Archive for November, 2012

The Russian refuge from gloom

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Mail Today, 24 November 2012

When was the last time you read a news or opinion piece that cheered you up? If you believe, as I do, that one needs a break sometimes from the flood of bleak news and bleaker commentary and analyses, may I wholeheartedly recommend a highly thought-provoking news and opinion website?  The web home of legendary Russian newspaper Pravda (english.pravda.ru) is bold, illuminating, and filled with stuff you would never have known otherwise. I would go so far as to say that psychotherapists should be prescribing half an hour a day on the Pravda site for depression.

Pravda (‘Truth’ in Russian) celebrated 100 years of publication this year. Once the powerful mouthpiece of the Soviet Communist Party, with a daily circulation of millions, it was shut down by that renegade Boris Yeltsin in 1991. In 1996, the Communist Party officially reinstated it as its “organ”. Today, the paper has a circulation of about a hundred thousand. The website seems to have high traffic, given that quite a few pieces have been “recommended” by hundreds of readers.

The most popular article currently on view is “American capitalism gone with a whimper”, by Stanislav Mishin, who predicts that if things go on as they are in the US “for more than another year, and there is no sign that it will not, America at best will resemble the Wiemar Republic and at worst Zimbabwe.” Barack Obama’s re-election has been treated with righteous anger and pity for the American people. Xavier Lerma writes: “The reason America has the trillion-dollar warmonger as president today is because of immorality and materialism.” Quoting from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Lerma concludes that America has let down these great men and “has gradually become worse from the drugs, rock and roll of the 60′s and 70′s to the drugs and rap music of today …Only prayer and penance will lead America once again to that guiding light that governed the Founding Fathers…May God bless America. Until then, only President Vladimir Putin can prevent America’s Military Democracy from destroying the world.”

On the situation in Syria, Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey, clearly an Englishman, writes:  “Once again the FUKUS Axis (France, UK, US) swings into action, arming and financing terrorists…as they prepare to engage in yet another imperialist escapade, trying to remove a Government and replace it with a motley collection of weird and wonderful characters from the fringes of society, usually holed up in some London pad and controlled by FCO and CIA handlers…Once again, the FUKUS Axis has got it wrong, as in Libya, as the American representative in Benghazi found out to his cost, along with three other compatriots.”

Pravda fearlessly reports on dark secrets of the Western Establishment. For instance, the fact that many UFO researchers in the 1970s and 1980s died under mysterious circumstances, and may have been killed. “Famous American astronomer Morris K. Jessup, whose books about intelligent life beyond Earth have become bestsellers, committed suicide…Professor James Edward McDonald, who for many years served as head of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Earth and studied unidentified aerospace objects, put a bullet in his head. Edward Ruppelt, who led a project for the study of unidentified objects in the skies over the United States, died of a cardiovascular crisis at the age of 37 …There is also the famous ‘Sheldon list’. The famous American writer Sidney Sheldon, working on his novel The End of the World, drew attention to a series of mysterious deaths among British specialists developing space weapons.” This totally vindicates my long-held belief that the Men In Black movies were based on true stories.

Pravda is not blindly anti-Western. Does Britain have a cuisine? It asks, and provides a terrifyingly impartial answer. “Eel pies, jellied eels, jugged hare, grouse, pheasant, partridge, duck, goose, mushrooms and toadstools, vegetable salads, chicken salads, cold meat salads, fresh sea fish, fresh river fish, the finest salmon, smoked fish, fish pies, fish stews, kippers, samphire, fresh cod in creamy sauces, fish roe, creamy fish pies, fish cakes, savouries made with meat, fish, seafood or vegetables. Crab meat, lobster, shrimp, goose barnacle, cockles, mussels, winkles, potted, pickled, boiled. English tea, a meal in its own right, with sandwiches and pies and tarts and cakes, rich in jams and creams, scones. Rabbit, venison, wild boar, steamed puddings, crumpets, cream teas with scones and jams and hundreds of different types of butter, the creamiest Cornish ice cream, the creamiest milk, yoghurt. English wines, Scottish whisky, Irish whiskey, liqueurs, fortified wines. And the list goes on and on and on and on and on…so for those who said English cuisine does not exist, or else is ‘horrible’, dream on…”

Cultural analysis comes with exciting new dimensions attached. A commentator notes that film director Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, Lolita, A Clockwork Orange) died “666 (days) before the beginning of the 21st century! What a master like him wouldn’t do to amaze us a last time!” I also noticed a useful advisory on where one should spend the night of December 21, when the world is supposed to end according the Mayan prophecy.

The careful selection of news items gives you a thrilling snapshot of the world. Some random headlines: “Female football fans carry firecrackers inside, in condoms”, “Brutal banana wars to end after two decades”, “Attackers steal iPhone from Alexander Pushkin”, “Russian man returns from Thailand infected with mystical STD”, “Man in underwear explodes near kindergarten”, “Elephant speaks Korean”, “Low cost airline to start selling standing flight tickets”, and “Will Russians see any daylight this winter?”

Who says news is all gloom and doom? You just have to choose the right channel for yourself. And after spending an hour reading Pravda, everything else in media just seems so dull and devoid of true red blood.

BJP’s politics of cussedness

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Mint, 23 November 2012

As I write this, Parliament has again been adjourned, on the second day of the winter session. The opposition wants a vote on foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail and will not allow any legislative business to be undertaken (like, for example, placing the draft Lokpal bill in Parliament) till this happens. The government claims that parliamentary rules don’t allow such a vote, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says this is bunkum.
I am hardly a parliamentary procedures expert, but let us assume for a moment that the BJP is right, that executive orders can be challenged and put to the vote in Parliament. If the vote does take place, it is possible that the government will lose. This will not bring down the government, but it will certainly be a massive loss of face. But that is not really the point. If every executive order is challenged in Parliament and put to the vote, no government will be able to function. And if the opposition does not allow Parliament to function unless its demand for a vote is accepted, like what is happening right now, we have a potentially ruinous precedent being set.
I do not believe that allowing FDI in retail will be that wondrous miracle Indian farmers have been waiting for decades, that it will, in one stroke, solve half the problems that plague the agricultural sector. But I am completely unable to understand how some foreign money will wreak havoc, when Wal-Mart is hardly going to do anything different from what, say, a Reliance has been doing for years now, sourcing produce directly from farmers. I also don’t believe that a Wal-Mart will kill every small grocer, like the doomsayers predict. We heard all this in the mid-90s when McDonald’s was being allowed in. Last time I checked, our Agarwal Sweet Homes and Udipis were doing very well indeed, right next to the McDonald’s outlets. The objections against FDI in retail are at best, based on illogic, and at worst—which is true for the BJP—utterly cynical political opportunism.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was all for FDI in retail, and in fact, the policy announced by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is much more cautious than what the NDA had envisioned. Quite simply, it gives each state government the power to allow or disallow FDI in its state. So there’s really no point in even a debate, forget a vote, is there? Or does the BJP fear that a few of its own state governments or those run by allies (for example, the Akalis) will opt for FDI and make its leaders in Delhi look stupid?
Forget the Trinamool Congress, whose raison d’etre is to oppose anything and everything. But as the principal opposition party, the BJP is setting a very dangerous precedent. And given that it has more brilliant lawyers and more experienced parliamentarians than any other party, it is doing so knowingly. Maybe it’s pure desperation, since if UPA has been the most slipshod government in Indian history, the BJP as opposition has also let Indian democracy down more than any other opposition party in history, in these years of the UPA rule. By holding the country’s legislature to ransom by opposing a policy it itself espoused some years back, it is giving up all pretence to any ideology or principle. Moreover, it is telling every political party that you can go to any length to challenge any executive order.
Some day the BJP may come back to power. Does it believe that the Congress won’t then pay it back in its own coin? How does it see any government functioning effectively after this? The BJP finds itself bereft of ideas and anything substantial to say, so it has decided that it won’t allow anyone else to say or do anything either. This is irresponsible politics at its worst.