Run Mark Run!

It was amazing to see the run of Mark Zuckerberg through the smog filled roads of Beijing. When the common men of China cannot go anywhere without wearing a face mask due to rising pollution and industrial activity, the whole picture showed an example of frivolousness. It is clear that Mark has been trying everything to get on the good books of the Chinese from learning Mandarin to promoting the current Chinese leader so that the blockade on Facebook can be lifted. But considering how much advanced the Chinese social media offerings are when compared to Facebook, Mark should spend his time improving the FB experience and exploring newer avenues of growth than running in China following a failed misadventure in India.

Why do modern societies need any armies ?

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“An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.” Thomas Paine

Armed forces are the pride of any nation. Millions of armed men keep a constant vigil on our borders so that you and me can get along with our business of making a living and creating value added lives. From time immemorial, man has always been prone to constant bouts of war and peace. If the 19th century was dominated by the world wars and the cold wars, the 20th century just a decade into its existence has already seen armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Libya, Syria and now finally Egypt. In addition to huge losses of life and property, these wars have also altered our modern society due to a never before seen penetration of information, thanks to advances in technology.

Being a silent spectator to many of these wars from the safe confines of my home, I’ve always felt for those tales of incalculable  losses and sufferings. I have keenly observed many of these wars and found that people talk till they fail, then fight till they tire and then talk till they compromise. This has been the scenario in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In many other cases, talks or diplomacy have prevented many an outbreak of war. This leads to an important existential question. If wars don’t result in a resolution of conflict and talks do, then shouldn’t we be trying for the latter, rather than the former?

In other cases, just as what is playing currently in Egypt and many other countries like Pakistan et. al, is the fact that the army becomes an existential threat to the whole idea of a nation, when it goes beyond its mandate to protect its citizens and grab the power. Most of the time this happens because of an over ambitious army chief with an insatiable lust for power. When this happens, the country finds itself in a descending spiral of gloom and disrepair.

A good percent of a country’s GDP goes in maintaining these huge armies. Look at the case of the developing countries and potential superpowers of tomorrow, India and China and the huge amounts of money that is being spend to maintain their huge armies. Their contribution here is about 2.5% (249 billion) and 2% (119 billion) respectively of their GDP. All these amounts can be used to bolster the social spending in these nations, rather than the upkeep of a few.

It is easy to sit in the confines of one’s home and write about millions who toil day and night to ensure that we live well, work hard and have a good night’s rest. The intention of this blog is not either. When a good amount of the financial and human resources of a country is invested in maintaining a huge governmental enterprise such as an army, it needs to be structured in a way that it benefits the citizens and not the other way round.

Having a reserve force is a great idea. Compulsory military training along between the ages of 18 and 25 is even better. This would instill in the youth of a country a sense of love and belonging in addition to the advent of a disciplined and responsible society. These trained individuals would form an integral part of a reserve force that would be assembled in case of an emergency. Diplomacy should be the first step in the face of an external aggression. If it fails, the reserve force should be used to enforce peace.

In today’s world, wars are destructive, brutal and leaves a trail of devastation, hopelessness and depression. The objectives of a modern society cannot be met by killing each other in name of an idea or ideology. It doesn’t need a large standing army that gobbles up much needed capital which would have benefitted the least fortunate.

Image courtesy:  http://pixhome.blogspot.ca/2013/02/us-army-military-hd-wallpapers-armed.html

Terminator: He is back

The recent announcement by Paramount pictures to reboot the Terminator franchise has been a long awaited one. I have always felt that the Terminator story never ended with Terminator Salvation and the story arc still had a lot of potential.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California is known for one trademark role during the course of his entire career in Hollywood- one that is of a time travelling cyborg assassin.  In the first movie he was the main antagonist and the remaining movies except the fourth one as the main protagonist. The story is a basically simple: Machines take over the daily affairs of the earth and begin to destroy/terminate its creators aka humans. Following huge success in wiping out the entire world in the future, the artificially intelligent, Skynet the parent of all the machines, proceeds to wipe out the remaining pockets of human population, who by now have organised themselves into something called as Resistance.

Once the machines understand that they cannot win the war against the indeterminable human spirit, time travel is discovered and thereby they travel back in time to destroy the human resistance before they were even born. This technology comes into the hands of the humans who try first with sending humans back in time to thwart the cyborg assassins also called Terminators. As the machines develop technologically advanced cyborgs and send them back in time, the humans start to capture and develop some of the earlier models of the cyborg assassins to fight the war for them in the past.

The main premise of these movies is time travel which has been a pet fetish of yours truly for a long time. The ability to travel in time and alter the events to change the outcome of the future is interesting. But as these movies show, that nothing can change the course of events, it can only postpone the outcome.

Terminator the first movie in the franchise was an eerie experience as the scales were heavily tilted in the favor the machines. The human resistance had to send one among them to the past to fight the assassin before he wiped out the leader of the resistance. The human resistance fighter, Kyle Reese also had time to impregnate the mother of the Resistance leader in the future, John Connor. The second and third movies dealt with protecting John Connor as he grew up and postponing Armageddon also known as Judgement Day and then later  failing to prevent it in the third movie. The fourth movie was all about events in post apocalyptic world and how the threads are tied into the events of the first movie.

Of the entire movies in the franchise, only the second one stands out for its ‘wow’ factor. The first one was moderately successful, the third and fourth were lazy attempts primarily aimed at milking the cash cow, ie the franchise. The new developments even though might be attempts at a similar exercise, the very fact that keeps up ardent fans like yours truly excited is that this time around the franchise is helmed by the producers of Zero Dark Thirty and other great movies. As an ardent fan I hope that the producers won’t let us down and tell us some awesome time travel, Terminator stories.

PS: This article does not make any mention about the TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, I believe it was an aberration on the Terminator cannon.

NDTV: A Colossal Media Mess

More than a decade ago, yours truly was one of the happy Indians residing in the Middle East when the first visuals of an English Indian news channel, Star News was beamed into his home. The channel was owned by Star TV of the Rupert Murdoch owned News Corporation International. In a strange twist the entire operations was handled by a little known studio based out of New Delhi, with a name synonymous with the place: New Delhi Television (NDTV).

Those were the days when India bolstered by the liberalisation policies of early 90s, was slowly making its mark in the world map. The new channel had a young, vibrant set of talent of the likes of Prannoy Roy, Rajdeep Sardesai, Arnab Goswami, Vikram Chandra, Barkha Dutt, Sreenivasan Jain etc. It was amazing to see such passion and drive among almost all the reporters in the channel. It had some really good programming and some path breaking journalism. Those days the channel was objective, aggressive and to me it had a suave, savvy reporting methodology. The stories showcased on the channel was highly successful in painting a new young India, its interesting politics, obsession to cricket and Bollywood. This potent mix was well broadcasted by the channel.

In the beginning years of the 2000s, NDTV having made enough money from its once in a lifetime deal with the Star Networks Asia, ventured out into forming its own channel or group of channels: NDTV 24×7, NDTV India and NDTV Profit. The channel with no time topped the ratings and was unstoppable. Many of the stories carried by the NDTV studios like the coverage of Kargil war, 9/11 coverage, first NDA government, ascension of Sonia Gandhi and even the amazingly pulsating election coverage. Who can forget how Prannoy Roy along with Rajdeep used to make the whole election news coverage into an ODI cricket match.

Slowly and steadily, NDTV’s success brought in lot of eyeballs and slowly and steadily it started losing its stalwarts one after the other: Rajdeep let with a huge set of people to form his own channel CNN-IBN, Arnab who always had his issues with Rajdeep left to join Times Group, Appan Menon one of the finest Indian journalists passed away. The channel was left in the hands of a still vibrant team of Barkha, Vikram, Sonia and others.

The group simply grew from strength to strength. By 2008 it was in talks to launch its own Hindi GEC NDTV Imagine, it had regional English news channels all over India and it was simply unstoppable till the 2008 recession gave the group a reality check. Suddenly overnight, the channel crumbled and sold most of its assets. Incidentally it was the time when the UPA 1 government was embroilled in the cash for votes scandal. The silence of the channel in the major scandal did raise eyebrows.

When the avalanche of scandals hit UPA-2, the channel was caught neck deep in the Radia tapes scandal with its Senior Editor Barkha Dutt implicated with recordings of her conversations with lobbyist Radia becoming public. The silence employed by NDTV since then and till date on almost all the scandals of the Congress led UPA 2 government has shown it was it was complicit with one of the most corrupt government India has seen its history. Even during the Anna Hazare Lokpal protests to the emergence Narendra Modi as a capable right wing alternative to fix India’s mess, the channel worked overtime in destroying its reputation among the Indian youth, fond nostalgic memories of non resident Indians like yours truly and everything it once stood for. This media powerhouse has become a helpless tool of the hypocritical Indian Congress party PR machinery.

These days, yours truly reads and watches NDTV just to discover the new lies that they bring to the table each day. It is an indeed sad moment as one of prime examples of fond television viewing memories while growing up is now even worthless than the toilet paper being used by yours truly each day. It is a prime example of how hard it is to build a life of integrity, ethics and values  and how easy it is to destroy it.

Image courtesy: http://drop.ndtv.com/albums/GADGETS/indianapps//ndtvapp.jpg

The tale of a Walkman

The recent news of Sony discontinuing the Walkman brand marks the passing away of a fine legend. The other day while loitering through the world wide web, yours’ truly came across this news item announcing the news. The brief article written by a nostalgic fan, made me go back in time, to a period when computers were hardly there, when we had physical music collection, when a cassette had 12 songs, nothing more, Apple was almost dead as a company, the list goes on.
It was one time. A fine time. Yours truly was celebrating his 15th birthday. Due to my unruly attitude towards electronics, I just screwed up both my portable radio and cassette player. I got both due to my successful ability to collect merchandise, in this case Nido milk powder tin caps.
The story is like this. I just decided to leave the comforts of Abu Dhabi for the comforts of a boarding school in my native state in India. For my 15th birthday, I requested my dad a Sony Walkman, fully promising that I would take good care of it, to which my requests were granted, fortunately no questions were asked.
I decided to take good care this time of my Walkman. It had a great FM player (at that time FM stations were becoming popular in Abu Dhabi), it played original cassettes lovely, screwing up the duplicate ones, it lasted with me for 6 years before I gave it to my sister.
These 6 years chronicled a great time in my life and that Walkman stood with me throughout. Even these times, mp3 became a standard. I liked the Walkman as well. Simply because. you would listen to song in full; rewind it back hoping you will reach the beginning of a song, not any excerpts from the earlier song; fastforward a song hoping you will reach the end of the song, not wanting to spoil the beginning of the next song; the list goes on. The best thing was, there was no scrollbar, there was no spin wheel, just pure manual operation.
Just as today is good, those days were good too. BASF tapes from Germany were known for their superior sound quality. People knew about Tips. T-Series, HMV cassette companies and so on. You used to get the original Hindi MC for 50Rs, English 150Rs and a fake one for 20RS. The fake ones were marketed well, they lasted for a good one time hearing and I remember how I cleaned the head with WD40 after each time I heard a fake cassette!
Another aspect of the Walkman was that, it stood out. Jogging, walking etc., clipping the walkman to belt buckle ensured that you not only listened to the song, passers-by mistook you for someone special. Owners of zune and ipod would agree, you won’t get that feeling now..
Whatever said, these timeless players had their mark on time. They spearheaded the innovation of making music personal to everyone, cassette collection in addition to music collection was a hobby (remember those white, opaque BoneyM cassettes, or the transparent Taal cassettes). Who could forget Made in India or Thriller cassettes ? Can today’s iPod, Youtube, iPhone generation beat that following?
Let me conclude. Walkmans were truly legendary. As they say, all good things in life come to an end one day. So did you. RIP.

Media and Accountability

The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” Malcom X

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Of late,yours truly has been noticing about the frivolous and pretentious nature by which media has been trying to twist and sabotage facts using unreal and scrupulous journalism practices-thereby influence policy-making nationally and internationally. The role of the fourth estate has been a very important one-the proper and judicious dissemination of knowledge and in this context, a synopsis for debate and discussion is presented here.

All over the world, everyday people get up and read about the events that occur in their neighborhood, countryside and worldwide. In the pre-Internet days, nobody bothered about what happened outside their communities or their ‘comfort zones’. Post 9/11, tsunami, Iraq, Afghanistan, Obama, recession and Haiti, anybody with an easy access to a mobile phone or an internet connection, does read and be bothered about what happens outside, in and around the world. This situation gives enormous amount of power and leverage to the media that is responsible for the fair and balanced reporting of the news events, proper and just analysis of current and international affairs. However, it is not the case and it has come to a stage that in certain countries like India, widespread angst and debate have originated about the origin of news, paid for and true ones etc.

From time immemorial, press has been the savior of everyone who had the guts to stand up against the establishment. During the period of Emergency in India, Cold War, Holocaust etc, many world events would have escaped the public eye if it weren’t for the audacity and the attentiveness of the media. Many notable personalities and careers were also created in the process. Those were the days, when the media outlets were less in number, and the news reached from place to place through couriers/telegrams etc using such obsolete technology that would make any person living today, stunned. Despite that free and fair reporting was the norm and media personalities, though liberal in kind, stood out as respectable people, out in the honest and untiring pursuit of the truth.

However, when technology grew, the media outlets grew in number. Media content began to be created in exponential proportions. The advent of the cable in US was greeted with skepticism when Ted Turner began CNN- the mammoth potential of which was realized in the first Gulf War-during the Operation Desert Storm. Ever since that period, the media awareness, 24/7 news cycles, advent of the internet etc. led to exposing of lot of concealed evils and resulted in the emergence of the global village phenomena, where anything and everything that happened elsewhere made sense. This led to the growth of a collective sense of responsibility and concern that reared its humane head when events like tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, Haiti began to unravel-the realization that I am my brother’s keeper, sister’s keeper etc. Issues like global warming echoed around the world fostered the understanding that I am responsible for this planet earth and I do have a certain responsibility to this that cannot be ignored.

The election of Obama, where a literally unknown senator, was catapulted into the highest corridor of power in the world, reinforced the ability of media to be the ultimate savior of the underdogs. The recession and Wall Street bonuses, showed everybody the depths that resulted from human greed. Issues like Google in China, Toyota recall, Tiger Woods etc brought into the forefront values like free spirit, integrity and loyalty. In this scenario, the growth of free media bolstered by Twitter, Youtube and Facebook requires mention and commendation.

However, a recent disturbing trend has been the advent of ‘paid news’ particularly during elections and referendum in many countries like India, US etc. The whole health care debate was meant to be bipartisan and an unifier for the people for its remarkable potential to affect and change the lives of millions of Americans-it has ended up confusing everybody-due to the frivolous nature of media that covered the event. The efforts of British media to frown and discern the Vancouver Olympics and the tit for tat reaction by the Canadian media exposed lot of underlying and divisive battle lines. The debates that is going around in India regarding the ‘paid news’ have shamed the media further. Every day, news is emerging how the mainstream media has constantly failed the common public and has ended up being the torch bearers of the establishment and the business entities offering the people of this world anything other than the truth.

It’s a sad situation, where responsible reporting is taking a back seat, where ideals like integrity and honesty are being compromised like ever before, the lack of any long term vision or planning. This trend is alarming at the same time disturbing. We, the people should address this situation and be fully aware of what we read and how we base our opinions on. It’s better to prevent this sickness from taking hold and creating an instability now than ever. Be minded, the vanguards of democracy has become, off the people, buy the people and not for the people. And it’s now or never for us to act.

Image courtesy:

http://photos.state.gov/libraries/amgov/30145/ejs/responsible_media_600.jpg

Stunned!

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I was stunned recently. Very much that it took me some time to regain my breath. Couldn’t speak or utter a word for a long time. It  was really breathtaking.

From time immemorial, the memorable saga of the Jewish race from the time when Abram was asked to move from Ur right through the messianic times till the Holocaust and the subsequent formation of the nation of Israel to the various Jewish lobbies that control different aspects of the American society from its politics till its culture and various contemporaries, has made for some rollercoaster literary reading that rants well with any reader. Yours truly always made it a point to stay away from any type of movies with underlying political overtones. But the innocent poster of two boys sitting and separated by a barbed wire as shown in the above picture intrigued me to spend some of my time on visualizing the celluloid format inspired by a book (as the poster vividly shows). Expecting a relaxing weekend treat, the movie well started with a whimper.

It began with this obscure Nazi general promoted to a higher rank and leaving his home from Berlin to an obscure area. Bruno his son was lone dissenting voice in the household and was further disappointed when he saw his future home. His sister Gretel too disappointed was relieved to end up liking another German officer at their home. The young kid Bruno who had the dreams of being an explorer despite being dissuaded from exploring the behind woods of the home for it being out of bounds, went and ended up meeting the only boy of his age at that place called Shmuel. Separated by barbed wires, a beautiful friendship grew, stronger when it came to be known that they were enemies. Events later till when Bruno ended up in the gas chambers with Shmuel, innocently and the finally shot of the door to the gas chamber finally shut and the striped pajamas of the prisoners left hanging outside, shook me for sometime. Any calamity man made or else resonates a simple theme for everyone, there are no sides in any conflict. Suffering is universal. It was profound and the message was shattering.

Some of the memorable dialogues from the movie include:

Bruno: I’m Bruno.
Shmuel: Shmuel.
Bruno: Sorry?
Shmuel: I’m Shmuel.
Bruno: That’s your name? I’ve never heard of anyone called that before.
Shmuel: I’ve never heard of anyone called Bruno.
Bruno: Shmuel? No one’s called Shmuel.

Bruno: Why do you wear pajamas all day?
Shmuel: The soldiers. They took all our clothes away.

Bruno: My dad’s a soldier, but not the sort that takes people’s clothes away.

Bruno to Shmuel: We’re not supposed to be friends, you and me. We’re meant to be enemies. Did you know that?

Bruno: There is such thing as a nice Jew, though, isn’t there?
Herr Liszt: I think, Bruno, if you ever found a nice Jew, you would be the best explorer in the world.

Auschwitz Inmate to the kids before the gas chamber: It’s only a shower.