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?

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.


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.

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.

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.

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).
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."

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

Seeds of Objectivism

From Jon Chait review of a couple of books on Ayn Rand:
Anne C. Heller, in her skillful life of Rand, traces the roots of Rand's philosophy to an even earlier age. Around the age of five, Alissa Rosenbaum's [Ayn Rand] mother instructed her to put away some of her toys for a year. She offered up her favorite possessions, thinking of the joy that she would feel when she got them back after a long wait. When the year had passed, she asked her mother for the toys, only to be told she had given them away to an orphanage. Heller remarks that "this may have been Rand's first encounter with injustice masquerading as what she would later acidly call ‘altruism." (The anti-government activist Grover Norquist has told a similar story from childhood, in which his father would steal bites of his ice cream cone, labelling each bite "sales tax" or "income tax." The psychological link between a certain form of childhood deprivation and extreme libertarianism awaits serious study.)
I'm an eloquent man, most of the times. When questioned or in need of an explanation I put forth my thoughts quite clearly that the listener doesn't need a rephrasing or a repetition of my response. But with the missus I'm another man. Today morning at 5 there was a barrage of accusations that I don't wake up enough times to put my child to sleep. God knows how many tons of hours of sleep I've sacrificed; alas, there's isn't a god. And today morning as usual I was stuttering, marshaling my argument skills with no effect while the lady shot point by point, instance by instance, quoting date and time leaving me wanting a glass of water. Had it been another person in a different setting, I'd have shot back too, but this time I was merely repeating the same thing again and again which she incorrectly discredited.
And this is not the first time nor am I the only husband. What happens to our skill to logically progress an argument with the wife in tight family corners?
Look at the evolution of a blogger. Amit Varma, author of IndiaUncut, the most popular Indian blog used to write some decent pieces for Mint & Cricinfo. After winning the Bastiat Prize for online journalism, competing with serious writers like Clive Crook, he's now the most popular media-porn columnist in India. He now writes this & that about India and Indians, mostly nothing of substance. Clive was not a push-over when he lost to Amit, but since then he's grown in stature. He writes lucidly on matters of importance to the general public. Anyone who writes on serious stuff is never going to be as popular as the gossip columnist or the frivolous writer flaming conspiracy theories. Did Amit intentionally steer clear of writing 8 paragraph columns about what's ailing the Indian polity and settle on picking snafu headlines from tabloid? Only he can answer. But I still don't understand his popularity - the blog was nominated for the best Asian blog award (came in an unbelievable 2nd) and he's now on the panel to judge this year's Bastiat winner. Where is this all heading?
Watching Federer battle Del Potro is like watching Tendulkar and Dhoni on two ends of the pitch. While Potro can get the ball across the net effectively it's clumsy to watch, especially when you have Federer on the other side performing a ballet.

Update: I spoke too soon - Federer's unforced errors in the fifth set exceeded what he's committed in this whole tournament. Kudos to Del Potro.
I wonder if there are any atheist or even agnostic musicians from India in the last 50 years (post-Darwin, generally speaking) whose legacy is half as impressive as that of Ilayaraja's or Rahman's or Balamuralikrishna's or M.S.Subbalakshmi's. I wonder if there's a direct relationship between submitting oneself to the divine and creating divine music.
Truly a useless observation but I have to point it out: After Federer won his first set and was walking to his chair, he took the optimum route so that the towel boy from the court corner didn't have to cover a few extra steps, which also means that Federer didn't have to wait a few extra seconds to grab his towel. Interestingly, he won the set without breaking a sweat.
After beating Robin Soderling 6-0,6-3,6-7,7-6 to reach the semifinals of the US Open, Federer said "It was cold in the beginning and I felt at home. After a couple of sets it was even cooler and he must have felt at home."

For those scratching heads - Federer's from Switzerland and Soderling's from Sweden.

The Arrow of Love

My feedreader is overflowing with unread pieces. My Netflix documentary remains unseen for weeks. The weekly magazines are barely skimmed. I don't know where my library check-outs are. Personal time and space are lost. But the loss has flown into something more beautifully indescribable. When I wake up at 2 in the morning to sing a boring song without a hint of scale or tempo, my daughter listens as if that's the only sound that will put her to sleep. And the tiredness and frustration resulting from hours of sleeplessness melt away at her smile. And when she pulls the hair off my forehand when she cries, it isn't really painful. The disappearance of her blissful smile as soon as I focus my camera isn't that disappointing.
All the things that my wife and I do to keep her happy, healthy, safe, comfortable, asleep & active have heigtened my respect for my parents. I never realized the amount of work involved in caring for an infant can be done with such eagerness. I'll never be able to reciprocate the emotional investment my parents have made in me. Same way, I'll have to accept that my daughter will be able to unconditionally give all of herself only to her children (if & when) but not her parents.