And the Winner is …. CIA
Patron Saint of Bribe Takers
Harvard Leads the Way
Railways the Sacrificial Lamb
Think it Through
And the Winner is ... CIA
The Oscar race is, like most worthwhile things in America, a big money affair. It is fairly close to a presidential campaign, with negative advertising, planted stories and cinematic spin. The only difference is that it is an annual affair and – thank God and the makers of the American constitution – the race for the White House is only once in four years. (It is true though that the preparations for the next round start the day after the inauguration.) Was it a sheer coincidence that Michelle Obama was a part of this year’s Academy awards ceremony?
There have been this time two great surprises. Weeks before the star-studded night almost everyone knew who the winners would be. Guess-work turned out to be dead correct. Secondly, the real winner this time was the actor off the screen, to whom I’ll return in a minute.
Almost everyone (except me) believed that Ben Affleck's ‘Argo’ will win the Oscar as the best film of the year. (As an Abe Lincoln admirer my favorite was the hero of the Civil War drama.) ‘Agro’ is the story of how Hollywood, Canada and the CIA teamed up to rescue six American diplomats during the 1979-80 Iranian siege of American Embassy.
British actor Daniel Day-Lewis became the first to win three best actor awards, taking the trophy for his monumental performance as Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War saga ‘Lincoln’.
Four Oscars for ‘Life of Pi’ were also something most people had expected. So, the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Hathaway for her role in Tom Hooper's musical Les Miserables.
Before the award ceremony Jimmy Carter was interviewed by his erstwhile chief speech writer. Carter was honest enough to admit that ninety per cent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan portrayed in ‘Argo’ was Canadian. “And the movie,” he added “gives almost full credit to the American C.I.A.” Whoever may win or lose, the credit always goes to the CIA. And not only in ‘Argo’ but also ‘Zero Dark Thirty’. So you know now who’s the off-screen winner.
If the ‘Argo’ mission had crashed and burned – as the Desert One rescue mission did (and literally), three months later – it would have been a huge political catastrophe for Carter. And as John Kennedy once famously said success has many parents and failure is a hopeless orphan. The real credit for the entire operation in ‘Argo’ goes to the Canadians, most especially to Kenneth Taylor, the Canadian Ambassador. How many of my readers know the well-kept secret that the Canadian Parliament in a secret session granted permission to their Government to issue false passports to six Americans who had taken shelter in the Canadian mission who were later flown to Switzerland without arousing a whiff of Iranian suspicion? It is also remarkable how the Carter advisers who knew the whole affair kept it under close wraps for years and years and didn’t make even an oblique mention thereof in their published memoirs of their times. It was only in 2007 that the beans were spilled in the Canadian journal, Macleans.
‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ however, had all through the guess game no chance to win. I haven’t yet seen it. For all I know it may be vastly superior, simply as filmmaking, to ‘Argo.’ It probably contains a smaller number of historical inaccuracies than ‘Argo’ (or even that other movie about American history). But what is widely seen as its one huge inaccuracy – its suggestion that torture “worked,” that without torture Osama bin Laden would still be watching videos with his wives in suburbs of Abbotabad. For most members of the Academy to vote for ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ was to a vote for Bush, Cheney, and torture, and the combination is too deadly.
Patron Saint of Bribe Takers
How endearingly honest and straightforward can some politicians be. However, this none-too-common phenomenon occurs only after their retirement – which is a very polite euphemism for being thrown out at some stage unceremoniously from public life.
Do you recall the name Silvio Berlusconi? Yes, coming from the country Sonia Gandhi hails from and whose national she was till 1980s. (Need I add Italy?) He had the distinction of being the Prime Minister of his country not once or twice but thrice: from 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011. In fact, his is a record of sorts. In fact, he is the third longest-serving Italian PM.
You may wonder why I am talking about him. The reason is simple. His country claims to lead European Union in political skullduggery. And once again it is in the news as the supplier of a dozen VVIP helicopters from Finmeccanica.
Bribes are like extra-marital sex. It has been there since the beginning of civilization and they are there to stay. Forever.
said Signor Berlusconi with blunt honesty
“are a phenomenon that exists and it’s useless to deny these necessary situations.” Displaying profound political wisdom, he added: “These are not crimes. (Who said they’re?) We’re talking about paying a commission to someone in that country....Why, because those are the rules in that country. The risk of magistrates intervening I consider to be a form of economic suicide.”
Would you be surprised if you saw the portraits of Signor side by side with Indian gods and goddesses in the drawing rooms of A Raja and Kanimozhi.
I won’t be surprised after Karunanidhi is gone – isn’t he getting old? – Signor Berluscon i is anointed as the Patron Saint of DMK – popularly known as Delhi Money for Karunanidhi.
In return for our admiration for Italian heroes Sonia Gandhi’s name appeared in the voter's list for New Delhi when she was still holding Italian citizenship. It was a violation of Indian Laws. So she hurriedly applied for Indian citizenship. When she did acquire it – and what an honor to have a citizen of her caliber – her name appeared on the 1983 voter's list when the deadline for registering had expired in January 1983. There’s nothing unusual about that. Laws can indeed be bent for very special citizens.
Bribes are like extra-marital sex. It has been there since the beginning of civilization and they are there to stay. Forever. Yes you choose to make some suitable noises every now and then but you just cannot wish them away. So let the country learn to live with both – Congress Party and bribe-giving and bribe-taking culture.
One of Berlusconi's strongest critics in the media outside Italy has been the prestigious British weekly The Economist - Berlusconi called it “The Ecommunist” – which in its issue dated April 26, 2001 carried a title on its front cover, ‘Why Silvio Berlusconi is unfit to lead Italy’. (Can we dare say that for Manmohan Singh?) The war of words between Berlusconi and The Economist assumed bitter notes, with the British weekly pointing out several glaring cases of conflict of interest.
We are a tolerant people. When a case of bribery breaks, we talk about it; even loudly and at times very vociferously. But nobody in the world can beat us in the very noble art of forgetting all about it after a while.
Harvard Leads the Way
“The exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess Success is our national disease,” wrote William James in a rather derisive vein. I referred to the spread of this malaise in an earlier edition of the Diary. You won’t have missed I hope the latest from Harvard University, the redoubtable citadel of academic world. Sixty odd students have been asked to withdraw in one of the largest cheating scandals that shook the epicenter of the eight Ivy League institutions. They were found guilty of outright plagiarism doing a course in - of all the things if the world – ‘Introduction to Congress’ course.
Did William James realize that his prognosis was applicable wherever there is the impact of the American way of life and can you think of a place in the world which is immune from it?
I once taught a course of Organizational Behavior in a management school. In a term-end test the answer scripts of the whole class were identical. You can draw your own conclusions.
Railways the Sacrificial Lamb
You’ve heard in Indian politics of what is called coalition dharma. This God-forsaken hybrid form of cobbled up governments are there to stay as a staple political diet of the polity. In the foreseeable future there isn’t much of a chance of any so-called national political party winning sufficient seats to form a government on its own. Hence, the need for the like-minded opportunists to join hands to make a bid to grab levers of power!
NDA and UPA are therefore going to stay as two political brokerage houses, managing the political center stage.
After every general election as this melodrama is played out the one sacrificial lamb that is butchered is the Railway Ministry, which one of the coalition partners claims as its prize. In recent years it was the Trinamool Congress. Out of its deeply felt concern for the common man it steadfastly refused to raise Railway fares and very liberally met Union demands and scrupulously honored Pay Commission recommendations to enhance the salaries and allowances of the multi-layered Babudom. You can imagine what happens when income is almost the same year after year and expenses go on galloping. The result is the steeply deteriorating standard of services that the users of the rail network are theoretically entitled to.
Read the following:
“During the whole journey, not once was the compartment swept or cleaned. The closet was also not cleaned during the journey. No water in tank. The return journey was no better. The compartment itself was evil looking…..It was pestilentially dirty”
Yes, it is from the complaint book. But it wasn’t an entry by you or me this year or previous to that. Its author was a man called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who was describing a train journey he undertook in September 1917.
What is the state of affairs after nine decades? You know it well enough. What is the way out? Simple. Stop playing with the Railways in the name of so-called “coalition dharma”. Treat it straightforwardly at par with the other four big ministries, namely, Home, Finance, Defence and External Affairs. Additionally, hammer out a detailed National Railway Policy and execute it irrespective of who is at the helm of affairs. And, above all, stop all the tall talk, meanwhile, about super speed bullet trains.
Let’s see what happens in the forthcoming Railway budget.
Think it Through
“The passenger aircraft of the future could one day be flown by remote, by pilots sitting in a control room hundreds of miles away,” says a British press release. “Tests on a new breed of civilian aircraft which use the same pilotless technology currently found in military drones begin (shortly) in the U.K. The consortium behind the project hopes it will dramatically slash the costs of air travel, make possible new airborne services, and free pilots from potentially dangerous but essential missions.”
Wonderful idea to have in the near future a production system which doesn’t need human beings. What name will you give to that phase of capitalism in which humans have no role to play?
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