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by tjmHolden

21 Jan 2009

Image: Illustration by Gil Ahn
Diagram Courtesy of seatguru.com





As my many loyal readers have (ahem!) certainly noticed, this blog has been silent of late. The result of my having been caught in a cycle of endless peripatacity: back and forth across various sectors of the heavens. It hasn’t necessarily made me any holier, but it has meant boarding a large number of planes, which, in turn, has meant that I have had to field the query that doubles as this entry’s title, quite often.

Not necessarily a satisfactory trade-off, right?

And especially when I tell you the next thing: all those ticketing agents—no matter how polite or cute or helpful they may have been—were asking me the wrong damn question the whole time. And, making matters that much worse, I was giving them a wholly worthless answer in return.

Now, for those of you out there who have ridden a plane or two in your lifetime—and, especially, for those of you planning on doing so in the future—this matter may come of some interest. For, It turns out that there IS a really good and serviceable answer—but only in response to the really good and serviceable question. But that isn’t the question that normally gets asked. You know, the one that determines whether you get a chance to shoot photos of marshmallow-puffy clouds and rusty rooftops and the patchwork quilt of rotated farmlands receding through the weathered plexiglas versus the opportunity to slide untroubled from your seat and walk unimpeded to the john as often as you might care to, during your two, or five or nine hour flight.

So, what would that better, more important question be? (Well [cliffhangers!], for that you’ll have to negotiate the jump . . .)



by Farisa Khalid

21 Jan 2009

“Serendipity” originated in India.  The word derives from the old Persian name for Sri Lanka, and tells the story of three princes who went on a journey, always stumbling upon things that seemed inconsequential, but turned out to be important later in their lives.  These accidental discoveries led them to claim unsought rewards (marriage to beautiful princesses, wealth, land) as a result of their wisdom and reasoning.

It seems only fitting that the film that swept the Golden Globes this year, a film about India, should exemplify how Fate and the determination of an individual can overcome misery and despair. 

Following a few great European directors before him, like Jean Renoir (The River), Louis Malle (Phantom India), and David Lean (A Passage to India), Danny Boyle cleverly, chooses not to assume the role of an insider.  He sees India with Western eyes - eyes so sensitive to detail that his vision of India is an epic, modern poem of hope and perseverance set against a backdrop of burning colors, dust, and teeming humanity. 

Vikas Swarup’s novel, Q & A, is terrific source material. The story centers on a boy from the slums of Bombay (now Mumbai), abused, orphaned, forced to hustle and con to survive, who fortuitously lands as a contestant in India’s most popular game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and to the shock of the glib host and the rapt viewers, nails every question to pull himself out of poverty.

The story’s hero, Jamal Malik, tells us, “You don’t have to be a genius to get it right.”  For him, you learn by living.  Each question posed on the game show turns out to have significant meaning in Jamal’s life, and triggers a wave of memory, often rife with pain and realization, that leads him to pick the right answers.

Simon Beaufoy’s kaleidoscopic screenplay and Boyle’s imaginative direction bring these memories to life so vividly, that the imagery haunts you long after you’ve left the theater: 
scenes of young Jamal and his older brother, Salim, outracing corrupt petty policeman, with M.I.A.’s raspy, soulful voice pulsating in the background; the horror of the Mumbai riots, where mobs of Hindu fundamentalists tear through the slums and kill Jamal’s mother as a young boy painted in bright blue dressed as the warrior-god Ram stands by, passively observing the carnage; and, a truly inspired moment when the seven-year-old Jamal, trapped in an outhouse, learns of superstar Amitabh Bachan’s nearby visit, and literally, swims through shit to get his autograph.

Older Jamal is played with steely resolve by the talented British actor, Dev Patel. Patel’s angular, gaunt face and thin, wiry lips are wonderfully expressive; He has the look of a young man who’s lived far beyond his years. There’s a brilliant scene with the slick game show host, Prem Kumar, played by veteran Bollywood star, Anil Kapoor.  Kumar has just tried to give Jamal a tip-off to a crucial question.  It’s a casual act of sabotage that he thinks an uneducated “slumdog” won’t be able to resist.  But the interaction that ensues on the set of the game show between the complacent, insidiously evil host and the wise contestant ends up having all the charged suspense and quiet exhilaration of a stand-off in a well-made Western.

The soul of the film is the love story between Jamal and his childhood sweetheart, Latika.  Jamal’s relentless need to reunite with her and to keep her safe and happy is what motivates him to get on the game show in the first place.  Circumstance and poverty turns her into a gangster’s moll, and her attempts to escape are thwarted by the bad man’s ruthless thugs.  If millions of viewers tune in to see Jamal on the show, then perhaps Latika will be among them, and she can get out to reach him. She’s embodied beautifully by Freida Pinto, who possesses such innate grace and delicacy that she seems to glow from within.

Slumdog Millionaire is a brilliant, young man vs. the Establishment story.  It’s Dickens gone Bollywood.  Steven Spielberg, in his acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award said that Hollywood needs to accept the fact that the future of entertainment is changing, and that we will begin to see more stories told with a greater diversity of people from different backgrounds and cultures.  Slumdog’s finale, an enthusiastic send-off to Indian movie dance numbers, is a glorious confirmation of that statement.

by Rob Horning

21 Jan 2009

In a patronizing piece of pseudo-sage advice, Slate tech columnist Fahrad Manjoo tells us to get over ourselves and just join Facebook. Everybody’s doing it, and the law of network effects demands that you follow through and get with the program.

Whenever network effects are invoked—the more people who use something, the better it becomes for all users—there always seems to be implied coercion. (I’m remembering my father and many others insisting that I must get a cell phone, since they all had them and expected me to be subject to the same perpetual availablility.) Often, as in Manjoo’s piece, the coercion manifests as an accusation of snobbery and elitism.

I was reminded of a quote from an Onion story, “Area Man Constantly Mentioning He Doesn’t Own a Television”: “I’m not an elitist. It’s just that I’d much rather sculpt or write in my journal or read Proust than sit there passively staring at some phosphorescent screen.”
Friends—can I call you friends?—it’s time to drop the attitude: There is no longer any good reason to avoid Facebook. The site has crossed a threshold—it is now so widely trafficked that it’s fast becoming a routine aide to social interaction, like e-mail and antiperspirant.

Ordinary people use antiperspirant and Facebook, therefore you should too, unless you vainly think you are extraordinary. Just as, according to Manjoo, it is now “an affectation not to carry a mobile phone,” it has become false and phony not to go along and get along, and maintain a Facebook account, where your self-constructed identity can be made more accessible and public domain, open to penetration by a variety of marketing efforts and data-collection initiatives. Of course, Manjoo insists that the “finely grained privacy controls” allow users to make of Facebook what they want, and insulate themselves as much as they find necessary. Somehow that network of controls, maintained ultimately by the company itself, is in Manjoo’s estimation preferable to the ultimate control we can seize for ourselves by simple nonparticipation. But now Facebook is the “Wikipedia of people,” (I thought Wikipedia already included people. Hmm) and failing to list ourselves is counterproductive to our own interests. And without “ambient awareness” of our friends, we will lose touch with them—we’ll cease to know them by the standards of friendship that Facebook has ushered in. Manjoo explains the New Friendship this way: “Just as you can sense his mood from the rhythm of his breathing, sighing, and swearing, you can get the broad outlines of his life from short updates, making for a deeper conversation the next time you do meet up.”

But why bother meeting at all? Through the magic of ambient awareness, I can have friends on my time, while I’m multitasking. Rather than muster the concentration for a reciprocal exchange with a particular friend, I can blast out an update or a funny picture or my wry commentary on a link. (Kind of like I do on this blog—hello, friends!) Ambient awareness seems a lot like selective attention, the ideal relationship mode for overcommitted, self-centered people. Facebook allows us to follow one another as though we are all celebrities, to be regarded admiringly from afar. Such admiration requires no direct interaction, just updating. The friend-friend relation is transformed into a celebrity-fan relation, and we flip-flop between those distinct fantasies, enjoying the vicariousness and the voyeurism on one hand, and the egomania on the other. As American Scene contributor Matt Frost puts it, “Facebook is like a breeder reactor of solipsistic fatuity.”

Frost’s analysis of the difference between blogging and updating Facebook is apropos:

A good blogger lives in constructive fear of two things: writing for everyone, and writing for no one. Recognizing that your boss, your kids, or even your future self will be able to read your work long after you’ve written it should impose some temperance and moderation, while the knowledge that every one of your readers could simply opt out should encourage selectivity and creativity. Facebook, however, smashes both of these healthy constraints to self-expression. The semi-captive audience of all those friends fosters the illusion that somebody cares what you had for breakfast, while the exclusivity of the network implies that your more ill-considered announcements will be charitably received. Reading the status updates of long-lost friends and acquaintances convinced me I’d like them better if they stayed lost for longer.

Ouch. But memory does a much better job of bringing to our minds what we want to think of people we have known than a Facebook page does. Facebook is an assault on memory.

by Matt White

21 Jan 2009

The scream is blood curdling. It sounds like something from a horror film. But it’s not. It’s Jerry Lott, better known as the Phantom, and that scream is the first thing you hear on one of the most ragged, raw, frantic songs my ears have ever heard. “Love Me” was recorded live in one take in the summer of 1958 and is an explosion of out of control ramshackle energy. Lott was a country singer who turned to rock ‘n roll after hearing Elvis Presely for the first time in the mid-‘50s. Calling himself the Phantom and wearing a lone ranger-style mask he apparently spent three months recording his first song “Whisper Your Love” and decided he wanted to do something quick and loose for the other side of the record.  Thus, “Love Me” was born.

After Lott’s opening howl the guitar starts playing a sinister-sounding rockabilly riff and Lott makes an unintelligible noise before commanding to his bandmates “Let’s go!” The bass slides in, then the drums and the Phantom starts his Elvis-like singing. When the music stops and he moans the title he sounds desperate and out of breath. At forty-three seconds in we’re already halfway done and a guitar solo starts off unassumingly, sounding like it could be any other rock ‘n roll solo. Is it possible Lott’s noticed too that it was somewhat formulaic and tepid? Because just after the solo starts you can hear him away from the mic yell “Come on, let’s go!” and suddenly the band is tearing into their instruments with such intensity that they seem to fall out of your speakers. “Keep going!” Lott calls out as the drummer wails on a cymbal that sounds more like a garbage can lid. On the last verse Lott is barely able to get the words out and when the music stops he’s breathing like he just ran a marathon. As he repeats the title the “love” simply becomes a grunt and only the “me” remains.

Tragically, the Phantom’s music career was cut short in 1961 when he sustained severe injuries in an accident that sent his car tumbling 600 feet down a mountainside in South Carolina. “Love Me”, however, lives on as an example of ferociously fun, chaotic, rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form.

by Jason Gross

21 Jan 2009

I’ll return to the New Kingpins series soon but I couldn’t resist this excellent summation of the now (thankfully) former head of the FCC Kevin Martin, explaining how he was not only a failure but also a scumbag who demoralized and fragmented his group too.  No wonder he’s being compared to Bush.

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