My Cruel Gym Instructor

Cambridge University Boat Race Team Preparations

I joined a local gym last week near my house and my purpose is to improve fitness. I am not overweight anything but my job requires me to spend the entire day sitting at my desk, so there is hardly any physical effort required.

I have joined a gym a couple of times in the past as well, but never been able to stick with the routines due to the hectic schedules at work. But this time, it is quite different as it takes me only five minutes to reach the new gym.

After the first four days spent enjoying cardio routine such as treadmill, cycling, etc. it was finally on the fifth day that fate slipped on the misery gloves. After 15 minutes of enjoying a treadmill run, I was asked to do the one exercise I hated the most: Push-ups. Not that I am too physically unfit – I’ve been quite athletic throughout my life – push-ups and I don’t go well together.

“Three sets if twelve each,” screamed the instructor.

“Ha! We’ll see,” I screamed back but only in my mind.

I moved to an undisturbed area on the gym floor and got down on my hands and stretched back my feet.

“One,” “Two,” “Three,”

Wow! Going great.

“Four,” “Five,” “Six”

It’s becoming tougher by the second.

“Seven……” “Eight……………..”

Perseverance, my boy. It will get you places.

“Nine…………” Huff huff! Seems like my face is going to explode.

“Ten……” “Eleven…………………..” “Twelve!!!!!!!”

I did it. Euphoria. One set knocked over.

Oh No, two more to go!

The remaining two sets were short-lived, Six and Four.

After this, the instructor rallied me around for another hour of grilling exercises for chest, back, biceps, triceps, abs and what not. Finally, when I was allowed to leave, I was so worn out that I couldn’t even drive back home properly.

Next day turned out to be even worse with my first set of push-ups allowing me only 3 and the second set only saw me go down the without coming back up ever again. After a lot of trying to convince the instructor, I was allowed to proceed with the remaining exercises. Yippee!!

But everything else was also horribly below the dismal standards from the day before. From that night onwards, I have been in a state of constant pain of my muscles, or the sort that I cannot describe in words than to say that 48 hours have passed since that second session (yesterday was a rare day off) and I still can’t even lift a cup of tea and bring it to my mouth. I can’t sleep well at nights or turn in the bed without moaning in pain. I can’t even put on my jacket quickly enough.

And today, just as I am about to publish this post, I am again ready to head for the gym. I hope my cruel instructor has some mercy on me today.

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Arguing with an Irrational Creationist

creationism

This is an account of a debate that I accidentally and unintentionally got into with a friend’s Christian friend a few years back.

I had come across Richard Dawkins’ book, The Greatest Show on Earth in a book store and my curiosity got the better of me. Till that point, I didn’t know much about Dawkins and never thought too deeply about evolution, but I started reading the book after being sure that he was a legitimate and accomplished biologist. It turned out to be quite a discovery for me and I really liked the way the concepts were explained by him.

I came across a few references to Noah’s flood but had no idea what the story was (after all, I was not a Christian) and speaking to a friend that evening, I expressed my curiosity. She told me she had another friend who had converted to Christianity sometime back and, without warning me, called him up and put him into conference. She told him what I wanted to know and the friend started explaining.

Let me point out here that till that time, I had no idea that Christians did not believe in evolution and it was a big bone of contention for most of them.

So, when he was done explaining, he asked me why I was so interested. I explained that I was reading a book which referred to Noah a couple of times but I had no idea about it. He asked me further and I told him I was reading Richard Dawkins but didn’t think he would be aware of the biologist. That is when the whole conversation turned on its head.

He immediately started slamming Dawkins in a manner that I will not expand on. I was a little concerned because I was reading the man’s book and really learned some good scientific explanations in it. I made the mistake of asking him if he didn’t believe in evolution. His answer was such a resounding No that I was mostly left stunned. After all, we had both been from India’s most prestigious school and I could never imagine someone openly declare a known scientific concept as a hoax.

He went on needlessly and without provocation to say that evolution was just a theory, there was no proof for it at all and people like Dawkins are taking a dig at religion by suggesting such baseless ideas. That Dawkins would end up in hell. Now, I am no expert at biology, but I do have some scientific education (I am an engineer). I told him that I have, and so has he, read about evolution in our science text books at school and we have seen exhibits of fossils in museums so we can’t blatantly dismiss evolution like he was doing. To this, he replied by making a point that we can’t simply believe in something just because it is written in a book. I had no idea where he was coming from and why he was seeming so outraged (afterall it was the first time I’d spoken to a Christian apologist) so I asked him how he knew evolution to be false when he himself had no scientific education while I had at least studied physics, chemistry and biology in school and then engineering. To this, his utterly foolish reply was, “because the Bible says so.”

Of course, I’d never read the bible, but I was sure the Bible couldn’t have been discussing evolution since the concept itself came with Darwin. So, when I asked him how he was any better quoting from the Bible while not allowing me to quote from my science textbook, he replied that my text book was written by a human while the Bible was written by God so anything that contradicts the Bible has to be wrong. I told him this was an unfair argument.

“What is the probability,” he went on to ask me, “that an explosion rips through a junkyard and results in an assembled Boeing aircraft?”

Even an inexperience debater like me could easily answer this.

“I know you are referring to the Big Bang (the explosion) and the end result of evolution: Man (the Boeing aircraft) but I don’t think your comparison is correct at all. The problem with your argument is that you mention explosion and end result in the same sentence but completely ignore the most important part, which is what has been happening in between the two stages. It is not as if the Big Bang happened and we fast forward to Humans walking. The billions of years of time in between saw action from Physics, Chemistry, Biology and other environmental factors that invariably led to Humans..”

“Billions of years?” he cut my argument in between.

“Of course, why?”

“Dude, the Universe and the Earth were formed only recently, maybe three or four thousand years ago and that is too little for any evolution to take place.”

“You think the age of the universe is only a few thousand years?”

“Of course, the bible says so.”

“But geologists, archaeologists, paleontologists etc. have all dated the age of the Earth to be some billions of years.”

“They are wrong,” he insisted. “But they use scientific dating methods like carbon dating and others..”

“Those methods are wrong!” he cut in again.

“Oh, those methods are also wrong?”

“Yes, that has been proven. Moreover, anything that contradicts the Bible has to be wrong.”

At this point, I was beginning to see the futility of arguing with a man who has his mind made up and who is not willing to have a reasonable discussion even though he is himself the one who started it. I, at that time, didn’t even know whose side I was on, religion or science, but I could easily figure out the hypocrisy on his part.

I asked him, “What about the fossils that we have found? Won’t you even believe the fossils exist?”

“Fossils have been placed by God himself to test our faith in him.”

“What? God placed them to test your faith? Now, did you read that also in the bible?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know?”

“Because I have faith in God, who sent his only begotten son Jesus to Earth to save us all and he gave up his own life to forgive our sins. He has made the ultimate sacrifice for us and the least we can do is love him back and have faith in him even if the other side brings any evidence to us. We know they are just wrong.”

“But what about the other religions? They have different claims on how and when the earth was created and their idea of God(s) is also extremely different from yours.” I discovered this to be true right then when I said this for the first time in my life. “All religions say the same thing.”

“They do?”

“Ya.”

“No they don’t.”

“Oh yes they do..” and then he started saying something about the Quran admitting Noah’s flood that I had no idea about.

“Ok,” I conceded.

After that, he started saying emotional stuff about how he talks to Jesus frequently and how he was into listening to Rock music in his previous life and when he found out that everytime he lied or did something bad, Jesus got a painful slash on his behalf. This made him feel extremely ashamed and he promptly converted and accepted Jesus as his personal savior.

I could feel that the discussion, even though so soft and civilized on my part and so rude and irrational on his, had somehow caused him some pain, so we changed the topic and hung up shortly afterwards and I realized this is how all debates with creationists go:

creationism

Indi-Ban-ization

Only 4 days back, I wrote a post on the growing religious intolerance in our country. I mentioned how we are banning books, writers (because, you know, Pen is mightier than sword and so the writer might hurt some sensitive people.. sob sob), art and movies, etc.

In just 4 days, so much more has happened that it is with great reluctance that I am writing this post. After all, you need a break from one single topic but India is undergoing its own version of Talibanization at such a rapid pace that would put Schumacher and Usain Bolt to shame. Before we know it, the Talibani leaders might start applying for Indian citizenships.

Pardon me if I miss some more incidents, but fresh in my memory are the following from the last 4 days:

— The Grand Mufti (head of Muslim clergy) in Kashmir has declared a “Fatwa” against singing (Yes, SINGING!) saying it is un-islamic and a shameful act. Yes, you heard (or rather read) me right. Following this Fatwa and a series of online abuses by its supporters against them, Kashmir’s first and only All-Girl-Rock-Band, Pragaash, has called it quits and given up on singing and performing out of fear for their lives. But, the ruling national political party has promptly, after a delay of 3 days, acted by – wait for it – CRITICISING the Fatwa. See? We support our women. Nevertheless, the Band is still banned (no pun intended).

pragaash

— Well, how could the Hindus be left behind? In yet another shocking (the magnitude of shocks now coming down with each case) incident, members of a regional (and religious) political outfit, desperate to maintain their fading (if not already extinct) relevance in Indian politics, have started protesting “democratically” in front of an art gallery in the capital warning of consequences (how democratic) if the exhibition is not shut down and some paintings not removed. Their problem? They think that depiction of bare human forms in art is derogatory to “our cultural values” and portrays women in an obscene manner. (Must be those devillish Westerners affecting our Art, I worry). How stupendous – political party, religious faction, art critics, all-in-one? I wonder where their concern for women vanishes when they and their affiliates beat up women for wearing jeans and going to parties.

— Further, BJP, a national political party, has also revealed their well known fascist and religious nature by invoking the Ram temple issue yet again just a year ahead of the upcoming national elections in 2014. To the unknowing, a piece of land in a town (or village?) called Ayodhaya has been the source of extremely dangerous tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities since decades over a conflict regarding whether a temple or a mosque should be built at that place. The BJP has, as expected, again raised the pitch in favour of temple instead of the mosque.

As I was about to sign off on this post, I have just seen in the national news channels that the same outfit that is protesting against art (above) has contributed to the Ram temple issue by saying they will agitate in favour of building of the temple and, if required, are even ready to display the Hindu might. Okay, so now they won’t even wait for me to finish my blog?

In our country, a huge section of our population is living below poverty line, are uneducated and illiterate and therefore find solace in anything religious. We don’t have enough food, clean drinking water, schools, hospitals, electricity, and jobs and our economy is in tatters, but we worry more about where a temple is being built, which art can be exhibited and which not, which book should be read and which not, whether muslim girls should sing or not, and to top it all, we are even willing to slaughter people for such trivial issues. And this is not going to fade away. The talibanization of our country is afoot.

Why? Because we are a nation of fools and those who are negligent of this rising foolery. We will curtail every form of freedom of expression, speech, etc. etc… Oh, did you say freedom? We will ban the word itself one day.No use invoking the constitution – it does not forbid us from being fools and idiots.

And, did I mention we are also secular? Ya, but our definition of secularism is not the same as that of the “morally deprived west” in that we do not consider secularism to be freedom of and from religion. We think it is the freedom of forcing a religion’s outdated and illogical decrees on to everybody else, and we welcome with open arms, the venomous and regressive ideals that the fundamentalists bring with them.

I wonder why atheists and secularists and scientists do not make similar speeches to say that we will “unleash science education upon those who dare to act stupid,” or “the Earth is suspended in the Solar System due to gravity and we will slaughter any artist that depicts it being otherwise,” or “if you show a ghost in a movie, we will get it banned because as per science, ghosts do not exist.”

I think that would be quite funny. What do you think?

My Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2013

It has been a month into 2013 already but this year, I have set a target of reading at least 26 books in the Goodreads Reading Challenge 2013 and of hopefully surpassing this number by a good amount. It is Week 6 and I am about to finish my 3rd book of 2013 already:

127 Hours

127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

Before this, I have already finished reading the following:

1. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer (Read)
2. Annapurna by Maurice Herzog (Read)

I know it looks like I am reading mostly mountaineering/adventure/survival books starting of 2013 but I have developed a real liking for this genre.

But if you thought I was stuck with still the same genre, here are also 3 more half-read books that I am still going to continue reading in parallel with my other book depending on my interest level, so it is not that I read only 1 book in 2 weeks:
 
3. The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry
4. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
5. The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto “Che” Guevara
 
And, the next few books in my Reading List are:
 
6. Alive: Sixteen Men, Seventy-two Days, and Insurmountable Odds–the Classic Adventure of Survival in the Andes by Piers Paul Read
7. No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 by Graham Bowley
 
So, that takes care of 8 of my target of 26+ books in 2013. Any other recommendations?
 

The Quotable Mark Twain 2

marktwainquote

“But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?”

“All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.”

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”

“All generalizations are false, including this one.”

“Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.”

“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

“When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.”

“When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it’s a sure sign you’re getting old.”

“‘Classic.’ A book which people praise and don’t read.”

“There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist.”

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

“Ideally a book would have no order to it, and the reader would have to discover his own.”

“Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial ‘we.'”

Japan’s technological edge

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Japan, today, has a demographic problem where over 22% of their population consists of senior citizens. In order to make the lives of senior citizens better and enable them to move around and do more work than they physically can, engineers in Japan have invented a robotic suite that can be worn around a person’s arms or legs and it allows the old and physically challenged to walk and use their limbs far better than they could otherwise.

Japan has come up with an innovative technological solution to a challenge faced by the country and this is one of the many things that truly make Japan one of the most efficient countries in the world.

And what have we been doing? We’ve been busy building statues, neglecting education, banning books and films, punishing cartoonists, curbing the Internet, and ridiculing ideas that most of the uneducated population does not understand. It’s like we have no real problems.

The Quotable Mark Twain

marktwainquotes

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

“Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”

“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”

“A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.”

“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.”

“A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.”

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

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