Criticism – Give as little as possible

Recently, I stumbled upon a site – BrainPickings – which publishes highly thought-provoking articles in the writing, philosophy, history, art and creativity space. (I recommend bookmarking or subscribing if any of these topics interest you).

I know I have been away from my blog for quite a while – almost close to two years. And it already shows in how sluggish are the thoughts that are forming in my head. So many ideas, thoughts and drafts get lost in the wind before they can become words… but before you criticize me for being away for so long, read below. :-)

Criticism is one such “commodity” that people are always most generous when giving. Nobody likes to take it. Therefore, more often than not, people spend a lot of time and energy to criticize, which goes to a waste (even if their intentions are in the right place).

Maria wrote about Daniel Dennet‘s views on criticizing with kindness on BrainPickings. Dennet says, to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

While these are excellent points, I presume there needs be another “guideline” – the zero-th rule:

0. You should try to find out if you have a reputation strong enough with the subject that allows for your criticism to be taken constructively. If not, whatever you say will be added as noise to the already-noisy world we live in.

Thus, when criticizing, give as little as possible; or none at all.

What an Idea, Sirji!

A few days ago, I came up with silly expansions using the letters in the word “idea” –

IDEA – Intellectual Declaration of Enhanced Apprehension

(Bad) IDEA – Idiotic Disclosure of Extravagant Attitude

(Good) IDEA – Innovative Deduction of an Employable Axiom

What do you think? Do they make sense? :-)

The UN sexism Google search ads are wrong, technically

The truth is, we live in a male dominated society where men enjoy a privilege of exercising certain rights that do not extend to women. This culture has transcended generations and centuries. And it is going to take longer than that to clean up.


Why did things come to be as they are? Are we genetically so sexist? In the early days, the men used to hunt for meat while the women-folk would tend to the young ones and managed the caves. If perhaps, the root cause for sexism started there, it should have changed when civilizations evolved, correct? Nothing much changed during the times of the great kings and kingdoms. Further, during the industrial revolution, there was an explosion of many new jobs – engineers, architects, soldiers – most of them were reserved for men because either they needed an increased physical exertion or the necessary training for the required skill set was never extended to women. This was amplified by the fact that education was considered a “luxury”. Only the ones who would “use” the skills they learned at school, were educated. This is the reason why there were considerably lesser number of women scientists during the 18th century. Over the years, the patriarchal society got itself established as only men had “knowledge” of how the world “functioned”.

What changed?

Evolution in economies resulted in industries taking a background as the main money-making entities. People in industries were replaced by machines as a result of automation. Fields like science, technology, research, banking, took prominence. The jobs that are created for this generation of workforce are gender-neutral; they break the need for physical strength that the jobs during industrial revolution demanded.

So, now what?

Gradually, women began fending for themselves thus reducing their dependency upon men for basic needs. This “shift of power” was not welcomed by men and thus began the long struggle for women’s rights and freedom. This is yet an ongoing battle for equality not just limited to the under-developed or developing countries, but to the developed economies as well. Many organizations worldwide are doing a great job of making the world aware – like the UN.

UN Google search ads


The entire premise of this post was the “powerful” advertisements by the UN which used the Google auto-complete (a feature that suggests popular search terms as you type your search query) to show the widespread prevalence of sexism in our society.

  • Is the problem real? Yes. Equality between the sexes is something that is truly necessary for a society!
  • Are ads like these necessary? Yes, very much.
  • Are they doing a good job of raising awareness? They are doing great!
  • Are they truthful? No.

Here’s what’s wrong

Google uses a certain algorithm nicknamed Google Instant to get popular keywords related to the terms that you are typing in, using data collected from earlier searches by many other people, and displays it, in the assumption that you may also be searching for something similar. By the way that it works, what Google suggests is in no way connected to what you would be actually looking for. For instance, when you search for “save water”, the suggestions shown are hardly practical, are they?

I haven’t heard of a single person giving up water and living on beer instead!

This article may help understand how the Google Instant suggestions work. Further, going by the Google Trends, the term “woman should” was searched for the most number of times just about after the UN ads were posted.

The number 100 indicates that the point in the graph is the highest value ever.

Google suggestions can be easily misinterpreted

2013-10-19 12_32_45-Google
So, 25% of the people searching for “the world is” think that it is flat? If so, we may have bigger problems here.
This is interesting!
This is interesting. I’m more concerned about people thinking Oxygen is a compound!
I have many American friends, and this is hardly the truth!
I have many American friends, and this is hardly the truth!

My Take

Sexism is a real issue. Everyday there is news about how crimes against women have increased drastically, and how women are denied even basic rights by many Governments around the world. Yes, women are suffering and something needs to be done! By writing about the technicality behind the UN ads, I do not undermine the need for the awareness for this issue; I only felt that Google search suggestions are not indicators of how far-reaching sexism is.


Oponions – Opinions that make you cry

Someone (presumably a great person) once said, “Opinions are like wrist watches. Each shows a different time; and everyone believes that their time is accurate.” Having an opinion isn’t really a bad thing. A good conversationalist always has an opinion about everything.

Opinions are an individual’s perception of a fact or an event, while Oponions are opinions that stink, and make you cry!

The reaction to the recent decision to star Ben Affleck as Batman in the upcoming movie has stirred quite an upheaval with die-hard fans opposing the move calling it bad for the movie franchise. One comment on this Forbes article read –

“… The truth is Affleck is a smug looking Boston frat boy, totally antithetical to the dark, tortured ‘Gotham’ nature of the character….Besides that, he’s one of the worst actors I (and a lot of other people, apparently) have ever seen in film

IMO the only role that suited Affleck was the self satisfied jerk-boy stockbroker in ‘Boiler Room’…Because that’s the kind of character his persona exudes …”

While another said

“… I don’t care about how much money this movie makes or how much success the actor playing Batman has had. All I care about is that the part is done right and I just don’t feel Affleck is the right person for it. Could I be wrong? Yes, but my opinion will be good enough for me until Ben proves me wrong …”

No points for guessing the oponion among the above comments. The internet is full of such oponions. It has in fact, become very frustrating to read comments on popular websites – especially Youtube. There is also a twitter account (@AvoidComments) dedicated to discourage people from reading comments online.

It is easy to be misinformed now more than ever because of how information and access to it has grown in multitude over the last few decades. In my opinion, opinions are good to have. As long as you re-visit them often, put them to test with intellectual discussions, wring them off of falsity and you are willing to change them when the truth-brick is hurled at you! One quote by James Lowell springs to mind –

The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinion.

P.S.: Here’s an article that rightly sums up how silly the whole reaction to the “Ben Affleck as Batman” scenario is.

“Free” costs Rs.5/day – Airtel

Blatant unethical marketing has become the norm of this society! Companies believe that using buzz words and catch phrases are often enough to pull in subscribers or customers – irrespective of the merit and honesty of the advertisement.

The most recent such ad that stirred up this new category of posts on my blog is from Airtel which describes its latest offering of “free” unlimited national roaming at Rs.5/day. My only question is – How can something you pay for, ever be ‘free’? An oxymoron at best that tries to make morons of its customers.

The ad is displayed on its Facebook page and also on the website.


While such practice of wording advertisements is nothing new in the Indian telecom industry, there’s more to note. On it’s website, Airtel claims:

Here’s another first from airtel. Now enjoy FREE incoming calls on national roaming!

Another first from Airtel? – Hardly. BSNL launched a similar campaign back in 2011. And I’m confident that also wasn’t the first time.

FREE – Notice how this word is capitalized? The first thing they teach you in business communication is to avoid capitalization of words – it signifies the act of shouting! After all, an advertisement is the most primary form of business communication, right?

How could this be better worded? How about – Enjoy unlimited incoming calls on national roaming for Rs.5/day. – now, was that so difficult?

Will TRAI ever take notice to stop this menace?

P.S.: Thanks to @TheMangoFellow whose tweet brought this to my notice.