अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

March 31, 2008

The Hemingway (or Pilar) Argument for Diversity

Innumerable arguments can be given in favor (favour for the non-dominant party) of diversity. That is, diversity of all kinds: cultural, ecological, linguistic etc. But in this post I present a particularly good one. It’s from Hemingway’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, which I am reading right now:

‘Then calm yourself. There is much time. What a day it is and how I am contented not to be in pine trees. You cannot imagine how one can tire of pine trees. Aren’t you tired of pines, guapa?’

‘I like them,’ the girl said.

‘What can you like about them?’

‘I like the odour and the feel of the needles under foot. I like the wind in the high trees and the creaking they make against each other.’

‘You like anything,’ Pilar said. ‘You are a gift to any man if you could cook a little better. But pine trees make a forest of boredom. Thou hadst never known a forest of beach, nor of oak, nor of chestnut. Those are forests. In such forests each tree differs and there is character and beauty. A forest of pine trees is boredom. What do you say, Inglés?’

‘I like them too.’

Pero, venga,’ Pilar said. ‘Two of you. So do I like pines, but we have been too long in these pines. Also, I am tired of the mountains. In mountains there are only two directions. Down and up and down leads only to the road and the towns of the Fascists.’

The forest analogy is good enough in itself, but I really liked the natural connection at the end between the lack of diversity and Fascism.

I don’t need to remind that diversity is fast eroding from every sphere of life. Even in India, the land of more diversity than perhaps any other. I also don’t need to remind that Fascism is rising in almost all regions of India, in various forms. Neither do I need to remind what is being used as a cover for rising Fascism. Yes, the T-word, which is sometimes equated to the M-word and sometimes to the N-word. With a lot of talk about the W-word.

There is no exaggeration here in the use of the F-word, although I do use the device of exaggeration sometimes.

And no, there are no mistakes in the language used in the quote due to my typing. This is just a mild example of how Hemingway represented Spanish speech in English.

March 30, 2008

Discovering Delightful Connections

I have been thinking about writing a post about what (at least one thing) to do when life seems unbearably depressive and you are in the grip of the EIM (Everything Is Meaningless) syndrome. When you feel that you can’t really believe in anyone or anything. Even the ‘best’ people start turning out to be unreasonably mean and nasty. And there seems to be no point in doing anything. Even waking up. Or eating.

By the way, psychologists would love to have this one more syndrome. Or have they already (gladly) got it?

I just came across something that reminded me of one such thing. I mean one of the things you can do at such EIM etc. times. And that is discovering delightful connections. I discovered one such connection.

A few days ago I had seen a movie (La Mome) about the legendary French popular (female) singer Edith Piaf. I will write about her later, but one of the things I learnt during my post-movie (re)search on the singer was that another legendary French popular (male) singer Yves Montand was discovered and mentored by Edith Piaf. He was also, for some time, her lover. Anyway, after seeing this movie, Edith Piaf became one of my favourite (favorite for the dominant party) singers.

Some months ago I had written about the director Costa Gavras and one of his movies called ‘Z’. This happens to be one of my favorite films. But I forgot who played the role of the assassinated (really) democratic leader in that movie. I am not very good at recognizing French (or other non-Indian and non-Hollywood) actors, though I have seen many many French films. Probably because they don’t have as strong a star system as Hollywood.

Today I (re)discovered that it was Yves Montand.

 

This is what I call a delightful connection.

One that can bring a smile on your face.

One that can make you recall that not all is meaningless.

One that can make you happy.

A little bit, if not much.

And make you Happily write a post again.

Etc.

(In case you are wondering, the use of a capital letter above is not arbitrary).

But there are one or two more connections that I would like to mention. At the end of the movie ‘Z’, when the military takes over the government, a list of things is announced which have been banned. The list goes something like this:

Peace movements, strikes, labor unions, long hair on men, The Beatles, other modern and popular music (“la musique populaire”), Sophocles, Leo Tolstoy, Aeschylus, writing that Socrates was homosexual, Eugène Ionesco, Jean-Paul Sartre, Anton Chekhov, Mark Twain, Samuel Beckett, the bar association, sociology, international encyclopedias, free press, and new math. Also banned is the letter Z, which was used as a symbolic reminder that Lambrakis and by extension the spirit of resistance lives (zi = “he (Lambrakis) lives”).

This list is from the Wikipedia page about ‘Z’, but I remember one more banned item from the movie: Pinter. The writer Harold Pinter.

Where are the connections? First, note the inclusion of popular music in the list. Second, ‘the spirit of resistance lives’ is used as a kind of a motto by the site ZNet (or ZMag) where articles (among other things) by a great many of the world’s intellectuals and activists are published.

The Hindi section of ZNet (still pretty small) was started by your’s truly. Another thing I found out today is that some of these translated articles have started making appearance on other (Hindi) sites and blogs.

Reason enough to smile. Even if the ‘best’ people are turning out to be (at least) mean and nasty and you feel EIM.

Does it sound somewhat Frank Capraesque (as in It’s a Wonderful Life)? No, I wouldn’t go that far.

A smile is enough.

March 28, 2008

Chomsky at His Best

I have read quite a lot of Chomsky. And here I mean his non-Linguistic writings. But today I found the transcript of an answer that he gave after a lecture on 5th November 2001 in Delhi. It’s Chomsky at his best.

Within one answer to a question about the idea of Clash of Civilizations, he has compressed almost everything that one needs to know to understand how the world works. Even though I am very much familiar with his ideas, it was a treat to read this transcript.

I can’t resist the temptation to just quote him wholesale in this post. It’s not a very long article, so it can be read quite quickly. If you think something that he is saying is wrong, you can go ahead and verify it. He has written about the details elsewhere.

As there is no need for me to add or explain, I will just quote. I hope I am not infringing on anyone’s IPR. If I am, I will withdraw the quote. But I would hate to do that.

Here he is:

Remember the context of Huntington’s thesis, the context in which it was put forth. This was after the end of the Cold War. For fifty years, both the US and the Soviet Union had used the pretext of the Cold War as a justification for any atrocities that they wanted to carry out. So if the Russians wanted to send tanks to East Berlin, that was because of the Cold War. And if the US wanted to invade South Vietnam and wipe out Indo-China, that was because of the Cold War. If you look over the history of this period, the pretext had nothing to do with the reasons. The reasons for the atrocities were based in domestic power interests, but the Cold War gave an excuse. Whatever the atrocity carried out, you could say it’s defence against the other side.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the pretext is gone. The policies remain the same, with slight changes in tactics, but you need a new pretext. And in fact there’s been a search for pretexts for quite a long time. Actually, it started twenty years ago. When the Reagan Administration came in, it was already pretty clear that appeal to the pretext of the Russian threat was not going to work for very long. So they came into office saying that the focus of their foreign policy would be to combat the plague of international terrorism.

That was twenty years ago. There’s nothing new about this. We have to defend ourselves from other terrorists. And they proceeded to react to that plague by creating the most extraordinary international terrorist network in the world, which carried out massive terror in Central America and Southern Africa and all over the place. In fact, it was so extreme that its actions were even condemned by the World Court and Security Council. With 1989 coming, you needed some new pretexts. This was very explicit. Remember, one of the tasks of intellectuals, the solemn task, is to prevent people from understanding what’s going on. And in order to fulfil that task, you have to ignore the government documentation, for example, which tells you exactly what’s going on. This is a case in point.

Just to give you one illustration. Every year the White House presents to Congress a statement of why we need a huge military budget. Every year it used to be the same: the Russians are coming. The Russians are coming, so we need this monstrous military budget. The question that anyone who is interested in international affairs should have been asking himself or herself is, what are they going to say in March 1990? That was the first presentation to Congress after the Russians clearly weren’t coming – they were not around any more. So that was a very important and extremely interesting document. And of course, it is not mentioned anywhere, because it’s much too interesting. That was March 1990, the first Bush Administration giving its presentation to Congress.

It was exactly the same as every year. We need a huge military budget. We need massive intervention forces, mostly poised at the Middle East. We have to protect what’s called the ‘defence industrial base’ – that’s a euphemism that means high-tech industry. We have to ensure that the public pays the costs of high-tech industry by funnelling it through the military system under the pretext of defence.

So it was exactly the same as before. The only difference was the reasons. It turned out that the reasons we needed all this was not because the Russians were coming, but – I’m quoting – because of the ‘technological sophistication of Third World powers.’ That’s why we need the huge military budget. The massive military forces aimed at the Middle East still have to be aimed there, and here comes an interesting phrase. It says, they have to be aimed at the Middle East where ‘the threat to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.’ In other words, sorry, I’ve been lying to you for fifty years, but now the Kremlin isn’t around any more so I’ve got to tell you the truth: ‘The threat to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.’

Remember, it couldn’t be laid at Iraq’s door either, because at that time Saddam Hussein was a great friend and ally of the United States. He had already carried out his worst atrocities, like gassing Kurds and everything else, but he remained a fine guy, who hadn’t disobeyed orders yet – the one crime that matters. So nothing could be laid at Iraq’s door, or at the Kremlin’s door.

The real threat, as always, was that the region might take control of its own destiny, including its own resources. And that can’t be tolerated, obviously. So we have to support oppressive states, like Saudi Arabia and others, to make sure that they guarantee that the profits from oil (it’s not so much the oil as the profits from oil) flow to the people who deserve it: rich western energy corporations or the US Treasury Department or Bechtel Construction, and so on. So that’s why we need a huge military budget. Other than that, the story is the same.

What does this have to do with Huntington? Well, he’s a respected intellectual. He can’t say this. He can’t say, look, the method by which the rich run the world is exactly the same as before, and the major confrontation remains what it has always been: small concentrated sectors of wealth and power versus everybody else. You can’t say that. And in fact if you look at those passages on the clash of civilizations, he says that in the future the conflict will not be on economic grounds. So let’s put that out of our minds. You can’t think about rich powers and corporations exploiting people, that can’t be the conflict. It’s got to be something else. So it will be the ‘clash of civilizations’ – the western civilization and Islam and Confucianism.

Well, you can test that. It’s a strange idea, but you can test it. For example, you can test it by asking how the United States, the leader of the western civilization, has reacted to Islamic fundamentalists. Well, the answer is, it’s been their leading supporter. For instance, the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist state in the world at that time was Saudi Arabia. Maybe it has been succeeded by the Taliban, but that’s an offshoot of Saudi Arabian Wahhabism.

Saudi Arabia has been a client of the United States since its origins. And the reason is that it plays the right role. It ensures that the wealth of the region goes to the right people: not people in the slums of Cairo, but people in executive suites in New York. And as long as they do that, Saudi Arabian leaders can treat women as awfully as they want, they can be the most extreme fundamentalists in existence, and they’re just fine. That’s the most extreme fundamentalist state in the world.

What is the biggest Muslim state in the world? Indonesia. And what’s the relation between the United States and Indonesia? Well, actually the United States was hostile to Indonesia until 1965. That’s because Indonesia was part of the nonaligned movement. The United States hated Nehru, despised him in fact, for exactly the same reason. So they despised Indonesia. It was independent. Furthermore, it was a dangerous country because it had one mass-based political party, the PKI, which was a party of the poor, a party of peasants, basically. And it was gaining power through the open democratic system, therefore it had to be stopped.

The US tried to stop it in 1958 by supporting a rebellion. That failed. They then started supporting the Indonesian Army, and in 1965 the army carried out a coup, led by General Suharto. They carried out a huge massacre of hundreds of thousands, maybe a million people (mostly landless peasants), and wiped out the only mass-based party. This led to unrestrained euphoria in the West. The United States, Britain, Australia – it was such a glorious event that they couldn’t control themselves.

The headlines were, ‘A gleam of light in Asia’, ‘A hope where there once was none’, ‘The Indonesian moderates have carried out a boiling bloodbath’. I mean, they didn’t conceal what happened – ‘Staggering mass slaughter’, ‘The greatest event in history’. The CIA compared it to the massacres of Stalin and Hitler, and that was wonderful. And ever since that time, Indonesia became a favoured ally of the United States.

It continued to have one of the bloodiest records in the late twentieth century (mass murder in East Timor, hideous tortures of dissidents, and so on), but it was fine. It was the biggest Islamic state in the world, but it was just fine. Suharto was ‘our kind of guy’, the way Clinton described him when he visited in the mid-nineties. And he stayed a friend of the United States until he made a mistake. He made a mistake by dragging his feet over IMF orders.

After the Asian crash, the IMF imposed very harsh orders, and Suharto didn’t go along the way he was supposed to. And he also lost control of the society. That’s also a mistake. So at that point the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, gave him a telephone call, and said literally, ‘We think it’s time for a democratic transition.’ Merely by accident, four hours later he abdicated, but Indonesia remained a US favourite.

These are two of the main Islamic states. What about the extreme Islamic fundamentalist non-state actors, let’s say the Al Qaeda network. Who formed them? They’re the creation of the CIA, British intelligence, Saudi Arabian funding, Egypt and so on. They brought the most extreme radical fundamentalists they could find anywhere, in North Africa or the Middle East, and trained them, armed them, nurtured them to harass the Russians – not to help the Afghans. These guys were carrying out terrorism from the beginning. They assassinated President Saddat twenty years ago. But they were the main groups supported by the US. So, where is the clash of civilizations?

Let’s move a little further. During the 1980s, the United States carried out a major war in Central America. A couple of hundred thousand people were killed, four countries almost destroyed, I mean it was a vast war. Who was the target of that war? Well, one of the main targets was the Catholic Church. The decade of the 1980s began with the assassination of an archbishop. It ended with the assassination of six leading Jesuit intellectuals, including the rector of the main university. They were killed by basically the same people – terrorist forces, organized and armed and trained by the United States.

During that period, plenty of church people were killed. Hundreds of thousands of peasants and poor people also died, as usual, but one of the main targets was the Catholic Church. Why? Well, the Catholic Church had committed a grievous sin in Latin America. For hundreds of years, it had been the church of the rich. That was fine. But in the 1960s, the Latin American bishops adopted what they called a ‘preferential option for the poor.’ At that point they became like this mass-based political party in Indonesia, which was a party of the poor and the peasants and naturally it had to be wiped out. So the Catholic Church had to be smashed.

Coming back to the beginning, just where is the clash of civilizations? I mean, there is a clash alright. There is a clash with those who are adopting the preferential option for the poor no matter who they are. They can be Catholics, they can be Communists, they can be anything else. They can be white, black, green, anything. Western terror is totally ecumenical. It’s not really racist – they’ll kill anybody who takes the wrong stand on the major issues.

But if you’re an intellectual, you can’t say that. Because it’s too obviously true. And you can’t let people understand what is obviously true. You have to create deep theories, that can be understood only if you have a PhD from Harvard or something. So we have a clash of civilizations, and we’re supposed to worship that. But it makes absolutely no sense.

Reminder: This is the the transcript of an answer that Chomsky gave after a lecture on 5th November 2001 in Delhi.

March 26, 2008

Evolution Doesn’t Have a Conscience

 

 

But we do.

 

 

March 25, 2008

Shelly, Monk, Russell and Frankenstein …

… unite in The Spirit of Solitude.

Byron too.

Actually, it is not Frankenstein but Frankenstein’s Monster. I used to get it wrong. A lot of people still do.

The sackful of books I had mentioned earlier, included a 1904 edition of Shelly’s ‘Poetical Works’. Yes, I have a book that was printed more than hundred years ago. One of these poems is called ‘Alastor: Or, the Spirit of Solitude’. Ray Monk’s biography of Bertrand Russell is called ‘Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude’. And ‘Frankenstein’ was, of course, written by Mary Shelly (who happened to be P.B. Shelly’s wife, in case you are not aware).

Note the unshakable sexism or general bias in ‘Shelly’ sufficing to refer to ‘P. B. Shelly’ but not to ‘Mary Shelly’.

The above may just be interesting trivia, but there is something else related to the title of this post which is not so trivial.

I had watched a film version of ‘Frankenstein’ as a child on TV. After that, innumerable times, I have read about the book as well as film versions. Almost always the only themes that are discussed are some variations on man’s meddling in God’s creation or the unimaginable effects of scientific magic.

Many years ago when I read Mary Shelly’s original ‘Frankenstein’, I was completely taken aback by the fact that (what seemed to me) the main theme was not mentioned anywhere. Not prominently at least.

Of course, someone might have mentioned it prominently and I may not have come across it. I don’t know everything, you know.

Today I happened to pick up that 1904 book and came across the poem mentioned above. And I was amazed to see that the poem is on the same theme which I had thought was one of the main themes of ‘Frankenstein’. It can also be mentioned here that the idea for this novel was conceived during a long conversation among the Shellys and Byron in the Alps.

If you are not too straitjacketed, you can find similarities between Byron and Frankenstein’s Monster and also between the hero of the poem mentioned above and Frankenstein’s Monster. And Ray Monk used the title of that poem for his biography of Bertrand Russell. Not fascinating?

I hope you do understand that having similarities doesn’t mean being the same. And also that similarities in such a context have to be of some significance. That doesn’t include the fact that all of them had two eyes and two ears etc. Moreover, the similarities are uninteresting without the differences.

What’s the bloody theme?

The theme is quite a familiar one, except that the intensity is what makes it special. That intensity is in the individuals concerned. In how the society responds to the individuals. And vice versa.

But I have already mentioned the theme more than once.

The Spirit of Solitude. What else?

Pray, what does ‘The Spirit of Solitude’ mean?

Well, it doesn’t exactly mean what you may at first think. For example, it doesn’t only mean that the individual concerned Likes to be Alone. He might. Usually. But not always. Remember that old saying? Man is a social animal? Well, even misanthropes need some company. Friendly company. Reliable company. It also means other things which I will talk about later.

By the way, neither the Shellys nor Bertrand Russell can truly be called misanthropes. Byron was perhaps one. Was Frankenstein’s Monster a misanthrope? Well, whether he was or was not, but he certainly was forced to become one, as the novel quite clearly (and in detail) shows.

I don’t know about Ray Monk.

Aren’t you going overboard, comparing a monster to those literary and philosophical giants?

No, I am not. I have thought quite a lot about it and tried to find evidence for and against it. Frankenstein’s Monster, as presented in Mary Shelly’s novel, was hardly the monster he is made out to be in the movies, in popular culture and even in language (as in “BJP has created a Frankenstein”: That monster is much more dangerous than poor Frankenstein’s ever was).

But the connections get still more interesting.

I have not Googled all this information. I have earned it all in the old fashioned way.

The connections get interesting because Bertrand Russell, in his great and unique ‘History of Western Philosophy’ called ‘Frankenstein’ an allegory of the Romanticist movement of the 19th century. (Byron, Shelly and Keats were the central figures of that movement in literature). This is one of my favourite (favorite) books, but I have no hesitation in saying that Russell got it (at least partly) wrong. He also missed the theme I have mentioned. I mean he was right in pointing out some of the shortcomings of the Romantics, but he got the Frankenstein part wrong. I don’t agree with his interpretation of the novel or of the character.

Since Shelly has done the work for me, I will just point to him to further elaborate on the theme.

No apology for name dropping because, as I said earlier, I have earned it all. In the old fashioned way. Even if I am writing about it in the new fashioned way.

March 23, 2008

Mythical Pretensions of Originality (1)

[Disclaimer: This is not a scientific article. It is based on partly objective and partly subjective, but in any case sincere, analysis of the author’s knowledge of and experience in the world of research. No empirical evidence is presented as, in the author’s belief, enough empirical evidence can be presented about this topic to prove whatever you want. This is just a request to look at research honestly and sincerely without self-deception and pretensions.]

There is a very old and much discussed question which has been bothering me for a long time. Like in many other cases, so far I avoided writing about this because:

  1. I didn’t want to repeat things which have already been said.
  2. To say something new on this topic requires a lot of leisure, which I don’t have.
  3. The problem with saying something new about this is the topic itself.
    • What is original and what is not?
    • What is innovation and what is not?
    • What is creativity and what is not?
    • Is there anything in this world which is really original?

But, again like many other things, I have been provoked enough to write this post. I will try to do my best. As much as can be done in a single blog post.

What is the provocation? The provocation is the intensely irritating pretensions of originality from ‘researchers’ who have happened to review my or some others’ papers. They write as if every paper selected in every conference, journal and workshop is a completely original work. This, frankly, has started to get on my nerves. Because I know very well that this is simply not true.

The truth is not that every paper selected in every conference, journal and workshop is worthless or mere repetition of old things. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere between these two extremes.

However, I am quite sure that it lies much nearer to the second extreme than to the first. Even for the top ‘first class’ conferences and journals.

To quote from the article How to do Research At the MIT AI Lab, 1998 by David Chapman (Editor):

At some point you’ll start going to scientific conferences. When you do, you will discover the fact that almost all the papers presented at any conference are boring or silly. (There are interesting reasons for this that aren’t relevant here.)

I will go on to say that most of them have hardly any originality (that’s partly why they are boring). If you have sufficient resources, you can almost follow a recipe to write a paper which will get selected at a conference, workshop or journal. And this is exactly what is done. And it works too. One of the reasons is that it is easier this way for the reviewers. They don’t have to think hard about the originality of the paper. Because, of course, it is very hard to decide whether something shrewdly written and well presented is original or not. Quite often there may not be a clear-cut answer at all.

One of the essential elements of the the most popular recipe is to work on problems which are currently in fashion and do some experiments, any experiments, on that problem and present the results. If you practice enough, it can hardly go wrong. That’s how a great number of papers get published. No originality needed. Just be fast enough to do the experiments (which someone else would anyway have done in the near future) and write a paper. It’s somewhat like buying stock. Beat others by being the first to buy the stock as soon as it comes out. You just have to know how to fill up the form and complete the transactions. This applies even more to top conferences than to workshops.

If you think I am talking nonsense, I would request you refresh your Chomsky (in case you are a linguist) or refresh your Jurafsky-Martin (in case you are, as the term goes, an NLPer or a computational linguist).

If you do the above carefully, you will find that almost all the elements of Chomskian Linguistics can be traced back to some linguist, writer, philosopher or thinker of the past. (By the way, this applies to the ‘Theory of Evolution’ too). Similarly, you will find in Jurafsky-Martin that almost every discovery has been made by more than one scientist or thinker, including this one.

And if you go back to the top conference and journal papers, you will again find that most of the papers don’t really have anything really new to say.

So do I mean that all research is nonsense and useless? Certainly not. Why would I be in research if that was so? What’s the catch? The catch is that the emphasis on originality is highly misplaced.

What I am saying certainly doesn’t imply that there is nothing ‘original’ in the Chomskian Linguistics. But it does probably mean that we are looking for originality in the wrong place. I hope some day I will be able to say this with more clarity and preciseness.

But we would definitely be much better off if we dropped the mythical pretensions of the originality of every published paper. Originality is just one of the goals of research. Most of the research is routine research. Incremental research. That doesn’t make it useless. Really original papers can be expected only once in a long while. The rest should be seen as attempts to advance the state of the art marginally. Without much originality. Most of research is plain hard work. Rigorous work. Results of experiments which by themselves do not really matter much, but a small fraction of them could, just could, provide some insight for someone else to come up with something which is ‘original’. This (at best) is the purpose which more than 99 percent of the published papers serve and we better realize this instead of indulging in rampant self-deception about originality.

Coming to NLP and CL or even Linguistics, it is even more important to realize and accept the above mentioned fact. The reason is that research in these disciplines depends to a great extent on creation of resources (language resources as well as tools) which may not be very ‘original’ in nature as the word is usually understood. A lot of papers should and do report just the development of these resources and they are published. The trouble is that everyone is forced to create a false facade of originality and creativity which is not really there. You have to falsely claim the worth of your papers in terms of originality and ‘novelty’ when actually the worth is just in plain hard work. But if you don’t put up that facade, you are out.

Have you considered the fact that a lot of the Great Discoveries were accidental discoveries? Was there so much originality in those discoveries? I don’t know. It may sound cliched, but it does depend on how you define originality. Perhaps the better way is to emphasize less on (true or false or anything in between) originality and more on usefulness. At least in disciplines like NLP and CL where, if you ask most researchers, they won’t even be able to give a coherent answer about what exactly they are trying to achieve through their research. And where we don’t even know for sure whether there is anything really scientific to be achieved. Even after the great linguistic revolution, we hardly know anything about language that can be termed as scientific as the laws of Physics or the theorems of Mathematics. At most we can say that we are trying to build machines which can give better practical results. We need a LOT of hard work and only a little bit of originality. And this originality, like in other disciplines, is hard to come by.

I, for one, am not going to insist on a facade of ‘originality’ for the description of the hard work to be accepted for publication. Of course, there should not be verbatim repetition, but I don’t have any illusions about the originality of papers published anywhere. Further, I am going to prefer papers describing intelligent hard work over almost worthless but seemingly innovative cooked-to-recipe papers.

May be this is an empty declaration because I may not get to be in a position to insist or not to insist, but I can still make the statement at least.

It is my informal personal blog after all. I can afford to be as honest and direct here as I want.

That doesn’t mean I am not aware of the possible consequences.

An Example of Gory Details

I have been familiar with the phrase ‘gory details’, as anyone has been who has read newspapers or watched TV.

However, today I saw this phrase with a completely new meaning. It was quite a revelation. This is how it goes:

Even if you have severe constraints on resources due to funding (I sympathize…), I recommend not discussing them in quite as gory detail as you do. A very brief mention of the amount of effort invested to date is sufficient.

Gee, thanks for the sympathy. Now I will be able to run my next project on this great resource.

And these are the gory details (complete and unabridged) to which the above quote refers:

Since x has so far mostly been the result of individual effort and it is a non-funded project being undertaken on part-time basis, there were the most stringent resource (financial, temporal, etc.) constraints.

(Only the names have been changed).

Quite a lesson in Semantics. Or is it Pragmatics? Perhaps both. Great. Very original.

By the way, another lesson I have learnt over the years is that your project is not a project unless it is funded.

Without funding, your work is illegitimate, at least in the research community.

Oops! Sorry for the gory details. Obscene. Vulgar. Indecent. Pervert. Lewd. Salacious. Detestable. Repulsive. Repugnant. Abhorrent.

 

 

(I will add more context for this post later).

March 20, 2008

The First Day of Spring … NOT!

Filed under: Adventure,Life,Literature,Movies,Silly Things,Spring,Summer,Work — anileklavya @ 10:57 am

I am sweating badly, sitting in my man made cave (MMC), even though the fan is running. I have hardly been outside for many days, so I decide to go for a while to another man made cave. The Lab. To my dismay I find that it is a holiday. Which means that my going there (coming here is more like it) is officially futile. There is no one to meet or discuss things with. Or even to show my face to.

Since it is a holiday, the A.C. is closed. And since the lab is air conditioned, there is no such thing as a fan in this MMC. So I have to sweat even more. But I should look at the positive side. Sweating is a symbol for hard work and, therefore, I can feel better morally.

I log on to my lab system and open the browser. The Google page shows flowers. I click on them and find out that it’s the first day of spring. Really? There must be some mistake. I am sweating the way people sweat in an Indian summer. Not quite as hell, but still quite hot.

Sure, it is the Spring Equinox day. It might be the beginning of spring somewhere (or manywhere), but where I am sitting it is not even the first day of summer. I wonder whether spring has any separate existence. Summer here starts sometime in the middle of February.

As I have already come, I will sit here for some time and do whatever I can. Including writing this post. Usually I don’t write posts from the lab.

There is a long spell of sweating ahead of me.

But no! Through some minor miracle (probably the coming of some eminent personage), the lab A.C. has started. I have been saved. Like people are saved by the (US) marines in so many (US) movies and (US) books. So many that (Nobel Prize winner) William Golding ended his dystopian novel Lord of the Flies this way. Was it a mock ending? We will talk about that later. I have something to say on that, but I will procrastinate.

But now I have to go back. I remember some work that I have to do in my MMC.

March 13, 2008

The Sign of a Mature Institution

The Sign of a Mature Institution

(Courtesy the makers of Rushmore)

March 12, 2008

Beware of Sirring a Nobody

Sirring is a technical term (so what if I have coined it) that means frequently or always addressing someone by an honorific term like ‘sir’. So, if you keep addressing someone as ‘sir’ or ‘mam’ etc., you are sirring them.

You have to know when sirring is a positive and recommended practice and when it’s not.

For example, sirring someone is a positive and recommended practice if that someone happens to be, well, Someone. Not just Anyone. And a Someone is a person, as you might know, who has some power over you or has a higher designation than your’s or has more money than you do or, in general, is materially superior (socially, financially, politically etc.) to you. It’s alright, in fact, it’s highly advisable if you practice sirring with some such materially superior person.

However, sirring can be harmful to you in some cases. For example, you can get into trouble if you practice it with someone who has no power over you, has no more money than you, has no higher designation than you, has no social, economic etc. status higher than you.

Sirring a Nobody is not alright. It’s not recommended. It’s foolish. It’s not part of civilized behavior. Please refrain from it. It might hinder communication with those who really are (materially) Somebodies.

It doesn’t matter if that person knows more than you, is more capable than you, more experienced than you, more (non-materially) accomplished than you.

Sometimes it also doesn’t matter if that someone is older than you.

Or has done much more in life than you.

Or has more publications than you.

A person who could have but hasn’t risen above you materially doesn’t deserve respect. Doesn’t deserve to be addressed by an honorific term.

Unless that person is a saint or a prophet or is, at least, recognized as one.

It’s Pragmatics, stupid!

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