Friday, June 26, 2009

Thank you (also) for the music

Is it purely for the music or is it because of how intrinsically entwined it is with my childhood that I feel so a special connection with the man? I think it is because of the latter closely followed by the former.

Growing up, it was easy to dismiss ‘western music’ as this inexplicable noise and gibberish that as someone with absolutely no knowledge of English or exposure to the outside world I could afford to do. But somewhere between Mukesh and MS there was Michael, this one person who came to epitomize western music for us all – Michael Jackson – be it in gulbarga or karwar or udupi and other such places I spent my childhood in. Exposed to nothing more than Doordarshan and later The World This Week. It is a testimony then to MJ’s influence and worldwide accessibility. For the longest time, he was the only western music I ever knew, as I am sure he was for many of my generation. Those days if anyone said he listened a lot to western music, you could be rest assured he meant that he had one Michael Jackson tape. And that is why his death is that much more saddening. A part of our collective childhood died today, reminding us again of those days gone by when we would listen to Michael Jackson on thrice-recorded audio cassettes. In fact the first english music album I ever owned, a gift from my older cousin, was a copy of MJ’s Dangerous.

He was good. He made us love the unfamiliar. And how. But….Who was he? What was he? We knew nothing but his name. And all songs (the few rather that we knew) were known more by their description of what happened in that particular song than by its name. The attempts to hum the tune to tell the other guy what song you were referring to were as much as the songs themselves. Lyrics were irrelevant, as we didn’t know or speak english. Track names, what’s that? All that mattered was that we were listening to “foreign music”. And having a ball of a time crowded around an old tape recorder, each trying to outdo another in his “understanding” of this weird and unfamiliar yet strangely alluring music. With their fast pace, their dancy tunes, their strange instrumentation and above all, that great voice.

I remember those futile but insanely funny attempts when a few of us school boys tried moonwalking and dancing after seeing MJ do it like only he can. With lots of loose flailing limbs and crotch grabbing in a manner only awkward adolescents can. There was no cable then, no youtube, no DVDs, but a rental Video Cassette (at 10 rupees per day) that we all pooled in with a rupee or two in to see what it was all about. I remember that video cassette also had “that song where the Michael walks on the footpath and the tiles become bright bright as he walks over them”. I clearly remember that day after we watched the video mostly because of all the bruised knuckles and painful fingers we inflicted on ourselves during PT class in a bad, misguided and pale (no-knife) imitation of the Bad video. Total fun. Lots of Iodex was used in many a classmate’s household that night.

In effect that I think is what this is about – it wasn’t just Michael Jackson who died today, but a small, if very significant part of me as well. A part of a childhood lived in a bygone era, unrecognizable today. So selfishly I mourn today as much for that part of me as much as for Michael Jackson. All the artifacts, the little cultural reference points, the shared experiences slowly eroded by death, and fading with the march of time leaving behind the detritus of nostalgia and echoes of the past.

All I can say is I’m glad I lived when I did. And given a choice to redo things, I would still choose to have Michael Jackson as my first tentative step into the world of foreign, western music.

You, me and our friends brought up in that time – we are all those blocks that lit up when Michael Jackson stepped into the days of our lives. Back when.

Rest in peace Michael Jackson and do the moves again on the great dance floor in the sky.

Le roi est mort. Vive le roi.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Half a Manifesto. Full Satisfaction.

Late to the party you may be, but it’s never too late to read Half A Manifesto by the one-and-only Jaron Lanier. He gets it.

And yes, make sure you read the Reality Club comments on the .5 Manifesto and Lanier’s responses to them (links to these are in the page linked above). From people like Bruce Sterling and Lee Smolin to the Dysons.

One of the people who responded to the .5 Manifesto as you will see is a guy called Daniel Dennet. If the name sounds familiar, it is because he is one the lapdogs of none other than Darwin’s Rottweiler, the delusional Dawkins himself. Bleh!

The adaptionists. Sigh. No one's denying it happens, adaption that is, but to call everything an adaption and to say that natural selection is the only agent (even if you call it a filter) of evolution isn't a good or tenable standpoint. And also because the adaptionist programme leads to the invention of not just theories but a whole new (pseudo) science called Sociobiology or Evolutionary Psychology if you prefer. Because Sociobiology is such a bad word. And so is the 'science'. A bunch of just-so stories that make for good cocktail conversation and nothing more. But you can push it and be counted as amongst the world's leading intellectuals you happen to dress well, have a scholarly clique of lapdogs and are good at PR & media management and know how to write literately. You got to give it to these guys. Take a bow Richard Dawkins!

Now would be a good time to re-read Gould and Lewontin's 1979 paper critiquing the adaptationists.

Idiots in a global village

I remember an ad that came out slightly after the Columbine High School shootings. About the myopic measures that it led to with regard to gun control laws. It said something to the effect of “Kid in trench coat comes in to his school, uses semi-automatics and shotguns and kills children. What did we do? Ban trench coats.”

The Australian Government is up to something similar. Indians, students in particular, get beaten, mugged, attacked, victimised. Instead of doing something about the crime, and cracking down on the criminals and admitting that it’s as racist as anything goes, Oz is instead implementing laws that make it tougher for Indian students to get into Australia. By asking for higher IELTS scores and planning on making prospective students showing/having sufficient funds to see them through their study time without having to work. Instead of taking action and ensuring that Indians are protected, they’re preventing them from coming. And our government isn’t helping the cause either. By pussyfooting around the issue and just about grumbling enough to count as a ‘reaction’. What can one really expect from a government that has twits like our esteemed Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor who publicly declares that the attacks on Indian students is purely a domestic issue and there’s nothing India can do about it. When I say twit here I mean it in the sense of someone thoroughly contemptible, not one who twitters (with his foot in his mouth, like the twit mentioned above). Idiots I tell you.

In other news, France wants to ban the burqa. On purely secular grounds. ‘secular’ as it is understood in France, not India. Else it might be taken that Sarkozy is anti-hindu. That’s the thing that should be with ‘secularism’. Not anti anybody or pro anything. Anyways, Sarkozy makes the claim and suddenly the world is up in arms against it. The way a woman dresses and what she chooses to wear should not be dictated by the state. Or anything personal for that matter. I spotted one of the useful idiots of the great Indian intellectual landscape, a lady on not one but two different channels. From being a ‘media person’ on one channel she morphed into a ‘social activist’ on the other. Now this lady is supposedly the face of modern “liberal” Islam. Bleh! Amidst all her railings I can only wonder why no one asks these people why they take such a vocal stand when France does it, but don’t say anything when the whole middle east is telling a woman (and a man) what she should war and not wear. Where the ‘human rights’ that they so trumpet around and uphold on television channels is missing entirely. Like in the case of Roxanne Hillier for example. And this is but the latest of many, and only those that became public. I’m not saying whether Sarkozy is right or not, but how come all this righteous indignation and protests and human rights goobledock and individual freedom of expression speeches are not targeted towards countries that run on Islamic law? Not that running a country by Islamic is wrong per se, but it’s just that everyone knows how liberal or uplifting or free these Islamic laws can be. Idiots I tell you.

Speaking of Islam, spotted hoardings around the city with Obama’s smiling mug on them for some organization handing out free copies of the Koran should you be interested. The ostensible reason is that you might be interested in knowing why Obama is quoting from the Koran. And Obama himself is playing to the field, putting the ‘Hussein’ back in Barack Hussein Obama. Wonder how many people still cling to the illusion that Obama becoming President of the US of A is a step forward for negro, I mean black, I mean African-american emancipation/equality, end of racism etc. Black skin white masks I tell you. Each day and article I read just reaffirms (to me at least) that the very fact that Obama got elected means that racism is well and alive and kicking. And kicking is what the racist Australians are doing to our people down under. Idiots I tell you.

And just for the sake of symmetry, let me end with a story I remember hearing an american theater actor whose name escapes me. On his first visit to Australia he was apparently stopped at the Immigration Counter and after a while an Oz officer came up to him, checked his papers, etc. and sternly asked him, “Any criminal records?” And the actor replied, “Oh! That’s still the essential requirement to be an Australian, is it?”

Monday, June 15, 2009


All it’s lacking is Bones McCoy kneeling beside a Redshirt and saying, “He’s dead Jim.” And maybe Mudd's women. Ok. That’s asking for too much. But when you get a movie that manages to so deeply satisfy the Trekkie in you, isn’t it but natural to wish for more? We’re human after all, not Vulcans. I am of course referring to the new Star Trek movie ‘Star Trek’.

The whole movie was a flat-out rollercoaster ride from one ‘set-phasers-to-stun’ moment to the next. Hats, topis and turbans off to J. J. Abrams, and the writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman for finally laying to rest the curse that afflicted all odd-numbered instalments of the franchise. And boy oh boy, how?!!

It’s got all the characters from the original 3-season run of Star Trek, the only true Star Trek if you ask me, coming together ‘for the first time’. And each (new) crew member of the USS Enterprise seems so familiar. Yet another round of applause to the makers of the movie is in order here. I almost fell off my chair when Bones went, “I’m a doctor, not a physicist!” and grinned with glee when Scotty screams that ‘he's giving it all she’s got’. Beeeutiful. The casting is just about perfect. Chris Pine’s Kirk again is familiar yet fresh. It was nice to see ye new Kirk do the olde shatner swagger of ye olde Kirk. The Romulans as the villains was a masterstroke. There was absolutely no way anyone, even the Klingons would’ve done a better job in this role.

And ah yessss.....that pointy-eared hobgoblin. Spock. Zachary Quinto looks like he was born for this role, but no more than Leonard Nimoy who was, is, and shall remain THE Spock. To see Nimoy reprise the role and to play it with such aplomb (again) was so deeply gratifying. Leonard Nimoy rulz! Spock worshippers who say that this movie was really about Spock and to a slightly smaller extent Kirk, with everyone and everything else – including NCC 1701 –being a sub-plot will not be too off the mark.
But let not mine Trekkie sensibilities not put thee off. Because the question you might be asking is....does this movie work by itself, for someone who has absolutely no idea of Star Trek? Absolutely. You can enjoy this film even if you don’t know who or what Pon Farr is. As this news report from ONN will attest to. Watch it to see why this movie is ‘a real slap in the face for Trek fans’.

If pushed into a corner and asked – with a gun to my head – to point out one thing that jarred, it would be that they replaced ‘no man’ with ‘no one’ in ‘where no man has gone before on the big screen, and with Nimoy narrating it, especially when everyhting was going so well. C’mon. Politically correct, gender-neutral language can go and suck on a dozen centaurian slug for all I care. But don’t bother. That’s just my anachronistic tendencies and belief in not tampering with canon coming to the fore.

And yes green Orion slave girls. That’s pure unadulterated fan service.
Hubba hubba.
That in effect is my summation of the movie after the first viewing.
Repeat viewings are in order. More when that happens.
Till then, as always, live long and prosper.