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No More X-Files, Please…

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Let’s hope the eleventh season of X-Files will be its last. Send FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully into retirement and forever close their outpost for investigating inexplicable, freakish phenomenon. Personally, I’m just sick and tired of all this conspiracy mongering, especially the idea that the human race is about to be eviscerated by an alien race and their lackeys on Earth.

Just do it already!

When the tenth season was announced two years ago, I was excited at the prospect of one my all-time favorite shows returning, but I was less sanguine about the eleventh season. It’s just too much.

And I’m not surprised Gillian Anderson, who has played Dana Scully with a steady and patient hand, has decided that this was her last season. Don’t know if David Duchovny is willing to go solo, but the idea of skeptical Scully not tagging along Mulder’s endless goose chases doesn’t seem right to me. Therefore, it would be better if the show just ended right here right now. The last episode – though unsatisfying –is a good place to end it.

If both Mulder and Scully can call it quits so can we, the diehard fan base. I’m of a strong belief that a show should end when it’s at its zenith and not wait till it slowly, and painfully, fades from existence. After 200 plus episodes and two movies, it’s time to let this franchise go.

So good-bye, X-Files, and thanks for the memories.

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Written by niraj

April 2nd, 2018 at 10:34 pm

Reading Update

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I haven’t posted a reading update on this blog in a long time, so I thought I start-off 2018 by giving a list of books I’m currently reading. As is my habit, I’m reading several books at once. They are:

– Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough
– Hitch-22: A Memoir by Christopher Hitchens
– Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science (Fully Revised and Updated) by Charles Wheelan
– Sacred Games: A Novel by Vikram Chandra

One book about true crime, one memoir, a book on economics geared for the lay reader, and one epic—and ambitious—piece of Indian fiction that is 900-plus pages long.

This should keep me busy for a bit.

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Written by niraj

January 17th, 2018 at 9:59 am

Posted in books

The Punisher and Gun Control

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Is Marvel/Netflix series The Punisher about gun control – should it be about gun control?

From A.V. Club:

But the thing that sets this Marvel Netflix iteration of The Punisher apart from those other gun-filled franchises is that it isn’t aiming to be a heightened, escapist action series. It’s aiming to be a grounded show about real-world issues, including the question of when and if violence is ever justified. If The Punisher wanted to be just a thrilling shoot-em-up, I would happily engage with the show on those terms. But it clearly wants to be more than just mindless action fun, so I think it’s fair to hold The Punisher to the standard it sets for itself.

Even Jon Bernthal, who plays the Punisher, says the series should start a discussion on gun control.

The Punisher is not—and never was—a poster child for gun control. Those that see the Punisher through this distorted lens seem to be missing the point. The Punisher is a gun-toting vigilante, to be sure, but they are mere tools in his trade. And he doesn’t acquire his guns through legal means. The Punisher, the Netflix series at least, seems more grounded than the comic book. It wants to know what made Frank Castle The Punisher. It’s not because he’s a gun nut. What motivates him is revenge rooted in injustice.

But vigilantism is not the core theme of the series. It’s clear to anyone watching with a discerning eye that the series is about soldiers, especially those who have actively served in both Afghanistan and Iraq and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Both Curtis and Lewis — former soldiers —  suffer from PTSD but handle it in vastly different ways

Curtis has come to term with his PTSD and is dealing with it in his own way: working a regular job, starting a support group for veterans, trying to live on an even keel. Lewis, on the other hand, is a completely lost soul, wandering in the wilderness, trying to deal with his PTSD. He tries to enlist as a mercenary but is rejected because he’s considered mentally unsound. This rejection eventually leads him to a self-destructive path.

Not to say gun control is not discussed. The issue is touched upon in later episodes, if only in a ham-fisted way. It’s just that the issue of gun control has little relevance with the Punisher. It’s about something else entirely.

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Written by niraj

December 9th, 2017 at 9:39 am

Baseball and Philosophy

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Here’s an excellent article about baseball and philosophy that is worth reading. There’s something about the great game of baseball that makes one contemplative. Perhaps it’s the pace of the game, which can, at times, be languid that gives baseball a philosophical edge. It’s hard to pin what exactly makes baseball so philosophical, but the article’s author, Kieran Setiya, a professor of philosophy, does a good job.

Kieran explains succinctly:

Baseball is the most philosophical of games because, like philosophy at its best, it harmonizes meaning with meticulous analysis. There is no opposition between wonder at the double play, the home run, or the perfect game and the statistical dissection now known as “sabermetrics” (after SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research). In fact, it is the arithmetic and geometry of the game that best disclose its truth. The highest aspiration of philosophy is to be both rigorous and humanistic, to place analytical thought in the service of human values. Baseball shows us that it can be done.

No other sport can make this claim even with the invasion of data analytics into executive suites of every major sports franchise, from football to hockey. It’s no longer the exception but the rule. Nevertheless, baseball has always been (and probably always will be), where numbers reign supreme. Even the old-school guys, who eschew “sabermetrics” and mock Moneyball-like thinking, still rely on outdated statistics like hits, runs, RBIs, etc. In essence, the meaning – or truth— of baseball is hidden within the numbers.

Kieran finishes his essay with the following:

Some treat baseball as an allegory for life or for a perilous journey in which, if we are lucky, we make it safely home. For me, it is an allegory for philosophy at its best: humanistic but rigorous, historically informed. We do not have to choose between humanity and rigour, between progress in solving problems and engagement with history. In fact, you can’t have any of these without the others. Baseball’s romance with advanced statistics is not a rejection of its past but a fulfillment, not an indifference to meaning but a better interpretation. That is a condition to which philosophy should aspire.

Baseball is a sport that lends itself to deep analysis because it’s not a fast game. There’s no clock in baseball. Every pitch can tell you something. Each plate appearance can be a moment of discovery. The shifting of infielders with each batter at the plate. It’s all a calculation that, hopefully, and meaningfully, will lead to a profound answer of some kind, both for the player and the fan.

 

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Written by niraj

October 25th, 2017 at 10:00 pm

Posted in red sox

A Word From a Chinese Tout

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S.M. Hali is an “analyst and journalist” who appears frequently in electronic media and pens columns in various publications, mostly in Pakistan. I’ve been reading his “analysis” for several years now and when it comes to China, he’s less of an analyst and more of a cheerleader. China never had a bigger public relations promoter than Mr. Hali, who, it seems, is more Chinese than the Chinese.

Nevertheless, it was Mr. Hali’s column in the on the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress that makes him gush like a fan boy, going as far as to call China a ‘democracy!’

The Occident does not appreciate the intricacies of Chinese democracy as it perceives it from the prism of its own system like that followed by the US or the Westminster. China has adapted a style of governance and democratic rule, which is more suitable to its people and is flexible in accordance with changing times. 2,280 delegates including 24.2 per cent women and 11.5 per cent minority delegates, chosen from a group of nearly 89 million party members across the nation are attending the 19th CPC National Congress, making it all pervasive. The opinions of more than 4,700 people, including delegates to the party’s 18th National Congress and newly-elected delegates to its 19th National Congress, have been solicited on the draft report, which has been submitted to the current Congress. If that is not democracy then what else is?

It’s clearly obvious Mr. Hali doesn’t know what democracy is. He’s equating democratic centralism, practiced by Marxist-Leninist parties like the Communist Party of China, with democracy, which are two different things. Not that this distinction matters to Mr. Hali, who is an unalloyed supporter of China in all things. You’d be hard-pressed to find him write anything critical about China in all his years as an “analyst and journalist.”

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Written by niraj

October 23rd, 2017 at 10:29 am

Posted in asia

Retracing the Oregon Trail…

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My reading Rinker Buck’s book The Oregon Trail was a product of serendipity. What I thought was a classical 19th-century work by Francis Parkman is, in fact, a very engaging and wonderful book that beautifully melds history, travel and adventure, and memoir.

Rinker Buck is a journalist who decides to recreate the torturous journey taken by pioneers – most of whom were immigrants — to settle the uncharted American West. Pioneers took a huge risk at a time when going anywhere west of the Mississippi River was a dicey proposition. For many, the Oregon Trail began on the western frontier of Missouri, traversing Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and, finally, Oregon. There was not one Oregon Trail, but many; and not all pioneers were heading for the Pacific Northwest. Included among them were gold prospectors making their way to California to, hopefully, make their fortune.

As the pioneers went so did Rinker Buck. He took the journey in a covered wagon pulled by a team of mules. To make it into a family affair, Rinker brought his ornery brother Nick along, as much as for company as for his expertise. Nick is not only an experienced carpenter, but has an encyclopedic knowledge of mules and covered wagons, which we will find later proved to be quite handy.

For Rinker, the decision to recreate a 2,000-mile overland journey from Kansas to Oregon was not a light one, but deeply emotional and personal. Recently divorced, and in middle age, he wanted a way to reconnect with the fond memories of his youth. Rinker frequently recounts the trips he and his siblings took with their father, a restless adventurer. They, too, traveled in a covered wagon, but they only went far as Pennsylvania from their home in New Jersey.

I’m still reading the book, but it’s so absorbing, and Ruck is such a great storyteller, that I had to share my thoughts right away. It has also inspired me to want to take a similar journey.

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Written by niraj

March 9th, 2017 at 2:54 pm

Posted in books,history

Tales by Light

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My current love on Netflix is the documentary series Tales by Light.

Originally produced for National Geographic, Tales by Light examines the art of adventure and nature photography through some of its finest craftsmen (and craftswomen!). It’s an arresting piece of work that is visually stunning: the landscapes, the wildlife, the people. All in vivid detail.

Some say photography is a lesser art due to the ubiquity of digital technology which makes almost anyone and everyone an amateur photogprapher, but this is not the case. Just because we live in a world saturated with images, doesn’t mean there is no art in it. And even with the capability to take pictures through our smartphones doesn’t mean we are — or can be — photographers. The difference between a dilettante and a professional is the passion and dedication to the craft; and it’s displayed in spades in this documentary series.

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Written by niraj

December 27th, 2016 at 10:51 am

Stranger Things: An 80’s Flashback…

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Netflix’s sci-fi/horror series Stranger Things is great storytelling that is both visually pleasing and visceral – it literally scares the shit out of you. Synopsis of the story can be found here. But the purpose of this post is not about Stranger Things, but it’s depiction of a decade whose milieu no longer exists but still endures for those that experienced it.

For me, Stranger Things is simply an ode to 80’s goodness.

The Cold War had an overarching presence during the 80’s. It permeated almost every aspect of our lives, from politics to media. Pop culture was not immune and it manifested itself in two major ways: the idea that the Russians, a.k.a. the commies, were out to get us; or, for the more conspiratorial, the U.S. government, through its sinister agent, the CIA. There were often fantastic claims made about the CIA. Experiments from creating super soldiers to developing mind-control techniques. Naturally, such paranoia was fodder for Hollywood: that monster lurking in the dark or that alien from another planet, all out to get you. These same tropes are being used in Stranger Things to great effect.

The Duffer Brothers, creators and executive producers, as well as writers and directors, have created an atmosphere in almost every detail: from clothes to cars, down to hair styles. This was before the internet, cell phones, personal computers, or even cordless phones. There was television, of course, but cable and VCRs were yet to be ubiquitous.

Stranger Things is filled with numerous references to 80’s pop culture. Too many to mention here, of course, but Star Wars – the gold standard — does get a mention as does Dungeons & Dragons, a game whose popularity was always a mystery to me. There is even a nice reference to the 1980s horror movie Poltergeist too. And let’s not forget the soundtrack, which is filled with memorable 80’s tunes. It lends both an authenticity and credibility to the show.

These references made me nostalgic and is reason enough to watch Stranger Things. However, even if you don’t give a hoot about the 80’s, it’s still a damn good show.

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Written by niraj

October 2nd, 2016 at 6:07 pm

Jessica Jones: Dark, Surly, and often Drunk

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If I had to reduce Jessica Jones, a new Netflix series from Marvel Comics, to one word, it is cynicism. Like Daredevil, Jessica Jones is dark– perhaps even darker. Prepare to be brutalized and have fun in the process.

Jessica Jones is a surly alcoholic private detective with superpowers she knows she has but is reluctant to use (hint: she hasn’t totally mastered them). Jessica is fixated on stopping Kilgrave, a man she has a history with, and who has the ability to control minds of people around him. Kilgrave is played brilliantly, with great wit and charm, by British actor David Tennant. The dynamics between the two is the crux of the series, but there are other characters who play vital roles in helping Jessica to take on Kilgrave: Jessica’s childhood friend Patsy; Hogarth, a crooked lawyer; a mysterious cop named Simpson; and a drug-addled neighbor named Malcolm. Luke Cage, another Marvel Comics character, plays Jessica’s love interest.

It’s interesting to note the dynamic between Jessica Jones and Kilgrave and the cat-and-mouse game they play. Kilgrave is a sociopath who uses his power capriciously. He will not hesitate to kill people if it meets his whimsical fancy. Yet he is madly in love with Jessica and wants her to love him, but she repeatedly spurns him. Kilgrave could force Jessica to love him, I suppose, but that wouldn’t be love, now would it? Nevertheless, Kilgrave persists even to the point of disregarding his instincts for self-reservation. He could just kill Jessica, and had many opportunities but doesn’t do so in the vain hope she still has feelings for him. In this futile attempt at love makes Kilgrave come off as a hopeless romantic.

Unlike Daredevil, which is bright and colorful as neon, Jessica Jones is muted: a persistent color of grey. The pacing of the series is almost glacial. Add a jazz-infused score and it makes Jessica Jones an almost a hard-boiled, neo-noir affair. But it works.

Jessica Jones is second in a series of four Marvel Comics-based storylines. There is the aforementioned Daredevil, and upcoming Luke Cage and Iron Fists. All four characters will then reprise their roles in the series The Defenders. In addition, Jessica Jones has been renewed for a second season. Which is good news.

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Written by niraj

April 7th, 2016 at 7:54 pm

To Be Good Do You Need to Be Bad?

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Currently reading Literary Rogues, an anthology of anecdotes on the bad boys – and bad girls! – of literature. I’m over half-way through and have come to the conclusion that to be brilliant (simply being good is not enough) you must suffer from some emotional instability, have a chemical dependency, and live a life of endless debauchery. And, yes, being an obnoxious jerk helps.

The word normal seems almost alien here. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, but sooner or later writers tend to descend into some kind of “hell” that fuels their creative spirits. We as a culture benefit from this, of course, but not so much for those directly connected to the author. This begs the question: to create do you need to suffer?

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Written by niraj

March 11th, 2016 at 9:48 pm

Posted in books