Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Agnostic Argument - 4 (A Personal Experience of Faith)

OK, time for the confessional!

Kip's specially-designed confessional for unbelievers

I'm going to commence my defence with a quote by Scott Fitzgerald:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

With that quote, not only can I justify contradicting myself but I can also prove my intelligence to be first-rate! (Thanks, Scott Fitzgerald, I owe you one.)

I've always been uncomfortable with the atheistic position that a lack of evidence of God's existence is sufficient reason to stop praying. I think that argument is a non sequitur. I argued that point earlier with the example of imaginary numbers, because humanity has achieved useful results by working with something that doesn't exist!

Let me now talk about how faith has helped me in my own life, even though I'm an unabashed agnostic.

On three occasions so far, I have suffered excruciatingly painful back spasms. These have been so traumatic that the dates have been burned into my memory: 30 Aug 2001, 27 July 2002, 31 Jan 2007.

I have never before or since experienced such pain. Every time I had a spasm, it seemed as if my back was on fire, and I could not keep myself from screaming. I used to suffer more than one spasm during the first couple of days of each episode, and it was only with the passage of time (and lots of painkillers) that the inflammation eased and the spasms stopped. (It's also chiropractic that has given me what I think is a more permanent solution, but that's another story.)

The specific situation I want to talk about concerns me lying on my side in bed during one of these episodes when a spasm has laid me low. As long as I'm lying still, there is no problem, but I've been lying on my side for a long time, and I'm getting tired. I want to roll over onto my back, but I'm deadly scared that the movement will trigger another spasm. The memory of that excruciating, burning pain paralyses me. I want to turn over, and it's such a simple movement, but I dare not.

How does science or rationalism help me now? They do nothing for me. If I apply my scientific mind to the problem, I cannot rule out the possibility of a spasm with 100% confidence. Even a low probability is to be dreaded, and I cannot bring myself to take the chance and roll over. So I just lie there, paralysed by fear.

Long moments pass. And you know what happens next. There are no atheists in foxholes or with back spasms, and I pray. I pray fervently to any deity I can think of. (Hinduism provides a rich variety ;-). I pray and pray. I rage. I weep.

Ultimately, calm descends on me. A feeling of peace, and a conviction that my fervent prayer will be answered. Note that this is a completely irrational feeling. I have no evidence at all that a deity has heard my prayers or that such a deity even exists. But I need that faith.

And armed with that faith, I turn. And nothing happens. Moments pass, and there is no spasm. I say a prayer of thanks. To the same deity. Who may or may not exist.

After the fact, the incident is easy to analyse and explain. Faith caused my muscles to relax. Relaxed muscles do not go into spasm. That's the scientific explanation, and there is no need to invoke a deity of any sort to explain this phenomenon.

But here's the catch-22. If there's no deity, then where can the faith come from? Rationalism cannot produce the relaxation required, because rationalism stubbornly insists that there is always a finite probability of a spasm occurring. Only faith can assert with absolute certainty that a spasm will not occur. And faith then proceeds to prove its point.

The other area in my life where faith has helped is in dealing with stress, especially at work. I went through a particularly bad phase in a previous job where a particular individual used to give me a lot of stress. My solution was to sit in my car for a few minutes before entering the office and put myself in a state of mind (through prayer) that told me with absolute confidence that my problems would be taken care of. Again, there was no rational reason for arriving at this level of confidence. It was entirely possible that my professional reputation would be damaged and I would be out of a job as a result of the conflict. Faith, however, is self-standing and doesn't require reasoning to back it up. And it worked. I remained calm at work, and nothing catastrophic happened. Pure rationalism would not have helped me control my stress as simply and effectively.

Analysing the situation after the fact, perhaps my calmness was itself a major contributor to the solution. Keeping calm and not reacting to provocation helped to defuse many potentially explosive situations. And being level-headed in a crisis always helped me make better decisions. That's probably what helped me maintain my professional reputation and make a success of what I was working at. But I needed faith to kickstart all of that.

Now this will sound ungrateful on my part, but none of these positive experiences with prayer and faith has caused me to become a 'believer' in the whole spiritual/religious shebang. I'm still fairly convinced that there is no such thing as a soul (no evidence, after all), and that therefore there are no such things as an afterlife, heaven, hell, reincarnation or karma.

But still, why would an agnostic throw away a perfectly useful tool without an adequate substitute? Agnostics are nothing if not practical. And this is why I can hold two opposing ideas in my mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. Indeed, I need both sets of ideas to function. I don't consider faith to be the enemy of reason or the opposite of reason. Faith is the dual of reason. Each solves a different set of problems.

The Agnostic Argument - 3 (What Would Spock Do?)

The title of this post is a takeoff on the question devout Christians ask themselves when faced with a moral dilemma - What would Jesus do?

A friend recently sent me a link to an article in Psychology Today by Nigel Barber that provocatively avers that Atheism will replace Religion. I however found the analysis a little superficial.

I found Andrew Park's thoughtful rejoinder much more convincing and meaningful. He takes the more realistic view that the continued existence of religious belief, for whatever reason, is something that atheists need to acknowledge - and acknowledge without disparaging the intelligence or relevance of believers. We (and our children) have to share this world with believers for a long time, and a harmonious relationship is perhaps more important than winning the argument. I may be putting words in his mouth here, but that's what I took away from his piece.

Todd Kashdan's critique was also quite good. He reframes the debate in psychological terms, and ends by focusing on superstition rather than religion as a whole. I agree that attacking superstitious beliefs is more likely to succeed than attacking people's faith in general.

Reading some of the comments on these articles, I develop the distinct impression that people expect atheism to provide a fully-fledged philosophy of how to live life, so as to make it easy for a theist to simply discard one set of values and adopt another without breaking stride. But that expectation does atheism an injustice.

The term 'atheism' is emotionally loaded, and so instead of framing the debate as 'atheism versus belief in God', I would prefer to think of it as 'rationalism versus superstition'. By training people to question specific instances of blind belief, and by demonstrating scientific explanations for each of them, we can lead from the specific to the general and inculcate scientific thinking as a basis for making decisions about our lives.

After all, atheism is nothing but a lack of belief in God because of lack of evidence for the existence of God. It does not claim to be a school of philosophy.

What does all this have to do with Mr Spock of Star Trek? I'm reminded of what Spock said to Lt Valeris (perhaps the only Vulcan whose name doesn't begin with an 'S' or end with a 'k') in The Undiscovered Country: "Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end."

How true. Atheism is the beginning of a rationalist philosophy, not the end.

The End Of The Republican Party As We Know It

(Synopsis: Social conservatives are out of touch with the mainstream electorate. Fiscal conservatives are unpopular with the mainstream electorate. That spells Game Over for the Republicans.)

I'm going to go out on a limb by predicting that not only is Mitt Romney going to lose November's election but that the Republican Party itself will never win another presidential election until they reinvent themselves to be more in tune with modern society.

It's a bit of a bold prediction, especially coming from someone who is not American, but distance lends perspective ("And what should they know of England who only England know?" - Rudyard Kipling), and I say this as an serious amateur student of world history and current affairs who has studied the world  (and the US) with more than a little interest for over forty years.

There are demographic and social changes afoot in US society (as in the rest of the world), and none of these changes favours the Republicans.

  • Women are becoming more aware of their rights as individuals, and men too are more accommodating of an equal role for women. A religious view of abortion imposed on women will be resisted strongly, yet this is exactly the position that the Republican party has adopted. The term "the Republicans' war on women" is increasingly heard, as is the slogan, "If you're a woman and vote Republican, you're a moron".
  • Non-white births now outnumber whites, and many US cities have non-white majorities. The demographics are shifting towards an ethnically pluralistic society. In a country where elections are decided by marginal states and marginal constituencies within states, minor demographic shifts can have major electoral consequences. The Republicans' social conservatism (evidenced by their hard-liners' opposition to the DREAM Act) is, arguably, inherently less friendly to diversity. The party's public posture is a more sanitised pro-nationalism and integration, but the views of the rank and file are more xenophobic and exclusionary, and this is the true face of the party. It's a formula for electoral loss.
  • Society is becoming more understanding and tolerant of what used to be considered "sexual deviance". Gay rights are far less controversial to the average person, and contraception even less so. The traditional family is no longer seen as the only acceptable social unit. Social conservatives (the core of the Republican party) are increasingly isolated from the views of mainstream society.
  • Education and scientific thinking are becoming more widespread. Blind belief in doctrine, whether of the religious or nationalistic kind, is less prevalent among the educated. These positions are mainstays of the Republicans, and they are increasingly being abandoned, even if not always publicly questioned, by the educated voting public. It explains why the "blue states" (Democrat-leaning) are the coastal states where education levels are high, and "red states" (Republican-leaning) are in the less educated heartland.
  • Religion (especially dogma and superstition) are losing their grip. The social conservatives' base is steadily eroding, and we must not mistake noise for number. Bible-thumping seems a joke to all but the most hardcore supporters.
  • There is an increasing awareness of economic unfairness. John Steinbeck's quote (“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires”) is not as true as it once was. The worldwide Occupy movement has focused the attention of the 99% against the 1% everywhere, including the US. This is a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle by cutting taxes for the rich and managing the deficit by slashing programs for the poor, which is the Republicans' plan for ending the deficit.
  • All of the above are aspects of generational change. The young are more likely to be educated and have socially progressive views. The more conservative tend to be older and (how do I say this delicately?) are dying out, both literally and figuratively. With each election, the demographic shifts to a more liberal group of voters.

Each of these changes is marginal, but the trend is strengthening from election to election. The state of the economy at the time of an election has an impact on the chances of the incumbent, but it is a superficial blip over a longer-term trend. The media also tends to report the loudest, the most strident and the most outrageous voices, and these are disproportionately from the Right, but the trends are quietly pointing in the opposite direction.

America is becoming more liberal. There's no denying it, and there's no stopping it.

The one potent arrow in the Republican quiver is "small government". Correctly stated as the quest for a balanced budget, this is a laudable goal, but it will be politically very hard to reel back the wasteful spending that various interests now see as entitlements. It will have to be a long and hard process, with only incremental progress, and the US may never quite get there. In any case, the fiscal conservatives' platform alienates at least as many voters as it attracts, so while it is a noble goal, this is not an argument that can win an election.

Perhaps after the Republicans lose 2012, and definitely after they lose 2016, the party will rip itself apart. The conservative base and the moderate fringe (which by then will have more adherents) will part ways. The conservatives will isolate themselves to irrelevance and be gone in another couple of elections. The moderates will struggle to differentiate themselves from the Democrats.

In the medium-term future, the US will have two Democratic parties who will have to fight on local issues and around personalities. As an ideology, the Right is finished. It is simply out of touch with modernity.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Passing Of A Man, And A Giant Leap For Robotkind

RIP, Neil Armstrong - engineer, geek and pioneer.
Welcome online, Curiosity - robot, rover and explorer.

I find myself curiously unmoved by the news of Neil Armstrong's death. The media is full of glowing tributes to the man's "achievement". But if there ever was a person to whom it could be said, "You didn't build that", it's Neil Armstrong. Armstrong represented the efforts of a whole army of people at NASA who put him on the moon. "All" he had to do was undergo the training, and execute. I know I'm being a bit churlish in belittling the achievements of the first man on the moon, but there you go. I can't help what I feel.

Meanwhile, Curiosity "phone home" from Mars this week. It sent some absolutely breathtaking photos. Thank goodness it didn't say "Wish you were here". I would have burned up with jealousy. Who wouldn't want to stand in that freezing thin air for at least a few moments, shivering with both excitement and cold, and simply savouring...?

"He saw the sky submerged above him, the sun made Martian by atmosphere and time and space." - Ray Bradbury, "Dark They Were, and Golden-eyed"

“She didn’t watch the dead, ancient bone-chess cities slide under, or the old canals filled with emptiness and dreams. Past dry rivers and dry lakes they flew, like a shadow of the moon, like a torch burning.” - Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

“It is good to renew one's wonder, said the philosopher. Space travel has again made children of us all.” - Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

So full marks to NASA for naming Curiosity's landing spot after Ray Bradbury, my favourite fantasy and science fiction writer. It's now called Bradbury Landing.

Bradbury himself might have seen the irony in this naming. At the end of "Dark they were, and golden-eyed",  the captain of a spaceship that has just landed on Mars says this to one of his crew:

'What do you think of naming those mountains the Lincoln Mountains, this canal the Washington Canal, those hills - we can name those hills for you, Lieutenant. Diplomacy. And you, for a favour, might name a town for me. Polishing the apple. And why not make this the Einstein Valley, and further over ... are you listening, Lieutenant?'

Now all that's left is to name another place after Edgar Rice Burroughs's scientist and warrior-princess Dejah Thoris, and I'll be happy. (The following pictures pertain to his "John Carter" series of stories.)

Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris in Disney's "John Carter" based on Rice Burroughs's stories, one hell of an entertaining movie and an undeserving commercial flop.

Barsoom (Mars), a far cry from Curiosity's photos

Where the Tharks live is probably closer to what Curiosity found.

Oh Mars, Mars...

Ock ohem ocktei wies Barsoom

Bollywood's own Benjamin Button is the Bellwether of the Bicentennial Man

AK Hangal, the Bollywood actor famous for his roles as a benign old man, is dead. He died on 26 August 2012, at the age of 95.

The curious thing is that he was already old when we were children. We have only ever known AK Hangal as an old man. Among Indians of my age, whenever talk turned to Hangal, the doubt inevitably surfaced, "Isn't he dead?" It was always a matter of great surprise to be assured that he was still alive. Until of course, a few days ago. This time, the reports of his death have not been exaggerated.

[It's shameful that he died in poverty in spite of having acted in over 200 films, and having been quite successful and popular. It was only when his son announced that he could not afford medical treatment that many of his old peers stepped in to pay his bills. A musing on the vicissitudes of life is a topic for another blog post, but to me, the lesson is that there is no alternative to early and prudent financial planning.]

But this blog post is about age and aging.

AK Hangal in 1972 at age 55 (in the film Bawarchi) 
Being bald adds a decade to one's appearance...

AK Hangal (right) in 2006 at age 89, receiving an award from then-President Abdul Kalam 

AK Hangal in recent times, aged about 95

We don't realise that 95 is a full twentyfive years older than 70. We don't fully grasp the difference between a 70 year old and a 95 year old. We tend to dismiss them both as old people. But it's a difference of almost a generation, the same difference as that between a 5 year old and a 30 year old.

The curious case of AK Hangal, as a newspaper article put it, in a conscious paraphrasing of the title of a movie about a man who ages in reverse, made me remember what I have recently been reading about an imminent world where lifespans of 150 could be the norm. Sonia Arrison's book, 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith (a title almost as long as the lifespan it talks about) discusses the hows and whys of aging with good health up to double current lifespans.

In such a world, the death of a man at the age of 95 would be seen as untimely. It's only in such a world that AK Hangal, the man who was perennially old, would be considered young...

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Is Bollywood Now Into Bad Vampire Movies?

Event Cinemas seems to think "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2" is a Bollywood movie. Yes, it's an over-the-top emotional melodrama that appeals only to teenage girls, but seriously guys, calling it a Bollywood movie for that reason is a bit much. (Where are the songs, eh? QED.)

(And Sudigadu, being a Telugu movie, isn't strictly "Bollywood", but Event Cinemas can be forgiven for that error. "Galti se mistake ho gaya", as we say in "Indian".)

The Curious Incident Of The Swedish Women Withdrawing Their Accusation

Detective Gregory: Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?
Sherlock Holmes: To the curious incident of the two Swedish women withdrawing their accusation against Julian Assange.
Detective Gregory: But the Swedish women didn't withdraw their accusation.
Sherlock Holmes: That was the curious incident.

(With apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his fine work.)

OK, I'm wading into a political minefield here, and I'm sure to hear accusations that I'm trivialising rape.

Nonsense. There are rape cases (I dare not use the word "legitimate" now that Todd Akin has soiled it in pro-life idiocy), and then there are rape cases where there are wheels within wheels. Only the incorrigibly naive would imagine that the Julian Assange case has no wheels within star-spangled wheels. (Do click on that link.)

As an exercise, I did what we are always exhorted to do in these circumstances - put myself in the shoes of Assange's two accusers for a few moments. What must those two women be feeling?

No one is making the case that Assange may have committed rape of the hostile, violent kind. The violation here, if any, is much more nuanced. Obviously, I don't know all the gory details, so my role-play is somewhat hobbled by my ignorance, but if I was a woman who thought Julian Assange went back on a commitment with me to use a condom (or something on that scale) and therefore filed a case against him for not doing so, what must I be thinking now when the whole issue has assumed the proportions of a major diplomatic crisis? Would I stay silent after all that has happened?

I think I would step forward and say, "Hey guys, this is being blown out of proportion. Julian went back on a commitment to me, but seeing that this has now led to him having to seek asylum in Ecuador and to the UK threatening to storm the Ecuadorian embassy, I think it's better I withdraw my case. I'm flattered as hell that my face is launching a thousand ships, so to speak, but I do have a sense of proportion and I think we should end this farce now. I still maintain that the guy played dirty with me, but this is ridiculous! I'm withdrawing my case. Sorry for all the trouble."

The fact that neither of these women has done this says to me that this is another curious incident of the dog in the night-time. Why isn't the dog barking?

I drew a cartoon to show what I think is happening with the two women (identified only as A and W).

The most charitable explanation is that they imagine they've mounted a tiger and can't get off now.

The more sinister explanation is that somebody has used them as a front and also kept them from backing out by putting the fear of Gaad into them, if you get my drift (I can't help remembering the limerick that goes " the end of the ride, the lady was inside, and the smile on the face of the tiger - Monkhouse").

What am I smoking? There is a site called "People OK with murdering Assange". The term "fatwa" is too mild for what these people are saying, and they're dead serious. This is an obese-wa from the land of the obese. The same UK that protected Salman Rushdie from an Iranian fatwa now seems eager to see Assange fall victim to the US one.

Just because this is a conspiracy theory doesn't mean it isn't true...

Friday, 24 August 2012

Life Imitates Life Imitating Art

In "Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie", our hero ruins the famous painting "Whistler's Mother" in classic style, then "restores" it.

The original Whistler's Mother painting 
(officially called "Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1", by the way)

Mr. Bean's restored version
(It does have a certain charm denied to the original)

One could be forgiven for having a good laugh in the theatres and sobering up when leaving, convinced that such things happen only in the movies. But fortunately, real life has a pretty good comic director too.

A devout, church-going Spanish octogenarian has made up for a misspent life of ordinariness and boring good deeds to leave her mark on this world before it was too late.

She took it upon herself to restore a century-old fresco of Jesus on the wall of her local church and probably did one better than Mr Bean.

Left: The original fresco (known as Ecce Homo - "Behold the Man")
Right: The restored version by Cecilia Gimenez (now christened Ecce Mono - "Behold the Monkey")

This may not quite be the start of a new school of art on the scale of Impressionism, but it has not failed to gather its own devoted followers.

This improved version of The Last Supper provides the unfathomable sense of foreboding that was sadly lacking in the original.

This was the enigmatic expression that da Vinci tried, unsuccessfully, to capture. The "Mono Lisa" will keep us guessing for centuries to come.

An art historian has reportedly said that Ms. Gimenez's painting is "completely modern and reflecting in (sic) a simple and naive popular mysticism". Uh, whatever that means.

All this and more, written up by a journalist mercifully blessed with a sense of the ridiculous. 

We should remember that Mr. Bean not only covered up his "restoration" with a fake, he actually made a speech at the museum, to great applause:

I'm Dr. Bean, apparently, and my job is to sit and look at paintings (applause). So, what have I learnt that I can say about this painting? Well, firstly, it's quite...big, which is excellent, because if it was really small, you know, microscopic, then hardly anybody would be able to see it, which would be a tremendous shame. Secondly, and I'm quite near the end now, of this ...analysis of this painting [...] This picture is worth such a lot of money because it's a picture of Whistler's mother, and as I've learnt by staying with my best friend David Langley and his family, families are very important. And even though Mr. Whistler was perfectly aware that his mother was a hideous old bat who looked like she had a cactus lobbed up her backside, he stuck with her, and even took the time to paint this amazing picture of her. It's not just a painting. It's a picture of a mad old cow who he thought the world of. And that's marvelous. ...well, that's what I think (wild applause).

In our real life story too, the old lady in question seems absolutely unaware of the magnitude of her er..contribution to the world, and one can't help coming away from watching her interview with the impression that what she did was perfectly OK. Actually, it's more than just OK, it's cosmic OK. "Truth is stranger than fiction." "Life imitates Art." We're running out of clichés here.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Readings for a Deeper Understanding of Indian Civilisation

Growing up in India and learning Indian history through textbooks may not have educated Indians about their own civilisation to the extent they may imagine.

In recent times, many writers have challenged the narrative from the textbooks of our youth and brought up several new, thought-provoking ideas. Here is a selection of the ones that I have found most interesting. I daresay any educated Indian will have a mind-altering experience after reading all of these.

On the neglected aspects of Indian history - The Kaipullai's Vetti Thoughts

On the neglected influence of caste in how Indians (and Pakistanis) behave - Aakar Patel

On the toll taken by a history of invasion - Cinemarasik's opinion

On how "Western Universalism" makes non-Western cultures seem quaint - Rajiv Malhotra

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Julian Assange Case and Australia's Shameful Pusillanimity

I'm glad to say I haven't just been fuming in impotent rage. I just sent a letter of protest to Bob Carr, Australian foreign minister, and I hope more concerned Australians will do the same:

Mr. Carr,

I'm appalled that the Australian government is doing nothing to help an Australian citizen, Julian Assange, who has not been charged with any crime, yet is being hounded like an animal by foreign powers - the UK and Sweden. Any informed person can guess that the extradition case is probably a smokescreen to get him to the US, which is the country most affected by the Wikileaks disclosures.

As an Australian citizen, I want to see the Australian government active in protecting Mr. Assange against foreign powers. This government has defended convicted drug-runners in foreign countries. It is shameful that it refuses to help a man who many Australians believe has furthered press freedom with his bold disclosures of wrongdoing (such as the footage of the helicopter attack on civilians in Iraq).

I am not the only one in my circle of friends and family to feel this way. The government must understand the depth of feeling among the Australian voting public, and act according to popular will. Australia must not appear powerless to protect its own. It shames all of us. It is a bigger shame that Ecuador has done what Australia has failed to do for its own citizen!

Ganesh Prasad

How To Assemble An IKEA Manual

You can't go far setting up a house with do-it-yourself furniture without running into an IKEA instruction manual.

The most generic instruction is this:

What could be clearer, eh? It says you should start with a cheerful greeting,"A hammer screwdriver pencil to you!" when you begin. It might actually mean something in Swedish, considering that Dag Hammarskjöld is an authentic Swedish name (The UN secretary-general guy who tried but couldn't put things together). Then it tells you to eliminate the unhappy man kneeling beside the broken box. You should leave the other man alone, the one smiling because he's got a carpet to kneel on and his box is not broken. Finally, if you don't know what those two shapes mean, stand outside IKEA and use a phone with a really long cord. Someone will tell you that it is an inclined plane, and you will be happy to learn the answer.

Obviously, I'm not the only one to have wicked interpretations of IKEA's well-meaning wordless instructions. Here's what someone else thinks:

And we haven't even got started on the names.

They just have to have all those umlauts or whatever they're called in Swedish, don't they? Now that's enough to unleash the Internet's creative talent.

Here's a smörgåsbord of parodies. (And that is an honest-to-goodness Swedish word.)

 Now you know where the phrase "turning the house upside-down" came from.

And that's the correct way to do it! 

That's how you find the Higgs Bösøn, I'm sure.

And the Science Fiction crowd is not to be outdone.

Båk to the Fütür

Stär Wårs

Døctor Whö - the right way

Døctor Whö - the wrong way

And then there are the truly wicked ones with a healthy dose of dark humour:

This wouldn't work as well in black-and-white...

Now this is bound to, ahem, crack you up.

This one has more turns than an Allen Key

Finally, it seems someone had enough of IKEA itself!

I'm sure there's more out there, but these were enough to make my day.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Gotcha! - The Thrill of Finally Remembering Where You've Seen An Actor Before

When I saw the Aussie comedy "Any Questions for Ben?" (which I reviewed earlier), I was puzzled about one of the supporting characters, Ben's boss Malcolm (played by David James). His face was so familiar, but it was so frustrating that I couldn't place where I had seen him before! The thing is, I forgot the most of the characters' names after the movie, and I had no way to get this actor's name.

I finally stumbled upon this photo here.

David James (the bald guy on the right)

Now that I had a name, I searched through his "filmography" to discover where I'd seen him before. No dice. However, something about the fact that he was an Australian TV actor made me think about ads.

And sure enough, a few more minutes of straining my memory yielded a result. David James was the guy who acted as the banker in the St George Bank ad. This remains one of the most memorable Australian TV ads in recent times. Bankers are deeply unpopular (for good reason), and St George tried to acknowledge the sentiment yet position itself as different from the others. (Well, now that it has been acquired by Westpac,  St George is no different.)

David James as the "good" banker (if there is such a thing)

Well, a mental itch has finally been scratched and it feels so good. Ahhhhhh!