Internet is fun, but not on ‘fone’

I thank  IndiBlogger and Vodafone.  For they set me thinking of  god,  saithan,  fun and the Internet,  all  in the same thread.  I think the Internet is  God,  if only because  I don’t understand either.  Moreover ,  the Lord,  they say, works in mysterious ways.  So does the Internet.  Our God,  we believe,  is omnipresent;   so is e-mail network.  And then isn’t  it  a godly attribute to produce miracles ?  By my book,  the dot com can do us  wonders.

It  had me reconnected with a friend I thought I had lost over 50 years back.  The Web facilitated  my  blog-to-blog  dialogue  with T R Kini,   aging  friend ,  ailing,   and living way away on another hemisphere.   In our younger days we  had  spent a couple of years in London of the 60s.   Kini is  now down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  Bound to wheel chair life can be excruciatingly confining.  Kini’s window to the world around  is his  Net connected computer screen.  We blogged about the years we spent together,  about the Swinging Sixties,  our travels overland when hitching rides  was the youth’s preferred mode of cross-country  travel.  My friend Kini, who hitched rides through Pakistan,  Iran, Turkey to Paris and beyond,  wrote of his vintage experiences in our blog-to-blog.

I re-discovered  Irshad via a blogpost I did after watching a movie on TV.  Featured in this German movie  I recognized a friend I had lost way back in 1960s in New Delhi. We used to meet on a daily basis at Janpath coffee-house.  It was quite a thrill, discovering your coffee-house friend on a TV screen.I wanted to get in touch. Googling Irshad Panchatan produced a Wikipedia entry that didn’t help much.So I blogged –  Irshad  Mia, where are you?   It was my way of sending a message in the bottle, hoping my friend,  Net browsing, might happen by my blog.  He didn’t,  but Irshad’s daughter did –  find my message-in-the-bottle and conveyed it to her father in Berlin. Internet can be fun,  even for those uninitiated into live chat, video games,  web streaming and what-have-you.  I read about a Vizag-based web-casting agency that  streams live a wedding in your family.   Sharing a family event live with out-of-town friends and relatives is fun.

Early earthlings  worshiped  the  Sun, the moon,  rain and wind.  Ancient Greeks had god or goddeses for earth and the sky,  beauty and fertility,  war and violence. If we have a  goddess for fun,  we would call her the Internet. Not an unmixed fun,  perhaps.  For the Internet also serves  miliants as an instrument to promote terrorism . Terrorist training manuals in PDF format in German, English and Arabic,  were among the digital documents  they recovered from Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad,  Pakistan. Terror plots relating to Mumbai-style attacks targeting European cities,  and al-Qaeda road map for future operations were found in digital storage device and memory cards.  And mobile phone,  far from being a source of fun,  can be lethal in the hands of terrorists.  Bad guys in movies use cell phone as trigger device to blow up places.

A mobile,  going by promos and Vodafone  commercials,  is no longer used for basic communication  by way of a telephoic talk. Instead,  it is marketed as a fun,  in-thing,  with which you listen to music, take photos, play games,  send  SMS, check mail, and trade missed calls with those you want to avoid talking. Writing on the death of the phone call ,  Clive Thompson reckons this  generation ‘doesn’t make phone calls,  because everyone is in constant, lightweight contact in so many other ways:  texting,  chatting,  and social network messaging’.

Gone are the days when we engaged in conversation the  people we met  at railway platforms  ,  we  made friends on travel.  In buses, during train travel, we find youngsters into their own trip,   meddling with their mobile  to check mail, watch video ,  play games and whatever else they do with that thing in their palms . Even elders on morning walk  nowadays seem to have forgotten the old world  grace of greeting those  walking by,  or  the art of striking a park-bench conversation with strangers.  Instead,  we keep our ears plugged in to mobile music mode.

The internet on mobile  isn’t just a no-fun thing ;  it is unsociable to plug  in  your ears to a  mobile,  utterly unconcerned about the happenings around you.  If  Internet is  fun,  do we need to have it on call,  and round the clock ?  In our addiction to the digital kind we may well be losing out on the fun we  can stumble on,  in real world,  at the park,  on our way to work.    I am all for fun on the Net, but a mobile  shouldn’t be so packed in with  ‘fun’  features that we lose sight of  real  point of a mobile –  to make/take  a call on the move.
The Internet,  in my book,  isn’t fun on any  ‘fone’.   And I wouldn’t fault Vodafone,  if my post is considered off-topic,  for the IndiBlogger contest on  How Internet is fun on your mobile’.

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A global edit on climate change

A Maldives cabinet meet on  seabed,  Nepal meet on Mt. Everest,  and now a common global editorial on climate change .  They are all geared to get world leaders meeting at Copenhagen to deliver, and not merely deliberate.  The common editorial has been  published on page one, of 56 newpapers from 45 countries in 20 different language.  Notably,  the only newspaper in India to carry the edit is The Hindu.

The Guardian of London that led this unique media initiative could not persuade any other paper in the UK . In the US the only English daily that published the edit is Miami Herald. The only other US paper to do so is in Spanish – El Nuevo.  In fact, the response of one US paper to the initiative was :  “This is an outrageous attempt to orchestrate media pressure.  Go to hell.”

It took the Guardian leader writiers – Tom Clark and Julian Glover – three drafts,  after much e-mail to-and-fro-ing among the participant editors to finalise the text.  Reflecting on how the shared editorial project emerged Guardian’s Ian Katz wrote , ” Given that newspapers are inherently rivalrous,  proud and disputatious, viewing the world through very different national and political prisms,  the prospect of getting a sizeable cross-section of them to sign up to a single text on such a momentous and divisive issue seemed like a long shot “.

Ian acknowledged  The Hindu was in on the project  right from the start –  ‘an early, enthusiastic,  conversation with the editor of one of India’s biggest dailies offered encouragement’.

The media initiative may not alter policy positions held by most countries,  notably,  the major ones that already have their minds  made up even before going to Copenhagen.  What is notable is that the initaiive represents a measure of  acceptance by the world media that there are  issues that  call for beyond-the-border thinking.  Next, the progressives in the media ought to come up with a common edit on combating  jihadi terrorism ; even if someone out there says,  ‘go to hell’.

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.

A Jail monthly from Chennai

outlookSpeaking of in-house journals, Ul Oli (Inner Light),  sounds unique. It’s a monthly of, by and  for  jailbirds in Tamilnadu.  It can count on a captive circulation of 16,000 in the state’s 137 prisons. Ul Oli is not available at news stands.

As journalist Pushpa Iyengar put it,  the magazine may not be Pulitzer material,  but it deserves an honourable mention. Pushpa has done a pageful on Ul Oli in her Outlook magazine. The 50-page jail monthly,  launched in mid-January,  is reported to be the brainchild of Tamilnadu Director General of Prisons, R Nataraj.

Pushpa,  Outlook bureau chief in Chennai,  who has had access to the inaugural issue says  the magazine has stories by jail inmates on their life in prison.  It has poems, drawings,  anecdotes and spiritual quotes and other literary contributions, all  by convicts in theft, smuggling, rape,  murder, and bomb blast cases. On the magazine editorial board is a Sri Lankan Tamil Santhan,  who faces death sentence for his role in the LTTE conspiracy to kill  Rajiv Gandhi.

Incidentally, Pushpa was among the journalists on the scene of the suicide bomb attack on Rajiv Gandhi in Sriperumbudur.  She had covered the story for The Times of India.

Rahul Gandhi on lal-batthi VIP

Rahul Gandhi has got it right ;  and  voiced it at the proper  place – Lok Sabha. He is cited as saying, public  outrage in the wake of  Mumbai26/11 was really about  prevelant perception  that the country had stopped valuing lives of the commoner ;  India only bothered about lal-batthi VIPs (the type that goes about in cars fitted with revolving red-light).

“We have to change how we view the lives of individuals,”  Amethi MP   said in Lok Sabha,  adding that the powers that be had to decide that not a single life would go  in vain.

Excellent thought;  which is best conveyed to people through official action.  They could decide,  for instance,  to review the system of providing state-sponsored security to politicians and other public figures facing threat to personal life.  Those in the Z category get  ‘black cat’  protection.   If someone were to seek details under RTI Act pertaining to  the number of our politicians who enjoy this privilege,  we can get a sense of how many among them deserve such entitlement, from the security viewpoint.  Z category shouldn’t be seen as a status symbol.  Besides,  one wonders if  those once  given black-cat protection ever think of surrendering the privilege after they retire or the official perception of  threat to their lives is  considerably reduced.

Rahul Gandhi who in his Lok Sabha speech is reported to have said some sensible things would indeed neutralise , to some  extent,  the public outrage  he referred to ,  if only he were to follow up his words with a demand for a case-by-case review of  security-threat status of  lal-batthiwallahs   under black cat cover.  And ensure that the home ministry takes a critical look at the security entitlement criteria.

Mumbai 26/11: Bloggers chip in

In the begining there were bloggers. And there was a  flash-flood of posts on the Mumbai terror strike.  Many of them, bloggers, went beyond giving vent to their indignation; beyond fault-finding, finger-pointing, Paki-bashing, and came up with thoughts on steps we need to take not to get caught napping, again.

And then, someone came up with the idea of putting  together their thoughts.  Based on  the  collective thoughts of 100 plus bloggers   Ashutosh Didwania,  a public spirited IT professional,  devised an online survey to  elicit public opinion. IndiBlogger  weighed in with their  support structure to promote the 17-point survey.

To be meaningful, each of us, bloggers or not, could do our  bit create public awareness  about the survey ,  by spreading the word among our e-mail contacts.  Agreed,  this online  exercise  is restricted  to the Net-empowered among us.  The  survey,  though limited in its reach,  is  significant for its scope and content,  I reckon.

To give you an idea of the preliminary response to the  survey that went online a couple of days back,  nearly 75  percent of the first 100 who responded  favour diplomatic moves,  rather than  any military action. While recognising that both people,  in India and Pakistan, are victims of terrorism, 68 percent is for people-to-people contacts,  online and  through other means,  in mobilising people’s opinion against terrorist groups.  One in every 10 respondants, however, made it clear that they would have nothing to do  with those across the border.  I wonder, wouldn’t you, how many nay-sayers are  there over there. 

Click here to access RIM survey.

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’.