Wednesday, December 31, 2008

'Best of' 2008 D-List

Since there's no obvious way to do this and you know I'm going to have a lot to say about my choices- lets get straight to it: Presenting yet another 'best of 2008' list! (Now with notable contenders and 'worst of' categories and multiple entries!)

Best Book of 2008: (and straight away we're off to a tie!) Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Notable Contenders: Netherland,The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a certain Qualitative Methods book

( Note: I'm chastised by the entries I have received so far for my contest. Apparently, many people interpret 'best book' to include academic books. That this did not immediately occur to me worries me a little.)

Worst Book: A Good Indian Wife NRI writing at its worst.

Best Album: Ok, so if you read this blog and you don't know what I'm going to pick you haven't been reading closely enough!
'Where the light is' sealed my love for and started my, lets admit it, slight obsession, with all things John Mayer this year. This live album showcases JM's different avatars- the acoustic singer-songwriter, the guitarist, the blues musician of the JMtrio and the pop musician with the hits, the hyper-articulate performer etc. Great.

Notable Contenders: I rarely listen to entire albums but from what little I heard I liked Modern Guilt (Beck), Duffy , the Vampire Weekend album and Sara Baraeilles and Ray LaMontagne.

Best Song: In your atmosphere (in Mayer world) and (in other music-world) Paper Planes by M.I.A. (Any song that makes me bop my head to gun shots and a cash register has to rock. Catchy as hell)

Notable contenders: Shut up and let me go- the Ting Tings, I'm not going to teach your boyfriend how to dance with you- Black Kids, Circus- Britney Spears, House of Cards - Radiohead, Lost- Coldplay, Electric Feel- MGMT, Winter Song- Sara Baraeilles, Mrs. Officer and other Lil Wayne songs I wanted to hate but can't...ok I'll stop here.

Worst Song: (Sooo many choices here) Womanizer- Britney Spears, Single Ladies- Beyonce and I was assaulted by a Miley Cyrus song once and have not yet recovered.

Best Movie: Wall-E. This movie took not-so-appealing elements for me - environmentalism, robots, scifi, cockroaches, silent movies- and made it magical, touching and profund.

Notable Contenders: The Visitor, Jab we met

Best TV:: drama, scandals, endless comedy, an audacious bimbo spoiler, teenage pregnancies, unforgettable cameos by plumbers and mooses, an irresistible tagline, celebrity appearances, audience voting and participation, a powerful steely heroine who holds her own, the older godfather who isn't quite what he seems to be, an impossibly charismatic hero prevailing in a feel-good ending...the best show this year had it all....yes, ofcourse, I'm talking about the Presidential Election 2008.

Notable Contenders: The Ivory Tower Half Hour and This Week with George Stephanopolous (which are the perfect complements to) The Hills, Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer Wimbeldon Final

Worst TV (not in a good way) : Moment of Truth. Hands down

Best Meal: I've blogged about my fav sandwich but best meal encompasses more than just food. I'm going to go with a delicious lunch I ate with bluebell and fleur in San Francisco during ISA at B star on Clement in San Francisco- edamame humus, kabocha croquettes, calamari, , satay, lychee ice teas outside in the sunny patio.

Worst Meal: The fancy lunch I had to keep down all the while our annual funding meeting was going on- didn't taste a thing, really.

Best Party: Normally this would be a slam dunk for my first entry but this was a special year and so I have a tie.

So my first party of the year was My 90's themed birthday party February 2008 The elements: the dinner with my best girl friends, the slide show (if there was a category called best ego boost, it would go to that slideshow). AND then the surprise 90's themed after party with everyone dressed up in their 90's best (read: lots of flannel, torn denim). The 90's music was the icing on an already delicious cake- and the cherry was everyone hilariously getting down to 'Baby one more time'. Thanks Tulip!! And Heather and gang for the music and everyone who helped make this the BEST. PARTY. EVER.

How could there even be another contender, you ask? Well, this was also the year my sister, Daisycat got married!! My sister's wedding May 2008 The wedding was lovely- intimate but lively, beautiful with San Francisco and our garden at its best, family and friends gathered and the cake of the year. My sister was just the loveliest, most glowing bride I've ever seen and my brother in law rocks....for the emotions and the love, this also ranks as party of the year....

Best New discovery: blogging (and other new modes of self expression)

Best podcast:: Slate's audio book club

Best trip: San Francisco (always)

Best blog: Daniel Drezner for the content, Go Fug Yourself for the laughs

News story of the year: Obama is the obvious story but two others stood out: the Mumbai attacks and the global economic crisis which I followed but am still not sure I fully understand.

Notable contenders: Olympics opening ceremony and architecture, The rise and fall of Sarah Palin, The fall of Spitzer, The fall and rise of Britney Spears, Hilary Clinton's tears, Carnage in Gaza, dodgy Chinese toys, milk and gymnasts, and Somali Pirates!

Obsession of the Year (In the venerable tradition of my obsessions such as Michael Jackson - I know but in my defense I was 12/13-, Steffi Graf, Nirvana, Sachin Tendulkar, Cricket, Cats): John Mayer

Best Days: Sister's day out and the shoes, the birth of my goddaughter, Nov 4th, days bonding with tulip in Ithaca, Seth in SF and Heather in the bay/online and baking cupcakes with the gang, seeing the QMIR book with my name on it and doing my first interview!

Funniest Moments : Sarah Palin's interviews, details of the Salman-SRK spat

Worst/Saddest Days: Bombay attacks, annual meeting May 2nd, leaving San Francisco, goodbyes, discovering what acid reflux feels like :(

Buzzwords of the year: 'yes we can', 'change', 'stock markets plunge', 30, 'John Mayer', 'Funding', 'Babies', 'Trivia'

Lessons Learned: 1. To thine own self be true. 2. Basic HTML coding 3. I have wonderful friends and family

Challenges of the year: are not over yet...

On that cheery note, I'm done!

Goodbye 2008- you gave me moments of joy (my sister getting married to a very cool person, my adorable goddaughter, conversations with my lovely friends, being able to talk to my parents so often, the Obama victory, Sachin's form). But you were also really, really tough (work frustrations in the first half, saying goodbye to people and places, that whole recession thing, the horror of 11/26 and Gaza, growing up and all that comes with it).

But you sure were eventful, 2008 - sisters getting married, pregnant friends, we're losing jobs and getting new jobs, moving on, confronting our fears, getting published, saving, thinking about the 'future', being distinctly on the wrong side of 20 or even, gasp, turning 30!

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto....

2009 is going to be 'interesting' no doubt with many uncertainties but also much to look forward to. Here's to 'hope', 'change' and all the rest of it.....and to the joys of wandering through it all....

Monday, December 29, 2008

Not for the feeble brained

This looks a lot easier than it was to do...

This (from Scramble Squares) was one of my stocking stuffers from the lovely Christmas I spent with tulip's family. I'm capturing the fact that I actually successfully finished a puzzle ( and a really hard one at that) for posterity. May never happen again...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

On Samuel Huntington (1927- 2008)

In my world there is no figure that people love to hate more than Samuel Huntington, who passed away earlier this week. Much of this is targeted at Huntington's last few works, most notably 'The Clash of Civilizations' and 'Who are We'. The common charges are that Huntington is a (perhaps 'the') neo-conservative, is a shoddy academic because he makes grand, sweeping arguments without the requisite research, that he is anti-Islam and anti-multi-ethnic societies and has that agenda for US foreign policy, that he is arrogant etc.

What this translates into in classes is an all too easy dismissal of Huntington even before one has the chance to talk about the work at hand. A snigger here, a snarky comment there and we're done with our 'discussion'. I have rarely seen a group of otherwise argumentative and opinionated people fall into such complete agreement than when it's time to bash Huntington. I predict that in the weeks after we all come back to school, there will be much of the same reaction.

While there are some substantial reasons for some of this derision, the quality of it has always troubled me. At the very real risk of alienating or annoying professors and peers, I and a few of my peers have tried to address this in class only to be met by a unified response of incredulity and half-joking accusations at being secretly conservative! And I don't even really agree with the man on his core hypotheses.

Don't get me wrong- Huntington was too influential, powerful and successful to need defending. His work was at its best powerful and insightful and at all times enormously provocative and designed to spark debate and dissent, which by all accounts he enjoyed. Secondly, I agree that some of the arguments about the flaws in his research are valid and his conclusions, while provocative, can be troubling for those who see themselves as fundamentally liberal. So this is not a blanket statement to rescue a scholar who needs no rescuing. Instead this post is to make two observations on Huntington's legacy:

First, I think (and this is not very social-sciency of me) that Huntington's role as a public intellectual far supersedes his role as an academic political scientist or a social scientist. To those of my interlocutors who point to the flaws in his 'research design' or 'case selection' and bemoan the lack of theoretical or literature review, I can only say that that was not Huntington's aim in his later work. His early work has all of that and those are still powerful and important works in political science. But the later work, for which he is most often criticized, was all about larger ideas. Surely we can agree as constructivists that there is a core place for and a power of large ideas in the world?The charge that Huntington cannot account for Case A or Case B ignores that he is often pointing his finger at, in a prescient way, large, complex and abstract forces and phenomena in society. The role of holding up those larger patterns, and even shaping the contours of the debate on huge issues such as identity, religion and violence or immigration is a pivotal one. And it is different from the important work of 'normal science', to twist that term.

Secondly, many criticize Huntington's influence on guiding the shaping of contemporary U.S. foreign policy, specially in the post 9/11 period. The argument is that Huntington's 'Clash of Civilizations' idea predisposed a certain (misguided) interpretation of those events and strengthened the idea that this was a religious struggle rather than one over concrete political conflicts. This is a huge and un-resolvable debate in many ways and I'm not sure that we can easily separate the domain of the religious from the political in any of the conflicts Huntington was talking about; but at a very minimum shouldn't his influence on U.S.policy mean that we should engage with his ideas in a much deeper sense? How can dismissing Huntington out of hand help us truly understand the making of U.S. (or indeed other) foreign policy? Huntington's passing alerts us to the enduring problem of the harmful mutual disengagement of scholars of international relations with practitioners of foreign policy. Both see the other as misguided and out of sync with reality and because each side thus has their pet intellectuals, the bridge is harder to divide.

Thirdly, and related to the points above, to truly understand the workings and deeper sociological roots of foreign policy anywhere requires us to give up the rote conventions of academia, to be wary of political correctness and to take more seriously the arguments of those we disagree with. We owe it to ourselves as members of academia as Kanti Bajpai reminds us in a fairly devastating piece he wrote on the Clash of Civilizations in 1998. To 'pirouette dismissively' from Huntington, Bajpai says, is lazy.

Thus, I, like many others, have my differences with Huntington but I respect his contributions to our discipline, will engage with his many insights and admire his always provocative, always challenging mind.

And, in true Huntingtonian spirit, I relish any and all arguments that this post might provoke!

ETA: Here's the NYT obit
on him

Monday, December 22, 2008

Arundhati Roy and the voices...redux

Read here an excellent rebuttal of Arundhati Roy's '9 is not 11' piece that I wrote about earlier. There have been other forceful denunciations of her writing about 11/26, by Salman Rushdie amongst others with good arguments made about Roy's willful disregard for geo-strategic realities etc. but this piece deserves its own post.

Abhinav Kumar, a serving IPS officer has written an open letter to Roy that brings into sharp relief for me many things that Roy's piece (and her other writing in general) lacks- balance, a willingness to think one's arguments through to their logical end, a avoidance of moral relativism and a sense of the bigger picture. And he writes pretty well too.

Kumar beings by acknowledging Roy's role as a voice that prickles our collective conscience, which I think is more generous that he needs to be but that's where the familiar sense of ambivalence ends. I think he nicely and much more succintly devastates Roy.

Kumar echoes one of my previous commentators (Jai) in the thought that Roy appears to be more interested in her own brand as the Indian voice of dissent than in formulating a genuine and original response to each issue that she wants to talk about. Thus, she has an Arundhati Roy agenda with its well establishes and predictable talking points (this is me, not Kumar). For Kumar, this means that Roy ignores the moral responsibility of a public intellectual. And he directs most of his essay at Roy's callous disregard for the human loss of the Bombay attacks and her petty at best tirade against the security forces. These parts struck a particularly sour note in her piece.

His comments on the stupidity of comparing Hindutva to radical Islam are more controversial and will not please everyone but on balance, I think he's right if you have a sense of perspective and are not excessively politically-correct.

If you're at all interested in this, you should really read the whole essay but I'll leave you with two points that impressed me particularly:

You seem to passionately believe in and defend the 'right' of the Kashmiris to ethnic, cultural, religious and geographical exclusivism. If this is correct than why should we vilify Raj Thackeray or any other chauvinist who seeks to preserve the purity (however defined) of his people (however defined) from outsiders (also however defined)?...I do hope you have taken the trouble to examine the fundamental assumptions underlying all such movements based on an assertion of a cultural identity. The creation of a hated outsider, in the case of Kashmir, the Indian; in the case of Raj Thackeray, the bhaiya of UP and Bihar; and in the case of the jihadists, anyone and everyone who does not subscribe to their virulent strain of Islam, including Muslims, is common to all these ideologies but you seem to pick and choose the bigotries you will demonize and the bigotries you will defend. Is it possible to freeze identity to a moment in time and on the basis of this demand recognition, retribution and rights for all time to come?

I wonder what Roy would say to that. Actually, I have a good idea of what she would say but indeed her defense would be hollow.

and this..

The liberties you have exercised in the past and continue to do today, however gratuitously and offensively, do not exist in a vacuum. I am not sure if any of these liberties would have a place in a Naxalite Utopia or a Jihadi Caliphate or even in a self-determined Kashmiri paradise that you eloquently espoused... In any case, the liberties that you have recently taken with the sensibilities of proud Indians too exist in a cultural, political and constitutional context, a context that is ultimately safeguarded by men such as Hemant Karkare and Major Unnikrishnan with disregard for their own life.

My anti-Arundhati voice to my pro-Arundhati voice: Take that!

Tear jerker

Due to distinctly unpopular demand, I'm extending the dates to the first Wandering Through contest. I figure it's christmas, people are traveling and seeing family- the last thing they want to do is to fill up a contest on a blog....So you have till Jan 5th now to do it!! So now you have no excuses!!

It won't take more than a couple of minutes really. AND (here's where I have to level with you) it will make a poor, cold, shivering grad student (ie. me) who couldn't even go home this winter soooo happy. As I write this pleading message, it is 15 degrees fahrenheit (that is -9 degrees celsius) here, the central heating is powerless against this sort of cold, it has been snowing relentlessly for the past 3 days and the 'real feel' is more like 7 F (very, very freezing in Centigrade), all my friends are gone and it is too cold and snowy to venture out....and amidst this misery all I want is for people to take my one measly contest....

Are you feeling guilty yet? If so, you know what to do...It will be fun, there's a prize and who doesn't like making end of the year lists..huh? huh? Come on now, you can do it, now take that mouse and click here

See, wasn't that simple?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Watch now, thank me later: Yes Minister

When I was a kid one of the most popular shows in our home was the 'Yes Minister' and 'Yes Prime Minister' series. My parents loved the show and I would watch along with them, only half following the plot. I must have been 10-12 years old and so I didn't fully understand the sophisticated humor but even then I could appreciate the excellent performances of the 3 major characters (the baffled, pompous but occasionally wily Minister Hacker, the diabolical and cunning Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne is masterful) and the naive, pedantic and slightly corruptible Bernard Wooley (who I used to have a crush on! Is that weird?). Later on, I read the brilliant spinoff books coming out of the series.

And now, years later as a political scientist (in training) and following the Obama cabinet building process I'm redicovering the show all over again via netflix (can I just say now- I love you, netflix). I marvel at how relevant the humor is even today, how sophisticated and subtle the writing is and how spot on the characters are. Then I weep for what passes for a sitcom these days.

I present to you this gem of an exchange in the episode 'Open Government':

Sir Humphrey (on a memo entitled Open Government which he naturally and virulently opposes, being a bureaucrat): "Always dispose of the difficult bit in the title, does less harm there than in the text."
Cabinet Secretary: "Yes, it's the law of inverse relevance. The less you intend to do about something, the more you have to keep talking about it'
Bernard Wooley: (uncertainly) "But what's wrong with open government? Why shouldn't the public know more about what's going on?"
Cabinet Secretary:(in utter amazement) "Are you serious? My dear boy, it's a contradiction in terms. You can be open or you can have government"
Bernard Wolley: "But..But surely the citizens of a democracy have the right to know"
Sir Humphrey :(with strained patience but utter conviction) "No. They have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity and guilt. Ignorance has a certain dignity."
Cabinet Secretary:(profoundly) "If people don't know what you're doing, they don't know what you're doing wrong."

and this..

'We have decided to be more flexible in our application of this principle' means 'We are dropping this policy but we don't want to admit it publicly'

Classic- British comedy at its absolute best. They just don't make shows like that anymore. Does anyone else share my love for this show?

For my polisci friends and fellow lovers of British Comedy- this is a must watch...Hence the title of this post.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Arundhati Roy and the voices in my head

It's hard to be neutral about Arundhati Roy.

I loved (in an unqualified way) 'The God of Small Things' (GOST). I was just out of high school when the book came out, to tremendous hype and I was determined to find it over-rated. Instead, the book blew me away - at this point it's almost a cliche to say how inventive the language is but I'll just say that it captured smells, sounds and textures in a way I have rarely seen since, though there are many bad imitations. The plot is beautifully paced, the narrative device felt utterly genuine and organic. I still feel tension and sadness as the book reaches its climax...and I still marvel at her small insights - this particular feeling of unease that I have always associated with her image of the fluttering moth in your chest since the book.

I don't think Roy could have topped GOST and so in a sense I'm glad she hasn't written more fiction.

Since GOST, Roy has become passionately committed to many causes, general and specific- the enviornment and anti-dam movement in India, taking on the neo-liberal order, anti-Indian nuclear tests, anti-Iraq war and American imperealism. Most of this is done via writing in a series of articles that have found wide circulation internationally, many of which are first found in Outlook India.

While I loved GOST, the articles - not so much. But still, I can't be ambivalent about them....

This is the internal dialogue I wrestle with when thinking about Arundhati Roy:

Pro-Arundhati voice: She really can write well- she just has a way with words.

Anti-Arundhati voice: 1. What's the point of writing well, if you're just ranting and raving. She has no sense of proportion or balance. Everything is really, really black and white for her. 2. So much of it is her marketability and persona- I get really annoyed by academics in the west who think she is the real voice of the 'Indian masses'. 3. Plus Ramachandra Guha says she's unoriginal and frequently gets things wrong (in much better words than I can muster) and I am inclined to trust his opinion.

Pro-Arundhati voice: But are you saying that because 1. she says some really uncomfortable, unflaterring things about India and 2. exposes deep rooted facets about your own privileged existence. At the end of the day, isn't she speaking truth to power? Isn't your vehemence born out of your own discomfort at being confronted by the ugly truths about the parts of of the neo-liberal world order that benefit you?

Anti-Arundhati Roy: Yes, she does make me uncomfortable for those reasons. In fact, I don't disagree with much of her agenda and where she's coming from. I want to be on her side but she's just annoyingly simplistic, quick to take umbrage and just a little smug. Not to mention a little rabid. She could make her argument so much more credibly and intelligently if she was just more balanced, nuanced and open to alternative perspectives. Also, she's intellectually lazy- by making the 'they're fascists/like Hitler' argument for anyone she doesn't agree with.

Pro-Arundhati: Why should she give more space and credence to already powerful players and voices? She has courage and she backs up her words with her deeds. You need voices like hers in the forums she has access to. We are kept honest by someone with her ability with language and her visibility to press our conscience and to give voice to people ...

Anti-Arundhati: I'll give her the courage part- but really, she is supported and lionized by the same systems and people she criticizes. I would just like to see her acknowledge that just once. I'd be more willing to listen to her if she would be willing to have a dialogue with people she disagrees with. You can't have a dialogue with Arundhati- she's an ideologue in the same way as G.W. and she is so convinced by her own stance that she is unwilling to question her own mistakes

And so it goes on....

Mostly, as I've read her work over the years (increasingly more incoherent and badly edited), the anti-Arundhati side of me has prevailed over the pro-Arundhati side...

So, after reading her latest article in Outlook entitled '9 is not 11', the debate has restarted and surprise...the pro-Arundhati voice is winning.

Yes, it needs an editing job and it lapses into her usual rant against America and also a somewhat inappropriate but understandable tirade against neo-liberalism when discussing (rightly) the excessive coverage of the Taj versus other, less glamorous targets. It's also way too rambly. But she does make some good points and in the language and style that she does like no one else.

Some interesting lines/points:
1. First, can we just agree that the '9 is not 11' title is vintage Roy- clever, simple, stark. On this desire to brand 11/26 'India's 9/11' she writes:

"We've forfeited the rights to our own tragedies. But November isn't September, 2008 isn't 2001, Pakistan isn't Afghanistan, and India isn't America. So perhaps we should reclaim our tragedy and pick through the debris with our own brains and our own broken hearts so that we can arrive at our own conclusions."

I agree. Calling 26/11 out 9/11 is easy and understandable but dangerous. Yes, the Bombay attacks were on an unprecedented scale symbolically but they were not a bolt from the blue in the same sense. It should not undermine the unacceptability of the series of attacks India has suffered. More importantly, we should be wary of equating responses to 11/26 with that of 9/11. The domestic and strategic context is different, India's identity is distinct and different and so we need to recognize and work with those differences.

2. A provocative but useful discussion on the politics of calling Muslim versus Hindu groups terrorists. This is a debate that is very much alive in India and she raises the important question - does discussing the context or root causes of terrorism amount to excusing it (Side A) or is it necessary to understand the deeper bases of violence (side B). She chooses side B. I've always struggled between Side A and Side B. I don't buy her reasoning getting to that point. or her simplistic and predictable linking of the Bombay attacks solely to domestic politics (though that no doubt fuels movements in Pakistan) but....she goes there and she juxtaposes the ugly side of 'context' with all that is 'magnificent' about the idea of the India. It is uncomfortable, perhaps too early to talk about but I think it is only by asking ourselves the questions about our own 'context' instead of just pointing the finger at Pakistan that we truly live up to all that we pride in ourselves as a secular, inclusive democracy.

Again, instead of constructing barriers to asking tough questions about our own legacy and place in the world, as happened in the US after 9/11, we would do well to have a discourse about these questions. Certainly in the non-inflammatory and less sensitive arenas that public intellectuals occupy.

3. Most of all I like the end:
The only way to contain – it would be naive to say end – terrorism is to look at the monster in the mirror. We're standing at a fork in the road. One sign says "Justice," the other "Civil War." There's no third sign and there's no going back. Choose.

Amen Sister. The choice is pretty clear to me.

Soon, no doubt you will write some crazy 50 page essay comparing Bill Gates to Pol Pot. And I'll feel vindicated in my irritation with you. But tonight, Arundhati, I'll give you half a thumbs up.

It's chaos but it's MY chaos!

A nyt blogpost that tackles one of the biggest trials and tribulations of academic life: how to roganize all the materials you work with. As someone who has a gazillion documents called 'proposal', 'terr' or 'final paper' with random numbers after it this post is after my own heart.

The basic point being made is that it is so easy now to just download and save articles that you often end up with more chaos on your computer than you can handle- multiple copies of the same article with different names depending on idiosyncrasies, emails with the same paper saved every 5 minutes etc. She's absolutely right that what happens now is that you end up re-researching every paper you write, even if it is substantively close to other things you have done before. It's just easier to re-google scholar an article and download it than sift through various folders and oddly titled files named pdf.17973567. The small enviornmentalist in me is also aghast at how easy it is to print off reams of articles, most of which remain unread (studying by osmosis anyone?) and then get thrown into recycle bins. Recycling does not mean that we should be printing copies of the same article every couple of weeks.

The article suggests some new software to get around this problem that seem worth checking out. They sound like more organized and functional variants of endnote.

But it only addresses the download problem, not other hassles like how to back up work in an organized fashion or how to arrange your own materials. Also, it still means that you have to be disciplined enough to enter the information about each work into the database. If you're struggling with an impending deadline, or if endnote is bugging as it seems to on Mac, that's easier said than done.

I could be a lot more organized (for those familiar with my desk, this is patently obvious) but there are a few things that I do that seem to work (ie. I can generally find things I need, I don't have tons of copies of the same things) that I'm surprised to see my friends and peers don't. So, in the best tradition of unsolicited advice, here are some tips for more organized filing:

1. Save things in multiple places- not just on a flash drive. I strongly recommend a gmail account- there is more space than you will ever know what to do with and it's free.

2. Email yourself your work every 20 minutes or so when working on a paper. I've learned the hard way of never going too long before saving and backing up work.

3. Name your documents in a standard, logical manner with some sort of numbers. like Version/V 2 or really helps later on

4. Delete! Delete! Delete! Every few months go through your computer and delete the multiple copies, the million emails with the every-20minutes-backed up paper. It makes life a lot easier and a lot less daunting to look at 600 emails all sent to yourself with identical looking attachments. Just keep the final couple of versions of any completed papers.

5. Use folders on the desktop instead of just putting individual paper icons..

Those are my words of wisdom. Now if I could only practice what I preach. I think I'm going to try extra hard...

...and give up chocolate, take up jogging and write 5 pages by 10:00 am every day. (Don't get your hopes up papa!)

Reason No. 23652: interfaith baking contest

One of the many reasons I think John Mayer is cool is that he has sustained a direct and 'unmanaged' relationship with his fans despite having exploded onto the mainstream. Despite his rapid success etc. there is something genuine and unpackaged about how he comes across...

Exhibit A: For the past few weeks Mayer has been really into baking. Over the past few weeks, his blog has been taken over by all things baking....the famous obama cake, his families cakes, fan submissions and even more fan submissions (some of which are just stunning in design and concept), his live baking posts etc. That's cool in itself.

Then came the 'interfaith baking contest'. The idea was simple- send in a picture of your holiday baking. JM will then pick his favorite and the winner gets a John Mayer autographed signature series fender stratocaster, which even I with zero knowledge of guitars can tell you is a pretty sweet prize. Contest closes on the 22nd btw

The response has been really cool. JM sites and boards are full of earnest discussions about fondant and frosting and just where to get the perfect cupcake stands instead of gossip about Anniston., the email account for submissions is constantly full etc. It has been a lot of fun to follow. And to take part in!

Very early on I decided to enter the contest but I've never really baked anything! Slight problem! I had an idea but no skills, scant equipment and little courage...So I sent a message to 7 of my best friends (about whom I have a long- overdue post coming soon). I didn't really expect much of a response- it was the end of semester, people had stuff to do, places to go, parties to plan... but lo and behold a week later we found ourselves at tulip's house, baking away.

I present to you the following pictures along with an extract of the email I sent:

Title/Concept: 'The (cupcake) world as we would like it to be' (cupcakes for peace)

(Basically we took the 'interfaith' part of your contest seriously and decided to make the most inclusive, all encompassing, interfaith bunch of cupcakes we could think of). You'll see the major religious symbols sure, but also cupcakes for atheism (the white one), agnosticism (the question mark), darwinism (the jesus fish with feet), pro-gay rights (the rainbow) and even one called enlightenment (can you guess which one?).

Medium: cake mix, frosting, sprinkles, silver and other balls, icing (baking is a lot easier than I thought!!)

Having seen the really brilliant works of art submitted by fans (seriously check them out), I don't think our 'cupcakes for peace' are going to make the cut. So I may not win the fender or john mayer's heart....

But that's not even the point. I have something way more valuable....7 of the best friends anybody could ever hope for.

To my gang: thank you guys for coming in the middle of a snow storm, despite busy schedules in a crazy weekend to help me bake. It was such a lovely afternoon! I'll always remember tulip's expert baking, lotus teasing me about my 'multi-culturalism' cupcake which she thought (incorrectly) looks like nothing, bluebell's intricate evil eye and heather's irreverent atheist and darwin fish designs... Saffron's meticulous, professional looking cakes and violet's painstaking beautiful rainbow...We played with tulip's beautiful baby, devoured our cupcakes and photographed them lovingly, while laughing and chatting about life...

So with those lovely memories, I close the book on my involvement in the great interfaith baking contest of 2008. Thanks to my wonderful friends, also for my sister's and mom's sage advice about concepts and flavors from thousands of miles away, thanks to all the people that ate our cupcakes (the downside to baking 24 cupcakes is that you're left with 24 cupcakes) and of course to a certain musician for being the impetus for it all....if Mayer's aim was to foster a communal holiday spirit, I can say from our experience - mission accomplished!

I'll close with some of my fav cupcakes-( I also loved the rainbow, the atheism and evil eye but they got eaten before I could take pictures...)

I call this 'enlightenment'

This one I call 'Will I find love? Only with divine intervention' (Or something to that effect)

The Darwin Fish

And this one by saffron sums it all up...Just perfect.

Friday, December 12, 2008

First Wandering Through Contest

I'm always talking to you about my book of the month or meal of the month or whatever but this isn't a one way street you know... it's time to hear what's going on in your lives too. Soooo in preparation for my mega 'Best of 2008/Reflections' entry, I'm going do the ultimate blogging thing and start a little contest for my readers. Aggressive blog promotion to follow so please bear with me.

Here's what I'm thinking: Send me an email or use the comment box to answer the following things:

Best Book you read this year:

Best Album/Song/Musical Discovery:

Best Blog: (apart from the obvious one of course)

Best Movie:

Most memorable Meal/Party:

News Story of the year:

Buzz word/quote of the year:

Ok, that should do it. You don't have to fill every category... (for people like my mom who might not have a best album of the year).

That should give me a good snap shot of what 2008 was about for my readers (who by default are my beloved friends)- I'll post about any interesting trends that emerge. It'll be like a little electronic capsule.

Send your entries in by Dec 30th 2008!

The Prize: I can't offer you tickets to concerts or vacations, the prize will be more modest: there will be a random drawing to select a winner who will receive his/her choice of either MY fav book/music of the year! 2 other lucky winners will win home-made 'best of 2008' music mixes by me- which as Heather will testify make up in earnestness and funk what they lack in quality and eclecticness...There will be a strict limit on John Mayer songs, I promise.

Now for the tough part- should this be a drawing? Or should it be a proper contest where I pick a winner? Opinion on this has been divided but I'll think about it and let you know. I promise to be fair.

Can't wait to see your submissions! Now is the time to prove a) that you read this b) your friendship (a little emotional blackmail to end this post)...


Yes, blogging has been sporadic. And for the legions of my fans/readers (there's such a fine line between the two..sigh) that have been wondering where their humble blogger disappeared I say - I'll be right back! Now that the semester is winding to a close I will have plenty of time during my first winter in da cuse to blog away...

You have been warned!

Rare Lost Stills from Dr. Zhivago?

Nope, just your average winter's day in da Cuse.

Woke up this morning to find these delightful sights... I'm not being sarcastic when I say 'delightful'. I LOVE snow. Specially new snow when it falls fluffily and softly on your head...

Yes, two days from now it will be slushy and ugly and yes, it makes even the shortest walk to the bus stop hazardous, mildly harrowing and disorienting (nothing like snow to make you lose you way on a 5 minute walk you do daily)

But just look at pure, so pretty....this is the snow falling with the music school in the background

...and this is snow falling over the Hall of Languages - the building that supposedly inspired the house in the original Adams Family show. Old Syracuse lore.

Give me this over a sunny, sandy beach any day (blech). Now I'll stop extolling the virtues of snow because few things irritate people who have waded through snow, slid all over the road as they tried to drive or shoveled their sidewalk for hours more than hearing how beautiful it is- I know, I learned that the hard way.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

D-List November

It has been quite a month. There was too much going for much extra sources of stimuli and none of it really can be reflected in the monthly list tradition. But tradition is tradition and so it must be upheld. Since there were many tumultuous happenings, I'm dispensing with some of my usual categories (blog, book, article, podcast etc.) Either nothing stood out or I didn't have the time. They will be back next month when I do my best of the year D-list.

So without further ado:

Best New Discoveries: 1. The hidden depths of myself 2. the Body Shop's Hemp hand cream. Fellow sufferers of dry skin: I think we have a winner.

Best TV moment: Watching Barack Obama making his acceptance speech and the amazing pictures of the Obama's and the Biden's on election night. I might have shed a tear or two.
Close second: JM singing Sinatra on Dave Letterman. Sigh.
(Worst TV moment - watching the coverage of the Bombay blasts- for so many reasons)

Best Movie: I've realized I hardly watch any movies so this category is a bit redundant. But this month I have a clear winner. You guessed it: The Visitor. The other contender was Sex and the City (the movie) which wasn't half bad but was no competition to the Visitor. Put it on your netflix queue (it took me 5 tries to try to spell that word)

Best Songs: The Things I do- Teddy Thompson. A little melancholy, ok a lot melancholy but it works for me. And because JM provides the sound track to my life 'In repair'.

Best meal: A delicious home cooked Turkish meal cooked by my neighbor- there was a spinach-lentil dish, a peas pilaf and the piece de resistance a grilled eggplant dish with little bits of feta cheese that managed to be smoky and creamy all at once. You're supposed to eat it with meat but i could eat it all by itself. Oh...just thinking about it makes me hungry. (Hint-hint to my Turkish friends).

Best Moment: 4th November 2008. (I think the worst one is obvious)

Picture of the month:

I took this at the vigil for Mumbai held at school yesterday. When we observed silence, all we could hear was the wind and the flag poles creaking and rattling in the wind. It was sad but there was a solidarity there.

Challenges of the Month: 1. How to keep the sweet in bitter-sweet. 2. Paper cuts

Lessons of the month: 1. YES WE CAN. Yes I can. 2. In Britain they call stapling clipping.

Quote of the month: 'Then, the circle of your friends will defend the silver lining'

Next month: the best of 2008 d-list! Lots of exciting categories for me to mull over...