Is Mumbai’s resilience endlessly renewable?

Arjun Appadurai at The Immanent Frame:

Arjun In other words, as we learn more about the deep geo-politics behind the terrifying attacks on Mumbai earlier this month, we need to recognize that there is a tectonic struggle going on in and near Mumbai on at least three axes: the deepest axis (from a historical point of view) is the struggle between the Indian Ocean commercial/criminal nexus and the land-based nexus that stretches from Mumbai to Delhi to Kashmir. The second, more recent struggle is the struggle between political and commercial interests now located in Maharashtra and Gujarat for control over Mumbai, a struggle that was superficially resolved in 1956, when Bombay was declared the capital of the new state of Maharashtra. The third, most subtle, is between a land-based, plebeian form of Hindu nationalism, best represented by the auto-rickshaw drivers and small street vendors of North Mumbai and Greater Mumbai, who would be happy to see South Mumbai destroyed; and the more slick, market-oriented face of the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose elite supporters know that South Mumbai is crucial to the mediation of global capital to India, and where business tycoons like Mukesh Ambani are building homes larger than many global hotels.

More here.

The Human Development Foundation of Pakistan

ScreenHunter_03 Dec. 10 09.11 I am proud to say that my sister, Atiya B. Khan, M.D., is one of the leaders of this organization which is doing tremendously useful work in bringing healthcare and secular education to thousands of poor children in many areas of Pakistan. In addition to maintaining a very busy medical practice in Maryland, my sister travels on weekends to raise funds for HDF and visits Pakistan frequently to oversee its work there, thereby providing my whole family with a role model worthy of emulation. This is from the Human Development Foundation website:

“Development is a process of enlarging people's choices—not just choices between different detergents, television channels or car models, but the choices that are created by expanding human capabilities and functioning—what people do and can do in their lives.

A few capabilities are essential for all levels of human development, without which, many choices in life would not be available. These capabilities are to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable and to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living-and these are reflected in the human development index.”

Human development in the words of Paul Streen is: “Human. But many additional choices are valued by people. These include political, social, economic and cultural freedom, a sense of community, opportunities for being creative and productive, and self-respect and human rights. Yet human development is more than just achieving these capabilities; it is also the process of pursuing them in a way that is equitable, participatory, productive and sustainable.”

The Project has a holistic approach to Human Development, based on the three criteria included in the Human Development Index, devised by Dr. Mahboobul Haq. The model was developed by specialists working in the field of social sciences. This successful model teaches responsibility and eliminates dependency. The main areas of intervention are:

a. Community Empowerment
b. Education
c. Health
d. Grassroots economic development
e. Community Physical Infrastructure

More here.

In this season of charitable giving, please consider donating to this worthy cause. To do so, use the topmost ad in the righthand column at 3QD. Thank you for your attention.

The Truth about Hypocrisy

Charges of hypocrisy can be surprisingly irrelevant and often distract us from more important concerns.

Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse in Scientific American:

ScreenHunter_02 Dec. 10 08.25 Former U.S. vice president Al Gore urges us all to reduce our carbon footprint, yet he regularly flies in a private jet. Former drug czar William Bennett extols the importance of temperance but is reported to be a habitual gambler. Pastor Ted Haggard preached the virtues of “the clean life” until allegations of methamphetamine use and a taste for male prostitutes arose. Eliot Spitzer prosecuted prostitution rings as attorney general in New York State, but he was later found to be a regular client of one such ring.

These notorious accusations against public figures all involve hypocrisy, in which an individual fails to live according to the precepts he or she seeks to impose on others. Charges of hypocrisy are common in debates because they are highly effective: we feel compelled to ­reject the views of hypocrites. But although we see hypocrisy as a vice and a symptom of incompetence or insincerity, we should be exceedingly careful about letting our emotions color our judgments of substantive issues.

Allegations of hypocrisy are treacherous because they can function as argumentative diversions, drawing our attention away from the task of assessing the strength of a position and toward the character of the position’s advocate. Such accusations trigger emotional reflexes that dominate more rational thought patterns. And it is precisely in the difficult and important cases such as climate change that our reflexes are most often inadequate.

More here. [Photo shows Spitzer.]

The Terrorists Want to Destroy Pakistan, Too

Asif Ali Zardari in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_01 Dec. 09 15.48 The recent death and destruction in Mumbai, India, brought to my mind the death and destruction in Karachi on Oct. 18, 2007, when terrorists attacked a festive homecoming rally for my wife, Benazir Bhutto. Nearly 150 Pakistanis were killed and more than 450 were injured. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai may be a news story for most of the world. For me it is a painful reality of shared experience. Having seen my wife escape death by a hairbreadth on that day in Karachi, I lost her in a second, unfortunately successful, attempt two months later.

The Mumbai attacks were directed not only at India but also at Pakistan’s new democratic government and the peace process with India that we have initiated. Supporters of authoritarianism in Pakistan and non-state actors with a vested interest in perpetuating conflict do not want change in Pakistan to take root.

To foil the designs of the terrorists, the two great nations of Pakistan and India, born together from the same revolution and mandate in 1947, must continue to move forward with the peace process. Pakistan is shocked at the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. We can identify with India’s pain. I am especially empathetic. I feel this pain every time I look into the eyes of my children.

More here.

Tuesday Poem

In Praise of Dreams
Wistawa Szymborska

In my dreams
I paint like Vermeer van Delft.

I speak fluent Greek
and not with just the living.

I drive a car
that does what I want it to.

I am gifted
and write mighty epics.

I hear voices
as clearly as any venerable saint.

My brilliance as a pianist
would stun you.

I fly the way we ought to,
i.e., on my own.

Falling from the roof,
I tumble gently to the grass.

I've got no problem
breathing under water.

I can't complain:
I've been able to locate Atlantis.

It's gratifying that I can always
wake up before dying.

As soon as war breaks out,
I roll over on my other side.

I'm a child of my age,
but I don't have to be.

A few years ago
I saw two suns.

And the night before last a penguin,
clear as day.

simenon: was he human?


As one contemplates the life and work of Georges Simenon, the question inevitably arises: Was he human? In his energies, creative and erotic, he was certainly extraordinary. He wrote some 400 novels, under a variety of pseudonyms, as well as countless short stories and film scripts, and toward the end of his life, having supposedly given up writing, he dictated thousands of pages of memoirs. He could knock off a novel in a week or 10 days of manic typing — he never revised, as the work sometimes shows — and in Paris in the 1920s he is said to have broken off an affair with Josephine Baker, the expatriate American chanteuse and star of La Revue Nègre, because in the year he was with her, he was so distracted by his passion for her that he had managed to write only three or four books. He put himself in the way of many such distractions. In 1976, when he was in his 70s, he told his friend Federico Fellini in an interview in L’Express that over the course of his life he had slept with 10,000 women. True, he was an early starter. He lost his virginity at the age of 12 to a girl three years his senior, who got him to change schools so that they could continue to see each other and then promptly threw him over for another sweetheart. Young Georges had received his first lesson in the school of hard knocks.

more from the LA Weekly here.

The hard truth about animal research


AN HOUR at the zoo is enough to convince most people that apes and monkeys are close kin to humankind. Some say that an hour watching proceedings in any parliament is enough to show that humans are close kin to monkeys. Either way, we know that the primate family is an intimate one, with the great apes – gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orang-utans and humans – particularly closely related. It did not take genetics to tell us this, however, nor comparative anatomy. We now know that we share many of our genes with insects too, and the anatomies of all mammals are just resized and repositioned versions of one another. The key to understanding the true closeness of apes, ourselves included, is ethology. When Jane Goodall first sat in the Gombe rainforest, giving with fortuitous naivety anthropomorphic interpretations of the chimpanzee behaviour she witnessed, she was initiating a rethink: about apes, about humanity’s relationship with them, and ultimately about humanity itself.

more from the New Scientist here.

eagelton on milton


Most poetry in the modern age has retreated to the private sphere, turning its back on the political realm. The two intersect only in such absurd anomalies as the poet laureateship. But whereas Andrew Motion does his bit to keep the monarchy in business, one of the greatest of English poets played his part in subverting it. John Milton, who was born in Cheapside 400 years ago today, published a political tract two weeks after the beheading of Charles I, arguing that all sovereignty lay with the people, who could depose and even execute a monarch if he betrayed their trust. We are not used to such revolutionary sentiments in our poets. When he left Cambridge, Milton refused to take holy orders and, in his first great poem Lycidas, he mounted a blistering assault on the corruption of the clergy. He was a champion of Puritanism at a time when that meant rejecting a church in cahoots with a brutally authoritarian state.

more from The Guardian here.

Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy

From Nature:

Society must respond to the growing demand for cognitive enhancement. That response must start by rejecting the idea that 'enhancement' is a dirty word, argue Henry Greely and colleagues.

Main_news_pic2008.12 Today, on university campuses around the world, students are striking deals to buy and sell prescription drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin — not to get high, but to get higher grades, to provide an edge over their fellow students or to increase in some measurable way their capacity for learning. These transactions are crimes in the United States, punishable by prison. Many people see such penalties as appropriate, and consider the use of such drugs to be cheating, unnatural or dangerous. Yet one survey estimated that almost 7% of students in US universities have used prescription stimulants in this way, and that on some campuses, up to 25% of students had used them in the past year. These students are early adopters of a trend that is likely to grow, and indications suggest that they're not alone.

In this article, we propose actions that will help society accept the benefits of enhancement, given appropriate research and evolved regulation. Prescription drugs are regulated as such not for their enhancing properties but primarily for considerations of safety and potential abuse. Still, cognitive enhancement has much to offer individuals and society, and a proper societal response will involve making enhancements available while managing their risks.

More here.

Primal, Acute and Easily Duped: Our Sense of Touch

Natalie Angier in The New York Times:

Touch Imagine you’re in a dark room, running your fingers over a smooth surface in search of a single dot the size of this period. How high do you think the dot must be for your finger pads to feel it? A hundredth of an inch above background? A thousandth? Well, take a tip from the economy and keep downsizing. Scientists have determined that the human finger is so sensitive it can detect a surface bump just one micron high. All our punctuation point need do, then, is poke above its glassy backdrop by 1/400,000th of an inch — the diameter of a bacterial cell — and our fastidious fingers can find it. The human eye, by contrast, can’t resolve anything much smaller than 100 microns. No wonder we rely on touch rather than vision when confronted by a new roll of toilet paper and its Abominable Invisible Seam.

Biologically, chronologically, allegorically and delusionally, touch is the mother of all sensory systems. It is an ancient sense in evolution: even the simplest single-celled organisms can feel when something brushes up against them and will respond by nudging closer or pulling away. It is the first sense aroused during a baby’s gestation and the last sense to fade at life’s culmination. Patients in a deep vegetative coma who seem otherwise lost to the world will show skin responsiveness when touched by a nurse.

More here.

When Hindus mourned Imam Hussain

Ruchira Paul in Accidental Blogger:

Hussaini Brahmins The student population of my school in New Delhi was composed of girls from practically every part of India belonging to several different linguistic groups and religions. Nearly fifty percent of the Punjabi and Bengali students came from families who had lost their ancestral homes in the partition of India in 1947, my own being among them. In middle school, a class mate whose folks had moved to India from the Pakistani city of Lahore, once casually commented that her father's family used to observe Muharram in their hometown before the partition. At the time I didn't think much of what my friend had said. We were young and many of us had heard interesting pre-partition tales from our parents. It is only now, on thinking back, that her story acquires a special meaning and given the subsequent deterioration in Hindu-Muslim relations in general and between India and Pakistan in particular, also a certain amount of poignancy. You see, the remarkable thing about my friend's Muharram story was that she was not a Muslim, but a Hindu Brahmin.

My class mate belonged to the Punjabi community of Dutts, in more communally harmonious times also known as the Hussaini Brahmins. They, along with their Shia Muslim friends and neighbors, used to commemorate and grieve the deaths of Imam Hussain and his disciples in the bloody battle of Karbala during the 7th century power struggle among early Muslims.

More here. [Photo by Feroz Shakir.]

Top 20 Top 10 Lists of 2008

The season of year-end lists is upon us. Here is a metalist, from Lifehacker:

  1. Top 10 Obscure Google Search Tricks
    “Dozens of Google search guides detail the tips you already know, but today we're skipping the obvious and highlighting our favorite obscure Google web search tricks.”
  2. Top 10 Harmless Geek Pranks
    “Since the dawn of time, geeks have been playing harmless pranks on their beloved (but unsuspecting) associates, and it's up to all of us to carry the torch forward.”
  3. Top 10 Ways to Stay Energized
    “You can overcome a late night of net surfing, a rough morning, or just the post-lunch stupor without becoming an over-wired mess.”
  4. Top 10 Software Easter Eggs
    “The best easter eggs aren't painted pink and stuffed with jelly beans—they're the undocumented and unexpected fun features hidden deep inside various software apps.”
  5. Top 10 BitTorrent Tools and Tricks
    “BitTorrent is the go-to resource for downloading everything from music and movies to software and operating systems, but as its popularity continues to grow, so do the number of tools available for making the most of it.”
  6. Top 10 Firefox 3 Features
    “The newest version of our favorite open source web browser, Mozilla Firefox 3, offers dozens of new features and fixes, but only a handful will make the most dramatic difference in your everyday browsing.”
  7. Top 10 How To Videos
    “Your crafty older relatives used to have to mail-order their video tutorials or wait for “This Old House” reruns to get their DIY on, but the age of streaming video has been good to those who like to tinker and try out neat tricks.”
  8. Top 10 Things You Forgot Your Mac Can Do
    “From pure eye candy to outright productivity-boosters, read on to get reminded of some of the more obscure things you can do with your Mac, fresh out of the box.”
  9. Top 10 Telephone Tricks
    “When getting things done involves making phone calls, you want to spend the least amount of time and money on the horn as possible—and several tricks and services can help you do just that.”
  10. Top 10 Computer Annoyances and How to Fix Them
    “Computers are supposed to make our lives easier, but too much of the time they can be frustrating, time-wasting, stubborn machines.”

More here.

The Italian Underground

Graeme Wood in Culture + Travel, reproduced on his own website:

Damanhur Residents of Vidracco (pop. 500) knew the newcomers were different. Since 1977, they had been showing up one-by-one in the little Piedmontese valley, marching in from Turin like bugs following a trail of syrup. They kept to themselves. Their chitchat, when it came, zoomed right past the commonplace – nothing on the latest Juventus game, or the sorry state of farming in the valley. Instead, they spoke eagerly of “esoteric physics,” astral-plane travel, and Vidracco’s remarkable “synchronic energy lines,” supposedly unique on earth. And they rarely came out at night.

One day in 1992, Vidracco found out why. Backed by carabinieri and motivated by a tip, a magistrate showed up and demanded that the newcomers unlock a nondescript wooden door in the side of the mountain, next to their compound (called “Damanhur,” after the ancient Egyptian city). Inside, a cramped passage led to a section of wall decorated in pharaonic themes. The Damanhurians pointed a garage door opener at the flat stone surface, and clicked its button. Gears whirred, and a wall-section fell away.

Damanhur’s handful of citizens – dozens at first, but by now 330 — had been working in shifts, under cover of darkness, scratching at the earth with picks and shovels, and building shrines deep in the steep, forested mountain. Behind a series of false walls lay a revelation as mysterious as King Tut’s tomb, but grander — as ethereal as the Sistine Chapel, but weirder. In all, they had dug out over 8000 cubic meters, a space larger than Big Ben, excavated mostly by hand, with neither building permits nor technical expertise. They had decorated these “Temples of Humankind” with a rainbow of wall paintings, Tiffany stained glass, and mosaics. Endless halls snaked around the innards of the mountain, lit with candles and reeking of incense and paint.

More here.

Maureen Dowd Is in My Bed

Justin E. H. Smith

Dowd-ts-190 Maureen Dowd is in my bed. I can tell it's her. That shock of red hair spilling across the pillow, those red high heels kicked haphazardly onto the floor.

What is she doing in there?

I'm going to have to wake her up and ask her to leave. She'll think I'm afraid of intelligent women, but that's not true. My wife is very intelligent. In fact, that's just the problem: Maureen Dowd is not my wife.

Come to think of it, where is my wife? Did I shift possible worlds, into one in which I –or should I say my counterpart-me?– am married not to my wife, but to Maureen Dowd? Did my wife somehow metamorphose into Maureen Dowd while I was out getting her more flu capsules, like some Gregor Samsa, though with an infinitely more gruesome fate?

I suppose the only question that really matters is: am I now married to Maureen Dowd? Whether this marriage was sealed through world-shifting or through metamorphosis is of little interest, except perhaps to the metaphysicians. Perhaps they would tell me that in the latter case we're basically looking at a cosmic annulment by reason of change of substance. I married my wife after all, not my wife-or-whoever-my-wife-might-turn-into.

I'm just going to have to wake her up and get to the bottom of this. I hope she doesn't talk like she writes. That would be unbearable, especially if, metaphysically and legally, she is in fact my wife. Then I would have to put up with it. I would say: “I seem to have shifted possible worlds or something, for I don't recall ever marrying you, Ms. Dowd.” And she would reply: “What a pretty pickle,” or: “So, darling, is it going to be Taming of the Shrew, or more Mister Magoo?” or some other rhymed literary reference that I'll feel I ought to understand, yet won't.

The thought of it sickens me. I don't dare wake her up. Maybe I should go back to the pharmacy, buy some lip balm or something, and when I come back everything will have returned to normal. I probably triggered this with something I did, some minor twitch or gesture that set the universe on a different course. Could it have been the flu capsules? Is this some red pill/blue pill thing? Wait. These pills are red and blue. What would set things right again? Burt's Bees? Gold Bond? Vapo-Rub?

Read more »

A Factual History of Fictional Natures


Somewhere between growing up in farm country and leaving it, I watched my eight-year-old brother fall into a pile of afterbirth. One minute, we were poking the afterbirth with sticks—we couldn’t help ourselves, it was so strange, that pool of black milk, the recent discard of twin lambs—and the next minute, my brother was twitching in the grass, his sneaker anointed with the oddest of glues. He twitched for awhile, and when he stopped twitching he was initiated into the strange nature of hospitals, and after much in the way of cat-scan and examination, he was declared epileptic and released with a small vial of pills. At the time, no one could have convinced me—though I was old enough to know better—that those pills weren’t intended for the sole purpose of preventing my brother from turning into a lamb, as I’d seen him touched, comic-book style, by a substance capable of altering his genetic makeup. Whether I entertained this delusion because I would have preferred my brother as part-sheep—docile, wooly, and scarcely capable of competing for my parent’s affection—or because I believed the animal life to be more inviting than the human variety, remains up for debate.


Emerson claimed that every word was once an animal, and when one is drawn to both words and animals with a frightening amount of affection, there is a temptation to elaborate on this system and transform the rules of grammar so that they might join another kingdom. What results is a cacophony of alphabet and heartbeat, furry vowels, clawed consonants. Sometimes nouns are horses and verbs are monkeys. On any given day, the fluctuations of adjectives are extreme, unpredictable, scampering from moth to snake to hamster. A school of fish is less institution, more living thesaurus, providing synonyms for what it might mean to be endangered or sublime.


Words can be herded, animals, less so. I’ve attempted to blame my obsession on some crazed gene, an unavoidable blip in the familial blood. As children, we were surrounded by aunts and uncles capable of training possums and leading wild horses to makeshift pastures. But the origins of this gift were solely with my grandmother, Estelle, a high-haired little woman who once wore the bite-marks of a weaning kitten on her hand like strange jewelry. When she died in the living room after a long illness, the animals of the house were brought to her side, so that they could understand Our Loss. We watched them sniff her stillness curiously, obsessively, and the precise moment when grief occurred to them was obvious to us, and violently so. Howls went up, tongues came out, my grandmother’s cheek was licked with an alarming intensity, and shortly after, she was buried in her best dress with the ashes of her Great Dane, who’d once stood as the taller of the two while on tiptoe. At the reception that followed, my sister and I let the parrot do all the talking, and examined a beetle crushed at the curb by a mourner’s foot. Our familial tradition is pity for the roadside lost, our inheritance a moral conscience that has swapped the cartoonish hover of devil and angel with the perch of the warm-blooded, and the cold.

Read more »

Two weeks in China: tourist snapshots

By Stefany Anne Golberg

China_shuffybrucelee_webThere’s a curious smell in Chinatown. It smells of fish and death and moldering cardboard. The streets teem with people moving and spinning like the Teacups ride at Disneyland. I try to keep up with my mother, father, and older brother but they are too quick for me. My father is looking for the perfect dim sum restaurant. People bump into me, there is no space in this part of town, not even for a little girl. In every city, anywhere we go, my father takes us to Chinatown. He loves Chinatown. He loves the food, loves the style, the smell, mostly the food.

In every American city, where people mostly travel alone, and eat alone, and shop alone in big big stores, there is almost always Chinatown, where people are packed together, and eat together, and are together. When I am a girl, Chinatown is a world that has been created for me and not for me at all, that I can go to and will never be mine. Chinatown is the rest of the world, its possibilities and its failures. Somewhere, there is a whole country of Chinatown that sustains this one, that creates the magnificent trinkets cluttering the streets, wonderful, beautiful crap, cheap props in a street play.

I learn to love Chinatown too, in any city, anywhere I go.

May 7

“I was a Red Guard member in 1966, saw Our Great Leader Chairman Mao in Tiannanmen Square,” Bill says with a big smile. “I tell you my life story, very sad. That’s why I’m writing a book! About all my life experience. There’s a picture of me in my Red Guard uniform during Cultural Revolution. I will show you!”

In the hotel room I turn on the television. On one channel there’s a great battle scene from ancient times. On another channel, a man in a suit sits behind a desk and angrily scolds another man, with his pistol. Another shows a march of bloodied soldiers and filthy extras—men, women, children—dragging themselves down a dirt road. There’s an elaborate Tang opera and an infomercial channel dedicated to selling products I can’t identify. Hu Jintao addresses a congress and advertisements for the Beijing Olympics pop up regularly. On the one English-speaking channel, Mongolians in folk costumes frolic through wide grassy fields. In the upper left-hand corner of most channels is a CCTV logo, the major state-run television broadcaster.

My mother meets me at the Jiangxian Grand Hotel in southern Beijing. She disappears into the elevator with her friend and I finish a late-night plate of bok choy in the empty Western-style restaurant, watching pink plastic lilypads bob in an artificial pond that overlooks the lobby.

May 8

Neither my mother nor I can sleep. As she showers, there is a knock at the door. I throw on a robe and open it. A young man’s hands are full of soap cakes and mini bottles of shampoo. He eyes me nervously and says nothing. I hold out my hands and he dumps all the soaps in them. I close the door and put the soaps on the TV. “Who was at the door?” my mother asks. “It was a man with soaps,” I say. “I read that in China if you ask for something you get it immediately,” she says. “Did you ask for soaps?” I ask. She pauses and turns to me. “No,” she says, “I don’t think so.”

Read more »

Embers from my Neighbor’s House

The year in terror has been building and rising, but few expected it to rise to this dramatic crescendo. Boats, control rooms in key buildings, AK-47s, grenades, hostages. As I begin to write, my television continues to bleat the worn platitudes of so many blind men and women of Hindoostan panning reality with their telephoto lenses, over the muffled roar of helicopters and machine gun fire.

Terrorism is high impact and ethics-free anti-art using global media. My imagination has been leached and my insides need cleansing, like an extra travel day spent watching porn in a hotel room. Still, one must concede their mad genius, uniting a new day of mourning in India with the pilgrim feast of Thanksgiving in America, both doused in the same hot stream of media violence.

I am already getting unsolicited text-forwards from cousins and acquaintances. India is planning to bomb Pakistan, says one. My friend Usman, in London, texts me just as he has every time this year, in the wake of each terror strike: “All ok?” “We’re invading Pakistan, but otherwise all okay,” I squeeze out. I’m not sure how funny he found this, for he writes back, “Re: Invasion, ok good. I was worried in the post-Obama fervour the world was becoming too sensible.”

Traveling through Mumbai this week is like living in an alternative dystopic reality, where malls, hotels and airports are surrounded with metal detectors, and armed guards. The usual ceremonies of entry and departure from colonnaded porticos have been suspended, and everyone is being forced to walk the last five blocks to the single entry of their sealed building. In the wake of the attacks, any number of international trade and industry conferences have been cancelled throughout India. Skittish international capital is reevaluating the risk of doing business in India, and so the attacks are having their desired economic effect.

The news channels have been branding it “India’s 9/11.” It is media hyperbole, it serves an ideological intent to align with and perhaps out-victim the US and UK, and it makes it easier to suggest retaliatory military action within the borders of Pakistan. But the label also lingers while we struggle to come to grips with what it was all really about. Not the tragic repetition of someone else’s history, but perhaps a sign from the future.

The attacks exceed the everyday violence that we have become inured to in the subcontinent, even when it has communal intent, even when hundreds die. There is the daring, of course, not only to attack India by sea, but to hit out at the public palaces and perches of the rich and famous. There is the urban, architectural and maritime research, the cross-border planning, the wireless coordination of personnel and armaments. There is the lateral imagination to transform a self-involved metropolis that itself has often threatened to secede from the dirty Indian hinterland into a cowering and precarious place on the edge of a dangerous sea. The Indian people, of every class and region, want to know why this was done to them, and no one really has any ready answers.

The hard answer that Indians are looking for is that there can be no peace for a prosperity that one’s neighbors do not share in, and that we are destined to share not only our past inheritance, but also our future fortune.

Read more »

BIL goes jogging

Jogging The highway of life displays warning axioms, which my brother in law (BIL) missed or just ignored. BIL, the unemployed-but-rich hedge fund manager, laments that he should have never studied finance, which initiated him to a life of greed and excess. He has just realized the truth in the fourth axiom of life: whatever you do at twenty-five, you will regret at fifty-five. He knows it is too late to change his career but probably he could improve his body, which reminds him of the third axiom: whatever you didn’t do at twenty-five will haunt you at fifty-five. In his case it is exercise.

Years at the debt swap desk has slouched his spine, drooped his shoulders and shrunk his chest. His biceps have the tone of dumplings and his quadriceps carry him only a few hundred yards before crying for rest. His belly seems to protrude beyond his area code. He is disgusted, he wants to get into shape and he wants to get fit.

BIL wants to achieve three goals: build his endurance, strengthen his body and live longer. The muscles of his body will have to wake up from years of sloth. He has to coerce his muscles into action; he has to stretch them, work them, and build them. It will help him if he understands how muscles work.

The basic unit of a muscle is its cell – a long spindle shaped structure often called a fiber, which contains energy yielding materials and thousands of rod shaped protein filaments that have the ability to contract. Muscle cells in a group form one cohesive functional motor unit and a muscle has numerous motor units. A single neuron – ‘motor neuron’ – controls one specific motor unit.

When the brain commands a muscle to contract, molecules of acetylcholine transmit this message through the motor neuron, generating an electrical impulse, which crosses the muscle cell membrane and travels through its interior channels. Protein filaments in the cell respond to the signal. They shorten in length by sliding over each other. Stimulus from one motor neuron contracts multiple cells in one motor unit and if more strength is needed multiple neurons participate and recruit many motor units. The result: a muscle contracts.

But brain cannot voluntarily contract of all the muscles; some are beyond its will. Heart, for example, beats to a different drummer – the autonomic nerves and chemicals in circulation. Heart also beats faster to respond to the oxygen needs of voluntary muscles.

What is the source energy supply to muscles? (Nature is wiser than one of the disastrous products of evolution – politicians – and unlike them nature has solved the energy problem of muscles.) A complex molecule – adenosine trriphospate or ATP – is the answer. Muscle cells contain a small amount of stored ATP, which suffices for first five seconds of activity. For next fifteen seconds of contraction the cell converts a precursor molecule – ADP – into ATP. If the vigorous activity lasts longer, muscle must manufacture new ATP. It does so by breaking down glucose.

Read more »