Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I must say that I never thought I would live to see the day. The day that someone who is not a white male gets elected as the President of the United States of America. Not that it was impossible, as recent events have obviously shown, but until a few months ago it seemed highly improbable. History was against it. The divisions within this country seemed to have increased if anything over the last couple of decades and for someone to transcend a contentious issue like race seemed like an impossibility. Yet, here Barack Obama stands, the 44th President-elect of the United States of America! And winning with a landslide (338-156) at that!

While this election (both the lead-up and the actual result) includes many firsts it also marks a change for the Democrats – winning the presidency and gaining a significant majority in Congress. This hasn’t happened since the first term of Bill Clinton’s presidency and that lasted for only a short two years. So, this could be either an incredible opportunity to bring about positive “change,” or one to lose your way in partisanship. This is a fine line the new President will have to walk.

In my opinion, some of the best decisions for a country (and society in general) have happened when the legislature and the executive are perhaps from opposite sides of the aisle. When you can put aside your pet projects rooted in ideology to meet with, and gain consensus from the other side then that process maintains a critical balance in society. Traditionally when both sides are aligned to the same ideology and level heads give way to emotion then it is possible for the government to push through legislation that could alienate a significant portion of the populace and perhaps cause long-term harm. Any doubts and one should look back to 2000-2004 period to study the reasons why this country is stuck in what seems like a never-ending war in Iraq.

Enough has been said about the challenges that the President-elect will face in office. Many campaign promises and pet projects may have to be put aside on account of the bailout, the two seemingly endless wars, etc. Perhaps the comforting thought that his party holds close to an absolute chokehold in the Congress might help in dealing with these problems. But, he must ensure that power is not abused.

Obama’s ascendancy to the White House can also help silence many critics of the US. People who complain that the Americans play the role of a big bully and pick on the little guy may have to hold their tongues, at least for a while. This election shows that the little guy, an outsider, an African-American, the son of an immigrant, can rise to the highest office in the land. Perhaps this might mean that the new President starts with some grudging respect and good-will from his peers around the world – something that he should milk to the fullest extent to improve the approval ratings for the US in the eyes of the world.

But the bottom-line is that we live in historic times and one expects that Obama goes down in history for his presidential term(s) and governance rather than for his election!


Thursday, October 16, 2008


Well, this is not an article about the political debate that was on tonight, but it does have implications in that sphere as well. This is about “debate” in the generic sense – a discussion when two or more entities/people/parties disagree on a certain topic and decide to talk about it.

Seems like the majority of discussions (debates, if you will) fall into one of two categories:

1. politically correct, staid, excessively “civil”, no trace of passion

2. “your mother is a $!*&# because you don’t agree with me”

Now [1] tends to a bit boring because people are afraid to articulate their true thoughts/emotions for fear of being misjudged or labeled the wrong way. The second, while it makes for interesting television, evokes the wrong set of sentiments. How often does a discussion quickly step out of bounds because one or both parties got carried away with an unnecessary comment or judgment call?

Now, neither of these two extremes achieves the true purpose of the debate – understanding the other side(s) and achieving consensus. The first, as I mentioned, is overly civil and the true reasons and thoughts of the parties involved are not known. The whole affair is put up and made for “appearing” to do the right thing. So the public face is quite different from the private one and hence it is extremely unlikely that people will put aside their prejudices and beliefs for such a farcical  process to yield results.

The problem with the second one is obvious – name-calling and personal insults do not go hand in hand with understanding, compromise or consensus. Once this route has opened up there is pretty much no going back. The statement above (about one’s mother) is akin to the corollary in Godwin’s law; once someone likens you to a Nazi/Hitler or insults your mother, then every statement that you made before, no matter how well constructed or how logically or fundamentally correct, is open to question and shaded grey. If you really believe in a cause/opinion, then the best way for someone to belittle it is to let you (yes, you, who might be the most fervent proponent of the viewpoint) hang yourself with statements such as these. Agreed that it is a logical fallacy. Just because you likened someone to Hitler doesn’t mean that the polar bears are not dying! But, unfortunately, you have handed your opponent(s) the leisure to ignore everything (yes, that’s right everything) you have ever said in that discussion. The lack of a platform to present your views or the possibility that you are not taken seriously enough is potentially more dangerous to your “cause”.

If you are thinking, “I don’t do that.” I never insult anyone that way. Let me put this across to you – even if you pass of what you think is a trivial insult (“what an idiot!”) or make a silly sarcastic comment with negative connotations (“your points of view are certainly ‘interesting’ ”), you are still guilty of taking the second path! This is because, to someone in the middle of passionately expressing their point of view or defending their faith, so as to speak, there is nothing worse than mockery, no matter how subtle. From then on, it is a free-for-all and matters can only get worse, because every exchange drags the quality of the arguments lower until [2] (or something very close) is achieved.

Is there no middle ground? Can we not have a passionate debate without falling into the gutter? How’s this as a third option:

3. each party will passionately vocalize their point(s) of view, listen to the others, bring up facts, arguments and opinions that counter the expressed views and then allow the other side to do the same. A bit like a sparring match.

Don’t get me wrong though – I’m not talking about a “clinical” approach where someone makes a point and then the other spends 5 minutes thinking about it and then responding with “logical fallacy” arguments and what not. That would approach method [1] from above and would end up becoming boring, both, to the participants and to the viewers, if any. Be passionate, go on record with those contentious thoughts and opinions, fervently argue against the points made by the opposition, all without resorting to calling into question the judgment of the other side. They have their reasons for picking a particular side (or staying impartial which is actually harder that you can imagine) and there is no reason to question their motives for picking that side or insulting them for doing so. The question I have is – so what if they don’t agree with you? Consider it time well spent, shake on it and walk off. No harm done. You don’t ever have to have a discussion with them ever again on that or any other topic if you think that you will never agree with them. Perhaps in time, they will come to realize that your point of view is correct and may start to agree with you. If you had chosen method [2] then there is very little scope that this could happen. All it takes someone who is a partial or even true believer to harden his stance, is to be belittled or insulted for holding that opinion.

Seems like we have lost the ability to have true civilized debates (not the ones mentioned in [1]) in the modern world. Television and the large propagation of media (traditional and otherwise) might be pushing people to pick [1] or [2]. The former because anything can be taken out of context and misrepresented and the latter because it sells more newspapers and increases television ratings. What must the ordinary man on the street (“Joe Plumber”) think and learn when he sees his peers, his administrators, policy makers, celebrities, commentators and even teachers and educators around him stick to one of these two extreme techniques? Where are the people who could raise a crowd to its feet with passionate speeches and counter-arguments without ever insulting the other party? Are they a dying, nay dead, breed?

Here is an interesting note to end on: how often does one see a debate/discussion start with method [1] (or a brief attempt at [3]) and then invariably end up at [2]?


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Graphic Novel Review | "Doctor Who" #1

"Legends tell of the planet Gallifrey, born before the dark time, home of the most powerful beings in the cosmos.

By harnessing the powers of a black hole, they traveled in time. They became benign gods of the universe.

Learned and responsible, they observed the universe, understanding causal effect, and monitoring and protecting the fragile web of time.

But there was a war. A terrible, devastating war, which they were party to...and in one second, Gallifrey, the time lords, a many planets, systems, and galaxies were consumed. Gone forever as the universe itself collapsed. "

What would you do if you were the only survivor of this great race of Time Lords from Gallifrey? What if you were The Doctor - one who can instill fear, respect, love and admiration all at once? What would you do to carry on your heritage and protect the time stream from the many demons out there?

Go on a hunt for the best chocolate milkshake in the known cosmos, that's what!

With the success of the BBC television series, Doctor Who is back in business - albeit in the color panels of a graphic novel series from IDW publishing. This series follows the escapades of the 10th doctor and his companion, the Brit Martha Jones, in the "Time and Relative Dimension in Space" (TARDIS) vehicle shaped like a London police box.

The storytelling and art are typical - tongue-in-cheek humour interspersed with some interesting gadgets, trans-dimensional villains, and of course the really tough choices: "Dark or Milk?", "Belgian or Swiss?" - milkshakes that is.

Not everything is fun and milky joy for the Doctor and his companion of course - they must face off against a villain, Sycorax, intent of collecting the Doctor to use him as prey for Sycorax's clients who like to hunt species on the verge of extinction. Sycorax himself is the paradigm of elegance, exuding class with menace, all the while mouthing lines such as, "Sycorax strong, humans weak, that is why we rock!"

This new graphic novel adaptation of the classic Doctor Who series keeps the spirit of the original television series and books alive. It has enough gadgetry, humour and thrill to keep us involved. The book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger in London. While this was the first of the series, I would definitely love to get my hands on the remaining books.


Graphic Novel Review | "Therefore Repent" by Jim Munroe and Salgood Sam

"The Rapture is the name given to a future event in which Jesus Christ will descend from Heaven,"

What if the rapture went from being mythology to reality? So if you were living a "saintly" life as deemed by God, you would be led into heaven by the Son of God himself. If the rapture event came to pass, and if you were one of the folks left behind, how would you feel? Would you feel like a complete schmuck for either not believing in Christianity, or worse, being a Christian and not living a "saintly" life?

"accompanied by the spirits of all the saints of God, both from the pre-incarnation period and after, who have passed on prior to this event,"

"Therefore Repent", released in the United States by IDW publishing, is set in such a world - in a time after the Rapture has taken place. Those that remain, either were not "invited" to join in, chose to remain, or worse, could not get outdoors in time to be drawn up into heaven! People left behind either spend their time in "repenting" and trying to lead good lives so that they are part of the rapture the next time around, or just watching the world go to hell.

"and then the bodily remains of these saints are transported from the Earth to meet the Lord and be rejoined with their corresponding spirits in the air."

Before you go, "not another one of those morality tales telling us that we should live good lives for the promise of heaven, etc." read on a bit. Matters are not as they seem and there is more to the rapture event than meets the eye. Munroe and Sam have some sharp wit running through the story, and particularly towards the end, where everything is revealed. They are able to twist a morality tale into one with sharp humor and witty undertones. Along the way the story takes somewhat weird turns, such as talking dogs, ravens, third eyes, commando angels, and a real kinky method for email transmissions.

"Immediately after this, all Christians alive on the earth are simultaneously transported to meet the Lord and those who have preceded them in the air. "

They all push you towards the climax that will leave you either really laughing your head off, or forcing you to think deep and do some soul searching as regards religion, life, etc. - worse, it could make you do both!

The art is in stark black and white with some great paneling. It brings out the mood for the book depending on what your mood is - dark undertones for a gloomy world, or a representation of the dark humor that is prevalent throughout the book.

" All are transformed into immortal bodies like Jesus' body, often referred to as the "resurrection body".

It is a good read - something that definitely forces a double take on organized religion and also makes for a good laugh. It is interesting that the book starts with a quote from Revelation 2:16:

"Therefore Repent! If you do not, I will come to you soon and fight against them with the sword of my mouth"


Friday, February 29, 2008

In memorium...

...for Netscape, which faces its last day (so as to speak) today. How interesting that it has to be Feb 29!

Rest in peace. Your progeny still carry the legacy forward:

Friday, January 11, 2008

Book Review | Graphic Novel "Unbeatable"

Is a nightmare just a dream gone wrong, or does the cause lie somewhere else? What if you wake up in a padded cell and then slip into endless nightmares day after day? Nightmares that don't make sense. Nightmares that have you dying day in and day out. How do you get out of the cycle and try to make sense of what is going on? How do you stop yourself from going insane? Wait a minute...what if you are already insane?

Matthias Wolf's first effort at a Graphic novel titled "Unbeatable" starts off really well. It shows a young man in pain, waking up in a padded cell with no memories of what has transpired. Before he realizes it, he is launched into dream after dream where all he does is fight the most famous warriors in history with a predictable outcome -- his death at their hands.

The book is slick -- well crafted images, great start with the plot unwinding slowly at times but with large leaps and bounds at other times.

He remembers growing up in a small town, his first crush, his mild mannered father who guides him along the various pitfalls of life that only a high-schooler can experience, when things seem to go wrong in seemingly small ways.

His father, the epitome of non-violence breaks loose and unleashes his fury and is then immediately paid a visit by a mysterious person whom he recognizes, but our protagonist has never seen before. A "creature" is helped in his escape from a highly secure facility who then rampages across the countryside and finds our hero's girlfriend as a victim after he has been knocked unconscious. To top it all, he wakes up in a padded cell with no memories and gruesome battles and deaths to follow.

The storytelling and art are great, with styles reminiscent of manga artwork -- somewhat comic, yet deadly serious. The coloring is fantastic - invoking exactly the kind of mood and feelings that the author intended. 

The only problem I had was when the plot unwinds towards the end -- it seems too sudden and too convenient. While there are no doubts in the reader's mind as to what has been happening, perhaps a couple of more pages and panels could have been dedicated to explaining the concept in a more careful manner.

All said and done, this is a great first effort and if there is a sequel (or even other titles from the same group) then I shall definitely like to get my hands on it.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Book Review | Complete Graphic Novel version of Clive Barkers "The Great and Secret Show"

Did you ever get the feeling that there is something other than what seems "real"? A vague feeling of undercurrents in everyday life? That something lies beneath the surface, and yet cannot be seen, heard or touched? What if that something is a source of unimaginable power and yet we cannot know of its existence?

The real scary part -- what if by being at a particular point in time or place you chance upon the existence of this seemingly endless source of power and worse, misery?

Clive Barker is a master of horror. He can weave stories around you while you are busy concentrating on something else -- concentrating on something as dull as a post office clerk working in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere becomes somewhere for Randolph Jaffe the aforementioned post-office clerk. He becomes aware of something called "the art" which can help him gain access to a mystical sea known as "quiddity". To gain access to this source of supposedly infinite power, he calls upon Richard Fletcher to help him. Fletcher, through scientific (or other) means, is able to find a way through to the "art".

Here begins a battle for control of the art -- a battle that calls upon huge resources of power and energy from Jaffe on the one side and Fletcher on the other...a classic good vs evil battle.

But, is that what this book is all about? Does it come down to that overabused concept of good vs evil?

The answer: doesn't everything come down to that quintessential question? Choices must be made in life and sometimes those choices are black and white. What you choose defines you and if you are the source of great power, then it probably defines an entire generation, if not more. Barker is able to conjure up these ideas by having his chief characters fight it out over various realms of the real and unreal. But his genius is the fact that he doesn't leave the storyline at such a simplification.

Four teenage girls frolicking in a countryside are raped by the "spirits" of both Jaffe and Fletcher -- to impregnate them so that their progeny can continue the battle. Yes, that's correct -- both of them fall to the level of raping the young girls. Here's where the gray comes into the battle. No one side is "pure" anymore. They are both willing to do whatever it takes to win. Does the end justify the means? That is what both sides seem to believe in this tale...

Well, guess what - eighteen years later, their progeny answer the "call" and come out on one side or the other. Or do they? What if they don't want to take the roles chosen for them by their powerful fathers? What if they are attracted to each other?

A whole host of characters go in and out at a dizzying pace in the story. We can see that Clive Barker did not intend for us to sit still and follow single lines of thought. There are subplots within subplots. For instance, who is the woman in the desert? Who is this Kissoon character really, and how is he able to exist in a single moment over and over? What happens if Quiddity is breached?

Do not worry -- Barker and his host of characters have answers to everything in this first (and yet complete) book in the "Art Trilogy". 

Adapted into the graphic novel version by Chris Ryall (who adapted "Shaun of the Dead") and Gabriel Rodriguez (who adapted "George A Romero's Land of the Dead") the storytelling reaches new heights. IDW has a history of great titles, and this is definitely one of the top graphic novels from their stable. The artwork and visual images evoked in the adaptation heightens the understanding of the original story and also makes us involved in the sequence of events. It is extremely difficult to put down and makes for fascinating reading. I now want to get my hands on the second book in the "Art Trilogy" -- "Everville", or even its graphic novel adaptation.