Friday, May 07, 2010

Maps, not timetables

Stephen Covey says that people should lead their lives by maps, and not timetables. Though the analogy isn’t perfect, it did come to mind when I read of  weeds resistant to herbicides like Roundup in the New York Times .

I wonder at what point did big farmers lose track of the fact that their primary purpose is producing food, and not producing X tons of soy/corn/whatever. When you’re reducing what you’re doing to a set of pure numbers and quarterly goals without any underlying purpose or mission, the danger of unintended consequences is much higher. Where’s your map telling you where you want to be headed?

Friday, April 23, 2010


In a corporate environment, competence counts for a lot. I was at a party once with some people at work, and Z (who had had a bit too much to drink, I must add)  said about J “He knows his shit. And when you say that about someone, that’s a great compliment to give, you know, that he knows his shit?” Number of cocktails inside Z aside, point noted. Competence matters.

But in the public sphere, it’s apparently OK to be a complete dimwit. I’ve been following the depositions of Greenspan, Robert Rubin and the good folks at various multiple-fancy-named institutions on Wall Street ( Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley et al), and everyone’s saying this about the crisis: No one saw it coming.

Seriously? I’d like to see a CEO make that argument in a closed-door board meeting.

I shudder to think that these jokers hold the keys to the world’s largest economy. I don’t know which is worse: that they were incompetent enough to not understand that this was a train hurtling out of control, or that they are lying.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

On the Radio

There are programs, and people who are made for a medium. For instance, Scorsese and Spielberg are cinema people, period. They may be great storytellers, but I don’t see them achieving greatness as, say, theater directors. Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly) is the quintessential television guy: his best work comes when he’s constrained by the hour-long format and he has the luxury of a full season or two to build character arcs.

In a similar way, Ira Glass and This American Life to me embody radio. The lack of visuals and the lo-fi audio are limitations the TAL team seems to revel in.

Not all radio shows feel that way. Even the good ones. NPR shows like Wait, wait, don’t tell me and Says you, I see them working as TV game shows or live acts of some kind.

But “This American Life” is pure radio (though, ironically, it had an award-winning two-season run as a TV series). The connection is direct and visceral: you and that voice on your radio. Technique goes a long way in making that work: a ‘sticky’ radio experience is dependent on atmosphere. As Ira Glass himself detailed in an illuminating talk on stage last year, great production and background music help immensely in making stories that stick. While listening to TAL, there are times when I’m absolutely riveted, and a break in the proceedings seems intrusive. 

Those driveway moments take hard work.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reading Pico Iyer in India

The day after I landed in Mumbai on vacation, I started reading Pico Iyer’s Tropical Classical. Pico Iyer’s one of my favorite writers of any kind now. He is ostensibly a travel writer. However, his writing resonates as not just a chronicle of new places, sights and sounds, but of journeys within.

But the problem is, reading Pico Iyer while traveling yourself doesn’t seem to work. India is home, but it’s also a journey of sorts, as every trip here is an exercise in melding the familiar with the unfamiliar.

Going to a completely new place is one thing. Going to a place that’s at once familiar (and holds memories) and seeing it changed in 18 months to something that’s different (though not different enough) is disorienting. It’s disorienting enough that reading of religiosity in Ethiopia or tango in Buenos Aires seems just redundant.

Finally, I just gave up. Reading Gurcharan Das’ The Elephant Paradigm seemed more appropriate.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Small Pleasures

There’s a tendency to want every media experience to be extra-ordinary. Every album should be Sgt. Pepper’s, every film should be a Sholay and every TV series should be a Battlestar Galactica.

However, in the timeline between Chris Nolan, Radiohead and Joss Whedon, there lurk lovely little gems. They aren’t masterpieces or classics, but they have their own special place. They light up your life in small ways at unexpected corners. They never change your life, but they definitely make it less burdensome to live on a day-to-day basis.

I remember making this remark about Kaminey on Twitter (on why it was unfair to burden the maker of Omkara and Maqbool with so many expectations) . “It’s a small film with smaller pleasures.” And I’d definitely apply that to these films/TV series.

As I’ve shifted my TV viewing away from ‘live’ TV to more and more shows on DVD and streaming via Netflix, I’m encountering a lot of these. It’s been a lot of fun and a million times better than watching another rerun on TV.