Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When I was in high school about 4 and a half years ago, we didn't have cellphones or ipods. Okay well a few kids might have had phones but it wasn't that much of a common thing. I was 17. I don't think I had even heard or seen of an ipod at the time.

Now today, I talked to my cousin who is in eighth grade, so I think she's 13, or 12. She told me that if a teacher sees your phone you get suspended for 2 days. And I thought - WOT?? Just for seeing their phone? I was even more shocked that apparently all the kids in her middle school have mobile phones and ipods. They're not allowed to use ipods on the bus, even though many do.

This whole conversation started because I picked her up from school and I asked that when she takes the bus, if she's one of the good kids or the bad kids. I was usually one of the good kids, but who wanted to be a bad kid sometimes. She told me on her bus, all the eighth graders sit in the back, and yes, sometimes she's one of the bad kids. She was told off once for chewing gum. I remarked 'well that's not really being bad', and then the whole ipod thing came up.

Oh yeah, my cousin also has her own laptop. I got my laptop when I was 18, four years ago. And 4 years later, here she is, 12/13, with her own laptop. Umm what's gonna happen in 10 years? Will babies have receptors attached to their heads so that their parents know where they're waddling to?

I just can't believe that just over 4 years ago, most seniors in high school didn't have mobile phones, let alone ipods as well. At least not in my school which at the time was pretty middle-class/lower-middle-class. And now? 11, 12, and 13 year olds have phones and ipods! They don't need either! I still don't have an ipod and I'm a music junkie, and could have certainly used one for my studying in college, when I did actually study, instead of always carrying around a pack of CDs. Middle-schoolers don't need such gadgets. Kids don't need their own phone, until say, they're 16, once they start driving. But even then its not really necessary.

Thank God I didn't grow up in a time like today. Even though now, I'm starting to realize just how much technology is a big part of my life, even though I don't have things like an iphone. But look, here I am on this blog, that I've had for over 3 years. I would be a lot more unorganized if I didn't have things like Google apps, and google docs, and gmail. (And now google has released its own phone. Oh google, why don't you just ask us to become your slaves. Oh wait, that's happened already). Look at what digital video has done to the filmmaking world - actually a lot of positive stuff because its easier now for low-budget filmmakers to make films. Same with digital photography.

But still, over the last few weeks there were times when I shut off from the digital world, as much as I could. When before I would check my email frequently during a day, I had to force myself to check it every night. When a couple weeks ago I was watching CNN every night, I really don't know why, I stopped myself because it was just misinformation-overload. I had to detox. Technology is great, but is there really a need to be connected all the time? Do we really have to be available, within contact, 24/7? Do we really need all this constant stream of information (I'm talking about the dumb election)? I know this might sound fairly typical, but I'm interested to see how I will function in Bihar for 3-4 weeks, where I doubt I can check my email everyday. Or even in Delhi for that matter, who knows how connected I can be while I'm there. I think this will be good for me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

What's going on in Europe?

Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia on the rise in Europe, decline in US
Jim Lobe, The Electronic Intifada, 21 September 2008

WASHINGTON (IPS) - Both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have risen in Europe over the last four years, according to a survey conducted earlier this year and released here Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

While attitudes towards Muslims are substantially more negative than those against Jews across Europe, anti-Jewish sentiment as grown steadily in five of the six countries surveyed on the question, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey that was conducted last spring.

The increase in anti-Jewish feeling was particularly pronounced in Spain. In 2005, 21 percent of respondents there said they had unfavorable opinions of Jews. That percentage rose to 46 percent in 2008, just below the 52 percent of Spaniards who said they held negative views of Muslims.

"Ethnocentric attitudes are on the rise in Europe," according to an analysis that accompanied the survey." Growing numbers of people in several major European countries say they have an unfavorable opinion of Jews, and opinions of Muslims, which were already substantially more negative, have also grown increasingly so compared with several years ago."

The survey found that both anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish opinion in Western Europe were most prevalent among older people, those with less education, and those who identified their political views with the right.

The poll, whose findings have been released in a series of reports over the last three months, queried respondents in six European nations -- Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, and Spain -- as well as the United States on attitudes towards Jews and Muslims.

The poll found that, of all seven countries, the US and Britain were the least prejudiced against the two groups.

In the US, for example, only seven percent of respondents said they had negative views of Jews, down from eight percent four years ago. In Britain, anti-Semitic feeling was unchanged -- nine percent of Britons said they had unfavorable views of Jews.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in the US has actually declined markedly over the same period -- 31 percent of US respondents said they had negative views of Muslims in 2004; that fell to 23 percent this year. In Britain, on the other hand, Islamophobia increased over the same period from 18 percent to 23 percent.

In all of the other five countries surveyed, anti-Semitism rose over the four years. In France, anti-Jewish sentiment rose from 11 percent to 20 percent; in Germany, from 20 percent to 25 percent; in Russia, from 25 percent to 34 percent; and in Poland, from 27 percent to 36 percent, according to the survey, which also found the sharpest rise in Spain between 2005 and 2006 (from 21 percent to 40 percent).

Negative views of Muslims in the five countries were significantly more prevalent than those of Jews.

At around 50 percent, anti-Muslim feeling was most prevalent in Spain, Germany, and Poland. While Spain topped the list -- 52 percent of respondents said they had negative views of Muslims -- that was actually a decline from 61 percent in 2006.

In Germany, anti-Islamic feeling also fell slightly since 2006 -- from 57 percent to 50 percent, while in Poland, the increase in anti-Muslim sentiment has grown steadily -- from 30 percent in 2005 to 46 percent last spring. French opinion has followed a similar path. In 2004, 29 percent of respondents there said they had negative views of Muslims. By last spring, the percentage had grown to 38 percent.

In Russia, anti-Muslim sentiment actually declined over the four years -- from 37 percent to 32 percent.

Among respondents in France, Germany and Spain, the survey found somewhat less prejudice among respondents younger than 50 than those who are older. Thus, 41 percent of respondents in the three countries who were under 50 years old said they had unfavorable views of Muslims, compared to 41 percent of respondents under 50 who shared those views. With respect to anti-Semitic feeling, the comparable numbers were 25 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Education levels were even more important in the incidence of prejudice. Among those who had no university education, anti-Muslim views were held by 50 percent. By contrast, 37 percent with some university education were Islamophobic. The respective figures among university-educated respondents with anti-Semitic views were 31 percent and 20 percent.

Prejudices were stronger on the right than on the left or center. Fifty-six percent of respondents who described themselves as on the right said they had negative views of Muslims, and 34 percent said they had negative views of Jews. Forty-two percent of self-described leftists admitted to anti-Islamic views; 28 percent to anti-Semitic views.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

 A film set in India in Hinglish directed by great British filmmaker Danny Boyle, based on an Indian novel, financed by British production houses, (I think) distributed by American distribution companies, and starring a British-Asian actor in the lead role with Bollywood stars in supporting roles...I'm very intrigued to watch this. This film just won best film in Toronto.

Dir. Danny Boyle. UK . 2008. 120 mins

Danny Boyle's bravura command of the film medium elevates the melodramatic Slumdog Millionaire into a dazzling crowd-pleaser teeming with the sights, sounds and sensations of modern India. The intricate tale of a slum orphan turned potential millionaire has all the sweep and emotion of a great novel and should readily connect with both critics and audiences to provide a substantial specialist hit.

The well-worn cliche states that a visit to India is like an assault on the senses. Boyle seems determined to replicate the experience for cinemagoers with a film that displays incredible energy and verve. Deploying quicksilver editing and gorgeous images, Boyle creates a breathless plunge into an alien world where you really can feel the heat and dust, saffron hues, unrelenting pace of life and sheer, unremitting poverty of the country. His characteristically focused approach takes the material by the scruff of the neck and ensures that any reservations about the story or plotting are easily overlooked.

We first encounter 18 year-old Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) when he is one question away from scooping the 20 million rupee jackpot on the Indian version of television phenomenon 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?' hosted by smarmy, patronising Prem (Amil Kapoor). Nobody can quite believe that a humble tea boy from a call centre can have reached this position without cheating. He is arrested by the police, tortured and interrogated by a sympathetic inspector (Irrfan Khan) but his testimony proves how he legitimately knew the answers. It may appear a slightly contrived story structure but each question and answer then becomes a means of revisiting his earlier life.

Almost like a modern day Oliver Twist or Pip from Great Expectations, Jamal begins life in dire poverty as an orphan on the streets of Mumbai alongside his brother Salim (Azharudin Mohammed Ismail). The young Jamal is played by Ayush Mahesh Khedeker who has the kind of wide-eyed charm and determination that will make audiences instantly take the character to their hearts. We subsequently discover how the boys fall in with the Fagin-like figure Maman who organises gangs of street beggars. They also become opportunistic tour guides at the Taj Mahal before life starts pulling them in different directions; Jamal towards decency and Salim towards crime. Jamal's attraction to the young Latika (Rubina Ali) becomes one of the most important events as she becomes the lost love of his life and the motivation for all the actions that lead him to the Millionaire hot seat and a deeply romantic, rousing finale.

Unfolding with a perfectly judged pace that balances forward momentum with the ability to elaborate and enhance our understanding of the main characters and what motivates them. There is a strong undercurrent of social commentary and insight that only adds some grit to the more fairytale qualities of the story. Slumdog Millionaire builds into a moving tale of hope and the inspirational power of love to transform even the most humble life. It is a message and movie that audiences should find irresistible.

Monday, September 08, 2008

First Ann Arbor Palestine Film Fest challenges stereotypes

page 11 of the Michigan Independent! woo

One of the best works I have ever read about Palestine is not a book, but a graphic novel. Joe Sacco’s Palestine has an immense amount of details about the lives of Palestinians in the early 1990s at the end of the first intifada (Palestinian uprising). Words alone cannot adequately express the countless details about the harrowing experiences of torture, imprisonment, life in the refugee camps, and violence that took place at the hands of the Israeli occupation. Sacco’s somber yet gentle black and white illustrations provide many exclamations and subtleties that help the reader see the situation of the Palestinians through Sacco’s always observant and critical eyes.

Sacco’s work is a resounding example of how visual images can be used to effectively tell the complex stories and history of the Palestinians. It is precisely for this reason that the first Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival—set to debut in March 2009—has come into existence. Visual images, in either documentary or fictional films, that relay the stories of Palestinians in Palestine/Israel, or of those in the diaspora, are the most effective way for an audience to gain an understanding.

The conventional media networks and companies in the United States do not truthfully portray Palestine or Palestinians. Often, the mainstream news media does not report on stories that focus on Palestinians, while the entertainment media has hardly ever depicted Palestinians in a fair and non-stereotypical manner (look no further than films like Executive Decision, True Lies, Black Sunday, Death Before Dishonor, The Ambassador). For us to accurately understand not only the Zionist-Palestinian conflict, but also Palestinians themselves, including their history, culture, and social issues, we must look elsewhere. As such, what could be a better way to gain a more knowledgeable understanding about Palestinians than from films that provide an alternate media to Big Media? Yet, much of the public is not aware of films that address issues and show stories focused on Palestinians.

The festival aims to dispel myths about Palestinians that have been perpetuated by numerous Hollywood movies and biased and inaccurate news reports (Fox News or CNN’s Glenn Beck, anyone?). Attendees of the Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival will gain new understanding into the lives of Palestinians by seeing works made by both Palestinians and non-Palestinians that address the culture, history, and social and political issues of Palestinians. Attendees will also see Palestinians shown in a different and more humane light, for Palestinians will be depicted as being living, breathing, and surviving communities as opposed to the many unfair stereotypes that surround them.

We hope that all sorts of audiences attend the film festival, and gain from it new and more well-rounded understandings of Palestinians. After the film festival concludes, planning for the next festival will commence soon after, for we envision this to be an annual event that will bring different communities together, such as the University community, local artists and activists, along with local Arab-American communities, to engage in discussions about Palestine through the use of art. We are already well on our way to having a successful film festival in March. We hope that the communities in and around Ann Arbor will enjoy and benefit from our film festival for years to come; and that the voices of Palestinians will finally be heard.