Pages

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gladwell writes:
The statistician Stephen Stigler once wrote an elegant essay about the futility of the practice of eponymy in science—that is, the practice of naming a scientific discovery after its inventor. That's another idea inappropriately borrowed from the cultural realm. As Stigler pointed out, "It can be found that Laplace employed Fourier Transforms in print before Fourier published on the topic, that Lagrange presented Laplace Transforms before Laplace began his scientific career, that Poisson published the Cauchy distribution in 1824, twenty-nine years before Cauchy touched on it in an incidental manner, and that BienaymĂ© stated and proved the Chebychev Inequality a decade before and in greater generality than Chebychev's first work on the topic." For that matter, the Pythagorean theorem was known before Pythagoras; Gaussian distributions were not discovered by Gauss. The examples were so legion that Stigler declared the existence of Stigler's Law: "No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer." There are just too many people with an equal shot at those ideas floating out there in the ether. We think we're pinning medals on heroes. In fact, we're pinning tails on donkeys.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A few years back there were deadly car bombs going off in Iraq every week that casualties became a back-burner news item. Every network treated it as "yeah, yeah, one more bazaar explosion.. we were expecting it". Is Pakistan next in line?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pre-Mid Life

I'm planning to buy a car. After a ton of research a desi usually narrows the options down to 'you can't go wrong with this' Honda or a Toyota. It sickens me - not to drive one of those but to conform to a set of rules where value for money precedes comfort, driving pleasure. Not just in the matter of choosing a car but almost every decision in life is calculated to yield maximum value, choose the least risky route thereby optimizing for a mediocre life. Not just financially, but also in terms of experience, the richness of life. Bull shit. For once I want to buy a sports car. I want to drain my savings by taking a week long vacation in Paris staying in a good hotel, enjoying great cuisine, visiting wonderful museums, operas, ballets, smyphonies, tennis matches. I want to go see a cinema on a Wednesday evening. Sometimes I strongly feel like I want to quit my job and become a full-time blogger. Or write a novel. Or become a high school math teacher. Or educate myself in a field like history or anthropology. Clinging onto a monthly pay to take care of the bills is fucking poisonous.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kandhasamy

Saw bits and pieces of Vikram's Kandhasamy. The casting director should be shot for casting Krishna as a CBI officer. And the writer should be hanged for writing him Tamil lines. There's no reason to alienate his fanbase.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Jacob Weisberg writes:
That Rupert Murdoch may skew the news rightward more for commercial than ideological reasons is somewhat beside the point. What matters is the way that Fox's successful model has invaded the bloodstream of the American media. By showing that ideologically distorted news can drive ratings, Ailes has provoked his rivals at CNN and MSNBC to experiment with a variety of populist and ideological takes on the news. It's Fox that led CNN's Lou Dobbs to remodel himself into a nativist cartoon. It's Fox that led MSNBC to amp up Keith Olbermann. Fox hasn't just corrupted its own coverage. Through its influence, it has made all of cable news unpleasant and unreliable.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Promised Podcast Debuts

Here's my podcast. Varahasimhan, a friend, collaborates with me on this. This is our first. There are grunts, groans, pauses, stutters, grammar errors, repetitions, poor audio quality in parts, etc. Let me remind you: this is our first podcast. We both were quite the tight-asses that we usually are not. Recording our conversation made us slightly conscious of ourselves, I guess. When we discussed the final topic I had a lot to say but came across quite incoherent. I hope to get better with time.



You can download the podcast here.

This one's in English. Here's the timeline:
0 - 5 mins: Introduction, Why Podcast?
5 - 21 mins: FTC's new regulation for bloggers.
22 - 25 mins: Marge Simpson's Playboy Centerfold
26 - 42 mins: Is our society compromising ethics by liberalizing?
43 - 44 mins: Goodbye

We'll be doing one in Tamil quite soon and I'm hoping we'll be our relaxed selves joking around. We greatly appreciate your feedback.

Update: The audio quality is poorer than I expected. I used Skype to call, Powergramo to record the call and Audacity to clean up the background noise. I realize that I should have subjected the audio file to some volume-even process because for a good part my voice level is low. If you have any alternative technologies to suggest, please do. I want my second podcast to be very very clear.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Markets & Models

This is bad reporting. I'm not expecting NewYoker's level of depth from every daily or weekly, but I read the whole piece (surprisingly through Slatest) and felt bah at the end. On top of conveying nothing, it's plain vanilla stupid. This is the capsule: Filippa Hamilton, a model for Ralph Lauren (RL) was fired because she's fat. She said "They fired me because they said I was overweight and I couldn't fit in their clothes anymore". Hamilton's photo was published after digitally doctoring making her look unbelievably slim. "I think they owe American women an apology, a big apology," she said. "I'm very proud of what I look like, and I think a role model should look healthy." And this becomes news? Rolling-eyeballs, scratching-head, plug in your favorite cliche, but wasn't she getting paid for her figure, skin texture, bust size, etc?

I'm not a fan of models. They look anemic and there's no life in their eyes. Though I find some of them beautiful their expressionless ramp walk makes them all look like cold-hearted robots. But that's just me. The market's requirements are different. Cultural conditioning goes a long way in defining beauty. And it is such culture codes embedded unconsciously that dictates RL to hire or fire models. Men in west dream of slim, smooth skinned and sharp featured women which makes women want to have those attributes. Jared Diamond once wrote in an essay that men in Papua New Guinea thought western women were sexually unattractive, "look at their pale skin, small breasts and weak arms, they're not fit for raising a family" they would say. (Had it been Papau New Guinea she would have been fired for not being plump enough).

Hamilton's second statement can be interpreted as opportunistic if only it weren't so moronic. She has had a contract with RL since 2002 and all the while she must have passed their metric test. Now that she's put on some flesh she's suddenly proud of her looks and demands an apology - not to her - but American women. Her implication is ludicrous. Any advertisement for a personal adornment feeds to a dream. Somehow their product makes you feel good, improves your productivity, adds class. Even a silly deodorizer transforms you from a office geek to a babe magnet. Women's clothing being such a big market and RL being such a premier they have high standards of the dream they want their customers to experience.

PS: I was very reluctant on writing this post because what I have to say seems so obvious. But I had to persuade myself into posting this because it must not be obvious to a few who think it's news worthy (NY Daily, Slate).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dawkins says:
"[My biology teacher] came into class and asked: 'What animal feeds on hydra?' We didn't know. He went right around the whole class asking. Everybody was guessing, and then, finally, we said, 'Sir, Sir, what animal does?' And he waited and waited, and then he said, 'I don't know. And I don't think Mr Coulson does either.' He burst into the next room, got Mr Coulson and dragged him out by the arm, and he didn't know either! It was a wonderful lesson, I never forgot it and neither did anyone else: it's OK to not know the answer."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Podcast in the Offing

I was reading some of by earlier blogs posts - the ones I wrote about 8 years back. It was sickening to my stomach and strongly felt like throwing up. There were some generous people who said "You can write". Wow, talk about humanity. Anyway, I was reading these cringe-worthy posts and then I thought about the ones I had written in diaries even before that which nobody knows where they're now. Though it comes as a relief, there's some distress. I don't remember how bad they are. In other words, I'm trying to measure my evolution in terms of my thought process. Not just my range of thinking but also my skill to express those ideas coherently.
And then I thought 10 years hence I'll have a bunch of blog posts, but why should I restrict myself to the written word. With such posts I always have the freedom to edit & update a number of times. But with a podcast I don't think I'd have the willingness to rerecord whole sentences, edit the old one out and plug the new one in. Polishing a podcast would be painful - and that's nice because that would be a raw and faithful representation of my thoughts. Moreover, to be able to know about my thoughts through my own voice has a strong fingerprint element to it than written words.
All pumped up, I started recording using the software that comes with the machine - and the quality was awful. Well a part of the credit goes to my timbre, but the technology is to be blamed too. I'll research a bit, download a proper audio software, buy a microphone and post my first podcast by next weekend. But here's the thing, though each of my posts hardly take 2.5 minutes to be read the podcasts will be quite longer. Of course there'll be some rambling but I plan to include stuff that I would usually have exorcised from the post. I consider it a success if I can publish a podcast every month.
Hmm, I'm thinking way ahead of myself. Let me publish my first podcast and see how it all works out.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize And the Academy is Asked WTF

The Nobel committee sent a bouquet of roses to the White House today morning and sent tins of black paint to 204 other individuals and organizations that were nominated for this year's peace prize. The nominations for 2009 peace prize closed on Feb 11, just 21 days after he was inaugurated. His success at the international level can mostly be narrowed down to stellar speeches which strove hard to reshape the image of America. But that's not in any way adequate to even consider him for such a reputed international prize.

I'm a huge fan of Obama as a personality. He embodies personal responsibility and effuses charm. His speech-making skills are supreme. And I don't doubt his intentions - he wants the world to reduce their nuclear arsenal, he's encouraging greater co-operation between nations to fight climate change and he's taking human rights seriously in countries like China & Myanmar. I think the prize for all of his qualities and vision was given by the American electorate when they elected him the president. Now it's time for him to restore the confidence of American public and project diplomacy & pragmatism, which his predecessor lacked, in the world arena.

Many say that this could be interpreted as a work-in-progress and could be validated for the actions the man will take in the years to come, but that's such a weak argument. The MacArthur genius grant does that - they choose accomplished personalities and give $100000/year for five years with no strings attached, providing artistes and scientists a much needed financial freedom so that they can continue their great work and contribute to the society. But to be shortlisted for the genius grant one should have a solid record, not just noble visions.

Nobel prizes are usually awarded to personalities who have made ground-breaking changes in their field of work. The peace prize has been quite wobbly - you don't see a Ph.D student starting research on a promising technology nominated in the physics category. In this light it is surprising to even think about Obama's nomination, let alone his victory. If the committee were hell bent on giving some prize, they should have given him the literature prize. As an author of 2 best selling books, his literary resume is a bit heavier than his political one from an award perspective.

Update: And now to why I like Obama. He said the following today morning:

Let me be clear, I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize, men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

Hero

The camera is placed in a horribly out of control swing that goes hither and thither - aimed at the general direction of the south Asian man who's emerging from the waves, without a shirt but with a pant, but wait a minute, there are 11 white girls in tightly stitched bikinis that their nipples pierce through.... where was I, yeah, what are they doing running their hands over the chest of this clueless man person who hasn't shaved in 2 days and why is the cameraman cranking in and out the zooming functionality of the lens so as to go from an excruciating panoramic shot with everything-in-the-frame but no fucking detail to another excruciating water crashing water molecule freaking hydrogen-oxygen bond shot and while it's a breezy balmy day at the beach what the heck was the costume designer thinking when he gave those sun glasses to what now seems to be the alpha male and now why is he moving his hands and legs crazily in the streets of London while those waiting for their bus watch this retard with a mix of pity and disgust and now he's driving this red convertible through the lush green pastures of Switzerland and there are cows, big ones, in the background.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Why hasn't Salman Rushdie Won the Nobel Prize Yet?

The Academy will announce the winner of Nobel Prize for Literature for 2009 tomorrow. I read 'Midnight's Children' when I was 23 and went haywire why they still hadn't given Rushdie the prize. This FAQ is for such young men (and women of course).

What? Yeah, yeah I'm still a young man.

Why didn’t/doesn’t Author X get it?

A lot of people claim to know exactly why certain authors get or don’t get the prize. Which is funny, considering the aforementioned confidentiality. Truth is, until 50 years have gone by, we usually have no way of knowing if they were even nominated.

Pick a reason:
  • There’s one award to give out each year, and on average, more than one deserving author. New books are published each year. Do the math.
  • The people who decide on it are a bunch of literary snobs. They’re not necessarily politically conservative (by US standards) or raging communist revolutionaries (by European standards). They’re just snobs, elected by other snobs for the specific task of being anal about language and literature.
  • Not everyone is a prophet in their own lifetime. See: Kafka, Franz; Proust, Marcel; and others.
  • People, on a whole, read an awful lot of crap and keep expecting the Academy to validate their reading habits. Not gonna happen (see above under snobs, literary).
  • The Academy has really boring taste sometimes. Fortunately, the older members are dying off.
  • People like to speculate, and they seem to think that the longer they speculate about an author, the better his/her chances of getting it. Whether the Academy gives a damn about how often a certain author has been mentioned by people who are not them is unknown.
  • Authors die. The Nobel can’t be given out posthumously. Good thing, or they’d have to start with Homer and Gilgamesh.
  • Authors live. Not getting it one year doesn’t disqualify you from getting it next year or 20 years from now. See: Lessing, Doris.
And so some writers, for various reasons, end up without a Nobel prize. Funnily enough, we keep reading them despite their non-Nobel status. Putting it succinctly: if Tolstoy, Woolf, Joyce and Twain didn’t get it, there can be no shame in NOT getting a Nobel prize.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Polanski Affair

If you don't know anything about the Polanski news item, here's a brief recap: Polanski, at the height of his Hollywood celebdom in 1977 took a 13 year old girl to the actor Jack Nicholson's house saying that he's going to take pictures of her for the French edition of Vogue. He gave her drugged champagne and once her senses were quite numbed he performed oral sex, sexual intercourse and sodomy. Before each act she had resisted by saying 'No' and he had forced his way through. To escape conviction he fled the U.S. He was arrested last week in Zurich. He was on his way to the Swiss Film Festival to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. At the time of this post, there's a good chance that he'll be extradited to U.S and sentenced.
About 8 years back when my movie hormones were pumped up I tried reading an unofficial biography of Polanski. The tone dealing with his crime was romanticized. It talked about how as a boy he had a rough ride under the Nazis in the Krakow camp, his mother was killed in the ghetto, how his fully pregnant wife was murdered - all giving him a turbulent state of mind. And to top it all, the author portrayed the girl as having features that were well older than a 13 year old, which might have confused (rather invited) him about her real age. It was morally repulsive to continue reading a book that cheaply defended a criminal and I put it down.

But to my surprise, it was not just that author who seems to be enamored with Polanski as an artiste, most of today's France is. It is one thing for a group of cinema directors (Scorsese being one of them) to stand united behind him and ask for the charges be dropped (as repugnant as it may be). But for politicians to call the arrest "Absolutely horrifying" and "Judicial lynching" is plainly preposterous. They have an obligation to say at least the politically right thing, not just reflect popular sentiment.
Some defenders claim that even the victim has forgiven and moved on and why should the law authorities continue to pursue. That the victim has moved on shows her grace and maturity. If anything, that's how one copes with her life - by treating every new day the first day of the rest of her life. But the idea of the justice system is to ensure fairness by assuring the common man and his teenage daughter that those with powerful connections don't escape through cracks. A good artiste does in no way translates to a law abiding person and as much as good art is necessary for society, strong law enforcement is even more vital for the functioning of a society.

History is replete with abusive, unstable, socially graceless artistes who have gone on to produce masterpieces that have stood the test of time. I try to see Polanski and his works as separate entities. If we had to judge a song or a movie or a painting based on the moral highness of the artiste producing it, we'd have a lot of empty galleries, silent airwaves and crappy movies. Polanksi, as a director, has been handed the lifetime award by cinema fans long before. I don't think his notoriety will surpass his artistry. Picasso was never faithful to his 3 wives, but we don't remember him for that. With that in mind, Polanski should surrender himself without posing legal challenges and in the process make himself a real man.