Friday, April 28, 2017

Labored Confusions

In the dim squalor
of sweatshops
tucked behind silhouetted skyscrapers – glittering
blood diamonds on black velvet – the rhythmic thundering of hammers,
and little heartbeats stolen
from forgotten schoolyards,
sound the trumpets of neoliberalism.

Gucci, Armani, Tiffany’s, Ivy Leagues and Standardized Testing materials;
and in the hollowed out shells of heavy ordinance,
Imperial Democracy nurtures
The better angels of our nature — buy two, get one free.


The way the days pass,
with tired breaking of
Insincere Promises;
while the unending retrospections
of a cognizant mind,
at its reluctant inertia.

Primate Saturday: Jane & Her Chimps

You know what  who I have always been jealous of? Scientists who have found a life-long obsession vocation — Diane Fossey in the mountains of Uganda, Galdikas in Borneo, and of course, Jane Goodall in Tanzania! I wonder, often, how fulfilling it must be to be able to chase down your scientific curiosities throughout your life with such consistency!

Golden Age Comics: With A Twist

Superhero comics are, supposedly, fun! Right? Except when you really think about it, they are not. When you read them in a historical and political context, they are blatantly sexist, discriminative, privilege-perpetuating pieces of propaganda garbed in bright colors and designed to distract people from their undertone. And it works! As Edward Bernays knew all too well, if you can serve a piece of addictive substance — video games, comics, TV in general — with some nice packaging, and if you can make sure that consuming it doesn’t require any active cognitive exercise, then soon you will develop an addicted population who, not unlike tobacco-addicts, would not only come to rely on the substance but would defend it with fervent zeal. To ensure that the process didn’t become too apparent it is necessary to present an appearance of avant-garde — grown people reading comics, adults pushing buttons on a keyboard and making like it takes intelligence to play video games, parents watching cartoon with their children — while quietly reinforcing all kinds of stereotypes under the hood. Take the Golden Age comics for instance. Not only are the gender stereotypes, and socio-political ones, silently reinforced through the
cosmetic and behavioural traits of the characters (all neatly divided along  gender lines), but the same are also the guiding principles behind what each character is allowed, and not allowed, to say.
So, in the spirit of Direct Action subversion of cultural imperialism in order to pursue Social Justice and Gender Desegregation, here’s some twisted takes on the Golden Age comics from yesteryears! 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Primate Saturday: Cocoa with Koko

For over almost half a century, Francine "Penny" Patterson has claimed that her surrogate daughter, a female western lowland gorilla named Koko, can use sign language productively. Following what started as her own PhD project, Koko has gained international publicity due to both the public's fascination with a domesticated gorilla that clearly interacts (but not necessarily linguistically communicates) with humans, and also due (largely) to what most scientists consider to be over-inflated claims by Patterson regarding Koko's sign language usage.
To be sure, no one has ever claimed that Koko cannot use signs to signal certain elemental concepts that are interpretable by humans. For instance, gorillas have long been known to be capable of complicated social structures, intricate inter-personal relationships and of a wide range of emotions. Given this, Koko's ability to use the sign for "sad" or "cry" on being shown pictures that would qualify as such, after extensive familiarization with the concerned sign-reference correlations, is hardly news to any primatologist. Patterson's claims, however, go far beyond this ability (often also observed in bonobos and chimpanzees) -- according to Patterson, Koko instinctively uses signs to communicate her feelings and thoughts. The ability to use discrete symbols, and to recursively combine them to create ever more complicated structures with semantic content, is a hallmark of the human species. And while Patterson does not, in fact, claim that Koko is quite that adept, her claims of Koko having self-consciousness, or being able to recognize herself in her reflections/creating a self-identity, and using sign-language to "think" about her world has consistently raised eyebrows in the scientific community. Several scientists have pointed out that Patterson is falling victim to the one cardinal sin in ethology -- anthropomorphism. She has been compared to an over-zealous mother who is infatuated with her very clever baby, and is thus ascribing to the behaviours of the baby concepts that are, developmentally, beyond the baby's ability. According to most, Patterson's interpretations of Koko's behaviors vanish when seen through more objective eyes.
While Patterson's claims about Koko's abilities are very likely to be overreaching, she has nonetheless to be commended for spending her entire life caring for the gorilla she adopted. Certainly this deserves more praise than Project Nim, wherein the researcher who adopted a chimpanzee, named him Nim Chimspky (after the polymath linguist Noam Chomsky), and tried to teach Nim sign language, would eventually give him up for a life in captivity when the research didn't go as expected. Nim, having been raised in a human family, was unable to adapt to wilderness later on. He lived out the remainder of his life, following the sad (but predictable) demise of Project Nim, being subjected to various forms of experimental indignities, including being used for product testing -- a confused, troubled and perpetually depressed chimpanzee, Nim died in his cage, forgotten and abandoned by the world that had moved on to the next circus trick.
There are important lessons to be learned from both Project Nim and Koko. The positive lesson is one of hope; we are only gradiently removed from our closest cousins with whom we share a majority of our genetic materials, who only lack may be one or two of our qualities, but are nonetheless very as capable of appreciating us as we them. The other lesson, though, is one of a more cautionary note; just because our cousins in the ape world lack our kind of language neither makes them lacking in consciousness, nor does it do to invade their world and try to teach them neat circus tricks in vain and misguided attempts to improve on evolution.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


Slow, dull, monotonous, persistent
and unforgiving;
Every beat renews
the ever darkening constancy
of a reluctant pessimist.

An exercise in futility;
rusting arteries can only
blacken young blood,
with each new beat.

Never learning.

Mockingbirds do not return
to leafless branches
and play Muse
to the poets of eternal Fall.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Primate Saturday: Ham in Space

Before there was Neil Armstrong, Yuri Gagarin or Carl Sagan, there were the forgotten apes we sent to space. Whether such acts reflect human anthropocentrism, or whether they were worthwhile sacrifices for furthering our understanding of the cosmos, is an open debate. No one, of course, in their right minds would claim that we should not have studied the space. The survival of our species, and since we alone are capable of Scientific logic probably the survival of other earthlings, depends on our understanding of deep space. So, perhaps, instead of arguing against the space-faring chimpanzees, we should look back on their experiences, and remember the sacrifices they made (involuntary as they were) to further our understanding of the cosmic ocean. So, in remembering the most humane of the astronomers, I dub thee Sagan's Primates.

The Story of Ham