Thursday, 22 November 2007

This article makes me even more convinced that I've somehow wandered into a dystopic alternative world.

In gist, a big muckety professor of Education from the Oosa is telling an international conference on nursery schooling that teaching children under 7 to read is too much, too soon, and will probably put them off reading for life. While I realise I'm a bit exceptional in exactly how early I became literate, I did start learning to read before I was 5, and the habit has sort of stuck. 5 seems like as good an age as any to start learning to read, and I'm not sure why this person wants to extend our pre-literate years in an era where, despite declining book reading, literary itself is becoming an increasingly important tool.

She says that starting to teach children to read too early can have an especially bad impact on boys, and her explanation makes me suspect what the real cause is: 'For most boys they are growing up in cultures where they are expected to be assertive and active. In instruction they are passive and receptive and reactive, and in the long term that accounts for the negative effects. In most cultures girls tend to put up with instruction earlier and better'.

The problem, I think, is not developmental but cultural. Educationists need to respond to this better - simply abetting a general thugging-up and dumbing-down of society isn't quite the role of an educator. What these learned people need to do is find ways to combat this culturally-imposed stunting of the ability to learn.

But then, I've always believed that education is what helps us to transcend our culture, and that one's culture is something to be valued, but kept at a distance and selectively drawn from on a rational basis.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The BJP/JD(U) alliance in Karnataka has fallen apart again, which should come as no surprise to anyone. In the wake of this predictable (but still appreciated) collapse, the BJP's Yedyurrappa, the fellow who spent last week visiting temples and doing nothing of an official nature while waiting for his mandate, is convinced that he's been hoodooed! In the wake of his government's collapse, he told journalists that he's the victim of evil arcane schemes by Gowda and son: “I am aware of the black magic that Gowda and his sons are performing... a plan has been hatched to finish me off. Many of his opponents have suffered this fate in the past and I could be the latest victim of Gowda’s black magic”.

He's writing a will and is going to inform the home department that, if he dies, the world should know that They Used Dark Forces.

This man is so far off his rocker that he's lying on the floor wearing a tin-foil hat and receiving instructions from Martians through his dental implants. Oh wait, that's right, we already knew that - he's got religion! No big surprise then, move along people, nothing to see here. Just the mad leading the stupid (or being prevented from doing so by the greedy.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Can a man be less self-aware and still remember to breathe?

In what seems to have been a completely un-ironic regurgitation of corporate buzzwords, Rahul Gandhi has enjoined the Congress (I) to be a more 'meritocratic' organisation.

This doesn't even need a punchline.

Also, I need to recant. A few weeks back, I was all agog about Scott Lynch, saying that his second novel was every bit the supremely entertaining and satisfying adventure yarn that his debut was. Well, I may have spoken too soon. Now that I've finished the damn thing, I have to say it takes a turn into lachrymose melodrama far too often, repeats plot points from the first book without sustaining the same air of dark, fantastic menace, and sadly, his flair for witty dialogue is starting to falter and sink to Eddings-like levels of 'everyone talks the same and makes the same kind of joke, kind of'. Maybe he's trying for a film deal? Anyway, Red Sails Under Red Skies (which could easily have been called Red Sails Over Red Seas - think about it) is only half as good as The Lies Of Locke Lamorra. Number three's going to be the decider.

In other news, the new Robert Plant album, the one with that hillbilly woman, is really boring. Strictly for the over-50 set and everyone who reads and obeys music reviews in the mainstream press (the same people who are calling Britney Spears' latest an 'artistic triumph'). Album of the year? Regurgitated country-blues chops, far too much compression + reverb on anodyne guitars and two voices singing together in a variety of simplistic ways does not make for a musical masterpiece. Has anyone ever noticed how, when Plant and Kraus sing in unison the cumulative result is to sound just like a somewhat less smarmy Don Henley? Not the happiest shade to invoke. Plant, and Page, should both just cut their losses and ask John Paul Jones if he'll let them join their band.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Just received: the cheque for my first professional fiction sale.

In celebration, here's an awesome Black Sabbath poster:

Friday, 16 November 2007

You know, people, I'm fine with being a primate (and Honourary Feline because I sleep so much, my cats inform me) but I sure as hell don't feel proud of being a human most of the time. Least of all today.

Not when a gang rape victim is being sentenced to 200 lashes and 6 months' imprisonment for being in the company of men she wasn't related to. (Link)

Not when women, children and an orangutan were found being kept in slavery in a 'protitute village'. (Link)

Seriously, just call it off, okay? There is no benign entity in the cosmos that made us all and has a masterplan that's worth getting behind. If you think there is, you might as well rip your own head off and use your cranium as an ashtray, because it certainly isn't doing anything useful right now.

And, yes, fooey. And fie.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

“I feel guilty that ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ led to ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘The Omen,’” he told The Los Angeles Times in 2002. “A whole generation has been exposed, has more belief in Satan. I don’t believe in Satan. And I feel that the strong fundamentalism we have would not be as strong if there hadn’t been so many of these books.”

“Of course,” Mr. Levin added, “I didn’t send back any of the royalty checks.”

Ira Levin is no more.

I rank him alongside Richard Matheson as a canny craftsman of unease. Without an especially notable prose style, or indeed any literary pretensions at all, he mined that lucrative point at which the populist and the primal merge, spinning out archetypal fears from the mundane stuff of contemporary life. It's no surprise that his books have made for so many popular film adaptations - to correct the cause-and-effect citation Levin wrongly proposes in the above quote, he seems to have sensed a deep vein of darkness running beneath the surface of his culture long before it became as overt as it is today.

Monday, 12 November 2007

...The Flower Beneath The Foot by Ronald Firbank. A strange book, apparently an influence on Waugh's Black Mischief, but as far from Waugh as you can get in some ways. It's as if one of ER Eddisson's post-Ouroboros ponderances about archetypes and exemplars afoot in Zimimavia were to be taken over by Wilde, brought back down to earth and made stranger, funnier, more subversive and more resonant in the process. I almost wrote that it is like the novel Huysmans' Des Esseintes would write, but Firbank was both more knowing and more self-aware than that tragicomic synsesthete.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Yesterday, the power supply was cut from 9 AM to 6 PM in several parts of town. I'm not going to launch into a diatribe against the BESCOM at this point, richly though they may deserve it. Instead, I'd like to send special aah fooeys from the darkness to the Times Of India, who, in their headline about this power outage show exactly which sections of the great unwashed masses they actually give a fuck about: 'Black Sunday for traders, shoppers'.

That's right. On a sunday when ordinary people with no special desire to buy or sell anything were all inconvenienced on their day off, the Times' wizened little heart bleeds for the merchants and those unheeding victims of consumerism who could not make use of what the Times' correspondant calls 'peak shopping hours before Diwali'. This observation even deserves an actual exclamation point, something not deemed fit for rapes, murders and other normal activities. That's right, see it right there: 'Lights out during peak shopping hours before Diwali!' Oh horrors, I think I have the vapours! Hesu cripes, babalooey. Is it time we declared war on Diwali?

The article goes into great detail over the travails of honest merchants who could not exploit our new, shining India, where every mother is a godess and no child is left to starve, and its enthusiasm for shopping. Here's just one of 4 quotes from these good gents: ' “It kills our Diwali business. So much has been spent on decorating the road, and a power cut is disappointing. We opened shops at 10.30 am and waited till 6.30 pm before power resumed,” said Sunit Gulrajani, who owns a camera shop. '

Aww, man. Cry me a fucking river, Gul.

Only at the very end of this disgusting little front-page upchucking do the good folk at ToI choose to notice that people outside the buy-and-sell cycle might have been impacted:

Capt M B S Gopal, a resident of Indiranagar, said: “Without power, we cannot pump water from the underground tank in our house and a power cut like this affects life on a Sunday that should see us relaxing.”

Gosh. Thanks for giving the little people a voice, ToI! Thanks for showing that in between toning down soft-porn photo shoots of starlets for family entertainment in the Bangalore Times supplements and listing the names of each Page Three Impersonality pictured in your society pages you still have your fingers on the pulse of the common man. You know, that little fellow with the funny jacket RK Laxman still finds to doodle about in your cartoon section.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

once again, FOOEY

We're quick to analyse and celebrate when our Sensex hits new highs.

Our elected representatives hasten to reassure an anxious nation when the Sensex plummets again.

India is the 24th hungriest country in the world out of 118 countries covered by the Global Hunger Index - behind Ethiopia, even, and the people of our nation neither need nor receive any sort of reassurance. The poor have always starved to death in sullen silence in India - why let them break with a historical tradition? After all tradition is what our glorious national identity is all about.

Hell yeahs to this article, which is basically this same rant as presented by a far more well-informed person.