Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Why did Glee flop?

Over the last few months, I've entertained myself by watching what I was told is a hit American TV show - Glee. Yes, without any more episodes of Star Trek to entertain me, and while I waited for the next season of Suits to go live on Amazon Prime, I dared to watch a rather unusual genre of TV that I would usually never watch. And it was... pretty good, for the most part. Yes, Glee requires you to suspend your rationality for a bit, as people seem to know how to sing and dance all the time, and musicians are taken virtually for granted. This wasn't hard, after all, I've grown up on Bollywood, where this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The real strength of the show was its characters, who really brought the story alive... for the first three seasons. Indeed, I think the New Directions' victory in Chicago constituted the high point of the show, after which it was generally downhill. Season 4 saw a whole new cast being introduced, and half the season being devoted to developing them, only to be e unceremoniously dumped afterwards. What was the point of introducing characters like Ryder and Marlie if they were not supposed to stay on long enough to win anything? Added to that was the fact that the old characters would simply not go away, somehow reappearing in Lima, Ohio whenever they wanted to, irrespective of where they were supposed to be! And of course, the tragic death of Cory Monteith was handled very badly by the producers, which made it even worse for the show as a whole.

In the end, I think Glee ended quite poorly and well below its potential because the writers forgot its true strength - the characters, and their stories. It became about just one character, and a belated attempt to introduce a few new ones was also botched up. It was a relief to see it finally end in a ball of flame. As they say - you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself turn into a villain. This should've ended with Season 3. 

Return to sanity?


Miley Cyrus is perhaps the greatest proof yet that the music industry in America simply does not understand its audience. A child star that was already famous, Cyrus launched her adult music career in the most outlandish way possible - through an extremely vulgar, hyper-sexualized series of videos and an oddly-concocted story of her coming out as a lesbian (which was pure marketing with no actual facts). Throughout all that, Cyrus' music was still as good as it used to be, but the videos and her behavior at concerts became so frustrating that she was largely dumped and forgotten after the initial hype.

Now, with her new hit single Malibu, Cyrus has begun to claw back from those mistakes. The new music is as good as her music always way, but this time there are no theatrics to serve as an unwelcome distraction - the music is pure and good by itself, and the music video just complements it. This should serve as a lesson for others, such as Charlie Puth (who also appears to be going down the same road), that audience rewards good music. You can get some cheap publicity by selling sex in the short-run, but it will be temporary, and you'll be forgotten with the next star.  

Waiting for the next catastrophe

After an unprecedented stand off that lasted nearly three years, the Democrat-controlled Illinois General Assembly's two houses passed a budget for the state by overriding a veto of all three bills by Governor Bruce Rauner. The override in the House was particularly momentous, because it was led by Rauner's arch political enemy, Chicago Speaker Mike Madigan, who is all set to be the longest-serving Speaker of any state in US history, and has reigned over half a dozen former governors from both parties. Madigan's House managed the successful veto override by flipping several Republican votes to its side, just barely crossing the minimum number needed.

With this budget, the can has effectively been kicked further down the road than it was already before. The headline number is, of course, the 32% increase in individual income tax that begins with effect from Jul. 1, 2017. But the budget also raises many more taxes without freezing already sky-high property taxes, as the Governor demanded. What's worse, the budget does not include any spending reforms or changes to Illinois' out of control pension system that has been deliberately under-funded by politicians for decades. By all standards, this is a desperate budget passed by a desperate house to avoid a bond rating downgrade.

The problem is, that downgrade has not been avoided - it is still imminent in the future unless the state can clean its mess up. Unfunded pension liabilities and unpaid bills from the last two years together form massive pieces of debt that the budget simply does not address. Yes, essential services like IDOT and the university system, not to mention local school districts, do get a much-needed breath of life (despite cuts), but a crisis will come soon enough to bring everyone back to square one. This budget is a disaster and bad news for the residents of the state. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

On the verge of history

Tomorrow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will begin his three-day visit to Israel, a historic event that will be the culmination of a 25 year long process that began when Prime Minister PVN Rao established formal diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, although informal, and particularly intelligence-related, relations, have existed since Indira Gandhi established RAW with the assistance of Mossad. But it's not just the post-Independence history that is worth remembering: India's relations with what is today the state of Israel goes back thousands of years, as far back as the Roman Empire, and of course the Liberation of Haifa, which is memorialized at Teen Murti in New Delhi (which is not about Nehru).

Israel has been India's strongest, one-sided ally since Independence. Thanks to the appeasement politics that swept the nation following the loss of territory to Pakistan, Indian leaders bent over themselves to appease Arab Muslim kingdoms by being strongly vocal against Israel - in many cases, even stronger than many of those countries! India has repeatedly voted against Israel at the UN for decades, and given space to anti-Israeli NGOs. And yet, Israel has patiently worked to befriend New Delhi, always taking India's so-called principled stance in their stride. Never has Israel interfered in Kashmir, not has it used the gun of human rights to corner India, although it had every reason to do so. In 1999, at the height of the Kargil War, Israel readily supplied India with crucial radars, even as no other country wanted to get involved in the stand-off. This, to a country that for fifty years refused to recognize it.

PM Modi's visit serves as a historical course-correction to the silly idea that India can condemn Israel in public and yet purchase weapons and share technology from it, while also sharing similar security issues. Israel and India are natural partners for anyone who can view the world from outside the Muslim appeasement lens - and strong, public ties with Israel are merely an acknowledgement of that. Furthermore, by refusing to visit Ramallah on the same visit, PM Modi has finalized India's dehyphenation of Israel and Palestine, which to Israel is much like how the US dehyphenated India and Pakistan under President Bush. As the leading Arab states have covertly done, India must view the two as separate countries, and leave them to bilaterally handle their problems.

For Israel and India, the potential for collaboration is immense, from sectors as varied as agriculture to space. 
From a historical perspective, it is akin to a ghar wapsi for an Indian civilization that has long had contacts with the Jewish people, and with whom we have much history to share. A people whose civilization was wiped out by invaders, a people who have rebuilt an old civilization together with a modern state, and a people who have and continue to face brutal terrorism that seeks to wipe out their existence. For the Hudim and the Yahudim, it is a visit that will change history.