Saturday, June 28, 2008

Searching for T. P. Kailasam's White House

One of the pull-out sections of yesterday's Hindu had a article on searching for T. P. Kailsam's White House. Actually this is something of a misnomer, because he probably never lived there. It was the house of T. Paramasivam Iyer, Kailsam's father, from who he was estranged. Kailasam had a sister Padma, who was my father's mother, and had expired when Appa was a few months old. As a result even my father and his brother did not have any acquaintance with this celebrated writer. I guess my grandfather had some contact, but very little is known. One of Appa's cousin's, a niece of Kaisalam, who is over 80 years of age lives in Malleshwaram and is a painter. Apart from her, we do not know any other relatives. Unfortunately none of us know Kannada in which our distinguished relative wrote so much. Maybe some day...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Recognition of work

Over at Tantu-jaal my friend Sunil Mukhi asks the question as to what is to be done if a person in highly privileged Institutes does not get much done. Strongly recommend this post.

Let me ask a different question: what does one do when a person at a Research Institute does a lot of work, or a person at a University does a lot of work. How does such a person gain recognition for his or her work? Now don't tell me, as many of my friends do, that satisfaction that you derive is what you are here for. Partly true. If this was the end of the story, why should there be so many little pieces of recognition? Is there any way in which objectively a person's work is recognized in India? What if he or she is not working some very hot area, at least not so hot at the time the work is being done? Don't tell me that history will judge, and all that sort of stuff. What happens to a person who is working in a subfield on which there is probably not much expertise in the country? How does one judge?

In a scenario where virtually all recognition is through a process of nomination by those who are already in this or that club, and not a process of open application, how does one recognize work? X or Y may be a good scientist and may be thoroughly obnoxious and offensive, and such a person in our set up will not receive recognition for the work he or she has done. Z may have crossed the path of this or that bigshot and is finished off for life. Sometime ago, I had the privilege of nominating a fellow physicist for an international award. Why me? The only eligibility criterion for the nominator was that he or she should be an active scientist. Even though I have never had any recognition myself, it did not disqualify me from making that nomination. For that matter, the Dirac Medal of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste also has an open nomination procedure.

What I would rather suggest is that there should be a recognized or prestigious forum, where every scientist is welcome to say exactly what he or she has done, and draw the attention of the community. Let the work speak for itself, in terms of published work, the actual publication, what it has sought to show, etc.. Such a forum would immediately destroy the old boys network and scratching backs and bending over backwards for recognition and the quid pro quo..

I am not turning off comments and invite all three of you who read this blog to post your opinions.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Without comment: Fidel Castro Ruz on Obama's speech

My curiosity was kindled when the main stream press reported
that Obama had won Fidel Castro's endorsement. So I looked
around to see what he actually said. I reproduce below
the article from Granma. I don't see how anything here can
be thought of as an endorsement! In any case, I am turning
off the comments here because the views are not mine.

Reflections of Fidel
The empire’s hypocritical politics

IT would be dishonest of me to remain silent after hearing the speech Obama delivered on the afternoon of May 23 at the Cuban American National Foundation created by Ronald Reagan. I listened to his speech, as I did McCain’s and Bush’s. I feel no resentment towards him, for he is not responsible for the crimes perpetrated against Cuba and humanity. Were I to defend him, I would do his adversaries an enormous favor. I have therefore no reservations about criticizing him and about expressing my points of view on his words frankly.

What were Obama’s statements?

"Throughout my entire life, there has been injustice and repression in Cuba. Never, in my lifetime, have the people of Cuba known freedom. Never, in the lives of two generations of Cubans, have the people of Cuba known democracy. (…) This is the terrible and tragic status quo that we have known for half a century – of elections that are anything but free or fair (…) I won't stand for this injustice, you won't stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba," he told annexationists, adding: "It's time to let Cuban American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime. (…) I will maintain the embargo."

The content of these declarations by this strong candidate to the U.S. presidency spares me the work of having to explain the reason for this reflection.

José Hernandez, one of the Cuban American National Foundation directors whom Obama praises in his speech, was none other than the owner of the Caliber-50 automatic rifle, equipped with telescopic and infrared sights, which was confiscated, by chance, along with other deadly weapons while being transported by sea to Venezuela, where the Foundation had planned to assassinate the writer of these lines at an international meeting on Margarita, in the Venezuelan state of Nueva Esparta.

Pepe Hernández’ group wanted to return to the pact with Clinton, betrayed by Mas Canosa’s clan, who secured Bush’s electoral victory in 2000 through fraud, because the latter had promised to assassinate Castro, something they all happily embraced. These are the kinds of political tricks inherent to the United States’ decadent and contradictory system.

Presidential candidate Obama’s speech may be formulated as follows: hunger for the nation, remittances as charitable hand-outs and visits to Cuba as propaganda for consumerism and the unsustainable way of life behind it.

How does he plan to address the extremely serious problem of the food crisis? The world’s grains must be distributed among human beings, pets and fish, the latter of which are getting smaller every year and more scarce in the seas that have been over-exploited by large trawlers which no international organization has been able to halt. Producing meat from gas and oil is no easy feat. Even Obama overestimates technology’s potential in the fight against climate change, though he is more conscious of the risks and the limited margin of time than Bush. He could seek the advice of Gore, who is also a democrat and is no longer a candidate, as he is aware of the accelerated pace at which global warming is advancing. His close political rival Bill Clinton, who is not running for the presidency, an expert on extra-territorial laws like the Helms-Burton and Torricelli Acts, can advise him on an issue like the blockade, which he promised to lift and never did.

What did he say in his speech in Miami, this man who is doubtless, from the social and human points of view, the most progressive candidate to the U.S. presidency? "For two hundred years," he said, "the United States has made it clear that we won't stand for foreign intervention in our hemisphere. But every day, all across the Americas, there is a different kind of struggle --not against foreign armies, but against the deadly threat of hunger and thirst, disease and

despair. That is not a future that we have to accept --not for the child in

Port au Prince or the family in the highlands of Peru. We can do better. We

must do better. (…) We cannot ignore suffering to our south, nor stand for the globalization of the empty stomach." A magnificent description of imperialist globalization: the globalization of empty stomachs! We ought to thank him for it. But, 200 years ago, Bolivar fought for Latin American unity and, more than 100 years ago, Martí gave his life in the struggle against the annexation of Cuba by the United States. What is the difference between what Monroe proclaimed and what Obama proclaims and resuscitates in his speech two centuries later?

"I will reinstate a Special Envoy for the Americas in my White House who will work with my full support. But we'll also expand the Foreign Service, and open more consulates in the neglected regions of the Americas. We'll expand the Peace Corps, and ask more young Americans to go abroad to deepen the trust and the ties among our people," he said near the end, adding: "Together, we can choose the future over the past." A beautiful phrase, for it attests to the idea, or at least the fear, that history makes figures what they are and not all the way around.

Today, the United States has nothing of the spirit behind the Philadelphia declaration of principles formulated by the 13 colonies that rebelled against English colonialism. Today, they are a gigantic empire undreamed of by the country’s founders at the time. Nothing, however, was to change for the natives and the slaves. The fomer were exterminated as the nation expanded; the latter continued to be auctioned at the marketplace —men, women and children—for nearly a century, despite the fact that "all men are born free and equal", as the Declaration of Independence affirms. The world’s objective conditions favored the development of that system.

In his speech, Obama portrays the Cuban Revolution as anti-democratic and lacking in respect for freedom and human rights. It is the exact same argument which, almost without exception, U.S. administrations have used again and again to justify their crimes against our country. The blockade, in and of itself, is an act of genocide. I don’t want to see U.S. children inculcated with those shameful values.

An armed revolution in our country might not have been needed without the military interventions, Platt Amendment and economic colonialism visited upon Cuba.

The Revolution was the result of imperial domination. We cannot be accused of having imposed it upon the country. The true changes could have and ought to have been brought about in the United States. Its own workers, more than a century ago, voiced the demand for an eight-hour work shift, which stemmed from the development of productive forces.

The first thing the leaders of the Cuban Revolution learned from Martí was to believe in and act on behalf of an organization founded for the purposes of bringing about a revolution. We were always bound by previous forms of power and, following the institutionalization of this organization, we were elected by more than 90% of voters, as has become customary in Cuba, a process which does not in the least resemble the ridiculous levels of electoral participation which, many a time, as in the case of the United States, stay short of 50% of voters. No small and blockaded country like ours would have been able to hold its ground for so long on the basis of ambition, vanity, deceit or the abuse of power, the kind of power its neighbor has. To state otherwise is an insult to the intelligence of our heroic people.

I am not questioning Obama’s great intelligence, his debating skills or his work ethic. He is a talented orator and is ahead of his rivals in the electoral race. I feel sympathy for his wife and little girls, who accompany him and give him encouragement every Tuesday. It is indeed a touching human spectacle. Nevertheless, I am obliged to raise a number of delicate questions. I do not expect answers; I wish only to raise them for the record.

Is it right for the president of the United States to order the assassination of any one person in the world, whatever the pretext may be?

Is it ethical for the president of the United States to order the torture of other human beings?

Should state terrorism be used by a country as powerful as the United States as an instrument to bring about peace on the planet?

Is an Adjustment Act, applied as punishment to only one country, Cuba, in order to destabilize it, good and honorable, even when it costs innocent children and mothers their lives? If it is good, why is this right not automatically granted to Haitians, Dominicans, and other peoples of the Caribbean, and why isn’t the same Act applied to Mexicans and people from Central and South America, who die like flies against the Mexican border wall or in the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific?

Can the United States do without immigrants, who grow vegetables, fruits, almonds and other delicacies for U.S. citizens? Who would sweep their streets, work as servants in their homes or do the worst and lowest-paid jobs?

Are crackdowns on illegal residents fair, even as they affect children born in the United States?

Are the brain-drain and the continuous theft of the best scientific and intellectual minds in poor countries moral and justifiable?

You state, as I pointed out at the beginning of this reflection, that your country had long ago warned European powers that it would not tolerate any intervention in the hemisphere, reiterating that this right be respected while demanding the right to intervene anywhere in the world with the aid of hundreds of military bases and naval, aerial and spatial forces distributed across the planet. I ask: is that the way in which the United States expresses its respect for freedom, democracy and human rights?

Is it fair to stage pre-emptive attacks on sixty or more dark corners of the world, as Bush calls them, whatever the pretext may be?

Is it honorable and sane to invest millions and millions of dollars in the military industrial complex, to produce weapons that can destroy life on earth several times over?

Before judging our country, you should know that Cuba, with its education, health, sports, culture and sciences programs, implemented not only in its own territory but also in other poor countries around the world, and the blood that has been shed in acts of solidarity towards other peoples, in spite of the economic and financial blockade and the aggression of your powerful country, is proof that much can be done with very little. Not even our closest ally, the Soviet Union, was able to achieve what we have.

The only form of cooperation the United States can offer other nations consist in the sending of military professionals to those countries. It cannot offer anything else, for it lacks a sufficient number of people willing to sacrifice themselves for others and offer substantial aid to a country in need (though Cuba has known and relied on the cooperation of excellent U.S. doctors). They are not to blame for this, for society does not inculcate such values in them on a massive scale.

We have never subordinated cooperation with other countries to ideological requirements. We offered the United States our help when Hurricane Katrina lashed the city of New Orleans. Our internationalist medical brigade bears the glorious name of Henry Reeve, a young man, born in the United States, who fought and died for Cuba’s sovereignty in our first war of independence.

Our Revolution can mobilize tens of thousands of doctors and health technicians. It can mobilize an equally vast number of teachers and citizens, who are willing to travel to any corner of the world to fulfill any noble purpose, not to usurp people’s rights or take possession of raw materials.

The good will and determination of people constitute limitless resources that cannot be kept and would not fit in the vault of a bank. They cannot spring from the hypocritical politics of an empire.

Fidel Castro Ruz

May 25, 2008

10:35 p.m.

Translated by ESTI

- Reflections oF Fidel

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Defining new genre of films

As all the three faithful readers of this blog (are there that many?) know, I have been travelling a little, and finally have some airport / travel stories to tell. No, not as interesting as the last one about bumping into Guenther Grass, but this time the only thing that came to my mind is what I am going to say below. Actually it had already to my mind earlier when I was watching a couple of bits of films on this world movies channel, which seemed to be mainly Spanish films, where really not much happened. The movies were not very interesting, and not very challenging. Then it occured to me that these must come from a genre of films designed for in-flight entertainment. My beliefs were reinforced after looking at the selection on Emirates flights. They were exactly that! But there is another genre of films on Star and HBO which boggles my mind even more. Now which one of us in India would be interested in US war films, where the great white nation mainly takes on the yellow peril or middle-eastern terrorists? Even if these films have Denzel Washington starring as a high-ranking general? Or the other genre of US college and teenage films? Do not those who are responsible for scheduling of films study what genre would or would not be interesting? Even more mind boggling were the films on Discovery or Nat Geo, where there was a long series of documentaries on fishing for crabs in the North Sea. How many of us have ever seen the North sea, sailed on boats or are interested in eating crabs? This genre is really not for me...

preventing diabetes, promoting human rights -- an interview with my big sister

Padma has just been interviewed in YWCA North Rhode Island, and she talks about preventing diabetes and her views on human rights, etc.. Here is the link.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Goodbye Lausanne

The time has come to bid `au revoir' or `auf wiedersehen' to Lausanne again. It was a very nice visit, made nice by friends and the atmosphere here. This is what I wrote to Prof. Pramod Rastogi who helps co-ordinate the ISBRI programme under which I visited here.

I am writing to you to thank you and the officers, especially Dr. Barbara Baumann for facilitating my visit to the EPFL under the aegis of the ISBRI. I
had first heard of this from my colleague, Prof. V. Venkatraman who had also visited EPFL a couple of years ago. My enquries to you and Dr. Baumann were
met with enthusiastic replies. I was also very happy that the application procedure was transparent and clear and was conducted in a very professional
manner. I sent a pdf file with the proposal and my curriculum vitae, and in a couple of months I had a positive reply. I sought a prepartory period of
some months which was also approved. I am pleased to inform you that I have now spent most of my planned one month at EPFL in a very productive manner.
I must also record my thanks to Prof. Shaposhnikov for his hospitality and that of the members of the group here. I hope that it would be possible to
visit again in future.

It is worth recording here that the atmosphere that is prevalent at the EPFL is one of the greatest professionalism. The work facilities are outstanding
and it would be hard to imagine how things could be better. In fact, it is this kind of hassle free atmosphere that makes a visit to Switzerland
particularly welcome for many of us from India. I found the time spent here, free of my usual administrative work and other routine matters, to be of
utmost satisfaction. Besides the collaborative work at the EPFL, I was also able to work on other research problems profiting from the hassle free
atmosphere that I referred to earlier.

As you are aware, I have deep ties with Switzerland, having spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow, of which two were actually in Lausanne itself.
I am happy to renew these ties as well, although the members of the erstwhile Institute of Theoretical Physics are now retired. This bond between people
who have once worked here and the country of Switzerland itself is of value and it would be great if an instrument like the ISBRI were to play a role in
strengthening such ties.

Of course for Anita and me Lausanne will always have a special place. But now it is time to head back home...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Raychaudhuri --- some correspondence regarding

Updated: In view of the comment of RS, I have removed email addresses.
While in general I agree with his observation, I do not think any one
would mind their mail being displayed when it is about paying respect
to the work of another scientist. It is like quoting from an article.
I do not see why any one would object.

Date: Fri, 30 May 2008 15:52:25 +0530 (IST)

Subject: Raychaudhuri

Dear Dr. Buchert,

I enjoyed the seminar you presented at Lausanne last week, although i know
very little about the subject. I was pleasantly surprised to know that the
work of A. K. Raychaudhuri continues to be of use in modern research. You
may be interested (from a human interest angle) in the following: (click here)

I hope some of the articles are to your liking.

B. Ananthanarayan

Date: Fri, 30 May 2008 13:26:42 +0200

Subject: Re: Raychaudhuri

Dear college,

I am pleased to learn that you enjoyed the talk. Of course,
Raychaudhuri's equation is key to many research questions.
I actually saw some of these articles, and thank you for
sending me this site.


Centre de Recherche Astrophysique de Lyon UCBL / CNRS UMR 5574 / ENS
9, avenue Charles Andre F-69230 Saint-Genis-Laval


Even more travels in scenic Switzerland

For those of you who are sick of tourists and would like to see absolutely beautiful places of a different kind, not the rugged Alps, I strongly recommend the Jura range. Yesterday I took the postal bus to the valley of Brevines eventually to Le Locle in the canton of Neuchatel from the railway station. Of course you would know that Les Brevines is known as the Swiss Siberia as it is the coldest region in the country in winter. Now the pine forests are calm and beautiful. Then I went into the cute town of Neuchatel, all in the watch making area of the country. The bad news is that the Physics Dept. there has been closed down and the members transferred to Bern making the Institute there bigger. This will be from August 1. This morning I thought I had a lot of time when I reached Bern at about half past nine and since my meeting with Leuwyler was only at 1 pm, why not go to Lucerne by the train a few minutes later and get back by 1. Terrible mistake as it took an hour and a half to get to Lucerne and I suddenly realized that I could not make it back for 1 if I stayed in Lucerne and jumped into a train to Zuerich which would go through Zug. Now Zug is to Switerland what Switerland is to the world. It is the banking centre of banking centres and so I thought it would be nice to see this groovy place even if from the train. This was mistake number two, as in Zurich I would have only about 3 minutes to catch the train to Bern to make it by three minutes to 1 pm. I had to really run as I was at the rear end of the train to get to the main bay and to platform 12. The train started as I got in. In Bern it was good to see Leuwyler who told me that he would have to leave by 3 and not 5 as he earlier thought as he had a train to catch from Geneva. So you guessed right. I took the train with him and hopped off at Lausanne and got an extra hour of physics with him. The back by the quarter to eight train from Lausanne to Biel and by funiculaire to Evilard. Today was the most I ever spent in a train, all unplanned but now I am ready to sleep.