If you are not okay, then I am okay!

We all know from experience, as the article suggests, that for true happiness we should have - "experiences" over commodities, pastimes over knick-knacks, doing over having.

Economic prosperity and happiness are unrelated. The Economist writes:
"Happiness, as measured by national surveys, has hardly changed over 50 years. The rich are generally happier than the poor, but rich countries do not get happier as they get richer. The Japanese are much better off now than in 1950, but the proportion who say they are “very happy” has not budged. Americans too have remained much as Alexis de Tocqueville found them in the 19th century: “So many lucky men, restless in the midst of abundance.”

Lord Layard and Mr Frank both blame habit and rivalry for this stagnation of morale. People grow accustomed to what they have—however much of it there is. Moreover, having a lot of things is not enough if other people have more. A rising tide lifts all boats, but not all spirits.

For economists, this is radical stuff. They traditionally argue that people best serve themselves and the public by minding their own business."
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As we well know, people do not mind their own business and there is a good reason for it. Quite sadistically, our own happiness is mostly relative; we are happier if we are better off than our peers. Your misery has a lot to do with my happiness. Economic growth is good but does nothing to ensure happiness. As the leader to the article (access required) points out - Capitalism ensures economic growth, but to ask of it to also ensure happiness is to ask too much of it.

Previous post on this topic.
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In the same edition the Economist also surveys the big questions of neuroscience:
"Modern neuroscience has taken many directions, and this survey will not attempt to look at all of them. Instead, it will concentrate on four areas that may shed light on individual identity: the study of the emotions; the nature of memory; the ways that brains interact with each other; and the vexed question of what, exactly, consciouness is."

Babel

Alejandro González Iñárritu along with writer Guillermo Arriaga completes the trilogy - that started with Amores Perros (Love's a Bitch), which was followed by 21 Grams - with Babel. Iñárritu has been hailed as the finest talent to come out of Mexico in recent years and they above more than justify the claim. The director has fallen out with his writer Guillermo Arriaga over story writing credits and this might the last time we see them work together.

Most critics seem to be upset with what they call the usual Iñárritu tricks of using a non-linear storyline, intersecting lives and coincidences. So is this cutting and splicing getting too repetitive? Is it mere idiosyncrasy? Or a conscious attempt at making it his signature style. More importantly, one should ask whether it is really crucial to the development of the story and the film? Speaking of personal style, I am reminded of an interview in which Robert Altman explained why he wanted all his movies to be certified PG-18. His maverick reason was that his movies required a lot of patience and concentration which kids or teenagers do not possess and for the sake of his craft, a PG-18 rating would keep them out. Iñárritu has a long way to go to reach the stature of Altman, but he certainly has the talent and the boldness. In 21 Grams, Iñárritu clearly went overboard with his trademark routine and the mental exercise of piecing that story together was like having to perform long division. The resulting headache tends to distract you so much that you cannot appreciate the movie. With Babel Iñárritu has achieved the correct proportion where there is more substance to the style. A linear telling of this tale would have killed many of the effects of suspense, discombobulation and confusion.

Alejandro González Iñárritu says:
"I realized that what makes us happy as humans could differ greatly, but that what makes us miserable and vulnerable beyond culture, race language or financial standing is the same for all."


The story takes place in three locations - Mexico, Morocco and Tokyo. Gael Garcia Bernal is fantastic as usual as the Mexican maid's nephew Santiago. Anyone who is not a US citizen will emphathize with the of Santiago bristling anger at the border. When the cop at the border is a little gruff, Santiago sees it as another repeat humiliation and he snaps, setting another chain of events in motion. We know shit happens, but this movie is not about that. Butterflies might flap their wings that lead to disastrous consequences, but not before we have made our choices. All people make decisions at the margin in the movie; some work, some don't. The key difference is how they deal with what happens.

In Morocco, Brad Pitt takes his wife played by Cate Blanchett for a vacation in the vain hope of trying to repair their marriage. When at a roadside restaurant they are served water, Blanchett soon tosses the water and asks, "Why are we here?" This is not so much to question the quality of water in Morocco but the quality of their own relationship. It will take two brothers taking care of their goats and their subsequent fooling around with a gun for the husband and wife to rekindle and rediscover their love for each other. The most poignant story is of the beautiful Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) who is deaf-mute and is desperately seeking a relationship, any kind of relationship. Finally, after a number of missed attempts, she and her friend have managed to make friends with some boys and go on to visit a hip disco. There are the usual frenzied laser lights, thumping electronic music and a crowd of bodies dancing like crazy. Suddenly, there is silence and we only see the laser lights moving. It is only then we realize how silent and lonely Chieko's world actually is. The realization is devastating. The movie is full of such moments wonderfully captured - sibling rivalry, the humiliation of taking a leak in public, the human need for simple affection, traditional wedding celebration. While is no surprise that the star-studded cast delivered incredible performances, the big 'discovery' was the stellar performance by the lesser known actors, such as the Moroccan Berber family, the cops investigating the scene(s), the Japanese teenagers and the two kids. While it may seem that Iñárritu's canvas has considerably expanded since the Mexico City chronicles in Amores Perros, he is really still exploring the same themes of relationships, love, loss and longing, only more polished this time around. Gustavo Santaolalla having given music for the movie makes it reason enough for me to watch. Quite clearly, this is one of the best movies of the year.

Pune, Horn Okay Please

So give me a... stage
Where this bull here can rage

from Raging Bull

If Jake LaMotta ever rode a two-wheeler in Pune he would find it an appropriate stage. In Pune, forget all the politeness that is associated with driving that one has been conditioned to in the US. On the first day, you wince every other minute because you feel that there is going to be a collison. Miraculously nothing happens. There are dangers, but foreigners and out-of-touch NRISs (Non-Resident Indian Students) tend to overestimate them. After taking to the road yourself, you see your old touch returning. Suddenly, you feel free like the caged beast who has been set free on the prairie. Only, Pune is not a prairie, but a minefield.

Donning my helmet and bestriding my rusty, but trusty M-80, I take to the streets. I can personally attest to the fact that zipping along at 30 kmph on a crowded street is infinitely more thrilling than a dull 190 kmph on the Autobahn. There is constant road construction, debris from construction sites, pedestrians spilling onto the streets, the odd cow who nonchalantly sits in the middle of the road. There are no 'STOP' signs, no question of giving way, or the hope of a friendly wave when you do. Blocking the intersection is almost an article of faith. Traffic lights are like Christmas decorations, just for show. In short - there are no rules. Riding a 2-wheeler in Pune is not for the meek, the weak or the faint hearted.

The greatest pleasure of driving, that the land of the free and the home of brave denies, is:
The right to use my horn whenever and however I want.
One cannot but admire the many innovative uses we have for the humble horn.

I use my horn:
a) to communicate to others that I too am sharing the street,
b) as an accompaniment when I sing my songs,
c) as a symphonic element at an intersection when the light turns green along with the rest of the band,
d) on empty streets to keep me company,
e) to warn others of the approaching menance of my M-80,
f) as a bell to call my friends from their third floor apartments.

The M-80 is not the kind of bike that helps you pick up the chicks. It is a veritable chick anti-magnet. The benefit is that there is rather slim chance that the mammas (or cops) will ever stop you and harass you for your license, papers, pollution certificate, etc. If you ride an M-80 with a helmet, you can ride pretty much as you please in Pune. Besides it has one of the most irritating horns in existence. Ah! The sheer annoyance of its neigh!