Sunday, August 24, 2008

Shame! India

And another Olympics has come to an end. Predictably, India can return with memories of brilliant performances by athletes from other countries. And be proud of the record three medals it won. Three precious medals for a population of a billion people. Let us weep for them for a minute.

A country with a similar population has ended up with a record number of gold medals. China has won more gold medals than any other country in the history of the Olympics. And more than half the medals they won are gold. Another first. One athlete has won more gold medals than the total number of medals that India has won in the last fifty two years. Shame!

You may protest. After all, India is a poor country. We don't have enough money to spend on promoting athletics or sports. Bullshit. Sorry. There cannot be a milder response. Look at the medals won by the other countries. Is Ethiopia a wealthier country? And Kenya? Ethiopia won FOUR gold, one silver and two bronze, seven in all. Better than India. And Kenya got FIVE gold, five silver and four bronze, total fourteen. More than three times what India won. And tiny Jamaica won SIX gold, three silver and two bronze. We have gone out of the Olympics in hockey, a game that used to win our only medal once.

"Ah, just some games. How does that matter? We are becoming the world's top economy soon. We are a power to reckon with in software, in science and technology." Is that what you think? Sorry. I strongly disagree. World's top economy with the country's sixty percent or so struggling for three square meals a day? A software power through doing some routine work for other countries? How much real development work do we do? Isn't what we do just repetitive, boring work? What challenge is there for our best brains? Won't our entire IT industry collapse if China, for instance, builds up the English skills of their people?

The point is that it is simply not a question of some games or sports. It is a question about how well, how effectively, we do things. We have been waiting and waiting for our athletes, our sportspersons, to become world class. This country of one billion people have been waiting for more than half a century. And they are seeing only deterioration in performance. Yes, we won a record number of medals this year. A record number of three medals. I would see it as just chance. I can't see that as the result of a planned programme to promote sports and games. If it really is so, I would still say "Shame!". Say that more vigorously. How can we be so absolutely incapable of doing anything well?

We need to start asking this question. Because our sports and games infrastructure is spending our hard-earned money. The money the poor Indians have paid as taxes. And we need an answer. The authorities have to answer, answer the questions raised aloud by the people who have given the money. We have a right to an answer. And not just any wishy washy answer. The establishment, beware. The people are fed up with your self-serving incompetent performance.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dressing Up and Down: The Answers

So very few people seem to be interested in the question why we dress up. Is it that they do not realise the importance of dressing up? Is it that they do not realise to what extent we are influenced by the way others dress up? In any case, at least one person has responded, and now it is my turn to give a detailed reply.

It appears that humans must have started wearing clothes some 40,000 years ago. If we can believe modern studies in palaeontology and palaeo-anthropology and related branches of science, we have to believe that the entire population of homo sapiens sapiens on the earth today are descendants of one short female, named Lucy, an Australopithicus afarensis--a species that lived in Ethiopia some 2.5 to 4 million years back (see, for instance, or Wikipedia)). Lucy would certainly have not known that her descendants would migrate to all parts of the world and virtually exterminate all other species. If she had known, perhaps, she would have committed suicide before she gave birth to any child.

But her children and grand children and great grand children and so on were born, and did grow up and have their own offsprings and did migrate to all parts of the world. Including much warmer and colder places. And they evolved. At some point, at least some branches of the family, started shedding their fur. This could have been in response to a warmer climate or, as some experts in body lice tend to believe, in response to body lice! Ugh!? "Dr. David L. Reed, a louse expert at the University of Utah, said the idea that humans might have lost their body hair as a defense against parasites was a ''fascinating concept.'' Body lice spread three diseases -- typhus, relapsing fever and trench fever -- and have killed millions of people in time of war, he said." (see this article from New York Times). Anyway, at some point in time, humans or proto-humans started losing their body hair. Maybe this also led to people getting a darker skin. But that is beside the point. Our question is about clothes. So how did this induce humans to wear clothes?

We know that human beings, before or after homo sapiens sapiens evolved, migrated to the extremes of the Earth. And they would certainly have faced extreme cold climates. And they would also have met animals that have thick coats of fur. Look at the polar bears, for instance. And look at the Eskimos who live in such conditions. Humans must have'borrowed' the clothes from the local residents. Just as they do today also.

That seems reasonable. But when did homo sapiens start wearing clothes? One idea is that this is approximately the time body lice started appearing on human body. Though this appears far-fetched, it may sound reasonable to a scientific mind. After humans lost their fur, the only place lice could have comfortably curled up on humans is on clothes. At least, that is how one argument goes (see, for instance, this ezine article). So, it seems, lice caused humans to loose their fur and it also helps us understand when we started wearing clothes. Great, uh?

But then, how does one find out when the lice appeared on the human body? Simple. Just take a modern day louse and ask it. ;-) No, not joking. I did not mean, ask it in so many words. There is another way os asking. And that is to do a kind of DNA analysis that would tell you something about the species. Of course, I hope you know that the human body lice is a species by itself. As the article cited above says, someone actually went to the trouble of asking this question and the lice gave the answer as 107,000 years. Fine. But not so fine. Someone asked the same question to other members of the lice society and they gave a different answer: 540,000 years. This is the problem with asking questions to individuals. Each guy will have his version of the events.

The article cited is rather recent (2008), but there seems to be an earlier report, from 2003, that gives a date like 40,000 years before present (see this abc article). And some recent results from anthropological studies seem to show that humans started wearing shoes some 40,000 years ago (see Softpedia or Livescience). This was deduced from the shape of the toes! What these guys will find out, god only knows!

So, it seems reasonable to believe that people started wearing clothes some 40,000 to 100,000 years ago to protect their body from extremes of weather. It possibly even prevented them from getting soaking wet in rains because in the initial days clothes must have been made from animal skin.

But look at what clothes have become today! They have become a form of self-expression, a means of projecting an image that one wants to be seen, a means of subjugating others, and so on. Apparently everything other than the purpose it was originally meant for!