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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Point Zero

Matt Drudge’s predictions create a buzz in the American media while a Congress spokesperson becomes an internet sensation overnight.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Updated: September 21, 2019 3:53:59 am
gourav-vallabh-sambit-patra-congress-bjp-television-point-zero The ABP Shikhar Sammelan at Ranchi turned Congress spokesperson Gourav Vallabh into an internet sensation overnight. (Source: twitter)

Matt Drudge has half a lakh Twitter followers but appears to have tweeted only three times in the last eight years. Silence is the world’s most powerful amplifier, so his third tweet gained much attention when it appeared on Wednesday: “It’s Elizabeth Warren’s nomination to lose…” The buzz was all across the American media, though Drudge had gone out on a rather slender limb to predict an outcome that depends on choices made by multiple people, the only valid weightage being the controversy over Warren’s Native American ancestry. It’s the sort of situation where mathematical modellers would balk, but journalists would follow their nose.

But Drudge had correctly called Donald Trump’s chances well before his nomination, while people are still struggling to come to terms with the idea that Trump is not an aberration, but part of the pattern. Besides, Drudge was a conservative blogger before the word ‘blog’ was coined, and drudgereport.com, published from his bedroom at the time, had lit the spark of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It’s hard to ignore a man with a reputation.

But perhaps the US story that travelled the widest concerned the Congressional hearing where Greta Thunberg rendered her testimony, along with other young people, on climate change. She did not offer a statement of her own, but submitted a copy of the ‘SR 1.5’ report published last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Her message calls for sanity in the insanely roiled debate on global warming, where conviction and blind surmise have trumped facts: “I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists, and I want you to unite behind science.” Of course, if people did that, it would spell the end of the vast industry of global warming politics.

But we must not ignore the story of Fox News presenter, former judge and New York Republican politician Jeanine Pirro, who is also author of Liars, Leakers, and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy (Center Street, 2018). She is now host of the Fox show Justice with Judge Jeanine (the public calls her Judge Dredd), and she fielded a devastating early morning call from Texas this week. “The president and the beautiful first lady went down to El Paso and posed with a baby that his rhetoric, Fox News rhetoric, your rhetoric, had helped to orphan,” was the caller’s opening sentence. It got steadily more devastating: “And I’m really tired of this anti-immigrant, anti-people with brown skin rhetoric…” The important thing is no one pulled the plug. All of it aired, as the anchor’s face melted in embarrassment. Here at home, a man who spoke in that vein would either be shouted down by the anchor and her planted guests, or the show would have cut away to something else, far away.

Of course, there are exceptions like the ABP Shikhar Sammelan at Ranchi, which turned Congress spokesperson Gourav Vallabh into an internet sensation overnight. He asked Sambit Patra, who is a surgeon by profession, a basic question which a high school student would have answered in seconds: how many zeros follow the five in 5 trillion? Out of dead habit, Patra — who had done rather well in the debate until that point, and even broke into satirical song — answered that Rahul Gandhi should have been asked this question, since his sum of knowledge is a zero. Later, after the battle on stage went against the BJP spokesperson when Vallabh listed all the decimal powers flawlessly, Patra gamely took the fight to Twitter, where he asked if Mr Vadra had “answered the Enforcement Directorate as to how many zeros he has pocketed.” Actually, Vadra would have answered the 5 trillion dollar question even faster than a high school student. And even the anchor, Sumit Awasthi, had protested, “You’re talking about a 5 trillion dollar economy, with 5 per cent GDP growth? It’s inversely proportional.”

And finally, the story that should have got much more attention on television: the report of artefacts from 580 BC in Tamil Nadu, which suggests a connection between the Indus Valley and Brahmi scripts, and therefore between the two cultures. This is significant, given that the genetic and archaeological evidence of the link is sparse, though it has been invoked by generations of Dravidian politicians. The graffiti marks found in Keezhadi near Madurai can be tentatively treated as significant because urbanisation, regarded as the principal marker of the Harappan civilisation, is very much in evidence. One would have expected that the story, which has implications for southern politics, would have received the kind of play that two recent papers which spoke of Aryan migration did.

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