Archive for the ‘Bullshit’ category

Numerology

March 31, 2013

We heard the other day that someone named his son ‘AAAbhishek’ because he wants him to be first in everything, including the attendance register.

This is a dangerous precedent, no?  Opens the door to complete chaos.  Allow me to demonstrate.

I think if my son were in that kid’s class, I will legally change his name to AAAA, just to mess with this AAAbhishek’s father.

I will mess up the teachers too, because I will change only the spelling, not the pronunciation.

‘Okay, welcome to the first day of class.  Time for attendance.  What the heck?  The first guy is a battery?  Quadruple A?’

My son puts his hand up defiantly.  ‘No, ma’am, I am not a battery, although I do get that a lot.  It’s just written that way, my name is pronounced Pramath.’

‘But, …’

‘Yes, Ma’am, English is a funny language.  Surely, you know that, being our English teacher and all.’

Now, you know how competitive our schools are, no?  Very soon, the entire attendance register looks like a practice sheet for the letter A.

‘A’

‘Double A’

‘Triple A’

‘Quadruple A? What the heck kind of attendance register is this?’

‘A^5’

‘A^43’

Unfortunately, there is no option of saying anyone’s name anymore because of all the silent and hidden letters.

This numerology business is really blurring the lines between ignorance of the language and plain ignorance, no? I am not sure how some arbitrary rules ascribing arbitrary numerical values to letters dictate what happens to your life.  That is just plain ignorance, but now you have to start butchering names to make them fit your messed up scheme.

‘R-a-a-w-e-a-e? Wow, that’s a beautiful name, but I don’t think I have ever heard it before.  How do you say your name?’

‘Um, Ravi, okay?  Jerk! Never heard it before, my aaassssss!’.

And ‘shop’ has become ‘s-h-o-p-p-e-e’.  Now, what the heck is that all about? Shop-pee, come on, there has to be some limit.  Unless this is a urine bank or a urinal store where you can sample the goods, I don’t see a justification for this spelling.

One night, for whatever reason, we came across this song from Unnaipol Oruvan with Shruti Haasan and this guy B-l-a-a-z-e. After the whole Ravi thing, I thought it was numerology at work once again, and assumed that his real name is Balaji, but apparently …

… apparently, he really means it and wants to be called Blah-zay. Who woulda thunk, eh?

Shame, Shame, Puppy Shame

November 14, 2012

Of late, number of pseudo-science nonsense talks on campus, aided and abetted by eminent Profs has increased.  Two samples below.  And, if this is what a premier S&T Institute of our country does, anyone still wonder why our country cannot produce any good science or technology breakthroughs?  Depressing, makes me want to scream.

—-

EML Team 2012-’13, IIT Madras
Presents

An Extra Mural Lecture
By
Dr. A.B. Sudhakara Sastry
 Chairman SRIVT
Vedic Sciences: A Treasure waiting for YOU
Wednesday, 14th November 2012 at 6 PM
IC&SR Main Auditorium
 
Vedic science, based on the Vedas (the oldest holy texts of the Hindu religion) is a great treasure of knowledge. It is a fact that works which can shed light on the ancient treasure troves of technology do not find a due place in the portals of modern mainstream academic and industrial institutions in India. It is heartening to note that during the recent years, there has been a change in this stand and there is a willingness to explore avenues for collaborative effort between the adherents to the paths of Vedic and mainstream sciences. It is only the joint endeavour of Vedic scientists and mainstream intellectuals, willing to work beyond the narrow borders of their own specializations that can help the transmission of ancient knowledge for universal benefit.
Dr. Amanchi Balasudhakara Sastry, is a prolific writer and authored several books on Astrology, Gemology, Scientific meaning totradit ions, rites and rituals, etc. Baradwaja Vymanika Sastra Pariskaram authored by Dr. Sastry is the first literary work in the series of Vedic wisdom. As the Chairman of Srimaharshi Research Institute of Vedic Technologies (SRIVT), his ambition and mission in life is to awaken and enliven the sleeping youth and pass on to them the invaluable heritage of Vedic wisdom and legacy handed down by ancient sages and Vedic gurus and mould this treasure of knowledge for the universal welfare. His work on nano copper using Vedic knowledge has been recognized recently with Indian Innovation Initiative (i3) Award for 2011 by the Department of Science & Technology,Government of India and CII among 850 entries from all over India. More about the scientific research done by SRIVT can be found here

 —

{Edit, 14/11/12: Removed reference to Dr. CS Yogananda’s talk; on second thought, this doesn’t belong in the same category as the other two}

There was another by Dr. N Gopalakrishnan in August.  His video on Youtube along with rebuttal from Nirmukta:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oPKyeJretI

I Love Isha

October 15, 2010

Not this one (photo from www.realbollywood.com); she seems like the kind that will steal your baby’s pacifier from her mouth.

But, this is the one I am talking about, founded by this guy, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev.  I louw you, maan.   

Peddler of all things spiritual and pseudo-scientific, like lingams and inner energy and inner science and chakras and more energies and more lingams and dhyanalingams and divine ellipsoids and solidified mercury and such.  Fascinating person, really. The reason I even came to know about him is because he will be on campus next week to speak to us about ‘Source for Success’. I will have to admit that with all the money he seems to be awash in, he is eminently qualified to talk about success.

Apparently, (according to his own delicious website) he

is a yogi, mystic and spiritual master with a difference. An arresting blend of profundity and pragmatism, his life and work serve as a reminder that inner sciences are not esoteric philosophies from an outdated past, but a contemporary science vitally relevant to our times.

Right!  I love it when descriptions are sufficiently abstract to be completely meaningless, kinda like some descriptions of wine.  Just curious, how do these people qualify to dish out said mixture of profundity and pragmatism?  Do they study for countless years with a master, or they introspect on one leg for decades? Or perhaps a lady of the lake clothed in shimmering samite comes into their dreams and whispers ‘You are the One, you know?’.  And he’s like, ‘What?’ And she’s like ‘Yea-huh, really, we are looking for a guy who can blend fecundity and astigmatism, and we think you are it.  But you will have to grow a beard, … a great big one’. And he’s like, ‘Sweet! I can do that’.

I also totally dig that each of these snake-oil salesmen usually has a catch phrase: here it is ‘inner sciences’, and its bastard-child, ‘inner engineering’.  You, discerning reader, may ask what it is this inner science or engineering; here goes (with some confusing semantics):

As we have physical science to create external well-being there is a whole inner dimension of science to create inner well being. I call it Inner Engineering.

Cho chimple.  Outside, outer engineering; inside, inner engineering.  What happens if your guts spill out?  Never mind.  And why might you be interested in making our rich man richer by taking this course?  Because it will

  • Optimize health and vitality
  • Reduce stress
  • Promote mental clarity and emotional balance
  • Increase and maintain high energy levels throughout the day
  • Reduce sleep & rest quota
  • Prevent chronic diseases like Asthma, Allergies, Sinusitis, Hypertension, Diabetes, Obesity, Rheumatism, Arthritis, Epilepsy, Back pain, Skin and eye ailments, Migraine

How many treasures we find in the website in a mere few minutes!  We come to know that he is the supreme dude, he looks like God, is more compassionate than God, has a turban God wished He had, but is way cooler than God because he rides a Beamer motorbike in the Himalayas wearing just a loincloth.

We also find some really mortal-like things coming from such a highly evolved person.  Check out this page, most of the pictures are of white or foreign-looking people, for some odd reason. Why so?  Where are all the brown-skinned desi-type people?  And Sad Guru’s pics themselves are interesting.  He appears to have actually gone to a studio to pose for the first three pics. Is this consistent with the image of someone who is on such a high spiritual plane?

And it looks like the place is rolling in money. I actually have no problem with this; if suckers want to part with their hard-earned cash, it is their prerogative.  But what I absolutely have a huge problem with is this spewing of scientific terms in random gibberish sentences, designed to appear like rocket science to the layman.  Take for instance this breathtaking passage about ‘The Science of Dhyanalinga’ a.k.a. ‘The Ellipsoid Manifesto’:

“The core of every galaxy is always an ellipsoid. A perfect ellipsoid is what is referred to as a linga. So the first form, from un-manifest to manifest-when it begins to manifest as creation-the first form that it takes is always the form of an ellipsoid.

And from our experience we know if you raise your energies to a certain pitch, the final form that your energy takes before dissolution is also that of an ellipsoid.

So the linga is seen as a doorway to the beyond, from both ends. The first form of manifestation is an ellipsoid. The final form of dissolution is also an ellipsoid. So because the A and Z of creation happen to be the linga, it is seen as a doorway to the beyond.” – Sadhguru

Help, it is raining non-sequiturs here!  And you raise energy (units of Joule) to a certain frequency (units of 1/time), and the energy takes the shape of an ellipsoid now?  How many chemicals and how much of each does one need in the bloodstream before one comes up with this sentence, which makes George W. Bush look like a genius?  Anyway, if the stuff above has left you a tad confused, here comes the deep scientific explanation, which I assume will cost you extra (emphasis below is mine):

A linga is a perfect ellipsoid. It is one form that when energized becomes a perennial storehouse of energy. Although generally associated with Shiva in Indian mythology, scientifically, this shape is the only shape that can serve as a perennial storehouse of energy.

The yogic science of making a Linga is based on this knowledge. In the Dhyanalinga, energies of all the seven chakras in the human system are raised to their very peak and locked to prevent dissipation over time, through an intense process of prana prathistha. Hence there are no poojas or rituals in the Dhyanalinga. It is expected that the energies of the Dhyanalinga will not dissipate for at least 5000 years.

Don’t know if they are taking orders for lingams, but I think I am going to get a few for my Birdday this year.  I would love to see how they convert this human energy into lingam energy, and most importantly, how do they lock it?  Would also be very cool to see the calculations behind the expecation of a 5000-year life for the energy.  Maybe I will just ask him next week when he comes to campus.



Theatre of the absurd

March 15, 2010

Tragedy struck our campus over the weekend.  A student, celebrating his 20th birthday, complained of acute chest pain, following which he collapsed and died.   My heart goes out to the friends and family of this kid. 

After the initial shock, now come the details, some of which is probably subject to revision.  The student had a relatively sedate party, ate some cake around midnight and retired for the night.  When some of his friends did not get a response when they knocked later on his door, they became suspicious and eventually broke down the door and got him out.  They called for an ambulance and of course, they could not get through.  So, they alerted the warden of the hostel, who then called campus Administration, who finally got through to the hospital.  In any case, it was 20 minutes before the ambulance showed up.  Of course, that is not the official line, which is (from Dean, Students, Prof. Govardhan):

There was a small delay… much less than 20 minutes in the arrival of the ambulance. Incidents of such nature are rare at IIT-Madras, so the driver of the vehicle was not prepared

Well, yes, such events are rare.  Thankfully!  But, an ambulance driver has to be prepared for these things, right?  He is not going to a party, he is going to face potential life-and-death situations, emergencies, sir.  When the ambulance did arrive, neither the driver nor the two helpers knew what to do to help the student.  In fact, the kid’s friends did as much as they could to revive him, like giving him chest-rubs and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation done to the best of their ability.  The supposed helpers did not even do this much.  Eventually, by the time the student got to the hospital, he was pronounced dead.

I tagged ‘apathy’ on my last post on child labour, not knowing that the response to a student fatality would be even more stupefying.  For starters, there has been no communication from the Administration on what happened.  The chief medical officer has been conspicuous by her silence.  No official line on the sequence of events, no information passdown, no nothing.  The only chatter here has been from some of the faculty members.  Not too many, mind you, definitely not as many as those that responded to an almost contemporaneous discussion on performance-related bonuses for us. 

However, in an event symbolic of the shambles this campus is when it comes to useful intelligence, one Prof. speculated that perhaps excessive drinking was to blame.  This without actually bothering to find out that real reason was the pre-existing respiratory illness of the student.  As a completely gratuitous slap, said Professor also connected rampant pornography to alcoholism as issues that need to be addressed in getting down to the bottom of problems such as this.

It is at this point, we are supposed to collectively say, ‘WTF! WTF! WTF!’  Seriously, kid dies from pre-existing condition on our campus.  The best this guy can come up with is that we should address drinking and ‘consumption of porn’.  Fantastic!  I objected to this nonsense and was promptly asked to not think like a lawyer (for agruing for free speech, no thought control etc.), but to think of it ‘as a social issue as if you are personally involved’.  The law is a pesky thing, innit?  Kinda applies to people outside campus AND INSIDE.  Here are some excerpts:

Well, if you were a parent and found your son consuming pornography 24 x 7, besides a lot of alcohol, instead of studying, would you check yourself as having outdated notions?  Think about it as a social issue as if you are personally involved, not a legal issue as if you are a lawyer.

There are limits to everything.  Talk to Prof. —– about the extent of this problem, besides rampant alcoholism. We are a residential institution, so it is reasonable for us to expect students to follow a reasonably healthy life style.  At the same time, we also become answerable when things go beyond reasonable levels.  I am ok with us not being a residential campus, in which case we won’t bother, and I would like to assert that unhealthy life style would not contagiously spread across the entire student population if we weren’t residential.

My reply

Well, since you make it personal, if my son is consuming pornography 24×7 at his college and it is affecting his life, I would be seriously concerned.  But, I would be perhaps more concerned if he was consumed by some swamiji 24×7 or if he was consuming Facebook 24×7 or even only academics 24×7 or if he was going around 24×7 telling people what they should or shouldn’t be reading.  The recourse to pornography I can understand as being hormonal, and being exacerbated by social norms just like the one you espouse, but the latter ones I wouldn’t know how to handle. 

I don’t need to talk to Prof. —- or anyone to tell me how bad the ‘problem’ is.  I have come through the same hostels, seen it and dare I say it, partaken of it.  The problem is firmly in the minds of the self-righteous.  Reminds me of ‘Rain‘ by Somerset Maugham.

Thought control has no place anywhere, especially on the campus of an educational institution of our stature.

Pathetic! Pathetic! Pathetic! There was one more Prof. who privately said to me that the ‘present younger generation grows up in narrow-minded, selfish, consumerist, unitary families’ , and that we need to monitor our youngsters more closely because  ‘over the generations, it appears to me that improper behaviour – alcoholism, eveteasing, etc. – is on the increase’.  Chew on that cud, folks! 

Still, no word from anyone in Administration on what happened, or why!  Shameful!  In this set, there are people who go around asking us for our ‘Vision’ for the next 10 years so that these things can be distilled into a Powerpoint that will be floated up to the … who fucking cares where?  How about your ‘Vision’, sir?  Is it too much to ask for a good support system for the faculty, staff, and most importantly, students who have been entrusted to us?

Believe you me

December 12, 2009

Sir Bedevere: …and that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana shaped.
King Arthur: This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again how sheep’s bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes.
(from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’)

These are two of my all-time favourite lines, not just because of the sheer funniness, but also because of their universal relevance.  One can find daily instances of people trying to convince us that the earth is indeed banana-shaped and that a timely shipment of ovine bladders to Banda Aceh could have saved us a spot of clean-up.  Sometimes, this is really cute because the person peddling the snake-oil really doesn’t mean any harm.  You just wish you could lay your hands on some of that stuff he/she has been smoking.

In such cases, you anonymize the protagonist (‘This Uncle I know’) to save yourself some embarrassment and have an uneasy laugh over a cold one with your hip buddies.  For example, this Uncle would enter into deep, animated discussions on how best to avoid Rahu Kaalam and Yama Gandam while visiting the US.  The three obvious options are:

1. RK and YG travel with the Uncle in his carry-on and hence also stick to PST, EST, etc. They fall during regular working hours and hence this is hugely disappointing to Uncle’s descendants, who thought they had escaped them by traveling the seven seas.
2. RK and YG are non-negotiable and obey only orthodox (‘aacharam’) time, i.e. IST.  Huge pro: can be avoided just by sleeping through the night.
3. R and Y are themselves more than slightly confused and haven’t yet sent an SMS to your roadside astrologer.  Hedge your bets and don’t schedule your new baby’s diaper-changes in either set of time slots: practised by most sensible people to not seem ungrateful to nice folks.  And please don’t tell R and Y about daylight savings, that freaky thing.

Another example that most people have observed with a chuckle is the crushing of ripe lemons under the tyres of new cars.  Perhaps, the tyres are nauseous that they are going to have to finally meet the grimy roads of Chennai.  This lemonade-wasting is usually preceded or succeeded by camphor burning, coconut smashing and/or Vedic chanting with Yanni soundtrack (please kill me now!) in some particular order, which escapes me at this moment. 

Only recently did I notice that in the camphor burning part, they do the circling (deepa aarathanai) of the car.  This came as a surprise to me because I thought some ummachchi was the recipient of this business.  Perhaps the practice has its origin in a time when the Ambassador ruled the market; let’s face it, the Amby does look like Ganesha on wheels.  Anyhoo, no matter, this also seems to be a harmless blog-fodder type of anecdote (although this guy I know has been known to act all petulant about this kinda thing) and can be used as an excuse for more beer-drinking with aforementioned cool friends.

On other occasions though, the person asking you to count the bladders has got other more material interests, shall we say.  You might have too  much coin on your hands and the purveyor of fine bladders might take it upon himself to relieve you of some of the burden.  Or he might think you are oh-so-sexy in a spiritual kind of way and would like to get you into his roomy saffron pants.  In any case, all of these enterprises ask for suspension of disbelief, and surprisingly, the gullibility is available in the requisite extra-large doses. 

A few weeks back, our driver insisted that there is a particular type of snake that switches its head from one end to the other in 6 months.  We softly asked him how he would know if the snake hadn’t just turned around.  After all, 6 months is a long time for the poor snake to be pointing the same way, no?  He was adamant and bewildered that we didn’t agree with him.  As a clincher, he promised to show me the paper which had this stuff printed on it.  I realized the futility of this argument and told him that we eagerly look forward to seeing the article. 

One would expect that people who are in the education business would at least want to ask some basic questions about some of the mis-information that pervades us.  Instead, some of them are also busy selling this stuff to us.  I remember the Principal of  my high-school running away to Kanchipuram with all our Board exam hall-tickets to get them blessed.  No one thought it right then to ask what would happen if the Lord or Lady decided to give us a surprise test by losing our tickets. 

Recently, we got a mass mailing from a Professor announcing a food donation event (Annadanam) benefiting 1000 kids.  While the event itself was great, some of the mumbo-jumbo accompanying it was seriously dubious.  Statements were made about the event bringing ‘spiritual dynamism’ to the campus, about God being the ‘befriender of the poor’ etc.  These unprovable statements come from a person who teaches engineering, which is based on hard science.  I don’t get how this happens, unless the person is just puking the results of the scientific method in class without really understanding the method itself. 

So, what is it that makes us want to believe all this fantastic stuff?  That the positions of celestial objects control our lives, water cures us of bad-ass diseases, porn causes tsunamis and … scientology — sorry, I couldn’t come up with a short description for this bullshit.  Where does this need for answers come from?  Why do we need these crutches so badly?  Can we not find better answers through introspection and reasoning?  And why is ‘We don’t know’ not a good answer? 

Please to excuse me, I got a little carried away there for a second. 

Interestingly, I found a clue in an unlikely place this week: at a workshop on teaching and learning.  Turns out that we all form our own views of the world to suit our observations at a fairly young age, and some of these world-views are really deep-seated and hard to change.  For example, consider what we have learnt from the force concept inventory, an interesting tool used by physics educators.  It consists of concept-type questions testing one’s understanding of Newton’s laws, force, energy and such.  The same test is typically administered to students before and after an introductory mechanics course to judge what they have learnt. 

What has been found is that before being taught any of these concepts formally, all of us have our own intuitive understanding of these.  Of course, some of it is wrong, but it is there nevertheless. The interesting thing is that after the course is taught, not everyone is convinced of the ‘correct’ way of looking at it.  One student (at Harvard, I think) asked: “Should we answer this question based on what we think or what you have taught us?”  By itself, this is probably not a bad thing; but for this skepticism, we might all be card-carrying members of the Flat Earth Society, but that is a different issue for a different day. 

Students do make gains in their understanding, but hardly anyone gets all these basic concepts straightened out.  The way the concepts are taught has quite an impact on the gain, but even with the best teachers and the best interactive teaching techniques we have now, most students are not disabused of their ill-formed notions.  If this is the fate of Newton’s laws and basic kinematics, which we think we have a good handle on, what about more abstract things like the existence of God, thetans, and the 72 virgins?

Be good now.