Tuesday, October 31, 2006


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I had the chance to watch "Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater" on HBO, and I have to say it was an eye-opener. Before this, I only knew Barry Goldwater as Lyndon Johnson's opponent in the 1964 election. There are election adversaries and there are election adversaries, and most would be forgotten. In fact, Barry Goldwater would live in the election's shadow because he lost in that election by the greatest margin in American history. But when you look at his life, you realise that his losing in that election was both the least and most important event in his career. Least important because there were so many more remarkable facets to the man, and most important because the 1964 election was one of the decisive elections in twentieth century American history; Johnson won, and soon mired the country in Vietnam. If not for any other reason, Goldwater should stand out from other election adversaries because the history of his country might have been quite different had he been elected president.

Barry Goldwater was remarkable because even though he is credited with the resurgunce of the conservative politics movement in America, as early as 1963, the man himself predicted that history would look on him as a liberal. He was a conservative in fact, and redefined the word in a way that would not be familiar to most of his successors today. If being a conservative meant standing up staunchly for everything that your constitution defined, most importantly including individual freedom, then Barry Goldwater may have been one of the last conservatives in the country. Here was a man who spoke his mind and fiercely supported libertarian values, no matter what political category his outspoken comments and his opponents would classify him. Here was a man who supported gay marriage, who supported abortion, who supported every kind of individual choice, and more importantly, who had the guts to admit that he had been wrong earlier in denouncing these freedoms. I really thought that he should put the conservatives of today to shame, and he would, if only they had a soul.

Goldwater came from Arizona, and in the words of a later senator, was Arizona. He would travel alone all over the state in his cowboy boots and hat, and had an uncanny knack for flying every kind of plane. He was an amateur radio operator, and amusingly had a serious interest in UFOs. He was an expert photographer, and was one of the few people who the native Indians of the land allowed to visit and photograph. He was a US senator for all of his adult life, and when he retired, was a grand old man of politics who was respected so much, that not even conservatives would dare to speak against him. He campaigned hard for the 1964 election. He was wrong about nuclear weapons though, when he said that "in a few years, they too would be called 'conventional weapons' ".

His conservative policies and recommendations were roundly criticised, and Johnson's team engaged in a spirited campaign against him. To malign him and his party, an advertisement was produced by them showing a little girl holding a flower with a nuclear countdown going off behind her. This, they said, was the kind of world which Barry Goldwater was dangerously espousing. The ad went too far, and Goldwater threatened to sue Johnson unless it was removed, which it was.

Goldwater lost the election by a landslide margin, and one wonders what America would have been had he won. But he never lost heart or spirit, and continued to be the most respected republican senator in the country. His writings and speeches influenced many later politicians, including John McCain, and Hillary and Bill Clinton. It is a testament to his honesty that all his life, he was held in high regard by republicans and democrats, conservatives and liberals.

First and foremost, Goldwater was for protecting national sovereignity and individual rights. First came rights, then came party affiliations. It would have been wonderful if that definition of 'conservative' had endured. But when Reagan swept in with the predecessors of Bush's neo-cons, Goldwater predictably clashed with their anti-abortion and anti-gay rights agenda. Pithily and presciently he said, "The religious right scares the hell out of me". His own grandson turned out to be gay, and he wholeheartedly supported his induction into the army, and admitted that he had been wrong in opposing the inclusion of gay people in the armed forces earlier. As the religious right and the new republicans marched on, Goldwater became estranged from them; yet his stature was such, that he continued to command their respect. It is interesting how many modern day conservative republicans want to stifle their republic for abstract ideals about the republic itself. For Goldwater, being conservative was about obeying the dictates of the constitution. He was ready to fight, march on, but also withdraw and honestly apologize, if that was a necessay condition for defining conservative and upholding the constituion. His definition was a fine definition indeed.

Goldwater naturally would have been sad to see the decadent nature of republicans agendas since then. But he would have been even sadder to see how the country is being divided over political affiliations. He would have thought it the greatest tragedy that being conservative no longer has much to do with either defending the rights on which America was based, nor on defending America herself. He was correct; the religious right should scare the hell out of any proud American. Unfortunately, it does not, and that's more the reason for another Goldwater to take charge of the republican party, and scold them and again guide them onto the right path. But that's the problem; Barry Goldwater was brutally honest, and today, dishonesty is a required virtue in politics. Goldwater was also a true American patriot, at a time when the word had not yet been subsumed in the The Patriot Act and so was still innocent. For him, love of country reigned supreme, above conservatives and liberals. And yet, he may have been the last true respectable conservative.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


I have been reading George Olah's 'Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy' and even without having gotten to the part about the methanol economy, I can heartily recommend the book. At first sight, the book looks technical, but it is actually extremely accessible to the layman. Olah is a Nobel prize winner in chemistry who I was lucky to meet this year in March, and is articulate in a simple and succint manner. The first half of the book is an extremely lucid and comprehensive account of the history, geopolitics, technology and future, of oil, natural gas, and coal, and also discusses the hydrogen economy and alternative fuel sources including atomic energy. The book is very much worth reading and buying for this half alone. All three of these commodities have become the Big Brothers of our lives, seemingly munificent, indispensable, and revolutionary. Yet all three, and especially oil, have made us utterly dependent on them in morbid manner. This is true in the many obvious ways in which we use oil in transportation and electricity and heating, but also in the not so obvious and yet ubiquitous ways in which oil based products are the basis of every part of modern life; from plastics to pharmaceuticals. Our dependence on them is appalling indeed, as demonstrated in the book.

These three commodities are like some of the thieves in movie scenes; the moment the thieves run in some direction where they think that have a safe haven, some insurmountable obstacle materializes. And so it is for fossil fuels. Whatever optimistic estimates and facts we discover about them are almost immediately thwarted by serious problems. Oil is convenient for transportation, is in large reserves, and is the most versatile fossil fuel. Yet, it is riddled by exponentially increasing demand and production costs, locations in regions of political instability, and most importantly, environmental problems. Wars and political regimes are made and broken over oil, and leaders will go to any lengths to disguise their aspirations for oil and the actions resulting from them. Non-conventional sources of oil need much energy input from natural gas, and again contribute to environmental CO2 levels. This last problem is gigantic for coal. Natural gas has momentous transportation and safety problems. So does the much touted Hydrogen Economy of Bush. Ethanol from corn seemingly needs more energy from fossil fuels than it actually saves and produces, and may not be worth it. The bottom line is, any fossil fuel source and many non-conventional energy sources that we can consider have such intractable problems that we cannot think of depending upon them for eternity or even in the comfortable future. Put the rhetoric aside and focus on the facts. Any decision about energy has already been made very difficult because of our aspiration to a high standard of living, our reluctance to give up creature comforts, and because of political lobbying which traps decisions in a cycle of profit and oneupmanship, and the last thing we need is trendy slogans about unlikely energy sources.

It does not matter what the reserves are; after all, predictions about oil reserves have always turned out to be underestimates and false alarms until now. But current predictions seem more true, and in the end, what will be the last straw would be the simple dominance of demand over supply. It would not matter if we have reserves then, but the production costs and the resulting oil price due to demand will be so high, that they would lead to a virtual breakdown in social infrastructure. If oil prices become 150$ a barrel, nobody would care how much proven reserves we have. And it is likely that it will happen very soon, with much of the developing world aspiring to US living room and SUV standards of existence. What's important is that because of our utter dependence on it, such a situation will entail a fundamental shift in our standard of living, especially in the US, and we simply lack the social and mental capacity to make this shift overnight.

I haven't gotten to the part about methanol yet, so I will refrain from commenting on it until later, but what is clear is that oil and fossil fuels have to go, in some way or the other. I have said it before and I say it again, that nuclear energy is the cheapest, safest, and most efficient energy source that we can use in the near future. What to do about terrorists hitting a nuclear power plant is a complex problem, but surely Bush can take care of that, with all the extreme measures he takes for enforcing national security.

In any case, it is eminently worth taking a look at 'Beyond Oil and Gas' if you get a chance.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Last night, there was an interesting program on CNN about illegal immigration, 'Immigrant Nation'. The program mostly showcased how ludicrous the whole illegal immigration situation has become. Or at least that's what I got from it. No doubt that the problems are serious, but I think this is a typical instance of someone creating problems and then pondering how to solve them. America allowed illegal immigrants to come in, America encouraged them to stay by giving them jobs, and now America thinks they are a problem at a time when they have become indispensable to the economy. Interspersed with stories of illegal immigrants (who by the way, have no problem announcing with audacity that they are illegal) who are struggling to get their children across the border, was the story of a Georgia resident who is so outraged by all these immigrants around him that he has started a one man crusade against them. He wanders about and whenever he sees them loitering around (and there are many such places in Atlanta as I can certify), he asks them if they have proper documentation, then calls the police and INS officials to come pick them up, and then usually gets a nice rebuttal from them saying that they cannot do it. Their reasons are valid too; no space in jails, and higher priorities than patrolling streets for illegal immigrants. As one official said, apart from being illegal, these immigrants don't (usually) cause trouble and are helping the economy in considerable measure. So should the INS go after them, or spend time more fruitfully looking for terrorists who are trying to get in?

The whole thing is a sham, and certainly a slap on the face for many in the US administration. Even those who oppose illegal immigration have such people working for them, because there is no way Americans will work for such low wages. To the lone patriotic crusader, I say this; if you are so concerned about 'importing poverty' (something which I did not really understand by the way), then spend your time finding Americans who will work for 5$ an hour for the rest of their lives. It's a free market, and if you want to really change it, you will have to introduce working conditions and personnel who are competitive with the current going rate. And also, if you really want to get rid of them, be prepared to have your corporations suffer major setbacks because of loss of labour. It's all economics. The moral indignation of the Georgian also seems to be not universal; many business owners who were interviewed said they already knew that many of their employees were illegal, but said they did not care as long as they worked hard and cheap. That fellow Adam Smith was right.

I personally think that complicated as the issue is, the best possible 'solution' although certainly not the best one, is to make the border more secure at all and any costs. In any case, it has always been an urgent need to prevent drug smugglers and terrorists from getting in, a need whose solution has long and dangerously been defered. I know that the border stretches on for as far as the eye can see, but securing it and nipping the problem in the bud can be the only possible solution, not because it will be perfect, but because it will preempt many of the problems that can arise once illegal immigrants get in. One they do get in, many American humanitarian laws will encourage them to stay doggedly. As the head of border security for the US said for example, what do you do about the two small children of a illegal immigrant couple, who are US citizens? The allure for illegal immigration is evident. That's why I think that sealing the border to illegal immigration is possibly the only thing that can be done. As I write this, Bush has signed 700 miles of border fencing on the Mexican border, and Mexican premier Fox likening it to the Berlin Wall is silly to say the least. What to do with the people who are already in is a different and much more difficult question; a federal program that can tax them without making them legal residents may help to some extent. Otherwise, let them stay on. After all, in two or three generations, nobody would care if their grandparents were here illegally or not. Why else would one of them become the Attorney General of the US?

The other interesting thing is how this whole issue is not just about the US and illegal immigrants, but the univeral dilemma about the rift between the haves and have-nots. What better way to highlight this rift than to have two countries abutting each other, one the most affluent nation in the world, and the other close to a third world country. As long as the US is the US and Latin America is Latin America, illegal immigrants will keep on trying to get in at any cost. How do you stop the have-nots from aspiring to the haves? That's a question that goes much beyond Mexico and America and illegal immigration. And blog posts.


Echoing Ian Malcolm,
"God creates pelicans, god creates fishes, god creates man, god creates pigeons. Man eats fishes, pelican eats pigeons, pelican eats man?"
Horrifying and morbid.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Big question, but here's an effort at short speculation, since an 'answer' would be complicated indeed. But this really comes to me after watching an interview with Richard Dawkins whose new book provocatively titled The God Delusion I am dying to read. In the interview, Dawkins does a rehash of many of the points he has often made about why religion is bad, but that does not make them lose their glitter.

Dawkins's opposition is really not just to religion as such, but to blind faith. Such faith and dogma were also part of totalitarian leaders' regimes, and it should be emphasized as he does, that their brutality did not necessarily have anything to do with their being atheists. Of course, in the past, religious fundamentalism and dogma has led to untold brutality; however, it would be a controversial statement to say that religion necessarily and always leads to evil and cruelty. At the same time, the current breed of religiously motivated Jihadis reinforces the evil which religion can engender. One may argue that these terrorists have twisted the principles of religion for their own means, but the fact remains that the ultimate source of their motivation is blind religious faith of some kind.

But history and such episodes raises an important question which is the title of the post. After all, it does seem true that millions of people ascribe their 'good' behaviour to their religious faith. But there are two important points here; first of all, the principles that they subscribe to which make them good do not do so because they are religious principles. Many of the principles in the Bible or the Quran or the Gita can be judged to be quite reasonable for a peaceful existence, quite irrespective of whether Jesus or Mohammad uttered them. The principle which I find the most tenable from this perspective is 'Do unto others as you have have them do unto you', a very commonsense adage whose versions can be found in every religious text. The second point is that just because some principles from religious texts make sense, does not mean that all of them do. So when someone says that they are good because they follow Jesus's teachings, don't they mean that they are good because they follow the moral principles of a man who was unusually virtuous, and call them religious principles? The 'Do unto others...' principles is such a commonsense principle to follow (unless you are a sadist) that it does not need to be tied to faith in order to be believed. The reason is clear; if you don't follow it, there will be evidence to show that you suffer. After all, what is called moral philosophy also teaches very similar principles as are enunciated in religious texts. Most of these principles can be followed for logical reasons.

So the tenet that millions look to religion in order to be good is in my (and Dawkins's) opinion something of a facade. The good behaviour has to do with the principles themselves. The real reason why it appears to do with the source is that most of us who believe those principles have been brought up in a culture, at home and outside, where consciously or unconsciously, we have been taught to believe in them because Jesus or Mohammad or Krishna said so. The reason for this in turn is our common human weaknesses; we find it hard to imbibe new principles until they appear as dogmas, as sacred lines which must not be transgressed. This may work for indoctrination of those principles in our mind, but the unfortunate and devastating side effect of that is that we start regarding them as dogma, in spite of the fact that some of them must be logical! So why not teach them to us as logical principles from the start, thereby freed from their religious connections?

One of the more provocative points that Dawkins has repeatedly made, is about the religious indoctrination of children, which he regards almost as some kind of child abuse. He thinks it is despicable to call a five year old child a Catholic child or a Muslim child, in as much as it is wrong to call a child a 'Keynsian' child, because the child has not yet developed abilities to analyse his moniker. This issue is more controversial and leads to bringing up children. The big question that all parents ask is; how do I inculcate moral values in my child? The answer almost always has to do with the religion of the parents. The bigger question is; can we inculcate moral values in children without alluding to religious reasons? I believe that we can, but it would not be easy. The problem, as we are all aware, is that children rarely bend to the dictates of logic. Sometimes, they have to be forcefully told to do something. What better source of force than religion? Tell your child that if he does not behave, God will punish him, or that he will consign him to the cauldrons of hell. Maybe it's not always that extreme, but as a child growing up in a marginally religious household, I can ascertain that the whole issue of God doing something if I did not do certain things came up not infrequently, as it does in many households. Maybe it does in a trivial non-indoctrination kind of manner, but it does, and then it is not surprising that the whole concept of God doing something if we don't do something becomes unconsciously ingrained in our minds. In my case fortunately, my parents always stressed reason above religion, so my test case is not really the ideal one to demonstrate this point. But there will be several others.

Is this good? Or more importantly, how can we inculcate moral values in our children without alluding to religion? For one thing, I definitely think that parents can talk about the consequences of the behaviour of the child without involving God or hell or Satan. The 'Do unto others...' adage makes the consequences of not obeying it quite clear in a self evident way. Many of the negative consequences of some of the other sins elucidated in religion, such as stealing, killing, or adultery are quite clear even without a religious basis. I understand that it may be much more difficult to bring up a child this way; it would need much more patience to make him understand his actions. But here as in other parts of our lives, we use religion because it provides a quick and convenient answer, an imaginary force that can reward or punish. At first glance, there seems nothing wrong in threatening a child once in a while with godly consequences if he does not behave. However, the unfortunate result of such an upbringing is that the child may learn to take many more things based only on faith as they are. So if parents really want to inculcate moral values based on religion in their children, they will, at the same time, have to do the unlikely balancing act of teaching the child to think for himself. But how can two such diametrically opposed modes of indoctrination, one based on faith and the other based on thinking, work? It is a complicated situation, but my point is really not to say that a moral upbringing not based on religion will work splendidly or that it will be better, but only that one based on religion may cause much more damage by allowing the child to conveniently indulge in faith. And as noted before, most of the moral principles which people follow can be taught as being independent of religion, at least to adults. So perhaps the best possible way, although not perfect, would be to use the God device sometimes, and then, as the child grows up, teach him to think for himself, and encourage him if he challenges the existence of god. As I said, I don't know whether such an appraoch will work, but I am willing to place my bets on an upbringing not based on religion. If anything, it could not be worse than one based on religion, and probably better. And in any case, who thought parenting was easy?

In the end, religion in sundry and big ways is so widely entrenched in our modern way of life, that unconsciously, morality seems to be intricately tied up with it. But many of the parables in the Bible and other texts can be followed ironically independent of their source. I have no doubt that Jesus, if he existed, was a great and wise man, but that does not need him to be the son of god.

The real problem is that most of us feel an emotional burden in discarding religion, because it is connected to our childhood, the times that we spent together with relatives, and with our happy festivals. When I say today that I don't believe in god, I don't feel entirely comfortable, not because somewhere I believe in him/her, but because the whole concept of god has been connected in some way or other with my secure childhood, the home which I grew in, and the family and friends who made my life pleasant and secure. Not the religious but the emotional attachment that I have with all these things makes it harder for me to say that I don't believe in god. I fear that I will offend those close to me by saying it, and I fear that the thread that connects me to my childhood will be broken if I say it. But that only shows how religion and god have dissolved the boundaries between themselves and emotion and culture. If I say that my emotional connection is not to god, but to the family atmosphere that prevailed in the festival that was celebrated to worship him, then isn't god nothing more than a pedagogical device, simply providing the means to the end? If that's the case, then the ties that bind me to my family, childhood, and friends, are really the ends, much more concrete and stronger than the god who was the guiding thread. And if that is so, then I should not fear that I will lose my connection to all the things above, by saying that I am an atheist (or more scientifically, an agnostic). It is somewhat of a bitter pill to swallow, but I have nothing to lose if I do it. And I believe, so don't most of my friends.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


I would like to think that most in the US administration are upset with N Korea's nuclear test mainly because they see it as another instance of the world defying their cherished monopoly and authority on one matter or the other, not so much because it poses a real threat. What do you expect when one country still has thousands of functional warheads, and strenuously tries to keep other nations from developing a weapons program, all the while having a sinking general image in the world? I am not saying that N Korea did a good thing by doing a test, and I detest their totalitarian regime as much as anyone else, but such things really are inevitable with the current scenario. I would not be surprised if Iran does the same thing tomorrow. Building a crude nuclear weapon is not very difficult now; on the other hand, it does take a lot of testing to fine tune its yield and efficiency, not to mention deliverability. So we should not fear N Korea's nuclear test and think that means that a nuclear attack by N Koreans on US or any other soil is imminent. The US, thanks to many decades of cold war testing and development, still has a nuclear arsenal that is second to none in quality and number. No country would still dare to attack the US with nuclear weapons. However, unless the US takes a conciliatory stance in many of its foreign policy matters, I don't see how nation such as N Korea and Iran can not go ahead with at least preliminary weapons development.

Reports about the exact yield of the bomb are still not certain I believe. Estimates ranged from a yield of 500 tons (which is lousy) to about 15 kilotons (respectable but one which has long since been spectacularly surpassed). The real threat, if any, comes from the existence of multiple reentry vehicles and ballistic missiles equipped to carry thermonuclear warheads, and that threat does not exist with either N Korea or with Iran (It might exist with China on the other hand- again, what does it actually mean?).

What the US really could realistically fear and pay attention to, as Graham Allison says in his book Nuclear Terrorism, is a terrorist attack on its soil with a dirty bomb. Statesmen, even totalitarian ones like Kim, are rational to a large extent, as far as the continuity of their regime is concerned. Jihadis wearing red bandanas are always a different kettle of fish. It's those fish which the US and other nations should try to keep at bay, and capture.

As for N Korea, now with even China galled over its ally's behaviour, I don't know how long it can keep going in the face of possible economic collapse. But then again, look at Cuba...

Monday, October 09, 2006


I am looking forward to reading Lee Smolin's new and hot 'The Trouble with Physics' in which he lambasts string theory as a science that is being pursued for the sake of elegance and beauty instead of agreement with experiment, which is the bedrock of the scientific method. Well, it's probably wrong to say that theoretical physicists are avoiding predictions that agree with experiments. What Smolin seems to think is that there have been very few experimental predictions made by the theory, which have not even been verified, and so the main justification for pursuing the theory seems to be mathematical elegance. Also, the predictions that do have been made seem to be verifiable only at very high energies, not achievable in the near future. A physicist friend of mine tells me that the option for this is to look back to the early universe and have 'observational' instead of 'experimental' evidence for the predictions of string theory, something like what they did for the Big Bang which won a Nobel this year.

That is why chemistry appeals to me more, although I find physics very interesting too. In chemistry, theory has to be necessarily much closer to experiment. That's why Woodward chose chemistry over mathematics I believe.

Anyway, more after I actually read the book.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The outskirts of Pune look like the hills of Pakistan? Since when? I hope that Angelina Jolie has fun shopping in Tulshi Baag at least. And while she is at it, it would be folly to miss Janaseva's 'Kharwas'.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


This year's chemistry Nobel again raises the question about the nature of chemistry as a central science. An article by Philip Ball in Nature a few months ago, tried to explore whether there are any great questions in pure chemistry, that are exclusively chemical questions. On the side, I must say that Ball has been doing a truly admirable job of popularizing chemistry over the years.

In my opinion, the problem is that the nature of chemistry by definition is both a blessing and a curse for our science. That's because chemistry is all about understanding molecules, and in our lives, it's molecules that are involved in all the real and good stuff, including biology, medicine, and engineering. So what happens is that a chemist may develop a drug, but then a doctor uses it to cure a disease. The credit thus goes mainly to the doctor. Similarly, a chemist discovers a lubricant, but then engineers use it to revolutionize the automobile industry. There goes the credit to the engineers. Therefore, the problem is not really with recognising chemistry, but with recognizing chemists. The problem with recognizing chemistry is of a different nature though; chemistry is so ubiquitous that most people take it for granted. Also, because most people's perception of chemistry is on a practical basis, for them chemistry is more synonymous with industry and manufacturing than with basic scientific research. As noted above, when it comes to basic research, for the general public, chemistry seems to mostly manifest itself through medicine and engineering, which are the actual faces of the product.

In my opinion, there is one question out of all the ones that Ball cites which is both inherently chemical as well as all-pervading, and that is self-assembly, in the broadest sense possible (so that question also ends up encompassing some of his other questions, such as the origin of life). I also think that this problem largely captures the unique nature of chemistry. Self-assembly needs an understanding of forces between molecules that is is a hodgepodge of qualitative and quantitative comprehension. A physics based approach might turn out to be too quantitative, a biology based approach would be too qualitative. Understanding the physics of hydrogen bonds for example would help but would not be enough for understanding their role in self-assembly. It's only such understanding coupled with considerable empirical knowledge of hydrogen bonding in real systems that will serve as a true guide. It's only chemists who can bring the right amount of quantitative analyses and empirical data to bear on such problems. Of course, that does not mean others cannot do this if they tried. But then, anyone can do almost anything if he tries hard enough; that hardly discounts the value of specific expertise.

The main feature of chemistry in my opinion is this fine balance between analytical or mathematical thinking based on first principles, and empirical thinking based on real life data and experiments. This approach makes the science unique I think, and Linus Pauling was probably the exemplary example of someone who embodied this approach in the right proportion. The practical feature of chemistry that makes it unique of course is that chemists create new stuff, but without this kind of understanding, that would not be possible on a grand scale.


So there we are, with all the science Nobels declared. Much speculation and prediction went on about the chemistry prize, on my blog as well as others, here, here, and most comprehensively here. Paul Bracher at Harvard stayed up the whole night keeping track of the proceedings online, and not without reason: his boss George Whitesides has been slotted to win the prize for some time now, and Harvard also has not recieved a prize since 1990. In all, in the posts and comments section, there were about 50 or so names advanced as predictions. Two of these, Andrew Fire and Craig Mello did get the prize, for medicine. In the end, the chemistry prize was scooped up by Roger Kornberg who was on nobody's list, the son of Nobel laureate Arthur Kornberg who won it in 1959, both from Stanford. Both the chemistry and medicine nobels this year have been awarded to molecular biology, and both to RNA in some way or the other. We can safely say now that RNA has become at least as important as DNA.

The physics prize was won for discoveries regarding the Big Bang, and the work of this year's laureates all but 'proves' the Big Bang. This discovery is a follow up on the famous discovery by Penzias and Wilson of the microwave background of the Bang, for which they were felicited in 1978.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


In yet another horrific incident, a gunman marches into an Amish school and kills three little girls execution style before turning the gun on himself. Two other girls have died in the hospital, and two others are critical. This comes less than a week after an armed man killed a 16 year old girl in Colorado (the same state where Columbine happened).

There are people on the BBC news site (among others) who claim that given the mental state of the killer in this incident, no gun control laws could have prevented this violence. Aren't these people completely missing the point? To me, they sound like the naysayers who say that you cannot pin down a particular hurricane as being caused due to global warming. But that's not the point. In the first place, maybe you can and maybe you can't. Secondly, one is 'only' talking about the average increase in violent and unpredictable weather events because of global warming, which is well-established. Likewise, gun control has to do with the average tendency of people to walk into schools and open fire on children.

I personally believe that the US should implement gun control laws right away and see what happens. If anything, how could it make matters worse? I also think that easy access to guns definitely has to do with an increased probability of using them, at least on the basis of human nature. How many people who contemplated suicide would have actually done it had they had quick and easy access to things they could kill themselves with? Quite a few in my opinion, who did not. Of course, those who had really went over the top did it anyway using whatever they could. But there would definitely have been a reasonable proportion of those who were close to the top but not over it yet, who did not do it in the throes of impulsiveness, and then calmed down because of sheer passage of time before abandoning such an idea.

Obviously, even a demented would-be killer would have a harder time carrying out his act if he actually found it difficult to lay his hands on a weapon. Several changes can happen in the sheer amount of time that he would need to find such high-tech guns: he might change his mind because he actually thinks about what he is going to do, he might think clearly about the consequences and get dissuaded because of the legal action and death he may face, or he may get deterred by the sheer inability to do what he wants to. Any one of these possibilities might occur simply because of the passage of time. As they say, time can heal many things.

But the US government, by making access to weapons so easy, is not giving time a chance to do its job and calm or change troubled minds, and is giving instant vent to disturbed and impulsive psyches. It's quite clear that there is almost no legitimate reason for not implementing the laws, except as always, the political interests and propaganda of lobbyists who work for the economic interests of gun manufacturers.