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

Monday, July 16, 2007

Consuming the environment

In Mumbai, seafood (Konkani, Thai, Chinese, western) is trendy. Even the Taj President has a Konkani restaurant. Such restaurants are open in every season, although the monsoon has, until recent years, been the off-season for seafood in Mumbai. What is all this seafood consumption doing to our fish and prawn populations, and to livelihoods in the long term? (And that is not even considering India's prawn/shrimp exports.)

The article excerpted below, from BBC Online, is about China. Since China and India are often compared in terms of rising incomes, rising consumption and environmental impact, it should be of some relevance to India also.

In the week that China executed [for corruption] the man once responsible for ensuring the safety of China's food and drugs, Fuchsia Dunlop, an expert on Chinese cuisine, finds tainted food has blunted her appetite...
The Chinese economic boom of the last two decades has led to a surge in banqueting, and the boundless appetite of the new Chinese rich for [the sea cucumber] has decimated its stocks in Chinese waters. These days the supplies that grace the dinner table come from as far away as the Galapagos Islands off the South American coast. If I eat one, am I contributing to the ruin of marine ecosystems all over the world?

...Chinese restaurants are the engine driving a global trade in endangered species. And in China, there is a thriving black market in all kinds of supposedly protected animals. I am offered them all the time, even at banquets attended by the very Communist Party and government officials who are meant to be enforcing environmental laws.

...My appetite is also shrinking because of the dire pollution in China. Last autumn I was in Suzhou for the hairy crab season. I revelled in the taste of this fabled delicacy... until I read in the papers that many farmed crabs were tainted with a cancer-causing antibiotic. And then I looked into the waters of one lakeside farm, and saw a swirl of oily scum and other muck.

Earlier this month government inspectors found paraffin wax, formaldehyde and other illegal additives being used in the production of everyday foodstuffs like biscuits and seafood.

...Many mutter darkly about the use of hormones in rearing livestock, and they seek out vegetables that have insect bites on their leaves - a sign that they have not been drenched in pesticides.

On my own trips to China, I eat less and less meat and seafood, because I just do not know what is in them. Instead, I help myself to vegetables and beancurd. But even they might be risky. According to official figures, 10% of Chinese farmland is dangerously contaminated with pollution. And the newspapers are filled with terrifying stories about poisoned rivers, lakes and reservoirs, their waters unfit even for irrigation.

...Beijing itself is said to have tried to cover up a World Bank report revealing that more than 700,000 people die every year in China because of air and water pollution.

China probably has the world's finest cuisine. After more than a decade of researching it, I am still astonished by Chinese culinary culture, and in awe of the skills of the country's chefs. But these days, as I sit down before their beautiful tables of plenty, the shadows of pollution and environmental degradation hover in the background. The banquets that once seemed to be a glorious perk of my job have begun to feel like an occupational hazard.

The meals that give me most pleasure are those in the remote countryside, where I can dine on wild mushrooms and bamboo shoots, and pork from pigs raised by people I know.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Happiness and public policy

My forum post elsewhere, reproduced here for your reading pleasure (or at any rate, at my own whim):

For many years, it has been Bhutan's official policy to place happiness above economic prosperity. Religious/spiritual influence on public policy is an interesting feature of Bhutanese governance.

According to a PBS report:

  • 95 per cent of Bhutanese exchange students return to their home country because they like it there.
  • A 1995 law mandates that 60 percent of Bhutan's land must remain forested (while another 26 percent is already protected as parkland)
  • Bhutan spends almost 18 percent of national budget on education and health care (compared with only 2 to 3 percent for China)
Here's the Bhutanese prime minister on his country's vision of economic development. More official documents here.

The one set of traffic lights Bhutan ever had was on this junction. But people found them frustrating, so they went back to a human being. Here are more glimpses of Bhutan's happiness policy in action.


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

George III or George W?

As if the world--and the American establishment stands apart from the world on this--needed any more convincing about the Bush administration, W has celebrated the 231st anniversary of his country's glorious founding by commuting Libby's sentence and refusing to rule out a pardon. Just what will it take for Congress to wake up and impeach?

Sadly, I must confess, my post title is not original at all -- it's from this commentary in the Guardian.


Monday, July 2, 2007

Middle east: cat's cradle

Not for nothing is the Middle East the cradle of all civilization. Cats adopted human beings there first. Here's the story in today's NYT.