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?