Category Archives: Uncategorized


The world’s fastest bike ride: 132 kilometres/hour. Wow. A pity Wired classified the article under ‘cars’.


Belches, fatuous claims and meat.

I don’t usually object to the Beeb; its reporting is carefully checked and succeds in offending almost everyone equally. The claim, however, in Costing the Earth on 8 May that

“There is a further hiccup with the vegetarian option: most of those who avoid meat source their protein from dairy foods.”

really gets up my snout. Who’s the ‘most’ here? Most vegetarians in the world are found in…South Asia and East Asia. They certainly do not eat a dairy-based diet, and in fact, I’d be curious to see the numbers on pulse-and-rice based vegetarians in the UK over against cheesetarians (as they have been called). I emailed them to complain, and the producer, Maggie Ayre, responded quickly (15thMay):

‘Thanks for your email.  Point taken. The presenter is aware of this and we should have phrased it differently.’

I’m not sure whether to be more pleased that they responded or annoyed at the distorted reporting. How would you phrase that differently? ‘Most upper-middle-class white vegetarians…’? Even that seems fallacious to me. Most of the vegetarians I know eat a very broad diet, whatever their tint or presumptive background. Tofu, peas, mushroomy things, soy-based shop-bought treats.

The next move in this windy goffling was Rajendra Pachauri’s call to eat less meat because, according to IPCC estimations, the livestock industry produces some 18% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, compared to just 13% for transport. Clearly Rajendra wasn’t thinking to substitute dairy for meat — no improvement in the gaseous impact there, just as Costing the Earth had noted months before.

And the last move in this debate goes to my daughter, Eleanor. When she went in for her pre-school checkup courtesy of the NHS, she was given a lovely book in which she was asked to pick her favourite foods. Lots of pictures of burgers and lamb chops and fish and chicken fingers and sandwiches and chips and pasta. Not a single plate of the rice and beans we eat every day, whether in Scotland or Nepal or California—and she was very confused by this.

Life ahead of the curve means you never see yourself in the popular media: and that is painful for children.

Ancient lunch

I just discovered this article on the foraging habits of early humans at Niah Cave in Sarawak. Modern humans there eat bats and even use them for wedding feasts – one of the rare explicitly ritual uses of bats. WIth luck further contact with the Cambridge zooarchaeologists behind this work will shed more light on early human uses of small vertebrates.There has been a very long history of humans and bats sharing dwelling spaces. In the beginning, we would have discovered new dwellings by seeing the whirling clouds of bat emerging from a cave at dusk. Now they depend on us for bat-friendly structures.I only wish the Schwegler bat houses were a little cheaper – £74 is a bit dear for my budget. Otherwise I’m sure we’d have a few along the walls of Yeti Nivas already.

Walking in step

Weddling away last night when I should have been editing the Kāraṇḍavyūha and found a solidly optimistic essay on walkable urbanity . The argument there is not miles away from my article on mindfulness and technology in JBE. I am skeptical, I admit, of Alex Steffen’s cheery tone – very much the American optimist, which is supposed to be a good thing. The marketers will damn us all without any bad intentions, each person looking to find a good sell for the next – and technologists simply don’t see how they, too are locked into the dance of death.

Forward in all directions

While I strongly doubt anyone actually reads this blog, I’ve re-loaded lots of old entries that got lost as a way of marking time today. They date back to March 2007.

I admit, I thought twice—well, seven or eight times—before re/committing to the GoogleBorg. I may yet find another home for all this; the very principle of inserting advertising into your ordinary socialization, as happens on Google searches or Facebook, disgusts me. It is not enough to commodify our own internal, and perfectly ordinary, sufferings and call them neuroses in order to extract payment for their remedy (Freud the bourgeois capitalist!); now our own ‘face’ in cyberspace has been colonized by adverts. But for now there is now choice; I can’t afford to pay for yet another subscription cyber-service.

Do we pay to have a face? Do we subscribe to our clothing? To be able to speak? But we pay for premium online presence, for programming tools, for ringtones. Late capitalism indeed. FOSS it all! Though even that has infelicities

It’s been a few months since I was at the British Library. They’ve instituted a bag search at the door. Given the recent brouhaha over British Transport police searching Scottish of some other sort, I began to wonder if the BL was being viewed as a target or as a hotbed of dissension. It could go either way, really; the BL of necessity employs a wonderful range of people – over lunch I had a lively conversation with Ramesh Dhungel about the Hodgson archives in Nepali and heard the usual two dozen languages around me in the Africa and Asia reading room. So is it the priceless holdings of the BL, or the suspicious foreigners that hang around there? At this point I am so confused and ashamed by the anti-terrorism mania that I cannot guess.

Now, my university—Aberdeen—has developed a habit of hiring ex-BL staff to major appointments – both the new head of IT and the new head of the library are ex-BL people. Hmm. I will have to watch the security policy at the new library verrrry carefuly indeed.

Frustrating then, to find that of all the books and articles I needed, almost none of them were available, even at the BL!. If anyone out there has issues of Maha Bodhi, the journal of the Maha Bodhi society, from 1955-65, do please let me know. Otherwise I will have to go begging for funds to buy them on microfilm.

Old theory and not so old technophile

This is an interesting encounter. Rheingold is a hero of the technorati and was one of the first people to theorize online communities. His first-person description of trying to talk to Habermas might be ossified professor syndrome, but he might be describing a genuine failur of imagination.

Out there, where we belong; near here, where I cannot go.

In my planned talk, not delivered, for the Newa Pasa Puca Guthi last night, I had intended to return again to the question of locality as a key determinant of Newar culture and identity. Even though Newars can be found everywhere, and indeed there were economically significant settlements of Newars in Lhasa and Calcutta, nonetheless even now Newars in London pine for the Kathmandu Valley. They do so for two reasons. First, it is the centre of Newar culture, where being Newar is neither strange nor trivial. In London or Edinburgh, Newars are just another kind of Asian. Their culture and language codes a specific difference in Nepal generally and especially in the Kathmandu Valley, where others recognize them as a specific group and Newars feel a sense of solidarity (towards outsiders). Moreover, rivalry among the many different Newar castes and locality groups is a basic feature of Newar life in the Valley, but it is an experience that is unattainable outside dense Newar settlements.

Second, it is the only place where the embodied and highly social experience of being Newar is possible. The ritual and religious architecture is there, such that it is possible to perform routine daily rituals as well as less frequent rituals such as digu dyaḥ pūjā or ihi and bārha.

Third, it is not just the availability of deities and shrines, but the actual urban space that Newars miss. The architecture of the cities and towns of the Kathmandu Valley supports a very high population density, while enabling specific purity rules concerning food and public gestures. It also allows for chance social meetings and routine ritual behaviours that are impossible in a scattered community.

Where ever Newars have actually settled they understand themselves to be from Nepāl Maṇḍala. This is unlike, for example, Punjabis or Gujaratis, who retain a sense of identity in diaspora through music and so forth.

Areas of the UK are mapped out has ‘having Newars’ or not noticed; so Manchester, Birmingham, London and even our humble Aberdeen are on the map.

Now as I passed from the Richmond/Hounslow border, where Arjun’s new house is, through to Kings’ Cross and then on up the line, I’ve realized that I map places in a different us/them continuum. For me it’s a question of dividing the world into
• University towns where I might live and work
• Urban or peri-urban areas, with no university, that I find implictly unwelcoming, such as Stevenage or Peterborough
• Urban areas with fieldwork possibilities, like Hammersmith or Bradford
• Rural areas, which seem welcoming and soothing.

So the most inaccessible and alienating places to me are the suburbs and new towns, places where I would never choose to live, nor am likely to know anyone. Nothing new there, then.