Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rick Santorum--Closing Doors

Rick Santorum, while announcing his GOP candidacy for the 2016 Presidential election,  held up a piece of coal to express pride in his immigrant ancestry--his grandfather came to this country to escape Fascist Italy and worked as a coal miner. He held the American flag in his other hand and paid tribute to the country which gave his family the dignity it deserved. But he is against Hillary Clinton who promotes pro-immigration policies and accuses her of importing unskilled labor that takes jobs away from “Americans”. Did someone lock the door to the US after his grandfather got in? Or does the American dream and freedom belong to only white unskilled immigrants?

Friday, October 17, 2014

From Sandusky to Sayreville: Locker Room Bullying and the Culture of Violence

"Take a little boy and a little girl. A little boy falls down and the first thing we say as parents is ‘Get up, shake it off. You’ll be OK. Don’t cry.’ When a little girl falls down, what do we say? ‘It’s going to be OK.’ We validate their feelings. So right there from that moment, we’re teaching our men to mask their feelings, don't show their emotions. And it’s that times 100 with football players. You can’t show that you're hurt, you can’t show any pain. So for a guy to come into the locker room and he shows a little vulnerability, that’s a problem. That’s what I mean by the culture of the NFL. And that’s what we have to change.”

This is what Bears receiver Brandon Marshall said last year when Jonathan Martin of the Dolphins went public about harassment by fellow teammates Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey. Racial epithets, homophobic language and sexual insults against Martin’s mother and sister were the routine of his locker room experience till he finally quit the team unable to bear the continuous onslaught of his teammates. “I hate going in everyday” he messaged a friend.

The story is that Miami Dolphins coaches asked Richie Incognito to toughen up teammate Jonathan Martin, the Sun Sentinel newspaper of Fort Lauderdale reports. And when Martin quit the team, some of his teammates felt it was not an appropriate masculine response and that he should have countered aggression with more aggression. They also spoke up in defense of Incognito. “We joke with each other. You can't have thin skin around here," defensive tackle Randy Starks said. "We're trying to clear Richie's name. He's getting a bad rap." The “misunderstood” Richie continued to draw a salary during his suspension till he was finally let go by the Dolphins.

The culture of aggression and violence spills over to the players’ personal lives. Hot on the heels of the Incognito/Martin mess, came the fiance-beating episode involving Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens. He reportedly punched his 
fiancée (Janay Palmer) in an elevator till she slumped unconscious to the floor, and then dragged her limp body half out of the elevator and left her there. However, when the police came, they arrested both Ray Rice and his fiancée apparently because she had tried to swat him earlier which precipitated the whole incident. A former prosecutor, Christopher Mallos said, “We always caution police officers not to make dual arrests. It’s a big mistake, because it’s their job to determine who is the predominant aggressor. And that predominant aggressor analysis is so important for the first responders to do. It’s difficult to do after the fact, it’s difficult for prosecutors to do. But if someone is the victim of a crime, if someone’s a victim of battering, ongoing, systematic abuse and control, and now they’re beaten again and they use violence against their abuser, and they are turned into a defendant in a criminal case, that’s almost like using the criminal justice system to re-victimize that victim. It should never happen.” A day after the arrest the couple got married--no doubt to protect Ray Rice from legal troubles. A footnote--Ray Rice is involved with "A Ray of Hope: A Pro-Kindness, Anti-Bullying, Teen Suicide Prevention Outreach." 

  No locker room scandal compilation is      complete without the mention of Jerry  Sandusky, assistant coach at Penn State,  who  molested 10 boys over a 15-year  period. The locker room showers cannot  ever wash away the filth of the man’s  actions. This place afforded the man the  privacy and the authority to traumatize  these boys. “Fall 2000: A janitor sees Sandusky in the showers performing oral sex on a young boy identified as Victim 8. The janitor tells co-workers and his supervisor, but the incident is not reported to authorities at the time.February 2001: A graduate assistant, later identified as Mike McQueary, reports seeing Sandusky rape a boy of about 10 years old in the shower of the campus football locker room.” Where did he find these boys? Through a charity for troubled children that he founded called The Second Mile.
Joe Paterno, the coach at Penn State, was fired (following an investigation conducted by an independent panel commissioned by Penn State) for covering up Sandusky’s sexual abuse to protect the football program at Penn State. The N.C.A.A. also imposed penalties on the university and the football program, including a $60 million fine, a loss of scholarships and a four-year postseason ban. When Paterno was fired, the Penn State student population was outraged. They went berserk destroying property and clashing with the police--a knee jerk reaction, if you will, to answer violence with more violence. 

Recently, in Sayreville NJ, 7 teenagers were charged in connection with sexual assault on freshmen in a hazing scandal that forced the high school to drop the football program for the rest of the season. CBS reports, “A freshman football player would be pinned to the locker-room floor, his arms and feet held down by multiple upperclassmen. Then, the victim would be lifted to his feet while a finger was forced into his rectum. Sometimes, the same finger was then shoved into the freshman player’s mouth.” “It’s sickening,” a parent told NJ Advance Media. “Just think if my son or somebody else’s son wanted to leave and they either felt overwhelmed by it, [or felt] they couldn’t leave because there was somebody at the door. It’s like being in a bad dream.”

When the scandal first broke out there was stunned disbelief. “People in the football program are the ones who are getting bullied,” wrote junior Anthony Porcaro, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound lineman and one of the school’s top college prospects, in a tweet “They have no proof of this incident. Why? BECAUSE IT DIDN’T HAPPEN!” His anger began Monday as simple sadness and disbelief. “I’m really about to cry,” he wrote in one message. “I can’t go to sleep over everything that’s happened,” he added in another. “The board has no right to mess up multiple kids futures over one kids rumor,” he continued. “My future depends on this program.”

The rant of this player reveals all too starkly the lack of compassion endemic to the football, indeed, the entire sports culture. Football seems to breed competition, violence, selfishness, lust for fame and greed. Maybe we can live with most of it, but violence is inexcusable. What makes boys of 15-17 behave in this way? How do they even think up such methods of torture? Sayreville Schools Superintendent, Richard Labbe, acknowledged that more information is needed, but “it seems highly unlikely that a group of rogue seniors suddenly concocted these attacks on their own, with no history of hazing in the program to serve as a catalyst.” Why do they think and act so aggressive? What kind of upbringing do they have? Is it so important for the parents that their children become tough, violent and popular?

I’ve seen parents cheering at school games and Little Leagues. Often they yell at the kids, yell at the coach and fight with other parents while getting into the “spirit” of the game, cussing everyone out. I’ve seen red-faced kids on the verge of tears, being told to be strong and to shape up. The root of the violent behavior is right there--in that parent whose only priority is to alter his child’s personality and keep it twisted. The child, in turn, walks all over the well-being of other people to claim a prize that is worth nothing if he has to wreck a few lives to get it. However, that is not how the public sees it. They do not connect the dots, the cause and the effect. To them the sport is entertainment. There is money, there are endorsements and there are sponsors. And the winner should take all. The children learn that at a very early age. That athletic entitlement comes with a feeling of superiority over those who cannot qualify for the team. They are popular, they get the girls and the glory. But they need that adulation every single day like a sugar fix. The pride comes not from just being the best but from forcing others acknowledge it. So sometimes they behave badly and get away with it. The high school bullies are the young Incognitos, Rices, and Sanduskys of the world.

The victims pay twice. They are victimized once by the bullies and victimized once again when their cry for help is ignored. The coaches in that school should all be fired--if they weren’t aware of this bullying they should have been and if they knew and didn’t help that is even worse. Football program should be cancelled till a better system of supervision is in place. Instead of mourning the death of football like that senior Sayreville athlete did, I would kiss the gridiron in relief that my children will be spared more ugliness.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sexist Foot in the Mouth--Satya Nadella

Back in December 2001, Cathy Newman wrote this in the National Geographic. "Although Silicon Valley ranked high in interracial trust and diversity of friendships, it landed near the bottom in civic engagement, charitable giving, volunteering, and civic leadership—and in sense of community as well."  Since then philanthropy has been given a boost, but it seems civic engagement and leadership have continued to be well buried under all that instability and the dog-eat-dog, male-dominated world of the hi-tech industry.  Giants such as Microsoft employ only 29% women in their global workforce and 61% are white. Oops, looks like interracial trust has taken a dive as well. Silicon Valley encourages innovations but only technological ones.

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Arizona on Oct 9, 2014, blithely went on a collision course while speaking about gender pay gap. He said that women should not ask for a raise but rely on their "karma" to be rewarded in a system that pays women 78% as much as men. It’s not really about asking for the raise but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along. And that, I think, might be one of the additional superpowers that, quite frankly, women who don’t ask for raises have. Because that’s good karma. It’ll come back. Because somebody’s going to know: ‘That’s the kind of person that I want to trust. That’s the kind of person that I want to really give more responsibility to.’ And in the long-term efficiency, things catch up.”

Nadella has since apologized for his remarks and is scheduled to go back to speak at the Hopper Conference next year. Why does he get a second chance?

Companies in Silicon Valley that can make a difference
What is extremely disturbing is the chauvinism of immigrants.  One would think that success in an adopted country comes with incredible personal sacrifices and an awareness of one's limitations which should foster humility rather than arrogance. Certainly, entitlement and sexism are not the right products of such struggles. Why cannot the CEO of Microsoft be more proactive about addressing gender gap issues in employment and pay? Why is he pretending that this issue is somehow beyond his control and is reserved for an Ultimate Reckoning at the pearly gates?

Newman in her article quotes George J. Leonard, a professor at San Francisco State University--"Confucius says, 'Of course you want to be rich and famous...It's natural. Wealth and fame are what every man desires.' But Confucius understood that there is a moral decision too, and sooner or later an accounting begins."

Now is a good time for the accounting to begin.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Prisoners of the Mind

Prisoners reveals that we are all prisoners of our minds. Fear and trauma makes us vulnerable and irrational. Two girls, best friends, are kidnapped. At once the joy is gone out of the lives of their families. They are inconsolable. Keller (Hugh Jackman), father of Anna, does not like being vulnerable and defenseless. He is like a man possessed, conducting his own investigations and decides that Alex, a young man with the IQ of a 10 yr. old, knows more than he is prepared to admit and stalks him. Alex's RV was on the street where the two girls played earlier and his subsequent actions render him suspicious. Keller even kidnaps and tortures Alex for information. The plot reminded me of the book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Browning, in which he talks about the psychology of the middle aged veterans who were given the task of killing Jews in Germany and how they did this initially with some reluctance but how insecurity of income and peer pressure drove them to commit such heinous acts that defy description and imagination.

Keller and his vigilante justice left a very bad taste in the mouth as also the suicide in police custody of Bob Taylor, another mentally challenged person and a suspect in the kidnapping. Alex and Bob Taylor were as vulnerable and defenseless as the girls and their families. Instead of being helped they were punished for being inarticulate and mentally challenged. Which makes me wonder, will these unfortunate people ever get support in society? The movie was truly dark and disturbing. What people do when they get desperate! Cruelty is innate in man. It was easy for Keller's son to use a gun and take the life of a deer. It was easy for Keller himself to torture.
Keller with fellow sufferers Nancy and Franklin Birch
His friend and wife were so desperate for news about their own child that they condoned torture although they knew it was wrong; however reluctantly, they sanctioned an act that was sinful in itself. The kidnappers themselves took lives with deliberate intention to inspire soulless existence. A priest had to live with his conscience murdering the murderer. Even the detective Loki with all his facial tics seems to have an aura of mystery around him, battling some past demons. 

Detective Loki

We all have evil within ourselves, but this movie gives us no hope. Let us at least protect the handicapped who are even less equipped to handle the evil. The movie is far from entertaining, it left me more scared than ever in my life for the future of sanity. The acting seems secondary to the plot for there are so many twists and turns that the viewer is struggling to keep pace with the story to be bothered about the characters themselves. However, I have to say that the detective Jake Gyllenhall stood out as an extraordinary performer.

Theatrical Release Date: September 20, 2013
Director(s): Denis Villeneuve
Actor(s): Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard
Genre(s): Drama, Thriller
Production Co.: Alcon Entertainment, 8:38 Productions
Distributor(s): Warner Bros
MPAA Rating: R
Website(s): Official Site, Facebook
Running Time: 153 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What Temples Teach

How does one protest against the rules of a temple? I visited a local Swaminarayan temple yesterday. We were just three people in a massive auditorium that temporarily houses the gods. They are building a huge (Italian) marble main temple next door.

There were two seating sections in this auditorium divided by a 
w  i  d  e aisle: one for the men and one for the women. My son Mukunda sat next to me because, what the hay, there was no one there. But, from God knows where (!), an eagle-eyed woman who saw through Mukunda’s disguise of beard and moustache came up to us and reminded us of the rules of the temple. Mukunda had to go to the other section. He was one among a thousand empty chairs on the left side of the auditorium. 

Women are not given tilak by the pandit. He hands it over to the male member of the family and he gives it to the women!! I believe the pandit keeps himself pure this way.
Purity is also maintained through separate chambers for men’s and women’s footwear so they have no way of pouncing on one another in lust.

I thought I should gloss over all this and just do what I came to do – pray. I pray that people treat each other with respect, consider all equal.

I knew this would be my last visit to that temple. The woman who made my son go over to the other section is only one of those thousands of women who will be taught to do the same. She will play an integral part in humiliating her own sex in the name of religion.

God is in my own home and I am very comfortable praying there.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Star Trek 2: Into Darkness

An action packed sci-fi thriller, it is fast-paced and furious.  I will not compare Star Trek 2 to The Wrath of Khan(1982) although the plots are somewhat similar, for the simple reason that the former presents a new era in cinematography with focus on non-stop, edge-of-the-seat tension rather than the psychological battle of wits of the older movie. As usual, the IMAX 3D effects are superlative. BUT, the writing leaves a lot to be desired. The movie has a thin storyline of a warped (pun intended) Starfleet commander using genetically engineered superhumans to build an arsenal to wage war against Klingons.  To what end escapes me.

James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) still has to prove himself as a competent captain of the Starship Enterprise.  He has this unfortunate tendency of not following orders and following his gut instincts which 
compromises the safety of his crew and the ship. His actions are more or less guided by sentiment.  The character appears an overgrown teenager not much wiser at the end of the movie. We also see more of the human side of Spock (Zachary Quinto) in his “bromance” with Kirk and the odd tender scene with Uhura (Zoe Saldana).  The old Spock is so dissociated from the new Spock that the latter seems a totally different character!!  And the younger one is so insecure that he has to dial the older Spock’s number for advice?  Has Nimoy become the futuristic soothsayer and has the present audience been sucked into the black hole of recycled themes of the original universe? The character of Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) is not allowed to develop into a mega evil one because of the focus on action.  He does not stand out as any special villain. I think he came in a little too early in the series; the screen writers did not wait for the development of a deep relationship to build between Kirk and Spock which is the crux of the old episode.  Of course, the new generation knows nothing about the old Khan but shouldn’t the writers be writing new stories?

 And what’s with the long leather trench coats?  That seems to be a new symbol of evil in movies. And as some reviewer (Nordling) pointed out why bother Khan for platelets or whatever when there is a shipload of cryonicised superhuman members with super healing powers right there? And why is Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) in the movie—she is irrelevant to the storyline and seems to be inept even as a hostage.  Her underwear scene is totally ridiculous.

The Enterprise team really solidifies under Kirk's leadership.  Scotty (Simon Pegg) bears special mention as the strong, humorous, principled character who reminds Kirk that their mission is exploration of the universe not extracting revenge by hurling torpedoes against Klingons.  It all ends well for the Enterprise but one mustn’t dwell too deeply on the grey areas of revenge, disobedience and rebellion.  The object of the movie is entertainment which prevalent in abundance.
The movie has no groundbreaking issues to deal with like its predecessors did; in that sense it is a disappointing venture.  It offers no thought provoking elements, nothing to place it in the context of the twenty-first century other than the graphics.  It is not so bold, after all, to go where no man has gone before.

Release dateMay 17, 2013 (USA)
DirectorJ.J. Abrams
PrequelStar Trek
Production companyBad Robot Productions
GenresAction film, Science Fiction, Adventure film
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 is a reminder of what happens when power gets to evil hands.  Power here is the new technology extremis which can regenerate lost limbs in human beings, but can also go horribly wrong when it can make people explode. It is unclear what the evil Mandarin hopes to do with this power, but he definitely means to kill the President of the United States, who is unfortunately never very well protected in movies. The President suffers a few humiliating moments when he is made to hang in an Iron Man suit several feet above a shipyard while Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and an army of Iron Man suits attempt to rescue him  and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) from exploding extremis beneficiaries. The focus of the movie is the gadgetry, and the miracles of modern science which is a good thing, because the few attempts at sentimentality were a hopeless failure.  The movie’s best feature was, of course, Ben Kingsley, the substitute Mandarin, who deteriorates from a grand panjandrum to a two-bit lecherous actor in the space of a few minutes. The young boy Harley, I think is thrown in as an attempt at sentimentality which I already remarked was a hopeless failure.  The movie is a visual treat in 3D and quite gripping in parts especially when the suit tries to rescue passengers who are sucked out of Airforce One (one really has to be willing to suspend disbelief!).  There is nothing Stark cannot escape from.  He can lay hands on tools, equipment, and cars 24/7 and, like Rumpelstiltskin of yore, spin junk into homing fragments of metal armor. In any case, his super-hero status is derived not from his inventions, but from a deep sense of personal responsibility in the fight against evil. He is human after all, with human anxieties.  Thankfully, the movie does not dwell on that aspect.  Thoroughly entertaining! 

Release Date: May 3, 2013 (USA) 
Director: Shane Black 
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce 
Running time: 130 minutes 
Producer: Kevin Feige 
Production companies: Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures

Rating: 3 out of 5