Monday, January 31, 2005

Constructing Peace: Marquette University

Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, is a revered university, somewhat less prone to the failings of modern college mayhem and mania, such as those described in Tom Wolfe's new memoir of college life, "I Am Charlotte Simmons". The Princeton Review named Marquette one of the best universities in the Midwest and among the top 20 schools "where students never stop studying." It is among the top hundred universities nationwide.

One of the reasons for their academic focus and social relevance is their roots as a Jesuit university. This translates into a holistic education focus, rather than a limited view of life. A number of fine schools the world over are from this tradition. In India, for example, while the Jesuit fathers were known for their quick anger and painful caning rendered for light trespasses, schools like St. Joseph's were also renowned for their academic rigor and excellence.

Every February, Marquette University takes a look at it's Jesuit mission in Mission Week. The theme for this year's Week is "Constructing Peace". There is a cornucopia of events, lectures and workshops planned, including a photo exhibit by Michael Collopy, noted photographer, with his exhibit "Architects Of Peace" - images from the exhibit are available online. The exhibit includes visionaries like Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, Mother Teresa, Dr. C. Everett Koop, Thich Nhat Hanh, Elie Wiesel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Coretta Scott King and many more.

The keynote speaker is Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, of whom I wrote recently. He is the founder of the Gandhi Institute. His keynote address will be webcast, and archived online. A brief bio:
Born in 1934 in Durban, South Africa, Arun Gandhi is the fifth grandson of India's late spiritual leader, Mohandas Karamchand "Mahatma" Gandhi. Growing up under South Africa's apartheid was difficult, humiliating and often dangerous. Enduring bigoted attacks from Euopean-African youths for not being "white", and from Native Africans for not being "black", increased the anger that Arun Gandhi bore as a young man. Hoping that time with his grandfather would help the twelve year old Arun control his rage and deal with prejudice through nonviolent means, his parents took him to India to live with "The Mahatma" (great soul) in 1946.

Arun's stay with his grandfather coincided with the most tumultuous period in India's struggle to free itself from British rule. His grandfather showed Arun firsthand the effects of a national campaign for liberation carried out through both violent and nonviolent means. For eighteen months, while Gandhi imparted lessons to his grandson, the young man was also witnessing world history unfold before his eyes. This combination set Arun on a course for life.
Arun and Sunanda(his wife) moved to Oxford, Mississippi in the United States in 1987. At the University of Mississippi, they collected material to compare race issues in the American south, color discrimination in South Africa, and the caste system in India. In October 1991, the Gandhis founded the "M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence". Its mission is to examine, promote, and apply the principles of nonviolent thought and action through research, workshops, seminars and community service. The Institute is located at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee, where Arun is also a scholar-in-residence.

He is sure to provide some interesting insights into living, and constructing peace.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Big Fishes, Little Fishes

In another example of consolidation being the only way forward for transnational corporations, Procter & Gamble have announced they are buying Gillette for $57 billion in a stock swap deal. This merger creates the world's largest consumer products company. (Details here)

The 168-year old Procter & Gamble, with 110,000 employees and made $52 billion in sales last year, merges with 101-year-old Gillette, which has about 35,000 workers and reported $9.25 billion in sales last year. Gillette's largest shareholder is the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett. He plans to Pamper his babies, buying close to 100 million shares of the combined company.

This is the second time the two have tried to merge. Gillette, in the past, was vigorous in resisting mergers and acquisitions, having had many a close shave. This gamble will be proctored before it is through, but the ample number of competitors in this space indicate there should be no real issues with the merger.

Acquisitions provide fresh lines of business for companies, besides being an opportunity to create a better company. The impact on rivals is questionable - an agile rival can sidestep the merger-related restructuring, and take advantage of the complex efforts of the hitherto distinct companies to work as one. The mom-and-pop stores are further disadvantaged in the global marketplace, being effectively shut out of access to consumer dollars.

This deal will spark off the M&A frenzy for the year, and expect to see more consolidation, mergers and layoffs. P&G expects to cut about 6,000 jobs, or about 4 percent of the combined workforce of 140,000. Both companies are eminently profitable. Gillette's gross margin has averaged 60.3 percent in the past five years, while P&G's averaged 47.6 percent.Wal-Mart accounted for 17 percent of P&G sales last year and 13 percent for Gillette in 2003.

Multibillion U.S. mergers in 2004 have included JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s $58 billion acquisition of Bank One Corp., Cingular Wireless' purchase of AT&T Wireless Services Inc. for $46.7 billion and Sprint Corp.'s agreement to buy Nextel Communications Inc. for $35 billion, besides the Symantec-Veritas merger of $13.5 billion and Oracle-Peoplesoft for $10 billion

A Day Of Infamy

India won it's independence from the British using both techniques of soft power like non-cooperation, non-violence and some hard core revolutionary tactics. The British did not give up their empire easily, and left some long-lasting legacies - both good and ill.

a 1947 sketch - R K Laxman

Following the model they had applied in Ireland in 1921, India was partitioned, birthing the as-yet unviable nation-state of Pakistan, a country formed as a theocracy. The division was cruel, causing the forced migration of millions, and many deaths. The dividing line cut through villages, houses and hearts. My own father experienced the horrors of partition. People of his generation look back with nostalgia at the beautous climes of Pakistan's hill-stations and ancient cities. He used to say that he had drunk the milk of two mothers, and never held a grudge against Pakistan.

Not everyone was so kind. The numerous wars and conflicts began as early as late 1947, when India and Pakistan had their first stand-off over Kashmir. The larger story of the egos of Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, first Prime Ministers of the two nascent countries is a tale worth the telling, yet the one man who stood between the two, towering over history like a colossus, a gentle, kind soul, paid a price far greater than the two politicians.

Mahatma Gandhi, the Apostle of non-violence faced an ignominous end on 30th January, 1948, when he was shot by a nationalist radical, part of a murky conspiracy whose roots may never be fully explored. Gandhi, who explored his own faults and failings like few others have done in awas a conciliatory force in the partisan politics of the time. Times have changed, and India is a powerful, globalized, urbanized nuclear power. Not many care much for the ideals of Gandhi, and less for the effects of soft power. A powerful, moving piece on the assassination of someone who could have gone on to define Indian identity is in the Times Of India
For India's midnight children, those born in a freshly-partitioned and free Hindustan, Gandhi and Nehru represented the two facets of adolescent, post-colonial pride. The tension between the Mahatma's anarchic vision of a self-sufficient India and the armature of a sovereign state that Jawaharlal was fabricating feverishly...
While India gave birth to Mohandas, it was the vengeful idea of a majoritarian 'Indian nation' that killed him. Let's reclaim once again those precious two minutes on January 30 every year to remind ourselves of the wayward ways of righteous nationalism.

Some highlights from his rich and varied life:

A photo-quilt on Gandhi

> His struggle for civil rights in South Africa from 1893 for 20 years. Influenced by Henry Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy, he began a policy of passive resistance and non-cooperation with the authorities. He termed this 'Satyagraha', from the Sanskrit words for truth and fairness. During the Boer War, Gandhi organized an ambulance corps for the British army and commanded a Red Cross unit.

> He campaigned for Home Rule in India, again with a policy of organized non-cooperation, particularly from 1920. He stressed economic independence, and small industry, emphasizing that the village was the ideal functional unit of society. In 1921, he was given complete executive authority for the freedom movement by the organizing body, the Indian National Congress. He ended the movement, when people resorted to violence, confessing that they had not understood him.

> He returned to politics and the freedom movement in 1930, leading the campaign to refuse to pay taxes like the 'salt tax', leading a mammoth march to the Arabian Sea where he symbolically made salt by evaporating sea-water. He later represented the Congress in a conference in London.

> He applied his convictions to reforming the social injustices inherent in Indian society, campaigning ceaselessly for the underprivileged, formally resigning from political activities in 1934. The British granted Home Rule in 1935, but he was asked to approve it. He allowed himself to re-enter politics in 1939, providing the final push until independence was achieved in 1947.

Some of his quotes:

"I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could."

"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes."

"I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers."

"It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence."

"Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it."

"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?"

Thursday, January 27, 2005


Further blurring the thin line between new and old media, Google News has added the fine collection of eclectic writing, as a source - the importance of this cannot be underestimated.

In effect, an individual's posts are treated at par with those from the highly paid media mavens. This reduces the premium on traditional media communication to a level as to make it almost irrelevant. Their main value is the mindshare they occupy, and the fine writers who write for many of them. Any of these writers could at anytime choose to be a blogcritic.

Many fine writers are already part of the cabal of blogcritics - hop on over and see if you qualify.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

MGM DVD Class Action Lawsuit

MGM has settled a class action lawsuit about marketing DVDs as widescreen, when they were actually Pan&Scan with the top and bottom chopped off. Replacements are being offered through a tortorous process detailed at the MGM site on the class action suit.

The DVD list includes hundreds of films like Y Tu Mama Tambien, the Rocky films, Raging Bull, Terminator, Hannibal, the James Bond films and many more.

As per the settlement notice,
Class Members have the right to return to the Claims Administrator one copy of each DVD title manufactured by or on behalf of MGM which was created for a film shot in the aspect ratio of 1.85 to 1 or 1.66 to 1 (“Eligible DVD”) for either
(1) a new MGM DVD from a list of 325 titles or
(2) a cash refund of $7.10.

If you are eligible to participate in the Settlement, the Claims Administrator will send you a Proof of Claim Form, a List of MGM DVD Titles and a postage pre-paid mailing label which is sufficient to allow you to return the Proof of Claim Form and each Eligible DVD to the Claims Administrator.

The retailers named in the suit are:


A good definition of Pan&Scan, etc from
What does 2.35:1 and 1.85:1 mean? Why do I have Black Bars on my TV? What is Anamorphic, Widescreen or 16 x 9?
Aspect ratio refers to the width to height ratio of a film's presentation. Most home televisions are 4x3 (also expressed 4:3). Films, however, are presented in a variety of very different sizes. Armageddon, for instance, is in 2.35:1 (when you watch this film in its widescreen presentation, you will see that it is approximately 2.35 times as wide as it is tall), while As Good As It Gets is in 1.85:1.

Newer, high-definition TVs have an aspect ratio of 16:9, much closer to the size of an actual movie screen, and can therefore impressively accommodate the video output from your DVD player!

So if you don't have a 16:9 TV, does that mean you can't enjoy your DVD movies? Of course not! Your 4:3 TV will present your DVD movies in their original aspect ratios (provided that such a transfer is actually on the disc) by means of "letterboxing." Letterboxing simply means that the image on your TV is "boxed" by black bars of varying size (depending upon the aspect ratio of the movie you're watching) at the top and bottom of the screen. Though some people don't like watching letterboxed movies on their 4:3 TVs, most videophiles find it highly preferable as they get to see the movie as the filmmaker intended it to be seen.

Which brings us to Pan & Scan, the alternative to letterboxing, and Full Frame. Pan & Scan is a method of transferring a film to video in which a camera is "panned" back and forth over a film, thereby "scanning" so that the video transfer will contain the most important elements of the original film. What are the most important elements? Well, that's a might touchy question. The Pan & Scan version of a film will usually concentrate on the center of action, or on elements central to the plot, i.e. on the person speaking, on the killer's knife entering the edge of the screen, or on the Death Star exploding. As you might imagine, quite a bit of detail gets left out completely, sometimes as much as 50% of the originally filmed image! Sadly, most anything you rent on VHS has been panned and scanned.

Though "widescreen" and "letterbox" are usually used interchangeably, there is a big difference in "Full Frame" and "Pan & Scan." Films presented in Full Frame were originally shot that way, i.e. matted for presentation in roughly the aspect ratio of a 4:3 TV. An example of a Full Frame movie is Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.

This is effectively a frivolous lawsuit that's got lucky - from various discussion boards, one finds this may be a case of confusing advertising rather than deliberate fraud. Nevertheless, jump the hoops if you qualify - before March 31, 2005.
Look on the back (or booklet) of certain older MGM releases, and there's a little graphic that tries to explain widescreen. It shows a frame from the movie, and it looks like the "widescreen" version of a movie offers more image than the "fullscreen." (It's a little widescreen frame with the "fullscreen" part of it framed off.)

The problem is, when you're dealing films that were shot flat (1.85:1 or 1.66:1) the widescreen transfer is (usually) soft-matted from a 1.37:1 image. So the matted widescreen transfer DOES NOT offer more image than the unmatted fullscreen.

There is nothing wrong with any of the transfers, only that the way MGM marked the packaging in an erroneous manner when trying to explain the benefits of widescreen.

And, yes, while the information about widescreen isn't wholly accurate, it's still a silly lawsuit. The widescreen transfers appear as they should

However, according to the proposed settlement, they didn't chop anything. They merely distributed the same content as both P&S and widescreen, despite the aspect ratio/image width being identical. As opposed to just labeling the same case as both.

Rammstein: Reise, Reise, Amerika, Coca-Cola, Wonderbra

Intelligent industrial metal German band Rammstein's album "Reise, Reise" has become one of my favorite listens. Their strong chords, striking imagery and wry humor combine to create powerful images in the mind.

The songs have been excellently translated over at the Rammstein fan site These translations are used in the notes that follow.(Ich verstehe Deutsch, aber mein Deutsch ist nicht gut, dass genug, gute √úbersetzungen von diesen Liedern zu versorgen)

The first song, "Reise, Reise" deals with a battle of the sea, between seamen, fishes and humans - a call to arms.
Even on the waves there is fighting
Where fish and flesh are woven into sea
One stabs the lance while in the army
Another throws it into the ocean

"Mein Tell", or "my part" is a hard-driving metal thrasher with an unusual theme, a willing human victim to a butcher - based on the real life case of Jurgen Brandes, who was willingly slaughtered by Armin Meiwes. The song was used in "Resident Evil 2:Apocalypse"
Today I will meet a gentleman
He likes me so much he could eat me up
Soft parts and even hard ones
are on the menu

The song "Dalai Lama" is replete with mystical meaning. Nominally, it is about a little boy on an airplane who is feeling afraid, and about the fear of flying. The current Dalai Lama is himself afraid of flying. The song also draws on the rich tradition of lieder such as Schubert's "Erlkonig" based on Goethe's poem "Der Erlkonig"(The Erl King) about a little child haunted by a sinister being, an omen of death - this tale itself is as old as the Jewish tale of Lilith, and later medieval tales of the Elf King.
Onwards, onwards into destruction
We must live until we die
Humans don't belong in the sky
So the lord in Heaven calls
his sons to the wind
Bring me this human child

The next song "Keine Lust" or "Don't Feel Like It" is about the extinguishing of desire, of all forms, turning the individual into a listless, jaded, soul. A typical feeling in such a state is the inability to experience sexual desire, captured in this song as well.
I don't feel like not hating myself
Don't feel like touching myself
I would feel like masturbating
Don't feel like trying it
I would feel like getting undressed
Don't feel like seeing myself naked
...I'll just keep lying here
and I'll count the flies again
I listlessly touch myself
and notice I've been frigid for a long time already
So frigid, I'm cold . . .

The song "Los" or "Less" is a social protest song giving voice to the nameless, speechless, powerless, wordless - a catchy rhythm and beat permeates this song, and the tempo is pretty good too.
We were nameless
We have a name
We were wordless
The words came
Still we are
a little songless
Yet we're not toneless
You do hear it
We aren't flawless
Just a bit anchorless
You will become soundless
You'll never get rid of us

The next song "Amerika" (spelt that way) is a wry look at globalization, American-style
We're all living in America
America is wonderful
We're all living in America
America, America

When there's dancing I want to lead
even if you're whirling around alone
Let yourselves be controlled a little
I'll show you how it really goes
We're making a nice round dance
Freedom is playing on all violins
Music is coming out of the White House
and Mickey Mouse is standing in front of Paris
We're all living in America
Coca-Cola, Wonderbra
We're all living in America
America, America
...We're all living in America
Coca-Cola, sometimes war
We're all living in America
America, America

The 'freedom playing on all violins is particularly apposite, given Mr Bush's inagural speech.

The next song is about 'Moskau'(Moscow), 'the most beautiful city in the world'. Some striking images about this uber-city abound, along with a Russian backing track that fits quite well with the theme.
She is old and nevertheless beautiful
I can't resist her
I can't resist
She powders her old skin
and has gotten her breasts rebuilt
She makes me horny I suffer torment
She dances for me I have to pay
I have to pay
She sleeps with me but only for money
It's still the most beautiful city in the world

A couple of ballads also feature on the album, including one of my favorite songs on this record, "Amour" with vivid imagery,
Love is a wild animal
It breathes you it looks for you
It nests upon broken hearts
and goes hunting when there are kisses and candles
It sucks tightly on your lips
and digs tunnels through your ribs
It drops softly like snow
First it gets hot then cold in the end it hurts
Amour Amour
Everyone just wants to tame you
Amour Amour in the end
caught between your teeth

The band is often accused of a sort of crypto-fascism, primarily because of their hard-driving tonalities and imagery, but even a close reading of any of their songs does not bring out any such theme. One of the band members commented, "...The German media sometimes gets carried away with such things. There was even one critic who said that the way Till rolls his 'r's' when he sings is supposed to mimic the way that Hitler used to speak! How silly can they get. We've never written a political song in our life, and we probably never will. It's just reverse discrimination because we are German. Kraftwerk had the same thing happen to them twenty years ago. If we were Spanish or Dutch, there would be no problem."

The band last toured in the United States in 2001, after the release of their album "Mutter". They tour in Europe this year. This is a good, dark, Germanic album.

Cultural Images

Many of the stereotypes about India revolve around elephants, snakecharmers and monkeys. Modern India is quite different, particularly in the urban centers, home to millions, and often indistinguishable from their Western counterparts.

At the same time, India is a variegated whole, a cornucopia of visual and social richness. Pre-globalization, and before India defined it's brand identity, I remember trite slogans like "Unity In Diversity" and "We Two Ours Two" (a transliteration of a family planning slogan). Modern India prefers ad campaigns like "India Shining". It's technological and BPO spheres are world class, while industries like textiles and film-making are large, global phenomena. While still grappling with difficult social and economic issues, India has been able to come to terms for the most part with its sources of tradition and globalization. It embraced globalization and liberalization in the early 1990s and has not looked back since.

I strongly believe that place determines identity - my local context assimilates me, and I assimilate it. Wonsaponatime, as the poet said, my village defined me, then it was my tribe, then my state, then my country. In the impermanent global flux, does it matter any more where I'm from, where I'm going? As Cory Doctorow has it, do we belong to where we are, or do we belong to Eastern Standard Tribe? Nowadays, who I am is related to where I am. My identity is formed by the history of my place of birth, and where I grew up, but my current location creates an affinity that I must adhere to, often at the cost of my place of naissance. To be on the web further dislocates the identity from the location. Everyman is everyplace. The reader can be in the mind, and in the place of the writer. Transnational perspectives are the only ones that apply any more.

While I do not visit India often now, I look forward to visual reminders of its' identity, complexity, and well, wierdness. A few of these images were captured in a book, part of an excellent series I recently purchased. Street Graphics India, from Thames And Hudson joins their other volumes such as Street Graphics Tokyo, Cuba, London and New York. No other book however, provides such visual variety. While the book misses out much of the modern elements prevalent across India, choosing the oddball and unusual is part of its agenda indeed. A few images from the book with my comments, as well as a few others I have collected:

Pulp sci-fi, Indian style

Keeping in touch

What would he do?

A Claude Chabrol film, masked for local sensibilities

Local idioms

The future of technology

Sania Mirza, tennis Queen

Indian Industry, Shining

Note: This post was sparked in part by this blogcritics discussion on "24" and the young Turk who is more assimilated into the local culture than his parents.
Comment 4 posted by Aaman on January 25, 2005 04:25 PM:

Boy Turk's behavior reminds me of one of the questions on the Political Compass that I found disagreable personally - "First generation immigrants can never be fully integrated" - I see him as more of a first generation immigrant than his parents, and more assimilated or integrated.

Comment 5 posted by Eric Olsen on January 25, 2005 07:35 PM:

and that assimilation is conflicting hard with the ideology of his parents, who have done a very good job of pretending to be assimilated. Only in the boy's case, he is becoming what he has been pretending to be.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Review: Scream & Bone

An article yesterday informed us that Billy Idol will be releasing a studio album of new songs in 2005. The first single is just out on iTunes - "Scream".

It is an anthem of 80s Rock at its best. It begins with a rising guitar crescendo, that takes off into an underlying bass track, which stays pretty constant through the song. An extended guitar solo in the middle is reminscent of Yngwie Malmsteen. Nominally, a love song, it is very sensual and erotic, besides making full uses of the trademark Billy Idol wail, or is that Scream?

The album shall be awaited eagerly. My favorite lines from the song(full lyrics):

You took me in the wild
No one around for miles
You ain't too proud to beg
Juice running down my leg

Another album is out finally in the United States: Tim Booth's "Bone". Lead singer of James, who provided "Laid", the American Pie song, he has had a few solo projects, but this is his first album. I was able to snag a UK copy a while ago. It is an unusual album, with a lot of references to the Monkey God, Hanuman, of Hinduism. The lyrics are bitter, wry and humorous. Good songs include "Wave Hello", "Fall In Love" and "Down To The Sea". Some of the songs are puerile/cryptic, such as "Redneck", with lines like "I’m just ice-cream/It’s all rama rama/I’m just space dust/It’s all rama rama" - that does have a complex philosophical connotation, but sounds extremely trite in a song. He has an excellent voice, and the album is quite good, overall.

Monday, January 24, 2005

24x4x6: Innovation And Confusion

I must say the writers at Fox have thrown a googly with this season of the thriller-drama "24" (I'd call it a chinaman, but their apparent bias leads one to believe they are not left-handed).

In case you have not been following this season, a brief synopsis: Jack's boss, the SecDef was kidnapped by a terror outfit from Turkey; Jack, having recovered from his cold turkey after Season 3 goes on the hunt for the terrorists with a brief stint as hold-up cowboy. The terrorist masterminds seem to be a sleeper cell of All-American Turks, including a young Turk, who's been influenced by the West, and whose mother kills his girlfriend to keep the mission on track. The terrorists had threatened to execute the SecDef and Jack had traced their hideout, perhaps too late.

This week, things took a few unexpected twists. The SecDef was rescued after a heated gunbattle between Jack and the terrorists, the young Turk was sent off to join his late girlfriend, driving his mother to the brink of rebellion, and a deeper, darker plot was hinted at, involving, perhaps, YADC (Yet another DefContractor). Cutting edge themes like steganographic trojan horses being transmitted in cyber-feeds are hinted at, and at least one traitor unmasked. Significant co-branding was observed, including FoxNews and the Heritage Foundation.

The plot twist in this part of the show is preferable to stretching out a single storyline interminably with inane, unrelated subplots, as in Season 3. The story can go many ways from this fork - I predict a combination of old friends turned new enemies, and internet-related cybercrime, along with a threat larger than any faced before by this fictional America.

Stay tuned.

Note: For those interested in the distinction between a chinaman and a googly, these are cricket terms for unusual and difficult spin bowling techniques.
Googly bowlers are basically Right handed Leg spin bowlers and
Chinaman bowlers are basically Left handed Leg spin bowlers (Another definition here). Chumbawumba actually has a song about these terms "Where did the Chinaman Go?"
Where did the chinaman go?
Where did the chinaman go?
Bowled out of favor when the paceman move in
As pitches got faster with no turn or spin
"Bowl faster, bowl at him, bowl bodyline
If we can't get him out, we'll make him retire!"
Where did the chinaman go?
Where did the chinaman go?
Where did the googly go?
Where did the googly go?
Who still bowls a googly in this day and age?
When bouncers and beamers are all the rage
Forced to take guard with helmet and visor
Awaiting the arrival of Slazenger armor
Where did the googly go?
Where did the googly go?
Bring back the chinaman
Bring back the googly
And long live Dicky Bird

Battle Royale: Sign Of The Times?

The Special Edition of Battle Royale will finally be released in the United States tomorrow, January 25th. If you have not seen it, and are not squeamish about film violence, and a true cineaste, do not miss this film.

I was able to see the film early on thanks to the wonders of bittorrent, and I will be definitely buying this film, so there's one sale not lost.

On to the film - the story is starkly unrealistic, yet deals with a variety of topical social issues the world over. A Japanese film, it is a cross between "The Lord Of The Flies" and "Kill Bill", in terms of stylized violence. I take that back - the violence is actually anything but stylized. Raw, unstinted bloodshed, not very different from a game of Halo 2, except that these are children, and the blood looks very real.

The film begins with images of a media frenzy over a victor in some sort of competition. The camera narrows into the face of a little girl, with signs of bloodlust on her innocent face. This sets the scene for an unusual film. The premise of the film is that the adults, and the government, have decided to address the problems of school violence and unruliness, apart from social unrest and unemployment with an act, Battle Royale, which mandates that a class of schoolchildren be randomly chosen and placed on a deserted island for a three day fragfest. The children must kill each other, armed with an initial weapon, and some supplies. Any one choosing to opt out is eliminated, literally.

The backstory details the relationships between a particular set of students, and their phys. ed. teacher, who was knifed by one of the students and is now the supervisor for the 'game'. Their innocence is rapidly stripped away, and they retreat to a primal survival conflict. This is no simulated reality show, though, and to lose your edge is to lose your life.

The film is shot in a skillful manner by the director Kinji Fukasaki, 70 year old gangster film-maker, and showcases some powerful, emotive acting. More than a film, it is a multi-layered post-colonial, post-modern fable, combining some primal archetypes that turn out to be surprisingly universal. From the original tale of the Fall in the Garden of Eden, drawing in the Conradian "Heart Of Darkness', it takes inspiration from the statist experiences of the Japanese in the 20th century, as well as their hierarchical history. It also whispers the question "How far will our society go before it recognizes the emptiness, the heart of darkness?" The psychosexual terrors within us are exposed, once the civility and social constructions are stripped away. It illustrates the relationship between these subconscious emotions and our conscious actions, providing an analysis of the deterioration of the individual when he/she is let loose from restraints.

Nobody'll rescue you. That’s just life

Note: The store does not have a listing for the DVD yet. It is available on - and on Netflix.

Our political compasses

Via blogcritics, one found an interesting assessment of one's political views.


My assessment does not particularly surprise me. My father was a dyed-in-the-wool socialist, while my mother an ardent, small-business capitalist. A combination that makes me who I am, I guess.

Some notables ranked on the grid, theoretically I assume


The two axes here are the economic and social dimensions. Mathematically, additional dimensions could be added. One might be the family/society axis. Another could be the Luddite/Technophile axis.

Unexpected Recognition

I was pleased and humbled to note that this person has awarded my blog a personal award. It is always good to know there are actually readers out there.

Probably means nothing to other people, but this is my personal "Best Indian Blog[ger] 2004" ceremony.
- The Best Overall Blog by Someone With A Hint of Curry In Their Blood: Anil Dash.
- Blogger Who Always Manages To Make Sense/Never Annoys Me Even When We Disagree [and who's part Indian]: C of Reflexive Disorder.
- Best Topical Blog by Someone With An Indian Connection: Aaman Lamba
- Best New Indian Blog/Blogger: Moron Mountain
The call for nominations was a facade. I'd already picked my personal winners. Ha!
The hammer goes yo and the hammer goes yay
And the rest can go and play.
Oh, as for your prizes, you win yourself my appreciation and respect. I can hear you say "pompous, stingy prick" under your breath, so shush now.

Tell me how I'm doing, and what can I do better.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Victory And Barry Manilow

Some new (and old) cartoons on the second Inaugural - rapid fire talent at work here.


Daryl Cagle's Professional Cartoonists Index over at Slate has a collection of trenchant and topical cartoons on Inauguration Day 2005 - a few selections (all copyright original creators)







On the eve of the November election, I posted this post about winners on my blog. Both the incumbents won - the horse and the president

cin-o-matic: Film web services

A nice website/tool to use for movie buffs: cin-o-matic provides a variety of web services on films. Film lists are available in theater and on video/dvd. The movie info is presented elegantly.

The list of films has a neat hover-button which shows a brief synopsis and pic of the film. besides presenting a number of attributes about the film. The detailed info on a film includes critics' reviews, ratings, reader comments and the ability to add the film to a watch list. Offsite links to trailers, IMDB and the official site are also provided. You can customize the list of critics, theaters, et al. What is really cool is that if you are a Netflix subscriber (who isn't?), you can choose to display an 'Add to Netflix Queue' button on the movie pages - nice.

The site contents are also available through RSS, which means neat synergistic web services that combine this site and Netflix/Amazon RSS feeds can be written. Lots of scope for creative engineering there.

This is a good example of web services done right and easy.

Ali: Fear Eats The Soul

Some films reach into the heart of society and rip it out, displaying it on a gibbet for us to see and feel. The timeless nature of these films is a compliment to the film-makers' art, as well as a comment on the failings of society. Things never really get better, only more bathetic and painful, especially for the marginalized.

Fassbinder's "Angst essen Seele auf", or "Ali: Fear Eats The Soul" is one such film. The sparse, formal realism of this film about an unlikely May-December romance between a lonely German cleaninglady and an Arabic/Moroccan mechanic in 1970s Germany is all the more topical today.

The romance, and subsequent marriage of the two protagonists is delineated against a backdrop of jealous petit-bourgeois, barely masked racial intolerance and weak egos, tortured lovers, vicious truths. The romance is opposed by all, including the woman's hitherto uninterested children, her workmates and discordant neighbors.

Soon after their marriage, Ali visits a small grocer to purchase a brand of margarine. The grocer feigns misunderstanding of the immgrant's German and does not sell him the margarine. Emmi confronts the grocer, who is defiant, and refuses to serve her too. This minor incident occurs countless times across countless globalized villages of the heart, urban battlefields, sometimes amplified, often unopposed.

Emmi is termed a whore by her fellow-citizens, yet it is perhaps the kind, lost, confused, con-fucked Ali who is her whore, her trophy. Ali, for the most part, stays away from confrontation, like many minorities the world over. This indeed, is what the title of the film refers to.

The tension gets to both of them and they take a vacation. When they come back, things change for both, in different, personal ways. Emmi's baiters and tormentors each finds they need something from her, and in their own self-interest, interact with her in the old manner. Ali, on the other hand, has just about had it with the pressure, and returns to his erstwhile drinking buddies, and moves in with a barmaid, who's had the glad eye for him for a while. This too, does not quite satisfy him, and he returns to Emmi, at least implicitly, before falling ill to a stress-related disease.

The straying of Ali is more than it seems on the surface. In Fassbinder's world, as in the real one, motives are always more than they appear. In the case of Ali, he is looking for solace and understanding, and good couscous, which the barmaid provides. In the case of Emmi, she needs company, someone to talk with, and rejuvenate her spirit. As for society, it needs to confront its petty phobias, paranoid fears and recognize the self in the other.

Excellent Criterion Collection DVD - two discs with oodles of extras, including short films, essays and retrospective material. The correlations between this film and earlier, related ones, such as "The American Soldier" and "All That Heaven Allows" are brought out, as are the constant reinterpretations of the material in the modern context.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Business Paradigms: eBay versus Amazon

The dynamics of human interaction in a marketplace have not changed all that much since the first axehead was traded for a shiny stone. The maximization of value, profit and satisfaction are still the critical success factors in a commercial transaction. The exploding digital economy has introduced various new channels for connecting buyers and sellers. These channels range from manufacturer catalogs to retail stores online. An alternative model, one that represents a commercial undercurrent as old as traditional commerce, is represented by the eBay model.

eBay provides a fluid, ever-changing marketplace to anyone with a modem and an axehead to sell. The pricing dynamics are far more fluid than a traditional store or market, and constitute greater involvement of the purchaser in the pricing decision.

Amazon represents the other, more formal, model of online sales. While Amazon does have it's own auctions fora, it is more identified as an intermediary between manufacturers and consumers, like any other retailer. Because of it's sheer economic heft, Amazon is able to extract savings from the suppliers and pass some on to the customers, much like the more well-known gorilla, Walmart.

While it is not the case that one model will win out over the other in the long term, I find better value in the Amazon model. The price arbitrage in the eBay model is short-lived and not significant when you factor in shipping costs, and I have observed pricing for different categories in eBay tend to seek certain levels, a topic for another time. The significant advantage of eBay is as a forum for disintermediation of the buyer and the seller, and as a seeding ground for a thousand Amazons, as it were.

eBay margins, themselves, are rapidly shrinking. Recent quarterly results were below expectations. This was caused by, according to the management, because "Holiday sales, on which many of the small retailers who have set up shop on eBay's site depend for fourth-quarter sales, were "weaker than expected in the United States and Germany," Other reasons cited were "rapid growth in low-margin related businesses" that helped gross margins erode to 30% in the quarter from 31% in the previous year, and a $7.6 million loss related to "a foreign exchange hedge that impacted our bottom line." While one bad quarter does not a failure make, there will be serious rethinking underway in business circles. Notably, eBay's gross merchandise volume -- the total amount of goods traded through eBay -- as well as the number of new listing, both gained by 39% in the fourth quarter. This is the first time they have been below 40%. In effect, they are seeing saturation in their space.

From being a back-alley phenomenon, the business model represented by eBay has come a long way. There is no let up in the growth of the Amazon business model however. The challenges between the two business models finds a corollary in the technology space as well - the open source movement has made great gains against commercial, closed-source software. Eric Raymond's seminal paper "The Cathedral And The Bazaar" captures some of these dynamics. Here too, there is ample scope for both models to continue to develop and deliver business value, despite partisan opinions. If you disagree, I've got a shiny axehead for you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Why? An Interview With The Director Of Sun Labs

An interesting interview with Glenn Edens has been published at Some excerpts:

On the future of Sun and Java matter what happens, whether Sun Labs existed or not, 10 years from now, the Java language will look different than it does today. Humans are really interesting, because we love to build tools, and we learn from that prior building experience to build better tools.
We also have a project code-named Squawk, in which we're working on a very compact, high performance Java environment written entirely in the Java language. We're also interested in offering developers in the device world a complete Java stack that doesn't require integration with numerous other system software vendors

On the distinction between product design and research labs
A research lab attracts a different personality than a pure product group. And pure academic research and big science attract an even different personality type. So, we're kind of in the middle. My joke about this -- and I get a lot of grief over it, but I still think it's a good metaphor -- is that product organizations are mostly staffed with engineers. And engineers are mostly nerds, who ask: "How are we going to get this done? How does this work? How can we make it better?" How, how, how

A research lab tends to consist of hippies, and hippies just ask why. Why, why, why. Why do I have to do it this way? Why should I do that? Why do I need to fill out this form? Why do I have to -- anything. Everything is a question. There is nothing that happens here without an argument. But that's part of our robust culture, and it's the "why" versus the "how". The reason I get in trouble with that analogy is, of course, there are very good engineers in the labs, and there are very good hippies in the product groups

On Project types
The vision projects are the core of what we do, and we do some interesting things in this area. Each researcher has a project that they pick by themselves and work on for some part of Fridays. They can work on anything they want. The only rule is they have to publish some results. But they get to pick how they spend Friday. Then we have our regular vision research projects, which are funded and evaluated, and we review them and nurture them through to hopefully get transferred to business units. That's probably more than 60% of what we do.

On Innovation
One thing that I find very amusing is that, from the perspective of Xerox, Xerox PARC was a complete success. There was no business model that required Xerox PARC to produce technology that shipped. Xerox PARC was funded because Xerox was afraid that IBM would invent the paperless office; then you wouldn't need Xerox. So, what's paradoxical is that everyone criticizes Xerox PARC, but from their perspective, it was a complete success

At Sun Labs, we work hard to make sure that our research staff is grounded in what's happening in the world. What's happening in pop culture? What are kids doing? What's this IM and learning to type with your thumbs about? Because kids, artists, and renegades are going to define how the technology gets used going forward.
But at the end of the day, the spark of innovation still comes from someone asking, "Why, why, why, why, why? Why do I have to do it that way? Why is this done this way?" And you cannot replace that spark with any automated or procedural mechanism

Waybackwhen, I had the honor to interview Bjarne Stroustrup (scanned interview will be posted here soon) - he was quite dismissive of Java, more so of the aggressive marketing efforts of Sun to push Java. The growth of the model for programming, and its influence on later models like Microsoft .NET, cannot be debated. The dynamic and vibrant Java community is another plus point in the fertile development of technology - a direct outcome of Sun Labs.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Marc Greilsamer's Favorite CDs Part 2

Continuing Marc Greilsamer's list of essential CDs, the Amazon music editor recommends: (Part 1 of the list here)

21. Live at the Old Quarter Houston Texas: Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt's recording from a gig at a small club in Houston features some marvelous, jaded tracks on a newly restored version

22. John Prine: The debut album from a talented songwriter provides much value 'as a songwriter's template', covering many aspects of life, love and the 'flashback blues'

23. Arkology: The legendary reggae producer of greats such as Bob Marley provides a virtual guide to his own rich talent as well as the power of reggae music as an art form.

24. Willie & Family Live: An early live show recording from Willie Nelson, with much music still ahead, yet some great tracks

25. Honky-Tonk Heroes: One of the best Waylon Jennings albums - combining country rock and blues into some of the best American songwriting around.

26. The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East: Marc sez, 'Best American band?'

27. Raising Hell: Raw intensity shines through in Run D.M.C's early rap record

28. Money Jungle: A deep collaboration between Charlie Mingus, Duke Ellington and Max Roach -multi-layered improvisations.

29. Black Star: One of my personal favorites, a collaboration between Talib Kweli, Black Star and Mos Def, it features creative wordplay, fast rhyming and urban poetry.

30. Juju Music: African beats from King Sunny Ade, hard to define - authentic jungle rock, reggae, melodies, harmonies and much more.

31. Quah: A solo album by Jorma Kaukonen, part of Hot Tuna, the album is an introspective, emotional album with acoustic guitar

32. London Calling - The Legacy Edition: The essential album by The Clash, this version has an additional CD titled 'The Vanilla Tapes', once a bootleg classic, and a DVD.

33. Check Your Head: This Beastie Boys' collection is 'finger-lickin' good', fusing, rap, rock, hip-hop, and in a few songs, jazz

34. Reckoning: This is the Grateful Dead album, not the REM one of the same name. A collection of uncommon tracks from their ouevre.

35. Exile On Main Street: The original bad boys of rock in a vital album, one of their best.

36. Mothership Connection: True funk from Parliament, P-Funk, really.

37. West Side Soul: Chicago Blues legend Magic Sam, reminscent of B B King defines 'Sweet Home Chicago'

38. Favourite Colours: Toronto's psychedelic rock band Sadies with a later album - genre-crossing music.

39. Sweetheart of the Rodeo: Gram Parsons' album with the Byrds - true country rock, though some fans might disagree.

40. Things Fall Apart: Considered one of the best rap bands ever, almost high art - originality and talent abound on this album.

Interestingly, visiting the Amazon Bio page for Marc, returns the message,

"We're sorry. We are currently out of these items. Please visit our Welcome page "

Many items on Amazon bear excellent reviews by Marc, and he will be sorely missed.

Marc Greilsamer's Favorite CDs Part 1

Marc Greilsamer, long-time music editor with Amazon has left them. As a parting gift, he has prepared a list of what he calls "A Few All-Time Favorites"

This is a rich, eclectic collection of music, spanning many genres and periods - a true music odyssey and essential listening.

The 40 entries, broken into two posts: (Part 2 of the list here)

1. Mingus Ah Um: Charlie Mingus briefly recorded with Columbia Records in 1959 - this set of tracks is from that period and has some real special rarities - one of the best jazz cuts around.

2. Never No Lament the Blanton-Webster Band: Marc calls this Duke Ellington album from his 1940 RCA recordings "Some of the best American music ever recorded".

3. A Love Supreme: Marc says "this Coltrane opus is about as passionate as music gets". A powerful prayer. set to rich, glorious music

4. Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet Featuring the young John Coltrane, this is a short introduction to the music of Miles, trumpets, bebop, drums and all.

5. Being There: Wilco's more comprehensible period album combines pop, acoustic and guitar-rich rock, with varied emotions layering the intense sound and lyrics.

6. Koola Lobitos 1964-1968/The '69 Los Angeles Sessions: This combination of Afro-beat, jazz and groove is from the band later named Nigeria 70

7. Motherlode: James Brown does his funky thing, with ants in his pants

8. Memories Blues from Doc Watson - ballads, steady vocals and bluegrass.

9. Brown's Ferry Blues: Marc calls the Delmore Brothers 'one of the great underappreciated duos in country', dealing with Depression-era dreams of trains, traveling and the future.

10. Tiffany Transcriptions, Vol. 2: Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys combine swing, country, hillbilly, black, white and much more to define Western Swing. A couple of free downloads of their songs also on Amazon.

11. Look What Thoughts Will Do: Lefty Frizell does more than honky-tonk, with a truly wonderful voice.

12. American Recordings: Some uncommon Johnny Cash tracks, covering many styles - a real surprise in a world of canned country

13. Workout: Hank Mobley's blues workout blows

14. Featuring Charlie Christian: 1939-41: Chamber Jazz with guitar solos - a Benny Goodman essential.

15. Sarah Vaughan W/ Clifford Brown: Romantic, soulful ballads from the 1950s - remastered.

16. Big Boi and Dre Present...Outkast:: Andre 3000 from Outkast was voted "The World's Sexiest Vegetarian" in 2004. This is a compilation album from a slightly earlier period in their career.

17. Bob Dylan - Limited Edition Catalog Box Set: This massive 16-disc, all-SACD collection is chosen by Marc because 'How can you choose just one Dylan album?'

18. Blues from The Gutter: Pianist Jack Dupree delivers the blues.

19. The Unseen: Creative hip-hop from the Madlib, featuring Melvin Van Peebles's vocals, odd rhyming, zany stuff

20. It Still Moves: REM-style road trip music from My Morning Jacket. The album title, of course, is a reference to the apocryphal last words of Galileo ("eppur si muove")

Valentine's Day Guide for Fetishists

"Stuff", the men's magazine that is more product placement rag than an opinion mag and less salacious than a men's mag should be, is occasionally interesting. The February issue(not yet online) had two interesting pieces. The first looked at unusual fetishes in a typical manner - the fetishes, almost a sonnet of wierdness, are:

1. Acrotomophiliac - these are people with a yen for amputees

2. Medolaliac - She loves your penis - so just whip it out, lean back and let her deliver a soliloquy

3. Botulinoniac - Meat lovers rejoice - you have nothing to lose but your, umm, bone

4. Dacryphiliac - Seeing you cry gets her all wet

5. Coulrophiliac - Santa Claus-types get this gal hot, so dress up in a multicolored jumpsuit, a red nose and shoes that are eight sizes too big

6. Geronotophiliac - She's only going to jump old bones. so you could be out of luck

7. Arachnephiliac - Spiders are her daddy longlegs - They do rent Shelob costumes, you know

8. Urophiliac - The produit de kidneys - no French delicacy - is what she craves

9. Albutophiliac - Water sports, a tub bath, whatever it takes to get this gal wet, literally

10. Pyrophiliac - Fire it up to see this baby burn

11. Gynemimetophiliac - Lingerie/cross-dresser lover - try renting Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert

12. Siderodromophiliac - Trains - choo-choo - are her fancy. You can play the caboose.

13. Nanophiliac - Size isn't everything, but you know what they say about small men

14. Flatuphiliac - Air on her g-string

15. Mentaphiliac - Women's black underwear are her special fancy.

The other item from Stuff is a mock-up of Bill O'Reilly's desktop. Some real gems here - look closely.


Monday, January 17, 2005

The Village - Lesser Than The Sum Of Its Parts

Manoj Shyamalan's film "The Village" was a film that I, contrary to popular opinion, found quite interesting and rich on first viewing. I cannot say the same about the DVD. The Buena Vista product is lame, worse than any other big-budget film's DVD I can recall, and weakens my original perceptions of the film as a 'post-9/11, post-urban, proto-fascist' film.

The extras on the DVD feature a few deleted scenes, that apart from one, deserved to find their way on the cutting room floor. In addition to these scenes, there is a promisingly-named vignette 'Desconstructing The Village". This turned out to be merely a behind-the-scenes look at the various departments who made the film - from editing to sound to casting. There is no commentary, apart from introductions to the deleted scenes and an early home movie by Manoj, which is weak, and hints at his later ego-centrism. A few production photo shoots, et c'est tout - that's all.

Turning to the film itself, one is more satisfied. The audio track is a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, as well as a French track, and vividly conveys the aural terrors of the jungle scenes. Visually, the colors are strong and effectively convey the moods intended by the director.

The film has a superlative cast, most from the theater, who enact their roles with realism and conviction. Bryce Howard is a promising talent. Adrian Brody's character, to me, bespeaks an innocent populace swept away by states of fear. The need for the leader to exert control through creating this state of fear is a key element of the film.

Semiotically, the film uses elements of color, sound and peripheral symbols to create an atmosphere of fear just outside our ken. Although the boogeyman is unmasked, and the village revealed a sham, the film is nevertheless able to say, watch out, the monster within our hearts is more scary than any outsider, and in the end, the outsider is we, ourselves, alone. The village-folk retreated from the terrors of the world outside, only to create their own, and be consumed by them.

In most horror films and ghost stories, the tension, like in "The Monkey's Paw" comes from the author/filmmaker never revealing all the terrors to us. The ones left unseen are the more scary - this may be Manoj's failing, or perhaps his genius, to let the viewer believe she's smarter than the filmmaker, that she has fathomed his art, and the alchemist is only a trickster.

The DVD could have been used to buttress this point, through an explanation of the layers and symbols used in the film. It fails at this, though, by not even trying to do so.

Dear Heather - This Is Leonard

Leonard Cohen's oeuvre is rich and deep, betokening a talent reaching beyond chart-toppers, as most anyone familiar with his music can attest to. The songwriting, the gentle melodies and the overall sense of good music emanating from his songs makes one feel, well, good.

His most recent album, "Dear Heather", is no exception.It is rich, treacly and sublime, yet breath-takingly sensual and direct. The selection of poems set to music range from his own compositions like "Undertow" and "Because Of" to Byron's "Go No More A-Roving", perhaps an old age lament. The album itself feels like a memory-book to friends loved and lost - the liner notes reference departed friends, colleagues and poets from Montreal.

1. "Go No More A-Roving": The Byron lyric is dedicated to Irving Layton, Nobel Literature Prize nominee and poet. Backing vocals are by Sharon Robinson, with an occasional saxophone melody. The song is light, gentle, and 'made for loving'. Irving Layton's poems were matter-of-fact, direct, and spoke to the heart, much like this song. One of his poems, "The Tamed Puma" goes,

"Women and poems are my sole chance here
to give expelled breath shape and contour
and fable it with meaning.
I place on the brow of every woman I love
a crown made from the choicest words;
I dress her like a woodland queen
in trope and metaphor."

2. "Because Of": A Cohen original, this song references his appreciation of women, topic of many of his songs.
"Because of a few songs
Wherein I spoke of their mystery,
Women have been
Exceptionally kind
to my old age."
This song features Anjani Thomas, who appears on many pieces in this album. She is no stranger to Leonard's music and life - being a close friend since the 1980s, having appeared on many of his albums, besides being an accomplished musician in her own right.

3. "The Letters": Sharon Robinson, another old friend, appears with Leonard in this love song of letters sent, meant, and lost. Sharon responds to his appeal with her own perspective on letters received, read, treasured and love spent. The song tapers off into a low, low tone with Leonard whispering his words of music and love.
"You never liked to get
The letters that I sent
But now you've got the gist
Of what my letters meant.
You're reading them again,
The ones you didn't burn.
You press them to your lips
My pages of concern."

4. "Undertow": The song begins with an extended, smouldering musical riff on the sax, then Anjani Thomas takes up this abstract piece about the ability of the heart to be carried away by forces greater than the self, turning the 'heart the shape of a begging bowl'.
"I set out one night
When the tide was low
There were signs in the sky
But I did not know
I'd be caught in the grip of the undertow."

5. "Morning Glory": A poem capturing the zeitgeist of censorship, the portents of a new age and a transcendental moment - leading to the garden, the backyard, the driveway and - morning glory.

6. 'On That Day': Leonard remembers 'that day', 9/11/01, when 'They wounded New York'. He cites the various reasons - 'Our women unveiled, Our slaves and our gold', all inadequate, for the tragedy, and describes his own response - 'holding the fort/Since that day/They wounded New York'. He then asks the vital question,
'Did you go crazy
Or did you report
On that day
On that day
They wounded New York?'

The background features, appositely, a single-note bass track.

7. "Villanelle For Our Time': F R Scott, Canadian poet defined modernist poetry in Canada, and established a space for subsequent poetic works. His essay "New Poems For Old" in 1931 described the position of poetry in the modern arts, noting, "... the modernist poet, like the socialist, has thought through present forms to a new and more suitable order. He is not concerned with destroying, but with creating, and being a creator he strikes terror into the hearts of the old and decrepit who cannot adjust themselves to that which is to be. The modernist poet frequently uses accepted forms, and only discards them when he discovers that they are unsuited to what he has to say. Then he creates a new form, groomed to his thought."

His poem is set to music, with the liner notes featuring a drawing of the poet(1899-1985) reading in bed, by his wife. Marian Scott. The song is done in a formal way, almost as if it were an actual poetry reading captured on tape. The poem might, indeed, be an anthem for our times.
"From bitter searching of the heart,
Quickened with passion and with pain
We rise to play a greater part."

8. "There For You": A standard Leonard Cohen piece, reminscent of many of his earlier songs, it can be read as a prayer to 'G_d', as Leonard uses the term elsewhere in this album.
'...Eating food
And drinking wine
A body that
I thought was mine
Dressed as Arab
Dressed as Jew
O mask of iron
I was there for you'

9. 'Dear Heather': The title song is the most sparse verbally, yet quite emotive. A passing glance at an elegant woman becomes a treasured memory image, returned to often.
Dear Heather
Please walk by me again
With a drink in your hand
And your legs all white
From the winter

10. 'Nightingale': An elegy for Carl Anderson - Judas, artist and musicman, who passed away in 2004 - done as a duet with Anjani, who considered him a major influence on her career. She said of him. "Carl was a dear, loyal friend: principled, intense, dynamic, and filled with love. While he once called me “the Hawaiian sun at its soft edges,” Carl was the sun's blazing, impassioned core." Leonard captures the essence of the nightingale's song in this piece, with layered beauty, utilizing a couple of unusual instruments in the process.
"I built my house beside the wood
So I could hear you singing
And it was sweet and it was good
And love was all beginning
Fare thee well my nightingale
'Twas long ago I found you
Now all your songs of beauty fall
The forest closes 'round you."

11. "To A Teacher": Dedicated to the powerful Canadian poet, A M Klein, whose poetry illustrates the beauty of Montreal, the richness of the Judaic experience, and the human condition. Klein was called "the first contributor of authentic Jewish poetry to the English language." This song, written by Leonard, is complex verse, touching on 'a long pain ending without a song to prove it', 'confusing the Messiah in a mirror' and 'the turning mind, a radar signal'. The Jewish experience, too, is transubstantiated into it's essence, with a jazz beat.
"Let me cry Help beside you, Teacher.
I have entered under this dark roof
As fearlessly as an honoured son
Enters his father's house"

12. "The Faith": Based on a Quebec folk song, this piece is about 'the sea', 'the sun', 'the club, the wheel, the mind', asking fundamental questions about the indefatigability of the human spirit, and why there is 'A cross on every hill/A star, a minaret/So many graves to fill' and finally, 'O love, aren't you tired yet?'

13. "Tennessee Waltz": Leonard wraps up the set with a 1985 live recording of the classic tune, that has an additional verse by him - one that perhaps sums up the darkness in the soul when love has passed by, time spent.
"She comes dancing through the darkness
To the Tennessee Waltz
And I feel like I'm falling apart
And it's stronger than drin
And it's deeper than sorrow
This darkness she's left in my heart"

In all, an excellent album, comparable to his earlier works, further solidifying his stature as a leading songwriter, septugenarian and humanist.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Pride, Human Suffering And Hope

One of the authors/journalists whose writing I value, and who has been a guidepost in my own creative journey, is Jug Suraiya. While his name might not have much meaning on these shores, he is a talented hack, publishing since the 1960s, a key member of India's cognoscenti, and possessing a rare sense of humor. His weekly column, Jugular Vein, in the Times Of India, is avidly awaited. I've blogged before on his pieces, such as an excellent one on freedom called 'Pinch This Column. His most recent column, addresses the challenges of providing aid to those who might not want it.
What's wrong with these people; how can they be so ungrateful? people ask about the tsunami victims who refused old clothes and food packets. How can someone who has lost everything not accept whatever is offered? I have an inkling of an answer. No, I've never been a refugee in the grievous sense of disaster victims. But I have been stranded, penniless, hungry and desperate, far from home, and I have some idea of what it means to be a refugee, even for a brief while.

It happened in 1973. After working in Britain for 15 months, where we'd saved money for the trip, Bunny and I were travelling through Europe on a shoestring. In London, we'd booked our flight to India on a cut-price Syrian airline service from Munich. After six weeks in Europe - France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria - we got to Munich with the last of our money, ready to fly back to India. That's when we discovered that while we'd been travelling an Arab-Israeli war had taken place, knocking out of action the three aircraft that comprised the entire fleet of the Syrian airline. No other airline would accept our tickets, which we were told were non-refundable in Munich - we'd have to go back to London where we'd bought them to cash them in and buy fresh tickets on another airline.

We didn't have the money to get back to London, and RBI regulations wouldn't let our family in India buy our tickets and get us back home: Indians travelling to India from abroad had to pay in foreign exchange. I refused to accept a loan from my relatives in Britain; I'd got into this mess on my own and I'd get out on my own. We were stranded in Germany, then the most expensive country in the world, waiting for the Syrians to get airborne again. Funds running out, we'd scavenge through supermarkets for reject-quality chocolates, the cheapest food we could find. While Bunny slept, I'd open a packet to show I'd eaten, and when she woke give her both our shares. I fantasised about stealing food from the bursting supermarkets. Nothing fancy, a loaf of bread would do. It wasn't morality that stopped me, it was fear of being caught. I learnt that respect for the law is in direct proportion to how much - or little - we have in our pockets, or in our bellies.

On a Munich street a woman selling toffee apples, discarding those not perfectly coated with caramel into a refuse bin, saw Bunny's hungry eyes and offered her an apple she was about to throw away. Bunny shook her head, gestured she had no money. The woman sign-languaged back: Bitte, please, take it; it'll just go waste. Bunny looked at the woman, at the apple, back at the woman. Then she reached out and accepted the gift. Both had to know that the apple had not been begged for; it had been given freely, and as freely accepted. That was important, more important than the hunger.

Finally, we had officially to declare ourselves ‘destitute ... and throw ourselves upon the mercy of the President of India' in the Indian consulate. Our passports were defaced, as per law, in our presence, and we were repatriated to India at government expense. When we got home to Calcutta (where it took me six months of babu-badgering to locate the bureaucrat who'd accept my reimbursement to the government which would allow me to get new passports for us) I discovered that in three weeks of hunger I'd lost 6 kg, Bunny had lost 8.

People often ask why I didn't take money from my folks in the UK to get us back to India and spare us the ordeal. Stubbornness? Perhaps. It's like those piles of discarded old clothes and food packets. Ingratitude? Perhaps. Though I'd prefer another word for it. A word which sums up the only thing you have to lose after you've lost everything else, the last refuge of the refugee: Pride.

My own father experienced the horrors of Partition in the time of Indian Independence. He related many a tale of the refugee camps, housing millions of dispossessed refugees, lives changed forever, economically, and in their hearts. He, as did most others, retained his sense of pride - coming up the hard way, and leading a full, healthy life in the new land - he never forgot the succor provided by those who cared.

I, myself, remember a terrible train accident that befell a train I was on with my parents. We survived, though many others did not. We followed a weary line of survivors to a small town in the middle of nowhere, Kagaznagar, where we were received by townspeople and given warm food and human support. The town's only industralist, a paper manufacturer housed many of us in his own residence for the night, until other travel arrangements could be made.

Every tragedy, small or large, brings out the best in humans, for the most part, and changes us. The Tsunami disaster has demonstrated this essence of humanity, with millions of people reaching out to help people half a world away.

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader