Monthly Archives: June 2006

Inspirations

My brother recently went to interview a personality. In it, the afor-said personality had mentioned a poem which he finds motivational and inspiring. That made me think, what is it that inspires me? What do I turn to to motivate myself? I found the answer to me myraid and varied. However here are something which I do turn to for solace

1. Poem

Poems add colour to life and brings relativity to a person. A poem lightens the heaviest of moods and brightens the darkest of days. They teach you how to live, how to love and how to grieve. All the poems I have been exposed to are the poems which my daddy loves and says regularly. It includes, English, Tamil and what have yous. Interestingly, although I know these poems inside out, I do get absolutely tongue-tied when actually saying them. They are just there, in my head, automatically appearing at just the right time to give just the additional spice and perspective needed under the circumstances.

The first poem and my most often thought of on is The Reaper by Wordsworth. This is one poem which I like for the pure admiration of the lone girl going about her work. And the way dad says it is simple awesome, one can literally imagine the girl cutting the grain, binding it and singing to herself, her tuneful voice floating across the meadows and vales, reaching the ears of all passerby.


The Solitary Reaper

Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.

No Nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:
A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.

Will no one tell me what she sings?–
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?

Whate’er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o’er the sickle bending;–
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

— William Wordsworth

Another poem of Wordsworth which I like is Daffodils. Its a poem which encourages this already-heavy-daydreamer to just stop everything, laze on the couch and dream even further 😀

Daffodils

I WANDER’D lonely as a cloud,
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine,
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch’d in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

— William Wordsworth

A poem which I turn to if I seriously need to stop thinking of work and study and books yada yada and get out.


The Tables Turned

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless–
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

— William Wordsworth

Interestingly, all the poems are by Wordsworth. I guess he was the first poet I read, heard and got enamoured by.

2. Philosphy

Philosophy is another field which adds perspective to the way one is living. Whats the point of toiling all day? Whats the point of working so hard? Afterall, within a negligible time in the universe’s timeframe, we are going to disappear. To get these questions, I turn to Western Philosophy but to get answers, I turn to Hindu Philosophy. Not to say it cannot be vice versa, but just the way I like it. But philosophy deserves a long post all my itself. To describe the works of Plato, Dante, Aristotle, etc is no mean feat, even to the well versed. Not to say the Vedantic philosophy even in its simplest form.

3. Music

Ah, but who dosent turn to music? who dosent turn to the tune of the voice rising and falling to words which shake the very core of a person. So no more said on this 🙂

Is it moral for a leader to commit a crime for the good of the nation?

Is it moral for a leader to commit a crime for the good of the nation? The moral dilemma occurs in one major situation: when a wrong must be committed, not just for any purpose, but unavoidably for a genuinely good purpose.

If the purpose of a leader is simply his own personal ambition, regardless of the cost to his country or its citizens, this is not a worthy purpose, and we have an evil, not a dilemma.

Machiavelli, the author of The Prince, an excellent essay on the right behaviour for a ruler under different circumstances, says that “it is often necessary to act against mercy, against faith, against humanity, against frankness, against religion in order to preserve the state,” which does seem to say that the state, and not personal ambition, is the proper way to rule.

Perhaps so, but this also depends on what the state is supposed to be. If the state is an end in itself, then a dilemma does not arise if some individuals must be sacrificed to it. This again turns “raison d’état” into an amoral principle, using real individuals for the sake of an abstract, collective entity. But if the state is not an end or a good in itself, but an instrumental good to some truly moral end, then a genuine dilemma can arise, as the service of the moral end of the state may conflict with the means that become necessary for its pursuit.

Thus, the question of morality of a leader is deeply interlinked with the concept of a state. What is a state? What purpose does a state fulfill?

Predicting World Cup Winners using Politics

There have been revolutions to create socialism, democracy, and authoritarian dictatorship. But humankind has yet to fight a revolution to guarantee one of the most vital elements — if not the most vital element — of the good life. That is, a winning soccer team. If we were to take up arms for this reason, what kind of government would we want to install?

Political theory, for all its talk about equality and virtue, has strangely evaded this question. But, after 17 World Cups, there’s now a mass of empirical data, and, using the most sophisticated methods available, we can now determine the political and economic conditions that yield soccer glory.

To begin, we must first reach back into the dustbin of history. Communism, despite its gulags and show trials, produced great players and rock-solid teams. The Hungarian squad of the early ’50s has gone down in history as one of the best to never win a championship. A few decades later, in 1982, the Poles finished third in the tournament, drawing with Paolo Rossi’s Italy and beating Michel Platini’s France en route. These triumphs are reflected in the overall record. In World Cup matches against non-communist countries, the red hordes bested their capitalist foes more often than not — by my count, 46 wins, 32 draws, 40 losses.

But the fact remains that a communist country has never won the World Cup. After watching the communists perform efficiently in preliminary rounds of the tournament, you could usually count on them to collapse in the quarterfinals. There are many explanations for why communism never ascended higher. For starters, there’s the Lobanovsky factor.

Valeri Lobanovsky, the great Soviet and Ukrainian coach of the 1970s and ’80s, believed that science could provide underlying truths about the game. He would send technicians to games to evaluate players based on the number of “actions” — tackles, passes, shots — that they performed. These evaluations perversely favoured frenetic tackling over the creative construction of an attack. Lobanovsky’s method captures the pernicious way in which the rigidity of Marxism permeated the mentality of the Eastern bloc. Such rigidity might produce a great runner or gymnast, but it doesn’t produce champions in a sport that requires regular flashes of individuality and risk-taking.

Then there’s the misery of life under the hammer and sickle. Hungary, for instance, couldn’t prevent its greatest players — Laszlo Kubala and Ferenc Puskas — from defecting to Spain in the ’50s.

If the above data leads us to conclude that communism does not produce a superior soccer society, fascism has far more to recommend itself. Fascist governments can masterfully manufacture a sense of national purpose and, more than that, national superiority. This ethos, while not so appealing from the perspective of those who worry about individual rights, cultivates the perfect climate for a World Cup. Not only can it produce a healthy confidence, but it can also generate a powerful fear of losing. Who wants to disappoint a nation swept up in this kind of fervour? Or, more to the point, who wants to disappoint a leader who might break your legs and imprison your grandmother? What’s more, fascist governments subscribe to a cult of fitness and hygiene that leads them to siphon considerable national resources into sports programs.

The fascist record speaks for itself. During the ’30s, Il Duce’s Italy claimed two trophies; Germany took third in 1934, as did Brazil in 1938. Overall, fascism compiled a record of 14-3-3 in that decade.

But fascism has performed miserably since the fall of the Axis. Proto-fascist regimes like Francisco Franco’s Spain or Juan Peron’s Argentina presided over some of the great underachievers in the game’s history. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s Portugal appeared in only one tournament during his 36-year reign.

What accounts for the falloff? In the 1930s, fascist nations were an independent force in the world. They were the most ferocious regimes on the planet. After the war, this swagger vanished. Suddenly, the power of these nations rested on their alliance with the United States. Once you become lapdogs of the Americans, it’s hard to muster the same will to win.

There’s an important corollary to this finding. No country has ever won a World Cup while committing genocide or gearing up to commit genocide. Germany and Yugoslavia both faltered on the eve of their mass murders. In 1938, Germany didn’t win a single game. The greatest Yugoslavian team of all time lost in the quarterfinals of the 1990 tournament. Apparently, lusting after the blood of Jews and Muslims distracts vital energy from the more pressing task of scoring.

Now we’ve examined two of the most ubiquitous forms of command economy. That leaves a third: the good, old-fashioned military junta. You can’t find too many of these in the world today. But military juntas are historically superb at winning World Cups. The Brazilian and Argentine juntas presided over the most glorious victories in the tournament’s history in the ’70s and early ’80s. It makes sense that juntas would excel at this. They are collective efforts, where even the strongmen are part of a broader apparatus. A good soccer team is, in a sense, a junta.

While military juntas have a tremendous record — three trophies in all — they still can’t claim to be the most successful form of government. This is partly a problem of dilution. Military juntas must also claim credit for straggler countries like Paraguay and El Salvador. Their achievements, in the end, can’t compete with the most effective form of soccer government known to man.

Social democracy delivers more championships than the juntas — six in all. And even the worst social democratic teams — Belgium, Finland — win more consistently than their authoritarian peers. To understand this success, one must understand the essence of the social democratic economy. Social democracies take root in heavily industrialized societies, and this is a great blessing.

No country has won the World Cup without having a substantial industrial base. This base supplies a vast urban proletariat, which in turn supplies players for a team. Industrial economies also produce great wealth, which funds competitive domestic leagues that improve social democratic players by subjecting them to day-to-day competition of the highest quality. And, while the junta mindset nicely transposes itself to the pitch, the social democratic ethos is a far neater match. Social democracy celebrates individualism, while relentlessly patting itself on the back for its sense of solidarity — a coherent team with room for stars.

The new paradigm of political theory posited above can not only help guide a revolution, but it can also help fill out a tournament-prediction bracket. It is my contention that the outcome of each match in the World Cup can be forecast by analyzing the political and economic conditions of the countries represented on the pitch. This isn’t quite an unbeatable system. But I have yet to see a method for filling out a tournament bracket that beats it.

– This article was adapted from The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup.

© National Post 2006

How did humans come to be?

How did humans come to be? There have been scientific rationales put up like the Darwinian Theory etc which try to explain how humans evolved. However, how did life actually come on earth? How can a single egg or cell give rise to the complete body of animals as we know it? How does the little cell know how many organs to form, how to form them, how to control them, how to develop the brain and teach it when to do what etc? Questions to which I cannot find the answer and I suspect no-one can either.

However, human beings being the curious creatures that we are: need answers. We are not satisfied with ‘we can find an answer’ reply. We become insecure otherwise, thinking of all the wild things that we can. We wonder how we can not even know what we are made up of.

How do we solve such a quandary? We take a simple approach. We assume someone did it. Someone told the cell what to do when, someone ordered the world as we know it. Someone with the knowledge to make things as they are, create the rules. We can’t call it ‘Someone’ since the word ‘someone’ in the English language denotes to a human being. But this ‘thing’ cannot be a human being since ‘it’ made human beings. If we can make such an assumption, then a lot of questions will resolve itself. But what to we term this thing as? We come up with a new nomenclature and term ‘it’ God.

Now, by reason and logic, we can say that if God can so all these things, then he is omnipotent. Please note that in this case, the perspective is from a human point of view, not God’s. If there are different God’s, then God A may find God B ignorant etc according to the definitions of their race. However, from our point of view, God is omnipotent. Since, he created, he knows what he created, why he did what he did, what rules and definitions he gave his creation etc, something we try and figure out. And since omnipotent in our definition means ‘all-knowing’, it follows that God must be omnipotent.

Now, if God is omnipotent, it follows that he must also be omnipresent. For, how can one be all-knowing without being all over the place? Again, from our limited perspective.

Accordingly, if God is omnipotent and omnipresent and since he made us, he would know our wishes, needs, desires etc, since he himself created it. We can cajole him to tell it to us, beg him to give us things he has not, for am sure he too needs variety and would have had some differences in his creation.

Where does that leave us? Does this mean that no matter what we do, we are ultimately going to do what God has made us to do? What if we rebel? Will it work? What will happen?

I guess this is where Hindu philosophy comes in. The Vedanta explains these questions beautifully though I haven’t been able to completely grasp them yet. Still, a brief synopsis.

The School of Athens

It was the best of emotions,
it was the worst of pride,
it had the beauty of simplicity
it ate most of the brain,
it was a homage to nobility
Without forgetting the egoism of self

Thus on and on could one describe Raphael’s School of Athens. The School where all intellectuals converge, the School where objectiveness is paramount, the School where there’s no place for emotions, the School where there is no place for feelings..

Raffaello Sanzio was born in 1483 in the picturesque Italian duchy of Urbino. He learnt the basics of painting from his father, a well known, but relatively minor painter. He lived during the time of Frederico de Montefeltro, an art lover of his own right, and was introduced to various Italian and French artists in Frederico’s court.

At the age of 17, Raphael took up apprenticeship with Perugio, a highly regarded artist during his time. He spent four years there learning everything his master had to teach.

Raphael had an amazing capacity to absorb. While artists like Leonardo and Michelangelo learnt from their masters and then developed their own distinctive styles, Raphael, sucked styles from artists around him and molded them to suit his paintings. Creating this fusion of the greats required just as much talent, if not more, than conjuring up new identities.

Raphael’s first paintings faithfully followed his master’s techniques. However, he soon incorporated other styles from all fields of life, he painted buildings according to the designs of his dearly loved friend Bramante, he changed the anatomy of the human figure after having seen Michelangelo’s paintings on the Sistine. As they say, ‘Let knowledge flow from all sides’, Raphael was an exemplary example of that.

In 1509, Raphael presented what I sincerely believe is the master piece of all time: the School of Athens. It is the most widely copied painting of all times, it is also the most admired. Mona Lisa may be the favorite of the masses, but the School of Athens was the favorite of the brainy.

School of Athens
School of Athens

The school of Athens portrays all the major intellectual western philosophical figures until Raphael’s time. There is Aristotle, Plato, the ever great Socrates, Diogenes, Plutonius, Ptolemy, Euclid, Raphael himself and numerous others.

It is the highest tribute paid to philosophy. Thousands of years of writing and understanding were nurtured into this one painting.

Notice the figures which dominate the scene. They are not awed by the surrounding, neither are they cowered. Like all great intellectuals, they are eager to grasp, to learn and to fly. They want to know how they are wrong, in what way can they correct themselves, how can they share their findings to the betterment of humankind.

The pictures depict the basic of the two philosophers ideals, Aristotle, holding the Ethics, is pointing to the ground, emphasising the the importance of the existence for the ideal, while Plato, holding what sources say is The Tumaeus is pointing to the sky, arguing that the Ideal is the ultimate aim of the senses. The brown and blue of Aristole’s robe represent those of his philosophy, the ground material of earth and water while those of Plato represent the ethereal materials of fire and air.

Plato
Plato with Leonardo da Vinci’s Face

Plato
Aristotle

The person sitting on the staircase in the middle of the painting is Diogenes of Sinope, or more commonly known as
Diogenes the dog. He displayed a contempt for everything and anything. He was a cynic; he disdained riches and
honors. He slept in rubbish piles as an example to everyone. He exposed himself to the extremes and practiced the most
self inflicting form of self control.

Diogenes had the wit and way with words which would have humbled Oscar Wilde. Enough said about him though; to the left
of the painting is the ever present Socrates, prodding and directing his pupils to every greater truths and levels of
ignorance.

Diogenes
Diogenes

Third from the right is Plotinus, the founder of neo-platonism. [Neo-platonism is name given to the era between the founding of Plato’s academy and its closing sometime in AD387]. He is the father of many a modern day philosphers, though not quite as widely acknowledged as Plato or Aristotle. He is otherworldly. He developed a unique theory of perception based on the knowledge that the mind plays an active role in shaping or ordering the objects of its perception. This may seem common sensical to us in this time and age but it is only so coz it has lived through two thousand years of rigorous testing.

Plotinus
Plotinus

On the bottom right is Euclid with his geometry. He is seen bending down and teaching is students, presumably the theory
of his teachings.

Euclid
Euclid with Bramante’s Face

Euclid Geometry
Euclid’s Geometry

The painting is also dedicated to the general arts. Grammar, Arithmetic and Music are celebrated in the foreground whilst
in the background are the more serious topic of Rhetoric and Dialectic.

The brilliance of Raphael is shown with his interleaving of these greats philosophers with the greatest artist till his time. This was Raphael’s way of saying that the art form is just as important as the scientific form. Plato is portrait as having da Vinci’s face while the students around Euclid are various artists of his time. Euclid himself has Bramante’s face. Michelangelo, sitting on the marble stairs at thebottom left is represented by Heracitus. Raphael himself is depicted on the extreme right, along with his friend Sodoma.

Heracitus with Michaelangelo's Face
Heracitus with Michaelangelo’s Face

Raphael
Raphael

A close inspection shows that the liberal arts are on the same level as the fine arts. This is Raphael’s way of saying that both of them are on the same footing and thus, deserve the same treatment.

The building on the background is St. Peter’s Basilica, which was being constructed by Bramante at that time. Although grand and intricate, it does not overshadow the figures in the painting, but blends with them in grace and harmony.

Raphael painted the School of Athens in the style of a fresco, meaning wetting a piece of plaster and painting over it immediately before it dries. This left absolutely no room for error and is an indication of Raphael’s genius. The painting is done in a pyramidical composition, where all the lines converge between Plato’s and Aristotle’s heads. He mostly uses the natural colours of brown and gray . Earthly tones are depicted in orange and blue. Raphael’s use of colors portrays the solemnity of the painting.

Raphael makes extensive use of perspective in this painting. the clothing on the figures gives them a sense of bulk and substance. All the characters are shown to be doing something, which gives the whole painting a sense of motion and intellect.

The light in this painting is coming from many different openings in the roof. It comes from the distant vanishing point, and the opening above Plato and Aristotle. It is also coming from the openings on the left and right sides. The people in the front right and left of the painting are in shadow and the people get brighter the closer to the center they are.

Although the painting seems crowded in some parts (especially around Plato and Aristotle) Raphael creates a great sense of space. He has a vanishing point so the painting looks like it goes back forever. He also paints the figures in the foreground larger than the rest which adds to the sense of space.

Raphael is out of favor today; his work seems too perfect, too faultless for our slipshod age. Yet these great icons of human beauty can never fail to stir us: his Vatican murals can stand fearlessly beside the Sistine ceiling. The School of Athens, for example, monumentally immortalizing the great philosophers, is unrivalled in its classic grace. Raphael’s huge influence on successive artists is all the more impressive considering his short life (He died at the age of 37 with fatigue, after having spent too many successive late nights with women).

Having said that, It must have been phenomenal to have Michelangelo, painting the Sistine Chapel, Bramante, raising domes and colonnades and Leonardo da Vinci, prowling the corridors and looking for work, as one’s close neighbors. Julius II was a very lucky man.