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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Je Suis … Raif Badawi and 2000 Nigerians

In contrast to the worldwide outrage at the murder of cartoonists and journalists in Paris, there has been hardly any public reaction to news that Saudi Arabia is savagely beating a blogger, Raif Badawi, for “insulting Islam.”

The Saudis plan to inflict a sentence of 1000 lashes in weekly installments of 50. Badawi is also to spend 10 years in prison, where his lawyer must stay 15 year for daring to defend him.

The news that Boko Haram has just murdered some 2000 people and driven 30,000 from their homes -- ostensibly in its continuing campaign for Shariah law -- has also met with little international anger.

This double standard is infuriating.

Saudi Arabia should be subjected to the same bitter condemnation as the terrorists in Paris and its government should be censured by all organizations, national and international, that stand for civilized values. Journalists especially must be vocal in defending their own.

In the case of Boko Haram, there has been no shortage of outrage at its previous crimes, but the mass media continue to report its Islamic pretensions as if they were serious; they are only camouflage for its main business, trafficking drugs.

Saudi Arabia and Boko Haram presenting themselves as proponents of "Islam" is as bizarre as the claim of the butchers of Paris to be avenging the Prophet.

All of them deserve a noisily rude raspberry.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Indo-American Imperative

When President Obama meets with Prime Minister Modi in New Delhi in a few days they must look beyond the nuts and bolts of technological and security cooperation to bring into focus an Indo-American responsibility to act coherently on a broad set of critically important global issues.

Only such action can fulfill the enormous democratic and spiritual potential of the densely interconnected global society being shaped by the Internet and the Worldwide Web. Perhaps as importantly, it is the only way the world can avoid disastrous violence as the guardians of Europe's neocolonial interests try to preserve their criminal prerogatives.

As I described in an earlier post on Human Development in the Information Age, we are witnessing a momentous redefinition of the concept of capital that can close the gap everywhere between rich and poor; but just because it is possible does not mean that it is inevitable or that it will be easily achieved.

Innovative action will be necessary to deal with areas of current crisis such as global crime and climate change; and new institutions must be built to realize the full potential of global connectivity, which has, in effect, pulled the rug out from under elite capacity to monopolize wealth creation and override the interests of social majorities.

Action should focus on three immediate initiatives, followed by longer term institution-building. The three immediate steps should aim to:

Revamp Drug Laws: Drug trafficking is a $500 billion global industry that funds terrorism and undermines democracies. Existing international drug laws seek to ban drugs but they actually promote trafficking because prohibition gives a huge financial incentive for organized crime to get involved. That creates armies of violent drug pushers and a massive flow of black money into the coffers of money laundering elites.

India and the United States should support the effort of Latin American States to radically redesign the international legal regime on “illicit drugs.” At the scheduled 2016 special session of the UN General Assembly on drugs they should move to junk the existing laws and put in place new ones treating drug use as a public health problem.

Legalizing drugs does not mean allowing corporations to replace criminals. The new legal regime should provide for all drugs in demand to be provided at cost through the medical system, making it impossible for anyone to profit from supplying them. There is no danger of rampant growth in drug use; in fact, it is safe to project that without pushers there will be a continuing reduction.

Ban Shell Corporations: An Indo-American initiative should seek to put in place a global ban on corporations that do not reveal their true owners. Such corporations are key to money laundering and many other forms of organized crime, including the trafficking of women and children for sex, piracy at sea and dumping of European toxic waste off the coasts of Africa. A ban on shell corporations should go hand in hand with existing initiatives to eliminate all money laundering “tax havens,” including the biggest of them, Britain and Switzerland.

Reform the United Nations: The United Nations System still functions much as if it did when it was founded 70 years ago. It adopts hundreds of resolutions every year phrased in arcane diplomatic jargon addressed mainly to governments. No one knows what actually happens to the resolutions, for there is no systematic feedback on their implementation.

The organization should move to hook its decision-making into the networked world of the 21st century. Resolutions should be crisply action-oriented and go out to all relevant communications, expert and organizational networks worldwide. Feedback from networks should be analyzed and acted upon in a fluid interactive process.

For this to work in the area of peace and security, it is imperative that the composition of the Security Council be changed to reflect contemporary political realities. American support for the strategy I have proposed for such a reconstitution of the Council could build an effective global security apparatus.

In the context of the action proposed in the preceding paragraphs that would result in a significant reduction in global tensions and conflict, including terrorism, bringing within reach the long declared UN goal of general and complete disarmament.

Longer Term Measures

Global connectivity is causing an epochal paradigm shift in economics. It is drawing to a close four centuries when the joint-stock corporation empowered small groups to raise massive amounts of capital and shape the course of free markets. As Adam Smith warned in The Wealth of Nations, corporations always represent narrow interests and deform the operation of free markets with fraud and waste.

Crowd funding directed by broad social involvement represents the new paradigm; it can power transformational change in areas as diverse as education, energy use and environmental protection. To make this work new institutions will be necessary, especially:

The Institutionalized Lottery: Just as the stock market was the essential funding mechanism for the corporate world, crowd funding will require a new institution: the national lottery described in my earlier post. Making the switch from one system to the other can be done gradually and without major disruptions if governments cooperate in building the coherently networked world described below.

The Community Corporation: To ensure that economic, social and environmental issues are coherently addressed, computer networks must be coordinated. As there is no existing system to do that, we will have to invent one.

I propose that the basic building block of the new system be a public institution, the Community Corporation (CC) in which all individuals in the locality would be members. Each CC would have a web site and all of them would be networked in circles that ascend in existing administrative hierarchies set by governments, rising from Town and City to District, Province, State and National levels.

Internationally, the networks would also follow the order of existing hierarchies of sub-regional and regional cooperation, and hook into the UN System globally.

The system could be rolled out with great rapidity once the basic CC module website is agreed upon and developed. The roll out and operation of individual CC web sites could be left to local entrepreneurs.

The overall CC Network (CCN) would provide a strong democratic frame driven by locally directed entrepreneurship and innovation. Undemocratic countries would not be able to benefit from the system and oligarchies would wither on the vine.

Triangular Cooperation: To promote the process of change described above, India and the United States should systematize their existing initiatives to jointly support development in Africa. Such “triangular cooperation” involving all developed and developing countries should become the framework for all international development cooperation in every region of the global South.

In conclusion, I must emphasize that unless some global vision of progress guides international action intensifying power struggles will make a general war unavoidable. India and the United States must cooperate not only to set a unifying vision before the world, they must join in bringing it to life.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Of Zombies and the Western World

As if in rebuttal of a passing point I made about the significance of the popularity of Zombies in the Western world, British author J.K. Rowling has pointed out on the Harry Potter web site that the zombie concept originates in African Voodoo and was popularized by Michael Jackson’s famous Thriller routine.

The zombie is not a traditional British idea, she wrote, and her villain Voldemort’s use of various Horcruxes as repositories of parts of his soul did not fall in that category.

This would seem to rubbish the connection I made -- unless of course, we take into account that the "undead" are an essential part of the Vampire myth that British authors, most famously Bram Stoker, brought into the Western cultural mainstream.

Furthermore, the Haitian Voodoo “origin” of the Zombie is inextricably linked to the horrors visited on Africans by slave-masters ranging from Belgium’s King Leopold II (who promoted rubber production targets in the Congo by having the arms of less productive workers sliced off), to British sea captains who dominated the deadly transatlantic slave trade and sadistic plantation owners.

The reference to Michael Jackson popularizing the zombie dance brings up a whole new cultural aspect because that brilliant performer was the epitome of the soul killing self-hate inculcated in generations of African Americans. The Thriller gripped not only with on-stage rhythm and movement but with the pathos of his excruciating real life bid to “become White” through skin bleaching and plastic surgery.

Rowling’s effort to disassociate culturally from zombies cannot succeed because of Britain's key role in shaping colonial era slavery and industrial era factory work.

It is interesting that patriotism has also blinded Rowling to her own testament as a creative artist.

The theme of Voldemort defeated by love making a surreptitious comeback through an army of corrupt followers is an exact reprise of the British Empire’s helplessness before Mahatma Gandhi and its return as an underground imperialism of drug traffickers and money launderers.

The silent resurgence from defeat of a monstrous evil (supported by a great army of soulless Orcs), is also the prophetic theme of another great British story teller, J. R. Tolkein.

The Lord of the Rings was written over the 1917-1946 period, almost exactly the time when Gandhi was leading India to freedom.

I take it as a heartening sign that both these creative souls, speaking from the insuppressibly Shakespearean heart of the British people, predicate the inevitable defeat of evil committed in their name.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The EPIC Channel’s Assault on India

Among the shows airing on the new EPIC channel the scurrilous sitcom Yam Kise Se Kam Nahin sitcom  is not exceptional. Other shows are also offensive and some are historically misleading.

One feature length movie, Shaheed Udham Singh, tells of the communist Sikh revolutionary who, in revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919, assassinated Michael O’Dwyer in London in 1940. The movie creates the impression that O'Dwyer was the man who commanded the troops at Jallianwalla when he was, in fact, the administrator of the district. (The man who led the troops was Reginald Dyer; he died peacefully in bed.)

The day before the assassination Udham Singh is shown celebrating in a London bar, doing the bhangra holding aloft three mugs of beer. At one point in the movie he derides the value of freedom to the poor of India. (Anyone inclined to agree should look at the ascent of Indian life expectancy after independence.) The show has several dumps on Mahatma Gandhi and one character refers scornfully to “Gandhi-priya” Indians. The producer is Iqbal Dhillon.

Dharmakshetra (26 episodes), is touted as going “beyond” the Mahabharata. The EPIC web site says “Well known characters from the epic” will be “questioned in a divine court where they explain their side of the story.”

In the episode I saw bits of costumed dramatization were interspersed with commentary by the host of the show, a woman whose name I could not decipher in the fast rolling credits. (Probably as a result of my identifying the producer of Yam Kise Se Kam Nahin, the credits on EPIC were – at this writing – either too blurred or rolled too fast to be read. A number had “Produced by” but no name. One had “Produced by R.”)

The show’s producer displays an extremely blunt understanding of Hindu scripture. At one point, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna “I am satya and also asatya,” a stunning statement nowhere in the Gita. The scriptwriter was either carried away by a misreading of the grand eloquence of Chapter 10 of the Gita or is engaging in a traditional missionary distortion.

Krishna is also shown saying that no one knows the mystery of life and death! As I have pointed out previously, the Katha Upanishad is focused entirely on that issue, and Krishna explicitly repeats the teaching in the Bhagavad Gita.

Some of the host’s interactions with "experts" chosen to provide illuminating commentary on the Mahabharata reinforce the impression that she and the producer are completely at sea about Hinduism. For example, she asks at one point, "Krishna could have stopped the war but did not. Why?”

The reply: “He didn’t want to stop the war because it was necessary to destroy adharma.”

Both question and answer are ignorant.

 Her question is based on the incorrect premise that India shares with ancient Greece and the Semitic/Western tradition, the deux ex machina concept of divinity (ie gods capable of magically transforming human narratives). The Indian concept, laid out at some length in the Gita and in common lore, is that Karma (causality) is a binding and universal law inherent in godhood itself.

The answer to her question is also stupendously wrong. The war did not destroy adharma; the Pandavas won but at a huge moral cost. The war augured the Kali Yuga when adharma is dominant.

In a more mundane take on “history,” EPIC provides brief bits on ten warrior heroes. In those I saw, Prithiviraj Chauhan is represented as killing Mohammad Ghori after he is captured and blinded by the invader.

The piece on Tipu Sultan gives the French credit for developing the rocket technology that Indian forces used with devastating effect against the British; in fact, it was entirely unknown in Europe. Bangalore techies built the weapon the British later incorporated into their own army and used against George Washington’s forces (the American national anthem's reference to “the rocket’s red glare, bombs bursting in air” recalls the vivid impact).

A more respectable contribution to the history genre is “The First Heroes of the R&A Wing.” Eleven episodes will tell of the exploits of Indian intelligence agents. The first episode dealt with the role of Indian intelligence in helping Bangladesh to independence. The credits absolutely whizzed by so I could get no details about who produced it.

The show was strictly factual and made no move to follow the Western track of glamorizing intelligence operations; but the Indian political establishment must keep careful watch to prevent mischief.

Britain has traditionally glamorized intelligence operations as a way of diverting attention from its frequently thuggish and criminal pursuit of elite interests. The James Bond novels and movies, casting a serial killer as a hero, are a case in point.  

The United States offers a cautionary example that India should take to heart. After Churchill launched the Cold War in alliance with the American military-industrial complex in 1946, the nascent CIA (and FBI in cahoots with the mafia), took on the “license to kill” ethic of the British., In effect that subverted American democracy and ushered in an unprecedented era of high level assassinations and human rights abuses. Things have got so bad that hit men and mafiosi have become the stuff of romance and comedy in Hollywood films, neutering the outrage that should be the democratic response to such fascism.

Another of EPIC’s historical contributions was on the excellence of ancient Indian steel production; it noted, very briefly and sotto voce, that the British had killed that technology.

Most of the rest of EPIC programming is either utter nonsense or incredibly boring.

The episode of Daanav Hunters that I saw presented an endlessly repetitive battle against blood-sucking demons with occasional detours, one to ridicule a Tamil fan of superstar Rajnikant and another to present an NRI woman scientist’s view of India as a “strange country.” It should be noted that blood sucking demons and the living dead are not part of Indian folklore the way Vampires and Zombies are in the West (where they reflect the creative artistic response to the realities of the colonial and industrial eras). It remains to be seen if 20 episodes of Daanav Hunters will change that.

If the lugubrious Mughal era costume drama Siyaasat has a plot it escaped me, probably because the love story of crown prince Salim and Meherunissa will drag out over a staggering 42 episodes. 

By way of travelogue a lanky long haired host (whose name I did not catch), walked in slow motion around the overgrown crumbling ruins of Ross Island, where the British once lived in the Andamans. He is set to do the same in 10 other shows on “abandoned places” in India.

Another host, Jaaved Jaffrey, mocked at interminable length the plot of a golden oldie film, Victoria #203. He is set to do the same with a lineup of other popular old Hindi movies. This is the opposite of nostalgia; it is “feel-bad” programming.

All in all, the proof of the pudding so far is unavoidable: EPIC presents in its shoddy line up of shows a view of India that is confused, misleading, and in its political content, indistinguishable from British propaganda.

So who are the people responsible for all this?

In operational charge of EPIC is Mahesh Samat, who quit in 2012 as Managing Director of Disney India. The head of Development is Ravina Kohli, formerly of Yash Raj Television and Sony Entertainment.

Some 20 production houses are reported to be contributing content. They include Balaji Telefilms, Green Light Productions, Bolt Media, A Bellyful of Dreams, Rose Audio, Face Entertainment and Rangrez Media.

It is obviously in these production houses, under the watch of Samat and Kohli that
the offensive content of EPIC is planned and produced. To be fair, much that I have pointed out was probably under the radar of the executives at EPIC.

But there is no denying malign intent. The question is, where is it coming from?

The promoters of the channel are India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, Anand Mahindra, head of a $16.5 billion industrial conglomerate, and Rohit Khattar, a biggie in the hospitality business who headed Mumbai Mantra Media Ltd, the communications wing of the Mahindra Group.

As none of these figures has any reason for shaping the kind of content EPIC is airing, we have to look elsewhere: to EPIC’s almost sole advertiser, Aquaguard water purifiers.

Aquaguard is a product of Eureka Forbes, which is part of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, the largest single holder of stock in the TATA Group. To fill out the picture: Cyrus Mistry, who took over from Ratan Tata, is a scion of the Shapoorji Pallonji family; his billionaire father (living in Mumbai) has traded his Indian citizenship for that of Ireland.

Both Shapoorji Pallonji Group and TATA have long-standing and strong British ties. I think that somewhere in their nexus of interests is hidden the directive British element of EPIC.

If the programming does not change course as a result of what I have written, we should expect the British propaganda element in EPIC programming to become more overt.

In closing it is necessary to note that with the enormous clout of EPIC’s promoters the channel could be a major force for India’s intellectual decolonization. It is tragic that on its current tack it will only becloud our national awareness and extend the colonial mind-set.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Schizophrenia at The Hindu

The front page of The Hindu today gives top billing to a story headlined “Britain’s MI6 helps India home in on Mehdi.” It tells of the arrest of Bengaluru-based ISIS supporter Mehdi Masroor Biswas after he was interviewed on Britain’s Channel 4 television.

Another story on page 8 directly contradicts the page one narrative; it headlines the claim by Indian intelligence agencies that “Mehdi was under surveillance for long.” They were waiting to see if he would link up with more active jihadis.

I think the reason for this odd and serious dissonance is a kind of editorial schizophrenia induced by pressure from MI6. It probably pits the pro-British former Editor-in-Chief of the paper, N. Ram (now chairing the corporate board), against his younger relatives who control the editorial side.

But why would MI6 want public credit for helping India?

To divert attention from the real reason for outing Mehdi, the need to forestall any of its jihadi agents in the country from falling into the Indian intelligence net.

To make sense of this scenario we have to look at a broader back story involving the ongoing reinvention of British imperialism amidst a global power shift.

That power shift involves four factors:

1. Strong pressure from the United States to check money laundering, Britain’s primary business since the decline of Empire;

2. Pakistan’s growing pressure on the terrorists who control the drug trade out of Afghanistan (the most important source of illicit funds flowing through the British money laundering system);

3. The threat of American shale oil production to the oil economy of the Mid-East where Britain has a dominant role as wealth manager cum security guarantor; and

4. The potential of the emerging India-United States strategic understanding to undermine British influence in the entire region.

The most overt British move to adjust to new realities is the agreement with Bahrain to open a permanent military base there, the first one East of Suez since Britain withdrew all forces from Asia four decades ago.

Perhaps more important is the under-the-radar initiative to have al Qaeda – which Britain has controlled since the Mujaheddin days in Afghanistan – open a new chapter in India. The need to out Mehdi probably became urgent because he would undoubtedly have been a magnet for new recruits in India.

Why open an al Qaeda chapter in India?

Because the country is shaping up as a major new market for opium and heroin, one in which British proxies will find it far easier to launder drug money than in Europe or North America.

As Prime Minister Modi noted in his radio address today, the drug trade is linked to the financing of terrorists.

That is not all.

Everywhere drug traffickers operate -- from African countries trapped in endless conflict to Latin American States plagued with endemic violence -- they undermine civil government and create social havoc.

Unless New Delhi moves to address this situation strategically we could all be in serious trouble.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Eternally Stupid Politics of Religion

The latest examples of the eternally stupid politics of religion come in the call to give official status to the Bhagavad Gita and a dump on Hinduism by the new Hindi language Epic channel.

The first is stupid because the Gita is so far above the government’s poor power to add or detract that giving it official status is somewhat like endowing it on the sky.Those pushing for it do it only to discomfit the proponents of minority faiths.

It does not matter that their targets are people who try to subvert Hinduism with niggling malicious propaganda such as the Yam Kise Se Kam Nahi sitcom on the Epic Channel.

The show presents Yamraj, the god of Death in the Hindu pantheon, as a narcissistic, corrupt dimwit using his power to get his wife things like furniture, a microwave, a refrigerator and a high-definition television set.

Given that depiction, the title of the series takes on an additional layer of malice, for it slimes all other Hindu deities. (The images that appear with the title include none from another tradition.)

With media reports announcing that another Yamraj sitcom is in the works for another channel, it is necessary to ask why some people seem to have decided to make that unlikely deity a figure of fun.

I think it has to do with Yama’s role in the Katha Upanishad, which explains one of Hinduism’s cardinal beliefs, that death is merely a door to another life.

As I noted in an earlier post, that teaching, long derided as absurd by the missionary faiths, has been validated by science, making nonsense of the Heaven-Hell carrot and stick essential to keep their followers in line.

Presenting Yama as a clown is the first step to closing the minds of the faithful to a destabilizing truth.

So who are the people behind Yam Kise Se Kam Nahi?

The producer is one David Polycarp. The “creative” brain is a Debbie Rao.

Polycarp used to be with the Disney Channel. He is now a partner with Vasant Valsan in Troublemaker Productions, the company responsible for this atrocity.

Epic is described as “India’s first genre specific channel,” whatever that means.

Epic went on air on 16 November 2014, and from what has been on offer so far it seems the channel will rely on a mix of the Mahabharata serial, cloak and dagger "history" (the Mughal era Siyaasat) and docudramas about real events.

As that potent mix of content can shape Indian opinion on key aspects of national life it is important to know who is behind the venture.

According to a report in Hollywood Reporter, Mukesh Ambani in his personal capacity owns a quarter of the Epic Channel; the Mahindra Group is reported to own a similar share. No mention of the remaining 50 per cent.

From that information I would jump to the conclusion that there is a directive foreign element in the venture. Indian corporate biggies are extremely vulnerable to pressure from the managers of their assets abroad, and when told to provide camouflage they are in no position to demur.

Based on that leap, I predict the channel will soon be airing a slew of the BBC productions rewriting our history and subverting our national consciousness.

As our Intelligence agencies and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry have little capacity to police this cultural front, and as Indian mass media have long been bribed into a comprador role, nongovernmental organizations must take on the task of raising public awareness.

The danger is not confined to television; it comes also from the teachings of mysteriously rich Babas, Sants and Gurus in command of armed thugs.

This should not be viewed as a purely Hindu concern, for Indians of all faiths are affected by the malicious few.

But Hindus have to play catch-up in terms of paying attention to what is being said and done in their name.

To begin with, they might set about systematically examining the content of the extremely low cost and well produced books that purport to contain English translations of ancient Sanskrit works. Those I have read contain much gibberish and seem to be an exercise in misinformation.

Even seemingly prestigious publishers should not escape inspection. For instance, The Times of India's translation of the Bhagavad Gita subverts some key teachings; the Introduction is incredibly obtuse. (Reading it made me think of the Jain recensions of the Ramayana that turn the plot upside down.) 

In undertaking all this Hindus should discourage politicians from coming to their support: our religion has survived thousands of years on its own formidable strengths.