A Man Without a Country

Kurt Vonnegut is now eighty-three and one of my favorite authors. He is endlessly fascinating and a far cry from the academics who put can put you to sleep writing about the same topic in a dead-pan style. I reviewed his book - A Man Without a Country on the book blog.

Kurt Vonnegut is among the few grandmasters of American letters, one without whom the very term American literature would mean much less than it does.

Backseat Driver

Finally! A backseat driver who knows how to shut up.

Blogger Personality Disorders

Every few months, the blog world and the real world collide. The past week has been one of them. While we DO have the right to say whatever we want, we DON'T always make sense.

"Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn't mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar."
- Edward R. Murrow

Blogging, like most things on the web, is so darned convenient. It's easy, you can be anonymous; in fact, you can be whoever you want. Not only can you make your own rules, you can live out your wildest fantasies. So at some point, all of us become somebody we aren't. I looked at some of my old posts and I wonder, "Aren't we all a little schizophrenic?" I look at my own posts; posts and comments on other blogs and I see a number of personalities surface. The convenience of not having to physically face someone or tackle reality makes us armchair experts on everything and turns even the most mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll into a Mr.Hyde in a few keystrokes.

The Born-Again Blogger
Who doesn't believe in reincarnation? Larger-than-life personae are constantly being created and reinvented in the blogworld in bigger and better versions.

The Cerebral Cerberus
These are the people for whom blogging has less to do with exploration of ideas and civilized debate but more to do with attacking other people, often without provocation.

The Cowardly Custard
Shares all the characteristics of the above and invariably fails to leave an address or name behind. Occasionally hides behind some alias. Tends to be more inclined towards rude behaviour.

Grammar, Damn Her!
Everyone makes the occasional typo, grammatical error and usage error. But this lot lives without shame. They seem to be literally throwing themselves at the keyboard with scant regard for the gentle reader who can't help but cry out,

Wrote yet another guy who stings like a bee,
What keys get hit, his eyes can't see.
You mumble man mumble, I fumble man fumble

Dear Diary Blogger
Very few of them around that I know of.
"Today, was a Sunday ..." As Holden would say, "Spare us the David Copperfield crap!"

The Eve-Pleaser
These guys seem to be trying their luck with every female blogger they can('t) lay their hands on by leaving little puppy-notes. (The Orkut variety is decidedly more more pathetic!)

The Crapal Tunnel Syndrome
While these chaps don't seem to suffer from CTS, you can get one by simply having to scroll reams of screens. Reading such posts is like entering a deep, dark tunnel with only a faint hope of light at the end.

The Hyper-Linker
Some deserve 'The Tim Berners-Lee Lifetime Achievement Award' for creating blogs that contain only links. No content, no explanation, just links.

The CutPaste Copycat
This one is like the above, but saves you the trouble of reaching for your mouse. The 'benign' type acknowledges the "stealing" and the 'thief' type seems to be more interested in the AdSense revenue.

The Papal Bull
Cannot help pontificating (Like this post!). Mostly all bull.

Common diseases and ailments:

Verbal Exhibitionisist: They feel morally compelled to follow the adage of "Use it or lose it!" and you are in turn impelled to look up every fourth word in order to stop feeling like a dummy. Those Word-a-Day calendars!

The kinds who cannot supress the desire to hold the flow of ... Kindly use a .

Bloggorhoea: Too many posts, all full of **it!

Blogstipation: Infrequent and irregular blogs that tend to be painfully produced.

Sigh! Pod

“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice

Why I feel like Alice. (The thong is a cute idea!)

We Didn't Start the Fire

Last week, a few blogsites were blocked in India by ISPs. Bloggers were up in arms within a click of the 'Publish' button. Now the government is claiming that they wanted to block only 17 or 20 sites and not entire domains and the ISPs screwed up. But, even blocking a single site is an infringement of freedom. The fanatics, cranks and crackpots are the ones who really make the blogosphere interesting and provide endless entertainment. With petitions filed by a number of people, I would like to see how the government now passes the buck.

The Cost of Things

Terrorists committed a heinous, horrible and cowardly crime in Mumbai again today.
Mumbai will be back on its feet again tomorrow and will not let you terrorists scare or rob it of its spirit. Shame on you!

In a way it was an odd coincidence that I went to see Al Gore in an Inconvenient Truth today. I wanted to stay away since I have been subjected to a lot of Powerpoint Poisoning in my short life, but reviews from my labmates, Roger Ebert, Lawrence Lessig and Ashutosh were too overwhelming to ignore. Al Gore makes a presentation - even the great Edward Tufte would approve - that would be no small crime to ignore.

As Al Gore compared 9/11 and global warming, I thought about today's blasts and last year's downpour (which figures in the movie) in Mumbai. I can see why Gore is having so much trouble getting his point across. I am reminded of Peter Sandman (via Freakonomics):

According to risk communications consultant Peter Sandman, “risks that scare people and risks that kill people are different."He uses the equation: Risk is equal to hazard plus outrage (hazard + outrage = risk) to assess situations and determine people's reactions. The equation is quite simple, according to Sandman. "When hazard is high and outrage is low, people under-react and when hazard is low and outrage is high, they overreact."

While the bomb blast toll figures are still being updated, last year 750 people died from torrential, record-setting rains that soaked Mumbai. While murder and violence is definitely deplorable, I consider it one of the great injustices in the world that we cannot punish ourselves or others for being accomplices in the murder of the planet and its ecosystems.

While India is still nowhere near the USA in terms of its emissions, we and other developing countries are fast catching up. While I am all for rapid economic growth, it often and unfortunately correlates with a larger ecological footprint. Will we choose to be different? Historically speaking, we won't. We see this with regards to health: Richer and more educated people are in better health than poorer and less educated counterparts. Substitute people with countries and health with the environment and Bjorn Lomborg's assertion that "... air pollution diminishes when a society becomes rich enough to be able to afford to be concerned about the environment." makes perfect sense (hat tip: Amit Varma).

I am all for economic progress but the environment is too important to be expected to simply piggyback on a prosperous economy. As Jared Diamond has pointed out in his book Collapse - (review), China and India's economic success might be a Pyrrhic victory. "Sin now, atone later", might have worked in the past, but if the Gore charts are to be believed, we might not have the luxury of turning the clock back on the damage done. It is easier said than demonstrated. Only if environmental costs and benefits were as tangible and easily quantifiable as economic success stories via freer markets, or terrorist attacks. Cracking ice-shelves will never beat bomb blasts in terms of outrage.


The best way would be to reconcile market forces and environmental issues. The set of articles in this issue of the Economist make very interesting reading(see). There are some excellent ideas.

But it is very, very tricky.
In one of the examples the writer talks about Panama. It is more economically and environmentally advantageous for Panama to bottle and sell its water from its freshwater lakes than allow it to flow out into the Miraflores locks for operating the Canal, but the US will never allow it.

So even in such cases where both economic and environmental imperatives are aligned reality pans out differently. In any case, sooner or later, rich or poor, the whole planet will have to pay.

The Mathematics of Music

An interesting article from Science on the The Geometry of Musical Chords by Dmitri Tymoczko. See related perspective by Hook.
(email me if you need access)

Water - The Book

You have seen the movie, now read the book! I received a few free copies of Water by Bapsi Sidhwa which is based on the film by Deepa Mehta. I also have umpteen copies of the poster for Water. Send me an email if you want a copy and are willing to pay for postage.
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Ashutosh reviewed the movie a few months ago.