Selective unveiling

A couple of weeks ago British Cabinet Minister Jack Straw made a few comments on Muslim women wearing veils in Britain. The comment rekindled the usual debate over Britain’s multiculturalism, tolerance, freedom of expression etc. The issue, at least with respect to Straw’s involvement, is quite dated and I should have probably posted it earlier to retain its news-worthiness. Nevertheless, one of the points, often mentioned in all debates related to this issue, is never too barren. It’s the argument that the Muslim women “choose” to wear veils.

On Oct 8’s ‘Dateline London,’ it brought this topic for discussion. In order to have a “balanced” discussion, they had invited two Muslims (a man and woman) and two Christians (again, a man and woman)1. They were all from different countries, stationed in London as foreign correspondents. One of the panelists, Editor of the Daily Jang--Shahed Sadullah, argued that Straw’s comments were in bad taste (because Britain is a democratic state and all that). And the Christian woman from America backed his argument on the same basis – that people, as long as they don’t infringe on others’ rights, need to be given the freedom to practice what they want.

The Muslim woman (presumably from Pakistan or India) rebuffed that it’s a symbol of slavishness that the British troops were fighting against, in Afghanistan. In this page you can find a debate that is quite close the one the panelists had. I’ll now get to the point where she said “sure, they ‘choose’ to wear their veils. After all, they have been brainwashed since they were six.” She made the “brainwashing” assertion several times before the program ended. Luckily for her, the argument sounded very convincing then.

What’s ironic is that she, in other discussions, has accused the Western media (the BBC included) for alienating the Muslim community by portraying some of their practices in the wrong light. She has also spoken about religious and other kinds of freedom that might be trampled by the new “anti-terror” laws proposed in Britain. I am with her in most of what she says about the Western media and about the veil issue. But I sense a sense of dishonesty from her side. Or perhaps her views are not thoroughly analyzed.

Here’s a woman who speaks like a liberal but is not too liberal because it gives way to subliminal patriarchy. She uses the “brainwashing” argument wherever and whenever she deems it fit. That is, while Muslim women who choose to wear veils are “brainwashed” to do so, she doesn’t have a problem with children being brainwashed to become Muslims (or Hindus, Jews etc.). She does not mind if they are “brainwashed” to acquire a particular kind of education. She does not mind if they are “brainwashed” to be “free, to choose” other things because of their adults in charge (usually parents). She does not mind if their environments are contrived to nurture a certain personality out of them. She does, however, when it’s about women and veils.

As I said earlier, I do agree with her about veils2. But her premiss’ underpinnings also support arguments against so called free will and freedom of expression. It negates her claims in other discussions. Surprisingly, the other two panelists did not deconstruct her argument (instead went on repeating whatever they started with).

Though the topic of ‘propaganda and media-influence on people’ is increasingly discussed in pseudo-mainstream mediums such as documentaries, it does not seem to offer an alternative. They themselves form a new layer of presumed reality. Thanks to scholarly sophistry, all debates seem like an infinite deconstruction.

________________________

1Because I saw the program in TV and could not find the transcript or even a reference of that particular episode I am not able to recall any of their names (I’m not even sure about Shahed Sadullah. I just know that the panelist was a correspondent for Daily Jang in London). The fourth Panelist is a Jamaican. I’ve mentioned their religion and countries of origin to provide an identity that we often relate to when people are involved in a debate. If you are not the judgmental reader that I have assumed you to be, I’m sorry. For others: you’re welcome.

2I go all the way as discussed earlier here, here and here.

I miss the odour


Today is Deepavali. One thing that I miss most and have not been to able to replace with is crackers (no, not the white folk). For me, that's what Deepavali was mostly about -- the odour of gun-powder, the noisy environment and feeling the blast waves on the face. I miss them all. Just them.
I have too many thoughts and memories that I can put down in a blog-post. I instead chose to record it all in a podcast.

Timeline (in minutes) of what's in it.
1-13 : types of crackers and how we use them
13-23 : "Cultural events" in Dindigul; Nostalgia
23-30 : Deepavali in the past and present
30-end : Diwali or Deepavali? End.

Download: 96Kbps; 48Kbps.

PS. Crackers mentioned in the podcast include hydrogen bombs in the page.

Toon teaser-1: Why do you need ‘em?


This clip from 'Home Movies' pretty much sums up the futility behind most of what we do; especially when Brendon asks why the Coach needs “them”. It's also one of the funniest exchanges ever.

Cartoons

Disclaimer: This post is a boring precursor for 'less boring' posts, hopefully, that are to follow in future.
Watching cartoons has been a favourite pass-time of mine since the ‘He-Man’ days in Doordarshan. Most of the cartoon characters of those days had exaggerated expressions vocally or facially or both. And for someone like me, who could hear what they were saying but couldn’t understand a single word, it helped a lot. I enjoyed the mere tonal reverberations in my ear. But things changed when Murdock’s channels entered India[1]. For the first time I started paying attention to the dialogues. That’s also when I started wondering how I enjoyed Tom and Jerry so much till then.

The Simpsons (then telecast in Star Plus every Saturday at 4.30[2]) was the first show that had little that was visually funny; you had to 'understand' what's being spoken. I mean, just make out the words, and then of course you need to know their meanings, the context, the innuendos, the sarcasms, the stereotypes and all that. In spite of all these problems, I found it funny. When I compare myself with what I see now and what I saw back then, I realize that I had gotten less than 10% of the jokes. But amazingly, it motivated me to try more stuff. That’s when I started watching Dexter’s Lab, Dog House (changed to 2 Stupid Dogs), Johnny Bravo and the occasional ‘What a Cartoon Show’. These shows had an exceptional blend of comedic routines going with characters’ quirkiness.

As years passed, Cartoon Network came up with more cartoons that were just as funny (they were all categorized together as ‘Cartoon Cartoons’). ‘I AM Weasel’, ‘Samurai Jack’, ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ and ‘Sheep in the Big City’ were some of my favourite shows. By this time -- thanks to the hours I spent watching Star World, Zee English, HBO etc., – I had gained considerable knowledge about the American pop-culture; an essential requirement to understanding their jokes.

When I left India, I was introduced to a whole new genre of cartoons here. For the first time I saw some truly 'adult oriented' cartoon shows. Family Guy and South Park were instant attractions. Then I found there’s a slot called ‘Adult Swim’ in Cartoon Network. It features some of my current favourites – ‘Home Movies’, ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force’, Futurama and ‘The Boondocks’. ‘Home Movies’ is exceptional in that it has practically nothing that is out of the ordinary. It hardly relies on animation or stereotypes to be funny. It thrives on characters that mock one another subtly in regular everyday situations. It's loaded with witticisms. The children in Home Movies go through the occasional sombre periods that is steeped in irony.

I thought I’ll link some of my favourite episodes from these ‘not-so-popular-among-many-Indians’ shows and share what I enjoyed. Because, very often more than being funny they’ve had some profound philosophical references (well, at least I personally related to).
____________________________

1 When Cable TV was introduced in the early 90s Star Plus and Prime Sports (and MTV?) were the only 'Star' channels.
2 This was in 1995 when I was 13 years old.

The Butterfly Effect


I saw this movie last week and a few days later saw another movie, ‘Groundhog Day’—one of my favourites—on TV. It was a "coincidence" for me, because there’s definitely a connection between the two movies. Without revealing the plot too much, I shall say, ‘The Butterfly Effect’ in its essence is about a person who can travel back in time and change his past so that he can have different future (his present that is). ‘Groundhog Day’ on the other hand is about man who wakes up on the same day everyday. Nothing changes except his own memories – so he literally relives his past everyday1.

The fundamental difference between the two premises is the kind of control the protagonists have on their past and future. And the basic similarity between the two is that both of them are given (voluntarily in one and involuntarily in the other) more than a few chances to replay (relive) their past till they get it “right”. While both movies end with rather optimistic notes, I felt closer to TBE. It carries with it what I call the pessimism ingrained in the flow our life cycles – changing the past is either inconsequential or consequential to an undesirable effect. Yes, either way, you’re screwed.

That’s one of the reasons why I don’t worry myself too much about all the wars and the tsunamis. Sure, I discuss the “ethics” and “morals” of whatever happens. Thanks to my mundane socialization I even manage to act like my hard-drive crashed. Still, I honestly don’t believe that a difference will actually make any difference. But apparently, what needs to be done needs to be done to maintain the illusion of progress and change; regardless of the illusion's essentiality.
It’s like my “sacred tonsure” in Palani, a year ago. For my mother it was meant to bring Murugan’s blessings, for me I like traveling and I had not seen myself “mottai” ever. I did it. We both had a sense of having done something “meaningful”. The hair’s back; my mother is still worried; I still live.
_______________________
1 If you skimmed through the wiki entries about the movies, you’ll understand me better. If you get a chance try watching them, it's worth the time (available for download in torrent).

Old thing, new word - condescension

That's right, it's one of the most common words we come across; just as common as the feeling. It's something that nobody likes to face but is more than happy to deliver. But the word condescension doesn't usually enter our vocabularies till we go to college (when you prepare for GRE that is). Of course, some of you 'Ooty kaanbent'/DAV/Don Bosco educated kids might have started using the word even before. But either way, the word cannot be as old as what it implies, in many of our lives. So, I did a podcast on it. I started off with something and as usual rambled my way through the caste system, schools, children and what have you. There's no guarantee that it's not going to suck. Listen to it at your own risk.

A time line (in minutes) of what's in it, skip and save the pain if you please.
1-5 : Random nonsense
5-9 : Caste based condescension
9-16 : Random nonsense
16-end : School life; children; more school life; end.

Download: 48kps; 96Kbps; Edited version

Disclaimer (brief history): I've been doing podcasts since Feb '05. Not all of them fall in to a particular genre or even into a specific topic. One may not be as interesting or as funny as the other, so place your expectations at the bottom and raise it gradually (if you feel like). Here you can find some of my other podcasts.

Aren’t you supposed to be funny?

I remember watching ‘The most shocking moments of TV’ (or something like that) in VH1. That’s when I first saw this video in which Jon Stewart rips the hosts of the show. Apart from the whole conversation itself, there’s an interesting part in it. One of the hosts, Tucker Carlson, not being able to handle Stewart’s rather “serious allegations”, says, “I thought you were going to be funny.” It’s a cheeky escapist strategy that completely backfired, at least for Carlson1. But very often it does work however cheeky it is. Though Stewart is very funny, he is quite political. He has strong opinions and way smarter than many mainstream media pundits. But because he’s funny; because he parodies others, he is taken less seriously in mainstream media/politics (or so they pretend).

Obviously, I’m not in anyway comparing myself with JS or what he does; like Cartman would say, “he is thyaan and I’m hyaan, may be a little down hyaan2. The flash video was a very effective retort and it worked just as I had thought. But it’s also a rather easy way to get back at people (provided you have the resources to pull it off). My ‘weapons of choice’, sarcasm and mockery, can easily be turned against me. No, I’m not talking about someone else doing a flash video or some kind of parody on what I did (or going to do in future) – that would actually be great.
I’m talking about a sarcastic and snobbish reply, something like – “I don’t want to mess with you man. You’re so talented that you’ll make a crappy animation and do voice-overs to make fun of me. Jeez I’m so scared”. If someone says that amidst a “serious” discussion, for whatever reason, he/she would practically shut me up. There’s no way ahead. I can not only not-continue the discussion, I cannot make “crappy animation” either.

Given that this blog is now known (at least for the first time visitors) for the notorious video in the previous post, I wanted to do my part to avoid being identified with that and just that -- hence this useless post. Yes, this post is to say, “hey I know you would say this”, in future. I know; the lengths that I go to (to save my ego).

sariyana elavu da sami!
____________________________

1 Here’s the part of the exchange.

CARLSON: Wait. I thought you were going to be funny. Come on. Be funny.
STEWART: No. No. I'm not going to be your monkey.
2 It's one of the best episodes of Southpark. Watch the video at around 1.35 for the dialogue that I've quoted.

Worst flash movie ever


I've always wanted to create a mini 'skit' or something using flash. But I was just too lazy (and not skilled enough) to do it. And, I never really had a reason. But yesterday, a wannabe got thumped big time and apparently he complained to his bully friend. Being a "good friend", the bully did what he *can* do -- call this blog "puke-worthy", which I wouldn't really refute. This blog could well be on its way to beat the likes of ogrish.com, rotten.com, or even better, themaanga.blogspot.com.
So, I thought I'll use this opportunity to spend an hour in flash and make some seriously messed up video to prove them right. However, I would suggest that you visit at least some of the links that I've provided to get some context.



On a totally unrelated note - I know not many of you are going to leave comments in your original IDs. And some of you might feel like what I had described in this post. That's fine. I'm still a novice in "local paaltix". I want it to be that way.

PS. I tried 'lip sync' for sometime, it took about 15 minutes for just 1 minute. I don't think this video is worth spending so much time.

Necessary but not sufficient

In my methods course, the first lecture was on causality. It's also one of my favourite topics of discussion. As with many epistemological concepts, causality can be exploited to weaken any argument merely because of its observational constraints. That is, the unobservability of certain measures because of the non-universality of the values associated with them. Academically speaking, psychology, among other social sciences, was one of the worst affected because of this "exploitation". Of course psychology, by the sheer number of experiments and empirical data, evolved into a strong and independent area that it no longer had to wait for others' "approval". Contrarily though, measures such as IQ, though disputed by some scholars, have now been established as "objective" and "universal". This article provides a good critique of intellectual bias behind of some of these "scientific constructs".

All said, I'm no saint when it comes to exploiting the limitations of the scientific method or citing the same to invalidate overly assumptive nonsense. Crudely put, I switch sides to sound smart. I have had to do it quite often with a topic that we cannot avoid ourselves from getting into, post 9/11. It's about religion and terrorism; more specifically, suicide bombing. But this article provides a very coherent deconstruction that cannot be escaped. I’ll just quote the most relevant parts,

Dawkins is suggesting that the motivation for certain ‘evil’ acts (not a word I like, but I think it’s clear that Dawkins means act that most of his readers would consider morally unacceptable) is sometimes religious belief, but that atheism does not have similar effects. Of course, this doesn’t mean that atheists don’t act immorally – presumably, according to Dawkins, when they do act in such a way it is not motivated by their atheistic commitments, nor is carried out in the name, or to advance the cause, of atheism. Brown responds with the line about Stalin killing the priests and the clergy. But what does this fact alone demonstrate? That an atheist committed mass murder – which tells us what? I’m no expert on Stalin’s reign, and so I don’t know what motivated his actions, but is Brown suggesting that his atheism per se was a decisive or contributing factor? It would seem so, when he writes “The claim that Stalin's atheism had nothing to do with his actions may be the most disingenuous in the book”. But what does Brown base the conclusion about the role of atheism in Stalin’s stunning inhumanity on apart from a correlation? If there is evidence that it atheism was a driving force, where is the evidence?

And there seems to be a bit of a double standard here. Brown seems irritated at Dawkins’s suggestion that religion can lead to terrible behaviour, but then tries to counter it with by showing that atheism can lead to bad behaviour. If it’s too simple to blame religion for bad behaviour, as Dawkins supposedly does, it should also be too simple to blame atheism, as Brown implies.

Brown also takes issue with the suggestion that religious fundamentalism is a causal factor in producing terrorist bombers:
[T]he definitive scientific study of suicide bombers, Dying to Win, has just been published by Robert Pape, a Chicago professor who has a database containing every known suicide attack since 1980. This shows, as clearly as evidence can, that religious zealotry is not on its own sufficient to produce suicide bombers; in fact, it's not even necessary: the practice was widely used by Marxist guerrillas in Sri Lanka.
Whenever people want to illustrate the lack of efficacy of religion in producing suicide bombers, they always cite the Tamil Tigers, who are inspired by a Marxism rather than an explicit religious agenda (indeed, may Tamils might be atheists). Again, we have to ask what this shows. Imagine that someone wrote a book on the dangers of smoking, and reviewers pointed out that not all smokers get cancer, and that non-smokers also get cancer. Would we say “See, smoking isn’t dangerous after all”. Of course not. The fact that smoking is neither necessary nor sufficient for getting cancer isn’t the point. Smoking can still be an important cause of cancer – even the most important cause of cancer (I’m not saying it is) – even if people get cancer for other reasons. And so when people tried to get smoking banned in public places, or taxes increased to put people off smoking, we wouldn’t be entitled to say “But look, there are some other know causes of cancer, so leave smoking alone!”. It would still be appropriate to single smoking out, critically discuss it, and definitely withdraw government support for it (if there were, say, smoking academies).
(truncated)
As we see in the excerpt above, exemplary refutations suffer the same fate they inflict. It's like swords slicing one another. Then again, some swords are sharper than the others.

I hate you, but you’re right


This is a feeling that I very often have. It’s the feeling when your egos have already started engaging in a ‘cold war’ but your rational side is still controlling your conscious mind.

Karan Johar and Shahrukh Khan are some of the many celebrities who I almost despise. I’ve hated them for the shoddy products they make, mostly. Then of course, the fact that they have become popular despite the shoddiness. But, in a few interviews, I’ve seen them make some really good points (especially about culture, marriage etc.). Points that I often make to corroborate my arguments. Not only that, their articulation of their ideas was nothing short of a critical thinker’s. Especially, Shahrukh -- he has become really clever in handling some of the most clichéd questions that he has had to face in his career. I don’t think his answers were as clever before. Only Sushmita Sen has managed to sound so intelligent right from the beginning. Ash was always the “look at me I’m a politically correct bimbo” type. Shahrukh was in the same band too, but lately he seems to be fed up with that. Or he’s just chosen this new “technique” to handle a more “intelligent and international” crowd. Whatever the reason is, his interviews are more watchable now.

But it’s still uncomfortable to hear sensible stuff from the people who you don’t like so much. Celebrities have multiple dimensions to like or hate. Their persona on screen, the products they give, then the people they are, the things they say (do) etc. I don’t know the ‘mode shifts’ that my mind goes through when I watch them perform and then giving interviews.
My ‘roast of VV’, at least some of my points, was instigated by what Gautam Menon had said in some interviews (about Oscar etc). It’s a bad movie, but what made my ranting really “harsh” was what he and Kamal had said off-screen, about the movie (it wasn’t a movie review, why should I distance myself from all that?). It’s sometimes too hard to dissociate the two. You hate the guy (girl/woman) in the movie for what he said in TV and you hate the guy in TV for what he did in a movie. Of course, sometimes they are the same.

I think it’s the same with blog readers. You might “hate” someone for things that he/she said in some posts, but can’t disapprove of what he/she says in other posts. That’s when you either downplay the post’s significance or pretend like you never read it. It doesn’t matter I suppose. It’s a favour we keep returning one another; a self sustaining ecological cycle that maintains a balance. A balance that is required to make sure there are no ‘superstar’ egomaniacs who get in to “masala blogging” before they end it for good (Lazygeek is probably a good example).

By the way, this post is not in response to anything that’s happening in this blog but to Shahrukh’s rather sensible interview in IBN. Well, it wasn’t totally sensible; he did get in to the “Islam is a secular religion” bullshit mode. But come on. It’s enough that he’s trying to be sensible, it’s too much to ask of him to be a radical.

 
©2009 english-tamil