Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Only Viable Solution to Rape Epidemic in India

Perhaps I ought to switch off my Twitter feed and Facebook time-stream for a little while. I don't know how much longer my brain can keep itself together from the continuous onslaught of terrible, terrible news emanating from my birth country. May I, ostrich-like, bury my head in the ground and hope that this horripilating situation would blow itself over?

Somehow I ain't holding my breath, while reports from state after state, highlighting escalating numbers of cases of rapes, gang rapes, and violent abuse of women, continue to come out from India, my country - where rape has assumed epidemic proportions.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Gun Violence in India: Tougher Laws or Tougher Implementation?

Gun violence and death from shootings don't just occur in the United States. Yes, I am stating the obvious. But sometimes, the obvious needs to be stated, repeatedly, in the hope that someone, somewhere will sit up and take notice. The terrible tragedy that occurred yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut, other such tragedies - Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora - in various places in the United States over the years, as well as the terrible toll gun violence takes on the lives of both victims and survivors, have at the very least ensured that some sane, sensible, rational people somewhere in this country are talking about it, expressing outrage, creating awareness and encouraging discussion on this issue. Perhaps some good may even come out of it.

Sadly, this awareness and understanding appears to elude some nations altogether. Take India, for example. Over the weekend, while people in the US were grieving over the Newtown tragedy, in North India an alcoholic, unemployed man shot dead his teenaged son on Saturday, for something as trivial as having been denied his "full share of dinner". Early on Sunday, in another part of North India, a young man shot at a waiter in a restaurant, angered by the waiter's refusal to eat the food the young man and his friends left over.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Aftermath

I have been ensconced in a profound sense of grief, emptiness and unease ever since I started following the terrible and senseless tragedy at the Sandyhook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut - a tragedy that claimed the lives of 20 innocent children, as well as 7 adults, including the lone gunman. As concerned folks - the families of the victims, the survivors, the administration, and the public at large - try to make sense of the incident, several pertinent lines of dialog have already emerged - on the issues of gun control legislation and mental health. Some ugly-arse craziness has inevitably surfaced, too, like the suggestion that school children be allowed to carry guns. However, I won't get into those discussions in this post.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Blissful reminiscences...

One by one, I am hearing from my old friends and acquaintances in the Bronx that they are, thankfully, getting back power in course of the slow recovery from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. In that part of the Bronx, in a predominantly Italian-American neighborhood through which runs the Morris Park Avenue, my wife and I have spent 6+ years. Like everything else in life, they had their zeniths and nadirs, but - as we all know too well - nostalgia tends to focus on the good parts. Today as I reminisce, I am flown away to a Saturday five and a half years ago, January 20, 2007.

Repost: A Kolkata Odyssey...

This is repost of a post written on September 23, 2009, in my now-almost-defunct blog under a different nom de blog.

Four weeks in the city of my birth, Kolkata, and circumstantial necessity put me squarely behind the wheels of a Maruti 800 belonging to my father-in-law. I drove in this city after some 10-odd years. And can anything ever beat that experience? A confident, resounding ‘No’.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I Ponder the Mystery of Physics... And Physicists

As a species, physicists baffle me. To my meager understanding, Physics - the study of matter, energy and the relationship between them - is the most fundamental of the natural sciences. Physics elucidates the properties of matter at level of the most basic structural units, and therefore, must necessarily underlie our understanding of the other branches of the natural sciences, namely, chemistry and biology. Therefore, I have always assumed - perhaps naïvely - the physicists' understanding of the natural world is firmly rooted in empiricism, in critical analysis of observed data - in other words, in the conscientious application of the Scientific Method.

Friday, October 19, 2012

C'est La Vie - At Fourteen: My Tribute to Malala Yousafzai

What was I doing at 14? Nothing of consequence. I was at secondary school, studying in Class VIII (possibly equivalent to the 8th grade or pre-high school or some such, in the US). I had changed schools, enrolling in a residential school away from my home city. So at 14, I was struggling to adjust to a new environment, new school and new faces, whinging a bit, eventually settling down to a humdrum life of mandatory study time, mandatory play time, and mandatory chore time, and - oh, yes! - trying to deal with raging hormones, inevitably doing something so stupid that I can look at those incidents only with sheer embarrassment and a shake of the head.

And by that same age of 14, in a different corner of the world, this amazing and courageous young woman, Malala Yousafzai, had already expressed the pain of her people through her words, written under the nom de plume of Gulmakai and published by BBC Urdu in 2009 (excerpts here); spoken out for children of her generation, articulating the need for education in her part of the world (see video below); and for all her efforts, she - all of 15 now - has been shot in the head - shot in the head! - by gun-wielding ignorant, religion-soaked, pathologically-misogynistic bastards collectively known as the Taliban. I know! Life of a teenager, right?

By virtue of valiant and skilful efforts of doctors and surgeons across two continents, military neurosurgeons in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and trauma specialists at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, UK - no thanks to any effing god anywhere - she is going to be fine. Guardian reports today, she retains her higher neural functions, and will possibly make a complete recovery. She can't talk yet because of a tracheotomy tube, but is able to stand with help and write. She has expressed a desire to share with people her details and her gratitude for their support.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Political dirty-trick: disenfranchisement of legitimate voters of opposing party

In one of the Lean Forward series of public service messages, Christopher Hayes (political commentator and host of 'Up with Chris Hayes' on MSNBC) says earnestly, "The attempt to disenfranchise voters is a desecration of everything our country stands for. Can you participate in your political system? That is the defining feature of the country since its inception. It's the defining feature of the moments that we now view with the greatest pride. And there is something... profane about stopping people from exercising that right."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Politics of Science Policy: A Critical and Embarrassing Lacuna

For those who may not be aware, ScienceDebate dot org, founded by Shawn Otto and Matthew Chapman, is a US not-for-profit agency that engages elected officials, including presidential candidates, to talk about science and technology policy. Otto and Chapman are both screenwriters and authors, and Chapman has the added street-cred of being a great-great grandson of Charles Darwin (yes, that Darwin!). One of the major achievements of ScienceDebate in recent times has been to get President Obama and the Presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, to present their answers to 14 top science policy-related questions, chosen from thousands of questions submitted by scientists, engineers and concerned citizens. The variety of topics covered in these questions ranged from innovation, research and economy, education, climate change, energy, biosecurity, public health, to conservation of natural resources, thereby underscoring the importance of science in all walks of life and the critical need to incorporate it in national policy-making. I invite you all, dear readers, to take a look at the answers by Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney. I, personally, thought that Mr. Obama had a better understanding of the situation and what needs to be done, whereas Mr. Romney was perhaps more interested in treating the answers as his stump speeches, big on rhetoric, short on solid policy, with a soupçon of climate change denial. But don't take my word for it; as always, YMMV.

Unfortunately, the first presidential debate (October 3) and the vice presidential debate (October 11) ignored science and science-policy questions almost entirely, and the second presidential debate yesterday (October 16) paid lip-service to science policy in terms of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and some rudimentary discussions of energy and innovation.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Papaya And the Flushing of Wee Toxins, Forsooth!!

As many of you, gentle readers, no doubt know, many rank idiocies emanating from the world of pseudoscience irritate me to no end. But very few of them come close to the R-A-G-E (Hulk SMASH!) that ebulliates in me when I hear 'toxin', that standard catchphrase from all manners of peddlers of pseudoscience.

Acinetobacter therapeutics: Inhibitor of LPS synthesis

Much to like in a new study published in the journal mBio today. This study (mBio, 2012, 3[5]:e00312-12) by Lin et al. [1] (led by Brad Spellberg of UCLA) discovered that, for the gram-negative pathogenic bacteria Acinetobacter baumannii, notorious for its association with nosocomial ('hospital-associated') infection the world over and highly resistant to antibiotics, shutting down the production of an extracellular antigen released by the bacteria can effectively silence its effects on the host body and enhance its clearance, to the benefit of the host.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Issue of Spin in the Communication of Scientific Research

Ada Ao, a cancer and stem cell biologist, and aspiring science communicator writing for Nature Education's SciTable blog, has an interesting post put up today. She cautions that it is a tirade (according to her, of course; pffft!) against a recently-published PLoS Medicine article by Amélie Yavchitz and associates, titled "Misrepresentation of randomized controlled trials in press releases and news coverage: a cohort study" (Yavchitz et al., PLoS Med., 9(9):e1001308, 2012).

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Opposition to Animal Research: Who Benefits, Really?

A recent edition of Nature News brought some terribly worrisome news: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the anti-science, anti-knowledge, anti-animal experimentation pressure campaign group based in Norfolk, Virginia, has apparently secured -
... written assurances from the world’s two largest air-cargo carriers, FedEx and UPS, that they will not transport mammals for laboratory use. UPS says that it is also planning to further “restrict” an exemption that allows the transport of amphibians, fish, insects and other non-mammals (Nature, 489: 344–5, 20 September 2012).
As this Nature News report, as well as the Editorial highlighting this issue (Nature, 489: 336, 20 September 2012), indicates, this particular move is not likely to have too serious an impact on the availability of animals for laboratory research, because FedEx and UPS are ordinarily not involved in the movement of too many animals in any case. However, the significance of this incident is in that it portends a rather disturbing trend.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Language of Empowerment - 'abortion' vs 'choice'

I support and receive monthly newsletters from the Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization that tirelessly works to advance and promote reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments across the world would be legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfil. This morning's newsletter had a section that made think.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Diabetes and Chronic Inflammation - connecting the dots, Part Deux

In the first post of this two part series, I laid out some facts about Type 2 diabetes which results from insulin resistance, and indicated how non-esterified ('Free') Fatty Acids (FFAs) induce chronic inflammation via engagement of TLR4 and the NF-κB pathway, eventually leading to Insulin resistance - and yet, since FFA doesn't bind TLR4, it's not known how the twain meets. The elegant set of studies described in the Pal at al. paper in the July 29, 2012 issue of Nature Medicine [1] provides evidence for a mechanism hypothesized to be active in lipid-induced insulin resistance, i.e., one that can connect the dots.

Diabetes and Chronic Inflammation - connecting the dots, Part Un

Nature Medicine has recently featured studies dealing with obesity-related insulin resistance which leads to a type of diabetes, called Type 2 diabetes. Of these papers, one by Pal et al. (Nature Medicine, 18(8):1284, August 2012) highlights some specific aspects of the disease, including prospects for future therapeutics. I found it interesting - for various reasons* - enough to spur me to write about diabetes in the context of their observations. I shall make it a 2-part series; in the first post, I would talk a bit about diabetes in general, and follow it up with a review of the main findings of their elegant studies. (Full disclosure: I have parents and grandparents who are/were diabetic.)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

On Indian Immigrants' apparent fondness for US GOP

I was born and brought up in India, and I love that country dearly. But for the past 10 odd years, my home has been the United States, where I live my life, work and pay taxes, as well as engage in social processes and participate in communities. One process I cannot - although I personally feel entitled to - participate in, yet, is the political process, because I am not a US Citizen or Permanent Resident. But that hasn't stopped me from taking wholehearted interest in the local and Federal politics and government, because politics and policy affect lives, my life and those of my near and dear ones, and of millions of other people, seen and unseen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Questions to those who claimed seventeen Afghan lives in one night

By now, everyone is probably aware of the gruesome, violent incident in which seventeen persons, including two women, were beheaded in a nocturnal attack in the Kajaki district of the volatile province of Helmand, still partially under the control of the Taliban, in Afghanistan.

We humans, a violent species, live in a violent world, cherish and nurture violent tendencies, often engage in violent actions over meaningless and trivial reasons, and are exposed to expressions of violence on a daily basis, in the news, in the popular media, in culture and traditions and so forth - so much so that we, as a species, have probably gotten inured to violence by now. I, for instance, am not easily moved by depictions of extreme violence televised or projected onscreen, perhaps because I am never unconscious of the unreality, the make-believe, the clever and painstaking CGI that brings forth such gory effects to life. But the news of the beheadings - the horrific violence perpetrated in real life - bothered me, upset me, and shocked the normally garrulous me into silence on this, until now.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Brief Reflexions on Posterity's Chances

I have a question which has been tugging at the back of my mind for a while.
Does religion turn a person stupid, or does a stupid person feel attracted towards religion? Is it one, or both? Is there a chicken-and-egg scenario, or is it a feedback loop of some sort?

I am usually good at pushing such existentialist questions to the back of my mind. What prompted the return of this problem to the forebrain with renewed vigor today was the following situation.

The celebrated American Astronaut, Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, passed away today, at 82 years of age. Intimating this piece of news in a post today, FreeThoughtBlogger Ophelia Benson - whom I read regularly - snarkily reminded her readers of a long-standing urban legend.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Education? Not the Panacea for Epidemic of Honor Killing

In certain societies with deeply entrenched misogyny, violence, sexual abuse and grievous assaults targeted at women are often perpetrated with impunity under the silhouette of tribal customs and traditions with their roots in religion. A despicably evil instance of such violence is what is rather sinisterly euphemized as 'honor killing', a ghastly practice in which families, who perceive that their daughters have disgraced them in some way (mostly by choosing to marry a man of their own, and not the family's, choice), 'reclaim' their 'honor' by murdering the said daughters. This practice is popular in various Arab-Islamic countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and others; although it is by no means restricted to Islamic communities and occurs in other societies steeped in a culture of patriarchal authority and perverted sense of honor (such as in certain parts of India), a staggering 91 percent of honor killings worldwide are committed in Islamic households, including those in Western nations (including the UK, Sweden and Canada), according to a 2010 study on worldwide trends in honor killings.

During any discourse on honor killings (what I like to term as (dis)honor or (dis)honor(able) killings, because there is nothing honorable about murdering family members guided by a perverted, warped sense of what honor is), it is customary to bring up the poor education and backward economic status of the perpetrators and their cultures/communities. It is generally considered that education would bring enlightenment and economic parity, which would pave the path towards a more moderate and humane understanding of life, essentially more nuanced interpretations of religious dicta that would be more egalitarian. But recent events provide evidence to the contrary; that insistence on bookish education can not be the panacea against the profoundly entrenched misogyny of religious, tribalist, patriarchal communities.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Equality FTW!! in New York State

I am subscribed to an email list for notifications from the Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York State. This morning's email brought a great deal of joy: here is the notice, in toto...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bravo, Sanal! A Profile in Courage and Conviction

It has been a while since I had written about Sanal Edamaraku, the president of the Indian Rationalist Association, a small but growing Indian organization that strives to debunk instances of pseudoscience, superstition and mysticism. For those who are unaware of Sanal's many accomplishments and his relentless efforts to unmask religious preceptors, or Gurus, and self-styled godmen, who claim to perform mystical 'miracles', I recommend the excellent website of this organization, the Rationalist International, of which Sanal is the founding president. In 2010, Sanal was in the news when he took a Tantrik guru upon his words, challenging the guru to kill him using only his 'mystical' powers. Needless to say, the effort didn't work well for the Guru.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Turbulence, by Samit Basu, a heady opus

Un-freakin'-putdownable! That's the first thing I must say about Turbulence, the latest novel by the young (well, almost a decade younger than I am!) author Samit Basu. [-Ahem!-] In the spirit of gratuitous shoulder-rubbing, he is an alumni of my alma mater! [-Ahem!-] It is difficult to review this book without enthusiastically letting out spoilers (I am trying hard not to gush... Stay with me, people!), but I'll try.

Basu writes with élan, making an unlikely story believable; in the universe of popular perception that is largely-dominated by American (and occasionally European) superheroes, he has made his superhero/metahuman characters, endowed with extraordinary superhuman powers, unapologetically Indian (to the extent of putting in - without explanation - regional Indian words, such as Bhajan, which may be unfamiliar to a non-Indian audience), and - what's more - he has made it stick, too. I particularly liked the idea of these characters eventually transitioning themselves, from Indian citizens to citizens of the world, champions of humanity as a whole. Suffused with wit and charm, as well as occasional clever mentions of pop-culture references on the sly, the story takes the reader through an incredible and breathless, edge-of-the-seat, roller-coaster ride of a journey.

Basu's strength, unarguably, lies in the narrative - a fact which jives well with his authorship of comic-book (a.k.a. graphic novel in the US) stories. In fact, he is one of the first popular Indian authors to have crossed over to the graphic novel genre and done interesting work there. In Turbulence, the whole narrative is so well illustrated with words, that the reader simply has to close one's eyes in between, and the story elements - the locations, the characters, the events - vividly appear and unfold in glorious three-dimensional detail onto two dimensions, much like a graphic novel/comic book, providing a tongue-to-the-wind vicarious thrill. Therefore, while I don't know if in the eyes of an intellectual (which I'm, emphatically, not) this would qualify as 'literature', but it's one hell of an enjoyable and exciting story. In fact, c'est brilliant!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Freedom... You say that word a lot

... I don't think it means what you think it means, Ms. Nusrat.

Ms. Ayesha Nusrat, self-described as a 23-year-old Muslim Indian from New Delhi, recently wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times, titling it "The Freedom of Hijab". In this essay, Ms. Nusrat described her transition to wearing a hijab following the tenets of her religion, Islam. According to Ms. Nusrat, this was her [I quote]"most liberating experience ever" [End quote]. Ms. Nusrat made a choice to exercise her prerogative to dress as she pleases. This is not, I repeat, NOT, a comment on that prerogative. However, the essay indicates that she intended to make a statement through this specific choice of hers. Since that statement is in the public domain via the Op-Ed, I would like to call the statement (and the judgement behind it) into question.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fighting for Sanity: a futile exercise?

Just over 5h earlier, Tweeter user Heather Henderson posted a tweet in her timeline, stating the she is a "woman and a skeptic" and she felt "safe at #TAM2012!". In a short time, her tweet was retweeted 10 times by various other users.

Religious Persecution: An exercise in insanity

Religious Persecution of Father in Iran Over Son's Facebook Posts in Holland: CNN's Brian Todd reports that the father of a young Iranian student in Holland has been imprisoned in Iran on the charge of supporting anti-Islamic activities, because the student dared to post some jokes and vids poking fun at a 9th century Shia Imam.

It's one of those things that make no sense to sane, rational folks anywhere - and yet, such outrage is perpetrated with impunity by religious fundamentalist regimes with no regard whatsoever for freedom of speech and expression, such as the one currently running Iran.

Think about that for a moment.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Scientific Method for the Non-Scientist? Yes, please!

NextGen Voices is a feature of the premier science magazine, Science. It is designed as a series of surveys targeted towards young scientists, asking them questions on different aspects of life as a scientist that matters to them.(For some reason, it is not very well publicized, which is a pity - because I do think that NextGen Voices is offering young scientists an important platform to voice their opinions. I got to know about it only because my colleague in the lab, a subscriber to Science, showed it to me. This is partly the reason why I wanted to blog on this today - to raise awareness).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Security Breach Exposes Sorry Lack of Creativity

Am I prescient or what! Wasn't I complaining the other day about a lack of creativity evinced by spammers and spambots of late? Turns out, it's contagious... [Cue scary music]

Tech blog CNET News reported today on the latest breach of online security that has unfortunately become a major irritant in the modern digital age. Voices, an online publishing tool that was acquired by Yahoo in 2010 and is now used as a part of its news service, was hacked, giving the hackers access to login information (username and password) of more than 450 thousand Yahoo users. The gleaned credentials were posted ('dumped' is the geekspeak) on a web page. As has become a trend, the anonymous perpetrators left a cautionary note (reported CNN):
"We hope that the parties responsible for managing the security of this subdomain will take this as a wake-up call, and not as a threat," a note on the page said. "There have been many security holes exploited in Web servers belonging to Yahoo! Inc. that have caused far greater damage than our disclosure. Please do not take them lightly."... The statement adds that the "subdomain and vulnerable parameters" that were used to hack the site were not posted "to avoid further damage."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Anatomy of a Phishing/Spam Email

Fact of modern life: I am sure none of us are unfamiliar with the junk mail that we receive via regular post on a daily basis, including (but not limited to):
  • 'Special Credit Card offers' (often from Discover, which, surprisingly, some people still seem to use)
  • Cheques ('Checks' in the US) from Credit Card companies (even if you would never, ever use them, mostly because of ridiculously high fees associated)
  • Offers to enrol in or switch one's Car Insurance (whether you drive or not)
  • Offers to swap one's TV provider from Cable to Fiber Optic to some kind of Satellite Dish-based system and vice versa (often along with enticing bundles)
  • Random catalogs from random stores (including ones you have barely sniffed at, perhaps, but never purchased from)
  • Desperate requests - often bearing pretty name-labels for free - from various otherwise charitable organizations (including ones you didn't know existed)
... and so forth. I sometimes worry (I know! Right?) about the tremendous amount of paper and postage that is wasted by these organizations, wondering whether the money, time and effort frittered away in such fruitless enterprise couldn't have been spent more constructively elsewhere by them.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Response to Paula Kirby's Open Letter to the Skeptic Community

I never thought I'd be attempting to write a rebuttal to a letter from an author of the stature of Paula Kirby whose excellent writing on atheism in the Washington post I have always admired. But her bizarre response to the entire sexism-in-skeptics business has flabbergasted me; I'd have thought that as a woman and a skeptic, a person of her erudition would be spearheading the efforts to weed out this deplorable attitude that has been plaguing the atheist-skeptic movement for a long time. Instead, I am watching in horrified fascination that she seems to be interested only in the denial of its existence, and vehemently opposed to anyone who dares to point it out.

In a publicly accessible Google doc, she recently wrote an Open Letter titled - rather amusingly - "The Sisterhood of the Oppressed" (dated July 1, 2012) to the Skeptic Community, in order "to spell out (her) position on the "Women in Secularism" issue". I think it's high time to exercise the old noggin' and address comprehensively the points she raised in her Open Letter. Since it is a rather long one, I'd try to break it up in small chunks and respond similarly; I am also quoting directly only the portions I am addressing. In the event the said document is not available in future, worry not, Inquisitive Reader, I Haz PDF!!

(Other bloggers, including atheistlogic and Ophelia Benson (Un et Deux), have already admirably taken on the letter, making a far better job of it that I possibly ever can. However, I take this as an intellectual exercise. To quote Barney Stinson, "Challenge accepted!" I must also acknowledge the invaluable help and input I received from my friend, Tigger The Wing in formulating this response. But I have to warn: this is a L-O-N-G-read!)

Friday, July 6, 2012

'Deep Rifts' Or 'The Humanity Of It All'... Part 1

A friend of mine was curious about the 'Deep Rift' that has been cooking in the atheist-skeptic blogosphere for about a year now, culminating in the Twitter storm over the FTBullies hashtag. I offered to make a timeline with bullet points. Little did I know that chronicling those cataclysmic events was going to be such a monumental task, requiring the last drop of my Google-Fu and reading/listening comprehension. Anyhoo, I must admit it was eeriely fun revisiting those events, and consequently, wondering anew how, atheist-skeptic or not, we all are subject to the very human foibles and frailties of ego, prejudice, presumptions, and sadly, blind irrationality. Vraiment, the humanity of it all!

Disclaimer: Although I shall try to be an unbiased as possible in preparing this chronicle, I find myself sympathetic towards Rebecca Watson and her fellow skeptics in this matter. YMMV, of course. Also, L-O-N-G-read!!!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Help a blogger in need: Appeal re-plug

Towards the middle of last month, I had issued an appeal to all sane and rational folks in and around London, UK; the goal was to help a fellow skeptic and blogger in dire straits. I had said (among other things) in that post:
Seriously, why do bad things happen to good people? Late last night I got to know about the impending misfortune of someone I've known for quite some time. Well, not 'known' known, but this is a much-respected Skeptic blogger based in the UK, whose excellent posts, reasoned, analytical and well-researched essays - on various pseudoscientific modalities (Steelclaws on Snake Oil) as well as on Biblical errancy (A Plague of Mice) - have given me countless hours of thoughtful pleasure.

And now, for reasons fathoming which is beyond my human capabilities, this person is in danger of being rendered homeless.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

An Appeal To Sane Folks in London, UK

Seriously, why do bad things happen to good people? Late last night I got to know about the impending misfortune of someone I've known for quite some time. Well, not 'known' known, but this is a much-respected Skeptic blogger based in the UK, whose excellent posts, reasoned, analytical and well-researched essays - on various pseudoscientific modalities (Steelclaws on Snake Oil) as well as on Biblical errancy (A Plague of Mice) - have given me countless hours of thoughtful pleasure.

And now, for reasons fathoming which is beyond my human capabilities, this person is in danger of being rendered homeless; the eviction notice is due to take effect on the 16th instant.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Musings on some oddly secular...

I am in a weirdly reminiscent mood this morning, dunno why. My final five years of schooling was with an institution run by monastic members of a Hindu missionary organization in India. Now, when I can look back rationally and dispassionately at those years - and am able to discern and discount the subtle and overt attempts at religious indoctrination - I am conscious of a few interesting ideas that I had picked up on the way, ideas that seem to have influenced my way of thinking greatly over the years. Even though I am an Atheist, and extremely skeptical of religious ritualistic mumbojumbo, I am not ashamed to declare that some of these ideas came from early Hindu philosophy, dating back to some four thousand odd years ago. Perhaps those were simpler times, perhaps those were indeed wise folks... Those certainly were times way, way before a philosophy was corrupted and subverted into an '-ism', the rabidly irrational and superstition -laden face of Hinduism that gradually took over India, the country as well as popular psyche. Sigh. I am going to share two such ideas, extremely secular despite their religious context, contained in few lines of verses, or as they are known, shlokas.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Android n00b rubbing shoulders with a spanking new ASUS Eepad Transformer Prime

I was angling for an Android device for the longest time in a Mac/PC household. Having played with my wife's iPad2, I wanted the device in a Tablet form factor. I have always had a soft spot for ASUS as a technology company, and the specs of the ASUS Transformer Prime TF-201 looked highly promising; so, armed with the tax return, I took the plunge. (bless its soul!) delivered the device in three days flat, and having charged it the mandatory 8+ hours, I am now playing with it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Time for an "Occupy Science" in India?

Yes. Yes!! Oh, yes! This was my reaction while reading a commentary in April 12's Nature.

In a policy commentary article titled Bold strategies for Indian Science (Nature 484, 159–160;12 April 2012), Gautam Desiraju, a professor of Chemistry in the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and the current president of the International Union of Crystallography, held forth forcefully on what he thought were the bottlenecks that seem to be holding back the progress of Indian science. I found much to agree with.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Underfunding of Basic Sciences in Arab world: does religion play a role?

Today's Nature Middle East published an interesting and thought-provoking commentary from Dr. Nidhal Guessoum, an astrophysicist and professor of physics at the American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, entitled: Does the Arab world (not) need basic science?

The accompanying blurb nicely summarizes the main argument in the commentary.
The Arab world cannot afford to ignore curiousity-driven basic research in favour of applied research, if the different states hope to produce an enlightened science culture at home.

Friday, March 30, 2012

"The Mine", visited (A Review)

Having been familiar with the musings of Arnab Ray via his immensely popular blog (written under his nom de blog 'Greatbong'), I picked up his newly-published book, The Mine, the second one in his oeuvre, with pleasurable anticipation. I expected Arnab's usual style, a lighthearted and witty banter while holding forth on various topics of contemporary significance focused on India, a style in which the barbs engender a belly-laughter even as they sink in. The Mine - available as a paperback in India through his publishers and various other outlets, and as an eBook outside India via Amazon - does nothing of that sort. My preconceptions were exhaled forcefully as if I were sucker-punched in the solar plexus, as the narrative gripped me with its intensity and unslackening pace.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

'Life' as a scientist: The Cheshire Cat effect

Another post after a brief hiatus because of work-related pressure. I'm sure nobody missed me, though. -Sniff!- Well, the pressure's still on, but let's say I was inspired to write this post by a chance occurrence, a question asked by a physician friend of mine. An accomplished and established surgeon in India, he is considering various possibilities and options, having recently learnt that his young son is desirous of coming to the US to pursue a career in biological research.

He asked me: how is life as a scientist in biological sciences or genetics etc? Very tough, boring life that leaves you no time? Or fulfilling and all that?

You could hear from a mile the sound of my mental machinery creaking and groaning and whirring. Naturally, I'd be delighted to welcome a budding scientist to the fold, but I also wanted to provide my friend with as true and complete a picture as I possibly could.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Belief does not human identity make

Man it's tough to hold a conversation over Twitter! Sometimes, the 140-character limit just doesn't cut it, particularly when there are multiple folks to include in the discussion. I was in a convoluted discussion with ScienceBlogger Josh Rosenau, philosopher Ophelia Benson, and my friend and fellow NatureBlogger Bob O'Hara. On Twitter. Needless to say, it soon became difficult to keep everything together. So here I am, hoping to make sense of it all.