At the start of the day, I was almost sure I was going to write about how the world doesn’t seem like a place that I’m proud to be in.
China, a communist nation, seeks to achieve a nuclear deal with Pakistan, a military dictatorship, which has a proven record of having proliferated nuclear weapons technology.
A group of eight Indian men were attacked violently in what appears to be a racist crime against Indians, not a common occurrence in recent times. But the media headlines in India and the Indian blogosphere continue to be obsessed with whether one Indian, once accused of a crime and now acquitted, gets a visa or not. Controversial racist slurs against Indian celebrities paid to act in shows abroad get wider attention in India than actual racist violence against innocent Indians in a foreign country.
It is at such times, that I feel the world is hopeless. It is not a place where I would be proud to be living. These are the times when I yearn for meaning; I’m yearning for sense, to make it all meaningful, somehow.
My mind becomes very unquiet. That’s when, like rays of sunlight in a darkened room, comes news like this.
NASA Audio Video History on the Web
I used to watch Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series on Doordarshan during the 1980s. I read Cosmos and many other books that increased my fascination of astronomy. I constructed my own homemade telescope in my school days, getting Rs. 75 from my father, and using paper calendar rolls for the tubes. I used it to watch the craters on the Moon and the satellites of Saturn.
With select friends, I used to marvel at the NASA Apollo and Russian Sputnik launches. It was not until 1997 however, that I was able to watch the real action. I used to monitor the Mars Pathfinder’s movement across the Martian landscape with bated breath and indescribable excitement. Every movement of the Pathfinder against a rock, crater, or soil sample was relayed by NASA over the web, and we were enthralled by it all.
For all such aficionados, there is great news. Decades of NASA photos and videos are coming to the web!
The space agency and the Internet Archive said Tuesday that they plan to scan and archive more than 12 million NASA photographs and 100,000 hours of film and video footage for free access online, under an exclusive five-year agreement. As part of the deal, the Internet Archive will host the media album on a new Web site, Nasaimages.org.
Free Home Planetarium: Google Earth is now Google Universe!
This is absolutely wild. I used to have a DOS 3.1 based program in the late 1908s, that depicted the stars in the sky above your actual location, depending on your latitude and longitude. Now, it’s for free. Google Earth has now launched Google Sky! I think it puts the Earth in perspective!
How fascinating and unbelievably true?! Imagine, you can now traverse 100 million stars and 200 million galaxies from your desktop! I’ve spent numerous hours teaching friends, colleagues, and relatives, about the constellations and galaxies, and nebulae during cloudy skies. Imagine being able to do it using your net-connected-PC! Teach your children using Google Sky about astronomy. They might one day become Sunita Williams!
It’s often said that Google Earth and Google Maps took Cartography to the masses. TechCrunch says “Google Sky could well do the same for Astronomy.”
I do not know if this is going to bring Astronomy to the masses. There was once a time, when it was also often said, that looking at the heavens brings mankind closer, as he realizes he’s just a speck of dust on an insignificant planet, on an ordinary sized star in one corner of not just his galaxy, but completely irrelevant as far as the universe is concerned. There was a time when this thought did bring men together, either in the spirit of fear, or in the spirit of science. I don’t know if this is going to mean anything at all in today’s world.
In fact, I’m inclined to think quite the opposite. Rather than studying the stars, mankind will be more interested in how the stars positions affect his or her chances of making it with that other person, how his or her chances with this particular career lie, and so on. Will astrologers use Google Earth to pinpoint horoscopes? Is this going to be the modern panchang or Vedic calendar?
I’m sorry this is a long post. My point is, when such news about such great initiatives by human beings come along, I feel hopeful about this world again. That there are some people who understand what it all means. And then I’m proud to be living in this world again! I’m not sure if anyone will understand what I mean, so I guess I may be writing just for myself.
Images Credit Myself (of objects seen by naked eye myself)
Amnesty International (AI) is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights. It is one of the foremost institutions, recognized worldwide, towards the fight for individual human rights.
Why is it called “Amnesty”? The definition of “Amnesty” is: “A general pardon granted by a government, especially for political offenses”, or as a verb, “To grant a general pardon to.”
Think about it. Why should human rights originate from a pardon? Isn’t a right, a right? Does it have to be pardoned and then granted?
No. Human individual rights are inviolable, they cannot be ‘granted’ or ‘pardoned’. Then why is the world’s foremost human rights activist organization called “Amnesty”?
The answer, as often is the case, is economical, my friends. Amnesty International is funded by the Vatican. Remember Original Sin? According to the Christian doctrine, human rights can originate only if God ‘pardons’ man, hence the word “Amnesty”.
Isn’t this a logical paradox? Yes, it is. So what does Amnesty International think about abortion?
So far, it has been “neutral” on the topic. Now, someone inside Amnesty has had a rational light bulb moment, and they’ve decided that Amnesty will support abortion in cases of rape or incest. The Vatican is up in arms, as expected.
Human Rights and Catholicism? You must be joking! But, we aren’t. This is the truth. Sigh.
For once, I am not going to say much myself, except that I haven’t subscribed to the notion that America is an imperialist superpower out to rule the world. That is, at least not yet. There are disturbing signs emerging that support such a notion, and that’s what this post is about.
When I read about Obama saying that if he were President of the United States, he wouldn’t hesitate invading Pakistan (if Musharraf didn’t act on ‘actionable intelligence’), I was alarmed, to put it mildly. I have written in the past about why the US should not invade Pakistan.
So I was pondering a post in response to Obama’s speech, when I came upon this excellent blog post, by Chapati Mystery.
I need not say anything further. It is a long read, but I assure you, well worth your time if you’re interested in these topics.
Second, I have always advocated for democracy in Pakistan. I assumed that the American standpoint would be the same. Thanks to Desi Italiana, I discovered this NYT article, and realized that that’s not completely true either.
I’ve decided to hold off on the notion of global imperialism, but must confess that there is ample evidence of imperialism in multiple situations. Sigh.
A US congressional panel on Wednesday voted, against the Bush administration’s wishes, to shield journalists including advertising-supported bloggers from having to reveal their confidential sources in many situations.
This is a major milestone in the ongoing battle between freedom of the press and government control. In March 2005, a California judge asked 3 bloggers to reveal their sources. Even Time magazine had to bow down. Coincidentally, this comes at the same time that the House of Lords in the UK sided with a freelance journalist, who has fiercely refused to reveal his sources, in one of the country’s longest legal battle of seven-and-a-half years.
The Free Flow of Information Act compels journalists to reveal their source only under exceptional circumstances.
This is a sensitive issue and has been debated to a great extent, with the focus being on the question: are bloggers journalists? Now that the reporters privilege has been extended, this question assumes paramount significance. This privilege is accorded only to reporters, priests, lawyers, and therapists. As per a Pew survey in July 2006, 12 million Americans have a blog, and one-third of them consider it as journalism. Extending this privilege will make a vast section of the population untouchable for investigations.
Let’s take an example from The Brain Chimney: Caught In The Crossfire
This is my friend’s story, who agreed to let me post it on my blog very reluctantly, fearing there might some danger to him. On his request, I’m not sharing his name or the name of the village.
I think I was in 8th grade then, I was getting ready to go to school at 6 AM. We heard a couple of rounds being fired. I was scared to death. I started cycling to school, very reluctantly. On the way, I saw two CRPF soldiers lying in a pool of blood. The Naxals (Maoists now) had shot them. The soldiers begged for their lives before being shot. But that wasn’t my first tryst with terror. It is replete with such incidents. Life was never easy for the 60,000+ inhabitants of our village.
The story goes on to describe how the villagers are caught between the brutalities of both the Maoists and the Police in (presumably) some north-eastern region of India. If this story were about a town in the US, there would be a public outcry over it. The law enforcement authorities will then force the blogger to reveal his friend’s name, so that they can take the necessary action. The blogger will have to comply. Why? Because his blog does not have any advertisements!
How correct is it to distinguish bloggers with ads as journalists and others as not?
What about India? The Reporters Without Borders Annual 2007 report on India reveals:
Prahlad Goala, working on a regional daily in Assam State in the north-east, was killed after writing articles exposing nepotism on the part of a local official. Also, in the north-east, a bureau chief escaped a murder attempt by an armed communist group. A young correspondent for a regional newspaper in Maharashtra State, central India, Arun Narayan Dekate, was stoned to death by gangsters he had named in his articles.
In India, you don’t ask for sources. You eliminate the journalist. Period. However, this is not the legal approach. Consider the legal approach:
The authorities in Chhattisgarh State, east-central India, badly hit by a Maoist revolt, sacrificed press freedom to the fight against this new “terrorism”. A security order was adopted which allowed imprisonment from one to three years, for journalists meeting Maoist rebels. A score of reporters were assaulted or threatened with death by police officers supposed to counter the Maoist influence.
Clever politicians ‘get perturbed’ over the courts indiscriminately using their power of contempt to reveal sources, not while campaigning, but when talking to journalists during a seminar on “the use of law as an instrument of harassment”.
India has a long way to go. The Free Flow of Information Bill is not without flaws, as some thorny issues still persist. But it is a step in the right direction.
Image: Logo of the Inter American Press Association
|Share this post :|
Imagine not being able to:
- Study Wikipedia
- Read news sources like BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Economist
- Reference the Internet Movie Database (IMDB)
- Use MySpace, YouTube, Digg, or Orkut
- View pictures on Flickr
- Read blogs on WordPress, LiveJournal, or Blogspot
- Access sites of Microsoft, Apple, Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo
This would be your world if you were a Chinese citizen.
We all know about the Great Firewall of China. Take a moment and really think about how we take our freedom for granted. Think about what is meant by individual rights. And if you’re living in a democracy, cherish it!
You can test if a particular site is accessible from China or not using this online testing tool. No need to check your WordPress, LiveJournal, or Blogspot blog, since they’re all banned. Thanks to Oemar, from whose blog I found this testing tool.
While everyone is writing about India’s first female president, let me take this opportunity to note another first for India’s president: that Mrs. Pratibha Patil is a Maharashtrian.
Rajdeep Sardesai writes about the euphoria among the Maharashtrian community on his IBN Live Blog.
While I would disagree with him about this, he goes on to further explore Maharashtra’s role in Indian politics, and more specifically, how and why they’ve never really achieved a ‘national leader’ status. On a psychological level:
Mr. Sharad Pawar, in a sense, exemplifies the failings of the contemporary Maharashtra political elite. If the Bengali left has been burdened with an innate superiority complex (many of them still genuinely believe in the Gokhale dictum of a century ago that what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow), the inward-looking attitude of the Maratha leadership has bred a certain inferiority complex, and made it difficult for them to adjust to a wider, more complex world (which is why Mr. Pawar needs a Praful Patel as his political brand manager).
Which brings me to Kumar Ketkar’s op-ed in the Indian Express. He opines that Mrs. Patil’s victory is a non-event in Maharashtra, and says:
The fact is that the average Marathi person is far less ethnically chauvinistic than he is made out to be by the Shiv Sena and the English media. With malice towards none, one can say that Maharashtra does not have the ethnic-cultural-linguistic pride which is so dominant in Bengali, Tamil, Telugu or Punjabi societies.
He describes the different Maharashtra regions having separate identities, and there being no comprehensive Marathi ethos.
As an experiment, I tried thinking of famous Indian personalities and what my immediate thoughts about them were. If I had no specific thought for even a second, I moved to the next. It went something like this (in no particular order):
- Manmohan Singh. Intellectual. Sikh.
- Sachin Tendulkar. Great batsman.
- Saurav Ganguly. Great captain. Bengali.
- Amitabh Bacchan. Superstar.
- Satyajit Ray. Great Bengali filmmaker.
- Amartya Sen. Great economist.
- Rajnikanth. Tamil Superstar.
- Lata Mangeshkar. Great singer. Marathi.
Obviously, the results were mixed. Now, given that artists (singers, filmmakers, actors) are intimately involved with their language, it is not surprising that their ethnicity is closely associated with them. But sportsmen, politicians, etc. are good candidates for this test. I found that for me, the Marathi-ness of various Maharashtrian celebrities is not a fundamental characteristic. Does this resonate with Ketkar’s view and Rajdeep’s inferiority complex theory? What do other Maharashtrians think? Are Maharashtrians less proud of their language/culture/ethos than they should be or other Indians are?
How do other Indians relate to Maharashtrian celebrities? Does their being Maharashtrian strike you in a definite in-your-face kind of fact?
All Photos Credit: BBC
Following a statement by the US intelligence chief that he believes Bin Laden is alive and hiding in Pakistan, come fears that the White House may actually consider raiding the Pakistan tribal areas to try to capture Bin Laden. Some opinions interpret the homeland security adviser’s remarks as an open admission that the American military has already staged attacks against Al Qaeda within Pakistan. Still others think that invading Pakistan, not Iraq, is an opportunity lost.
The real military options available to the US are all unpalatable, however:
When asked how the United States would respond if Al Qaeda were to plot a successful attack on the United States from the tribal areas, the answer from one intelligence officials was direct: “We’d go in and flatten it.”
But the US is facing a major dilemma:
“There can be no wait-and-see approach by the US in terms of Pakistan, but neither can there be any unilateral action like a covert operation against these areas,” says Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs. “That would be the kiss of death for any broad move against the extremists, and it would inflame the already strong anti-American feelings in the country.”
So, what should the US do? While I am the staunchest supporter of the ‘war on terror’, I think (like many others) that it has gone terribly wrong. One of the reasons Al Qaeda is gaining ground is that the US strategy is alienating all Muslims:
Americans who think that all Muslims hate the United States may be surprised to hear that many Muslims believe they have it precisely backward. Our questionnaires showed that Muslims worldwide viewed Islamophobia in the West as the No. 1 threat they faced. Many Muslims told us that the Western media depict them as terrorists or likens them to Nazis.
The above article, “Bush still doesn’t get it“, is an excellent read “galvanized by the need to help Americans better comprehend the Muslim world”. Yet another op-ed from the Baltimore Sun echoes this view:
Al-Qaeda is not simply an outlaw organization that can be put “on the run.” Rather, it is part of a broad, religion-based social movement that has deep support in elements of the Muslim world. If al-Qaeda can be isolated and deprived of public support, it will wither and die. If not, it will continue to be a resilient franchise capable of regeneration, growth and ultimately additional strikes inside the United States.
Point 1: US needs to be more sensitive to Islamic aspirations, and project a vision for the future that embraces moderate Islamism. It can do many more different things in Pakistan, like helping revamp education (a dear thing to many Muslims), rather than simply pouring billions of dollars in aid for the army, which the people of Pakistan say is ultimately used against them.
Second, a civil war or extremist surge across Pakistan would be worse than not capturing Bin Laden. This has to be prevented at all costs. And the only political process that can help avert that is democracy. However, after six years of supporting Musharraf’s dictatorship, there are sensitivities involved that need to be balanced. But supporting the roots of democracy would likely pay off:
More broadly, however, the US must work – fast – to pressure Musharraf into opening up Pakistan’s political system and tapping into its shallow but existing democratic roots, experts say. “Musharraf simply won’t be able to mount an effective campaign against the extremists without broad civilian support,” says Cohen. And for that, he adds, the military leader will have to move to a system of power- sharing that encompasses Pakistan’s political parties.
Point 2: Urgently pursue all diplomatic efforts to broaden the political support for the war against extremism in Pakistan. Chacko from Indian Mutiny even exhorts India to take up the cause.
Why am I writing this? There are many reasons why America should not invade Pakistan. This blog post by Eric Margolis, who has actually spent time in these tribal areas of Pakistan, offers a realistic on-the-ground picture and reasons why America’s invasion of this territory would be a catastrophic mistake. I can only add that it would completely destabilize the entire region. India cannot afford the risk of civil war or an extremist Pakistan. We cannot afford Pakistan turning into Iraq Version 2.0.
I’m a staunch supporter of the India US Nuclear Deal and have defended it in the past. (If you’re new to my blog, do read my response to the Forbes article that was disparaging and caustic about India’s intentions because of the protests against the USS Nimitz docking in Chennai).
Well, after two long years since announcing the strategic partnership agreement over nuclear cooperation, the United States and India have managed to work out the minutiae of the 123 implementation agreement. This is a landmark moment in the history of India. I know its not done yet, and that we’ve a long way to go, but I think the major hurdles have been crossed, and I’m optimistic that it’s now just a matter of time.
I was following this story on a minute-by-minute basis on the Internet, observing the tone and expression of the varied news stories being published online. What I would like to point out here is how divergent the stories, and especially the headlines, were, among the different web sites.
The Indian news sites – NDTV, Indian Express, The Hindu, etc., broke the positive news first. When I started monitoring, neither the Washington Post, nor the New York Times had any update. Then Washington Post broke the positive news first.
Since the last few days when the talks were extended beyond schedule, a number of varied interpretations were made regarding the possible outcome. Mostly, the international as well as domestic Indian and US media covered the story with headlines like “struggling”, “talks extended”, and so on, but there are very notable exceptions. Note that even if the content of the news article was the same, the headlines were different. And headlines are where I think the editorial emphasis makes the whole difference. Even as I write:
The Gulf Times headline says: “Officials break logjam in N-talks, pact elusive”. Excuse me?
The Indian Muslims web site says: “U.S., India remain divided on controversial nuclear deal”.
The People’s Daily Online from China says: “US expects no breakthrough from nuclear talks with India”.
And the Associated Press of Pakistan goes one step further: “US – India talks on nuclear deal fail – WSJ”. As if not to be blamed for attributing reporting of the failure to itself, it includes the Wall Street Journal in the headline, where the WSJ actually said no such thing.
Muslim and Chinese – these were the only web sites I found that had negative headlines while the talks were still in progress. Why is this the case? I wish it were not so. Why weren’t there any negative news headlines from the mainstream US or Indian news sites? But sadly, that’s the case. And do we need any more proof of how editors manipulate headlines to attract maximum readership?
After the Christian fundamentalists’ ape-like antics during the Hindu priest’s opening the Senate morning session, comes a more worrisome portent.
The Denver Post reports that evolutionary biologists and university professors teaching evolution have been receiving death threats from a Christian fundamentalist.
At Panda’s Thumb (an excellent scientific resource for defending the theory of evolution), you can read excerpts of threatening emails received by the professors.
Observe how this contrasts with Islamic fundamentalist terrorism:
- Terrorism strikes the general public; these threats are against specific distinguished men of learning and science
- Terrorism is organized, inspired by a fanatical leader; this is an individual fanatic, inspired by organized religion
Evolution says that in the long term, the fittest species survive. Will they, in this case?
Here’s Indian President Kalam in a nice capture (photo credit BBC-AFP).
I invite readers to name the caption for this photograph in the context of the current presidential polls.
<Note: neither has this invitation expired, nor does this have any national limitations. Imagine your country’s president with
this look on his face when he’s about to retire?>