ANAMIKA

'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Phenomenal!

First, let me quote one of more mindboggling bits of statistics I have seen: The Jewish community - viewed here purely in cultural/ethnic terms, nothing religious - has something like 20 million people(far less than half a percent of the world population) and it has produced something like a quarter of all Science Nobel laureates - or maybe even more!

To give a comparison, the highly literate Malayali community outnumbers Jews almost two to one. But the number of Nobel prizes 'Mallus' have won is exactly zook (yes, we have *lost* at least one Nobel - the one repeatedly denied to physicist ECG Sudarshan!)

Jewish over-representation in the upper reaches of science has been well-known to me for a long time, but I was totally unprepared for the above *quantification* thereof - the antecedents of Einstein and Feynman had been known for many years but when Pauli, Josephson, Wigner, von Neumann, Landau, Andre Weil, Ed Witten, Steven Weinberg and so on keep piling up (source: Wikipedia), the effect is truly overwhelming!

Geographically, despite their paltry numbers, Jews have a great range; And this explosion of Jewish creativity is very widespread as well. Though the deepest springs of the phenomenon appear to be in Eastern Europe, Jews from the entire sweep of their present geographical range (India included) have achieved world level distinction in several domains of creativity. Indeed in countries like Russia and Hungary where the Jewish population is very small, almost the *majority* of eminent academicians today happen to be of Jewish origin.

And as one looks a little closer at this remarkable intellectual flowering, its most telling feature is revealed: it is a very recent phenomenon, less than two centuries old - although Jews have been around for over three millennia.

Indeed, if one surveys the intellectual landscape of the western world during Renaissance and immediately thereafter, the tallest peaks - Fermat, deCartes, Kepler, Harvey, Galileo, Newton...- were almost all non-Jewish. There had been the occasional Jewish genius and even Jewish Golden Ages (as in the Arab-ruled Spain before 1000 AD) but the totality of their achievement was never really inconsistent with their share in the population. Even in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Jewish intellectual had not begun to overwhelm - Euler, Gauss, Lavoisier, ... were all 'Gentiles' (about the earliest Jewish Mathematical genius I know of was Frenchman Olinde Rodrigues (1795-1851).

But come the latter half of the 19th century and one sees Jewish seekers of scientific manna from all over the west suddenly rising way beyond the level of the 'rest' - and with exponentially increasing frequency. From the Minkowskis, the Freuds, the Mathematicians from Russia and Poland and Hungary ... on to the Einsteins and Paulis and countless Twentieth Century and post-Millennial masters, the deluge of Jewish creativity has only gotten more powerful with time!

Even in areas like Western Classical Music, where the greatest masters of 17th and 18th centuries were almost all non-Jewish, Jews have excelled in more recent times. And that reminds me of an anecdote (not sure if it is authentic, but I guess it is illustrative in a rather profound way):

Someone asked famous Jewish violinist Itzhak Perlman as to how his family had so many gifted violinists. The answer was: "While fleeing from Pogroms, a violin could be easily carried under one's arm. We could not have possibly chosen to specialize in the Piano!"

(And after pogroms ceased in post-1917 Russia, things appear to have changed somewhat: a virtuoso pianist who often performed and recorded with Perlman was Vladimir Ashkenazy, ethnically a Jewish Russian!).

I am not knowledgeable enough to analyze the factors which triggered this Jewish phenomenon of truly Biblical proportions. But I do see some serious lessons for the wider world: Immense potential greatness is intrinsic to mankind (and there is far more of it available now than there ever has been, given our rising numbers and education levels); and it is just that the tiny Jewish community, rather mysteriously, has found the magic key to unlock this potential. In other words, Jews have NOT overachieved, but the rest of us (Mallus and all) have been a *mass of criminal underachievers*; and we need to do something serious about it!

Note: A more low-key and on-going process is the slow decline of Germany. World leaders in the 19th and early 20th centuries, German Science has now fallen behind the US, France and UK and Russia to almost Indian levels. The expulsion of the Jews during the Third Reich must have plenty to do with that!

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Elegant Left-Hander

One often hears how just being left-handed makes a batsman more elegant and pleasing to watch. The Laras, the Gowers, the Gangulys... the list of elegant southpaws goes on and on (Shiv Chanderpaul is often mentioned as an exception). This association between being left handed and being stylish is often extended to other games as well, although not to the same extent.

An explanation I have heard is: "As one watches a left handed batsman play, we naturally get to see more of the sweep of the bat, giving the strokes a fuller visual flourish." To be honest, I do not understand this argument at all; I have never quite felt I could see *more* of a leftie's coverdrive!

I have some thoughts on this matter though: Whenever I write something in English (a rather rare event these days), I hold the paper up against a source of light and see what I have written from the other (blank) side of the paper. My cursive handwriting is strictly mediocre but after 'left-inversion', it looks graceful and even beautiful. Of course, the inverted script is *not* really readable but it looks distinctly more attractive. For example, the tilts of letters is hardly consistent in my normal running hand, but from the other side, the slight mismatches in their angular orientation do not show up as much.

It appears that lack of parallelism in a group of (nearly parallel) lines is more apparent to (right handed?) human perception when they are rising lines (going from left bottom to right top, as the normal cursive English script) than when they are falling lines - and the falling angle is 'natural' to a left-hander (when a right-handed artist shades a pencil drawing, the shading lines rise whereas for a left-handed artist, they fall). My guess is: some related feature/limitation of our visual perception might have made us *less sensitive* to possible aesthetic drawbacks in a left-handed batsman's strokes, especially the cover-drive.

Well the above was just some speculation. Let me conclude with a 'left handed' quote, an amazingly lyrical bit of imagery from Omar Khaiyam's Rubaiyat in the Fitzgerald translation:

"Dreaming when Dawn's Left Hand was in the Sky
I heard a voice within the Tavern cry,
"Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
Before Life's Liquor in its Cup be dry.""


Note: Watched the video recording of an old Ganguly innings on the box. He kept feathering boundaries thru the offside cordon. The ball, after it would neatly thread the inner ring, actually would seem to *accelerate* in the outfield - and accelerate just enough to stay out of the chasing fieldsmen's reach (while keeping the fieldsman interested all the way to the fence).

As for other sports, I do think Roger Federer's tennis would have looked even more smooth and languid if he were left handed. And yes, even as things are, his game is a far more pleasing spectacle then (left handed) Nadal's crunching, muscle and bustle show.

Monday, March 03, 2008

"Er...Dmitri?... Hi Dmitri!"

Just heard a certain Mr. Dmitri Medvedev has been elected Russian President.

The first thing I could remember is this piece of dialog from 'Dr. Strangelove' (spoken by American Prez Merkin Muffley on the 'hotline' to his Russian (Soviet, to be precise) counterpart, Dmitri Kissoff).

"Er...Dmitri? ... Hi Dmitri! I called to tell you that one of our generals went sick in the head and is ordering planes to drop Nuclear bombs on your facilities.... I am sorry too Dmitri.... No! Don't say you are sorrier than I am. I am very sorry."

For more info about Strangelove (an amazingly complex and darkly funny movie, one I would love to watch again) do visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Strangelove.

As someone who grew up in the cold war era under the shadow of a world-ending nuclear holocaust (a threat which has not entirely gone away) I humbly wish the new Dmitri on the block and his counterparts the world over - and the rest of us, there, here and everywhere - LUCK.