Saturday, April 18, 2015

Paging Don Draper

Corporate sponsors spend many millions of rupees to produce and air television commercials, so why are so many so daft? Consider the following:

Used Cars:
The commercial shows a small white dog who chases cars until she is picked up by a Doberman called Dosco driving a used car. He says you can buy a used car with your eyes closed from the company in question.

The corporate honcho who signed off on this 1) went to Don Bosco (Dosco for short), and thinks the commercial is a hoot. 2) Owns the small white dog and Doberman used in the shoot. 3) Knows of secret research showing used car buyers think highly of talking dogs.

Gender Violence: The commercial shows a number of weeping boys being told “Boys don’t cry.” It ends with a man twisting a woman’s arm and a close up of her face crudely smeared in red.

The person who signed off on this 1) Has been influenced by vague psycho-babble; 2) Hopes the commercial will cause women beaters to have a quick cry to release their rage and reform; 3) Thinks that this makes the sponsoring corporation look progressive.

Voltas Air Conditioners: The commercial shows two men appreciative of a Voltas air conditioner, one identified as Murthy, the other speaking a TATA version of South Indian pidgin Hindi.

The person who signed off on this 1) Thinks South Indians speaking pidgin Hindi are irresistible pitchmen; 2) Has been told by TATA market researchers that South Indians speak pidgin Hindi to each other; 3) Has been paid a ton of black money to revive British-created perceptions of North-South differences that have blurred in independent India.

Volkswagen: The commercial shows stylized chameleons crossing the road and one carried away stuck to the front of a passing Volkswagen.

The person who signed off on this 1) Likes/dislikes chameleons; 2) Has no idea how to sell cars; 3) Works for Ford.

And finally:

TimesNow: Wide criticism of its strident, unbalanced approach to news has led TimesNow to respond with commercials that consist of snippets from its shows on various injustices. They end with the on-screen text: “We will raise our voice till this doesn’t change,”

The person who wrote the copy: 1) Is translating from sign language; 2) Does not know English; 3) Has been paid off by NDTV. [As it is, the text means the shouting will continue if things change; it should read: "We will raise our voice till this changes."] 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Harlot's Ghost Again - at the UN!

In Harlot’s Ghost, Norman Mailer’s 1991 exploration of the morally tone-deaf world of the CIA, a character offers himself for buggery as an act of hierarchic submission.

Something of that sort has just happened at the UN, where Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was the one who bent over – to make a UN envoy of actor Daniel Craig, the incumbent “licensed to kill” James Bond.

What’s the logic of associating the UN with an envoy who glorifies serial killing?

Other than the fact that the British got Ban his job, nothing at all.

James Bond is a relic of the time when the British thought nothing of creating a dashing fictional character to hide in plain sight the real life Hastings Lionel Ismay (1887-1965), the man responsible for the deaths of figures ranging from Rasputin and Franklin Roosevelt to Mahatma Gandhi.

But seven decades down the pike, things have changed.

If movie hit men now are not to be seen as psychopaths they must be either semi-comic figures (Mr. & Mrs Smith) or tortured souls (Jason Bourne).

And Bond can’t be either. His character is too well established. Consider this exchange from Casino Royale:

Vesper Lynd: It doesn't bother you? Killing all those people?
James Bond: Well I wouldn't be very good at my job if it did.

And there is also the question of how people around the world perceive the British.

A poll would probably show they’re seen far more like Mr. Bean than swashbuckling James Bond.

So, from Bond’s perspective, there’s desperate need for some sort of respectable political cover.

Being a UN envoy is not exactly heavy duty political cover, but then nothing can really help when Bond is required to battle Mexican drug traffickers in his next film.

Perhaps the only hope for the seriously anachronistic franchise is for Bond to discover that M is the drug trafficking kingpin and the Queen her primary protector.

Which wouldn’t be too far from the truth.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TOI Buries Eye-Popping Story on Intel Bureau

On 12 April The Times of India buried on page 8 an eye-popping story on the Intelligence Bureau that casts an entirely new light on the surveillance of Netaji’s kin.

Written by V. Balachandran, a former Special Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, the story tells how the IB continued after independence to work closely with the Brits.

“Declassified British archives speak of a loud disconnect between the Nehru government’s strategic policies and the priorities pursued by the IB,” Balachandran writes.

India’s warming relations with the Soviet Union and its cooling ties with Britain following the 1956 Suez Crisis did not affect IB-MI-5 cooperation a whit.

In fact, IB shared intel on Soviet leaders with the Brits, and even gave them information on Moscow's funding of Indian communists.

The IB Director at that time wrote to his British counterpart that “In my talks and discussions I never felt that I was dealing with any organization which was not my own.”

That sentiment seems to have been shared by others who led IB.

Its first Director shared a dislike of V.K Krishna Menon with the head of MI-5, who assured his own government “we are doing what we could to get rid” of him.

To facilitate such close cooperation the British maintained a Security Liaison Officer (SLO) in New Delhi for over two decades after independence. When he was finally withdrawn in 1971, the IB Director wrote officially that he “did not know how [he] would manage without him.”

Balachandran notes MI-5’s official historian Christopher Andrew’s view that Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru “either never discovered how close the relationship was” between the two agencies “or less probably, did discover and took no action.”

That situation needs to be kept in mind, Balachandran says “before we jump to any conclusions that Jawaharlal Nehru had ordered IB snooping on Netaji Subhas Bose’s family members.” .

As a journalist genetically mistrustful of intelligence agencies I should add that it is also necessary to keep in mind the possibility that the British declassified the documents containing these revelations so as to divert attention from the damning evidence of Nehru's collaboration with them. In the final phase of the freedom struggle he was compromised by his liaison with Edwina Mountbatten into playing a deeply invidious role.

That is a matter for historians to ponder.

What is significantly more urgent is the need to ensure that the Intelligence Bureau is no longer attached to the MI-5 teat. 

There should be a judicial inquiry empowered to look into the entire record of the IB in independent India.

A special focus of the inquiry should be the allegations of IB complicity in the 26/11 attacks.

This would also be a good time to create a constitutional framework for our Intelligence agencies and draw them into a system of parliamentary oversight and accountability.

Without a strong and rigorously implemented set of standards and rules they could very well be the death of Indian democracy.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Misleading Mid-East Punditry

The edit page of The Hindu is a far cry from the shouters of Times Now but there too punditry can be misleading noise.

The latest case in point is Suhasini Haidar’s analysis of “The West and its flawed anti-IS strategy” published appropriately enough on 1 April.

Here are some of its errors:

1. Throughout the piece there are references to “the West,” as if it is still a global political entity. The “West” of the Cold War has been gone for over a quarter century and in those years the United States and the countries of Western Europe have gone their separate ways.

2. It is true, the British and their military-industrial friends in Washington tried to extend the shelf-life of “the West” with the rigged election of Bush Jr. followed immediately by the Saudi-managed 9/11 attacks. But despite enormously profitable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the “special relationship” has become increasingly irritable and now is little more than a joint enterprise to wiretap everything that moves.

3. Meanwhile, the Americans have retreated to their historical default position of being leery of most things European except their wine, cheese and women. Britain, France and Germany awakened to that reality when a fit of post-Cold War hubris led them to implode Yugoslavia; they created an unmanageable mess and had to call for Yankee help.

4. The British have been especially hard hit in recent years by the end of transatlantic bonhomie. United States regulators have gone after the largest British banks with a hatchet for such things as money laundering, manipulating global gold prices and fixing interest rates. Under American pressure the Bank of England even had to accept a Canadian Governor. All this has made it difficult for the British elite to continue as usual with their profitable business managing the proceeds of global organized crime. In fact, they have been forced to pay off their multi-ethnic mafia/terrorist clientele with high-end British real estate. To prevent London becoming home to the world’s worst hoodlums the British parliament made it illegal for anyone with a criminal record to enter the country. And to ensure that the long-suffering people of Britain will not turn on their betters for selling off the country to criminals another law has completely delegitimized public protest: a 12-year old can now be arrested for standing on a street corner and cursing the government loudly.(The punishment will probably include non-stop viewing of Downton Abbey.)

5. Haidar’s assumption that the United States and Britain are on the same Mid-East page has never been true. Transatlantic differences have been a major factor in regional politics ever since FDR’s famous deal with Ibn Saud stuck a large American thumb in Churchill’s strategic eye. Things have got much worse of late. The Arab Spring” began when Washington withdrew support from long-established clients in the Middle East, and its failure is not the result of any “misreading” as much as it is of European support for favoured (read profitable) tyrants. That explains the seesaw process of democracy one day and mob/military rule the next. The Benghazi mob attack that killed the American Ambassador was clearly an MI 6 operation in revenge for the loss of Britain’s lucrative interests in Libya and the revelation of its long support for Gaddafi.

6. The Islamic State is essentially a British attempt to squelch the democratic potential of the Arab Spring and not, as Haidar seems to think, an ideological vehicle attractive to young Muslims. The streams of teenagers going to join IS from Western countries and the Russian Federation are drawn more by talk of parties, booze and sex than any desire for jihad. “Jihadi John,” the British face of televised IS murder, is reported to be an MI 6 operative ensconced in 5 star luxury. It is a mystery who the non-foreign IS fighters are; they could all be mercenaries.

7. To conclude, Haidar seems unaware that the whole fight against international terrorism is sham. There is incontrovertible evidence that Britain is the birth mother of modern international terrorism and that major NATO members are its godparents.