Thursday, February 14, 2008

Questionably Stupid

I am astounded by the benchmark of stupidity that people around me set; and just when I begin to sense that rock bottom has been reached, someone always seems to dig down further. Particularly so is the case with the dim-witted questions which chorus Frank Zappa’s conjecture that there is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and stupidity has a longer shelf life.

Another thing that fascinates me is that stupidity is driving the world - evident from where the world is headed with Dubya chauffeuring us. Nonetheless, in this piece, committed to proving Zappa’s hypothesis, I shant borrow from oft-repeated anecdotes or resort to bush-whacking. I merely state the inane questions that have been posed to me by random someones in my humble lifetime. Also, I have deliberately chosen to quote dialogues verbatim to retain their succinctness. I begin.

Contrary to popular belief, airplanes aren’t a safe way to travel; and coming from the survivor of a horrific crash landing, I do lend a certain amount of credibility to the statement. Brought up on a strict regiment of three-law theories of viz. Newton, thermodynamics and common sense, it is hard for me to imagine an airline course - piloting, air-stewarding or otherwise - without the same. Unfortunately for hapless passengers, flying schools underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools and refrain from stating Notgogol’s three laws of basic airline intelligence:

  • If the tarmac is damper than the diaper of a toddler being forced to watch The Exorcist, do not attempt to land, particularly on the gravel beside the runway
  • When the crash-landed aircraft is tip-toed on one broken wheel alike a helplessly inebriated ballerina, the air-stewardess can give the routine of vigorously flailing her arms, shrieking “Emergency, emergency!” a pass
  • The emergency protocol of deploying an ambulance to the landing site, bearing only a strapping young driver with the therapeutic dexterity of a chipmunk, should be reconsidered

To prove Zappa’s hypothesis, the icing was spread on cake by the Reuters anxiously awaiting the ‘survivors’ at the arrival terminus. A reporter, whom I had presumed to be rational and intelligent, unexpectedly turned out to be unquestionably stupid when she enquired in earnest, “When can we expect the aircraft to take off again?” I smiled and asked her to wait for the day pigs have flown.

Spending life as a pseudo-cynic has rendered me incapable of enjoying joyous occasions like weddings as well. But sacrificing this pleasure hasn’t been futile. Economist Carlo Cipolla stated that the probability that a person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic possessed by that person, particularly beauty. Chancing upon living manifestations of Cipolla’s statement at weddings is a reward befitting the sacrifice.

Mother has always used weddings to her advantage, trying to introduce me to many unimaginably beautiful women in the hope that I might fall for one. I almost did but for two impossibly obtuse queries posed by the lady. Upon learning that her name was Camay, pronto came my quip – “How’s your sister Lux doing?” I had presumed that the experience of a lifetime with a name like Camay would have placed such ‘soapy’ remarks right up her alley. But she was befuddled silly by it and queried – “Are you sure you have the right person? My sister is Lovely” No pun-intended, her sister IS named Lovely.

Discussing banalities, like education and work, would help skirting away from the debacle of an introduction I thought. However, extremely disturbed to discover that only firms like McKinsey and P&G had chosen to offer me a position, she opined – “Oh! Why not Infosys?” I smiled and replied by blaming it on the system. She seemed content.

Student life in Mumbai was dotted with college festivals and it was as much annoyance, as pleasure to attend them. As if waiting for three hours in line to enter a ridiculous fest wasn’t torture enough, the organizers deemed it obligatory to discipline me as well. When warned against throwing paper-planes in the air, I requested to be granted permission for making paper-submarines. Emerging, from what appeared to be an emergency huddle of organizers to tackle the voice of dissent, a volunteer quizzed – “But how can you make the paper submarine fly?” I smiled and echoed Asok from Dilbert - “I’m from IIT. We can make anything fly.”

Considering the fact that nature limited man’s intelligence, it seems highly unjust that it did not limit his stupidity because I am gravely bothered by stupid questions bobbing their heads up in the least expected places. Stupidity is running the world; stupidity is ruining the world. Why do we seek answers to artificial intelligence when natural stupidity still eludes us? The blind are leading the blind. E.T watches us from outer space; he’s having a good laugh.

To end, the most half-witted question in the history of television from the series Blackadder. A dialogue between two officers about to set out to war:

George: If we should happen to tread on a mine, what do we do?

Blackadder: Well, normal procedure is to jump 200 feet into the air and scatter yourself over a wide area.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

If only someone had knocked on the door

As a child I had a morbid fear of sci-fi and would desist from reading anything that required imagining objects and beings that I hadn’t come across in my life as a human. After all nightmares replete with my school principal and the creatures that infested his interminable moustache were predicament enough for an 11 year old. But then, reeling under the might of peer-pressure – I succumbed.

The world that I dreaded to death had gone nuclear with The Matrix and the subsequent cerebral coup had brought about the capitulation of the rest of my brain. Could I be just a battery? All I needed was a sign or perhaps a red/blue pill and I would renounce everything materialistic in the world and embark upon an epic odyssey in pursuit of the Truth/Golden Fleece. Am still waiting for that flash….

Last week I watched a movie called The Butterfly Effect and was flabbergasted by the basic plot, which can be gathered from the statement below:

“A butterfly flapped its wings 60 years ago in Brazil, and today an earthquake hit China.” –Chaos Theory

Basically a small variation in the initial conditions of a dynamical system can produce large variations in the long-term behavior of the system.

Those of you, who are contemplating about leaving this blog right away to safeguard yourself from the tortures of another ludicrous hypothesis, bear with me for a while. The fact that you are reading my blog right now instead of doing anything else is affecting the future in profound ways. Because of your decision - everyone in the future will be different people than they would have been had you made a different choice.

“and it is this simple act, now, which unleashes the fires of life
from rock on a far away world six hundred million years from now”

At least, so the theory says.

Illustrating the principle is a sci-fi tale A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury, in which a future time traveler goes back to the dinosaur age, breaches protocol by stepping out of a restricted area and accidentally tramples a butterfly. Upon returning to the present, he finds the world to be a somewhat different from than the one he left. All of history has been changed slightly by the death of a single butterfly in the distant past.

A parallel can be drawn between the effect and Karma (the totality of a one’s actions in any one of the successive states of one’s existence, thought of as determining the fate of the next stage) - the law of cause and effect. Your actions create ripples that spread out, echo and interfere with the ripples from the actions of others. Quoting Kofi Annan, “The world of human activity also has its own "Butterfly Effect" - human actions can either save the world or destroy it.” The Butterfly Effect reminds us to be conscious of our actions, the brittleness of life and our inherent liability in the disposition of all things.

Imagine the world today if someone knocked on the door of Hitler's parents’ house the moment he was being conceived.