also what I find about airport security checks. When you pass the metal detector, it normally beeps. No one pays the tiniest attention. Usually it beeps because one is carrying coins or wearing a watch, but it would beep in quite the same way if one was carrying a weapon. The pat-down, even nowadays, is totally cursory and I suspect it will not reveal a small carefully concealed weapon. So what's the checking for?

I'm not proposing elimination of checkpoints, nor do I believe that checking should be made much more intrusive. What I am trying to suggest is that it be made more intelligent. Intelligence is not in short supply in India but it needs to be conveyed to the security staff instead of just taking some guys and randomly putting them out there so everyone feels something is being done.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All about our mothers

Condolence is a tricky thing, at least for me. When someone has been bereaved, it's difficult to know what note to strike and what not to say. I remember a couple of disastrous efforts on my part, both involving colleagues who had lost their mothers. To one of them, who I was meeting after a long time, I mumbled "I heard about your mother" in what I thought was a sorrowful and compassionate tone, hoping I could quickly come up with a follow-up line. But in my embarrassment I spoke in a thick voice as if I was chewing toffee, and he quite naturally mis-heard. "What about my mother?" he asked, glaring at me. "She died, that's what about my mother". So that conversation ended right there.

On the other occasion I met a different colleague soon after his mother had passed away and, for reasons I cannot now fathom, I started out with "Is everything alright?". This person, who's never been very fond of me, looked extremely annoyed and said "No, everything is not alright. My mother died. So everything is definitely not alright." Oops. Clumsy me.

I suppose it can be hard for people to read your intentions and your confusion. Moreover in the cases at hand I believe the people concerned did not like me to start with (don't be shocked dear reader, such people really do exist!!). Anyhow I believe that I handle these things better after all these years (or as one might tastelessly put it, "many colleagues' mothers later").

My clumsiness aside, most condolers seem to belong to one of two extremes. One type will weep, clutch your hand and tell you in dramatic tones how sad it all is and how awful you must be feeling. On the other side there are the insensitive people who bluster their way through, with something like "Hi, old chap. Pity about your mother, eh? Good for her though, really, at her age. Life moves on, doesn't it - bought some new stocks lately?".

And there's a media version that falls somewhere in between the two. Barkha Dutt of NDTV is said to have asked families of the Bombay attack victims questions like "how do you feel, now that all your loved ones are dead?". (To be fair to Barkha, I don't think she quite said that, and I basically appreciate her and her reporting though I'm aware that most of my friends don't).

Now the reason why all these thoughts passed through my head is that Bombay is currently going through some confusion about how to deal with the terror attacks that took place four weeks ago today. Is it a continuing tragedy, not to mention that the surviving terrorist is being held within our midst, so therefore we must speak in hushed tones and avoid celebrations and parties? Or does life move on and we once more indulge our obsessions with the stock market and celebrate the re-opening of "iconic" hotels?

Some will tell me this is all quite irrelevant to the majority since it affects only the upper crust of society. And such people have already been roundly (and rather deservedly) condemned for their self-centred, Taj-centred, Oberoi-centred, not-CST-station-centred view of life. But I'm afraid that betrays ignorance of the soul of Bombay. Partying is an epidemic, an addiction or at least a regular habit in this city for much more than the Taj Hotel crowd. Hardly a couple of weeks can go by without some new festival popping up and providing yet another excuse to dance. And here we are at Christmas and the New Year.

I'm not exactly plugged in to the party circuit, but am watching with interest and a tiny bit of empathy as the confusion plays out.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another Dawn article

I'm indebted to my old friend Utpal Chattopadhyay for sending me this link to another amazing article from The Dawn.

I'm currently enjoying a peaceful vacation in Udaipur, with newspapers and world events farthest from my mind... tonight I might end up dining in one of the many restaurants that screen "Octopussy" on a daily basis!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rising Dawn

Over the last couple of weeks I pointed out a couple of times, with examples, that The Dawn of Pakistan is overall a balanced and sensible newspaper. Many of my Indian readers knew this already, while others were greatly surprised by the discovery (though there's no greater surprise in finding some balanced, intellectually honest and secular people across the border than there is in finding unhinged, illogical and communal people on this side!!).

Well, the last week has seen the publication in The Dawn of an interview with the father of the captured terrorist Ajmal Kasab who has positively identified his son. While it appears that the initial investigation was done by a British newspaper, the fact that The Dawn would unearth and publish this information attests to their journalistic standards. There is little doubt that they will have been condemned by Pakistani fundamentalists and their supporters as "unpatriotic" for this, very much as sections of the press in India are reviled for exposing anything the Hindutva crowd doesn't want exposed.

Earlier one of my readers, in a comment about this posting of mine, cited a particular Op-Ed piece in The Dawn and concluded "It just goes on [sic] to show what sort of a phoney newspaper Dawn is!". As I've said before, there are articles in The Dawn that I disagree with, but this is true too of any Indian newspaper you can name. What is striking is that it carries so many courageous and brutally honest articles at a time when its country is on the defensive and a siege mentality is being propagated there. So, I think people who are looking at this newspaper for evidence that everything and everyone Pakistani is "phoney", might be better off looking in the mirror...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Overheard in the gym

The cast: Muscle Boy 1 (MB1), Muscle Boy 2 (MB2), Middle-Aged Runt (Me).

Note: all comments due to "Me" were made only in my own mind, as indicated by square brackets [].

Scene: In the locker room of a gym in Colaba, late evening. A huge march is unfolding on the street in front, a stone's throw from the Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Hotel, to protest against Indian politicians and their inaction on terrorism.

MB1: Arre yaar, you know that Nariman House was a centre for Mossad agents.

MB2: Really!

MB1: Of course! How could those people be priests? Come on, there were two terrorists for the Taj and two for Oberoi and you think they would send two more just for some stupid priests?

MB2: Oh.

Me: [So how come everyone including Baby Moshe didn't come out with guns blazing? I mean, can the Mossad be that bad?]

MB1: They were Mossad agents, I'm telling you.

MB2: You know, the U.S. has told us to go ahead and do what we have to do.

MB1: Yes but we don't have the balls. Look at the U.S. After their reaction to 9/11 no one has dared to attack them.

MB2: Yes and you know, last week the terrorists had planned to attack the U.S. too, or... or... (thinks furiously) or maybe the U.S. consulate, I'm not sure. But it was in the PAPERS!!

Me: [So how could it not be true?]

MB1: We don't have the balls, I'm telling you. Napunsak (impotent). That's what we are. Bloody napunsak.

MB2: Napunsak.

MB1: Yah, Napunsak. I'm telling you.

MB2: Anyway it's no use protesting is it! (referring to the march taking place outside)

MB1: No, absolutely no use. No point at all.

MB2: It's better to be at the gym... (pauses as a bright thought strikes him) getting fit to fight terrorists!

MB1: You're right!!

Me: [Be sure to publicise your mobile number in case the nation needs you!]

"Stateless actors" - born on a desert island?

Asif Ali Zardari has said he very much doubts that the captured terrorist in Bombay is a Pakistani. So far, so good - he's free to express his doubts. The terrorist may after all still turn out to be Indian, or in principle he could be a citizen of Sri Lanka, Sweden, South Africa, Nagorno-Karabakh or any other country.

But then Mr Zardari extends this doubt to a suggestion that defies logic: the terrorists who attacked Bombay were "stateless actors". I ask myself, how does one end up being stateless? By being born on a desert island not claimed by any of the world's 203 sovereign states? So perhaps these terrorists hail from the Niue and Cook islands off the New Zealand coast? Or from an unexplored part of Antarctica?

Though stateless, they're not in the least bit weapon-less?

Well I'm probably being too harsh on Mr Zardari who has to dig himself out of a tough situation. Perhaps his statement is to be interpreted as code for "even if they come from, and are armed in, my country, I don't recognise them as Pakistanis". If so that's a good beginning, though there's a very long way to go from there.

Balanced opinion vs. loose hinges

This Opinion piece in The Dawn today, Media falls in the old trap is an excellent example of a balanced opinion from the Pakistan press.

I must mention that Indian news channels last night disgusted me by repeatedly airing some stupid material from Pakistan TV and then getting involved in a childish media war about it. We don't need proof that part of Pakistan's media is unhinged - just as part of India's media is unhinged. (Parenthetically, one of the most unhinged TV channels in the world is Fox News in the USA!).

In seeking common ground, as people on both sides are trying to do, one hopes the valuable point gets made that there are Indians and Pakistanis with similar views, counterbalancing the nut cases on both sides who'd just like to blow each other up with no concern for what happens to the world.

To change the subject, talking of "unhinged" media reminds me of two Indian politicians whose hinges have come off in the last couple of days. In case you've just come back from Mars, Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan had this to say about the family of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan who died in the gun battle against terrorists (the family rejected the CM's condolence visit):

"If it were not Sandeep's house, not even a dog would have gone there."

Not to be outdone, BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi came up with this priceless gem: "Some women wearing lipstick and powder have taken to streets in Mumbai and are abusing politicians spreading dissatisfaction against democracy. This is what terrorists are doing in Jammu and Kashmir".

I realise now that the growing criticism of India's political class over the last week has been far too mild. Not just their ethics and competence, but evidently also their sanity is in question!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"The Hindu" comes out with details

It's amazing how fast my blog postings turn obsolete. The Hindu has come up with a very detailed article about the captured terrorist (including yet another name for him, Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman). While the sources of the information are not named, and while The Hindu could be wrong as it has been wrong before, the fact is that this is a very scholarly publication generally known for its careful pursuit of factual information. Moreover its political ideology (roughly CPI-M) does not make it prone to irresponsible anti-Pakistan rhetoric (digression: it is, however, prone to irresponsible pro-China rhetoric!).

The new report is as detailed as this sample indicates:

"The man in the photo was born on July 13, 1987 at Faridkot village in Dipalpur tehsil of Okara district in Pakistan’s Punjab province. His family belongs to the underprivileged Qasai caste. His father, Mohammad Amir Iman, runs a dahi-puri snack cart. His mother, Noori Tai, is a homemaker." You can read the full article here.

Interestingly the Faridkot in Okara district is the only Faridkot, out of three, about which The Dawn had nothing defensive to say in its article "The misplaced hype about Faridkot" that I referred to in my previous blog posting. So I think it may be time for The Dawn to continue its investigations, taking into account the new revelations (or allegations) appearing in The Hindu. The Dawn is a serious newspaper and if they discover that the hype is not misplaced, it would be appropriate for them to say so.

In denial?

Today I read an article in The Dawn, Pakistan, called The misplaced hype about Faridkot. It illustrates many points I've been trying to make.

First of all the article is written in a clear and non-loony tone much as any article in the mainstream Indian press. Its main thesis is that there is no evidence, much less proof, that the captured terrorist came from Faridkot.

I agree with some points made in the article but not with others. But again, the level of logic, while not meeting my stringent standards, is hardly lower than that of much that's written in the best Indian papers.

(i) The article observes that there are several towns/villages named "Faridkot" in Pakistan as well as one (or more) in Indian Punjab. Therefore merely naming "Faridkot" does not demonstrate anything. I agree with this. An apparent certainty conveyed by the mention of this name has not stood up to scrutiny.

(ii) The article points out that the Indian media doesn't even know if the captured person is called "Ajmal Amir Kamal, Muhammad Ajmal, Muhammad Amin Kasab, Azam Amir Kasav or Azam Amir Kasab". This is also true. The Hindu used the first form yesterday while the third and the fifth are the most common. The names are not minor variants of each other. If they can't get the name straight, can we trust that they have got other more important details straight?

(iii) The article also goes on about how people in a particular Faridkot are "secular" and "peaceful". This is interesting, note that secular is held up as a positive value in The Dawn (while a number of Indians in mainstream politics deride "secular" as something terrible to be, much like "liberal" in the pre-Obama US). But as a proof that no terrorist could come from there, this is really no good. Character certificates for villages don't tell us if a terrorist originated there or not.

(iv) The Dawn quotes the Economic Times of India as saying "We can tell you who this man is and how he has become the vital link for investigating agencies to crack the terror plot". This is the kind of thing that bothers me from the Indian media. If they can tell us, why don't they tell us?

(v) Finally, noteworthy for what is left unsaid, The Dawn article has focused only on the origin of the terrorist. Much more important, as I've said previously, is where he was trained and armed. This is a key issue and one on which they have nothing to say.

I also want to mention here that any reader of my blog who followed the link to The Dawn (the link was broken yesterday but I've fixed it now) would have seen several other Ed and Op-Ed articles which are far more accommodating about the possibility of Pakistani involvement in some form. That sounds fair enough to me, after all we can't expect a Pakistani newspaper to come out shouting "Yes we did it" any more than we can expect Indian media to come out bluntly exposing some things our government has done in Kashmir in the past.

But at the end of it, the big question is, when will the Indian government provide us (i.e. Indians, Pakistanis and the world at large) some convincing evidence of Pakistani involvement at the training and arming stage, which I strongly believe to be likely? That's far more important than the name or village of origin.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Yes and no

The terrorists aimed to bring the Taj hotel down.

They did not aim to bring the Taj hotel down.

They phoned headquarters in Pakistan during the attacks.

They did not phone headquarters in Pakistan during the attacks.

They worked at the Taj/Oberoi before the attacks.

They did not work at the Taj/Oberoi before the attacks.

They rented rooms at Nariman House.

They did not rent rooms at Nariman House.

All the "denials" above are from The Hindu, India's most authoritative newspaper, quoting reliable sources like the police and the NSG (see for example this and this). Where then did the original, evidently false, assertions, arise from?

Don't the original false reports stick in most peoples' minds forever? And if this is the level of our confusion on relatively simple, local facts, how are we ever going to make a convincing case to the world about the origins of this conspiracy?

Operation Water Rat 2006 - don't miss it!

Yesterday (November 30) evening, CBN-IBN aired a re-run of a programme first aired on February 2, 2006. In this video two journalists showed how they managed to bring a cargo of 45 kg of "contraband" (empty boxes, but which could have been full of explosives or anything else) through international waters into Bombay by fishing boat completely unchallenged. They drove the boxes to the Gateway of India and, with the Taj Heritage in the background, recounted to the camera how they could well have been terrorists trying to bomb the Gateway and sites around it. Today it makes chilling viewing.

You can see a truncated (5-minute) version of the video online here. It's truly astounding. But the full TV programme was even more astounding for the details it revealed about the dysfunctional Customs and Coast Guard. It's not that there is poor policing of our coasts, there is no policing at all!

If anyone finds a longer version of the video online, please let me know.

How might a Pakistani feel?

It may be too delicate and complex a point to make to my stressed and overheated country, but it's been made by others and I'd like to make it in my own way.

When Indians chant "Pakistan murdabad" ("death to Pakistan") in the context of the recent terror attacks in Bombay, as has happened in more than one rally in recent days, what exactly do they mean?

If it means death to Pakistani people then I don't support it, and I sincerely hope no one means that. It is as scientific a fact of life as the earth orbiting the sun, that there are innocent people sharing the same values in every culture and country. In the case of Pakistan it's particularly clear, as many wonderful Pakistanis are known to us either personally or through their writings. Just go to the Editorial pages of The Dawn, Pakistan's leading English daily, and see for yourself that the writings share the same values as any leading Indian daily (though one may not agree with everything written there, which can also be said of Indian dailies).

So perhaps the chant means death to the Pakistani government. Well if that's the wish then it's already happened, for their would-be Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated while campaigning last year. But that's not an event that should please any Indian.

Back to Bombay, it's perfectly plausible that the terrorists who carried out the recent attacks were Kashmiris. If so, we can hardly chant "death to Kashmir", given that we believe Kashmir is "an integral part of India".

Now all this brings me to my last point. Extending the above logic somewhat, people may claim (and have claimed, in the British, American and Pakistani press) that Pakistan is simply not involved in these attacks and India is indulging in needless finger-pointing. On this point, I part company with these "progressives". Whether the terrorists are from Kashmir or Pakistan, it is a certainty that they were extremely well-trained and well-armed, quite on par with the Indian commandos who eventually wiped them out. Such training and arming does not happen in a vacuum. The needle of suspicion (a well-worn phrase) happens to point to Pakistan, where by Pakistan I now mean (i) the geographical territory called Pakistan, and (ii) several people and organisations based in Pakistan or having bases in Pakistan. IF the Pakistani government has power over these areas and bases (that's not clear as of today, look at how little power the Indian government has over some parts of India) then the government would of course share the responsibility.

So if the chants are aimed at the people and organisations, almost certainly in Pakistan, who trained and armed our recent invaders then much as I dislike death threats, I will put my pacifism on hold and say yes, anger against them is quite justified. But let's not forget that innocent Pakistanis are victims of those same people as much as any of us are.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Indian politician in the spotlight

The mood in Bombay is rather vociferously anti-politician. Some have suggested they give up their "Z" class security and bestow it on the common man (or woman, one hopes). One citizen interviewed outside the Taj suggested that any politician coming near the site would be killed.

Strong stuff and rather rhetorical. What would a more factual perception be?

The Maharashtra state government has come across looking rather pathetic. Vilasrao Deshmukh was totally unimpressive on TV and R.R. Patil, who's spent his time saving the city from dance bars, had nothing useful to say (later he was heard saying something to the effect that this was a "minor incident", the exact words quoted were "bade shahron mein aise ek-aadh haadse hote hain", about the stupidest observation one could make in his position). These two did not convey any proper sense of urgency and they offer a poor contrast to the energetic city that this is fabled to be.

The Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh looked like a deer caught in the headlights. His frozen expression and way of speaking through clenched teeth did not particularly reassure. However, he did use the strongest words that he's ever used and briefly scored a victory when Pakistan agreed to send the head of ISI over. Which was undone when Pakistan denied they had agreed to such a thing.

The failure of Indian intelligence agencies is the single biggest issue here and both the state and central governments seem very much at fault for lethargy and incompetence, not necessarily personal but certainly systemic.

So do I now agree with Mr L.K. Advani, whom I criticised in my blog yesterday? Not in the least. He has contrived to use the terrorist attack in Mumbai to try and further the cause of his BJP party and of Hindu bigotry in general. That is the lowest a politician can stoop, and this kind of behaviour from someone projected to be a Prime Ministerial candidate leaves me speechless. One can only hope these tactics won't work.

Unrepentant about what he said some days ago, today he has tried again: "The energies of intelligence agencies were diverted to nail the so-called Hindu terror which enabled the Mumbai attackers to go undetected", a transparent and self-serving lie. He and his younger (therefore more dangerous) counterpart Narendra Modi were hounding ATS chief Hemant Karkare for pursuing the Hindu terrorists (not "so-called" but real), but have discovered after his death that he is a hero. Reportedly Modi offered Karkare's wife Rs 1 crore (merely to score political points! In such a situation the only right thing would be for the Government of India to give her the money, so if Modi had cash to spare, he should have routed his money through them). She is said to have refused his money, and if this story is true then it's very much to her credit.

Sometimes I think the BJP exists only to make the Congress look good.

And what of Raj Thackeray who has pinned his career on divisive politics of the worst kind? Text messages circulating for the last three days have, rightly, labelled him a coward. He was quite active "saving Bombay from poor Bihari taxi drivers", say the messages, but where is he now when North and South Indians of the NSG are rescuing his city from terrorists? His brand of politics now looks pathetic and if the terror attacks have the effect of removing his party from our lives, that would be welcome. Let's not forget that his movement is capable of causing as many innocent deaths in the future as we have seen this week.

People are wondering if the recent attacks will be a turning point in Indian politics. I'm doubtful, but from the lineup I've described above it's easy to see that no major player currently on the scene deserves our support, except possibly the well-meaning Manmohan Singh who - just for being well-meaning - towers far above the rest.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Blasts and echoes

I'm impressed with people who were able to blog effectively about the terrorist attacks in Bombay as early as midnight on December 26 (two hours after the start of the attacks). For me, living just off the edge of Colaba causeway and within hearing distance of grenade explosions at the Taj and Oberoi hotels, it's been a numbing experience where I could not find a voice. My usual tone, of flippance mixed with irony, just doesn't sound right at a time like this. Nor can one resort to other "easy" emotions like cynicism.

By now I'm speaking again, and I want to say that the response of the city has been fantastically positive. The police and armed forces have been immensely brave, though the lack of preparedness of the former has been something between pathetic and tragic. Pathetic is the state of the under-trained and under-equipped cops who are quaking with fear but bravely standing where they are told to stand. Tragic is (was) the state of the senior cops who rushed into battle perhaps underestimating its seriousness and paid with their lives.

The news media has teetered between moderately careful and responsible reporting (NDTV, Times Now) and plain dishonest sensationalism (Headlines Today, India TV). Headlines Today should earn everyone's undying contempt for stringing together video images of the Taj hotel burning, adding canned machine-gun fire and music (MUSIC!!!) and making a kind of "catchy theme" out of the result. Shame shame.

As for the citizenry, their resolve for the city to rise from the ashes has never been stronger. SMS messages received by TV networks stress the importance of national unity and professionalism in dealing with the new challenges. Divisive politicians, are you listening? Apparently not. Here is what L.K. Advani had to say on TV today: "Both the central government and the state government have a lot to answer for, but today's not the day for me to dwell on that." He dwelt on it though, didn't he. Who was Home Minister when terrorists identical to these infiltrated Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001? My contempt for this person and his perenially divisive behaviour - and hypocrisy - knows no bounds.

Monday, November 24, 2008

That's Shirley progress...

I recently noticed that the current President of Stony Brook University is a woman (the name is Shirley Strum Kenny and I'm assuming "Shirley" isn't a man's name nowadays). That is intriguing because the Presidents of Princeton and Harvard are also women (in a pleasing irony, the latter replaced Larry Summers who acquired notoriety and lost his job after suggesting it was time to "admit" that women are basically not good at science...).

In 1976 when I joined Stony Brook for my Ph.D., I didn't have the impression that women were considered possible candidates for being President of a major U.S. university, so the situation today represents progress for the feminist cause. (On the other hand the President of Princeton is a Shirley too, so could it merely represent progress for the cause of women called Shirley???)

Jokes apart, the situation illustrates a feature of society I have noticed over a long time. Historically certain groups (ethnic minorities, gender- or age-specified groups etc) are deemed unfit for a certain activity or position and thereby marginalised. After many years of struggle, a slight change is brought about, with the conservative faction of society reluctantly (and condescendingly) agreeing to "give them a chance", but remaining basically hostile. After this, the few people given a "chance" are put under a microscope. Any possible sign of failure is interpreted as evidence in support of the conservative view that their group was no good in the first place.

But then comes the second and more enduring transition. After years of hawk-like watching, and presumably not finding enough ammunition, the right-wingers sort of give up on this particular target. Then, and very rapidly, it becomes commonplace for people in this marginalised group to occupy the positions they were formerly denied. Statistically some of them do well and others not so well, but overall it becomes clear that there was never any reason to keep them out in the first place.

If my (admittedly simplistic) description above contains some truth, then doesn't it just mean that conservatives are the real problem?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama, the race issue, and Indians

Obama's Presidential victory has quite correctly served to highlight the history of racial discrimination in the USA. For people not well acquainted with this history, the Wikipedia page on Martin Luther King is a good place to start. It links to dozens of other pages on the shocking atrocities against blacks in the US over the years, and the civil rights movement that brought about major change.

I was wondering how Indians (I mean Indians from India, not Native Americans) are reacting to the Obama story. One would imagine we would all be ecstatic that "a black person like ourselves" is soon to be President of the USA. This has indeed been my dominant emotion and I was very powerfully moved by the Obama family photo on the front page of Hindustan Times yesterday. But I would be surprised if this feeling is universal in India, or among Indians in the USA.

It is an open secret that a lot of Indian Americans look down on African Americans, and even use a derogatory Hindi word for them which I am not going to quote here. So it's quite possible that many of them are right now, in their suburban New Jersey homes, making faces at the thought of being ruled by one of "those people". In the days of apartheid too, not every Indian in South Africa cared to be a Gandhi and many of them jockeyed hard to place themselves in a subtle racial position, inferior to whites but superior to blacks.

The situation in India today is not so different. Dark skin is looked down upon here, very blatantly in many cases, particularly when it comes to choosing a bride. Advertisements in India inevitably contain fair people (except in the South these days, as I note with some pleasure). Many Indians believe the skin hierarchy is perfectly acceptable and - like their South African relatives of old - they would like to occupy an intermediate position in this hierarchy.

Which is why the following article in The Earth Times Online made me quite happy. It says that tribal people in the Eastern Indian state of Jharkhand have celebrated Obama's victory. According to the article "Their leaders still complain of racial discrimination." From other Indians, presumably. With touching simplicity and optimism, a tribal leader, Bahura Ekka, is quoted as saying: "Black people have always faced challenges in the world. We believe that racial discrimination will end after Obama's election as US president."

If only!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I want my America back - Springsteen

Though I'm now happily back in Bombay and enjoying the warm, humid and comforting weather, and even - to a small extent - the cheerful crowds on the streets, my recent stay in Princeton has left me infected me with a sense of involvement in the politics of the USA.

As many of my readers surely know, a good liberal "blog-newspaper" to have emerged in recent years is the Huffington Post. This sticky morning in Bombay, while Obama is poised to win but the complete results are still awaited, I was browsing HuffPo and came across an article by Bruce Springsteen, a musician I admire as much for his songs as for his politics. So I shall point all of you to it. Before you go, let me direct your attention to two great lines. One is "Whatever grace God has deemed to impart to us resides in our connections with one another", a stark contrast to the far-right view that God has imparted a sort of infinite, lifetime-warrantied, maintenance-free grace to the US. The second great line is "I want my America back". Now go ahead and read Springsteen.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

This banana doesn't like fruit flies

Less than a week ago, Sarah Palin made what is now considered the stupidest comment of her life (despite all the competition from her many other stupid comments). This was in a public policy statement: "dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not." And she sniggered as she said it. I must tell you that the snigger really got to me.

But much as I would like to rant about her, it's best if I point you to the eloquent blog of P.Z. Myers, a biologist (and self-confessed "godless liberal") at the University of Minnesota. There you will find a link to the video of her brilliant statement, as well Myers' well-chosen remarks about her. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

And here's to you, Ms Robinson

Today I was privileged to attend a talk delivered at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton by Mary Robinson, who was President of Ireland from 1990-97. She then became the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and thereafter has remained a distinguished figure in the field of Human Rights, which was the subject of her talk. Surprising, then, that the modest-sized Wolfensohn Hall at IAS was not even half full.

Mary Robinson's talk came as a breath of fresh air to me after nearly a month of being in the US and finding the political discourse narrowed down to "hockey moms" and "Joe six-pack", apparently nowadays the only type of people who count on the planet!

Ms Robinson spoke at some length of the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has earned a Guinness book citation for being translated into the largest number of languages - I just checked that this list includes virtually every Indian language I know of, including Bhojpuri, along with languages one has vaguely heard of, like Achehnese and Dzongkha, and languages I have definitely never heard of like Cashibo-Cacataibo, Minangkabao and Oromiffa! I guess when something is universal, it needs to be accessible to everyone! (You can read it here in your own favourite language.)

Sorry, I digressed. After a sketch of the history of this Declaration, which completes its 60th anniversary in December 2008, she touched on the situation post-2000. In that year there were high hopes that human rights could be pushed up on the agenda across the world. But then 9/11 happened. The UN pushed for "the perpetrators to be brought to justice" but (she phrased this more delicately than I will) the US decided to institute a "global war on terror" and with this decision, it became inevitable that human rights would be violated around the world. Soon there were accounts of torture, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, renditions to other countries etc. And moreover whole generations of young people, particularly in the Middle East, have been demonised and branded as "Islamic terrorists" and their anger is liable to worsen exactly the situation that this so-called "global war" was supposed to address.

I don't think she was trying to paint the US as the world's chief human rights violator or anything like that. And she didn't try to present a list of human rights violating countries, though there were some pointed references to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I think her opposition to the "war on terror" was based on sadness about its counter-productive nature, and I certainly share that view. She also pointed out that 4 billion of 6.8 billion people on the planet do not have basic human rights protections, a truly sobering thought.

After this she spoke admiringly of Eleanor Roosevelt and several other Americans including contemporary ones for their contributions to the field of human rights. She also spoke more generally about women's rights, specifically health and reproductive, issues she has always cared about but on which she was often a lone voice in the Irish Parliament (as I learned from Wikipedia).

In the course of the discussion she touched upon different kinds of rights. Besides the familiar rights - political, civil, social - at some stage she encountered the novel (to her) concept of "business rights". As she explained it, poor people frequently carry out unconventional "entrepreneurial" trades and they need their rights to carry out such trades to be protected. I found this illuminating and thought about the harsh life led by the so-called "unorganised sector" in cities like Bombay - people who work in temporary jobs as vendors or casual labourers, who have no job contract or union membership, and who can be subjected to the brutality and whims of their employer, government and police. "Business rights" becomes a very relevant concept when you think of it this way.

Another section of the talk that stuck in my mind was her description of a group called the "Business and Human Rights Resource Centre", whose website is here. It's a group of large corporations that investigate the ethical implications of their business, including such aspects as child labour and poor labour conditions in countries that supply them products. She cited an interesting example of "The Gap", a US clothing company that was being supplied clothes from an Indian factory (really a "sweatshop") where the working conditions were found to be appalling. Her point here was again somewhat novel. When this company released this information they expected to come under attack by human rights groups like Amnesty, but to their surprise these groups actually commended them for being open and urged them to fix the problems they had found. "The Gap" responded by *not* closing their Indian operations, but instead trying to work with the supplying company to improve the working conditions for its employees.

A final aspect of her talk that sticks in my mind was about a law (I forget precisely in what context) that would make governments responsible when business carried on by their own corporations brings about human rights violations in other countries. This has some obvious implications - as she put it, a corporation operating in a poor country having an ineffective, corrupt or simply "bad" government might think there was no one to hold them accountable on human rights, but under this law the government of the corporation's home country would be obliged to monitor its operations.

I have given but a very fragmented sketch of Ms Robinson's hour-long talk. Much of it I've forgotten, much of it was personal and anecdotal (including a dig at Lady Thatcher), and anyway my aim was never to give you an account of the talk but only to highlight the thoughts it set off in my mind.

I can imagine many cynical people of the Left persuasion lambasting her (and my description of her talk) for being basically pro-business and pro-capitalist (she certainly spoke of former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, who endowed the IAS lecture hall, as a "friend").

I can think of even more people of the Right persuasion saying what is needed in the world right now is not some sissy human-rights crap like this but a muscular leadership and a "universal moral clarity between good and evil" (words of the great philosopher George W. Bush).

And I can hear a third camp who see themselves being neither strongly Left nor Right, but who will simply point out that the United Nations is a tired and ineffective body that produces earnest pamphlets but little else. I admit that I have in the past occasionally sided with this camp.

Well all I can say is, we should all care about human rights, and perhaps earnest pamphlets are a good start in making us think about this subject. On behalf of Ms Robinson I'll ask you now to please read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by clicking on the link above. She would also like you to carry around the declaration and implement it in your own company, institution, country, or whatever.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My father and "The Loose Hinges"

I had briefly blogged about my father on his most recent death anniversary. The posting is here. At the time my friend Ananth had very kindly suggested I write more about him. Well today I was reminded of my father by a chance event - listening to old Simon and Garfunkel songs on my MP3 player as I strolled around IAS Princeton on a freezing cold autumn evening. So here goes.

To go back to the beginning - at the age of 12, I suddenly developed a passion for Indian classical music. And started taking sitar lessons. Around the same time my father (who had only ever listened to Western Classical before that) developed the identical passion. His way of enjoying music was to pick one record that he really liked and listen to it morning, noon and night until the rest of us could take it no more and there would be an official family protest. His first record in this genre was a sitar-and-shehnai duet by Vilayat Khan and Bismillah Khan. It's a true classic, indeed one of the finest recordings ever in Indian Classical music, though after being subjected to it day and night by my father I really can't listen to it any more...

Now, at age 14 I developed another passion, this time for rock music. It started harmlessly enough with Simon and Garfunkel, but within months I was listening to Led Zeppelin at full volume, and the peace and quiet of the house was shattered forever. Surprisingly this passion did not conflict with my previous one for Indian music, both interests survived and grew independently. Well actually there was one conflict I remember - my sitar teacher once entered our house at a moment when Robert Plant was screaming his lungs out... those were days when Robert Plant still had lungs... "Keep it coolin', baby, WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO"! And I can remember the shock on my sitar teacher's face - I was very embarrassed indeed.

Back to my father. He was aghast at my interest in rock music and kept hoping it would pass. But it didn't pass, and forced itself on his attention. The first thing I remember hearing in his presence was the live album "Get Yer Ya Ya's Out" by the Rolling Stones. At some point he gave me a withering look and said "all the songs sound exactly the same" (in retrospect, he had a point). But another time I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel's epic album "Bridge Over Troubled Water" - exactly what I was also hearing today, which sparked off this reminiscence. The song playing then was "Cecilia", and the line was "I got up to wash my face, when I come back to bed someone's taken my place". At this my father laughed uproariously. "Poor fellow!!" he said with considerable feeling.

But the group that really annoyed him, probably because of Jim Morrison's drunken howling, was The Doors. One day when I had been listening to them for a while, my father stormed into the room and said angrily "Why don't they just call themselves "The Loose Hinges"??

Monday, October 20, 2008

"I hear he's an Arab"

Here is an incident, by now old-hat in the US, which readers of this blog might find interesting if they haven't heard about it already.

At a McCain rally, an elderly woman supporter refers to Obama with fear in her voice: "I hear he's a.. he's a... he's an Arab". And McCain responds "No ma'am, he's a decent family man."

Here's the video.

Now on watching this I actually felt a pang of sympathy for the poor woman - she was ignorant and afraid. I even felt a (smaller) pang of sympathy for McCain, whose innate decency prevailed and who actually believed he was defending his opponent's values.

One feels less sympathy though, for the endemic, institutionalised bigotry in this country. Barack Obama has not even been able to respond to comments about his middle name "Husein" in the only way that would be civilised - yes, that's my middle name, and it's a Muslim name, and I'm not ashamed of it. To say this in America would, alas, be the end of his election campaign.

So what else is new, and why am I bothering to state the obvious? I really don't know.

P.S. Yesterday in this speech Colin Powell delivered a ringing endorsement of Obama that is being called the "Nail in the Coffin" for the Republican campaign. Interestingly in the opening minutes of this excerpt he addresses head-on the issue of Republicans implying there's something wrong with being an Arab or a Muslim in America.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Finally, a research institute in a university campus

For those who care about Indian science and who haven't already heard the news, I must share with you this link from the Times of India, Hyderabad. It informs us that TIFR is to set up a second campus in Hyderabad, within the campus of Hyderabad Central University. (Thanks to Raju Bathija for sending me the link while I'm away in Obama-McCain-land).

In general I feel constrained not to blog about anything that I know only by virtue of being a TIFR faculty member, and certainly about faculty meetings, but as this information is now in the papers I can freely point you to it.

In the course of previous discussions on this blog, the idea had come up that a good way to integrate high-level research with teaching in India was to connect research institutes and university departments. A detailed form of this idea can be found on the blog of Rahul Basu. While there can be some variations on the theme, one key factor is physical proximity - with the research institute ideally being placed within or adjacent to the campus of the University. This seems like the right way to get researchers to interact more with university students and be involved in teaching them, while retaining the structures that are essential to a high-quality research programme.

So here it is. I personally think the TIFR second campus idea is a fantastic one and I very much hope it will fulfil this ideal and set a new trend.

How different are Obama and McCain?

Though Barack Obama and John McCain are projected as polar opposites, I sometimes wonder. It's pretty astonishing on how many issues they actually agree. In some, Obama has taken a traditionally Republican position while in others, McCain has taken a traditionally Democrat position. Here are some examples:

(i) Capital punishment. Both candidates favour the death penalty.
(ii) Foreign affairs. Both candidates are suspicious about the impact of China's economic rise.
(iii) Environment. Both believe global warming is a problem.
(iv) Same-sex issues. Both support same-sex civil unions and both oppose gay marriage.
(v) Foreign affairs again. Both believe in imposing sanctions on Iran.
(vi) Science. Both support embryonic stem cell research.
(vii) Guantanamo. Both support closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Then again, they differ sharply on some issues. McCain opposes universal health care while Obama feels health care is a "right". They differ on gun control, on various aspects of the economy, and on the Iraq war which McCain supports and Obama has consistently opposed. Also Obama supports increasing the minimum wage.

But for me the most striking was not a political but a personal piece of data: their heroes. John McCain lists as his hero Theodore Roosevelt, who may have been a great U.S. President but was also an unabashed racist. To him is due the following quote about Native Americans: "I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth." Charming person, this Teddy! (and by the way, teddy bears are named after him, not because he was cute, but because he supposedly refused to shoot a captive bear on a hunting trip).

And who are Obama's heroes? Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Cesar Chavez.

Case closed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Decline and Fall

There is a feeling among a small number of intellectual types in the US that the country as a whole is in a state of decline. The arguments advanced are on these lines: the country is no longer a producer of goods, its economy is a wreck (this one is hard to dispute!), its deficit is gigantic, its people have become apathetic and lack a minimum awareness, and it is over-reaching itself by fighting numerous pointless or at least "end-less" wars around the planet. This article by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd makes explicit the comparison to ancient Rome. I should warn you, though, that part of the article is in Latin (well, a sort of Latin!).

A lot of people around the world might see a kind of justice in this downfall, but before rejoicing breaks out, I would like to sound a cautionary note. The USA that will decline, if it does decline, is not only the USA of global oil (and other) wars, of non-cooperation with the United Nations, and of awesome levels of consumption and consequent environmental damage. It is also the USA with a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic makeup where foreigners could settle down and participate (think of Indians in Silicon Valley) at levels unheard of in the rest of the world. It is the USA that harnessed phenomenal levels of creativity through the twentieth century and conceived most of the gadgets that make up our lives today. Just about everything we recognise as modern, from the light bulb to the laptop computer, was first made there (it's a different matter that the inventor of the laptop, Adam Osborne, actually spent his childhood in Tiruvannamalai and died in Kodaikanal!). Even when innovations originated in different countries like Japan, France and UK, the mass-marketed version would be realised in the USA and this is perhaps the reason why the laptop computer today costs not 20,000 dollars but 500 dollars.

Considering also the great American painters, writers, scientists and musicians that we all know and love, such a decline and fall would be a huge wrench for any cultured person around the world.

But, as I'm sure people will point out, the results may not be altogether tragic. In the event of such a decline and fall (IF it happens), the "centre of the world" will merely migrate elsewhere. There are already jokes about young Americans learning Mandarin Chinese so they can seek jobs in one of the rising economies! And there is some sort of precedent - it was after World War II that many Europeans migrated to the US, some because of persecution but many more simply because their countries were wrecked. At that time the leading language of science, for example, switched from German to English. And science did very well after the change - the great European discoveries of the early twentieth century were built upon to make up the great American discoveries of the late twentieth century. So the moral would be: countries come and go, but humanity - and creativity - survive.

And yet there is something that makes me uneasy. According to the critics, the fundamental reasons for the USA's possible decline are: ignorance, apathy, greed and an overreaching sense of self-importance stemming from being the world's only superpower. This is certainly what happened to ancient Rome. So if and when China and India become superpowers, will we also go through the same cycle? Will it start out with exuberance, abundance, a rise in the standard of living, and then end within a century in greed and unbridled aggression? If so, is there something we can do to change this prophesy of doom? The answer, it seems to me, is to make everyone study history - for as the philosopher Santayana put it, "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it".

So I think that, at least in India, everyone who is cheering for us to become a superpower has the solemn patriotic duty to inculcate the study of history in every single citizen.

Throughout this article I've left it open whether I personally think the US is declining. Maybe it isn't, and then this article would be pointless. But then if you watch this video on You Tube, I promise you will really really start to worry!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Good and evil, the battle continues

Here in America I am struck on a daily basis by the clear, objective distinction between "good" and "evil" that appears to exist in everyone's mind. I myself am a wicked unbeliever in this distinction. I could be considered guilty of "moral relativism", which as Wikipedia helpfully tells us, is "the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances".

I don't want to go on about this at length today, being slightly obsessed with a research problem in string theory that I'm working on. But let me give an example that confuses me. There are two contenders to be the next President of the US. Each is good according to his supporters and evil according to the supporters of the other one. On Tuesday night I watched with some bemusement as they debated each other on TV. There were many differences of opinion between them and these will presumably be important in determining the result of the election. But they also had some views in common and these are the ones I'd like to focus on here.

To quote Senator McCain:

"America is the greatest force for good in the history of the world. ... we have gone to all four corners of the Earth and shed American blood in defense, usually, of somebody else's freedom and our own. So we are peacemakers and we're peacekeepers."

To quote Senator Obama:

"Now, Sen. McCain and I do agree, this is the greatest nation on earth. We are a force of good in the world."

Now you can click on this link to the New York Times website to view a video of Mr Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, talking to New York Times reporters. The reporters described him as "soft-spoken but insistent, and often evasive specially on domestic issues such as .. the Iranian economy".

Digression: With appropriate substitutions the above could be a description of McCain! And there are other similarities. Mr Ahmadinejad once said "this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e eshghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad)" (this is again from Wikipedia, the English translation being credited to a professor at the University of Michigan). The interpretation popular in the US is that he said Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth, which he denies (the above translation supports his denial). Mr McCain once sang "Bomb bomb bomb Iran", to the tune of a Beach Boys song. The interpretation popular in the US is that he was joking. In an interview McCain was asked if he was proud of what he did and he said "yes".

Back to my main point. Surprisingly, Mr Ahmadinejad does not agree with either McCain's or Obama's world view, and fails to see the point that "America is the greatest force for good"! Indeed he points out that "the U.S. government has good relations with countries that have the atomic bomb, and bad relations with countries like us who are simply pursuing peaceful nuclear energy". He also accuses America of "creating an unstable world", by attacking the countries on either side of Iran.

Now I don't think Mr Ahmadinejad or Mr McCain (or Mr Obama if it comes to that) completely shares my personal values and I doubt I would vote for any of them if they were standing for election in my country (unless the alternative was Mr Advani, only joking ha ha!!). So I bring them up here only to point out how moral issues can be seen so differently by different people. All this leaves me so confused that I remain trapped in my moral relativism.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Heavenly outsourcing

As we know, much of the USA is extremely religious - and not just in a contemplative, spiritual sense but in a very aggressive, God-and-bible-are-the-literal-truth sense. One would be hard put to distinguish an American religious fundamentalist from his or her counterpart in other countries that are more commonly considered fundamentalist.

But the US is also a liberal democracy and there's a small but accepted tradition of taking potshots at God. The latest in this trend appears to be a movie called "Religulous" (=Religion+Ridiculous) that releases in the US today, to mixed reviews (but no mob violence, please note).

In the meanwhile I wanted to share with you something quite hilarious that I got off the website "" which is linked from the Religulous website. It's a take-off on an opinion poll, with the question:

"What if God is busy, and your prayers are being answered by some guy in Bombay?"

The allowed answers are:

(i) Then you should be prepared to wait a very long time before your prayer is answered.

(ii) Hope that the guy in Bombay has a good working knowledge of currency exchange rates before you make the big ask.

(iii) If America can outsource, so can Heaven.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

This rule is enforced

Last night I hopped on a flight to Newark (variously pronounced by the staff in Mumbai as "Nay-vark" and even "Nee-vark"). I have to say that a 15-hour nonstop flight is a remarkably good way to get here, even if the airline is Continental and the food ghastly (those who are curious to know how an omelette tastes after it has been cooked for 12 hours will find an opportunity here).

What struck me on arriving in the US, was the fact that this is a country where the law reigns supreme. The post-landing announcement stated "you may use your mobile phones at this time. However once you exit the plane, the use of mobiles is forbidden in the immigration and baggage areas." And then came a chilling coda: "This rule is enforced".

So here's a quiz question: how does a bunch of Indians who have just come over from India and moreover have been denied mobile usage for 16 long hours, react when told not to use their mobile phones AND ALSO told that the rule is enforced? Well, like perfectly rational people. Not a single person was seen using their mobile after exiting the plane.

Now a flash back, if you permit, to the day before yesterday. I'm at my gym in Bombay. As I start my workout, a young woman (possessing a nose like a medieval dagger, but that's not essential to the story) gets on to a treadmill and proceeds to talk. She talks on her mobile phone (it's a rule of the gym that clients must not use their mobile phones or disturb others). Then she talks to her trainer. Then she talks to the person on the next treadmill. Then she wanders around the gym looking for people to talk to. Her voice is piercing and she talks nonstop. She has seen me glaring at her, but she doesn't give a flying f**k.

But were Ms Dagger-nose placed in the baggage area of Newark Liberty airport, she would miraculously shed her inconsideration and button her lip. It's so simple! When rules are enforced, people don't break them. In fact people start to respect them.

Another flashback, to the streets of now-faraway Bombay. The city has rules about how one is (and is not) supposed to drive one's car, how pedestrians may (and may not) cross the street, where one can (and cannot) park one's car, where one should (and should not) spit. But alas, there's a huge metaphorical banner hanging over the city saying "This rule is not enforced". And that's that.

None of these rules needs to be enforced in a draconian way, but enforcing them firmly yet mildly would make life in the city better for everyone. It might become possible to stroll around without being honked at and spat upon. It might become possible to drive and not have to dodge a pedestrian running straight into your path. The imagination boggles.

It's commonly asserted that it is simply not in the character of Indians to be disciplined, but it's clear now that this isn't where the the fault lies. The authorities simply need to demonstrate (without any show of aggression) that they mean business. Just say in a convincing manner "this rule is enforced", and people will fall into line.

It's true that drunk drivers in Bombay are being regularly put away in jail, a good - though rare - example of a rule that's being enforced. But the campaign against drunk driving started only after the situation turned critical - drunk drivers had started to kill people by the dozen. For the rest, the Bombay police periodically start campaigns that are either short-lived - like "no-honking day" which was a great success but was promptly forgotten from the next day onwards - or plain stupid like the threat to stop people listening to their car radio, which was, fortunately, withdrawn before it could be implemented!

I bring all this up in order to suggest that enforcement in a mild but consistent way, of mild but consistent laws, would be a great leap forward for our country. I realise that corruption of our police force is a major obstacle, but at least I'm sure now that the indiscipline allegedly built in to our culture is not the problem.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vegetarian caviar is also served

Today I feel like ranting at something totally inconsequential (what else do I ever do, someone is surely asking). Political events these days are way too depressing.

My eye was caught by the following item in the Hindustan Times's supplement for the intellectually challenged, "HT Cafe". It said "xxx Lounge Bar at yyy Hotel is hosting a month long caviar promotion. Guests can indulge in high grade caviar with fine vodka." And then comes the punch line: "Vegetarian caviar is also served to customise the delicacy to Indian tastes".

As customisation goes, this is a classic. Caviar, as everyone hopefully knows, is pickled fish eggs. So what is vegetarian caviar? This, it turns out, is made from algae, and the customisation was done in the West, not at all for Indian tastes. Indeed I doubt there are too many Indian vegetarians who will go for its fishy flavour. It's the vegetarian movement in the West, which boasts pork-sausage look-alikes (and taste-alikes to a surprising degree) made from soybeans, that seems hell-bent on imitating meat products and this appears to be their latest invention.

But imitation is becoming the game in India too. If there is tandoori chicken, there is also tandoori veg. If there are steak sizzlers, there are also veg sizzlers. If mutton rogan josh, vindaloo and korma are the originals, then veg rogan josh, vindaloo and korma are the imitations. In fact airlines in India have perfected the notion - whenever they offer "bashed chicken parts in unseemly gravy" they invariably offer the same dish with "veg" in place of "chicken". I suspect archaeologists of the future will deduce that a strange animal called "veg" roamed our land, and that it tasted surprisingly like a combination of mashed potato, peas, carrots, beans, dozens of spices and truckloads of oil!

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Well Japan left me speechless. I thought it would be so easy to blog about. It is such a singular country, so unique in a million ways - and yet on this short visit - my fifth or sixth - I didn't have anything concrete to say. Some days after getting back home I seem to be finding my voice again.

The thing is, Japan is at the opposite end of the spectrum from India in almost every way. The comparisons favourable to Japan are easy: where India is poor, Japan is rich; where India is dirty, Japan is the cleanest society on earth; where Indians lack discipline, the Japanese are utterly self-disciplined. In fact my biggest fear, as an Indian in Japan, is of coming across as boorish or rude. There is no chance a Japanese will ever jump a queue or push you out of the way. But there is every chance I will fail to return a bow or a smile and thereby upset these gentle, courteous people.

Returning to earth is a shock - reaching a departure gate for a flight bound for India, you get an elbow stuck in your side by someone who wants to get on your flight before you (and would cheerfully take his seat to India faster if he could bribe a cop, leaving your seat to fall into the sea if that were necessary to achieve his goal).

In my case, I returned to earth via Hongkong, an interesting mid-point between Japan and India. The airport is swanky and the shopping spectacular, but the racist staff at the shops make no secret of the fact that in their view the only good Indian is a dead Indian (to quote the charming Theodore Roosevelt, who was speaking about different "Indians"). But one should not get sidetracked here - Hongkong is not important in any sense that I can think of, but Japan and India are, and what I want to know is - where is the cosmic balance? Do we Indians have any redeeming features compared to the Japanese? What is our purpose on this earth?

And for once, at the peak of my middle-aged despair about my own country, I begin to see the point. Precisely the things lacking in Japan are to be found in India. Even when the weather in Tokyo is hot and humid (as it was last week), the environment is chilly - all glass and steel and manicured shrubs. Post-monsoon Bombay may be damp and soggy but it is exuberantly green and - let's face it - shrubs do not wish to be manicured. They want to sprout, to grow, to thrust themselves on your attention and say "here I am - a shrub, maybe, but one with a healthy appetite and sex drive". And perhaps this vulgar phrase says it all. India is where lust (for life and everything that goes with it) is unfettered, where layers of fat are un-restrained, where prejudice and affection are so mixed that we can rarely state our opinions with precision.

Yes we are boorish, but in many ways innocently so. The person who elbows you at the airport will say with a straight face "sorry uncle, I didn't even see you!" and instead of slapping this little upstart you will be lulled into believing him.

Meanwhile back in Japan - one small incident sticks in my mind. By asking successive bus drivers and using "sumimasen" (Japanese for "excuse me") repeatedly, I got closer and closer to my goal of locating the bus for Tokyo University's Kashiwa campus from Kashiwa station. But the last driver frustrated me totally. She just would not gesture. She understood dimly that I was not following her speech, but she would not use any kind of sign language. An hour later (after returning to my hotel in defeat and having the entire staff apologise to me for Japan's failure to help me find my bus) I learned that she had been telling me to take bus number 1, not number 2 which she was driving, from the very same stop. How hard is it to explain that to someone with your hands?

If the fate of the world depended on sign language (and some day it might come to that), Indians and Italians would inherit the earth and the Japanese would perish. And the Hongkongese would, I suppose, be left with only their duty free shops.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The times they are a'changing

For a middle-class Indian, travelling on a foreign airline used to be the height of luxury - in the 1970's and 80's on the rare occasions one got to travel abroad (e.g. for a conference) one looked forward to the spanking new planes, delicately prepared food, elegant service and the occasional (in economy class) freebie like face masks or socks.

Well the tables have certainly turned. This year I've made two international trips on India's Jet Airways which proved excellent on all counts, specially the friendly, cheerful staff and the excellently fitted - and surprisingly spacious - economy class cabins. Then yesterday, I came from Bombay to Tokyo on Cathay Pacific - once famed for being among the world's best airlines. What a disappointment! Creaky planes, badly designed seats (if the person in front chose to recline, their seat back would practically hit you in the face) mediocre staff, no power sockets for laptops, poor quality video screens...

In fact I'm pretty sure Jet provides the best economy-class flying experience in the world today (Kingfisher fans will contest this, but that is also an Indian airline so we won't argue). By contrast, Cathay is right down there among the worst, along with other notables like Northwest, Continental, Delta... From personal experience I can also vouch that Swiss is a pathetic shadow of the defunct Swissair, and Air Canada is unspeakable. I'm not sure where Air India stands, but they are upgrading their fleet and could easily get up near the top given there's little competition left.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What else should a crackpot be called?

I was wandering through the blogosphere, curious to find out what physicist-bloggers elsewhere had to say about the so-called "end of the world". On the excellent blog "Cosmic Variance" I found an article by Mark Trodden: Calling a Crackpot a Crackpot which I strongly recommend. Many of the comments on his posting are also very good (No.14, suggesting we serve a restraining order on the sun, is particularly hilarious).

The above paragraph is hopefully my final posting on this topic. Otherwise I would be guilty of suggesting (I might be guilty of that already) that there really is a debate between qualified scientists on this issue, which there is not.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

End of the world?

I received the following very nicely worded email today, which I am posting along with my response:

Dear Prof. Mukhi,

I am Sribharath Kainkaryam, an undergraduate student studying Geophysics. I am a keen follower of your blog and your work for non-physicists in general.

I have a few doubts which I kindly ask you to clarify in the form of a post on your blog. I hope it is not too much to ask for!

On reading this article, I am more and more intrigued. Is there any basis for these critics to allege that the world is coming to an "end"? Could you please clarify it either by mail/blog post or send a link to an expository article that you might have authored.

Thank you.




Dear Sribharath,

Thanks for your mail. It's nice that you have sought information - I wish others, specially journalists, would do the same!

The Large Hadron Collider is a machine that will send protons whirling round and round in its tunnel and accelerate them until they have enormous kinetic energy, amounting to 5 Tera Electron-volts or TeV (later to be upgraded to 7 TeV). There will be two beams, one circulating clockwise and the other anti-clockwise, each with this energy. They will normally not meet each other, but will instead accelerate separately. Whenever an experiment is to be performed the accelerated beams will be diverted slightly into each others' path and made to collide.

The result of the collisions between these small particles, is a bunch of other particles which will spray out from the collision and pass through detectors. By recording what goes through the detectors, and using sophisticated computers, scientists will determine what particles were produced and at what energies and angles. From this it is in principle possible to reconstruct the laws that apply to fundamental particle interactions. This is the goal of LHC.

LHC is not the first particle accelerator, nor are the laws for fundamental particle interactions unknown to us. Indeed, most of what will be produced by colliding protons is perfectly well known. Moreover, hadron colliders have been around for a long time, the first one (ISR) was built at CERN in 1971 and operated for fourteen years. So the only new thing is the energy that the present collider will reach. Even that is not such a major step, for the last hadron collider (the Tevatron, operational at Fermilab in the US since 1992) reached nearly 1 TeV per beam. In short, what is going to happen at LHC is a logical continuation of experiments that have been going on for decades. The real excitement in science is that we believe new particles, never seen in an experiment before, could be produced. We hoped that about Tevatron too, and it produced a notable one (the "top" quark) but not many others that we were hoping to see.

The claim that LHC poses a risk to the world is not based on the "normal" new particles that scientists hope to see (Higgs, superparticles...) but on something a little different. In the last decade, theorists have proposed an apparently outlandish scenario in which the energy scale required for gravitational effects to be relevant is lower than previously thought and may be accessed at LHC (so far gravitational effects have been totally irrelevant for particle physics). In this scenario there is the possibility that small black holes may be produced. If that happens, there should still be nothing to worry about, for such black holes would decay and that would be that.

The problem is if they fail to decay. In that case, they could "accrete" matter and, without further analysis, there is the risk that this process will pose a threat to the earth. In a detailed scientific analysis (a 96-page paper available here) two excellent physicists, Giddings and Mangano, have analysed this possibility. Their conclusions are that (i) the possibility that such black holes are stable and neutral is extremely unlikely according to known results in physics (besides the low likelihood of their existing at this energy scale in the first place), (ii) assuming all the standard analyses are wrong for some reason and that stable, neutral TeV-scale black holes can exist, such black holes would already have been produced in cosmic rays. This would produce effects which are in contradiction with known observations in astrophysics. Their conclusion is that if such black holes did have any visible effect on the earth, the time scale for this to happen would be longer than the sun's lifetime which is about 5 billion years.

I know both scientists who authored this study personally and find their result quite convincing. Whatever counter-arguments have been made (mostly by non-scientists or unqualified scientists) do not seem to be convincing. In any case it is not I, but the responsible experimenters at CERN, who need to be convinced that it is safe, and they are clearly convinced of that.

By the way, I know it's not much of a consolation, but even the predicted "end of the world" is not really scheduled for September 10. All that will happen on that day is that a single proton beam will circulate in LHC in one direction. The first collisions are scheduled for late October as far as I know. This is a minor point, but please notice how blissfully the Times of India is unaware of even this basic fact!!

Fast car

This morning, it being a Sunday, I was driving to Colaba market to buy prawns. On the way, a red Ferrari pulled out in front of me. I'm quite a car freak, so at the traffic light I pulled alongside and stared at this stunning piece of machinery. The car was being driven by an elderly chauffeur and next to him was a young boy of about 10. Since the car had pulled out of the Ambani building, I assume this was a young Ambani. He saw me staring and gave me a cold look that said "I'm in a Ferrari, and you're not". I returned his look with one of my own that said "I have friends, and you don't".

This was temporarily satisfying, but then there are also days when I'd be tempted to give up my friends to little Ambani in exchange for his Ferrari! He may contact me if interested.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

My father's day

I don't post too often about my personal life on this blog, but today I would like to make an exception.

It is my father's 32nd death anniversary - he passed away on September 6, 1976 at the relatively young age of 58. Last year I put together a webpage about him, linked through my homepage. So today, in his memory, I would like to direct my readers - even if there are only one or two - to that webpage.

I've been thinking about him a lot today and have begun to realise that his profoundest legacy to me was the concept of "following principles". But more about that another time.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Revival of a language

धिस इझ व्हौट मच ऑफ बॉम्बे लुक्स लाईक दीज़ डेज़ऑल शॉप्स हैव गौट मराठी साईन्ज़वन फील्ज़ हैप्पी दैट लैंग्वेज इज बीन्ग प्रिज़र्व्ड! फ्रॉम "बेचलर्स" आईसक्रीम टू "गैस सिलीन्डर्ज़", "टैक्स्टाइल्ज़" एंड अफ कोर्स "फास्ट फ़ूड", ऑल धीज़ आर नाओ क्लिअर्ली एक्सप्रेस्ड इन लोकल लैंग्वेज - विच इज फाइनली बीन्ग रिस्टोर्ड टू इट्स फौर्मर ग्रेट्नैस.

वी मस्ट गिव आर पौलीटिशन्स क्रेडिट फॉर दिस अचीवमेंट!

P.S. I regret not being able to express this posting in a form accessible to Devanagari-challenged readers, and hope they will forgive me this one time!

We only want the bad news

Most of us can think of a friend who frequently calls up with bad news. He had a setback in his job, his wife has a back problem and their daughter was too sick to appear for her exams. You sympathise. You worry about them. Maybe you send over a little present to cheer them up. Then months later, you learn from a common friend that he got a new job at twice the salary, his wife staged a recovery through yoga and now attends dance classes, and the daughter went on to win prizes at school. But somehow, this friend "forgot" to tell you any of that! He shares the bad news, but not the good.

Some people are particularly prone to this kind of behaviour, but overall that's human nature for you. I was reminded of this when I went to Bangalore a couple of days ago. The new airport is a disaster, and there are no roads to connect it to the city, so it will take you three hours to get anywhere - or so my friends assured me. I could remember newspaper reports on these lines and was quite concerned. But the reality was quite the opposite. What I encountered was a gleaming airport that's a pleasure to arrive in, and a highway on which (I timed it) we covered 29 of the 35 km towards Bangalore city in 35 minutes - on a Friday evening. That we got into immense traffic jams on entering the city is hardly the fault of the airport.

Perhaps there were glitches when it opened, but if the press ever highlighted the excellent terminal and smooth roads then I can't remember it. Actually I wasn't here for the last month, but no friend of mine could remember it either. We're all busy collecting the bad news and have little space in our minds for the good. What's the deep reason? I feel contemporary urban Indians are suffering a crisis of personal insecurity (despite, or because of, the fact that our country is poised to make major economic progress and perhaps eliminate its endemic poverty). Could it be that seeing negatives everywhere around makes us feel better about ourselves and alleviates this insecurity, at least temporarily?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hinduism is about spreading terror?

It's common nowadays to get forwarded mailings telling us how "Islamofascism" is taking over the world, or in other ways saying nasty things about Islamists and the threats they pose to world peace and security. While some of these mailings are downright slanderous in their attempt to malign entire communities and religions, other warnings are not entirely negligible and I'm sure all liberals have had occasion to worry about the increasing incompatibility between the liberal viewpoint and the political agenda of some Islamic leaders.

Trouble is, it's not only Islamic leaders we have to contend with. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad ("World Hindu Council") has as its slogan: "धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः", which loosely means "religion protects when protected". One of their principal goals is "To protect, promote and propagate Hindu values of life, the ethical and the spiritual in the context of modern times."

Well to protect, promote and propagate Hindu values of life, these charming people yesterday did the following. They burnt alive a paralytic woman aged 20. Please imagine her fate. She was in a house that was set on fire by VHP activists and being paralysed, could not move as the flames engulfed her.

Perhaps she was not the intended victim, but then the people killed in bomb blasts are also not intended victims! And the VHP must take responsibility for this killing, since they organised the violent protest during which it happened. Moreover as per news reports, "Many churches, prayer houses and other Christian institutions were attacked in Kandhamal, Bargarh, Koraput, Rayagada, Gajapati, Boudh, Sundargarh and Jajpur districts. At least two prayer houses were damaged in the capital city [of the state of Orissa]."

Now all this is said to have been in retaliation for the recent killing of a VHP leader in one of the above districts. And that's my point really. If in retaliation for a killing of a member of my group, I kill innocent, poor and handicapped people and attack their places of worship, am I propagating "Hindu values of life, the ethical and the spiritual"?

Herein lies a conundrum for the VHP. If the answer to my question is "no", then they need to explain why they failed to propagate the desired Hindu values of life among their followers (who surely must learn the said values, otherwise how can they propagate them?). Remember that the Chandogya Upanishad - apparently not on the daily reading list of all VHP members - bars violence against all creatures and mentions ahimsa (non-violence) as one of five essential virtues.

Alternatively if the propagation of "Hindu values of life, the ethical and the spiritual" has come to mean burning paralytic women alive and pillaging poor villages, then let us all be aware that some kind of terrorists are attempting to run our religion too.

P.S. I can't help adding that every time this happens, the apologists for this kind of fake-Hindu organisation tell me "what are we supposed to do when our religion is under attack?". It's sad if they are unable to figure out the answer to that question from the texts of the religion they claim to follow. They should go back and study it better.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Geneva? You can't get there from here!

Well I'm back from France and all I can say is, I miss France a lot. I did complain about people there in a previous blog, but have to admit that much of what I encountered was probably due to my own discomfort in a new place. As time passed, people became much more friendly and - unless there was a special campaign in France to be nice to Sunil Mukhi (which even in my megalomanic moments I very much doubt) - this must be because I became more used to the place, and more normal in my interactions with people. I wonder if this is how things work when people in a new place feel they are being treated in a racist manner (something I did not complain of, by the way). One is awkward in a new place and then the responses are equally awkward and one feels people are trying consciously not to be nice.

Having in some way backed off from my comments about the French, I must reiterate that Geneva airport remains a strange place (as I mentioned in another blog posting). I arrived there for my departure early last Saturday morning. The thing is, having rented a car from the French side, I had to return it on the French side. I thought I would stroll over to the Swiss side inside the airport, the reverse of what I had done on arrival. But no, this is not reversible. To catch a plane from the French side of Geneva airport, you have to check in on the French side (this can be done for all flights). Then with boarding pass in hand you go through a door to the departure area on the Swiss side.

Thing is, that door was locked! And a bunch of disconsolate passengers were sitting around at 6 AM waiting for the "door to Switzerland" to open. Here started the fun. I had waited just ten minutes but some passengers were about to miss their flights and started to create a fuss. Within a few minutes it was total pandemonium. French authorities, from check-in staff to security, were milling about and yelling at each other. Turned out the Swiss had omitted to hand over a key to their country (whose departure lounge we could see through a glass door) to the French! Just the sort of thing they would do! But more surprisingly, they themselves had failed to show up early in the morning and open their door.

The French security guard angrily informed us passengers (as though it were our fault) that he could not, and would not, open that door. Passengers shouted (in half a dozen languages) "I'm going to miss my flight!". The check-in staff revealed that Swiss security were not answering their phone. I still had some time before I would miss my own flight, and was frankly enjoying what appeared to be a complete "third-world situation". I wondered which passenger would be the first to try smashing down the glass door.

Then out of nowhere a blue-uniformed gent appeared, unlocked the door, and waved us in. But the story doesn't end here. A European-looking woman asked me in English "is this the way to Geneva"? I pointed out that we were, at least in a technical sense, in Geneva. She said "yes, and I live there, but as a volunteer for an organisation that helps blind people, I came over to the French side to help some passengers and for an hour I've been waiting to go back!". Later I saw her pleading with Swiss security to let her out of the airport so she could go home. But they were unrelenting. I don't know if she ever made it, as the guard appeared to be telling her "Geneva? You can't get there from here".

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Coolest place on earth

I've not blogged for over a week because life has been getting busy here at CERN. The buildup to the Strings 2008 conference kept me rather occupied. Alas my attempt to go down into the LHC tunnel (with the help of Indian experimentalists working at one of the detectors) narrowly failed because it's now officially closed to visitors.

The Strings 2008 conference had - unusually for a Strings conference, but understandably given the location - an entire session devoted to the LHC, yesterday afternoon. In three successive talks we learned about the design and construction of the machine, the design and construction of the detectors and the new physics that we anticipate learning about once the machine starts taking data.

One striking fact is that because such strong magnets need to be superconducting to function, the insides of the LHC are cooled to 1.9 Kelvin. That's not just colder than anywhere on earth - it is actually colder than outer space! That's because (for those readers not familiar with physics) the entire universe is at a minimum temperature of 2.7 Kelvin, the temperature of the so-called Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation found everywhere and believed to be the residue of the Big Bang in which the universe originated.

Now there are certainly laboratories where much colder temperatures than 1.9 Kelvin are achieved (it's hard to be "much colder" than 1.9K since one can't go below absolute zero, but in this range tiny changes make a big difference on physics). The world record as far as I know is 100 picoKelvin or a ten-billionth part of a Kelvin above zero.

However the LHC isn't just a very very cold little box in the lab, but achieves its temperature over its entire 27 kilometre circumference. That certainly makes it unique and CERN's media-savvy publicists now describe the laboratory as "the coolest place on earth".

As for the functioning of the machine - last week a test beam was sent around one-eighth of the ring, approximately 3 km, and we were told that it worked on the first shot. On September 10 a test beam will be sent all the way around (I mentioned this in a previous posting "LH but no C", but now the date is known). Finally the first collisions will take place after the official inauguration, which is to be accompanied by huge fanfare and loads of European politicians, on October 21 2008.

As a tailpiece - in the last three weeks I've heard countless "scenarios" about what the LHC will find, and every speaker has had an item like "Totally unexpected result" as one of the possibilities. Obviously they don't spend much time on this item as - by definition - there isn't anything to say about it. But this raises a new question - or perhaps meta-question. Will the LHC find any of the wide spectrum of phenomena that has been predicted, or something that all the theorists somehow missed? I feel this can have a major impact on the enterprise of theoretical physics - at least that part of it that deals with regimes of energy not yet subjected to experiment.

Either it's good to keep working on theories and hope experiments will later vindicate them, or else we humans lack the ability to make progress without experiment as a guide. Clearly the former possibility will please theorists and the latter one will please experimentalists. I wonder if the LHC will (at least in particle physics) tilt the balance in one direction or the other.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Large Hadron Rap

I guess many people know about it already - I first got to hear of it a couple of days ago from Rahul Basu in Chennai - despite the fact that I'm sitting physically above the LHC at this moment and he's not! It seems to have finally percolated into the CERN theory division yesterday.

So without further ado - drop whatever you're doing, throw your colleagues out of your office (or wear earphones) and click on this:

Large Hadron Rap (on YouTube).