Saturday, September 20, 2008

Free speech and conversions

In recent days, there have been a spate of attacks on Christian churches in Karnataka, apparently fuelled by illegal conversions and by some literature that was circulated regarding the Hindu faith. Now, I've read many Christian cartoons that lampoon other faiths. They all read the same - two friends are talking, one of them is a Hindu/Muslim/'Pagan', and the other, a Christian. The non-Christian talks about how his god is great, and the Christian demonstrates by either kicking the idol, or invoking the Bible, that the Christian god is the greatest. Some other times, the non-believer in question faces trouble and invokes his god, which doesn't work. He then 'takes refuge in Jesus Christ'. Lo and behold, all his problems are solved, and he converts to Christianity.

Hilarious, don't you agree? The same stories have been used to convert masses of lower-caste and poor Hindus into Christianity. Apparently, these people were also given bribes - money, education, or health-care at missionary institutions to convert. And that, according to the BJP government, is anti-national, never mind what the constitution says about free speech and freedom of religion.

Countries have a right to free speech enshrined in their constitutions because a citizen's words must be protected from those who are 'offended' by them. Similarly, a right to freedom of religion includes freedom to propagate it, as long as it is not accomplished by coercion or force. Incidentally, religious conversions through bribes is NOT illegal nor is it a 'cognizable' offence.

Of course, I don't expect the VHP/Bajrang Dal goons to understand the constitution. But what I don't get is why the VHP, BD and whoever else produce evidence on those who convert forcibly? Why don't they setup hospitals, schools, and go and work with the poorest and most deprived, and convert them back to Hinduism? Why don't they educate the illiterate, so that they can distinguish between genuine intentions and propaganda? Instead of beating up people and generally giving Hinduism a bad name, why don't they read the Bhagavad Gita, and recognize that even Christianity is another way to the same god?

Well because, that is hard work. Because it takes an understanding of Hinduism that these goons are incapable of fostering within themselves. And because it isn't as easy as vandalizing a place of worship with implicit state backing.

Shame on you, Yeddyurappa, for supporting these acts.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Dark Knight.

I've postponed this review for a long time. Because I never thought I'd get this right. I still don't think I can express in words, my euphoric reaction to The Dark Knight, but I have to try.
Nearly everyone who has seen The Dark Knight agrees that it is a fascinating movie and that Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker is 'iconic'. So, I won't waste bandwidth by repeating that. I will though, try to explain why I liked the movie so much, and hopefully, that'll highlight a different perspective from the ones so far.

As a child, I was a prolific reader of comic books - Phantom, Flash and Batman were among my favourites. Of course, I read all the Indrajal comics, Super-,Spider-, Iron- and many other men, enjoyed Suppandi's jokes in Tinkle, Premchand's epics in the Chandamama, and a dozen others. Batman, though, was very different from the rest of them.

Nearly every character in Batman has a tragedy behind him/her. Batman and Robin's parents were murdered, the Penguin abandoned as a child, the Riddler was ridiculed, Mr.Freeze lost his wife, and Two-face was a staunch attorney till he was burnt and his girl-friend left him. (In the original; the movie says otherwise.)

That made the stories very interesting. Every character battled with their own history as well as with their opponents. A cloud of sorrow hung over the battles that were fought. The city of Gotham was dark, not because of a lack of light, but because of divisions, crime, and corrupt leaders, not unlike any modern Indian city.

Amidst all these, was the Joker, the prima donna of villains, the complete psychotic, who was was in a different league of villain.

Until Christopher Nolan came on the scene, no Batman movie came close to capturing the essence of these characters. The sets were too dark. Futile attempts were made to give Batman an aura of "batness" that never worked. The actors didn't know what they were doing (Tommy-lee Jones playing Two-face as a raving lunatic) or were too cute (nearly every Batman and Nicole Kidman) to portray the nuances of the Batman characters. In particular, Tommy-lee's portrayal of Two-face was more pathetic than Indian hockey - completely out of character, hopelessly out-of-depth, and looking for excuses to cover up bad performance. Catwoman and Mr.Penguin were better, but the directors did not succeed in freeing them from naive story-telling.

Nolan, with Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart and Christian Bale has done it right. Finally, we have a trio who understand what made the Batman comics a hit. We have a trio who are as comfortable with Frank Miller's dark knight as they are with Bob Kane's Batman. Add to it brilliant special effects, perfect support roles, and scintillating screen-play, and even while we have to forgive some mistakes like the story of how Harvey becomes Two-face, we get magic. Pure magic.

It's been a long while since a movie captured my imagination and brought back memories like this one did. Christopher Nolan has displayed amazing knack for portraying characters in The Prestige, The Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight. Here's hoping that he gives us many more moments of magic. For Heath ledger - May your soul rest in peace.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Chrome plated world domination

So, Google has released its browser. And if you are one who is wondering why Google released yet another browser when developers are struggling to cope with the four different ones that are already in the market, welcome to the club.

It isn't that the users are going to be benefited either. There aren't many features in Chrome that aren't in the IE8 Beta. For instance, both run tabs in separate processes. Both have a private browsing mode, and both consume tons of memory. Further, IE8 while being standards-compliant, also has a IE7 mode for sites that won't comply by the time the browser is released.

And V8, while being a better Javascript engine, isn't revolutionary. Running apps in secure sandboxes isn't new either.

Nor will Google's clientele necessarily switch to Chrome. From what I know, techies who would be the ones that download and use Chrome nearly never click on ads, while non-techies are generally happy with their default browser, be it IE or Safari. Yes, the percentage of techies who use Google Docs/Spreadsheets may have a better user experience, but again, unless they click on ads, how does Google benefit?

Here is my take on the "how". This is Google's first step towards world domination. I'd written earlier (see the comments) that all Google needed after Docs and Spreadsheets was an OS and a browser that they can ship as default on systems. Not only would you then use Google software, but all your data would be on Google servers, making them indispensable. In addition to really hitting MS revenue sources, this will insulate Google from the low cost of switching that plagues its services. 

Welcome, folks, to chrome-plated world domination!

(PS: Needless to say, and like every other post on this blog, this post only reflects my views and should not be construed as being that of my current/previous/future employers.)