Between the two continents

It was past two in the morning local time in Abu Dhabi while we were waiting in the pre-clearance queue. The queue was long and kept changing as the take-off time for some of the transit flights were announced. Everybody was visibly tired but not complaining.

“What time is it?” the elderly gentleman who stood in front of me asked. He was well-dressed and looked like a retired professor or a scholar of some sort. I told him the time. “It takes a lot of time, every single time.” He pointed towards the interview counters. “I’m so tired and just want to board my flight and rest for sometime”, he said but with a smile. I returned the smile, agreeing quietly. As the conversation went on, I learned that he came to America for his studies while he was young. Back then he did not mind all the security hassles, he said. But now that he is old, and after traveling all these years, it has become difficult for him. I didn’t know what to say. I just looked around while nodding my head. “But I have to travel since my family, my wife and children are there.”

“So, where are you from?”, I asked. “Iran”, he replied. “Now that I’m retired, I spend my time between the two countries. My family wants me beside them and I want to stay back in the home country, so I have to keep traveling.” Every six months or so, he travels between Iran and America, so that he can keep in touch with his wife and children in America and his family members back home in Iran.

With the Trump administration’s travel ban, I wonder how that old man is coping up now.

To the pro-Palastines

If you want my attention to the cause of Palestine by posting photos and profile pictures of the dead bodies of children, their scarred little bodies and them crying, you don’t have it. It is most likely that I will turn away from them and do not care to read further. Not that I am insensitive to children; in fact its just the opposite.

I am aware that world over it is the children who suffer the most in war, riots, terrorism, domestic abuse or family struggles – be it in Syria, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq or your home. Directly or indirectly. Left dead or left to live. I don’t need your pictures to tell me that. So if you want my attention, write something about the politics and power plays that keeps Gaza on fire. The fight that religion ignited based on their holy books and race. Tell me something that I should know about the problem. Not the pictures of children left dying.

The Android Corporations

This news, of Foxconn replacing humans with robots, should have gotten me excited about the possibilities of the future, the progress of technology and all that. Instead, it sends me cold shivers down the spine. Don’t take me wrong. I am still excited about the androids which we could make use of in our daily life. I was amazed at the technology when an ex-colleague told me that she uses a small robot to do the cleaning jobs in her house and how perfectly it cleans every nook and corner of the house. Last week, I was even planning to buy a toy robot for my son because I heard from a colleague that it responds to your hand gestures and even talks and the price isn’t too high. I liked Spielberg’s A.I. too, mostly because I knew it was fiction though the possibility of such a war between humans and androids stuck in my mind.

This news, however, changed all that. It may sound like I am panicking here a little but this truly scares me. It’s not the robots, but the humans who might use robots against other humans. This is like some humans taking advantage of the technology to use against the other humans instead of making it for common good. One million robots are going to replace the human workers in Foxconn’s factories, which means one million people would go out of jobs. I checked on the Foxconn profile in Wikipedia and this Taiwanese company already seems to have a record of ‘poor working conditions, insufficient overtime pay and workplace accidents may be common’. Foxconn also seems to have been in the news for their employee suicides. Wikipedia already has a separate page on the topic.

So what if this becomes a practice? When companies and corporations want to get rid of their ‘troublesome’ employees and their demand for pay hike and better work conditions? I am not ignoring the advantage of using robots in jobs which risks lives, but what about the situations like these? That thought truly scares me and this seems to be just a start of the android era. A war between humans and androids and android-owned humans doesn’t seem fictional now at all.

‘Ferrari Ki Sawari’

That’s the name of a Hindi sports comedy film released this year but what Team Ferrari will be doing in India on Delhi Grand Prix is nothing sort of comedy, or is it?

Team Ferrari has announced that they would be racing in Indian Grand Prix with the Italian Navy flag on their cars. Not the country flag but the navy flag. Something that seems they have never done before. And for what? To support the two naval officers who are undergoing trial in India under the charges of murdering two fishermen in India.

If the team wanted to show solidarity(!) to the two accused and wanted to take a political stand, they should have withdrawn their team from the Indian Grand Prix altogether. But to race in India with their navy flag and a clear statement that it is in support of the two murder-accused is a clear challenge to India and the legal system here. And the government and the organizers don’t seem to be bothered (Update: India seems to have officially responded against this by noon today). Ferrari’s decision to fly the navy flag in support of the two accused is also an insult to it’s foreign drivers – Spanish driver Fernando Alonso and Brazilian Felipe Massa. The two drivers now have to carry the political burden imposed on them by their team owners.

The team doesn’t have a moral right to take such a stand in the first place. This is a clear case of murder and a fair trial is being offered to the accused under the Indian law. The way the two accused are being treated in India under trial is the way the VIPs are treated. So what moral right does the Ferrari have to take such a stand? It is not the Italians who are killed but two poor fishermen.

Interestingly, I don’t see many voices (or rather text) rising against Ferrari on this issue in the social media. The urban anti-corruption babies don’t seem to be bothered now about the killing of two fisherman at the southern coasts of India. They were before, because the issue involved an Italian connection (Sonia-Italy-Catholic-Christianity link) but not anymore in their fanfare for Ferrari. The politicians, the Catholic church, all seem to be untouched by this. Compare this to how the Italians are treating their own people, even the murder-accused, and we have some lessons to learn.

If at all any integrity is left in Indians, other than rallying behind demi-gods like Anna Hazare, those of us who can afford or plan to go to watch Delhi Grand Prix should go there and boo the Team Ferrari in the loudest voice possible when they race through the track. It will not be an insult to the drivers. In fact it will be in support of Ferrari’s non-Italian drivers because they have been dragged into this political drama. And it will tell Italy that we not just a bunch of blind fans of a sports brand. The question is, will anyone among us dare do this? It doesn’t take much courage but a little bit of integrity.

Things that pop on your face

Last week the social media was abuzz with the allegations of an advertisement video being racist. The advertisement is of Popchips snack that has Ashton Kutcher in four different get-ups. One of them has an Indian identity called Raj and he is a Bollywood producer. This has called for a racist allegation by an American of Indian origin Anil Dash and it ended up cooking up a controversy and the company finally pulled off the ad.

The whole drama has so much what-the-fuck-ness to it. I mean, advertisements always project stereotypes to sell the product and we do not always have a problem with it. Stereotypes are everywhere in the pop culture; be it commercials, cinema or music. Only when it goes over the top than usual that people notice and voice against it.

Anil Dash accused the video of being racist because the Indian character Raj is brownfaced and has a thick Indian accent(!). First of all, you would not take an advertisement such as this seriously. There are worse advertisements than this which project stereotypes in the worst manner. Second, there are other people being parodied in the ad, like a British youth or a Southern American hippie or a French fashionista. Southern Americans would have a better reason to complain because in American pop culture and Hollywood, they are always featured as homeless gypsies with a hippie lifestyle who live in mobile home parks. Or even Darl, the man with a fake French(?) accent have a good reason to complain because that is also a highly stereotyped version of men working in the fashion industry. Third, it is not wrong to feature an Indian brownfaced (a color which is generally associated with Asians) and with an Indian accent. So why would a techie like Anil Dash cook up such a controversy over such an ad? This guy is no dumb for sure, so what exactly could have happened?

Just after the launch of this ad series, the CEO of Popchips seems to have said “As a social brand, we’ve had a lot of social engagement. Now, it’s time to take it to the next level with an ad campaign that would provide more reach. [via]” Clearly, like with every commercial, they were looking for more reach. Shortly thereafter, Anil Dash popped up with his allegation that had supportive voices from an Indian origian rap group. Let us look at what Mr. Dash said about the company and it’s people.

The people behind this ad are not racist. They just made a racist ad.” If that is not enough W-T-F-ness, there is more. Mr. Dash spoke to the CEO whom he calls “sincere and contrite”. He also made a generous gesture that the comapny doesn’t have to pull down the ad but give an explanation of how the process failed. But Mr. Dash who lets the company go scotfree doesn’t forgive the person who acted in it. He said Ashton Kutcher should “personally apologise”.

So what does this drama tell us? The company wanted to get people talking about them and it seems that some people like Anil Dash helped them ahieve the goal of getting enough publicity. That is how people down here in India also got to know about Popchips. Without spending a penny on advertisements outside the U.S., Popchips is now a known name. They can launch any time in India now. Thanks to the social media.

By the way, before alleging the foreigners of being racist, Indians should have a look at their own racist/regional/casteist attitude.

And even more, by the way, why is Ashton’s video is called racist and Shahrukh Khan’s is not?

Nel nome di Cristo

Everything is powerful as long as it is in the powerful hands. The powerless are deluded by the powerful to think they have the power when they actually don’t. That is why we remain happy with our version of democracy or the predictions of India becoming a super power in 20xx. That is also why when the clergy teaches us of the greatness and acceptance of our version of religion makes us happy that we are part of something great, while we actually do not have any role in it. The powerful plays it all – politics, religion, race, caste and what not. And the powerless are only meant to nod their heads and fooled to believe that by doing so, they are playing a larger role.  The powerful knows how to work their way though and that is what this news tells us of the fishermen, whose husband/brother were killed in cold blood by the Italian marines, forgiving the accused ‘in the name of Christ’.

There seems to have been a concentrated effort from day 1 to save the Italians of the murder charge. First it was Mar. George Alanchery, the newly crowned Cardinal of Syro Malabar Church, who told the Catholic news agency in Italy that he has instructed the Catholic ministers in Kerala to intervene in the matter. Then came two Italian priests to visit the families of the deceased, which the Church calls ‘a spiritual exercise‘ but believed by everyone else that it was for an out-of-court settlement (why else would two Italian priests come all the way from Italy to pray for the deceased, which doesn’t happen usually unless the deceased are rich and powerful, I wonder). Two Italian ministers followed with their visit to India to find a settlement. Later, the Central government claimed in Supreme Court that the Kerala police doesn’t have jurisdiction to probe the killing, which was slammed by the honorable court.

When all these ‘diplomacy’ through religion and state did not work, the Italians made an offer that the families of deceased could not deny. Even there the religion and faith had to be involved to work the powerful’s way through, so they worked with a couple of influential priests (good work, Fr. Churchill and Fr. Wilfred!) to come to an out-of-court settlement. So the settlement was that the families would state their forgiveness ‘in  the name of Christ’ duly signed in a stamp paper and in return they would get Rs. 1 crore each. One of the families’ counsel Jestin Poulose said they had no faith in the government, so the “next best available option” was to at least secure the compensation. Though it is said that the murder case would continue, it wouldn’t be difficult to guess what will happen to the case now with the families have applied to withdraw the petition.

At the end of it all, it seems that in Catholicism, some Christians – especially the white and Italian Christians – are holier than their Indian counterparts. I don’t see why otherwise would the Catholic clergy in Kerala work so hard to secure the two foreign marines accused of murdering their own community members. All these while Sr. Abhaya is still seeking justice.

(Photo courtesy: India Today)

Social media revolution?

You know, at times I feel that we are taking ourselves too seriously. By us, I am referring to the blogosphere, twitterati, facebook and such social media platforms. I do agree about the good things that social media can do in our times, but I think sometimes we stretch this pride too far. One recent example is the change in the ruling system of Egypt.

Many people attribute the victory of Egyptian struggle to social media. But I don’t really get it. Were those people who marched towards Cairo actively participating in social media? How many of the Egyptians who live in Egypt have an internet connection or a smart phone? What help did social media do that the traditional wall posters or leaflets couldn’t do in this struggle?

Revolution can only happen when people actively participate in it. On the road. Many of the people whom I have seen participating in such struggles or agitations locally have come from the offline socio-cultural groups. Most of them seldom use Internet. Just clicking on a ‘Like’ button in a Facebook page or RT-ing a tweet would only make it armchair solidarity and nothing else. It would be interesting to take the statistics of how many of this “I Support!” guys have actually went on street for any such issues. Just ask these social media evangelists to participate in a local meeting to protest the arrest of Binayak Sen, for example. The first question from them would be, “you think I have nothing else to do with my life?” or a comment like “our people are too much politicized and there is too much unemployment that people go to these stupid meetings“.The same lot would be eager to register their protest on other issues by clicking a Like button in Facebook or by changing their Twitter profile pic.

I recall this funny quote I read in a friend’s FB page – “I don’t understand how Tunisians got their freedom without me filing an e-petition or changing my Twitter profile pic!“. That’s how we have become a socially concerned social media generation.

Also read – The myth of Egypt’s butterfly revolution

Liu Xiaobo – A saint or a hypocrite?

I have never heard of Liu Xiaobo until he got the Nobel Prize for peace. A number of articles on Liu followed after the Nobel prize and the world once again has turned it’s attention to China and the human rights violation in the country. Liu is still under arrest and people continue to register their protest on his arrest. A saint was born. Everything was good. Until I read the Wiki article on Liu, another article in Counter Punch by Tariq Ali and a good one at Guardian. And I was surprised.

I was not surprised that the Chinese government arrested Liu Xiaobo, because everybody knows how Chinese government curbs the freedom to criticize their government. Everybody knows about Tienanmen Square. But I was surprised and shocked to hear that the Nobel prize was awarded to a hypocrite disguised as a human rights activist who support bloody and unnecessary wars in the world. And his pro-war statements lead us to suspect that this man is somebody who is looking for a political overthrow in China in the future and to claim his stake.

Liu was arrested for his involvement with Charter 08 Manifesto. Liu was just one of the several authors of the manifesto. I hope the other authors are genuine people who stand for human rights, but Liu’s involvement is suspicious. Liu has served as the President of Independent Chinese PEN Center, an organization funded by the National Endowment for Democracy which is an American non-profit organization.

So how did Liu return his favors for the American funding?

  • He wrote an article titled “Victory to the Anglo-American Freedom Alliance”, in which he praised the U.S. led post-cold-war wars as “best examples of how war should be conducted in a modern civilization.”
  • During the 2004 US presidential election, Liu again praised Bush for his war effort against Iraq and condemned Democratic party candidate John Kerry for not sufficiently supporting the US’s wars.
  • He said that “The major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.“[Source: Wiki]
  • Liu has also said that “The Korean and Vietnam wars fought by the US were wars against totalitarianism and enhanced Washington’s ‘moral credibility’.

Agreed, Liu has stopped students from rioting in Tienanmen to prevent student deaths. But how do you call this war-mongering guy a human rights activist while he on one hand tries to protect people from getting killed (in his own country) and then go ahead and cheer the murder of innocents in other countries? So is it like, it’s not okay in my country (because it is where I live in, plus as a pro-western guy I could have stake in the future when something against the current government happens in the future) but it’s okay in any other country, because I don’t give a damn about it? You cannot trust people like these hypocrites with human rights. I am baffled (or rather not) that the Nobel committee chose to ignore this. But then they must be having their own politics too.

Tariq Ali says:

The Norwegian jurist Fredrik Heffermehl argues that the committee is in breach of the will and testament left behind by the inventor of dynamite whose bequests fund the prizes:

‘The Nobel committee has not received prize money for free use, but was entrusted with money to give to the pivotal element in creating peace, breaking the vicious circle of arms races and military power games. From this point of view the 2010 Nobel is again an illegitimate prize awarded by an illegitimate committee.’

Also read:

Do supporters of Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo really know what he stands for? (
Does Liu Xiaobo Really Deserve the Peace Prize? (Counter Punch)

Will the real Dick-Shit please stand up?

Don’t take me wrong. I enjoy humour and I did laugh a bit when I first heard him saying “dick-shit” but then this real Dick-Shit fellow took the news time to ridicule an Indian chief minister in the most demeaning manner. The Ministry of External Affairs has registered the protest with New Zealand authorities against the show’s host Paul Henry.

BP and UC

While skipping through the photo galleries of the protest against BP oil spill in America, I saw the following slogans:

BP = $ Over Life
BP profits: The planet & people pay

For a moment, I thought about UC (Union Carbide) and the Bhopal verdict that came out recently. 25 years taken for a weak verdict to come out. It is a shame on us by itself. Add to that the reports of our own Government tried to help Warren Anderson escape the country back in ’84.

Now that the oil has spilled over to the shores of America, killing 11 workers and many species, and demanding BP to clean it’s shores of the USA, would the American Government now understand what it means to a country that lost 20,000 people and the chemical exposure of over 500,000 people in the Bhopal gas tragedy? And help put Warren Anderson to trial?