Police Brutality

Last week, a UCLA student was repeatedly tasered by the cops as he was escorted out of the university library. His crime, you ask? - he was in the library after 11pm and refused to provide his ID, and passively went limp as the cops asked him to leave. The student concerned in of Iranian descent and refused to provide his ID on request as he thought he was (quite likely) being racially profiled.

Someone in the library captured the whole incident on his cellphone, and has posted it on You Tube: here. I don't know know if it was because he was a student or a brown kid , but watching this poor kid being shocked as he's on the ground really hit home. Tthis is no gun waving man threatening homicide, it's a student without an ID for Pete's sate. The kid is screaming as he's being shocked about the Patriot Act and abuse of power, to attract attention, which he does, except there's a gang of students that are just standing around doing nothing while this guy's being shocked repeatedly - it's public torture and just totally disgusting. UCLA has promised an independent investigation, but the LA police have a long record of shame, and previous "independent" investigations have done little to inspire confidence. For what it's worth here is UCLA chancellor Adams' phone number : 310-825-2151. If you're in the US, don't just leave a comment - call him, tell him what you think..

Holden and Detergent

One day long ago, when looking for usernames on livejournal, I settled on oldhen - less as a reference to aged poultry, and more as a nod to Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in J.D. Salinger's quite brilliant Catcher in the Rye. A lot of critics read Catcher as an expression on teenage angst, something every adolescent goes through, but not much else. To me there is so much in that book that is so true of life at large, but that's a topic to expound on at length. Like Holden, tend to find myself on the fringes of society, looking on at the phony world. I initially thought this was some sort of reaction to my undergrad days, but have to realise that it probably be thus for a while, so I might as well get used to it.. Of course, that's about where comparisons end, my english composition writing is nothing to write home about, and I doubt Holden Caulfield cared much for science or politics..

Alright, that's the last self-obsessed whine for a while, am going to try blocking out the D thoughts for a while, lead a pretty priviliged existence, could've been dealt a much worse hand..

Meanwhile, the latest round of the circus that is US democracy is just over. In all this media hype over close races, it's easy to forget that only 10% of the races are even competitive. Like Arundhati Roy puts it - voting in a US election is a bit like trotting down to the store to choose a brand of detergent, whether you pick Tide or Ivory Snow, they're both owned by Procter and Gamble. The media play up this "liberal" vs "conservative" bollocks, when in terms of actual policy it's more like "neo-liberal" pitted against (neo)"conservative". The Bush years have been horrible, near fascist years no doubt, but on many major issues from immigration to Israel to healthcare to welfare you'd be hard pressed to pick apart Bush the Elder and Clinton, for example.. And of course lest we forget the brave souls of the US Senate recently voted to suspense habeas corpus (the very basis of a civic society) and endorse torture - a vote that wasn't remotely close..

It looks like the Democrats might control the House at any rate, would love for them to do something radical and prove me wrong, but the odds certainly seem stacked against that. Screw electoral politics, the alternative to me seems to be to build a politicised populace that will not stand for this kind of bullshit, irrespective of which party is in power.

There are some who would question my criticism of US electoral system while being ineligible to participate in it, but I write this as a subject of and worker for Empire, who presumes to criticise his employer and master. :-)

Exhibit 1: The Reactionary Middle-Class Indian Male

Exhibit 1, is an interesting species indeed - unlike his reactionary counterparts in other lands, he portends to worship reason, and will champion rationality at any occassion. However, once he is faced with a confident, (politically) assertive young woman, all that reason baggage goes out the window. And, horror of horrors, if the said young woman has the impetuosity to say something about class or espouse other such Marxist rhetoric, then for Exhibit 1 it's all gloves off, and apparently he can say anything he wants and it's all fair game. Exhibit 1 is best ignored, but sometimes things like this drivel really stick in my craw.

Johnny, we liked you better when you opposed the war

A prominent politico recently visited campus, to rally students to his party in light of the coming elections to US Congress. Amidst the long line of folks waiting to get in to the auditorium to hear the gent speak were a bunch of my friends holding anti-war signs. The said politico's staffers, ever vigilant for the slightest sign of a potential embarrasment, instructed the cops on duty to obstruct the protesters from entering the hall. The first proferred reason - the signs were a violation of the University's picketing code. After being gently reminded that the picketing code said no such thing, and that in any case enforcing this code is not in the police's job description, a copy of the code is procured and waved in front of the officer's nose, who claims he's misplaced his glasses and cannot read the proferred writing! Moments later the glasses emerge, yet the students are still denied access and apparently the hall is full to capacity, this despite people walking out even as this was being said...

Students at a major public university are denied access to space that ostensibly belongs to the good people to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Welcome to democracy, US style. And the politico concerned: John Kerry - this is supposedly the opposition???

As sign of how freedom of political expression has changed, was going through an exhibit of campus activism in the '60s, and found this photograph of the racist, supremacist Strom Thurmond speaking from a camous pulpit in '69, with a student protester dressed in full (mock) KKK garb sitting right next to him..

Life over the past few weeks has hit some unexpectedly choppy waters. You'd think that at 27, there are few things about yourself that would suprise you, but I guess you learn every day.. It's been a microcosm of grad school in a way, all will be well if it ends well - just wish the process were less rudderless.. Anyways, have a great weekend y'all..

(un)Profound thought of the fortnight

"Men lead lives of quiet desparation" - Henry David Thoreau.

Which is not to say that women don't have (more than) their fair share of problems, they're just less likely to quiet about it, I think.. Have dropped off the online world for a bit thanks to academic pressures, but for what it's worth, guess it's good to know that misery isn't all that uncommon :-)

Would you fancy a little pesticide to go with that?

Some three years back, an independent NGO: the Center for Science and the Environment, found unsafe levels of pesticides in Coke and Pepsi in India, findings that were subsequently corrobarated by a parliamentary committee. Now more recently, a repeat study finds something like 25 times the EU standards of pesticide in Indian soft drinks [report here].
The study finds pesticide residues in all samples; it finds a cocktail of 3-5 different pesticides in all samples — on an average 24 times higher than BIS norms, which have been finalised but not yet notified. The levels in some samples — for instance, Coca-Cola bought in Kolkata — exceeded the BIS standards by 140 times for the deadly pesticide Lindane. Similarly, a Coca-Cola sample manufactured in Thane contained the neurotoxin Chlorpyrifos, 200 times the standard.
Various state governments seem to haven taken this seriously at face value and have issued bans.

The Bush administration of course, sees things differently.
"This kind of action is a setback for the Indian economy," Undersecretary for International Trade Franklin Lavin told AFP. "In a time when India is working hard to attract and retain foreign investment, it would be unfortunate if the discussion were dominated by those who did not want to treat foreign companies fairly." [ source Progressive Magazine]
The pesticide report is apparently somewhat controversial, with other newspaper columns suggesting that pesticide amounts in the colas are well within acceptable levels, and lower than those in other common foods [e.g. 1, 2 - thanks to birdonthewire]. Coke though, has had a stellar record of treating locals exemplarily, from drawing so much water at its bottling plants in Kerala that surrouding villages are left without drinking water, to passing off cadmium and lead leaden slush as "fertiliser" to farmers (also in Kerala) to murdering labour organisers at its bottling plants in Colombia [ sources India Resource Center, and Killer Coke]. India is not alone in resisting Coke, there is growing resistance to Coke's record in Colombia and India, within the US, with a few US universities banning Coke from their campuses. It is easy to explain this as yet another example of a multinational's colonial mindset, but a little anger of behalf of the Indians in Plachimada and elsewhere and Colombians who deserve justice is a good thing.

Got milk?

Can't really imagine having much comment-worthy to say about a milk carton, but apparently 715 others don't seem to think so. Some wise hack I guess decided to have a bit of fun with it, and it seems to have caught on.. Some reviews reproduced below:
There are few gifts I like to recieve more than milk. Whole milk too. That's the kind of milk that says that it's real. It's right. It's whole. I want that milk to sit there for years because that's what you do with milk. There's nothing better than milk - well except maybe radishes.
Personally, I loved this one:
First the cows try to get you to eat chicken instead of beef. Now they conspire to sell more of their milk and milk products by encouraging innocent citizens to not only buy milk, but do it the easy way and order it online. What next? Cows running for office? Taking over the world? Moo-topia? Come on folks, where does it end? I say we take a stand. Don't be fooled by this cow-spiracy. Don't give into their udder propaganda. Stand tall. Demand llama milk. Not only is it tasty, but llama milk is lower in fat and salt and higher in phosphorous and calcium than cow or goat milk. Sure, you don't get as much, but think what your preventing - a cow takeover. (Plus, there's the added benefit of saving millions of innocent chickens too.)
Just say no to the cows.
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And for the molecular biologists out there:
During the molecular analysis of cell signalling events that take place following pathogen contact with the leukocyte membrane, one must run what is known as a Western blot to analyze potential phosphorylation events that take place during a kinase cascade. I find that after running SDS PAGE and performing a wet protein transfer to PVDF membrane, blocking my membrane with Tuscan Whole Milk provides the least background of any other product on the market. One particular time, I was able to detect the finest damn phosphorylated p38 MAP kinase anyone in my department has ever witnessed. With the help of Tuscan, I know that a Nobel Prize is just around the corner.
All that from here


These are frustrating times, politically to be living in the US, the past month has seen a state systematically target for mass punishment the civilian population of an entire country, and yet there appears to be almost universal political support for Israel. The fine people that populate the US Senate voted unanimously (pusillanimously) to endorse Israeli actions.

First, the bare facts – a 1000 + killed in Lebanon, the overwhelming majority civilians, and almost a million Lebanese displaced, something approaching a hundred Israeli dead, the vast majority soldiers. So, Israel's US supplied laser and divinty guided bombs and missiles killed mainly civilians (and many more of them) whereas Hezbollah's cold war vintage Katyusha rockets, which are about as precise as a catapault, took mainly military lives.. Hmm, I wonder why? Could it be that all the cluster bombs dropped on Beirut were actually intended to cripple Lebanon? Could be that all the milk factories, food factories, power plants, water plants, bridges, aid convoys, Red Cross ambulances, UN posts hit were not Hizbullah hideouts or shields? Israel claims they warned residents to flee before the bombs came – first you bomb the roads and bridges into Southern Lebanon (ostensibly to prevent to rockets from reaching Hizbullah) and then you ask people to leave, just where do they go – into Israel? Marwaheen will not be eaily forgotten:
All the civilians killed by the Israelis had been ordered to abandon their homes in the border village by the Israelis themselves a few hours earlier. Leave, they were told by loudspeaker; and leave they did, 20 of them in a convoy of civilian cars. That's when the Israeli jets arrived to bomb them, killing 20 Lebanese, at least nine of them children. The local fire brigade could not put out the fires as they all burned alive in the inferno
This is hardly the first time Israel was in Lebanon – they invaded Lebanon before in 1978, 1982, an invasion that involved the massacre of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians in refugee camps, and again in 1996. Hizbollah didn't even exist when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, it arose primarly as a resistance movement to Israeli occupation. (some more historical background from the Frontline . Israel was forced to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000, except of course it didn't, and continues to occupy parts of Lebanon – notably Shebba Farms (sp?), hold many Lebanese prisoners, and several thousand Palestinian prisoners hostage without trial in clear violation of the Geneva conventions, its aircraft have been persitently violating Lebanese air space since 2000 link. Since Hamas won the (free and fair) elections in Palestine in February, Gaza has been systematically blockaded and ghettoised. In the background of all of this Israeli soldiers were kidnapped, and offers were made to negotiate their release, in exchange for some of those Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners, lounging in Israeli jails, the response – all out war.. Like George Monbiot notes in the Guardian, this sort of skirmish is hardly unsual,
In October 2000, the Israel Defence Forces shot at unarmed Palestinian demonstrators on the border, killing three and wounding 20. In response, Hizbullah crossed the line and kidnapped three Israeli soldiers. On several occasions, Hizbullah fired missiles and mortar rounds at IDF positions, and the IDF responded with heavy artillery and sometimes aerial bombardment. Incidents like this killed three Israelis and three Lebanese in 2003; one Israeli soldier and two Hizbullah fighters in 2005; and two Lebanese people and three Israeli soldiers in February 2006. Rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel several times in 2004, 2005 and 2006, on some occasions by Hizbullah. But, the UN records, "none of the incidents resulted in a military escalation"
So why this all out war now? The Palestinians had just elected Hamas recently, and Hizbollah also had seats in Lebanon's cabinet, could it be that Israel hoped that the oppressed would blame its politcal opponents for their oppression? This cold-blooded objective of gaining political mileage certainly seems plausible enough. It's certainly a heck of a lot more believable than all the religious bollocks that's being touted around, which entirely ignores the fact that the struggles in Palestine and Lebanon are primarily nationalistic struggles against oppression.

The Security Council is set to meet soon to vote on a second draft of a ceasefire resolution. Like noted here and here, the first draft was simply insulting in its premise that Israel has the right to defend itself, but its neighbours don't. I meant tp write to criticise the political philosophy of Zionism not to endorse the methods of Hamas and Hizbollah, but to put things in perspective - Palestine doesn't have an army, and Lebanon's "army" has all of three helicopters..

For further reading:

Aijaz Ahmad in the Frontline

Ira Chernus offers a dissenting Jewish view

Jonathan Cook writes a thoughtful piece on privilege and living on the margins of society.

Electronic Intifada - independent publication, with lots of info.

Lebanon Updates Blog

Lebanese writing from Beirut

Mosaic from Link TV - Digest of tv news from the Middle East..

Yes, it's a politically frustrating time, but at the same time, it's certainly a privilege to be in this position.. Comments, brickbats etc. welcome, as long as they're not accompanied by accusations of anti-Semitism or quotations from Tom Friedman - both of which I'm way too tired to deal with..

Tribute to WingCo

Some of my happiest moments are those during school days, and some of the happiest memories of school days are tied to quizzing, from jumping school gates to go to quizzes, to dropping not-so-subtle hints to the pretty girls team seated next to us, but a large number of the quizzing memories are tied to one man - Wing Commander Mulky (or WingCo as he was known) , president of the KQA (or Karanataka Quiz Assoc. ). First met him at a school quiz that I went all alone to, and then had a chance to interact with him some more at a summer quizzing "workshop". By this time he was already something of a legend in quizzing circles, yet always brought with him this old-world humility, grace and his own understated humour. In a world where super-inflated egos are not uncommon, he will be missed for being as unobtrusive as a QM could be.In a world that could get hyper-competitive over monetary rewards, we had the Rs. 5 entrance fee, which went towards a cup of Horlicks / Tea and a couple of biscuits. A real gent in every sense of that word, he will be missed by all who've had the good fortune to interact with him. There's scarcely a photograph to remember him by, memory is such a fragile thing..

Only found out about his passing, about a month back, have been meaning to write something in tribute, but have held off until I had a chance to set a tribute quiz, which is up here at quizbusters, don't mean this to be a shameless pimp for it, but I'm sure there are folks reading this who would enjoy it and other quizzes there..