“I once spoke to someone who had survived the genocide in Rwanda, and she said to me that there was now nobody left on the face of the earth, either friend or relative, who knew who she was. No one who remembered her girlhood and her early mischief and family lore; no sibling or boon companion who could tease her about that first romance; no lover or pal with whom to reminisce. All her birthdays, exam results, illnesses, friendships, kinships — gone. She went on living, but with a tabula rasa as her diary and calendar and notebook. I think of this every time I hear of the callow ambition to ‘make a new start’ or to be ‘born again': Do those who talk this way truly wish for the slate to be wiped? Genocide means not just mass killing, to the level of extermination, but mass obliteration to the verge of extinction.”
29th November – 7:00 PM – Posada de Huertas – 21 Calle Huertas, Madrid
It was a pretty cold evening in Madrid. I was thinking of a problem I had encountered while listening to a talk that day. It concerned Narayana Numbers. I was resting in the hostel lobby area where I spotted one of the room mates from the same dorm as mine. He was Scottish, hailed from Edinburgh, currently worked in London at a firm which had outsourced its IT Support to an Indian Company and that too in Bangalore. This was a perfect setting for a discussion on a quintessential Indian stereotype of providing support over calls as if every Indian does the same job. We went to the hostel kitchen area and started talking over a plate of Paella. That night was Paella Night in the hostel. It’s like every other night there used to be something from Sangria Night, Beer Pong, Pub Crawl(This was a daily affair) but yeah, You meet a lot of people searching others like you to hang out. I had made a friend out of another room mate from the same dorm. He was Patrick from Ivory Coast, also an Erasmus Student in Granada, Spain but originally hailed from Chicago, USA. As far as I can tell, We went along quite well but this evening I am talking about has not yet kicked off in its full momentum. So, as we were talking about, you know, Stuff but I could see a girl, very different from the crowd of girls I had seen in the past appear and disappear in the kitchen. It was as if some part of me was yearning to catch a glimpse of her persona. She took a seat and started to play with her cell phone, which for me is a big downer. The Moment we started talking about football was when I caught the first “star” in her eye. She was not herself. I have this very inevitable interest in reading, observing, analyzing, and creating my own compedium of experiences I had with people and that remains the benchmark for how I not very consciously “grade” people.
The fact that I did not dismiss this encounter like many others I had in past 3 months is shouting at its highest pitch that something is and was wrong with that girl. By the way, she introduced to us as Emma, from Finland, 17 years old, works as Au Pair (a young person, usually a young woman, from a foreign country who lives with a family and helps to care for children and do housework in return for the opportunity to learn the family’s language) in London with an Indian Family, is a National Level Competitor in Contemporary Dance (Many other qualities are about to follow). Her countenance and her description of herself and her life went along very well, both were childish manifestations of an incomplete teenage dream of achieving what nobody else could achieve. Her looks were kind of sober, I liked it personally. My fellow Ivorian was kinda shaky. So, cutting short of conversation we had in hostel kitchen which ranged from FC Barcelona (she supported it from childhood, She hates Sergio Busquets for his pretentious falls as quoted by her, Surprisingly she also doesn’t like Iniesta, On asking why – She beats around the bush) to Finnish Culture and its comparison to others in Sweden. Her highlight was her’s description of her life.
We decided to follow the hostel people for Pub Crawl. Now this seldom appears to me as the right option but better than being all alone at the hostel by yourself. Me, Emma and Patrick followed others to another Hostel where people from another hostels were gonna “congregate”, have sangria, vodka, cocktails, shots (CHUPITOS) and then head towards one of the clubs in the locality at 12 midnight. I was sapped of all my energy to bear this shit and I decided to leave for the room. Emma and Patrick followed. All of a sudden, I spotted a Frozen Yogurt shop at the corner of our street and We all agreed to have a bite of one of the most delicious yogurt I have had ever. If you want to see it, close your eyes.
Yeah, coming back to Emma. She was by now very appealing to me as a person. At the hostel we met for Pub Crawl “congregation” a few minutes ago, there were a couple of Irish Gentlemen flirting with her – “Can I offer you a drink?”, to which she blasted -” Oh Wonderful Tactic, but I have used you all a hell lot to regret refusing your offer !”. She was sparkling in her conversation about how she left home when she was 16 to earn living. It didn’t occur to me as something normal as we are from land of values, attachment, a well bred system which produces earning adults, but here I am sitting with a gorgeous 17 year old earning her livelihood spending her holidays in Spain. Incredible !!
I let go of my surprise when she started talking about her finances and how she doesn’t even take a penny from her family. At my inquisitive outlook, she had this -“Why would I take money from my parents ?”. Remember Remember this is 29th of November and this girl Emma is just 17 years old. Her Dream is to be a great Ballet Dancer. Pretty amazing, isn’t it ?
For the very first time in my life, I liked a girl not out of irrational infatuation but out of respect for her. This is a special moment for anyone belonging to the Homo Sapiens family. I actually in my mind enlisted all the girls I had liked, and she was a different “genre”. But, yeah something was fishy as hell, something was wrong in the air she had around her, I somehow did not want it to go down this road – but she was faking it. This brief encounter filled me with unfounded expectations of how my partner would be like but it was all torn apart once I started to get the true picture.
Patrick was all with me on this point. She talked at length about how she got into the Dance Academy in London. She claimed to be a national level competitor in Contemporary Dance form. She, sometime later claimed to have done a Geography project on India a few years ago and by this what she concluded was – “Everyone in India is an Engineer”. She claimed to have a good taste of music and dance but she never visited a pub in her life in Finland. She didn’t even sync with an Irish Pub we went into later that night. She never had a hard drink before, which she claimed to have because what she ordered was Cuba Libre without Rum (Take a moment – This deserves a Facepalm). She had to say something about hookers too. According to her, Hookers bring shame to the women community as a whole and they should be kept far away from normal day to day crowd to avoid embarrassment (I’m quoting her). She also writes scripts and I managed to convince her to write one with me then. She told me – “Caveat : There are people who pop up here and there in your life once you are successful to get a bite of your hard earned success and status but If you are one of them, I’m so sorry but you will be disappointed to see how I reply.” She had conviction in what she said. I remember her words like brain remembers a wonderful smell.
But what she was really within, She was trying to hide it. She in her attempt to sound ambitious, confident and vibrant was concealing a hell lot than what met my eye. There were several moments when I had her -“What are you looking at?”. This sounds insane to me but I have created a mosaic of all the bits and pieces of time I had between her talking and someone else talking to create a vivid picture. She as a person had qualities of normal human beings but an extraordinary art of convincing and concealing the self.
Why is Emma important to me ?
She is not. But what she embodied was a wavering flame in a surrounding of still air. You go on frantically searching for her and then you are disappointed, because there is no one like her. It is all “fake”. This encounter left me thinking that whatever she aroused in me in a few hours of meeting was an unexplored territory for my neurons. Most probably, I know her name is not Emma Sietrey which she advertised, because I couldn’t locate her anywhere on any of the Finnish networks or elsewhere too.
“A thing of beauty is a not a Joy forever but a very transitory period”.
Every week I am in meetings where we discuss lessons learned from the ISS program. We learn hundreds of things every week. Many of them are mundane operational lessons – we learn how to better track inventory on the ISS or we learn how to better document instructions in a procedure. Sometimes it is mundane technical lessons – we learn things like the anti-microbial agent put into the plumbing causes problems with the water treatment apparatus or we learn that a particular type of light bulb lasts longer or shorter in the space environment. These lessons will simplify future missions to the moon, Mars, or beyond.
It’s a lot of these lessons learned that make me worry about Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars mission. I know that things will go wrong and they can’t turn around or send up replacement parts. I have to hope they build in enough redundancy to survive many failures.
The ISS is the largest peacetime international engineering project. Before even thinking about the hardware, software, or operations, the first lessons have come from that international partnership. People from 18 countries have come together and found ways to cooperate. Hardware was built for this vehicle in Russia while other hardware was built in the US, and the various pieces would have to connect to each other – for the first time – in space.
Some of the things done in the design and construction of the ISS are mind-blowing. To stand next to one of the Node modules and realize that it was carved out of a single block of aluminum is amazing.
The crew are experiments. Flight surgeons study how space affects the crew members and we adjust our protocols based on the results. One of the outcomes of this is that we have a much greater understanding of how to ameliorate many of the negative consequences of long duration microgravity exposure. We have refined the exercise and nutrition regimes to the point where we have actually had a few astronauts return to Earth as strong as when they left.
We’ve learned bizarre things – like that in microgravity the shape of a man’s eye can change, altering his eyeglass prescription, sometimes permanently – but this doesn’t happen to women.
There have been about 1000 significant payload science experiments conducted on the ISS. Innovations from these can be hard to track, because they are usually not immediate and usually come from other parties than the original payload investigator. A payload investigator does an experiment, makes an observation and reports the results, and somewhere an engineer is inspired to apply those results to a practical use. NASA is often not involved in what happens to the experiment data, once it is returned to the investigator on the ground. NASA does try to compile information about some of these benefits via their Spinoff website/journal: NASA Spinoff Homepage
There is a NASA website where information about many of these experiments can be obtained: NASA – Experiment List – Alphabetical
More information can be found via the CASIS page. CASIS is the non-profit group that has the contract to be responsible for coordinating and scheduling research done on the ISS: CASIS Welcomes You to the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory
These experiments range from observation of how spiders behave in absence of gravitational acceleration, to plasma physics to drug cultivation to crystal growth experiments. I read a paper recently about a crystal experiment on ISS that taught scientists a new way to compose a metal alloy that should result in lighter and stronger structures for buildings and airframes.
Courtesy : Robert Frost on Quora
Yes, you can, though there is one complication.
A plant grown on the International Space Station:
The complication that needs to be overcome is that plants make use of gravity when planted to orient themselves (as they can’t rely on being planted the right way up), so that their roots go down and their sprouts go up. Without gravity, they will tend to just stay at around the same depth and not sprout. One astronaut reported that this was simple enough to fix, however, just by plucking the ends out of the soil, pulling them to the surface, when they first sprout. From this point, the plant can orient itself using light and will continue to grow. Roots don’t suffer as much, as they just grow away from the seed and avoid light (the surface), so develop relatively normally.
After this, growth is mostly normal (as can be seen above). The resulting plants can look a little unusual because they don’t have the usual drooping from gravity, so will tend to be more upright.
“God has not given the foreigners the capacity to comprehend the magnanimity of the joke he has played with them by not giving them the goods to appreciate how Indians live in the present setup.” Reading the foreigner’s account of my nation gives me the global perspective of how we are seen as living entities. The piece of writing I am sharing over here is something which connects with every Indian Individual persisting to make a mark in order to live in an atmosphere undesirable or perfect I know not. Go forward and have a read.
Visiting India defied any tidy, one-sentence quip I could think of. It left me a mix of enchanted, bemused and horrified – often at the same time.
The first thing you notice is the people. Not as individuals, but as an overwhelming force of numbers, spilling over the streets like a river. This is a place where the population increases by 200 million every ten years.
Such growth in numbers seems to be pushing society to limits a visitor can struggle to comprehend. I’ve travelled around tribal huts in Africa and slums in South America, but this was something else.
Poverty I expected, but it’s the side-by-side contrast of rich and poor that made my eyes melt. Lamborghini’s drive nonchalantly alongside cattle. Ancient monuments stand in the midst of collapsing shanty towns. Pristine colonial palaces overlooked children walking through the garbage.
In some places, I saw hoards of immaculately suited Indian teenagers, with perfect hair, tapping on their iPhones. They would look overdressed in Italy. Across the street a man with two withered legs would carry himself on his palms across the sand. Later, our jeep would overtake an elephant.
In the cities, virtually every hotel, tourist attraction and many restaurants all had metal detectors outside. The funny thing was, everyone set off the alarms, and guards would just bow and usher you through. At the Red Fort in Delhi, hundreds flowed through the detectors every minute with no-one even present to check them. Somewhere, there’s a very rich Indian selling metal detectors.
The city of Agra is home to the Taj Mahal and a wealth of other attractions that probably feel like their pretty sister gets all the attention. The foreigner admission fee for the Taj plus two other monuments is just 750 rupees ($14). That’s 40 times more expensive than the domestic price (20 rupees) but it’s still cripplingly low. Flanked by barbaric poverty on every side I want to scream: for the love of God, raise your prices.
Indeed, the western entrepreneur in me desperately wanted to run the place for a day. The best photos I’ve seen of the Taj are from the river behind it, yet there’s no way to get there? Build a bridge, and charge me to cross it. Offer overpriced boat tours. Collect donations from tourists. Build a proper museum, adorned with the finest of Indian culture. There were countless people hard-selling art we didn’t want to buy – I would happily pay just to walk round and look at it. And somebody, open a damn gift shop. 2 million people come here a year. Earn some more money.Please.
Whilst the Taj was predictably spectacular, for me it took a backseat to Delhi’s Akshardham Hindu temple (above). I’m about as non-spiritual a person as you’ll ever find, but strolling through this ageless gem, lit by the setting sun, I was sincerely moved. Their musical fountain would shame the Bellagio. It’s a work of staggering, unique beauty and a ringing endorsement of what India can achieve; the 86,000 sq ft complex was built by 11,000 workers in under 5 years.
Yet it seems wherever you go in India, garbage surrounds you. It gathers like fatty residue in the arteries, clogging the edges of roads and buildings. Sometimes it spills high into waste mountains that people scavenge, set fire to, or stroll over like a parkland.
Imagine if all of the waste tips and bins in Europe were emptied into the streets. Then multiple your population density by 10. Even with pictures, it’s incomprehensible.
India is possibly the most resplendently colourful place I’ve ever seen. It seems baked into their cultural DNA – from glorious clothing, to painted vehicles to technicolour buildings – and the strong sun make those shades even more striking. The only thing that ever tones down the hues is a haze of dust and morning fog.
Everywhere new buildings are rising, and it looks like they’re struggling to keep up with demand. In a hotel in Jaipur, the softly illuminated glass and wooden interior would be impressive in London, were it not for one detail: none of the light switches lined up. In one glorious, ancient palace the chandeliers dangled precariously from half unscrewed fittings.
People here sell like nothing I’ve ever known. I was given a pitch to buy a $6 shirt that would shame any America car dealership. No problem sir. Everything looks great on you. We can have it tailored for a dollar. Their eagerness to move heaven and earth to sell is truly impressive, if a touch disconcerting. One shopkeeper sent his 10 year old daughter to follow a tourist back to their hotel, because they didn’t have money on them to pay for a dress.
It can be frustrating as well. One shopkeeper tried to sell us earrings for 4,500 rupees ($83) that we saw earlier on the street for 300 ($5). The price is determined more by what you look like, than by what you’re buying. On numerous occasions, a tour guide would lead us conveniently into the depths of a rug or jewellery store. Once seated and offered tea, his ‘friend’ would deliver a finely honed presentation to a captive audience. I might have walked off in disgust, if only they hadn’t been so damn good at it. My girlfriend remarked “I didn’t want to buy a thing, but now they’ve spoken, I do”.
I wish that talent was better placed though. When that same passion gets put into something bigger than selling rugs, the world had better watch out. There’s a tidal wave of new Indian entrepreneurs building here, and it’s only just starting to reach our shores.
What can I say about the people? They’re impossibly diverse. 1.2 billion people with 22 official languages – they have nearly double the population of Europe and speak nearly as many different tongues. I met delightful and horrible people. Many were proud of their nation, others bitter. All generalisations seemed worthless.
That said, travelling with my girlfriend we did perceive a fair whiff of sexism. Sometimes in a queue, with her in front of me, a man peered around to address me first, and then other men. Served at a dining table, I would be asked what the lady would like. With the exception of a few western hotels and the airport, we never saw any women working outside of the home or fields.
With the relentless hawkers, beggars and sellers, you soon develop a shield, and for me this was one of the most unpleasant things about my trip: how it changed me. Near the end of my journey, as a group of us clamoured into a jeep, a young woman approached. Showing us the twisted stumps where her arms should be, on cue, she began to cry. Everyone in the jeep looked at each other, paralysed. My mind was racing – I knew this was contrived, but surely I should give her something? We’d turn down countless beggars before, but this woman has no arms. A couple of seconds later our tour guide slipped 10 rupees (about 20 cents) into her pocket and we drove off.
I felt many things as we drove away. Self loathing that I couldn’t overcome my wretched beggar-shield to give this woman – what – two paltry dollars? That could buy her 10 meals. Anger that I’d been hardened into someone who could do such a thing within just a week. Fury that a country with 20 nuclear reactors and a billion dollar space program can allow any of their people to exist like this.
I think a holiday can tell you as much about yourself as the place you visit. India made me very grateful for many things that are too easily forgotten. As a holiday it was an unforgettable experience and one I intend to build upon – I know I only had time to experience a tiny speck of this vast land.
For all the frustrations and the horrors, I came away greatly impressed by India. It’s easy to feel despair at the scale of the problems they face, and to feel like any amount of time or money would never fix them, but that’s not my impression. The land buzzes with potential, mostly untapped, and it’s growing up fast.
At a train station I saw people building up piles of sand with shovels to extend the platform. It might seem like a small thing, but it made me smile. One day, that platform will help carry millions to work, to build businesses across the globe, to travel to their airports where some will probably fly to visit quaint ol’ England, long past its prime. The future belongs to these people, and it’s incredible to see it coming together, one shovel of sand at a time.
Finally finished watching Zero Dark Thirty. This movie has been generating uproars in the upper echelons of the governance regime and brought the whole torture memo and black site discussion into revival again.
The sadistic side of my personality kind of enjoyed the waterboarding torture scenes but it shakes you from within to see that such an interrogation program has been brought into play to break the silence. I am in no way judging its efficacy as I had to have some insight into how much can you resist such an interrogation and how do you know that the confessions resulting from this had any veracity or is it just concoction of several innuendos which is made by the person to evade such an interrogation.
I started my research on resistance to interrogation while waterboarding which is undoubtedly regarded as the harshest of all six secret interrogation techniques used by C.I.A.
In U.S.A military people are trained hardly in order to make them resilient enough to survive and evade difficult conditions of interrogation if captured by enemy. The whole program is a set of course undertaken in name of SERE by military ( Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape ). The same psychologists who have framed the course curriculum for SERE are consulted over and over again by C.I.A for assistance in interrogating enemy combatants captured in their Black Sites abroad. Read this New Yorker article for context in how they can be made use of at Guantanamo Bay
How is it to be Waterboarded ?
Some former C.I.A chiefs disagree with the current interrogation pro forma. They are of the view that patient approach of questioning is more fruitful in the long run than torturing your subjects. Others have the view that when the subject is going through the most painful torture available, he would definitely break down on knees to give you information you need. Christopher Hitchens, the famous british intellectual voluntarily got himself subjected to this torture and broke within seconds. The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law. I am attaching his vanity fair video so that the reader gets acquainted with how is it done.
What are “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” ?
The CIA sources described a list of six “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” instituted in mid-March 2002 and used, they said, on a dozen top al Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe. According to the sources, only a handful of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use the techniques:
1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.
2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.
3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.
4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.
5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.
6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda’s toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.