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Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Middle Finger


So, it isn't enough that they've fooled us through their movies.

Rare Voice

An exchange between 2 men in Karachi:
I smiled back: ‘Tell me brother Ashfaq, how did you respond to the 7/7 event in Britain?’
‘I prayed for the well being of all Muslims,’ he said proudly.
‘Of course, you did,’ I said, with a smile of resignation. ‘But, being a good Muslim, did you also pray for the non-Muslims who died in the suicide attacks?’
Ashfaq went into the trance mode once again. ‘Brother Nadeem …are you by any chance a non-Sunni?’
I laughed out loud: ‘Brother Ashfaq, are you by any chance an idiot?’
Ashfaq went all serious: ‘You don’t have to get offensive, brother.’
‘Ashfaq, what sort of a question was that?’ I said. ‘Am from this sect or a that sect of Islam? I was talking about something a lot more meaningful than sectarian.’
‘Doesn’t matter,’ he said. ‘Islam is for all mankind.’
‘Fine,’ I replied, ‘but how do you plan to prove this? Wouldn’t you rather set a more reasonable and intellectual example in this respect rather than a ritualistic one, or worse, a violent one, like that of the fanatics?’
‘I am not a fanatic,’ he said, his eyes now ogling repressed anger.
I offered him a cigarette.
‘I told you I don’t smoke,’ he said, politely pushing away the offer.
‘You may as well now,’ I said. ‘You have already missed your prayers.’
He worriedly looked at his wrist watch: ‘That’s correct. I did.’
‘Don’t worry,’ I smiled. ‘You wont burn in hell for this.’
‘You are right, brother, I wont …’ he replied, and then in a quiet but foreboding tone, added: ‘But you will.’

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On Government's Support for Arts

Greg Beato writes for Reason:

Today the [NEA] is careful to fund nothing more controversial than bilingual puppetry epics. And given the glut of cultural opportunities that now bedevil us, its status as a nurturer of the arts is less pronounced than its status as an agent of state-sponsored moral engineering. Now, it exists largely to reinforce the notion that musicals are somehow more inherently suited to nourishing the roots of our culture than sitcom pilots. That ballet is a greater part of our national heritage than burlesque. That mediocre opera singers deserve more support than our best gangsta rappers.

What are the ramifications of spending tax-payers money on encouraging a rapper who writes misogynistic lyrics and the beauty of getting high on drugs? Should the government support Seinfeld-like comedians to come up with Seinfeld-like sitcoms? Is 'what is art?' a less significant question than 'who defines what art is?' ? If 'art' & 'culture' is mainstream and if they already make money out of it, why should the government sponsor? What next, NEA supporting Hollywood studios?

But then, why do mediocre opera singers (never been to one) deserve a financial pat-on-the-back while thousands of wannabe-cinema-stars live in their cars? Is an older art form (ballet, 'classical' music, theater, etc) inherently a better form of art than today's (Hollywood, rap, video games, etc) even though the mass cannot understand or appreciate that? If something doesn't have an audience (or has a sagging audience) why should the government intervene and prop it up -- should not the market force do its job and wipe away what's not needed?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

WTF?

I was browsing various Indian-name databases for my soon to be born girl. Guess what I found -- 'Kate Winslet'. Kate, I can understand. Since when did Kate Winslet become a modern Indian name?

Ineffective Special Effects

Chris Orr, in his review of Body of Lies:
[Ridley Scott's] aesthetic and political purposes are in tension: How upset can we be about a deadly explosion when Scott has labored so mightily to make it look cool? Though evidently intended to straddle the divide between action thriller and geopolitical fable, when pushed, Body of Lies tumbles into the former genre.
I've often felt this director's divide between sticking to the flow & tone of the film and making the most of special effects. I've seen behind-the-scene works on what goes into creating a crash or an explosion. When so much money and time is spent by the stunt team, it only seems natural to justify their efforts by showing the 'action' from various angles, repeat with slow-motions. But if it's not an outright action movie whose target audience are juvenile boys, the multiple-angle-slo-mo shots only dilute the intensity of narration.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

UO - 2

Forsyth writes in The Fist of God about why intelligence officers may sell themselves to foreign countries:
The motives for being so recruited to serve another country vary.  The recruit may be in debt, in a bitter marriage, passed over for promotion, revolted by his own regime, or simply lust for a new life and plenty of money.  He may be recruited through his own weaknesses, sexual or homosexual, or simply by sweet talk and flattery.
Two things pricked me from the above passage -- 1) The use of 'he'.  I know how it's a matter of style for a lot of writers to use 'he' or 'him' while they obviously mean both the genders.  Forsyth doesn't particularly strike me as that kind of a writer because of his colossal attention to detail, especially when there were women defectors.  Since thrillers/suspense are primarily aimed at men, it even makes sense for a young man to imagine a woman as a recruit for espionage.  It adds spice.  2) Sexual or homosexual - Is homosexual not sexual?  Such political incorrectness spotlights that he still thinks from a different age.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Intellectual Compartmentalization

A.C.Grayling writes in Edge:
We have a problem at the moment, which is that too few people go on from school to study science at university. The point here is not about making more scientists necessarily, but making more people who are competent to observe what's happening in science, to be interested in reading about it, to keep abreast of developments, to be excited by what is happening in science.
He's concerned that there aren't enough people who are educated and/or interested enough to observe what's going on in our laboratories today. But wait, compare that with ISRO rocket scientists who invoke the blessings of Tirupati god before a space flight. Talk of intellectual compartmentalization; these guys are on top.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Informed Decisions

Rob Lyons of Spiked doesn't think that listing calories next to the menu is a good idea. He writes:
Food should be both sustenance and pleasure. The demand that we constantly check our desires against some government-imposed calorie-related target robs us of this joy, replacing it with guilt and fear instead; such schemes serve no other purpose than to persuade us that we must trust in the advice of the health authorities.

Rather than labeling everything we eat with calorie and fat contents, a far healthier attitude would be to leave us to make up our own minds about what we consume. We should be lickin’ our fingers, not counting calories on them.

Rob states that checking the calorie count robs us of the pleasure of eating and leaves us with guilt and fear. Does he mean that the average man has to eat more than the recommended calories/meal in order to derive pleasure out of eating? Rob's essentially implying that the government's stipulations for calories/meal are much less than what one needs to eat in order to remain healthy. Come on, we're dealing with first world countries and nobody (at least an overwhelming majority) is going to die of malnutrition.

This point rings close to this piece I wrote about a year ago -- how scientific authority is in some circles trying to replace moral & religious authorities. But now, I agree with one of the comments (by Viswanathan) there. He wrote "The shades of fun ( or pain) of owning up responsibilities can still be there, even under the illumination by science. Science can tell us the dangers of excess calories,or excess alcohol or that of tobacco. Knowing fully well the facts, one can still over eat, drink or smoke.The burden of responsibility is only heightened- not lessened- by knowledge."

There's nobody from the local health office sitting next to you watching how many calories you gobble when you stack up your double cheese burgers. You are warned, now it's upto you.
Update: This is an embarassing spelling error to admit.  I wanted to write 'Come on' and instead wrote 'Common'.  I've corrected the error.

What Women Want?

From NYT Magazine, on why a Viagra-equivalent for women won't work:
In men who have trouble getting erect, the genital engorgement aided by Viagra and its rivals is often all that’s needed. The pills target genital capillaries; they don’t aim at the mind. The medications may enhance male desire somewhat by granting men a feeling of power and control, but they don’t, for the most part, manufacture wanting. And for men, they don’t need to. Desire, it seems, is usually in steady supply. In women, though, the main difficulty appears to be in the mind, not the body, so the physiological effects of the drugs have proved irrelevant. The pills can promote blood flow and lubrication, but this doesn’t do much to create a conscious sense of desire.

.........

For women, “being desired is the orgasm,” Meana said somewhat metaphorically — it is, in her vision, at once the thing craved and the spark of craving.

The Joys of Senseless Regulations

From a NYT opinion piece:

A man who says he desperately needed to use an airplane bathroom after eating something bad in Honduras faces a felony charge after being accused of twisting a flight attendant’s arm to get to the lavatory, the F.B.I. said.

Joao Correa, 43, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he had a bathroom emergency 30 minutes into a March 28 Delta Air Lines flight from San Pedro Sula to Atlanta but found the single coach aisle on the Boeing 737 blocked by a beverage cart. He said he asked whether he could use the lavatory in business class but was told no.

When the cart wasn’t moved after a few minutes, Mr. Correa said, he ran for the business-class lavatory. He said the flight attendant put up her arm to block him and he grabbed it to keep his balance.
Felony charge? Yes, technically a passenger tried to overpower an airplane crew. But what were the circumstances? I know that the lawyers are quite pumped up on caffeine in the U.S - anybody forget the Korean laundry owner who was sued $54 million over a lost pant? But not many know that the poor guy spent $100000 on fighting the law suit which eventually left him, obviously, poor, and drove him out of business. The law makers in the name of beefing up security can't disengage their common senses. Laws & rules help regulate the society. But their enforcements should be based on practical judgments.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Oddly Enough

From Reuters:
A Russian karate expert has been charged with beating to death a 61-year-old woman and her son, whom he accused of infecting his wife with lice, an investigator said Friday.

The drunk 26-year-old burst into a neighboring room in his hostel Tuesday and used karate moves to kill the pair, state investigator Eduard Abdullin said...

I know it's cruel to lighten up such a sad incident. But I wonder what the wife of the karate 'expert' said to him when he came to his room after killing them.

PS: I have the word expert in quotes because he can't be one. Karate and loads of other martial arts heavily insist on self-control and defense before you begin an assault. In fact, one of my schoolmates said that his karate master asked his students to run fast as they can if they find themselves in a confrontation / unfriendly situation.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Irony

For a self-proclaimed feminist, I wonder how Suhasini okayed the following lyrics in her movie 'Indira' for the song 'Thoda thoda':
Pasithavan amudham parugidathane 17 vasanthangal idhazh valarthen...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Experimental Animals

From USA Today:
Military researchers have dressed live pigs in body armor and strapped them into Humvee simulators that were then blown up with explosives to study the link between roadside bomb blasts and brain injury.

......
U.S. car companies used live animals, including pigs, for crash tests until the early 1990s. They stopped after protests from animal rights groups.
Pigs as crash test dummies? Okay, so a safety assurance team strapped a living pig, pressed the accelerator pedal and let the car dash into a wall? The anatomy of a pig is so different from that of a human being, I wonder how a crash test and the injuries sustained by a pig provided meaningful information as to the relevant safety adjustments to be made for humans. In the other case, the military must have it's reasons. But from a layman's point of view, an armored pig blown away by a bomb will be torn away differently from that of a human being. I'm not sure how one can conclude the effectiveness of the armor from inferences based on pigs' brains.

PS: I'm not against using live animals for such experiments. We've had lab rats, rabbits, cows and pigs getting injected with new formulas before they're tried on human beings. I believe they have contributed to a lot of life-saving drugs in use today. And for most of the world, 'humane treatment' of animals is mostly in regard to cats and dogs not cows or chickens which end up on a lunch menu. (Yes, there are organizations that fight for decent living conditions and 'humane' killing techniques of these animals before they're cooked, but I don't see it far away from being an experimental punch-bag).

Friday, April 03, 2009

Recovery Trend

Respected economist Simon Johnson writes on the current economic crisis:
The most likely outcome is not a V-shaped recovery (which is the current official consensus) or a U-shaped recovery (which is closer to the private sector consensus), but rather an L, in which there is a steep fall and then a struggle to recover. A “lost decade” for the world economy is quite possible. There will be some episodes of incipient recovery, as there were in Japan during the 1990s, but this will prove very hard to sustain.
Please note that there's no recovery in 'L', but only a struggle for recovery.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Dead Body of Knowledge

Christine Montross writes succinctly, beautifully and persuasively on how important it is for medical students to dissect a dead body even though they can see everything inside a body through medical technology:
Someday, they’ll need to keep their cool when a baby is lodged wrong in a mother’s birth canal; when a bone breaks through a patient’s skin; when someone’s face is burned beyond recognition. Doctors do have normal reactions to these situations; the composure that we strive to keep under stressful circumstances is not innate. It has to be learned. The discomfort of taking a blade to a dead man’s skin helps doctors-in-training figure out how to cope, without the risk of intruding on a live patient’s feelings — or worse, his health. We learn to heal the living by first dismantling the dead.

The Chinese Control

The Chinese foreign affairs minister said the following when asked about China banning Youtube:
As for what you can and cannot watch, watch what you can watch, and don't watch what you cannot watch.
China has traded its citizens' freedom by promising steady growth. After all, the communist government executed the greatest transformation from poverty to middle-class in recorded history, all in less than 30 years. As it happens during every recession, the segment that was recently inducted into the middle-class will slide back and suffer most. It won't be just the loss of material things, but also a social identity - being able to send the kids to a better school, buy better dresses, live in a better house, drive a better bike - all of these will now undergo a downgrade.

Massive unemployment has many moving back from cities to the rural areas and they're not going to be happy to see their new found luxury disappear while their freedom remains stifled. Above mentioned quote reflects the attitude of the Chinese authorities. People put up with it as long as they kept pacing up the social/financial ladder. Now that the economy is taking them for a ride, I wonder how long will it be before a social unrest erupts. I've read news items reporting pockets of violence. If the government keeps crushing valid protests and overpowering the common man in all walks of life and also has the temerity to not responsibly address their actions, it will only be a matter of time before the next mass movement announces itself.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Big Takeover

Here's an article, that's explains the greed, recklessness and failings of AIG, Fed, Treasury, major banks, regulatory authorities and the administration. A bit lengthy, but a good one. The writer concludes:

The most galling thing about this financial crisis is that so many Wall Street types think they actually deserve not only their huge bonuses and lavish lifestyles but the awesome political power their own mistakes have left them in possession of. When challenged, they talk about how hard they work, the 90-hour weeks, the stress, the failed marriages, the hemorrhoids and gallstones they all get before they hit 40.

"But wait a minute," you say to them. "No one ever asked you to stay up all night eight days a week trying to get filthy rich shorting what's left of the American auto industry or selling $600 billion in toxic, irredeemable mortgages to ex-strippers on work release and Taco Bell clerks. Actually, come to think of it, why are we even giving taxpayer money to you people? Why are we not throwing your ass in jail instead?"

But before you even finish saying that, they're rolling their eyes, because You Don't Get It. These people were never about anything except turning money into money, in order to get more money; valueswise they're on par with crack addicts, or obsessive sexual deviants who burgle homes to steal panties. Yet these are the people in whose hands our entire political future now rests.