Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Outdated Nostalgia?

Are we right in dismissing comparisons between the brewing discontent in France / Europe and the revolutionary fervor of May 1968?

Commentators believe, this time around the economic crisis and the position of France vis-√†-vis the crisis and the world is making all the difference. Youth may be more impatient than the youth of 30 years ago. And the workers then had jobs to go back to. Although many would dismiss the May of 1968 as a political failure for student protestors, it is hailed as an inflection point towards a greater liberal ideal. It’s a different world now - may be students do not feel as strongly about these issues any more. Many of them are probably living outside their own countries and do not feel politically active or have not engaged as much as they would have at home. I do not know.

Big unions distanced themselves from these protestors in ‘68, but this time round, labor militancy is gaining steam now….Managers of an American owned car components plant Molex were taken hostage by workers last week. There have been other instances across countries and companies. (As an aside, read here about how a CEO of an Italian company was lynched to death by workers in India) Invariably governments step in, but unable to resolve the conflict. Vulnerable to the downward economic spiral, countries such as France will find it difficult to attract investment.

Will economics dictate politics, or will it be the other way round? Will the crisis forge a different kind of engagement of students, workers, voters with the established order? I hope so.

Optimists feel, India may well be on the brink of such a change where 700 million voters are now casting their votes. Will it be a different May in New Delhi? I am so bored of being cynical that I rather be positive. Watch this space for more.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Punished in Persepolis

Roxana Saberi Iranian-American journalist sentenced to 8 years in prison - victim of geo-politics.

May force be with Roxana Saberi, imprisoned in Iran on charges of spying. The American Iranian journalist has been held in jail since early January and has now been sentenced to 8 years in prison on charges of espionage. She has worked for BBC and National Public Radio.

It appears President Ahmadi-Nejad is in favor of giving the journalist a right to defend herself. Iran does not recognize dual nationality of the journalist. This is a gray area. Blogger, Omid-Reza Mirsayafi, died in prison last month just after 40 days of this 30-month jail sentence. He was charged for “insulting” Iranian leaders. It is now being presented as a suicide case.

I was amused to see Hillary Clinton express anguish over Saberi’s sentencing in Iran. After all, according to Amnesty International Iran is second only to China when it comes to the number of executions every year. Ms Clinton should have similar responses to human rights violations anywhere – be it China or Iran. (The US does not have diplomatic ties with Tehran)

Update: April 27th:
Saberi now on hunger strike. Iran asks US not to interfere in the case. This could well reach a flash point in the days to come.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Beyond the rhetoric

Courtesy: BradentonHerald.com
TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/ttompkins@bradenton.com Ella Fuchs holds a hand-painted sign at Mixon Fruit Farms during a tax day tea party hosted by the Bradenton business.

Too loud to make sense:

The language of dissent is sure changing. Although protests in general should become more creative and intelligent – protest for the sake of protest can achieve little – like the G20 protest earlier this month. (Separately, please make a note of the unfortunate incident that encapsulates police brutality in these times. The death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 summit protests has been reckoned as a turning point in the way police is managing demonstrations.)

In the season of rallying cries, the latest boycott comes from The American Taxpayer who will have “tea-parties” to express discontent over higher taxes and ballooning fiscal deficit of the government. Like this article says: there is no sleight of hand by “motivated” political advocacy or other groups – just swathes of ordinary citizens organized by the all powerful internet and mobile phone. Today has been called the Tax Day. If freedomworks.org is to be believed there are 300-500 protests all over the world. It is supposed to be a ‘cute’ connection to the Boston Tea Party by New Englanders, when British tea was dumped into the harbor at Boston to protest taxation without representation.

Whether it is protests against TARP funds or protests against bonuses or bailouts (without putting figures or risks in perspective) – in the cacophony of the multitude dissenting voices, there seems to be no well thought out reasoning. These protests do not force home a point. I am all for being heard and voicing discontent, but it needs to be specific and to the point. Protestors will not be dismissed as just “the flag-bearing kind” but someone more substantial, if their arguments are founded on unquestionable reasoning.

Like a good friend once noted, there are too many people out there in the field and too few who are actively engaging with practical solutions and feasible “alternatives” as it were.

I would add: Not withstanding the brouhaha over technology fusing the junta… God speed to Smart Mobs, Flash crowds, to use technology more innovatively. But technology is only means to an end and not the end itself.

Tailpiece: The Economist notes here, how shareholder activism is losing currency across the world. This is unfortunate. The article argues that activist funds were doing badly and worse, corporate bigwigs feel that activist shareholder waste time and exert undue pressure on companies.

Look at this incident where social activists wanted JP Morgan to write-off Chrysler debt as demanded by the government. The bank is Chrysler’s largest debt holder and has said that writing off the debt will hurt the bank. More money may be recovered by letting the auto company into bankruptcy, it has argued.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Copyright means no free speech

Pic courtesy: digitallifestyles.info

Free Speech has a different connotation

Earlier this week, I stepped out for lunch at Silo on 32 Street East, enjoying the music plugged into my ears and hoping for spring. I was suddenly face to face with unusual protestors who had flooded the otherwise dull street in Manhattan. Scores of people with disabilities were protesting at the Authors Guild headquarters in New York.

A pamphlet was gently given to me and it read thus: No Need for Greed, We Want to Read!

On behalf of 15 million Americans, the Reading Rights Coalition representing about 25 disability groups is pushing for the full activation of the text-to-speech feature which will give the visually-impaired equal access to electronic books. These groups include school children, professionals, elderly, returning veterans, who suffer from blindness, dyslexia, spinal cord injury and other print disabilities. The note said, “We have fought very hard for many years to have equal access to technology and information.” They do not want the new Kindle to be muted.

Amazon’s Kindle 2 now offers text-to-speech, which will read a book aloud. This disabled can enjoy books everybody else. The Authors Guild has said in order to access the feature, people must submit a special registration and “prove” disabilities. At stake is the market for audio books.

This is the position of the Author’s Guild: “While e-books have yet to win mainstream enthusiasm, audio books are a billion-dollar market, and growing. Audio rights are not generally packaged with e-book rights. They are more valuable than e-book rights. Income from audio books helps not inconsiderably to keep authors, and publishers, afloat.”

Amazon, Seattle-based world’s largest online retailer has been under pressure. In February this year, Amazon decided to give publishers rights over the text-to-speech feature which is enabled on Kindle 2. “With this new level of control, publishers and authors will be able to decide for themselves whether it is in their commercial interests to leave text-to-speech enabled. We believe many will decide that it is,” it said.

The disabled can surmount this digital divide if copyright holders leave the text-to-speech feature on…..

If you want to extend support for the group, you can reach them on ReadingRights@nfb.org or www.readingrights.org

When the pen became less mighty

Pic Courtesy: grab-one.blogspot.com

Hailed as a form of dissent that has now become pass√©, shoe-throwing does not cut ice anymore. It is strange that there have been one too many instances over the last few months. The latest is a scribe belonging to a minority community, who hurled a shoe at the home minister in New Delhi. The journalist Jarnail Singh was asking P Chidambaram, why Jagdish Tytler accused of instigating riots was not found guilty by India’s premier investigating agency.

Tytler is the politician who has been given a clean chit by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), 25 years after instigating mobs to attacks Sikhs in New Delhi in 1984, after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguard. This was soon after Gandhi’s Operation Bluestar that saw Indian forces storm the Golden Temple to crush Sikh separatists in Punjab. The ruling party, Congress had decided to nominate Tytler for Lok Sabha in the elections beginning next week.

I blogged here about the incident itself and how Indian journalism must look at this incident. While most people rightly deplore it, I have reasons to believe they privately celebrate it.

While it is true that a journalist must leave biases and complexes when he arrives at a press conference or when is on duty, it is a fine line to cross according to me. If a journalist does not have a stake in any issue that confronts him, chances are he will not be “passionate” about issues on which he/she is reporting. It can be particularly complex in a country as diverse as India. Largely journalists do not / should not have strong allegiances or be driven by ethnic / religious fervor, but it is difficult given how deeply the society is divided across religious and communal lines. Already, it is sickening to note comments on blogs, saying how this incident would have been celebrated by the “pseudo-secularist media” had the target been a right-wing bigot instead of a party under the cloak of secularism – implicated for inflicting injury on a minority community.

It is amazing that the minister in question, was remarkably calm about the episode. It is evident that he did take into cognizance that this journalist belonging to the Sikh community was too close to the issue being discussed that prompted his behavior. To be sure, that's a part of his charm.

If the ruling party indeed decides to pull out Tytler from contesting in the forthcoming elections, it will be convoluted victory of sorts for Singh who hurled his shoe. For a democracy as chaotic as ours, sometimes protests as meaningless and radical as this one may work more than realms of flaming editorials and years of campaigning.