Friday, October 31, 2008

Sikhnet and the movie 35

This seems
like quite a good website on Sikh related stuff. I could not get to
watch the movie 35, which is about theGurmukhi script.

Antonio, Texas - One of the youngest Sikh filmmakers in the world has
created a documentary that has taken the community by pleasant
surprise. 19 year old Raj Singh has captivated his audience across
borders with his filming skills. To mark the 300th Anniversary of Guruship of Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI) humbly shares the release of 35, a documentary focused on Gurmukhi script.

of sheer honesty, this documentary originated on the basis of my own
personal interest," said Raj Singh. Raj says he wanted to find out for
himself the origins of theGurmukhi script and, even further, develop a
stronger personal relationship with the Guru. The documentary centers
around the scriptural canon of the Sikh nation - GuruGranth Sahib. It incorporates the history, purpose, and methods available to learn the Gurmukhi script.

Raj shared that he does not entirely understand the hybridized language of Gurbani
and he wanted to create a documentary that one, catered to his own
interest, and two, could be utilized as a motivational tool for the
Sikh Community. "By working on this film, I have gained a solid
understanding of our scriptural history and methods of learningGurbani; however, most of all I have began to not only read Gurbani
, but I have been able to develop my own personal interpretations which
has uplifted my spirit as a son, a brother, a friend, and especially as
a Sikh," commented Raj.

Raj started making films at the age of
thirteen. He has put together various films that have been submitted to
different festivals across the world. They include "The Unrepresented
Sikh Nation," "Jaswant Singh Khalra," and "Darsh Flies High." "A lot of
credit has to go to my family and especially my parents," he said.
"They have blessed me with not only the opportunity, but with the
support that I have needed to continue growing as a filmmaker."

Harinder Singh, Executive Director of SikhRI
and co-producer of 35 remarked, "This is an attempt to share the
Guru-granted scriptural heritage of the Sikhs and its impact on the
Sikh culture. It also contextualizes the pronunciation, grammar, and
lexicon for building a relationship with theSabad – the infinite wisdom with the Guru Granth Sahib."

35 was made possible with support from SikhRI and Panjab Digital Library (PDL). SikhRI facilitates educational endeavors that explore various dimension of Sikh culture. Panjab Digital Library is a digitization and preservation repository dedicated to "revealing the invisible heritage."

35 won first prize in Sikhnet
Youth Online film Festival intermediate division (18-25 years old). It
was also selected for screening at the Spinning Wheel Film Festival
(Toronto). It can be viewed at:

thought for today

Do not be discouraged because of difficulties. Whenever one wants to achieve something in life, difficulties come. Take them as discipline (tapasyaa) to make you strong and you will more easily overcome them.

- The Mother [p-41, White Roses, Sixth Edition, 1999]

Rashid Khalidi

Chapati Mystery has good links on the Rashid Khalid controversy that McCain-Palin are misusing in their last gasps at the Presidency. It is indeed amazing that instead of challenging the racist allegations linking Professor Khalidi to the P.L.O. and other "Islamist" organizations, the Obama campaign is professing it's deep love for Israel.

Here is Scott Horton in Harpers defending Rashid Khalidi.

The last weeks of every presidential campaign I can remember bring out the crazies. Candidates are reviled as “racists,” “Nazis,” “Communists,” and the like. But this year the process has gotten nuttier and more malicious than usual. Perhaps it is a sign of desperation, given that polling does not suggest a close campaign, and a party now long entrenched appears to be poised for a swift kick in the behind—for the second time running.

Still, I was amused at how absurd some of this is. The National Review is worth examining regularly these days–it has turned into something of a circular firing squad. I used to read and love it back in the heyday of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s editorship. It was home base for a certain rigorous, philosophically based conservatism that valued the classics. I search in vain through National Review today for any trace of the erudition and intellectual integrity that Buckley brought to the publication. And I suspect that Buckley himself was unhappy with the magazine’s course in his final years. Two years ago, I spoke at a conservative, religiously affiliated college in the South and discovered that my predecessor at the lectern, just the night before, had been Buckley. When I asked how his talk had gone, my faculty handler told me it had been a surprising experience. Buckley spoke at some length about the mistakes that the Bush Administration had made, starting with the Iraq War. When one student observed that his comments were rather at odds with the views that appeared in National Review, Buckley replied, “Yes. We have grown distant.”

In the current issue of National Review, Andrew McCarthy continues his campaign to link the Democratic nominee to various and sundry Hyde Park radicals. This time it is “PLO advisor turned University of Chicago professor Rashid Khalidi,” who now heads the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Columbia University. Khalidi, we learn, makes a habit of justifying and supporting the work of terrorists and is “a former mouthpiece for master terrorist Yasser Arafat.” And then we learn that this same Khalidi knows Obama and that his children even babysat for Obama’s kids!

This doesn’t sound much like the Rashid Khalidi I know. I’ve followed his career for many years, read his articles and books, listened to his presentations, and engaged him in discussions of politics, the arts, and history. In fact, as McCarthy’s piece ran, I was midway through an advance copy of Khalidi’s new book Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East. (I’ll be reviewing it next month–stay tuned.) Rashid Khalidi is an American academic of extraordinary ability and sharp insights. He is also deeply committed to stemming violence in the Middle East, promoting a culture that embraces human rights as a fundamental notion, and building democratic societies. In a sense, Khalidi’s formula for solving the Middle East crisis has not been radically different from George W. Bush’s: both believe in American values and approaches. However, whereas Bush believes these values can be introduced in the wake of bombs and at the barrel of a gun, Khalidi disagrees. He sees education and civic activism as the path to success, and he argues that pervasive military interventionism has historically undermined the Middle East and will continue to do so. Khalidi has also been one of the most articulate critics of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority—calling them repeatedly on their anti-democratic tendencies and their betrayals of their own principles. Khalidi is also a Palestinian American. There is no doubt in my mind that it is solely that last fact that informs McCarthy’s ignorant and malicious rants.

McCarthy states that Khalidi “founded” the Arab American Action Network (AAAN). In fact, he neither founded it nor has anything to do with it. But AAAN is not, as McCarthy suggests, a political organization. It is a social-services organization, largely funded by the state of Illinois and private foundations, that provides support for English-language training, citizenship classes, after-school and summer programs for schoolchildren, women’s shelters, and child care among Chicago’s sizable Arab community (and for others on the city’s impoverished South Side). Does McCarthy consider this sort of civic activism objectionable? Since it was advocated aggressively by President Bush–this is “compassionate conservativism” in action–such an objection would be interesting. Nor was Khalidi ever a spokesman for the PLO, though that was reported in an erroneous column by the New York Times’s Tom Friedman in 1982. That left me curious about the final and most dramatic accusation laid at Khalidi’s doorstep: that the Khalidis babysat for the Obamas. Was it true? I put the question to Khalidi. “No, it is not true,” came the crisp reply. Somehow that was exactly the answer I expected.

Of course, Khalidi has been involved in Palestinian causes. McCarthy ought to ask John McCain about that, because McCain and Khalidi appear to have some joint interests, and that fact speaks very well of both of them. Indeed, the McCain–Khalidi connections are more substantial than the phony Obama–Khalidi connections McCarthy gussies up for his article. The Republican party’s congressionally funded international-networking organization, the International Republican Institute–long and ably chaired by John McCain and headed by McCain’s close friend, the capable Lorne Craner–has taken an interest in West Bank matters. IRI funded an ambitious project, called the Palestine Center, that Khalidi helped to support. Khalidi served on the Center’s board of directors. The goal of that project, shared by Khalidi and McCain, was the promotion of civic consciousness and engagement and the development of democratic values in the West Bank. Of course, McCarthy is not interested in looking too closely into the facts, because they would not serve his shrill partisan objectives.

I have a suggestion for Andy McCarthy and his Hyde Park project. If he really digs down deep enough, he will come up with a Hyde Park figure who stood in constant close contact with Barack Obama and who, unlike Ayers and Khalidi, really did influence Obama’s thinking about law, government, and policy. He is to my way of thinking a genuine radical. His name is Richard Posner, and he appears to be the most frequently and positively cited judge and legal academic in… National Review

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008


When one aspires for something, if at the same time one knows that the aspiration will be heard and answered in the best way possible, that establishes a quietude in the being, a quietude in its vibrations; whilst if there is a doubt, an uncertainty, if one does not know what will lead one to the goal or if ever one will reach it or whether there is a way of doing so, and so on, then one gets disturbed and that usually creates a sort of little whirlwind around the being, which prevents it from receiving the real thing. Instead, if one has a quiet faith, if whilst aspiring one knows that there is no aspiration (naturally, sincere aspiration) which remains unanswered, then one is quiet. One aspires with as much fervour as possible, but does not stand in nervous agitation asking oneself why one does not get immediately what one has asked for. One knows how to wait. I have said somewhere: "To know how to wait is to put time on one's side." That is quite true. For if one gets excited, one loses all one's time - one loses one's time, loses one's energy, loses one's movements. To be very quiet, calm, peaceful, with the faith that what is true will take place, and that if one lets it happen, it will happen so much the quicker. Then, in that peace everything goes much better.

- The Mother [CWMCE, 5:396-97]

Psychology and Grief

3QD has two interesting articles on new developments in Psychology.

From Edge:

DANIEL KAHNEMAN: I want to tell you a bit of straight psychology that I find very exciting, that I found more exciting this year than I had before, and that in some ways is changing my view about a lot of things in psychology. There are two big things happening in psychology today. One, of course, is everything that's got to do with the brain, and that's dominating psychology. But there is something else that is happening, which started out from a methodological innovation as a way to study memory, and we've always known, that's the idea of the notion of association of ideas, which has been around for 350 years at least.

We know about how associations work because we have one thought, and when it leads to another‚windows and doors and things like that, or white and black‚and we have our ideas of associations, and it's always been recognized as important and interesting. But our view of how associations work has been changed in a profound way by a technical innovation, which is something that happens a great deal in psychology and I suppose in all sciences. This innovation is the following: If, for example, you hear the word "sick", there are few associations that come to mind. But there are a number of other things that you can do, that are little more refined. You can present words, and measure the amount of time that it takes people to read the words. Or you can measure words and non-words, and the task is to decide whether they're a set of letters, or a word, or a non-word, and it's the ease with which words are recognized as words as against non-words. I'll begin by focusing on reaction time, because that's the simplest one.

And the other article is the fallacy about the five stages of grief, as described by Elizabeth Kubler Ross.

From Scientific American:

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

So annealed into pop culture are the five stages of grief—introduced in the 1960s by Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross based on her studies of the emotional state of dying patients—that they are regularly referenced without explication. There appears to be no evidence, however, that most people most of the time go through most of the stages in this or any other order. According to Russell P. Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and co-author, with John W. James, of The Grief Recovery Handbook (HarperCollins, 1998), “no study has ever established that stages of grief actually exist, and what are defined as such can’t be called stages. Grief is the normal and natural emotional response to loss.... No matter how much people want to create simple, bullet-point guidelines for the human emotions of grief, there are no stages of grief that fit any two people or relationships.”

Friedman’s assessment comes from daily encounters with people experiencing grief in his practice. University of Memphis psychologist Robert A. Neimeyer confirms this analysis. He concluded in his scholarly book Meaning Reconstruction and the Experience of Loss (American Psychological Association, 2001): “At the most obvious level, scientific studies have failed to support any discernible sequence of emotional phases of adaptation to loss or to identify any clear end point to grieving that would designate a state of ‘recovery.’”

Nevertheless, the urge to compress the complexities of life into neat and tidy stages is irresistible. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud insisted that we moved through five stages of psychosexual development: oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital. Developmental psychologist Erik H. Erikson countered with eight stages: trust vs. mistrust (infant); autonomy vs. doubt (toddler); initiative vs. guilt (preschooler); industry vs. inferiority (school-age period); identity vs. role confusion (adolescent); intimacy vs. isolation (young adult); generativity vs. stagnation (middle age); and integrity vs. despair (older adult). Harvard University psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg postulated that our moral development progresses through six stages: parental punishment, selfish hedonism, peer pressure, law and order, social contract and principled conscience.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Poem


A poem for you

By Rebecca del Rio

Between these lines is a poem
The words are, by turns, wise, foolish and always beautiful.
They are the instructions you need
To live this life.

These spaces describe your first memories:
The sound of branches groaning in the wind,
The smell of your father's shoes,
How tears tasted and felt.

Here is the first dream you thought worth writing down,
The first verse you committed to memory,
A list of the lies you told to get out of trouble,
An explanation of the animal you chose
For a totem and how it chose you.

Between these lines is a tale of tragedy,
Of hilarity, the telling of your first kiss,
Your first betrayal, the first time
You felt different. And why.

Next you tell when your parents failed you
and how you learned to forgive them.
You list all your teachers, beginning
With the one you could not charm who taught you the most.
This space names the birds at your grandmother's feeder
And describes the sound of your grandfather's snoring.

These numbers count the times you were forgiven
For ignorance, malice and sheer stupidity.

This is the list of the countries you visited,
the ones you went back to see again underlined .
Next follows a list of the friends you had and kept. First names and last.
Another names the trees that surrounded your house.
This shaky cipher numbers the times you wished you could touch
Your mother's cheek one more time.

These spaces describe the smell of your child's hair,
How her hand felt in yours when you slept in the same bed,
Here is the first sentence he uttered about the moon and
a figure for the times you wished you could still
Hold her in your lap or caress his hair without rejection.

Between these lines is a story.
It is at times comical, at times confusing,
But it is yours.
I started it for you. Now it's your turn.


Before going to sleep, to concentrate, relax all tension in the physical being, try... that is, in the body try so that the body lies like a soft rag on the bed, that it is no longer something with twitchings and cramps; to relax it completely as though it were a kind of thing like a rag. And then, the vital: to calm it, calm it as much as you can, make it as quiet, as peaceful as possible. And then the mind also - the mind, try to keep it like that, without any activity. You must put upon the brain the force of great peace, great quietude, of silence if possible, and not follow ideas actively, not make any effort, nothing, nothing; you must relax all movement there too, but relax it in a kind of silence and quietude as great as possible.
Once you have done all this, you may add either a prayer or an aspiration in accordance with your nature, to ask for the consciousness and peace and to be protected against all the adverse forces throughout the sleep, to be in a concentration of quiet aspiration and in the protection; ask the Grace to watch over your sleep; and then go to sleep. This is to sleep in the best possible conditions. What happens afterwards depends on your inner impulses, but if you do this persistently, night after night, night after night, after some time it will have its effect.
Usually, you see, one lies down on the bed and tries to sleep as quickly as possible, and then, that's all, with a state of total ignorance of how it ought to be done. But what I have just told you, if you do that regularly it will have an effect. In any case, it can very well avoid the attacks which occur at night: one has gone to bed very nicely, one wakes up ill; this is something absolutely disastrous, it means that during the night one has been getting infected somewhere in a state of total inconscience.

- The Mother [CWMCE, 7:66-67]

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ambreen Butt

Ambreen Butt has an exhibit in Chelsea of her beautiful artwork.

A student of Persian and Mogul miniature painting, Ambreen Butt expands on the format of this ancient technique. With intimately scaled imagery on overlaid sheets of stitched Mylar and paper, she weaves open-ended narratives that are both formally and conceptually layered. This work is from the 1999 series Bed of My Own Making, which introduced Butt’s female protagonists looped in cycles of impending calamity. Untitled shows a lone, long-haired figure standing in profile with a lit torch, about to march forward, yet her own tresses moor her to a sprouting tree behind her.

I Need a Hero
Kustera Tilton Gallery
520 West 21st Street, Chelsea
Through July 29

Here is a review of her creative challenging work from the New York Times.

With flair, wit and uncommon craftsmanship, Ambreen Butt, a Muslim born in Pakistan but now living in the United States, revives the exquisitely detailed medium of Persian and Indian miniature painting to explore modern issues like self-identity, clashes of cultural values, battles of the sexes, wars between good and evil and other knotty matters. Using pencil, gouache and other stuffs on various layers of paper and Mylar, she skillfully evokes the stylization and ornate patterning of the earlier works.

But her stalwart protagonists are not the mannered courtesans, potentates, gods, goddesses and warriors of Mughul miniatures. They take the form of a youngish woman and her clones, dressed in casual Western sweat pants and a shirt, who often wield swords against demons, serpents, lions and other allegorical symbols.

In one scene the woman holds up the endless coils of a tail emerging from a fierce, sassy spotted creature who sits on the head of another woman, while a third, emerging from the torso of the first, peers in seeming bafflement at the creature and its prey. At the bottom of this circular painting, a theatrical dragon cavorts. In another composition, the same young woman crouches on all fours, confronting a trio of howling devil dogs. A fanged and bearded sorcerer stands on her back, holding up a long, spotted reptile that appears to be part of his costume but that begins to ingest another version of the woman who tries vainly to hold onto a sword hilt.

Even more mysterious is a drawing, not done in miniature style, of a kind of Asian everywoman beset by fish. She ejects a cocky one from her mouth, cups a couple between her breasts and sports a school of active ones deployed on her sweat pants. At her feet prances a small flying horse. Is the woman, whose torso and head are swathed in rippling blue and white, like water currents, meant to be a fertility goddess? Or does she reflect the societal struggles of Muslim women? Hard to say, but Ms. Butt, in her first solo show in New York, is a pungent addition to the growing presence here of artists who grapple with bicultural identities. GRACE GLUECK

Sarah Palin on SNL

Huffington Post has a video of Sarah Palin (Tina Fey) skit on Saturday Night Live. It is really quite funny.

Here is a video of Tina Fey on David Letterman. Apparently yesterday SNL has been taken of many websites due to copyright violations unfortunately.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Confusing Words

Learning Disabilites Resources has a great post on confusing words.

Confusing Words is a collection of 3210 words that are troublesome to readers and writers. Words are grouped according to the way they are most often confused or misused.

Some of these words are homonyms (words that sound alike but are spelled differently) and some are just commonly confused.

What are Confusing Words?
affect and effect
there, their, and they're
capital and capitol
affluent and effluent
atheist and agnostic
...and over 3000 more.
Most Popular Confusing Words
lay (12022)
lay (12013)
less (8989)
less (8988)
less (8984)
affect (7090)

The last confusing word viewed was: ideal, which is confused with idealistic.
Click the Confusing Words logo to return to this page. Click About Confusing Words below for help finding the words you're looking for, contact information, and for a history of this project.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann is one of the political commentators on MSNBC, he comes before Rachel Maddow and he is really good. Here is a sampling of his views.

Although it began as a traditional newscast, Countdown With Keith Olbermann has adopted an opinion-oriented format. Much of the program has featured harsh criticism of prominent Republicans and rightward leaning figures, including those working for or supporting the George W. Bush Administration, 2008 Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain, [22] and rival news commentator Bill O'Reilly, whom Olbermann routinely dubs the "Worst Person In The World."[2]

In January 2007 The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz wrote that Olbermann was "position[ing] his program as an increasingly liberal alternative to The O'Reilly Factor."[23] The media watchdog group Media Research Center (MRC) compiled a list of the recipients of Olbermann's "World's Worst" for about a year from its beginning on June 30, 2005, and reported that, of the approximately 600 recipients, 174 (29 percent) of those fit their definition of “conservative” people or ideas while only 23 (6 percent) were what they considered “liberal.”[24] During the 2008 Democratic Party primaries Olbermann frequently chastised presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton for her campaign tactics against her principal opponent, Senator Barack Obama, asserting at one point that Senator Clinton was campaigning "as if [she] were the Republican" in the contest (see Criticism of the Hillary Clinton campaign below). Olbermann has also posted on the liberal blog Daily Kos.[25]

In a Countdown interview with Al Franken on October 25, 2005, Olbermann noted that in 2003, after having Janeane Garofalo and Franken on his show, a vice president of MSNBC had questioned him on inviting "liberals" on consecutive nights, contrasting that occurrence to the apparent ideological latitude he enjoyed at the time of the second Franken interview.[26]

In November 2007, conservative British newspaper The Daily Telegraph placed Keith Olbermann at #67 on their Top 100 list of most influential US liberals. It said that he uses his MSNBC show to promote "an increasingly strident liberal agenda." It added that he would be "a force on the Left for some time to come."[27] Investigative journalist Robert Parry has characterized Olbermann as being on the "left side of the scale."[28]

Olbermann has refused to pigeonhole himself politically, once telling the on-line magazine, "I'm not a liberal, I'm an American."[29]

[edit] Criticism of the Bush administration
In Olbermann's "Special Comment" segment on July 3, 2007, he called President George W. Bush's commutation of Lewis "Scooter" Libby's prison sentence the "last straw," and called for the resignation of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Olbermann said:

We enveloped our President in 2001. And those who did not believe he should have been elected — indeed, those who did not believe he had been elected — willingly lowered their voices and assented to the sacred oath of non-partisanship. And George W. Bush took our assent, and re-configured it, and honed it, and shaped it to a razor-sharp point and stabbed this nation in the back with it.[30]

On his February 14, 2008 "Special Comments" segment, Olbermann castigated Bush for threatening to veto an extension of the Protect America Act unless it provided full immunity from lawsuits to telecom companies. Olbermann stated,

Mr. Bush, you say that our ability to track terrorist threats will be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger, yet you have weakened that ability, you have subjected us, your citizens, to that greater danger. This, Mr. Bush, is simple enough even for you to understand. For the moment, at least, thanks to some true patriots in the House, and to your own stubbornness, you have tabled telecom immunity, and the FISA act. You. By your own terms and your definitions, you have just sided with the terrorists. You got to have this law, or we‘re all going to die. But, practically speaking, you vetoed this law.[31]

During the same commentary, Olbermann stated: "If you believe in the seamless mutuality of government and big business, come out and say it. There is a dictionary definition, one word that describes that toxic blend. You‘re a fascist—get them to print you a T-shirt with 'fascist' on it. What else is this but fascism?".[31]

In a special comment on May 14, 2008, Olbermann took Bush to task for announcing that he had stopped playing golf in honor of American soldiers who died in the Iraq war. Stating that Bush never should have started the war in the first place and accusing him of dishonesty and war crimes, Olbermann snapped,

It is not, Mr. Bush, about your golf game! And, sir, if you have any hopes that next January 20 will not be celebrated as a day of soul-wrenching, heartfelt thanksgiving, because your faithless stewardship of this presidency will have finally come to a merciful end, this last piece of advice . . . when somebody asks you, sir, about your gallant, noble, self-abnegating sacrifice of your golf game so as to soothe the families of the war dead. This advice, Mr. Bush: Shut the hell up!

Asked by MSNBC senior vice-president Phil Griffin if it was really necessary to tell the President of the United States to "shut the hell up," Olbermann replied that it was, because he couldn't say "fuck" on television.[32]

[edit] Criticism of Hillary Clinton campaign
On March 12, 2008, Olbermann used his "Special Comment" on Countdown to condemn what he characterized as Senator Clinton's "tepid response" to Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro's controversial remarks that Barack Obama would not be where he is if he were white or a woman, and pled with Senator Clinton to "take back the reins of the campaign from whoever has led you to this precipice".[33]

On May 23, 2008, Olbermann made Senator Clinton the subject of a "Special Comment" due to a remark that she made on the same day. He criticized the senator's reference to Robert F. Kennedy's June 5, 1968 assassination which she made as part of a rationale for continuing her second place presidential campaign. [34]

[edit] Feud with Bill O'Reilly
Since beginning Countdown's "Worst Person in the World" segment in July 2005, Olbermann has repeatedly awarded Bill O'Reilly, host of the The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News Channel, the dubious honor. The feud between the anchors originated with Olbermann's extensive coverage of a 2004 sexual harassment suit brought against O'Reilly by former Fox News Channel producer Andrea Mackris during which Olbermann facetiously asked Countdown viewers to fund the purchase of lurid audio tapes allegedly held by Mackris.[35][36]

O'Reilly eventually stopped retaliating against Olbermann on The O'Reilly Factor, and Fox released a public statement saying, among other things, "[...]people might tune in [to Olbermann] out of morbid curiosity, but they eventually tune out, as evidenced by Keith’s recent ratings decline[...]"[37]

However, an MSNBC press release in April 2007 cited ratings that had sharply increased from the same time the previous year.[38

Monday, October 13, 2008

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman won the Nobel prize for economics for his economic theories on international trade. I like that his column in the NYT are simple to read and understand are not filled with economic jargon but yet he is aware of all the ideas behind the terminology.

Krugman's work looked at on how economies of scale — the idea that as the volume of production increases, the cost of making each unit falls — worked alongside population levels and transportation costs to affect global trade. Krugman's theory was that because consumers want a diversity of products, and because economies of scale make production cheaper, multiple countries can build similar products, such as cars. Sweden builds its own car brands for export and to sell at home, for example, while also importing cars from other countries.

Paul Krugman, whose relentless criticism of the Bush administration includes opposition to the $700 billion financial bailout, won the Nobel prize in economics Monday for his work on international trade patterns.

The Princeton University professor and New York Times columnist is the best-known American economist to win the prize in decades.

The Nobel committee commended Krugman's work on global trade, beginning with a 10-page paper in 1979 that knit together two fields of study, helping foster a better understanding of why countries produce similar products and why people move from the small towns to cities.

Krugman (pronounced KROOG-man) is best known for his unabashedly liberal column in the Times, which he has written since 1999. In it, he has said Republicans are becoming "the party of the stupid" and that the economic meltdown made GOP presidential nominee John McCain "more frightening now than he was a few weeks ago."

Black Holes

Priya Natarajan is in in the news for discovering that black holes have an upper limit of growth and dont just keep growing out of control.

By Charles PetitOctober 25th, 2008; Vol.174 #9 (p. 18) Text Size A black hole can consume anything in its path. These monsters can become huge — but perhaps only so huge.BLACK HOLE TAXONOMYENLARGE | Click to enlarge for a primer on black hole taxonomy.Design: J. Korenblat

If asked to name stupendously amazing things in space, most people would probably pick black holes. These evil-tinged clowns of the universe are definite wows. Insatiable is their middle name.

Grand and merciless, voracious and monstrous, pure appetite and deep mystery. The biggest fatten themselves in galaxy cores mainly via a seemingly limitless hunger for a main source of sustenance: fat, circular wads of gas that gather around the black holes and are sometimes given a name to delight any glutton, Polish doughnuts. Black holes cloak their innards behind an “event horizon,” from inside which no message can be sent (which explains the one-liner physics joke: “Two protons walk into a black hole”).

What a parade of jaw-droppers that is. Well listen up, this just in: It looks like there is a limit to the superlatives. Black holes can’t eat everything. If a new analysis from a Yale astronomer is correct, even black holes run out of steam, and at a fairly precise point. The biggest black holes may reach only a few tens of billions of times the mass of the sun.

To be sure, that’s huge. Most galaxies harbor central black holes of a few million solar masses (about 4 million for the Milky Way). Fifty million light-years away in Virgo, the giant elliptical galaxy M87 is believed to harbor one having about 3 billion solar masses. The record heft for a suspected black hole, 3.5 billion light-years away and part of a double–black-hole system with a partner’s orbit that reveals its mass with some precision, is 18 billion solar masses.

Any possible cap on the size of these monsters occupying galactic centers shouldn’t diminish the place of black holes in popular imagination. And for astronomers, the newly proposed mass limit illustrates how the status of black holes, as both scientific challenge and principal player in the universe’s appearance, is on the rise.

Astrophysicists and cosmologists thought they had black holes pretty well pegged about 10 years ago. Black holes eat, they grow and they can sure produce a bright light from X-ray to radio wavelengths while on a binge. Their quasar-pumping conversion of matter to outward-beamed energy as they consume gas, dust and the occasional unlucky star is believed to reach about 40 percent efficiency. It’s not only E=mc2 at which black holes excel. They also provide wonderful playgrounds for a panoply of other Einsteinian gymnastics. They bend time, warp space and, along their borders, they spawn a fizz of evanescent virtual particles popping in and out of space’s fabric.

But all in all, to many pros interested in the big picture, black holes have been seen as intriguing and flashy character actors, bit players in the grand story of galaxy evolution and in the overall distribution of ordinary matter in the universe. Even supermassive black holes’ gravity, after all, dominates only a few parsecs radius in the crowded hearts of galaxies many thousands of parsecs across.

A consuming influence

A budding new paradigm is that black holes—in a dance of mutual self-regulation—may influence almost everything about galactic origins, growth, form and ultimate fates. They are not just the overstuffed kernels in the middle of galaxies. For reasons not fully understood, it appears that the sizes of central black holes and the masses of their galaxies, especially the central bulges, are almost perfectly in step.

The relation has become clear only since the late 1990s. Even the halo mass of dark matter—the mysterious invisible stuff that seems to make up more than 80 percent of all matter—around galaxies seems correlated with the size of supermassive black holes in galactic centers. That is a surprise. And when the black holes stop growing, galaxies themselves appear to stop evolving. “Now, we think we cannot understand galaxies without understanding black holes,” says Abraham “Avi” Loeb, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

The proposed limit on black hole mass comes from Yale University cosmologist Priyamvada Natarajan and Chilean astronomer Ezequiel Treister of the European Southern Observatory. Their paper, to appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, was posted online in August.

Declaring an upper mass limit to black holes is notable, even were such a limit not part of a bigger relationship to overall galactic physics. For one thing, it would give bounds to the specs of the black hole bestiary.

Ignoring hypothetical mini–black-holes of subatomic size that might briefly form under exotic conditions, astronomical black hole taxonomy would go like this, from smallest to largest: Substellar-mass or primordial black holes, still unproven, proposed by physicist Stephen Hawking to have formed in the dense soup of particles shortly after the Big Bang. A stellar-mass black hole is what remains after some supernovas. Intermediate-mass black holes, conjectured to form from runaway mergers of stars into dense clusters that undergo gravitational collapse, would be 100 to a million times as massive as the sun. Next up are supermassive black holes, which can grow as gas accretes into galactic centers and when galaxies hosting central black holes merge. The Milky Way’s central black hole, at 4 million solar masses, is supermassive. And at the top of the scale are ultramassive black holes, the name Natarajan gives those with 10 billion to a few tens of billion solar masses.

Natarajan, a native of New Delhi, went in 1997 from MIT to the University of Cambridge in England as a graduate student during a transition time in black hole and cosmology studies. Experts were already suspecting that extremely massive galactic black holes in the current universe are not as common as one would expect. The fast growth of numerous quasars—galactic core black holes glowing fiercely as matter falls into them—seen at great distances and as they were long ago, implied that many were bound to reach masses exceeding 10 billion suns. There is no way to see how those black holes turned out at the end of their quasar days, but astronomers can check nearby galaxies that presumably went through similar youths. And the current universe seems to have a shortage of the fatties that it appears should have grown from earlier epochs.

A basic picture of black hole growth had been worked out in the 1970s and 1980s by Bohdan Paczynski of Warsaw University (and later Princeton) and others. When Paczynski died in 2007, his obituaries all mentioned Polish doughnuts. That was his name for the fat rings of gas that ought to form in any gas-rich region around a large black hole. These torus-shaped rings would feed a steady stream of matter into a hot, brilliantly glowing flat disk of plasma spiraling down—the inner accretion disk. Most of the matter spirals down to its doom, while some gets ejected as powerful polar jets—gouts of radiation.

The result can be a quasar that shines from a region smaller than Earth’s orbit of the sun with a brilliance 100 times that of the rest of the quasar’s host galaxy. To achieve such power, the quasar must be bumping up against a barrier called the Eddington Limit. The limit’s namesake, English astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington, in the early 20th century worked out how brightly a star can shine before its radiation pressure starts blowing its outer layers into space. Turned around and applied to black holes, that limit is the brightness at which a black hole’s accretion disk is so great that it stops more gas from falling in. And to reach that, a quasar of a million solar masses must nearly triple its mass every 10 million to 100 million years. By the time it reaches a billion solar masses, it consumes 20 suns’ worth of gas every year.

A quasar’s brightness is related to how much matter the black hole is consuming. When matter stops falling in, the light goes out. Each quasar shines for only a few hundred million years. But there was no obvious reason why galaxies should run short of gas to feed into Polish doughnuts that quickly.

Stunting growth

Working in a Cambridge group headed by Great Britain’s Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, Natarajan first decided 10 years ago to calculate how a supermassive black hole might shut off its own food supply and stop growing. Rees, in partnership with University of Oxford cosmologist Joseph Silk, at about the same time worked out one plausible way. “As the black hole grows, we felt it would expel a lot of energy in a jet. It sort of fans out and clears a bubble in surrounding gas,” Silk says.

For her thesis, Natarajan worked out another plausible way: A quasar, fueled by a growing, supermassive black hole, reaches a point at which its radiation not only slows the infall of more gas, but also turns the gas around and clears out a large region around itself—leaving a nearly gas-free or “dry” galaxy. This, she estimated, would occur as the black hole reached about 10 billion solar masses.

With this theoretical exercise complete, Natarajan a few years ago tackled another aspect of galactic behavior that would eventually lead her back to how black holes might stunt their own growth. She worked with Marta Volonteri—a former fellow Cambridge postdoc now at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor—who had developed a model for how the mysterious dark matter would behave early in the universe. Specifically, the astronomers wanted to see how dark matter’s clumping under gravity shapes evolution of galaxies that form from the regular matter accompanying them.

Observations with space telescopes had shown that quasars started to pop off when the universe was less than a billion years old, and at immense power. Small black holes cannot do the job. That takes black holes of around a billion solar masses.

Earlier theorists had thought the seeds of galactic black holes were sown by the collapse of the first, immense “Generation III” stars, but those looked too puny to grow fast enough to get quasars going so soon. The two women joined a cadre of cosmologists imagining a direct-collapse model. In it, the first galaxies would form mostly from hydrogen and early stars within blobs of cold dark matter. And in these galaxies’ dense centers, gas would congregate so fast it would spiral directly into multimillion-mass black holes, not stopping to form stars first.

With their primordial dark matter blobs set up in their model—each with one or several galaxies and each of those equipped with sizable, often quasar-worthy black holes—the two scientists ran the process to the present time. Out came a universe with, sure enough, galaxies, galaxy clusters and black holes in the middles. But, as others have found, the model predicted more immense galaxies and more black holes of 10 billion solar masses and beyond than are actually evident in nearby (and therefore current) regions.

To be certain, Natarajan needed a more complete history of quasars over the lifetime of the universe for closer comparison with the model, so she could see better where reality and mathematical simulations had parted ways. Her coauthor of the recent paper, Chilean astronomer Treister, gathered the necessary stats from the ground-based Sloan Digital Sky Survey and from some of the most powerful new telescopes in the heavens, including the Chandra X-ray Observatory and Europe’s Integral, a gamma-ray observatory. These data informed her not only on the optically obvious quasars shining at visible wavelengths and first identified in the 1960s, but also on roughly twice as many others cloaked by the belts of dust and gas feeding them.

“This was the aha moment,” Natarajan says. Early models showing that black holes can turn off their own feeding station were combined with models of galaxy evolution and the populations of quasars and other active galactic nuclei over time. “The only way to fit the data is to physically cut off the ability of black holes to grow beyond some point, and that is at about 10 billion solar masses.”

Physically, she explains, the largest black holes reach the end of the line by heating gas not only in their own vicinity but, in a final stage of frenzied luminosity, heating gas throughout their enormous host galaxies and often among the galaxies of the clusters where they reside. Furthermore, it appears that black holes can keep the gas too hot to settle in large quantities back to the galaxy’s nucleus or to form stars through most of the galaxy’s bulk. Only in the past 10 years have other observations, in fact, revealed that the thin gas permeating massive galactic clusters is heated to tens of millions of degrees. “Nobody expected that,” says Harvard’s Loeb. “So galaxies reach the point where you don’t make stars. This must be intimately related to black hole growth and why it stops.”

Case closed? Not likely. Oxford’s Silk, one of the grand figures in contemporary cosmology, calls the paper “very nicely done, very competent,” but also says that “this is pretty speculative territory.” He continues: “She starts with a weak set of assumptions. You don’t really know how to make the first, seed galactic black holes in the first place. The first galaxies and the first halos of dark matter were not so big. How exactly did billion-mass black holes form? It is one thing to say that, if you have the right ingredients, you can make the cake. But these ingredients are not so natural, I think.”

Natarajan expresses similar concern about those original seeds. “The big question that remains is the early merging history of dark matter halos. This has opened up an absolutely new theoretical simulation to see if we can understand the formation of those black hole seeds.” New instruments may help explore that question. Some answers may come in 10 years or so when a joint NASA and European trio of widely spaced satellites, called the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna or LISA, may detect the gravitational waves from black holes forming and coalescing in distant galaxies. That could provide vital info on the origin of the seeds for eventual, supermassive black holes.

While the scaffolding of a coherent hypothesis linking galaxy evolution and massive black hole behavior is rising, it is not a monument yet. Other questions loom as well. It remains a puzzle that objects of such enormous difference in scale—gigantic galaxies and tiny (if massive) black holes in their centers—seem to move in smooth coordination of growth and evolution. Says Michigan’s Volonteri, “Yes, black hole growth has to stop at some point. Priya [Natarajan] suggests black holes stop their own growth.”

Then Volonteri adds, “Are black holes stopping the galaxies too? Or are the galaxies stopping the black holes?”

SIDEBAR: Black Hole Taxonomy

Black holes can be classified into categories based on size, which depends directly on mass. Apart from small “primordial” black holes that possibly formed in the early universe, the least massive are the size of a large city; the largest are huge enough to reach from the sun out beyond Neptune. New research suggests that there is a limit to how massive a black hole can become.

Stellar-Mass Black Holes

About 5 to 10 solar masses, formed when a massive star exhausts its fuel, central pressure falls and the core collapses to black hole density. (A shock wave blasts the rest of the star off in a supernova). The Hubble Space Telescope image above is of a supernova remnant in the constellation Cassiopeia.

SIZE: Roughly 30 kilometers across, or about 10 km longer than Manhattan.

MASS: 5 suns\

Intermediate-Mass Black Holes

About 100 to a million solar masses, conjectured to form in dense star clusters from a merger of stars into a giant mass that then undergoes runaway gravitational collapse.

SIZE: About 60,000 km across, or almost five times Earth’s diameter. If a stellar-mass black hole were the size of the period at the end of this sentence, this black hole would be about 2 feet across.

MASS: 10,000 suns

Supermassive Black Holes

From a million to a few billion solar masses, formed by accretion of gas in galactic centers and by mergers of black holes as their host galaxies collide. The Milky Way’s central black hole is in this group. The above Hubble image shows the collision of two galaxies.

SIZE: About 25 million km across, it would fit within Mercury’s orbit around the sun. If a stellar-mass black hole were period-sized, this black hole would be 250 meters across.

MASS: 4 million suns

(central black hole in the Milky Way)

Ultramassive Black Holes

Newly proposed category for black holes from 10 billion to tens of billions of solar masses. At such sizes, the event horizon diameter can reach hundreds of billions of kilometers.

SIZE: 60 billion km across, it would stretch from the sun to far past Neptune, even beyond some distant comets. If a stellar-mass black hole were a period, this black hole would stretch from Cleveland to Washington, D.C.

MASS: 10 billion suns

Friday, October 10, 2008

Indian Americans

New America Media writes about the death of Mr. Rajaram and the ascent of Neel Kashkari, both examples of the American economy's rapid downward descent.

Neel Kashkari, 35, MBA. Job Experience – Goldman Sachs, TRW, U.S. Treasury.

Karthik Rajaram, 45, MBA, Job Experience – PriceWaterhouseCoopers, NanoUniverse, Azur Partners LLC.

In another life they could have known each other, traded business cards. Successful professionals with all the trappings of the model minority. The kinds that can own a home in a gated community with a Lexus SUV in the driveway. Indian-American median family income rose from $87,484 in 2006 to $92,925 in 2007. Kashkari and Rajaram should have been examples of those statistics.

But instead they have become the two faces of America's economic collapse – the two horsemen of our apocalypse.

Kashkari is the $700 billion man – the knight on the white horse heading the rescue of collapsing corporations. Except it was too late for Rajaram.

Rajaram, unemployed, his savings wiped out in the market collapse killed his three sons, wife, and mother-in-law before turning the gun on himself in a 2,800 square foot house in an upscale California neighborhood.

Two days ago no one knew either of them. And we still know very little about either. The South Asian Journalists Association posted two items about Kashkari. It wasn't much information but SAJA had its biggest day of web traffic. Soon I imagine Kashkari will be on the cover of every Indian American magazine. Already the Indian media is scouring his grandfather's rundown neighborhood asking the befuddled residents – "Do you remember the Kashkaris?"

When Rajaram wiped out his family, the media didn't even know if he was an Indian citizen or not. His mother-in-law, we are told, was an Indian national. His children were named after Indian warriors and gods. But soon we will find out the neighborhood in India where his roots are. Soon the media will be asking some old man standing on his porch - "Do you remember the Rajarams?"

I hope we will remember the Rajarams. I hope we will remember that the same pride that allows us to celebrate the Kashkaris and anoint them "Indian American of the Year" in glittering ceremonies in New York hotels also keeps the Rajarams of the community from seeking help, from talking about their financial meltdown and its mental toll.

Did Subasri Rajaram know her husband was spiraling into a desperate blind alley? Did she reach out to anyone? Friends, counseling services, domestic violence organizations. I don't know. They seemed okay, said an Indian friend who had seen them at a party a few days ago. But then, she added, Indians don't like to talk about their financial problems.

We would rather save face. And Karthik Rajaram no doubt thought that his family was better off dead than losing face as the sons of a failure. Even in death we read the honor roll of his family. One son was an honors student. Another was a Fulbright scholar.

Obviously Karthik Rajaram had his own mental problems. A business associate has called him emotionally unstable. But if we are to embrace Neel Kashkari as our own, we should think twice before turning our faces away from Karthik Rajaram because he's a "bad apple." When SAJA posted the news about Rajaram's death, SAJA founder Sree Sreenivasan noted, "Every time we write about a crime in the U.S. involving South Asians, we get criticism from some on our mailing lists." No one, he added, complained about news items about the ascent of Indian American CEOs.

I hope as Kashkari tries to bring financial stability to the country, he will remember Karthik Rajaram. When banks go bust, the American dream implodes -- not just in annual reports and NASDAQ indexes, but also in tidy suburbs and quiet, gated communities.

The only clue it leaves of how an American dream turned into an American nightmare – an unread newspaper lying in the driveway.

Barack Obama and John McCain stood in a townhall on Tuesday night and squabbled over the economy and the middle class and vied with each other to feel the pain of the economic collapse. And they talked about the American dream.

But neither brought up Karthik Rajaram. Or Neel Kashkari. American nightmare and American dream – in a strange twisted way they will be forever linked together.

You toss a coin into the air and you never know how it will land.

Sometimes it lands Neel Kashkari. Sometimes it's Karthik Rajaram.

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio

Nobel Prize for literature was won by a French writer, that I have
never heard off, but sounds very interesting. I agree with his
criticism of American writers being insular. Here is a review of his work from the NYT.

LONDON — The French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio,
whose work reflects a seemingly insatiable restlessness and sense of
wonder about other places and other cultures, won the 2008 Nobel Prize
in Literature on Thursday. In its citation, the Swedish Academy praised
Mr. LeClézio , 68, as the “author of new departures, poetic adventure
and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the
reigning civilization.”

The works of Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio reflect a sense of wonder about other cultures.

Mr. Le Clézio’s
work defies easy characterization, but in more than 40 essays, novels
and children’s books, he has written of exile and self-discovery, of
cultural dislocation and globalization, of the clash between modern
civilization and traditional cultures. Having lived and taught in many
parts of the world, he writes as fluently about North African
immigrants in France, native Indians in Mexico and islanders in the
Indian Ocean as he does about his own past.

Mr. Le Clézio is not
well known in the United States, where few of his books are available
in translation, but he is considered a major figure in European
literature and has long been mentioned as a possible laureate. The
awards ceremony is planned for Dec. 10 in Stockholm, and, as the
winner, Mr. LeClézio will receive 10 million Swedish kronor, or about $1.4 million.

At an impromptu news conference in Paris at the headquarters of his publisher, Éditions Gallimard, Mr. Le Clézio
seemed unperturbed by all the attention. He said he had received the
telephone call telling him about the prize while he was reading
“Dictatorship of Sorrow,” by the 1940s Swedish writerStig Dagerman.

“I am very happy, and I am also very moved because I wasn’t
expecting this at all,” he said. “Many other names were mentioned,
names of people for whom I have a lot of esteem. I was in good company.
Luck or destiny, or maybe other reasons, other motives, had it so that
I got it. But it could have been someone else.”

In a news conference in Stockholm after the announcement, Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize each year, described Mr. Le Clézio as a cosmopolitan author, “a traveler, a citizen of the world, a nomad.”

“He is not a particularly French writer if you look at him from a strictly cultural point of view,” Mr. Engdahl
said. “He has gone through many different phases of his development as
a writer and has come to include other civilizations, other modes of
living than the Western, in his writing.”

Last month, Mr. Engdahl
provoked a wave of indignation when he criticized American writers as
“too isolated, too insular” and “too sensitive to trends in their own
mass culture.” Europe, he declared, is “the center of the literary
world.” No American has won the Nobel literature prize since Toni
Morrison did in 1993.

Mr. Le Clézio was born in 1940 in Nice and
raised in a nearby village, speaking English and French. His father, a
British doctor with strong family connections on the island of
Mauritius, lived in Africa for many years while Jean-Marie was growing
up. When he was 7, Jean-Marie traveled to Nigeria with his family and
spent a year out of school, an experience he recalled later in hissemiautobiographical novel “Onitsha” (1991).

He studied English at the University of Bristol, graduated from the Institut d’Études Littéraires in Nice, received a master’s degree at the University of Aix-en-Provence and wrote his doctoral thesis for the University of Perpignan on the early history of Mexico. He has taught at colleges in Mexico City, Bangkok, Albuquerque and Boston; has lived among the Embera Indians in Panama; and has published translations of Mayan sacred texts.

His first marriage ended in divorce; he married again in 1975. He and his second wife, Jemia, who is from Morocco, divide their time among Nice, Mauritius and Albuquerque.

Mr. Le Clézio became a literary sensation with his first novel, “Le Procès-verbal”
(1963), published in English as “The Interrogation.” The novel follows
the meanderings around town of a sensitive young man who winds up for a
time in a mental hospital. It has been compared in mood to Camus’s “The

But his style evolved in later books, becoming more
lyrical and accessible, and taking on bolder and more sweeping themes,
often with an ecological underpinning.

“The latter part has a very contemporary feel,” said Antoine Compagnon,
a professor of French and comparative literature at Columbia
University. “It has an openness to others, to other cultures, to the
South, to minorities. This is a very current sensibility.”

Bronwen Martin, a research fellow in the French department at Birkbeck College in London, said Mr. Le Clézio’s work had recently become more popular among academics. “I think it’s because of his more explicitly postcolonial work,” said Ms. Martin, who has written two books on Mr. Le Clézio’s writing.

In 1980, Mr. Le Clézio published “Désert,”
the story of a young nomad woman from the Sahara and her clashes with
modern European civilization. The book was considered his definitive
breakthrough, and it became the first winner of the GrandPrix Paul Morand, awarded by the Académie Française.

In the United States, David R. Godine, one of a handful of publishers that have released Mr. Le Clézio’s works in English, plans to issue a paperback edition of “The Prospector” (translated from “Le Chercheur d’Or” in French) and plans to publish “Désert” in English.

In a reminder that politics and culture are closely intertwined in France, the prime minister, François Fillon, said in a statement that the award “consecrates French literature” and “refutes with éclat the theory of a so-called decline of French culture.”

Mr. Le Clézio is not one to seek the limelight. He once described himself in an interview as “a poor Rousseauist who hasn’t really figured it out.”

He said, “I have the feeling of being a very small item on this planet, and literature enables me to express that.”

Asked at the news conference if he had any message to convey, Mr. Le Clézio
said: “My message will be very clear; it is that I think we have to
continue to read novels. Because I think that the novel is a very good
means to question the current world without having an answer that is
too schematic, too automatic. The novelist, he’s not a philosopher, not
a technician of spoken language. He’s someone who writes, above all,
and through the novel asks questions.”

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Jasleen Dhamija

I found this slice of life history of Delhi and Jasleen Masi's colorful life. Quite fascinating.

Of people and places


LIVING in Delhi has been for me a rich experience and despite all its drawbacks, I have come to love this city. Even today I love it as one can only love an impossible lover.

I see Delhi as a microcosm of greater India, for I can experience all the different cultures in my own locality, the MIG apartments at Saket. As I walk my dog I see rangoli from South India and hear the strains of nadaswaram floating down the road. On festive days there is the Bengali alpana and voices singing Rabindra sangeet. The call of the azan is heard every day. On Guru Nanak’s birthday one is unceremoniously woken by firecrackers and prabhat pheri at the crack of dawn. I curse this religiosity, but a part of me is happy that old traditions survive. On Diwali all the houses are lit, with twinkling oil lamps, candles and the new, tiny electric lights. My heart fills with joy as I share in the joyful celebration of the festival. Holi involves visits to neighbours, with thalis full of gulal and sweets. We converge at a neighbour’s to sing the rather risqué songs, imbibing the kanji and pakoris made by the Kayasth women, and the stronger brew made by the men.

I came from a small mountain town, Abbotabad, in the North Western Frontier Province, which nestled in a cup-shaped valley surrounded by mountains. From my bedroom we could see the snow-clad mountains. In winter when it snowed the school closed and we would play in the snow. It was in 1940 that I was suddenly transported to this big town, Delhi. I saw my first telephone. We had the old fashioned standing telephone with a trumpet shaped earphone and I shrank back everytime I heard the disembodied voice echoing in my ear. There were the big red public buses known as Gwalior Transport, which frightened me. I saw my first peacock, proud and beautiful. It had flown across the road from the Ridge on to our terrace leaving me enchanted. Till then I had only seen it on my mother’s jewellery.

We lived in Civil Lines, at Khyber Pass, in an old family house built during the time of the Raj when the Old Secretariat was the seat of the colonial government. Across from the house was the Ridge, with the flag staff, the scene of the simian Altu Faltu’s romance. Mall Road was towards its right and Rajpur Road to its left, running parallel to the Ridge. Beyond was the Old Secretariat, the terminal for Bus No.9, which travelled from the New Secretariat and carried many of the lovers of Delhi University.

The Ridge had equestrian paths where the English rode their horses and we went for our evening walks. I often took my dog, a dachshund, for walks on Rajpur Road, where Biren De, the painter lived. He referred to me as ‘the long sentence with a semicolon at the end of it.’

We would travel by bus to New Delhi to visit my uncle who lived on Hailey Road. The journey was always exciting. One went past the fashionable Maidens Hotel, under Kashmiri Gate and then the upmarket Ritz cinema which showed English movies. When we returned home at night, the bus passed through G.B. Road, the red light district, invariably lit up with throngs of dressed up women standing on the terraces and calling out to the men below. Mother would tell me not to look up but I usually sneaked a peek at the scene, wondering what those strangely dressed women were doing under so many lamps.

Our neighbour was the Registrar at Delhi University and he had a plump little wife. They had no children and no one came to visit them. In the evenings we heard mellifluous music coming from their house and I heard the elders whisper that he had married a singing girl, deserting his family and grown up children. No one mixed with them. Once when we met on the stairs she smiled and asked me to come over. She would dress me up in beautiful clothes, sing to me and I danced for her. She gave me chocolates and cooked delicacies. We had a wonderful time until my father spotted me all dressed up one day and I was forbidden to go to their house any more.

School was Presentation Convent near the old railway station and run by Irish nuns. Girls from old Kayasth families attended the school, as did Muslim girls from the old city. They came in purdah cars, but once in the purdah was abandoned and we were all the same – playing together, studying, sharing our tiffin and giggling over silly jokes. The school had an English and an Indian section. In my second year at school I was transferred to the English section. I wept, refused to go to school and made my father request my transfer back to the Indian section. The Mother Superior scolded my father and told him how absurd his request was, for every parent was asking for his or her child to be transferred to the English section. It was not for my academic brilliance, but because of my light skin that I was given this privilege.

The year 1942 saw the Quit India movement and my brother, who was at Hindu College and enthused by the freedom struggle, suggested that I write ‘Quit India’ on the school blackboard on the day we were expecting the Vicerine. He, of course, practised writing ‘Quit India’ on our back stairs, little realising that it was used only by the sweeper when he came to clean the lavatories.

Our second home in Delhi was No.8 Hailey Road, where my uncle lived. Next door lived the dashingly handsome pilot, Biju Patnaik. From the windows we would watch figures flitting in and out of their kitchen and sometimes into uncle’s house. I heard my brother whisper, ‘That is Aruna Asaf Ali’. Sometimes, there were other minor leaders of the freedom struggle, who were all underground.

I still remember the picnics on Vasant Panchami. The most memorable were the big family picnics at Okhla, occasions when young men met the girls and the elders flew kites. We all played kolrda chipaki and the boys got the opportunity to talk to girls, to fleetingly hold a hand or the end of a dupatta. It was at one of these picnics that my brother-in-law saw my sister and fell in love with her. Pitaji reluctantly agreed though he felt ‘they are business people,’ who were frowned upon. Our families preferred grooms from professional backgrounds, though they did not mind brides from business families as they brought good dowries.

One year we went in a tonga for a picnic all the way to the Qutub. The journey took us nearly two hours. Father promised to take us for the Phul-walo-ki-Sair in Mehrauli at the culmination of the tonga race, run from the walled city to Mehrauli. We never were able to make it, but I listened avidly to descriptions of the young Muslim men with their decorated tongas and ikkas, racing down the road. Mehrauli decorated itself to receive them. Then came the procession of the local elite and Delhi society going to the shrine of Pir Kaki to offer flower fans created by the flower merchants. There were also groups of qawwali singers, who sang at the mazar.

Connaught Place, which had large restaurants with dance floors, was the most fashionable shopping centre. I remember going for tea into Wengers and sitting at the tables by the side of the dance floor to watch the English and American soldiers dance with the Anglo-Indian girls. We had tea and chocolate pastries, but my heart was fixated at the sight of the dancing couples. I remember romanticizing that I was one of the girls dancing in the arms of a tall white mustachioed man, instead of with a girl, as we did during school socials.

Those were the days of innocence, when our pleasures were simple: celebrations of festivals, family picnics, and weddings when we got new clothes. On Sundays, school friends came over and we walked to the Jamuna. Every summer we bought large watermelons for one rupee, which we floated down the river, chasing them into the shallows and then eating them with great gusto. A few rupees were all that the picnic cost. Our friendships were based on shared interests without awareness of caste, creed or status. We celebrated all the festivals together. At Eid we looked forward to the kebabs and the biryani; at Christmas to Santa Claus and the plum pudding. All our friends came to us for Gurpurab and Baisakhi and we trooped off with thousands of pilgrims to celebrate at Majnu-ka-Tilla and join the devotees to offer sewa at the free kitchen, to roll out the chapatis and sit in a line together with the others to share in the langar of dal, subzi, kachumbar and roti.

Then came independence. I remember going with my father to Parliament House to listen to a debate on the national flag. I was thrilled to see Jawaharlal Nehru, who had visited our ancestral home in Abbotabad, as he had been at the University in England with Vade Chachaji. We visited Mahatma Gandhi at Birla House and I was so proud that he recognized my sister, who had sung for him every day for over a month when Gandhiji stayed with us at Abbotabad.

Independence was marred by the partition of the country. Relatives from Lahore, Rawalpindi, Abbotabad poured in with the few belongings they had salvaged. There was fear in their eyes and despair on their faces. Alongside the horror were the uplifting stories of Muslim friends, who had risked their own lives to save their neighbours. We were fortunate not to lose any relatives. They however, lost everything.

Our home became a dormitory. Beds were spread on the floor and people sat in shifts to eat their meals. There was a threat to us from a nearby Press where a large number of people had gathered, fleeing the killing and looting in the old city. From our terrace we saw fires burning all around us. We heard threatening voices shouting ‘Har Har Mahadev’, ‘Bole So Nihal’, and ‘Allah Hu Akbar’. I witnessed the senseless stabbing of a young boy on the road in front of our house. I knew fear and it took me years to get over my paranoia of any religious celebration. We were witness to the sad sight of a large group of Meo families marching with their cattle. They looked fierce and the streets emptied. We watched them from behind barred doors, tall and handsome, walking firm and proud towards Pakistan, their meagre belongings balanced on their animals. They were our people and it was sad to see them go.

When school reopened, my Muslim friends were no longer there. They never came back. The telephones went unanswered and I wept for my beautiful friend Nasreen, who was lost to me.

Our many guests found temporary places. Some hoped that this was a crazy period and they would go back. Others knew better and began to rebuild their lives in an unknown territory. Slowly life came back to normal. But echoes of the tragedy were felt when father would meet people, his old accountant for example, who had lost all members of his family. Or an old acquaintance from Lahore, who had been a rich man and was now back to where he started, a kabariwala. A mother came begging, pleading with father to intervene with her husband to take back their young daughter who had been recovered from Pakistan. For my parents’ generation, separation from their homeland was a great loss. Even today you hear, from those who are still around, how everything in Abbotabad was the best. The water was sweet, the fruit was the juiciest, people were wonderful and the air clean, pure and healthy. My grandmother whose name was Tooti, ‘lady parrot’, would sigh and say ‘Bhardea Abbotabada kadi bhulda nahi.’ Wicked Abbotabad, I cannot forget you.

In 1949 I joined Miranda House, the new college on the Delhi University campus. We were the hip girl students and our batch had Sagari Chengappa, who was the heartthrob of the university. Natwar Singh, the ace debator of St. Stephen’s College, was forever offering his non-existent kingdom for her. Sagari played hostess for her uncle, General Cariappa, and would sneak in goodies for us when she returned to the hostel. Madhur Bahadur, later Jaffrey of Merchant Ivory films and the wonderful cookbooks, known even then as a consummate actress, was wooed by Saeed Jaffrey. There was Sujatha Mathai, petite and beautiful, who became a well-known poet, the Saraswat Brahmin beauty Sunanda Surkund, who attracted a lot of attention. Among the seniors there was the oomphy Uma Vasudev and Malati Bhatia, the attractive tennis player. Bright Indu Chatterjee, who married and went away to Pakistan. Romila Thapar, who even then stood head and shoulders above everyone and of course the unforgettable Sheila Bahadur, with her brilliance, beautiful voice and witty conversation.

Our teachers too were characters. The neurotic principal Mrs. Thakurdas, Kamala Acheya with her face painted like a Kathakali mask who later married Professor V.K.R.V. Rao. There was Krishna Essuloff, who was always voluptuously wrapped in brilliant Kanjeevrams and of course the two friends Kapila Mallick (Vatsyayan) and Sita Chari, who tried to enlighten their callow students about English literature. There were college romances and scandals. Kadambari Viswanathan eloped with Krishan Rasgotra of External Affairs, old enough to be her father. There was my romance with the revolutionary Santosh Chatterjee and Asha Atal’s with Harish Chandra, the Communist student leader. There was the delightful Shaila Umbegaonkar, who drove around in a mini Fiat which always had to be pushed up a slope, who ran off with her best friend Jayshree’s boyfriend, the maverick Tilak Nijowne. He was supposedly brilliant, but never managed to get through his BA.

Delhi University was a hotbed of student politics, romance, scandal and intrigue. It was here that we acquired our skills for the big world. It was while looking after the leftist relief committee for students that I honed my organisational skills and later, as president of Miranda House, helped organise events.

Delhi was slowly losing the refinement of the old inhabitants. Punjabi entrepreneurship was burgeoning and a new way of life emerging. Food habits were changing. Fruit shops were coming up. The sweet shops, which originally sold their goods in mud pots and palm leaf baskets and banana leaves, were now selling them in cardboard boxes similar to western style pastry shops. The new restaurants and dhabas served in metal thalis or ceramic plates instead of the disposable pattal, leaf plates and cups. Bottled drinks began to be sold and fruit juice stalls, as well as egg and meat shops, sprouted in all the neighbourhoods. In some localities which had a lot of refugees, the tandoor became an integral part of the local scene. Women would send dough made into round balls and for two annas or one eighth of a rupee, ten chapatis would be made. For another two annas you could get a bowl of cooked dal. For many homes that was a meal in itself, accompanied by raw onions and some pickle.

Eating places came up and Moti Mahal, the true Indian restaurant, opened in Darya Ganj, the dividing line between Old and New Delhi. It served tandoori chicken, makhani dal and nan. The nouveau riche Punjabis came in their cars to feast. The restaurant added floors, bought up next door houses and transformed itself into an open-air restaurant creating new genre of Indo-European eatery. Here the emphasis was not on ambience, but on food, and the newly emerging middle class felt more at ease. The Pathan waiters with their starched white salwars and shirts, large upturned moustaches and kohl in their eyes, greeted customers heartily with folded hands, with jiyo ji, bhapi ji, sat bachan ji, as they placed generous bowls of pickled onions to be munched while waiting for the crisply done tandoori chicken.

The pre-partition Punjabi families, mostly Sikhs, part of the construction mafia that built New Delhi and who had made it rich, were very much part of the richie-rich scene. Gossip had it that five of them colluded together, not allowing others to bid for the contracts as they shared the pickings. Others who sub-contracted from the big five or were related also made their millions; one started a furniture shop in Connaught Place and later the Coca Cola agency. Another, who had earlier been a clerk at Clarks Simla, rented a part of the Imperial hotel, subsequently bought the Maidens Hotel and then went on to start the Oberoi chain of hotels. They also helped a number of their relatives who came from West Punjab and absorbed them into their business or helped set them up. Some Punjabis, who had been part of the army, the Imperial Civil Service, had a base in Delhi and constituted the elite in Delhi Punjabi society.

They began storming the colonial bastions, the Imperial Gymkhana Club, the Golf Club, while others regularly went to the Chelmsford Club, which had been set up by the Indians on the lines of the imperial clubs. Chelmsford club was very similar to Gymkhana, but a little showy. They began to Indianise by adding tables for rummy and introducing qawwalis on special occasions and tambola, which was more a part of the Anglo-Indian club culture during the colonial times.

In Connaught Place the Indian Coffee House was a hangout for unemployed intellectuals, journalists and insurance agents. There were family cabins where the girls sat with their men friends, whereas in the main hall the men sat the entire morning over a single cup of coffee. Every Sunday my friend Sunanda Surkund and I used to take the No. 9 bus from the Old Secretariat to Connaught Place and join the very popular family cabin, where Trevi Sen, the universal aunty, reigned supreme and a number of lively young men, Som Benegal, Richard Bartholomew, the poet and art critic, Baij Nath Malan, the intellectual bureaucrat and many others would join us. Trevi’s naughty sense of humour, scintillating conversation and warm generosity, as well as the bevy of young girls around her, attracted all the young men. A number of romances budded in the Indian Coffee House.

The Constitution House, a set of barracks, was another meeting place in the ’50s and ’60s. It was later demolished and the External Ministry’s hostel built in its place. It was a residence for artists, writers, bachelors and single women, who lived their own lives fully. The eccentric Vijay Tunga, writer and poet, carried on a battle with his waspish next door neighbour by speaking loudly to the wall. Suff and Elizabeth Brunner, the Hungarian mother and daughter painters, lived out their own fantasies under the patronage of Nehru. Satish Gujral and his beautiful wife, Kiran, started their romantic life and he began his portrait of Nehru and later Mrs. Gandhi, while residing there.

The government drumboy and photographer, Ram Dhamija, his neighbour, carried on his love affair with the extraordinary Mme Simki, Uday Shankar’s partner. Ram Dhamija won me over by inviting me to private recitals of Balasaraswathy and the Dagar brothers at his stark bachelor digs. To see Bala imitate other dancers or interpret her favourite padams was for me a revelation. Mira Mallick, the brilliant young Indian Foreign Office debutante, had a host of admirers, who, one heard, fought over her. Nilima Sanyal, the sexy announcer at All India Radio, held court here and had a pick of admirers from all walks of life.

In the late ’50s and mid ’60s three personalities dominated the official cultural and intellectual scene. There was Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s hostess with her own coterie – Romesh and Raj Thapar, Inder Gujral, the leftist student leader from Lahore, the Bachchans and others, who discussed Oscar Wilde at the dinner table. There was Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya with her large circle of political friends, young acolytes L.C. Jain, Raj Krishna, Som Benegal, as well as a number of friends from abroad, who came to visit her. She was committed to nurturing the living cultural traditions and was deeply involved with classical dance, the performing arts, theatre and crafts. She ran an open house for artists. Many of us worked with her in the movement for revival of craft traditions. Octavio Paz, the Mexican ambassador, was a frequent visitor to her house.

On the other hand there was Pupul Jayakar, a devotee of Krishnamurti. She had her own acolytes who listened avidly to her rather precious, intense conversations. She looked after the Handloom Board and appointed well-known artists to run the weaver service centres. Later, as head of Handicrafts Handloom Export Corporation and cultural advisor to Indira Gandhi, she organised the Festivals of India, letting loose on the world a dazzling display of arts, crafts, performing artists and snake charmers alongside minor royalty, who charmed the foreign public at a huge cost to the exchequer. The only person, who ever took her on was Mala Singh; she once did an extraordinary take off on her in her presence.

Sir Shankar Lal, a true representative of old Delhi family with his fondness for poetry, mushaira and nurturing Delhi’s cultural life, encouraged the two bahus of the family, Sumitra Charat Ram and Sheila Bharat Ram to participate in Delhi’s cultural scene. They set up two rival organisations. Bharatiya Kala Kendra, Sumitra’s organisation, enticed the Dagar brothers to Delhi and dhrupad came into its own. They organised ballets with Birju Maharaj and Kumudani Lakhia as the dancers and the Dagars providing the music. The Punjabi theatre of IPTA fame with Sheila Bhatia and Sneh Sanyal gave us the Punjabi opera, Heer Ranjha. Delhi was slowly emerging as a cultural centre.

The new all-knowing soothsayers during the ’60s were the senior journalists. They had their own coteries. Sham Lal, the great intellectual, edited The Times of India and wrote his reviews as personal open letters. Girilal Jain worked with him and agreed with all that he said, until he took over from Sham Lal. There was Romesh Thapar of Seminar with his booming voice, his massive presence and his bright wife. They were all part of the armchair leftist group. Then there was Frank Moraes with his American friend Marilyn Silverstone, a brilliant photographer. Together with the young impetuous Nandan Kagal, they formed another group, which was very much part of the establishment. Nandan, of course, flitted from one group to another. Mulgaonkar of the Hindustan Times with his young attractive wife, Krishna Kaul and Mankekar of PTI and later The Times of India, were the other pillars of the print world. They all prophesied doom and doled out free advice to the government falling just short of advising God. Ajit Bhattacharjea belonged to everyone and no one, and took the Presidential protocol office to task for seating him at the bottom of the table with other journalists.

On the eve of my departure for Iran, Nandan Kagal organised a goodbye dinner with Sham Lal, the Thapars, Girlal Jain and R.K. Laxman, who was visiting from Bombay. Halfway through the evening they all got entangled in a heated discussion on the current situation in India. R.K. Laxman said to me, ‘You see, Jasleen, they are not Indians. They are the new Olympians sitting at the Khyber Pass, condemning all that is happening in the Gangetic plain.’

Till the ’70s, New Delhi remained a quiet capital town dominated by the civil servants. Bombay and Calcutta were the hubs of the commercial world and far more cosmopolitan. By the end of the decade, India began to open up to outside stimuli, influence peddling became a way of life and the presence of black money began to dominate all spheres. Business houses began to shift their offices nearer the corridors of power. PRO men and women and power brokers began mushrooming everywhere. The cocktail circuit became an important part of Delhi life, with politicians hobnobbing with government officials, diplomats and heads of the corporate world. Gone were the days when government officials had to get permission to attend a party thrown by an embassy or a business house with which their departments had dealings. The NRIs, with their foreign exchange, for which we were all starved, began peddling their influence. Delhi lost its innocence. It took on the appearance of a gaudy woman who lived to the hilt at all costs.

There were a few exceptions, among them the jovial, cigar smoking and encyclopedic Krishna Chaitanya, who refused to use the official car, except strictly on official business. He rode his motorcycle all over Delhi attending concerts, art exhibitions and plays. He was a prolific writer and wrote many books and reviewed art exhibitions as well as Indian and western music concerts.

Delhi attracted all the talented artists and the elite flocked to the theatre, music concerts and art galleries to flaunt their jewellery and designer clothes. A new class came up – young affluent kids, the children of businessmen and senior civil servants, with plenty of money to throw around at discos, five star hotels and cultural events. Standing apart were the jhola walas, who frowned on this hedonist lifestyle and became the conscience keepers of the society. They set up NGOs, held study circles and countered in a small way the carefree lifestyle of the nouveau riche. The jhola walas mingled with the jetset at the art and culture happenings and often enjoyed the good things of life with great condescension.

However, the cultural life of Delhi flowered. The season from October to March offered a rich selection of dance, music, theatre, art shows, installations, events and happenings. There were coteries, which surrounded the cultural gurus. Gita Kapur and Vivan Sundaram had their favourite artists who they promoted unrelentingly. Alkazi through Art Heritage Gallery did so in a subtler manner, even as Manjeet Bawa helped Renu Modi to develop her stable of artists at Espace Gallery, whom she marketed through her Marwari and corporate contacts. Chandralekha, Dashrath Patel and Sadanand Menon dominated the dance scene, and were soon challenged by the classicist, Sonal Mansingh, who fought her lonely battles.

The grand dirty old man, Khushwant Singh, maintained his image of a sharp tongue and a robust libidinous sense of humour, successfully hiding the serious man whose best work is on the gurbani and who secretly spends the early morning hours listening to religious music.

In the folk art and craft scene, Martand Singh, with the support of the cultural czarina Pupul Jayakar and his group of talented gay designers, carved out a place for himself, challenging Rajeev Sethi, the great showman. Martand Singh dominated the Festivals of India and Intach at home and in England.

A number of people vied for the title of the cultural czarina and czar. Ashok Vajpeyi of Bharat Lok Kala Bhavan of Bhopal was one such aspirant. Unfortunately the Bhavan went into decline post Swaminathan. Kapila Vatsyayan of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, evolved an ambitious programme to rescue the art and culture of India. Unfortunately, Ignca was run as a one woman show with sycophants surrounding her. She did manage to put up some excellent seminars and exhibitions. However, they were not monumental, as the first edition of the Ignca Journal claimed. Mala Singh of India Magazine, Seminar and Business India TV, too had ambitions, but no funds. She was another minor czarina with her own coterie.

The ’80s saw a new cultural czar begin his rise. O.P. Jain, who built his millions from the paper trade had made a tentative entrance into the cultural world in the ’60s by supplying paper for Mulk Raj Anand’s plush edition of Kama Sutra, known best for Mulk’s failure to put inverted commas at the beginning and end of the text. Later, with the help of Jyotindra Jain, who came from Ahmedabad to build up a remarkable Crafts Museum from the bureaucratic mess of the handloom and handicrafts organisations, he set up a Museum of Everyday Art in the basement of his Safdarjung Enclave house. His cultural and political contacts helped him expand his empire by acquiring prime land in Mehrauli-Gurgaon. Shared with others, it became the location for Anandgram, a beautifully maintained cultural centre. His Sanskriti Trust, known for recognising young artists and Anandgram consolidated his presence in the cultural, social and political orbit of Delhi. Today some of the finest functions are organised by O.P. and people vie with one another to be invited.

Lone voices were raised to challenge these Goliaths, like Ram Dhamija, who investigated and wrote about Pupal Jayakar’s misdemeanors and the authoritarian attitude of Kapila Vatsyayan in the flimsy magazine, Arts and Crafts Monthly. Everyone who read his column encouraged him to continue, for he said what no one else dared to say but would like to. Soon even that magazine was closed by the owner, who came under pressure.

The cultural world now constituted big money because of government, corporate and international patronage. Cut throat competition became the order of the day. The media also became involved, recklessly promoting artists, never mind the talent or involvement in creative expression.

Despite all this, Delhi provided for those of us, who lived our lives far away from the corridors of power, a rich and varied cultural scene. Talented young artists in all fields and some extraordinary minds continue to enrich our lives as we laugh our way into the sunset. Today we curse Delhi, moan about the lack of values and rampant corruption and yet we can never leave the city until our dying day, refusing to believe that even our last rites may be held up because of a power failure.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Never allow someone to be your Priority, While allowing yourself to be their Option'

Thanks Laila for this.

Rachel Maddow

Alternet writes on political commentator Rachel Maddow, who has her own show on MSNBC. She is like a breath of fresh air in the field that is surrounded by old, shrill, white men.

"I think I have a fear in general about whether being a pundit is a worthwhile thing to be," Rachel Maddow tells me over dinner at a Latin restaurant in lower Manhattan. It's more than the ordinary self-deprecation of someone who just got her own cable commentary show. It's an insecurity essential to the on-air style that's powered the 35-year-old's rapid rise from a wacky morning radio show in western Massachusetts to the liberal radio network Air America and now to her own prime-time show on MSNBC.

Maddow is not a Tim Russert or a Chris Matthews -- an ostensibly nonpartisan interviewer who badgers politicians and policy-makers about contradictions in their records. Nor is she a Rush Limbaugh or a Glenn Beck -- an attack dog who deals in calculated anger, bluster, and outrage. She's no mild-mannered liberal like Alan
Colmes or a veteran observer like Wolf Blitzer or David Gregory. Maddow has broken the broadcasting mold. She has succeeded as an avowed liberal on television precisely because she is not a liberal version of conservatives like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. Unlike so many progressive media figures who sought to replicate the on-air habits of the aggressive shock jocks of the right, she stumbled upon a workable style for the left. She is liberal without apology or embarrassment, bases her authority on a deep comprehension of policy rather than the culture warrior's claim to authenticity, and does it all with a light, even slightly mocking, touch. She proves that liberals can attract viewers on television when they actually act like, well, liberals.

Maddow's accidental path was paved by the success of Keith Olbermann's Countdown on MSNBC. Neither Olbermann's impressive ratings (second only to Bill O'Reilly's) nor his liberalism were foreseen by the network, which hired him in 2003 as a straight newscaster. Olbermann's audience, along with the declining popularity of Republican media outlets as the country soured on the Bush agenda, emboldened MSNBC to give Maddow her own hour of prime time, a coveted 9 P.M. slot immediately following Countdown. (The Rachel Maddow Show debuted Sept. 8.)

The announcement was interpreted by some as a turning of the tide, a sign that cable news networks were no longer a hostile environment to liberalism. But, for her part, Maddow never accepted the idea that cable executives harbor a conservative bias. As she put it, "It's sort of the first refuge of lefty scoundrels to say, 'I get the real picture, and the mainstream media would explode if they ever handled it.' But if you can make it interesting, the mainstream media is interested in it."

* * *

Maddow started her career with more interest in changing policy than in changing the media. After attending Stanford, she studied at Oxford, where as a Rhodes scholar (she says she was the first openly gay American to receive the honor) she completed a dissertation that expanded on work she was already doing as an AIDS activist. Her efforts were based on a profound public-health insight: Prisons offer a surprising opportunity for AIDS prevention and treatment because inmates are a vulnerable population collected in one place and have a constitutional right to health care.

In 1999, Maddow was supporting herself with odd jobs (she met her partner Susan Mikula after the artist hired Maddow to do yard work) when she attended an open casting call for a disc-jockey position at a local radio station in Northampton, Massachusetts, and scored her own morning show. Five years later, when she heard about a new liberal radio network forming in New York, which would come to be known as Air America, she concocted what she calls a great "caper" to get a job at the network -- involving, among other gambits, having an ex-girlfriend impersonate one of Al Franken's students at Harvard.

Her caper paid off, and she was tapped to co-host a show with network executive and Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead and rapper Chuck D of the group Public Enemy. (Maddow is perhaps the only person who can claim she has worked regularly with both Chuck D and Pat Buchanan.) But the show never took off and was replaced with a program hosted by Jerry Springer. Maddow convinced the network to give her a solo show and despite being shuffled from time slot to time slot, was able to build an audience via her podcast. She has held on to her radio show, which currently airs from 6 P.M. to 8 P.M. Eastern time, even after making the jump to TV.

Middle School chronicles

Middle School is a dress rehersal for life