Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lunch Time Muse on the News

HC dismisses PIL against Shiv Sena, Thackerays over 'MNIK':
"The court also remarked, during the argument, that "majority of people are following them (Shiv Sena). What can be done?""

The court is here to please the majority rather than render justice, is it? The weights are definitely no longer balanced...

No entertainment tax on IPL this year, says Chavan:

""It is not possible to levy tax on IPL since the season is over," Chavan told reporters in Mumbai.
To a question on whether the IPL season 4 will be taxed, he said the cabinet will take a decision on the issue."
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India in its latest report has said that the state government lost Rs 4.99 crore by not levying entertainment duty on IPL's first season where ten matches were held in Mumbai.

Wonder what was Chavan's cut?

Lalu wants Rs 1 lakh pension for MPs:

"According to parliament officials, MPs now draw a salary of Rs 16,000 and their pension is Rs 8,000. However, a MP draws a considerable amount in the form of allowances.
Referring to the salary being drawn by the civil services officers after the implementation of Sixth Pay Commission, Lalu Prasad said: "MPs' salary should be increased to Rs 80,000 and pension to Rs 1 lakh. I'm making this demand because many MPs will lose their job once the women's reservation bill is passed.""

Do even highly educated personnel who have actually contributed to the country's economy and who have never indulged in corruption, disruption of peace get paid that much? And what about all the money made that does not appear on the pay sheet?

Did Madhuri Gupta, diplomat-spy, convert to Islam?:

Come on media...Really now, is this even relevant?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Trap for Corruption

This is a first hand story of my friend who was narrating his experience with the customs officer at the Hyderabad airport on his recent visit to India.
My friend had two laptops with him. One was a gift to someone and one was his personal computer. The rules on this are slightly ambiguous. The general understanding is that as long as you can prove that only one is a gift, it is ok. Anyway, the customs officer refused entry to my friend and demanded a customs fine of $300. When my friend realized that the officer was not going to accept his interpretation of the rules, he gave up, and this was the conversation that followed.
Friend: Ok, Sir. I'll pay the fine. Where should I pay it?
Officer: You can pay here in cash.
Friend: I will need a receipt.
Officer: You can pay 250 here, no receipt.
Friend: I will pay, but I need a receipt.
Officer: Sir, please pay 200 and go! The office is closed. You will not get a receipt.
Friend (Looking all around him): Why is office closed when there are so many international flights landed in the last hour. I just want to pay, get a receipt and go home! I am tired and jet lagged....
Officer (Now extremely impatient) : Pay 100 dollars here or wait until tomorrow morning.

My friend paid and left. Although he got away with reducing the bribe to 1/3rd its value, he wasn't very pleased with the whole affair. I however think that this was a wonderful way of atleast not letting that man get what he wanted so easily. If more people are as conscientious in any place they are asked for a bribe, we can go a long way in reducing this evil.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Shame of a Nation

 This is not democracy, for majority do not subscribe to it. This is not socialism, for the taken money is not distributed to the needy. What then is this new fanged atrocity? It sparks in me an extreme level of disgust and anger at the injustice of it all..and every time I read or hear about it.

It is disgust at the perpetrator of the crime and disgust for all those masses who revel in it. I have nothing against anybody calling themselves a dalit or of scheduled castes/ tribes. I lived all my life in a city and only in very exceptional cases, knew the castes to which my friends belonged. While the evils of untouchability have eluded my direct contact, I can understand that they still continue to a large extent in rural India. All  newspaper reports cannot be fabricated. In that sense, I see why those people even after 60 years of independence need separate constitutional laws and special concessions. But, aren't those who support Mayawati's insufferable atrocities a little too pea-brained to deserve sympathy?
Yes, educated people see the fallacy of allowing someone to spend 2000 crores on building ugly monumental statues, statues of herself, scores of statues of rows of elephants, statues of people who have not done much to help any mankind, statues of thieves...These thieves are not only thieving from taxpayers, but also from the very "depressed classes" who applaud her, and alas too narrow minded to even realize that.The fact that dalits of UP still vote en-masse for her is testimonial to this fact. This picture appeared in the Washington Post and the UK telegraph as well.

What irks me is that these people fail to see that the money designedly to "claim the dalits' rightful space in  the society" could well be used in a manner that could give them a more respectful and untainted space. I am at a loss to understand why they do not stand up to demand good schools, good rural hospitals, good sewer systems and electricity and water supplies to their forgotten lands. Will that not empower them to be as good as the "city sahibs"?
As if her monstrous statues are not enough to defile the city, she also needs to create a special police force to guard them? How about a special police force for a corruption-free vigilante? Or how about a special police force for people only?
Even while the supreme court and the home minister rebuked her, she tacitly replied that it would be a further waste of all the money to now remove/ abandon all  the statues...How true! How unfortunate! How distasteful!The feeble attempt to petition to the election commission is going to have even more disgraceful outputs.
But, can one file a petition to disallow obvious thieves from contesting in elections ever again? Is a mass awakening possible? Can all tax-payers file a robbery case against this tyrant? After all, aren't they now the oppressed classes of the society in this new era?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What You See is NOT What You Eat

        Can one keep track of everything that is in one's food anymore? Not even if you are eating  a green salad or drinking a cup of home made coffee, unless of course every single ingredient is home grown. No doubt my post is late, and a few of you may wonder  why I am talking of dead and decayed news and yet...I want to share my opinions on two new shockers for me for this week. And this is not only about vegetarianism.
        Life for a vegetarian in the US is much harder than most people imagine or would like to imagine. When I first became conscious of this fact, it was mostly cheese that I began to avoid. Most manufacturers use rennet to culture cheese, and are not required to put that on their labels.(some people are kind enough to specify either way). Of course, it is almost impossible to get a knowledgeable answer from any restaurant about the culturing of the cheese in their dishes.Meanwhile I was also keeping away from all possibly gelatin infused foods.
       While I knew about GM foods, it was only  a year back  that my disillusion that they'd be labeled or that they were not yet almost the only thing available in the market ended. I was horrified. It undoubtedly seems to be the only way forward to meet the growing demands for produce. It ensures quantity and "quality". The quality is assured only because the scientific theories on why they may have adverse effects on the human immune system are not established. But knowing FDA's history, that really does not mean much. However, what horrified me was the fact that we are modifying the DNAs of plants which nature gave us so much without realizing that this is irreversible. Few years from now, natural food will be extinct. The genes are gone...irretrievably. It was then that I switched to Organic food .(not just for the non-pesticide use like most Organic believers)
       About the same time, I also started buying a brand of sugar that labeled the sugar as vegan. Uncharacteristically, I never tried to find out why..after all, sugar is definitely a plant product. Only 2 days back, when I was asking my grocery store worker if xanthum gum was vegan, she was sure that it was and added that there were no uncertainties like with sugar. I was speechless..I came home to verify her information on the net, and indeed...most cane sugar manufacturers filter their molasses and discolor the sugar with filters made from animal bones,including popular brands like Domino. My mind was reeling...there was no way one can even keep track of sugar! I comfort myself that producers claim that it is just bone char, and guarantee that none of it is mixed with the sugar itself. A lot like the silver coating on Indian sweets...I think to myself.
        The last straw that actually pushed me to write all of this was my new found knowledge that 3 years back, FDA approved irradiation of lettuce and spinach, and all other produce in later future before they hit the markets. Once again, there was no need to label them (as it would confuse consumers) and they vetoed even voices from their science labs about all the potential hazards. The move came when a few people died of e.coli poisoning in the greens in 2006. Although irradiation will destroy e.coli and salmonella, it will also destroy essential nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin A, B-Complex, and C. Also of concern is the fact that these foods may appear to be fresh on the outside after a few days but in reality may be spoiled and bad  with nothing to indicate that.Even strong proponents of irradiation acknowledge that irradiation is by no means a preventive measure, it can only kill the bacteria after they manifest themselves in the produce, and hence it is not really a solution!
        I honestly do not know the solution to avoid technology polluting every morsel of my food, nevertheless I hate this artificializing of all of nature.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Love for Science Series- I, Engineering Life

I love watching shows on TV that feel like a Jules Verne script, a fantastic science fiction in today’s world but one that could well be a reality sooner than one would imagine. Today, scientists on Nat Geo were debating and proposing a way to recreate evolution all over again, but faster and this time on Mars.

The issue involved making Mars’s atmosphere and terrain inhabitable, planting seeds of evolution and whether or not we should even be doing it. I heard all the arguments and being the “safe” person that I am would hate to see mankind taking on such a mammoth of a responsibility without being a 100 percent certain of how it is going to end.

The scientific theories presented below are in no way original and are completely the ideas and deductions of years of research of scientists at various laboratories across the USA. Only the language and opinions are mine.

The first step to cultivate Mars is to increase its average temperature from 80F below zero to 25F below zero. Humans as we all know are experts at heating up a planet up to noticeable consequences. But, to warm up Mars, we need to put in ten times the effort. Massive factories and plants which release greenhouse gases more effective than CO2 can be set up on Mars. As heat is generated, the frozen water on the surface of the planet will slowly evaporate and settle in the atmosphere as water vapor, another potential greenhouse gas. One scientist proposed that simply pouring water on the planet’s surface will also release gases as Mars’s soil is nothing but pulverized frozen acid, and water will activate a reaction. Anyway, as more and more of these gases get released into the atmosphere, the atmosphere will get thicker, making the surface of Mars even hotter, and thereby releasing more gases. This cycle will continue until a balance is reached and the atmospheric pressure is also developed to a reasonable life sustainable value (as low as air pressure at a height of twice that of Mount Everest). This hastened process is expected to take atleast a 100 years.

When the water vapor builds up sufficiently, it will finally rain on Mars. (I do not know for how many hundreds of years it will rain like it did on Earth to fill all cavities and depressions to form our great oceans and some great rivers). When it stops raining, an astronaut in space might well see an Earth look-alike planet, the red planet transformed to blue. Mars will also by this time have enough gases in its atmosphere to scatter light and procure itself a blue sky. The first stage in the transformation would be complete.

But, the key ingredient to make life possible and to sustain it is Nitrogen. This may be the biggest hurdle to developing life on Mars, for until now, scientists have found absolutely no evidence of this element on the Martian surface. Although, they optimistically hope that the signals may be noised by a variety of other elements and complex molecules of nitrogen. I dreamily think that there may be other elements on Mars undiscovered on Earth which may do what nitrogen does or …maybe even better.

The floating suggestion is that we should at this stage seed the soil on Mars with microbes like cyano-bacteria which can break complex molecules and release nutrients into the soil, nitrogen being one of them. As the soil becomes gradually fertilized, they would add organisms like lichens and moss which will do a wonderful job of weathering down rocks and mountains and further fertilize the soil. The idea is to transform a mountain into a garden.

After another hundred years of preparing Mars for its tailored future, the planet would now be suitable for a tundra type of vegetation. At this stage we will be very likely importing pine trees from the Earth and planting them, for we definitely cannot sustain this kind of atmosphere on Mars without setting up a self-balancing mechanism. Remember here that the scientists only hope that nitrogen exists on Mars, they do not have any evidence of it, yet. Trees will bring in the much needed supply of oxygen, consume the carbon dioxide and maintain the atmospheric temperature. The terra-formation is complete. Then what?

At this juncture, researches draw a blank. They are not sure if Mars will take the course of evolution like Earth did and develop into a planet very alike ours, or follow a whole new line of evolution with different kinds of species. Or, will it even evolve and sustain life?

Astro-biologists romanticize the idea of letting life evolve by itself after this point and just study it from Earth for the sake of science. Other hard-core researchers of the Mars society (there really is such a society) think it would be unpardonably stupid to stop here after all this effort and time. It would definitely be time for us to pack our bags and shift base there. The timeline in discussion here is about 100,000 years from today (with today’s technology, but future scientists may find faster techniques). A few conservative scientists say that it is almost impossible to predict the evolution trajectory that Mars will follow at that time and we have no right to tamper with Mars.

A few other evolution geeks maintain that it is the nature of life to fill every available niche and it would be very unlike humans to not do so. Moreover we would have made Earth completely uninhabitable by then, and would have no choice but to move. But, we are less likely to do that to Mars as our time on Earth is a good enough lesson.

At any rate, we cannot take on this massive experiment without being sure that things will not go horribly wrong because of something we do not expect, and also because this is prohibitively expensive as of today!

Who knows, maybe life on Earth itself was engineered with asteroid collisions to warm us up and shake up the surface…