Eye In The Sky

Beginning July 13 2010, Mumbai is set to get a more privatized taste of reality television, as people see themselves participating in a so-far fantastical but now-possible season of Big Brother(or Big Boss, as is known more commonly in India), and this time the show promises to get more invasive than ever before.

The contestants – approximately 14 million citizens of Mumbai, have unwittingly been subjected to be under constant surveillance. The target audience you might ask – is MMRDA, National Remote Sensing Centre and such “developmental/law enforcement agencies”, who see the CARTOSAT-2B satellite launched by ISRO on Tuesday 13 July 2010, as a boon to help solve issues of vehicular traffic, land encroachment, city’s green-cover and any ‘unusual’ activities. The state administration will be fed live-footage via the NRSC  headquarters in Hyderabad.

The newly launched satellite provides a .93 cm resolution of Mumbai, which in the words of an MMRDA official means that ‘even a small object on the street would be visible’. The satellite is meant to track every movement  – be it vehicular or pedestrian – as admitted by authorities. Of course the city gains by getting a tighter-grip on land and mangrove encroachers, co-ordinating traffic movement and underground-utilities repair work – but has Mumbai been compromised in this ‘progressive’ step, which reeks of the Devil’s Deal? Akin to the Faustian tragedy, Mumbai has sought the government’s intervention for a more organized control of it’s administration (for reasons of vulnerability to terrorism, municipal hindrances, crime et cetera) while irrevocably surrendering a fraction of it’s liberty in the bargain.

‘Privacy’ is such a non-issue to get worked up in such a case. The alarming matter is the potentiality of the satellite’s abuse. Is it a Trojan for something unforeseen?

In this CIA-esque style of deployment of technology for Mumbai, it’s akin to living under the microscope now. The mass-surveillance program will probably ensure faster nabbing of miscreants, preempting an ecological disaster, aiding architects in city-planning – though I can’t help but think how leaders of authority can divert it’s application for ulterior motives. In countries like the US, RFID-chips are rampantly used by government as well as private organizations to help them track every citizen’s/consumer’s movement, (earning them the moniker spy-chips);  whether be it in identification paraphernalia such as passports/social security cards or FMCG products(shaving equipment, cell phones), are all part of the plan – providing commercial application to track customers’ consumption trends as well as serving Big Brother-esque control measures.

It is a well established fact in International Law journals and commentaries, that 75% of satellites orbiting in space are for military purpose, irrespective of the nation’s launch-pad, or the rhetoric governments extol to market them – weather forecasting, anti-missile systems, space exploration etc.  That my friend, is what they like to call in their BS-diplomatic jargon – ‘Dual-Technology’ – technology that can be utilized for civilian as well as military purposes. On Barack Obama’s visit to India in November 2010, there was much hype regarding the nature of business deals that were going to be signed between the two nations, in the midst of which, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao kept harping on ‘dual-technology’. The days immediately following his departure, notwithstanding the sycophantic coverage of the American President’s visit splashed across the gamut of newspapers as if no other national event deserved merit(my guess is as good as yours, several corporations and trade associations went all out with full page ‘thank you’ ads to express their joy as Lord Obama approved of their undertakings), I read leading national papers that carried articles regarding the kind of increased co-operation India & the US will have on “weather-forecasting” and “space exploration” satellites. Yeah right, NASA and ISRO are collaborating on exploring newer life-sustaining planets in other galaxies as much as Tom & Jerry did on a piece of ham! Weaponization of space is no longer relegated to sci-fi Hollywood movies, it practically began in 1980s, and as renowned political analyst and commentator, Prof. Noam Chomsky points out, is a direct consequence of the United State’s deliberate policy of issuing threats and provocation.

Don’t even get me started on the authoritarian abuse-potentiality of ‘stolen identities’ of the UID, as is widely advocated by American Republican Senator Ron Paul(that is the stuff for another blog). Closer home, the Sonia Gandhi headed NAC member Aruna Roy has been tying to create a debate on the same issue for Adhaar, the government UID project. Just turn to the American ‘primary markets’ to test their response. Soon after events of 11th September 2001, civilians from Texas appeared on state-sponsored television commercials urging their ‘responsible citizens’ to follow in their footsteps and embed themselves with RFID chips, as this could bring the country a step closer in defeating terrorism! What the frak? Some more food for thought – If Google, a private organization, can have a product of such a type as Google Earth Maps that gives you images of such proximity aerially, you don’t think the American military has a far more advanced satellite for surveillance that it deploys for domestic use as well as for their foreign involvement? Watch the movie Body Of Lies and Eagle Eye to get a sense of the kind of insane technology at the CIA’s disposal – you might say I’m crazy to base my facts over a movie, but whom else can you trust to tell you the truth, if not a person whose job it is to reflect on established customs of society and critique them? “Artistes use lies to tell the truth” says Evie Hammond from V For Vendetta! To even suggest that one should be mindful regarding the use of information from ‘official sources’ evokes nothing more than a scoff from me; it is an established truism, at least in developed countries that ‘free media’ has its head-quarters based in Neverland! Indians certainly have a reason to worry as India is Israel’s second-largest defense equipment buyer and an old client of the US. I’m just saying we might be on the brink of a ‘more-governed’ state with cops pouncing on us arbitrarily for seemingly ‘suspicious’ activities. Are those days when one could aimlessly wander anywhere without ‘intent’ or ‘motive’ a thing of the past? Now, they’d have you believe that we need to carry our ID and papers everywhere we go, just so that one can be ‘placed’ in case of a mishap, or else you’ll be suspected of being a ‘non-state’ actor upto something. By the way, the RFID chips on our UID will let them track us everywhere on this planet. “This way you can never be far away from home” will beam a Serenity-happy “Immigration Officer” in state-sponsored television adverts, notwithstanding the oversight in informing the pubic of its potential abuse.

Imagine what a disaster this is for dissidents. The government in it’s desperate attempts to overthrow the civil war in Kashmir and Maoist-dominated areas, seems to be giving in to it’s own zealous whims. P Chidambaram must be smacking his lips at the prospect of installing such satellites over Chattisgarh, Bihar and Eastern-Maharashtra to track Maoist activities- if they can’t air-bomb them, they can surely get an aerial-view and eliminate the Maoists on surface!

For those who will be quick to dismiss this as conspiracy-mongering or alarmist propaganda, let them also be known that P Chidambaram, the Home Minister of India, has announced plans of establishing a nation-wide bio-metric database of citizens to be co-ordinated by the National Investigation Agency(NIA) in 2010, using the most ‘in vogue’ marketing strategy for the justification of such retrograde programmes – for combating terrorism…Ta-da! So much for Hollywood yelling from the roof-tops for decades about future fascist governments!

A smooth ‘globalization’ seems tough to actualize with innumerable government actions already set in under guise of ‘counter-terrorism measures’ or ‘efficient assimilation programmes for immigrants’ across the globe (England’s stupid ‘English Test’ for immigrants, France’s law to deport ‘criminals’, more RFID, full-body scanners etc.) which serve to make servitude of us than solve actual problems.

The babudom is certainly in store for some improv on the streets of Mumbai now, enjoying a wider choice of ‘contestants’ to vote out, in total control of the TRP’s, which shall give such a never-before imagined audience more power to run it’s own show.

Next time you’re on the streets of Mumbai, don’t be surprised if people around you are swearing or holding out the finger to the sky for their miseries, we surely know which Big G it is directed at!

Notes

1. Column by Bombay High Court Advocate Gautam Patel on the need to supplementing Liberty with Responsibility – http://mumbaimirror.com/index.aspx?Page=article&sectname=Columnists%20-%20Gautam%20Patel&sectid=171&contentid=20110107201101070305181188bc44fa5

2. Aruna Roy speaking at the International Centre  Goa at a seminar convened on discussing expanding the powers under the RTI Act, raises an alarm on the potential abuse of the UID for targetting religious minorities – http://www.christianmessenger.in/uid-may-aid-communal-targeting-says-aruna-roy/

3. Leading newspapers report that the new ISRO sponsored-control rooms in New Delhi’s CRPF Head Quarters are meant to tackle Anti-Naxal missions – http://www.indianexpress.com/news/isroenabled-control-room-for-antinaxal-ope/737033/

Bobby-tizing the audience? Not so much!

This is my first blog post, and I’m finally glad to be writing something that has fired me up, which is the 2006 film, Bobby, based on the assassination of US Senator and Presidential candidate for 1969, Robert F Kennedy, affectionately called Bobby, both by family and nation. Bobby is a wonderful film directed by Emilio Estevez, whose credentials besides being a pacifist-filmmaker also include the genealogical honour of being Martin Sheen’s son (and the dubious distinction of being Charlie Sheen’s brother).

Estevez employs an interesting trickery of the camera to help the mostly fictitious cast of Bobby and real news footage of RFK from 1960s to come together forming a live-drama film. The film is set on June 5 1968, when Kennedy drove to Ambassador Hotel in LA to deliver a victory speech for his win in California primary polls. The premise of the film is based on multiple fictitious characters;  hotel guests, staff, managers, a beautician, election campaigners, kitchen staff comprising of still racially-tense Mexicans and African-Americans, a fading singing sensation and her husband/manager and an engaged-to-be-wed young couple; all present at the scene facing different predicaments, but united in their high regard and commiseration for Bobby – representing the diversity in classes of rich and poor; famous and unknown; black, white and latino; old and young – that Kennedy inspired hope in for the promise of a new era – bringing the African-Americans and Whites together after the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, and withdrawing from Vietnam. The movie thus serves as an  initiation in the world of Bobby-mania, and this post is specifically about my understanding of the context and events that lead to RFK’s assassination.

If the casting coup the movie boasts of isn’t impressive, the superlative performances by the sincere cast are – Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt play a married couple who are Kennedy’s campaign donors, embarking on an unlikely journey of self-discovery; Sharon Stone(a terrific change from the murderous cougars she plays) plays the hotel manager’s wife who finds he is cheating on her; Lawrence Fishburne plays a pantry chef doling out some fine insight on ‘white identity’, hoping Kennedy to be the next-emancipator; Anthony Hopkins and Harry Belafonte play hotel concierge retirees talking of a life gone by; Nick Cannon plays the hopeful Afro-American campaign manager; Freddy Rodriguez as the charming busboy(based on Juan Romero who cradled RFK’s head when he was shot), rooting for Kennedy to emancipate the Mexicans too, Lindsay Lohan in a rarely understated and terrific role who marries Elijah Wood to save him from being drafted into Vietnam, and finally – Demi Moore as the fading, drunk singing sensation and playing her husband/manager is Emilio Estevez himself – all in all, a satisfying cast.

The first time I saw the film, which was a couple of years back, I knew nothing about RFK, and yet by the time the film  rolled end credit’s to Aretha Franklin’s soulful rendition of ‘Never Gonna Break My Faith’ interspersed with RFK’s family photo collection, I cried…a lot! I wept in disbelief during the high-point of the film, which is Robert F Kennedy’s historic ‘On the Mindless Menace of Violence’ speech (where he sought to assuage Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mourners) which plays over the film’s pivotal characters’ reactions when they comfort each other regardless of their differences, while his body is rushed to the hospital where he finally succumbed to his injuries. What makes an already inspiring speech even more impactful in the film’s case is that it plays anachronistically after the Senator is shot, gripping the audience in an utter limbo of ‘what could have been’. Such events from history bring out the misanthrope inside me; so often do nice guys finish last. It is my belief that eventually when Man is up for judgement, people like Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin, shall be counted as the rotten scum of the world who destroyed faith, while Bobby Kennedy will always be remembered a Hero who restored faith.  For me, the film has endless repeat value because of the hope and inspiration it arouses.

look forward to a good cry every time I watch the movie(crying during a book/film reassures me I am still human) – as much of art has inspired and strengthened my resolve to become a lawyer, say movies like Philadelphia, Erin Brockovich, V for Vendetta & Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi; I also loved Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ – and knowing that the powerful have a history of purging all those who are truly committed to serve the republic, while such service doesn’t further the interests of the elites, it is clinically depressing to acknowledge the loss of someone like Robert F Kennedy.

Emilio Estevez is immensely able to evoke the mourning of the loss of a promising leader, even though the film presents events for just one day in the life of RFK, combined with archival footage of his rhetoric to provide a perspective of his policies. But can a film based on just one day of a prominent politician who belonged to the foremost dynasty in American politics that pledged to begin a new chapter in American society by doing away with all that was rotten with it – uncontrolled clandestine agencies like CIA, involvement in Cuba and Vietnam, nuclear arms tests and the Mob(of course the real story in case of JFK was much different from all the fluff glorified by the consent-manufacturing machines)– entirely capture the essence of a man? Is this film the product of a propaganda machine clearly ignoring less-popular aspects of RFK’s political life while selectively displaying those that put him on a higher pedestal?

A more informed audience versed with Robert F Kennedy’s history would give more thought to the motivations of the assassination (I believe that as my perception slightly wavered after I researched more), which is not to say that context justifies violence/murder. But we always need context to make sense of seemingly disconnected issues. Robert F Kennedy as a young man of 22, traveled extensively to Israel in 1948 to cover events for a Boston newspaper sometime before the official establishment of the Jewish State, and during his stay grew fond of the Jewish inhabitants. He came back to declare his solidarity for the Israeli cause. So when the 6-day war broke out between Israel and the Arab states in 1967, Bobby Kennedy pledged America’s support with Israel, which irked Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian – a dissenter of the Israeli occupation of Palestine – who cited Bobby Kennedy’s lifelong support for Israel as his primary motive for the assassination and the devastating implications it could have to have a Zionist President in America. Eliminating the only moderate guy definitely plunged Palestine’s hopes to win international support, once the way was cleared for the crazies(read: extremist Republicans/pseudo-liberal Democrats) to occupy the Presidency, who have always maintained a strangely close relationship with Israel post WW-II  as USA’s formal Foreign Relations Policy, considering they didn’t consider the Holocaust victims’ cries for help worthy of responding soon enough. The roots for this friendship, I believe, dig much deeper than just the common fabric of overlapping faiths of Christianity-Judaism they share, as US Vice-President Joseph Biden would have the world believe.

With the shadow of the New Order of the Ages/ New World Order looming over America, the groundwork for liberalizing the world economy(read: no holds barred Capitalism) was laid by promoting the ideals of Democracy around the world (Hail America, the latter-day imperialists of the world!). For those who are quick to dismiss the NWO as ‘conspiracy theory’, it’s credibility can be attested by testimonies of Professor Carroll Quigley and former House of Reps. Larry McDonald. Now, there are myriad conspiracy theories concerning CIA’s involvement in RFK’s assassination, which shouldn’t be so shocking, considering if RFK did become President in 1969, he would be doing something that went against their ambitions – withdrawing from Vietnam, allowing Communism to thrive and thus sending a blow to the economic interests of the military-industrial contractors – remember Dwight Eisenhower’s words, they hold relevance for India too. The CIA could’ve easily set up Sirhan Sirhan as their ‘fall-guy’. In fact, while I am editing this post for the hundredth time, revising content about my theory, I have just gotten hotter to the mysterious involvement of intelligence agencies. Consider this – Sirhan Sirhan claimed his sole motivation for shooting RFK was his pro-Israel stance. But it wasn’t RFK who dictated America’s friendship with Israel, but the official Foreign Relations Policy of the US that is the domain of several shadowy think-tanks . If that were really his motivation, Sirhan Sirhan would have to work at overthrowing the American government as it’d be a bitch of hard work to influence international policies without radical change. But my theory goes for a toss, if, this Sirhan Sirhan guy was originally a Bobby-fan, but got disillusioned after Bobby’s public declaration of his support for Israel…then it all boils down to a crime of passion of international proportions! Whatever his intent, he shall rot in hell, a Jewish one at that! The purpose to link CIA is – if they get a ‘Manchurian Candidate’ to do their job, they have a dual-accomplishment of objectives – eliminating a liberal candidate like RFK while simultaneously demonizing Palestinians. Looking back at how Representative Democracies have fared across the globe, I’m reminded of a Greco-Roman concept of government  – the popularity for the idea of governance thrives under the assumption of people’s will to be servile. Ha! Whoever wired us to believe that? It doesn’t mean that all politicians have misgoverned us; they just tried to make the best of they had, like a scientist does until stumbling upon a discovery. Surely representative-democracy isn’t the only way to run the world now that we’ve seen enough and survived the experiment for a little more than two centuries.

I myself found out of RFK’s support for Israel after I saw the film for the first time.

Before I was familiarized with his politics, I watched the film with all-heart, numb at the loss of the world so much so that the injustice of it played a key role in shaping my personal aspirations. I get mildly depressed everytime I see the film.

After I am aware of RFK’s support for Israel, the ‘rational mind’ sets in and views the assassination in a more philosophical light. My mind, even if for a brief moment, almost learns to ‘rationalize’ his assassination as respite for the Palestinians, which doesn’t mean that now when I see Bobby, I overlook the heinous act; I feel the same angst as I did before, nothing can redeem such an act especially when the victim happens to be someone who was almost a Messiah to thousands of persons and still continues to be so. For a moment my mind sympathizes with Sirhan Sirhan, who committed an act of desperation for safeguarding the survival of his country – but soon as I come to my senses I realize that by killing RFK he has robbed the world of a great humanitarian. It is the ambivalence of it that bothers me. I feel confused to the extent of feeling bi-polar to have such contradictory emotions, but looking at the state of Palestine today, how they are terrorized everyday with Israel’s aggressive land-grabbing ultimatums, knowing that it could’ve translated into more hopelessness of existence for ordinary Palestinians with someone even as Bobby Kennedy – who represented a promise of peace and justice – pledging support for Israel, then with Bobby Kennedy dissociating himself from that cause, even if it meant him ‘eliminated’, could explain why I underwent that momentary lapse of judgement. Maybe it has to do with the conspiracy of our media-culture to excessively stimulate our minds with war, to the extent that our diminished capacities readily accept it as a way of life and justify subsequent violence. When a unanimously admired man makes an unpopular decision, it manifests into a moral dilemma for his followers to revisit the ideology of the man they once idolized. With Bobby Kennedy gone it obviously got worse, because even though he sided with Israel, his motivations were not politically inclined for serving any ulterior interests; he supported Israel on a simplistically human level because he couldn’t bear to witness the suffering of Jews, trying to reach some kind of agreement between Israel and Palestine to co-exist peacefully. Let me also play America’s favourite card by launching a pre-emptive strike and declare that I am NOT anti-Semitic. YHWH knows how often I’ve been ambivalent, but watching the horror repeat at the end of the movie everytime is agonizing.

I think I’m learning something new I hadn’t realized earlier even as we speak. On one hand i see RFK, on the other Palestine – and yet the remorse I feel for RFK’s demise out-depresses Palestine’s eventuality of annihilation. I guess then an attempt to quantify human lives is a moot point in measuring it’s worth. There is a verse from the Quran I heard from a televangelist that made perfect sense for me – the death of one innocent man is the death of humanity.

It is immeasurably depressing for me to make peace with the loss of a life that can undoubtedly be held in the same league of extraordinary men like Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Martin Luther King and John Lennon(if you’re so much as wondering why him, I won’t bother explaining), for what promise each held to the world had they been around longer – so much so that it makes me disbelieve in everything I have learned, with my feelings finding resonance in U2′s ‘City Of Blinding Lights’ – the more you see, the less you know, the less you find out as you go, I knew much more then, than I do now… The best I can do to keep Bobby Kennedy’s spirit alive is to never forget his message and strive to live that way – “Surely, this bond of common faith(humanity), this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again” – Pure genius! I wish I was alive during his day; I would have loved my life to have been in some sort of way shaped by his, to personally witness the man’s compassion, sincerity and an affable sense of humour. It is reason that such men’s ideals are universal and timeless that they’re essence survives forever and they continue to inspire lives in a way that transcends. Off late, I’ve been rehearsing to talk like him, repeatedly listening to his speeches. Man, I can’t stop gushing about Bobby, I don’t care, I love this guy.

A moment in the Senate

Robert F Kennedy inspires me, and I proudly take him to be my idol. Bobby realized very early in life to devote his life towards public service. He was a fine lawyer advocating civil rights in USA as well as Apartheid-struck South Africa through his youth, became the country’s Attorney General and represented America’s best and only hope during that period for reuniting the whites, blacks and the latinos, after MLK, and bring in what the country had been starved off for a decade – peace. And when you combine RFK’s surreal character-arousing oratorical skills with his witty and endearing personality, he makes one helluva role model. When he announced his desire to run for the Presidential elections in 1968, he was met with “boo’s” from certain hecklers in the crowd. And how did RFK deal with the haters? He joined in to boo himself in good humour! While addressing his nation several times in moments of crises, Robert F Kennedy displayed amazing deftness in the understanding and purpose of human life, quoting his favourite poets and writers several times; his words always have a balming-effect on his listeners. Listening him speak, OMFG, is truly an intellectual intercourse. It is an experience to behold, believe me, and hence I am uploading the clip towards the end for you to enjoy (it doesn’t work now, but i let it be there so you can see what douches the Weinstein brothers are). It makes my heart heavy even as I am finishing this eulogy, thinking of what we lost had Robert F Kennedy lived several more decades. He surely would’ve been fighting the good fight and be at the forefront leading the world away from all the BS it has gotten itself into; in the same league of heroes as Ron Paul, a minority of American leaders who incorruptibly still represent the original values of a free, yet responsible, society – justice, peace, equality, freedom, liberty and fraternity – values of universal constitutional relevance.

Coming to a close, I’d like to throw some light on the curious choice of the title. Knowing RFK’s politics and watching Bobby, I fear skeptics would wrongly perceive it as a brainwashing, propagandist film – intellectually castrating it’s audiences. It risks coming across as a hagiography, but like I just served up to y’all, we know better than to expect our role models to be God-men – to err is human, and it’s all good!

Emilio Estevez probably came around making Bobby around the time George W Bush’s re-election in 2004 shocked the conscience of a global community that had pledged to oppose unjust wars. Maybe he wanted audiences to identify once again what represented their best hopes as a community and their role in the world, as RFK’s message is still relevant today as it was in the ’60s. His sole intention was to tell the human story behind the immense popularity of Bobby and why people loved him. Being a product of the ’60s, Emilio Estevez’s films reflect his anti-war stance recurringly. He has done a terrific job of using his talents and educating audiences to mobilize their thoughts and actions. And why shouldn’t more filmmakers attempt to create political awareness in an engaging way, when special interest groups in America have an entire channel dedicated to ‘recruit’ for what their consider to be their ‘worthy causes’? FOX HISTORY’s what I’m talking about – a mass-disinformation program, guilty of perversion of history to suit the needs of the powers that be .

Bobby isn’t so much of a political film as much as it is about the man behind it all, recreating an era when people believed they were poised for the New Age, and what better vessel to carry forward that hope than a message of peace. Barring the Maoists, I can’t remember the last time the collective Indian conscience came together in such force to share their grief over a national tragedy. Bobby also best conveys what I feel emerges out of collectively-tragic moments – grief has an overpowering unifying force to bring polarized peoples together and force them to revisit their differences. The film possibly leaves the audience wanting for more – more out of their leaders. In a film replete with stalwart actors like Hopkins, Moore, Stone, Hunt, Sheen and Fishburne – Kennedy emerges as the clear hero for his act of a lifetime – a good guy.

And if you still haven’t seen Bobby – do yourselves a favour, go catch it!