One of the things we are told, nay coerced, to do well early in life is to be right. Being right is a big part of our education system. If you don’t get the right answer, you will lose points. Winners are those who get the most right answers and thus the maximum marks on tests. This approach works in the context of schools and colleges especially in science and maths where there is little or no ambiguity about the rightness of answers. And then we step out of these cocoons into the real world to discover that there is no such thing as an unambiguously right answer.

It’s little wonder that we are dissatisfied with how education prepares us for life. In fact, it does not prepare us for anything in particular. Not even work. In the real world, it’s not about locating the right answers. It’s about working with others towards finding the least wrong answers. It’s about asking the right questions. I’m not saying that we do away with math and sciences and the current methods of testing our skills in them. I’m saying that we ought to perhaps place more emphasis on the indiscernible. Perhaps we ought to help our children gain better appreciation of such concepts as ambiguity, uncertainty, context and perspective earlier in their lives. Perhaps we ought to have a system which rewards them for asking the right questions instead of finding the right answers.

Einstein described genius as the ability to hold conflicting thoughts in one’s head. He described genius as a state of mind which appreciates the relativity of truth, which is to say that there is a context intrinsic to truth. If we emphasized the absoluteness of truth less, perhaps we will create a society in which genius flourishes and is found to be in abundance. More importantly, we will perhaps create an environment in which people are kinder and gentler towards and less judgmental of their fellow citizens.

Thoughts?

As recently as 100 years back, human life expectancy at birth was a mere 31 years. Today the world average is around 67, and the average in many developed countries is above 75. But for most of history, life expectancy has been 30 years or less. Historically, a large number of humans have died before the age of 10. It is only as recently as 30,000 years back that “grandparents” first came about, which is to say that humans began living long enough to have three generations co-exist.

For most of our time on the planet, humans have not lived long enough to experience the problems of aging. We’ve just begun getting familiar with the social, psychological and economic consequences of aging in the last 30 to 40 years. And we have begun focusing our energies on finding cures for these new age ailments. We’re likely to find a cure for cancer within the next 20 years. When that happens, life expectancy will quickly surpass 100 years. Once life expectancy jumps to 100+, it is likely that humans will live long enough to intercept new breakthroughs in medical science (including prosthetics and artificial limbs) and it won’t be long before life expectancy touches 200 years. In fact, those who are younger than 40 years of age today are likely to live to be 100+ years and their children are likely to live to 200 years of age.

200 years! That is a long, long time. Imagine the consequences of being alive for 200 years. Presumably, people would work for at least 150+ years out of 200. This implies that people would potentially have 3 or 4 different careers in one lifetime. What would relationships look like? Would marriages last? Would friendships last? It’s likely that 6 – 8 generations will co-exist which would make it easier to transfer wisdom and experience across time. Conversely it would also mean that biases and prejudices of past generations would be carried forward interminably longer in time. What would be the impact of a longer life on our religious and philosophical moorings? Would living longer make us somehow less interested in the notion of God? Would it make us more stoic and less spontaneous, because we will have more time on our hands? Would they be more depressed or would they be happier? Would a longer life be a curse or a boon? Interesting questions.

Dhoom 3

December 21, 2013 in BOLLYWOOD,LAUGHING GAS

dhoomthree

Yash Raj Films didn’t set out to win an Oscar when they started the Dhoom franchise. After viewing Dhoom 3, I can attest that they remain firmly committed to that non-objective. I believe it was Werner Heisenberg, the German physicist, who once postulated as part of his Uncertainty Principle that one can have either Katrina Kaif or a script in a Bollywood film but never both. I’m happy to inform you that Dhoom 3 has Ms. Kaif in it.

A Tale of Revenge, a Circus which is really a Magic Show, Hindi Stuff Written on Walls, etc.

Dhoom 3 is a tale of revenge. Iqbal Khan (a bleary eyed Jackie Shroff) applies for a loan to an evil Darth-Vader-meets-Ku-Klux-Klan style banker with a cowboy accent. What makes this loan application interesting are 2 things: 1. Iqbal claims to run a circus, but in fact it’s really a magic show with one massive treasure chest like thingy.  2. Iqbal has not repaid loans to this banker in the past. Hence Evil Banker connects dots between 1 & 2 and refuses loan. A distraught Iqbal embraces the dark arms of Hades (via single bullet to the temple) and thus triggers a cataclysmic series of events which include aforesaid bank being robbed in broad daylight 25 years later by a mysterious thief who writes some stuff in Hindi on the walls WHICH LEADS TO (sit down, you’re not going to believe this) Mumbai police being summoned to help Chicago Police solve crimes WHICH IN TURN LEADS TO mysterious thief offering to help Mumbai Police to solve crimes WHICH IN TURN LEADS TO Mumbai Police inadvertently helping mysterious thief rob more banks and getting fired. Wait, there’s good news. At some point, the bank shares take a beating in the stock market and aforesaid EVIL BANKER is forced to resign his job. Take that, you evil Voldemort banker, you! Hope you learnt your lesson to never mess with Indian circus people.

Dhoom 3 is Aamir Khan’s gig and everyone else just happens to be it. Mr. Khan is said to be a perfectionist when it comes to film making. Well, he seems to have put aside such ideals for this movie. Mr. Khan is first introduced to viewers as he climbs out of bed in a sparsely furnished apartment in a Chicago skyscraper and walks towards the window to gaze down ominously upon the windy city. The apartment is never seen again. Perhaps the apartment is a metaphor for the script. One can only wonder.

Let’s talk about Uday, Katrina and Junior B.

Uday Chopra apparently announced his retirement from acting in the weeks leading up to the release of this film. Didn’t that train leave the station in Dhoom 1? The announcement was quite unnecessary as most people were unable to recall Mr. Chopra being in possession of acting skills in the first place. Mr. Chopra is a laboratory based, experimental version of Salman Khan in which things have just gone horribly, horribly wrong. His comic interludes are neither comic nor are they interludes.

It is said that Robert De Niro prepared for a role as Jake LaMotta in The Raging Bull by gaining sixty pounds to his frame and learning to box. Likewise Ms. Katrina Kaif appears to have prepared for her role in Dhoom 3 by taking pole dancing lessons. She enters the movie half way through it. And her first full line of dialogue makes its appearance 30 minutes after that. There’s none better than Ms. Kaif when it comes to portraying the multi-layered complexities of a modern Indian woman. She deftly demonstrates how although Indian lasses might dress in overalls and appear to be demure at first, they are in fact simmering cauldrons of sexuality and willing to shed all clothing and perform complex calisthenics, all for a mere job in the circus.

Someone, please send prune juice to Abhishek B urgently.  The lad seems to be backed up.

The Whole Bank Robbery Situation Sucks

We’re not talking Shakespearean drama here. That’s hardly the expectation. In fact, it’s not fair to judge D3 by such standards. Having said that, I feel like I ought to talk at length about the whole bank robbery situation in this movie which sucks. We live in a world filled with James Bonds and Jason Bournes and Spy Kids and Incredibles and Danny Ocean’s 13. So, we the people know a thing or two when it comes to pulling off heists or robbing banks or retrieving USB drives from ruthless saboteurs. And as anyone will attest, what makes a bank robbery interesting is how you pull it off – getting past the multi-factor authentication systems by faking finger prints and  performing yoga and tai chi to avoid coming in contact with red laser beams and then gaining access to vaults with 2-feet thick steel walls. I mean, people go through a lot of trouble to rob banks and casinos. We the people have never before seen movies before in which banks have robbed upon mere access to blue prints of building which we presume have already been posted on Facebook by bank employees anyway. We the people have never seen movies in which police hand over blue prints of bank building to complete strangers within 24 hours of meeting them. We the people ought to be surprised that more banks are not getting robbed in Mumbai, given this is how Mumbai Police seems to operate.

The Verdict

Anyway, things thankfully get sorted out by the end. I got the feeling that the actual movie was only about an hour long but was stretched to three hours thanks to slow motion technology. There’s a twist somewhere in the middle. The songs are downright spectacular. In true Indian spirit, I’d recommend watching the movie for “Malang..” alone. Dhoom 3 is paisa vasool. So go see it. And if you live in Mumbai, I’d recommend taking your money out of your bank and stashing it in your pillow.

I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area now doing some stuff. Since I’m here, I figured that I’d get my driver’s license renewed. As per the California Department of Motor Vehicles website, in order to renew the driver’s license you must -

  1. Provide an acceptable date of birth and legal presence document (e.g. passport)
  2. Provide your true and full name.
  3. Pay an application fee of $32.

In addition, the DMV website also casually mentions that you “may be” required to take a written test. On seeing this, I went into a minor tizzy. The last time I took the test (which was many moons ago), I remembered that I had walked in without any prep and nearly flunked. This time I decided in favor of prudence over valor and went through the DMV booklet the night before. Inspired, I’ve crafted the What Ho! Global Drivers License Test for you so you can see where you stand in the cosmic scheme of all driving related things.

Q1: Under what circumstances is a driver’s license required?

  1. Required to operate a motor vehicle under all circumstances.
  2. Required wherever possible.
  3. What’s a license?

Q2: If a traffic signal is not working, you must –

  1. Stop, and then proceed when safe.
  2. Accelerate as fast you can through the junction, keeping a ear out for honking that might signal a potential collision
  3. Park the car in the intersection and post a picture of the non-working signal on Facebook.

Q3: A blind pedestrian is crossing the road at an unmarked crossing. You should:

  1. Stop and let the pedestrian cross the street.
  2. Maintain your original speed, honk as loudly as you can, drive carefully around the pedestrian and try not to knock him down.
  3. Use this opportunity to slow down and check how many people liked your post on the non working signal on Facebook.

Q4: Collisions are more likely to happen when:

  1. One vehicle is travelling faster or slower than the flow of traffic.
  2. Drivers do not use their horns liberally.
  3. Two cars come into contact with each other.

Q5: When overtaking a vehicle, it is safer to return to your lane when:

  1. You see the vehicle’s headlights in your rear view mirror.
  2. There are vehicles rapidly approaching you from the opposite side of the road.
  3. You’re wondering what a lane is, at a time when people sitting in the back are yelling loudly for their lives.

Q6: When driving at night on a dimly lit road, you should:

  1. Drive slowly so you can stop within the area lighted by the headlight of your car.
  2. Switch off the lights so you blend into the background.
  3. Turn on the lights of the instrument panel so you can be visible to other drivers.

Q7: What’s the difference between a red light and a green light?

  1. Red means ‘to stop’ and Green means ‘to go’
  2. Green means ‘to accelerate instantaneously’. I’ve never really thought about what ‘Red’ means.
  3. They are just different colours in the visible spectrum.

Q8: When a policeman asks to see your driver’s license, you should:

  1. Provide the driver’s license.
  2. Open your wallet wide so you can give him a good idea of the possibilities that exist.
  3. Offer him a ride.

If you answered ’1′ to the questions above, congratulations. You’ve passed the California DMV test. If you answered ’2′, congratulations. You have a high likelihood of getting a license from the Koramangala RTO in Bangalore. If you answered ’3′, I’m afraid I don’t see a drivers license anytime in your near future.

The resemblance between Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian Roman emperors, and Manmohan Singh is more than a passing one. Nero, of course, is infamous for ‘fiddling’ while Rome burned, an act which when compared to Manmohan Singh’s dithering over last few years, may well end up as a lesser historical transgression. Note: In all likelihood, Nero probably played the lyre. The fiddle wasn’t invented by 64 AD

Nero the Reformer

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was Emperor of Rome from 54 AD to 68 AD. Over the course of his reign, Nero went out of his way to pander to the poorer classes with populist measures, which led to ancient historians criticizing him for being obsessed with personal popularity. Nero is known for progressive acts such as granting the Senate increased autonomy, distributing authority to lower tax commissioners and an attempt to repeal indirect taxes. When the Senate convinced him that repealing taxes would bankrupt the treasury, he compromised. Nero also championed an RTI like reform in which previously secret government tax records were ordered to become public.

How To Ruin An Empire

In 64 AD, Rome burned. In response, Nero initiated vigorous public relief effort and reconstruction. But, the cost to rebuild Rome was immense, requiring funds which the treasury did not have. However, he persisted leading to the first devaluation of the Roman currency in the Empire’s history.

Of his many controversial acts which included persecution of Christians, Nero’s economic policies are the most fiercely debated over time by scholars. According to ancient historians, Nero’s projects were extravagant and left the empire “thoroughly exhausted by contributions of money” with “the provinces ruined.” However, modern historians note that the period was likely riddled with deflation and that it was likely that Nero initiated governmental projects and charity to spend his way out of the economic crisis.

Starting in 68 AD, a series of mutinous rebellions broke out throughout the empire. Although he initially retained control, Nero was considerably weakened when the prefect of the Praetorian Guard abandoned his allegiance to the Emperor and came out in support of the rebels.

“What An Artist Dies Within Me”

In response, Nero sought a place where he could hide and collect his thoughts. A loyal former-slave offered his villa outside the city. Travelling in disguise, Nero reached the villa, where he ordered his men to dig a grave for him. By this time, the Senate had declared Nero a public enemy and had ordered his execution by being beaten to death. At this news, Nero prepared himself for suicide. His famous dying words were “Qualis artifex pereo,” which translates into “What an artist dies in me.” With Nero’s death, the Julio-Claudian dynasty ended and chaos ensued in the years that followed.

It will be interesting to see how history will judge Manmohan Singh’s tenure which has been marked by crippling welfare schemes which have drained the nation’s exchequer and derailed economic growth. Will Manmohan Singh’s dithering spark a similar dismantling of the Roman Empire in India? One can only hope.

Reference: Nero on Wikipedia