Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Canada 101

Just a little pointer: the Queen's representative, Governor General Michelle Jean, has a French accent. This is what the Brits get after years of Colonialism and oppression. Revenge at its best.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sisters. Victims. Heroes.

When so many of the families are scrambling to overcome challenges the economic recession has posed; the genocide in Darfur seems a world away. The genocide has now lasted longer than the second world war. The humanitarian crisis in Darfur has never really received the media coverage, and/or the international community's support that it truly deserves. But, thankfully, Nicholas Kristof, has been writing about Darfur endlessly. He posted the above video from the region.

Hopefully his message would be able to raise awareness, and the Obama government would do its role in ending the genocide. My own Canadian government has been completely ambivalent about the issue. You see, live-blogging about Obama's visit, and giving it endless media coverage is apparently far more important. After all, Obama did go through the trouble of spending FIVE WHOLE HOURS in Ottawa. So in this case, our local media's 48-hour news-coverage of the trip was totally justified :|.

The Eligible-Bachelor Paradox

The Eligible-Bachelor Paradox

How economics and game theory explain the shortage of available, appealing men.

By Mark Gimein

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the available, sociable, and genuinely attractive man is a character highly in demand in social settings. Dinner hosts are always looking for the man who fits all the criteria. When they don't find him (often), they throw up their hands and settle for the sociable but unattractive, the attractive but unsociable, and, as a last resort, for the merely available.

The shortage of appealing men is a century-plus-old commonplace of the society melodrama. The shortage—or—more exactly, the perception of a shortage—becomes evident as you hit your late 20s and more acute as you wander into the 30s. Some men explain their social fortune by believing they've become more attractive with age; many women prefer the far likelier explanation that male faults have become easier to overlook.

The problem of the eligible bachelor is one of the great riddles of social life. Shouldn't there be about as many highly eligible and appealing men as there are attractive, eligible women?

Actually, no—and here's why. Consider the classic version of the marriage proposal: A woman makes it known that she is open to a proposal, the man proposes, and the woman chooses to say yes or no. The structure of the proposal is not, "I choose you." It is, "Will you choose me?" A woman chooses to receive the question and chooses again once the question is asked.

The idea of the woman choosing expressed in the proposal is a resilient one. The woman picking among suitors is a rarely reversed archetype of romantic love that you'll find everywhere from Jane Austen to Desperate Housewives. Or take any comic wedding scene: Invariably, it'll have the man standing dazed at the altar, wondering just how it is he got there.

Obviously, this is simplified—in contemporary life, both sides get plenty of chances to be selective. But as a rough-and-ready model, it's not bad, and it contains a solution to the Eligible-Bachelor Paradox.

You can think of this traditional concept of the search for marriage partners as a kind of an auction. In this auction, some women will be more confident of their prospects, others less so. In game-theory terms, you would call the first group "strong bidders" and the second "weak bidders." Your first thought might be that the "strong bidders"—women who (whether because of looks, social ability, or any other reason) are conventionally deemed more of a catch—would consistently win this kind of auction.

But this is not true. In fact, game theory predicts, and empirical studies of auctions bear out, that auctions will often be won by "weak" bidders, who know that they can be outbid and so bid more aggressively, while the "strong" bidders will hold out for a really great deal. You can find a technical discussion of this here. (Be warned: "Bidding Behavior in Asymmetric Auctions" is not for everyone, and I certainly won't claim to have a handle on all the math.) But you can also see how this works intuitively if you just consider that with a lot at stake in getting it right in one shot, it's the women who are confident that they are holding a strong hand who are likely to hold out and wait for the perfect prospect.

This is how you come to the Eligible-Bachelor Paradox, which is no longer so paradoxical. The pool of appealing men shrinks as many are married off and taken out of the game, leaving a disproportionate number of men who are notably imperfect (perhaps they are short, socially awkward, underemployed). And at the same time, you get a pool of women weighted toward the attractive, desirable "strong bidders."

Where have all the most appealing men gone? Married young, most of them—and sometimes to women whose most salient characteristic was not their beauty, or passion, or intellect, but their decisiveness.

Evolutionary psychologists will remind us that there's a long line of writing about "female choosiness" going back to Darwin and the male peacocks competing to get noticed by "choosy" mates with their splendid plumage. But you don't have to buy that kind of reductive biological explanation (I don't) to see the force of the "women choose" model. You only have to accept that for whatever socially constructed reason, the choice of getting married is one in which the woman is usually the key player. It might be the man who's supposed to ask the official, down-on-the-knee question, but it usually comes after a woman has made the central decision. Of course, in this, as in all matters of love, your experience may vary.

There may be those who look at this and try to derive some sort of prescription, about when to "bid," when to hold out, and when (as this Atlantic story urges) to "settle." If you're inclined to do that, approach with care. Game theory deals with how best to win the prize, but it works only when you can decide what's worth winning.

Found here.

Also check out: "The Case for Mr. Not-Quite-Right." Needless to say, my Momma Bennet of a mother really enjoyed these articles :).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Picket Fence

I had the hardest time writing this post. The thing is, I cannot isolate myself from Revolutionary Road. When I read this novel, written by Richard Yates, I could see myself in Frank Wheeler. This story is about broken promises, and unfulfilled dreams. The reason this story is unique because it is an anti-thesis of a typical coming of age tale.

Marianne Williamson said that our deepest fear is not realizing, we are insufficient, but coming in terms with our true potential. If we know we are intelligent and have the potential of achieving whatever we put our mind to, then we really have no excuse to fail.

Revolutionary Road took away the blind-faith that I would be happy in the end. It made me realize that sometimes even the most gifted, and blessed people are not happy in life. People like Frank and April Wheeler, who have everything going for them. Frank Wheeler is intelligent, attractive, and is married to a beautiful woman, with two kids. He earns a good living at a job he hates, where he does not really have to apply himself. He is financially well-off, and is living in a beautiful suburban house. His wife, April Wheeler, gets drawn to Frank because he has new ideals. He is mysterious and he has travelled the world. Whereas, April has not been anywhere. She took acting classes, and believed she could have been an excellent actress, if she had not gotten married and had Frank's two kids. But this false belief gets shattered when her local theater performance is declared mediocre by her suburban neighbours.

Together the couple ends up having this life which neither of them had expected. They find themselves getting lost behind the mundanity of white picket fenced suburbia. They are unhappy because the novelty that brought them closer is missing. They come to realize, neither of them is as unexceptional as the other thought they were. They get this grand idea to move to Europe where they could finally amount to something spectacular, out of the ordinary. This Old World fascination is akin to what many members of the Lost Generation felt, including Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The reader or viewer is left to wonder, are these characters so lost because they got thrown into the circumstances they didn't expect? Both of them had hopes that they were beyond the simple and monochromatic lifestyle that one would expect from a husband, a wife, and parents of two children. The other question is, are these two characters "exceptional" because they are daring to be different, or are they flawed and foolishly idealistic because they want something they can't have? Perhaps, they should have tested their true potential before they got married.

In terms of the cinematic characterization, one thing I didn't like in the movie was the fact that April's character seemed more confused and lost than Frank's. April was shown to make more unrealistic and idealistic choices than Frank. Now that we are on the subject, let me discuss the movie a bit more. My favourite part of the movie was the beginning. April and Frank are shown walking down a hallway under ceiling lights, walking parallel to each other, but not right beside each other. I don't know if that makes sense, but to me I thought it was an effective way to set the premise of the story. In terms of acting, I am still angry with the fact that neither Leo DiCaprio nor Kate Winslet got nominated for their roles. They transpired Richard Yates words through their acting, with their body language and facial expressions. Both of these actors have the power to reach out of the screen and somehow move me with their performances. There are not that many actors I can say that for.

I was ready to hate the movie, because I never like film adaptations. But, the movie ended up helping my understanding of the novel and its author. For instance, for some reason I saw Richard Yates in Howard Givings, who turns off his hearing-aid because he doesn't want to hear anything negative about the Wheelers. I think, Yates felt sorry for the Wheelers, after all, the Wheelers are the embodiment of our worst fears and moments of self-doubt. We are afraid to be stuck in a job we don't like, or in a marriage that only seems perfect from the outside. Furthermore, Yates also included us in his story. We are shown both as the ordinary Campbells (more about them in a few minutes), and John Givings. Yates entrusted John Givings to ask the Wheelers our questions. John Givings screams and scolds the Wheelers for us.

Okay now something about the Campbells. Yates used this couple as a foil to highlight the Wheelers's flaws. Where the Wheelers are dreaming about moving to Paris, the Campbells are busy looking after their kids. Where Frank is dreaming about quitting his job, Shep Campbell is lusting after Frank's wife, April. See how simple and ordinary Shep's dreams are (!). At the end of the day, the question is would Shep prefer a wife who is like April or like his own wife, Milly. Milly is not as beautiful as April, but she is an excellent mother, and caregiver.

The other theme that had my mind going was manliness. April thinks that since Frank did not amount to her first reaction of him, he is incapable of carrying through and completely finishing a task. Even in the instances, when he raises his hand to hit her but holds back last minute, and does not follow through. She sees his failure to physically harm her as his inability to be a man. She actually says something along the lines that how Frank is not even man enough to harm her. Frank compensates for his un-maniliness by sleeping with a co-worker.

I would strongly suggest anyone out there who's reading this post to read the book. It will change the way you look at life and relationships. Too often we hold back emotions and resort to silences when just simple sentences and words would have been the best option. Too often we take life for granted. We take ourselves for granted.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

You try until you don't...

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is my favourite Valentine's movie. It is about a couple who get their memory erased after they breakup. During the medical procedure Joel (Jim Carrey) realizes, not all of the memories he shared with his ex-girlfriend Clamentine (Kate Winslet) were bad, and he resists the urge to let go of those memories.

Personally, I am very hesitant to keep memorabilia, be it photographs or any sort of stubs. I am scared that I would end up keeping something which would hurt me in the future. So, unless, I am absolutely sure that saving something would not be torturous in the long run, I would not bother keeping it. I think, I have gotten better with time. I take more photographs now, than I ever did in the past. I do not have any school pictures, be it from elementary, middle, or high school. I also used to be really bad at staying in touch with people, I think I have gotten a bit better now.

But, I feel if I were to enter a relationship now, I would not hesitate from keeping physical evidence of the memories we would share, regardless of the outcome of the relationship. I feel now I have the maturity to realize that for better or worse our memories make us who we are. And, at the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to find someone who can see me beyond my flaws, and somehow still end up finding something likable to hold onto for the rest of our lives.

I know, I shouldn't be talking about breakups tonight. Btw, sorry, changetheworld360, I promised I would write about Revolutionary Road next, but I need to get this breakup rant out of my head first :).

The thing about memories is that they define us. Even the most tumultuous relationships have beautiful memorable moments, which are hard to hate or dismiss. Maybe people focus on the anger and hurtful memories during a breakup because these bad memories help them in stringing away from their ex, away from the routine, the regular habits, and rituals. During a breakup, thinking about the good times, the beginning of the relationship, will perhaps make it harder for the two to find their separate paths. I think, overtime people can look back and take the good with bad, and not long for what they had. Or wonder about what it could have been.

My old English teacher used to say that the opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference. I think, when two people are not meant to be, and no matter how much the third party tries to remind them of their inevitable incompatibility, the two wouldn't be able to break free from each other, until they get to this stage of indifference, where you are not left with any other option but to part ways. I, for one, strongly believe that most people don't get love right, in the first try. Sometimes it takes multiple tries to finally find the person we are meant to spend our lives with.

It's all about sharing...

I am glad, I have something to show for my math minor :).

Friday, February 13, 2009

124155 + 100485

Mathematical Aphrodisiac

by Alex Galt

In the days when John and I used to break up all the time, we made a decision to see each other only casually. Dates were okay, but no more than once a week. We were going to lead separate lives, getting together occasionally when the spirit moved us, but without worrying about commitment.

One day at the beginning of this period, we were sitting together on the floor of John’s one-room apartment. He was knitting himself a sweater and I was reading Fermat’s Last Theorem. Every now and then, I’d interrupt his knitting to read him passages from my book.

“Did you ever hear of amicable numbers? They’re like perfect numbers, but instead of being the sum of their own divisors, they’re the sum of each others divisors. In the Middle Ages people used to carve amicable numbers into pieces of fruit. They’d eat the first piece themselves and then feed the other one to their lover. It was a mathematical aphrodisiac. I love that – a mathematical aphrodisiac.” John showed little interest. He doesn’t like math much. Not like I do. It was one more reason for us to be casual.

Christmas fell during this period, and since I hate to shop, I was glad to be able to cross John off my shopping list. We were too casual for presents. While I was shopping for my grandmother, however, I saw a cryptic crossword puzzle book and bought it for John. We had always worked on the cryptic crossword puzzles at the back of The Nation, and for five bucks I figured I could give it to him.

When Christmas rolled around, I handed John the book – unwrapped, very casual. He didn’t give me anything at all. I wasn’t surprised, but my feelings were a little hurt, even though I wasn’t supposed to care. The next day, John invited me over to his apartment. “I have your Christmas present” he said. “Sorry it’s late.”

He handed me an awkwardly wrapped bundle. When I pulled it open, a rectangle of hand-knit fabric fell on my lap. I picked it up and looked at it, completely confused. One side had the number 124,155 knitted into it; the other side had 100,485. When I looked up at John again, he was barely able to contain his excitement anymore. “They’re amicable numbers,” he said. “I wrote a computer program and let it run for twelve hours. These were the biggest ones I found, and then I double-knit them in. It’s a pot holder. I couldn’t give it to you last night but I still haven’t figured out how to cast off. It’s kind of geeky, but I thought you might like it.”

After that Christmas, we were a lot of things, but we weren’t casual anymore. The ancient mathematical aphrodisiac had worked again.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

According to this "Stuff White People Like" satirical post, all white (and by "white" the blog's author means upper-brow elitist) like to travel to Europe, after university :). They believe, visiting Europe would alter their life, and would make them more culturally and artistically unique.

This is what we see in Woody Allen's latest movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Watching the movie is like reading a beautiful novel, where the characters have fluidity, and are not just some caricatures we usually see on our cinema screens. I really liked the movie, and strongly recommend it. It reminded me of Woody Allen's other marvel, Match Point. A brief note about the acting: Penelope Cruz's character, Maria Elena, was the key catalyst in this movie, but it was Rebecca Hall's performance, and character, Vicky, that resonated with me.

The movie showed, we look at the Old World in wonderment, and while we are there we look at our North American materialistic lives with contempt. We hope that by being in Europe we are better than the rest of the people back home. We believe Europe would make us more culturally and artistically aware, and subsequently we would be able to escape the redundancy of the 9 to 5 quotidian.

The movie raised the question of love. Something Woody Allen has been playing around with, since Annie Hall. The reason love is such a well-discussed, and yet enigmatic topic is because it varies with a person's expectations. There is the innocent-not-so-tainted teenage love. But, as we grow older and our responsibilities start to pile up, our definition of love also becomes more realistic. Maybe the love you eventually settle for is not something you had fantasized about. Depending on what you are looking for, love could be rational, practical, and predictable. Or, maybe you are sure what love should not be like, but unaware of what it actually is. A Venn diagram would be oh so very handy in this case.

Then, supposedly, there are these mythical people who know from the get-go what they are looking for, and can identify it when they see it. Enter this David Gray song: "Be Mine".

I think, Woody Allen summarized the state of relationships cynically, and yet realistically, in the last scene of Annie Hall:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Francophone II

"Mademoiselle" by Berry: Love the video. The song has a very calming effect on me. I also really like the lyrics.

"Contre Toi" by Loane: I keep playing this song over, and over again. I also love her eye makeup. I find lately all of my superficial girlishness has been coming out on eye makeup. I know, I am very random.

"Une Autre Vie" by Cleopatre: A nice ballad. But, sounds a bit mainstream.

Clueless & Useless

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Here & There

Songs I am probably over-playing. In no particular order:

1. "Up All Night" by Take That: A new single by the British band Take That. It sounds a bit country, but it sounds uplifting and happy. Judging by the video, this song could very well be used for Canada Day or July 4th celebrations. However, this song comes nowhere close to my favourite Take That song: Back for Good, which I probably like for nostalgic reasons.

2. "Mr. Pitiful" by Matt Costa: I love Matt Costa.

3. "Lucky" by Jason Mraz ft. Colbie Caillat: I am a huge Jason Mraz fan, and I'll have you know he is not just a one-hit wonder. I also enjoy listening to Colbie Caillat's songs. I thought her first CD was really good. And, together their performance on last week's SNL was amazing. Although, I have to admit I am getting a bit sick of "I'm Yours".

4. "Ye Mere Deevanapan Hai" by Susheela Raman: I know this song from the movie "Namesake". Susheela Raman is a British singer, who usually sings traditional Indian songs. The title means "Is this my insanity?" in Hindi. I believe, this form of poetry is called Ghazal (pronounced guzzle); where the couplets rhyme, and the poetry is about love [Wiki]. It reminds me of the old Indian folk music, my grandmother listens to.

5. "Her Morning Elegance" by Oren Lavie: Love the song, sorta reminds me of Josh Radin's music. The video is very cool and reminds me of Adele's "Chasing Pavements".

6. "The Ugly and the Beautiful" by The Real Tuesday Weld: I absolutely love the lyrics.

7. "On the Radio" by Regina Spektor: She has an amazing voice.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Blogworthy: I'm How I Read

I apologize, if this post reads like a snoozefest. The first three articles explore the evolution of our reading and writing habits in the so-called Internet age, which is mainly governed by the imperious Google. I have also added someecards for aesthetic reasons :).

1. "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" [The Atlantic]

"Then again, the Net isn’t the alphabet, and although it may replace the printing press, it produces something altogether different. The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking."

This article raises a very interesting point. I have noticed that Internet has changed my reading habits. The difference between Internet reading and actual traditional book reading is that I am not using my imagination as much. Words don't have the same effect if they are not on paper. I find, when I am reading in a secluded corner, I can imagine what the characters look like, and what the setting would feel like. I can better associate with the characters, and sometimes I can even see myself in the protagonist.

I read the newspaper online, but I am always switching between the articles. Or I get distracted by my MSN conversations. And, now I suffer from ADD. I find it a lot harder to read a book at home. I get better reading done on the subway. Or wait for summer to finally make its appearance so I can go out to read in my backyard.

"The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction."

The article also points out that we "read" more than we used to. But, we actually learn and reflect less than we did before. Relying on one source, our computer, for entertainment, academics, and leisure reading cannot be good for our brains.

2. "All Hail the Information Triumvirate!" [Britannica]

"Three things have happened, in a blink of history’s eye: (1) a single medium, the Web, has come to dominate the storage and supply of information, (2) a single search engine, Google, has come to dominate the navigation of that medium, and (3) a single information source, Wikipedia, has come to dominate the results served up by that search engine. Even if you adore the Web, Google, and Wikipedia - and I admit there’s much to adore - you have to wonder if the transformation of the Net from a radically heterogeneous information source to a radically homogeneous one is a good thing. Is culture best served by an information triumvirate?"

Again, a very true observation made by Nicholas Carr. Over the years, most of our Internet activity has become limited to Google and Wikipedia. And, Internet has become the primary source of information; and there is nothing wrong with that. Perhaps, it is a good idea if everyone around the world is relying on Wikipedia to learn about obscure things. We know that Internet has brought us closer. But the question is, how is our shared source of information affecting our political and social views?

"In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, 'cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.' And because they would be able to 'receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,' they would 'be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.' They would be 'filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.' Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom)."

The other thing I am really curious about is, what would the next generation or some future civilization say about our blogging habits. I feel, and this is a sentiment shared by many, there are more writers out there than there are readers.

3. "Handwriting is on the Wall" [The Wall Street Journal]

"Typing and texting have caused cursive skills to atrophy, and schools regard standards of style and legibility the same way they regard standards of dress. There may even come a day when longhand writing can no longer be deciphered by ordinary people -- you'll have to bring those old letters in the attic to some fussy museum curator. In 2006 only 15% of students taking the SAT wrote out their essays in cursive script; all the rest -- no doubt to the relief of the examiners -- used block letters."

I have to admit, when it comes to handwriting I prefer printing over cursive script. I feel reading another person's handwriting is an intimate experience, especially these days when it has become such a novelty. I thought this article was interesting, because it got me thinking, when was the last time I actually sent a handwritten note to someone. Oh, how I miss passing notes in class!

4. "The hijab gets an eco-friendly makeover" [The Toronto Star]

I buy scarves from H&M and use them as head-wraps, or the Muslim headscarf, or the hijab (whatever you wanna call them :D). According to this article, a Canadian girl came up with the idea of making eco-friendly hijabs, locally. These hijabs are not only good for the environment but have also created jobs at home; helping our flattering economy. So, I am glad to report that hijab just got green :).