Saturday, March 03, 2012

My favorite music albums

*Not including best-of and compilations

1. The Division Bell - Pink Floyd
2. Somewhere in Time - Iron Maiden
3. Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits
4. Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
5. Brave New World - Iron Maiden
6. No Need to Argue - The Cranberries
7. Black - Metallica
8. Viva la Vida - Coldplay
9. Seventh Son of the Seventh son - Iron Maiden
10. And Justice for All - Metallica
11. Nine Lives - Aerosmith
12. Born in 58 - Bruce Dickinson
13. Toxicity - System Of A Down
14. Rosenrot - Rammstein
15. Weathered - Creed
16. Acoustica - Scorpions
17. Appetite for Destruction - Guns and Roses
18. Destination Anywhere - Bon Jovi
19. Back to Black - Amy Winehouse
20. Painkiller - Judas Priest

Just missed the list

The Doors - The Doors
The Cross of Changes - Enigma
Ride the Lightning - Metallica
Countdown to Extinction - Megadeth
All That You Can't Leave Behind - U2
Only by the Night - Kings of Leon
Nevermind - Nirvana
The Suburbs - Arcade Fire
Audioslave - Audioslave

So hard to put a list this, I am sure I am missing many others. Would love see something similar from everyone.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rise and Fall

Recent trip to the US brought back some great memories. As I flew across the country meeting old friends, it reminded me of America’s massive size and power. Undoubtedly it is the capitalistic centre of the world. It was also equally clear in my two weeks in the country that it is a crossroad. Nothing proves this more than the never-ending discussions of the current political, financial and social problems on streets, bars, airports and these have more than ample coverage on media.

I have always been quite impressed and influenced by the philosophy and vision of America’s founding fathers. The country has prospered on principles of democracy, representation and individual liberty. This has manifested in the form of personal right of ownership of property that eventually led to a personal consumption culture that has made US the powerhouse it is today. But for the first time in centuries its future is uncertain.

Throughout history many strong and massive civilisations and culture have risen and collapsed. If you look back at the Greek, the Roman, Indian, Chinese ancient civilisations or more recently colonial Britain and Russia their downfall has not been brought about but one massive blow but slow accumulation of somewhat anticipated problems. Decline came about gradually due to an inability to adapt to changing environment and conditions in the world.

At first you might think I am alluding to current financial problems but I am not. Of course that is one significant problem but nothing compared to similar challenges faced by Europe. Europe’s own sovereign debt problems are contributing to its demise as a leader in the world. US on this dimension at least is much safer. With Debt/GDP ratio of around 80% it is still lot lesser than troubled European countries with over 100% and Japan with close to 200%. Also, USA has fairly efficient institutions, tax gathering mechanisms and low corruption which are certainly not the case in Greece. While financial position is a risk, I anticipate things will improve as economic cycle reverses.

USA’s long term problem and possible reason for demise is still going to be Oil. Why? Well, like almost all countries in the world, USA is heavily dependent on Oil. But there is one major structural difference. A majority of Americans live in suburbs designed around universal personal automobile use. This culture has had a huge contribution to America’s success as it encourages both home and car ownership. Home ownership in turn facilitates ownership of many other personal consumables. In addition to the suburban lifestyle which is heavily dependent on personal transport, about 90% of overall US transportation is reliant on Oil. As oil prices increase substantially it would become unsustainable for many. Even those who could afford it would be spending a higher portion of their income on ‘gas’ which would mean lesser disposable income to spend on other goods. Personal consumption accounts for 70% of US GDP.

But as Oil price rise wouldn’t that change behaviour and bring down demand? Ideally it should but unlike other countries people don’t have many transport options in US. Europe and Japan has a massive rail and metro system which is connected to the grid and can work of alternative energy sources. China, India and Brazil are making heavy investment in similar mass transit systems. Typically, these mass transit systems take about 20-30 years to fully develop. Even for 1st phase or line of a Metro system you are talking about 5-7 year development period post financial approvals. The rate of growing oil demand is not going to be offset enough by these initiatives but it does provide consumer an alternate mode of transport. However, in most parts of US that alternate does not exist.

This could be very significant and challenging problem if investments are not made now. By every account and given the financial difficulties, US is not planning any major investments in transport infrastructure in the near term. Most economic projection indicate that US would still be the 2nd or 3rd largest economy in the next 50 years but this rests on an assumption of continued 2- 3% growth rate. This could be severely tested if oil price rise predictions come true. There are many ifs and buts in this argument but ‘if’ this was true it’s not something that could be addressed overnight. It requires foresight and planning. Many a country have failed for the similar reasons, is US going to be next?

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Its time, or is it?

In some ways, time is such an easy concept. You ask someone what time it is and they know exactly what you are referring to. They answer and thats exactly the answer you were looking for, no miscommunication, perfect understanding. And yet if you dig a little deeper there is another question which is quite disturbing. What is time?

We define time an a measure to sequence events and capture interval between events. It defines temporal position of events and its continual movement. So far so good. However, if we use this to answer some other questions for e.g. beginning on the universe and what was before that? when did time start, how can time start? Our logic and definition does fall apart and these questions become unanswerable.

So what is the problem here? Answers in my view lie in how we define time. Lets look at something we consider similar to time. Our three spatial dimensions. I am looking up into my room, what do i see? Do i see height, width, depth? No, I see space?. The three dimensions in reality is just our interpretation of space. This phenomenon known as "Transcendent Ideality" was introduced by Kant where he stated that any form of appearances e.g. space and time are ordered in certain relations i.e. any interpretation is combination of sensation (input to senses) and cognition (thought) rather than something that exists independent of mind.

Kant's explanation only answer part of the question, i.e. how we interpret things. But the question of what time and space really are was answered quite convincingly much earlier. That was by Leibniz in late 17th century when he said that space or time don't exist in reality but are merely something we use to define relation of objects. There is no absolute location of space or time but only relative to a location or event. We sometimes confuse the convenience of space or time with actual reality i.e. we think space and time actually exist. I find that not only is this completely logical but also helps answer some more difficult questions on other philosophical topics.

While this may seem quite basic and logical we quite often forget it. Otherwise we would structure our "Time travel" , "Beginning of the Universe" and "God & time" debates quite differently.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Recently I got into a conversation about the most "Romantic" works of art and people immediately quote works form the Romantic period. Romantic period in my view was lot more about the ideas, and imagery to depict the emotions that go with them. It was after all a time for change and new ideas. But I doubt if the most Romantic paintings came form that time. Firstly, the answer depends on what the concept of "Romantic" work is. To me it is as much to do with mystery and contemplation as it is to do with ideas and idealism. Works during the romantic period were too defined, not leaving enough to imagination. Having said that I think the most "Romantic" piece of art, ever, comes from that period which is

"Wanderer above the Sea of Fog" - Caspar Friedrich
This is in Kunsthalle museum in Hamburg and you can stare at this forever!

However, for me impressionist age is perhaps the most "Romantic" period. There is mystique and complexity in the works that make it more appealing to me. See a few works below and decide for yourself

Other works from Romantic period

Liberty leading the people - Eugène Delacroix
More typical work from the period
The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up - JMW turner
Not so typical work of the period

Works from Impressionist era

Cliffs at Etretat - Claude Monet

Woman with a Parasol - Claude Monet

Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette - Renoir

Starry nights - Van Gogh

View of the Saint-Martin Canal - Alfred Sisley

Monday, September 27, 2010

Commonwealth games - Failed before the exam!

Commonwealth games, it’s the hot topic these days in most commonwealth countries and is even making headlines elsewhere. Criticisms and controversies have been endless and it seems like games are doomed even before they begin. Even if they games go ahead and are successful, they are likely to be remembered for all that negativity during the lead up than for any sporting prowess. A friend encourage me to put my views on the same so here they are.

Saying that the infrastructure and preparation for the games was laggard is being too kind. The games federation gets 6 years to prepare the entire infrastructure and apparently they did nothing for the first three! Given that, infrastructure is somewhat ready is still a miracle. Despite all the criticism the fact is that the infrastructure for these games, at least on paper is far better than anything offered in any previous games. The questions are - is it ready? Is up to the quality promised? Answer to both questions in my mind is negative. The venues are not ready but I’d like to believe that they will be by the times games start. The quality of the stadiums should be up to standard but the village probably will never be. How a room can be as filthy as shown in leaked pictures is beyond my imagination. All things considered it is very unlikely that the CGF would have been planning to hand over the rooms in that condition. The other side of the coin is that that negative news always makes headlines in most of western countries and the statement on Australian and other team officials on their satisfaction with the facilities were conveniently left out. If you look at most Australian dailies 95% of news about India is negative. Surely India can’t be doing that many things wrong!!? There is lies the story. But who can blame the media, it only reflects what people what to hear and read.

On the important question of security; No one wants to risk lives for sports and I personally support this position. In all the travel advice and warnings on the threat of terrorism in India some things have been conveniently left out. Fact is India has faced terrorism for the past two decades and there have been numerous terrorist attacks in most major cities. However, I can’t remember security being compromised in any major international event. There was an incident during IPL last year but the even the outer perimeter wasn’t breached. Most attacks have been in unsecured vulnerable areas and given the nature of terrorism it’s impossible to guarantee safety and prevention from those. Threat of these attacks does seem larger in India but to the games, I can’t see why it would be different than in any other country.

But what about the hard hitting report by Australian journalist Mike Duffy and on complete inability of security from stopping him walk into Commonwealth games venue with a bomb! Many international athletes scared by the lax security started to pull out of the games! Delhi police immediately issued a response and explanation of why the report was false and what was wrong with the fabricated story. Of course no one in any western country bought any of it. As per the prevalent view Indian cops are corrupt and incompetent and they would rather trust a western media report than the Delhi police. But would you believe if you heard it from the west? CNN reported Parikshit Luthra exposed flaws in the story and ABC media watch did a complete story on unethical reporting and fabrication of the story. Don’t’ believe me? Here it is for you to watch

Getting back to the games, Can India host a successful commonwealth games? We surely can! Did we drop the ball on the lead up? Yes we did. Again, no matter how good the preparations might have been or how flawlessly the games could be executed, some countries would be looking to beat India down. They always do. All the more reason for everyone concerned to be on top of their game and get this done properly. Instead this exposed corruption and bureaucracy that India is all too well known for. All is not lost, at least India is a humble country and for all it failings will look inwards and in its own slow yet humble pace, change. West on the other hand continues to blow its trumpet and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For them obviously all the problems lie elsewhere!

Have I been objective in writing this post? Definitely not, no one has been, why should I start? At least I don’t claim to be a journalist!

PS: Added 30/09/2010
All is not bad!

Friday, August 20, 2010

History of the world economy

Some who are convinced of the infallibility of countries and regions never believe when I mention economic history of the world, its cyclic nature and winners and losers of the past. So when I came across this, I thought I'd post it for anyone who needs convincing. I think the important lesson is "every dog has its day". Important to be humble when you are successful. Someone will beat you, its only a question of time.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Philosophy of happiness

What is happiness? Should the purpose of my life just be to maximise happiness? Why and how? These are just some of the questions that I have been trying to answer these past few years and in my pursuit realised that this has been topic of discussion for thousands of years.

Recently, I signed on to attend a talk and discussion on the “Philosophy of happiness” organised by the local philosophy circle.

Prior to that someone forwarded me links to this interesting debate “Is the pursuit of happiness making us miserable” Interesting question indeed! Modern life seems all about acquiring and achieving things whether it is money, goods, materialistic things or achievements and records, or for that matter, intellectual pursuits. We set goals try to achieve those and getting there makes us happy, but then we need new goals and new pursuits which is and endless cycle.

I loved this 5 minute speech by Petrea king on the subject which addresses this.
However, the counter by the advertising guy was equally impressive.

Buddhism and Hinduism try to addresses the matter by saying we must try to escape this endless pursuit. Happiness comes from escaping craving in every form. While I believe there this to be true I am not satisfied by the explanation that leaving everything is the answer. Seems a little escapist!

Anyway, the lecture was quite interesting and covered all the different views given by major philosophers from Socrates, Plato, Aquinas, Nietzsche, Sartre and others and psychologist such as Maslow etc. Many theories, but no answers!

If you really want to understand the basic tenants and philosophers who directly tried to address the topic, view this 6 part documentary "Philosophers guide to Happiness"

However, in the 20th century happiness is a topic for economist, psychologist, neuro-physiologist, biologist and one can deal with it in pure philosophy alone.

My favourite basic theory on happiness is Abraham Maslow “Hierarchy of needs” where he describes that we have certain needs at various levels that need to be met for us to be happy for e.g. if our food and security needs are not met its hard to be happy but if they are met its not sufficient, we then need to satisfy higher needs such as social recognition and self actualisation.

However, one can easily see that is modern context they may not hold as true, so it is yet another incomplete theory.

I have laid out a lot of material and theories out here but no concrete answers. I don’t believe there is one and even if there was one I am in no illusion that it can be represented in a blog post.

In any case, this is my view. Happiness is a state of mind. Obviously, happiness is felt through secretion of certain chemicals in the brain that can be intrinsically or extrinsically induced. Different external accomplishments can bring us happiness, as well as out own personal thoughts or for e.g. just saying “I feel good”. In my view the current western thought regarding pursuing happiness is incorrect. If happiness is a state and relative state, then its pursuit cannot bring a higher state of happiness. For e.g. if you thought achieving X will make you happy, achievement of that goal recalibrates you to a new steady state that might require achievement Y to bring you to higher state. That’s why use of drugs for happiness also doesn’t work as users often fall into depression.

Interesting question was raised in the discussion post the lecture about introspection on happiness. One could be “happy” or “sad” or in any state but you realise that only when you think about it. And once you begin to introspect that may change the state of your happiness. This brings into connection the Heisenberg’s theory of uncertainty but we will not go into that complexity here.

So maybe happiness lies in that fact the one needs to acknowledge its relativity and either choose to minimise its variance or live as once please for it’s high and low moments. Make your choices for you will never raise your overall state of happiness extrinsically. You can do it intrinsically by concluding that you are happy as is!

Anyway, it’s hard to address this issue in depth but I will leave you with a question.
If you had choice to take a pill that will ensure, with no side effects, that you will stay completely happy for the rest of your life, will you take it?

What makes you doubt? Isn’t that what you always wanted?

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