Book Review Folder - 2005/2006/2007

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Postby Rye » 26 Dec 2007 09:55

Why is Iran not joining the GCC initiative in the Indian Ocean? USA is not in that group, but that does not seem to help reduce their nervousness.

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Postby vsudhir » 26 Dec 2007 23:36

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Postby Adrija » 28 Dec 2007 14:25

Guha's book on post-independence India is definitely worth a read, if one ignores the Macualay-ite overlay visible at times

Reading Greenspan right now. Fairly muted about India, has rational reasons to I suppose........ fairly bullish on China.

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Postby svinayak » 28 Dec 2007 18:12

What Orwell Didn't Know: Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics
by Andras Szanto

# Paperback: 236 pages
# Publisher: PublicAffairs (November 5, 2007)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 1586485601
# ISBN-13: 978-1586485603

Orwell captured something brilliant in his famous essay:

"Political language--and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists---is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

What Bush Administration has done is, not only give a resurrecting new meaning to Orwell's quote but also create an army of cronies around the world who now have a "carte blanche" to make murder respectable in the name of "war on terror".

Sri Lanka, a country that has become famous for violating human rights lately, openly admits that it is following President Bush's "war on terror" methods to eradicate terrorism(By Tamil Tigers). A person disappears (or extra-judicially killed) every four hours in government controlled areas with the help of military assistance paid by American tax payers. The media is used to spin the stories in every direction that is favorable to the government. They have made "murder respectable" and they are "hailing to the chief".

Orwell definitely didn't know about that.

A collection of essays on a particular topic would mostly appeal to the academics, that too purely for research and other academic reasons. However, "What Orwell Didn't Know: Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics" belongs in the firepower non-fiction/current-affairs category. It keeps you engaged till the end.

This book is published to coincide with a one-day conference on "Orwell and the American society" to be held at the New York Public Library November 7, 2007 sponsored by the Open Society Institute and the graduate schools of journalism at UC Berkeley, Columbia, and the Annenberg School at USC. This year is chosen because it is near the 60th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell's famous essay, "Politics and the English Language" (1946).

But what this book is really about is the perversion of truth by the Bush administration and the concomitant failure of the American mass media to do anything about it or to even comprehend what is going on. Editor Andras Szanto writes in his "Editor's Note," "the deans of five prominent journalism schools...were worried about what was happening to political language, which seemed to be divorcing itself from reality at an alarming rate." (p. ix) This book with essays by 18 heavyweight political thinkers, cognitive scientists, psychologists, journalists and others is an attempt to address that worry.

Aside from the many Ministry of Truth sort of lies cynically concocted by the Bush administration, there is the striking and very scary fact that Bush is acting out the Orwellian nightmare in that he has put the United States on what appears to be a permanent "war" footing just as was the case with Oceania in Orwell's novel, 1984, and for pretty much the same reasons. As several of the contributors have noted, George W. Bush has invented an endless and fraudulent "war on terror" as a means to keep the populace in fear and to control both the Congress and the media in order to enhance his own power as chief executive.

But there is much more. As Drew Westen notes in his essay, "The New Frontier: The Instruments of Emotion," there is the example of "Polluters" drafting "a bill which became law," which was "named, as if in cynical tribute to Orwell, the 'Clear Skies Initiative.'" (pp. 75-76) Of course it was, and is, anything but. Westen goes on to make the salient point that "What Orwell could not have foretold is...Orwellian language can be as effective in a democracy as in a dictatorship." (p. 79) These are points that George Soros also makes in his essay, "What I Didn't Know: Open Society Reconsidered."

What strikes me is how corporate control of the media in all its aspects, including especially advertising and news reporting, can insure that only politicians sympathetic to corporate interests can possibly be elected, and once elected can work with their corporate sponsors to bring about something close to dictatorial control. Congresspersons and reporters in fear of losing their seats or their jobs are as easily controlled as citizens terrified of secret police and brown shirts. What Bush, Cheney, Karl Rove and the minions working for them have done--and this is the thrust of the book--is beyond what Orwell could possibly have foreseen. As George Lakoff explains in his essay, "What Orwell Didn't Know About the Brain, the Mind, and Language," we think metaphorically, and the many metaphors of life are charged with emotions that can be activated by certain political words or phrases, "War on Terror, tax relief, illegal immigration...abortion on demand...cut and run, flip-flop...," etc. These words "can activate large portions of the brain." (p. 70) He further notes, "every time such words and phrases are repeated, all the frames and metaphors and worldview structures are activated again and strengthened--because recurring activation strengthens neural connections." (p. 71)

Lakoff recalls how the word "liberal" was destroyed by conservatives through incessant repetition of such phrases as "tax and spend liberal, liberal elite, liberal media, limousine liberal," and so on. This is brainwashing postmodern style. Orville Schell in his introductory essay sees this sort of thing as "penetrating 'the inner heart' of individuals." (p. xx)

Nicholas Lemann in his essay "The Limits of Language" makes the point that the corruption of language, which is what Orwell was writing about in "Politics and the English Language," is one thing, but "an even more frightening political prospect" is "the corruption of information." (p. 15) Bush invaded Iraq under the auspices, as it were, of such a corruption of information. Lemann laments that "there often is no corrective mechanism at hand" when "the facts of a situation have been intentionally corrupted by people in power." (p. 15) Personally I am concerned about the truth hiding in plain sight, in news stories, in articles, in books, on the Internet, while remaining largely unrecognized and unappreciated amidst the massive information and misinformation overload that is burying all of us.

Mark Danner takes this quote from Orwell as the wellspring for his essay, "Words in a Time of War: On Rhetoric, Truth, and Power": "From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned." He goes on to show how this perfectly fits the mentality of Karl Rove, AKA "Bush's Brain." Quoting Ron Suskind, he reveals that Rove disdains what he calls "the reality-based community," opining that "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality...we'll act again, creating other new realities...." (p. 23)

I wish I had the space to say something about the other excellent essays in this collection, but I am up against Amazon's 1,000-word limit, so just let me say this is an outstanding book, wonderfully conceived, eminently topical and profound. I suspect it is going to appear on college reading lists all over America in the next few years, and hopefully it will help a new generation of Americans resist the kind of political propaganda and fact manipulation ubiquitous in recent years.

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Postby vsudhir » 31 Dec 2007 00:07

V. Raghunathan: 'Indians Are Privately Smart and Publicly Dumb'

Published: September 06, 2007 in India Knowledge@Wharton

In his book Games Indians Play: Why We Are the Way We Are, V. Raghunathan writes about a farmer whose corn won top awards year after year. When a reporter asked about the secret of his success, the farmer attributed it to the fact that he shared his corn with his neighbors. Why, the reporter wondered, would the farmer want to share his seed when those neighbors also competed with him for the prize? The farmer's reply was, "The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grew inferior corn, cross-pollination would steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors do the same."

That Indians often fail to act like this farmer is the principal theme of Raghunathan's book. Using examples as varied as their tendency to drive through red lights to their failure to protect the environment, Raghunathan argues that Indians often act in ways that focus on winning immediate gains at the expense of long-term benefits. What makes Raghunathan's approach unusual is that his argument isn't a moral diatribe: He employs game theory -- a branch of mathematics -- and related concepts, such as the prisoner's dilemma, to present his case.

A former professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, Raghunathan in 2001 was named president of the ING Vysya Bank. He now works for the GMR Group as managing director of GMR Industries, the group's agri-business division, and CEO of the GMR Varalakshmi Foundation. Raghunathan also teaches game theory and behavioral economics at the University of Bocconi in Italy. To relax, he repairs mechanical clocks.

India Knowledge@Wharton: Your book is titled, Games Indians Play: Why We Are the Way We Are. What are Indians like?

Raghunathan: In the first chapter of my book, I describe what I believe Indians are like by offering 12 canons of "Indian-ness." For example, one of our traits is "low trustworthiness." By that I mean we are most likely not to cooperate in a prisoner's dilemma kind of situation. Privately, Indians are reasonably smart -- in fact, we are as smart as anybody else -- but publicly we are dumb. Our ability to understand the need for cooperation is very low. We believe that cooperation and selfishness cannot go together -- which is not true. We also tend to be very fatalistic in our outlook. We give excuses such as, "What can I do alone? Everybody else is looking out for himself, so why shouldn't I?"

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