G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

W H Auden: "But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie. / Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful."

Will Self: “To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Digesting in Numerical Form

Nick Cullather:

“...Americans increasingly digested their information in numerical form. After 1905, gamblers judged horses by the portents in the Racing Form and baseball fans sized up hitters by the tables in The Sporting News. Newspapers published an avalanche of statistics evaluating business acumen by quarterly earnings, literature by copies sold, and drama by the number of weeks on Broadway. Many observers considered such quantitative reasoning a national trait. 'If the English are a nation of shopkeepers, Americans are a nation of expert accountants', critic and playwright Eugene R. White observed..."

 Max H. Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel, The New York Times, April 2011:

"...When we are busy focused on common organizational goals, like quarterly earnings or sales quotas, the ethical implications of important decisions can fade from our minds. Through this ethical fading, we end up engaging in or condoning behavior that we would condemn if we were consciously aware of it.

The underlying psychology helps explain why ethical lapses in the corporate world seem so pervasive and intractable. It also explains why sanctions, like fines and penalties, can have the perverse effect of increasing the undesirable behaviors they are designed to discourage..."

John Cassidy, The New Yorker, November 29, 2010:

 "...On Wall Street dealing desks, profits and losses are evaluated every afternoon when trading ends, and the firms’ positions are “marked to market”—valued on the basis of the closing prices. A trader can borrow money and place a leveraged bet on a certain market. As long as the market goes up, he will appear to be making a steady profit. But if the market eventually turns against him his capital may be wiped out. “You can create a trading strategy that overnight makes lots of money, and it can take months or years to find out whether it is real money or luck or excessive risk-taking,” Philippon explained. “Sometimes, even then it is hard.” Since traders (and their managers) get evaluated on a quarterly basis, they can be paid handsomely for placing bets that ultimately bankrupt their companies. “In most industries, a good idea is rewarded because the company generates profits and real cash flows,” Philippon said. “In finance, it is often just a trading gain. The closer you get to financial markets the easier it is to book funny profits...."

 I have worked in organizations who were obsessed with quarterly performance.

Sometimes I thought there was  little else happening. You closed the current quarter and projected the next. Or you closed the next quarter and projected the current. Or whatever.

The person who was an outstanding employee got fired in the next and the person who was an obscure also-ran became the guy to watch.

I have already shared  following great cartoon on the subject of being accountants on August 30 2007.
Artist: Sam Gross, The New Yorker,  January 11 1993

Now, I share another great cartoon I came across in March 2014

Artist: David Borchart, The New Yorker, March 2014

Was man's life as boring as this, even in caves?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Devaki Unlike Danaë Did Not Meet a Titian

Today August 17 2014 is Krishna Janmashtami (कृष्ण जन्माष्टमी)

Sheila Hale, 'Titian His Life', 2012: 

"...The most we can say is that, although Titian’s portrayals of women inviting or – in the case of his two versions of the Danaë – actually engaging in the sexual act were painted for rich men to enjoy in private, they are the work of an artist who loved women and understood them with a tenderness and understanding that may have eluded his erotomaniacal best friend, who wore his sexuality like a badge of honour while Titian revealed his in a way that speaks to us across the centuries more persuasively than words..."  

There are so many parallels between Greek and Hindu mythologies.

I recently realised the common theme in Devaki's and Danaë's.

Although great literature based on Hindu mythology exists in India, the great paintings based on them, unlike Greek mythology, don't.

A case in point is the following painting based on the myth of Danaë. ( "Disappointed by his lack of male heirs, Acrisius asked an oracle if this would change. The oracle told him that he would be killed by his daughter's son. Danaë was childless and, meaning to keep her so, he shut her up in a bronze tower or cave. But Zeus came to her in the form of golden rain, and impregnated her. Soon after, their child Perseus was born..."...Perseus goes on to kill Acrisius...)

Artist: Titian, '

, what’s most erotic about the painting is, I think, the woman’s right hand, the fingers of which are shown raking sensuously through a clutch of rumpled bed linen. The effect isn’t quite porn, but it’s erotic as heck, the frankly carnal specificity of the gesture barely veiled by what Brown calls the painting’s “mythological gloss.” The woman in “Danaë” has the weight of flesh..."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fallen cold and dead: O Captain! My Captain! Robin Williams

Daily Mail: In deep depression and beset by money-worries, Robin Williams cut wrist and hanged himself as unwitting wife slept in another room

Albert Camus, 'The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays', 1942/1955:

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest—whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories—comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer."
John Keating, played by the late Robin Williams in 'Dead Poets Society', 1989:

"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer: that you are here; that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"

Tom Hanks via FB:

"Let's remember the fiery genius, the long, long strings of laughter, the awe at the energy and the performances that lit up the room, the screen, the world. Let's remember Robin Williams. Hanx"

Woody Allen, 'Crimes and Misdemeanors', 1989:

"Where I grew up... in Brooklyn, nobody committed suicide... you know, everyone was too unhappy."

Looks like Mr. Williams was happy. 

I adore Robin Williams in quite a few of his films and have watched them multiple times but I particularly love him in Patch Adams (1996) and Dead Poets Society (1989).

They are scathing commentary on our education system, apart from many other things like parenting, medical care etc.

Stills from 'Dead Poets Society', 1989

courtesy: the copyright owner of the film / Touchstone Pictures

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

स्नानासोबत लघुशंका...Just A Bad Film, Even Twenty Years Later: HAHK

Twenty years ago, on 5 August 1994, Hindi feature film 'Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!' (HAHK) was released at Liberty Cinema, Mumbai...It went on to become one of the most commercially successful Hindi films...

John Gray:

"Talk of giving up consumerism is reminiscent of Stephen Emmott's favourite example of a fashionable pseudo-solution for environmental problems: peeing while you're in the shower. "

Aldous Huxley, 'Brave New World', 1931: 

"...in a world in which everything is available, nothing has any meaning."

Ostap Karmodi: 

"Do you feel we’re living in an age of consumerism or is that just a media concept that doesn’t have any real meaning?"

Roger Ebert:

“When you go to the movies every day, it sometimes seems as if the movies are more mediocre than ever, more craven and cowardly, more skillfully manufactured to pander to the lowest tastes instead of educating them."

A G Noorani, review of the book on the year 1939, Frontline, 2008:

“…Nepotism was rife. None other than Vallabhbhai Patel wrote to the Prime Minister of Central Provinces N.B. Khare on August 21, 1939, recommending the case of Ratanchand Hirachand of Indian Hume Pipe Co. for a contract. Sarojini Naidu wrote to Khare recommending Walter Dutt for a High Court judgeship. It was at this time that many bad precedents were set which affect us to the present day. Congressmen in office were intoxicated with power...”

Oliver Farry:

“From Robin Williams’s death to the Arab Spring, we have to resist the urge to impose simple storylines on complex events.” (New Statesman, August 15 2014)

Will Self, August 15 2014, BBC News Magazine:

"...As our avid chatter increases in volume red spots begin to appear on our pale cheeks. And as we cough and splutter the news of our latest acquisitions, so it occurs to me that unless we can find a cure for this malady soon it will have eaten us all up, just as we will have consumed all of Mother Earth's bountiful resources. All that will be left is a gigantic stomach, floating in space, its visceral manifold gleaming weirdly in the cold, indifferent light of the stars - stars that are quite unable to feel any sadness for our demise, because they're too busy consuming themselves. The great French writer Louis-Ferdinand Celine entitled one of his novels Mort a credit. This is sometimes translated into English as Death on the Instalment Plan, but a better rendition might be simply Consumption."

Since its release, I have never watched HAHK in its entirety. (By the way, I have still not watched a single  film in entirety of either Madhuri Dixit or Salman Khan, leading stars  of HAHK.)

My brother and I went to a Pune cinema (Mangala) to watch HAHK c1994. We left the hall at the interval when Pooja came rolling down the stair case. 

We were so bored almost from the start that we were looking for an excuse to leave the hall, we found it in that tragic accident.

I can't stand the film or any part of it even today. However,  I do NOT agree with arguments of Mr. Atul Deulgaonkar (अतुल देऊळगावक), henceforth AD for this post, on the film in Loksatta dated August 10 2014.

In a round about manner, AD blames the film for some of the major ills he sees in Indian society today!

"२० वर्षांपूर्वी 'हम आपके है कौन?' या चित्रपटाने हिंदी चित्रपटांचा फॉम्र्युलाच केवळ बदलला नाही, तर अवघे भारतीय जनमानसही त्याने कवेत घेतले. श्रीमंतीचे उथळ प्रदर्शन, 'संस्कृती'च्या नावाखाली थिल्लर गोष्टींचा अतिरेक, दाखवेगिरीचा प्रचंड सोस आणि सामाजिकतेला सोडचिठ्ठी ही सगळी या चित्रपटाचीच देन आहे. याचदरम्यान भारतीय समाजात आणि त्याच्या मानसिकतेत जे बदल घडले, त्याची सुरुवात या चित्रपटाने करून दिली..."

(twenty years ago HAHK not just changed the formula of Hindi films but embraced the entire Indian psyche. Shallow display of wealth, extremism of silly things under the name of culture, huge thirst for exhibitionism and riddance of sociality are all gifts of this film only. Meanwhile the changes that took place in Indian society and psyche were triggered by this film...)

Brendan O’Neill has said: "...Today it is those who pose as pro-science who are most likely to treat natural events as being caused by individuals’ behaviour, and who are most likely to argue that catastrophes can be predicted and potentially offset through a secular form of eco-penance. They even claim that earthquakes are caused by climate change, as evidenced in recent headlines such as ‘Climate change will shake the earth’. They would probably have blamed the Lisbon quake on consumerism, just as religious folk blamed it on sin..."

When AD blames a 'silly' film for major ills in our society, he reminds me of such 'folks'.  I am not disputing either the ills or their monstrous nature but just arguing that HAHK was NOT a harbinger of  consumerism in India. The film is not that significant. The ills AD describes are real but  defy simple reasoning.

Just about everything that AD faults in this raging article happened or was happening or would have happened with or without HAHK. HAHK did little, at best marginal, difference to the course of history of consumerism in India.

Consumerism predates HAHK by many decades, indeed centuries.

Joshua M. Zeitz claims in The New York Times, December 27 2003: "...Finally, the ever-rising influence of consumerism and advertising after 1900 chipped away at the Victorian-era culture of asceticism and self-denial, in effect legitimating the pursuit of pleasure..."

Peter N. Stearns claims: "...We now know that, while there was new surge around 1900, modern consumerism predates the industrial revolution..." ('Consumerism in World History: The Global Transformation of Desire', 2006)

'Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit' (1620-05) 

Artist: Sir Nathaniel Bacon (1585-1627)    courtesy: The Guardian

Is consumerism all bad?

With the help of the painting above, Alain De Botton  and John Armstrong attempt an answer in their book 'Art as Therapy', 2013:

"The idea of consumerism as evil is a scourge with which to beat the modern world. Yet at its best consumerism is founded on love of the fruits of the earth, delight in human ingenuity and due appreciation of the vast achievements of organised effort and trade. This painting takes us to a time when abundance was new and not to be taken for granted.

We are so afraid of greed that we forget how honourable the love of material things can be. In 1620, homage could be paid to the nobility of work and commerce, something that boredom and guilt make less accessible to us today. Perhaps we can learn from this picture. A good response to consumerism might not be to live without melons and grapes, but to appreciate what really needs to go into providing them.”

For me, HAHK is a bad, gaudy film that I probably will never watch but it was just holding a cracked mirror to our society. It tried to entertain like most Hindi films do. Nothing more, nothing less. 

I don't think it either makes any comment on consumerism, the way Sir Bacon's picture above does or promotes consumerism. I did not like it but hey, millions others DID. 

Artist: Peter Arno, The New Yorker, April 4 1959

 Arno's fat cat never watched HAHK