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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dayr aayad, dürüst aayad?

The mailing date (July 30, 2008) seems kinda late. The Seminar (The Benefits of a Connected Campus) that it is inviting people to was already over:
Date: May 8, 2008
Two sessions: 3:00 PM - Eastern Daylight Time or 12:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time
Sponsored by: Sprint and Rave Wireless

Sprint Campus Connect enables students, faculty and staff at higher education institutions to better connect and communicate resulting in enhanced learning, safety and time management
but, to make matters even more amusing, the email arrived just a moment ago! 

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

I am a trifle old-fashioned, I guess ...

While I sort of pride myself on not just how accepting I am of change but on how much I try and do to add to its pace, I admit to being guilty of conservatism when it comes to certain matters.  Among them, are the writing standards that I expect from newspapers. Lately, the quality of writing, as of everything else, has become so bad that it has added to the reasons which have weaned me away from the habit of starting the day with the morning edition of The Daily Yawn.

I agree with some of my friends that desi English (though it occasionally grates my sensibilities) is as legit as, say, American English, but I do believe that neither should be considered acceptable when poorly used in professional work.

Had bad writing been a crime, time was when the correspondent who filed the following (and who calls himself a scribe. How quaint!) would have been 'held' instead of the concert he reported upon.

This excerpt is from a business paper and probably speaks the language the majority of its readers do  ... but, to be fair, it deserves to be thanked that it reports on such matters at all in its effort to forge some links between Cents and Sensibility

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Stumbling upon Solutions Unlimited

Got this from Sab recently

Yep, Sab ... and that was way back in 1985
(as the 8-bit image jaggies show!)

I guess great graphics designers think alike

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Surprise, Surprise. Or not.

Harsh Kapoor's SACW mailing this morning (subscribe to the list if you really wish to know what's happening in the region) included the following editorial from today's Daily Times - a popular Pakistani newspaper. [My comments follow.]

Daily Aajkal, which is a sister publication of Daily Times in Urdu, is under attack from the clerical partisans of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad for its anti-extremism editorial policy in general and a cartoon in particular. The Lal Masjid mullahs say the cartoon is "insulting" and they say their "patience with the paper is running out" because of its "editorial policy". The cartoon published in Aajkal showed the leader of the partisans, Umme Hassaan, in a burka teaching her burka-clad students the radical political philosophy of the group. But since this could hardly be construed as insulting in any way- after all, the various statements of the group's philosophy are already public knowledge - the group has clutched at the argument that the cartoon "insulted those who taught the Quran", implying some sort of "Islamic" justification for their threats.

This is completely untrue and totally divorced from the purport of the cartoon. The cartoon was made and published within the tradition and practice of satire in the Pakistani press. It was aimed at political partisans, like all political cartoons against other partisans in the political parties and groups.

The umbrage has been taken owing to the heat produced by the political fallout of the operation against Lal Masjid. This is understandable and Aajkal is not too happy about offending any side involved in the controversy. But the cartoon itself was not intended to attack anyone; it was published in the spirit in which all political cartoons in Pakistan are accepted as the lighter side of our political life. There was nothing more and nothing less in the conceiving of the said cartoon. It was not directed at the faith that Aajkal itself upholds within the permitted variety of belief among Muslims. (Italics mine! Just curious as to where one gets these 'permits' ... Zakintosh)

A cartoon is the yardstick by which you measure the level of tolerance in any given society. When states are troubled, the first institution that is attacked is the institution of public criticism through satire. This is simply because satire is always considered less harmful and subversive than a detailed indictment of any person or institution. It is light-hearted and asks the victim to smile rather than take offence. In Pakistan, as everywhere else in the world, all public events, all happenings that touch the consciousness of the people, become the subject of a cartoon. The caricature tries to capture what the people at large think of a certain issue. This is the way it has developed in Pakistan in the last 60 years.

The fact is Lal Masjid involved itself in public affairs when it took in hand the task of "social cleansing" some years ago. The subliminal intent was to attract public attention and plead for approval because it was, according to its lights, doing moral correction where the state had failed. This was the beginning of the public image of the madrassa at Lal Masjid. Its leaders sought public limelight and asked to be judged at the court of public opinion, partly by vigilante action. The result was a mixed verdict. That was natural because any invitation to arbitration by public opinion will yield positive and negative opinion. This process also activated the journalistic device of the cartoon.

If you pick up the newspapers of the past few years, you will come across a lot of cartoons made on the events related to the activity of the Lal Masjid clerics and their pupils. The crux of these drawings was the same: to highlight an incongruity through humour and satire. Pakistan has now a well established tradition of cartoons. The politicians don't mind being portrayed in a funny manner, and even when they do, they keep quiet rather than hurl threats. Therefore the clerics in the public eye should also know that this is the process they have to go through. Neither the politician nor the cleric has suffered any lowering of his respect and honour because of the cartoons.

With the spread of the private TV channels, the business of cartoons has been revitalised. It has become dramatised with live characters mimicking well-known personalities including the ulema who, incidentally, also teach the Quran. The cartoon itself has become a "cartoon strip" and has supplemented and strengthened the tradition of cartooning in Pakistani journalism. The tragedy of Lal Masjid in 2007 happened right in front of the seeing eye of the cartoon. Where Lal Masjid received a lot sympathetic support, and the government had to face criticism, there were occasions when the opposite happened too.

There are always two sides to an issue, even a religious issue, and there will be partisans of this or that point of view. That is the essence of a free society and democracy. Even the issue of suicide-bombing has two opposed ways of looking at it. The division is there even among the ulema. Over fifty ulema in 2005 issued a collective fatwa saying suicide-bombing was against Islam. It was their right to say so, but it was wrong on the part of some other ulema to threaten them to cow them into silence. They would have been within their rights had they issued a counter-fatwa saying suicide-bombing was right.

Threatening a newspaper into silence indicates the level of intolerance that will do no one any good in the long run. The mission of moral correction taken up by the Lal Masjid partisans will be successful only if it is accepted by the people without coming under duress. Indeed, any order imposed through intimidation and threat of violence is not durable and will be rejected by the people in the long run. Therefore Lal Masjid should become the symbol of struggle against the use of violence; and it should not give the impression that it can use violence to achieve its ends.
Many of you may recall the heavily choreographed and manipulated protests, nation-wide, when the provocatively irresposible Danish cartoons first surfaced. That the major portions of rallies were, initially, quite obviously 'staged' until they pulled others into their fold as the frenzy caught on, is a widely accepted fact. Still unsure of this line of reasoning? Think, for a moment:

(a) Where would thousands of unconnected people suddenly appear from out of all nooks and crannies of our small towns, waving identical Danish flags? Maybe I am wrong and most Pakistani homes usually keep all the world's national flags as part of our standard household inventory, ready to be whipped out (and burnt! Who pays for that and the required 're-stocking', I often wonder...) at the drop of an ink-spot. We have, over the years, seen Indian, US, Israeli, British, Bangladeshi, Russian, UN, and other flags suddenly unfurl in hundreds. Hmmmm. (Of course, there are also reliable reports of a leading foreign journalist, at least on one occasion, passing out flags for burning, in order to get a good video clip for her channel!)

(b) When the Government, the 'agencies', and the Islamist parties - at the behest of their common paymasters - thought that it was an inopportune time for a 'repeat performance', the Geert Wilders movie, Fitna, came and went almost unnoticed. Maybe we ran out of combustibles, but no flags, tyres, or effigies blotted our streets.

Given that some irresponsible sections of our popular press, in an effort to play to the gallery and increase sales, supported the unruly and misdirected hooha in the cartoon cases, isn't what's happening to Aajkal (the paper with, incidentally, the best layout in our vernacular press world) just a case of chickens coming home to roost, albeit in the wrong coop?

Regardless of how we got to this spot in our sad history, if this direction is not actively reversed NOW (and I have little hope that it will be) we will keep heading further and further into an abyss from which there is no return.

The recent disgusting and offensive hero-ization of the Lal Masjid miscreants, including the burqa clad woman (and man) who bear much of the responsibility, is the worst ammunition that has recently been appropriated for a political battle in which all sides will lose, if Pakistan loses The electronic media's support of this idiocy, through completely distorted 'revisits' to the Lal Masjid incident, is a classic case of 'apnay paeroñ par külhaa∂ee...'

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Twain Meet

Waiting for Professor Aslam Farrukhi to show up for what became, in his delightful retelling, a grand - almost visual - tour of Karachi, 1947, I was fortunate to be to be at the same table as Yusufi Sahab, who, with just 4 books pubished, is arguably the finest writer of Urdu prose today. 

Apologizing for a really pita hua question, I asked him whom he read and was influenced by. I am not sure what name[s] I expected ... but without a moment's pause he surprised me by saying "Mark Twain", which - in retrospect - doesn't seem so odd. He also went on (with almost childish awe) to describe his recent visit to Twain's hometown and the house he lived in.
I hope that T2F will, one day, be honoured by an evening of Yusufi Sahab's readings. How we'll accommodate the hundreds that will turn up, I don't know. Guess that's reason enough to increase the space, Sab ;-)
As a possible result of our colonization, older readers in this part of the world were traditionally more familiar with writers from Britain, as compared to those from the USA, a legacy they passed on via textbooks and home libraries to their young. Over the years, the one good thing to emerge from the Americanization of Everything, is that we have all become familiar with several new and powerful authors from the other side of the Atlantic. In fact, one has to look really hard for good British, non-desi authors in our bookshops!

However, Samuel Longhorn Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, is still not as commonly read in this part of the world as he should be. Here's a piece by him that is as relevant today (and to us) as when it was first published as part of a short story.

O Lord, Our Father
by Mark Twain

O Lord, our father, 
Our young patriots, idols of our hearts, 
Go forth to battle - be Thou near them! 
With them, in spirit, we also go forth 
From the sweet peace of our beloved firesides
To smite the foe.
O Lord, our God, 
Help us to tear their soldiers 
To bloody shreds with our shells; 
Help us to cover their smiling fields 
With the pale forms of their patriot dead;
Help us to drown the thunder of the guns
With the shrieks of their wounded, 
Writhing in pain.

Help us to lay waste their humble homes 
With a hurricane of fire; 
Help us to wring the hearts of their 
Unoffending widows with unavailing grief;
Help us to turn them out roofless 
With their little children to wander unfriended
The wastes of their desolated land 
In rags and hunger and thirst, 
Sports of the sun flames of summer 
And the icy winds of winter, 
Burdened in spirit, worn with travail, 
Imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -

For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, 
Blast their hopes, 
Blight their lives, 
Protract their bitter pilgrimage, 
Make heavy their steps, 
Water their way with their tears, 
Stain the white snow with the blood 
Of their wounded feet!

We ask it in the spirit of love - 
Of Him who is the source of love, 
And Who is the ever-faithful 
Refuge and Friend of all that are sore beset
And seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.


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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Biting Apple Back

The Apple-Microsoft wars are, now, nothing but infotainment ... or, at least until very recently, were just that. They helped sell magazines (Steve Jobs had only to sneeze to be on the covers of Time, Newsweek, Fortune, even The Maori Tribal News!), newspapers, books, TV spots. Even a movie or two. (Watch out for the September Screenings at T2F!) Let's face it: how could there be a real fight among a 2% market-share holder and someone that, once, all but held the remaining? (Yes, there were other OSs around, too, guys, like the OS2 ... just like there are Linux and others today).

Some, of course, found in this unequal battle the symbolism of David slaying Goliath ... an image that Apple's 1984 SuperBowl Ad (Thank you, Lee Clow!) planted by equating IBM with Big Brother. Others continue to see it as the battle of two young hippie kids in a garage taking on a big corporation despite the fact that Apple, itself, has become one. No surprise there, for - in any battle, large or small - you eventually become what your enemy is.

The "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" ads were satirical, hilarious, even lovable. OK ... that's how most Mac lovers felt. To many, and not PC users alone, they were 'rude'. But that's a matter of taste, I guess. I love irreverence and black comedy, grew up on sick jokes, chuckled at the macabre cartoons of the totally brilliant Gahan Wilson and still rotfl (admittedly with an occasional wince) at the grotesqueness of JoeCartoon.

Did I say 'were'? Once I used to download every one of them as soon as they aired. I admired the fact that they didn't resort to outright lies ... but then why would they? One could never run out of material while poking fun at the real flaws in Windoze. Lately, though, I don't even click to view most of them with anything remotely resembling my past urgency. In fact, I am sure I've missed watching many. No, they haven't lost on quality, or humour, judging by those I have peeked at ... but, in terms of quantity, there have been just far too many of them! Why didn't anyone at Apple say "Enuff already!" ... ? (Of course, those who know Steve Jobs know why.)

"All is fair in Love and War" goes the cliche ... and Business, now, is War! So the Apple ads got noisier and noisier and more and more aggressive and while Bill Gates poohpoohed and chastised them for their attitude and Microsoft turned up its collective nose at them, the strategy made waves. The brilliantly simple iPods and the simply brilliant much-in-demand iPhones (13000 orders per second in the UK alone today!), working in tandem with these ads in a 3-pronged attack, have helped Apple's market share grow beyond the industry norm.

[Click image to enlarge]

Finally, the company I love to hate for its awful OS and bloatware (but thank, genuinely, for having made computing accessible to millions) has taken notice.

As a lover of humour, a keen follower of the art and science of Advertising, someone who spends a lot of time with technology ... and a dedicated Mac user (until something better for my way of life comes along), I am excitedly looking forward to this counter-campaign. Let's hope it's as funny as the early Mac/PC ads were.

Let the games begin ...

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