Saturday, January 31, 2009

I got this in an email, and it was so interesting that i had to share it on my blog. I don't know if the experiment it describes has actually been carried out, but even if it is merely hypothetical, it does raise some thought-provoking questions.

I have translated the urdu text beneath the pictures for those who don't understand the language.

How traditions and customs are born?

A group of scientists put 5 monkeys in a cage. In that cage they also placed a ladder and some bananas on top of it.

Whenever a monkey began to climb that ladder, the scientists started sprinkling water on the monkeys standing below.

After this event, whenever a monkey tried to climb that ladder driven by the desire to eat bananas, the monkeys standing below did not allow him to climb.

After a while, despite the lure of bananas, no monkey had the courage to climb that ladder.

The scientists decided to replace one of the monkeys. The first thing the new monkey did was to climb the ladder but immediately the other monkeys began to beat him. After many beatings the new monkey decided that he would not climb the ladder even though he didn't know why.

The scientists replaced a 2nd monkey, and the same thing happened with him. The interesting thing is that the monkey who had been replaced before him was among the monkeys who were beating the new monkey. The 3rd monkey was replaced, and he too went through the same fate. Eventually all the monkeys were replaced and everyone of them got a beating.

Now only those monkeys were in the cage on which scientists had never sprinkled water, but still they beat up the monkey who attempted to climb the ladder.

If it was possible to ask those monkeys why they are beating up the monkey trying to climb the ladder, i can say with guarantee that the answer would be "I don't know. We have seen others doing the same (so we do it too)." Does this sound familiar to you?

Do spread this experiment to others so that they too can ask themselves why we are living our lives like the way it is going.

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." (Albert Einstein)

By 2002, literacy figures for the female population in Swat had risen upto 75%, a figure far more than most other areas of Pakistan. The Taliban in Swat are now threatening the very existence of female education, greatly reversing the progress that had been made in the previous years. However, it will take more than just blasts to silence people: the voice of a seventh-grade girl in Swat is catching the attention of the rest of the world, as she chronicles her daily life and documents the atrocious rule of the Taliban. The diary first appeared on BBC Urdu online, and its extracts are available online on BBC News. The links to its entries are given below:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Since some days i have been finding myself recalling with increasing frequency a certain portion from the novel 'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck.

I am posting some selections from Chapter 5 of the novel. The extracts taken are from separate places in the text and have been joined to form a continuous narrative, '...' representing the point of cleavage. The situation is that of a Bank taking over a land from its tenants due to the decreasing produce and the decreasing profits. The narrative beautifully expresses the frustration of the tenants and their inability to understand the legality of the issue, and how something called a 'Bank' which they see as a 'monster', can take over a land which the tenants believe to be rightfully their's.

The owners of the land came onto the land, or more often a spokesman for the owners came.... And all of them were caught in something larger than themselves. Some of them hated the mathematics that drove them, and some were afraid, and some worshiped the mathematics because it provided a refuge from thought and from feeling. If a bank or a finance company owned the land, the owner man said, The Bank-or the Company-needs-wants-insists-must have-as though the Bank or the Company were a monster, with thought and feeling, which had ensnared them....

The owner men went on leading to their point: "You know the land's getting poorer. You know what cotton does to the land; robs it, sucks all the blood out of it."...

The squatting men looked down again. "What do you want us to do? We can't take less share of the crop we're half starved now. The kids are hungry all the time. We got no clothes, torn an' ragged. If all the neighbors weren't the same, we'd be ashamed to go to meeting."

And at last the owner men came to the point. "The tenant system won't work any more. One man on a tractor can take the place of twelve or fourteen families. Pay him a wage and take all the crop. We have to do it. We don't like to do it. But the monster's sick. Something's happened to the monster."...

The tenant men looked up alarmed. "But what'll happen to us? How'll we eat?"

"You'll have to get off the land. The plows'll go through the dooryard."

And now the squatting men stood up angrily. "Grampa took up the land, and he had to kill the Indians and drive them away. And Pa was born here, and he killed weeds and snakes. Then a bad year came and he had to borrow a little money. An' we was born here. There in the door our children born here. And Pa had to borrow money. The bank owned the land then, but we stayed and we got a little bit of what we raised."

"We know that all that. It's not us, it's the bank. A bank isn't like a man. Or an owner with fifty thousand acres, he isn't like a man either. That's the monster." ... "We're sorry. It's not us. It's the monster. The bank isn't like a man."

"Yes, but the bank is only made of men."

"No, you're wrong there quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it."

The tenants cried, "Grampa killed Indians, Pa killed snakes for the land. Maybe we can kill banks—they're worse than Indians and snakes. Maybe we got to fight to keep our land, like Pa and Granpa did."

And now the owner men grew angry. "You’ll have to go."
"But it's ours," the tenant men cried. "We—"
"No. The bank, the monster owns it. You'll have to go."
"We'll get our guns, like Granpa when the Indians came. What then?"
"Well—first the sheriff, and then the troops. You'll be stealing if you try to stay, you'll be murderers if you kill to stay. The monster isn't men, but it can make men do what it wants."...

[And later when a driver arrives with a tractor:]

"It's not me. There's nothing I can do. I'II lose my job if I don't do it. And look—suppose you kill me? They'll just hang you, but long before you're hung there'll be another guy on the tractor, and he'll bump the house down. You're not killing the right guy."

"That's so," the tenant said. “Who gave you orders? I'll go after him. He's the one to kill."

“You're wrong. He got his orders from the bank. The bank told him, 'Clear those people
out or it's your job.' "

"Well, there's a president of the bank. There's a board of directors. I'll fill up the magazine of the rifle and go into the bank."
The driver said, "Fellow was telling me the bank gets orders from the East. The orders were, 'Make the land show profit or we'll close you up.' "

“But where does it stop? Who can we shoot? I don't aim to starve to death before I kill the man that's starving me."

"I don't know. Maybe there's nobody to shoot. Maybe the thing isn't men at all. Maybe, like you said, the property's doing it. Anyway I told you my orders."

You can read the whole chapter 5 here.

The reason I recall this text is that i am going through a similar frustration these days; except that the Bank has been replaced by the Society, and it is robbing me of relationships which i consider to be my right. And yet, i am helpless like the tenants in Steinbeck's novel. There is no one to kill. No person to fight with. No single person to blame. It's the whole damned system. It's a Monster...
Amidst all the religious turmoil in country, arises yet another blasphemy case. However, this is the first time in the history of the infamous blasphemy law in Pakistan that Ahmedi children have been made a victim to it. And it is not just a simple matter that a case was registered against these children and they were detained by police, but a mob of angry, zealous believers, reportedly led by the banned organization Jamaatud Dawa, has tried to burn down the houses of Ahmedis in Layyah. So much for religious tolerance...

Here is what Daily Times has to say on the matter:

Mob tries to burn houses of Ahmadis in Layyah

* HRCP alarmed over four children’s detention on blasphemy charges
* FIR says local MNA’s uncle ‘probed’ the incident at his outhouse

By Abdul Manan

LAHORE: A mob – led reportedly by members of banned religious organisations – tried to set ablaze houses of Ahmadis in Layyah on Thursday, a day after four children belonging to the minority community were detained on charges of blasphemy, police and residents told Daily Times.

Twenty policemen had been deployed to the village, a police official said.

Police had registered a case (number 46/9) in the Kot Sultan police station against Tahir Imran (16), Tahir Mahmood (14), Naseer Ahmad (14), Muhammad Irfan (14), and Mubashar Ahmad (45) under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The Ahmadiyya community has denied the charge, the first ever against children since the Section 295-C was introduced in 1986.

Asma Jahangir, the chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said that it was heinous to use the law against children. The HRCP was finding facts about the incident, she said, and would soon send a team to Layyah.

Religious scholar Javed Ghamidi said the children were safer in police custody.

The children belong to Chak 172/TDA, a village about 25 kilometres from Kot Sultan. Last week, the locals had stopped the Ahmadi children from praying in the central Gulzar-e-Madina mosque, Kot Sultan Station House Officer (SHO) Rauf Khalid told Daily Times.

But they continued to use the latrines, where they have been accused of writing blasphemous material, according to the first information report (FIR).

Noor Elahi Kulachi – a retired schoolteacher, and, as the SHO confirmed, a member of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba – complained to Iqbal Hussain Shah, the uncle of the local National Assembly member Saqlain Shah. According to the FIR, Iqbal Hussain called the SHO and the people who had seen the writings to his outhouse, where they “probed the incident” to find the Ahmadi children guilty.

But the local leader of the Ahmadiyya community alleged that Kulachi – who was also a member of Jamaatud Dawa – had pressured Iqbal Hussain to direct the police to register the case, and the latter complied because of the Jamaatud Dawa votebank in the constituency.

Saqlain Shah, an MNA from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, denied his uncle had pressured police. But he said representatives of the Ahmadiyya community should have visited his uncle’s residence for the matter to be resolved in line with local traditions, instead of denying charges.

He also said that Ahmadis had first lodged cases against local Muslims (for violating the Loudspeakers Act and under the Maintenance of Public Order) after being disallowed to hold a religious meeting, and should now “face the truth”. He said he would visit the village on Saturday, and that his uncle was trying to pacify the villagers.

The SHO said he had registered the case after consulting the district police officer and a deputy inspector general of police. The inspector general of police had also been informed, he added.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The ultimate weakness: having neither the strength to fight, nor the courage to give up.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"It is not their love for humanity but the impotence of their love which hinders the Christians of today from — burning us."

Friedrich Nietzsche, Aphorism 104, Beyond Good and Evil
The Smile
by M. Awais Aftab

Something broke
And her smile flew away
Flew with wings
Till it landed on his face
He recognized the smile;
the lips who owned it
He knew he had to return it
So he seeked her
And found her
But the smile would not rest
On either of them
Without longing for the other
So they both shared it
And two pairs of lips united with a single smile

Monday, January 26, 2009

I recently got my hands on an interesting, humorous book 'Bluff your way in Philosophy' by Jim Hankinson, about how to pretend to be competent in philosophy during conversations while having little idea of what it actually is. Apart from its tips for the bluffers, the book is also a brilliant satire on the lives and ideas of philosophers. Here are a few selections:

'Another useful line with Plato is to argue either:
1) that he was a feminist;
2) that he wasn't.

Both claims can be supported, and each may turn out to be handy (at different times, of course). The evidence for 1) is that in Book 3 of the Republic, he says women should not be discriminated against in matters of employment solely because they are women. In favour of 2) is the fact that immediately afterwards he remarks that since women are so much less talented that men by nature, this 'liberalisation' will hardly make any difference anyway.'

'When talking about, or (safer) simply mentioning, metaphysics, it is best to adopt one of two approaches. You can simply refuse to accept the existence of any such subject (best done with a patronising smile), in which case the Positivists will come in handy; or alternatively, you can attempt to invest your remarks on the matter with an air of someone penetrating some ineffable mystery. The early Wittgenstein is ideal for the first purpose; the later one will do for the latter. Wittgenstein is always good value, for the excellent reason that, while almost everyone has heard of him, almost no-one has actually read him, and fewer still can claim with any conviction to have understood him.'

'Putnam is, incidentally, perhaps the most distinguished contemporary American philosopher. He is useful to the bluffer because of his engaging habit of completely changing his extremely subtle and complex views on things just as other philosophers are beginning to think that they understand them - about once every ten years or so - outdoing even Wittgenstein. You may thus confidently prefix any claim with the words 'as Putnam says', secure in the knowledge that somewhere, and at some time, he will have done.'

And after my recent posts on individual rights and freedom, this surely made me laugh out loud:

'Philosophers, who are for the most part, at least in their personal lives, an amoral bunch of rogues (this is particularly true of moral philosophers), tend to think less in terms of duties than of rights, and to create Rights Theories. You have a Right insofar as there is either something you deserve, or something you should be allowed to get away with.'

Some portions of the book are also available on Google Books. Have a look if you are interested.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Seeing the writing on the back of a rickshaw: Yeh sab meri maan ki dua hay. ('It is all because of my mother's prayers.')

X: Too bad his mother didn't pray for a Mercedes Benz!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pervez Hoodbhoy has always been among the few sane voices to be heard from the Pakistani intelligentsia, and he has dared to speak and write about matters that few do. Read his recent article here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

'In the current spirit of nationalism, it is hard to avoid an impression that many Pakistanis are relieved to be unified against the one enemy they can all agree on, India. By constrast, many remain deeply sceptical about their need to tackle terrorism and a Taliban insurgency at home, despite over 50 suicide bomb blasts in Pakistan last year.'

'United against the wrong enemy', The Economist, December 20th 2008 issue

'The Pakhtun who experience the full range of Talibanisation, day and and day out, know that Taliban atrocities are not going to end with a dialogue. The Taliban have an agenda of a savage social order to be imposed on the people. The Pakhtun are not ready for that and this is the reason why they are bearing the brunt of the Taliban savagery. Hatred against the Taliban in the Pakhtun areas is at an all-time high and so is disappointment, even resentment, about the Pakistani army for its failure to stop the Taliban. All over the NWFP and FATA one can find people who even discuss possibilities of Israel and India to be asked for help. Their argument goes like this: "We are not killed by Israel and India. We are killed by the Taliban and the Pakistani army. So, who is our enemy, then?" Many people in the Taliban-occupied territories of the NWFP and FATA told me they constantly pray for the US drones to bomb the Taliban headquarters in their areas since the Pakistani army is unwilling to do so.'

'No point in talking to the Taliban', Farhat Taj, The News, January 23, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Not many know that Erwin Schrödinger, the Nobel Laureate Physicist, who made vital contributions to Quantum Mechanics, and is well known in popular culture for his 'Cat Experiment', also wrote love poetry (inspired by many love affairs he had in his lifetime). Here is a sample poem:

On the shore

When on the shore of Wicklow
after the bathe
we from each others mouth
kissed the cherries from each others mouths,
tell me just what would it mean?
Is it a pastime for any two?

When on the shore of Wicklow
I with my cheek
'gainst your bare arm leaning
went asleep against your bare arm leaning
tell me, just what did it mean?
Is it a pastime for any two?

When one the shore of Wicklow
I'll once embrace
with all my strength will once embrace you
what is that going to mean:
that you thenceforth
from me shall not go, never go.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

X: It was God's will. Maybe He has a better plan for you.
Y: I will not make God an excuse for the unfairness of this society!
It seems alot is going on within a woman's brain as she applies make-up to her face...

After two years of research work, headed by Dr Ken Mogi, scientists now have a better idea of the cognitive processes involved in a woman's perception of herself with and without make-up:

'Using a brain scanner, the scientists were able to monitor activity in the caudate nucleus of the brain and confirm that when a woman sees her own face without make-up, she anticipates how she will eventually appear to others and a "reward system" is activated, releasing dopamine to give sensations of pleasure.

"We know from previous research that when this area of the brain is activated we can derive pleasure from certain activities," said Keishi Saruwatari, of Kanebo's laboratories. "We interpret that as meaning that when a woman looks at her face she is imagining how she will look when she has applied her make-up.

"There is a mixture of expectation, encouragement and ambition," he said. "Make-up contributes to building relationships with others and feelings of pleasure in women."'

See the full story at

I think they should also do research on men's perception of a woman's face with and without make-up ;)

Monday, January 19, 2009

"The truth is, of course, that external conditions modify human nature, and that harmony between the two is to be sought by a mutual interaction. A man taken from one environment and plunged suddenly into another may be by no means free, and yet the new environment may give freedom to those accustomed to it. We cannot therefore deal with freedom without taking account of the possibility of variable desires owing to changing environment. In some cases this makes the attainment of freedom more difficult, since a new environment, while satisfying old desires, may generate new ones which it cannot satisfy."

Bertrand Russell, Freedom in Society

The situation is worsening particularly in our society, as exposure to the outside world and their liberal ideas are influencing the youth, bringing to them a new consciousness and generating in them beliefs and desires, that the present society does not morally and socially allow or has no means of fulfilling.

No, i do not wish to say that the fault lies in the 'evil' exposure of our youth to Western world, nor do i suggest that the solution is the social isolation of a society. Such is the thinking of the conservatives. In my view, the only solution is a change in the social structure... the introduction of an attitude of freedom; of live and let live. As Russell puts it later in the essay '... the right to live as we choose and think as we choose where our doing so does not prevent others from doing likewise.'

But i do not see this change coming as long as the older conservative generation has social and economic hold over the younger generation.
Suljha Hua Sa Fard Samjhte Hain Mujhko Log
Uljha Hua Sa Mujh Mein Koi Doosra Bhi Hai

I don't know who the poet is.

Friday, January 16, 2009

By Muhammad Awais Aftab

The accusations
The anonymous shouts --
But I smile

[Published in Us Poet's Corner]

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Faith is the ability to not panic.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

[Discussing whether a patient's breasts are real or fake]
Dr. House: [to Chase] I'll bet you two clinic hours those love apples are hand-crafted by God!
Dr. Foreman: I thought you didn't believe in God.
Dr. House: I do now!

House, Episode # 2.13

Friday, January 9, 2009

'One is not born a woman, but becomes one.'
Simone de Beauvoir

Here's a recent scientific research that the students of gender studies would be interested in:

Biological differences between sexes 'may be determined after birth'
By Jon Swaine at

The finding signals that not all sex-specific characteristics develop in the womb during pregnancy, as was previously thought.

Scientists came to the discovery by giving baby female rats treatment normally reserved by mother rats for their sons.

Mother rats typically spend more time grooming males. Previous studies have suggested this is necessary for their genitalia to develop properly.
The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin, stroked baby female rats in a similar way. They found that the number of receptors for oestrogen - the female sex hormone - in the stroked rats' brains was lower than in those not stroked, and were of similar levels to that in male rats' brains.

On inspection of the rats' DNA, they found that among stroked females, there were more chemical "caps" on the gene controlling how many oestrogen receptors would be produced.
The scientists believe that as this "capping" is often permanent, the effects of their stroking on sexual characteristics may be long-lasting or even irreversible.

Celia Moore, from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, said the finding should prompt further research into the effects on babies' brains of human mothers treating sons and daughters differently. "Sex may not be just genes and hormones," she told the New Scientist.

If similar trends were detected in humans, it may explain why some medical conditions affect men and women differently. For example, depression is twice as common among women as in men.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Years pass, and you come to regret some of the things you have done. And you wish to apologize to someone, to just let them know that you are sorry. But doing so might only scratch old wounds. That person has moved on; you have moved on.

Can silence be the best apology?

Monday, January 5, 2009

X: Unfortunately, most Pakistani women (of older generation, at least) have a particular mentality. In our society we are taught that there is only ONE lifestyle that means happiness; ONE ideal of lifestyle. And if your life deviates from that one ideal lifestyle, then you cannot be happy (and even if you are happy, society will gradually talk into your mind that you are not happy). For girls, it states that they have to marry a good guy because only then they are set for the happy life. With all the rishta competition in Pakistan, the race against time to find a proposal before all the good ones are taken and before the "expiry date" of the girl is reached, the gossips, and other bla bla, every mother believes that she has to make sure her daughter has a happy life, and that in delaying her rishta and marriage, she is actually risking the happiness of her daughter's whole remaining life; she has so much at stake from her point of view."

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Vasudha passed on an interesting Tag to me recently, so this post is in response to that.

The rules are:

The person who tags you gives you five different words and you have to make five pictures based on those words using MS-Paint only. After doing the tag, you have to tag 5 other people and give them 5 words for their pictures.

The five words she gave me were:
> Self-portrait
> A stethoscope ['cuz you're a doc, too :) ]
> Dr. Miranda Bailey (from Grey’s Anatomy) [Because you watch the show too :D ]
> A philosopher
> Freedom [Would love to see your interpretation.]

Here it goes!

Self portrait in Jackson Pollock style! :D That's the best i could do on MS Paint without losing artistic credibility :P

Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub... i can hear your heart beat ;)

Miranda Bailey... the Nazi of Seattle Grace Hospital!

A philosopher stuck in reflection...

The last of human freedoms... something you can find even in a caged cell.

This is an open tag from me... anyone who wants to take it can do so. Here are the five terms i give:
* George Bush/ Zardari (ur pick)
* Nike logo
* Mona Lisa
* Any electronic gagdet
* A ghost
* Anti-histamines, the drugs commonly used to treat allergy, can themselves cause an allergic reaction in certain people.

* Ciprofloxacin, the antibiotic used to treat 'traveller's diarrhea' can itself cause diarrhea as a side-effect.

* Some drugs used in the chemotherapy for cancer (such as Alkylating agents) are so toxic that they themselves can cause the development of secondary cancers.

* Anti-arrythmic drugs, used to treat the arrythmias (abnormal beatings) of heart, have the capability of producing arrythmias.

Friday, January 2, 2009

And the doctor said to the prophet, "What you experience is not revelaton; this is psychosis; this is schizophrenia; this is epilepsy."
And the prophet said, "Maybe so, but then that is way God made me capable of talking to Him."

(Paraphrasing something my brother once said to me.)

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