A quiver of aphorisms

on June 30, 2008 with 0 comments » |

A quiver of aphorisms. I like the image.

"....brandishing not a sword but a quiver of aphorisms, smeared at the tips with invective."
That's gleaned from an article in the Salon about Gore Vidal and his role as a supreme literary critic. An earlier post from two weeks back about Vidal (and others) is here.

I hate sentimentalism. And I think I qualify as a cynic.

I seek refuge behind this GB Shaw quote usually.

"What is the use of straining after an amiable view of things, when a cynical view is most likely to be true?"
But this nugget from an old 1999 interview in Salon with the author, Paul Auster, is particularly eye-opening for me.
"..cynicism and sentimentality are just two sides of the same distortion."

Stephen Mitchelmore writes, in a book review of Paul Auster's novel Oracle Night. (Emphasis is mine because the words are as good an explanation as any of why I (we?) read, I think.)

Anything can happen. We are free. The beginning of the story is our windfall.

So why is do we feel an urge to continue reading rather than to throw the book aside and live that freedom?
Probably because we prefer the illusion of freedom, the possibility of freedom rather than the real thing. We read to enjoy the specific story that replaces the vertigo of infinite freedom. As with a horror movie, we aren’t really horrified. Horror is only the playful withdrawal of a guaranteed safety. And narrative is the guarantee. With a novel, we know we have a circumscribed adventure before us.

Yet that narrative also makes our freedom come true for a moment, even if it is only an illusion. The open future may contain infinite possibilities but it never seems to happen for real. Consumed by habit, we lose contact with our freedom. Reading, or watching a film, reminds us of possibility even as it is removed. And in that reminder, it comes true. The obscure attraction of a book or a film might be, then, the pleasure of contact with possibility and relief in its withdrawal.

Update: I just noticed this -- this is my 1000th post! Wooohoo... that's a milestone, I suppose.




Happy Birthday, Dad!

I try to keep personal stuff off my blog. I hate my-diary type of blogs with personal ramblings about the minutiae of individual lives. While blogging in and by itself, whatever be the style/genre of the posts, may be an activity of self-indulgence, I find the open-your-hearts-and-lives to the world kind of blogging too narcissistic for my tastes.

But today, like then, I feel the need to make room on my blog for my dad.*

Today would have been my dad's 67th birthday. There is some confusion (which I heard about only in my late teens or early 20s) about whether his birthday was July 1st and not June 30th. But June 30th is when we always wished him. (Celebrated would not be the right word; because I do not recall any celebrations as such; other than a cake my mom might have baked for him.)

Today, is the first June 30th of my life when I do not have someone to wish. Coincidentally, today is also dwadashi, the 12th day of the lunar Hindu calender, which is the day he died and hence the monthly anniversary of his death. It is going to be a tough day today for my family, especially my mother. Every monthly anniversary to date has been tough for her - but this one's going to be particularly so because it falls on his birthday. (6 Hindu calendar months - a few days short by the Gregorian calender we follow - have passed. How time flies, even when you are not having fun.)

I am hardly religious but my parents are. But neither my mom or dad ever pressurized me in any form to be a believer. Faith was a matter of strength for my dad, a personal set of beliefs and something he did not impose on any of his kids. Not even a conversation about it. So much so, I do not even know how my dad felt about me not being a believer.

But I do believe. Not in a God. Not even in souls, a life beyond, or any other concept that mankind has thought about and arrived at and believed in for centuries. But I believe in the goodness of the human heart. And there was no purer heart than my father's. So, today, I celebrate my father's life. As I have the past 4 times, I will follow my mother's request to not eat non-vegetarian food on my dad's (monthly) death anniversaries - something followed on a monthly basis the first year and after that only a yearly basis - as a token of respect for my dad (and mom.) As a token of remembering and letting him know, wherever he may exist - but mostly in our hearts and memories, that we miss him. Terribly. I wish it had all gone down differently. But if wishes are horses and such! We mere mortal human do not have control over how our lives end. What we do have control over is how we lead our lives. It may seem otherwise at times i.e. life seems to be hurtling down without control but today, I decide (I won't use the word 'promise' - knowing myself, I may not be able to keep it and I do not want to renege on my words) to make the most out of my life. Live life to its fullest potential. Be more pro-active and take decisions which will make the world a better place - for me, my family, and all life forms that share the earth with me: present and future.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
- William Shakespeare,
The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1
--
*
Is this my way perhaps of creating a personal space through which I try to still hang on to him and have a place to go see him? He's been in my dreams multiple times - sometimes multiple times a week - in the last few months and while the lull of missing him is slightly stronger on mornings after a dream, it is too fleeting an interaction and too intangible a feeling (except once, when I felt he was right next to me) for me to be able to really hang on to it for too long.

P.S. Title line is from Shakespeare's Sonnet #81.

My shrinking life

on June 29, 2008 with 0 comments » | ,

Quote for the day:
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage. -Anais Nin, (The Diary of Anais Nin, volume 3, 1939-1944)

Just ran into this report about an interview with Ian McEwan (which I found through this interesting blog piece - McEwan's silence - by Stephen Mitchelmore), in which McEwan is quoted as having said:

"And I myself despise Islamism, because it wants to create a society that I detest, based on religious belief, on a text, on lack of freedom for women, intolerance towards homosexuality and so on – we know it well."
But "religious belief, on a text, intolerance towards homosexuality" and lack of freedom of choice for women and so on....could be said of some other religions too, no?

By the way, I found Mitchelmore's blog, the rather simply named This Space, randomly through a google-search looking for something else. I have bookmarked the blog, so as to revisit at a later time when there is more time than a tangential stroll permits at the current time. There is much to enjoy at the blog for the literary minded. (Some Mitchelmore related links, for my later reference: 1, 2, 3)

This paragraph from Paul Auster's Invention of Solitude, describing something he did one day in Amsterdam, reminded me so much of his famed novel, City of Glass. (Actually, I have not read the novel - only the graphic novel adaptation.)

How many of us have been lost and wandered in a new city? How many of us have been inspired to write about it like this!!

He wandered. He walked around in circles. He allowed himself to be lost. Sometimes, he later discovered, he would be only a few feet from his destination, but not knowing where to turn, would then go off in the wrong direction, thereby taking himself farther and farther from where he thought he was going. It occurred to him that perhaps he was wandering in the circles of hell, that the city had been designed as a model of the underworld, based on some classical representation of the place. ........

...And if Amsterdam was hell, and if hell was memory, then he realized that perhaps there was some purpose to his being lost. Cut off from everything that was familiar to him, unable to discover even a single point of reference, he saw that his steps, by taking him nowhere, were taking him nowhere but into himself. He was wandering inside himself, and he was lost. Far more troubling him, this state of being lost became a source of happiness, of exhilaration. He breathed into his very bones. As if on the brink of some previously hidden knowledge, he breathed it into his very bones and said to himself, almost triumphantly: I am lost.
Exhilaration indeed -- from reading Auster!

Some more excerpts gleaned from Paul Auster's Invention of Solitude, which I am currently reading and enjoying very much.

Solitary. But not in the sense of being alone. ..... Solitary in the sense of retret. In the sense of not having to see himself, of not having to see himself being seen by anyone else.

Impossible, I realize, to enter another's solitude. ....... Where all is intractable, where all is hermetic and evasive, one can do no more than observe. But whether one can make sense of what he observes is another matter entirely.

Like everything else in his life, he saw me only through the mists of his solitude, as if at several removes from himself. The world was a distant place for him, I think, a place he was never truly able to enter, and out there in the distance, among all the shadows that flitted past him, I was born, became his son, and grew up, as if I were just one more shadow, appearing and disappearing in a half-lit realm of his consciousness.

"Habit," as one of Beckett's characters says, "is a great deadener." And if the mind is unable to respond to the physical evidence, what will it do when confronted with the emotional evidence?

And as the young Marx wrote: "If money is the bond binding me to human life, binding society to me, binding me and nature and man, is not money the bond of all bonds? Can it not dissolve and bind all ties? Is it not, therefore, the universal agent of separation?"

In the void between the moment he opens the door and the moment he begins to reconquer the emptiness, his mind flails in a wordless panic. It is as if he were being forced to watch his own disappearance, as if, by crossing the threshold of this room, he were entering another dimension, taking up residence inside a black hole.

No sooner has he woken up in the morning that he feels the day beginning to slip away from him. There is no light to sink his teeth into, no sense of time unfolding. Rather, a feeling of doors being shut, of locks being turned. It is a hermetic season, a long moment of inwardness. The outer world, the tangible world of materials and bodies, has come to seem no more than an emanation of his mind. He feels himself sliding through events, hovering like a ghost around his own presence, as if he were living somewhere to the side of himself -- not really here, but not anywhere else either. A feeling of having been locked up, and at the same time of being able to walk through walls. He notes somewhere in the margins of a though: a darkness in the bones; make a note of this.

Solitary consciousness. Or in George Oppen's phrase: "the shipwreck of the singular."
Auster quotes this from Wallace Stevens' Opus Posthumous, something I am still trying to understand and get my heads around (philosophically speaking):
"In the presence of extraordinary reality, consciousness takes the place of imagination."
Some more excerpts that I found here i.e. I did not have to transcribe it from the book to here, like I did the lines above.
Memory as a place, as a building, as a sequence of columns, cornices, porticoes. the body inside the mind, as if we were moving around in there, going from one place to the next, and the sound of our footsteps as we walk, moving from one place to the next. "One must consequently employ a large number of places," writes Cicero, "which must be well-lighted, clearly set out in order, spaced out at moderate intervals; and images which are active, sharply defined, unusual, and which have the power of speedily encountering and penetrating the psyche... For the places are very much like wax tablets or papyrus, the images like the letters, the arrangement and disposition of the images like the script, and the speaking like the reading.'

[...] Memory as a room, as a body, as a skull, as a skull that encloses the room in which a body sits. As in the image: 'a man sat alone in his room'. 'The power of memory is prodigious', observed Saint Augustine. 'It is a vast, immeasurable sanctuary. Who can plumb its depths? And yet it is a faculty of my soul. Although it is part of my nature, I cannot understand all that I am. This means, then, that the mind is too narrow to contain itself entirely. But where is that part of it which it does not itself contain? Is it somewhere outside itself and not within it? How, then, can it be part of it, if it is not contained in it?'

"Sometimes it seems as though we are not going anywhere as we walk through the city, that we are only looking for a way to pass the time, and that it is only our fatigue that tells us where and when we should stop. But just as one step will inevitably lead to the next step, so it is that one thought inevitably follows from the previous thought, [...] so that what we are really doing when we walk through the city is thinking, and thinking in such a way that our thoughts compose a journey, and this journey is no more or less than the steps we have taken, so that, in the end, we might safely say that we have been on a journey, and even if we do not leave our room, it has been a journey, and we might safely say that we have been somewhere, even if we don't know where it is.

"For if words are a way of being in the world, he thought, then even if there were no world to enter, the world was already there, in that room, which meant it was the room that was present in the poems and not the reverse.

[...] which is to say: who seeks solitude seeks silence; who does not speak is alone; is alone, even unto death."

"Every book, is an image of solitude. [...] A man sits alone in a room and writes. Whether the book speaks of loneliness or companionship, it is necessarily a product of solitude."

"For no word can be written without first having been seen, [...] Memory, then, not so much as the past contained within us, but as proof of our life in the present. If a man is to be truly present among his surroundings, he must be thinking not of himself, but of what he sees. He must forget himself in order to be there. And from that forgetfulness arises the power of memory. It is a way of living one's life so that nothing is ever lost.

[...] the sudden knowledge that came over him that even alone, in the deepest solitude of his room, he was not alone, or, more precisely, that the moment he began to try to speak of that solitude, he had become more than just himself. Memory, therefore, not simply as the resurrection of one's private past, but an immersion in the past of others, which is to say: history -which one both participates in and is a witness to, is a part of and apart from. Everything, therefore, is present in his mind at once."

"Language is not truth. It is the way we exist in the world. Playing with words is merely to examine the way the mind functions, to mirror a particle of the world as the mind perceives it. In the same way, the world is not just the sum of the things that are in it. It is the infinitely complex network of connections among them. As in the meanings of words, things take on meaning only in relationship to each other."
More excerpts from the book are discussed here.

These lines from Paul Auster's Invention of Solitude was particularly difficult to read because of my own difficulties with having to face with the personal things of my dad in his cupboard.

There is nothing more terrible, I learned, than having to face the objects of a dead man. Things are inert; they have meaning only in function of the life that makes use of them. When that life ends, the things change, even though they remain the same. They are there and yet not there: tangible ghosts, condemned to survive in a world they no longer belong to. .......
.
...
There is a poignancy to it, and also a kind of horror. In themselves, the things mean nothig, like the cooking utensils of some vanished civilization. And yet they say something to us, standing there not as objects but as remnants of thought, of consciousness, emblems of the solitude in which a man comes to make decisions about himself: whether to color his hair, whether to wear this or that shirt, whether to live, whether to die. And the futility of it all once there is death.

I could take the 3am call. :)

On multiple occasions lately, I've been fitfully sleeping the last couple years now it seems to be 3am (or a few minutes after at best.) Like clockwork, I wake up between 3.00 and 3.05am, always!

If you can't sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It's the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep. ~Dale Carnegie
And so here I am!
A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by
One after one; the sound of rain, and bees
Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas,
Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky -
I've thought of all by turns, and still I lie
Sleepless...

....

Even thus last night, and two nights more I lay,
And could not win thee, Sleep, by any stealth:
So do not let me wear to-night away.
Without thee what is all the morning's wealth?
Come, blessed barrier between day and day,
Dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health!

~William Wordsworth, "To Sleep"
Love the metaphor: sleep's dull knife. Love all 4 lines in fact!
Cut if you will with sleep's dull knife
The years from off your life, my friend!
The years that death takes off my life,
He'll take from off the other end!
~Edna St. Vincent Millay
I need to be refreshed and mollified! Not "mollycoodled" (What a funny word! Have always loved it)...but mollified! :)
Sleep, rest of things, O pleasing Deity,
Peace of the soul, which cares dost crucify,
Weary bodies refresh and mollify.
~Ovid, attributed
Aah....the master!
Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast.
~William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Here he goes again...
O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature's soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my sense in forgetfulness?
~William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I
I'm certainly not newly created. I need to be!
And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.
~D.H. Lawrence
I do not believe this but its an interesting opinion.
It's at night, when perhaps we should be dreaming, that the mind is most clear, that we are most able to hold all our life in the palm of our skull. I don't know if anyone has ever pointed out that great attraction of insomnia before, but it is so; the night seems to release a little more of our vast backward inheritance of instincts and feelings; as with the dawn, a little honey is allowed to ooze between the lips of the sandwich, a little of the stuff of dreams to drip into the waking mind. I wish I believed, as J. B. Priestley did, that consciousness continues after disembodiment or death, not forever, but for a long while. Three score years and ten is such a stingy ration of time, when there is so much time around. Perhaps that's why some of us are insomniacs; night is so precious that it would be pusillanimous to sleep all through it! A "bad night" is not always a bad thing. ~Brian W. Aldiss
Aah... so, this is life? And I should be enjoying it?
Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep. ~Fran Lebowitz

All quotes were gleaned from the Quote Garden.

Quotable quote for the day

To write it, it took three months; to conceive it three minutes; to collect the data in it—all my life." - F. Scott Fitzgerald
He's speaking there about one of his famous novels - either Tender is the night or This side of paradise, not sure which one as the book I started reading yesterday - Take Joy, A writer's guide to loving the craft by Jane Yolen - says its the former while this link quotes the latter. I believe the latter is right since I found another page - from Garrisson Keilor's The Writer's Almanac - that also refers to the latter book. Here are the details from The Writer's Almanac:
In April of 1920, at the age of 23, he published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which made him an overnight sensation. A month later, for the third printing of the book, Fitzgerald composed a one page "Author's Apology" to be included and distributed at the May 1920 convention of the American Bookseller's Association. He wrote: "I don't want to talk about myself because I'll admit I did that somewhat in this book. In fact, to write it took three months; to conceive it -- three minutes; to collect the data in it -- all my life. The idea of writing it came on the first of last July: it was a substitute form of dissipation. My whole theory of writing I can sum up in one sentence: An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward. So, gentlemen, consider all the cocktails mentioned in this book drunk by me as a toast to the American Booksellers Association."
Anyways, here's another good quote that I found in Yolen's book:
Art derives a considerable part of its beneficial exercise from flying in the face of presumptions - Henry James, The Art of Fiction.
Actually, there are quite a few good quotes Jane Yolen has gleaned in her book and there are a few quotable nuggets in her own writing too... but more about that later. Maybe.

Style is the man

on June 26, 2008 with 0 comments » |

Do not know if this is news-worthy but its blog-worthy for sure :)

The devil may wear Prada — but the pope does not.

Messy reality

on June 25, 2008 with 2 comments » |

Salil Tripathi writes about crisis, danger, and opportunity (in the financial market, in particular but the thoughts apply to life in general, I think):

Crisis, then, is a moment. That moment can be terribly painful. It could defeat — or transform — a person into someone sterner, stronger and wiser. We recall the cliché because we like success, and victors write history. The marginalized get forgotten, until an Amitav Ghosh comes along, writing about their pain with exceptional compassion, as in his new novel, Sea of Poppies. In a crisis, thousands lose; there is an element of randomness to those losses — we are fooled by the randomness of success. And we try to see a pattern, even if there is none. And we confuse a Chinese character, reading into it the meaning we want to read, and not the idea — and the gravity — it represents.

Reality is always messy: options and alternatives that complicate our lives. We muddle through crises, emerging whole, somewhat wounded, often chastened, with the hope that we might be able to handle the next crisis. But, as every investment advisory notes, past performance is no guarantee of future success. And like all generalizations, it is only partly true — like this one.
I also like this quote which PV Narasimha apparently said after the dissolution of the Soviet Union:
“Choices are easy when no options are left.”
Well said. And well-written, Salil.


Action is my antidote to anxiety or lack of inspiration.
That's from Eros-Alegra Clarke, the winner of the 2007 Writers Digest Contest; as quoted in the December 2007 issue of Writer's digest.You can read her prize-winning story online. She blogs here.

Enough dreaming, time to act. Enough thinking, time to do. Enough hesitating, time to move. Enough said.

-
Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living. - Anais Nin




Natacha Atlas

on June 23, 2008 with 0 comments » |

Great voice! Hear her here.

She's a Belgian singer with Arabic/North African influences in her music. I heard her through Charlie Gillett's World on 3 radio program on BBC Radio, where he has featured a few of her songs with the Mazeeka Ensemble.

Found the above quote via this essay on challenging the limits of memory.

Memory has its own story to tell. - Tobias Wolff
Another quotable quote, this from the essay itself:
And if memory is what people are made of, then people are made of loss.
Indeed! And so it goes...

Oh cosmic landscape, where art thou!

Creativity is a subtle and magnificent dance between the rational and the intuitive, between the left and right parts of the brains, between technique and imagination. Both partners in this dance are absolutely necessary and needed in equal proportion, which means imagination is as important as technique, and vice-versa. If you live only in the imagination, you'll never get organized; you'll never complete your story. However, if you start from the rational, linear, organizational part of the process (e.g. must have the perfect opening sentence and first paragraph), you'll never fall into the rich, passionate, cosmic landscape of the imagination where anything is possible. - Emily Hanlon in her short piece, How to fall down the rabbit hole, in the Writer's Digest, December 2007 issue.
So, where are the the "Cheshire cats, the Mad Hatters, the Tweedledees and Tweedledums, mad queens, dragons, flying monkeys and monsters" lurking? And how do I tap into my "creative unconscious" - the place of "feelings, dreams, and images; the place of intuition and imagination" -- and experience writing as a "visceral experience," that it always is.

In the above piece, Emily Hanlon also writes: "It's in the process of writing that the writer experiences the deeper, life-enhancing journey of creativity." Reminds me of what a friend asked me last year (and I paraphrase): Do you like the idea of being a writer or do you like the process of writing? Because a lot of people want to be writers or are in love with the idea of being a writer but do they love the process of writing? That's something I am going to find out soon!

-
Emily Hanlon is also the author of a book on writing: The art of fiction writing, or, How to fall down the rabbit hole without really trying, which she appropriately starts with Einstein's famous quote: Imagination is more important than knowledge.

...wherever you are now -- because through your rants, we recognized the hypocrisy of the world around us.

Comedian George Carlin, a 'footnote in American legal history' is dead. He died on Sunday at age 71.
It was announced just last week that later this year he would be the 11th persona inducted into the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ pantheon of humor and receive this year’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Mr. Carlin thanked the prize’s namesake and instructed Mr. Twain to “have your people call my people.” :))

Enjoy this earlier post with a great Carlin rant on religion and also many other Carlin videos on youtube.

Terror

on June 22, 2008 with 0 comments » |

Dan Barden, in a rant against creative writing classes, as published in the Poets & Writers magazine (March/April 2008 issue).

Most workshop stories that I’ve read are missing that crucial element of conflict. It’s little wonder. We’re terrified of the pain and suffering it takes to become a good writer, let alone the pain and suffering that’s inherent in good writing itself. Desire is important to creative writing because it’s the only thing that causes conflict. Conflict is important to writers because it’s the only evidence of desire. So few of us have faced up to the fact that we are at war with ourselves, with others, with the very conditions of our lives.
Having joined a writing workshop last week and facing the daunting prospect of starting on my first "assignment", I am filled with terror alright. But what about the desire?

Go Celtics!

on June 21, 2008 with 1 comments » |

2008 NBA Champs - Celtics Rolling Rally.

Some great pictures at the above link.

Yeah right!

on June 20, 2008 with 0 comments » |

Sarcasm Seen as Evolutionary Survival Skill

:)

I decided to break up the post into two since the first one got too long writing just about recent US energy policy.

Elsewhere in the world, more bad news.

Britain could invest more than £100bn in renewable energy over the next decade and still fail to meet an EU target on clean technology, the government's own renewables advisers have warned.
More details here. This is is not surprising given the leaked documents from November 2007 that indicated that the Gordon Brown led Labor government was planning an about-turn on the pledges Tony Blair signed up for in 2007. (Note: The EU target is to deliver 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.)

But here's some good news from Germany and China, both from the wind energy sector.
China's Wind Power Industry: Blowing Past Expectations
and

Wind Lifted by Higher Tariffs in Germany

Remember that Germany has become the world's biggest solar market, (almost twice as big as the 2nd biggest market - Spain; with # 3 and #4 - Japan and the US - lagging far behind), thanks to their feed-in tariff subsidy program for solar in Germany. It seems:
In 2007, the wind energy market in Germany shrank by 25 percent compared to 2006, bucking the global trend for rapid growth according to the German Wind Energy Institute (DEWI).
And so, the government has acted, spurring the wind energy market to grow in Germany. Wish the US government would act in this vein some day!

Meanwhile, China has not only become a leading solar manufacturer, with Suntech rapidly becoming the #3 solar manufacturer in the world behind Sharp and Q-Cells, but also is fast becoming a major user of solar energy; even boasting of a
solar-powered city.
In Rizhao City, which means City of Sunshine in Chinese, 99 percent of households in the central districts use solar water heaters, and most traffic signals, street and park lights are powered by photovoltaic (PV) solar cells.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!

Thats my "mighty howl" of protest on reading this:

Renewable Energy Tax Credit Extension Vote Fails in U.S. Senate
Like a NYT Op-ed piece said a couple days back:

The Republicans say they believe in fiscal responsibility; this bill responsibly exchanges one set of tax breaks for another. They say they believe in technological innovation, which this bill encourages. They say they believe in creating new jobs, which a robust wind and solar industry would do. If they believe all that, they should stop being stubborn and approve the House bill.

To provide some background, an excerpt earlier in the op-ed piece:

Congress has been playing legislative Ping-Pong with these credits for months. The House approves them, the Senate rejects them. The sticking point is the bill’s revenue-raising measures, known as offsets, which the House rightly insists on as part of its pay-as-you-go rules.

In earlier incarnations, the House bill would have paid for the credits by rescinding tax breaks granted to the oil companies in the 2005 energy bill. The oil companies — which never needed the breaks and certainly don’t need them now — set up a mighty howl, President Bush lofted veto threats, and the Senate caved.

The House’s latest version leaves the oil companies their credits, and instead seeks to raise the necessary offsets partly by closing offshore tax loopholes that benefit hedge fund managers. Yet some Senate Republicans and the White House — ever captive to big money — are rejecting even that.

Oh well! Wish better sense had prevailed! So did the oil companies and hedge fund managers howl louder than I (and people of my ilk, supporting these renewable energy tax credits) did? That's a rhetorical question - after all, Bush continues to pander to big oil by asking "Congress to end the federal ban on offshore oil and gas drilling along much of America’s continental shelf," or as Gail Collins wrote in the NYT: "you name it, he’s ready to drill" (there).
The O.C.S. was only one part of a four-point recipe for producing tons and tons of American-bred gasoline in the future. Bush wants to search for oil offshore, out West, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in the basement, beneath the Washington Monument — you name it, he’s ready to drill.
And this against the background of oil companies rubbing their collective bloody hands in glee at the prospects of getting their hands on Iraq's oil.
Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields.
The war was not about oil, you say? Anyways...that's a whole other blog post.

--
The enemy is ourselves and the attitudes and patterns that we have fallen into.
- John Geesman, former California Energy Commissioner and of the
Green Energy War blog, in an interview, which is towards the very end of this podcast.

Cool... but this is after a $500,000 investment ...I should admit, this does not make sense!

Inside the Solar-Hydrogen House (Slide Show)
Mike Strizki has not paid an electric, oil or gas bill—nor has he spent a nickel to fill up his Mercury Sable—in nearly two years. Instead, the 51-year-old civil engineer makes all the fuel he needs using a system he built in the capacious garage of his home, which employs photovoltaic (PV) panels to turn sunlight into electricity that is harnessed in turn to extract hydrogen from tap water.

Jazz heaven

on June 19, 2008 with 0 comments » |

if u like jazz...Chris Grumbley had a wonderful program this week. AWESOME!!!!

Listen: Jazzbeat with Chris Gumbley

Just see this sequence in the lineup...amazing!!!

Sensation - Fletcher Henderson & his Orchestra
One Hour - Mound City Blue Blowers
Sweet Georgia Brown - Coleman Hawkins & his All-Star Jazz Band
Royal Garden Blues - Benny Goodman & his Sextet, featuring Count Basie
Soft Winds - Benny Goodman & his Sextet
Honeysuckle Rose - Benny Goodman & his Orchestra
I Can't Give You Anything But Love - Benny Goodman & his Sextet
Moonlight Becomes You - Chet Baker
I'm In The Mood For Swing - Marian McPartland Trio with Benny Carter
Fascinating Rhythm - Art Pepper Quartet

1920s-1940s was the greatest time in recording history of jazz music, wasn't it!!

No words necessary. Go to http://www.350.org/ for further details.


Brevity is the soul of wit

on June 17, 2008 with 0 comments » | ,

Inspired by Michael Pollan's “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” message to promote his book, “In defense of food: An eater's manifesto", Tara Parker-Pope asked readers "to submit their own 2-3-2 word sequences sharing advice for the rest of us."

The contest has since ended but why stop now? Add to the collective wisdom. Add comments here or at Parker-Pope's post. Just remember the rules: "Dispense wisdom. Don’t be gross. No profanity."

Be inspired by the list of winners. Speaking of brevity, what can you say in six sentences or in six words?

Note: Although I arrived at the above post by Parker-Pope via a Shifting Careers
blog post about the Webby awards, where the winners had to accept their awards using no more than five words), I just realized that coincidentally just an hour or so ago, I blogged about and quoted extensively from an article by Ms. Parker-Pope.

On a day when California begins issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a relevant news article about a growing body of evidence that shows that...

.. same-sex couples have a great deal to teach everyone else about marriage and relationships. Most studies show surprisingly few differences between committed gay couples and committed straight couples, but the differences that do emerge have shed light on the kinds of conflicts that can endanger heterosexual relationships.

...

Notably, same-sex relationships, whether between men or women, were far more egalitarian than heterosexual ones. In heterosexual couples, women did far more of the housework; men were more likely to have the financial responsibility; and men were more likely to initiate sex, while women were more likely to refuse it or to start a conversation about problems in the relationship. With same-sex couples, of course, none of these dichotomies were possible, and the partners tended to share the burdens far more equally.

While the gay and lesbian couples had about the same rate of conflict as the heterosexual ones, they appeared to have more relationship satisfaction, suggesting that the inequality of opposite-sex relationships can take a toll.

...

The egalitarian nature of same-sex relationships appears to spill over into how those couples resolve conflict.

One well-known study used mathematical modeling to decipher the interactions between committed gay couples. The results, published in two 2003 articles in The Journal of Homosexuality, showed that when same-sex couples argued, they tended to fight more fairly than heterosexual couples, making fewer verbal attacks and more of an effort to defuse the confrontation. Controlling and hostile emotional tactics, like belligerence and domineering, were less common among gay couples. Same-sex couples were also less likely to develop an elevated heartbeat and adrenaline surges during arguments. And straight couples were more likely to stay physically agitated after a conflict.

Not that society needs reasons to support the freedom and honor the rights of every human being to get married and share their lives with someone, without having to face repurcussions; be they of a legal or societal nature.

Habits of well-being

on June 16, 2008 with 0 comments » | ,

TED Talk by the monk Matthieu Ricard (filmed Feb 2004):




What is happiness, and how can we all get some? Biochemist turned Buddhist monk
Matthieu Ricard says we can train our minds in habits of well-being, to generate a true sense of serenity and fulfillment.
Also: A more recent lecture, given at Google on Mar 15, 2007:
Change your Mind, Change your Brain: The Inner Conditions for Authentic Happiness
If happiness is an inner state, influenced by external conditions but not dependent on them, how can we achieve it? Ricard will examine the inner and outer factors that increase or diminish our sense of well-being, dissect the underlying mechanisms of happiness, and lead us to a way of looking at the mind itself
My previous post about Ricard, the "happiest man on earth" here.

I just found an interesting site: The Six Thousand, edited by Cliff Pickover: "6000 intriguing people you want to meet online before you die."

There are many interesting people profiled in the list but here's one that seemed interesting to me.

By Paul Laffoley's account, he spoke his first word ("Constantinople") at the age of six months, and then lapsed into 4 years of silence, having been diagnosed with slight Autism. In 1964, Laffoley began work (and lived) in an eighteen-by-thirty foot utility room, where he has produced much of his art. During a CAT scan of his head in 1992, a piece of metal 3/8 of an inch long was discovered in the occipital lobe of his brain, near the pineal gland.

He has produced an estimated 800 of his immensely detailed canvases. At any given time there are dozens of these works already fully-articulated in his mind, waiting to be painted. Paul currently lives in Boston and is still producing his amazing transdisciplinary art.

Here's an interesting short movie about him.

Just watched an entertaining interview with Jack Kerouac (in French, with English subtitles) and hope to get to a longer interview with Jack Kerouac in 4 parts -- 1, 2, 3, 4 -- later this week.

Also, saw Kerouac on William Buckley's TV program Firing Line in 1968. Even TV was so interesting back then!

The more entertaining and widely-known and longer-lasting feud with Buckley, of course, was with Gore Vidal; culminating perhaps in the vitriolic (and perhaps deserved) obituary ("RIP WFB—in hell.") by Gore Vidal after Buckley's recent death.

Enjoy the 1968 conversation between them here: Vidal Vs.Buckley: Part 1 (1968) andVidal Vs.Buckley: Part 2 (1968); with the choicest part excerpted here. (Noam Chomsky vs. Buckley is also an interviewing worth watching some day: 1, 2; though it should be said that Chomsky was far more polite after the passing of Buckley, saying he was "considered...not by me... but considered to be witty, articulate, knowledgeable and so on..and much respected; again, not by me ..but I'm giving the general impression.")

Speaking of Gore Vidal, wikipedia has some interesting tidbits about his family history.

Vidal's father, a "brawny, handsome" West Point all-American quarterback who was director of Commerce Department's Bureau of Air Commerce (1933–1937) of the Roosevelt administration, was one of the first Army Air Corps pilots, and, per biographer Susan Butler, was the great love of Amelia Earhart's life. In the 1920s and 1930s, he was a co-founder of three American airlines: the Ludington Line (merged with others and became Eastern Airlines), Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT, became TWA), and Northeast Airlines (founded with Earhart), and the Boston and Maine Railroad. The elder Vidal was also an athlete in the 1920 and 1924 Summer Olympics (seventh in the decathlon; U.S. pentathlon team coach).

Interesting!! The Earhart connection and him starting TWA, NWA and other airlines that is...not just that Gore Vidal's father was a "brawny, handsome" quarterback and an Olympian!

Also learned something new - that there was another Senator Gore, Thomas Gore, Gore Vidal's maternal grandfather. Apparently, he was blind and from Oklahoma and not from Tennessee. Although quoted as being a distant relative of Al Gore in many sources, the wikipedia link for Thomas Gore indicates that they are NOT related as "Al Gore descends from a John Gore who was in Virginia by 1653 while Thomas P. Gore descends from a James Gore who was born in England or Wales in 1662."

More interesting stuff in wiki about Gore Vidal's mother too:
Gore Vidal's mother was an actress and socialite who had her Broadway debut in Sign of the Leopard in 1928. She married Gene Vidal in 1922 and divorced him in 1935. She later married twice more; one husband was Hugh D. Auchincloss (stepfather of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) and, per Gore Vidal, she had "a long off-and-on affair" with actor Clark Gable. She was an alternate delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention.
Interesting lives!

Leave you with couple interesting links to interviews with Vidal -- one old and one very recent.
Gore Vidal: The Art of Fiction No. 50 Interview with The Paris Review, Fall 1974

A Gala Conversation with Gore Vidal 1 hour interview with Melvyn Bragg followed by a 17 minute audience Q&A session. Recorded in London on May 20, 2008 as part of The Spectator's ongoing IQ2 Debates series. (mp3 format)

Nothing new for Indians who know about Ambani and his family history but this profile in the New York Times over the weekend is a good summary about Ambani and Reliance Industries for those who are not acquainted with the same. The recent movie Guru is also loosely based upon the rise of Reliance under Mukesh's father, Dhirubhai Ambani.

Meet Mukesh Ambani: Indian to the core, and an oligarch

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Quotable quotes from The Poet's Guide to Life: The Wisdom of Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke (edited and translated by Ulrich Baer)

" The strings of sorrow may only be used extensively if one vows to play on them also at a later point and in their particular key all of the joyousness that accumulates behind everything that is difficult, painful and that we had to suffer, and without which the voices are not complete."

"I believe that one is never more just than at those moments when one admires unreservedly and with absolute devotion. It is in this spirit of unchecked admiration that the few great individuals whom our time was unable to stifle ought to be presented, precisely because ourage has become so very good at assuming a critical stance."

"After all, life is not even close to being as logically consistent as our worries; it has many more unexpected ideas and faces than we do."

"You have to live life to the limit, not according to each day but by plumbing its depth."

Life and Living: "How good life is. How fair, how incorruptible, how impossible to deceive: not even by strength, not even by willpower, and not even by courage. How everything remains what it is and has only this choice: to come true, or to exaggerate and push too far."

Art: "The work of art is adjustment, balance, reassurance. It can be neither gloomy nor full of rosy hopes, for its essence consists of justice."

Faith: "I personally feel a greater affinity to all those religions in which the middleman is less essential or almost entirely suppressed."

Love: "To be loved means to be ablaze. To love is: to shine with inexhaustible oil. To be loved is to pass away; to love is to last."


"Good novels, great ones, never actually seem to tell us anything; rather, they make us live it, and share in it, by virtue of their persuasive powers."

"Writing novels is the equivalent of what professional strippers do when they take off their clothes and exhibit their naked bodies on stage. The novelist performs the same acts in reverse."

The Peruvian writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, in his essay, Parable of the tapeworm, included in his book, Letters to a Young Novelist, writes:

Your decision to claim your literary leanings as your destiny must lead you into servitude, into nothing less than slavery. To put it graphically, you've just done what some nineteenth-century ladies, concerned about their weight and determined to recover their slender silhouettes, were reputed to do: you've swallowed a tapeworm.

...

The literary vocation is not a hobby, a sport, a pleasure leisure-time activity. It is an all-encompassing, all-excluding occupation, an urgent priority, a freely chosen servitude that turns its victims (its lucky victims) into slaves. Like Jose Maria's tapeworm, literature becomes a permanent preoccupation, something that takes up your entire existence, that overflows the hours you devote to writing and seeps into everything else you do, because the literary vocation feeds off the life of the writer just as the tapeworm feeds off the bodies it invades. As Flaubert said: "Writing is just another way of living."
There's a lot more I could quote from the essay - especially the parts where he argues that "the source of the literary vocation, for inventing beings and stories" is rebellion.
I'm convinced that those who immerse themselves in the lucubration of lives different from their own demonstrate indirectly their rejection and criticism of life as it is, of the real world, and manifest their desire to substitute for it the creations of their imagination and dreams.

....

What matters is that the rejection be strong enough to fuel the enthusiasm for a task as quixotic as tilting at windmills -- the sleight-of-hand replacement of the concrete, objective world of life as it is lived with the subtle and ephemeral world of fiction.
But I better stop here... the essay is best read and enjoyed in its entirety. On to essay # 2, which is intriguingly titled: "The Catoblepas".

John Bicknell opines:

Journalists love close elections. It’s good for business, and they’re more fun to cover. So it’s not surprising that most pundits, backed by most polls, are forecasting a close presidential election this fall between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

I think they’re wrong. I think we’re headed for a blowout.

He then goes on to talk about two scenarios, with vague and obtuse comparisons with elections past; one in which Obama wins by a big margin and another where a certain turn of events might hand McCain a big victory. One could debate the validity of these arguments but his concluding lines are what make it interesting:

...McCain’s success is captive to events. Obama controls his own destiny.

Which guy would you rather be?

Indeed!

P.S. The title comes from the poem, Invictus by the English poet, William Ernest Henley.

Where life is lived

on June 13, 2008 with 0 comments » |

Picked up a book of essays, On Writing, by Eudora Welty from the public library this afternoon. Expect many quotes from this book in the near future. There are quite a few sentences on every page that I want to write down or quote!

For starters, here is one which I found by randomly opening the book while walking back from the library. Its from an essay titled, "Must the novelist crusade?".

Writing fiction is an interior affair. Novels and stories always will be put down little by little out of personal feeling and personal beliefs arrived at alone and at firsthand over a period of time as time is needed. To go outside and beat the drum is only to interrupt, interrupt, and so finally to forget and to lose. Fiction has, and must keep, a private address. For life is lived in a private place; where it means anything is inside the mind the heart. Fiction has always shown life where it is lived, and good fiction, or so I have faith, will continue to do this.
And another random jump, to an essay "Words into fiction", where she writes:
Fiction is not the cave; and human life, fiction's territory; merely contains caves. I am only trying to express what I think the so-called raw material is without its interpretation; without its artist. Without the act of human understanding - and it is a double act through which we make sense to each other - experience is the worst kind of emptiness; it is obliteration, black or prismatic, as meaningless as was indeed that loveless cave. Before there is meaning, there has to occur some personal act of vision. And it is this that is continuously projected as the novelist writes, and again as we, each to ourselves, read.

If this makes fiction sound full of mystery, it's fuller than I know how to say. ........ The mystery lies in the use of language to express human life.
And more later...

Here's an interesting excerpt from Hemingway's posthumously published memoir of his life in Paris in the 1920s, A Moveable Feast; as gleaned from an article in the WaPo by Jonathan Yardley, who finds the book to retain a "certain irresistible charm" even on its fourth re-read -- although, in general he regards Hemingway's venerated style of writing "as more self-conscious and mannered than pure, declarative and spare; I realized that in almost all of his writing, he had little of interest to say; and I came to loathe his worst traits of personality and character -- meanness that often turned into cruelty; self-centeredness; bluster and braggadocio; exaggerated, showy machismo."

"It was wonderful to walk down the long flights of stairs knowing that I'd had good luck working. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, 'Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.' So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. . . . If I started to write elaborately . . . I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline."
I'm just waiting for that first true simple declarative sentence to sneak up on me. (Tsk tsk.. not going to happen, Sanjeev. Writing is hard work. Much against what I have long thought, like all other arts and talents, this one will not come naturally either and needs much practice, honing, and is sheer hard-work, laden with anxiety, frustration, and when successful is rewarded with endless joy!)

Excerpt from the introduction to Rules of Thumb (73 authors reveal their fiction writing fixations); edited by Michael Martone and Susan Neville.

Writers write. But writers more often than not are not writing. They are waiting to write, preparing to write, rehearsing, practicing, taking notes, outlining, reading. On top of the anxiety of writing (or not writing) is this other anxiety - that all the activities of the prelude, in reality, are not prelude at all, but a symphony of fiddling around, a divertimento of tuning up.
Oh...so that's what I've been doing when I'm fiddling around: tuning up! :)

Perhaps this is why I enjoy movies?
We're always somebody in the movies before we become that somebody in real life. We see a part of ourselves reflected in the boldest films; we seize on it and allow it to inhabit us. That's why, even in a season composed almost entirely of overstuffed blockbusters, we hold out hope for the movie that will touch the fantastic in ourselves.
Excerpt is from Three Books About Our Affair with Movies on NPR.

Now I know why I have been forgetting things lately! :)

Common Sleep Problem Linked With Memory Loss

The part of the brain that stores memory appears to shrink in people with sleep apnea, adding further evidence that the sleep and breathing disorder is a serious health threat. The findings, from brain scan studies conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, show for the first time that sleep apnea is associated with tissue loss in brain regions that store memory. And while the thinking and focus problems of sleep apnea patients often are attributed to sleep deprivation, the scans show something far more insidious is occurring.

ClustrMaps

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Heaven's having fun rocking with Ali Farka Toure. This video's from last.fm and is a live peformance of the track 'Amandrai' (from Talking Timbuktu) from the Segou Festival in Mali and features Bassekou Kouyate on ngoni along with Farka Toure.



Previous posts on Ali Farka Toure: 1, 2. Also two posts on his son, Vieux: 1, 2.

Some of my earlier posts about music from West Africa, in particular Mali: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.