Thursday, December 20, 2007

Perhaps watching television has its uses, after all

In the last five years (and the four years before that) I haven't had a television set. And perhaps, because of this, I've consumed most of my news about politics and ideas (and I consume a lot of that) via newspapers, magazines, and blogs. I do watch the moving image a lot -- but its mostly movies or music videos (yay, youtube!). But perhaps, because I like reading, I far prefer reading about them (or reading them) to actually watching or listening to them -- I find them far too theatrical.

I have been watching some television lately though. Why? I have been taking the cab to go home after work. And this means calling the cab company (they invariably take more than 20 minutes; but one can never be sure when they might be early), and then waiting in the lobby for the cab to come. This gives me my twenty minutes of daily television -- since there are two huge screens in the lobby, and its mostly the very annoying Chris Matthews doing his Hardball.

Yesterday though Matthews was interviewing John McCain. And its the first time I ever listened to McCain speak (I don't normally watch the debates -- I find them too theatrical). Now I've read lots of articles on McCain, from Jacob Weisberg's argument that he is a republican only in name, to Michael Kinsley's much more skeptical view of McCain's straight-from-the-hip style. But I'd never heard the man speak -- and when he did speak, I found myself warming to him -- and he is of course very different from George W. (perhaps this only means that Kinsley is right -- but I digress). And today, I read John Dickerson's piece on McCain in Slate (via Daniel Drezner):

In McCain's conversations with voters, I'm struck by the contrast between him and Barack Obama. I have covered Barack Obama more than John McCain this campaign. Obama tells audiences he's going to tell them uncomfortable truths, but he barely does it. McCain, on the other hand, seems to go out of his way to tell people things they don't like, on issues from immigration to global warming.

Midway through the questioning period in Weare, N.H., a man stood to ask why McCain and other public officials weren't standing up to defend the military against attacks from the media. "You talk about torture," the man said, before cataloging what he saw as unfair attacks on soldiers accused of atrocities in Iraq. He continued, arguing that soldiers worried about getting prosecuted or tried in the press would become hesitant, and that would get them killed.

The proper candidate response was to agree and praise the fighting men and women. That would win the man's vote and pick up an easy round of applause from the room. Instead, McCain argued that "the unique thing about America is we hold our [soldiers] accountable." McCain saw that the man wasn't swayed and asked him to speak again. He did so at length, suggesting that McCain wasn't putting the interest of the soldiers first.

McCain had a trump card: His son is a Marine on the ground in Iraq. So he could easily prove that he cares about the welfare of the grunts. But he didn't mention his son (he almost never does). Instead, he argued that the soldiers could handle the press coverage and the scrutiny of the justice system. As he finished, a young man stood up. "I am one of those serving, and I don't think I'm being hindered by anybody. We need to finish the job. That's why I'm still serving, and that's why I believe in this country, and that's why I'm supporting Sen. McCain." The room went bonkers. McCain was smart enough to end the town hall there. Better than playing a trump card yourself is when somebody else plays it for you.

All of which makes me think: Are we unfair to the telly after all? Does only reading about politics and politicians (rather, than listening to them, or watching them) in some way, diminish my capacity for political judgment? I'm uncomfortable with the idea of voting for a candidate because I like the way he talks but maybe that's also because I'm making too much of the reason/emotion distinction?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Peter Jackson is going to direct Tintin!

Here, I was, reading about the tiresome soon-to-be-made (I'm tired of the squabbles, I mean, the movie itself, I look forward to) The Hobbit, when I came across this snippet:
Though Sam Raimi has stated his interest, it is unclear who will direct the two Hobbit movies, but Mr. Jackson will not. Mr. Jackson and his producing and writing partners, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, are committed to making “The Lovely Bones” through 2008 and then he is directing “Tintin,” based on the Belgian comic strip, for Steven Spielberg.
Peter Jackson is going to direct Tintin????? Oh, I've never been happier!

UPDATE: Quick googling revealed that there are going to be three movies, one directed by Jackson, the other by Spielberg. The director of the third movie has not been revealed. Now I wonder which Tintin stories they will choose ...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why Mike Huckabee's rise pleases me

[Note: This is a slightly more coherent, more theoretical version of my previous post on Mike Huckabee]

This New York Times Magazine profile of Mike Huckabee has been understandably causing a buzz, although, as Ross points out, for all the wrong reasons. And yet, and yet, I have to admit that reading the profile caused me, in a strange way, to warm to Huckabee, if only because, there's something rather ... democratic about his rise.

Ross defends Huckabee's qualifications for the job but is rightfully annoyed that Huckabee hasn't prepared himself for what is after all his moment in the spotlight. After all isn't it Huckabee's duty to seriously apply himself to the study of all that he is deficient in (foreign policy, economics, the whole jazz) especially, now, when it seems like he could win the Republican nomination? Matt Yglesias says the same here.

So why did I end up feeling good about the Huckabee phenomenon? Especially after reading the NYT profile?

Let me explain. In a democratic society, every adult is eligible to vote. The key point however is that every adult is also eligible for political office -- no qualifications are required, anyone can stand for elections. In contrast to other professions (say medicine, or the law) where a credential is required, there is no credentialing in politics. There are no formal qualifications either; we don't expect our politicians to be political theorists or policy analysts. All we ask of them is that they be electable -- if I can win elections, I'm qualified.

But as societies grow more and more complicated, politics itself has become professionalized. To govern complex societies like ours, we want our politicians to be competent and more than that, as per the capitalist ethos, we want them to be motivated by other things beyond public service; we want them to be paid for their hard work. Once they've gotten elected, we ask of them what we ask of any other "professional": that they work hard, that they do their best. What this means is that politics no longer remains a hobby. I can no longer dabble in politics (except may be as a consumer); to stand for elections I need to devote myself to it full time. In time, a lot of actual professions -- that require qualifications and credentials both -- have grown around politics: there are lobbyists, publicists, pollsters, speech writers, all in addition to the media that covers politics (print, television, radio).

That politics is a profession (albeit one without qualifications) is as it should be but it comes at a price. The price is that in order to stand for office -- to , in other words, participate in politics -- one needs a fair amount of acumen. One needs to be able to deal with interest groups and lobbyists, one needs to be able to work the media, one needs to have a substantial amount of funds and oh so much more. So if I were to decide tomorrow to stand for office, it would take me a long while to be able to understand how it all works and even then I'll probably never manage to have enough money to strike out on my own. (The amount of money required to stand for political office is of course, the prime reason why some folks want campaign finance laws but then that's a story for another day). To an outsider, the world of politics is a forbidding world -- and very very hard to get into.

And a look at the contenders for 2008 proves the point. All of them, Republican or Democrat, have huge amounts of funds at their disposal (Romney, Clinton), have a well-oiled political machinery at their disposal (Clinton), were born, so to speak, with silver spoons in their mouths (Romney) and all of them radiate a kind of confidence that they can chart choppy political maneuvering (dealing with lobbyists, big business, unions, big donors, what-have-you) with ease. I

And then there's Mike Huckabee. He seems to have achieved his lead in the Republican nomination despite being the complete opposite of what a Washington insider should be. The guy travels commercially, has no advisers, no funds, no well-oiled machinery, seems to have had no success in getting endorsements, and isn't walled off behind a battery of people who claim to speak for him. And he's leading the Republican nomination! I don't know about you, but I find his rise strangely appealing -- very... there's no other word I can think of ... democratic.

UPDATE: According to Ross Douthat, I have a case of Huckenfreude:
Huckenfreude (n): Pleasure derived from the outrage of prominent conservative pundits over the rising poll numbers of Mike Huckabee. Particularly sharp when the pundits in question are partisans of Rudy Giuliani, but extends to supporters of Mitt Romney as well. Usually experienced by evangelicals, crunchy cons, populists, and other un-airbrushed elements of the conservative coalition. Tends to coexist with an awareness that Huckabee isn't actually ready for prime time, and that his ascendancy may ultimately do their various causes more harm than good.

Mike Hukabee seems ... democratic!

This New York Times Magazine profile of Mike Huckabee has been understandably causing a buzz, although, as Ross points out, for all the wrong reasons. And yet, and yet, I have to admit that reading the profile caused me, in a strange way, to warm to Huckabee, if only because, the guy is so ... democratic.

Let me explain. The 2008 US election is populated with candidates, who have huge amounts of funds at their disposal (Romney, Clinton), who have a well-oiled political machinery at their disposal (Clinton), who were born, so to speak, with silver spoons in their mouths (Romney) and all of them radiate a kind of confidence that they can chart choppy political maneuvering (dealing with lobbyists, big business, unions, big donors, what-have-you) with ease. From a democratic standpoint, this is as it should be -- yet to someone like me, far away from Washington insiderism (like most people, I suspect) it is also a forbidding world, a world that I, for instance, were I to decide to stand for office tomorrow, would be utterly at sea in.

And this is Mike Huckabee's strongest point. He seems to have achieved his lead in the Republican nomination (at least in Iowa) despite being the complete opposite of what a Washington insider should be. The guy travels commercially, has no advisers, no funds, no well-oiled machinery, seems to have had no success in getting endorsements, and isn't walled off behind a battery of people who claim to speak for him. And he's leading the Republican nomination! I don't know about you, but I find that strangely appealing -- very... there's no other word I can think of ... democratic.

That doesn't mean that, like all pretentious people who think they understand policy, I don't wince when Huckabee talks and I agree in principle that the last thing America needs is another undisciplined, uninformed President. But there's a substantial difference between George W. and Huckabee. For one, Huckabee doesn't seem to project that sense of entitlement that is so infuriating about George W; more than that, like most self-made men, he seems very aware of his own inadequacies, again, unlike, George W (check out Huckabee's answer to what portfolios he is most qualified for). Most important, he has the right idea that a good President needs to surround himself with good advisors (only problem: he doesn't have any advisers yet!).

Monday, November 05, 2007

Great essay on Jodie Foster

I mentioned once in passing that I heartily dislike Manohla Dargis' film reviews, hating what I called their sneering tone and all-round condescension. That dislike hasn't changed -- not yet -- but reading her great profile of Jodie Foster reminds me of why I still read -- or at least, skim -- every piece that she writes.

The piece captures, I think, that most striking Jodie Foster quality: her elusiveness. And it touches on, at the end, her striking choice of roles in the past few years, culminating this year, in The Brave One, a Death Wish-style vigilante movie* about a woman avenging the death of her boyfriend:
As she’s gotten older, she seems to have embraced the hardness for which she has sometimes been criticized. In recent years, she’s played several ferocious single mothers (“Panic Room,” “Flightplan”), a high-powered fixer in nosebleed heels (“Inside Man”) and even a one-legged nun (“The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys”). In “The Brave One,” she packs a gun and redeems the haunting child, the victim, who caused her so much pain. She has become the avenging angel of her own past.
Interestingly the essay makes no mention of Flora Plum, Foster's abortive third directorial venture, that was supposed to star Claire Danes and Russell Crowe (with whom Foster was reportedly having an affair and who was later replaced by Ewan Mcgregor) that has now been officially shelved (it's dissapeared from imdb!!)

*David Edelstein comments:
What could impel Jodie Foster and director Neil Jordan to whisk us back to the bad old days of Death Wish and Ms. 45? Were their credit cards maxed out? Were their kneecaps about to be broken? ... You probably think I’m oversimplifying—that Foster and Jordan are too thoughtful, artistically ambitious, and politically progressive to make a movie that would have Bernie Goetz rolling his eyes. But Foster’s feminist victimization complex seems to be looping around to meet Nixon and Agnew. Next she’ll be hunting Commies for the FBI.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Paragraph of the day

There is another reason why David Edelstein is my favorite movie critic (other than the fact that he writes passionate reviews that I generally agree with) ... and it's because he manages to effortlessly slip in paragraphs like this:
Given its one-joke premise, Lars and the Real Girl goes on too long and repeats itself too often, but the writer, Nancy Oliver, and director, Craig Gillespie, are increasingly inventive in their use of Bianca—who “takes a job” and “reads” to children and gradually wins our affection. She has downcast eyes and a wide mouth made for blow jobs but with just the right hint of melancholy. I wish I could have pushed out of my mind all those horror movies in which delusional schizophrenics develop symbiotic relationships with inanimate objects and end up butchering the supporting cast. If you think you can, by all means see the movie. It’s a good thing for each of us, as movie lovers, to draw our own line between healthy and unhealthy fantasy.
From a review of Lars and the Real Girl.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sex and Causality

Via Brains, I came across an article in the NYT, written by John Tierney, about the different reasons for having sex.

For now, thanks to psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin, we can at last count the whys. After asking nearly 2,000 people why they'd had sex, the researchers have assembled and categorized a total of 237 reasons -- everything from ''I wanted to feel closer to God'' to ''I was drunk.'' They even found a few people who claimed to have been motivated by the desire to have a child.

The researchers, Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss, believe their list, published in the August issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, is the most thorough taxonomy of sexual motivation ever compiled. This seems entirely plausible.

Of course, the reasons are all post facto: reasons given by people after they've had sex, which probably means the little details get abstracted over.

My quibble though is about something else. "I wanted to feel closer to God" sounds like an entirely plausible reason to want to have sex. But "I was drunk"? Does drunken-ness have any causal power, besides the power to lower inhibitions? So if I was drunk and somehow ended up having sex, the implication is that if I had not been drunk, I would not have had sex. Or ~p->~q where p stands for "I was drunk" and q for "I had sex". And not p->q (I was drunk, so I had sex). Drunken-ness, it seems to me, cannot have any causal power, when it comes to sex. Sure, it may lower one's inhibitions, and therefore lead to sex but only in the presence of certain other causal factors such as "I wanted to do something interesting" or "I had a headache" or "I thought this was my best way of avoiding a hangover".

Monday, July 30, 2007

A short post on "No Reservations"

The romantic comedy "No Reservations" starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart is so inept that I wasn't even planning to write about it (mostly I plan to write about everything I see or read, and I never end up writing most of it) but a few reviews I've read so far have made me wonder whether, in fact, the critics and I were watching the same movie.

Robert Wilonsky, from the Voice, loved it ("the thing's so charming and frothy and delightful and sentimental and beautifully shot and well-acted and sincere that it takes a good couple of hours before you start craving real nourishment", he says), Matt Zoeller Seitz finds in it "emotional details" that are " surprising, honest and life-size" while Dana Stevens likes Abigail Breslin and thinks that she acted the pants off Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Me? I almost got my hopes up during the credits when I saw that in addition to Zeta-Jones and Eckhart, it has Patricia Clarkson and Brian F. O’Byrne. But the movie sucked. Big-time. Zeta Jones character is a chef, who loves her work, and therefore, in Hollywood, cut off from her emotional life; she's, in other words, frigid. All she needs now is a child and a man. The child she gets when her sister gets bumped off, and the man -- well, the man walks in to her kitchen and listens to arias. I don't mean to be hard on the plot -- good romantic comedies are like delicious ice-cream: they slide past the throat smoothly and leave you feeling all nice and good. "No Reservations", on the other hand, is tepid, meandering along, as if on auto-pilot. The movie is indeed, as Seitz points out, "factory-sealed" but in the worst possible way. It seems to have been written an directed by an autistic machine.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Thoughts on "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" (**Spoilers abound**)

Two things struck me as I finished the Deathly Hallows:

(1) That, after all that furore, I (and probably a good many other adults) had forgotten that the Harry Potter books are children's books (and I mean that in the most non-pejorative way possible). That Harry's story is a coming-of-age tale, a boy's trial by fire into adulthood; in other words, a bildungsroman. To her great credit, and as Deathly Hallows shows clearly, Rowling kept her head, refused to be a carried away by all the frenzy and wrote a conventional happy ending, an ending that is clearly going to disappoint many (present company included) but which is still true in spirit to the spirit of the series.

(2) And what perhaps distinguishes Harry Potter from other children's books (and here I may be mistaken since my knowledge of children's literature is admittedly sketchy) is that while, like other young protagonists, Harry is always in mortal danger, unlike them, he also grapples constantly with the idea of death and mortality. Rowling's very skillful incorporation of death as a theme into the books is, I think, its best aspect, and responsible for creating the series' most memorable scenes.

Let's take these points in that order.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is a fitting conventional (and again, in a completely non-pejorative sense) climax to a very enjoyable tale. A tale, that perhaps, because of its success, we all had started reading into much more than we should have. Will Harry die or won't he? Is Snape good or bad? All of these questions are answered -- Harry lives, Voldemort dies, and Snape turns out to be a good guy after all (which, for the record, I always wanted him to be), and the final battle against Voldmort takes place at Hogwarts, and all the characters, including, improbably, the pompous Percy Weasley, are reunited -- but these answers were preordained from the start. Why we all went into such a frenzy about them, why we thought they would resolve any differently, is a mystery, now that the saga is finally over.

Perhaps the turning point, the point in the story where Rowling could have taken it any way she wanted, occurs somewhere in the middle of the book. When the news that the Ministry of Magic has been taken over by Death Eaters reaches them, Harry, Ron and Hermione are forced to flee. Over the course of the next 150 pages or so, they tramp from one place to another, bickering, fighting, eating, arguing about where the horcruxes can be, trying to dispose of the one they have. There is a hint of a homage being paid to "The Lord of the Rings" here, since the the friends take turns hanging the horcrux-locket around their necks and it affects their disposition, particularly Ron's. After a furious dispute with Harry and Hermione -- the evil horcrux clearly has a hand in this -- Ron leaves them and Harry and Hermione are alone, and truly afraid. Ron has gone, there is very little possibility of his coming back; even if he wants to, he will not be able to find them.

This is where I experienced my first quickening of the senses. Rowling had already hinted that she was going to have to kill off a couple of major characters. With Ron gone, and the chances of their meeting again looking bleak, I thought it would be Ron. And perhaps, Ron's loss (and even death) would bring Harry and Hermione closer, with them probably even ending up together, since Ginny is pretty much out of the picture. (I thought Harry and Hermione would end up together from the first book, when Ron seemed more like a comic foil to Hermione's Miss know-it-all . Then when Ginny got this crush on Harry in Chamber of Secrets, I knew she was going to have a bigger role to play. I have to say I shouted out aloud when Harry kisses her in Half-Blood Prince. Perhaps I watch too many romantic potboilers.)

Whatever my thoughts at this juncture, Rowling punctured them abruptly. In an unconvincing deus ex machina, Ron returns, saving Harry, getting rid of the horcrux-locket (perhaps the one scene, where Ron's true insecurities come forth) and in the process, also revealing to the three friends that Dumbledore's gifts had a purpose. And Harry admits to Ron that he's missed him and that he thinks of Hermione as his sister (I have to admit I cringed at this). The friends are together again, and at that point I knew that the ending would be conventional -- that it would be Ron and Hermione, Harry and Ginny, with Voldemort dead and all being well (The last words of the books are indeed: "All was well."). What is the point of this interlude? I think Rowling wanted to spend some time (and wanted us to spend some time) with her three main protagonists, perhaps trying to illuminate their friendship, wanting, perhaps, to give us some time with them before the war against Voldemort consumed every theme in the book.

Which brings me to my only quibble with the book. Much has been written about Rowling's descriptions, about her ability to conjure up magical fantasias but I think Stephen King got it right in this review of Goblet of Fire. J. K. Rowling's greatest asset, the best feature of the Harry Potter books is, finally, plot. All the Harry Potter books are at heart, old-fashioned mystery stories, their skeletons similar to those polished whodunits that Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers wrote. In the beginning of the books, something happens, something very confusing. Harry and his friends investigate, and that something turns out to have been something else, which in turn, was caused by someone else. And so on and on and on. Perhaps because there is so much else in the Harry Potter books -- let's not forget that everyone here is a wizard or a witch -- this aspect of the books tends to be overlooked, sometimes even not noticed. The first four books were explicit whodunits, with the Prisioner of Azkaban having the most elegant ending, and Goblet of Fire the most spectacular one.

But Rowling has something else going for her -- her long-term attention to details. Clearly she has thought about the plot long and hard. Which is why sometimes throwaway details from earlier books turn out to be significant plot developments. This was particularly evident in Half-Blood Prince, where Rowling gradually revealed facets of Lord Voldemort -- I, for one, was delighted when Tom Riddle's diary from Chamber of Secrets -- a book whose plot always seemed out-of-sync with the rest of the books -- turned out to be a horcrux. Tom Riddle, who appeared out of the blue in the second book, became a much more grounded character in Half-Blood Prince and his transformation into Lord Voldemort was the most fascinating part of the sixth book.

I am of the opinion that this attention to details is overdone in the final installment. Far too much depends on recalling minute parts of the sixth book: the location of the final horcrux (although this part is hardly important in the scheme of things; and even its destruction happens off the pages), the revelations of Harry's ancestry, the importance of Godric's Hollow, the machinations about the ownership of Dumbledore's wand. But perhaps the weakest point of the seventh book are its battle scenes. I've always found the wizarding duels way too unconvincing with everyone going around shouting "Expelliramus" or "Crucio" or "Accio". The final Battle of Hogwarts that concludes the series is meant to be epic -- think of Tolkien's Helm's Deep or the Siege of Gondor -- but the descriptions are painfully inadequate: everyone seems to be running around throwing spells, or duelling, although why the wizards should duel mano a mano is beyond me.

But these are quibbles, drops in bucket as big as the ocean (David Edelstein's line). Like all the previous Harry Potter books, "The Deathly Hallows" is tremendously enjoyable. Dumbledore and Snape become more human, and Harry has a touching scene with the wraiths of the people he loves the most, as he is going to his death. In Goblet of Fire, the death of Cedric Diggory was a stunner. A few more people have died since then and while Harry Potter has ended conventionally, with a happy ending, the theme of mortality has always cast its long shadow over the books themselves. This, perhaps, has been Rowling's greatest success: she has written a wonderfully enjoyable series of books about death, magic and friendship.

ASIDE: Incidentally, what's up with Michiko Kakutani's review? The review appeared three days before the book released; Kakutani apparently procured it from a bookshop, read it overnight and contributed a review at 700 words a minute, recyling most of the lines from her reviews of the previous Harry Potter books (understandable, but still ... someone ought to take the judgemental Ms Kakutani to task for that, no?). Don't believe me? Read this. And then read this and this -- what do you think?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sad news

I just learnt that the great philosopher Richard Rorty died on Friday (see here and here). Rorty is, as some of you may well know, famous (or infamous, depending on which side of the divide you fall on) as an anti-foundationalist or a pragmatist (again, depending on what kind of pragmatist you are). See here.

Strangely enough, I spend yesterday afternoon reading a couple of Rorty's essays in "Philosophy and Social Hope" at the B&N near Lincoln Center. I also spent some time debating whether I should buy Rorty's most famous work "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature" (I didn't but that was because I could find it cheaper online).

As my sort of RIP, I"ll link to this autobiographical Rorty essay (from "Philosophy and Social Hope") called "Trotsky and the Wild Orchids" (available here) where Rorty recounts his intellectual odyssey: from being a foundationalist analytic philosopher to his rediscovery of John Dewey's pragmatism and his eventual rejection of Platonism. The essay won't help anyone understand the intricacies of pragmatism (see here for that) but it definitely brings Rorty into focus. Read it.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Email of the day

Some kid mails Richard Chappel, after using one of his papers for a college homework assignmentl:
I made the mistake of copying your "Rousseau and Freedom," paper from your blog [link]. I am sorry. My university is going to charge me with cheating. Can you please do me a big favor and temporarily take down "Rousseau and Freedom,"??? I will owe you forever. Please let me know if you can help! Thank you!

[Name redacted]
Fun, eh?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

David Thomson on Lars Von Trier

This kicker of a sentence from David Thomson's magisterial A Biographical Dictionary of Film, on the maverick gadfly Lars Von Trier is perfect:
Von Trier is like a seven-year old serial killer whose bombs and weapons have all gone into his eye.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A little crisis about "crisis"

There is nothing new for me in Somini Sengupta's latest piece in the New York Times really; every Indian is intimately -- in every sense of that lovely word -- acquainted with the details of the abyssmal power situation in India.

I have a smaller etymological quibble. Are we correct when we use the term "crisis" to describe India's power situation? Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't "crisis" describe a situation that was all right once but is now in dire straits? Or in other words, for something to be a crisis, doesn't there have to be a sort of a golden past, when everything worked, and which has now degenerated rapidly (or slowly) into the current situation? For instance, to quote an analogous scenario, when one talks of the California Power Crisis -- and I lack an economic understanding of it -- doesn't that mean that there was a time when things were all right in sunny California? And then, whatever the cause, things weren't all right and went from bad to worse to catastrophic (in the mild sense of the word)?

Because if that sense of the word is right, then India just has a problem (magnitude notwithstanding) -- and has always had it. Power cuts and load-shedding were as common before economic liberalization as they are now; it's just that it's more visible now -- the most vivid things for me in Sengupta's piece were her descriptions of high-rise malls with smoke billowing out of them even as they are surrounded by a dark neighborhood.

UPDATE: There does seem to be a way of applying the c-word to India's situation. Here's how Websters defines "crisis":
1 a: the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever b: a paroxysmal attack of pain, distress, or disordered function c: an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person's life crisis>
2: the decisive moment (as in a literary plot)
3 a: an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially : one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome crisis> b: a situation that has reached a critical phase crisis>
So even if the word here doesn't exactly connote a golden past, it could theoretically, at least, connote a golden future. As the dictionary says, it could mean that "decisive change" (for the better, one hopes) is impending -- which could then mean that India's present situation is a crisis.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

An Amputee Sprinter?

I have read nothing quite so surreal as this. (Idle wonderings of an idle mind: Is this maybe a topic for cyborg-discourse specialists like Katherine Hayles and Paul Edwards?)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Barbara, here I come

I've long been an admirer of Barbara Stanwyck -- despite the fact that I've only watched two of her films. But what films! I consider Preston Sturges' "The Lady Eve" to be one of the best movies I've ever seen, a comedy that transcends comedy -- and despite the great Henry Fonda around, it is Stanwyck's film all the way. ("I need him like the axe needs the turkey", "Lady Eve", played by Stanwyck, remarks at one point). The other film, of course, is the Billy Wilder noir "Double Indemnity", famous for getting into trouble for Stanwyck's expression: as her lover played by Fred MacMurray strangles her husband, Stanwyck's femme fatale, glimpsed in the rearview mirror, watches with an expression that is almost sexually ecstatic. (Oh, and I've seen her in a couple of weepies -- but I can't recall their names -- on TCM).

Still, it's Stanwyck's birth centenary this year and BAM is celebrating by screening several of her movies. (Perhaps because it is so well-known, "The Lady Eve" is not on the list). Of course I want to go but MoMA is screening a festival of Indian movies right this week -- so I was torn between what to do. Anthony Lane's profile of Stanwyck in the latest New Yorker settles it for me: I'm going to the Stanwyck retrospective for sure.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The strange ways of destiny

So the other day -- exactly a week ago, to be precise -- I went out with some friends who were visiting, to the Indian restaurant Yuva. Three of us ordered cocktails whose names were rather fun -- mine, I believe, was called Yuvapolitan. My friend's fiancee ordered one -- and here I forget its name again -- and this was basically jaljeera mixed with vodka. She let us taste it -- it was heavenly! I mean it. It tasted like the paani (of paani-puri) spiced with vodka. Aaaah.

Just today, [via Amardeep] I read about Somini Sengupta's latest for the Times: a piece on chaat, as found on the streets of Delhi. The piece is pretty good but what struck me was this paragraph:
A trendy restaurant chain called Punjabi by Nature offers an inventive cocktail built around the pani puri: Two potato-filled shells are served with a shot of vodka infused with green chili and lime, along with a glass of draft beer as chaser.
Awesome. Now that's what I call inventive food.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A kick in the balls

Jon Chait is probably the funniest political journalist writing today. If you want an example, read his column on Ari Fleischer's (the former Bush administration spokesman) WSJ column on the tax code. I'll only quote his kicker of an ending here (see the two photographs for illustration):

I'll give Fleischer the benefit of the doubt here and assume that this isn't an outright lie, but rather he couldn't read the table correctly. Let me explain it this way, Ari: Suppose that a few years ago, 37 percent of your scalp was covered with hair. Today, only 31 percent is. Would you say that your hair has increased or decreased over that time?

Have they seen the trailer?

So I learn from the New York Times that the movie Jindabyne is based on Raymond Carver's short story "So much water so close to home". This story, which was also filmed by Robert Altman in Short Cuts is about a man who goes on a fishing trip with his buddies, and keeps fishing even after discovering a girl's dead body -- and then reports it to the authorities. His wife, predictably, can't understand how he could have done that.

Have the film-makers seen the trailer for the movie? Well, I've seen it thrice (there's a bombardment going on at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas) and I mistook it for a thriller -- a kind of Wolf Creek really -- with peculiar Australian accents (just listen to Gabriel Bryne!) to boot. Which only goes to prove what I've thought all along: small independent features need to market themselves better and directors need to supervise the making of a trailer rather than leaving it to clueless associates who don't have much information about the movie.

Paragraph of the day

Geoffrey Nunberg begins his blog-post on apologies and their functions with this priceless paragraph:
When I was an undergraduate at Columbia, a bunch of my friends and I spent a lot of long afternoons and evenings at the movie theaters along West 42d Street, where for less than a buck you could see a double or triple feature of gangster movies, war movies or westerns. That was well before the area was sanitized and Disneyfied, and the theaters were--well, "seedy" doesn't really do them justice. The seats and carpeting were shabby and permanently saturated with a mixture of fluids, processed and unprocessed. The balconies were sharply raked, the rows so close together as to make even the economy section of a United Airlines flight seem positively spacious. And the clientele was a mix of movie buffs, lonely guys, and down-and-outers who considered 99 cents a stone bargain for a warm place to sleep off a bender. So it was that a friend and I found ourselves in the balcony of a theater one rainy evening watching an Anthony Mann western when we heard a middle-class male voice behind us saying in a loud, indignant tone: "Sorry? You piss on my date and you're SORRY?"
Just so we are clear: the post is actually on what apologies do -- or are supposed to do -- and the discussion covers both J. L. Austin and Erving Goffmann. Goffmann's take (from Nunberg's post):

The most enlightening discussion of this that I know of comes (not surprisingly) from Erving Goffman, in his books Interaction Ritual and particularly Relations in Public. (Goffman's account has since been built on by others, but his story will do for here.) Apologies, Goffman said, are remediation rituals that

represent a splitting of the self into a blameworthy part and a part that stands back and sympathizes with them, and by implication, is worthy of being brought back into the fold.

As a ritual, Goffman insists, the apology is independent of the substantive penalties that may be attached to an offense:

After an offense has occurred, the job of the offender is to show... that whatever happened before, he now has a right relationship--a pious attitude--to the rule in question, and this is a matter of indicating a relationship, not compensating a loss.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

This is an essay worth reading...

I haven't seen Michael Tomasky this angry since his debate with Peter Beinart in Slate (discussing Beinart's book "The Good Fight") and that was nothing compared to this profile of Rudy Giuliani that appears in the recent American Prospect.

Still, this is a strikingly good read. Tomasky's distaste for Giuliani is so palpable that as a result, the piece flows. Vividly. I haven't read a polemic this brilliant since Christopher Hitchens' rant against Michael Moore on the eve of the release of Fahrenheit 9/11 -- and that was nowhere near as smooth and effective as Tomasky's piece is.

Check it out.

The best line?

Bill Clinton may have embarrassed his family, but Rudy Giuliani humiliated his. That previous summer to which Donna referred, when she thought she and her husband were reconciling? He was dashing out to the Hamptons to spend weekends at Judy's condo! This was not mere irresponsibility, the kind of "mistake" we "learn from," as he has taken to saying on the stump. This was sadism. And he didn't act this way only toward his wife and kids, which might render this a private matter. No -- this was how the man dealt with enemies private and public.

Conservatives may think they're supporting the September 11 Rudy. But I covered the man for 15 years, and I can guarantee them they'll be getting the May 10 Rudy as part of the bargain. If they actually nominate him, they will eventually learn this the hard way, just like poor Donna did.

CORRECTION: In the Beinart-Tomasky dialog I linked to above, it's Beinart who seems angry, while Tomasky is merely icy. Still it was the fractious tone of the dialog I remembered.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Headline-construction is an art

As an example, check out this one from the NYT, about the financial services company (student loans) Sallie Mae, which is in talks for a merger:

Sallie Mae Said to Talk to Suitors

Thursday, April 12, 2007

After "After the Wedding" (Spoilers)

The interesting thing about failed movies (or even bad movies -- although bad movies aren't fun to watch) is that they tell you more about movies and about how movies work than successful ones do.

According to Heidegger, most of our experience as embodied human beings, embedded in various socio-cultural contexts is "ready-to hand": meaning that one acts in and through the world without really reflecting on it. An example would be me typing this blog-post on my keyboard: when I type, the keyboard doesn't really exist for me except as an extension of my hand, just as the pen doesn't really exist for me when I write long-hand. But if the keyboard was bad or if the one of the keys, the letter "e", say, stopped working (or the pen ran out of ink), I become aware of the keyboard as an object, with its own properties. What was before, for me, just an extension of my fingers, is now an object in its own right, something to be reflected on and fixed. A breakdown has occured and my keyboard has gone from being a ready-to-hand tool to being a present-at-hand object.

Susanne Bier's beautifully shot and acted After the Wedding has a similar effect. The movie doesn't work -- in fact, it falls flat -- but it brings out more about why movies work than anything I've seen. The film begins in Mumbai where we meet Jacob (pronounced Ya-ko-b), who works for a non-profit organization, caring for destitute children. Jacob is asked to come to Dennmark by a shadowy millionaire, Jorgen. Jacob has to meet Jorgen, talk and -- this is almost assured -- if everything goes right, he gets a nice tidy donation for his charity. Neat? Fishy? Yes, but not in the way you'd expect.

In Dennmark, Jorgen invites Jacob to his daughter's wedding; by this time Jacob's one day in Dennmark has already turned into three and Jorgen seems to be delaying. And at the wedding which gives the film its title, Jacob meets Jorgen's wife, who turns out to be the woman who left him twenty years ago. Is this a coincidence? Jorgen says so. The audience is suspicious. But then, Jorgen's twenty-year old daughter Anna lets slip out -- in her wedding toast, no less -- that she was actually fathered by another man, whom she doesn't know (Are Danes prone to casually revealing these things at weddings?) . No prizes for guessing what Jacob thinks.

A man has found a daughter he fathered after twenty years. What does he do? How does he react? At this point, I was ready for the film to turn into a not unpleasurable weepie or a Festen-style drama, with accusations flying back and forth. But After the Wedding is not that kind of movie. In the very next scene, Jacob confronts Jorgen's wife, his former lover: Either you tell our daughter about me or I will. And in the scene after that, she does exactly that. How will the daughter react? Will she bond with her father? Well, we find that out too -- in the very next scene. And so on it goes. After the Wedding, deals with in scenes, the themes and issues, that other, more weepy movies might devote their entire running times to.

So where's the movie going? It turns out -- again, none of this is revelatory -- that the rich, efficient, almost God-like tycoon, Jorgen, is dying and that this is indeed his way of playing God: making sure that his wife and his kids have something to keep, something to live for, somone who can take care of them, after he is dead. That they do and he dies. And that's the movie.

The last two lines would probably qualify as the understatements of the year. The revelations of Jorgen's death, his family's reaction to it, Jacob's decision to leave his orphanage and be with his family, a family that moreover has given him meaning in his life (not to mention, more funds for his orphanage) are all etched out in searching little scenes; scenes, it is true, that come out of a monstrously contrived plot but which seem -- I can't find any word for it -- authentic. The cinema verite style (what Manohla Dargis has called dogme-lite) and it's artful closeups -- a throbbing lip here, a tearful eye there, a hand lying limp, a face taut with pain, a forehead creased with worry -- manage to be both true and emotional, capturing the emotional pulse of a scene with unerring accuracy, and yet at the same time, seamless, never straining for effect. One scene in particular (out of many) stood out for me: a scene where Anna, the daughter, confronts her foster-father, Jorgen, when she learns of his impending death. No textual description could do justice to its poignancy -- and the brilliance of the actors.

And yet, I was dry-eyed throughout the movie. Not one tear. Not a drop. More importantly, I couldn't wait for the movie, with its over-the-top plot, to end. My impatience mounted as scene after emotional scene (all beautifully shot and acted) went past. When the movie ended, I heaved a sigh of relief. After the Wedding, as good as I could see it was, had been an excruciating experience to sit through.

Why? I'll tackle that in the next post (since this one has gone on long enough).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The things that turn people on ...

This gem, from a New York Times piece on sexual desire:
“Listening to Noam Chomsky,” said a psychologist in her 50s, “always turns me on.”

Sunday, April 08, 2007

I thought the British sailors looked cute! ...

...but what do I know?

Here is the New York Times, calling the suits shapeless and badly cut:
Yet, even as we allow that the British servicemen were innocent of fashion, and put on the clothes as a matter of course to replace the pajamas they had most recently been kept in, there is something disturbing about their appearance. It is doubtful that the Iranian government went to the trouble of outfitting 14 men in suits and shirts, however unflattering, if they didn’t mean to make some kind of a political statement. Having never been to that part of the Middle East, I am in no position to comment on a double-standard that permits people to wear one kind of fashion in their homes and another in public. But it seems to me that the plain if not poor cut of the suits was meant as a rebuke to flashy Western tastes. An English banker, in his bespoke suit, might react in horror, but couldn’t that be the point?
Hmmmm. I'm not sure what the argument is here, but is this a case of reading too much? To most eyes -- or at least to third-world eyes like mine -- the suits were elegant and the Iranian regime was just trying to show off, what Ahmadinejad might call his magnanimity. If the sharp sartorial Western eyes found them inelegant and frumpy, that was purely unintentional.

UPDATE: Re-reading the post in the light of the comment below, it strikes me that my prose isn't quite clear about what I am talking about. (Or in other words, I f***ed up). My point is: in dressing up the British sailors in suits, was the Iranian government's way of (elegantly) showing the middle finger to the West, the point being approximately, "look how we treat our prisioners, we even give them suits to wear; have you taken a good look at yours". At the same time, it was a way of gaining the good will of the rest of the Islamic world -- a kind of "look at us, we don't give a damn for the West".

If the suits seemed dowdy and badly cut, that wasn't a part of the plan, nor was it the intention. The suits were the point, not their cut or size. When I mentioned my third-world eyes I meant that they looked like perfectly adequate suits to me -- as I would assume, they would seem, to most people from the Islamic/developing world, at whom the gesture was aimed -- although I am perfectly prepared to accept that the suits were frumpy.

So maybe the Iranians miscalculated, after all?

Monday, March 19, 2007

I have company

It's a relief to know that there are people who've seen the utterly gorgeous gorgeous Spring Awakening more than I have (twice, and want more).

Monday, March 05, 2007

Surprising factoid of the week:

Reihan Salam, reviewing, the new Netflix, "Watch Now" mentions this about himself:
I will note here that my Netflix habits are unconventional. During my early days as a Netflix subscriber, I spent anywhere from 1 to 3 hours a night watching DVDs on fast forward with the subtitles on. Because I read fairly quickly, I was able to follow twists and turns at high speed, thus increasing my cultural literacy in record time.
Wha...?? I truly can't find any words...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Elections in Russia

A Russian presidential candidate, not blessed by czar Vladmir Putin, is fighting off smears and allegations, aided by his loyal wife:
A month later he was back visiting Moscow and called a sparsely attended news conference to denounce an intensifying campaign against him. He denied having falsified his diploma and went on to explain, among other things, his interest in “gypsy hypnosis.” Marina Donskaya interrupted him, having lost patience with the pressure. “He’s not gay!” she shouted, referring to slurs that had been appearing in the Arkhangelsk press. “He impregnated me.”

Friday, February 23, 2007

wimbledon makes history

As a long-time tennis fan, I can say that this is truly historic.

UPDATE: Tommy Haas should make up his mind: he has a point (which I don't agree with) but did he have to add the usual mandatory disclaimer?
Reaction from male players was mixed. Federer said it was “a great move,” but Tommy Haas said, “I don’t think it’s really fair.”


“I think the depth of men’s tennis is much tougher than the women’s, plus we play best-of-five sets,” Haas, a German, said yesterday in Memphis after a 7-6, 7-6 victory against Amer Delic.

“Not to say that the women don’t deserve it,” he said. “The top players train very hard and are very good tennis players, but in general I don’t agree with it.”

UPDATE: Sheetal below suggests that the women should now start playing best-of-five sets. I disagree. I think the best-of-five format goes on for far too long. Instead the ATP tour might just want to make it best-of-three sets even for the guys (it is so in most ATP tournaments, I think, just not in the Grand Slams).

Besides, I've never thought that the money in tennis is proportional to the amount of work that the players put in. Tennis is entertainment -- if women's tennis is as entertaining as men's tennis, then they deserve equal pay. Simple. The problem of course, is that the men's game has so much more depth. A male player ranked in the hundreds plays tennis at much higher level -- the comparision, of course, is with the top ten -- than a female player in the hundreds. But the depth of a game is unquantifiable. Most spectators come to watch tennis matches only from the quarter-final onwards and at that level, the women's game is as interesting as the men's game. And who knows? Depth can change. Roger Federer dominates men's tennis today in a way that no single woman does on the WTA tour. It's far better to just pay the women and the men at the same rate -- who knows? that may inspire more and more young girls to turn pro and play some scintillating tennis.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Film Comment Selects is an annual New York City offering from the Lincoln Center's Film Comment magazine. Here's Manohla Dargis, in her primer on the films that'll be shown this year:

The highbrow meets the lowdown and dirty in Jean-Claude Brisseau’s “Exterminating Angels,” which kicks off the series of 18 films tonight. (It opens commercially in three weeks.) Raunch of the most decorous kind, this blush-inducing Valentine’s Day offering concerns a director, François (the game Frédéric van den Driessche), who’s holding auditions for his next project, a thriller. This being an art-house thriller, or at least a French filmmaker’s conceit, the actresses will, ooh-la-la, have to masturbate on camera. There won’t be any men, François assures the startled women, except for those who will presumably line up around the block to see the final results.

Most of the actresses decline François’s offer, but a few agree to abandon propriety and clothes, which leads to several explicit boudoir — and one under-the-restaurant-table — encounters. The film raises fascinating questions about power and sex both in regard to the director-actress relationship and, more generally, men and women. In Mr. Brisseau’s case those questions turn out to be intensely personal since he was convicted in 2005 of sexually harassing two actresses who claimed, yes, that he had forced them to masturbate during screen tests for another film. It remains unclear how Mr. Brisseau, who was apparently unarmed, forced the women to engage in acts of self-pleasure, but this transgression brought him a suspended jail sentence, a fine and, of course, the inspiration for his next film.

Nothing like life-meets-art. I think I'm going to go see this one...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Quote of the day:

“We are tickled pink to be here,” said Dennis D. Cavin, the vice president for international air and missile defense strategic initiatives at Lockheed Martin.
Yes, tickled pink to be in Bangalore hawking fighter aircraft for sale to the Indian Government. Huh. Where do they come up with these expressions?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Paragraph of the day

David Edelstein on Pierce Brosnan:
No one who sees the first fifteen minutes of Seraphim Falls can doubt that Brosnan is the movies’ supreme grunter: He is to acting what poor Monica Seles was to tennis. He added grunts to his feats in his Bond movies, presumably to make 007 seem more human, but they were too jarring in that high-style context. Here, they make for a powerful soundtrack. The movie opens with him taking a bullet in the shoulder (aggghhh!), rolling down an embankment (uggghh arrrr), tumbling into a raging river (raahruuuf!) that dumps him over a falls (yaaaaaaaaah), digging the bullet out of his shoulder (arf%^Sssss$#yyy!) with a big knife and then cauterizing the wound (ayyyeeeeeeeeee!!!). I’m not being facetious: This is very impressive stuff. If his acting career ever stalls, he could make a fortune dubbing kung fu pictures.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Probabalistic Watches, Tim Harford etc (which means I couldn't think of a title)

Henry Farrell writes on Crooked Timber:
Lifehacker links to an invention that I’ve thought for years would be a good idea (I’m sure that plenty of other people have had the same thought). Many people have their clocks running a few minutes fast, to encourage them to leave earlier for appointments to get there on time etc etc. The problem with this is that if you’re half-way rational, you’ll correct for the error, making it useless. So the solution is to have a probabilistic clock, where the clock is fast, but you aren’t sure how fast it is within a given and relatively short time range. Thus, you’re more likely to depart early for your appointments and get there on time (or a few minutes ahead, most probably, in many situations). This is exactly what some bloke has programmed, although it doesn’t appear that it has an alarm feature yet.
This is embarassing to say but I never thought of a probabilistically faster clock, despite my engineering degree and all. And I’ve done the same thing this past month—speeded up my wrist-watch, but ended up being late anyway because I know it’s faster! (My fellow van-poolers haven't been so pleased with my chronic lateness. But I'm trying, guys, I'm trying!)

Still, this brings up another point. My wrist-watch is of the old variety, with hands, and time-marks arranged in a circle, which means that the lowest time-interval you can accurately measure is 5 minutes. When I set it to run fast, I didn’t want to run too fast, thereby resulting in me getting there early (smart, huh?), so I set it to run faster by something less than 5 minutes. What this something is, I can’t recall—and really, no one thinks of measuring minutes except in multiples of 5. Therefore my watch does seem to be running probablistically faster, since I don’t know exactly how fast it is. No?

Has this helped? Well, not really! The rational (or procrastinating) actor proves hard to overcome. Now he simply takes out his cellphone and checks the time!

One more thought: It strikes me that the range of values that one can probabilistically speed up the watch by (1 to 4 minutes) cannot be extended. Because setting the watch faster by 11 to 14 minutes has the same effect as setting it faster by 1 to 4 (since the rational actor will cancel out the 10 minutes because it’s a multiple of 5 and thereby easily taken care of).

Commenter Maria on Henry's post brings up this typical Tim Harford gem:

Last weekend’s FT had a Dear Economist (i.e. Dear Tim Harford letter) from someone who always sets his watch fast and still manages to fool himself into being on time. ‘Mark’ wondered how this was possible, what with him being a rational actor who writes to economists asking for life hacks.

The answer was “you have a split personality, a warped view of time and are too lazy to do simple sums. Now put down this magazine: I suspect you are running late for something.”

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ah, Shilpa...

Well, Shilpa Shetty is having her few moments of fame. I don't blame her, really -- I just hope she enjoys every moment of it. I also hope it gets her better acting assignments -- because she's sadly under-used.

Still I can't resist putting quoting this excerpt from Germaine Greer, the first few paragraphs of her wickedly funny essay.
There are no good reasons for watching Celebrity Big Brother and very good reasons for not. Not watching will spare you the nerve-fraying annoyingness that is Shilpa Shetty. Everything about her is infuriating: her haughty way of stalking about, her indomitable self-confidence, her chandelier earrings, her leaping eyebrows, her mirthless smile, her putty nose and her eternal bray, "Why does everyone hate me?" Not to mention the crying jags. What no one seems to have quite understood is that Shilpa is a very good actress. Everyone hates her because she wants them to. She also knows that if she infuriates people enough, their innate racism will spew forth.

As a Tamil, Shetty has certainly had to deal with discrimination at home in suburban Mumbai. Her only motive for parading in front of the other women in the house with whitener on her face was to show what utter hicks they are, how little they understand of her complex reality or of a billion people in the subcontinent who all want to have wheat-coloured skin. I bet thousands of brown-skinned girls in Southall fell off the sofa laughing when she did that.

Bollywood is no picnic; anyone who makes 51 Bollywood movies in 13 years has to be tough. Shilpa has a black belt in karate. She is just the girl to raise the pit bull in a dizzy little drip like Danielle and keep her frothing at the mouth long enough for her nascent career as a sweet little Wag to disappear down the drain. When Shilpa is finished with Danielle even Teddy Sheringham will know what a small, dark heart beats within her fetching chest. This explains the slightly cannibal air of self-satisfaction that never abandons Shilpa. She knows what she is doing. She will shred the nerves of all the other women in that house until even Cleo pulls back her frozen lips and shows the fangs behind her witless Mona Lisa smile.

I can switch Shilpa off. The people in the house with her haven't got that option. The problem is that most of the housemates are too dim to convey what a pain in the ass Shilpa is without appearing to persecute her. So Danielle, beside herself with rage because Shilpa cooks with onions, calls her a dog. Jack Tweed calls her a cunt. The word was bleeped out, leading many viewers to speculate that she had been racially abused. That is not surprising. This is a racist country; to the vast majority of couch potatoes out there, Shilpa is a "Paki bird".

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Does anyone know?

Shamu was published in June 2006 in the New York Times and was the most-emailed article for a long long time after that. Jack Shafer even wrote a sarcasatic column about it.

Does anyone know why Shamu is back as the most-emailed article on the Times web-page? Or has it been there all along?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

the Times slips up!

Factoid: About two days ago, the pristine New York Times printed desi equivalents of "sister-fucker" and "mother-fucker", not to mention "dick"! Yes, believe it or not, the New York Times said "bhenchod"!!!

Confused? Hee hee. Here's the background: Vikram Chandra's new novel Sacred Games has been generating much newsprint. It was Paul Gray's review in the Times that prompted siddhartha's mischevious post: apparently, reviewer Gray, in an effort, to give his readers a taste of Chandra's prose -- Chandra writes with a liberal dose of desi, especially Bambaiya, words, Bambaiya being mostly Hindi and Marathi -- had included the words -- hold your breath now! -- nullah,” “ganwars,” “bigha,” “lodu,” “bhenchod,” “tapori,” “maderchod”! Quite a change for the New York Times, don't you think? Particularly since when film critic A. O. Scott reviewed the documentary Fuck, the title of the film was printed as ****, sort of defeating the whole purpose of the film, which was to explore the usage and origins of, well, the word "fuck"! (Scott, in his insightful review, didn't think so, believing that it's only because sainted institutions like the Times eschew use of the word that it retains its capacity to shock. The man has a point. But whatever.)

The story doesn't end here though. I happened to click on the Paul Gray review again today (via this post) and guess what? The words are now gone! Vanished! Here is how it was before:

So it goes here. Those who plunge into the novel soon find themselves thrashing in a sea of words (“nullah,” “ganwars,” “bigha,” “lodu,” “bhenchod,” “tapori,” “maderchod”) and sentences (“On Maganchand Road the thela-wallahs already had their fruit piled high, and the fishsellers were laying out bangda and bombil and paaplet on their slabs”) unencumbered by italics or explication.

And this is how it is now:

So it goes here. Those who plunge into the novel soon find themselves thrashing in a sea of words and sentences (“On Maganchand Road the thela-wallahs already had their fruit piled high, and the fishsellers were laying out bangda and bombil and paaplet on their slabs”) unencumbered by italics or explication.

I have a couple of questions:

1) Where's the retraction? It seem like the standard for any web-publications to acknowledge any changes to its text. The Times, as far as I could tell, doesn't seem to have one. But just suppose if they did, what would it say? "The Editors would like to note that the review by Paul Gray, contained expletives, although in a foreign tongue. The expletives themselves, are too shocking even to be paraphrased. We have exterminated them completely from our website. The error is regretted. Indians and Hindi-speakers, do remember to supervise your childrenl, should they chance upon the said edition of the Book Review."

2) What about the print edition? Is there a print edition of the Review floating around with words like "bhenchod" in it? (the horror!) If there is, does anyone have it? And -- this signals my desperation -- if one got hold of it, would it be worth anything?