23 Aug 2007

The Defining 70

Posted by Oblivion in General | 11:36pm

JWT announced, in December '06, 70 “in” products, services and trends that would help to define 2007. As the year approaches the end, it's interesting to see that the agency got most of those correct.

1. Skype/VoIP
2. Wii and the next-generation gaming systems
3. The business of social networking
4. Pop-up stores, restaurants and bars … installation style
5. Shrinky Dink technology (TVs are flat and hidden, iPods are down to half an ounce, speakers are smaller and less visible, and so on)
6. The rise of nanotechnology
7. Sustainable construction/green buildings
8. Hydrogen fuel cell technology
9. Veggie-bus: school buses running on biodiesel fuel
10. Trans-fat fallout
11. Reality show talent searches
12. Ohio State’s freshman basketball phenom, Greg Oden
13. Fear of agri-terrorism
14. Halal foods
15. Participatory advertising (user-generated advertising and music video competitions)
16. Premium-drink bars
17. Organic fabrics
18. Stem cell research
19. Iceland
20. Hybrid dogs
21. Locally sourced produce
22. Churchonomics: religion as big business
23. Reunions of donor insemination siblings
24. Hitting the off button: demanding downtime
25. Indian cross-over actress Aishwarya Rai
26. Home-schooling
27. Natural building materials such as stone and wood
28. Binge chilling
29. Personalized diets
30. Brand sluts
31. Modernized tradition
32. Chindia
33. Alpha moms
34. Internet TV
35. Citizen journalism
36. RSS feeds
37. Fresh Direct
38. Google domination (Google as acquirer, and Microsoft as Google follower)
39. Mobile video
40. Rachael Ray
41. Inconspicuous consumption
42. X-Factor’s Leona Lewis
43. Dreamgirls’ Jennifer Hudson
44. Environmental causes
45. Companies going green
46. Barack Obama
47. Soft, natural hair
48. Microgeneration (generating one’s own energy)
49. Party planning for teens
50. Paying for user-generated content
51. Higher-waisted pants
52. iPhone
53. Co-branding (think Nike plus Apple)
54. Britain’s Amy Winehouse
55. The rebirth of raves
56. Energy-saving lightbulbs
57. Sacha Baron Cohen
58. Mash-ups (music, Web sites, everything)
59. Japanese apparel chain Uniqlo
60. Promoting “Brand Me”
61. Ensemble TV casts (Ugly Betty, Grey’s Anatomy, Heroes, Criminal Minds)
62. Multilingual cinema
63. “Kidults”
64. Transformers (the movie)
65. Web-based microfinancing
66. Generosity
67. Al Gore, the environmentalist
68. Unstrategic alliances (Paris and Britney, Tom and Brooke, Bush Sr. and Clinton)
69. Europeans getting fatter
70. Age shuffling (40 is the new 20, for example)

17 Aug 2007

15 Seconds of Power

Posted by Oblivion in General | 11:50pm

As I reached the junction, I noticed a speeding Ambassador. A melodious number played on the stereo and I hummed along. Traffic was absolutely still on all sides. After an hour-long dreary drive among insanely chaotic city traffic, this moment looked like a blessing. A moment, I thought, that I should either seize without ado or miss for eternity. Without a blink of thought, I pushed the accelerator down and manoeuvred the car to follow the Ambassador.

The car in front seemed to be driven by Narain Karthikeyan, and the road was unusually empty, but I was too elated by the moment to discern the oddity. Still humming the tune as the car accelerated, I looked at the rear-view mirror and saw a few Ambassador cars following at as much speed. A second or two later, it occurred - with a stratling fit of coming-to-terms-with-reality - there was something distinctly different about the drive. The aural faculty diminished in strength, the tune now moved into the background; the visual faculty turned more alert and I looked intently for signs. The revelation pushed me to the limits of alertness - I mistook the Ambassador for an idle speeding vehicle and hastily drove into a minister's convoy.

I heard the tune no more. My imminent mission was to get out of it. Caught between cars moving at great speed, it was no mean task. One wrong move and it would get only worse.

But before I could decide the method for accomplishing the mission, two police vans came racing past the cars as if to thwart a terror attack that has been designed to raze the city. The next second, one of the vans was right beside my car. The second van was behind it. "Gosh! Best of luck!", I told myself. The chap in uniform looked at me and said, "What are you up to?" He must've meant, "What the fuck are you doing, asshole?" After all, driving into a convoy was an intolerable infringement! Servant intruding master's space! The question, or doubt, "Who is the servant and who is the master?" does not belong to politics anymore; it is now strictly limited to the domain of metaphysics.

All the same, I looked at the chap who had just looked at me and asked, "What are you up to?" Nice cop: a sample of a minority race. I raised my hand and said, "I am sorry!" The cop was smart too - he instantly realized, "Ah! this guy can't be a threat. A dud!" With an assuring, quick smile, he said, "Move out!" Lucky day and a nice cop: a rare combination. "Thank you!", so saying, I pulled out.

A few seconds later, I was out of the convoy. Liberation. My 15 seconds of tryst with power ended. I stopped the car.

It took a minute before thousands of fellow servants, ordered to stop, started moving again.

16 Aug 2007

From the Master

Posted by Oblivion in General | 11:24am

In the days of kings, the subject was told: You used to be the subject of King A, now King A is dead and behold, you are the subject of King B. Then democracy arrived, and the subject was for the first time presented with a choice: Do you (collectively) want to be ruled by Citizen A or Citizen B?

Always the subject is presented with the accomplished fact: in the first case with the fact of his subjecthood, in the second with the fact of the choice. The form of the choice is not open to discussion. The ballot paper does not say: Do you want A or B or neither? It certainly never says: Do you want A or B or no one at all? The citizen who expresses his unhappiness with the form of choice on offer by the only means open to him—not voting, or else spoiling his ballot paper—is simply not counted, that is to say, is discounted, ignored.

"Spreading democracy," as is now being done by the United States in the Middle East, means spreading the rules of democracy. It means telling people that whereas formerly they had no choice, now they have a choice. Formerly they had A and nothing but A; now they have a choice between A and B. "Spreading freedom" means creating the conditions for people to choose freely between A and B. The spreading of freedom and the spreading of democracy go hand in hand. The people engaged in spreading freedom and democracy see no irony in the description of the process just given.

...Michel de Montaigne's young friend Étienne de La Boétie, writing in 1549, saw the passivity of populations vis-à-vis their rulers as first an acquired and then later an inherited vice, an obstinate "will to be ruled" that becomes so deep-rooted "that even the love of liberty comes to seem not quite as natural."

...for every democratic Australia there are two Belaruses or Chads or Fijis or Colombias that likewise subscribe to the formula of the ballot count.

Australia is by most standards an advanced democracy. It is also a land where cynicism about politics and contempt for politicians abound. But such cynicism and contempt are quite comfortably accommodated within the system. If you have reservations about the system and want to change it, the democratic argument goes, do so within the system: put yourself forward as a candidate for political office, subject yourself to the scrutiny and the vote of fellow citizens. Democracy does not allow for politics outside the democratic system. In this sense, democracy is totalitarian.

- Excerpt from Coetzee's forthcoming book, Diary of  a Bad Year, to be released in December 2007. Courtesy, The New York Review of Books

12 Aug 2007

Deja Vu and That Uncomfortable Feeling...

Posted by Oblivion in General | 8:27pm

The 60th I-Day is just a few days away, and the hype has already started. It'll be a task to endure the euphemisms, that shallow emotion of patriotism, the loud, pointless talkshows, the giggling pretty faces with tricolor painted across, and the absolutely faked speeches of those fucken goons (read politicians). It'll be everywhere - newspapers, idiot box, newsmagazines, radio, blogs (ironical that I mention!), billboards, websites. While patriots revel and media exploit, it'll be a compulsive viewing of the circus for chaps whose attitude is that of non-solidarity toward fellow compatriots.

Some things never change! One hears the same lines every year. Same issues, same tasks, same problems, same stupid questions, same trite answers, same plans. They sell me the same idea every goddamn year - "today is grand, tomorrow will be grander". Nothing beats it for an exercise to make one a stoic.

Among the many opinion polls, democracy has again been voted the "greatest national pride". Just because we have an elected government, they keep telling me it's a democracy! To hell with having an elected government! The more important attributes for a democracy are accountability and responsiveness of the government. How accountable and responsive a government do we have?

Yes, RTI sounds fine and one can get some things done by voicing a concern (which goes by the grand phrase, "freedom of speech"), but this works only if the opposition is on your side. Let the concern be something that corners the opposition as well, and you will be eliminated. The din against quota works, the "non-violent protests" (glamorous exercises these days, thanks to Mr Gandhi) demanding justice for a certain Ms Lal work, the demand for better roads works, but expose the criminal deeds of the bastards among the ruling party and opposition as well, and nothing happens - even if you have video footage to boot. Just because some of us can write inconsequential pieces - against the system - in magazines and blogs and survive, it doesn't imply we enjoy "freedom of speech". For every lucky few who survive, there are thousands who don't. The powerless are fucked day in and day out. This has been the story for decades. Nothing has changed.

And, by the way, how fair an "elected" goverment it is? They bribe for votes, they rig, they use power, they manipulate, and they win. Barely 60% people turn out to vote, out of which votes are distributed among a dozen candidates. Chap X gets the maximum number of votes and he becomes the representative. If 70% (of the 60% that turn out) votes go for 11 candidates and 30% go for chap X, he wins by virtue of numbers. If you actually map it to the population, only 18 (considering it is a "fair" election) out of every 100 approve of him. Being unable to force the 40% who opt out of exercising franchise to do otherwise, the government equates "majority" with "maximum number" of votes. Democracy has more flaws - not as regards a concept, but as regards implementation - than just this. The concept sounds great on paper, no doubt. But then, even those of monarchy and dictatorship sound just as great. Democracy is, by many means, certainly the better one, but it needs a lot of basics to be in place. India is far from that.

To my mind, heritage is India's greatest pride. Its philosophy should come as close, too. One has to, however, ask brilliant chaps like Siddhartha in Pratidwandi to get correct answers. He would not mention democracy even among his top ten. 

Majority opt the easy way, for it's practicable. They keep referring to the "positive thinking" mantra - be blind to the foibles, focus on the achievements. The glitz of the effects of economic growth are thus passed on as justifications to feel proud and entertain "hope" for a "better" tomorrow - a day that never comes. Illusion always makes for a better companion than reality. Ideal is always a preferred beloved to status quo. Idiotic references also come in handy - "Come on dude, with all its flaws, we are better off than most countries. Look at the brighter side! Chill!"

Comparisons are good in academia, and they better be left there. One can write bestsellers with their focus on comparison, but it's ridiculous to derive fake emotions from it to beat the harsh facts of reality. How sensible is it to console oneself that a chap in, say, country XYZ is exploited worse than he is? How does it matter if citizens in other countries are worse or better off? We live in this country, we elect some chaps and we expect it to go well. If there is a problem, the solution is within, not without. That we live in a "connected" world matters at economic level, not as regards the relation between the rulers and the ruled.

The powerless have no voice, corruption is rampant, exploitation is rife, and the system is rotten. Unless these things change, it's a sham that we take pride in democracy. As the 60th I-Day beckons and the world looks up to us as an emerging superpower, we are still ruled by goons! And we don't seem to be doing anything to correct this!

A tad cynical perhaps, but I will rather down a glass of wine hoping we get rid of goonocracy than join the dance of the patriots to celebrate democracy. Cheers!


6 Aug 2007

The Day That Was

Posted by Oblivion in General | 10:47am

It walked in with quiet
It strolled without a word
And it left in silence

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