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Alternative Hopes for Alternative Facts January 24, 2017

Ah well I guess it behooves this blog to talk Trump because it’s the first since he has been sworn into the Oval Office – an already refurbished Oval office to be precise.

The new Donald Trump administration in the US has ably, and expectedly, started off on a brand new theme that is likely to be the bedrock of his reign. The theme being: Alternative Facts. Oh yes, that’s the new mantra the post-truth world seems to be waking up to and although it has been a guiding light for many a political leader across the world, it has found legitimacy in the active lexicon of the Trump Administration.

This is an era when truth is simply what you believe in and what you want to believe. Where there are facts, there are always “alternative facts”, they would have us believe.

Coming from administrations, as with regimes, people are used to a certain amount of secrecy, the closed door meetings, the situation room decisions, the intelligence briefings, the classified dossiers, the need-to-know-only files and so on. Although a lot of that got blown thanks to platforms like WikiLeaks and people got a good glimpse into the shenanigans of the government agencies and top administration officials, by and large the media community trusts the information released by the White House, and in turn people trust the media that reports on that information. And that unwritten rule, it would seem, has been dispensed with by the Trump yarn spinners who are peddling information from the sacrosanct podium in the White House briefing room, that they have labelled, “alternative facts”.

For the die hard supporters of President Trump, alternative facts, much less facts, do not seem to matter. Clearly, they see a proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. My only prayer for these people is that his many promises to them do not end up as alternatives to hope.

The most common refrain among the more rational of Trump supporters and some of those that didn’t vote for him seems to be “let’s give this guy a chance” and see what he can do. And I would like to think I am among those that holds an unapologetic, if not indulgent curiosity on how transformative the Trump era will prove to be for America and the rest of the world.

So, here I am preparing myself mentally to overlook the fact that he loves to stress upon and exaggerate his audience numbers and ovations; that it will be a long time before he gets over the fact that he won the primaries (!); that he lies with impunity; that he has surrounded himself with waxy ‘yes’ men and women; that he keeps reminding us of how smart he is; and that he has created a sphere of alternative reality which his followers have unquestioningly embraced. And these are ‘facts’ that can be cross checked.

But in all fairness, as I expect the worst of President Trump in the years to come, I am also open to his unexpected best to show up. Alternative hope, maybe?

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

A Presidency of limited vocabulary January 17, 2017

For all Americans, I guess, “Happy Democracy” greetings are in order. Come January 20, as they step into the new Presidency with trepidation – no kidding, they are all in it together whether they celebrated or protested on National Mall on inauguration day or watched the circus of democracy live on TV or simply slept through the great transition – this is the democracy they helped shape.

Before they go to bed tonight, there are a few things that they should all collectively pray for President Donald Trump to do or not do, not just in the interest of Americans, but in the larger interest of the world.

Personally, if my understanding of human psychology is right, I’d say Trump is all bark and no bite. And even the bark is almost invariably from the safety of his private surroundings as he sends out obnoxious tweets, or from the comfort of having his family behind him or having rabid fans in front. Face to face and one on one he is desperate to get the other person to like him. And it shouldn’t take very long for the rest of the world to realize this.

Nevertheless, while all I expect is a daily freak show with previews on twitter, I think it might help Americans to start praying.

Pray that he does not directly or indirectly start a war – any war – US-Iran, Israel-Palestine, North Korea-South Korea, Russia-Poland, China-Japan, India-Pakistan. His tweets alone are capable of launching a thousand war ships. And the world cannot afford war-induced inflation or recession. It took almost a decade for the world to get to economic stability in the wake of the post 9/11 wars.

Pray that he doesn’t go after Mexico with a vengeance. An impoverished Mexico will mean pouring into the US of more drugs, criminals and illegal immigrants. And no wall will be high enough to keep them away.

Pray that he does not cut humanitarian aid or funding for the United Nations and NATO. Again, poverty in the Third World will mean more potential ISIS recruits.

Pray that he does not fan the passions of the radical nationalists within the country. A civil war fueled by racial tensions would be hard to put out.  All the guns in the country will find cause for indiscriminate use. And Trump will not have enough people to blame.

Pray that he holds good on bringing manufacturing back to the US. Let’s see if he can bring Apple back along with its couple of billion dollars in cash reserves stashed offshore to save on taxes, and more importantly make Apple pay its fair share of taxes to Uncle Sam. This I dare Trump to do more than him building that darn wall along the southern border. Getting a small air conditioning plant with 750 jobs to stay put in America is not really an “art” of deal making.

Pray that the mainstream media gets a grip on him. A discredited media and intelligence community in the eyes of the common people is a free ticket to dictatorship.

And please pray that someone gifts him a thesaurus. Believe me, his limited vocabulary will get tiresome, especially since it’ll rarely go beyond I, Me, Myself predicated by the adjective “terrific”.

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

 

When liberalism degenerates into elitism… November 15, 2016

Honestly, I think Americans need to just hit the pause button in their brain and take a deep breath. Like the past several months of campaign cacophony wasn’t enough for them, their brains are now having to deal with the reality of wrapping around the outcome of the Presidential election.

When 61,047,207 people vote for Hillary Clinton to be their President, there is bound to be heartache when the guy that only 60,375,961 people voted for becomes the President. It was heartening however, to see the outpouring of angst and frustration onto the streets of American cities by kids who, in this age of technological interconnectedness, perhaps find the conservative call for exclusive societies unacceptable.

Still, for all those who voted for Hillary Clinton, and those who voted against Donald Trump, and those who wrote in their vote for Harambe, here’s a piece of advice: Get over it. It’s not Trump’s fault that he won. Remember the movie ‘How to lose a guy in 10 days’? Well, Trump’s campaign objective seemed to be, ‘How to lose an election in 10 months’. But what is a guy to do when 60 plus million people fall in love with him despite himself?

Who said democracy was an easy way of life anyway? As difficult as it is for those who run it, it is even more difficult for the people to decide who they want running it. There are no perfect choices, nor are there perfect voters. And when it comes to electing a President, more often than not, we are only electing the presumptive best of the given and not necessarily the best that ought to be.

Scarily enough, an emerging reality of democracies the world over is that increasingly, winning candidates are being perceived as standing singularly for those who voted for them rather than as unifying representatives for all including their ideological opponents.

We saw something similar in the election of Narendra Modi two years ago. It’s undeniable the popularity Modi still enjoys among his electorate and general followers.

Unfortunately such popularity of individuals of redoubtable agendas always seems to fall outside the sanctimonious ambit of the so called liberal media making them myopic to what some people on the conservative right see.

Sometimes, I feel, intellectualization and even over-analyzation, kills objectivity. But more than that it is the arrogance of the intellectuals, especially the armchair variety, that clouds their view of the polarizing political phenomena, which ride inherent inequalities in society. Like for instance, in this opinion piece in The New York Times the other day, one Pankaj Mishra writes that Modi “appears to be an opportunistic manipulator of disaffection with little to offer apart from the pornography of power and a bogus fantasy of machismo.” Mishra sees Trump following that lead.

Opinionators like Mishra should know that gobbledygook pontification such as this is not read by people who support the likes of Trump and Modi. Worse, such verbose ideation insulates those who do read it, from ground realities.

My liberal bashing does not automatically put me in the company of the irrational. It is just that I hate the ironic degeneration of liberalism into elitism.  My ilk does not wear labels.

But Mishra’s ilk should know that human society is not a factory assembly line where all products are identical. And that in a democracy, everyone – including racists and conspiracy theorists – get to be heard.  They have the vote. They just have to wait their turn.

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

 

 

 

 

‘Conservative’ is the new normal November 9, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — srirekha @ 11:47 am
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I’m writing this, prompted by a sense of déjà vu in the wake of the American presidential elections.

I am not calling out the loser in the election at this time. Who I do want to call out today are the ideological liberals of the world at large.

And here I’ll try to put forth my two pence on why I think liberals the world over owe themselves an apologetic explanation.

The socio-political, socio economic and socio-popular world as we know it today is largely the fallout of the communal churnings of the world wars, especially the Second World War when intelligentsia of the academic and artistic kind or the liberal elite as it were, self-appointed themselves to tell the world what it ought to think, feel, say, do, buy, eat and even look like. Though grudgingly, they did not mind when their de facto mandates degenerated into popular culture. Theirs was ‘normal’, while the rest were radical, extreme, conservative, traditional, or just backward.

Thus, this set of moralizers made it their prerogative to evolve at whim, not waiting to convince the slow adapters, rather confusing, ridiculing and belittling them, to leave behind massive populations across continents feeling suppressed, frustrated, angry and delegitimized. Indeed, the conservatives feel even legally condemned. Liberal is not only hip, it is politically correct, it is also legal. It’s a fashionable cloak that gets modeled and remodeled from season to season, while stashing and storing the conservatives deeper down the layers of society.

Personally, I do not wear any labels. Indeed, I am not one that gets swayed by either popular culture or the flavors of the season. Nor am I one to not believe in change or bucking convention. I do, however, see the hypocrisy that runs through the two ends of the spectrum that serve as potent fodder for the rise and growth of mercenary leadership, especially in the spheres of politics, religion, commerce and the arts.

The world today is ruled by the rich who thrive on the backs of a people so sodden in low self-esteem and perpetually looking for validation in one or the other idols. These masses are further lulled into a false sense of propriety by the technological emergence of social media.

It is a misnomer in democracies is that people can govern or rule themselves. The masses are more conducive to being led rather than to lead themselves, which explains the clout of not only politicians but also of the rich and the famous. And so with each leadership phenomena nations rise and fall as do communities, cultures and religious faiths.

Liberal jargon such as ‘progress’ and its variants seem to hold little meaning because, as I see it, societies do not, or perhaps they never were meant to move linearly. Rather, social upheavals I’d say, are part of a cyclical churn.

My surmise is by no means a theory of social evolution, but just as nature churns itself through calamity and lushness, human populations too undergo constant churning through ideology if not basic survival instinct. It is the strongest of intellect, not so much of might, that survive the upheavals to continue to revive or renew dominant cultures or give birth to entirely new realities. Absent an ideal, let alone a middle path, we can only choose our sides in this fight for survival, and await the outcomes, if not consequences.

What this American election cycle, historic by all measures, has thrown up is every wrong political metric that ideologically differing parties could possibly have followed in their partisan quest for power. Where they are at now, as politicians and as a people, mere introspection is not enough as a conscience building exercise. What they need is strength to withstand what is the beginning of a social churn that will have to go through the motions of reinvention as a society and as a democracy.

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

 

Bullshit Artists August 10, 2016

Politics and truth have never been known to make for ideal bedfellows. In fact, to stretch the point, their happenstance would be incestuous to say the least.

To put that into the context of the current political campaigns in the US, independent fact checking websites like PolitiFact found that 27 percent of Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s statements are false, whereas nearly 70 percent of those of the Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump are patently false. Even in knee jerk reactions, Clinton’s falsities ranged at two percent while those of Trump’s were at 19 percent.

So just as there are no good terrorists and bad terrorists, but only terrorists, there are no good or bad politicians, only Bullshit Artists.

A few days ago, thanks to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, I found legitimacy in the term “Bullshit Artist”. Zakaria used it to characterize Trump, referring to the much ridiculed billionnaire’s capacity for lying through his teeth – lies that come more from absolute ignorance, machismo and pigheadedness than from a tendency to hide the truth. Trump simply does not know any better, that’s all. And hence a bullshit artist.

I myself could use the term Bullshit Artist to describe many an acquaintance among journalists, whom old school scribes used to euphemistically call ‘kite flyers’. But theorizing the larger sense of the term was Harry Frankfurt, an eminent moral philosopher and Princeton professor who talked about ‘Bullshit’ as an ignorant act of impunity, as against outright lying, which implies knowledge of the truth.

“Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about,” Frankfurt wrote in his 1986 essay, ‘On Bullshit’. “Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic.” While that sentence reads as though it was written yesterday specifically for Trump, the very opening statement of Frankfurt’s essay insinuates that we are all in on it, willfully or not. “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit,” Frankfurt had said.

So in all fairness to Trump, we can use bullshit to explain away Hillary Clinton and the reluctance of a sizeable number of American voters to trust her sincerity. Interestingly, Frankfurt’s concludes essay saying: “…. sincerity itself is bullshit.”

So what we are left with in this election cycle is a consolatory acceptance of the lesser evil that is Hillary Clinton, or in this context, tolerate the lightness of her bullshit.

I have my own take on bullshit when it comes to taking a ‘Hill’side view. I wish to state upfront I am apolitical, irreligious and a citizen of the world.  And though I know you can’t win arguments that have been judged and declared void even before you have made them, I will go ahead and talk anyway about Khizr Khan. Khan has become a darling of the liberal media since his speech at the Democratic National Convention in which he unequivocally challenged Trump’s inability to sacrifice anything.

Don’t we all know that electoral politics are all about drama and rhetoric? One can actually visualize a campaign strategist coming up with a trump (pun unintended) card speaker that is intended as a bait and challenge for the rival candidate to take on, and at the end of the day when everyone has gone home with the new President enthroned in the White House, writing a book about it. Khizr Khan is just one such strategy prop.

This father of the Pakistani-American soldier (respect) who died during combat in Iraq in 2004, was the ace up Hillary Clinton’s sleeve during the Democratic convention.

Forget Trump for a moment for missing the hyperbole of the immigrant+Muslim+slain soldier drama, and consider the view which sees Khizr Khan as a prop that was clichéd, if not ironical. My question to this honorable man with the Pakistani roots is whether he would stand at a public podium in the land of his origin and stab a finger at Islamic leaders for indirectly causing the death of his son who died fighting terror which is actively abetted by Pakistan – a country which also sheltered Osama bin Laden who set off the events leading up to the war in Iraq.

I don’t think so. Well, sorry Hill-siders, this particular liberal trick, even if true, was pure bullshit according to me.

Anyway, coming back to Trump, I am tempted to pick some more from Frankfurt’s essay because it is so darn appropriate. The eminent academic wrote: “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.” Frankfurt further wrote. “… the bullshitter is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are …  except when he can get away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

I have been hearing murmurs, but to consider that Trump may opt out of the race at this stage would be wishful – no, farfetched thinking.

In a country where political opinion is influenced by late night television comedians and comediennes it would come as no surprise to Americans if Donald Trump were to wake up tomorrow and say: Hey you suckers, I am out of this stupid race for President. I was only proving a point to Rosie O’Donnell. So the joke is on you …”

The joke would indeed be cruelly on all of us if Trump does stay and go on to win the Presidency. Because scarily enough, it would mean that we are living amongst Americans who still live like frogs in the well thinking of themselves as superior to the rest of the world. And that, someone needs to tell the Trumpeteers, is a whole load of bullshit.

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

 

 

 

 

Losers tell all July 30, 2016

Convention mania has gripped all those watching the American election circus across continents as much as across the United States.

Donald Trump had his dooms-day at the Conventions the week before and this week belonged to Hillary Clinton to bask in the glory of being the first American woman to be nominated to contest for the highest office in the country, and well, presumably in the world.

Okay, remember that keynote speech by then state senator Barack Obama at the 2004 DNC convention? Like many pundits, that night I too thought I was looking at a future President. And boy, were we right about that!

And earlier this week I thought I saw something similar happening at the DNC 2016 – Michelle Obama’s rousing speech that, I am sure, had everyone from Bill Clinton to Joe Biden to President Obama and even Hillary Clinton reworking their own speeches to match up if not better it.

Revisiting the historic moment of the young(er) Obama’s speech in Boston that summer, I thought I might as well start accepting a few truths of the present day election cycle that will soon become part of political history.

History as we all know is written by the winners. Don’t lynch me in the public square for saying this but in varying degrees I would give the benefit of the doubt to even such losers as Hitler. A cursory Google search throws up questions like: ‘How did Hitler really die?’ or ‘Did Hitler really die in that bunker?’ proving my point in the very ambiguity of the widely accepted ‘fact’ that Hitler committed suicide.

So coming back to today’s leading contenders for US Presidency, they have already made history for being the first ever woman and the first ever ‘outsider’ to have reached this close to the White House.

The many supporters of Trump will agree that if he loses, history may not be kind to this maverick billionaire who has bulldozed his way to the frontlines through sheer money power and more accurately, a false ego power.

He has been for years, and continues to be the butt of vicious liberal media jokes; therefore, win or lose, one can only imagine what it would be like for the Trumps in the years to come.

So for the record, I would grant it to this man for challenging status quos in a way that Hillary Clinton can never do. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be foolhardy if only to be able to say: “I don’t like your face” to whichever Chinese Premiere you are dealing with for pig-headedly keeping their currency undervalued.

And why fuss about Trump’s overtures to Russia? C’mon, everyone thought it was cute when in 1988 President Reagan put his arm around Gorbachev in Moscow’s Red Square and told a group of Russians nearby, “I’m glad we are standing here together like this.”

For better or worse – perhaps only worse – Trump will shake up the political and diplomatic world, and turn the world economy topsy-turvy. And if we don’t ask ourselves the questions: ‘At whose cost?’ or ‘For whose benefit?’ we might after all be able to let Trump have his spot in the annals of history

I don’t like this guy Trump. Never did. But hey, I won’t wait for the winners to tell all, I’ll be my own chronicler.

 

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

 

 

 

 

American Lives Matter July 18, 2016

Time was when as a young reporter in the India of the ‘80s I was discovering the big bad geo-political world and used to wonder time and again, whether American lives as they were, were more valuable than any other on the planet. The value placed on an American’s life was more of a non-negotiable assertion by a pompous and perhaps a very White Uncle Sam.

Whether it was a hijacked American plane, an American tourist stuck in a foreign conflict zone, or potential threats to the country in general, American citizens held a value placed on them by the American administration that made people in the rest of the world feel undervalued. Those days in India the government didn’t really flinch upon recurring incidents where hundreds of devotees routinely died in stampedes or bus loads of them fell off of winding cliffs, or got killed in political rallies or in train derailments, or perished simply because they were poor and considered collateral damage in riots instigated to establish religious superiority.

But Americans… the slightest of trouble sensed in any part of the world would have the US in all righteous condescension issue travel advisories for its prized citizens, to go with caution or not at all.

So I was tickled recently when the sparky little Atlantic island of Bahamas issued a travel advisory to its people to avoid venturing into Uncle Sam’s backyard in view of the recent race related violence.

Well, it’s not funny actually.

Come to think of it, Americans themselves are conflicted now whether it is ‘Black lives’ that matter or ‘All lives’ in America that matter. I would like to remind them to hark back to their status in the world as it used to be and say that ‘American lives matter’.

Unfortunately however, my reminder would not carry much conviction. You see life in American has become cheap. Real cheap. All it takes now for an American life to be snuffed out on its own soil is a jittery and prejudiced policeman, a frustrated and marginalized Black man, a hater intolerant of others’ faith, race or sexual orientation; a dope head loser with a semi-automatic weapon going berserk in a suburban school or on a college campus, in a mall or cinema theater; or a toddler playing with a careless parent’s gun bought at a gun show just to assert some lame constitutional right.

Yes, an American’s life, I can conclusively say has become cheap. It’s worth a measly bullet bought off of a shelf in Walmart. Now, how cheap is that?

Srirekha Chakravarty