March 31, 2008

The world is flat

And not in the sense that Friedman meant it. It might as well be flat, when one lives in a pre-Copernican pre-Darwinian world!

An excerpt from an article this weekend by Nicholas Kristof to get an idea of what I mean:

Then there’s this embarrassing fact about the United States in the 21st century: Americans are as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution. Depending on how the questions are asked, roughly 30 to 40 percent of Americans believe in each. A 34-nation study found Americans less likely to believe in evolution than citizens of any of the countries polled except Turkey.

President Bush is also the only Western leader I know of who doesn’t believe in evolution, saying “the jury is still out.” No word on whether he believes in little green men.

Only one American in 10 understands radiation, and only one in three has an idea of what DNA does. One in five does know that the Sun orbits the Earth ...oh, oops.

What? There's no Santa even? Surely you believe in your name-sake! What about the elves? You must be with the terrorists, Nicholas. Or must be a liberal grinch who wants to steal Christmas from us. :)

I always say that ignorance mixed in with a dash of arrogance will be the doom of America. To be ignorant is one thing... to be ignorant and arrogant that others are ignorant and your way is the right way ...well..that's just the very popular Faux News. :)

“America is now ill with a powerful mutant strain of intertwined ignorance, anti-rationalism, and anti-intellectualism,” Susan Jacoby argues in a new book, “The Age of American Unreason.” She blames a culture of “infotainment,” sound bites, fundamentalist religion and ideological rigidity for impairing thoughtful debate about national policies.
A related book: The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America by Charlotte Thompson Iserbyt (Reviews) and some articles - 1, 2, 3.

March 30, 2008

Peering down rabbit holes

Sometimes the truth does not set you free
"We Disappear" is more honest, and thus more troubling, for it reflects the stark knowledge that truth is only an amalgam of experience, a collection of individual shards that don't coalesce into a pleasing whole. As Heim suggests, the search for truth invites the Hansels and Gretels of the world to follow the wrong adult home, the Alices to peer down the rabbit hole -- and fantasy to cover up the nasty grime of reality. - Sarah Weiman reviewing Scott Heim's 3rd novel, We Disappear.
Other reviews of the book here and here. A trailer for the book made by the author can be seen here.

March 29, 2008

Innovation defined

In this 2003 interview, Dean Kamen, serial inventor & entrepreneur (inventor of Segway amongst many other novel innovations), defines very well what innovation is all about (emphasis mine):
I remember when the first Pong game came out. People were glued to their sets doing this eye-hand coordination, watching this thing go up and back. I'll call that a video game.

The fact is, it was a crude box, a crude little puck, and it kept you mesmerized for hours and you probably did it with a few thousand bytes of RAM. Today, we go from hundreds of megabytes to gigabytes on a video game that will have almost lifelike characters running around. But in reality, when you do the same eye-hand coordination exercise you did on Pong, instead of pushing the pong up and back with ever-more realistic graphics — the mindless violence of this thing ripping the head off of that thing and squirting blood has no extra value in either making the game an eye-hand coordination challenge or amusing. It's not an innovation.

But suppose instead of multiplying the bandwidth by a hundred in the past five years, you left the bandwidth alone, and you figured out how to get the Internet to a hundred times as many people so the four billion people living in Africa and Asia and places where they have no access to information and knowledge, got access. That would be an innovation.

I think in some cases inventions prohibit innovation because we're so caught up in playing with the technology, we forget about the fact that it was supposed to be important.
Also this very simple idea that not many people seem to grasp:
We can't live anymore in a world which is based on stuff and not ideas. If you want to live with the world of stuff, we're all doomed. As we move towards 8 or 10 billion people on the planet, there's a little less gold per capita. Each one of us will continue to be fighting over an ever smaller percentage of total resources, except it won't be just gold we're fighting over. It will be water and air. This is not a happy thought.

March 27, 2008

A concentrated form of thought

"I write to find out how much I know. The act of writing for me is a concentrated form of thought." - Don Delillo

"When it comes to writers being obsessed, I have one notion. Obsession as a state seems so close to the natural condition of a novelist at work on a book, that there may be nothing else to say about it." -DeLillo, from the 1979 interview with Tom LeClair.

"The question is the story itself, and whether or not it means something is not for the story to tell." - Paul Auster in The New York Trilogy.

The writing voice

Excerpt from How to Write by Richard Rhodes:
The empty page is a Spinx, blankly ferocious.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the introduction to his short-story collection Strange Pilgrims, calls beginning "intense":

Beginning a novel... everything must be defined in the first paragraph: structure, tone, style, rhythm, length, and sometimes even the personality of a character. All the rest is the pleasure of writing, the most intimate, solitary pleasure one can imagine,....

As for the novel, so also, mutatis mutandis, for any work of writing: the first paragraph charts a course that may lead the reader -- and will restrain the writer -- through hundreds and even thousands of pages, to the near or distant end. And first among firsts is voice: who is telling the story?

Well, who is telling the story? You, of course. Only you. .....

... Even the you who is telling your first-person personal story is you but not you, isn't it -- is one but not another of your many persona, whichever one you've selected for this particular task? It follows that voice in writing -- who is telling the story -- is always to some degree made up for the occasion, which is to say, is always fictional, even when you intend to use that voice to convey documented fact.


"A man cannot utter two or three sentences without disclosing to intelligent ears precisely where he stands in life and thought... " - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Voice and its grammatical correlate, point of view, shape the frame through which your reader experiences your story. That necessary frame limits what your reader will know, of course. But its limitations cut both ways. The frame of voice limits what your reader will know because it limits what you can tell him.

March 24, 2008

4000 and counting

Another "milestone" day in Iraq.
US death toll in Iraq hits 4000
The American deaths occurred Sunday, the same day rockets and mortars pounded the U.S.-protected Green Zone in Baghdad and a wave of attacks left at least 61 Iraqis dead nationwide.
4000 in 5 years... 800 or so a year... 1000 every 12-14 months. 2+ every day. Right on target... Good Job, Bushie. Just remember though ...these are not mere numbers... they are lives of sons, daughters, husbands, wives, and friends (Faces of the dead)

March 22, 2008

A testament of betrayals

From the Poetry Foundation's writeup about the poet, W. S. Merwin
Merwin's despair over the desecration of nature is strongly expressed in his collection The Lice. Lieberman commented: "To read these poems is an act of self-purification. Every poem in the book pronounces a judgement against modern men—the gravest sentence the poetic imagination can conceive for man's withered and wasted conscience: our sweep of history adds up to one thing only, a moral vacuity that is absolute and irrevocable. This book is a testament of betrayals; we have betrayed all beings that had power to save us: the forest, the animals, the gods, the dead, the spirit in us, the words. Now, in our last moments alive, they return to haunt us."

Life's interruptions, beauty, and all the things left unsaid

Three excerpts from fiction & poetry that I read at the New Yorker.

First up, an excerpt from a short story:

Looking back, Eva could see that the real interruption had not been her father’s death. The fact was that in the aftermath of the funeral, when it had seemed as if the whole world had fallen silent, what had troubled Eva most was her marriage… -- The Bell Ringer, by john Burnside
Our capacity to be overwhelmed by the beautiful
Survives, unlike beauty,
Amid the harshest distractions.
- from the poem, On Beauty by James Longenbach
echoes in every room
without a sound
all the things that we
had never been able to say
I could not remember
- from the poem, A Single Autumn by W. S. Merwin

March 20, 2008

Gray is a welcome relief from black and white.

We have read/heard a lot about Jeremiah Wright's inflammatory words. Now read this excerpt from an article by Nicholas D. Kristof on Obama's speech on race:

The outrage over sermons by Mr. Wright demonstrates how desperately we as a nation need the dialogue about race that Mr. Obama tried to start with his speech on Tuesday.

Many well-meaning Americans perceive Mr. Wright as fundamentally a hate-monger who preaches antagonism toward whites. But those who know his church say that is an unrecognizable caricature: He is a complex figure and sometimes a reckless speaker, but one of his central messages is not anti-white hostility but black self-reliance.

“The big thing for Wright is hope,” said Martin Marty, one of America’s foremost theologians, who has known the Rev. Wright for 35 years and attended many of his services. “You hear ‘hope, hope, hope.’ Lots of ordinary people are there, and they’re there not to blast the whites. They’re there to get hope.”

Professor Marty said that as a white person, he sticks out in the largely black congregation but is always greeted with warmth and hospitality. “It’s not anti-white,” he said. “I don’t know anybody who’s white who walks out of there not feeling affirmed.”

Mr. Wright has indeed made some outrageous statements. But he should be judged as well by his actions — including a vigorous effort to address poverty, ill health, injustice and AIDS in his ministry. Mr. Wright has been frightfully wrong on many topics, but he was right on poverty, civil rights and compassion for AIDS victims.

What should draw much more scrutiny in this campaign than any pastor’s sermons is the candidates’ positions on education, health care and poverty — and their ability to put those policies in place. Cutting off health care benefits for low-income children strikes me as much more offensive than any inflammatory sermon.

Many white Americans seem concerned that Mr. Obama, who seems so reasonable, should enjoy the company of Mr. Wright, who seems so militant, angry and threatening. To whites, for example, it has been shocking to hear Mr. Wright suggest that the AIDS virus was released as a deliberate government plot to kill black people.

That may be an absurd view in white circles, but a 1990 survey found that 30 percent of African-Americans believed this was at least plausible.

“That’s a real standard belief,” noted Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a political scientist at Princeton (and former member of Trinity church, when she lived in Chicago). “One of the things fascinating to me watching these responses to Jeremiah Wright is that white Americans find his beliefs so fringe or so extreme. When if you’ve spent time in black communities, they are not shared by everyone, but they are pretty common beliefs.”

Occasionally, we’ve had glimpses of this gulf between white and black America. Right after the O.J. Simpson murder trial, a CBS News poll found that 6 out of 10 whites thought that the jury had reached the wrong verdict, while 9 out of 10 blacks believed it had decided correctly. Many African-Americans even believe that the crack cocaine epidemic was a deliberate conspiracy by the United States government to destroy black neighborhoods.

Much of the time, blacks have a pretty good sense of what whites think, but whites are oblivious to common black perspectives.

What’s happening, I think, is that the Obama campaign has led many white Americans to listen in for the first time to some of the black conversation — and they are thunderstruck.

All of this demonstrates that a national dialogue on race is painful, awkward and essential.


Transcript of Obama's "breathtaking and "brutal and honest" speech

Obama's Profile in Courage - NYT Editorial.

Also from the NYT, An Effort to Bridge a Divide

And Maureen Dowd's article - Black, White and Gray - in which she rightly writes:

A little disenchantment with Obama could turn out to be a good thing. Too much idealism can blind a leader to reality as surely as too much ideology can.

Up until now, Obama and his worshipers have set it up so that he must be so admirable and ideal and perfect and everything we’ve ever wanted that any kind of blemish — even a parking ticket — was regarded as a major failing.

With the Clintons, we expect them to be cheesy on ethics, so no one is ever surprised when they are. But Saint Obama played the politics of character to an absurd extent. For 14 months, his argument for leading the world has been himself — his exquisitely globalized self.

He should be congratulated on the disappearance of the pedestal. Leaders don’t need to be messiahs.

Gray is a welcome relief from black and white.

Other articles:

Obama's Unique Balancing Act - Wallsten & Nicholas, Los Angeles Times
Obama Did Little to Address Pastor - Michael Gerson, Washington Post
Race, Wright and Obama's Candidacy - Jay Cost, RealClearPolitics
Racial Problems Transcend Wright Issue - Vandehei & Harris, The Politico
Landmark Speech is a Road Map - Eugene Robinson, Washington Post
Hate is Not to Be Endlessly Analyzed - Mark Davis, Dallas Morning News
Wright's Rantings Won't Sink Obama - Dick Morris, The Hill
Was Obama's Speech Enough? - Joan Walsh, Salon
Why Obama's Speech Was a Success - Steve Kornacki, New York Observer
Three Big Problems with the Speech - Michael Medved, Townhall
Historic Speech Was Obama's Lincoln Moment - Tim Rutten, LA Times
Obama's Unique Balancing Act - Wallsten & Nicholas, Los Angeles Times
Obama Did Little to Address Pastor - Michael Gerson, Washington Post
Race, Wright and Obama's Candidacy - Jay Cost, RealClearPolitics
Racial Problems Transcend Wright Issue - Vandehei & Harris, The Politico
Landmark Speech is a Road Map - Eugene Robinson, Washington Post
Hate is Not to Be Endlessly Analyzed - Mark Davis, Dallas Morning News
What Obama's Speech Really Meant - Robert Tracinski, Intellectual Activist

and a Metafilter post

Obama's Gettysburg Address: Today we saw and heard a preview of our brightest possible American future in Senator Barack Obama's glorious speech. This, then, is what it means to be presidential. To be moral. To have a real center. To speak honestly, from the heart, for the benefit of all. If there was any doubt about what we have missed in the anti-intellectual, ruthlessly incurious Bush years, and even the slippery Clinton ones (the years of "what is is"), those doubts were laid to rest by Barack Obama's magisterial speech today. A speech in which he distanced himself from a flawed father figure, Reverend Wright, and did so with almost Shakespearian dignity and honor. One of the most important speeches on race in decades if not longer.
One for the history books.
Obama's Bold Gamble
Crisis into opportunity.
Even RedState loves Obama

March 19, 2008

Snatching defeat

Today, we mark the five year anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom. What started 5 years ago with a bunch of lies and misrepresentation continues to date with no end in sight. And this is what we have to show for it: 3990 US troops killed, 30,000 wounded, thousands of Iraqis dead -- all at the cost of billions of $s per month to the tax-payer and billions into the pockets of Halliburton & other Cheney cronies!

Snatched defeat out of the jaws indeed!!!
"And so, General, I want to thank you for your service. And I appreciate the fact that you really snatched defeat out of the jaws of those who are trying to defeat us in Iraq." --George W. Bush, to Army Gen. Ray Odierno, Washington, D.C., March 3, 2008 (Click here to see video of Bush's comments. The Bushism is at 1:23.)

Five Years After the Conquest - Justin Raimondo

Five years in Iraq: Iraqis and Americans Offer Perspectives on the War - WaPo

"The military "surge," which added about 30,000 U.S. troops, has had a significant, positive impact", opine some. But has it?

Has 5 Years of War Achieved Anything in Iraq? - Fred Kaplan, Slate

No Surrender - Fouad Ajami

Necessary Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

March 17, 2008

Ambition vs. Reality

You Should Be A Poet

You craft words well, in creative and unexpected ways.

And you have a great talent for evoking beautiful imagery...

Or describing the most intense heartbreak ever.

You're already naturally a poet, even if you've never written a poem.

I have actually written poems. Not in a while but I used to. And I am not sure I should be a poet. I do wish I was a writer. But like a good friend once told me...a lot of people are in love with the idea of being a writer but do not really understand, like, or even attempt or develop the habit & art of writing. I do read a lot. But reading, while essential and necessary, is not a sufficient requisite to being a writer.

P.S. Not that I have any problems with beautiful legs, but I am strangely bothered by the above picture, that came with the cut-n-paste from the quiz I took to know what kind of a writer I should be.* I could take it out but am going to leave it in - if only as a distraction. :)

* I do not take such pop-quizzes seriously - this is more in jest than any genuine attempt to find out what I should write! Answering 5 silly multiple-choice questions will NOT tell me what I should do with my life or even begin to scratch at the surface of who I am as a person.

March 16, 2008

Celebrity Sightings

Hilarious photoshopped pictures!

If celebrities moved to Oklahoma

Destroying the village to save it

Depopulation Boom

It turns out that the world will be such a swell place without any humans around — better sunsets, cleaner water, less traffic — that we can’t wait to see it. Even if, you know, we’re all dead. Since last summer, when Alan Weisman’s “The World Without Us” became a surprise bestseller by imagining what would happen to the planet if all 6.5 billion humans instantly disappeared, the idea has taken hold in the popular imagination.

Carbon Output Must Near Zero To Avert Danger

The task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures may be far more difficult than previous research suggested, say scientists who have just published studies indicating that it would require the world to cease carbon emissions altogether within a matter of decades.

Lobbyists and their Johns

If ever a quote qualified for quote of the day or quote of the month, this is it.

Alex Koppelman writes about an exchange between a report and New York Lt. Gov. David Paterson (according to New York magazine's Daily Intelligencer blog.

"Just so we don't have to go through this whole resignation thing again," one ballsy reporter asked, "have you ever patronized a prostitute?" Paterson thought for a minute. "Only the lobbyists," he said.

March 15, 2008

Music from Georgia

Interesting video of a song from the 1970s from the nation of Georgia

Found it via a Metafilter post that links to:

Streaming audio of traditional music from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. This is some of the strangest, most haunting and blissed-out singing you can hear on this planet.

More at the Mefi post

March 14, 2008

Choices vs. Destiny

Paul Auster, in an online Q&A chat at the WaPo in 2003:
I don't believe in the idea of fate. I don't believe that our destinies are mapped out in advance. We create our lives every day, and they're constantly shifting, and each one of us, I think, has the potential to live many, many different lives. And circumstances, coincidence, accidents and choice and desire and will all play their part in the paths we take. But I don't believe that these paths are preordained. Life would be terrible if we thought that were true.
Indeed! It is the choices we make that ordain what paths our lives take. To deem something as fate or destiny takes away the power of choice and free will.

Pop the question

Idea: She would pop the balloon as he popped the question.

Bad idea: A $12,000 engagement ring inside a helium balloon.

Note to all the guys thinking of popping the question .... helium is lighter than air. Helium rises.

Carnal Book Love

In an interesting post about the love for books and more particularly, the love of reading books, Amit Varma writes (read the entire post - I am merely excerpting couple lines here and the essence of his posit may not come out correctly taken out of context like this):
The greatest happiness, even greater than sex, is reading a good book.
... does not need to expend energy seducing a book, for it is always compliant and often, if the writer is skillful enough, enthusiastic.
Now I am carnal, happily writing notes in the margins of books, leaving them facedown, reading them while eating and allowing my gravy-stained fingers to turn the pages, as if to leave a mark that says You are part of me now, and here, I am part of you as well.
Beautiful! Well said.

On to writing next: I just began reading the book, The Art of Hunger, which compiles essays, prefaces, and interviews by Paul Auster, who is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. In the past year, I read two of his books -- Travels in the Scriptorium and a graphic novel, City of Glass which is based on Auster's book of the same name & part of the The New York Trilogy -- and was taken in by his writing style and imagination. Auster is a prolific writer - one of those few who writes a lot but not at the risk of a weaker quality - and there is so much more of his writing that I want to carnally devour. :)

More from his book, The Art of Hunger, as I consume it in the next couple weeks.. but here is a quote from the book that I loved.

"Writing is no longer an act of free will for me, it's a matter of survival."
Coming to think about it, I could perhaps say the same about reading. I do not think I could live my life without reading ever again. Due to things going on in my life, it has been difficult to focus and read much in the last 6+ weeks, let alone write or blog, but I am glad to find myself craving today for some real good writing. Carnal love, as Amit suggests in recommending a book of essays by Anne Fadiman, can very enjoyable...and it is a carnal love for reading that consumes me today. :)
“Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader” is a beautiful book: if you love books, or are “bibliolatrous” like the Fadimans (what a charming word!), you will love every essay in it. I hope that love is carnal.

P.S. And here's something similar about writing that talks about the shapeliness, the sensuality, and the implied sexiness of putting a sentence together.

What he appreciated was the shapeliness of thought, the shapeliness of structure. He implied that there was a sensuality to the structure of the sentences and the structure of the thought. If all the sensuality is contained in the shapeliness of the grammar or the structure of the sentence then that structure has to be exactly right. The sentence has to be just right and the thought has to be just right because if it isn’t, well, it’s not as shapely.
The above excerpt is from the very end of an interview with the author Lydia Davis. I had never heard about Davis till today but read that she used to be Paul Auster's wife in the 70s and is also a writer. Being a fan of Auster's writing, I figured I'd google and check out what kind of writing Davis is known for and that lled me to the above and another interview and also couple reviews of her work.

Not one more refugee death, by Emmy Pérez

And just like that, my #NPM2018 celebrations end with  a poem  today by Emmy Pérez. Not one more refugee death by Emmy Pérez A r...