Saturday, May 31, 2008

Why blogging is good for you

All you guys who thought I was wasting time updating a stupid blog read by people who didn't have anything else to do - GO EAT DIRT.

I now have proof that blogging is good for you.

Child's Guide To United States Foreign Policy

(Received this via email. It's a bit long but worth it)

It's 9 pm and Daddy is tucking Johnny into bed -

Q: Daddy, why did we have to attack Iraq?

A: Because they had weapons of mass destruction honey.

Q: But the inspectors didn't find any weapons of mass destruction.

A: That's because the Iraqis were hiding them.

Q: And that's why we invaded Iraq?

A: Yep. Invasions always work better than inspections.

Q: But after we invaded them, we STILL didn't find any weapons of mass destruction, did we?

A: That's because the weapons are so well hidden. Don't worry, we'll find something, probably right before the 2008 election.

Q: Why did Iraq want all those weapons of mass destruction?

A: To use them in a war, silly.

Q: I'm confused. If they had all those weapons that they planned to use in a war, then why didn't they use any of those weapons when we went to war with them?

A: Well, obviously they didn't want anyone to know they had those weapons, so they chose to die by the thousands rather than defend themselves.

Q: That doesn't make sense Daddy. Why would they choose to die if they had all those big weapons to fight us back with?

A: It's a different culture. It's not supposed to make sense.

Q: I don't know about you, but I don't think they had any of those weapons our government said they did.

A: Well, you know, it doesn't matter whether or not they had those weapons. We had another good reason to invade them anyway.

Q: And what was that?

A: Even if Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein was a cruel dictator, which is another good reason to invade another country.

Q: Why? What does a cruel dictator do that makes it OK to invade his country?

A: Well, for one thing, he tortured his own people.

Q: Kind of like what they do in China?

A: Don't go comparing China to Iraq. China is a good economic competitor, where millions of people work for slave wages in sweatshops to make U.S. corporations richer.

Q: So if a country lets its people be exploited for American corporate gain, it's a good country, even if that country tortures people?

A: Right.

Q: Why were people in Iraq being tortured?

A: For political crimes, mostly, like criticizing the government. People who criticized the government in Iraq were sent to prison and tortured.

Q: Isn't that exactly what happens in China?

A: I told you, China is different.

Q: What's the difference between China and Iraq?

A: Well, for one thing, Iraq was ruled by the Ba'ath party, while China is Communist.

Q: Didn't you once tell me Communists were bad?

A: No, just Cuban Communists are bad.

Q: How are the Cuban Communists bad?

A: Well, for one thing, people who criticize the government in Cuba are sent to prison and tortured.

Q: Like in Iraq?

A: Exactly.

Q: And like in China, too?

A: I told you, China's a good economic competitor. Cuba, on the other hand, is not.

Q: How come Cuba isn't a good economic competitor?

A: Well, you see, back in the early 1960s, our government passed some laws that made it illegal for Americans to trade or do any business with Cuba until they stopped being communists and started being capitalists like us.

Q: But if we got rid of those laws, opened up trade with Cuba, and started doing business with them, wouldn't that help the Cubans become capitalists?

A: Don't be a smart-ass.

Q: I didn't think I was being one.

A: Well, anyway, they also don't have freedom of religion in Cuba.

Q: Kind of like China and the Falun Gong movement?

A: I told you, stop saying bad things about China. Anyway, Saddam Hussein came to power through a military coup, so he's not really a legitimate leader anyway.

Q: What's a military coup?

A: That's when a military general takes over the government of a country by force, instead of holding free elections like we do in the United States.

Q: Didn't the ruler of Pakistan come to power by a military coup?

A: You mean General Pervez Musharraf? Uh, yeah, he did, but Pakistan is our friend.

Q: Why is Pakistan our friend if their leader is illegitimate?

A: I never said Pervez Musharraf was illegitimate.

Q: Didn't you just say a military general who comes to power by forcibly overthrowing the legitimate government of a nation is an illegitimate leader?

A: Only Saddam Hussein. Pervez Musharraf is our friend, because he helped us invade Afghanistan.

Q: Why did we invade Afghanistan?

A: Because of what they did to us on September 11th.

Q: What did Afghanistan do to us on September 11th?

A: Well, on September 11th, nineteen men, fifteen of them Saudi Arabians, hijacked four airplanes and flew three of them into buildings, killing over 3,000 Americans.

Q: So how did Afghanistan figure into all that?

A: Afghanistan was where those bad men trained, under the oppressive rule of the Taliban.

Q: Aren't the Taliban those bad radical Islamics who chopped off people's heads and hands?

A: Yes, that's exactly who they were. Not only did they chop off people's heads and hands, but they oppressed women, too.

Q: Didn't the Bush administration give the Taliban 43 million dollars back in May of 2001?

A: Yes, but that money was a reward because they did such a good job fighting drugs.

Q: Fighting drugs?

A: Yes, the Taliban were very helpful in stopping people from growing opium poppies.

Q: How did they do such a good job?

A: Simple. If people were caught growing opium poppies, the Taliban would have their hands and heads cut off.

Q: So, when the Taliban cut off people's heads and hands for growing flowers, that was OK, but not if they cut people's heads and hands off for other reasons?

A: Yes. It's OK with us if radical Islamic fundamentalists cut off people's hands for growing flowers, but it's cruel if they cut off people's hands for stealing bread.

Q: Don't they also cut off people's hands and heads in Saudi Arabia?

A: That's different. Afghanistan was ruled by a tyrannical patriarchy that oppressed women and forced them to wear burqas whenever they were in public, with death by stoning as the penalty for women who did not comply.

Q: Don't Saudi women have to wear burqas in public, too?

A: No, Saudi women merely wear a traditional Islamic body covering.

Q: What's the difference?

A: The traditional Islamic covering worn by Saudi women is a modest yet fashionable garment that covers all of a woman's body except for her eyes and fingers. The burqa, on the other hand, is an evil tool of patriarchal oppression that covers all of a woman's body except for her eyes and fingers.

Q: It sounds like the same thing with a different name.

A: Now, don't go comparing Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are our friends.

Q: But I thought you said 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11th were from Saudi Arabia.

A: Yes, but they trained in Afghanistan.

Q: Who trained them?

A: A very bad man named Osama bin Laden.

Q: Was he from Afghanistan?

A: Uh, no, he was from Saudi Arabia too. But he was a bad man, a very bad man.

Q: I seem to recall he was our friend once.

A: Only when we helped him and the mujahadeen repel the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan back in the 1980s.

Q: Who are the Soviets? Was that the Evil Communist Empire Ronald Reagan talked about?

A: There are no more Soviets. The Soviet Union broke up in 1990 or thereabouts, and now they have elections and capitalism like us. We call them Russians now.

Q: So the Soviets ? I mean, the Russians ? are now our friends?

A: Well, not really. You see, they were our friends for many years after they stopped being Soviets, but then they decided not to support our invasion of Iraq, so we're mad at them now. We're also mad at the French and the Germans because they didn't help us invade Iraq either.

Q: So the French and Germans are evil, too?

A: Not exactly evil, but just bad enough that we had to rename French fries and French toast to Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast.

Q: Do we always rename foods whenever another country doesn't do what we want them to do?

A: No, we just do that to our friends. Our enemies, we invade.

Q: But wasn't Iraq one of our friends back in the 1980s?

A: Well, yeah. For a while.

Q: Was Saddam Hussein ruler of Iraq back then?

A: Yes, but at the time he was fighting against Iran, which made him our friend, temporarily.

Q: Why did that make him our friend?

A: Because at that time, Iran was our enemy.

Q: Isn't that when he gassed the Kurds?

A: Yeah, but since he was fighting against Iran at the time, we looked the other way, to show him we were his friend.

Q: So anyone who fights against one of our enemies automatically becomes our friend?

A: Most of the time, yes.

Q: And anyone who fights against one of our friends is automatically an enemy?

A: Sometimes that's true, too. However, if American corporations can profit by selling weapons to both sides at the same time, all the better.

Q: Why?

A: Because war is good for the economy, which means war is good for America Also, since God is on America's side, anyone who opposes war is a godless un-American Communist. Do you understand now why we attacked Iraq?

Q: I think so. We attacked them because God wanted us to, right?

A: Yes.

Q: But how did we know God wanted us to attack Iraq?

A: Well, you see, God personally speaks to George W. Bush and tells him what to do.

Q: So basically, what you're saying is that we attacked Iraq because George W. Bush hears voices in his head?

A: Yes! You finally understand how the world works. Now close your eyes, make yourself comfortable, and go to sleep. Good night.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On my bookshelf

I often find myself with nothing to blog about. Today happens to be one of those days so I thought I'll just write about the books I have been reading these past few weeks.

Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee

Mukherjee follows the diverging paths taken by three extraordinary Calcutta-born sisters as they come of age in a changing world. Moving effortlessly between generations, she weaves together fascinating stories of the sisters' ancestors, childhood memories, and dramatic scenes from India's history.

I had never read anything by Bharati Mukherjee before so I didn't really know what to expect. The first half just blew me over - it's one of those unputdownable pageturners without being a thriller. The thing is Mukherjee's prose is so amazingingly evocative that I clearly saw this young Bengali bride circling around a tree in the 19th century.

But just when I thought I was going through the best Indian novel ever, the pace slackened. The second half of the novel seemed tedious in comparison to the first and Mukherjee's puppetmaster hands lost control of the characters in America, letting them roam free as the novel draws towards its implausible end -- with an arsonist on the loose.

Of course, you should read it. And tell me what you thought of it. Believe me, I would like to read other works by this University of California professor. I just wish the second half of 'Desirable Daughters' had been better.

The Coast of Good Intentions: Stories by Michael Byers

Michael Byers' award-winning collection tells graceful tales of achingly unresolved lives on the Pacific Northwest coast. Byers captures the lives of ferry workers, carpenters, park rangers, and adolescents leaving home, against a backdrop of crab factories, cranberry bogs, the fog-shrouded shore, and the Seattle skyline.

My favourite story was "Shipmates Down Under" in which the daughter of two doctors falls sick with an unrelenting fever and the family is forced to cancel a vacation in Australia. Byers is shockingly mature (he was only 28 when he wrote this) for his age and it's amazing how he chooses to write about sadness, disappointment and loneliness.

Byers writes beautiful prose and it kind of rolls with imagery and metaphors. The characters are mostly people you might meet in the street and not give a second glance.

Go give it a read

My Father, Dancing by Bliss Broyard

The daughter of the late author and critic Anatole Broyard has written a collection that is partly about fathers and daughters, partly about the many difficult choices facing young women trying to find their place in life.

Though not as good as Byers' collection, Broyard's stories do have their moments. I have two favourites -- "At the Bottom of the Lake" is about a girl trying to maintain her relationship with her father, a task hindered by her wicked stepmother.

And in "Mr. Sweetly Indecent," a woman confronts her adulterous father. Broyard's men are almost always insensitive and selfish oafs - but I am not sure if the stories are feminist pieces. Because the women are no saints either.

Certainly worth a try

Diamond Dust: Stories by Anita Desai

In this richly diverse collection, Desai trains her luminous spotlight on private universes, stretching from India to New England, from Cornwall to Mexico. Skillfully navigating the fault lines between social obligation and personal loyalties, the men and women in these nine tales set out on journeys that suddenly go beyond the pale --or surprisingly lead them back to where they started from.

I don't really like short stories as a genre. I like novels which last for ever, keeping my interest alive in the characters. But what can I say about Desai - everybody knows that she's brilliant. In these stories, I was amazed to find protagonists who are not Indians or non-resident Indians -- there's even one about a Mexican town. But my favourite story was one set in India, about an Indian woman who rents a barsati in New Delhi. "The Rooftop Dwellers" is Desai at her wittiest.

Don't be put off by the first story in the collection -- I found it boring and meaningless. But all the other stories are gems.

I am currently engrossed in Vikram Seth's An Equal Music - Seth is another author I have been meaning to read for a long time. This novel -- the tale of an English violinist in love with a pianist he abandoned ten years ago -- is engrossing despite the fact I am tone-deaf and cannot tell a Beethoven from a Bach. If I bypass all the musical references and still find it interesting, then Seth is talented indeed.

I wondered if the film rights to this novel had been snapped up because I keep visualising Hugh Grant rushing out of a bus and running down London streets in pursuit of his beloved.

It turns out there is indeed a movie in the offing but I couldn't find any more details.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Do you want to exchange your child?

Stuck with a child you don't want? Wishing you could arrange an exchange?

Turns out there's help at hand. Just visit Child Trader

If this website (which claims it's the eighth largest child exchange organization worldwide) is not part of an elaborate hoax, getting your dream child may no longer be a dream.

I am a bit concerned though. My parents want to know why this organisation didn't exist in the 1980s.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Vote for the Booker of Bookers

The Best of the Booker, a one-off celebratory award to mark the 40th anniversary of the Booker Prize, announced its shortlist today.

To be honest, I had only read Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children" (1981) and J M Coetzee's "Disgrace" (1999). And Rushdie was my choice.

The other four shortlisted books, chosen from the list of 41 Booker Prize and Man Booker Prize winners, are:

Pat Barker's "The Ghost Road" (1995)
Peter Carey's "Oscar and Lucinda" (1988)
J G Farrell's "The Siege of Krishnapur" (1973)
Nadine Gordimer's "The Conservationist" (1974)

Of course, Rushdie is the favourite for the award but you can vote for any of the six contenders here.

Voters have until midday on 8 July to select the best novel to have won the Booker prize since it was first awarded on 22 April 1969.

The Best of the Booker will be announced on 10 July 2008.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Today is International Shutdown Day

Life without computers is difficult, maybe impossible. Are you brave enough to shut down your computer for a day?

Shutdown Day is one of the biggest global experiments ever to take place on the Internet. The idea is to find out how many people can go without a computer for one whole day -- this year D-day falls on Saturday May 3, 2008.

What to do Just shut down your computer and involve yourself in some other activity, just to remind yourself that there still exists a world outside your monitor.

What I did All I can say is that I tried. And failed. And I wrote this blog post for you. And considering the fact you are probably reading this on May 3, you haven't been able to stay away from your computer either. Well, for losers like us there's always next year.

But if you still want to give it a try, click here

Thursday, May 01, 2008

April 2008 Blog Mela

Suchitra Krishnamoorthi eats a cockroach

Anand Ramachandran gets Agassi to star in comic Henry

Krish Ashok is a Hypowebiac

Chronicus Skepticus
has a crush on her nerd boss

Domain Maximus has fun on a Goan beach

Jamshed V. Rajan takes revenge the Jammy way

Twisted DNA cooks mac-and-cheese

Jabberwock rants about U, Me aur Hum

Aditya Kulkarni learns how to avoid cutting tomatoes

Aamir Khan on being alive, but not kicking

That's all for now. The May 2008 Blog Mela returns early next month. But before leaving, do please vote for the best post in the April 2008 Blog Mela.
The best of April 2008 blog mela
Suchitra Krishnamoorthi
Anand Ramachandran
Krish Ashok
Chronicus Skepticus
Domain Maximus
Jamshed V. Rajan
Twisted DNA
Aditya Kulkarni
Aamir Khan free polls

Check out previous Blog Melas
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
February 2008
March 2008

Did you just come across a quirky, interesting or something-that-tugs-at-your-heartstrings blog? If yes, feel free to nominate it for the May Blog Mela being hosted here on June 2

Blog Mela Rules
- Posts must have been written by Indians or have an Indian angle
- Only posts published between 1-31 May, 2008 would be accepted
- If possible, please nominate individual posts, not the whole blog
- Feel free to nominate something you have written. Immodesty appreciated
- You can nominate as many blog posts as you like - provided you really like them
- Only nominations received before midnight on June 1 stand a chance to be featured on the Top 10 list
- No, you don't get any moolah for nominating or getting featured in the Blog Mela. That could change once I am a millionaire but for now you'll just have to bear with me
- Yours truly reserves the right to nominate good posts which you ignore

How to Nominate
- Leave a comment on this post OR better still - Mail me at toeknee (at) gmail (dot) com

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