अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

June 4, 2010

Shooting Oneself in the Foot

A few years ago I had received some feedback from someone about a research paper that I was going to submit to a major conference. Paraphrasing the feedback (repeating the exact words, even with the reference, will be copying: won’t it?), I was told that there was something that I had put in the paper, which, if I insisted on retaining, might make the reviewer look at my paper in a negative light. So, if I didn’t remove that part, I would be shooting myself in the foot.

This is beside the point, but I thought what I had added was correct and so I retained it. The paper was rejected, but I would like to believe that the reason for rejection was not that I had shot myself in the foot.

Getting back to the point, this is an expression that I have come across innumerable times, mostly directed at others, but sometimes directed at me. As a person who claims to be a writer, translator as well as a researcher in a language related discipline (among other things), I can’t help obsessing about how such expressions are used and what they mean, what they show and what they hide.

But I am not interested in writing an academic paper about that. So I write something here. And you are not supposed to review this piece when I submit the next Computational Linguistics paper which might come to you for review. (See the comment functionality below?).

Recently, Chomsky used this expression in a speech, saying ‘those who are being harmed are shooting themselves in the foot’. Now, most of the time that I have come across this expression, I have thought it was being used cynically to show something which wasn’t there and to hide something that was there. Or for some other questionable purposes. However, the people using this expression were mostly respectable well meaning people. Most probably they hadn’t thought about this expression in the way that I had done. May be because if they were to do it, they would be shooting themselves in the foot.

But when Chomsky uses this expression, I can’t but believe that he is using it to mean something sensible, not cynical (if this last part looks strange to you, look up the meanings and histories of these two words, especially the second one).

I do believe that what Chomsky said was basically correct. That is, there are some people who are being harmed and they are indeed shooting themselves in the foot (I am not sure whether I am one of them or not).

The reason I am writing this is that I also believe (based on evidence, not on faith) that such people are (relatively) so few that ridiculing them or offering them advice is hardly going to matter. I must add here that Chomsky did actually caution against ridiculing such people (who have realized that they are being systematically harmed). He only expressed his disappointment that instead of doing something to stop this systematic harming, they are shooting themselves in the foot.

You see, there are also people who are being harmed and are shooting themselves in the head (or ‘consuming pesticide’). You might say that they belong to the same category because the expression is metaphorically wide enough to cover them. That might be true. But then there are also a far larger number of people who are being harmed and they are doing something very different.

They are not shooting themselves in the foot (or in the head). They are shooting others (who are also being harmed) in the foot*. Often they are also shooting others (who are also being harmed) in the head. Sometimes they are doing it for a few extra peanuts, sometimes just for the fun of it and sometimes because they have been led to believe that these targets are their enemies (or the enemies of the nation, or the enemies of the society, or of the religion, or of the community etc.). And since doing it openly is a bit problematic (not cool anymore, baby!), they often have to make it appear as if their target shot himself in the foot (or in the head), whether deliberately or accidentally.

* Perhaps they are programmed in Concurrent Euclid.

So, my take on the matter is that we should be talking about people who are being harmed and who are (literally or metaphorically) shooting others who are also being harmed, whether in the foot or in the head. Because without them, the whole shooting machinery probably won’t be able to operate. In fact, to visualize a grisly scenario, if all such people stopped shooting others (who are being harmed) and started only to shoot themselves in the foot, even then the shooting machinery will probably become dysfunctional. Fortunately, most of the people will not be interested in shooting themselves in the foot (or in the head) if they are just able to find any feasible alternative. Unfortunately, no one from above can tell a person what such an alternative means in practical terms in that person’s circumstances and it’s very hard to find it out for oneself. It’s very hard to even be sure that such an alternative exists. If it does, it’s very hard to translate it into any meaningful action. Compared to a a few decades earlier, it is infinitely harder now, given the extraordinary consolidation of the global power structure (going far beyond what Foucault had studied up to his time), to a great extent due to the techno-administrative ‘advances’ (mostly in the name of security).

There are, surely, people who are being harmed but are not shooting others (being harmed or not being harmed). I won’t say anything about them right now.

(To academic busybodies and surface-style junkies: don’t bother to count the number of times the said expression has been used in this short piece: it has been done very deliberately. Perhaps the author was trying to shoot …).



For having read the above, here is a bonus link: Fascism then. Fascism now?

April 16, 2009

Accepted, but not Published

Academicians or researchers list their publications prominently on their home pages. After all, it is supposed to represent the best of their work. They also quite often (especially those who have a large number of publications) categorize them according to some criteria like the venue (workshop, conference, journal or book: in the reverse order of prominence) or peer review (unrefereed and refereed).

In this post we propose that there should be a new category of publications. This category is needed because a lot of researchers (for good or for bad) now come from underprivileged countries. For most of these researchers, traveling abroad to attend a conference, even if their paper has been accepted, is something very hard to do. In some sense even more than getting a paper accepted, which is relatively harder too, given the lack of certain privileges — whether you like the word or not — generous research grants, infrastructure, language resources etc., combined with the prejudice (it is there: I am not inventing it, whoever might be blamed for it). To these problems can be added the problem of compulsory attendance at a conference or a workshop. It is partly these conditions which have prompted suggestions from certain quarters that researchers from these countries should concentrate on journal papers (never mind the delay and difficulties involved or the unfairness of the proposition, even though it has some practical justification).

But you can never be sure while submitting that you certainly won’t be able to attend. Also, hope is said to be a good thing. Therefore, the event of a researcher submitting a paper and hoping to attend but not being able to attend cannot be ruled out.

This bring us to the proposal mentioned earlier. One solution to this problem is that there should be another category of papers: accepted but not published, because the author couldn’t afford to attend the conference or the workshop. (By the way, workshops are the most happening places nowadays: more on that later).

The author of this post must know because he has authored more than one such publications.

Of course, the condition will be that if and when such a paper is resubmitted (with or without modifications, but without any substantial new work), accepted again and finally published, the entry marked as ‘accepted’ should be removed and replaced by an entry marked as ‘published’.

After all, if we are serious about research, then the work (which has been peer reviewed and accepted) should be given somewhat more importance than some pages printed in some proceedings (or attendance in a conference for that matter).

This, of course, doesn’t mean that you can get basically the same thing published (or accepted) in more than one places.

(Sorry for the Gory Details)

P.S.: May be there is no need for the above apology as the depiction of the Gory Details of the Indian Reality is now getting multiple Oscars (The Academy Awards: the keyword is Academy). But may be there is because some researchers have a more (metaphorically) delicate constitution which can be hurt by the Gory Details.

Queen’s P.S.: Off with his head!

February 22, 2009

बाल की खाल

ज्ञान-विज्ञान के विकास में लगे
अति-विशेषज्ञ का काम है
बाल की खाल निकालना
इसके बहुत से लाभ हो सकते हैं
लेकिन तभी तक
जब तक खाल निकाल कर
बाल के अंदर की कोशिका के
अध्ययन में डूबे हुए
यह न भुला दिया जाए
कि इसी बाल में ऐसी
अनेकों कोशिकाएँ हैं
कि इन कोशिकाओं के ऊपर
खाल भी थी
जो निकाल दी गई
और जिसको मिला कर ही
एक पूरा बाल बनता है
कि ऐसे लाखों बालों की जड़
एक सिर पर स्थित है
और यह सिर
कई और अंगों के साथ मिलाकर
एक शरीर बनाता है
और ऐसे अरबों शरीर मौजूद हैं
यही नहीं, तरह-तरह के अन्य शरीर भी हैं
जिनमें से प्रत्येक
बड़ी संख्या में
(लुप्त होती प्रजातियों के अलावा)
पाये जा सकते हैं

ये सभी शरीर
एक बड़े-से (या छोटे-से) गोले पर रहते हैं
जिस पर शरीरों के अतिरिक्त भी बहुत कुछ है
और ऐसे अनगिनत गोले
इधर-उधर चक्कर लगाते फिर रहे हैं
इनमें से बहुतों पर
शरीर हो सकते हैं
जिन पर सिर हो सकते हैं
सिरों पर बाल हो सकते हैं
बालों पर (खाल निकालने के बाद)
कोशिकाएँ भी मिल सकती हैं
जो शायद वैसी ही हों
जैसी का अध्ययन किया जा रहा है
या शायद ना भी हों

बाल के अंदर की कोशिका के
अध्ययन में डूब कर
सब कुछ भुला देने की
ग़लती न करना तो ठीक है
लेकिन यह भुलाना भी
खतरे से ख़ाली नहीं है
कि जिस अनगिनत गोलों के
ब्रह्मांड के बारे में
बात की जा रही है
उसमें से कुछ पर ही
शरीर पाये जाते हैं
जिनके सिर
हो भी सकते हैं, नहीं भी
और सिर पर बाल (यदि हों तो)
उनके अंदर सूक्ष्म कोशिकाएँ
मिल सकती हैं
जिनके अध्ययन से
ऐसे निष्कर्ष निकल सकते हैं
जो ब्रह्मांड (या उसके कुछ भाग)
के बारे में दिए जा रहे
निर्णयों-फ़तवों को
ग़लत साबित कर सकते हैं


[1997 या 1998]

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