Thursday, March 31, 2011

Iron law of life: Do it or don't

I was reading the book, "The 7 habits of highly effective teenagers" by Sean Covey recently, and I found two extracts on the power of commitment and determination very motivating. Here they are. I hope they will bring to you as much inspiration as they did to me.   

1. 

Once there was a captain and a lieutenant:
'Lieutenant, would you please deliver this letter for me.'
'I'll do my best, sir'
'No, I don't want you to do your best. I want you to deliver this letter.'
'I'll do it or I'll die, sir'
'You misunderstand, lieutenant. I don't want you to die. I want you to deliver this letter.'
Finally the lieutenant caught on and said, 'I will do it, sir.'

- Author unknown

2. 

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans, that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

William Hutchison Murray, Scottish mountaineer and writer.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Age of the people

This is an essay I wrote for a competition. I was supposed to answer this question: How successfully have global leaders been able to work together to solve environmental problems? 

I did go slightly off tangent with the content but heck, I had fun. Special thanks to my mother who helped me with the editing.

Half the world’s tropical and temperate forests are gone and are still dying at the rate of an acre a second. About 90% of the large predator fish have disappeared. Species are going extinct at rates about 1,000 times faster than normal. Annually, an area 300 times the size of Singapore is converted into desert land.Rising greenhouse gas emissions are reaching dangerous levels- with scientists estimating a 6 degrees rise in global temperature in this century. Polar glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, threatening the survival of many low-lying countries and regions. Worldwide weather patterns are changing with extreme winters, severe summers, unprecedented floods and devastating storms. The fast depleting ozone layer is increasing incidents of skin cancer and other illnesses in humans and animals. This shocking situation stares into our faces.

So what is being done about it?

After years of alarms raised by environmentalists, their cause received due importance in 1997 with the initiation of the Kyoto Protocol by the United Nations (UN). The Protocol aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 to 5.2% below the levels in 1990, with different greenhouse gas reduction targets being assigned to different countries. For example, USA was given the target to reduce emissions by 7%, Australia was allowed an increase in emissions by 8% and China was not obligated to reduce emissions. Till now, 191 countries have agreed to this protocol. However, these countries are now severely off-target and are not likely to reach their goals for 2012. USA, one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters, has not even ratified the protocol. The second significant initiative in recent years was the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, which was also a huge failure. Participating countries, such as the USA, China, Brazil and India, failed to come to a binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, a recent “Wikileaks” release exposed a conspiracy between USA and China to derail the Copenhagen summit! The most recent failure is that of the 2010 UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, which likewise ended without any serious consensus.

So what is the cause of this continued failure? Why aren’t global leaders able to cooperate to fight for a global issue like the environment?

Heads of state, by default, are primarily interested in the prosperity and growth of their states. Any drastic measures to save the environment will require drastic changes to their current way of life, such as how they produce energy, how they produce goods, how they travel, where they live and what they consume. Such vast changes, required for the global good, will put any country’s economy at huge risk, at least in the short-term. The protectionist goals of governments are naturally opposed to such initiatives undertaken for a global cause. This is best illustrated by the (in)famous words of President George Bush who said, “We will not do anything that harms our economy, because first things first are the people who live in America; that's my priority”, in response to the protests when USA refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol. It also requires tremendous courage and effort for a country’s leader to undertake such a step while being preoccupied with retaining power. Their dependence on corporate funding for elections does affect their decisions making. The fear of losing their political position and power discourages leaders from being bold and working together to fight for environmental issues.

The earliest environmental movement was premised on environmentalists working closely with governments, or within the system, to bring about small changes. These incremental changes were expected to add up to a significant change in the long run. Unfortunately, this has not happened in the last 40 years because of greed, indolence and the tension between protectionist and global ideals of governments. It is obvious that the current structure of leadership has failed in solving the environmental issue. So where do we go from here?

A paradigm shift is needed. This is the age of “people-power”, as so profoundly illustrated by the recent uprisings in the Middle East. Who could have imagined the power that common people can wield without any external help. Leaders of these uprisings were the masses themselves who were fighting for that they believed in. Similarly, where global leadership is failing to combat the environment crisis, global citizens can succeed if they are sufficiently motivated and engaged. The need of the hour is to adopt a bottom-up approach and bring the environmental movement to each and every individual. Maybe it is time to make the people the leaders...

Picture from: http://quantumkool.wordpress.com/

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Is objective journalism possible?

Objective journalism is defined as the presentation of information that is not skewed by personal opinions, perceptions or beliefs. The information does not favour any particular party involved. But is objective journalism possible in today’s world? I am of the opinion that it is not possible to be objective in journalism because of external and internal factors- particularly the external pressures of business and politics, and the intrinsic factor of fact perception.

In today’s economy, all firms have a common goal, that of maximizing private profits. Media firms are no different. They are businesses that are primarily concerned with making money. This economic goal conflicts with the principles of objective journalism. Various news firms vie with each other for the attention of news consuming public. The more sensational and attention grabbing the news, the more attention it receives- resulting in more revenues for the media firms. Consequently, objectivity in journalism is compromised. For example, in Singapore’s New Paper, the headlines often scream scandals and sensationalism. Tabloids count on catching the public’s attention through scandalous and sensational news items, which may not be true or may be unnecessarily exaggerated and, therefore, not objective. Another example of how business pressures impact the behaviour of media firms is the recent incident with Channel News Asia. Channel News Asia sent out an email to sponsors, persuading them to advertise on the news coverage of the Japan Earthquake. The message reeked of commercialism and disregarded the gravity of the calamity. This just goes to show how the pressure to make money can make one insensitive and cause one to ignore the truth. 

In all countries, even in the ones which claim free press, there is a tight connection between the media and the government. The government places political pressure on the media to report news that is of political interest. As a result of this, news very often loses its objectivity. This is very evident in Singapore. The headline news of Straits Times very often highlights the mistakes of opposition parties such as the Singapore Democratic Party. The opposition parties’ responses to these allegations do not get reported, or if they do, they are hidden in an unimportant corner in the newspaper. This political pressure is also evident in the wake of the recent Japan earthquake and nuclear disaster. Depending on whether newspaper is influenced by the anti nuclear lobby or not, the reports either exaggerate the condition in Japan or downplay it. This political pressure is another reason why objective journalism is impossible in today’s world.

I have talked about how it is impossible to report objectively in today’s world because of external pressures of business and politics. However, even if there were no business and political pressures, it would still be impossible to be objective because by nature, when we observe facts, we also interpret them. This action of interpretation or perception is influenced by various factors, such as our experiences, our beliefs and our values. We are influenced by our own culture and upbringing. Walter Lippman, reputed American columnist, postulated this very elegantly in his statement that there is an "asymmetrical relationship of fact and the presentation of fact". Journalists, likewise, would also be influenced by their culture and, therefore, their reporting cannot be totally objective. For example, when hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, initial reports exaggerated the crime situation in the predominantly African American neighbourhoods. There was reporting of widespread looting, rape and even consumption of corpses. It was later realized that these reports were exaggerated. The journalists who reported the news about New Orleans were obviously prejudiced towards the African American community. 

In conclusion, in today’s environment of economic and political influence on media, and with the inherent psychosocial factor of the difficulty in separating fact from the way it is presented to the public, it is impossible to demonstrate objectivity in journalism. Even if there was a one page newspaper containing nothing but facts, who would buy it? 

Source of inspiration:
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1272/is_2690_131/ai_94384327/

Picture from: 
http://edudemic.com/2010/10/google-offers-millions-for-better-journalism/

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chanting with the devil

Sitting in front of you
Chanting the same verse
I felt a thousand needles
Pierce right through me

Still sitting there
Strong in my faith
I uplifted myself
To a land I once knew

Chanting fervently
Everything went up in flames
My vision
My reality

In a moment
The devil appeared
And did a dance
Amidst the blaze

Chanting away like a beast
I leapt into the flames
And for an instant
Our eyes met

The devil and I
Danced away
Both of us
Passionate for our causes

As the flames erupted
A climax was reached
The chanting grew softer
The devil gave in

With chanting
Just with chanting
I defeated the devil
The devil inside me

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rain

Oh rain
What is it about you?
You gave me a moment's joy 

Amidst my darkest hour 

Rain
How is it so?
The darkness that accompanies you
Illuminates the life within me

Maybe the darkness you bring
Maybe the thunder with which you sing
Isolates me 
From my thoughts

Maybe the isolation
Maybe the encompassing darkness
Allows me to revel in 
The dying light therein.

Picture from: http://qwikstep.eu/search/why-are-rain-clouds-dark.html

Two Angels Sat by me

A beautiful poem written by my mother. It encompasses everything she and our family is, in a way, going through.

"Two angels sat by me
In my hour of pain
One held my hand in his solid hands
Calming me, sharing my burden
The other nestled in my arms
Warming me, making me forget

Two more angels sat by me
In my hour of loss
One listened to me like the universe does
Vast, doubtless
The other cradled me gently
Telling me I had nothing to fear

Four angels I have by my side
Each worth more than a hundred friendships lost
And a thousand trusts betrayed."


More here

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Diversity

Oh I look forward to cricket practice
There's just something magical about it

It's not really about the sport
Because it's quite the bore

It's not really about our achievements
Because they're not quite galore

It's certainly not about our eminence
Because we're not really adored

It's something exotic about the personae of our players
A dynamic fusion of cultures 

There are the Vietnamese
Calm, cool and composed

There are the Tamilians
Quick, smart and knowledgable

And then there the North Indians
The category where I belong
Hospitable, expressive and perpetually in need of a strong deodorant

These three cultures make and brighten up our team
Oh how wonderful it is- diversity.

A hypothetical choice

There are 3 people on board an airplane excluding the pilot. The plane developed engine trouble in mid-air and is about to crash. There is only one parachute available; and it is not reserved for the pilot as he already has one for himself. Which of the following people do you think should get the parachute? State your reasons.

1) A famous neurosurgeon
2) A celebrity
3) A housewife

Answer this question in no more than 250 words.

I was dumbfounded when I first came upon this question because it presented me with a moral dilemma. Is it right to choose one life over another? By the way, I had to answer this question for assessment purposes in one of my classes. Being the morally oriented person I am, I wrote that the parachute should not be given to a single person but rather it should be somehow shared among the 3 people. I provided a brief justification about how it is possible to share the parachute among the 3 people. Of course, I failed the assessment because I failed to choose one person. But I still felt it was the right thing to write. I just couldn't make myself choose a single one of those people. It just seemed so wrong and calculating.

I'm curious to know how you would answer this question. Would you choose one of the people and why?

Picture source: http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/NASA45/40/40image.html

What Ana did

Anakin became a part of my life back in 2002. Oh how badly I wanted to get him when we first met in the store. My mother tells me that we fell in love from the moment we first met. You know what they say, it takes one to know one. Crappy joke... But anyways, Ana is a really special boy.

His warm and perpetually "hungry" presence lights up my home. Because of his unending greed for food, he receives unending scoldings (mostly playful) from my family. Those playful scoldings create a certain camaraderie and light-hearted feel to my home.  

Whenever I return home from a tiring day at school, Ana is always there to greet me with a few whacks from his tail and the side of his huge body. 

And back when I was 10 or 11, a lady in my estate, who really liked Ana, gave me a holiday job as a dog-sitter. I got paid $5 an hour thanks to Ana!

And the most important benefit of having Ana in my life is our daily walks. I usually take him out at about 9.00 p.m. These walks are really amazing because they provide me with about 15 minutes of uninterrupted personal time. I let Ana go free of his leash and while he scavenges for more food and a place to do his businesses, I spend my time reconciling my unending thoughts and worries. I usually solve my day's problems in this short amount of time. Come to think of it- it really is amazing. Thank you Anakin, I love you. 

So what about you? Do you have pets? If you do, have they impacted your lives in any substantial way? Please do share. I would really love to find out how different people feel about their pets.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Meaningful change

We all live as we do 
We are all sentient beings
Sensible beings

We all struggle as we do
Some choose to continue
While others to falter

Just like the universe, space, time
Change permeates reality

But what changes does not change in itself
For what is tempestuous is not vacuous

Truth there is in a vast world of change
A truth so great
It makes no mistake

But alas, this long talk of truth is in itself a lie
A lie it is not to the world
But a lie to the seeker

Deep thoughts these are but a depressed being I am
For I have not been what I had been

A strange form of emptiness within an abundant life
A sheer ugliness to everything
Dirt everywhere
Fervency gone

Relationships dull
Days bore
Home I wish I always am 
Bury my sorrow

But within all of this negativity
Within all of this shit
Does the positiveness of truth lie therein?

My state says no
Pulling me further

But my faith says yes
Pulling me out

Fight I must alongside faith
Beat this monster to its death

Out I will emerge from this hell
With great stories to happily tell.