Saturday, December 31, 2011

Poem of the week - "Things"

I swear this is the last Borges poem for a while. I am going back to St. Louis on Monday and should start reading some other poetry pretty soon.


The docile lock and the belated
Notes my few days left will grant
No time to read, the cards, the table,
A book, in its pages, that pressed
Violet, the leavings of an afternoon
Doubtless unforgettable, forgotten,
The reddened mirror facing to the west
Where burns illusory dawn. Many things,
Files, sills, atlases, wine-glasses, nails,
Which serve us, like unspeaking slaves,
So blind and so mysteriously secret!
They’ll long outlast our oblivion;
And never know that we are gone.

The phrase "unspeaking slaves" is eye-catching. Simple and lucid poem. Made me pause and think for a few moments at the end. 

End of the year stuff

Oh hey it's the end of yet another calender year. Time to do some retrospective type stuff. This was a big, nay, a giant year for me. Graduated from college, moved to a new state, started first year of medical school - pretty happening year. Events prior to my graduation in June appear way more distant than they actually are. Even though it has been only (!) six months since I graduated, it seems like an eternity ago. Everything before that is now shrouded in a sepia-tinted haze.

Enough reminiscing, however. Every newspaper, magazine and TV show does a Top 10 list right around this time. I am nowhere as significant as these luminaries of our mainstream media, so I will do a Top 4 list instead. I have given slightly more weight to books because reading is my preferred form of entertainment. Right then, here we go:

Top books that I read in 2011
(These are books I read, not ones that were published this year)

4. More Money Than God by Sebastian Mallaby: about the secretive hedge-fund industry, whose titans rake in eye-popping billions most years on intricate trades. For instance, one guy bought all the Palladium in Russia as part of a trade.

3. Chaos by James Gleick: "butterfly effect", fractals, Mandelbrot sets, colorful personalities and whimsical brainiacs make up this engrossing read about a fascinating field that can only be described as a hybrid of math and physics.

2. Patel: A Life by Rajmohan Gandhi: a superb biography about Sardar Patel, one of India's foremost political leaders who was instrumental in the country's fight for independence. He was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi and played a crucial role in the early days of the nascent Democracy.

1. Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam: rockets, adversity, feel-good story. Hickam has a knack for making readers feel closer to characters. Boy growing up in the heart of coal country in the 50's dreams of working for NASA. Moving descriptions of a decaying town and a decaying industry and the perennial tussle between unions and bosses.

Top 4 movies I saw in 2011:

4. Crazy, Stupid, Love: good, goofy, light.

3. Muppets: surprisingly fresh, self-aware and incredibly clever.

2.  Captain America: makes a worn out genre look compelling. self-deprecation, wit, sap all in the right amounts.

1. Moneyball: I don't even care about baseball, but this movie made baseball seem infinitely exciting. Quite an achievement. Brad Pitt gets a special mention for his acting.

Top 4 TV shows I followed in 2011:

4. Parks and Recreation: not as funny as the third season, but still miles ahead of its competitors

3. Justified: a trigger-happy US Marshal reluctantly returns to his native Kentucky to a whole host of professional and personal problems. Tremendous acting by the whole cast. Shout out to Timothy Olyphant for playing lead Raylan Givens.

2. The League: a bunch of douchebags obsessed with fantasy football and their antics each week. Extremely funny and original.

1. The Wire: Finally got around to finishing this epic that depicts life in a troubled Baltimore, and aspires to capture a snapshot of America in the process.  A lot of internet space has been devoted by people far more accomplished about the virtues of this masterpiece. One of the best (if not the best) things ever made on TV. Everything about this show is perfect.

By the way, this was the 100th post for the year 2011. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

The magic of sports radio

For nearly two months in the summer of 2010 I commuted 65 miles from my home to LA daily for internship and research. I got into a set rhythm: I woke up at 5:15, was in the car and on the road by 5:45 armed with a tall mug of coffee. I would be in LA by 7:30 or 7:45 at the latest. I tried playing some of my music during this mind-numbing drive to entertain myself but soon ran out of good songs to play. That is when I walked down the dark murky path to sports talk radio.

710 ESPN is LA's self-professed sports leader and the official home of the much revered Lakers. In a couple days I knew the entire lineup: Mike and Mike in the morning followed by the irascible Colin Cowherd. Andrew Siciliano and former Laker Mychal (yes that is not a typo) Thompson took over till the afternoon. Steve Mason and John Ireland came on air from 3-6 and A Martinez (I never found out his true first name) and Brian Long wrapped up the evening.

I had a fun time listening to these guys banter and make awkward jokes. Andrew and Mychal were the funniest of them all, in my opinion. (sadly I found out about ten months ago that this show was replaced by the Max and Marcellus show) They squabbled like old married couple. Colin Cowherd was downright crazy and was never afraid to hide it.

Sports radio has a stigma attached to it. Print sports journalists malign it for sensationalizing sports and making a big deal out of non events. Radio hosts are blamed for playing the same audio clips over and over and for fawning over the people they interview or the teams their stations represent.

Now all of this definitely true. But that is the very nature of the beast. These guys have to be on air for hours. Unlike TV people, they don't have the added advantage of using visuals to capture the viewers' attentions. There are no fancy graphics or interactive animations. So what do they do? They talk in a highly animated voice. They produce exaggerated laughs. They make dramatic pauses. They take a non-incident and stretch it across shows - horse beaten to death by M&M at 6 am would be resurrected by Mason and Ireland at 5:30 pm without any shame. A big part of these shows was taking calls from listeners. You'd have Randy from Burbank calling in to wax poetic about his brand of run-defense for the new-look Washington Redskins. Or Robert from Chatsworth expressing his fears over "Paulina" Gasol and "Andrea" Bynum (this was a real call, BTW - not making it up). If a guy blabbered too much, the hosts would swiftly cut his call. You can't cede control to armchair offensive coordinators, after all.

And that was the fun of it. A nice little ecosystem built entirely around sports its primary food source. They made my otherwise excruciating commute bearable. I was still pretty freaking exhausted every time I came home in the evening, but at least I didn't want to bash my head in.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Poem of the week: "Remorse" by Borges

It's time for another edition of Poem of the Week. I have been reading some more poems by Borges, and have realized two things:

1. The man writes about very somber, depressing stuff
2. He's a damn fine poet
Here's "Remorse":

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review - Sherlock Holmes: A game of shadows

I went to watch Sherlock Holmes 2 with some degree of enthusiasm. The inevitable "sequel letdown" phenomenon notwithstanding (Godfather 2 and the Star Wars sequels are some rare exceptions to this phenomenon), I was expecting a good performance by RDJ, whose portrayal of Holmes in the first film I thoroughly enjoyed.

However, I was disappointed by the movie, not because it is bad (in fact, it is an entertaining flick on the whole) but because it bills itself as something it is not. It purports to be a Sherlock Holmes movie, but apart from character names and very loose plot points, it does not resemble or faithfully represent any element of the original stories. The Holmes I grew up to enjoy and worship is a Holmes who solves cases by thinking. He listens to his clients and shuts himself up in his room, emerging only to use Watson as a sounding board. He does not like to leave his apartment and detests most forms of human contact, and engages in both of these activities only when absolutely necessary. Although an accomplished fighter, he never fights and I vaguely recall only two (maybe three) stories where he chases someone. To be fair, the first movie did away with a lot of these character traits mostly because of pragmatic and commercial concerns (a movie showing RDJ brooding on a divan playing shitty violin wouldn't be as fun, nor would it rake in half a billion dollars), and I understand that. When you make a movie, your primary goal is to broaden the audience for the story you are basing the movie on and make money.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Poem of the week

I may have mentioned somewhere on the blog that I don't read much poetry. I will read the occasional good poem I happen to stumble upon, but I don't systematically sit down with a collection of poems and blaze through them.

I am making a conscious effort to alter my reading habits and include more poetry. In the past, the barrier was always finding good poets. Recently I found out that one of my classmates here is an avid poetry reader, and a big fan of T.S. Eliot. I struck up a conversation with him and he recommended a few good collections. In fact, he lent me a copy of a collection of sonnets by Borges.

So here's the plan: as I go through these poems (and hopefully more in the future), I will copy one poem a week, and maybe say a few things about that poem.

Here's this week's poem:


Just like that, first semester of med school is almost over. Only histology stands in the way of unbridled bliss. This past week was a very typical exam week: dazed looks on people's faces as the clock raced toward midnight and beyond, the alarmingly nocturnal lifestyle most of us adopted, gleeful food runs to the cafeteria where we out competed one another in choosing the least healthy foods.

I really didn't study with other people in undergraduate, so I never got to experience the communal studying environment until now. And I like it a lot. It helps that all of us are taking the same classes and are going through the same sorts of problems in trying to learn/retain the material.

That's all I have to say for now. I need to go clean up the apartment and pack my bags for my trip back home for the break. No post about academics is complete without the cliched "I can't believe how fast time flies" sentiment. So there you have it: I can't believe I am done with first semester. Pretty crazy. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Vladimir Putin is a man of many talents

Russian Prime Minister (and soon to be President again) Vladimir Putin is a man of many talents. A super master spy, martial arts expert, political manipulator, Siberian tiger hunter and so on. Add pianist and singer to that list. I spotted this youtube a while ago. Putin and other glitterati were attending a charity concert when he was invited to sing on stage. Epicness ensued:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday saxophone

I am a huge fan of the saxophone (wish I could play it). It has a very soulful, evocative tone that stirs deep emotions and induces a blissful reverie. I could spend hours listening to the great John Coltrane on the sax.

Although the guitar doesn't usually match up to the sax in terms of depth (with a few exceptions - see Hotel California), the combination of these two wonderful instruments in famous rock songs has produced some very legendary tunes.

The first one is Pink Floyd's "Money". Apparently it is the only song with a 7/8 time, whatever the hell that means (I am ignorant when it comes to the theory of music). The guitar work is impressive, but it's the brief sax interlude that steals the thunder. Absolutely mesmerizing:

The Rolling Stones abused their fair share of guitars during their heyday to produce some classic tunes, and they also produced this kickass track with a very characteristic sax part. The sax in "Brown Sugar" is irreverent and flamboyant, much like the Stones themselves.

Finally, here is Bill Clinton playing a surprisingly good rendition of Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" in 1992. Clinton, the young, charismatic governor of Arkansas, was running for the presidency and made an appearance on the Arsenio Hall show to woo the youth of the day. Look at him rock those stunner shades: