Sunday, February 22, 2009

Slumdogs unite: all you have to lose is your underdog lovability

I saw "Slumdog Millionaire" last night. I wasn't as clued in to what the movie was all about as I thought, which is often a good think when you wait as long as my wife and I do to see movies ($5 Buck Club), because, expectations (high ones) can often kill a movie. Anyway...

I was correct, this was a heavily Bollywood movie, the Bolly production number musical at the end in the train station was good. Not a single person in the theatre got up to leave.

I'm a bit old for this reference, but it seemed like an old Hollywood feel good movie, Capraesque perhaps?

This morning I was perusing the new Time mag (Yeah, I love reading old news...I think it is the pictures) and Danny Boyle, the filmaker responsible for "Slumdog" was the subject of the 10 quesitons feature of Time mag. You can read it here.

It is his answer to the first question that is the subject of my "counter:"

Are you surprised by the movie's reception? Armaan Uplekar WEST PALM BEACH,

Astonished--not just surprised--by the way it has been received, in America
especially. I think it's the core values of the film, the underdog who can come
out of nowhere and with nothing, and against all the odds he can succeed. And
it's a love story in the end, of course. I think all of us want to believe in
that story

Succeed? What does Mr. Boyle mean by success? The winner of 20 million rupees? That Jamal gets the girl, Latika, in the end? Jamal didn't even want the money, he somehow got on the the game show, so that Latika would see him. I wan't sure to pity this guy because of his obsession with her, or was this his sustaining force? Both, I suppose.

Either way, the "notice me Latika" or the money, Jamal's success was an ironic twist on his remarkable series of successes, if you care to define success as making it to adulthood in the squalid and dangerous conditions Jamal and Salim (and Latika) were born to.

Jamal succeeded in getting his prize autograph by jumping in a cesspool.

His quick feet kept him from having his brains bashed in more than once.

When the three of them are plucked from the dump to join the Artful Dodger's (Mamen's) criminal enterprise, Salim turns darkside to gain important insights into Mamen's operation and saves Jamal.

How many times did Jamal survive incredible odds? That the three of these kids survived at all is a success. And in the end, not to make too much of this feel good film, but the filmmaker opened the door here..."succeed"... but is Jamal and Latika likely to survive the gangster's rage at Jamal and Latika running out on him? Where do they go? Will 20 million rupees be enough for them to live happily ever after? Is the money enough to gain them respect in "respectable" society? I have no idea, but success is not what that film seems, to me, to be about. Rather, it is survival and the incredible indomitability of the human spirit. I think the film has more in common with Cool Hand Luke, than Horatio Alger.

Human Rights and China

No surprise here: Activists 'shocked' at Clinton stance on China rights And I whole heartedly agree with various human rights groups keeping the pressure on. But when China is buying our debt, when we desperately need them for a "loan" well think about it: when you need a loan are you going to preface the person you want for a loan by telling them they need to repent, or you object to their lending practices?

Moral authority comes, I guess, with no liens on our "house."

too bad, but that is the material reality.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I received the following cartoon from my father-in-law. He sends it because I suspect he agrees with the politcal take on the stimulus. I'm not so sure I agree with the sentiment(s) being expressed; nevertheless, it is still funny.

Right leaning blogs are straining

I found this posted at INSTAPUNDIT this morning:

February 19, 2009
FREE SPEECH IN THE AGE OF OBAMA: “An Oklahoma City police officer wrongly pulled over a man last week and confiscated an anti-President Barack Obama sign the man had on his vehicle.” Plus this: “”When I was on my way there, the Secret Service called me and said they weren’t going to ransack my house or anything … they just wanted to (walk through the house) and make sure I wasn’t a part of any hate groups.” Since when do government officials search homes to ensure the absence of impure political thoughts?

If something like this had happened with Bush, it would have been proof that fascism was descending had descended upon America.

Posted at by Glenn Reynolds at 10:08 am

I think such behavior by the local police or the Secret Service is abysmal.

but two things here: First, the very suggestion that Presdent Obama even knows anyting about this is ridiculous. This is likely SOP for the Secret Service AFTER the Bush years. I hope President Obama will begin to turn the tide.

Second, this is Oklahoma. It is Oklahoma City. I can understand the nervousness of the police officer though the behavior is still inexscusable.

The above snarky comment, meant to sound so insightful reflects, to me, a lack of understanding of how "stuff" works. Although I suspect that is not the case, it is just an excuse to find something to say negative about the President.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Did You Know

This is very interesting. And, I'll have to think about the sociological implications and write a follow up.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

this made me chuckle

A letter to the editor in today's local Terre Haute Tribune Star. I'm still enjoying it!

Guantanamo — Isn’t that … Cuba?

Concerning the conundrum of Guantanamo and its detainees: Why not donate the entire area back to Cuba from whom it was stolen in 1904? No one has demonstrated better than Cuba the ability to put people to work and process criminal emigration.

— Thomas G. Morgan


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The poiltical press' response to President Obama

As I have said before, as a sociologist I am often more interested in how people react to something than the something in general. For instance, President Obama's first days in office and his attempts to reach across the isle to Republicans, his first press conference, his first anything. Well, I think to myself, okay, he still looks presidential, he seems to be doing his best to keep doing what he promised, (I'm not crazy about the stimulus package), but what is more interesting is to read and listen to the political talking heads.

So many political wags seem to think that President Obama's attempt to woe Republicans was a waste. He got nothing for it. Not a single Republican in the House voted for the plan and only three did in the Senate and the plan got lots trimmed from it (stuff I thought was actually good to have in the bill).

I guess what gets me is that these supposedly politically savvy reporters know little about basic group dynamics. So, when President Obama gets no takers on the Republican side does that make President Obama a bad politician or are the Repbulican's dumb? Depends on the perspective of the reporter/blogger/wag. The libs think the Republicans are dummies and the cons think President Obama isn't as good as people think.

What does this say about the entire pundit industry? Should we really beleive that the partisanship in Washington is just a matter of a lack of informal bonhomie? President Bush tried the barbecue attack, he gave up when it didn't yeild anything. Him, Ithink thought there was no principal in any of this. I hope President Obama doesn't think he can do the back slapping, buy you a couple of beers and now you'll vote the way I want you to....I hope that isn't who I voted for. yet, that seems to be what many political reporters view politics as. Or, that the "charm offensive" isn't good enough or is silly.

I don't know what I think. I've never been much on charm offensives but I am big on communiation. Without huge majorities in both houses of congress, a president has to be a broker/organizer. he has to put a coalition together, and in the Senate, he has to have some Republicans. This is how pork gets into bills. This is how bills get altered in order to bring just a couple of people in.

This is how the game is played. Why do we (and political reportes) seem to lament this.

And don't we want our politicians to be principaled? Many times our pols vote in odd ways because they are afraid of voting against popular bills, lest it cost them in the next election. Okay, the one principal you an usually count a politican to follow is to vote not in tremendous opposition to the way the folks back home want you to. It is easier, in many ways, to stand up to the political bosses, than to the folks back home. Isn't that what we want or we vote the bum out?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The deadening stimulus

Here is the lead in a Washington Post story on the political straits of the "stimulus package:"

Senate Democratic leaders conceded yesterday that they do not have the
votes to pass the stimulus bill as currently written and said that to gain
bipartisan support, they will seek to cut provisions that would not provide an
immediate boost to the economy.

All I can say is GOOD!

I am disappointed in President Obama. I think he should have been willing to be more critical of the Democrats instead of trying to rationalize the unnecessary parts of the stimulus package. It if were me, it would only be infrastructure.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Nothing to like about lack of scientific knowledge in U.S.

previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star 2/1/09

TERRE HAUTE — “Don’t you like America?” A student asked me that question in a class last week. What prompted such a question? I was discussing science and stated that Americans generally do not understand what science is. Indeed, a few minutes prior to the student’s question I asked this class of 80 students, “what is science?” I got no response.

As I answered my own question (a philosophy of knowledge) I was going over the limits to science which has something to do with the kind of question that science can answer. The student raised her hand right after I said that Americans’ lack of scientific understanding caused us to waste considerable energy arguing over the teaching of evolution in school and global warming.

I am probably over-reacting, but I teach a lot of first- and second-year students in that class. Students change over time. They are products of the times, the product of the state approved high school curriculum, they are even influenced by the president of the United States. Students were more conservative in the Reagan years and, without knowing what they were doing, embraced the romantic post-modernism of President Bush. I hope future cohorts of students embrace President Obama’s inaugural promise to “… restore science to its rightful place …”

Is it disliking America to cite the National Center for Educational Statistics report on an international comparison OECD (Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development) member states on the scientific literacy of 15 year olds, that U.S. 15 year olds’ score was below average? Countries like Canada, Germany, and Australia have higher scientific literacy scores than the U.S. So does Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Estonia. Does the stating of these facts equal bashing America?

There is a correlation of .61 between the scientific literacy scores of 56 countries (both OECD and nonOECD) and average life expectancy. In other words, as the scientific literacy scores increase so does average life expectancy. This doesn’t prove that scientific literacy causes a longer average life expectancy, but economic and social development, which does have something to do with life expectancy, is related to scientific literacy.

There are 30 countries in the OECD. Fifteen of them scored higher than our 15 year olds did on scientific literacy. Ten of those 15 countries have a higher life expectancy than we do. Is our lack of scientific literacy shortening our average life expectancy? It is a good thing that we welcome other countries’ scientists and science students with open arms. Too few native born Americans pursue scientific careers to supply the demand for them.

According to the 2000 Census, there were 582,000 physical and life scientists in the United States. In a labor force of just under 130 million workers, scientists make up less than one-half of 1 percent. If we add engineers to that total, then 1.6 percent of the workforce is made up of scientists and engineers. There are significant shortages of scientists and engineers in this country. There are about as many entertainers in the U.S. as there are scientists. There are about as many people who “sell” things as there are scientists and engineers.

No one should be surprised to learn that there are more lawyers than scientists in the United States. I can’t find the data to make the following claim, but I’ll bet there are more foreign born citizens among our scientists and engineers than among our lawyers and vast marketing and selling industry.

At ISU far more students major in criminal justice (in order to work in law enforcement or corrections) than major in science or mathematics. Of course, not everyone who majors in science ends up working as a scientist, but their scientific literacy is likely greater than the criminal justice majors. And more “literate” people help everyone in society, not just themselves.

In the most scientifically and technologically advanced society in history, where the unquestioned assumptions of science are common sensical, is it unreasonable to expect that our citizens should know what science is? Shouldn’t Americans be able to differentiate science from political/public opinion as easily as we differentiate an iPod from just any mp3 player? Shouldn’t we be able to differentiate between religion and science?

As a sociologist and citizen, I point out that we don’t do a very good job at it. Does that mean I dislike America? If it does, then my next question is, who or what groups in our society benefit from such ignorance?
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