Prufrock's Page

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Blogs: A Collective Force For Change, Or Parasites?

Richard Posner has a long, thoughtful article in The New York Times Magazine that analyzes the news media in the United States, with specific reference to the "liberal vs right" bias. He ends on an optimistic note, asserting that "the increased polarization of the media provides a richer fare than ever before."

Inevitably, he touches upon blogs and their influence:

"The latest, and perhaps gravest, challenge to the journalistic establishment is the blog. Journalists accuse bloggers of having lowered standards. But their real concern is less high-minded - it is the threat that bloggers, who are mostly amateurs, pose to professional journalists and their principal employers, the conventional news media....with its reputation heavily invested in accuracy, so that every serious error is a potential scandal, a newspaper not only has to delay publication of many stories to permit adequate checking but also has to institute rules for avoiding error - like requiring more than a single source for a story or limiting its reporters' reliance on anonymous sources - that cost it many scoops.

"...What really sticks in the craw of conventional journalists is that although individual blogs have no warrant of accuracy, the blogosphere as a whole has a better error-correction machinery than the conventional media do. The rapidity with which vast masses of information are pooled and sifted leaves the conventional media in the dust. Not only are there millions of blogs, and thousands of bloggers who specialize, but, what is more, readers post comments that augment the blogs, and the information in those comments, as in the blogs themselves, zips around blogland at the speed of electronic transmission.

"...In effect, the blogosphere is a collective enterprise - not 12 million separate enterprises, but one enterprise with 12 million reporters, feature writers and editorialists, yet with almost no costs. It's as if The Associated Press or Reuters had millions of reporters, many of them experts, all working with no salary for free newspapers that carried no advertising."


"The bloggers are parasitical on the conventional media. They copy the news and opinion generated by the conventional media, often at considerable expense, without picking up any of the tab. The degree of parasitism is striking in the case of those blogs that provide their readers with links to newspaper articles. The links enable the audience to read the articles without buying the newspaper. The legitimate gripe of the conventional media is not that bloggers undermine the overall accuracy of news reporting, but that they are free riders who may in the long run undermine the ability of the conventional media to finance the very reporting on which bloggers depend."

Do Visit These Sites

Cloudburst Mumbai, by Zigzackly and Amit Varma, for news and links about the July 26 deluge and its aftermath.

And Mumbai Help, where you'll find "hospital locations, maps of rescue routes, addresses of doctors and medical workers, volunteer organisations, food and water points, safe roads and railway stations....And - we hope not, but - if the city is ever in an emergency situation, we will attempt to give you links to the latest news updates and critical info."

Two shining examples of the great, humane power of blogs when other sources fail, or are simply inadequate.

It-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night Dept

Ladies and gentlemen, the winning entry of this year's Bulwer-Lytton Bad Writing Contest:

"As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual."

That's by Dan McKay, a Microsoft analyst from North Dakota, who is currently in China and cannot be reached for comment. Fortunately.

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Lazy Writer's Guide To Grammar... Microsoft Word, says this article in the Arts Telegraph:

"If I am at all typical, the generation of novelists that grew up using computers didn't study English grammar at school (I did study some French grammar, in the sense that I slept through the classes). If my teachers never corrected my grammar, why on earth should I listen to the advice of a teenage geek programmer from Microsoft? Yet I do."

Thursday, July 28, 2005

On Rain

I opened my eyes
And looked up at the rain
And it dripped in my head
And flowed into my brain
And all that I hear as I lie in my bed
Is the slishity-slosh of the rain in my head

I step very softly,
I walk very slow,
I can't do a handstand--
I might overflow,
So pardon the wild crazy thing I just said--
I'm just not the same since there's rain in my head.

- Shel Silverstein, 'Rain'

Maroon Vs Maroon

Quite naturally, newspapers these days have been full of the word "maroon" when referring to Mumbai.

Which made one wonder whether there was any connection between the two meanings of the word: the colour maroon, and the "help-I'm-stranded!" maroon.

The always-engaging Word Detective came to one's assistance:

"There is no logical connection between the two words, which have entirely different origins and just happen to look and sound alike.

"...both words have, shall we say, colorful histories. 'Maroon' the color comes from the Italian 'marrone,' a large chestnut of Southern Europe, which is, presumably, maroon.

"The other 'maroon' comes from the Spanish word 'cimarron,' meaning wild or untamed. 'Maroons' were originally runaway slaves in the West Indies who, having escaped their bondage, fled into the forests and mountains of the islands to live. The nefarious practice of 17th century pirates and buccaneers abandoning their captives on deserted islands also became known as 'marooning.' .... 'Marooned' eventually came to mean simply 'lost in the wilds.' Today, we use it as a metaphor for anything from being stranded with car trouble to the outcome of a bad blind date."

Or for the experience of living in a city which, they tell us, is to be the next Shanghai.

Style And The Man

Ben Yagoda has written about the New Journalism, about the cultural impact of The New Yorker, and most recently, about style in writing in The Sound On The Page, a book one is eagerly waiting to get one's hands on.

Here are extracts from a recent interview:

"In my own writing, I am more aware of the quiet things that distinguish those of us stylists not on the Hemingway/Faulkner/Tom Wolfe level. We have our own individual styles, even though no one but ourselves and a few close friends may be aware of them. I am, for example, constantly managing my predilection for parentheses: deleting enough so that my prose won't be too convoluted, but keeping enough so that it will sound like me. I even use parentheses in an interview!"

On pleasing editors: "The best tack, I think, would be to work on the quiet style I was just referring to: style not as rampaging alliteration (for example) but as expression in subtle deviations from the norm that somehow suit the way you see the world and feel comfortable expressing yourself. What editor would object if you have slightly more parentheses than normal, or your paragraphs are slightly longer than average, or you indulged in a little irony now and then? All those things can be elements of a style.

On copying out great writing: "Try it, you'll like it! Seriously, the single best means of becoming a strong, original writer and mindful writer is to read, as widely as possible. When you involve your fingers in the reading, you somehow absorb the words on a deeper level. Hey, if it worked for Somerset Maugham, Benjamin Franklin and Chip Scanlan, it's got to have something going for it."

There's also an excerpt from the book, entitled Seven Style Tips. Budding authors out there: this is worth reading.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Times of Whose India?

Today's online edition of The Times of India has ten stories.

One on the Mumbai monsoon, one on a suspected Kerala link with the London blasts, one on a new defence deal that Pakistan is seeking with Washington. And one on Murali's effectiveness against the Indian cricket team.

Here are the other headlines:

The psyche of the bare bod!

Going topless in Bollywood!

Women's patch of sexual desire

Were Sushmita, Ash next in line?

Hindi movies: bare-all, dare-all?

I'm not single, so I'm available

To think that this is, by their own admission, the largest selling English newspaper in the world.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Subtitle That Changed The World

Consider these titles:

- Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World

- The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World

- Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey -- The Sweet Liquid Gold That Seduced the World

- 1968: The Year That Rocked the World.

- Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World

- The Pill: A Biography of the Drug That Changed the World

Spot anything in common?

An Offer You Can Refuse

In The Times (UK), Ben McIntyre makes fun of celebrity novelists. Case in point: Marlon Brando.

"I have before me Fan-Tan; a novel by none other than the late Marlon Brando, published next month, 'a rollicking, swashbuckling, delectable romp of a novel — the last surprise from an ever-surprising legend'. I have read nine pages, but cannot get beyond the description of a man in prison having his fingers eaten by cockroaches ('oh, how delicately they chomped away at the husks of his fingertips'). Sadly, Brando did not live long enough to see the publication of his book. Sadly, I shall not live long enough to finish it."

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Administration And The Fury

A scathing parody that likens President George W. Bush to the "idiot" in William Faulkner's novel `The Sound and the Fury' has won this year's Faulkner write-alike contest — and touched off a literary spat.

Spat notwithstanding, what a wonderful idea for a parody. Read the winning entry here.

Giving All Of Us Old Codgers A Bad Name

The Christian Science Monitor has this article on teenagers arriving out of nowhere to write a blockbuster first novel:

"[Helen] Oyeyemi has joined a short but prestigious list of teen novelists that extends back nearly two centuries, from 19-year-old Mary Shelley and Frankenstein to today's Christopher Paolini, whose Eragon fantasy series, begun when he was 15, has fans almost as devoted as those of the Harry Potter books.

Writing a great book before the age of 20 is an accomplishment so extraordinary that some adults struggle to understand how it's even possible. They wonder how one so young can manage to write with authority in an original voice."

True, especially when one is still struggling to end Chapter One.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Tharoor's Favourite Subject: Tharoor

From the San Francisco Chronicle, a judicious review of Shashi Tharoor's mixed-bag collection of essays, Bookless In Baghdad, which makes some telling points:

"If the great writers of India through the ages could be assembled for a group photo, Shashi Tharoor would probably be missing. Not because he hasn't earned a place in the canon but because he would be unable to resist taking the portrait himself."
"In pieces reprinted from a dozen publications over the past decade, Tharoor makes frequent reference to the 'raves' his work has received, unabashedly rejects more critical assessments, laments the shortage of time his day job allows for his writing and indulges in an exuberant confession that 'there is nothing quite like the thrill of publishing a book.' Moments such as these make for squeamish reading once around and become downright repellent in repetition. Because of an unfortunate editorial decision to publish the essays unexcised, the reader is lectured on the 'responsibility of the creative artist' not once but thrice in near-verbatim passages (it has to do with Moliere, edification and cultural identity, by the way) and will be reminded regularly that 'the very word novel implies that there must be something 'new'.' I don't begrudge a belle lettrist his bon mot, but I don't relish being able to finish his pretty phrases for him."