hell on earth

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Since we are just days away from the anniversary of history’s worst industrial disaster, I thought it was important to highlight a couple of relevant articles on the subject starting with this excellent piece in The Tribune of India.

For many who survived the dark night of December 2-3, 1984, in Bhopal, dawn is yet to break. The leak of 40 tonnes of lethal methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas from the Union Carbide Corporation’s (UCC) pesticide factory — the worst industrial disaster in history — killed or disabled several lakhs. By the third day of the disaster, around 8,000 had died. Today the number of those who died stands at 20,000. Lakhs who survived were debilitated for life. Of the 5,20,000 who were exposed to the poisonous gases, 1,20,000 remain chronically ill. Nor is that all; till today children in the city are born infirm and deformed.

Successive governments, Union Carbide Corporation and its new owner Dow Chemical shrugged off responsibility for the compensation and rehabilitation of victims. After years of legal wrangling for compensation, more than five-and-a-half lakh survivors of the tragedy are facing another threat. The hazardous waste, still lying abandoned at the site, is continuously seeping into the ground water.

With the scientific evidence of contamination in ground water increasing and spreading with every passing day, the wait for a sequel to the 1984 disaster has started.

20,000 dead and still no justice. It reveals a lot about the way the World works when you see what kind of justice is provided after a terrorist attack by comparison. Is there any new momentum gaining in an effort to bring help and closure for the continuing victims?

It seems the government [Indian], which has been criticised for its lax regulation of the UCC and reluctance to pursue legal claims, is finally ready to hold Dow Chemical, the multibillion chemical company which took over the UCC, liable for the ground contamination.

Vinuta Gopalan, a Greenpeace India campaigner associated with the Bhopal campaign, terms this a good sign, even though it has come quite late in the day. “But that is how governments work. There is a lack of political will to enforce corporate responsibility and Dow Chemical refuses to fulfil its medical and social responsibility. It is not a question of 1000 houses but of 25,000 persons who still do not have access to piped water. These days tankers supply water to some areas, but during summers and monsoons matters become worse.”

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New Zealand goes postal on offending game

New Zealand censors have gone so far as to ban an American video game from being sold in that country. The offending game is called Postal 2: Share the Pain. “Postal,” of course is short for “going postal” which is a slang term refering to the murder sprees some U.S. Postal Service employees have gone on mostly in the 80s and 90s in the U.S. The Malaysia Star reports on the reasons behind the ban:

Chief censor Bill Hastings said the American game Postal 2: Share the Pain asked players to control a character who exposed his penis, urinated on, attacked and killed opposing groups including “angry parents protesting violent games, Arab terrorists, Catholics, Indian shop owners, gay men and other stereotyped minority and protest groups.”

But is the game any fun, and what’s this about an Indian shop owner? A review of the game found on PCGameworld sheds light on each question.

Ah, the Postal 2 demo has been released, all is well. I’ve been playing this demo a hell of a lot since its release and the one word review, is fun. The game seems to be designed to offend, which is actually a low point. Instead of satirizing life as it should be, it’s just some guys thinking: “If we let the player light women and cats on fire, someone will get pissed at us.”

Racially, the game likes to make fun of the darker persuasion. Just take one step into Happy Ganesh, the convenience store and Postal dude asks if a Cow died in there. When you try to buy that milk you were pining for, the clerk tells you to go to the back of the line, you infidel.

You can uncover a more sinister plot involving a bunch of female characters that look suspiciously like the Taliban. A friend of mine who is Indian was brutally offended. He thought, we can make fun of Nazis because that happened so long ago, but an attack that happened a few years ago gets made fun of already since the people who attacked were already one of the most ridiculed groups of people in the country. I donÂ’t share these views, but he has a point.

Whatever happened to the good old days when it was just about fending off space invaders?

Aguilera seeks spirituality in resort town

The Times of India reports that U.S. pop singer Christina Aguilera will make her first-ever visit to India during the early weeks of December.

According to the story, Aguilera said, “India has always captured my imagination with its myriad cultures and spiritualism. I am looking forward to my visit with great enthusiasm to feel the color and vibrancy of this great country.”

Where does she plan to find such “color and vibrancy?” In Sahara Corporation’s planned tourist city of Amby Valley. The 234-acre destination outside of Lonavala includes golf courses, lakes, spas and dance clubs.

Sahara has hosted other celebrities in Amby Valley, such as actress Goldie Hawn and tennis pro Anna Kournikova. Aguilera and her family will be the company’s sponsored guest for three days, but the 23-year-old singer is not slated to perform during her stay.

In a reversal of travel protocol, the trip marks the first time that Indian residents are expected to receive vaccinations for a visit by an American traveler.

The Times of India: Christina to visit India

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Bobby Jindal elected President

Relax. President of his incoming freshman class of Republican congressman only. Still, a very substantial honor. From NCMonline.com:

The new Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 109th Congress have elected Bobby Jindal, R-La., president of the freshman class by a unanimous vote.

According to the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the 33-year-old “eager-beaver A student,” with “no significant opponents” to worry about, “spent much of the election season quietly getting a jump on everyone who actually did have to worry about getting elected.”

Jindal used allocated chunks of his $2-million war chest to help GOP candidates facing tougher races. In his most recent financial disclosure report, the Times-Picayune said, the Indian American donated $46,000 to other Republican candidates for House seats, $25,000 in “excess funds” to the National Republican Congressional Committee, and $750 to the National Rifle Association’s political action committee. Jindal estimates he donated or helped raise at least $150,000 for other GOP candidates, the newspaper said.

Very smart. He was thinking ahead by greasing the skids like a political pro. The Indian American Republican Council immediately issued a statement of congratulations:

The Indian American community is very proud of Bobby’s election to Congress and his election as President of the Freshman class. We know he will be a strong voice on fiscal matters and the moral issues facing our society today as he serves in Congress.

Looks like everyone is hopping on the “moral issues” bandwagon.

Ramayana graphic novel available online

Can’t wait for Gotham Studios’ western-styled renditions of Indian epics? The classic graphic novels of comic book company Amar Chitra Katha are available for online purchase and reading, as reported earlier on BoingBoing.

Started in 1967 by editor Anant Pai and publisher G.L. Mirchandani, Amar Chitra Katha created 436 titles on Indian history, folklore, mythology and culture. At its peak, the company sold as many as 500,000 copies a week, and had their work translated into 18 languages, ranging from Hindi to Serbo-Croat.

Pai started the company after watching a children’s game show, where contestants “were well-versed with the lore of Tarzan and the exploits of Greek gods, but could not answer simple questions about the Ramayana.” Asia Society’s web site hosts a scanned version of that tale, which was one of Amar Chitra Katha’s first creations.

BoingBoing: Indian epic Ramayana as comic

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Livin’ the thug life… with triple master’s degrees

Shailaja Neelakantan writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education that student elections in India are a farm league for national campaign thuggery:

[S]tudent elections are seen as steppingstones to national politics, and therefore a route to wealth and power. Scores of important political figures, including Atal Behari Vajpayee, the former prime minister, got their start in university campaigns…

Mr. Rai’s death marked the climax of three and a half months of fear unleashed on Lucknow by members of various student groups, who defaced public property, extorted money from businessmen and doctors at gunpoint, and forced the university to shut down classes with threats of violence…

Many of these thugs become perennial students on the 10+ year plan:

Some Lucknow candidates have been at the university for as long as 13 years, earning not only bachelor’s but also numerous master’s degrees in order to continue their involvement in university politics while they wait to advance to the national level of their parties.

They’re generously funded by the national parties:

During the September elections, Mr. Khanna says, he saw student groups giving away mobile-phone cards, chocolates, and coupons for liquor, among other freebies. At Lucknow University, student leaders spent an estimated $444,000 on the elections this year. [Ed.: Yes, that's in dollars.] “We don’t get money. We get support and nonmonetary resources to mobilize students…” He was evasive as to what he meant by nonmonetary resources.

In contrast, filmmaker Mani Ratnam lauded student activism in Yuva; his students were reformists leveraging a student campaign into a Lok Sabha seat.

Sikh fashionista in ‘The Life Aquatic’

Waris Singh Ahluwalia plays a henchman in oddball auteur Wes Anderson’s latest film, The Life Aquatic, with Bill Murray and Owen Wilson. Anderson also directed The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore and Bottle Rocket.

Ahluwalia was last spotted in a recent Time Out fashion spread pimped out urbanwear and turban. He doffs the pug in one scene, but manages to preserve his manly modesty under a neoprene scuba suit (clip 1, clip 2).

It’s not clear whether this is the same Waris Singh Ahluwalia who reported a hate crime in NYC a few months after 9/11:

Four friends and myself walked into Joe’s Pizza on Carmine + Bleeker. About a minute after we arrived, a man standing a few feet away from me looked at me and said “You’re the perfect target.” He smiled as he said this… He walked by close, smiled and repeated the same thing- “You’re the perfect target.” Before he got to finish saying it he punched me in the face.

Ouch…

Also check out the Sikh couple in the ‘Welcome to Atlanta’ booty video by Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris:

 

Are these Sikh actors being used as silent, exotic henchmen? Probably. But any exposure in a non-bad guy role is a good thing.

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Chopra tackles comics

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Last week the NYTimes Business section went into details about self help guru Deepak Chopra’s effort to bring western style comic books to India.

The newly formed Gotham Studios Asia is a joint venture between the media company Intent, run by Mr. Chopra with Shekhar Kapur, the director of movies like “Bandit Queen” and “Elizabeth,” and Gotham Entertainment Group, South Asia’s biggest licensee for international comic magazines such as Marvel Enterprises, the publisher of “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” as well as DC Comics and Warner Brothers Worldwide Publishing.

Gotham Studios will offer an adaptation of “Spider-Man” [see previous SM post here] in which the hero is a young Indian named Pavitr Prabhakar, who is shown bouncing off rickshaws in a dhoti, a loose Indian garment. There will also be a comic-book version of “Ramayana,” an Indian tale about faith, loyalty and war, to be retold in a sweeping style reminiscent of the “Lord of the Rings.” The titles are to be released in the middle of next year.

Gotham Studios is one of many companies trying to take advantage of an expected boom in the sale of books and music in India, fueled by rising literacy rates and buying power and changing spending habits. India’s population of more than one billion is the youngest in the world. Projections are that, by 2015, India will have 550 million people under the age of 20.

Imagine edgy western style comic book art used to re-tell the Indian classics. Comic books don’t just have to be marketed to kids and teens either, but can be used as a way to reach a larger Indian population with social messages (such as the way Art Spiegalmen did with Maus). Whatever you think of Chopra’s self-help philosophies, this seems like a very profitable venture. I hope there is not to much cross-over with his other books and he can keep his characters from being too preachy.

Mr. Chopra will infuse spirituality and mysticism into the characters. For instance, in the Indian version, Spider-Man gains his powers from a mysterious yogi, not from a radioactive spider. Spider-Man’s enemy, the Green Goblin, is the reincarnation of an ancient Indian demon called a rakshasa. “The superheroes of tomorrow will be cross-cultural and will transcend nationalistic boundaries,” said Mr. Chopra, the chairman of the new company. His son, Gotham Chopra, who is the story editor of the comic book “Bulletproof Monk” and was executive producer of the movie version, will write many of the comics for Gotham Studios.

Bragging rights for the world’s longest constitution

Who’s got the world’s longest constitution? Suketu Mehta claims in Maximum City that India’s #1. At approximately 500K words via a sophisticated algorithm known as Back-of-a-Napkin, that sounds about right: Indians took British bureaucracy, mixed in their dilatory sense of time, quasi-socialist ethos and love of jawboning, and inflated government like a puffed puri.

But Alabama is contesting the claim, with more than 740 amendments and 310K words. India’s constitution has fewer than 100 amendments. Anyone know for sure?

By the way, Alabamans may be the most amendment-happy people in the world, but they couldn’t find it in their strict constructionist souls to strike school segregation and poll taxes from their constitution earlier this month. For shame.

Delhi subway’s alpha engineer reverses IST

A transportation expert penned an op-ed in the NY Post yesterday bemoaning that New Delhi is more efficient at building subways than New York:

New York is talking – again – about starting work on the 8-mile Second Ave. line. It’s budgeted at $17 billion and scheduled to take up to 16 years to complete…

New Delhi started from scratch in 1998 and now has 13 miles of rail line up and running. The system is due to grow to 40 miles by next June, as workers complete their jobs three years ahead of schedule. The cost of all this: $2.3 billion…

In contrast to Delhi’s count-every-minute attitude, New York officials have talked about a Second Ave. subway since the 1920s… If New Delhi can do it, why can’t New York?

Why not, indeed. Cast off the bureaucratic habits of our former overlords, oh Yankees! Delhi’s subway was built five times faster at one-third the cost (buying power-adjusted), for a 15x improvement in bang for the rupee. Who’s the Mr. Laajawab behind this feat?

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