Thursday 27 May 2004

Hey, This Used To Be A Geek Thing!

Back in the Stone Age when I started Kitabkhana, blogging was the nerdy, slightly disreputable, amiably seedy activity of choice. You blogged because you were bored, or you were trying to brush up your HTML skills, or because you were sick of the airhead news presented by the mainstream media. Or, in my case, you blogged because a) you needed somewhere to dump the links you wanted to return to some day and b) because it provided the illusion of anonymity and novelty that accompanied the early days of the Internet. It was a nostalgia thing. And bloggers, we were the Good Guys. We had no audiences, no ads, no money, sometimes no jobs. We flaunted our independence, we let it all hang out. It didn't really matter who got more hits, or who was more equal than the others.
Then it all began to change. People did articles on the blogging phenomenon, and the beginning of the end of the blogging phenomenon, and perversely reassuring pieces on how geeky the blogosphere still remains (it's so geeky that we use words like "geeky" and "blogosphere"). And now, blogs are Trendy. (This doesn't mean me, with the kind of audience over at Kk that is euphemistically described as "small but dedicated"--it means them, and them, and them, and of course them, and (yeah Maudie!) She Who Must Be Read.
Now this profile of the man who runs Gawker makes him sound as Cool New Corporate Flavour of The Month as any piece written about any media/ publishing big hitter. There's a piece about bloggers with book contracts (this has upset some bloggers, who are sensibly waiting to finish writing their books before signing pieces of paper, and who really didn't want the attention). And (how much more mainstream can you get?) there's this piece about People Who Blog Too Much.
The Babu isn't sure what's more depressing than this: to learn that his tiny attempt to be part of the underbelly of something or the other has failed as he (and Zigzackly) are dragged kicking and screaming into the mainstream, or to know that even when the mainstream decided to tickle the underbelly into emerging into the light, the little itchy spot it missed was, sigh, the Babu's blog.

The Man Who Would Be King

"The first American in Afghanistan" is not the phrase that comes to my mind when I think of Josiah Harlan--one of the finest specimens of the rogue, rascal and freebooter there ever was--but then I'm always behind the times. George Macdonald Fraser had a wicked sketch of Harlan in Flashman and the Mountain of Light, where the good doctor did a cameo as a man who played both sides false, in style.

Calling Lewis Carroll!

A giant three-tiered mushroom which measures a metre across and was found in the tropical forests of the Republic of Congo has left experts in the capital Brazzaville scratching their heads. "It's the first time we've ever seen a mushroom like this so it's difficult for us to classify. But we are going to determine what it is scientifically," Pierre Botaba, head of Congo's veterinary and zoology centre, told reporters on Thursday.
They didn't mention if it had a caterpillar on it.

Tuesday 25 May 2004

Burgering Off

Also known as "why you don't want fries with that". Morgan Spurlock says he "felt disgusting" as he stuck to his script, which required him to eat three meals at McDonald's every day for a month. But the good souls over at The Onion dreamed up an even worse alternative scenario: want lunch, get a prescription.

And Number One on the Wishlist is...

I'm late with this one and very untrendy too: after a certain age, confessing that you still love Linus, Lucy and gang is like hanging on to your stuffed toy collection. All the same, this is what I want for my birthday. It goes perfectly with the tattered Snoopy-as-the-Red Baron poster we handmade for a school festival that I've saved all these years. Good grief. I'm a sap, Charlie Brown.

Sontag on the Abu Ghraib pictures

"Words alter, words add, words subtract. It was the strenuous avoidance of the word 'genocide' while some 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda were being slaughtered, over a few weeks' time, by their Hutu neighbors 10 years ago that indicated the American government had no intention of doing anything. To refuse to call what took place in Abu Ghraib -- and what has taken place elsewhere in Iraq and in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay -- by its true name, torture, is as outrageous as the refusal to call the Rwandan genocide a genocide."
Susan Sontag analyses the postcards from Abu Ghraib in detail:
"There is more and more recording of what people do, by themselves. At least or especially in America, Andy Warhol's ideal of filming real events in real time -- life isn't edited, why should its record be edited? -- has become a norm for countless Webcasts, in which people record their day, each in his or her own reality show...
An erotic life is, for more and more people, that which can be captured in digital photographs and on video. And perhaps the torture is more attractive, as something to record, when it has a sexual component. ... [Most] of the pictures seem part of a larger confluence of torture and pornography: a young woman leading a naked man around on a leash is classic dominatrix imagery. And you wonder how much of the sexual tortures inflicted on the inmates of Abu Ghraib was inspired by the vast repertory of pornographic imagery available on the Internet -- and which ordinary people, by sending out Webcasts of themselves, try to emulate."

Send in the Clones

"A Japanese bull famous for siring more than 350,000 offspring now also holds the distinction of being the first large mammal to have two generations of clones." And researchers are discovering that the second generation clone appears to be quite fertile, in contrast to the first. Steak just got a whole lot stranger.

Who Wrote You?

Jane Austen
Jane Austen wrote you. You are extremely aware of
the power of a single word.

Which Author's Fiction are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

It's okay. On my second try, I was rewritten by Flannery O'Connor.

Saturday 22 May 2004


Fighting robots are here, sort of. Look at the picture carefully: "Honey, they shrunk Russell Crowe..."

Jhumpa Lahiri...

...has a short story out in the New Yorker. She can over-explain the Bengali ethos (hey, I'm the Babu, I'm supposed to complain) but I love it when she focuses on the right, evocative detail: "He noticed the two or three safety pins she wore fastened to the thin gold bangles that were behind the red and white ones, which she would use to replace a missing hook on a blouse or to draw a string through a petticoat at a moment’s notice, a practice he associated strictly with his mother and sisters and aunts in Calcutta."

It's Only Rock 'n' Roll But We (Still) Like It

* Nick Hornby has seen the future, and it's bleak: "It's hard not to think about one's age and how it relates to rock music. I just turned 47, and with each passing year it becomes harder not to wonder whether I should be listening to something that is still thought of as more age appropriate — jazz, folk, classical, opera, funeral marches, the usual suspects. You've heard the arguments a million times: most rock music is made by the young, for the young, about being young, and if you're not young and you still listen to it, then you should be ashamed of yourself." Hmmm. If the Strolling Bones can still drag their sorry asses across the world to do live concerts, I'm showing up, arthritis in my knee joints notwithstanding.

Thursday 20 May 2004

Monkeys use brainpower to direct robot arm...

...and why do I get the strange feeling that the first thing the simians ordered the robot arm to do was groom for head lice?

June 8, I have a date with Venus

"On June 8, people in the right places on Earth will be able to see Venus move across the face of the Sun in a kind of minieclipse that is visible twice every century or so. The last such occurrence, called a transit of Venus, was in 1882.
Location is everything, particularly when trying to witness celestial events. The entire transit will be visible in Europe, most of Africa, the Mideast and most of Asia. The unlucky regions of the globe where the event occurs at night, and is unviewable, include western North America, including most of the United States west of the Rockies; southern Chile and Argentina; Hawaii; and New Zealand."
Sometimes it's good to be in the Third World.

Get thee offline, Satan

Hmm. This one's in the category of "problems the priest in The Exorcist never had to deal with".

Bah Humbug

Mark Montford mourns the death of the anonymous call: "A sentimental farewell to a potent but little-celebrated facet of love and lust and youth, one that vanished almost instantly from the culture, as technology races forth and devours everything in its wake at such a rate we can't even log it all, much less understand how to use it or how weirdly it's mutating our interactions."
What he's getting all teary-eyed about is the kind of sweet yearning Jeffrey Eugenides recorded in The Virgin Suicides, where a bunch of boys exchange wordless conversation with the Lisbon sisters:
"Holding the phone to one of Mr Larson's speakers, we played the song that most thoroughly communicated our feelings to the Lisbon girls. We can't remember the song's title now... We do, however, recall the essential sentiments, which spoke of hard days, long nights, a man waiting outside a broken telephone booth hoping it would somehow ring, and rain, and rainbows."
The Lisbon girls return the call with their own song: "The lyrics might have been diary entries the girls whispered into our ears. Though it wasn't their voices we heard, the song conjured their images more vividly than ever."
This might just be crosscultural tangled wires, but things were somewhat different in the North Indian heartland. My sister received a few sweet symphonies of silent teenage longing, but most of the time what she and other women friends got were the groaners, the grunters, the muttering perverts, the flotsam and jetsam dialling from a place where the voice of a woman, any woman, was an invitation to spew indecent and often anatomically impossible suggestions across the looping black wires of Delhi's telephones. Sure I'll join Montford in his mourning. I'll even organise the funeral, and I'll be happy to provide a few dead perves for the occasion.

Tenants: Zigzackly versus Ms Sonia Gandhi

I'll be guest blogging, much to my amazement--what, Zig created this fine site only to hand it over to Hurree Babu, fondly known to his friends as the Demolition Army?--until the one true owner of this blog surfaces. Zigzackly's been offline for ages because he's in the middle of shifting house in Mumbai. It's an onerous task, but he now has a balcony with a view that's perfect. (All he needs is one of these babes and one of these babies, and he's achieved nirvana.) At least Mumbai's landlords are willing to rent a house to him; according to a certain xenophobic politico, true nationalists wouldn't have Mrs Gandhi as a tenant. Sheesh. Grow up, Modi.