Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Problem with Literature Today: Too Many Me-too, Style-Savvy Writers, and Too Few Experiences worth sharing

Jessa Crispin explains why most books today 'disappear as quickly as they are released, unable to cut through all the noise': The whole system today is not merit-based. MFA programs produce the kind of writers, who are unable to sound any different from the other - all are going after the same style-rich, content-poor output.

Some who do manage to stand out may just be 'lucky', or 'well-connected'.

Jessa writes,
...Who gets in that rarefied space is still determined by the writer’s gender, connections, beauty, nepotism, youth, or “platform.” Not even the most idealistic among the cultural critics bother to argue that the system is merit-based.

Where are writers like Vaclav Havel or Milan Kundera?
...(these writers) put themselves at great risk, facing jail and exile, to break through the anonymity. They led revolutions and then nations. They faced their time’s great evil with humor and an unwavering stare, and through that created works of great beauty.
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Friday, April 08, 2011

A Tale of Two Roads in India: Demographic Nightmare, Not Demographic Dividend

What's an 'unskilled, underutilised, frustrated young population' to do? There are two roads for the young of India. The first road is is the one taken by Gandhi and Democracy. It is a long road. There are many false ends and mirages. On this road, the people who have had a head start, will reap the most benefits - rich people, powerful people and the dynasties.

The restless young is tiring of all this mess. All this inequality and hypocrisy is making them scream inside.They know the Anna Hazare fast has been hijacked by the Media, the opportunists and the pretentious. They have been to the Jantar Mantar and they have seen the circus.

They know it is impossible to make politicians and bureaucrats accountable and responsible. They know they don't have the means to win over money power in politics. They know their ashes will be down at the sea floor before any bureaucrat is actually sent to jail for his crimes.

Which brings us to the second road. This road is not pretty. We got to this road during the bloody French revolution. And the Russian revolution.

Blood flows on the streets. Sanity takes a holiday. Evil takes over. It is not a good time to be on anybody's hate list. It is a great time for future storytellers.

This second road will be the bloody, immortal epitaph for a generation that can have no other claim to history in these aspirational, consumerist age.

We will never have so many young Indians alive ever.

Also read:
Home Ministry Fears Young India: Bad governance and too many expectations will lead to violence

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Is the Hasan Ali scam story a fake?: Rs. 3.25 crore, Not Rs. 36,000 crore

Tehelka examines the Hasan Ali documents and finds that the whole story might just be a fake. A hoax, if you will.

Here is a man the nation believes is responsible for a black money and hawala racket worth a whopping Rs 36,000 crore. But a massive international inquiry has turned up nothing substantial on him except transactions totalling Rs 3.25 crore. A key UBS official says Swiss bankers have a phrase for Hasan Ali Khan type operations: they call it “hot air business”.

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How the trend of comic book superhero and fantasy films hurts literature

In one way, Hollywood is becoming more and more like Bollywood. Bollywood's bad films are the dominant form of literature for most Indians. Similarly, Hollywood's incessant supply of comic book superheroes and fantasy films may be hurting the cause of good literature in America. You can call the first decade of 21st century the Comics/Fantasy decade.

Canadian actress Neve Campbell, of the "Scream" series and "Wild Things" fame, says in an interview with The Guardian:

There's not a whole lot of courage from the studios,...It's actually very sad where movies, and the studios, are at the moment. Every single comic, every book, is being made into a film. Do you know an author pitching a book nowadays is asked to consider whether there's a possibility of making a film from it? So films are even starting to limit the kinds of books we'll be able to read.

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Tahrir Square, Part 2: Egyptians not happy with the harsh anti-people policies of the Post-Mubarak ilitary junta

From a report about the protests against the harsh measures of the Military Junta headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, as well as Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who are using military courts to punish demonstrators:

In recent weeks, the new regime has increasingly demonstrated that it is just as hostile to the Egyptian people’s democratic and social rights as was the ex-dictator, Hosni Mubarak, throughout his 30-year rule. Under Tantawi’s leadership, the military on March 23 banned all strikes and protests that interfere with the economy or public life, imposing draconian punishment for those who defy the law. The emergency laws—in force in Egypt since 1967 except for a short period prior to the assassination of Anwar Sadat—will remain in place.

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Study says Facebook Pages Less Effective than Search Ads and Email Newsletters for Most Businesses

Other than businesses which involve constant engagement with regular customers (cafes, restaurants, fashion items etc.), it seems most other businesses do not find Facebook Pages that useful to drum up business. A new study by Forrester says that Facebook Presence is less effective than search advertisements or email newsletters.

Basically, users did not expect to get that much amount of Spam in their newsfeed (and email) by 'Liking' the corporate pages on Facebook.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

A New Age Beckons: Forget Google, Do Your Own Thing

Time to find a new path. Time to forget what Google, Twitter, and Facebook have done. Time to forge a new age.

Poster via Hugh Mcloed 

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German Cows Can Jump

The Guardian writes about a German teenager Regina Mayer who rides her cow like it was a horse. 


The Satisfied Heart, Part2: Newspaper Front Pages After the Win

Via Churimuri

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The Satisfied Heart, Part1: Inside the Mind of the Aggressive Indian Cricket Fan

Writing for, Wright Thompson explores the aggressive nature of the Indian cricket fan:

...It's now something which Indians see that this is what we have to do to assert our place in the world. We've been f---ed over for thousands of years. Everyone has conquered us. Now we're finding our voice. We're the fastest-growing economy in the world. We are going to buy your companies. Our cricket team is like going to f---ing abuse you back, and we're going to win and we're going to shout in your face after we win. People love that.

Via Kottke


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Save the soul of online news: Don't let Huff Post kill it

News aggregation and curation is important, it may be the future of online news, but the social news model of and others is much better than the wrongly championed Huffington Post.

Online news experts such as Jeff Jarvis, Felix Salmon, Robert Niles et all say aggregation is inevitable. They seem to suggest that online conversation centered on issues  is the only thing that matters in online news.

And since The New York Times was late to the online news innovation stakes, these experts will let you believe that the NYT should just bow to the might of Huffington Post.

Acting as gatekeepers for what is good and what is bad with online journalism, these experts probably did not take kindly to the NYT editor Bill Keller's (who, like most good editors, is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy) outburst against Arianna Huffington, who is more in the news than the news itself. These guys look to be in awe of the promotional abilities of Arianna Huffington.

Should the NYT should just roll over and die? Who will fund good journalism? After all, if conversation is all that matters, then there is no need for reporters to go out out daily and covering their beats. Just sit at your computer and say 'whadup?'. You are a newsperson now.

Let us examine The Huff Post Kind of aggregation. Here, dedicated editors choose news stories, using a good chunk of other's work in block quotes, so that the user doesn't have to go to the original source. The editors follow it up with slideshows, tweets about the article, shallow articles based on Google trends, and the latest celebrity scandal. This is not aggregation. This is not online news. This is just blogging on a huge scale.

If it is 'aggregation + conversation' that is the holy grail for online news, then we already have shining examples in form of Social news/Discussion sites such as Reddit (and its excellent sub-reddits), Hacker News, Fark, and Slashdot. During its hey days, the conversation on Digg was also good.

In 2008, Jeff Jarvis write about the need for more explainers online. Jeff said, 'The building block of journalism is no longer the article'.

What Jeff meant was that an article isn't enough to cover an issue. You must aggregate and curate relevant links about the issue on a regular basis, using other online sources, some thing like Wikipedia, eventually creating a hugely resourceful page onb that issue.

How many such pages has Huffington Post created? I tried searching Huff Post. Used the Search box. Put in words like "explainer", "special", and "spotlight". All I got was a garbage collection of tweets and links to links.

Let us come back to aggregation and conversation.  You do not hear publishers complaining about Reddit linking to their stories do you? The Huffington Post has murdered the great idea of social news, with all its razzmatazz of celebrity name throwing, in your face excerpting, and clever partnering (Facebook etc.). It used the simmering right-vs.-liberal divisions in America, beating established players like Daily Kos, and eventually getting bigger traffic (and market valuation) than The New York Times.

Apologists for the Huff Post, like Paul Carr of Techcrunch (a Huff Post/AOL property now) say that despite what many may think, thousands of writers try to submit articles for free, daily. Yes, if these writers were any good, they would have their own blog and a following of their own. You will not see Tyler Cowen (Marginal revolution) or Jason Kottke needing to submit to Huff Post to raise their profiles. The kind of writers who try to submit stories to Huff Post earlier tried to submit their articles to or any other social news sites available. Huff Post is kind of like MillionDollarPixels for bad writers or special interest groups, or PR people. Quality aggregation and conversation this isn't.

What all these experts are hoping for is that enough momentum is generated for Huff Post so that it graduates from the mess of pseudo-curation/aggregation and becomes a hub where local news people go to submit and share their stories, without ever having to pay anyone. The circle of online news hell goes on and on.

Meanwhile, the New York Times can look into buying Reddit from Condenast and let it run free.

Notes: A quick look at the pro-huff-post experts:
1. Jeff Jarvis - He is so pro he reposted his defense of Huff Post on Huff Post itself.
2. Felix Salmon - On the rare occasion that NYT links to Huff Post without crediting the Huff Post writer in name, Felix chooses to use that example to run down the Times.
3. Robert Niles -  He writes correctly that aggregation is important, but does not offer any concrete.
4. Paul Carr - Writes for Techcrunch. a Huff Post/AOL property. Paul is designated funny writer at Techcrunch, whose primary job profile is to prove that Techcrunch does quality writing too.

Also Read:
Huffington Post - Google's favorite News Content farm
Three Reasons why Web Journalism is a joke
How NYT is the main source for all major aggregators and social news sites

Update #1: Why I wrote this
I am a blogger. I link to articles. I put excerpts in blockquotes. I am not a big fan of traditional news organizations, who may be thick in the head, when it comes to online news.

But, in case of NYT vs. Huff Post, I see a certain bandwagoning happen, which is somewhat dishonest. I respect and admire NYT's content, and this is something worth standing up for.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

James Ellroy says goodbye to Facebook

James Ellroy, the author famous for crime novels such as "LA Confidential", "American Tabloid, and "Black Dahlia", among other well-known works, has stopped using Facebook.He would rather use his own website to promote his books.

Via: Timemachinego

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