Sunday, December 24, 2006

why are the germans considered humorless?

This (whole article here) seems like an insightful paragraph:
I think that the British prejudice about Germany’s supposed humour famine stems from the fact that there is no German tradition of daily banter. In London you can hear a dozen wisecracks in a day — at work or on the bus or in the coffee shop. They may be lame, but at least they’re quick. In Germany, humour is stockaded, kept apart from everyday life. In the evenings Harald Schmidt, a genuinely funny talk-show host, will crack their sides. But only after dinner has been eaten, the plates rinsed and the yoghurt pots washed, ready for recycling. In the office next day people will repeat Schmidt’s gags and they will laugh again. However, they will fail to spot the inherent absurdities of their own office life.

Friday, December 15, 2006

heh! this is funny...

New Republic reporter Mike Crowley wrote a profile of Michael Crichton for an issue of TNR in March this year. Apparently, Crichton didn't like it -- and guess how he responded? Well, in his latest novel Next, Crichton has a character, "Mick Crowley", who -- well, I'll simply quote the passage:
Alex Burnet was in the middle of the most difficult trial of her career, a rape case involving the sexual assault of a two-year-old boy in Malibu. The defendant, thirty-year-old Mick Crowley, was a Washington-based political columnist who was visiting his sister-in-law when he experienced an overwhelming urge to have anal sex with her young son, still in diapers. Crowley was a wealthy, spoiled Yale graduate and heir to a pharmaceutical fortune. ...

It turned out Crowley's taste in love objects was well known in Washington, but [his lawyer]--as was his custom--tried the case vigorously in the press months before the trial, repeatedly characterizing Alex and the child's mother as "fantasizing feminist fundamentalists" who had made up the whole thing from "their sick, twisted imaginations." This, despite a well-documented hospital examination of the child. (Crowley's penis was small, but he had still caused significant tears to the toddler's rectum.)
LOL. So not only does Mick Crowley sodomize two-year old boys, he also has a small penis. Isn't that funny? Like a double-sledgehammer? You could imagine Crichton going, ok, what's the worst I can do to Crowley? A child-molester, aah, yes. Of a two-year old. Yessss. But surely, nothing could be more damaging to a man than the size of his penis?

Gawd, I've only read one Crichton novel in my life (Airframe, and it wasn't too bad) but I sure as hell feel like reading him after this. The guy is just awesome!

Janet Maslin's review of Next here.

UPDATE: I read the Crowley profile and I must say, it's not the most flattering. But I was surprised at how nakedly polemical Crichton's books have been. Rising Sun, I'm told, actually played into the paranoia in the US in the early 90s about Japan's evil intentions (I once saw the beginning of that movie, but couldn't watch beyond a few minutes). Airframe, which I have read has caustic comments on the media, Disclosure was a perverse take on feminism and sexual harassment and of course, everyone knows about State of Fear and global warming. Here's Crowley:

You can read these books in search of an ideology, but you won't find a distinct one. Clearly, Crichton is no liberal (although he argues that one of his earliest books, A Case of Need, did have a pro-abortion rights message). But a free-market conservative wouldn't write an essentially protectionist book like Rising Sun, either. What Crichton's worldview really amounts to is a kind of hectoring contrarianism that is increasingly targeted at America's know-it-alls, against the liberal elites, against the very type of expertise that had given him his professional cachet. And that worldview has reached its bitter, frothing apex with State of Fear.

Anti-expert, is what Crichton is. That does make a twisted kind of sense. But more on that, some other time.

Monday, December 11, 2006

grandidose thoughts...

I love the way Daniel Dennett patiently chides Marvin Minsky in this exchange:

Why is the idea of a thinking machine so compelling?
I think there is a worldwide survival problem. As the population grows and people live longer, there won't be anybody to do the work. So there is an urgent need to make inexpensive mechanical people that are able to do all the things that moderately unskilled people do now.
Dennett: I don't find that very convincing, Marvin. I think we're interested in it for purely curious, scientific reasons. We want to know how we work.

Monday, December 04, 2006

namesake alert!

Shit! -- after all these years of searching -- I have a namesake!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

specters of marx

Via Brad Delong's blog:

The Five Karl Marxes:

Communist revolution is necessary and inevitable because...

The Technology Marx: is not a complement to but a substitute for labor, and so technological progress and capital accumulation that raise average labor productivity also lower the working-class wage. Hence the market system cannot and will be seen to be unable to deliver the good society we all deserve, and it will be overthrown.

The Market Extent Marx: ...businessmen continually extend the domain of captalism, and competition from poor workers in newly-incorporated peripheral regions puts a lid on the wages of labor. Hence inequality grows in the core, and triggers revolution.

The Unveiling Marx: ...previous systems of hierarchy and domination maintained control by hypnotizing the poor into believing that the rich in some sense "deserved" their high seats in the temple of civilization. Capitalism unveils all--replaces masked exploitation by naked exploitation--and without its ideological legitimation, unequal class society cannot survive.

The Ideology Marx: ...although the ruling class could appease the working class by sharing the fruits of economic growth, they will not. They are trapped by their own ideological legitimation--they really do believe that it is in some sense "unjust" for a factor of production to earn more than its marginal product. Hence social democracy will inevitably collapse before an ideologically-based right-wing assault, income inequality will rise, and the system will be overthrown.

The Solidarity Marx: ...factory work--lots of people living in cities living alongside each other working alongside each other develop a sense of their common interest and of class solidarity, hence they will be able to organize, and revolt.

Who is the real Marx? Ah, grasshopper, not until you have learned not to ask that question will you be able to snatch the pebble from my hand...

That strikes me as a nice concise of summary of all the different aspects of Marx's work.

roald dahl is canonized!

The Everyman's Library has added another title: Roald Dahl's Collected Short Stories. (His stories for adults, his stories for children are justly famous).

The New York Times reviews it here.

The strange thing is, I never read Dahl as a child. (Dahl is not especially popular as a young adult writer in urban India; that would be Enid Blyton, yesh!). But his first book that I read was his collection of flying stories: Over to You. After the book had sat on my shelf for weeks, I took it out one day and started reading the first story in the collection. It was called "Death of an Old Old Man" and it starts with:

Oh God, how I am frightened.

From that beginning, Dahl constructs a furious, almost relentless, stream-of-consciousness monologue as a pilot on a dangerous flying mission It's giddy, vertiginous and very very real; it makes you feel breathless but it puts you right there in the cockpit with him, in him, as you worry about whether you yourself will ever make it through this flight.

But you don't have to take my word for it. has the whole monologue (it's about three pages) in its Excerpt of the book: go check it out.

After this, as they say, I was hooked. Well, a bunch of us were pretty fixated with Dahl in my undergrad years -- we analyzed his stories to death.

PS: for the funniest -- well, one is tragic -- stories about sex, check out Dahl's collection: Switch Bitch.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

parition again

In this New Yorker piece, George Packer quotes the Democrat John Murtha saying:
Also last week, on National Public Radio, Representative John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who was an early supporter of withdrawal, casually offered that, if Iraq were to fall apart in the wake of an American departure, “I don’t think it’ll be any worse” than the partition of the Indian subcontinent.
Hello, Partition claimed more than a million lives. And that's "worse" than what's going to happen in Iraq? If so, anything "better" than it would still be bad indeed. Representative Murtha has strange standards.

But then Packer himself makes another mistake:
A million people are estimated to have died in 1947 during the movement of Muslims and Hindus across the newly drawn India-Pakistan border. Sixty years and several wars later, the two countries confront each other in a nuclear standoff, trade charges of subversion, and periodically exchange fire in the Kashmiri Himalayas.
The deaths apart, this somehow seems to imply that had there not been a partition, we wouldn't be facing these problems. But then what exactly would we be facing? As history makes clear, Partition could only have been avoided by making Simla Agreement-style concessions. An earlier plan proposed by the Cripps Cabinet Mission was that India would remain united but the provinces would have something almost like complete autonomy. The central government would be weak and would only deal with issues of defence and foreign policy. More than that, it suggested that provinces in India be grouped closely on religious lines, particularly the Muslim-majority ones. The poisonous notion of separate electorates was also to stay. Narhar Kurundkar compares this arrangement to the Edict of Nantes : a pact that was so structurally crippled that it could never hold.

This was not a model of India that anyone in the Congress could ever entertain. A weak central government, autonomous religion-based provinces, separate electorates: these would all lead to a state within a state and a sure recipe for a bloody civil war in India. A civil war, that perhaps, would make the humanitarian disaster of Partition seem like nothing. It might make our current conflicts with Pakistan seem like nothing. In 1947 a united India could only mean a country that was seriously crippled by an unworkable political arrangement with a very good possibility of succumbing to chaos. Darfur or Rwanda, anyone?

Partition was ultimately a pragmatic choice. The violence that erupted and the millions that died can't be forgotten but the kind of India that arose, with a strong central government, no separate electorates with no Muslim-majority provinces was something that allowed us to focus on the task at hand: India's development and a decent standard of life for its citizens.

signing off an email

The blogs have been chattering about this article in the Times -- on whether the sign-off at the end of an email ("Best", "Regards", etc) indicates something more. For instance, could "Best" be reasonably interpreted to mean "I'm though with you, go to hell" or something like it? Just for myself, I've always thought "Best" to be rather cold-hearted and stand-offish.

Interesting, no?

Here's my favorite part of the article:

When Kim Bondy, a former CNN executive, e-mailed a suitor after a dinner date, she used one of her preferred closings: “Chat soon.” It was her way of saying, “The date went well, let’s do it again,” she said.

She may have been the only one who thought that. The return message closed with the dreaded “Best.” It left her feeling as though she had misread the evening. “I felt like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of formal. I don’t think he liked me,’ ” she said, laughing. “A chill came with the ‘Best.’ ” They have not gone out since.

Now I've always used "Later" to indicate that I'd like to continue the acquaintance -- but maybe, just maybe, it indicates the opposite?

"Cheers" has always seemed to me to be a nice neutral little word. But it doesn't come up in the New York Times piece at all!

Anyway, more discussion here and here. [Via Cognitive Daily].

Friday, December 01, 2006

i reserve judgement

New York magazine says that Julianne Moore sucks in her Broadway debut Vertical Hour.

I dunno, I'll reserve judgement until I see the play. I'm a big admirer of Moore's performances -- Far from Heaven, The End of the Affair, Vanya on 42nd St, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, A Map of the World -- and I've never watched Far from Heaven or The End of the Affair without a lump in my throat (and I've watched them many times). So yeah, I'll just see the damn play and decide for myself.

The play, from all accounts, seems to be another David Hare screed on Iraq. Oh well.

Ben Brantley of the New York Times says pretty much the same thing.

Well, I still reserve judgement.

jude law

This quote about Jude Law strikes me as pretty accurate:
And Jude Law -- what in God's name has happened to Jude Law? When he burst into movies a decade ago, playing a crippled, furious genetic superman in Gattaca, and then Dickie Greenleaf, the murdered golden boy in The Talented Mr. Ripley, he seemed like a throwback to an earlier era, when Hollywood stardom required an actor to be dazzling and deadly all at once. But the hint of danger he brought to those early roles has evaporated, leaving a callow charm that might seduce a giddy woman, but not an audience.
I watched parts of Gattaca again a few weeks ago and Law and Uma Thurman, between them, manage to literally stamp poor Ethan Hawke out.