In The Armchair

Heart Disease in India

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on November 29, 2007

Indians are the most likely people in the world to have heart related problems. To those Indians whose close ones were at one time or another affected by heart disease, this may not be that much of a suprise. While a great deal of attention is (appropriately) being focused on the AIDS epidemic in India, heart disease is not given much priority. The accounts from doctors are alarming.

The size of the problem is staggering. Even if the above predictions turn out to be inflated, India is ill equipped to deal with problems on such a colossal scale. The cost to India in terms of rupees spent, human resources lost and emotional, will be colossal.

Part of the problem may be that we Indians don’t have a central health information resource specific to the Indian population. Even for a third-world country, this is surprising. When we try to find information online, we are assured by websites for Americans or Europeans that until we are in our 40s, we are safe and need not worry about heart problems. However, this is true only for American and European populations. Indians are susceptible from the time they enter their 30s.

India needs premier central health institutes that can fund research into the epidemiology of medical problems, disseminate information that is relevant to the Indian population, and track the progress of strategies to counter the spread of such problems in the Indian population. Existing institutions such as AIIMS currently provide the best medical care, but do not have large-scale, nationwide epidemiology programmes. Of course we need hospitals, but without epidemiologic knowledge, we are simply shooting in the dark.

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Communism and Violence

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on November 22, 2007

On the face of it, Communism is a peaceful doctrine. All it says is that people should share resources. Joint ownership of resources, that sounds like a good idea. The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t work. Communism may seem like just another way to apportion resources, but its history demonstrates that it is really an inhumanly violent doctrine. (That is because there are no safeguards; the people in power are not responsible to those they rule over.) It inevitably devolves into a violence-when-desired doctrine.

This is evidenced by the excessive violence in all communist regimes so far. Soviet Russia had its share of extreme rulers. Millions were killed, and terror was the performance-motivating factor for most of the U.S.S.R.’s history. China followed much the same route under Mao Ze-Dong during the euphemistically named cultural revolution in the 1960s. In today’s media-driven world, China’s communist party recognizes that it is folly to be so blatant and have resorted to total indoctrination of the Chinese population to achieve the same aims. Any dissidents (the Falun Gong, for example) are dealt with savagely.

The latest in the line of Marx’s descendants to embrace violence and repression wholeheartedly are the Indian communists, the CPI(M). Following in the footsteps of their Soviet and Chinese gods, they have rigged every election in West Bengal (as reported by every English language daily published out of Calcutta after every election) since they came to power in the 1970s. The CPI(M) operates like the Chinese Communist Party, pilfering public funds to pay a huge array of “cadres” operating at a street-by-street level. The recent violence in Nandigram is the latest example of the disregard for ethics of even a basic pretense at humanity demonstrated by the CPI(M), which sent its cadres in to rape and torture villagers who did nothing worse than resist the confiscation of their own land for the CPI(M)’s commercial designs. In typical Communist fashion, saving loss of face became more important than the land and the law and the people.

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Is Caste Causally Responsible for Poverty?

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on November 18, 2007

Caste is, of course, a very good indicator of poverty in India. In the past, people were denied access to certain facilities based on their caste. This meant that certain castes weren’t allowed to develop in certain ways, and it became the root cause of today’s poverty structure, which is overwhelmingly biased against certain castes.

But I want to ask the question: does caste continue to be causally responsible for poverty? More specifically, conditional on the situation prevailing say 10 years ago, is caste still being used to deny opportunities to people today? Or, are we confusing the effect of the socio-economic stratum for the effect of caste?

Let’s be even more specific. Descendants of poor families are more likely to be poor than descendants of rich families. Descendants of both poor and rich families are also likely to retain their caste, since caste is hereditary and inter-caste marriage is still relatively rare. Thus descendants with castes which are poorer today are likely to be poorer than descendants of castes which are richer today. In statistical terms, the wealth of the family at the start of the time period under study is a confounder for the effect of caste.

The right way to ask the question is: take two families with similar economic conditions but with different caste; is one of the families likely to have richer descendants, say 50 years in the future?

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Gnome Frustrations

Posted in Computers by Armchair Guy on November 18, 2007

The Gnome desktop environment, as packaged with Ubuntu 7.10 “Gutsy Gibbon”, is a queer mix of liberating and frustrating. While it’s got some great features and applets, and Compiz is pretty cool, it really falls flat on its face in some areas. While I understand that the Gnome people want to be minimalist, the extremes to which they go are counter-productive. Here are some of my gripes:

  1. Their File Open dialogs don’t have a place where you can type in a file location; you are forced to navigate to it using mouse clicks. This becomes really frustrating if you want to hide folders starting with a period (“.”). I like to hide them because there are way too many and I access them only rarely. But when I do want to access them, Gnome makes it so difficult.
  2. Having the option to see more information about what’s going on during various operations can save a lot of frustration. I guess giving people access to information doesn’t necessarily go against Gnome’s philosophy; there could be an option to turn on extra information. One applet which frustrates me in this regard is the nm-applet which provides wireless access. The applet sometimes cannot connect to wireless networks, for example if I had to restart a wireless router. The problem is it keeps working away without allowing any kind of interaction. There is no option to cancel, no output indicating what it’s doing; just the animation showing that it’s working.
  3. Gnome workspaces simply don’t implement the best aspects of workspaces. The only thing you can do with Gnome workspaces is have different applications on different workspaces. What would be vastly more useful is to allow a different set of icons on each workspace. This is more important now that Gnome shows large thumbnail views of PDF files; there simply isn’t enough space on a single workspace, and Gnome prevents users from effectively using the additional space that multiple workspaces provide. Allowing a different desktop background would nice too, but this is just eye candy.
  4. Gnome has drawers, but these are too limited. You can’t look at its contents and see what each element is. (The drawers just show identical icons for all PDF documents, for example.)
  5. You can’t select multiple applications on the taskbar (using Ctrl-click, for example) to close or minimize several windows at once! This is the worst regression I’ve seen. I once tried to open a large number of audio files with Audacity (thinking they would be queued in a playlist) and it opened up about 50 windows. I had to close them one by one.

So if you have a large number of documents that you want to organize on your desktop for quick access, there is no way to do it: you can’t use workspaces because all workspaces have the same desktop icons, and you can’t use drawers because you have no way to label a drawer or its contents.

And, this isn’t Gnome’s fault, but lack of good out-of-the-box hibernate negates all the benefits of having multiple desktops.<

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Telugu Movie Recommendations

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on November 4, 2007

Here are some Telugu movies that I enjoyed. Think of it as my top Telugu movies list. I tend to enjoy movies that are have good attention to detail. I usually don’t enjoy movies that are too masaledar or too artsy or too violent. I’ll keep adding movies as I come across them. This list has fairly recent movies; maybe I’ll create another list for the older movies.

I’ve started adding ratings. What do the ratings mean? They give you a sense of how good a movie is relative to others. A movie with a higher rating is better than one with a lower rating, but this doesn’t tell you how much better.

  1. Anukokunda Oka Roju (5 stars). Low key, edge-of-the-seat suspense. Great, natural acting and tight direction make this one of my favourite Telugu movies. You can’t help connecting with Charmy’s character. Much, much better than its ridiculous Hindi remake Sunday. There’s not a thing wrong with this movie.
  2. Surya, s/o Krishnan (4.5 stars).surya-so-krishnan A Telugu-dubbed version of the Tamil superhit Vaaranam Aayiram (1000 Elephants), this is a great, compelling movie. It could be called a tragedy, but is really a mix of various types of story.  Despite some silly moments, it displays levels of intelligence that makes most Telugu films look like juvenile fantasies. A great deal of attention to detail went into this movie.  Entertaining, reflective and tragic in equal measures.
  3. Godavari (4.5 stars).godavariHeavily regional movie with the river as its theme. Kammula uses the scenery of the Godavari, local accents and the fresh cast to great effect. Great restrained performances from all of the actors.
  4. Morning Raaga (4 stars). Part-English, part-Telugu movie with a nice Andhra feel. Shabana Azmi impresses with her portrayal of a traditional middle-aged Telugu lady.
  5. Ashta Chamma (4 stars)Ashta_Chamma_PosterMaybe I’m being too easy with the star ratings, but this was a smart comedy.  With the exception of Colours Swathi (ya, that’s her Tollywood name), all the actors struck me as self-aware and composed.  Swathi was good too; unfortunately her role demanded ditz.  The movie is mostly carried on Srinivas Avasarala’s comedy skills, but there were a couple of really well-done song sequence (I usually hate songs in any Indian films), intelligent dialogue-based comedy, generally intelligent handling of the direction, good diction and also — another rare plus in a Telugu film — good production values.
  6. Vinayakudu (3.5 stars)vinayakudumovieThis is a fun little entertainer with a unique theme: a (ahem) healthy-looking guy. I’ve got a couple of plot gripes with this story, but enjoyed the dialogue-based comedy, fresh in-character acting and the lack of violence.
  7. Ullasanga Utsahanga (3.5 stars)ullasanga-utsahangaThis movie is unevenly paced and stumbles in a lot of places in a lot of the usual ways, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. The good thing is it lacks the unselfconscious naivete that many mainstream Telugu flicks have. The jokes in this movie are meant to be jokes. Another plus: good diction.  (I’m really bugged by the language contamination by the crappy accents of non-Telugu actors; the actors are great but it’s better if their parts are dubbed.)  It lacks any semblance of depth but is a watchable light-hearted romantic comedy.
  8. Happy Days (3.5 stars). This early effort by Sekhar Kammula is relevant and perfectly captures various aspects of a gang of students’ journey through four years in a typical college. The music in this film is fantastic. However, the acting and diction were disappointing in patches and it was good, not great.
  9. Gamyam (3.5 stars). Interesting story, nice portrayal of rural areas. One innovative dance sequence (the one with many hands). On the downside, the narrative isn’t as coherent as it could be and the movie’s moral science lesson is too in-your-face.
  10. Nuvvu Naaku Nacchav (3.5 stars). Venkatesh does comedy well. There’s nothing even the least bit innovative in this film, but it doesn’t have any cringe-inducers either.
  11. Aithe (3 stars). A so-so pick. It had a great story idea, but poor execution. The actors are not convincing at all, but what really bothered me was their absurd accents. Was the dialogue not spoken by Telugus?
  12. Bommarillu (3 stars). On the better side of so-so. Genelia’s character is a little too ditzy – or psycho, don’t know which. But is generally well-made.
  13. Anand (3 stars). Good, but not as good as Godavari. Sekhar Kammula, who directed both Godavari and Anand, seems to be shaping up to be a great director.
  14. Anasuya (1 star). Ok, I actually hated this movie. The direction was horrible, the acting was so-so, the pacing needed a lot of work, and it almost looked like it was over at the intermission. The reasons it’s in this list are: it was genuinely scary, it was good in patches, like the Aliens-inspired ending sequence, and it had a really great story. In the right director’s hands, this movie could have been great.
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