In The Armchair

Huh? Hindus are Vegetarian: NYT

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on June 24, 2008

Here’s a “Huh?” quote from this interesting article in the New York Times:

It was a Muslim establishment, serving carnivorous fare. But in deference to its many Hindu patrons, the gruel came in a vegetarian version, too.

The stereotype of the vegetarian Hindu is surprising, considering that it is well-known to be false: most Hindus are not vegetarian. I read on a blog that NRIs encourage this stereotype: if that’s true, is it because most Indian emigrants are vegetarian? It is a stereotype that many Indians believe: a non-vegetarian Hindu NRI once insisted that an overwhelming majority of Hindus are vegetarian.

The suprising thing is that, unlike most stereotypes, this stereotype is well-known to be false.

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Stereotypes about Caste

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on June 23, 2008

I read an article titled “Schedule Conflict: the persistence of caste in India” by a Harvard student recently. It brought home to me how stereotypes that are propagated and reinforced in Western schooling don’t go away after a student grows up and begins thinking for himself. Here are some peculiarities:

  1. the perennially disappointing “Hindu rate of growth.” — Does anybody still use this offensive phrase, even flippantly or in quotes? The author probably picked it out of some newspaper or the other. It’s used in the Indian media sometimes, but only to sarcastically point out the way the West perceived India’s religion. I’d like to provide an analogy using America’s race conflicts, but it would be too crass.
  2. Traditional hierarchies—like caste—are supposed to be getting weaker. Why then was the nation’s capital suddenly in the grip of caste-based protests once again last week? — This seems vaguely inaccurate. When you say “caste-based protests”, one gets the sense that it has something to do with the way society treated them (recently), anger with their place in a hierarchy. These protests had nothing to do with this. It was simply a group with a sense of common identity demanding something. The Gujjars were a caste, but they were acting as any other group with a common interest would. This was not a caste conflict.
  3. This is closely related to what I feel is a difference in perception of caste between Indians and the West. The West tends to think of caste as a “system”, a social arrangement created with a particular purpose. If you’re a particular caste, other castes must have treated you this way, you’re above these castes, below those. Indians tend to view caste as a means of explaining identity, a label that identifies history. If you’re a particular caste, you might have been born in this area, your ancestors must have done this kind of work, these are your customs.
  4. what an Indian gets is still as much about who they are as what they have done. Caste members are eligible for certain government programs and jobs, as well as educational opportunities, based almost exclusively on their caste identity. — This seems to be contrasting the Western work-reward notion (what you get depends on what you do, not who you are) with a hereditary reward notion. But that’s not what’s going on. The Gujjars are demanding affirmative action based on historical disadvantage. If a Gujjar shows acumen, he can still become a doctor or a businessman or a scientist.
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Religion as a Computational Simplification

Posted in Armchair Ruminations by Armchair Guy on June 20, 2008

What is religion, why do we need to have faith, why do we need gods?

Life includes a series of decisions. Decisions help us optimize our condition, find a route to another condition that is better, more stable, easier or happier. But the number of minute decisions that need to be made is so large that our built-in computer, the brain, is overwhelmed by the computational requirements.

So it takes shortcuts. It categorizes the decisions, pushing some, such as picking up the next spoonful of food or stepping aside to avoid a pothole, into a subconscious decision making queue. Others are not so subconscious but are still routine jobs, like signing your name on a credit card bill or going to work in the morning. Even with these reductions on its computational requirements, the brain would be left with too many significant mid- and long-term decisions.

Religion is the knowledge applicable to another subcategory of these remaining decisions. In many cases, it quickly allows us to use the past experience of wise people to determine a course of action when faced with certain decisions. Trying to figure every one of these out for oneself would put too much of a computational burden on the brain. Religion gives quick answers, without always requiring us to think hard.

Of course there are still a lot of decisions that can’t be addressed by religious knowledge, and which might require individual thinking. But religion helps quite a bit; a lot of right-and-wrong type decisions can be solved quickly by referring to religious knowledge.

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Hindutva is no longer a Category

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on June 18, 2008

Recent developments show that Hindutva is no longer a uniform ideology. Like in any other large group, there have always been differences in the Hindutva camp. But the Shiv Sena’s recent call for Hindu terrorist cells is so far away from most Hindutva ideology that it doesn’t deserved to be identified as such. It appears that there are many Hindutva parties that would not even imagine such nonsense. Perhaps this is no more than the rantings of an old man.

But there is no doubt that this will affect the reputation of all Hindutva parties, as well as provide cannon fodder against Hinduism and India.

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Backup (Part II)

Posted in Computers by Armchair Guy on June 11, 2008

I listed some requirements that I have for backup software for a single workstation in an earlier post. I seem to have found a solution that has many of those properties, though not all. It is called SBackup (for Simple Backup) and I am running it on Ubuntu 7.10. (I won’t be shifting to 8.04 until all the kinks are worked out, or they invent hibernate for Linux.) It really is simple and runs very well in my situation.

Here’s how SBackup satisfies my requirements:

  1. SBackup has a modicum of network awareness; it can backup over an SSH or FTP connection in addition to a local directory.
  2. SBackup can do incremental and full backups. By default every backup (except the first) in SBackup is an incremental backup. The administrator can specify a schedule for full backups, such as a full backup every 21 days.
  3. SBackup has pretty good scheduling. The frequency of full and incremental backups can be controlled. A purging schedule can also be set up, for example: keep all backups for the last week, keep one backup a month for the last year, keep one backup every 6 months for years before that.
  4. SBackup’s backups are software independent. This was a major problem I had with DAR, which I was using before SBackup: DAR archives couldn’t be read without DAR. SBackup just uses tarred, gzipped files. So I have no worries about how I’m going to access the files in backup if SBackup is discontinued or unavailable in the future.
  5. SBackup doesn’t have encryption, but right now this is not crucially important to me.

In addition, SBackup really is very simple to configure, and it works silently behind the scenes.

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Spinach and Grape Tomato Spaghetti

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on June 11, 2008

I got this recipe from here, and made some minor modifications.


Spaghetti – 1/2 pound
Fresh spinach – 3 handfuls, or 150 grams; finely chopped
Grape tomatoes – two handfuls, or 100 grams; cut in halves
Parmesan cheese – Freshly grated, 1/4 cup
Garlic – Freshly grated, 1.5 teaspoons, or about 3 medium cloves
Dried basil – 1.5 teaspoons
Virgin olive oil


Put the spaghetti on boil, partially covered, with about 3 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. In a separate pan, heat 3 teaspoons olive oil. Add the grape tomatoes and sautee for 2 min. Add the grated garlic and basil and stir to coat tomatoes with them, about 20 seconds. Add the chopped spinach, toss with the tomatoes. Cook for about 3 min, until spinach is wilted. Turn off heat and wait until spaghetti is done.

When spaghetti is done, drain about 1/2 cup of cooking liquid from spaghetti into the pan with the spinach and tomatoes and start heat on low. Discard the remaining cooking liquid if any. Add the grated parmesan to the pan and bring to a boil for about 30 seconds, mixing to make sure the parmesan melts. Pour the contents of the pan into the spaghetti pot and stir over a medium flame until liquid is almost gone, 2-3 minutes. Done!

Tip: The spinach tends to clump together because of the cheese. You can separate it or leave it; the spinach clumps have a nice texture of their own.

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Twenty20 and ODIs

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on June 10, 2008

There has been a lot of apprehension about the Twenty20 format. It is such a short version of the game that people are worried it will result in a sort of hack-and-slash cricket. It is so attractive and popular that there are worries the beauty and the fine technique of longer versions will become obsolete.

But maybe not. The Kitply cup ODI victory may be an indication of how the Twenty20 format can actually help players prepare for ODI matches. The Indian team in the first match between India and Pakistan was fresh from the first IPL Twenty20 tournament, and not only ended the 12-ODI winning streak of the ODI-trained Pakistan squad, but routed them by 141 runs. India gave away 3 extras; Pakistan gave away 38. Pakistan fielded miserably, dropping crucial catches which allowed the Indian top-order batsmen to raise the Indian total to 330. Of course one match is not enough evidence, but maybe the Twenty20 format forces players to play a tighter, more focused game, something that the ODI-trained Pakistan squad simply had no answer to. It’s a different, more nimble kind of warfare.

One of the biggest complaints about the Twenty20 format is that it is designed so that batsmen can go after bowlers. 20-run overs are not uncommon, and some think this will discourage bowlers. This is a misconception based on an inability to adjust your measures to a different situation. It needs to be understood that in Twenty20 a 10-run over is not so bad. A 5-run ODI over is the same quality as an 8 to 10-run Twenty20 over; that’s all.

If anything, the bowlers’ performance becomes even more crucial in Twenty20. The value of a bowler who can pull off some tight overs is very high in the 3-hour format, and the bowlers end up bowling more accurately under more pressure. This hones their skills.

The overall effect of Twenty20 remains to be seen. But initial indications are that it looks like a great thing for Indian cricket.

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