September 30, 2008

Let's Howl

Howlin' Wolf (aka Chester Arthur Burnett) performs Highway 49 at the Washington D.C. Blues Festival, November 1970.

Muddy Waters (aka McKinley Morganfield) singing I'm A Howlin' Wolf, 1981.

And finally... Muddy Waters with the Rolling Stones singing Baby, Please don't go.

There are a couple videos of Muddy Waters with Eric Clapton also on youtube, which should be a great treat for blues fans but those I'll post later this week.

September 29, 2008

Song For My Father

Just heard two versions of A Song for My Father by Horace Silver on the WGBH's Jazz with Eric in the Evening program for September 15th, which was a special for Horace Silver, who turned 80 earlier this month (and is reportedly in a nursing home and suffering from Alzheimers. :( )

First a recording from a 1964 album of the same name, which is on NPR's Basic Jazz Record Library...

* Horace Silver — piano, Carmell Jones — trumpet, Joe Henderson — tenor saxophone, Teddy Smith — bass, and Roger Humphries — drums

Picture by Dmitri Savitski, 1989. [Made available on Wikipedia under creative commons license]

..followed by a more recent recording by him from a 1993 album It's Got To Be Funky.

I'll put three videos of Horace Player playing the above song in 1976..

the next from Newport, 1950.

and the last one is a performance by the Horace Silver Quintet from 1968.

Personal Note: I am not a religious person but my mother told me that today is Sarvapitri Amavasya, which is followed by Hindus in memory of those who are no more among us. So, this post is for my father.

A Love Supreme

I turned to WGBH this evening and found that WGBH's Jazz with Eric in the Evening program has a special today with music by John Coltrane (the later years, 1960-1967). It seems, he had a program last Monday (playlist at link) with many of the famous pre-1960 tracks, including Equinox, Blue Train, Stairway to the Stars, My Favorite Things, So What (with Miles Davis), Giant Steps, Epistrophy (from the recently found album of performances at the Carnegie with Thelonius Monk in 1957), Naima, and lots more. (The mind boggles at how much he recorded and achieved in his short life...40 years!)

Here's some Coltrane videos to enjoy.

If you, like me, missed the first program on Sep 22nd, you can currently listen to it online here.
Today's program will also eventually be put online. Thanks, WGBH. I think you've just earned a donation check from me for this year. Let me get a job and I'm sending in the check (not that I cannot afford to spend right now but just does not feel right to be sending out contribution checks, albeit to a good venture, concurrent with watching my expenses, not to mention savings dwindling in the stock market lately!

1. John Coltrane: Full NPR Music Archive
2. Coltrane via

Update: Just realized I had already put up a post about Coltrane earlier this month (title-ing it very similarly too -- Music Supreme, instead of A Love Supreme, which is, of course, the title of a very famous Coltrane album & track. Now that I saw the post, I did remember posting about it but while I wrote up the above, I remembered I had posted Miles Davis earlier this month but did not recall a post about Coltrane too! Phew...I blog too much AND my memory is going to hell! In any case, luckily I did not repeat any videos here as I had embedded only 1 video of Coltrane (his popular 'My Favorite Things' track) in that post.

September 28, 2008

Jazzy Blues

Thelonious Monk and his team play Blue Monk in Baden-Baden in 1963

* Thelonious Monk - piano
* Charlie Rouse - tenor sax
* John Ore - bass
* Frankie Dunlop - drums

Miles Davis and his amazing team of whos-who of jazz play All Blues in LA in Sep 1964

* Miles Davis - trumpet
* Wayne Shorter - tenor sax
* Herbie Hancock - piano
* Ron Carter - bass
* Tony Williams - drums

Alert the Treasury, there's a number they can pick

On a day when my head boggled trying to figure out how much 700 million* is...

..via Neatorama, a blog I used to read often in 2006 or 2007 but have not visited in many months, I learn that a new Mersenne Prime Number has been discovered recently and it is 13 million digits long!

Previous post on Mersenne primes and other geeky math stuff here. :)

* Actually, one of the comments at Neatoram already said what I was going to wisecrack: "Don’t let the Treasury Department see the number, or they’ll want that instead of 700 billion!" :))

Suck us into a black hole

So how much is this big # Paulie (has he-who-shall-not-be-named said "Good Job, Paulie" yet?) pulled out of God-knows-where!

SFGate article had this to say:
Relax, people, it's just a number.

It's just a bunch of zeroes. It's merely 700,000,000,000, and if you look closely and blur your eyes just right and then hit yourself in the face with a brick, you'll soon see that each and every one of those cute little circles is filled with goodness and candy and the sweet sighs of puppies and pie. Really, what could such a ginormous number possibly mean to everyday hard-workin' plebes like you and me?

He actually has some serious points to make after that ...but I'll read it later.

Another guy, whose post has a few examples of what it equals, wrote:

Big numbers are hard for people to process. 700 billion can start to sound like 300 billion, or 900 million for that matter. It becomes like sand grains or moon strands, magically big, past the point of counting; an amount you sit with a nephew and contemplate in wonder. Or, if you're rushing through the paper, "a whole lot."

Yeah... its "a whole lot" and who has time to read all these long articles. (There are articles and views galore from all kinds of 'experts' on how we got into this mess, how to get out of the mess, and why the "bail-out" is bad for the common man... but who has the time to read all these articles!)

Well...a picture, they say, is worth a thousand words:

So, this should give you an idea:

$1.2 trillion for the Iraq war...$700B for salvaging banks.... nice way to spend my (and your) tax-money, people!

Depressing! Back to some frivolousness (how else does one deal with this madness and the absurdities but with humor, satire and frivolousness?

As Jon Stewart reminds us, $700 billion is equal to "around 2,000 McDonald’s apple pies per American."

And this from Vanity Fair* ...How Much is $700 Billion Really Worth? (Yeah, baby... 100 Large Hadron Colliders is what we need. This article is where I got the title of the post. We all know what happens if you get sucked into a black hole! Americans are being stretched thin, our vision is distorted, there is no escape -- we'll all end up eventually shredded apart... but for now, enjoy the ride!)

This which reminded me of an exercise we did for 5th graders in a school outreach program I was involved in at work last year. One of the volunteers did a presentation on how much is $1 million. 1 question was how tall would it be, in $1 bills, if piled one on top of the other. ....(and the guy related it to the Prudential, 2nd tallest building in Boston.)

* No.. I do NOT read Vanity Fair. I landed there while reading the Paul Newman article, mentioned here.

The Proust Questionnaire

The Proust Questionnaire has its origins in a parlor game popularized (though not devised) by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature. Here is the basic Proust Questionnaire.

1.What is your idea of perfect happiness?
2.What is your greatest fear?
3.What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
4.What is the trait you most deplore in others?
5.Which living person do you most admire?
6.What is your greatest extravagance?
7.What is your current state of mind?
8.What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
9.On what occasion do you lie?
10.What do you most dislike about your appearance?
11.Which living person do you most despise?
12.What is the quality you most like in a man?
13.What is the quality you most like in a woman?
14.Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
15.What or who is the greatest love of your life?
16.When and where were you happiest?
17.Which talent would you most like to have?
18.If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
19.What do you consider your greatest achievement?
20.If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
21.Where would you most like to live?
22.What is your most treasured possession?
23.What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
24.What is your favorite occupation?
25.What is your most marked characteristic?
26.What do you most value in your friends?
27.Who are your favorite writers?
28.Who is your hero of fiction?
29.Which historical figure do you most identify with?
30.Who are your heroes in real life?
31.What are your favorite names?
32.What is it that you most dislike?
33.What is your greatest regret?
34.How would you like to die?
35.What is your motto?
Too late in the night to answer these questions but sure are interesting questions!

I've got the blues

I am pissed off!!!! On the way back from getting milk, I drove past Somerville theater (which is less than a mile from here!) and saw that Vieux Farka Toure is playing today at 8pm. It was past 9pm and I cannot put into words what I felt when I realized I had missed a golden opportunity.

Back home, reading previous posts on Vieux (1, 2)
and his legendary father (1, 2, 3) I noted that I had written I have to catch Vieux when he is in town the next time. I even remember seeing couple months back that he is on tour in the US again this year, though he was here last year.

But somehow, it either slipped my mind or I had no idea that he was going to be in Boston this weekend. If I did, I would have been there... NO QUESTIONS ABOUT IT!

Sadly now, I have to wait for some future opportunity.... when, given his rising popularity*, I fear will be when tickets will have become 2-3x as expensive as today; not to mention it may not be in the small auditorium setting of the Somerville Theater that I love so much more thanbigger concert halls.
* Earlier this year, he won the BBC World Music Awards award for Best Newcomer.
For now, I'm listening to the blues this evening (Thankfully, WGBH has great blues every Saturday night from 9pm to 1am.
Leave you with just couple of reference links to music from Africa.
and point you to, where you can listen to 10 full tracks of Vieux's music.

September 27, 2008

RIP, Paul Newman

Blue eyes passed away at age 83 yesterday.

Women everywhere swooned
* when they saw him but to me 3 words come to mind when I think of him (in addition to handsome, of course) are Dignity, Grace, and Charm. It is not without reason that the late film critic Pauline Kael wrote: "His likableness is infectious; nobody should ever be asked not to like Paul Newman."

Thoughts are with his wife of 50 years (such a rarity in Hollywood!), Jeanne Woodward today. Has to be a tough time for her.

The only movie of his that I recall seeing though is Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (3 famous clips from the movie below.)

Need to watch some of the other hits like: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Liz Taylor, the Hustler, and of course THE movie which I always think of first when I hear his name - Cool Hand Luke; and of course many of his other hit movies like Color of Money, Sting, Hud, too!

Too many good movies yet to watch, too many good books yet to read...too little time; or rather lots of time that I waste doing useless things like creating new blogs and such!

Also, I just realized that just this month Vanity Fair had a great article about Newman, along with some great photos.
- loved the ones with his wife, esp. the one where he's dancing with his wife.

Whether Paul Newman was playing the villain or the hero, Americans were smitten with his rugged good looks, his wry wit, and those blue, blue eyes.


Movie star Paul Newman has quietly turned over the entire value of his ownership in Newman’s Own—the company that makes salad dressings and cookies—to charity. Completed over a two-year period in 2005 and 2006, the amount of his donations to Newman’s Own Foundation Inc. comes to an astounding $120 million. This is unprecedented for any movie star or anyone from what we call Hollywood. Of course, Newman and actress wife Joanne Woodward have never been Hollywood types.
—Fox News, June 11, 2008.
Did I say generous before? Charming, graceful, dignified, cool, handsome, AND generous. The world, like his friend Robert Redford said today, is a better place because he passed by. RIP, Paul. If heaven exists, you're in good company.

* There are probably many great pictures of Paul Newman but I loved the picture of him with Louis Armstrong at this link. Also, some great pictures at the IMDB site and some links to film clips through the Guardian.

September 26, 2008

Jazz Legends - 1

Listening to WGBH Jazz this Friday evening, I heard Jazz from Studio Four host Steve Schwartz and
today's guest host Daniel Ian Smith raving about Jimmy Giuffre, a name I was not unfamiliar with. When they mentioned him as being of similar legendary status as Miles Davis, I had to find out more about Giuffre. Sadly, I learned, he died earlier this year in April, just 2 days short of his 87th birthday.

Fortunately, thanks to youtube and other online resources and of course his music CDs, he lives on for those of us who are finding him only now.

Operation Vowel Storm

Ran into a poem by Aimee Nezhukumatathil through a post at Robert Lee Brewer's website: Poetic Asides. (Update, 2015 - Above link is broken; new link here.)
The fear of long words
On the first day of classes, I secretly beg
my students, Don't be afraid of me. I know
my last name on your semester schedule
is chopped off or probably misspelled--
or both. I can't help it. I know the panic
of too many consonants rubbed up
against each other, no room for vowels
Simple and clever ...unlike many less accessible poems I run across. The above post also has an interview with the poet, who is an associate professor of English at SUNY-Fredonia.
P.S. Reminded me of an Onion story I had seen in 1999 where President Clinton ships thousands of vowels as aid to Bosnia. That's where the title of this post comes from. :) [I had seen this in the actual paper copy while in Madison. I think that maybe the Onion archives online do not go that far back but someone's transcribed that article here.

P.P.S. Another great headline from back then which I somehow remember often is "President Clinton says US to cut off ties with Chad"...and then it has picture of a guy called Chad and reasons why Clinton's chosen to do so. Actually, I just found Onion does have archives that go back to late 90s (
U.S. Breaks Off Relations With Chad is from 1998) but somehow cannot find a link to the Bosnia-vowels story.

It's a dog's world, alright!

Via Metafilter, I just read about a series on IFC which looks interesting.
Wilfred is a hit cult series from Australia. is the first to air this demented little gem in North America. Come by for your fix every weekday at 4:20 ET starting May 5th – 40 short episodes in all.
Or you can see it all for free online; each episode seems to be less than 10 minutes.

More details:
If modern life has taught us anything, it’s that the domestic pet can have as many psychological hang-ups as its contemporary owner. Depression, anxiety, loneliness and fear of abandonment all lead to behavioral problems and an unstable home environment. Wilfred, the series, an in-depth portrait of such a pet “behaving badly”, features an owner, her new suitor and one not-so-happy talking, pot-smoking dog.

Wilfred the dog is the ultimate flawed character. Like David Brent in “The Office,” we are charmed by his arrogance and self-righteousness, his falsehoods and misguided passions. Insecure and manipulative, he will stop at nothing to win the love and affection he desires. Although his methods may sometimes be underhand, his innocence and purity of heart can never be questioned. Or can it?

Adam is your boy next door. He causes no trouble and trouble rarely comes his way. When Adam hooks-up with Sarah, he thinks all his Christmases have come at once.

Sarah is the ultimate package: attractive, intelligent, and with her own place. It all seems too good to be true… it is.

Sarah, like any modern single parent, is trying to create a stable life for herself and her “special little man”. Sarah has a long list of failed relationships, which have left her and Wilfred jaded. Neither want to see the other hurt again and Adam has walked into an emotional mine field. So how hard can it be to make friends with a dog? That depends on the situation… and the dog.
Told you....It's a dog's world, alright! [Previous posts on the subject of Dogs.]

A meeting of minds

The politician with rock-god status and the rock-god with political leanings (perhaps?) meet. :)

Generation E’s Task: Protest or Invention? by Andrew C. Revkin

Bono and Al Gore
Former Vice President Al Gore shared a panel with the singer Bono at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York on Wednesday. (Photo: Jason DeCrow/Associated Press)

Also an excellent post on
Education for "Generation-E" by Andrew Revkin at the Dot Earth blog at NYT.

September 25, 2008

I could have been...

Guess who this is ...or could have been! Go read this article at the Daily Mail to see the answer! .... via the very interesting blog.

For some reason, it reminds me of Brando's famous dialog in On the Waterfront (full scene here)....

Charlie: ...When you weighed 168 pounds,you were beautiful.
Terry: You don’t understand! I could have had class, I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody. Instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it."

But I'll leave you with a video (also found on featuring a dance team called Signature (featuring a British Sikh & his friend, Suleman Mirza) performing the dance that was all the rage 25 years ago; even Simon Cowell's raving!

Britain's Got Talent - Michael Jackson #2 New!!!! - Watch more funny videos here

MJ's Thriller, like you've never seen it before! The performance in the earlier round & the finals are equally enjoyable.

Round 1

and the finals

How did they lose to this kid after that rousing finals. Would have been a fitting win for them to win this the year of Michael's 50th birthday!]

Anyways, (Belated) Happy 50th Birthday, Michael!

Autumn is here

Different jazz musicians playing a beautiful piece called Autumn Leaves.


First up, the lovely sounds of Stan Getz on the sax:


Next up: Claude Berger (never heard of him before)...


And last but not least, the first version I ever heard, Cannonball Adderley with Miles Davis.


Were it not for music, we might in these days say, the Beautiful is dead. ~Benjamin Disraeli

It stupefies, It sickens, It infuriates

So, what is a writer's job when he puts pen to paper? Phillip Roth said it best in an interview with Paris Review in Fall 1984
The idea is to perceive your invention as a reality that can be understood as a dream. The idea is to turn flesh and blood into literary characters and literary characters; into flesh and blood.
But sometimes, like Roth himself wrote in a 1961 essay, Writing American Fiction, literature falls short.
The American writer in the middle of the twentieth century has his hands full in trying to understand, describe, and then make credible much of American reality. It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one's meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist.
Indeed! I have lost count of the number of times I have wondered in recent days if some news item was satire from The Onion or real news! Reality makes satire and parody almost redundant. Life itself is a parody, no?

P.S. Sorry... both links in this post are subscription-only articles, which even I have not read. The quotes, which I found elsewhere, are interesting though and so I thought of blogging about them.

As if what exists

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious

Beautiful lines from a poem "In Passing" by winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Lisel Mueller. I found it in the preface to a book of short stories, Rear View, by Peter Duval. (Raving intro to the book by poet, writer, biographer, critic, anthologist (and literary executor for Gore Vidal), Jay Parini, btw.)

Here's the entire poem. Short and sweet but so poetic and packs a punch. This is what poetry is all about!

In Passing

How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness

and the closed bud shrugs off
its special mystery
in order to break into blossom:

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious

~ Lisel Mueller ~
from her book of poems, Alive Together

More poems by Lisel Mueller in a Book Review of Alive Together.

Leave you with this beautiful prose from famous poets:

A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasure of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause. Poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new delight, which have the power of attracting and assimilating to their own nature all other thoughts, and which form new intervals and interstices whose void forever craves fresh food. Poetry strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man, in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb. A poet therefore would do ill to embody his own conceptions of right and wrong, which are usually those of his place and time, in his poetical creations, which participate in neither. - Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defense of Poetry.

“During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbours, our conversations turned frequently on the two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination. The sudden charm, which accidents of light and shade, which moon-light or sunset diffused over a known and familiar landscape, appeared to represent the practicability of combining both.” - S. T. Coleridge, Chapter XIV, Biographia Literaria (1817)

And, Wordsworth, of course, described poetry as the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," and "emotions recollected in tranquility"; phrases that I heard first in 8th 0r 9th grade from my English teacher - Ramachandran Sir*, who was the one I should credit with me falling in love with the English language and for my literary interests, which have obviously developed and honed continually since then.

I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. - William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads.

* I have no idea if Ramachandran Sir is still around (he was probably in his early 60s in 1984-85) but perhaps appropriate then to dedicate this post to my memories of that which is lost but has became precious; not because I lost it but because I treasure the memories still. (I actually woke up today with memories of my father.... actually woke up with the words "the taste of memories on my tongue" somehow popping in my head! I have more or less given up writing poetry (an endeavor which never really developed further from being an attempt to seek catharsis through writing) but maybe that phrase needs to be developed into a short poem some day!

On blogging

I just found this comic. Brilliant series. There's an instant connection with me and my blogging efforts (except for the one where # of blog posts a day decreases with time!)

Goes without saying...all comics are

Earlier: 1, 2, 3.

What is beautiful is easily lost

Via an article at the Bookslut on Charles Simic's poetry, I read this closing stanza of his poem, The Altar (which can be read in its entirety at Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac)
An altar dignifying the god of chance.
What is beautiful, it cautions,
Is found accidentally and not sought after.
What is beautiful is easily lost.
And let me add to that this quote from his essay "Notes on Poetry and Philosophy"
My poems (in the beginning) are like a table on which one places interesting things one has found on one's walks: a pebble, a rusty nail, a strangely shaped root, the corner of a tornphotograph, etc. ... where after months of looking at them and thinking about them daily, certain surprising relationships, which hint at meanings, begin to appear. These objets trouves of poetry are, of course, bits of language. The poem is the place where one hears what the language is really saying, where the full meaning of words begins to emerge.That's not quite right! It's not so much what the words mean that is crucial, but rather, what they show and reveal.
That's what I hope to achieve through my posts under the Life label....not so much what these incidents, words, and stories mean but rather, "what they show and reveal" about life in all its joys, fragility, melancholy and absurdities.

September 24, 2008

Conquer your fears

The only thing we have to fear is fear it'self - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. - FDR - First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

© Alan Bee. Found at his Flickr photostream, via

The words are apparently a variation of a German proverb but with the art, the message is driven home effectively!

I want to sleep the sleep of the apples

I just read that earlier this week Federico García Lorca's family dropped their "longstanding objections to unearthing the mass grave where the poet's remains are believed to lie".

Lorca, widely considered one of Spain's greatest poets of the 20th century, was shot to death at age 38 by Nationalist militia at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and thrown into an unmarked grave somewhere between Víznar and Alfacar, near Granada.

More than half a million people are thought to have been killed during the civil war of 1936-39, triggered by Franco's armed uprising against the democratically elected Republican Government. After Franco's victory, historians say that 50,000 Republicans were executed by Franco's forces and tens of thousands locked up. His iron rule lasted until his death in 1975. More than 500,000 people were killed during the Spanish Civil War

Although the Nationalist dead were honoured and given proper burials during Franco's rule, Republican victims have lain in unmarked mass graves for seven decades. After Franco's death, political parties agreed to put the past behind them, granting a blanket amnesty for crimes committed under the dictator's rule. For years, Spaniards subscribed to an unwritten “pact of silence” about the past in an attempt to let the country's new democracy take root.
And so, at this time a poem by Lorca (as translated by Robert Bly):
Gacela of the Dark Death

I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
I want to get far away from the busyness of the cemeteries.
I want to sleep the sleep of that child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.

I don't want them to tell me again how the corpse keeps all its blood,
how the decaying mouth goes on begging for water.
I'd rather not hear about the torture sessions the grass arranges for
nor about how the moon does all its work before dawn
with its snakelike nose.

I want to sleep for half a second,
a second, a minute, a century,
but I want everyone to know that I am still alive,
that I have a golden manger inside my lips,
that I am the little friend of the west wind,
that I am the elephantine shadow of my own tears.

When it's dawn just throw some sort of cloth over me
because I know dawn will toss fistfuls of ants at me,
and pour a little hard water over my shoes
so that the scorpion claws of the dawn will slip off.

Because I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
and learn a mournful song that will clean all earth away from me,
because I want to live with that shadowy child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea

Music or cats?

There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats. - Albert Schweitzer

Well.. I hate cats. (no..hate's too strong a word. Loathe, maybe? hahaha! Ok.. just kidding. Perhaps "don't like" is the most accurate.) So music it is!
Time for something to seek refuge...
First up, the haunting voice of Salif Keita, previously featured in my post last month.

And here's one of Ella scating... amazing!
I am going to end this post here pointing to two performances by the South African singer Miriam Makeba, both of The Click Song. The first is from a 1966 performance in Sweden and the second from 1979 is interesting because she explains her language. (U-Q-H-O-Q-H-O-Q-H-O = adams apple ;))
Time to go make my own music (Found link at the great blog -

Extrapolate the past or Invent the future

The Emerging Technology Conference at MIT started yesterday ...

Technology Review's EmTech Conference brings together world-renowned innovators and senior business leaders to discuss the emerging technologies that are poised to make a dramatic impact on our world. Keynote sessions, insightful panels, and groundbreaking presentations--of a caliber only Technology Review can deliver--are combined with networking opportunities and live demonstrations.

And this morning, even as I sit here and read about all the wonderful work going on around the world in cleantech and renewable energy, a few miles from here, these wonderful talks:

Keynote: Vinod Khosla (8:25 am - 9:10 am)

“Extrapolate the past ... or invent the future. A renewable-energy perspective: financing, forecasting, modeling, and trajectory.” A look at renewable energy—where we are now and where we need to be. The focus is on "Chindia" solutions—how to identify them, the issues with forecasting them, the importance of cost and scaling trajectory, and the policy prescriptions that can help drive them.

Green Transportation (9:10 am - 10:10 am)

Leaders from companies that are transforming transportation discuss how emerging technologies will enable more environmentally friendly planes, trains, and automobiles.
Confirmed Panelists: Steven E. Koonin, Chief Scientist, BP; JB Straubel, Chief Technical Officer, Tesla Motors; Ryan Chin, PhD Candidate, MIT Media Lab

Sigh... I couldn't be there for the talks but luckily you (and I) can all watch these two talks for free at the links above. (Thanks, TechReview for the freebies!)

Khosla, of course, is hugely invested in renewable energy (particularly biofuels, see my earlier post about it).

With regards to solar energy (which is an industry I currently know more about than other cleantech/renewable energy industries), he is not such a big fan, though he has been reported to be pro-solar thermal but not gungho about photovoltaics & solar roofing so much.

Why? Because ..
"I invest in technologies that achieve unsubsidized market competitiveness with five to seven years after introduction to the marketplace. I don't think photovoltaic has reached that point yet but I do think that solar thermal electricity will meet this criteria."
And like he said this week...
"If it doesn't scale, it doesn't matter. Most of what we talk about today--hybrid, biodiesel, ethanol, solar photovoltaics, geothermal--I believe are irrelevant to the scale of the problem" of climate change," says Khosla.
Though I am still a proponent for rooftop solar, which is how I came to be interested seriously (more than just a feel-good renewable-is-good sort of interest) in renewable energies, I am all ears to everything that Khosla has to say because as an entrepreneur, he brings a very practical and realistic view of things.

With regard to solar, I should add that his belief is that
large, centralized solar power plants are feasible and we can get "up to 90 percent of the power we need from centralized renewables, which are “getting very competitive” with natural gas and other forms of fossil energy."

You can hear a speech he gave on solar energy at the annual Solar Power conference in 2006.

Ignore the rather irritating and pointless first 2.5 minutes of introduction and move on to hear what Khosla had to say.

Update: Since I wrote about one VC's opinions on solar, perhaps it is important to point out this timely post from the NYT Technology blog yesterday about VC investments this year:
Still, 39 percent of venture capitalists said that solar would become the dominant clean-energy source over the next 20 years, while 27 percent predicted it would be nuclear and 18 percent predicted it would be wind.
Per the article, thin-film solar companies alone have raised more than $800 million this summer! Also linked in the article is the TED Talk: Salvation and profit in greentech by John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, "one of the top venture capital firms in Silicon Valley" which recently announced that "it had raised a $500 million Green Growth Fund and is also investing part of its eighth, $700 million fund in clean technology."

A tap on the head and a good whack

The poet, Charles Simic, in reviewing Phillip Roth's latest book, Indignation, writes in the NY Review of Books:

What do people think when they come across photographs in a newspaper of young men and women killed in Iraq? I take it for granted that they feel pity and horror that someone so young is no more, but it would be interesting to know just how far they venture to imagine the lives of the young as they read the few lines of biographical information that accompany the picture. Here’s Fred Something-or-Other, born in a small town out west, or in some city in the east, whose name and face recall someone we used to know in high school, looking at us, out of a photograph taken by the military, with the usual swagger of young men wearing a uniform. Many are making an effort to smile, some appear grim and determined, and only a few have the vulnerable, worried look of kids who think they might come back to their parents in a coffin.

The Pentagon’s ban on making images of dead soldiers’ homecomings and burials is intended to prevent us from turning into novelists for a moment, from speculating about their lives and the cause for which they died. This order of things, knowing nothing about the fate of others, is evidently necessary, Chekhov observes in one of his stories. What he has to say on that subject was true of the Russia of his day and is true of America today:

The happy man only feels at ease because the unhappy bear their burdens in silence, and without that silence happiness would be impossible.

It follows that what a writer must do is give a reader an occasional tap on the head and once in a while a good whack.

I'd go for the good whack! Why? I'll let Simic's words speak for what I want to convey:

We keep sacrificing the young, supposedly for the noblest of causes, and expect their grief-stricken parents to accept that and be proud of their sacrifice, so the rest of us can sleep well at night.


Roth doesn’t have to spell out the implication of this Korean War story for today’s readers. In case we missed it, there are the words of the president of the college, who addresses the students following the riot. He says to them:

Beyond your dormitories, a world is on fire and you are kindled by underwear. Beyond your fraternities, history unfolds daily—warfare, bombings, wholesale slaughter, and you are oblivious of it all. Well, you won’t be oblivious for long! You can be as stupid as you like, can even give every sign, as you did here on Friday night, of passionately wanting to be stupid, but history will catch you in the end. Because history is not the background—history is the stage! And you are on the stage! Oh, how sickening is your appalling ignorance of your own times! Most sickening of all is that it is just that ignorance that you are purportedly at Winesburg to expunge. What kind of a time do you think you belong to, anyway? Can you answer? Do you know ? Do you have any idea that you belong to a time at all ?

Anyways, go read it in its entirety - not only because it is a good review of the book but also as an exposition of our times.


The president smiles to himself; he loves war
And another one is coming soon.
Each day we can feel the merriment mount
In government offices and TV studios
As our bombers fly off to distant countries.

- Charles Simic in his poem, Dance of the Macabre Mice, which was in his book of poems, That Little Something, published earlier this year. Review here.

Money for Votes (and the ticks for free?)

A report from India:
A study shows that, in the last decade, at least one-fifth of the country’s electorate was paid cash for their votes

The numbers rise among the rural poor, who are relatively more vulnerable to such cash inducements.

According to the study, conducted by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), a not-for-profit research firm, almost one in two voters in Karnataka, where assembly elections were held in May, had taken money for voting or not voting.

However, the share of voters is higher among the voters in the so-called below the poverty line, or BPL, category: 73% in Karnataka while the national average is 37%.


In an article in The Hindu on 31 May, chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami disclosed that the total value of cash, liquor and other non-cash objects used for bribes that were seized across Karnataka during the run-up to the May polls was around Rs45.5 crore.
(For non-Indian readers, if any, 1 crore is 10 million Indian Rupees, which translates to about $11.5 million, using ballpark exchange rate for this year. Remember that's what was seized. What was actually used is obviously going to many times that!)

September 23, 2008

Polar bears on toonies

Earlier this week, I had put up a quicklink at Linkastic about Franke James's artistic visual route to narrate the story of a local accident.

Yesterday, she has posted another creative visual essay with some questions for her (Canadian) Prime Minister.

So, why are you (politicians of Canada & the powers that be everywhere) making us choose between the economy and the environment?

and how much does it cost to clean up pollution?

Picture ©
Franke James

For the record:
Earlier post on polar bears here + news today that the polar bears are now resorting to cannibalism and this is apparently due to the Arctic ice shrinking! (Have not read the report or the details of the study; so, I am not commenting about the validity of the correlatio -- not the word "apparently" that I inserted -- I am mere reporting the observation that is in the news today.)

As American as Apple Pie

Sam Harris, whose book The End of Faith has been on my to-read list for a while, writes in the Newsweek this week about Palin:

What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. Watching her deny to Gibson that she had ever harbored the slightest doubt about her readiness to take command of the world’s only superpower, one got the feeling that Palin would gladly assume any responsibility on earth:

“Governor Palin, are you ready at this moment to perform surgery on this child’s brain?”

“Of course, Charlie. I have several boys of my own, and I’m an avid hunter.”

“But governor, this is neurosurgery, and you have no training as a surgeon of any kind.”

“That’s just the point, Charlie. The American people want change in how we make medical decisions in this country. And when faced with a challenge, you cannot blink.”

Reminds me of this great clip from the Daily Show featuring a lot of the blink-talk by Palin and Bush, including Bush's erudite words: "if we blink, the rest of the world will blink as well." :)

Actually, humor aside, the thought of her as the next VP of the country continues to be scary due to the dangerous ignorance-arrogance combination that I have also talked about earlier; or in Sam Harris words: "she comes to us, seeking the second most important job in the world, without any intellectual training relevant to the challenges and responsibilities that await her. There is nothing to suggest that she even sees a role for careful analysis or a deep understanding of world events when it comes to deciding the fate of a nation."

What is scary is that (to quote from the article again):

Here, finally, (is) a performer who—being maternal, wounded, righteous and sexy—could stride past the frontal cortex of every American and plant a three-inch heel directly on that limbic circuit that ceaselessly intones "God and country." If anyone could make Christian theocracy smell like apple pie, Sarah Palin could.


The problem, as far as our political process is concerned, is that half the electorate revels in Palin's lack of intellectual qualifications. When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of mediocrity in this country. "They think they're better than you!" is the refrain that (highly competent and cynical) Republican strategists have set loose among the crowd, and the crowd has grown drunk on it once again. "Sarah Palin is an ordinary person!" Yes, all too ordinary.

[Beware: Next thing she'll be saying you elitist liberals apparently don't like apple pie. :)]

Ok...don't blink now; just go read the entire article.
I've quoted just a few sentences from the first 25% of the article. (Hat tip to Salil Tripathi for sharing the Newsweek link via email).

W00t, hip hip hooray, and a big Whoop!

Seems, the Senate was again voting today on Renewable Energy Tax Credits

Just saw this on the aforementioned Green Inc. blog at NYT
UPDATE, 6:30 PM: The Senate has overwhelmingly passed the bill 93-2.
I have to go cook dinner now but I'll come back and read the details...

Not lack of information but lack of will?

In a post today, lamarguerite has enumerated a great many reasons on why people love to blog. These include (and I quote):

  • I am comfortable with blogging. It is what I know, and past the initial hurdle of setting up a blog, which by the way is very low, it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
  • I like the feeling of being in control, and of having all my stuff in one place.
  • When I contribute to other blogs, it is usually a boost for my recognition and helps enlarge my audience.
  • Contributing to other blogs is a no brainer; hardly any setup is required, and I usually do a slight rewrite to address issue of duplicate content.
  • I love the creative freedom of writing whatever I want whenever I want.
  • My blog is also a social place to meet cyberfriends I have made along the way, and who keep coming back for more discussions.
  • I get tremendous satisfaction from direct feedback from readers, particularly when something they read on my blog, either from me or other readers, is making an impact on their thinking or behaviors.
  • There is lots of reciprocity going on amongst bloggers, thanks to linking, trackbacks, and pingbacks. As a result, the give and take feels very fair.
  • Although I am very familiar with wikis, have consulted for wiki startups, and have started several private wikis of my own, I find making the move from blogging to contributing to public wiki platforms a huge step.
  • First, there is the issue of time. If I could somehow export content that’s already on my blog, automatically, I would consider it.
  • Second, is the problem of attribution, and ownership of content. Although, I am not one to hang on to my creative product with steel claws, it is very important to me that I be given credit for it.
  • Third, is the issue of duplicate content, and how that might affect ranking of original content with search engines. If content is going to be exported automatically, and frequently, I would not have the time to do rewrites to avoid duplicate content problem.
  • My blog is not my only source of content either. There are quite a few projects I have been working on, that are sitting either in some files on my desktop, or in Google groups discussions, and that I wouldn’t mind sharing, if I could just turn those over with one click.

Most of them resonate with me, though I do not have many readers and hardly any comments/feedback. I do it because I like to. Blogging started as being a nice central place for me to collect various articles on subjects I was interested in. However, in order to make it of some interest to readers, I have tried over the last year or so to bring some focus to it by honing in on a few topics only; environment & energy issues being one of them.

Anyways, there are literally hundreds of sites (so much so that let alone bookmarks, even feed readers are not adequate to keep track of them) that blog about green issues today. So much so, that I, who admittedly spend way too much time online, didn’t even know about the two wikis mentioned in lamarguerite's post: Wikia Green & Appropedia.

She ends her post of what she envisions as a perfect sustainability wiki. And though I have nothing against more blogs and wikis (more power to them!) , what we perhaps need is just 1-2 (ok, not 2, a few) blogs which capture the people’s imagination on the subject and which everyone comes to read daily. Like what Arrianna Huffington or Markos (of Dailykos) have achieved in their spheres of interest. The green movement does not have such a visible and across-the-board influencer in the blogging world. Sometimes it feels like it is still a small segment of life-minded people reading about issues that they are more or less already convinced about. We all preach to the choir..or so it feels sometimes.

[Related: Dot Earth at NYT is a great blog. NYT, though not read as extensively in the red states probably, has some influence. Just read there that they are starting yet another Green Blog. "Green Inc., that they describe as a “daily churn” exploring the intersection of energy, the environment and business." So, obviously there is some effort being put into this even by MSM.]

But you need people to be passionate and interested in green issues before you can have a famous blogger on green issues …so, I maybe agree with what one of the comments at lamarguerite's post says: “Lack of information isn’t the problem, it’s lack of motivation.” [kiashu].

It’s easy to be reckless, lazy, and not care. It takes effort to care and make a difference. People are not motivated to spend a little more because of concern for climate change, no matter how many times Al Gore (and others) talk about it. They’ll readily go buy $50,000 Hummers and electricity soaking $4-5K monster TVs though! (The norm of $200-400 TVs became 10x that and no one blinked an eyelid! Yes…its superior technology but it rankles me when people talk about how expensive it is to be ‘green’. Yes…it sometimes is, though it does not have to be. And if you care for future generations and what toll human kind is taking on earth (in just 2-3 centuries), you would just be motivated enough to take a few extra steps and spend a little more to ensure that we do not leave such a trail during our brief time on earth. Simple issues of efficiency and conservation* hardly need expensive solutions and yet very few adopt them.

Even with the green movement taking on some urgency and getting mileage in news media due to the rising energy costs, the needle has only moved infinitesimally in the last few years.

So, what will get Americans (I live in the US and so write about it. Not blaming them alone, by any means, for climate change…though they are amongst the highest contributors on a per capita basis to CO2 in the atmosphere) to change their lifestyles… not just us “elitists” on the coasts but all $300M+ of us?

* I do not recall how I arrived at lamarguerite's blog recently but one of the things that immediately caught my attention and made me an instant-fan was that she talk's about these issues - efficiency and conservation and not merely in much abused "sustainibility" terms. I am a big renewable energy proponent but it cannot be at the expense of conservation and efficiency. (Whenever I talk about this, I am reminded of a photograph I had seen of a 5000 sq. ft. house with thousands of lights on (admittedly, maybe just for the picture to be taken) which is a Energy Star certified house!)

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...