Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christopher Hitchens

I am late with this news because of my enforced absence from the blogosphere due to lack of net connection. Christopher Hitchens died last week due to cancer, a disease that first made its presence felt in mid-2010.Here is a tribute. Here is his final column for Vanity Fair.

I have not read any of Hitchens' works. I first heard of him as one of the Four Horsemen. I have listened to many of his debates with apologists for religion that are available on the net. I had not heard such plain speaking about religion before and it came as a breath of fresh air. I am sure some believers would have been more than a little flustered by his dismissive comments about their cherished beliefs as exemplified by the Hitchslap, "What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof." He was contemptuous of the false comfort provided by religion even after he was diagnosed with cancer.

I used to be amazed at his command over literature and history. He could conjure up quotes and anecdotes without skipping a beat. He was a formidable opponent to debate against. He would have been great to have my kind of conversation with - the kind where I do all the listening and the other person does all the talking. I don't think I would have got bored.

He wrote some articles about prayer, 'cures' and etiquette which struck a chord in me. I could see where he was coming from. I came to know of him about when I was getting irritated with this 'respect' business so I was a receptive audience for his combative rhetoric, accusations of being 'strident' be damned. As Dan Dennett says, there is a time to be rude.

PS: Know who is a hitchling?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dev Anand, 1923-2011

Another actor whose songs I love has passed away. I don't recall having seen any of his movies fully but the songs are another matter. He had a quirky, man about town style which is hard to replicate. Here are some of my favourite songs:
I could easily replace these songs with others; there are so many. A pertinent point to note is that all the songs are B&W. Confirms my old fogey status, doesn't it?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

‘Kolaveri Di’

I first saw ‘Kolaveri Di’on NDTV and wondered why a Tamil song was being played in an English channel. I learned that the song had gone viral on Youtube so I downloaded it. Initially Jaya and I were underwhelmed by the song but we slowly became fans. It was everywhere. There was a program regarding it in NDTV which also had a spoof in this tune. It was an item in some program in Sujit's school.I wanted to link to it in the blog and was trying to think of a way to do it. Then I saw that it had even made it to Language Log and thought that this was it.

The old fogey that I am, I usually dig songs written in ancient times or parodies (say, Mohanlal imitating MGR). Now it is ‘Kolaveri Di’ all the way. So what if some of the lyrics don't make sense? As a news item in The Times of India says:
If you haven't heard "Kolaveri Di", you are supposed to be out of sync with the world.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Search for simple explanations

It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this. -- Bertrand Russell

Every year, the literary agent John Brockman asks several public intellectuals to answer some question or another, and posts it on the Internet to provoke discussion. This year's question was "WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY'S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT?" One of the responses was 'Randomness'. It is a difficult concept to accept which results in simplistic explanations for complicated phenomena. In Endless Forms Most Beautiful,Sean B. Carroll writes:
Francois Jacob has pointed out that all of our explanatory systems, whether mythic, magic, or scientific, share a common principle. They all seek, in the words of physicist Jean Perrin, "to explain the complicated visible by some simple invisible."
It was obvious that my sudden stroke would bring forth many such explanations. For example one person persuaded my mother to sell her house by telling her that my stroke happened because there were statues of some gods on the grounds that were not supposed to be there and if she sold the house, I will be cured. One guy wanted to know if I had an implacable foe who could have put some sort of hex on me to cause the stroke. I assured him that there was no such person.

Another person said that I had made many bitter enemies in my life and a few of them had got together and performed some black magic that had resulted in my stroke. Another person told Jaya that one person had wanted to marry her but I entered the scene and spoiled his well-laid plans so he took some steps to put a clot in my head. Mostly people will claim that they were the revelations of some guru with capacious learning who had unparalleled insight into these issues.As Javed Akhtar says:
It’s not surprising that in Pune there is an ashram and I used to go there. I loved the oratory. On the gate of the lecture hall there was a placard. Leave your shoes and minds here. There are other gurus who don’t mind if you carry your shoes. But minds?…sorry.
When Jaya was explaining the circumstances of my stroke to one woman, she was told that many people in the flat suffered from a 'bone problem' which happens if some puja is not done. Doing the puja will solve these problems. A brain stem stroke is due to a 'bone problem'? H'm.

What used to astonish me was that so many people uncritically accepted the idea that you can clot the blood in somebody by mumbling some mumbo-jumbo. This thought is not limited to fringe elements of society. It is mainstream. Education goes only so far and no further in eliminating these superstitions. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, education helps to reduce superstitious beliefs but it eventually asymptotes to a non-zero value. (For example, listen to this interview with Father George Coyne. He comes across as a pleasant, intelligent, articulate person but at times he churns out word salad.)

Perhaps I had heard similar things before my stroke but they didn't register with me probably because of two reasons: 1) I usually did not hang around for long listening to superstitious talk and 2) I was not the focus of these talks. Now it was different. I had no option now but to sit silently and listen 'with a patient shrug, for sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.'

I started noticing the Dunning-Kruger Effect only after my stroke. I have been fortunate enough to associate with plenty of very smart people throughout my life. I am not exaggerating if I say that they were rarely as proud of their intelligence as some of these people were of their of their ignorance.I began to understand why Edith Sitwell said, "I am patient with stupidity, but not with those who are proud of it." I learned quickly that it was useless to argue. My best option was to fall back on Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer - "Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Different perspectives

I saw a program on the National Geographic Channel a couple of months back about the Ferrari factory. One guy who was working in engine assembly said that whenever he saw a Ferrari car his heart swelled with pride at the thought that he had contributed to its making. Another woman who sewed the leather upholstery said a similar thing. Would I have a similar feeling if I making hundred of the same thing everyday? I don't think so. At the very least, I would have had frequent bouts of trumspringa.

It reminded me of a couple of essays in the Organisational Behaviour book in IIMA. I don't remember the details but the idea behind the two essays was as follows.

The first was by Lee Iacocca who was in some top position in Ford at that time, probably its President. He talked about his exclusive car parking space, how excited he was every morning while coming to the office, about the plush executive dining room and the exotic fruits that are flown in from around the world for the dining pleasure of top executives. In short, he was chuffed with life.

The next essay was by a worker in the Ford assembly line. He talked about the monotony of his job, about the drug pushers in the Assembly line, about the bills that he had to pay, about the difficulties in educating his kids etc. In short, he was not thrilled about his job. The title of this piece was, 'It is the same company.'

That is why I was not convinced when I heard the statements of the workers. I won't be surprised if the workers were coached about what to say in the T.V. program in order to project a wholesome image of the company.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


When I see people come on T.V. and talk excitedly about the various jobs that they are doing, I tend to ask myself if I would have liked to spend my day doing similar things and the answer would invariably be negative. For example, this type of job will bore me in no time (not the genome sequencing part - that may be interesting.) Many people remind me of the soldier in the marching band whose mother shouts out, 'There goes my boy - he is the only one in step.'

Sometime back, a classmate of mine at IIMA, Rashmi Bansal gave me her latest book I Have A Dream, It was the first book about the business world that I was reading in many years. (It is not strictly about business. It is about many entrepreneurs who work in the social sector. Anyway it is very different from the kinds of topics that I had been reading about for the past few years.) As is my wont, I frequently asked myself whether I would have liked to be in the entrepreneurs' shoes and the answer always was 'No'. I would have felt overwhelmed by the challenges that the entrepreneurs faced and would have quickly given up.

Perhaps I have got used to my slothful existence and reading whatever catches my fancy. As this song says,'Na naukri ki chinta, na roti ki fikar...' Of course I do feel sometimes that I am being an enormous burden for other people although no one has ever said so. I get out of this hole by thinking that I will not help anybody by wallowing in self-pity. As Bertie Wooster would have put the cliché, what cannot be c must be e.

I listen with a quiet smile to glowing accounts of the seduction routines that most corporates put on show for new recruits. Talks of multiplexes, shopping malls, grooming accessories etc. will be rather uninteresting and I will think that people are wasting their time on kiddish stuff. (But I will be psyched by this kid. At that age I would not have started on Enid Blyton.) Perhaps it is all an elaborate rationalisation on my part to hide my envy. Whatever it is, it works.

Actually, since I became interested in reading about evolution, I become interested in jobs connected to it or in related areas like ecology or biogeography and most other jobs seem boring in comparison. (But not if it involves squeezing through narrow gaps.) Not surprisingly, the project that caught my eye in Rashmi's book was Project Chilika for cultivating seaweeds started by a marine biologist, Dinabandu Sahoo. I was interested to learn that he was part of an international team for deliberating on the problem of ocean acidification which I had read about some months ago.

Another project that caught my eye was Super 30 because I had seen a program about it on Discovery Channel. I was also interested to read about Prof. Trilochan Sastry, who joined IIMA as a professor when I was a student there. I didn't know that he had done some remarkable things (while also running a couple of NGOs and carrying out his professorial duties).

There were many tales of struggle and deprivation in the book but none more hair-raising than the one related by Anshu Gupta of Goonj:
Given the lack of excitement in his career, Anshu was getting his 'kick' from other sources. And that story started in 1992, when he wrote a moving piece for Hindi newspaper "Saptahik Hindustan".

"I was a new journalist so I went to old Delhi to look for a story. There I see a rickshaw, and on that were the words 'Delhi police corpse carrier'. So I wrote about this man whose job was to pick up unclaimed dead bodies from the roadside."

The man received Rs.20 for every body he brought in, and a piece of white cloth. Two things he said really shook Anshu; in fact they haunted him for a long time.

The corpse carrier remarked, 'In the winter business is good, sometimes there is so much work that I can't handle it.'

And his five-year-old daughter added, 'When I feel cold, I cuddle a dead body and go to sleep'.
I kept thinking how lucky I had been at most stages of my life. I didn't have the luxuries but I never had to struggle for the necessities or the educational opportunities which cannot be said for the people among whom these entrepreneurs work. I should guard against falling into the trap of privilege blindness. John Rawls also has some points to ponder.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I have nightmares

In 'Pigs Have Wings'. P.G.Wodhouse says:

It is one of the chief drawbacks to the lot of the conscientious historian that in pursuance of his duties he is compelled to leave in obscurity many of those to whom he would greatly prefer to give star billing. His task being to present a panoramic picture of the actions of a number of protagonists, he is not at liberty to concentrate his attention on any one individual, however much the latter's hard case may touch him personally. When Edward Gibbon, half-way through his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire complained to Doctor Johnson one night in a mood of discouragement that it - meaning the lot of the conscientious historian - shouldn't happen to a dog, it was to this aspect of it that he was referring.
I also sometimes have such Gibbon moments but it is not because I have given short shrift to any particular individual but about whether I should write about incidents that happened before my stroke. Of course, one reason for the paucity of such posts is that I was a nondescript, boring chap who just made up the numbers so there aren't too many incidents that I can write about that will keep you from yawning. Another reason is that it is not the focus of this blog. But sometimes I remember an incident that I can write about and I think, 'Focus be damned.' This is one such post.

George Jessel said, “The human brain is a wonderful organ. It starts to work as soon as you are born and doesn't stop until you get up to deliver a speech.” This is not true for everyone but it was certainly true in my case. Put me on a stage, stick a mic in front of me and have a large audience (say, more than five people) and my brain gets jammed.

In my school, an elocution contest used to be held every year for which each class would send some representatives. I had successfully managed to avoid being selected every year because of my acknowledged mastery in hiding behind the person sitting in front of me. But my luck ran out when I was in Std. IX. For some reason, my English teacher decided that I can do well in elocution. I have no clue what gave her such a bizarre idea.

I had to deliver Martin Luther King's famous speech, 'I Have A Dream'. (Some parts were cut to shorten the speech.) I liked the speech as soon as I read it but the prospect of having to deliver it in front of an audience did not thrill me. I think there was one elimination round before the final, sort of a semi-final. You know how it is - you tend to put your best foot forward in the heat of competition. As luck would have it, this was enough to put me in the final. There would scarcely have been anybody who had received such triumphant news so gloomily.

In 'Right Ho, Jeeves', Gussie Fink-Nottle was in a similar predicament when he was asked to present the prizes at Market Snodsbury grammar school. As the dreaded day neared, he almost became a mental wreck and I could understand why. Wodehouse fans will recall that Bertie Wooster helped out Gussie by the simple expedient of spiking his orange juice with loads of whisky.Plastered to the gills, Gussie gave a performance for the ages which delighted the young scholars at the grammar school. I knew that I will have no such luck.

From what I remember, the day of the competition was bright and sunny. It wouldn't have mattered if it was dark and stormy because the competition was to be held indoors but it would have helped to reduce the size of the audience which seemed to be bigger than usual. I had thought that people would have had better things to do than watch me stutter and stammer on stage but obviously I had thought wrong. I hung around cracking sick jokes while my heart was racing along at an unhealthy pace.

It was at this time that god decided to do his bit for me. If believers had played their cards right in subsequent years, I may have become a militant Hindu. What happened was this: participants wearing glasses were told to remove them before going on stage. I think it had something to do with the glare of the lights on the stage (I am not sure). I did not realise the full import of the instruction till I went onto the stage.

The stage was brightly lit while the rest of the auditorium was dark in comparison. I couldn't make out individual faces. There were a lot of hazy blobs in front of me. If my friends were making faces at me, I did not notice them. If the judges were scowling and making notes, I did not know it. The result was that my tension diminished and the speech went without a hitch. At the end, I did not notice whether there was a thunderous applause or derisive hoots - I was busy making myself scarce. When the results were announced, I had come second.

My English teacher was more disappointed than I was about my not coming first. She had hoped that, like Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!), lo! my name would lead all the rest. She had invested a lot of time and effort into preparing me for the competition. I remember going to her house where we pored over many pieces before she finally decided that this speech suited me. Whatever I had achieved was entirely due to her efforts. As for me, I was happy that I had not made a fool of myself. Of course, I strutted around with a 'nothing to it' expression now that the ordeal was behind me.

If you look at cricket history, you will find that many tail-enders have one knock which they can talk about to their grand-kids - Darren Gough once saved a Test Match for England; so did Danny Morrison for NZ; Glenn McGrath has a Test 50; Jason Gillespie has a Test double hundred... Being a genuine tail-ender in the area of elocution contests, this was my one moment under the sun. If Bertie Wooster has his Scripture Knowledge prize, I had this speech (of course , there must be some embellishments). After this I gradually faded away into blissful obscurity having regained my form in hiding behind the person sitting in front of me. (But my camouflage was not as good as that of this octopus. Not even as good as that of a frying pan. But it used to work most of the time. Except in Std. IX.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cloud computing

This is an old post but I saw the video only recently. Thought you knew about cloud computing? Think again!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reducing guilt

I just completed reading The Trouble With Testosterone. ('Just' is a relative term. Actually I completed it almost a month ago. At that time I was in the middle of writing a post and the next post was its continuation.I didn't want to juxtapose this one between those two posts.)

In one essay, Sapolsky discusses the evolution of firing squads which according to him were means of reducing the feeling of guilt on killing a person. In olden times, one shot was often not enough to kill a person. Multiple shots, say five, had to be fired in order to kill a person. If a person fires five shots or five people fire one shot each at the same person, the result will be the same. But in the latter case, a person thinks at some irrational level that he is only killing one-fifth of a person and is able to convince himself that he has not actually killed a person. Sapolsky writes:
Why do I think the firing squad was an accommodation to guilt, to the perception of guilt, and to guilty consciences? Because of an even more intriguing refinement in the art of killing people. By the middle of the nineteenth century, when a firing squad assembled, it was often the case that one man would randomly be given a blank bullet. Whether each member of the firing squad would tell if he had the blank or not - by the presence or absence of a recoil at that time of the shooting – was irrelevant. Each man would go home that night with the certainty that he would never be accused for sure, of having played a role in the killing.
Guilt reduction techniques are used even in modern execution methods.
In the American states that allow executions, lethal injection is fast becoming the method of choice. In states more “backward” about the technology of execution, execution is done by hand. But among the cutting - edge states, a $ 30,000 lethal injection machine is used. Its benefits, extolled by its inventor at the wardens' conventions he frequents, include dual sets of syringes and dual stations with switches for two people to throw at the same time. A computer with a binary-number generator randomises which syringe is injected into the prisoner and which ends up in a collection vial-and then erases the decision. The state of New Jersey even stipulates the use of execution technology with multiple stations and a means of randomisation. No one will ever know who really did it, not even the computer.
PS: Currently I have many new books to read. It often happens this way - for a while I won't have any new books and I will be reading old books that were disappearing from memory. Then a raft of new books will arrive in a few days from different sources, It is like waiting for a bus - you wait for one for half an hour and then three arrive at the same time. The difference is that I can read all the books sequentially over time but multiple buses at the same time are useless for a single traveller.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ig Nobel prizes for 2011

LITERATURE PRIZE: John Perry of Stanford University, USA, for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which says: To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that's even more important.

Now you know why I am so late in informing you of these awards.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Emotional blackmails - II

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences. - Clive Staples Lewis

Sometimes, people will ask me a series of questions hoping to convince me to meet their favourite godman, playing on relationships and friendships. (They were not unlike Humphrey's lesson in survey design.) I will be in a bind about what to say. It will be a case of damned if I do and damned if I don't. When politicians are asked tricky questions that they find difficult to answer, they say, 'That is a good question.' My version of saying, 'That is a good question' is to sit silently, keep smiling and hope that they won't press the issue for too long.

I have learned that when someone gives you a lot of undiluted nonsense there is a good chance that he is also on first name terms with god. I know correlation is not causation but as one scientist said, it gives a damn good hint. The incidents were different versions of the synecdoche – many small facts that point to a big truth which is that religious superstitions predispose a person to accept simplistic explanations that don’t accord with reality. (Of course I am biased. There is no such thing as an unbiased opinion.)

It is not as if these people are consulting a CIA torture manual for techniques of mental torture. They are all honourable men. (Actually the majority were women.) It is a major success of organised religions that exerting subtle mental pressure on vulnerable people has become a respectable part of the social fabric. People feel that if they don't offer these suggestions, they are being remiss in their social obligations. Bizarre and cruel rituals are accorded sanctity. For example, in one community, a widow has to dress in full bridal finery a few days after her husband's death and remove her jewellery one by one in front of assembled guests in order to signify her widowhood. Jaya was invited to attend one such function but was too horrified by the thought to go.

The unending sequence of quacks smothering me with their gyan and religious cults trying to save my soul and emotional pressures being exerted on Jaya sometimes made me think that Sartre had a point when he made his most famous quotation, "Hell is other people." This being a family blog constrains my language a bit and I sometimes had to eschew the temptation to use more colourful words. Those supercilious, condescending, sanctimonious hypocrites. Ah, that feels better!

That is why (there is more apart from the ones that I have forgotten; I will mention them later) I have no problems when various blind superstitions are criticised and exposed. (The video in the last link reminds me of a similar scene in the Malayalam film Midhunam.) That’s how the light gets in. Some amount of supernatural thinking may be present in most people but this natural tendency is often exploited by unscrupulous people as noted by Spinoza (as quoted in The Story of Philosophy):
Those who wish to seek out the causes of miracles, and to understand the things of nature as philosophers, and not to stare at them in astonishment like fools, are soon considered heretical and impious, and proclaimed as such by those whom the mob adore as the interpreters of nature and the gods. For these men know that once ignorance is put aside, that wonderment would be taken away which is the only means by which their authority is preserved.
I wonder how much of religiosity in India is explained by 'Relative Power' theory. As Napoleon observed,“Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet”

of course, criticism religion invites a bad press. It seems to be a sacred value for some people which leads them to make false statements without any qualms. In this debate, when Richard Dawkins is accused of being 'militant and fundamentalist', A.C.Grayling says:
You know why you see it that way? He speaks bluntly and he speaks frankly and he speaks his mind and you don't like what he is saying. That's why you react as you do.
(On a lighter note, in one interview, Dawkins said that he had read the books of Wodehouse so many times that he knew them backward. One commenter said that anyone who enjoys Wodehouse can't be all that bad.)

When apologists for religion accuse their opponents of being absolutist, arrogant, fundamentalist etc., they sound like John McEnroe admonishing his opponent of scowling at his racquet. In the few debates that I have seen involving New Atheists, they have been far less pompous and preachy than most of those with a hotline to this god character.This blogger has saved me the trouble of writing more. Spare me the halo of piety.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Emotional blackmails - I

What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist. -Salman Rushdie

I remember reading that if people of faith kept their beliefs to themselves and did not fly planes into buildings, the rest of us should not have any problems with their beliefs. That is true of course but it often doesn't happen that way. And when somebody has suffered a stroke, it is to be expected that various suggestions will come from all sides. It is also obvious that Jaya was the main target of fear and guilt induction.

So she will be told, 'You didn't pray hard enough.' Or someone will coax her into keeping some fast, promising her the moon and at the end of the period when obviously nothing happened, she will be told, 'You didn't fast properly.' Or some people will ask Jaya to do some PT at various temples and when she shows reluctance, they will quickly fire their dart, 'Can't you do even this much for your husband?' If god is part of the conversation, there is a social sanction to say whatever comes to one's head, the emotional state of the other person be damned. And this is to be respected! Jaya could listen to these snide remarks with a shrug in part because she knew that as far as I was concerned, these superstitions 'pass by me as the idle wind/ Which I respect not.' As Rajesh Khanna sang in one situation in the movie 'Amar Prem', 'Logon ka kaam hai kehena.'

In The Trouble With Testosterone, Robert M. Sapolsky writes:
But religion is not just a handful of precepts that form the dominating core of one’s particular beliefs.......Religion is not just a foundation of thought and faith. Nor is it just a set of moral imperatives, or a set of cultural values to be shared with a community. In its traditional, orthodox incarnations, it is also a collection of small habits, behaviours, and prohibitions, a myriad of everyday activities and sayings. “Religion is meant to be bread for daily use, not cake for special occasions,” said Henry Ward Beecher. If the devil is in the details, then so is God, and for the average practitioner, religion is in the rituals and rules of quotidian life.
A stroke is hardly an everyday occurrence so it is to be expected that the suggestions for propitiation will go through the roof. In the weeks following my stroke, Jaya was goaded by the exemplars of piety to do pujas, say prayers, keep fasts (it seems to have become a popular pass time nowadays), visit temples, etc., accompanied by accounts of their benefits and dark insinuations about the harmful effects of neglecting them. This at a time when she was struggling to come to grips with medical terms that she had never heard of and was shuttling between home and hospital because Sujit was less than a year old.

Then there were the horoscope aficionados. There is a mindset among many in India that if something bad happens to the husband, the wife's horoscope is to blame. Every other person found some lacuna in Jaya's horoscope which could be rectified by performing some ritual. I am quite sure that many of these same personages would have been giddy with delight at the wonderful things that they could find in it before our marriage. When it was found that Jaya was not too concerned about her horrorscope (termed by Jaya), attention shifted to Sujit. It was suggested that my stroke was due to some flaw in his horoscope.

I used to frown at suggestions that Jaya meet some godman. I was not going to agree to let her be another pawn in the spiritual supermarket. I had an idea of how these things worked. You will be in an environment where you will be surrounded by like-minded people and intense peer pressure can be exerted. You will be bombarded from all sides with stories of various miracles that are attributed to the amazing powers of the godman. You will be encouraged to participate in the group activities and the value of the group will be constantly reinforced. In this atmosphere of pressure to conform to the will of the majority, the emotionally weak will find it impossible to refudiate the tall claims coming from all sides. It is considered a virtue to target emotionally vulnerable people to sell them religion. Some of these hirsute weirdos may come home and give me lectures filled with terms of obtuse profundity like 'universal energy' and 'bad karma'.

When Jaya meets some new person who doesn't know us, she avoids mentioning anything about me as far as possible. If some stranger asks her, 'What is your husband doing?' she will reply quickly, 'He was working in Indbank.'Most people will not notice that she said 'was' and not 'is'. With luck, the conversation will follow the lines of 'ING Bank? No, Indbank. - Is that Indian Bank? - No, this is its subsidiary. - Is it the same as Indusind Bank? - No, this is different...' By the time all the confusion ends, Jaya would have excused herself.

It is easy to understand why Jaya was reluctant to talk about me. It will be déjà vu all over again - there will be the initial shocked reaction and standard questions which will eventually culminate in a suggestion of yet another quack or godman with miraculous powers (everybody knows one) who they will insist we meet. If they are told that many such people have been suggested to us before and we have met some of them, we will be told that those guys can only talk(!) while their person is the real McCoy.

It is not surprising that Jaya sometimes tells me that it is easier to take care of me than to deal with many people.Perhaps they were giving their suggestions with the best of intentions and only wanted my quick recovery but that doesn't change the reality. The path to hell is paved with good intentions.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it
Most of these incidents happened a long time ago and Father Time has started erasing memories. (We all experience it in the case of books.) Jaya's memory is worse than mine which is good in a way because it means that she does not dwell on insensitive comments made long ago. The only problem is that it deprives me of some blog fodder. I also would have forgotten many of the incidents if I had not noted them down as and when Jaya and I remembered them. I came across this list of Propaganda and Debating Techniques and felt that many of these tactics had been used against us. Unfortunately, I can't remember the details of most of them.

When someone tells me about a godman with miracle powers whom I should meet, I feel like saying what Rhett Butler told Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.'

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bat missiles

Just finished reading Natural Acts by David Quammen. In it there is a bizarre story about the US spending $2 million during World War II on research into a plan to use thousands of Tadarida brasiliensis, the Mexican free-tailed bat carrying a small payload of napalm for firebombing Japan. It was dreamed up by a dental surgeon from Pennsylvania named Lytle S. Adams.
Seems that Dr. Adams was driving home from a vacation in New Mexico, where he had gazed wide-eyed at millions of T. brasiliensis, like one continuous pelt of lumpy brown fur, covering for acres the ceiling of the Carlsbad Caverns, when news of Pearl Harbor reached him. In first froth of patriotic outrage and desirous of doing his bit, Adams thought of those bats. In less than two months, as the American Heritage article has it, Adams "somehow got the ear of President Franklin Roosevelt and convinced him that the idea warranted investigation." Under the circumstances, "somehow" seems rather tantalizingly elliptical, but maybe FDR needed a little dental surgery and Dr. Adams pitched his idea before the gas had entirely worn off. Next he managed to interest an eminent Harvard chiroptologist (a bat expert, not a foot doctor) named Donald R. Griffin, and before long the National Defense Research Committee had signed on as a sponsor. By now it was known as the Adams Plan. Eventually the army's Chemical Warfare Service, the NDRC, and the navy (no reason submarines couldn't release bats too) were all implicated in the buffoonery.
A test was conducted where groggy bats with tiny parachutes and a load of napalm were dropped from planes. The testing failed due to a variety of reasons and only resulted in the 'waste of innocent animals'.
Yet there was poetic justice. A few other bats, armed on the ground with live napalm units but spared the lethal jump, escaped from their handlers. These escapees flew off toward the nearest buildings - as indeed they were supposed to do, though preferably in Japan - which happened to be the airport hangars. The hangars thereupon burned. So did a general's automobile.
People do become batty in wartime.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


From this post , I came across this site which gives many free courses from world class universities.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Smell and taste

I breathe through the tracheostomy and very little air passes into my nose so I can smell an odour only if it is strong.The limen for smell would be undetectable for me. Jaya sometimes asks me whether I can smell a gas leak or the perfume in a room spray. I will have no idea about these things.I am not the best candidate on whom 'ambient scenting' techniques can be tried. I will not be good in recording an olfactory history. I can't resist writing a bit about evolution here. In Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin writes:
Humans devote about 3 percent of our genome to odor genes, just like every other mammal. When geneticists looked at the structure of the human genes in more detail, they found a big surprise: fully three hundred of these thousand genes are rendered completely functionless by mutations that have altered their structure beyond repair. (Other mammals do use these genes.) Why have so many odor genes if so many of them are entirely useless?


Yoav Gilad and his colleagues answered this question by comparing genes among different primates. He found that primates that develop color vision tend to have large numbers of knocked-out smell genes. The conclusion is clear. We humans are part of a lineage that has traded smell for sight. We now rely on vision more than on smell, and this is reflected in our genome. In this trade-off, our sense of smell was deemphasized, and many of our olfactory genes became functionless.
In my case it is doubly true that after my stroke, I have become more reliant on my eyes and my ability to smell has diminished because of reduced air flow through my nostrils.

I don't know how much role smell plays in one's attraction towards food. Perhaps my indifference towards food is because I can't smell most of them. The ones I can smell will probably be too spicy. I don't think my taste buds have been affected. I sometimes eat a little bit of sweet semi-solids like ice-cream or custard or some soft chocolate.

A strange happening over the past couple of years has been that sometimes when feeding is given, I have an expression like that of a person who has just quaffed a glass of some particularly bitter Ayurvedic concoction. It is strange because I cannot taste feedings and I cannot smell them most of the time. Doctors are not able to say why this is happening. Maybe it is just a supratentorial problem. Since it lasts only for a few minutes at feeding time and since, like the description of the Earth in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it is 'mostly harmless', we have not bothered too much about it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A tragedy

One of my classmates at IIMA, Ved Prakash Arya died a few days ago after an unbelievable accident, sending shock waves through our batch. Another classmate, Rashmi Bansal pays tribute.

Ved used to sit next to me in class (we had a fixed seating arrangement) and it was fun to be with him. I did not meet him after we graduated. After my stroke, I have not been following corporate news so I was unaware of his successes. I remember a friend telling me that Ved was doing well. The next thing I hear about him is this tragedy. This has come as a huge shock.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ramachandran's blog

Via this post on Panda's Thumb, I learn that V.S.Ramachandran has a blog. Alas, he has not updated it for a while.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Anna agitation

The arrogance of power on one side and the arrogance of sanctimony on the other side makes for an unedifying spectacle. A reality check is required. I was surprised to discover some tidbits about Anna Hazare in this post in a well-kmown blog.

One persistent thought watching huge numbers of people calling for 'a corruption-free India' was that a majority of them would have had no qualms about paying a small bribe at a million places to get their things done. All of us have been in such situations where paying some 'speed money' helps to move things along and nobody bats an eyelid. In fact if you refuse, you will be ridiculed by those around you as being 'impractical'. Will such a culture change if a new law is introduced? I don't think so.

Changing such a culture will be beneficial but it entails a lot more time, effort and inconvenience than attending candle-light vigils. Small actions do have an impact. It remains to be seen how many will walk the talk. (I am in the rare position of being able to comment without having to act!)

PS: Writing about current affairs (granted I don't read much about it) is a dicey proposition for me. By the time I manage to dictate a few lines, the news would have changed. But I am reluctant to flush all the effort down the drain so I publish it anyway.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Three feeds per day

'War doesn’t determine who is right, it decides who is left', said Bertrand Russell. It is a nice quote no doubt but the problem is that it has nothing to do with the rest of this post. It seemed a shame to ignore the quote so I decided to put it here. Adds a bit of class to an otherwise ordinary post, don't you think? (I wonder what the half-life of 'think' is.)

Once while examining me, an Ayurvedic doctor asked about my feeding. He was informed that the hospital had provided a chart specifying the contents and quantity of liquid feeds to be given to me approximately every two hours beginning at about 6:30 a.m. The Ayurvedic doctor said that this procedure was wrong and that I should have just 3 meals a day like other people - breakfast, lunch and dinner. Accordingly my feeding timings were fixed at approximately 8 a.m., 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and the quantity of each feed was increased (I don't remember by how much).

Since I don't feel hungry, I did not feel any discomfort due to the long gap between feeds. I seemed as energetic as before so everyone thought that the new diet was fine. But after a couple of weeks visitors started saying that I was looking thinner than usual and that my bones seemed to be sticking out. The general consensus seemed to be that I was, like, disappearing. Bit by bit like the Cheshire Cat of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Soon people may have started saying that they have seen a person without a smile but never a smile without a person.

Folks at home did not wait that long. They decided to revert to the hospital mandated feed timings and quantity. In a few weeks, I seemed to be looking normal. I was of course unaware of all these changes, knowing about them only from the conversations of people around me.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thanks for the memories, Shammi

One of my favourite actors, Shammi Kapoor passed away a few days ago. I don't watch too many movies but I am a big fan of the songs of Rafi, Kishore, Mukesh, Lata and Asha - the Bollywood Fab Five. The Rafi-Shammi combination produced plenty of splendid songs. Here are a few of my favorite 'crazy Shammi' songs:
There are a zillion more songs (I am allowed a bit of exaggeration sometimes) but these will do for the moment. The songs will ensure that Shammi Kapoor lives on in memory.

He was the only Bollywood star I have seen in the flesh. Apparently he was a big computer buff. At an exhibition by Wipro Infotech, I saw a massive guy who looked familiar sitting in front of a computer. I asked some friends and confirmed my suspicion.

PS : Uh oh. How can I forget? I also once saw aamchi mulgi Madhuri Dixit.

Friday, August 12, 2011


In How the Mind Works, while discussing the importance of food, Steven Pinker quotes from Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior:
There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered: entertainment, food, and affection. It is customary to begin a series of dates with a great deal of entertainment, a moderate amount of food, and the merest suggestion of affection. As the amount of affection increases, the entertainment can be reduced proportionately. When the affection is the entertainment, we no longer call it dating. Under no circumstances can the food be omitted.
Food doesn't seem to be important for me. I have never felt hungry since my stroke. I am fed every two hours but even if the feeding is delayed, there is no problem. I have no idea what exactly has happened but I don't think it has anything to do with the bacteria.(Talking of bacteria, have you heard of the two bacteria that went to a bar?) It is as if the communication lines between my stomach and brain have been cut so my brain does not get any signals of hunger or satiety.

I remember one doctor saying in the hospital that since I was on a liquid diet I will feel hungry very quickly so my feedings should not be delayed. But exactly the opposite has happened. My feedings have at times been delayed by a few hours mainly because I was travelling but I did not feel hungry. I would have liked to go without food for a couple of days to see if I get any hunger pangs but nobody will agree to this proposal.

The time for such an experiment is probably over. For the past year or so, I have asked for feeding, sometimes before it is time but it has nothing to do with hunger. Many times, before it is time for feeding, my gastrostomy starts leaking and paining. The pain subsides only when the feeding is given. Sometimes the pain is there and sometimes it is not there. It is a bit of a mystery.

Aside: According to this TED talk, there is a second brain in our gut. How cool!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Absence of pressure to conform

Much madness is divinest Sense
To a discerning Eye
Much Sense- the starkest Madness
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail
Assent-and you are sane
Demur-you're straightway dangerous
And handled with a Chain

-Emily Dickinson

One major factor that strengthens religion is the pressure to conform. (The post at that link is in response to this interview.) Perhaps that is why Napoleon said, “Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet”. When you are among a group of believers, all of whom tend to think and act in similar ways, it is easier to go along with them than to rebel even if you feel that it is all weird. Going against the group is not easy. If you don't follow the crowd, you face questions like, 'What will the relatives say?'

In Bad Science, Ben Goldacre writes:
'Communal reinforcement' is the process by which a claim becomes a strong belief, through repeated assertion by members of a community. The process is independent of whether the claim has been properly researched, or is supported by empirical data significant enough to warrant belief by reasonable people.

Communal reinforcement goes a long way towards explaining how religious beliefs can be passed on in communities from generation to generation. It also explains how testimonials within communities of therapists, psychologists, celebrities, theologians, politicians, talk-show hosts, and so on, can supplant and become more powerful than scientific evidence.
One of the influencers of conformity to beliefs strengthened by communal reinforcement is group size:
One of the most important factors affecting whether or not people conform is the size of the group around them. Maximum conformity is seen when groups reach between 3 and 5 people.

Add more people and it makes little difference, less than 3, though, and conformity is substantially reduced.
I have a tendency to drift away rather unconsciously when I don't find the conversation gripping. Most people, even when they are not really interested in a conversation, will feel compelled to keep making some polite noises. This is not expected from me and most of the people will not be speaking directly to me. So no one will notice it if I am not all there. Thus even if I am in the midst of a lot of people, I can be thought of as being alone.

Such a situation is conducive to pondering over various subversive thoughts. As I became used to looking different from other people, I became more comfortable thinking differently from those around me.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


After my stroke, as expected, some people will come home saying they wanted to say a prayer for me. I usually sat quietly during these interludes (except for that one occasion). I just hoped they landed up when I was lying on the bed at which time I will be doing nothing more productive than watching T.V. I also hoped that they won't come when Tendulkar was nearing a century. This was because many of them wanted the T.V. switched off during their prayers. I don’t know about you but switching off the T.V. when Tendulkar is batting in the nineties is not the best strategy to get into my good books.

I am usually shifted back to the bed at around 9 p.m. Sometimes, at about 8.30 p.m. I will be racing through an article or the last chapter of a book hoping to complete it before I am shifted back to the bed. In 'Full Moon', P.G.Wodehouse writes:
It is a truism to say that the best-laid plans are often disarranged and sometimes even defeated by the occurrence of some small unforeseen hitch in the programme. The poet Burns, it will be remembered, specifically warns the public to budget for this possibility.
Not having taken into account the poet Burns' sound warning, I will be unprepared for the announcement that some well-meaning people have come to pray for me. My best-laid plans being thus upset by this unexpected interruption will not put me in a good mood. I will get irritated and think peevishly of telling them that it is all in the mind. When they troop into the room, I will give them a baleful glare. If looks could kill! But then I will feel a bit guilty because they were nice people who were only doing what seemed to them to be the best method to cure me. And hopefully it won't take too long. But my day was over.

In fact, this was the major problem in handling suggestions of a religious nature. If they had come from obnoxious people, it would have been easy to tell them to go jump. But they will generally come from nice people who sincerely believed in what they said. They wanted to help me in whatever way they could and would have been extremely glad if anything they said had helped me in any way. Some of them will be old people who would have played with me when I was a child and I would not want to hurt their feelings by brusquely dismissing their suggestions. In 'Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)', the author describes his dog:
To look at Montmorency you would imagine that he was an angel sent upon the earth, for some reason withheld from mankind, in the shape of a small fox-terrier. There is a sort of Oh-what-a-wicked-world-this-is-and-how-I-wish-I-could-do-something-to-make-it-better-and-nobler expression about Montmorency that has been known to bring the tears into the eyes of pious old ladies and gentlemen.
I know that Montmorency-look. It portends trouble. I get the same feeling of apprehension that Clarence, the ninth Earl of Emsworth used to get when his sister, Lady Constance Keeble ('Connie') used to pay him a visit.It was tricky for us (Jaya is mildly religious; I am the hell-bound one) to know how to handle such situations politely. (According to Ambrose Bierce in The Devil's Dictionary, POLITENESS, n. The most acceptable hypocrisy.)

I rely on the fact that most people who are not regular visitors will not be sure what I am trying to communicate. It was said that Humphry Appleby (of 'Yes Minister' fame) 'used language not as a window to the mind but as a curtain to be drawn across it'. My system of communication did a similar job of leaving most visitors flummoxed. That my expressions are more like that of Srinivasan than like that of Jagathy helped increase the perplexity of visitors. Jaya had the tougher task of deciding how to say 'no' in a way that sounded like 'yes'.

During prayers, some become very emotional and teary eyed while repeating certain names or verses which I find curious. The power of metaphors and symbols cannot be underestimated. I heard of a woman who spent the whole day praying in a room, coming out only for her meals because someone in her house was gravely ill. I would be appalled if Jaya got such a brainwave and started leading an eremitic existence.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Before my stroke, I could have been classified as an 'indifferentist'. (I still am in many ways. I am just more aware of the deleterious effects of organised religion and the often subtle coercive actions it inspires.) I don't remember feeling the urge to go to a temple on my own but I had no problem accompanying relatives or friends to a temple, church or mosque if they wanted to go to one. While there I would do what I saw other people doing so that I didn't stick out like a sore thumb. But I was more likely to admire the architecture or wonder how those intricate carvings were made. ('Like Michelangelo carving David by chipping away all the bits that did not look like David' as I once heard V.S.Ramachandran say in a podcast.)

Like many people, I enjoyed the social aspects of religion, the meeting opportunities it provides, without bothering about scriptures. The rituals were preliminaries that I had to sit through before I got some good things to eat. I could never bellyfeel them as believers so obviously did. The fun element disappeared after my stroke. Now religious functions were occasions for imploring various gods to perform miracles. I gradually grew tired of sitting like a trussed chicken and listening quietly to the jeremiads and the false promises of cults (not the Cult of Apple). It was all too solemn and maudlin. As Wole Soyinka says:
“One of the things about religion and deities is that many of these Gods have a marvellous sense of humour. This entire creation is a piece of humour; the absurdity of human existence strikes me as a big joke. The deities without humour are the dangerous ones. Deities that represent the solemn, the profound, the grave can sometimes dangerously exaggerate one of these elements, which makes for a lack of balance, of letting the negative take over the positive. It is the fundamentalists who lack a sense of humour and are dangerous. It's important to see the comic side of existence to be able to recognise the profundity of human life.”
There was an incident that happened soon after Jaya and I got married that illustrated my indifference towards religion. While visiting some of her relatives, one of her cousins pointed to a building and said that when 'amma' had come there, the queue had stretched to a couple of adjacent streets. 'Amma'in Malayalam means 'mother' and I thought he was talking about his mother. I knew that his mother had passed away some time back but I knew nothing else about her and I wondered why she had been so famous. I did not ask any questions then, thinking that I will find out about her over the the next few days.

I found out that that he was referring to a religious leader who seemed to have a large following. My in-laws would have been shocked if they had learned that I had no idea who 'amma' was. I am sure someone would have mentioned something about her at sometime but the name never registered. I tend to switch off when matters of religion are being discussed.

Even now I read blog posts and articles concerning religion which I can complete in 10-15 min. Anything longer and I tend to get bored and start thinking of switching to reading about the photosynthetic slug or the the vegetarian spider. (I can listen to a podcast for a longer time. This is because, especially in the afternoon, it leaves the nurse free to do any work or sleep for a while without being disturbed by me for a while.) My main interest in reading these articles and listening to to the podcasts is to get a better idea about two questions:
  1. The puzzle of there being many smart people who are skeptical of god and religion while there are many other smart people who accept it wholeheartedly. This person has a similar interest although he seems to spend much more time on it than me.
  2. Religions tend to have men in positions of power and it devises various methods to subjugate women but women seem to be more religious than men. Why is it so?
I have not read any books that have to do mainly with religion. I don't think I will be able to devote so much time and effort to a topic that doesn't figure high on my list of priorities. When I see sentences like “Things known are in the knower according to the mode of the knower”, my eyes glaze over. So it can be said that I don't know much about the scriptures or the sophisticated arguments for religion. I think most believers don't either. In my experience, the belief model rather than the orientation model is prevalent to a greater extent. I have never been in a discussion where people were talking about the religious views of Einstein.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The straw that broke the camel's back

In 'The Code of the Woosters', Bertie Wooster says:
A thing I never know, when I'm starting out to tell a story about a chap I've told a story about before, is how much explanation to bung in at the outset. It's a problem you've got to look at from every angle. I mean to say, in the present case, if I take it for granted that my public knows all about Gussie Fink-Nottle and just breeze ahead, those publicans who weren't hanging on my lips the first time are apt to be fogged, Whereas if before kicking off I give about eight volumes of the man's life and history, other bimbos who were so hanging will stifle yawns and murmur 'Old stuff. Get on with it.'

I suppose the only thing to do is to put the salient facts as briefly as possible in the possession of the first gang, waving an apologetic hand at the second gang the while, to indicate that they had better let their attention wander for a minute or two and that I will be with them shortly.
The advantage of a blog is that I can avoid such dilemmas by just giving the appropriate link. Remember the 'Real God' guy? Gosh, you have an amazing memory! I had to read the whole post before it all came back to me.

When the guy saw that I will not agree to the Chennai trip, he suggested later that we perform some prayers at some place they had nearby. I did not object to this since it did not involve any expenses and my presence was not required. So my mother, mother-in-law, sister and Jaya went there for a few days and prayed. One day a woman from the cult asked Jaya if she could see any improvement in me to which she replied in the negative. The woman's reply was predictable, 'You didn't pray hard enough.' She then implied that Jaya was not taking me to Chennai because she did not want me to get cured.

When I was told about this I was annoyed and forbade any further contact with the group. Although the remark was not entirely unexpected, it did not diminish my anger. I could
picture the hauteur with which the woman delivered her verdict, her face suffused with the unctuous self-righteousness and pious certainty that many cult members seem to pocess. (Julia Sweeney gives an account of one such meeting in this TED talk.) Some people think that they can say and and do anything they want if some god is on their side irrespective of the sensitivity and state of mind of the other person.

Some of the cult members came home a couple of times and once wanted to say a prayer for me if I had no objection. I objected so they left. By Zeus, I was not going to listen to their mumbo-jumbo. I think God will forgive me for that one. There is an old joke:
Priest: "Son, do you believe in God?"
Boy : "Father, not when I look at you."
If the Ichneumonidae is often cited as having caused Darwin's loss of faith, it was this incident which made me read a bit more about organised religion. I had been getting irritated by unending suggestions of various rituals which we had to perform. 'Respect creep' was something I started thinking about only after my stroke. As is often the case,only when you experience something do you think about it. This incident was the final straw.

I started reading some articles and listening to some debates on the issue. Debates rarely convince the opposite sides of each other's point of view. The value of debates is that they expose listeners to opinions that they would otherwise not hear since they would be listening to the same bromides being parroted by the members of their in-group which promote in-group fraternity and out-group hostility. Of course it helped that I had not been indoctrinated to any great extent during my formative years. So I did not bristle when I heard statements that did not comport with received wisdom.

I found that a society without god is not exactly dysfunctional. I read about theodicy. I read about why Bhagat Singh became an atheist. I learned that the brain can play strange tricks. (See this talk by V.S.Ramachandran and the discussion that follows. His talk begins at 38:50. I didn't understand anything in the talk before that.) An American Unitarian minister explains what happens in the minds of believers:
That which really belongs to the mind of the reader is attributed to that of the writer. The natural and simple meaning of the words is set aside. Forced interpretations are put upon passages for the purpose of compelling them to harmonize with that which it is supposed they ought to mean. Statements, doctrines, and allusions are discovered in the books which not only have no existence in their pages, but which are absolutely foreign to the epoch at which they were written.
What it all pointed to was what Delos McKown said, “The invisible and the nonexistent look very much alike.” I had never thought about these things. Religion was like a fog all around me that I wasn't too keen on. I was content to go through the motions as expected and leave it at that. I also realised that I would not have read and thought about these things if I had still been busy selling widgets and sitting late in office trying to look busy because the boss would be around. I just wouldn't have had the time. In other words, there would always have been pressure on me to continue to be an exemplary sausage.

You say and do many things not because you have given them much thought but because they play well with people around you. (For example, Miss Indias say that their role model is Mother Teresa.) But as you learn and undergo more experiences,you tend to keep revising your opinions about many issues. If somebody tells you that he hasn't changed his opinions on many issues for decades, he is admitting that his brain has atrophied.As someone said, if you are not idealistic in your twenties you have no heart, if you are idealistic in your forties you have no brain.

I grew fascinated by the concept of shifting the Overton Window. Or, to put it in technical terms, of treating the constraints as endogenous variables.

Note: Most of the links in this post are dated well after the incident which must have happened around six years ago. At that time I was not thinking of writing a blog so I now searched for links that I thought had the kind of information that I remember reading at the time and continue reading off and on.