Wednesday, September 21, 2005

B    is for Boston

Continuing the powdering of the Begumpetian rasa podi, on a theme by Ludwig. The strange thing is, even in Begumpet, there are things that will drag one kicking and screaming to Beantown. For example, almost right outside the office here, there used to be a huge advertisement board, carrying an ad for Emirates (the airline). "Experience New York daily!" or somesuch, went the ad. And of all things, it showed Mariano Rivera about to lunge into one of his divine pitches. One year back, this would've been an incredibly painful sight, for obvious reasons. Yet, this year, it brings back the the happiest thoughts.

Another thing about Hyderabad, there's an obscene, inordinate number of people wearing NYY caps. If they ever got booted out of Yankee Stadium, they'll find a warm welcome in Lal Bahadur Shastri stadium. Orai Jeter, nee yenkamma, sixer kotta ra, orai...!!!, scream the fans.

We digress. Boston was home for 4 years and 4 months. Well, actually Cambridge was home for 4 years and 4 months, but we can do a "C is for Cambridge" post and get away by copy-pasting this one there also [Paataala Bhairavi type laughter here]. The very first place one had a coffee in the US (Tosci's, Central Square) in August 1997 decided our fates, my precious. "Got to live in Beantown! Got to live in Beantown!", went the little idiot inside the head who passes off as a rational choice type character, mostly.

So the menage a trois (me, my precious, and Mr. Rational Choice Type C.) moved lock, stock, barrel, tyres and so on to Somerville. 4 years and 4 months of fun and games followed. What did we like about Beantown? The bookstores, the T; the squares (that aren't); the river, the running, the running around the river; the winters (pre-New Year); those two universities and even the third, fourth and fifth; this museum and that one; this, that and the other cinema; those two teams; that ocean (only one); these woods (lovely, dark, deep); the restauarants, the dhaaba!, Chinese 'truck' food with Nobel laureates on MIT lawns, the bars...

This is pointless, the list is too big. Strangely enough, the list is almost entirely about Cambridge. Boston was also cool :)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Poems From Phillums

Before we do the Light Brigade act into the pomes, a delightful discovery needs to be shared. Terry Mordue (may his tribe increase) is trying to annotate as many allusions as he can from the works of P.G.Wodehouse. And from the notes on The Clicking Of Cuthbert, we learn about this absolutely delightful lady, Jael the wife of Heber. Read on. Its absolutely deliciously cute. Might have to slip a little something in Heber's drink and live happily ever after with Jael.

Poems from fillums. First of all, before you Google experts scuttle away to your little searches, in the manner of roaches when the light is turned on, a very decent list is available. So no nenu cheppanu kadaas from you. Secondly, we have already spoken of some of these here and here. And finally, perhaps we should try to avoid being lazy by resorting to such stratagems as including Shakespeare poems from "Shakespeare movies", Neruda poems from Neruda movies or even including Paul Verlaine's tragic sounding Song Of Autumn, just because the verses were used by the Allies to advise the French Resistance about the impending Normandy landings (and this was later depicted in The Longest Day.

Caveats having been dispensed with,

I

A very favourite movie has a couple of very favourite poems. First, Robert washes Meryl's hair to the pace of the fantastic Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. Very apt poem for such an activity. Also a great poem to mug up during long runs. Then, near the end, Meryl reads A.E.Housman's To An Athlete Dying Young over Robert's grave.

II

Surely, we must include The Hollow Men, read so chillingly by Marlon in Apocalypse Now.

III

The very very entertaining Dreamcatcher apparently has this one thrown in there somewhere.

More can be added.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Smorgasboard

0. Happy Onam.

1. Finished yet another John Keay book, The Spice Route: A History. This man is rapidly turning into one's favourite historian about these matters. His India: A History was also very good, a judicious mix of history sprinkled with Keay's own pointed remarks about everything ("...the Near East in the Middle Ages was almost as troubled and strife-torn as the Middle East in nearer ages..."). Of course, it all started off over a year and a half back when we wrote about Tall Ships and en passant touched upon The Honourable Company, which was a history of the British East India Company. "The Spice Route" and "The Honourable Company" have much in common, intertwined as the history of colonialism and spices is.
The chronology of "The Spice Route" however starts in the dimly seen past, when Phoenicians, Egyptians and other sundry Levantine types started sailing. A history of spices follows - Greece-Rome-Dark Ages-Middle Ages and so on, before arriving at the point where the Iberians, the Italians, the Low Countries, and of course the English took to serious blue water sailing in search of "The Origin Of Spices". The pioneering work of Hippalos; the mysteries of Periplus Maris Erythraei (which is available in its entirety here); the peregrinations of Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta and Xuan Zhuang; of Admiral Cheng-ho's argosy (thanks to Zoo Station) and so on.

This history is full of the most surprising characters: shady Italian industrial espionage types who converted to Islam so as to be able to hang out with Arabs and learn their secrets; a Greek cabin boy who joins a British ship, finds his way to Siam, becomes a favourite at the King's court and is virtually Prime Minister of Thailand for a few years; Siam and Golconda going to war over the harassment of Indian porters (at British instigation) who carried cargos from the eastern end of the Malay peninsula to the western end over the isthmus of Kra, and so on.

UPDATE: This should've been posted yesterday (thanks to Anonymous for the reminder), but John Keay is indeed touring the country. More information is available. If you get a chance to hear the man speak, please intimidate us at Choultry also.

2. There are many blogs devoted to economics. Zoo Station, Indian Economy, Deesha, Secular Right, India Uncut are some blogs that frequently feature very readable posts on economics, government, the role of government in economics, and so on.

While they present different and interesting facets of and takes on various economic systems, it wouldn't be unfair to say that by and large the bloggers agree on (for want of a better phrase) "laissez faire free market capitalism" as their preferred economic system, for various reasons. Further, in general, these blogs are critical about socialism, communism and all other related -isms (complete the list yourself).

As someone who's knowledge of conventional economics and economic history is abysmal, and further more someone whose ability to gather the facts and analyze them is also pathetic, it becomes hard to frame any decent questions, or come up with any decent arguments about these issues. But but but...as someone who writes a blog read by 6 people, who's to stop us from asking some stupid questions anyway? Huh?!

  • What are the ethical/moral underpinnings of any economic systems? What is "good", "bad"? What does "equitable" mean? Is "equal access to resources and opportunities" "good"? Is it necessary? Is it sufficient? Have people who advocate any one system over the other answered these questions to their satisfaction? Is that necessary?

  • Generally, the laissez faire folk seem to be "meritocrats". This means, you have minimal regulatory interference, let individuals/firms compete in the open against each other, may the best man win, and to the winner go the spoils. This is "fair", and this is "good" for everyone. This seems to work nicely when all concerned start on the same level playing field, in terms of access to resources and opportunities, and the only variables are the capabilities of the entities concerned.
    Unfortunately, these entities include people. What happens after the first generation?

    Mr. A did well in life, so his children go to the best schools and so on. Ms. B didn't do so well, so her children weren't able to get an education and so on. Now what? Is anyone studying the effect of inequalities and how they are propagated across generations? What is the "good" solution to this problem? What is the "fair" solution? Wouldn't it be "fair" and "meritorious" to separate all children away from their parents as soon as possible, put them in some kind of residential school system where everyone is equal and turn them loose in the real world, without their parents' accomplishments backing them up? How do we draw these lines?

  • Doesn't it seem as though for about 5000 years, we lived in a free-for-all smash-and-grab world, where the bhains resided with the owner of the lathi, and the more you managed to hoodwink others, the better off you were? Then, suddenly, in the last 100 years or so, we've discovered "ethics" and "fairness" and now we changed the rules. "Oh no, you can't use violence to become rich any more." Seems like a bit of a children's game.

  • Macro economically speaking, what is the "end" of economics? If economic performance is measured in terms of "growth", and rewarded based on that performance, does this mean that this "prosperity" thing is inextricably linked with "growth"? Does "economic growth" always mean that, ultimately, we are using up more and more of some non-renewable resource? Per conventional wisdom: "economic growth" is a "good" thing, population growth is a bad thing, does this mean that the same number of (or fewer) people have to consume more and more things forever? Aren't war/calamities and the subsequent rebuilding, or even economic activity for the sake of economic activity, then a viable solution to our economic problems? Does this ever end? Where does this end? Where do economists want this to end, and where do they see this whole shebang going?

And so on and so forth... Very vexing these questions are, no answers in sight, and no one making a halfway decent attempt to explain this to the hoi polloi like us.

And a bloody long post.

Finis.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Waraldu Blogu Day

Apparently, it was some kind of World Blogger Orgy Day on the 31st, where we all go around slapping each other on the back, with general expressions of, "Jolly good show, old chap, eh! Tea?" & c. But since we've taken the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach to blogging, we will also mark the occasion.

Look to your right. More lynx have been added. It is a positive infestation of lynx. Some bookmarks, transferred from browser to blog. This, apparently is what is known as a blogroll. Every blog that has been linked to, is like butter. Because its on a roll. Ha ha. Very droll, we are also thinking.
  • Muesli Harmless - Be careful. Take your surgeon friend along. Will be useful when you need to shove your guts back inside and stitch them up, after you are done laughing.

  • A Walk In The Clouds - Another person with a wacko sense of humour [and some thousands (tens of thousands?) of adoring readers, apparently!]. Be warned about the PJs, though. They are all over the place, scattered, like dandelion seeds and shrapnel.

  • Zoo Station - One of the first blogs we bookmarked. Used to be a group blog, with a bunch of friends contributing, but now Reuben fights the good fight all alone. Very very interesting stuff here, almost every day. Lots of information, just the right amount of controversy, and so on.

  • Emergic - Rajesh Jain's writings on "Emerging Technologies, Enterprises and Markets"

  • Deesha - Atanu Dey on India's development. Disagree with many things here often, but always a thought-provoking read.

  • Indian Economy - This one is surely the flavour of the month. A bunch of A-list bloggers (Reuben, Atanu, Amit Varma etc.) present their take on the Indian economy. Interesting (if 'conventional') perspectives, even if one can't agree with them all the time. Or most of the time :-)

  • Sepia Mutiny - Another group blog where you're guaranteed to find something interesting, funny, weird every day. If you absolutely must read something new everyday, go here.

  • Meditations (of the DelphicOracle) - The DelphicOracle has sadly fallen very silently lately, although it used to speak at Zoo Station on many things - computers, Indian history (and the study thereof), the Red Sox...

  • Nanopolitan - Technology, society, more! Teaches at I.I.Sc in Bangalore, and has much to say about many, many things. Is also testing the theory that he is the only Abinandanan in the world. May Popper go with him.

  • Locana - That's not "loca" as in "locate", but locana as in the samskrtam for "eye". Anand writes on a variety of interesting things, and he doesn't know it but we find ourselves in concord very often.

  • Siddharth Varadarajan - Veteran journalist, very professional stuff.

  • Dilip D'Souza - Veteran columnist, writes about many things, with a personal touch.

  • Indianwriting - Uma M-D runs a fantastic blog. Like SepiaMutiny, something of interest every day. Bombay, books, movies, Bombay, people, animals, places, Bombay, issues, and so on. Did we mention Bombay? Well, yes a bit too much of Bombay (but then what would you have a blog about Bombay do?), but absolutely don't-miss-every-day blog.

  • AnandTech - Before you buy any gadget, check out what these guys have to say.

  • Joel On Software - Joel Spolsky's legendary blog, with his take on many many things about software development. He's very opinionated, but that's what makes this such a good read.

So that's that, then. More when we update the list next time.

Ah, it is Friday.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.