Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Why Isn't The War On Terror Ending?

Because the war is not an Earthly one like the two World Wars but a Cosmic one...A Cosmic war is a religious war, it is a battle between good and evil...According to Reza Aslan, the author of How To Win A Cosmic War, the war America is currently fighting "is like a ritual drama in which participants act out on Earth a battle they believe is actually taking place in the heavens." Normal Earthly wars are fought with conventional weapons whilst Cosmic wars are fought with jihads and forcible conversions...In such wars, there is no compromise, negotiation, settlement or surrender...

The jihadists want Muslims to believe that the world is locked in a heavenly contest between the forces of good (themselves/Muslims) and evil (Americans)...The enemy for them is not America per se but Satan...The battle is a contest not between armies like in Earthly wars but between angelic and demonic forces...This spin is nothing but a marketing ploy to recruit dissatisfied people by turning ordinary Earthly murders into holy soldiers...

America has fallen into the same trap as the Islamic fundamentalists...Infact, they are no better than the jihadists...They too are fighting a Cosmic war because they too have adopted the rhetoric of jihadism by equating the war as a battle between good (themselves/Christians) and evil (jihadists)...This is evident from what George Bush has said time and again ("We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name." and "Axis of evil")...The absolutism in the ultimatum "You're either with us or against us" is eerily similar to what Islamic fanatics believe in...

As I see it there's no hope for the war on terror ending because this battle of religious fundamentalism, identity and rhetoric is an eternal one...I don't know what the answer is but political leaders have to rethink their strategies if they really want it to end...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Are Opinion Polls Accurate?

Pre-election polls conducted by TV channels and newspapers are interesting because they are never accurate - they are unscientifically conducted, often months before the election and are designed to be opinion makers, not opinion takers...They are conducted to sway voters especially the undecided ones...

For polls to be accurate, the sample should be selected accurately and randomly because all surveys are based on probability sampling... A randomly selected, small percent of a population of people can represent the attitudes, opinions, or projected behavior of the entire population if the sample is selected correctly...But unfortunately with media sponsored surveys, this does not happen...There are many biases...For example, polls are usually conducted by telephone and so people without phones - the majority of Indians - are automatically left out of the sample...Then there is a bias if the interviewee doesn't answer the phone the first time...Ideally, the pollster should try a few times but realistically, it doesn't happen...The questions too are often not objective but leading and biased in favour of the pollster's own political views...The weightage of the sample size is another issue...One of the tricks used is to decrease the weightage of one group to increase the influence of another...Another trick is to decrease the weight of respondants who the pollster thinks are least likely to vote...This manipulation means a respondant who is most likely to vote can be counted twice and a respondant who is least likely to vote can not be counted at all...If polls were scientifically conducted, there wouldn't be so much variation between them...

I am surprised when people are enthused by these media sponsored opinion polls...I would take polls conducted by genuinely independent bodies, who state the methodology used clearly, more seriously...The worst thing about media polls is that they serve very little useful purpose...They try to influence people to vote tactically rather than for who they want...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Is This A Spoof

or not?
A Turkish news anchor wore black face paint while reporting on President Obama's recent visit to the country...

A rough translation : "Welcome, Mr. Obama. You took our hearts with your hospitality. We appreciate your kindness. We will do whatever America asks of us, as friends. Now, we ask the same of you."

According to BuzzFeed, the face darkening is meant to be "a metaphor for the way the Bush administration "darkened" the face of the Turkish public, and how the anchor hopes Obama will turn things around."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Stressed Out On Poor Street

Have you ever wondered why poverty passes on from generation to generation? Why a majority of poor children underachieve later on in life even when presented with opportunities? The Economist provides some evidence that might explain intergenerational cycles of poverty...

According to researchers, the stress of growing up poor affects the brain which in turn affects the ability to retain and process information...This together with the lack of nutrition and opportunities affects the ability of poor children to compete with richer children as adults...

Edited to add:
Elizabeth Gould, a researcher from Princeton University, thinks chronic stress of living in slums causes the brain to change biologically...

Subsequent experiments [by Gould] have teased out a host of other ways stress can damage the developing brain. For example, if a pregnant rhesus monkey is forced to endure stressful conditions--like being startled by a blaring horn for 10 minutes a day--her children are born with reduced neurogenesis, even if they never actually experience stress once born. This pre-natal trauma, just like trauma endured in infancy, has life-long implications. The offspring of monkeys stressed during pregnancy have smaller hippocampi, suffer from elevated levels of glucocorticoids and display all the classical symptoms of anxiety. Being low in a dominance hierarchy also suppresses neurogenesis. So does living in a bare environment. As a general rule of thumb, a rough life--especially a rough start to life--strongly correlates with lower levels of fresh cells. "Poverty is stress," Gould says, with more than a little passion in her voice. "One thing that always strikes me is that when you ask Americans why the poor are poor, they always say it's because they don't work hard enough, or don't want to do better. They act like poverty is a character issue."
Gould's work implies that the symptoms of poverty are not simply states of mind; they actually warp the mind. Because neurons are designed to reflect their circumstances, not to rise above them, the monotonous stress of living in a slum literally limits the brain.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Kolkatans - Who Are These People?

This post was inspired by Chirag's post on Indians...I'm a Bengali although not a Kolkatan and I've always found 'my people' a bit quirky...Here are some observations:
  1. We all know that Bengalis are obsessed with food...What we may not know is that this obsession has reached such a point that nearly half their income is spent on fish, chicken and vegetables...As a result, there's no money left to paint the facade of their houses which adds to the shabbiness of Kolkata...When asked, many Kolkatans say, "Who cares about aesthetics...Anyway, old shabby houses add to the character of the city"
  2. According to Bengalis, there are only three kinds Indians - Bengalis/Oriyas, Hindustanis (North Indians) and Madrasis (South Indians)
  3. Someone should tell Bengali Kolkatans not to speak in Hindi with Bihari and Sikh taxiwallahs...Bengalis will never get the hang of the language no matter how much they try
  4. Bengalis for some reason pronounce 'would'/'wood' as 'ood' (the 'w' is silent)...Even the ones who have attended St.Xaviers College, Kolkata
  5. Bengali babus always eat fish curry-rice before leaving for work...Their work day starts at 11 am and ends promptly at 5 pm with a one hour lunch break in the middle...No wonder nothing gets done in Kolkata
  6. The typical Bengali man always does the vegetable and fish/chicken/mutton shopping...This job is rarely entrusted to a woman or a servant...It is common to see unbathed men with uncombed hair in crushed pajama-kurtas at vegetable and fish shops haggling with vendors early in the morning...Bengalis haven't adapted to the fridge very well as yet...They still feel that all food items should to be bought fresh everyday including butter
  7. Women from Bengal love wearing their sarees six inches above their ankles so that they don't get dirty
  8. Bengali women are dominant and Bengali men are wimps...If you don't believe me, watch Parineeta and Devdas...Devdas, who drank himself to death because his mother forbade him to marry his true love, is idolised by Bengalis...For them, he's the epitome of a true lover...The same is true of Shekhar the hero of Parineeta...Although he does marry his love, he doesn't have the guts to make it public...There are many other stories like these in Bengali literature
  9. Children especially girls have to learn singing preferably Rabindro Sangeet
  10. Never take decorating tips from Bengali women...They have a fetish for doilies and stuffed animals and love decorating their homes with these items...Some even go to the extent of covering their dressing table mirrors with a lace sheet
  11. Bengalis have a fixation for white foreigners (sada chamra)...Blacks are looked down upon except for Barack Obama
  12. Bongs in Kolkata don't have a social life...Kids spend all their free time studying for the Nobel Prize or practicing to be the next Maharaja of Kolkata...Adults spend their time discussing phootball, rabindro sangeet and CPM/Mamatadidi over cups and cups of tea
  13. When Bengalis go out to eat, they will necessarily order a chicken dish...The problem arises when the chicken dish arrives...If all the pieces are not thangs (legs) they start fuming and arguing with the waiter...Why? Their reasoning is: if we order two plates of chicken, we expect 2 legs per plate...They can't seem to understand that a chicken doesn't have only legs
  14. Beware of the Bengali interior decorator/architect...He/She will insist on putting a wash basin in the dining area

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

That's Greek To Me

(Click on image for a larger version)

This graph was inspired by a comment by a reader on the blog Language Log:
When an English speaker doesn't understand a word one says, it's "Greek to me". When a Hebrew speaker encounters this difficulty, it "sounds like Chinese".
I've been told the Korean equivalent is "sounds like Hebrew".
Has there been a study of this phrase phenomenon, relating different languages on some kind of Directed Graph?

The most interesting observation was made by commentator Rachel Fulton:
It's fascinating that when the Chinese find something unintelligible, they assume it is a product of Heaven while everyone else (according to the graph) assumes that it is another human language they can't understand.

I wonder why the author has forgotten to put an arrow from Hindi to Farsi...

I find this graph very interesting - I didn't know mutual incomprehension could be mapped...Also, I didn't know that for Arabs the proverbial unintelligible language is Hindi and for the French - Javanese...Where and when did the French hear and learn about the existence of Javanese?
(The data for the graph has been taken from Wikipedia and Omniglot)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gaza - The Closed Zone

Below is an Israeli short film detailing the plight of a Palestinian trapped in Gaza...

This is what Joe Klein of Time magazine has to say:
For a great many of us - Jews who support Israel, but not these policies - this government is an embarrassment. In fact, according to a recent poll conducted for the liberal group J Street, 60% of American Jews oppose the expansion of settlements [which are all illegal] and 69% oppose Lieberman's [an anti-Arab bigot who is the Foreign Minister] participation in the government. According to that same poll, 72% believed the US should exert pressure on both sides to move toward a deal--a policy one hopes Barack Obama will have the courage to pursue.
For more information, go to Closed Zone...