An oft repeated quote which a friend mentioned the other day -
"One in 40 American men like to wear Women's clothing"
Hmm. Thats a statistic all right. Especially when you think about the fact that the US has had more than 40 presidents, and going by the simplest laws of statistics, atleast ONE of them must've been sashaying down the oval office in a dress! Oh how easily one can make 2+2 equal 22 :) But the US has generally been liberal in its stance on transgender equality, and cross dressers - more so than India anyway. After all, the sheer number of gay/lesbian bars and drag queen outfits/parades - anyone heard of the San Francisco Rainbow parade? - can confirm this. In fact, an argument can be made about how its acceptance of this quirk in human nature is almost at the same level as it is in Iran.
Iran?! *gasp* Surely not that bastion of Islamic fundamentalists and religious intolerance?
Yes! Iran. Apparently, the country has a checkered history in the state of transgender affairs.
In the pre revolution era, the Ayatollah Khomeini wrote a book in which he argued how a gender/sex change operation was in fact NOT contrary to the teachings of the Koran. At that point however, he was nothing but a radical revolutionary and although this did gain traction amongst the masses, the government still did not have a policy regarding the entire issue. Post revolution though, Iran lived up to its image of irrational behavior by the ruling elite and declared gays, lesbians and transgender persons to be contrary to the tenets of Islam. They became subject to the harshest punishment, which could include Death by lashes under a newly enforced penal code. Oh, how convenient. Its almost reminds me of the witch hunts during the spanish inquisition where any person found acting against the rulers could be easily disposed off by citing him or her as a heretic and having them burned at the stake.
But I digress. An early campaigner for transsexual rights, Maryam Hatoon Molkara, who was formerly a man known as Fereydoon. (Doesn't that remind you of Prince and his nomenclatural escapades!) Anyway, (s)he was actually imprisoned, institutionalized and forcefully injected with hormones by the Iranian government, but kept at it - writing letters to the Ayatollah and using connections to support (his?)/her work. It all paid off when (s)he visited him at the palace - but not before being arrested and beaten by the guards - and was given a letter authorizing a sex change operation. An act in itself revolutionary because it became the fatwa which would open up the flood gates for other such operations in the country and finally give religious and legal status to people who underwent these. Of course, the social repercussions as in any other country are mercurial - some accept it, some don't - but thats humanity for you. All said and done, the level of acceptance of this in Iranian society today just goes to highlight that all is not dark in what is today considered one of the most authoritarian conservative societies in the world.
I am however guessing there won't be too many gay bars or parades in the streets of Teheran any time soon.
Oh, and I'm flabbergasted at the stance of the jewelers in Pune for refusing to allow Burqa clad women into their stores post New Years. The reason they cite is to increase security at their stores, since the latter can be posers with possibly big automatic machine guns under their robes. Which would of course not set off ANY sort of metal detectors or sophisticated door checks which they're sure to have. Duh. Right. What this highlights is not the paranoia of the jewelers at being robbed or worse, shot in such an event. Instead, it does so the dangerously increasing streak of religious intolerance in a country which prides itself at being secular. As some muslim clerics rightly argue, women under the purdah DO in fact show their faces for things like passport photographs. Would it be so much of a travesty to have them peer into a security camera manned by female security guards? Hmm, come to think of it - if you're covered head to toe in a black veil, how in the world do you show off any jewels you buy anyway?
Just came across this on Red's blog. Its a good take on the books which were never written - essentially alternate histories, which he eloquently defines thus -
"Alternate history remains one of my favourite genres of fiction, combining my interests in history, politics, literature and science fiction all at one go. Alternate history basically starts with the premise "What If". As wikipedia says " the subgenre comprises fiction in which a change or point of divergence occurs in the past that causes human society to develop in a way that is distinct from our own." So imagine a Britain ruled by Nazi Germany or an America where slavery is legal or a world where the Mansa Musa of Mali is a dominant power."
Indeed. The genre is something I'm attracted to instantaneously. Philip Roth seems to have a couple which I haven't read, and if I remember correctly, so does Spike Milligan. Can't remember what the book was called though. Google has failed me, for once. Or maybe I'm just being lazy and didn't look harder.
Looking around the discussion boards and things which he mentions, I found some interesting topics of discussion, the best one being suggestions for anti-books, as I'd like to call them. Titles well known today, but due to the vagaries of alternate history, they end up talking about something absolutely different. Red lists some interesting titles, and his own ideas to the pool -
A Passage to India
Military historians study how the Tehran-New Delhi secret railroad helped the Third Reich hoodwink the British Raj
Silence of the Lambs
An account of the trial and execution of noted royalist propagandists Charles and Mary Lamb.
Aadisht on one of his emails, discussed something on those lines a few weeks ago too -
"It makes me wish somebody would write an alternate history where Tipu won the battle of Seringapattam, and also makes me want to create a scifi alternate future where Temasek is the new East India Company, the Brahmins have been thrown out of India and are the new Parsis, Gujrat has practically seceded from India and is ruled by mad Gujju militias who run concentration camps for non vegetarians, and white people toil in inhuman conditions for below-minimum-wage to produce consumer goods for the Chinese. And I'm not even past the fifth chapter yet."
What I'd like to read?
A Clockwork Orange
How a smalltime clockmaker in Brussels converted a fascination for citrus fruits into a powerful dynasty.
The World *is* Flat
The story of Christopher Columbus as documented by the ship behind him as he fell off the planet's edge
Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back
On the insistence of Jen Aniston, Britain mounts attacks against all former colonies to reclaim lost glory and also make sure Brangelina are unable to adopt more children.
(So I had some more time to think about things - I came across the latest Time 100 top list books recently.. here :)
All the King's men
The sordid tales of England's closet homosexual monarchs.
An American Tragedy
The rise of George Bush in contemporary American politics, and a look at the post Iraq, North Korea war dysfunctional society that was once known as the oldest democracy in the world. or something
.. how you hardly hear about European student associations in most American universities? That an Indian student association is the first thing you hit when you land there? (I was never that lucky, since Yale doesn't have one - the closest we get to one of those is a South Asian thingie, which includes everyone from Afghanistan to Korea - yayy, we're broad minded!)
I put that question to a couple of people today, and they came up with rather weak arguments about the French not getting along with the Italians or the Spanish - and how Indians identify much better with fellow Indians. I call *BS* on that, because the points they mention about diversity in terms of culture, food, region, climate and language exists in India too - Kashmir and Kerala couldn't be more different.
So what is it that makes desis abroad flock together, sometimes to the extent of having a very limited set of views about the country they live in and the people therein? At times, I get phenomenally irritated at this attitude which unfortunately exists in most people - they won't even TRY to involve themselves with local festivities, expand their social circles to include the locals and give a damn about learning how a different culture exists. Do they REALLY identify with each other more than Europeans would? Given that there might be a certain nationalistic identity which we have that the europeans don't - not for lack of wanting it I guess, because thats what the EU is all about - does it really contribute this much?
Moving to extra academic stuff - how many European caucuses do you see in the American Senate? How many people - with the exception of possibly the Polish - try their hands at furthering their country's needs at the altar of what used to be the oldest democracy in the world? Even here, the Indian caucus and lobbyists for random causes or the other in India surprise me with their sheer numbers. From random web searches on the terms "European Student Club/Association", the only place I could come up with in about 5 minutes was MIT and Columbia. Searching for an "Indian Student Association" on the other hand brought up about a gazillion results from every part of the country.
and lots of
I often hear the argument about how new forms of media and communication slowly erode our social lives. Reliance on the Internet and phones, and a growing trend of web based community interactions replacing physical ones should make us sit up and take notice of the follies of it all.
Jack shit. Whoever argues in favor of these ideas is seriously underestimating the human spirit.
Over the past 10,000 years, humans have evolved into the social beings they are, for a reason. And mindsets that deep will take more than a couple of decades of technology invasion to irrevocably change. When cavemen sat down around campfires, huddling against beasts and the cold, the intent of conveying their innermost thoughts led to the birth of language. Story telling sessions even today, if you see tribes in India, Africa or wherever else they've managed to survive, continue in the same vein. In most modern cultures, pubs and cafes have taken over the campfire, but the setting is still the same - warmth, company and food. What the new media is doing is to get people closer to each other more than ever before - consider that in the span of one day, the average Internet user can talk to people sitting in any corner of the world, reinforcing ties, constructing new ones. If anything, that drive within all of us to interact with others for our own development is stronger than ever.
It also brings to light the fact that we haven't *stopped* caring for our fellow human being. Far from it. Constraints in time and space have but limited our abilities to do so - after all, lifestyles in the 21st century are agreeably different from what they were in the 15th.
Talking to a friend who does social work in India yesterday, I learned about the sudden suicide of a former prostitute diagnosed with AIDS who lived in a slum there. This was a person who my friend had conversed with, as part of the process initiated by certain NGOs to uplift them. Such nearness to death is never a good thing, but as we talked, we discussed her life of abuse and possible reasons for such a radical step. At one point, I thought it morbid of us to be analyzing such an event - but she retorted that we were merely being realistic. And thats true. Even ten years ago, not only would we not have conversed in such detail about something like this, but my own views on it would not have reached (what I hope is) a decent sized audience! :)
Recently, the top news in tech dominated silicon valley was the death of a popular c|net.com editor, James Kim, who died in the wilderness while on a mission to try and save his stranded family. After their car was snowed in, and conditions worsened, he left his family in cheerful spirits and tried to get help as quickly as possible. The fact that he and his wife did not respond to emails on a Monday morning started the alarm bells ringing. His wife and kids were rescued in good health, but James was tracked by rescuers for days, with live media coverage and instant reports of how the efforts were faring. Most people who talk about disproportionate attention to this process don't realize that every single person who read this piece of news somehow identified with the man, and wished him well, was concerned about him. The news about his fatal venture resulted in outpourings of grief by thousands who had never even met him or seen his work.
And if that isn't an example of how the web is bringing humanity closer to each other, I don't quite know what is.
What do *you* think?
.. considering if you're mentally 900 years old, wouldn't you find it very embarassing (or worse) to be nursed and bathed by a beautiful young woman who also happens to be related to you?
I think I need more time to sit down and gather my thoughts about the stuff I realize I want to write about. Random thoughts shoot through my head at the oddest times and before I know it, I'm off on a tangent, thinking about why manhole covers dont matter shit in job interviews and that no matter what they say, women can never be understood. But I digress. I kinda like how Aadisht sends out emails talking about random episodes in his life when you least expect them, and then even more obscure people respond to the entire mailing list with words like hornswaggle and detritus. Seriously, who uses these?
(A word about Aadisht for those who dont know what I'm talking about. The apparently randomly timed email sent out is called the W-Files, a tradition a chosen few have been brutally subjected to ever since he got himself an internet connection in a cyber cafe near his university dorm. They talk about the more interesting happenings in his life, and more often than not border on the insane i-have-5-minutes-to-kill-humor.)
Anyway, this rant is going to be about relationships. And that, in light of some interesting stuff that happened recently. I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago, and one morning when trying to decide what to do for Thanksgiving weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to recieve a voicemail from a friend inviting me to a weekend of fun and adventure in Monterey, about 100 miles south of San Francisco. *Outdoorsy* fun and adventure. Kayaking, hiking and watching whales frolicking about sounds like a good idea, and I readily accepted. Of course, the other options I had were getting drunk at Vegas - a very un-thanksgivingy activity, or plan a quiet weekend at home buying furniture for my room. (As an aside, t-giving weekend has the BEST deals at practically every store in the US, and you can get some spectacularly priced gizmos and furniture if you look well)
Great, so the trip got off to a shakey start at best because of some transport and coordination issues before setting off - but we managed well. With the beautiful scenery around you can drive along with in California setting the backdrop, the next 2 hours to our destination were spent over some great conversation. But here's where I started getting a very funny feeling. You know the sort? A tingly, fuzzy feeling at the back of your neck which, if this were a cartoon, would also have alarm bells ringing faintly in the background. I don't really know why.
Hmm? This was beginning to look very uncomfortably like an orchestrated setup. With this other chick who was travelling with us. No, I'm not sure it was, and maybe I'm being paranoid. But anyway. I will admit however, that the person in question is undeniably hot. And lethally witty - to the extent that we never did agree on a single issue (except for food, alcohol and politics - WTF ?) throughout the trip. We were too busy trading (friendly) insults, wisecracks and sarcastic comments about the other. So after a long span of 6 months, I meet a woman who I can actually converse with without feeling that I'm doing all the heavy lifting in the conversation balance. Sweet. So what have I to complain about?
But I'm not finished yet. After we got there, all of us but her ended up at dinner at a brilliant persian place called, oddly enough, 'The Persian Grill'. She had work to do - its not like we're mean. As the conversation flew along, the question surprisingly came to people guessing the other's birth orders and ages. Uh oh. Age did you say? Indeedy. Well, people started sounding off, right? Clockwise across the table now. 32. ouch. 34. hmm. 28. 29. and erm. uh. er. do you really want me to .. 23. Shocked looks around the table. Which sort of boosted my ego. I mean, I know my semi-rugged good looks match my ok-so-i-dont-have-6-packs-but-im-not-flabby physique. But apparently, I get mistaken for someone who is TWENTY NINE OR THIRTY. WTF? (I find that surprising because not 15 days ago a high schooler approaches and asks me if I was still in HIGH school, or did I graduate in the last couple of years. Seriously) Needless to say, this woman I could have a conversation with like there was no tomorrow (or rather, arguments and rather witty wisecrack trades) was about 7 years older. SEVEN YEARS. Does that mean I need to be with people who're eons older than me? or is it that I havent met any women who I could confidently state I'm interested in AND who are below the age of 25? AND who don't act like typical bimbos? Does looking more mature than you actually are act against you?
(Pfft. The trip turned out to be fabulous. We kayaked for hours through creeks and the pacific (mostly inland), we dined at some great seafood places, and then watched sea lions, otters, seals and humpback whales out in the pacific. Not to mention staying at a Very cosy hostel for a pittance. The only catch - the showers were limited to 2 3.5 minute bursts per day. Unless you played poker and won more shower tokens from the others, that is ;) We cooked gourmet pancake breakfasts, and visited Carmel, some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Not a bad way to spend thanksgiving at all!)
.. like a phoenix in a drunken stupor bumbling its way through the fiery portals of procrastination. Well, here's a rant which I wrote for 'A Professional Whiner'.
California. The home of high tech and more importantly, sandy beaches, beautiful women and more culture anywhere west of New England. Right. This rant however, is about life in silicon valley. or the lack thereof. What! you say? No life in silicon VALLEY? you're kidding right?
Unfortunately, I'm not. Consider. As close as it is to San Francisco with its brilliant night life and cultural offerings, the valley is pretty much dead any time after 10pm on a weekday (and some weekends). I don't know what it is - a combination of the lifestyles of the people who work here, implicit laws on alcohol or plain disinterest? Most people who work here are single minded in their outlook towards life - "I have a job, a car or two and a house, coupled with a couple of kids and a wife" - yayy! end of ambition. [This is with reference to most of the Indians incidentally. NOT that I'm trying to be anti-Indian. It just is.]
Innovation seems to be an unheard of quantity too. A typical person would do anything assigned to him/her - but JUST that, and then go home to watch reruns of hindi shows on Zee TV or lip sync to Sholay. Duuh. How retarded do you have to be to NOT go enjoy a concert, a play, or something equally invigiorating? And why does EVERYONE eat at the same restaurants, shop at the same grocery stores and drive green honda civics EVEN when you can afford better?
A simple conversation with a random sampling leads me to grouse about how they know shit about anything other than bollywood movies/songs and possibly the domain of their work - and a large number, not even that. Mozart who? Emile Zola - eeh, never heard of him. Opera? Nix. Politics - except for Laloo's latest antics, nix. Even things Indian - Chanakya? Surely you mean the cinema in Delhi. Tharoor? Erm, I've heard the name.. Yes, yes, you get the picture. Great.
Speaking of pregnant women. WTF is it with the valley and them? I can't drive around without seeing atleast a couple of pregnant women walking on the sidewalks with what I can only assume are their parents. I mean, if all these people do is procreate, and they're freaking educated - I'm hardly surprised at the population boom back in India.
Wow. When I start ranting, I really do get sucked into it..
[sic] What is it about Boy Scouting (a WORLD WIDE organization) that is so awful?
I think the Scout Oath will answer that one for us. Let's have a look at it:
> On my honor I will do my best
Honour is bunk. History has proven so. Particularly since "Honour" is so damn open for interpretation. Japanese Kamikaze-pilots plunging to their deaths thought they were doing the honourable thing. Personally I find it a silly concept. A nice idea, but hugely impractical.
> To do my duty to God and my country
What is that duty anyway? Which God are we talking about? How are the concepts of "God" and "Country" related? How does "God" influence your perception of Duty? In Israel, it became glaringly obvious that Hizbollah and Hamas see it as their duty to "Allah" to eradicate Jews and the Israeli state. Is that "honourable"?
Do you suppose that mixing any kind of "God" into your "duty" or country is a healthy thing? I don't care if they are Buddhists, Hindu extremists or otherwise. Linking these concepts on one sentence strikes me as passe and very, very dangerous. Not something I want to expose my children to.
> and to obey the Scout Law;
Blindly? I would never teach a kid to blindly obey any law. Civil disobedience is one of the greater goods we have. I direct you to the US Declaration of Independence for further reading on the Subject.
> To help other people at all times;
Including middle-aged men of dubious quality who are asking for directions to the nearest boy-school? Come ON. In essence not a bad rule, but the Machiavellian in me dictates some people ought not to be helped.
> To keep myself physically strong,
So far so good. This is not a bad rule at all.
> mentally awake, and morally straight.
Mentally awake and morally straight contradict each other. Morals are a somewhat subjective set of guidelines that are heavily influenced by entities people refer to as "Gods" and this thing called "religion". Often, morals have no basis in reality and work counter-productive.
I'll point to my initial comment on violence vs sex. The world wide legislative system seems to find sexuality a huge threat to mankind and as such Immoral, if you will, while violence is hunkey dorey. I challenge that morality because I see myself as mentally awake, so I could very well be a proponent of Abortion, Gay Marriage, Gay Adoption and in certain cases Euthanasia. The mentally awake will almost per definition challenge the "morally straight". That is, if anyone even knows what "morally straight" means.
> A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Curteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent
Sounds like brainwashing to me.
Trustworthy -- by whom?
Loyal -- to what? Seems like a dangerous thing. Before you know it, it says "to God" or "my Country/Government".
Helpful -- to whom?
Friendly, Curteous -- again, to whom exactly?
Kind -- Kindness isn't overrated, but in certain situations it's no longer viable. Still, a good thing to strive for.
Obedient -- What happened to "mentally awake"?
Cheerful -- Silly thing to put in there. There are situations where "cheerful" is not an option.
Thrifty -- Our whole idea of what prosperity and industriousness mean have gotten us into all these wars. I'm not sure I stand behind that.
Brave -- As long as it doesn't escalate into dangerous tomfoolery or the spilling of blood, I can live with that one.
Clean -- Always good. Although myco-bacteria are good for your health, so let's not over-do it. Certain water treatments come to mind here..
Reverent -- What would a child be revering in your opinion? Reverence is bad. It blinds us. Usually it's not a sign of being mentally awake.
Like said, the Hitlerjugend adhered to the same principles of Duty, Honour, God, Loyality to their Country, Reverence for their Führer, Cleanliness and Physical fitness. Churchill on the other hand was a fat workaholic with a somewhat cynical view on things who drank too much and chain-smoked.
In reply to the question originally stated above, but ceased being just a reply soon after its composition! It is instead a not-so-cynical view of things at large..
Taking some time off work recently, I got myself some short stories by PG Wodehouse, the brilliant english satirist - who incidentally spread nazi propaganda as a prisoner of the Germans during WWII. Useless trivia and abysmally incomplete if you think about the fact that I haven't given you any context whatsoever. But go look it up on wikipedia or something! Anyway, to continue.. An amazing book called "Three men and a maid". And no, you dirty minded perverts - maid here represents a gentle young woman who has the affections of three men at the same time. Eh, that didn't quite convey what I meant to, but you get the picture. The *right* one, hopefully.
I thought a passage from it would be rather humorous - and portray the brilliant which PGW put forth in his books..
The thing in the way of modern progress is more remarkable than the manner in which the attitude of your run of the mill lover has changed concerning proposals of marriage. When Samuel Marlowe's grandfather had convinced himself, after about a year and a half of respectful aloofness, that the emotion which he felt towards Samuel Marlowe's grandmother-to-be was love, the fashion of the period compelled him to approach the matter in a roundabout way. First, he spent an evening or two singing sentimental ballads, she accompanying him on the piano and the rest of the family sitting on the side-lines to see that no rough stuff was pulled. Having noted that she drooped her eyelashes and turned faintly pink when he came to the "Thee--only thee!" bit, he felt a mild sense of encouragement, strong enough to justify him in taking her sister aside next day and asking if the object of his affections ever happened to mention his name in the course of conversation. Further _pour-parlers_ having passed with her aunt, two more sisters, and her little brother, he felt that the moment had arrived when he might send her a volume of Shelley, with some of the passages marked in pencil. A few weeks later, he interviewed her father and obtained his consent to the paying of his addresses. And finally, after writing her a letter which began "Madam! you will not have been insensible to the fact that for some time past you have inspired in my bosom feelings deeper than those of ordinary friendship...." he waylaid her in the rose-garden and brought the thing off.
How different is the behaviour of the modern young man. His courtship can hardly be called a courtship at all. His methods are those of Sir W. S. Gilbert's Alphonso.
"Alphonso, who for cool assurance all creation licks,
He up and said to Emily who has cheek enough for six:
'Miss Emily, I love you. Will you marry? Say the word!'
And Emily said: 'Certainly, Alphonso, like a bird!'"
Its stuff like this which brings about those bouts of laughter when not in conversation with wierd people about wierder things..
Which brings me to the point of Sushi. Uhm. It does? It does. I have no idea why I suddenly thought of this. It might have something to do with an article I read earlier in the day about pufferfish and other kinds of potentially dangerous sushi where you put your life in the hands of someone you don't know. Namely the su-chef. Short for sushi chef of course! no? :)
I'm always surprised at the yuppie behavior which accompanies this very exotic dish. Fugu as its also known as, is just the pinnacle of what sushi connoisseurs love to eat. But first, let me expound my own views on Sushi. So you've got this great sushi bar in town which has fancy stuff lined up on ice in its picture glass windows. Enter, and you shall find, of all things, a *conveyor belt* on which food rotates around a common, bar like area. So far not so bad. After all, technology is the future, especially with the japanese and their raw fish. So be it. You adjust. Your oath of never eating food which moves is down the drain of course?
Behold, gummy gelatinous rice which not only sticks together, but is mixed up with half a dozen toppings you or no one else actually recognizes. Exotic, you think - and don't make a huff about it. Apart from having thrown in a lot of detritus from the bottom of the sea - namely seaweed on it, for apparent nutritional purposes and to enhance the taste of the dish. Or to cover up the other piquances which go with it, I'm sure. The only problem - its slimy texture coupled with its lack of any flavor make seaweed a bad candidate to mask another taste. Or you might be luck enough to have some fish spawn in its crunch goodness smeared across it. Or if you're REALLY lucky (and have a lot of money to spend), a raw squid pseudop
Swanky chefs will now come out, and parlay their expertise in the art of sushi making - toss together some of the above goodness with pieces of bulgy eyed fish roughly lifted from platters of (not-so-hygenic) ice. And I guess it must be against rules in sushi-dom to wear gloves when doing this. Add a pair of sweaty hands as the chef tries his best to make something which doesn't quite look half eaten, and doesn't kill you while its at it. Now don't even get me started on fish - which are nothing but filthy creatures swimming in their own filth and are best friends with barnacles, algae and other non-entities in the aquatic foodchain. (Yes, plankton too!).
And now, the defining moment. As the plate of freshly constructed sushi-art crawls towards of you, the fish lying there - beseeching you to eat it, to get it off that slimy weed and rice combo, and salvage it from the ignominous fate that is its end.. Bliss. It tastes so damn good! And when combined with the platters of good cholestrols and white, fat free meat which you're ingesting, the vinegary goodness of pickled seaweed offset by salty rice - you think, what could possibly be wrong with the world?
Enter the Fugu. Spelled as its rhymed with Cthulhu. A type of pufferfish which is so poisonous that it kills you within a few minutes of having eaten it. Unless of course, the sushi chef has done his magic with the fish and cut it in one go SUCH THAT the posion has been cleanly chopped off. Would I trust my chef to have done this properly? Without comprehensive medical backup, and the utmost confidence in my fellow human being, I personally, would gently lay the ghost of fugu to rest. And move on to things which actually exist to be eaten - like a chocolate truffle, or one of those burgers from Rudy's. With their gourmet frites and an excellent collection of gourmet sauces and maybe a Red Stripe or Long trail to accompany the whols shebang.
A lazy saturday morning seemed to be the ideal antidote to what turned out to be a few of the most intense weeks ever. Hiking across deserts without food and sleep, working on some projects, and walking to work every day (ok, not so much the walk!) made me pre-decide that I'd do nothing on Saturday. Excellent. Which meant of course that I wouldn't cook either. Bright fella that I am, I decided to use some delivery services and check out the various gastronomical options available near by.. Big mistake.
It turns out that none of these places - Waiter on Wheels for instance, or restaurants here in general don't deliver food orders below a certain monetary limit. One which is too expensive for regular orders anyway. But forging ahead with my ironclad plans to do nothing - I did so anyway. Just this once. Just THIS Once! Chinese take out it was, in the end, the Kung Pao going down much better than some limp noodle thingies. I'm glad I know how to cook. As I ate, I was flipping channels and encountered what is fast becoming one of my favorite channels - yes, you guessed it - the Food network!
Why? As a friend puts it - you're staring at the TV, there's no drama or nail-biting-edge-of-the-seat action, you know the shows going to end well, it looks nice, you have the option of trying to or not to learn whatever the recipe is.. and hey, its food. Apart from sex, its the single most important driving factor today - right? When people aren't looking for diverse booty (sic), they're looking for methods to get food. After all, you earn money so that you can eat. Well, most of you anyway - exceptions abound.
Anyway. There has been a particular show which I end up watching, whether I want to or not. Serendipity, I would like to imagine. Mostly, its because it has reruns exactly when I flip to that particular channel. Not that its a bad thing, but Paula's home cooking is a show I have loved to hate. Her twangy southern drawl, recipes which are anything but homely, and a rather overbearing attitude make all the difference in what could be an even better show than it is right now.. But for some mysterious reason, I STILL WATCH it. Hehe, what cracked me up was that this particular episode was being filmed in the UK and France. Question - What happens when an american chef visits countries which have a culinary history that rivals the very best in the world? Pure fun, thats what!
First stop - London. After being surprised at the fresh meats and preservative free veggies available at markets which date back to the 12th century - and making sure everyone there knew how tough food restrictions were in the US, she sampled a bunch of very interesting looking delicacies. Moving around the counties, she discovers that blue cheese indeed doesn't come from blue cows, and that fresh cheese is much more creamy than the types she's used to back home - chock full of preserves and whatnot! Alright, we're getting the picture, you say? Wait. There's more.
Moving on to France after a particularly greasy chip sandwich - white bread with large potato chips (homestyle fries, yankee style), she commits one of the biggest blunders you can commit if you're into food - calling fine chocolate - *Candy*. Come on. You're staring at arrays and arrays of truffles, bonbons and exotic liqueur filled (delicate) chocolate shells, and popping them into yourself - all the while calling them candy. Hershey's now, is candy. M&Ms more so. But thats a travesty you don't commit - giving the manna that is Godiva, the nomenclature fit only for peanut-butter-caramel-shells!
But France. Rotisserie chickens, (Much better than southern fried chicken [sic]), extensive wine based truffle dishes, and dozens of pies later - she chances across a french gentleman who talks about how the poultry from Bresse county is the best. Bresse. Alarm bells ringing, I cringed in advance waiting for the obvious joke about boobies - and there it was! "Whah di' tha' man say abou' my breahhsts". Loud laughter followed. The french, not to be taken lightly, did an immediate retort about the 'Guns of Navarone' and that pretty much shut her up :) Best moment ever. The show did however take a very emotional turn because her husband surprised her with not only a beautiful roof-top dinner in full view of the eiffel, but also invited their children over to share it with - all of this a surprise of course.
I'm surprised they covered her actually crying. Oh well. I guess you live and learn.
One of my favorite activities when working is to listen to music, or even better, a smashing radio show from the UK called the Geoff Show. Virgin Radio UK have a live webcast of all their shows available around the world, and I must say they do quality programming... Consider a list of activities which this 3 hour show spans :)
Regular features of the show include:
- The Phone In: listeners telephone the station with their ideas, views and experiences concerning a choice of 101 different topics from the website.
- Porting Controversy: a humourous, self-opinionated, debate against widely held beliefs by Annabel Port, such as 'the Mona Lisa is a good piece of artwork' and 'reading is fun'.
- Drunk versus Stoned: a quiz in which someone who has been drinking alcohol competes with another listener who has been smoking cannabis in order to win a menial prize.
- The Dirty Book at Bedtime: an erotic story read by Annabel Port
But whats interesting is that the music scene in the UK is still dominated by genres which have almost faded out in most parts of the US. All the shows on Virgin, for example are liberally sprinkled with genuinely good Indie bands or the golden oldies - specifically people like Morrissey, The Smiths, The Killers, Oasis, and whathaveyou. Now most people who know me know my penchance for such music - to the extent of having listened to some of them on constant repeat - specifically a song called 'Strange Powers' by the Magnetic Fields. Brilliant song, I highly recommend it. (courtsey - TheHuang).
It was thus highly unsurprising to suddenly come across a bunch of music festivals happening almost every month all around the UK - specfically at Wembley, Leeds and other such, which have top bands headlining - I don't mean top in terms of their popularity, because a large number have regionalistic fan bases, and exceptionally good music. The Proclaimers, who shot to fame with their song '500 miles' are on too. Looking at the two brothers who lead the band - bespectacled, geeky hairstyles, 70s clothes replete with checked shirts and short trousers, leather shoes and flaring scarves, a "wee ye highland lass" accent - you wouldn't think they would be a rock phenomenon. Oh well.
Coming to humor heard very often on Brit channels - here's a small sample:
Moo.I don't know about you, but I cried lauging. Seriously. I'm not even sure if its that funny, buts its just so typically knee-jerkfully-british, that - well, it bests even the most stoic of us.. :) Of course, radio ads on the channel are a totally different story, which in my opinion, warrants an entire blog entry all by itself. Looks like I've got material lined up for the next instance hehe.
Anyway, all this got me wondering about the british music scene, and how its still the home to most of the best selling acts out there. Is there some magical ingredient which exists in the british isles that is missing from the rest of the world?
Consider, yet again -
The Kaiser Chiefs - Scotland, Glasgow
Belle and Sebastain - Scotland
The Smiths - Britain
Franz Ferdinand - Scotland
OMD - Britain
Depeche Mode - Britain
The Cure - Britain
And I've just spanned about 20 years of rock history there..
Sure funk is good, and the Black Eyed Peas have their fans jumping over backwards whenver they perform. Ludacris can rap his heart out, and incite cheers and applause from all sorts of crowds, as I noticed at his performance at Yale a couple of months ago. Of course, half the people there had no idea who he was, but welcomed the opportunity to randomly move around campus in hooded sweatshirts! But - why haven't there been more of these bands headlining all sorts of shows outside the UK? Should be an interesting thing to look at!
A couple of days ago, I was sitting at a particularly good Italian restaurant around Pier 39 in San Francisco with a friend. A typical day in the city, it was a tumultuous blend of fog, chilly winds and the general pulse which gives San Francisco its character. As we ate some excellent Calamari and Risotto – our conversation ranged over some very interesting developments in the bay area's startup scene. We were talking about various ideas which were being thrown around, and analyzing to an extent their relative pros and cons.. and somehow, turned to the subject of national security and the internet's role in weakening it. Which is when the unbelievable, yet completely plausible statement tumbled out.
The NSA in the US is one of the most, if not THE most, sophisticated spy agencies in the world. And like any other organization, they have reasons to use the Internet to not only gather information but also communicate with agents and field offices around the world. What is interesting is that NSA employees searching for information on any of the major search engines on the web – Google, Yahoo or what have you MUST leave traces of their original Internet addresses with these. And anyone with half a mind could easily piece together what information was being searched for! But it is inconceivable that an organization such as this would be amateur enough to let this happen. But how would they solve it?
The answer – replicate the internet. That statement may contain 3 words, but it is probably one of the very few today which non-trivially encapsulate millions of hours of work in it, not to mention huge cost incursions. Which led me to the inevitable question – can even the NSA with a huge chunk of the US defence budget have the resources to carry off what would arguably be the biggest project in modern technological times? I thought I'd do some research to see if this was even possible. We know that the largest information repository in the world today – publicly known anyway – is the one at Google. Considering their search engine is the most effective at piecing together even those parts of the web which are very remotely connected to other parts. One option the NSA has is to make a mirror of sorts of the google search engine on a local intranet, and then search this index locally to locate the resource needed. This way, they can have their addresses show up only at the particular resources, and those too can be covered by the use of hacks and other pieces of technology which aims at doing this. This if of course assuming that they don't already have a wide array of IP addresses meant to throw off any tracking agents for exactly this reason!
The most impressive method of course turns out to be their possible replication of the web itself. Given their resourcefulness, replicating each of the 13 root servers, compressing all the data on the known web into a single database, and then developing technologies to search these in real time is the most effective. The ramifications of such an act of course, are staggering. Not only do they have the largest storehouse of human knowledge to ever have existed at their fingertips, they are probably the only ones who can come close or surpass the kind of work which google is doing right now. Which is saying a lot.
If you violate Snell's Law of optics, they will put you in prism with the other convex. Isn't that a myopic view to look at the world with?
After wrestling with a search engine which is only to happy to provide insights into my life with just a single keyword, I decided to switch to something where I can talk about issues without having to double take on how it might affect my publicly viewed profile. Enter, the blog. The mostly *anonymous* blog.