Archive for the ‘Philistinism’ Category

You may think this email presumptuous, but I believe this is an important issue that concerns women everywhere. I cannot stay quiet any longer at what has happened to you in recent years.

Here is a graph I put together to illustrate my point:


Image Sources (in descending order):
spreePix on flickr
Source: Badhaven.com

This graph illustrates an important axiom:

Hotness (H) is inversely proportional to Pretentiousness (P)


I have some great memories of watching Troy and admiring your er…..brilliance from every possible angle. In that movie, you played the self-centered, spoilt-by-an-overindulgent-mother Achilles and we loved you for it. The way I look at it, we women have to deal with spoilt, self centered guys all the time, so when one of these actually looks like a Greek god, we’re ecstatic.

When you fought over the poor slave girl Briseis, I put aside my reservations about women being treated like chattel. Instead, I envied her. I thought that Helen of Troy was a fool to have eloped with that idiot Paris (in the first place, isn’t Paris a very silly name for a guy? His elder brother gets a sensible name like Hector and the poor dude gets named after a hotel heiress? Priam and Hecuba must have been watching a lot of E! on the sly. I suppose Cassandra ought to be thankful she didn’t get named Miley or Britney). Coming back to the topic of Helen, if only she had eloped with you, the Greeks could have avoided the war with the Trojans and Odysseus could have stayed home with his wife. In fact the whole thing could have been settled with a round of single combat between you and Agamemnon and you could have killed that fat,  neck-challenged jerk. I mean, what sort of guy sacrifices his daughter to obtain safe passage for his ships? Not only is it unethical, it’s downright illogical.

Anyway, as I was saying, despite Helen’s regrettable taste in men, Troy was an excellent movie.

And then you made Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The movie did not make sense at any level, but then you looked great, so all the other stuff like script or logic or a coherent plot did not matter. Oh and there was the small issue of you leaving your wife for Angelina Jolie, but we’re not being judgmental here. As long as you’re looking hot and giving us ladies our money’s worth in the movie theaters, your personal life is your business.

But it was all downhill from then. Exhibit A: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The problem, dude, is that you have been taking yourself way too seriously. You really think people are interested in the story of a guy ageing backwards? Big Yawn. You probably had your eye on the Oscars, but serve you right that Slumdog Millionaire walloped your movie out of the running.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, you started sporting a beard. Every time we thought this couldn’t get any worse, you came up with an even more atrocious version of the facial hair. Women everywhere started to have nervous breakdowns.

I must admit that things have gotten better in recent months and you seem to have pulled yourself together for Moneyball. But judging from the latest photos, the beard seems to have made a comeback, along with a pair of terrible glasses. (Sigh, here we go again). In order to find a long term solution to the problem of the beard, it looks like we might actually need Congress to intervene. They may not be able to agree on things such as the deficit or foreign policy but on major issues like Brad Pitt’s beard and glasses, I am optimistic that we will see bipartisan co-operation.

At the end of the day, though, you need to take charge of your own appearance and image. With that in mind, I have put together a simple 4 point action plan for you to get back on track.

(1)Lose that beard. I know you’re very busy and all that but it’s really not that hard to shave every day. If you don’t believe me, ask your buddy George Clooney. He makes great movies and finds the time to shave.

(2)Lose the glasses, too. Throw them on the floor and stomp on them and you will feel better. More importantly, we will feel better.

(3)Stop saying silly things like you will quit acting in 3 years’ time. It upsets us.

(4)You need to make us forget some of those awful recent movies (Benjamin Button, I’m looking at you). The best way to do this is to make sequels to Troy.

Troy 2: Elope with Helen, duel with Agamemnon, and massacre him. You will win the gratitude of not only modern movie goers, but also of Odysseus and his wife, as well as Agamemnon’s wife and daughter. Happiness all around.

Troy 3: The Greeks and Trojans band together and fight the empire in a galaxy far, far away. You, as expected, do single combat with Darth Vader and demolish that tin-voiced bore strutting about in fancy dress.

Darth Vader Image Source: Flickr by Andres Rueda

To set up an appointment to discuss more such brilliant ideas, have your people call my people. Oh, and leave Angie at home.


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Dear Readers,

I went to the Museum of Modern Art  so that you wouldn’t have to. Yes, I am noble like that.

The incident happened a few months ago. It was a rainy Saturday in San Francisco and the sun forgot to put in an appearance. So finding nothing much else to do, I headed to the MOMA to learn all about life, art and the meaning of reality. But first I had to pay up $ 18 for the ticket and drive around the block 6 times to find parking. The things I do for Art and for you, my dear readers.

I took pictures of many of the contraptions alleged to be ‘sculptures’ so that I could share some key life lessons with my readers.

1. Next-Gen Electric Chair:

This is a prototype for a new type of electric chair being introduced in Texan prisons. If nothing else, this at least should convince everyone that capital punishment is a bad idea.

2. Babes on a Bench

Ladies, beware. This is what happens to women after a few thousand years sitting on the couch watching “Keeping up with the Kardashians”.


3. Wonder Weeds

This is the sort of stuff that gets washed up in Bombay after particularly heavy monsoon rains when the gutters overflow and manhole tops come off. Things that were better left buried underground come up and cling to the feet of harried pedestrians. Our genius artist picked up some washed up weeds, drained the excess rainwater, arranged them nicely and sent them to the MOMA.

4. Random Blue Stuff

Winner of the San Francisco First Grade art competition.


5. Newspapers as political statement:

If you think that these are just newspapers stacked neatly in a corner, wrong, wrong, wrong. The artist is making a political statement with this work. Notice how the different stacks are all of different heights and shapes symbolizing the deep inequalities of society. The pieces of string that have been used to tie the papers represent the chains imposed on society by the elite. Or something.

6. The Towels

Unlike the newspapers, these do not represent anything at all. They are just His and Her towels arranged very neatly. One wonders how many years’ effort that took the artist. One also wonders how much buyers paid for all that enormous hard work.

7. Men’s Urinals

The men’s urinal sculptures are laden with Freudian symbolism and have to be understood at multiple levels of meaning. However, since this blog is intended for family viewing, let us skip all that, shall we?

8. I See Dead People

9. Hugh Hefner’s Digestive System

No seriously, I’m not making this up. This really is the name of this exhibit. The Roman Empire declined at far lower levels of crazy. They merely had to put up with Caligula and Nero and they made such a fuss about that. Look at what 21st century California residents have to deal with.

Hopefully no one thinks to paint the artist’s neural system. I don’t even want to know what that would look like.

10. Some Blurred Stuff:

Flash photography was not allowed, so this picture came out all blurred. But that can only be an improvement on the original.

Life Lessons & Teachable Moments:

  • When one has accumulated an enormous quantity of bad karma, one has to pay it off by viewing a whole bunch of modern sculpture. So peeps, remember to be virtuous, help old ladies cross the road and never be one of them Wall Street bankers selling sub-prime CDOs.
  • There are times when everyone loses confidence in themselves. Maybe the boss fired you, your girlfriend dumped you for Ashton Kutcher or you lost money investing in sub-prime CDOs. When your self-confidence is at the lowest ebb, tell yourself this: No matter how much you screwed up, you cannot possibly be dumber than the guys who buy works of modern art and consider themselves connoisseurs. That will make you feel better instantly.

Request for comments and more teachable moments:

If you can come up with more and better captions and life lessons to match the photographs, do add them in the comments and I’ll put the best ones in the main section. (Just keep in mind that this blog is for family viewing, so nothing too risque, please?).

Related Post on Modern Art: A Question of Incentives

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I’ve  recently been reading Alice Albinia’s brilliant book Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River’, (which I intend to review one of these days on this blog). However, I reacted with skepticism when in the chapter “Buddha on the silk road” she says, “Indeed it was Ashoka’s colossal carving project that introduced writing to the Indian subcontinent”. This isn’t the only time I’ve come across the hypothesis that the Brahmi script used on Ashoka’s inscriptions was the first time that writing was used in the India. Now I’m no scholar but I’ve occasionally been known to employ common sense, and this hypothesis doesn’t add up.

1. If Ashoka introduced a script in an illiterate land, who was going to be able to read his inscriptions?

Assuming Ashoka introduced the Brahmi script for the very purpose of inscribing his edicts, he’d expect people to actually read the edicts. But an illiterate population wouldn’t be able to read any of it, and to them it would just seem like squiggles on a rock. In order to make people read, he would have had to launch an all-out literacy drive amongst his huge population. At the very least, he would have had to teach literacy to a cross section of the elite– bureaucrats, monks and scholars – across the entire subcontinent within in a span of a few years. Seems like a very tall order. In fact this would have been far bigger than anything else he’d done, but is simply not mentioned in historical records. Which brings us to the next point.

2. There is absolutely no mention of the introduction of writing amongst Ashoka’s achievements:

Ashoka wasn’t exactly reticent about announcing his achievements. He did a lot of good works and he also liked it to be known that he did do said good works.

Some samples from his inscriptions:

“King Piyadasi, made provision for two types of medical treatment: medical treatment for humans and medical treatment for animals. Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals are not available, I have had them imported and grown.”

“Along roads I have had banyan trees planted so that they can give shade to animals and men, and I have had mango groves planted.”

And so on.

If he’d commissioned a script for the purpose of his inscriptions, I’d expect something like: “And the Beloved of the Gods (King Ashoka) introduced writing for the benefit of the people so that they may read my inscriptions. Etc. Etc”

Other sources that mention Ashoka and his achievements such as the Ashokavadana or Sri Lankan Buddhist chronicles also did not mention anything about his introducing writing to India.

3.      In different parts of the empire, Ashoka’s inscriptions were in different scripts. In the Northwest, the inscriptions are in Kharoshthi, Aramaic and Greek. In other parts of his empire, the inscriptions are in Brahmi. Now why would different scripts be used in different parts of the country? Most probably because these scripts were already in use in those regions. If Ashoka was introducing a script for the first time in most of India, why not simply repurpose one of the preexisting scripts such as Kharoshthi instead of going to all the effort of inventing a new one? After all, for people learning a new script, why would it matter whether it was an existing script used elsewhere or a completely new one invented for this very purpose? In fact, the most logical explanation for using different scripts in different parts of his domain was that those respective scripts were already prevalent in those place s and he was simply using scripts already understood by people in those regions.

4.      Lastly, it looks like this theory took hold because some of the earliest writing samples in India are from Ashoka’s inscriptions. But that isn’t surprising considering that the rock inscriptions have lasted until today, unlike conventional but perishable writing surfaces such as palm leaves or bark which were in use in ancient times.

Just to be clear, there are hypotheses about the evolution of Brahmi from other scripts such as the Aramaic or Kharoshthi.  I do not have an opinion on these hypotheses and I think more scholarly knowledge is necessary to have an opinion on these. Rather, I am specifically skeptical of the theory that Ashoka was responsible for the introduction of writing into India, and am surprised that so many people (such as Ms. Albinia) seem to have accepted this without much question. One doesn’t need to be a scholar or linguist to have an opinion on this theory. This surely is something that a bit of logic and common sense can refute.

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Even Barack Obama seems a little embarrassed by his rather premature Nobel Peace Prize, which seems to have been awarded to encourage him for things the Nobel Peace Committee fondly hopes he will do in the future.

On the other hand, the Nobel for Physics went to Charles Kao for his work on fiber optics which revolutionized communications and paved the way for the internet. This was awarded a mere 43 years after he actually did the work, presumably since the committee wanted to make absolutely sure that the internet and email are real achievements and not passing fads. The other Nobel Physics winners Willard Boyle and George Smith were honored for their alarmingly recent 1969 invention of the imaging CCD (Charge-Coupled Device), which made digital photography possible.

What I’d like to know is – when are they going to hand out the Nobel physics prize for electricity? Apparently a gentleman called William Gilbert discovered electricity in the 1550s. By Nobel Physics committee standards, 450 years should be just about enough time to verify that electricity actually exists and is kinda useful. And while they’re at it, they should also think about awarding the Nobel to the guy who figured out sometime in the 1000s that light travels in straight lines. In fact, considering that this gentleman (Ibn al-Haytham) was an Iraqi scientist who made his discoveries on light while he was placed under house arrest by what would today be called a dictatorial regime, it also makes him a strong candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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The Selimiye Mosque, Source: Nevit Dilmen, from WikipediaSometime in the 16th century, the Ottoman sultan Selim ordered the execution of his architect who had displeased him by installing a paltry 999 windows in one of his grand mosques when he had commanded 1000. Selim may or may not have been an expert connoisseur of architecture but he sure could count. The architect managed to evade execution, appealing to Selim with the argument that “he would willingly submit to death if in the empire, there could be found an architect who could add a window to the edifice without a violation of the rules of architecture”. *

source: BBC SiteIn the 2000s a top British artist called Damien Hirst exhibited his great creation – a stuffed sheep immersed in formaldehyde. Astonishingly, it was sold for more than $3 Million to an art collector with presumably too much money and (IMHO) not enough discernment.

It’s all about the incentives, people.

In case you didn’t already notice, this is lazy analysis. I am arbitrarily comparing a masterpiece that has been much acclaimed for 400 years with a 20th century champion eyesore. But fear of lazy analysis should never stop anyone from dissing modern art.

[* From the “History of the Ottoman Empire” by Edward Upham]

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