Of mimic tweets, and proxy blogs

A Mumbai-based tech media reporter and spare time satirist started (Oct 6) Twitter account ‘Shashi Tharoor Fake’. Why ? Because, she says, satire enriched her soul. Besides, doing it at Shashi Tharoor’s expense gave her media mileage. But Mr Tharoor wasn’t amused with her initiative for soul-enrichment . He had her Twittered out within weeks. Someone else who mimic tweeted Nandan Nelekani had the account – http://www.twitter.com/nandannilekani suspended.

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‘Techgirl’ who authored the short-lived ‘Tharoor Twitter’ (not to be confused for the real one maintained by the ‘cattle-class’ minister himself) was evidently on to something that had been tried out some five years back in the UK through blogs. Twitter wasn’t around then. Tim Ireland, a web marketing guy,  sought to get elected representatives in Britain to interact online with their constituents.

He wanted to initiate MPs into blogging.   Not many bought his line – “It’s not easy getting people off their arse”.  To tackle MPs who didn’t have their own blog or seem to care for one Tim  evolved the concept of running ‘proxy’ blogs.  He persuaded some proactive constituents to blog on behalf of their MPs.

Before he set up his own blog,  Keith Vaz,  a Goa-born MP from Leicester, a constituent ran  an unofficial blog in the name of the MP.  The blogger put it on record, “I’m not Keth Vaz, nor am I a member of his staff; not in anyway associated with him”. Aim of the Keith Vaz proxy blog was to let his constituents know what their MP was is up to.  “This is a job he (MP) should be doing himself”,  said the blogger, adding that he would be happy to close shop,  if Mr Vaz chose to run a blog on his own.

Tim’s proxy blog sought to encourage politicians to take to the web; help them see the value of maintaining a blog,  as a resource material,  as a portal to inform constituents about their work on an ongoing basis.  With the frequency of posts the blogger politician has  potential to reach a wider audience.

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A constituent of Labour MP Jim Cousins ran a proxy blog that declared: “This blog is not run by Jim Cousins; nor does he endorse it.  Maybe Cousins doesn’t even know of it;  if he ever finds out, he can have it”.  Far from trying to shut out the blog, the MP’s aides got in touch and  offered resource materials for the proxy blog in the form of FAQs on Jim’s views and copies of other materials on various matters.  This led to a meeting between Cousins and the blogger. While agreeing  the blog would be a very useful means to communicate with his  constituents Jim wasn’t prepared to take the blog over yet.

The Guardian wrote a number of bloggers took to Tim Ireland’s  proxy blog model . Besides Jim Cousins,  there were blogs  dedicated to six other British MPs,  most of them ,  not friendly.  The moral is:  if you don’t launch your own blog, someone might do it for you.

It’s just not cricket

lahore-attack-004The gunmen who attacked a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricket team, on way to the stadium in Lahore,  killed five cops and a van driver. If, indeed, the attackers were Pak cricket fanatics, and had wanted to wipe out Sri Lanka team, they can hardly be said to have succeeded.  If the gunmen  wanted to drive the team out of Lahore,  wasn’t it one heck a way of going about it ?

Punjab(Pak)  Governor Salman Taseer is quoted as saying that those who carried out the attack were the same terrorists who did Mumbai  in November.  But the Lahore job was on a much smaller scale, carried out within  minutes. And what’s more, all the assailants managed to get away – ‘chased into a nearby commercial and shopping area’, to use the governor’s words. ‘We don’t know where they are’, said the Lahore police chief.

In historical terms, we seem to have come a long way since 9/11.  In 2001, the world had some idea as to who were behind the attack on New York; and why they did it. Not so, in the case of Lahore. Does anyone, any longer,  know who these masked guys with a backpacks are;  and what they want by the killings.  We no longer have terrorist PRs calling a news agency after an event,  owning responsibility for an attack; and following it up with  a letter/audio tape listing their demands. As former newsman in Punjab I knew this to be standard operating procedure with Kalistani militants .

lahore-attack-018Lahore, they say,  was the first major attack on an international sporting team since Palestinian militants attacked Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.  But unlike in Munich, there was no definable enemy in Lahore.

We know of  no  terrorist outfit gunning for cricketing nations,  though the  attack on a sporting team can be said to have effectively killed cricket in Pakistan.  Which foreign team would want to tour Pakistan now, or in the foreseeable future?  Not many would want to do India either,  because of security concerns.

It was Slumdog’s day at LA

golden-globeFour Golden Globes – the best picture, director, screenplay and music score. Danny Boyle’s  Slumdog Millionaire  has drawn global attention to Mumbai slums and their grim reality,  as depicted by an orphan boy struggling to make it in life.  A  Kaun-banega-carorpati  type TV show  gives  him that chance to make it.  And the millionaire slumboy,  reunited with his girl, walks into the sunset to the music set by the Golden Globe winner A R Rahman.   Slumdog  (haven’t seen it yet),  they say,  is Oscar-class movie with a Bollywood ending.

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At the award-presentation ceremony  telecast the world over from  Los Angeles   Bollywood presence was perceptible.   Shah Rukh Khan got a chance to lead Slumdog’s female interest –  Freida Pinto –  to the centre stage and introduce her to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association,   sponsors of  the Golden Globe awards,  and  an   audience   comprising  virtually a  ‘who’s who’ of the US movie and televison.

100_0606Bollywood’s  Anil kapoor  was seen springing out of his chair on hearing actor-presenter  Tom Cruise announce   the best picture award for Slumdog Millionaire.       

100_0600Simon Beaufoy  was the first of the four  Slumdog  winners to be called on to the stage to accept his Golden Globe for making a screenplay out of  Vikas Swarup’s  novel –  ‘Q and A’ .  A Bollywood director  Mahesh Manjrekar is quoted in  The Hindu as saying that it was ironical no desi production house (Chopra,  Johar,  Screwwalla,  are you reading?)  took up this subject.  “I wanted to do it but by then the rights were sold,” says Mahesh to The Hindu’s Ziya Us Salam.  Irony was Manjrekar wound up playing gangster Javed in Danny Boyle’s  Slumdog.

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100_0612The director (centre),  with the producer and  the female lead,  making a thank-you speech.  And the film-maker brought on to the stage rest of his Slumdog gang,  represented at the award-presentation ceremony.

The Slumdog theme and the acclaim the movie has received reminds me of Satyajit Ray’s  Pathar Panchali. Both films dwell  on poverty.  Pathar Panchali made waves gobally in the 50s , but was no box-office hit in India. And he film came in for flak from many in mainstream cinema in Bombay. A leading actress of her times and MP,  Nargis Dutt,  had taken a swipe at Satyajit Ray for glorifying India’s poverty.

Ex-ISI chief holds forth on CNN

100_0434Are these ISI guys a law unto themselves?  The thought crossed my mind as I watched a post-Mumbai interview on  CNN with former ISI chief Lt.Gen.Hamid Gul(1987-89).  He brushed aside, as ‘a frame-up’, the US charge that he had links with Taliban and al-Qaeda.

I don’t suppose any ISI official , serving or retired, would admit to having had dealings with terrorist groups.  The TV interview gave me a sense of the  mindset of  those in the Pak intelligence agency  which is reported to have  a staff of  10,400 and tens of thousands of informers.   

Ex-ISI chief Gen. Gul  wouldn’t label as terrorist Osama bin-laden,  with whom he reportedly had a meeting in 1993.  The retired general was speaking to CNN on satellite video link from Islamabad. He expressed the  belief that Taliban was an Afghan  national resistance movement. He reckoned the US could not find a solution to Afghanistan without involving Taliban.

But then the US wouldn’t talk to terrorists, to which Gen.Gul suggested a way out – ‘remove the terrorist label from Taliban’. Former ISI chief certified Taliban,  saying ‘it was not found to be involved in any act of terrorism, anywhere in the world’.

Those who found this a bit much, were convinced, on hearing what he had to say on 9/11, that they and the  general  did not watch the same TV channels or read the same newspapers. According to the formet ISI chief,  the 9/11 attack on New York’s World Trade Center was part of a Zionist conspiracy. When interviewer Fareed Zakaria cut in to ask if they were Jews from within the US, or from Israel, the general said they were Israelis of the extremist kind.

If  TV viewers  wondered how come CNN let this man  hold forth in this vein, particularly  when there was  ‘a mountain of evidence’ to  refute Gen. Gul’s  contention,   CNN presenter had the answer.  Fareed Zakaria noted that the interview was exclusive to CNN,  which got a ‘rare opportunity’ to talk to the man the US wanted,  for links with terrorists. Washinton is  reported to have drawn up a list of four persons  to be submited to the UN security Council,  for imposing sanctions (freezing of their assets). When the CNN interviewer mentioned this Gen.Gul  dismissed the whole thing as  a ‘frame up’.

Avaaz – voicing India-Pak solidarity

I am still hoping — just once — for that mass demonstration (in Pakistan) of ordinary people against the Mumbai bombers, not for my sake, not for India’s sake, but for Pakistan’s sake. – Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times.

 

A global civic advocacy group – avaaz.org – plans to send a message to terrorists that fellow citizens in India and Pakistan stand united in denying extremists their ultimate victory. “If hundreds of thousands sign it, our message will be unmistakable”, says the group’s website.

The solidarity message will soon be published in newspapers across India and Pakistan, and delivered to political leaders in both countries. Till date over 65,800 have signed the message, which says, simply, Mumbai: We will not be divided.

The India-Pak solidarity call finds its echo in the New York Times opinion pieces, by two high-profile writers – Tom Friedman and Amitav Ghosh. Both make out a case for a cross-border people’s movement against terrorism. This is seen necessary to strengthen the hands of the Pak government in tackling  elements within the Pak establishment that sympathise with and support terrorist groups.

Blanket denials by Pakistan, of terrorists presence in their midst wouldn’t help; nor would India’s tough posturing.  Does anyone honestly believe that Islamabad, even it musters the  will,  has the political capability to take on Lashkar-e-Toiba, let alone capture their operatives ? Lashkar, they say, have political clout and their source of funds include opium trade.

Amitav Ghosh, in an op-ed piece – India’s 9/11? Not Exactly – writes that  similarities between the terror strikes in New York and Mumbai shouldn’t lead New Delhi to respond the same way as the Bush Administration did  in 2001. India would do well to learn from Spain,  whose response to 2004 Madrid train blasts emphasised vigilance, patience, and careful police work in co-ordination with neighbouring countries.

Columnist Tom Friedman referred to Pakistani media that voiced their citizens’ anguish and horror over Mumbai terror strikes. The question is whether these citizens would be ready to take to the streets. Referring to violent protests in Lahore and Peshawar in 2006, against disagreeable cortoons published in Denmark the NYT columnist asks if they are ready ” to take to the streets to protest the mass murders of real people, not cartoon characters, right next door in Mumbai”

Says Mr Friedman, “while the Pakistani government’s sober response is important, and the sincere expressions of outrage by individual Pakistanis are critical, I am still hoping for more. I am still hoping — just once — for that mass demonstration of “ordinary people” against the Mumbai bombers, not for my sake, not for India’s sake, but for Pakistan’s sake”.

It is all very well for Amitav Ghosh and Tom Friedman to call for India-Pak solidarity. In fact, I wouldn’t expect anything else from them. If it has to have an  impact on  people in the sub-continent and their leadership,  the solidarity call should come from editors in the mainstream media and  prime news channels in Pakistan and India.

NYT: A test for Pakistan on curbing militants

Red-circled by the media

Ram Gopal Varma  was red-circled by the media on Monday. Today it was the turn of a woman police officer in Bangalore.  Page One images in Bangalore Mirror shows  Sub-inspector Shilpa chatting on her cell while on bandobast duty at the funeral of Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan who went down fighting terrorist in Mumbai’s Taj Hotel.

It was an occasion for solemnity and silent reflection; and Ms Shilpa’s unpardonable lack of sensitivity is evident from the pictures in the media , red-circled for effect. On such occasions we refrain from instrusive use of cell phone, not because there is a law against it, but out of consideration for mourners in the gathering .

scan1The police sub-inspector was there on duty; and it is conceivable that she might have had to make or take a call in the line of duty. But then she could have gone about it discreetly,  by moving away to a corner to use her cell. The sub-inspector deserved the red-circling by the media; but does it have to be so  blatant as to make a cover story of it , with screamer headline?

More on the film-maker’s Taj visit

In an earlier post there is reference to film-maker Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘celebrity tourism’  to the terror-ravaged Taj ,  in the distinguished company of the (then?) Maharashtra C M Vilasrao Deshmukh. The First Post,  UK-based online news magazine speaks of ‘an extraordinary row’  that has broken out in Bollywood over the incident.

Actress SimiGarewal is quoted as saying, “It is not a tourist site or an exhibition”,  in reference to the film-maker’s visit to the Taj Palace Hotel.

Mr Varma can’t be blamed for taking up an opportunity to take a ride in CM’s convoy. Wonder how many in Bollywood would have passed up such a chance. Mr Ram Gopal Varma  would have us belive that it “just happened” when he was visiting his actor friend, who happened to be CM’s son. The film-maker  was at CM’s house  when they, father and son, were about to leave for a tour of the Taj on Sunday morning.  Whether RGV was/got himself invited to join the tour or he just tagged along is not clear. We have The First Post quoting CM as saying, “I had neither invited him (Mr Varma) nor knew about his presence.”

The electronic media, kept at a fair distance from the scene of action,  telecast blurred visuals, marking out Mr Varma with a red circle on the film footage. Not the kind of exposure Mr Varma would have relished. I recall the TV channels using the red-circle technique to show up a gunman in the blur of  the terror strike footage. 

The ‘red-circling’ by the media wouldn’t be lost on the film-maker, whose next film – Rann – is believed to be on our media excesses. Included in the cast is Ritiesh Deshmukh.