Archive for the ‘Documentary’ Category

Two books and a movie

September 4, 2011

Girish Karnad recommends Stages of Life by Kathryn Hansen:

Hansen opens the book with a crisp history of the Parsi theatre. But it is her magisterial review of the critical literature on the ‘form’ of autobiography and in particular of the significance of autobiographies written by theatre artists that poured out during this period, that makes this volume invaluable. Having just written my own autobiography (in Kannada), I found her analysis of the various attempts at defining ‘Indian autobiography’, and, in the process, of arriving at an ‘Indian’ notion of the Self, illuminating and provocative.

The book is a typical product of Permanent Black, beautifully designed, impeccably edited and a delight to hold and read.

Gopikrishnan Kottoor recommends the Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature:

Schelling’s book is a treasure-house with remarkably well studded interiors. Two omissions disappoint: Bahinabai (Maharastra) and Puntanam (Kerala). Bhakti poetry, innate to Indian poetics, will continue to plume and fascinate. Schelling’s Oxford anthology is not just a beginning. It is an event.

T M Krishna recommends Binna Shadja, a documentary on Kishori Tai:

What makes this film very special is that Amol Palekar has been able to get Kishori tai to discuss and describe her philosophy of music and her idea of creation, in the most honest and uninterrupted manner. The conversations are the life of the film. We almost feel like she is talking to us, completely personal and intimate. The greatest relief is that we do not have an over-voice describing anything. This is truly a great offering to this living legend.

As a musician some of the most arresting moments are when Kishori tai talks about music. Her description of the svaras , their form, character and their completeness when understood as a creation and not a technical tonal position and their relationship with the Raga is almost like describing the relationship between the antaratma and the paramatma . This philosophical connection cannot be missed in the way Kishori tai describes svaras and ragas. Equally stunning is her description of the note Shadja . The crafting of this note where the Raga takes ownership of it, giving it an unique character, is beautiful. She calls it the “Omnipresent, all-encompassing note”.

A time to read and a time to watch a movie! And they both are here.

Note: I know how to locate the two books; however, even though I understand that the DVD of the documentary got released in New Delhi, I do not know where to get a copy. I would appreciate any pointers in this regard.

Links: a movie, a reflection on careers, and “Software is dead: long live the software”

July 20, 2009

[1] Mark at Cosmic Variance recommends a movie:

Projects like this don’t change the world on their own, of course. But as part of a common goal of bringing a passion for science to the public, and allowing them to see that its practitioners and enthusiasts are drawn from all walks of life they play an important role; not only for science, but for our increasingly science-dependent society. It doesn’t hurt that Shaha is young and good-looking, but what shines through is his infectious energy and enthusiasm for science and the important role of skepticism. And that’s what I hope anyone watching this film takes away.

[2] The most recent, and must-read post of Bruce Eckel begins thus:

I’ve taken Robert McKee’s screenwriting workshop a couple of times (didn’t get it all the first time around). One of his maxims is “when you’re stuck, do research.” Mostly that’s meant reading books on management (primarily software management) but also general business books.

While at the library, a book practically fell off the shelves. Never one to ignore signs, I checked out Alan Webber’s Rules of Thumb. He was one of the founders of Fast Company, the only magazine I’m still (voluntarily) subscribed to (I keep meaning to resubscribe to Wired, though). The magazine stimulates my thinking and opens my horizons.

Rules of Thumb is subtitled “52 truths for winning at business without losing yourself.” It has that “bathroom reader” appeal, since each point/chapter can be absorbed in a short time and stands alone from the rest of the book.

I got stuck at point #6: If you want to see with fresh eyes, reframe the picture.

[3] Intimation of the death of software:

I was utterly floored when I read this new IEEE article by Tom DeMarco (pdf). See if you can tell why.

My early metrics book, Controlling Software Projects: Management, Measurement, and Estimates [1986], played a role in the way many budding software engineers quantified work and planned their projects. In my reflective mood, I’m wondering, was its advice correct at the time, is it still relevant, and do I still believe that metrics are a must for any successful software development effort? My answers are no, no, and no.I’m gradually coming to the conclusion that software engineering is an idea whose time has come and gone.

Software development is and always will be somewhat experimental. The actual software construction isn’t necessarily experimental, but its conception is. And this is where our focus ought to be. It’s where our focus always ought to have been.

If your head just exploded, don’t be alarmed. Mine did too. To somewhat reduce the migraine headache you might now be experiencing from reading the above summary, I highly recommend scanning the entire two page article pdf.

I guess it is a good reading list for a Monday morning. Have fun!

Expelled: is it slick or does it suck?

March 24, 2008

Andy Guess at Inside HigherEd (emphasis mine):

The movie, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” is already generating press in advance of its April 18 release. With a widely recognizable host, an explosive topic and a self-consciously conspiratorial tone, the slickly produced documentary at least has the ingredients for success on a Michael Moore scale.

Richard Dawkins (again, emphasis mine):

Now, to the film itself. What a shoddy, second-rate piece of work. A favourite joke among the film-making community is the ‘Lord Privy Seal’. Amateurs and novices in the making of documentaries can’t resist illustrating every significant word in the commentary by cutting to a picture of it. The Lord Privy Seal is an antiquated title in Britain’s heraldic tradition. The joke imagines a low-grade film director who illustrates it by cutting to a picture of a Lord, then a privy, and then a seal. Mathis’ film is positively barking with Lord Privy Seals. We get an otherwise pointless cut to Nikita Krushchev hammering the table (to illustrate something like ’emotional outburst’). There are similarly clunking and artless cuts to a guillotine, fist fights, and above all to the Berlin wall and Nazi gas chambers and concentration camps.

The alleged association between Darwinism and Nazism is harped on for what seems like hours, and it is quite simply an outrage. We are supposed to believe that Hitler was influenced by Darwin. Hitler was ignorant and bonkers enough for his hideous mind to have imbibed some sort of garbled misunderstanding of Darwin (along with his very ungarbled understanding of the anti-semitism of Martin Luther, and of his own never-renounced Roman Catholic religion) but it is hardly Darwin’s fault if he did. My own view, frequently expressed (for example in the The Selfish Gene and especially in the title chapter of A Devil’s Chaplain) is that there are two reasons why we need to take Darwinian natural selection seriously. Firstly, it is the most important element in the explanation for our own existence and that of all life. Secondly, natural selection is a good object lesson in how NOT to organize a society. As I have often said before, as a scientist I am a passionate Darwinian. But as a citizen and a human being, I want to construct a society which is about as un-Darwinian as we can make it. I approve of looking after the poor (very un-Darwinian). I approve of universal medical care (very un-Darwinian). It is one of the classic philosophical fallacies to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. Stein (or whoever wrote his script for him) is implying that Hitler committed that fallacy with respect to Darwinism. If we look at more recent history, the closest representatives you’ll find to Darwinian politics are uncompassionate conservatives like Margaret Thatcher, George W Bush, or Ben Stein’s own hero, Richard Nixon. Maybe all these people, along with the Social Darwinists from Herbert Spencer to John D Rockefeller, committed the is/ought fallacy and justified their unpleasant social views by invoking garbled Darwinism. Anyone who thinks that has any bearing whatsoever on the truth or falsity of Darwin’s theory of evolution is either an unreasoning fool or a cynical manipulator of unreasoning fools. I will not speculate as to which category includes Ben Stein and Mark Mathis.

Stein has no talent for comedy, as he demonstrates in a weird joke about scratching his back, which falls completely flat. But his attempt to do tragedy is even worse. He visits Dachau and, when informed by the guide that lots of Jews had been killed there, he buries his face in his hands as though this is the first time he has heard of it. Obviously it was not his intention, but I thought his rotten acting was an insult to the memory of the victims.

More sinister than the artless Lord Privy Seals, and the self-indulgent and wholly illicit playing of the Nazi trump card, the film goes shamelessly for cheap laughs at the expense of scientists and scholars who are making honest attempts to explain difficult points. Cheap laughs that could only be raised in an audience of scientific ignoramuses (and here Mathis’ propaganda instincts cannot be faulted: he certainly knows his target audience). One example is the treatment of the philosopher Michael Ruse: a decent man, bluff, bearded, articulate, and with a genuine and sincere desire to explain difficult ideas clearly. Stein asked Ruse how life originated. Ruse’s immediate impulse (as mine would have been) was to launch into an honest effort to explain a difficult scientific idea. He began by saying that he doesn’t know how life originated, and nor does anybody else. At this point in his interview, Ruse probably had no notion that his interlocuter had a completely different agenda to promote, with no hint of sincerity to balance his own. Ruse patiently explained that the origin of life (nothing to do with the Darwinian theory itself but the necessary precursor of Darwinian evolution) is an interesting and unsolved mystery, one that scientists are actively working on. By way of example, Ruse could have chosen any of a number of current theories. He chose just one (it would have taken too long to explain them all) purely as an illustration of the kind of properties such a theory must have. He happened to choose the theory proposed by the Scottish chemist Graham Cairns-Smith, that organic life was preceded by a strange and intriguing world of replicating patterns on the surfaces of crystals in inorganic clays. At no time did Ruse say he believed the Cairns-Smith theory, only that it was the KIND of theory that scientists are actively examining, as a CANDIDATE for the origin of evolution. Stein just loved it. Mud! MUD! The sarcasm in his grating, nasal voice was palpable. Maybe this was when Ruse realised that he had been had. Certainly it was at this point that he started to show signs of exasperation, although he may still have thought that Stein was merely stupid, rather than pursuing a malevolent and clandestine agenda. Stein kept returning, throughout the film, to the phrase “on the backs of crystals”, and the sycophantic audience in the Minneapolis cinema dutifully tittered every time.

Another example. Toward the end of his interview with me, Stein asked whether I could think of any circumstances whatsoever under which intelligent design might have occurred. It’s the kind of challenge I relish, and I set myself the task of imagining the most plausible scenario I could. I wanted to give ID its best shot, however poor that best shot might be. I must have been feeling magnanimous that day, because I was aware that the leading advocates of Intelligent Design are very fond of protesting that they are not talking about God as the designer, but about some unnamed and unspecified intelligence, which might even be an alien from another planet. Indeed, this is the only way they differentiate themselves from fundamentalist creationists, and they do it only when they need to, in order to weasel their way around church/state separation laws. So, bending over backwards to accommodate the IDiots (“oh NOOOOO, of course we aren’t talking about God, this is SCIENCE”) and bending over backwards to make the best case I could for intelligent design, I constructed a science fiction scenario. Like Michael Ruse (as I surmise) I still hadn’t rumbled Stein, and I was charitable enough to think he was an honestly stupid man, sincerely seeking enlightenment from a scientist. I patiently explained to him that life could conceivably have been seeded on Earth by an alien intelligence from another planet (Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel suggested something similar — semi tongue-in-cheek). The conclusion I was heading towards was that, even in the highly unlikely event that some such ‘Directed Panspermia’ was responsible for designing life on this planet, the alien beings would THEMSELVES have to have evolved, if not by Darwinian selection, by some equivalent ‘crane’ (to quote Dan Dennett). My point here was that design can never be an ULTIMATE explanation for organized complexity. Even if life on Earth was seeded by intelligent designers on another planet, and even if the alien life form was itself seeded four billion years earlier, the regress must ultimately be terminated (and we have only some 13 billion years to play with because of the finite age of the universe). Organized complexity cannot just spontaneously happen. That, for goodness sake, is the creationists’ whole point, when they bang on about eyes and bacterial flagella! Evolution by natural selection is the only known process whereby organized complexity can ultimately come into being. Organized complexity — and that includes everything capable of designing anything intelligently — comes LATE into the universe. It cannot exist at the beginning, as I have explained again and again in my writings.

This ‘Ultimate 747’ argument, as I called it in The God Delusion, may or may not persuade you. That is not my concern here. My concern here is that my science fiction thought experiment — however implausible — was designed to illustrate intelligent design’s closest approach to being plausible. I was most emphaticaly NOT saying that I believed the thought experiment. Quite the contrary. I do not believe it (and I don’t think Francis Crick believed it either). I was bending over backwards to make the best case I could for a form of intelligent design. And my clear implication was that the best case I could make was a very implausible case indeed. In other words, I was using the thought experiment as a way of demonstrating strong opposition to all theories of intelligent design.

Well, you will have guessed how Mathis/Stein handled this. I won’t get the exact words right (we were forbidden to bring in recording devices on pain of a $250,000 fine, chillingly announced by some unnamed Gauleiter before the film began), but Stein said something like this. “What? Richard Dawkins BELIEVES IN INTELLIGENT DESIGN.” “Richard Dawkins BELIEVES IN ALIENS FROM OUTER SPACE.” I can’t remember whether this was the moment in the film where we were regaled with another Lord Privy Seal cut to an old science fiction movie with some kind of android figure – that may have been used in the service of trying to ridicule Francis Crick (again, dutiful titters from the partisan audience).

Enough on the film itself. Quite apart from anything else, it is drearily boring, the tedium exacerbated by the grating monotony of Stein’s voice.

Is it just me, or do you also get the feeling that Andy Guess’s comment of the movie being slick is unsupported unlike Dawkins’ reasonably well argued stand that it sucks?

A film I would love to see

March 16, 2008

Vaughan’s description (at Mind Hack) itself is so rivetting, leave alone the movie:

Although Marsh normally works at St George’s, one of London’s most established hospitals, he has regularly travelled to the Ukraine for 15 years to assist the development of neurosurgery in this still struggling country.

The contrast itself is striking. One scene sees Marsh and Kurilets looking through street market hardware stalls for screws, rivets and power tools to use in their operations.

One of the most gripping scenes is where the two surgeons open a patient’s skull using a Bosch power drill only to find the battery is going flat as they proceed.

The man has been only given local anaesthetic as the Ukrainian hospital doesn’t have the facilities to safely put someone under and wake them up after initial part of the procedure.

Some of the most moving moments concern the tension between the shortcoming of medicine and the hope of the patients. There are many profound moments that aren’t well captured by brief summaries, and I’m sure each viewer takes something different away from them, so you’ll need to experience them for yourselves.

Take a look!

John Hawks reviews Judgment day

November 14, 2007

Not this Judgment day or even this one, of course, but this one:

I can recommend the film for anyone who didn’t get a chance to see the first version. It documents the great chicanery of ID, still foisted on school boards across the country by scoundrels preying on religious feeling and misunderstanding of science. It gives a good feeling to see the truth about evolutionary biology’s successes so effectively portrayed. And yet, it is really not suitable for showing in the forum that matters most: to students of biology.

Take a look!

Update: Greg Laden and Laelaps on Judgment day.

Update 2: I notice that last week’s Nature had a piece too on Judgment day:

The judge at the centre of the dispute, John E. Jones III, is the hero of the piece. When this republican lutheran, appointed by the commander-in-chief himself, was assigned to the case, the pro-evolution lobby feared they had been dealt an unsympathetic ear. Happily, the measured, dry-witted Jones was fascinated by the comprehensive scientific case for darwinian evolution. He handed down a damning judgment that intelligent design is not science, and that its teaching is a violation of the cherished First Amendment. As a result, Time magazine rightly put him in their 2006 list of the world’s 100 most influential people.

But the Kitzmiller vs Dover verdict, matched this September with the outlawing of intelligent design in the UK national curriculum, marked the official neutering of this unpleasant, sneaky movement in much of the western world. Judgment Day is just the sort of thoughtful programming that celebrates how sensible people — faithful and otherwise — can use science and reason to combat fundamentalism.

Atul Gawande on Sicko

July 15, 2007

Atul Gawande agrees that Moore’s Sicko will outrage you; but, in his opinion, it does not analyse the reasons for the problem, or, how to deal with it:

“Sicko” doesn’t really offer solutions.

Moore blames the familiar villains: insurance companies, pharmaceutical-industry lobbyists, politicians. But plenty of countries have private insurance—not to mention politicians and lobbyists—and nonetheless have health-care systems that cover all their residents, at a lower cost, and with higher levels of satisfaction.

Our health-care morass is like the problems of global warming and the national debt—the kind of vast policy failure that is far easier to get into than to get out of.

Health care confronts us with a difficult test. We have never corrected failure in something so deeply embedded in people’s lives and in the economy without the pressure of an outright crisis.

Take a look!

A library, a scholar, a writer and a movie

June 30, 2007

Those are some of the interesting stuff from the latest Magazine and Literary Review editions of the Hindu. Happy reading!

A documentary of Tagore by Ray!

May 29, 2007

WoW! It had been ages since I have seen a documentary from Films Division!

A bit of history — lost and retrieved!

December 23, 2005

Hindu says:

A 1953 documentary in English on Mahatma Gandhi, made in Hollywood by A.K. Chettiar, Tamil writer and journalist, has been discovered by A.R. Venkatachalapathy, associate professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, in Internet searches.

Here is an eariler article about this documentary by S. Muthaiah, an heritage buff (whose articles about Madras is something that I like a lot).  I look forward to watching the movie, if I ever get a chance!