I Love It…

…when my daughter M exhibits the same tastes as me and I hate it when she likes things I don’t (like make-up and heels)…Yeah, yeah I know I shouldn’t expect or want her to be a carbon copy of me yada yada, but I can’t help being proud of her when she says, “Maa, can you play America and Sound of Silence (both by Simon and Garfunkel) and oh don’t forget Four Seasons (by Vivaldi)”…

The other day my husband nearly choked on a chicken wing when M said, “Baba, I like this song…Could you play it again?” He was listening to Easy Livin‘ by Uriah Heep…

This is what I have to say to M – “You rock, baby!”

Do Mass Murderers Deserve Compassion?

No, they don’t and that’s why I was aghast to read about Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi’s release on compassionate grounds…For those of you who don’t remember, this is the man who didn’t think twice about killing 270 innocent people when he blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988…And why did he do it? To make a political statement…While I am against capital punishment, I do believe that felons should serve out their sentences no matter how sick they are…What was the Scottish government thinking when it decided to release this monster? Megrahi’s lawyers didn’t ask for his release because he was terminally ill, the Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill made this ghastly decision all on his own…How can he call himself the justice minister when he showed such shockingly poor judgement?

Megrahi was released after serving only 8 years of his minimum 27 year sentence – that means for every person he killed, he served only 10.81 days in prison…Is that fair to the victims and their families?

What is even more distressing is that Megrahi, a convicted terrorist and mass murderer, went home to Libya to a hero’s welcome from his President Dictator Col. Qaddafi who is using him as a propaganda tool…

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(Source: The New York Times)

The question to be asked is – was the release really due to compassion and higher morality or was it due to Libyan oil? Libya is still ruled by a dictator but is opening up its economy to foreign investors…As we all know, the country has oil and global companies are clamouring for their share of the pie…By releasing the only person convicted for the Lockerbie bombing, Britain has done nothing but lubricate the way for British oil companies to get access to this oil…

I’ll be surprised if this man dies in the next 3 months – for all you know, he’ll be around enjoying life for a few more years…

Is Reading The News A Social Process?

The Huffington Post and Facebook seem to think so…Recently, the former launched a new feature called HuffPost Social News (in collaboration with Facebook) “that connects HuffPost users to their Facebook friends, the news they are reading, and the stories they are commenting on.” This new feature basically tracks what Huffington Post articles you and your Facebook friends are reading and commenting and voting on via Facebook Connect (a conduit between Facebook and another website)…

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Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, feels the growth of online social networking has changed our relationship with news…This is what she has to say:

“It’s no longer something we passively take in. We now engage with news, react to news, and share news. News has become an important element of community — something around which we gather, connect, and converse. And we can all become part of the evolution of a story now — expanding it with comments and links to relevant information, adding facts and differing points of view.

HuffPost Social News makes this easier and more dynamic than ever. It takes social news to a whole new level. It will turbo-charge your online conversations and connections, and allow you to build and develop a community that follows what you read and care about.”

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Till now, sharing news was a deliberate and private process – one had to remember to share a particlular piece of news through a blog or Twitter or e-mail…With Huff Social News, the entire process will become automated…I have a problem with this…I may not want my friends to know everything I read and I in turn may not want to know what they are reading…There is a ‘stealth’ mode but if you forget to turn it on, your every click will be known by others…Also, the number of links that will automatically be sent to me could become irritating and instead of this feature becoming a conversation starter (as Facebook and Huffington Post are hoping), it could become a conversation killer…Ok, Facebook says it will allow users to ‘control’ what is shared but with thousands of links, who will have time to ‘control’ Facebook news feeds?

Another problem could arise (which could have a huge impact on journalism as we know it today)…Sites like The Huffington Post have thousands of links and if these get totally integrated with Facebook, nobody will go to individual news sites anymore…Instead of The Huffington Post and the likes being the news portals, Facebook will become the one-stop-shop-for-news…Journalism today is already fueled by demographics and if Facebook does become a popular news portal, then the kind of news and editorials that will be churned out by news gatherers will be even more dictated by readers i.e. readers will become not only the consumers of news but also the publishers…If this happens, what happens to news that doesn’t fit the demographics of Facebook users? What if Facebook changes the terms of agreement with it’s content partners?

Despite its faults, I think Huffnews Social News is an interesting experiment…We’ll just have to wait and see what the results are…

Newspaper Myths Deconstructed

Myth 1 – Consumer Pays For News

Like any other business, newspapers are here to make money – loads of it – by delivering advertising on newsprint into peoples’ homes….Subscribers and newsstand buyers don’t pay for news, advertisers do…Surprised? Don’t be…Subscribers and newsstand buyers pay only for the newsprint and printing costs…All the rest is covered by advertising…Newspapers wrap their content around advertising because that’s what advertisers want…That is why we see sections about cooking and home decoration instead of editorial and op-ed pages…What newspaper owners don’t see is that this revenue model may be self-defeating because by weakening the bond with readers, they will eventually lose readership and with it advertising…

Myth 2 – Newspapers provide news

A small percentage of a newspaper’s space is devoted to news but most of the content printed is to attract readers so that the circulation and readership figures can be used to sell advertising space at high rates…Don’t believe me? Then answer this question: Why was Shah Rukh Khan’s detension at Newark Airport front page news?

Myth 3 – Newspapers are ‘watchdogs’

Honestly, most newspapers are not ‘watchdogs’ and more importantly they don’t want to be because they are in the business of making money and not losing money…They are in existence to serve the tender sensibilities of their readers, advertisers and political masters…This is not to say that relevant information, opposing views, negative reviews and embarassing exposes about people in power are never published, but by and large the sensibilities of revenue generators are taken into account…

Sure, newspapers do print some serious journalism but do they stay up days and nights crusading for ordinary citizens or vulnerble people? Does a typical reporter take that extra step to ferret out information that may be crucial to a story? How much of a newspaper’s space is devoted to serious journalism? These are all questions to be asked…If your answer to the last question is less than 20 percent, then you know that the newspaper you are reading is not a watchdog or a crusader or a serious journalistic endeavour…

Myth 4 – Newspapers are free to publish what they want

Ha! Ha! If you think this is true then you live in the garden of Eden…All countries have laws regulating the media, some more than others…For example, in authoritarian countries like Singapore, dissent is not tolerated whatsoever…Restrictions on free speech are not only imposed by the government but also by readers…For example, consider a newspaper article that favours a certain government policy…Now imagine that opponents of this policy demand an article from an opposing view point and the newspaper refuses to do so…What will happen especially in countries like India? The newspaper office will get thrashed and its journalists attacked…To avoid such incidents, newspapers often publish materials which they otherwise would not have…They also don’t publish materials which offend advertisers because advertisers are their bread and butter…So, are newspaper really free to publish what they want to? You tell me…

Myth 5 – Newspapers are objective

Really? I don’t think so…They would like to think they are but they are not because the press especially the mainstream one routinely ignores those principles, which demand that a reporter set aside personal prejudices (as best one can) and approach each story with a common standard of fairness…The truth is that newspapers have their own biases and agendas and print news stories and editorials which reflect them…These biases may not be noticeable because they often reflect the prevailing view of the national Establishment…It works well for them – after all, who would want the government coming after them? Stories are also biased to bring in readers (and therefore advertisiers)- that is why newspapers are full of stories that ‘sell’ (eg. stories of conflict, robberies, rape etc.) rather than feel good ones (stories of harmony etc.) which don’t…

What Politicians Do To Remain In Power

President Hamid Karzai – what can I say…When he first came to power he claimed to be a moderate on women’s issues but it now seems power is more important to him than humanity and integrity…In March he signed the Shia Personal Status Law which regulates the personal affairs of Shia Muslims who make up 10-20 percent of the Afghan population…“The initial version of the law included articles that imposed drastic restrictions on Shia women, including a requirement to ask permission to leave the house except on urgent business, and a requirement that a wife have sex with her husband at least once every four days.” And now he has signed a law which gives a Shia husband “the right to withdraw basic maintenance from his wife, including food, if she refuses to obey his sexual demands.” It also grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers, requires women to get permission from their husbands to work and allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying “blood money” to a girl who was injured when he raped her…

This is what I have to say to Mr. Karzai – “Sir, you are no better than the Taliban who you replaced by pretending to be someone you are not…Stop using your power to rip off the rights of women by using them as pawns in your political games…If you want to win the elections, be a humanist…Remember, women have also been created by God…They have the same rights as men…If you think God will love you for doing what you are doing, you are wrong…”

Update on my post on Burma:

I just read that John Yettaw has been deported back to the United States…If you remember, it was his bizarre stunt in May (he used a pair of home-made flippers to swim illegally across a lake in front of Suu Kyi’s house to meet her and stayed there for 2 nights…According to Burmese law foreigners are not allowed to stay overnight at Burmese houses) that led to Aung San Suu Kyi being detained for another 18 months…This decision by the ruling junta only confirms my belief that she was set up by the generals because this incident occurred just weeks before Suu Kyi’s latest round of house arrest was set to expire…Also, according to one of her lawyers even before the Yettaw incident her latest appeal for freedom had been denied by the junta…

Of Chatting And Swaveboarding

Ever since I saw the Swaveboard (Waveboard to some), I’ve been wanting to learn…It seems interesting and fun and since five year olds whiz around on them I figured I could too…So yesterday, this Pakistani lady R I’ve befriended decided to teach me – I agreed to become her student because she’s an expert (she’d been practicing for two whole days) and my mother always told me to learn from experts…We were in the play area of our condo and she asked her son to lend us his swaveboard…She gave him her dupatta and proceeded to show me how to go about swaveboarding…Suddenly a kid of about six came up to her and said, “Hello Aunty, that is not how to do it…You should..” and before he could finish his sentence R interrupted him and said in Singlish,”Hey, you Muslim la? Then why did you greet me in English way…Don’t you know how to greet other Muslims la?” On hearing this the poor kid ran away…I couldn’t understand her logic – are Muslims supposed to greet other Muslims only in the Muslim way? Does it say so in the Quran? If a Muslim says ‘adaab’ to a Hindu, will he go to hell? Can a Hindu say “adaab”? Frankly, when another Hindu or Bengali greets me by saying “hi” or “hello”, I don’t give it a second thought – why does she?

Don’t get me wrong…I like R…She’s not only entertaining but has a lot of spunk…Earlier she had told me that she used to wear the hijab till two years ago when she revolted and told her husband that it was too hot for it…Needless to say he was was pissed but she told him, “Why you worried about what Allah will think? If Allah is angry, he’ll be angry with me la and not you…You will still go to heaven so don’t talk about this any more.” Amen…

The entire time she was on the swaveboard without her dupatta and her kurta flying over her head, all I could think was what her husband would say if he saw her…

For people who don’t know what a Swave/Wave Board is:
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The Wave or Swave Board gives you the feeling of surfing and snowboarding at the same time but on the street…Unlike a skateboard, it is not rigid (it has two wheels that move independently of each other…A side-to-side slalom-motion propels the rider forward) and allows you to move without your feet touching the ground…For more information, search Google…

Burma: Human Rights Abuses

Burma is once again in the news with the sentencing by a kangaroo court of opposition leader, Nobel laureate and democracy icon Aung Saan Suu Kyi…What is the world and UN doing about this gross injustice? Nothing other than issuing statements…

According to a report (‘Crimes in Burma’ commissioned by five of the world’s leading international jurists: Judge Patricia Wald, Judge Pedro Nikken, Judge Ganzorig Gombosuren, Sir Geoffrey Nice, and Judge Richard Goldstone) issued by the Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, “human rights abuses in Burma are widespread, systematic and part of state policy.”

“The UN Security Council has taken action regarding Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sudan when it identified information strongly suggesting the existence of crimes against humanity and war crimes,” said Tyler Giannini, the clinical director of the Human Rights Program at HLS. “As our research shows, UN documents clearly and authoritatively suggest that the human rights abuses occurring in Burma are not isolated incidents. Failure by the UN Security Council to take action and to investigate these crimes could mean that violations of international criminal law will go unchecked.”

The report is based on an analysis of scores of UN documents dating back to 1992, including UN General Assembly and Commission on Human Rights resolutions, as well as reports from several different Special Rapporteurs.

Major abuses cited by the United Nations documents include forced displacement of more than 3,000 villages in eastern Burma, and widespread and systematic sexual violence, torture, and summary execution of innocent civilians.

So, if all this evidence is present with the UN Security Council, why isn’t it going after the junta? Is it because Burma has no oil (it has gas reserves but not as much as the Middle East) and therefore not worth the money, time and effort? OK, so Yugoslavia, Sudan and Rwanda also don’t have oil but Yugoslavs are white and how can the UN sit back and twiddle its thumbs while injustice is meted out to whites? Sudan and Rwanda are in Africa and somehow Africa has managed to capture the imagination of Western nations – Burma has not…Nobody (including India) cares about her people…As far as I can see, Burma will be a part of China in a few years and India doesn’t want to ruffle China’s feathers by siding with pro-democracy anti-junta Burmese leaders…India also has economic interests in Burma – New Delhi would like the country to provide a trade link to the ASEAN region and so is building roads and ports to achieve this objective…Burma’s gas reserves are also important for India…

Basically, everything comes down to money and the colour of one’s skin…Altruism has vanished…