A couple years ago, a childhood friend who lives in New Delhi, handed me The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma—a self-help book on spirituality and "eastern wisdom", which, curiously, was all the rage in Indian yuppie circles. At first, I attributed this to pride in the author's Indian roots and his huge (financial) success in America.
Readers of this blog will know that I'm deeply suspicious of this genre, replete as it is with New Age charlatans preying on people's angst and insecurities. Still, due to my friend's gushing praise and insistence, I began reading the book. I recall it now as a struggle on every page and often thinking of Dorothy Parker's words from long ago: this is not a book to be tossed aside lightly; it should be thrown with great force. I finally caved in midway, putting her words into action. It dawned on me that the book's transnational appeal lay in its very fatuousness (it has been published in 30+ countries, becoming a huge seller in the US, Israel, India, Mexico, and Canada, but apparently not in Europe).
I then read its customer reviews on Amazon (I often scan the lowest ratings first for critiques that might disqualify a book from my reading list). Mine was of course the minority reaction, but it was there alright. One person couldn't even get past the title—what's so great about selling one's Ferrari, he asked? Why did the monk not give it away? But it was the hilariously scathing review below that most delighted me.
I was recommended this book because I work too much. Every page that I managed to get through was painful. This book is the saddest and most excruciating way to introduce Buddhist philosophy. It is a "Fable" with a capital "F". Nothing in the book is true. If something in the book has been based on a true concept it has been so badly distorted by this text that it is no longer even close. To summarize for those that don't need the rest of the review to know that this is a book to skip, here is a banal platitude from the book that forced me to emit an audible groan while I was reading it: "Your `I can' is greater than your IQ"
It starts out with this absolute fat jackass womanizing alcoholic unscrupulous lawyer, that would essentially be better off dead, and that I personally hated to read about, and would hate to know, and wouldn't talk to except to make rude noises at if I did know him because I was related to him or something. You are then told that he is basically a good person but unless your "I can" is greater than your "IQ" you aren't fooled even for a second. Then he has a heart attack and goes to India and meets a guru, and turns into this soft and supple bi-curious sounding freak that wears long red robes and pours tea all over a former colleagues wife's Persian rug to illustrate concepts that aren't really true. In essence he's an even bigger jerk that is now ultra self-important because he's this transformed guru come back to bring enlightenment to all the normal people that weren't alcoholic womanizing hoodlums to begin with.
Here's something you're unlikely to see in the US press:
Further survey work undertaken by ORB, in association with its research partner IIACSS, confirms our earlier estimate that over 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens have died as a result of the conflict which started in 2003.
This is the conclusion of Opinion Research Business (ORB), an establishmentarian, British polling firm that conducted a study in Iraq in 2007. You can see their results on their website here, with an update here. But apparently, this information isn't newsworthy enough even to warrant discussion in the media.
Meanwhile, the US president is focused on his "legacy." He's aided in the effort by a new Fox documentary eulogizing him and claiming that he's been credited with "some of the most eloquent and visionary speeches ever delivered by an American president." And as the show goes on, with President Bush comparing himself to President Lincoln, it sounds increasingly like a joke. Was this program produced by satirist Stephen Colbert? Unfortunately not. Here's a taste (approx. 10 minutes):
My previous post (From the Outside, Looking In) sparked a discussion between myself and a friend on the assumptions we make about other people. In this context, something my friend said reminded me of an amusing encounter Namit and I had in India, one which illustrated for me my own simplistic notions about Indian Muslims who wear the burkha.
We were walking along a grassy, boulder-strewn hillside overlooking the city of Bhopal. There's a tiny, rusty old amusement park at the top of this hill, with a miniature ferris wheel and a couple of other whirl-y rides, where families come for picnics. Outside this happening zone, the grounds are like a little wilderness park and there are fewer people, mostly a few adolescents trying to sneak off with their friends, newlyweds wanting to be alone, and a few random walkers like us. Suddenly, far from the small crowd of families on holiday, we heard men shouting behind a stand of trees. This being India, where everything is everybody's business, we wandered over to see what the matter was. We found a man and woman standing with their hands tightly clasped to each others', the man yelling red-faced at another man who was yelling back with equal vehemence. The woman, who stood quietly with her head bent, was covered in a full burkha—not even her eyes were visible behind her veil, which is quite unusual in India.
As soon as we approached, the single man brought Namit into the argument, making his case against the couple. His accusation was that he'd caught them in flagrante delicto out in the open. Having sex in public is illegal (public lewdness), he claimed.
Intelligent comedy is so rarely found. I consider it a gift when I run across something that moves me and makes me laugh and think, or makes me laugh with respect for the speaker. One occasion to do all of these is in Lilly Tomlin's one-woman show, "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe" (montage; reviews). I highly recommend it.
Happily, I've just discovered another serious comic, Julia Sweeney, whom some may remember as a regular cast member on Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s. I came across a clip of Sweeney's monologue, "Giving Up God," which she performed during the TED talks in 2006. In this routine, Sweeney talks about the journey she took from being raised as a Catholic, losing her faith, and then finding sense in the idea of understanding the universe without a belief in god. In her blog, she says of this:
One of the astounding results of me losing my faith, (which was a beautiful experience...), was that I suddenly saw how alike we are to our fellow animals. And how different. But different in ways I had not previously considered. I saw my own behavior being influenced by millions of years of evolutionary history, but I also gained a new respect for ethics and the ability of the human race to make informed choices. Much more informed choices than many other animal species. After I lost my faith, I stopped anthropomorphizing in a childlike way and started anthropomorphizing in an informed way.
A review in the Economist of How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read.
“There is more than one way not to read, the most radical of which is not to open a book at all.” Thus begins Pierre Bayard's witty and provocative meditation on the nature, scale and necessity of non-reading. With thousands of books published every year, it is, he points out, the primary way people relate to books. And even those books they do get round to opening remain in a sense outside their knowledge. “Even as I read”, he observes, “I start to forget what I have read.”
The first section explores the four categories of unread books, into at least one of which Mr Bayard places every book he mentions. These are the “books unknown to me”, the “books I have skimmed”, the “books I have heard about” and the “books I have forgotten”. No exceptions are admitted, even for books he himself wrote. Each category is illustrated with an example from literature.
Here is a debate between Professor Mansfield, author of the recent controversial study, Manliness, and Professor Kipnis, author of a similarly controversial new book, The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability. It covers "masculinity, femininity, the legacy of feminism, and the endless battle between the sexes." This will likely not win any converts but may still prove entertaining enough (or might raise hackles).
Last week at the other blog, I reported the story of Glenn McDuffie, the Houston man who was recently identified as the sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square in the celebrated 1945 Life magazine photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt. The picture seen and recognized by millions, is an historical moment captured by a photographer's lens, marking the end of World War II.
Upon being identified, McDuffie, who had served in the US Navy during WWII, described what the day was like when he went into Times Square with a couple of his buddies and later bussed the nurse in celebration.
On Aug. 14, 1945, he was in Times Square when the word came.
"When I got off from the subway, a lady told me the war was over, and I went into the street yelling. I saw the nurse and she was smiling at me, so I just grabbed her," McDuffie said. "But we never spoke." .....
In addition, Gibson (the forensic artist who identified McDuffy) said she "always wondered" about one aspect of the Eisenstaedt image: Why was the sailor's arm crooked in such an odd way? Only McDuffie could provide the answer, she said.
"I was kissing her, and then I heard someone running up. So, I realized there was someone taking our picture. I moved my hand so that the nurse's face would show," McDuffie said.
Hmm. So, they never spoke (not even a "Thank you Ma'am!") and McDuffy positioned his arm so the nurse's face would show in the picture? Certainly looks like he was showboating and there was a certain amount of calculation in the pose which is widely interpreted as a spontaneous celebration. Also it appears that the nurse in the photo was not McDuffy's first target of affectionate display - he was on a kissing spree that day. He had gone around Times Square grabbing and kissing several women before the memorable photographic moment. Also, it is reported that the nurse SLAPPED HIM after they disengaged from the embrace. Does explain why they never talked. [Link: Namit Arora]
(The link at the end of the post opens to a page called the Images That (supposedly) Changed the World. The page is a bit iffy - the images are sometimes visible and sometimes not. Click to find out if you can see them. The picture of the Kiss in Times Square is called V-J Day, Times Square,  . It is halfway down the page.)
On the same page I came across a portrait of Winston Churchill taken by photographer Yousuf Karsh. The portrait reminded me of an ancient pen and pencil sketch of Churchill I had made ages ago. I am posting both portraits below for your critical viewing.
For ages now, men have made women feel self-conscious, nay worthless, making them obsess over the size of their, er ... various body parts. Whatever the dimensions of a body part, they weren't right today, and -- we men artfully made sure -- never would be. Women acquired the fine art and the wisdom of dolling themselves up -- even getting nips, tucks, and implants -- to be able to please our blessed eyes. We stoked their deepest fears and anxieties. With one sharp, well-timed glance or comment, we turned them into a whimpering heap of self-hatred and turmoil. Ah, how wonderful, how pleasurable, this sublime sense of control. Surely this is what Nietzsche had meant by man's will to power.
But, if history is any guide, golden ages do not last. Women may have just found the Achilles heel of men, one that hangs between their legs. Unless you live in a cave (or without email, increasingly congruent), you receive spam emails about penis enlargement -- pills, pumps, patches, etc. Size does matter, they reveal, with stats on women's preferences and smiling women proclaiming, well, large member benefits. The emails promise all sorts of gains -- sex appeal, heightened libido, even saving marriages -- all as easy as 1-2-3! "Be a Real Man" and "she will love you more than any other guy." Related pills promise to boost the man's fluid volume, to help him "shoot like a porn star" (move over gun slingers of the Old West) and to drown her with, umm ... his fluid (of course she likes that feeling). For the New Age man there are organic, pesticide-free herbal alternatives, with a green label to boot. (That's harmony with nature; Marcus Aurelius would surely have approved.)
Men are definitely buying this stuff, else why would there be so much selling? A lot of women are pleased with this development. Some are quietly rejoicing with this expose of men's insecurities -- a more level playing field at last! Just as women buy fashion magazines that feature unreal women, men consume porn that features unreal men. "This restoring of chi, or balance", said a woman interviewed by Shunya's Notes, "gives me a deep sense of catharsis." Another woman, trying hard to conceal her elation, confided, "I secretly saw my husband browsing a website that sells those pills. Tears welled up in my eyes. I felt this moment of spiritual connection with his insecurity."
Ironically, men's hopes now lie in this "connection", else it may well lead to a cold war between the sexes and an accompanying arms race.
Few Indian writers can match the irreverence, acerbic wit, and bawdy humor of Khushwant Singh. Here is his latest piece at 92. He is not well-known outside India but there is much more to the man than this light-hearted piece conveys. He has secured his place as a major Indian novelist, journalist, and historian of the Sikh experience. Read this article, for instance, to see another side of him. A compelling, if less upbeat, viewpoint on his legacy has been put forward by Amardeep Singh.
I crave the forgiveness of my readers for writing on a subject which is taboo in genteel circles. I also apologise in advance for using words which some people may find distasteful. I wouldn't be doing so if the end of my tale of woe was not so comic.
It all started during my recent summer vacation in Kasauli. I woke up one night with a queasy feeling in my stomach. Half asleep, I tottered to the loo to rid myself of my sleep-breaker. When I got up from the lavatory seat to flush out the contents, I was shocked to see I had passed a lot of blood with my stool. "Shit!" I said to myself, suddenly wide awake. The rest of the night was wasted in contemplation of the end. I had had a reasonable innings, close to scoring a century, so no regrets on that score. Was I creating a self-image of heroism in the face of death? That vanished on the following day as more blood flowed out of my belly.
I asked my friend Dr Santosh Kutty of the Central Research Institute (CRI) to drop in for a drink in the evening. Over a glass of Scotch, he heard me out. When I finished, he asked me: "Have you been eating chukandar?" I admitted I'd had beetroot salad the day before.
"It could be that," he suggested. "It is the same colour as human blood. Or it could be nature's way of reducing high blood pressure--bleeding through the nose or arse. Or it could be a polyp, or piles, or...." He did not use the word but I understood he meant cancer. "Let me examine your rectum."
"You'll do no such thing," I rasped. "I'd rather die than show my rectum to anyone." He paused and continued, "It would be wise to have an endoscopy. It will clear all doubts. We don't have the facility in Kasauli. You can have it done at PGI in Chandigarh or in Delhi. The sooner the better."
The Washington Post hosts an annual neologism contest in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. Some of the winners this year are:
Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.
Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.
Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash.
Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
Balderdash (n), a rapidly receding hairline.
Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.
Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.
The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are some of this year's winners:
Ignoranus (n): A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.
Glibido (v): All talk and no action.
Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
Karmageddon (n): It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
A friend forwarded me this amusing piece. Not a clue who the author is. Enjoy.
It started out innocently enough. I began to think at parties now and then - just to loosen up. Inevitably, though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker. I began to think alone - "to relax," I told myself - but I knew it wasn't true. Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time.
That was when things began to sour at home. One evening I turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of life. She spent that night at her mother's.
I began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment don't mix, but I couldn't help myself. I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau, Muir, Confucius and Kafka. I would return to the office dizzied and confused, asking, "What is it exactly we are doing here?"
One day the boss called me in. He said, "Listen, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don't stop thinking on the job, you'll have to find another job." This gave me a lot to think about. I came home early after my conversation with the boss.
"Honey," I said to my wife, "I confess, I've been thinking . . ."
"I know you've been thinking," she said, "and I want a divorce!"
"But Honey, surely it's not that serious."
"It is serious," she said, lower lip aquiver. "You think as much as college professors and college professors don't make any money, so if you keep on thinking, we won't have any money!"
"That's a faulty syllogism," I said impatiently.
She exploded in tears of rage and frustration, but I was in no mood to deal with the emotional drama.
"I'm going to the library," I snarled as I stomped out the door. I headed for the library, in the mood for some Nietzsche. I roared into the parking lot with NPR on the radio and ran up to the big glass doors. They didn't open. The library was closed. To this day, I believe that a Higher Power was looking out for me that night.
Leaning on the unfeeling glass, whimpering for Zarathustra, a poster caught my eye, "Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?" it asked. You probably recognize that line. It comes from the standard Thinkers Anonymous poster.
This is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker. I never miss a TA meeting. At each meeting we watch a non-educational video; last week it was "Porky's." Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting.
I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home. Life just seemed easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking. I think the road to recovery is nearly complete for me.
Today I took the final step. I joined the Republican Party.