Sunday, April 27, 2008

India- the vibrant democracy

The Bharatiya Custodians of Public Morality (BHACUPUMO) has condemned the organizers of the IPL league for allowing cheerleaders to take part in the cricket festivities. They are outraged by the fact that scantily clad women are being paraded before a mixed crowd (age group 10-70) in an attempt to tarnish the image of India. This, they argue, must be stopped forthwith.

In response, the Progressive Organisation of Women’s Rights ( POWOR) has come out with a strong statement that such a ban would be an infringement on the right of women to express themselves in a manner that they deem fit. The National Cheerleaders Union (NACHU) while endorsing the views of the POW however asked them not to be presumptuous, as there were male members too in the cheerleader squad.

Representing the Bollywood Association of Pensioned Villains (BASSOPEVI) Shatrughan Sinha issued a press release supporting the stand of BHACUPUMO and pointed out how in the hundreds of scenes that he had acted as the rapist, he had ensured that the rapee was always appropriately dressed. Not to be left out, J.Jayalitha of AIADMK demanded the resignation of M.Karunanidhi holding him responsible for the display of skimpily-clad girls at the Chepauk. In a concurrent message as President of the Group of Ex-Heroines of MGR movies ( GROEXHEM), she clarified in Freudian terms that her own insufficient attires in those movies should not invite criticism, as all that had happened in dream scenes, over which she had no control..

The Pediatric Society of India (PEDSOCI) and the Geriatric Community of India (GERCOMMI), took strong exception to one part of BHACUPOMO’s statement which referred to the age band as 10-70. In a joint communiqué, the PEDSOCI and GERCOMMI, while maintaining that they had no specific opinion on the advisability of having cheerleaders, insisted that those aged between 0-10 and above 70, were also part of the mixed crowd.

In an interview to NDTV, Mandira Bedi, (MABE) cricket expert, read out an ex-tempore poem that ridiculed the moral policing done in the name of safeguarding national culture.

The All-India Forum of Ex-tempore Poets (AIFEXPO) immediately was up in arms and expressed shock that a non-member had been given the chance to narrate poems. The AIFEXPO called upon its subscription-paying members to boycott all the programs of NDTV, until further instructions. “If you fail, to obey the mail, we’ll clip your tail, till you wail, and throw you in jail, without the option of bail”, the AIFEXPO’s letter said in lyrical, categorical terms.

Meanwhile, Nestle issued a legal notice to Mandira Bedi, their brand ambassador for 2-minute Maggie, for appearing for two minutes in a public show without her noodle straps that the terms of contract required her to wear all the time.

Last evening, the Prime Minister, under the aegis of the Sonia Gandhi Sycophants Syndicate ( SOGASYCSYN) called all warring factions for a meeting, during which a compromise was worked out, with the cheerleaders agreeing to increase their skirt length by an inch and reduce the angle of their hip sway by twenty degrees. A peace pipe was smoked, signaling the end of the dispute. However, it is understood that this symbolic ritual has incurred the wrath of Anbumani Ramadoss, self-appointed Chairman of the Anti-Smokers Brigade of India (ASBIN).

At the time of posting this, Plus Ultra has been served a stern notice by the Controller of Abbreviated Names ( COABNAM) that use of unauthorized and unregistered acronyms was ultra vires the guidelines issued by the COABNAM and to refrain from violating those norms. Reliable soruces say that Plus Ultra plans to rope in the support of the Fraternity of Bloggers of the Indian Diaspora ( FRABLOINDIA)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Not a clean Slate

Slate refers to a recent, as yet unpublished study, that reports that those Muslims who went to Mecca came back with more moderate views on a range of issues, both religious and nonreligious, suggesting that the Hajj may be helpful in curbing the spread of extremism in the Islamic world. .. it's heartening to find that the Hajj may help to undermine support for the violent methods that have been so devastatingly deployed against Americans in the past.

The tone of the article is so patronising and, even demeaning. I mean, has anyone done a study on the impact of the visits to the Vatican and the Lourdes by the Catholics, and if it makes them more benevolent in their views? Or, what about the millions of devotees who go to Sabarimala, year after year? Do they come back exuding brotherly love, after the pilgrimage? And, since I can’t think of a religious context for the Americans, does their presence at the Super Bowl, rubbing shoulders with thousands of human beings, in a charged atmosphere, convert them into paragons of virtue?

And, a slight digression. If I understood it correctly, the Super Bowl involves a match between winners of two different football leagues. Do you think that the winners of the ICL and IPL leagues must similarly have a match to decide the real champion? Let’s call it the Super Bat.

Come, dirty your hands

Remember the childhood days when you loved to play with sand, but the response from your parent was less than enthusiastic? Or, how as a parent yourself, you try to keep your child away from mud?

Joe Kissel comes up with this interesting thing of the day:

“Children, I have observed, seem to have an innate affinity for dirt. No matter how recently a parent has dressed the child in freshly laundered clothes, no matter how carefully the parent has attempted to keep the child geographically separated from any substance that might soil or stain, it is just not possible to keep a child clean for more than 60 seconds….. Kids clearly have a talent for finding dirt, but also, dirt finds them. If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about.

But that’s changing now, thanks to the renaissance of a traditional Japanese art form known as dorodango, shiny mud balls (or, more specifically, hikaru dorodango, ultra-glossy mud balls). Parents are now not only actively encouraging their kids to play in the mud, they’re getting their own hands dirty too as they spend hours refining ordinary dirt into elegant sculptures. “

Joe Kissel concludes:

"I have yet to try dorodango myself, but I love the idea that you can make something so beautiful with three ingredients (dirt, water, and a rag) that virtually anyone in the world can obtain for free. As any child knows, mud is one of life’s simple pleasures. "
Now, what were the other things that I was prevented from doing, as a child?

A tale of the city

Charlie Broker, the self-confessed nocturnal creature, writes about his amazing journey into a whole new world that he thought was essentially inhabitable – mornings. He is astonished to find real, live people around. He establishes contact with an entirely new species- the commuters.

But, he quotes The Economist that thanks to the ongoing technological revolution, the commuter of yesteryear is gradually being replaced by the "urban nomad" of tomorrow and location is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

“The upshot of all this being that the early morning commute is set to slowly dissipate from a concentrated frenzy of furrow-browed scampering into a sort of fuzzy, laid-back cloud in which worker bees drift hither and thither, sometimes staying at home, sometimes buzzing round town….The very notion of geography has been shattered as surely as if someone had written the word "geography" on a plate and hurled it to the floor in a touristy Greek restaurant. And it'll be a bit less cramped at the bus stop as a result.”

So, can we all work from wherever we are? Does it mean the death of the office as we know it? Will cities be made irrelevant and will people begin the reverse migration to their villages?

Not quite. There are others who point out that the quintessence of a city is its ability to provide the conditions for constant interaction and, therefore, innovation. The amount of interaction and also the intensity lead to mutual learning from one another and offer the potential to combine different types of knowledge that support innovation. Not all cities have been innovative, but most innovations have happened in cities. You need a ‘spatial base’ for innovation systems to flourish.

That’s why platforms such as schools, universities, offices are also necessary. These are enablers of knowledge transactions, by ensuring close proximity.

In his book, “Cities in Civilisation”, ( I just read this review), Peter Hall argued that "great cities are central to civilization because their very size and complexity make them natural sites for “the innovative milieu.” Only the greatest cities can bring together the critical mass of creative people to overcome cultural inertia. Within these urban networks of innovators, new paradigms take shape that transform civilization. Here lies the justification and the salvation of the city."

Hall believes that the cultural centrality of cities will continue and even intensify, despite the success of space-conquering technologies of communication that seemingly have made the city obsolete.
Heck, I need to go back to my office tomorrow.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pre-taped, live shows

What happens when you try to pre-tape a call-in show? I found this episode hilarious. (via).

Reminded me of the maddening, circular references in the book “Catch 22”, such as this one :

Maj. Major Major Major: Sergeant, from now on, I don't want anyone to come in and see me while I'm in my office. Is that clear?
First Sgt. Towser: Yes, sir? What do I say to people who want to come in and see you while you're gone?
Maj. Major Major Major: Tell them I'm in and ask them to wait.
First Sgt. Towser: For how long?
Maj. Major Major Major: Until I've left.
First Sgt. Towser: And then what do I do with them?
Maj. Major Major Major: I don't care.
First Sgt. Towser: May I send people in to see you after you've left?
Maj. Major Major Major: Yes.
First Sgt. Towser: You won't be here then, will you?
Maj. Major Major Major: No.
First Sgt. Towser: I see, sir. Will that be all?
Maj. Major Major Major: Also, Sergeant, I don't want you coming in while I'm in my office asking me if there's anything you can do for me. Is that clear?
First Sgt. Towser: Yes, sir. When should I come in your office and ask if there's anything I can do for you?
Maj. Major Major Major: When I'm not there.
First Sgt. Towser: What do I do then?
Maj. Major Major Major: Whatever has to be done.
First Sgt. Towser: Yes, sir.

Let the battle begin.....

The advertisements for IPL league dub the event as a “karmayudh” and show the captains in war paint and battle gear - holding spears, daggers and other assorted missiles. As the first match starts today, conches will be blown and blood-curdling cries heard.

Why should sports be promoted as ‘war’ and why should such a promotion appeal to people at all? Does it pander to the innate aggressiveness in all of us?

Why are most video-games for kids, all about killing the enemy by shooting, bombing, blasting, maiming, piercing, blowing to smithereens, etc? Aren’t we inculcating in them a destructive mindset?

What explains the idiocy of parents buying toy guns and water-pistols for their toddlers, knowing well that these can lead to aggressive conduct? Why should Lego, known for their range of constructive building blocks, come out with their toy gun series?

Is there a link between ‘playing’ with toy guns as a child and aggressive behaviour as an adult? Just as the big cats of Africa train their cubs to fight and attack, through the medium of aggressive play, are we using toy guns to consciously prepare the kids for the rough adult life, by training them to become militant and violent?.

Google search shows that a study was conducted in 1976 by Charles W. Turner and Diana Goldsmith, psychologists at the University of Utah. Children were observed playing with neutral toys like blocks and airplanes and then with toy guns. The researchers found that the children exhibited more physical and verbal aggression after playing with guns. Isn't this a no-brainer?

But, toy makers disagree and argue ( source) that today’s toy guns provide a modern extension of the role of toys in enhancing children's play experiences. They point out that children have played fantasy games involving the triumph of good over evil for centuries. Before guns, there were bows and arrows. Such ''rough and tumble,'' is often a healthy way for children, especially boys, to resolve competitiveness and form friendships.

Probably, we are all born not with just an instinct for survival, but with an aggressive drive. As the Devil in Shaw’s “Man and Superman’ states:.

And is Man any the less destroying himself for all this boasted brain of his? Have you walked up and down upon the earth lately? I have; and I have examined Man's wonderful inventions. And I tell you that in the arts of life man invents nothing; but in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself. In the arts of peace Man is a bungler. I have seen his cotton factories and the like, with machinery that a greedy dog could have invented if it had wanted money instead of food. I know his clumsy typewriters and bungling locomotives and tedious bicycles: they are toys compared to theMaxim gun, the submarine torpedo boat. There is nothing in Man's industrial machinery but his greed and sloth: his heart is in his weapons.

That sums it up well. Man’s heart is in his weapons. So, it’s war out there. All the time.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The morning entertainment

I am beginning to get hooked to the Deccan Chronicle. Endless fun, it gives me.

Monday’s edition carried details of an MMS floating around, showing a Tamil actress kissing someone who was believed to be a local, married businessman with kids. The correspondent reported that when the actress was asked for her views, she emphatically denied that the photo was hers. She went on to add that someone had obviously doctored the photo, supplanting a look-alike of hers, just to tarnish her image. She lamented that some unscrupulous elements were misusing technology with a view to injuring people like her who hailed from cultured backgrounds.

Tuesday’s edition carried a report that the photograph was indeed that of the Tamil actress, and the kissing mate was none other than her husband whom she had married three years back and divorced later. When the actress was contacted, she confirmed that the photo was taken on the evening of her wedding, during a private function, where only select photographers were present. One of the photographers must have leaked the photo out, betraying our trust, she said. The newspaper, to enhance the credibility of the report, carried a couple of more photographs from the same wedding reception.

Also, Tuesday’s edition carried a sensational front-page article on how the police had tapped into the phone of even the Chief Secretary of the State. It said that an audiotape of the tapped conversation was in the possession of the newspaper. A transcript was published for public consumption.

On Wednesday, the paper reported that the Govt had ordered an enquiry into the episode. Not to investigate why or how the tapping was done, but to find out how the audiotape had fallen into the hands of the newspaper.

Endless fun, I tell you. .

Statins save lives

A study has apparently pointed out that statin drugs do not prevent heart attacks by lowering cholesterol. No, sir, they don’t. Statins prevent heart attacks by controlling inflammation. That’s how they do it.

I remember Mad magazine once came up with a wise observation that, contrary to popular belief, bulls don’t get affected by red colour at all. The reason they attack you when you display red colour is because they hate being mistaken for cows, which are the ones that do get affected by the red colour.

Does it matter whether bulls attack you because they are affected by the red colour themselves or because they are angry that you have mistaken them for cows? In either case, they attack you.

Does it matter how statins prevent heart attacks- whether by attacking the inflammation or by attacking the cholesterol? In either case, they attack. So gulp them down, whatever may be your cholesterol level.

The fact is that the CEOs of many drug companies are stressed out due to falling revenues and it is incumbent on all of you to go out right now and buy the statins to prop up the sales. The statins may not help your heart one bit. But by swallowing one or two a day, you will prevent the heart-attacks of all those CEOs. Or, should that be hearts-attack?

On birthdays and baseball pros.

“Why do so many pro-baseball players have their birthdays in August?” asks Slate in this article, and then proceeds to offer an explanation.

The pattern is unmistakable. From August through the following July, there is a steady decline in the likelihood that a child born in the United States will become a major leaguer.

One possibility, of course, is that the zodiac sign under which a person is born is a key determinant, as was argued in the book, The Baseball Astrologer.

But, there is a a better explanation.

“The magical date of Aug. 1 gives a strong hint as to the explanation for this phenomenon. For more than 55 years, July 31 has been the age-cutoff date used by virtually all nonschool-affiliated baseball leagues in the United States. Youth baseball organizations have long used that date to determine which players are eligible for which levels of play… The result: In almost every American youth league, the oldest players are the ones born in August, and the youngest are those with July birthdays. …. Twelve full months of development makes a huge difference for an 11- or 12-year-old. The player who is 12 months older will, on average, be bigger, stronger, and more coordinated than his younger counterpart, not to mention more experienced. And those bigger, better players are the ones given opportunities for further advancement. Other players, who are just as skilled for their age, are less likely to be given those same opportunities simply because of when they were born.

It will be interesting to see if there is such a pattern in schools. In Chennai schools, for instance, the cut-off date for admission is July 1st. Meaning that the child should be three years old on June 1st of the year, to qualify for admission into kindergarten. Do children born in June shine better as students, as they would be the oldest in class?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Do you know what you are looking for?

Noam Chomsky in an interview ( Source: “What we say goes”) , while acknowledging the benefits of the Internet, points to this flip side :

Built into the Internet is a system for creating cults. So, for example, if I had a blog, which I don’t, and I put up something that is slightly novel and maybe questionable interpretation of some event- the Bush administration is trying to poison the water in Boston or something, to pick at random- tomorrow somebody else would say, “That’s right, but it’s worse than you think.”. And pretty soon you would develop a cult of people proving that the Bush administration is trying to poison the world’s water. It’s extremely easy to get caught up in this kind of cultlike behaviour, which has a cocoon-like property similar to other religious cults, immune to evidence, immune to

There is an element of truth in what he says, but will not the same apprehension be equally valid in the case of various devices- mobile phones, photo-copying machines and suchlike? They also have the potential to move and distort information at great speed.

So, what would Noam Chomsky suggest to someone surfing the Internet?

Surfing the Internet makes about as much sense as for, say, a biologist to read all the biology journals. You will never learn anything that way. No serious scientist does that .The literature is massive. You get flooded by it. A good scientist is one who knows what to look for, so you disregard tons of stuff and you see a little thing somewhere else. The same is true for a good newspaper reader. Whether it’s in print or on the Internet, you have to know what to look for. This requires knowledge of history, an understanding of the backgrounds, a conception of the way the media functions as filters and interpreters of the world. Then you know what to look for. And the same is true on the Internet.

What Chomsky misses out is that the knowledge of history and an understanding of the backgrounds can also be provided by the same Internet.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

David Brooks writes in his column, in the New York Times :

They say the 21st century is going to be the Asian Century, but, of course, it’s going to be the Bad Memory Century. Already, you go to dinner parties and the middle-aged high achievers talk more about how bad their memories are than about real estate. Already, the information acceleration syndrome means that more data is coursing through everybody’s brains, but less of it actually sticks. It’s become like a badge of a frenetic, stressful life — to have forgotten what you did last Saturday night, and through all of junior high….

Society is now riven between the memory haves and the memory have-nots….
As one of the have-nots, I can understand what David Brooks is trying to say, With the finite RAM size of our brains and with more data coursing through relentlessly, the only option is to develop the ability to selectively forget the past. A neural program must be developed which would do some ‘housekeeping’ of the brain and send unwanted data to the recycle bin, to be permanently deleted if kept in storage for more than 48 hours. Aspects of the past which we find painful or useless can be picked out for disposal.

In the nineteenth century, writers and philosophers seem to have explored this theme of ‘forgetting’ in some detail. In his book, the Haunted Man, Charles Dickens has a Professor of Chemistry, Redlaw, being given the gift of forgetting ‘sorrow, wrong and troubles in his life”. With the painful incidents of the past removed from memory, Professor Redlaw experiences inexplicable anger and bitterness, and the moral of the story is explained as “it is important to remember past sorrow and wrongs, so that you can forgive the wrong-doer and unburden your soul from the misery”. Otherwise, you end up unbalanced and filled with emptiness.

That’s typical nineteenth-century drivel. If he were to write the story now, Dickens will have the Professor re-inforcing his memory cells with vivid description of the wrong-doer, so that he will not forget to have his revenge. While cluttering his brain with such trivia, the Professor will not be able to remember what he did on Saturday night….

Monday, April 07, 2008

Absolut truth

A map that Absolut vodka used in an ad campaign seems to have hurt American sentiment, according to this blog that tracks unusual maps.

The map shows what the US-Mexican border would look like in an ‘absolut’ (i.e. perfect) world: a large part of the US’s west is annexed to Mexico.

The blog explains:

Large swathes of the western US used to be part of Mexico. In 1836, American settlers proclaimed the independence of Texas, formally a Mexican territory. The US annexation of Texas in 1845 prompted the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), after which Mexico was forced to cede 525,000 square miles of territory (42% of its pre-war territory, 12% of the US’s current territory).

Mexico didn’t have much choice: a US army occupied Mexico City, and the alternative was total annexation. The Mexican Cession consisted of the territories of Alta California and Nueva Mexico, out of which were eventually formed the US states of California, Nevada and Utah, and parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

In this ‘absolut’ version of the world, the US and Mexico are about the same size.

But, what I found most interesting was the response of Absolut to the American protest:

We are sorry if we offended anyone. This was not our intention. We will try to explain. Though you may not agree, I hope you understand.”

“We have a variety of executions running in countries worldwide, and each is germane to that country and that population. This particular ad, which ran in Mexico, was based upon historical perspectives and was created with a Mexican sensibility. In no way was this meant to offend or disparage, nor does it advocate an altering of borders, nor does it lend support to any anti-American sentiment, nor does it reflect immigration issues. Instead, it hearkens to a time which the population of Mexico may feel was more ideal.”

“Obviously, this ad was run in Mexico, and not the US — that ad might have been very different.”

I found this refreshingly candid. No multi-national organisation can have one global marketing campaign. As the jargon goes, they have to think global, but act local. So, national and regional sensibilities have to be factored in all the time. This will obviously create issues that will need tackling. A map of India, cut off at the LOC, will invite a stern notice from the Govt of India. And, if drawn the Indian way, will anger Pakistan.

And, within India, you never can say what part of the ad will affect the sensibility of which religious group or linguistic community. When this happens, the usual response is to apologise profusely or to withdraw the ad and come out with one that is neutral in all respects ( and terribly dull, in the process)

So, when Absolut tells an ‘injured’ party, honestly, that they were appealing to the Mexican perception of an ideal world, which may not necessarily tally with the USA’s, I admire the stand they are taking.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The lightning rods

Bryan Caplan of EconLog links to an interview (1922) in which Hitler explains in a sober and quite dispassionate manner, why he was singling out the Jews for extermination, though fully aware that they had contributed immensely to science, art, literature, economics, etc.

It is manifestly clear and has been proven in practice and by the facts of all revolutions that a struggle for ideals, for improvements of any kind whatsoever, absolutely must be supplemented with a struggle against some social class or caste.

My object is to create first-rate revolutionary upheavals, regardless of what methods and means I have to use in the process. Earlier revolutions were directed either against the peasants, or the nobility and the clergy, or against dynasties and their network of vassals, but in no case has revolution succeeded without the presence of a lightning rod that could conduct and channel the odium of the general masses.

With this very thing in mind I scanned the revolutionary events of history and put the question to myself against which racial element in Germany can I unleash my propaganda of hate with the greatest prospects of success? I had to find the right kind of victim, and especially one against whom the struggle would make sense, materially speaking. I can assure you that I examined every possible and thinkable solution to this problem, and, weighing every imaginable factor, I came to the conclusion that a campaign against the Jews would be as popular as it would be successful.

There are countless instances in India when political parties have used caste, religion or language to whip up public sentiment and to appeal to the tribalism inherent in people. The propaganda of hatred offers the highest probability of success. The trick is to find the ‘right kind of victim’ to unleash and direct one’s venom on. Hitler knew this. And every politician worth his salt knows this and uses it to good effect.

Take note

I wince when I watch my daughter attend various coaching classes, take tons of notes and later commit to memory, thousands of Chemistry equations, hundreds of Physics formulae and pages and pages of theory. . The whole thing is a futile exercise as none of that stuff is going to help her cope with the real world, I feel. All that trivia and minutiae have a short shelf life- up to the examinations. And then she would discard all that junk from her brain and move on.

So, why do it at all? With so many ‘guide’ books available in the market, why should she attend lectures and take copious, hand-breaking notes? Why subject generations of students to this form of torture? What purpose does it serve?

Jonah Lehrer of Frontal Cortex offers this perspective:

It's easy to be misled into thinking that the real purpose of taking organic chemistry or "The 19th century English Novel" is to learn about benzene rings or the writing habits of Charles Dickens. But that's an illusion. What nobody bothers to tell you is that you will forget everything, that all those chemical equations will be purged from your hippocampus shortly after the semester is over.

Rather, the real purpose of all those big lecture classes is to teach you how to learn. You are being given an education in education, forced to develop the kind of thinking habits that will allow you to synthesize, memorize and analyze information later on, in real life. The content of the lecture notes is virtually irrelevant. What's important is the fact that you know how to take notes in the first place

So - stretching the point beyond taking notes - education or a degree is not an end in itself. The process merely arms you with the basic tools to cope with the real world. You learn how to learn.

A humble suggestion

In an interesting article in The Hindu, D.Balasubramanian, noted science writer discusses, in one broad sweep, the argument between the Government and animal activists over culling of animals such as the kangaroo to keep their numbers in check, how Le Chatelier’s principle comes into play and how human beings introduce an anthropo-centric bias of individual liberty into the proceedings. He asks, “Is the individual the crucial moral entity in nature, as we have decided it should be in human society? We simply may require a different sort of ethics to guide our dealings with the natural world, one as well suited to the particular needs of plants and animals and habitat (where sentience counts for little), as rights seem to suit us and serve our purposes today”.

He concludes that we should accept reality and cut the number (in each species) to a level that offers enough food and space to lead a sustainable level.

By numbers, of course, he means the population of kangaroos, pigs, elephants, monkeys, etc.

This, I feel, is not fair. The restriction on numbers should apply to human beings as well, and there should be a system that regulates the human population through periodic culling. And, in order to ensure transparency in the process, we should leave it to a master computer, which has access to all relevant data on all species, including human beings, to decide which species must go in for culling, how many and where. With human beings, it should also identify the individuals and the ID No. And, if a blogger, his or her URL.

There are several ways of implementing this idea and I don’t want to trouble you with too many details, which can be worked out as we go along. Naturally, the exercise will have to be kick started in India and China. A good beginning can be made, if the number of human beings in each of these countries can be kept to 1 billion. Anything above this has to be eliminated by ‘culling’

What criteria can we lay down for the culling of human beings? (Warning, the next para may affect the sensibilities of young mothers)

One good suggestion was made by the Irish writer, Jonathan Swift, as early as the 18th century. Making what he called as a ‘Modest proposal” ( albeit, in a different context), Swift recommended that “a hundred thousand babies, about a year old, could be sold at a price, as they would make a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled. They could be sold to the persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom; always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.”

Swift was quick to aver that he had no personal interest in this proposal as “I have no children by which I can propose to get a single penny; the youngest being nine years old, and my wife past child-bearing.” I may add that I don’t have any vested interest in promoting Swift’s idea either, as both my daughters are over a year old, and have no market value, under the scheme. My support to this idea arises out of pure altruism and with a noble view to maintain a proper ecological balance on Planet Earth

Swift’s scheme would be one way of controlling the population. But, I am aware that this may not be acceptable to all, especially some of the young mothers in the blogosphere. So, I am open to other suggestions. Unless, some pea-brained person comes up with a wild thought that persons over 50 years of age are the most appropriate specimens for culling. Then, I will have something to say.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Keep running on that treadmill

I had taken a week off from work last month. On one of those blissful days, happening to walk idly past a traffic signal at 9.00 am, I was happy to note that thousands of people in hundreds of cars and buses were rushing to their offices or factories, to toil, to sweat and to earn. If time-motion cameras were to be placed at vantage points, I thought, it would capture, to telling effect, the entire sequence of humanity on the move, the wheel of commerce spinning, the ensuring of livelihood by most, the pursuit of success by many… The most satisfying part was watching the whole scene from the sidelines, instead of participating in the mad scramble.

If only I could do it everyday, watch all the hard work being done, from the side lines….

In fact, during the break, I had picked up Jerome K Jerome’s book, “The idle thoughts of an idle fellow”. Just the sort of title that appealed to me. Though he lived in the nineteen century, I felt that here, at last, was an author, who was going to preach the virtue of laziness and contentment, and raise a clarion call to put an end to the insanity of this success-obsessed world. Which I would then cite to justify my aversion to hard work and burning ambition.

And, sure enough, in one of his essays, “On getting on in this world”, he gets off to a good start,

“..sitting in my arbor by the wayside, smoking my hookah of contentment and eating the sweet lotus-leaves of indolence, I can look out musingly upon the whirling throng that rolls and tumbles past me on the great high-road of life. Never-ending is the wild procession. Day and night you can hear the quick tramp of the myriad feet--some running, some walking, some halting and lame; but all hastening, all eager in the feverish race, all straining life and limb and heart and soul to reach the ever-receding horizon of success. Mark them as they surge along--men and women, old and young, gentle and simple, fair and foul, rich and poor, merry and sad--all hurrying, bustling, scrambling….

Ha, he is warming to the theme, I thought. Dripping with sarcasm. He is going to knock the stuffing out of those maniacs who perpetuate the myth that hard work was vital for success. Way to go, Jerome.

Suddenly, Jerome changes tack and puts a same-side goal. He says,

Contented, unambitiuos people are all very well in their way. I have not a word to say against contented people so long as they keep quiet. But do not, for goodness sake,let them go strutting about, as they are so fond of doing, crying out that they are the true models for the whole species. Why they are the deadheads, the drones in the great hive, the street crowds that lounge about, gaping at those who are working’.

Hell, it is as if the prescient Jerome K Jerome had caught me standing near the traffic signal, idly gaping at humanity on the move.

He goes on :

The contented people never knew the excitement of expectation nor the stern delight of accomplished effort, such as stir the pulse of the man who has objects, and hopes, and plans. To the ambitious man life is a brilliant game- a game that calls forth all his tact and energy and nerve- a game to be won, in the long run, by the quick eye and the steady hand, and yet having sufficient chance about its working out to give it all the glorious zest of uncertainty.

Why this guy must give a suggestive title of “idle thought of an idle fellow” to his book, and lure me to buy it, I can’t understand.

In another part of the book, he says “It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen”.

I better get back to work.