Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Indian Railway King

Here is a link on rather longish piece on Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav

Some extracts:

Under his leadership, Indian Railways has gone from bankruptcy to billions in just a few years. When Lalu presented his latest budget to Parliament on February 13, he bragged, "Hathi ko cheetah bana diya" ("I have turned an elephant into a cheetah").

Lalu mismanaged Patna terribly. So how has he managed a gargantuan state organ so well that students from Kellogg and Wharton are taking notice?

Part of the answer lies in India’s recent economic growth spurt: Lalu stood on the shoulders of an economy that never grew by less than 6 percent per year during his whole tenure as railways minister. (India’s economy has slowed considerably since the global downturn began.) With a boom like that to fuel demand, how could he fail? All he had to do was sit back and let the market propel him forward.

The other half of the explanation, though, seems to be a simple case of democracy and markets working.

Rangasamy Elango

I came across in media write-ups on this quite interesting personality recently and thought it fit to share it with you. Let me quote an article on him in Rediff:

When Rangasamy Elango speaks of his village, his pride is unmistakable. Kuthambakkam isn't your ordinary sort of Indian village, one that is quickly imagined in the urban mind as a combination of deprivation and squalor. The long lines that characterize Chennai's perennial water shortages are nearly unimaginable here, only 40 km away -- the water table in this village isn't much deeper than a dozen feet away under your feet. Evidence of planning and purpose abounds -- paved roads, integrated housing for dalits and non-dalits, even a largely self-sustaining village economy. In panchayat president Elango's efforts and continuing dreams for this hamlet, the India of Gandhi, Vinoba and Hazare is real.

"It is my hope", says Elango, "that Kuthambakkam will serve as a model, one whose social and economic achievements are so obvious that people will clamor to replicate it elsewhere in the nation too." In the many years since he abandoned his comfortable government-scientist position as a chemical engineer, Elango has overseen the growing prosperity and social stability of his little corner of the world. He speaks of his achievement now with a smile of satisfaction, and even a glint of amusement at the many hurdles he has passed along the way.

People like Elango ought to be lauded and supported in their endeavors.

This incidentally is my 100th post ! Thought I don't believe much in personal milestones, I think I ought to pat myself on my back for not giving up blogging midway. On this occasion I thank all my fellow bloggers who encouraged me. A big thanks to you all.

Hardwired God ???

I came across this interesting piece in New Scientist titled Born believers: How your brain creates God. I am posting some extracts.

WHILE many institutions collapsed during the Great Depression that began in 1929, one kind did rather well. During this leanest of times, the strictest, most authoritarian churches saw a surge in attendance.

This anomaly was documented in the early 1970s, but only now is science beginning to tell us why.
It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times. Our brains effortlessly conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters, and the more insecure we feel, the harder it is to resist the pull of this supernatural world. It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods.

Religious ideas are common to all cultures: like language and music, they seem to be part of what it is to be human. Until recently, science has largely shied away from asking why. "It's not that religion is not important," says Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University, "it's that the taboo nature of the topic has meant there has been little progress."

The origin of religious belief is something of a mystery, but in recent years scientists have started to make suggestions.
One leading idea is that religion is an evolutionary adaptation that makes people more likely to survive and pass their genes onto the next generation. In this view, shared religious belief helped our ancestors form tightly knit groups that cooperated in hunting, foraging and childcare, enabling these groups to outcompete others. In this way, the theory goes, religion was selected for by evolution, and eventually permeated every human society

The religion-as-an-adaptation theory doesn't wash with everybody, however. As anthropologist Scott Atran of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor points out, the benefits of holding such unfounded beliefs are questionable, in terms of evolutionary fitness. "I don't think the idea makes much sense, given the kinds of things you find in religion," he says. A belief in life after death, for example, is hardly compatible with surviving in the here-and-now and propagating your genes. Moreover, if there are adaptive advantages of religion, they do not explain its origin, but simply how it spread.

An alternative being put forward by Atran and others is that religion emerges as a natural by-product of the way the human mind works.

That's not to say that the human brain has a "god module" in the same way that it has a language module that evolved specifically for acquiring language. Rather, some of the unique cognitive capacities that have made us so successful as a species also work together to create a tendency for supernatural thinking. "There's now a lot of evidence that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired," says Bloom.

Much of that evidence comes from experiments carried out on children, who are seen as revealing a "default state" of the mind that persists, albeit in modified form, into adulthood. "Children the world over have a strong natural receptivity to believing in gods because of the way their minds work, and this early developing receptivity continues to anchor our intuitive thinking throughout life," says anthropologist Justin Barrett of the University of Oxford.

So how does the brain conjure up gods? One of the key factors, says Bloom, is the fact that our brains have separate cognitive systems for dealing with living things - things with minds, or at least volition - and inanimate objects.

This separation happens very early in life. Bloom and colleagues have shown that babies as young as five months make a distinction between inanimate objects and people. Shown a box moving in a stop-start way, babies show surprise. But a person moving in the same way elicits no surprise. To babies, objects ought to obey the laws of physics and move in a predictable way. People, on the other hand, have their own intentions and goals, and move however they choose.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gastronomic Geography

I got this forwarded to my mail recently. Pretty self-explanatory eh ? Does it do justice to rich culinary fare of our country ?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

100 Most Beautiful Words in English !!!

I was directed to this site sometime back and was quite interested by its contents.
I have copy pasted it a post on 100 most beautiful words in English (very subjective, of course) Personally, I will pick chiaroscuro, cynosure, halcyon and elixir as my favorites from this list. What is yours ?

Here are the 100 most beautiful words in English. How do we know? Dr. Goodword (Dr. Robert Beard) has been defining words and writing poetry for 40 years. For five years he wrote the daily word sent our as the Word of the Day at yourDictionary and since 2004 he has been writing the Good Word at alphaDictionary.

Over the years he has collected these words, with the help of the word colloquium at the alphaDictionary Alpha Agora. Now, here the most beautiful words in sounds and meaning are for you to enjoy.

Stay tuned: in a month or two you will be able to purchase the entire list, fully defined and explained by Dr. Goodword in his next book, The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English, published by Lexiteria and available at Click the linked words for examples of rought drafts of the fully defined words.
1 adroit Dexterous, agile.
2 adumbrate To very gently suggest.
3 aestivate To summer, to spend the summer.
4 ailurophile A cat-lover.
5 beatific Befitting an angel or saint.
6 beleaguer To exhaust with attacks.
7 blandiloquent Beautiful and flattering.
8 caliginous Dark and misty.
9 champagne An effervescent wine.
10 chatoyant Like a cat's eye.
11 chiaroscuro The arrangement of dark and light elements in a picture.
12 cockle A heart-shaped bivalve or a garden flower.
13 colporteur A book peddlar.
14 conflate To blend together, to combine different things.
15 cynosure A focal point of admiration.
16 desuetude Disuse.
17 diaphanous Filmy.
18 diffuse Spread out, not focused or concentrated.
19 dulcet Sweet, sugary.
20 ebullient Bubbling with enthusiasm.
21 effervescent Bubbly.
22 efflorescence Flowering, the opening of buds or a bloom.
23 elixir A good potion.
24 emollient A softener.
25 encomium A spoken or written work in praise of someone.
26 ephemeral Short-lived.
27 epicure A person who enjoys fine living, especially food and drink.
28 epiphany A sudden revelation.
29 erstwhile At one time, for a time.
30 eschew To reject or avoid.
31 esculent Edible.
32 esoteric Understood only by a small group of specialists.
33 ethereal Gaseous, invisible but detectable.
34 etiolate White from no contact with light.
35 evanescent Vanishing quickly, lasting a very short time.
36 exuberant Enthusiastic, excited.
37 felicitous Pleasing.
38 fescue A variety of grass favored for pastures.
39 foudroyant Dazzling.
40 fragile Very, very delicate.
41 fugacioius Running, escaping.
42 gambol To skip or leap about joyfully.
43 glamour Beauty.
44 gossamer The finest piece of thread, a spider's silk.
45 halcyon Happy, sunny, care-free.
46 hymeneal Having to do with a wedding.
47 imbricate To overlap to form a regular pattern.
48 imbroglio An altercation or complicated situation.
49 imbue To infuse, instill.
50 incipient Beginning, in an early stage.
51 ingenue A naïve young woman.
52 inglenook The place beside the fireplace.
53 inspissate To thicken.
54 inure To jade.
55 jejune Dull; childish.
56 lagniappe A gift given to a customer for their patronage.
57 lagoon A small gulf or inlet in the sea.
58 languor Listlessness, inactivity.
59 lassitude Weariness, listlessness.
60 laughter The response to something funny.
61 lilt To move musically or lively, to have a lively sound.
62 lithe Slender and flexible.
63 loquacious Talkative.
64 luxuriant Thick, lavish.
65 mellifluous Sweet-sounding.
66 missive A message or letter.
67 moiety One of two equal parts, a half.
68 mondegreen A misanalyzed phrase.
69 nebulous Foggy.
70 niveous Snowy, snow-like.
71 obsequious Fawning, subservience.
72 odalisque A concubine in a harem.
73 oeuvre A work.
74 offing That part of the sea between the horizon and the offshore.
75 onomatopoeia The creation of words by imitating sound.
76 paean A formal expression of praise.
77 palimpsest A manuscript written over one or more earlier ones.
78 panacea A complete solution for all problems.
79 panoply A complete set.
80 pastiche A mixture of art work (art or music) from various sources.
81 peccadillo A peculiarity.
82 pelagic Related to the sea or ocean.
83 penumbra A half-shadow, the edge of a shadow.
84 peregrination Wandering, travels.
85 petrichor The smell of earth after a rain.
86 plethora A great excess, overabundance.
87 porcelain A fine white clay pottery.
88 potamophilous Loving rivers.
89 propinquity A nearness, similarity, or kinship.
90 Pyrrhic Victorious despite heavy losses.
91 quintessential The ultimate, the essence of the essence.
92 redolent Sweet-smelling.
93 rhapsody A beautiful musical piece.
94 riparian Having to do with the bank of a river or other body of water.
95 ripple A small, circular wave emanating from a central point.
96 scintillate To sparkle with brilliant light.
97 sempiternal Forever and ever.
98 seraglio Housing for a harem.
99 serendipity Finding something while looking for something else.
100 surreptitious Sneaky.

101 sussurous Producing a hushing sound, like flowing water.
102 symbiosis Interdependence of two different species.
103 syzygy The direct opposition of two heavenly bodies.
104 talisman A symbolic object believed to have magical powers.
105 terpsichorean Related to dance.
106 tintinnabulation Ringing.
107 umbrageous Shady.
108 vestige A small fragment.
109 whisper Speaking without vibrating the vocal folds.
110 zyzzyva A kind of beetle.

A R Rahman

Yet another feather in much decorated cap of A R Rahman. He has brought singular honor to India by winning two Oscars thus placing Indian film music firmly on the global arena. Congratulations are in order for Resul Pookutty too.

Rahman just Rocks !

Friday, February 6, 2009

T for Tenacity

I came across this news item today. Read it on.

A woman in South Korea who has taken the written exam required for a driver's license nearly every day since 2005 has failed again — but is hoping attempt No. 772 will be the charm.

The aspiring driver took her first test in April 2005, according to Choi Young-chul, an official at the North Jeolla Province driver's license agency in Jeonju, 150 miles south of Seoul.

She has taken the test a record 771 times, most recently on Monday, but has yet to pass. She said she plans to take the test again but did not say when, he said Thursday.

The 68-year-old has spent $3,000 on fees for the test, he said. Applicants must score at least 60 on the written exam before they can get behind the wheel for a driving test. Choi says she's scored as high as 50.

"I feel sorry every time I see Cha fail. When she passes, I'll make a memorial tablet myself and give it to her," Park Jung-seok, a traffic police officer at the agency, told the Korea Times newspaper.

No other details about her identity were released other than her family name, Cha.


Myth: We have to save the earth. Frankly, the earth doesn't need to be saved. Nature doesn't give a hoot if human beings are here or not. The planet has survived cataclysmic and catastrophic changes for millions upon millions of years. Over that time, it is widely believed, 99 percent of all species have come and gone while the planet has remained. Saving the environment is really about saving our environment - making it safe for ourselves, our children, and the world as we know it. If more people saw the issue as one of saving themselves, we would probably see increased motivation and commitment to actually do so. -Robert M. Lilienfeld, management consultant and author and William L. Rathje, archaeologist and author.