The Head-Smashing "Survey"

Really, what's with nutcases who take something obvious and package it as news, announcements, surveys and more?

Just pick up the newspaper following any terrorist activity – and you'll see politicians right up to the Honorable Prime Minister giving statements like “Prima facie, it appears to be the handiwork of terrorists”. Oh REALLY?? Damn .. and here I was, thinking that the strays were celebrating animal Diwali!

Then, we have a new survey almost every day in the newspaper – which claim to have unearthed some sacred truth – like this survey which has reached a conclusion that dudes driving and text-messaging at the same time are more likely to meet with an accident than those who don't. Oh bloody freaking WOWWW!! Who would've figured THAT out?

I can clearly see where this is heading. The day is not far when we will see a news report that will read something like this:

The Bangalore-based company “Ridiculous Surveys” has published the findings of its latest study titled “Study on Human Reaction, Resistance and Resilience to Head-Smashing”. In the report released today, the company claims it has found that Nine million, Nine hundred and ninety nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety samples out of the 10 million surveyed, died when their heads were smashed with a 30-kilo block of stone or concrete.

It has also revealed that the 10 who survived were empty-headed and hence their skulls acted like an elastic band; thereby absorbing the energy. George Bush, former president of USA, is reported to be one of the survivors. So, is a certain Mr. Saif Zali(m) Ardari, who is also a President just like George Bush (not to be confused with the honorable President of Pakistan – Mr. Asil Ali Zardari – whose mention in this article has nothing to do with this news) but the country over which he presides is unknown. The study concludes that beating a person's skull to pulp will almost definitely kill him or her.

Any similar news items/surveys you have come across (or foresee ;) ?

Science, Religion

I watched Angels and Demons a couple of weeks back. Good movie – no more, no less. Ditto with DaVinci Code. And what about the books by the same names? Entirely different matter. When I had read these books (DaVinci Code and Angels and Demos) 4 years back, I was truly and completely hooked!

But this post is obviously not about books or movies, is it? These books and movies are all about the conflict between science and religion. Though both books and movies conclude by finding the middle path, it is sad that both books have given rise to controversies. I don't comprehend this. Because for me, religion is science.

I am a Hindu and proud to be one. Having said that, I am compelled to make a strong statement - I hardly see anyone following the religion in its true spirit these days. Let me explain.

Every ritual that we follow has a reason. I know the logic behind some of the rituals – hence I have no qualms in following them. Most of this information has been preached to me by elders; while quite a bit of it also came from a PDF book I received a couple of years back which details the rational behind several of the rituals and practices that we Hindus follow. It is amazing – how what we think is religion, is in fact just a way of encouraging people to live a scientific life! Religion is Science.

There are other practices which I feel are either rudimentary or pure superstition. Perhaps, there may .. just may be some reason behind those; but until I know this reason, I find it very difficult to follow those practices (I do end up following some of them just in order to not appear as an “outcast” but that's a different topic). On the other hand, I see people everywhere blindly follow superstitions. This is also true of people who are otherwise very reasonable. Which is again difficult to comprehend. How do people who are considerate and reasonable suddenly undergo a transformation when it comes to religion?

One sad point in the the whole matter is the perversion of the religion in the name of customs. There needs to be a clear distinction between “religion” and “custom”. Many of the atrocities which we pass off as “religious customs” have nothing to do with religion at all! Dowry, female infanticide, Sati, ostracization of widows – I do not believe any of these are looked upon favourably by Hinduism (or any religion for that matter). All the sins which are ostensibly committed in the name of family honour, I am sure, are nowhere promoted by the religion. These are just customs which came about for selfish purposes – for people who wanted to dominate over others – for example when man wanted to dominate women; or when people of a certain profession wanted to keep those of others “in check” (that's what must have led to the utterly despicable caste system).

The final point which I want to make is about another characteristic of Hinduism which has been diluted these days at the hands of self-appointed custodians (Mr. Pramod Muthalik and co. for example) – the absence of force. Religion is a guideline for people on how to lead their lives. The moment someone claims that my religion mandates something – the credibility is lost. In my opinion, many of the practices suggested by Hinduism might have been relevant to a certain period of time – but the contributors to the religion would have foreseen that the world might not stay the same forever. That is the reason I believe nothing was enforced in the religion. Just like science, religion too has space to accommodate for change. Religion is science!

I originally intended to put forth dozens of points in this post – but I think I'll stop at this. More on this topic another day. I conclude, as usual, with a hope – I Hope that people start following religion in spirit rather than by the word. Half of the problems of the world (well, India at least) would be solved if this hope sees the light of day!

The Self-critic Shutterbugs

The Self-critic Shutterbug (or SCSB, as we fondly call it), is a group photo-blog which is maintained by me and my friends. The main intention of this blog is to improve our photography skills, and try to get some creative snaps. We put up snaps clicked by us and, in addition to patting ourselves on the back for what we like about those snaps; we also consciously point out the drawbacks in those photographs. We believe this kind of self-analysis will help us make better photographers.

SCSB has gone through quite a bit of a life-cycle so far – starting off on in late 2008, when I was the only shutterbug; then being joined by Rax in early 2009; then sometime in March or April – we moved to the current self-hosted wordpress. Even then, although we were posting regularly, we were still playing around with the theme and stuff.

Now, we have reached a stage where we can throw it open to all :). We are reasonably satisfied with the theme, the logo, the widgets, the plugins and the site on the whole! This “announcement” also coincides with the induction of our third shutterbug – Rahul.

So, what are you waiting for? Visit SCSB now! Check the About page to know more about us. Subscribe to the feeds. And of course – provide your extremely valuable feedback on our photos. We promise – you will not be disappointed!

Book Review: My Friend Sancho by Amit Varma

The top 3 in the world as far as “satire, with a meaning” goes are: Dilbert, Ramesh Srivats and Amit Varma. I have been a fan of Amit Varma and IndiaUncut for years now – and it was but obvious that I had to read his book!

Just imagine “What if IndiaUncut had been a book?” – and thats My Friend Sancho for you!

The Story:

Well, this is no suspense story – but I'll still keep the story part short so as to avoid “spoilers”

Abir Ganguly, a reporter on a crime beat is informed by the police about an impending arrest. The reporter reaches the scene where the “arrest” turns out to be a shooting and one man ends up dead.

Muneeza, is the daughter of the man who was shot dead.

The two meet when Abir is asked to do a story about the life of the innocent man who was shot dead. Abir takes Muneeza's help to know her father's life better. It doesn't help when Abir is later asked to make it a split-story; with half of it painting a picture of the person who shot the bullet – Inspector Thombre.

How Abir goes about writing this story occupies the rest of the book.

What's So Special About It?

For one, there's copious amounts of Amit Varma's hallmark humor and satire. Secondly, the book abounds in Amit Varma's second hallmark – humor with a message. The main point of the book is about the kind of life journalists lead – and it made me regret the criticism I often hurl at them. It's also about the kind of life policemen lead – putting the reader in their shoes.

By the time you are done reading the book (by the way the 200 pages won't take you too much time – 3 hours, give-or-take); you will be happy with your life and end up wondering “Why the hell am I complaining about my life? Had I been in these people's shoes, would I have handled things as well as they did?”

And that is the best quality of My Friend Sancho. I would rate it at 3.5 stars. It is not outstanding, but is still a must-read. Go get yourself a copy right away!


Other books I have reviewed:

Tug of War over Future Emissions

An article that appeared in the Times of India a couple of days back quoted a comprehensive study and modelling done by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) which says that:

"Even if India grows by 8% every year with the current set of technologies and policies in place, its per capita emissions will not exceed 2.77 tonnes in 2031 — almost seven times less than the current per capita emissions of the US and almost four times less than the current per capita emissions of UK"

[Emphasis is mine]

This, even after taking into consideration the current and planned technologies and policies for the next two decades (infrastructure, industrialization, etc).

This report has now been taken as an excuse by India to oppose the “rhetoric” of developed countries that developing countries will overtake the developed ones in their emissions in the years to come. The article goes on to say that India and China along with other G77 countries have put forth a demand that since the rich nations have been historically the uber-polluters (ever since the industrial revolution), the rich countries should pay for the cost of any emission reduction measures undertaken by the poor and developing nations.

IMO, there are 2 “issues” here:

Excessive per-capita Emissions by developed nations

It is obvious that the developed nations are committing horrific environmental-crime as far as emissions go. What is worse is many of them are not ready to accept this fact and take measures to set them right. Instead, they are looking for ways to deflect the blame onto the developing countries.

I vaguely remember some summit (APEC i think) where, if I remember correctly, US and Australia refused to sign a treaty (which several developed European nations and several developing nations signed) which sought a commitment from signatory countries to work on containing their emissions. What was highlighted in this summit was the probable consequences (drowning of island countries, polar and Himalayan meltdown etc). In spite of pressure from others, 2 countries refused to sign.

[Disclaimer: The preceding paragraph has been written off the top of my head – I could be wrong about the second country which did not sign the treaty].

Whenever I think of this situation, the first thing which comes to my mind is a program which I had watched on Discovery or NGC (I dont remember exactly which one) about 5 years back. The 1 hour program was about the scenic and tiny South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu. The first part of the program was about the culture and people of Tuvalu, while the second part turned towards the question-mark over its future. The country has an average height of half a metre above Sea Level. The program predicted that Tuvalu will be the first country to completely drown if global warming continues at current levels.

The natives were interviewed and it was very sad to hear them argue “Why should we pay for your emission excesses? Why should we drown to wash away your sins?” Many people have started migrating to New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere; while some people stand their ground and refuse to migrate. They say “This is our home – we will stay back; come what may”.

Who is answerable to Tuvaluans? Why should they face the consequences of heinous crimes committed thousands of kilometers away?

Increasing Emissions by Developing Countries

The NCAER report stresses on per-capita emissions. However, Mother Earth is worried about total emissions – or maybe regional emissions to a certain extent, isn't she? What difference does it make to the environment whether the ozone layer is being punctured by a billion people or by one person? Its the nett effect – that the ozone layer has a hole at a certain location - that matters, is it not? At the end of the day, the ozone layer is being depleted; or the Himalayan snow-cap is turning bald; or the Antarctic ice-shelf is shrinking; or the forests in India are disappearing – that's the issue.

The point I am trying to make here is that the developing countries should not sit back and relax just because their per-capita emissions are low. The fact that India and China have billion-plus populations is their own fault. So, the total emissions being spewed out by these 2 countries cannot be neglected. I think it is time for the developing countries having bloating populations to act and act quick to rein in their emissions.


A note on the conclusion of the study:

“The study concludes that an imposition of carbon tax would also sharply increase poverty levels in urban as well as rural India”

Imposition of carbon tax on developing nations is definitely a very bad idea; but these countries MUST voluntarily take steps to reduce their total emissions.

Looking forward to a world which is sensitive to its strain on the Earth; and responsible enough to roll back its emission excesses.

An Ode (??) to Negative Inflation

  • The price of tur-dal has shot up over Rs 77/kg. But hey, the inflation is negative
  • A fuel price hike, probably the largest ever in Indian history, was effected couple of days back. Parking rates are ridiculous. But, don't you know the inflation is negative?
  • The world is in recession, salaries are being slashed, people are losing jobs. Hey, don't you ever listen? I'm telling you, inflation is negative.
  • Eating and cooking, fruits, milk and vegetables are now more expensive than ever before. But, don't you worry – inflation is negative.
  • Commuting to and from work is now pinching – no, tearing apart – your pocket. Buddy, would you like to join the merriment? Inflation is negative, you see.
  • Education is no longer affordable to even the middle class. You know what? The inflation is negative.
  • They say real estate prices have come down – that holds ONLY if you are selling or renting out. If you are buying or renting a house yourself, prices are still around Mount K2 or Mount Everest levels. Don't you believe all that bullshit. Inflation is negative.

Come, lets all join hands and celebrate this wonderful achievement! The inflation is negative.

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Disclaimer: This is my personal blog. All the views and opinions expressed on this blog are entirely my own and do not reflect the views of my employer, organization, relatives, friends, acquaintances or any other person/entity.