Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ok -- a Poem

Ok – a Poem
By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
December 15, 2010

Ok, so one life to live, huh?
Walk on the moon?
Or swim near the Barrier Reef?
Nada
Ok, so haven’t been on the moon
Nor swooned under the sea
Snorkeling amid sharks
Impossible?
Blah! Blah! Blah!
Breathing the air
Deep and long
Swallowing water
Like pure mist
Seen the ocean’s heist of the sun
Setting like large blood droplet
While the new moon
Stuck on the sky
Like a curvy knife
That farmer thrashes life
Of Weeds and brambles with
But who says
This moment, this frenzy
Of pressurized heart, aching
Muscles and tattering bones
Even in screeching pain
Jumping off the calcified mirror
And saying hello in tingling tone

One life to live, huh?
Ha! Ha! Ha!





Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Versed by Rae Armantrout – a Book Review

 Versed by Rae Armantrout – a Book Review
By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
November 30, 2010


Terry Eagleton provides a non-poetic definition of poem:  “A poem is a fictional, verbally inventive moral statement in which it is the author, rather than the printer or word processor, who decides where the lines should end.” 1 Some poems have end rhyming, some don’t, some use strict metres, and some are more dynamic.
Rae Armantrout’s magnificent collection of poems in Versed have varieties in line endings, internal rhymes and rhythms, forms and metaphors, while intense burst of imageries in simple words, constructed like frothing ocean waves, one after another, leaving the trails of dispersed pathos in poetic but delicate flare.
An example:
Equals
1.
As if, after all,

the thing that comes to mind
squared
times inertia

equalled the “real.”

2.
One lizard
Jammed headfirst

down the throat
of a second.
 Rae Armantrout explores the world of spirit and deity, with not “so foreclosed question” in poem New Genres:
A witness claims to have seen a spirit. From this premise,
a ragged band sets out,
trampling through an old house in the dark,
joking or bickering,
carrying equipment meant to measure “fluctuations.”
The existence of the spirit
should remain an open –
so foreclosed –
question.



2
Pockets of self-reference arise. As if I
could read the mind of the creator,
I already see the father
is the stalker
he pursues
and, eventually,
neutralizes

I don’t recollect reading much of Rae Armantrout’s poems before. If one recites her poem aloud, slowly reading each word with paying careful attention to spaces and breaks of the lines, it feels that more is unsaid but is almost tangible, as if mysterious reality about to be unravelled. Here is a ponderous poem “New” that talks “about the camera”:

If yellow
Is the new black,

the new you
is a cartoon

spokesman
who blows his lines

around bumptious 3-D
Hondas,

apologizes often,
and remains cheerful.

*

The new pop song
Is about getting real:

“You had a bad day.
The camera don’t lie.”

But they’re lying
to you
about the camera.

*

Since Fallujah
is the new Antigua,

sunlight nibbles
on pre-
charred

terrain
in the electric fireplace.

The voice in her poems, sometimes gulps the remaining air of sanity in overwhelming fluorescence of clarity, though tiptoeing the meaning of “change” by “insisting only on insistence”. The poem “Own” throws luminescence toward trajectory of sorrowing reality:

Woman in a room near mine moans, “I’m dying. I want
to be fine. It’s my body!
Don’t let me! Don’t touch me!”

*
By definition,
I’m the blip
Floating across my own
“field of vision…”

*

On closed eyes I see the spartan wall of the ICU
covered in a scrambled hodge-podge of sticky notes,
crossing one another at all angles,
illegibly written over, snippets of reference,
madly irrelevant.

*

Symbolism as the party face of paranoia.

Chorus of expert voices beyond my door, forever
Dissecting my case.

“But the part is sick
of representing the whole.”

*

“We will prevail,”
says the leader on multiple
screens. The words
are empty, but he’s there
inside the lie
everyone believes –
that nothing
will really change. He’s become pure
being, insisting
only on insistence.

*

A crowd (scene) of cells, growing wildly,
by random access to stock types,
(Play any role you like and go on
forever. Who is speaking?)
Able to draw blood vessels to itself
by emitting a mock distress call.

*

From deep time,
patterns
on my grandmother’s crockery
rise
to cover my closed eyelids,
lumpy fruits and flowers, brown
against a cream background.

*

Dream that Aaron is telling friends to be quiet because
he’s listening to a rumble, a white noise voice from his
own intestines which he believes is telling him how to
save me. “SHH!” he says to anyone who speaks.

From her own personal battle with cancer the poetess Rae Armantrout invokes solemnity, describing the patient perched in an examination table, and the doctor and the nurse duo, who are either “smug” or “snug” in their “relative safety” from the terrible gruesomeness of cancer, deftly delineating a scene in her poem “Together” that may be found in any hospital:

Now I am always perched on a metal examination table.
Two people, a doctor and a nurse, come at intervals
To tell me whether I will live or die. They do this with
practiced solemnity. They’re smug or snug in their
habits, their relative safety, of course, but that is to be
expected. And I wait expectantly, even eagerly, as if I
might be of some help. If the news is bad, I imagine,
they will direct our attention to an area of concern. For
a moment, we will lean together toward that place.

The book has two parts, containing 87 total poems. The first part is named Versed, and the second part is Dark Matter. The very first poem “Around” in the second part describes “The future is all around us”, reads like a reminder to human final destiny:
Time is pleased
to draw itself
                                out,
permit itself
pendulous loops,

to allow them
meaning,

this meaning,

as it goes
                along.

*

Chuck and I are pleased
to have found a spot
where my ashes can be scattered.
It looks like a construction site
now
but it’s adjacent
to a breathtaking, rocky coast.
Chuck sees places
where he might snorkel.
We’re being shown through
by a sort of realtor.
We’re interested but can’t get her
to fix the price.

*

“The future
is all around us.”

It’s a place,

anyplace
where we don’t exist.

“anyplace where we don’t exist”, true for us the mortal beings, but the time defying poetry can certainly outlast the virulence of cancerous cells and fabled and vacuous “insisting only on insistence” modern paradox.


References

1.       Eagleton, Terry. How to Read a Poem.  Blackwell Publishing, 2007, p. 25.
2.       Armantrout, Rae.  Versed, Wesleyan University Press, 2009
1

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Debtor

"The wildest urban legends are readily believed. There is said to be a two-month backlog at the abattoirs, as families abandon the expensive pets, including Thoroughbred racehorses, that they bought in the fat years and now can no longer afford to feed. One hears stories of the return of bartering: a yacht swapped for a mobile phone, a Harley-Davidson exchanged for a bicycle. There are moments of giddiness and breathless panic when it feels as it must have in the last days of the Weimar Republic. 

At first, when the poor beast began to sicken, we Tiger cubs set up a great roaring and ranting. Who is to blame for our sudden travails? we demanded — somebody must be to blame. The bankers? Them, certainly. The politicians? Well, the politicians are always to blame, so nothing new there. The markets, those shadowy entities that seem to operate by whim? Ourselves, perhaps? — now, there was a sobering possibility".
John Banville's sad comment in the above provides a stark glimpse of possible economic turmoil ahead, not only for Ireland, but for the overall global economy. A whole lot still depends how the American economy goes. Unemployment still is too high, and core inflation "is running at 0.6 percent, the lowest level ever recorded." In this economic downtrend, shouldn't the political parties, irrespective of their constricted ideologies, come to their senses, and take the necessary resuscitative steps? The Federal Reserve it seems is taking the prudent steps through their quantitative easing proposal, that is actually buying long term debt, because short-term debt has negligible interest rate.

Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman points to the axis of depression, the strange combination of China, Germany and US Republican Party, who are dead against the quantitative easing. China and Germany are against to protect their trade surpluses, but "for some countries to run trade surpluses, others must run trade deficits — and, for years, that has meant us. The Fed’s expansionary policies, however, have the side effect of somewhat weakening the dollar, making U.S. goods more competitive, and paving the way for a smaller U.S. deficit. And the Chinese and Germans don’t want to see that happen".

No surprise in China and Germany's opposition. They are trying to protect their respective nations' self interest, though one may argue whether it is good for their long term interest at all or not. But the most surprising part Paul Krugman presents is the reason for Republicans who are also dead against this policy, though this quantitative easing theory was once enthusiastically supported by prominent economist Milton Friedman, who is revered by the conservatives around the world. A budget expert Stan Collender provides a plausible reason for this surprising Republican somersault,"with Republican policy makers seeing economic hardship as the path to election glory,” they would be “opposed to any actions taken by the Federal Reserve that would make the economy better.” In short, their real fear is not that Fed actions will be harmful, it is that they might succeed."

That just sounds so bizarre to the least. There is an old proverb I used to know from my childhood, in Bangla it is: Khal Kete Kumir Ana. In English it is translated like this: The envious being cuts a canal on his own land to bring a crocodile to harm others. 

Paul Krugman surmises: "China and Germany want America to stay uncompetitive; Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there’s a Democrat in the White House."

Like Mr. Krugman, this twisted GOP colored logic is beyond my ordinary comprehension.


References:
  1.  The Debtor of the Western World by John Banville 
  2. Axis of Depression by Paul Krugman




Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Intelligent Design of Animal Welfare -- Really?

From the earliest memory that I can recollect, in the morning of the Eid festival, after returning home with my father from Eid prayer, I used to go to my room, and closed my ears with my both hands, while tears streaking down my face. The heart of a child could not take the unbearable scream and bleating of dying animals, whose throats were getting cut just around the corner of his home, a whole lot of them, where professional butchers, and their assistance, wearing lungi and Punjabi garment, or white shirt, tackling the sacrificed cows or goats, and the large sharp knife piercing the throat of poor animals, one after another, soaking the ground with warm blood. If the God is the most merciful and benevolent, and the most loving entity that man knows, why would the slaughter or sacrifice of enslaved animals be necessary?

This is not only an yearly or religious thing. My holier-than-thou moment ends right there. Like all the other happily living mortals, I go to the grocery store, buy the neatly packed chickens thighs, or bright red beef steak, slippery fish, in frozen but mint like condition, without giving a hoot where that meat or fish came from. Only in rare moments, reading an article like Johann Hari's The Religious Excuse for Barbarity, or thoughtful books by Barbara Kingsolver (Prodigal Summer) and Disgrace by J.M. Coatzee brings back those tearful memories from childhood. The way that we human beings have completely desensitized ourselves from the pain and sufferings of others, especially of living animals we eat so voraciously, maybe someday in a distant future will be looked upon with disgust and disbelief. In that world, we will be described as folks of dark, dark ages who ludicrously believed in the intelligent design of animal welfare amidst their dying scream.

Here is an excerpt from Johann Hari's article from The Independent:
"faith makes them prioritise pleasing an invisible supernatural being over the screaming of actual living creatures. Doesn't this suggest that faith itself – the choice to believe something in the total absence of evidence – is a danger that can lead you up needlessly nasty paths?"
Link to Johann Hari's article: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-the-religious-excuse-for-barbarity-2137927.html

How to Raise Boys Who Read

Why is there growing disparity between boys and girls' reading skills? The trend is alarming. Here is an excerpt from Thomas Spence's article in The Wall Street Journal, that has plausible reason and solution:
"The appearance of the boy-girl literacy gap happens to coincide with the proliferation of video games and other electronic forms of entertainment over the last decade or two. Boys spend far more time "plugged in" than girls do. Could the reading gap have more to do with competition for boys' attention than with their supposed inability to focus on anything other than outhouse humor? 

Dr. Robert Weis, a psychology professor at Denison University, confirmed this suspicion in a randomized controlled trial of the effect of video games on academic ability. Boys with video games at home, he found, spend more time playing them than reading, and their academic performance suffers substantially. Hard to believe, isn't it, but Science has spoken.

The secret to raising boys who read, I submit, is pretty simple—keep electronic media, especially video games and recreational Internet, under control (that is to say, almost completely absent). Then fill your shelves with good books."
Link to article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704271804575405511702112290.html

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Antimatter Captured in Major Scientific Breakthrough

"An international team of 42 scientists, which included 15 Canadians, have trapped 38 antihydrogen atoms – one by one – for a fraction of a second." Why it is important? "it could serve as the foundation for future experiments and discoveries" of Nobel Prize winning caliber. Read the full news from the following link: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/antimatter-captured-in-major-scientific-breakthrough/article1803302/

Guarding Secrets that Define Us

Excerpt from one of my favorite columnists James Carroll's article in The Boston Globe:
"...because power is ambiguous, statecraft sometimes requires the veiling of intention and action. At the micro-level, there can be no intimacy without confidentiality. That is true because personality resides in a hidden place, always unfolding and never fully known. We are mysteries to ourselves — or nothing. The protection of privacy is therefore essential to citizenship. So this assault on the secret, even in the name of democracy, can threaten democracy. Ironically, because the obliteration of privacy is being accomplished as much by our willing surrender to technology as by omni-intrusive governments and corporations, we are co-creators of our vulnerability."
 Article Link: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/11/01/guarding_secrets_that_define_us/

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Like it or not, the book is dead

Don't believe the book is dead, but the current format made from paper, may indeed become nostalgic memories for many. Margaret Wente writes:
"My books were a statement of my identity. They said: “Here’s the kind of person who reads the poetry of William Blake.” The fact that I haven’t read the poetry of William Blake since grad school was irrelevant. You never know when you might want to.....Tipping points come faster now. Just three years after launching its Kindle e-book reader, Amazon sells more e-books than books in hardcover. The big-box stores are loading up on cheap e-readers, which they bet will be this season’s iPod. One expert, quoted in The New York Times, predicts that, within a decade, fewer than 25 per cent of all books sold will still be print on paper".
Link to article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/margaret-wente/like-it-or-not-the-book-is-dead/article1800474/

Simple steps can cut deadly risk of heart disease

From The Los Angles Times, the following 7 factors, diet and exercises, can reduce the risk of death from heart disease:

  1. At least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of intense exercise, a week.
  2. Having a body mass index of less than 25.
  3. Being a nonsmoker for at least one year.
  4. Meeting four out of five of the association's key components for a healthy diet. Based on a 2,000-calories-a-day meal plan: 41/2 cups of fruits and vegetables a day; two or more 3.5-ounce servings of fish (preferably oily fish) a day; fewer than 450 calories a week of sugar-sweetened beverages; three or more 1-ounce servings a day of whole grains; and less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
  5. Keeping total cholesterol below 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood.
  6. Maintaining blood pressure below 120/80 millimeters of mercury.
  7. Having a fasting blood sugar level below 100 mg/dL of blood.
Link to full article: http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-prevention-20101115,0,987463.story

Economic Policy - David Brooks' Article

This is probably one of the better articles written by the columnist David Brooks. He provides clear distinctions between two cultures of economic thoughts, one is conservative and one is liberal. In recent years, the liberal economists are emphasizing on more quantitative rigors, claiming, "The performance of the economic machine can be predicted with quantitative macroeconomic modelsT".  David Brooks provides a simple example: "These models can be used to make highly specific projections. If the government borrows $1 and then spends it, it will produce $1.50 worth of economic activity. If the government spends $800 billion on a stimulus package, that will produce 3.5 million in new jobs."

On the other hand the conservative economists are emphasizing on psychological concerns, like, "If the government borrows trillions of dollars, this will increase public anxiety and uncertainty", and also present moralistic arguments, like, "This country is already too profligate, they cry. It already shops too much and borrows too much. How can we solve our problems by borrowing and spending more?"

Liberal economists counter the conservative economists' psychological argument as mythological, and moralistic argument as an impossibility, because, "Economics is a rational activity detached from morality. Hardheaded policy makers have to have the courage to flout conventional morality — to borrow even when the country is sick of borrowing."

The problems perhaps lies in the very fundamental of economy. David Brooks explains, "When you look around the world at the countries that have come through the recession best, it’s not the countries with the brilliant and aggressive stimulus models. It’s the ones like Germany that had the best economic fundamentals beforehand."

And the old wisdom of the common sense perhaps still applies, "simple regulations, low debt, high savings, hard work, few distortions."

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/opinion/16brooks.html

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mo Pair - a Soulful Singer, Musician, a Man of lot of Heart


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywLOCoHyAPQ

Mo and I had gone to the same university in Austin, now seems long time ago. He was one of the most remarkable human beings I'd honor to meet and hang out with, study with, and jam with our old guitar and keyboard, sometimes deep in the night of Texas winter, waking up all of my neighbors with our carefree tunes and vocals. A man of lot of heart, and full of compassion, whose music reveals only fragments of his loving soul.

Here is another of Mo's performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEOO4MvC_No


Mo's site link is: http://mopair.com/

In youtube more of his music can be found from the following link: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=mo+pair&search_type=

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The truth about cigarettes

Cigarette kills. This fact is proven. My father was one of the victims. And there are many like him. When clever marketing can hook the teenagers in the smoking addiction, government regulation worldwide is essential to educate and re-educate the global populace. American new proposed warning labels for cigarette packs depicting graphic consequences of smoking, like "coffins, diseased lungs and rotting teeth to drive home the health effects of tobacco" is a good measure to take.

Here are some arguments of cigarette manufacturer that is well countered by The Washington Post editorial:
Some cigarette manufacturers are fighting the labels as infringing on free-speech rights. Other critics say that the effort is needless given that the dangers of smoking are well known. It seems to us that the government is within its rights to require truth in marketing - particularly when it comes to vital health issues - from cigarette makers.
Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/14/AR2010111403661.html

Can the Economy be Saved?

Joseph Stiglitz: "The only solution to our current economic doldrums is large government spending. And if the spending is focused on high-return investments (in education, technology and infrastructure), the nation's debt-to-GDP ratio will actually be lowered. The question isn't whether we can afford to make these investments; we can't afford not to.

Even then, robust recovery won't happen until we write down the debts of the 1 in 4 homes whose mortgages are underwater, in a homeowner's chapter 11 program. We have allowed overburdened corporations a fresh start; why not poor Americans?


Nor will a robust recovery return until we get our dysfunctional financial system doing what it should be doing: providing credit, managing risk, running an efficient electronic payments system. The deservedly hated "bailout" may have kept the financial system from collapsing, but it also extended the government's safety mainly to rich and powerful banks. Smaller banks, focused on actually providing credit to small businesses, the lifeblood of any economy, were allowed to die. The Dodd-Frank regulatory bill was a step in the right direction, but it was a small step, with neither carrots nor sticks to ensure that banks go back to doing "boring" banking. They still are likely to make more money from credit schemes and predatory lending, from writing derivatives and credit default swaps (which may be viewed as gambling or insurance products but aren't regulated as either and are underwritten by taxpayers), and by imposing a tax on every credit and debit card transaction at a rate determined not by competitive forces but the exertion of monopoly power.


When Presidents
George W. Bush and Obama went about pouring money into the banking system, they did it without a vision of what kind of financial system would best serve the country in the new century. Little of the stimulus money went to reshape the country, to make it more competitive, more dynamic, more respectful of the environment or less unequal. Had we had that vision, we could have structured what we did in the short run in a way that fostered a more robust recovery -- with more jobs and in a better position for long-term growth with a lower debt. It's still not too late, but we have wasted both valuable time and money."
 Link:  http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-economists-20101114-web,0,1269444.story

Should You Be Snuggling With Your Cellphone?

"WARNING: Holding a cellphone against your ear may be hazardous to your health. So may stuffing it in a pocket against your body....the legal departments of cellphone manufacturers slip a warning about holding the phone against your head or body into the fine print of the little slip that you toss aside when unpacking your phone. Apple, for example, doesn’t want iPhones to come closer than 5/8 of an inch; Research In Motion, BlackBerry’s manufacturer, is still more cautious: keep a distance of about an inch."
“Most cancers have multiple causes,” she says, but she points to laboratory research that suggests mechanisms by which low-energy radiation could damage cells in ways that could possibly lead to cancer.
Children are more vulnerable to radiation than adults, Ms. Davis and other scientists point out. Radiation that penetrates only two inches into the brain of an adult will reach much deeper into the brains of children because their skulls are thinner and their brains contain more absorptive fluid. No field studies have been completed to date on cellphone radiation and children, she says."

Article Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/business/14digi.html

Struggle

If you haven't seen this video of notorious angel of death Dr. Josef Mengele, please make some time and watch it fully:



The first time I heard of this man from bygone era, it was not a complete shock. From literature abound, and the news of endless violence, cruelties, and genocides, from earliest recorded time to our modern days, it has been evident for the very nature of human frailties that propels one human being against another, defiling others' the very existence and in doing so bringing bigger calamities, one after another.

In her seminal book The Clash Within, the respected author Martha C. Nussbaum touched this aspect of humanity's struggle so eloquently:  
"The real struggle that democracy must wage is a struggle within the individual self, between the urge to dominate and defile the other and a willingness to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality."
The Notorious angel of death Dr. Josef Mengele and his cohorts in the time of second world war had other ideas, they wanted to see a world of their chosen, vilifying every other segments of our world that did not fit in the equation of final solution, portraying the vulnerable of their society as unwanted, and executing the heartless scheme in the gloom of gas chambers and barbed wired prison camps. Sometimes, the world needs the good forces to be united to battle the evil like Hitler and Mengele, and the world did unite and had eliminated that existential threat, though the cost was steep, paid in millions of life lost in all over the world. One good thing came out of that war was the strengthening of human rights movements and international laws to implement it. 


This is 21st century. We have other wars, other turmoils, disasters, economic meltdowns. Now the equation and calculation are not so linear, as the increasing variables have raised the complexity many folds. Human Rights are accepted by all the nations, though the implementation of the rights varies, and abrogated whenever is needed to serve jingoistic cause. One striking similarity that still exists between the time of angel of death and the modern era is the shrewd usage of fear among the gullible populace to further pre-selected agendas. Usage of fear can be termed as raw tool, that's been used thousands of years, perhaps from the beginning of human civilization. In fear, even the absurdest and the cruelest ideas can seem essential. In fear, we look other ways while Talibans or Mullahs stone women to death. In fear, we refrain from protesting draconian measures, like water boarding of prisoners, forceful confessions, hundreds of thousands of civilian life loss in the oily lands of faraway, or trampling of homes by bulldozers in the biblical lands. 


Still, all hopes are not lost. Human beings perhaps are gullible, but their abilities to decipher the historical patterns are underestimated. Even in the face of death, battling cancer, activist does not give up the struggle to find the truth, like Mark Richard, a senior US Justice Department lawyer, whose relentless pursuance from 1999 for the complete publication of Nazi hunting report has started bearing fruit. In The New York Times article, the following are a few excerpts from startling discovery, the contents of which were suppressed all these years:
"The full report disclosed that the Justice Department found “a smoking gun” in 1997 establishing with “definitive proof” that Switzerland had bought gold from the Nazis that had been taken from Jewish victims of the Holocaust. But these references are deleted, as are disputes between the Justice and State Departments over Switzerland’s culpability in the months leading up to a major report on the issue. 

Another section describes as “a hideous failure” a series of meetings in 2000 that United States officials held with Latvian officials to pressure them to pursue suspected Nazis. That passage is also deleted.
So too are references to macabre but little-known bits of history, including how a director of the O.S.I. kept a piece of scalp that was thought to belong to Dr. Mengele in his desk in hopes that it would help establish whether he was dead."
Humanity is not shaped by any particular creed or nation. This is part of natural evolution and universal. Pursuance of truth and justice for the countless victims and to ensure the stoppage of brutality and oppression, regardless of one's origin, should rise above the ploys of masquerading fear and unchecked egos.

If We Save the Tigers, We'll Save the Planet

Perhaps the Hollywood blockbuster hero Leonardo DiCaprio's star prowess would shift the urgent attention to the impending extinction of tigers, and overall ecological connection between the survival of this "burning bright eyes" species and human beings' own survival would get the necessary cinematic limelight it deserves. Why is the survival of tiger important? Here is the answer from DiCaprio and Carter S. Robert's article:
"Because saving tigers is a compelling and cost-effective means of preserving so much more that is essential to life on Earth. The tiger is what conservationists call an "umbrella" species. By rescuing them, we save everything beneath their ecological umbrella - everything connected to them - including the world's last great forests, whose carbon storage mitigates climate change. 

For example, Indonesia's 18 million-acre peat forests, home to the Sumatran tiger, contain 36 percent of the world's tropical carbon stores. So if we protect tigers by stopping deforestation, we also salvage the carbon storage these forests provide. A forest that can't support tigers isn't of much use to us, either."
It's not only the survival of tigers that is crucial. The fact is the world we live in, breathe everyday without much of a pondering thought,  is intricately woven by natural balance, where one species, from mammals, to invertebrates to botanical wonders, from single to multi cellular complex life forms are interdependent. Shifting this balance means the collapse of harmony on which our very existence is based upon.

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/11/AR2010111105607.html

Real News?

The following are a few excerpts from Ted Koppel's The Washington Post article:
"The commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic. It is, though, the natural outcome of a growing sense of national entitlement. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's oft-quoted observation that "everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts," seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts. 
And so, among the many benefits we have come to believe the founding fathers intended for us, the latest is news we can choose. Beginning, perhaps, from the reasonable perspective that absolute objectivity is unattainable, Fox News and MSNBC no longer even attempt it. They show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone. 
We celebrate truth as a virtue, but only in the abstract. What we really need in our search for truth is a commodity that used to be at the heart of good journalism: facts - along with a willingness to present those facts without fear or favor. 

The transition of news from a public service to a profitable commodity is irreversible. Legions of new media present a vista of unrelenting competition. Advertisers crave young viewers, and these young viewers are deemed to be uninterested in hard news, especially hard news from abroad. This is felicitous, since covering overseas news is very expensive. On the other hand, the appetite for strongly held, if unsubstantiated, opinion is demonstrably high. And such talk, as they say, is cheap.  


The need for clear, objective reporting in a world of rising religious fundamentalism, economic interdependence and global ecological problems is probably greater than it has ever been. But we are no longer a national audience receiving news from a handful of trusted gatekeepers; we're now a million or more clusters of consumers, harvesting information from like-minded providers."
Read the full article from the following link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/12/AR2010111202857.html

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Physics Behind How Cats Drink Water Without Getting Wet

It may not get the prominent space in top notch science journal yet, but the possible applications derived from knowledge obtained how cats drink water without getting wet can be like reading a story from a science fiction. First of all, how does the cat do it? Here is an extract from an The Washington Post article:
"...the cat uses fluid dynamics and physics in a way to absolutely optimize tongue lapping and water collection. Nobody had ever studied it before, so nobody knew how the water went from the bowl into the cat's mouth. As with most basic scientific research, the usefulness of this knowledge is uncertain. But it is not, the researchers say, hard to imagine some downstream applications, perhaps in robotics....the water on the tongue, combined with the low pressure created by the slight-curled tongue moving back up, creates a momentary stream into the mouth. The cat then snaps its mouth shut and the water is captured before the countervailing force of gravity pulls it down. An average house cat, the team found, can make four of these ministreams per second....take advantage of the physics at play - that is, the balance between upward movement of the water set off by the cat's tongue (the inertia) and the gravity pulling the water down."
One possible application is: "creating robots that can walk on water, and this research could help."

The nature is abundant with all the mysteries, and unraveling it, century by century, has led human beings to create the modern marvels. Creating robots that can walk on water, hopefully, will bring positive impacts, like in rescue missions from flood or tsunami ravaged areas these water walking robots can become the modern saviors, not bringing the darker side, like another form of super destructive force. Good sense surely will prevail over the predatorial urge. That's the most one can wish for while looking at cats the maestro balancing play between inertia and gravity.

Article link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/11/AR2010111104952.html

Watch a video: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/video/2010/nov/11/cats-lapping-video


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Discord - an Article of Roy

Why does a writer feel hesitant, his or her words and sentences do not flow like a flowing river stream as they used to so naturally before? Why is it that trepidation, that corky eminence emanating from the daily gore of triangulated hearsay stops the pen from moving an inch forward on an empty blank sheet of paper? Is it the ominous foretelling of a future portrayed by Margaret Atwood in her novels The Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake? Or the very scarily plausible scenarios described by Justin Cronin in The Passage, or Stephen King’s everlasting The Stand or Under the Dome? Is it the aftermath of all the madness synched in Cormac McCarthy’s heartbreaking The Road or the vivid indifference depicted in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go?

I haven’t read any stories or novels written by Arundhati Roy after her first glorious and famed book The God of Small Things more than a decade ago. However, from time to time I had seen her name appearing in newspaper news and articles. Her never tiring voice, steadfast in principle of humanity, daring words speaking the truth to collusion and modern hush monarchy, was not completely unnoticed. When the prevalent caustic orchestrated wind of the day blowing in one way dumbing down all the check on sanity and purporting flagrant oppression as jovial kindness in the lionized name of jingoistic adulation, Arundhati Roy’s words, in writing and speeches, never back down from unwrapping layers after layers of a tearful globe.

Like all the lively beings, a writer’s lifespan is relatively meagre. But the good words hope to inspire, to think beyond the very obnoxious theme or inhumane miasma. Read Arundhati Roy’s article in The New York Times and feel the strength of warm, boiled eggs over bullying and bias.
Link to article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/09/opinion/09roy.html

Sunday, November 07, 2010

I am Who I am - a Poem

I am Who I am
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
November 7, 2010


I am
Who I am
Glories and Frailties
Enwrapped enchantment
Disillusion, electric current
Molecular mitochondria
Splintered hope
On the wings of birds departed
Over the fading horizon

I am
Who I am
Pain and refrain
Tangled entrenchment
Ablution, chemistry apparent
Spectacular memorabilia
Bantered scope
On the fringe of herds berated
Over the freezing season


Monday, November 01, 2010

The Water Myth: Debunking the Dilution Solution

Deborah Ross can write funny article. Whether one agrees with her argument or not, the way she presents her contents with mockery and humor, her article "The Water Myth: Debunking the dilution solution" invokes thoughts of water, the neglected liquid, that is our world's diminishing resource.

Here is an extract from her funny but informative article:
"...you get a heck of a lot of water from food. Fruit and vegetables can contain up to 95 per cent water. Cucumber is water, more or less, but in the shape of a stick. A jacket potato contains 70 per cent water. An egg is 70 per cent. Chicken is 65 per cent. On average, we all consume a litre of water every day through food, plus our bodies produce water metabolically. So, is there any scientific research showing that above and beyond what we might eat and drink we also need to drink two litres of water a day? The answer, in short, is no."

Link to article: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/the-water-myth-debunking-the-dilution-solution-2121712.html

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What to Do Now to Feel Better at 100

"If you begin a daily walking program at age 45, he said, you could delay immobility to 90 and beyond. If you become a couch potato at 45 and remain so, immobility can encroach as early as 60."

"The good news is that the age of immobility can be modified. As life expectancy rises and more people live to celebrate their 100th birthday, postponing the time when physical independence can no longer be maintained is a goal worth striving for."
Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/26/health/26brody.html

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Where IT Workers Must Go Next

"...what we think of IT today is going to change dramatically very soon. The new IT will about cloud solutions and mobile technologies that deliver a whole new set of capabilities and possibilities for interconnected workers.

IT departments will have a lot of work in front of them soon if they are to provide the kinds of solutions and integration required of them. They will need to be able to connect numerous cloud solutions together as well as connect these to on-premise applications and data stores. But, what could be more jarring will be their need to connect data from these various cloud solutions to numerous hand-held and portable Internet devices that employees, customers, suppliers and other systems constituencies will use to access tomorrow’s corporate data."
Link: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/sommer/where-it-workers-must-go-next-or-integrators-will-do-it-for-them/949?tag=content;selector-blogs

"Cell Phone" in 1928 Charlie Chaplin Movie



Video Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6a4T2tJaSU

Whole world seems to have already watched this video. The lady talking with a cell phone in 1928 Charlie Chaplin movie. I have watched it a couple of times. It's strange. Cell phone itself is not an isolated device, it needs cell phone tower and other networking mechanics in place to have it worked, at least that's how today's cell phone works. Unless this "cell phone"of 1928 could also transmit through time, it would have to be completely different and superior technology than our twenty first century understanding reveals. Here is a comment on this topic: "....the no cell towers theory lets me see how small-minded a lot of people can be in relation to the subject. The fact that the video is focusing on what could be a time traveller, should instantly point out that if that someone had the technology and ability to do so, then they would also have the technology to communicate without the needs we have today for mobile networks."

Though the possibility is that the person in this movie is simply talking to himself or herself, just holding her left ear with an ear device, but as the video producer and the first identifier of this snippet George Clarke addresses, the way the device was on hold by left fingers and palm, it seems to be identical way most of us hold a cell phone while talking over it.

This is a mystery of possible time traveling. Or a clever video forgery.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"poetry cannot be made to fit either religion or ideology" - Adonis

Charles McGrath's article on Poet Adonis whose real name is Ali Ahmad Said Esber illuminates some of the thinking of this internationally well known poet, though in North America, his name is not as famous as it should have been. Few extracts are shown below where this secularized poet talks about poetry, paralyzed culture, and the meaning of reading of poetry:
"He is an outspoken secularist, equally critical of the East and West, and a poetic revolutionary of sorts who has tried to liberate Arabic verse from its traditional forms and subject matter."

"Poetry for him is not merely a genre or an art form but a way of thinking, something almost like mystical revelation. “Poetry cannot be made to fit either religion or ideology,” he said in the talk. “It offers that knowledge which is explosive and surprising.”  
"He went on to complain about what he called the “retardation” of contemporary Arabic poetry, which in his view has become a rhetorical tool for celebrating and explaining the political and religious status quo. In the Islamist scheme, he said, there is not much place for poetry, because Islam assumes that with the Koran knowledge is complete and there is nothing left to add."

"Over lunch, Adonis remarked with a shake of his head that the situation of poetry in the West was not a whole lot better, marginalized not so much by religion or ideology but by the media and pop culture."

“I wanted to break the linearity of poetic text — to mess with it, if you will. The poem is meant to be a network rather than a single rope of thought.” 

“Every artist is an exile within his own language,” he said. “The Other is part of my inner being.” 

“Happiness and sadness are two drops of dew on your forehead,” he writes, “and life is an orchard where the seasons stroll.”  
“Right now we feel Arab culture is paralyzed. We suffer from women’s sense of their lack of freedom, of being deprived of their individualism. It’s impossible for a culture to progress with men alone, without women being involved.” 

Poetry cannot change society,” Adonis said. “Poetry can only change the notion of relationships between things. Culture cannot change without a change in institutions.” But to the criticism that poetry was an insufficiently popular form he replied: “Poetry that reaches all the people is essentially superficial. Real poetry requires effort because it requires the reader to become, like the poet, a creator. Reading is not reception.” He smiled and added, “I suggest you change your relationship to poetry and art in general.”  
Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/18/books/18adonis.html

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What does procrastination tell us about ourselves?

"...even Nobel-winning economists procrastinate! Many of us go through life with an array of undone tasks, large and small, nibbling at our conscience.....procrastination might be more than just a bad habit. He argued that it revealed something important about the limits of rational thinking and that it could teach useful lessons about phenomena as diverse as substance abuse and savings habits......procrastination is a basic human impulse, but anxiety about it as a serious problem seems to have emerged in the early modern era.

"Piers Steel defines procrastination as willingly deferring something even though you expect the delay to make you worse off. In other words, if you’re simply saying “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” you’re not really procrastinating. Knowingly delaying because you think that’s the most efficient use of your time doesn’t count, either. The essence of procrastination lies in not doing what you think you should be doing, a mental contortion that surely accounts for the great psychic toll the habit takes on people. This is the perplexing thing about procrastination: although it seems to involve avoiding unpleasant tasks, indulging in it generally doesn’t make people happy."





Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"....because I can be anything." - Naheed Nenshi

“My greatest hope is that this morning … kids from across the city – northeast to southwest, every ethnicity, every income level, every neighbourhood, every single one of those kids – say, ‘what a country we live in, what a city we live in, because I can be anything.’” - Naheed Nenshi
Didn't know anything about Naheed Nenshi only a few days ago. It was just a local municipal election in Calgary, but seems to be history making in the province of Alberta. His win as a member of visible minority in a city quite unfairly reputed to be too conservative has shattered that myth. Perhaps this is the moment of progressive movement in this city of Chinook and Stampede.

An articulate charming man with stellar resume supported by his prestigious degrees from University of Calgary and Harvard University, upper level consulting experiences in a corporation and United Nations, had put him far above the league from the other candidates, though, it was not only a few days ago before the election, the momentum had started shifting toward his smartly run campaign.

Perhaps Mr Naheed Nenshi is no Barak Obama, but he has huge potential realizing dreams and hopes of many Calgarians in a collaborative city council (hoping), resolving myriads of problems this increasingly diverse city is facing.

The following article published in The Globe and Mail gives a good glimpse of this new and energetic leader of Alberta: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/naheed-nenshi-change-calgary-believed-in/article1764506/

Sunday, October 17, 2010

We can prevent the next Darfur

Echoing George Clooney and John Prendergast's words in The Washington Post article: "Usually, the world responds only after wars begin, spending billions of dollars to mop up humanitarian catastrophes". So unfortunate, but so true! This had happened before, in Darfur, in Congo, Rwanda and many other places. Now it is Abyei, "about the size of Connecticut", may become "a flashpoint for world's next genocide. U.S. intelligence officials have already said that southern Sudan is the region of the globe most at risk of mass killing or genocide in the coming year."
On Jan. 9, just 84 days from now, the people of southern Sudan and of the disputed region of Abyei -- which straddles northern and southern Sudan -- will vote in referendums on self-determination. If held freely and fairly, these votes will result in an independent, oil-rich Southern Sudan. If not, the catastrophic war between the north and the south that ended in 2005, after 2.5 million deaths, could resume."
Link to The Washington Post Article: We Can Prevent the Next Darfur http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/15/AR2010101503871.html

The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris

I do not agree with all the polemic ideas the writer Sam Harris divulges in his recent books, and some of them seems to me not conducive to a tolerant world in its most practical contemporary achievable term. However, some of his thoughts have merits, and one of them regarding the Utopian concept of "global civilization" is extracted from his interview in Salon below:
In your book, you mention a "global civilization" several times. You also wrote, "Human beings should eventually converge in their moral judgments." What do you mean by a global civilization?
I think we must form a global civilization. We have no choice. We have a global economy, we have a single environment, we have infectious disease that spreads with every airplane flight. The question is, How do we create a civilization in which the greatest proportion of people can thrive, and in which the causes for war become distant memories? Within a nation-state, wars can be a distant memory. The likelihood of a war between Vermont and Florida seems incredibly remote. Why is that? We understand the stability of a single state. We need to engineer a similar degree of stability at the international level. There has to be a way to enforce international law.
 Link to Salon Article: The Moral Landscape: Why science should shape morality http://www.salon.com/news/atheism/index.html?story=/books/feature/2010/10/17/sam_harris_interview

Expenditure Cascades and Rising Inequality

No prevalent evidence suggests that rising inequality amongst world populace is bringing well-being of humanity. Still, lack of well thought out long term policy is exacerbating inequality that possibly has direct link to financial distress and meltdown. Cornell University professor Robert H. Frank's article in The New York Times points out a few facts that may need refresher from time to time:
"rising inequality has created enormous losses and few gains, even for its ostensible beneficiaries"

"People do not exist in a social vacuum. Community norms define clear expectations about what people should spend on interview suits and birthday parties. Rising inequality has thus spawned a multitude of “expenditure cascades,” whose first step is increased spending by top earners."
"The rich have been spending more simply because they have so much extra money. Their spending shifts the frame of reference that shapes the demands of those just below them, who travel in overlapping social circles. So this second group, too, spends more, which shifts the frame of reference for the group just below it, and so on, all the way down the income ladder. These cascades have made it substantially more expensive for middle-class families to achieve basic financial goals."

"The counties where income inequality grew fastest also showed the biggest increases in symptoms of financial distress."

"Divorce rates are another reliable indicator of financial distress, as marriage counselors report that a high proportion of couples they see are experiencing significant financial problems. The counties with the biggest increases in inequality also reported the largest increases in divorce rates."

"Another footprint of financial distress is long commute times, because families who are short on cash often try to make ends meet by moving to where housing is cheaper — in many cases, farther from work."
Link to the full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/business/17view.html

Friday, October 15, 2010

Philip Roth’s late-career output staccato bursts of urgent, short books

Quite possibly Philip Roth is one of the greatest living writers. Shamefully I admit, only one book of his I've read so far out of his 31 books, and the two I did start but did not finish reading for my own fault. The one that I'd read a few years ago, titled "The Plot Against America", I found to be superbly written, a fast paced story plot where the writer had created an alternate world but so strikingly and shockingly similar to today's world of shattering indifference and inflated bigotry, I knew then, as I know now, writings of Philip Roth so eloquently brings home the meaning of humanity, without prejudice.

Not sure how and what criteria the Nobel committee applies selecting their yearly prize winner in literature, and definitely this year's winner Mario Vargas Llosa is indeed "a true man of letters" and worthy of this prestigious award, the absence of now 77 year old Philip Roth from the long list of Nobel laureates does seem to me preposterous to the least. This prolific writer does not care whether he wins or not, as he has won many other awards in literature, continue to write "eight hours a day, mainly sitting at a desk rather than standing full-time at a lectern as he once did, but always going. What he would like, Roth says, is to keep writing one long book till he died.“That would be nice,” he says. “I would love to get a big idea and just keep writing until I left it unfinished. It would just go as long as I was breathing. But I don’t seem to be able to find it.” 

About the rapidly diminishing readership of literature he says, “The novel’s not going to disappear,” he says. “What’s already begun to disappear, and has been disappearing for years, is the readership.” He blames the screens. “It began with the movie screen, then the television screen, and the nail in the coffin was the computer screen. There’s no competing against that.”He complains about friends who used to read and now “watch a movie every night – crap most of the time.” There’s no time left for the book, and the book’s time is over. “So I think it’s going to be pretty bad for our children.”

Philip Roth's social purpose is clear: “I just try to write the book I can, to write as well as I can,” Roth says. “That’s the social purpose – to write as well as you can.”

He does write as well as he can, that is possibly among the best in our contemporary world. Whether he cares or not, this humble reader wants to see Philip Roth's name in the long list of Nobel laureates before it is too late.


Link to an article on Philip Roth: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/books/philip-roths-latest-complaint/article1749664/

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Triumph of Hope Over Despair

"The miners' resurrection carries with it all sorts of symbolism, and all of it positive. We, as individuals, or indeed collectively as the human race, are only able to do too little, too late for the victims of natural disasters and wars around the globe, but here, for once, is a hellish situation where there is a solution."

Link to article:
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/peter-stanford-a-triumph-of-hope-over-despair-that-moved-us-all-2106157.html

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kathleen Parker's Article on The Economic Crisis

The article Kathleen Parker wrote in The Washington Post on October 13 on the current global economic crisis, has some shocking points, especially the following:
"...the cozy relationship between Wall Street and Ivy League academia, wherein economists push policies that benefit them financially, is eye-opening. In some cases, business professors and economists at America's top schools were shown to have conflicts of interest as they advanced policies for which they had been paid directly or that otherwise benefited them"
I still don't know what to get out of it and other points that the writer of this article claimed might have contributed on this crisis. It feels strange reading the story of "culpability"and collusion from public officials, for whom the highest form of trust was put upon by their constituents. Reading this mind numbing article, the title of Joseph Conrad's more than a hundred year old novel comes to mind, "The Heart of Darkness", where the author depicted the brutal exploitations of human beings for the sole reasons of unabashed greed. Sometimes, the real life events can surely overcome the crafted plot of a novel. A rigged game, in the field of cricket or in the abuses of market system, brings sadness and the profundity of human inherent weakness from greed, that can only be kept in check by pristine regulations and laws. When the policies behind these regulations and laws themselves are scammed, what is the solution then?

Article link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/12/AR2010101203723.html

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic

Sometimes I think about the generation of my grandparents. Their generation never had the glimpse of today's ubiquitous Internet technologies, never heard of the cell phones, IPad, Kindle, and other technologies. Cars were there, but not as abundant as the modern world, and not as powerful and luxury ridden. The new generation that I belong to, and the next generation that is coming after, are part of this technological revolutions, that seems to be progressing in breakneck speed, ripping apart all the traditional leaps and bound.

If and when Google and others' initiatives on building autonomous cars that will someday drive itself without any single human intervention, it will be one of the game changer of our world, "they can transform society as profoundly as the Internet has". Why is it so? Here is an extract from an article published in The New York Times, "Robot drivers react faster than humans, have 360-degree perception and do not get distracted, sleepy or intoxicated, the engineers argue. They speak in terms of lives saved and injuries avoided — more than 37,000 people died in car accidents in the United States in 2008. The engineers say the technology could double the capacity of roads by allowing cars to drive more safely while closer together. Because the robot cars would eventually be less likely to crash, they could be built lighter, reducing fuel consumption".

Reducing the fuel consumption is the key word. And if these autonomous car can derive the energy from the almost infinite solar source, it will indeed have lasting impact on global warming. Whether the boasting human beings have enough time to reverse the onslaught of environmental catastrophe that is surely on the path to be unfolded with unimaginable disastrous consequences of global proportions, will depend on the collaborative global policy and its implementation. Perhaps, the world needs more "Google" and "Google" type initiatives to continue and progress the human civilization as we know of.

Link to article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/science/10google.html

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Trading Places

"China is about to overtake Japan in patent applications"- that seems to me the part of an on going seismic shift in the dynamics between two fiercely competing nations.

Here is an extract from The Economist article:
"Patents are a crude but useful measure of innovation. The change shows that Chinese inventors are developing a stake in intellectual-property protection, which is welcome. And because national patents protect the technologies of foreign firms too, the trend reflects how global companies are ploughing into China as a market and a manufacturing base. Even Japanese firms have increased their patent filings in China but decreased them at home."

Link: http://www.economist.com/node/17151211

Saturday, October 02, 2010

"Disruptive Technology" - Google CEO's Comments

Comment from Google CEO Eric Schmidt: "America's research universities are the envy on the world," he said. "We have 90 percent of the top researchers in the world. We also have a bizarre policy to train people and then kick them out by not giving them visas, which makes no sense at all"....."Schmidt envisions a future where we embrace a larger role for machines and technology. "With your permission you give us more information about you, about your friends, and we can improve the quality of our searches," he said. "We don't need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about."





Link: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/10/googles-ceo-the-laws-are-written-by-lobbyists/63908 

Khan Academy - Tremendous!

Now that the creator of Khan Academy got Google's 2 million dollar award and is getting more attentions from the major news media, this fabulous site with tremendous prospect should reach more students in every corner of our globe. The selection of video tutorial is growing, and the samples of them I've viewed are to the point and like sitting with a tutor beside me.

Link: http://www.khanacademy.org/

Mohsin Hamid's Short Story in Granta

He is a good writer. Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist was a slender but very well crafted novel. Fast pace and vivid imagery, sprinkled with beautifully constructed sentences and passages. In its latest issue, Granta has published Mohsin Hamid's short story, title "A Beheading". Only a few pages long this story is, but again the writer was on the mark describing scenes of macabre in utmost detail and sensibility.

Story Link: http://www.granta.com/Magazine/112/A-Beheading/1

Technology and Brain

"....more research was needed to know whether technology was causing significant changes in the brain. "We know nothing at all about how the developing brain is being influenced by video games or social networking and so on."

Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/sep/14/oxford-scientist-brain-change

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime

"people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued" -  hmm....IPOD needs to take some rest then.

Link:  Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime

Does Music Make You Exercise Harder?

I believe it does. It may also depends on the type of music. "In fact, it’s music’s dual ability to distract attention (a psychological effect) while simultaneously goosing the heart and the muscles (physiological impacts) that makes it so effective during everyday exercise. Multiple experiments have found that music increases a person’s subjective sense of motivation during a workout, and also concretely affects his or her performance."

Link:  Does Music Make You Exercise Harder?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Acts of God - an article in New Yorker

Nick Paumgarten's article in New Yorker is concise but does have thoughtful punch lines and musings. A few hours ago I heard about the death of three of my acquaintances in a tragic car accident, husband, wife and the mother died on the spot, while the father is in critical condition, and the four month old baby girl was not hurt. And then this New Yorker article caught my eyes. Like the author, and perhaps like many simple minded souls I also find these types of accidents and misfortunes sad and hard to explain by any philosophical or theological wordings. Is this the act of God? "When God acts, apparently, the rest of us do not. He is a little like the Balladeer". Hmmm...

Here is another example from New Yorker article:
Last month after a limb fell from an elm tree near the Central Park Zoo, critically injuring a woman and killing her infant daughter, citizens wondered, as citizens will, how such a thing could be allowed to happen. When trees kill, as trees will, you blame it either on the tree pruners or on “an act of God.”.......Questions of agency, divine or otherwise, dog us these early-summer days, amid a pileup of ill tidings: an intractable war; hints, once again, of economic depression; the deep-sea oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Who’s to blame? Who’s in charge?
Philosopher Austin Farrer mused about "Act of God" about half a century ago, and observed the following: 
God creates creatures and phenomena, which, as agents themselves, then create and act freely. In “Saving Belief: A Discussion of Essentials,” he wrote, “God not only makes the world, he makes it make itself; or rather, he causes its innumerable constituents to make it.” In other words, it’s a collaborative effort. God is Phil Spector, and we are the Ronettes.
Author Nick Paumgarten raised the correct question: "But what about the world’s destruction? Are we collaborating with God on that album, too?" One plausible answer comes from a philosophy professor Edward Hugh Henderson who states, 
"“God does not smash in from outside to overthrow creatures, to put out of gear the order of nature that God has over eons of evolution brought to its present state,” Henderson said. “What the oil is doing to the Gulf and its denizens is what oil, being oil, would do.” “In one sense, divine agency is everywhere,” Henderson went on. “In another, you wouldn’t want to say that accidents and carelessness are examples of double agency.” “It’s at the level of human freedom that you can distinguish between action that is or isn’t underwritten by the pervasiveness of divine will," he said."
Not sure if I fully agree with this explanation yet. Need divine grace to have that enlightenment more to understand the senseless tragedies, violence, wars and endless poverty.



Great Novelists such as Twain and Hemingway has passed - Really?

It seems like a tradition, from time to time, an article decrying the decline of literary world, the receding attention span of overall human populace, when snippets and twits started to rule over intricately woven fiction, and the theorists, linguists and the high brow scholars of literature ponder loud and clear about the possibility, or perhaps the certainty of irreversible diminishing of once lauded literary fictions, one must notice the cyclic occurrence of such musings and lamentations.

Here is an extract from The Guardian:
"For about a million reasons," Siegel claimed, "fiction has now become a museum-piece genre most of whose practitioners are more like cripplingly self-conscious curators or theoreticians than writers. For better or for worse, the greatest storytellers of our time are the non-fiction writers."
 I don't agree with Sigel's comment. I am not sure where are his observations and data are coming from to declare such a sweeping pronouncement, but the reality is still the world has many contemporary fine writers, story tellers, whose crafts, artistry in fictions, short stories and novels are no less equal than the classical writers like Austen, Dickens, Joyce, Hemingway, Twain.

Read Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Margaret Atwood's The Year of Flood, any and all of Barbara Kingsolver's great novels like The Poisonwood Bible, The Lacuna, Jhumpa Lahiri's novel and short stories, Ian Mcewan and Julian Barnes' finest novels are the few humble examples of world's literary prodigies, well shape and thriving with virtuosity in modernity.

Perhaps the main thrust of Siegel's pessimistic argument was "to shake novelists up":
"The critic Frank Kermode once said the novel was a form that revived itself periodically. "The special fate of the novel, considered as a genre, is to be always dying; and the main reason for this is that the most intelligent novelists and readers are always conscious of the gap, consisting of absurdity, that grows between the world as it seems to be and the world proposed in novels," Kermode wrote. As a result, writers, from Jane Austen and Laurence Sterne to JD Salinger, plan to write an anti-novel and then end up, Kermode said, pointing "the way to a new novel, a new convention".
Link to The Guardian article: Literary storm rages as critic Lee Siegel pronounces the American novel dead


Monday, May 24, 2010

Advancing the Science of Climate Change

Human attention span is limited. Modern news media's non stop presentations of crisis shift us from one major event to another. Earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, flood, political violence, wars, financial volatility, sensationalized many other news stories compete with one another in a never ending battle of grabbing human emotions in ultimate frenzy of putting one interest over another. The news of climate change was no different, it was pushed back from the visible horizon of attention spectrum, many other immediate chaos, natural, man made, and fabricated, took its space with relative ease. But that does not mean the climate change problem has disappeared for good. The National Academy of Sciences "offer persuasive evidence that it would be folly to put off dealing with the problem any longer".

Here is the introductory remark from Advancing the Science of Climate Change document:
"A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems. As decision makers respond to these risks, the nation’s scientific enterprise can contribute both by continuing to improve understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change, and by improving and expanding the options available to limit the magnitude of climate change and to adapt to its impacts. To do so, the nation needs a comprehensive, integrated, and flexible climate change research enterprise that is closely linked with actionoriented programs at all levels. Also needed are a comprehensive climate observing system, improved climate models and other analytical tools, investments in human capital, and better linkages between research and decision making."
Links:

1. National Academy of Sciences: Advancing the Science of Climate Change
2. New York Times Editorial: Are They Paying Attention