Distractions

I find myself doubting my intelligence and common sense, right now, as I reflect on the fact that I’ve made an enormous mistake in the field of romance, for the second time in the space of less than a year. I convinced myself that I’d learnt from the last time, but apparently it didn’t sink in. I’m frustrated by my own stupidity and how easily I give in to temptation. I could continue moping about this, but instead I’ll reflect on the positives: This time, I’m out early, and I won’t be putting myself through hell as a result. The other change is that I know what not to do this time, which is continue to pity myself and plunge into a spiral of depression. This paragraph is the first and last time I discuss this, and the rest of this is what I should be doing: distracting myself with humour.

It’s been a few months since I watched a George Carlin sketch. Iconic, sharp and charismatic as always, Carlin never ceases to make me laugh. His old sketches are like a good book – you can read it over and over again and always find something new and interesting to talk about. I don’t quite know why I took a break from his comedy, or all comedy sketches in general. I’ve been YouTube surfing from video to video, going from comedian to comedian. I always smile a little when I see Louis CK in the “Suggested Videos” section next to Carlin’s HBO Specials. When Carlin died, Louis CK spoke at his funeral and revealed to the audience that George Carlin had been his idol, his role model and that, I quote, “…everything good that’s ever happened to me has been thanks to him.” I love Louis CK’s comedy. It’s not quite the level of Carlin, but then again, no one’s is. In any case, he filmed his first HBO Special the same night that Carlin filmed his last in 2008, and he’s a fitting person to take up the mantle.

I’m sitting on Level 5 in my library right now, surrounded by people typing away at computers, trying to finish work. I should be to, to be honest. I have a lab report due in on Monday and I’m going home this weekend. Hopefully I’ll have time to finish it over the weekend. I didn’t really prepare for this, because I arranged to go home at the last minute. As much as I convince myself that I am independent from my parents and don’t miss them much, I find myself wishing for my mum’s steaming food and, right now, a hug. I won’t be able to spend a lot of time with her. As I go and see my parents tomorrow, she is leaving for India for two weeks to see her parents. Apparently she’s taking them on a tour of North India. My grandfather is always happy to leave the house and be adventurous, but my grandmother is more home bound. I find it amusing that my mum only managed to convince her to go with two things: the promise of playing on my mum’s IPad, and the promise of visiting a temple at every place they go.

I love my grandfather as a person. He used to serve in the Indian Air Force, and speaks several different languages, including fluent English and a bit of Russian, from his days training Russian soldiers during the war.  It’s a mark of his decency that he took the time to learn to speak the language of his trainees rather than force them to learn Hindi. He’ll sit on his chair with all of his grandchildren, and tell us stories from the war, about how his plane caught fire as they  were travelling over Egypt, forcing them to make an emergency landing in Cairo and wrestle terrorists off their plane the next morning. The way he speaks, the way he tells his tales, his mannerisms, his calm, relaxed demeanour – all of these things make his stories the best in the world. My mum says that I take my ability to tell my stories from him. I’m happy with that.

One day I’m going to look back on this day as part of an ancient story that I can tell my own grandkids and laugh about. And like my grandfather’s stories, there’s always going to be a point to them, a lesson learnt that I can pass on. In my case, the lesson is simply this: All is fair in love and war. In my grandfather’s case,  it was the same, but with the addition of:

“And remember, my children, that you should never  let terrorists near your plane, and if you must, keep it locked.”

The Black and White and Fiery Night

The Nobel Prize in Medicine this year was won by a trio of scientists who discovered the answer to one of the most interesting questions in neuroscience – how do our brains map the world around us?

Independently, they demonstrated the existence of the newly-named “place cells”, which record the places that we’ve been and embed them in our memories. When we discover a new environment, the neurons from these parts of the brain fire, and when we visit them again, they fire in the same order. In other words, there are different parts of our brain that fire when we arrive at a place we are familiar with.

In the figurative sense, the places we spend our limited time in become part of us. I always find it quite lovely when the pursuit of science confirms the figurative into the domain of reality. The places we go, quite literally, become part of us. Some people are repulsed by the idea that our adventures can be stored in our minds merely as electrical impulses firing between neurons. For me, it’s no less than an astonishing testament to the laws of physics and their ability to produce marvellous objects.

Last night, I spent about five hours in a place which became a part of me in both the literal and figurative sense. I’ve mentioned it before. The roof of the Physics and Astronomy building, in Southampton University, is one of my favourite places in which to simply exist, and I show people this place because it’s part of my story.

I don’t think I could have chosen a better night in which to take someone to the roof for the first time. It was slightly cold, perhaps, but it didn’t really matter. The view in every direction was stunning, under a clear night with every constellation visible. Orion was missing, but we found him later. The Big Dipper, the Summer Triangle, Cygnus, Polaris, Seven Sisters and Andromeda all made their appearances, telling their stories in cosmic whispers and songs unchanged for three thousand years. And so I told a few of them, inexplicably familiar to me, to my companion that night. Quite frankly, I’ve never known anyone to be so attentive to someone telling them nerdy space facts.

The fireworks gave a shot of colour to the black and white starry night. They were so close by, and so utterly breath-taking. Neither of us spoke in that time, and it’s a mark that two people understand each other when they can feel perfectly comfortable with not talking. Most find silence threatening somehow, a sign that things aren’t going right. It’s not. It’s merely an acknowledgement that not all friendships depend on constant conversation. For those friendships, the words that are exchanged contain in them more depth that any others. We kept each other warm, and just waited.

There’s a poetic nature to watching fireworks from a distance. I always find it amazing to see them explode silently, and then wait for the sound to hit you a second later. Another set of fireworks, so far that they came from the horizon, were silent for perhaps ten seconds before the pressure waves reached us and echoed around our eardrums. It’s almost eerie when the light comes without the sound, and reassuring when the sounds comes without the light. It’s gorgeous, all the same.

What dragged the night on so long were the conversations. I could never spend five hours on a rooftop alone. But we talked constantly, occasionally munching on chocolate doughnuts (and in her case, spilling chocolate on her hair and squishing the last one under her shoe), just chatting for hours on end. When it got too cold, we went inside and found some comfy seats in the seminar room and continued. We only left when we realised, in a kind of Cinderella moment, that it was five minutes until the building locked for the night and we had to go before being trapped.

The best conversations are natural, the best times are always unexpected and the best friendships are emboldened by silence. That, a starry night, and platonically romantic fireworks display. The only additions I could have made to this meomory of memories is a ship gliding silently by in a glass ocean. And that the Southampton docks will gift.

Apologies for leaving it so late to blog, by the way. As once before stated, life tends to get in the way.

Moon Cake

Don’t try moon cake. It’s a little snack  in Thailand, and it’s basically a salted egg yolk with some kind of bean paste to coat it. Genuinely, don’t go near it. It is a vile creature, designed to cause a mass-suicide of your taste buds.  It’s one of those things that sets you up to believe it’s amazing (I mean, come on – MOON CAKE) and then disappoints you brutally.

The same, however, cannot be said for a for a friend of mine from Thailand who, even though she gets her nickname from this assault on your mouth, is nothing like it. I call her that because of an unfortunate incident during a drunken game of beer-pong, in which she awoke from her alcohol-induced nap (having laid across four people), shot bolt upright and announced her craving for moon cake. She would then proceed to visit the 7-11 down the road, under the watchful eye of a friend of mine, with a look of sore disappointment on her face when she returned.  Even alcohol, it seemed, could not mask the taste of this particular snack, which she’d been so looking forward to. For the rest of the night, the remains of the moon cake lay abandoned on the table, whilst she, with the expression of a sulky five-year-old, continued her nap.

The events of this day, according to my calculations, happened on about the 17th of July, well over 3 months ago, in our little accommodation in Koh Samui, Thailand. Madam Moon Cake, as she is now known, is in fact the girl I mentioned in These Islands: Part III, my friend from my travels and my companion back to Heathrow. And when I said in that blog post that I thought I’d never hear from her again, I was wrong.

It’s a lovely feeling when someone you grew fond of messages you out of the blue, and tells you about their life. A 45-minute phone call, updating each other on work, university, parents, love-lives and the future, and we’re back where we started 3 months ago.

I think, in the last year or so, I’ve become more and more old-fashioned. I’ve learnt my dislike for Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp and texting. Instead, I always prefer to meet in person, or at the very least, talk on the phone. There’s something too clinical about typing to another person when you could just as easily talk or spend time face-to-face. Given that she lives in Aberdeen, the latter is somewhat ambitious, but phone time will do. At least I hear  a real person on the other end of a connection, someone familiar, whose mannerisms and voice and emotions, once upon a time, I knew.

Don’t get me wrong, I like technology. I love it, in fact.  It’s one of the most useful things that exists now. But for me, it’s something I employ when reality is not possible, as opposed to something I use in place of it. There are exceptions to that rule - blogs, for instance.

Blogging in my case is about disseminating a message to many people at once, It is important to me that other people see some of the things I write (not all of them; that’s what private posts are for). The difference between talking and blogging is that I don’t get to see your reactions. I know you are there, and hopefully I’ve made you smile, but I will never know for sure.

If you want a guaranteed smile from every post you read, you’re not going to get it from this blog. I’m too serious sometimes. You’re better off visiting the blog below, which happens to be the blog of one Madam Moon Cake:

empoweringpositivity.wordpress.com

Do you think she’ll mind that I told the moon cake story? Ah, one of these days, I’m going to be taken out by a sniper, aren’t I?

Caffeine High

It’s been eight days since my last post, and this time, it’s not because I’ve been lazy. The last week has been the most packed week I’ve had in a while, trying to balance all of the start-of-year university socials, the new assignments, the new course notes and new people, all whilst trying to get enough to eat and enough sleep. One thing had to break in the life-sleep-eat routine. In my case, it’s the “Eat”.

Don’t worry, I still eat. I’ve just had very little time to cook. Nowadays, my meals are the epitomy of student life: Uncle Ben’s rice, pasta salads, and of course, the still wonderful frozen pizzas.  I have a friend who really doesn’t eat, and if she’s reading this blog: Eat.

When you start a new academic year, or even term, you’ve just come back from a summer during which you’ve most likely done close to nothing. Your work ethic is summed up by the space between the following quotation marks: ” “.

I come back to University, and my course, and all of sudden, I’m in second year. Second year is worse than first year, for many reasons one:

- No Fresher’s week.

- No getting away with things “because you’re new.”

- The work is harder.

- I don’t know how it works for other Universities, but for Southampton, you only have to pass first year (get above 40% on average) to get into second year, and whatever you get doesn’t matter because it doesn’t count towards your final degree. Second year,  on the other hand, counts.

Now I have to work. And I haven’t worked since I got here. Not properly. Not like they expect you to in Uni. Just because I’ve not gotten into my work ethic yet.  Many things changed however, in the last day.

For one, my laptop is officially broken. It’s taken a mind of it’s own, turning itself on and off at will, generally pissing me off and being impossible to use. Apparently it’s a motherboard problem, and it’s expensive to fix, which means I need to find a new laptop. In that time, I have nothing. I am forced to use the university computers.

This was a good move for my work ethic. The library environment is incredibly conducive to work – the presence of strangers around you doing exactly the same thing compels me to work too. Indeed, I’ve just come back from finishing a lab report due in on Monday. Putting aside the fact that I’ve done it a day early, which is incredible in itself (as the old saying goes, “If tomorrow is not the due day, today is not the do day”), I’ve actually done it well. This done, of course, with the help of a significant amount of coffee and Red Bull, which is currently still firing through my system. Incidentally, that’s why this post is called “Caffeine High”. My caffeine highs, by the way, are characterised by short sentences – it reflects my brain pace at the time: short and sharp.

The other thing that changed is that I finally broke out of my cycle of laziness and went swimming in the morning. With the help of a friend of mine, who said she’d come with me. And yes, that is the same friend who doesn’t eat. She does exercise every day, and somehow doesn’t appreciate the fact that monstrous amounts of cardio and no calories is not a healthy lifestyle.

Now that I’ve broken that cycle, I feel better. I’m about to have dinner with a friend of mine, still high on caffeine. And no, this is not the  friend who doesn’t eat. This is the friend from last week.

Ah, this is going to be interesting. So is sleeping.

You Meet People Twice In Your Life

I was having breakfast with someone who is becoming a good friend of mine, and in our discussion, she used the phrase “You meet people twice in your life.” Putting aside, for now, the Sheldon-Cooper-style statistical rebuttal I could give to this idea and instead assuming it to be true, let’s examine it a little.

Extensive research (“research”, noun, synonymous with “Google”) indicates that this phrase is German in origin, from an unknown date and unknown time. This was surprisingly difficult to ascertain, because the phrase has been translated into many different languages, and some claim to be the first to say it. It doesn’t matter who said it first – rather, it is important that people claim to be the first, and that it has been said by many, because both of these facts indicate that people really, really like this saying. It shows that people find it to be truthful, or at the very least, desirable.

My conversation with my friend was about something most people I know are getting sick of me mentioning: my summer trip to Thailand. I was talking about the people I’ve met, and how I missed them a great deal. In saying, “We meet people twice”, she was reassuring me that it wouldn’t be the last time I saw them. I guess there’s some rational in this. I met the people I did because I loved travelling and so did they. Is it not unreasonable to suggest that like-minded people might think in similar ways and be drawn to the same place at the same time, more than once? Clearly, there is some truth behind it.

For me, however, there’s a further meaning to this phrase, which goes beyond the realm of reassurance, to trespass into territory of teaching. It’s not just meant to tell you that you might meet people more than once.  It’s meant to prepare you to meet people the first time. It teaches you to not burn bridges, to not act as if this is the last time you’ll see a person, because you don’t know what kind of a role that person may end up playing in your life. And you don’t. Trust me, you don’t. And if you think you do, you’re wrong, and moreover, you’re wrong most of the time.

You won’t meet everyone in your lives a second time, but treat them as if you might.  Burning bridges, not caring to get to know people, is something I feel I’ve been guilty of the past few weeks, and I would be wise to change that practice.

A prime example of this idea, this principle that people may turn up again in your lives under different circumstances, is contained within this blog post. At the end of last academic year, I took a girl on a first date. The lessons learnt from that are detailed in an earlier blog post, somewhere in mid-June, called Time and Reflections. I never thought I’d see her again, because she was going to graduate this summer. I was wrong.

The getting-to-be-a-good-friend of mine who inspired this blog post, the one who I had breakfast with? It’s the same girl.

herlittlejournal.wordpress.com

A Sunday Doublethink

I said I’d try and do a blog post a day, but life tends to get in the way. That phrasing reveals something of my own perception of this blog – the only way that life could get in the way is if this blog was not part of my life.

From a technical standpoint, that is clearly utter garbage. My life is the only thing I can ever do from start to finish, and all other things I do are subsets of subsets of it.Metaphorically, however, my life is my day-to-day activity, my experiences and stories. When I write about myself and my actions or thoughts, I have to remove myself from my own life, and treat it as if I was telling someone else’s story. This blog allows me to step outside my own world line (my progression through space and time), and therefore outside of my “life.”

I always find it fascinating to compare the figurative and physical realities. More specifically, I like to note where the physical reality differs from the metaphorical in an overt way, and then why it does so.

Take the phrase, “What goes up must come down.”

I won’t go so far as to say that NASA proved that wrong in 1969, when Apollo 11 “came down” on the Moon instead of Earth, which is the intention behind the phrase. I’d like to say that, but the Moon is part of Earth’s gravitational field. To be sure that you’d never come down, you’d need to be outside the significant influence of the Earth.

The Soviets did, crash landing their Venera 4 space probe on the surface of the planet Venus in 1967, the first instance of utter independence from Earth. The Voyager One space probe has, as of 2014, gone further “up” than any other man-made object in the recorded history of the human species, currently about 30AU (1 AU = Distance from Earth to the Sun = 150 million km) from Earth. It is approaching the region known as the heliopause – that is to say, the point where the sun’s gravitational influence becomes less significant than the surrounding stars. In principle, Voyager One and Two could continue travelling indefinitely through interstellar space, and never come down.

Why does this phrase exist then? It does seem to parallel a lot of rises and falls of peoples, empires, ideologies, religions and most other man made objects. Crucially, it exists because at the time it was first stated or conceived, all things that went up always did come down. The reason this phrase contradicts reality is because reality is far more imaginative than we are, and humans are far better than our ancestors ever believed of us. It gives me a little bit of hope.

Would you believe that all of that was a side note on what was supposed to be a short note on something I’ve noticed? Here is what the original post was meant to be:

Do you remember, as a child, being told, “You are perfect just the way you are!”, and believing it?

Do you also remember being taught that “Nobody’s perfect…”, and agreeing with that, too?

Does it strike anyone else that we repeat to our kids these two phrases, believe them when we say them, expect our kids to believe them, and yet both phrases directly contradict each other? It’s one of the larger examples of doublethink I can think of, and if you don’t know what that is, read Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell.

I think it’s time to pick one, and roll with it.

On The Veg or Non-Veg Debate

This is quite a divisive topic, and I don’t quite know why I decided to write a post about it. But hey, I’ve gotten this far, so let’s have a go.

There are eight people here in Southampton who I consider to be my closest friends, although that list is growing in no predictable way. Of those eight, one is vegan (no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no leather, no fur, no animal-tested products), one is vegetarian (no meat), one is pescetarian (no meat except fish), one is vegetarian for four days of the week, and the rest of us eat meat. That last category includes me.

By eat meat, I mean I will eat it if it’s put in front of me. My parents and my sister are vegetarian, and all the time I am home I cook, or am cooked, vegetarian food, which I love. I was taught to cook by my mum, and so all the recipes I know use only vegetables and dairy. My sister taught me to use eggs, because my mum doesn’t like the smell of them. Occasionally when I cook at home, I put ham in my omelettes, but only if I can’t find onions. Most things I make are not vegan, but vegetarian. I can effortlessly switch between being veg and non-veg, because I have been both for huge parts of my life.

I never really engaged with the consequences of my consumption habits until maybe a year ago. I only really became aware of the debate raging on the factory floor when I was advised by a friend of mine (the vegan, as it happens), to like a Facebook page called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Links to their website and Facebook page are down below. They are a charity which supports and encourages a vegan lifestyle and tries to highlight instances of cruelty, as well as running campaigns and protests for animal welfare across the world.

From this page, I began to understand the issues. As you might guess, they have a significant bias in this debate, but of course, that makes complete sense. I encourage you to like their page if you wish to actually confront this issue for yourself.

There are some meat-eaters I know which will mock vegetarians and vegans. They call vegetarian food “rabbit food”, they tell me that vegetarians ruin their fun, and that they are whiners and complainers. They’ll tell them to shut up and deliberately try to make them feel uncomfortable. There are vegans and vegetarians who do the same thing in reverse. I was on a guided tour in America with several other Indians I have never met. In this group of ten, vegetarians were a majority. At every meal, non-veg was told to sit at a different table, because the old lady on the vegetarian table said to the tour guide that “meat made her feel uncomfortable”, and that she “did not want to associate with meat-lovers”. I was rather shocked when the tour guide complied and told us to move. Some vegans will even mock vegetarians, the common complaint being that being vegetarian is a half-hearted attempt to “feel better about yourself” when in fact they do nothing at all about the welfare of animals.

The more sophisticated on all three fronts of this debate will argue with reasons regarding practicality, health, morality and evolutionary biology. There are so many valid arguments, and I cannot espouse them all in this post. Most people know them, anyway, and you can look them up any time you want. More importantly, these people will attempt to be tolerant of the others. My vegan friend usually keeps her reasons to herself. She only recommended the PETA page to me after I asked her a little about her beliefs. She used to eat meat, and will happily sit with others who eat meat and eggs, or use dairy, and never complains. Occasionally she has a craving for meat and has a strip of bacon, but that only happens once every few months. When it happens, she doesn’t beat herself up about it because it makes it harder to keep it up in the long term. Genuinely, she’s one of the most laid-back of her kind. The non-veg in my close friendship group are more than happy to cook vegetarian (indeed, I only cook vegetarian). We eat vegetarian and vegan food with the others. None of us judge the others for their beliefs, because we don’t expect others to have the same priorities as us.

I don’t think most meat-eaters like myself think too much about what they put in their mouths. Not because they are stupid, but because they don’t want to or were never encouraged to. Most non-veg people grew up eating whatever was put on the plate in front of them. Most kids will feel sad if their mum tells them they accidentally ran over a chicken today on the road. And they’ll feel sad whilst eating a bag of chicken nuggets in McDonalds. It’s not that they are hypocrites. It’s simply that they never associate the two ideas. This, in my opinion, is largely down to marketing in the food industry wrenching apart the two quite effectively in the public eye.

From all the different points on the non-veg to vegan spectrum, and all the fields of argument that can come up, it most amuses me when a non-vegetarian like myself tries to make a moral argument for their position. That is to say, it amuses me when they try to argue that their position is morally right and good. From my experience, it can’t be done.

In this debate, I freely and openly admit that the vegan lifestyle is utterly morally superior. Any meat-eater who believes that eating animals is morally acceptable is engaging in a vast act of wishful thinking, denial and self-deception. Objectively, it cannot be true.

Let’s agree on one premise, and if you don’t, I’d be interested to know why: A good action is one which increases the well-being of conscious creatures on this planet. I borrow this phrasing from a neuroscientist by the name of Sam Harris, who also says this: We don’t need to define the term “well-being” too precisely for this to be a reasonable methodology for judging actions. It’s a term like “health”. The aim of medicine is loosely to improve the “health” of human beings. A hundred years ago, being in good health was to live to the ripe old age of fifty. In some parts of the world, being in good health is to not have malaria or ebola virus. There is no definition, or objective standard for the term “good health”, yet the pursuit of medicine is not hindered by this semantic problem. Likewise, we do not need to define “well-being” precisely to use it as an aim in committing good actions.

The point is simply this: The meat industry is, without any fraction of a doubt, a machine of systematic murder and cruelty of the highest order. It is a depraved, disgusting and evil part of human society, built to make money at the expense and necessity of ending lives and the committing of innocent creatures to systems of torture and fear and pain. The egg, dairy and leather industry aren’t much better. They are all vile perversions of common decency, and most importantly, each and every person on this planet who is not vegan, either in knowledge or ignorance, enables this industry to continue, because we are the demand for their supply. Eating meat is not in any way, increasing the well-being of conscious creatures on this planet.

I participate in murder. Objectively, it cannot be called anything else. The fact that other animals (and be very aware of the word “other”) don’t have rights like ours, or aren’t as intelligent as us, doesn’t make a difference. We are lucky to be the dominant species on this planet. If we weren’t, if perhaps there was another cleverer species which bred humans for meat, or for our skin or milk, what would you wish? Would you really, honestly say, “Hey, it’s their right to kill us and torture us. I mean, come on, we’re stupid.”

Of course not. Anyone who tries to convince themselves otherwise is lying. In the words of the speaker in a video called eTalks – The Secret of Food Marketing, “The meat industry engages in systematic cruelty on a massive scale, and we only get away with it because all of you are prepared to look the other way.” This seven minute video is also linked below.

It really is an instance of Orwellian doublethink that we can convince ourselves that it this can be moral. The worst of the intolerance, in my experience, comes from the non-vegetarians mocking the others. And it’s because they are a majority who know they are wrong. Why do I say they? am part of a majority, and know that I am wrong. On the moral side of this debate, the meat eaters loose at every single turn. The only reason they make jokes is because they have nothing else to offer. It’s a primitive defense mechanism to avoid facing the reality of their actions, because it scares them. Quite honestly, if it doesn’t scare you, am scared of you. 

The moral question, for me, has been answered. The meat-eaters lose to the vegans. The meat-eaters also lose the practical side of the debate. But then again, so do the vegans. They are morally superior, but from my experience, becoming vegan is one of the hardest practical choices to make. It is incredibly restrictive, and cheese omelettes are amongst my favorite things to eat. I already only use free-range eggs, though I’m told “free range” doesn’t entail much less cruelty. I would only have to pay for that omelette with money from a leather wallet to drive the vegans crazy.

By comparison, being vegetarian is easy. My weekly meat consumption is perhaps a ham sandwich for lunch on one day per week. I’ve tried Quorn ham (Quorn is a meat substitute), and it’s not bad. It would quite be trivial for me to become vegetarian. For those people who claim they need the protein from meat to work out, broccoli and celery contain more protein by weight than most meats.

In my analysis, there is no moral or practical reason to be non-vegetarian. There is no moral reason to not be a vegan either, but practically, I use milk and eggs in most things I make. I love chocolate and pizza and hot chocolate and lattes. As far as I am aware, there are no substitutes for eggs. And I really do hate the taste of soya milk. Genuinely, I can’t stand it. I don’t know why, but it makes me feel sick.

I think I’m going to make the first step. I don’t quite know how to make the second. Anyone else is welcome to join me.

The PETA website and Facebook page: www.peta.org and www.facebook.com/officialpeta

eTalks – The Secrets of Food Marketing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKTORFmMycQ

Luck

Luck does not exist. It’s a human construction built, like most things, to find meaning and purpose where there is none. It’s what we name our attempt to seek out patterns by studying the vast, endless and random probability spectrum that is our life.

It scares me. If I were asked now, “What is your greatest fear?”, this would be my answer. More than anything else, I fear the idea that my whole world is an accident of my position in space and time, an accident of my DNA. The truth is that when you really consider the immensity of the world we live in, it isn’t even an idea. It’s a fact.

We are lucky. We are some of infinite strands of possibilities, any of which could have happened.

But could they? Our current understanding of physics suggests thay the universe is utterly deterministic. And yes, even our understanding of quantum mechanics, for those of my audience who believe quantum mechanics defeats determinism. Quantum field theory is deterministic, and those who claim otherwise misunderstand it.

By deterministic, I mean this: Given the same set of initial conditions, the universe will evolve in the same way every single time you press play, star for star, particle collision to particle collision. If that is true, could my life have been any other way?

No. My life must be this way, and no other way. The progress of physical interactions dictates that in totality. With such a universe, is anyone’s life arbitrary? Meaningless, maybe. But not arbitrary. The universe knows I am here because I am necessary for the progression of time to continue.

I suppose I start thinking about this kind of philosophical garbage when I meet a lot of new people at once. The first few days have inevitably produced those circumstances for me. I do so
because I need to reassure myself that these people are not arbitrary, and I need to do that whenever I like the people I’ve met.

Ah, glad that’s out of my system.

Golden Gated Irony

San Francisco is one of the more beautiful cities in the world, build upon 42 hills, with streets so steep that cars have to move like a crab down them to get to the bottom, avenues lined with trees, and culture glittering from every street corner.

There are very few places in the world that played such a huge role in history and aren’t famous for it. San Francisco is, for instance, the birthplace of the United Nations, which was created in the aftermath of World War Two by a special meeting of 50 nations, convened by Franklin D Roosevelt. The United Nations Charter was signed in the Performing Arts Center in downtown San Francisco, and from there, the world’s most powerful international organisation began. San Francisco is also the site of many of the world’s civil liberties rallies and peace protests. It was the beginnings of the anti-war movement, which formed during the Vietnam War. It held amongst the first women’s rights rallies in America, as well as LGBT protests for their own civil liberties. San Francisco is famous for unification – that is to say the removal of divisions – for tolerance, and above all, for individuality and freedom of expression. It’s one of my favourite places on Earth.

As a result of these philosophies, over the years, San Francisco has become a melting pot of ideas and cultures. I’ve met someone who’s parents are from India, but was born in the USA and raised in Mexico. As a result, he speaks fluent Telugu, Spanish and English. And when he speaks each language, his mannerisms, his dialects, even his eyes and his body language change. It’s as if he’s a chameleon. No matter who you are or where you come from, you’ll find a place to fit in San Francisco, because no one really fits. That’s the beauty of it. Every street contains shops from every where in the world, with foods better than the places they originally came from because they are run by immigrants. Hippies line the streets, camping out with women in suits and blazers and carrying briefcases. Everyone gets along, no matter the class, religion, race or the clothes they wear. It’s one of the most powerful phenomena you can experience.

Our tour guide called San Francisco the Pacific North-West Crossroads. I see why. For one, it’s in the Pacific North West, and for the other, it really is a crossroads of a thousand civilisations, pulling together the people of the whole North and South American continents, as well as the tips of Oceania and the whole of Southeast Asia. Furthermore, it’s the final crossroads of the West. After you cross the Pacific, you’re once again in the East. In that sense, I like to think of it as the Evening Crossroads; it’s the last place the sun hits, and the last place the world meets.

There’s an irony to it all. Of course there is, this post is called Golden Gated Irony. Generations have passed since San Francisco achieved this title. People from across the planet meet here, but most importantly, they already have. And they’ve had kids, and those kids have had kids. Most people are mixed race – a blend of Oriental, Indian, African, Hispanic, Native American and Caucasian. Their skin colours are blending into one another, the features of their faces that defined their races are becoming more blurred. It’s like starting with blue and red stripes and mixing them over time, and eventually the whole thing ends up purple. Crucially - the whole thing. 

Has it hit you yet? I’ll spell it out: San Francisco is a place that stands for individuality, where everyone has begun to look the same.

I love this kind of stuff. DFTBA.

Falling Asleep On Public Transport

In the past, a constant struggle of mine has been falling asleep on public transport, in the places full of crying babies and sneezing old ladies, whilst others around me signify their rather more successful attempt at falling asleep by snoring. This has the effect of making it impossible for others to do the same, unless they have a husband or wife with the same habit who they’ve gotten used to.

The other issue is that public transport, including planes, trains and coaches, perform this frustrating action called “moving.” Which of course means that I am at the mercy of whatever turbulence, friction, rattling and general traffic that this creature may encounter as it carries us from A to B.

I have never been able to fall asleep on a coach for instance. When I went to the Grand Canyon this summer, my parents decided it would be a good idea to book us onto a coach tour, which meant a rivetting five hours of dusty roads from Las Vegas to the south rim of the canyon. In the early hours of the morning.

I had the good fortune to sit next to someone my own age, so all was not lost. To my dismay, however, she fell asleep almost immediately, her head against the window, as the coach rattled on through the mountains, my brain giving itself multiple concussions as it slammed against the side of my skull. Eventually she would wake up, and conversation flowed from the seven bracelets on my wrist.

It’s part of the reason I wear them: It’s a conversation starter. Each carries a story behind it, and I can tell them when people ask. I find it quite poetic to carry memories around on me. In this case, she asked about the Central Perk bracelet I got from my visit to New York. (That’s not a spelling mistake, by the way. Central Perk is the cafe from the TV show Friends.)

After five hours, you can be fairly comfortable with someone. I eventually asked her how she managed to sleep on the bumpy ride. She told me she loved sleeping on moving objects, because it felt like a baby in a cradle. She said you had to make it feel like you were you were rocking gently. I tried her technique on a coach journey later on in my trip, and it worked.

Always ask for the window seat, and then put your head against the window. Let the sound of the vehicle drown out all the other noise, and let the vibrations  and the bumps channel through your head. After a few seconds, you start not to feel them. Give it a few minutes, and the bus starts to rock you like you’re in a cradle.

Thank you, Ece, for giving me a new measure of peace when I travel. Your adorable Turkish accent made things so much more fun. I know you’ll never read this, but good luck. I hope you have an amazing two months in Los Angeles.