Friday, June 22, 2007

Think laterally.

I can’t swear this is not apocryphal. I got it via e-mail that said it was an extract of the answers given at the Indian Administrative Examination (interview?) by candidates who are now officers. It goes as follows:

“Q. How can you drop a raw egg onto a concrete floor without cracking it?
A. Concrete floors are very hard to crack! (UPSC Topper)

Q. If it took eight men ten hours to build a wall, how long would it take four men to build it?
A. No time at all, it is already built. (UPSC 23rd Rank Opted for IFS)

Q. If you had three apples and four oranges in one hand and four apples and three oranges in the other hand, what would you have?
A. Very large hands. (UPSC 11th Rank Opted for IPS)

Q. How can you lift an elephant with one hand?
A. It is not a problem, since you will never find an elephant withone hand. (UPSC 14th Rank. Opted for IES)

Q. How can a man go eight days without sleep?
A. No prob[lem]. He sleeps at night. (UPSC - IAS 98th Rank)

Q. If you throw a red stone into the blue sea what it will become? [sic!]
A. It will Wet [sic!] or Sink [sic!] as simple as that. (UPSC - IAS 2nd Rank)

Q. What looks like half [an] apple?
A: The other half. (UPSC - IAS Topper)

Q. What can you never eat for breakfast?A: Dinner.Q. What happened when [the] wheel was invented?
A: It caused a revolution.

Q. Bay of Bengal is in which state?
A: Liquid (UPSC 33rd Rank).”

The following seems to be from an IIM interview:

’Interviewer said "I shall either ask you ten easy questions or one really difficult question. Think well before you make up your mind!"

The boy thought for a while and said: "My choice is one really difficult question."

"Well, good luck to you, you have made your own choice! Now tell me this. What comes first, Day or Night?"

The boy was jolted into reality as his admission depend[ed] on the correctness of his answer, but he thought for a while and said, "It's theDAY sir!"

"How?" the interviewer asked.

"Sorry sir, you promised me that you will not ask me a SECOND difficult question!"He was selected for IIM!’

Talk of Lateral Thinking. Dr Edward de Bono would have been proud of them.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Beyond a reasonable doubt.

It irks me at times when someone asks me why on earth I did ‘it’. Somehow, that question seems to belong in a lapsed lawyer’s lexicon. Or, maybe, in a Pandora’s box overseen by a proto- philosopher. When I look back at most of my past actions, I detect a total lack of sense or logic. I’m astonished at how random life happens to be. ‘Rational behaviour’ used to be once upon a time an obligatory assumption in Classical Economics. Rational self-interest, I’m afraid, has been a behavioural trait totally alien to my way of living and working. It has been so even before I came to know the pejorative view of it taken by such luminaries as Thorstein Veblen, John Maynard Keynes and Herbert Simon. Then there’s Albert Einstein declaring his credo in a 1932 speech to the German League for Human Rights: “I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer's words: 'Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills,' accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper." All this probably drives me towards a modern compatibilistic view such as Daniel Dennet’s. His argument goes as follows. “... if one excludes God, an infinitely powerful demon, and other such possibilities, then because of chaos and quantum randomness, the future is ill-defined for all finite beings. The only well-defined things are ‘expectations’. The ability to do ‘otherwise’ only makes sense when dealing with these expectations, and not with some unknown and unknowable future. Since individuals have the ability to act differently from what anyone expects, free will can exist." Personal experience precludes the inclusion of ‘free will’ in my schema, though. There's nothing beyond a reasonable doubt, so far.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Peace Pipe Dream.

To aver that John Lennon was a “radical thinker” is as naive as calling Amitabh Bachchan, India’s newest wannabe farmer, a worthy successor in Rastrapati Bhawan to Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam. Lennon was no thinker, radical or otherwise. He was without a shadow of doubt one of the all-time greats among pop song writers and music makers. (From among the vast Beatle body of work, the surreal “Eleanor Rigby” and the nostalgic “Yesterday” are personal favourites.) He also must have owned a good rhyming dictionary if you were to judge from the lyrics of “Give Peace a chance”. His intentions were probably noble. His execution was pathetically juvenile and puerile by the most charitable standards. All this reminds me of an ex-colleague of mine insisting to another ex-colleague and friend that now it’s all a matter of style and form. Content, he insists, is no more king. Maybe, he’s bang-on. If “Give Peace…” despite its shortcomings could achieve a cult status and could take in someone as shrewd as Kunal Kohli, the reign of content is truly over. The medium is the message, boys and girls. The title of the so-called peace anthem, mind you, came out of Lennon’s smartass repartee, in the early days of his first Bed-in, to a journalist’s “What are you up to, mate?” query. Guided by his ear for le mot just and a nose for high drama, he decided to set his by then famous words to music. Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “radical thinking” for peace gave the world such media events as the lavish Bed-in in the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel’s Room 702 (25 – 31 March 1969) to celebrate their honeymoon and the April 1969 launch in Vienna (Austria) of their madcap and elitist “Bagism” concept while eating chocolate cake. In essence, the idea was to live inside a bag and thereby insulate oneself from being judged by the colour of one’s skin, the length of one’s hair, the clothes one wore, one’s age or any other “defining” attributes that evoked a discriminatory response. The second Bed-in was to be held in New York. The US Government’s paranoia made them ban Lennon’s entry into the country using his 1968 marijuana conviction as a viable excuse. So, to spite the spoil sport, John and Yoko held it eventually in neighbouring Canada’s Montreal – Queen Elizabeth Hotel’ s Room 1742 – after having fled from the Bahamas, the earlier chosen venue, after a single sweltering night in the Sheraton Oceanus Hotel. (If the self-appointed Messiah of Peace – did he not once claim that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus? – and his mate could not brave the 86°F (30°C) inferno for peace’s sake, what chance did peace stand in the long run?) In Montreal, Lennon and Ono were in the celebrated company of Timothy Leary, Tommy Smothers, Dick Gregory and Al Capp with all except Capp donning the mantle of peace anthem singing groupies. Kunal seems to be awe-struck by Lennon and Ono’s December 1969 grand gesture, the “War is Over! If You Want It – Happy Christmas From John and Yoko" billboards put up with their own money in eleven cities. It was an ego trip, a self-promo, no less, no matter what they claimed. If he really wanted to make a difference, he could have spent the money to help the war victims, could he not? A control and power freak, an egomaniac, addicted to sex with groupies, heady unquestioning adulation from fans, drugs and non-stop hedonism with no responsibility whatsoever, yet a great pop artist in spite of it all, Lennon was no St John, unpalatable as it may sound. No “hero”, no “role model” as Kunal wants us to believe, I’m afraid, “The US vs. John Lennon” notwithstanding. Let us not get confused between hagiography and biography, for Pete’s sake, whoever St Peter happens to be.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Subliminal persuasion.

In a previous post I had briefly alluded to Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders. In this Fifties’ bestseller, Packard claimed that advertisers were playing on unconscious motivations of their prospects. "If people spent millions of dollars and millions of hours on the analyst’s couch trying to fathom the deeper depths of their own minds, where was the question of a humble copywriter doing so?” was the question posed by his detractors. Frankly, I was highly fascinated by Packard's hypothesis when I joined advertising. I did not realise that Packard was obviously theorising from the then American reality. Then on, I was always on the lookout for a real life example of subliminal advertising. It kept on eluding me till Chini Kum with ‘Sexy’ happened. Intentionally or unintentionally, Balki, a successful advertising man, stumbled upon the perfect way to inject a subliminal persuasive element into his product. He got the brilliant inspiration to name an important child character in it ‘Sexy’. It got people talking whether or not it is okay to call the chief protagonist’s “innocent” little neighbour and confidante by such a wicked, almost grungy moniker and – hey, presto! – it snowballed into millions worth of word of mouth or viral publicity. Any publicity, good or bad, is good for the product, especially a made-for-the-multiplex movie. This is the cleverest creative coup by Balki, cleverer than the product placement in the film if only because it is so much more subtle. Even Seth Godin could not have outdone this gambit. Brilliant!