Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Mighty Corporations

Drug Companies and Doctors -- From the New York Review: A Story of Corruption -- written by Marcia Angell, Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine who has written extensively on these issues in the past, including in the NYRB.

A Chill on the Guardian: How a Corporation can throttle the Media through Libel Laws -- written by Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the Guardian.

Pakistan in Peril -- not a corporation but a country...William Dalrymple's chilling review of Ahmed Rashid's book Descent into Chaos.

Note that these are free to read for a limited time only, on the net. You may require a subscription, subsequently.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Tibetan New Year II

You are warned -- this is more on the subject of the previous post!!

N. Ram of the Hindu who makes periodic visits to Tibet to pretend to report first hand from there (and actually only parrots dutifully what his official Chinese hosts want him to parrot) is at it again. This, in itself, is not news (I am not sure what to call such reporting, though Jamyang Norbu calls it intellectual whoredom -- perhaps he is a bit extreme). What is also not news is that his speeches praising the development of Tibet under the 'benevolent' gaze of its Chinese rulers (and gratuitously calling detractors from this viewpoint 'fools') has been approvingly reported by the Chinese News Agency Xinhua. However, what completes this circle of mutual back-scratching is that the Hindu has picked this news item from Xinhua to reproduce on its pages. (It's hilarious to read in the Hindu's own pages the sentence 'A prominent Indian journalist...').

Surely the Hindu could have a separate report of its own about its own Editor!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tibetan New Year

This is not something most Indians (who are not Tibetans) celebrate. Neither for that matter, do I! However I was struck by some reportage on this which symbolises the different viewpoints, or rather ideologies of the journalistic profession. Nothing new, of course, but amusing all the same (to put the mildest possible spin to it). In case it is not obvious, note the delicious irony of the phrase 'Democratic Reform' - what Democracy are we talking about?

Here is a report from the Hindu, dutifully reproduced word for word from Xinhua.

LHASA: Like the 22-year-old Tibetan herdsman Tashi, Tibetans across China are celebrating the 50th Tibetan new year after the Democratic Reform with their old traditions. ... ... Like many others, he offered a donation in front of the Buddha figures. His family bought clothes and a cellphone as gifts for him. Before the Vajra Dance, the lamas of the monastery chanted the sutra for seven days, praying for a favourable year for the people, said Dradul (40), head of the monastery.

And here is the crux of the report

“We have better days and more money now. We now buy more things and more expensive stuff in the new year shopping,” said a woman named Kelsang Drolma in her Tibetan clothes among the crowds in a market in Shangri-La County of Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Region, Yunnan Province. The province has launched a residential project, providing tents for 1,00,000 herdsmen households by April 20. It plans to spend 18 billion yuan (about $2.6 billion) to improve the living conditions of the herdsmen households in 29 counties in the next four years.

Here, in contrast, is a report from Edward Wong of the New York Times titled "Tibetans Greet New Year in Opposition"

A few weeks ahead of the 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule, and a year after a crackdown on renewed ethnic unrest in this area, Tibetans are quietly but irrepressibly seething. Monks, nomads and merchants have turned the joyous Losar holiday into a dirge, memorializing Tibetans who died in last year’s conflict and pining for the return of the exiled Dalai Lama.

An informal grass-roots boycott is under way. Tibetans are forsaking dancing and dinner parties for vigils with yak-butter candles and the chanting of prayers. The Losar campaign signifies the discontent that many of China’s six million Tibetans still feel toward domination by the ethnic Han Chinese. They are resisting pressure by Chinese officials to celebrate and forget.

“It’s a conscious awakening of an entire people,” said Woeser, a popular Tibetan blogger.

Tibetans here and in other towns, including in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, say government officials have handed out money to Tibetans to entice them to hold exuberant new year parties. On Wednesday, state-run television showed Tibetans in Lhasa dancing, shooting off fireworks and feasting in their homes.

At the same time, the government has drawn a curtain across Tibet. Officials have shut down access to many Tibetan regions to foreigners and sent armed guards to patrol the streets.

The government has stepped up security across Tibet. Here, more than 300 security officers with riot shields were seen training in the stadium on Wednesday afternoon. On Monday night, a unit of officers marched in formation along a cordoned-off road.

Chinese officials are wary of the boycott’s mushrooming into larger protests, and of Tibetans taking to the streets next month, which marks the 50th anniversary of the uprising that led to the Dalai Lama’s flight from Lhasa. Most Tibetans revere the Dalai Lama, who advocates autonomy, but not secession, for Tibet.

And so it goes....

Who is right? Who indeed.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What price Academic Freedom

(The last two words are purposely capitalised!)

Do you believe in complete freedom in deciding how to teach a course? Do you find that following a 'written in stone' syllabus constraining and an assault on your freedom as an academic. Well, this might occasionally lead to some problems!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Advani and The Hindu

It is no secret that the CPI(M) (along with its loyal mouthpieces, The Hindu and Frontline) hate the BJP and its brand of Hindutva politics. Along the way they also hate economic liberalisation, globalisation and its many cousins. It appears however, that where its own hard economic interests are concerned (in plain language, money), ideology takes a distinct back-seat and capitalism rules. Otherwise, how does one explain these two ads

both from the 3rd February on-line edition of The Hindu?

Dhokla or Sponge

Dear Mr Oliver Beale

Your letter of complaint to Mr. Richard Branson regarding the worst airline meal ever has become something of an internet phenomenon. [For the ignorant, see here and here]. After all, who has not wanted, at some time or other, to take a swipe at the abysmal levels of service provided in the cattle class that many of us travel in. I must also commend your felicity (at such a young age too) with the language of Keats and Milton and Shakespeare. When it comes to food, however, I must regrettably submit that you are even more gastronomically challenged than the average Westerner. Your levels of ignorance plumbs depths I have rarely seen in an educated person outside the Kansas/Nebraska/Wyoming areas of the United States.

To refresh your memory and those of the poor souls who have been unfortunate enough to visit this page I reproduce the photo that is doing the rounds of the internet, presumably taken by you.

The sponge like yellow shafts, as you so felicitously call them, appear to be nothing more exotic than dhokla a common (and dare I say, tasty) snack from the Western part of India, served, if I mistake not, with some green chutney (made probably with mint and coriander). Considering that you were on a Mumbai-London flight this is hardly surprising. I confess I have seen more sprightly looking tomatoes, but then, this is airline food after all, one can only expect so many contented tomatoes on board. In other words this was not dessert.

The second item does appear to be a sweet, (though whether it can be distinguished by the appellation dessert is debatable since this was not a main meal). In fact it looks like some gajar halwa again a very popular sweet made from grated carrots, sugar, milk, nuts, etc. You object to peas being used to garnish dessert and so would I like all other equally sensible people. However, guess what? Those green slivers are those of pistachio and not peas! Dare I say, even by the pretty pathetic gastronomy knowledge standards of the average Westerner, you almost touch cretin levels in this department. But then how would you know -- you never tasted anything! You just photographed! So you have only my word for it - they aren't so bad after all. The rest of the light cream stuff appears to be some kind of rabdi - (a kind of thickened milk) since you insist it is not custard (though at this point I am not sure you even know what custard tastes like -- but surely not mustard -- I cannot believe even Virgin Atlantic is capable of such a culinary bombshell). The rest of the meal is probably similarly amenable to a perfectly reasonable description.

In other words, while not exactly an exciting gourmet meal (when did you last have an exciting meal in cattle-class?) it appears to have been a perfectly adequate snack meal, sufficient to keep body and soul together for at least half the duration of the flight. What amazes me is that you were coming from Mumbai; surely one could expect at least some faint nodding acquaintance with Indian food?

On the other hand, as a "high-flying advertising executive" your command over the Queen's English is clearly more than adequate and no doubt that is what will get you places in your career (your letter is clearly going places). Just don't try becoming a food critic.

Finally let me confess -- I love writing complaint letters! That makes us two of a kind (though we clearly part company where food is concerned). And so, here is one of the best complaint letters I have ever read. I offer it to you as a hallmark to which you could well aspire in a few years time, given your obvious talents.

Yours sincerely

Rahul Basu

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Slumdog (again)

Having finally gotten around to seeing the much hyped Slumdog Millionaire, I must confess to a profound sense of disappointment. Apart from a rather trite ending (boys gets both girl and money at the end) I have several bones to pick and not the usual one about 'poverty porn'.

1. The scene in the beginning of Jamal jumping into a hole full of human excrement to escape from the toilet is, I think, the most gratuitously offensive scene of the movie. It is not only unrealistic, it conveys the impression that a slum boy by nature has no sense of dignity in the way he presents himself, apart from the fact that anyone covered in excrement would not be able to approach within a mile of a super star like Bachchan.

2. Even admitting that our city cops do not have a very admirable human rights record, it seems inconceivable that they would administer the third degree, including stringing up and administering electric shocks to anyone other than hardened criminals and gangsters, to extract a confession. Most cops in Indian cities have enough to do, chasing hard core criminals and these days, even terrorists, to worry about one quiz contestant indulging in a bit of cheating in a game show by a private organisation, that too when no money has actually changed hands (Jamal returns the cheque to the quiz master in order to continue on the show).

3. One of the more distracting aspects I found, of the movie was the clipped British accent in which Dev Patel speaks. (Even Ben Kingsley in Gandhi made the effort to put on a generic Indian accent). Perhaps the exigencies of marketing the movie in the West forced the Director to have the main protagonists speak in English, however a bit of dubbing at the end could easily have fixed the absurdity of a slum kid growing up to not only speak English fluently, but to do so in an accent totally alien to his environment.

4. Finally, dare I say it, A. R. Rahman's music is completely pedestrian. Rahman himself has composed far better music (for example all the way back in Roja and Bombay to take but two examples) but this is not one of them.

I realise that I am putting myself at odds with about ninety percent of people and critics who have raved about the movie and the music -- but alas, I was taught by my mother to always tell the truth :)

Tailpiece: Take a look at the tomatometer and watch all the critics rave. Hey, am I missing something here?