अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

April 26, 2008

A Tryst with the Soul of Paris (1)

As I promised, I am going to write about the movie ‘La Môme’, also known as ‘La Vie en Rose’ (‘The Life in the Pink’). The movie is about the legendary French popular singer Édith Piaf, real name Édith Giovanna Gassion, but earlier known as La Môme Piaf (The Little Sparrow).

For the last many weeks, I have been soaking myself in her songs. Not her alone, because I am never ever an exclusivist, but my playlist during this period has been almost half full of her songs. Or songs related to her, i.e., songs sung by her which were later also sung by others. As far as music is concerned, this has been one of the major obsessions so far. And it doesn’t look like I am going to get over it soon. I don’t mind it, of course.

I even found some notes and tunes familiar from Hindi film songs, which are the true melting pot of music like nothing else.

Did I say I will talk about it later?

Let it be said that I have listened to a very wide variety of music from around the world and claim to have a very good musical sense. So, now that you know about my qualifications for writing about her and the movie based on her (I guess you already know that I also claim to have a very good cinematic sense), I can get on and you better take me seriously.

Heh! Heh! Where is your degree?

First, I will say what has already been said by all. Marion Cotillard has given a great performance in this movie as the legendary singer. It’s hard for me to forget that she is not really Édith Piaf.

By the way, she became the first actor (or actress) to “ever win an Academy Award for Best Actress (“Oscar”) for a performance entirely in French”. Given that winning an Academy Award is considered the height of achievement for people working in the movies, doesn’t it sound a bit strange? I mean French directors (along with directors from other countries from Europe and Asia) have been making movies and setting the standards for others for a long time now and French actors have been acting in them. Well enough to deserve world class awards.

How easy it is to forget that the Oscars, the Academy Awards, are mainly meant for English movies. There is just one magnanimous (or guest, if you like) category for ‘Foreign language movies’. But everyone behaves as if the Academy Awards are equally for all movies of the world.

Can we expect globalization of the Academy Awards? I won’t bet on it.

Except that I have never bet.

The spell checker has identified ‘globalization’ as an invalid word. I am adding it to the dictionary. The spell checker also doesn’t recognize ‘exclusivist’ as a valid word. I am adding this word too.

I have heard the term ‘Artificial Intelligence’ somewhere. I also heard a rumor (rumour for the non-dominant party) that computers now have some of it. Why do I feel a bit relieved that it is just a rumor?

Coming back to the movie, it is about a singer who, as someone said, “belts them out, doesn’t she?”. She does indeed. And she does just great. I have become her lifetime admirer. For whatever is left.

She was a born singer. She started on the street. She was the daughter of an acrobat and a street singer. For some time she lived in a brothel managed by her grandmother, where she was treated very well. One of the prostitutes became so fond of her that she was heartbroken and hysterical when the father came back for his daughter. With her father, she (the singer to be) lived in a circus. Later she accompanied her father on his acrobatic (contortionist) street shows and started singing. Then she sang on the streets with her half-sister, who remained close to her till her death, except for some time when she felt ignored and abandoned by the star singer.

She was discovered by a nightclub owner. She was suspected of involvement in his murder, but was cleared. She denied that she had anything to do with that and I would prefer to believe that. I would rather give her the benefit of doubt than to Henry Kissinger. Or so many like him, even if not his equal in douchehood.

She sang under the protection of local mafia men, who took their share, obviously. She met a composer, Marguerite Monnot, who also became her ‘most loyal friend’ for the rest of her life. Then she was mentored by a composer who was also a poet and a businessman. She became popular on the radio as well as on the stage. She became a star. Actually, in France, she became a super star. She mentored many people and helped them launch their career. And ‘dropped’ them when they became successful and no longer needed her mentoring. She helped launch many careers, including that of another legendary singer Yves Montand. Jean Cocteau wrote a successful one-act play ‘Le Bel Indifférent’ specially for her and she acted in it.

She was severely injured in a major car accident. Then she suffered more car accidents. Partly because of injuries from the car crashes, she got into addiction and suffered more. She fell in love with a married French boxer (who was a star in his own right in France) …

Well, according to the ethics of movie reviewing, I shouldn’t divulge too much. Suffice it, as the phrase goes, to say that if there was anyone whose life was the stuff of legend, she was the one.

I would say even more than Howard Hughes.

So much about her, what about the movie? It is one of best biopics I have ever seen. It is better than ‘The Aviator’. It is better than ‘Capote’, even though I have more than a soft spot for movies made about writers or about literature. It is better even than ‘Gandhi’. More about that last movie later.

Now the reasons why it is better. First is simply that I like it more. But more specifically, everything is almost perfect in this biopic. Direction (Olivier Dahan) is really good without being pretentious or stiff. Screenplay (Isabelle Sobelman and Olivier Dahan) is as it should be for a biopic. Realistic but still interesting. Not over the top. Neither starry eyed, nor of the kind which seems to be declaring ‘I will (academically) judge this person’s personal life and cut him or her to size’.

Marion Cotillard actually became The Little Sparrow. I don’t know whether it was with or without Method Acting. The rest of the cast also gave very convincing performances, including the actress who played Marlene Dietrich. I should make special mention of Sylvie Testud who played the role of Mômone (Simone Berteaut), Édith’s half-sister and her lifelong friend. Her lifelong partner in mischief.

For now, I will stop talking about the movie here as I intend to write a second installment of this post.

I would be proud to have lived a life like the one she lived. With warts and all.

Even now, as I write, she is singing in the background. Literally.

In the words of the movie’s Marlene Dietrich, she is taking me on a voyage to Paris. Where (unlike Marlene Dietrich) I have never been, except for half an hour at the airport when I had to keep sitting in the plane as there was a strike at the airport. So I have yet to set my feet on the soil of Paris, but The Little Sparrow, who really belts them out and who embodies the soul of Paris, has flown me around there plenty of times now.

P.S.: The strike in the above paragraph doesn’t mean terrorist strike. It means labour strike. Just in case.

And yes, labor for the dominant party.

April 23, 2008

Network Goons Pay Tribute

Sometime ago I had written about the wireless notwork. Apart from the genuine technical problems, there are network goons out there who make sure that the network becomes the notwork.

The people in charge who implement ridiculous rules and block sites for no apparent reason and take action against people (who get caught) for the smallest and the silliest reason, are apparently powerless against these network goons. If the statement sounds hyperbolic, let me mention just a few facts:

  • The URL www.cs.rochester.edu has remained blocked for around two years now. The only reason (if it can be called that) seems to be that this sub-domain has a page where NLP and Computational Linguistics conferences are listed.
  • So is the India Together site which publishes articles by people like P. Sainath.
  • For some time, even the site of the national newspaper The Hindu was blocked.
  • Many other sites are blocked at one time or another, such as the YouTube.

Just a few days ago I checked the network activity on my system and found that many other systems were connected to my laptop, even though there was no reason for them to be and I had even switched on the Windows firewall. This is not happening after I did some things like blocking connection on the netbios-ssn port etc.

Why am I writing this post instead of talking to the people in charge? Because I don’t really think anything is going to come out of that. This rant was provoked by a particularly bad network notworking day.

Another thing that has happened is that the goons who are forming the private network and thereby causing problems for the others, have named their network with my initials:

Goons on the Wireless Notwork

I take it as a tribute. The people who hate you and create problems for you for no reason (whom you don’t even know) pay tribute in this way. It is one of the best tributes one can have.

Of course, there are the side effects, but, as they say, no free lunches.

Except perhaps for those who already have a lot of purchasing power.

The more, the better.

The more, the free-er.

The more, the more.

April 19, 2008

हिन्दी ज़ेडनेट – नये अनुवाद (1)

तो आखिर मैंने हिन्दी ज़ेडनेट के लिए तीन और अनुवाद पूरे कर ही दिए। इतना समय लगने का एक कारण यह था (इसके अलावा कि मेरी उम्मीद के विपरीत और कोई अभी तक इस काम में शामिल होने के लिए आगे नहीं आया है) कि एक लेख काफ़ी लंबा था और उसमें दो कविताओं के उद्धरण थे, जिनमें से एक शायद दुनिया की सबसे अधिक पढ़ी गई कविताओं में से एक है।

उम्मीद है कविता अनुवाद के बाद भी कविता जैसी ही लगेगी।

नये अनुवाद ये हैं:

  • ग़ैर-टिकाऊ अविकास: नोम चॉम्स्की
  • कला, सच और राजनीति: हैरॉल्ड पिंटर
  • सभ्यताओं का टकराव: नोम चॉम्स्की

और हाँ, ज़ेडनेट की साइट पूरी तरह बदली जा रही है, परिणामतः हिन्दी ज़ेडनेट भी यहाँ से अब यहाँ आ गया है।

और यह भी कि कुल अनुवादों की संख्या अब एक दहाई यानी दो अंकों तक पहुंच गई है।

तीन अंकों तक अकेले पहुंचाना मुश्किल होगा, फिर भी…

April 13, 2008

Two Laws of Reviewing

After a few years in research, I have discovered two laws which the process of reviewing (of research papers) follows. Not very original, but here they are:

  1. You can always find some reasons for accepting any paper.
  2. You can always find some reasons for rejecting any paper.

April 11, 2008

Patent Madness

So we have one more reason in support for the idea that patents are a bad idea. The latest is the news that a company called Digital Reasoning has been awarded a patent on what looks like contextual similarity. What the ‘news report’ says includes:


This breakthrough patent grants broad protection for how artificial intelligence, including neural networks, genetic algorithms, and vector space models can be used to learn the meanings of symbols – such as words, categories, or numerical values. Understanding the subtle meaning of terms in context has been one of the “Holy Grails” of artificial intelligence. Not only is Digital Reasoning® fully able to accomplish this feat, it is now patented.

Here is one comment about this:

Anyone from the ACL/ML/AI community can immediately recognize this and start citing their favorite papers on these topics starting from at least a decade ago. A promotional video from the company on YouTube can be found here. Excerpt from the video: “… We treat the text representation of human language as a signal … “.

I think everyone should stop taking patents seriously. Wishful thinking?

Here is another:

Do the people ‘in-charge’ have any clue about the previous/current reseach done in the related field? How can they accept such stuff? Doesn’t make any sense, whatsoever.

But then they had accepted patents on haldi, neem and basmati. I am worried about jal jeera and pani poori.

Also, ganne ka ras.

Madness.

No need for me to say more as so many others have already talked about this:

In August last year there was a news item about Yoga devices being patented in the US. Small mercy that the Government of India succeeded in cautioning the U.S. Government against granting patents to Yoga postures (asanas).

There was a time (in India) when patents were awarded on processes, not products. That meant that even if some company had patented a method for producing a particular medicine, someone else could come along and find a better way and sell the medicine cheaper. Now, since the patents are granted on products, under orders from the empire that rules the world, that kind of thing can’t happen.

It can a be matter of life and death for millions of people.

I look forward to the day when self-respecting researchers won’t proudly list the patents they have been able to obtain.

Patents are among the most evil inventions of humankind.

April 5, 2008

Screwball Horror

This movie is supposed to belong to a genre called ‘screwball comedy’. Well, there was some comedy in it, of a very black sort, which is fine with me because I like black comedy. It is the kind of comedy found in the real world in the most abundant quantity.

However, what I felt most while watching the movie, especially after the first twenty minutes or so, can only be described by the word ‘horror’. Screwball horror.

The movie I am talking about is called ‘His Girl Friday’. It is a story about an unbelievably unscrupulous newspaper man and another newspaper ‘man’ who is actually a woman and who was previously his wife and his primary reporter. His Girl Friday, as the title says. She is almost equally unscrupulous, but this we find out a bit later into the movie.

Since she is just a bit less unscrupulous than him, she got fed up at one point (before the movie starts) and divorced him to go and become ‘a human being’. At the start of the movie, she seems to be on the way and has found a human being (an insurance agent) to marry (who loves her) and comes to the office of her former husband to inform him of the news.

But her former husband has other designs. He is determined to not let her go. As we find out later, not because he ‘loves’ (whatever that means) her, but because she is too good a reporter (of the kind shown in the movie and of the kind often found in real life) to be let off and also because, as a person, she is of the same flock, and would have been much better off had she stayed married to the reporter.

As it happens, a man is going to be hanged the next day and there is great news capital that can be made out of that. The man happens to be a poor man who was fired after a long spell of loyal service, who started getting drunk and started attending some union meetings just because he had nothing else to do. Then something happened some day and he shot a cop. He says accidentally. The cop happened to be a colored man and the colored vote is important in the locality concerned. So, the governor doesn’t want to give him a reprieve as the elections are coming.

So far so good. But, as the reporter (editor? owner? all in one?) tries every trick in his morally anarchic bag, and after he has got his former wife to stay for a few hours (he has a plan) and interview the convict (which she does) for a great story, the convict escapes during his ‘psychoanalysis’ by a shrink from New York.

The Wikipedia page says this is where the fun begins. I don’t think the statement is accurate. Actually, this is where the little bit of fun (as I understand it) that was there ends and true horror begins.

I don’t have the patience (or the stomach) to describe everything that happens after this. We begin to really understand the distinction made by the screenplay writer between newspaper men and human beings (which a notice at the start of the movie indicates doesn’t apply in the ‘present’ times).

Basically, what we see is almost everyone (newspaper men, cops, politicians etc.) behaving like monsters, except that there is no (visible) blood and gore. Without batting an eyelid. Or bowling an eyelid for that matter.

The game of the hanging to be (which later becomes shooting to be) gets dirtier and dirtier, till we realize that the director is not just showing us a screwball comedy, or a satire, or a black comedy. We realize that the genre to which the movie belongs is that of the blood and the gore which flows thick through the stream of rapid fire dialog but is not directly visible to the eyes.

Because it is not directly visible to the eyes, some people (who don’t look at such things very hard as it might upset their constitution or their life) can understandably call the movie a screwball comedy.

The director has to be given credit for sticking with the idea throughout and not giving us a falsely feel good ending.

Almost all the characters in the movie, who all belong to a particular class, are not bothered, even superficially, by such trifles as deaths of human beings. Even when they might be causing it. They are not shaken even by the most moving emotional outbursts by one of the few ‘human beings’ in the movie who had talked kindly to the man to be hanged and is therefore branded a murderer’s girl friend.

So there is enough horror in the movie to make it feel more like amplified (albeit sanitized) ‘Clockwork Orange’ than, say, ‘Some Like it Hot’ or ‘It Happened One Night’.

But there is some more horror off the film. Like in the movie, this horror can also be seen in the trivia:

  • The director Howard Hawks, who could be perceived to be a closet commie (by many) in this movie, was known to make anti-semitic remarks. Ben Hecht, whose play was adapted for the movie, was Jewish and is known for his anti-Holocaust activism.
  • Rosalind Russell, who played the female lead (the newspaper ‘man’), hired her own writer to ‘punch up’ her dialogs to make them as good as that of Cary Grant, who played the male lead. Did she mean her dialogs were not as horror inducing as that of the Hero?
  • The man to be hanged is white (even if trash) and he had shot a colored cop. Not vice versa, which would be much more likely given the demographic and other statistics.
  • The fact that I mentioned earlier. That this movie is considered to be a screwball comedy. Not even a black comedy.
  • The corollary to the fact mentioned above. That horror can be mistaken for fun and enjoyed accordingly.

I won’t accuse the director for giving us some escapist fare. Not even of making a feel good movie.

Nor of making a comedy.

April 2, 2008

At Around is Absolutely Alright

I sometimes read the ‘Corrections and clarifications’ column of The Hindu. I don’t know why. I don’t really believe in prescriptivism, nor do I want complete linguistic anarchy. Probably just to find out the current state of linguistic legality and linguistic morality, from the point of the view of the editors as well as the grammatically sensitive readers (this adjective I didn’t want to use, but I couldn’t find better).

A couple of days ago I again read this column. It is written by the Readers’ Editor (RE) of the paper. In this particular edition (is that the right word?) of the column, a list of different kinds of errors made by journalists is given.

At one point the, the RE says:

There are some favourite expressions of journalists that keep recurring despite their absurdity.

And one of the examples given is ‘at around 4 p.m.’, which the RE says is:

a contradiction — at is specific, around is approximate

As it happens, I use this expression quite often.

So, according to the LAPD (Linguistic Abuse Police Department), I am guilty of Using Favourite Expressions Despite their Absurdity.

But I don’t think it’s a contradiction. I don’t really know what the real Linguists have to say about this, but here is my case:

  1. When you want to mention a time (say, 4 p.m.) for some purpose (such as making an appointment), you can mean either 4 p.m. sharp or you can mean approximately 4 p.m., give or take 5 (or 10 or 15) minutes.
  2. In the first (sharp) case, you would say ‘at 4 p.m.’, with ‘sharp’ added optionally, depending on various things such as your and the other person’s habits and the equation between the two etc.
  3. The question is, what will you say in the second (approximate) case? Would you say ‘meet me around 4 p.m.’? To me, it sounds very awkward.
  4. Even when you do say ‘at 4 p.m.’, you cannot really mean exactly 4 p.m. because it is just not possible physically. This is actually mentioned in some Linguistics literature, though I don’t remember where.
  5. Quite often when you say ‘at 4 p.m.’, you actually mean approximately at 4 p.m. Then what is the need of using ‘at around 4 p.m.’ if ‘at 4 p.m.’ can mean approximately at 4 p.m.? To make the approximate nature explicit.
  6. In that case, why not use ‘approximately at 4 p.m.’ instead of ‘at around 4 p.m.’? Because the latter sounds better (and shorter and more informal) than the former.
  7. My question: Is ‘around’ used at all for specifying time, excluding the cases where it starts a sentence or a clause? Since I am not a ‘native speaker’ of English, however many tons of pages of good English I may have read and however many thousands of publishable and published pages of English I may have written, my linguistic intuition about the Global Language may be questionable.
  8. Therefore, I can only resort to empirical evidence. So I searched for the term ‘around 4 p.m.’ on the Web. What I find is that ‘around 4 p.m.’ is used quite often. However, almost all of this usage is in fragments, not in complete sentences (again excluding the cases where it starts a sentence or a clause).
  9. In almost all complete sentences, the usage is ‘at around 4 p.m.’.
  10. So, it seems that hardly anyone uses ‘around 4 p.m.’ to specify an approximate time. Most people use ‘at around 4 p.m.’.
  11. Which makes perfect sense to me, because it doesn’t sound awkward to me and everyone understands perfectly what I mean. In fact, it even sounds more musical to me than just saying ‘around 4 p.m.’. Excluding the cases mentioned earlier.
  12. In linguistic terms, it can be explained by saying that ‘at’ in this case is the preposition, whereas ‘around’ is not a preposition. They are serving different syntactic and semantic purposes. ‘Around’ is modifying ‘4 p.m.’ to convert it, so to say, from an instant to an interval. ‘At’, on the other hand is doing what prepositions do. Connecting constituents and specifying the relationships among them.
  13. It might be said that ‘at’ can only occur with an instant, not with an interval. In that case, it can also be argued that in reality there is no such thing as an instant (a point on the time scale with zero ‘width’). There are only intervals (points do have some non-zero ‘width’) and ‘around’ is just increasing the size of this interval.
  14. If you do insist that there are instants and ‘at’ can come only with instants, then it can be explained thus. ‘At’ is indeed coming with an instant but that instant is not exactly at ‘4 p.m.’ but somewhere near ‘4 p.m.’ (3:55 p.m. or 4:05 p.m.). ‘Around’ is being used to express this uncertainty.

Thus, as far as I can see, ‘at around 4 p.m.’ is absolutely alright. There is nothing absurd about it. Perhaps the law to which the LAPD is referring is absurd. That seems very likely. After all, every law book has more than enough absurd laws.

By the way, I also searched in the BNC corpus and the only sentence returned for ‘around 4 p.m.’ was this:

George Mayo was last seen at around 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon.

I think it is not surprising at all, I mean the fact that there are so many absurd laws and rules. If you are the law maker or the law enforcer (or both) and you only make reasonable laws and/or enforce only reasonable laws, you are, in the South Park language, a pussy. Because if you are not, you would be able to make absurd laws and rules and get them enforced.

That’s what having power means. Doesn’t it?

Any, well, pussy, can make and enforce reasonable laws and rules.

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