Friday, October 29, 2010

Maladroit Adenoidal Terropolitics

"The inclusion of nonsensical sentences in my fusion of the clay and miniature mediums began as a thematic meditation on the space between imagery and words. Words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and clichés create multiple layers and personae, most of which contradict each other, and nearly all of which contradict the work itself. These contradictions speak of contemporary anxieties and desires at a time when the notion of the ‘self’ is unstable and rapidly shifting, much like this paragraph is clearly unstable, and the eyes of the discerning reader are rapidly shifting. This must, then, be an artists’ statement. The notion of ‘statement’, with its’ fuchsia undertones of dictatorship and oppressive body politic, its’ discursive dialectical implications about Islamic identity, is precisely what inspired me to paint these pictures of platypuses."

MSS 2010, Maladroit Adenoidal Terropolitics, Oct 30- 31 at Minaret Art Gallery.

From ‘Belief storm’, Ishma Malik, Random Monthly, Nov 2010:

The Minaret Gallery from its very inception has been striving to showcase innovative and scholarly approaches to art, and the gallery’s current show, ‘Maladroit Adenoidal Terropolitics,’ directly references the yawning, yearning chasm between the two for visual metaphors voicing notions of the here and now.

According to the artist MSS, the exhibition evolved out of a conscious examination of indigenous literary and cultural traditions to discover and build original forms/imagery, as opposed to borrowing and improvising western constructs. “That is why my artists statement was in English”, she said.

Curator Gulbadan Ilyas says she found resonance in the way MSS derived inspiration from the vernacular and the effervescent ethereal elixir of elucidation, and, in a time when the notions of the self (as well as the here and now, and possibly also then) were rapidly shifting, found her interpretation of the irrelevant very relevant.

While the menacing tail in the ‘Overweight Earthworm of Sorrow’ spell the devastating floods – a subtle testament to MSS’s ability to reverse colonize western constructs by implying PK should be added under UK and US on word spell-check options - and the reality of ‘Insert The Obvious Here’ hits right at the heart of Islamabad, it is the intricate ‘Bunny Love’ fridge magnet (simulation) which draws you in. Bordered with a minute metallic fence with details finely etched in fields of gold the work, prosaic at first glance, is quite a twister. As well as quite a fridge magnet.

MSS has inverted the pleasurable sentiments of unnatural splendor by intersecting the personal with the political in what hints of the self-portrait in ‘I Am What You Get When You Take the Fun Out of Fundamental.’ Juxtaposed with the blank canvas of ‘You Take the AAAAR out of Art’ on Minarets wall space, it enunciates the tension between the metaphysical and the metaphorical in the material world as she theoretically plays with the positive and destructive sensibilities the ‘art’ concept can generate in people.

But it is in ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Yakfest’ that the artist moves away from tentative modulations to give a free rein to her flair for fantasy to craft a fictional monstrosity. As an artist, MSS has responded intelligently to this exercise of accessing graphical and painterly descriptions from cultural and literary sources, and then remaking them completely. She was no doubt aided in this by her consistent homage to the three fonts of her primary influence, Sadequain, Miro and Batman.

: Maladroit Adenoidal Terropolitics was inspired by this piece in Newsline magazine. No (significant) disrespect is intended to the writer of the original, and none whatsoever to the artists and curators mentioned in this. I just wished to make the points that what tends to pass for visual art reviews/criticism in Pakistan wouldn’t pass Go in Monopoly, and asking artists to write statements is a bit like asking writers to doodle in the margins of their manuscripts. Surely the point of both is to make the art more rather than less accessible to everyone else?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Freud, Get Your Beret On

Hmmmm. I wonder what's on the French government's mind these days.

The French Defence Minister Herve Morin, being interviewed a few days ago on a small radio station, Radio Beur, about France's involvement with the war in Afghanistan, was asked about the fact that a majority of French people opposed the involvement of French troops in that arena (France has about 3,500 troops serving with NATO there, at a cost of about half a billion euros annually, and has lost about 45 soldiers in the fight against the Taliban). He replied by saying that "It is difficult to explain to... men and women... that part of their safety is ensured 7,000 miles away."

Or that's what he ended up saying. But what he actually said initially (before quickly correcting himself) was:

"C'est difficile d'expliquer à des cons... "

...which translates into "It is difficult to explain to cunts..." Most mainstream media that has reported on it has chosen to translate it in the far more idiomatic (and polite) "It is difficult to explain to idiots..."

For those who can understand French, here is the clip as it aired on the radio:

Of course, this comes on the back of two other embarrassing gaffes by French government politicians. The most recent one before Morin, was that by Brice Hortefeux, the French interior minister, who in an interview on October 17 referred to digital fingerprinting as "genital impressions." That's Brice Hortefeux on the left with one of his genitals, sorry, digits.

But that was only after former Justice Minister and now Member of European Parliament Rachida Dati, while attacking foreign investment funds in a television appearance last month, confused the word 'inflation' with "fellatio." She said:

"When I see some of them looking for returns of 20 or 25 per cent, at a time when fellatio is close to zero, and in particular in a slump, that means we are destroying businesses."

She later laughed off the slip-up by saying that it happened because she was trying to speak too fast. You can see a clip of that now infamous moment here. Of course Ms Dati is rumoured to have been removed last year as Justice Minister because of First Lady Carla Bruni's distaste for her, although officially it was said to be because of professional lapses. It is widely believed in France that she was President Nikolas Sarkozy's former lover and also has a child from an unnamed father, who many believe (rightly or wrongly) is Sarkozy himself:

Would you say the French government seems a little distracted?

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Beard in the Stomach

Don't you just hate it when the facade of liberal, sensible urbane-ness you have so carefully constructed over years and years comes crashing down with one ill-conceived article that you thought would have the masses lauding your cleverness but which exposes you for the parochial, narrow-minded bigot you really are?

Syed Talat Hussain, finally officially confirmed as having been imported into DawnNews, must be feeling like that right now.

Syed Talat Hussain in his 'liberal' avatar

The article in question was published in the Urdu daily Express as an op-ed piece yesterday under the title "Jolie Ka Thhappar" [Jolie's Slap in the Face], and has rightly caused an uproar among most of those people who read it. Not because of the thrust of its main point, which was criticism of the government's alleged insensitivity to the plight of the flood affected - based on media reports of an allegedly leaked confidential report by UNHCR's goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie to the organization after her visit to Pakistan - but in how he viciously maligned Angelina Jolie's character to build his case.

Here is how Let Us Build Pakistan / CriticalPPP Green Goat's Hide, the first blog to call attention to the piece, took on Talat,  and here is how our friend Kalakawa hilariously deconstructed him.

In essence, Hussain went on a diatribe against Jolie's personal life, her "immoral" lifestyle, her allegedly selfish and cut-throat nature, her alleged hypocrisy and manipulation in adopting children and even her "plain" looks - most of his 'facts' are in fact made up or sensationalized - only to build the case, right at the end, that even an 'immoral and wayward woman' like Jolie was deserving of more respect than the government since she at least criticized it for its peripheral preoccupations during the flood crisis. If you think that is a rather convoluted way of attacking the government, you would be dead right.

What Hussain has actually shown up with his words is his own sexism, his own bigotry, his own racism (he actually derides Jolie's children as "rang barangay yateem bachay" or 'multi-coloured orphan kids'), his own homophobia and his own amazingly parochial nature. He has conclusively proved, if it needed to be proved, that the paet ki daarrhi (beard in the stomach i.e. concealed bigotry) has a way of coming out at some point or the other. He has also shown how some hypocrites in the media write in one style for the Urdu-reading public and maintain quite a different persona for the English readership (perhaps he thought those who read English papers would never actually read his column in Urdu).

But you could not possibly understand why I say all of this without reading the article itself. For those who cannot read the purple prose in the original Urdu, here is my translation of it which tries to remain as true as possible to Hussain's style and meaning:

Jolie’s Slap in the Face
By Syed Talat Hussain
"Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie’s life is a tortuous and colourful tale. This 36-year-old woman has suffered all those misfortunes about which her fans (I am not one of them) are all praise [sic] and which some of them enjoy thinking about. At a very tender age, she had adopted many of the habits of adulthood because father and mother could not bear living together and so this little girl and her brother were forced to live outside a family structure, with her mother. Madam hated traditions right from the start and thus constantly ran away from home to try and live life on her own terms. Finally, bidding farewell to even these broken relationships, she began working in the theatre (In America, theatre and prostitution are two different professions, readers are advised not to draw the wrong conclusions based on Pakistan’s example).
Because her looks were average, she couldn’t make much of a mark in acting. If one takes a look at Angelina Jolie’s photographs from that time, her face wouldn’t even invite a second glance: hollow cheeks, triangular nose, big startled-looking eyes and lips like an uncovered clay pot, no glow on her face nor the vitality of youth in her body. This is why, in order to advance her film career, she relied on marriages. She established relationships with well known filmmakers and thus inducted herself in the race for big budget films. Then with unflagging energy she worked hard to convert those opportunities into making a name for herself that is the envy of every good actress.
Angelina’s personal life is full of going against all those values that in every society lay the foundations of distinguishing good from bad. She is famously known as someone who can cross any limits to achieve her objectives. Her critics bestow titles such as “Sorceress” and “Queen of Hell” on her. In circles close to her it is said that, were murder not punishable by life in prison, Angelina Jolie would quite happily kill with her own hands any woman or man who came in her way, because softness is not part of her character.
According to some reports, the lady treats substance addiction like a profession and every year experiments with new substances to regularly nurture this disease. Besides her ambition for climbing the ladder of success, she also enjoys loving women (what you understand from this is right!). According to a recent newspaper report, Angelina Jolie calls herself the mistress of Sapphic love and considers these despicable experiences among the best of her life. According to her, only a woman can really understand the delicate emotions of another woman. Men, despite all their attempts, can never achieve the standard that is the apogee of women’s real desires.
Angelina Jolie has also made provisions to deflect attention away from these dark aspects of her life. That is why she has adopted multi-coloured orphaned kids to project herself as the goddess of motherly warmth and empathy. Her expert public relations machine has presented these aspects of her in such an effective way that the United Nations appointed this Hollywood actress as a goodwill ambassador. What special education or skills Angelina possesses to be appointed to this position, we do not know. Up until now, her biography does not reveal any period in which she shows herself to be proving her mastery of international affairs. In a life studded with addiction and intoxication and moral waywardness, if there is any glittering star, it is her efforts in the profession of film. Other than that, this lady does not live up to any standards and then Eastern standards are far higher than her character demonstrates.
If you have any doubt about this claim, open up the Constitution of Pakistan. Take out Articles 62 and 63. What do they say? Does it not say this: We who consider ourselves the flag-bearers of Eastern traditions, will consider those the best amongst us, who in addition to achieving excellence in other affairs, “possess a good character, do not go against the laws of Islam, do not commit great sins, are pious, and not involved in moral turpitude” etc. etc.? Our concept of piety is rooted in the assumption that those people who do not possess these traits in their personal life cannot have a position of respect in society. Be it in everyday life or matters of state, characters like Angelina Jolie, be they Muslim or non-Muslim, should remain deprived of respect. Indeed, had Angelina Jolie admitted to her shenanigans while living in Pakistan, she would have been stoned to death many times over.
But even this filmic woman drowning in her Westernisms has enough of a glimmer of values remaining in her to understand that pushing and shoving distressed flood affected people because of [official] protocol is a bad thing. In her report to the UN upon her return back from Pakistan, Angelina Jolie has expressed surprise that, at a time when 10 million people are restless with hunger, she was feted like royalty in the Prime Minister House. The prime minister’s family traveled in a special plane to come and meet her and give her gifts. This report is such a slap on the face that, if a person’s blood is not already cold, the redness of his cheeks would be visible to the entire nation. I don’t know why, after this report of her experiences in Pakistan, this Hollywood actress seems more worthy of respect than her prominent hosts. And I wonder if the hosts have learnt any lessons from this actress’ morals."

Just to set the record straight about Jolie:

1. She has been married twice, to actors Johnny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton, neither of whom fall in the category of people who could give her a leg up in big budget films (in fact, how many people even know who Miller is?). She currently lives with actor Brad Pitt, whom she met long after she had become famous, and she has publicly said that she does not want to marry again until gay people also have the same right.

2. She has won one Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, two Screen Actors Guild awards and three Golden Globe awards, hardly someone you would classify as a non-serious actor who only got to stardom by sleeping her way through. In fact, there is no evidence (documented or gossiped about) of relationships with any directors or producers.

3. Where Hussain picked up his quotes about Jolie's intensely ambitious nature is a complete mystery (maybe Hussain spends his time reading The National Enquirer or has a yen for Brad Pitt's ex, Jennifer Aniston). In fact, Jolie has often expressed a desire to quit acting altogether to spend more time with her family.

4. She has never been accused, to my knowledge, of substance addiction, though she has admitted experimenting with drugs in her teenage years and has openly talked about her rebellious phase during adolescence.

5. The post of Goodwill Ambassador at the UN is predicated only on celebrities who wish to use their fame to advocate for causes the UN agencies wish to bring attention to. It has nothing to do with being experts in international relations. Jolie was appointed Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) because she is a famous actress, not because of the children she adopted.

The "plain" Ms Jolie in Pakistan

Contrary to the sensationalist claptrap that this article peddles about Jolie, this is what we DO learn without doubt about Syed Talat Hussain from this article:

1. He believes all divorced or single parent families are unnatural and it is impossible to grow up happy or well-adjusted in them.

2. He hates people who hate traditions, no matter how stifling, and rebel against them.

3. He thinks all theatre actors in Pakistan are prostitutes. Actresses and perhaps all showbiz people are not worthy of any respect.

4. He enjoys making fun of people's looks, even if they are adolescent children.

5. He thinks that anyone who rebels against society's norms is destroying the good in society. Anyone who advocates equal rights for people based not on their gender, race or sexual orientation - as Jolie does - is the scum of the earth.

6. He has no problem making shit up to justify his claims.

7. He really, and I mean REALLY, hates gay people or even those who try and break down the barriers of discrimination against them through their words. He thinks of homosexuality as moral turpitude and despicable.

8. He can't imagine how any woman might find more fulfillment from another woman than a  virile man.

9. He mocks children.

10. He has deep-rooted racial prejudices.

11. He thinks adoption is unnatural and is done out of pity by people as a public relations exercise.

12. He thinks everyone in the UN is a moron who gets fooled easily by PR machines.

13. He is xenophobic and thinks there is a clear line between Western and "superior" Eastern values. He also believes the West is irretrievably morally "corrupt" as evidenced by the 'looseness' of its women.

14. He thinks Article 62 and 63 of the Pakistan Constitution - inserted by the hypocritical dictator General Ziaul Haq to manipulate the parliament - are the epitome of Eastern values.

15. He thinks stoning people to death for their personal lifestyle choices or expression of opinion is acceptable.

16. He thinks it is okay to throw mud on someone's personal life to titillate readers as long as you are just marshalling your sleaze to make an unconnected point. Even if that person is completely unknown to you and has only gone out of their way to garner sympathy for the same people you claim to be fighting for.

Most people probably do not remember the fact that this cretin of a pseudo-intellectual was often himself accused (unfairly in my opinion), in the early part of his journalistic career, of being an empty-headed boy-toy for his female boss. They also probably do not remember the vile homophobic rant he once wrote (about 10 years or so ago) as an op-ed in The News, which is no longer available in the archives on the net (if anyone can find it, please do send it along to us). But we do, even if Hussain has tried to erase this past with a carefully cultivated image of sensibility and balance. Most, however, might recall that he is as fond of invoking the bogey of "liberal extremist", to label anyone who argues for secularism or progressive politics or offers dissent against antiquated societal norms, as people like Shireen Mazari, Ahmad Quraishi, Ansar Abbasi and Hamid Mir (great club you have there Talat). Someone should ask him to actually define what a "liberal extremist" is and how many of them actually exist in this country for them to be constantly used to scare people. We might learn some more about him.

There has also been a lot of speculation about where the well-spring of this anger and bitterness against Jolie actually arises from. Personally, I think Jolie probably ignored LittleMullahBoy on her trip to Pakistan, something his narcissistic ego just could not take.

But whatever the reason, we know now what the Express' idea of editorial decency is, and we also know another thing for sure: the Dawn Media Group really should reconsider long and hard about who it is taking on. Does Syed Talat Hussain really represent the values Dawn claims to uphold?

The Continuously Intriguing Media

It's getting so that even reporting on people changing jobs in the media has become risky business. As in, risky for one's credibility. Even though we do rely on very good sources before putting the information out here.

The latest U-turn (and believe us, it is a U-turn) is morning show star Dr Shahista Wahidi's announcement today on ARY that the news of her departure from the channel is simply rumour and not based on fact. Yes, Dr Wahidi, tell that to Geo which had bade Nadia Khan farewell and was having your new show's set designed. Obviously, this can only mean that ARY has upped the ante even further than the 22 lakhs a month Geo had offered Wahidi to lure her. Some people have all the luck, particularly at channels where many complain of not being paid their far more meagre salaries on time.

It was precisely because of this pendulum style of job negotiations that we had held off on reporting about The News senior investigative journalist Rauf Klasra's potential move from the Jang Group to the Express Media Group, which he himself had threatened many times earlier and which we had actually known about for some time. But now that the daily Express itself has confirmed it, we can add to it the reasons for it beyond the lure of a better pay packet.

In fact, Klasra had been rather unhappy at the Jang Group for quite some time. The official reason that Klasra is apparently now giving is his unhappiness with the, in his opinion, 'agenda-driven anti-government line of the Jang Group.' (It must be remembered that Klasra is known to be quite friendly with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is from his hometown, Multan, and who it is believed is sometimes himself the source for some of Klasra's stories.) The upset with the excesses of the Jang Group may well be true, but it is also true that Klasra has been at daggers drawn with some of his colleagues at the Islamabad bureau of The News, particularly with the Editor Investigations Ansar Abbasi and his junior Ahmad Noorani, whom he accuses of constantly maligning and undermining him.

The rivalry between the three truly came out into the open last year when the website ran a story about Klasra's alleged corruption in receiving favours from the government in the allocation of plots and government housing for his (government employee) wife and relatives, claims Klasra strenuously denied. Klasra believed the story was instigated by the Nawaz Sharif camp to discredit him in retaliation for stories he had done about the Sharifs' alleged corruption and maladministration and claimed in a Jang column in September 2009 to have served a legal notice for 100 million pounds on the website (we have no idea what became of it). But more than that he also saw the direct connivance of Abbasi and Noorani in what he termed a 'smear campaign' against him. (Noorani, who most believe says things and writes stories at Abbasi's behest, even weighed in publicly against Klasra.) Things became so bitter at the Islamabad bureau that Mir Shakilur Rahman did one of his trademark organizational fudges to calm things down: he removed Klasra from under Abbasi and gave him a made-up title of Editor Reporting, reporting directly to the Editor. (Incidentally, the current Editor of The News Rawalpindi, Mohammad Mallick, supported Klasra in his fight against pkpolitics, which makes eminent sense since pkpolitics had also run a story earlier about Mallick's alleged corruption.)

But things continued to simmer and came to a head last month when Klasra ran two stories on September 28 and September 30. The first of these claimed that "backdoor channels played a key role" in defusing a crisis between the government and the judiciary. Bizarrely, the newspaper carried another story side-by-side with this, from "our correspondent" (code for Abbasi / Noorani) quoting Supreme Court sources debunking Klasra's story. (The Jang Group must have the only newspapers in the world that carry two diametrically opposite 'investigative' stories on the same day.) In fact, the Supreme Court exerted so much pressure for a retraction that The News published an "unconditional and sincere apology" on September 30. However, since Klasra was adamant about his story (insider sources say he told management he was willing to go to jail for it if need be) the apology was published from the editor, printer and publisher. No journalist appreciates a management that refuses to stand by its reporter and apparently Klasra was incensed that the apology was published despite his standing by his story. In fact, he blamed Abbasi for goading the management into publishing the apology and even hit out publicly at Abbasi on a Dunya TV programme later.

The second story Klasra published on September 30, claimed that President Zardari had admitted in an internal Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) meeting that he had been "misled" into not defending in court the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) by some unnamed "players of the game." Klasra further cited "one insider source" to claim that Zardari may have been referring to a well-respected but unnamed former judge from Karachi. Once again, two days later Ahmad Noorani published a story claiming that Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim denied the "president's defamatory allegations" and mocking Klasra for defaming him. This was another bizarre rebuttal since Klasra had never actually named anyone in his story. It is also obvious from the story that Ebrahim had been goaded into offering a rebuttal, as if he was the only respected retired judge in Karachi.

These two instances of direct undermining by colleagues were apparently the straw that broke the camel's back, leading Klasra to finally say enough is enough. For whatever it's worth, Klasra has often broken some interesting stories at The News / Jang and his departure will certainly leave the Jang Group poorer in the investigative department. The Jang Group will also miss his contacts within the government since Abbasi and Noorani have already been accused by the PPP of running one-sided stories. Klasra, whose recently published book Ek Siyaasat, Kayee Kahaniyaan [One Politics, Many Stories] has already become a best-seller, may be on a high at the moment, but it remains to be seen how well he adjusts to a new organizational culture at the Express Media Group.

Meanwhile, Aaj TV continues its blood-letting of staff after the departure of Syed Talat Hussain for Dawn and DawnNews. More staff have been fired from the Islamabad bureau, leading others to wonder just exactly what Aaj's management has in mind for the channel.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Red Faces

I have to admit that I have either been too slack or too busy in the last few days to do posts on a number of issues that deserve posts. Unfortunately, too many things happen all at the same time (it's Pakistan, what're you gonna do?) so posts get, in the words of bureaucracy, 'pended'. Hopefully I'll get round to at least a couple of them. One of the ones I've been 'working on' for a couple of weeks now has to do with the advertising world, which deserves a lot more attention I feel than we end up giving it, thanks to a never-ending cycle of 'breaking news.'

But related to advertising, today I just want to focus on a curious little legal notice that appeared on page 5 in Dawn which made me sit up and take, as it were, notice. Here is the notice:

In case, you can't read the print easily, this is what it says:

"The public-at-large [don't you just love the concept of the 'public-at-large'?] is hereby informed that M/s Telecom Recorder in a post appearing on its website ( has misrepresented that my client M/s Red Communication Arts (Private) Limited has been conveyed by Mobilink that my client shall be the official advertising agency representing Mobilink. The public by way of this notice is informed that the said post is a misrepresentation and a concoction of facts and that no such consent has been conveyed to my client by Mobilink. My client reserves its right and is in the process of initiating appropriate proceedings against the website for spreading such false and baseless information."

Now, there were a couple of reasons why I was immediately interested. One of them had to do with the idea that a website, specifically a blog, had incurred legal action, which obviously is of interest to people like us at Cafe Pyala. Let's ignore for a moment the fact - as Kamran Khan informed viewers just this evening on Geo on a completely unrelated note - that the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Ordinance (PECO) under which any ostensible prosecution could be carried out has apparently lapsed last November (in effect, therefore there is no existing law under which anything to do with cyber crime, including credit card identity theft, can be prosecuted). What interests me is whether this notice signals the advent of blogs being taken seriously enough in Pakistan to warrant general attention and thus legal action.

The second, and more profound, reason for my attention was because I was genuinely confused. I know a lot of advertising people and advertising agencies and all of them, without exception, are willing to metaphorically give their left arm and leg to land new clients, leave alone 'big' clients like Mobilink (keep in mind that telcom operators make up more than 70% of all advertising revenue on television). Why was an advertising agency, Red Communication Arts in this case, getting so upset about something that one would assume they would be jumping for joy about? Even if the claim in the post was untrue, shouldn't they be flattered instead of incensed? It just didn't make any sense.

Here's why sometimes it's better to let sleeping dogs lie. See, I was so intrigued by this bizarre legal notice that I went looking for that blog post. Maybe the Telecom Recorder is a must-read within the telecom industry, but I certainly did not know it even existed. Well, now I do and I am sure those who run the blog have been overjoyed at the spike in their readership.

Screen grabs from the Telecom Recorder post

Here is the offending post. Having read it, I think I can now make sense of this notice. From what I've been able to gather, a bunch of ad agencies, including Red, were pitching for a Mobilink-related account. And while the process has apparently not officially ended, Telecom Recorder breaks the allegedly insider news that (according to it) Mobilink's Head of Marketing has already conveyed to Red that it has won the account. Obviously, this has probably led to a lot of pissed off advertising agencies (those that allegedly lost the pitch) but, more importantly, it would lead to red faces (pun intended) at Mobilink. The information of Red celebrating a win, if true, could only have come from within Red. Telecom Recorder also carries a slide from the (I would assume) confidential briefing that Mobilink provided to all those pitching.

The legal notice, then, makes sense as Red attempting to deflect claims of impropriety and alleged collusion not so much against itself as against the Head of Marketing at Mobilink, who it would be safe to assume, is in some hot waters at his organization. Had there not been any grain of truth in the post, would Red have gone out of its way to refute it?

It may well seem like a storm in a teacup to most people but if I know anything of corporate culture, this has probably become a matter of life and death in that world. And if I know anything else about suits, it will probably lead to some heads rolling.

See all you can learn from little public notices tucked away in a newspaper?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Video Tutorial of the Day

Just in case you need instructions...

"How To Use Eastern Latrine"

Incidentally, the same enterprising Mr Wilbur Sargunaraj also shows you how to use an 'European Latrine' here, and hilariously comes across a bidet for the first time.

Reporting For The Gallery?

Okay, are we missing something here? Are Pakistanis fooling themselves or is it the Americans who are playing to their domestic gallery?

Check out the contrasting tone and content of how the currently on-going US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue meetings in Washington were reported by the American establishmentarian Foreign Policy magazine blog yesterday and Pakistani papers today...

First the FP blog piece:

In surprise appearance, Obama delivers tough love message to visiting Pakistani officials
Posted By Josh Rogin   Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - 4:42 PM
"Dozens of U.S. and Pakistani officials are meeting this week at the State Department in 13 different working groups spanning all elements of the U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue, but the real action is in a few, select side meetings, where participants tell The Cable that the Obama team is taking a markedly tougher tone with the Pakistanis than before.
One key meeting Wednesday afternoon was between National Security Advisor in-waiting Tom Donilon and what's known as the "core" group of Pakistani officials: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, and Ambassador Husain Haqqani.
President Barack Obama dropped in on that meeting and stayed for 50 minutes, according to an official who was there, and personally delivered the tough love message that other top administration officials have been communicating since the Pakistani delegation arrived. Obama also expressed support for Pakistan's democracy and announced he would invite Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to the White House in the near future.
Earlier Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped in unannounced on another meeting between Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and Kayani. She delivered the message that Washington's patience is wearing thin with Pakistan's ongoing reluctance to take a more aggressive stance against militant groups operating from Pakistan over the Afghan border. A similar message was delivered to Kayani in another high-level side meeting Wednesday morning at the Pentagon, hosted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, two senior government sources said.
The message being delivered to Pakistan throughout the week by the Obama team is that its effort to convince Pakistan to more aggressively combat groups like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba will now consist of both carrots and sticks. But this means that the U.S. administration must find a way incentivize both the Pakistani civilian and military leadership, which have differing agendas and capabilities.
"The Obama side is calculating that Pakistan's military can deliver on subjects important to the U.S. but doesn't want to, while the civilian leadership in Pakistan wants to, but isn't able," said one high-level participant who spoke with The Cable in between sessions.
The carrots are clear. A State Department official confirmed to The Cable that the two sides will formally announce on Friday a new $2 billion military aid package for Pakistan, focusing mostly on items that can be used for counterterrorism. Unspecified amounts of new funding for the reconstruction effort related to the Pakistani flood disaster are also on the table. In exchange, the United States not only wants increased Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan and Baluchistan, but also increased operational flexibility for U.S. special forces operating inside Pakistan's borders.
The sticks are less clear. Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad argued in a New York Times op-ed Tuesday that the Obama administration should threaten to take down terrorist havens in Pakistan, without Islamabad's consent if necessary. The Carnegie Endowment's Ashley Tellis wrote that the United States should condition aid to Pakistan on increased cooperation and even consider throwing more support toward India's role in Afghanistan, an idea the Pakistanis despise.
The timing of these op-eds and the change in the Obama administration's tone is not being seen by many as a coincidence.
The Pakistanis believe that their extensive efforts to expand military operations in South Waziristan don't get enough recognition in Washington. They also say privately that whatever incentives the United States is offering are not enough to compensate for the huge political and security risks that would come with a full-on assault on insurgent groups they have tacitly supported for decades.
Hanging over the whole discussion are reports that the United States is supporting and even providing escorts for the reconciliation talks in Kabul between the Afghan government, led by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and senior Taliban officials. The New York Times reported Wednesday that these talks were going on without the approval or involvement of the Pakistani government, ostensibly to prevent elements of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) from moving to thwart them.
"Pakistan is still resisting [moving on groups in North Waziristan] because it still hasn't fully finished with its ongoing operations [in South Waziristan] and also because it doesn't know what will happen with the talks with the Taliban and would much rather not antagonize the Haqqani network at this juncture," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.
Nawaz noted that the Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan has now reached the third set of meetings, and that there is more pressure to show concrete results to validate the need for such a high-level format. "I hope there will be some clarity on what the objectives are on both sides and also some clarity on red lines so we don't have to relive this movie again and again," he said.
Nawaz also predicted that another point of contention will permeate the chatter in the hallways between Pakistani and American interlocutors -- Pakistan's desire to have Obama visit sometime soon.
"The big underlying issue that won't be on the agenda but will probably be discussed is President Obama's upcoming visit to India and that he won't be coming to Pakistan," he said. "It will point to the imbalance in the relationship."
In a read out, the White House said that Obama has committed to visit Pakistan some time in 2011.
Qureshi, Holbrooke, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah will talk about all these issues at a joint Brookings/ Asia Society event Wednesday evening."

Now, take a look at how The News reported it today:

Obama reiterates support to Pak democracy
Updated at: 430 PST,  Thursday, October 21, 2010
Sami Ibraham
"WASHINGTON: President Barack Hussain Obama has said the United States will not compromise on democracy in Pakistan and will continue its all possible assistance. He said this during an unscheduled meeting with the Pakistani delegation here on Tuesday afternoon (Wednesday night Pakistan Standard Time).
The delegation comprised Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani was also present.
President Obama said the US wants stability in Pakistan and will provide all possible assistance to strengthen the Pakistan armed forces. He said Washington would not compromise on democracy in that country and continue friendship with the people of Pakistan. Obama said that during the tenure of President Asif Ali Zardari, relations between the United States and Pakistan saw an improvement.
“I believe Mr Qureshi your efforts are very fruitful,” he told the foreign minister. Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, while talking to reporters after the meeting, said it was a very successful meeting with President Obama and the results will speak for itself. “I believe that it is a step towards a very positive direction,” he added.
Sources told this correspondent that President Obama also praised efforts of Pakistan armed forces in the war against terrorism.
According to official news agency, US Defense leaders met on Wednesday with Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and discussed military-to-military partnership and security assistance as part of the third US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy met with Gen Kayani and members of his staff on Wednesday morning.
Morrell said during the meeting, Gates expressed the department’s appreciation and recognition of the Pakistani military’s contributions and sacrifices in combating terror in Pakistan and conducting counterinsurgency operations there.
Gates said that “we are, of course, committed to the security and development of Afghanistan over the long term, but beyond Afghanistan and the important role Pakistan plays in the ultimate successful outcome in that country, we wish to build a long-term, wide-ranging “relationship” with Pakistan on its own merits,” Morrell said.
The Press Secretary said Gates also apologised for the inadvertent attack on a border guard post that killed three Pakistani soldiers in September.
“He said it was unintentional, and we are working with Pakistan to ensure it never happens again. He expressed his condolences to the families of the fallen soldiers,” Morrell added.
Morrell said the meeting also covered the need to better coordinate operations along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. “We’ve been doing a much, much better job of that for many, many months now,” he said, but this incident clearly indicates there is more work to be done, and there was a resolve and commitment to do the hard work that it takes to better coordinate our actions on both sides of the border.
The discussion also featured security assistance topics, including Coalition Support Funds, the Pakistani counterinsurgency Capabilities Fund and Foreign Military Sales. On Wednesday, the Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira led the Pakistani team in discussions on public diplomacy and information technology with top US officials at the State Department.
The information minister was assisted Secretary Information Mansur Sohail and Secretary Information Technology Naguibullah Malik. Under Secretary of State Judith Michale was leading the United States.
Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Minister for Agriculture Nazar Muhammad Gondal discussed expanding cooperation in water and agricultural fields on Wednesday.
Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar are also part of the high-level Pakistani delegation. Pakistan is likely to press its demand for talks on getting civilian nuclear technology from the United States. Afghanistan reconciliation process is also likely to figure in discussions.
The dialogue takes place amid reports that the Obama administration is putting final touches on a security assistance package totaling as much as $2 billion over five years to help Pakistan fight extremists on its border with Afghanistan.
The US media says the aid is expected to be announced later this week and aims to address Pakistan’s insistence it does not have the capability to go after terrorists and needs more support from the United States.
The aid will help the Pakistanis purchase helicopters, weapons systems and equipment to intercept communications. It falls under the US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, which provides grants and loans to countries to purchase weapons and defense equipment produced in the United States, say US media reports."

This is what Dawn had to say:

Obama expresses desire to expand strategic relations
By Our Correspondent
Thursday, 21 Oct, 2010
"WASHINGTON, Oct 20: US President Barack Obama met the Pakistani delegation at the White House on Wednesday and expressed his desire to expand strategic ties between the two countries.
A senior Obama administration official told Dawn that the Pakistani delegation included Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Finance Minister Hafeez Sheikh, Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar and Ambassador Husain Haqqani.
“President Obama assured the Pakistani delegation that the US was aware of Pakistan’s concerns about recent developments in the Pak-Afghan region and had no desire to harm its interests,” said a senior diplomatic official who did not want to be identified.
“President Obama also said that he has a special interest in Pakistan and wants a stable, democratic and economically strong Pakistan,” the official said.
The one-hour-15-minute meeting focused on all major issues being discussed in the three-day US-Pakistan strategic dialogue which began in Washington on Wednesday.
Earlier, President Obama met his senior advisers for the Pak-Afghan region and discussed with them the strategic dialogue and the situation in Afghanistan.
The meeting followed talks between representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban in Kabul. In his monthly war cabinet with top civilian and military advisers, President Obama also received an update on latest operations in his high-stakes troop surge strategy.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Taliban leaders at the “highest level” were involved in the contacts and that they were being offered safe passage by Nato troops from their sanctuaries in Pakistan.
In one case, Taliban leaders crossed the border and boarded a Nato aircraft bound for Kabul, the paper said, though added that most of the discussions had taken place outside the Afghan capital.
The White House has backed Afghan efforts to talk with elements of the Taliban, even as the US military ratchets up the intensity of the surge and insurgent attacks reap a heavy toll among foreign troops.
Those who attended the Af-Pak meeting at the secure White House situation room included Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, the incoming US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter and the outgoing National Security Adviser Jim Jones, Incoming National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, National Security Council’s Af-Pak coordinator Douglas Lute, Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen James Cartwright, Deputy CIA Director Michael Morrell and Centcom Commander Gen James Mattis also attended the meeting.
US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and Isaf Commander Gen David Petraeus participated by video-conference."

I don't know about anyone else but I have the distinct feeling someone's giving their readers false comfort. I just don't know who.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Yes Men Rule!

I came across this story of how a Big Oil (Chevron) PR campaign was hijacked by a group of activists calling itself the Yes Men. Definitely worth a read.

As an example of other past interventions by the Yes Men, the report then included this clip from 2006, where the Beeb was fooled by Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum into believing that he was a spokesman for Dow Chemicals talking about the Bhopal tragedy and Union Carbide's role in it. I had never seen it before. It is unbelievably funny and I thought I'd share it here, not only as a testament to the creativity of these environmental activists but also to the gullibility of the media (even the BBC screws up big time some times!).

Enjoy! I would have loved to have seen the faces of Dow Chemicals management while this was on air.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Familiarity Breeds....

So, um, how many Express Tribune staffers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Apparently all of them... since everyone was too busy doing that to realize that their paper was reprinting yesterday's entire op-ed pages today, dates and all.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Crap All Round

The Jang Group has become so obsessed with quickly seeing the back of the government and is probably salivating so much over the prospects of threatened long marches that sometimes it gets muddled up in its excitement...

This is the heading from yesterday's daily Jang about Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani trying to reassure people - dreading a government-Supreme Court showdown in court today (October 13) - that nothing bad would happen. The headline reads: "13 March Ko Kuchh Nahin Hoga..." [Nothing will happen on March 13...].

(Thanks to Maaz Abdullah for sending this to us.)

Just so you're assured that YRG didn't actually flub the month himself, this is how Dawn reported it.

I guess the Jang Group was too focused on the Geo-spearheaded 'Get Zardari' campaign to get their months correct. A sample of this campaign is reproduced below, this one invoking Muslim history to shame Zardari about the concept of justice (it ran on the front page of the Jang Group publications yesterday, thanks to Muhammad Shahid Khan for sending it to us). Other 'public service messages' on Geo question the constitutional immunity granted to the president, as if that immunity is something Zardari drafted himself.

Living with Justice and the Jang Group

As you may have heard, the governmental spokesperson Fauzia Wahab has announced that the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) will from now on boycott Geo and Jang (what's the soft corner for The News all about?) because of their "partisanship." Fair enough, as long as that boycott means simply that PPP leaders will not appear on Geo's programmes or give interviews to Jang (it's their prerogrative) and does not mean stopping government advertising to them. Government advertising is state-controlled advertising and should have nothing to do with a particular party's stances.

But here's my problem with the government... Ms Wahab also goes on to state that:

"the Jang group was a defaulter of Rs8 billion and evader of taxes amounting to Rs1.68 billion."

So why don't you arrest its owners and put them on trial? What's with brandishing this as a smear tactic? If it's true (and it better be for you to say it Ms. Wahab), what stops you from taking action against the group? Or are tax laws only for the less powerful? Also, while you're at it, you may want to get those 25 ministers and countless rich parliamentarians (on an average worth over 8 crores each) who pay either no or incredibly little taxes to cough up their dues too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Brainless Journalism

I’m going to do a breakdown of an Express Tribune feature about mental illness, simply because its lackadaisical treatment of an issue that doesn’t get enough attention summarizes one of the most significant problems in print journalism today, i.e. muddy thinking.

Let me begin with the article heading, "The Unbearable Burden of Being Mentally Ill." This tells me two things. One, mental illness is unbearable and a burden so, if I am depressed or bipolar and have reached for the morning paper in an effort to stay connected to the world, I should screw that and go ahead and drown myself in my coffee. Two, the writer (Mahnoor Sherazee) or sub-editor has read Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Or it’s title. Or possibly had it thrown at them.

"KARACHI: Why me? This emerged as the dominant theme among parents of children with special needs when asked about their role as primary caregivers."

The sub-heading tells me this is going to be an article about the challenges faced by parents of children with special needs. Since I do, for some reason, believe that the symptoms of ‘mental illness’ generally manifest themselves clearly around adolescence and after, when I think of children with ‘special needs’, I think of autism, Down’s syndrome, physical disabilities.

"Parenting on its own can be a tough job and parenting a child with limited cognitive development is significantly more challenging. Of course there are some parents who are quick to move past the denial and forward with the responsibilities of providing for their children but in such situations acceptance can extend beyond just one person’s understanding."

According to this paragraph, parenting is tough, parenting a kid with limited cognitive development is even more challenging, and the inevitable response to said challenge is denial. In other words, nowhere on God’s earth is a parent who has held their newborn in their arms (for some reason I am still thinking Down’s Syndrome or something akin to it), listened as the circumstances of its birth and life are explained to them and thought ‘it doesn’t matter, this too is creation, and this too is love.’ And then there is the line ‘in such situations acceptance can extend beyond just one person’s understanding.’ If you’ll excuse me for a minute, I’m going to think about this line very hard.

I have been thinking about this line very hard for some time now and have come to the conclusion that I don’t understand it. This can mean one of two things. One, that it doesn’t make any sense. Two, that my cognitive development is limited.

I blame my parents denial.

“While some mothers come out of denial very quickly then they face resistance from not just their family members but also in some cases their husband,” says Sadaf Shahid, a speech therapist, adding that, “In fact, often the child is not given the same privileges as their siblings.”

Speech therapist? When did speech therapists become the first port of call for expert opinions on mental illness? Do they also know for whom the bell tolls? Or where I put that sock? But on to what the quote implies: Some mothers do have ‘em. And love ‘em. But to date there have been no recorded instances of human fathers.

"According to psychiatrists, traditionally the “burden of care” for a mentally ill child or person falls on the single female(s) of the family or the daughter-in-law. The reason for this is there are no real institutions to help provide care or train individuals who are caring for people with such illnesses thus creating a dangerous lack of professional understanding of the psychological issues at stake. This also adds a financial burden on the person. And when society at large provides no support and even less understanding, the stress can be immense on a caregiver."

Fair enough. The burden of care generally does fall on women. And it is indeed tremendously difficult to cope with a person with complicated psychological issues. In fact, caregivers sometimes end up developing psychological issues themselves. Not that that’s worth mentioning. Because that would detract from the focus of the piece, which is…

"Dr Murad Moosa Khan is a consultant psychiatrist and chair at the Department of Psychiatry at the Aga Khan University (AKU). Speaking at a seminar organized by AKU he said, “Between 40 to 50 per cent of the nation is affected by some minor or major mental illness (MI).” Minor or common illnesses constitute up to 30 per cent and include depression and anxiety whereas major or psychosomatic disorders include illnesses such as schizophrenia, brain damage and resistant depression."

Enter the big quote gun to finally name, several paragraphs in, some of the things people think of when they see the term ‘mentally ill’; schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, psychosomatic disorders, resistant depression. That point about the stress of dealing with complicated issues earlier was really an excellent one. I’ve only been exposed to Ms. Sherazee’s muddy thinking for about five minutes and I’m already thinking why me? And also, Crouching Psychiatrist, Hidden Speech Therapist.

"With such eye-opening statistics it is sad to see that mental illness remains a “stigma or mark of shame”. This is also one of the reasons behind the neglect of these individuals even though according to a 2007 study published in the Lancet medical journal, mental illness makes up about 14 per cent of global disease, more than cancer or heart disease."

What is the Lancet medical journal? Why is it being quoted at me now? Why would I care what some scholarly tome says when I already know what the (say it with me) speech therapist thinks?

"“The US versus THEM attitude of social exclusion adds to the myths and issues that are present surrounding mental illness,” explains Dr Haider Ali Naqvi, a consultant psychiatrist. “Society has common names for people with illnesses – loony, nutcase, charia, pagal and psycho. This is then added by their general behaviour and attitude towards those are different,” he added.

Interestingly Dr Naqvi added that people, even those who are well educated, seem to know more about physical illnesses than psychological ones. In fact when they do witness someone with a mental disorder they resort to black magic and prefer to go to quacks than trained professionals for help."

Yes Ms. Sherazee the Us vs. THEM approach to people with mental illness is a bad, sad thing. It alienates, marginalizes and makes it more difficult to address an issue that, as you pointed out earlier, affects a large number of people across the world. You know what else doesn’t help? Your ignorance, lack of focus, and constant harping on extreme cases that cement the very mythology you presumably want to combat. It is not interesting that Dr. Naqvi pointed out that people tend to know more about physical illnesses than psychological ones. What is interesting is the line ‘when they do witness someone with a mental disorder they resort to black magic.’ Because, you know, everyone who has a mental illness is visibly deficient and apt to chew on the furniture.

"Not all mental illnesses are biological or genetic, some stem from environmental or lifestyle choices e.g. financial woes or drug and alcohol abuse causing – severe – depression, respectively. Doctors attribute a very high risk of mental illness where drug and alcohol abuse is involved. Drug Free Pakistan 2008 statistics show at least five million people in the country are drug users. However, a bigger problem now is the easy access and availability of alcohol in the country. Excessive use affects not only the drinker biologically with liver damage but the family emotionally as it may have to suffer violent behaviour. “I cancelled my wedding with only a month left,” said Sara (not her real name). “My fiancée used to drink a lot. At first I didn’t pay much attention to his aggressive demeanor but then one day he pushed me during an argument and I fell down the stairs and got hurt pretty badly.” That was the day Sara decided she could not deal with her fiancée’s illness any more. “He wasn’t a bad person, it was just when he drank, he lost control of himself.” Dealing with an alcoholic is a full-time job, especially when the person is “totally dependent on the alcohol and in absolute denial.”"

Right towards the end, the writer decides to muse aloud on the root causes of mental illness. Apparently, not all are biological or genetic. So some are? Should you perhaps have mentioned that when you were talking about the denial some parents feel when they have a special child?

"Some stem from environmental or lifestyle choices." For example not enough space to exercise or commune with something other than concrete? High concentrations of lead in the water? Ceaseless exposure to blood and gore on TV? The stress of a joint family system? Both parents at work all day? Nope. "Financial woes or drug or alcohol abuse."

If you, like me, think this is the bit where solutions and options for the rather drastically disenfranchised people featured above should make a dramatic, if belated, entrance, don’t hold your breath. We are left, instead, with the thought that substance abuse is always a cause rather than a symptom, and that people with mental illnesses exist on the peripheries of society rather than being a faceless, misunderstood part of it. We do not know who they are but we will know them when we see them, from their speech impediments and their uncontrollable rages. They will be the ones who are shunned by their parents. They will be the ones who are dragged to quacks by ignorant relatives. They will be the alcoholic men looming over their sobbing fiancés at the bottom of the stairs. They will never be the special child who hears music when others don’t, the CEO who harnesses his obsessive-compulsive attention to detail into material success, the alcoholic poet who marries lyricism and mysticism, or the artist who pins his heightened sensitivity and capacity for wonder onto canvas before taking his own life.

"Experts say the most important thing is self-awareness and communication, both of which do not come easy and that is when a strong, supportive family or friend is needed the most."

Physician, heal thyself. Editor, wake up.