Thursday, August 31, 2006

previously on...

Bill Clinton’s overriding concern was his legacy when he wrote ‘My Life’. I was working in DC at the time he released it and he was all over the news. All said and done, he wanted to be remembered for his political successes, not his bedroom shenanigans. I suppose it was a smart move; take the initiative in writing your own story for the ages.

Can you be a player and referee too? It’s an interesting question. It seems that everyone does it- they start redefining their story the way they’d like it to be told. And not that’s this is a new phenomenon… we always see movie scenes where the dying mother/father’s last wishes are to tell the child ‘he was the one good thing I did’ [sobcakes] .. This is pretty much the reason people write autobiographies. And why do I bring this up?

Joe Scarborough of MSNBC had a panel of guests on his show who debated this new ABC documentary coming out that is rumored to blame Clinton’s term for the no show on the Osama front. Now one of the panelists said that it wasn’t so much that Clinton was going to be blamed for not attacking Osama when he had the chance, but its going to highlight the complications. How lawyers end up making military decisions because it has to be checked if there are going to be legal implications. Well Bill must be freaking out now because I’m sure, after his very long book, he must be livid his entire legacy could be redefined as caught up in red-tape and inaction over what he must have figured would ultimately become a big failure for the Bush presidency.

I have a friend studying for her GRE and one of the topics for essay writing was that there are no heroes; we just seem to define them that way. I said, well even if you seem to find yourself in the right place at the right time, that does not mean that you will make the right choice now does it?

Well some stories tell themselves. Listen up: Having finished my dissertation, flipping through channels of mind-numbing TV, I came across the most horrifying news bulletin I had seen in a long time. As if simply re-capping an episode, NDTV was showing footage of a two ABVP leaders, Shashiranjan Akela and Vimal Tomar threatening Madhav College Professor, ML Nath. The threats were in total hindi-movie style, and one has to wonder how arrogant and above the law the ABVP leaders must have felt if they could make death threats with news cameras rolling in the sidelines. Immediately after, violence erupted, and later, the camera caught the ABVP supporters beating up another Professor. Then the most chilling part of the entire story came: Prof Sabharwal who died as a result of his injuries, was out of the crowd but badly hurt and people were scrambling around trying to figure out what to do. He was clutching his chest in pain and looked very short of breath. I had a chill go through me, the likes that you don’t really feel; because I realized that I was watching a man die on camera. No, really. NDTV caught the entire thing on camera, starting from the threats and ending in death.

The thing is, despite the Chief Minister of MP trying to brush it off as an accident, ultimately charges had to be made against them and there was a backlash to the incident. It’s very difficult to convince people that what they see before their eyes didn’t really happen.

Like Bangaru Laxman and his ‘next time in dollars’!!

Personal PR and strategic communications for companies/ political parties basically have this challenge- there is a scandal, how do you spin it so that you don’t look too bad? This year around all the one hour shows on the life of Princess Diana were decidedly negative about her in my opinion- and granted I didn’t really know too much about her personal life, it seemed ironic that before I had always seen images that fit in with ‘the people’s princess’ and now they were replaced by talk of paranoid and un-princess-y behavior.

The funny thing is that after a re-watch of Reality Bites where they talk about not having any role models for their generation, I had actually started asking people who their role model was. You know what I found: for most people, it was their mom/dad. And the ones who had a famous name… they were quite specific about what they admired. And moral fibre wasn’t one of them; it was business sense mostly.

The media has made it much easier for us to ‘SEE’ public figures in a more personal way. While voyeuristic at times, at other times it is so brutally honest, perhaps this generation will never be able to have a ‘hero’ who’s legacy won’t be tarnished over time. Do we really just live in one big television show that is constantly re-capping our lives and adding more storylines? I wonder. See you on the next installment…

Saturday, August 19, 2006

behind blue eyes

I’ve been a little anti-social of late. I went for a play [Fool for Love with Juliet Lewis and Martin Henderson] and came right back home. In Montreal a close friend of mine would call it my hibernation period where I’d just cut off for a few days, do whatever I wanted [like Superman cartoons?] and be back to normal in a bit. Somehow I’m not afforded the same luxury without my island of Westmount!

Anyway, I did discover something fairly cool. It’s this website called Pandora. []. Basically you can type in the name of your song or artist and it not only plays it, but starts building a playlist with songs that sounds similar. And the best part is, you can tell Pandora you like the song and to play more of this kind, or rate the song as bad and have them skip it next time around. I love the fact that any old song can pop into my head and I can listen to it immediately on the website!

At this point I started thinking about how wonderful this democratic set-up was. You give Pandora positive or negative feedback, and accordingly, you have a better musical experience. Why can’t life be like this? [Oh wait] So you know I’d love to work on a campaign right? There is this firm based out of DC and London that helped both the Clinton’s in their campaigns and does similar work now. While reading through everything it offers it really seemed like we have taken ‘thought’ and turned it into a science. How do you think? Why do you think? What external factors can we change to make you think differently? And so, in order to measure thought processes [in a way] there exist all sorts of political tools—polling research, strategic advising, war gaming, issues testing, ad testing, benchmark & tracking polls et al. But is it really possible to do this accurately? Remember ‘Blink’? Well, he said one more thing- that people do not readily admit what they are thinking when confronted with a pollster. In order to avoid embarrassment, they say they will vote for the more acceptable candidate, but come ballot-time, they check the box they really want. Of course, this is not for everyone. Most people say what they want and therefore we have polling. It made me think about what I would like better; the results or every little thought process. Is it enough to know what I think, or why I think it?

It’s the ‘why’ factor that allows you to build on these relationships; be it with the political structure or people in your life. At a personal level, it would probably spell disaster. I don’t know why I think or feel half the things I do, I just do. And while it’s perfectly lovely to share a lot of the time, sometimes it might be better to shut up. But it doesn’t work like that on a national level now does it? Although, sometimes people do need to shut up—hello pseudo—time and energy wasting—mock moral outrages!

‘Could and should’: I’d written this little piece for no one in particular about the disparities of reporting in the Middle East a few years ago entitled ‘could and should’. It came to mind last night when Carrie Bradshaw wondered if women impose restrictions on themselves, and ‘should’ themselves into wanting things they don’t really want. [Don’t laugh at me now, but Tina Fey of SNL who wrote the script of Mean Girls based it on the same idea- the image you have of yourself and become prisoner to it, and should other girls into it]. It might be easier to know where you stand on national matters, but personally? Blink and you’ll miss it.

Alright, I have another question for you. What is feminism? And who is a feminist? Am I? Are you? Do we even understand definitions enough to talk about them? I have all the makings of a feminist- but I don’t think I’ve ever described myself as one. I always joke I’d like someone to open the door for me, but it’s alright, I know how to drag my own ass home. See-- and this is where it gets murky. I’m not describing myself in any real-world terms already. What issues do I agree on? If I was asked by a pollster where I stood on ‘equal pay for women’ I’d say I’m all for it. Perhaps I wouldn’t sign up for a feminist newsletter. Probably wouldn’t unless I needed it for research purposes. So, perhaps the pollsters got it right after all. We compartmentalize different things about the same subject in such an itty-bitty fashion that perhaps it is necessary to break down the thought-process to determine which way the vote would fall.

So this probably explains why I want to be anti-social while at the same time posting on my blog. And if you need any further explanations on the subject, I am available for polling purposes. Just after I finish hibernating! 

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Well I should have known. For all the times I have used Picasa to make sure I come out looking a little less for wear in my pictures- and anyone who knows me knows I’m a picture fanatic- I should have know THIS would happen next. Did you hear? Reuters dropped a Lebanese photographer over doctored images. Apparently the man doctored the pictures of smoke over a bombed Beirut. He said something along the lines that the picture quality wasn’t clear and he fixed up. But when its news (and not a picture of me from some party) the result is completely different. The smoke can look blacker- damage can look more pronounced. Now the same man, Adnan Hajj, has been involved in something even stranger. The buzz over the blogs has been that after the destruction of the village of Qana (in south Lebanon) photographers such as Hajj allowed ‘Hezbollah media management’; which is to say that a man in a white shirt and a man in a green helmet stood around corpses waiting for photo-ops to present themselves as grieving. But (as the theory goes) if one were to put together all the pictures surrounding the incident you can make out that the men were not part of the rescue effort or relatives or people who were actually grieving but that their presence there was simply for the photographers. Well, we all know about uses of the media to manipulate people. But the reasons behind these two incidents can be because of the pressure photo journalists are under to snap that perfect picture.

So everyone has a camera phone now and pictures can reach news organizations from all sorts of sources now. Not just that, but with the mushrooming of news organizations, every photographer is probably trying to bend over backwards to get that poignant- and perfect- shot. Perhaps.

Whatever the reasons, we have entered into some murky territory. I’ve always held that visual images have huge impacts on us. In good ways, in not so good ways. The more images we see of war and poverty and hunger, the easier it becomes to live with these concepts. You start to accept it as a given. Every war looks the same once the bombs go off. But at the same time, pictures can take you into places you never could imagine. I love BBC’s section ‘In Pictures’ because you can go over the most interesting pictures of the week (both selected by BBC and a separate one from the readers). But to now consider the probability that it’s not some political regime trying to sell you an idea that does not exist, but individual people who may not have a sinister agenda at all, just one that allows them to save their own ass.

Have you seen a movie called Shattered Glass? Watch it. It’s a true story- and it’s a crazy movie about how a writer for TNR (The New Republic) made up these stories only to be found out by his editor later. Hayden Christenson stars (Anakin Skywalker of the newer Star Wars) along with a talented cast. Do see it. You know he’s going down but you feel so sorry and anxious for him the whole way through!

On a separate note, I was thinking about the whole ‘what you see is not always what you get’ when I spotted a familiar name in an interview- this Pakistani writer called Mohsin Hamid. Asma (of the previous blog entry) had actually given me a book by him called Moth Smoke that I only read in parts. Anyway, in his interview to Tehelka he talks about how India is probably more jingoistic than Pakistan. It made me realize that even after hours of talking about the situation with people of all shapes, sizes and ages, people from India, Pakistan and practically every other country in the world that cared, I still know NOTHING about the India/ Pakistan dynamic. I mean, seriously. I really cannot figure out what the hell is going on. The images I get from each point of information are different from the other. I know the sequence of events and what everyone says they think, but I can’t imagine how it will be even ten years from now.

And Adnan Hajj? Reuters withdrew all 920 pictures they had from him. This means it prevents their further sale. Moral of the story: Don’t make things up. Things are complicated anyway without you complicating it further.