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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Thoughts About the Nobel Peace Prize and Obama

Posted by anandrr on October 9, 2009

I’m not sure that awarding the prize to Obama devalues it any more than it has already been devalued by being awarded to Kissinger and Arafat.

First they gave the prize to the guy who lost to G.W. Bush. Now they’re giving it to the guy who succeeded him. Next year, give it to W’s parents and Jeb and they will have made their point abundantly clear. Talk about your soft bigotry of low expectations.

What, did the world suddenly run out of polio-eliminating and poverty-alleviating organizations?

As my friend Ravi says, they should have given Obama the Literature Prize instead, for the artful and innovative use of language to try and create world peace.


Posted in Politics, wtf | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Film Review: Kanchivaram

Posted by anandrr on March 25, 2009

I first watched a Priyadarshan movie when I watched Kilukkam back when I was a young college-going lad. My room mate had convinced us Bangaloreans that this was an awesome movie and took us. Kilukkam was quite a revelation, it was funny, it was extremely well made, it had a good story and plot, and finally it looked different. Kilukkam looks most like a Mani Ratnam movie, but that is not giving Kilukkam enough credit. The Mani Ratnam look of course refers to the generally dark, back-lit/side-lit cinematography that lends the movie a sensual look. But the difference is that Kilukkam was shot in Ooty, and the director did use that to his advantage by framing the shots to include the green beauty of that fine hill-town. It also helped that Ooty is a generally foggy city, see earlier note about lowered lighting in the shots. Kilukkam was also that rarest of Indian movies: a comedy feast. Historically, Indian comedies may be classified into: i) Movies that are tight, intelligent comic movies, they start as comedies, stay that way, and end that way. These are rare. Hrishikesh Mukherjee used to pull it off quite consistently in the 70s. This has recently come into vogue again, now that movies are not afraid to last two hours or less. ii) Movies that start with a comic premise, but quickly morph into a drama/tragedy/something else equally abhorrent. These are sadly quite prevalent. A subset of this type of movie is of the Chandni Chowk to China variety. Movies that could be good comedies if only they had had the sense to hire an editor and snip out the middle 1.5 hours. iii) Movies that are indeed comedies through and through, or would be if they were actually funny. This includes movies that at first blush might appear to belong in the first category. Two Kamalhassan movies illustrate this dichotomy nicely. Pushpak, that landmark silent movie of the 1980s today appears to be a movie with an interesting gimmick but a very poor, cringe-inducing comic style, firmly in the third category. Michael Madana Kama Rajan, the quadruple-role Kamal feast, on the other hand seems to belong to the first variety. All in all, I had marked Priyadarshan as a director to watch. Soon after, I left India for foreign shores and didn’t really follow his work. I was therefore quite pleased when I saw that The Asian Film Festival in San Francisco last weekend screened Priyadarshan’s latest effort, Kanchivaram.

Kanchivaram is a set in the mid-late 1940s in the Tamilnadu town of Kanchivaram. The town is the origin of the famous Kanchivaram silk sarees, intricate hand woven sarees of such incredible beauty, woven by artisans who are so poor that they cannot afford their own creations, indeed have probably never seen their sarees worn by anyone. They work for the local landlord who owns the means of production, and naturally this sets the stage for a gradual awakening of Communist spirit among the weavers. The story deals specifically with one weaver who wishes that by the time his newborn daughter is of marriageable age, he will be able to marry her off in a silk saree. This is is an admirable pursuit in one so poor of course, but the futility of a poor person’s existence in India will grind him down, it is really only a matter of time. No Slumdog Millionaire this, there are no fairy tale endings to be had. The system is stacked against a simple poor weaver, and he has to fight it every step of the way. Communism makes its appearance via an idealistic writer, but pre-war Britain banned Communism, and eventually even Communism can’t help, it is but an ideology. Ideologies can’t put food on the table. Very quickly, idealistic communist protestors turn into run-of-the-mill politicians and yet another source of hope disappears. Hope keeps springing eternal, but reality catches up very quickly eventually leading to a heart-rending dénouement. As Slumdog would say, “It is written.”

Don’t let all of this get you down, the story is outstanding: it has all the right touches to make it incredibly real and it is very well edited to tell that story tightly. This is also the best looking movie I’ve seen in a long time. It isn’t just the back-lit/side-lit scenes that are enjoyable, there are many deep-focus shots of the kind I haven’t seen in a long time. When he turns these on, the scene just pops like on a digital hi-def screen, and the collective audience’s jaw drops. The Kanchivaram village doesn’t just look lovely, it looks like an Incredible India tourist brochure come alive.

A Western audience might find a couple quibbles with the movie. The lone “British” businessman speaks an English that is painfully un-British, indeed un-anything, but one imagines that if he spoke perfectly, it would make him very hard to follow for a Tamil audience. Also the San Francisco audience that I watched this with twittered quite audibly when the Communist sickle made its appearance, this might be camp for an American audience, but the rest of us know that it is indeed quite real.

As I left the movie theater (Castro theater, about which a word, I had no idea the ceiling had all these lovely Indian/Asian motif paintings), I felt like I’d seen the best movie I’ll see all year.

Posted in Films, Politics, Reviews, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Frederick Forsyth on the Unpleasantness in Guinea-Bissau

Posted by anandrr on March 3, 2009

Thanks to a happy concatenation of circumstances, I was in the car today when the BBC was talking about all the recent unpleasantness in Guinea-Bissau1. And who should they have found to talk about it but Frederick Forsyth who just happened to be visiting there on the day of the coup. This led to the best foreign-journalist reporting that I’ve ever heard on the radio. I recorded it for posterity and archived it off here. It’s equal parts wordsmith talking about the events, for instance,

As [the General] sat down at his desk, someone with a doohickey pressed the appropriate button and a bomb went off, creating out of the general, an ex-general.

and also traditional British stiff upper-lip:

I was due to fly out tomorrow afternoon, and I rather think they’re going to keep the airport closed which is very inconvenient.

Listen to the whole thing of course, it’s rife with entertainment as he talks about the President that would not die and the forensic pathologist in charge who helped him piece it together and on and on.


Fn 1: For those who do not wish to click through and read it all, the President of Guinea Bissau had the General of his Army killed,  the Army not taking too kindly to this interference had their President killed right back and now the country is without a President as well as a General. All quite unfortunate of course.

Posted in Army, Foreign Policy, Funny, Literature, Politics, Sports, wtf | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Shout Out to the Hindus

Posted by anandrr on January 21, 2009

Ned: Homer, God didn’t set your house on fire.
Rev. Lovejoy: No, but He was working in the hearts of your friends and neighbors when they came to your aid, be they [points to Ned] Christian, [points at Krusty] Jew, or [points at Apu] … miscellaneous.
Apu: Hindu! There are 700 million of us.
Rev. Lovejoy: Aw, that’s super.

Homer The Heretic from The Simpsons

For far too long, the Hindus have always been an afterthought in American religious discourse. Listen to any George W Bush speech and any reference to religion will be accompanied by references to Christians, Muslims and Jews. Although as Apu says, there are over 700 million of us! Not ignored any more! In today’s speech, Obama said, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers,” thus making Hindus and Jews natural allies in a grand HinJew alliance.

Change has truly arrived!

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Book Review: Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

Posted by anandrr on January 20, 2009

I am famously skeptical of The Messiah. But I can be cynical and skeptical all I want about Obama’s true colors, or whether he really represents a break from the past, but I have to give him this: he displays amazing temperament, and he can write and speak like a champion. And no matter what I think of him, it is still quite an accomplishment for a black man to become President of the US, even in 2008. Most of all, his is an intriguing tale, product of a Kenyan father and Kansan mother, growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia (away from his father at all times), a sudden turn from this apparently idyllic boyhood to an adulthood immersed in the south side of Chicago as a community organizer and finally this rapid rise through the ranks from mere state senator to President in the blink of an eye.

When I was done with Maximum City, I was looking for a quick read that would be an easy transit stop on my way to something more hefty, and decided I would honour our new found leader of the free world by reading one of his two tomes. I thought, and Jon at Bookmarks magazine agreed, that Dreams From My Father might be less I-am-running-for-president-so-listen-to-what-I-have-to-say than The Audacity of Hope, so Dreams it was.

Dreams is a good book. It came out of a book deal that Obama landed when he was appointed the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review thus turning him in to the subject of fawning news stories. The book spans Obama’s life from his childhood until the time he went to law school, but it is a story of a young Obama “finding himself.” That is of course an overused phrase, most people looking to find themselves are probably just looking for an opportunity to get high, but Obama truly does find himself, and in so doing understands race relations in the US from a unique perspective. Obama has much to find. The son of a white mother and growing up in an entirely white family in Hawaii, he is never seen as legitimately black while his skin color ensures that he will never be seen as anything else. His father appears to have abandoned his family soon after Obama’s birth leaving him father-less for most of his life.

Obama’s journey takes him to Indonesia, California, Wall Street and Chicago. It is in the south side that Obama finds himself for the first time. For the first time after all the way stations, he is in a place where his skin color is taken for granted and few people know of his exotic background so it allows him to be himself. When he gets to Chicago, it is a heady time. Harold Washington has just been elected mayor and black people feel like the outlook is finally beginning to change for them. (BTW, if you have not listened to This American Life on Washington’s election and tenure, it is well worth a listen. It is quite amazing how racist Chicago was, even as recently as the 80s. And if that was Chicago in the 80s, how about many other parts of the country today?) Of course, it is a chimera, nothing really changes. Being a community organizer brings Obama into people’s homes and families where he learns this first hand. And it’s only getting worse: single parent families were already the norm, racism already pervaded every aspect of black people’s existence, now drugs are beginning to invade the inner city, the kids are “changing,” and most of all jobs are still scarce. More troubling, everybody who is interested in helping them isn’t really interested in helping them but only in helping themselves. Politicians who will participate if it helps them rise higher, school officials if their families get jobs as a result and so on. (Of course, this is all wrapped now with a very post-modern bow. Obama himself could well have been in it for the law school essay/political gain. As Ryan Lizza meticulously laid out in the New Yorker, Obama has always been in the business of “using” people, experiences and contacts to rise rapidly in politics).

The other constant in the African-American experience would appear to be abandonment. Obama himself deals with it in his childhood. His fellow black people face it at every step of their lives. Abandoned by their fathers, by the state, by society, and finally left in perpetual hopelessness.

A couple years later, after Obama has been accepted at Harvard Law School, he visits Kenya for the first time. This is the second time he finds himself. For the first time he meets relatives who “look like him,” and he meets his father’s side of the family. This is an especially moving part of the book, as Obama learns about his family, the Kenyan way of life, and most importantly the sacrifices made by his father and grandfather that set the stage for his comfortable existence in the US. Obama goes from being not just a black man in a white country but also the son of an immigrant.

The book is useful in understanding Obama. He comes across as thoughtful, curious and empathetic. His desire for “change” is obvious from the start. And there are portents of the future. Obama is not a radical by any means, he seeks consensus and works from within the system to bring change. He is also opportunistic, when Washington comes to his neighbourhood to inaugurate a job center, this is not just the culmination of a successful initiative but a chance to get him to commit to something more. Of course, the writing is good. For a person whose daily job does not involve writing, Obama writes really well. In parts it feels a little stunted and trite, but on the whole, I wish more politicians wrote this well. Finally, he covers his “conversion” from what can best be described as don’t-care-ism to Wright-led belief in God. One understands why Obama gravitated to Wright (as apparently do many other black yuppies etc), but for a man of his foresight it is a little incredible that he stuck with it rather than move on to a less “controversial church” when he had decided to take his politics national.

To return to where I started, I picked the book hoping for it to be less politician-preparing-for-a-run-y. I’m not so sure now. There’s one tell: in the book Obama “recounts” many conversations (as best as you can recount conversations that happened over the last twenty-five or so years). People speaking to Obama sometimes curse, use the n-word and so on. Obama never does. I’m thinking he knew that the words he was writing might just come back to haunt him.

Posted in Book Review, English, Literature, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Quickie Film Review: Sarkar Raj

Posted by anandrr on January 1, 2009

We watched Sarkar Raj recently. We waited so long because we had watched Sarkar and had been rather unimpressed. We are not big fans of derivative movies. Except when we are, of course. But Sarkar Raj was good! We enjoyed it thoroughly.  Watching it, we were struck by two things: First, an open-collar-black-jacket, clean shaven Abhishek could stand in for Obama in the movie version of 2008. Second, as often as Abhishek utters the word “change” (except he calls it badlav) in Sarkar Raj, heck, he probably is Obama. I doubt that the word change has ever been uttered more pointlessly and vacuously anywhere else except in the Obama campaign?

Posted in Corruption, Films, Politics, Reviews, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Tale of Two Pakistani Kids

Posted by anandrr on December 14, 2008

Almost a month ago, young Nasir Sultan, 15, was released from a jail in India and allowed to return to his hometown in Pakistan.

Nasir Sultan returns to Pakistan. © AP

Nasir Sultan returns to Pakistan. © AFP

Young Nasir was guilty of sneaking into India. He idolized Shah Rukh Khan and wished to make a career for himself in Bollywood. When found, he was put in jail, but released quickly because who among us has not been guilty of wanting to meet the King of Bollywood? Most Indians would have been sympathetic towards young Nasir, and nobody wished him anything but a safe return.

Exactly one week later, India woke up to this picture in their newspapers of another young Pakistani who had sneaked into the country.

One of the Mumbai terrorists.

One of the Mumbai terrorists.

Both pictures show us a confident, young man, dressed like any reasonably well off middle class kid in the subcontinent, and but for the weaponry virtually indistinguishable from one another. One sneaked into India because he was attracted by the glitz of Mumbai, the other, well, apparently for the same reason, but with different motives.

But here’s the kicker. In the future, expect young Nasirs when they are found to be treated with no kindness at all. After all, who’s to say? Any cop who finds an errant Pakistani kid in India will certainly make sure that the kid pays not only for his current sin of being on foreign soil without a permit, but for all the sins of his fellow-countrymen. And that’s the real tragedy. All young Pakistani boys and men suddenly moved into the enemy column. But mostly, they really just want to be Shah Rukh Khan.

Posted in Culture, Films, Foreign Policy, Politics, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Hopelessness of Our Dreams

Posted by anandrr on December 7, 2008

Conversation dated 4-Nov-2008 during my recent visit to the states:

Precocious-8-year-old: Whom are you voting for today?
Me: I can’t vote, I’m not a citizen.
P8yo: Oh! If you could vote, whom would you vote for?
Me: I wouldn’t vote.
P8yo: Why not?
Me: I guess I’m too cynical.
P8yo: What does cynical mean?

When I lived in the States, I was what the common American (Joe The Plumber, at any rate) would term a pinko Communist redistributionist. Here in the rest of the world, I’m some sort of Milton Friedman ogre incarnate. I never liked Bush, Lord knows I did my little bit to keep him from getting elected, I attended every single anti-war rally in SF back when anti-war rallies weren’t cool, and as most people know the title Comrade is quite the honorific in my lexicon. So one would think I would be all hopped up and excited about our Hope-And-Change Messiah and here I am as blasé as you could be. Partly it’s my inherent cynicism I suppose, but mostly it’s just that I don’t think he’s all that.

When you have Hillary Clinton leading your team on the Foreign Affairs front, Joe Biden at Veep, Robert Gates still at the Pentagon, a bunch of ex-Clintonites at State, and the lady apparently responsible for your aggressive foreign policy differentiation shunted off to a post in New York, there wouldn’t be much hope of any change in your Iraq policy. And when you have a bunch of the old guard running Treasury, I mean to say, Geithner? The guy who was in charge of the Lehman mess? What, Greenspan wasn’t available? Not that Obama’s cabinet is as bad as Bush’s, there doesn’t seem to be any manager of Arab stallions on his list of appointees (so far!). And Rahm E. certainly implied that he had the right attitude when he suggested that the recession was the right time to throw the ball long and deep. But when you consider that there is a large section of people in the world’s richest country who seem to live what can only charitably termed third world lives, and when Paulson and his cronies seem to be looting taxpayer money every which way they can, one would imagine that bringing change to Washington would, at the very least, involve not having the same old Washington hands at the helm. Eight years ago, Molly Ivins urged Americans to look at George W’s record (with which she had considerable experience) rather than his slogans (Compassionate Conservative! Reformer With Results!…). Indeed a look at his record would have told us exactly how awful his presidency was going to be. They’ve made the same mistake all over again. Obama’s record would have told us not to expect a Messiah, but rather a candidate who campaigns as one and then turns into a solid centrist, don’t-rock-the-boat leader.

During the primaries and the election, the most common criticism of Obama was that he was all words and rhetoric and had no concrete plans to speak of. While true, it was a damning criticism for a different reason than the one offered. The problem wasn’t that he had no plans, the problem was that all the soaring rhetoric essentially masked yet another product of the system representing the system. And Obama’s election is not historic because a black man was elected President, it’s historic because it shows that to get elected U.S. President it’s not important whether you’re black or white, male or female, it’s essential that you be a fully paid up member of the system and the consensus.

Posted in Foreign Policy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Flashback Friday: He Forgot Poland

Posted by anandrr on October 3, 2008

We’re reminded today that barely four years ago, Bush told us at one of the “debates” that he would use the Dred Scott decision as a litmus test when thinking about his Supreme Court picks. Naturally liberals were surprised, it was nice and all that Bush had finally decided that Dred Scott was decided wrongly, here was something on which they could finally agree with their President. But 150 years after the case was decided and overturned by Constitutional amendment, and Civil Wars fought over it, he had decided that views on Dred Scott would be a litmus test? WTF? Had he just heard somebody say Dred Scott in the hallway and latched on to it? There was no way an ignoramus like Bush even knew what Dred Scott was all about. Then the mists cleared and it turned out that liberals were the only ones puzzled. Conservatives had heard him loud and clear: He would appoint judges who would overturn Roe v Wade.

So it was rather surprising that when Sarah Palin was asked a similar question, the only case she could think of was Roe v Wade. Is she so unschooled in right wing evangelical dog-whistles that she didn’t know that the right phrase to use is Dred Scott? Weird.

Posted in Media, Nostalgia, Politics, TV, wtf | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Soft Bigtory of Low Expectations

Posted by anandrr on September 27, 2008

Heard on the post-debate coverage on CNN, after Wolf B. claims that McCain seemed not to know the Pakistani President’s name, pronouncing it Hardawi instead of Zardari:

GOP flack: But he got most of the vowels and consonants right.

Posted in English, Foreign Policy, Funny, Media, Politics, TV | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »