Archive for the ‘Talking Heads’ Category

It’s taken a while to get to this. A while hoping that I would be able to get my thoughts in order to offer a structured incisive analysis but hey, who am I kidding? The events of last week just adds on to some of these similarly disquieting events over the past few months and all I have to offer are pop culture references and some bad jokes. If the post sounds even more incoherent and rambling than usual, we blame it all on Thanos

 

The detached sense is really from being an outsider. Not my country, not my problem right? But then, is that really true. The look on Obama’s face as he addressed the country the next day was the one that will truly stand out. A decent man looking at a shattered legacy. A man looking at his country that had let him down. Obama’s term has been marked by his powerlessness at times with opposition for the sake of opposition and he now foresees the corpse of his vision and achievement trampled under the gilded feet of a country and society that instead of looking to the future wants to relive the past

 

obama-trump

When it truly begins to sink in…..

 

But I really think the greater sense of sadness is how the vision of a world that is interconnected, global, open, tolerant and all the good things that we read about in books just seems to belong right there. Between Brexit and this election, one thing that clearly comes out is we are increasingly set for a world that is going to be inward looking to a greater extent. Isolationalism is pretty much going to be the core message and with elections due next year in Germany and France where the inward looking parties now emboldened by the success of bluster, rhetoric, half-truths and outright lies, can afford to dream of similar such results.

 

Of course, what everyone really failed to consider is the feelings of those people who voted for Brexit and Trump. These are people who have seen their way of life not improving much or even being bypassed by the nature of things around them and even worse, finding themselves being ridiculed and ignored. Their cause being driven by anger, their votes being their weapons, their voice has been found and it’s proven to be deafening

 

The importance of tech and growing automation is going to make this scenario repeat globally. Low skill jobs are vanishing, there is no stopping progress. To correct what I said, the value of low skill jobs is going down. There will always be someone to do it at a lower cost than what the job is actually worth but to that person, even that lower cost represents something more valuable when they have very little until technology reduces that cost even further. What however is undeniable is, people have to evolve and get more skilled. How does that work unless you get trained or study further. But college education is expensive, the debts are crippling and it’s hard. Why would anyone want to do that? Wouldn’t one rather have the government place a premium on ensuring that it’s citizens are well educated and subsidize education? But no, that requires for a courage to change the status quo, seeks consensus, build bridges and a lot of political will. Hence, the easier route is taken, pander to the lower common denominator since it’s easy and a decision that can be passed on the next generation

 

But as Dr. Ian Malcolm says in Jurassic Park – “the history of evolution has taught us it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, I’m simply saying that life, uh… finds a way”. I would like to think that he meant that from a societal evolution as well. We will face bumps on the way, we may even appear to go backward but hopefully we will progress.

 

ian-malcolm

 

With regards to Trump, I would like to present one of my favorite comic book panels of all time where a comic book was used to make an in-joke on George W Bush

 

wolverine-spidey

The most politically meta comic panel of all time

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What’s with Christopher Nolan and his love/ penchant for quoting from classics. If it was Charles Dickens “A Tale of 2 Cities” that served as inspiration for The Dark Knight Rises, this above mentioned quote seems to be the inspiration for the latest Nolan pic, Interstellar. Not much is known about Interstellar. Shrouded in secrecy until the 2nd trailer that came out recently, especially in this age of the leaking of pics of initial scenes to build out the hype (yes, I am looking at Zack Snyder), the details that we know about the movie pretty much talk about the how earth cannot survive and a teary Mathew McConaughey heading out on his way for interstellar travel. With a November time slot for release, Nolan is playing well outside the typical summer blockbuster release window paving the way for hope that this might turn out to be a more balanced, human drama with a good story rather than a smorgasbord of special effects and cringe inducing dialogs.And not to be forget suitably operatic score by Hans Zimmer as usual

 

One business that seems to be gently heading into the night is specialty book stores. Over the last couple of weeks, I have been getting SMSs on massive discounts at Landmark. This seemed to be in line with the rumors that Landmark was shutting down. And lo, when I visited Landmark at Citi Center over the weekend, it was a grim sight. In the words of Matt Farrell in Die Hard 4 – “That’s why they call it a fire sale, because everything must go”. Everything was gone or going. Insane discounts – 80% off on most of the books. Vast empty shelves lining up the walls with a few books on the central displays being aggressively hunted by the few people who wanted to make the most of it (including yours truly), it reminded me of a corpse being pecked away by a group of vultures.

 

Everything Must Go!!!!! photo 2

This being the 2nd such fire sale of a large book store chain that I have witnessed (the first being Borders in NYC, a huge store in downtown where literally everything had to go, even book shelves at $50 and books at 50 cents) begets the thought on why are things in such a state. It is easy and convenient to blame a variety of factors. Disruptive innovation in the medium of sales through the likes of Amazon, Flipkart et al. Disruptive innovation in technology through the proliferation of ebooks, the convenience of which makes life infinitely easier. A general decline in reading habits and time (sheesh, I sound like an oldie but sadly, its true) is definitely another key factor. Also, the fact that it’s easier to watch a movie based on a book rather than read the book itself. An avid reader as myself, I have also been guilty of the first two. Its been ages since I went into a bookstore and from a purely convenience reason, of the 30 odd books I have read this year, just 2 have been hard copies. (To be entirely honest, I do end up buying hard copies of books that I really loved in the year as e-books, mostly the first book in a series)

That being all said and done, isn’t the purpose of a business in staying relevant in current times, linked to adjusting itself to market dynamics? With nimbleness being the order of the day for e-retailers, to mangle and mash what Louis Gerstner said, can the modern day elephants of book shops really dance? Staying true to my profession, the answer of course is, it depends and for more details, I would need a charge code :). Maybe the day of the large specialty book store is really done and the way forward is to

1) Potentially co-exist with other retailers (like what Crosswords has done).

2) Embrace concept of online book stores and formats and price accordingly given that a few controllable cost elements can be levered. After all, customer needs and whom they buy for are more often than not tied to prices

3) Aggressively open up smaller stores in airports and railway stations, after all those are the places for impulse purchases especially when you dont want to make conversation 😛

If nothing, book publishers and authors should be all the more concerned on how fast things are going down and the current situation involving Amazon and Hachette. Without taking sides in that battle, at the end of the day, it is a situation of one powerful entity trying to impose what it feels best for the customers (apparently) on an erstwhile powerful entity who is defending its position as being the best for authors (again, apparently). While there is truth on both sides, ultimately this protracted battle’s victims are reading customers and authors. A sad state of affairs indeed.

 

On a happier note, my scavenging efforts yielded 3 books

photo

 

1) Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons – A sequel to what is the best Science Fiction book I have read

2) Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson, Malazan Book 9 – Now that after 4 tries and 2 years, I have gotten done with Malazan Book 1, I feel myself strangely ambitious in completing what is at times the most frustrating, challenging and complex read I have ever had

3) The City’s Son by Tom Pollock – London. Underworld. Urban Fantasy. All checked

For books costing Rs. 1200, I got all of these for a cool 120 bucks. 90% off. Insane

<<Spoilers for Minority Report & Total Recall>>

Who doesn’t love happy endings? We all love & savor happy endings. Often at times, we walk out of movies with a buoyant feel due to a happy ending. Directors feast on that & try to guarantee a happy ending on most occasions. Good defeats evil, the hero get the girl & they live happily ever after, the lone warrior/ranger heads off into the glorious sunset, being classic examples of some happy endings. There are certain stories however that benefit from having a not-so-happy ending (or as they say cynically, a real-life ending). Arlington Road is a classic example of one such movie. It’s a chilling thrilling ride with the kind of ending that would make you uncomfortable because it seems so eminently possible. Ultimately though, happy endings at movies lead to a greater chance of happy endings at the box office because typically, we go to movies to experience happy endings, an escape from the real life. A not-so-happy ending typically depresses us & the word does spread about it (through comments such as “the movie is dark”). A happy ending also has an unintended (or may be in a calculative fashion, intended) effect of glossing over the faults of the movie (presents the Dark Knight Rises as evidence)

While indie movies have the (relative) freedom with respect to their endings, movies backed by the big studios (& thereby big budgets) have a lot more at stake & hence there would be considerable opposition towards ending a movie in a non-conventional fashion. Given these constraints, directors do end up coming up with ways of endings that deliver the so-called happy ending while remaining true to their overall message. Nolan does that in The Dark Knight. We all like the fact that Batman has defeated the Joker & saved Gordon and his family from Two-Face – a happy ending, sort of. However, what is hidden under the happy ending is the true ending. The Batman takes the fall for murders. The Joker is the ultimate winner. As Harvey says ‘You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”. (What made it even more depressing at that point was Nolan stating that he did not think he would come back for another Batman movie)

& then there are some movies that end up on a happy note seemingly but on repeated viewings, lend itself to a different kind of interpretation, one that is completely at odds with the initial ending. Minority Report & Total Recall (The Colin Farrell starrer) are movies that fall into this category.

Minority Report has this seemingly happy ending. John Anderton is rescued from the halo-ed state he is placed in during his capture by his ex-wife & post escape, he ensures that he exposes the bad guy & clears his own name from the murder charges & the movie ends with him being reunited with his wife even as she is expecting their 2nd baby. That’s exactly what Spielberg (director of the movie) wants you to think. But there is this cutaway scene very early in the movie when a captor describes what a halo-ed person feels. They are incapacitated & as the captor says “All your dreams come true”. Which drives the question, what if the ending we saw was entirely John’s dreams or vision? Which pretty much means Anderton is still captive & technically, there is no happy ending

Total Recall has a nice happy ending. Colin Farrell having his memories supposedly unlocked after a visit to Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories, discovers himself to be a spy & brings down the evil guys. Just as the movie is ending, the sun comes out & an advertising board that displays Rekall is shown prominently for a few seconds & then Farrell hugs her heroine & basks in the sunlight. But what if all of this was really happening in Rekall. What if his fascination to be a spy is what is being played out in Rekall & he thinks that is the real life. It is an interesting thought & again adds up to an unconventional ending.

It is quite possible that the directors in both these movies had not really thought of it or meant it the way I have interpreted it but in this day & age of no wasted shot & exact editing, it does not seem too far-fetched a scenario.

Here’s hoping for more such movies J

Title Source: Avril Lavigne’s “My Happy Ending”

PS: May be it’s a Philip K Dick thing. Both Minority Report & Total Recall were based on PKD’s short stories. While I confess to have not read his books (I don’t read much sci-fi), I would like to think may be that’s how PKD wrote it in his books

PPS: I don’t remember much of the 1st Total Recall movie starring Arnie apart from the fact that it was kind of fun & involved travel to Mars & had a very hot (at that time)Sharon Stone

Actors are at times defined by the relationships that they portray on screen. It sometimes does not matter who the other person in the relationship is, all that matters is the relationship itself & the actor portraying that relationship. That relationship tends to define the actor & bring about the best in him/her. One of the best examples of the above happens to be John Noble.

John Noble in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King as Denethor, Steward of Gondor was my first introduction to him & he was everything that one expected out of Denethor. Haughty, proud, stern (or to borrow liberally from GRRM, Unbent, Unbowed & Unbroken).  John Noble’s weathered beaten craggy face conveys emotion perfectly. He plays a man grieving the loss of his first born, his heir & contemptuous of his second born for not measuring up to the standards expected of a heir, while at the same time, he absolutely resents the presence of Gandalf meddling in what he sees is Gondor’s concern. Denethor’s feelings for Faramir (his second born) comes pouring out when Faramir lies close to death. That is when Denethor gives up, starts acting irrationally & goes as far as to consign both himself & Faramir to flames.

Denethor, Steward of Gondor

Acting irrationally for his son is the theme that continues in John Noble’s roles & this was further reflected in Fringe, a science fiction tv series, where John Noble plays the proverbial mad scientist helping the FBI solve unexplained ala X-Files level cases. John Noble as Walter Bishop plays a nuanced character that is in equal parts brilliant, mad, guilty, eccentric, tormented, driven, focused, haunted and afraid. In order to save his son, Walter Bishop crosses a line (literally & figuratively) & in the process, puts the world in peril. His countenance is of a man weighed down by the guilt of his not just his actions but also of the belief that if he would have to do it all over again, he would do it the same way. The resulting guilt drives him to seek refuge in drugs (LSD in particular) & ultimately, seeks refuge in temporary madness. One look at Walter Bishop & we realize, here is a character that has experienced loss, & suffers from extraordinary guilt. He craves forgiveness & is willing to do anything to redeem himself for crossing the line but also knows that he is probably beyond redemption. Regret is another aspect that drives Walter Bishop. Regret for activities committed in the past. Activities that included experiments (of all weird kinds) on children. He understands now the mistakes he had committed & the lives that he has affected (in some cases, ruined)

Walter Bishop

The later seasons of Fringe requires John Noble to play an entirely different character. A wronged, vengeful, ambitious, powerful man who would do anything to get back at those he believes, are his enemies. His acting chops are never as evident here as we try to banish the character we had seen before & try to accept this new persona. Everything is perfect. If the previously weathered lined face represented a beaten man, the new weathered lines of his face represent a toughened man. The voice is deeper, the slouch, the hesitancy & the diffidence are gone & we have a tough sounding leader in place now. Again, this iteration of John Noble is again driven by the love for his son. It’s nothing short of a powerhouse performance from John Noble.

Walternate

It is a norm that actors often get typecast. But based on his performances in LOTR & Fringe, it probably is not a bad thing for John Noble to be typecast again as a dad who would perform the most desperate of acts for his son (Not a bad idea to have John Noble do a movie like Taken. I said it first here. Patented & Copyrighted)

PS: Given his performance in Fringe, it is indeed criminal that John Noble does not have even an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor, let alone winning it. It kinds of ties into my theory that Academy awards judges & Prime time Emmy judges are snobs & cannot acknowledge science fiction, fantasy & super heroes as mainstream (Though it was indeed a relief that Peter Dinklage broke through last year)

Brilliant & So True

Posted: June 8, 2011 in Books, Talking Heads

Prem Panicker of how difficult, candor is

“It is a very difficult thing to do, that: to lower your defenses, express yourself not just from the head but also the heart.

Because, each time you do that, you reveal a bit more about yourself. And the more you reveal, the more vulnerable you make yourself, the more you expose yourself to hurt, to ridicule.”

Source: http://prempanicker.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/open-and-bleeding/

Dear Barack Obama (or POTUS, as I am sure your prefer to be addressed),

While one acknowledges the fact that you won a Nobel Peace Prize for being the person who replaced George Bush (one of best examples for being at the right place at the right time), it is indeed admirable that you are striving to win a similar global award for Environmental consciousness, through your visit to India.

Of course, one does admit, Diwali is indeed not a festival to be celebrated what with all the noise and pollution that it might offend your delicate American system (used to the head banging rock concerts and the bang of firearms). One certainly has to laud your drive in ensuring that atleast a part of the country is environmentally conscious. I mean, why should anyone in S Mumbai burst those offending creatures. They should all save up until they can buy the real thing.

Blockading S Mumbai is probably the best thing that you could have done. Imagine all the vehicular pollution that you would stop. Of course, the face that a lot of people would like to come down to S Mumbai has no bearing on your decision, while I am sure, that after Diwali, someone might want to travel to S Mumbai would have not cross your mind at all. I, of course, do admire your sense of the larger picture here. By preventing most people from coming down, you are proposing an innovative solution to prevent traffic jams. (Of course, I am sure you would extend the same courtesy to any head of state who visits you just after Christmas)

Of course, one is mindful of the agenda that you have in mind. Global issues dominate your very thought process and your very statements draw attention to that. American jobs, American companies, American economy, liability possibilities on American companies are of course key parts of your “global” agenda. Of course, terrorism and its after effects on India is a footnote in your agenda considering that you have signed off a $2.5B aid policy to “ensure” Pakistan’s good behavior. And how not a single dime of it “can” be used to support cross border terrorist activities. One day, after you retire, one does hope that they get a chance to understand the excellent monitoring systems that you have in place. One would like to use that in the IT companies to monitor employee activities that reduce efficiency like Facebook, Farmville, Boss-cribbing, Work-cribbing; an efficiency that is still higher than what one sees in American companies.

Of course, like any true capitalist, you are all for globalization until it affects you, after which you redefine globalization. One does admire the whole goal-shifting policy and wishes if it can adapted to my year-end process too. But digressions apart, it is a very positive move. Shouting against offshoring/outsourcing while asking for India to open its markets in the same breath. Total respect, I say. That a bit like the subsidies on farming that the western countries provide but I am sure, you will say, that I am missing the point totally and that is really not on agenda for your talks this time. Afterall, protectionism of any kind is wrong isn’t it

Of course, one has to be made aware of the fact that American suppliers and vendors are never wrong and using superior manufacturing practices, can never manufacture defective products. Which is why you are all against the liability provision with regards to nuclear supplies. Of course, Bhopal happened way when you were not president and you really cant be held responsible for anything that happened before your term like the Financial crisis.

Lastly, one wishes to express total support on your decision not to visit Golden temple, at Amritsar as wearing the headgear would make you look like a Muslim and that would very strongly upset your well educated American and send a wrong message.

Regards,
A Nobel Peace prize aspirer

The recession and fiscal deficits have ensured that most governments are cutting down defense spends with a vengeance. Sample recent news that have come up

1) UK Government to cut 8% from its defense budget over the next 4 years. Job cuts ranging from 25,000 in MoD to 5,000 in the RAF & Navy. Cuts in aircraft models

2) French Government to cut military spending $6B

3) German Government to reduce military spendings by $10B, primarily by reducing orders on their aircrafts

So on and so forth, from a lot of other governments. So, is world peace really in our grasp?

Isn’t that as expectation as naive as it can get. For starters, the world biggest military spender, the US has gone on steadily increasing its military budget (even though SecDef Robert Gates wants to cut it down to size) as well as supplying more and more arms to other nations (As I write this, I come across an article that the US is supplying $60B arms to the Saudis)(To put the US military spending in perspective, US accounts for over 45% of total global military expenditure with China,a distant second at 6%). China & India keep on adding to their military capabilities and modernize their armed forces, not naming each other as the reason but alluding to each other enough, to justify (in their eyes) the buildup.

However, there are 2 factors, one major and one not-so-major, that causes any optimism which would be generated from the recent spate of defense cuts to vanish.

The major factor, being terrorism. The wars of the recent past (Desert Storm for example) with complex aerial bombings and massive infantry, belong pretty much, to the past. With nukes pretty much dime a dozen (Ok, I am exaggerating but I am going by what Travolta says in Swordfish “Did you know that I can buy nuclear warheads in Minsk for forty million each? Hell, I’d buy half a dozen and even get a discount!”), any nation that is going to face the prospect of losing a conventional war, is going to ensure a one way trip to Armageddon, by depressing a single red colored button (note to self: stop watching too many war movies). Terrorism on the other hand is a different beast, a hydra with multiple heads, and with no clear rules of engagement. The armies to counter terrorism would probably have to be self contained small groups with a clear command and communication structure, armed with small arms. The usual tactic of aerial bombardment is not the way forward as the US has learnt (hopefully) from its experiences in Afghanistan & Iraq. This being the case, no longer would defense budgets be bloated by armaments that would not be needed. It would have to serve the cause of hunting of terrorists though of course a minimum airforce, navy and army presence would be required to serve as a deterrent. So, all the cut in defense budget is not necessarily adding up to world peace, harmony and all that jazz

Which brings me back to the second not-so-major factor which can become a worrying trend in the future. The rise of private security companies (PSCs) (just a consult like term for mercenaries, with of course, more firepower and more pay). Lets face it, with military downsizing, where would these people, who have spent a good part of their life fighting go. Private security companies are a great place to get absorbed. The fact that they are better paymasters than the government is another motivator. These companies have been performing multiple roles all over the globe, ranging from personal protections services to securing facilities to aid distribution. In Iraq, private security companies were often playing the kind of roles that the military was supposed to perform, getting involved in quite a few firefights. This burgeoning power of PSCs has led to random enforcement of the law and Wikileaks actually highlights the atrocities and abuses perpetuated by PSCs. Blackwater Group, one of the companies named in the Iraq War Document leak has been paid over $300 Mn for their services from 2004. Most of these PSCs have their own training complex where they spend a large amount of time training their recruits to peak performance. Supposing the US government sees no role for these companies in Iraq & Afghanistan, where would these companies turn to manage their revenue streams. Easily, to the highest bidder. What is then going to prevent them from being used to overthrow shaky governments or as a covert strike force used for clandestine mission. Its not like all PSCs are at all times indulging in shady activities. PSCs do a lot of good too. But it does bear mentioning that they need to be held on a very tight leash.

Getting back to the title of post, it is a play on the Superman Returns Movie (2006) in which Lois Lane wins a Pulitzer for writing an article on “Why the world does not need a Superman”, until realizing at the end of the movie that the world needs a Superman and on the immortal Tony Stark dialog from Iron Man 2, “I have successfully privatized world peace”. The emergence of PSCs as a legitimate and lucrative money making operation coupled with the so-called localized spheres of war with terrorist, kind of puts Tony Stark’s statement in shade as it is in the benefit of PSCs to ensure conflict are never extinguished and terrorism can never really be extinguished. As they say, one country’s freedom fighter is another country’s terrorist. World peace cannot be successfully privatized and while the world does require not just one but many Iron Men, they are just not the solution to world peace.

Sources: BBC, Rueters, Global Issues.org, Wiki (of course)