Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Indian politicians SHOULD learn from Bush.

That anybody can learn anything from George Bush is an outrageous suggestion to many today. When "Economist" endorsed Kerry in 2004 the cover was "Incompetent (Bush) Vs Incomprehensible(Kerry)". Without going into justifiable complaints on Bush today I shall focus on a totally different side of Bush.

Ever since Obama and McCain became the presumptive-nominees of their respective parties Bush opened up his administration to establish communications with both. Given the unprecedented economic catastrophe, the 2 wars, a precarious security situation he felt compelled to help "whoever" wins way ahead of the election. He did this in a very non-partisan manner giving equal access to Obama and McCain. Note that during the primaries and even as this was happening Obama was savaging Bush in his stump speeches.

Today New YOrk Times ran an article on how Bush team is not just opening up to Obama but practically doing dry runs with the new team. Especially the homeland security team. Key passages merit a full quote:

"In addition to the White House contingency memorandums, the Department of Homeland Security said it had given crisis training to nearly 100 career officials who may fill in while Mr. Obama’s appointees await Senate confirmation. Starting before the election, those career workers have conducted exercises alongside departing political appointees to test their responses.
The administration has invited members of the Obama agency review teams to observe some of those so-called tabletop exercises between now and the inauguration, on Jan. 20. The Bush team has also invited Obama transition officials to attend a “national level exercise” set for Jan. 12 and 13 that may play out what would happen if the top leadership of the nation were wiped out in a single stroke, officials said.
At the same time, senior counterterrorism officials plan to hold personal briefings for their counterparts on the biggest threats they see. And the White House has drafted as many as three dozen other long-term policy memorandums outlining various pressing issues that will confront the new team and how Mr. Bush’s aides see the status of each of these issues as his presidency comes to a close."

One can argue endlessly about how Bush got us there in the first place but lets give him due appreciation. These are traits that every Indian poitician can learn but they never will because they are not Americans. Only a man who so loves his country above himself can do these, no Indian politician can match the least American on that.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dissent Iraqi style - Bush and a pair of shoes.

The world of Bush-haters, across the world, had a hearty moment watching him duck a shoe thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist (really, was he one?) during a press conference. Today CNN's Candy Crowley, one of the few objective reporters out there, interviewed Bush and this episode came up. Bush told Crowley, ""First of all, it's got to be one of the most weird moments of my presidency," he said. "Here I am, getting ready to answer questions from a free press in a democratic Iraq, and a guy stands up and throws his shoe. And it was bizarre, and it was an interesting way for a person to express himself".

While everybody jeered at Bush for being so unpopular what was lost in the melee was that the event was historic from a much grander perspective than for that silly theatrics. This was a press conference where journalists in a middle-eastern country stood up and asked questions to not just the American President, the putative leader of the Free World, they also could question their own Prime Minister. No other country in that region can boast of that. Ahmedinejad holds press meet to rant against the Great Satan and of course Israel none can question him, much less throw a shoe and get out alive.

This so called thug in a journalist clothing needs the Saddam treatment that he so loves. Abhu Graib, while shameful on American standards, was picnic compared to Iraqi methods of torture which had acid baths, electrocution, nail pulling, execution of family members and of course no imagination is needed for what was done to women. This thug was escorted out and is being charged in a court. This being Iraq, in a rare show of brotherhood Sunnis AND Shias are rejoicing at this together putting away their own civil war of mutual kidnaps and torture of each other. Now the favorite method of torture amongst them is using mechanized drill bits for drilling at soft spots. If this kind of protest was shown to anybody else in the middle eastern world then the consequences would not be pleasant to the dissenter. For this the dissenters can kiss Bush "thanks".

For those who retort, "oh well Bush killed so many, what do you expect". I tell them "Saddam, Assad, Stalin, Mao all did much worse and with no shred of good intentions and this could not be done to any of them much less live to tell the tale afterward".

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Conversation with A Syrian Muslim

Two days back I had to head to work at Jersey City and as per company policy I hired an executive cab. It was a crisis day at work. I normally strike up a conversation with the drivers, it is often interesting. This driver I learned was a Syrian Muslim and was very chatty. When we the talk veered to elections and eventually Bush he became animated. He let loose a tirade on the Bush years. Talking of 9/11 he repeated well known calumnies, a plot by CIA and Israel, US etc. He then curiously cited Michael Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" as offering proof. Moore, a veterate Bush hater, did not do that at all in the documentary. Then the cab driver went into full praise mode of Yasser Arafat. He seemed to be well read for a cabbie. I asked him about Arafat refusing to compromise on Jersusalem during Camp David talks. That was non-negotiable for a muslim he said. Arafat should not have negotiated peace with Rabin (both got a Nobel for that). Saddam had given security to his people compared to today's chaos. I asked him about women voting in elections in Iraq, a first in the entire Islamic middle east. He claimed the US had no right to impose Western style democracy.

This guy had emigrated from Syria in the 80's. It was during that time that Assad, President of Syria, obliterated an entire town of Sunni's killing 30,000 and torturing hundreds more. The tortures would make medieval European menthods appear quaint. Assad was of the Allawi sect. Those killed were Sunni's. The Sunni's, a minority in Iraq, returned the favor to Shia majority, under Saddam, a Sunni. The cabbie, living in US for 22 years, was proud of his business, he loves Bill Clinton, more importantly the prosperous years. Note that in the 90's when money was rolling in executive cabs like he has made a windfall ferrying not just executives but even mid level employees and consultants who stayed late after 8 PM. Remember those were the heady Y2K days when tech consultants laughed their way to the bank clocking devilish hours every day. It was never to be the same again after 9/11.

It is more than ironical that while enjoys the fruits of Western liberal democracy he does not like it being "imposed" elsewhere. Let the people make the choice he said. Kurds made that choice and learnt a bitter lesson in Halabja. By the way nobody tires of mentioning that US armed Saddam. Guess who armed theSyrians. It was Soviet T-62 tanks and MiG fighters that flattened Hama in Syria.

Now, for a moment I thought "well he is a Syrian Muslim, not surprisingly he thought thus". But I remembered books by white Americans, actor Martin Sheen, Professor Ward Churchill, an ex-colleague have all shared various views of this cabbie. His being a Muslim and emigrant lends itself to ready stereo typing but he is not alone.

I am reading Thomas Friedman's masterful "From Beirut to Jerusalem" and it provided some good backdrop of Syria, especially the massacre of the city of Hama by Assad. Many in India lionise Arafat, few know that Arafat was chased by one government after another of his own Muslim countries who saw him as trouble maker. The most famous chasing being from Jordan when the king cracked down on PLO. In fact many Palestinians settled in Jordan viewed him as upsetting a delicate balance and despised his faction ridden corrupt organisation. So much to share, let it wait for another day.

Hubris thy name is Obama

Barack Obama is on a roll these days with Bush being not just a duck but a lameduck as well. The media circus around transition is in full throttle. Being the new-age internet messiah we now have his campaign web site changed to, well what else, which is under the purview of the "office of the President elect" complete with US Presidential seal. Here is the inconvenient truth only government agencies can have websites with a ".gov" suffix, Barack and his team are not yet part of any government and the bigger rub is that there is no such thing as "Office of the President-elect". "President-elect" is only a symbolic title to differentiate one who is elected to be president from the sitting president. There is no "office of the President-elect".

On campign trail he once boasted thus, "I want to solve health care, lets get everybody around the table. Of course I will have the biggest chair as I will be President". During his acceptance speech at Democratic convention the hubris reached a new low point. The press exults in the self-characterisation by the Obama campaign that Obama is "no drama obama". Ofcourse the dig was at the fractious campaigns of McCain and Hillary which were supposed to have dramatic clashes. Mr No-Drama-Obama decided that he needs to be coronated in the backdrop of a Greek Colosseum replete with Grecian columns, then in the speech he delivered a new low-blow admiring his Michelle, "does she not look like a swell first lady". If McCain had delivered the same line the press would be chortling. Then again on his night of victory he swelled with pride telling his daughters "Sasha and Malia, you will get that puppy when we go to the White House". No Presidential candidate in history stooped so low in self-congratulatory tones.

Well this is the guy who during campaign had the arrogance to alter the US Seal of the President and put it in a banner on his table during an event. Many, including his own supporters laughed at the ridiculousness and his campaign blushed that that was meant for just one event and not to be used after.

When he picked Hillary as Secretary of State a reporter asked him to explain his evolution of thought from ridiculing Hillary's foreign policy experience as "having tea with ambassadors". Obama grinned and told the reporters that they are having fun quoting lines from a heated campaign. No further explanations just a disdainful brush. Campbell Brown of CNN pulled him up for that saying he has to "answer" questions not brush them aside. Ah! well if he can get this far without much answering why would he bother now.

Let us all strap on we are in for a ride.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

V.P.Singh -- Feet of Clay (1931 - 2008)

Vishwanath Pratap Singh (25 June 1931 - 27 November 2008), V.P.Singh, could not have chosen a worse moment to pass into oblivion. He died as a nation watched, benumbed, the unfolding terror drama in Mumbai, his death was practically unsung and unnoticed barring the unavoidable mention in a 1 column obituary and some belated editorials.

V.P.Singh had a reputation for unassailable integrity that Rajiv Gandhi, now middle-class hero and press darling christened 'Mr Clean', inducted him as Finance ministry. The budgets drawn by V.P.Singh were hailed the best after C.D.Deshmukh, the license-permit raj was dismantled block by block. However it was his "raid-raj" that catapulted him to fame or notoriety depending on how libertarian you are. Those were heady days of scandal. The irascible editor of Indian Express, Ram Nath Goenka, along with his crusading editor Arun Shourie and accountant Gurumurthy, formed a troika of tormentors of India's most powerful businessman Dhirubhai Ambani. Into this rich cast of backdrop V.P.Singh walked tall and fearless throwing the book at every erring businessman, finally shocking everyone by arresting much respected octogenarian S.L.Kirloskar. In a country where the law is structured in such a way that no one can be completely law abiding this was seen as sheer arrogance. Kirloskar's business empire employed thousands, created a town and finally but for India's laws would have been India's own Toyota (India:Midnight to millenium , Shashi Tharoor).

At a convenient moment Singh was transferred to the defence ministry. Indian army headed by much acclaimed Gen K.Sunderji had organised the then largest defence exercise "Operation Brasstacks", Pakistan was rattled and a game of brinkmanship ensued. In a nation of illiterates the sory of corruption, long accepted as the norm, broke to the front pages of newspapers about buying a cannon for the army. Rajiv, now erstwhile Mr Clean indulged in chicanery and political skullduggery that alienated just about everyone. Raids on Indian express, leaked reports of diaries of arms dealers, not a day went without something sensational. Rajiv finally dismissed Singh.

Discarded Singh became the reluctant messiah, the new Mr Clean. A by-election in Allahabad became a national event. Allahabad, ancestral town of Nehru's, carried a emotional quotient. Rajiv went all out, he had money, the government was his, no trick was too low to indulge. Arun Goyal, who portrayed Rama in Ramayan, appeared in full costume at Congress rallies and assured everyone of Rama's blessings if they voted for Congress candidate, Anil Shastri, son of Lal Bahadur Shastri who in turn was Singh's mentor. Not even the Bard could have written up such a political drama with Oedipal overtones. Singh, penniless, campaigned on a motorcycle and trounced Anil Shastri with over a lakh of votes difference. The political re-alignment that changed India forever began that night.

Singh and an unlikely motley crew of politicians with not much in common went from one large alliance after another, Jan Morcha, Janata Dal and finally "National Front" in 1988. The country was seething with dissatisfaction at Rajiv. Drama, again, was not in short supply. Jethmalani's "10 questions a day", nationwide raid on Indian Express, expose after expose in The Hindu on Bofors, forgeries done to discredit V.P.Singh were exposed, en-masse resignations from Lok Sabha (idea of filmstar turned politician N.T.RamaRao), Opinion polls made psephology the new in-thing in extremely disorganised Indian journalism, Arun Shourie and his ilk became household names, India was cauldron to put it mildly.

The nation faced an election. V.P.Singh was now the media darling, the new Mr.Clean, the new middle-class hero. There he was, an ill financed politician tearing down India's most venerated political clan traveling on the pillion of a motorcycle holding panchayat style meetings. He would ask the crowd "bekari me unka license" (Rajiv's license on unemployment referring to rising unemployment and a clever pun on Indira's slogan 'bekari hatao' - Unemployment get out). The crowd roared back lustily "radd radd" (cancelled), a beaming V.P.Singh would thank "Faisala ho gaya" (Judgment given) and move on. India Today predicted that Rajiv would get 195 MP's compared to 450+ MP's in 1984. The prediction was on target. Prannoy Roy and his stylish crew brought live telecast of election to Indian drawing rooms.

The nation was in disarray, hung parliament became a new word to learn. Rajiv, in a moment of grace, chose to sit in the opposition benches though he could have technically staked claim to form government as the single largest party. V.P.Singh became the PM with an extremely dramatic background leading to his nomination. A little known rustic from Haryana, Devi Lal, was named Deputy Prime Minister. Now it was V.P.Singh's turn to show his feet of clay.

The government lurched from one crisis to another, mostly courtesy Devi Lal and his son Om Prakash Chautala. The Meham by election, "Mayhem in Meham", was sheer embarassment, Chautala though assured of victory went all out to make it impressive and indulged in booth capturing on an unprecedented scale. V.P.Singh went on live TV to hold a press conference (the first and last by an Indian PM as far as I know), he was grilled by 20-something reporters. Finally after having had enough Devi Lal was dismissed. He responded by holding a rally in Delhi with thousands carted in from Haryana. L.K.Advani meanwhile was doing his best to tear asunder the country with his rath yatra (he now says it was Pramod Mahajan's idea). After much dithering Singh had Advani arrested. Advani withdrew his support to Singh's government.

In a final act of desperation that came to characterise his tenure Singh announced the implementation of "Mandal" report giving 27% of seats in all educational instituitions to so called "OBC's" (other Backward classes). OBC's, naturally hailed him as messiah. Violent protests erupted across the country, spearheaded by SC/ST's who saw these OBC (which had rich Thakur's, Yadav's, Patels etc) as oppressors. True to form who is "backward" or how is "backwardness" defined were all left conveniently ambiguous. Anybody born into the right caste could now claim to be backward not withstanding their political clout (Yadavs and Thakurs) or individual economic well being. CHildren of chief ministers and ministers were "backward".

Singh had no way of surviving politically yet he indulged in rank oppurtunism cloaking himself in the mantle of "social justice". He was voted out of power. In whatever decency that was left in him he made a mark by putting the no-confidence motion to vote on the floor of the parliament refusing a horse trade.

Out of power, Singh later exulted when AIIMS had its first candidate under Mandal. By now he was diagnosed with Leukemia and was being treated in Memorial Sloan Kettering, USA while less fortunate Indians got treated by Mandal doctors. He finally died at Apollo, a plush private hospital, some Social Justice that was.

Obituary in Business Standard

Monday, November 24, 2008

The White Tiger - Book Review

The "White Tiger" debut novel by Aravind Adiga won the Booker Prize for 2008 and caught my attention. Aravind Adiga is a citizen of the world, born in Madras, educated in Mangalore, Syndney, Columbia University, Oxford etc .

The book is very simple narrating the letters written by a presumptuous self-styled "white tiger", entrepreneur from Bangalore, to Chairman Wen Jibao of China. Its a satirical narrative by a man born in a North Indian village who becomes the car driver of a wealthy landlord, moves to Delhi with the landlord's son, witnesses and narrates the parallel worlds of India. Untold wealth, corruption, hypocrasies, caste system etc all residing comfortably cheek by jowl with dire poverty, slavishness, rank oppurtunism etc. For any normal Indian there is nothing much knew to learn. There is no eye popping wisdom here, no Naipaul like penetrativeness.

When I somebody raved to me about Sashi Tharoor's "From Midnight to Millennium" my response was "its a book for the average westerner to read on his flight to India and touching down at the airport wants to say 'I know India'". The purpose it to write a light book with all seriousness but just serious enough to skate through without taxing one's mind too much. I do not mean to insult those books, such genre has its place too. So is it with "White Tiger". Its a skating narrative that takes the reader from rigid village caste politics, to habits of the worker class, to corridors of political brokers, the hypocrisies of each class (who said only the rich are hypocritical) all within some 270 pages.

One thing which really struck me was the Capra-esque depiction of political corruption. Adiga does not use labels, just oleagenous titles like "Great Socialist", any politician in India would fit that. Frank Capra's "Mr Smith Goes to Washington" is similar, Capra does not label "democrat" or "republican", a fact that might be noticeable only to a discerning reflective viewer. (Am I complimenting myself there, maybe).

Its a book to be read and passed along to friends.

The turnout that wasn't -- Election 2008

Nearly 120 million voted in 2004 Presidential elections, one of the highest turnovers until 2008. There was mainstream media screaming about hours long queues, the exponential surge in democratic voter rolls, the astronomical surge in youth voting, of course a generational promise to be fulfilled and experienced for Black voters, we all expected to break the 2004 record by a mile and half. I was curious to see the data. Guess what the final tally stands at an impressive 126 million. Impressive certainly, but given the hoopla one could be forgiven to thinking that the numbers would be eye popping. It is not. So what happened to those queues that we saw in Atlanta, Florida, Georgia, NC (25% in Raleigh had finished voting through early balloting).

Here is my surmise. Ever since the Florida recount mess up in 2000 there was constant chatter of how the villainous Republicans would disenfranchise Blacks, poor voters etc. This is the 24 hour news cycle so lets add demos by Princeton Univ Prof who showed how "easy" it is to divert votes from Obama to McCain by changing just one microprocessor in 5 minutes. The show was moderated by a Black comedian. All this left first time voters and especially Blacks with an apprehension and not wanting to be seen as not having done their bit they thronged early. Then the rest, also fearing long lines on election day, thronged earlier because after all every so called "expert" (where do they grow) was pontificating on record breaking turnout, election machine break downs, oh there was Lou Dobbs as usual ranting on somebody subverting democracy.

Against all that backdrop the early voting did indeed surge and take the sting out of election day. Amidst the euphoria of Barack being elected nobody bothered to call the networks to task on fear mongering and plain exaggerations.

PS: For ages leftists ranted about how conservative neocon judges in US Supreme court selected George Bush. Nobody squeaked a protest when the SAME SC sided with democratic state official of Ohio on a technicality in preventing a widely accepted fraud by ACORN in registering voters in Ohio. Of course for every left wing nut who rants on Florida for Al Gore there is a right wing nut raving about how Daley "fixed" Chicago for JFK. What goes around comes around.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The other side of Hollywood - Part1 - Honoring Teachers

What is it about the teacher-student or mentor-fledgling relationship that so fascinates Hollywood? So many of Hollywood is shamelessly pilfered under the "inspired by.." canard in India but there is one wonderful side of Hollywood that has never been imitated, sadly and that is the genre of "inspirational mentor" movie type.

One could go as far as "To Sir with Love" starring Sidney Poitier and list out numerous movies that portray, many times real-life stories, teachers who sought to make a difference in a student's life or a school. Sometime back I was arguing with a School principal from Tanjore about teachers inflicting sadistic punishments, not just corporal caning but plainly sadistic stuff like asking students to kneel in hot sand with temperatures touching 80-90 deg F. Impositions, insults, crude remarks all abound in Indian schools. The principal defended it saying "how else can we deal with unruly kids from slums". I told him go watch "Dangerous minds" a true story based movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer about a teacher who made a difference in a school situated in crime prone low income area. Watching Hillary Swank starring "Freedom writers" is a moving experience. Again, same theme, teacher who goes way beyond to make a difference in a down-trodden neighborhood.

Even a fictional movie like "Akeelah and the bee" has a wonderful touching story about a girl trying to rise beyond her poverty stricken life to win the spelling bee contest. Laurence Fishburne turns out a nice performance as the tutor. The tutoring sessions are portrayed realistically.

Richard Dreyfus as the music teacher in "Holland's Opus" is career highlight performance. He was nominated for the Oscar but lost to Mel Gibson's epic "Braveheart". One of the key dialogues in the movie is when a stern principal pulls up Dreyfus for being a clock watcher, she tells him "you (as teacher) must be a compass to the students". When she retires she gifts Dreyfus a compass. Finally due to cost cutting Dreyfus himself loses his job as music program is cut. The climax is one of the most moving scenes. A despondent Dreyfus leaves the school but comes upon a surprise gathering in his honor, his old student and now governor gives a welcome "Glenn Holland wanted to be rich and famous (referring to his dream of being a composer) but he i s neither. He is not rich and is not known beyond our small community. However there is not a single soul in this audience that he has not touched". That movie, its side story of Rowena, deserves a blog by itself.

Robin Williams excels as teacher in "Good Will Hunting" and "Dead Poets society". If only we were taught poetry like he does in "Dead poets society". Even "The School of Rock" has its nice warm turn with Jack Black as music teacher instilling in school kids a love for Rock and "Led Zeppelin".

For a nation that honors its teachers with "Teacher's day" we have done nothing but then as I often say "I can count on one hand the teachers I can remember with respect out of the many in my 16 year academic stream".

Well mentoring does not have to be only in the confines of classrooms. "In search of Bobby Fisher" with its quasi-historical narrative portrays mentoring of a chess prodigy. The mentor is Ben Kingsley (he is of Indian origin with real name as Krishna Bhanji). There are few others like "Hoosiers", "Coach Carter" are good ones too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Are women more independent thinking and more ethical?

For long TIME magazine used to declare a "Man of the year" for its last issue of the year. It started in 1928 as an idea to fill up the year end issue became a tradition, then a parlor game of expectations and criticisms. In an age of political correctness Time renamed that honor as "Person of the year" to be gender neutral. In 2002 three women (Coleen Rowley-FBI, Sherron Watkins-Enron and Cynthia Cooper-Worldcom) were featured with the title "The Whistleblowers". Sherron Watkins and Cynthia Cooper had warned their respective upper management about the impending collapse of their companies due to fraudulent accounting. Coleen Rowley had warned her superiors at FBI bout 9/11.

I wondered how in a year 3 whistleblowers were identified and how come all were women? During the historic primary season of 2008 a good number of women commentators wrote "I shall not vote for Hillary just because she is a woman". When McCain, seeking to capitalise dissatisfied Hillary voters, nominated Sarah Palin whose ideology is largely at odds with most women voters women just flocked t o Obama. Unlike that, save a paltry 4-5 commentators, I did not see many Afro-American men comment "I shall not vote for Obama just because of his race". Men were a bandwagon effect. Women watched out for themselves.

Women are supposed to be more particular on protecting their self-interest, a laudable capitalistic virtue that in actuality they defy stereotyping or a collective bandwagon.

Even in common life women are prone to be standard bearers for codes of conduct than men. Man is said to be the last animal domesticated by woman.

Before we heap unqualified praise on women let us not forget somebody like Indira Gandhi who proved that she can far surpass men in unscrupulousness and vindictiveness. So also Jayalalitha.

Rounding up on the election term thought. Women as campaign managers (for Al Gore, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton) were huge disappointments. Of course the candidates need to take a rap too but one wonders on the thread of commonality. The chief fundraiser for Obama is a woman.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Triumph of Democracy

Democracy is very messy but it is the best we have to provide for a representative government. Though America tends to characterise itself as "young" it is now 232 years old and the longest living unbroken democracy. Ofcourse many would be quick to point out the dark ages of slavery and the fact that Afro-Americans did not get voting rights as recently as 1965. Given the age and time in which America declared its independence expecting it to have universal suffrage is asking for the moon. That America set on its journey so firmly 230 years back is tribute enough to the founding fathers. A constitution that has been amended less than 30 times (of which the first ten - the bill of rights was done at inception) is testimony to prescient wisdom.

Next week US will elect its 44th President. We would have elected either the first African-American as President or the first woman as V.P. This election is making history on all benchmarks, the most hotly contested primary involving a first lady garnering 18 million votes, spending that crosses $1 billion, the longest ad war stretching over 24 months, the highest expected turnover that may blow out all past voting patterns and in process completely re-draw the electoral map of US for a generation.

Contrary to cynics I see a healthy trend over the past 4 elections. Starting with 1996 there has been a steady increase of voters, the highest so far being 2004 . 1992 -- 104 million , 1996-86 million, 2000 - 102 million, 2004-121 million. Note the explosion of electorate in 2004. A year marked by concerns of terrorism and war. George Bush got elected with 50.7 % popular vote, nobody since 1992 had crossed 50%. Of course one could say that 48.3% who voted for Kerry did not want him and point it as evidence of the poor method of representation. Arnold Toynbee justifiably lamented at how humans, so imaginative in so many areas could not imagine anything better when it came to proportional representation.

The election will of course leave the supporters of the losers with much to grumble about. If McCain loses, as is expected, the familiar grumbling would be, economy, Bush, War, Celebrity obsessed media, spending by Obama etc. If Obama loses, the list starts with serious setbacks on race relations (unfair but true), Bradley effect, conservative America, religion clingers etc. Either of that will be unjust. Anybody who somes out of a winner in the most gruelling election season in human memory deserves to be at the Oval office. with all my misgivings on Obama, I am increasingly of the view he does deserve to win. Just today NYT ran an article how the Obama campaign, though flush in cash, is parsimonious in spending it and watches every penny. I sadly remember how Hillary who started with a huge war chest burned through it with bad planning.

For the Obama supporters who proudly point to how Obama tightly ran a campaign and say that is evidence of how he would run the country, I say 2 words "George W Bush". Bush ran a disciplined campaign as against Kerry.

The democrats cried hoarse for ages about Supreme Court handing over the presidency to Bush in 2000 but did not raise a squeak of praise when the same court (with more conservative judges today) supported Ohio state secretary (Dem) in the case against her by republicans concerning voter registration irregularities in Ohio (ACORN scandal).

As Alexander Pope says "a people gets the government it deserves". May the best candidate win.

Churchill's 'Black Dogs' - A perspective on Depression

Winston Churhcill was frequently prone to very depressive moods, he referred to depression as "Black Dog". Anthony Storr, Oxford based Psychiatrist, in his book "Churchill's Black Dog and other phenomena of the Human mind" has a very engaging chapter on Winston Churchill's much lesser known side.

Churchill, is one who has passed into history and mostly a smoky idea of him prevails in the common understanding. To the westerner he remains a bull dog warrior who, in the bleakest of times, shouldered and unfathomable burden and saved the world from tyranny "unsurpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crimes". To Indians he was the unapologetic imperialist who thundered "I've not become his majesty's first minister to preside over the liquidation of the British empire" and even more notoriously is remembered for his insulting remark characterising Gandhi as "the half naked fakir".

Lost in those images is a very colorful life, he was a biographer, historian, war time correspondent, painter, brick-layer, orator and several other. His life was peppered with moments of sheer glory and abject desolateness. Especially the years between the two World Wars. After the first War and his role in the disastrous Dardanelles campaign he wandered in sheer political wilderness for nearly 20 years. In those years he was ridiculed for his failures and labeled an alarmist for crying hoarse about Hitler. Britain had no use for him.

Churchill suffered serious bouts of depression during those years. Anthony Storr writes, "when depression is overwhelming, the sufferer relapses into gloom and an inactivity which maybe so profound as to render him immobile". What would a man like Churchill, a man of legendary talent, soaring ego, huge reserve of creative energy do? Storr continues, "To avoid this state of misery is of prime importance; and so the depressive before his disorder becomes too severe, may recurrently force himself into activity, deny himself rest or relaxation, and accomplish more than most men are capable of, just because he cannot afford to stop."

He took to painting. He was pretty good at it. Even at that he brought a passion that was deeply colored by his dark mood. "I cannot pretend to feel impartial about genuinely sorry for the poor browns, I expect orange and vermillion will be the darkest colours".

His famous remark "we are all worms, But I do believe that I am a glow-worm", is as Storr points "revealing, it combines self abasement and self-glorification in a single phrase". When he declared Britain will face Hitler, alone, he was, " a man convinced that he had an heroic mission, who believed that, in spite of all contrary evidence, he could yet triumph". Above all he felt his destiny and that of England's were intertwined. With that conviction he convinced his fellow Britons that they would triumph just as he thought he could triumph. Anyone with a modest knowledge of History can appreciate how hopeless it was for Britain in 1939-40. France had crumbled, Poland overrun, Belgium tossed aside, Austria annexed, Russia aligned with Germany, FDR standing on the sidelines. One man stood up to say "I've nothing to offer but blood and toil, tears and sweat" and lay it out clear "Victory at all costs".

Beethoven and Churchill were creative geniuses who could fight their Black Dog's and in fact turn them into manure for their creative output. What of ordinary mortals, now that's a plight worth feeling sorry about.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Racial Quotas in American Universities And Richard Feynman

Yesterday I was reading through Richard Feynman's "What do you care what other people think". In the second chapter talking about how he entered MIT, Feynman says he was denied admission to Columbia University because of a quota "limiting" number of Jews admitted. I was shocked to read this. Today, I checked on the internet and wikipedia confirmed it.

Check . Many associate anti-semitism with holocaust and think of only Nazi Germany. Little do we realise that anti-semitism was a pan-European disease. The word "ghetto" comes from Venice, the word "pogrom" originated in Russia. Cutting off one's access to education under the guise of social justice is the most widely perpetrated villainy.

From wikipedia "Numerus clausus ("closed number" in Latin) is one of many methods used to limit the number of students who may study at a university. It can be similar to a racial quota, both in form and motivation."

Many countries adopted these policies including Ivy League universities in US.

"Although never officially legislated, between 1918 and the 1950s a number of private universities and medical schools introduced numerus clausus policies limiting admissions of students based on their religion or race to certain percentages within the college population. One of the groups affected by these policies was Jewish applicants whose admission to some New England and New York City area liberal arts universities fell significantly between the late 1910s and the mid-1930s[2]. For instance, the admission to Harvard University during that period fell from 27.6% to 17.1% and in Columbia University from 32.7% to 14.6%. Corresponding quotas were introduced in the medical and dental schools resulting during the 1930s in the decline of Jewish students: e.g. in Cornell University School of Medicine from 40% in 1918-22 to 3.57% in 1940-41, in Boston University Medical School from 48.4% in 1929-30 to 12.5% in 1934-35. "

During a speech on brain drain in 1993 I advanced the idea that many persecuted Jewish scientists emigrated to US, fleeing racist Europe. Those scientists, notably Leo Szilard and the rest with of course Einstein played a decisive role in giving US its scientific edge and of course the ultimate weapon to close the war. Wikipedia asserts "In Hungary, for example, 5,000 Jewish youngsters (including Edward Teller) left the country after the introduction of Numerus Clausus".

A memorable film by Gregory Peck is "A gentleman's agreement". Peck, portraying a reporter adopts a Jewish identity and undergoes searing experiences that lay bare the prejudices of a sick society.

All of the above might sound outlandish and plainly unbelievable because one pervading myth is how Jewish lobbies control the media and finance, by extension the US population. A shibboleth but nevertheless unquestioningly believed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

I first learnt the poem "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by John Keats (1795-1821)in my tenth standard. In plain English it means "The lady without mercy". Back then, as it is now, our English teachers neither had the finesse to teach poetry, certainly no patience to tease out the various interpretations of a poem that lends itself to various interpretations. The other poem, very commonly interpreted one way but can be interpreted another way, is Robert Frost's "The Road not taken" ( I shall blog that seperately).

"La belle" tells a simple story of a knight who falls in love with a lady he meets, then feels deserted by her. He is convinced that she loved him and deserted him like she did many others before him. But did she? Was it love that she felt? Check for complete text.

The key line is "She look’d at me as she did love". He THINKS she gave a look of love. The important paragraphs are:

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
“I love thee true.”

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

Relish the line "And sure in language strange she said- I love thee true". The assumption is laid bare. Then she takes him home, she weeps and lets out a a sigh filled with sore. It is here that poetic intentions play with our minds. Why did she weep? Why the sore sigh? Did she weep for this yet another woeful man who mistakes her kindness or whatever she feels as romantic love or even desires to take that love to be forever while its intended only for the moment. The love struck knight shuts her eyes with kisses and goes to sleep. In his dream he sees apparitions of kings, princes and warriors who say "La Belle Dame sans Merci, Hath thee in thrall".

Lost in translation, we would say in modern parlance

Richard Feynman: Many loves in search of his lost one.

Many years back while in college I read a book review in Hindu (back when they did reviews good) I came across "Genius" By James Gleick, a biography of Richard Feynman. Those days, and now too, I was in love with physics thanks to John Gribbin's wonderful books (Especially 'In serch of Schrodinger's Cat'). The book's title "Genius" captured me. I had never heard of Richard Feynman or his QED theories or the squiggly Feynman diagrams. One friend of mine, from CBSE stream, mentioned about the famous "Feynman Lectures". Like any book review the one I read, to increase curiosity, while reviewing the book in general drew praticular attention to salacious parts of Feynman's libertinous life with sprinkling of his dalliances, includine one with his colleague's wife too.

Sometime later I came across Feynman's "Surely You Are Joking Mr Feynman". It was a collection of humorous anecdotes from Feynman's life, written by Feynman. It was a riotous read. I love the Western idea of self deprecatory humor, the humility not to take one self too seriously however high and mighty they may be. As is my trait of seeking more by the same author if I love them, I later found his sequel "What do you care what other's think? Further adventures of a curious character". Between reading these two, I had managed to read "Genius".

In the eponymously titled second chapter in "what do you care" Feynman talks of his first love, Arlene, later his first wife. Arlene contracts Hodgkin's Lymphoma while they were courting (simply, lymph gland based cancer). Feynman had independently confirmed this, while Arlene, though not completely ignorant was told it was a glandular fever. She turns to Feynman and asks "you tell me what it is". Feynman, pressured by all told a lie that it was glandular fever. Later Arlene learns the truth and confronts him. Feynman crumbles and tells it is indeed Hodgkins. Immediately Arlene melts "god what did they put you through to tell me otherwise". Feynman is left speechless "here I am telling her a fatal news and confirming that I lied yet she feels sorry that I was made to lie".

Later they decide to marry. Meantime for fear of contracting the disease they decide not to kiss each other. After marriage when the priest says "you may now kiss the bride", Feynman kissed her on the cheek. Not long after their marriage Arlene died and Feynman immersed himself in the Manhattan Project. The closing lines are poignant. He had not cried much when Arlene died. Crossing by a dress store he sees a dress and thinks "Arlene would like that".

What love, what sensitivity. Were his latter day dalliances a search to find another Arlene?

Who said scientists were boring, Einstein had his share of flings too, including writing letters of love.

Anderson Cooper's Hypocrisy - US Financial Crisis

The popular narrative has concretized and the verdict is out that a bunch of fat cat CEO's in a small street on an island town schemed to send the entire world into a tail spin making apocalypse look like picnic. Here comes Anderson Cooper in his Italian tailored suit with a shiny tie and a program titled "Ten Most Wanted: Culprits of the financial crisis". The first two were AIG CEO, Lehman CEO (Dick Fuld). I did not watch the rest. I just puked and shut it off. The title of the program segment itself is a not so subtle rip off of "FBI's 10 most wanted". This was a program on supposed rogues gallery. Sort of public lynching.

While the CEO's do share blame, it is just that, they only "SHARE BLAME" with others. The election cycle is rolling out this Wall Street Vs Main Street plot. However most non partisan economists are congealing around the view that the contributory factors are many, easy lending promoted by politicians to butter low-income voters, Community re-investment Act (CRA) that forced banks to lend to sub-prime borrowers, highly regulated Fannie & Freddie becoming political tools to further interests of politicians (dems and republicans), greedy consumers (who dares to name them), excess money inflow from Chinese who in turn were floating in excess investment due to export boom and finally of course CEO's. But hey its too complex a narrative, does not make a good "story line" it would affect TRP ratings of CNN.

Who cares about truth? who cares for wisdom? We are a 24 hour news cycle, sound bite obsessed generation. We want wisdom in a capsule.

Well if Anderson really wants to go at CEO's he should start at home. The AOL-Time-Warner (CNN parent) merger wrote of $100 billion in 2002. That is more than the combined write off's of all financial firms so far. Its more than the GDP of many countries. I can bet my farm that Anderson will do a double take before he goes that route.

Here is more to CNN's duplicity. At the height of Danish cartoon controversy (cartoon of The Prophet) CNN's Wolf Blitzer said "out of respect for Islam we are not showing the cartoon" (respect or fear of....) . Recent Time issue had a picture of a frog on a crucifix with a note "Pope protests against picture of frog on crucifix". If anyone wanted to understand "talking from both ends of the mouth", "hypocrisy" this is it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Nobel Prize, Irving Wallace and some trivia

Its the Nobel season of the year. So far the Nobel's for Medicine and Physics have been announced. Nobel prize has done itself great proud with its unimpeachable standards over 100+ years. Of course something of this kind of prestige and glamour has had its share of controversies too.

Mostly the science prizes have been devoid of any blatant controversy. The most politicized prize is the Peace prize, the more controversial, on merits, is the prize for literature. I guess one reason could be that a far wider population feels pretty qualified to comment on these prizes as the judges panel itself. Only a fraction of the world population has the intellectual heft to comment on a prize for the sciences. Whereas, almost everyone, depending on their political stripe feels free to opine on the choice of Yasser Arafat for the Peace prize.

Irving Wallace wrote a gripping book "The Prize" about Nobel Prize based on some 14 years of research. For whatever reason the movie version, starring Paul Newman, is billed as action. Irving later wrote a book on how he wrote "The Prize". "The Prize", has an interesting character, Count Jacobsson, whose prime duty is to serve as channel to voice arcane trivia and insider secrets of past prize winners.

W.B. Yeats practically lobbied the Nobel comittee to award Tagore the prize for "Gitanjali". Anti-semitism in the judges panel made them award the Physics prize to Einstein for his theory on photoelectric effect and NOT for the theories of Relativity. Note that Einstein recieved the prize in 1922, Eddington in the most famous experiment in 1919 had proved the General Theory of relativity. By the time he recieved the prize Einstein had seperated from his wife Mileva Maric, in his divorce papers, he confidently stated that when he gets the Nobel Prize he will give the money to her. Hmmm egoistic or confidence. Beholders eye.

The most notable exception in Physics was Edison. Nobel is given primarily to theoretical physicists and not experimental physicists. Justifiably so.

The literature prize is notable for omitting Leo Tolstoy, Sigmund Freud was passed over for medicine. The most unforgivable is omitting Gandhi for Peace prize. Gandhi is anyway to large for any prize. When the comittee found Martin Luther King Jr they made amends later. MLK was deeply influenced by Gandhi who in turn was inspired by America's Henry David Thoreau.

India's Chandrasekhar won the Nobel for his work on death of stars (Chandrasekhar limit), as American citizen. America later honored its adopted son by naming a satellite after Chandra. Indian satellites are named......why go there.

Bernard Shaw when awarded the prize, commented typically, "its a life belt thrown to someone who reached the shore".

Try finding Irving Wallace's "The Prize" in some used-book store or online at (excellent place to look for out of print books).

The preponderance of Jews and very sparse women Nobel laurates are topics of veritable controversies. The preponderance of Jews is non-issue because they are mostly winners of science prizes which are very open to scrutiny and nobody has ever questioned a prize in the sciences on merit. Nobel comittee is notorious for waiting too long until concrete proof emerges to award a science prize, some actually lose out because the prize is never given posthumously. The fact that a paltry number of women are winners is fodder for debate. I refrain from saying that they are not "represented" enough. This is a prize not an election. That goes for diversity too.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Know my library -- Part 1

This week's issue of Economist carries a book review titled "Hitler's private library: Know a man by his books". As I pointed out in a recent blog these days my question is "what does he/she read". The review is about the book "Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped his Life" by Timothy W. Ryback . Hitler was not only an avid reader but an avid underliner too. Painstakingly reconstructing all that information, Ryback, the reviewer says, gives a chilling portrait of who came to embody "evil"for centuries to come.

Though I'd hate to speak of myself in this same blog, I'd like to in the larger topical interest. I am a proud connoisseur of books, a veritable gatherer of many a small gem. I am, to borrow my professor's characterization of himself, "an incorrigible bibliophile".

The finest gem in my collection is Will Durant's "The story of philosophy". One of my father's friends told me about Durant's masterful 11 volume "Story of Civilization". He also, with a touch of disdain said I may not get to buy it all. Later in 1992 in a bus stand book shop selling cheap editions I saw this book on philosophy. It was priced at Rs30. I bought it. I shall write a whole blog on this book. Suffice it to say it meets Bacon's definition of that rare type of book that is to be "digested".

Much later when I came to USA, in 2002 a dear friend of mine went to great lengths to help me acquire all 11 volumes of Durant's "civilization". For that and for acquainting me with one of the best used book stores I am deeply thankful to her. Its a book store I obsessively visit during my every visit to NC. The store is While those two are well know books a very little known gem is the 'Dual Autobiography' by Will and Ariel Durant. I do not know if there are any other husband wife autobiographies.

Many know of Larry Collins & Dominique Lapierres wonderfully detailed "Freedom at midnight" about the final years of India's struggle. Little known is an accompanied slim book of series of interviews the authors had with Mountbatten. The author's were justifiably criticized for writing their book in too sympathetic a manner to Mountbatten, especially in view of how the British bungled Partition, much like they bungled Palestine. A far leser known book is by Alan Campbell Johnson wo was ADC (Aide-De-Charge) of Mountbatten.

Many know that William Shirer is the author of "The Rise and fall of third Reich". A very little known book is "Gandhi: A memoir". This is about Gandhi during the pivotal Salt Satyagraha period, filled with great journalistic traits.

The name Gorky immediately reminds us of "Mother". Very little is known to the public about his "Untimely Thoughts" which details his tormented relationship with Lenin and Stalin and plain anti-communist articles.

The names Arthur Koestler, Andre Gide, Stephen Spender remind us of great literary works very little is known of a book with chapters by each one detailing how they became communists and how they finally turned their back on communism. The book is "The God that Failed". (Thanks to Prof KGS for that intro).

Tagore is best known for his Gitanjali but little is known of his various memoirs, several translated poorly into English but still a good read on somebody who can easily be called the only Renaissance man of India.

I shall stop for now, but let me take this moment thank all those, especially my dad, who sowed in me the seeds to seek for all that is best, introduced me to these authors, mostly unknowingly themselves and those, especially my wife who never grudges my indulgence, who help me uncomplainingly to acquire these treasures.

Someday I shall bequeath these to my daughter when she proves herself worthy of it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sarah Palin is no VP material (or Prez)

It is management parlance that a manager is only as good as his employees. No manager enrolls employees who are persistent nay-sayers. Certainly they would not select sycophants either. A manager, especially at higher executive levels, looks for some resonance in a person that is being hired. However it is expected that even a manager should be challenged on ideas, open enough to take professional criticism etc. All that means the employee should have the intellectual maturity to not be cowed down by authority, the intellectual heft to shine a different light on what is discussed, give a value added advice.

Sarah Palin is an intellectual lightweight. One of my favorite yardsticks in judging how people form ideas is to ask "what do you read". I love to know how a person is influenced, what are the channels they allow information to flow through. I especially look for how does a person seek ideas of both sides, does a person "actively seek" opposing view points.

Even Bush, given his label of being an incurious president, is actually well read. I know many might become apopleptic reading that. I give credit to a man who can plough through 1000+ pages of Roy Jenkins bio of Churchill. He invited Fouad Ajami and Bernard Lewis, two of the most pre-eminent scholars in Islam, the latter especially from archh liberal Princeton University, to discuss what he can expect out of Iraq. All of these are lost on a public that is focusing on his failures.

When I imagine Sarah Palin, sitting next to John McCain in the Oval office in a hurriedly convened cabinet meeting on analysing an economic meltdown or a crisis in Georgia or pushing for a sticky nuclear deal for India, I do not see her contributing anything in a value-added input.

What is all this crap of being folksy? What is all this "darn it" "you betcha", the barnyard diction. My foot I'll hate it for my VP to be talking like that in Davos. America, when it send out its leaders, should send out beacons of intellect and those who can command respect. Evoling hostility, as Bush does, based on ideological positions is respect too. As much we do not want a pointy headed egg-head in an ivory tower "representing" people we also do not want unvarnished plebians.

The question where she really blew was on the threat of Iran Vs Pakistan. She had no idea of the simmering cauldron that Pakistan is and how it could practically undo all the gains made in Afghanistan since 2001. Palin sought to frame the question of Iran solely within the parameters of Israel and prattled on and on about Israel as ally. I wondered if she was answering the question or campaigning in Florida for Jewish vote. Joe Biden blew that question out of the park with his command of ideas and facts.

Sarah needs to be sent home packing. Sorry McCain.

Joe Biden's Kramer Vs Kramer moment : Dads as Moms

At a key moment during his VP Debate Joe Biden said this "the notion that somehow, because I'm a man, I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone, I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to -- is going to make it -- I understand..." ( Transcript from CNN . That was after Palin talked about kitchen table talks of financial difficulties. For those who do not know, Joe Biden lost his wife and one year old daughter in a car accident just afer getting elected to the senate. He was ready to resign it but friends and family pressured him to keep going. He made a promise to his children that he would be home every night, so he rides the Amtrak everyday from DC to Delaware everyday to be with his children. He remarried 5 years later.

How good a parent can a father be? Can a father make up for the loss of mother? Is there a special love that only a mother can give?

Those who love movies with story lines from yesteryears would know Kramer Vs Kramer. Meryl Streep shot to stardom with that. Dustin Hoffman is a very busy sales executive who is busy climbing the ranks of his company not ignoring but kind of not paying attention to family, especially his wife. One day Meryl calls it quits and plainly walks out. The problem is there is a kid, 6 years old. Dustin, shattered, then starts playing daddy care. He fumbles and stumbles on everyday tasks like making break fast, taking care of his son, keeping up with his son's schedule so much more. Work suffers. Then in comes Meryl again, now she sues him to get custody of her son. Dustin fights it. Meantime he loses his job, take a lower paying job. Finally the court decides to handover custody of the boy to the mother. In a final moment of grace Meryl decides not to enforce the ruling and walks out of their life. The movie has its high poignant moments.

I've always wondered about that story line. Dustin is not ignoring his family for some cheap escapades, he is working his butt off. When his wife deserts he steps up to the plate, incurs a huge professional sacrifice to bring up his son etc. As much as the wife walked out there is simply no justification for coming back to claim her son. The court case pivots around how good a parent can a father be? Can a father make up for the loss of mother? Is there a special love that only a mother can give?

Too much has been made of the uterine advantage of women. Yes, a mother is 100% indispensable in the early years of a child. However in the tragedy that we call life, sometimes the unthinkable happens and when a man (as in just MAN) has to fight for what he loves, boy he sure discovers untapped reserves.

As much as men are from Mars and women are from Venus we have to concede that a man's way of loving and showing love not just towards a woman of his age but even towards his own child are different from that of an instinctive love that a woman shows. Nonetheless a man's love for his child is never inferior.

I'd round up referring to another most famous widower. Jawaharlal Nehru lost his wife Kamala when Indira was 18. Nehru realising that he is mostly a dad in-absentia and more acutely realising the lack of proper education for Indira due to the Freedom struggle, he starts writing to her regularly especially during his long incarcerations. The letters were later published as "Glimpses of World History". What a tour-de-force it is, one can argue over the literary merits, the interpretations etc but it is the best education a father ever gave to his daughter. One letter very lovingly starts "Priya darshini -- dear to sight, dearer still when sight is denied".

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Learning in Mother Tongue -- Baloney !!!

Everytime the Tamil enthusiasts strut forward with theories on the hoary culture, the antiquity, the richness etc they are often faced with a glum sceptic public who just say "good, so what, lets talk about the present". Then we are forced to listen to hypothesis on how learning in mother-tongue accelerates learning, gives better understanding and finally makes a student a better student than learning in an alien tongue. Its time to question the premise and the hypothesis that flows out.

The first premise is that when children learn in the same language that is spoken at home they can understand what is taught very readily thus grasping it effectively. What is reality? Tamil has an unfortunate dichotomy between the colloqial version (spoken at home) versus not just literary Tamil but even what is used in plain textbooks. I still remember my first Biology class at Don Bosco very vividly. Brother Deva who taught it began by saying "bios means life and logos is 'study' therefore biology is study of life". Now think of a Tamil class. Yes the Tamil word "uyiriyal" (actually that is only an equivalent of zoology) is good, consider 'thavara iyal' (Botany). I can bet my farm that no home, irrespective of how well educated, uses the word "thavaram" to denote plants, colloqially we call it "chedi". This is just one instance.

My wife studied in Tamil medium completely. Out of the blue I asked her what did she study as Tamil equivalent of "matrix" (in math). She had to think hard and fish out the word "ani". Not a great equivalent. The point is learning in mother tongue did not make it easy to grasp the word because the word used is not what is in daily use. Matrix, on the other hand is used daily. Also if one were to see other usages like "matrix reasoning" we find that Tamil falters. Many mathematical terms are like that, the Tamil words are so far removed from daily use words that they might as well be in Greek or Latin. "mee peru vaguthi" -- Greatest common divisor. "mee chiru perukki" -- Least Common multiple. Now consider a common slum boy or girl, their Tamil is totally different from all these terms.

Remember children enter classes at 3-4 years of age, a very malleable mind, they spend most of their waking, conscious hours at school, if these are capitalized on then they can learn in any language, even Swahili as for that matter.

Take the case of tri-lingual houses. Let's say a Telugu family. I used to have a Telugu friend, she would be talking to me in English+Tamil but would switch to Telugu seamlessly when talking to her sister who passes by. Take the case of Afro-Americans, Hispanics etc in America they all talk different languages at home and send their children to English speaking schools.

Often times the other excuse is our schools in TN are ill equipped to teach in English. Our schools are simply ill equipped to teach anything in any language. Our teachers are the most ill equipped. Its not that teachers in US are of higher IQ or more dedicated, they are just better equipped. I once worked for McGraw Hill and was amazed to see the support material McGraw provides for teachers to teach using their textbooks.

We also lack hard empirical data or statistics of learning delays in bilingual children (Erika Hoff : Learning Development). There is no comprehensive multi-year study.

If we accept this argument of teaching in the same language that is spoken at home / neighborhood it is not a far leap to then say we can only teach to students whose parents are educated in turn. Yes, its a great advantage if parents are educated but the excellence of an educational system is measured by how well it caters to an under privileged student. Language is just a medium of instruction. A student from a slum, unfortunately, encounters a whole new world at school, the ideas in each subject are alien, the culture would be alien, the demands are alien. The language factor is more a truism than a true cause.

A crucial factor that we need to remember is that understanding of how language are learnt is itself a veritable battlefield. A joke in anthropology states, "no tribe has been discovered without language". This is true of the most secluded pristine tribes in Amazon jungles. Starting with CHomsky's theory of "universal grammar" to Steven Pinker's "language instinct" many theories abound, but all conceded that children are the fastest to learn languages and can handle as many as they are exposed to .

Many classmates in my class came from very normal backgrounds, literate but very literary families. Nobody suffered from language delays as a result of studying in English. Yes, some stumbled but the advantage of our learning-by-rote system is finally they just had to memorize. This lacuna is equally true for Tamil medium. In my home and my neighborhood nobody used English. Even at school we freely used Tamil.

My wife has done extremely well in her career and now speaks pretty good English. Many Indians in USA do well with a moderate fluency in English. However anybody who did not study in English in shool had a difficult transition period in college, actually the learning delay due to THAT is more evident. Many Indians reach mid level position based on technical expertise but fail to go higher primarily due to lack of ability to articulate higher reasoning in English. The lack of fluency is worsened by the almost total lack of extra-curricular reading in English by Indians.

That we live in a world dominated by English is no secret there is no let up on that. Stop with stupid questions like in english there is only "uncle" to denote "chithappa, periappa, mama etc". Tamil will do a double take before it can label the ever exponentially expanding sub-atomic particle zoo. So let's close down the Tamil Medium schools. Conserve resources, redirect efforts to rearing a English speaking population.

Go Home McCain (and Palin first)

Sarah Palin, is not just an intellectual lightweight. She is practically a dunder head or no head at all. Let's brush aside Charles Gibson's interview as unduly condescending and the interview with Sean Hannity as typical hack job similar to what other interviewers did with Obama, molly-coddle the candidate. The most recent interview with Katie Couric was pure disaster. Asked about foreign policy credentials we get plain nonsense (not even varnished) . Reading the following exchange, I (a McCain supporter) just shook my head in disbelief:

COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.
PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our– our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They’re in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia—
COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?
PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We– we do– it’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where– where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is– from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to– to our state.

If THAT is an answer my reply is "Go Home Palin, go back to skinning moose".

Yes we have heard quotes about Vice presidency not being worth a bucket of spit. We know how FDR treated Truman like chattel and kept him in the dark about the Manhattan Project. Those days are gone. A VP is not just a heart beat away from the Presidency, he / she is the first sounding board of a president. Bill Clinton and Al Gore were a great team that way. Dick Cheney's influence will be debated for decades. Its better having a schemer like Dick Cheney than a dunder head like Palin. Remember the VP is also the President's life line to the Senate as chairman/woman of the senate. Al Gore delivered the crucial vote in ushering Bill Clinton's economic policy. Palin has no chance in hell of delivering a matching performance.

John McCain, on the other hand has shown very uncomfortable impetuousness in his way of handling the crisis. His grandstanding was just baloney. He could not even stick to his threat of not showing up for the debate sans a deal, he blinked when Obama called his bluff. Imagine McCain as president hastening to add the weight of the presidency to dealing a crisis without forrethought and rushing in headlong, then failing utterly not just in convincing his opponents but even his own party. If Obama's faux pas on meeting with rogue leaders without pre-conditions is justifiably excoriated, we are equally flabbergast at how McCain would make a mockery of Presidential power by rushing in where angels fear to tread.

If Obama wins by a landslide, its not only because the events played into his hands, it would also be because he was adroit in capitalizing them. Questions linger about Obama but the McCain camp has given answers that push us to consider Obama more carefully only because we think the answers from Obama cannot get any worse.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Can money buy elections?

One of the most popular canards is that elections, as it is practiced, in most liberal democracies (mostly West and India), is bought with money. We often hear sneers of how money (and by extension the accursed rich) defeats a worthy candidate. Little do we ask for proof. Little do we pause to question the premise. Without delving into too much arcane details of campaign finances I shall put to rest this popular misleading myth.

Bill Clinton in 1992 & 1996 was vastly underfunded compared to the always better funded Republicans, not to mention the skeletons that kept tumbling out of lingerie closets. We know who won.

Hillary Clinton, started out as the favorite to win. She expected a coronation. She raised a war chest of $100 million+ and kept it mostly for general elections. Then came a little known Illinois senator who literally gave her a run for her money. By April when the primaries of Ohio and Texas came, Hillary was deep in the red. Now Obama was outspending her 2-1, sometimes even 3-1, in Pennsylvania for example. Obama lost all 3 big states despite a media saturation coverage by fawning commentators and analysts not to mention record amounts spent in buying ads.

George Bush in 2000 had a similar war chest but he needed to burn through the cash fighting off John McCain. Even with his cash advantage Bush could only squeak past Gore (Yes, he did win Florida, get over it Dems).

Make no mistake, money is important but it does not guarantee.

Take India. In 2004 BJP was far better funded than Congress. Congress romped home while BJP was left in tatters. Go to more local levels. In 1996 Jaya was infinitely better funded than DMK and she suffered the worst political rout. In 2001 people returned the favor to DMK, a supposedly vanquished, demoralised ADMK roared back to life.

Consider 1977 elections when a power drunk Indira was given the boot, again by monetarily impoverished Janata.

If money alone can buy elections we would have as Presidents, Rotschilds, Morgans, Carnegies etc...not a peanut farmer or an Afro-American who decimated America's most famous political clan.

A people gets the government it deserves -- Alexander Pope

America's Litmus Test (Part II)

I earlier wrote about how some propose electing Obama is America's litmus test of redeeming itself. WSJ carries an interesting article today (Sep 22nd) about University of Mississippi hosting the first Presidential debate for 2008. This university, it should be noted, "gained infamy in 1962, when U.S. soldiers were called in to put down a riot resisting the enrollment of the school's first African-American student, James Meredith. It was a crucible in the battle over integration in Mississippi, where the 1955 murder of a 14-year-old black boy had helped start the civil-rights movement and the murders of three civil-rights activists in 1964 spurred congressional passage 11 days later of the Civil Rights Act" (WSJ). It is here that Barack Obama will debate John McCain. Today, "black students, for years reluctant to enroll, now comprise 16% of the student body. School officials say their goal is 37%, reflecting blacks' representation in the state." (WSJ).

The article warmly records the very important steps taken by the Chancellor Robert Khayat, "After taking over in 1995, he banned Confederate flags at football games, provoking an unsuccessful federal lawsuit and death threats that led him to hire a bodyguard. A beloved Ole Miss athlete in the late 1950s, Mr. Khayat, 70 years old, also removed the venerable sports mascot, the Confederate Colonel Rebel....He approved a new campus institute for racial reconciliation that helped organize blacks and whites to formally demand prosecutions in the unsolved 1964 civil-rights murders, a move that led to the 2005 conviction of a former member of the Ku Klux Klan...
In 2002, on the 40th anniversary of Mr. Meredith's admission, the school for the first time honored the surviving soldiers who had subdued the mob."

To be sure all is not 100% perfect, "Others say hostilities still percolate". An alumnus sums up ""There definitely are a lot of people who don't help out the cause," he said. "They don't belong on our campus....But it's not a majority."

The real icing is "In 2006, Ole Miss unveiled a life-size bronze likeness of Mr. Meredith, and praise streamed from all quarters. "One of the things we agreed on is we did not want to be historical revisionists," Mr. Khayat said. "We are who we are, but we're not who we were."

Now that is what I call intellectual integrity. This is what we expect from a University chancellor. To heal searing wounds like that inflicted in Missippi within 24 years is a great deal. While we should not settle for half-way reforms, it would do well to recognize the gravity of progress and pay respect to the courage of the few. Certainly Mr Khayat deserves our respects.

Friday, September 19, 2008

EVR, Rajagopalachari, Kalki : Who is to be credited with magnanimity

There is a time worn phrase amongst Dravidian idealogues (in my opinion that's an oxymoronic phrase), "we are only against Brahminism and not against Brahmins". They mouth this platitude while foaming at their mouth with rabid, vile anti-brahmin, clearly sectarian crudity. The platitude would be followed by "Oh look Periyar (as they call E.V.Ramasamy Naicker) and Rajaji were close friends". Now, Rajagopalachari, would be called "acharyar" depending on whether he is on their side on a particular issue.

Yes, CR and EVR were indeed great friends. It was to CR that EVR turned to advice for marrying Maniammai. Recently in a blog somebody wrote about how Kalki invited EVR to his child's marriage, how EVR came after most had left not wanting to cause a ruffle and how a photo was taken with EVR applying sacred ash to the newly wed. The blog enthused about how Kalki prohibited publishing the photo lest somebody use it for propaganda accusing EVR of hypocrisy. Kalki's rationale was EVR did so out of respect for the customs of those who invited him.

Ofcourse all of this is laudable. This is absolute gentlemanliness. This is what civilization and culture are about. All these are almost always cited to show how EVR was against "Brahminism" and not "brahmins" per se. But here comes the rub.

If EVR had chosen to sink his fangs into any other community would anybody from that community behaved like CR or Kalki? Why is it lost that much more credit ought to be given to CR and Kalki who did not doubt EVR's sincerity in opposing the clergy for duping illiterates and for the grotesque ills of caste imposed racism. CR and Kalki, true heroes of Freedom struggle, very alive to the ills of their own society had the decency to agree with EVR on those accounts and were able to relate to him. I strongly assert this broadmindedness would not be seen from anybody else.

A larger point would be that had EVR picked on any religion other than Hindus as the target of not just barbs but many outright insults the long arms of the law and more readily the arm of some fundamentalist would have reached him. He could get away with vilifying a portrait of Rama, I shudder to think if only .......

Anyway the merits of EVR's criticisms, his methods etc are beyond the scope of this blog

Annus Mirabilis -- 2008

History is on the march in seven league boots. Long back when I used that term my English professor said "Aravindan, not many even know that phrase". Everybody in US and to some extent in the larger world were focusing on how history will be made on Nov 4th 2008. Will America elect a woman or an Afro-American. Hillary mounted a fantastic bid for the presidency. One might have divergent views on why she failed, how she failed, whether she was a victim etc but none can disagree she made history. Come Nov 4th America will make history without fail, we will elect either an Afro-American President or a woman V.P. The latter is decidedly less symbolic than the former only because the merits of a V.P. "election" are debatable, they just ride the coat-tails of a Presidential candidate. They can help and hurt a Presidential candidate. Sarah Palin has so far helped but all concede that McCain will have to do much more to win.

However the real history that is being made is on another front. America is practically recasting its economic world with far reaching consequences and more impact than any President can ever impact the history of the country. This will reshape American lives for decades to come. Every economic aspect of how we live, car loans, insurances, home loans, credit cards, how we are rated etc etc all will undergo radical change. Many changes will be for the good. Nobody, yet knows where and how these changes will lead. But it is all happening right now and right before us. We are witnessing history in the making.

George Bush, currently the most vilified and most unpopular President ever, has had an impact on American history for decades to come. Again, I am not going into the merits of the impact.

2008 will truly qualify to be called Annus Mirabilis.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Do Indians deserve less? The absence of outrage - Part1

Recently I had a conversation with my cousin. TamilNadu CM had donated Rs 5 Lakhs( or 40 lakhs) from government coffers, tax payer money. I asked my cousin would he accept, let's say, George Bush donating 5 million to Ronald Reagan's family from federal funds. The reply I got was "why are you confusing both countries, thats India, this is USA". That was my Eureka moment. I asked him why does expect less of a TN Politician than he would expect from an American one. Do Indians deserve lesser from their leaders? What I say going forward is not just with respect to my cousin or this particular chief minister.

Sometime back, writing about how India produces the best coffee but sets it apart as "export only" (there are many like that, 'export quality not for sale in India'), Abdul Rahman termed what we consume as "swadeshi trash". Indian living in India does not have access to the best product that India produces, that was the case a decade ago, may not be true today. However, THAT in a nutshell captures the dichotomy of Indians.

Indian's living in US expect the best from America, they will accept nothing less but for Indians in India, the response is "that's India". What I find fault with is the ABSENCE of outrage. Even that least honest reaction is absent.

Here is a different twist to this. Even in USA itself, Indians expect to be treated a certain way in American stores but will take any abuse from Indian store, "its an Indian running it". Now the store owners themselves show a different dichotomy. The owners as customers elsewhere in an American shop expect certain "rights" (courtesy, respecting the line at the counter, 30 day return policy, accurate and detailed billing, ability to test, rep to answer doubts etc etc) but will not bat an eyelid if they provide any lesser service in their own stores, servicing guys who cut a line, shoddy billing, video stores are notorious for bad DVD's, electronic stores have no return policy, the icing on the cake is their response "Oh you know our guys" (Only Indian stores sell stuff without sales tax, over the counter). Here is a flip question, why do Indians feel free to cut lines in Indian stores but would stand respectfully anywhere else, why do Indians feel they are less obliged to to take care of DVD's rented in Indian stores than they would if they rented in Blockbuster?

Hurricane Katrina,2005, was a national shame in US. Hurricane Gustav in 2008 was a non-event. What changed? The outrage of Americans at their government was heard loud and clear. Note that the lives lost in Katrina were very few compared to lives India loses in every natural disaster. The chief outrage of Americans was "this is America, this does not happen here, we are ashamed". Whereas Indians happily or many times sadly say "this is India, do not expect anything else".

All of this comes round to one final question why do Indians expect less from themselves and accept less from their country, their leaders and their own fellow men?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Is Electing Obama America's Litmus Test?

Not at all. Its pure stupidity to claim that if Obama gets defeated it would mean that racism is alive and kicking in USA. Nothing is farther from truth. Having said that let me clarify that human beings have innate biases, nobody can claim to be 100% unbiased. How aware of are we of our biases? Do we hold them in check (of course we need to know that we hold a bias in the first place)? Those are the questions we need to ask constantly.

Barack Obama could not even get a floor pass in 2000 Dem convention. In 2004 he was the keynote speaker and shot to stardom (very deservedly). Even so after that he dropped of the national media but for keen political watchers. Then in 2007 he again caught the nations imagination announcing his run for presidency. He had spent just 2 years in the senate. He was running against "THE CLINTONS" (adored and loathed depending on your political affiliation). He won all white Iowa thumpingly, pushing Hillary to an insulting finish. The rest is history. A political unknown Afro-American decimated the most feared political dynasty. If THIS is not redemption what else can be?

Oh well if McCain wins then again its because nobody wants to vote for a black so there is no redemption for USA UNLESS Obama is elected. What a crass stupidity. All opinion point to the fact that people are "more" uncomfortable electing a woman than a black. Yes there is a tiny (its just tiny) slice of population that will not vote for Obama just because of his color. To condemn a roughly 120 million electorate for a miniscule minority that cannot influence the outcome is not just wrong but plain stupid and shows how ignorant the person is about democratic elections.

Men were seen waving "Launder my shirt" in Hillary's events. Nothing of that sort happened to Obama. MSNBC's commentator got away with saying that the Clintons are "pimping" Chelsea. a metaphor he used only because Chelsea was a girl. Imagine anybody uttering anything like that about Obama. Apocalypse would seem like picnic compared to the outrage that would ensue. Nevertheless, Hillary lost for so many reasons of her own making than just because of sexism.

To say that America's redemption lies in electing Obama is to suggest that McCain voters are racist. Much is made of McCain's age and health almost making his age a disqualification. When McCain was delivering his convention speech CNN ran a ticker titled "Fact: If elected McCain will be the oldest President". The ticker flashed for like a minute, an eternity in modern day cable news.

Blacks have been elected governors, mayors, legislators, cabinet secrataries, Commanders etc. Yes, we wish we could see all that happen more regularly and with such regularity that the color of the candidate does not even get mentioned. When a reporter asked Denzel Washington how he felt, as a Black actor, winning the Oscar, he said "please report as just Denzel won an Oscar, not black actor Denzel" (those are not verbatim quotes, something close).

We should look at this with some perspective. Cory Booker, Black mayor of Newark-NJ, is very appreciated. Look at Kwame Kilpatrick of Detroit who is going down for sins of his own. Remember that Afro-Americans are an ethnic minority in USA. Which means we have a much smaller pool of population to find qualified people. Add to that the challenges existing in that community and it would dawn on us that not having some more qualified candidates is not ONLY due to "Discrimination". As Thomas Sowell would point out, if the "discrimination" as reason is tossed out the remaining reasons are very unpleasant to contemplate hence people harp on discrimination even none exists.

To make a contrarian argument, if Obama gets elected its because he has an advantage of being Black. The Obama campaign is making no bones about putting states like Louisiana, Georgia in play only because they hope to turn out the "black vote" by record numbers. Make no mistake I am not suggesting that it is reprehensible. Its admirable. If they can turn out their base its good for them. Also I perfectly understand the pride blacks have in this historical once in a lifetime oppurtunity. There is absolutely nothing wrong. Many Indian's felt happy when Bobby Jindal became governor just because he was of Indian lineage. There is absolutely nothing to be subtle about reaching to one's base and truly this is history in the making. Also in all fairness Barack Obama is as qualified as one can get.

A Brooklyn/Bronx town voted almost 90% for Obama despite Hillary having done all that needs to be done for that town, especially preventing the closure of a school. If one says well Hillary did it because she wanted their vote. I say, she worked to earn it, what she did is what we expect from a good poltical representative. She worked to earn the vote of that neighborhood and they voted for Obama for racial reasons. Again everybody appreciates the historical nature of the candidacy and racial pride this is racism too, though of a good variety.

I wish Barack Obama well. But I tell him "earn the vote". For those who say "if he does not win...", I say "get a life and if possible some understanding of elections".

Monday, August 25, 2008

Who is Big Oil? What constitutes a profit?

Who is Big Oil: Really !!!

Everytime Exxon Mobil declares its profits a collective gasp goes out from the world. Impressive statisticsl ike Exxon generated $1500 per minute profit (or some similar figure) is trotted out by a well dressed "analyst", then the camera would pan to gas prices at a gas station, an unsuspecting customer would have his/her 15 min of fame railing against "Big Oil", of course the ever obliging political class would express its dismay, a Presidential candidate would put up a podium at a gas station and pout pious phrases about alternate energy etc (before stepping back into a gas guzzling SUV that would take him to a chartered flight). Few more impressive rhetoric like "greatest transfer of wealth", "addicted to foreign oil" would be floated. To cap it all the titular congressmen would drag the CEO's of these profiteering companies to a congressional hearing. Of course a distinction would be drawn between legitimate profits and "profiteering".

The world is never simple. Exxon CEO once very justifiably grunted, "I did not come to the government for help when oil sold $10 per barrel, I do not want the government interefering now". It is the duty of every company to maximize shareholder value else they would have failed in their moral obligation. In short, if they do not generate profits its immoral.

Lost amidst all this din is a very pertinent question, what makes these oil companies "Big Oil"? Why are they hated? The plebian commoner, pardon him/her, does not have the time or resource to question every opinion that is tossed his/her way in the name of "analyst opinion". It is my credo to question such opinions and shine a contrarian light.

This article is the result of two stories in "The Economist" dated Aug 12th 2006 and the editorial "What is windfall Profit" in Wall Street Journal (Aug 4th 2008).

The following are excerpted from Economist:

"Big Oil is pretty small next to the industry's true giants: the national oil companies (NOCs) owned or controlled by the governments of oil-rich countries, which manage over 90% of the world's oil, depending on how you count. Of the 20 biggest oil firms, in terms of reserves of oil and gas, 16 are NOCs. Saudi Aramco, the biggest, has more than ten times the reserves that Exxon does. "

"Saudi Aramco's proved reserves alone could keep the world supplied for several decades. But it is only exploiting ten of its 80 or so fields". (Why do people just blame US oil companies for not exploring enough) "Only 2,000 wildcat wells have ever been dug in the countries around the Gulf, according to Leonardo Maugeri, an Italian oilman, compared with more than 1m wells in the United States".

If Exxon Mobil ws run like how Hugo Chavez runs PDVSA these same self styled "analysts" would scream murder. "The company (PDVSA) can no longer maintain its own fields, let alone complete the many new projects it is pursuing, says Diego González, who used to work for its gas division. Wood Mackenzie estimates that output slumped to less than 1.2m b/d in 2003. It subsequently recovered a bit, to 1.6m b/d, but is now falling again.."

Now lets turn to profits. Nobody defines the difference between what is legitimate profit and what is profiteering. One common measure of profits is "profit margin". WSJ editorial scathingly points out "Exxon's profit margin stood at 10% for 2007, which is hardly out of line with the oil and gas industry average of 8.3%, or the 8.9% for U.S. manufacturing (excluding the sputtering auto makers).If that's what constitutes windfall profits, most of corporate America would qualify. Take aerospace or machinery -- both 8.2% in 2007. Chemicals had an average margin of 12.7%. Computers: 13.7%. Electronics and appliances: 14.5%. Pharmaceuticals (18.4%) and beverages and tobacco (19.1%) round out the Census Bureau's industry rankings".

The editorial further points "its tax bills are already at record highs too. Between 2003 and 2007, Exxon paid $64.7 billion in U.S. taxes, exceeding its after-tax U.S. earnings by more than $19 billion. That sounds like a government windfall to us, but perhaps we're missing some Obama-Durbin business subtlety.."

For those who truly hate big oil and would like to see their profits cuts, please take a cycle to work, or at least use mass transit (out of choice), travel commercial flight, buy a sedan with decent mileage if you are not ready for any of that then...stop complaining.

Another blog will follow on that another canard "flex fuels" and "corn based ethanol".

Monday, August 18, 2008

Language politics and lack of Science in Tamil

The following post is set of rambling collected from my emails to a Tamil enthusiast, this needs to be edited but posting it here for now.

Here is a continuation of what I wrote yesterday. A friend referred to Sankaracharya being opposed to Tamil as Neesha Bashai etc.. There was a time when publishing the Bible or even attempting a translation of its Latin / Hebrew original was considered blasphemous sometimes inviting death too. Martin Luther who started the reformation movement in Germany for many other reasons promoted a German Bible so that the common man can understand the word of God. In fact if one traces the roots of Protestantism it is astonishing how the "clergy" or "priestly" class have always wielded highly disproportionate influence over the common man. And any historian of the papacy will tell you shocking stories too indecent for any mail. The papacy was in close nexus with Emperors and waged wars. All of this is global phenomenon due to much deeper anthropological reasons of how man venerated gods and thereby venerated godmen. Atheism has been in vogue as far back as Aristotle and Lucretius but it has always lost the race, again to very deep anthropological reasons. Linguistic elitism has always served as a "tool" for the clergy to preserve their heirarchy.

Let me take this argument even further on a little more scholarly level. Forget about languages that we understand, from time immemorial men have had fascination for priests or priestly underlings who can talk in incomprehensible blabber that needs specially blessed devotees to decipher. This is called "talking in tongues" in christianity (in Tamil X-ians call it as 'pala baashai pesuvadhu'). This actually is similar to "kuri solvadhu". The tradition stretches back to the Oracle of Delphi in Greece (yes Oracle corp gets its name from that). There used to be very attractive girls who spoke in "divine language" that was then deciphered by the priests. When X-ianity took root the apostles decided to continue this tradition so as to give a historical continuity. St.Paul who assailed this grudgingly accepted its necessity.

Linguistic elitism is interwoven in the human fabric in not just religion but in music too. I know that many ridicule the Telugu kirtanas and Carnatic music, finally by extension Brahmins on this score. In western classical music Operas are written almost exclusively in Italian, even by German composers. The movie "Amadeus" (fictional spin on Mozart's real history) has a telling scene. The German emperor suggests a German opera and his court composers are flabbergast saying that it will not be opera unless its in Italian. Mozart, being impish, crude and would love to stick his thumb on tradition agrees to compose it in German.

The Latin influence and its notion of elitism is very explicit in US. A nation that broke away from the old world still had its defining motto inscribed in Latin, not spoken by any of its citizenry much less not understood by then hugely illiterate population. "E pluribus unum" (out of many one). Look at that irony now.

Now look at how Spanish is taking over English in America. Even Obama and Clinton agreed that this is an English speaking country and that immigrants should learn English but added carefully that the US is becoming a bi-lingual country. I am not enthusiastic about it but I that is reality.

I am all for promoting Tamil but it should be done constituitionally, ethically without muscle power masquerading as popular will..

A language does not acquire prestige by how many speak it or how old it is, it does not even depend on the quality of literary output. Scientific achievements are what is important.

Churchill was made to study English in his school Eton. His comment on it was that he was thought too dull to study Latin or Greek which the other brighter students learnt. This was in 1870's England, the land of Shakespeare and Milton. Only dull students learnt English as a language.

Once Greek passed into the shadows because no Greek think after Aristotle came to dominate the continent with scientific or philosophic thought. Aristotlean science, most of it turned out wrong, held sway over Europe for well over 1000 years. Then started Renaissance period that lifted Europe out of the Dark ages (Yes it was called Dark ages). Latin was everywhere. A profusion of scientific revolutions flowed along side a cultural upheaval and everything was in Latin. Wikipedia has this comment on Latin " the de facto international language of science and scholarship in mid and western Europe until the 17th century". Every scientific thought well into the 17th century was written in Latin. Isaac Newton's magnum opus "Principia Mathematica" is completely in Latin. When asked if he frames hypothesis, Newtion replied in Latin, "Hypothesis non fingo" (I do not frame hypothesis). In fact Shakespeare himself was mocked as lacking in literary education as the "fellow who knew little Latin and less Greek".

Around the 18th and 19th century the dominance shifted to Germany. Austria and Vienna were the crucibles of western classical music. One genius after another flowered there. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt so much more. But consider this too. Quantum Physics is what it is mostly due to German Scientists, Wolgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, Max Plack and the greatest of all Albert Einstein. They all wrote and published in German (studied in German too of course as the mother tongue education advocates would like to point but more of that later). Around 1930's more collaboration from British, English speaking, scientists started. Remember that Oxford and Cambridge had existed for 600+ years until then yet they too regarded English as "plebian" (neesha bashai). The Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge has produced 29 Nobel laureates, pretty good record considering that Nobel's started only in 1900 ( )

1940-45 proved the tip over to English. So many scientists chase from Europe due to anti-semitism (like Brahmins are being chased today) came to US. The rest is history and today the US leads the scientific front and English rules.

This might change if China breaks ground on original research (they are good in copying without permission)

Operas are written exclusively in italian, ....more on this later

On language in music, respect for real solid Tamil scientific work, an interesting discussion in Tamil University etc I shall continue later

There is NOTHING in Tamil literature or Tamil heritage that would stand the test of "is it scientific methodology". My brother in his 11th grade had Tamil text with chapters by MK and Anbahazhagan etc. One chapter's claims went like this ( here you really need to take a breath, I am not lying): Kural says that man has to get rid of anger because anger only brings pain to the man who shows it just like a man slapping the ground is pained, THIS is proof that Valluvar knew that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction much before Isaac Newton. Then another couplet from some o ther place was cited:'for a man lying in the lap of a woman a whole night flies by like a second" (or something similar). This shows that Tamilians knew of "theory of relativity". Then ofcourse I have heard outlandish, to put it mildly, claims of Kamban singing of atomic fission (citing a verse that said "splitting the atom and inserting the seven seas", anuvai thulaithu yezh kadal puguthi).the list goes on.

If THESE are cited as signs of scientific attitude no serious thinker of science can help laughing out loud. These are not just stupidities but gross insult to the scientific genius of mankind and in fact shows the writers own total lack of understanding of what science is. I shall explain this very briefly.

Isaac Newton is revered as a genius not because he stated laws. He stated laws drawn from observations and supported by a rigid mathematical framework. The concept of gravity existed before Newton. The genius was in "inventing" calculus to describe it. Newton was a petty man though who denied Leibnitz the rights as co-creator of calculus, its a scandal worth a seperate note.

I am reading Galileo's book "Dialogue concerning the chief world systems" and I am amazed and the scientific "reasoning" employed in a battle to prove to his idea for which he paid dearly.

Einstein's genius is something too breathtaking to even start contemplating here. He wrote just 4 papers. in 1095 he wrote three papers including Special Theory of relativity and in 1915 he reached the pinnacle of human intellectual achievement in his General theory. His big stroke of genius was not in just unifying space and time but putting them in a mind blowing mathematical framework. The math behind this theory was the "curved geometry" of Reimann. Curved geometry is a great leap over Euclidean geometry.

In England one of the highest bodies of scientific membership is the Royal Society. A bust of Francis Bacon adorns the Royal Society. Bacon brought to prominence "induction hypothesis" and "empirical analysis". He is considered the father of experimental science. In fact he died out of infection contracted while doing experiment on a bird in a cold climate. ( please check out the ending pages on Francis Bacon in Will Durant's Story of Philosophy).

Science ultimately boils down to a few things, 1) A theory provable and repeatable anywhere 2)Mathematically sustained 3)Finally falsifiable too....

I am not a big votary of the mother-tongue only approach. Having studied in English medium and very importantly due to my own almost exclusively English reading I now THINK in English and since I THINK in English I can seamlessly express myself in English. So for all practical reasons I could say that ENGLISH IS MY MOTHER TONGUE. I'd suggest converting all schools in Tamil Nadu to English medium AND very very importantly upgrading the quality of teachers. Not even English teachers know good English these days. This is also because the textbooks carry badly written chapters by Indian authors. I studied in Matriculation school and the quality of my English text was 100 times better than the state board one. All of those were factors too.

I think I shall rest for now.