Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Goodbye Blue Sky

Sayonara Suzuki Sensei

Seijun Suzuki passed away recently on Feb 13, 2017 and was known for his zany yakuza films including his two most famous works — Branded to Kill (1967) and Tokyo Nagaremono (1966) (tr. Tokyo Drifter). NF has very pleasant memories of encountering Tokyo Nagaremono in the New York Film Festival a few years back where a retrospective of his films was being hosted. His idiosyncratic style and subversion of B films' genre expectations were certainly exceptional as was his unusual fanbase, comprising some seriously accomplished arthouse directors. 

Here is the eminently melodious, surprisingly catchy title song from the trailer of the very enjoyable Tokyo Drifter.


The Meeruthiya Gangster

Hindi genre fiction loses a stalwart after the demise of Ved Prakash Sharma on Feb 17, 2017. He remained an extremely prolific genre writer, writing several books a year, for his entire career. Bus stands and railway stations were where you'd encounter his fare most. NF distinctly remembers his most famous book Vardi Wala Gunda (tr. Hoodlum in Uniform) populating wheeler stands all over Uttar Pradesh all through the '90s.

Manik Sharma writes a very well rounded, informative obituary in Firstpost where he remembers the impact of Ved Prakash Sharma in particular, and pulp fiction more generally during the '90s. Here's the excellent closing paragraph:
Sharma, in an interview before he passed away, said that he believed pulp fiction would come back in a big way through television and film. And it makes sense, because while the reader is upwardly mobile in his or her aesthetic pursuits, and the marketing model shows no signs of evolving, only the visual can embody the audacity of a pulp novel’s opening, like that of Sharma’s Vardi Wala Gunda: 
लाश ने आँखे खोल दी. ऐसा लगा जैसे लाल बल्ब जल उठे हैं. 
(tr. The corpse opened its eyes. It felt like red bulbs being switched on.)

An Arrow a Day...

Kenneth Arrow, the colossus who in NF's opinion was the greatest of all time (GOAT) economist passed away on Feb 21, 2017. There's hardly anything a nobody like NF has to add to the volumes of perceptive tributes about Arrow's work readily available elsewhere. On his very deep Impossibility Theorem, to his work with Debreu on general equilibrium, to the theorems on welfare economics, and many, many other immense contributions, NF highly recommends the ever-amazing blog A Fine Theorem, which is adumbrating Arrrow's impact in four posts suitable for (quasi-)laymen. (Part 1, Part 2.) For those more mathematically savvy, NF heartily recommends the five page paper by John Geanakoplos, offering three very simple, alternative proofs of Arrow's Impossibility Theorem (John Geanakoplos (2005), “Three Brief Proofs of Arrow's Impossibility Theorem,”. Economic Theory 26(1), 211-215).

Here is great obituary from Stanford News.

Keynes once said:
The master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts .... He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher—in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular, in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man's nature or his institutions must be entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood, as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near to earth as a politician.
Arrow was all this and more. People have remarked on his inhuman level of depth as well as breadth of knowledge not just in economics but in mathematics, statistics, philosophy and several other disciplines. Here is a well-circulated story recounted by Eric Maskin and featured in Arrow's New York Times obituary where his colleagues once tried to artificially test him on breeding habits of grey whales, to their eventual woe of course. (His brother-in-law was the other GOAT contender: Paul Samuelson. He was also uncle to Lawrence Summers. He also appeared in an Errol Morris short film.)

In academia one encounters several freakishly intelligent people somewhat regularly. However, the ones who leave behind the greatest legacy are those whose students also manage to continue in their great tradition. And indeed, it is in this particular respect that Arrow leaves behind everyone in the dust, with five of his students going on to win Nobels of their own! (And that's not counting Amartya Sen.)

Alvin Roth described him as the Einstein of economics. NF couldn't agree more.


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