Sunday, December 30, 2007

Remembering Benazir Bhutto

Only a naive person would believe Benazir Bhutto stood for a truly liberal democracy in Pakistan. Even liberals and left-wingers in India, which has historically had a larger and politically more active middle class, are frequently utterly elitist. A journalist widely revered for his concern about India's poorest casually and gratuitously advised me in 1997 not to buy a laptop as my first computer. It was 1997, when only rich people had computers, and even they didn't have two. And this guy had only just met me, and couldn't possibly have any idea whether I was from a wealthy background or not (the answer is NOT).

Anyhow, back to Benazir, whose election campaign in the late '80s gave a great fillip to our piracy industry - I remember seeing pirate tapes of her election songs selling real cheap on the railway bridge in the Mumbai suburb where I lived then. I remember her accent, all Anglicized like any number of people I can think of, who did their A Levels in Pakistan, or went to one of the schools here in India that the Brits built to hide their bastards from the eyes of "the natives", and where rich Indians have been sending their Coca-Cola-drinking kids ever since. The kind of change that those kids have grown up to support is the kind of change Benazir stood for - the outer husk was liberal, but the kernel, well, the kernel was nothing, so long as they wouldn't have less than they had now. You couldn't really say the kernel was status quoist - it wanted more for the poor, but more than that, it wanted not-less for the A Level types.

Far more eloquent than anything I could write is this piece by William Dalrymple in The Guardian. Of course, he also knew Benazir better than I!

Friday, December 28, 2007

A failure of the imagination

I just had to respond to a somewhat naive post on Wonkette, arguing (thoughtfully, not crassly) that seeing graphic images of the carnage around Benazir Bhutto's assassination would make the event seem more real to people. In terms of media exposure and how literally we take what we see on screen, we're way past My Lai. Here's my response to the Wonkette article:

Interesting and thoughtfully written. But I disagree that seeing graphic photos makes Pakistan's situation more real. Human beings do possess the mental faculties to imagine, without having everything spelled out or depicted literally. Mere jpegs of blood and entrails strewn in a Rawalpindi street are unlikely to make American individuals understand better what their votes, jokes, "aid", consumption of goods, etc. have brought to bear on Pakistan, much less help mitigate the crushing damage done over decades to the struggle for democracy in Pakistan. Revelations and epiphanies upon seeing jpeg "icons" are the stuff of religious stories, not global geopolitics and political empathy.

I think one reason we have this schizophrenia you describe so eloquently (watching fake violence, but avoiding watching real violence) in the first place is the absence of empathy. And we lack empathy at least in part because we don't take the time to read fiction. I've no great sociological thesis here, but I know that in my life, reading about characters, caring about what happens to them, imagining the constraints they are feeling, was and still is a tremendously formative influence. I also know that Hannah Arendt partly attributed the banality of evil to the failure of the imagination.

Are we all Eichmanns, that we fail to imagine, and "need" graphic images to bludgeon into our brains the effects our actions have on others? Frightening thought.

Sorry, no image this time. Only words.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The real meaning of Christmas

Ugly illustration source:

Front page headline in today's Mumbai Samachar print edition says "Christmas present" in large red letters. The article underneath says the Sensex jumped 692 points on Christmas eve, increasing shareholders' fortunes by Rs. 1.97 lakh crore (that's Rs 1,970,000,000,000, or US $50 billion). Here's the web version of the article. None of that multiculturalism nonsense for the Hindu-Gujarati-dominated Dalal Street -- thou shalt have no gods before money.

On a separate but not entirely unrelated note, the newspaper also reported that Narendra Modi said with a tear in his eye that no child can grow bigger than its mother (meaning he is not bigger than the BJP). Well, he can afford to say that now, because he is. Hope he trips over a garland and breaks his neck.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What would you like for Christmas?

Photo source:

  • A 225-lb. elk carcass, butchered to your specifications - $1,225
  • Whole rabbit carcass, $38.50
  • A subscription to Feathered Warrior (specialty magazine for cockfighting enthusiasts), $36
  • The Relaxman Relaxation Capsule. (Well, you just have to read this to find out what that is, and what it costs!)

Monday, December 10, 2007


Photo source:

Today was human rights day. Maybe Koko's got a lesson to teach us "more evolved" people?

Here's Koko's website.

At a later date, I'll post something I've begun thinking about lately, thanks to an article on notions of nationhood by Swarupa Gupta, about the language of duties, as opposed to the language of rights. Maybe.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Dirty, dirty Dow

An old Daily Show with Jon Stewart clip about the Dow Chemical-Union Carbide merger. Gotta love Jon Stewart. Thanks to Ryan for dredging this up!