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Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 2:21 AM
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As you might have realised, I am always on the look-out for that touch of the bizarre in real life. I delight in the fact that life is not always as dull as we think it is. But it is a sad day when this touch turns out to be something so patently ridiculous and depressing.

The Times of India, rightly referred to by many as the Slimes, has now touched new lows.

You have to read this.

Uma blogs about it here: “Marooned without ToI”.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 12:55 AM
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Good news, folks. Soon you will all be able to become as intelligent as me (well, almost) by the use of brain-enhancing drugs. These addiction-free (or non-addictive, as per your preference) drugs will, supposedly, enhance brain activity, improve memory, and increase intelligence.

As with any such discovery, there has been a lot of debate on the topic, and both sides have been shouting themselves hoarse putting forward their point. Personally speaking, I straddle the fence in this matter, but objectively, I do come down on one side.

We have been using brain-enhancing drugs (BEDs – not to be confused with beds) for a long time, and caffeine is certainly not the only one. We also try to develop our brain by using it (which is the best exercise it can get). So what exactly is the problem if we do it by some other means?

The problem is ethical. The main argument against BEDs, put forth by Francis Fukuyama and quoted in the Times of India, is this: “The original purpose of medicine is, after all, to heal the sick, not turn healthy people into gods.” But then, the original purpose of life is to pass genes on to the next generation, but we haven’t let that stop us, have we? Saying that something is wrong just because it is ‘unnatural’ is plain silly. Look around you once. What do you see that is natural? Precious little. If you can accept that, then why can’t you accept this? [Note: If you argue that all this is bad as well, then please go and live in the mountains with the birds and pneumonia for company. I’m not stopping you. Also note that I have nothing personal against you, the mountains, the birds or, for that matter, pneumonia.]

Another argument is that BEDs will be used to help children (for example) with simple things such as multiplication tables and so on.* But who, pray tell, is stopping you from proceeding beyond tables? As a parent, you should try to ensure that your child uses her/his brain to its capacity – whether that capacity is ‘normal’ or increased. Parents today do not do that, and it is safe to say that they probably will not when BEDs arrive (even if they themselves take BEDs – drugs might increase intelligence, but they do not increase sense). But that doesn’t stop dissenters from using this point. Actually, I would say that if, due to parental laziness, a child knows, say, X number of things, then perhaps, with these drugs, it will know X + Y number of things (where Y > 0) with the same effort.

[ * : The reason this is wrong, they say, is that the ability of learning is affected by many factors, including social, economic and physiological. I ask, would the use of BEDs not be a factor as well? ]

The only real argument against BEDs that can be accepted is that the brain is very complex, and we do not know what side-effects may be caused by using something that affects the brain so directly. But you see, that is what this thing called ‘time’ is for, and that is what medical developments are for. Just as you wouldn’t try to run a real-time 3D simulation program on a 386 – you would wait for a better computer – you would not (or should not) put the average brain on a BED without developing the BED to the point where it is safe.

[Note: One argument that I’d like to put forward, but which doesn’t fit anywhere else is this: If BEDs get banned, then they are going to have a flourishing illegal market. Think of the implications of that – do we want such a thing to happen?]

Personally speaking, the idea of becoming something I am not makes me feel rather weird, but if everybody around me is turning into a genius, then I am not going to let my apprehension stand in the way of taking a BED. Readers may take this point as both for and against the use of BEDs. Furthermore, I’d like to ask if you think it’s right that we should oppose something solely because we are uncomfortable with it. I’m uncomfortable with economics and commerce (‘uncomfortable’ not as in ‘don’t understand’, but more basic, as in ‘don’t like’). So should I call for a worldwide ban on them?

The real reason why there are so many arguments against BEDs is this, put forward by the dissenters themselves: “Consider the ethics of tinkering directly with the organ from which all ethical reflection arises.” This is an argument which, I personally think, is almost frighteningly circular. It basically says: if your ethics permit using BEDs, then you won’t mind them affecting your organ of ethical reflection. In simple words, if it is okay with you, then it is okay with you; if it isn’t, then it isn’t.

Therefore, what you, as a sentient person (and there are fewer and fewer of them these days), have to decide is whether this reasoning appeals to you or not. If you agree with it, then you agree with it; if you don’t, then you don’t. And good for you.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 3:05 AM
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Finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Loved it.

Just one note: They should stop making the movies - they cannot possibly do justice to this one. Or maybe they should just let me direct it.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 10:12 PM
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Click on the picture to read the strip. Frazz (from which this is taken) is a rather nice comic strip I’ve been reading these days. Check it out.

Also, I’ve found some rather cool MP3s available for free download on the internet. Aurgasm is a good site for downloading legal free MP3s. Two songs that I’ve absolutely loved are Trina Hamlin’s Down to the Hollow (check out the wonderful photo alongside the link) and The Tiny’s Closer.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 11:56 AM
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Here is a rant on something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time now:

Denial is a basic human feature. In fact, most of our lives are based on denial, and they would not run without it. But in many cases, denial is a dangerous fact.

I define ‘denial’ as a sub-conscious negation and conscious ignorance (or, in rare cases, also negation) of a fact (or what should be perceived as a fact). The fact does not have to be something unpleasant.

Denial is primarily a necessity for our survival. A doting parent of an ugly child does not realise its child’s ugliness, facilitating the welfare of the child. In the context of adults, we ignore the sufferings of people around the world, even the ones that are right in front of us, otherwise we would spend our days being sickened and depressed by the state of the world. As an example, for a long time, I was (and still am) sorely tempted to stop reading the newspaper, just so I wouldn’t have to read about these things.

But in particular, rather than general, cases, denial can take an ugly face. A parent who thinks its child is an angel when it actually is a pain is in denial. A person who fails to admit to any mistake s/he has made might not necessarily be arrogant, s/he might be in denial, which later hurts that person more than anyone else.

Today, we see two major instances of large-scale denial. The first is sexuality. Our parents do not tell us about sex. They want to avoid the embarrassment and awkwardness. Therefore, they take comfort in the belief that we will learn it on our own. This can lead to absurdities like what has recently come to light in Hong Kong, where a large percentage of newly-wed couple do not know what they were supposed to do next (“don’t know where their sex organs are” were the exact words – click here for more). A lot of the time, we do learn it on our own, but we mostly learn a distortion of the truth, which usually leads to either a feeling of guilt, or a feeling of nervousness, confusion, and sometimes to misplaced aggression. I remember that when I was 12, a friend gave me a Xerox copy of a biology text dealing with reproduction. I hid it well, so that I could read it at night, but my parents found it and they tore it up. When I was little, my grandmother forbade me to touch my genitals, saying that it would cause some kind of disease. You can see where I’m going with that.

In the other instance of large-scale denial, we see that denial is the basis of modern religion. I am not referring to the mythology and theosophy of religion, but to the reason why people take to religion. They want to assuage a deeply hidden feeling of guilt or uncertainty, and they decide that they will place all the responsibility on a God. After this, they are free to blame God, and whenever they have a feeling of guilt, they offload it on God by prayer. Here’s a somewhat snide (and, some might feel, unrelated) example: I am a somnambulist, and in my early teenage, I feared that perhaps I would reveal all my ‘dirty’ fantasies in my sleep. Therefore, just before going to sleep, I would fervently pray, so that if I said anything in my sleep by chance, this would be what I said.

Denial takes different forms for different people. On one hand is the pre-teenage boy who refuses to believe that his mother ever had sex, and on the other hand are the custodians of our welfare who are turning blue in the face screaming that skimpy clothes cause sexual abuse of women, who perhaps believe that abuse did not exist in the 18th and 19th centuries.

As I said, denial does not necessarily have to be of an unpleasant fact. Anorexic people deny the fact that they are slim, and proceed to make themselves thinner. A person with feelings of inferiority, who might develop a complex, does not actually need to be inferior to do so. This can happen on its own or under pressure from parents, friends and other people. I know students who developed feelings of guilt and inferiority because their parents insisted they didn’t study, without bothering to check whether they actually did or not. This led to the students feeling that they did not do anything well.

The only solution to denial is to realise and rectify it, which can only be done by realising and rectifying it, so you can see where that argument is going. I’m not going to try and offer a solution. That is for everybody to find out for themselves.

I have only scratched the surface of this topic – perhaps I’ll write more in another post. Till then, ciao. [Sorry for the abrupt ending. I like abrupt endings.]

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 11:39 AM
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You might remember me mentioning a trip to Matheran. I linked to Varun’s account of the trip here. My account of the same trip has been posted in Vibe India (in the Vibe Travel section).

You can find it here. Please comment.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 12:05 PM
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I read in the Times of India yesterday that a chap named Leo Stoller has been suing people right and left for using the word ‘stealth’, because, apparently, he owns it. He has the trademark, and (at least in the USA) no company or individual except Leo can use it without his permission. However, he has been lenient enough to let some people offer him thousands of dollars for permission.

I was interested in this concept, and so I went on the net and did some research. My curiosity wasn’t satisfied, and I still don’t know a few things. For example, am I permitted to use it here in India? (Seemingly yes.) How did ToI use it? (In the same way as I did.) In what context can I use it? (Dunno.) I didn’t get answers to all those questions, but I actually found out something even weirder.

I found out that Marvel Comics and DC Comics jointly own the trademark for the word ‘superhero’! Do you know what that means? No comic other than those two can use the word. One company actually had to change the name of a comic from Super Hero Happy Hour to Hero Happy Hour, a fact which indicates a very real kind of oppression. Again, I have some questions. Can I use it inside a comic? Can I use it in a novel (as I intend to)? Could someone tell me?

The truth is that this might cause problems. I know that most people with such trademarks exercise their rights leniently, and we don’t see lawyers kicking down the doors of respectable geeks (if that’s not an oxymoron) and demanding they obliterate a particular word from their website. But we have to take into account the possibility that this trend might go too far. The concept of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer has been trademarked, as the writer of this novel found out, and it might not be long before Santa Claus himself is trademarked – after all, even now, Finland claims that it owns Santa (and it’s having a rather amusing battle over him with Norway).

The trademark rules for fictional characters are, thankfully, clear – you can mention them, but you cannot use them as characters. So I can write ‘Batman’ here as many times as I want, but I can’t write a story with him in it without permission. (We will ignore the phenomenon of fan-fiction, because that is something very different, however related – perhaps another post on that later.) I wonder what Larry Niven did when he wrote his hilarious ‘Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex’, which is a faux non-fiction piece where we analyze the methods by which Superman may possibly have a child. It was hugely irreverent, and I wonder how Niven got permission, if he actually did.

Anyway, this might, as I said, go too far. There might come a day when people are granted the right to trademark even commoner words (although one might argue that ‘superhero’ itself is not that rare). Maybe we’ll be able to trademark retrospectively as well, so that I could trademark the words ‘Jabberwock’ and ‘Jabberwocky’ and sue the buttocks off this guy and a million publishers. I could also sue Terry Gilliam for this movie, and as we sit in court together, I’ll certainly take the opportunity to tell him what an idol he is for me.

While that is a rather attractive possibility, I still hope that we do not have to face such absurdities, and everyone will be able to steal liberally from other people, without having to do so with any kind of stealth.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 1:01 AM
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I love walking. Alone or with someone else. When I was in the 12th standard, I used to go for 3-4 hour long walks, mainly to escape studying. Based on this, I wrote the following essay back in 2003. It is a bit crude and unformed, but I like it.

You are walking. It is 10 p.m., and the shops are just starting to close up. Go along the street. When the street ends, take another street, and then another. Look around you. Go on till it is almost midnight; your eyes start getting bleary, your knees start losing their sense of balance, and your calves are a beat away from screaming at you. Then turn around. Go back the way you came. And see the change.

When you were walking this way, you were watching people moving around – going home, or going out. The roadside restaurants were just starting to bustle, and once or twice, watching their delicacies, you even felt like stopping at one of them, even though you weren’t really hungry. The vegetable vendors were chatting with each other while gathering up the jute sacks on which they were sitting. You saw they were tired from sitting in the same place for hours and hours, and they were pleased to finally be going home, although they knew tomorrow was going to be the same.

As you went along, you arrived at a main road. The traffic was dulling out now, with no traffic policemen to blow their whistles at drivers who cheerfully disregarded every red signal they saw. Some signals were already closed up, and you watched, amused, as each driver competed to get her/his right of way over the others. Many shops were already closed up, and some streets were starting to take on a desolate look.

You moved into smaller alleys, where the sounds of technology were minimal, and you listened to the insects chirping at you from the bushes and the trees around you. Life was going to sleep.

Now, as you go back home, you pass the same streets, the same shops, the same restaurants that you saw on your way here. Every one of these is closed up, the shutters pulled down and the locks secured. The owners and workers of some of the roadside places are sleeping right in front of the source of their own food. You realise you are seeing a wholly different kind of life. The vegetable vendors are nowhere to be seen, and all that you can see in their place are treaded and half-rotten tomatoes and cabbages, for which a few stray dogs are fighting each other. You notice everything from the garbage bins, which you never saw during the day, to trees with their leaves drooping – already asleep. The only people you now see are those who sleep on the footpath, and those who are hurrying home before they have to. The city has calmed down, and you realise how different it is.

You come home. First you take a long drink of water, and then you sit on the sofa massaging your legs trying to sooth the aching muscles. And as you relax, you think about what you saw. You realise that sometimes you can see more in the night than you possibly could in the day. You smile. You tell yourself that you should do this more often.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 1:08 AM
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