November 7, 2008
The Stuff Nations Are Made Of
I just finished reading PTerry‘s Nation last night and it was quite the experience. Shakespeare, in As You Like It if I’m not mistaken, says that there are seven ages to man. There seems to have been, at least so far, three stages to PTerry’s writing 🙂
First there was the the spoofing PTerry, the one who made fun of fantasy clichés and parodied pop culture. Then there was the PTerry from around Small Gods who (or was it later, when Vimes began transmogrifying from a regular character into something different?) wrote much more thoughtful novels; in fact, he might just have moved from spoof to satire around this point. Of course, this is just my opinion, others might think differently 🙂
But with Nation, you have a new PTerry, or the third age of PTerry, where the tone is more serious. The usual PTerry humour is there but the tone of the novel is not of parody or satire, it’s about telling a story and it’s a story of ideas. Little ideas which can set big ideas rolling and big ideas which can move entire worlds. In fact, the whole novel is chockablock with ideas packed tight like sardines in a can 🙂
But the thread underlying it all is simple. It’s about the concept of a nation. When you are one person all alone in the world, there’s just you. But when you have two people facing all that may come there way, you have a nation. When a small child creates an imaginary friend, he’s creating his own nation that will let him be all that he wants to be. When an adult creates an alter ego that does heroic things when he can’t, he’s creating a nation that lets him cope with the world. We all rely on nations, whether consciously or subconsciously. But Nation takes the concept and shows us all that goes with being part of a nation.
There’s more to the story than that of course. But why should I spoil the joy of discovering these things for anybody? There’s a lot going on and given that I read the novel rather quickly, it seemed to all happen so fast. But it works and it works well.
About the only thing that didn’t work for me was the ending. And that has nothing to do with PTerry’s writing. There are two children at the end of the novel who ask somebody who’s telling them the story that was the story of Nation, why it couldn’t have ended differently. They don’t want a happy ending for nations, they are not interested in the bigger picture. They wanted a happy ending for individuals. I am like those children.
I can understand that reality is different, that you don’t always get the happy ending you wanted. I can also understand that when you look at how things turn out overall, that it was a happy ending for all of humanity perhaps. But still, I yearn for the happy ending that I wanted. Perhaps it’s because I’m like those children, I still haven’t grown up. But then again, I don’t want to grow up if it means that I have to give up my hopes for happy endings :p
On the other hand, I have enjoyed every bit of PTerry’s writing that I’ve come across over the years. While I found some of them were profound, they were still like a good dinner that you enjoyed a lot but forgot about after a few days – you take the idea with you but the details get lost as time passes. But Nation is like that one enjoyable dinner where you swallowed a fish bone by mistake and even after the dinner is forgotten, you remember the fish bone. Perhaps that’s why this particular ending is there – you remember it when all else is forgotten.
Overall, I think this is the best PTerry novel so far and while I probably would prefer that he goes back to the good dinners of the Discworld, I wouldn’t mind a fishbone-included-dinner like Nation every once in a while 🙂
July 27, 2007
Fighting – what is it good for?
I happened to catch an episode of "The Contender" today and got hooked in. It’s not a show that I normally watch but when they showed the families of the two guys who were fighting in this episode, my interest was piqued. For those of you who have not seen "The Contender", it is a reality show along the lines of "The Apprentice" where a bunch of hopeful boxers get divided into two teams, get trained and fight members from the other team, eliminating the loser from each fight. The last man standing gets something big I guess.
Anyway, what interested me was the fact that they have the wives and children of the fighters watching when they fight. You see the wives cheering their husbands on with comments like "You get him baby!" or shaking their heads when their husband seems to be doing badly. You also see the son of one of the contestants crying because he just saw his father get a cut over one eye. As I watched all of this, the question uppermost in my mind was, "why?"
Why do we find the sight of two human beings beating each other to a pulp entertaining? Why do we call this kind of thing a "sport"? Why can’t the wives who are cheering on their man think about the fact that their husband might be killed, maimed or injured during this "contest"? Why don’t they also think about the fact that while they are asking their spouse to beat another guy to a pulp, that guy too has a wife and kids who love him?
I guess the beat-their-chest-and-how-at-the-moon types will call me a wuss or a sissy or somebody who doesn’t understand what it means to be "manly". But is it really "manly" to beat somebody else down to show how strong you are? Aren’t we once again setting the example to our kids that it’s only strength that matters? That you will always win as long as you are strong?
Sure, I realize that boxing is not just about strength. That the strongest doesn’t always win and there is a lot of strategy, style and grace involved at times as well. But the fact remains, you have to beat a fellow human beings physically to win. What does that say about us as humans? To me it seems as if that it only says that we haven’t progressed very far from our own animal heritage – that we still haven’t learnt that control is better than force, that peace takes more effort than violence. But what do I know? :p
July 15, 2007
TreeDBNotes – time for alternatives?
I have talked of TreeDBNotes before. I like using a treeview based information manager and TreeDBNotes has been my software of choice for a few years now. One of the reasons I opted to register TreeDBNotes in the first place was because they had advertised free updates for life at the time I was considering using the app.
Fast forward a few years (or months) and here we are at TreeDBNotes 3.0 and suddenly, I notice on their forums a notice saying that old keys would not work and a new upgrade policy would be made available soon. I’m like "Huh? What do you mean new upgrade policy?" So I go to take a look at the original page which said free upgrades for life but I discover that the whole site has been revamped and there’s a new page which says that registration gets you free upgrades to all 3.xx releases – basically that free upgrades are only for minor releases. I’m like, "Did I dream it all?" So I go hunting on Wayback Machine and discover this page. According to the page (and I quote), "Registration benefits: lifetime technical support including support via e-mail, FREE upgrade to all new versions, and product notification by e-mail." (the bold text is not mine – it’s theirs)
I was confused. So I went over to the TreeDBNotes forums and posted a query about this discrepancy. The developer of the software appeared to disregard the query entirely and didn’t respond in the two threads I posted – except to say that wasn’t the place to post my question. (I did learn later however that he had posted a separate thread explaining that new upgrades would not be free even for existing users.) However, a moderator of the forum came forward to say he didn’t believe in binding a company or person to old terms. That that was politics and that no other company offered free lifetime upgrades and it was ridiculous to expect TreeDBNotes to do so.
I responded to him and said that if companies (and individuals) did not find agreements binding, then nobody could do business. I also pointed out a specific application that I had used (Now You’re Cooking) and their registration terms, which mentioned that they provided lifetime upgrades. He dismissed this by saying that I provided only one application and that didn’t prove anything and that I was bluffing. He also removed all my posts which showed that his statements weren’t true saying that the forum rules state that I couldn’t publicly contradict an admin or a moderator and that I was breaking the rules of the forum. Conveniently, it left his post saying that asking that the developer stick to the terms of the original agreement is ridiculous intact while removing all posts which showed that his arguments were specious.
All these shenanigans aside, the developer says that he has to charge for an upgrade because he rewrote 80% of the code and because he had to buy new components to use in the application. I don’t see how this absolves him from honouring the terms of a contract which was already in place. I fully accept that developers need to be paid and that he has every right to revise the terms of the contract for new users. But he cannot retroactively change terms for existing users.
In the midst of all of this, I was urged over and over again to talk to the developer privately and try to resolve this instead of talking about this publicly. I see this being pretty similar to the tactics here in Sri Lanka where people who speak out are hushed up in private by offering them something. Perhaps I will be offered a free upgraded. But that’s not the point. The point is that they are defrauding registered users and going back on their word. And that’s just unprincipled and unethical. But then again, this seems to be the pattern almost everywhere I look …
March 18, 2007
Bogeymen, strawmen and cowardly lions
I couldn’t sleep last night and for some reason, I started thinking about how American presidents seem to personify America itself for that particular decade as well as how America is perceived by outsiders. That, in turn led to a musing about how America seems to have had a bogeyman for most of its history in one form or another. (The one about American presidents will have to wait for a blog entry on another day … :p)
But before I get into that, a few disclaimers 🙂 When I say America, I use it in the sense of either the American government or in the sense of what I call "greater America" – it’s that amorphous, faceless mass that get characterized as an entire nation, not the individuals. I know a lot of Americans and most of them have been good, kind, caring people – just like everybody elsewhere. But "greater America" is more like a mob animal – it’s the overall impression that a nation gives and this, with regards to America, is not usually pleasant. And I’m constantly surprised by this duality. Or maybe I shouldn’t be, since this seems to be part of human nature in its many varied forms. But I digress, so back on track …
The reason that "greater America" is seen in such a negative light might be the fact that it has been confrontational (or pugilistic) most of its lifetime. Now note, some of the conclusions I draw later on might not be historically (or statistically) accurate but my impressions are drawn from popular culture (books, TV shows, movies) and that’s what shapes the impressions of most people – not historical fact. (The statement that "history is written by the winners" dovetails into this but that’s another tangent :p)
We have the birth of America and the war against the Red Coats. Then you had the fractured internecine civil war where the bogeyman was either the Rebels or the Yankees. Then you had the heathen redskin who had to be put down. Next you had to go to war against the Kaiser and immediately after, it was the Jerries (or Huns or Krauts if you prefer) again. Then it continued on with Russkies, Commies, pinkos, Charlie (better known as the VC or Viet Cong) till you got to modern times and met Al Quaeeda, Taliban, Islamists, Axis of Evil, Islamofacists … what-have-you. Always somebody to hate, always somebody to fight.
Of course, the interesting fact is that you can trace similar lines (perhaps not as clearly) for most nations and for the whole of humanity. It’s just that I was thinking about America when I started the speculation and the different instances came up easily without having to do any research at all. But the critical factor is that this is our history (our as in humanity’s) – our pattern of operation. We always seem to need somebody to blame, somebody to fight, somebody to put down. Why is it that we cannot fight hunger, corruption, hatred, injustice and prejudice with as much vigour? Is it because we need a face to our opponents? Or is it because we need our opponents to be human?
I wish I knew …
Posted by Fahim at
March 18, 2006
Are we flawed?
I came across this particular view on a board that I visit that had a really wrong resonance. This guy said that he was a man of faith (doesn’t matter which faith to the subject at hand :p) but that the believed that humanity was utterly and irredeemably flawed and that the only way they can find salvation is by appealing to God. Basically, he was saying that humanity finds salvation in spite of themselves through their faith in God, that God uplifts them. He went on to say that we as humans are incapable of any "good deeds" because all our deeds (even the good ones) are done out of selfish motivations and that a truly selfless act was impossible.
Now I believe in God and consider myself a man of faith. And don’t ask me "Which God?" since that’s going to lead to a whole different discussion :p My sister-in-law once asked me that and I said "There is only one God!". She looked at me for a moment, nodded and laughed. I don’t know if she got it in the same sense I meant it or if she thought that I meant it in the Islamic sense. Didn’t really matter actually since religion, as far as I’m concerned, is a personal thing. Each of us should be free to follow our beliefs and our path to God. We might take different paths but I believe that we all end up at the same destination.
But I digress. The opinion stated on the bulletin board certainly is not the view of God (or humanity) that I have. I believe that one of the greatest gifts (and curses) that God gave us is free will. We have a choice in our actions. We can decide to do something good for any reason, we can decide not to act or we can do something bad. As far as I am concerned, the motivation (whether it is selfish or not) does not detract from a good deed. I believe that God gave us the opportunity to save ourselves – or not. I have no illusions about the goodness of humanity generally but at the same time, I have great faith in the capacity in humanity for goodness (or even greatness) in specific cases. I know of many, many people who have gone out of their way to do something nice, friendly, helpful or kind in my own case. They had nothing to gain from that action and I certainly would not have called it selfish in their part.
On the other hand, I am not sure we understand selfless correctly. What exactly is selfless? Doesn’t it mean that there is an absence of self? So if you are to do something selflessly, are we saying that we did it without any selfish motivation or that there was nothing of our self involved in the action? If the former, I agree with the usage of "selfless", if the latter, then I am afraid no human is capable of a selfless act. Because if there was no self, then there is no "I".
In the final analysis, my personal belief is that we find our own salvation and our path to God. But then again, as I’ve said before, religion (and the path we take in life) are intensely personal choices. So YMMV 🙂
February 11, 2006
Cartoons and chaos
I have been staying away from commenting on this issue because I don’t believe I can be totally objective in my commentary. My religion is close to my heart and while I would try to be objective in my commentary, I can’t be a 100% certain that I was totally and completely objective in what I said. However, I went to mosque yesterday for Friday prayers and the sermon included references to the whole cartoon row and I must say that I totally disagreed with some of the comments by the Imam of the day and felt I had to write this here just so that there are opinions to the contrary – opinions which hopefully present a more balanced view.
Firstly, one of the tenets I believe Muslims should live by are words straight from the Qur’an – specifically Surah Al Kafiroon.The verses basically say, "you believe what you believe and I/we believe what we believe, you have your path and I/we have my/our path". This, to me at least, is one of the central rules of guidance for Muslims – both in dealing with others of different faith as well as other Muslims who decide to take a different path. We cannot try to enforce our ways, our beliefs on others nor does God want us to. Faith, any faith, is about belief – it might be belief in God, belief in an afterlife, belief in rebirth, belief that there is nothing after death but it is about some form of belief. This belief is personal to us. So why would we go worrying about what others say or do regarding our beliefs? Their beliefs (and actions) are theirs. Unless they forcibly try to stop us from believing what we believe or somehow try to coerce us into believing what they believe, what they do should not have any impact on what we believe. We should, as Muslims (and human beings), learn to co-exist with those of other beliefs because none of us will ever believe the same thing – even amongst Muslims, you have differences in belief. So why cry about the differences in belief that somebody else has?
Yesterday’s sermon started with something good. About the fact that yesterday, the 10th day of the first month according to the Islamic calendar, was a holy day for Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. Now I don’t know if this still is the case – this particular incident which was related was from the prophet’s (PBUH) time. At that time, both Christians and Jews had fasted on this day because that was the day Moses had led the children of Israel out of Egypt and defeated the forces of Pharaoh. This again illustrated something that I strongly believe in – whether Muslims, Christians or Jews, we believe in the same God We all believe in the God of Moses, so unless there were three separate Moseses, we believe in the same God! So whether it’s prophet Mohammed (PBUH) or Jesus or Moses getting caricatured, we should be equally offended. (Yes, I realize that there are other issues in the case of a depiction of the prophet (PBUH) but again, that falls under your beliefs/my beliefs).
Where the preacher diverged from Islamic tenets, (in my opinion of course) was when he started with such a good foundation and then went on to say that we should do what we can to oppose those who publish the cartoons by boycotting their goods. If he’d built upon what he’d started, said that we all follow the same God and that while there might be those who might do stupid things either for the sake of publicity, stirring things up or simply because they believe they are doing the right thing, that what we had to keep in mind was that our faith was ours and that we couldn’t force anybody else to believe what we did, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with him. But he didn’t say that. In a way, I’m glad that Islam does not have a clergy – because probably a lot more people would have blindly accepted what he said because he was "authority" if we’d had a clergy.
As far as I’m concerned, Muslims have three God given things that dictate our path – the Qur’an, the prophet’s (PBUH) hadeeth and our brains. We should try to interpret the first two using the last and decide our course of action instead of being told by somebody else what is right and what is wrong. If we all learned to do that, we’d have far fewer problems from Muslims as a group both within the Muslim community and outside. But again, being human, I am not sure we’ll ever get there …
June 28, 2003
Sometimes I sit down here and I end up with a totally cryptic entry that really means nothing to anybody except for myself and perhaps a handful (or less) of others who might actually know what I’m talking about. But such entries must be made if this is to be a chronicle of my thought process and my progression through life. Unfortunately, besides the title, I can’t seem to think of much that makes sense to go into this entry :p But let me try to put my thoughts in some sort of coherent order …
I am back again to the cyclical nature of my life and breaking the cycle and also to the whole idea that all of this (meaning my life) seems to have too much of a pattern for it to be really random – or could it? I don’t know .. It’s just that I do see certain patterns and I do see the usually direction that each cycle takes and I’m wondering how things will go this time – sometimes I think that once a cycle starts, I’m just eager to get it over with – just to see if it ends the way I think it would or differently (as I hope it would) … This actually is kind of like the way it goes with my writing – once I get an idea in my head and decide to write (I mean fiction – not my journals or any of my non-fiction) I just can’t wait for things to mature – I simply have to sit down and immediately write it out so that I can get to the end. Life imitating fiction (writing), who woulda thunk it? :p
I made an effort to break out of the current cycle yesterday and out of three concurrent threads that I could distinguish as part of this cycle – I think there were changes made in at least two threads, in different ways. Am I out of the cycle though? I don’t think so … It’s just that certain changes have been made, differences introduced – it’s kind of like travelling back to the past where even the tiniest change might trigger off a cascading sequence of responsive changes which might totally change the future … I’m hoping the deviations would make an impact on the cycle and how it proceeds. But then again, I’m not totally sure these *are* changes or that they are enough – because there is this other branch of SF which says that the past is not some fragile system which could be offset by a single, tiny action – that it will self-correct to achieve the future which has already resulted in some way or another because the future had already happened (wrap your mind around that one :p) if you were able to go back into the past to change it. This school of thought says that let alone a butterfly’s wing beat disturbing the winds of time, not even a nuclear blast could do it – that things will somehow continue on the way they used to. But that’s a topic for another day and all this cryptic stuff has gone on long enough as well … :p
Posted by Fahim at
May 25, 2003
Matrices and mindsets
Sometimes I really wonder about how things turn out – I’d thought that I’d not get to see "Matrix Reloaded" for a while yet since the only way I’d see it would be as a pirated movie and that would probably be a bad camera copy. But guess what? Not only have I seen the movie within ten days of it’s release but I saw a copy that should be just as good as what’s shown at the theaters! But enough of the strange anomalies in life (or should I say the matrix? :p) and on to the movie itself … but don’t worry, I will try not to spoil it for anybody else who might not have seen it …
The first part of the movie was a bit of a disappointment to me – yes, it had all sorts of spectacular effects, more fights than before and so on but it seemed to drag a bit at points and to get a bit too philosophical at times. The philosophy in the first movie was a bit more subtle and didn’t get so wordy – or maybe this was just the mood I was in when I watched the movie (it was late at night and I was tired after a full day) and so I’ll probably have to judge based on a second viewing in a week or so – which I fully intend to do since I do need a second viewing to get all the finer points that I might have missed.
The philosophy? Oh there is a lot more philosophy believe you me – there is talk of causality, of freedom of choice, of the importance of hope and then there are the indirect references (like how the first movie set Neo up as a Christ figure with his death and resurrection and the promise that he will bring redemption/freedom to the people) to more eastern philosophies like reincarnation, the wheel of life etc. And of course, as always there are "explanations" of reality – they even do a bit where they explain unexplained phenomena :p Of course, the second viewing that I’ve promised myself might help me to get a better handle on all the different philosophy bits as well …
There was one scene where Neo gets attacked by hundreds and hundreds of agents that left me feeling a bit of deja vu (and you know that was a glitch in the matrix :p) because it looked so incredibly like a scene from Jet Li’s "The One" (and of course, Neo is *the one* :p) but be that as may be, the final portion of the movie fully justified it being the sequel in the matrix series since it had new revelations, surprises and conundrums. I am not too happy with the way they concluded the movie since unlike the first movie (which was self-contained) they left you with a slight cliff-hanger on this one and we’ve got to wait till November to find out what happens. I hate that! Ah well .. anyway, I did have some interesting thoughts on the movie and it’s connection to reality such as the fact what if we are really living in the matrix and the Wachowski brothers are simply making a movie about what they’ve come to realize as the "real" reality subconsciously? :p Of course, I’m sure somebody else has made this suggestion already but I was kind of interested in exploring the idea but time and space prevents me – time because I’ve got at least three more movies to watch today and space because this would become a very long entry if I tried to go into all the different ideas and suppositions I might come up with :p
May 9, 2003
Looking high and low
Yesterday I found twenty bucks on the floor. This must have been like the second or third time that I discovered money on the floor within the last couple of years and the funny thing is that this had never happened to me before in my life! When I was young, I used to hear about people finding money here and there all the time. I even remember one time when my brother, sister and I were being driven to school by my parents and we stopped at a railway crossing and my brother suddenly spotted a two rupee coin on the ground and got out of the car to pick it up. I used to wonder why that kind of thing never happened to me and now I’m beginning to wonder why this kind of thing is suddenly happening to me :p Is it maybe because I’ve changed where I look? Could it be that I’d been looking up at the sky all my life and I’ve suddenly started looking down at the ground more and that is why I discover money suddenly?
What does that actually mean in metaphorical terms if this were to be true? Most of my family would say that it means that I should give up looking at lofty ideals and look at hard reality in order to realize that I need to live in *this* world. Of course, I wouldn’t agree with that. I’ve never thought of money as something that you *had to* have. Of course, it’s nice when you need to buy something and you can afford it but then again, I can remember times in my life when all I could do was dream about certain things and not be able to buy them at all. I still remember the time I was in a government think-tank where most of the others were politicians or bureaucrats with lots of money and one of them was bragging about the Palm PDA he’d bought off the Net and was showing it to everybody (this was over five years ago before I left for the US BTW …) I wished so badly then that I could have one of those but since I couldn’t afford it, I didn’t bother about it. But one of the first things I bought when I got to the US and could afford it, was one of the early HP Handheld PCs – the 320LX :p
But I digress – I still do not believe in looking down at the ground just so that you can find riches if that does not bring happiness to you and those around you. Money is just something that we’ve come to set up in our minds as highly important and have lost sight of other more important things like love, happiness, compassion, honesty in the process. Yes, the person starving by the road without a meal or a roof over his head may disagree with me, or the person who needs to buy expensive medicine for their wife or daughter and don’t have the funds … or so many others in specific situations. And I can’t say they are wrong. I can only speak for myself and in my life, I’ve always had enough for my needs but the trick always is to be happy with what you’ve got because then you’ll still be look up at the sky for those lofty ideals. Or to paraphrase Mr. Micawber from Dickens’ "David Copperfield" (who put it so much better than I could), – "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery" 🙂
April 26, 2003
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Dilemmas for dawdlers
My grandfather is on his deathbed – or so my mothers says. Of course she told me the same thing last week or rather, the week before. So what has this got to do with anything? Well, it’s got to do with a war of principles. My mother wants me to go see my grandfather before he passes away. Now normally, I would have no problem with this except for the fact that there is some hypocrisy involved here. My grandfather is not exactly the nicest of men – he believed that money ruled everything and spent his life in the pursuit of money, he tried to control his family by way of his wealth and even during the last few years, while he was bed-ridden, one of his chief topics of conversation was money – who made how much and so on.
Now I won’t try to judge him, he is entitled to live his life his own way – as we all should be able to do. He did what he did and I have no problems with that nor do I hate him. In fact, I’ve gone to see him during the last few years whenever I could when my brother and my father wouldn’t for their own reasons – I have no idea what the reasons are, I never asked them since I figured that their reasons were their own, who am I to question them? My mother did visit him from time to time while he was sick but I don’t know how many of her sisters did or how many of my cousins did. However, now that he’s on his deathbed (or at least seriously ill …) I suddenly get asked (or rather, *almost* told …) by mother to go see him. Again, I can’t say for certain that *is* the reason – but it smacks to me as if trying to make me conform with what’s *expected*. Here, everybody gathers at somebody’s deathbed when they are near death because otherwise "people" would think that they abandoned their relatives and didn’t care for them.
This to me is total hypocrisy! If you don’t care enough to see somebody and to talk to them and to be with them while they are alive, why would you suddenly change your actions when they are dead or ready to die? I don’t agree with that sort of action and will actively change my behaviour to not do that sort of thing. If my grandfather wanted to see me, I guess I would go but I know he couldn’t care less. Plus, "seeing him one last time before he dies" makes no sense to me – I’d rather remember him as he was in his prime – shouting, laughing, being who he was, rather than the way he is now – bed-ridden and in pain. Am I just justifying my own refusal to be at my grandfather’s side when he’s passing away? Maybe I am – I can’t say for certainty that I’m not making excuses – in fact, this is what I’ll probably be told by my parents and others – that I’m merely making excuses. But to me, I’m doing what I think is right.
In the end, this is all any of us can do – be true to ourselves since we cannot please all the people in the world anyway. My two cardinal rules are: be true to yourself and don’t hurt others if you can help it. In this case, I think I am abiding by those as far as I can though I am not so sure that I might not be hurting my parents by my actions … Ah well … nothing is ever easy, is it?