I’ve now been in India for a week. Three days at the big Bollywood Conference (Frames 2013) in Mumbai, followed by three days in the holy city of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges. The two worlds are so far apart that I could have been on different planets. This is my first experience of India, so what follows is a sort of stream of consciousness post.
Mumbai is a big confident city with some of the wealthiest men in India building houses that would have embarrassed the Maharajas for their opulence. I heard that there are more than 100 members of Parliament worth over $1 billion. This may of course be an urban myth,but the perception that the powerful live in a different world seems well founded. Of course this is no different than the U.S., but what does stand out is the understanding that India is a very young democracy. From the point of view of the film makers I met in Mumbai, basic notions of freedom of speech are constantly trumped by the anger felt from certain (often religious) groups who feel offended by the new sensibilities flowing from young secular voices. Every state in India seems to have a different political make up and the politics reminds one of Israel, in which small right wing religious parties have outsized influence. Thus a film may be censored in one state and a hit in another. As a young former student of mine remarked, it’s quite easy for a populist firebrand to get a thousand people riled up about some rather trivial outrage.
By contrast, the life on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi seems not to have changed much from the first millennium. Every night the fires of the funeral pires burn until daybreak. The smell of sandalwood drifts out over the water and there are no tears from the relatives who come to say goodbye. My amazing guide Aman Choudhary says that is because life and Moksha live side by side in this pace he calls Kashi. Moksha could perhaps be compared to the Buddhist notion of Nirvana. If your life in this world ends in ashes on the banks of the Ganges, you don’t have to return. I guess what got to me most was the joy in the faces of the pilgrims as they plunged themselves in the Ganges for the first time in their life. Some of them had journeyed for three days by train and had little more than the clothes on their backs. But their faith was still strong.
I don’t know how India is going to resolve the worlds of Mumbai and Kashi. Perhaps they never will. But close to the banks of the river was a Mosque and the Muslims and the Hindus seemed to coexist with ease. I know there are many battles elsewhere in the country, but in this religous city, there is peace. Farther outside of town was the Stupa commemorating the place where Buddha preached his first sermon. Thirty monks from Thailand stood before a magnificent 5th Century Buddha and chanted. I fixed my eyes on the gentle smile of the Buddha, and was pulled by the chants back in time. The worlds of reality TV, Internet Privacy and dystopian fears faded away.
USC/Annenberg School has put a new version of my America 3.0:Rebooting After the Crash up on their You Tube Site. Watch it in the High Quality Setting. It will be up on I Tunes U next week as a free download.
What we found is that fully TWO-THIRDS of the United States’ population lives within this Constitution-free or Constitution-lite Zone. That’s 197.4 million people who live within 100 miles of the US land and coastal borders.
That means the Fourth Amendment of the constitution, barring random and arbitrary stops and searches, does not apply to two-thirds of U.S. Citizens.
Shouldn’t Senator Leahy and the Judiciary Committee be looking into this?
I treasure great photography above all other arts, but was not really aware of the early autochrome work of the Lumiere Brothers and their associates. The colors have a wonderfully subtle gradation, almost as if they were hand tinted. Evidently the French Financier Albert Kahn sent teams of photographers all over the world with the delicate autochrome plates and cameras.
When you see a fork in the road, take it.-Yogi Berra
The events of the past week have clearly brought us to a fork in the road. At any important decision point it’s often useful to do a scenario planning exercise. What are the dynamics we are wrestling with and what are the possible outcomes of those forces? So the first force is that of deleverage. In ten years will we as a country (both individuals, businesses and governments) be more in debt or less in debt? And the second, countervailing force is that of devolution. Will the sources of leadership, innovation and change come from decentralized, networked, “bottom up” forces or from centralized, hierarchical, “top down” forces?
Anyone who doubted that we are living in a decentralized, networked world must have had their mind changed by this week’s events. On Thursday the Fed injected $105 billion into the U.S. Banking system and $200 billion to other central banks and still the global credit markets seized up. George Bush, Dick Cheney and John McCain are leaders for a centralized, top down world that no longer exists. Bush’s perplexed look at Paulson this morning tells the whole tale. He doesn’t have a clue as to what is happening on his watch. On the other hand, Barack Obama believes in the power of the decentralized, bottom up forces that powered his campaign and overthrew the top down hierarchy of the Clinton Machine. He is ready for this moment.
Then it seems to me the only question is are we going to be richer or poorer in ten years time? Will the boomers be leaving an unmanageable debt on our children and grandchildren? My belief is that the devolutionary forces that made it impossible for Paulson to control the downspiral on a de facto basis, can also help us figure out how to slowly rebuild our collective savings. Continue reading →
In an age where everyone is shouting with their advertising, its always fun to see a company go in the opposite direction. United Airlines hired an LA director named Jamie Caliri who used paper puppets and stop motion animation to make something that is quite beautiful. Herbie Hancock and Chinese Pianist Lang Lang did the score.
Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program, spoke today along with two victims of the watch list: Jim Robinson, former assistant attorney general for the Civil Division who flies frequently and is often delayed for hours despite possessing a governmental security clearance and Akif Rahman, an American citizen who has been detained and interrogated extensively at the U.S.-Canada border when traveling for business.
For a while entertainment analysts used to think that gambling was not a cyclical component of the economy–that people fed their gambling addiction in good times and bad. In Vegas it’s looking like that’s not true.
With Americans cutting back on luxuries, and the price of transport rocketing, the so-called “Vegas vacation” is facing the axe. This week, as the nation celebrated Independence Day, major hotels were taking stock of a fall in all-important room occupancy rates from their usually impressive 95 per cent levels to nearer 80 per cent.
More worryingly, new figures showed gambling revenue has also dropped – a further 3 per cent this month – starting a price war between worried firms anxious to lure punters back. Hotel rooms, which last year averaged $130 each, now go for less than $100 (£50).
At the vast Planet Hollywood resort, the clatter of fruit machines and poker chips was this week replaced by an uneasy – and, for Vegas, very unusual – calm. A large if slightly tatty double room could be found for less than $80.
No tourist resort can afford to lose its buzz. Yet the slump now runs so deep it’s starting to hurt even the town’s Elvis impersonators, wedding chapels, and sex industry. When money’s tight, the prospect of stuffing another $20 bill into a lap-dancer’s gyrating stocking-top somehow doesn’t seem quite so enticing.
For the first time in human history you will be able to sail to the North Pole this summer. All of you global warming deniers ought to find something else to deny. Maybe evolution? Since the North Pole basically serves as an air conditioner for the Northern Hemisphere, we can assume the snow pack in future years will be smaller, leading to more water shortages.