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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Breaking down news: The motormouth race

As post-truth clouds gather, the world needs more voices that tell things as they are

Written by Pratik Kanjilal |
January 28, 2017 2:01:02 am
Doomsday Clock, Cold War, USSR, Andrei Sakharov, Nuclear scientists, Atomic scients, US electios, Donald trump, Republic day, India republic Day, rajpath, Subramanyam Swami, indian express Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist, chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Board of Sponsors, left, and Thomas Pickering, co-chair of the International Crisis Group, display the Doomsday Clock during a news conference the at the National Press Club in Washington, Thursday. (Source: AP Photo)

The hands of the Doomsday Clock stand closer to midnight than they’ve been since the Cold War began. The time it tells is two minutes and 30 seconds from midnight, which graphically represents the end of the world. The last time it was this close to darkness was in the fall of 1953, when Andrei Sakharov tested the USSR’s first hydrogen bomb at Semipalatisnk, pushing pedal to metal in the nuclear arms race.

Curiously, the news isn’t making seriously big headlines. It should, because the hands of the Doomsday Clock, which first appeared on the cover of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947, are now reacting to a fundamentally altered reality. In 1947, the clock stood at seven minutes to midnight. Over the last century, it accelerated through the decades of competitive testing during the Cold War, reaching two minutes to midnight in 1953, before holocaust was averted by disarmament talks. But in the 21st century, the clock is reacting not to competitive testing, seismograph readings and the seismic diplomacy they generated. It is reacting to political rhetoric which freely threatens to use the devil’s alternative.

The 2017 statement from the Bulletin speaks particularly of the loose and casual references to weapons during the US election campaign — which is why the Democrats have just moved a bill to take the “nuclear football” out of President Trump’s reach. It also singles out for mention recent flashpoints on the Line of Control, as well as the Pakistan foreign minister’s irresponsible tweet threatening Israel with nuclear retaliation. The arms race has turned into a motormouth race, which is possibly even more dangerous.

Meanwhile, brandishing arms remains in style, even if we can’t keep our powder dry. Everyone knows that it rains on Rajpath every Republic Day for the specific purpose of drenching the military, but no evasive action is taken. On the morning of the 26th, it was heartbreaking to see that Doordarshan had organised a dizzyingly ambitious camera angle, looking down through the arch of India Gate at the incoming artillery (so to speak), but the dismal greyness of an overcast Thursday morning ruined the shot. India patiently awaits a government which can take the bold step of relocating India’s second most important day to more clement times. Why not? If the budget, in anticipation of which the entire economy plans its finances, can be a moveable feast, why not other annual institutions?

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Besides, there is an argument for changing the temper of the celebrations. Does a mature nation really need a designated day to rattle missiles and tanks at the world, and have Soviet-style floats showcasing provincial and sectoral achievements? The schoolchildren’s performances are delightful, though. There’s always room for more in that category and anyway, tomorrow belongs to our children.

Republic Day brought some respite from a long stretch of 24×7 media wrangling over jallikattu. That should have been enough time for the north Indian anchors to learn to pronounce the word, but variations on “jelly cut” and “jolly gut” have remained in vogue, evoking images of bariatric surgery and liposuction performed on cheerfully large people. And before you could say oru, irandu, moonru, the Tamil harvest festival of bull-taming had been confused with the Iberian tradition of bullfighting. Which is quite misleading, because what happens traditionally in Tamil Nadu is not exactly blood and guts Death in the Afternoon stuff.

Subramanian Swamy, who rarely has a kind word to say about Tamils, leapt into the bull-pit of Twitter to face Kamal Hasan, who supported the jallikattu protests. For once, he lost the match. But he has other targets. He wants the licence granted to Arnab Goswami’s (or more accurately Rajeev Chandrashekhar’s, since he pays the piper) proposed channel Republic to be revoked, claiming it violates the Emblems and Names Act of 1950. The nation really wants to know how Arnab will deal with this potentially withering friendly fire.

Unfriendly fire has peaked in the US media, with the New York Times calling POTUS a liar. Not in the body copy of a story, but in the headline: “Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting with Lawmakers.” He alleges that he lost the popular vote because three to five million illegal voters stumped up for Hillary Clinton. Mother Jones marks this out as a very special case, the argument being that a liar knows that the facts are otherwise, while all others may be ignorant or in error. The headline clarifies that the former is true, and that Trump knows that what he utters is untrue. That’s a sign of health. A post-truth society can rehabilitate itself only if it tells it like it is.

 

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pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com  
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