Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Buy Nothing Day - Consume Less

My dear students,

One of the most thought-provoking websites that I have come across is: The guys are from Canada, but they get back echoes from all over. They also call themselves the “Culture Jammers”. Especially those of you sitting on the razor-thin fence between “Editorial” on one side and "Ad-PR" on the other, must have a close look at these people.

“Buy Nothing” is what they are planning to do on Friday, November 28. Sorry for the snap notice, but I glanced at their website just by chance to include them in my “Websites of Influence”. Here is how their line goes:

“Suddenly, we ran out of money and, to avoid collapse, we quickly pumped liquidity back into the system. But behind our financial crisis a much more ominous crisis looms: we are running out of Nature … fish, forests, fresh water, minerals, soil. What are we going to do when supplies of these vital resources run low?

“There’s only one way to avoid the collapse of this human experiment of ours on Planet Earth: we have to consume less. It will take a massive mindshift. You can start the ball rolling by buying nothing on November 28th.

“Then celebrate Christmas differently this year, and make a New Year’s resolution to change your lifestyle in 2009. It’s now or never!”

I have been following their “Less is more … & Better” (this is my dearly-held belief that goes beyond “omit the needless word”) campaign in the form of their “Buy Nothing Day” appeal. I hope this rings a bell for you too.

Warm regards,

- Joe.
Pune, 26 November 2008.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The clarity of poetry

My dear students,

POEMS are not for reporters, to read. Though I like poetry, that is what I used to prescribe in class. And also believe today, because poems do not consist of facts. But recently some of my students, especially Gauri Gharpure of Kolkata (who plays a cool blog, where “Life rules”) and some readers of my blog (who are into the “imagination” touch), have provoked me into re-thinking my stand.

Gauri shared with me a thought by a Russian poet, Mikhail Kuzmin (1872-1936), in which he calls for fellow poets “to seek beauty in the natural and physical world of their environment – to be industrious in language and vision in order to reflect the realness of the subject.”

This is what Kuzmin said in a 1910 address, “I beg you be logical in the design and structure of your work, in syntax . . . be a skillful builder, both in small things and in the whole . . . love words, as Flaubert did, exercise economy in your means, thrift in the use of words, precision and authenticity – then you will discover the secret of a wonderful thing: beauty clarity."

Those words became part of the mainfesto for a trend in poetry called “Acme-ism”, whose significant leading poets were Anna Akhmatova, Nikolai GumilĂ«v, and Osip Mandelstam. The link to Kuzmin is from the website of the Academy of American Poets, which itself is a treasure. The Kuzmin collection, at Dalhousie University in Canada, available in electronic form and compiled by John Barnstead, can be accessed at this link. Dive into its riches.

Shown the quote without being told it was by a poet, I would have sworn it was by a journalist. For, as a journalist, I believe and practise what it says. I have been re-writing this piece with “thrift in the use of words, precision and authenticity” and when a word goes false, I cancel it out.

An editing tip I draw from Kuzmin is, “Omit needless words”. That was an advice William Strunk Jr. gave E.B. White, who was a student at Cornell in 1919. Strunk collected his advice in a “little book” called “The Elements of Style”. White revised his teacher’s textbook in 1959. Besides R.P. and T.J.S. George, Strunk & White should also permeate our style, stripping the text of needless gossip. Here is the link to Strunk's astute guide on the Elementary Principles of Composition

Now reporters, I dare say, ought to read poems. Unlearning, for me at 58, has been fun. But aren't reporters becoming endangered in today’s TV-driven world? There are the poets who can sing like the birds. But where are the poets who can describe like the reporters?

Warm regards,

- Joe.
Pune, 20 November 2008.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

From Bush to Obama – The Killing will Continue

Dear students,

At the risk of being branded cynical, I have chosen the above headline to celebrate the victory of Barack Obama, modifying it from the headline of an alert, “From Blair to Brown – The Killing will Continue”, dated 23 July 2007, published by one of my favourite websites “Media Lens”.

We know the importance of the first para in any story (the intro, or the lead, or the lede); how it ought to hook you and make you want to read on. Here is the first para of the above piece, published by Media Lens when Gordon Brown took over in 2007 from Tony Blair, who had become the British prime minister in 1997.

“The first truth of American foreign policy is that it is formulated to maximise corporate profits and state power. The second truth is that it is perennially sold to the public as a mission to spread freedom, democracy and human rights. The third truth is that the first two truths apply regardless of whether the Republicans or Democrats hold power.” (Taken from “From Blair to Brown – The Killing will Continue”, Media Lens Alert, 23 July 2007.

This direct and heavy dose of reality is required to counter-balance the heady hysteria that may engulf you, given that a “black” man has become the 44th president of the USA.

The authors of the above piece go on to address the moorings of British foreign policy itself:

“The first truth of British foreign policy is that it is also formulated to serve elite power. The second truth is that it is rooted in unwavering support for US policy, including participation in attacks on defenceless Third World targets – the reason London, not Stockholm, has been subject to September 11-style suicide attacks.

"The third truth is that this foreign policy is always sold in a way that echoes US claims of humanitarian intent, so lending a veneer of international legitimacy and support. It is of course very much easier for a “coalition” to claim to be expressing “the will of the international community” than it is for a rogue superpower acting alone.

"The fourth truth is that these truths apply regardless of whether Labour or Conservatives hold power. Finally, because the collision between the reality and appearance of policy becomes increasingly obvious over time, the fifth truth is that a change of British government is always said to herald a change to a more moral foreign policy. This transformed policy is always said to be driven by idealistic new minds acting out of revulsion at past ‘mistakes’ – the slate can thus be wiped clean and media gullibility rebooted to the default setting.”

If you read Indian newspapers (between the lines) and watch our TV channels (between the images), you will grasp the truth of what the authors say. With the signing of the nuclear deal, India too is slowly becoming part of US foreign policy. And if Obama starts to signal that attacks on “defenceless Third World targets” like Pakistan are called for, in order to flush out the terrorists, I am sure the Indian government will jump to the bait.

Like my lectures on truth and objectivity, this piece is like the tip of an iceberg: intended to arouse and provoke. Please navigate the links and comment here itself. Remember, “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”

Warm regards,

- Joe.

Pune, Wednesday, 5 November 2008.