Street Music Project

(Hattip: Ashdin)

A great idea to record the same song played by street musicians in different parts of the world:

The Monkey and the Fish

A monkey was walking along a river and saw a fish in it. The monkey said, Look, that animal is under water, he’ll drown, I’ll save him. He snatched up the fish, and in his hand the fish started to struggle. And the monkey said, Look how happy he is. Of course, the fish died, and the monkey said, Oh, what a pity, if I had only come sooner I would have saved this guy.

Thought provoking article on the harm that aid does in some situations. Philip Gourevitch on Humanitarian Aid: Alms Dealers.. That article generated a lot of responses from aid organizations that P.G. had to write a rebuttal which makes excellent reading as well: Response: to Alms Dealers. Quite surprise to read in the article that Florence Nightingale was opposed to Henri Dunant's idea for the Red Cross. Called it a ludicrous idea from Geneva. On reading Gourevitch's article, seems like the Lady of The Lamp had a point.

Review of Vikram Seth's "From Heaven Lake"

Review of Vikram Seth's delightful first book: Lit blog.

We don't do porn

I recently got a nice roll-film camera and it has been a rather interesting mixture of frustration, surprise, and reward. I intend to write about this at length soon, but the latest in the series of continuing trials and tribulations of temporarily switching to old-school format was just too funny. So here goes:

Time: Sat morning, about 1p

Scene: I have just finished developed a roll of b/w film and am admiring the work and I can't wait to get this printed. So, I call CVS 1-hr photo thinking they will be able to develop the Kodak Tri-X B/W film.

Me: Hello, CVS Photo services?
CVS lady: Yes, how can we help you today?
Me: Can you make prints from negatives?
CVS: You mean you just want prints? from film developed at CVS?
Me: Um... yes and no, I have developed my own roll of film and I just wanted some prints. You make prints of any kind of film right?
CVS: (pause).. We don't make prints of pornography
Me: (flabbergasted)... (long pause).. What?! (thinking WTF!) Excuse me?
CVS: We don't make prints of pornographic or any stuff like that..
Me: (recovering somewhat and embarrassed laugh).. oh no this is quite regular pictures.. umm.. nothing dirty.. just pictures of streets and buildings.
CVS: Ok, bring them in. I will have to first take a look to see before we can develop them
(perhaps implying maybe you have some porn that you don't know yet?)

The conversation then continued and it was then shortly determined that despite the complete lack of pornographic, erotic, or any other kind of visually arresting, publicly unmentionable content CVS will not develop my negatives. In fact, no large store will process even the most innocuous photos taken on a Kodak Tri-X roll. All because it's not a C41 type roll. I would have to either do it myself or ask a professional photo lab. I am wondering if that specialty lab will be disappointed that it's not porn. I do have some photos of a fountain with a naked Neptune surround by mermaids. Does that count?

Towards a Monoculture

I cannot explain why I am attracted to words and sounds: there is this mystery to alien sounds, like listening to strange music. There are words like caïque* which sound and read mysterious and interesting. Naturally, sounds in other languages are even more interesting that words in the dictionary. Even if you don't understand a word there this is mysterious enjoyment of just listening to the phonemes, phrasing, the cadences and rhythms.

My abilities in German have been asymptotically diminishing, but it's fun to be able to catch some snatches of Italian and Spanish and guess the meaning by using the Latin roots. But, do languages have utility? The general attitude is to learn languages that are 'useful'. So, English, Spanish and lately Chinese, are more useful than learning say, Pashto, Tagalog or Swahili. While communication and understanding maybe improved when people speak the same language, it's not entirely a good thing as the world drifts to a monoculture, or monopoly of a few select language. It's well known that when the last speaker of a language dies, he or she takes with him/her a whole way of expression, an entire culture, and often it's the end of a way of life.

Sadly, in India, a land of many languages we are losing reason to learn or master the vernacular. It seems likely that in a generation, chaste Hindi or even Urdu will be lost. I will not dwell individual dialects and accents that color languages. My own mother tongue - Gujarati has variants depending on whether the speaker is Parsi, or Bohri, or from Surat, Kathiawad, or Ahmedabad. Of course, these dialects and other Indian languages will survive in the the hands of few. But, it's quite likely that poetry, plays and books will cease to be written as often as they were. First, there won't be writers with the fluency, and sadly they will be starved of an audience. An artist needs an audience that actually understands the nuances or subtleties to appreciate the skill in creating within the confines of the language.

It's sad but true that many of my friends have not taken any great effort to teach their kids languages other than English thinking that it will 'confuse' them. A common idea is that child development is hindered with learning more than one language and that they won't get admission since they can't speak English properly.

The polymath Jared Diamond presents research to the contrary. In a piece for Science he demonstrates that conventional thinking about language confusing kids is quite wrong. (See: The Benefits of Multilingualism, by Jared Diamond, Science 15 October 2010: 332-333| link to summmary)More importantly there are additional benefits:

Recent studies show that children raised bilingually develop a specific type of cognitive benefit during infancy, and that bilingualism offers some protection against symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia in old people.
He goes on to write...
More recent studies, comparing subjects matched for those other variables, have found bilinguals and monolinguals to be largely similar in cognition and language processing.

He presents additional material to show that those who speak more than one language are better at handling multiple inputs, ie better multi-taskers. Now who wouldn't want that?

So, if you aren't so interested in sounds, or saving poetry and languages from extinction you may be interested in conferring some benefit to your kids by teaching them more than one tongue.
*caïque: A Turkish hand-rowed boat

Review of Peter Hessler's Country Driving

China is a fascinating country. As Indians we love to compare against it. Peter Hessler lived in China for many years and has written wonderful books on the subject. My review of his latest book 'Country Driving' on the Lit blog.

Afghan Women

Why do husbands, fathers, brothers-in-law, even mothers-in-law brutalize the women in their families? Are these violent acts the consequence of a traditional society suddenly, after years of isolation and so much war, being hurled into the 21st century? The foundation of Pashtunwali is a man's honor, judged by three possessions—zar (gold), zamin (land), and zan (women). The principles on which the honorable life is built are melmastia (hospitality), nanawati (shelter or asylum), and badal (justice or revenge).

The greater a Pashtun man's hospitality, the more honor he accrues. If a stranger or an enemy turns up on his doorstep and asks for shelter, his honor depends on taking that person in. If any injury is done to a man's land, women, or gold, it is a matter of honor for him to exact revenge. A man without honor is a man without a shadow, without assets, without dignity.

But it is not generally acceptable for Pashtun women to extend hospitality or exact revenge. They are rarely agents. They're assets to be traded and fought over—until they can stand it no longer.
- Elizabeth Rubin (Photographs by Lynsey Addario)
Afghan Women

Everyone is familiar with Steve McCurry's iconic image - one of the few that you can that truly deserves it - of the Afghan woman from 1985. Sadly, not much has changed in a land that seems to be so stuck in time that hurtling it into the modern world seems just as cruel as treatment of women in that country.

I was amazed by how short and effective Rubin's. Clearly, it wasn't so much an essay accompanied by photographs, but more like a lens to focus the reader's attention on Addario's pictures that tell a lot more than a thousand words.

Only the ones you need

In their remarkable book called You: The Owner's Manual, Drs. Roisen and Oz  wrote on the human body. A thing that everyone possess but most people (including yours truly) seem to know little about (and what they think they know is mostly myth). I was most intrigued by their descriptions of the two main cavities that book-end our generous plumbing a.k.a the 'digestive system'.

On one end they recommended to stool watch - i.e to pay attention to the shape and the consistency. If something's wrong with your digestion then you are gonna see the effects. The ideal stool needs to long and S-shaped (they write: like the shape of your intestine). It shouldn't be hard and softer than al dente is Goldilocks perfection.

We all know garbage in, garbage out doesn't just apply to computer programming. On the oral end people seem to have most of the right ideas. Eating healthy is known, if not followed very well. On the aspect of maintenance people are diligent about brushing their teeth at least twice a day and certainly at night. Of course no one really changes tooth brushes every six months as recommended. It's one of those things that no one really takes seriously like the notice on mattresses: "Do not tear this label, or hell will break loose".

Despite all evidence and suggestion to the contrary, I have yet to see anyone as diligent about flossing. No dentist, drunk or sober, is going to not recommend flossing. What do Roisen and Oz propose? They  leave it up to you and recommend rather pithily:

Teeth: Floss only the ones you need
Since my last dental exam, I have actually behaved in a manner that I didn't care.  I was given a clean bill but like everything in life, you can't rest on your past laurels. So, I freaked out when I learned that I had my dentist's appointment in two weeks. Brush as much as you want, those bleeding gums give away that you haven't flossed for love or for money in past few months. 

To avoid the dead giveaway and lose face in front of my dentist, I crammed.  I was cramming for the last two weeks for the dental exam by flossing every day.  The gums, they bled, but by the end of the week the really nasty tell-tale signs would be gone.  On the day of the exam, the removal of the calculus was painful, but the gums didn't bleed. This is to say that I  passed with a high B+ on in the flossing column of the report card.

As is always the case, after the cleaning and gentle admonishment I felt very repentant. I swore that I will finally turn a new leaf and floss. It's for my own good, no?

So, I have been very disciplined. Using the best floss money can buy and sleeping very soundly at night.

What is it with flossing? Is it just me? Every time I floss, I feel very virtuous, as if I did a good deed that day. A feeling that is better than the one you get when you eat a healthy salad when the rest of the people around you are eating something patently bad -  like nasty French fries. It just seems to lift you up to a higher plane.

Consequently, if you really want to intimidate somebody then just floss while they are brushing their teeth. It eerily makes them feel a little less clean. It's more effective than the using a hand sanitizer for no real reason. Pulling out the hand sanitizer makes most people think you are just one of the  'germ theory' show-offs. You could lose friends this way.  But, flossing, ah that's a subtle one.

So, every night as I rub the twine between my teeth I feel like a  better bigger person, a human being that people want to emulate but can't quite do it. Besides, I sleep rather soundly knowing my gnashers will be there the next morning.

He had it coming...

Paul the Octopus the world's most celebrated eight-armed cephalopod has died. He briefly dazzled the world with his Nostradamus-like ability to predict the outcomes of football matches featuring his adopted homeland (or Fatherland) Germany. He entertained millions on YouTube and had the bookmakers in a tizzy. That could be the seed of one of the many conspiracy theories. Who killed Paul?

Nobody. He did it himself. The truth is that it was 'self-guilt'. The pressure and attention got to him - as he was consulted on deeper problems that plague our human lives - Will the Tea Party change politics? Will China let the Renminbi float?
It wasn't that his area of expertise was limited to just football.  Paul knew deep inside that he was a fake. His fate hanging on the balance of a string of lucky, very lucky coincidences. So before he was exposed as a false prophet he took a dive to ensure immortality.

Paulos. Eight-armed
Requiescat in pacem.
Predict no more.

Every Dollar counts

‎"Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want."
 Anne Lappe, American ethicist

Quizzing: Meta Thoughts

Hat Tip:  Ramanand's Buzz:
From quatrainman: Wunderbar! RT @mitesh_agarwal: Must read if you are a quizzer - awesome stuff from Arul @al_lude Trivial pursuit

(I originally planned to just retweet it, then I  thought I should add a comment or two. One thought led to another and then all brevity eloped.)

Arul Mani's article makes excellent general points and confronts some dark aspects that most people would not admit in public. There are a number of spot-on observations on quizzers, quizzing communities and prevailing attitudes, including what's going to be called the quizzing asshole aphorism:

My own private test for the health of a quizzing community is to ask whether they have acquired a resident asshole. This creature is generally male, a petulant complainer, a hand-raiser, and a source of such constant irritation that all the others band together to ensure some general sanity. 

In a perverse way one, I  can only sympathize with the quizzer's need for recognition as a rockstar in a parallel universe where knowing the epitaph on Heisenberg's grave is actually 'cool':
Quizzers are at their entertaining best when they are overtaken by the need to write their own history. The Wikipedia page ‘Quizzing in India’ was initiated by a Pune-based quizzer as a bland list of quizzing activities in several Indian cities.

He continues further...
Despite the old and new, quizzing has had a very short history. There has been little organization or talk between communities across cities, but quizzers having read too many books are really quick to seize the opportunity to write their own mythologies and theories of supremacy of one city, or one system over another.

That has always been one of the chief attractions about quizzing - despite what anyone tells you - everyone wants to grab a slice of history and fame. To add a few more psychological-anthropological fundaes: Quizzing also being overwhelmingly male-dominated often descends into no-holds-barred nerd frat party, minus the booze. Male egos need histories to stand out as heroes. What's wrong with that?

The following also made me chuckle, Mr. Mani writes - "Some years ago, I discovered that the Pune quizzers liked to discuss questions, such as what makes for a good quiz, with pages of analysis and graphs – I spent several months wading through the stuff in repulsed fascination."  I  freely admit that we Pune quizzers tend to be masturbatory lot when it comes to theorizing. It did get out of hand a little while ago, but all that discussion was more in the speculative genre and the changes, or tweaks really, have been largely for the better. See the self-styled BCQC website for details. Note: BCQC people are Pune's leading quizzing fanatics (italics mine).

Nurturing a quiz team is one of the ways in which a business school can prove that their MBA packs muscle. Holding a quiz is the means by which folks in corporate employ can reassure themselves that they are knowledge-workers

There is hardly an 'old' quizzer who isn't lamenting with great nostalgia for the pure and distant past. I would argue to the contrary. TV shows and the popularity of  bad, often very bad MBA-style 'business quizzes' took quizzing to more places and to more people. If it hadn't been for these media circuses, place like my hometown Pune would not have been able to showcase the home-grown talent and for it to improve and compete with traditional powerhouses from Kolkata and Bangalore. Many, many years ago I had qualified for the National finals organized by Limca and Pune teams - Loyola and St. Vincent's (my team) took such a beating in the semis that we realized Pune's poor level of quizzing. I am very glad to note that this is no longer the case and  many local schools and open teams have had outstanding results at the national level.

The wrong kind of crowd who Mr. Mani wants to distance himself from is merely the price of democratization.  While the riff-raff and the occasional bad quizmaster who insists on using the Manorama Yearbook as a source of questions are still annoying,  I see a lot more decent quizzes and decent quizzers than before. People who really understand what a good question is and who appreciate the joy of 'working out' the answer. Mr. Mani rightly points out that the internet has been a boon to keep the nastier elements in line. On a more important note: the internet keeps people like me, part of the great quizzing diaspora connected.

Shooting an Elephant and other essays

Still reeling from the mastery of Orwell's essays: "Shooting and Elephant and other essays". That book is a masterpiece. The title piece is perhaps the most famous followed by "Politics and the English language", and "The Hanging" . There are what at first glance appear to be rather whimsical pieces such as "In Praise of the Common Toad" and "In Defense of English Cooking", but which are about much larger issues.

This quote by James Wood was particularly insightful:
So Orwell was contradictory: contradictions are what makes writers interesting, consistency is for cooking
James Wood essay on Orwell.

I found the copy gathering dust on one of the shelves at Manney's. Of course, no other bookstore in town had the book.

Half-finished love affair

Reading David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas which is since yesterday overdue at the library. I guess will pay the fines for a few days till I finish it. I was inspired by a quote from the book itself. In the Letters from Zedelghem the musician Robert Frobisher writes:

A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.
Guess I must end the love affair even it means a few days delay for the next person in queue.

Brilliant writing. Masterful in the way Mitchell controls the registers and tone of the different voices. There are many of them. More when I am done...

Picasso Museum in Barcelona: The Father of Man

New art faces much initial resistance and then is finally accepted. Once accepted, new art becomes great art. Then it spawn imitators, and then it becomes a cliche that makes its way onto posters and coffee mugs. Newer art must come to take its place. That is essentially the motivation of every artist that aspires for greatness. To see the same things in a different and original way. The more interesting question for me has always been: how does it get to being there? Meaning, how does an artist go from an apprentice to a truly great one? How does the unique vision come about? What propels the shift in perspective?

In a sense, after the first few Cubist paintings, the whole idea ceased to be original; it became a genre. There is much to be done in a genre, but the truly original artist creates one. If there is an epitome of a great artist meant then there is none other than Pablo Ruiz Picasso (Peter Schjeldahl wrote that Matisse and Picasso are still tied in overtime for that titleNew Yorker, June 26) Picasso is at once symbolic for art and artists in the 20th century, and also for what baffles people about modernism or abstract art.

My own experience with Picasso's work has run backwards. I first saw some of his masterpieces at the National Art Gallery in Mumbai as part of traveling exhibition hosted by the French government. It was mostly his later work. The next time I saw a Picasso was in Musee Picasso in Paris. This museum that is housed in magnificent mansion in Marais quarter and is the most extensive collection. The paintings were 'acquired' by the French government from the Picasso estate for unpaid taxes. The size and extent of the collection makes one wonder about the actual income if these were just the taxes! This museum contains the most representative of Picasso's paintings and sculptures. Portraits of his mistresses and lovers - Marie-Terese and Dora Maar, the bulls and the guitars.

The Picasso Museum in Barcelona which I last visited is an entirely different story. Of all the museums that I have seen this is perhaps the most accessible. Picasso who was born in 1872, and in his teenage years lived in Barcelona where is father was a teacher at the local art school. Another fact that the guidebooks and other sources never fail to mention is where Picasso lost his virginity to some local prostitute.

The museum was initially created from the personal collected of his sister and contains all his early work up to 1902. After that 1902, Picasso made a final move to France and never returned to Spain. There was no question after Franco assumed power to even visit Spain. Picasso the artist of the Left vowed never to return to Spain till Franco was alive. Unfortunately for Picasso and the rest of Spain, Franco outlived Picasso by two years. Picasso died in 1973. It was Picasso's intention that a musuem should be established in his hometown Barcelona.

Picasso famously remarked that he never drew like a child. "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child". I sometimes wondered if this was a boast. After visiting the museum, I know that it was not boast. The sketchbooks and paintings show that as teenager Picasso had mastered classical drawing and painting.

It was inevitable that he would quickly tire of the classic forms and move on to something new and different. He had nothing more to learn in terms of draftsmanship, or refine in terms of technique. If it wasn't Cubism, it would have been something else, that change was coming was inevitable.

Just like his contemporary Einstein, Picasso showed his genius early (before 1910) and then spent the rest of the next six decades refining that idea and chasing the idea of what art meant, what it represented, where it should go next. He went from highly stylized, imitative drawing to more basic forms in abstract geometry shapes, and then finally to drawing like a child. A few lines and dabs of color here and there.

The museum humanized Picasso. It shows the progression, the development, the wit, and the promise of great things yet to come. The creation of his later masterpieces - L'Demoiselles D'Avignon, Guernica, didn't just come about from thin air. Picasso the youth drew and sketched obsessively. He had more than 10,000 hours of practice drawing before he moved to Paris.

For all its fame and accessibility the Picasso Museum still come second for the title of the most visited museum in Barcelona. The most visited museum in Barcelona? F.C. Barcelona's museum in Camp Nou.

Experimental error

The forceps of our minds are clumsy forceps, and crush the truth a little in taking hold of it.
- H. G. Wells

The Original Ultralight Backpacker

When John Muir stepped into the Yosemite backcountry, biographer Amy Marquis noted he traveled alone, carrying "only a tin cup, a handful of tea, a loaf of bread, and a copy of Emerson." If you can keep your pack load that small, feel free to take along a favorite book. You deserve such a luxury.
For more advice:

Baby Profile Pics

There are way too many people putting baby pictures on their profile. What's up with that? I mean not pictures of babies created by themselves or by others, but their own pictures from decades ago.

I posed this question a little while ago on Twitter. In the spirit of full disclosure I mentioned that I was guilty of the same for a period of a few weeks and I received a many (un)helpful responses from friends and family.

These are the responses:
Javed Shaikh - Well you could answer that yourself then :)2:01 am
darshan parikh - whose ur baby man?6:25 am
Mifrah Abid - what's up with people who do something and wonder when others do it too? :P5:36 pm

I did it then thinking that it seemed to be the norm. For now I will talk about others and why they do it. As I thought of this more in light of the above comments, I made two observations:

a) It's usually, no almost exclusively guys who are doing this
b) They are not really baby pics, but toddler pics or pics from when they just started going to school.

I have put 2 + 2 together and this is my conclusion: Guys, despite appearances to the contrary, are pretty vain. They want to look good out there on the internet. You never know who is stalking or looking at your pics, right? I mean you can photoshop the hell out of your pics, or get a nice photographer to take a studio pic, but then that looks too staged and you can easily be found out.

Most guys my age are either in the process of balding or greying and don't think that adds much to their sex appeal. On the other side of this equation of balding, slightly pot-bellied males are the girls. Now, barring a few rare exceptions (I know a few myself) girls are naturally attracted to babies. If you placed Brad Pitt, or whoever is current-hunk-of-the-moment, and a pudgy baby dribbling all over itself in a white diaper, the baby will win the attention of the women around.

So, the smart guys have decided to show themselves at their appealing best by posting pics when they were babies, but still distinguishable as an individual. In one fell swoop, you solve all the problems plaguing your current face in the mirror.

Prelude Etude

@ T. S. Eliot

The frost on the windows accumulates
No feet yet sound in the passageways.
Six o'clock.
The chewed-out pens from thoughts.
And now out a notebook fall
The paper scraps
Printout arrayed across the floor
And cars arrive in vacant lots;
The sound of feet
On empty blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
The shop opens its doors to coffee smells.
And then the extinguishing of the lamps.

(October, 2009)

Note: This should have been posted months ago. Discovered this dog-eared page in my Drafts folder. Graduate student days are now distant, but night outs for the final push to get the paper out of the door aren't.

Free lunch?

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.
- Orson Welles

Playlist on the 19th of May from WEMU

This was one of the best hours of music on WEMU. Really obscure selections, but they worked so well together. Now, I have to track them down.

  • One More Thad's Pad Music Of Thad Jones IPO 11:07:04AM
  • Sheryl Bailey With The Three Rivers Jazz Orchestra Carenia A New Promise MCG JAZZ 11:11:53AM
  • Suzy Bogguss Chain Lover Sweet Danger LDR 11:21:14AM
  • Madeleine Peyroux I'm All Right Half The Perfect World ROUNDER 11:24:03AM
  • Steve Cardenas The Horse You Rode In On West Of Middle PALMETTO 11:27:25AM
  • Charlie Hunter Ode To My Honda Odyssey Gentlemen, I Neglected To Inform You, You Will Not Be Getting Paid SPIRE ARTISTS MEDIA 11:31:10AM
  • Thornetta Davis That's A Pretty Good Love Thornetta Davis Covered Live At The Music Menu LADY T 11:34:56AM
  • Ella Fitzgerald With The Duke Ellington Orchestra Cottontail Ella Fitzgerald: The Concert Years (Disc 1) PABLO 11:41:22AM
  • Anat Cohen What A Little Moonlight Can Do Clarinetwork: Live At The Village Vanguard ANZIC 11:46:43AM
  • Hot Club Of Detroit For Stephane It's About That Time MACK AVENUE 11:54:02AM

Underground Gourmet

Was at the Subway yesterday, and it was a bit too busy for a Sunday afternoon. Those of your who know me, I feel that I am sinning each time I step into a fast-food joint. According to some of my friends, Subway being healthy does not even count as a 'fast-food' restaurant.

I was standing there waiting to order my Veggie delight with 'everything' (why not?) and there was this guy deliberating over his 'choices'. I found it rather amusing that he had a particular preference of a "Don't want it toasted. Put a few onions, tomatoes, no pickle", and "Please put some more dressing on the side of the sandwich". Then the guy after him in the line, was also equally demanding. I was standing there wondering if I was doing something wrong ordering everything.

What's going to kill me is to see a MacDonald's gourmet. I guess we can pick our poison. Me? I'll have everything!

Soccer or football?

It’s called “football” because you KICK THE BALL WITH YOUR FEET.

The above was a comment made on The World website on the Language of Soccer.

Americans call the English usage of football jargon as snobbery. The English look down on the American-style of soccer lacking finesse and players being just 'hunks of meat'. It does go beyond just the language. It's about a cultural class between Europe and America. A stereotypical European view is to see Americans as loud, lacking taste and dressing badly. In America, soccer is considered mostly a sport for women. It's no small wonder that the Americans have dominated the women's game. In American, real men play football.

America has a long way to go before it gets being a dominant world power in football, so till that happens I think it's fair to call it football.

Humor as a sign of maturity

I thought it applied only to individuals, but the Economist extends the view for countries too,

"Self-deprecating humour is the ultimate sign of emotional and political maturity, just as a rabid prickliness is typically a sign of unresolved complexes about superiority, inferiority, and lack of attention from the outside world."
From the Economist: Eastern Approaches

Simple Pleasures

I remarked to some of my friends the other day that one of the greatest pleasures in life is to shave with a nice new razor, warm water and lots of foam. I was told, "I am too easily pleased". Yes, perhaps. Tony Hoagland has news for you.

I Have News For You



Do you see that creamy, lemon-yellow moon?
There are some people, unlike me and you,

who do not yearn after fame or love or quantities of money as
unattainable as that moon;
thus, they do not later
have to waste more time
defaming the object of their former ardor.

Or consequently run and crucify themselves
in some solitary midnight Starbucks Golgotha.

I have news for you—
there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room

and open a window to let the sweet breeze in
and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies.

- Tony Hoagland

Why they went

from Why They Went
by Elizabeth Bradfield

that men might learn what the world is like at the spot where the sun does not decline in the heavens.

—Apsley Cherry-Garrard


That all we had to do was show up.

The sun rolled along the horizon. The light never left them.
The air from their warm mouths became diamonds.
And they longed for everything they did not have.
And they came home and longed again.

The Prime of Mr. Hirak Parikh

At exactly 2245 EST, which is 0815 IST, the digits on my clock will flip. No ordinary flip this one. Thirty rotations round the sun to be exact. In a sense it's just another day, right? That was pretty much the whole point of James Joyce's Ulysses (He did take his time to describe it though). The beauty of an ordinary day. Unlike Stephen Daedalus, I am trying to confront the possibility of an extraordinary day.

But why 30? Technically speaking it's the 30th anniversary, but my 31st birthday (0-based counting rocks!). On some level, it's special, though in terms of other units of time counted it's rather quotidian -
* it is 10,956 days, 15 hours, 45 minutes and 0 seconds or
* 29 years, 11 months, 29 days, 15 hours, 45 minutes
* 946,655,100 seconds
* 15,777,585 minutes
* 262,959 hours (rounded down)
* 1565 weeks (rounded down)

Then again, in term of SI units - another day to celebrate is 1E9 seconds on the planet which is about 31.6887646 years. So, somewhere in February 2012? For most people their billionth second on earth passes by in an instant, without fanfare or even the slightest notice. Given that our lives revolve on the order of days, this significant moment just passes by. I can take solace in the fact, that I am not that old, yet!

Still 30 is unique not because it signals the end of the 20s, or the end of my salad days, but for a curious fact that '30' is the largest possible product of first few consecutive primes.

The next possible combination is 1x2x3x5x7=210 which seems out of the realm of human longevity.

I take this as divine sign from the God of Numbers that this year is the prime(s) of my life. So the BIG '3 and 0' is really an important marker.

Goodbye 20s, Welcome Hirak 3.0.

Bad news: More grey hair
Good news: We are out of beta. Way, way out of beta...

Slowing Time

From ee cumming's 9

there are so many tictoc
clocks everywhere telling people
what toctic time it is for
tictic instance five toc minutes toc
past six tic

Top of a Monday morning and I get this poem in my inbox. Like most ee cummings (with him one is never quite sure of the orthography) poems, the real subject of the poem is always something else. Words and kisses are inserted like punctuation marks, making us re-read the lines again. Time slows. The tics and tocs in our head slow down. Then after reading the poem a third time it all makes sense: Who speaks in full sentences while kissing? And doesn't time slow down when you kiss?
because tic clocks toc don't make
a toctic difference
to kisskiss you and to
kiss me

On using unusual words

From an article dating back to 1986.
William F. Buckley on big words
He wrote this in response an editor's reasoning for his use of big words
I thought you use foreign words and phrases in your column because (1) you like to show off, and (2) you take delight in irritating people.

His reasoning is somewhat specious, but I have to hand it to him for a wonderful analogy. Augmented C 11th with a raised 9th.

But why should a syndicated columnist use the word? I can hear Mr. Williams re-asking. Well, not, really, just to show off - one doesn't ''show off'' one's workaday equipment. You see, that word, and a hundred or so others, are a part of my working vocabulary, even as a C augmented 11th chord with a raised 9th can be said to be an operative resource of the performing jazz pianist.

Are we now closing in on the question, by using the exclusivist word, ''performing?''

Yes, in a way we are, I suppose. Because just as the discriminating ear greets gladly the C augmented 11th when just the right harmonic moment has come for it, so the fastidious eye encounters happily the word that says exactly what the writer wished not only said but conveyed, the writer here defined as a performing writer sensitive to cadence, variety, marksmanship, accent, nuance and drama. WHAT of the reader who misses the refinement? Well, what of the listener deaf to the special reach of the C augmented 11th?

That reader has the usual choices: he can ignore the word; attempt, from the context, to divine its meaning precisely or roughly (not hard, in the narrative above, on Professor Weiss's liberal politics); or he can look it up. Are these alternatives an imposition? Yes, if the newspaper's feature that day is on how to treat a rattlesnake bite. You would not instruct the reader to fight the poison a outrance.

Burning bridges

We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.
- Tom Stoppard

Where turkeys in Turkey come from

In Elif Batuman's article on a Turkish chef who is reviving authentic Turkish cuisine I came across a seemingly unbelievable fact:In Turkey, a turkey is called 'hindi'. These birds are quite a part of Turkish culinary culture and they are usually eaten on New Year's eve. Much like in France you don't order French fries but pommes frites, I did suspect that in Turkey they don't call the turkey 'turkey'. But 'hindi'?!

Knowing how maddening it is to hear the confusion between Hindu and Hindi, I suspected for a moment that the Turks meant something else. I had this checked with my Turkish friend. This was her response:

"Hindistan is the name of the country India in Turkish! And the name of the bird does actually come from the name of the country, as the latter used the be called “the bird from India” or something like that. The word Hindi, however, is no longer used to refer to Indians (perhaps because of its use as a bird name). Now we have the word Hintli, which means “Indian”. So hindi is only part of the name of the country today. "
So, turkeys are from India or thought to be so by the Turks at least. I really doubt that I ever saw a turkey in India and, if my memory serves me right, Salim Ali's masterwork The Book of Indian Birds" has no mention of turkeys of any kind (but this I need to check). So, if turkeys are not from Turkey, and unlikely to be from India, where is this bird from? The Wikipedia article is not terribly clear on the Turkey-India connection to the etymology either(I checked). The article seemed to suggest a perverse perpetration of the mistaken Columbian idea that America was really India.

If indeed the turkey is from India then this goes in way of things that the lands in the Middle East get credit for the things that we, the people of India really should. The kinda of logic that led to OUR numbers being called Arabic numbers, and that Gypsies are from India and not Egypt.

Yet, I would prefer calling the turkey a 'turkey' and not a 'hindi'. It's a battle well lost than won. Imagine Thanksgiving and people here trying to roast a 'hindu'? No, thanks!

From: NPR Story: Why A Turkey Is Called A Turkey
And just to keep this ball rolling…all over the world, people now can eat American Turkeys, but they don't call them Turkeys.

Across Arabia, they call our bird "diiq Hindi," or the "Indian rooster."
In Russia, it's "Indjushka," bird of India.
In Poland, "Inyczka"— again "bird from India."
And what, we wondered, do the Turks call our turkey?
Well, they call it "Hindi," again, short for India.

It's just not the Turks, but anyone East of the Indus. Mis-labeling of food. An age-old practice.


A few years ago, the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) installed automatic check-out machines that scan the barcode, demagnetize your books, inform you about your holds. They have six of these machines and there is no waiting at the checkout desk. The only reason to go to the desk is to pay fines in cash, or for some other unusual request. For almost all transactions, you don't really have to talk to any librarian.

This system has another benefit other than efficiency and speed, an unintended consequence that I wouldn't have realised until I met this girl at a party. She said,
"I really like the AADL system. Now, I can check out books that I am embarrassed to check out in front of a real person".
"Are these dirty books or something?"
"Oh, no, no! These are just what my brother calls trashy mystery novels. I feel now I can check them out without being judged."

There are people who don't read and those who do. Any two non-readers are more alike, than any two readers. There is the John Grisham reader and a reader of Kafka and Murakami. High-brow, low-brow and a sometimes a mix of both. I (like others) always sneak a peak at people in the queue and their book choices and attempt to form some sort of opinion of them. "Oh! so you are the kind of person who reads ABC and hence you must XYZ". And yes, it is true librarians DO look at your book choices. I have many an interesting discussion at the checkout desk. I guess they are polite enough to keep their mouths shut in case they disagree with your choice of reading material.

"I just checked out a whole bunch of books" the girl said with a huge smile on her face.

Now she could read what she wanted to, the judgement of others is suspended. Anonymity allows us sometimes to be what we are not, and sometimes it helps us be who we really are.


NPR: Woods Nears Crucible of Masters

"Superintelligent people can't be good athletes," Coach McGuire said. "They're too aware."

And if there is one thing we have learned about Woods, it is what little awareness he possesses — otherwise, please, sir, explain all those guileless text messages. Rusty he may be at Augusta, but why should we think self-consciousness will hinder him?
When we think of great athletes we think of determination, dedication and focus. The greatest among the great are the ones who can shut everything out, banish the yips, and make the clutch shots. The greatest perform their best under the greatest pressure. They come up the impossible strokes, shots, kicks, and putts in improbably ways that puts rest any doubts to their genius.

James Surowiecki in the New Yorker(Branded a Cheat) pointed out a subtler difference in the case of Tiger Woods as compared to troubles of Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez. He writes, "Woods’s appeal was based, ultimately, not on his physical abilities but on his mental toughness, his extraordinary capacity for focus and discipline". No wonder consulting companies like Accenture wanted Woods to endorse their brand. Woods might have tougher time in his second act because his lack of responsibility contradicts his greatest perceived gifts.

While there may be ups and downs in financial incentives for Tiger, the fact still remains that the public is hungry for more of Tiger Woods on the golf course. For his part, Tiger knows nothing better than how to hit a golf ball. There are so questions on how he will perform in light of all these scandals. I think it will not make any difference. The greatest can compartmentalize things and focus to a degree that we cannot imagine. Clearly, they aren't the deepest thinkers or the most reflective people. Such a quality hinders the ability to brush off a bad putt, or a missed stroke to affect subsequent plays. I am positive that the moment that Tiger lines up his shot on the first hole in Augusta, that's all he's going to be thinking of.
The rest of the hoopla is created for our entertainment cause we think so much. And because we think so much we end up in the stands applauding.

The NPR story ended thus:
With celebrities — which is what athletes have become — sex is just so noisy now, and for us, in this culture, no matter how many more championships Woods wins, he'll always remain, in the fullest sense of the phrase, a sex symbol.

Wrong Time to..

There is a story written by Mark Twain about how he once met an assessor. He started telling the man about his salary, first modestly and then more boastfully. The man happened to be an income-tax assessor and Twain's boasts actually ended up costing him more in taxes than in the admiration of the man at the end of their conversation.

I ended up talking about my raise in salary, in the most non-specific and vague terms in context of something else in front of some friends. No numbers or details were mentioned except that it had increased. You can do that in front of friends, but NEVER in front of a car dealer (even if that person is the friend's mother). She picked up on that tiny detail like a hound picks a scent and started selling me a car. In the span of 30 seconds, the mother who was narrating ski stories of her children went into total business mode. It was surprising and extremely funny to see the transformation. I was eligible for this discount and that and it would only cost me a few hundred a month, etc.

I tried to tell her that I was not a car guy, and I was not even looking to get a new one. No amount of discounts or features would convince me to consider her deals. It didn't seem to work. What saved me from her advances was something that I thought wouldn't count as a reason.

She asked me, "What do you drive now?"
"I drive a silver-grey Honda Civic."
She grew suddenly quiet after that.

Nothing you say speaks as loudly as the fact that you have a Honda, a Civic and which is silver-grey. This simple fact can totally convince a car dealer that you are NOT a car guy! You treat a car as a reliable means of transportation and there is no point wasting breath trying to sell a Cadillac! Yeah, she was trying to sell me a Cadillac.