Oh my. Apparently, people don’t take kindly to pictures of Ganesha with his…

I’ve had a surprising amount of pushback about my posting a link to this The Onion article, and about my surprise that Facebook would censor a post with this link because somebody reported it as, I don’t know–obscene, offensive, blasphemous, take your pick. Which brings me back to: oh my. People really don’t take kindly to pictures in which “the Hebrew prophet Moses high-fives Jesus Christ as both are having their erect penises vigorously masturbated by Ganesha, all while the Hindu deity anally penetrates Buddha with his fist.”

[Edit: Picture removed. It was an editorial decision.]

I’ve made a list of people’s complaints. If you’ve been following along on Facebook, this isn’t new.

Here’s Saikishan:

I actually think it is not inappropriate to curtail free speech till people get open minded. A riot /people getting killed/ inciting violence/ increasing communal tensions is too big a price to pay for someone being able to post random stuff online or write a controversial novel or make a outrageous movie. While we should work towards tolerance and liberty in every sense, that has to be gradual & systematic.. creating awareness and open-mindedness over time without offending people… and people who argue for freedom to expression should behave with more maturity. With great power / liberty should come great responsibility.

And a random-dude:

It got blocked because it shows penises, pubic hair and arseholes. Free speech curbing does not enter into it. Be responsible and post such links on 18+ forums if you must.

fb Statement of Rights and Responsibilities(section 3.7): You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.

Random dude’s supporter:

The link you posted was just obscene… and maybe deep down they had a motive to avoid any probable reaction to your link (which might happen, even when you are only “advising” that it should not happen etcetera)… However you just gave them a legitimate reason by posting a link that violated the section [random dude] has mentioned above…

and btw… don’t you think “purpose is to point out that people should learn that in a free world, people have no right against being offended” is an oxymoron in itself..??

And the guy who got the post censored:

Croor – I have the right to TELL you NOT to call me an idiot… or protest against it to the moderators of a forum like facebook ( Which btw i did to prove a point to you ) you of course have the right to continue to ignore my request, till you can’t, like in this case, or find a way to express your views elsewhere.

Facebook did nothing on its own account anyhow. It just listened to the requests of other individuals converging on the nature of your article.

My point is that this was still a democratic removal of your article. There is a difference between this and China removing pictures of Tiananmen Square. People rated your post, and it fell below the troll line. This is moderation in ‘good faith’.

And btw, you were asked to fill in security information because facebook was polite enough to assume that maybe it wasn’t you and your account was hacked. How do i know this ? It asks me before reporting if i thought your account was hacked. Again.. ‘good faith’, not Mamata Banarjee

I leave as an exercise to you the reader to deal with random dude and his supporter. The other two made one or two points worth addressing.

Free speech is a line-drawing exercise, sure. The line is usually drawn at anything that poses a ‘clear and present danger’. Like yelling ‘fire!’ in a crowded theatre. Or Advani or Uma Bharathi telling an assembled mob that god wants them to break down the mosque. “Increasing communal tension”, whatever that means, should not be covered. It isn’t ‘clear and present danger’. It happens over time. Which means people have time and brains to think about what was said, how much it offended them, and most importantly how they don’t have the right to ask somebody else not to offend them.

Comparing a post at The Onion (or indeed on my Facebook) to Tienanmen Square is a bit much, no? Can anybody say Godwin? More importantly: free speech trumps “democracy”. Especially if we’re talking about MY facebook wall, where democracy doesn’t apply at all.

You don’t like what’s on my wall? Don’t read it. Nobody is making you.

The straw that broke the irony-meter

Has Mamata Banerjee taken over facebook’s content filters?

The right to free speech is in the news again: because people face threats of jail for pointing out that sewage water is not holy; because Mamata Banerjee really cannot help herself; because cartoonists in this country can now be arrested for speaking their minds; because the State in our country has no qualms about snooping on its own citizens.

And now because a badly made internet movie called “Innocence of Muslims” has caused another round of orchestrated outrage in the Arab world, leading to American embassies in Egypt and Libya getting ransacked.

The Onion have an article that sums up all this better than anybody else can. I posted a link to this on my facebook in response to a friend’s comments about Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly where he denounced religious intolerance but refused to budge on free speech. That this is itself ironic is true, coming from the president of the country that has the Patriot Act for a law and ‘free-speech zones’ for, well, free speech.

But what broke my irony meter is that a day after I posted the link to the The Onion article, I was locked out of my facebook account, having to go through a security check (“Pick out which friend of yours is in these pictures.”) in order to get back in. I found this:

We removed content you posted
We removed the following content you posted or were the admin of because it violates Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities:
post
Sayash Kumar, Obama should’ve simply linked to this in his speech. Much better than waking up Jefferson and company from their graves.
http://www.theonion.com/articles/no-one-murdered-because-of-this-image,29553/

Violence is not an answer to offence–real or manufactured. Censorship of an article whose only purpose is to point out that people should learn that in a free world, people have no right against being offended–now that’s irony.

This makes me wonder if Mamata Banerjee has taken over control of Facebook’s content filters.

[Edit: 28/9/2012, late at night:] A fellow on my facebook list says he reported the post and that was why Facebook took the post down. And he says that this was to prove a point. I’m still murky on what the point was, but that may just be me. More comments and responses in the next post.

Oh God

Yes, they laughed at Socrates; they laughed at Galileo; they also laughed at Bozo the clown. I laugh at BM Hegde. Join me, won’t you?

Harish Dixit pointed some of us to the latest pile of drivel from BM Hegde.

If you are (or used to be) a regular watcher of TED talks, you may remember a talk by a woman called Jill Taylor. She had a stroke, which led to a massive right-brain seizure. This resulted in her going through the weirdest morning of her life before she was taken to the hospital and the clot in her head was removed. After eight years recovering brain and bodily function, Jill Taylor now spends her time talking about that morning and the experience of, for lack of another word, bliss.

You can probably guess where this is going. You’re right, but wait for it!

I wanted to quote some bits of the article and say something about them. The article is so horrible, however, that I ended up copying it entire.

“Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras, Socrates, Jesus, Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton were all misunderstood… To be great is to be misunderstood.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yes, they laughed at Socrates; they laughed at Galileo; they also laughed at Bozo the clown. I laugh at BM Hegde for opening with this self-serving quote. Join me, won’t you?

Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist at the neuropsychiatry department of Harvard University. She learnt her first lesson in true brain function when, at the age of 38, she came down with an intense headache one morning. The pain was so unbearable and soon made her lose all her left brain functions like speech, comprehension, use of the right half of the body and self-consciousness. But what she discovered that morning was so profound which no one could ever have found, which the world needs to know. Jill had the unique opportunity to learn the brain functions inside out. She was acutely aware of the two distinct brain parts, the right and the left connected only by millions of axons through the corpus callosum.

Try this, for comparison: “I ran five kilometres that day. As I stopped, exhausted, I was acutely aware of my two lungs — the right and the left — connected only by my wind-pipe. There is something profound here that the world needs to know.”

The right brain is a parallel processor, while the left brain is a serial processor, if you like. While the left brain thinks linearly, the right thinks holistically. The left brain understands the present, past and the future, the reason why we all feel miserable. The right brain, on the contrary, connects us with this whole universe as a speck in the omnipotent universal consciousness. That morning, Jill felt real “nirvana” in her own words. However, now and then her dying left brain would kick her back to the mad world, reminding her “Hey Jill, you have a problem, you need help!” Soon she will fall back into that blissful satchitananda of the disconnected right brain that connects her only to her maker, the universal consciousness.

So, basically, god and the assorted accompaniments are manifestations of epilepsy. That clears up so much, no?

Doctors at the Mass General Hospital removed a large blood clot in her left brain caused by a vessel bursting open. It took her eight years to get back her normal functions, to go back to work again on the human brain. She goes round the world telling people how she felt that fateful morning which transformed her whole life and gave her a new perspective. She has learnt to forget those two most dangerous days of the year — yesterday and tomorrow. God presented her with a present — “today” to enjoy.

Yesterday has been a dream and no force on earth can undo that: tomorrow is only a mirage which no one could predict. Why then worry about those two days and make life miserable? One could live blissfully in the present trying to help others live well too. Happiness comes in search of you when you help make another person happy. Thena thyakthena bhoonjithaaha — “rejoice in giving” is the advice of the Ishopasnishad.

I don’t need the epileptic seizure that is god to realise that worrying too much about the past or the future may not be the best thing for the present. BM Hegde must have seen this objection coming, because he continues:

One need not get brain haemorrhage to realise God. We could do that by stimulating our right brain functions through praanaayaama regularly. David Schanoff Khalsa, a neuro-psychiatrist in San Diego University, had been working on the benefits of left nostril breathing (Kriya Yoga) in treating mental ailments such as depression, epilepsy, obsessive compulsive neurosis and other anxiety disorders. Human mind is intangible but is a wonderful wonder. Mind is not an organ in the conventional sense; it is not situated in the brain or any other organ. Brain is a computer coordinating all the body functions. Mind is only energy at the subatomic level of every single human cell of which there are one hundred thousand billions in all.

The human mind is a wonderful wonder, wouldn’t you know! The mind is also energy at the subatomic level of every cell. Seriously, shut up. David Schannahoff-Khalsa (this is how the name is spelt, by the way) is an alternative-medicine kook. If this tells you something about Hegde’s penchant for name-dropping, the next paragraph will exemplify it:

Matter and energy are the two sides of the same coin; they are not two distinct entities at the subtlest level, opines a great physicist, Hans-Peter Duerr, Emeritus President of the Max Planck Institute in Munich, who succeeded Albert Einstein and Werner Heisenberg. Trying to look at matter at its subtlest level for the last 55 years, Hans-Peter recently realised that there is no matter distinct from energy at that level. That vast omnipotent energy is the universal consciousness (or God) and we humans are but a tiny bit of that consciousness, the individual consciousness.

Has Hegde never heard of E=MC^2? It is only the best-known formula in physics. Matter and energy are equivalent. You don’t have to go to the ‘subtlest’ level, whatever the hell that means. Also, that last sentence is just bull. Hegde seems to be saying that we’re all made up of matter, as is the universe. Big whoop. Why does this pass for wisdom?

One need not go in search of God in all temples, churches and mosques, while our own God resides within all of us as universal compassion and friendship. Why not try and develop that God who is attainable to each and everyone of us? One need not even be literate to do that, one has to be educated though, to know that God resides inside each of us. We need to transform ourselves from the manliness of “getting and forgetting to the godliness of giving and forgiving.” One could attain godhood easily by mediation and praanaayaamaa not overnight but by constant practice.

…or, once we’ve failed at that, write awful nonsense for the papers and make a living that way.

Abdul Kalam, a true… something.

A bunch of people I know have shared this snippet of a speech APJ Abdul Kalam delivered to the European Parliament at Strasbourg, France in April 2007. Kalam is, for all purposes, India’s Francis Collins – a decent administrator and manager of massive projects, but completely inane in every other respect.

[fatuousness overload]
[\video]

The speech in question had something to do with enlightened citizens for World peace. The part of the speech that has people fawning all over this video is a quote from a Tamil poet, which the former President of India says (repeatedly) is from ‘in 3000 years back’. It’s ‘ago’! The stupid word you are looking for, Mr. President, is ‘ago’.

The earliest literature in Tamil – Sangam literature – dates from ‘around the 3rd century BCE to the 3rd century CE’ [Wikipedia]. That I quote from Wikipedia isn’t to say that Wikipedia is infallible, of course – here’s Britannica’s page, which says that Tamil literature proper dates earliest from around the 1st century CE – but it does tell me that Abdul Kalam is less concerned with facts than with attempts at profundity. Attempts like this:

Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character.
Where there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home.
When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the Nation.
When there is order in the Nation, there is peace in the World.
[\end stupid poetry]

Does that sound profound to you? Yoda-ish, perhaps? Compare that to this, from The Phantom Menace, (by when George Lucas had divested himself of all cranial matter): ‘Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.’

[yoda]
[\yoda]

The problem with independent things, you see, is that any ordering of them seems to make sense: Fear leads to suffering, suffering leads to anger, anger leads to hate. And so forth.

And so it is with the profundity of Adbul Kalam: Can’t peace in the heart lead to peace in the World, which leads to order in every nation, which leads to harmony in every home? My point, then, is this: What the heck does any of this mean? If we all think beautiful, noble thoughts, the World will become all right? This was the President of India, for crying out loud. Should he not have an ounce of gravitas?

The worst part of it is that he seems to earnestly think that he’s being profound, and that people like listening to this fatuous drivel. Okay, he may not have been too far off on that last count.


I wasn’t going to bother with the senile old fellow and his (well-meaning) senility, but the paper I was reading about facultative ammonotely in certain hummingbirds is taking a bit longer to finish than I expected.


Edit (August 2016): If what I’ve said has angered you, has made you want to tell me to fuck off to hell, as it has several people who’ve commented below, see this.

The Festival of ‘Lights’ strikes again.

The JNC campus is, I have always thought, quite some distance from anything. My parents’ house, on the other hand, is slap-bang in the middle of a proper locality. By which of course I mean that the idiot-brigade is well staffed – the temple-goers are in full-strength. There are three temples within a few hundred feet of the house. A festival – any hindu festival – is a bad time to be there.

This was the only reason I decided to not go home for this extended weekend, distended due to the occurrence of Diwali on a Friday. I’d take the peace and quiet of JNC, minus home-food and sweets, any day over the madness that will accompany said food and sweets at home. Oh, how my calculations seem to have gone wrong!

The festival of ‘lights’ has struck again.

Could somebody, for the love of all that is bright and colourful, ask the good people of Jakkur what pleasure they get by filling the air with all sorts of pollutants and the most dissonant of broadband noise, and disturbing the lives of every animal and bird around them?

It’s like these people have no power over their dopamine circuits. Sheesh.

No omelet for you. A letter to the JNCASR student committee.

JNCASR has a utility store, which sells toiletries and sundry eatables. Apparently, you can’t get omelet there. Because people who are vegetarian have complained/ might complain about it. Or something. Anubhab Roy wrote to the student committee asking if something couldn’t be done about this. His arguments fell on deaf ears. Obviously, then, I had to say something. Here’s what I wrote to the student committee:

Hello,

Anubhab Roy sent me a copy of his missive asking why the utility centre cannot serve omelets. He made the point that an institution cannot go around banning things some section of its residents don’t like. I am told his plaint is going to go unheard.

I disagree with Anubhab Roy. And I’m glad the administration at JNCASR has taken the pragmatic path of respecting people’s rights to stick to their principles in the face of overwhelming common sense.

I am a Pastafarian, and the central tenet of my faith is that flour should only be used to make noodly shapes. Shaping flour in any other way is unclean, disrespectful, and sacrilegious. I have had to bear with chappatis and bread at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in the mess and indeed in the utility store all my life.

It isn’t just that they want to serve chappatis and bread; they also insist on using the same utensils for chappatis as for noodles. They also insist on displaying the toaster in full view of the food-queue.

Now that I have seen the pragmatism of the student committee and the rest of the administration at JNC, however, I can finally hope that these wrongs will be righted.

I would, left to myself, do away with chappatis altogether, but I get that I live in a community. I just want my faith to not be compromised. I appeal to you to respect my right to my faith – the faith of hundreds of thousands of people across the world.

I hope, therefore, that you will ensure that the utensils used for chappatis are not used for noodles, and that the toaster is moved to behind the washing machines.

I thank you and hope that you will kindly oblige.

Yours,
Ravichandran S

IIT Roorkee. What the heck are they up to over there?

Apparently, in what is IIT-Roorkee’s version of Saarang was an event where ‘boys holding lipsticks in their mouth applied them on girls’. Ravikanth brought this to my attention in the comments here. Predictably, the saffron monkeys of the ABVP and the Hindu Jagran Manch have started jumping up and down about this, burning the Dean (I assume the DoSA) of IIT-R in effigy, and threatening to close down IIT-R’s gates if there isn’t any action taken:

“We condemn this incident. We will lock the gates of IIT Roorkee if the management does not take any action in this regard,” AVBP secretary Raj Singh Pundir said.

Not so predictably, however, the state government has ordered an ‘inquiry’ into the matter:

“We will not tolerate any obscenity in our state. We have launched an inquiry in this regard,” Uttarakhand Education Minister Govind Singh Bisht said.

Really, now? I wonder what an ‘inquiry’ into an event at a college festival entails. If this festival is like Saarang, somebody proposes an event, the student heads approve it, the Dean approves it and the event is held. There. That’s an ‘inquiry’ into the matter. Why on Earth does this require orders from the education minister?

This ‘event’, to be sure, is about as tasteless as events at college cultural festivals can get. I should add, before I get thrown in the same bin as the thugs of the saffron brigade, that I have no problem with an event getting men and women, in any combination, to kiss on stage. What I do have a problem with is the intellectual cowardice of dressing it up as something else. Using lipstick for this is perhaps particularly stupid.

These attempts at chikanery – dithering at best, contemptible dishonesty at worst – are to me the reason the goons of the ABVP can get away with threatening to close down an institution set up by an act of parliament. Surely it’s time we learnt our lesson. The right wing is going to cry murder (of ‘Hindu culture’ – whatever that might be) in any case. The least we can do is to hold on to our intellectual honesty and have the courage of our convictions.

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Hat Tip: Ravikanth