Thursday, February 26, 2009

Oldie But Goodie

I was reading in the news this morning that a rare copy of Action Comics issue number 1 is going to be going up for auction in the near future. This comic is famous in collector lore for being the first issue to feature Superman. At the time comics were still not replete with very many costumed heroes and in the time since there have been numerous new heroes and villains that have been spawned but somehow, there is a bit of nostalgia when it comes to this particular issue. Sure there are other collectable issues of other comics such as the Detective Comics featuring Batman or the Amazing Tales issue which featured the Amazing Spider-Man but this issue of Action Comics has always been highly appreciated and sought after.

Growing up, I had a lot of friends who were into reading comic books and so I was in fine company. On occasion people would poke fun at us for reading what is still considered children's material but I would challenge people who make such statements to go to the graphic novels section at their local book store and check out how extensive the section has become from the time when they last saw it. Whether they are adaptations of existing works or not, these forms of literature (and I do believe that they count as literature in at least some form) have been gaining popularity not only with young adults but older folks as well. And that may be all well and good considering that comic books have matured in recent years but that still doesn't explain why there is so much money being dropped on old comics like this issue of Action Comics.

Well I would say that it's simply because it is representative of the first of its kind. Why do people covet old paintings or buildings? Why are such historical items revered? Now it may seem silly to compare a comic book to something like the Mona Lisa but in its own particular way, it is no less significant. The historical significance of the first Action Comics issue is that it was the first launch of Superman. No one could have known that a character invented by two kids back in 1938 would have such a lasting legacy. In the 71 years since the character first came onto the scene he continues to have an impact in some form or another and for that very reason people have had a desire to have a piece of history with regard to the character.

The last time an Action Comics No. 1 was put on auction it was listed as being in "fine" condition. What this means is that there is very little wear-and-tear on the comic and it is more or less in the shape that it was in when it was first released. At that time, the comic fetched approximately $126,000 at auction. The one scheduled to go on sale in the near future is supposedly in even better condition and could potentially sell for much more; some say several times more. In light of the current economic downturn, I would think that anyone wanting to make an investment in an asset that would hold value rather than lose it would probably be wiser investing that amount of money in gold or other precious stones and metals rather than in a comic but still, there's that little something in all of us that makes us want to have something that no one else can. It's a piece of art and history at the same time.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Coming Out of the Woodwork

Last evening President Obama gave his first State of the Union address to Congress and the nation last night and though I'll leave it to political pundits to dissect as to whether the speech was successful or not, I think it was refreshing after 8 years to see someone who gave a speech that seemed to come from the heart rather than the telepromter screens. The speech went pretty much as all such speeches go with a clear division at times between Democrats and Republicans but I must say that in comparison to State of the Union addresses from the past eight years, the divide didn't strike me as being quite so deep. I think this was evidenced by the fact that both parties of Congress stood up together whenever the President made a point that all could agree on. And in comparison to the recent past, they did it a lot more often.

If anything, I think the election of President Obama has sent a signal to Congressional leaders and politicians that the standards of the past are changing and the face of American politics is also ripe for change. I think the attitude across the nation (or at least across major parts of it) has shown that the American people are not ready to simply listen to the rhetoric coming from speeches and sound bites but in listening to leaders and determining for themselves whether the people they elect will do what needs to be done or whether they will do what serves their self interests. President Obama may be a lot of things to a lot of people, but to me he is also a catalyst for change and I don't think that's any more evident then in some of the moves that the opposition Republican Party have been making since the announcement of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate last fall.

If you'll recall, the announcement of Obama as the Democratic candidate came relatively late in the game and shortly thereafter it was announced that he would not be taking Hilary Clinton as his VP but rather Joe Biden. When McCain followed that up with the announcement that Sarah Palin would be his running mate, call it cynicism or call it a cleverly calculated move, but many people couldn't help but think that Palin was selected more for her folksy nature and beauty pageant appeal rather than her political prowess. I couldn't help but think also that she was likely selected on the assumption that women voters would want a woman, any woman, serving as either President or VP.

Well perhaps I was being too cynical then, but what about the announcement of Michael Steele (an African-American) as the new Chairman of the Republican National Committee? For years the Republicans had been run by older white men (call that a racist statement but it's largely the truth isn't it?) and on the heels of Obama's election suddenly Michael Steele is deemed worthy of being head of a party that has often been so adamant to change that donkey's seem less stubborn in comparison. But then again perhaps I'm being too harsh or overly critical. If there are any Republicans reading this blog I'm sure they may be foaming at the mouth or angrily getting ready to send off a furious e-mail. But I ask then about how suddenly a guy like Bobby Jindal can be the voice of the Republican response after yesterday's State of the Union address.

Now I'm no political junkie or political science major but typically doesn't the ranking member of the Republican party in Congress provide the response? I know there's no rule that says that's the way it should be but again it may be my cynical nature when it comes to politics that leads me to question whether Jindal was asked to speak more because of the color of his skin and his ability to speak to the masses more than anything else. I can honestly say that I found Jindal's response to be somewhat refreshing and a good follow-on to what Obama spoke on in his speech (which was equally engaging) but I can't help but wonder if this is just a way for Republicans to jump up and say, "Hey look! We're a diverse party too!" I would hope that that's not the case but with the way the partisan divide has been going in recent years, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if that's what the real reason was. But perhaps I shouldn't be quite so cynical, perhaps it is truly a sign that the Republican Party (and therefore the Democratic Party too) wants to instill change and show the people that they are ready to shift with the times. One can only hope.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Babies Galore

The media-dubbed 'Octomom' Nadya Suleman has been in the news for a while now and although I think Octomom is a suitable name I don't think it's appropriate in other regards when it comes to her. Mainly because she's the mother of 14 children (as opposed to 8 as 'octo' implies). But I think it's quite appropriate when it comes to describing how she's now suddenly reaching out and is willing to get assistance from anyone and everyone who is willing to put out for her and help given that she now has 14 children to care for and no job, no spouse and is a leading candidate for welfare support.

Now before people get in a huff about my statement I think it's cases like Suleman's that paint a bad image for welfare. Sure it is meant to help those who can't help themselves but in a case like Suleman's; I think it's like giving money to someone who is purposefully being irresponsible. Now some people end up in a situation where they have children and can't care for them the way they want to or should so assistance like welfare comes in handy in helping keep these families afloat. But when you know you don't have a job or anyone to help pay for your care (and when you already have six children) then how is it possible that one could even fathom wanting more children?

I understand that some people have a natural tendency to want to care for children and that they do what they can to keep themselves in these situations but isn't it highly responsible to want to take care of 14 lives when you can barely take care of your own? I compare Suleman's situation to what happened with the home loans crisis in this country. Sure it's good to give loans to people so that they can buy a home but giving $600,000 loans to people who earn less than $50,000 a year (combined) is not so smart. In this case I think it's wrong that fertility doctors worked with Suleman to implant 8 embroyos (all of which developed completely healthy).

I can understand some of Suleman's logic as well. She wanted children so she did what she could to get more kids. She also probably saw how there was an outpouring of support to families who had similar numbers of children. Families who ended up with their own reality series on cable or with homes completely furnished by generous donors. I guess she figured that by doing an unfathomable deed (having 8 children at once) and then showing the world that she already had 6 she would gain lots of sympathy. Instead she ended up with a lot of scorn.

People are understandably upset and bothered at the fact that despite proclaiming early on that she didn't want any support for her newly expanded family, Suleman is now talking about her readiness to accept any assistance as well as consider any offers of turning her lifestory into a movie or television series. I'm sure there's some skeezy producer out there who is willing to do just that. All I can think of is the line from the Simpsons where Reverend Lovejoy's wife continuously asks, "Won't someone please think of the children?" I wish someone would have thought of that initially because if they had realized that this woman already had 6 children she could barely care for, maybe the willingness to help her have 8 more wouldn't have been so enthusiastic.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Top Of the World Ma

Despite the state of the world-wide economy, the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is still going strong with its building craze. This despite the fact that reports are coming in that nearly 3,000 luxury cars have been abandoned over the last year at the International Airport by people who have lived and worked in Dubai and are so deep in debt that they are fleeing the country to avoid being arrested and thrown in prison (the penalty for not paying back debts). But at least one man has managed to literally and figuratively rise above the hustle and bustle and maintain his status in the country that has continued to push the limits in terms of largest, fastest or most-expensive. No. This latest hero isn't a sheik or emir from a rich Arab nation. He's an Indian citizen working in the tiny crane cab shown in the included picture. He's Babu Sassi, crane-operator extraordinaire.

Now many people are unaware that Dubai is actually full of foreigners who live and work there but cannot own property unless they are a naturally born citizen of the UAE. As such many people come in for quick work and looking to make a quick buck but apparently none are making as much in the construction industry as Babu. Reports indicate that the average construction worker in Dubai earns about 800 dihraams a month while Babu reportedly earns around 80,000 dihraams (or about $8,168 per month) due to the fact that his posting so high above the world is so dangerous and lonely. But also because he supposedly lives up in his crane cab due to the fact that because there's no practical way for him to come down and go back up each day. It would take too long.

The first impression that I had was that it seems like it would be a stretch to imagine Babu living up there all by himself but it's not really. The crane he operates isn't exactly like the kind that you see on the side of the road or in typical cities which is barely big enough to hold the beefy guys who run them but rather they are much larger affairs. Now I haven't been able to find much more on how Babu's particular cab is but I'm sure it's not exactly a studio apartment. Still, what we will put ourselves through for money and a bit of fame knows no bounds. It's not surprising that he's become a local celebrity. When I had been to Dubai I was amazed to see that in some portions it was just like being in India. In fact there were areas where there were more Indian people than Arab citizens.

And like it or not, we always look for the 'local' boy to be the hero when we're in search of one and Babu is no exception. It does speak volumes of his ability and perseverence though since I don't think a company would just stick any average crane operator in the highest crane in the world. Just think; his only regular human contact would be via radio since people probably wouldn't be making the trip up to see him all that often. He's almost like an astronaut yet more like someone caught in limbo. He's neither on earth nor in orbit and his view stays the same. I can only imagine how it must be to live and work in the same place for so long.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

An Instant Save?

All ends of the political spectrum are finally coming out and admitting it. The economy is in a recession and actions need to be taken to turn it around. Whenever the nation has been in a recession, one sector that has at least suffered some sort of blow has been the so-called luxury goods sector and in recent years, that has come to include franchises such as Starbucks. Now Starbucks is probably still a wise investment simply because they are a well-established entity in the market but with the way things are going, unless they streamline their approach in the market, they may soon go the way of so many other large corporations in recent days; and that way is belly up.

For the last year or two, Starbucks has been seeking a way to refine their place in the market. In the face of competitive coffee coming from McDonalds and Dunkin' Donuts as well as smaller enterprises, Starbucks (which has virtually over-saturated the market) tried to expand their reachback into new territories such as breakfast foods and lunch options but neither of those two options did very well. I think part of the problem is that television has also changed. What do I mean? Well if you recall, back in the mid to late-90's, shows like "Friends" and the like often showed young people hanging out at coffee shops and these days that trend has diminished somewhat.

Tack on the fact that now costs have gone up, joblessness has gone up and people are worried as to whether they'll have enough money to stay in their homes means that they begin cutting back on the niceties. Now I will be the first to admit that I need at least one cup of coffee per day. It's not so much for the caffeine kick or anything as much as it is in the ritualistic method of preparing a cup of coffee and using that time to focus myself on what I need to do for that particular day. Perhaps not everyone takes coffee to that level of importance but still, it is something that has an important place for most people. Yet most of us aren't that choosy.

I will admit to being a snob when it comes to certain things but coffee isn't one of the top things on my list. I will certainly prefer some coffees over others but if I'm able to get some coffee, that's good enough for me. The net result of this attitude (and this attitude is growing in a lot of people) is that they'll drink coffee outside the house wherever it's the cheapest. Now Starbucks has become like Microsoft in the sense that it's often the first name people think of when looking to buy coffee or even coffee grounds but with costs going up even in purchasing raw coffee beans from Starbucks, people look for the cheaper alternative. Starbucks stepped up and announced recently the unveiling of their new 'instant coffee' named Via.

Now to me the appeal of Starbucks has often been in the fact that your coffee is made to order at the time that you order it. I remember when they first started spreading around the nation and the one on campus in College Park often had a line out the door due to the fact that they would grind the beans the moment you ordered your coffee and not before. Sure the process took longer but in essence you saw where that extra money was going. Over time the process changed to emphasize speed over precision and some say that's when the products at Starbucks began to suffer but still, the customer is always right and they wanted faster service. Now with the advent of Via, Starbucks is hopeful that customers will again begin purchasing Starbucks products in order to recapture some of that coffee market share that they've long held onto.

I'm sure it will make some difference initially as many of the Starbucks faithful (I'm not sort of on the fence) will at least try out the product. I think if it is competitive with other instant coffee labels in terms of cost and quantity then it may do well but those truly die hard Starbucks afficianados who prefer to grind their beans mere moments before brewing a cup are likely to turn their noses up and continue frequenting Starbucks to ensure that they get their money's worth. Success of this new venture though would likely signal something more; that there is hope in turning this downward trending market around a small step at a time. Funny how coffee figures into that.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Protesting Anonymously

The advent of the internet has probably affected the way in which news of the world is spread more than any other source currently available. It's an almost instantaneous news source which helps spread the word about the latest happenings in the world at almost the very moment that it occurs. Just take a look at last year's Presidential race here in the United States, there was virtually no corner of the country that was not covered on the internet and it was next to impossible not to know what any candidate said any place in the world.

It's certainly helped shrink the world even more than it already was. It has also allowed for shut-ins to have their say in public though I wish a lot of them wouldn't. Now I know some may say the same to me and my endless blogging but to the best of my ability, I try to get my opinion out there (rightly or wrongly) and I try to express myself in the best manner possible. Some other people also prefer to voice their opinions but not on a blog or news page where their true identity is known but rather in the message boards of many major news sites. I can't tell you the number of times I've gone into these message boards to read the comments that people post and for the most part, the comments are inane and wrongly written to the point that it makes you wonder the age or even the maturity of some of the writers.

Now I grant you that many people who come in and post via the internet are not necessarily English scholars but I think the fact that they so proudly put up their ignorance on English standards makes one wonder whether they have any brains at all. Don't believe me? Well check out the message boards on most any major new site around the internet and check out the comments that you get. There is such a lack of basic English grammar to be almost laughable. While English may be a confusing language, anyone who has gone to school here or has had an education in English can tell the basic difference between the words "you're" and "your" but that's apparently not the case on message boards.

The butchering of the English language is so common out there that it's almost a travesty. The example of "you're" and "your" is so common but it isn't the only example. Confusion as to where and when to use the word "accept" versus "except", "they're" versus "their" are also rampant. In the end it all comes down to what many of these writers are hoping to prove. Many of them want to portray themselves as pseudo-intellectuals who have an opinion so high and mighty that those of us who don't agree with them are likely to be viewed as brain-dead morons. And the way they get away with making such bold claims is due to the fact that they don't have to attach their names to anything they post. They post their comments with 'clever' names such as RealGenius or SuperBrain. Still, if they can't even form a complete sentence correctly, are they truly that intelligent?

Not only that, but some of these message board trolls respond to almost every news article and every posting with such regularity that it makes me come to the conclusion that it's either a bitter old man sitting alone at home or an extremely young and naive child who is trying to prove that he's an adult. In either case the result is a disturbing one in that I soon come to the realization that posters on my local new websites are quite possibly my neighbors and to live next door to such 'intelligence' is something that scares me. I think it's a wonderful thing to have an opinion, but I wish that more people would ensure that the opinion they get across is presented intelligently. They'll win a better audience that way.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Drawing a Line

There are lots of sights worth photographing in London but perhaps the most photographed place in London over the last few days was probably the protest outside of New Scotland Yard. It was part of a media-driven campaign meant to highlight and protest a new law which fined anyone caught taking photographs of security personnel in and around England and carries with it a hefty fine and a prison sentence lasting up to ten years. Now this law is meant in part to help curb terror related activities in the country but it comes out in such a way that many people don't know what to make of it.

Now granted (and thankfully) it's been several years since either England or the United States has had terrorist attacks on their soil. And when those events occurred naturally the reaction was to do something to ensure that such attacks never happened again if it could be avoided. Here in the United States the formation of the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Agency were but two of many new agencies and laws that were put into effect in the days following September 11th and are still in effect today. Similar events occurred in England as well following the Underground bombings that occurred a few years ago.

When those events are fresh in the minds of most people, there is a clamor to lay the blame and a call for action so most of the time, someone or something is needed to prove that precautions are being taken. Now soon after the attacks in both countries and after security was increased, the inconvenience that most people experienced took precedence over the safety that many wanted just a few months before and so once again there were complaints about what one had to go through in order to take a simple plane trip. I remember because I have travelled on occasion from just after 9/11 to today and I can tell you that while I may not like having to arrive at the airport hours ahead of time for a flight, I understand the need for it.

The recent declaration in England regarding the photographing of security and military personnel is yet another sign of wanting to do something good but not knowing where to draw the line. I'm sure people are wondering why such rules are being put up in the first place and it comes down to how many of the terrorists involved in the tragic events of the past have gathered the intelligence they needed to carry out their dastardly plans. They did it by doing what all of us take for granted and acting like a tourist. Now I grant you it's a bit much to deny any average tourist the right to photograph a police officer or the Royal Guards in London but then again as a tourist we should also be aware of what we're photographing and where.

I guarantee that if you go to some of the Government buildings in Washington and start taking an unusual number of pictures of the main gates or the security gate, you will soon be approached by Secret Service or the police wanting to know who you are and why you are there. There's nothing wrong with their wanting to know because they are doing their jobs. Sure it may seem inane to us in an age where information is readily available and sure we may think it's ridiculous that such regulations are being passed but I'd prefer such things to occur if it means preventing future attacks and ensuring the safety of everyone regardless of whether they are a tourist or a resident.


Monday, February 16, 2009

One Small Step for Armstrong

I hope that for once the stories aren't too good to be true. In light of all the recent stories about how Alex Rodriguez and so many other baseball players now realize that the 'vitamins' they were taking were in actuality, steroids; or the stories about 8-Gold-medal-winner Michael Phelps lighting up some pot at a college party, I'm hoping that the recent brouhaha surrounding cyclist (and 7-time Tour de France winner) Lance Armstrong's return to the racing circuit remains free of controversy.

That's not to say that Armstrong hasn't garnered or earned his own share of controversy in the years since his first Tour de France victory but I'm hoping that the old adage that 'it's too good to be true' doesn't turn out to be false. I would really like it to be true. The reason I am so hopeful is because I think it's time we get an athlete who keeps coming back through strength and determination and not because of illegal substances. Now not to take anything away from Michael Phelps, but because of his apparenty usage of recreational drugs, his image as a stellar athlete is somewhat tarnished. There's no denying that he has sacrificed a lot of his personal life to become the star that he was (and likely still is) at the Olympics but people will always wonder if smoking pot was the only thing he ever did wrong.

The recent announcement by so many of baseball's current crop of stars that they were using performance enhancing drugs doesn't come as a major surprise to me but it is distressing to see so many people suddenly come to the realization that what they were being injected with wasn't based solely on fruits and vegetables. Lance Armstrong has undergone such scrutiny too and so far he has come out clean. Despite having been diagnosed with cancer (and subsequently getting treatment and going into remission), Armstrong has never tested positive for illegal substances. And believe me, he's undergone a lot of scrutiny. I mean one Tour de France win could be charted up to good fortune and motivation, a second to experience, but when you get to around the 7th victory, people really begin to wonder how it's possible.

It's sad to think that we live in a society now where athletes need to prove themselves to have put in the hard work and effort to end up in their positions of victory. It doesn't matter that they spend countless years getting trained to perform at peak levels, we as a society are ready to chalk it up to illegal substances in a moment's notice because we apply ourselves as the benchmark by which to compare ourselves to these athletes. Now Armstrong who has taken a three and a half year break from cycling is starting his road back to racing by competing in the Tour of California in the near future. In one of the preliminary races held this past weekend he finished 10th overall.

Now considering he has been away from the sport for so long it's still a commendable feat but already rumors are circulating that he isn't as good as he was and that if suddenly he surges and wins the Tour de France again later this year then there is something suspect in it. I certainly hope that if he does win Armstrong once again comes out squeaky clean so that his reputation will remain unblemished (as far as his cycling career goes) because it's sad to think that there are no athletes anymore that achieve greatness without artificial help.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Responsible Blogging

As I stated in my blog yesterday, there is probably no bigger star in India than Amitabh Bachchan and if you don't believe that then you need to go to his blog and you need to go very soon. Bachchan has had a fan following almost as loyal or faithful as any organized religion in the world and with it comes a certain sense of responsibility, at least in my mind, and in seeing the way some readers comment on Bachchan's blogs, I would think (and hope) that he would feel the same way. Now before backlash begins on whether or not I think Bachchan is truly as compassionate or caring as he appears to be, I would like you to think about how his blog has been used in recent days.

Blogging is probably the easiest way for someone to get their thoughts or expressions out to the rest of the world whether other people want to read it or not. Next month will be three years since I began blogging and I can honestly say that I didn't think I would be doing it this long. Bachchan titles his blogs by simply stating the day number that it's been since he began blogging and by my count, he is nearly up to one year since he established his blog. In that time I think he's done a marvelous job of letting people have at least a glimpse into his personal life and it has probably made those who adore him love him all the more and those of us out there (like me) who knew only a little about him, learn a whole lot more. Still, being the mega-celebrity that he is it's not surprising that he has been the target of protests and spats himself.

Some of the comments or blogs he has written have sparked what can only be described as 'comments wars' in the comments section of his blogs. Take for example the time someone commented on his blog on his experiences during a concert series here in the United States last year. One of the commentors wrote about how he was disappointed in the fact that despite paying through the nose for an opportunity to meet Bachchan after the show he was not given the chance and held Bachchan responsible. Thereafter the counter comments began and by the end there were calls for this 'non-believer' to be forgotten and ignored for ever having doubted Bachchan. If you would read some of the comments that this discussion sparked you get a better understanding of how much adulation there is for Bachchan and how unhealthy it can be.

To consider someone a 'non-believer' smacks of religion. Is it wrong to question Bachchan or what he writes? If he has a problem with it then why allow comments in the first place? Take for example the recent posting he made where he simply took a comment on his blog regarding he and his family being recognized while out for dinner in New York very recently. Bachchan talked about how he was sequestered in an Italian restaurant in New York by international fans. A reader merely commented that Bachchan was full of himself for telling what he considered to be an egotistical story about how famous he and his family are. Instead of replying to the reader, Bachchan posted a reprint of the comment on his blog and then asked a rhetorical question to the rest of his readers as to what their opinion was regarding that comment.

Open the floodgates because here comes the comment torrent. Tons of people want to voice their opinions which is good but then there are some who take their beliefs a little too far. Take for example a reader who wrote that "Jesus was martyred and so was Gandhi-ji." Now I grant you that Bachchan is important for many reasons to a lot of people but to compare him to Christ or M.K. Gandhi? Please. Here is the perfect opportunity for Bachchan to step in and respond to these statements as well. He cribs about how he is often wrongfully portrayed by sections of the media (and right he is to protest) but then he also goes on to 'smear' others he doesn't necessarily agree with. Now it's fine for him to use his blog as a means of getting his opinion out to the people but when he sees comments like these comparing him to Christ, I think he has a responsibility to come out and tell people that that's not who he is. Yet there is silence.

Are we to then take this to mean that he doesn't have a problem with comments like that but if someone makes a negative observation they need to be publicly castigated? True the reader did question his integrity and sincerity by boldly stating that everything Bachchan wrote about the incident at the Italian restaurant was a lie but rather than responding in calming tones, Bachchan merely let his readers do the badmouthing for him. It's rather convenient for him that way. He can let others voice what he wants to say without fear of anyone in the media coming back and accusing him of doing anything untoward. In a way it strikes me as being an abuse of the power and influence he most certainly has over people. He shouldn't abuse it that way because as he always states, he is better than that.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stoking the Flames

There's no star bigger in India than Amitabh Bachchan and being such a big star (try demi-God) there is no one who seems to stir up as much controversy or discussion on the internet than he does on his blog. Whether it's discussing his trials and tribulations at the hands of the manipulative media or responding to claims against his integrity, Bachchan covers it all on his blog. The latest target of his discussions has been the success of the non-Indian-made "Slumdog Millionaire". Racking up victory after victory on the awards circuit it is among the films with the most nominations at this year's Oscars yet not everyone is so excited about that fact.

Now while I will be the first to agree that the film shows the seedier side of India why is there so much backlash at the filmmakers and storyline? The allegation that many make against the film is the fact that it takes all the stereotypes of India and displays them front and center. Now it may be stereotypical and it may not show the best parts of India but can anyone truly deny that these are parts of life in India? I'm not saying that this is what life in India is all about but it is a part of it nonetheless. Whether motivated by anger at the fact that another movie made on India by a non-Indian is garnering such success as opposed to the fare that India's film industry churns out on a regular basis. But if that is what Bachchan and others are attempting to state then are they any different at pointing to a stereotypical picture or image of the rest of the world?

Stars like Shilpa Shetty are coming out and protesting the film on the basis that it shows only the bad parts of India and does nothing to speak on the culture and beauty of the nation. I suppose by her own definition that would be the scantily clad dancers and suggestive movements that accompany them during the numerous dance sequences in the average Bollywood film. I suppose Indian culture by that standard is also outlandish costumes and pure escapism in lieu of the truth. Go outside even the most posh portions of Bombay and you'll still find slum dwellers living alongside them. Is it a fallacy then to devote a movie on them and their struggles? To read protests and comments coming from India, especially those who worship Bachchan on his blog, it is to think that now the world's image of India is set to be nothing more than a countrywide slum.

That's not the case yet people assume it will be. But is the film industry in India any better at not projecting stereotypes? In the 'super hit' "Bunty Aur Babli" the two protagonist con-men are travelling the country pulling off increasingly outlandish cons in order to make money and then donate it Robin Hood style. Of course this being Bollywood they can't simply do the con and then give off the money, they have to prove how much smarter they are than the rest of us. Now I don't care how stupid lavishly rich people are, but the plot point that got me was when they con a foreign business man into thinking he can buy the Taj Mahal from India. I didn't hear one protest or read about anyone commenting on how foreign tourists will feel about being portrayed as being the butt of jokes or being shown in such a negative light but when similar (though much smaller scale) cons are shown in "Slumdog Millionaire" there are extremely agitated protests. You don't think that type of thing happens? Ask my brother. He had a brand new pair of shoes stolen from the Taj Mahal when we went there.

Being an Indian American I'm rightfully proud of my heritage and of India but even then my memories of the Taj Mahal are accompanied by memories of the fact that my brother then walked barefoot from the monument to our car. A minor inconvenience (though he may disagree) but still, is this what Indians want visitors to then ignore or forget about when they do experience parts of the 'real' India? I suppose it all comes down to who is holding the mirror. If we turn the mirror on ourselves then perhaps we'll be a little more honest with ourselves about what we see but when someone else is holding the mirror in front of us there is always a slight difference of opinion.

"Slumdog Millionaire" may be full of cliches and may not have any redeeming value as far as a film but the fact that the story and the acting has appealed to so many people is a testament to the end product. People doing the protests and complaints about India point to the fact that there are so many other Indian films out there that are just as good if not better. So then why are crap films like "Eklavya", "Ek Rishta" and the like the ones that are being promoted for Oscar contention? This year it seems the Indian film industry came to its senses and nominated a film that deserved to be pushed forward, "Taare Zameen Par" which deals with the issue of dyslexia in India which is still misunderstood to a certain degree. While "Slumdog Millionaire" may not be much different than most Indian films, it at least approaches its subject in a relatively straightforward manner. It presents a story that shows how even the most common and unlikely of persons from the slums of India can take destiny into his own hands and change it. And most especially redeeming is the fact that the kid does it on his own without resorting to Bollywood style cliches such as wishing on falling stars or praying to God (whatever the religion) with a full screaming chorus in the background.

If you want to protest the fact or assumption that Hollywood is now coming in and taking advantage and exploiting the slums of India then why are groups suing or bringing cases against someone like AR Rahman or Anil Kapoor? Is it because they know they can't bring a case against a non-Indian and win or is it because of some other misguided reason? I don't know how things may work in India but in Hollywood, I don't think the music director or a side role actor will have so much say as to whether the title of the movie will or will not include the word 'dog'. More than any other entity in this whole debate, I blame the media in India for wanting to make a story out of something that shouldn't even be protested on this scale. It's sad and it is only going to show how petty some parts of India truly can be.


Monday, February 09, 2009

Worshipping at the Altar of the TV

I think most people would be lying if they said that they didn't watch a lot of television. Sure there are those out there who don't watch television at all but they are definitely a small minority in the grand scheme of things. Ever since the television was invented there have been a growing number of ways in which the makers of television and the movies have been attempting to keep you coming back to 'worship' over and over again. Seriously, if television watching were a religion, I think it would surpass every other organized religion on the planet.

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with television. I mean after the way things are going in the economy and around the world these days television is at least a means of escaping reality for a little while. Sure it probably isn't the healthiest or smartest means of releaving the modicum of normal mundane life but it certainly is the most addictive to most people. And television makes things so much more convenient for people who want to broaden their horizons but not take the time to do it. For example, think of the number of times people have seen the movie before reading the book. You know what I mean when I say that. Although the book of some television show or movie may have been around for decades, until it is filmed and broadcast, many people would never be bothered to know about it.

And the appeal of television doesn't seem to be diminishing. Sure there are fluctuations in how much and what people watch but nonetheless there is still a distinct appeal to television that doesn't seem to wane with age. Don't believe me? Then how about the recent record breaking television viewing record set by Toronto native Suresh Joachim. Originally from Sri Lanka, Joachim's previous claim to fame was setting the original nonstop TV watching record back in 2005 when he watched for a little over 69 hours. This time he stuck it out for a little longer and set a new record at just over 72 hours. Now perhaps it isn't the most noteworthy means of claiming fame but there are just some things that people do well and obviously Suresh Joachim knows what his particular talent is.

In order to make his record marathon Joachim claimed to have had between 25 and 30 cups of coffee. I can only imagine how his bladder was doing after all that. How does one even begin training for such a feat? I mean I know that food eating contest eaters (I can't call them athletes) practice binge eating on occasion in order to keep up the practice but how does a person intent on watching TV for so long get prepared? Probably by watching as much TV as he can and knowing what will keep him awake and what won't. In Joachim's case he reportedly watched three complete seasons of "24". It seems impossible but it's true.

Now although scientists and doctors keep coming and telling us how bad so much television is for us, there has been no diminishment in its appeal. And I think it would be safe to say that at least in the near term there won't be diminishment in it at all. I find it ironic that in that quest to escape from reality (which as I said is the reason that most people watch television) some of the most popular shows today are reality shows. I guess people find appeal in viewing someone else's reality as opposed to their own. But still. If Jedi-ism can become an accepted religion in England then why not a Television-ism religion in this country? Stranger things have happened.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Legality of Snow

Seems that snow is a major topic in Washington these days despite the fact that we haven't had any appreciable snow in the region since last winter. Sure we've had a couple of dustings and a day of inconvenience due to ice but nothing more than that. Washington came under a bit of good-natured ribbing by the President himself when he made light of the fact that the city was panicking over a little bit of snow and ice. People took offense at that and made a big fuss about it but I can only imagine what will happen now that DC has made a ruling and passed a law which states that you can be pulled over if you fail to clean the snow off your vehicle before hitting the road.

Now having never parked my car in a garage (other than at work) I can't tell you the number of times I've woken up and gotten ready for work only to end up having to dig my car out of the snow and clean it off. Sure I could do the lazy thing as the person in photo for this blog and leave the rest of the snow to blow off as I drive but is that the safe thing to do? Probably not; in fact I know it isn't. According to the new law which will take effect in DC in the next 9 days, police will have permission to pull over and ticket vehicles which fail to have had all snow removed so as not to pose a danger to other cars and drivers. Already the backlash has begun with people complaining about how this rule is unfair and how childish it is. Perhaps; but the people complaining most of the time are the people who would be targeted by these rules in the first place.

If you check out the comments or complaints that people are making online or in the news lately in regards to this law you would think that people are being made to do something above and beyond the realm of their capabilities. You think it's too much to ask to clean your car off? Well how about next time I toss out chunks and slabs of ice out of the back of my car at your windshield at 60 miles per hour on wet and snow covered roads. I was driving down the highway last week behind several vehicles that had basically cleared off a small patch of window in front of the driver which would have made the driver's window on a tank look larger. These cars were driving around looking more like mobile igloos than cars and as they picked up speed, slabs the size of average textbooks and opened newspapers came flying off. I'm sure the drivers had no clue but were pleased to reach their destinations and see that there was no longer any snow on their car.

You can say that it's a petty or foolish way in which the city could take something as subjective as snow on a car and turn it into a cash cow but I don't think people will realize the value of enforcing this rule until we hear about how a chunk of ice flew off a car, hit another behind it and then caused an accident which took the life of the driver and child in the backseat. Then you'll see how quickly people change their tune and begin talking about how 'people need to be made to clean their cars'. As it is we don't get much snow around here anymore so you're talking about spending an extra fifteen minutes cleaning off your car on a snowy morning that has occured a total of five times out of 365 days in a year. Is that too much to ask for?


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Tried and True Methods

There's an old adage that everybody will have undoubtedly heard which states that, "if it ain't broke then don't fix it." And in the case of weather predictions, I find it funny that in a day and age when meteorologists talk about their weather machines and models that can pinpoint a single snowflake in an entire state, we still turn our eyes to Gobbler's Knob in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania to see if groundhog prognosticator extrordinaire Punxsatawney Phil will see his shadow or not. The result being a prediction as to whether Winter will last for another six weeks or not.

For those who don't know, the tradition goes that if the groundhog comes out and sees its shadow it will go back into it's little den knowing that winter is due to last another six weeks. Now many people swear that it's the truth when it comes to this type of weather predicting and although I know that animals have a sixth sense or an innate ability to figure these things out, I still think it's like when you wake up some mornings and hit the snooze. I mean perhaps Phil got a bit hungry and decided to come out for a quick snack and then decided to go back in. Depending on how the weather is that day he either decides to stick around for a while or perhaps feels like many of us often do that it's a day that he needs to turn right around and tuck himself in for an extra few weeks of hibernating sleep.

I don't think it's wrong that we follow this tradition but I must say that if the winter in Washington this year is any benchmark of winter for the next six weeks then we have absolutely nothing to worry about. The weather this weekend was so balmy and nice that people were out and about and eating outside for a change. Sure there was a bit of snow and/or ice piled up in corners from the snow/ice storm from earlier in the week but the warm weather was conducive to outdoor activities. And though there were predictions that there would be lots of snow today, the storm track veered out to sea farther than weather experts were expecting and so we're stuck with dandruff-like snow rather than an actual storm. Though President Obama and the rest of the administration did poke fun at Washingtonians for their apparent fear of snow and ice conditions, on the whole we have escaped largely untouched from the wrath of old-man-Winter this year.

The temperatures have occasionally been quite low and though there have been times when my nose and ears have felt like they would snap off any second, we haven't had it all that bad in the area. I mean parts of South Carolina and Georgia have seen more snow than we have. I mean Las Vegas has had more snow than we've had all winter long. Las Vegas! And that's in the middle of the desert for goodness sake! Is it a sign of good luck for the city and region that we are getting milder winters lately or is it a sign of something more sinister like global warming? People can sit there and debate it but you can't deny that something strange is going on when you've got people in the desert bundled up with snow falling and people in traditionally snowy areas eating out on the streets in t-shirts. It's a bit weird and since Phil saw his shadow, I take that to mean that we'll have six more weeks of wearing t-shirts here in DC.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Falling from Grace?

It seems like just yesterday that the entire country couldn't get enough of swimming phenom Michael Phelps. WIth his record-setting eight gold medals in swimming at the Beijing Summer Olympics, it was next to impossible to imagine anything coming and shaking the excitement and admiration that most of the country had come to bestow on the 23-year-old Olympian. Thus it's with a degree of sadness that we see that he really isn't infallible and is just like the rest of us... only human. British tabloids ran a picture of Phelps at a house party at the University of South Carolina in which he is apparently smoking from what appears to be a hash pipe. Now although he has acknowledged he was smoking and that it was wrong, there has been no confirmation or denial as to what the substance was that was in the pipe.

Although as an Olympian, Phelps is privy to anti-doping rules and substance abuse policies, because he is currently not in training and pot (if that's what the substance in the pipe was) is not considered a doping agent, his winning of eight medals at the Olympics will not be rescinded though there is bound to be greater scrutiny against him in the future. But is it so wrong? I mean there have been tons of athletes in the past who have suffered from the same types of fallacies and is it wrong of them to show signs of being human in this way? I don't condone his being caught potentially smoking an illegal substance but what's the big deal? Just because he's an athlete or is more well known compared to other people do we think that he is somehow better than the rest of us?

I suppose to a certain degree that is what a lot of us think and it's probably not wrong of us to think it. When you're looking for inspiration it's not hard to look up to someone who has achieved so much at such a young age. Despite everything that's happened to him over the past few days, Phelps's achievements at the Olympics should not be diminished. He has proven without a doubt that he had the stamina and determination to win the medals that he earned and that should not be taken away from him. But I suppose it is too much to expect that he will no longer draw the interest of people even when he's not in the pool or competing at the Olympics. After having his face plastered all over the country, is it any wonder that someone snapped a picture of him that landed him in so much trouble?

In years past perhaps it would have been prevented given the fact that most cameras at that time were much larger and bulkier but now you can carry a decent sized camera in your normal cell phone that is (at times) even more powerful than some basic digital cameras. I'm skeptical in assuming that the person who took the photo did it with the intent of getting Phelps in trouble but it's definitely news. I mean for people who have watched him compete and do so well it's a bit.... disconcerting to know that at other times he's doing something that's considered so bad. I don't think it's right that we necessarily put athletes like Phelps on pedestals and expect them to be angels but I do hope that many of them know that they will forever be in the public's eye given that they are popular and successful competitors. I certainly hope this doesn't do much to diminish the opinion many people have of him since he is certainly a great athlete, but one hopes that he remains a great person in the public's eye too.