Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Brokeback powers into cinematic history


The drop is turning into a tide. Rather the tide is roaring into a stream. Brokeback Mountain received 8 Oscar nominations, among them best picture and honours for actor Heath Ledger and director Ang Lee. Jake Gyllenhaal also received a nod for Best Supporting Actor. Good going, Jake, this more than makes for the Globe upset (and you can attend the ceremony on March the 5th now, right?)

Meanwhile, India's entry Paheli (yawn) failed to make the grade. Neither did the Shabana Azmi starrer Morning Raga, sent as an independent entry.



The entire list.

Meanwhile,

the Mulford controversy is fast snowballing into a major embarrassment for the government. Sitaram Yechury has asked the govt. to have him recalled and the BJP has demanded an all-party meeting to discuss The Deal.

Feel a bit sorry for Manmohan Singh at this point. Had he any idea that Mulford's comments would get tied up with the sole moolah his govt. has raked in, he would have issued a statement in time. If for nothing else, to dispel the Opposition's claims of a sellout. As much as India cares about its sovereignty, the deal's implications for our future geopolitical advantage cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Expect an apology (read clarification) from Mulford any minute now. The US is putting pressure on its diplomat and will not let stray comments derail the burgeoning Indo-US bandwagon.

Sidenote: all this politicking is getting to my head. The Oscar nominations will be out any minute now. I hope as hell they are sooner. My TV needs some respite from controversial news. Having said that, the Oscars themselves are likely to burn hearts if a repeat of the SAG upset (Reese makes a pretty picture with her second trophy for the season) is in the offing. Well, it's just nominations now, so chill.

And you thought it's all in jest

Iran's foreign ministry has announced plans to hold a conference to debate the scale of the Holocaust. President Ahmedinejad had described it as pure bunkum and a ploy by the US-Israel combine to keep the largely Muslim middle east in deprivation.

On the sidelines, a quite undiplomatic dialogue has been going on between Iran's foreign ministry and Tony Blair.

Blair had invited Ahmedinejad to visit Europe to see the "evidence of the Holocaust for himself".

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Asefi countered, saying, "We have to see whether the president has time for it."

The Iranians are sure honing their sense of humour.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Going cuckoo on life

Jack Nicholson shimmers as the wacky Randle McMurphy in Milos Forman’s screen adaptation of Ken Kesey’s classic. For someone who has seen his later work first (As Good As It Gets, About Schmidt), because it was more recent, these earlier films (The Shining, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) are a revelation. The actor displays a wide range of skills as the lively McMurphy who cannot abide the restrictions of institutionalized care. His tendency to introduce a bit of vim to the dull state of affairs reminded me of Nicole Kidman’s platform scene with Stephen Dillane in The Hours:

If I were thinking clearly, Leonard, I would tell you that I wrestle alone in the dark, in the deep dark, and that only I can know, only I can understand my own condition. You live with the threat, you tell me. You live with the threat of my extinction. Leonard, I live with it too. This is my right. It is the right of every human being. I choose not the suffocating anesthetic of the suburbs, but the violent jolt of the capital. That is my choice. The meanest patient, yes even the very lowest, is allowed some say in the matter of her own prescription. Thereby she defines her humanity. I wish for your sake, Leonard, that I could be happy in this quietness. But if it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death.

(Dialogue between Virginia and Leonard Woolf in the movie)

My favourite Nicholson scene would be the one when he is administered the electric shock for the first time. The man surpasses himself in demonstrating the physical trauma that a patient goes through during the procedure.

Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched starts off as a benign administrator juggling therapies for the ward. It is a mark of her acting prowess that she slowly dips into the villainous matron who oversees one and all.

She takes Billy (Brad Dourif in a striking debut) on a guilt trip after discovering him with a woman. Rage burning in her eyes, she retains the calm persona so torturous to the viewer. Silent, restrained devilry is the hardest cross to bear.

The novel, which the film is adapted from, is a scathing reminder of how institutionalized care deadens those who are in most need of cheer. And what the subversion that comes with authority can achieve.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

It's an ogre, It's a beast...


...No. It's Russian pugilist Nikolai Valuev. He is in the news for assaulting a security guard after the latter objected to the boxer's wife parking her car illegally.

Stupid guard!

On April 1, the Beast from the East defends his World Boxing Association title against American Owen "what the heck" Beck.

Our prayers are with you, Owen. May your soul rest in peace.

April 1 onwards, that is.

In the pic, John Ruiz gets a bit of Valuev's affection.

Why we read?


What is it about the written word that pleasures us so? Guardian has put up an extract from Adam Phillips's introduction to the Freud Reader, which offers a damn interesting insight.

One's relationship to a "good" book, like one's relationship to a good friend, is not fearful; the other kinds of books are intimidating. They can even inspire us by diminishing us, by making us feel small. Indeed, the "element of timid reverence, the feeling of one's own smallness in the face of greatness" are rather more akin to feelings of religious awe. The secular religion of great writing - for Freud, as for so many of his bourgeois contemporaries - had replaced the sacred religions of their forefathers. Freud was someone who had clearly been daunted by literature, someone who had felt traumatised - humiliated, belittled and inspired - by reading.

In all his writing Freud is very didactic; if you dip into any page of Freud you will find him informing you about something, explaining to you how dreams work, how and why memory is memory of desire, how symptoms are forms of sexual satisfaction, why pain is so alluring as a pleasure, and so on. He assumes that the reader wants to know about things. But he also assumes, more paradoxically, that the one thing the reader wants to do more than know, is not to know; that, indeed, the very ways we go about knowing things is the form our greed for ignorance takes. Psychoanalysis is a very elaborate redescription of curiosity.

Freud tells us, as his phrase "the greed for knowledge" suggests, that what we have been taught to call knowing we should call desiring; knowledge is a way of making desire sound less disreputable. Because our desire, when it is not solely the struggle for survival, is essentially, in Freud's view, a desire for something forbidden, it is the very thing we try not to know about, and the only thing that really interests us. Like Freud's magnificent, significant and favourite books (read the whole piece for what this means), there is always a feeling of one's own smallness in the face of the greatness of one's desires.

Living a life is reading a life (the constant look-in from an outside perspective), in Freud's view; and since life is composed of its desire for more life, and its desire for less life, and, above all, its desire for the forbidden life, nothing is going to make us more resistant than this reading. The (Freudian) reader and writer are not only partners in crime; they are partners in concealing the crime from themselves.

"The writer enables us," Freud writes in "The Creative Writer and Daydreaming", " ... to enjoy our own fantasies without shame or self-reproach." Our fantasies, which are the conscious formulation of our unconscious desires, are shameful and guilt-provoking; the writer renders the unacceptable acceptable, and the reader consents. Then Freud provokes us, in his ironically understated way, to wonder whether it is better or worse for us to be aware of just what it is we have consented to. What is it, Freud wants to know, that can make reading (and writing) so pleasurable; and what do we need to do, and not do, to sustain this pleasure? For Freud, like many of his contemporary modernist writers, reading and writing seems like the best analogy, the most illuminating way of talking about the dramas and melodramas of everyday modern life. Writing about writing was writing about holding on to an appetite for modern life, about what language can sustain in us.

If anything, Freud encourages us to read as we dream, according to our desire, surprised by what may strike us, and unable to predict what will haunt us; and able, if possible, to notice those resistances that Freud found so telling, in our difficulties with his own texts in which he is telling us something, so he tells us, that is the only thing we want to know, and that therefore we don't want to know at all.

Wow! you read a piece like that and all's well with the world.

This statement is curiously tautological, if you didn't notice.

The sadness of books
Bibliophile's dilemma
Endings
The new snobbery

The cookie has crumbled

In the papers, they are describing the Hamas victory as "a time for pessimism" and "the quandary to beat all quandaries". That great milestone of the Israel-Palestine peace - the Oslo accord- suddenly looks like an infant searching for its mother. The victory confronts each of us at several levels: it points to us the first political repercussions of the demise of Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon (almost dead, well).

The second minefield is one that Israel and US must traverse before they can graduate from the school of negotiable leaders and missed chances to matriculate in the university of militant realpolitik: it is a good beginning when you hear a Hamas leader eschew the official militant line and talk the talk of a respectable political outfit.

The victory is saddled with inherent contradictions. It's a cruel joke for Bush who is trying his best to sow democracy in the neighbourhood. You let the cat out of the bag and it will most certainly not do your bidding. It's the age-old debate. How democratic is democracy when it is burdened with cultural and social ramifications?

How Hamas plays this out will be a test not just for the leadership but for all terrorist outfits considering a switch to electoral politics. If they don't mess it up, the victory might just be the start of a very welcome churning within the Islamic world.

Friday, January 27, 2006

"Music of fragility"


So you already know that it's Mozart's 250th birthday today, but do you know that you can lay hands on everything from Mozart bottles and mugs to knickers and jigsaw puzzles? Only if you are in Salzburg though.

I found this interesting article on how Austria is commemorating its musical genius in a curious and rather spiffy fashion.

Vienna is not letting go of the festivities either.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Blasphemy Inc


Daniel Dennett has some choice reprimands for all believers out there:

Why does our craving for God persist? It may be that we need it for something. It may be that we don't need it, and it is left over from something that we used to be. There are lots of biological possibilities.

I certainly don't believe in the soul as an enduring entity. Our brains are made of neurons, and nothing else. Nerve cells are very complicated mechanical systems. You take enough of those, and you put them together, and you get a soul. (This comment was preceded by a strategically placed Ugh!)

Love can be studied scientifically, too. (Oh, yeah?) How about if we study hatred and fear? Don't you think that would be worthwhile?

When asked if he visits the church,
Sometimes I go to church for the music. Churches have given us great treasures. Whether that pays for the harm they have done is another matter.

Another evolutionary darling. (No, not that way!)

Language is all haha hee hee

And please, can you stop saying “at all” after every question. Can I take your coat at all? Would you care for lunch at all? Or, this week, on a flight back from Scandinavia, “Another beverage for yourself at all, sir?” What’s the matter with saying “Another drink?” And what’s with all the reflexive pronoun abuse? I’ve written about this before but it’s getting worse. Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and the object of a sentence are the same person or thing. Like “I dress myself”. You cannot therefore say “please contact myself”. Because it makes you look like an imbecile.

More gut-splitting fare:

In a silly fit of pique about editors' nit-picking, I once titled a column "Let's Kill All the Copyeditors." The compressed last word in the title was corrected to "Let's Kill All the Copy Editors." When I remonstrated with a green eye shade afterward, his answer was "That's our style." Such a riposte is as unanswerable as the sign in Loeb's Delicatessen across the street from my Washington office: "There's no reason for it - it's just our policy."

An Ocean Runs Through It

Nothing contrasts the themes of the two World forums currently on in different parts of the globe than the vast expanse of the Atlantic that separates them.

Communist heartthrob Hugo Chavez is leading the World Social Forum in his capital city, Caracas. Another world, devoid of imperialism, nukes and most of all, Dubya, is possible for this bunch of "civil society" groups. Such a loaded term, ain't it?

Antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, who lost a son in Iraq, opened the forum on Tuesday.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the big daddies of the corporate world are slugging it out "to create the foremost global partnership of business, political and intellectual leaders".

That's the press release, btw. At the end of the day, the World Economic Forum in Davos is a giant talk-shop on how to correct international political blunders (read Iraq), devise new ways of expanding profits (economic), and play a facade that masks their collective intellectual bankruptcy.

The trouble with these forums is they fail to get the message across. Each is an incestuous circle, speaking to the already converted. How can solutions to pressing global issues emerge until yin interactes with yang?

Bring on the World Socioeconomic forum. Let Dubya have a heart-to-heart with Cindy, let Blair chitchat with Morales. Perhaps that will throw up suggestions, even if it entails lowering the elites' profiles.

The India story

Googling its way into the zeitgeist


If you pick your stories by their controversy-meter, how many times has the search yielded The Search? It's probably been up there consistently, the blue-eyed company of every venture capitalist and startup-hungry entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.

In its sweeping ambitions of a Web-connected world and global online library, Google seems to have missed the small print.

This week, it has been at the centre of a storm from two very different markets. While parent country US wants a random sample of searches to see how Google might be inadvertently aiding child pornography, China's stringent entry norms have forced the otherwise cool dude to self-censor its content for the Chinese subsidiary.

The company's response narrates the pressures of performing in a global marketplace. While the US government got the thumbs down for its "privacy infringement" proposal, Google lamely kowtowed to Chinese whispers.

It's disheartening to see a company that's shaping our first impressions of a post-industrial technological utopia bend to the whims and fancies of a regime that has a post-dated cheque issued on its genesis.

Time to take a stand, Government


It's been finally said. What everyone knew as an unspoken quid pro quo between the two countries revealed itself on Wednesday when US Ambassador David Mulford categorically linked the future of the Indo-US nuke deal to India's stance on Iran at the IAEA come Feb 2.

In fact, Mulford was overly undilplomatic in the language he employed. He said that if India decided not to vote against Iran, the deal would "die" and that the vote's effect on US Congress members "with regard to the civil nuclear initiative will be devastating."

India salvaged some dignity with a Foreign Ministry spokesman calling the vote a strictly internal matter. But we know it's all for kicks, right? Am certain everyone in the Foreign office is having sleepless nights right now on what might happen if...?

Time for Manmohan Singh to officially side with the US, lest it wants to get its knickers in a twist over dead and still-born ideologies.

Hard choices
The nuke deal

Monday, January 23, 2006

Mega deal: Is Indian aviation in for a shakeout?

My first official story (which means it carries my byline) on the Hot Debates section of NDTV.

Here.

Check it out.

Lifetime love affair with Pythagoras


The first time the beauty of the theorem hits you is when you realize that it is not just possible, but necessary for the third side to be a perfect whole number 5 if the other two are merely perpendicular and 3 and 4 in lenghts. The operative word here is merely.

In a world where options run out before you can say Hello, it was extraordinarily mindboggling to discover that nature had allowed this sort of perfect symmetry, the epitome of a serendipitous beauty to exist.

It is not just proofs and corollaries, which are a wonder in themselves. Check out the simple and engaging first one on this list.

It is equally the sheer magic of 3x, 4x and 5x wheeling around in mathematical precision for all eternity. Imagine that!

Read another besotted saint here.

The paradox behind Orhan's letting off


In a major event that is sure to mark itself out in opinion columns over the coming weeks, Turkish authorities have dropped the charges against novelist Orhan Pamuk.

In a delicious irony, Pamuk's case catapulted the writer to global recognition and he deservedly used the acclaim to spread his message across the world.

I linked to a lot of stuff on him over the past few months, a recollection of which is given below.

Fight for novelist's soul
Padgaonkar's meeting
Pamuk's views

This however has a downside. Pamuk's case, had it gone on, would have raised his stature to that of a global figure ala Salman Rushdie. He has been milking the prosecution cow to spread his very relevant and appropriate message. He would have earned himself many more such opportunities in the eventuality of the case dragging on and his words would have been hungrily lapped up by the media.

One can't begruge him his "release", but I have a suspicion Pamuk might himself have been disappointed with this anticlimactic closure.

That incidentally is the paradox of an artist's life.

Unlikely Endorsement


William Blum's Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower has shot up to no. 27 on the Amazon Bestseller List after Osama recommended it to willing listeners on his latest tape.

To gauge the extent of the jump, the rating for the book before the endorsement was a galactically distant 205,763.

Osama, if you are reading this, I promise to beat the hell out of Bush on this space from now on. But please, for the love of god, let me be the (next) one!

It's patrakaar with a double 'a' (patrakaar is Hindi for journalist).

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Condign Punishment?


Anil Bhoyrul and James Hipwell who wrote a fraudulent shares tipping column for the Daily Mirror will have to perform 180 hours of community service each.

Their modus operandi from my earlier post:

The duo wrote the famous column "City Slickers" which advised investors to put their money in selective stocks. Often these stocks were those the rascals had themselves invested in. The two would ultimately sell their holding and earn handsome profits.

Another scam, but this one, back home.

The sadness of and among books

Frank Wilson keeps speaking about The Sea, so imagine my surprise when I located it (along with other Booker books- Arthur And George etc.) in the library at my job place. I pick it up, browse through it. Seems like the perfect book for the weekend off. I can imagine the slender books snuggling in my hands as I drink deep of its wondrous beauty (what I have heard).

I walk up to the incharge. He enters my name, and pop... out comes a list of all the Vikrams in NDTV.

I am not on it.

Yes, since its been only a week since I joined, I am not on the library rolls yet. so no book loving this day and the next :(

Hopefully, there will be respite on the next weekend.

Waiting in anticipation, presumably, is that slight book, feeling right now a bit lonely and out of place, stacked as it is with all the other tomes in a spasm of darkness.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Oprah and the art of Making Celebrities


What is it about Oprah Winfrey that what ever she touches turns into gold? whether it is james frey's fabricated memoir or the upcoming entry on the Holocaust in her Book club. Americans cant seem to get enough of this girl.

Elie Wiesel's first person account of the Holocaust is the next book she is discussing. Plans are afoot to capture on tape a visit to Auschwitz with the writer. it would no doubt be a brilliant video with solemn shots (and sombre music) vying for space with Oprah's characteristic tendency to introduce a little repartee to the grimmest situation.

Not everyone's impressed though. Adam Shatz questions the validity of another feel-good caricaturizing of the tragedy, and also the propriety of selecting Wiesel to do the task. I havent read Night, but Shatz says that Wiesel has since writing the book, lowered the tragic perception of the event by apologizing for the perpetrators from the vantage point of his moral authority as a "victim".

Here.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Returning a tad too soon

Funny that I am writing again on the same day I professed to officially close down the blog, but the lure of posting a link to the first story I did for NDTV was just too much. It's here and it's on Nepal.

It doesn't carry my byline because it is not my story. My name would appear in the Hot Debates section as and when I am asked to submit an essay.

Ciao, Folks!


The job leaves me no time to blog on a daily basis. but I will try and fit in bits on my days-off. This then ends the "blog till you drop" phase of my blogging experience. The posts would come less frequently from now on.

I leave you with a stunning picture that my friend Vibhu sent me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Desultorily Recommended

Lots of good stuff over at Guardian. Hans Christian Anderson's perversities, the lost art of short storytelling (brought to our collective notice by Ang Lee's recent interpretation), and a curious but fashionable literary prize.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"Good Day To Die"


The oldest inmate on California's Death Row was executed at San Quentin Prison today. Clarence Ray Allen was 76 and blind. His case closely mirrors Tookie's in its denouement. San Quentin is the same prison compound in which Tookie was administered the death penalty last Dec 13. Allen's plea for clemency was rejected by the same man who rejected Tookie's: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Last words.
The person
Stanley "Tookie" Williams

Pluto A Planet At All?


That is the question on the minds of NASA scientists launching the New Horizons mission over the next few weeks.

While Pluto is large for a Kuiper-belt object—it has a diameter of 2,300km—its mass is less than 1% of Earth's. This and the presence of other similar-sized or larger things in the belt are fuelling a debate about what should count as a planet. Dr Stern argues that Pluto is a genuine planet, because it is rounded by the force of its own gravity. As he puts it, “it's a dwarf planet by the same measure a Chihuahua is still a dog.”

In that case, though, 2003 UB313 should also be called a planet. But nobody can agree on this, so last year the International Astronomical Union (IAU) convened a group of senior astronomers to suggest a new definition of what it is to be a planet.

Another possibility the IAU group discussed was whether a planet should be defined as something that is “dominant in its own neighbourhood”. Yet according to this definition, Pluto would not count as a planet, because it is only one of many similar objects in the region.
Such a definition would lead to several problems. For one thing, astronomers working on Pluto do not want a demotion. For another, the last time the IAU considered reclassifying Pluto as something other than a planet, it caused a public outcry. Then there is the question of what to call Pluto if it were demoted. For example, the term “minor planet” is today applied to asteroids, but, by any definition, most asteroids are not planets.


By a tiny majority, the IAU group voted that the best option was some kind of arbitrary size-distinction. Dr Williams says that a radius of 1,000km seemed sensible because, “100km is silly and 10,000km would not include Earth”.

The debate is not over yet, however. The final decision will be taken at the IAU general assembly in Prague this August, where astronomers will have the job of trying to balance the scientifically useful with the culturally acceptable. If they can agree on the matter, then 2003 UB{-3}{-1}{-3} will finally get a proper moniker. If it is deemed to be just another miserable lump of rock and ice a very long way away, its discoverer, Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, will be allowed to give it a name. But if it is classified as a planet, then it will acquire a suitably grand name belonging to one of the classical gods.

NASA seems to be shaking off its Columbia depression. Two successes in one week is not bad, not bad at all.

Pic: Pluto as captured by Charon

Ledger loses out to Seymour...


...But good news for Ang Lee (Best Director, Best Movie). Hoffman wows the jury with his exact portrayal of Truman Capote.

Desperate Housewife Felicity Huffman walks way with a Golden Globe for playing a man on the verge of a sex change.

Read about it all here.

My Mind Happiest


Eternal Sunshine For The Spotless Mind may soon be a reality, not in the way that sunshine is so devoid of gravity, as in the movie. We dig some intensity, right? It's our collective cry against an unbearable lightness, an oblivion, if you may. Scientists at McGill University in Montreal are testing a drug that may lessen the intensity of pain and trauma after a tragedy or personal loss. It's early days yet, but researchers expect a breakthrough soon. Next step: "cure of PTSD". So long these studies don't employ human guinea pigs, I won't doubt their utility.

Speaking of the movie, the premise is scary. What can you possibly do if you have the option of wiping the slate clean and saving yourself the trauma? You go ahead and do it. But life has a habit of coming full-circle, be it fate, be it karma. And that is exactly what we witness between Kate and Jim.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Choices, Choices Everywhere

S. Varadarajan's timely (and leftist) reminder on the perils of India voting against Iran a second time.

Apologists for the first IAEA vote against Iran last September say that if the Americans are insisting on an `either-or', it is in India's interest to choose nuclear cooperation with Washington over hydrocarbons from Iran. What they do not realise is that a country of India's strength has the political and diplomatic ability to get both. What they also do not realise is that the slightest indication of Indian willingness to allow the U.S. to dictate its strategic choices will only lead to Washington trying to extract even more.

India's vote against Iran, for example, led the U.S. to try and impose new conditions that ran counter to the letter and spirit of the July 18 nuclear agreement. Among these were the demand that India accept in-perpetuity safeguards and give up its claims — as recognised in that agreement — to exactly the same rights and obligations in the nuclear field as the U.S. With the negotiations on civilian-military nuclear separation keenly poised, the Manmohan Singh Government should resist the temptation to blink for the second time.

No mention on how exactly to walk the tightrope (keep both happy). But important in light of the criticism emanating from the Left and surprise, surprise...even the BJP.

Now that the issue is certain to land on the UN table, India must keep its cards ready, and tilt towards the U.S. if push comes to shove. That's my twopence.

Stardust From The Sky

NASA's ambitious project to study comet dust returns successfully to the planet. Expected to provide a minefield of information on the origin of the solar system and the germination of life on Earth.

Internet users can participate in the study. Read about it here.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Overtly Real

Nice movie, but lacking the emotional intensity of its sequel. Perhaps its just me, but Before Sunrise, thanks to the plot perhaps, does not rise above the level of a well-directed (almost) real-time drama. Julie Delpy is surreal, no thanks to her ethereal screen visage (seriously looking forward to Broken Flowers after today). Ethan Hawke is good as the quintessential “dumb” American (in one scene, he is nearly reprimanded for being another of the tribe who can’t speak German).

But the real surprise of the movie is Vienna. Long shots of the lead actors walking the city capture the beauty of this historical place in terms few films have managed to. From streetside piazzas to a cemetery of the unnamed; the lackadaisical Danube to seating areas in secret grottos- Linklater’s screenplay is a definitive ode to the Austrian capital.

I prefer Before Sunset because it brought with it the past that is showcased in the prequel, and the resultant pain and anguish (the scene in the cab, for instance) took the movie to a different sphere of cinematic experience. I also think its treatment more believable, but that admittedly is another of filmmaking’s ironies. The story evolves and so do the characters, but you wish it started from there, like in a void. The chicken-and-egg riddle.

Citius, Altius, Fortius


No I am not talking of the Olympic tagline, but this massive race to incorprate technology in every aspect of our waking time. Before you start hurling stones at me for being a post-dated cheque from the Luddite troposphere, stop and listen. I am not a Techno-Dino; this site testifies to that. But I do protest the onward pace of modernization spoiling the last vestige of my cherished experiences.

'The technology is not there yet,' says Charkin, 'but in 10 years, who knows?' In this vision, publishers retain the copyright and, having digitised their back catalogues, also derive income from the trade. The on-demand book will lack the aesthetic appeal of a conventional hardback, but in the knowledge economy of the 21st century, this may not be significant.

How can they say that? It will be significant, over-the-top signi-hell-ficant. What good is a hand-held reader without the charm of the “written” word? Can you smell the knowledge bouncing off in strict pedantic aroma off the glass screens of a digitized device? How can you form a special personal bond with a monitor screen? I cannot, I’m afraid. I need a book to have pages that turn yellow with time, that you can annotate with notes and comments (blue ink) and which, when you look at it 10 years down the line, reminds you of the place and time and sentiment that had offered you company when the author had first spoken to you.

So people of the world, unite, stand up for your rights, and ask govts. and Microsoft and Google (Heck! All the big names) to let us retain the charisma of a good-old hardbound “book”. No ‘e’s attached.

Pic Courtesy: Alaskan Speedskating Club

How Reading Will Change

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Suddenly Something

Iran ups the defiance ante, and the U.S. misses out on Al-Qaeda No. 2.

Awards Economy


James English has written a book The Economy of Prestige on the importance attached to awards and prizes in popular culture today. Where is the discrimination in felicitating renowned personalities? As the awards season begins not just in Hollywood (the Golden Globes will be announced next week) but also back home (you can catch the Star Screen Awards tomorrow night on Star Plus), how does an ordinary viewer know what is worth watching and what isn't? There is tremendous back-room lobbying (SRK admitted as much for his Filmfare nod for Baazigar) and sometimes you are left wondering if the award is not meant to promote a particular company or business house as against rewarding talent. While no-one can deny the relevance of genuine rewarding, the mass-market economy is killing some of its charm.

They are also, English contends, indispensable for negotiating transactions between "cultural capital" and various other kinds of capital (capital being shorthand for leverage or power): economic (prizes draw notice, boost sales, make more money); social (prizes elevate status, offer entree); and political (prizes move blocs of people, advance causes, push agendas, sway attitudes - e.g. the much-nominated Brokeback Mountain).

Here's hoping that original works of art be it books, movies or blogs get their well-deserved due in the coming "awards season".

Dissatisfied Socrates, Satisfied Pig


First, why on earth am I researching John Stuart Mill. There's a splendid reason, folks. I had heard of him only briefly earlier in relation to his seminal works On Liberty and the feminist polemic The Subjection of Women which he co-wrote with wife Harriet Taylor. On reading an article by Madeleine Bunting (to which I link here) I discovered a new and rather interesting facet of this man. (Philosophy students, your excuses please!! This engineering gad is not all that blessed when it comes to the Spinozas of the sweet world.)

Dawkins seems to want to magic religion away. It's a silly delusion comparable to one of another great atheist humanist thinker, JS Mill. He wanted to magic away another inescapable part of human experience - sex; using not dissimilar arguments to Dawkins's, he pointed out the violence and suffering caused by sexual desire, and dreamt of a day when all human beings would no longer be infantilised by the need for sexual gratification, and an alternative way would be found to reproduce the human species. As true of Mill as it is of Dawkins: dream on.

My, my, that will raise your eyebrows, won’t it now? So up and running I go in the annals of Google and discover this link on Mill’s rather well-known comments on highbrow versus lowbrow pleasures. The running commentary is by Jorn K. Bramann, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Philosophy in Frostburg State University. The piece is so meaningfully well-drafted that you might like to read it (it’s slightly longish) with a hot cuppa tea on an evening you have to yourself. Some choice excerpts:

Writers and film makers occasionally belabor a stereotype that allegedly reflects the difference between Californians and New Yorkers. (See, for example, the relevant scenes in "Annie Hall" or "California Suite.") New Yorkers, according to this typology, are highly cerebral, seriously committed to culture, well-read, fast thinking and talking, very productive, aggressive to the point of being obnoxious, and hopelessly neurotic. They diligently keep up with what people think around the world, and they endure pain and neglect their physical health in pursuit of understanding and demanding levels of intellectual discourse. Their stereotypical Californian counterparts, by contrast, are deliberate airheads with no taste for the gritty and serious aspects of human existence--easygoing health nuts with a nice tan, and generally satisfied with having no higher aspirations than experiencing a good time near the beach in a perpetually mellow climate. Assuming for a moment that these stereotypes represent two possible ideals of life, is there any good reason for insisting that one is better than the other? Is the high-strung and hardworking intellectual superior to the relaxed and benevolent airhead? Considering that high culture requires so much attention and effort, and that it does not seem to pay off too well in terms of sociability and contentment, is it really worth the price it exacts?

This is the question that John Stuart Mill tries to answer in the second chapter of his book Utilitarianism (1861). In that chapter Mill offers the famous judgment (in favor of the New Yorkers, as it were) that "it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." Basically Mill contends that a highly cultured person is a happier person, a person who gets more pleasure out of life than an airhead--even if such a person experiences a great deal of frustration and dissatisfaction as a result of being educated and cultured. This calls for some elaboration.

The elaboration.

Writerly Masks


Still hurting from James Frey's devastating volte-face? Or wondering who the devil Leroy is? Well, don't. Philip Graham from the Morning News offers remedies.

So where does that leave my options? Wild eyed boy from Neverland? Perhaps, perhaps...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Sign Of Beauty


Vikram Doctor writes on the quaint charms of modern day Ireland. Dublin has transformed itself from an erstwhile British colony to the capital of the best place to live in on the planet. From funny nuggets about unruly tourists to charming bits of the nation's history, Doctor, as is his wont, scripts the piece like a maven playing with chic turns of phrase.

Read it here.

Enough Dynamite In Them Blokes?



Unconfirmed reports cited on ContactMusic say that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck who teamed up earlier for an Oscar fetching Good Will Hunting are coming together again to remake the cowboy classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Not that it matters, but most of it is (probably) true :)

Affleck will reprise Newman's role and Damon Redford's, but obviously.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Gross Fest


Stanley Kubrick adapts Anthony Burgess’s classical dystopian saga A Clockwork Orange for the (dis)comfort of the viewing fraternity. He sketches an unfavorable picture of life in a totalitarian state with shots of the swastika to remind you of the Third Reich connection. Alex is part of a gang of 4 violent youth who indulge in mindless violence and destruction. He is jailed in connection with a particularly brutal rape and to escape the long sentence, volunteers for a new aversion therapy proposed by the government to reform prisoners. He is shown scenes of ultra-violence with Beethoven’s music playing in the background (in the pic). The experience “cures” him: it makes him choke at the very thought of violence. But on his release, he discovers that society, including his parents and friends desert him. Ultimately, the government decides to cure him of the “cure”, returning him to a criminal state of mind. Ruining his life and sanity.

Malcolm McDowell gives a fine performance as Alex. The actor is versatile, and his long innings in acting vouch for his talent. I watched another of his latter movies, Dorian recently, in which his pact with the Devil is enacted with a shocking sinisterness. Kubrick confounds as always. While the direction is pitch-perfect, this so-called genius’s fascination with the macabre and only the macabre (The Shining) does not speak highly for his craft.

Sis watched The Incredibles too, says it’s a nice movie. All I remember is booming gun-shots in the background, and then, animation was never my forte.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Metro Man's Latest Honour


E Sreedharan one of the Top 25 Newsmakers Of 2005, a list compiled by the United States' Engineering News-Record, a leading publication on the construction industry. This comes after last year's Chevalier de l'Odre National de la Legion d'honneur conferred on him by the French Government. So revered he is for transforming public transport in the Capital that the Delhi and Mumbai Airport modernization plan came unstuck after a committee headed by him found glitches in the Reliance bid. An unlikely legend if there was one.

Romancing the Metro

“Intellectually Lazy Polemic”


Religionists’ Favourite Whipping Boy’s Latest Lashing. But this time, a convincing one. Madeleine Bunting is at her best in attacking Prof. Dawkins’s lack of empathy. She is vehemently critical of the Prof.’s linking faith with “a process of non-thinking”:

For thousands of years, religious belief has been accompanied by thought and intellectual discovery, whether Islamic astronomy or the Renaissance. But his contempt is so profound that he can't be bothered to even find out (in an interview he dismissed Christian theology in exactly these terms). If this isn't the "hidebound certainty" of which he accuses believers, I'm not sure what is.

I blogged about the interview she cites here.

A gravidly pertinent point about the power of faith to inculcate values and ethics in children.

Religion can also provide children with a deep sense of confidence from the teaching that they are each precious in the eyes of God, of reverence for their gift of life and of ethical bearings.

And yes, she points to Rwanda, the Holocaust and also surprisingly Islamic fundamentalism to bolster her argument that religion is not the root of all modern evil.

Human beings develop collective identities - ethnic, nationalist, religious or political - and find in them a sense of belonging, of personal identity and solidarity; the problem is how, at points of competition and threat, those identities flare up into horrible violence. Pinning all the blame on religion blindly ignores the evidence; the Rwandan tragedy was about ethnicity, the Holocaust about a racist political ideology. Crucially it fails to grasp the modern phenomenon of fundamentalism and how religious identity is being mobilised in an attempt to carve out positions of power within a rapidly globalising world; this kind of violent religion is a political product of rapid social and economic change.

Good one on “an underlying anxiety that atheist humanism has failed” and (LOL) “There's an aggrieved frustration that they've been short-changed by history; we were supposed to be all atheist rationalists by now”.

The Selfish Gene, where art thou?

Outpourings

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Barely Into The New Year...


...And the Iranian spectre raises its tentacles again. In a major diplomatic boo to the western world, Iran removed seals on its nuclear research facilities today, allowing work to resume in its nuclear reactors, a step that the US fears could take the country towards creating material for nuclear bombs. Mary Riddell presents a fantastic analysis of the differing stakes in this burning international issue, hailed by one commentator as "the Catch-22 situation for western diplomacy". NPT's unequal provisions, Ahmedinejad's brinkmanship, Risen's explosive revelations...you name it, it's here.

In the pic, Iran's nuclear reactor in Bushehr.

Time To Pull Up Your Socks, MSM

Frank Wilson's Joseph Epstein link got my hands itching. I get two papers at home. The Indian Express has been a habit since childhood and the Times of India for its superior writing. But as I start becoming more active in the blogging community, my reliance on the print medium for editorial satisfaction has been diminishing steadily.

Sample yesterday’s copy of the Indian Express. There is a chief edit on the Ramdev-Brinda catfight, something that is of zilch interest to me and quite out of place with current concerns (what they ought to be, at any rate). Then a write-up on the Metro which I read (and also link to) for an interesting insight into Delhi’s hottest rage. An excerpt from Guardian on text messaging (the IE has made a habit of providing Guardian snippets at the bottom of the main edit page, something that does not speak highly of the editorial team). Side edits about local issues, petty politics which no literary-minded soul would have any interest in. On the op-ed page a quite good piece on Sharon and what will become of the Mid-East peace process after his departure. Then something about China, Gudiya (the curious case of a woman who died recently) and Thomas Friedman’s well-argued (but marred by an impertinent use of “sissies”) critique of the Bush administration’s oil fiasco (again lifted from the New York Times). Better TOI with its one page of genuine editorializing than IE’s two pages of borrowed opinion.

So there. Newspapers need to seriously gird up their thinking loins before the burgeoning and far more exciting (and relevant) sphere of blogging usurps their long-held position. In any case, most of the best articles can be read online much before they appear in their print form. Another point: on the web, you can link to and read from a variety of resources covering the different facets of an issue, thereby being in tune with a gamut of opinion. This unfortunately is impossible with print.

Also, in this age of cutthroat PR, you don’t want to look too desperate. Some papers with their screeching old-world headlines stoke one’s imagination of a frazzled editor sitting behind a dilapidated desk with scores of files looking down at him. Come on now MSM, tie your laces, comb your hair and kick some contemporary a**.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Next Big Indian Novel...

...about love and loss in the Metro? Sample this:

One of the many miracles of the metro is that it has brought varied sections of society together under one roof, something that seldom happens in highly stratified Delhi where the snooty and sophisticated South Delhi residents feel they have little in common with those living in old Delhi. On the metro, West Delhi residents, mostly Punjabis and descendants of Partition refugees, rub shoulders with the city’s newest migrants, the Purabis, settled in East Delhi. Over time, the metro will play a large role in breaking down barriers between the city’s diverse populations.

Come on, all you budding wordsmiths, let Delhi's latest craze be the setting of that genre-defying steamy (not in this weather, no), crazy, sultry romance.

In more news, what's with the Right all of a sudden?

Exquisite Comforts On Wintry Nights


You don’t need the papers to inform you that Delhi has hit rock-bottom in the temperature scales. You know it when:
  • Your eyes strain to read the day’s paper since it can’t keep from bouncing in your frozen hands
  • You lie shriveled up for no less than 15 minutes after you have hit the bed, in spite of the combined warmth of 3 heavy quilts
  • You curse science for having advanced so much, yet not having done all it takes to design a contraption that goes “Dry Bath” or better still “Dry Brush”
  • You scare family any time of the day with feline mewls that are born in the deepest darkest recesses of your chilled spine.


But all’s not lost, folks. Some warmth on the freezing Sunday evening with an excellent film on Star Movies. Ladies In Lavender is the story of two sisters who spend their years in the beautiful idyll of the English countryside in the backdrop of the Second World War. They lead a private life unencumbered by demands of space/ time until one day, a Polish soldier appears at their shores (literally), wounded and in need of immediate attention. Andrea (Daniel Brühl) who cannot speak a word of English, brings joy and life to the dreary Widdington household. He is a gifted violin player, a discovery that is made serendipitously by Ursula- played exactingly well by Dame Judi Dench. Ursula is a spinster who develops a special romantic bond for Andrea. Dench breathes life into the trials and tribulations of an impulsive character. She is most effective in her solitary scenes - standing by the window, sitting on the riverside, gazing at the sunset. Her spare look reminds you of her path breaking performance in Iris though Ursula is as different from the firebrand literary figure as chalk from cheese. Maggie Smith towers as the meticulous Janet with a hard exterior but a heart of gold within. Their chemistry works in highlighting the joys and irritants, the crests and troughs of a lifelong relationship.


Andrea ultimately goes away leaving the sisters, especially Ursula in a state of heightened noble grief. The ending captures the void left by his departure and the return of the sisters to their erstwhile pristine state, shorn of beguiling strangers and punishing desires. Release at the end of it all.


Haunting.