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October 30, 2004

Away

Been very busy over the past week. 'll Be back on monday or tuesday ...

October 23, 2004

On Infosys

John Heilemann has a nice story about Nandan Nilekani (the CEO of Infosys) in next month's Business 2.0.

Incidentally, the slides of the presentations from Milan 2004 (the Infosys client meet) now seem to be available online.

October 21, 2004

Gibson etc

In case you did not notice, William Gibson is back.

Gibson and Neil Stephenson are the only two science fiction writers that I try to keep up with (unless you count Douglas Adams and Asimov. But Douglas Adams doesnt write fiction anymore and Isac Asimov is dead). I should note here that neither Gibson, nor Stephenson are strictly science fiction writers. Gibson in 'Pattern Recognition' was skating very close to what can be reality.

In other news,

Mobilives is back too.

Alex Ross, the music critic of the New York has a wonderful weblog called The Rest Is Noise.

Insidegoogle is just that; a weblog for for googleheads.

October 19, 2004

Unfortunately, the joke is on the media

I am going to try very hard to write as little as possible about US politics. Let this be a rare outburst!

Like many others, I too have followed the presidential debates and found Kerry's responses (largely) more substantive and more consistent . More importantly, Kerry's assertions in the debate, even when they were wrong, were largely in the exeggerations category. Bush's or Cheney's assertions, when they were wrong, were often in the 'lies' category and they were more frequent.

Media's narrative often failed to make this qualitative difference in the responses by the candidates or by the respective campaigns. This is not because the media is evil, but simply because mainstream media is not equipped to deal with outright distortions or disengeneuousnesses in a way that common men with their incredibly crowded lives can process quickly or easily (ie except for the political news junky population).

Television spcially, has killed nuances from public discourse. Initially, when TV popped up as a significant player in the media landscape, it tripped politicians (e.g. Nixon's disastrous TV appearances). But spinmeisters learnt fast and in the intervening decades have mostly succeeded in coopting the broadcast media.

The other sociological change has probably happened in the psychographics of mediamen. From what I read, the earlier generation of pressmen were not very well-paid (except for Time-Life and a few notable exceptions) and people could still bootstrap themselves into the newsroom through a route that often included the mail room and night schools. Today, increasing media consolidation and attractive pay in national media (specially in TV) has ensured that you need a good college education and certain degree of sophistication upfront. It has become an atractive career option (and as it should be). This has ensured that there is now a certain degree of similarity in the psychographics of the spinner and the spinned. A socially adversarial relationship doesnt exist anymore (And let me be clear that I am not mourning that at all. But it just happens to be another check that doesn't exist anymore.)

Thirdly, the straight media simply has not figured out how to deal with outlets like Fox. Mike Doogan, A letter writer in Romanesko's had it right:

"The problem is that Fox News and the Washington Times are not a balance for the New York Times and ABC News. The latter two are journalistic organizations; the former are propaganda outlets. It's confusing to a lot of people, because Fox looks like a news channel and the Washington Times looks like a newspaper.

But the truth is that journalism is a process, not a product. A journalist attempts to collect, as even handedly as possible, as many facts as possible, and to fashion them into a narrative that readers and viewers can understand. A propagandist uses facts selectively, in an attempt to convince readers and viewers of the truth of a pre-determined position."

The emergence of outlets like the Fox seems to have stupefied the press and have forced the advertisement dependent cable outlets like CNN and MSNBC to gradually move rightward over the last few years in a desperate attempt to hold on to their audience.

Lastly, a general media and campaign fascination with gotcha moments (and this really is the true gift of television - a penchant for theater) ensured that both candidates were afraid of even trying to give honest, complex answers. Most of the time, the candidates were more intent on getting their talking points across than actually debating each other. This message discipline' brought down the significance and the interestingness of the debate. I dont blame the candidates for this. Anyone who tries for an honest debate will get destroyed in the current environment.

It was left to John Stewart, the comic genius of America, to bring to the fore media's complicity in perpetuating spin in the US national discourse. In a widely downloaded and commented upon TV interview in Crossfire, Stewart savaged the crosstalk duo for their participation in a make-believe that "hurts America". It needs to be said that Stewart himself is no longer a subversive comedian on the margins of mainstream consciousness. His every utterence is now widely reported and dissected. As Slate noted he won't be able to get away with his 'I am only a comedian' act for very long.

But it is still highly amusing that it took the 'court jester' to announce on primetime television that the emperor has no clothes. I wonder wheather CNN will ever call Stewart back again.

October 17, 2004

Calling all writers

Interesting writing competitions/opportunities:

Lonely Planet's travel humour writing competition is open to all. The last date of entry is Nov 30.

Outlook Picador Non-Fiction Competition (site registration required) is open to all Indian residents. The last date for entry is Nov 30th.

Caferati short fiction competition is also open to all Indian residents. The last date for receiving entries is Oct 31.

Nanwrimo is a global Internet jaggernaut that you may already be familiar with. As in previous years, you start writing on Nov 1. And anyone, anywhere can participate for 30 days for caffeine soaked writing adventure.

October 16, 2004

Essays

Over the past 2 years, I wrote a few essays on South Asia for a few other webzines / publications. The majority of them are accessible through the following links. (When I manage to add the rest of the links, I would notify though the home page of this weblog).

SatyaCircle

The Jammu and Kashmir Dispute: At the Crossroads
Fighting AIDS in India
Deconstructing Hindu extremism
A cheer for South Asian writers
Outsourcing, its backlash and where we go from here

Living in India

Mr and Mrs Iyer
Greetings from Varanasi

(The formatting on Living in India seem to have gone a little topsyturvy on migration from their previous content management platform)

Others

For sometime last year, I collaborated on an interesting group weblog called IndiaEconomyWatch. It still has some very interesting posts. A good number of these posts are also available here on 'Living On India' into which we had subsumed Indian Economy Watch last year.

October 15, 2004

By the way

Michael Young's 'The rise of meritocracy' is a book I want to get to at some point of time.

Here is a short story by Timothy Noah on Michael and Toby Young, the father and son. Toby Young's tribute to his father is also interesting reading.

October 11, 2004

Random Links

John Lancaster has a good story in Washington Post about Sudhir Kakar's new book on Gandhi's relationship with Madeleine Slade (Mira). Here is a review in Outlook by Mark Tully

Upbeat story in Wired about innovation in India .
A little condescending, but well written article in Slate on e-voting in India as compared to US initiatives
Depressing column by Tavleen Singh on income tax department's newfound right to attach property in India.

October 5, 2004

'Adventures of a Bystander' by Peter Drucker

In my first year in college, I ran into Peter Drucker's brilliant memoir Adventures of a bystander in our hostel library. It was one of my favourite books in college and made a lasting impression on me. After many years, the month before I ran into another copy of the book in our local library. It was relief to find that it is still a gripping read.

It is a gem of a book. Smart, erudite, well-written, a joy to read. It doesnt require great concentration as some of Drucker's management books might do, but it still has brilliant insights. Read this book just for the pleasure of reading a good non-fiction.

In those dieing days of what used to be the Austro-Hungarian empire, Austria still played host to some of the most brilliant and eccentric people in Europe. The book shines thanks also to this cast of charecters. Consider for example this exchange that Count Traun-Trauneck in Austria (one of the forgotten players of Europe' pre-world war underground socialist movement) had with young Peter Drucker when he was just out of school in the mid 1920s:

Traun-Trauneck

"We didn't fail; socialism did. Europe's socialist leaders - the ones on whom we had counted - did indeed oppose the war, although none of them dared call the general strike they had committed themselves to at the 1911 Vienna Congress. But even if they had, it would have made no difference. The proletarian masses, that great powerful force for peace and brotherhood, everywhere ignited like tinder in a patriotic firestorm. You know, he went on sadly, "It's popular now to blame the diplomats and the businessmen for World War I, and they were reckless. But the ones who really wanted war were the great Socialist masses. They whupped it up. They brought about the 'total immersion' of Europe that Jaures had warned -and that was the end of Socialism.

Of course you'll tell me that there are more socialism voters around in Europe these days than there were before 1914. But then socialism was based on hope and not on numbers. Now it is based on envy. That unspeakable clown down in Rome (Ed: Mussolini), understands this. Before the war he was the most militant Socialist and always tried to make up to us and get our people to write for his newspaper. At that Vienna Congress of 1911 he was the firebrand who promised to deliver 'the revolution' should war come to Europe. But then he saw what really happened- and he understood, I'm afraid. to be sure, socialists here in Austria, and those in Germany and France, and the labor party in England are decent enough chaps; I prefer them to the clericals and priests who now rule us here in Austria. Indeed, if I had been in a visible position in the civi service as the one your father held, I would have resigned with him when the Monsignors took over the Austrian government two years ago. But still, that's all the socialists are today - decent chaps who won't do any good or too much harm by timidity and stupidity. But if Socialism really should come to power anywhere in Europe from now on, it will either be a tyranny like the ones you see it Russia and Italy, of it will be a government by chief clerks and paper pushers. The dream is gone. ...."

Later Drucker continued:

"But wheather Traun-Trauneck exeggerated his own role- and his own guilt is beside the point. For socialism did indeed die with the guns of August of 1914 when the socialist masses rejected proletarian solidarity and enthusiastically embraced nationalism and fratricidal war instead. It was not the end of Marxism as a theology; theologies do outlive faith. It was not the end of socialism as a political force. But it was the end of Socialism as a dream - at least for a generation, if not forever. Since then power has won in every conflict between the promise of socialism and the reality of power; since then, above all, nationalism has won in every conflict between the promise of socialism and the passion of nationalism. Again and again some dreamers of the earlier dream- the best known is the American Michael Harrington - appeal to the original vision and declare that the reality of Socialism is an unnecessary and deplorable perversion of the true faith. But to no avail. This explains why Socialism has been intellectually sterile since 1914. Earlier the ablest minds of Europe had wrestled with the intellectual promises and problems of Socialism. Since 1914, only one truly first-rate mind in Europe has concerned himself with Socialism at all; the Italian Antonio Garamasci, who could maintain his prewar innocence because Mussolinio kept him imprisoned and thus protected him from exposure to reality.

The socialist parties in Europe did have the votes the period between the two world wars. But that was all they had- and it did not make the slightest difference. For they no longer had vision, belief, commitment, creed, or credence. ..."

October 2, 2004

Literary Weblogs

David Orr has an interesting interesting list of literary weblogs/websites in New York Times. The list itself (while very good) is not a huge deal; Most weblog readers will be familar with majority of the names there. But NYT Book Review linking to weblogs, many of which greet every new issue of NYT Book review with brickbats, is interesting and a refreshing change for the 'Paper of Record'.

A 500 year old crime gets an almost happy ending

From Nigel Reynolds's story in the Telegraph:

"The Book of Hours - a volume of psalms, prayers and a calendar - was commissioned by Duke Galaezzo Maria Sforza of Milan for his wife, Bona of Savoy, in 1490. The Duke wanted the best craftsmanship and turned not to Leonardo (Ed: i.e. Leonardo de Vinci), who had recently painted his Virgin on the Rocks altarpiece in Milan, but to the celebrated miniaturist Giovan Pietro Birago.

Birago was paid 500 ducats - five times the fee Leonardo received for the altarpiece - and produced a book of more than 350 pages, including 64 full-page miniatures and 140 text pages filled with small miniatures and margins bursting with Renaissance ornament.

Birago also left behind a letter to Bona complaining that as he was completing his task one Johanne Jacopo, a friar from the Convent of San Marco in Milan, stole 28 of the illuminated pages, including all 12 of the "calendar illuminations", each one illustrating a month of the year. .....With each page measuring 4.3 inches by 3.6 inches, they would easily have been slipped under his habit.

Margaret of Austria inherited the book in 1504. She commissioned the Flemish artist Gerard Horenbout to paint 16 new miniatures, filling some of the gaps left by the theft.

The hybrid book was eventually presented to the British Museum - before the library's creation - by the Scottish collector and landowner John Malcolm of Poltalloch in 1893.

Forty years later, rumours began that one of Birago's stolen illustrations may have survived and was in the hands of a private owner.

The British Museum put the word around that it was keen to acquire it and in 1941, the illumination, The Adoration of the Magi, was donated anonymously.

In the 1960s, there were more rumours that two of the calendar illustrations had survived and in 1984, the new British Library tracked down one, a spring scene depicting May and bought it from the late Martin Breslauer, a New York dealer.

Then a year ago, a Chicago dealer, Sandra Hindman, reported that she had the hunting scene, Birago's illustration for October. She had acquired it from Mr Breslauer, who had purchased it from an Italian dealer in the 1960s."

The library raised the 191,000 (thanks largely to an emergency grant of 131,000 from a charity) in order to buy scene directly from Hindman.

Somehow, I love stories like these!

you can turn the pages of the Sforza Hours or other prominent Renaissance era illuminated books through this site designed by the British Library. The background information on the book is also available on the British Library website