Do you have to be intelligent to be evil?


A question like “do you have to be intelligent to be evil” can seem philosophical and vague, but it becomes less theoretical when you apply it to a death penalty court case like the one that has played out in Georgia. Must there be a conniving, Machiavellian mind behind evil, or is it something inherent in anyone — or everyone?

…..At the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s department of cognitive science, a research team explored the logic of evil by programming a computer character named “E” that “acted on” or was motivated by a definition of evil. The Rensselaer crew defined an evil person as one who decided to commit an immoral act without prompting and carry out the plan with the expectation of considerable harm. When reflecting on those deeds, the person would either find incoherent reasons for his or her actions or think the damage caused was good.

….Trying to get an objective answer about evil or intelligence is never going to work. We all have too many inherent prejudices and biases to ever get a response that satisfies us. But looking at something like Dr. Welner’s Depravity Scale does lead me to believe that critical thinking about intelligence and evil does have a purpose in our society: if we’re ever asked to use our own definitions of what is evil and intelligent to judge someone’s actions, we better have a compelling reason to believe our own opinions.

Hakone Open Air Museum

Intelligence and Evil

 

That was an excerpt from an article I read the other day, and though it goes on to talk about insanity pleas and so on, it reminded me of what weighs on all our minds.

Like a lot of us, I’ve been watching Gaza, and also the Malaysian plane shot down in Ukraine.

Since I can’t do anything else to help this world gone mad, where children are murdered (while they play on a beach or fly 33,000 ft above the earth towards a vacation or their homes), I try to gather positive energies. If the world goes negative, the only thing in my small, insignificant hands is to be positive. I can only add myself to the sum total of positive energies in this world, and thus stand against the negatives.

But somehow, I wonder whether the intelligence that has given us humans such an advantage in evolution would one day be our undoing. (Even in the animal world, it is the dolphins who rape, the chimpanzees who murder– is evil a function of intelligence quotient, after all?)

What do you think? Is what’s happening in the war-torn areas of the world a result of intelligence gone mad? Other than ranting and fighting virtual wars on Facebook, how can we as human beings help undo this horrific situation?

Of Blue Whales and Turtles: A Slow Hourglass in Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka is a well-kept secret. In the space of a few days, I helped a baby turtle hatch, watched some of the most venomous snakes in the world up close, (without a glass pane in between!), and got to see not only a a huge pod of dolphins, but also the planet’s largest animal– a blue whale.

We stayed at Mirissa over the weekend, and if you ever find yourself there, I recommend the Mandara resort. After you get over the slightly run-down rooms and slow service (they do try hard to make your stay comfy, but at a holiday pace), you'll enjoy the gorgeous views (the sunsets are incredible), the quiet beach, and local cuisine catered to your taste.

Mirissa Sunset snapshot, taken from my Balcony at the Mandara Resort

We stayed at Mirissa over the weekend, and if you ever find yourself there, I recommend the Mandara resort. After you get over the slightly run-down rooms and slow service (they do try hard to make your stay comfy, but at a holiday pace), you’ll enjoy the gorgeous views (the sunsets are incredible), the quiet beach, and local cuisine catered to your taste.

The staff also takes care of the night-time guests on their beach-- turtles. If a turtle lays eggs on the Mandara beach, the eggs are protected for 45 days, and then once they hatch, the baby turtles are sent off to the sea, thus protecting them from various predators. I got to pick up the babies, and watch them scramble into the sea.

Holding a baby turtle, just hatched

The staff also takes care of the night-time guests on its stretch of the beach– turtles.

If a turtle lays eggs on the Mandara beach, the eggs are protected for 45 days, and then once they hatch, the baby turtles are sent off to the sea, thus protecting them from various predators.

I got to pick up the babies, and watch them scramble into the sea!

Newly Hatched Baby Turtles

Newly Hatched Baby Turtles

Dewmini's Roti Shop

Dewmini’s Roti Shop

If you eat at only one place in Mirissa, make it the Dewmini Roti Shop. Despite their rather unglamorous name, their food is definitely something to write home about.

The range of their scrumptious roti is simply amazing. Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor know what they’re talking about when they recommend this tiny place.

We also went to a snake farm: and here are some of the occupants we met:

The video is shaky because I kept running away– the snakes were not defanged (the handler showed us the fangs on a Russel’s Viper), and I’m not brave.

An angry white cobra at Mirissa, one of the most beautiful snakes I've ever seen

An angry white cobra at Mirissa, one of the most beautiful snakes I’ve ever seen.

I’m not a fan of snakes kept in captivity, but it is better than killing them outright — which is what most people around the world do. The farm is in a village on a hilltop, where tiny farms and homes jostle against each other– snakes are so plentiful that I saw one on the way up, and another came swirling by as the handler was showing us the regulars. Both were non-venomous, thank God!

But the best was for the last: the blue whales. We could see the spouts at a distance of almost a kilometer, and as we drew closer, we could see their glistening blue-black bodies ease gently into the sea and the humongous tail followed right after. The blue whales are shy creatures, not curious like greys — but the thought that something so huge, intelligent, and alive was right next to our boat brought tears to my eyes. It is amazing that they do not overturn even the smallest of fishing boats by accident.

Our captain was a whale-lover, and if you go to Mirissa, I would recommend you go with Raja and the Whales-- knowledgeable crew, who did not harass the whales like I saw the other boats do, but still got us as close as 20 feet to the planet's largest animal. Blue whales get easily stressed, are endangered and reproduce at a slow rate. They need all the consideration they can get.

This Blue whale was within 30 feet of our boat!

Our captain was a whale-lover, and if you go to Mirissa, I recommend you go with Raja and the Whales– knowledgeable crew, who did not harass the whales like I saw the other boats do, but still got us as close as 30 feet to the planet’s largest animal. Blue whales get easily stressed, are endangered because they were hunted to near-extinction, and reproduce at a slow rate. They need all the consideration they can get.

Sri Lanka definitely makes the hourglass turn slow. I was so dazed and awed most of the time, I took very few pictures. All the pics above are from my husband’s camera. If you live in Asia, or are planning on traveling here, please don’t miss Sri Lanka. It has so much more to offer, in terms of beautiful beaches and jungles, awesome fauna, gastronomy, ease of travel, and friendly, smiling hosts, we plan to visit Sri Lanka again.

Should a Book Stab You, Or Make You Happy?


“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

— Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka and Books that Stab you

I read this quote today on Goodreads, and began discussing it with a few friends on Facebook. Opinions veered on one side or the other.

Personally, I think there will always be those who read to be provoked into thought, and those who read to escape. Both are equally valid reasons for reading, in my opinion, and I alternate between the two.

When it comes to my own writing, however, I aspire to Kafka’s recommended genre. I would die happy if  I could write books “that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

What sort of book would You rather read? Why? And if you’re a writer, what sort of book would you rather write?

What Do You Do When You Feel a Rant Coming?


I’ve come across quite a few blogs where the owners tell us a story from a day in their life. Most of the time, it is about how miserable they are, how life sucks, how folks upset them.
I understand the need to vent, but something tells me that venting in public, and often, may just be detrimental– we’re sending out angst and negativity to the world in general– is that the sort of energy we would like to receive?

Yes, the ranters get sympathy, ‘get well soon’, and ‘feel better’, ‘hope it works out’ — and that helps soothe ruffled feathers. But for how long?

I myself have ranted, a rare once in a while, but nowadays, even when I feel like ranting, I tend to think twice.

What am I ranting about? Is there something I can do to mend the situation? If it is out of my control, will ranting help? Most of the times, I find that my rant dissipates if I give it time.I find I’d rather watch my aquarium fish instead.

Here’s a video of my old aquarium:

Reminds me I have to make videos of my new ones.

Long story short, that’s all it takes to distract the moneky-brain. Find something that soothes you and your rant need not appear in print at all.

What do you do when you feel a rant coming?

Do You Persevere?


“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.” Walter Elliott

Many times in life, I’ve been guilty of not hitting the finish line– and I’m trying to change that.

I started this year with one of the toughest things on my list of aspirations: learning how to swim. I’ve spent more than three decades being scared of water (even of a bathtub)– but last December, I decided enough was enough.

January found me at the swimming pool, terrified of dunking my head in water, choking and spluttering.

I let myself float a few times that month, gave up completely in February, dragged myself back to the pool in March, and swam my first lap– in the most ridiculous tadpole fashion, in April.

Swimming against the odds

Swimming against the odds

Today I swam a 100m lap without any distress. I may not be the most elegant swimmer in the pool, and I’m certainly the slowest, but I can make it from end of the pool to the other, and I can’t believe it.

Though a whole large chunk of the credit goes to my swimming instructor (you know who you are, and I can never thank you enough for your relentless patience!),  I feel some of it goes to my refusal to give up.

I plan to take this to all aspects of my life– whenever the urge to give up on something strikes me, I know I’m going to think of how I learned to swim.

So, when it comes to an endeavor, do you persevere? What inspires you to stick to it? When do you give up?

How Paranoid Are You?


Paranoia?

Paranoia?

I’ve been called paranoid time and again. I try and avoid plastic as much as I can, I avoid canned and packaged food as much as possible, and I shop organic for stuff like apple, greens and peaches, because I believe they absorb the most pesticide.

The husband has forbidden the use of any food products made in China, so I diligently pore at labels to make sure of this…then, I open the New York times, and read this article:

A widely used herbicide acts as a female hormone and feminizes male animals in the wild. Thus male frogs can have female organs, and some male fish actually produce eggs. In a Florida lake contaminated by these chemicals, male alligators have tiny penises.

These days there is also growing evidence linking this class of chemicals to problems in humans. These include breast cancer, infertility, low sperm counts, genital deformities, early menstruation and even diabetes and obesity.

Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says that a congenital defect called hypospadias — a misplacement of the urethra — is now twice as common among newborn boys as it used to be. He suspects endocrine disruptors, so called because they can wreak havoc with the endocrine system that governs hormones.

Endocrine disruptors are everywhere. They’re in thermal receipts that come out of gas pumps and A.T.M.’s. They’re in canned foods, cosmetics, plastics and food packaging. Test your blood or urine, and you’ll surely find them there, as well as in human breast milk and in cord blood of newborn babies.

So, should I get further alarmed, or just dismiss this as paranoia? As a writer, I’m tempted to ask the infamous “What if” questions—I bet science fiction writers have already done that and produced excellent stories/ novels/ scripts.

What sort of things do you do/not do in order to avoid ‘harmful’ chemicals?

When Your Shoes Want to Take a Walk


Singapore Skyline

Singapore Skyline

I live in a country I could walk across, end to end, in less than a day. All twenty-two kilometers of it. If I were fitter, I’d probably do the other way across: 44 kilometers.

Living in a tiny young country like Singapore makes me want to step out every so often, take a flight to a place where the beaches are not man-made, where the history is longer than 200 years, where culture is not a mishmash, where the food is cooked with more emphasis on the quality ingredients than the procedure of cooking.

Travel is irreplaceable when you’re looking for a certain buzz of the body and mind, when you want to be relaxed and enriched at the same time.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

How often does the travel bug bite you? Do you go on yearly breaks, or take a vacation whenever the mood takes you?