Saturday, March 28

Children as potential terrorists

This is a very scary move not only in terms of individual privacy and freedoms, but the impact on those young minds. The police have compared it to their drug intervention program which identifies children using or susceptible to drug use. No matter how bad drugs might be, that label cannot be compared to the "potential terrorist" label.

How can the police be sure that it won't be used by extremist organizations as evidence of Muslims being targeted? How can they ensure confidentiality of identities of those "identified" as "potential terrorists?" If identities are disclosed what will stop radical organizations from trying to brainwash them completely? Those people are known for extremely secretive operations anyways. How do you ensure that the kids won't become social outcasts due to the potential danger they pose? The psychological impact this would have on them (already vulnerable in their teens) and the long term repercussions? What about the innocent children who happen to know them. How will the police look at them? Will they be guilty by association? Evidently the information would be on the kids "files" forever. So how would they have a normal life?

While I understand the importance of preventing terrorism and terrorists, the operative word in this British operation is "children." How radical can children as young as 13 be? Teenagers are rebellious. So do you keep identifying them as potential this and that, or do you let them live out their childhood? No state intervenes because a child is into extremely violent video games, or excessive porn, and what have you. I do not mean that we should let kids grow up and become terrorists, but identifying and labeling them as "potential terrorists" in their most vulnerable years is definitely not the way to go.

Friday, March 27

New age kirtankars

There are few news that truly surprise you. And there is nothing about yoga and goras that surprises me anymore. But I came across a correction in NYT for an article titled "Yoga Enthusiasts Hear the Call of Kirtan" and I was almost stupefied. I immediately pictured the traditional kirtankars you find in temples across India. The performances might differ according to region, but the basic idea remains the same. Here it was a gora kirtankar singing.

Of course to me the image is that out of a Sant Tukaram film. For years Marathi films had at least one Kirtan sequence. They had some of the best poetry and music, rendered in a soulful voice that can touch even someone as non-religious as me. I remembered a couple of live Kirtans I have attended and their capacity to move you. And my grandfather who began as a kirtankar and they say he was one of the best there was. Today I would give a million dollars to hear my grandfather sing again!

Round 2 for IAEA elections

The IAEA has failed to elect a new Director-General for the agency to take charge after Mohamed ElBaradei's term ends in Nov 2009. According to AP the Board of Directors did not support any of the candidates with the required 2/3rd majority. This means there will have to be a new round of elections with fresh candidates in the coming months.

I personally liked ElBaradei's term during which he proved to be a strong and independent head of a sensitive organization. I have written about him and the elections before. With Iran's nuclear program continuing at full speed and the visible surge in nuclear energy deals since the Indo-US agreement, it is important that the IAEA elects an objective Director-General. The demand for nuclear energy capacity is only going to increase in the coming years and an efficient IAEA is essential to ensure non-proliferation. We need someone who can factually evaluate and report, rather than be a puppet in the hands of either of the nuclear powers.

Monday, March 23


So Nano is finally out. The jellybean with four wheels, as someone described it, could mean great business for Tata, and the fulfillment of many a dreams for numerous Indians. However, I am unable to overcome my skepticism for the car. Its not the carbon footprint I am concerned about, but the safety aspect of it (especially the basic Rs 1 lakh version.) The car has no airbags and is lighter in weight. Not exactly the most comforting thought. I worry about how it will fare on highways. When in an accident, will the lighter and thinner metal sheet affect the intensity of injuries? Not to forget that there are no airbags.

Another concern is our infrastructural capacity. Are our roads ready for a greater influx of cars in terms of the durability of the road and its size? Even 'main roads' in India are on the smaller side, not the mention the lanes and bylanes which form an integral part of the road network. It is impossible to drive and park two-wheelers in big cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, can we fit in more cars there? And then we aren't really known for our traffic discipline, are we?

Of course this does not mean that the 'common man' should not have his car. It is easier to protect your respiratory system from the pollution in a closed car. It is good to be able to drive the entire family comfortably, without precariously balancing four or five on a vehicle for two. The feeling of accomplishment and luxury is well deserved and necessary. There are many more reasons to own a car like Nano. It's just that little voice in my head...

Monday, March 16

More from the pathetic forum

How more pathetic can these people get? Opposing the creation of a Charlie Chaplin statue because he was Christian? A statue that is being built for a film. Since when did comedy and fun start having a religion? The funny man wasn't even religious in the traditional sense,. He was described by some as agnostic. Films and theater were more of a religion to him than Christianity. Earlier in the day Muthalik's ban seemed like a small step in the right direction, and then come this idiotic piece of news!

Anyhow. Here is one of the most famous Charlie Chaplin scenes, ironically enough.

Sunday, March 15

The 62 year old dream

Reading this piece by Einstein makes me think of how even the greatest minds are not immune to the utopian idea of a world government and peaceful no-war existence. The indirect originator of nuclear weapons, urges the United States to adopt a policy of outlawing them before any other country acquires the capability. He like many others during the period argue for a supranational control of the atomic weapons/technology, which might be a safer bet than an arms race. Considering that Cold War did not result in actual war but saw significant proliferation of nuclear weapons, makes it seem plausible retrospectively in terms of non-proliferation, but nevertheless an utopian dream. As Einstein himself points out the problems with getting the Soviet Union on board with a world government, so would it have been with supranational control of atomic weapons. The closest the world got to it was Euratom and perhaps even the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Even today supranational control of fissile material is talked of as an ideal to be achieved. Something that would reduce proliferation and the danger of a nuclear war or nukes falling in terrorist hands, and save the NPT regime. The creation of an 'international fuel bank' particularly with reference to curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions is seen as a compromise solution. While I think that having an international fuel bank is a good idea to meet the energy needs without risking nuclear weapon proliferation, I don't think the political will and diplomatic skill exists to make it happen. Issues of sovereignty, impartial and/or equal control of the fuel bank, equitable distribution of fuel are but some of the things that come to mind immediately. What happens to the fuel that countries produce or own individually? Does it automatically become a part of the fuel bank? Since it is a lucrative business with long-term potential, should uranium and fuel be regarded as any other raw material and finished product in the market? If not, why not?

The idea that Einstein hopes for, and many others since continue to hope for need not be an utopian ideal to be achieved in a perfect world. We have come so far in our quest for nuclear weapons and technology (even if only for peaceful purposes) that we need it to happen soon. It is becoming difficult to argue that the current setup has worked well and averted a nuclear war so far, and will continue to do so in the future too. Technology and players may have changed, but the world is no less immune than it was on August 6, 1945.

Saturday, March 14

Computers fined for cutting lanes!

The Indian Express is either invading TOI territory or poaching their editors. Today it reports from Pune,

"Computers in the city are an unhappy lot as they are being fined for cutting ‘invisible’ lanes. They say that though the lanes markings are invisible, the traffic police levy fines from them."

Tuesday, March 10

Symbolically speaking

While the Indian government's quest for a currency symbol is interesting and probably important, I cannot seem to get over the potential problems it could present. The competition guidelines say that the symbol should reflect India's "historical and cultural ethos". This is a huge problem. I don't think there is one particular way of describing or understanding our historical and cultural ethos. So expecting someone to do it through a symbol, not greater in width than a zero and easily adaptable to the digital world, is almost like expecting the impossible. Even if someone were to come close to it, what are the chances that it will not hurt someone's religious, regional, linguistic, caste, racial, gender...sentiments? I will put my money on very high.

If through a miracle we were to surpass that test and a symbol were to be created, how do you incorporate it in everyday life. While computers can be taken care of rather easily, what about the cash floating around. Will the government recall all currency notes and coins and reprint them with the new symbol? How long will that take? How much would it cost? How long before the old notes and coins become invalid? Or would they remain in circulation along with the new ones?

I understand the intention behind this move to have an universal symbol for the Indian Rupee. But to be recognized in global markets would we have to follow the unstated horizontal/vertical line rule?* Do those lines always mean something? For the Euro they mean stability, but I haven't found much about the pound or the dollar. Could having lines then be interpreted and criticised as an attempt to 'fit in'? Or do we let creativity flow and have something really unique? Will that affect how the Indian Rupee is perceived in the global market - someone not integrated enough, a free spirit, a snub at the 'western' economies? Does a symbol really matter in determining the value of a currency?

While I would happily welcome a new symbol for the Rupee, I do think that 'Rs.' is a decent enough way of saying things. It is straightforward, easy to write and type and well-established. Of course five other countries use the same name and symbol. And we would like to stand out. But it would still be called the Indian Rupee. So how does having a symbol change things symbolically?

I don't know how much thought went into announcing the competition, but I would like to trust the government's intentions and abilities. And yet it is hard to not think about the upcoming elections and the bragging rights a new symbol would give the UPA parties, and Congress in particular.

Go ahead, create a really controversy free symbol representing the "historical and cultural ethos" of India in a "Indian National Language Script." I would have, but I am not eligible.

* depicts the Rupee to be symbolized by Rs. with a line running through the R. Does anyone know where this comes from?

Friday, March 6

I wish I were a chemist

The other night we finally watched Casablanca, one of the greatest movies of all times. True to its legend Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart have heartbreaking onscreen chemistry. Something like what you see with Michelle and Barack Obama or Heidi Klum and Seal. A chemistry you wish for in your own life, and that of your loved ones. Something that creates a warm fuzzy feeling in your heart that you cannot define but everyone knows. An universal visual clue for all's well.

And so it is difficult to see that chemistry disappear before your eyes. A few years ago when a friend divorced it was difficult to see the magic fade. As another friend faces troubles it brings back memories and I fear the worst. Makes me wish I were a chemist and could find the philosopher's stone. I wish I could help them recreate that magic, feel that sexual tension and let the world see it too. I don't know if marriage counselors, couple's therapists do that. If it is humanly possible for a third person to rekindle that fire. An outsider can only listen, advise them to have a conversation, do things together to develop camaraderie, bond over common interests...but if they have lost the magic, if that chemical reaction in their brain is missing ingredients, can these "activities" help?

Even as my husband anguished over the fate of our friend's relationship, we began discussing what could have helped them. And over and over again we kept coming back to the centrality of conversation in a relationship. If you can have a dialogue with the other person you should be safe, we thought. It doesn't have to be profound or intellectually stimulating. It only needs to be a dialogue. In a stereotypical situation the women are viewed as the talkers who keep blabbering and nagging the poor man. But that does not amount to a conversation, and does not serve the purpose. Reflecting on our own relationship we know it is strong because no matter how much I nag or blabber, we talk a lot. I think the long-distance relationship we have had for the last four years came handy. Chats and telephones kept us talking, helping to understand each other better. Long-distance relationships falter because conversations are limited. For us it was the only way to enjoy each other's company when chances of living together were bleak.

Of course I do not mean to oversimplify and say that the ability to talk is all it takes. A certain level of attraction is crucial, as are shared interests and values. Personalities do matter. But as a romantic and super-believer in the ability of dialogue to solve problems even of an international nature, I cannot let go of the feeling that if only they could talk more our friends would be happier. If only I were a chemist...