Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Miseducation of Pakistan

As I got ready for work this morning, I turned on the TV and started flipping through the usual -- MTV, VH1, and MTV Tr3s. Sandwiched in between the channels is CSPAN, which I also occasionally watch. Flashing toward the bottom was a blurb of what was coming next -- "Presidential candidates to give statements on Bhutto Assassination." For a second, I was quite confused. Why were they going to talk about Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto from back in the day? Then it dawned on me that they meant Benazir Bhutto. I promptly went to CNN, and lo and behold, breaking news was that Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated.

"WHAT?!" I yelped.

It was almost in a state of horror and definitely dismay that I listened to the news of her assassination. Like her or not, she was a formidable figure in Pakistani politics. Harvard and Oxford graduate, former Prime Minister (in a Muslim country, no less), self-purported champion of the people. Though she was not without her issues, corruption charges being the most prominent, she did, in the end, risk her life to bring back some semblance of democracy to the country. Ms. Bhutto was not happy that the country was in the hands of a (benevolent?) military dictator, so she decided to do something about it. Perhaps she wanted power for herself again, or maybe she really did want another shot at really running the country. Whatever the case, unfortunately, she died for her cause.

What this means, in my opinion, is that Pakistan is now at a crossroads more than ever. Either this tragic incident can be the impetus for the Pakistani people to stand up against the destabilising elements or the country will steadily slide into chaos. For our country's sake, I hope it's the former. We don't need to be labeled "Terror Central" as demonstrated by Nic Robertson's documentary. What we should be is that light of hope for a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous future, not one wrought in violence and upheaval. Although political power is firmly entrenched amongst the elite and landowners, this is the opportunity for the representatives of the middle class and the intelligentsia to wrest power from them and actually take Pakistan forward. Complacency got us nowhere; the military got us nowhere; the landowners want the status quo; and the Taliban would be quite happy to take us back about 1400 years.

The country gained nothing by allowing Taliban/Islamic militant elements to flourish in the border areas. I believe that part of those elements' success in the area has to do with the cultural conservatism of the Pathan tribes, but more so, it is attributable to the severely hindered social development of Pakistan. It is the lack of basic necessities, especially education, and opportunities, especially decently-paying jobs, that makes the Taliban and madrassas so attractive to the poor. The madrassas (religious schools) provide food, clothing, shelter, and education, albeit a narrow one, to the children that attend. That is by and large far beyond anything a public Pakistani school can offer, that too after charging the students tuition fees that most poor families cannot afford.

If even public schools have to charge tuition fees, what is the government spending its money on? Nuclear warheads, missiles, other defence expenditures? Of course. Is some of that money going into politicians' pockets? No doubt. What about the grandiose projects like dams? Yes, the money goes there, too. However, almost nothing is spent to really advance Pakistan as a society in the way of education and infrastructure. The people, especially the poor, are almost systematically disenfranchised by being denied even basic education. How can they make good decisions about who to elect when they can't write their own names? Exactly. They then get strongarmed into voting for the local feudal landowner who pretty much owns their souls. The ones who can make a modicum of difference end up leaving either for the big cities or for foreign lands, resulting in the much touted brain drain.

It saddens me that Pakistanis have mostly made good names for themselves abroad, yet our motherland continues to disintegrate. How is it that our neighbour, India, who gained independence at the same time we did, became one of the world's leading economies and a powerhouse of IT and sciences while Pakistan lags far behind? Clearly, we have the intellectual capability, otherwise expatriate Pakistanis would not be successful abroad, but we don't have the institutions to foster the capability. We have nothing equivalent to an IIT or Bangalore/Mysore as our Silicon Valley. India's government is not without corruption or extremists (the BJP and Shiv Sehna parties being the most notorious), nor are they without riots, violence, and upheaval. Yet, they still manage to thrive, attract rather than drive out foreign direct investment, and are respected in the world arena. I realise this is a tangent to my original reason for writing, but it merits thought in that the two countries share many elements (poverty, corruption, lack of opportunities for the poor, violence), yet India prospers while Pakistan suffers.

Going back to Ms. Bhutto's assassination, there is much speculation as to whodunnit. In my view, it was either an inside job or Taliban with the help of military sympathisers. My inclination is toward the latter because Bhutto was a woman in a leadership position in a Muslim society. Whereas 20 years ago, that was fully acceptable, with the increased proliferation of ultraconservative militants, this is not something they could stand for, nor would they want to deal with her. This will lead me to another tangent if I keep going, but suffice it to say that although the Taliban's goal is to emulate Islamic society during the Prophet's time, women were in leadership positions and were consulted regularly.

I can't help but shake my head in disbelief while Pakistan sits in stunned silence.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I've moved!

From Xanga, that is. I figured people who wanted to leave comments were put off by the "register with Xanga" requirement, so now my blog is here. I've reposted the last three entries for you (re)reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Is he Legend?

Warning: If you have not seen the movie "I am Legend" and intend on seeing it, do not read any further. My post contains spoilers.

Right, so with that being said, I saw the movie on Saturday, and I thought I'd give my review/opinion on it. The overall premise was interesting, especially given that there is much going on in life sciences with stem cell research and the like. However, after my heart stopped racing from the sudden scares amidst deathly silence, I started mulling over some aspects of the movie. Namely, I had issues with the development of the infection, Dr. Neville's (Will Smith) assessment that the zombie-vampires had "reduced brain function" and/or no longer had social skills, what the zombie-vampire leader was really after, how the other two survivors got to Dr. Neville in New York, and the ending. That's a lot, I know, but they're all sort of linked.

Even with my rudimentary knowledge about viruses, I thought re-engineering a virus, which by their very nature are very mutable, to cure cancer would not be the smartest move. Fine, I accept that they figured out how to make the thing work, but there wasn't enough exposition of how and why the virus-cure changed and spread. One day everything's great, and then fast forward three years and everyone is dead or a zombie-vampire. There wasn't any explanation for why or how the people turned into the zombie-vampires. Given that Dr. Neville was conducting that much research on a cure, some explanation could've been given via his video logs as to what property of the virus turned people into the things. Toward the end, we also find out that he tested potential cures on many zombie-vampires, but they all died. Wouldn't he have run further tests to find out why?

Dr. Neville also hypothesises that the creatures now have reduced brain function and are socially inept because one of them voluntarily exposed himself to sunlight when Dr. Neville trapped a test specimen. However, they were obviously watching him as he made his daily rounds because they set a similar trap using one of the mannequins Dr. Neville positioned to simulate people at a store. If anything, that shows cunning and observation. They knew moving that mannequin would scare the bejeezus out of Dr. Neville, catch him unaware (which it did), and they'd be able to snare him. In addition, the zombie-vampire that exposed himself to sunlight was the one who acted as the leader when they launched the attack on Dr. Neville. As far as the motive for the trap and subsequent attack, I didn't think it was simply for food, but to get back the girl zombie-vampire Dr. Neville trapped to test on.

The whole survival saga is set in an eerily desolate and destroyed New York City, complete with bombed out bridges. In an effort to quarantine the virus in its early stages, the island of Manhattan is sealed off. Ostensibly, the tunnels were also blocked and/or taken out, so there's no way in or out of the city. However, 2/3 of the way into the movie, we come to see that there, in fact, other survivors who heard Dr. Neville's daily transmissions on AM frequencies asking him to meet him on some pier at noon. But, how did they get there if no one could leave or get into the city? Okay, fine, they got there, but then the woman survivor says there's a survivors' colony in Vermont. Dr. Neville loses it and says there is no survivors' colony, no God, nothing except this reality he's in. Random side note -- after three years of no contact with humans, let alone a woman, as one of my friends pointed out, you'd think Dr. Neville would want to get it on with this Brasilian chica! Nope. He explains Bob Marley and that he can still "fix" the virus.

In the end, the zombie-vampires figure out where Dr. Neville's fortress of solitude is and come after him. Why? Not sure, but like I said, I think it was for the chick zombie-vampire. How are they able to have superhuman wall scaling and jumping capabilities? No idea. In the original book and previous two movie adaptations, the zombie-vampires were actually much more organised and intelligent a la the vampire societies in movies like "Blade" and "Underworld." How Dr. Neville becomes legend is that he then becomes viewed as "the other" by the zombie-vampires because he hunts them ruthlessly. Think of it as our vampire stories flipped so that the humans are the baddies. Dr. Neville originally gets taken by the vampires and killed, thereby becoming the stuff of "legend," hence the title. In this movie version, however, he has an a-ha moment when he realises the cure is in the blood (duh) as he sees the condition of the captured she-zombie-vampire improve while the zombie-vampire horde is throwing themselves against the bulletproof glass to break in. Dr. Neville shoves the other two survivors into some escape hatch and launches himself at the zombie-vampire horde with a grenade in hand. Dr. Neville's cure contained in the vial of blood he extracted before dying becomes legend as the two survivors reach the colony in Vermont (in a magic SUV that can jump blown up bridges?). Bleh.

Visually, the movie was amazing because I kept wondering how the hell they managed to empty/block off New York streets. What was even more amazing was the deathly silence that pervaded most of the movie. New York is inherently a cacophony of white noise, so that whole juxtaposition was quite jarring. However, the visuals department got a C- in the creature department. Once I was done jumping out of my skin at their howling, and they howled way too much and too loudly, the zombie-vampires looked a lot like the mummy from "The Mummy." Will Smith himself did as good a job as he could with the story and script, but it won't be the stuff of legend like "Ali" (get it?).

So, what did you think? Like? Love? Hate? Whatever? Feel free to leave comments.


No, not the movie (which I haven't seen), but that phenomenon that is a part of every Southern California resident's life. My commute to work is roughly 35 miles each way, so 70 miles a day, 350 miles a week (if I go to the office everyday). That's a lot of driving and a lot of traffic. And a lot of observations.

I've noted a few things, namely: a) people brake too much and for no reason at all, b) traffic jams usually happen for no reason at all, too, c) people tend to slow down when a cop has someone else pulled over, and d) all that we learned about lining up and taking turns in kindergarten goes out the window when we're driving. I read all this in an article a while ago (I wish I could find you the link), and it all seems like common sense, but it's amazing how everyone is intent on riding everyone else's ass just to get to their destination a few seconds sooner.

Regarding point A, cars do slow down when you take your foot off the accelerator/gas pedal. Braking is not always necessary and leads to the brake pads wearing out too soon, especially in high speed conditions. And usually, if you're slamming the brakes, there's not enough space between your car and the car in front of you, i.e., you are tailgating. Easing off the accelerator and leaving a good amount of space does wonders for traffic flow and sanity whilst stuck in traffic. I'd much rather prefer to crawl along slowly than speed up, slow down, speed up more, stop, etc.

Once traffic really does speed up and the rest of the freeway is clear cruising, it makes one wonder why there was a traffic jam at all. Too many people trying to go in the same direction at once? Maybe. A cop who is writing a ticket for someone else cannot physically monitor his radar gun and jump in the car after you. Keep going! If there were an accident or stalled car, then fine, but usually there's absolutely nothing there. Or at least, no indication of anything that happened. Even if something did happen, is it really necessary for everyone to rubberneck and become lookie-loos?? Well, I suppose if it were a spectacular accident, that may warrant a bit of gawking, but people exchanging information is nothing exciting.

And, I bet you, more often than not, these accidents result from some overeager, I-am-too-the-cool hotshot trying to beat everyone who's patiently trundling along in line to merge on the freeway. Really, you're not going to get anywhere faster by half driving on the shoulder and speeding past everyone only to end up a few hundred feet in front of everyone else. In traffic. We learned how to take turns when we were kids, and merging should be a lot like the teeth on a zipper -- one after the other. I mean, if the rest of us are waiting in line, so can you. And we're in traffic. Not going anywhere fast.

With as much emphasis put on the rules of the road and not driving drunk or while distracted, perhaps there should also be efforts to promote road ettiquette. We're all tired and just want to get home, but stupid driving and bad road manner can just ruin the joy of getting home. No one wants road rage, but for the millions who spend a good chunk of their lives on the road, a little politeness and yielding goes a long way.

Edit 12.06.07:

While driving into work today, I thought of two more things regarding lane changes -- giving space to incoming cars and signalling. Both of these go hand in hand, but it's interesting to note how many people will signal ex post facto and sort of expect you to know they're coming into the lane. That's why the signal is there, to signal your intentions! It works wonders, really. That way the other driver can give you room for your lane change. If s/he is inclined to give you the room that is. There's another class of people who are very into the "me first" mentality and will leave about an inch of space between their front bumper and the other car's rear bumper just to prevent someone else from getting in front of them. Again, you're in traffic going nowhere fast. Letting someone in who needs to exit or use the interchange won't slow you down significantly. Sheesh.

Good lord, it's been ages since I posted, but I figured starting to write again would be a good thing. I will most likely be writing about random things that come to mind, so yes, they'll have a rambly tone. Today's post will deal with travel wear, i.e., what people wear on flights.

Now, since I started my new job in August, I've had the opportunity to take a few flights here and there. I'm all for comfort, but I refuse to look like a slob just because I'm going on a plane. I'm sure all of you heard about the girl who got kicked off a Southwest flight for wearing racy clothes (footnote: she wasn't wearing underwear with her tiny skirt), so there has to be some balance between looking like you rolled out of bed vs. rolling to the club.

As I stood waiting for a flight at Chicago's O'Hare airport, I did some people watching, and I was flabbergasted by how sloppily people dressed. The only ones who stood out were the businesspeople because they were more put together. Even then, the men had the ladies beaten in the style department. When did this switch happen, ladies? Weren't we supposed to be the fairer sex?

And then the casual travelers ranged from the tacky to the sleepy to the just plain wrong. Never had I seen so many capris, cropped pants, shapeless sacks, and pajamas with socks and sneakers. Not stylish urban trainers a la Puma, but heavy duty, industrial I'm-going-to-the-gym sneakers. I still don't understand the American fascination with sneakers/tennis shoes. They're not ubercomfortable, are a hassle to unlace/relace for airport security, and if you're calling them "tennis shoes" please wear them solely for playing tennis.

Back to the clothes -- women, even if you have body issues, hear me out. Shapeless sacks, e.g., oversized t-shirts, muumuu dresses, Hawaiian shirt, etc. will not hide your flaws. They will serve only to make you look like you have no shape and are hence wearing the shapeless sack. Contrary to what you think, ladies, (Oh I'm fat; oh I have no waist; oh my legs are too short; oh my boobs are too small; blah blah blah) you DO have a shape. The trick is learning how to play up what you like and artfully concealing what you don't like. Short legs look shorter in *gasp* shorts, capris, and cropped pants unless you wear them with a sandal or heel or heeled sandal. Why do short women insist on wearing these abominations?? Big shirts only make you look bigger than you are, so wear the RIGHT size, which does not mean a tight size.

I suppose some of you reading this will say, well that's all fine, but people want to be comfortable on a flight. Fair enough, but if I had a dollar for every time someone defended their style (or lack thereof) due to comfort, I'd have a good wad of cash. Comfort is not always pajamas and sweats, and it takes the same amount of effort to wear something nicer as to wear crap. For example, on said flights I took, with the exception of long haul flights, I wore dresses. Yes, dresses. Comfort? Check. Stylish? Damn straight they are. What about how cold it is in airplanes? Tights and leggings work wonders, and they're as comfortable as my pajamas.

I hear those scoffs -- oh she probably wore heels too...pfffftt. Yes, I did, but I wear heels most of the time anyway. And, by the way, most heels slip on and off. If heels aren't your cup of tea, just take a look at how many flats are in the stores. Cute ones! I generally don't do flats because a) I'm short, b) flats don't have enough arch support, and c) I feel frumpy in flats. As for the heavy sneakers, aforementioned Puma makes great streamlined sneakers and sneaker-inspired shoes, a lot of which are slip on. So do Diesel and Lacoste, and I'm sure you can find quality knockoffs or the real things on discount at outlet stores. Please, for the love of God, leave the sneakers to the gym.

Oh, and the men weren't without fault. If you must wear a t-shirt, leave the arms attached, and have a decent logo/silkscreen/print on them. I don't want to see your sweaty pits peeking out from under a "Beerfest Pong Champion 1995" shirt. There were only a couple of those guys, but the most egregious mistake I saw (and I see these everywhere, not just at airports) were pant hems that were too short. I worked in the men's department of a major store for quite some time, and I can safely say I was taught well about where a pant hem should end. Not at the ankle, not at the top of the shoe, but at the top of the heel of the shoe. Yes, gentlemen, you have heels. Don't believe me? Take a look at your dress shoes. Yep, there it is. When you have to get your pants hemmed, men, the finished hem should hit right at the top of that heel. I'm so sorely tempted to ask, "Where's the flood?" when I see guys with hems at their ankles. Seriously. Oh, and while men can still get away with pleated pants, please don't stuff the pockets with PDAs, keys, change, etc. because it throws everything out of proportion and makes your midsection look bulky. You don't want that.

Phew. I can go on, believe me, but someone might have the urge to smack me. I'm only trying to help, I promise. If you're intrigued or wondering who the heck do I learn this from, TLC's "What Not to Wear" show is a great resource as is the book What You Wear Can Change Your Life. I'm also happy to answer questions via comments (if anyone's still reading, that is!)