Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rod Blagojevich is so infamous

That even Indian newspapers are putting his 'deeds' on the front page.

Take a look at this:

Rod: the legend of the toupee

An Indian summer - 3: Sights and sounds

A weeks since I arrived here. So I thought I would give a few tidbits about the daily routine here.

Transportation: Scooters (the Vespa kind, not the razor kind) and motorcycles are probably the most popular means of transportation here. The traffic situation is not nearly as bad as it is in bigger metropolises, but it is certainly much worse than when I used to live here. It is a problem of limited space, mostly. The roads are narrow and with construction booming, it is becoming difficult to fit all the vehicles on the road. There certainly are more cars than before. Believe it or not, Chevy is one of the more popular brands, alongside Honda, Nissan and Suzuki. Motorists, scooterists (judging by the red squiggly line underneath, this doesn't seem like a word - oh well) and motorcyclists have to share the road with the obvious - pedestrians and bicyclists - and the not-so-obvious - stray dogs. Still, it was quite a pleasure riding out on my friend's motorcycle. Nothing beats the feeling of semi-hot wind hitting you in the face. (I am serious, BTW - it is pretty enjoyable)

The auto-rickshaw (a three wheeled version of a taxicab) remains an overwhelmingly popular choice of  conveyance. Here's a picture of one:

Tricked out ride []

Cricket: India is a place of many different languages, customs, traditions and cultures. Despite the dizzying array of differences, cricket (I did two posts explaining the basics here and here) remains the one big, glorious unifying passion. One of the few vestiges of the British colonial rule adopted enthusiastically by the country, the sport has lately been touted as a symbol of the nation's growing economic might. I will let the politicos and economicos worry about the symbolism and deeper meanings and whatnot. For me cricket symbolizes simplicity and harkens back to childhood. Find any clear space around your neighborhood, grab a bat (or two) and a ball and off you go. Even as I am writing this, I can hear kids playing with a plastic ball outside.
So it was with great pleasure that I fished out my old bat from the innards of my old room and played for a solid two hours with my friends a couple days ago. Now my friends may tell you that I suck at this great game, but I think I have gotten better with time. Besides, if sucking were ever to be a crime, the entire post-Lebron Cavaliers lineup would be in jail by now.

Entertainment: I have been spending an unhealthy amount of time playing "Uno" lately. You see, since we used to do the same years and years ago, it made complete sense to us to resume the noble practice. Each round is accompanied by an inordinate number of jeers, insults and hoots and heckles. Skips and draw fours bring out the worst in us, I guess.
Our ancient television set at home has, after many years of faithful service, decided to start phoning it in. The color scheme changes randomly on the screen, and depending on the time of the day, everything either turns red or blue. Doesn't take away from the actual scene on the screen, though, so I am OK with that. Most TV programs can be divided into the following categories: Indian soap operas, 24/7 cable news (English and Hindi), music videos and movies, cricket, and more cricket. Lately they've started airing a bunch of American shows (like Modern Family, White Collar, Family guy etc.) on a few channels. Strangely, there seems to be a lot of  "Las Vegas" on air on these channels. Here's your chance to see pre-Transformers and pre-Fergie Josh Duhamel, folks.

I think that's enough for now. More in the next installment.

Monday, June 27, 2011

TV review: Dexter

This is one of those spur of the moment posts, where I feel an irrational surge of bravado and hope to dazzle y'all with my piercing wit and wise criticism. So here we go.

'Dexter' is a television drama that airs on the premium cable channel Showtime. Boutique cable channels like Showtime and HBO have a slight edge over traditional networks (like NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX) and even basic cable networks (like USA, TNT, FX, etc.) because they don't always have to cater to the lowest common denominator. Unlike the aforementioned lay channels, these highbrow entertainment meccas largely survive on (quite hefty) subscription fees that viewers shell out. This means that only those who want to watch programming on Showtime or HBO will pay. Being guarded from inadvertent viewers in this way also allows these networks more leeway in terms of graphic images, language and more explicit content matter like drugs or violence. Nothing is bleeped out; black bars are not needed here.

While it is true that such freedom has brought us genuine masterpieces like "The Sopranos" and "The Wire", the lack of any restrictions on content also gives show creators an excuse to show excessive violence and sex wrapped in the guise of historical lushness or avant-garde television. One look at the travesties that are "The Tudors" (a drama about Henry VIII rife with horrendous inaccuracies and laughable plot changes) and "Californication" (a drug-infested tale about a snarky author suffering writer's block) confirms this assertion.

Fortunately, "Dexter" is not one of these "we'll show you all the goods just  cuz we can" type shows. The conflict portrayed in the show is real, the tension palpable.

The main premise of the show is this: the protagonist Dexter Morgan is a forensic analyst working for the Miami police. During day he is a genial, if slightly quirky and moody, coworker who brings donuts for his colleagues and makes questionable jokes with his analyst buddies. He has a kid sister Debra who is also a detective with the homicide department. Their father was also a cop, making the Morgans a true blue blood family.

Where is the drama in that, mate? Well at night time, Dexter doubles as Batman a serial killer. Don't worry, though. He is the good kind of serial killer (if such a kind can, in fact, exist). Turns out Dexter was trained by his dad at an early age to channel his violent tendencies to do good for society by eliminating those who deserve to die. His dad Harry also taught him a code that basically says,  "Don't kill innocent people". Leaving aside the obvious moral and ethical quandaries regarding who gets to choose who deserves to die when, Dexter's increasing difficulties with maintaining two lives makes for very compelling TV.

And Michael C. Hall (nominated multiple times for a best actor Emmy) plays the hell out of Dexter. Each episode is peppered with inner monologues of Dexter and his growing bewilderment with social conventions like small talk, and Hall obviously relishes playing an emotionally empty but basically good to the core serial killer. I say this without the faintest trace of irony, because if you want to truly enjoy the show you have to buy into the "good serial killer" mantra otherwise it won't make much sense. The secondary characters need some work on the show. Sometimes they are mere props meant to support Dexter is his quest to escape the long arms of the very same law he helps uphold in the day. And people who do begin to suspect Dexter tend to die at the end of the season. To date there have been five seasons of the show (I am currently watching the fifth season), and though all have followed roughly similar plotlines (while the police is busy with other crimes in the city, someone from the department gets suspicious about Dexter. Dexter tries to evade this person and tragic shit happens, but Dexter escapes at the end), the superior writing and acting makes it worthwhile to watch this show.

So get on your butts and catch this show. You'll like it.

Watch this, ahem, killer intro to see whether you like it or not. Such exquisite detail!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

An Indian summer - 2

Let's play a game. The name of this game is Where in the world is your favorite blogger?

Thank you for playing. Your favorite blogger is currently in a quaint little town called (read twice to memorize; there will be a quiz later) Vallabh Vidyanagar in the western Indian state of Gujarat. But I am sure that's like me saying that white dwarf WD 1620-26 is located alongside pulsar PSR 1620-26 A in the constellation Scorpius some 13000 light years away. (It's true. Look it up.)

Be happy, then, that I spent some time tinkering with Google Maps and GIMP (a free photo manipulation software, if you must know - sorta like photoshop for the poor) to demystify my location.

First, here is the good state of Gujarat. As you can see, it sits happily on the western edge of India, bordering the Arabian sea on the west and the south and Pakistan to the north.

Here is Vallabh Vidyanagar (if you are too tired of the long name, you can call it - as many locals do - V.V. Nagar), roughly 50 km (did I mention everything here is in kilometers, liters and kilograms?) from the coast.

UG Sports - 15: The ballad of Tim the Linecum

So unless you lived under a rock last October, you have probably heard of Tim "The Freak" Lincecum. There's something about that guy that strikes me as awesome. Maybe it's the fact that he's a power pitcher at 160 lbs or maybe it's the fact that he looks like Michael Phelps with girl hair. Or maybe it's the fact he listens to this song before every game.

This, by the way, was written by a close friend. I think he wishes to remain anonymous, but I couldn't take all the credit for writing this. He emailed me this piece saying this was his imitation of my style.

An Indian summer - 1

A warm (and I mean that literally - it's hovering in the high 90's here) hello to our very loyal readers, followers, feed readers, lurkers et al. from India. I haven't written much on these pages for a long, long time and that's because I had other oh-so-slightly important things to attend. Like finalizing on a medical school. And graduation.

But now that I am on a glorious three-week long vacation in India, I have bucketloads of free time. What better way to spend it than churning out blog posts (some of which will, inevitably, be of dubious quality)?

The Flight: The prospect of flying to India from the states is frightening. Total flying time is routinely around 16-20 hours. Unless you are flying to and from a major airport (e.g. Los Angeles to Mumbai), add a few more hours to that flying time for connecting flights, layovers and road transportation. In my case, I flew Emirates airlines from LAX to Dubai and from Dubai to Ahmedabad, a comfortably sized city in the western state of Gujarat. From there, my destination is about 90 km. Emirates is one of the handful of airlines that treats its economy-class passengers as more than worthless cargo. In-flight service is generous and courteous.

I wasted a good two hours trying to like the Adam Sandler-driven trash vehicle "Just go with it", also starring Jennifer Aniston and, inexplicably, Nicole Kidman, finally settling down to watch reruns of my favorite TV show "Mad Men." Dubai's airport is large enough to house an entire eastern European nation or one of those trendy enclaves like Monaco. There I spend a whole $6 on a tiny cup of Haagen-Dazs ice-cream.

After clearing immigration and customs at Ahmedabad airport, I arrived at my destination (a small town called Vallabh Vidyanagar) at 6 in the morning, local time on Wednesday. I had left LA at 1 pm local time on Monday. In all, I spent about 30 hours in flights, layovers and other miscellany.

As I am writing this, the ceiling fan is groaning at top speed, desperately trying to generate enough cool air to ward the heat away. My friends and grandparents told me it was a lot hotter last week. Should I be glad, then?

That's it for this first installment. In the next part, I will talk a bit more about the place I am at (history, customs, what's life like here and so on), but in the meantime, say hello to my little friend that allows me to communicate with the outside world:

It's a series of tubes!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review: Code Geass - A Gripping Anime Drama with an Unforgettable Protagonist

"I will crush Britannia."

These are the opening words of Code Geass, spoken by disaffected Britannian royal and certified magnificent bastard Lelouch Lamperouge. Code Geass is a two-season supernatural-mecha-drama anime. It is set in an early-future alternate world dominated by the Britannian Empire, a sort of twisted child of the USA and Imperial Britain dedicated to a doctrine of Social Darwinism. This Empire turns upon the child prince Lelouche after the assassination of his queen mother. Lelouch swears a two-fold oath: to wreak bloody vengeance upon the Britannian Empire, and to create a new world where he, his crippled sister, and other weak nobodies can live in peace.

On his path, Lelouch gains a unique superpower and creates a caped alter-ego, "Zero," a hammy revolutionary demagogue balanced somewhere between Robin Hood and Vladamir Lenin. The story covers Zero's undercover miracle-working at the head of a nationalistic Japanese terror cell and his absurd daytime antics at (what else) a Japanese boarding school. Elegant character designs (by CLAMP) and a stirring soundtrack complement passable graphics to bring this piece to life.

But the political drama, high-octane mecha fights (did I mention the mechas have roller-skates?) and Hogwarts-esque school silliness is just the icing on the cake. The real heart of Code Geass is the tension between Lelouch's two vows, his quest for power and his personal bonds, particularly to his sister. Code Geass takes a classic formula - hero corrupted by power - and adds a fresh twist. Lelouch earnestly tries to hide behind the mask of the monster, to submerse himself in the character of "Zero." Whether he succeeds is for the audience to judge. Even in those delicious moments when the facade cracks, the audience is left wondering: Is this the true Lelouch? Or is this Zero in a moment of weakness?

I won't say anything more on this subject, except that, as a brother who tends to baby his little sister, I found Lelouch's tender relationship with his sister Nunnally genuinely touching. But even as he protects Nunnally, he deceives her - here again, Lelouch is an enigma.

Code Geass takes three staples of the anime genre and executes them with refreshing grace. The first is "The Monster," as noted above. The second is "The Genius." Lelouch is billed as a child prodigy, and gets away with a few ridiculous feats because of this, including piloting a mecha training-free. However, true to form, Lelouch's genius flickers between genuine ability and facade. The best moments of the anime (and there are a lot of them) come whenever Lelouch begins losing control. Picture a puppeteer trying to hold one too many strings. When his schemes begin unravelling, Lelouch freezes, he panics, and the audience laps it up.

The third element Code Geass nails is "The Gift." Lelouch's "Geass," granted to him in the first episode, gives him the ability to force any person to fulfill one single command. I was able to get through this whole article without explaining the Geass superpower because, really, the ability to manipulate others is almost an extension of Lelouch's character.

All-in-all, Code Geass is a surprisingly deep series that will appeal to diehard anime-fans and first-timers alike. The series is by no means flawless - in particular, the character of Suzaku, ostensibly Lelouch's foil, tends to get a bit muddled. The series is also full of the ridiculously excessive nudity, innuendo, and schoolgirl-fetish-material that seems obligatory in an anime, so youngsters: Beware! The first season is by far the better of the two, but while season two (or R2) gets a bit lost mid-way, it finds its pace again near the conclusion. For all you non-anime fans out there, there is an English dub, but if you can handle subtitles, everyone agrees the sub (subtitled version) is the way to go.

So, if you're looking for engaging characterization, crafty intrigue, fun mecha fights, or gratuitous overly-bouncy animated boobies, check Code Geass out! Rating: 3.15/π