Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga – a Book Review

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga – a Book Review

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

December 30, 2008




Writing about the dispossessed, poor and the destitute is not a small feat. Poor and the impoverished do not own the press. They don’t have any powerful and effective lobby group to represent them in the government or corporate sectors.

Portrayals of this underrepresented segments of human society is mostly superficial and marginal at best.

Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger reminded me Monica Ali’s The Brick Lane, not in its depiction of men and women in Indian sub-continent, but the razor sharp words of critiques, untangling the myths and disillusions perpetuated by the ruling “master” in the name of preserving so-called democracy, have similarities in overall texture. Also, various issues in Arundhati Roy’s poignant non-fictions, essays are explored in White Tiger in moving dialogues and monologues.

The story of Balram Halwai is the story of a common man who can be found in every city of South Asia. His story of pittance, nauseating corruptions of politicians and businessmen, the desperation in the eyes of deprived and caricature of democracy in the most voluble scandalous scenes is heart wrenching but is a necessary tale to be told.

Balram’s ascendancy from “Darkness” to “Light”, from being born in an impoverished family, seeing his mother’s untimely death and funeral, his rickshaw puller father’s eventual succumbing to same fatal fate to Tuberculosis, death without any medical help in a government run hospital shaped Balram’s life’s frame of reference in strokes of surreal reality. As his father was being “permanently cured of his tuberculosis”, Balram learned about healthcare for the poor:

“Why isn’t there a doctor here, uncle?” I asked. “This is the only hospital on either side of the river.”

“See, it’s like this,” the older Muslim man said. “There’s a government medical superintendent who’s meant to check that doctors visit village hospitals like this. Now, each time this post falls vacant, the Great Socialist lets all the big doctors know that he’s having an open auction for that post. The going rate for this post is about four hundred thousand rupees these days.”

“That much!” I said, my mouth opened wide.

“Why not? There’s good money in public service! Now, imagine that I’m a doctor. I beg and borrow money and give it to the Great Socialist, while touching his feet. He gives me the job. I taken an oath to God and the Constitution of India and then I put my boots up on my desk in the state capital.” He raised his feet onto an imaginary table. “Next, I call all the junior government doctors, whom I’m supposed to supervise, into my office. I take out my big government ledger. I shout out, ‘Dr. Ram Pandey.’”

He pointed a finger at me; I assumed my role in the play.

I saluted him: “Yes, sir!”

He held out his palm to me.

“Now, you – Dr. Ram Pandey – will kindly put one-third of your salary in my palm. Good boy. In return, I do this.” He made a tick on the imaginary ledger. “You can keep the rest of your government salary and go work in some private hospital for the rest of the week. Forget the village. Because according to this ledger you’ve been there. You’ve treated my wounded leg. You’ve healed that girl’s jaundice.”

“Ah,” the patients said. Even the ward boys, who had gathered around us to listen, nodded their heads in appreciation. Stories of rottenness and corruption are always the best stories, aren’t they?”

Balram’s view of education system had a good overview too from his early childhood when Munna (Balram’s nick name) learned how his schoolmaster was stealing the government allocated lunch money for the students. “There was supposed to be free food at my school – a government program gave every boy three rotis, yellow daal, and pickles at lunchtime. But we never ever saw rotis, or yellow daal, or pickles, and everyone knew why: the schoolteacher had stolen our lunch money. The teacher had a legitimate excuse to steal the money – he said he hadn’t been paid his salary in six months. He was going to undertake a Gandhian protest to retrieve his missing wages – he was going to do nothing in class until his paycheck arrived in the mail.........No one blamed the schoolteacher for doing this. You can’t expect a man in a dung heap to smell sweet. Every man in the village knew that he would have done the same in his position. Some were even proud of him, for having got away with it so cleanly.”

In not so long ago, myriads of castes were normal in India, however, as we are progressing through 21st century, there is difference now. Aravind Adiga’s protagonist sums up the differences in caste system – “in the old days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India. These days, there are just two castes; Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies. And only two destinies: eat – or get eaten up.”

Balram Halwai’s persistence to get away from his impoverished village paid off. He found a driver’s job. His employers were the powerful landlords from his village Laxmangarh. Here is a description of Balram’s employer that sets up the plot of this “dark” story that the writer eventually unfolds: “......what the Buffalo did to his domestic servant. The one who was supposed to guard his infant son, who got kidnapped by the Naxals and then tortured and killed........The servant said he had nothing to do with the kidnapping; the Buffalo did not believe him and got four of his hired gunmen to torture the servant. Then they shot him through the head. Fair enough. I would do the same to someone who let my son get kidnapped. But then, because the Buffalo was sure that the man had deliberately let the child be kidnapped, for money, he also went after the servant’s family. One brother was set upon while working in the fields beaten to death there. That brother’s wife was finished off by three men together. A sister, still unmarried, was also finished off. Then the house where the family had lived was surrounded by the four henchmen and set on fire.”

About the election, Balram Halwai had received valuable lesson from his father before his death: “It’s the way it always is..........I’ve seen twelve elections – five general, five state, two local – and someone else has voted for me twelve times. I’ve heard that people in the other India get to vote for themselves – isn’t that something”?

And when someone from “Darkness” goes “mad” after listening to all the heart pumping election slogans, and wanted to fulfill his basic civic duty, voting, shocking surprises waited for him:

“He began walking straight to the voting booth at the school. “I’m supposed to stand up to the rich, aren’t I?” he shouted. “Isn’t that what they keep telling us?”

When he got there, the Great Socialist’s supporters had already put up the tally of votes outside on a blackboard: they had counted 2,341 votes in that booth. Everyone had voted for the Great Socialist. Vijay the bus conductor was up on a ladder, hammering into the wall a banner with the Great Socialist’s symbol (the hands breaking their shackles).....Vijay dropped the hammer, the nails, and the banner when he saw the rickshaw-puller.

“What are you doing here?”

“Voting,” he shouted back. “Isn’t it the election today?”

..........”Vijay and a policeman had knocked the rickshaw-puller down, and they had begun beating him; they hit him with their sticks, and when he thrashed at them they kicked him. They took turns. Vijay hit him and the policeman stamped on his face and then Vijay did it again. And after a while the body of the rickshaw-puller stopped wriggling and fighting back, but they stamping on him, until he had been stamped back into the earth.”

Balram Halwai is a careful observer. He sees his “masters” flagrant corrupting deal making with high level politicians, blackmailing, and outright robbery, and he used the similar blackmailing to get himself a better position, a promotion from “number two” driver to become the “number one” driver and getting into Delhi, the epitome of India, the capital city.

The description of separation between the rich and poor are especially stark when Balram Halwai reaches Delhi.

“There was a good reason for the face masks; they say the air is so bad in Delhi that it takes ten years out of a man’s life. Of course, those in the cars don’t have to breathe the outside air – it is just nice, cool, clean, air-conditioned air for us. With their tinted windows up, the cars of the rich go like dark eggs down the roads of Delhi. Every now and then an egg will crack open – a woman’s hand, dazzling with gold bangles, stretches out an open window, flings an empty mineral water bottle onto the road – and then the window goes up, and the egg is resealed.”

Balram Halwai still fills torn apart, seeing the other side, the “Darkness” so much different than being in the periphery of “Light”, “We were like two separate cities – inside and outside the dark egg. I knew I was in the right city. But my father, if he were alive, would be sitting on that pavement, cooking some rice gruel for dinner, and getting ready to lie down and sleep under a streetlamp, and I couldn’t stop thinking of that and recognizing his features in some beggar out there. So I was in some way out of the car too, even while I was driving it.”

Here is a description of “complicated” political process:

“Look at that.”

“What?”

“That statue.”

I looked out the window to see a large bronze statue of a group of men – this is a well-known statue, which you will no doubt see in Delhi: at the head is Mahatma Gandhi, with his walking stick, and behind him follow the people of India, being led from darkness to light.

The mongoose squinted at the statue.

“What about it? I’ve seen it before.”

“We’re driving past Gandhi, after just having given a bribe to a minister. It’s a fucking joke, isn’t it.”

“You sound like your wife now,” the Mongoose said. “I don’t like swearing – it’s not part of our tradition here.”

But Mr. Ashok was too red in the face to keep quiet.

“It is a fucking joke – our political system – and I’ll keep saying it as long as I like.”

“Things are complicated in India, Ashok. It’s not like in America. Please reserve your judgement.”

The masters in Delhi know how to keep the “servants” in this “proper” place. A vivid scene clarifies it more:

“I’ve lost a rupee.” He snapped his finger at me.

“Get down on your knees. Look for it on the floor of the car.”

I got down on my knees. I sniffed in between the mats like a dog, all in search of that one rupee.

“What do you mean, it’s not there? Don’t think you can steal from us just because you’re in the city. I want that rupee.”

“We’ve just paid half a million rupees in a bribe, Mukesh, and now we’re screwing this man over for a single rupee. Let’s go up and have a scotch.”

“That’s how you corrupt servants. It starts with one rupee. Don’t bring your American ways here.”

Where that rupee coin went remains a mystery to me to this day, Mr. Premier. Finally, I took a rupee coin out of my shirt pocket, dropped it on the floor of the car, picked it up, and gave it to the Mongoose.

“Here it is, sir. Forgive me for taking so long to find it!”

There was a childish delight on his dark master’s face. He put the rupee coin in his hand and sucked his teeth, as if it were the best thing that had happened to him all day.”

Ashok was the youngest brother of Balram’s employer, and being returning from America after his education, was still finding all these master and servant relationships, the briberies of ministers, pollution, the stark contrast between the rich and poor all troublesome. His eyes get on the verge of tears seeing the daily injustice, he tries to protect Balram from humiliation, steadily increases his salary without being asked to do so, and argues with his brothers and wife when they wanted to replace Balram with a more matured local driver. However, as Ashok more and more got involved with shady deal making, briberies, he gravitated towards the inevitability, fall from grace to the “darkness” of deceits and shameful indifference for the plights of deprived.

Balram Halwai understood why the “servants” and the poor don’t rebel against injustice. There is a powerful imagery where the comparison between the sufferings of downtrodden human beings and caged chickens, both witnessing atrocity being committed on their fellow beings, but are completely stunned and cowered to take any rebellious step.

“Go to Old Delhi, behind the Jama Masjid, and look at the way they keep chickens there in the market. Hundreds of pale hens and brightly colored roosters, stuffed tightly into wire-mesh cages, packed as tightly as worms in a belly, pecking each other and shitting on each other, jostling just for breathing space; the whole cage giving off a horrible stench – the stench of terrified, feathered flesh. On the wooden desk above this coop sits a grinning young butcher, showing off the flesh and organs of a recently chopped-up chicken, still oleaginous with a coating of dark blood. The roosters in the coop smell the blood from above. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them. They know they’re next. Yet they do not rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop.

The very same thing is done with human beings in this country.”

Here is an example of human being, being trapped in a rooster coop:

“Every day, on the roads of Delhi, some chauffeur is driving an empty car with a black suitcase sitting on the backseat. Inside that suitcase is a million, two million rupees; more money than that chauffeur will see in his lifetime. If he took the money he could go to America, Australia, anywhere, and start a new life. He could go inside the five-star hotels he has dreamed about all his life and only seen from the outside. He could take his family to Goa, to England. Yet he takes that black suitcase where his master wants. He puts it down where he is meant to, and never touches a rupee. Why?

Because Indians are the world’s most honest people, like the prime minister’s booklet will inform you?

No. It’s because 99.9 percent of us are caught in the Rooster Coop just like those poor guys in the poultry market.

.............Never before in human history have so few owed so much to so many, Mr. Jiabao. A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent – as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way – to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put they key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse.

...........Why does the Rooster Coop work? How does it trap so many millions of men and women so effectively?

Secondly, can a man break out of the coop? What if one day, for instance, a driver took his employer’s money and ran? What would his life be like?

I will answer both for you, sir.

The answer to the first question is that the pride and glory of our nation, the repository of all our love and sacrifice,.....the Indian family, is the reason we are trapped and tied to the coop.

The answer to the second question is that only a man who is prepared to see his family destroyed – hunted, beaten, and burned alive by the masters – can break out of the coop. That would take no normal human being, but a freak, a pervert of nature.”

Some may claim that Aravind Adiga’s protagonist is too simplistic, naive in portraying a large and complex nation like India, and some may even call him one sided polemist in caricaturing the rich, portraying the upper class in India in hackneyed settings. Some of these claims may have merit to raise these questions. However, White Tiger is a fiction, but it is “built on a substratum of Indian reality.” The author correctly points out the amount of research went into writing this novel, one example he cited is the deaths of thousands of poor Indian everyday from tuberculosis (The Times of India Reference)

India’s economic progress for many, especially for the last decade, is indeed phenomenal. Millionaires and billionaires are increasingly abundant; even in the upper portion of Forbes magazine’s annual chart of the richest men now showcases Indian richest men. Middle class has more purchase power now than ever before. However, the majority of Indian one billion plus population “are denied decent health care, education or employment, getting to the top would take doing something like what Balram has done.”

Even in fiction, for the sake of sticking to the so-called reality, the reality that is framed by a writer’s perception of surroundings, and in most cases, the willingness and unwillingness of seeing and not seeing the surreal ugliness of contemporary moral dilemma, the beguiling tricks that mind can play for self preservation, preservation of status quo, and societal pressure in place for not to explore the very painful subjects that most in our world are facing with but are not exposed in overwhelmingly majority of Bollywood or Hollywood depictions in lush and flushed movies with a few notable exceptions like Slumdog Millionaire, have linear progression from peripheral marginality to willful amnesia or simple blindness.

Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, albeit polemic, but has the sharpened teeth required to shred volumetric deceptions of the powerful. This is a tale to be shared, cherished and at the same time it is perhaps a forewarning: increasing inequality brings increasing instability, anywhere and everywhere.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

One World, Many Minds - Intelligence in the Animal Kingdom

Evolution may not be as linear as it was perceived before. New research are finding startling evidences that there are multiple evolutionary lineages, especially, in the development of complex cognitive sophistications. Fish, reptiles, vertebrates and invertebrates may have more intelligence than the "supreme" human beings ever considered to these "inferior" species to have.
"One of the most common misconceptions about brain evolution is that it represents a linear process culminating in the amazing cognitive powers of humans, with the brains of other modern species representing previous stages. Such ideas have even influenced the thinking of neuroscientists and psychologists who compare the brains of different species used in biomedical research. Over the past 30 years, however, research in comparative neuroanatomy clearly has shown that complex brains—and sophisticated cognition—have evolved from simpler brains multiple times independently in separate lineages, or evolutionarily related groups: in mollusks such as octopuses, squid and cuttlefish; in bony fishes such as goldfish and, separately again, in cartilaginous fishes such as sharks and manta rays; and in reptiles and birds. Nonmammals have demonstrated advanced abilities such as learning by copying the behavior of others, finding their way in complicated spatial environments, manufacturing and using tools, and even conducting mental time travel (remembering specific past episodes or anticipating unique future events). Collectively, these findings are helping scientists to understand how intelligence can arise—and to appreciate the many forms it can take."
Read Paul Patton's well written article from the following link in Scientific American.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shoes - The Noble Truths of Suffering

Aleksandar Hemon's story published in The New Yorker on September 22, 2008 was one of the best stories I've read this year. The title of this sparkling and mini-voltage filled story is The Noble Truths of Suffering. A novice Sarajevo writer's encounter with an American prize winning author, the observations through a voice of drunken stupor, and elaboration of violence through Buddhistish non-violence made the conflicting descriptions of war, brutality and politics painfully live.

Here is an excerpt from Aleksandar Hemon's "The Noble Truths of Suffering":
"an ex-marine who would have been a hero in the battle of Falluja had he not been dishonorably discharged for failing to corroborate the official story of the rape of a twelve-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of her and her entire family, an unfortunate instance of miscommunication with local civilians. Tiny returns home from Iraq to Chicago and spends time visiting his old haunts on the North Side, trying vainly to drink himself into a stupor, out of turpitude. He has nothing to say to the people he used to know; he breaks shot glasses against their foreheads. The city barked at him and he snarled back. High out of his mind, he has a vision of a snake invasion and torches his studio with everything he owns in it, which is not much. A flashback that turns into a nightmare suggests that he was the one who slit the girl’s throat. Lamia Hassan was her name. She speaks to him in unintelligibly accented English.

He wakes up on a bus to Janesville, Wisconsin. Only upon arrival does he realize that he is there to visit the family of Sergeant Briggs, the psychopathic bastard whose idea it was to rape Lamia. He finds the house, knocks on the door, but there is nobody there, just a TV playing a children’s show. Tiny stumbles into a nearby bar and drinks with the locals, who buy him booze as an expression of support for our men and women in uniform. He tells them that Sergeant Briggs, a genuine American hero, was one of his best buddies in Iraq. He also tells them about his friend Declan, who got shot by a sniper. Briggs dragged him home under fire and got his knee blown off. Tiny tells them not to trust the newspapers, or the cocksuckers who say that we are losing the war. We are tearing new holes in the ass of the world, he says. We are breaking it open."

..................He tells them the gory details of the rape—Lamia’s moans, the flapping of her skinny arms, the blood pouring out of her—and the old man listens to him unflinchingly, while the mother goes to the kitchen to fetch coffee. They seem untroubled, as if they’re not even hearing him. For an instant, he thinks that he is not speaking at all, that this is all happening in his head, but then he realizes that there is nothing inside them, nothing but grief. Other people’s children are of no concern to them, for there was no horror in the world beyond Declan’s eternal absence from it. Tiny is sobbing."

Reading only the fragments of this beautifully written story doesn't elucidate the complete rewards that can be attained reading it in its entirety. What made me more surprised after reading the last sentence of Aleksandar Hemon's short story was the "Shoes" video propping up on the net. Muntather Zaidi threw his first shoe with uttering words: "This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog", and he hurled his second shoe saying, ""This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq"

A frustrated Iraqi journalist throwing his pair of shoes at Bush, missing both his throws less than an inch, but the ultimate insult was done for an American outgoing President, whose neocon directed murderous wars caused so many millions of unnecessary deaths, bloodshed, rapes, and destructions, and whose answering back to a journalist's question afterwards proclaiming that democracy at play in Iraq and the man who threw the shoes only was trying to grab attention to himself were as usual missing the mark of truth completely.

While the protesting shoe throwing journalist was subdued on the floor, and was screaming from pain, words can be heard, "Camera! Camera!", and the heads rolled toward the recording camera that was documenting everything. Perhaps the "democracy" protecting goons spared him the pain for the moment while being recorded in camera, but off camera the story will turn to gory detail, even a gifted story writer like Aleksandar Hemon may find it difficult to describe the plight of tortures on protesters and any opposition termed as "enemy combatant" at the whim of whimsicals beyond the flashy lights and camera.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - a Book Review

Changez's life changes drastically, from pursuing efficiency and fundamentals in appraising businesses to questioning the fallacies embedded in hard core capitalistic haunting bonanza. Freshly graduated from Princeton, highly motivated pursuing career to coveted aristocracy, Changez moves past his classmates and colleagues at Underwood Samson in rapid pace, beaming with unmistakable confidence in his every strides, demeanor and winning smiles. September 11 changes everything as he reflects on his plight: "the door to the elevator was shut upon me and I began to travel down the shaft, alone."

Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a slender novel, but with substantial pathos imbued in sharp observations, without relinquishing a good story's structured rhythm into cliched slogans against power and superpower. The effective monologue that the writer used where an unnamed American was entertained over a cup of tea and later the mouth watering dinner of Lahore, the twist and turn and underlying tension as the story unfolds revealing life of Changez in his abandoned beloved Princeton and New York, made this a novel unputdownable, so readers should be forewarned: you will be tightly embraced by its fast moving plot.

Like the Guardian's reviewers (Link) I also found the writer used allegories, depicting plots and subplots with the reality of our world, like Changez's romantic relationship with Erica (Am-Erica), Erica's subsequent breakdown from tragic loss of her dead boyfriend Chris, and comparing Erica's grief with American grief after September 11: ""it seemed to me that America, too, was increasingly giving itself over to a dangerous nostalgia".

As the war in Afghanistan started, Changez's outlook had already begun to change, "preferring not to watch the partisan and sports-event-like coverage given to the mismatch between the American bombers with their twenty-first-century weaponry and the ill-equipped and ill-fed Afghan tribesmen below................I was reminded of the film Terminator, but with the roles reversed so that the machines were cast as heroes."

It's not only war and aftermath that this novel is about. There are fine sporadic descriptions of Lahore's cuisine delicacy like the following fragment: "such an authentic introduction to Lahori cuisine; it will, given the dishes for which this market is justifiably renowned, be a purely carnivorous feast -- one that harks back to an era before man's knowledge of cholesterol made him fearful of his prey -- and all the more delectable for it......No, we are surrounded by instead by the kebab of mutton, the tikka of chicken, the stewed foot of goat, the spiced brain of sheep! These, sir, are predatory delicacies, delicacies imbued with a hint of luxury, of wanton abandon....Here we are not squeamish when it comes to facing the consequences of our desire."

Changez's "not squemished" desire to be part of an exclusive elite society in America shuddered to halt during his work trip to Valparaiso in Chile, the home of legendary Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, where the publisher of the company he was appraising, Juan-Bautista "added considerable momentum to my inflective journey, a journey that continues to this day...."

Juan-Bautista was direct in his characterization of Changez, asking:

"Does it trouble you," he inquired, "to make your living by disrupting the lives of others?" "We just value," I replied. "We do not decide whether to buy or to sell, or indeed what happens to a company after we have valued it." He nodded; he lit a cigarette and took a sip from his glass of wine. Then he asked, " have you heard of janissaries?" "No," I said. "They were Christian boys," he explained, "captured by the Ottomans and trained to be soldiers in a Muslim army, at that time the greatest army in the world. They were ferocious and utterly loyal: they had fought to erase their own civilizations, so they had nothing else to turn to."

That was the final blow on Changez's deluded world. "Juan-Bautista's words plunged me into a deep bout of introspection. I spent that night considering what I had become. There really could be no doubt: I was a modern-day janissary, a servant of the American empire at a time when it was invading a country with a kinship to mine and was perhaps even colluding to ensure that my own country faced the threat of war. of course I was struggling! Of course I felt torn! I had thrown in my lot with the men of Underwood Samson, with the officers of the empire, when all along I was pre-disposed to feel compassion for those, like Juan-Bautista, whose lives the empire thought nothing of overturning for its own gain."

Changez left his job in his beloved New York to return to his homeland to be with his family, away from humiliating strip search at airport, the looks of suspicions, and war frenzied flag waving to his native land where the similar drum rolls of war were raising louder into higher pitch in every passing days from tension between India and Pakistan.

Perhaps, Mohsin Hamid could make this novel a bit longer. Perhaps, more dialogues and extensions of plots like the sudden disappearance of Erica (Am-Erica), incidents in Chile, aftermath of September 11 both in U.S. and inPakistan in more vivid detail could have raised this novel to a level similar to ones reached by Jeffrey Eugenides' splendid Middlesex or Ian Mcewan's Atonement. On the hindsight though, the slenderness of this little novel preserved its charm and iressistibility due to its same minuteness in words but with razor sharp tensed storyline.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Accidental by Ali Smith - a Book Review

I've picked up this book after about two years it has gathered sliver of accumulated dusts in the unreached corner of my overburdened bookshelf. I remember of reading at least a dozen pages of it early last year, perhaps earlier than that.

Ali Smith is a writer of inexhaustible energy it seems. The first chapter describes a twelve year old girl, the way she tries to cope in a "substandard" summer vacation home with her parents and a sibling, away from her schoolmates. Her Sony Dv camera gives her comfort. She snaps at everything, theorizing, imagining reality beyond reality, even pondering about science and irony: "Astrid knocks her hand against the side of the chair to see if it will hurt. It does, but not very much. She knocks again, harder. It hurts more. Of course science can prove, typical and ironic, that her hand is not actually hitting the chair by dividing down he distance smaller and smaller. She hits it again. Ow."

The outside world is a mystery to her. She imagines traveling to a faraway place and time (1003 BC) to a cave to meet "Any the Wiser" with her offering of croissants. "She is at the door of a cave. She is carrying croissants. Any the Wiser is delighted. He nods at Astrid to come forward.

He glints at her through the darkness of the cave; he is old and wise; he has a fatherly look in his eye. Answer my question, oh revered sage and oracle, Astrid begins." That's the most she can say, as she is unsure of what to ask this sage man of thousands of years in past in her vivid imagination.

Unlike eccentric Astrid, her seventeen year old brother Magnus, a whiz in mathematics, was full of despair from the death of a classmate that he blames himself to be part of. When it seemed life could no longer bearable, in one form or another for Magnus, his writer's block induced mother Eve, and his promiscuous step father Michael, here comes Amber, mysteriously walked into their life, with her incredulous straight forward talks, charming the entire family with irresistible magnetism, where both the mother Eve and the step father Michael in the beginning erroneously thought she was a visitor of other.

Ali Smith's characters in this story are lively and the way she portrayed each of their thoughts, actions, dialogues, without compromising the neatly crafted plot, has kept this novel a page turner from beginning to end.

Existence, nonexistence

It perhaps is a surprise for many hearing and reading about German professor Kalisch's jolting thesis on the existence of a prophet. For the believers of any particular religion, this claim must be feeling hurtful. However, what does it matter, if any particular historical figure was indeed historical or fictional? Shouldn't the essence and peaceful conveyance of messages for all mankind from divinity above be enough? Remember those sarcastic hoopla surrounding Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code a few years ago? And the zealots' and bigots' shameful thuggeries in protest of ridiculous prophet cartoons?

Even at the time of these prophets, founder of religions, were treated as aberrant nuisance, or radical preachers, freethinkers, the scoundrel heretics. Flowing of time, perhaps luck, coincidence, or carefully planted seeds in the time of antiquity had propelled many of them in glorious position, the holiest, closest to deity any other hapless human being can ever espoused to be. Rivaling religionists marked each other as anti-"this" and anti-"that", as if the "others" are the followers of "darkness", the mushroomed "devil" himself, and "us" the followers of the holy "goodness". This apparent symbolic depiction, in crude reality the pungent tangibles, had cleared the way of endless genocides, enforced servitude and loots from one corner of globe to another.

Think about the very existence of unnamed many whose lives were perished in drum roll violence filled onslaught of conquistadors, inquisitions, jihad, crusades and other forms of crowd pleasing names of war against innocents and helpless. Like a flowing river, time never comes back, but the repeats of vengeance, patterns of deceits and murders of plenty indeed are observable from generation to generation.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A New America?

Is this a historic night? The tears and jeers will subside, as will euphoria and slogans. American Presidential Election mesmerizes the entire wold. The world in seize. Hopes. Dreams. Desperate screams muffled by violet violence.

They say, "Rosa Park sat so King Stands. King stood so Obama Runs. Obama Ran so we all can fly."

Barack Hussein Obama now doesn't need to hide or hush hush his middle name.

Shouldn't he say, "I am Barack Obama, and Hussein is my middle name", without fear or political shame?

"I have a dream............"

A new America, emerging from hundreds of years of brutal past filled with forgotten blood, ashes, servitude and humiliations of unknown many in near and far.

America the compassionate. Not the enforcer of fear, war and torture.

The world trembles, in hope, to see the rising of a peaceful dove.

"I have a dream............."

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Sun


Images of Sun are breathtaking. See more images from this link.

Economic Crisis Made Easy

Here is the simple basics of worldwide economic crisis explained by this year's Nobel Prize winner in Economics, the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman:

What is the nature of the crisis? The details can be insanely complex, but the basics are fairly simple. The bursting of the housing bubble has led to large losses for anyone who bought assets backed by mortgage payments; these losses have left many financial institutions with too much debt and too little capital to provide the credit the economy needs; troubled financial institutions have tried to meet their debts and increase their capital by selling assets, but this has driven asset prices down, reducing their capital even further.

What can be done to stem the crisis? Aid to homeowners, though desirable, can’t prevent large losses on bad loans, and in any case will take effect too slowly to help in the current panic. The natural thing to do, then — and the solution adopted in many previous financial crises — is to deal with the problem of inadequate financial capital by having governments provide financial institutions with more capital in return for a share of ownership.

This sort of temporary part-nationalization, which is often referred to as an “equity injection,” is the crisis solution advocated by many economists...."
Link to his article: Gordon Does Good

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Ambition of the Short Story

The rocking waves of Gulf of Mexico had made reading Steven Millhauser's novel Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer remarkably poignant. The protagonist's fantastical progress pursuing dreams from being a hotel bellboy to envisioning and executing larger and grander ideas as he meandered through life of an American dreamer, and eventual sheer disappointment of finding the truth of "emptiness" and vacuity beyond joyous drumroll and fanfares was the only acquaintance I had with this tremendous writer's style of writing and sweeping plot.

The writer's recently published essay on Short Story has indeed invoked that long receded memory of reading his novel all these years ago in a world and time that seems so much distant and different than today's hysterical paranoia filled wind and carefully sowed stench of distrust that eagerly keen to annihilate all the restraints and rules of humanity for the vanquished, conquered and smalls, like Steven Millhauser's observation of distinction between Novel and Short Story: "What the novel cares about is vastness, is power. Deep in its heart, it disdains the short story, which makes do with so little. It has no use for the short story’s austerity, its suppression of appetite, its refusals and renunciations. The novel wants things. It wants territory. It wants the whole world. Perfection is the consolation of those who have nothing else."

What does the Short Story want in this world of "robustness" and "Godzillas"? Here is a fine observation by Martin Dressler's innovator: "The short story concentrates on its grain of sand, in the fierce belief that there — right there, in the palm of its hand — lies the universe. It seeks to know that grain of sand the way a lover seeks to know the face of the beloved. It looks for the moment when the grain of sand reveals its true nature. In that moment of mystic expansion, when the macrocosmic flower bursts from the microcosmic seed, the short story feels its power. It becomes bigger than itself. It becomes bigger than the novel. It becomes as big as the universe."

As big as the universe. In the grain of sand, humanity's accumulated hatred disappears.

Julian Barnes, another brilliant writer of our world, ponders in Nothing to be Frightened Of, "“Wisdom consists partly in not pretending anymore, in discarding artifice. . . . And there is something infinitely touching when an artist, in old age, takes on simplicity. . . . Showing off is part of ambition; but now that we are old, let us have the confidence to speak simply.

Let us have the confidence to speak simply. Without pretensions. Without holding the disastrous myths.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

"Good" Cereal, "Bad" Cereal

Here is the list of "good" cereal, low in sugar and high in fiber:
  • Cheerios made by General Mills.
  • Kix and Honey Nut Cheerios, all made by General Mills.
  • Life made by Pepsico Inc's Quaker Oats unit.
Here is the list of "bad" cereal, high in sugar and low in fiber:
  • Post Golden Crisp made by Kraft Foods Inc
  • Kellogg's Honey Smacks
  • Kellogg's Corn Pops
  • Golden Crisp
  • Froot Loops
  • Apple Jacks
  • Rice Krispies
  • Cap'n Crunch
  • Cap'n Crunch's Peanut Butter Crunch
Source Link:
Some Cereals more than half sugar

http://www.sciam.com/blog/60-second-science/post.cfm?id=snap-crackle-and-pop-how-healthy-ar-2008-10-02

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Private Incentive and Government Oversight

At least on the surface, the opportunistic disaster capitalism's steam rollers the Freedmanites and their greed frenzy ideologies are in retreat. As the financial markets roil and toil while massive bailouts plan is in the work to rescue the economy from tumbling further into irreversible whirlwind of very real "doomsday" scenario that mostly caused by "excessive and poorly regulated mortgage debt", the long shelved Keynesian economics is dusting off thickened layers of accumulated dirt and the echo of saneness is getting back in the wild: "while capitalism is the most dynamic and productive system ever conceived, it is most efficient over the long term when there is another delicate balance -- between private incentive and government oversight."

There are indeed inquiries to be made like Senator Harry Reid's precise observation: "Today we face what economists call the gravest economic danger since the Great Depression, We’ve come to this point after eight years of President Bush waging a war on fiscal responsibility. His Republican philosophy of removing all accountability from big business — and expecting no responsibility from them in return — has created this crisis that now threatens to devastate America’s working families. It is time for him to explain how eight years of deregulation policies have brought us to this dangerous ground. And most importantly, it is time for him to explain how his plan — drafted literally under cover of darkness — will help America weather this storm."

What is this "plan" that was "drafted.....under the cover of darkness"? Here is one explanation: "Taxpayers are being asked to buy up banks’ junky assets, with little expectation of return. At the same time, private equity firms are being invited to make what are likely to be highly profitable investments in the same banks."

Los Angeles Times presents a few additional steps that can be useful in a plan drafted under the shiny sun. Here is the link.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Use of Cancer in Political Discourse

Here is a quotation from Susan Sontag' s Illness as Metaphor:
"The use of cancer in political discourse encourages fatalism and justifies "severe" measures - as well as strongly reinforcing the widespread notion that the disease is necessarily fatal. The concept of disease is never innocent. But it could be argued that the cancer metaphors are in themselves implicitly genocidal"
Sontag's warning made in 1977 is more than ever applicable in today's hyper inflated fibbed political landscape around the globe.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What is America by Ronald Wright - a Book Review


What is America by Ronald Wright

A Book Review by Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

2008-09-16

When anointed Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin stumbles but quite efficiently shrouds her astounding lack of knowledge in American and world history and current events with invoking such words of deep religiosity, “we are on God’s side”, Ronald Wright’s timely published book What is America slashes this purported ignorance and traces back the roots of never ending Frontier state of mind, where the everlasting motto is: “good times don’t last; get yours while you can.”

Get yours while you can by any cost. Ransacking and pillaging nation from indigenous population, branding them as savages and wild animals, and when necessary making promises and breaking them later at earliest conveniences, are the melancholic parts of this deeply moving book.

There are nine chapters in What is America. Each of them are compressed but sufficiently elucidating observations of past backed up by equally intriguing notes and references at the end of the book, all the way from the day of voyaging Columbus, De-Soto, Cortes and other historical figures to the days of 2008 chaotic election campaign, some of them got undeserving nod as hero, and some of them got erased from collective memories, mostly to expanding and crafty national myth.

Unlike many contemporary writers who wouldn’t dare to ask unpalatable questions, Ronald Wright asks, “Is America what it thinks it is? Is America what the world has long believed it to be?” To answer these two questions the author embarks on a truth finding journey to distant past because “The political culture and identity crisis of the United States are best understood as products of the country’s past – the real past, not the imaginary one of national myth.”

National myth is not the phenomenon solely reserved for America. In every continents, in every epoch of time, creating and sustaining myths of nationalism, and the art of forgetting past atrocity committed in the name of a nation, borderline, creed and other artificially created divisions, are masterfully employed for keeping “informed” the agitating mass. Here Ronald Wright observes, “When the realities of power do intrude on the national consciousness, Americans undergo a “loss of innocence.” This seems to happen about once a generation ............Innocence grows back in defiance of truth like a self-restoring hymen, only to be lost again and again, with surprise and consoling resolutions of reform. Innocence is saved by ignorance, by not caring what the facts are – and therefore not learning from them.”

Loot, Labour and Land

Ronald Wright compared two past American empires, Aztec and Incas, two with differing modes of governance and postures. These empires exemplify two “main kinds of imperial system”. Aztec had the tribute or hegemonic empires, “in which client states are dominated but not integrated by an overlord”, while Incas were centralized or territorial empire, “which aim to incorporate their subjects into a greater whole, with a single economy, government, official language and religion.”

Unlike the hegemonic Aztec Empire, the Incas Empire acted like a benevolent rulers, “extending public works”, the rulers indeed lived “more grandly than their subjects – but there was no slavery, hunger or grinding poverty.” The purpose of comparing these two past empires is to compare them with contemporary America, Russia and other world powers, and various wars, cold wars, hot wars, terror wars, fabricated wars, etc., that has emerged in extending these powers’ hegemonic or territorial reach to its client states and beyond.

Like the author’s previous splendid book A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright describes the battles between Aztec and Spaniards, and invasion of Incas Empire, and the deadly small pox virus and other diseases crossed overseas, that had spread among the indigenous populations and decimated them to less than one tenth population strength they had before the European invasions. “The truth is that the Spaniards did not succeed in conquering any major state on the American mainland until after a smallpox plague had struck. When they tried, they lost.”

Ronald Wright ties the treasure of national proportions that Pizarro’s thugs had looted from Incas Empire, known as Atahualpa’s gold, and regarding Industrial Revolution Karl Marx observed as following: “An indispensable condition for the establishment of manufacturing industry was the accumulation of capital facilitated by the discovery of America and the importation of its precious metals.”

Very Well Peopled and Towned

The appealing myth has it that America was a “virgin wilderness....inhabited only by a handful of “wild men” or “savages” because of this convenient myth’s powerful delineation of a nation, empty, where even a squirrel could fly thousands of miles but still couldn’t see any trace of humanity. However, eyewitnesses whose accounts were subsequently suppressed or eroded from the voluminous texts of history show a different image. A Florentine navigator, Verrazano, in 1524 describes the eastern seaboard of contemporary American Manhattan: “Running back and forth across the water was about thirty of their boats with an infinite number of people aboard.” These Americans greeted the strangers with curiosity and laughter; indeed, they sound rather like later New Yorkers – noisy, bustling, loudly dressed, scooting about in fleets of big canoes where ferryboats now take tourists to the Statue of Liberty.”

Religion and Profit Jump Together

It is not to say that indigenous America were pacifists. That is far from truth. They had their wars, vicious ones for centuries. The only difference between the old Americans (natives) and the new Americans (Europeans) lies in “moral distinction” that is “simply that Europe invaded America, not the reverse.”

The very familiar tricks that the expansionists employ like the dehumanizing of opponents so that war’s casualties can be brushed aside without remorse are still prevalent. Ronald Wright sheds light on “the business end of the conquest machine: the new Americans assault and encroach on the old Americans until they provoke a counterattack, which is sometimes planned by the native leadership and at other times carried out by a radical splinter group. The white authorities then express outrage at what bloodthirsty “barbarians” have done to God-fearing tillers of the earth. A punitive war is then launched with overwhelming force – a war of “civilization” against “savagery”, in which the first Americans are driven further into the “wilderness” or exterminated on the spot.”

Ronald Wright correctly observes that this “trick” is not “exclusive” to America, “It is heard wherever rival peoples fight for the same turf.”

About one hundred years from American Revolution of 1776, “one of its potent seeds was planted......The settlers wanted the land without the Indians. Britain, taking the wider view of a world power, hoped to enlist indigenous peoples as allies for its empire, especially against the French at Quebec and Montreal. The Puritan’s divorce from London had suddenly become less distant and more acrimonious, contributing not only to the Revolution but to modern Americans’ mistrust of their own central government.”

Ronald Wright gives detailed description of Cherokees, their forceful and violent expulsion, stating, “Whether or not Jackson’s Removal policy was genocidal by intent – as some scholars believe – it certainly was in execution. About one-fourth of the Cherokee Nation would die when the Removal was carried out by United States and Georgian forces in 1838. By that time, a similar number of Choctaws, Creeks and others had already died when removed, Jackson and his supporters well knew the true effects of their final solution. During the Creeks’ Removal in 1836, the sky above their death march had been filled with vultures.”

Two years were given to Cherokees to get out of their lands and Ralph Waldo Emerson, the prominent American writer, young man then, wrote to President Van Buren, “A crime is projected that confounds our understanding by its magnitude, a crime that really deprives us as well as the Cherokees of a country, for how could we call the conspiracy that should crush these poor Indians our government, or .... our country anymore? .....The name of this nation, hitherto the sweet omen of religion and liberty, will stink to the world.”

Ronald Wright writes, “In June 1838 the U.S. Army began rounding up the Cherokees and confining them in what may fairly be described as concentration camps. The stockades were not designed for extermination, but they might as well have been. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, died within from hunger, overcrowding and disease. Thousands more died that winter on the Trail of Tears.”

An elderly native man named Black Hoof who had seen a “century of frontier fighting for himself, foresaw that the process would never stop: ‘Wherever we may go, your people, the American Farmers, will follow; and we will be forced to be removed again and again and finally arrive at the Pacific ocean and then be compelled to jump off.’” Like Ralph Waldo Emerson and other reputable writers of that era Ronald Wright “understood, the Indian Removal was a test of their new country’s character. With the betrayal of the Cherokee nation, the United States betrayed itself. Sinister elements present in British America since the earliest colonies had surfaced in the republic and taken charge.”’

Manifest Destiny

Ronald Wright brilliantly portrays the conquest of Mexico, its significance in America’s growing power ensnared in the lands far beyond its initial boundary. The provocation and starting of Mexican war by President Polk was condemned by Abraham Lincoln and John Quincy Adams, the past and then future American Presidents, as Lincoln termed it as “the sheerest deception”, and Adams “charged Polk with unscrupulous suppression of facts and said that Congress’s control of the right to declare war was ‘utterly insufficient .... as a check upon the will of the President.”

A few Polk’s supporters wanted to conquer entire Mexico, however, “Polk’s strategy was to conquer the whole but keep only the northern half. The rest could be left independent, sovereign in name yet subservient to American interests and investment: the same kind of relationship the Aztecs had once forced on their unhappy neighbours. Mexico became the first client-state under American hegemony.” The euphoria of “Manifest Destiny” swept American shore, “the phrase shone a beam of divine approval on anything America might seize or do in the Aladdin’s cave of the New World. In his 1935 book Manifest Destiny, the distinguished historian Albert Weinberg called it a monstrous alchemy turning ‘democratic nationalism into a doctrine of imperialism.’”

On the home front, slavery had already caused rifts between the “Backwoods America” and the “Enlightened America”, though only a few years before the full blown American Civil War, “the Supreme Court had handed down the infamous Dred Scott decisions, ruling that slaves were property, not persons, and thus unprotected by the freedoms of the Constitution even in free states.”

Ronald Wright analyzes the Civil War, noting that President Abraham Lincoln “expected a quick victory” because “the slaveholding states had only 8 million free citizens to the North’s 19 million.” Why the war lasted longer than anticipated? Because “the South put up a much tougher fight for its way of life than the North had expected. One reason was patriotism: the South was well on its way to becoming a separate nationality. Another was fear: the South dreaded a black uprising, a great settling of scores for what everyone knew, deep down, was wrong.”

Even after the Civil War was over, and North won, Frederick Douglas, a former slave himself, eloquently said that “the work of the abolition war would never done until the black men of the South, and the black men of the North, shall have been admitted, fully and completely, into the body politic of America.” For the first dozen years reconstruction after war, “the North came down hard on the South, and Douglass’s dream – later Martin Luther King’s and Barack Obama’s – seemed almost within reach. But the work of rebuilding America was hindered by the corruption of carpetbaggers and war profiteers who bedevilled Lincoln’s successors.” And “by the late 1870s, it was clear that the price for national reconciliation would be paid by African Americans. Washington turned a blind eye as segregation and Jim Crow laws overturned the new racial order, keeping the South a white man’s country for another hundred years.”

Hawaii, the Caribbean and Philippine

American expansion took it across the ocean, to Hawaii and then Philippine. Like the native Americans, the indigenous population “was struck hard by imported disease, worsened by alcohol, prostitution and cultural breakdown.” Ronald Wright satirically states that “Hawaii became ‘globalized’, a pawn in what then called World Market.” No violent war had to be imposed, the natives were “steadily decreasing in numbers and gradually losing their hold upon the fair land of their fathers. Within a century they have dwindled from four hundred thousand....to a little more than a tenth of that number of landless, hopeless victims to the greed and vices of civilization.” The above words were stated by the last king of Hawaii David Kalakaua. Few years after Kalakaua’s death, a coup d’etat by the American settlers removed Hawaiian ruler’s sister Queen Liliuokalani in 1893 from power, Hawaii was quietly annexed.

The march of new hegemonic empire continued, first to Caribbean Islands like Cuba, Guam, etc., and then to Philippine, to “educate”, “civilize” and to “uplift” the “savages” of that faraway land. And dressing up greed “as a sacred duty” for “humane” war of “civilization” seems eerily so contemporary as if Donald Rumsfeld had transported back into time to 19th century from 21st century saying “The war in the Philippines has been conducted by the American army with scrupulous regard for the rules of civilized warfare....with self-restraint and with humanity never surpassed”, like his infamous usage of “humanity” – “ to describe his bombing of Iraq”.

Ronald Wright quoted the early 20th century historian Tyler Dennett whose words were written remembering Philippine war but can easily be invoked for current war in Iraq: “The policy was adopted in great ignorance of the actual facts.......and in a blissful and exalted assumption that any race ought to regard conquest by the American people as a superlative blessing.”

Monetarism, Faith and Fallacy

Sharp contrasts were made between “Backwoods America” and “Enlightened America”. Backwoods America was defined as “descended from the frontier” and Enlightenment America “descended from the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.” The animosity between these polar opposite groups were so acrimonious that Barry Goldwater who ran as Republican Presidential candidate in 1964 said, “This country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea.”

Here is a vivid description of Backwoods America: “Backwoods America clings to its fundamentalism and its firearms because they are touchstones of the pioneering myth, of an autonomy that has slipped from the small man’s grasp. During the cold war, many such Americans felt newly empowered by righteous might against the godless Soviet Union.” Joseph McCarthy was the epitome of this far right conservative America in his “communist witch-hunt” of 50s. “Backwoods America not only fears outsiders but has always needed them to define themselves, to make the parochial central, to sustain an archaic worldview rooted in a biblical apocalypse it both dreads and desires.”

Here Ronald Wright recognized Backwoods America’s changing bogeyman from generation to generation, “it is not accident that the “wild” Indian of the West is attacked soon after the rebel South is vanquished; that the communist bogeyman appears soon after the last Indian is confined on a reservation; that the Muslim fanatic is inflated to the level of a worldview conspiracy soon after the Red Menace gives up and starts dining at the Moscow McDonald’s. Evangelicals have substituted Islam for the Soviet Union........The Muslims have become the modern-day equivalent of the Evil Empire.”

The striking similarities between Backwoods America and Al Qaeda’s fundamentalisms, where both “cater to a fundamentalist mindset not vastly different” from each other. Like the Taliban and extremist Mullahs in the Muslim nations, “a significant part of the United States still belongs to an archaic, aggressive and colonial culture that has drifted a long way from the mainstream of western civilization.”

About religious violence Ronald Wright has lots to say like the following snippet: “the acid test for determining when a religious community has become a peril to itself and others is when it starts killing people on God’s orders......When religious violence occurs on such a scale, there is usually a substantial dose of earthly politics behind the spiritual imperative. One thread that runs through all these cases, from the First Crusade to the World Trade Center, is a conviction of supreme moral and metaphysical right or a facsimile thereof, bearing in mind that fanaticism is often overcompensation for doubt.”

Monetarism and Globalization’s fallacy are given deserved spotlight in What is America. “Monetarism’s great fallacy is to assume that the world is infinite and growth can therefore be endless. It takes no account of human and environmental costs or of long term limits. Deregulation is just what it says it is: a free for all to grab the most in the shortest time. Globalization is a feeding frenzy. It’s ‘efficiency’ is measured only in the short term and by criteria that ignore depletion, pollution, waste disposal, social harmony and public health. The supposed ‘rights’ of capital trump those of sovereignty, ecology, labour and future generations.”

Hope may be a virtue

Reading Ronald Wrights’ What is America may seem to be abysmally pessimistic in its outlook of our growingly intolerant world, especially the rising Backwoods America toppling all the Keynesian economic measures and safeguards, one by one, that were in place after the second world war, and the neoconservative’s continuous hold on hawkish foreign policies. But the author also shows ample examples where democracies and economic system have started thriving and in many respect overtaking American financial pulses. There indeed is still hope, and hope “can win elections – but hoping for the best instead of learning from the past has often led American astray.”

One luminous example of hope that America surely can follow is the footsteps of the European Union as “for some sixty years now, Europe has grown away from tribalism, fanaticism and militarism, and towards a new commonwealth built not on the threat of war but on its memory......More than a trading alliance but not quite a federation, this evolving supranational organism now has more people and a bigger economy than the United States.” And the writer has solemn recommendation for America the beautiful, “America, which helped set the Europeans on their new path half a century ago, must now examine its own record – the facts, not the myths – and free itself from the potent yet potentially fatal mix of forces that created its nation, its empire, and the modern world.”


Special Note:






Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Perhaps Death Is Proud; More Reason to Savor Life

Sometimes, she can hear John Donne in head. A new nurse who was an English Professor before. Now she works in hospital, in the middle of "unsettling" deaths, "profoundly sad" experiences accumulate and repeatedly show: "the only antidote to death is not poetry, or drama, or miracle drugs, or a roomful of technical expertise and good intentions. The antidote to death is life."

Link to this profound article: Perhaps Death is Proud; More Reason to Savor Life

Sunday, September 07, 2008

100 Things You Should Eat Before You Die

Here is the link, some of these food items I've never heard of, and some of them are very popular in many parts of our world:
100 Things You Should Eat Before You Die

Monday, August 25, 2008

Michelle's Speech

Don't know who is the writer of Michelle Obama's speech at Democratic Convention or whether she is the one who has penned down her own words, but the passionate way that she delivered words of compassion and the vivid description of "the world as it is" and "the world as it should be", is memorable.

Kennedy's Voice of Inspiration

I try to stay away from sly politicians' sly remarks and podium lectures. But something about Ted Kennedy's feeble, shaking but surprisingly rousing voice tonight, that slithered through political dis ingenuity reverberating resounding words: "The hope rises again. And the dream lives on. " Perhaps it is due to Kennedy's recent battle against brain cancer, and his life long support for progressive causes without a hint of relinquishing fight for just causes to political pressure from the right, his somber presence and words of wisdom still invoke ideals of an America that is for many around the world has always been altruistic and that has been fighting the asphyxiation and stranglehold of vicious wolves.

"The hope rises again. And the dream lives on." America the humanitarian, not the naked aggressor, moves and shakes from prolonged forced unconsciousness.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

'Unshakable' Optimist

"An "ordinary brave man" could decide "not to participate in lies, not to support false actions." But "it is within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie! For in the struggle with lies art has always triumphed and shall always triumph!" Solzhenitsyn was not the first witness to speak truthfully about the gulag. But because he was an artist, he was the first one able to make us all hear it and believe it. There is no answering "the many-throated groan, the dying whisper of millions" that he transmitted."
An article to read about the great Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, here is the link: Solzhenitsyn, Optimist.

Forgotten PC History

Advancement in computer technology for more than hundred years is simply breathtaking. Check these links: Forgotten PC History and Early Card Punch Machines, that show how far collectively human beings have progressed from the early days of computing technology to modern computing marvels.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Large Hadron Collider nearly ready


Who knows what will happen tomorrow? All the modest to screaming warnings aside, these photos of Large Hadron Collider in Boston Globe are must see.

Here is the link: Large Hadron Collider nearly ready
http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2008/08/the_large_hadron_collider.html