Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What if you could write an e-mail to yourself and be assured of receiving it 20 years in the future? / THE REAL INDIA

Most time capsules involve cramming stuff into a metal box and burying it in
a hole in the ground. It's a method that works--but it's so primitive. What
if you could write an e-mail to yourself and be assured of receiving it 20
years in the future?

That's what we've done with this e-mail time capsule. Simply fill out the
fields below, decide how long you want the capsule to be sealed for and hit
send. We'll do our best to make sure the message gets delivered.


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Monday, November 28, 2005

On-line storage alternatives /

On-line storage alternatives

New on-line back-up tools allow sharing of files/documents

The feature-packed on-line storage service e-snips (http://esnips.com),
which provides you one GB space for free, will be quite handy in tackling
your storage problems.

Recently this author tried out the new on-line backup product, Mozy
(https://mozy.com/) which is still in its testing phase. This utility allows
you to encrypt/store files on its server for free. To back up data, you need
to download the Windows XP based Mozy client. This author is yet to make
extensive use of the service.

Another web based storage solution worth a trial is Streamload
(http://www.streamload. com). It lets you store up to 10 GB for free; but
the free account holders cannot download files of size above 10 MB.

On-line word-processors

The on-line word-processor market is currently agog with action and many
such products are emerging (even big players like MicroSoft are planning to
enter this segment -

The on-line document editor Zoho Writer (http://www.zohowriter.com/Home.do)
is another Office product worth a mention. An additional feature of this
service is that it provides an e-mail id to which you can send documents. A
document thus sent will be stored on Zoho's server under your account and
you can edit or share it with anyone.

WideWord (https://wideword.net/) is yet another web based document editor
trying to get some foothold in this segment. Here, you can create a document
by just providing an e-mail id. The service will store the document on its
server and send you mail with a link for accessing/editing the newly created

Opencourseware Finder

Reputed educational institutions such as MIT (http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html)
publish course materials on a range of subjects that include engineering,
biology and economics for free download. The newly launched search engine,
Opencourseware Finder (http://opencontent.org/ocwfinder/), helps you locate
such materials with ease.

J. MURALI He can be contacted at: jmurali@gmail.com

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Accident in Dubai today 27 Nov 2005

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Sunday, November 27, 2005 4:59 PM

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The overwhelming presence of foreign workers in the Arabian Gulf has become a national security issue

Region | Bahrain

Published: 24/11/2005, 09:51 (UAE)

Call for prudent labour import policy

By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief

Manama: The overwhelming presence of foreign workers in the Arabian
Gulf has become a national security issue amid international calls to equal
rights in their host nations, a Gulf Cooperation Council official warned on

GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al Attiya.

"The GCC countries need to look at the massive presence of expatriates
basically as a national security issue, and not merely as an economic
matter, particularly in light of global changes and international
conventions," GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al Attiya said.

"International accords are pressing for the settlement of expatriates
and imposing giving them salaries equal to nationals and greater rights in
the areas of education and health. This new situation calls for a more
rational and more prudent policy by the GCC states in importing labour," Al
Attiya said at the opening of the two-day GCC labour ministers meeting in

Zero-tolerance policy

"The GCC countries should resort to expatriate labour only when there
is a deep need for them and there are no local or regional alternatives," Al
Attiya said.

"The countries should implement a zero-tolerance policy towards
violators because it is matter of national security," he said.

"The GCC states need to gradually replace the expatriate force and to
address the causes of their overwhelming presence and to draw up a relevant
strategy that includes developing local human resources and boost
competitiveness in the public and private sectors," Al Attiya said.

Observers say that very high levels of foreign labour can cause a
variety of problems in the GCC countries, with profound political, social
and cultural consequences.

Earlier this month, James Zogby, President of the Washington-based
Arab American Institute, warned that the "guest workers" were a "time bomb
waiting to explode and unleash riots like those that rocked France."

"In this region, as well, in many places, workers are trapped in
horrible conditions, denied justice and their basic humanity. It hurts not
only them, but the image and the moral fibre of the countries which host
them. You must see them, incorporate their rights into your vision and
defend them," Zogby said.

More than 10m foreign workers

a.. Foreign labour makes up 88 per cent of the workforce in the UAE,
83 per cent in Qatar, 81 per cent in Kuwait, 72 per cent in Saudi Arabia, 55
per cent in Bahrain, and 54 per cent in Oman, according to official figures
in the Gulf states.
b.. In all, the number of foreigner workers exceeds 10 million, or
up to 70 per cent of the GCC's labour force, a figure that a Bahraini
economist describes as "frightening" especially given the large population
growth and economic problem.
c.. Observers say that very high levels of foreign labour can cause
a variety of problems in the GCC countries, with profound political, social
and cultural consequences.
d.. Foreign workers hail mainly from Asia (especially the Indian
subcontinent) and from the Arab East. Asians tend to work as domestic help
or as manual workers, while Arabs are employed in administration and
government positions.
e.. Over the past few months, thousands of low-paid Asian workers
staged protests, some violent, in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE for not
receiving salaries on time.

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Internet: a case of `founders keepers? / Ravishing charm of the Ravi Varmas /

The Internet: a case of `founders keepers?
Anand Parthasarathy
The second World Summit on the Information Society that opens in Tunis on
November 16 will see a renewed effort by developing nations, with U.N.
backing, to transfer `control' of the Internet from the U.S. to an
independent body.

THE WORD "cyber space" was coined long before the Internet was born. In fact
it is the creation of American novelist William Gibson who used it in his
novel Neuromancer a good ten years before the World Wide Web gradually
became a reality.
At the turn of the century, Gibson, asked to comment on the shape taken by
his unintended brainchild said perceptively: "The Internet is extra national
and post geographical. It is happening largely outside the jurisdiction of
politicians. It is truly one of the strangest things we have done as a
species. and we have done it inadvertently. If we take care of it, it may be
a step towards a better world." His instinct was right in one important
aspect: the relative freedom from political control that Internet enjoyed.
Indeed its origins lay in a network called DARPANet, a creation of the U.S.
government's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was initially
handed over to a consortium of American academic institutions, then grew and
grew... to become today's Internet.
By late 1980s the number of Internet users - and hence addresses - became
unmanageable without some regulation. The U.S. Department of Commerce and
the Post and Telecommunications Department established the Internet Assigned
Numbers Authority (IANA), which in 1998 became the Internet Corporation of
Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a private corporation that includes a
number of stakeholders.


Ravishing charm of the Ravi Varmas
The song, `Pinakkamano..' showcases the grandeur of Ravi Varma paintings in
cinematic style. PREMA MANMADHAN speaks to the crew that created it


HISTORY VERSUS THE PRESENT The three Ravi Varma paintings juxtaposed with
the poses that Kavya Madhavan strikes in the song, `Pinakkamano..' in the
movie, `Ananthabhadram'
Raja Ravi Varma was once dubbed the creator of `calendar art' and `kitsch'.
Detractors took a back seat before long and the royal artist's works are
today one of the most sought after in the international art world. That he
made art accessible to people through reprints in those days is what puts
him above most others. All the gods and goddesses who adorned pooja rooms in
Kerala in the best part of the last century were certainly Ravi Varma
The song, `Pinakkamano... ', penned by Gireesh Puthencherry and composed by
M.G. Radhakrishnan in `Ananthabhadram', is a celebration of Ravi Varma
works, a tribute to the Raja, as Santosh Sivan, director and
cinematographer, puts it. The song, sung by M.G.Sreekumar and Manjari, with
orchestration by Kannan, appeals for a specific reason.


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Artists' forum, the Left speak up for Kushboo / Found dead in U.S. / The great digital divide

Artists' forum, the Left speak up for Kushboo
DPI leader denies that his party and PMK are behind agitations



Found dead in U.S.
New Delhi: Nayyar Pervez, son of the former MP, Syed Shahabuddin, was found
dead in a hotel room in the United States. He was a professor in Columbia

The great digital divide
Today, the dividing lines between the rich and the poor, between the North
and the South, are the fibre-optic and high speed digital lines.

"But access to the Internet is of little value if the information that it
contains is ... in a language you don't understand, or if it fails to deal
with the life and death questions ... ."

MILES TO GO: New technologies are shrinking the world, but a huge percentage
of the world population has been left out.
WHEN these words appear I shall just have attended the World Summit on the
Information Society in Tunis, a serious attempt to grapple with the
challenges of our information-technology-driven times - the digital divide,
the governance of the Internet, the hope that the new technologies can drive
development. But the information revolution, unlike the French Revolution,
is at present one with much liberté, some fraternité and no égalité. It is
yet to deliver the goods, or even the tools to obtain them, to many of those
most in need.
Today, the dividing lines between the rich and the poor, between the North
and the South, are the fibre-optic and high speed digital lines. If "digital
divide" is an over-used phrase, it represents a reality that cannot be
denied. Fifteen per cent of the world's population controls around 80 per
cent of the world's telephones and about 90 per cent of access points to the
Internet, and they are 13 times more likely to own personal computers than
the rest. And the rest are the 85 per cent of the world's population living
in low and lower-middle income countries.


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Saturday, November 19, 2005


Forgetful? ShootMeAnEmail.com is your solution. People are forgetful, but as
Internet users we all have one thing in common.

We check our email every day.

The premise of ShootMeAnEmail.com is simple.

1.. You give us an email address.
2.. You tell us an event for which you need a reminder.
3.. You tell us when to send you the reminder.
4.. We send you an email on that day and time to a specified mailbox.
It's that simple. You check your email and there is a self-written reminder,
delivered to your inbox from ShootMeAnEmail.com's servers. No misplaced
post-it notes. No complicated scheduling programs. Just a quick note of your
own design delivered into your Inbox when you think you'll need it.


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Thursday, November 10, 2005

New library movement on the anvil in Kerala / yahoo \YAH-hoo\ noun / U.S. used white phosphorous against Iraqi civilians, charges Italian TV /

New library movement on the anvil in Kerala
Special Correspondent
Every school in the State to have better library facilities soon

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: T he Education Department in Kerala has charted out a
task programme called `Vayanayilude Valaruka' (Grow up by Reading) for
encouraging reading habit among schoolchildren.
At a press conference here on Wednesday, Education Minister E.T. Mohammed
Basheer said libraries in all government schools and government-aided
schools in the State would be modernised and strengthened under the
programme. And a `library period' will be added to school timetable shortly.
The formal inauguration of the programme is scheduled to be held at a
function at St. Teresa's School in Ernakulam on Thursday. Mr. Basheer said
2,393 high schools and 2,827 upper primary schools would get better library
facilities during the first phase of the programme by the first week of
January 2006. Lower primary schools will get the facility subsequently.
The idea is to implement the programme with the participation of local
bodies, non-governmental organisations, local clubs, financial institutions,
school parent-teacher associations, Grandhasala Sanghom, cooperative
societies, public sector institutions and media houses.
Help will definitely flow in from all corners for such a programme, Mr.
Basheer said.


yahoo \YAH-hoo\ noun
: a boorish, crass, or stupid person
Example sentence:
The local teenagers' reputation as a bunch of yahoos was belied by their
courteous treatment of the stranded motorists.
Did you know?
We know exactly how old "yahoo" is because its debut in print also marked
its entrance into the English language as a whole. "Yahoo" began life as a
made-up word invented by Jonathan Swift in his book Gulliver's Travels,
which was published in 1726. The Yahoos were a race of brutes, with the form
and vices of humans, encountered by Gulliver in his fourth and final voyage.
They represented Swift's view of mankind at its lowest. It is not
surprising, then, that "yahoo" came to be applied to any actual human who
was particularly unpleasant or unintelligent. Yahoos were controlled by the
intelligent and virtuous Houyhnhnms, a word which apparently did not catch
people's fancy as "yahoo" did.

U.S. used white phosphorous against Iraqi civilians, charges Italian TV
The shells of the weapon burn every living thing within 150 metres of impact


INDISCRIMINATE USE?: White phosphorous being allegedly used by U.S. forces
in Iraq in November 2004 seen in this image from video made available by the
website of RaiNews24, the all-news channel of Italian RAI state television.
ROME: Italian state television aired a documentary on Tuesday alleging that
the United States used white phosphorous shells ``in a massive and
indiscriminate way'' against civilians during the November 2004 offensive in
The report said the shells were not used to illuminate enemy fighters at
night, as the U.S. Government has said, but against civilians, and that it
burned their flesh ``to the bone.''
The documentary by RaiNews24, the all-news channel of RAI state television,
quoted former marine Jeff Englehart as saying he saw the bodies of burned
children and women after the bombardments.
Host of allegations
``Burned bodies. Burned children and burned women. White phosphorous kills
indiscriminately. It's a cloud that, within ... 150 metres of impact, will
disperse and will burn every human being or animal.''
There have been several allegations that the U.S. used outlawed weapons,
such as napalm, in the Fallujah offensive.
On November 9, 2004, the Pentagon denied that any chemical weapons,
including napalm, were used in the offensive.
On its web site, the U.S. Government has said it used phosphorous shells
``very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes.'' It noted that
phosphorous shells were not outlawed.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Lined Paper / Free Online Graph Paper / Indians, most sexually content and committed! / Let us have another '9/11'


Free Online Graph Paper / Grid Paper PDFs
Downloadable and very printable, I find these PDFs extremely useful.

So, you can make a 24x30 inch sheet with a green one-inch 10 point grid.
Obviously I cannot anticipate all needs, but the grids below should cover
most common ones.

Notice to people with Spam Blocks
If you have a Spam blocker that requires authentication, such as those from
ChoiceMail or Earthlink - I will not take steps to add myself to your
whitelist. Add me to your whitelist before you send out your email, or you
won't ever receive my replies.


Lined Paper
Lined Paper PDF Generator - Just horizontal lines. I needed this a while
back, so I figured other people might also need it.

Graph Paper
Graph Generator Lite - Specify the number of squares you want - and the size
of them.

Plain Graph Paper PDF Generator - Set your border and grid spacing (i.e. 4
lines per cemtimemter) to get as much graph as possible on your paper.


Indians, most sexually content and committed!
Tuesday, 08 November , 2005, 17:47

New Delhi: When it comes to making love, Indians are not only the safest but
are also the most committed to their partners and do not find their sex life
monotonous, according to the Durex Global Sex Survey.

The survey conducted by the world's leading condom brand said Indians have
had least (21 per cent) unprotected sex without knowing their partner's
sexual history, as compared to the global average of 47 per cent (Norwegians
73 per cent and Greeks 70 per cent are most likely to have unsafe sex
without knowing their partners sexual history).

As far as the number of sexual partners are concerned, Indians had the
fewest with an average of three as compared to nine globally. Turks with an
average of 14.5 partners have had more sexual partners than any other
nationality in the world.

That Indians are committed to their partners is vindicated by the fact that
only 13 per cent of them have had one-night stands, which is the least
compared to 44 per cent worldwide, it said.

The survey, which interviewed over 3,17,000 people from 41 countries,
including India, said apart from being the safest love-makers very few
Indians find their sexual relationship with their partner monotonous.

Only three per cent of Indians experienced monotony in sex compared to seven
per cent globally. While 46 per cent of Indians said they were happy with
their sex lives compared to 44 per cent globally.

Indians were rated slow when it came to losing their virginity at an average
age of 19.8 years as compared to 17.3 years, the average age when people had
sex for the first time worldwide, the survey said.

People from Iceland have sex younger than any other country (15.6) followed
by the Germans (15.9) and Swedes (16.1), it said.

Believing in safe sex, however, did not deter Indians in seeking sexual
contentment. Pornography (37 per cent) and pleasure enhancing condoms (28
per cent) are the top two sexual enhancers preferred by Indians. Globally,
23 per cent voted in favour of pleasure enhancing condoms.

Indians, like many other nationalities around the world, believe that
HIV/AIDS was the most important area that needed greater public awareness.
While 87 per cent of Indians voted it as a top priority area, which needed
greater awareness in the society, 72 per cent of people globally felt so.

Therefore, a majority of Indians (47 per cent) felt that government should
be investing in sex education in schools while 34 per cent around the world
believed so, the survey said.

The Indian priority to sexual safety was re-emphasised when close to a half
(49 per cent) said that with regard to encouraging the young people priority
should be to abstain from sex before marriage. Globally, only 8 per cent of
the people felt so.

Almost three quarters of adults worldwide (74 per cent) believed that young
people should be encouraged to practice safe sex while 41 percent of the
Indian opined the same.

Indians are, however, late to receive sex education with the average age of
getting the first sex education being 15.6 years while globally 13.2 years
was the average age for the same.


Let us have another '9/11'


NOVEMBER 8: The terror strikes of September 11, 2001, so transformed the
world it even invaded our lexicon: "9/11" became a metaphor for cataclysmic
destruction. But let us pause and see if these dates can be turned around.

For instance, September 11, 1893, was the first day of the World's
Parliament of Religions in Chicago where representatives of all organised
religions participated with the declared objective of presenting the
important truths held in common by the different religions of the world and
to bring the nations of the earth into a more harmonious relationship.

Let us have another such World's Parliament of Religions, with the greatest
scholars/sages of all faiths along with all the world's leaders, in India,
the land of Swami Vivekananda's birth. In other words, let us have another
"9/11", the real "9/11".

Swami Vivekananda was the unmatched hero of the Parliament of Religions in
Chicago. The unknown, monk became known throughout America and the world. In
his speeches, Swamiji stressed the idea of the validity of all religions and
their harmony.


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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Noam Chomsky and the human revolution / Mark Fischer spoke to Chris Knight, a scientist specialising in human origins.

Noam Chomsky and the human revolution

Mark Fischer spoke to Chris Knight, a scientist specialising in human origins. His main current interest lies in working out how human language may have evolved. This has led him to clash with Noam Chomsky

You are on record as saying that Chomsky needs to be overthrown and replaced. Why?

Chomsky is a genius - there’s no question of that. He’s made linguistics into a science, discovering how syntax works and how closely the world’s natural languages are related. In his view, at a deep level there’s really just one language, which he calls ‘Universal Grammar’. Linguistics is the attempt to work out the specifics of this grammar.

The problem is that he goes out of his way to construct an impenetrable wall between linguistics and everything else. For him, only natural science can be genuinely scientific. So linguistics can qualify as a proper science only if it sets out from a special definition of language. The main requirement, according to Chomsky, is to avoid confusing two things. One is language. The other is how it’s used. For Chomsky, linguistics doesn’t study usage: it studies only nature. Language is a computational faculty located in the head, enabling us to think in a human way. By defining language as a part of human nature, Chomsky justifies turning his back on culture and the humanities. Meanwhile, in his social activism and commentary, he turns his back on science. Not just Marxism but all other approaches claiming to be ‘scientific’ are point-blank rejected. In a nutshell: socialism mustn’t be scientific and science mustn’t be social. I am an anthropologist. For me, as an anthropologist, the interesting question is not just that Chomsky says such things. The really interesting question is why.

It’s not difficult to show that Chomsky’s objective role has been to drive a wedge between science and activism, doing all possible to ensure that no connection is made. To the American corporate and managerial elite, two things are important. One is that the scientific community doesn’t get active. The other is that the activist community doesn’t get scientific. As if to show that this split-brain approach is perfectly possible, Chomsky goes out of his way to construct two versions of himself, neither of which seems to be on speaking terms with the other.

It is hard to think of a policy more deeply reactionary. We now have a situation in which the climate science community in the US is frantically sounding the alarm, warning the oil industry about the potentially catastrophic consequences of global warming. Because their findings make such awkward reading to oil-dependent politicians, the climate science community is currently being ‘investigated’ by the Bush regime - the implication being that some of the leading scientists may be communist sympathisers. To a Marxist, it’s obvious that all this is nonsense. On the other hand, it is true that when ordinary impartial science collides with the political requirements of the ruling establishment, it becomes an incipiently revolutionary force. The international scientific community is now becoming aware that it must defend its autonomy - the inviolable autonomy of science. Scientists, for the most part, know that they must feel free to say uncomfortable things to their own governments, taking political action where necessary in defence of science.

More than anybody else, Chomsky legitimises the professional judgement that this would be wrong. He acts as a role model for all those who insist that there must be no mingling of politics with science. His peculiar value to the authorities is his talent for championing this position not from the political right but from a standpoint on the far left. This makes him virtually unassailable. His argument sounds very reasonable. He points out that an activist who invoked the authority of science to justify some personally favoured policy would be deeply suspect. Does any activist have the right to dress up this or that political ideology as ‘science’? Conversely, does a scientist have the right to subordinate theory construction to a political cause? Wouldn’t that be betraying the true mission of science?

Such arguments are in a sense right. They are also highly convenient. It is no secret that initially, when Chomsky’s paradigm was getting off the ground in the 1950s, the US military were interested in ‘Universal Grammar’ As they offered substantial funding to Chomsky’s research programme, it is on record what they wanted to achieve. They needed an electronic command-and-control device for use in their weapons systems. They hoped for a system in which personnel on the ground could issue verbal instructions to an airborne missile, specifying trajectories and targets. If they could do this in everyday, natural language - without having to learn special codes - it would obviously be hugely advantageous to them. ‘Universal grammar’ seemed an excellent idea.

It may well be that few people were under the illusion that Chomsky himself could actually build a universal language machine. In fact, on a personal level, he showed little interest in any direct military application of his ideas. But it was widely believed that his theoretical approach might indirectly assist. Working in what was called the ‘Research Laboratory of Electronics’ at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chomsky consistently described the human language faculty as if it were a computational device composed of wires and switches.

Noam Chomsky: believes that social factors have nothing to do with the evolution of language
As it happens, needless to say, the machine promised by Chomsky was unlikely to be built in real life. No one will ever be able to construct a machine with a sense of humour, for example. But, machine or no machine, Chomsky’s value to the establishment remained real enough. He succeeded in dislodging linguistics from its former place among the social sciences, redefining the discipline as natural science. Once this move had been made, it caused terrible conceptual problems, producing utter bafflement all around and leading to what became known as the ‘linguistic wars’ - which proved to be among the most bitter and acrimonious disputes in western intellectual history.

Many linguists felt that their intellectual discipline had been violated by the attempt to have it completely removed from the broader humanities and passed over to the natural sciences. In order to avoid social and political issues, Chomsky declared that contemporary word-meanings - for example, the lexical concept, ‘carburettor’ - had been fixed for all eternity when Homo sapiens first evolved. Not surprisingly, such laughable ideas produced gasps of utter disbelief among Chomsky’s colleagues. Nothing in linguistics seemed to make sense any more. To activists in particular, Chomsky’s ideas about genetic determinism seemed abstract and irrelevant. But his principled stance on issues such as Vietnam made him difficult to attack. The outcome has been this very deep intellectual schism and this widespread feeling that you mustn’t mix activism with science.

If you did unite science and activism, what would the implications be? How does this debate impinge on what people should be doing politically in the here and now? Isn’t it all interesting - but arcane?

Not arcane at all. Chomsky’s great achievement has been to prove that language is ‘off the scale’ as far as anything else in biological communication is concerned. It’s not like a development from chimpanzee vocal calls such as pant-hoots or waa-barks. Language is qualitatively different. And he’s correct: it’s hard to see how language could have gradually evolved. Darwinian evolutionary science has so far failed to explain this puzzle at all. Human children are born with a ‘language instinct’ - that is, they are equipped to acquire complex grammatical rules so spontaneously and creatively that it is as if they knew the basics already. But if this is an instinct then it seems to have come from nowhere. No ape has any such instinct. For obvious reasons, this puzzle has appeared to provide ammunition for the creationists.

So, the implication is that language emerged out of some kind of revolution?

Yes, it must have been a qualitative leap, perhaps like the emergence of life itself. It was a major transition, one of many such events during the course of life’s evolution on earth.

Does Chomsky agree?

His view is that language is special. Furthermore, something special must have happened to make it special. Chomsky makes very few categorical statements about the special event in question, which he has recently termed humanity’s ‘great leap forward’. He views the whole topic as speculative. But he does insist on one thing: whatever it was, it definitely wasn’t social.

For Chomsky, you can have a revolution, as long as it remains part of natural science. Therefore it might have been a cognitive revolution. Or perhaps a massive genetic mutation. Alternatively, as neurons accumulated in the human brain, critical mass might have been achieved, whereupon the language device suddenly self-installed. So you can attribute the emergence of language to a ‘revolution’. And you can mix that word with other words, such as ‘cognitive’, ‘genetic’ and so on. But one absolute taboo remains in force. You mustn’t combine the word ‘revolution’ with the word ‘social’. That would be mixing politics with science.

When someone insists on such a point with such ferocity, you have to ask - why? Then, when you remind yourself that they are working in a Pentagon-funded environment, it all begins to make sense. It makes sense that Chomsky is forced to say things that to most people seem insane.

For example, he categorically insists that language is not for communicating thoughts. The first person to get suddenly wired up for language didn’t need anyone to talk to. The individual concerned used language simply to talk to ‘itself’ (Chomsky in his scientific capacity treats humans as ‘natural objects’). If you object that language is brilliant for enabling us to share our thoughts and dreams, he retorts that in fact almost anything can be used in this way. For example, you might want to make a public statement with your new hairstyle. The fact that you can use hair in such a way doesn’t imply that human hair evolved so that people could share their thoughts. Once again, the possible uses of a thing and its intrinsic nature must be kept conceptually separate.

That’s Chomsky’s position. It is easy to show that it doesn’t work. Where evolution is concerned, you need a theory to show how and why humanity’s ‘great leap forward’ happened and what it was comprised of. But, as soon as you have a social theory of any kind, it becomes a hot potato. If you are operating in a Pentagon-funded environment, it takes courage to come up with the discovery that revolution works. Obviously, the theory itself is going to have political implications, even if you are not particularly political as a person.

Your approach seems to suggest that everything distinctively human about human nature springs from a revolution. Is that a fair summary?

That’s right. The chief value of the study of human origins is precisely that. It undermines what is probably the deepest of all prejudices against the whole revolutionary project - the idea that not even a revolution could ever change ‘human nature’ The ruling class want us to believe that greed, selfishness, private property, sexual inequality, violence, etc - all these features of the current global order are intrinsic to the human condition. The study of human origins shows the reverse. This exciting branch of science reveals that everything distinctively human about our nature - for example, self-consciousness, the ability to see ourselves as others see us, the ability to establish moral and political understandings accordingly - all these things which define our humanity emerged out of struggle. They are all products of the greatest revolution in history, the one that made us human.

Did this debate explicitly feature during the symposium with Chomsky you attended?

Chomsky’s lecture on the evolution of language was predictable. He went into ‘C-command’, something called ‘binding’ and various other features of syntax. He implied that something amazing must have happened to get these features implanted into the human brain, but didn’t explain what.

I started by asking a question trying to pinpoint exactly what that ‘great leap forward’ was. What happened? Did I miss something, I asked? Where exactly was his theory? He replied that the brain became suddenly wired for language, although we don’t know how. That was the amazing event.

I asked a follow-up question: “Professor Chomsky, you seem to be very vague about what it was. Yet you are absolutely definite on just one thing: whatever it was, we know for certain it wasn’t a social revolution. Do I understand you correctly?” His comeback was that anyone who thought that social causation impinged in any way was sadly misguided. Nothing in the social life of humanity can possibly find its way back into the genome. We are all Darwinians, he pointed out, not followers of Lamarck.

I couldn’t let this go, despite the etiquette that’s supposed to be observed at such events. I took the microphone again and reminded everyone that the whole point about modern Darwinism is its focus on cooperation versus competition. By ape or monkey standards, human social cooperation is off the scale. Was Chomsky really saying that such topics are simply irrelevant?

He reiterated that social interaction is indeed irrelevant, since we’re dealing with innate structures of the human mind.

I had another go, of course. Humans do indeed have innate cognitive features which apes don’t seem to possess. We can point at things, for example. Stand in front of a cat and point - and it just stares at your finger. It doesn’t get it, no matter how hard you try. Even chimps don’t point things out to one another. Each sees the world from its own perspective. No ape behaves as if enquiring of those around it: ‘Do you see what I see?’ Two-way mind-reading is something they just don’t get. So the human revolution did involve a cognitive leap - but this was emphatically social.

Chomsky was exasperated and simply reiterated his assertion: social factors have nothing to do with the emergence of language. At which point I had to sit down, of course. But it had been worthwhile getting him to unequivocally state his position in such a forum.

So what does the future hold?

Let me mention one particular scientist. His name is Luc Steels. Chomsky has spent his life in an imaginary electronics laboratory. He’s been engaged in concocting designs for a language machine he’d never have to build. He knew that nobody would ever ask him where the fuses should go or how the wiring would work. By contrast, Luc is one of the world’s best-known designers of intelligent robots. His machines are built with the equipment to work out what’s going on around them and correlate perspectives. They don’t have any special wiring for language. They have to work that out for themselves. Luc calls this the ‘recruitment’ theory of the origins of language. His machines just recruit whatever resources they can find in order to establish communication. They’re built to remember those communicative interactions that succeed while forgetting those that fail.

Luc insists that if you follow Chomsky’s advice, it won’t work. If you design the hard wiring for ‘Universal Grammar’ in advance and jam it into your machines, you’ll just get it wrong. The implications are far too subtle and complex for anybody to work out. You just have to make these machines - his own ones look like comical dogs, by the way - and let them interact. After some time, they cumulatively build up the wiring for language. Of course, the outcomes are relatively crude, but in terms of underlying principles, the parallels with language seem to be real. I’m hoping to bring Luc to London soon, so that you can see what I mean.

By a stroke of good fortune, Luc was appointed by the conference organisers to prepare a response to my own paper at the conference. The title I had chosen was ‘The human revolution’. My final slide was this two-word slogan: Revolution works. I was surprised and relieved because Luc defended not only the general theory but also many of the details of my argument. At the symposium, this carried weight, I think, because everyone could see that Luc Steels knew what he was talking about. Unlike Chomsky, he actually had to build his ‘language machines’ - and they worked!

It’s hardly an exaggeration to say Chomsky has spent his life fighting off the theory of the human revolution. His opponents are doing joined-up thinking and he doesn’t want to know. My own experience of conferences of this kind is that, wherever scientists from different disciplines start talking among themselves, they discover that there was indeed some kind of revolution. Then they begin wondering about the details. What exactly happened? Most agree the crucial events occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago. A new species emerged - Homo sapiens. Linguistically, socially and in other ways, humans did things that were quite peculiar. Nothing like this species had ever hit the planet before. And, as we begin piecing our story together, there’s this take-home message: Revolution works.

Like Galileo with his theory about a moving earth, a discovery of this kind is bound to upset the authorities. As Chomsky’s approach is set aside, I think linguists will want to escape their irrelevance and isolation, linking up with colleagues in neighbouring disciplines. As scientists feel less atomised and isolated, I think we’ll feel a new determination to defend our intellectual autonomy against the obvious institutional pressures to hold back.

The scientific community is intrinsically international. To remain true to science, we’ve no choice but to resist all merely national governments and authorities in favour of a constituency whose internationalism matches ours. As a scientist in paid employment, I am part of the working class. In becoming scientifically enlightened and self-organised, our aim must be to embrace society as a whole, just as Marx envisaged.

We won the revolution once. We have good grounds for believing we can do it again.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Prof. ONV on Kerala Piravi Day


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bush is a failure / passive driving ???

----- Original Message -----
From: Kumar_Nair@makshaff.com
To: naamhs@gmail.com
Sent: Wednesday, November 02, 2005 11:41 AM
Subject: google

Go to www.google.com
Type "failure" (without double quotes) in the search text box.
Press "I'm Feeling Lucky" button just next to "Google Search" button.
See what happens.


When will we stand up to the carmakers?
George Monbiot- © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
THE BAN on smoking in bars will save some fraction of the bar staff who die
every year as a result of passive smoking. The moral case is clear: people
are being exposed to a risk for which they have not volunteered. While
smokers have an undisputed right to kill themselves, they have no right to
kill other people. This case being generally applicable, what does the U.K.
Government intend to do about passive driving?
Every year, according to a paper published by the British Medical Journal,
some 54 bar staff in the U.K. die as a result of their exposure to other
people's cigarette smoke. And every year, according to the EU, some 39,000
deaths in this country are caused or hastened by air pollution, most of
which comes from vehicles. This is a problem three orders of magnitude
greater than the one that has filled the newspapers for the past six months,
and no one is talking about it.
It is true to say that British air, like that of most parts of the rich
world, is much cleaner than it used to be. Since the great smog of 1952
forced the Government to legislate, since coal gave way to gas and factories
fitted filters to their chimneys, acute pollution crises of the kind which
once killed thousands in a couple of days have not recurred. Between 1992
and 2000, traffic fumes fell steeply. But in 2000 the decline in the most
dangerous pollutant - small particles of soot - came to a halt. Since then
the levels have held more or less steady (with a spike in the hot summer of
2003). The British Government is in breach of European rules, and the
European Commission is in breach of any serious effort to do something about
it. So 39,000 lives are shortened every year.

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