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Not MIA

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Just to let anyone who still bothers visiting this blog that I am not really missing in action. Just been very busy and any free time to be had is being consumed by this very exciting, eminently gripping even if sprawling (about 1000-pages and I am near 350 now) sci-fi and historical novel, Cyptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.

Meanwhile, enjoy the post-card-like qualities of this photo:

(somewhere in the Smoky Mountains, circa two weeks ago; posted party inspired by this)

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

November 15, 2006 at 4:34 pm

Posted in Blog, Books, Photographs

Orhan Pamuk wins the Nobel…

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…in Literature (finally breaking the American march towards a Nobel sweep1). Pamuk, a Turkish author, was recently mired in controversy in his homeland for speaking out about Turkish atrocities against Armenians and Kurds. He was accused of being anti-Turk, and the case generated international condemnation for Turkey’s stance on freedom of speech. The charges were eventually dropped.

The Nobel citation described him as such:

"who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures".

I will leave it to the more erudite bloggers for further comments on this one. Personally, I had read Snow last year and was mesmerized by the enigmatic story-telling, as well as deeply intrigued by the depiction of the tense clash between government imposed (Western) secularism and personal (Islamic) religious choices. Extremely topical, wouldn’t you agree ?

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1: Although the Economics award is not strictly a ‘Nobel Prize’, and hardly any Americans stood a chance for the Peace Prize this year.  

PS – Interesting how the MSM is breaking the story – I assume they will fill in with more information as the day goes on but hardly any mention of the persecution in his native country so far. The AP release that most sites are carrying right now (7.40am EDT) , however, all contain this nugget:

Last year’s winner was British playwright Harold Pinter, a vociferous critic of U.S. foreign policy. That award triggered accusations that the Swedish Academy was anti-American, left-leaning and politically motivated.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

October 12, 2006 at 7:47 am

Wednesday morning double-takes

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There should be warning signs or alert notices with news such as these – otherwise when you are reading them way early in the morning, you are liable to spill the coffee.

First, via Slashdot, a story about the Kerala goverment ‘actively encouraging’ its schools to use Linux and other such free software instead of Microsoft products.

As part of a drive against “monopolistic” organizations, schools and public offices across the state are being encouraged to install free software systems instead of purchasing Microsoft’s Windows programs.

(via NYT, free reg’d required)
Now don’t get me wrong here, I hate Microsoft1 and love free stuff as much as the next guy, but its the reasoning that caused an inward gasp.

“It is well-known that Microsoft wants to have a monopoly in the field of computer technology. Naturally, being a democratic and progressive government, we want to encourage the spread of free software,” M. A. Baby, the state’s education minister, said by telephone.

This from a goverment that actively pursues monpoly of the state in every sphere of life and tries to stifle free market competetion.
(btw, cannot help but giggle at the name of the education minister. Imagine him at the cabinet swearing-in ceremony: “I, MA Baby,…..”)

Second, via Amit Varma, another example of ignorance and ineptness in the main stream media. Some dude named Stephen Thompson reviewing Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games for the Scotsman on Sunday begins with this gem:

There are certain books that are so similar to one another they almost beg to be grouped together. This is largely true of Indian novels. Look closely at the ones published in the past, say, 25 years, and you’ll see that they’re virtually identical, in theme if not in style and content.

For me, Midnight’s Children is indivisible from A Fine Balance, which in turn cannot be separated from A Suitable Boy. Directly or indirectly, all three books – and there are other notable examples – are concerned with the same thing: the state of Indian society in the wake of independence and partition.

As Varma says, the idiocy and the fallacy in these statements are pretty much self evident. Apart from nitpicking that Thompson should mention ‘Indian novels written in English’, given the vast repertoire of quality literature in other Indian languages, I could question how many of the so-called ‘Indian novels’ this guy has read. I am sure Chetan Bhagat’s ‘Five Point Someone’ (lacking as it might in literary merits) deals with post-partition trauma – actually I can see that – IITs came about after independance and so on 🙂 !

Moreover, has he ever bothered to read, at least the synopses, of the novels he cites as examples of being similar ? A Fine Balance deals with emergency and a particular section of Indian society, while A Suitable Boy and Midnight’s Children are much more sweeping temporally (not to mention the wholly different issues tackled in each of the latter novels). Additionally, if a novel is set in modern India, what the fug could it’s theme consist of if not independance and partition? Same as saying all mystery novels are about murder and such and all sci-fi novels are about the future. Of course, he also conveniently ignores Chandra’s own earlier epic ‘Red Earth and Pouring Rain‘.

Such use of broad brush strokes and sweeping generalizations could be construed as racism, as this person does. To me its plain laziness, combined with incompetence.

1: With Bill Gates recent philanthropic ventures, my MS hatred has become a bit muted.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 30, 2006 at 11:29 am

Chinese Whispers: The Bad Journalism Edition

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Samit Basu writes about how his comments on the Kaavya Vishwanathan story suffers a twisted fate of Chinese whispers. He is originally misquoted and mis-contexualized by Tehelka, which in turn is further misquoted by none other than the Wall Street Journal. The final story:

"There’s nothing wrong with a little national pride over a young star living out the Indian-American dream. But wouldn’t it be nice if at least once in a while, the Indian media could admit it was wrong."

You would think that the main stream media would like to get its act together and come down on journalistic laziness/incompetence, what with blogging and citizen journalism breathing down its neck !

While on Kaavya Vishwanathan, Jabberwock points out a Roald Dahl short-story I should have recalled long ago when the story broke out: The Great Automatic Grammatizer. As a big fan of Dahl’s short stories I can’t believe I didn’t think of it.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

May 5, 2006 at 9:16 am

Freakonomics: the society is your test-tube

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It has been a month or so since I finished reading this rather engaging book written by Steven Levitt, an award-winning young Economist at the University of Chicago and journalist Stephen Dubner. I have been procrastinating on writing about it for a while. Yesterday, the book turned one (Happy B’day!) – so I guess it is probably as good time as any to post some thoughts.

The book and its authors have been extensively discussed on the blogosphere and reviewed elsewhere, and they have their own blog. Therefore, it is quite needless to go into a detailed review. Instead, this post will be more of personal musings on my perceptions of Economics (with a capital E) and how economics-blogs and this book has affected it.
(warning: long personal ramblings ahead)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 14, 2006 at 5:37 pm

Posted in Books, Personal

Updating my Wishlist

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In which I talk about books,DVDs, CDs etc that I cherish – some I wish I had and some of the prized stuff that I already have.

Books, films (and to some extent music) are the passions of my life. Libraries, second-hand book stores, borrowing from friends, TV channels, Blockbuster, Netflix etc have been the usual sources to satiate my cravings for the written and visual materials. Gradually, I have also built a not too shabby collection of books and DVDs/VCDs/tapes/CDs. However, till recently, I have never been able to afford complete collections of any author/director/musician. As they say, by gods grace, my financial situation over the last year or so has enabled me to start owning such collections.

Let’s see if I can make you jealous by listing some of the most cherised stuff I purchased/was gifted recently (not in any particular order):
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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 14, 2006 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Books, Films, Personal, Wishlist

Now in my possession…

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……Far Side – The Complete Collection.

(Picture link: Amazon)Handsomely bound in leather – encased in an industrial strength cardboard box (seemed to weigh a ton – but officially 18 pounds I am told) – almost all of the Gary Larson’s wonderful comics, arranged in chronological order along with an assortment of his own comments, hate/fan mail, explanation of some of the panels etc. A must have for all Far Side lovers.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

June 23, 2005 at 8:25 am

Posted in Books, Wishlist