Monthly Archives: March 2014
So far I am loving Neil De Grasse Tyson’s Cosmos reboot. I saw the original one with Carl Sagan only sporadically, so I can’t really compare the two. Tyson has managed to bring the wonder of science alive. That amazement often gets lost when you are in the weeds, either doing research or even taking a science class. It is easy to forget that behind all the math and the jargon is the eternal longing of the human spirit to answer the question, why?
The ebb and flow of great civilizations has one thing in common, our curiosity is rewarded while close-mindedness eventually leads to stagnation and decay. Ignorance and superstition leads to darkness and fear. Although rigid dogma may win the battle, it ultimately loses the war. This is the reason that antipathy towards science of a small but politically active minority should give everyone a pause. A show like Cosmos that gets non-scientists interested and invested in science and reminds practitioners why they do what they do, is exactly the kind of TV we need.
Episodes one and three focused mainly on astrophysics and astronomy, while episode two’s focus was evolution. I learned something new in every episode, despite years spent as a physics major and a grad student.
Episode one’s main takeaway for me was Giordano Bruno’s story, which I did not know about. Tyson also managed effectively convey our humble presence on the cosmological scale. Far from being the center of the Universe, we inhabit a minor planet circling a minor star in one of the many galaxies in the Universe. On the cosmological time scale, we have been around for less than a blink of an eye. If I ever to make any changes, I would have included Galileo in this episode, both for his scientific discoveries and his struggles with the Catholic Church. Galileo’s contributions were vital to the Newtonian revolution that has shaped science as we know it.
Episode two focused on evolution, especially that of the eye, something creationists love to argue about. Tyson made the biology accessible for a non-biologist like me. Now I want to find out more about it.
Episode three zeroed in on the Newtonian revolution but Newton was not the protagonist of this episode, rather it was Edmond Halley, of the comet fame. It was due to Halley’s efforts that Newton’s magnum opus, Principia Mathematica was published. The episode covered Newton’s laws of motion, his law of universal gravitation and his invention of calculus. I remember reading about Halley and Prinicipia , when Halley’s comet made its last appearance. The animations brought out the human element behind the science. Two minor quibbles, it was hard to tell Halley and Newton apart, and the music at times was obtrusive and loud.
Two quotes attributed to Newton, summarize science at its best, a collaborative enterprise to find the truth.
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Plato is my friend — Aristotle is my friend — but my greatest friend is truth.
Do you like this iteration of Cosmos and how does it compare to the original?
Programming Note: Cosmos airs on Fox on Sunday nights.
In his weekly Letter from India, Manu Joseph digests Indian politics into bite sized morsels and spits out fact-free gibberish for the readers of the international edition of the New York Times. Let me give you two recent examples. This is an excerpt is from a column published a couple of weeks ago:
The noise on social media, which is largely in favor of Mr. Modi, contains the low-stakes patriotism of
Indian residents of the United States who do not have to live through the
consequences of their long-distance affair with nationalism. They tend to be liberal
Democrats in the United States, but political conservatives in India.
Joseph lumps naturalized United States citizens of Indian origin, their citizen children; Indian citizens who are either Permanents Residents (Green Card holders) or long term but temporary (student and work) visa holders, all in one group. He then asserts that they are all supporters of Mr. Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party or the BJP, without providing any data to back his claim. Surely, it must’ve been due to the efforts of Mr. Modi’s alleged fans that he was denied a travel visa by the United States government, following Godhra.
His latest column is even better, where he writes about the new breed of the Indian politician, who is in it for public service,
But then circumstances forced the voters to evolve and from them have risen
the mutants — engineers, activists, corporate executives, journalists, former
government officers and at least one actress — who have become politicians out of
necessity. Naïve and upright, they view politics as a transformational public
How is this different from any standard-issue politician, anywhere in the world? I have to yet come across a politician who says that they are running for office to satisfy their own megalomania or to make a quick buck. Also, In what world is being naïve supposed to be a compliment either for a politician or any adult for that matter?
For a supposed expert on India, his lack of the knowledge about Indian political history is astounding. Brave citizen activists are nothing new in Indian politics, we don’t even have to go as far back as Mohandas Gandhi’s generation. Surely, Mr. Joseph has heard of the socialist leaders, like Madhu Dandavate, George Fernandes, Mrinal Gore etc., who risked jail time for their courageous stance against the then Congress leader Mrs. Indira Gandhi when she had suspended democratic rule in the mid-seventies. Also, Indian politics is replete with actors-turned politicians, unless Manu has been living under a rock I he should know of both N. T. Ramarao and M. G. Ramachandran. As for a journalist-turned politician, I can think of Arun Shourie. Either Mr. Joseph has not done his homework or he has nothing but contempt for his readership. Since he thinks he can shovel horse-shit their way and they wouldn’t know any better.
His examples of the brave new political breed are Meera Sanyal, the ex-CEO of the Indian operations of the multinational bank, Royal Bank of Scotland and Tom Friedman’s friend, Nandan Nilekani, who supposedly came up with the flat world metaphor. Mr. Nilekani was the CEO of one of India’s biggest body shops, the outsourcing giant Infosys, for about five years.
I fail to see what is so wonderfully brave about these two Indian versions of Mr. Bloomberg. Mr. Nilekani is political novice whereas Ms. Sanyal contested the Mumbai-South seat in 2009 as an Independent and got less than 2% of the total votes cast. I will have more about Ms. Sanyal and her chances, later.
This spring India goes to the polls to elect representatives to the Lok Sabha or the lower house of the parliament. As always, the party or the coalition with the most votes in the Lok Sabha will choose the next Prime Minister. Since the nineties no single party has won an outright majority. Coalition governments, headed either by the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have been the norm.
The Major Players: The Parties and Their Leaders
The current ruling coalition is led by the Congress, India’s oldest party, predating independence. In its current form, it is but a shell of its venerable past. Since the seventies it has been reduced to being one family’s fiefdom with no internal democracy. The opposition is lead by the Bharatiya Janata Party or the BJP. The party with fascist leanings and an ugly us-versus-them rhetoric rose to prominence in the nineties following its agitation to build a temple in Ayodhya. Lastly, the new kid on the block is the Aam Aadmi Party* (AAP) which swept into power in Delhi State elections held recently. Their sole focus, so far as I can tell, seems to be corruption.
Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Congress, and the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi** family , is a political cipher with no experience to speak of. The BJP’s Narendra Modi has experience in spades, ten years as a chief minister of Gujarat, and also a past that is a cause for much concern. Lastly, there is the AAP’s leader Arvind Kejriwal, who resigned just 49 days after taking office as the Chief Minister of Delhi. He seems to be more into street theater than actual governing. Stay tuned for further developments.
*Aam Aadmi means common man in Hindi
**no relation to Mohandas Gandhi.
From this morning’s NYT op-ed page, the loser of the 2008 Presidential Election has penned an op-ed, with this caption;
Obama Has Made America Look Weak
Did the liberal New York Times give Gore a forum, when Bush was rushing the country to war based on false pretenses? If it did, I don’t remember it. I am sure American prestige was greatly enhanced when the said op-ed contributor chose a woman, who can’t string together a coherent sentence, as his running mate. A woman who has been spewing poisonous bile into the body politic, ever since her debut on the national stage.
Media Watch Cat is not happy, at all.