August 30, 2006

Vital Papers.

Found the following in the office of the coordinator of the course I am teaching:


Vital papers will demonstrate their vitality by moving from where I left them to where I can't find them.

August 28, 2006

Tiny, Abstract Drops in an Oil Field of Possibility.

I watch bits of Daily Show with Jon Stewart often on the internet and I have come to feel that they do an amazing job. Obviously comedy is their main platform. But comedy attains its full import only through tragedy. Oftentimes I have felt that aspect coming through beautifully on the Daily Show.

This following piece is a wonderful illustration. It talks about the historical attitude of the West (now mostly the US) toward the Middle East and brings out the implicit hypocrisy on the part of the West and the resulting immense tragedy for the people of the Middle East.

Over the years, we've grown accustomed to thinking of ourselves as you think of us: tiny, abstract drops in an oil field of possibility. Whether redrawing our borders without regard for ethnicity or religion, or experimenting with unfamiliar forms of governmenance, we always welcome a chance to test the latest theories of your political scientists.

August 24, 2006

A Lesson from History.

Menachem Begin presents an instructive example as to how the world really functions. Here is a brief biography of his eventful life.

He rose to prominence as the rather effective leader of Jewish underground military group Irgun during the turbulent decade of 1940s. I was being diplomatic there. Let us not mince words from now.

He was the leader of the "terrorist" organization Irgun, which terrorized the Arabs living in the British mandate of Palestine. The same Irgun which, along with its sister militant group Leh'i, also successfully managed to drive British away with numerous acts of terror.

Some highlights of Begin's commandeering of Irgun are:

July 22, 1946: Bombing of King David Hotel in Jerusalem. This was the base of the British government there. 91 people were killed and the entire wing of the building collapsed.

April 9, 1948: A mixed Irgun and Leh'i force attacked the village of Dier Yassin and massacred more than 100 innocent and peaceful Arabs (they reached a working arrangement with their Jewish neighbors). Some estimates put the number of dead at 250.

July 11 and 12, 1948: Now combined forces of Israeli army enter the Arab city of Lydda and after a period of indiscriminate and cruel shooting, expel the city's Arab inhabitants.

(This last one is included as part of Irgun's work because after the proclamation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, many of Irgun terrorists were integrated into the newly formed Israeli Defense Forces.)

These are only a sample of the terror perpetrated by Irgun under the able leadership of our Begin.

Now suppose that you went to sleep in 1948 and woke up in 1977 (in the process breaking the record of Rip Van Winkle). You would find that the former terrorist Menachem Begin was the Prime Minister of Israel, nothing less.

And if you stuck along for another year, you would find that the good Begin was awarded the Nobel Peace prize.

I want to you emphasize for you: PEACE prize.

They say truth is stranger than fiction.

I say that we all are living through a cosmic joke.

August 22, 2006

Fields Medalists.

The winners of Fields medal were announced today at the International Congress of Mathematicians. As expected, Grigory Perelman and Terence Tao got the award. Two more were also awarded: Andrei Okounkov and Wendelin Werner. And also, I suppose as expected, Perelman refused the prize. However, he will henceforth be counted as a Fields medalist in the mathematical community.

August 18, 2006

Lonely Planet Guide to My Apartment is very funny.

A good rule of thumb is “If it’s something you’ll want, you have to bring it in yourself.”

August 17, 2006

Blatant Double Standards.

The mainstream discourse on the world affairs is all too obviously polluted by blatant double standards.

(May be I should, in fact, use the term "single standard", following Chomsky (who quotes Adam Smith): "vile maxim of the masters of mankind:...All for ourselves, and nothing for other people.")

The ruthless and primitive logic behind this is easy to grasp. That does not, however, help escape a deep sense of indignation every time one is faced with an egregious exercise of this "vile maxim".

Such is the case with the recent elections and the subsequent protests in Mexico.

Millions of people are protesting on the streets of Mexico City. Obviously, a major event is in progress. And what do we see in the Western capitals and media? Nothing really. No political leader is saying as much as a word acknowledging the protests, let alone supporting it. And there is at best a lukewarm coverage in the top news papers.

Contrast that with the euphoria over "revolutions" of last few years in Georgia, Ukraine and Lebanon, avowedly asserting the supremacy of power of ordinary people to enforce their will. During those rose, orange and cedar revolutions, there was almost nothing else in the media and political leaders could not have seemed more anxious to jump on the bandwagon of people-powered movements.

I am not saying that the mass movements in Georgia, Ukraine and Lebanon are not worthy of world's attention or that their causes are not just. Neither am I saying that there was really some fraud in Mexican elections and the supporters of the leftist candidate López Obrador have legitimate concerns. May be they don't.

But that is totally beside the point.

My point is that support and praise for mass movements come about only when those movements are seen to further one's interests. And when that is not the case, equally popular mass movements are shunned in the most cynical manner.

As I wrote above, all this is really a no-brainer.

For the vile maxim of masters of mankind is all for ourselves, and nothing for other people.

August 16, 2006

Bush Reads Camus!

It seems that president Bush read Albert Camus's novel "The Stranger" during his recent vacation in Crawford, Texas. Ha ha!

(As it happens, I also read this novel recently. I found it quite fascinating as a novel, though the whole "life is absurd" thing did not impress me - as yet anyway.)

But it is rather interesting that Bush is venturing into stuff like this. The carefully constructed image of a man who abhors all intellectual enterprises is showing cracks. Actually, existentialism, as a philosophy, revolts against the methodology of standard philosophical traditions. However, this revolt itself is carried out in a highly intellectual fashion.

It is impossible not to be struck by the "absurdity" of Bush reading Camus.

As Maureen Dowd wrote in New York Times today,

[I]f there was ever a confirmation of Camus’s sense of the absurdity of life, it’s that the president is reading him.

August 15, 2006

Weapons of Math Instruction.

I am attending a work shop on mathematics teaching. There I saw on a participant's t-shirt the following.
Armed with Weapons of Math Instruction.

Around this text, there were pictures of a number of math objects, like calculator, protractor, compass, scale, triangle, square etc.

Very imaginative and appropriate.

August 13, 2006

Hoping for Fear.

It is pretty disgusting to see some Republicans (and a Democrat too!) trying to derive political mileage out of the latest episode of "terror". Dick Cheney and Joseph Lieberman suggesting that the Connecticut primary results provide comfort to the terrorists is pathetic beyond imagination.

My detailed thoughts on this in a couple of days. Meanwhile the following is a good account by Paul Krugman (in New York Times) of the record of Bush administration's "fecklessness and cynicism" with regard to the war on terror.


Hoping for Fear
- Paul Krugman

Just two days after 9/11, I learned from Congressional staffers that Republicans on Capitol Hill were already exploiting the atrocity, trying to use it to push through tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. I wrote about the subject the next day, warning that “politicians who wrap themselves in the flag while relentlessly pursuing their usual partisan agenda are not true patriots.”

The response from readers was furious — fury not at the politicians but at me, for suggesting that such an outrage was even possible. “How can I say that to my young son?” demanded one angry correspondent.

I wonder what he says to his son these days.

We now know that from the very beginning, the Bush administration and its allies in Congress saw the terrorist threat not as a problem to be solved, but as a political opportunity to be exploited. The story of the latest terror plot makes the administration’s fecklessness and cynicism on terrorism clearer than ever.

Fecklessness: the administration has always pinched pennies when it comes to actually defending America against terrorist attacks. Now we learn that terrorism experts have known about the threat of liquid explosives for years, but that the Bush administration did nothing about that threat until now, and tried to divert funds from programs that might have helped protect us. “As the British terror plot was unfolding,” reports The Associated Press, “the Bush administration quietly tried to take away $6 million that was supposed to be spent this year developing new explosives detection technology.”

Cynicism: Republicans have consistently portrayed their opponents as weak on terrorism, if not actually in sympathy with the terrorists. Remember the 2002 TV ad in which Senator Max Cleland of Georgia was pictured with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? Now we have Dick Cheney suggesting that voters in the Democratic primary in Connecticut were lending aid and comfort to “Al Qaeda types.” There they go again.

More fecklessness, and maybe more cynicism, too: NBC reports that there was a dispute between the British and the Americans over when to make arrests in the latest plot. Since the alleged plotters weren’t ready to go — they hadn’t purchased airline tickets, and some didn’t even have passports yet — British officials wanted to watch and wait, hoping to gather more evidence. But according to NBC, the Americans insisted on early arrests.

Suspicions that the Bush administration might have had political motives in wanting the arrests made prematurely are fed by memories of events two years ago: the Department of Homeland Security declared a terror alert just after the Democratic National Convention, shifting the spotlight away from John Kerry — and, according to Pakistani intelligence officials, blowing the cover of a mole inside Al Qaeda.

But whether or not there was something fishy about the timing of the latest terror announcement, there’s the question of whether the administration’s scare tactics will work. If current polls are any indication, Republicans are on the verge of losing control of at least one house of Congress. And “on every issue other than terrorism and homeland security,” says Newsweek about its latest poll, “the Dems win.” Can a last-minute effort to make a big splash on terror stave off electoral disaster?

Many political analysts think it will. But even on terrorism, and even after the latest news, polls give Republicans at best a slight advantage. And Democrats are finally doing what they should have done long ago: calling foul on the administration’s attempt to take partisan advantage of the terrorist threat.

It was significant both that President Bush felt obliged to defend himself against that accusation in his Saturday radio address, and that his standard defense — attacking a straw man by declaring that “there should be no disagreement about the dangers we face” — came off sounding so weak.

Above all, many Americans now understand the extent to which Mr. Bush abused the trust the nation placed in him after 9/11. Americans no longer believe that he is someone who will keep them safe, as many did even in 2004; the pathetic response to Hurricane Katrina and the disaster in Iraq have seen to that.

All Mr. Bush and his party can do at this point is demonize their opposition. And my guess is that the public won’t go for it, that Americans are fed up with leadership that has nothing to hope for but fear itself.

August 8, 2006

Joe Lieberman Loses Senate Primary.

US domestic politics ceased to grip my attention some time ago. I enthusiastically followed the 2004 election, but was rather disappointed by the outcome. Obviously that disappointment along with a natural lull resulting from lack of any serious "action" played a part in ending any serious interest on my side.

More importantly, however, a growing sense of cynicism about the existing political setups in the democratic world is beginning to shape my thinking. (I am not implying that I doubt the correctness of democracy as a means of governance. I do not.) I am more and more of the opinion that power and privilege, overwhelmingly, are the only determining factors - with money playing a big role in defining power and privilege. Hence my doubts about enthusiastically supporting one side of this elaborate drama over the other. Anyway, more on this some other time.

Having written this, I must quickly add that my disillusionment is not complete and I still have firm likes and dislikes among the political actors, and I can still be animated by these preferences. As I was today with the Senate primary in Connecticut.

Joe Lieberman, once the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, is holding the Senate seat, and in normal circumstances he would be the obvious choice for running again November. But in a very refreshing deviation from a largely rigid script of political norms, the Democratic party voters turned up in large numbers (close to 50% showed up, apparently a very large turn-out for Senate primaries) and defeated Lieberman, albeit in a very narrow contest. What makes this rather sweet is the fact that the aggressively anti-war stance of the victor, Ned Lamont, proved popular.

However, I would refrain from any sweeping conclusions about the directional change in the Democratic party, the increasingly effective role of bloggers and online activists in shaping the outcomes of elections etc. What happened in a very liberal state like Connecticut can not be taken to imply anything about the larger scene. Further, with Lieberman running as an independent, the Democrats might actually lose this seat. Either one of them can probably win the seat easily, but together they will split the Democratic vote - more or less evenly if tonight's result is any guide. So all this might actually end up hurting the Democrats.

But it is not the occasion to be pessimistic and doubtful. There will be time for that later. For now, simply savor the moment.

August 1, 2006

Two Verses.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard - Thomas Gray.


Woman, on the whole, is a timid thing,
The din of war, the flash of steel unnerve her;
But, wronged in love,
There is no heart more murderous.

Medea - Euripides

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