Friday, March 17, 2006

A new spirit of independence

    India also has options. India may choose to be a US client, or it may prefer to join the more independent Asian bloc that is taking shape, with ever more ties to Middle East oil producers. Siddharth Varadarajan, the deputy editor of the Hindu, observes that "if the 21st century is to be an 'Asian century,' Asia's passivity in the energy sector has to end".
    The key is India-China cooperation. In January, an agreement signed in Beijing "cleared the way for India and China to collaborate not only in technology but also in hydrocarbon exploration and production, a partnership that could eventually alter fundamental equations in the world's oil and natural gas sector", Varadarajan points out.
    An additional step, already being contemplated, is an Asian oil market trading in euros. The impact on the international financial system and the balance of global power could be significant. It should be no surprise that President Bush paid a recent visit to try to keep India in the fold, offering nuclear cooperation and other inducements as a lure.
Noam Chomsky in the Guardian. Links added in the quoted text. [Link via Pradeep.]

Monday, March 06, 2006

Reflections on the legacy of Harish-Chandra

    The theory he created still stands --­ if I may be excused a clumsy simile -- like a Gothic cathedral, heavily buttressed below but, in spite of its great weight, light and soaring in its upper reaches, coming as close to heaven as mathematics can. Harish, who was of a spiritual, even religious, cast and who liked to express himself in metaphors, vivid and compelling, did see, I believe, mathematics as mediating between man and what one can only call God. Occasionally, on a stroll after a seminar, usually towards evening, he would express his feelings, his fine hands slightly upraised, his eyes intent on the distant sky; but he saw as his task not to bring men closer to God but God closer to men. For those who can understand his work and who accept that God has a mathematical side, he accomplished it. [Langlands on Harish-Chandra.]
Professor Robert P. Langlands of the Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton, will be giving an Institute Colloquium talk at 5.15 p.m. on Wednesday, March 08, 2006, at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. The talk is titled "Reflections on the legacy of Harish-Chandra". The venue is the Institute Auditorium (IRCC Building). More from the department notices:
    About the talk:

    Harish-Chandra and Srinivasa Ramanujan were easily the two greatest Indian mathematicians of the last century. While the latter is a household name in India, Harish-Chandra, despite his sustained and seminal contributions to "Representation Theory" remains relatively unknown. A former student of Dirac, Harish-Chandra started his research career as a physicist in Cambridge before moving to an enormously succesful career as a mathematician at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

    Although the talk will not be free of references to mathematical concepts of varying degrees of sophistication, most of them should be familiar to anyone, physicists, chemists or students, with some undergraduate training in mathematics. The talk will be an attempt to understand Harish-Chandra's place in the mathematical firmament and not an occasion for technical explanations.
    About the Speaker:

    Robert Langlands is uniquely qualified to give this talk having known Harish-Chandra closely for more than 20 years as a friend and colleague at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. While Harish-Chandra made "Representation Theory" a central area of research in mathematics, Robert Langlands introduced what is now known as the "Langlands Programme", a vast mathematical framework of conjectures which connect representation theory, analysis, geometry and number theory in remarkable ways. The Langlands Programme is one of the high watermarks of Twentieth Century mathematics, unrivalled, perhaps, in its scope and breathtaking in its vision.

Send me an e-mail if you would like to have more info.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

George Bush go home

    It's not in our power to stop Bush's visit. It is in our power to protest it, and we will.
Read Arundhati Roy's George Bush go home.

The Man Without a Plan

    Easterly is well aware of the efficiency of market delivery when commodities are bought in a market and backed by suitable purchasing power, and he contrasts that with the usual infelicities and inefficiencies in getting aid to those who need it most. But the distinction between the two scenarios lies not only in the different ways of meeting the respective problems, but also in the nature of the problems themselves. There is something deeply misleading in the contrast he draws between them, which seems to have motivated his entire project: "There was no Marshall Plan for Harry Potter, no International financing Facility for books about underage wizards. It is heartbreaking that global society has evolved a highly efficient way to get entertainment to rich adults and children, while it can't get twelve-cent medicine to dying poor children." The disparity in the results is indeed heartbreaking. But jumping from there to arguing that the solution to the latter problem is along the same lines as the solution to the former reflects a misunderstanding of what makes the latter so much more difficult. (That major issue is clearly more important than the minor point that J. K. Rowling was on welfare support and received a grant from the Scottish Arts Council when writing the first Harry Potter novel.)
Amartya Sen reviews William Easterly's The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. [Link via Pradeep.]

Monday, February 27, 2006

Gujarat burning ...

The following is a quote from Zakia Jafri's foreword to Dionne Bunsha's recent book Scarred: Experiments with Violence in Gujarat. (Zakia Jafri is the widow of the late Ahsan Jafri, an ex MP, who was lynched by a mob during the Gujarat riots in 2002.)

    28 February 2002 -- a day which I will never forget. I pray for all those who were killed -- children, young girls; so many who lost their lives even before they could figure out what had happened to them. Young boys and girls who left their homes to play in the neighbourhood would never see their parents and relatives again. Mothers searched for their children in the commotion, and many still don't know whether their children are alive or dead. They are still waiting. There was not enough time to react. Indifferent government statistics can never account for those lakhs of people who died silent deaths, and are still suffering today.
    When I go back in my mind to that awful day, my thoughts circle the same path and always come back to where they started. What happened, and why? I, and indeed many others like me, are still unable to come to terms with what happened.
    ... ...
    No amount of patience can bring what we have lost back to us. The very least we expect by way of consolation is justice, however delayed.
Four years later, Gujarat is still burning. The criminals who led the pogrom continue to be in power. To quote Dionne Bunsha from the book:
    ... the minorities in Gujarat still feel under siege. There is still a lot of insecurity. People hesitate to stand up for their rights. Segregation exists right from homes to classrooms to hospitals.
    The Sangh Parivar is still the dominant political force in Gujarat. Its extremist fringes are adamant on ushering in a Hindu Rashtra. The VHP has a list of monuments all over the country that it wants to demolish and capture. More youth are initiated into the fold every year at the VHP and Bajrang Dal camps. Not only in Gujarat, but also in Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and other states, the VHP has sparked trouble between adivasis and Muslims.
    To counter them, egalitarian political forces have to be as organised. The schooling of stereotypes must be curbed so that children are not fed false prejudices. Reactionary forces within the minorities also have to be countered. They too keep people trapped in closed mindsets. Many liberal Muslims have been attacked or excommunicated for speaking out against the orthodoxy.
    Could such a tragedy happen again? No one knows.
Perhaps the poet got it right:
    When these things come to an end,
    people find
    other subjects to talk about
    than just
    the latest episode of the Mahabharata
    and the daily statistics of death;
    rediscover simple pleasures --
    fly kites,
    collect wild flowers, make love.
    Life seems
    to return to normal.
    But do not be deceived.
    Though, sooner or later,
    these celebrations of hatred too
    come to an end
    like everything else,
    the fire -- the fire lit for the purpose --
    can never be put out.     [Sarpa Satra, Arun Kolatkar]

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Best Bakery verdict

Finally some good news on the Best Bakery front. But as Rahul Bose says:

    ... the people who have been convicted are not the perpetrators or originators of the entire cycle of events and selective blood shed that took place in 2002. These people are just the end results of more devious mind at work and I hope that the future would see those minds being brought to book.

Friday, February 24, 2006

M. Krishnan Nair

... passes away.

    Nair's weekly Malayalam column 'Sahithya Varaphalam', which is carried by leading weeklies, has been the most widely read column in the language for the last 35 years. Nair earned friends and foes and often created storm in literary circles with his pungent comments, brief but incisive analysis and sharp observations in his column.

    'Sahithya Varaphalam' first appeared in the now-defunct 'Malayala Nadu' weekly, later in 'Kalakaumudi' and now in 'Samakalika Malayalam' weekly. An authority on world literature, he introduced to the common reader masterpieces in English, European languages and also Latin American and Japanese literature. As a reviewer judging literary works, he never went by the reputation of the writer but by the true value of the piece under judgment.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Day of political lies

    Writers from around the world plan to mark March 20, the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, as the 'day of political lies.'

    The Berlin-based Peter Weiss Foundation for Art and Politics, which organizes the annual Berlin Literature Festival, said Wednesday that public readings will be held on March 20 in dozens of cities in Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia to raise awareness of the substance and form of political lies.

    The events are to include a reading of Eliot Weinberger's What I Heard About Iraq in 2005, which was first published in the London Review of Books. It is a compendium of statements from American government authorities and their allies before and after the war and places them in counterpoint to the observations and experiences of soldiers and Iraqis and compares them as well with the progress of the reconstruction, the abuse at Iraqi prisons and the reliability of prewar intelligence.

    Among the writers signing the call for the 'day of political lies' were Britain's Doris Lessing and Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter, India's Amitav Gosh, Turkey's Orhan Pamuk, Americans Paul Auster and Russell Banks, and Germany's Peter Schneider and Ulla Hahn.