Another hiatus

on January 24, 2008 with 1 comments » |

I took a break of a month or so in early 2007. Travel plans in February and other priorities in life mean it is time for yet another hiatus from blogging.

I blogged with a vengeance all month...have a record 85 posts in the first 3 weeks of January (coming close on the heels of a record 73 posts in December 2007) ...and so, it is perhaps time for a slow-down or breather anyways. Go find my 'voice' or my place in the world or something :)

All this blogging and hardly anyone even reads the blog anyways! I quite enjoy it as it allows me to collect things of interest I read about on the internet or in books in one place but at some point practicality has to set in and I have to answer the obvious question: What is the point of all the time and effort that goes into this?

Anyways... I'll be back to blogging for sure - likely in late February or by early March for sure. Until then... be good.. have fun and enjoy your time.

--
So I think after taking a hiatus for some years and coming back, I'm finding my voice and my place again in the world of music around me. - Boz Scaggs

And then there was one

on January 22, 2008 with 0 comments » | ,

One surviving French veteran (poilu) from World War I, that is.

Louis de Cazenave, one of the last two official surviving French WWII veterans, died two days ago at age 110. Following his death, Lazare Ponticelli has become the last fully verified French veteran of World War I. (Apparently, the French government has approved a state funeral for the last official World War I French veteran to die. I'm sure he's not holding his breath in anticipation! ;))

Interestingly, Germany's last known veteran of WWI, Kästner, Erich, died on new years day this year at age 1008 and so did Poland's last known WWI veteran -Wycech, Stanisław - who died on Jan 12th, 2008 at age 108.

Lucky guys to live so long (90 + years!) after being involved in a war that claimed an estimated 20 million people (
9.7 million military deaths and about 10 million civilian deaths) around the world!

Wikipedia has a link about surviving veterans of WWI. There are three living in the US - aged 106, 107, and 108 - of which one of them (the 106 year old) had "completed basic training, but did not see action: he was held back in reserves in England due to age." Actually the link says he was Canadian then - not American - but lives in the US now.

And the 108 year old, Harry Landis, apparently is in a nursing home in Florida, where he lives with his 100-year-old wife. Nice.

Incidentally, the last woman veteran from WWI, Charlotte Winters , died last year at age 109. Gladys Powers of Canada (age 108), who served for Britain, is now the last surviving female veteran of WWI.

P.S. More factoids about WWI.... if you be so inclined.

Wikipedia also has a link that discusses last surviving US war veterans in various wars over history.

A nice summary of tables at this article:

36: Countries involved in fighting

65 million: Soldiers served

4.7 million: U.S. veterans of war

2 million: U.S. troops sent overseas

25,000: American women who served overseas

53,402: Americans killed in action

63,114: Americans died of disease and other causes

1: Out of three French men age 13-30 died

3.5 million: Estimated prisoners of war by 1917

Sources: National World War I Museum, Congressional Research Service

Last Spanish-American War veteran:Nathan Cook died at 106 on Sept. 10, 1992, nearly 94 years after the war ended.

Last Civil War Union veteran:Albert Woolson died at 109 on Aug. 2, 1956, or 91 years after the war ended.

Last Civil War Confederate veteran:John Salling died at 112 on March 16, 1958, nearly 93 years after the war ended.

Last Revolutionary War veteran:Daniel Bakeman died at 109 on April 5, 1869, nearly 86 years after the war ended.

Source: Department of Veterans Affairs

How the United States' major modern wars compare

War

Duration

Number served

U.S. military deaths

U.S. military wounded

Major weapons introduced

World War I

1917-18{+1}

4.7 million

116,516

204,002

Airplane, tank, chemical warfare

World War II

1941-45{+1}

16.1 million

405,399

671,846

Amphibious assault ships, paratroops, atom bomb

Korean War

1950-53

5.7 million

54,246

103,284

Helicopters, first jet aircraft in combat

Vietnam War

1964-73

8.7 million

58,209

153,303

Rapid-fire assault rifles, laser-guided bombs, unmanned aerial vehicles

Persian Gulf War

1990-91

2.2 million

382

467

Spy satellites, stealth aircraft

Afghanistan and Iraq

October 2001-present

1.5 million

3,599

25,455

Satellite-guided bombs

Sources: Congressional Research Service, GlobalSecurity.org, Defense Department.

Lets dance to the djembe!

on January 21, 2008 with 0 comments » |

Percussion... another thing I've always loved right from when I was a little kid. (I do not know to play any instrument -- just loved the beat of percussion instruments, is all)

First up, a dance to a djembe beat from Bamako, Mali.



Here's some djembe drumming and dancing at a marriage ceremony in Bamako, Mali


and more djembe and dancing from Senegal this time (Mamadou Sidibe on the djembe)


And here is 4-year old Isaiah Chevrier playing the djembe -- I had seen some of his videos on youtube before. The future is in good hands, literally!





Abdoulaye is Isaiah's 2-year old brother


Some day, these kids will be like this Grand Master Djembe Player - 70-year old Sega Cisse.




Related: A travel log about drumming in Bamako, Mali

David Rieff writes about his mother, Susan Sontag, who died of cancer in December 2004 (wow...3+ years! Feels like a couple at most!):

My mother loved science, and believed in it (as she believed in reason) with a fierce, unwavering tenacity bordering on religiosity. There was a sense in which reason was her religion. She was also always a servant of what she admired, and I am certain that her admiration for science (as a child, the life of Madame Curie had been the first of her models) and above all for physicians helped her maintain her conviction -- and again, this, too, was probably an extrapolation from childhood -- that somewhere out there was something better than what was at hand, whether the something in question was a new life or a new medical treatment.

I found the above excerpt in a review of David's book Swimming in a sea of death, in which Thomas Lynch writes:
"Swimming in a Sea of Death" is Rieff's brief record of how high priests of the body and blood sort -- whether oncologists or monsignors -- must so often disappoint. And how they disappointed his mother. In the end, neither science nor medicine, reason nor raw intellect, "avidity" for life nor her lifelong sense that hers was a special case -- nothing could undo her death. Susan Sontag "died as she had lived: unreconciled to mortality." And there is the sadness at the heart of Rieff's testimony: that mothers die, as fathers do, regardless of what they or their children believe or disbelieve. It is our humanity that makes us mortal, not our creeds or their antitheses.

All of us swim in the one sea all our lives, trying to stay afloat as best we can, clinging to such lifelines and preservers as we might draw about us: reason and science, faith and religious practice, art and music and imagination. And in the end, we all go "down, down, down" as Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, "into the darkness," although she did not approve and was not resigned. Some lie back, float calmly and then succumb, while others flail about furiously and go under all the same. Some work quietly through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' tidy, too hopeful stages; others "rage, rage" as Dylan Thomas told his father to. But all get to the "dying of the light." Some see death as a transition while others see it as extinction.
(Emphasis mine. Loved that sentence.)

Read the review in its entirety. Well written and kind of timely for me in some ways as my wife and I are dealing with some health issues with our own parents this month.

This video (may be considered NSFW) for a song called 'Sex has made me stupid' is NOT what I had in mind when I blogged earlier about robotic sex! ;)

Great video though. It's UK artist Dave the Chimp's second video for the British electro-punk band, Robots In Disguise. The earlier one is here.

Seems, when the band plays live, they are joined by a drummer named Ann Droid. Maybe its an intentionally assumed pseudonym..... but, that's pretty cool. Ann Droid. Great futuristic name! ;)

Let the bells toll

on January 19, 2008 with 0 comments » |

RIP, Bobby. Hope you find peace (wherever people go when they die.)

Amazing to see him as a teenager in this 1958 clip from a TV show.



Found the video through a comment at a blog post by the famous woman prodigy chess champion, Susan Polgar.

No matter how piercing and appalling his insights, the desolation creeping over his outer world, the lurid lights and shadows of his inner world, the writer must live with hope, work in faith." - J.B. Priestley

Found the above at a link that refers to Faulkner's Nobel lecture in 1949. Three short paragraphs but what a punch they deliver! Some day, I will read my Faulkner!

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work - a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it c
an be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Everyone knows sex sells..but apparently, sex stories sell too.

LETTERS FROM WORKING GIRLS is an online project that launched on January 14, 2008. Here, you'll find real letters from real working girls about their real experiences. The project was created by Susannah Breslin, a journalist and blogger.
Actually, just 3 posts in the last 4-5 days... but apparently she's tracked over 20,000 visitors in 3 days. Like she writes at her blog:
Letters from Working Girls has had over 20,000 visitors in 3 days. When people talk about sex work, the people listen.
Related: Their stories... rendered in graphic novel form by Peter Conrad.

After enjoying his son's guitar playing over and over again for more than an hour, I am tempted to go visit Ali Farka Toure's music again. In one of my first posts tagged music here, I had linked to some of his videos at youtube in July 2006 -- I never embedded videos then but they are there towards the end of the post. Go seek them... 7 videos of pure joy!

Here then are a few more gems from the master!

In my previous post, I thought I went to heaven listening to his son play "Ai du". Here is the master himself playing that beautiful piece.



You can also hear him on the recorded version of "Ai Du" with Ry Cooder, in the Grammy-winning album Talking Timbaktu. Also, another song, "Diaraby" also from the same album.


Two great videos with 9+ minutes of great music each, thanks to the comment someone left here. Anonymous...but thanks a lot, my friend.





And finally,
live from the Festival of the Desert in 2003.



I initially wondered whether this was from the evening in Somerville, MA (a few miles from my house!) in 2007. I remember reading about it but did not manage to get there. Not so.. Joe's pub is in NYC. The Somerville event was at Johnny D's in Davis Square.

If there is a God, he must be having a good time listening to Ali Farka Toure. For now, here on earth, THIS is heaven! (Thank you, Thank you, Thank you...to Vieux's bassist Eric Herman's
activism-minded Modiba Productions, who produce Vieux's records, for putting this online!)



I cannot imagine how amazing it must be to listen to his father live.... missed that chance now :(... but I HAVE to see Vieux live next time he is in the Boston area! Or maybe I'll just see him whenever I get to the Desert Festival, huh? ;)

And here is Vieux playing "Bullet the Blue Sky" by U2



and one last short clip for now... from the Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures, Ireland in August 2007.



Previous post about Vieux here.

Take note, US performers^.. one can have good ...no...great music too, in addition to a good dance routine!




That's the very beautiful voiced Mali singer, Rokia Traore. Unlike Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate, she is not from a griot but is from the Bamana ethnic group - traditionally not allowed to perform as musicians. Thank god people like her and Salif Keita (also of royal heritage, traced back to the founder of the Mali Empire, Sundiata Keita) have been able to fight these old customs and bring their beautiful voices to the world.

^ Some of them - don't need to name names, do I? - can hardly be called performers. Drugged-out tramps maybe but calling them musicians would be an insult of the musicians of the world! If music is not the priority but shaking you hips and flaunting your body is ...(nothing wrong with latter..but that's not a music video, its called soft-porn at best; and depending on which performer it is - ugliness.) ... then sorry.. that does not qualify as music in my mind. This here....is music!

Thanks to youtube and the internet revolution, here I am...listening to these beautiful voices from around the globe this Saturday morning. Here's more. Beautiful music. Amazing voice.





I had heard Rokia before but another Mali diva that I read about and heard just now is Oumou Sangare. You can listen to her songs through World Circuit but here are a few videos through youtube.

First up - a
live performance of Oumou Sangare featuring Ali Farka Toure at the Festival in the Desert in 2003.*



And there is more.... including the first video below where she sings with the very talented Alicia Keyes (one really good US singer, who has a good voice AND has made it big in the US.)





Some of my earlier posts about music from West Africa, in particular Mali: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5..


*
Some day before I die I hope to be at the Festival in the desert in Mali! Next time someone says go to Timbaktu, I'll gladly take them up on it ;) (The festival is held in Essakane, approximately 65 kilometers north of the city of Timbuktu.)

In trying to find these links, google came up with links to some travel agents offering packages to the festival. Unbelievable how expensive it is! I guess with popularity comes price!

The 2008 festival just got over (Jan 10-12) but
thanks to the Guardian newspaper, some free mp3s from the 2008 event.
Bassekou Kouyate, the ngoni wizard of Mali
Khaira Arby performs
Vieux Farka Touré performs
Tamikrist
Unknown Tuaregs singing around the campfire


Also, y
ou can see pictures & some videos of the 2007 edition of this great festival.

Scott Harton writes in the Harpers:

Harold Bloom delivers up a vivid and very telling assessment of America during the reign of George W. Bush in an interview with Eva Sohlman of the Swedish program Världen i Fokus (World in Focus). In the best single passage, Bloom demonstrates that he just doesn’t get it–we are all supposed to be reciting the mantra “the surge is working, everything is fine, the Iraq War is a wonderful success.”

The horror of what is taking place in Iraq exceeds my worst fears five or six years ago (after Bush came to power). I am horrified at the disastrous mistake involved. Imagine the complete madness in trying to occupy a large Arab country in the middle of the Arab world, a culture we know precious little about, and who speaks a language only a handful of our specialists can speak, with armed forces which we have limited control of and with a large army of private soldiers… The whole thing is a scandal. . . a series of lies. I don’t understand the motivation for the war, but suspect the real reason for the war, which one would suspect of a country which is a third oligarchy, a third plutocracy and a third theocracy, is that it simply is a profitable machine.

We have caused a monstrous mess. We don’t even count killed Iraqis. God knows how many Iraqi women, children and men have been killed by our accidental shootings, which we are such experts at, or by other Iraqis. No, ‘Benito Bush’ (Bloom’s pet name for President George Bush) deserves, if we had a functioning civil law in the world, to be condemned for crimes against humanity. Bush is ultimately responsible for this war,” Bloom says pointing angrily with his index finger in the air as his dark eyes burn below a pair of thick dark eyebrows and a crown of unruly white hair.

Bloom also delivers some well-earned lashes at the U.S. media:

’Media-ocrity’ is what I call it. It is awful what kind of media we have today. Nobody dared to stand up and criticize Bush when he unlawfully went to war on Iraq. It is depressing, and shows what direction this country has taken since he came to power—a power which did not rightfully belong to him. The media is not playing its role. The Bushites are bullies and for a long time nobody dared criticize them and just swallowed their propaganda and lies. People have become scared. In this kind of climate, nobody is interested in the critical voice. You ask about the role of the intellectual in America today and I have to say: What role? What intellectuals? There is no room for them in the simplified and dumbed down world of today’s media. We used to play a role, and there are still a few left, but we are a dying breed. Nobody seems to be interested in nuance anymore.

Related: Bush as Macbeth (“Macbush”)

with 0 comments »

http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/a-longer-spot-check-on-global-warming/


Everyone's Gone Nuts: The exaggerated threat of food allergies

Indeed! :)

Some interesting snippets from the Harpers Weekly Review for Jan 15th

A British artist exhibited 55 “beautiful and delicate” canvases of his ejaculate sprinkled with carbon dust,7

... and French customs officials seized 224,000 fake anti-impotence pills.

Forty-seven U.S. senators were fighting for the return of guns to national parks and wildlife refuges.

Soldiers were being sent to Afghanistan wearing high-tech helmets that gather data on how bomb blasts impact their brains,

..and it was revealed that Blackwater dropped riot-control gas on U.S. soldiers in Iraq in 2005. “This,” said Army Captain Kincy Clark, “was decidedly uncool.”

Scientists from the American Astronomical Society attended their annual meeting and agreed that the universe is bizarre and violent. “This is the glory of the universe,” said the association's president. “What is odd and what is normal is changing.

And a couple other science stories in the news:

Uruguayan scientists have uncovered fossil evidence of the biggest species of rodent ever found, more than eight feet long and weighing between 1,700 and 3,000 pounds.

A species of self-destructing palm trees that flower once every 100 years and then die has been discovered in Madagascar.

Training the Multitasking Brain



Which is more of a threat to your health: Al Qaeda or the Department of Homeland Security?

An intriguing new study suggests the answer is not so clear-cut. Although it’s impossible to calculate the pain that terrorist attacks inflict on victims and society, when statisticians look at cold numbers, they have variously estimated the chances of the average person dying in America at the hands of international terrorists to be comparable to the risk of dying from eating peanuts, being struck by an asteroid or drowning in a toilet.
Earlier: Who's afraid of Terrorists?
How worried are you that you or someone in your family will become a victim of terrorism? Very worried, somewhat worried, not too worried, or not worried at all. In the graph below (see post), you can see how Americans have been answering that question since the attacks of Sept. 11. Even though there hasn’t been an attack on American soil in the ensuing six years, close to half of Americans are worried about being victims. Over this same period, similarly large numbers of people have been telling pollsters they consider it somewhat or very likely that there’ll be a terrorist attack in America within several weeks or several months.
In the post, John Tierney debates this graph in the context of availability cascades ...
.... beliefs that spread because their promoters exploit a dramatic image that’s readily available in people’s minds. The technical name for these promoters is “availability entrepreneurs”; another, coined by John Mueller of Ohio State University, is “the terrorism industry.”
"Exploiting a dramatic image readily available in people's minds"... that's what all the hatred of Islam or Iran, that seems very prominent in the US, is also all about. Yes.. Ahmedajinad's rhetoric does make it easy to look at him as a illogical fool but I fear many of our politicians and their rhetoric may seem the same to many Iranians.

One (Christian) nation under God

on January 18, 2008 with 0 comments » |

Seems....

As "700 Club" co-anchor Terry Meeuwsen explained on today's installment of the popular Christian show, "Each year, just before the first part of the year, Pat (Robertson) goes off alone with the Lord and then comes back to share with us what the Lord has shown him about the coming year.

This year, God told him (above link has a video...no.. not of God telling Pat this but of Pat telling his faithful followers what God told him*):

"What I'm praying about is China. I'm asking for 250 million in China. We haven't had that breakthrough yet but I think we're going to get it. God's going to give us China. And China will be the largest Christian nation on the face of the earth. They're going to come to Jesus."

Thanks, Pat. Good to know. :)

* If God talks to this guy (Bush), then I suppose he could be talking to Pat too! Or maybe its just the voices in his head! Kooky!

Actually, even with Bush, there is reason to believe he isn't talking to the God he thinks he is talking to.. but to Lord Shiva! :) Scott Hartin writes in Harpers this month:

Cartoonists in the United States have regularly given Bush’s God the bodily manifestation and voice of a Yale dropout and retired corporate executive named Dick Cheney. But this lacks imagination. No one doubts the involvement of Dick Cheney in this orgy of blood and destruction, but he himself is merely a mortal vessel serving the god of war and destruction. I’m zeroing in on the Godhead in question, and I’m increasingly convinced that he’s a denizen of the South Asian subcontinent, and in particular the Lord Shiva.

Go read the article for why he picks "The Destroyer" from the triumvirate of Hindu Gods - Brahmā, Viṣhṇu, and Śhiva.

I was just catching up on Harpers weekly review for Jan 15th and saw these quotes from Rudy. I must have missed them after the Iowa caucus and NH primary!

Obama and Mike Huckabee were the surprise winners of the Iowa caucuses. “None of this worries me,” said Rudy Giuliani, who came in sixth place in the Republican caucus. “September 11, there were times I was worried.”3 John McCain and a tearful Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primaries.4 “You look at me, September 11, ” said Giuliani when asked if he would ever cry in public, “there were times in which it was impossible not to feel the emotion.” 5

This almost reads like something Jon Stewart would come up with to ridicule Rudy or something the satire magazine The Onion would make up! He really brings up 9-11 every single time, doesn't he!!


Earlier this month:

He wants your vote for him but you better know English!
It was just about 25 hours ago that Rudolph W. Giuliani addressed a group of Cuban-American supporters in Florida. His warm-up speakers addressed the crowd in Spanish. His wife, Judith, greeted the crowd in Spanish. And his campaign launched a new radio ad in Spanish, and passed out Spanish-language campaign fliers about his “12 Compromisos con el Pueblo Americano.’’

But on Friday evening, when Mr. Giuliani was asked at an Elks Lodge here about what he would do to end illegal immigration, he ended with a familiar applause line: “The final end result about becoming a citizen – you should be able to have to read English, write English, and speak English if you want to become a citizen,’’ he said.
Two days prior to that: a fearmongering ad from Giuliani camp ..

The spot has footage riots, bombings and general unrest in the Muslim world, as a voiceover narrates:

An enemy without borders. Hate without boundaries. A people perverted. A religion betrayed. A nuclear power in chaos. Madmen bent on creating it. Leaders assassinated. Democracy attacked. And Osama bin Laden still making threats. In a world where the next crisis is a moment away.

“America needs a leader who’s ready,” the narrator concludes.

A link from last month: Giuliani's New Immigration Spot

and an article I had seen a few months back:
Giuliani and the fear card!

--
I have not been following the campaign trail closely since the NH primaries. Too many other interests... I will just wait for Tsunami Tuesday to separate out the leaders a little bit. Right now the Republican side looks totally uncertain - no clear leader ...so much so the NY Post yesterday had
one word for the entire slate of Republican candidates: Losers. Being a NY paper, they had some special words for their ex-mayor:

But there's only one GOP candidate that beats all the rest at being a loser: Rudy Giuliani. He has perfected the art of underperforming to the point that his campaign now insists it was all part of his game plan. He's been reduced to watching from the sidelines and praying for other people to lose - like McCain in Michigan so his momentum would be stalled - rather than getting in the game and winning himself.

And this gem of a nugget from the Republican frontrunner:*

"I believe it's a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards..."

God save us all!

* Is Huck still the frontrunner or has that ride up waned after Iowa? I know Romney won in Michigan but that by no means Romney is in the drivers seat. Guiliani is flailing, McCain is making a solid comeback but is there even a frontrunner in this GOP Chaos?

Even the faithful are losing hope of a Republican win, it looks like - not showing up for primaries! :)

The Politico examines the funk the GOP is in. “While voter turnout soared to new records in Iowa and New Hampshire on the Democratic side, it was actually down for Republicans in the first three states in which the candidates aggressively campaigned when compared to the last competitive race, in 2000. All told, 1.2 million voted in the Republican races in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan. In 2000, the number was 1.6 million.”

If Hillary or Obama lose from here (one of them should win the Dem candidacy), it will really suck and to me would mean that majority of public is either stupid stupid stupid to vote a Republican in again or Diebold succeeded in rigging the important states again, as in 2000 and 2004!

Enough for now...but if you want more, there is a nice summary of coverage from various media outlets on Republican race here.

An anecdote from a few days back to preface the actual link for this blog. I cannot remember who I was talking to ... telling them that I have to go to India for a cousin's wedding....the person asked if it was an arranged marriage. Fair question re: Indian marriages, I say!. I told her that ..no, my cousin works for an ad agency and she met him there. The person says: Oh..ad-agency..they have those in India? I wouldn't put have put those two (ad agency and India) together.

Hmm... batao...kya boloo. "We have a billion people to advertise to, you know" is what came to mind but I didn't even say that. Shrugged my shoulder and mumbled something that I do not quite remember! A la George Costanza in The Comeback episode, a better response came to mind much later -- along the lines of: "Yes, we need ads to buy elephants like you need car ads, you know! And how would we know what deals are on in the jungle when we go hunting? And how would we brownies learn how to make fire if we didn't have ads by match companies showing us how! By the way, please return that concept of 'zero' back. Heard you guys don't appreciate anything with no value attached to it anyways!"

Ok..now I'm being facetious and stereotyping here now about materialistic ignorant Americans -- not all Americans are like that and the country continues to be the world leader in the production of some brilliant minds. It also actually can boast of some really socially, culturally, and globally aware human beings...but they do not form the majority or even a significant minority. The above anecdote made me aware to the fact that in "liberal & cultured" Brahminical Boston area, I am still in the US! I would have expected that question in some places in the Mid-West where I lived before but not in the Boston area!

Further proof of this ignorance is brought to light by
a Pew Research Foundation study about What Americans Know: 1989-2007 that has found that public knowledge of current affairs has changed little by the news and information revolution.

Elsewhere, a comment at this thread at plastic.com, which I used to read regularly some years back but have not read it in over a year, may explain some of this 'ignorance.'

People who are (1) ill-informed, (2) can't see through the transparent performances of hack anchors and O'Reilly, and (3) are unwilling or unable to rely on more than one news source to come to their incorrect interpretation of facts.
The comment specifically mentions O'Reilly because the thread is about ..
..a poll conducted by Sacred Heart University has led to headlines across much of America's right-wing media that FoxNews is now the "most trusted" news source for Americans, passing CNN, which was most trusted for accurate reporting in 2003. These media outlets typically lead with the poll results that the most trusted national TV news organizations, for accurate reporting, in declining order, were FoxNews (27.0%), CNN (14.6%), and NBC News (10.90%). These were followed by ABC News (7.0%), local news (6.9%), CBS News (6.8%) MSNBC (4.0%), PBS News (3.0%), CNBC (0.6%) and CBN (0.5%). The follow-up statistic is that in 2003, CNN led FoxNews 23.8% to 14.6%.
Wow...seems only 3% of people believe PBS! Who did they poll? Fox News anchors? Well...

Scan a little further down the page, or look at a more objective news source and additional poll results put the numbers about FoxNews in a very different perspective. ...

James Castonguay, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of SHU's Department of Media Studies & Digital Culture, summed it up:

"The fact that an astonishing percentage of Americans see biases and partisanship in their mainstream news sources suggests an active and critical consumer of information in the U.S. The availability of alternative viewpoints and news sources through the Internet no doubt contributes to the increased skepticism about the objectivity of profit-driven news outlets owned by large conglomerates.

Naah.. I do not think it works that way. While it is true that there is an availability of alternative viewpoints via the internet and while one could hope that the power of information and its ease of access in today's world would dissipate some of the ignorance, the fact of the matter is that birds of a feather flock together. People listen to the news that only fits their world-view and fits into their biases. One finds comfort against the 'evil terrible' world with other people who share your own biases and view-points. A plethora of choices has meant that each person finds such an outlet, which reinforces his or her biases and in many cases even ridicules alternative view-points. Opinion, spun as "the truth", has replaced objective news in America and that is one of the reasons why ignorance prevails in this land. Doublespeak and the Orwellian "newspeak" has replaced honest discourse (political or other) in this country. Like William Lutz of Rutgers University said in an interview almost two decades ago:

Double-speak is language designed to evade responsibility, make the unpleasant appear pleasant, the unattractive appear attractive. Basically, it's language that pretends to communicate, but really doesn't. It is language designed to mislead, while pretending not to.

Double-speak is not a slip of the tongue or a mistaken use of language, it's exactly the opposite. It is language used by people who are very intelligent and very sophisticated in the use of language, and know that you can do an awful lot with language.

What a perfect definition of what we see in mainstream media these days! Do read the interview - its a fascinating discussion of the prevalence of double-speak in media, businesses, government, etc. And I think the explanation below of why not too many people in the US vote also has some merit. People recognize and have become jaded with this BS and double-speak!
I have a hypothesis that I would love to test, and I hope sometime to be able to do that. I would love to be able to track the pervasiveness of double-speak, as it grew, along with the decline in voting, because the reaction I get to double-speak, from a lot of readers of the Quarterly Review, is they write to as, "Well of course, I know this language, I see it all over the place, I see it all the time, but what else can you expect from politicians, they all lie, they all use double-speak." It is that cynicism which leads to, "There's nothing I can do about it." So people withdraw and pull back.
Also this interesting excerpt from a review of Mr. Lutz's book, The New Doublespeak:
It is necessary, for the healthy functioning of a democracy, to have free, open, and honest public discourse. In a world where plain English is being replaced by doublespeak and hot-button word engineering, that honest communication cannot take place. As William Lutz points out, the increasing corruption of our public language — the language we use to debate issues and to decide public policy — is the corruption of democracy itself.
An excerpt from the book can be read here and this site called Doublespeak is a good relevant site to read.

I could go on and on about this... how this ignorance also breeds a certain arrogance but I'll stop here for now, with a link to an interesting site someone forwarded to me: Fox attacks Decency. If you share some of my own viewpoints (and perhaps biases), you will enjoy it. If you are one of those millions in this country who get all their news from Faux..er..Fox News, you will dismiss this as liberal propaganda! :)

Quote for the moment:
Americans seem to have a very difficult time recognizing that there is a distinction between understanding and sympathizing. Somehow we believe that an attempt to inform ourselves about what leads to evil is an attempt to explain it away. I believe that just the opposite is true, and that when it comes to coping with evil, ignorance is our own worst enemy. - Kathleen Norris

Failure Now An Option

In a stunning reversal of more than 200 years of conventional wisdom, failure—traditionally believed to be an unacceptable outcome for a wide range of tasks and goals—is now increasingly seen as a viable alternative to success, sources confirmed Tuesday.

..

Americans have always been told that they should succeed at all costs," Emory University sociologist Dr. Lauren Hodge said. "But based on new evidence, this can no longer be called true—if, in fact, it ever was. As failure continues to dominate the American landscape, this mantra must be overruled." "We have no choice but to revoke failure's non-optional status, effective immediately," Hodge continued. "Now all citizens will be able to step back, stare down the hardship and difficulty they will face in the pursuit of success, and say, 'F--- that—this isn't worth it.'"

..

Some predict that a majority of the U.S. populace will now opt out of its previous obligation to give it 110 percent, and, in the coming weeks and months, give as little as 45 percent. For underachieving Americans, that number is expected to drop to as low as 5 percent by March.

..

"In retrospect, failure becoming an option was inevitable," historian Michael Lambeau said. "The only difference is that now Americans can choose, without fear of being ostracized by society, to quit long before getting ahead." Lambeau predicted a substantial decrease in the number of everyday Americans who fear failure, and a dramatic rise in those who actually embrace the once-reviled stench of defeat and disappointment.

Failure Chart

Brilliant stuff, as usual...from The Onion! :)

We've already been told about fuzzy math by Bush... now there's fuzzy caucus math, per Hillary! ;)

For a majority of likely voters, meaningless bullshit will be the most important factor in deciding who they will vote for in 2008.

This is satire from the Onion...but its almost all true!

Although the clip has one guy saying, "No one party has a monopoly on bullshit", some of the fun in the humor was lost to me when there was a rather unnecessary special dig at Hillary at the end, followed by this priceless quote: "Not just talking bullshit but actually living the bullshit...that's the ear-mark of a true candidate." (They all bullshit...why pick on Hillary in particular?)

Earlier post about Bullshitting here and couple good definitions of Bullshit here and here.

..courtesy, Dailymotion.com! Enjoy, like I did tonight...whilst following the 3rd days play of this exciting cricket match!

Maureen Dowd writes in the NYT:

It took Mr. Bush almost his entire presidency to embrace diplomacy, but now that he’s in the thick of it, or perhaps the thin of it — given his speed-dating approach to statesmanship — he is kissing and holding hands with kings, princes, emirs, sheiks and presidents all over the Arab world and is trying to persuade them that he is not in a monogamous relationship with the Jews.

His message boiled down to: Iran bad, Israel good, Iraq doing better.

Probably spoken in two-three word sentences like that too! ;)

Nancy Grace ... I hope you read this and realize what you are!

Bob Herbert writes in the NYT about politics & misogyny in the US.

Little attention is being paid to the toll that misogyny takes on society in general, and women and girls in particular. Its forms are limitless.

....

The cable news channels revel in stories about women (almost always young and attractive) who come to a gruesome end at the hands of violent men. The stories seldom, if ever, raise the issue of misogyny, which permeates not just the crimes themselves, but the coverage as well.
Read the article - there is much to be outraged! Even in the land of the free. And elsewhere around the world, these crimes and violence against women can reach some rather depressing levels.

51 the age for mid-life crisis? Dang! I'm only in my 30s!* :)

In an article about mid-life crisis, Richard Friedman, M.D. writes:

No doubt about it, life in the middle ages can be challenging. (Full disclosure: I’m 51.) What with the first signs of physical decline and the questions and doubts about one’s personal and professional accomplishments, it is a wonder that most of us survive.

...

Why do we have to label a common reaction of the male species to one of life’s challenges — the boredom of the routine — as a crisis? True, men are generally more novelty-seeking than women, but they certainly can decide what they do with their impulses.

But surely someone has had a genuine midlife crisis. After all, don’t people routinely struggle with questions like “What can I expect from the rest of my life?” or “Is this all there is?

Of course. But it turns out that only a distinct minority think it constitutes a crisis.

Maybe there is some truth to the fact that the idea of a ;mid-life crisis' is just an excuse for many to fight the 'boredom of the routine'... but questions of 'what is the true meaning of life' do arise in many people's lives -- sometimes even in your 20s, as it did in the case of David Seaman, who... , actually, let me just cut-n-paste from the amazon.com link for a recent book - the real meaning of life - that is edited by him.
(The book) collects the insights of everyday people who responded to David Seaman’s simple query, “What is the meaning of life?” typed into an online forum on a laptop at Starbucks. To his surprise, a flood of responses came. Some suggested “boobies and beer,” but Seaman found that most were much more thoughtful — so much so that he created a website and now this book to collect the best of them. From thousands of respondents — including Buddhists, born-again Christians, atheists, waitresses, students, and recovering heart attack patients — come incredibly diverse wisdom that can be aphoristic (“Be grease, not glue”), philosophical (“There is no point to life, and that is exactly what makes it so special”), or whimsical (“Me, I'm going snowboarding”).
Here are some excerpts from the book and you can subscribe to 'the real meaning of life' newsletter here.

Yes.. mortality is on the horizon -- but deal with it! :)

* I should clarify: No thoughts of seeking "self-knowledge in the arms of another woman" or buying fancy cars here. Maybe I am going in reverse gear -- feeling a 20-something-ish feeling of crisis/existential angst coming. Maybe I am going in reverse gear, you think? :) My body is definitely not...but maybe my mind is? :)

Big brain theory, indeed!

It could be the weirdest and most embarrassing prediction in the history of cosmology, if not science.

If true, it would mean that you yourself reading this article are more likely to be some momentary fluctuation in a field of matter and energy out in space than a person with a real past born through billions of years of evolution in an orderly star-spangled cosmos. Your memories and the world you think you see around you are illusions.
Dang.. I knew I was insignificant but a "momentary fluctuation in a field of matter and energy"! :)

There is more oddball speculation in this theory...

The basic problem is that across the eons of time, the standard theories suggest, the universe can recur over and over again in an endless cycle of big bangs, but it’s hard for nature to make a whole universe. It’s much easier to make fragments of one, like planets, yourself maybe in a spacesuit or even — in the most absurd and troubling example — a naked brain floating in space. Nature tends to do what is easiest, from the standpoint of energy and probability. And so these fragments — in particular the brains — would appear far more frequently than real full-fledged universes, or than us. Or they might be us.

Read the details at the article, if interested. Makes for some fascinating sci-fi-ish leaps of imagination for sure but who said life is simple. Jokes aside, even Einstein's relativity theories sound sci-fi-ish to me and those are pretty well proven!
These theories are still evolving and could well be proven wrong by someone else down the road or maybe we are really fluctuations!