Friday, November 28, 2008

Plagiarism and two steps forward

Having just read the blog post, Readers Confess Online Sins, I was reminded about mind notes I had made some time back, to comment on a well-established industry within the internet: academic writing. 

At the very start of undergrad school, students are given special instructions on what counts as plagiarism and what doesn't. They are required to quote in parentheses or blockquotes, place footnotes and compile bibliographies. If that isn't a drift enough from high-school assignments, there are different kinds of citation styles to adapt to. Some disciplines and/or teachers demand the APA style, others the MLA, and yet others, the Chicago style of referencing.

In the past, more excruciating for the freshman was not writing the 5000 odd words, not protecting the intellectual rights of others, but doing it in the acceptable manner. Then, came online tools like the citation machine. If students were fond researchers, these facilities made life very easy.

Come the present, for many students, it is not just the citations that are a piece of cake, but the researching too. All that needs to be done is to google phrases like "buy papers", click one of the thousand results, and order your paper online. As simple as that! Google prides itself on coming up with the right kinds of ads for ad-sense but don't be surprised if the keywords for this post are spidered effectively to generate Academic Writing offers on this page (I don't endorse those!). Say goodbye to plagiarism. Our kind service providers will make sure that they write ethically correct papers for you. Yes, they are very ethical and particular about that.

And coming back to that post I was reading, of the 220 readers who took the poll:

54 percent said they've downloaded pirated content;
36 percent admitted to misrepresenting themselves online;
22 percent said they plagiarized Web content;
16 percent said they hacked into a corporate network;
6 percent said they've stolen someone's identity.

Have I ever downloaded pirated content? Yes, guilty as charged. The rest, thankfully not! What about you? And have you or your kids ever ordered academic papers?

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Charter for Compassion

Mumbai Under Attack

Terrible, terrible news from Mumbai. Terrorists strike at least eight different areas across the city. Our prayers are with you all.

Attacks of this ferocity in a major metropolitan city drive one to think of those who live in far-flung areas like the bordering towns of Pakistan. They are attacked everyday, and we have sadly grown accustomed to it all. Lives of those people are as precious as our own. So let that war be ours too.


Although we do not know anything about the attackers as yet, a group going by the name of the 'Deccan Mujahideen' has assumed responsibility. The common men and women on the streets, need to join hands during this time of trial. They must not fall into the terrorists' trap. A couple of pieces, concerning the on-going debate in India on 'Hindu' and 'Muslim' terror, were published in the Hindustan Times, just a couple of days back: Majority Appeasement and Our Terror, Their Terror. Do read, because India needs to focus on unity right now.


Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Relevant link: Global Voices Online

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Glimpse of the Northern Areas of Pakistan...

...on popular demand! You will have to click on the thumbnails to see larger images. The camera I had at the time of this trip, was an extremely basic point-and-shoot model, hence, the unflattering colours (and it occured to me after the uploading exercise to "photoshop" them). There are some interesting things to note in the second and the second-last pictures. 

Also, two more pictures here.

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Monday, November 24, 2008


Although this is being written in haste and hurt, it comes in peace.

I encountered a couple of pages here on blogspot (which I will not link to lest they invite troublemakers), and to my misfortune and hurt, discovered some contributors who love to hate Islam and Muslims. Despite my attempts to talk with reason and respect, I was bombarded with derogatory jargon and mudslinging. I couldn't be apologetic, so I quietly left.

The blame? Islam is imperialist; it promotes genocide, endorses slavery, looks down upon non-Muslims, and seeks to kill apostates; oh, but there's so much more...

Their sources? Al-Qaeda's philosophy, and "scholars" like Bernard Lewis and Salman Rushdie. Lewis is a strong reference for them because he hails from Princeton. And Rushdie is just so darn popular that Britain had to decorate him with knighthood.

I thought it my duty to at least help my own non-Muslim readers to see the other side of the coin and the other face of Islam. In "scholars" like Lewis, Muslims see a bias. Read, for instance, Scholarship or Sophistry? Bernard Lewis and the New Orientalism. As for Rushdie, his claim to fame has not been the quality and depth of his work; it has been the undue attention furious Muslims have so stupidly accorded him. Had they let him be, he would've been consumed by the seas of mediocrity. Ziauddin Sardar, in an interview with The News, has something interesting to say about him. My point is: don't look to the Osamas, the Lewis' and the Rushdies for your scoop on Islam. Look to its own scholars of calibre. Scholars like Ghamidi, who speak with reason and sense, who have their understandings and opinions grounded in primary sources, for anybody to check and verify, who do not choose to flow with the tide, who choose to steer of their own grit.

When I posted some photos from picturesque Pakistan, I was pleasantly surprised to have a fellow blogger comment, "Pakistan in a different light, and one that we never get to see, a picturesque Pakistan!" I felt the need to present Islam in a different light too. One that people don't usually get to see.

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Saturday, November 22, 2008


If going down under is too much of a hassle, Western Europeans can at least experience the 'Venice of the North': the city of Amsterdam. While we were touring across a handful of countries in Europe, our first stop was the capital city of the Netherlands. Our Schengen visas required that we make it our point of entry into Europe; and I can safely bet that had that not been the case, the city would not have been on our itinerary. Mostly, when people think about heading out to the continent, the must-see's are London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Vienna, Madrid, Barcelona, but hardly ever do time-constrained travellers bring Amsterdam into the itinerary. I must confess however, that it proved to be a condition, my husband and I, both, were glad was thrust upon us. Walking out of the Centraal Station, smack in the centre of town, we instantly fell in love with the city. While the rest of Europe - save Germany, perhaps - oozes of history, lock, stock and smoking barrels, the Netherlands is a toddler still.

Its architecture, driven by tax laws at the time, dates back to the seventeenth century. An ode to a rough policy (no offence): since they were taxed based on frontal footage of their houses, homeowners stumbled upon distinctive architecture. They built their townhouses deep and tall; what they couldn't afford in lavish measurements, they made up for with almost vertically-placed staircases. Up, up and up we go, the streams running gently down below. Yes! That part about the step-sibling, Venice. Amsterdam, too, has got its water, weaving an intense web of mud-coloured canals. Like its big sister, cars aren't that popular in the city. While boats and gondolas remain the face of the Italian princess, the Dutch-ess is an impressive rival with its exuberance for bicycles and trams.

We were, admittedly a bit iffy on the accomodation. Amsterdam is quite straining on the pocket, especially if you're a budget traveller, who wants to stay in the centre of town, steps away from the station, and because you plan to abuse your Eurail Pass as often as you want to.

Since we couldn't afford the classy decors, we found ourselves walking into a hotel, hidden somewhere beneath a Samsung scaffolding, on the Damrak (arguably, the busiest road there), connecting the Centraal to the Dam Square. The entrance and the ambience of the property were more than just a tad depressing, but the clean room and the uber-friendly staff more than made up for it. People in the country - the Dutch and an ensemble of all kinds of nationalities - were among the friendliest few we came across in our entire trip. So welcoming (which should not come as a surprise, given the historic, open-armed refuge they gave to the Jews during Hitler's tirade). An Italian concierge, on finding out about our plans to visit his country in the second leg of our trip, spent 20 odd minutes with us, keenness dripping with recommendations for the best hotels, the best beaches and the best localities. Another volunteered to print some train schedules that we needed. A third made up a plan for the entire day for us. And yet another, a Pakistani, offered and later, went on to leave his jacket at the front-desk for my husband, after finding out that the notorious KLM-Alitalia combo had lost our luggage. It was cold, and we were travelling from a temperature of 40 degrees celcius back home, so our attire was screaming summer beach, while Amsterdam was cold(ddd) and Den Haag was freez(zzz)ing!

While I'm writing short of recommendations for tourists (I might mull a travelogue to delve deeper), my point is: Amsterdam is unique, it is vibrant and electric (some would say, not children-friendly), young but every-inch European, and in my experience, a most underrated destination.

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Credits: The first image was picked from Wikipedia; the third, from The middle one is from our own trip.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My New Deodorant

It has been said all too much how the internet has altered not only our lifestyles, but the way businesses are run and advertised. I have wondered how it is, that whenever I sign in to Facebook these days, I get to see some very relevant advertisements. Recently, I've been spotting an ad for a body deodorant for women. No, the companies didn't discover a stench in me! The internet is still a far cry from using (and abusing) our sense of smell. My point is: it is never an ad for a brand not available in my country, and it is never a product for men. It is always for me.

There were times - back in the seventeenth century maybe - when advertising was limited to the Classified sections in newspapers. Gradually, imaging and colour crept in to add to the intrigue factor. This impacted not only potential consumers, but resulted in the development and consequently, the boom of a new industry. We were introduced to agencies that offered specialized services in creativity and marketing.

In came World War I, and the populations were introduced to advertisements of things beyond products and services. They were introduced to monitored propaganda through advertisements. There was not just the newspaper anymore; there was the theatre and the radio. And today, when television has become a necessity for every household (no point dissuading lower-income groups), whether we like it or not, whether we are bothered or not, we are bombarded by advertisements of cereals and cell phones, internet and washing powders, schools and milk products, whitening creams and pest-killing sprays. With marketing research as our solemnized alter ego, information assymetry is no longer. We do not have the luxury that was - to view or not to view the Classifieds. There are millions of web-based ventures and projects today that survive or thrive on advertising revenues alone. Such business models beckon networking sites like Facebook.

So coming back to Facebook, advertisements there are not the run-of-the-mill pop-up adds. If you are the company, organization or a person who wants people to know about something you're selling, or maybe just a blog such as this, you can very conveniently decide a target audience. There will be no casualties on the way. Only the people you'll be looking for, will be enticed to pay any attention to you whatsoever. The rest of the world will enjoy a well-earned slumber. You will tell Facebook that you want to advertise your deodorant to women, regardless of their relationship status, aged between 14 and 55, living in Pakistan. You will be told how many profiles your ad will appear on. And walaa!

This is not where user-generated ads end. Another social networking site, MySpace, is also engaging in Behavioural Targetting. If you are a music fanatic, you're likely to see an ad from Virgin on your profile; if you are a bookworm, a new best-seller is likely to reinforce its status by coming to you rather than the other way round; and so on...

And before the bell rings, I need you to know, I don't stink, but I'm using that deodorant now! And it helps my husband to know that even if I login to Facebook 30 times a day, I will never be able to click on a banner, not even for the kicks of it! Unless I put up a fake status, that is.




After all the bickering, we've found a glitch in the system: too many fake profiles! Does it render this kind of targetted advertising ineffective?

Copyright(c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Guest post: In Praise of Nothingness

I understand that to many, philosophical ruminations are the pastime of such hopeless idealists who cannot grapple with the realities of a world fraught with practical matters. Inconsequential as it may appear to them, I cannot help rhapsodizing about philosophical subjects. If nothing else, I can atleast flaunt my vocabulary and assuage my language-complex. So my very first post here is in praise of nothingness, and I praise nothingness by saying absolutely nothing about it.

The length of the post made me shamelessly revise my decision to say nothing. Probably, writing about worlds, ideas, things and people that never were and will never be, can serve as a starting point for praising nothingness; and an ending point too! And may be dilating on the most insignificant of events that corrugate our rosy lives will help in some measure. By the way, if my English doesn't dazzle you, the word for life in French is "vie" and this is not the only word of French that I know. After this tantalizing digression, let me clamber back to the title of this post. Which "ideas" never were and will never be? The problem with answering this question is that the very act of responding will negate what I actually want to convey. What quandary! An easy way out: whatever ideas never were and will never be, my praise to thee.

"People" can be handled with less strain on the mind. My sister never was and will never be, my love to thee. My brother-in-law will never be, by the grace of God, and had he been, he would have been one lucky dude! My maternal uncle never was; an interesting relationship it would have been. There are some other fascinating possibilities that I better not dwell on lest I be charged with insensitivity. Just to give one example, my second wife never was and will...

"Things" and "worlds", I believe, are risky categories in terms of the future, but let me attempt a scenario. A world where all the knowledge and experience residing in one person's mind could be transferred to another person's mind, such a world never was and had it been, countless Motzarts and Bismillah Khans could be produced. And what about the novelty value, you may ask. Good question; go find the answer.

Coming to the insignificant events in our lives, the other day, I kept staring at the list of telephone extension numbers tacked to a board in my office. It was an updated version and I wanted to confirm if my designation was changed to reflect my superior status. It wasn't! A mild disappointment was soon drowned out by a fusillade of thoughts on matters I was supposed to attend to, but was postponing unjustifiably. Should I first pray or eat was a conundrum that occupied my mind for a short while. There is much more that is more significantly insignificant than what has been written. But I spare thee!

Copyright (c) 2008 Razi Allah Lone

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pakistan's Polio Fatwa

Last year, 24,000 children in the country were refused vaccinations on the call of the clergy, who declared the medicine un-Islamic! As a result, Pakistan is, today, one of only 4 countries in the world, where the disease in still endemic. Two of the other three, share borders with us - India and Afghanistan. While I'm not sure of the reasons behind the failing status of the latter two, I am thinking they too probably have something to do with illiteracy and the unequivocal faith resting in the equivocal characters in our societies - namely, the "ulema (clerics)", who insist on not embracing times and progression, or even common sense.

The three reasons given for opposing polio vaccines?

- They render little boys sterile, because they contain progesterone;
- They contain lard;
- They signify that we are trying to artificially combat God-willed adversities!

The second has been an all-time favourite of the clerics, and should not be dignified with a response. But the first and the third reasons cited, wreak of absolute madness. Progesterone? Why would Polio vaccinations contain progesterone, and if they would, how could a couple of drops cause sterility in little boys! Get this secret out, and that hellish gender-change industry will have a run for its money; nay, be doomed.

And that we should not try to combat difficulties (because they are a part of God's plans) is my favourite. What it essentially means is that these clerics are basically in favour of no medication at all - for prevention or cure. Because whatever the disease or ailment is, it is God's trial, and ought to be persevered with a writ so strong, that all the Pfizers, Bayers and Wyeths should shudder at the thought of Muslim domination in the world (as if we don't already have enough on our plates, thanks to these offshoots). The poor children who are suffering from Polio today, as a result of their ignorance, spark no compassion in the brady bunch. Maybe, stripping them of wool in winters this time around will.

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shining India?

I'm beginning to wonder if the Indians are going way over their heads these days. I'm all for friendship, but it peeves me now to see them blowing their own trumpet, endlessly and shamelessly. For the last few years, our ears have gone dry, listening to shouts of "Shining India", despite the separatist elements, the massacres, the Mumbai slums...

Now, there's more. A few examples:

Mr. Chakravarty of the Hindustan Times (Waiting for Obama's Call) was going bonkers over an anticipated call to his PM from U.S. President-elect Obama. And what annoyance that he called Mr. Zardari and a few other leaders before he ever got through to Manmohan Singh. Bummer! He missed an important rite of passage by not calling India first. India is shining.

The Hindustan Times again, and this time, its Mr. Thappar (Obama or 'Oh bummer'?), crying fowl over Obama's expected foreign policy on Kashmir, because it seems more in line with Pakistan's demand for an intervention. But of course, if they can't let in international observers easily, how could they allow mediation. India can go it alone, because India is shining.

Now for Mr. Bachchan and his blog. On the day when the media around the world was going ecstatic over a black man in the white house, our superstar did the research and managed to make it all about India, going on to quote a not-so-ecstatic response: "So, we can be partially progressive while still following and passing regressive policies. Segregation of color in America is not abolished! India is a far fairer democracy! Here even the so called untouchables have representation. They are considered; one of them may well be Prime Minister one day ! The US still isn’t the land of the free after all…".

Then there is mention of that evening in 1969, when the first man landed on the moon. And today, so has India's spacecraft, lodging its tricolor on the moon. Instantly, he is corrected.

No sir, don't get carried away! India is shining, but its spacecraft hasn't yet landed on the moon (it was, in fact, the Moon Investigation Probe), nor is there a flag as yet.

Having the chance to take pride in one's country is something very special. But trying to rub it in harder than it warrants, takes away any shine that might have been.

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Friday, November 14, 2008

Oh really!

When complimenting a nature painting or a piece of art, have you ever exclaimed, "Wow, this looks almost real!"?

And when in awe of nature, have you ever thought how unreal it all seems - much like a painting?

What do you think of the following?

The first two were taken during a jeep-ride between Naran and the Lulusar Lake, in the northern areas of Pakistan. The latter two, from a bus, in Andalusia, Spain.

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Paper or Online

The internet has revolutionized the domestic world in an unprecedented manner. 50 years ago, who could have imagined the connectivity and exposure it has brought to us today. Who could have thought about electronic waves. As a kid, I used to wonder how my father could churn a paper through a machine; beep-beep, and somebody in another part of the world would have instant access to its contents. Spooky!

I also remember very fondly, flipping through USA Today papers he'd have in his luggage, upon returning from a business trip. They were a prized possession. I had my hands on something my friends could only dream about!

These questions and ecstacies would never occur to a child of the 21st century. He takes it all for granted. While he potentially has a lot more to deal with - his innocence at stake - he lives in a world, knitted together with the strength of a trillion flagpoles. Try as he may, it can't be undone. 

We've all pondered over the good and bad things about the internet; and if we never planned to, our school-teachers solved that problem for us, "Write an essay!". We were the generation caught in this transition, so this ought to remain special to us. We used to hear about Wall Street and life in the fast lane. Today, that fast lane is life. Of course, it means that we've either had to give up or simply, were never given the chance for those early hours on the breakfast table - that quiet and subtle enjoyment in having been woken up from slumber, to sit with family, sip milk, eat toast and the crisp sound of the paper. Aah, the paper. It remains debatable if those fond moments at the start of the day, now alien to us, were a luxury or whether the option to click away on the internet, while in college or at work, is. Let me know...

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Found this relevant piece online today: Newsprint's Disappearing as Papers Go Online

Monday, November 10, 2008

Religion and Freedom of Expression

Freedom of speech and expression is recognised as a fundamental human right, and governments who uphold freedom in their press, media and ambits of human activity, are lauded for their efforts. It remains the cornerstone of democracy, and yet - wittingly or unwittingly - most countries follow a policy at loggerheads with the very essence of freedom, when it comes to religious practice. It is important to ask why that is.

The West has always been proud of its democratic systems of governance. Most developing countries in the world are, subconsciously, still viewed as the white man's burden. However, it seems, that here in the East, we are more open to letting people just be, when it comes to their religions. Some of us regard religion as a very personal choice; others think it is a public affair. But howsoever we view it, I know from experience and exposure that we will not raise hue and cry over anybody's religious attire and we will not question their worship rituals. At the end of the day, the rule of the law here is: To everybody, his own.

On the contrary, in the West, it is unfortunate that everything religious becomes a source of concern and antagonism for the upholders of freedom of speech and expression. Weirdly enough, this genre of freedom is seen as a threat to society and secularism (I thought it only had to do with the state, and not with individuals). Being a Muslim, it compels me to ask why it is that the French are scared of “signs and dress that conspicuously show the religious affiliation of students”, or why backlashes result, and then, are accomodated when muslim meatpackers ask for short breaks to pray and break their fast in one month alone, or how Columbia University, when inaugrating its Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life, decides that Salman Rushdie, an atheist, is the man for the job, or why Richard Dawkins is free to sponsor an advertisement on London buses, saying, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."!

We will hear endlessly, in their media, about women suppressed and dominated in Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia; but they make a million-dollar industry out of Hugh Hefner's Playboy, a brand that has only helped to - yes - glorify the fairer sex. Slavery is exotic! But then, those are free, working women, right?

And they - who object to the freedom of religious expression - argue that religion curtails freedom!

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Saturday, November 8, 2008

President of the World?

A couple of friends were wondering whether there was anything special about the victory of Obama, beyond the colour of his skin. Of course, when America votes, the world waits. But they thought people's excitement levels have been going un-checked. So in order to do justice to both sides of the argument, I thought it wise to mention the other side of the story as well. And I've found just the piece to elaborate that thought:

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Relevant link spotted [November 21, 2008]: Let Obama be Obama

Friday, November 7, 2008

The National Outreach Programme

I was among the fortunate few to have attended one of the most prestigious grad schools in the country. I was also among the unfortunate few to have witnessed the "uprisings" of the spoilt brats, meandering the halls of the campus. Money well spent?

Come to the other side of the financial divide.

The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), in tradition of all well-reputed institutions, developed a National Outreach Programme. What this essentially does is that it encourages and facilitates bright students from the underprivileged areas of Pakistan to apply for admission, and in case of induction, offers them full financial assistance. I had the chance of working with two such boys: one from Peshawar and the other from Quetta. We were a team of 5, assisting a professor with a class of around 300. Since I was the only one who had graduated, they would keep calling me "central command". I lived in glory, thinking I was something special. I was so wrong. Once the course ended, we remained in touch for sometime, but the association proved to be a fleeting one.

Thanks to social networking sites like Facebook, I got back in touch with them, only to find my younger, much brighter colleagues, touching the skies. The boy from Peshawar is currently a grad student in Public Administration at Columbia University, and the one from Quetta is studying International Development at Harvard University. Tears to the eyes? And now, I ask you again, money well spent?

How much ingenuity is going wasted in our country?
  • Our GDP per capita, according to the CIA, was US$2400 in 2007.
  • Income disparity is very, very high.
  • The typical one year's Masters fee at Harvard costs around US$35,000, and this does not include registration, material, boarding and lodging expenses.
We have a lot of spoilt brats wasting money invested in them; and we have so many humbled children, who have the potential, but who cannot even afford to dream. Think about it. 

And now for some trivia. Barack Hussein Obama Sr. was imported to a university in Hawaii, from Kenya, on American donations. That was where he met his second wife. And look what that union produced! Barack Hussein Obama, the president.

"Barry", that "skinny guy with a funny name" (as he recalls himself), went on to study at both Columbia and Harvard.

Now put our two lads together. Moral of the story: put your money at the right place, and you'll make history, over and over again. Cheers!

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I am a millionaire because...

Oh no, wait! I think it makes sense that its not me I'm talking about. If I had such a fat bank balance, people would actually be listening to me, and my blog would be getting a lot more hits than it currently does. But now that you are here, there's no reason to be disappointed either. A few days back, I came across this blog by Singapore's youngest millionaire, Adam Khoo (readers who speak urdu are request not to chuckle, because I did!), and I thought it worth sharing with you all here.

Are You Living Like a Prostitute?

While I do not endorse miserliness, I believe we should not be driven to utter madness simply by varying M in the equation. Money is not the end. It is simply the means to our livelihood. It is only human to spoil ourselves every once in a while, but beyond that, it makes no sense to spend just for the sake of spending, and just because we can.

Also, if you succeed in ways Adam Khoo has, there is no reason to be afraid of a progressive system of taxation. The glass should always be half full. It is not wise to focus on more money going to taxation or the poor; rather, it is much more important to ask 'why'? Answer: Because you've got more! 

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama's Victory Speech

It was a well-written, well-delivered speech. Here are the links for those who missed it:

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Barack Hussein Obama

Everybody who writes anything, anywhere, is at this moment, commenting on the newly elected president of the United States of America. When America votes, the world watches with keen interest and (now) fear, thanks to one Texan warlord. (Err...his congratulatory note to his successor: "What an awesome night for you, your family and your supporters. You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life. Congratulations and go enjoy yourself.'' The entertainment just doesn't end, does it!).

In the wee hours of his campaigning, I, along with so many other Pakistanis, was not too keen on endorsing Obama (never McCain - he is Republican!) given his tough rhetoric against Pakistan: against our territorial integrity. One would wonder if he too would be chanting the Bush mantra.

Thankfully, however, in his celebratory speech in Chicago (minutes ago), he did not for once utter the word "terrorism". Bush has said it all too much; it has become painfully irritating now.

I'm happy to have witnessed history being made. A black president in the White House. Please don't ask me to say 'African-American', because this is the time to say 'black'. It is beautiful that Obama doesn't use the race card, but this is the time to congratulate our dark-skinned brothers and sisters. Historically, they've seen hell on earth: in the US, in Britain, in South Africa, in Australia...hell, every which way you tread! Now to have one of them elected as the most powerful leader on earth is an achievement. Not too long ago, in 2005, a poem - nominated a winner, was circulated on the web, said to have been written by an African kid - mimicked the collective pain of the 'black'. I leave you with it:

When I born, I Black,
When I grow up, I Black,
When I go in Sun, I Black,
When I scared, I Black,
When I sick, I Black,
And when I die, I still Black…

you White fellow,
When you born, you Pink,
When you grow up, you White,
When you go in Sun, you Red,
When you cold, you Blue,
When you scared, you Yellow,
When you sick, you Green,
And when you die, you Gray

And you call me colored?

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Celebrity Endorsements

One knows for a fact that little kids are impressionable. Very much so. Then, one day, they grow up. Or do they?

Going by the mind-boggling figures companies spend on celebrity endorsements, the answer is: No. Indian movie stars take upto (and more than) Rs. 3 crores per endorsement. Big companies and big banners are - well - big because they're not stupid, and if their research tells them that attaching a face to their brand boosts their sales, then they must. But one wonders why that is. Are we, adults, not intelligent enough to recognize the good and dependable attributes of a product, that we need the great walk of fame to take us to the right thing! Or are we not cultured and creative enough to realise our own aesthetics?

I am willing to give to the idea of celebrity endorsements only in so much as product recall is concerned, but no more. What about you?

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Raunch Factor

The Rand Corporation has recently come out with a study, linking sex on TV with teenage pregnancies. Congratulations! You're not quite there, but it is a start at least. The research suggests that with TV shows glamourising sex and not necessarily focussing on the consequences, teenagers are encouraged more and more, to indulge.

The same, albeit with concerns of morality rather than practicality (which is, but an inevitable off-shoot), has been the mantra of the religious ("the right", matey!): That our interactions with the opposite gender should have some limitations. That our exposure to all things carnal should be snubbed (marital "woe's" not included), not just monitored.

Maybe it is time that we told the "enlightened" to be open-minded. Come on, let's face it. These are just entertainment shows. What harm could they possibly do, than to relax the mind, body and soul.

Of course, the study has attracted the media's attention because they now need to suggest people to teach their teenaged children a thing or two about safe sex, and to watch these shows with them, so as to make it a healthy experience. It is still not a debate on what is morally right and what is not. But like I said, it is a start at least!

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Socialism for the Rich

For all my life, I've heard the West plead the case of capitalism. Everybody was riding high on tides and claiming superiority of philosophy and culture. Success was measured in terms of the moola in one's bank accounts. Ruthlessness towards the poor (offering them "generous" loans on exorbitant interest rates, to help them drown in dependency till eternity) was considered a part of the system. If they had the brains and the ability, they'd rise deservedly. Too bad, if not. And if the rich were getting richer, it was because of their potential and taxation couldn't be further from unfairness.

My thoughts: what an ego-centric and selfish world to live in. Unfortunately for us all, we are learning this lesson the hard way now. And how convenient of everybody who is anybody today, to suggest regulation in the economy, when all major institutions and functionaries are in seriously muddy waters. Here's an illustration of that. Andrew Graham, an Oxford Economist suggests: regulation has to be approached with a completely different mindset
from that for the rest of the economy. Elsewhere, competition can be a
substitute for regulation. In banking, the opposite applies: the greater the
competition, the greater the need for regulation and/or supervision. (Guardian, UK)
Okay!!! So long as socialism is for the rich, it is the best system. But God forbid, more goes to the welfare of the poor, it becomes treacherous!

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Recommended readings:
  1. Socialism for the Rich: Bailing Out the Bankers and Builders
  2. The U.S. Economy Is Socialism for the Rich

My Archetype is a Stereotype

Try as we may, stereotypes don’t leave our side. We are nurtured, both consciously and sub-consciously, as to who is what, and who means what.

One night, while flipping through TV channels, my sleepless eyes found me a route to an interesting 80's flick, called "Soul Man". What it depicted was something that we all, at some point in life or for others, at most points in time, tend to employ in our dealings with others: entertaining stereotypes.

Soul Man depicted a young white man admitted to Harvard Law School and yet, finding himself at loggerheads due to dearth of funding. Unwilling to let go off his ambitions to be a Harvard Law Graduate, he excessively takes in bronzing pills, in order to pass as a Black, and thus, qualify for the only available scholarship. The one non-academic eligibility criterion: just be black! What follows is a director and writer's attempt to reveal the immediate implications of being a black man in America. If you've seen sliding doors, you'll be able to figure out the black-and-white scenario this film hopes to convey. You can be in the same situation, with the same credentials, ceteris paribus except that you're black in one frame and white in the other. The former makes you end up in jail for no fault of yours, it makes coaches fight for you to be in their basketball team without any trials, it makes white parents see you as boys out to get their daughters stoned, it makes white children see you as rappers and blues singers, period, and it gets your white American landlords on their toes to catch you killing a fly, in order to send in an evacuation order in the name of animal rights! You make the same guy white, and no jails and evacuation orders could ever come into play.

Upon getting caught, the black professor is pleased to see the young man having learnt what it means to be black in America.

"No," he says. "I haven't. If I don't like it, I can opt out anytime. It's not the same!"

Disclaimer: The above is not meant to be offensive to any people. I'm just using the movie to highlight our unfair and presumptuous attitudes towards people, based on their colour, religion, nationality etc.

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Times of Despair? Says who!

While the US government is busy acting on its US$ 700 billion bail-out plan, the still-rich keep finding ways to annoy us all. Forget about the bail-out plan, or even the need for it. Something would be seriously wrong with anybody's genetics, who doesn't find a reason to question these excesses, even in the best of times:

A $2500 Mac Book- even if the aesthetics are "whoa!";
A $7000 Laser-Powered HDTV - even if it has the widest color gamut;
And wait for this: a $5000 toilet - even if it plays music, flashes light and yes, even if it wards off bad smell while you're on the pot!

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Dear Reading, Hello Again!

Not too long ago, I remember being possessed by books. Summer vacations were defined not by video-gaming or tv-watching. The idiot box was the least of our worries (read, obsessions). We would travel 400 odd kilometres to our grandparents' house, and all cousins in the city would immediately hop in for slumber parties. Nerd parties, by today's standards, if you may! I'd have with me, nine or ten Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and some Oxford fiction publications, and so would a cousin of mine. All night, he'd read my books and I'd read his. We would follow it up by comparing notes, ranking the best from the worst, and saying why, deriving morals and lessons, suggesting improvements to storylines to tap that creative spark in us!

Ah, creativity! Why have we forgotten the art of reading, let alone writing. I don't recall how, when and why, but I too fell victim to this act of juggling we call living. The electronic waves took over the printed word, and I saw myself recommending Hollywood flicks to friends. My childhood buddies - Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens, Franklin W. Dixon and company - had left the building, or perhaps, I had shown them the way out.

It was not until recently, that the avid reader in me was revived, thanks to - ironically - technology. Let's face it. The television and the world wide web, since long ago, have become an inseparable part of our being. The Google Reader caught my fancy, and a month later, I've recommended about 50 odd readings to several friends of mine. I had forgotten what a thrill it was to read and grow - in thought, understanding and creativity - simultaneously. What the Google Reader does, like many other RSS Feed portals/sites, is to bring all your readings of interest over the net, on one page. It highlights the new and updated, every time you log in. Things are so mad that without organization in our lives, we are as good with resources at hand, as we would be, without them. I would shirk from opening up websites of interest (except obsessive logins to facebook and gmail) simply because I'd find it hard to recall and then visit all of them regularly. And in a matter of days, I'd have such a backlog to look into, that I'd choose to stay away altogether. The Google Reader organized this for me. Now, all I need to do is to point my browser to one page; the rest is all done for me. And I'm not even being charged for it, so no possibility of a personal credit crunch either!

Read away!

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik