Friday, March 30, 2007


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The bald, wiry man walks fast and erect. His alert eyes dart around, sensitive to the slightest movement. His gray jacket and trousers almost perfectly blend in with the dull, gray gloominess of the environment around him. He is Captain Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, an official working for the Stasi, the ubiquitous communist presence in East Germany, the classic eavesdropping Big Brother of a dark age. The Stasi was perhaps the most effective political organisation that ever infiltrated the affairs of common citizens; at one point, there was one active Stasi officer for every fifty citizens, more than at any other time and under any other regime. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, thousands of East German citizens were devastated to find out that their friends, brothers, spouses, and teachers had been eavesdropping on them on behalf of the Stasi. The real life actor who plays Wiesler, Ulrich Muhe, was one of them.

Wiesler is a reconnaisance and interrogation officer for the Stasi. He has one job; to spy and eavesdrop on suspected subversives, people who are defined as subversives by the Stasi essentially on their whims. He taps their phones, wires their apartments when they are out, and casually bullies neighbours into not uttering a word about these activites if they come to notice. And he is absolutely stunning at his job, he is professionalism exemplified. He cares nothing about sitting at a desk, headphones strapped to his ear, twelve hours a day in a shoddy and claustrophobic room, listening to and noting down each and every conversation of ordinary citizens, including their most intimate ones.

This nondescript, dull and lonely Stasi officer, is nonetheless the hero of The Lives of Others, which won the Oscar award for best foreign film. The movie reminded me starkly of what it is that many of our Bollywood productions lack; that key quality of understatement that is many times more effective than any degree of overstatement. The Lives of Others is a good testament to this quality. One does not need to evoke melodrama, if the situation is so riveting or depressing so as to be the epitome of melodrama. The political and social situation in East Germany in 1984, to say the least, was just like that.

Wiesler's job is to spy on a free-thinking East German writer and playwright, loved by the people but mistrusted by some members in the upper echelon of the political establishment. The writer lives with his girlfriend, who often plays the lead role in his plays. Beneath her happy personal life with the writer, she is living a life of hell; she has become so used to politicians asking her for sexual favours in return for her and her boyfriend's safety, that she uses herself as a standard tool in a toolbox of ploys to bribe government officials and wriggle out of potentially dangerous situations. She hates doing this, but puts on a brave face to get along with life, and to enjoy the simple pleasures of life that she and the writer can afford.

Wiesler's assignment goes on smoothly. He is extraordinarily meticulous about his job, keeping detailed notes about every conversation that the writer and his liberal friends have. At the same time, his life is loneliness exemplified. He has no family, no friends, works twelve hours a day alone in a dark, cramped room, and the only companionship for him is a prostitute who visits him occassionally, faithfully adhering to her strict schedule; if he wants to spend some time with her just talking and doing nothing else, he will nevertheless have to make sure he books her for more time on the next occasion. Wiesler's life is so utterly lonely, that we cannot help but feel the utmost pity for him right from the beginning, notwithstanding his sinister Stasi personality.

But somwhere in the middle of his admirable eavesdropping career, something happens to Wiesler; he has a change of heart. However, I have not given away the secret of the movie, because in this particular case, it's the details that matter. He reailises the web of deception, interrogation, and oppression of which he is a part. He realises the plight of ordinary people who are constantly and shamelessly subjected to surveillance, essentially because his Stasi masters want to have some fun. And he decides that in his own way, he is going to try to do something to help. The Lives of Others is his story. It is the story of how the transformation of one man can provide a paradigm for change. In the end, Wiesler is somewhat vindicated, but one still cannot stop pitying him. This pity is actually pity for the whole rubric of communism, from which Wiesler nonetheless emerges as a well-spring of life and conscience.

All the actors have done fine jobs, underplaying their emotions to the right degree. But again, Muhe outshines the others. Perhaps he carries with him the scars of his real life knowledge of his friends working for the Stasi. The one minor flaw with the movie is that his transformation from a dedicated and disciplined, professional Stasi officer to a sympathetic conscientious man who puts his career and life at stake, is a little too fast. But that is really what one can do in an hour and a half.

Director Florian von Donnersmarck, more than anything else, conveys the sheer depressing nature of ordinary life under communism exceedingly well. The Poland of 1984 may not have been the 1930s Russia of Lavrenti Beria, where your father and mother would disappear overnight. It seems to be more civilised on the face of it. But it rightly and tellingly demonstrates a system where growth has been suspended, where the majority of the population is unhappy, and lives in a lethargy of complacency and frustration that has been induced like opium by the political fabric of the country. More than anything else, the movie is a masterful showcase of the sheer gloominess that accompanies a totalitarian regime of any kind, and especially a communist regime. This gloominess is suicidal gloominess, and it's seen everywhere, in the shops and bars, in the opera and the cinema, and most importantly in the souls of the denizens of such a country. Without any incentives, the will of the nation, its people, and even its rulers, has ground to a halt. All that remains is a land with ludicrous rhetoric and idealism, and people living like zombies under a miasma of the prospects of a dead future and lost hopes. And dull streets, very dull streets. And this was 1984, not more than twenty years ago.


Monday, March 26, 2007


Derek has some thoughts on hydrides on his blog. I remembered the following endearing conversation between Linus Pauling and Matthew Meselson (co-orchestrator of the 'most beautiful experiment in biology'). This was just after Meselson joined Pauling as a grad student.
LP: Well, Matt, you know about tellurium, the group VI element below selenium in the periodic chart of the elements?

MM: Uh, yes. Sulfur, selenium, tellurium ...

LP: I know that you know how bad hydrogen sulfide smells. Have you ever smelled hydrogen selenide?

MM: No, I never have.

LP: Well, it smells much worse than hydrogen sulfide.

MM: I see.

LP: Now, Matt, Hydrogen telluride smells as much worse than hydrogen selenide as hydrogen selenide does compared to hydrogen sulfide.

MM: Ahh ...

LP: In fact, Matt, some chemists were not careful when working with tellurium compounds, and they acquired a condition known as "tellurium breath." As a result, they have become isolated from society. Some have even committed suicide.

MM: Oh.

LP: But Matt, I'm sure that you would be careful. Why don't you think it over and let me know if you would like to work on the structure of some tellurium compounds?
I doubt if anyone has smelt H2Te and lived to tell the tale. Me though, I would love to smell some H2Po (Po: next in line after Telurium) if it exists.

Tremulous trepidation titillates.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I just finished watching Al Gore's testimony on climate change in front of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. It's not much fun sitting through such a testimony; this one went on for 3 hours, with Gore giving his deposition for the first hour, and then answering questions categorically from every one of the 19 senators for the next 2 hours. But the topic of the testimony was so important that it was not hard to get hooked.

Gore emerged a champion from the mostly uneventful hearings. He was careful, patient, and unfailingly courteous. Gore is not the wittiest or most engaging speaker I have heard, but what he lacks in style, he makes up for in conviction and sincerity. He had immense intellectual ammunition and reserves of will. He was unanimously appreciated and praised by almost every Senator in the room, whether Republican or Democrat, and that is exactly the kind of bipartisan support climate change needs, an issue which is definitely beyond any politics. Of course, there were questions, but it was striking that nobody disagreed with his basic propositions about climate change, global warming, and man's contributions to it. This was good evidence that people have started moving beyond scientific acceptance, and on to the economic problems.

Everyone agreed...except the asinine James Inhofe. But how can anyone take Inhofe seriously now? This is the man who had called global warming as the "greatest hoax perpetrated on the American public" just a few years ago. Ironically, Inhofe has now turned out to be the one who cries wolf, and I thought he ended up making a fool of himself in the room. Not just because of his outrageous skepticism, but because of his disingenuity. Inhofe resorted to the cheap tactic, all too familiar these days, of trying to divert attention from the issue to the person. First of all, he asked four questions about climate change to Gore, which were supposed to be answered in monosyllables; Yes or No. Clearly, on a topic such as climate change, this is not possible, and this tactic itself was obviously designed to bind Gore in a straitjacket. The second and ever more tawdry ploy which Inhofe used, was to ask Gore to actually pledge that the costs of his standard of living would not exceed that of an average American family! There are a dozen good and completely reasonable reasons why Gore would not be able to do that, nor that this issue really has any bearing on climate change. Also, Inhofe magnanimously said that Gore need not do it right away; only in the next one year. This was clearly a trick to set the stage for the next whole year, when Inhofe could keep on maligning Gore and drawing attention from the real problem by trying to prove Gore as a hypocrite. Cheap ad hominem tactics indeed.

Naturally, this is a classic political trick, where you aim to gain no matter what. If Gore had not pledged, Inhofe obviously would have declared this as evidence of his hypocrisy. If Gore had pledged, Inhofe would have had a field day for the next year. Of course, Gore did not pledge such a stupid pledge. And his arguments were cogent; there are not many provisions in the United States to live a carbon-free life. As an aside, Gore did cite compromises his family makes.

Inhofe also resorted to a specious ruse of presenting the names of 100 prominent scientists who he said, "disagreed" with Gore. Gore in fact did not answer this question right away, but instead turned pensive and quiet. In a voice that reflected more concern than conviction, he said, "I am thinking of how to reach out to you senator…how to make you understand…" I think that reaction is quite appropriate for someone such as Inhofe, but in my opinion, Gore could have answered the question quite easily. The fact is, the word "diasgree" can mean many many things. It does not mean somebody disagrees with you lock stock and barrel. There are shades of agreement. Somebody may agree with you on certain matters, be skeptical about others. Somebody might agree with all your points, but choose to enunciate their conclusions in a different manner. That somebody "disagrees" with you on an issue as complex as global warming says nothing. And if Inhofe was so much intent on numbers, then Gore easily refuted him by citing the conclusions of the national academies of science of six countries, as well as the consensus of every single scientist in scientific articles published during the last decade, not to mention the conclusions of the IPCC, which is as peer reviewed as you can possibly get.

In any case, it's not much point listening to Inhofe, and although debate is an essential allowance of democracy, we all have the options of switching off our TV sets or folding up our newspapers. After this, I don't think Inhofe should even be criticised point by point.

On another note though, there is one point about which I "diasgree" with Gore, and that is about his stance on nuclear energy. Given the above qualifications, I should say that I don't actually disagree, because Gore is not against nuclear power. But I think he has not paid as much attention to it as is necessary, and he rather underestimates its potential. I have said time again that nuclear power is our best hope for future short-term energy shortages, its few problems notwithstanding. There are several clear benefits of nuclear power, as well as many misunderstandings about it, which I perhaps will talk about some other time. But in this context, kudos to senators Craig, Isakson, and Alexander, who are strong proponents of nuclear power. These men understand the science and economics behind nuclear power, and realise that it is the cleanest source of energy for the future. The initial costs are a little prohibitive, but they are nothing compared to the overall costs of using coal, which is the dominant electricity generating fuel right now.

Most of the fears about nuclear power are still misguided. There has not been a single fatal reactor accident in the US until now. Tens of thousands of people in contrast have died because of pollution due to coal. The radiation from a nuclear power plant is comparable to that from a coal power plant, both of which by the way are less than the natural background radiation that we constantly experience. Even the crictics of nuclear power who take refuge in that last bastion of doubt- the burial of nuclear waste- have to realise that it's not a technical, but a political problem. That nuclear power can be safely used is widely demonstrated by France and Japan, which get 70% and 50% of their electricity respectively from nuclear energy. The disposal of nuclear waste is an unnecessarily charged social issue, when technical solutions to the problem have existed for many years now. In fact, the disposal of nuclear waste is an issue that has been created by the US government, which has refused to reprocess the highly radioactive plutonium from spent fuel rods. After this plutonium has been taken out and used as further reactor fuel, the spent fuel then consists of short-lived isotopes. The volume as well as the danger of the spent fuel thus gets reduced, and this waste can easily be gotten rid of without worrying about vaults that have million-year shelf lives. In fact, keeping the plutonium in can increase, not decrease, the danger of nuclear proliferation, as when the short-lived isotopes have decayed, the waste gets enriched in plutonium, and now poses a real terrorism and proliferation threat.

It is heartening to see politicians wisely taking the economics and science of nuclear power into account. In any case, the objections of most senators to Gore's recommendations are based on economics, and emphatically not on science. There is almost no doubt about the science of global warming. Questions about economic feasibility exist. But so do the solutions. As it is for nuclear waste, it is going to take political and social will to resolve them. And these are things which are, as Gore says, "renewable resources".

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Sunday, March 18, 2007


Click here if the embedded video does not work.

This simple but compelling video documents in 5 mins, some of the most brilliant scientists, thinkers, actors, intellectuals, political activists, writers, and philanthropists of our time. They all share one common faith...or the lack thereof: they are all atheists, a group that has been so marginalized in the US, that Americans consider them to be the least "patriotic" of people. This is in spite of their enduring contributions of every kind to humanity and their country, and the fact that none of them has ever harmed a human being, foisted his dogmas upon others, or even been a self-centered bigot, all of which are features shared by many extreme religious people.

The video quotes the Bible which calls atheists 'fools' and then runs us through a gallery of fools...including Richard Dawkins, Marie Curie, Noam Chomsky, Thomas Edison, Christopher Reeve, Isaac Asimov, James Watson and Francis Crick, Mark Twain, Susan B. Anthony, Carl Sagan, Jodie Foster, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and...well, watch. For once, it's extremely reassuring that 'fools' tread in where 'angels' fear to tread.

And it is positively frightening and despicable to see George H Bush say that he does not know if atheists should be regarded as true citizens or even patriots. The only conclusion I can reach is that he has been living in a vacuum, oblivious of the decidedly patriotic contributions that these fools have made to progress and development of every aspect of his country's past, present, and future. If George H Bush is unaware of the contributions that these fools made that turned his country into a superpower of knowledge, progress, and technology, then it is only fair to ask who exactly is unpatriotic and who is the fool.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007


Musings on a fellow chemistry blogger's comment section alluded to strange and wondrous things one might do as a youngster, and reminded me of my bathroom lab.
Our house had a spare bathroom which nobody used often, and this lab became a fond retreat for me and my amateur chemical experiments. In this lab, I was sealed from the uncertainties of the human world, and surrounded by exciting unexpected happenings from the world of Chemicia instead.

I worked in this "lab" from when I was about 11 years old till the end of high school (junior college). It began when my mother got me a chemistry set. This set contained things like copper sulfate (CuSO4) and potassium ferrocyanide (K4Fe(CN)6) which are considered "too dangerous" in chemistry sets today. But more importantly, I discovered a science store which supplied chemicals and equipment for laboratories. They would not sell caustic chemicals to me, so I used to take my dad along, who is a professor of economics. Somehow, the professorial title used to persuade them to sell me satanic elixirs. Later, I convinced them that I was a chemistry tutor for a lab; by that time, they trusted me more and did not mind slapping a kilogram of sodium on the table for me. Obviously, it was assumed that the responsibility for death or debilitating damage was mine alone.

From this store, I got the usual repository of the devil's dozen; sodium metal, magnesium metal, and the three standard "ic" acids, H2SO4, HNO3, and HCl; sufurIC, nitrIC, hydrochlorIC. Sodium, the feisty witch which burned violently and smoldered at the mere touch of water, magnesium the flaming spirit which burned bright, steady and long, and the triumvirate of the "ic" acids which, calm as they looked in their amber coloured bottles, could burn hell if hell dared to raise eyebrows at them. I experienced many 'acid trips' with these beasties.

My experiments were of the crude amateur type. I almost never documented what I did, and reveled simply in the sounds, smells, and colours of chemistry. Some of the "experiments" I did:

1. Making "soap", hydrogen sulfide, and hydrogen chloride gas (common salt + H2SO4). The hydrogen sulfide naturally stank, but it was the bathroom anyway.
2. Dying handkerchiefs various colours by mixing, say, K4Fe(CN)6 and CuSO4. Pretty sight for the eyes, but best not to wipe a nose with them.
3. Producing the quaint smell of Iodex by mixing salicylic acid with methanol

Then there were the proverbial spills and thrills. These included:

1. Spilling a whole bottle of concentrated HCl and prying loose a dozen bathroom tiles. Not good for family PR at the dinner table.
2. Obsessively doing the potassium permanganate (KMnO4) + glycerine reaction. Try it out if you haven't; some KMnO4 plus a few drops of glycerine, and the whole thing starts to smoke after a few seconds and then gloriously catches fire.

One time I almost blew up everything was when I did the infamous iodine + concentrated ammonia reaction. This forms a compound, nitrogen triiodide, (NI3.NH3) which is so unbelievably shock-sensitive that a mere feather can set it off in an explosive puff (fantastic video demonstration here)!. Also, it gains potency as it become dry, and the substance is seriously not to be messed around with. Fortunately, the amount I used was small, only enough to make me jump out of my skin.

Probably the closest I came to being a chemical martyr was when I made large quantities of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) by dissolving copper hairpins and safety pins in concentrated nitric acid. I never felt a tinge of overexposure; no runny nose, no nausea, no feeling faint.
But that's exactly how it's supposed to be like. It was much much later when I came to graduate school that I read about the insidious, cruel villain that's NO2 from the Merck Index. The sinister gas can kill you without any warning symptoms, much later after you inhale it. From Wikipedia:
"Nitrogen dioxide is toxic by inhalation. Symptoms of poisoning (lung edema) tend to appear several hours after one has inhaled a low but potentially fatal dose. Also, low concentrations (4 ppm) will anesthetize the nose, thus creating a potential for overexposure."
As John Clark says in his rollicking "Ignition! An informal history of liquid rocket propellants", a man who inhaled NO2 would cheerfully strut around, and then suddenly drop dead. Hallelujah.

The best account of amateur teenage chemistry ever by the way is Oliver Sacks's absolutely delightful "Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood". That age is past now, as almost every interesting reactive chemical has been banished from school and teenage chemistry kits under the pretext of "safety". These chemicals have now been replaced with increasing risks in their everyday lives; drugs, air pollution, insidious foods.
One more addition to the waning of scientific temper. I hope that at least that old chemical store survives, free of "regulation", to provide inquisitive kids like me with unending excitement. So that they can also have their very own bathroom lab which will forever live in their memory.

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What's wrong with Michael Crichton? At one point of time, he was a great and visionary writer, writing crisp fiction with engaging if somewhat dubious scientific fill-ins. The point however was that you never got the feeling that the science was absurd, because it seamlessly blended together with his fiction. Because the fiction was great, you could easily bypass the science and be satisfied. More importantly, you knew that the science was absurd, and Crichton did not make any attempt to justify it in the light of known, sane science. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park potentially came from technologies that did exist then, but Crichton did not make it try to sound as if such dinosaurs were just around the corner. And he did not cite articles from Nature or Science to prove such a point.

Alas. In the last few years, I don't know what Crichton is trying to do, but he seems to have taken up some self-declared responsibility to try to create public awareness through his works. Before, his science was just fantastic with no pretense to getting grounded in reality. But now, his science with its professed link to 'real' science, has quickly become dubious. The epitome of this is there for everyone to see; State of Fear, which climate experts and laymen alike have roundly criticised as being grossly misleading. In cherry-picking scientific facts and statements from journal articles, and by trying to sound scholarly by citing them in footnotes, Crichton has been inevitably compared to the Bush administration, taking a biased tack on science. These days, whenever naysayers of climate change are being criticised, it is sadly not uncommon to find Michael Crichton's name among them.

Not only climate change, but now genes, patenting, and genetic engineering have become the target of his latest book, Next. I haven't read the book, but I don't feel encouraged to do it based on reviews, although it does sound less inflammatory than State of Fear. Recently, Crichton also came under fire by experts for writing an article about gene patenting in the New York Times. Not only was he criticised for misrepresenting the real situation, but also for not even understanding the complexities for biotechnological patenting in the first place.

However, the real grudge I have against Crichton is that, in his efforts to include dubious science masquerading as serious science in his writings, he has compromised on his real strength; his supreme ability to write fiction. As I said before, you could easily bypass the science in Jurassic Park or The Andromeda Strain, because the fiction itself was so riveting. In fact, the fiction was so engaging, that it made the science sound real. However, for example in State of Fear, the fiction is so insipid and scripted, that it doubly reinforces the feeling of both poor fiction as well as poor science in the reader's mind.

I hope that Crichton recovers from the illusions which he is trying to perpetuate. There are many other ways in which he can do public service if he wants to. Compromising on his ability to deliver solid fiction, combined with misrepresenting science, is the worst way to do it.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007


When you get a recurring email for about five years about the same disease, you start somewhat uncomfortably but surely tossing it into the trash can. My standard recurring mail, as I am sure is true for many of you, is the 'small cell lung cancer' one. Although the disease is very serious, how can one trust anonymous emails forwarded by a friend's friend's friend's friend's...?

But this time, my good friend Neelesh has a story that is quite authentic because it's happening with someone he knows exists, someone he knows is looking for help. A seven year old boy named 'Piyush' has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, an (obviously) life-threatening disease. As expected, the cost needs to be measured in thousands of dollars, and the family cannot afford the whole treatment. A considerable amount of money has been collected until now, but the costs for these treatments usually look like bottomless pits, and there's still a reasonable way to go.

Sunita Thomas's blog details the story until now.

I am just putting up this story because for once, I can talk about an authentic case. As Neelesh rightly says, in this age of forwards, genuine issues can be lost among the noise and cynicism. So here it is. If you feel it worthwhile, put this up on your blog. While it's not within my capacity to actually help the family, one person more who knows about this who can actually help in some way, will be one important person who has helped a family in crisis.

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Friday, March 09, 2007


Amit Varma of India Uncut frequently gets galled at where he thinks our taxes are flowing. He often, and rightly so, disparages those government plans, schemes and policies which waste our hard-earned money.
In general, I agree that in our country, many of the plans that the government indulges in don't exactly utilise our money in an efficient manner. But that does not mean that the plans per se are misguided or flawed

The problem I have with some such posts by Amit, is that I get the impression that he tends to see things in black and white. Maybe he is criticising the government for not handling the money properly, and he could be right. But I get the impression that he takes a simplistic approach towards the endeavours themselves, the value (or lack thereof) of which is not as easy to gauge as appears from his posts.

Consider his latest post ("Your maid funds Unani") in which he is full of indignation about the crores that our finance minister has allocated to the "Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy". Granted, that the use of our hard-working maid's money should be justified. Granted, the name is rib-tickling. But that does not mean the money is necessarily not warranted.

Modern medicine is increasingly turning towards traditional medicine and therapeutic approaches, not because of desperation but because of a confluence of ideas that its researchers increasingly see with these ancient practices. However, we have not paid the kind of focused attention that needs to be paid to say Ayurveda, that is necessary for identifying essential compounds or metabolites in Ayurvedic plants and turning them into effective drugs. The results are there for us to see- western scientists and doctors have rapidly appropriated many active compounds from traditional Indian medicines and culture. Turmeric powder's active ingredient (Curcumin) has been now proven to be effective in inflammation and cancer therapy among other things. No one else but my own advisor and his colleagues already have patents on the use of curcumin to target proteins in the human body that are involved in cancer. Likewise, Azadirachtin, one of the active constituents of the Neem tree has also been used in many modifications against disease. Many analogues of azadirachtin and curcumin are now in clinical trials.

However, we obviously cannot blame western scientists for taking advantage of our traditional therapies. It's a free market out there, and if we don't capitalise on our resources, somebody else will. Also, the aim is to fight disease in the end, and nobody cares where the resources come from. But at the same time, we are losing many possible new opportunities and sources of revenue because of our indifference to these therapies and compounds. A conference on curcumin that my advisor attended in Indonesia featured only one or two Indian researchers.

Needless to say, insufficient funding is surely one of the causes of the laxity in research in these fields. Naturally, if government does not fund these endeavours, companies will. But since when did the government start allowing companies an untramelled patent regime in our country? This is a government policy that we should definitely criticise, but in the short term, by any way possible, it is imperative that our researchers and doctors discover the hidden potential in our traditional therapies before we are trumped by others. As an aside, in this context, I am not putting Unani, Homeopathy, and Ayurveda on the same level. I have extreme reservations sometimes to the point of apathy about Homeopathy and Unani. But as a chemist, I see great promise for Ayurveda in a modern context, where personalised medicine, an age-old concept in Ayurveda, is being increasingly rediscovered by modern scientists within the framework of genomics.

Thus, we should welcome the fact that the government is significantly funding research in alternative medicine in our country. It can create employment, spike Indian medicinal chemistry upwards, and firmly secure our rights on what has been invented and practiced in our own country for thousands of years. Now, whether the government will efficiently allocate this money or not is a totally different question, and I think there's a lot of reason to be pessimistic on this point. After all, Ayurvedic research can be stunning or can consist of complete quackery. But the allocation of money itself, if anything, should be seen as a possible breath of fresh air for such enterprises and for our development. I think our maid servant can feel validated about that (although it probably won't be easy to convince her since she mainly worries about getting her next meal)

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Friday, March 02, 2007


With work as the perfect cover as usual, I made up a few clerihews. Silly, but that's the point of clerihews. Plug in your own into the comments, and I will gladly update the post!

Albert Einstein
Led by a godly sign
Engaged in spacetime-talk
Forgot to wear a sock

Robert Burns Woodward
Once looked skyward
By cogitation alone
Made strychnine from stone

Julius Robert Oppenheimer
Bought a millisecond timer
Before the timer struck one
Had read Tolstoy "just for fun"

George Bernard Shaw
Dropped his jaw
When professor Higgins
Was played by Bilbo Baggins

Noam Chomsky
Turned a little pesky
When America started shouting
“It’s terror we are fighting”

Bertrand Russell
Liked to eat mussell
While pondering
An ontological wandering

Winston Spencer Churchill
Had a dish seasoned with dill
Consumed lemon jelly
Patted his belly

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Liked to wear coats of felt
Started skipping his daily naps
Bad news for the Japs

Marie Curie
Exalted was she
Glee she was showing
When the beaker started glowing

Ernest Rutherford
Was made a Lord
By throwing many a dart
Straight into the atom's heart

Richard Philips Feynman
Much fun for the layman
When safes he was poking
Surely he was joking

Finally, an already known classic one (from the Oxford Dictionary):

Sir James Dewar
Is better than you are.
None of you asses
Can liquefy gasses!

* Updates:

Sumedha has a timely one:

Martin Scorsese
Never had it easy
Seven times he hoped against hope
That it was his name in the envelope.

He deserved it indeed!

And then Anon has another one:

Ashutosh Suhas Joglekar
Would love a cat with thick fur
But he's afraid of what she'd do
Use his mac and keyboard too! :) all I can say!

Neelesh has an accurate appraisal of my (past!) personality description. These days, I too spend all my time in front of the machine world though. Hello world.

Ashutosh Suhas Joglekar,
Always a true experimenter,
From dissections, acids, organics and smells,
what next ... who can tell ?