Charlie Wilson’s War

The movie is fun to watch, but it’s the book that’s a must read.

We watched Charlie Wilson’s War in the theater. It is a movie about the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion and how Congressman Charlie Wilson and how he and CIA officer Gust Avrakotos helped the Afghan Mujahideen.

It is a good movie, but it does focus more on the flamboyant and scandalous than the nitty gritty details of congressional funding. Also, Om Puri did the worst impression of Pakistani dictator General Zia ul Haq that I have ever seen.

While I liked the movie, these deficiencies mean I can rate it only 7/10.

Watching the movie reminded me that I still hadn’t read the book Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times by George Crile that the movie is based on. So I got it from the library.

It’s a great book and I finished it as fast as I could. It reminded me more of fiction than of reality. And it scared me. The book includes a lot of details about how the Afghan war was funded and details the way Congress and its committees work behind the scenes. As someone very interested in politics, it was a bit scary to realize how something of the scale of the US funding of the Afghan war could happen with just the personal connections and chit-calling and no open debate in Congress.

My conflicted feelings towards the Afghan war don’t help matters. I was and am a fervent anticommunist and hence did support the fight against the Soviets. At the same time, those Mujahideen groups, including Ahmad Shah Massoud, were not exactly good for Afghanistan. And the Afghan war (and Zia) is a major reason for why Pakistan is in such bad shape today.

If you are interested in the Cold War, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the war on terror, CIA, or US foreign policy, Charlie Wilson’s War is a must read.

Terror of School Districts

Law enforcements and government give the best of reasons for new laws on surveillance and powers for law enforcement. But they are always used for trivial or the worst of reasons too.

Laws giving more power of surveillance to the state are often justified in terms of their use against terrorists, pedophiles and other such criminals, but such laws can and will be used for such purposes as finding deadbeat dads or even checking if families reside in a specific school district.

A council has admitted spying on a family using laws to track criminals and terrorists to find out if they were really living in a school catchment.

A couple and their three children were put under surveillance without their knowledge by Poole Borough Council for more than two weeks.

The council admitted using powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) on six occasions in total.

Three of those were for suspected fraudulent school place applications.

It said two offers of school places were withdrawn as a consequence.

[…] RIPA legislation allows councils to carry out surveillance if it suspects criminal activity.

On its website, the Home Office says: “The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) legislates for using methods of surveillance and information gathering to help the prevention of crime, including terrorism.”

It goes on to say the act allows the interception of communications, carrying out of surveillance and the use of covert human intelligence sources.

Poole council said it used the legislation to watch a family at home and in their daily movements because it wanted to know if they lived in the catchment area for a school, which they wanted their three-year-old daughter to attend.

Also, in the past, these kind of laws have been used against political opponents, as the Church Committee reports show. It is quite probable that they will be used similarly again.

There Will Be Blood

This is a good movie set during the oil boom in California in the early 20th century.

There Will Be Blood is a movie about an oil prospector. It is set in the early 20th century.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays the role of a ruthless oil prospector who uses his adopted son to show himself off as a family man. While he discovers oil and grows rich, his paranoia and meanness morphs into a sort of madness.

It’s a good movie that I liked very much. However, Amber found it only okay. I rate it 8/10.

Atlanta Zoo

We visited the Atlanta Zoo recently. Here are some photographs from that visit.

Some time ago, we went to Atlanta Zoo. Michelle was so excited to be there. She was running from one animal enclosure to the next, trying to see all the animals. It was a great trip. I myself spent a lot of time on the gorillas and took lots of photos.

Flamingos
Warthog
Elephant
Rhinoceros and Zebras
Zebra
Giraffe
Lion
Unknown
Unknown
Elephant
Gorilla
Gorilla
Gorilla
Gorilla
Gorilla
Orangutan
Snake
Gila Monster
Panda
 

I am hoping next time I’ll have the 70-300mm lens for closeups.

The Lives of Others

A great movie about the spying of East German citizens by Stasi.

Das Leben der Anderen or The Lives of Others is a German movie about the totalitarian state of East Germany.

A playwright in East Berlin is being spied upon by the Stasi ostensibly for Western sympathies but really because a Minister is attracted to the playwright’s girlfriend. As the spying continues, the agent gets more sympathetic to the playwright and his girlfriend. Meanwhile, the playwright decides to write an article in the West German press about the high suicide rates in East Germany.

Overall, it’s a good movie which presents the main characters (playwright, his girlfriend and the stasi agent) as very human. It also shows the detailed spying that the East German state did on its citizens.

I rate the movie 9/10.

Midnight’s Children

Midnight’s Children is an enjoyable, though not great, book.

Midnight’s Children is an award-winning novel by Salman Rushdie, though Rushdie is known more for the protests and death threats against him due to his Satanic Verses.

The main character in Midnight’s Children is Saleem Sinai who’s born at the same instant as India becomes independent on August 15, 1947. His life story follows the twists and turns of national events. He even shows up in Pakistan for Ayub Khan’s martial law declaration and then later when his family is killed in a bombing raid during the 1965 war. The story then moves to the suppression of Bangladeshis by Pakistan’s security forces in 1971 and then to India again for Indira Gandhi’s emergency in 1975. Of course, Saleem Sinai plays a role in all these events.

Overall, the story is fun and covers the post-Independence history of the region. But at times Rushdie’s writing style gets annoyingly ethnic. I enjoyed the novel but wasn’t much impressed by it.