A New Year

on December 31, 2008 with 0 comments » |

2008 was a tough and trying year for me... one I want to forget and move on but one that I that I will forever remember.... 

....but I hope yours was a good one and here's to wishing you all a HAPPY and Great 2009 ahead. Merry tidings for the holiday season and HAPPY NEW YEAR.... 

Be Safe!

Best Books Read in 2008

on December 30, 2008 with 0 comments » | ,

Another Exceptional Year of Reading - From short stories to a murder mystery, Cynthia Crossen at WSJ runs down the best books she read in 2008.


Here's my list of books I read and enjoyed in 2008, in no particular order...

I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere by Anna Gavalda (short stories) 
Really creative. Each story was very different and an enjoyable read. Though 1 person wrote this, no two stories were similar. Writing style, where the stories were based, everything was different. Quite an accomplishment from a young (low 30s, if I remember correctly) French author.
The Girl on the Fridge & The Nimrod Flipout  by Etgar Keret (short short stories)
Both of Egret's books are chock full of really creative shorts - some as short as 1 page, most 2-3 pages, and even the longest one is not more than 5-6 pages. But they all pack a punch and both books were thoroughly enjoyable.

My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead edited by Jeffrey Eugenides  ... EXEMPLERARY collection of short stories. I will buy this book some day soon!
The Braindead Megaphone short stories by George Saunders (Saunders is fast becoming one of my top 5 best authors of recent times).
Yellow Medicine  Anthony Neil Smith  (Crime thriller - not a genre I read much of and so enjoyed this a lot though the ending was not satisfying. Still...it kept me going for long time and so I'd say I enjoyed the read)
Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief Stephen Alter (non-fiction; not majorly new news to someone like me who has been exposed to Bollywood but intersting behind the scenes stuff from making of the movie, Omkara...as Stephen (cousin of Tom Alter, the actor) travels with the Omkara crew during its making provides a good way for narration about Bollywood and its ways. The non-Omkara related "intro to Bollywood" was familiar to me but behind-the-scenes details (with which I am/was not familiar) delighted.

2 short novels...more like novellas...that I did read in 2008.

In Her Absence Antonio Munoz Molina
and

Conjugal Love Alberto Moravia
I don't write reviews well (some day I should attempt one) and no time now to write even a short summary of why I liked both of those novels but let me say this... both, even in translation, were very suited to my aesthetics and tastes and what I look for in good enjoyable reading - dissecting relationships in great prose like no others I have read recently!
Blue Pills by Frederik Peeters. 
Graphic novel - a poignant touching memoir about life with an HIV positive lover and her son; also HIV positive.

Faust in Copenhagen Gino Segre 
Abook on quantum physics (an area I like to read about though I am no physicist) or rather about quantum physicists and their work in the 1920s and 1930s.
Douglass and Lincoln Paul Kendrick (non-fiction) 
Biography of Frederic Douglass and Lincoln. 
The Haiku Anthology Cor Van Den Heuvel.
Have read this book of haikus earlier but this is one of those books that I need to buy for my personal collection as I love this collection. Even on re-reads (because one does not remember them after some months/years), many of the haikus in this collection delight like nothing else. I would almost put them in the "makes me happy" category but I think haikus and poetry, like music, is more a form of solace and refuge for me rather than happiness.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Finally, I read my 2nd Murakami book this year. Read the above book in August during and on the way back from Portland to see my sister.

At Large and At Small - Essays by Anne Fadiman
Had started the year with a great book (may have been a recommendation by Amit) and enjoyed the essays a lot.

Also, there are some books that I began this year and liked a lot but still did not complete reading. Some of them include:
Travels with Herodotus Ryszard Kapuscinski
The Art of Hunger Paul Auster (In recent years, I have become a big fan of Auster, like Saunders above, and have read many of his novels in years past. Early this year, I read about 40% of this book: non-fiction by him. Again, since I am a fan, I enjoyed his non-fiction too.)
Inner Workings J. M. Coetzee (Essays)....read and enjoyed a few of the essays but just about 25% of them.
The Complete Stories Franz Kafka (read only Judgement and re-read Metamorphosis)
Saturday Ian McEwan
Strange Pilgrims Gabriel Garcia Marquez (short stories)

I also read quite a few books on the art of fiction in the summer when i  took a 8 week course on creative writing. But not listing them all here as they were more utility books serving a purpose than fiction or non-fictions.

Note: The above is not a list of all books I read this year. Its only the fiction books that I really enjoyed. I think I read far more non-fiction than fiction typically but have not covered non-fiction in the above list (with one exception - the Douglass-Lincoln biography.) Also, I did not read my regular level of books this year because of many months in India dealing with a family crisis and also many hours/weeks/months spent on the internet after I lost my job -- reading and sending emails, job search, and generally fretting! :)

I wish I could have ended the year with a good book too.. but I think the last book I read before I came to India in mid-Dec (not read anything since) was Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, a book by a behavioral economist which I did not really enjoy!!
And so it goes.... 

Being normal again

on December 29, 2008 with 0 comments » | ,

Am in Mumbai till the end of Jan and hence blogging will be intermittent or even non-existent. 
Just a quick note then to point out an article by Salil Tripathi about the year that taught the city of Mumbai to fight its fears. 
26 November: Terrorists attacked prominent south Mumbai landmarks. Punit Paranjpe / Reuters
Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the Polish communist who founded the Bolshevik secret police, once said: “The only object of terrorism is to terrorise.” The only recourse left for us, then, is not to feel terrified.







The year has taught me much more than facing my fears... it has been devastating in many ways but the thought that I would like to leave the year with is that "whatever does not kill me, makes me stronger." One wonders though whether one has scraped the bottom of the barrel (on many fronts) in 2008 and 2009 will bring better days ahead or is the end still not in sight. One hopes it is the former.... 


The house is back in order

on December 11, 2008 with 0 comments » | ,

After an unnecessary exercise in futility of splitting my blogs and making a confusing mess out of it (see below!), I am back on track with just 1 main blog (this one).

So here on... just two blogs with regular updates.

GREEN OGRES for environment/energy and cleantech issues
TASTY MORSELS for everything else.

That said... while the house is back in order, it will be a quiet one for some time since I am away on a 6 week trip to India starting next week and so blogging will by necessity be infrequent and irregular.

P.S. The other blogs "Accidental Abundances" and "Revolutionary Virtues" as well as posts from Other Side of Silence have been merged into this one, along with all old posts from my blogging during the 2005-2008 period (which had been moved to "Desultory Reflections" during this mathi-maar-gayi-thi phase (sorry non-Hindi readers who do not understand that phrase; cannot easily explain but in essense ... 'what was i thinking'!!!!)

The Substitute for Wit and Other Side of Silence blogs and my poetry blog will also continue to be in existence but those are merely places where I compile and collect quotes and music and house my old poetry -- so are not really blogs.

And I do not refer to the fact that my blogging is going to slow down after next week since I am headed to India for 6 weeks. It seems the downturn in the economy has led to a belt-tightening in the sex industry (there is a joke somewhere in there -- in use of word 'belt tightening' - but I'm not at my wittiest mood right now and leave Leno-Letterman-Stewart-Conan to their day..er.. night jobs!)

Sex industry slows
Brothel owners in Europe and the United States say belt-tightening is undermining a once-lucrative industry.
And another related news about economy hurting a segment of the population :)
Rich Cut Back on Payments to Mistresses
You know times are tough when the rich start cutting costs on their mistresses.According to a new survey by Prince & Assoc., more than 80% of multimillionaires who had extra-marital lovers planned to cut back on their gifts and allowances. Still, only 12% of the multimillionaire cheaters said they plan to give up on their lovers altogether for financial reasons.
Oh...the worries of being rich! ;)

Also... not related to economy but...
Amsterdam to halve shop window brothels and marijuana cafes
Amsterdam will on Monday unveil plans to clean up the city's old town and red light district by halving the number of shop window brothels and cafés where marijuana is sold legally.
Sigh...what is the world coming to! ;)

From Roadside Resort, a collection of photos of American cemeteries that are completely surrounded by parking lots.

Gives new meaning to the phrase 'death by shopping'....although perhaps given what happened over Thanksgiving weekend in New York, more terrifying images come to mind!

I have another post on the year that was...

... but here's a post by Adam Bright in Good magazine about the things to look forward to in 2009.

P.S. I did not know that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were both born on the same day ..as in same day, same year - Feb 12th, 1809. So, both have their 200th birth anniversary being celebrated next year.


P.P.S. Kinda related, thanks to the P.S. mention: The complete works of Charles Darwin, now online. Also, this Daily Kos science post on Darwin's 199th birthday.

The Robinson Crusoe Effect

on December 10, 2008 with 0 comments » | ,

Aah...so, now I have a name for my condition!

Mr. Sieling, the writer of the Slow Blog Manifesto, gave up his personal blog because he felt no one was reading it. “I called it the Robinson Crusoe feeling of blogging,” he said by e-mail, “and I think it’s common.”
That's from an interesting article that talks about the art of "slow" blogging and blogging as a meditative art form!
Haste, Scorned: Blogging at a Snail's Pace

..

slow bloggers believe that news-driven blogs like TechCrunch and Gawker are the equivalent of fast food restaurants — great for occasional consumption, but not enough to guarantee human sustenance over the longer haul.

"Slow Blogging is a rejection of immediacy. It is an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly."
So, it seems its not just Amit Varma at India Uncut (and me lately) who have slowed down on blogging... there's a different kind of "slow" blogger out there!

Also, the article says something about blogging vs. micro-blogging (Twitter etc.)

"Blog to reflect, Tweet to connect."

Sigh... I guess I am no good at reflection nor connection! OTOH, some people reflect AND connect very well! More power to their pen...or rather finger tips - busy typing away at the keyboard or twiddling away at the miniature keypad of a mobile device of their choice!

A list of lists

on December 9, 2008 with 0 comments » |

That time of the year when people start compiling lists of "best" or "notable" books/movies/events of the year is here.

C
ompiled in this post will be links to such lists that will be compiled by various sources over the next month to celebrate all that was good and notable about 2008.

100 Notable Books of 2008 ..via NYT. Also: Michiko Kakutani’s 10 Favorite Books of 2008 and Janet Maslin’s 10 Favorite Books of 2008

Year-end review: Apple’s best of 2008

Best New and Improved Software of 2008

Update: Actually, forget it... why bother will making a list of lists when someone has already done this job for us! (Thanks to Ninad for the link.)

See Fimoculous.com's list of all the 2008 lists and Time magazine's list of the Top 10 Everything of 2008

Despite having read many books over the years on relativity and quantum mechanics, these theories just won't get embedded in my brains like Newtonian's theories and classical mechanics that I learned in school. (There was some exposure to statistical mechanics - Boltzmann, Gibbs, etc. - in some of the thermodynamics coursework I took but it was superficial at best and I rue I did not wade into the details and try to get a better grasp of that topic too!)

And yet, I'm drawn from time to time to read more about the fascinating developments in physics from 1900 onwards. I am currently reading a few books on the subject; some of which delve into the lives of the great men involved while others give a good historical narrative of their quest to understand the world of atoms and its components and the forces that hold them (and the world) together. It is amazing that these unique and devastatingly intelligent people were brought together in this scientific quest at the same time (essentially 1900 till mid-30s).

Anyways, just rambling now....since the books I have been reading the past week or so were on my mind and also because I saw this book review in the Washington Post just now.

Very Small, Very Weird - The struggle to understand what goes on -- or doesn't -- inside the atomThe Age of Entanglement - When Quantum Physics was Reborn by Louisa Gilder. - A review of
Because I have never really understood even the basic ideas developed before WWII, I have kept away from the more recent (post WWII) developments in particle physics and new theories like string theory etc. First I need to grasp what Bohr, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, Dirac, Pauli, Einstein and co. are trying to teach us...then I can worry about Feynman, Greene, and many others!!

Two links to reviews of books & documentaries:

1. In Intentions and Opposite Results in Iraq in the NYT, Michiko Kakutani reviews Peter Galbraith's book, Unintended Consequences - How War in Iraq Strengthened America’s Enemies

In his compelling new book the scholar and former diplomat Peter W. Galbraith not only reminds us that the Iraq war has been a costly, bungled operation, but he also argues that the war has had the opposite effect of virtually everything that President Bush and his administration promised the American public it would have:
  • A war intended to eliminate (what were later found to be non-existent) weapons of mass destruction in Iraq “ended up with Iran and North Korea much closer to having deployable nuclear weapons.”
  • A war intended to help combat terrorism has led to the recruitment of more terrorists and the spread of Al Qaeda to Iraq.
  • A war intended to create a bulwark against the ayatollahs in Tehran turned into a “strategic gift to Iran” and the empowerment in Iraq of pro-Iranian Shiite theocrats.
  • A war intended to make Israel more secure has made that country more vulnerable to threats from Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.
  • A war intended to showcase American power has ended up underscoring “the deficiencies of U.S. intelligence, the incompetence of American administration and the limitations on the American military.”
  • A war meant to boost America’s global leadership “has driven U.S. prestige to an all-time low” over the last five years and alienated important allies like Turkey.

2. In The War We Don't Want in the NY Review of Books, Sue Halpern, reviews a number of recent books and documentaries:
  • War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq: A Series of Cases, 2003–2007; edited by Shawn Christian Nessen, Dave Edmond Lounsbury, and Stephen P. Hetz.
  • The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
  • Generation Kill a miniseries written and produced by David Simon and Ed Burns; based on the book by Evan Wright
  • Baghdad ER -- a film directed by Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill
  • Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery -- a film directed by Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill
All necessary viewing and necessary reading...

U. S. Presidential Election

on December 7, 2008 with 0 comments » |

New York Review of Books Special Issue on The US Presidential Election

Volume 55, Number 20 · December 18, 2008

Obama: In the Irony-Free Zone
By Joan Didion and Darryl Pinckney

The Truth About the Election
By Elizabeth Drew

How Historic a Victory?
By Michael Tomasky

In the Divided Heartland
By Michael Massing

This kid could teach me a thing or two :)


Boy, 9, writes book on how to talk to girls
A nine-year-old boy has had a book published in the US - called How to Talk to Girls

Melancholy or funny?

Woman calls police after hubby, 82, takes Viagra
An 82-year-old Italian man who took a Viagra pill scared his wife so much she called the police.

Is that a gun or are you just happy to see us, Fuehrer?


Naked Hitler sparks complaints
TV bosses in Belgium have been slammed for an advert for a travel programme featuring a semi-naked Adolf Hitler.

It's the season of giving ... interesting new years gifts though!

Man's mag loses 130,000 plastic breasts
An Australian men's magazine says 130,000 inflatable breasts intended as a free gift for its January issue have gone missing.
And that reminds me of this one from some time back (but I don't think I blogged about it then):
Musical breast implants: Computer chips that store music could soon be built into a woman's breast implants. One boob could hold an MP3 player and the other the person's whole music collection.
And on that note... I'll go listen to some music. At last.fm, guys!!!

Previously:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

"Love, having no geography, knows no boundaries." - Truman Capote

Britain's oldest newly-weds
A Devon couple with a combined age of 179 have become Britain's oldest newlyweds.

Man wakes wife from coma - by biting her toes
A Chinese man successfully woke his wife from a coma after 10 years - by biting her toes.
And so it goes...

Glorious India

on December 6, 2008 with 0 comments » |

(I've added some hyperlinks to the books & Eric Meola's web-site in the text below, which is from a NYT article)

India: In Word and Image

These books about India bring to mind two kinds of traveler: the type who approaches a country earnestly, guidebook in hand, and the type — more devoted to escapist pleasure than betterment — who surrenders to a place and absorbs its essence by osmosis. Arguably, the second type has a more memorable journey, while making less effort.

The encyclopedic INDIA (DK, $40), by Abraham Eraly and others, seeks to govern the ungovernable — a rapturous, multicultural civilization hurtling into the future — by compressing it into orderly compartments. There are, for example, panoramic landscape photos, and neatly laid out sections about prehistoric India; the daily life of a Punjabi schoolgirl; Gandhi; ayurvedic therapy; textiles; jewelry; a Hindu bride; and various types of architecture.

Although the text is accompanied by striking pictures, some of them fascinating depictions of religious rituals and domestic life, the images and words are meant less to seduce than to inform: there are more than 24 million Christians in India; its state-owned railway is the second-largest employer in the world; it didn’t publish its first vernacular newspaper until 1822. This is not uninteresting cultural data, and the authors have devised a painless teaching method — short chapters, timelines and plenty of images to hold our attention. The well-organized research will provide a comprehensive, if clinical, briefing for a traveler to the country, as long as that traveler plans to confine himself to civically optimistic settings. As thorough as the book appears to be, it avoids some of the less enchanting details of life on the ground. There is no entry in its lengthy index for “poverty,” and there are no photographs of disabled beggars or fields of garbage being picked over by small children.

© Eric Meola

Eric Meola’s photographs in INDIA: In Word and Image (Welcome, $60) also present an idealized India, but one that is impressionistic and so tailored to the hedonistic armchair traveler that looking through it constitutes a kind of exotic five-star vacation in itself. The portraits, landscapes and photographic studies of flora and architecture are more art than documentary, and are accompanied not by history lessons, but by masterly literary prose that delights us and — isn’t this really the point? — makes us long to go to India.

The color-drenched images evoke an Eden where beautiful women, plump children and succulent fruits compete to catch the eye. But the accompanying text — excerpts from works by writers including Kiran Desai, Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth — is less reliant on the hot pink saris and temples that dazzle tourists. Given the largesse bestowed on Western readers by Indians writing in English, the selection process for the passages included here must have been agonizing. From them, the reader learns not just about India the ancient civilization and exotic destination, but about Indians ­— in all their eccentricity and humanity. The country’s tastes, nuanced colors and protocols are also revealed.

Next to an image of a woman’s hair festooned with orange flowers is R. K. Narayan’s description of a mature protagonist, regarding herself critically in a mirror, just before she steps into a garden to gather jasmine for her hair. “She was more or less satisfied with her reflection, except for two strands of gray hair which she had just discovered; she smoothed them out and tucked them cunningly into an under-layer.” With those words, the writer extends Indian citizenship to women on all continents.

Similarly, a passage by I. Allan Sealy allows us not merely to learn about India, but to know it intimately. He describes an encounter with Indian sweets: “Here are pannikins of crushed pearls, trays heavy with sweetmeats, the mouth-rejoicing gulab jamun, the tongue-delighting jalebi, the tooth-vibrating kulfi, the universe-arresting Sandila-laddu.” Such words can hold their own with any pictures, even Meola’s glorious photographs of a bewitching country.

Sometime it is not!

Dog freezes to sidewalk in Wisconsin