Louise Erdich's Night Watchman

This novel has ghost visitations, folklores and mystical visions, all running in parallel with down-to-earth, hardworking, tough people who're full of hope. A shaman looking for a missing woman, closes his eyes and in his vision finds her in an abandoned house, chained. When the sister of the missing woman goes looking for that abandoned house, the narration loses its magic realism and smacks you in the face with all the realism of creepiness and insecurities Native American women face when they're all alone.

From the Annals of Billionaire Assholery

Musk, 2 days ago:

 Musk, yesterday:

Musk's claim that Apple threatened to pull Twitter off the AppStore is a nothingburger. What gives?

Jeyamohan's Kumarithuraivi

In 1311, when Sultans were harassing Hindu gods, the rulers of Madurai decided to secretly move Meenakshi to Aaralvaimozhi in Venaadu. Almost 60 years later, after the threat of Sultans has faded away, the Nayakkars want their Devi back. But the king of Venaadu is so attached to Meenakshi that it breaks his heart. One senior priest suggests that giving away your goddess, which seems like a bad omen, can be transformed in an auspicious event if you assume the role of the father of Meenakshi, and marry her away. 

Jeyamohan once quoted Balzac when asked about how he was able to pull off Venmurasu: "Great works are like a river. Once you jump into it, they'll take you where you need to go." Kumarithuraivi is the story of a marriage so grand and epic, that it consumes the people who're involved in it. This is not an event for mortal party planners. One does not simply create a checklist for a wedding of the gods. Shenbagaraman, the chief executor to the king, when tasked with making arrangements for this wedding, gets into a trance-like state as he's pushed, swayed and flows through all the formalities.

This is my first Jeyamohan novel. There isn't much to the plot, the characters are two dimensional and everything is neatly tied together at the end. There were a few times when this novel gave me Hum Aaapke Hain Koun vibes: all good people, happily coming together for an wonderful ceremony, interspersed with a few hiccups here and there. But that's where the similarities end, thankfully. The writing here is simple & brilliant. As the story slowly and beautifully moved forward, with all its முற்றிலும் மங்கலம் மட்டுமே credo, I sincerely appreciated the cozy space this book created for me, almost like a fairy tale for grownups.


I was 8 when I saw the original Vikram. My mind couldn't grasp the world of stolen nuclear warheads, undercover agents and the implications of national security. But the excitement the film generated in me was palpable. The plot was truly national, well, if you'll allow me, truly international (though, where's the Kingdom of Salamia?). While Rajini was churning out the likes of Padikkadhavan & Raja Chinna Roja,  Kamal fed the sophisticated mind; the foreign-return Rajini of Rajadhi Raja is not in the same league as foreign-return Madan of Michael Madana Kamarajan.

I listen to his interviews and the man's cinema intelligence shines through. He pushed the boundaries of acting and story telling in the 80s and the 90s. Since then, he's decided to serve only the whistle podum maasu. It's quite unfortunate that all of his smartness is channeled into grinding the idli batter that he ground decades ago. At least 35 years ago, in the original Vikram, he served us fresh idlis.

Me: Does Wanda Vision get better?

Friend: Yes, if you're a Marvel fan.


There are two ways to enjoy a Nolan film. The hard way is to watch it with your friends, get high, discuss the contraction and expansion of time in a parallel universe, rinse, lather, repeat. The other way is to just let the story wash over you like a poem with modern visuals. Yes, you may not get the nuts & bolts of the Einstein-Rosen bridge maneuver in Interstellar, but that's for suckers anyway. 

Nolan actually makes this crystal clear in Tenet, asking the audience via a scientist (is she a physicist? is that a lab? why is she wearing a white coat?) "Don't try to understand it, just feel it". That's very valuable advice because good luck trying understand dialogs like "They're running a temporal pincer movement". You'd need a masters in physics like Neil (Pattin Robertson, sidekick), who tries to explain "reversing the flow of time". But you know what's cool? The protagonist (John David Washington) drive a car in reverse-time, fight himself all the while villains talk Estonian backwards.

I can try to summarize the plot of Tenet, if I had half a mind to do it. But that doesn't do the world any good. It's a bit of a disappointment that such a wonderful craftsman like Nolan insists on repeatedly alienating a plain vanilla viewer with average intelligence with his nonstop temporal bullshit. If you have to watch a movie at least twice to understand the basic ingredients of a plot, you're not a good storyteller.

Trust & Anti-trust in US and China

US and China have built two vastly different internets that are reflective of their political systems. One is messy, open and chaotic. The other one is heavy-handed, top-down and enforced with an iron fist. The hands-off approach in US let a thousand flowers bloom, many wilted and a handful of them became trillion dollar companies that are critical to world economy. In China, all companies were equal until some were more equal than others. And they got the special care, grew more, had better access to capital, built better backdoors to government databases and got massive. When corporations grow so huge that they rival governments in providing services that they've long controlled (media, e-commerce, logistics, communication, etc), governments are rightful to be scared.

2020 was the year when US lawmakers suddenly realized the size of big tech and the scale of their influence. Congress paraded CEOs of Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon for hearings, asked a few irrelevant questions that made for good TV, but mostly asked pointed, but predictable questions for which the executives responded with vague non-answers. By the end of the year, these companies' combined market cap grew at an astonishing pace despite many state attorneys general preparing to file antitrust suits against them. Investors are not only collectively yawning, but they're betting money on these companies to do what they do best: provide value to consumers, grow even bigger and make money for shareholders.

China is a different beast. Their antitrust body, SAMR, formed in 2018, is a baby compared to our legal institutions. When ANT financial, Alibaba's financial affiliate and one of the biggest private fintech firms in the world, was about to go public a few weeks ago SAMR stopped them in their tracks. The talk on the street at the time was that Jack Ma, Alibaba's founder and one of the most powerful entrepreneurs in the world talked shit about Chinese regulators and Xi Jinping took it on himself to put Ma into his place. This week China's state news agency reported that SAMR is looking into Alibaba's alleged monopoly practices and that shaved off a whopping $90B from its market cap. Shares of JD, Tencent and a few other Chinese giants', purportedly under SAMR's radar, have fallen considerably.

US, like most democracies has tried and tested means of buying the politicians, controlling the media narrative and placating the public. Though some of this is possible in China, it ultimately boils down to what the top echelon of Chinese Communist Party wants. Western government and corporations have historically bought their way into the country by bribing CCP officials and they'll continue to do so. But the unofficial bribe policy always has been 'nobody is bigger than the party'. By applying the brakes on Ant IPO and looking into the monopolistic behavior of Alibaba, the party is very clearly telling the consumers of China that they think Ma's behavior is not just ambitious, but also reckless and unsustainable.

In US, for the longest time regulators have viewed monopoly narrowly through the lens of price control. If somebody's able to elbow out competition by pricing low and then start charging higher prices after killing the competition, that's a problem. But now that tech giants control huge swathes of the economy, regulatory bodies are wondering how consumers will end up getting the short straw if there are only a handful of companies that are all worth a few trillion dollars each. Chinese regulators have a different problem. Though their internet is very closed the products have all sorts of backdoors to a government database. As their tech giants continue their undaunted rise, they will pose a formidable threat to the CCP: if a handful of them control the crux of essential services that the party solely controlled until a few decades ago -  then what's the raison d'etre of CCP?

People trust Amazon and Alibaba not only with their payment information, but with their shopping preferences. People trust Google and Baidu to not only deliver search results, but to use their search history responsibly. People trust Facebook and Tencent not only to connect with their friends and family, but to not snoop into private conversations and sell them out. Even as companies find it harder to continue to earn and maintain this trust, ultimately it's the government's job to ensure that these corporations are trustworthy. Regulation is the best way to ensure a level playing field for all entrepreneurs and a good deal for the consumer. But when a government carries a big stick to investigate bad behavior, it helps if they are trusted by the people to do the right thing. If the governments wanted people to rally behind their efforts in curtailing the powers of these giants, it helps if people trust government institutions. Unfortunately, politicians from both the countries have a lot to learn from their respective tech leaders.

Black Musicians & The Purpose of Life

Soul (Disney+) & Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (Netflix)

Joe Gardner, an aspiring Jazz pianist who roughs it up as a middle school music teacher, has been waiting a very long time for an opening into the big league. On the day of his big break, he dies, goes to a heavenly limbo, begs and cheats his way back to Earth and performs astoundingly on his opening night. When the concert is over, he walks out feeling empty. Why?

Pixar has never shied away from lifting thematic heavyweights, be it addressing the urgency of environmental deterioration in Wall-E or pursuing your passion after retirement in Up. And they've always masqueraded these themes in funny lines and vibrant colors that kids think they're watching a kids film while the adults squirmed introspectively. But with Soul, the final phase of the film sweeps aside the kids and the punch is clearly directed at all the grown-up Joe Gardners we know: you worked hard for that promotion and you got promoted, but why aren't you satisfied? you waited a long time to move to Paris, but why aren't you excited after your move? you won the lottery, why aren't you happy now?

When Joe (very bankable Jamie Foxx) dies and his soul goes to an intermediate place called Great Before/Beyond, he's tasked with mentoring an unborn soul, 22, which has a reputation for being very difficult. 22 (brilliantly, annoyingly & self-deprecatingly voiced by Tina Fey) comes across as an ultra-nihilist that she doesn't even see the point of life and she's yet to be born. When a freak accident pushes her down along with Joe to Earth, she starts scared and anxious and gradually warms up to the beauty of living; "I like walking, maybe that's my purpose" she says to which Joe snaps back "That's not a purpose, that's just regular old living".

And that's why Joe's empty after his big blowout performance. When words like 'spark' and 'purpose' are sprinkled on your journey to a destination, you forget to enjoy a simple walk and a slice of pizza. During her brief stay on Earth, 22 learns that life is nothing but a continual series of nows punctuated with getting yelled at in a Subway, having an argument with your mother, enjoying a lollipop and having an honest conversation with your barber. If you can't enjoy that, then you're not living. Every religion and your back alley moral philosopher have been saying this for a long time. Soul conveys the message with panache.


Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is set in a studio on a hot afternoon Chicago in 1927. A jazz troupe (all Black, if you should ask) are scheduled to record an album. Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) is a legendary singer who goes to great lengths to be difficult to everyone around her and Levee Green (Chadwick Boseman) is a trumpeter who's difficult because that's just who he is.

Ma realizes that her glory days are behind her and once her voice is captured on a disc the economic exploitation of her talent by the White establishment (recording, distribution, rights, etc) will leave her behind. She's only trying to squeeze the last drop of respect she can demand from her white manager. Levee is a different story. He's young & dynamic and pissed at the world at large that his genius hasn't been recognized. While Ma has cultivated an angry patience (she waits for 'ice-cold' Coca Cola with everyone exasperated around her), Levee is just angry (he repeatedly kicks a door that leads nowhere, literally).

Dialogs sparkle and sizzle as the troupe evaluate and place themselves at different levels on the social strata. Temperature rises, tension rises. By the end of the film, an album is recorded and a man is killed. A young and vibrant talent is cut short and the movie weeps. An additional tragedy to the viewer is that we recognize the loss of Boseman, one of the finest actors of his generation, who delivers a stellar performance. Like the summer of 2020, this film reminds us that the time to confront racism is always now and the work is never done.


The unsmiling no-name no-nonsense protagonist who talks 3 words per minute, keeps going about his business until fate intervenes and a makes mighty mess his way. Then there are sudden bursts of extreme violence, which leave him mostly unruffled, that add depth, maybe charisma too, to his personality. We've seen Clint Eastwood don some of these in the 60s. Drive, starring Ryan Gosling directed by Nicolas Refn is a mature 21st century reimagining of that genre. While this is undoubtedly more mature and satisfying than the buttered popcorn action flicks that pop out of Hollywood studios, there's nothing for deep introspection here.

Consider this scene: the Driver (the protagonist is unnamed) is taking his neighbor Irene (in a wonderfully understated performance by Carey Mulligan) out on a date. Before they leave we hear the phone ringing. And in the car she says "That's my husband's lawyer. He says my husband will be out next week". A long silence ensues. The husband is in the prison. There's something blooming between the driver and the neighbor. The husband's return is obviously going to complicate things. I hate to use the word 'art' here, but usually in cinemas that allow for long pauses between conversations, like... er, arthouse productions, the director is giving the audience enough time to grasp and absorb what had just happened on the screen - a death or a divorce or an infidelity. Here, it doesn't even take two seconds after Irene's uttering - the audience know beforehand that the husband will be out of prison and the status quo will be disturbed. Why the long pause? This cinema has probably half the number of words compared with any other movie of similar running length. And I admit that the silence is soothing, mostly because it's better than filler dialogues. But it's important to distinguish between this soothing silence and a meditative silence where what transpires on the scene is deep.

The laconic and cold driver makes money as a get-away driver for the robbers who either don't have their own transportation facility or lack the skill to evade L.A.P.D on L.A roads. His rule is to just wait for 5 minutes outside the event, pickup the party and drop them off at a safe place. So when he realizes his pseudo-girlfriend's husband is in trouble to pay off his prison debts, a matter of few thousands, he steps in to help - the husband will steal and the driver will drive. There's no ulterior motive: not to send him to prison again; the help seems genuine. Makes one wonder what would have happened if the heist had gone right and their neighbors lived happily ever after. After all, the driver is, in more than one sense of the word, a hero. But shit hits the fan spectacularly. The husband is killed and the driver is on the run. We learn that it's no job for a small-time crook. A lot of money is involved and the mafia is behind it. Needless to say, some heads roll are pulped.

This film has got style - Ryan Gosling's minimalism, not just words, but expressions, Carey Mulligan's vulnerability as a single mother, the terrific score helping the noirish photography, non-commercial violence, enjoyable silence and more. But at the core, even though Refn has invested enough time in developing his primary characters, I really didn't care if they got together in the end. Now, I don't want a climax where the hero/heroine race through the airport and one of the people in the background say something romantic. But, even by the standards of neo-noir I had the least bit interested in the driver starting a new life with Irene. The objective here seems to be excellent filmmaking, not making an excellent film.


It's hard to get the take-me-not-serious tone. Just not taking the writing & production values seriously doesn't provide the tone. Most of the dialogues are horrible. Sample this supposedly funny line:
Our dear friend is banished to Earth! Loki sits on the throne of Asgard as our King! And all you have done is eat two boars, six pheasants a side of beef and drink two barrels of ale! Shame on you!
Shame indeed. This happens when Thor is getting to know the Earth people and their way of life: after gulping down a cup of coffee in a diner he smashes the cup asking for more. When he's politely reprimanded by the girlfriend that Earth people order in a more gentle way, he nods in an understanding manner. Wow! I've seen superhero movies where the guy comes to our planet and does funny things not knowing how stuff works. But this writing is scraping the bottom of the barrel. This is stuff rejected in a screen-writing convention in Peoria.

When Thor, the god of thunder is stripped of his superpowers and pushed down to Earth, he faces a giant robot sent to kill him. It slaps him and he falls down unconscious. His girlfriend swoops him and cries not knowing if he's still alive. And at this moment, allow me to remark on the range of expressions she exhibits - played by Oscar winning Natalie Portman, she doesn't invest a quarter of the emotional sincerity expected of an actor for such a scene. She plays it like a high school drama and director knows that the audience know it's a tongue-in-cheek outing and doesn't bother to re-shoot the scene. This laxity, a sense "y'all here to chill" awareness on the part of creators works on a good script. But the script is fractured, childish, immature. Ironman nailed it in letting the viewer take a break in a charmingly intelligent way. With 'Thor', the break is a bit long, about 110 minutes.

The Black Swan

Warning: Spoilers.

Aronofsky likes to study characters cracking under pressure. In 'Black Swan' it's the beautiful, timid, perfect, frigid, fragile ballerina Nina Sayers played with exquisite control by Natalie Portman. Her personality makes her a great fit for playing the white swan in Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake', but to play the black swan, she needs to loosen up, get a bit out of the rigid boundaries she has set herself to excel as a performer. Lily, a laid back dancer who naturally embodies black swan in her gracious but beguiling movements threatens Nina, who's constantly worried about being replaced. As a crushing load of expectations begin to fracture her mind, the audience see things through her eyes, to be precise, her mind. (Which is why this is a mind-fuck movie for adults, and the neatly wrapped up 'Inception' is not.)

I don't know if the sex scenes from the movie are on high rotation on Youtube yet. There's nothing explicit - neither a view of a nipple nor a crotch. But the dreamy layer lends an eroticism that's more powerful than nudity. Are Nina's sexual explorations a symbol of her getting closer towards the black swan inside her? I tried to replay the scenes in my head after the movie was over: The ballet producer, played charmingly by Vincent Cassel, indirectly asks her to explore her sexuality so that she departs away her from 'little princess' image befitting the white swan. First Nina tries masturbation in her bedroom; before she can climax, she sees her mother asleep in a chair near her in her room and she stops her act. Then she tries in the bathtub; but this time its not her mother but her mental blockades scare her out of her mood. The director informs us that Nina's ready not only to accommodate, but to be taken over by her complementary twin, Lily, who exudes unshackled sexual energy expected of the seductress black swan, when she's able to fantasize and climax with Lily.

Sex is not the only symbolism in the film, though it was the only one that was quite complex and worked on a mature level. The next frequently used symbolism was the reflecting image. Almost every other shot has a mirror or a reflecting surface. Either the mirror image is doing something the actual person isn't doing (though I have to admit that the director doesn't opt for any cheesy boo shots) or the reflecting surface is a weak black reflection telling us what lies beneath. I thought the director went overboard in pounding the meaning through images. Then there's the expanding goosebump and the disappearing bloody patch, representing the struggle between the white and the black swan; this was the most cheesiest trick in the screenplay.

I particularly liked the interplay between Nina and her mother Erica (played wonderfully by Barbara Hershey). That there be no doorlocks in the house is obviously the mother's decision. In one of the earlier scenes, the ballet director asks Nina if she's a virgin and she responds no. But Portman plays this scene so wonderfully and Aronofsky directs this scene so wonderfully, we don't know if this timid girl is lying. The mother's decision to absolutely avoid all physical boundaries between her and her daughter partly arises from Erica's failure to shine as a ballerina herself because of her accidental pregnancy with Nina. A significant chunk of Nina's 'good girl, no sex' policy seems to be ingrained in her brain by her mother as a cautionary tale.

The director pulls off an expected, but satisfying climax by playing a trick on the protagonist's mind. Was it a cheap trick? It would be, if you're to flip through the pages of the screenplay. But the intensity of the camera, with it's grainy film closing up on Portman's face combined with an eerie background score adds complexity to her character, the narration, the movie as a whole. But I still don't like the very last scene, where the filmmakers leave it up to the audience to write their own ending. Aronofsky did that with Mickey Rourke's character in the 'Wrestler' and he does the same thing here with Nina's fate in limbo. It's not that I'm not capable of convincing myself if someone lives or dies when the closing shot is a bloodied body. It makes me feel cheated when the director strongly guides a viewer all along giving no room to wiggle and in the end shoves him into a wide expanse of possibilities.

When the Best Is Bad

The Tamil blogosphere, 'critics' and 'pundits' are abuzz with Shankar/Rajini combo taking Tamil cinema to the next level. Wait a second, let me retract that: taking Indian cinema to the next level. And where has Indian cinema been all these days if 'Endhiran' represents the next level?

The movie is one big ad for a Rajini toy for all fanatics who puke on their Facebook wall that Rajini can make an onion cry and his gmail id is gmail@rajini.com. Too bad producers haven't thought of merchandising. By the time hundreds of Rajinis are stacked together to take the shape of a snake to gobble up cartoon police (near the end of the movie), I wished the snake to leap out of the screen and eat up most of the audience. They were all cheering. I don't know exactly what they were happy about - the very idea of a multiplied Rajini which was mind bogglingly stupidly executed or the 'special effects' which are notable because of their sub-par effects. Sensible people who hail this as a milestone must carefully choose their words - that this maybe a milestone for an Indian movie, in terms of special effects. But otherwise, the plot is badly conceived. The dialogues are bad. The special effects are pre-Jurassic Park era. The action (as in thespian, not blowing things up) and direction are plainly incompetent. I'm not a Rajini fan. But for a sensible fan, I'd recommend he get his fix from Annamalai.

The movie opens with the scientist Vaseegaran, played by Rajini (I know, it's hard to say with a straight face that Rajini plays a scientist) working on a humanoid robot. And by working, I mean he's literally working on it. He's screwing the stuff together, with the help of an assistant scientist and a deputy scientist played respectively by, wait for this, Santhanam and Karunas. These two wouldn't know the 'neural schema' (ooohh, a big word for a Tamil cinema) of the humanoid, and they primarily help with polishing and changing the dress. It just gets interminably boring from these first 2 minutes: Aishwarya Rai, the woman who's just dying to marry the scientist man and settle down, is pissed off that he hasn't returned her calls or replied to her emails as he's busy working. And after Vasee emerges from the lab, he goes on charm offensive and wins her over. Seriously, can it get any more clichéd? Bastards. I can't dwell on the storyline anymore; my IQ is dropping every minute I think of the story.

One of the guys said "machi, padam pattasu machi". Most of our (Indian/Tamil) movies and TV shows have been courting people who have a deep hatred for anything that is either intelligent or tastefully done. Shankar and Rajini have sound judgment. They know very well what makes their target audience go 'pattasu' and they get paid to flesh out their ideas which wouldn't pressure the acumen of a stupid 15 year old boy. (But there's a scene where Rajini converses with a bunch of mosquitoes. Anyone over 5 and has an attention span of 2 minutes would have heard their brain cells killing themselves).

One of the atrocities committed by the blogosphere is to classify this as a science fiction. It has to be, right? Because they use words like neural schema and humanoid and robotics. They obviously haven't turned a leaf of either Clarke or Asimov or seen '2001' or 'Solaris' or even something very commercial like 'Minority Report'. There's just not very little science in the movie, there's anti-science here. Artistic liberty on top of some basic science would have been appreciated. Every concept is either dumbed down or simplified or misinterpreted. The android is taught emotions and it falls in love. It's been done at least 18 times before with a decent scientific rigor. But what we witness in 'Endhiran' is a crime against humanity and humanoid-ity.

Hollywood is a medley. Titanic and Avatar, two mega-blockbusters feature maudlin plots with some horrible writing. But when they do special effects, they do it better than anybody else. The 'Men In Black' franchise is stupid, but it knows it's stupid and doesn't treat the audience like they're stupid. The Batman series by Nolan has a solid story and inventive action scenes. The independent film circuit here is super good. Darren Aronofsky has done 4 movies in the last 10 years and just look at how magnificently different the themes he's dealing with are. Alejandro Inarritu has done 4 movies in 10 years and though they have the same undercurrent, I don't think there's any other filmmaker who can do a better job of interconnecting multiple stories with this level of emotional impact. And there's Paul Thomas Anderson. Need I introduce Coen brothers or Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino? My favorite writers Aaron Sorkin and Charlie Kaufman excel in their own styles.

I'm not saying these guys are the best. Hollywood produces its share of trash every week. But there's something for everyone in every mood. I don't see that in our movies. Maniratnam, one of our best shots, directed 'Ravanan'. A movie that just goes nowhere, conveys nothing. And I have to say that I like 'My Dinner with Andre'. Just see 'Ravanan' for its dialogues. Kamal Hasan's 'Unnai Pol Oruvan' discounts the complexities of religion and politics and offers a 'thriller'. Well, Shankar and Rajini don't pretend to offer popcorn bites for the mind. But these guys combined are our front-runners and they all suck.


Slate, an American online magazine I visit daily, carried an article on Rajini and introduced him thus:
If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth.
Seriously? Is there a universal rule that if you like Rajini you'll have to write nonsense?

Isabelle Huppert

Once in a while you see a movie which features a stellar performance that you don't know what hit you. Isabelle Huppert's role in The Piano Teacher stabs you in the heart and twists the knife a bit. It's a wonderfully calibrated performance about the deleterious effects of sexual repression. The movie is supremely engaging and disturbing at the same time. I will write about the movie, which will entail a frank and detailed sexual exploration, in a later post.

Pricing a Book

This book by Praveen Swami - India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The Covert War in Kashmir, 1947-2004 (Asian Security Studies) - boasting one of the most boring titles I've come across, costs $160. On the top of my head I can think of a few parameters that determine the price range of a non-fiction book. The perceived value of the content is obviously on top. Research scientists and anthropologists spend decades gaining knowledge which they summarize succinctly in an understandable manner. (A topic like Guns, Germs and Steel pops to me). We pay for their years of experience and analytical skills. Another determinant is the genre - an exploration of counter-terrorism, though important, doesn't sell as much a biography of Oprah Winfrey (pandering to the masses). And then the popularity of the author - Obama's earnings from his books last year was $8M.

But no common-sense approach would okay a publisher setting the price at $160 for a 272 page book. (I know there are businesses that pay a lot for slim reports. But this doesn't fall into that category. I bring in the number of pages because that's an indication of the extensiveness & depth of the treatment. A 57-year history can only be put in a nutshell in less than 300 pages; to dive deep and dissect would consume considerable volumes). Unless there are any state/jihadi secrets, which there obviously can't be, it doesn't make sense to price it out of reach of a common man interested in understanding the history. It's hard to put a price tag on any book and the value a good book delivers can never be measured in dollars. And this book might very well open eyes to many; it might very well contain many seminal ideas. But such an expensive price tag in most cases will work against the propagation of the author's knowledge; it may turn out as the prime means to ensure a reduced readership.
David Brooks writes a column that I wanted to write about Elena Kagan, Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court. Here are the final lines:
What we have is a person whose career has dovetailed with the incentives presented by the confirmation system, a system that punishes creativity and rewards caginess. Arguments are already being made for and against her nomination, but most of this is speculation because she has been too careful to let her actual positions leak out.

There’s about to be a backlash against the Ivy League lock on the court. I have to confess my first impression of Kagan is a lot like my first impression of many Organization Kids. She seems to be smart, impressive and honest — and in her willingness to suppress so much of her mind for the sake of her career, kind of disturbing.
It makes theoretical sense to have someone in the judge's seat who can impartially listen to and make a fair judgement. But nobody is impartial. The school they they went to, the friends they had, the community they grew up, the crime rate around them (or the lack thereof), born to educated parents, educated in a Ivy League institute, marital life (or the lack of it), being a woman... A judge may claim to be impartial in their hearings but still all the arguments have to pass through their collective background filter and by virtue of growing up they would have lost their neutrality.

We'll know quite soon where Kagan stands; after all, she's replacing the liberal lion of the court and Obama wouldn't possibly nominate someone who's going to tilt the court towards right. But as the pragmatist conservative columnist David suggests, it is intellectually dishonest to not express your position on various issues that concern the society and play it safe all along for the sake of professional growth. It is ironical that she had criticized the senate confirmation process for not being insightful enough, while all along she has been preparing herself for such a process.

There's an episode from the melodramatic 'The West Wing' where the president initially leans towards a very centrist judge for openings (two) in the Supreme Court. But then he listens to an extremely liberal and an extremely conservative fight each other inside the Oval and he decides to go with them. I'm glad that Sonia Sotomayor called herself a wise Latina.

Sitting Duck or Bait?

Faisal Shahzad bought a used SUV from someone nearby in a face-to-face transaction, did not scrape the VIN off the engine, loaded it with Home Depot grade explosives and left it near Times Square without properly setting off what could have been a ball of fire. The level of clumsiness he has exhibited will put any 15 year old Forsyth-reader to shame. And he's just back from Pakistan after a 5-month visit after alleged contacts with fundamentalists there. When the border police boarded the flight (he was trying to escape to Dubai, and possibly back to Pakistan) he said "I've been expecting you. Are you NYPD or FBI?"

Was he desperately trying to be apprehended? Is he throwing the intelligence resources a dummy trail behind his back? Was it a ploy to see how responsive NY's counter terrorism cell is in responding to such emergencies? Investigators say that he's talking freely; terrorists either blow themselves up or play hard to get. Is he a loony easy catch or is there anything more to this case?

Regional Affinities

As I grew up and opened up to a variety of experiences I gradually lost my affiliations that made what was me during my formative years. I'm not a fan of Maniratnam, I don't love India, I don't think bisibelebath is the best dish ever conceived and arguably there are better writers than Rushdie. But during the IPL, I found myself supporting the Chennai cricket team, my city, though it's not my city anymore. And now the world cup has commenced and I'm back to my indifference, not caring much for India. And to think that I rooted for a team that not only had non-Chennai players but also non-Indian players and don't feel bothered by a team comprising all Indian players is... not unsettling, just a tad puzzling.
Writing is like hitting the gym (what a flimsy metaphor to begin with). The more you do it, the better you get at it (and the nonsense continues). And if you begin to take breaks and are happy to be sitting home watching sitcoms, you get cozy with your laziness (a light-bulb moment!). I'm going through one of those phases - neither hitting the gym, nor writing amidst not doing many other things and am strangely happy with my lack of initiatives. And since any act, when not practiced or projected, loses its sharpness, I'm struggling a bit to put my thoughts in writing coherently, not to mention the ability to prioritize on which topic to write about. Like getting on a bicycle after 15 years, I'm hopping on it again...

In Other News

.. blogging will resume this weekend. Thanks for checking.

What's Illegal in India?

Human sacrifice, BBC says (emphasis mine):

The head and the body were found at the local temple to the goddess Kali near Chotomakdampur village in the western district of Birbhum.

Police say they have detained a tribal villager for questioning.

Human sacrifice is illegal in India. But a few cases do occur in remote and underdeveloped regions.

The shock value of such a news piece has slowly subsided since every once in a while I bump across the same headline. But what is BBC saying about the state of Indian polity to the rest of the world by including that line? The fact that we still have to deal with dangerous fools is another matter.