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Good Bye, Anthony Bourdain…

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I can’t believe Anthony Bourdain is gone. I realized this right after I finished watching season eleven of Parts Unknown, which was, in hindsight, to be his last.

I’ve been a fan of Anthony Bourdain for a long time ever since he published his bestseller Kitchen Confidential. I also followed his television career very closely: first on A Cook’s Tour, then No Reservations, and finally Parts Unknown.

Bourdain’s shows, like his books, are filled with wit, acerbic comments, and wry humor. But that was just one side of him. There was also a serious side: the listener, opinionated, often political, but always interested in the subject at hand. What made Bourdain standout compared to other shows was that he was not a tourist but a traveler. There’s a distinction. While most tourists like to visit places from a safe distance — often in a travel group nannied like children — Bourdain regularly mixed with the locals and often visited areas that were off the beaten path. Bourdain realized early one that to get a true feel of a place, you had to hit the pavement. The result is a deeper look at places beyond the usual postcard views and marketing brochures. Bourdain gives you the good as well as the bad.

Anthony Bourdain’s gift was his intimate interview style. He asked the right questions and was not afraid to rustle feathers, especially if feathers needed rustling. This was especially true with Parts Unknown. Perhaps it was on CNN, the show didn’t avoid talking about thorny issues. In Parts Unknown, Bourdain completed his evolution from having a show just about interesting cuisine to a show about things that matter the most — people.

Like most people, I was shocked by Bourdain’s sudden death. That it was a suicide was doubly-shocking. I didn’t know he suffered from depression, but like most celebrities, we only know them as acquaintances, our relationship with them is often only skin deep. Though Anthony Bourdain is gone in body, he remains in memory. He left behind one hell of an archive — both his writings and his shows.

He will be missed. Rest in peace, sir!

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Written by niraj

April 25th, 2019 at 10:35 am

Lucifer: A Failure of a Good Idea

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Lucifer has been cancelled by FOX. Tom Ellis, who plays the lead character in the show, writes:

Much as I enjoyed a show about the Devil running loose in modern day Los Angeles, I’m not surprised it was cancelled after only three seasons. Lucifer was boring. It’s no surprise it lost viewers with its shoddy writing, unimaginative story lines, insipid characters, and lame performances. It’s cancellation was an act of mercy.

The first two seasons of Lucifer were fantastic: dark, moody, and hilariously funny. But for some reason the third season became, well, just mundane. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the problems are but they were manifold. For one, the character Charlotte Richards, played with such evil relish in season two, was an outright dullard in season three. And I find the characters of Ella, Linda, and Dan not only superfluous but uninteresting. Or was it the fact that a show about the devil became nothing more than a lame police procedural whose script were written by film school rejects? It was just awful.

Nevertheless, watching the final episode was bittersweet. The show had so much potential when it first aired. A show about the devil leaving hell and living among mortals was an intriguing idea the show failed to explore to the fullest, but instead reduced itself to the vast wasteland that is network television. There’s a #savelucifer movement on Twitter, hoping someone will pick the show up. Not a bad idea, but if someone does takeover, it’s going to need a substantial overhaul. Better yet just reboot the whole damn thing.

UPDATE: Netflix has renewed Lucifer for a fourth season with a ten-episode run starting in May 2019.

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Written by niraj

May 18th, 2018 at 4:21 pm

Jessica Jones: Season Two

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Jessica Jones returns for a second season and enters a world that is darker and grittier than the first. Jessica’s ability to alienate friends and foes alike remains fully intact; and  continues to self-medicate through alcohol. Jessica continues her pursuit of getting to the bottom of IGH, what they did to her and others like her. In tow is her friend/sister Trish Taylor, who shares Jessica’s zeal and uses her platform as a prominent radio personality to find victims. Unfortunately, for them, they end up dead, as do the scientists. Who’s killing them leads Jessica to directly confront a ghost from her past.

One thing about the second season I would like to touch on is that it’s more female-centric. Women are front-and-center. Both Trish Taylor and Jeri Hogarth (Jessica’s lawyer and sometimes employer) have bigger roles this time around and it’s well worth it. Both rise to the occasion character-wise: Trish wanting to be the hero while Jeri just wants what she rightly deserves and doing anything to get it. The men, on the other hand, are pushed to the periphery.

Executive producer Melissa Rosenberg took the extra step of having all the episodes directed by women. There is nothing wrong with this approach, in my opinion. Given Hollywood gross maltreatment of female talent, this is a welcome development. Plus, we are at peak television, so having shows that are female-centric will not upset the gender applecart one iota. There will always be plenty of shows for men, with men, and by men.

Jessica Jones might have superpowers and is a total badass, but she’s still human: no wilting wallflower, no weakling, but deeply flawed. This is what makes the show so compelling.

I’ve talk about Jessica Jones in an earlier post.

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Written by niraj

May 14th, 2018 at 3:59 pm

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