A New Year

on December 31, 2008 with 0 comments » |

2008 was a tough and trying year for me... one I want to forget and move on but one that I that I will forever remember.... 

....but I hope yours was a good one and here's to wishing you all a HAPPY and Great 2009 ahead. Merry tidings for the holiday season and HAPPY NEW YEAR.... 

Be Safe!

Best Books Read in 2008

on December 30, 2008 with 0 comments » | ,

Another Exceptional Year of Reading - From short stories to a murder mystery, Cynthia Crossen at WSJ runs down the best books she read in 2008.


Here's my list of books I read and enjoyed in 2008, in no particular order...

I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere by Anna Gavalda (short stories) 
Really creative. Each story was very different and an enjoyable read. Though 1 person wrote this, no two stories were similar. Writing style, where the stories were based, everything was different. Quite an accomplishment from a young (low 30s, if I remember correctly) French author.
The Girl on the Fridge & The Nimrod Flipout  by Etgar Keret (short short stories)
Both of Egret's books are chock full of really creative shorts - some as short as 1 page, most 2-3 pages, and even the longest one is not more than 5-6 pages. But they all pack a punch and both books were thoroughly enjoyable.

My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead edited by Jeffrey Eugenides  ... EXEMPLERARY collection of short stories. I will buy this book some day soon!
The Braindead Megaphone short stories by George Saunders (Saunders is fast becoming one of my top 5 best authors of recent times).
Yellow Medicine  Anthony Neil Smith  (Crime thriller - not a genre I read much of and so enjoyed this a lot though the ending was not satisfying. Still...it kept me going for long time and so I'd say I enjoyed the read)
Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief Stephen Alter (non-fiction; not majorly new news to someone like me who has been exposed to Bollywood but intersting behind the scenes stuff from making of the movie, Omkara...as Stephen (cousin of Tom Alter, the actor) travels with the Omkara crew during its making provides a good way for narration about Bollywood and its ways. The non-Omkara related "intro to Bollywood" was familiar to me but behind-the-scenes details (with which I am/was not familiar) delighted.

2 short novels...more like novellas...that I did read in 2008.

In Her Absence Antonio Munoz Molina
and

Conjugal Love Alberto Moravia
I don't write reviews well (some day I should attempt one) and no time now to write even a short summary of why I liked both of those novels but let me say this... both, even in translation, were very suited to my aesthetics and tastes and what I look for in good enjoyable reading - dissecting relationships in great prose like no others I have read recently!
Blue Pills by Frederik Peeters. 
Graphic novel - a poignant touching memoir about life with an HIV positive lover and her son; also HIV positive.

Faust in Copenhagen Gino Segre 
Abook on quantum physics (an area I like to read about though I am no physicist) or rather about quantum physicists and their work in the 1920s and 1930s.
Douglass and Lincoln Paul Kendrick (non-fiction) 
Biography of Frederic Douglass and Lincoln. 
The Haiku Anthology Cor Van Den Heuvel.
Have read this book of haikus earlier but this is one of those books that I need to buy for my personal collection as I love this collection. Even on re-reads (because one does not remember them after some months/years), many of the haikus in this collection delight like nothing else. I would almost put them in the "makes me happy" category but I think haikus and poetry, like music, is more a form of solace and refuge for me rather than happiness.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Finally, I read my 2nd Murakami book this year. Read the above book in August during and on the way back from Portland to see my sister.

At Large and At Small - Essays by Anne Fadiman
Had started the year with a great book (may have been a recommendation by Amit) and enjoyed the essays a lot.

Also, there are some books that I began this year and liked a lot but still did not complete reading. Some of them include:
Travels with Herodotus Ryszard Kapuscinski
The Art of Hunger Paul Auster (In recent years, I have become a big fan of Auster, like Saunders above, and have read many of his novels in years past. Early this year, I read about 40% of this book: non-fiction by him. Again, since I am a fan, I enjoyed his non-fiction too.)
Inner Workings J. M. Coetzee (Essays)....read and enjoyed a few of the essays but just about 25% of them.
The Complete Stories Franz Kafka (read only Judgement and re-read Metamorphosis)
Saturday Ian McEwan
Strange Pilgrims Gabriel Garcia Marquez (short stories)

I also read quite a few books on the art of fiction in the summer when i  took a 8 week course on creative writing. But not listing them all here as they were more utility books serving a purpose than fiction or non-fictions.

Note: The above is not a list of all books I read this year. Its only the fiction books that I really enjoyed. I think I read far more non-fiction than fiction typically but have not covered non-fiction in the above list (with one exception - the Douglass-Lincoln biography.) Also, I did not read my regular level of books this year because of many months in India dealing with a family crisis and also many hours/weeks/months spent on the internet after I lost my job -- reading and sending emails, job search, and generally fretting! :)

I wish I could have ended the year with a good book too.. but I think the last book I read before I came to India in mid-Dec (not read anything since) was Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, a book by a behavioral economist which I did not really enjoy!!
And so it goes.... 

Being normal again

on December 29, 2008 with 0 comments » | ,

Am in Mumbai till the end of Jan and hence blogging will be intermittent or even non-existent. 
Just a quick note then to point out an article by Salil Tripathi about the year that taught the city of Mumbai to fight its fears. 
26 November: Terrorists attacked prominent south Mumbai landmarks. Punit Paranjpe / Reuters
Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the Polish communist who founded the Bolshevik secret police, once said: “The only object of terrorism is to terrorise.” The only recourse left for us, then, is not to feel terrified.







The year has taught me much more than facing my fears... it has been devastating in many ways but the thought that I would like to leave the year with is that "whatever does not kill me, makes me stronger." One wonders though whether one has scraped the bottom of the barrel (on many fronts) in 2008 and 2009 will bring better days ahead or is the end still not in sight. One hopes it is the former.... 


The house is back in order

on December 11, 2008 with 0 comments » | ,

After an unnecessary exercise in futility of splitting my blogs and making a confusing mess out of it (see below!), I am back on track with just 1 main blog (this one).

So here on... just two blogs with regular updates.

GREEN OGRES for environment/energy and cleantech issues
TASTY MORSELS for everything else.

That said... while the house is back in order, it will be a quiet one for some time since I am away on a 6 week trip to India starting next week and so blogging will by necessity be infrequent and irregular.

P.S. The other blogs "Accidental Abundances" and "Revolutionary Virtues" as well as posts from Other Side of Silence have been merged into this one, along with all old posts from my blogging during the 2005-2008 period (which had been moved to "Desultory Reflections" during this mathi-maar-gayi-thi phase (sorry non-Hindi readers who do not understand that phrase; cannot easily explain but in essense ... 'what was i thinking'!!!!)

The Substitute for Wit and Other Side of Silence blogs and my poetry blog will also continue to be in existence but those are merely places where I compile and collect quotes and music and house my old poetry -- so are not really blogs.

And I do not refer to the fact that my blogging is going to slow down after next week since I am headed to India for 6 weeks. It seems the downturn in the economy has led to a belt-tightening in the sex industry (there is a joke somewhere in there -- in use of word 'belt tightening' - but I'm not at my wittiest mood right now and leave Leno-Letterman-Stewart-Conan to their day..er.. night jobs!)

Sex industry slows
Brothel owners in Europe and the United States say belt-tightening is undermining a once-lucrative industry.
And another related news about economy hurting a segment of the population :)
Rich Cut Back on Payments to Mistresses
You know times are tough when the rich start cutting costs on their mistresses.According to a new survey by Prince & Assoc., more than 80% of multimillionaires who had extra-marital lovers planned to cut back on their gifts and allowances. Still, only 12% of the multimillionaire cheaters said they plan to give up on their lovers altogether for financial reasons.
Oh...the worries of being rich! ;)

Also... not related to economy but...
Amsterdam to halve shop window brothels and marijuana cafes
Amsterdam will on Monday unveil plans to clean up the city's old town and red light district by halving the number of shop window brothels and cafés where marijuana is sold legally.
Sigh...what is the world coming to! ;)

From Roadside Resort, a collection of photos of American cemeteries that are completely surrounded by parking lots.

Gives new meaning to the phrase 'death by shopping'....although perhaps given what happened over Thanksgiving weekend in New York, more terrifying images come to mind!

I have another post on the year that was...

... but here's a post by Adam Bright in Good magazine about the things to look forward to in 2009.

P.S. I did not know that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were both born on the same day ..as in same day, same year - Feb 12th, 1809. So, both have their 200th birth anniversary being celebrated next year.


P.P.S. Kinda related, thanks to the P.S. mention: The complete works of Charles Darwin, now online. Also, this Daily Kos science post on Darwin's 199th birthday.

The Robinson Crusoe Effect

on December 10, 2008 with 0 comments » | ,

Aah...so, now I have a name for my condition!

Mr. Sieling, the writer of the Slow Blog Manifesto, gave up his personal blog because he felt no one was reading it. “I called it the Robinson Crusoe feeling of blogging,” he said by e-mail, “and I think it’s common.”
That's from an interesting article that talks about the art of "slow" blogging and blogging as a meditative art form!
Haste, Scorned: Blogging at a Snail's Pace

..

slow bloggers believe that news-driven blogs like TechCrunch and Gawker are the equivalent of fast food restaurants — great for occasional consumption, but not enough to guarantee human sustenance over the longer haul.

"Slow Blogging is a rejection of immediacy. It is an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly."
So, it seems its not just Amit Varma at India Uncut (and me lately) who have slowed down on blogging... there's a different kind of "slow" blogger out there!

Also, the article says something about blogging vs. micro-blogging (Twitter etc.)

"Blog to reflect, Tweet to connect."

Sigh... I guess I am no good at reflection nor connection! OTOH, some people reflect AND connect very well! More power to their pen...or rather finger tips - busy typing away at the keyboard or twiddling away at the miniature keypad of a mobile device of their choice!

A list of lists

on December 9, 2008 with 0 comments » |

That time of the year when people start compiling lists of "best" or "notable" books/movies/events of the year is here.

C
ompiled in this post will be links to such lists that will be compiled by various sources over the next month to celebrate all that was good and notable about 2008.

100 Notable Books of 2008 ..via NYT. Also: Michiko Kakutani’s 10 Favorite Books of 2008 and Janet Maslin’s 10 Favorite Books of 2008

Year-end review: Apple’s best of 2008

Best New and Improved Software of 2008

Update: Actually, forget it... why bother will making a list of lists when someone has already done this job for us! (Thanks to Ninad for the link.)

See Fimoculous.com's list of all the 2008 lists and Time magazine's list of the Top 10 Everything of 2008

Despite having read many books over the years on relativity and quantum mechanics, these theories just won't get embedded in my brains like Newtonian's theories and classical mechanics that I learned in school. (There was some exposure to statistical mechanics - Boltzmann, Gibbs, etc. - in some of the thermodynamics coursework I took but it was superficial at best and I rue I did not wade into the details and try to get a better grasp of that topic too!)

And yet, I'm drawn from time to time to read more about the fascinating developments in physics from 1900 onwards. I am currently reading a few books on the subject; some of which delve into the lives of the great men involved while others give a good historical narrative of their quest to understand the world of atoms and its components and the forces that hold them (and the world) together. It is amazing that these unique and devastatingly intelligent people were brought together in this scientific quest at the same time (essentially 1900 till mid-30s).

Anyways, just rambling now....since the books I have been reading the past week or so were on my mind and also because I saw this book review in the Washington Post just now.

Very Small, Very Weird - The struggle to understand what goes on -- or doesn't -- inside the atomThe Age of Entanglement - When Quantum Physics was Reborn by Louisa Gilder. - A review of
Because I have never really understood even the basic ideas developed before WWII, I have kept away from the more recent (post WWII) developments in particle physics and new theories like string theory etc. First I need to grasp what Bohr, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, Dirac, Pauli, Einstein and co. are trying to teach us...then I can worry about Feynman, Greene, and many others!!

Two links to reviews of books & documentaries:

1. In Intentions and Opposite Results in Iraq in the NYT, Michiko Kakutani reviews Peter Galbraith's book, Unintended Consequences - How War in Iraq Strengthened America’s Enemies

In his compelling new book the scholar and former diplomat Peter W. Galbraith not only reminds us that the Iraq war has been a costly, bungled operation, but he also argues that the war has had the opposite effect of virtually everything that President Bush and his administration promised the American public it would have:
  • A war intended to eliminate (what were later found to be non-existent) weapons of mass destruction in Iraq “ended up with Iran and North Korea much closer to having deployable nuclear weapons.”
  • A war intended to help combat terrorism has led to the recruitment of more terrorists and the spread of Al Qaeda to Iraq.
  • A war intended to create a bulwark against the ayatollahs in Tehran turned into a “strategic gift to Iran” and the empowerment in Iraq of pro-Iranian Shiite theocrats.
  • A war intended to make Israel more secure has made that country more vulnerable to threats from Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.
  • A war intended to showcase American power has ended up underscoring “the deficiencies of U.S. intelligence, the incompetence of American administration and the limitations on the American military.”
  • A war meant to boost America’s global leadership “has driven U.S. prestige to an all-time low” over the last five years and alienated important allies like Turkey.

2. In The War We Don't Want in the NY Review of Books, Sue Halpern, reviews a number of recent books and documentaries:
  • War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq: A Series of Cases, 2003–2007; edited by Shawn Christian Nessen, Dave Edmond Lounsbury, and Stephen P. Hetz.
  • The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
  • Generation Kill a miniseries written and produced by David Simon and Ed Burns; based on the book by Evan Wright
  • Baghdad ER -- a film directed by Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill
  • Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery -- a film directed by Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill
All necessary viewing and necessary reading...

U. S. Presidential Election

on December 7, 2008 with 0 comments » |

New York Review of Books Special Issue on The US Presidential Election

Volume 55, Number 20 · December 18, 2008

Obama: In the Irony-Free Zone
By Joan Didion and Darryl Pinckney

The Truth About the Election
By Elizabeth Drew

How Historic a Victory?
By Michael Tomasky

In the Divided Heartland
By Michael Massing

This kid could teach me a thing or two :)


Boy, 9, writes book on how to talk to girls
A nine-year-old boy has had a book published in the US - called How to Talk to Girls

Melancholy or funny?

Woman calls police after hubby, 82, takes Viagra
An 82-year-old Italian man who took a Viagra pill scared his wife so much she called the police.

Is that a gun or are you just happy to see us, Fuehrer?


Naked Hitler sparks complaints
TV bosses in Belgium have been slammed for an advert for a travel programme featuring a semi-naked Adolf Hitler.

It's the season of giving ... interesting new years gifts though!

Man's mag loses 130,000 plastic breasts
An Australian men's magazine says 130,000 inflatable breasts intended as a free gift for its January issue have gone missing.
And that reminds me of this one from some time back (but I don't think I blogged about it then):
Musical breast implants: Computer chips that store music could soon be built into a woman's breast implants. One boob could hold an MP3 player and the other the person's whole music collection.
And on that note... I'll go listen to some music. At last.fm, guys!!!

Previously:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

"Love, having no geography, knows no boundaries." - Truman Capote

Britain's oldest newly-weds
A Devon couple with a combined age of 179 have become Britain's oldest newlyweds.

Man wakes wife from coma - by biting her toes
A Chinese man successfully woke his wife from a coma after 10 years - by biting her toes.
And so it goes...

Glorious India

on December 6, 2008 with 0 comments » |

(I've added some hyperlinks to the books & Eric Meola's web-site in the text below, which is from a NYT article)

India: In Word and Image

These books about India bring to mind two kinds of traveler: the type who approaches a country earnestly, guidebook in hand, and the type — more devoted to escapist pleasure than betterment — who surrenders to a place and absorbs its essence by osmosis. Arguably, the second type has a more memorable journey, while making less effort.

The encyclopedic INDIA (DK, $40), by Abraham Eraly and others, seeks to govern the ungovernable — a rapturous, multicultural civilization hurtling into the future — by compressing it into orderly compartments. There are, for example, panoramic landscape photos, and neatly laid out sections about prehistoric India; the daily life of a Punjabi schoolgirl; Gandhi; ayurvedic therapy; textiles; jewelry; a Hindu bride; and various types of architecture.

Although the text is accompanied by striking pictures, some of them fascinating depictions of religious rituals and domestic life, the images and words are meant less to seduce than to inform: there are more than 24 million Christians in India; its state-owned railway is the second-largest employer in the world; it didn’t publish its first vernacular newspaper until 1822. This is not uninteresting cultural data, and the authors have devised a painless teaching method — short chapters, timelines and plenty of images to hold our attention. The well-organized research will provide a comprehensive, if clinical, briefing for a traveler to the country, as long as that traveler plans to confine himself to civically optimistic settings. As thorough as the book appears to be, it avoids some of the less enchanting details of life on the ground. There is no entry in its lengthy index for “poverty,” and there are no photographs of disabled beggars or fields of garbage being picked over by small children.

© Eric Meola

Eric Meola’s photographs in INDIA: In Word and Image (Welcome, $60) also present an idealized India, but one that is impressionistic and so tailored to the hedonistic armchair traveler that looking through it constitutes a kind of exotic five-star vacation in itself. The portraits, landscapes and photographic studies of flora and architecture are more art than documentary, and are accompanied not by history lessons, but by masterly literary prose that delights us and — isn’t this really the point? — makes us long to go to India.

The color-drenched images evoke an Eden where beautiful women, plump children and succulent fruits compete to catch the eye. But the accompanying text — excerpts from works by writers including Kiran Desai, Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth — is less reliant on the hot pink saris and temples that dazzle tourists. Given the largesse bestowed on Western readers by Indians writing in English, the selection process for the passages included here must have been agonizing. From them, the reader learns not just about India the ancient civilization and exotic destination, but about Indians ­— in all their eccentricity and humanity. The country’s tastes, nuanced colors and protocols are also revealed.

Next to an image of a woman’s hair festooned with orange flowers is R. K. Narayan’s description of a mature protagonist, regarding herself critically in a mirror, just before she steps into a garden to gather jasmine for her hair. “She was more or less satisfied with her reflection, except for two strands of gray hair which she had just discovered; she smoothed them out and tucked them cunningly into an under-layer.” With those words, the writer extends Indian citizenship to women on all continents.

Similarly, a passage by I. Allan Sealy allows us not merely to learn about India, but to know it intimately. He describes an encounter with Indian sweets: “Here are pannikins of crushed pearls, trays heavy with sweetmeats, the mouth-rejoicing gulab jamun, the tongue-delighting jalebi, the tooth-vibrating kulfi, the universe-arresting Sandila-laddu.” Such words can hold their own with any pictures, even Meola’s glorious photographs of a bewitching country.

Sometime it is not!

Dog freezes to sidewalk in Wisconsin



And while Bombay, the city of my childhood, suffers through the horrors of a terror attack (and its aftermath), the entertainment value of art and music seems so inconsequential and immaterial. And yet, it is through these "renovating virtues" that..

..whence–depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse – our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired...


Also: 1, 2, 3.

All links via a Metafilter post.

Sifting the leavings

on November 26, 2008 with 0 comments » |

One of my favorite authors, John Updike, writes about the challenges facing an aging writer:

I can appreciate the advantages, for a writer, of youth and obscurity. You are not yet typecast. You can take a cold view of the entire literary scene. You are full of material -- your family, your friends, your region of the country, your generation -- when it is fresh and seems urgently worth communicating to readers. No amount of learned skills can substitute for the feeling of having a lot to say, of bringing news. Memories, impressions and emotions from the first 20 years on earth are most writers' main material; little that comes afterward is quite so rich and resonant. By the age of 40, you have probably mined the purest veins of this precious lode; after that, continued creativity is a matter of sifting the leavings ...

A few images, a few memorable acquaintances, a few cherished phrases, circle around the aging writer's head like gnats as he strolls through the summertime woods at gloaming. He sits down before the word processor's humming, expectant screen, facing the strong possibility that he has already expressed what he is struggling to express again ...

With ominous frequency, I can't think of the right word. I know that there is a word; I can visualize the exact shape it occupies in the jigsaw puzzle of the English language. But the word itself, with its precise edges and unique tint of meaning, hangs on the misty rim of consciousness ...

When, against my better judgment, I glance back at my prose from 20 or 30 years ago, the quality I admire and fear to have lost is its carefree bounce, its snap, its exuberant air of slight excess. The author, in his boyish innocence, is calling, like the sorcerer's apprentice, upon unseen powers -- the prodigious potential of this flexible language's vast vocabulary. Prose should have a flow, the forward momentum of a certain energized weight; it should feel like a voice tumbling into your ear.

An aging writer wonders if he has lost the ability to visualize a completed work, in its complex spatial relations ...
If only I could write like this...at any age!

haah!

If you are an overeducated (or at least a semi-overeducated) youngish person with a sleep disorder and a surfeit of opinions, the thing to do, after all, is to start a blog. There are no printing costs, no mailing lists, and the medium offers instant membership in a welcoming herd of independent minds who will put you in their links columns if you put them in yours. Blogs embody and perpetuate a discourse based on speed, topicality, cleverness and contention - all qualities very much ascendant in American media culture these days.

That's an excerpt froma A. O. Scott article in the New York Times in 2005! I'm kinda over-educated, not-so-youngish, sleep fitfully lately, but have no opinions (at least none I voice vociferously)..... no wonder, my blog(s) flail. :)

Speed? Topicality? Cleverness? Contention? Not here!

National Book Awards 2008

on November 25, 2008 with 0 comments » |

I just found out that Mark Doty has won the National Book Award for poetry for 2008 (interview) for his book, Fire to Fire - New and Selected Poems. I had seen this book at the Boston public library last month and meant to pick it up soon. Now I will have to!

Other finalists include:
Frank Bidart, Watching the Spring Festival - Interview
Reginald Gibbons, Creatures of a Day - Interview
Richard Howard, Without Saying - Interview
Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler - Interview
Award winners (and finalists) in Fiction and Non-Fiction categories include:

FICTION:

WINNER: Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country - Interview

Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project - Interview
Rachel Kushner, Telex from Cuba - Interview
Marilynne Robinson, Home - Interview
Salvatore Scibona, The End - Interview
NON-FICTION:

WINNER: Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family -Interview
Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War - Interview
Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals - Interview
Jim Sheeler, Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives - Interview
Joan Wickersham, The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order - Interview

Neelkantan brings to my attention, via email, this report at the Literary Saloon about the Sacred Defense Book of the Year awards in Iran:

This is the 12th edition of the event, which is annually held by the Foundation for the Preservation and Publication of Sacred Defense Works and Values (FPPSDWV) to honor writers of books on the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, which is known as the Sacred Defense in Iran.
And the winners are:

  • Poetry Section: No work merited the first prize
  • Children's Poetry Section: No works deserved the first and third prizes
  • Verbal Memory Section: No work was awarded the second prize
  • Fiction Section: No entry was given the first prize in this section.
  • Fictionalized Biography Section: No work was able to win the first and second prizes
  • War and Biography Section: No second or third prize was awarded.
  • Literary Research Section: No work was deemed worthy of the first, Second or third prizes in this section.
  • Military Research Section: No first or second prize was given.
  • Art Section: No work was able to win first, second or third prize in the Drama Section as well as in the Illustration and Photo Section.
  • Best Cover Design: No work deserved the first or third prize.
No.. this is no spoof! Apparently, we no longer need the services of The Onion to meet our daily dose of satire and wit! The world is a parody of itself!

Read some essays from Amy Lowell's book of essays, Poetry and Poets. Some of the interesting ones can be read online for free (see links below) and so I will not excerpt from them but here is an excerpt from an essay called: The process of making poetry.

Amy Lowell, in writing about the process of making poetry and the role of the (sub)conscious arrival of the poem ("It came to me") writes:

Sometimes the external stimulus which has produced a poem is known or can be traced. It may be a sight, a sound, a thought, or an emotion. Sometimes the consciousness has no record of the initial impulse, which has either been forgotten or springs from a deep, unrealized memory. But whatever it is, emotion, apprehended or hidden, is a part of it, for only emotion can rouse the subconscious into action.

...

The subconscious is, however, a most temperamental ally. Often he will strike work at some critical point and not another word is to be got out of him. Here is where the conscious training of the poet comes in, for he must fill in what the subconscious has left, and fill it in as much in the key of the rest as possible. ...

Sometimes the sly subconscious partner will take pity on the struggling poet and return to his assistance; sometimes he will have nothing to do with that particular passage again. This is the reason that a poet must be both born and made. He must be born with a subconscious factory always working for him or he can never be a poet at all, and he must have knowledge and talent enouogh to 'putty' up his holes - to use Mr. Grave's expression. Let no one undervalue this process of puttying; it is a condition of good poetry.

I do believe that a poet should know all he can. No subject is alien to him, and the profounder his knowledge in any direction, the more depth will there be to his poetry. I believe he should be thoroughly grounded in both the old and the new poetic forms, but I am firmly convinced that he must never respect tradition above his intuitive self. Let him be sure of his own sincerity above all, let him bow to no public acclaim, however alluring, and then let him write with all the courage what his subconscious mind suggests to him.
There is much else to treasure in the essays, some of which can be read here.

The Festival Au Desert in Essakane, Mali (2 hours from Timbaktu) will be held from January 8-10, 2009.

And while I cannot be there in 2009, I still hope that some day before I die I will make it to this musical heaven. For now, I get to enjoy Ali Farka Toure jamming at the Festival in 2003 ... many thanks to youtube poster, Festivalhopper, who has uploaded many videos of live performances from festivals around the world.



also this video of Ali Farka Toure from the festival..



and here's one of Oumou Sangare (see post) with Ali Farka Toure (also from the 2003 Festival.)



And last but not least... though Ali Farka Toure is no more with us, here's a video of his capable son, Vieux (see
1, 2, 3) at the 2008 Festival.




Another great voice from Mali... Oumou Sangare. Love her music too, though to me, the voice of Mali's other famous female singer Rokia Traore is un-match-able.

First up, a track called Saa Magni



Great photographs to go with this video of the song, Yala.



And one last one...


Update: Turns out that, expectedly, I have already posted Oumou's songs at my previous blog. No repeats luckily ....so, you can go see the old posts here and here.

Two guitar greats from Mali... short but beautiful video.



A longer video of the two performing together can be seen here.

I have posted about the music of Ali Farka Toure many times before (see 1, 2, 3) but couple more videos here of Boubacar Traoré, whose life story is an interesting example of how famous and great musicians sometimes go unrecognized for decades. So much beautiful music could have been recorded for the generations in the 1970s and 1980s when Boubacar was toiling away in various menial jobs in Mali!





Absolutely lovely! NO wonder,
Ali Farka Toure, himself an undisputable legend of Malian music, had this to say about Boubacar (fondly called "Kar Kar"): "If the maximum is five, I give ten to Kar Kar".

Darwin and The Origin of Species

on November 24, 2008 with 0 comments » |

Great set of pictures, via the Guardian.

Gallery Darwin gallery: Charles Darwin

Darwin at age 31 in 1840, recently married, a dignified young naturalist with a secret theory about evolution. Portrait of Darwin, 1840, by George Richmond, ©Darwin Heirlooms Trust, courtesy of the English Heritage Photo Library


Gallery Darwin gallery: Charles Darwin

A grand old man of science. Darwin aged 71, photographed a year before his death in 1882. Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1881, ©Private

This year's Nobel laureate seems like one who I would love to read more of...

the great escapist

In an interview with me in 1997, Le Clezio explained that during this period he was greatly affected by Aldous Huxley's seminal dsytopian tract, Brave New World. This influence is most evident in The Giants, a novel describing a Big Brother-style society of surveillance, founded on the seduction of the consumer and the control of language by "the Masters". With characters called Machines and Tranquillity, trapped in a massive supermarket named Hyperpolis, Le Clezio echoes Huxley's horrific vision of the future in a premonitory portrait of the manipulative power of advertising. The inescapable oppression of modern Western civilisation and the fear of what it might lead to is the essential message that Le Clezio seeks to convey here, and there is little hope for new beginnings or a better way of being in the world. More optimistic insights came to him, however, as he travelled and experienced other cultures. After brief periods working as a teacher in Thailand and a librarian's assistant in Mexico, he spent considerable time in the early '70s living among the Embera indians, deep in the forests of Panama.

more from The Australian here

No mood to blog these days but I'll occasionally link to articles I find interesting.

Max Gladwell explores..

Part I: What the victory of Barack Obama means for the nexus of social media and green living.

Part II: Social media is the accelerant that drives change and innovation, moving us more quickly and efficiently toward the solutions of our time. That’s precisely what it did for Barack Obama.

Part III: Of all the problems the new Obama administration faces–health care, national security, the economy, global warming–none is more pressing than energy.

Scandal is our growth industry

on November 22, 2008 with 0 comments » |

Mark Danner writes in the New York Review of Books:

Scandal is our growth industry. Revelation of wrongdoing leads not to definitive investigation, punishment, and expiation but to more scandal. Permanent scandal. Frozen scandal. The weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist. The torture of detainees who remain forever detained. The firing of prosecutors which is forever investigated. These and other frozen scandals metastasize, ramify, self-replicate, clogging the cable news shows and the blogosphere and the bookstores. The titillating story that never ends, the pundit gabfest that never ceases, the gift that never stops giving: what is indestructible, irresolvable, unexpiatable is too valuable not to be made into a source of profit. Scandal, unpurged and unresolved, transcends political reality to become commercial fact.

George Packer writes in the New Yorker blogs:

Quote of the Night from November 4th (via Alex Ross): “I was born in 1941. That was the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. I’ve been living in darkness ever since. It looks like things are going to change now.”

That said ... it's easy to get caught up in Obama-mania with the fervent (and must I add illogical) hope that he is really THE ONE to lead us out of every mess we are in today - political, economic, environmental, world peace, and so on and so forth - (I think his third book is going to be titled "The Weight of Expectations")

But like the conservative writer David Brooks, "tremendously impressed by the Obama transition", writes

Believe me, I’m trying not to join in the vast, heaving O-phoria now sweeping the coastal haute bourgeoisie. But the personnel decisions have been superb. The events of the past two weeks should be reassuring to anybody who feared that Obama would veer to the left or would suffer self-inflicted wounds because of his inexperience. He’s off to a start that nearly justifies the hype.


Indeed! Obama continues to impress me, despite high expectations I have set him. In fact, I try very hard to not get swayed and blind to his faults and look at everything he says/does with a grain of salt and play devil's advocate. And yet....he continues to impress!

I am sure his detractors will come up with some argument that this shows he is not adjusting to the changing realities (or some such nonsense) but this excerpt here is another example where Obama speaks logically and rationally and not like a politician who puts his fingers up in the air to see which way the wind is blowing before he speaks!

Obama on the ‘Shock to Trance’ Energy Pattern

by Andrew Revkin

When President-elect Barack Obama was interviewed on “60 Minutes” Sunday night, he seemed to stick with his campaign pledge to press ahead with an energy quest (scale to be determined) whether or not it is politically correct. His answers on energy reminded me of what some people perceived as a defining moment during the presidential race, when — in the heat of the “drill here, drill now” summer — Mr. Obama split with Senator John McCain and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton over the need for a “gas tax holiday” in the face of spiking prices at the pump.

Here’s the moment (from the CBS transcript):

Steve Kroft: When the price of oil was at $147 a barrel, there were a lot of spirited and profitable discussions that were held on energy independence. Now you’ve got the price of oil under $60.

Mr. Obama: Right.

Mr. Kroft: Does doing something about energy, is it less important now than….?

Mr. Obama: It’s more important. It may be a little harder politically, but it’s more important.

Mr. Kroft: Why?

Mr. Obama: Well, because this has been our pattern. We go from shock to trance. You know, oil prices go up, gas prices at the pump go up, everybody goes into a flurry of activity. And then the prices go back down and suddenly we act like it’s not important, and we start, you know, filling up our S.U.V.’s again. And, as a consequence, we never make any progress. It’s part of the addiction, all right. That has to be broken. Now is the time to break it.

BRILLIANT! More power (no pun intended) to him!

Related:
The Presidency and the Climate Challenge
Readers to Obama: 10 Earthly Ideas on a Budget

I hope his administration is successful in at least some of the many good things he has promised; the expectations have been set really high and while he may fail sometimes, I hope the media and talking heads all don't sense blood and get into a feeding frenzy and tear him apart. Patience, less politics, more goal-oriented focused efforts will help the US (and the world) dig out of the hole we are in (on many fronts).

Also, this excerpt from the same CBS interview (emphasis mine)

Mr. Kroft: Are you gonna make a lot of speeches? Are you gonna talk a lot to the American people on television and radio?

Mr. Obama: You know, I’m not sure that the American people are looking for a lot of speeches. I think what they’re looking for is action. But one of the things that I do think is important is to be able to explain to the American people what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. That is something that I think every great president has been able to do. From FDR to Lincoln to John Kennedy to Eisenhower. I mean, I think that they were people who were able to say ‘Here’s the direction we’re going. Here’s why I think it’s important. Here are the possible dangers or challenges. But ultimately, you know, this is gonna lead us to a better America.’ And I want to make sure that I can recreate a bond of trust between the presidency and the public that I think has been lost.

Someone I talked to earlier this week thought Obama is inexperienced and so probably lacks the ability to pool resources and bring about real change. The strong team he has put together (see David Brooks article mentioned above!) suggests he has shown the ability to tap into the right resources to overcome any lack of experience he may have. To the detractors who think Obama has seduced us all with his words and oratory and find it unlikely Obama was going to make any big change, I say patience please! Let us at least give the man a chance before we pre-judge him as a failure. Last I checked it was still a Bush government in charge, though there have been couple op-ed pieces that suggest he should just get out of the way and let the Obama administration start working! I agree with people saying that they will only believe Obama when he backs his talk with words and action and gets things done despite the tough quagmires we are all stuck in! But somehow I have hope that he will act. Talking heads can fill their TV time between now and January mouthing off and analyzing Obama's every move before he even gets to work - prematurely judging him before he even gets inaugurated as President - but nothing so far suggests there is reason to sway away from our 'audacity of hope' and so, hope I will!

P.S. Meanwhile, Bush continues handing out gifts to the oil industry even as they head out!

Earlier this week the Bush administration announced another parting gift for Big Oil in the form of new oil shale regulations. What America, and the world, really needs is investment in clean energy solutions -- like plug-in cars -- that will reduce our dependence on oil. Instead, the Bush administration has chosen to invest taxpayer subsidies in a dirty fuel with production operations that would destroy wildlife habitat, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and suck up limited water resources. About two million acres of public land are at stake -- land that belongs to all Americans.

The Life and Lonely Death of Noah Pierce

At age 23, Noah Pierce took a handgun and shot himself in the head. It could have been the memory of the Iraqi child he crushed under his Bradley. It could have been the unarmed man he shot point-blank in the forehead, or the friend he tried madly to gather into a plastic bag after he had been blown to bits, or it could have been the doctor he killed.
Alas... such is the Price of Aggression
We, as a nation, seem to believe that, win or lose, the war is nearly finished, done with, history. Unfortunately, for hundreds of thousands of American veterans and their families, the war is anything but over.
Just something to mull over as Bush exits after 8 horrendous years.


President Bush strides out of the White House, the lawn turned into a cemetery

© Ross MacDonald and Virginia Quarterly Review

Related: A Poem for the Last American Soldier to Die in Iraq by Brian Turner


Mahotella Queens

on November 20, 2008 with 0 comments » | ,

Mahotella Queens from South Africa

Thoko (1964)


Jabulani Mabungu (1967)


Umculo Kawupheli (1974)


On David Letterman's show (1990)



The Mahotella Queens with Mahlathini and the late, great 'groaner' Simon Mahlathini Nkabinde performing Mbaqanga (1991
)


At the Grassroots Festival, New York (2002)


and finally
at the WOMAD 2007 in Taranaki New Zealand (2007)