January 2005

Quote in Context

The Carbon Trust, a worthy environmental body concerned with climate change, are running a TV advert in the UK centered around a famous quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer. The advert says:

One man has been where we all are today.
When he saw what he'd done he said:
'I am become the destroyer of worlds.'
Now we all have to face up to what we've done.[…]

This particular quote has always sent shivers down my spine; however, this version is inaccurate. Here's a more complete version in context:

We knew the world could not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita: "I am became Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

Another, slightly different variation:

A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. There floated through my mind a line from the "Bhagavad-Gita" in which Krishna is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty: "I am become death: the destroyer of worlds."

The shorter misquote is catchy and makes for great television. I am also generally in favour of the work of the Trust and similar organisations. In this case, though, I can't help feeling that equating personal responsibility at the level of turning down the heating at the office with the moral burden shouldered by the people that saw nuclear weapons born into the world on that day in 1945 is insulting to them, and to us.

[If you want to dig deeper, verses 11.31 to 11.33 of this translation of the Bhagavad Gita may help. Particularly 11.33.]

Not Today

I've been thinking of replacing my now geriatric Hewlett Packard laptop for some time, and the idea of getting a nice Unix laptop has been getting more and more attractive.

So I spent an hour in the local Apple dealer today picking out some hardware. "I'll take one of those", finally.

"Oh, we don't actually have any in stock, sir. Besides, you wouldn't want to buy one today of all days." …and the salesguy looked at his watch.

I guess everyone except me knew that Steve Jobs was giving his famed New Things keynote at MacWorld in a few minutes. D'oh.

[Updated: turns out Apple didn't update the Powerbook line after all. The new Mac mini is pretty cute, though, and worth looking at for a small headless Unix box.]