Sunday, July 30, 2006

Weekend Documentary Binge

The God who wasn't there
Did Jesus really exist? Former Christian Brian Flemming presents his elaborate arguments against it, treading ground that few would dare to. In this vicious attack, he explains how Jesus's life was a collective work of storytellers, and not based on a real human being. Allegorical literature was famous back then... His life has Hero elements similar to Dionysus and Mithras.

From the wiki of Dionysus:
It is possible that Dionysian mythology would later find its way into Christianity. There are many parallels between Dionysus and Jesus; both were said to have been born from a mortal woman but fathered by a god, to have returned from the dead, and to have transformed water into wine. The modern scholar Barry Powell also argues that Christian notions of eating and drinking "the flesh" and "blood" of Jesus were influenced by the cult of Dionysus.


How Some Heros Scored on Raglan's Scale:

  • Oedipus scores 21
  • Theseus scores 20
  • Moses scores 20
  • Dionysus scores 19
  • Jesus scores 19
  • Romulus scores 18
  • Perseus scores 18
  • Hercules scores 17
  • Llew Llaw Gyffes scores 17
  • Bellerophon scores 16
  • Jason scores 15
  • Mwindo scores 14
  • Robin Hood scores 13
  • Pelops scores 13
  • Apollo scores 11
  • Sigurd scores 1

Joseph Cambell talks about the Hero factor in Power of Myth, how myths and hero stories across different religions, races and eras have somewhat the same storylines. His ideas were borrowed by George Lucas when he created Star Wars. Is it possible that Jesus was fiction like the rest of them? But that's too big a question. Da Vinci Code is risqué enough for most.



Google - Behind the Screen
It's the most popular search engine in the world, a self improving, all knowing deity that has its finger on the pulse of everything on the web. It has its eye on you. It knows the things you search for, the websites you visit, now it knows intimate details from your personal life, what you talk about, who you talk to, and what your interests are. Can you trust Google not to be evil?

This Dutch documentary asks some nutty questions: Why is its book scanning technology that is using large chunks, the fruit of humanity proprietary to Google? What prevents Google from being big brotherly? What are the sociological implications of just having one source engine, with no opposing points of view?

The Root of All Evil
Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, amongst other things is a radical atheist who believes that religion is the root cause of the big divides in the world today, a polarising influence on people, the spreader of ignorance and bigotry; and directly opposed to reason and science. Yes Richard, we all know that. This thought has occurred to other men of science too, this is what Charles Darwin had to say about it to Karl Marx:

It appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct
arguments against Christianity and theism produce hardly
any effect on the public; and freedom of thought is best
promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds which
follows from the advance of science. It has, therefore,
been always my object to avoid writing on religion, and
I have confined myself to science.

Regardless, this vicious attack against organised religion does have a few entertaining but futile jousting sessions against men of faith. Dawkins argues like a bully against religious fanboys, but his jibes fall short of delivering a KO punch.

Edit: But this cartoon does!

Orwell Rolls in His Grave
A bunch of media critics rant about how the America has lost its critical faculties ever since private media got deregulated during the Reagan Era. Public interests take a backseat, because the corporations that own the media houses also own the largest companies. This was best highlighted in The Insider, where a 60 Minutes expose on cigarettes was canned because of Philip Morris's stake in CBS.

With the ruling class in their pocket, they unshackle FCC regulations, growing more centralised and corrupt. The documentary goes on to examine how some of the biggest coverups go untold, real investigative journalism is dead, or buried over by a web of glitz and trivia, and how the media system grows more and more like George Orwell's 1984. Anecdotes include GW Bush's coverup of the Florida elections, Reagan's covert deal with Iran during the hostage crisis, and the tacit agreement between big media and neocons, both sweetening each others dealings since the Republicans took over.

This is very disconcerting:

Sir, No Sir! The GI Revolt
A lot of stories from the Vietnam war were kept secret. This documentary is about those that said no to their superiors, and rallied enough men together to create a large anti-war movement in the United States.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence


Ghost In the Shell was a crossover anime movie; it had a more accessible SF motif,
and found many fans in the western world. The story centred around Motoko Kusanagi, a
sexy, gun toting, bad ass humanoid, in charge of Section 9. This intro sums it up beautifully.

In the year 2029, the world has become interconnected by a vast electronic network that permeates every aspect of life. That same network also becomes a battlefield for Tokyo's Section Nine security force, which has been charged with apprehending the master hacker known only as the Puppet Master. Spearheading the investigation is Major Motoko Kusanagi, who -- like many in her department -- is a cyborg officer, far more powerful than her human appearance would suggest. And yet as the Puppet Master, who is even capable of hacking human minds, leaves a trail of victims robbed of their memories, Kusanagi ponders the very nature of her existence: is she purely an artificial construct, or is there more? What exactly is the definition of human in a society where a persons mind can be copied and the body replaced with a fully synthetic body? What, exactly, is the "ghost" -- her essence -- in her cybernetic "shell"? Where is the boundary between human and machine when the differences between the two become more philosophical than physical? When Section Nine gets involved in the case, she is forced to confront these and other questions as she confronts the "Puppet Master", a being that transcends humanity and ultimately challenges Kusanagi to transcend her own self-understanding and limitations as well.

I saw it five years ago, thanks to a lot of Anime whoring by Andre when we worked at Computer Gaming World. I still remember this quote by Kusanagi:

There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny.

Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me, and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined only to feel free to expand within my boundaries!

Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, the sequel came out a decade later, last year. There's no Kusanagi, she's escaped into an AI form in cyberspace, so the story shifts to Batou, a tank-like cyborg with a ghost (human) core, with his fully organic partner Togusa, a dwindling member of his kind. Together, they investigate a series of android suicides, which occur amongst a custom range of sex dolls 'programmed' to have ghost like qualities.

The characters quote lines from thinkers and philosophers in everyday conversation. There is an explanation behind that as well: Humans have external memory implants, and can access information at runtime, making them super eloquent, and hyper connected to all works of humanity. Like havin Wikipedia in your brain's RAM at all times.

Togusa: How great is the sum of thy thoughts? If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand.
Bateau: Psalms 139, Old Testament. The way you spout these spontaneous exotic references, I'd say your own external memory's pretty twisted.

GITS: Innocence has a much bigger budget, with lush painstakingly detailed visions of the future. The sequel compares dolls to children, and
parenting instincts to an innate drive to create androids. Keeping with the futuristic motif, the movie takes you through free zones of the future, with tall spires, towers, and dense fog. There's a lot more CG this time around compared to the predecessor, a lot of scenes are still meticulously hand drawn. It's a visual masterpiece, an unforgivingly fast paced SF story with a philosophical core. The SF background is used as an allegory for the human condition.
The story might take a few watchings to digest, but it's the visuals that make the movie, the first five minutes are an open and clear declaration of artistic merit; setting the pace for a surreal, meditative, and passionate work of art.

Words and phrases I like and dislike

Exacerbated
Zhawadya
Coprophagia

and words or phrases I hate.

Hullabaloo
Hoi Polloi
Plethora
Boo-boo

Sunday, July 16, 2006

There is no truth, only marketing













The Persuaders, a PBS documentary by Douglas Rushkoff takes on the world from where the Century of the Self left, at the height of it's persuasive power, the culmination of 100 years of manipulation of the subconscious, though focus group oriented market research, cult and lifestyle creation.

Advertising is a lot more refined than it was 30 years ago, yet, agencies are finding it difficult to survive on their own. Traditional advertising models no longer work, and this has resulted in massive consolidation, the big shark eating the smaller fish. Today, most agencies have lost their independence, and are allied to either Publicis, Interpublic, WPP, or Omnicom. Each of these agencies have dozens of PR and advertising agencies in their portfolio. As in any industry, such consolidation is a sign of maturity, and decline.

The make bullshit sell world of advertising is in a Catch 22 phase right now. The more you bombard the consumer's mind with messages, the more impactful the next advertisement has to be, in order to entice the consumer. Agency pitches, in their effort to be different now have a pseudo spiritual edge; it's no more about just selling goods, it's about creating cults and lifestyles. Some of the more ambitious brand campaigns don't even mention the product, selling the lifestyle instead, and imbibing the brand as a part of their personality.

The documentary follows the conception of Delta's budget airline Song, a budget airline built around branding, targeted at hip professional women in the US. Apart from a cosmetic face lift, the brand message is inculcated into each Song employee with catchphrases like, "That's so Song!"

Sounds corny? Maybe you're not the target audience. Wired Magazine was sort of like my bible a while ago, it was cutting edge cypherpunk cool, with wicked spreads of gadgets, games, online worlds, the geek's wet dream. And then this deconstructive essay made me realise how tech evangelism is a market in itself, and how fantastic their brand positioning was. Don't get me wrong, I still love the magazine, but now I take it with a pinch of salt.

Lifestyle marketing doesn't always work. Some of the best brands are centred around a cult like devotion for it, and this is what most brands vie for, the irrational love for symbols like the iPod, or Harley Davidson. In the case of Song, as the wiki shows, the idea failed miserably.

Conventional media like TV is being rendered obsolete , thanks to TIVO like gadgets that let you dodge advertising. So advertisers now place the product within the TV show or movie, and now you have dedicated agencies specialising in product placement. That FedEx package in Cast Away? Or that Starbucks plug in I am Sam? Agency money at work there. The infomercialisation of content happens daily in our newspapers, radio, TV, movies, and websites.

Cunning lingustics
That who wield the word know very well how to distort the truth. Politics today is all about telling what people want to hear, in a language that takes the edge off some of the more hard hitting words. Frank Luntz, head of Luntz Research Companies does focus group tests, to see how they react to certain keywords, and then reccomends these words to political parties, who then pepper them in their speeches.

That's how Global Warming became Climate change in Republican speeches, the Estate tax becomes the Death Tax. By crafting words exactly as to how the audience wants to hear it, politicians can acheive their own personal objectives.

The Persuaders is an excellent documentary that taps into the brightest minds in the agency curcuit, tapping into subconscious ideas about luxury, exploring concepts like narrowcasting, and the future of database derived marketing.

Watch the documentary online.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/persuaders/view/

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Adam Curtis is a god amongst men

I like watching documentaries, and one of the things that I wanted to do with this blog is talk about some of the better ones, the ones which need an earnest endorsement.

I’d throw in a free hand job just to have you watch anything by Adam Curtis, a history buff and media critic, with a platinum access card to all of BBC’s news and film archives. This man has some interesting and original views, which he writes long expository essays on. Then he reinforces his point by trolling through century old historic footage, adding voiceovers in an authoritative BBC tone. This style is like 90's electronica sampling 80's hip hop, but with video.
This is a very different from your usual in-the-trenches type of documentary.

Since Curtis relies on a large body of historic footage, he is able to give you the big picture, with a lot of small sub stories. Some of these are astounding.

In part 1 of Century of the Self he explains how Freud’s theories on psychoanalysis were used by his nephew Edward Bernays to control America’s mass mind, converting it from a need based economy to a desire based one. Edward Bernays, is considered the father of Public Relations, a more euphemistic term for propaganda. Here is his PR masterstroke.

In 1910, cigarette smoking was a very male thing. It was taboo for women to smoke openly, it was something they just didn’t do. American tobacco companies had approached Bernays to do something about that, because they only way they could increase their market share was to make the pie bigger.

So on the carnival day, when the entire city of New York cheered on the streets, Bernays arranged for ten attractive models to smoke cigarettes openly. This was an unseen scene that time, and all the journalists flocked to the women, asking why they were smoking. One of them said, “These are our torches of freedom.”

When you think of the right sounding but wrong doing powers that control the world today, with slogans like War on Terror, and War on Drugs, it’s just another spin job, owing some degree of credit to Edward Bernays.

The bigger story in all of this is how the fulfilment of personal needs becomes the highest ideal, with corporations growing ever powerful by arousing first, and then consummating the individual’s desires. How this gives rise to the Me generation, which didn't reject materialism, but instead asked for more customisable options. People grew so self important that they defined themselves by what they consumed.. These gradual changes in psyche changed attitudes in sectors as varied as marketing and politics.

The Power of Nightmares explains how politicians seized control from an increasingly irate and liberal public by feeding their fears. The documentary shows the rise of Neocons and Islamic fundamentalists, and how the two forces grew in power by creating nightmare visions of evils that can take over the world.

One of the best stories in this documentary is how American media hyped up al-Qaeda to be this elite cadre of operatives with secret underground lairs in the hills of Afghanistan. In their search for Bin Laden, British and American troops bombarded these hills and made exhaustive searches, with not a single militant found there, let alone a lair.

Pandora’s Box is a view of the effects of scientific and intellectual arrogance, and some of the bigger miscalculations people of science and power made. All the six episodes have a similar theme: grandiose dreams, soon giving way to harsh and grounded truths.

Download these movies from Archive.org

And torrents are always available.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Cooling Glasses

South Indians love their leaders and actors in sunglasses. To understand why it is so, we must take the laws of nature into account, and accept that any kind of protective eyewear is a leap ahead in evolution, an instrument that wields an immense competitive advantage, similar to the English Longbow, in the harsh , sunburnt tropical heartland of South India.
Logically, this evolutionary advantage also leads us to conclude that men wearing sun glasses are more capable of heroic deeds, acts of selfless gallantry and kinship, and producing ideal and copious amounts of sperm for future offspring.

This tool was first used by the outsiders initially. Those who weren't native to the Tamil heartland have used this symbol with great success in their efforts to colonise the Dravidian heartland. MGR the Mallu, and Thalaivar Rajnikant, aka bus conductor Shivajirao Gaekwad from Karnataka are two chief examples of men who hid their ethnicity under the glinty scorpion black metal sheen of their cooling classes. This symbol became so powerful, that other cultures, and their cultural ambassadors attemped to copy this tactic.


Later on, this tool was indigenised used by Tamil natives themselves, as
they freed themselves from the yoke of foreign domination, adopting the symbolism, and the glowing attributes now attached to this powerful , potent symbol. Their answer to the longbow was the longbow.

It is sad to see the 'Cooling Glass' being phased out onerously by the younger generation; the symbol is perhaps too burdensome for the likes of their progeny. But in this video, the symbol is immortalised, sealed forever, raised to godlike proportions, all while two goons with the force of a freight train. In conclusion, it's the best youtube video evar.

The glint factor is very important in any pair cooling glasses, as demonstrated here, tollywood hero Chiranjeevi is wearing glasses that reflect harsh overpowering studio lights, with the cumulative brighness of a thousand suns.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ten Dimensions

Let's see if you can chew on this..

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi

1:37 PM me: To the mahal of the Taj

To the Minar of Qutub
To the Kumari of Kanya (Say hoi oh hoi)
To the Panjim of Goa (Say hoi oh hoi)
To the Kaancheepuram
Zindabad Zindagood
All have something to say (Say hoi oh hoi)
They all have something to say
They all have something to say

Follow me Follow me Follow me now!

Apni tho paatshala, masti ki paatshala
Be A Rebel

jatin.mishra: hahahahahaah

!!

rape bey

dude i seriously wanna be a rebel now

me: Lose control..

jatin.mishra: tyeah!

1:38 PM me: India and Pakistan
Bangladesh all in the soul
Khajuraho to Coimbatore
Say hoi oh hoi
(Say hoi hoh hoi)

>From the Gateway of India
Upto the Himalayas
Across the Ganga Yamuna
Say hoi oh hoi
(Say hoi hoh hoi)

1:39 PM jatin.mishra: hoi oh hoi

me: To Shirdi to the Red Fort
Rourkela Yeah u know
>From Ajmer to Orissa
Say hoi oh hoi
(Say hoi hoh hoi)

jatin.mishra: abey buss kar kameene

me: lol


Ten years from now, will anyone give a rat's ass for Rang De Basanti? I sincerely hope not. These lyrics were penned by an advertising copywriter who pushed Coke; and guilty by association, the fizz won't last.

And for all its incendiary rhetoric, I didn’t hear of a single suicide bomber, attack, or assasination attempt at Arjun Singh during the entire reservation fiasco. So bollocks to that. Even the Mandal comission era had glorious acts of self immolation, in the vein of the Burning Monk. Surely one guy in a billon would be supremely pissed off, and inspired by the sacrifices of our Bollywood stars you figure..

But that's what movies do. They externalise our heroes, our struggles, while we suck our thumbs and search desperately for the next distraction.

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi on the other hand, will age like fine wine. Written by Sudhir Mishra, Ruchi Narain and Shiv Subramaniam, they bring together their mastery of ideas and dialects: The Hindi was tight, and the English wasn't trite...

The story is set in the year 1969, the year when the whole world was swinging; or at least, certain packets of India were. Like our protagonists in this movie, studying at Delhi University, who all come from different backgrounds. Siddharth, the rich son of an ex-judge, is an idealist, who believes that he can change the system. Vikram is his opposite, a lower middle class guy who works within the constraints of the system, instead of fighting it. He fixes, deals, and bribes his way to success, charming men and women with ease. And then there’s the tug of war for the girl: Geeta Rao, who is split between loving a commie and a capitalist.

In the following years, India under the rule of Indira Gandhi declares an emergency. Vikram grows rich and successful, infiltrating political circles to get papers passed, while Siddarth joins the Naxalite movment in Bihar to help the lower castes rise up to power. The girl sort of bounces back and forth.

I was hoping that the movie would subtly use the love triangle to illustrate the triumph of capitalism over socialism, with Siddharth growing bitter, weak and isolated, while Vikram, now rich and powerful, gets the love of his life. but the movie does not take a ideological standpoint. It doesn't take any sides, and cops out instead, by doing a weird kahani mein twist.

That aside, the movie is A-grade at everything, from casting, cinematography, dialogues, to its historical grasp of that era. This movie is to India what Underground was to Yugoslavia. The backdrops are rendered faithfully with nice little touches that narrate history without dwelling on it as the primary subject matter.

I left this movie with a deep appreciation for Sudhir Mishra, who has made some amazing movies in his career.

These are the kind of movies that would benefit immensely from Internet distribution. I would buy it out of gratitude.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Commanding Heights: The Battle for World Economy

The early 19'th century was an era of free markets. It took one assasination for the whole situation to change, and the dust didn't settle for 100 years. This documentary gets its title from Lenin's proposal for a state run economy, when he suggested that he would leave small business alone, but leave the Commanding Heights for the state to manage. This idea was supported most leading economists at the time, and their herd mentality led democracies like India and the United States down that path.

Managing the commanding heights led to many economic blunders, like India's semi socialist economy, with its failed five year plans, pathetic growth rates, but most of all, some really mediocre television. Most Indians say it was greedy politicians that ruined it, but Indians aren't an especially corrupt lot, really. On an average, a human being is capable of being just as brilliant, stupid, nepotistic, rasicst or corrupt as another.

There's plenty of historic footage of nations and world leaders who adopted central planning, and admitting its failings. It was no longer controlling inflation, or creating growth in many countries. You see the decline and fall of many nations, US and UK's gradual shift to free markets in the early 80's, and economic disasters of many nations that tried to embrace the free market.

There's a great quote in there: "In a capitalist society, you can create wealth, in a Socialist state, you can share poverty." But ask the Argentinians, who enjoyed Second world status, creating a public sector driven powerhouse that employed millions, if the free market worked for them.
Their economy went bankrupt, billions of dollars were moved to offshore accounts, and many people were cheated out of their money.

The surrender from government control to investor control is also examined closely. Once productive sectors were sold off by their ailing governments for throwaway prices in broken Soviet states. Once in private control, layoffs soon followed, leading to large scale migration and turmoil. I'm sure that's how Mr. Mittal got rich too.

While having a disscussion on this with my uncle, he said:"It's human instinct to trade freely. You cannot go against nature. It's anti-Darwinian." But would India have its backbone without 40 years of state control? Any species, when insecure goes inward and insular. In the early years, India was weak, and it's impossible to ignore the military aspects of the equation. The Soviets supplied us with arms, after all. And we liberalised just as USSR broke down. So much for our policy of Non alignment!

The documentary has footage of Narayanmurthy, explaining how it took him 40 rounds and many weeks, begging paper shuffling babus to get a computer worth $1500. How Hindustan Motors was making cars of the same design and same level of output even after 40 years. Without incentivising people or putting the fear of death on them, people just don't want to work!

And when Poland became free, in less than a week, the people were out on the streets, selling eggs, clothes, sweaters, anything they had in surplus. Even after 50 years of state control, the human instinct still prevailed.

Both the big countries and small - India, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Thailand, USSR, Poland, Mexico, all of them get their time and are properly examined in their successes and failures while conducting their experiments with money. It's from PBS, the closest thing the US has to the BBC, but it is still a paean to the power of free markets. Chomsky of course, would beg to differ. As would the suicidal farmers in Vidharbha, victims of WTO sanctioned agro-warfare. Or the military controlled workers who earn less than two dollars a day, making the MP3 players for the world's favourite company.

It will be interesting to see how it all goes, as China and India slowly step up on the world stage and use their young population to out produce the rest of the world. Personally, I think Nationalism will die, and will be replaced by a pledge of allegiance to brands and multinational corporations. But it won't make very good football. Or maybe it will. Would love to see who qualifies on a one-on-one in Team Heineken Vs. Team Pantene.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/

The Story of the Weeping Camel

It's always at the edges, the uninhabitable peripheries of the world that we see vaccum sealed recipes for civilisation. Tibet has (well, it used to) a backup for Buddhism. Islam orginated in Saudi Arabia, and it's probably one of its reasons for its prolific success. In the lairs of the Himalayas lies the only Hindu country in the world.

This documentary is a touching family drama cum a nature story, but more than that, it's a story of how evolution makes backups, and how some natives retain their cultures, preserving their way of life against modernity.

Geschichte vom weinenden Kamel, Die, or The Story of a Weeping Camel follows the lives and rituals of a a nomadic Mongol family that the camel belongs to, one, with an extended family of sheep and camel. One of their Bactrian camel has given a painful birth to a colt in the maternal month of march, but is refusing to suckle the youngling. The family calls upon a musician from town, so that he can play the voilin and tug at the camel's heartstrings.

At the background of all this is a Mongol family, who still live like they way Genghis did. At the edges of the Gobi desert, this joint family of four generations feels the influence of modernity through its youngest child, who wants television, video games, and the freedom to shop. In his games with his kid sister he does mock shopping, with discarded aluminum cans and batteries.

But the pride of the grandfather in the family keeps this family clear of such influences, probably because of the ego of empires past. The Mongols enjoyed the greatest success as barbaric invaders. Riding on horseback, they ransacked and destroyed empires all the way upto Baghdad. The Genghis gene can be found in 16 million descendants living today.

A burst of aggression for a people is probably therapeutic. It creates nationalism, language, and a culture that some adamantly stick to, even at the risk of being weakened. More countries and states have had that moment at the top, been the centre of the world. That pride keeps these people away from homogeneity. Which is important, when we start nuking each other.