Monday, September 26, 2011

Chaos theory and the Great Recession

The butterfly effect - a good movie and an even more powerful mathematical construct - chaos theory. The situation that exists in today's world seems to conform to only this construct, if at all. They say that there are three main defining aspects to chaos theory, and the way I understand it, those conditions are - 1. Sensitivity or dependence to initial situations or triggers, 2. Mixing or topological transitivity or simply, overlap and finally, the most elegant of them all - density of periodic orbits, or that every point in the system is a finite distance away from a periodic, repeating orbit or simply put, every system is in a precarious state of stability, being just a miniscule distance away from... chaos! Now look at the current economic mess we are in. 

Housing boom, banking boom, loans repackaged, investment banks flourishing, CDOs, passing-the-parcel, the buck stopped, housing bust, CDOs flopped, banks plopped. Policy makers decided not to spare the rod and spoil the child and let Lehman go bust. Condition 1- Sensitivity to initial conditions. The first initial condition of what to do when Lehman was looking to go insolvent - had the reaction panned out differently, the world would have been different today! What policymakers didn't realize then, was that Lehman would take with it the whole financial system and put the world into a form of inexplicable chaos! What with European exposure to Lehman and the wonderful world of CDOs, and who expected AIG, the single largest insurer of all things risky, to face claims on all it's risks? The proverbial black swan was showing it's ugly face almost all over the world at once. And suddenly industry and producers were facing a credit freeze and people like GE were having trouble raising money to run everyday operations. TARP happened, cheap money was given out, but the economy was shaken and risk aversion kicked in. The credit freeze contagion spread and welfare state Europe began to realize how years of condoning mediocrity was doing them in. PIIGS or Portugal, Iceland, Italy, Greece and Spain suddenly found themselves in debts they were unable to pay. Unrest skyrocketed, and people took to the streets in Athens, Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and grim fears of war materialized. Condition 2 - Topological transitivity! 
Obama came to power, and people expected the fairy tale to continue and half expected him to wave a magic wand that could rid them of all maladies. But QE 1, 2 and 3 can only do so much if banks are unwilling to lend and people are unwilling to spend! So once upon a time banks lent money to a man with no fixed income and let him realize his dream of a swanky house he couldn't afford. Now, bitten by the shock of a fellow bank going non-existent, every bank started playing safe... perhaps too safe at that! And now, when 'Operation Twist' happened a few days back with lowering long term yields to make the short term yields look more promising, the street took the exact opposite view and believed that long term prospects look grim! Each time a steady state is approached or thought to be approached, we get nudged into yet another unsteady tailspin. Condition 3 - Density of periodic orbits....

And grim as it may sound, the phenomenon of history repeating itself (a manifestation of condition 3) does seem a reality. Lehman was allowed to fail as policy makers wanted to set an example and teach a lesson. Talks in Europe show that no country wants to hurt itself a bit in a bid to save a pal. Will Christine Lagarde let Greece fail in order to teach a lesson on austerity? Unrest began on Athens streets, and spread over to the Middle East and skeletons keep falling out of corrupt Indian closets every day. Fights on streets for jobs is a reality everywhere and civilized society is not any different, except maybe in the absence of fisticuffs and public fights. But if the Transcanada Pipeline controversy or the Keystone Controversy as it is called is anything to go by, with Americans in Nebraska fighting the pipeline that can connect supply from Oil Sands rich Alberta to refineries in the Gulf Coast on grounds that are environmental on the surface and protectionist towards jobs on the inside, it just looks like it is the Great Depression all over again. It took a World War to get the world out saner, more humble and tragically tempered. 

Hope the Butterfly somewhere can flap its wings to preclude that repetition and somehow get us all out of this chaos saner, more humble, more cohesive, more sensible and definitely less greedy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Stereotypical Screw looses : Tryst with TIFF - II

Frustrated and cowering after The loneliest planet, I looked at the lineup of the TIFF evening and saw the summary of 'the incident'. Looked promising again. 3 sane cooks at a mental asylum caught in the frenzy when the power fails! Interesting. I expected something akin to Shutter Island and given my own very recent experience with power outages in the wake of hurricane Haha, sorry Irene, the juxtaposition felt just right. So after an arbit morning, spent trying to use my intelligence to make an unimpressive movie seem nice, I persevered and made bold to go see another movie at TIFF. A friend had remarked, that Slumdog had received rave reviews at TIFF and it had gone on to become a sweeper of all awards the subsequent year. So I was on the lookout for bragging rights towards having sampled perhaps the 2012 Oscar phenomenon! 

It was a movie by music video director Alexander Courtes and the story is essentially what I just mentioned. and more than a story, the logical loopholes stare you in the face! Power outage, the criminally insane are on the loose and their only goal seems to be to catch and torture and kill the 3 cooks! Really? Motive, someone? The only thing they want to do is kill the cooks? Insane! Oh wait! They already are!!! And so am I, for sure!!!! So, there is a super storm in the year 1989, the year is perhaps a disclaimer as to why no one has cell phones, or back up power or why the police is so slow or even better, why there are no doctors in the asylum! Yes, the asylum with over 50 inmates, has 3 security guards, with no firearms, and 0 doctors. Our sane cooks take pains to feed them, all in an attempt to make money for their dysfunctional band. Again, why work in such a high risk scenario for a band when they actually hate each other?

Then comes the actual power outage. The storm knocks off power when the inmates are in the cafeteria for food. The only 'meds' they get are from this nurse and the meds they get look like M&Ms and 2 stereotypical white pills for EVERYONE! Please! Mental health covers everything from schizophrenia to psychosis and the treatment implies 3 pills across the board??? Eli Lilly might be real upset, given their extensive research into Mental Health!!! The power goes out and JB, the main, scary security guard enlists the help of our 3 cooks to take the inmates back to their rooms. Fine. And they do, in single file. Except that they take them to their rooms, and just shut the door! No electricity, somebody? So automatic locks won't work? Even a chimp would try to wriggle the door and unlocked doors open easily, even for the insane! So they're all out, they bump off all the guards at once. Clearly a bump on the head against the wall kills the guards, but it takes a lot more to power down the insane. And remember, if you are insane, all you do is staaaare! Staaaaaaaaaaare like no tomorrow, for that is all that insane guys do!

Then starts an endless cat and mouse routine, with all forms of torture being shown explicitly on screen. So battering on the head, thrusting a rod into someone's middle, skinning someone, burning someone on a burner.... the works. Ok, so the sane get tortured by the insane, and all the sane can do is yelp! Then comes the supreme gore. One of the sane cooks, who thinks one of the insane is out to get him, sees the insane guy eat his own fingers. EWWWWWWWWW! This is not horror. This is gore. And a distinction exists as per the Oxford English Dictionary! Blairwitch Project - Scary. Saw - Gory!!! So everyone is bumped off except 2 sane cooks and at the end, one sane cook turns insane. Or does he? Does he cease to exist? Or what?

Such was my last encounter with TIFF 2011. It was also the last movie to be screened this year at TIFF. While opening, the MC said that in a previous screening 2 people passed out and he wasn't sure whether it was because of the movie or the drinking and partying. I declare, it was the movie and not because it was scary, but people burst their sides laughing! At least I did!!!!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tryst with the TIFF - I : Arbit arbit arbit abrupt!

I knew film festivals were akin to 'modern art' exhibitions. Like looking at say a Mark Rothko and trying to make sense of it, so you don't feel too stupid in the crowd you're standing in. I knew that if the movie was arbit, it would be featured. That my first ever tryst with a fim festival would be so arbitrary, and inexplicable, was never really expected.

So on a crisp Sunday morning, the closing day of the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), I decided to sample the fest to my senses! So with jacket, accessories et al, completing my art aficionado ensemble, I stepped in to watch something called The Lonliest Planet. The summary on TIFF, said that it was a movie that explores a young couple's life against the rugged Georgian landscape. Essentially, what it said was that 2 young people, evidently in love embark on a backpacking trip in Georgia. In the middle of a hike, all equations are turned on their heads by an incident, that perhaps even ends before you realize it. And the couple then evaluates the truth of their relationship, and the very basis shows signs of being threatened. Super impressive summary, Georgia, backpacking, human nature - it had it all, I believed and I was rather proud of my choice.

But this movie had an opening sequence that almost made me cringe. Darkness, a creaking sound and a woman screaming made me fear the worst, and shocking as the scene may be, I still haven't quite understood why the opening scene was so inexplicably ridiculous! Apart from a shock element and the unnecessarily presumed essential entry condition of female nudity, there was no coherent reason why someone would want to show a soap clad, not-intensely-attractive woman screaming and jumping in a decrepit bathroom. Someone, incidentally had a better immediate interpretation! He felt that the lady was insane, and the hero who ran in to wash off the soap was her caregiver! Maybe she was! Or maybe, as hindsight showed, I am insane, given my wonderful capacity to choose movies!

So after our great art movie opening sequence, we are told that the lady is not insane and the man is not a caregiver, but they are rather a couple who is very much in love and engaged to be married. Man, love is blind in more than one way! So they're in Georgia for a backpacking vacation and for company they have a Georgian tour guide. They walk, climb, frolick in the grass, take together-together pictures and walk and walk and walk in silence. Then came a shot of a large mountain and I was stuck looking at that mountain for a good one minute, wondering why, when suddenly 3 figures were moving at the bottom of my screen - presumably, tour guide, distance, man and woman together. The only dialogues so far are random comments like 'I want to buy a Japanese car' by the rambling tour guide, who has performed the best despite the hero being the guy who played Che Guevarra in the Motorcycle Diaries or more notably Octavio in Amores Perros!

Then comes the shattering scene, the famous scene that is going to change everything and expose the fragile threads that hold these people together! Great scene, all in Georgian, but understandable. Here is what happens. What appears like a band of bandits come to the site, yap animatedly with the tour guide and when interrupted by our hero, he points up his gun and instinctively the hero hides behind his fiancee for a split second, before hurrying in front. The next scene is again a landscape, and three tiny figures move across the scene, and it is tour guide, distance, woman, distance, man. Very well taken, and perhaps the only good thing about the movie. After this it just looks like the director has squandered away what could potentially have been something akin to a 'Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf' in terms of implied psychological undercurrents! I, for one, expected some flash insight into the past, which could perhaps have blown up in the current context. I expected an exchange, at least with expressions, if words are not arty enough and I expected a re-evaluation of relationships as the summary claimed. And I fretted so much after the movie, because I expected my creative instincts and expectations to be satisfied!

In what appears like a movie where the editor went on strike, we have another patchwork of silences in the rain, where the hero walks off in a huff when the woman smokes a puff and the woman, who so far has been angry holds her raincoat over the drenched hero. Then we have a bonfire picnic, where the tour guide gives his poignant story and yet another level of ridiculous inexplicability follows. The last scene is a do-it-yourself guide of how to dismantle a tent. End of story.

At the end of this, I was left dumbstruck, yet thankful that the movie ended and I wondered whether arbit movies with abrupt endings are definitions of film festival movies! A sense of perseverence prevailed and I went to watch yet another one later that night, though I shall write about it in part II.... where I flirted with psychos! I mean the movie and not necessarily the crew! Or maybe not......

Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 years on......

What is with people and the perennial focus on depressing events? Every news channel has a show that glosses over pain and suffering in Africa, or on refugees in the Middle East. For so long, every single twisty wind in every ocean around this land mass was the center of attraction. And now, given that tomorrow marks the ten year anniversary for the Sept 11 attacks on NYC, even if it had slipped someone's mind, the media wouldn't let anyone forget. The buildup has been going on for over a week now, with every news channel streaming decade old pictures with captions like - Lest we forget.

The stress has been on so many real depressing aspects like the psychological effects on first respondents, or how survivors remember the event and so on. Beyond a point, the melancholy really makes you wonder why! After all these years, why exactly should one gloss over the old, really sad, depressing events? That too in a world, where 'moving on' is the only static rule in life - be it relationships, jobs, or even life in general!

The irony of it all perhaps hits someone from a country like India, or maybe a place like say Israel or the Middle East! Places that have been ravaged by war and strife over all these years! The September 11 attack is perhaps really stark, because after Pearl Harbor, there had never been any attack on American soil. Pearl Harbor too was a wartime event and perhaps doesn't quite qualify! And bringing the perpetrators to book, was an almost expected act on the part of the World's superpower. The very power that America wields on the world, on the basis of it's economic capacities, at least those that existed before the Great Recession, allowed her to make the bold move into Pakistani soil and take out Bin Laden. And maybe 10 years on, you must applaud the fact that they were sincere about the wish to bring closure to those who suffered losses on Sept 11, 2001.

It is time we took a lesson from this sincerity and maybe decided not to let Qasab and all other perpetrators, from the Memon era continue to cool their heels on Indian tax payer money while letting those who suffered in Indian terror attacks continue suffering every living day!