Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Diversity is Passé

When a gay Sikh man in a turban says, “I am fed up with the mainstream media consensus that takes for granted that maximizing profits of an enterprise, private or state-owned, at any cost, is the only choice  for our civilization” –-then what is the diversity quotient in this scenario? That he is gay? That he is a person of colour? That he wears a turban. That he does not come from a Judeo-Christian tradition? Or, that he is fed up with capitalism as it stands today? 
When Justin Trudeau hams and haws about this country, that “diversity is Canada’s strength,” what exactly is he trying to say? What exactly is he trying to forestall? What exactly is he fighting for? What is the history of the evolution of the term “diversity”? Where is it coming from? Remember his father, the dashing demagogue Pierre-Elliott? He plugged for “multiculturalism.” For several decades that was the mantra. Either to display a patronizing largesse towards the later arrivals or spit on it as a conspiracy of Anglo Canada. It was very soon construed by the Quebec indépendentiste movement that multiculturalism was a carefully constructed counterfoil to Quebec independence. Instead, Interculturalism, allophone, and terms like communauté culturel became de rigeur.  Tolerance and diversity went hand in hand for a while until pretty much 9/11 happened and Islamophobia was born. With that, convoluted notions of secularity eventually gave birth to the manipulative, imitative concept of laicité and eventually the attempt at the monstrous “charte de valeurs.”
What is the equation that defines diversity? Colour/race/attire/religion etc as the dividend and political conviction as the divisor?
Loss of ideology and the advent of dystopia. Single issue left survivalists encourage this identity based militancy. It was perhaps necessary, but must it continue? After all 50% of most western youth have no faith in capitalism..

Everyone talks Diversity. What do they really mean?
Acceptance? Tolerance? Of what? Of strange customs, garb and religions? Of the right to wear a head cover or a piece of underwear or a bangle or a ceremonial blunt knife under layers of cloth? Which?

The new diversity is the diversity of opinion which comes from a new awareness about an old scourge. The scourge of inequality, disparity and segregation based on that. If folks want to go topless protesting that inequality, let the voice be heard and not the dangling breasts made an issue of. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017


APRIL 14 2017 5:20 PM

The Anti-Polemicist

Durga Chew-Bose’s dense, meticulous writing on identity politics feels like a corrective for our current political moment.

Natalie Matthews-Ramo
Durga Chew-Bose has become a leading voice in the millennial intelligentsia by writing what’s been described as the antithesis to today’s “churned-out ‘hot takes.’ ” In a time when so many writers bend to the internet economy’s demand for easy reading, Chew-Bose rose to prominence with dense, meticulous essays on identity politics and culture that rewarded sustained attention and patience. Essays like “Since Living Alone”—a lyrical piece originally published on the Hairpin that examines solitude’s value—revealed a voice that stretched language to convey what it feels like to experience the world and homed in on everyday life’s mundane details to reveal their fundamental strangeness. She merges the political, personal, and aesthetic into a panoramic account of contemporary life and the vagaries of gender and racial identity.
That in-depth exploration of identity continues in her debut essay collection, Too Much and Not the Mood. “There’s strength in one’s miniaturization,” she writes early on. “Smallness can make you feel extra porous. Extra ambitious.” Across 14 playful and peripatetic essays that touch on everything from the pleasure of watching movies in the summertime to the alienation of being a lone adolescent brown girl in a throng of white girls, Chew-Bose shows us what such ambitious porousness might look like. Her strange, challenging, and sometimes frustrating prose is personal but only in the most attenuated sense.

I say attenuated because these essays don’t start from the presumption of a stable self. Rather, they narrate how experience is always intercepting and disrupting that I—especially when it belongs to a woman of color whose attempts to formulate a self in language are always subject to refraction through the minds and comforts of others. If we’re to go by the lyrical fleetness of Chew-Bose’s prose, though, that refraction or double consciousness rarely feels like a burden. The book converts miniaturization into an unexpected aesthetic opportunity, a lens that refracts one’s self in the most blissful ways possible. The result is a book that substitutes a giddy openness in place of the stark political polemics that characterize so many contemporary essays on gender and race. In “Upspeak,” an essay about the gender politics of her own “childlike” voice, she seems to lose her train of thought, digressing from an image of sleeping puppies to Al Pacino’s puppy-dog eyes in The Godfather to the ecstasy young Pacino inspires in her. What you expect to be a somber personal essay about gender politics takes a detour into astute and warm film criticism.
It’s not that this collection is apolitical—it’s just interested in the nuance of experience that many essays on race and gender so often forget to account for. Chew-Bose’s language, for example, excels when communicating the sense of dislocation—always close at hand—inherent in being a person of color. In one essay, she recalls her adolescence among older white girls, writing that white girls “knew nothing, or so it seemed, about the prickling and pining so innate to me, about deeply honed unease.” For these girls—seemingly unburdened by alienation, perfectly at ease in the world—participating in the world means being its focal point. If these girls are society’s pivot, Chew-Bose places herself off in the periphery, slyly spying on neighbors through holes in fences, an audience to the world but rarely a participant. She is “born accommodating,” as she writes in “as In,” an essay about being continually misnamed. For her, being born accommodating means living with a sense that one does not own oneself, that you must always make space for others and find contentment being a spectator.

Judging by Chew-Bose’s prose, though, there seems to be so much pleasure in spectating that it’s easy to wonder why you’d want to be anywhere but the stands. Too Much makes looking seem extravagant, and in Chew-Bose’s hands looking is a tool for cultivating intimacy with the world. Recounting a scene from The Godfather Part II when Vito Corleone gives Carmela a pear, she writes that “He gently places the gift on their table while she busies herself in the kitchen, and in those few seconds I’ve always been taken by what I can only describe as the privacy of kindness. Those moments leading up to—that anticipate—the testimony of kindness.” This is the kind of close reading that opens up new dimensions of experience, that looks at the world a little cockeyed in order to peel back the layers we’ve become inured to and confront us with everything we’ve missed. Most importantly, it’s not a kind of looking available to those who have grown accustomed to thinking of the world as theirs. Chew-Bose’s status as spectator results in prose that feels Emersonian, like inhabiting a massive and insatiably curious eyeball that roves incessantly over its surroundings, finding in them the same aesthetic pleasure normally reserved for a darkened movie theater. Perhaps this is why Chew-Bose’s most enduring pleasure seems to be film, where there’s no need to do anything more than looking.
Or maybe Zora Neale Hurston is a more apt precedent. Like Hurston, Chew-Bose’s prose is itinerant, restless, completely uninterested in settling into anything resembling argument. Instead, it proceeds via associative logic, making an art out of diversion and tangent and inviting us to wander as she observes and questions. Her writing wants to retrain our attention on the various textures and pleasures that comprise lived experience.
“Heart Museum,” the 93-page essay that opens the collection, moves laterally through successive memories and observations tenuously related by nothing more than Chew-Bose’s penchant for attentive close reading and peculiar, clarifying observations. Reflecting on what it feels like to listen to a “perhaps not great, but good” album for the first time, she begins to unspool all the ways in which that album can infect your life, only to pivot quickly to how film can achieve the same infective quality, only to pivot again to a gloss on The Borrowers, Mary Norton’s series for children.
Such restlessness models a form of inquiry that makes its point via approximation rather than precision. Chew-Bose’s writing is asymptotic that way. It’s always inching toward meaning without finding it, more interested in capturing what experience feels like than interpreting it. In that sense, her most obvious predecessors are Chris Kraus and Maggie Nelson. Like those writers, she’d rather explore the resonances between ostensibly disparate phenomena than proffer meaning. The most exhilarating aspect of Nelson’s The Argonauts is the way stray bits of critical theory and poetry—a little bit of Judith Butler here, a little bit of Roland Barthes there—pockmark its surface but are never forced into interpretation. Nelson seldom bothers to explicate those excerpts’ relation to one another and instead allows their echoes to bounce off each other so that they entangle readers in their web. Chew-Bose opts for something similar, using a succession of examples or case studies to gradually articulate a way of experiencing the world that privileges openness, a willingness to affect and be affected by other people—even when it might not feel good.
This is a form that turns the vulnerability inherent in being a woman of color into strength and constructs connections between things that we rarely think of as connected. In the tantalizing “Some Things I Cannot Unhear,” for example, she moves from the staccato trembling of James Baldwin’s voice during an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show to Nina Simone claiming her breasts on “Ain’t Got No” to Allen Iverson indignantly uttering the word practice, and it’s difficult not to hear her building up to an ultimately unspoken assertion of the black voice’s power to reorganize how we perceive the world. Chew-Bose borrows some of this power for herself. Her webs encourage us to be in a more loving, attentive relationship with the world around us than maybe we’re used to these days. It’s an ambitious project, one that wants to register what it feels like to experience the world rather than flattening it out into meaning.

This itinerancy makes Too Much a disorienting and challenging read. That disorientation doesn’t always feel worthwhile. Chew-Bose’s arabesque prose is sometimes lyrical to a fault. At one point, she tries to capture the synesthesia of encountering a memory in the smell of a shirt her father once wore to a jazz club: “The shirt smells like paint drying and the sound of [Charles] Mingus’s hard bop, and while it smells like none of those things, it does.” Sentences like that feel exhausting to read because they seem ornamental more than anything, as if lyricism’s primary purpose is to provide the thinnest veneer of a narrative throughline on which these essays can hang. I often found myself pausing in the middle of an essay to wonder, What exactly am I reading about? This problem is more peculiar to the collection’s longer essays. In shorter pieces like the aforementioned “Some Things I Cannot Unhear,” there’s no need to justify a 93-page run time; we’re left to delight in how the author re-enchants the world by paying close attention.
Chew-Bose has various names for the people who find themselves in this state of enchantment, this condition of being “torn-between” multiple continents, histories, and cultures. At one point she deems herself a member of the nook people, “Those of us who retreat in order to cubicle our flame. Who collect sea glass. Who value a deep pants pocket. Who are our own understudies and may as well have shadowboxes for brains.” Being a nook person means dedicating oneself to a certain orientation toward the world, a wild-eyed and acquisitive fascination with a world that isn’t yours, that raises the eye above the I.
Because of these essays’ interest in texture rather than polemic, it’s difficult to imagine a book that contradicts our political moment more strongly than Too Much and Not the Mood. That title, drawn from Virginia Woolf’s frustration with her readers’ tastes, also spells out Chew-Bose’s relationship to the age of Trump. In a moment when public discourse has narrowed so that there seems to be little space for anything more than polemic, her essays feel affectively—and refreshingly—inconsistent with the modes of reading and writing we’ve grown accustomed to. Her irrepressible interest in the world can’t be subsumed into a politics. The dissonance Chew-Bose brings to the table has never felt more necessary.

Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fawning over and dissing JT! C'mon Canada...

Left wing and left-of-center commentators and dispirited NDP enthusiasts have gone somewhat incoherent in their critique of Justin Trudeau. Before the results of the elections, the two major critiques were--that he only has the brand name and no experience, and that he is surrounded by the old Paul Martin-Jean Chretien gang of neo-liberalist power brokers with a long list of scandals to their names and with continued umbilical chord relationship with the key financial, media and business houses in the country and abroad. 
These are ofcourse, mostly true. But does experience come only from being in board rooms or lawyer's associations or trade unions or sitting as a backbencher in parliament ? Does experience come, as well, from just being militant single issue-to-single issue activists or being honorary members of a foaming-in-the-mouth Pierre Trudeau hate-club? Can experience and knowledge come from association and "upbringing" also? 

Once the elections were over-- the gushy, very Canadian, longtimehadnofunsexiness-gen went hyperorgasmic--- distributing posterboypics of JT doing bhangra, in designer poses, bare chested with tattoos. Yes, WTF ! Indeed! It was such a nauseating spectacle. The flakiness of this overnight switchover from "no experience" to a heavy breathing Hendrix-like "Are you experienced-- like our PM? "  morphosis requires a purgative clean out of this Canadian mindset. So, first he was an ignorant high school drama teacher with a Liberal-mafia pedigree and then he became a ---look how sexy we Canadians are -centrefold PM!

JT has a trayfull of doggydos on his lap, no doubt. From TPP, C24 and C51 to the pipeline projects and other poison intravenous drips administered to the Canadian body politique, by the CPC viper-crew.. 

Stephen Harper is not beyond any vile tactics, even now. He is a stumpy lowlife with a pitcrew in the deep recesses of a cult sous-sol. If you dont see large shredder vans outside his offices, right now, you should be surprised. Here is a man who spirited out 8  million dollars from the tax payers money straight to a John McCain-led ultra Republican crew south of the border, ostensibly to promote democracy in Ukraine. 

But in certain areas JT's publicly stated positions are identical with Harper. On Israel and the occupation, on the so-called barbaric practices act and on some other issues. Whatever is left of the horrendously criminal state of Israel to salvage, no one is going to knock on that door...because there is a long shadow over the Western mind and favouring Palestinians would be immediately require being branded as anti-semitic. It is an unintelligent, trite, horrendously jejune concept to automatically defend Israel. But no one wants to go the opposite vein...and until then, absurdity and pedantic notions of  "fair-mindedness" will triumph. Israel is digging its own grave. Everyday. 
 But JT has some pedigree and some association. And that is neither understood, nor appreciated by those who leap to easy conclusions. Sometimes, association matters. Yes, it is a kind of "pedigree." It is fashionable and also fawning, to like and hate his father, PT, for his "just watch me" episode. Very simply because he was arrogantly and offensively dictatorial at that time. Admittedly when you are in charge of a country  and you have the potential of a haphazard and ill organized armed confrontation (not at all a revolution, insurrection or coup d'etat)  in your hands, your first recourse should not typically be to violate all civil liberties and declare martial law, because that is what tin pot dictators do. And PT unfortunately took that recourse. I have known lots of progressives who were detained, incarcerated, hounded for no reason other than for dreaming of a better nation.   And they were not all nationalists or independentists. But they did think, at that point, that Quebec was being brutalized by English Canada.  So, lets put that aside, just for a few moments.

JT's brother is a quiet, activist filmmaker who tries to stay out of the limelight. He has attached himself to various environmental and progressive issues and has also opposed the blockade of Gaza. PT comes from a lineage of intellectualism, spawned in the portals of the London School of Economics and was also some kind of a half-baked union activist. In LSE his buddy was Michael Manley. Former PM of Jamaica. Manley also served in the RCAF. Manley did stuff in his country that very few post colonial leaders could even contemplate. Starting with major land reforms, minimum wages including domestic work, education subsidies, equal pay for women, subsidized meals and transportation for school chidren and finally a firm and clear appeal to the non-aligned world to not side "with US imperialism." Trudeau became close friends with Fidel Castro, Julius Nyerere, Cheddi Jagan and a few others, who knew inside out how global capital ravaged the world. No, they were not socialist. They were, at their best conscientious social reformists who knew deep down inside what Empire was all about. Even Eisenhower figured that out. There are people like that at many levels of political engagement. You can rip them apart, like you can Jimmy Carter--but in the end, those with a "left" view of the world should not also adopt a George Bush perspective of Us versus Them in all debates. Also, lets put it this way. JT has an intellectual burden, he must carry. And despite some flawed :"me too isms" like having "Israel's back" lets just watch him carefully. It is better to watch him closely, than watching stumpy old, blustering Mulcair...please. 
An opposition to JT is a must. But dont make it a knee jerk response, until you see what he is able to achieve. I dont have hopes. But if ordinary people and new Canadians can get some respite, for a while, I am ok with that. I also dont think he was a plant, like Obama.  If he brings in 25,000 Syrian refugees before the end of the year, that would be a promising start.  The only good thing we have achieved is that we have gotten rid of a vile bastard like Harper and also trashed Duceppe. Thats all. The rest is "wait and see." 

Rana (a non-Liberal voter) 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Oppose new threat to Chelsea Manning!

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Whistleblower Chelsea Manning is now facing the threat of “indefinite solitary confinement” in prison at Fort Leavenworth, where she is serving a 35-year sentence for providing WikiLeaks with documentation of a vast array of war crimes and deception by the U.S. government.

Click here to sign an emergency petition that will be delivered to prison authorities before a scheduled hearing early next week.

After you’ve signed the petition, please share this urgent appeal with your friends.

RootsAction is promoting this petition in solidarity with Chelsea Manning and in cooperation with other groups supporting her. Together, we can and must gather a huge number of signers on this petition -- quickly.

Please become a signer now -- but don’t stop there. It’s urgent that you forward this message to your friends right away.

As the petition says, “Putting any human being in indefinite solitary confinement is inexcusable, and for offenses as trivial as these (an expired tube of toothpaste, and possession of magazines?) it is a discredit to America's military and its system of justice.”

The petition concludes: “We demand that these charges against Chelsea Manning be dropped, and request that Chelsea's hearing on August 18th be made open to the public, to ensure she is treated fairly."

By clicking here, you can add your voice to that demand.

An ACLU attorney just told BuzzFeed News, “Here Chelsea is at risk of losing various support networks simply because she had an expired tube of toothpaste, the Vanity Fair magazine that featured Caitlyn Jenner, and requested a lawyer when she felt she was being accused of misconduct.”

The charges against Chelsea are petty, absurd and vindictive. As Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation writes, she “is now being threatened with ‘indefinite solitary confinement’ for alleged infractions that are so minor it's actually hard to believe.”

If justice had prevailed, Chelsea Manning would never have spent a day in prison -- let alone enduring official abuse that began with prolonged solitary confinement before trial that amounted to torture.

Chelsea Manning deserves our undying gratitude and support for bravely informing all of us about terrible realities, with evidence like the infamous “Collateral Murder” video that showed the flippant and callous killing of unarmed civilians in Baghdad from U.S. military aircraft.

Help the petition take off today.

Chelsea has already paid a huge personal price for her moral courage. Now the government is ramping up persecution with charges that range from ridiculous to repressive to preposterous.

Time is short. The hearing that could lead to “indefinite solitary confinement” for Chelsea Manning is fast approaching. Please take a minute to follow up on signing the petition by sharing it with everyone you know who appreciates what Chelsea has done to help make this a better world.

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P.S. RootsAction is an independent online force endorsed by Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill Fletcher Jr., Laura Flanders, former U.S. Senator James Abourezk, Coleen Rowley, Frances Fox Piven, Lila Garrett, Phil Donahue, Sonali Kolhatkar, and many others.

>  Newsweek: Chelsea Manning Faces Solitary Confinement for Having Caitlyn Jenner Magazine, Other Infractions
>  Trevor Timm, Freedom of the Press Foundation: Chelsea Manning Threatened with ‘Indefinite Solitary Confinement’ for Expired Toothpaste and Asking for a Lawyer
>  BuzzFeed News: Chelsea Manning Faces Solitary Confinement Under New Charges, Lawyer Says

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Finland, the Baltic States and the Germanic mindset

It is interesting that Finland has always had a sleazy history aligning with the Germans even during the Nazi period. They signed a "co-belligerancy" pact with Hitler.  No one talks much about it. Political wormbugs of all genetic codes keep sputtering about the Hitler-Stalin pact till us cows actually refuse to come home. We are just tired, at the end of the day, to listen to the same cow-call that brings us back to the staid barn of Goebbels-like repeat-itis..

The Finn affinity for the Germans along with the Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians is tell tale. Their co-belligerancy, now against Greece, is thus remarkable.  They are perhaps really all anxious about the Russians....the old Soviet Union made them paranoid and jittery...even though they themselves became independent only after the Bolsheviks seized power... in 1917... prior to that the Russians and the Swedes fought each other and considered Finland a province of theirs. 

So with the Russians having a closer affinity for Greek orthodoxy  as opposed to the Finnish Lutherans, it suggest that tribal affiliations run deep.... because for sure the Finns are not the leading lights of the current thrust of  global banking-based capitalism and Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania  are hardly the front paw of industrialization like Germany is and nor are theytoo chummy with the folks at Goldman Sachs.  Neither do they give a rat's arse for genuine and good old neo-classical macroeconomic management principles. 

So, not every alliance is about bankers nodding their heads in unison in dark chambers...about how to screw the "lazy" tax dodging, dark Greeks. In Europe tribal affiliations run deep. So behind all the fantastic machinations of global capital,  there is also the petty minded historical animosity and alignment between tribes. The Finns never liked the Rus. The Germans do have a long standing vision of a dominating master race attitude.. it has not gone away. Uber alles, for sure. Dr. Schäuble  reminds me of the classic icy  Nazi lab doctor. ..Mengele...only this lab is experimenting with the life  choices made by olive farmers....a monster of a new sort indeed. And there are the Baltic states scurrying around  like vermin around the master rat.  Race, religion and tribe is still a bonding element to consider..Identity!

There is an interesting piece here from the Guardian about the anti-Russian revisionist history that has been cooked up in the Baltic States for a quite a while now.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Harvard Bags Meltdown Bonanza

So, hedge fund bilker Paulson gave Harvard University $400 million. And liberals and the Education-based political carpetbaggers swooned and swayed over it.  The world's richest university with $ 36 billion in endowments got the biggest chunk of velvet textured blood-lined cash ever in academia and liberals all over, including fawning brown-skinned  B school Heads  who figure prominently in Mr. Obama’s trite attempts at inclusive governance, went nuts about how liberal ideas prevail "only" in America. One of Harvard’s NRI Deans threw a challenge to the “west” (read Republican oil and gas and retail giant multi-billionaires) to counter this expansive liberal frame of mind.
Paulson made 4 billion $ during the 2007-8 meltdown by betting that there would be a housing market crash.  And he won. He put thousands of first time, middle and low income house owners out in the streets and living in tents along the Hudson. And they also moved into the storm water sewers of Las Vegas and restarted their lives, all over again.  They hemorrhaged to death while Paulson, on steroids, cashed in on their misery.  And Obama, the commander in chief of the largest imperial army in world history, like his predecessor Bush, carried forward the pledge to make sure that all the lying gang-bankers got bailed out, while Paulson romped home furtively. So Harvard, that bastion of US liberalism, and such a symbolic mind space drooled over endlessly by Democratic Party hitchhikers is now going to rename its Engineering school in the name of this arch über hedge gangster.
There is something so frivolous and naive about Democrat fawners upholding their "liberalism” in opposition to the climate-change denying bible thumpers in the Republican Party.  It is so gobsmackingly simplistic for those who live in this 2 party trench to continue to posture and present their pie as the better of the two. One is open about its stale and repetitious conservatism. The other puts a creamy cover of liberal foam on it. But it works. Because, philanthropy based on outrageous profiteering is treated with deference by the majority of the population. And in fact, Buffet, Gates and Soros have carved a philosophical niche out of donating billions, as another way to stave off the collapse of a world order based on inequality.

So Harvard gets its money. The engineers get to make drones that can one day reside in the parting of your hair and manage the personalized and paranoid security state that we are beginning to get acclimatized to and we all get to sing the songs about charity prevailing over resolving the fundamental divisions in society.  

Friday, February 27, 2015

Political Hernia for the West...

Since I still interact with the pressure vessel, power and piping industry...occasionally... I can tell you something about the buzz that circulates....From glee and rapture, it is gradually trending to queasiness and the runs. What started out as an arrogant attempt to corner Russia and Iran (under the cover of higher morality in international affairs), bankrupt them, start wars on their borders and continuously make the Russians look like drunken oligarchs with no intellectual abilities....and of course no sense of history...meanwhile that little querulous, distemperate, naggy, neocon, historically challenged Nuland ( whom Obama maintains dutifully in his stables) and her "fuck the EU" coup d'etat in Kiev, this whole manipulation has started to backfire...
The Shale gas out of North Dakota (Bakken) which brought a boom to the US gas now in doldrums...(they thought they would sit and watch while Russia got squeezed)  because although it is gas, it is all ultimately dictated by barrel prices and at 50$ it is also in trouble....(Notice how price at the gas pumps still remains the oil majors are raking in higher revenues, despite the drop..pass on savings to people? what? )

 So hundreds of orders are being cancelled...Quietly....Watch what happens now. Job loss across the board from all subcontract sources....starting out in the US, Canada and all the way to Asia. From piping and software to steel and castings. Shell has pulled out of Tar Sands. Hundreds of layoffs happening all along the Prairies in Canada..It has a domino effect on the companies as well in ancillary software, mechanical maintenance, business intelligence units, travel......
So as you sow, so you reap..or better... as you tighten your sado-political belt, you get the hernia yourself .. As you choose to go to brinkmanship, you will falter and step over a few rocks and then you will trip on the boulder, just over the edge...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rickshaws, Parks, Diet and Public Health(This piece originally appeared in

Rana Bose
It has finally dawned on me why there are still some Kolkatans who like to ride hand-pulled rickshaws with an oblivious cadence. Some wear sun shades; some pull out a vanity mirror and look at their faces while they swab the sweat from their brows, liberally mixing the talcum powder they had walloped themselves with, thus ensuring a caked topping on their pallor. Others bring a ton of merchandise along just to make the maximum out of a transportation logistics issue and make life miserable even further for the puller. They are obviously quite unconscious that they are virtually sitting on the shoulders of an emaciated, barefooted Bihari man whose clothes are in tatters and whose face betrays the complete despondency that an independent nation has found fit to bestow on its citizens.
No, it cannot only be that they cannot afford buses, trams or the metro or mini buses. It is also not true that for short trips from a main road into the interior of a neighborhood, a hand-pulled rickshaw is the best bet. It is also not true that this nation's politicians are so sensible and sensitive to the poor that they have agreed to maintain this mode of transportation out of a charitable dispensation towards the unskilled migrant from the rural interiors.
This morning as I walked with a friend around the Rabindra Sarovar lakes in South Kolkata (a wonderfully organised lakefront with excellent jogging and walking courses) it was clear to me that without exception, the people attempting to do some bizarre stretching exercises, to meditate, do some yoga, or simply pretending to stretch their muscles, were all out of shape. Only about 0.5 per cent of the people seemed fit enough to jog or do power walking of any degree. Most people, young and old, had bloated midriffs, drooping chests and jowls, flabby thighs and arms, stiff shoulders, barrel chested mid sections and collapsed spines with curved backs and terrible postures. A crew of women sat around the beautiful granite seating areas, wearing Nike and Adidas shirts, with bulging midriffs and sweating uncomfortably. I had no clue what they had done to achieve this status. When I went past the spot about an hour later, they had not moved an inch. The sweating and panting had still not subsided. A crew of middle-aged male private company executive types (you can figure them out by their glasses and hairstyles and tendency to wear designer but ill-fitting shorts) walked by onspindly legs, spare tires floating around precariously, talking loudly and ribbing each other with probably very funny jokes. They were not serious about the morning walk they had planned. It was more of a morning jam, away from the wives, than a serious attempt to maintain their health.
Of course, there is a whole generation of people "going to gyms," "working out!" And they would object to this piece. And even amongst them there are whole slews that are still out of shape while they work away madly on ellipticals. But, I am not talking about the very urban savvy, well-heeled and travelled youth, who are an exception. I am talking about the class of people who have always lived in their neighbourhoods and despite all the exposure in the new media about healthy habits and proper food, have not changed their habits. And they are the ones who gravitate towards rickshaws, invariably. When I see women in their thirties and forties walking around... sorry a large number of them do not walk - they waddle... and men, as well, walk in the most uncontrolled manner, coughing and spitting incessantly, you would think that any moment they would roll over one way as opposed to the other and slip or keel over. Why is there such a preposterous trend towards bad posture and poor motor skills? What is wrong with the average Kolkatan in terms of healthy food and exercise habits? I suppose the answer lies somewhere between the extracts from the studies quoted below and also some geo-physical and socio-political factors.
According to a paper published in 2011 in the World Congress of Cardiology, "Seventy-nine per cent of men and 83 per cent of women in India were found to be physically inactive, while 51 per cent of men and 48 per cent of women were found to have high fat diets. Some 60 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women were found to have a low intake of fruits and vegetables, while 12 per cent of men and 0.5 per cent of women smoke.
Moreover, the prevalence of biological and metabolic risk factors was also found to be high. Overweight and obesity were reported in 41 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women. High blood pressure was reported in 33 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women, while high cholesterol was found in one-quarter of all men and women. Diabetes (and/or metabolic syndrome) was also reported in 34 per cent of men and 37 per cent of women." The study further goes on to say, "India has the dubious distinction of being known as the coronary and diabetes capital of the world," said Prof. Prakash Deedwania, University of California, San Francisco, USA. "These results show why - and must prompt the government to develop public health strategies that will change lifestyles, if these risk factors are to be controlled." To me this is a cardiovascular and diabetic epidemic. Poor food habits and lack of exercise is pandemic. And the neglect of the State is appalling.
So, in spite of the young folks who are going to gyms and keeping in good shape, the majority of Kolkata's population is not in good shape. So rickshaws must continue....
Let us however also look at some other issues. Apart from the historical affinity for creamy, fatty, cholesterol-rich diets handed down as a result of successive ethnic onslaughts on the Indian subcontinent (thus encouraging an essentially pre-industrial cultural dispensation towards a feudal grandeur in cooking) there are also the current side effects of neo-liberalism and its impact on the girdle. Surprised? Well consider this!
India is a hot country. In parts of India, temperatures reach 48 deg C consistently. There is no respite from the heat even in the darkest interiors of a dwelling. Unless one is ready to venture out very early in the morning for a jog or an exercise regime when it is still dark, the idea of a morning or evening jog is not very pleasant. India's heat is unbearable. To top that off, easy access to potable water is simply not there. The state does not sense the need for greenery and shaded areas and cool parks, nor does the state guaranty water treatment that assures one of bacteria and germ free water on tap in all public spaces. So, now step in the neo-liberal commodity culture fetishists. You don't need to go out anymore. You can filter and treat your water at home. Several combinations of filter and water purifying machines and home coolers are available. And air conditioners are being manufactured by the millions or simply being imported. So, the nation is confining people to their homes, to simply loll around like beached whales on cold marble. Or, for the energetic young, to get transported in AC cars to AC super ersatz malls to simply chatter and fidget in food courts. India's very young, still not out of high school, are also out of shape.
I asked a friend what he ate throughout the day and I was appalled to find how much boiled rice, fried fish and vegetables stewed in thick creamy curries and some fried vegetables constituted the bulk of the daily food intake. And aside from that, cigarettes and milk-boiled tea was standard. If that was not enough, the consumption of buns with some meat or greasy egg parathas with meat rolls were quite commonplace.
I think it is time to reverse our diet. For a variety of reasons, perhaps one among them is to have the ability to move fast, when required.
A 165 g serving of white rice has 44 g of carbohydrates (26 per cent), almost negligible dietary fiber, 43 g of starch, 7 per cent protein, Calcium 13.2 mg (1 per cent) and negligible amounts of Iron, Phosphorus, Sodium, Potassium, etc. We eat rice, because it is a low-cost stomach filler. We sprinkle some dal and/or curry and trot off to work, with our midriffs bloated. At night, the same diet is followed by no exercise and the carbohydrate induces stupor and sleepiness. What a perfect way to not exercise your heart and not feed your brain with oxygen. Perhaps we should stop eating so much rice. We should use dal as a bowl of soup (loaded with proteins) and put some vegetables like peas and carrots in them and perhaps a tablespoon of rice with a squeeze of juice from a slice lemon. A reversal of rice with dal, and instead have dal with rice.
Then we will not ride on the backs of fellow citizens.
The author is an engineer, writer and playwright.
Tags: Rickshaws, Kolkata, overweight, obesity, diet

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Jadavpur University Students Blow You Away with their Maturity

Some quick notes----
Actually what is happening in Jadavpur University and Kolkata is very hopeful. The tide must be turned against the mall-rat culture and the street-goon thug culture that has enveloped India. And Bengal is perhaps the best starting point to reverse it. Because Bengal has seen so-called "left" rule and has no fantasies about it and is now seeing proto-fascist goon culture that is the hall mark of the pea-brained TMC. Bengal, not being at the forefront of the neo-liberal onslaught is only witnessing the spill-over from the craving for a "western life-style" as opposed to the rest of India who have been ahead in that "game." And coupled with that Bengal has had to deal with that peculiar thug culture that a pre-industrial society spawns when Bollywood-ism appeals to the new young migratory population looking towards benefitting from the spill-over mall-rat culture. 
There is a problem though of sustenance. Always an issue with a college going generation. They are always torn between career, supporting family and long term social/ political commitment. Some will come out of this as activists. If sustained it will be like the anti-Vietnam war movement and the food movement that preceded it. As an era. More important than the Occupy movement or simulations of it.

 For those of you who still remember, it is always a single incident that sparked a new generation. In Jadavpur itself, forty years ago,  it was the CPM thugs who commandeered the administration and prevented pro-Naxalite students from entering the college. There was an occupation and gherao then also. In Columbia University, it was the involvement of the administration in the war efforts in Vietnam that triggered the occupation. The same happened in Sorbonne, when students in May 1968 occupied the administration buildings against the class oriented politics of the administration and its curriculum policies. The rest is history. See here.

What is however more crucial is to understand that this generation wants a change of mindset! They want out from old jargon, old dogma, dadagiri, I told-you- so-ism, etc etc. They are also culturally liberated compared to those who have been glued to bookish Marxist tenets. This is the time for the de-hegemonizing that is fundamental to insurrectionary politics. First you have to undermine the "manufactured consent". The cultural hegemony of boring traditional mainstreamism. Some have clearly said "we dont care if the CNN-IBN does not care for us." 

There is a new maturity, a new cultural realization...that is heartwarming... as opposed to old dogma and proto fascist goon culture of recent times. All power to the KOLOROB...the ensuing hum of dissent that builds...!


Wednesday, August 06, 2014

(Came back this afternoon from a die-in in front of the NDP office. Friends lay splattered with the names of 2-80 year olds. This summer has been a downer.)

I WANT WINTER, Aug 5, 2014

At this point I want winter back.
I want the mist above the snow on a river below a bridge.
And nothing else.

I want a lone piano player on a pier
whose end can't be seen.
I want him to play single notes on a long bridge with one note for one child
and nothing else.

I want the end of this summer of blood
Of colours,  banners, grimaces, anger,
Of coiled, spitting vipers
On green lawns creeping up on friends
Who stand up alone,
Against militia on an annual dole.

I want the mirth, the couches with beer,
the lawless in their patio,
on a hilltop cheering, foaming,  darting around,

I want winter and nothing else.
I want an endless pier, a bridge,
A piano player, a hammer for a finger
 playing one note for one child

And nothing else.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Originally appeared in

The Ubiquity of the Unintelligent, Illiterate, Uninformed Troll

Rana Bose  

web troll 2
On researching about Gregory Corso, the poet, I found this in a compilation Blog on some of the greatest poets of our time.
In the introduction, it says the following:
“ Gregory Nunzio Corso was an American poet, youngest of the inner circle of Beat Generation writers (with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs). He was beloved by the other ‘Beats’.”
“… a tough young kid from the Lower East Side who rose like an angel over the roof tops and sang Italian song as sweet as Caruso and Sinatra, but in words… Amazing and beautiful, Gregory Corso, the one and only Gregory, the Herald.” ~Jack Kerouac
“Corso’s a poet’s Poet, a poet much superior to me. Pure velvet… whose wild fame’s extended for decades around the world from France to China, World Poet”. ~Allen Ginsberg
Then I travelled down to the comments section- as I typically do, despite the better advice from most of my colleagues.
A supremely confident dolt had trolled in and made a comment, “What kind of crazy mother fucker writes this BS. “ And in doing so, the troll (gender unknown) had somehow initiated a perverted discussion on communism, hippies and eventually the discussion had gone on to masturbation and orgasm and finally the inevitable “judging from your English, you must be a camel rider.”

The Implements then and the audience now
My comment is not about Corso. It’s not about Beat poetry either. It’s more about the time he lived in. The tools of his trade. His implements, his audiences.
It is about a time when there was no Costco or Walmart, where no laptops and IPads were sold with readymade chit-chat, crib and bitch software to Buzz, WhatsApp, Tweet and troll the world, just for the heck of it. Because comment has been made free (the practice of democracy) and abuse of bandwidth (aob) is accommodatingly kosher.
It was the way Corso communicated his passion to his following. And the way people reacted to the words of the time. About a wasted world, a warring world, a world where the coldness of ideological wars deprived the soul of both positive and negative associations and left no space or stage even for melancholia. This was about how they met and exchanged notes on scraps of paper, which they invariably misplaced or simply tossed out into the endless caniveaux that sloped along the sides of the cobbled streets of Paris, which were conveniently lit up by a predictable Lune. And how they opinionated, opiated and rebelled about the world they had inherited then. That was then. A world of Buddhist poetry, unbridled gayness, daring real-time cinema, staged live with optional endings on stage, cigarette smoke in Montmartre cafes or on the lower east in New York. Stand-up bass notes vibrated the room; reeds tickled the air and fumes curled up to the lamp shades while a lonely word warrior belted out rhymes. And repeating lines for emphasis–while a mesmerized audience nodded Yeah! Yeah! And people listened, for god’s sake. People listened and absorbed! And crumpled pieces of poetry handwritten or typed lay on the floor of a Bleecker Street loft –-pages whipped out in a frenzy of words from a cloppity Remington Rand. And an old man named Pete sang songs about the hard times and when the good times would roll. This was a world where Poetry took forever to get printed and capture the mood of the times. But once it got out, it was respected; it was carefully preserved, next to bedside tables, carried in ruck sacks, or left on shelves or on LPs made of bakelite. It was re- read, talked about, listened to and discussed in face-to-face encounters. Until the plasma or LED screen usurped the typewriter.
Well, the gist of what I am saying is that your heckler faced you. You could see him or her. And if you were pissed off (POed) enough, you would roll up your white cotton shirt sleeves, walk up to him and fists would fly.
But today you can’t see your heckler.
Well! Something does not sound right about the way I went about this and so I must start again and say that I wanted to write about trolls in the blogosphere and how I detest them and how I could wring their necks with my hands till they choked and squelched out their last breath–the green putrid gas-breath of a reptile mall-rat generation that coils itself around the cloudsphere. I could put my arms around their necks and squeeze the daylights out of a majority of them.
This interjection about these poets was triggered by a friend who I have been transporting thrice a week for his dialysis, at a Montreal treatment center. He shares snapshots from his life about meeting people, sometimes world leaders, in several corners of the world, in Paris, in Beijing, in Moscow, in Budapest, in Washington, in Pyongyang– some very crucial people in world politics and in a hundred other places in the world, where he has travelled. There are stories in his head that can be a compendium and then he tells me casually about how he ran into Corso in Paris, where he was a student, and Corso asked him for postage stamps because he wanted to mail his poems to someone in New York and did not have the money to buy stamps. That was then. You needed stamps. You needed typewriters. You needed paper—to tell the world about how you felt. Now you need a cheap notebook and a wi-fi connection to spew out spontaneous and instantaneous vitriol using chat slang (another day in paradise –adip) while you are sequestered in your incognito IP address in your single mother’s home, where you have parked yourself, anyway, after ditching all possibilities of informing yourself about the world gone by.

So what makes a troll?
So what makes a troll do what he or she does? What does a troll want out of life? Where do trolls get their energy and political beliefs? Are trolls a product of the relations of production? What is the basis and raison d’être of a troll? Is the troll a product of social relationships, economic relationships, or technological relationships?
The troll, in my opinion (imo), is a product of the industrialization of knowledge. Or, rather it is the reserve army of labour put out by a technology that works with lesser and lesser and fewer and fewer until half-baked knowledge and capability is spawned and released to the world. They are the product of a society, where knowledge is relatively easy to acquire (unlike a tool maker, an assembly worker or a miner or a short-order cook) and therefore profitability (or its declining rate) requires that they are used and released. Something like farm salmon. Spuriously red, invariably tasteless and easily available. So, the knowledge factory and the creation of the “virtual” industry has created vagabonds, who have driven the cost of knowledge down and thus made these “workers” available at below minimum intelligence. Wiki knowledge and wikianalysis have put out experts on all issues. However, trolls are a special variety. They have neither analytical skills nor knowledge. They are simply out there with their smart devices, jibbing and jabbing, getting offensive, obscene and anonymous. There, for the heck of it. They are not even the lumpens of the knowledge world. Lumpens were the disposed who had no revolutionary ardor. They are the displaced stay-at-homes whose social, political, historical and language skills are definitely suspect.
web troll
Now and Then
Of course we have travelled a long way in the past 4 decades. We have put caution to the winds and evolved technologically in such leaps and bounds—and we have put so much distance between now and then, that we don’t remember anymore, as to how we talked, we exchanged, we remembered each other’s faces and how we remembered our words and discussed them through the night till dawn broke.
So today when I finish reading an incisive piece about Ed Snowden or a piece about the China-Russia gas pipeline and the diminishing of the US dollar as reserve currency, or I read about the two Dalit girls in India who got gang-raped and then hung themselves (so far that is the official story), I cannot avoid travelling down to the end of the article and start reading the comments on the story. The story was uploaded in the last few hours and the trolls have descended on the piece, like an army, with their characteristic un-intelligence, illiteracy, foul-mouthed vituperations and absurd reasoning.
Trolls are the bane of the virtual world. They get in on every conversation, irrespective of the moderation deployed on the site. In fact, certain blog moderators actually encourage a certain political slant. They encourage racists, provocateurs, intolerant, unintelligent and mostly insouciant idiots to travel from one blog to another spiking conversations with short harangues. So what starts out as a discussion on US Foreign policy pivots in Asia, ends up as a private feud between an Arab hater and a Jew Hater. Eventually, it migrates over to a discussion on cricket ground animosity between Indians and Pakistanis and finally an open threat to “nuke” each other someday. Of course, if one follows an article by a Chris Hedges or a Tom Engelhardt, there is a significant level of seriousness that the comment-makers deploy. Because they are concerned. They are involved in some way. They are experienced and knowledgeable. But trolls?  Hang ‘em !(HE)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Modiocracy for a start….
Let’s put Godhra aside. Let’s just forget about 2002 and 1984, as well. Let’s also understand that the legal process in India does not provide the benefit of the doubt to the downtrodden until proven innocent, but on the other hand does find ways and means to whitewash the powerful of any insinuation of guilt. Let’s simply not harp on Modi/fascist/Hindutva/right wing endlessly—so much so that the historical meaning of these words lose their edge.
Let’s simply examine some benign facts about Gujarat. Straight from the state’s own mouth.
-              Dropout rates from Gujarat schools are at a record 58%! The national average is at 49%
-For Gujarat’s Dalits and Tribals the dropout rate of high school students has reached  65 and 78% respectively
-              In Gujarat there are 52 students per teacher, in the intermediate level, whereas the national average is 34 per teacher.
-              The enrollment of boys for class 1 in Gujarat has dropped by 24%, although the enrollment of girls has actually increased 11%. In general, men and boys are skipping education? Modiocrists may explain that Gujarat is so engulfed with entrepreneurial zeal that the male population finds knowledge acquisition quite redundant, and girls have more time and can fulfill traditional roles and therefore can complete education, merely as a chore perhaps? 
-              Gujarat’s gross enrollment ratio (GER) is at 17.6 and is lower than states like Tamil Nadu (38.2) and Maharashtra (27.4) . GER is the proportion of 18-23 year olds studying in higher education against the total population.

-              Gujarat’s shortage of doctors at primary health care centers is 34%. Shortage of specialists at community health clinics is at an astounding 94%
-              Planned sub centres for primary and community health care centers are at an astounding level of incompletion. 21% of sub centres, 19% of primary health care and 11% of community centres as planned, do not exist.
-              In tribal areas 70% of Xray technicians and 63% of pharmacists have not been posted and there are no doctors available here. 100% shortage!
-              As a result, infant mortality in Gujarat has reached 38 average and as high as 55 in certain districts (death before reaching the age of one). In Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra this rate is 21 and 25 respectively.
-              The mortality rate for girls under five is 37 in Gujarat, while the national average  is 34. The whole of India is out to destroy its girls, though, on a war footing.
So, when the backers of Modi (and I am not talking about the Khaki balloon-pant wearing saffron goon squads ) ---- I am talking about industrialists who go hoarse screaming about “growth”,  roads, electricity, foreign investments, single window processes,  nano car production ( a tax shelter and land scam that has been neatly swept under the rug by the Tatas and the Modi government)—where is your soul? Where is your honest take on the condition of the population for whom you want to make soaps, cereals, drinks, medicines and fruits? How will they buy your products, if they have no cash, no savings and no idea of the world they are getting into? How will they buy the commodities that you are so keen to produce on land stolen from agriculture and how will they have some income so their children can go to school, eat healthy foods and get primary health care, when Gujarat’s investments in these sectors are abysmal? Will they eat cement, steel, nano cars, highways and containers?  How will the fabled farmers of Gujarat, more than 700 of whom have committed suicide during Modi’s rule, prepare the food for the children of Gujarat when their land is stolen, their loans are like hot coals around their necks and chemical companies are producing seeds they don’t need?

I said I would not talk about 2002, about Gujarat, about 1984, about Congress leaders trying to exploit Gujarat’s reign of shame while tucking away their own carnages from Baranagore and Amritsar to Delhi and Nellie. I did not. I did not also talk about the well-grown potted plants of fascism that are spreading everywhere under BJP aegis. I am talking about children, health care, education, mortality, mothers and food. That is enough to put the Modiocrists in a little cell in Tihar. Modi does not chill you to the bones. The facts are clear. These are benign monsters that must be dispensed with coolly.