Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A modest proposal

The 2011 Census, currently underway in India, is likely to come up with a population figure exceeding 1.2 billion.

If it keeps growing at this pace, the country will soon face a massive shortage of food and space, resulting in much misery for all. Everybody has been saying this all along but done nothing about it.

It therefore falls on my broad shoulders to lead humanity out of this crisis. I’ve been exercising my mind to find a solution to this problem and have drawn inspiration from a few science-fiction books and movies.

One method as suggested by the movie Soylent Green set in a dystopian future was to feed the population with processed food that was centrally manufactured by a Govt-controlled Corporation. The processed food was called Soylent Green and it was made from human bodies. This system is efficient and has other merits too, but is not very elegant if you ask me.

The film Logan’s Run came up with the idea of euthanasia. Those who reached the age of 30 were bumped off in a religious ceremony known as Carousel. This method is undoubtedly elegant, but is bound to cause some serious imbalance. You can't have the entire population made up of exuberant sub-30 creatures. You need some moderating influence and sagacity that comes only at my age.

I personally prefer the method advocated by Kurt Vonnegut in his story 2BR02B. For a change he doesn’t paint a dystopic future. He, in fact, describes a fairly Utopian setting where illness has been completely eliminated and death can happen only by accidents, if at all. But, the population of the USA is tightly regulated and maintained at forty million, through a combination of infanticide and assisted suicide. If you wanted to have a baby, you had to find someone to volunteer to die.

This is not only an elegant and simple mechanism, but can also be made foolproof using the efficiency of the free market. Those who desire to have birth certificates for their newborns must produce a ‘death certificate’ of some other person, purchased in a ‘Life Exchange’. The proceeds from the sale of the death certificate will go to the heirs of the deceased, offering them an incentive to put him up for sale in the first place.

Post-Census India will need some such model. Human inventiveness knows no bounds and I am sure that we will be able to build on this concept and refine it to the complete satisfaction of all.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Conversation with daughter-35

Daughter: This classmate of mine pisses me off completely….

Me: Hello, would you like to modify that sentence?

Daughter: Ok, this classmate of mine bugs me totally…

Me: That’s better. Why use a dirty word in a routine conversation?

Daughter: Appa, ‘piss off’ is not dirty. You can check the dictionary if you want. You confuse it with ‘piss” – which is your problem.

Me: Listen, the origin is same. Why use it when there are non-controversial alternatives available?

Daughter: Because the alternatives don’t have the same impact.

Me: You just replaced the word with ‘bug’ and I thought it made perfect sense to me.

Daughter: It will not, to someone of my generation.

Me: Look, when you talk to someone of my generation- maybe your professors and bosses in the future-  you have to be restrained. You could end up making a ‘negative’ impact by using a word which we were taught not to use.

Daughter: You need to change with the times..

Me: Don’t you think you’ll react the same way if, 20 years later, your daughter uses a word that you find dirty now, as part of a routine conversation?

Daughter: You are right. It sure will piss me off.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Vacuous and Verbose-26

In April 2010, newspapers reported that the Prime Minister was enumerated for Census. Yesterday was the turn of the Vice President to get enumerated.

I find the usage of the term ‘enumerated’ in the above sentences quite odd. I have always understood it to mean ‘to count one by one’. Apparently it can also be used, in the context of a census, to describe a single person being counted.

In his infamous radio broadcast during World War II as a German prisoner, P.G.Wodehouse described the tendency of the German guards to keep counting the prisoners with elaborate ritual and annoying frequency. They would ask the hundreds of inmates to stand in line once before breakfast, once after breakfast, once before the exercise drill, once before going to bed, etc and painstakingly take a head count.

One of the prisoners, according to Wodehouse, swore that if he ever got out of prison alive and became rich, he would buy a German soldier, keep him in his backyard and count him 10 times a day.

Do the Census officials mean this when they say that the VP has been enumerated? That they made him stand up and had him counted to make sure that there was only one of him?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Vacuous and Verbose-25

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is reported to have said yesterday:

“Corruption strikes at the roots of good governance. It is an impediment to faster growth. It dilutes, if not negates, our efforts at social inclusion. It dents our international image and it demeans us before our own people. This is a challenge which has to be faced frontally, boldly and quickly.”

Being very much a part of public life and heading a Govt that has faced multiple charges of monumental corruption for many years, one would think he would have the prudence not to pontificate to society at large, on this matter. But, no sir, preach he must.

A point of interest here is the unconnected manner in which the PM talks about corruption in public life. It is as though he is able to dissociate from his PM persona at will, and maintain an arms’ length relationship with it. As if the corrupt Govt that he is heading is a third party for him.

I think he is perfecting a new form of ‘illeism”.

Illeism, says Wikipedia,  is a style (though archaic) employed by authors to describe, in the third person, an event that they participated in. Example: Julius Caesar describing the wars he took part in, used illeism to impart an air of objective impartiality to the account, which included justifications of the author's actions. In this way personal bias was presented, albeit dishonestly, as objectivity.

Illeism can take different forms. Sportspersons sometimes advise themselves “X (being the speaker himself) has to work more on his free throws”. (source)

Wiki also gives the example of a theologian Richard B. Hays who wrote an essay where he challenged earlier findings of one Richard B. Hays. Similarly, Dr Manmohan Singh, the public speaker is able to come out of his PM’s garb and earn brownie points by talking freely and poker-faced about the rampant corruption that must be rooted out of our Govt and society. Admirable technique.