Wednesday, March 26, 2008

So is Barack Obama a Republican?

It's ten degreees of separation for Obama and Bush.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society claims to have found genealogical links that prove Barack Obama is a "tenth cousin" of George Bush. His politicial pedigree also links him to Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson, Harry S Truman, Dick Cheney and Winston Churchill. He is also a distant cousin of the actor Brad Pitt while Hillary Clinton is related to Mr Pitt's girlfriend, Angelina Jolie. Clinton's ancestry is more exotic with distant links to people that include Madonna, Celine Dion and Alanis Morisette, as well as author Jack Kerouac.

What does this information really mean: Is Barack a Bush in Obama? Can Hillary sing like any of her cousins? The possibility makes us laugh first and then wonder if all of us are not linked to each other (even if by several hundred degrees), something that may help this piece of research win the Ig Nobel Prize.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Palestinian built a home. The Israelis use it as an observation post

Palestinian Abdul-Latif Nasif and his two brothers thought they had built their dream home in West Bank's Nablus. But, given its privileged vantage point, the Israeli forces regularly use the home as an observation post for incursions into West Bank. Forget paying the Nasifs, this is someting that Israel doesn't even acknowledge doing since it "cannot comment on its operations". The soldiers, a BBC report says, barge in with their dogs and weapons and use the house as they will with little respect for the owners. How can peace be a reality there when such transgressions are routine?

Mr Karat, what about this interference?

I am not a great fan of US foreign policy but there's one question I am dying to ask the CPI(M): Why not cry hoarse when China rams into, and not just interferes with, our domestic polity? The Indian Express frontpaged today the news of how our Vice President Hamid Ansari (second in the hierarchy, no less) called off his scheduled meeting with Dalai Lama. The meeting, which was called off after "Chinese queries", had been planned two months in advance. And what would this be if not blatant interference? Deference for Mao? The Leftists have been fuming ad nauseam how India's independence is curtailed by the Hyde Act but they won't raise a finger when China decides the agenda of our Vice President. Oh, I know why the left political parties don't. Because the paper they read (The Hindu) does not report on anti-China activities. I am sick of Janus-faced politicking!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Is sex on a plane legal?

Get your answer here!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pollution: Delhi's common wealth?

Image from The Times, South Africa
Haile Gebreselassie, the champion runner, has confirmed in an interview with El Pais that he will not run in the Beijing Olympics marathon due to the climatic conditions in the Chinese capital. "I have no intention of committing suicide in Beijing," the Ethiopian, who suffers from asthma, told the paper bluntly. "It’s purely a personal decision that I have taken to protect my health. I do not want to endanger my future. I do not want to kill myself in Beijing."

Which throws up an interesting and embarrassing possiblity: What if an athlete refuses to take part in Delhi's Commonwealth Games in 2010 for the same reason? An Asian Development Bank report has already declared that Delhi and Beijing have the dirtiest air in Asia. Hopefully, some farsighted bureaucrat will now have the sense to speed up anti-pollution measures in the country. Top on that list, urgently bring in ample number of new and comfortable buses for public transport and reduce private vehicular traffic on Delhi's roads.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Update on The Hindu...

After yesterday's pathetic coverage of Tibet, The Hindu, India's Chinese paper, now wants us to believe that Lhasa has returned to normality. Here's what normality means in Chinese:

Riots roll beyond Tibet - The Telegraph
City in cinders - BBC
'Cultural genocide' in Tibet - NYT
The city is sealed off to tourists and many foreign residents have left. Internet and mobile phone communications have been disrupted... - The Guardian
Beijing declares 'people's war', troops pour into Lhasa - The Indian Express

I can't wait to read what the paper may have to say if it pens an edit on this issue...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Hindu - Lo and behold, India's only Chinese newspaper!

Image of protests in Lhasa from NYT
I stopped subscribing to The Hindu long ago, mainly because of its dull headlines and prose that put you back to bed. I had another reason to do so given the paper's unabashedly biased coverage of China and CPI (M) (notably, the party's role in Nandigram). So every now and then I revisit the paper to reinforce my decision. Today was no different. I picked up a copy to see how the paper had reported the protests in Tibet. (In fact, it's a delight to pick up papers when they report with their gloves off. Editions of The Pioneer during the Ram Setu controversy and The Hindu during Nandigram should be essential reading for journalism school students on how to introduce bias into reports or, hopefully, avoid them.)

Anyway, back to The Hindu and Tibet. The Delhi edition today had a brief pointer on page one (by PTI) that led the reader to page 14 for more details. Interestingly, the paper had used PTI's report that was more or less impartial, even though incomplete, as a veil for the Chinese government's version in the inside page. The report here was filed by Xinhua (who else?). Xinhua, in case you don't know, is the Chinese government's mouthpiece. (To give you an idea of the extent of censorship in China: CCTV, another government blabber horn, is a media outlet where computer screens have pop-ups telling their employees what not to report! Just like a morning dose of chai, the Chinese journalists get their morning's share of censorship.)

And I cannot think of any other paper in India that uses releases from Xinhua so liberally, more so on events concerning Tibet. Xinhua's despatch was headlined "Shops torched in Lhasa" (probably, The Hindu wants us to believe it was a case of electrical malfunction that resulted in the fire?). Nowhere does the report mention that these protests are the most serious the Chinese government has faced in the last 20 years, something that The New York Times, The Guardian and the BBC highlight in their opening paragraphs. Instead we are fed innocuous details of arson in Lhasa. Not a mention of why the protests have erupted. Neither a word about the march by Tibetan refugees in India or their protests here, as reported by all other Indian papers. Nor a quote from the protesters in India or those opposed to China's rule in Tibet. Too bad Tianamen hasn' t reenacted itself in Lhasa yet!

The Xinhua report goes on to quote the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, who terms the protests by "some monks" as a plot to "wreck the harmonious life of the Tibetan people". "We are resolutely opposed to any plot attempting to separate Tibet from China," Qin Gang regurgitates. And so does The Hindu. But it is the last line of the report that beats all. It should also be seen as the last nail in The Hindu's coffin of its editorial intergrity. It reads: "Relevant Chinese departments will handle the issue"! Point made: that it's an internal Chinese affair and the Chinese are capable of suppressing this revolt. Which newspaper, but for a deferential rag like The Hindu, would print something like that?

As a dirge for the paper, I reproduce a link to a brilliant letter that Tenzing Sonam, a Tibetan filmmaker, wrote to N. Ram, the paper's editor, after his series (an article here) glorifying China's role in Tibet.

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting to you The Hindu with a new punchline: China's national newspaper since 2008!

Friday, March 14, 2008

The "coup" at Congress headquarters

A riveting piece on the ouster of Sitaram Kesri as the Congress president 10 years ago by Rasheed Kidwai. It has got colour and brilliant quotes. My favourite from Kesri: “Congress leadership tapte hue suraj ke saman hai. Bahut pas jaoge to jal jaoge aur bahut door rahoge to thand se mar jaoge."

Lessons from Afghans

While we mourn the failure of the Indian men's hockey team to qualify for the Olympics, here are some inspiring pictures of three Afghan athletes who have qualified and training for the Olympics. One runs on a craggy hilltop overlooking the city, another trains with his brother and the other walks back home alongside open sewers. Uplifting stuff!

Also, another interesting post from a friend on why KPS Gill is Indian hockey's Pervez Musharraf!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why is The Statesman dead?

It's unpleasant and untimely to write an obituary of a paper that still is in circulation. More so since it is a personal affair. I had interned (and with some very happy memories) with it between 2000 and 2002 when studying for a bachelor's degree at Delhi University. But I have to after what I came across today.

Hindustan Times had a single column piece on page 3 today about UNI journalist A.K. Singh's death. Among the various places he worked, The Statesman was one. But that's besides the point. What caught my attention was how the paper's name was spelt: The Statesmen. A small typographical error but of immense relevance, I'd say. Obviously the person who filed that report didn't even remember correctly how the paper's called. Even the editor who selected that news piece and cleared that page failed to catch the error. You'd expect journalists not to go wrong with names of papers and magazines.

What a fall therefore it is for a paper that was at the forefront of Indian journalism! And what could be worse for a such a distinguished paper than the fact that even media professionals now even fail to recall its name! What's galls more is that this pitiful state could have been avoided. With shifting interest to real estate, good journalism took a backseat. The final nail in the paper's coffin (at least in New Delhi) was the move to shift operations from the imposing Statesman House on Barakhamba Road to an obscure building in Noida. For those not from Delhi, that means a lot as commuting in a personal vehicle from central Delhi (where most government offices are situated) to Noida takes close to an hour. Most of the leading names with the paper have moved on. Several journalists who now report for HT were once with The Statesman in Delhi. The Kolkata edition too has slipped from the top slot to the third (behind The Telegraph and TOI). Maybe even fourth, after HT. Who cares... The Statesman's dead.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Stinking rich, literally!

As the media in India ritually (and nauseatingly) celebrates the presence of four Indians in the Forbes list of top eight global billionaires, another Forbes listing has passed without much notice. This one's about the world's filthiest cities and Bombay, with the seventh largest concentration of billionaires in the world, has ironically also been ranked as the seventh most dirty city in the world. Bombay, believe it or not, is worse off than Baghdad that has been bombed back to Stone Age. Delhi is 24th on the list of the dirtiest 25 cities. Calcutta, however, escaped this ignominy.

Can't help but wonder why these cities with overflowing coffers can't keep themselves clean. After all if more and more Indians are turning out to be billionaires, isn’t the government earning millions more in taxes? Obviously, it has to do with how the government and municipal authorities work. And more importantly, how we behave ourselves as citizens. The government's got to be obsessed with empowering the individual by affording him or her the basic services: safe drinking water, affordable healthcare, reliable electricity supply and education being top on that list. It is instead obsessed with the blasted nuclear deal!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Would you undergo sterilisation for a gun?

In a land (Chambal valley) where mousatches and guns are the ultimate sign of virility, a dense district collector has come up with the idea of granting gun licenses to those men who volunteer to get sterilised. Shivpuri has over 11,000 licensed guns. Bhind has 19,000 while Morena has issued over 15,000 licences, says the linked report. When the region is already infested with guns, why does Manish Srivastva, the DC, have to add to a law and order problem? His job should be to take away the guns and not give out more. Isn't the state, as Max Weber defined it, supposed to wield the monopoly of legitimate violence? And the DC is giving out guns for what? Controlling population; when the best and safest way to do so is through education and informed participation. I won't even mention cases of inviduals who end up fathering or mothering children even after being sterilised at government camps. God save us from the law of the gun!

And if you thought this was bad, there's worse. Our august parliamentarians have proposed bills that disincentivise population growth. Measures suggested include disqualification of persons with more than one child from contesting elections (Population Control Bill 2000) and, believe it or not, rewarding bachelors and then punishing them if they marry (Bachelor’s Allowance Bill 2000).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Ahmadinejad (a swine) and the Kaaba (a stupid stone)

Surrend, a Danish art group, is asking for trouble. First they issued an advertisement in The Tehran Times in 2006 that "praised" Ahmadinejad for his campaign against George Bush with messages that, when read vertically, spelt out the word "swine". Now they have taken freedom of expression to an altogether different level. The group has designed a poster that shows the Kaaba - the black granite cube-shaped building in Mecca - with the words "stupid stone" in German superimposed on it.

I am a liberal and consider the first move against the Iranian president is within limits of what is acceptable and what is not but calling the Kaaba a piece of "stupid stone" seems completely off key. The freedom to express is a privilege that has to be used with the precision of a surgeon and not the blunt skills of a butcher. Surrend prefers to be the latter. I am all for criticism of Islam (for that matter, all religions) but have only utter contempt for a group like Surrend that seeks to provoke and earn spotlight.

More such trouble is scheduled with far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders forthcoming film (Fitna) that claims to show why Koran is "an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror". The NATO is already biting its nails over what impact it'll have in Afghanistan and beyond. But what is more unfortunate is that those opposing such films opt for more disgraceful methods, like murder in the case of Theo van Gogh, rather than choosing informed and civilised debate.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Prince Harry "does bad things to bad people"

Image from BBC
After Harry's stint in Helmand (Afghanistan) became public, pictures of him in action have been floating around. But it is the above one that has generated a furore given the message on his cap: "WE DO BAD THINGS TO BAD PEOPLE"! It's downright offensive, to say the least. Smacks of a royal mix of arrogance and condescension. Will someone please tell harrowing Harry about this place called Guantanamo Bay, which was also set up to do "bad things to bad people"?