Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk at Columbia University Tonight

November 11, 2008

pamukFor people in New York:

Orhan Pamuk speaks with Andreas Huyssen at Rennert Auditorium, Kraft Center at Columbia University on Tuesday, 11/11/08 – 6:15pm. The event is free. Seating is on a first come, first served basis.

Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. The first Turkish citizen to win a Nobel, he accepted with this speech, in Turkish.

Revival of India’s Ancient Sanskrit Opens a Debate about Contemporary India

June 15, 2008

As India grows wealthier, summer camps that teach children Sanskrit are increasingly popular. Supporters of the Sanskrit revival consider the ancient language integral to Indian culture and national pride. Others disagree.

Opponents see it as a Hindu nationalist effort to turn back the clock and claim the supremacy of Hindu thought in a contemporary India that now includes Muslims and other religious minorities.

The teaching of Sanskrit is an increasingly political issue. The Washington Post reports today that Sanskrit teachers are being viewed with suspicion and scholars are warning against exploiting India’s reverence for its ancient language to privilege Hindu traditions.

Historian Arjun Dev is quoted:

It is critical to understand Sanskrit in order to study ancient Indian civilization and knowledge. But the language should not be used to push Hindu political ideology into school textbook. They want to say that all that is great about India happened in the Hindu Sanskrit texts.

Today, Sanskrit is just one of 22 official languages in India and is considered a dead language by many. As essential to Asia as Latin is to the West, it is the world’s oldest known tongue dating back to the 4th century BCE and is revered as the language of the gods. Knowledge of Sanskrit was historically seen as a marker of social class and educational attainment.

It is currently spoken fluently by only 14,100 people in a nation of a billion, although recent revival efforts have apparently succeeded in initiating “at least four million Indians into speaking the language without making the mistake of associating the language with the Hindu religion, the exclusive preserve of the upper caste Brahmins”.

The World of Chicken Little

May 30, 2008

Another crane collapsed in the Upper East Side. So far, 2008 has been a half-year of trying news. Gas prices up. Foreclosures up. Natural disasters up. Crime up. Dollar down. Jobs down. Public funding down. Spending down. Confidence down. Democrats divided. KERPLUNK. An acorn (or two, three, four) has fallen on our collective heads. And the sky seems to be falling indeed.


In one of several versions of the Chicken Little story, Chicken Little and her fearful posse run to tell the king. Along the way, they run into wicked Foxy Woxy who tries to eat them. The king’s troops rescue the group and drive Foxy out. After, the king gives the chicken an umbrella to keep her safe from future acorns.

In another version, the king does nothing at all and simply says: “You see it was only a little pebble and not part of the sky at all,” said the King. “Go home in peace and do not fear because the sky cannot fall; only rain falls from the sky.”

What’s my point? Unfortunately, we don’t have a leader we can trust (although we certainly have one who thinks he’s a king). And our government is so crippled by debt that we (particularly those of us who need it the most) probably won’t be getting an umbrella anytime soon.

But we might consider the story of Chicken Little as a humble reminder that fear can cloud our good judgement and sabotage rational solutions to our current crises of overbuying, overspending, and overdramatizing.


Yes, an old world order is falling away. This does not mean: Doomsday Apocalypse. It just means a new world order is on its way. (Now, we may no longer be the center of that universe, but that’s another post…)

Images from the Chicken Little story at

Junot Diaz Speaks

April 5, 2008

Yesterday at 7pm at the Village Community School: Listened with awe to Junot Diaz read from two of his major published works to date, “Drown” (1996, a collection of short stories) and “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (2007, novel). Diaz gives me hope that the structures and institutions that restrict, antagonize, and exclude can also be fertile ground for criticality, complexity, compassion, and good old common sense.

Impossible to speak for, or even summarize, the richness of Diaz’ thoughts. So here’s a 45-minute video of a reading/talk he gave in September 2007 at (sorry) Google. The Q&A after his reading is precious and liberating. (This clip is NOT a sound bite. It’s sustenance for your soul without religious or ideological pretense, so go grab a cup or glass of whatever and have a listen.)