May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

And though I rarely blog about US politics and the mess in Iraq... on this Memorial Day (a United States federal holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May - more here), let us all remember..

A Grim Memorial Day

Americans have opened nearly 1,000 new graves to bury U.S. troops killed in Iraq since Memorial Day a year ago. The figure is telling — and expected to rise in coming months. In the period from Memorial Day 2006 through Saturday, 980 soldiers and Marines died in Iraq, compared to 807 deaths in the previous year.

In Iraq, Every Day is Memorial Day

Related Links
· Faces of the Fallen - Iraq
· Iraq Coalition Casualties
· Iraq War Casualties
· Iraq Body Counts
· Iraq & Afghanistan War Casualties
· The Cost of War - also 1, 2
What $1.2 Trillion Can Buy - NYTimes, Jan 2007
The Memory Hole has the pictures honoring the war dead that the Pentagon didn't want you to see.
A Soldier's Thoughts on Memorial Day and a Washington Post op-ed by Andrew Bacevich, titled I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose. We Were Both Doing Our Duty.

· And last but not least, this table via a Dailykos post..

Major WarsUS K. I. A.US Wounded
Revolutionary WarEst 5,000Est 6,000
War of 1812Est 2500Est 5,000
Civil War215,000Est 400,000
World War 153,40264,000
World War 2291,557671,846
Korean War33,741103,284
Vietnam War47,424153,303
Iraq War3,45424,417
Sources: Wikipedia, infoplease, icasualties

and this post, also via Dailykos

Mark Twain's "The War Prayer", an anti-war prose poem he wrote in the aftermath of the Spanish-American and Phillipine-American wars.

His family begged him not to publish it, his friends advised him to bury it, and his publisher rejected it, thinking it too inflammatory for the times. Twain agreed, but instructed that it be published after his death, saying famously: "None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth."

Washington Monthly's publisher, Markos Kounalakis, made a video of the story for release this Memorial Day. You can watch the video and read the story here.

Al Gore on Climate Crisis

Great answer by Al Gore in the Q&A piece at the link for his new book, The Assault on Reason
...."climate crisis." The English meaning of the word "crisis" conveys alarm, but the Chinese and Japanese expressions use two characters together: the first means danger, but the second means opportunity. The animations do help to convey some of that sense of danger--but the opportunities are enormous. We are beginning to see companies taking advantage of the new markets that are emerging as they innovate and put to market the technologies that we need to solve this crisis. Some have become ubiquitous, like the hybrid electric engine and compact fluorescent light bulb. There are thousands of opportunities like this all around us if governments will show the type of bold leadership that we need--and work with industry to exploit these opportunities.
Also.. I just heard a great interview with Al Gore on Charlie Rose's show just now -it was a re-run from last Friday. See it here.... I won't try to regurgitate what he said. But do click on the link above for more information on his latest book. The link also has a special message from Gore to all (and other) readers. Also, here is the NY Times Review and the book has a wiki entry.

P.S. On the Charlie Rose show, Gore did say he doesn't see himself running for President in 2008 but he has not 100% ruled it out. Also read this article from Time magazine -
The Last Temptation of Al Gore

Al Gore 2008 Draft Campaign
Why Gore Should Run -- And How He Can Win

P.P.S. Kinda related to topic of Al Gore's book and so here is a link to
an incredible essay - Not Even Wrong
- about lack of logic, reality, framing and the politics of the past six years. (- via Dailyos)

Ambient intimacy

if there is one thing the internet has made possible, it is ambient intimacy
Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible - via famed graphic novelist and author, Warren Ellis's blog.

May 25, 2007

The memories that inhabit us

Writing poetry for catharsis was something like this for me..
Literature has played a dual and contradictory role in my life. The act of writing appeases one’s memories and eases the act of forgetting. When I write, I make my memories tangible, and in this way I can get rid of them. On the other hand, writing is but a ploy to convulse memory back into life. And the more I write, the more my memories return to inhabit me. - Jorge Semprún, in a Paris Review interview, Spring 2007

Impulse validated by attention

I remember being viscerally moved by Without, a book of poems* by the current Poet Laureate of the US, Donald Hall, which I had read in one sitting a few years back - reading the whole book non-stop deep into the night. The book includes poems written by Hall after the loss of his wife, the poet, Jane Kenyon. I cannot remember any book that I have read - and there have been many over the years - which had evoked such a powerful emotional response from me.

I have since read a few other poems by him as well as perused through the Collected Poems of Jane Kenyon and my admiration for Donald's poems has only grown since then.

So it is with great pleasure that I am enjoying an interview with Donald Hall in
Bill Moyers' The language of life - a festival of poets - a collection of interviews with various noted poets - and a good companion book to Moyers' PBS series The Power of the Word.

I am only half-way through the Hall interview and already found so many quotable quotes...that I am tempted to transcribe some here right away. The introduction to the book Bill Moyers also is chock-full of quotable quotes about reading and writing poetry but I'll get to that some other time.

Here then are some great excerpts from DH's interview. I'll add to it as I finish reading the interview. (Too bad that I do not take the time to sit back and read 20 pages at a stretch!)

DH = Donald Hall
BM = Bill Moyers

BM: "A successful poem is impulse validated by attention" -- your line. Is the attention at the desk there? Is that where you're sweating over it?

DH: It's twenty seconds of impulse and two years of attenion, but the impulse may be more important than the attention. # (wish Blogger had a way to do footnotes! Also subscripts/superscripts!)

BM: Why did you choose poetry as a way of life?

DH: I loved it so much. What other reason would you have for choosing poetry?

DH: When I make poems I'm consoling myself by making the poem out of loss, but I also have some notion that I'm talking to somebody else at any time now or in the future. The definition of a poem includes readers. I don't write a poem for myself.

BM: It's a very public experience.

DH: Young people feel as if they were writing for themselves, but that's only the beginning of the poem. When it's completed, the poem is a bridge from one to another.

BM: You keep notebooks, you write words down, then you leave them for a while to bubble and twist and turn, right?

DH: I do everything to words. I'd be happy to send them to Florida or buy them hot dogs, anything, if they'll just come through. THe work is prosaic, sitting at the desk every day and saying, "How can I make this better?" Such work is not, in itself, inspired, but by looking regularly at the poem I get so familiar with it that I'm working on it when I'm asleep. I wake up in the morning, look at the poem I worked on the day before, and see something I had not seen. Something has happened in between, probably sleep work. For that matter, something inside you is always working even when you're awake.

DH: ... Someone reminded me later of my advice to young writers, "Don't ever hold anything back. Put everything out that can possibly belong in that poem or story. Don't save anything for the next one." That's the only way to work. It's the only way to live, really.

#: Found an excerpt from another interview where Donald Hall expostulates a little bit more about what he means by "impulse validated by attention"

Myers: You speak of The One Day as something of a happy accident, "impulse validated by attention," though we know an imposing talent was behind it. But The One Day does read as though it was written in the way the long modernists poems were written: by a piecemeal process of composition, and with no deliberate intention. It succeeds, for me, through allowance of subject matter: You've permitted what came into it to stay.

Hall: When I used that phrase, "impulse validated by attention," I was not talking about a happy accident. I'm talking about working over the texture of its language. Impulsively, I set down a word or a phrase or even a series of lines; "impulsively" means I do it rapidly, in excitement, without malice aforethought, intuitively—in a manic state. By inspiration. But I don't just leave it there on the scattery page; I attend to it. I look at it every morning for one thousand mornings. After the eight-hundred-and-second morning, I find that I don't like this word, take it out and impulsively put in another. After the nine-hundred-and-sixty-second morning, I remove the new word and restore the old one. On the one-thousandth, two-hundred-and-thirty-second morning, I realize that two words here and two words there link up with seven words eight pages later in the manuscript . . . and I am pleased with myself.

Impulse is creation; attention is critical intelligence.

May 22, 2007

Green cabs

A big hurrah for Bloomberg..

Yellow cabs turning green

Per Bloomberg's decree today all New York City taxis must be hybrids by the year 2012 and cabs must be able to attain 25 miles per gallon.

May 16, 2007

An ocean of shame

Here is a movie recommendation, if you have not seen it already...though admittedly it will not be a feel-good comforting movie!

I just read an interview at today with the director, Shonali Bose, about her 2005 film, Amu, which is finally in release in select theaters in North America. It stars the phenomenal actress - arguably the best in India today - Konkona Sen Sharma.

The film, as you may know, is about the previous dark chapter in independent India's recent history before the Gujarat massacres this decade - the 1984 riots in Delhi following Indira Gandhi's assassination, in which Sikhs were systematically targeted and butchered in cold blood.
(Sepia Mutiny had blogged about the movie way back when the movie was released and there are other earlier interviews with Shonali Bose online.)

I am glad there are brave people in this world who stand up and speak up about these unseemly inhumane acts that dot India's recent history through documentaries, movies, and books! One has to indeed wonder what has happened to Gandhi's legacy in India - ironically at its worst in his home state of Gujarat!

As a wise man insightfully said - we who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it - and though we do not seem to learn, to shove these events under the dusty unseemly rug of history and not bring it up again would be a great crime too!

Like the very erudite Eugene Debs once said:

Thousands of years ago the question was asked; ''Am I my brother's keeper?'' That question has never yet been answered in a way that is satisfactory to civilized society. Yes, I am my brother's keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality but by the higher duty I owe myself.

Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. - Paulo Freire

Fear grows in darkness; if you think there's a bogeyman around, turn on the light. - Dorothy Thompson

I have learned two lessons in my life: first, there are no sufficient literary, psychological, or historical answers to human tragedy, only moral ones. Second, just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings. - Elie Wiesel

Like I wrote in rambling and melancholy mood last Sunday....
Sometimes, in the throes of cynicism and despair, I do wonder if we are hard-wired to hate rather than to love...though it would seem it should be the reverse - i.e. compassion and love should be the norm and hate the exception. A look around the world certainly does not always give one that feeling.
Between re-reading some of the facts about the 1984 riots at the links above and more news of violence in Iraq, the new mess in Palestine, Darfur, and so on and so forth.......I despair that there is not much hope for this world in the long run! WHY would one want to live a 1000 years in such a world indeed!

I need to take a break now and go clear my head and "wash my soul."*. Mel Hill's wonderful Jazz program on BBC radio beckons...

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. ~Berthold Auerbach

The title of this post refers to a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, who said:

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."
So..despite all the despair permeating this post... I want to hope the Mahatma was right.

May 14, 2007

Lightning does strike

I always knew that being a writer is a very "risky business"...and being someone who has no specific training in writing, I am always plagued with self-doubt when the tangential thought arises about writing something and trying to get it published.

Well... Amit Varma points us to an article in the NY Times today: The Greatest Mystery: Making a Best Seller. Amit comments that 'writers are gambling chips', alluding to a statement from the article that says:

"People think publishing is a business, but it’s a casino."

The article discusses how there is not much data to support or help with this risk-taking - publishing has been and remains an exercise in educated (or actually, uneducated) guesswork. Like Professor of Marketing, Al Greco from Fordham University says in the article: the publishing business ..
...has run since 1640,” he says. That is when 1,700 copies of the Bay Psalm Book were published in the colonies. “It was a gamble, and they guessed right because it sold out of the print run. And ever since then, it has been a crap shoot.”
This "risky" business continues unabated - with thousands of books being published* every year on a myriad number of topics, some more popular than others - because it is indeed like gambling! The lure of hitting that jackpot - albeit a 1 in a million chance - and landing a surprise bestseller is too much to resist. Little wonder then that Oprah, with her book-club, was hailed as the Queen/King-maker to the world of publishing!

In my opinion, while some people undoubtedly have innate (or developed) talents for writing and perhaps are people who could not live if they did not write (a quote by Asimov - see below - comes to mind), I fear that a large percentage of books one sees flooding bookstores everywhere should never have seen the light of day!
And so we see books being written by actors, sports-persons, celebrities and so-deemed celebrities who have attained their 15 minutes of fame through some act of notoriety or achievement and in collusion with the publishing industry looking for that big hit, are now writing books! And then there are people like me with a wannabe writer lurking within! Writing workshops and these days blogs and online forums have given everyone an opportunity to write, share opinions, express the 'breathings of our heart' and shamelessly show off our talents (or lack thereof) to millions ...and yet publishing a book and being an "author" still has that unfettered charm and sense of accomplishment attached to it.

(Thankfully, there are some people like me who do not really write anything but flirt with the idea simply because they love the idea of being 'writers' :) After talking about this topic with a fellow blogger recently, I have come to realize that while I do love to read books of all types, and love and appreciate good writing, it does not necessarily mean that I can be a good writer. I am perhaps only in love with the idea of being a writer... such are our delusions, our dreams.)

* Another interesting factoid gleaned from the article is:

In the case of hardcovers, a few books that the publishers think have best-seller potential are promoted with generous marketing and publicity campaigns. Others are considered long shots, with anticipated sales of maybe a few thousand copies. Most are considered midlist, with respectable sales of 15,000 to 20,000 copies, Mr. Greco says, but not breakout sales.

Some quotes about writing from those who did it really well!
The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself. - Albert Camus

Even those who write against fame wish for the fame of having written well, and those who read their works desire the fame of having read them. - Blaise Pascal

Everywhere I go, I'm asked if the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. - Flannery O'Connor

Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there is a market demand -- a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods -- or it should be an art, which is always a search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values. - Willa Cather

Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers. - T. S. Eliot

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster. - Isaac Asimov

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart... - William Wordsworth

May 13, 2007

The human face of conflict

The Face2Face Project displays portraits of Palestinians and Israelis doing the same job and to post them face to face, in huge formats, in unavoidable places, on the Israeli and the Palestinian sides. (- via.)

So, do you really think varied cultures really read faces differently? (- via.)

The humanity of it all is all too palpable.... So, why do human's hate each other as often as they do? Are we the victims of our own narrow-mindedness, who find it too easy to succumb to the stereotypes fed to us from all kinds of biased sources, letting misinformation frame our perceptions - the so-called devil-effect at work (speaking of which, read an interesting op-ed piece by Amit Varma on the effects of the halo-effect) or is there more than cognitive / attributional bias that blinds us to our commonalities and highlights our differences? Sometimes, in the throes of cynicism and despair, I do wonder if we are hard-wired to hate rather than to love...though it would seem it should be the reverse - i.e. compassion and love should be the norm and hate the exception. A look around the world certainly does not always give one that feeling.

Anyways, research (pdf of an illustrative journal paper) into the psychology of the source of our biases may go on... but all I know is that the color of blood is red everywhere... a smile is a smile is a smile... laughter sounds the same everywhere... and so does a sob in the depths of despair. The Face2Face project is a great reflection of the common humanity that binds us all.

Enuf said... it's Sunday morning and I am now rambling..

A literary walk-out

A short review of Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis by Dan Rockmore.

How (and why!) do you write a book about mathematics and numbers without using either equations or numbers? I got lost in the sea of abstract forced analogies and ended up more confused, irritated, and lost than I had when I began reading the book. I am not a mathematician by training but have a science/engineering background. Even if I did not understand all the details, I had hoped the book would at least grip my attention and make me want to learn more.

Attempting to read the book has been a stark contrast (and a frustrating one at that) to the book I just finished reading - QED - The strange theory of light and matter by the great teacher, Richard Feynman. There couldn't be two more contrasting writing styles! One enlightens and sheds light on complex topics in as simple terms as possible...the other obfuscates in verbiage that tries to be too clever for its own good.

Anyways, why spend time reading a book one is not enjoying? So, 80 pages into the book, I decided to give up (the literary equivalent of a walk-out mid-way through a bad movie!) and have decided to instead read John Derbyshire's book, Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics, about which I have read good things.

I may try to blog more later about the Riemann hypothesis and Bernhard Riemann himself and his impact on the mathematical and science in general, vis-a-vis the impact of Riemannian geometry on Einstein's general relativity theories.

Lives cut short

Started reading two books that I got from the library last week....

The Collected Short Stories by Katherine Mansfield (13th printing, 1976, Knopf)
Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis by Dan Rockmore (more about this book here.)

Katherine Mansfield (14 October 1888 – 9 January 1923), about whom the famed author, Virginia Woolf is claimed to have said - her writing was 'the only writing I have ever been jealous of.'


Berhard Riemann (November 17, 1826 – July 20, 1866), a giant in the field of mathematics, on whose shoulders Einstein's general relativity theory and many of the advances of quantum physics rests.
Coincidentally, the lives of these two prodigious talents were cut short prematurely by the scourge that continues to plague human kind in many areas of the world - tuberculosis.

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything. - Virginia Woolf

May 11, 2007

Al Gore for VP?

Al Gore for VP?!
Eric Schulman, who used statistical analysis to "predict" the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, now predicts the leading candidates for the 2008 US elections. - via the Improbable Research blog

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics - attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and popularized in the U.S. by Mark Twain (source)

Random Links - 9

The 48 Hour Film Project invites filmmakers to complete a short movie in just two days.

Russian-born sisters to become professors in US at age 19, 21
Angela and Diana Kniazeva will take up their new positions in Sept at Rochester University, where most students are likely be older than them.


Did not know that the Newt is a top 1000 reviewer on!


"Utah Republican Don Larsen believes that illegal immigration to the US is a Satanic plot and has submitted an anti-Satan resolution to be discussed at this weekend's Utah County Republican Convention." - via BB

"A year on Ice", Time-lapse video filmed in Antarctica, in and around McMurdo Station and Scott Base. - via

This is not for ppl with vertigo or a fear of heights... dining and nausea/hurling do not go together! :) But for the others dining 150ft up could be an interesting fun experience! :) - via Linkastic

May 10, 2007

Feynman, the great teacher

I am reading QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard Feynman and am absolutely wonder-struck by his explanations of such complex (and yet simple) topics like light reflection from a quantum electrodynamics (QED) perspective. I got lost about by the time I got to Chapter 3 (It was like drinking from a firehose and I was overwhelmed), but what I learned in Chapters 1 and 2 was a treat in itself and some day I plan to re-read Chapters 1 and 2 and then proceed to chapters 3 and 4.

In the past, I have read his Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From The Beaten Track: The Letters of Feynman, and more recently The Meaning of it all - Thoughts of Citizen-Scientist. However, this is my first book on physics by him and I am bowled over enough to consider gifting myself the famous Feynman Lectures on Physics ($123 at seems like a great price for a classic, especially if you consider how expensive mediocre regular text books are these days!)

A good friend gifted me Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun more than a year ago but unfortunately I have not read it yet. However, you can be sure it is next on my reading list; although I think the motion of planets is something I understand better than such esoteric topics such as quantum mechanics, particle physics, and the worst of all - Einstein's relativity theories. I have a really good book on the subject - Newton's Clock: Chaos in the Solar System - that I bought in 1995 and have read at least twice in the last decade.

Despite reading many books on the subject (and whatever nonsense they "taught" in school in India), I have never really understood the fundamentals of physics well - let alone the complex topic of quantum mechanics ... but maybe what I have been missing is a dose of Feynman....though, one could ask what do I have to gain by understanding physics at this age and I have no answer for that except to say I waste/invest my time doing a lot of things which are not really result-or-goal oriented but somehow fulfill something within me and keep me entertained... like this blog! :)

1) Feynman's Nobel lecture can be read here.
2) A set of four priceless archival recordings from lectures Feynman gave at the University of Auckland can be seen here. The titles of the first three lectures are the same as the title chapters in the QED book I am just finishing up.

May 8, 2007

A mood of mystery

Continuing with Best American Essays 2006, I finished reading the essay, Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood by Michele Morano, which first appeared in the Crab Orchard Review. It is written with a very creative structure interweaving a grammar lesson about the subjunctive mood with a poignant story of a failed relationship with a suicidal boyfriend! You can read an excerpt at the author's page but the last few sentences of the essay are lovely and reproduced here..
The subjunctive is the mood of mystery. Of luck. Of faither interwoven with doubt. It's a held breath, a hand reaching out, carefully touching wood. It's humility, deference, the opposite of hubris. And it's going to take a long time to master.

But at least the final rule of usage is simple, self-contained, one you can commit to memory: Certain independent clauses exist only in the subjunctive mood, lacing optimism with resignation, hope with heartache. Be that as it may, for example. Or the phrase one says at parting, eyes closed as if in prayer: May all go well with you.
Also, earlier in the essay:

In language, as in life, moods are complicated, but at least in language there are only two. The indicative mood is for knowledge, facts, absolutes, for describing what’s real or definite. .....

.... The indicative helps you tell what happened or is happening or will happen in the future (when you believe you know for sure what the future will bring).The subjunctive mood, on the other hand, is uncertain. It helps you tell what you could have been or might be or what you want but may not get.

May 7, 2007

Live to be a 1000

I have previously read and blogged about Aubrey de Grey (see this compilation post) but I just ran into a talk by Aubrey at TED.

to him
discuss his postulate that..

...the process of aging is merely a disease -- and a curable one at that. De Grey, a computer scientist and biogerontologist, believes humans could live for centuries, if only we approach the aging process as "an engineering problem." He outlines the seven basic ways people age, and how to "solve" each one. And if we get to work now, he says, humans alive today could live to be 1,000.

French elections

Some months back some people in the media were getting excited about the prospects of a world led by women..
Angela Merkel in Germany, Ségolène Royal in France, and Hillary Clinton in the US - just needed a woman in the UK in the election for Blair's successor but there isn't one in the running)....

but now it won't be happening. Oh well.. atleast she got saved from backrubs from shrubya :)
Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy won the French presidency by a comfortable margin Sunday and immediately signalled his victory would mean friendly relations with the United States. His socialist opponent, Segolene Royal, conceded defeat for her hopes of becoming France's first woman president. With nearly 70 percent of ballots counted, Sarkozy had just over 53 percent of the vote, according to the Interior Ministry.

May 6, 2007

Random Links - 8

Spider venom the new Viagara?

Torn from parents, a top speller vents his anger
Kunal Sah hopes that winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee will help bring his parents back from India. Left, Sah at the motel in Green River, Utah, where he lives with his aunt and uncle.

'Stunning' Buddha murals found in remote Nepal caves
Paintings of Buddha dating back at least to the 12th century have been discovered in a cave in a remote area of Nepal's north-central region.

Mystery as Boeing 737 abandoned in Mumbai street 'disappears'
The plane was abandoned in Chembur after the driver took a wrong turn and found himself facing a flyover that was too low for him to take the plane under. The driver then disappeared and the plane and its trailer were marooned for several days while no-one assumed responsibility for moving it.

New Bandit Queen?
Twenty-nine murder charges, but she wants to be an Indian MP!

So...who's taking bets on whether she actually goes to jail or not!

Celebrity heiress Paris Hilton has been jailed for 45 days for violating her probation over a drink-driving charge. A Los Angeles judge ruled she must start her sentence on 5 June and she will not be allowed any work release.
--- can be tough and harsh for some!

A woman with 11-stone (70 kg) legs


Armless driver escapes police- Michael Francis Wiley of Port Richey, Florida has no arms, only one leg, and is one of the "most accomplished traffic violators" in Pasco County, according to news reports.- via BB

let me end on a funny note..

Doing the bodyguard? ;) Funny signs from China - via BB

May 4, 2007

Books to read - 1

Alexis de Tocqueville: A Life by Hugh Brogon......

.........“illuminates the life of Alexis de Toqueville, the French writer whose exploration of liberty and democracy in "Democracy in America" remains the premiere analysis of the early American political system and its guiding political philosophies.” - via, where the book has a high rating of 85, the second highest score for recent non-fiction books behind Claire Tomalin's biography of Thomas Hardy (metacritic score of 86.)

I confess that in America I saw more than America; I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or hope from its progress. ~ Alexis de Tocqueville

May 3, 2007

kissa kis kiss ka

Amit Varma links today to a churumuri post

but churumuri has an even more interesting post today

Ahmadinejad rocks :)

Grant a wish

Listen to 2007 TED Prize winners: Bill Clinton, E. O. Wilson & James Nachtwey.

Click here to see Bill Clinton's wish

Click here to see EO Wilson's wish

Click here to see James Nachtwey's wish

As an aside, I am predicting we will get to hear Clinton's Nobel lecture some time soon!

Of elusive joy and tangled loves

I am continuing with reading the Best American Essays 2006 and find some essays simply not really worthy of being in a Best of the year collection (eg: Susan Orlean's essay, Lost Dog, from the New Yorker.)

However, that cannot be said of the poet Alan Shapiro's essay, Why write?, first published in The Cincinnati Review. The essay should be read in its entirety but I'll quote one particular paragraph that gives as good an explanation as any for the question asked in the essays title. It quotes from something another great poet, Elizabeth Bishop, wrote in a letter to Anne Stevenson.
"Bishop writes that what we want from great art is the same thing necessary for its creation, and that is a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration. We write, Bishop implies, for the same reason we read or look at paintings or listen to music: for the total immersion of the experience, the narrowing and intensification of focus to the right here, right now, the deep joy of bringing the entire soul to bear upon a single act of concentration. It is self-forgetful even if you are writing about the self, because you yourself have disappeared into the pleasure of making; your identity — the incessant, transient, noisy New York Stock Exchange of desires and commitments, ambitions, hopes, hates, appetites, and interests — has been obliterated by the rapture of complete attentiveness. In that extended moment, opposites cohere: the mind feels and the heart thinks, and receptivity’s a form of fierce activity. Quotidian distinctions between mind and body, self and other, space and time, dissolve. Athletes know all about this nearly hallucinatory state. They call it being in the zone. They feel simultaneously out of body and at one with body."

Ok - I am tempted to quote one more paragraph from the essay, where Shapiro writes about spending time with his friend, Tim Dekin, during the last few days of the latter's life, sorting through some of the latter's poems to put a manuscript together.
"Though fly-fishing is the occasion of the poem, the subject is really acceptance of mortality, failure, and loss, and the value of joy in all its elusiveness.

The poem is also about writing, the moment of creation, when we forget all else but the task at hand, when preparation and luck coincide, when the burden of the past and the future lifts and exhilration comes, what Tim calls "Delight being. Joy being... my childhood's earliest familiar." The poem itself, he implies, the writing of it, is both the crumbs that lead us as adults back to that childhood paradise and the measure of how far we've traveled from it. When the moment passes and the poem's written, when we rise from the desk to return to the world awaiting us - our tangled loves and commitments - the exhilaration is nearly indistinguishable from "unfathomable loss.""
Funny how though I have not written enough to feel the exhilaration, I often feel unfathomable loss, huh? :)

May 2, 2007

Superpower for the 21st century - 2

1) near Ranchi in the eastern state of Bihar in India, an employer beheads worker for not milking cows

2) Amit Varma's post enlightens us about a MSNBC/Reuters report that in nearby
Patna (also in Bihar),

...villagers at a wedding decided the groom had arrived too drunk to get married, and so the bride married the groom’s more sober brother instead...

making even Scott Adams has some fun at India's expense :)

3) and last but not least...Amit Varma also blogs about the sad story of Sohrabuddin's wife Kauser Bi, who was raped and murdered after an encounter-killing of Shorabuddin, an alleged terrorist. What more would you expect in Modi's Gujrat! Agree with Amit when he wrote earlier about the scary prospect that Modi could be India's PM if BJP ever come back to power! This
should be a matter of great consternation and shame for all secular Indians!

Earlier in this series: 1

May 1, 2007

A Celebrity Culture

Reading a post by Amit Varma today, where he links to an article by Mrinal Pande in The Mint (which is written with a vehement feminist tone but it poses an interesting question...should the Bacchans or in particular, Amitabh Bacchan (AB or as he is commonly referred to - 'Big B'), be held to a higher standard(s) as role models for the country?),
my thoughts went to an article I just read earlier this week in the Best American Essays 2006 on The Culture of Celebrity in today's world. The author, Joseph Epstein, discusses how the notion of celebrity has changed in recent years (Paris Hilton*, Brittany Spears...what role models!), discusses how the value that celebrities stand for most is publicity (even if it is sometimes of the wrong kind!), and makes an interesting distinction between being a celebrity and being famous.

I am quoting three paras from the essay here that I thought interesting...

....Considered as a culture, celebrity does have its institutions. We now have an elaborate celebrity-creating machinery well in place--all those short-attention-span television shows (Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous); all those magazines (beginning with People and far from ending with the National Enquirer). We have high-priced celebrity-mongers--Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Oprah--who not only live off others' celebrity but also, through their publicity-making power, confer it and have in time become very considerable celebrities each in his or her own right.

.... Fame, then, at least as I prefer to think of it, is based on true achievement; celebrity on the broadcasting of that achievement, or the inventing of something that, if not scrutinized too closely, might pass for achievement. Celebrity suggests ephemerality, while fame has a chance of lasting, a shot at reaching the happy shores of posterity.

... MANY OF OUR CURRENT-DAY CELEBRITIES float upon "hype," which is really a publicist's gas used to pump up and set aloft something that doesn't really quite exist. Hype has also given us a new breakdown, or hierarchical categorization, of celebrities. Until twenty-five or so years ago great celebrities were called "stars," a term first used in the movies and entertainment and then taken up by sports, politics, and other fields. Stars proving a bit drab, "super-stars" were called in to play, this term beginning in sports but fairly quickly branching outward. Apparently too many superstars were about, so the trope was switched from astronomy to religion, and we now have "icons."

One could extend some of the arguments he makes in the essay to Indians' obsessions with AB and his iconic status in India and also to the craving for attention that drives people to blogging, youtube, and other online displays of their talents (or in some cases, the complete lack thereof.) Maybe I should write something along those lines later ... but I lack the talent and should stop craving for attention, huh? :)

* "
Paris Hilton is the human equivalent of a peacock. She is mostly useless, but she has wealth, looks (to a degree) and fashion sense that signal “successful mate” to the primitive parts of male brains." - via

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