Friday, February 29, 2008

The language barrier

From BBC:

A man who planned to walk from Bristol to India without any money has quit, after getting as far as Calais, France.

... because he could not speak French, people thought he was free-loading or an asylum seeker.

He now plans to walk around the coast of Britain instead, learning French as he goes, so he can try again next year.

Perhaps someone should warn him that he will also need to learn German, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Turkish, Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Urdu, Gujarati...?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

100% sounds better than 16%, doesn't it?

"Assured 100% money back!" screamed the e-mail I got, claiming that if I shop at for any amount, I would receive a voucher for the same amount. So I read the fine print.

The fine print is that the voucher is only redeemable against a purchase at least five times its value.

So suppose I spend Rs X. I get a voucher for Rs X, but can redeem it only on a purchase of Rs 5X. So I spend a total of 6X, and get X back: a discount of about 16%. (And that's in the best case that I find something worth buying that costs precisely 5X.)

Wonderful what these marketing minds can do with mundane things like a 16% discount.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Incredible India

Three links from Tehelka:

The incarceration of Binayak Sen, a doctor with Gandhian ideals who's worked for the poor all his life. (More links at km's.)

The cleanliness of Guruvayur temple. We may debate their habit of doing purifying rituals when non-Hindus enter, but the visitors -- Hindus or not -- had better disinfect themselves thoroughly after they leave.

Why is Taslima Nasreen a prisoner? (Others have been asking, too.)

And, via Abi, the latest in a long list of plagiarism scandals in Indian academia. Apparently the university is sufficiently concerned to slap the professor concerned severely on the wrist. But they won't fire him (they say they can't).

Why am I supposed to be proud to be Indian? Maybe because we have a free press. For now. When it's not self-censoring.

Monday, February 11, 2008

I picked a winner

When I was not yet a teenager and my parents didn't know enough about such things to discourage me, they allowed me to pick up a tape (pirated, like most music in India at the time) titled "GRAMY 1985 TOP OF THE POPS", containing songs by "Lineol Richie", "Bruce Springstee" and I forget who else. Between then and now, my interaction with Grammy-winning music has been minimal.

So it was something of a surprise to find that a CD I purchased last year has just been awarded "Album of the year" at the Grammys. The only other time a CD that I owned was so honoured, it was Bob Dylan's "Time out of mind" in 1998. This time it was Herbie Hancock's tribute to Joni Mitchell, "River: The Joni Letters".

On this occasion, as with Dylan, one can't help thinking that the award was really meant to compensate for decades of ignoring one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Dylan's first Grammy, in any category, was not for any of the masterpieces on "Blonde on Blonde" or "Blood on the Tracks" or "Highway 61 revisited", but for the shabby evangelical song "Gotta serve somebody" in 1979. Joni fared a bit better, with a smattering of Grammies through the years, but much of her best work missed out. (Her latest Grammy, coincidentally, was this year, for -- of all things -- the "best pop instrumental".)

Be that as it may, Herbie Hancock's tribute to her is superb, and grows on repeated listening. Whether it deserved a Grammy may be debatable -- I don't see how he can be compared with Kanye West or Amy Winehouse -- but it's worth a listen and the Grammy will cause more people to listen to it.

The musicians include Hancock himself, Wayne Shorter and Dave Holland; the guest singers include Joni herself, fellow Canadian poet-singer Leonard Cohen, Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae, Tina Turner, Luciana Souza. There are four instrumentals -- Joni's "Both Sides Now" and "Sweet Bird", Duke Ellington's "Solitude" and Shorter's "Nefertiti" (the latter two are the only non-Joni pieces on the album). The album begins with the much-Grammy-decorated Norah Jones (Court and Spark) and Tina Turner (Edith and the Kingpin), and officially ends with Cohen, who -- unlike Dylan and Joni -- has never won a Grammy. The Amazon edition of the CD, which I have, has two bonus tracks: an instrumental "A case of you" and Sonya Kitchell's performance of "All I want".

All of it is very, very good. The vocalists for the most part follow Joni's original recordings rather faithfully, while the jazz accompaniment is perfect for Joni's tunes (as we already know from her own recordings). Corinne Bailey Rae's "River" is outstanding. Tina Turner's "Edith" is not terribly jazzy, but very enjoyable. The Burundi drums of Joni's "The Jungle Line" are substituted here by Leonard Cohen's low spoken rumble of words (he seems to have given up singing while recording 2004's "Dear Heather"), while Herbie solos below him. And the Hancock/Shorter take on "Both Sides Now" is one of the best jazz recordings I've ever heard -- every line they play hints at and evokes the song, without ever quite stating the theme outright. (The bonus "A case of you" is more a straight cover of Joni, with Herbie doing both the melody and a fair imitation of Joni's original dulcimer accompaniment).

Grammy or not, go get it.

In other Grammy news: Obama beats Clinton (Bill, that is). And a mathematician wins.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

On the bright side

"What is wrong with George Bush? That would take a really long time. Let's talk about what is right with him, it is a much shorter answer.

"He is a very good physical specimen. He shows that a man his age can stay in physical condition."

-- Neil Young (who also says that music can no longer change the world)

PS - Stephen Colbert interviewing Neil Young during the CSNY freedom tour: part 1

and part 2