Saturday, October 11, 2008

Thoughts on US Elections - T minus 21 days

The election campaign is in the final stretch. The last days have turned out to be more acrimonious than anyone had imagined. The economic news out of Wall Street is scary and is having an expectedly significant influence on the public opinion. Most of the polls have turned to Obama's favor, some (Newsweek) more than others(Rasmussen Tracking). McCain campaign, having been completely taken over by the the exact same elements of the Republican party we thought McCain was not, is increasingly looking desperate. On the other hand Democrats and Obama backers, having seen their fortunes improve in many battleground states, have started talking about a landslide.

It would be premature to pop-out the champagne just yet. The race is far from over. The republicans are frustrated and down, but they are not out yet. They are not going to throw in the towel in the last few days. They have a scortched earth strategy at this stage and are going after Obama will anything and everything. Some of the McCain tactics is tried and tested Republican fare (Accuse Obama of being ultra-liberal, say he will increase taxes, is not 'safe' for America etc). But some of their recent methods have been sleazy and has taken the presidential race to historically low proportions.

It might appear desperate to many but in my view it is a clear, well thought-through end-game by McCain's advisors. I expect the McCain campaign to go all out against Obama in the last weeks of this campaign. McCain will keep pounding on the 'guilt by association' and 'flawed-character' issue.

McCain campaign is hoping that -

1) Democratic complacency dampens Obama supporter turnout on Nov 4 - Obama draws a lot of his support from young voters, who in the past have been unreliable in turning out in large numbers to vote. If the polls predict an Obama win by a wide margin, this block may get complacent and not turn out to vote.

2) Throw enough mud at Obama that eventually something will stick - A lie told thousands of time will seem true to at least some. The Democrats hope that this does not stick in voters minds given the dramatic economic situation in these last days of campaigning. The Democrats probably feel vindicated in this belief having seen Obama's opinion poll lead over McCain only increase in the last week. This may exactly be the error Republicans want them to make. These character attacks may not manisfest themselves on the poll dials immediately. The Republican game-plan is to stroke fires of doubt in people's mind long enough to help them with #3 & #4 below.

3) An external event changes the race - A foriegn policy issue or a terrorist attack will shift focus away from the economy to McCain's strong suite. This taken with doubts created by the incessant attacks on Obama will help turn the tide for McCain.

4) Induce (or accentuate) the Bradley effect - McCain camp wants to keep the Bradley effect in play using the personal attacks on Obama. They want to keep doubts about Obama festering so that voters re-think about voting for Obama. [I personally did not think that Bradley effect was going to be a factor in this election. The election cycle has been going on for far too long that, I feel, most people have started to subconsciously look past Obama's skin-color. I think Obama has cleared a certain 'presidential threshold'.]

Here is what Obama should do to counter McCain's plans -

1) Divert Attention away from McCain's words/actions - Talk about the economy much more - not just to blame Bush (and McCain). Come up with ideas/proposals for various sectors. Bring-up something new every few days and push them enough so it floods the news cycle and divert the attention being paid in the news to McCains attacks on Obama.

2) Be on the offensive - Obama is acting more and more "safe" as he would since he is ahead. He should show the level of aggression/passion that he would if he were trailing. Highlight McCain & Palin's past associations, judgments. This is not likely to dominate the discussion but will act as counter-foil to allegations on Obama.

3) Keep the base energized - Keep the passion up among the rank and file and ensure heavy turn-out.

4) Expect an unfavorable external event - And be prepared to address it.

Wishing Obama pulls this off, for the US and the world.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

'The Last Lecture' by Randy Pausch

I came across a brief snippet of a program on TV tonight about a Carnegie Mellon University professor named Randy Pausch. What I saw on TV aroused my interest. A search on the internet led me to a fascinating video lecture by Randy. This was an absolutely absorbing, funny, articulate and inspiring presentation made at the university.

The heartwarming lecture talks about Randy's childhood dreams, achieving them and what he learned along the way. I thought of summarizing some of his lecture points here, but I would not be doing even remote justice by putting them in my words.

I strongly recommend a viewing of the full-length lecture posted on youtube. It is a tad long (75+ mins) but I am sure it is time well spent. If you can't spare the time, there is a shorter version of the lecture given on the Oprah show.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

OSO – Oh So much Fun!!

There is something fascinating about a movie that is unabashedly commercial and seemingly proud of it. ‘Om Shanti Om’ (OSO) is one such film. It has no pretensions of being cerebral and is unapologetic about where its heart lies – in the unrealistic, melodramatic, clich├ęd traditions of hindi commerical cinema. What endeared this movie to me was the fact that this remains true to the genre, and the way it pays tribute to the Bollywood films of 70s and 80s.

It is interesting that there are so many films coming out of Bollywood these days that look back or rehash older films. These films range from awful (RGV’s Aag) to average (Farhan Akhtar’s Don) to good (Sriram Raghavan’s Johnny Gaddar). OSO, directed by Farah Khan, is one of the better ones.

There isn’t much to say about the story line. Don’t watch the film for its story. See it for the treatment. This film embodies almost all the ingredients of a Bollywood potboiler –overacting, dream sequences, garish costumes, elaborate sets, happy song, sad song, item song (pictured on Shah Rukh Khan), even a climax song – all deliberately and lovingly interwoven into an improbable story line, to true Bollywood tradition .

The film is one of the funniest hindi movies I have seen since Lage Raho Munnabhai. The first half in particular is hilarious. There are a lot of side splitting one-liners, but the most laughs come by the way Farah Khan takes swipes at Bollywood – be it the quirks of the stars, illogical scripts or over the top acting. But the humor clearly is good natured, even complimentary, without ever getting critical. No one but quintessential Bollywood insiders like Farah Khan and Shah Rukh Khan could have gotten away with a film that pokes so much fun at Bollywood.

Aside from identifying and checking off the typical Bollywood elements, the other exciting aspect of the film is to spot references to Bollywood (and even Hollywood) classics. Some of these are more obvious (Karz, Dream Girl) than others (Gone with the Wind, Maine Pyar Kiya, Kaagaz ke phool). I am sure there are many that I missed.

Many of the scenes/dialogues were built into the script as a jab on the film itself – most apparent one to me being the dialogue where a producer in the film being shot in OSO says that he wants the director to have a ‘Manmohan Desai shot’ and not a Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy or Guru Dutt shot. 'Manmohan Desai shot' is what Farah Khan delivers. I loved the self-deprecation that was prevalent through out the film. The credit roll at the end of the film was charming. It was very apt for the film that has junior artistes of the film industry as its protagonists.

The film isn’t without its demerits. But the way the movie has been set-up and packaged, its hard to say if it is a flaw with the film or an intentional drawback left in to be true to the genre.

Go watch the film for some unadulterated fun. It isn’t every day that Bollywood laughs at itself.. much less do it in a way that also pays homage to its cinematic traditions.

Let me know your thoughts on the film by leaving a comment. Also, mention the film references that you were able to notice.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Downfall - An amazing movie

Susmitha and I saw a fascinating German movie called 'Der Untergang' (Downfall) yesterday. This 2004 Best Foreign Language Oscar nominee chronicles the last days of the Third Reich through the eyes of Hitler's secretary Traudl Junge based on her book 'Until the Final hour' and 'Inside Hitler's Bunker' by Joachim Fest .

Though there have been several World War II movies in the past - indeed, WW2 might well be the most filmed 'event' in the Hollywood history - there probably are very few told from the perspective of the Nazis (I understand that even in Germany the Nazi period still evokes painful memories and hence has not been filmed that much.)

The story is told in a straight, linear narrative starting with the hiring of Junge by Hitler. It then quickly moves to Berlin in the Spring of 1945 with Germany in the brink of a catastrophic defeat. The rest of the film focuses almost exclusively on the life in the bunker where Hitler and his most trusted aides, staff and some of their family spend the remaining days of the war.

There are many aspects of the film that stood out for me. For one, it has been shot very realistically - from the claustrophobic bunkers to the sweeping shots on a crumbling city, all picturized in a dull/faded hue reminiscent of the still pictures of that era. Another factor that appealed to me was that the film is not preachy at all. It does not take sides. It is neither sympathetic to the Nazis nor is it critical of them. The film has been very consciously shot as a human story of what the people of Berlin went through in April 1945 as the Red Army was closing in.

There are several unforgettable scenes in the film. The one that tops them all is a heart-stopping sequence of the killing of her small children by Magda Goebbels. Mrs Goebbels does not want to have her children grow up in a 'world without Nazism' and decides to kill them before ending her life. The last part of the film has several such poignant sequences - from the heroic work of doctors in the bunker to the systematic ways of disposing dead SS officers bodies after they have committed suicide etc.

Bruno Ganz gives a tour-de-force performance as Hitler. He manages to - for me at least - humanize one of the most despicable men in history. Ganz manages to show Hitlers caring side (in the scene where he is having dinner with his cook and secretaries) and his menacing side (barking orders to his generals, his fits of rage over the lost cause etc) with equal aplomb.

I would strongly recommend this interesting film. If nothing else, it sheds light on a momentous time in the recent history, and for once tells the story from the vanquished's vantage point.

Monday, June 25, 2007

8 Random Facts about me

I got tagged to write a post about 8 random facts about me by Archana Raghuram, apparently the only visitor to my fledgling blog. I was supposed to do this in 8 hours but hope it is okay that I did this at all, given how irregular I'm with updating my blog. So here we go ...
  1. The name given to me in Namboodiri tradition (by whispering in my ears when I was an infant) is Huthashanan - the name this blog's URL bears. This was the name of my grandfather, and supposedly means fire. My dad wanted my 'official' name to be a bit more modern (for the year 1975) but have a similar meaning - hence Arun, which is a synonym for Sun.
  2. I love mafia movies/TV shows, something that started from my fascination for Coppola's Godfather. I have seen Godfather countless times and never miss a chance to see it whenever it is on TV.
  3. I got initiated to non-academic books rather late in life - only from age of 15 or so. When some of my classmates were reading heavier fare , I was starting off with Enid Blyton. That might explain my poor language skills.
  4. I have been an atheist for the last 10 years or so. But I just could not refuse my parents when they wanted to have my wedding in the traditional Namboodiri way. I still can't believe that I sat through the function doing things I had absolutely no belief in.
  5. I absolutely dread putting on weight. Nothing bothers me more than people telling me that I have gained some pounds.
  6. I'm very shy and introverted. I will go to any lengths to avoid being in a large group or speaking in front of an audience. This has posed many problems at work, especially in my current role which involves a lot of verbal communication. It used to be a lot worse when I was younger. Not only would I not visit those I was not very comfortable with, I would go out of the house when strangers came to our home and not return until they had left.
  7. I was voted most eligible bachelor in my Engg. class. My wife is sick of me reminding her about this all the time :-)
  8. I have a great fascination for all things Punjabi - their exuberant culture, their passion, the sikh religion, cuisine, their patriotism (sikhs are in disproportionately large number in the Indian Army than their % of population).
I tag the following to continue the meme.

Vasudevan (Kuttan) - My brother-in-law and a person I admire a lot for being many things I am not - outgoing, traditional in his solid foundation of Kerala/Namboodiri culture yet being modern in many other respects.

The rules laid down by the originator of the meme are as follows
  1. Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
  2. People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.
  3. At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment and tell them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
  4. If you fail to do this within eight hours, you will not reach Third Series or attain your most precious goals for at least two more lifetimes.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Veganism - Diet that kills?

There have been a spate of reports lately of Vegan parents in Atlanta, GA being charged with murder for the death of their new born who they had tried raising as Vegan. This was very disturbing when I first read this. The media has been sensationalizing the case with headlines like 'Death by Veganism' (in recent NYTimes Op-ed) and seem to be pointing the finger at the Vegan movement as a whole.

Was it really Vegan diet that caused the baby's death, or were there other factors. Even if it was Vegan diet that really caused the death, is it right to charge the parents of murder.

Reading through the articles on this story on the web, it does not appear that the baby died simply because of Vegan diet. There seems to be a larger case of neglect. The baby was born in a bathtub, the baby was never taken to a hospital by its parents for the fear of the hospital being 'infested with germs'. And most importantly, the baby seems to have been under-fed. Insufficient diet seems to be the problem here rather than Vegan diet. Its not a case of 'Vegan' parents causing their baby's death, instead 'stupid' parents leading to their baby's demise.

Now this brings to the other concern I have with the story - that of the harsh verdict. Since when is stupidity a capital crime. The first-time parents in this case clearly were negligent & irresponsible but do they deserve to spend the rest of the life in prison for ignorance? They clearly were not intending to cause harm to their child and were doing what they felt was best for the kid.

One can extend this verdict to sentence low-income parents whose children may die of malnourishment. This logic if applied in many of the third world nations will see their prisons swell with 'poor' parents. A not so extreme extrapoloation of this verdict would be in the case of children who grow up as religious fanatics. Will parents be charged for raising their children with strict religious dogma if the child grows up to be an extremist and hurts others!! One can make a case that the parents should have known better.

The Atlanta verdict is clearly a flawed one and hope it is overturned soon.

For another post ...
There seem to be articles online, not very objective going by the source, indicating that Vegan diet is fine for babies of all ages. But is it really the case. For that matter, is it even good for adults. Veganism is a relatively new way of life and we don't have enough information to judge long-term impacts of such a diet.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Learning to walk

OK.. so this is it. I finally have created a blog. This was not as hard as I thought. Now the tough part would be to maintain this and to write posts regularly that interest others.

Let me start off with some musings on the need for blogs. Why has it become so popular? Is it that sharing ones thoughts with the world is a deeply held desire for so many people. Or is it to show-off your knowledge/ideas? Or is it just to see your thoughts published on a web-page? I wonder how many blogs just fall by the wayside after just a couple of posts (I should find that out).. vast majority of them would be my guess. Most people just want to get on the bandwagon and lose stream after just a few posts. Most are average joes without having a lot of interesting ideas to share. I hope this blog survives to have a few more posts than just a couple.

I don't think the blog is going to have a theme. It seems hard enough to think of ideas to write about that are random, let alone be able to do that for a focused theme/topic. So thats it.. my first post. It sure is not going to set the blogosphere alight. But I had to start somewhere, sometime.