Things You May Not Know About Me

Sure, this blog has a nice, long ‘about me’ section which dutifully describes me. Still, I did not reveal some of my great secrets. Blogger Evanescent Thoughts “tagged” me, which means I have to spill out seven of my gazillion lil’ secrets. So, here goes!!

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  1. I did not do well in the Public: After spending my last year in intellectual imprisonment (aka school :)) , I did not do well in the Plus Two public examinations. I don’t regret it, but it is sorta annoying when the whole world thinks you are a superstudier and you suddenly realize that you could no longer mug up all the tons of equations. Well, there is still the BITSAT entrance where I hope I’ll succeed.
  2. I love books. Indeed, I want to write several: Not unlike Evanescent huh?? Books sort of speak to me everyday. It is my secret desire to write at least one novel about life in school, several science-fiction and thriller novels, maybe some good romance ones …NO! STOP LAUGHING!!!
  3. I’m kind of a loner: Ok, I’m a human. I have loads of friends at school. But when it comes to the deepest, importentest, things in my life – things that I cherish with all my heart and my mind – all the attraction for literature, the love of astronomy – I am a kind of a loner. I have built my life along all those things. It’s always been like that. Still, if someone were to come up with genuine interests similar to mine, he would be someone special to me.  Well, that is not exactly what you’d call a loner…But still I like to think myself as solitary.
  4. My nickname is “Cho Chang”: Ok, rewind to my 7th standard. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix book had just been released, and I was caught up in the mania that followed. That was why some wise jester decided to call me Cho Chang, because I “loved” Harry Potter!!
  5. I don’t believe in God: Not the elephant headed, many limbed or monkey like Gods of my religion, or the magically Resurrected one of Christianity or what we commonly think of when someone says “God”, to be precise. Those are way too fantastic. However, I have no trouble believing that Nature, or the sum of all laws of the Universe could be God. This is just an opinion, ok guys? I’m not intolerant, you have the complete right to have any beliefs.
  6. Leonardo da Vinci, Walt Whitman,  E. M. Forster, Albus Dumbledore, Oscar Wilde and I have something in common. Exactly what, I’ll leave as an assignment. 🙂
  7. I have not told anybody – parents, friends – about this blog. Weird huh?

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PS: As per the First Law of Blogging Dynamics, I’m supposed to “tag” seven more bloggers, so that they post their lil’ secrets. I’m too lazy to think of anyone after writing something this long. Wonder what happens when you break a law…(screams as several men in black suits and cooling glasses come and seize me from my computer.)

The only home we have ever known

Yesterday, the Boston Globe’s Big Picture section featured two dozen mind-blowing hi-quality pictures of our Solar System’s mysteriously beautiful jewel – our ringed neighbour Saturn, captured by the Cassini-Huygens space probe which is still orbiting the gas giant. I was stunned by this pic, which shows the planet’s far north latitudes…and what seems like gazillions of storms and mega-storms. Each pixel here is 29 kilometres on the planet, which means even the smallest of the storms is about the size of New Zealand:

Makes the Earth actually look like a peaceful place, don’t you think?

All the images were captured by the Cassini-Huygens space probe, still orbiting the gas giant. But they seem to have forgotten to include the best pic by Cassini, the one that shows the planet just eclipsing the Sun, parts of its rings beautifully lit. But that is not all. Just click the pic to see a bigger version. Now, above the rings, in the top left, not particularly significant, forgotten and starlike – is our tiny home. Earth. The only home we’ve ever known. A pale blue dot that in this picture is easily unnoticeable. Sometimes, it is hard to accept that we live in a mote of dust, which shrinks fearfully at this imposing, giant yellow world, which occupies a full thousand times the volume of our own:

In a similar picture (below) of the earth taken from a huge distance – near the orbit of Neptune, to be precise – earth is a tiny dot, and by all miracles of chance a bright sunbeam reflecting off the spacecraft Voyager that took the picture crosses the dot. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this is the best example. Carl Sagan, one of my heroes and a world renowned astronomer, once remarked thus on seeing this:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

–Carl Sagan, May 1996

Quadrants of belief

Just how do people create beliefs about the world around them? Simple:

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True skepticism does not come along with close mindedness. That is the reason why the best quadrant to be in is…(drum-roll, please) open-minded skeptic. If you saw the video on skepticism 4 or 5 blog posts ago, you may realize that this drawing is simply an abbreviation.

PS: It has been a while since I have sketched something particularly intelligent…LOL

PPS: I suck at Photoshop.

Tuesday atrocities

Planet Earth version 2.0 (beta)

Tired of the same old blue planet, and want a better, more fashionable one? Check out this article, which basically explains how one man has plans for the total annihilation of the world as we know it and reconstruction based on a new architectural design for the whole planet.

Dark Knight: Joker interrogation spoof

Self-explanatory…I’m still ROTFLing (Rolling on the floor laughing) over this.

The truth about marriage

Why nuclear armament does not work

My previous article on the BJP and the nuclear tests of Pokhran has generated a bit of steam. If you propose that nuclear armament is the only option in terms of national security and world peace, I present several counter-arguments:

  • You equate peaceful diplomacy to weakness: Indeed, it is the exact opposite – negotiating a conflict is a sign of strength. Also, if you happen to believe that Nehru had failed in his diplomacy in the Indo-Chinese conflict with his Panch Sheel; it does not necessarily imply that armed conflict would have been a better option.
  • You have implicitly (and naively) assumed that nuclear armament on both sides excludes the possibility of conflict: There is a premise that in a nuclear arms race, if both nations have somewhat comparable nuclear arsenal, then they will not use them: since if one did, the opponent may respond with equal or even greater force. This premise, frequently called ‘Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)’ is sometimes itself used as an excuse for nuclear armament, thus somehow promoting peace between the nations.  The flaw in using this argument is overwhelmingly apparent – you cannot achieve peace and security by building weapons of mass destruction. All MAD does is to reduce the probability of nuclear conflict. Now, this might seem to be a good thing, but it isn’t. Consider a condom that does not let 90 percent of the spermatozoa through. Will you use it? It still lets the 10 percent through, enough to cause pregnancy – at the same time providing false hopes of security. It is the same situation here – MAD doesn’t exclude the possibility of conflict, it only reduces it. But 10 percent, in this case is a major fraction of the nuclear stockpile. Over a long time, the tiny possibility of nuclear conflict will manifest itself – and that is why I am against it.
  • You think nuclear armament is inevitable and provides security: It isn’t. It doesn’t.
  • You think I am anti-BJP: I am not. I should equally well have criticized the Congress for its 1974 Pokhran-I tests and the blunders in 1984.
  • All the proponents favouring nuclear testing also do not take one thing into account – it is perhaps the most provocative and peace destroying act in world diplomacy. Also, India is among the few countries who have not signed the NPT treaty. Sidetracking off the topic a little bit, Nitwit Nastik in a truly great blog post explained how easy it is for people to be fooled by their governments and to bring them in favour of fighting a war.  The following extract of a conversation between a psychologist and a captured Nazi captures the essence of the article:

    Goering (Nazi): Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece?

    Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.

    Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

    Goering: Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

    The last line by Goering is truly insightful, and tangentially relates to the discussions above.

    (Psst!! Nastik, if you are reading this, I hope you don’t mind me ripping off from your blog? I swear I won’t do it again!)

    New anime airs today

    Speaking about animes, I almost forgot about a new one that will be aired simultaneously across the subcontinent in Animax (8:30 pm in India) today, called Fullmetal Alchemist – Brotherhood, a sequel to the enormously popular anime that was telecast almost a year ago.

    Poised midway between science fiction and fantasy, the series belongs to the lesser known genre of science fantasy. It the FMA universe, almost magical “alchemy” replaces science. I simply loved the storyline in the previous series –  Edward and Alphonse Elric, try to resurrect their dead mother using the forbidden practice of human alchemy, quite unaware of the law that governs their universe – the Law of Equal Exchange: “To obtain, something of equal value must be lost”. The consequences were treacherous. Al loses his physical body in the attempt, and Ed loses two of his limbs. Ed somehow manages to attach Al’s soul to a suit of armour. The two boys, having realized that it was impossible to bring back a dead person, set out in search of the Philosopher’s Stone, possibly the only thing that could recover their bodies, and get embroiled in a frantic series of political, emotional and alchemical misadventures.

    Alphonse and Edward Elric
    Alphonse and Edward Elric

    What struck me as good is that the alternate universe of FMA is not an outright magical fantasy. Alchemy in their world is governed by laws of nature, comparable to the laws of physics in our own world. The makers also made sure that their world was not a fairyland.  The series has an entire collection of people prepared to misuse alchemy for their own ends – the ghastly “homunculi”, military generals, murderers, researchers and a religious leader – the host of issues enveloping their world is not unlike our own.

    They were liberal in showing the negative side of such an alchemy. I remember an episode when Ed fights an armoured guardian protecting the Stone. After defeating him, he realizes the guardian was just a soul attached to a suit of armour – like Al.  The guardian asks Ed to kill him, as he no longer has a purpose in life, he had failed in his task, and above all since he was just part-human. When Ed refuses, he kills himself – much to Ed’s crazy horror.

    That’s why I am looking forward to seeing the sequel today – to see what more misfortunes fall upon Ed and Al…

    (Animax’s previous release,  LaMb, totally sucked. Except for the Simple Plan soundtrack, of course.)

    Update added today after watching it:  The episode was in Japanese with English subtitles!! I should have expected it. It’s still early to decide whether this is going to be a great series or not. Anyway, it was a normally good first episode.

    Kino’s journey

    As far as I know, Japan produces more animated series – simply called “animes” – than the rest of the world combined. Most of them are based on guessable themes – samurais waiting for their revenge, Pokemon-type fantasy universes, and dramatic, violent bloodbaths that sometimes seems out of vogue. However, some anime are so genuinely new and outta the boxish that they stay in your mind forever.

    Kino’s Journey is an anime that appeals on all levels – emotional, thrilling and sometimes philosophical. The story is about a young (rather androgynous looking) female “traveller”, who along with her talking motorbike,  journey to different fictional places across the country.  Each place is entirely different from its neighbours – either in its form of government, technology or its citizens. Kino believes that three days is enough to know all there is to know about any country – and leaves when the time is over. Often, the there is a Holmes-Doctor Watsonian touch of intellectual conversation between Kino and the talking motorbike, Hermes. (yeah, the whole 13 – episode series is sometimes surreal).

    ‘Nuff said. I’ll let the show do the talking – this is one of my favourite episodes which explains how Kino met Hermes and became a traveller. Watch the entire series and you will look at your life differently.

    (Don’t worry, it is in English except the opening song, LOL. This is the first of a 3-part episode, you can search for parts 2 and 3 in YouTube.)

    “The world is not

    beautiful.

    Therefore it is”

    That was a line that appears at the end of the episode. You do not know how much I  loved it. Sometimes, it is hard to look at Kino’s journey without drawing parallels with your own life.