Abdul Kalam

Snark is easy.

Among the most visited posts on the blog is a flippant piece on a speech our late President APJ Abdul Kalam made. In the post, I make fun of Kalam’s flubbing some grammar; I make fun of the circular nature of his prescription for world peace. I make fun of his earnestness.

I made fun; it’s easy to make fun.

Most of the pushback has been equally childish. “Go kill yourself” is not an argument, to say nothing of being ironic coming right after ‘how could you say such mean things’?

The true test of a man is in how he treats those he has power over, goes the saying. I work for somebody who saw first-hand how Kalam treated subordinates. Kalam saw right through people, RN says. He saw who could or couldn’t do what, and didn’t put hierarchy before knowledge. He made you feel special for being part of his team. RN’s words, as best I can remember them, were “if you could do what was necessary to get the project to work, he’d treat you like the most important person”. As a recruit into DRDO and then ISRO without a PhD, it took other great men–Satish Dhawan and Vikram Sarabhai (and Raja Ramanna, I think)–to see Kalam’s potential. Kalam’s contributions to the Indian missile defence programme dwarf those of anybody else any of us can name, PhD or not.

All of which is to say I’m thinking of writing again. The first post on my return has gone well. But one does not simply walk into mordor pick up where one left off with no indication of having introspected, of having seen time pass by.

I’ve made apologies for doing dumb things before. I daresay I’ll make them again. Let’s not call this an apology; perhaps that’s too strong a word. Let me say only that the point some commenters made on the original Abdul Kalam post that snark doesn’t always show wit or cleverness is well taken, and will be remembered as I try and get better at whatever it is I’m doing here.

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.

Cold is not cold, cold is heat. Hence god.

Consti sent me this video some time ago of (NOT) Albert Einstein arguing with his professor about the existence of god. This story isn’t novel at all; people here have known the same argument attributed to Abdul Kalam. And while I wouldn’t be too surprised if Abdul Kalam came up with inanity like this, I’m tempted to think Einstein was more intelligent than this, even at ten.

Let’s forget for the moment, then, that Einstein repeatedly denounced people who called him religious, and repeatedly avowed his non-belief. Let’s also forget that this stupidity is so common that it’s been catalogued, and that the argument is lame enough for there to be a Jack Chick tract that tells the story of the calm student who takes apart the evil professor’s arguments. Here’s the video, and a summary:

Prof: If god exists, he is evil because he created evil

Student: God didn’t create evil, evil is the absence of love for god.

There. I’ve done the argument more justice than it deserves. Here, first, is a fairly respectful rebuttal (from Camels with Hammers):

[/cartoon]

My reply won’t be nearly as respectful. The distillation of stupidity that is attributed to Abdul Kalam has this gem of an argument in this:

Student: Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed. Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can’t even explain a thought.. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one.To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it […] Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher? […] The link between man & god is faith. That is all that keeps things moving & alive.

i) The ‘science cannot explain everything’ refrain is idiotic. And that’s without even mentioning that ‘God did it’ is not an explanation. To quote Asimov, ‘if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.’ So yes, we understand electricity and magnetism, can explain both quite well, and can even explain thought, even if only at a rudimentary level. Also the understanding of death modern medicine has is vastly better than the rubbish that’s been attributed to Kalam.

ii) Evolution by natural selection is about as solid as science gets. Saying ‘I can’t see monkeys evolving into human beings’ is, apart from being technically wrong – monkeys and humans evolved from common ancestors, and monkeys today are evolving into monkeys, not humans, also silly. One might as well say ‘I’ve been looking at this baby all day, and it hasn’t grown into a forty year old man. I refuse to accept that babies can grow into adults.’ (This bit of wisdom is from Stephen Colbert, not surprisingly!). The only explanation for this argument being made at all is that the dumbass making it knows nothing about logic, to say nothing of evolution.

Now, there’s also the crap about ‘god cannot be measured’, and what not. Except, this genius somehow knows all this. How? Divine inspiration? I’m supposed to believe that this god that can’t be seen or felt somehow revealed its identity to the idiot who made up this argument? Yeah, right.

And if you’re still wondering whether the fact that cold and darkness are just the absence of heat and light should make any difference to an argument for a divine being, consider this: there are pleasant odours, and there is no odour at all, and I just farted.

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Update: Nair said it seemed as though I was pulling my punches. I’ve made some changes to the body of the post. It’s hopefully better, now!