Monday, April 30, 2007


Where I learnt a few more things about my blues harmonica. Play.

Pencilled in

If you want to learn how to do pencil portraits, start here.

The smooth guide to responsible living

It's rough living right. Here's some much needed help.

Überviews #11: Caffeine

4/10: Predictable and avoidable. Like caffeine.

Überviews #10: Jindabyne

6/10: Kinda like the country it comes from - Australia - this is a mysterious film that deserves to be criticised but is hard to.

Column space

As a former column writer, I found the classic 'How to read a column' by William Safire most amusing. And instructive.

At last I am at liberty to vouchsafe to you the dozen rules in reading a political column.

1. Beware the pundit's device of using a quotation from a liberal opposition figure to make a conservative case, and vice versa. Righties love to quote John F. Kennedy on life's unfairness; lefties love to quote Ronald Reagan. Don't fall for gilding by association.

2. Never look for the story in the lede. Reporters are required to put what's happened up top, but the practiced pundit places a nugget of news, even a startling insight, halfway down the column, directed at the politiscenti. When pressed for time, the savvy reader starts there.

3. Do not be taken in by "insiderisms." Fledgling columnists, eager to impress readers with their grasp of journalistic jargon, are drawn to such arcane spellings as "lede." Where they lede, do not follow.

4. When infuriated by an outrageous column, do not be suckered into responding with an abusive e-mail. Pundits so targeted thumb through these red-faced electronic missives with delight, saying "Hah! Got to 'em."

5. Don't fall for the "snapper" device. To give an aimless harangue the illusion of shapeliness, some of us begin (forget "lede") with a historical allusion or revealing anecdote, then wander around for 600 words before concluding by harking back to an event or quotation in the opening graph. This stylistic circularity gives the reader a snappy sense of completion when the pundit has not figured out his argument's conclusion.

6. Be wary of admissions of minor error. One vituperator wrote recently that the Constitution's requirement for a president to be "natural born" would have barred Alexander Hamilton. Nitpickers pointed out that the Founders exempted themselves. And there were 16, not 20, second inaugural speeches. In piously making these corrections before departing, the pundit gets credit for accuracy while getting away with misjudgments too whopping to admit.

(Note: you are now halfway down the column. Start here.)

7. Watch for repayment of favors. Stewart Alsop jocularly advised a novice columnist: "Never compromise your journalistic integrity - except for a revealing anecdote." Example: a Nixon speechwriter told columnists that the president, at Camp David, boasted "I just shot 120," to which Henry Kissinger said brightly "Your golf game is improving, Mr. President," causing Nixon to growl "I was bowling, Henry." After columnists gobbled that up, the manipulative writer collected in the coin of friendlier treatment.

8. Cast aside any column about two subjects. It means the pundit chickened out on the hard decision about what to write about that day. When the two-topic writer strains to tie together chalk and cheese, turn instead to a pudding with a theme. (Three subjects, however, can give an essay the stability of an oaken barstool. Two's a crowd, but three's a gestalt.)

9. Cherchez la source. Ingest no column (or opinionated reporting labeled "analysis") without asking: Cui bono? And whenever you see the word "respected" in front of a name, narrow your eyes. You have never read "According to the disrespected (whomever)."

10. Resist swaydo-intellectual writing. Only the hifalutin trap themselves into "whomever" and only the tort bar uses the Latin for "who benefits?" Columnists who show off should surely shove off. (And avoid all asinine alliteration.)

11. Do not be suckered by the unexpected. Pundits sometimes slip a knuckleball into their series of curveballs: for variety's sake, they turn on comrades in ideological arms, inducing apostasy-admirers to gush "Ooh, that's so unpredictable." Such pushmi-pullyu advocacy is permissible for Clintonian liberals or libertarian conservatives but is too often the mark of the too-cute contrarian.

12. Scorn personal exchanges between columnists. Observers presuming to be participants in debate remove the reader from the reality of controversy; theirs is merely a photo of a painting of a statue, or a towel-throwing contest between fight managers. Insist on columns taking on only the truly powerful, and then only kicking 'em when they're up.

In bidding Catullus's ave atque vale to readers of this progenitor of all op-ed pages (see rule 10), is it fair for one who has enjoyed its freedom for three decades to spill its secrets? Of course it's unfair to reveal the Code. But punditry is as vibrant as political life itself, and as J.F.K. said, "life is unfair." (Rules 1 and 5.)

Simplicity rules

In these UPS commercials. Simply brilliant.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Inside stuff

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice? Get to know him or her better.

Food for thought

The Comics Project

For fans of the great Indrajals, an ode.

How to cram the internet onto a single screen?

Like this.

Braniacs Ink

A Slate special on the brain.

What it feels like to be inside a woman

In her short story "The Fullness of Life," Edith Wharton wrote that a woman's life is like "a great house full of rooms," most of which remain unseen: "and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes."

Work shop

In the recent NY1 interview, Mr. Halberstam summed up his approach to work by quoting a basketball player. “There’s a great quote by Julius Erving,” he said, “that went, ‘Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.’

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Say what?

Sharad Pawar and a whole bunch of other people who pass off as very respectable journalists are now shouting from rooftops about how Indian cricket has been taken over by the sponsors. When I, first, said it some aeons ago, I was blackballed and banned from ever writing again on cricket. Not only that, I was told...never mind, what I was told. All I wanted to tell you is that I told you so many, many moons ago.

Überviews #9: Batman Begins

5/10: The biggest puzzle about this film from Puzzlemeister Nolan is why he chose to do it? Put simply, I couldn't wait for it to end.

Überviews #8: Bridge to Terabithia

6/10: On the simple pleasures of childhood in a jungle that's not concrete.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Überviews #7: Anchorman

6/10: Great hair. Great clothes. A good spoof that's less funnier than it seems.

Überviews #6: Texas Chainsaw Massacre

6/10: The great thing about this incredible flick is that it's not.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Idol v/s Idols has run this article which posits that voting in American Idol is not objective because people can vote more than once for their favoured participants and that Sanjaya Malakar is the worst performer among the surviving lot. My contention is how can any voting be objective? The graph in the article shows how people have voted if they're allowed to vote only once but on what basis can you say that the people who voted did so only on grounds of singing skills? We all know how Pop Idols are created. It's not all about talent. It has much to do with market realities and what kind of product can make you the most money. Sanjaya is up there because Indians constitute a lucrative global set of voter and , more importantly, consumers. He might well go on to be the first international Indian Popstar. Despite his lack of talent. It's all about the money, dohs!

Überviews #5: The Dukes of Hazzard

3/10: Statutory warning: This film is closely related to Dubya and causes brain cancer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Überviews #4: Cabin Fever

6/10: Scary shit that made me want to make a horror movie.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Überviews #3: Blades of Glory

4/10: After I watched this film, the only thing I could think of is why won't somebody give me any money to make a movie?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Vonnegut v/s Post Vonnegut

I never quite understand why but I often find it more interesting to read about something than that something itself. Perhaps I'm just more enamoured by what people say about someone than that someone. Which might explain why I am so worried about what people think about me even though I think I don't care a whit about what people think about me. I see. This thought occured to me while I was reading reactions and reflection on Kurt Vonnegut after the death of Kurt Vonnegut.

Interestingly enough he said this in an article he wrote for The Nation: If Western Civilizations, which surely now includes the Soviet Union and China and India and Pakistan and on and on, were a person-- I agree with him. It's time I gave the man another look.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Überviews #2: The Painted Veil

7/10: Like cooking something delicious over slow fire.

Überviews #1: Freedom Writers

6/10: Dangerous Minds meets Dead Poets Society. You get the picture.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Me v/s The World

Yesterday I was sent a link to this site. And what's the first thing I did? I entered my girlfriend's telephone number. I wonder what the first number the rest of the recipients of this mail might have checked up on. Interestingly enough, the result of entering a number says something even more interesting, and depressing, about how people think most human beings are. To understand what all this seeming gibberish means, click there.

Segue v/s Dovetail v/s Communicating

Yesterday I used the word 'segue' in a conversation with someone who didn't have a clue what that meant. This certain someone is not stupid. Far from it. He happens to be one of the more intelligent people I have known. Why then do people like me use words like 'segue'?

Do people stop communicating and start showing off while trying to communicate? What does the word 'segue' say about the person using it? Does it betray an inferiority complex? Couldn't I have said exactly what I wanted to say without using the word 'segue' to say it?

Other words like 'segue' include 'genre' (pronounced the way the French do it), seminal, hoi poloi and a few others that look really good on paper but just end up making the people you're trying to have a conversation with uncomfortable if you use them in the conversation.

The problem is I'm so smart that I think saying 'transition' instead of 'segue' is saying something apart from 'segue'. Now how dumb does that make me?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Ayn Rand v/s The Best

Why do so many people like to dis Ayn Rand?

Here's another very intelligent man, Clive James, taking a swipe at her two most famous books in his latest magnum opus "cultural Amnesia": ""if those ["The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged"] were not two of the worst books ever written -- the worst books ever written don't even get published -- they were certainly among the worst books ever to be taken seriously."

Were Ayn Rand's two standout books really that bad? I've read a lot of books. And I like a lot of books. In fact, given time, I wouldn't be surprised if I'll end up appreciating a lot many things, much the same manner Clive James does. I wouldn't call myself a bad judge of books and other expressions of popular culture. I loved "The Fountainhead". I fail to understand why anybody would be so brutal about one of the most passionate takes on idealism and the problem with it.

Howard Roark remains one of the most memorable characters created in our time. And yet, this isn't the first time I've heard intelligent people being vituperative about this creation by Ayn Rand. I suspect this has much to do with the fact that Ayn Rand offended a lot of people and so people find it most convenient to express their dislike of her, as a person, by going hammer and tongs after her two most influential creations.

I am a nobody but I am somebody enough to strenuously diagree with Clive James and other equally big names on this one.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Greg Chappell v/s India Ink

It's a good idea to give Greg Chappell a chance to mould the future of Indian cricket. Schoolmasters, disciplinarians and hard-driving coaches are good at that sort of thing.

Seasoned campaigners find it hard to unlearn old habits. The time to make sure people turn out right is when they are learning the tricks of the trade.

The people who are miffed with Chappell and want him to have nothing to do whatsoever with Indian cricket are the ones who weren't on his SMS list and never managed to get a soundbyte out of him to sell their badly written columns.

It's a well-known fact that Greg Chappell didn't suffer fools gladly. Fools, that's why he wasn't successful with the Big Boys of Indian cricket. Good call, Pawar.