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Monday, June 29, 2009

Nature of Crime

Bernie Madoff got 150 years. He's 71 now and considering the average age of a U.S male, he might live another 10 years. So, the number 150, is merely symbolic, media fodder. A number thrown at the general public by the court so that they come to appreciate the immensity of his crime in the light of his punishment. I'm usually a man of peace, but I believe Madoff should have been let alone with his victims who shouldn't be punished if they were to resort to their primal instincts.

We associate crimes with where they leave their victims. So a rapist or a murderer is at the top of the list. Fine. But a pick-pocketer should not be relegated to the bottom just because he picks the wallet of a salaried man. The effects of a loss of what could be a sum equivalent to a weekly budget could be colossal. And in a time & culture of credit cards, hedge funds and electronic transfers, Madoff is proportional to a billion pick-pocketers. Not only did people lose their beach homes, but also their retirement savings. I was listening to this woman who lost $750000. A typical response-attitude would be "She's a rich bitch anyway, she just lost a yacth. She's not on the roads." But as I listened to her story I realized that it was her whole life's savings and she has worked hard and smart to get where she was. To rob that money was robbing her of her life's fruits, of her belief in humanity. Without spilling a drop of blood, he has sucked the life and soul out of her. That's as big a crime as murder.
Lera Boroditsky, a professor of psychology, neuroscience & symbolic systems (aww.. the very words sound sexy), writes in a brilliant article on how languages we speak shape our thoughts:

Follow me to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, in northern Australia. I came here because of the way the locals, the Kuuk Thaayorre, talk about space. Instead of words like "right," "left," "forward," and "back," which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space.1 This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like "There's an ant on your southeast leg" or "Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit." One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. The normal greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre is "Where are you going?" and the answer should be something like " Southsoutheast, in the middle distance." If you don't know which way you're facing, you can't even get past "Hello."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

It baffled me to see Tony Blair not only stutter enormously but also fail to offer decently mature answers on his interview with Fareed Zakaria. I have my own problems with Zakaria in spite of being one of the most lucid writers on current affairs today. If you read his columns for Newsweek or his books, you'll be convinced that he certainly knows a great deal about the subject he's talking about and offers nuggets of insights that are easily understandable. But when he's on video, he doesn't have that grip on me, he has a little less charm. But Blair made Zakaria look like the king of TV hosts - he mumbled & jumbled and in the end didn't say anything worthy for the viewers to take home. And he was a charismatic leader for 10 years! Talk about the role of speech writers and teleprompters.
In order to get out of the confirmation-bias trap, I read WSJ and other conservative columns. Peggy Noonan is one I love to hate. She uses a grand language and argues with little or no points at all. Today I saw her in This Week where she sort of defended conservatives who fall off their high moral chariot while discussing Mark Sanford's affair. Wow, if this crap continues not only the Republicans, but also their mouth pieces will have no credibility left.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This is probably the best genetic disorder out there - fountain of youth, did you say?
I bet that Roger Cohen will be a strong contender for next year's Pulitzer for international reporting. Though he gets a bit dramatic at times, I'm thoroughly impressed at his depth of coverage and his efforts in bringing the voice on the streets to the world.

Un-subtitled

Over the past year I've become a fan of West Wing - every episode is intensely dramatic, nobody stutters, every actor knows what to do, super photography, believable production design... I greatly liked the fact that the story didn't pander to the common denominator, trying to explain every action and it's consequence in great detail. If you're attentive you understood - this was more demanding in my case because I didn't know much about the American political system. In fact, I think I got a lot more about Capitol Hill & White House by seeing this series than if I had I watched a documentary.

I rent the sixth season and find out that it's subtitled only in French & Spanish. My fluency & command over American English is fairly good and in most cases I don't switch on the subtitles. But in niche dramas like West Wing where a lot of sharp politico dialogues are spoken in quick succession, though written with the mainstream in mind, I found it difficult to follow (and I'm one of those crazies who tries to understand every spoken word). It beats me why the stupid producers didn't subtitle it in English, especially after carrying it for the first five seasons.

Update: I don't see a reason for this post to exist. It's an utterly useless observation, just a bit garnished. Hmmm..

Saturday, June 20, 2009

On Reading & Writing

I've been reading a lot this past year. Not just books, but a lot of print available online. From news reports to analysis to editorials to editorial cartoons. But I don't feel a strong urge to blog about issues and events that I feel strongly about - and that puzzles me. Because when I started blogging, everything I saw or felt had a blog-worthiness angle to it. There were times when I saw a movie just to write about it. And then gradually I lost my motivation to write about them though I have retained my appetite for movies. (I still continue to see 1 or 2 every week). I've been quite interested in world news for about a dozen years now and have a decent grasp of countries and their relationships. But I'm not pumped up to write about what I'm actively reading, informing and educating myself.

Currently I'm occupied with what's happening in Iran (general public protesting election results), how important freedom for that young generation is (average age of Iran is less than 30), the role of technology in mobilizing mass movements (twitter, facebook) how Mousavi himself wouldn't be radically different from Ahmedinejad (of course, all candidates are approved by the Islamic Assembly of Experts), a subdued American response (Obama hasn't said much), future of oil prices (obviously), impact on it's repressed neighbors (Saudi Arabia, Syria)....

I think it's mostly because if someone wanted to read about these, they'd go to experts like The Economist or NYT. And I don't want to regurgitate what's already said. Do I have strong, interesting, original opinions about some events? Yes, sometimes. But mostly I'm just under-informed to have a concrete opinion. I feel like watching CNN or reading an analysis isn't enough to write "I think they should..." Because I'm never in 'their' shoes. When I read 'From Beirut to Jerusalem' by Tom Friedman I felt an assurance because the author had been a reporter, he's seen action, he's talked with leaders, he's seen people suffer the decisions of their politicians, he knows the history of the place. Of course, I'm not a reporter and I cannot hold myself to his standards. My access to first-hand information is very limited.

This insecurity that I'm not coming up with quality content, I think I've written about it previously on this blog, arises when I see extremely half-baked blogs on the web. People recommending 'solutions' to political/racial/social problems that a rat wouldn't consider. When I read and smirk and move on, I also think about what I've written before on that or a similar topic. What would someone, better informed and having a sharper mind, think of my piece? Should I always begin with a disclaimer that says "I'm not an expert and these ideas of mine could quite possibly strike the reader as crazy"? Why so apologetic, can't the 'expert' cut some slack to me... No, because I'm not cutting any slack to that sophomoric blogger. I ask "when the internet is abound with resources why not do some basic research?"

I've for long, never taken my intellectual laziness seriously. Now, I'm confronting it. Reading a two-page article about the financial crisis may be just enough to say a sentence or two in a party. But people smarter than me are going to know where I stand the instant I mouth those words, just how I nod at people who don't know shit about anything but still talk about it. While I'm always a fan of people smarter than me, I'm beginning to realize that getting smarter is not all that difficult. I think I've rambled enough for today.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Anjali Arrives

And I thought I'd have more time after I become a father... not wishful thinking, just plain stupid thinking. Anyway, here are a few pictures of Anjali, who was born on June 5th and here's a video of her first hair wash, within her first hour. When she was crowning, the doctor said "we need some ribbons"... a lot of hair, she has.