Thursday, December 25, 2008

This And That

Actor Hugh Lawrie aka Dr. House, on reading and acting PG Wodehouse's words. (And here he is, with his comedic partner, Stephen Fry, in Tricky Linguistics. Wonderful stuff. Via Metafilter.)

My favorite album this year has to be Fleet Foxes' Fleet Foxes. The album is in the Top 3 or Top 5 on most critics' year-end lists. Get it if you've been wanting to listen to some terrific singing (and songwriting, but their singing is something else.) Here's the band's gorgeous White Winter Hymnal, a song which also has my favorite lyrics of the year:
"I was following the pack
all swallowed in their coats
with scarves of red tied ’round their throats
to keep their little heads
from fallin’ in the snow
And I turned ’round and there you go
And, Michael, you would fall
and turn the white snow red as strawberries
in the summertime"
The American Dialect Society released their "Word of the Year" nominations list. (What that Society needs is a techie who can teach them how to use shorter URLs.)

If you've ever wanted to read about mindfulness in plain English, why, here's a great little guide called "Mindfulness in plain English".

Have a great New Year, everyone.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Wonders Are Many"

As physicists go, J. Robert Oppenheimer is the rock star. No need to explain why. Just take a deep breath and read the Wikipedia entry.

So how does one reconcile this towering intellect of a man, the poetry-loving and Bhagvad Gita-quoting genius, and the man who believed the atom bomb would actually end all future wars? This was, of course, the subject of the opera, Dr. Atomic.

I have not seen the opera yet but I did catch the premiere of the superb documentary, "Wonders Are Many", on Independent Lens. The film looks at the making of the opera, a task which I am now convinced is nearly as complex as Quantum Physics. How does one set lines like these to music?
A sustained neutron chain reaction
resulting from nuclear fission
has been demonstrated;
production plants of several
different types are in operation,
building a stock pile
of the explosive material.
Only John Adams can. (Link to Alex Ross's column in the New Yorker.) The film shows him at work and by the end of the film, you will have an even greater admiration for the artist's talent. It is just as fascinating to watch the always controversial director/librettist Peter Sellars at work. (link to an American Repertory Theatre page.)

Movies and CGI may have made explosions commonplace, but how does one convey the magnitude of the A-bomb explosion on stage? Through decidedly low-tech means - music and words. But it does help that these are not just any words, but words taken from the Gita, Oppenheimer's favorite text:
At the sight of this, your Shape stupendous,
Full of mouths and eyes, feet, thighs and bellies,
Terrible with fangs, O master,
All the worlds are fear-struck, even just as I am.
When I see you, Vishnu, omnipresent,
Shouldering the sky, in hues of rainbow,
With your mouths agape and flame-eyes staring—
All my peace is gone; my heart is troubled.
(The above scene can been seen on a YT video. Link via this blog.)

This excellent film is available on DVD, but I also hope PBS considers putting up this film on their website or YouTube.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dead Urdu Poets + Web 2.0

A week or so ago, there was some great Urdu poetry posted, translated (and commented upon) on Falstaff and Neha's blogs. Something about those verses that makes everyone go crazy.

And that got me thinking. There is probably a market for a social networking site exclusively for lovers of Urdu poetry. I even came up with the perfect name for the site: Faizbook.

Har di frickin' har.

On a related note, check out Austenbook.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mug Shots 2008

Browsing through Smoking Gun's "Mug Shots of the Year" collection is a great way to waste five minutes. (Oh and if one had to vote, Jersey Girl on Page 1 wins. And #5 would be a close second.)

Friday, December 12, 2008


MWLLOL. Very funny. (Via Pitchfork)

Now Where's Brown Sugar Avenue?

Courtesy Lekhni, this piece of news about a town called Dartford deciding to name streets after Rolling Stones' song titles.
One road will be named "Sympathy Street," derived from the Stones' sinister classic "Sympathy for the Devil."

Others will be called "Cloud Close," "Rainbow Close" and "Dandelion Row" after other Stones songs. There will also be "Stones Avenue" and "Little Red Walk" from "Little Red Rooster," the blues classic covered by the Stones in their early days.
I hope they also figure out a way to use titles like "Bitch", "Monkey Man", "Dead Flowers", "Midnight Rambler" and that one unnameable Stones song and make the entire town seem like one sad, scary and sleazy place.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


From William Safire's column in last weekend's Times' magazine:

What is the question to which 9-W is the answer? "Do you spell your name with a V, Mr. Wagner?"

Reminds me of an ex-boss who, after working with several Vinods and Vinays and Vasants, once asked me "why can't you Indians pronounce V and W correctly"?

Well, I want to know why Americans can't pronounce those conjunct consonants in Sanskrit correctly. Hah!

Sunday, December 07, 2008


"On Wednesday, tens of thousands of urban, English-speaking, tank-top-wearing citizens stormed the Gateway of India.." (Emphasis mine, bad reporting all NYT's.)

How Somini Sengupta (of the New York Times) verified the linguistic abilities of tens of thousands of protesters, while keeping an eye out on every marcher's wardrobe, one will never know. Maybe that's why she writes for the New York Times.

Just read the words "tank-top-wearing citizens" out aloud and tell me it doesn't send a Gateway-sized bolt of "ugh" down your spine.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Stand By Me: Playing For Change

No online petitions, no Facebook groups, no email forwards. Just give 'em some rock and roll.

Originally written by Ben King, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, then popularized by John Lennon in 1975, here's the classic "Stand By Me", performed by street musicians in different cities countries and captured in a film titled "Playing For Change". (Via Bill Moyers' show on PBS last night.)

I couldn't find a link on that website to the other song from the film - Bob Marley's "One love" - but there's a YT video. (There's even a choir from Chennai singing on it.)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Better Man

The question of motivation is a fascinating one.

What could have motivated a tea-seller in VT station to put his life at risk and move people out of harm's way on the night of the attacks? (Link to

And yes, real people can dodge bullets too, Neo.

What's His Name Again?

From the Foreign Policy blog, a post about the confusion over the name of the terrorist captured in Mumbai. (I saw one blog refer to him as "Bloody Asshole" in the title of the post. There, fixed, Space Bar)