Movies

Viggo Mortensen’s ‘The Road’ ruined the apocalypse for me

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘apocalypse’? Zombies I bet. What about the people left alive fighting those zombies? Or people left alive in another kind of post apocalyptic setting? I bet the picture in your head is something like this:

Norman-Reedus-as-Daryl-Dixon-on-The-Walking-Dead-Season-6-Episode-6

walking-dead-rosita

and you hang out with people who look like this:

the-walking-dead-fandom

An array of movies and TV shows have assured us the apocalypse is pretty cool. The life of survivors is hard, but in an uber cool and sexy way. Men become men and women become bad-ass warrior queens, everyone wears leather and gets a Clint Eastwood glint in their eyes and there’s no shortage of quality hair dressers and fashionable clothes. I mean the way they sell it, you would fantasize about living in such a world. Who wouldn’t want to live in a world where accountants and business analysts can become warlords and call the shots with sawed off shotguns and unlimited ammo?

And then, I saw a Netflix suggestion for the 2009 movie ‘The Road’, starring Viggo Mortensen, who you might remember better as Aragon from Lord of the Rings, the man who put the ‘King’ in The Return of the King. Who wouldn’t want to see Aragorn and his son taking on what’s left of the world? The last time he was on the road, he took on 5 (or 6?) of the Nazgul by himself and came on top like a champ.

Continue reading “Viggo Mortensen’s ‘The Road’ ruined the apocalypse for me”

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Aadhaar, Rants

Why on earth do we need to update our credit cards with Aadhaar numbers?

I’ve been meaning to write about Aadhaar for a while but never got around to it. But then today morning I got this message from my bank.

credit card

We have already linked our PAN cards with Aadhaar. Credit card companies already do their own checks to ensure you are credit worthy. No one gives you money without checking if you can pay it back. So how is this justified in any way? I posted this on Reddit today morning and of course Younews.in and the India Community Digest Facebook page lifted it by evening and acted like its their own post without ever crediting the India sub-reddit as usual. Anyway, on the original Reddit thread, there were over a 100 comments with different viewpoints. Let me summarize some of the views supporting this move and give my thoughts on each:

1. It helps detect fraud:

My response: No doubt it will. But the question is if the benefit outweighs the risks. I don’t think so. How about if I said we should give the keys to our front doors to the government or tap all our phones to make sure the cops can detect any wrong doing? The problem with these things is that you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, there will be some criminals you can find and catch by making everything and everyone track-able, but such a surveillance system can also be misused against everyday people, journalists, whistleblowers and anyone who gets on the wrong side of the ‘system’, whether its their fault or not. Who will watch the watchers?

2. This is just to verify your identity. Credit card companies use this to check who you are. The info is not collected by the government

My response: I’m not saying the government is building a database of your credit card transactions with Aadhaar numbers. Not yet at least. But, when you link your Aadhaar to your credit card, bank accounts, phone number and so on, what’s to stop the government or someone in power from asking credit card companies for transaction data with the Aadhaar number filled in and search for someones Aadhaar number to track all their purchases? Or do the same with mobile number to track all their calls? Are there safeguards in place against such things? Has this been thought through? At the pace at which Aadhaar is being seeded into everything, I really doubt anyone is taking the time to plug vulnerabilities in each one. Can we trust that banks and credit card companies will keep the data safe? There have been so many cases where I applied for a credit card and immediately started getting spam calls for all kinds of financial products from every company. There’s obviously leaks, especially in PSU banks. How do you make sure an employee doesn’t leak Aadhaar number along with phone number of target customers? What if an insurance company got that data and started using it to decide whether you should be given a health care coverage policy? Same question about telecom companies- what systems do they have in place to control all this? Even if some of them do have systems in place, do all of them have them? Who is checking the quality of each system? What legal protections do we have against such misuse of data?

3. In the U.S.A, social security numbers need to be given for credit card

My response: The U.S.A is not the panacea for all evils. What they do there is not necessarily the best way to do things. They have major problems with burgeoning domestic surveillance themselves. Lets try to stop our country from becoming a surveillance state instead of saying its OK if other countries have already done it. And if we are comparing, the U.S chose not to link things like fingerprints and biometric data to social security numbers due to privacy risks. Why aren’t we emulating that too

My biggest problem with all of this that none of this matches the official ‘Aadhaar is voluntary, not mandatory’ slogan. How is it not mandatory when you cannot have a bank account, mobile connection or credit card without it? How many things will require this before we start calling it mandatory? Will we one day need it to eat out, buy food or get treatment? Will we call it ‘mandatory’ only once someone says it is mandatory to have Aadhaar to breathe? Or will we still say ‘well, you don’t HAVE to live. Its your choice’?

I’m not saying a national system to authenticate citizen’s ID has no merits. Using it to make sure government welfare goes to the right people seems fair, although there has to be mechanisms to address cases where your fingerprints have faded and things like that. Using it to get things the government is offering for free is still fair. But I have to add a disclaimer that I’m not sure it is. It looks like that to me but if someone had put me in charge of deciding whether to make it mandatory for government welfare, I would try listening to people who caution against it instead of thinking whatever idea I had was sent down from heaven by the gods.

Seeding Aadhaar into every aspect of life is a sure fire way of making sure our lives are completely ruled by a number. I don’t think it is even possible to build in safeguards against misuse given the current scope of usage. Limit usage, build safeguards and expand only if you can figure out safeguards for expanded use. Don’t act like everything is a nail just because you have a hammer to hit them with.

If you want to see the original Reddit discussion, here’s the link: https://www.reddit.com/r/india/comments/7csv46/why_do_we_have_to_link_credit_cards_to_aadhaar/

I’ll be writing more about Aadhaar on this blog from now as well.

Modern Code of Conduct

Who Is A True Indian? The No True Scotsman Fallacy

If there’s one thing most of India will rabidly fight each other over, its about who gets to be called a true Indian. Some people say a true Indian is secular, others say true Indians live by Vedic principles. True Indians are Sachin fans, true Indians don’t mind standing in ATM queues for our Jawans, true Indians are liberal, true Indians know jugaad, true Indians believe in Gandhi, true Indians make fun of Gandhi, on and on the fight goes.

Here’s my two paisa (true Indians don’t use the expression two cents) on the debate. There is no such thing as a true Indian. Nada, nil. The count is zero, as invented by the true Indian Aryabhatta, although he wasn’t one either.

No, I’m not saying the present generation has completely lost their Indian-ness (related post on that) till there is no one left in the country who qualifies to be in it. I’m just saying the prefix ‘true’ is completely meaningless, except as a tactic to get votes maybe. An Indian is a person who is a citizen of India, but that rules out everybody’s favorite true Indian Akshay Kumar so here’s a more relaxed definition- ‘A native or inhabitant of India, or a person of Indian descent’.

The true Indian claim is a perfect example of an informal logical fallacy known as ‘No True Scotsman’. As you might have surmised from the name, we are not the first country to have this problem. It is a fallacy because the debater is claiming that the definition of a group includes certain characteristics such as having a certain culture or having a certain set of political or religious beliefs. However when confronted with evidence that there are people in that group who don’t have those traits or beliefs, the debater says they weren’t true members of that group. For example a guy I know keeps claiming that a certain political party is very clean or good for the country. When I asked him about specific quotes or incidents involving members of that party, he would say they are not ‘real’ party men. How convenient right?

Here’s the algorithm for how this works:

Person 1: All X are Y
Person 2: Clearly, not all X are Y
Person 1: All true X are Y

Here’s some examples:
P1: All Indians speak Hindi
P2: People from many southern states don’t
P1: All true Indians speak Hindi

P1: Hindus don’t eat beef
P2: Kerala, N. East
P1: True Hindus don’t eat beef

P1: South Indians are dark, North Indians are fair
P2: First of all it doesn’t matter. Second- example here, example there
P1: Real South Indians are dark and real North Indians are not

P1: We should all stand in ATM queues without complaining. Our Jawans at the border don’t complain
P2: Here’s a retired Jawan who’s not happy about standing in the queue and don’t like being brought into this
P1: True Jawans don’t complain

P1: Men don’t cry
P2: Baw-haw, boo hoo
P1: Real men don’t cry

This logical fallacy is used not just to defend group stereotypes, but also to deny any kind of belief that can be invalidated with evidence. Its a great defense mechanism. For example:

P1: Global warming isn’t real. The science isn’t in
P2: Points out three truckloads of evidence
P1: The real science isn’t in. All those scientists are bought and their research is paid for by vested interests

Evidence is useless because the debater goes back in time and changes the definition at its source. Don’t get trapped into pointless arguments with such people. Instead call out what they are doing by name. Say “oh yeah, there’s no true Scotsman’. Its a catchy phrase to start making your point and more importantly, the only way to really counter a logical fallacy used in debate is to call it out by name and explain exactly how it works. People use these logical fallacies even unknowingly because they play on emotions and distract listeners from the truth.

At the beginning of the discussion, ask them how would we know if what they are saying is right. Ask them to agree upon some way of checking its validity before you question it. If they say a certain political party is clean, ask them how to measure that exactly. Should nobody in the party have been convicted or prosecuted for corruption? Or should they simply be less corrupt than another party? If so, how do you measure that. Then go about presenting evidence

Any hypothesis needs to be falsifiable. That doesn’t mean it has to be false but there has to be some way of checking. If somebody says its dark outside, you should be able to open a window and see if its dark and they should agree that they were wrong if you show them its still sunny outside, not say that’s not true daylight.

If you want to read more about logical fallacies used in argument, try this website yourlogicalfallacyis.com or find the follow by email or Twitter button on this blog for more in this series

City In Space
Rants, Science Fiction

Why do we like science fiction?

Science fiction, a genre that was once considered to be just a source of comfort and imaginary friendships for the earlier despised and now celebrated human sub-species known as nerds. I’m not sure exactly when nerds became cool. Maybe when guys who looked like they will never get laid started making million dollar companies from their garages. I personally think Hugh Jackman definitely played a role by making comic book superheroes seem cool, unlike the kids who read the comics before they were made into movies. I was personally unaffected by the anti nerd mentality of the time because of my remarkable lack of respect for academic achievement, but even my friends thought my taste in movies and books was kind of weird.

Nowadays though, superhero movies, Star Trek movies, Star Wars movies are all accepted and mainstream. The big money of course brought bigger on screen explosions and hotter actresses. But there was a time before people got to ogle Megan Fox in a movie about space robots that look like sports cars. In the pilot of the original Star Trek series (which I saw recently on a dull Sunday), a beauty who was stranded on Talos IV did an utterly cringe worthy dance in green paint, which was apparently supposed to be seductive.

Look at her, she's glistening greenI'm glistening green

And yet, there were sci-fi fans even back then. Even now, there are movies which do not have enough action or sex or drama to sell a lot but still get a flock of devotees. What then is the true allure of science fiction books or movies apart from entertainment value, which works universally?

An article I read recently made a distinction between science fiction and fantasy which made me think about this. It argues that true science fiction according to authors of that genre takes up a big scientific advancement or discovery and uses that as a lens to examine the true nature of things we are already used to. Fantasy stories on the other hand merely sets the story in a fantasy world which might or might not be a futuristic one. The key difference is that the science or tech in that is not integral to the story. The article argues that Star Wars is a space fantasy movie and not a science fiction movie, although I think that will be debated to the end of the world and back through a time loop. Leaving aside the debate about which movies qualify, lets focus on the idea that science fiction is a premise to look at our own world and lives.

mild spoilers for Blade Runner 2049 and Her ahead

Continue reading “Why do we like science fiction?”

Science

When should you take homeopathic medication?

Homeopathic_medicineWhen I was a kid, there was a homeo doctor nearby who we used to go to. Not every time we fell ill, but often enough to call him ‘uncle’. When my sister got chicken pox, my parents took me to him to get preventive meds. When many people in the house fell ill or there was bug going around, we would go again. Sometimes it would work and at other times even the preventive meds wouldn’t stop it. It wasn’t a big deal and I hardly gave any thought to it over the years. Homeopathic medicines and doctors were widely available and accepted in India and still is. You just wouldn’t always go to one. Usually you went for a cold or fever when your parents didn’t want you to keep popping a lot of allopathic pills with side effects.

Continue reading “When should you take homeopathic medication?”

Rants, Smartphones

Its the season to fight over iPhones and Android again

Every September or October, people start debating one of the most important choices in their lives – iPhone or Android. Already Apple haters reading this post are thinking of making a witty crack about how the price of an iPhone makes the decision a choice between food and clothing for a year vs. a half eaten apple you can’t even finish and therefore an important one.

To avowed Android fans, the eagerness exhibited by many to buy an iPhone represents everything wrong in the world. They consider the devices overpriced and the people who buy them snobbish fools who pay more for outdated tech. Apple fans on the other hand say they love the Apple experience and that Apple ‘does it right’, even if some of the features arrived first on Android. Android users tend to proclaim judgment about the people who buy into Apple a lot more than the other way around. As an Android ‘fan’ who switched to Apple a couple of years ago, I speak from personal experience. After years of being an advocate of Android, I put my beloved Nexus 4 in the cupboard and bought an iPhone 6. What surprised me more than how much I liked the phone was reactions from people around me. To many, it was nothing short of betrayal. They called me a sell out and declared that I had gone over to the dark side. Most of it was light hearted, but at least a couple of people really took it seriously and seemed to have changed their entire opinion about me based on my choice of phone. Most people never listened to my rationale for the switch but now that another iPhone and iOS version launched, the “you were one of us!” chorus has started again, so here it is:-

I used to really like Android. I would root every phone I bought and change the ROM faster than some people would change their socks. I would install apps to automate all kinds of weird things and even change the kernel to try and improve battery life or performance or whatever. Many a nights I would go home late from work, get bored in 20 minutes and then get to work installing a new custom ROM, only to have something go wrong and end up staying awake most of the night trying to make my phone functional again. It was pure tinkering joy at times and as good as a whiskey and a sad song at other times. The takeaway from this story is, I was NOT a casual Android user. When self proclaimed Android ‘fans’ come at me for my choice to switch, I look at them like how Amitabh Bachchan in Agneepath would look at Hrithik Roshan in Agneepath, or how Sylvestor Stallone in Rambo would look at Tiger Shroff in Rambo (yes, that’s coming soon, believe it or not).

Continue reading “Its the season to fight over iPhones and Android again”

TV Shows

How Game of Thrones lost sight of its own baseline reality and became a butt for jokes

GOT
Credit: Hotstar

If you are an avid follower of my blog, which is unlikely, you would almost certainly not have noticed that I didn’t review the last two episodes of Game of Thrones season 7. I have been debating with myself if that was because of laziness or a reluctance to waste my time on something pointless. I have decided the latter sounds better.

The show writers have clearly put very little effort into writing the story this season so why should I put effort into reviewing it in my obscure corner of the internet? I just realized that explanation excuses my laziness as well. If you’re a fan, hear me out before you come after me with pitchforks. Blame the show makers for letting you down instead of blaming me for pointing it out. As I always say, do not shoot the messenger! This used to be a show which was acclaimed for realism. Now it’s a butt for teleportation jokes.

I can sense the objection forming in your mind. That this was a show with dragons and zombies with a new name and that realism was never there in the first place. I whole heartedly disagree. I’m not talking about realism according to the rules of our world. That obviously will not be there in any fantasy story. However, even a fantasy story with dragons and direwolves needs to keep track of the baseline reality within that fictional universe. Would you have just shrugged and said “it’s fantasy anyway” if the Starship Enterprise had suddenly showed up in Mordor to give Sam and Frodo a ride to the top of Mount Doom? Obviously not. A fantasy story, any fantasy story makes the rules of reality in that universe clear. In Lord Of The Rings, the baseline reality is that there are multiple humanoid races with differences in physical and magical abilities. Lightsabers and starships don’t fit in that baseline reality. In Star Wars, the baseline reality is that there are multiple alien races, regular star travel and an all permeating force that endows quasi-superpowers to those who can harness it. The baseline reality in that story does not accommodate magic or Gods. If Gandalf or Harry Potter showed up in a Star Wars movie with a magic staff or wand you would definitely find it ridiculous, regardless of the movie being fantasy fiction.

Continue reading “How Game of Thrones lost sight of its own baseline reality and became a butt for jokes”