Saturday, September 24, 2016

A lesson for the PDP

The ongoing Islamist violence in Kashmir after the defeat and death of terrorist commander Burhan Wani has received a great deal of attention in India as well as Pakistan. The subsequent attack on the Army base in Uri has further angered India. However, there is also another victim here: the PDP, now led by Chief Minister Mufti after the death of her father. Many PDP MLAs have been speaking out about how helpless the state government has been during the whole episode. Some of them with separatist leanings have been itching to join the protests and are presumably quite shocked that they can't do that as they would end up protesting against themselves!

All this serves a good lesson for the PDP, a party that has typically used separatist rhetoric against its chief rival, the NC, and has made repeated (and hollow) statements about 'healing touches' to a state that has essentially been engulfed by the global Islamic jihad that has literally torn through cities across the world. Burhan Wani, it may be remembered, was not fighting for freedom from India, or for merger with Pakistan, but for the first step towards establishing a global Caliphate, no doubt inspired by al-Baghdadi's own Caliphate in the Islamic State. The PDP never really saw him as a terrorist, and it has been alleged that the party even made good use of him to win the last elections in the valley. Now his ghost continues to haunt Mufti.

This is an important lesson for the PDP as well as the political parties in Kashmir (both the mainstream and separatist variety): the constant rhetoric has now gone beyond your control, and you will eventually be drowned in the new wave of Islamist violence there. Don't become another Pakistan. And as for the BJP, it may want to consider whether it actually wants a government there, or whether it should use its power in the rest of India to at least keep Jammu and Ladakh sane. 

For Sale: The White House

As we head into the final stretch of the race for the 2016 US Presidential Election between candidates Hillary Clinton of the Democrats and Donald Trump of the Republicans, the race appears to be very close, especially in key battleground states. In the last few days, according to polls, Trump appears to be moving ahead in those states, which has obviously set off alarm bells in the liberal media. The reason for this is two-fold: Trump seems to have sobered up a bit and decided to stop making off-the-cuff remarks that lead to much headache for his team, and Hillary Clinton's own dubious lies over the Clinton Foundation and her time in the State Department, not to mention her emails, have come into sharp focus.

The case appears to be that Clinton user her position as SecState to funnel money to her husband's Foundation, despite swearing to keep away from it once she took oath. Well, oaths have never meant much to her, so this wasn't really very surprising. It was scandalous however because, had she never decided to run, chances are that nobody would've found out about her dubious dealings and blatant misuse of official power.

This makes one seriously wonder what she would do as President. Would the White House virtually be for sale to the highest bidder? How much Saudi money would it take to get President Clinton to invade Iran? How much money from televangelists would it take for Clinton to support overturning Roe v Wade? We all know that she has no opinions of her own (or at least doesn't show them) and does whatever is popular at the time. What would such a person do with such great powers?

A scary thought indeed. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Totally Worth it?

For those of you who read this blog, you'd have noticed the big decline in posts in the past few weeks. The reason was all the work I was doing for the 11th International Conference on Concrete Pavements, one of the most prestigious conferences in the area. By virtue of my advisor's position, I was saddled - progressively - in making the flash drive, the proceedings, and generally all the little stuff that grows to gargantuan proportions in organizing a conference. That was a good experience and I suppose I could add that to my CV, but it did come at the cost of virtually washing out the last few weeks before the conference. 

But not without some reward, for my adviser clearly appreciated what I did, and thus invited me to the very exclusive President's dinner, easily the fanciest dinner I've ever attended in my whole life. I wonder how people get used to such stuff - it was very nice, but there was the perpetual pressure of not doing anything wrong! And as much as I enjoyed myself, I was glad to leave. 

However, it turned out that the conference didn't really end for me there. For, sleep-deprived and very full, I was trying to stay awake at the closing gala and awards night to find out that I had one my first award - Best Paper by a Young Author! I must say, my adviser did a deceptively good job of hinting that someone else had won it for a month! Having worked for the last few years on a topic that very few people seemed interested in, with Mechanical Engineers being able to understand it more than Civil Engineers, I must say, it was quite a big boost to get an award for a paper that could've gone in so many different ways, when I look back on how I wrote it! 

The biggest positive I took away from the conference and award was that the two previous recipients of the award from my research group both ended up as assistant professors, and are now trudging through the academic life that I still dream of. Over the summer, I had a sudden scare that my adviser had lost interest in the topic and was going to terminate it (and me) just after the conference. Partly, it was driven by the fact that I was doing rather mundane tasks for the conference (although in hindsight, they were quite crucial and needed a dependable hand). Now that's its over, and with an award that will stay with me forever, I can set those trouble aside. 

I've learned an important lesson, and I suppose I should spell it out for whoever is interested - getting a PhD is about persisting with what seems impossible, and keeping at it no matter what. Now, more than ever, I feel I have the wind under my wings. I just need to jump. 

A Touching Story

GOOD KIDS (2016)

Produced By: Next Exit Productions
Director: Douglas Rowland II
Starring: Michael Ridley, Jason Orlee, Kari White and others
Pros: Good story, touching plot
Cons: Bad acting, poor cinematography, poor pace
Rating: ** of 5 (2 of 5) - I wish I could've given it higher

I usually avoid family dramas as they tend to be too melodramatic. However, I've found that Indie movie centered around families tend to have a bit more realism than their mainstream counterparts. And that is certainly true for Good Kids, an Indie film that caught my attention even though it was, for the most part, very badly made. Most of my American friends come from separated families, so I've become curious of late as to how the dynamics of that work - perhaps, in a strange way, that was why I decided to watch the film in the first place.

The greatest strength of the movie is its simple and yet touching story - especially of the protective relationship between the two brothers, and their love for baseball. Indeed, the simplicity of it all was most endearing, something rare in today's film making. And yet, just about everything else worked against the movie - there was a full spectrum of bad acting, from the decent acting by the younger sibling to the absolutely pathetic performance by the parents. The cinematography was very poor, with the director presumably having no thought at all for how to translate his idea into a movie. And the idea was quite nebulous anyway - the story keeps jumping from plot to plot with little connection between them.

Overall, this movie was a huge disappointment. The idea was good but it wasn't translated properly, and the acting was downright deplorable. I wish it could've been better - I would certainly have watched. (OTFS)

PS: Not to be confused with the mainstream film, Good Kids, coming out later this year.

Thoughts on the Burkini

As usual, some strange problem on liberty has risen in France, a country that seems obsessed with legislating what it means to be free. The problem this time is a ban on a French beach of the 'burkini' - a burkha that you can swim in, yet keep yourself fully covered. This rather odd contraption comes from an innovator in Australia, and it certainly has a market. That is not the problem.

Now, it is easy to dismiss the ban as typical Islamophobia, but that would not just be lazy, but also dismiss the very real ISIS-inspired and -sponsored terrorist attacks that France has faced recently. And then, there is the issue of women in countless Islamic nations being forced to cover up... or else. Recently, some men in Iran donned burkhas as a mark of protest against the morality police there. Therefore, even as Islamic socialists in the West insist that the burkha is somehow a sign of freedom (using the most twisted logic that only Marxists that conjure), it should be remembered that for hundreds of millions of women across the world, it is a sign of repression.

And yet, there is the question of whether, in principle, banning the burkha isn't just as bad as making it mandatory. Of course, this has been solved previously on the issue of security and safety (old Hindi movies do have plenty of instances of the 'bad guy' getting away in a burkha), but the burkini is not a full-face covering veil - you can identify the person. It could even be construed as a nice way to keep your hair from getting wet!

This is not going to be an easy question. Without safety and security, there really is no justification for a woman being forced to not wear a burkini, even if it seems totally illogical, even stupid, to willingly participate in a ritual that treats women as a commodity. Perhaps, the proper way would be for the State to stay away from legislating on it, and for people to make it very clear that they do not believe that women need to cover up to be safe. While there is no fair legislative answer to the problem of the burkini, there is and must be a social response to the burkha itself.