Sunday, December 30, 2007

Remembering Benazir Bhutto

Only a naive person would believe Benazir Bhutto stood for a truly liberal democracy in Pakistan. Even liberals and left-wingers in India, which has historically had a larger and politically more active middle class, are frequently utterly elitist. A journalist widely revered for his concern about India's poorest casually and gratuitously advised me in 1997 not to buy a laptop as my first computer. It was 1997, when only rich people had computers, and even they didn't have two. And this guy had only just met me, and couldn't possibly have any idea whether I was from a wealthy background or not (the answer is NOT).

Anyhow, back to Benazir, whose election campaign in the late '80s gave a great fillip to our piracy industry - I remember seeing pirate tapes of her election songs selling real cheap on the railway bridge in the Mumbai suburb where I lived then. I remember her accent, all Anglicized like any number of people I can think of, who did their A Levels in Pakistan, or went to one of the schools here in India that the Brits built to hide their bastards from the eyes of "the natives", and where rich Indians have been sending their Coca-Cola-drinking kids ever since. The kind of change that those kids have grown up to support is the kind of change Benazir stood for - the outer husk was liberal, but the kernel, well, the kernel was nothing, so long as they wouldn't have less than they had now. You couldn't really say the kernel was status quoist - it wanted more for the poor, but more than that, it wanted not-less for the A Level types.

Far more eloquent than anything I could write is this piece by William Dalrymple in The Guardian. Of course, he also knew Benazir better than I!

Friday, December 28, 2007

A failure of the imagination

I just had to respond to a somewhat naive post on Wonkette, arguing (thoughtfully, not crassly) that seeing graphic images of the carnage around Benazir Bhutto's assassination would make the event seem more real to people. In terms of media exposure and how literally we take what we see on screen, we're way past My Lai. Here's my response to the Wonkette article:

Interesting and thoughtfully written. But I disagree that seeing graphic photos makes Pakistan's situation more real. Human beings do possess the mental faculties to imagine, without having everything spelled out or depicted literally. Mere jpegs of blood and entrails strewn in a Rawalpindi street are unlikely to make American individuals understand better what their votes, jokes, "aid", consumption of goods, etc. have brought to bear on Pakistan, much less help mitigate the crushing damage done over decades to the struggle for democracy in Pakistan. Revelations and epiphanies upon seeing jpeg "icons" are the stuff of religious stories, not global geopolitics and political empathy.

I think one reason we have this schizophrenia you describe so eloquently (watching fake violence, but avoiding watching real violence) in the first place is the absence of empathy. And we lack empathy at least in part because we don't take the time to read fiction. I've no great sociological thesis here, but I know that in my life, reading about characters, caring about what happens to them, imagining the constraints they are feeling, was and still is a tremendously formative influence. I also know that Hannah Arendt partly attributed the banality of evil to the failure of the imagination.

Are we all Eichmanns, that we fail to imagine, and "need" graphic images to bludgeon into our brains the effects our actions have on others? Frightening thought.

Sorry, no image this time. Only words.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The real meaning of Christmas

Ugly illustration source:

Front page headline in today's Mumbai Samachar print edition says "Christmas present" in large red letters. The article underneath says the Sensex jumped 692 points on Christmas eve, increasing shareholders' fortunes by Rs. 1.97 lakh crore (that's Rs 1,970,000,000,000, or US $50 billion). Here's the web version of the article. None of that multiculturalism nonsense for the Hindu-Gujarati-dominated Dalal Street -- thou shalt have no gods before money.

On a separate but not entirely unrelated note, the newspaper also reported that Narendra Modi said with a tear in his eye that no child can grow bigger than its mother (meaning he is not bigger than the BJP). Well, he can afford to say that now, because he is. Hope he trips over a garland and breaks his neck.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What would you like for Christmas?

Photo source:

  • A 225-lb. elk carcass, butchered to your specifications - $1,225
  • Whole rabbit carcass, $38.50
  • A subscription to Feathered Warrior (specialty magazine for cockfighting enthusiasts), $36
  • The Relaxman Relaxation Capsule. (Well, you just have to read this to find out what that is, and what it costs!)

Monday, December 10, 2007


Photo source:

Today was human rights day. Maybe Koko's got a lesson to teach us "more evolved" people?

Here's Koko's website.

At a later date, I'll post something I've begun thinking about lately, thanks to an article on notions of nationhood by Swarupa Gupta, about the language of duties, as opposed to the language of rights. Maybe.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Dirty, dirty Dow

An old Daily Show with Jon Stewart clip about the Dow Chemical-Union Carbide merger. Gotta love Jon Stewart. Thanks to Ryan for dredging this up!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Where do turkeys come from?

The hapless bird whose least favorite celebration this must be has an identity crisis: is it from North America, Peru, India, Ethiopia, or Turkey?

As for Thanksgiving itself, it has developed an identity crisis of its own, in true American style: is it a religious festival or not?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Nicht löschbares Feuer (inextinguishable fire)

Oh, oh, oh, I found Harun Farocki's entire film "Inextinguishable Fire" online! It was not distributed in the US when it was made (1969), and apparently it's still very hard to borrow or steal a copy (didn't really try to buy one; couldn't afford it). I had a lot of trouble finding a preview copy in the US (I wanted to show it to my class when discussing the Vietnam war). I tracked down a VHS copy, don't remember how, but couldn't use it anyway, because it had no subtitles! I barely understood the commentary myself, and I daresay I have more German than most of my students.

Here's a link to watch it online, if you're curious about who created horrible weapons of mass destruction.

Here's a link to an interview with Farocki, in which he responds to questions about Jill Godmilow's remake of his film.

And here's another interview with Farocki and Godmilow.

What's wrong with American academia

Left: Jennifer Harris, who sued Penn State for racial and sexual discrimination in 2005. Image source and story: USA Today

Like corporations and families, universities can be pretty sick places. Not that everything is wrong, but I often think we're in the twilight of US academia. Perhaps the future will belong to the best universities and institutes of Australia, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere.
I'm just starting off a list here. Will add future posts as more reasons occur to me.
With regard to discrimination and intolerance, liberals need not feel smug. Many of them are equally culpable in the wholesale silencing and bullying of those whose views don't match their own. Others are too busy forwarding outraged emails against this, that, and the other to innumerable listserves to actually take a stand or lobby for anything on their own campus. Too many theoretical feminists, theoretical queers, and theoretical postcolonialists out there. Multiculturalism is greatly appreciated in American academia--but it's not recognized unless it's expressed in the American idiom, accompanied by the right amount of scripted enthusiastic interest in everyone you're introduced to. Obviously, it's harder to recognize what you're saying as multiculturalism if you wear a distracting headscarf or shalwar-kameez while doing it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Haunted by Bhul Bhulaiya

absolutely no getting away from this damn song in Mumbai. It played at least a million times at Ra the one evening I was there, and it's on every FM station. I don't have a radio, but I hear it in cabs, autorickshaws, and the company cars that drop us home at night. The other day I was on the 1 Ltd. bus late at night, and there was a dude three seats behind me, playing it on his damn FM cellphone. Bet he thought he was doing a good deed by sharing it with the whole damn bus.

So... here it is. I'm no connoisseur, but I think it's a pretty poorly directed video, so don't be disappointed. The sound and image quality isn't so great either -- someone's pirating skills are obviously not up to scratch :) (the film is in the theaters still).

Update from the future: The above video has been removed due to some violation or other (What? Copyright violations on the internet?? Who'da thunk it!!), so here's a link to a fresh one, if you're reeeeeally interested.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Indian Chinesisms

A certain amount of fakery going on in these names:
Oh Ya - soya sauce brand (the manufacturer is Sil / Marico)
Ya Hoo - Chinese takeaway near Khar Subway
Ching Ki Shak - Chinese restaurant or takeaway, can't remember location
All of the above were seen around Mumbai.

For the record, I don't think Indian Chinese food is fakery in the sense of trying to pass off something as what it's not; it's just a creative adaptation to a different cultural context, like, er... like Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet :P

Americanisms that are just plain wrong English

Drive-thru lawyer, Oswego, Illinois.
Photo source:

These are things I've heard even educated people say, not just redneckspeak:
  • "Catch up to", instead of catch up with
  • "Waiting on", instead of waiting for. You wait on someone when you fetch them food, beverages, and dessert.
  • "Hat", even for a baseball cap
  • "Cup", even for a whacking great 16 oz mug
  • "That" instead of "who" -- people "that" use bad grammar really "tick me off"
  • "Tick someone off" for when you piss them off. In English English, you "tick someone off" by giving them a piece of your mind, putting them in their place, that sort of thing.
  • "Off of", as in "I copied this off of the innernet", when you really just copied it off the internet.
  • "Innernet", "twenny" and all those other slurs. The lives of millions of T's in the middle of words are in vain in America. They either get substituted by a slurry "d" sound, or vanish altogether. And the poor "d" in "wonderful" has no hope at all -- it is its fate to vanish.
  • "Transportation". Syllables added for no reason. "Transport" works just fine.
  • "Preventative". Another useless syllable. Should we prevent disaster, or preventate it?
  • "Good on you" instead of good for you, when you express approval or appreciation of someone's actions.
  • Dropping "to be", e.g. "My car needs fixed". I've known educated people to write like this. Seems to be a Pennsylvania thing, or maybe Ohio as well.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

America, America, American War Paar Da

Forwarded by a friend. Some images are disturbing, but the dance, the accent -- funnee! Yennjai:

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Really special

Damn, I can't embed the video for this song. Anyone wants to give me a reeeeeelly special present, I'd like tickets to a Neville Brothers concert sometime.

You can also hear "Yellow Moon" at the Neville Brothers' website, but personally I prefer the live version on YouTube, linked above.

Photo source:

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tragic result of demand for cheap clothes

From an investigative report on Gap, in the Guardian:

'I was bought from my parents' village in [the northern state of] Bihar and taken to New Delhi by train,' he says. 'The men came looking for us in July. They had loudspeakers in the back of a car and told my parents that, if they sent me to work in the city, they won't have to work in the farms. My father was paid a fee for me and I was brought down with 40 other children. The journey took 30 hours and we weren't fed. I've been told I have to work off the fee the owner paid for me so I can go home, but I am working for free. I am a shaagird [a pupil]. The supervisor has told me because I am learning I don't get paid. It has been like this for four months.'

The derelict industrial unit in which Amitosh and half a dozen other children are working is smeared in filth, the corridors flowing with excrement from a flooded toilet.

Behind the youngsters huge piles of garments labelled Gap - complete with serial numbers for a new line that Gap concedes it has ordered for sale later in the year - lie completed in polythene sacks, with official packaging labels, all for export to Europe and the United States in time for Christmas...

In recent years Gap has made efforts to rebrand itself as a leader in ethical and socially responsible manufacturing, after previously being criticised for practices including the use of child labour.

With annual revenues of more than £8bn and endorsements from Madonna and Sex and The City star Sarah Jessica Parker, Gap has arguably become the most successful brand in high-street fashion. The latest face of the firm's advertising is the singer Joss Stone.

Founded in San Francisco in 1969 by Donald Fisher, now one of America's wealthiest businessmen, Gap operates more than 3,000 stores and franchises across the world. In Britain Gap, babyGap and GapKids are very successful, their own-brand jeans alone outselling their retail rivals' lines by three to one.

Last year, the company embarked on a huge advertising campaign surrounding 'Product Red', a charitable trust for Africa founded by the U2 singer Bono and backed by celebrities including Hollywood star Don Cheadle, singers Lenny Kravitz and Mary J Blige, Steven Spielberg and Penelope Cruz. As part of the fundraising endeavour, Gap launched a new, limited collection of clothing and accessories for men and women with Product Red branding, the profits from which are being channelled towards fighting Aids in the Third World.

On its website the company states that all individuals who work in garment factories deserve to be treated with dignity and are entitled to safe and fair working conditions and not since 2000, when a BBC Panorama investigation exposed the firm's working practices in Cambodia, have children been associated with the production of their brand.

Gap has huge contracts in India, which boasts one of the world's fastest-growing economies. But over the past decade, India has also become the world capital for child labour. According to the UN, child labour contributes an estimated 20 per cent of India's gross national product with 55 million children aged from five to 14 employed across the business and domestic sectors.

...'This may not be what they want to hear as they pull off fresh clothes from clean racks in stores but shoppers in the West should be thinking "Why am I only paying £30 for a hand-embroidered top. Who made it for such little cost? Is this top stained with a child's sweat?" That's what they need to ask themselves.' [saysBhuwan Ribhu, a Delhi lawyer and activist for the Global March Against Child Labour]

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How middle-class is the green movement?

Photo of Van Jones. Source: Ella Baker Center

I'm not a big Thomas Friedman fan, but his column today is interesting. It's about Van Jones, Yale law graduate and head of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California, which helps kids avoid jail and secure jobs, trying to bring America's underclass into the green movement.

“We need a different on-ramp” for people from disadvantaged communities, says Mr. Jones. “The leaders of the climate establishment came in through one door and now they want to squeeze everyone through that same door. It’s not going to work. If we want to have a broad-based environmental movement, we need more entry points.”

...One thing spurring him in this project, he explained, was the way that the big oil companies bought ads in black-owned newspapers in California in 2006 showing an African-American woman filling her gas tank with a horrified look at the pump price. The ads...tried to scare African-Americans into thinking that the tax on the companies would be passed on at the pump.

...Using his little center in Oakland, Mr. Jones has been on a crusade to help underprivileged African-Americans and other disadvantaged communities understand why they would be the biggest beneficiaries of a greener America. It’s about jobs. The more government requires buildings to be more energy efficient, the more work there will be retrofitting buildings all across America with solar panels, insulation and other weatherizing materials. Those are manual-labor jobs that can’t be outsourced.

...“You can’t take a building you want to weatherize, put it on a ship to China and then have them do it and send it back,” said Mr. Jones. “So we are going to have to put people to work in this country — weatherizing millions of buildings, putting up solar panels, constructing wind farms. Those green-collar jobs can provide a pathway out of poverty for someone who has not gone to college.”

Let’s tell our disaffected youth: “You can make more money if you put down that handgun and pick up a caulk gun.”

...The blue-collar, stepping-stone, manufacturing jobs are leaving. And they’re not being replaced by anything. So you have this whole generation of young blacks who are basically in economic free fall.” Green-collar retrofitting jobs are a great way to catch them.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

History is a weapon

History Is A Weapon
Today I visited the website of Linda Martín Alcoff, whose work I read a bit at Syracuse University, and with whom I wish I'd been able to take a class (I can't remember why I didn't, probably a schedule conflict). On her website, I found a link to this website, which seems interesting! (I mean the content of course, but also design). Intro page text:

History isn't what happened, but a story of what happened. And there are always

different versions, different stories, about the same events. One version might revolve mainly around a specific set of facts while another version might minimize them or not include them at all.

Like stories, each of these different versions of history contain different lessons. Some histories tell us that our leaders, at least, have always tried to do right for everyone. Others remark that the emperors don't have the slaves' best interests at

heart. Some teach us that this is both what has always been and what always will be. Others counsel that we shouldn't mistake transient dominance for intrinsic superiority. Lastly, some histories paint a picture where only the elites have the power to change the world, while others point out that social change is rarely commanded from the top down.

Regardless of the value of these many lessons, History isn't what happened, but the stories of what happened and the lessons these stories include. The very selection of

which histories to teach in a society shapes our view of how what is came to be and, in turn, what we understand as possible. This choice of which history to teach can never be "neutral" or "objective." Those who choose, either following a set agenda or guided by hidden prejudices, serve their interests. Their interests could be to continue this world as it now stands or to make a new world.

We cannot simply be passive. We must choose whose interests are best: those who

want to keep things going as they are or those who want to work to make a better world. If we choose the latter, we must seek out the tools we will need. History is just one tool to shape our understanding of our world. And every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

How not to use technology

I can't believe people would be so ridiculous as to consider virtual office hours as a serious option for a non-online course. When students are paying hundreds of dollars per credit, they have the right to face-to-face time. And when professors are getting paid to teach, they are obliged to interact with students. And if they can't stand to do this in person, they should do their students a favor and take up another profession. Just my humble opinion. Below, an excerpt from a report in the Daily Collegian, followed by excerpts from Daniel Goleman's article in The New York Times:

Web chat can't replace office visit

Using "virtual office hours" is the new trend in academia nationwide and at Penn State.

Being able to ask a professor or teaching assistant questions while sitting at work or while doing homework is a major time-saver.

But, while it is technologically savvy, it reduces some feedback that can only be achieved face-to-face.

...It would be nearly impossible to have a dialogue of feedback about a term paper, a homework assignment or an upcoming exam via a chat room.

...Maybe, it's old-fashioned, but there's something important about talking to a professor in person -- an understanding that no emoticon can express.

Why email often makes things worse -- excerpt from a New York Times report:

Email is easy to write (and to misread) neuroscience, the study of what happens in the brains of people as they interact. New findings have uncovered a design flaw at the interface where the brain encounters a computer screen: there are no online channels for the multiple signals the brain uses to calibrate emotions.

Face-to-face interaction, by contrast, is information-rich. We interpret what people say to us not only from their tone and facial expressions, but also from their body language and pacing, as well as their synchronization with what we do and say.

Most crucially, the brain’s social circuitry mimics in our neurons what’s happening in the other person’s brain, keeping us on the same wavelength emotionally. This neural dance creates an instant rapport that arises from an enormous number of parallel information processors, all working instantaneously and out of our awareness.

In contrast to a phone call or talking in person, e-mail can be emotionally impoverished when it comes to nonverbal messages that add nuance and valence to our words. The typed words are denuded of the rich emotional context we convey in person or over the phone.

Image source: The New York Times

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The word: catastrophe

Stephen Colbert explains why the US should attack North Korea at once -- to "snatch military success from the jaws of diplomatic victory". Because otherwise, "this triumph of diplomacy could make people think that diplomacy can triumph."

As Colbert so rightly observes, "Back in 2003 we could have tried one of these cash-for-peace negotiations with Iraq, but we went first class. We went with a full-scale invasion. Half a trillion dollars."

Immediate invasion of North Korea by America "might make might look right".

Friday, October 5, 2007

China's future drying up

Excerpts from a frightening report in The New York Times about a week ago:
SHIJIAZHUANG, China - ...The underground water table is sinking about four feet a year. Municipal wells have already drained two-thirds of the local groundwater.

...A new upscale housing development is advertising waterfront property on lakes filled with pumped groundwater. Another half-built complex, the Arc de Royal, is rising above one of the lowest points in the city’s water table.

“People who are buying apartments aren’t thinking about whether there will be water in the future,” said Zhang Zhongmin, who has tried for 20 years to raise public awareness about the city’s dire water situation....

For three decades, water has been indispensable in sustaining the rollicking economic expansion that has made China a world power. Now, China’s galloping, often wasteful style of economic growth is pushing the country toward a water crisis. Water pollution is rampant nationwide, while water scarcity has worsened... deals cannot solve water problems. Water usage in China has quintupled since 1949, and leaders will increasingly face tough political choices as cities, industry and farming compete for a finite and unbalanced water supply.

...The Communist Party, leery of depending on imports to feed the country, has long insisted on grain self-sufficiency. But growing so much grain consumes huge amounts of underground water...

the immediate challenge is the prosaic task of forcing the world’s most dynamic economy to conserve and protect clean water. Water pollution is so widespread that regulators say a major incident occurs every other day....

By the 1970s, studies show, the water table was already falling. Then Mao’s death and the introduction of market-driven economic reforms spurred a farming renaissance. Production soared, and rural incomes rose. The water table kept falling, further drying out wetlands and rivers....

“Maybe we are like America in the 1920s and 1930s,” he said. “We’re building the country.”

China’s disadvantage, compared with the United States, is that it has a smaller water supply yet almost five times as many people. China has about 7 percent of the world’s water resources and roughly 20 percent of its population.

For years, Chinese officials thought irrigation efficiency was the answer for reversing groundwater declines. Eloise Kendy, a hydrology expert with The Nature Conservancy who has studied the North China Plain, said that farmers had made improvements but that the water table had kept sinking. Ms. Kendy said the spilled water previously considered “wasted” had actually soaked into the soil and recharged the aquifer. Efficiency erased that recharge. Farmers also used efficiency gains to irrigate more land.

Ms. Kendy said scientists had discovered that the water table was dropping because of water lost by evaporation and transpiration from the soil, plants and leaves. This lost water is a major reason the water table keeps dropping, scientists say.

Farmers have no choice. They drill deeper.

...Water in Shijiazhuang, with more than 800 illegal wells, is as scarce as it is in Israel, he said. “In Israel, people regard water as more important than life itself,” he said. “In Shijiazhuang, it’s not that way. People are focused on the economy.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


I'm not a huge fan of Gloria Estefan, but I like this song.

I don't know Spanish except through song lyrics, but thought I knew enough to understand "mi cuerpo pide salsa". Well, I was wrong! According to babelfish, it translates to "my body requests sauce".

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Capitalism and shock

Photo source:

Joseph Stiglitz reviews Naomi Klein's new book in The New York Times:
“The Shock Doctrine” is Klein’s ambitious look at the economic history of the last 50 years and the rise of free-market fundamentalism around the world. “Disaster capitalism,” as she calls it, is a violent system that sometimes requires terror to do its job. Like Pol Pot proclaiming that Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge was in Year Zero, extreme capitalism loves a blank slate, often finding its opening after crises or “shocks.” For example...[t]he 2004 tsunami enabled the government of Sri Lanka to force the fishermen off beachfront property so it could be sold to hotel developers. The destruction of 9/11 allowed George W. Bush to launch a war aimed at producing a free-market Iraq.

...Klein compares radical capitalist economic policy to shock therapy administered by psychiatrists. She interviews Gail Kastner, a victim of covert C.I.A. experiments in interrogation techniques that were carried out by the scientist Ewen Cameron in the 1950s. His idea was to use electroshock therapy to break down patients. Once “complete depatterning” had been achieved, the patients could be reprogrammed. But after breaking down his “patients,” Cameron was never able to build them back up again.

...for Klein the larger lessons are clear: “Countries are shocked — by wars, terror attacks, coups d’état and natural disasters.” Then “they are shocked again — by corporations and politicians who exploit the fear and disorientation of this first shock to push through economic shock therapy.” People who “dare to resist” are shocked for a third time, “by police, soldiers and prison interrogators.”

...Klein offers an account of Milton Friedman — she calls him “the other doctor shock” — and his battle for the hearts and minds of Latin American economists and economies...

She quotes the Chilean economist Orlando Letelier on the “inner harmony” between the terror of the Pinochet regime and its free-market policies. Letelier said that Milton Friedman shared responsibility for the regime’s crimes, rejecting his argument that he was only offering “technical” advice. Letelier was killed in 1976 by a car bomb planted in Washington by Pinochet’s secret police.

One of the world’s most famous antiglobalization activists and the author of the best seller “No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies,” Klein provides a rich description of the political machinations required to force unsavory economic policies on resisting countries, and of the human toll. She paints a disturbing portrait of hubris, not only on the part of Friedman but also of those who adopted his doctrines, sometimes to pursue more corporatist objectives. It is striking to be reminded how many of the people involved in the Iraq war were involved earlier in other shameful episodes in United States foreign policy history. She draws a clear line from the torture in Latin America in the 1970s to that at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay.

Klein is not an academic and cannot be judged as one. There are many places in her book where she oversimplifies. But Friedman and the other shock therapists were also guilty of oversimplification, basing their belief in the perfection of market economies on models that assumed perfect information, perfect competition, perfect risk markets. Indeed, the case against these policies is even stronger than the one Klein makes. They were never based on solid empirical and theoretical foundations, and even as many of these policies were being pushed, academic economists were explaining the limitations of markets — for instance, whenever information is imperfect, which is to say always.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Alive...and glaring

How utterly true:
Schrödinger missed is that observation by a cat is required for a human to be truly alive."
~ dd

Image source:

Below, a relatively less philosophical problem - computing the volume of a cat:
Image source:

This cat is approximately 648 cubic inches. If you want to know how to compute a cat's volume, here's the method.

In this freedom's name...

Jon Stewart interviews John Bowe, reporter and author of Nobodies, a book about contemporary slavery and indentured servitude in America. Such exploitation produces goods not just for shady no-name companies, but also for Taco Bell, McDonalds, Carnival Cruise Lines, and other ostensibly above-board corporations -- pretty much anywhere where food is served, says Bowe.

At the end of the interview, Bowe urges viewers to Google this website; I'm saving you the trouble by posting the link:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The burqas of the West

Photo: Ann Taylor's "modern update on the classic Mary Jane", 3" heel, $118.

Students learn to dress for business settings

By Caitlin Cullerot and Ebony Martin
The Daily Collegian, Tuesday, September 25, 2007
..."Modeling for Success," an event put on to teach students what clothing is appropriate in today's work environment...

Victoria Greer, the Human Resources Manager with JP Morgan Chase, recommended that students dress for the job they want next, not for the job they have today. She also recommended that students avoid shirts that show their midriffs and cleavage as well as shorts....

Kendra Rice (freshman-nursing) agreed that the fashion show was informative. "I learned things I didn't know...I didn't know that the heels of your shoes shouldn't be so skinny," she said.

Overall, [Michael] Morgan [co-president of the Black Male Leadership Symposium and the keeper of Exchequer for Kappa Alpha Psi] said he felt the event was successful.

Needless to say, wearing an "eastern"-style burqa, or a perfectly dignified sari, or even just a headscarf, to a job interview in America would pretty much seal your fate. I've even heard black women say they are taken more seriously at interviews if they straighten their hair and color it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Friday, September 14, 2007

Not quite risen from the ashes

Went out to the oldest "mill-turned-mall" -- High Street Phoenix, formerly the Phoenix Mills -- for the first time tonight, for beer and dinner. I was expecting something that looked more like a mill (sort of the way Tate Modern still looks like the old power station). But at least in the dark (courtyard poorly lit), it looked to me like a cross between a strip mall and a maze. I feel they should have kept signage and lighting in tune with the maze/mill look, and stayed away from the strip mall look. True to Mumbai, much of it is still/again under construction and/or makeshift-looking. Just boggles my mind how no project is ever completed in Mumbai. And how we have not yet mastered the basics of landscaping and construction, so that even outside the Nine West and other fancy global stores, a simple kerb or corridor will be shabbily paved -- steps are uneven, surfaces are not aligned (there is suddenly a very low step or a "speed bump" at, say, a corner, where none should be, and the corner is preferably dark, to improve the chances of customers breaking their necks or at least pulling a hamstring), a sign pointing to the restaurant you're looking for will lead you to a creepy-looking corner (dark and under construction, of course).

I'm not saying a shopping mall should look like a modern art museum. I'm saying a building or complex must be sensitive and true to its past and present. Phoenix Mills could have been so fantastically Mumbai, but it isn't. Instead, it's Generica-meets-Lajpat Nagar.

The main entrance to the Tate Modern, the turbine hall of the old power station.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The cost of giving

Excerpts from an article by Stephanie Strom, titled The Cost of Giving: Big Gifts, Tax Breaks, and a Debate on Charity, in The New York Times. The article is part of a series called "Age of Riches", about the increasing concentration of wealth.

[Billionaire businessman Eli] Broad (rhymes with road) says his gifts provide a greater public benefit than if the money goes to taxes for the government to spend. “I believe the public benefit is significantly greater than the tax benefit an individual receives,” Mr. Broad said. “I think there’s a multiplier effect. What smart, entrepreneurial philanthropists and their foundations do is get greater value for how they invest their money than if the government were doing it.”

It is an argument made by many of the nation’s richest people. But not all of them. Take the investor William H. Gross, also a billionaire. Mr. Gross vigorously dismisses the notion that the wealthy are helping society more effectively and efficiently than government.

“When millions of people are dying of AIDS and malaria in Africa, it is hard to justify the umpteenth society gala held for the benefit of a performing arts center or an art museum,” he wrote in his investment commentary this month. “A $30 million gift to a concert hall is not philanthropy, it is a Napoleonic coronation.”

Elaborating in an interview, Mr. Gross said he did not think the public benefits from philanthropy were commensurate with the tax breaks that givers receive. “I don’t think we’re getting the bang for the buck for gifts to build football stadiums and concert halls, with all due respect to Carnegie Hall and other institutions,” he said. “I don’t think the public would vote for spending tax dollars on those things.”

The billionaires’ differing views epitomize a growing debate over what philanthropy is achieving at a time when the wealthiest Americans control a rising share of the national income and, because of sharp cuts in personal taxes, give up less to government.


A common perception of philanthropy is that one of its central purposes is to alleviate the suffering of society’s least fortunate and therefore promote greater equality, taking some of the burden off government. In exchange, the United States is one of a handful of countries to allow givers a tax deduction. In essence, the public is letting private individuals decide how to allocate money on their behalf.

What qualifies for that tax deduction has broadened over the 90 years since its creation to include everything from university golf teams to puppet theaters — even an organization established after Hurricane Katrina to help practitioners of sadomasochism obtain gear they had lost in the storm.

Roughly three-quarters of charitable gifts of $50 million and more from 2002 through March 31 went to universities, private foundations, hospitals and art museums, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Of the rest, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation accounted for half on the center’s list. That money went primarily to improve the lives of the poor in developing countries...

In contrast, few gifts of that size are made to organizations like the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and America’s Second Harvest, whose main goals are to help the poor in this country. Research shows that less than 10 percent of the money Americans give to charity addresses basic human needs, like sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry and caring for the indigent sick, and that the wealthiest typically devote an even smaller portion of their giving to such causes than everyone else.

“Donors give to organizations they are close to,” said H. Art Taylor, president and chief executive of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. “So they give to their college or university, or maybe someone close to them died of a particular disease so they make a big gift to medical research aimed at that disease. How many of the superrich have that kind of a relationship with a soup kitchen? Or a homeless shelter?”

...Like many major philanthropists, Mr. Broad said he considered such gifts an illustration of the Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” The argument is that simply taking care of the poor does nothing to eliminate poverty and that they will ultimately benefit more from efforts to, say, find cures for the diseases that afflict them or improve public education.

As for Mr. Gross, despite his uncharacteristically fiery criticism of what he calls “philanthropic ego gratification,” some of the large gifts he and his wife, Sue, have made are not so different from those made by other billionaires. He has given millions to a local hospital, for example, and for stem cell research.

And in 2005 the couple gave roughly $25 million to Duke, Mr. Gross’s alma mater.

But the Duke gift illustrates Mr. Gross’s priorities. The money is almost exclusively for scholarships.

...Warren E. Buffett also voices strong feelings about how donations are used.

When Mr. Buffett pledged $30 billion to the Gates Foundation, he included a little-noted requirement that the foundation spend each increment of the gift he hands over, in addition to its own annual legally mandated spending. If Mr. Buffett transfers $1.3 billion of stock to it, it must spend every nickel within a year.

“I wanted to make sure,” he said, “that to the extent I was providing extra money to them, it didn’t just go to build up the foundation size further but that it was put to use.”

...He does not regard his gift as charitable and expects no tax benefit from it...

The charitable deduction cost the government $40 billion in lost tax revenue last year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, more than the government spends altogether on managing public lands, protecting the environment and developing new energy sources.

Rob Reich, an assistant professor of political science and ethics in society at Stanford, goes so far as to say that the tax code promotes inequities through the breaks it provides for charitable giving...

Legislators, regulators and others are asking more questions about exactly what charities do with the money they are given.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Distressing denim

Farmer Mariano Barragan stands on the peeling blue-grey crust left behind on his field. The crust comes from the water he uses to irrigate the land, drawn from a canal allegedly contaminated by the production of distressed jeans. The photo below is from a set of pictures that accompanies this story in the Guardian. I am sorry to say that my blue jeans do have a distressed finish, and yes, they are made in Mexico. Sigh.

Friday, August 24, 2007

After the human race is run...

...the only things that will miss us when we're gone is the head lice and E. coli :( Haven't read it yet, but this book by Alan Weisman looks interesting. Jon Stewart did a hilarious interview with the author, who teaches journalism at the University of Arizona. Damn Viacom, why can't they let the videos be on Youtube! It's not as if they make it easy to embed videos from their own godawful website. Anyhow, I summoned all my patience and did it, just this once:

Monday, August 20, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Globalization => no ginger in dinner :-)

From a forum I'm on:
It's been a few years since we have stopped buying our fruits and vegetables at the regular chain grocery stores, and have instead been enjoying fresh locally grown stuff from coop etc. So naturally (pun intended :-) ) we've been immune to what the local grocery chain store peddles as "fresh" vegetables.

I was highly amused when on Sunday evening we were sitting with a few of our friends, and one of them says "Hey, I couldn't find any ginger at the local Giant Eagle store", and another replied, "Yeah, there was some news about some problem with import of ginger from China"! So immediately, I piped up about Nature's Bin, our local foods store where one doesn't need to be worried about imports! :-)

There's our ad for our local coop :-) Maybe someone can make a youtube video!
Hehe! But I guess it's not so funny, after all, that not even the smallest, most ordinary things are consumed close to where they're produced any more. Even in a poor country like India, kerbside fruit vendors have big cardboard boxes of fruit from other countries, and it's not even all upper-crust exotic stuff like kiwi, just regular stuff, year round.

And I wonder, what is life like in the Chinese countryside, with just about anything being cultivated or manufactured for export? Bamboo, wood, paper, plastic, food, fabric... 50 years from now, who will be better off, India or China? The answer is probably Bhutan!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

"Our oceans are turning into plastic"

Below are links to two articles sent by my former colleague Sarah. I'm no fan of plastic, and try to be very careful to reduce and reuse -- the goal is to never let my stuff even reach the recycling stage, although I find I have to throw away plastic items sometimes. Still, these articles impressed upon me the urgency and magnitude of the problem. I shared them with many friends and fellow-volunteers.
A vast swath of the Pacific, twice the size of Texas, is full of a plastic stew that is entering the food chain. Scientists say these toxins are causing obesity, infertility...and worse.
...Except for the small amount that's been incinerated--and it's a very small amount--every bit of plastic ever made still exists.
Full article

The picture on the right brought tears to my eyes. It's a sea turtle whose shell has been strangled into an hourglass shape by a plastic band.

Really, we have no right. We have no right.

Plastic bags are killing us

...This morning, a turtle feeds serenely next to a half submerged Walgreens bag. The bag looks ghostly, ethereal even, floating, as if in some kind of purgatory suspended between its briefly useful past and its none-too-promising future. A bright blue bags floats just out of reach, while a duck cruises by. Here's a Ziploc bag, there a Safeway bag. In a couple of hours, I fish more than two dozen plastic bags out of the lake with my net, along with cigarette butts, candy wrappers and a soccer ball.

...The plastic bag is an icon of convenience culture, by some estimates the single most ubiquitous consumer item on Earth, numbering in the trillions...Only 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled worldwide -- about 2 percent in the U.S. -- and the rest, when discarded, can persist for centuries. They can spend eternity in landfills, but that's not always the case. "They're so aerodynamic that even when they're properly disposed of in a trash can they can still blow away and become litter...."

..Following the lead of countries like Ireland, Bangladesh, South Africa, Thailand and Taiwan, some U.S. cities are striking back against what they see as an expensive, wasteful and unnecessary mess. This year, San Francisco and Oakland outlawed the use of plastic bags in large grocery stores and pharmacies, permitting only paper bags with at least 40 percent recycled content or otherwise compostable bags.
Full article

My reaction to the articles reminded me of a childhood moment. I must have been 6 or 7. I had borrowed a book from my school library, and it discussed endangered and extinct species. I don't remember what else was in there, but it's now apparent to me that it was an American book: it's where I first came across the black-eyed susan and the pink lady's slipper. The book described how passenger pigeons had been made extinct through excessive hunting. I read this and was furious and sad at the same time. I remember it so clearly! I remember asking my parents how people could hunt every last bird till the whole species was gone, and wondering why anyone would do such a thing. That's the kind of reaction I had when I saw that turtle.

Turtle photo: Dino Ferri/Audubon Institute. Source: Best Life

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Yay caffeine!

Photo source:

I knew it. Coffee had to exist for a noble purpose. From a news report from BBC Online:
Caffeine may help older women ward off mental decline, research suggests. French researchers compared women aged 65 and older who drank more than three cups of coffee per day with those who drank one cup or less per day. Those who drank more caffeine showed less decline in memory tests over a four year period. The study, published in the journal Neurology, raises the possibility that caffeine may even protect against the development of dementia. The results held up even after factors such as education, high blood pressure and disease were taken into account.
The report says confusing things about the interpretations of the study: there seems little agreement on whether coffee prevents dementia or slows it down, and whether other lifestyle factors could be linked to the tea- or coffee-drinking. Looks like the reporter could have done with a shot of espresso, hehe.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A toast to America's tap water

I originally posted this NYT editorial to a forum I'm on, and expressed hope that Pepsi was fighting a losing battle. Pepsi recently announced that Aquafina bottles would say they contain tap water. The edit highlighted the excellent quality of American municipal water, and the economic and environmental costs of bottling and shipping water.

Then someone shared this Canadian news item. Then I found this
news report about NBC's Today Show calling in professional wine tasters to judge water from 12 cities (turns out most American tap water is yummy, and the best tap water is from Salt Lake City). Excerpts:
To avoid bias, New York City’s water — whose quality is generally held to be among the best in the nation — was not entered. NBC affiliates in 12 cities were given two identical, clean plastic bottles which were filled from taps and shipped to New York, where they were stored at 60 degrees — cellar temperature — at the request of the judges. The tasting was done in the studio kitchen production area with clean glassware, cubes of French bread for palate-cleansing and spittoons.

Running close behind [Salt Lake City] in the unscientific, blind taste-test of the water from 12 cities were runners-up Boston and Columbia, S.C. Boston’s water, said Bastianich, "has a purity — it’s straight down the middle." "It’s very crisp and appealing," offered Lynch.

Columbia’s tap water, said Lynch, is "luscious — I like its guts."
The report also mentions an interesting San Francisco Chronicle investigation:
Last month, partially in response to a “San Francisco Chronicle” investigation that found that the city had spent $2.36 million of taxpayers’ money in 4 ½ years on bottled water, [San Francisco mayor Gavin] Newsom ordered all city departments and agencies to stop buying bottled water effective July 1.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has also told his agencies to stop spending tax dollars on bottled water.
Then, oddly, a couple of people on the forum responded skeptically, saying their friends and roommates drink bottled water. Well, we all have anecdotal evidence to show that people persist in drinking bottled water. I too could have mentioned the plastic bottles that litter train carriages and railway stations in Mumbai. But how many of us have "anecdotes" from bottlers, marketing professionals, and municipalities? I'm trying to say that bottled water is a growing concern of governments and municipalities. Apparently, even marketing professionals are concerned about it. It's obviously something the media are taking up, as a simple Google News search will reveal.

So I explained my optimism to my forum fellows. I don't think Pepsi's business is going to plummet or close any time soon; such battles are never won or lost quickly; such huge corporations have tremendous staying power. I was reckoning several years. But I do think it's significant that US municipalities are asserting themselves against bottled water. It's not unrealistic to expect that other municipalities may join San Francisco and LA. If the momentum gathers or even just keeps up, Pepsi and other bottlers will have to up their ad budgets (i.e. lower profits) and will see a decline in sales. It would spur them to re-evaluate the profitability of bottled water. It took years to make a dent in Big Tobacco, but much of it happened after governments woke up to the issues.

As for the media coverage, here is just the first page of results from my Google News search for Fiji drinking water. Remarkably, these are nearly all mainstream news media bringing the issue to the public, not environmentalists and progressive community newsletters preaching to the choir.

Americans rethink wasteful approach to water Independent, UK
Chugging bottled H2O is bad for earth Newsweek/MSNBC
Some upscale restaurants shun bottled water Associated Press, via MSNBC, from Berkeley, CA

Bottled water industry fights back through ads Newsweek
Bottled water trend hits dam of protest Albany Times Union
Let's bag those criticisms of plastic Baltimore Sun (weakly defensive piece, IMHO)

Drink to your health By a rabbi, in Five Town Jewish Times, NY.
Clean, cheap water vital to nation's health Monterey Herald (reproduction of NYT editorial)

All the above stories are from August 1 onwards. Below are some early stories, the first drops of the deluge, so to speak. Same Google search.

Bottled water=bad...right? Plenty Magazine, NY, July 18, 2007

Don't buy water from Fiji Groovy Green, Ithaca NY, July 9, 2007
Label change adds clarity to bottled water debate Arizona Daily Star, July 27, 2007

I'm willing to bet this onslaught isn't going to cease soon...



What is it about kitties that makes people all regressive and their English all weird? Cats seem to inspire goofy spelling and ungrammatical language all the time--first there was Krazy Kat ("lil ainjil!"), then Gigolokitty ("me not slut! me get paid!"), and now i can has cheezburger?

"Kitteh" even made headlines in Toronto!


Thursday, July 26, 2007

World music

An old, old Onion infographic, just for a laugh:

Saturday, July 21, 2007

What successful people read

One thing is clear: it ain't Steven Covey. Here's what the NYT reports:

Nike founder Phil Knight has a passion for Asian history.

Apple's Steve Jobs reportedly had an “inexhaustible interest” in the books of William Blake — the mad visionary 18th-century mystic poet and artist.

If there is a C.E.O. canon, its rule is this: “Don’t follow your mentors, follow your mentors’ mentors,” suggests David Leach, chief executive of the American Medical Association’s accreditation division. Leach is reportedly partial to Aristotle.

“I try to vary my reading diet and ensure that I read more fiction than nonfiction,” says Michael Moritz, the venture capitalist who built a personal $1.5 billion fortune discovering the likes of Google, YouTube, Yahoo and PayPal. “I rarely read business books..."

Students of power should take note that C.E.O.’s are starting to collect books on climate change and global warming, not Al Gore’s tomes but books from the 15th century about the weather, Egyptian droughts, even replicas of Sumerian tablets recording extraordinary changes in climate, according to John Windle, the owner of John Windle Antiquarian Booksellers in San Francisco.

Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was priced at a few thousand dollars in the 1950s. “Then DNA became the scientific rage,” said Mr. Windle. “Now copies are selling for $250,000. But the desire to own a piece of Darwin’s mind is coming to an end. I have a customer who collects diaries of people of no importance at all. The entries say, ‘It was 63 degrees and raining this morning.’ Once the big boys amass libraries of weather patterns, everyone will want these works.”

Personal libraries have always been a biopsy of power. The empire-loving Elizabeth I surrounded herself with the Roman historians, many of whom she translated, and kept one book under lock and key in her bedroom, in a French translation she alone of her court could read: Machiavelli’s treatise on how to overthrow republics, “The Prince.” Churchill retreated to his library to heal his wounds after being voted out of power in 1945 — and after reading for six years came back to power.

Over the years, the philanthropist and junk-bond king Michael R. Milken has collected biographies, plays, novels and papers on Galileo, the renegade who was jailed in his time but redeemed by history.

From under the train tracks


"We’re both from kind of middle-earth Brooklyn—you know, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, lower middle class, under the train tracks...We both understand that sort of ‘Lord of the Flies’ sensibility that requires you to be very aware as you grow up. It’s a very savage environment, in a lot of ways, a very cruel and sadistic environment. We spoke the same language—we were like brothers from different mothers."

I liked this quote about Larry David, by Larry Charles, former supervising producer of “Seinfeld” and now an executive producer of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. Here's the whole article. Although I've mixed feelings about Seinfeld (guess that's precisely the genius of that show--to make you uneasy and still be successful) and have never watched Curb Your Enthusiasm, but I have to say, Larry David's success story (abridged below, from the same New Yorker article) is remarkable even though he isn't particularly trying to come across as inspiring.

At the end of the nineteen-eighties, Larry David was a standup comic in trouble. He was middle-aged, single, living in a building with subsidized housing for artists on the West Side of Manhattan, and just scraping by. He had been doing standup, with mixed success, for more than a decade; his chances for breaking through were long past... His material was uncompromisingly to his own taste.... onstage manner was almost willfully uningratiating.... Club audiences were puzzled by David, or, worse, indifferent to him... “I was not for everyone,” Larry David said...“I was for very few.” ...David, who, in 1988, co-created “Seinfeld,” is said to have earned more than two hundred million dollars from that show’s syndication revenues. His comedy style has remained argumentative, abrasive, and occasionally alienating...

“It has to do with Brooklyn,” David said of his humor. “It has to do—I think—with growing up in an apartment, with my aunt and my cousins right next door to me, with the door open, with neighbors walking in and out, with people yelling at each other all the time.”

David had “a wonderful childhood,” he has said, adding, “Which is tough, because it’s hard to adjust to a miserable adulthood.” He hated the sixties....

After graduating from the University of Maryland in 1970, with a degree in history, he had no idea what his next step might be.... He moved back home to Brooklyn and got a job with a bra wholesaler in Manhattan. “The bras were seconds, actually—they were defective bras,” he said. “And that didn’t last very long. So it was this pattern of getting a job, then going on unemployment for a while. I had a job as a paralegal. I drove a cab. Until I started doing standup, there were some very bleak days. I was a private chauffeur, driving my limousine, wearing the uniform. I’m twenty-five years old. This is what I’m doing for a living. And”—he laughed, not quite happily—“wearing a uniform, outside, waiting for her while she’s shopping on Third Avenue. Seeing a guy from college walk down the street, stop in his tracks, stare at me agog in this uniform, not knowing what to do or say, you know... That was pretty embarrassing,” he said.

[Jerry Seinfeld says] "Larry had the material, but he never had what you would call the temperament for standup.” One night at Catch a Rising Star, a comedy club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, David stepped onto the stage, scanned the room from side to side, said, “Never mind,” and walked off. Despite the bravado, he had no plan. “I was hoping that somehow I could get some kind of cult following, and get by with that,” he said. “...That would have been fine with me. I just wanted laughs.... I wanted to make a living, but I really was not interested in money at all. I was interested in being a great comedian... "

Larry David met Jerry Seinfeld around 1976... Seven years younger than David, Seinfeld... reportedly earned up to twenty-five thousand dollars a weekend at comedy clubs. [Jerry had been approached by NBC, and took Larry along to pitch the concept of "Seinfeld"] The NBC executives were... particularly unimpressed with Larry David. He remembers Seinfeld’s looking askance at him while he protested the network’s aesthetic... People looked at me like I was a little nuts—a lot of ‘Who is this guy?’ kind of looks.” Still, the NBC executives saw something. “I guess they figured it was worth a pilot,” David said. “Well, they liked him enough that they figured it was worth a pilot. I think they would’ve gotten rid of me in a split second if they could’ve. They would have gotten rid of me without even thinking about it.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Art in Schindler's factory?

Jonathan Jones in The Guardian online:

...Why not create Krakow's Tate Modern here? Some are shocked at the very thought. But it is only offensive if you want to embalm the past in glowing sepia tones. Modern art is unsettling, as seems right in such a place. From Anselm Kiefer's history-laden painted fields to Damien Hirst's mortal thoughts, the best art of today resonates with the terrors of modern times.

Krakow should create a modern gallery - rather than a Holocaust museum - in Schindler's factory because this would end today's kitsch memory cult where it began. The film Schindler's List, with its incredibly disrespectful scene of people being led into the showers and surviving, inaugurated a strange cultural period in which memory "inspires" and "moves" popular culture while high art luxuriates in memorials. Bland and ineffective, tearful and self-congratulatory, the culture of memory is epitomised by the story of Schindler, which manages to give the Holocaust an upbeat ending.

In reality an occasional good person like Schindler created no more than a hair's width of light at the top of an unfathomable well of suffering. A contemporary art gallery will preserve Schindler's factory - the stuff of history - without turning it into a trite monument. It will provoke thought, instead of mere sentiment. Thought is what we need now.

Get into the garden

Sarah Raven in The Guardian Online
...In the nineteenth century the invention of the refrigerated ship meant that meat could be brought fresh from anywhere in the world. With the endless land available in the Americas and beyond, meat became cheap [in Britain]. The development of factory farming and the efficient networks of the global economy have meant that daily meat has become a reality for everyone. Meat and potatoes have come to dominate our cooking culture, but that is such a sad and reduced place to arrive at, almost fetishistic it seems to me, as if a meal is no good unless it contains a slab of steak or chicken.

It doesn't need to be like that, wasn't in this country before 1850 and isn't like that in most parts of the world. My new garden cookbook is about returning to an older habit, where meat was a regular, delicious, but occasional visitor to the plate. Vegetables can take their place, not as a stand in, or supporting part, but as centre stage, where they belong.

Mediterranean cooking cultures are a wonderful source of inspiration for this way of eating. Traditionally, the relatively high cost of meat in a non-factory dominated environment gives a natural sense of meat's true value. In France and even more in Italy and Spain, you eat meat or fish on high days and holidays, but not for every meal. Allied to that is a far more intimate connection, family by family, to growing things and looking after and slaughtering animals themselves. Meat was and is precious and respected, and so on most days, households inherit, devise, cook and eat delicious things made with grains, vegetables, salads, herbs and fruit.

As a child, we often went on holiday to Asolo in the Veneto, a honey-coloured hill town in the foothills of the Dolomites, with orchards and farmland running up to its medieval walls. All the produce of garden and field were on sale in the market square and under the shady stone arcades that line the streets. Asolo introduced me to the whole Mediterranean philosophy of food, where most small towns would have one butcher, but a bi-weekly market stuffed to the gunnels with beautiful and delicious veg and fruit. Day after day, under the shopping and cooking guidance of the cook in the house where we stayed, we would eat artichokes, salads, wild greens, chicory, sometimes with bread, sometimes with pasta, sometimes with rice, but rarely with meat. That's been a great inspiration for many of my recipes.

Here on the Guardian food blog for the next three weeks, I'll be posting 21 recipes which come out of this non-meat-dominated culture, some of my favourites from my Garden Cookbook.
Click here for first recipe, to post a comment, or to bookmark for remaining 20 recipes