Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Breaking news on food technology


Taco Bell's New Green Menu Takes No Ingredients From Nature

Readings

Interesting point of view...
If Bernie Madoff's crimes were "extraordinarily evil," as his sentencing judge declared, than how to we describe the crimes of Joseph Stalin, or the warp speed massacres in late 20th century Rwanda? How do we distinguish linguistically between a massive Ponzi scheme and genocide? It's not an idle semantic question. Hyperbole, pop culture's lingua franca, doesn't simply exaggerate; it also diminishes. It threatens to obliterate essential moral and aesthetic distinctions, undermining our ability to recognize gradations of good and evil, freedom and repression, or beauty, intelligence and talent.
Yes, Madoff ruined countless lives (literally, considering the effect of his fraud on charities as well as individual investors.) Yes, he stole on a grand scale and earned his imprisonment. Yes, apparently he had his share of neuroses, (like reported obsessive compulsive tendencies,) but who doesn't? Generally, he seems such an ordinarily evil man. His sins -- greed, selfishness, dishonesty, an absence of empathy -- are all distressingly common. Indeed, his story owes its symbolic resonance to the ordinariness of his character and crime. Extraordinary people stand apart. Madoff stands within and for the acquisitive, status hungry culture that lionized him, the tribalism that led so many Jews to trust him, and the corrupt financial and regulatory system that allowed him to prosper.

Retracing and remembering

Reading this bit on the Daily Dish, I was again reminded why the British (atleast their colonial ancestors) were such bigoted SOBs...

From here: Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of the time [Bengal famine of 1943], his involvement in the disaster and indeed his knowledge of it remains a mystery. When in response to an urgent request by the Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery, and Wavell to release food stocks for India, Churchill responded with a telegram to Wavell asking, if food was so scarce, "why Gandhi hadn’t died yet." Initially during the famine he was more concerned with the civilians of Greece (who were also suffering from a famine) compared with the Bengalis. In the end Churchill did ask for US assistance, writing to Roosevelt that he was "no longer justified in not asking for aid" but the American response was negative.

Jon deconstructs the financial quagmire

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
150 Years of Solitude
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Political HumorJason Jones in Iran

An idea...

As I was driving to work today, I heard news that yet another Airbus had crashed into the ocean. This time it was a Yemeni jet carrying 153 passengers and the only survivor was a toddler. The usual thoughts about retrieval of the crucial components that record flight details and the difficulties of seeking the same in deep water were the topics of fervent news conversations across the airwaves. I also know that just about any minute now (over the course of today) the black boxes of the doomed flight from Brazil carrying 228 passengers that went down over the Atlantic about a month back will stop transmitting the 'beeps' that would have helped us locate the boxes and in turn find out crucial information about the last minutes of the fated flight.
The 'black boxes' in question are really the flight data recorder (a device that continuously samples aircraft parameters like time, pressure, altitude, airspeed, acceleration etc and records the same onto appropriate media) and the cockpit voice recorder (which records all conversation within the cockpit, any ambient noises and all communications between the cockpit and the outside world). The data contained inside each of these boxes usually help investigators piece together crucial parts of a doomed flight and help them in determining / ascertaining the cause of a disaster thus helping avert similar catastrophic events in the future.
On older aircraft the data is stored on especially hardened magnetic tape based backup devices while on the more modern planes the data is digitally stored on PCMCIA based ATA flash drives (akin to a USB hard drive that you and I might use).
The idea goes something like this: It is common knowledge that Aircell, an airborne communication company has the required patents that allow the use of broadband Internet service on jetliners. They recently announced that they received full FAA certification for a High Speed Internet system which is supposedly 56 times faster than a traditional dial-up connection. In fact, American Airlines and Virgin America recently became one of the first airlines to offer broadband internet connection to all of the passengers. Other solutions to deliver broadband internet connectivity at 35,000 feet include the use of GPS based internet connections that rely on data packet transmissions to overhead GPS satellites.
Given that the airplane has a reliable internet connection, it should be a trivial problem to send packets of information to and from the plane to ground based data servers (using a satellite as an intermediary). The digital output from the flight voice recorder and the flight data recorder can be easily streamed, encrypted and compressed using appropriate algorithms and delivered securely for storage at flight information data centers around the world (or better still stored on a cloud based international information exchange that is managed by a global consortium). In addition to collecting the flight data information and the voice recorder information, an internet based streaming capture solution would also allow the recording and streaming of digital images (jpeg or mpeg) from the cockpit that will help us accurately understand spurious actions that the pilots may have performed during the last minutes of an unforeseen disaster. As flights criss-cross the world, the data centers could rely on existing high speed data replication and data mirroring technologies that will help the ground based system maintain a fail safe scenario and also help manage multiple copies of similar data for redundancy and faster access from any point around the globe. The envisaged data storage costs would not be that high as the flight information stored could periodically be purged (every six months - maybe) as most of the flights would have safely landed and we will not need (presumably) access to 'safe' flight information. In the event of a disaster, the search can thus be limited to finding survivors and precious monies spent on recovering the black boxes could instead be diverted towards saving humans lives. I think this is a set of technologies that could have come to fruition only when the technology maturity was appropriate with respect to the multiple variables surrounding the proposed solution (internet in flight, data centers, data replication, streaming technologies etc) and I believe that that time is now.

Iraq celebrates National Sovereignty Day

Six years after fabricated stories about yellowcake uranium, weapons of mass destruction and non existent al-Qaeda links (atleast in 2003), the unjust occupation of Iraq by the so called 'Coalition' forces is slowly coming to a close - at least symbolically. I am happy.

Monday, June 29, 2009

MJ's legacy

A war veteran talks about the influence of Michael Jackson and his music in Iraq.

Some people are genuinely saddened by his death, while others only focus on the scandals that followed Jackson in recent years. Others are saying that the instant media attention being beamed on his early death is distracting from more important issues, namely, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
I disagree. One of the strangest things I experienced in Iraq during my two tours there was the multitude of "Michael Jackson" stories I brought home. I remember watching Baghdad children moonwalk during lulls in our foot patrols to try to get our attention. I remember children waving to us and simply saying “Mike-kal Jack-son” to express affection and get us to look at them.
During a door-to-door search of a Baghdad neighborhood, an entire apartment building was in a festive mood, and one family blasted old Michael Jackson songs which rocked the entire building as we searched for weapons, smiling. On one particular mission, my squad was searching a house in Baghdad for weapons -- a very common mission. The family was eager to invite us into their home, and to make us feel more welcome, they played a scratchy, old VHS tape that looked like it was from the mid-1980's featuring Michael Jackson videos, like Thriller and Beat It. We all looked at each other, perplexed. This was 2003, and Michael Jackson’s music didn’t exactly represent the cutting edge of popular music. We were all in our early twenties. Michael Jackson was already a relic to us. We thought it was about the lamest thing in the world. But the family was proud to display their affection for the King of Pop, and we appreciated their effort to make us feel welcome. Michael Jackson's music touched all people, all over the world.

Quotable

"A poet once said 'The whole universe is in a glass of wine.' We will probably never know in what sense he meant that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imaginations adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the Earth's rocks, and in its composition we see the secret of the universe's age, and the evolution of the stars. What strange array of chemicals are there in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalizations: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts—physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on—remember that Nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!"
Richard Feynman in The New Quantum Universe

Men on Acid

A story and video on reconstructing faces after acid attacks...

Acid has become a common weapon – partly because it is cheap, a bottle costs about 60 cents and partly because conviction rates are low. The reasons for the attack are varied - from going out without the husband's permission, neglecting the house or children, to cooking a bad meal.
...Although most victims of acid attacks are 25-35 year old women, more than 5 per cent are babies. Mr Hiles of the Acid Survivors Foundation saw one-month-old Durjoy when he was brought to the clinic with his mouth so badly burnt that his chin had melted down onto to his chest. His lips were almost closed, and he cried as he wheezed in and out. He had been force fed acid by his aunt, who was later found to be mentally ill. Although he desperately needed surgery, the baby was so weak from not being able to swallow his food that doctors had to put him on a high-protein diet and wait until he was stronger.

Copy cat chronicles

The torture underway in Iran right now mirrors some of the methods perfected by Cheney and company... Of course, the Iranians go a little further - there is a good chance that they would execute the person afterwards...

With the distressing news of so many democracy activists being rounded up by the Iranian regime, the specter of torture for false confessions emerges. The confessions "prove" that the demonstrations were entirely a function of a foreign plot. And, more to the point, the torture techniques include those adopted and championed by the neocon right in the US. Among the Cheney techniques that are used by the Khemenai regime are sleep deprivation, forced nudity, beatings, solitary confinement, and stress positions. The torture also exceeds Cheney techniques in many cases: beating with cables, which was barred by Cheney in favor of beatings that did not leave such scars or "walling". The Tehran regime does not have a record of waterboarding. Khamenei's regime, like Cheney's program, denies outright that they torture anyone.

The case for paying artists...

Another idea to stimulate the economy - and this one involving artists...
If the Obama administration is serious about stimulating the economy and creating as many new jobs as possible, one choice is clear: it should announce a massive increase in federal arts funding. Artists are among the very poorest citizens. When they get cash, they spend it both quickly and carefully. That’s not what most recipients of federal largesse do, but it happens to be exactly what economists look for in any stimulus package. Arts spending is fantastic at creating employment: for every $30,000 or so spent on the arts, one more person gets a job, compared with about $1 million if you’re building a road or hospital. And such spending has a truly lasting benefit: the Works Progress Administration didn’t just create murals, it subsidized enormous leaps in graphic design, in theater (including America’s first all-black production of Macbeth), and in fine art. One painter lived off the WPA’s Federal Art Project for eight years before finally getting his first solo show in 1943. Maybe a similar program today could produce America’s next Jackson Pollock.

Mammatocumulus photo

Skies over our home (South New Jersey) on the evening of June 26 just before a thunderstorm.

These were identified to be a class of cloud called mammatocumuli (clouds shaped like udders) via Gawker...
Mammatus (also known as mammatocumulus, meaning "bumpy clouds") is a meteorological term applied to a cellular pattern of pouches hanging underneath the base of a cloud. The name "mammatus" is derived from the Latin mamma (udder), due to the clouds' characteristic shape.

Painting Post

'The Dilemma', Oil on canvas, 42" (width) X 46" (height), 2009

Note: Painted from a photo by Andres Serrano.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Recommended

The Stoning of Soraya M.
From here: Not since “The Passion of the Christ” has a film depicted a public execution in such graphic detail. In the approximately 20 minutes during which the killing unfolds, the camera repeatedly returns to study the battered face and body of the title character (Mozhan Marno) as she is stoned to death. Buried up to her waist in a hole dug for the occasion, she is pelted with rocks and profanity by the male villagers, including her father, husband and two sons, until she dies. The condemned woman is innocent of the charge of adultery brought against her by her sadistic husband, Ali (Navid Negahban), who wants to get rid of her so he can marry a 14-year-old girl. According to ancient Islamic law, a wife’s adultery is punishable by death. Ali pressures the corrupt local bigwigs to prosecute her based on the rumors he ignited and false evidence they coerce from a widower for whom she has worked as a housekeeper. In one of the film’s sickeningly exploitative touches, Ali, wearing a triumphal grin, examines his wife’s crumpled, blood-drenched body to make sure she is dead and discovers signs of life in a rolled-up eye. The stoning is promptly resumed.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A lesson in Fluid Dynamics

As the sun sets

We recently obtained an autographed copy of Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin’s new book ‘Magnificent Desolation’ about his post moon-landing life and his subsequent adjustment struggles as a normal human being back on earth (an adjustment that involved a couple of women, alcoholism and depression). Reading this book bought to mind how another moon walker adjusted to life back on earthAlan Bean, (the fourth human to walk on the moon). He turned to painting... One of his paintings below.

Alan Bean, "Beyond a Young Boy's Dream", 1989, acrylic on Masonite board. More here.

Toon

From Gooya.

Meanwhile in India

India mashes up politics and religion nicely.

From the Times of India: With the monsoon playing truant, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy has ordered all temples, mosques and churches in the state to offer special prayers to appease the Rain God. Starting form Wednesday, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams will conduct prayers in all major temples run by it. Special prayers are to be held in mosques and churches for the onset of the elusive monsoon.

Painting Post

'Gathering the Limbs of Osiris', Oil on canvas, 42" (width) X 46" (height), 2009

Thursday, June 25, 2009

RIP - MJ


It's close to midnight and something evil's lurking in the dark
Under the moonlight, you see a sight that almost stops your heart
You try to scream but terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes
You're paralyzed

'Cause this is thriller, thriller night
And no one's gonna save you from the beast about strike
You know it's thriller, thriller night
You're fighting for your life inside a killer, thriller tonight

You hear the door slam and realize there's nowhere left to run
You feel the cold hand and wonder if you'll ever see the sun
You close your eyes and hope that this is just imagination, girl!
But all the while you hear the creature creeping up behind
You're out of time

'Cause this is thriller, thriller night
There ain't no second chance against the thing with forty eyes, girl
Thriller, thriller night
You're fighting for your life inside a killer, thriller tonight

Night creatures calling, the dead start to walk in their masquerade
There's no escaping the jaws of the alien this time
(They're open wide)
This is the end of your life

They're out to get you, there's demons closing in on every side
They will possess you unless you change that number on your dial
Now is the time for you and I to cuddle close together, yeah
All through the night I'll save you from the terror on the screen
I'll make you see

That this is thriller, thriller night
'Cause I can thrill you more than any ghost would ever dare try
Thriller, thriller night
So let me hold you tight and share a
Killer, diller, chiller, thriller here tonight

'Cause this is thriller, thriller night
Girl, I can thrill you more than any ghost would ever dare try
Thriller, thriller night
So let me hold you tight and share a killer, thriller, ow!

(I'm gonna thrill ya tonight)
Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y'alls neighborhood

I'm gonna thrill ya tonight, ooh baby
I'm gonna thrill ya tonight, oh darlin'
Thriller night, baby, ooh!

The foulest stench is in the air
The funk of forty thousand years
And grizzly ghouls from every tomb
Are closing in to seal your doom

And though you fight to stay alive
Your body starts to shiver
For no mere mortal can resist
The evil of the thriller

Iran deal?

This is interesting...

Reliable sources in Iran are suggesting that a possible compromise to put an end to the violent uprising that has rocked Iran for the past two weeks may be in the works. I have previously reported that the second most powerful man in Iran, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Assembly of Experts (the body with the power to choose and dismiss the Supreme Leader) is in the city of Qom—the country’s religious center—trying to rally enough votes from his fellow Assembly members to remove the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from power. News out of Iran suggests that he may be succeeding. At the very least, it seems he may have gained enough support from the clerical establishment to force a compromise from Khamenei, one that would entail a run-off election between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main reformist rival Mir Hossein Mousavi.

About a judge who thinks strip searches on 13 year old girls are OK...

Over the last week the Supreme Court of the United States voted 8-1 on the following two cases. Guess who the dissenting judge was in both cases?
Case 1 : The Supreme Court decided on Monday not to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a protection for the right of minorities to vote. Congress enacted Section 5 to clamp down on election officials who use tactics like gerrymandering and closing polling places to suppress and dilute minority votes. It requires states and local governments to “preclear” changes in voting rules with the Justice Department or a federal court to determine whether they would harm minority voting rights.

Case 2 : In a ruling of interest to educators, parents and students across the country, the Supreme Court ruled, 8 to 1, on Thursday that the strip search of a 13-year-old Arizona girl by school officials who were looking for prescription-strength drugs violated her constitutional rights.
  • Case 1: The nearly unanimous decision involving a key part of the landmark Voting Rights Act survived a constitutional challenge with only Justice Clarence Thomas, the court's lone African American, found the provision unconstitutional.
  • Case 2: Justice Clarence Thomas was the only member of the court to conclude that the strip search of the 13 year old girl Savana Redding did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Surviving sex scandals - advice for our politicians

As yet another Republican falls into the sex scandal trap, here is some advice on how to effectively survive one of these career busters. Maybe this ought to be required daily morning reading for all of our elected colleagues...

1. Don’t break any big laws. Larry Craig made himself a laughing stock, but he only pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. Likewise, Senator Vitter’s alleged sins were technically only misdemeanors.

2. Be a nice guy. One reason former Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York resigned so soon after his penchant for call girls was revealed last year was that he suffered from a deficit of charm. People just didn’t like him. When Mr. Spitzer’s replacement, the very amiable David Paterson, announced that he hadn’t been the ideal husband either, his colleagues and the public gave him a pass.

3. Remember that it’s not the sex, it’s the lying. Just as we expect full disclosure from our spouses, we expect it from our politicians too. Mark Sanford has already admitted he was unfaithful, and said he plans on going “one by one and town by town to talk to a lot of old friends across this state” about “what I’ve done” and “asking their forgiveness.” Before this is over, expect to know quite a lot about Governor Sanford’s little visit to Argentina.

4. Pathologize the problem. We don’t want to hear that you succumbed to ordinary lust. Blame it on sexual addiction, an alcohol problem, or childhood abuse. Pledge to enter couples therapy. If it’s part of a sickness, you can treat it and fix it.

5. If you can’t conjure up a malady, say it was an accident. In America, adulterers routinely insist that they’re not the sort of people who would have affairs. Governor Sanford says his affair began “very innocently, as I suspect many of these things do in just a casual email back and forth.” Only a truly evil person would cheat on purpose.

6. Get your wife on board. If she doesn’t take you back, neither will the rest of us. Political wives — who have hitched their wagons to their husbands’ careers — know we’re reading their body language and measuring how many millimeters they stand from their husbands. They walk a fine line between salvaging their dignity and keeping their husbands employed. That explains why Jenny Sanford’s public statement reads like a cross between a wounded wife’s lament, and a polished press release. “For the last fifteen years my husband has been fully engaged in public service to the citizens and taxpayers of this states,” she reminds us. She goes on to say that he has “earned a chance to resurrect our marriage” — and, presumably, to keep his job.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chart Porn

The Big Picture blog has a graphic on how much we are spending bailing out our beloved financial institutions compared to monies spent on major historical events of note. It is nothing short of staggering and makes me wonder why Obama is really not stepping up to the plate. His financial regulatory reforms outlined yesterday were timid (to say the least).

Testimonies from the collaterally damaged

From MIT Media Lab's Virtual Gaza project: The project is a space where ordinary Palestinians describe their experiences living under Israeli occupation in the Gaza strip. The diary entries, photographs, and video material gathered have been contributed by residents of Gaza. Most of the entries are geotagged...

15 year-old Ayman al-Najar is sitting up in his hospital bed at the Al-Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. His back is covered with thick dressings. His doctor explains that he is suffering from severe chemical burns. Ayman is from Khoza'a, the rural community east of Khan Younis which endured a brutal incursion by Israeli ground forces on 13th January. He and his sister were sitting together under the stairs when a missile struck. Their grandfather was in the garden. His body was severed into two parts.
His sister, Alaa', 16, had been playing a game on her mobile phone. A third of her face was blown off, leaving part of her mouth, jaw and cheekbone missing. A massive part of her waist and pelvic area was destroyed with tissue loss exposing the bone. She was also badly burned. Medical staff at the Al-Nasser Hospital battled to save her and she pulled through 10 hours of surgery. She regained consciousness after the operation and wept when she heard about the death of her grandfather. However, five hours later she died suddenly.
It is time for Ayman's dressing to be changed. He cries out as the bandages are removed. A scarlet red wad of gauze is teased out of a deep hole in his back which it is filling in order to stem the bleeding. Five days after the attack, his wounds are still bleeding profusely. These are not normal burns. The wounds cover his upper back and right arm and his ankle has a deep wound down to the bone. He will need extensive plastic surgery. Shrapnel which entered Ayman's back penetrated one of his lungs and he has undergone surgery to repair several tears. He screams as iodine solution is applied. It is unbearable to watch his suffering.
Ayman is a civilian, a minor. He was at home with his family when they were attacked. Israel claims its bloody war has been on Hamas. Ayman, Alaa' and their grandfather were not Hamas operatives, neither were the thousands of other civilians killed and injured. Israel would call them "collateral damage". However, the atrocities committed against them amount to war crimes, especially if weapons have been used illegally. What exactly is the substance which has inflicted such wounds – not on Ayman alone but countless others also? Israel won't admit to the nature or composition of some of the less conventional weapons its military has been using on the population of Gaza.

Meanwhile...

The Foundation for Fair Civil Justice, a tort-reform group, recently announced the winners of its 12th annual "Wacky Warning Label" contest.
This year's winning label was attached to a product called "The Off-Road Commode," a toilet seat that is designed to attach to the trailer hitch of a truck. The warning label reads "Not for use on moving vehicles".

Among the runners-up:
  • An information booklet that reads, "Do not use if you cannot see clearly to read the information in the information booklet";
  • The warning, "Always use this product with adult supervision," a label that appears on the underside of a cereal bowl; and
  • A warning provided with a 1" by 4" LCD panel, reading, "Do not eat the LCD panel."
  • A bag of livestock castration rings warns, “For animal use only.”

Word of the day...

Iran's 'basij' (a word appearing in multiple tweets from that country) deconstructed here...

Basij (the name means "mobilisation") are commanded by a senior cleric but are subordinate to the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which in turn answers to the supreme leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The fatal shooting in Tehran's Azadi Square during Monday's massive protest march — the peak of the unrest so far — arose from a clash between basiji and pro-Mousavi demonstrators. Basiji are also said to have attacked students in Tehran University dormitories, along with police. Seven other people were killed, apparently also with the involvement of the militiamen.
...Basij units were first formed to provide volunteers for "human wave" attacks during the Iran-Iraq war in the early 1980s. Instead of using mine-clearing equipment, basiji were ordered to go through minefields and told they would become martyrs and go to paradise. Ayatollah Khomeini also decreed that women could join the basij, a decision that produced arresting images of women in black chadors carrying sub-machine guns and marching in military formation.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Question

A great discussion on whether it is acceptable to make art out of human suffering here.

Note: I remember starting to explore this (suffering) as a viable means of artistic expression some time back, but then the subjects and stories were so raw that I could not really proceed further after I started to feel that taking pictures of disadvantaged individuals can be construed as exploitative (at least in my mind) if one bandies them around under the label 'art'...

Wezemana ("God is great") with her sleeping brother Mitonze, Rwandan refugee camp, Lumasi, Tanzania, 1995 (photographed by Fazal Sheikh)

Came across this bit...

You can do the work of the mind without the hand, but not that of the hand without the mind.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Photo

Sunrise over Huguenot, Staten Island

Comment on Iran

Andrew Sullivan may be doing a great job of ‘live blogging’ the so called green revolution happening in Iran right now, but it should be borne in mind that both Mousavi and Ahmadinejad are members of the ruling elite explicitly sanctioned and officially approved by the grand mullahs who really rule Iran. Unless the mullahs led by Grand Ayatollah Ali Hoseyni Khamene’i are deposed, I am not sure how much Mousavi can really accomplish. Of course, one of the products of having a little more liberal Mir-Hossein Mousavi is that the usual saber rattling towards Israel is bound to reduce unlike Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who makes it part of his daily schedule.

Filed under 'You scratch my back and I will scratch yours'

How Obama hired the White House Chief of Staff (Rahm Emanuel) and the CIA chief (Leon Panetta)...

Barack Obama called Panetta for advice on who might make a good chief of staff. Panetta recommended Emanuel, telling him that “Rahm knows the Hill, he certainly knows the White House, and he’s got the tough side” necessary for the job. In January, Emanuel recommended Panetta for the C.I.A. post. Emanuel said of Panetta, “Leon has great judgment, a great compass. He’s a great manager, and he’s trusted by both parties.”

Painting Post

'Untitled', 42" (height) X 60" (width), oil on canvas, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

Readings

From the book What Is the What by Dave Eggers.

There is a perception in the West that refugee camps are temporary. When images of the earthquakes in Pakistan are shown, and the survivors seen in their vast cities of shale-colored tents, waiting for food or rescue before the coming of winter, most Westerners believe that these refugees will soon be returned to their homes, that the camps will be dismantled inside of six months, perhaps a year. But I grew up in refugee camps. I lived in Pinyudo for almost three years, Golkur for almost one year, and Kakuma for ten. In Kakuma, a small community of tents grew to a vast patchwork of shanties and buildings constructed from poles and sisal bags and mud, and this is where we lived and worked and went to school from 1992 to 2001. It is not the worst place on the continent of Africa, but it is among them. Still, the refugees there created a life that resembled the lives of other human beings, in that we ate and talked and laughed and grew. Goods were traded, men married women, babies were born, the sick were healed and, just as often, went to Zone Eight and then to the sweet hereafter. We young people went to school, tried to stay awake and concentrate on one meal a day while distracted by the charms of Miss Gladys and girls like Tabitha. We tried to avoid trouble from other refugees—from Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda—and from the indigenous people of northwest Kenya, while always keeping our ears open to any news from home, news about our families, any opportunities to leave Kakuma temporarily or for good.
...Every day in school, students would be absent due to illness. The bones of boys my age were attempting to grow, but there were not enough nutrients in our food. So there was diarrhea, dysentery, and typhoid. Early on in the life of the school, when a student was ill, the school was notified, and the students were encouraged to pray for that boy. When the boy returned to school, he would be applauded, though there were some boys who felt it best to keep their distance from those who had just been sick. When a boy did not recover, our teachers would call us together before classes, and tell us that there was bad news, that this certain boy had died. Some of us would cry, and others would not. Many times, I was not sure if I had known the boy, and so I just waited until the crying boys were done crying. Then the lesson would continue, with those of us who did not know the boy hiding our small satisfaction that this death would mean that school would be dismissed early that day. A dead boy meant a half day, and any day that we could go home to sleep meant that we could rest and be better able to fight off disease ourselves.

Testimony

Testimony of Ms. Soon Ok Lee, a North Korean prison camp survivor. It is not just us, it is clear that the North Koreans waterboard too...

One day in early March 1997, I was taken into a torture chamber that I had never been in before. I saw a big kettle on a small table and a low wooden table with straps, about 20 centimeters high. By surprise, one of the two interrogators tripped me with his leg. They strapped me on to the table and forced the kettle spout into my mouth. The spout was made so that it forced my throat wide open and I could not control the water running into my body. Close to suffocation, I had to breathe through my nose. My mouth was full of water and it overflowed from my nose. As I began to faint from the pain and suffocation, I could not see anything but felt sort of afloat in the air. I had been through all kinds of torture, such as whippings, beatings with rubber bands or hard sticks, or hand twisting with wooden sticks between my ten fingers, but this was worse. I do not remember how long it lasted but when I woke up I felt two interrogators jumping on a board which was laid on my swollen stomach to force water back out of my body. I suddenly vomited and kept vomiting with terrible pain. I had no idea how much water ran into my body but I felt like the cells in my body were full of water and water was running out of my body through my mouth, nose, anus and vagina.

Novel novel

Biting satire from a new novel by Abdourahman Waberi.

The United States of Africa, by the Djiboutian writer Abdourahman Waberi is a novel that seems entirely concerned with the question of “what if?” What if Africa were the world’s locus of power? What if Europe and America were the third world? How would one perceive, think and speak about each continent? Which races and ethnicities would be described with specific and nuanced expressions – and which with vague and essentialist phrases?
In the novel’s opening section, Waberi introduces us to this alternate universe. He depicts Europe and America as continents where the rates of infant mortality and Aids infection are high, the people have been “subjected to ethnic and linguistic warfare for centuries”, the customs are “barbaric”, the mores are “deceitful and uncontrollable”, the languages are “dialects” or “white pidgins” that “God alone could decipher”, the names are “impossible”, and the art is “primitive”. The countries of Africa, by contrast, have unified under a single federal government with the Eritrean city of Asmara as its capital. There are no pandemics; the free-market economy benefits from a gas and oil boom; and Malian and Liberian astronauts fly missions to the moon. Most importantly, values of “solidarity, conviviality, and morality” prevail from north to south and east to west on this, “the first continent”. Driven by war or famine, European refugees and immigrants wash up on “the cobalt-blue bay of Algiers”. The African government has been trying to stem the flow of arrivals without success. Specialists from the “Kenyatta School of European and American Studies” declare that Africa cannot accommodate all of the world’s poor, a position that is also widely held by mainstream newspapers. Waberi narrates this state of affairs in the first-person plural:
“Surely you are aware that our media have been digging up their most scornful, odious stereotypes again, which go back at least as far as Methusuleiman! Like, the new migrants propagate their soaring birth rates, their centuries-old soot, their lack of ambition, their ancestral machismo, their reactionary religions like Protestantism, Judaism, or Catholicism, their endemic diseases. In short, they are introducing the Third World right up the anus of the United States of Africa. The least scrupulous of our newspapers have abandoned all restraint for decades and fan the flames of fear of what has been called – hastily, to be sure – the ‘White Peril’.” (via)

Photo

From here: Sunil and Arvind Parmar, owners of a tea stall in Surendranagar, Gujarat, India, break for lunch while their servant Mangal, an 11-year-old Dalit (untouchable) boy is made to sit under the table for his lunch.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Quotable

"Girls who choose to wear jeans will be expelled from the college, This is the only way to stop crime against women. Western dresses, including body-hugging tops and tight-fitting jeans, don’t indicate a disciplined atmosphere and attract comments from eve-teasers. We can’t overlook the safety of students. A dress code would check eve-teasing to some extent and also ensure that girls don’t waste their time selecting what clothes to wear," --- Meeta Jamal, principal of the Dayanand girls college in the city of Kanpur, India.
From here: Colleges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh said Wednesday that female students would be banned from wearing jeans and other Western clothes to halt sexual harassment by male classmates.

Comment

Now it looks like the lobbyists have got the doctors to oppose the public health insurance option in Obama's healthcare overhaul plans...

But in comments submitted to the Senate Finance Committee, the American Medical Association said: “The A.M.A. does not believe that creating a public health insurance option for non-disabled individuals under age 65 is the best way to expand health insurance coverage and lower costs. The introduction of a new public plan threatens to restrict patient choice by driving out private insurers, which currently provide coverage for nearly 70 percent of Americans.” If private insurers are pushed out of the market, the group said, “the corresponding surge in public plan participation would likely lead to an explosion of costs that would need to be absorbed by taxpayers.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Poetry

Herons by Madhavikutty

On sedatives
I am more lovable,
says my husband ...
My speech becomes a mistladen terrain
the words emerge, tinctured with sleep,
they rise from the still coves of dreams
in unhurried flight like herons
and,
my ragdoll limbs adjust better
to his versatile lust.
He would, if he could, sing lullabies
to his wife’s sleeping soul,
sweet lullabies to thicken its swoon.
On sedatives
I am more lovable,
says my husband ...

----------------------
From here: Madhavikutty, also known as Kamala Das was a prominent Indian poet, memoirist and short-story writer whose work was known for its open discussion of women’s sexual lives. She died on May 31 in Pune, India. She was 75.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Filed under the annals of corny project ideas...

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has an interesting project underway: “If we discover intelligent life beyond Earth, should we reply, and if so, what should we say?” People are invited to submit pictures, sounds, and messages that they would want to send to distant worlds.

People seem to have some interesting things to say. Some selections...

  • Word Up, Yo? 
  • First, sorry about all the probing gags. We are a repressed species. Second, We really don't want to rule the Universe. I mean, take a close look at our history. We make a lot of noise, push each other around, take control of an area; then lose interest and allow it to drift away. We have very little long term commitment. How much actual harm could we really do out there.Third, we are really fun at parties. 
  • "Would you like a cup of tea?" The aliens will have traveled a long way, and it's only good hospitality to offer them a brew, and maybe some cake, or biscuits..
  • Please enter your messages after the beeb *beeb* 
  • Use a LED or a laser or any light source to transmit a prime numbers sequence in binary code. Send the first 10 prime numbers, then repeat the sequence all over again. Do this acoustically also, with tones selected from different frequency interval (20 Hz, 200 Hz, 2 KHz and 20 KHz). 
  • Hello can you please acknowledge this transmitted data? If not, we've just wasted thousands of tax payers dollars on nothing.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Painting Post

'The Girl With Curious Hair', 42" (w) X 46" (h), Oil on canvas, 2009

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Painting Post

'Medusa', Oil on canvas, 38" (width) X 61" (height), 2009

Friday, June 05, 2009

Short story


AN ATOM HEART FART

The end had to come swiftly and abruptly. The first signs were very clear - an unnatural turbulence - the kind that one typically experiences at lower altitudes - but this was happening at 39,000 feet. The captain had ordered that the flight attendants stop distributing food and head back to their assigned locations. When Anthony Thomas decided that he will need to hold onto his gold plated eyeglasses lest they fall off the starched white shirt pockets, he began to think that something was going disastrously wrong. Outside, the world seemed to have turned in on itself. Clear bright flashes of lightning helped momentarily define the 747’s gleaming lines. If the lightning was sporadic the rain were anything but, coming down at constantly shifting angles the water seemed like some surreal liquid wall continuously directed against what suddenly seemed now like very flimsy window panes. For a while, Anthony imagined (and as strange as it might seem) that he could actually hear the rain and the thunder above the background engine noise, but before he decided to apply his engineers training to the problem he found that the giant plane was now yawing back and forth like a sailboat in choppy waters. He steadied his neighbor - a middle aged lady with horn rimmed glasses and piercing black eyes who had earlier told him with a curt voice that she did not need help with unfastening the stubborn food tray that did not seem to budge even after repeated trials. Of course, that was when the world was a different one, albeit a couple of hours ago – when the most exciting thing that one could look forward to on this nine hour flight from Rio was wondering if the grilled lamb chops might be undercooked or just plain rubbery. She seemed to be more grateful in accepting his entreaties this time around. At about this time, Anthony heard what he might have described as the loudest sound he had ever heard, and that thought coming from a man who led a life as a Shell consultant amongst oil platforms and derricks was quite a milestone. The next few seconds were incomparably quick with events layered one upon another. Amidst the incessant lightning and the rain there seemed to be a strange high pitched noise – the sound of air rapidly escaping from inside the metal tube presumably from a window blown out by a direct lightning strike or from a hole in the fuselage, the screaming of the passengers as they realized what was actually happening, the children helplessly crying at their loudest pitch, the otherwise incomprehensible scene of oxygen masks dropping from their cleverly disguised overhead compartments and dangling above an incoherent audience like some antediluvian Southern stringing and above all, the roar of the rains that seemed to add to the ever increasing confusion. Nobody seemed to notice the black cumulonimbus clouds build up in front of the plane like a thick solid wall many miles in circumference. In the second or two that passed during these events, 46 year old Anthony found himself to be surprisingly agile in reaching out and putting that mask around his head. He did not seem to care if anyone else got a hold of that mask, but he did successfully take three large lungfulls of sterile cold air that seemed to be coming without impediment from the constrictive mask like apparatus. In his hurry he did not look at his neighbor – there was no need to - for over the next couple of seconds another remarkable chain of events seemed to unfold – unplanned but happening in a deadly sequence that seemed to be beyond ones control or rational thought. A bolt of lightning seemed to crash into the upper areas of the airplane firstly illuminating just about everything around them with the clear cold precision that pure white light offers and secondly the bolt came with a deafening clangor so loud that Anthony could not really hear anything after that – or was that right, did he really not hear or was everything actually quiet? Yes, everything did seem to be quiet – but then, that was impossible - at least the engines should be running and the resultant hum of those giant General Electric jet engines should be heard above the chaos that seemed to be rapidly engulfing the aircraft. The lightning seemed to have taken out the electrical system and slowly Anthony realized that he was staring into pitch blackness with the aircraft apparently gliding without any discernable power system to steer the giant jetliner. It is remarkable how one does not hear the cries of fellow human beings when one is near a perceived end point or when one knows that some end point seems to be rapidly descending upon their being. It was finally peaceful. The cries seemed to have stopped, the aircraft seemed to be slowly breaking up, the wingtips were no longer there, the giant engines slowly falling apart; he could see the sky above, feel the rain, large bullets of thick cold water droplets cascading over his starched white shirt and Tyrolienne trousers; the cold, the piercing cold seemed to strangely strike a new sense of calm in him. He seemed like he was floating serenely for some reason whilst he felt that his neighbor was no longer close to him yet he seemed to clearly hear her screaming at the top of her voice – albeit from a far off distance. Was he hallucinating? No, it can’t be. The suitcases, diapers, glossy magazines, felt and trim panel composites seemed to dancing amongst the countless other debris that seemed to magically present themselves in front of Anthony. He looked around himself and started to pray – slowly, quietly and yes, sincerely for the first time in his life.

It was hard to hear her clearly on the phone because their children were whooping with joy in the background. They would talk to each other every couple of days. It had been over six months since he had last seen his wife but he could picture the scene clearly. The children on the trampoline creating a general ruckus, Sally Thomas sitting under the dark green backyard awning with her tall glass of ginger laced iced tea, the neighbors a constant but unnecessary reminder of the constraints of living in the largest borough of Greater London and the rays of the summer sun filtering through the sturdy pine in their backyard. Their talks would cover a variety of topics sufficiently dispersed to give both parties the illusion that even if they were over 4000 miles away, they were very much present in each others lives. He still made an effort to remember mundane details like the Bromley garbage collections times and her vitamin supplements while she remembered to ask about his housekeeper’s only child and that annoying corn on his little toe that seemed to be a bother every time he had to put on his work shoes. Every once in a while during these conversations, he would picture her as he saw her 16 years ago – a petite, pale skinned woman with black hair that fell in tresses just above her shoulders. He had once told her that the color of her eyes matched the color of her hair and as she would grow older only one of them will retain its former hue. And yes, she wore knee length plaid skirts. For some reason he always pictured her in plaid. Of course, he still could not understand if it were her smile that gave her face that little schoolgirl look or was it the smallish features of her nose and mouth that accentuated her smile and made her look much younger than she really was. Either way, he was smitten the first time they had met at an engineering seminar just outside the Financial District. About a month after meeting her, he decided to terminate a couple of part time relationships he was having with women at his workplace. It was really not going anywhere although he had wryly decided that the sex was worth the time spent in the bars and their untidy little apartments. Sally and Anthony were married in a year’s time and she decided to give up her lucrative engineering design job after she was pregnant five years later. During those initial years, his job included somewhat infrequent travel to the various locations of Shell subsidiaries around the world and involved working with various teams to develop and troubleshoot sub-sea sensors used for future shallow water oil field discoveries. Of course, that changed during the great oil price spike as economies from China to Brazil were steaming up for large scale growth and infrastructural expansion. This necessitated that companies like Shell look to new fields and locations in its incessant quest to produce more of the black gold. It may not be a large stretch of logic to surmise that global changes would have intruded into the lives of Anthony and Sally Thomas. 

Over the last five years he was asked to take up additional responsibilities and live for extended periods of time in foreign locations. What initially seemed very romantic with Sally and the children periodically visiting him in Nigeria, the Philippines and north eastern Russia slowly turned into a chore that involved broken appointments with the Tinies childcare center at Bickley Park and jetlagged children who were not too sure how to adjust to the mosquitoes and the stray snake that one day had decided to present itself to the family in a small village in the outskirts of Manila. Eventually they decided that in the best interests of the children, Anthony would take the time out and come back home to visit his little brood rather than the other way around. The visits soon turned into a familiar pattern. The first three days involved multiple sessions of nothing but sex where they would tear at each others clothes and consummate their desires with little regard for physical intimacies. After the initial let up, he would start to discover the children, their needs and in his own guilty way give them more of himself. Breaks like these helped Anthony and Sally soften the crushing regularity of suburban lives mixed with the initially romantic but gradually stultifying routine involved in traveling and working between international time zones.

The human mind is not necessarily fickle, but given the right conditions, the mind may turn easily to suspicion and questioning. Long absences and unexplained events at the other end of that telephone line that one may not necessarily resonate with might under the right conditions act as catalysts in souring relationships. Sally was determined that this will not happen to them. In spite of Sally’s dogged efforts in this mission of keeping the bonds intact, every once in a while long distance relationships could get the better of the best couples and Sally and Anthony were no exception to this axiom either. During their last call, she said that she did not recognize a gentle whimpering in the background - almost sounded like a child in distress - and he seemed to gloss over the detail and talk about his upcoming surveying trip into the countryside. Or that other time when she seemed to think that there was someone else in the room with him and he seemed to be a little cagey about some of the answers during a late night conversation. More often than not, she seemed to dismiss these as mere fetishes of a mind that was craving for attention and the attendant stresses from adequately maintaining a long distance relationship. Not to mention all of the added details of the daycare and birthday parties.

This current posting in Rio de Janeiro was the longest thus far. The posting had its genesis from about nine years back specifically on January 18, 2000. It may best be described as a day that was not very environmentally glamorous for the country of Brazil. It had just experienced its most shocking, albeit not the biggest, oil spill incident; 1.3 million liters of fuel oil had spilled from a pipeline carrying the black viscous fluid into a swamp adjacent to the pristine waters of Guanabara Bay. Shell was called on to provide for expert assistance and the necessary consulting experience in deploying sensors over parts of the Bay in an effort to find out and quantify the severity of the spill, the exact depth of the plume and viscosity of the breakdown products. This naturally translated to Shell landing a contract for the cleanup and Anthony posted on a semi permanent basis in Rio de Janeiro over the last couple of years. He was to work with the government officials in monitoring the cleanup operations for eights months at a stretch followed by a two month ‘rest and relaxation’ back in Bromley. This also translated into incidental perks like a large colonial bungalow in the upscale Niterói city across the bay from Rio. A refurbished relic of the Spanish colonial days, the bungalow cunningly blended Iberian architecture evoking colonial rulers lording over the 'natives' (what might have then been a common word to describe the populace). The perks included a small army of local workers who maintained the premises, the gardens and kept the kitchens stocked with fresh food. And yes, the famous beach of Copacabana, Ipanema was only a short drive away.

The first time he had noticed her was when her mother was upstairs in the master bedroom cleaning the floors while she was down in the cellar arranging some of the cutlery that remained unused. Even if for the most part of the day she remained in the servant’s quarters that were built (almost like an afterthought) behind the bungalow’s main structure, she would venture forth with her mother on occasion to help her mother with the never ending household chores. Every Friday evening, they would catch a city bus back to the municipality of Paracambi, 90 kilometers away in the lush grasslands on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. The last time her father had come to visit them, Anthony remembered the look of pride in his face over the fact that his wife was working at such a large hacienda and making enough money for the three of them to live comfortably in a stucco house just outside Paracambi. He was a pig farmer who would come to the city on occasion to sell his wares to the local abattoir. 

That afternoon as he crossed the cellar door and bolted it behind him, the only sound that seemed out of place was the rattling of cutlery as he easily held her down while kissing her meager unready breasts. She seemed more frightened and unsure than bearing the surprised demeanor of someone who had just been attacked. As his hands found their way up her underskirt she screamed out for her mother. It was pure coincidence that a silver fork lay just across the floor as her 14 year old body struggled against a man who was older than her father. She grabbed the fork with all her remaining strength and thrust it into Anthony’s side. The fork did not mortally hurt him but it served as enough of a diversion for her to wriggle loose and for him to loosen his grip on the child. He bellowed mostly in surprise and partly from the pain of the unexpected attack and shook her violently with a mixture of anger, fear and surprise before dropping her coldly to the ground. He decided to let her go but told her that if she breathed a word of this to anybody, her mother would lose her job and the family would be ashamed. She quickly made a dash for the door, unbolted it and ran out into the yard. Anthony did not see her for about a couple of weeks after the incident.

However, this was not the last of such invasions – in fact it was just the beginning. Another time it happened when she was playing in the gardens outside the bungalow and Anthony happened to be passing by. Yet another time, it happened when she was doing the laundry behind the servant’s quarters. Slowly the abuse became a pattern until the child slowly desensitized herself to his advances. Most of the time he would fondle her breasts and attempt to forcibly kiss her face as she struggled to run away. Once he was able to deftly get his hands under her clothes but he heard someone coming around in the other room and decided not to act in concert with his desires. The rape happened inside the servant’s quarters over a holiday weekend when most of the staff had gone to their homes whilst the cleaning lady and her daughter stayed back. They had decided to work this weekend and take an extended break of four days over the next week. Whether the events were pre planned by Anthony or they were just the right set of circumstances arraying themselves into a lucky coincidence, he was clearly looking to take advantage of any opportunity that could slake his dark hunger. Clearly, it seemed that this was the opportune moment - her mother was away in the markets, the servants had all gone back to their homes and Anthony was a little drunk - yes, it had to be now. After he had raped the little girl over and over, he felt satiated, man again. Alive. He used some of the blood stained bedsheets to cover her nakedness and made his way out of her quarters. It was about this time that he noticed her mother coming in, they looked at each other - a long hollow stare - and in that moment Anthony knew that she had known all along. She had known about the constant advances that Anthony had made, she had known about the various incidents from the chatter of the other servants, she had known about his roving eye for younger prepubescent girls.

In the analysis, one is not sure how some keep on living as if nothing was wrong in light of such monstrous injustices while others would fight to their deaths to have their honor restored or revenge exacted. Her mother apparently belonged to the former group. Of course, it could have been that her current position was the only well paying job that she could reliably find in a time of economic uncertainty or it might have been that she feared for her daughters life because her husband might have killed her over the resulting shame or that centuries of abuse under colonial masters made one inured to this form of abuse – after all, abusing another’s body is another form of abusing another’s land. One does not know the answers to these questions. What one knows is the fact that the lady and her daughter decided to stop working there after she learnt that her little girl was pregnant. This was about the time that Anthony Thomas’s eight month stint was coming to a close and he was looking forward to heading home. It should also be mentioned that Anthony decided to pay the cleaning lady $5000 for the ‘services’ offered. She took the money.

Anthony was a religious man and would attend the mass every Sunday at the nearby St. Joseph’s cathedral. It was a small church built back in the 1700’s when the Spanish were well in control of large parts of Argentina and it was one of the lucky few buildings that had escaped destruction during the great building boom of the 1970’s. Of course, it was wedged between two towering glossy high rises, but it managed to hold out on its own amidst the fast pace of change that Rio was slowly becoming accustomed to. The Father at St. Joseph’s cathedral was a kindly old man. He had come to the city from Mato Grasso 60 years back and was lucky to be given the post of an altar boy in this little cathedral. He had slowly risen through the ranks and was now considered one of the ‘old guard’ of Catholicism in Niterói. He was actually fond of people like Anthony (even if they did not know each other personally) and tried his best to cultivate foreigners who seemed to be regular church goers. Maybe it was his way of ensuring that people like Anthony would go back to their so called developed countries and begin to cultivate the practice of Sunday church going and Mass and in turn introduce this dying habit.

Anthony had decided that before he went back home this time, he was going to St. Thomas and actually confess to the Father. He was going to tell the Father every little personal crime, not just the recent irksome incident with this 14 year old girl, but the other details also. He believed that this confession would remove the terrible moral doubt and weight that he seemed to be lately carrying on his shoulders (ever since he found out that the little girl was pregnant). He now seemed to feel genuinely sorry, not just for the little girl in Rio but for that little girl in Vietnam (Shell was performing a pre study into the possibility of finding oil offshore in northern Vietnam a decade ago) whose family had sold her to him for a period of six months and who had performed dual roles of being a housekeeper and also functioned as a pliant albeit unwilling repository for Anthony’s desires – and yes she was only 11 or that little girl in China (where he was sent on a three month project) who developed a severe case of bleeding one night and the difficulty in getting the rural doctor to treat her. Yes, there were many of them. So many, that he was actually beginning to lose track. But enough of them that every time he saw a little girl, a strange warmth would spread across his loins and some long forgotten incident would rise to the top of his head. He had decided long ago that he could not control his desires, but this pregnancy was the last straw. Now the situation had changed somewhat - he had two little daughters and he knew of the problems involved in childbirth. Before this little girl was pregnant, he seemed to revel in his masculinity, in the effortless ways by which he could get his way with the girls, by force, coercion, money or sweet talk. But now he had had enough. This was it. He was going to go back to England, talking to his company directors about quitting his position, take up a smaller responsibility in one of the numerous engineering consultancies that had sprung up around London like threadbare nettles around his lawn and live a regular life like many of his classmates and guide his twins to become better citizens than him. He felt good. He felt free finally that he was making concrete plans for the future. He also made a promise to himself that he was going to confess to his wife about some mistakes made in the past and she should forgive him for it and not go into the details nor bring it up again. He planned an elaborate speech around this theme. He decided to take Sally out to a nice restaurant, talk to her slowly, atone, cry and then ask her forgiveness. Maybe, he could also give her a new diamond ring. Yes, what could be better than a giant stone to seal past infidelities? She would surely be OK with that. It has worked before on other unrelated circumstances – like the time he was caught with child pornography on his laptop - it should work with this one too. Yes, this might be the best thing to do. In addition, by asking the Father here for his forgiveness and detailing the account, he felt that he would be absolved of any ramification moral or religious.

The session with the Father went off without any major issues. The Father was genuinely shocked at the admission of guilt on the part of Anthony. At one point Anthony heard a long deep sigh and gentle weeping from the other side of the dark curtain as if the Father suddenly remembered something similar from his own past too. One could not conclusively say for sure. He told Anthony that the first step towards a transformation and eventual recovery was owning up to oneself and this Anthony had done commendably. The hardest part of the recovery was to actually stick to the path that Anthony had decided to choose. The Father also advised Anthony that he visit the church more often and every time he felt an urge to act on his impulses, he should think back upon the solemn promise made today and he must force himself to stop – however heart wrenching that might turn out to be. After the conversation, Anthony was surprised that the Father had not threatened to report him to the police. Anthony decided that this was his good luck and he was turning over a new leaf and the Gods that were purported to reside high above him must be happy with his actions.

The human body takes about two and a half minutes to fall from 39,000 feet to the ground. Individuals remain in full interaction with their faculties for the first 5-7 seconds. They then hallucinate for another couple of seconds and then rapidly lose consciousness as they start to fall and gain speed and lose altitude and ultimately reach terminal velocity – that maximum speed that a falling body attains as one is hurtling down towards the earth balanced by the forces of air friction. It has been reported that in rare cases, at about 15,000 feet the individual gains consciousness and start to breathe normally. If the individual regains consciousness and starts to breathe, there is plenty of time for further reflection in the approximately final one minute of free fall.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Noted..

The ongoing battle over who is the greater seer (the scientist or the religious leader) through the lens of pop culture... 

There is a warm fuzzy moment near the end of the movie “Angels & Demons,” starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard.
Mr. Hanks as the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon has just exposed the archvillain who was threatening to blow up the Vatican with antimatter stolen from a particle collider. A Catholic cardinal who has been giving him a hard time all through the movie and has suddenly turned twinkly-eyed says a small prayer thanking God for sending someone to save them.
Mr. Hanks replies that he doesn’t think he was “sent.”
Of course he was, he just doesn’t know it, the priest says gently. Mr. Hanks, taken aback, smiles in his classic sheepish way. Suddenly he is not so sure.
This may seem like a happy ending. Faith and science reconciled or at least holding their fire in the face of mystery. But for me that moment ruined what had otherwise been a pleasant two hours on a rainy afternoon. It crystallized what is wrong with the entire way that popular culture regards science. Scientists and academics are smart, but religious leaders are wise. 
...Why should wisdom and comfort inhabit a clerical collar instead of a lab coat? Perhaps because religion seems to offer consolations that science doesn’t. The late physicist John Archibald Wheeler once said that what gives great leaders power is the ability to comfort others in the face of death. But the iconic achievement of modern physics is the atomic bomb, death incarnate.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Quotable

From a news article about a new book that takes a long close look at the life of a talented painter stuck as an assistant to a famous but creatively depleted older painter...

Truth be told, success as an artist is the sum of many variables that can include luck, good timing, exceptional energy and a ruthless willingness to trample your grandmother in the quest for painterly glory. Of course it’s a plus if you have a few ideas, or what used to be known as a vision.