Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Face It, We All Aren't Going to Become Vegetarians

This is an interesting write up on the state on food security in Britain by George Monbiot. He argues that we need to take some urgent measures and as the header suggests explains the impracticality of the Utopian vegetarian dream! In your face PETA... I only kid, it's quite a informative read. Dig in..

Thanks for an interesting read Shubha!

Following is an excerpt from the same:

Never mind the economic crisis. Focus for a moment on a more urgent threat: the great food recession that is sweeping the world faster than the credit crunch.

You have probably seen the figures by now: The price of rice has risen by three-quarters in the past year, that of wheat by 130 percent. There are food crises in 37 countries. One hundred million people, according to the World Bank, could be pushed into deeper poverty by the high prices. But I'll bet you have missed the most telling statistic. At 2.1 billion tons, last year's global grain harvest broke all records. It beat the previous year's by almost 5 percent. The crisis, in other words, has begun before world food supplies are hit by climate change.

If hunger can strike now, what will happen if harvests decline?

There is plenty of food. It is just not reaching human stomachs. Of the 2.13 billion tons likely to be consumed this year, only 1.01 billion, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), will feed people.

Article link:

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More by Monbiot

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Food shortage may lead to GM acceptance

This is with reference to a news article which appears in Mint today which informs that there may be a gradual acceptance of genetically modified (GM) food products as the scarcity reaches a flash point. The lead paragraph reads as follows:

Soaring food prices and global grain shortages are bringing new pressures on governments, food companies and consumers to relax their longstanding resistance to genetically engineered crops.

and concludes ...

With food riots in some countries focusing attention on how the world will feed itself, biotechnology proponents see their chance. They argue that while genetic engineering might have been deemed unnecessary when food was abundant, it will be essential to help the world cope with the demand for food and biofuels in the decades ahead.

The question to which most GM baiters do not have a logical response to is "If you are dying and there is no "non-contaminated" food left on earth will you consume GM food?"

The replies vary from 'obviously not' to 'it's obvious..i will'

Those who rally against the genetically engineered do have a point when they say that we just don't know enough yet, which is a position I agree with. But at the same time there are a millions of hungry mouths to feed with not enough food to go around. Even if there is plenty, it may not reach the poor due to its abysmally inflated pricing.

Traditional methods of farming may not have a sufficient answers to these problems.

The article suggests that Europeans, considered to be the most conservative on this issue, are also opening up to the prospect of using GM foods as cattle feed or even for human consumption.

The chairman of the European Parliament's agriculture committee, Neil Parish, said that as prices rise, Europeans "may be more realistic" about the issue of GM crops: "Their hearts may be on the left, but their pockets are on the right."

Well, the real concern here for me is that Agri-MNCs may use this ruse to promote and project GM foods as the panacea to food security and world hunger. An overrated solution which is not well understood can only lead to a hazardous, far - reaching consequences that may not be reversible in time to come.

The propaganda which will decidedly follow on this issue will be determinately one-sided. Splinters of which can be observed in the thinly veiled opinion pieces and analysis in the Indian media.

Although, the Indian policymakers have erred on the side of caution and taken very reserved measures in this direction, the temptation to align with a convenient option may prove to be too irresistible.

Article link:

Global grain shortage weakens opposition to engineered crops

Inching closer to a Big Brother State!

The Indian government in all its enthusiasm is poised to set up a facility to monitor mobile calls . The reason given is probably National Security and what not! It does sound logical right! We fight the bad guys and we need to know what they are talking about. So lets give access to the most clandestine of Indian agencies and maintain records of conversations of common public to 'fight menace'.

This development is vaguely reminiscent of the US Patriot Act announced when the country was in a "state of war". But we here are more than happy to resign our civil liberties with a wink and a smile. I am sure that most of India will be comfortable with this arrangement as they would "see the necessity" of intensified surveillance!!

Anyways, a word of caution to all you perverts out there who live by the dial-a-mate numbers to get on with your suppressed, under lived sorry lives. A government babu may be passing his worthless time listening to your innocuous conversations and maintaining records of it!

I wonder which one's more pathetic. You decide!

Article link:

Government to set up centre to monitor mobile phone calls

Privatized insurance: Indian healthcare to follow US mess?

The following article in Mint by C.H. Unnikrishnan is an indicator of Indian private insurers eager to get a piece of the virtually non-existent rural insurance market. The Indian financial services sector is booming and if experts are to be believed it is about 100 bn and poised to expand due to the depth in Indian market.

The trend although is expected and in-line with the fiscal policies adopted by India, it is also a matter of concern if the scenario in US is to be considered. The deplorable conditions of insurance in the US leave the common citizen at a loss and out of the health care loop. Micheal Moore's documentary Sicko is a fair indicator of the way things work in the capital market promoted unbridled health care and Insurance business.

Although state promoted general insurance is welcome for those who have been largely ignored by the opportunities in the market, there is a need to focus on the basic infrastructure and facilities for the masses. The state of medical facilities in India's rural areas, teeming with conditions which most of us take for granted, is at the very least pathetic.

I sincerely hope the the policy makers take full cognizance of he fact that they need to protect the masses and provide basic facilities to the people rather than toe the line and expand the so called 'market opportunities' for big businesses.

Article link:

Private insurers rush for a piece of rural pie


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bernays’ rhetoric: Origins of modern PR industry

Propaganda (1928)
Edward Bernays
86 pages

New York
Horace Liveright

Bernays’ rhetoric: Origins of modern PR industry

“…to know where you are going, you’ve got to know where you’re coming from…"
- Will Smith, in American sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel Air

Public relations as a system of regimented dissemination of ideas to the masses may have been practiced as far as the early Roman Empire, Egyptian pharaohs and the Indus valley emperors to inform its “subjects” of new developments with a view to achieve better governance.

The modern public relations industry is shaped by the philosophies and practices of noted American propagandists Ivy Lee, Chester Burger and Edward Bernays. Its roots can be traced to the “Committee on Public Information” or better known as the “Creel commission” set up by American President Woodrow Wilson to influence public opinion in order to garner their support for World War I. The learning’s from this largely successful campaign prompted Edward Bernays to apply the tools thus devised in aiding American corporates to communicate with their environment.

The book Propaganda (1928) followed Bernays’ seminal work Crystallizing public opinion and is largely considered to be the ‘bible’ of Public relations industry. Although the term ‘propaganda’ may have a negative connotation to it today, largely due to its association with the Nazi’s communication machinery during World War II, it was largely accepted as a term which best defined the concerted and deliberate act of regimenting mass opinion. By his own admission, Bernays’, a Jew himself, resented the fact that Goebbels used his books as a reference guide to engineer the murderous assault on Jews during the heyday of Nazi regime.

Its illustrious author was the nephew of the renowned psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, and was deeply influenced by his theories. Also, he was said to be highly influenced by the work of French philosopher Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology. He perceived himself as a psychoanalyst to modern corporates who were bemused as to how they should interact with the public and its various stakeholders.

Bernays defined the profession of "counsel on public relations" as a "practicing social scientist" whose "competence is like that of the industrial engineer, the management engineer, or the investment counselor in their respective fields.

In this book, Bernays argues that the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy.

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.

His writings delve in what could be called as the initial steps towards the pillars of modern PR practice, namely media relations, identifying influencers, mapping the relevant media and utilizing the same for pre-determined results. He had a knack for what was later termed as ‘ballyhoo’ and implementing big ideas for his clients.

Bernays identified a vacuum in communication from big corporations to the masses and the need to “resolve conflict” inherent to the system due to the diverging interests and opinions in a society. His communication strategies were often a product of a deeper understanding of mass psychology and sociology which were successful due to the immediate ‘connect’ with issues that mattered to the publics.

His most successful, probably the most controversial campaign, was devised for the American Tobacco Company in the 1920s wherein he engineered a ‘March of the liberty brigade’ parade in Times Square, New York City which was meant to promote smoking amongst women who were projected as being liberated and free ‘Torches of freedom’. It is a notion which still prevails in certain societies. His attempts to undo his own work in the early 1960s earned him praise later on. He writes, "…had I known in 1928 what I know today I would have refused Hill's offer." referring to his client, American Tobacco Company.

Bernays’ detractors have often criticized him and the public relations industry thereafter, for abusing the knowledge he grasped for “ill doings” which harm rather than help the society. But, from the onset he perceived a need to protect the masses from their own limitations and the ‘manipulations of the masses’ as a prerequisite for a functional democracy.

It is evident from his great caveat which is reiterated by his pronouncement that a public relations counsel "must never accept a retainer or assume a position which puts his duty to the groups he represents above his duty to society."

The initial quote in this piece represents the far reaching effects of American media on the psyche of a Mumbai lad exposed to satellite television. An export of an entire culture which enjoys a significant mindshare in modern urban
India, a feat achieved with the deeper understanding of human needs and values as understood, influenced by Bernays.

A study of history of modern mass communication and practices can not be complete without understanding Edward Bernays or his influence on modern PR techniques. The tools of PR may have evolved over the years along with the rapidly changing media landscape, but Bernays provides the elusive meaning, a rationalization in terms of philosophy and larger social perspective, which is the modern PR industry’s legacy inherited from him.