Friday, July 31, 2009

Slamming Open the Door

One of the cruelties of life is a parent made to bury his/her child. American poet Kathleen Bonanno talks to NPR's Terry Gross about her collection of poems, Slamming Open the Door which are about her murdered daughter and how she deals/dealt with it. I was struck by how gracious Kathleen was in opening herself to difficult questions. Though it has been a few years since her loss, I don't think any parent can fully 'recover', for the lack of a better word, from such a devastation. I don't remember being moved so forcefully in such a long time.

Cinema Liberties

There are cinemas that are very firmly rooted in the real world and picture images and sound words seen in our homes and our neighbors. That fraction is negligible; the majority of the movie goers don't want to see a 'Pather Panchali' or a '21 Grams'. It's quite the opposite where they want to escape from their daily realities and see a dinosaur chasing a car or a 800-pound gorilla destroying a city. Almost every story told takes a certain amount of liberties - be it physical, political, biological, psychological.... heroes fly, doctors cry "what a medical miracle", judges reach verdicts the same day they hear trials, presidents achieve political solutions after make-believe negotiations.... And a somewhat intelligent viewer doesn't dig deep into the process, he just knows these are the means to tell a story and decide to play along with the writer/director. But this ploy of over-simplification on part of the film-maker takes a beating if the story itself sucks or has glaring holes.
I saw 'Public Enemies' recently, the story of John Dillinger, a famous bank robber during the depression era. He's touted as, obviously, a public enemy by the bureau of investigation (before it went federal, and thus becoming FBI), his posters are out, he's shown in news reels before cinemas begin and the common man (& woman) know how he looks like. But guess what, this John Dillinger guy is always in open - at a race course, cinema theater, restaurant... without any make-up at all. In a hard to believe scene he even walks into a police office dedicated to hunting him down and converses with one of them. Michael Mann's movie, is very good in almost every dimension - action, direction, production design, costumes. But this aspect where he's just walking in the park but nobody nabs him is irksome and bring down its believability.

'Ice Age 3' posed another problem. We have dinosaurs at the end of ice age - which is a scientific impossibility. But apart from that, there's a whole range of species from which you can draw a forest food chain and they're walking and talking together as friends. This is not only rosy for kids but also incorrect. I wanted to ask my 10-year old niece with whom I watched "Did you ever wonder what they all did for lunch?" And then there's the impossibly horrible 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' where there's a whole world in the core of our planet. The story takes colossal scientific liberties which grind chillies on viewer's eyes (an Indian metaphor) over and over again.

But I don't have complaints when a 78-year old ties up thousands of balloons to his home and flies it from somewhere in USA to somewhere in South America without any GPS in 'Up'. It's a beautiful movie with a subtle message for adults, nice humour and a gentle touch of love throughout. Nor with 'Kungfu Hustle' which has no shred of logic and takes pride in its supreme lunacy. There's this little known Tamil film 'Thedinen Vandhadhu' which I find hilarious - a low budget 'B-center' offering which just fires on all humorous cylinders. It's my guilty pleasure, no doubt, but it has huge legion of cult following like 'Kadhanayagan'. Where 'Public Enemies' and 'Ice Age' failed 'Up' & 'Kadhanayagan' succeeded because it had my attention. I liked the what the characters said and did. The story is fantastic (as in unbelievable) but I lent myself to the story-tellers completely without any questions.
Grabbing the audience's attention and holding on to it for most of the running length determines the commercial worthiness of a movie. Such a silly point to make, but I wonder why many writers, directors and producers miss it. To simply state that my taste didn't suit a movie or the audience are not mature enough to appreciate it is a bad argument. These products don't make any money for their bosses. Then why do the studios green light such projects? The truth would be close to 'studios are experimenting tones and styles and stories to see if this clicks with the audience'. You wouldn't know that a series like Austin Powers would take off until they're made. I think 'American Idol' is horrible, but I don't question the studio's judgement. But sometimes they overestimate the stupidity of audience and create what everyone equally considers to be a great bummer. A good way to cull them out is to check IMDb ratings which are broken down by sex and age - there are cinemas that have dismal score in almost all the categories.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Forget that J.C.Joshi guy who thrust science into palmistry. Francis Collins, Obama's nominee to be the next director of National Institutes of Health wrote the below, as quoted from a Sam Harris' piece from NYT:

Slide 1: “Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.”

Slide 2: “God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.”

Slide 3: “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”

Slide 4: “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.”

Slide 5: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Arattai Arangam

I rarely tune in to this obnoxiously shitty show. Unfunny jokes sprinkled with 'messages', songs sung without a scale or a tempo, nonsensical metaphors about social commentary, 10-year old kids talking about foreign relations... What pisses me off is that the audience are just so rotten it's as if they're waiting to laugh and applaud if the speaker paused for a couple of seconds.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Paid Analysis

Michael Kinsley writes for Slate (emphasis mine) on the death of newspapers:
But how else will they be different from the newspapers of today (or a couple of years ago)? What of value will be missing? The lists tend to reflect the subjective tastes of the listmakers. But typically these lists include 1) local and community news; 2) international news (in particular that iconic Baghdad bureau); 3) investigative and "enterprise" journalism at all levels; and 4) serendipity—stories you stumble across as you turn the pages of a newspaper. (No one seems overly alarmed about national news or about commentary and analysis of any sort. As a paid-up member of the commentariat, I note this bitterly but without comment. It would be hard to argue that there is a shortage of opinions on the Internet.)
Mike, let me assure you. I'm alarmed. I know that the web is abound with opinions and a great chunk of them are unbelievably naive and absurd. Most of those who take news seriously invariably value the editorial page too. Although most of the opinion articles published today are reflections of their bosses' political/environmental/economic affiliations, they're nevertheless informed and present at least one side of the argument convincingly. And this is very important for me to stay away from confirmation bias. And in cases of columnists like David Brooks - a conservative writing for a somewhat center-left paper, their opinions and the comments that ensue for their pieces are too invigorating to be lost to a bad business model.

Silly Crazy

I was reminded of this joke from 'Kadhala Kadhala' while watching 'Family Guy':

MSV: Swimming pool patheengala!
Mouli: Naan pakkadha swimming poola. America fulla swimming pooldhan.
MSV: Appa car ellam enga pogum?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


A comment by a J.C.Joshi on the weekly science column by the wonderful Olivia Judson. These are the people who say evolution is the work of god:

Olivia, as a Hindu I am glad that you say, “…Even on your skin, the diversity of bacteria is prodigious. If you were to have your hands sampled, you’d probably find that each fingertip has a distinct set of residents; your palms probably also differ markedly from each other, each home to more than 150 species, but with fewer than 20 percent of the species the same. And if you’re a woman, odds are you’ll have more species than the man next to you. Why should this be? So far, no one knows…”

Although the subject is vast, in brief, the above perhaps could help realize it as the basis also arrived at by the ancients who developed the art/ science of ‘Palmistry’ that is practiced since time immemorial. Each finger and gaps between those are believed to represent different members of our solar system such that both palms represent two hemispheres, eastern and the western. In which, in the males, the lines on the right palm are believed to represent his likely behaviour as an independent individual, while the left palm indicates the likely effects of other external influences during the life-span and, hence, need to read both palms and predictions made based on the predominant lines on either palms, whereas, in females, the reverse is believed applicable…

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why We Eat Junk

Elizabeth Kolbert writes in The New Yorker on why we're fat. Though the following snippet is about the role of corporations in fattening the public, the article covers a broad range - social, biological, psychological and even political.
In the early nineteen-sixties, a man named David Wallerstein was running a chain of movie theatres in the Midwest and wondering how to boost popcorn sales. Wallerstein had already tried matinĂ©e pricing and two-for-one specials, but to no avail. According to Greg Critser, the author of “Fat Land” (2003), one night the answer came to him: jumbo-sized boxes. Once Wallerstein introduced the bigger boxes, popcorn sales at his theatres soared, and so did those of another high-margin item, soda.

A decade later, Wallerstein had retired from the movie business and was serving on McDonald’s board of directors when the chain confronted a similar problem. Customers were purchasing a burger and perhaps a soft drink or a bag of fries, and then leaving. How could they be persuaded to buy more? Wallerstein’s suggestion—a bigger bag of fries—was greeted skeptically by the company’s founder, Ray Kroc. Kroc pointed out that if people wanted more fries they could always order a second bag.

“But Ray,” Wallerstein is reputed to have said, “they don’t want to eat two bags—they don’t want to look like a glutton.” Eventually, Kroc let himself be convinced; the rest, as they say, is supersizing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In a funny, interesting and insightful (for a male) article by Sandra Loh on why sex-deprived working western women in seemingly stable relationships are beginning to crack down on their boring but stable marriages.
To work, to parent, to housekeep, to be the ones who schedule “date night,” only to be reprimanded in the home by male kitchen bitches, and then, in the bedroom, to be ignored—it’s a bum deal. And then our women’s magazines exhort us to rekindle the romance. You rarely see men’s magazines exhorting men to rekindle the romance....

If high-revving women are sexually frustrated, let them have some sort of French arrangement where they have two men, the postfeminist model dad building shelves, cooking bouillabaise, and ignoring them in the home, and the occasional fun-loving boyfriend the kids never see. Alternately, if both spouses find life already rather exhausting, never mind chasing around for sex. Long-married husbands and wives should pleasantly agree to be friends, to set the bedroom aglow at night by the mute opening of separate laptops and just be done with it. More than anything, aside from providing insulation from the world at large, that kind of arrangement could be the perfect way to be left alone.
Can a lawyer get any lower than this?

Bollywood actor Shiney Ahuja's lawyer on Tuesday gave a new angle to the case, claiming that the victim of the alleged rape belongs to a lower caste, which is "aggressive" in nature....

Elaborating his version of "consensual sex", Shivde argued that if Ahuja had tried to rape the victim, she could have "definitely" resisted. "She belongs to a lower caste, which is aggressive by nature, and she wouldn't have submitted herself so easily. They are known for being aggressive," Shivde said.

Link via Amit Varma.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

When I said to my manager that I'll be having a child in a few days, she asked me to learn to walk without sleeping. Now I am.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Reviews, Length & Presentation

Hoover Institution publishes great book reviews. I have 2 issues - length & style. The first one is a minor quibble. The author has got to write all his thoughts. For the sake of impatient readership the author can consider condensing or editing out ideas/opinions/sentences that don't fit into the crux of the review. But if the author wants it out there, there's no stopping. Still 5500 words is pushing the limits by modern web article standards. There are pieces in NYT Magazine, TNR & New Yorker that run upto 12 pages - but they deal with a solid topic, like the recession or racism or celeb-culture. James Wood, one of the revered book critics in work today, conveys his thoughts in a far lesser number of words. At this point in my life and with my exposure, I'm not inclined to read a review that's a considerable size of the book being reviewed. But I respect the author's decision to go all the way.

Their style really puts me off. I've seen instruction boards in a few railway stations in India that makes little sense - because they were framed in the British Raj and nobody took the pains to rephrase it. It would be something as simple as 'Don't spit on the platform', but to comprehend what's written on the board you'd need a colonial tight-ass next to you. Hoover's reviews aren't that bad, but the mere fact that they invite comparison to 19th century British English is worrisome. Read these sentences:
Regardless of one’s political proclivities or whether or not one just happens to like the personable Barack Obama, it’s clear that the president relishes the vague metaphor, adores the illogical argumentative sequence, and luxuriates in making words mean what only yesterday they didn’t.

Orwell is important here less for the topics he wrote about — although subjects such as poverty and oppression are obviously significant — than for the observational and anti-theoretical way in which he endeavored to write about them.
It's not ununderstandable, but there are much easier ways to say the same thing. It's almost like decoding a poem to enjoy the juice - only to find that there isn't any juice, but a talk about juice. There's a lot of fashionable nonsense on the web which requires both dictionary and wikipedia to understand individual sentences, but put together as a whole wouldn't make much sense. There was a time when I wanted to be a decorative writer and I devoured on articles and writers who used high-sounding words that many didn't understand. I've changed since then and started valuing content more than presentation. Salman Rushdie was my favorite writer. He still is, but more for his richly imaginative narration and less for his vocabulary grandeur. Having said all of that, I still recommend their reviews; criticism is a literary genre and Hoover is very good at that.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

I lost interest in women's tennis after Henin's retirement. To put it succinctly, they all sucked. Williams's sisters intimidated their opponents through sheer power, Sharapova & Safina inconsistent and a host of other ex-Soviet players stepping into top 10 on a round robin basis. Today I saw bits of the Wimbledon semi-finals between Dementieva and Serena Williams. Though not anywhere near greatness, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality.


Geroge Best once said "I spent most my money on women and cars. The rest, I squandered". Now that MJ's dead, I can't remember him for his contributions to music (of which I don't know much about) but for the decline of his life and lifestyle. He went from making millions a year, not only popularity and adulation but a crazy love of his fans, being a milestone in cultural history to financial bankruptcy, being reviled by the mainstream and an object of constant jokes for late-night comedians. For many of his fans he was long dead and the child molestation trials were only a walking ghost.
One of my friends said that he would make an interesting psychological study - he's been in front of the camera since he was 5 and practically lived most of his life chased by paparazzi. In a TV show aired sometime in 2002 he rents a grocery store for a night so that he could push the cart and buy stuff like bread and coke - just to see how if feels to walk the aisles of a store like a common man. That moment was heavy and I felt very sad for him. To be able to walk in a park without attracting attention might have been a sanity booster to him, but that day never came. (It is in light of MJ that I find celebrities like Daniel Radcliffe great; the kid made millions of pounds before he was 18 but still has a cool head and talks sense).
I've never really seen or listened to MJ. There was a brief phase in my early years when he was all the rage, just to fit myself into a coterie I listened to most of his tracks. Given my music appreciation background (grew up listening to Ilayaraja) I wasn't impressed. After his death I looked up one of his live performaces in Youtube. His pelvic gyrations, robotic movements, moonwalks, I liked. But mostly I'm impressed at the way he controlled just parts of his legs - it felt like a meeting point of kinesthetics and dance.

Homosexuality is not a crime anymore in India, finally. So cops can no longer blackmail to slap a case if they find two men hanging together in a restroom... that's a relief. I came to know that it was a criminal act when Vikram Seth came out of the closet a few years back. And wondered why the hell should the government intervene between two consenting adults in their bedroom. But I found later that a good chunk of the population still perceived it not only as unnatural, but also unethical. A couple of my ex-colleagues called it a 'disease' and said that gays should be 'treated'.

Talking of laws and gays, even a culturally liberal country like US doesn't allow gay marriages in all of its states.


Listen to what this clown called Kamal Farooqi has to say about the ruling:
You are known as a liberal Muslim. Why don't you see the sexual emotions of hundreds and thousands of people around us? If your son or daughter would have been gay how would you have addressed the topic?

If my daughter or son would have been such, I would have definitely counsel them. I would have explained them this is unnatural and inhuman. Because this will ultimately lead to the destruction of the human race. This (legal right to have sex with the same sex) cannot come under the definition of 'freedom'. All kinds of freedom have some moral context or ethics. We have to follow those ethics.