Friday, July 31, 2015

A world of entertained fools

Do we really put our money where our mouth is?

The writer of a letter to the Statesman Journal notes that we are "a nation of fools":
We, the American people voluntarily pay professional athletes more than we pay the president. We pay entertainers more than we pay doctors and nurses and school teachers. We are a nation of fools. We are getting exactly what we deserve.
He is terribly wrong.  We are not a nation of fools.  We are a world full of fools.  People all over the world seem to want to be entertained 24x7, and are willing to pay gazillions to entertainers of all kinds.  What the hell is wrong with us?

This global pattern is one that Forbes wisely recognized in its latest listing of the world's highest paid entertainers:

Who the hell is Channing Tatum and why is he/she earning that much?  Now, that question by itself says a lot about how much I am willing to pay to be entertained!

A quick detour on this Channing Tatum.  Turns out it is a he!

The need to be entertained is so pervasive that ... hey, hey, don't go away.  Come back and read the rest of this post! ;)

Like I was saying, the need to be entertained is so pervasive that educators have for a long time complained that education has been degraded to edutainment.  Even church pastors have found the need to make their sermons entertaining so that the few who do come continue to do so.

It is almost as if serious inquiries, whether it is secular or religious approaches to understanding the human condition, have to compete against entertainment of various kinds: from traditional ball games, to video games, to movies and television, to ... Heck, apparently people will rather be so entertained by the freaky weirdness of a couple having nineteen kids that they would willingly support the "characters" now that the multi-million dollar contract has been canceled!

Perhaps entertainment is all about escapism.  To try to run and hide from that one thing that awaits us all: death.  The fear of mortality.  Instead of dealing with it, maybe people prefer to be entertained.  If only they knew how rewarding it is to read and think about death itself that there is no time for "entertainment"!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

On the death of two Muslims in India

The tweets were the first.  When I peeked into Facebook, there were posts.  Later that evening, when I called to check in with my parents, father said "the big news here is that Abdul Kalam died."

"Yes, I got the news here."


Father has not gotten used to news traveling at the speed of light.  For that matter, neither have I; but, that's a discussion for another day.

In the follow-up call, he talked more about the passing away of Kalam, a former president of the old country.  "Not since the death of Gandhi and Nehru have I seen such emotions from the people" he said.  And he clarified: "I don't mean government organized responses.  This is by individuals. And by private corporations."

I have only a news-junkie understanding of Kalam, having left the old country almost three decades ago, well before Kalam became famous.  My father's take was, therefore, interesting to me.

"Maybe it is because after Nehru, Abdul Kalam was the only one who was really interested in children and young people."

I recalled a friend posting in Facebook a photo from a few years ago--her son receiving an award from Kalam.

Abdul Kalam, a scientist-turned president, died while delivering a lecture to students:
Dr. Kalam, a Muslim Tamil who died at 83, was one of the few Indian leaders able to bridge the country’s political, religious and linguistic divides, and his death provoked an outpouring of grief across the political spectrum at a time when positions have hardened.
I wish Fox News had covered the death of this Muslim for hours on and demonstrated to its rabid viewers that there is no "Muslim problem" and that Muslims are adored by non-Muslims too as any outstanding person of any other faith would be.

Kalam led an exemplary life.  People, wherever they are, love the real ones like Kalam, even when they know well he would have had his own flaws just as any mortal would.  The ones who fake it might win the battle, but the genuine win the long game.  Kalam was a role model to the youth:
As a professor, he was known to dine and debate with his students, and he made sure that 100 children from each state in the country attended his presidential inauguration in 2002, despite concerns about space.
It is now the young, primarily, who keep his quintessentially earnest inspirational quotes alive in social media posts.
The youth aspect, a spontaneous outpouring at that, was what father was also talking about.  

Meanwhile, India carried out the execution of a Muslim who was found to be integral to the bombings in Mumbai in 1993, after the mercy petition was rejected by India's president and after its top court upheld the capital punishment sentence:
It is ironic that our media will be split between two funerals taking place at two corners of the country today. Former president APJ Abdul Kalam will be interred in Rameswaram and executed convict Yakub Memon in Mumbai. It’s not ironic because it throws into sharp relief some simplistic narrative of the Good Muslim versus the Bad Muslim. The irony is that had Memon’s fate rested in the hands of a President Kalam who knows what the outcome might have been. That has nothing to do with their shared faith but everything to do with his opposition to capital punishment on principle.
Kalam had supported the abolition of capital punishment saying confirming a death sentence was one of his “most difficult tasks” and noting “almost all cases which were pending had a social and economic bias.”
As that excerpt notes, "Muslims" in India or anywhere else on this wonderful planet are not by any means a simplistic narrative, unlike what Fox News and its ilk would like to believe.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I love to laugh ... so should you

"Have you seen 'Inside out?'" asked the young fellow, when our paths crossed on the trail.

The eight-year old kid's smiling face easily revealed that he was surely up to mischief.  But, what could be the mischief about a Pixar movie?

"The movie, right?  No, haven't seen it."

I will spare you his reply--in case you have not watched the movie yet.  Yes, a major spoiler for me.  But, I was happy for the kid.  A kid was being a kid, like how kids are supposed to be.

I was reminded of another kid, who was about nine when he loved asking anybody--even strangers--a prank-question that he could never ask with a straight face.  With mischief written in big, bold letters in his expressions, he often sweetly asked the person next to him, "where you born during an earthquake?"

Of course, we elders like to engage with kids.  We want to humor them.  And this is a puzzling question as well; I mean, how often do you expect a nine-year old to ask you whether you were born during an earthquake.  And, with a rare exception, we would all reply that we were not born during an earthquake, right?

Upon hearing that reply, the nine-year old's eyes danced around with glee.  With a magnitude of excitement and delight that we old folks have forgotten, the kid would blurt out, unable to control himself any longer, "then, how come you have a crack?"

And then he would laugh as if that was the first time ever he was cracking that awful joke.

We, too--yes, I am including you also, dear reader--were once kids.  We delighted with the silliest of jokes, did we not?  We laughed, sometimes to the point of our eyes tearing up.  And then something happens.  We grow up.  And, for the most part, we stop laughing.  We think it is not adult-like to engage in silly humor.  We even tend to tell those adults who enjoy themselves with such humor to "grow up."  We want them to read depressing Russian writers and understand the human condition.  We force feed Kafka to the happy ones.  Killjoys we are! ;)

A mural along the bike-path that I frequent

I know, I know, there is a place for everything.  There is a limit to everything.  But, my point is this: shouldn't there be a place for that kind of silly and simply delight even in the everyday lives of the middle-aged and older?

A few years ago, I attended the son-in-law's graduation from medical school.  Their dean advised them to always have in their proverbial back-pockets a bunch of silly jokes that we might consider to be at a third-grade level.  Appropriately used, it can work well for any age group, he said.  The joke he used as an example was this:
Q: What did a fish say when it swam into a wall of concrete?
A: Dam(n)!
Get it? ;)

You read till here?  Good.  Here is the piece that I left out about the kid on the trail who delighted in that mischief about Inside Out.  One of his legs seemed to have a natural deformity--it appeared about six inches shorter than the other leg.  It was not a case of any amputation--the leg ended in a foot and toes.  I am guessing it was a birth defect.  He was wearing a shoe that seemed connected, via a brace, to the back of leg, and his foot and toes were kind of suspended in between.  Aren't you now all the more delighted that he was a fun-filled kid who was grinning from ear to ear that he had pranked strangers?

Laugh away.  Life is short.