Vantage point

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Paris je t'aime: For Wankerrrrs!

Been wanting to make this post for a while now. Randomly remembered it today. And well, it needs to be said. So here goes.

Listen, I love esoteric, interpretive, experimental, intellectual, allegorical, metaphorical, onomatopoeical, and generally "evolved" movies as much as the next guy. But really, Paris, je t'aime? Totally a movie for wankers. An elaborate multi-starring, multi-directing exercise in wanking that people mostly make ooh-aah sounds about to not be banished from the smart people's corner. Sure, conceptually the movie sounds like a good idea. But have you tried to sit through it? And you have been able to? You enjoyed it? And you actually liked it? Liked it enough to recommend it to others without fear of thee being struck down upon with great vengeance and furious anger? Liked enough to actually look forward to New York, I Love You and watch it too? Seriously? Really? Honestly?

Well, good for you!

I could not sit through the damn thing. I do not have the requisite element of masochism in my psyche to sit through it. And whenever I hear people rave about it, I am reminded of the people appreciating the gourmet cooking and fine wine in this segment of Penn and Teller's Bullshit or even funnier, appreciating premium water in this segment.

Obama: Clingy, Clueless, or Shrewd?

Like I have blogged before, I don't like the Democrats' healthcare bill. I don't like the public option or expansion of medicare. So I cheer every delay in passing the bill.

But I do like Obama. He is right on more things than he is wrong. well, at least he was on the campaign. And I still think he is the best President the country can realistically have. So I hold my nose while he wallows in the healthcare mess, hope that they get done with it soon, and just friggin' move on to other stuff. Like Don't Ask Don't Tell, which even Admiral Mullen says we should repeal. Or actually closing Gitmo. Just do whatever you want to with healthcare and move on, dude.

So I feel a combination of amusement and annoyance at how pathetically clingy and needy he is acting towards the Republicans in this healthcare debate, under the name of bipartisanship. It's been happening for over a year. They have steadfastly refused any sort of compromise. And yet he keeps trying to court them and change their minds. Like Bill Maher frequently jokes about this, "Barry, they're just not that into you!"

The last 14 months have seemed oddly like the movie Groundhog Day. Dems propose something. Republicans whip up fear. Senate leadership and White House bend over backwards and sacrifice another point, chanting "bipartisanship". Republicans still say no. Blue dog dems get scared. There's talk of revamping the bill, taking stuff out. Stuff gets taken out. Dems propose. Republicans whip up fear. Obama-Reid talk about compromise. Blue dogs get scared..... and so on. I bet reporters love all this, because they can just recycle most of their reports again and again.

So after the elaborate drama that was the White House Healthcare Summit; drama that made good TV, but in terms of impact was meaningless, I thought fine, at least now we're done. Now we know. A compromise is impossible. Now the Democrats, who have a majority in both houses, will pass the bill, using reconciliation, and in the worst case scenario of a 50-50 senate split, using Biden's vote (remember, Cheney cast the tie-breaking vote 8 times!). It might make things better, or worse, or whatever, but at least we won't spend more than the 14 months we've already spent on it.

So imagine how loud my groan was when I read this headline - Obama: Compromise on health if GOP is serious

Duuuude!!!! Do you have Jerry's mother from the sitcom Seinfeld saying to you every hour - "How can anyone not like you?" I doubt even Gandhi had the sort of confidence you do about changing the minds of your opponents. I can understand this approach at the beginning, but even 14 months after the whole drama has gone on? What the hell?

Like a spoilt teenager who has trouble dealing with the fact that a girl he loves actually does not and never will love him back, Obama is really reaching. Just like the teenager, who misreads a polite smile from the girl as a signal that she is falling for him, Obama takes any slight agreement with a Republican as a sign that he is getting their votes. He looked so thrilled at the summit when Tom Coburn put forth some ideas he agreed with. Ideas that frankly were not as great or earth-shattering as Obama made them out to be, and should already have been in the bill. But Obama praises them anyway. And immediately he concludes - Coburn hearts me!

Obama plans to unveil an updated proposal this coming week, likely on Wednesday, according to press secretary Robert Gibbs. Gibbs suggested it would include concepts put forward by Republicans at the summit. One Republican who was there, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., was contacted Friday by the White House and asked to submit details of suggestions he made on rooting out waste and fraud from the medical system, Coburn's spokesman said.

Sweet. So is Coburn putting out for Barry? Will a bipartisan love affair bloom from the marshes of the healthcare debate? Will Obama-Coburn be the new McCain-Lieberman? What do you think?

Spokesman John Hart said that Coburn views Obama's legislation as a government takeover and would not be able to support it even if it's changed to include some of his proposals.


Here's the thing. Obama could tell the Republicans to write the bill from start finish. And they still won't vote for it. Why would they? They need the bill to fail. Once it fails, it can be used as a huge campaign tool for the 2010 midterms and even the 2012 Presidential elections. I doubt they thought the bill's debate would go beyond 2009. Now we are almost into the 3rd month of 2010, and the Democrats are still just thinking about reconciliation, instead of ramming it through asap.

This delay has been a bonus for the Republicans. They know that all they need to do is stall, stall, stall. Whip up public sentiment. Make the polls skew even more heavily against the bill. That way, they scare the blue dogs. And every day that we move closer to November, the chances of the blue dogs voting for the bill reduce significantly. Killing this bill seemed like an unrealistic although ambitious goal in 2009. Now it seems very likely. Especially since even now, Obama is talking about compromise, and contacting the GOP to ask what to include in the bill.

Obama is being really naive. he?

The man is intelligent. He is a Chicago politician after all. Surely, he is not stupid enough to actually believe the GOP is serious about compromise, or even one of them will vote for the bill?

So here's my theory. The original bill that Obama wanted, he believed it would work. But the bill has been watered down so much already, that Obama knows that this version is bad. It will make things worse, not better. It will be tough to pay for. He will HAVE TO raise taxes. It will get rolled out over the next few years, get criticized as ineffective, and hurt his chances for re-election in 2012. And maybe even afterward. He hates the possibility of what this mutated version of healthcare reform could do to the rest of his Presidency, and even his legacy.

So, he actually WANTS the bill to die. Yes, killing the bill will be disastrous for the Dems in the midterm. But sacrificing some seats in both houses is a price he's gladly pay for making 2012 But by the time 2012 rolls around, the people will have forgotten all about healthcare. The economy is recovering already. 2012, barring the Mayan apocalypse, is likely to be way better than 2008 in terms of economic growth, income, consumer confidence, and even unemployment. Just like Clinton won re-election easily despite his healthcare debacle in 1994, because the country was in a lot better shape in 1996 than in 1992.

So he is joining in with the Republicans to stall, stall, stall. By sounding all earnest about bipartisanship and committed to passing healthcare. Bipartisanship, even 14 months after the opponents say capital-N-to-the-capital-O. The debate stretches till summer, when everyone goes on break. Then fall, when campaigning starts. And getting even one of blue dogs to vote for the bill with the election around the corner will be impossible.

The bill will die. Dems will lose big. Obama moves on. In 2012, he can attack the Republicans for being the party of NO and killing healthcare. And win re-election.

I know. It's a bit out there. But plausible.

Friday, February 26, 2010


After Sachin got his historic double century in the Gwalior ODI, I tweeted how I was a wee bit sad because I had my heart set on Sehwag scaling that summit first. Obviously, I got hammered by others, and maybe rightly so. But my expectation, much like the great Prem Panicker's, that Sehwag will be the one, shows how doubly special Tendulkar's achievement is. How he was, is an remains a peerless cricketing giant, the likes of whom never did and never will walk the earth again.

A couple of years back, everyone started writing off Tendulkar. Starting speculating about his retirement. The end was nigh, we all said. And yet, in the last 18 months or so, Sachin has made us eat our words, digest them, crap them out, and eat them again. Saying he is in the "form of his life" is an understatement. It is not just that he is middling most balls, reading the bowlers, finding the gaps, and proving difficult to dismiss. It's something more. It's like he has reached that astral plane where he is at one with everything around him on the cricketing field.

A couple of years back, some flaws were seen creeping into his game. The incoming length delivery was proving to be fatal with alarming regularity. Left arm spinners bowling over the wicket had always been an irritant, but was turning into an Achilles heel. And the footwork, usually so perfect from the word go, seemed to take a while to get in place, bringing him down to Ponting's level. A lot of these flaws seemed to stem from slowing reflexes and growing age. He is in his late 30s, after all.

And yet he found enough reserves of self-belief to iron out these kinks, and raise his game to a level where he seemed like an even compacter version of the old Sachin, the one who had no weaknesses. The turnaround, IMHO, started in the Sri Lanka series in 2008. That might sound ridiculous, given that a) he never reached 50 in that series, and more importantly, b) in the preceding tour of Australia, he scored beautiful centuries in tests as well as ODIs, so if anything, that's where the turnaround began.

Well, not quite. The Australians were not at their best. Anyone who saw the series will agree that Sachin was lucky in that series to not get tested too much on his flaws. Not to take anything away from his centuries, but they were par for the course, not really eagles or albatrosses. The Sri Lanka series on the other hand, is where his combative rediscovering old self seemed to emerge. Yes, he was unlucky enough to get dismissed quickly. But he just looked so much more relaxed, compact, and self-assured. The flaws seemed to have disappeared. The old Sachin seemed to be returning.

Over the next 18 months, he showed that it wasn't the old Sachin, but a totally new Sachin. In 16 test matches, he scored 8 centuries, with 7 of them coming in wins. That's a phenomenal rate for anyone at any age, forget a man who has been playing cricket for 2 decades.

In ODIs, he has been especially lethal, scripting epic after epic. The 200 seemed almost certain at Christchurch where he made a breathtaking 166 off 133 balls, but then sadly had to retire hurt with five overs to go. Who can forget the 175 where he almost single-handedly brought the Aussies to their knees. And then there was this innings. Which seemed like part of a very natural progression. Adjectives fail me when describing how totally "complete" the innings was, and would have been even if he had not reached 200 or even crossed 194. No edges, no chances, no slashes. And this was no piddly second string side he was taking on. And yet, he hammered each and every bowler. Towards the end, realizing that he was cramping, he kept taking singles and giving the strike to Dhoni, instead of defending and waiting for a four ball.

When he finally reached the 200, it almost seemed anti-climactic. Because it seemed like it had been coming for a while. It seemed almost natural, almost obvious that Sachin would reach 200.

What a man!

My Preacher Cast

I've been re-reading one of my favorites Preacher. As I mentioned before, there have been several false starts over the years about its screen adaptation. The most serious attempt seemed to be by HBO, but the network pulled the plug saying it was too dark and religiously controversial. Pussies!

It would have to be a TV show. There's no way a 2-3 hour movie can do justice to all the material. So I got thinking about the dream cast for a TV adaptation. Here's my line-up.

Rev. Jesse Custer i.e. the Preacher - I have been thinking about this casting on and off for years. And I never found anyone close enough. The guy has to have a southern accent, or more specifically, a Texan drawl. So the first name that comes to mind is Matthew Mcconnaughey. Blech. He seems too... I don't know...dumb..pretentious....uni-dimensional to play such a complex role. James McAvoy was the next name that came to mind, if one were to ignore the accent. But then I got it! Maybe it's my final season LOST obsession. But even non-LOST-ies should agree that Sawyer from LOST, Josh Holloway has the perfect personality, attitude, and the accent to play Jesse. He is blond while Jesse in the comic has dark hair, but I am sure that is not a big deal. I can visualize Holloway as a drunk Reverend in the bar in Annville insulting anyone and everyone. I can see him be helpless when his Grandma has him by the balls. And I can see him riffing with Cassidy and romancing Tulip. Yup. Put it down with a permanent marker - Josh Holloway.

Tulip O'Hare - My favorite female character from comics. Okay, 2nd favorite. Sandman's Death can not be beat. But Tulip is the perfect human female character. Hot, sassy, smart, troubled, vulnerable, and has been handling guns since she was a kid. My first choice, Brittany Murphy, died recently. Amy Smart and Gillian Jacobs look the part, but haven't demonstarted the potential for convincing bad-assery. A friend suggested Kristen Stewart, but having stayed away from Twilight movies, I can't be sure. I was almost about to go with the lazy choice Natasha Henstridge, when I looked at my Starbucks coffee cup and thought - Starbuck! OK, I lie, I wasn't drinking Starbucks. But wouldn't Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, and a current regular on (groan!) 24, Katee Sackhoff be just perfect as Tulip? Hot, blonde, wise-ass, bad-ass, and with ample experience of wielding a gun.

'Proinsias' Cassidy - This one seemed like it would be tough. A slim and rugged Irish vampire. Luckily, he acts nothing like stuck-up self-aware stereotypical vampires, so I could afford to once again give a miss to Twilight. So I decided to go through a mental checklist of all Irish actors I could think of. And I nailed it at the first one. Colin Farrell. Perfect. Any debate?

The Saint of Killers - This was the easiest of the lot. I think I remember even Garth Ennis saying who he visualized while writing the character. Clint Eastwood (needs no IMDB hyperlinking). Too old, you say? Have you seen Gran Torino? But if you must, feel free to cast Chuck Norris instead. :P

Herr Starr - So far I have stayed true to ethnic origins when making the picks, so I am going to look only at Germans for this role. Christoph Waltz who blew people away in Inglourious Basterds would seems like the obvious, if lazy choice. But I don't think he's a good fit. So...umm...what other German actors do I know? Think German movies you have seen. Goodbye Lenin. Daniel Burhl? Hahh. The Lives of Others? Yes! Ulrich Muhe. Fuck! He died too, didn't he? Why is it that every time I want to cast Preacher roles, my first choices die? The other Ulrich? From Downfall? Ulrich Matthes? Yes. Actually, YES! He even has the..well...unusual face for it. Done. Shave his head, block an eye, make him Starr.

And finally,

Arseface - I am going to be just wickedly mean and cast Shia Lebouf. I like the guy. He'd actually be my (and anyone else's) first and only choice for Yorrick if I started casting for Y: The Last Man. But there's something insanely vicarious about the idea of covering his face with arse-like make-up, making him drool, and gurgle his words.

And that is my main cast for Preacher. Haven't given too much thought to the marginal characters yet. But off the top of my head, Amy Adams as Featherstone. Chris Cooper as Hugo Root. Billy Bob Thornton as Jody. Chloris Leachman as Jesse's Grandma.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Newest Cricketing Trope

When people discuss cricket, there are always a few tropes and themes that get ruminated often. Questions that convey the impression of being smart, incisive, and counter-intuitive, allowing people who ask them, and answer them, to feel they are more intelligent than the average cricket fan.

The latest such trope is - Do we (India) really deserve to be #1 in tests? I mean REALLY, do we deserve it?

Predictable arguments are put forth. Our bowling is weak. We haven't beaten South Africa or Australia or even Sri Lanka in away series. The big three are close to retirement. Bla and bla bla.

This question would make sense if cricket rankings were decided based on subjective scores, like the BCS college football rankings in the US are. But they are not. ICC rankings are arrived on, based on objective facts, not opinion polls. They have been for years, even when Australia were #1 by a huge margin. And when South Africa took the throne for a short while. And then lost it a series later.

So India is #1 because, well, we are #1 according to the ICC ranking methodology. And to that extent, the question of whether we "deserve" to be #1 is moot, and frankly, quite silly.

The real underlying question seems to be - are we a dominant side that can beat most teams anywhere? No, we are not. But then, neither is any other team. Australia and Sri Lanka got their asses whipped in India. South Africa barely managed to draw with England at home, and could not shut us out in the recent series. In fact, apart from the West Indies in the 80s and the Australians in the early noughties, no team in the history of test cricket has been unquestionably dominant (Bradman's invincibles don't count, because they had only one serious opponent). And unless some team unearths 2-3 once-in-a-century type bowlers, such dominance looks very unlikely.

So yes, we deserve to be #1. And whoever takes the spot from us will deserve it when they do. And we will again, if we win it back. And so on and so forth.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Sena SRK Drama

Maybe I am getting too old and cynical, but I am thoroughly disgusted by the two sides as well as their supporters in this Sena-SRK drama. And it is little more than drama.

In one corner, there is Shah Rukh Khan, who has been shedding crocodile tears about Pakistanis getting ignored in the IPL auction. Oh, if only he owned an IPL team, right? The rare occasion that the media has sought to ask him tough questions about why KKR didn't bid for any players, he has given wishy-washy answers and has more or less packed the buck to "dada's strategy".

In the other corner, we have the Shiv Sena, with their electoral fortunes and their relevance eroding heavily. Taking a swing at anyone and everyone, and continuing to pull a shekhchilli by sawing off the branch they are sitting on. So SRK was an ideal target.

Both parties jumped into the pit and have been going at it. Sena is targeting SRK's latest film with typical made-for-media faux-angry attacks on theatres screening the movie. SRK is making conciliatory noises but still sticking to his guns. And both sides benefit. The movie gets a lot of publicity that money couldn't buy. The Sena gets the sort of whipped up sentiments that the MNS has been denying it of late.

I am not saying this is all a "publicity stunt" that SRK orchestrated. But much like the Newark incident, once it happened, he would be an idiot not to extract full mileage out of it. And he is no idiot. It's the same with Shiv Sena. They lambast people like its a bodily function. This one stuck and caught the attention of the media. So they are taking advantage.

The outcome will be beneficial to both sides. SRK's film will get a great opening. The Sena will get visibility and coverage. Both sides will returns to their corners with a win each under their belt.

What has really amused me is the cheerleading for both sides, on the internet and otherwise. Those who support the Sena are peddling the same old tired and fallacious xenophobic arguments. Arguments that can only be won by resorting to raising your voice or resorting to violence.

And those sticking up for SRK as if he is some incarnation of Aung Saan Su Kyi are waddling in lazy primary-school-debate level argumentation. Equating the Shiv Sena to Taliban, a lazy argument yours truly has been guilty of pushing in the past too. Sliding down the slippery slope of attacking the Sena to attacking Marathi people and the Marathi language. And the silliest of the lot - exhorting others to buy tickets to SRK's film as some sort of a sign of defiance.

This is the reason our civil liberties keep getting eroded by Shiv Sena and the likes. This is our idea of civil disobedience - buying a movie ticket. Or maybe starting an online petition. Or even better, a hashtag on twitter. We get played like sheep by both sides, even as they build up their bank balances and political capital.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Drama-Mystery TV shows and such

A lot of people have been recommending the (21st century not the 70s) Battlestar Galactica to me for a while. A lot of the same people who recommended LOST for a while. I bit into LOST in the 5th season and am hooked as you all know.

So, over the last few days, when I had some free time after submitting 2 papers, I gave it a shot. Went till the middle of the 2nd season before getting really bored. Maybe it was hyped up by its evangelists to me too much, so fell short of the raised expectations. Or maybe it just didn't match my tastes.

Whatever the reason, in my mind, BSG #FAIL. It has been abandoned. I don't care if they found "Earth", if what they thought was "Earth" was actually "Earth", or whether the series is in the distant past or the distant future, or whatever. I have well-left it.

Watched some episodes of ABC's new drama FlashForward, which has a lot of familiar faces - Joseph "Shakespeare in Love" Fiennes, John "Harold Lee" Cho, and Jack "Steve from Coupling" Davenport being the most prominent. Good start so far. Haven't read the original book. But the LOST admiration is obvious, with covert (stylistic) as well as overt (a billboard for Oceanic air) tributes.

Also, can't help but notice the similarities to LOST writer Biran K Vaughan's Y: The Last Man, with the mysterious global catastrophe and all. Not surprising, since the show's co-creator is David S. Goyer, who last I heard was also involved in the film adaptation of Y. Y would make a way better TV series than a film though.

Of course, the ultimate TV series material is Preacher, which HBO flirted with and then abandoned. Now apparently Sam Mendes is going to direct a film adaptation. But considering how many false starts the Preacher screen adaptation project has had, I ain't holding my breath.

But back to the big one. LOST. Next episode in 28 hours and 25 minutes. Will be watched, with the constant by my side.

Dare we all dream the Tamil Dream?

Given that one updates this blog rather sporadically these days, it is perhaps ill-advised to write a post that may well be moot by 9:45 a.m. IST tomorrow. But well, here goes.

Almost a decade back, in Calcutta, two men were given an opportunity to grab glory by its balls. Two men who had been seen as "promising" for several years, but whose careers had meandered of late. VVS Laxman had been in and out of the team, oscillating up and down the order, making decent contributions, but nowhere close to the phenomenal run he was having in domestic cricket. There were dreaded comparisons with the most notable occupant of the domestic-test purgatory - Ajay Sharma. Rahul Dravid had started off his career very well, scoring big hundreds in tough conditions in South Africa and New Zealand, but for a couple of years it seemed like the opposition had him figured out. A disastrous tour of Australia, was followed by a bad home series against SA, and in the first test against Australia at Bombay, he got starts but looked ungainly and was dismissed easily. We all know how those two men responded to the spectre of innings defeat after being made to follow-on on a generally placid pitch by the best bowling attack in the world.

The two Tamilians in the team that is in trouble in Nagpur are in some ways analogous to RSD and VVS. Badri, much like VVS in those days, is a domestic giant. Vijay is technically compact, much like RSD. And they now shoulder, along with the omnipresent Tendulkar, the responsibility to make something out of this follow-on. Most of the Tams I know have been crowing about Badri for ages now. It will be a dream come true for Madras if he steps up, like VVS did and follows up a first innings half-century with a big knock that saves and who knows, maybe even wins the match.

Badri's supporters don't talk about his impeccable technique or his attractive stroke-making. Rather, they talk about his attitude, approach, application, and mental strength. Making him sound like a potential Steve Waugh. And his domestic career certainly shows many such instances, the most recent, something a Mumbai fan like me can never forget - a dogged 250 taking TN from 50/5 to 501. Wouldn't it be great if he replicated something like that tomorrow? Vijay, who impressed with his fluent and level-headed approach in the couple of test calls he got, was unlucky to get a Steyn special in the first innings. But in the second innings so far, he has looked composed and untroubled.

So big centuries from both these guys, pushing India to a safe position and guarding the #1 spot as well as Dhoni's unbeaten streak for at least another week, will be the ultimate Tamilian cricketing dream. It will cement their positions in the test team. And us Mumbai fans, having begrudgingly accepted Bangalore's batting talent pool since the 70s and Delhi's newfound brilliance in the last few years, will have to make way for another metro - Madras, to come and strut around. I think we can live with that. :)

There is of course the man still there - Sachin Tendulkar. Somehow, I get a bad feeling about him for tomorrow. I am still waiting for the definitively Tendulkar-owned test. And no, I don't count the Chennai England win as being "owned" by him. Dravid's owned a test, Laxman's owned one, Sehwag has owned at least 4 even by the most stringent standards. Heck, even Gambhir has owned one - the Napier draw. Will Sachin step up and own this?

And of course, there's Dhoni. Whose failure in the first innings was an aberration for his tendency in the last 2-3 years to step up and contribute when most needed. He should consider himself "due" tomorrow. Especially since his unbeaten streak as test captain is at stake.

We'll see.

Like I said at the outset, all this could be moot by 9:45 a.m. tomorrow if Steyn and Morkel pick up a couple of early wickets. But till then, let's dream the dream.