Breaking down news: A Question of Degrees

The best spoof on the loose is not about Narendra Modi. It’s a picture showing Albert Einstein getting his BSc degree verified by Arvind Kejriwal.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Updated: May 14, 2016 12:02:05 am
modi-degree Two degrees held up by two heavies separated reality from jumla, provided free programming to TV and news sites.

Conflicts usually begin with small arms — the First World War was triggered by a pistol in the hand of Gavrilo Princip at Sarajevo. The heavy artillery is kept in waiting while things hot up. So, if the biggest guns are rolled out before the battle is actually joined, it sets people thinking. This week, the government miscalculated by rolling out Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley to defend the Prime Minister’s educational qualifications, drawing satirical attention. Two degrees held up by two heavies separated reality from jumla, provided free programming to TV and news sites.

A press release on the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s website would have sufficed the purpose, and quietly ended the controversy. But then, the good minister in charge of education had also drawn satirical attention for extravagant educational claims. It would not do to remind the public, ever greedy for entertainment and fed up to the gills with Santa and Banta. But then, internet satire cuts both ways. The best spoof on the loose is not about Narendra Modi. It’s a picture showing Albert Einstein getting his BSc degree verified by Arvind Kejriwal.

The Prime Minister finding Kerala’s children worse off on social indicators than Somalia’s proved to be a bit of joke, when the video on which it was based turned out to be rigged. But since the media have lost their sense of humour, TV channels persisted in running doleful comparisons on social indicators between Indian states and African countries. But the real joke is that this line of reasoning goes back to 2010, when the Human Development Report adopted the multidimensional poverty index, innovated by a decidedly left of centre group at Oxford. In fact, it goes back much further, to research at the beginning of the century, which suggested that there is more hunger/poverty in India than in all of sub-Saharan Africa. Googling either version of the statement would throw up a bunch of left-wing papers. The PM has unwittingly invoked their collective wisdom.

The news that Mehdi Masroor Biswas, the techie in Bangalore accused of promoting the IS cause online, will be tried, is causing much interest, since it is the first case of terrorism online. Dematerialised terrorism, if you will. However, the issue feels a little dated, since the distinction between online and “real life”, the term in which everyday reality used to glory, was narrowed in the early days of the internet, in the mid-Nineties. The archives of Computer Mediated Communications, an influential journal of the period which examined the politics and philosophy of the new medium, still make for interesting reading. In the two decades since, the gap has been erased in the most convincing manner possible by the preponderance of online bank fraud. Money talks, and there is really no difference between ripping someone off with a mouse and a gun. Ditto for terrorism.

Apart from oil prices, Wahhabism and suspected links with terrorism, Saudi Arabia is in the news for only one other reason — the eternal debate about women denied the right to drive the huge and pointlessly expensive automobiles which men in djellabas tool about in. Now, this hasn’t made news here, but the Arab press has been agog about deputy crown prince Mohammad bin Salman assuring some retired US general that since women rode camels in times past, they should be allowed to ride the equivalent of time present — the automobile. However, being essentially a politician, he took out the customary insurance policy, and stated that society, rather than government, would decide when the time was ripe. In the meantime, this story ran in The New Arab with a picture of a hijab-clad woman driving a dune buggy which doesn’t look one bit like a camel. Her fate, after the buggy ran out of gas, is unknown.

Speaking of camels, the BBC reports that their DNA holds a record of the flourishing trade across the Old World which accelerated the growth of civilisation. Samples from dromedaries on separate continents, from West Africa to Pakistan, have turned out to be remarkably similar, suggesting that the animals were kept on the hop in ancient times, lugging apes and peacocks back and forth across the known world and sharing their DNA with the local camels. Fortunately, no Indian camels were inspected in the study, or it would have been vilified as anti-national.

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com

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