October 23, 2008

All time is unredeemable

Even as I ponder over where October sneaked away ....these beautiful lines by T. S. Eliot come to mind.
"What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation."
- Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot.
I have not read this famous poem in its entirety but I remember the beautiful lines from this poem that used to be on a now defunct website which I had developed 10+ years ago (hosted on geocities in those pre-blog days!).
"Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden."
Also, so much is conveyed through the first few lines of the first quartet itself...
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
You can hear Eliot himself reading this first quartet here.

Verbage Garbage

In a piece in the New Yorker, Verbage -The Republican war on words, critic James Wood talks about how the Republicans political discussion has confused and corrupted language, reflecting perhaps a "deep suspicion of language itself". I am reminded of the recent Peggy Noon WSJ op-ed piece: Palin's Failin', in which she wrote:

More than ever on the campaign trail, the candidates are dropping their G's. Hardworkin' families are strainin' and tryin'a get ahead. It's not only Sarah Palin but Mr. McCain, too, occasionally Mr. Obama, and, of course, George W. Bush when he darts out like the bird in a cuckoo clock to tell us we are in crisis. All of the candidates say "mom and dad": "our moms and dads who are struggling." This is Mr. Bush's former communications adviser Karen Hughes's contribution to our democratic life, that you cannot speak like an adult in politics now, that's too austere and detached, snobby. No one can say mothers and fathers, it's all now the faux down-home, patronizing—and infantilizing—moms and dads. Do politicians ever remember that in a nation obsessed with politics, our children—sorry, our kids—look to political figures for a model as to how adults sound?

Anyways, Wood's article has come for some criticism, as I gleaned via this Bookslut post today:

Mark Liberman at the Language Log chastises Wood (also this) for his "childish egocentrism, which assumes without checking that 'This isn't how I pronounce or use this word, so it must be wrong; and I don't recall having seen this before, so it must never have happened before.'"

October 22, 2008

The Adorable Barack

when in rome, u do as the romans do. so, when on ellen's show... you dance! :)

andwe all remember how her chat with McCain went.

No dancing.

Hate sells better than hope

I was refered to a well-written piece on Reddit (Hat tip, Madhu) that is highly critical of small towns, which are "prone to traditionalism, conservatism, extreme ingroup loyalty, fundamentalist religiosity, inexperience with (and, consequently, distrust of diversity and higher education, and so forth"

I saw some of this in my brief (little over 2 years) stay in West Virginia, though in our limited interactions with locals, we met some" good people with honesty, sincerity and dignity" too. Unfortunately, the divisiveness between small towns of America and the rest of the country is further perpetuated by the media making it a big deal. In fact, it is mere political speech rhetoric and a fantasy created by the Republican party in the past few decades.

In fact, it is a categorization that does not hold much merit because what the likes of Palin are railing against are not the people in NYC, Boston, and Chicago but the liberals in New England, New York, California and other "blue" states who are not taken in by her "charm" and will not vote for the McCain-Palin ticket. Perhaps it is too self-evident to tell her that there are small towns along the east coast too, many of whose residents will NOT be voting for her. But then she has her new categorization to decry them too -- they come from the "anti-America" parts of the nation. They are as American as Wassila, AK but are still somehow "anti-American"!!

Like a comment I read some weeks back said:
Certainly there are obnoxious, self-righteous zealots on both sides of the political spectrum; but it seems to me that the image of the disdainful elitist liberal is so prominent these days largely because it features centrally in Republican talking points. The violent hatred expressed in Republican anti-intellectual/anti-elitism speeches shocks me anew every time I hear it. If there is antagonism between so-called liberal intellectual elites and "red" or "small-town" America, isn't it possible that those liberals are simply responding to constant and explicit insults from Republican politicians and talking heads?

Another op-ed piece I read some weeks back spoke about how the hatred between the conservatives and the liberals has defined the nature of the campaign in recent days because...

...hatred is the most powerful emotion in politics. At present, American liberals are not fighting for an Obama presidency. I suspect that most have only the haziest idea of what it would mean for their country. The slogans that move their hearts and stir their souls are directed against their enemies: Bush, the neo-cons, the religious right.


Hate sells better than hope.

Perhaps. But that is why we need an audacious and inspiring leader to lead the nation, like Colin Powell so eloquently put over the weekend.

Recent posts on the subject: 1, 2, 3, 4.

October 21, 2008

Us and Them

...And after all were only ordinary men. No, this is no Pink Floyd song but life in the US these days. Homogenity and unity of thought seems to be the desired trademark of being American these days!
Extremism at McCain Rallies Comes Naturally

Republican rallies this past weekend grew heated. The headlines tell the story: "Anger Is Crowd's Overarching Emotion at McCain Rally"; "Panic Attack: Voters Unload at GOP Rallies"; "McCain: Obama Not an Arab, Crowd Boos"; "Supporters Jeer as McCain Calls Obama 'A Decent Person.' "

What's going on? The talk-show talk has been that John McCain and Sarah Palin incite this kind of behavior. They certainly haven't helped, but blaming the candidates misses what's happening, and why.
The post posits the argument (a social psychologist/scientist's viewpoint) that "Like-minded people in a group grow more extreme in the way they are like-minded." and that "Homogeneity creates extremity -- or, in the news of the day, a McCain rally." On the other hand: "Mixed company moderates; like-minded company polarizes. Heterogeneous communities restrain individual excesses. Homogeneous communities march toward the extremes."

But alas! Like Obama himself says (as mentioned in this excellent write-up in the NYT Magazine last Sunday on Obama's attempts to bridge the class-divide), this divisiveness is perpetuated and encouraged by media outlets like Fox News and also tacitly and often times overtly by many members of the Republican party itself.
"I am convinced that if there were no Fox News, I might be two or three points higher in the polls," Obama told me. "If I were watching Fox News, I wouldn't vote for me, right? Because the way I'm portrayed 24/7 is as a freak! I am the latte-sipping, New York Times-reading, Volvo-driving, no-gun-owning, effete, politically correct, arrogant liberal. Who wants somebody like that? "I guess the point I'm making," he went on, "is that there is an entire industry now, an entire apparatus, designed to perpetuate this cultural schism, and it's powerful. People want to know that you're fighting for them, that you get them. And I actually think I do. But you know, if people are just seeing me in sound bites, they're not going to discover that. That's why I say that some of that may have to happen after the election, when they get to know you."
Oh..he said schism. He must be elitist. Who talks like that! :))


Bob Herbert writes:

It never ends. The Republican Party never gets tired of spraying its poison across the American political landscape.

So there was a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, Michele Bachmann, telling Chris Matthews on MSNBC that the press should start investigating members of the House and Senate to determine which ones are “pro-America or anti-America.” Can a rancid Congressional committee be far behind? Leave it to a right-wing Republican to long for those sunny, bygone days of political witch-hunting. Ms. Bachmann’s demented desire (“I would love to see an exposé like that”) is of a piece with the G.O.P.’s unrelenting effort to demonize its opponents, to characterize them as beyond the pale, different from ordinary patriotic Americans — and not just different, but dangerous, and even evil.

But the party is not content to stop there. Even better than demonizing opponents is the more powerful and direct act of taking the vote away from their opponents’ supporters. The Republican Party has made strenuous efforts in recent years to prevent Democrats from voting, and to prevent their votes from being properly counted once they’ve been cast.

Krugman adds:

...we have Sarah Palin expressing her joy at visiting the “pro-America” parts of the country — yep, we’re all traitors here in central New Jersey. Meanwhile we’ve got Mr. McCain making Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, a k a Joe the Plumber — who had confronted Barack Obama on the campaign trail, alleging that the Democratic candidate would raise his taxes — the centerpiece of his attack on Mr. Obama’s economic proposals.

And when it turned out that the right’s new icon had a few issues, like not being licensed and comparing Mr. Obama to Sammy Davis Jr., conservatives played victim: see how much those snooty elitists hate the common man?
No wonder, Jeffrey Feldman wonders: Is Ann Coulter Now Running McCain's Campaign?
Has the entire political wing of Republicanism officially collapsed into cries of 'anti-Americanism' like some endless robocall recording of O'Reilly-Coulter-Hannity-Gingrich's greatest hits?
But like Arianna Huffington writes this "textbook Rovian race" based on fear and smearing is not working...
The glitch in the well-oiled machine? The Internet."We are witnessing the end of Rovian politics," Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google told me. And YouTube, which Google bought in 2006 for $1.65 billion, is one of the causes of its demise. Thanks to YouTube -- and blogging and instant fact-checking and viral emails -- it is getting harder and harder to get away with repeating brazen lies without paying a price, or to run under-the-radar smear campaigns without being exposed.

But the McCain campaign hasn't gotten the message, hence the blizzard of racist, alarmist, xenophobic, innuendo-laden accusations being splattered at Obama. And it seems that the worse McCain is doing in the polls, the more his team is relying on the same gutter tactics. So over the next 15 days, look for the McCain campaign to become even uglier. That's what happens when following Rovian politics is your only strategy -- and Rovian politics isn't working.
Earlier post on Patriotism.

A Character with Complexity

Marilynne Robinson, whose recent novel Home made the 2008 National Book Award Finalists list last week talks about the development of character in writing in an interview in The Paris Review this month.
In the development of every character there’s a kind of emotional entanglement that occurs. The characters that interest me are the ones that seem to pose questions in my own thinking. The minute that you start thinking about someone in the whole circumstance of his life to the extent that you can, he becomes mysterious, immediately.
And this later in the interview:
I feel strongly that action is generated out of character. And I don’t give anything a higher priority than character. The one consistent thing among my novels is that there’s a character who stays in my mind. It’s a character with complexity that I want to know better.
Couple more excerpts:
In your second novel, Gilead, the protagonist is a pastor, John Ames. Do you think of yourself as a religious writer?

ROBINSON: I don’t like categories like religious and not religious. As soon as religion draws a line around itself it becomes falsified. It seems to me that anything that is written compassionately and perceptively probably satisfies every definition of religious whether a writer intends it to be religious or not.
Ames says that in our everyday world there is “more beauty than our eyes can bear.” He’s living in America in the late 1950s. Would he say that today?

ROBINSON: You have to have a certain detachment in order to see beauty for yourself rather than something that has been put in quotation marks to be understood as “beauty.” Think about Dutch painting, where sunlight is falling on a basin of water and a woman is standing there in the clothes that she would wear when she wakes up in the morning—that beauty is a casual glimpse of something very ordinary. Or a painting like Rembrandt’s Carcass of Beef, where a simple piece of meat caught his eye because there was something mysterious about it. You also get that in Edward Hopper: Look at the sunlight! or Look at the human being! These are instances of genius. Cultures cherish artists because they are people who can say, Look at that. And it’s not Versailles. It’s a brick wall with a ray of sunlight falling on it.

At the same time, there has always been a basic human tendency toward a dubious notion of beauty. Think about cultures that rarify themselves into courts in which people paint themselves with lead paint and get dumber by the day, or women have ribs removed to have their waists cinched tighter. There’s no question that we have our versions of that now. The most destructive thing we can do is act as though this is some sign of cultural, spiritual decay rather than humans just acting human, which is what we’re doing most of the time.

Hope he's paid off that grill

Matt Haber writes:
Hey, look who's back! America's old friend, Patio Man. In his New York Times column today, David Brooks offers "Patio Man Revisited," a little check-in with his archetypal (white) suburban everyman whom he introduced to readers in a 2002 two-part story in The Weekly Standard.

Back then—when President Bush's approval rating was at 63% and crude oil was at about $24.00 per barrel—Mr. Brooks wrote:

I don't know if you've ever noticed the expression of a man who is about to buy a first-class barbecue grill. He walks into a Home Depot or Lowe's or one of the other mega hardware complexes and his eyes are glistening with a faraway visionary zeal, like one of those old prophets gazing into the promised land.

Patio Man was a regular guy, nothing at all like those Bobos (Bourgeois Bohemians) with their lattes and leather club chairs from Ethan Allen whom Mr. Brooks satirized in his 2000 book, Bobos in Paradise, which was subtitled, "The New Upper Class and How They Got There." Patio man lived in, to echo Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's now-famous formulation, the "pro-America" parts of the country. He bought that grill with his credit card. He had visions of hearty cookouts with friends and family.

Patio Man was married to "Realtor Mom" (aka, Cindy), and lived in Sprinkler City where "The people are friendly. The men are no more than 25 pounds overweight, which is the socially acceptable male paunch level in upwardly mobile America, and the children are well adjusted." (Not merely above average like those little losers in Lake Wobegon.)


Today, Mr. Brooks writes:

Patio Man wants change. But this is no time for more risk or more debt. Debt in the future is no solution to the debt racked up in the past. This is a back-to-basics moment, a return to safety and the fundamentals.

Sadly, there's no mention of Realtor Mom or those well adjusted kids. In 2002, in the second of his two Patio Man pieces, Mr. Brooks addressed his straw Patio Man directly: "Professionally, socially, parentally, you have your life together."

In tougher times, it looks like Patio Man is—to use the phrase coined by Robert D. Putnam but used by Mr. Brooks on no fewer than three times in The Times—bowling alone.

Hope he's paid off that grill.

What concealed reefs lie ahead

For an election in which so much is at stake, the New York Review of Books asked some of their contributors for their views.

Joan Didion's piece had this to say:
We could forget the 70 percent of American eighth graders who do not now and never will read at eighth-grade levels, meaning they will never qualify to hold one of those jobs we no longer have. We could forget that we ourselves induced the coma, by indulging the government in its fantasy of absolute power, wielded absolutely. So general is this fantasy by now that we approach this election with no clear idea where bottom is: what damage has been done, what alliances have been formed and broken, what concealed reefs lie ahead. Whoever we elect president is about to find some of that out.
I have wondered over the last 4+ years who will want to take up the mess that the Bush administration leaves behind and how he will deal with it. Obama has given us much to hope for and is undoubtedly the better of the two choices we have in front of us... but only time will tell whether Obama and his administration can save us from the sharks that are doing the rounds around us and the concealed reefs that lie ahead. (Ok.. I extended the metaphor in rather ungainly fashion here! That's why I am not a writer, you see!)

News from Here and There

Blogging will be slow for the remainder of the month. Couple deadlines for projects I had agreed to earlier this year loom.

In the meantime, here are a few news items from the US (here) and India (there) that I ran into in the last few days:
  • I am sure this kind of thing has been happening in Bombay, Delhi, etc. for decades now.. but amazing that Wired magazine has done a detailed report about how thugs that have taken over Bangalore's real estate. The author, Scott Carney, is a Chennai (India) based journalist, who I bet has had some interesting times in India! (As his website says: He drove a 1964 Royal Enfield Bulletacross India --twice. Scott once had to transport a body out of the lawless state of Bihar, India. To do so he had to construct a makeshift refrigerator out of plywood, blocks of ice and an air conditioner." Enuf said!) (Hat tip to Neelakantan for pointing me to the Wired piece.)
  • Extremism at McCain Rallies Comes Naturally: The post posits an argument (a social psychologist/scientist's viewpoint) that "Like-minded people in a group grow more extreme in the way they are like-minded." Many quotable quotes in the post but my favorite: "Homogeneity creates extremity -- or, in the news of the day, a McCain rally."
  • This NYT magazine article last Sunday takes a detailed look at the class-divide and the working class vote, a subject that has been brought to the fore ever since Palin landed on the national stage and started calling Obama elitist and out of touch with America's small town values. Also, hear, in Obama's own words, how media outlets like Fox News are perpetuating this schism. (Oh..he said schism. He must be elitist. Who talks like that! :))

"I am convinced that if there were no Fox News, I might be two or three points higher in the polls," Obama told me. "If I were watching Fox News, I wouldn't vote for me, right? Because the way I'm portrayed 24/7 is as a freak! I am the latte-sipping, New York Times-reading, Volvo-driving, no-gun-owning, effete, politically correct, arrogant liberal. Who wants somebody like that?

"I guess the point I'm making," he went on, "is that there is an entire industry now, an entire apparatus, designed to perpetuate this cultural schism, and it's powerful. People want to know that you're fighting for them, that you get them. And I actually think I do. But you know, if people are just seeing me in sound bites, they're not going to discover that. That's why I say that some of that may have to happen after the election, when they get to know you."
  • Richard Russo writes that Sarah Palin is no Main Streeter: “”Her view doesn’t work in either small-town world, the nostalgic one or the more realistic one. She just misses both points.”
  • The height of political opportunism and ridiculousness!
..as soon as Tata left, Ms Banerjee dropped her demand that the land (and only that land, no other!) be returned to the farmers. Admitting at long last that the land is no longer cultivable since what was to have been a factory stands on it, she now wants the state government to bring another car project to Singur!

(Hat tip, Nitin Pai, who is editor of the zine, Pragati. Through his blog and the zine, Nitin and his colleagues hope to provide opinions in the Indian context that are "committed to economic freedom, realism in international relations, an open society, a culture of tolerance and good governance. Its efforts are directed towards increasing public awareness and education on strategic affairs and public policy."
And so it goes...

The tree-scraped skies

P.S. Title is a phrase from an essay Dybek apparently wrote in 4th grade. The piece also has a great anecdote about an experience he had while he was enrolled for his Ph. D. in the esteemed University of Iowa program.
“I had never met a real writer at that point, and it was only after I got there, in the company of people like Richard Yates, Cheever, Don Justice, that I began to realize the enormous commitment writing really demanded.” He surrendered completely to his writing, taking poetry and fiction workshops simultaneously.

His classmates—among them Tracy Kidder, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Denis Johnson, Larry Levis, Laura Jensen, Thom Jones, and Michael Ryan—challenged and inspired Dybek, but he also grew weary of the place on occasion. Dybek recalls: “I was walking across a parking lot in the rain, talking to Jon Jackson, and saying to him, ‘I don’t think I could stand reading another goddamn worksheet this semester’ ”—worksheets were how student work was distributed in those days, on mimeographs—“and suddenly, a wet piece of paper was stuck to my foot, and I pulled it off, and I said, ‘Look, it’s a goddamn worksheet! You can’t even walk without them sticking to you.’ And I looked at it, and I started reading it, and they were these fantastic poems. They were by Tom Lux. So it was that kind of place, where you’d be walking across the parking lot in the rain, and suddenly you’d be reading this wonderful stuff.”
Good writing is of a similar kind...it sticks to you and won't let go long after you are done reading.

October 20, 2008

Most indecent behaviour, indeed!

supreme WTFness... though it is great that a high court can tell the Center "WTF are you thinking/saying" :)

The Delhi High Court on Monday pulled up the Centre for terming homosexual trait a “disease”. (Hat tip to Amit, for this update.)

The court’s observation came when Additional Solicitor General P.P. Malhotra, appearing for the Centre, contended that homosexuality is a disease that is responsible for spreading AIDS.

Describing homosexuality as “the most indecent behaviour” in society, the Centre submitted that homosexuals comprise only 0.3 per cent of the population and the right of rest 99.7 per cent population cannot be compromised for them.
Most indecent behavior indeed! Tell you what is most indecent - this! No...actually that's downright medieval and barbaric!

Amazing how kooky and retrograde this PP Malhotra guy is!

“AIDS is spreading and if gay sex is legalised, then people on the streets would indulge in it saying that the high court has given approval for it. Every citizen has the right to lead a decent and moral life in society and the right would be violated if such behaviour (gay sex) is legalised in the country,” Malhotra said, adding that allowing gay sex would pose a health hazard to society.
He also countered the gay rights activists' contention who had earlier pleaded that gay sex should be legalised in the country as many countries in Asia and Europe have done so.
"Our moral and ethical values are different," Malhotra retorted.
According to Section 377 of Indian Penal Code, a person indulging in gay sex can get up to life imprisonment.
People on the street will indulge in it... and everyone will then get AIDS, the "homosexual disease!" Where are we - in the Reagan led early 80s?

In any case, the remark reminded me of this humorous post at Overheard in NYC that I was reading earlier today with great bemusement.

Tonight's Movie: Big Trouble in Little Italy

Girl: Hang on... (bends over to tie shoe in middle of crowd)
Appalled mother: Don't do that! This is New York. You could get pregnant!

--Mulberry & Hester, Little Italy

Overheard by: Mark
So now then - don't bend when you go out on the roads of Mumbai; because then AIDS will spread rampantly in India (which has so far been so immune to these diseases that plague the immoral and unethical Western cultures!)

Find the humor in this and ROTFL is all that we can do in the face of such absurd ridiculousness, no?

Related: Amit Varma's post earlier this year about the prevalent attitude about this in India.

October 19, 2008

Ringing Endorsements & Unease in the Conservative Commentariatt

Colin Powell, who was discarded to the footnotes of the Bush administration after being sent off to the UN to lie about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, makes a well thought out and well-articulated but ringing endorsement for Obama on Meet the Press this Sunday.

Earlier this week, Christopher Buckley (son of conservative William F Buckley) also supported Obama:

The post's title: ""Sorry, Dad, I'm Voting for Obama"... and later: "It's a good thing my dear old mum and pup are no longer alive. They'd cut off my allowance."

He then resigned from the National Review, which was founded by his illustrious father, even as voices on the right summarily executed him for besmirching his father's name. In his own words:

As for the mail flooding into National Review Online—that's been running about, oh, 700-to-1 against. In fact, the only thing the Right can't quite decide is whether I should be boiled in oil or just put up against the wall and shot. Lethal injection would be too painless.

And though Christopher Hitchens is not a conservative, despite having moved towards the right from his leftist days at the Nation, he thinks come November, his vote is going to Obama because "McCain lacks the character and temperament to be president. And Palin is simply a disgrace." That about says it all but let me also point you to Peggy Noonan's great piece in the WSJ this weekend - Palin's Failin' (note the dropped g ;)). (Here's what Peggy had written earlier about Palin - the possible "transformative political presence"; though this is what she really thought back then too.)

Leave you with a NYT op-ed piece this weekend that talks about Unease in the Conservative Commentariat

October 16, 2008

B. S.

Not sure how such "misspellings" happen during printing.. but b and s not even near each other on a keyboard. BS!

Absentee Ballots Sent Out With Obama's Name Misspelled
Absentee ballots were mailed to 300 voters in Rensselaer County, New York with Barack Obama's last name misspelled. On the ballots, his last name is printed as "Osama". Election officials on either side say this was an honest, typographical mistake.

And that typo just happened to result in the name "Osama".

"Elections officials on both sides of the aisle insist a simple typographical error caused the national embarrassment. 'It was a mistake innocently done,' McDonough said. 'We catch almost everything.' Republican officials were apologetic. 'We have three different staff members who proof these things and somehow the typo got by us,' said Republican Commissioner Larry Bugbee. 'We really apologize.'...The Obama camp took the controversy in stride. 'We're glad officials are working to correct this error and we assume it won't happen again,' Obama spokesman Blake Zeff said. McDonough said the absentee ballots with the error went out to voters in Brunswick, Nassau, Sand Lake, Schaghticoke and Schodack. Three voters called to report the error. By day's end, officials decided to issue new ballots to all 300 voters. They realized some people might cross out the misspelling and write in the correct spelling."

The sudden stop that gets you

Friedman in his oped piece this week:
I have a friend who regularly reminds me that if you jump off the top of an 80-story building, for 79 stories you can actually think you’re flying. It’s the sudden stop at the end that always gets you.

When I think of the financial-services boom, bubble and bust that America has just gone through, I often think about that image. We thought we were flying. Well, we just met the sudden stop at the end. The laws of gravity, it turns out, still apply. You cannot tell tens of thousands of people that they can have the American dream — a home, for no money down and nothing to pay for two years — without that eventually catching up to you. The Puritan ethic of hard work and saving still matters. I just hate the idea that such an ethic is more alive today in China than in America.
Hard work and saving. At least I'm trying to do one of the two! :)

Also, I love this excerpt from an old 1841 book which Friedman quotes later in the piece:

Charles Mackay wrote a classic history of financial crises called “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” first published in London in 1841. “Money ... has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper. To trace the history of the most prominent of these delusions is the object of the present pages. Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

Indeed! (emphasis mine)

A nice looking parrot

We've already seen the Michael Palin for President video..

.. now, hear what John Cleese has to say about Palin. :)

The McCain/Palin ticket is a Monty Python sketch in the making. Only better. ... via

"It's like a nice looking parrot that says "Aw shucks" every now and again... but does not really have any understanding of the words."

I am tempted to put some pictures of the nice-looking parrot's upcoming movie (courtesy Larry Flynt) that I ran into earlier today but I aim to keep this a G-rated blog and so I shall resist the temptation. Instead, lets hope the other parody of Palin, Tina Fey, comes back for a few more SNL episodes at least.

October 15, 2008

Dreaming when awake

Murakami on dreams:

"I don't dream. I use my dreams when I write. I dream when I'm awake. That's the job of a novelist. You can dream a dream intentionally. When you're sleeping and you have a nice dream, you're eating or with a woman, you might wake up at the best part. I get to keep dreaming. It's great."
More excerpts from the interview here, including such gems as:

On Reader's Questions: Apparently Murakami actually answers all of his fan mail personally. "I like stupid questions. A guy sent me an email about squid. He asked 'are their tentacles hands or feet?' I told him he should give a squid ten pairs of gloves and ten pairs of socks and see what happens."

On his favorite music: "I listen to classical music in the morning, jazz in the evening. I listen to rock when I'm driving. I like Radiohead (big round of applause). I like REM, Beck, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Thome Yorke is a reader of mine. He's in Tokyo now, and he wanted to meet me, but I had to be here. It's a huge sacrifice for me... I sing "Yellow Submarine" while I swim. It's sounds like bubbling. It's great. I recommend you try it... I loved the Beach Boys when I was younger. I met Brian Wilson when he came to Tokyo. He's strange."

On Berkeley: "Something's wrong with this town."

Forcing it by original means

More from the aforementioned interview with Jesse Ball and his wife, Þórdís Björnsdóttir:
Ball: I also favour forcefulness in writing. You have to be able to present your work with strength and hope. Some people think of poetry as being some fancy, delicate rhyme thing that doesn’t have a lot to do with them. And that is all wrong. Poetry is the most forceful and powerful use of language, if you want to write a poem and get to how you feel, getting it down, forcing it away by original means, that’s poetry. Cynicism, however, is… probably the saddest trait of our society right now. And it’s rampant.

Q: You’re waging a war on cynicism?
Ball: All cynicism does is subtract. It doesn’t add. Every single genuine endeavour goes forth despite cynicism. Even something like punk, which presents a lot of cynical ideas, is inherently hopeful, it has a deep strong hope in it’s core, and a strong spirit. As I see it, being disaffected is one thing, that’s actually hard not to be in this day and age. But being cynical is a step too far.
The interview is full of much wisdom (also see this post) -- the poet/writer Jesse Ball is not only creative but also seems wise beyond his years!

The Cult of Personality

Concurrent with the last and final debate in the US presidential race, I found these pertinent words by writer Jesse Ball, in an interview, that spells out what we all are victims of at some level or other in today's world.
But it is of course important to realise the difference between promoting the work itself or the personality behind it. The propaganda culture that envelops us now has gotten people used to the individual being marketed before the work done by that individual. Most of the people who are famous now are famous just for being famous, as opposed to the work they do. In a way, then, it is important to present something that people can hold on to, the enduring reason. I think literature can help people kinda find better ways to live a life, show different possibilities. It is possible to pick up and read a book that will change the way you live your life and do something different, and I believe in that power of text. History has shown us again and again the power of printed material. With exposure to plain individuals, when you look at a TV screen or some celebrity, your interplay with it is much simpler. ‘I have to be another person, do this, do that, this person lives this life of leisure and fun,’ you may think. It’s a simple exchange where you end up wanting something that doesn’t even exist in the first place. Interacting with the actual text, that’s something real, y’know.
Jesse Ball is the author of the intriguing and creative novel, Samedi the Deafness (NYT review), which I started reading today. As is my wont, I googled him to find out more about him and ran into the above interview with him and his wife, the Irish writer Þórdís Björnsdóttir, who in addition to their own books of poems, have also together written a book of short stories "concerning the love of Vera and Linus."

Collaborations and Separations

Two excerpts today, which, apropos of nothing, somehow seem to fit together today.

First, something from the poet Jesse Ball, whose intriguing and creative novel, Samedi the Deafness (NYT review), I started reading today. As is my wont, I googled him to find out more about him and ran into this interview with him and his wife, the Irish writer Þórdís Björnsdóttir, who together have written a book of short stories "concerning the love of Vera and Linus." Here, in an interview, Ball explains what the collaborative aspects of the creative process entails.

In general, great artists are individuals, to be an artist is to gather an aesthetic that’s going to be the whole about yourself. It is a very complicated process and it can brook no admission of another person. It is a single process concerning an individual who’s often excluded from society at that point in their genesis. To find another person, especially in literature, whom you can work with is incredibly rare. In our case, it works really well, especially in the context of this book, since the object of it is to render a certain life. One of the goals when you live together is the creation of a combined life, so you could say that our book is in a way the revisiting of that in a literary sense. You should read the book as if it’s a product of one person’s imagination. Going back and forth and wondering who wrote what is not a pleasurable act.
And the second excerpt is from Hanif Kureishi's novel Intimacy (NYT review) from 1999.

I have been trying to convince myself that leaving someone isn't the worst thing you can do to them. Sombre it may be, but it doesn't have to be a tragedy. If you never left anything or anyone there would be no room for the new. Naturally, to move on is an infidelity -- to others, to the past, to old notions of oneself. Perhaps every day should contain at least one essential infidelity or necessary betrayal. It would be an optimistic, hopeful act, guaranteeing belief in the future -- a declaration that things can be not only different but better.


Don Boudreaux, in a recent letter written in response to a WaPO article about McCain's long on appeals to patriotism ("What McCain Hasn't Tried," October 13), quotes H. L. Mencken:
"Patriotism, though it is based upon the natural and indeed instinctive love of home, has been elevated in the modern world into an unparalleled congeries of imbecilities. What it demands of the individual citizen, as a practical matter, is that he yield not only his judgment but also his property and even his life to whatever gang of scheming politicians happen to be in power."
Indeed! Jefferson also said it best* ..."Dissent is the highest form of patriotism" but try telling that to the Bush administration. (Or in the words of Wendy Kaminer: "Patriotism does not oblige us to acquiesce in the destruction of liberty. Patriotism obliges us to question it, at least."

* Apparently, he did not say it!! Nadine Strossen, who was President of the ACLU in the early 90s may have said it in 1991, Howard Zinn also said it again more recently and
Dorothy Hewitt Hutchinson may have said it in the 1960s!

October 12, 2008

Angry Bulls and Fiery Zealots

The Republicans seem to be getting desperate and really kooky guys have been riled up. Like ABC News Senior National Correspondent Jake Tapper writes in a post yesterday:
The McCain campaign has no intention of letting up on the same character attacks on Obama that have been met on the stump with angry supporters yelling "treason!" "terrorist!" and "kill him!" when McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin invoke Obama's name.

Palin yesterday in Cleveland said, "we've got to start connecting the dots between Barack Obama and some of his associations, some of the things he has done in the past, and more importantly, some of the things that he intends to do in the future, so that Americans will know clearly their choices. We'll lay this out to American voters in the next couple of days.”

They're kind of in a weird place, let's say. They want to keep attacking Obama on these "associations," but they don't want to be held responsible for the kinds of ugly reactions these attacks find on the trail from McCain-Palin supporters.

ABC News' Imtiyaz Delawala, traveling with Palin, reports that a Palin supporter in Johnstown, Pa., today was holding a Curious George monkey doll on which he'd put an Obama sticker.

At a McCain event, as the crowd waited for McCain himself to arrive, Pastor Arnold Conrad of the Grace Evangelical Free Church of Davenport, Iowa, gave an invocation that included the following: "I would also pray, Lord, that your reputation is involved in all that happens between now and November, because there are millions of people around this world praying to their god—whether it's Hindu, Buddha, Allah—that his opponent wins, for a variety of reasons. And Lord, I pray that you will guard your own reputation, because they’re going to think that their God is bigger than you, if that happens. So I pray that you will step forward and honor your own name with all that happens between now and Election Day."

God to the rescue, huh! We all know what happened the last time they prayed for some divine intervention, no? :)

Jokes aside, I hope there is a vigorous backlash against the Republicans and I hope their lowly low methods (even by politics of negative campaigning standards) do not result in some obscene October surprise but somehow Obama gets through the next 3 weeks without any damage. They are really stooping low and may spring some crude obscene surprise in the next few weeks, I fear!

Like Frank Rich writes in the NYT today:
If you think way back to the start of this marathon campaign, back when it seemed preposterous that any black man could be a serious presidential contender, then you remember the biggest fear about Barack Obama: a crazy person might take a shot at him.

“I’ve got the best protection in the world, so stop worrying,” Obama reassured his supporters. Eventually the country got conditioned to his appearing in large arenas without incident (though I confess that the first loud burst of fireworks at the end of his convention stadium speech gave me a start). In America, nothing does succeed like success. The fear receded.

Until now. At McCain-Palin rallies, the raucous and insistent cries of “Treason!” and “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!” as well as the uninhibited slinging of racial epithets, are actually something new in a campaign that has seen almost every conceivable twist. They are alarms. Doing nothing is not an option.


What makes them different, and what has pumped up the Weimar-like rage at McCain-Palin rallies, is the violent escalation in rhetoric, especially (though not exclusively) by Palin. Obama “launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist.” He is “palling around with terrorists” (note the plural noun). Obama is “not a man who sees America the way you and I see America.” Wielding a wildly out-of-context Obama quote, Palin slurs him as an enemy of American troops.

By the time McCain asks the crowd “Who is the real Barack Obama?” it’s no surprise that someone cries out “Terrorist!” The rhetorical conflation of Obama with terrorism is complete. It is stoked further by the repeated invocation of Obama’s middle name by surrogates introducing McCain and Palin at these rallies. This sleight of hand at once synchronizes with the poisonous Obama-is-a-Muslim e-mail blasts and shifts the brand of terrorism from Ayers’s Vietnam-era variety to the radical Islamic threats of today.

And so on and so forth. I don't even feel like reading the article. It is downright depressing. We live in a sick world!

P.S. Talk about sick world. This makes me genuinely sick! OBSCENE!!!!!!!!!

Update: Perhaps humor is the only way to deal with such absurdness and obscenity, no? Here's Jon Stewart's take about "An Arab Family Man" :)

“In the fevered state of our country, no good can ever result from any attempt to set one of these fiery zealots to rights, either in fact or principle. They are determined as to the facts they will believe, and the opinions on which they will act. Get by them, therefore, as you would by an angry bull; it is not for a man of sense to dispute the road with such an animal.” - Thomas Jefferson

October 11, 2008

The Night Wind Carries

Ran into this poem by Denise Levertov, while looking for something about Creeley (since he wrote the Introduction to a book of her Selected Poems; adapted from a lecture he gave at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in honor of her life and work.)
September 1961

This is the year the old ones,
the old great ones
leave us alone on the road.

The road leads to the sea.
We have the words in our pockets,
obscure directions. The old ones

have taken away the light of their presence,
we see it moving away over a hill
off to one side.

They are not dying,
they are withdrawn
into a painful privacy

learning to live without words.
E. P. "It looks like dying"-Williams: "I can't
describe to you what has been

happening to me"-
H. D. "unable to speak."
The darkness

twists itself in the wind, the stars
are small, the horizon
ringed with confused urban light-haze.

They have told us
the road leads to the sea,
and given

the language into our hands.
We hear
our footsteps each time a truck

has dazzled past us and gone
leaving us new silence.
I can't reach

the sea on this endless
road to the sea unless
one turns aside at the end, it seems,

the owl that silently glides above it
aslant, back and forth,

and away into deep woods.

But for us the road
unfurls itself, we count the
words in our pockets, we wonder

how it will be without them, we don't
stop walking, we know
there is far to go, sometimes

we think the night wind carries
a smell of the sea...
Seems, 1961 was the year William Carlos Williams and Hilda Doolittle both had severe strokes, and Ezra Pound stopped writing and this poem is in honor of those great ones leaving us alone on the road.

Picture titled Night Wind Landscape I is © Karen Kucharski (kkucharskiart@yahoo.com)

But, of course, to me...this is the year of loss in a different way. How will it be without him is difficult to fathom but sometimes the night wind carries him back to me through dreams.

Always the self returns

I remember reading Robert Creeley's poetry many years back and loving it and so have picked up 3 books of poetry by him today - Life & Death, Echoes, and If I were writing this.

Just one of his early poems for now...

Poem for D.H. Lawrence

I would begin by explaining
that by reason of being
I am and no other.
Always the self returns to
self-consciousness, seeing
the figure drawn by the window
by its own hand, standing
alone and unwanted by others.
It sees this, the self sees
and returns to the figure
there in the evening, the darkness
alone and unwanted by others.
In the beginning was this self,
perhaps, without the figure,
without consciousness of self
or figure or evening. In the
beginning was this self only,
alone and unwanted by others.
In the beginning was that and this
is different, is changed and how
it is changed is not known but felt.
It is felt by the self and the self
is feeling, is changed by feeling,
but not known, is changed, is felt.
Remembering the figure by the window,
in the evening drawn there by the window,
is to see the thing like money, is to be
sure of materials, but not to know
where they came from or how
they got there or when they came.
Remembering the figure by the window
the evening is remembered, the darkness
remembered as the figure by the window,
but is not to know how they came there.
The self is being, is in being and
because of it. The figure is not being
nor the self but is in the self and
in the being and because of them.
Always the self returns to, because of
being, the figure drawn by the window,
there in the evening, the darkness,
alone and unwanted by others.
Hmmm... There are some deep questions and ruminations about the self here but I am not sure I get the whole poem.

a great picture, which I call The Evolution of Self; © Alfredo Gomez Jr.

I'll try to post some of his more accessible poems in the days to come from the three books, which I hope to read in the next couple weeks.

For now, here is a quote from his poem that I had posted elsewhere and I had also excerpted lines from Creeley's poems as a prologue to a poem I wrote in 2005, which is when I first was introduced to his poetry through a book of selected poems - this one, if I remember right. (I believe there is a new book of collected poems this year, collecting poems from 1945-2005.)

Also a review of his work in the NYT and an interview with Creeley from 2003 after a reading at Emerson College in Boston.

Art, Dreams, and Hamza

My blog this week in a cloud tag, via Wordle, which can create such a cloud for any website you want.


The world we live in!

Blogger proposes to nerd girlfriend over Twitter, she tweets back acceptance

And this is not a first. It's been done before. See link to the Wired blog post at the bottom of the above link.

October 10, 2008

Bollywood songs

Considering my roots, it is strange that I hardly ever post music from India. So, here's some fare from Bollywood ... but not the blockbuster song-and-dance routines of recent years (mostly item numbers of late!) but songs from the 1950s, which I absolutely love more than any other period in Bollywood's history.

First up... Nutan and Dev Anand in a famous song from Paying Guest

And is there someone with a more beautiful screen presence than Madhubala in Indian films? Again, with Dev Anand (whose films from the 50s I love; though he's made nothing but c**p since; a few ok movies in the 60s and 70s notwithstanding! At 85, though, he has the kind of energy and enthusiasm for life that one wants to still root for him to continue making movies (that not many see; and its been so for almost 3 decades at least now!)

And the last one is actually from Pakistan, which I found it here. The picturization is not so great but the voice, that of Naseem Begum, is haunting in some ways and I loved it.

P.S. Given that a friend recently emailed me saying she remembered I used to love a particular S. D. Burman song, I should at least provide links to a few songs sung by him here; considering I have no idea when I will post Bollywood fare again!

Kaahe Ko Roye
o re mahji
wahan kaun hai tera musafir jaye ga kahan

Apparently, it was the 3rd in the above list that was my favorite! However, I have no recollection of being so much in love with this song back in the 90s when I knew this friend but memory is such a beast. We remember different things about each other and sometimes about ourselves!

Moving Lines

I am no art enthusiast nor do I write art/movie/book reviews well (a recent post by Amit comes to mind -- easy to critique; difficult to create, no?)... but thought I'd share a short review of an art exhibition I saw today.

I went to the Boston Public Library in Copley Square this afternoon and saw that they had an exhibition of d
rawings by Channing Penna on display at the BPL.

MOVINGLINE is the outcome of a seven-year exploration of the science and humanity of movement. With pencil, Channing Penna captures nature's energy, beauty, and rhythms in a series of sixty-seven drawings with accompanying prose. In this extraordinary body of work, the intimacy of her art is initially represented by images of crashing waves, birds in flight, and racing horses. Her pursuit of motion then evolves into renditions of dancers and musicians performing, and complex portrayals of the human face. Organic and surprising, Channing's drawings are unforgettable for the power of their line, the drama of their black and white compositions, and the innovation with which they are rendered.

And here is
the artist's statement about the work. S
ome of the work from the exhibition can be seen in a recently released book or even at her website.

However, I think enjoying it at a public gallery gave me a whole different experience, which I would not have got if I had stumbled into the book or the website. In both cases, one would lose a lot without the scale and the ambiance of walking around a big room looking at the drawings. Also, with the website, one loses the impact of experiencing the pictures in combination with Channing's words and quotes which accompany each picture. In my opinion, the art and the words feed off each other and the words complement the art, instead of detracting from it. No doubt, the art can stand by itself but the words helped me understand the artist's thought process better and hence helped me appreciate it more.

From waves to horses to soaring eagles to doves and cranes (and even cranes of a different kind - see last picture in her online gallery), the drawings draw you into a world of motion (or should I say a whirl of motion), leaving the viewer breathless. And then she slows it down a bit with the portraits, also often portraying motion (especially liked the one with Seiji Ozawa conducting) but more cleverly, with the the human touch perhaps bringing it down to a quieter more reminiscing feel and a less ferocious end.

A wonderful exhibition. Half an hour or so of pure joy! Ferocious and full of life.

P.S. Some of her work is also
in a Flickr album but I am not sure if this is someone who knows her who has put it up there with her permission.

Chaos is the law of nature. Order is the dream of man -- Henry Brooks Adams

The Pleasure of Slowness

Picture © Sarolta Gyoker, who posted it here.

This morning, I started reading Kundera's Slowness, a book I had kinda perused through some years back but not really read, and really enjoyed this wonderful paragraph:
"Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared? Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear? Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folk song, those vagabonds who roam from one mill to another and bed down under the stars? Have they vanished along with footpaths, with grasslands and clearings, with nature? There is a Czech proverb that describes their easy indolence by a metaphor: 'they are gazing at God's windows.' A person gazing at God's windows is not bored; he is happy. In our world, indolence has turned into having nothing to do, which is a completely different thing: a person with nothing to do is frustrated, bored, is constantly searching for an activity he lacks."
"Gazing at God's Windows" would make for a a great blog's title. :)

October 9, 2008

The Strangler

John Ashberry, in an interview with Guernica magazine says:

Kenneth Koch’s poem "Fresh Air" is actually a kind of manifesto we all subscribed to. It talks about a Poetry Society where academic poetry is formulated that is disrupted by a kind of Batman-like figure called the Strangler, the enemy of bad poetry. I suggest you might take a look at it. One line in particular—someone gets up at the Poetry Society to read a poem that begins, "This Connecticut landscape would have pleased Vermeer," and the Strangler immediately strikes that line down.
I fear a lot of my poetry would have suffered a gruesome death at the hands of the The Strangler but given the amount of cr*p I see that gets published, especially online, as poetry, I wish there was a real Strangler to take care of bad poetry like this.

Also, at my cynical best, I too would agree with his opinion about political poetry preaching to the choir and not being too useful but like he says, poetry and words can goad you into awareness and other kinds of action...

My feeling is that most political poetry is preaching to the choir, and that the people who are going to make the political changes in our lives are not the people who read poetry, unfortunately. Poetry not specifically aimed at political revolution, though, is beneficial in moving people toward that kind of action, as well as other kinds of action. A good poem makes me want to be active on as many fronts as possible.
... in addition to the obvious beauty of words being a "renovating virtue."

French Writer Wins Nobel Prize

Never heard of him before today!

The Swedish Academy on Thursday awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize for literature to Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, a French novelist, children’s author and essayist regarded by some French readers as one of the country’s greatest living writers.
Bookies be damned, it is a Frenchman that wins again. That makes it 14 French, all men, in 108 years of Nobel awards. ( Not sure if the 14 includes 2000 winner Gao Xingjian, who is a Chinese-born French writer*.) There are 10 Americans in that list, it seems and there apparently is a bias against American authors at the Nobel committee, with the Nobel judge and permanent secretary Horace Engdahl recently saying in an interview:
“The US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining."
Oh well... my bet on John Updike or Phillip Roth winning one of these days is not going to happen, I guess! (Unless there is a wider backlash against Engdahl's words and so the Nobel committee hands one out next year to an American just to assuage things. Somehow, I doubt it. The Nobel committee cares too hoots about what the New Yorker or other Americans have to say about their choices...(and that's how it should be.)

Anyways, like Marco Roth writes in the Guardian: "The Nobel prize for literature doesn't really have much to do with literary excellence - and that's not a bad thing."... though calling it some irrelevant prize that clueless Swedes hand out does sound like a case of sour grapes and kinda undermines the fact that the Nobel, despite its roots in the literary hinterlands of Scandinavian backwaters, has become the most prestigious literary award.

We want the award to matter as though presented by angels rather than a few, imperfect Swedes with their own biases and tastes.
If we are shocked to discover that politics or some agenda external to mere aesthetics or "excellence", impinges on the judgment of literary work in an international context, we haven't been paying attention. The history of the prize is tied to Alfred Nobel's own broadly humanitarian aspirations to reward those who "have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind". Literature will always suffer from this kind of consequentialist standard, and the Swedes recognised this too.
* Coincidentally, I picked up Gao Xingjian's book of short stories: Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather at the public library yesterday.

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...