Thursday, June 30, 2011

I've Seen Stranger Objections.

I'm rather accustomed to hearing from people who object to my sentiments.  Hell, you can't be a vocal atheist, and not expect at least some people to hate your guts.  Idle threats come all the time, but it's been many years since I've seen a Molotov hurled in my general direction.  Most of them are pretty typical in making the most absurd assumptions, and it is quite easy to tear these people down.  If they find themselves shaken by the demonstrable absurdity of their beliefs, then that's a good thing.  You won't ever grow out of infantile ideas if you don't realize the necessity of it.

There are always a few that lead down the path of some sort of appeal to emotion, as if such trifling games could ever work on me.  Upon my railing on tradition in Indian classical music, one particular individual, who admitted he wasn't all that knowledgeable about music, took umbrage with my railing against tradition on a universal level.  And while the idea of someone being in favor of tradition itself is nothing new, this correspondence took a different form than I was used to.  He said that I should feel ashamed of the incredible hypocrisy I exhibit in associating myself in any way with India (or at least one of its cultural components) while at the same time diverging so far in opinion from the nation's greatest hero.

That hero he was referring to, was of course, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.  Just as a clarification to my readers in America, that is his actual name -- a lot of people, particularly in the U.S., think "Mahatma" (great soul) is his actual name rather than a nickname.

I'm a bit surprised that he came up in that context because Gandhiji's position on tradition is not one that often gets associated with his name.  We tend to remember the passive civil disobedience, the railing against caste formality, the attempts to reconcile Hindus and Muslims, etc.  Nobody remembers much more, because we like to paint our heroes only in the lights that glorify their positive achievements.  I don't think many people remember his attitude toward black Africans, whom he considered quite beneath humanity.  Similarly, Gandhiji's attitudes about tradition are not usually one of the topics one hears about when he comes up in discussion.  Nonetheless, the fellow is correct in his assessment that I disagree with the "nation's greatest hero" on the matter of tradition.  I'm not going to apologize for that or ever pretend that just because Gandhi said it, it's therefore worthy of respect.

If that makes me no longer a Desi in your eyes, then so be it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Oh, ye sanctimonious agnostics!

There is no real shortage of religious people who turn up their noses at you with a holier-than-thou attitude.  Pretty much any of them are bound to take the position that all things good and fine and decent in the world is exclusively found through their beliefs, or at the very least, that the absolute pinnacle of goodness can only be found through the perfection intrinsic to blind obedience unto their purported divine edicts.  I don't think it should come as any surprise, then that there would be the "Grumpier" brands of adversaries such as myself considering the arrogantly high and mighty ultra-pompous windbags on the side of various religions...  to say nothing of the outright harm that religion brings to humanity.  That said, there are windbags among non-believers, too.  One that comes to mind after I conveniently overheard yet another religion conversation at yet another eatery, and it reminded me furthermore of some discussions of long-past.  Specifically, I'm speaking of the self-professed "pure" agnostics who argue that they take the most rational position.

To put it succinctly, you are 100% wrong.

The majority of self-professed "agnostics" really aren't even aware of the fact that agnosticism is mutually exclusive of theism or atheism, and does not preclude either one.  Because "agnostic" seems to imply neutrality, it sounds as if it is some sort of middle ground, but it really isn't.  It's a completely independent question.  This sort of confusion, though, I have comparatively little problem with because it's something that can be cleared up by educating someone.  My problem is those windbags who think that they somehow know better than all the atheists and anti-theists out there claiming that agnosticism is apparently the one true middle ground, and that it is the proper default position.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Indian Classical Music (Part 5)

See --
Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4a    Part 4b

Those who have read through any of my previous posts, any of my articles or papers I wrote in college on the subject, or for that matter, my much older and very disorganized rant on thePolygoners -- a site which I have not updated in well over a year (the next update will probably only come when I can unfreeze the research on my simplified modular BRDF equations) -- know my stance on tradition.  It's inexcusable, indefensible, and has no place in society.  If I were ever to form a religion of my own, I would definitely put into its "commandments" the edict that tradition is a sin.  So it should come as no surprise, then, that I can offer no assent whatsoever to any notions that exist within the classical music circles on the weight of tradition in music.

If you haven't read my stance on it, then let me just make it clear here once more :  Tradition is simply a flowery word that people use to justify what it actually is -- NOT THINKING FOR ONESELF.  I'm not at all sorry to say this, and it will never really be possible to overstate this.

Specifically as it applies to music, I can offer no agreement to the idea that tradition should be a filter of any kind nor should it inform any systematic concentration of boundaries.  This is ridiculous, and ultimately limiting to what should be an art form.  The weight of tradition is pretty well-cemented in Indian culture, to the point where it bleeds into everything and poisons the waters of life in every corner.  So it's no surprise that tradition has its talons gripping onto something like music.

Indian classical music has a history of not really being passed down in quite as systematic and theoretical a fashion as Western music often is.  One of the things that makes this difficult is the nature of how the music is expressed.  On a technical level, you can essay it with terminology of microtonal inflections, 22-tone just temperament, linear and non-linear glissandos, etc.  It so happens, though that people in India haven't really put that down to such a degree of formality, and approach the teaching in a hands-on sort of way where demonstration becomes the tool of choice.  Which in a lot of ways, is strange to me, especially for Carnatic music, which is extremely technical and is generally attended by very technically knowledgeable audiences.  Nonetheless, we don't tend to learn how to evoke the characteristics of raga X by going over the properties of raga X and going over development of those properties...  rather, we hear phrases performed by our gurus, and how they present both in freeform melodic essay of a raga (i.e. alapana) and in song, and draw patterns off of those that we pick up from these sources.  What this leaves in is a lineage of style, because we tend to learn a raga the way our guru taught us, and with the same example sources.

This, by itself, is not so bad, though, because it still leaves room for a variety of artists to sally forth carrying a variety of different style lineages.  The difficulty lies in how new ground is covered.  New ground and new exploration is done through the active study, in-depth analysis, as well as new compositions, and absorption of what other people do.  There are definitely artists who do this, particularly the major scholars of music like Prof. S. Ramanathan and Prof. S.R. Janakiraman, but there are relatively few who attain any sort of major acceptance on that basis (often, one has to attain popularity separately from that).  The weight of tradition and also benediction unto your guru and the fact that even those who do develop their own schools of thought are typically raised into music through a path that involves strict adherence to the way they are taught.  Irrespective of the potential to use that knowledge and advance further, there is a ballast there which is difficult to shed because it is so deeply ingrained in how one came to understand music in the first place.

In terms of the damage done by tradition, this is comparatively less significant, because artists are the ones affected, and artists are the ones capable of attaining the knowledge to break those shackles.  It is much more of a problem when it is the weight of tradition which blocks change, and it makes for some results which are, to put it mildly, disgraceful.

Monday, June 20, 2011

KFC redefines Irony

Kentucky Fried Chicken (or apparently now officially called KFC) has, on numerous occasions attempted to feign being health-conscious.  When Atkins was the hot thing, they did a commercial campaign featuring dramatizations which made it appear as if eating deep-fried chicken was the path to miraculous weight loss.  Well, I suppose one could grant that it is low-carb.  More recently, they tried to revive their grilled chicken product (which actually proved something of a commercial failure before) through a comparatively smarter advertising campaign.  Now, they've shown they're committed to finding a cure for juvenile diabetes.  How?  By helping to cause it!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Atheism in Stereotype

Back when I got my U.S. citizenship, one of the questions I was asked in my interview was whether or not I had any intention of bombing a location in the United States.  I wish I was joking, but yes, that did happen...  It was apparently too soon after 9/11 to regain their senses (only a mere 4 years!).  I asked if that was really a serious question.  After all, if I did have such an intention, would they really expect me to tell them?  Their response was that apparently some die-hard fundamentalists might well be proud of their anti-American intentions.  Proud enough to announce it openly.

Sure...  Whatever...

I mentioned that 1 ) It's incredibly stupid to even bother with that question, since you're banking on an unlikely occurrence 2 ) Profiling based on association to a single event and its perpetrators is just going to mess you up worse and make you more likely to miss a genuine threat, 3 ) I'm from friggin' India which doesn't fall into their supposed profile.  I got no reply to 1 and 2, but the reply I got to 3 was "It's all the same to me."  I sighed knowing that I was foolish to expect any better than that.  Given that they had apparently presumed that I was a Muslim Indian, I added however, number 4 ) That I was never a Muslim, but was born into a Hindu family and that I was an atheist.  The response I got was "What's that?"  After asking to make sure whether my interviewer was asking about "Hindu" or "atheist," I clarified that it meant "someone who doesn't believe in any god."

The response I got to that was ...  "That's a thing?"

The forms I filled out specifically had an entry for religious affiliation, to which I marked the circle labeled "Agnostic/Nonbeliever/Other."  Though since "Other" was in there, Hindu would also fall under that same tick, since it wasn't one of the options provided (though its illegitimate child, Buddhism, was).  Either way, the fact that the gov't paperwork acknowledged the existence of non-believers at least implied that this was ignorance on the part of one worker.

That was then...  How are things in 2011?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Jig is UP!!!

Yes, I got this email, too.  It seems that more than a few atheist bloggers and ranters got this email sent to us, and I buried my face in my palms so long, and so hard, it left a mark.  Oh, the stupid hurts so much, that I hope so seriously that it's a Poe.

Read it and weep, my fellow atheist brethren...  I know I wept with unbounded sorrow in the knowledge that there are very well certain to be people who are fully convinced by arguments of this level.  It's clearly VERY scientific given all the numbers and maths and junk.
Seriously, though...
Never mind that this assumes that every person on Earth has access to 2 liters of safe drinking water every day.  Never mind that it doesn't even seem to differentiate between potable water and water which is unsuitable for drinking.  Never mind that it excludes the level to which we can partly hydrate ourselves using other sources that store plenty of moisture...  like fruit.  Never mind that it assumes that when scientists say life has been on Earth for about 3.5 billion years, that meant human beings throughout all that time.  Never mind that those assumed 3 billion years of human existence also assumes a constantly maintained population around 6 billion people.

Did the supposed non-Poe creationist of sub-jellyfish intelligence who did this calculation think that people don't urinate?  That the water we drink is simply wiped out of existence?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

If only Ancient China was a Christian Nation

It isn't often that I look through WorldNet Daily, since reading it probably lowers your IQ by a few points each time.  This time, I ran across it for its review of the film, Kung Fu Panda 2.  Being one of the crew members, I can't help but be curious.  Being an atheist, anti-theist, and someone who knows the kinds of immeasurably concentrated stupidity that WND cannot help but spew out, being the fountainhead of creationist crockery that they are...  I really can't help but be curious how they're going to play this one.

For a few sentences, I thought I might be disappointed, as it started to look like a serious movie review.  The reviewer, Drew Zahn, offered a very valid criticism of the film in that the Furious Five's role is still relatively small (at least Jackie Chan got to speak a little this time), with Po and Tigress taking control of the show.  He also offers praise of the visuals, the humor, and the typical feel-good ending that all family-friendly films apparently must have.

Then came this little gem in the segueway of his review (emphasis added) --
The movie's messages likewise offer promise, but stray from the truth down some heavily New Age paths.
Oh, boy...  the truth...  and here we go.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Real Life Covers Real Life

It'd been a long time since I'd read Greg Dean's Real Life -- a webcomic that oddly enough, has very little connection to reality.  For crying out loud, it has a guy who reconfigures space-time within a localized field to make a small room several thousand square feet in altered space and travels light-years in seconds by warping the fabric of reality, and all in all, defying the laws of physics.

It does include a few instances of real life, of course...  The protagonists of Greg and Liz got married in the comic the same day the cartoonist got married in reality, and similarly so with Liz's pregnancy in the comic.  Then again, some of them were just plain off the wall, and then you realized that you knew a person just like that.  One of the oldest comics in the series (and also one of the earliest in color) involved Greg snacking on sticks of butter that had been dipped in melted butter...  I think it was a silly joke to signify his lack of cooking skills, but yet, I knew someone who actually did that.

Anyway, I got around to reading up on several of the comics that I'd missed, and went back through them, and ran across this one that really hit the bullseye.

Grown-ups can't be healed

Just over a week ago, I was sitting down at a cafe noshing on a tabouleh salad and at a table behind me, there was a guy I wanted to murder.  Okay, I'll rephrase that -- there was a guy at a table behind me who was preaching to his compatriots that he'd discovered that The ScriptureTM has healing powers.  Oh, the many mortifyingly moronic manifestations of mindlessness I did hear.  (Why yes, I do have a fondness for alliteration!)

Among the most fun of them was when he draw a parallel between the power of the Holy Spirit and the Marvel Comics character, Wolverine.  I later discovered that this man apparently believed that the Wolverine character was based on a real person who had historically been mistaken to be Bigfoot (but was in fact Hugh Jackman's father?), but more on that later.  The basic thesis this guy was pushing was that there's apparently some mystical energy intrinsic in the Word of God, and that it provides an unexplainable and unknowable power that can physically heal wounds, cure sicknesses, and raise the dead.  I guess he must have been taking lessons from Randy Demain.
Well, at the cafe, I was quiet about it, but a few days ago, I ran into the same fellow again, and this time, he was trying to sell others (myself included) on his claims rather than simply preaching to the choir.  Though I was eating my lunch, I was unable to keep my mouth shut at this point.  I will say, though, that I didn't murder the fellow.  I did better than that -- I ripped him to shreds to the point where he just plain walked away silently realizing he had no hope of getting anywhere.

That was a happy moment.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Feeling Over Fact

Deepak Chopra sickens me almost all the time.  Well, the feeling is mutual, or so I'm told.  When he posts things on his Twitter feed that he somehow caused some disastrous earthquake by way of the power of his meditation, it's easy to laugh it off and presume he's just babbling towards the goal of selling something.  If he was serious, I'd be glad to blame him for that rib I fractured during an earthquake not that long ago.  When he posts things on HuffPo about how skepticism itself is morally evil and bad for your health, I find myself unable to contain my anger.  Chopra values the emotional because he knows it is an easy avenue by which his brand of woo-woo hocus-pocus littered with criminal misuse of "quantum" terminology can be effectively sold to the unwashed masses.  Again, he's relying on the same old misrepresentation that every other anti-science moron spouts, but he goes to the further step that irrational thinking should be considered equally valid.

Even among the responses I got to my previous post on vegetarianism was that the emotional value is something that should not be discounted;  That because it is so fundamental to the nature of being human, we should seriously consider it and not brush it aside.  Now I'd like to know...  among any of the people who read that entry...  where did I actually say that?  I specifically spoke first about the moral arguments being divorced from reason.  I also got into the point about a simple fact that gets overlooked and how there is more than one way to address the issues.  Where the line gets drawn here is the end effect that listening to one's feelings on that matter could not have found you all the ways to skin a cat.

This is why I cannot possibly offer the slightest assent to Chopra's notion that emotional values and experiences should be considered equally valid.

There is a simple reality that I think everybody accepts with regards to emotions -- they are personal.  They are part of the fabric of individual experiences.  How this differs from rationality and reason is that reason does not try to write the description of truth on an individual level.  Because of this simple distinction, the two are not only different, but undeniably unequal.