Monday, June 14, 2010

Sex and the city: David's departure

Today I stumbled upon Ashok Banker's blog (one of my favorite blogs) and was shocked to read one of his blog entries: Falling Down: A Goliath Named David

I could not believe what I read about David Davidar--that he had been sacked by Penguin Canada over a sexual harassment case. A couple of years back, I had interviewed David when his second novel had come out and had also met him during a lit fest in Singapore. It was difficult to believe that a man of his stature would do what has been alleged against him by one of his former employees. The allegations and the lawsuit are disgraceful and it remains to be seen how David fights the charges “vigorously”.

Here's John Barber's story from The Globe and Mail, Canada:

A former employee of Penguin Canada has launched a $523,000 lawsuit alleging that company CEO David Davidar sexually harassed her repeatedly over the past three years, culminating in outright assault at the Frankfurt Book Fair last fall, and that she was fired after complaining to superiors about Davidar’s “twisted treatment” of her.

Lisa Rundle of Toronto, former director of digital publishing and foreign rights for Penguin Canada, is claiming damages of $423,000 from Penguin for wrongful dismissal and the “harsh, vindictive and malicious fashion” with which it allegedly treated her following her complaints against Mr. Davidar. She is also seeking damages of $100,000 against Mr. Davidar personally.

The allegations were made in a statement of claim filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on June 9, the day after Penguin Group chairman John Makinson and Mr. Davidar jointly announced the latter’s decision to leave one of the top jobs in the international company. They have not been proven in court and Mr. Davidar has not yet filed his defence.

In response, the former executive issued a statement Friday afternoon denying the harassment charges – but acknowledging that neither he nor Mr. Makinson had revealed the full story surrounding his departure earlier this week. “At Penguin’s request, I agreed to publicly state that my departure was voluntary,” he wrote. “The truth is that a former colleague accused me of sexual harassment and Penguin terminated my employment.”

Mr. Davidar said he intends to fight the charges “vigorously,” but declined to make further comments.

Here is the Canadian publishing industry reaction on David's departure.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Killing us softly

I may sound like an alarmist but these days I see more and more deadly headlines. No, I am not talking about the regular deaths in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan or even the storming of aid flotillas to Gaza. I am talking about cancer and dying birds and electromagnetic radiation (EMR) causing cancer.

Give me a minute and I will explain it all.

Recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that cancer deaths could double by 2030. Cancer could claim 13.3 million lives a year by 2030, the WHO cancer research agency has said, almost double the 7.6 million deaths from the illness in 2008. In the US, according to one New York Times columnist, 41 per cent of Americans have cancer. Isn’t this an alarmingly high percentage? The question is: why is it so high?

Next, there have been headlines about the birds and the bees: parrots dying in Australia, peacocks falling dead in north India and bees expiring in some parts of the Himalayas. According to the study by a young Indian scientist, VP Sharma, a drastic decrease was observed in the brood area and egg-laying rate per day of the queen bee in hives exposed to EMR. He also found a reduction in the pollen-carrying and returning ability of the bees. This somewhat corroborates the University of Leeds study that found an 80 per cent decline in bee diversity, from 1980 levels, in over 100 sites across the UK and the Netherlands.

I agree this is a lot of morbid news. All this might be happening for a variety of reasons which could be environment or food or radiation-related.

But the next thing I am going to talk about is definitely about radiation—a by-product of the high-tech life that we are addicted to—and its hazards. And where is this radiation coming from? From innocent looking devices such as our cell phones and the cell phone towers that help in ‘connecting people’.

Kill zones

In the wake of a man dying of exposure to radioactive waste in New Delhi, India’s investigative newspaper, Tehelka, did studies on electromagnetic radiation in New Delhi and Mumbai, two of India’s biggest cities. The studies found radiation levels in the two cities over and beyond the safe limits in scores of locations in each city.

According to the newspaper, cell radiation is slow poison. Effects begin with fatigue and could end in cancer. It is near fatal for ones with pacemakers. For normal people, the effects can start with a headache to a tumour in 8-10 years.

The Tehelka EMR survey of 100 spots across New Delhi revealed that close to four-fifths of New Delhi is living in unsafe radiation zones. The newspaper says: “Only a fifth of Delhi lives and works in a safe zone and that is almost entirely the VVIP zone. This situation has come about because the authorities allowed illegal cell towers to mushroom all over Delhi, by not doing a thing about it.”

Further, 40 of the 100 spots surveyed in Delhi have extreme anomaly in radiation levels. Tehelka notes: “These are high risk zones, where the EMR was up to seven times or more than the safe limit. At times, the readings were so high that the instrument used to measure them stopped doing so. Thirty-one spots were unsafe zones and nine were borderline. Only 20 spots were within the safe limits.”

Because of the dangerous levels of radiation, the October Commonwealth Games in New Delhi could be the most radiation-filled ever, Tehelka concludes.

The situation is worse in Mumbai. Tehelka, with the help of Cogent EMR Solutions, surveyed EMR levels in 115 spots across Mumbai. The Mumbai results are even more shocking than New Delhi. “Well over nine-tenths of Mumbai is living in areas ranging from borderline radiation to extreme anomaly,” the paper reports. “Only four-fifths of Delhi fell into these categories. Less than a tenth of Mumbai is safe.”

In Mumbai, 70 of the 115 spots have “extreme anomaly” in radiation levels. This means, the paper explains, the levels are close to seven times the safe limit. These are high risk areas. The readings were so high at times that the device used to measure the radiation, a High Frequency Analyser, could not record the radiation anymore. Over 60 per cent of the spots surveyed fall into this category.

Thankfully, Tehelka’s study has prompted the Delhi High Court to constitute a high-level panel to ascertain if cell towers are a health hazard. The court has asked the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the telecom ministry to form the committee of technical and medical experts, NGOs, cellular associations, and public-spirited persons. The committee is to submit its report on the harmful effects of radiation within three months, Tehelka has said.

I am sure the government agencies in Southeast Asia are mindful of the harmful effects of EMR on their citizens. Unfortunately, I have not seen any third party running independent EMR tests in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong. I just hope things are not as bad here as they are in New Delhi and Mumbai.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Sex and the City 2

Last Sunday I was so bored I decided to watch a movie in a proper theatre. Between Shrek 4 and some other kiddish or Chinese movies running at Shaw Plaza, I opted for Sex and the City 2. I thought at least there would be some comic lines. And of course, Sarah Jessica Parker.

There were none. Or at least not to my taste. Watching Sarah on a small screen and seeing her so up close on a big screen are two different matters. Within the first ten minutes, the romance was killed for me. As of jokes, they were pallid, disappointing.

The film is half formulaic crap and half an ad for Abu Dhabi. Here, in the film's title, City 2 means Abu Dhabi (which means City 1 was New York). If there will be a City 3, I can predict it will happen somewhere else.

First up, since when "Haan Ji" is Arabic for Yes? It is a Hindustani word. I don't know the exact Arabci word for it. It would be nice to know who fooled the writer/director of this movie (was it the Indian waiter, Gaurav?). Any way, it does not matter to the American audience if this was Hindi or Arabic. It was all exotic for them.

And the way the girls seemed to be impressed with Abu Dhabi was unbelievable. These were girls from New York, not from some goadforsaken hick town.

The film is full of stereotypes: a liberal New York where gay marriages are celebrated is pitted against a conservative Arab society. Half the film happens in Abu Dhabi and you are given a good touristy view of the place, with visits to the Souk and all. And at one point, a character in the film even cheekily mentions that Dubai is now dead and it is Abu Dhabi that is the new Middle East.

And for the film's plot, there is much ado about a kiss and a big breasted nanny who turns out to be a damp squib.

It is not a movie to be enjoyed on the big screen. For all its bling power, it still comes across like a made-for-TV product.