May 29, 2007

Wonder of wonders

Should not the wonders of the world be obvious to all? Is a worldwide 'election' needed to decide which are the best of the lot?
And why should there be just seven? Just because there were seven ancient wonders, should the present day have exactly the same number? Not one more or less?
And since the Pyramids at Giza were considered a part of the Ancient wonders and they are still standing tall, are they one of the seven by default and the competition only for the other six slots?
What a waste of time and money! And Rahman has to promote the Taj Mahal's candidacy by composing an 'anthem' for the occasion. So now that rahman has composed a song for it,the Taj Mahal merits an automatic inclusion into the list. Anyways, overzealous Indians who occupy the globe in millions are bound to vote for the Taj Mahal, making its inclusion a foregone conclusion.

P.S: I found two interesting inclusions amongst the 'finalists'. The statue of liberty and Timbuktu. I do not think there is anything grandiose attached to either of them for them to be deemed as Wonders of the world along the ranks of the Pyramids at Giza, Acropolis, and the Machu Picchu.


May 23, 2007

Evolution and the role of Humans as initiators

In his book titled 'Prey', Michael Crichton talks about evolution in organisms initiated by the pressures of survival. He has elaborated more on this topic in his more famous book, 'The Lost World'. The Darwinian theory of life evolving to adjust to the environment has been studied at large, with the implications of behavioural changes now emerging as a major cause of evolution. Peer pressure has been acknowledged to majorly contribute to the changes a species undergoes.

A scientific report of an isolated female shark giving birth at a zoo in Nebraska has been filed recently. The report cites the case of a female Hammerhead shark which came to the zoo as a baby and been grown ever since in isolation from male sharks. This report gains significance as it is the first recorded event of its kind. But the phenomenon could be more common in the natural world. Pressures induced by humans coupled with natural threats could result in many such changes occurring in the ecological system. The deprivation of a male partner or the rapid dwindling of a population might mount pressure on the females of a species, forcing it to evolve an ability that enables it to reproduce on its own. Scientists feel that such evolutionary actions to sustain life could be against the principle of natural selection, which emphasizes the concept of the survival of the fittest. In an environment where natural order prevails, the passing on of genes to the next generation is reserved for the mightiest of the lot. It is a well documented fact that males compete with one another to establish dominance. Females mate more frequently with dominant males than the others. These natural orders ensure that during the course of evolution, the genes of animals that are most healthy and most adapted to conditions, are passed on more frequently than that of animals that are not. Thus over a period of several generations the dominant genes take over from the lesser ones and this also allows the species to have a natural tendency to adapt to the surroundings as they have acquired the dominant genes.

But artificial pressures created by factors such as humans increase the survival pressure on every species, leading to such instances of 'parthenogenesis'. Hermaphroditism is not uncommon in nature. But it is not widely prevalent either. Suppression of life could force characteristics like hermaphroditism to surface. This reminds me of the classic scene in Jurassic Park, where Alan Grant (Sam Neill) states that 'Life finds a way', when they discover that some of the female Dinosaurs released from captivity begin to change sex and starts to reproduce.

Genetic studies have shown that the difference between the genes of many animals are so few. So the question of how two widely different species could share as much as 90% of genes (if not more) is largely unanswered. It is reasonable to suppose that between species that share genes, differences in characteristics and behaviour are influenced a lot by the living environment. So a radical change in the environment could activate the hitherto inactive genetic characteristics bringing about an evolution in the species.

A conception that Crichton seeks to remove in 'Next' is the common understanding of the time period of evolution. Contrary to popular beliefs of evolution occurring over a period of million years, he states that evolution is continuous. Life continuously evolves in tune with dynamic changes of its environment, which is true.

Humans have altered the environment in a large way. Rainforests have been destroyed, water bodies polluted, air composition being changed. Many species have become extinct or are on the brink of it, thanks largely to mass killings by humans for reasons of profit and the likes. We have been altering the face of the earth and changes have been happening right before our eyes. An interesting outcome of the behavioural theory is that the changes in the behaviour of one species will alter that of every species that interacts with it. Thus no change is isolated and behavioural alterations are bound to have worldwide repercussions. Maybe its the turn of the humans to bring about another major shuffling of the Earth's biosphere.


May 14, 2007

Proud Possessions

I came across a news item that mentioned two special stamps: The Forever stamp and a commemorative triangular stamp. The sight of the triangular stamp brought back some memories of the times when I was in school.

Collecting coins, currencies and especially stamps were a huge craze amongst my school mates and this nurtured my interest in those hobbies. My parents used to get mails from different countries in their office and I used to bug the life out of them to get me those stamps after tearing them from their envelopes. I guess this would have caused many mails to go with an envelope having a hole on it. I vividly remember the values with which we treated stamps from different countries. For example, England was so common that many would not even want to have it in their collection. Stamps from countries like Botswana, Egypt were considered to be 'rare'. I did not consider anything as redundant or useless and discarded it. So that explains the countless numbers of stamps of the same country, which I proudly mounted on stamp albums which during the pinnacle of my passionate involvement totaled to three. As for coins and currencies, I had a good share of them too. Unfortunately this avarice extended to my books collection too (novels and comics that is) and more than 200 books accumulated in my room (I am not exaggerating) until there was room for no more and many of the books were confined to a gunny bag due to lack of space. Recently when my parents shifted residence, the movers openly were amazed at the number of books and supposedly told them they have never seen so many books in a house before.

There is no point in just accumulating wealth if you do not flaunt it. So often we bring our prized possessions to school and look at everyone's collections. There were also frequent exchanges of the collectibles. Now this is most important for a budding philatelist/numismatist! If I am in need of an item a 'Fellow Collector' has and I have something which the FC is in need of, then we can exchange the items. But this is more complicated than FOREX. There is a value for each item and when we exchange it we should get something equal in value for return. Worthiness is decided by many factors: general availability of the item amongst FCs, special issues like commemorative stamps, special shapes like triangle, semi-circle,etc,. The trading policies are also complex. A stamp may not be valuable in its general format but a triangular edition of it is considered worthier. If we cannot offer a single item of equal value in exchange, the transaction can be made possible by offering more than one item, the sum total of which be deemed equal in value to the offered item. So we always need to have a sharp look out for clever and slick operators from whom we could end up getting a lemon. Since there is no benchmark values for the items, opinions as to the worthiness of the collectibles vary among collectors, often leading to bitter quarrel at times of transactions.

Many a times we used to get caught by our teachers who often interrupt us in the midst of a crucial trading period. We then get reprimanded for carrying out such 'nefarious' activities in school. Education in school is a humbug!! I think that my stamp and coin collections have taught me lot more history and geography than 8 years of textbooks ever could. I challenge my Geography teacher to locate Swaziland on the map. I am sure she does not know about the tools used by the African aborigines for hunting. Nor would she ever know how the Sultan of Brunei looks like or the dressing sense of Saudi Arabians or the Aquatic wildlife in Zaire for that matter.

Those were days!! There was time to be totally involved in hobbies. Now work takes up most of the time. But this Jamestown Settlement commemorative stamp issued by USPS has rekindled my interests. I am not sure how long this is going to last or if I will ever find time to gloat over my collections in the future. (I have sealed them within layers of plastic covers away from the probing termites and other pests and it nows rests peacefully back home in India). But its worth a try. Hope the USPS sells single stamps. If not, maybe I can tempt the sales clerk to exchange one for a special edition Burundi stamp I have......


May 2, 2007

In pursuit of happyness

"And it was at that time that I thought about Thomas Jefferson writing that Declaration of Independence. Him saying that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I thought about how he knew to put the 'pursuit' in there, like no one can actually have happiness. We can only pursue it."
The above lines do not seem to carry much meaning without a context. But when Will Smith said that in his portrayal of the real life character Christopher Gardner, it put so many things in life in perspective for me.
I just came back from a screening of the movie 'The Pursuit of Happyness' [sic] at my university, and it is weighing down so much on me that I coud not desist myself from writing about it. Not many movies have touched my soul and evoked my senses as this movie has. I have seen Will smith (whom I liked anyway) in movies like MIB, I-Robot which are a different genre of movies altogether and I was under the impression that he is a bit stereotyped. But when I saw this movie I was proven wrong. To say that this is one of the best performance I have ever seen in a movie is not an overstatement. I wonder if the performance of Forest Whitaker was so exceptional in the movie 'The Last King of Scotland', so as to have denied the Best Actor Award to Will Smith.

The movie depicts the life of Chris Gardner who is married and has a son. Chris is a salesman who has very poor success in his job of selling Bone density scanners to hospitals. His wife leaves him and Chris looks after his son. His travails as he struggles to make both ends meet and study at the same time while doing an internship as a stockbroker are quite absorbing. He fights everything bravely. He gets imprisoned, gets fined, is thrown out of the house by the landlord and everything that could possibly go wrong does go wrong. He puts up a brave face and fights it out. But things go too much out of his hand and when one day he has to take refuge in a Railway station restroom for the night with his son, he eventually breaks down and cries but does so mutedly lest his sleeping son wakes up. Thats an amazing scene and is bound to touch the soul of anyone. Will Smith's performance is beyond words.If he grabbed our hearts in this scene, then he melts them in the final scene, with the way he reacts when he gets the job he wanted: a mix of happiness, disbelief, and relief that his years of struggle have finally come to an end.

When I walked out of the theater, I saw life in a different perspective. Things could have been different. Things could have been worse. We are lucky to have a comfortable shelter, food to eat everyday, and a sense of belonging. Yet we are discontent. Things we had taken for granted are out of reach for many people in the world. Not being rich is one thing. But not being in a position to even eat a morsel of food is something else. It made me realize things that I had been discontent with in my life are all non-issues. Purely materialistic. Being happy is just our perspective of life. We are never content with what we have and always yearn for something more which we feel we need in our lives. The movie had left a lot of posers to me. But it has clearly answered one: Whatever we have and do not have, we cannot have happyness. We can only pursue it.


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP