Saturday, September 06, 2014

Is journalism passe?

You wont see this article in any newspaper.

Long long ago, the only way to consume news was through a newspaper. So the newspaper appointed many people to 'report' from the ground. These reporters were the lowest rung of newspaper staff. They walked around localities, went up to police stations, hospitals and reported from there. This news was aggregated and then sorted by importance by next level reporters and editors. And then based on the space, the news was then reported to you and me the next day.  Note that anything that is so access controlled is a hallmark of a closed industry.

Take any industry before the digital revolution or the industrial revolution. Photographers were rare. Those who had access to cameras became photographers - that is pretty much it. Now with digital pictures, everybody is a photographer. See how many 4 year olds take pictures in weddings these days. With instagram, suddenly everybody is a photographer. With a blog, anybody who can write well will write. Like the printing press made it easier to own books.

In those days, only those had access to a newspaper had the moniker of a journalist. Like only those had cameras were photographers. Its like saying only those who have watches can tell the time. Today if you are on the spot of an accident or a event, you are the reporter. And that is blogs and twitter help you do. And there is no similar format in newspapers. Today, therefore, anyone is a journalist in the truest sense - if you can sit through one issue, analyse and report out and usually you will do it better than a journo who is copy pasting at best.

The middlemen school of journalists still exists. That means, you and I cannot interview a politician - especially like Rahul Gandhi whose team will script answers for you to publish. For that you need middlemen, not journalists. But if a Narendra Modi reaches people directly through social media annd other channels, he does not need middlemen journos.

Real journos report from the field where stuff is happening. They report from the boondocks where nobody goes. They report from far flung areas - not from the comfort of airconditioned rooms. They read through judgements and analyse. They work on issues and amaze us with their indepth knowledge - usually not got through plain googling. Such journalism is clearly not passe.

But nobody needs middlemen as journos - because everybody is a reporter remember and so are you!

Modi media strategy

Once upon a time there was a Manmohan Singh,
who did anything but sing
He spoke to journalists,
who wrote it all in a list...

Stupid limerick I know, but Manmohan rarely spoke to people in 1:1 interactions. I recall a friend of mine, who shall go unnamed - who happened to meet the man himself and he asked him, as any concerned urbanite would - about the scams in the country. And my friend says, the response was a "what to do". Needless to say, my friend was very inspired by Manmohans style of leadership and went on to practice it in his job by responding to everything with a "hun ki karan" (What do I do in Punjabi). That last line is obviously sarcastic. 

During the Manmohan era, a Delhi coterie had access to him or his boss or her son or her personal assistant. These people fed news to some privileged people who trotted around as journalists and then they fed the news to the people through their media channels. At a lower level, a similar set of lower level underlings did the same and so on and so forth. Does this sound like the licence raj perpetuated by the Nehru clan? Yes, it absolutely does.

Now, this journalists pool was fed and kept in good humour by these politicians by advertisements, contracts (remember Commonwealth Game Contracts), interviews, government junkets - and there will be surely be other perks on both sides which we may never come to know. This group was not happy with Narendra Modi and were very hostile to him (and that is an understatement).

Modi quickly discovered social media and reached out directly to people - no middlemen, no hangers on, no access based journalism. He had his own website, blog, facebook feeds and finally twitter. His speeches were tweeted in real time and of course, he ran a campaign in which the traditional media came in only at the fag end by which time they were just like the trailing bogies of a train.

Now, as Prime Minister he does something similar. He has completely eliminated the journalists who were just middlemen. Like the dismantling of the licence raj eliminated the companies who traded licences, these set of journalists traded news. He has put them completely out of business.

One of the first things was launch a portal. Once you sign up for it, you get a weekly newsletter. His speeches are now tweeted almost live. He takes no journalists on government junkets. No media briefings. No leaks.

He also does things that the previous leaders never did - he met a crore students in a live interaction on teachers day - that is his strength. He spoke directly to people in a beautiful speech on independence day. A leader who cannot talk has to hide. A leader can talk, does not need to hide - he reaches the people directly. Maybe they had much to hide. Maybe they were elitist. They needed access control.

While he uses social media, what the media does not realize that the role of a media as a middleman has been completely eliminated. They need to do real work on the ground to report - or like some do - wait for what he says on twitter or blog and react accordingly.

Many a ream has been written on the cribs of journalists these days, like this one...

Friday, August 15, 2014

An Independence Day Speech

I cannot remember the last time I sat through and heard a Prime Ministers speech on Independence Day - much less remember. The last one I remember was PV Narasimha Rao saying, "Without you, without you, inspite of you, Kashmir is ours."

Yet, today, I was up in the morning, connected my television (which is rarely used), checked if it was all working to hear Narendra Modi speak. Post forming the government, he has not spoken - which was quite unlike the chatty persona he was during election time.

And, he did not disappoint. He spoke extempore (no teleprompter, no text, no nothing) to an audience of millions. He spoke of basic things - after all what are castles, but in the air, when there is no foundation. And unless we get the foundation right, there are no castles.

He spoke about rape, female foeticide, toilets, cleanliness and even admonished parents of boys (ask your boys what they are upto as much you ask your girls). Which other leader has told the population to get their country in order. It takes a rare courage to address basic issues like these at an occasion like this.

The speech was inspiring, exhorting the people to go out and do the right thing. He recalled many a freedom fighter long since forgotten by previous regimes which had viewed even our freedom fighters and gurus through a 'secular' lens. He thanked all previous governments and called out Lal Bahadur Shastri (again a name forgotten by his own party) and his Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.

But, more than that...he laid out a few simple and effective ideas. A Sansad gram yojana  - a Parliament Village scheme - which he said will be outlined soon. The idea is simple. Every legislator creates an 'ideal' village by 2016 and two others by 2019 and from then on - one per year. This idea is disarmingly simple. The government provides metrics and each village gets rated on these parameters. He went on to say, if every legislator of the state houses also did it - it would amount to something substantial. And in my view, keeps poverty mongering NGOs out of the fray as well.

He asked legislators to ensure that every school in their constituency has a toilet- and a separate one for girls and boys. Implemented well, this can be like the mid-day meal scheme in schools - and will ensure that girls continue to be in school.

And he dismantled the Planning Commission - a grand relic from the days of our fascination for Soviet style communism - where a planning commission would plan for the country. The unveiling of this will happen soon, he said, but yes, this is clearly taking down the Nehruvian Socialism edifice brick by brick.

(And a simple question - arent we the ones dirtying our country? If every citizen keeps his locality clean, does not trash it, how will our country be dirty?)

Simple problems - which have remained unsolved for decades - simple ideas and inspiring. Metric driven, target driven. Have we had an inspiring leader like this in our lifetimes?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Non violence anybody?

As yet another outfit goes on rampage in Iraq - this time an outfit named ISIS carrying on the glorious goal of creating a Islamic caliphate, it is time to ask, Why isnt being non violent winning against these jihadists?

As the Yazidis are seeing, when the group that is killing them is killing them for their very existence (because they believe in a different god you see), non violence is not exactly helping them. If anything, fighting and fighters are. Candlelight vigils, peace marches and sit ins and demonstrations are not exactly furthering their cause.

Ask the other minority communities in the Middle east. The Parsis of Iran. The Pandits of Kashmir. The Hindus in Pakistan. And the Sikhs there. And others like the aborigines and American Indians and the Hindus on whom an entire mountain range is named as Hindukush (killer of Hindus). How come being non violent never got them anywhere except closer to death?

And therefore, should not Israel defend itself against Hamas whose stated goal to eliminate Jews or should it just allow itself to be attacked by rockets?

Yes, to those who think that world peace will be achieved by keeping quiet, it is time to revisit this quote - the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. (By somebody)

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The ecosystem, the matrix and human behaviour

In the book, the Devil wears Prada, there is a exchange between the two main protagonists that goes like this...

(Miranda and her assistants are deciding between two similar belts for an outfit. Andy sniggers because she thinks they look exactly the same.) Miranda Priestly: Something funny? Andy Sachs: No, no, nothing. Y'know, it's just that both those belts look exactly the same to me. Y'know, I'm still learning about all this stuff. Miranda Priestly: This... 'stuff'? Oh... ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic "casual corner" where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of "stuff."  [Link]

What Miranda says is that the act of choosing a so called non-conformist sweater - that Andy thinks defies the system - is a part of the system itself. The ecosystem. The matrix of fashion.

Now what is a fashion quote doing on a blog like this.

A few months ago, I wrote about the Macaulay rebels who conformed.

The ecosystem around us - starting with our education system - especially the hand me down English education that we inherited which was spiced by left and socialism oriented thoughts bolstered by Christian education institutions has left us trapped in this matrix. The vicious circle of educating the rich in English and weaning them off traditions has slowly created our local version of English who work on civilizing the natives - from attire to accent to behaviour. (There is stuff to be changed, but there is much to be appreciated as well.)

In this present matrix, it is very difficult for you to appreciate anything Hindu. Of course, the caste system is bad and discrimination is high and the priests are rapacious and our traditions are bad. Our festivals are bad (Bursting crackers for Diwali, wasting water for Holi and our homas and poojas are a waste of resources and visiting a temple is pointless) - isnt that what you learnt in this ecosystem?

First of all we learnt in an English medium school - which makes you think that your own mother tongue is not good enough to be studied (yes, I am also one of them who studied in an English medium school.). This by itself is not a problem - but it also means that most likely, you did not have the time and energy to study your language, your traditions. And if you did study your traditions, you were most likely seen as 'uncool' by your shades sporting uncle and aunts.

Like in that lumpy blue sweater example, if you chose to ignore everything around you - the tradition of the country, the culture, the history-mythology, the architecture - it is because the ecosystem around you - the matrix wants you to do exactly that. It wants you reject everything around you - and mark it off as regressive and go in for that blue sweater.

That means being a non-conformist is not easy. A true non-conformist has really rebel out of the matrix. Which means, if you visited the coolest joint in town or went to the coolest tourist spot makes you a conformist, not unique. Which means, if you are in touch with best brands - you are probably conforming more than differentiating yourself. Which means, if your thought processes are matching with the talking heads on TV and the people who write in print media - then again, you are conforming, not differentiating.

And that means, the true rebels are the sadhus who give up everything and rebel agains the material world.

That means, if you truly want to find someone different, it is unlikely that you will find them in an airconditioned boutitue/office/retreat/hotel - you will find them at a place that is truly offbeat and it wont be easy. And if you want to be different, that is even more difficult.

That means, we all live in the matrix. Knowing the matrix, recognizing that the ecosystem is THE matrix and you have to get out of the matrix to truly be different - is perhaps a first step.

But to truly rebel is difficult. Human behaviour is all directed to being cool, being accepted by the cool crowd. And to differentiate yourself as apart from the crowd is difficult - especially if your life depends on facebook likes.

[Evolving thought, but I think this thought process will get somewhere!]

Because on the other hand, the ecosystem while driving you away from something - is also driving you toward something. Slowly, surely...across generations...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The threat of learning

Seth Godin writes, brilliantly, as usual on Literacy and unguided reading:

Unguided reading is a real threat, because unguided reading leads to uncomfortable questions.
Teach someone to read and you guarantee that they will be able to learn forever. Teach an entire culture to read and connections and innovations go through the roof.

Yes, and this is the precise reason there are cultures that prevent the spread of education by censoring books, websites and deciding what their population should read or know. (And yes, India does have a sorry record here). And then there are comunties that deny education to women (mostly). Because once a woman is educated, she will teach her offspring - and that is a danger to those who want to keep their population in ignorance.

Show me a culture that discourages the education of women (the Taliban for example) and I will show you deep rooted ignorance, bigotry and superstition and then some.

Homo unius libri...

Learning is a threat for many. If they learn to fish, they may not be dependent on the master, the provider, the benevolent mai-baap sarkaar. They may fly away if you gave them wings. So, they keep them hobbled, dependent and unlearnt..

Slightly incoherent post, but well...this was a Seths post of yore. Inspired in one sentence...Unguided reading is a real threat

Making money out of paper

And now for something totally different. Once upon a time, I used to be a business blogger. But then a few things happened along the way and I wrote mostly about the country, politics and related things. So, this is a post that is more like the old days.

A few days ago, someone gifted us this.

Nothing much. Just a box of chocolates, masquerading as a gift box of chocolates - there are no pretensions here - the box is truthful and says what it contains and all that. And these are not those fancy gilt wrapped or home made chocolates, they are just normal, usual Cadburys chocolates hiding under the box. Which is a bit of a letdown really because these are not gilt wrapped in colourful foil with fancy names for flavours and fancy shapes, but when one opens this box, all one gets are usual Cadburys chocolates in their usual wrappers. There is no duplicity here - what they say is what you get. (For lazy gifters I say - please pickup a box of authentic mithai, not boxed chocolate - even Haldiram Soan Papdi is beter. But that is another rant for another day.)

And the better half picked up this and read through and found this at the back. Interestingly, she observed, this box is priced at Rupees 150, MRP and contains this.
The individual units add up to an MRP of Rs. 115 only. Which means, the customer is paying 150 for chocolates worth only 115. And that means that the company is making money on packaging. 

Let me explain. Leaving margins, aside, selling 115 MRP of chocolates as they are will get them 115.  But putting 115 rupees MRP of chocolates in another layer of plastic and cardboard, get them 35 rupees more - without selling a single gram of chocolate extra! How cool is that. The company which makes chocolate, makes money off paper as well.

And you dear customer are the idiot. 

(If you chose to buy such things that are the epitome of these days. Mediocrity giftwrapped in exotica. You can find it everywhere. Fancy names, fancy locations and very often fancy prices. And instead of gifting somebody something thoughtful, you walk into the nearest store and buy chocolate masquerading as a gift box of mithai. Yes, surely you care about the person you gift it to - they will 'appreciate'. Unless, of course, you intend it that way. And yes, this is also another rant for another day)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Maratha role in Indian history

If there is one book of Indian history of be written, then it is the story of the role of Marathas in Indian history. Most of it would actually trace back to one man and the inspirational leadership he left behind that practically resurrected India for a period of about 200 years after him.

The man, of course, was Shivaji, but apart from the fact that he led a resurrection of a Hindu kingdom at a time when the most brutal of Mughals was ruling - Aurangzeb - a little known and even lesser celebrated is the lineage of rulers and warriors he left behind.

The two books I have read in the recent past seem to reinforce what my friend has been saying for a while now.

In one of the final chapters of Aavarna, SL Bhyrappa details out the role of Marathas in reclaiming Kashi from its ravaged state. How they tried to get back Kashi and re-build the Kashi Vishwanath temple many a time through wars and pacts and other means - but never got around to rebuilding the temple to its original glory. The original structure was razed to the ground and a mosque built over it - by Aurangzeb. It was news to me that the present structure at Kashi Vishwanath temple - a smallish structure was built by Ahilyabai Holkar. Indeed much of the ghats at Varanasi by the Ganga were also built by various Maratha kings and queens over the years - and all this was because they were practically rebuilding the place from the time it was ravaged by the Islamic invasions.

And they played a stellar role in recapturing much of the coastline from Diu to Goa from the Portuguese - most of it in present day Maharashtra.

And then course, their role from Tamil Nadu to the Mysore kingdom to Madhya Pradesh to Rajasthan...a great story to be told indeed...

The Maratha empire

So, why is this story not being told to us or why does our history not glorify it. One version of course is that this resurrection of Hindu kingdoms kind of came in the way of the British reinforcing their dominion over India - they used to justify it saying that they were just one in a series of invasions of India - starting from the Aryans (now discredited) to the Mongols to Turks to whatever and then the British/French/Dutch/Portuguese. The later version is of course is a left wing driven academic agenda that prevents glorification of anything India and one version of the justification I have heard is, Yes, there was a Maratha empire, but it was never an empire, but a loose confederacy and they never really were in control - which can almost be applied to all earlier invasions as well.

But whatever the reason, it is a story worth telling...

The story of Chimaji Appa

Chimmaji Appa wont ring a bell in your mind. Neither did he ring a bell in my mind. But a whole lot of real bells that ring in Maharashtra temples, ring because of Chimmaji Appa. And thereiin lies a story. I read Guardian of the Dawn about the Portuguese Inquisition in Goa - which again, is a chapter omitted in whatever history I have learnt. I learnt about it on the internet. And then I asked my friend from Goa about it and one thing led to another and I found myself reading about Chimmaji Appa.

Here is what the wiki entry says:

While Portuguese naval supremacy had been weakened by the British, French and Dutch Navies, they still maintained a strong presence on the western coast of India, from the Gujarat coast, through the Konkan, down to northern Malabar. They maintained well defended fortresses all along the coast located in islands and harbour mouths. From their headquarters in Goa they ran a theological Christian state all along the western coastal region from Daman and Diu down to Mangalore. To further the spread of Christianity, Inquisition was promulgated throughout the Portuguese possessions in India, and a program to annihilate Hindus through conversion or massacre commenced. Hindus were subjected to torture frequently surpassing even the barbarity of contemporary Islamic rulers.


It was in this milieu that the Marathas arose, ignited by the call of swaraj given by Shivaji, to restore the land of India to the sons of the soil. While Bajirao was waging war against the Mughal empire, Chimnaji Appa concentrated his energies towards the Western Ghats. Vasai (formerly known as Bassein) was the ultimate objective of the war, as this was the capital of the provincial government of Portugal's northern Indian possessions.

Now this campaign is all around the Mumbai area - Vasai, Belapur, Mahim, Vajreshwari - and guess what,  having lived in Mumbai for a long long time I had no clue that there is so much history in each of these places. As per my knowledgeable friend, there is but one statue of Chimaji Appa in Vasai, near Mumbai . And no history book in Maharashtra covers this - atleast did not through the time I studied.

And coming to bells, Chimaji Appa, after his victorious campaigns, gifted bells from the Portuguese forts to 5 temples - which can be seen there even today.

A unique bell (Roman style) can be seen in front of the temple which was presented by Chimaji Appa (Brother of Bajirao Peshwa I and uncle of Nanasaheb Peshwa). Chimaji Appa collected five large bells after he won in war against the Portuguese from Vasai Fort. He offered one here at Bhimashankar and the others at Menovali near Wai in front of a Shiva Temple on the banks of the Krishna river, Banshanker temple( Pune), Omkareshwar Temple( Pune) and Ramlinga temple ( Shirur) [Link]

What a story!

Aavarna - book review

I finally got around to buying SL Bhyrappas Aavarna translated by Sandeep Balakrishna. The book is a tough read - not because of the writer or the translator, but because it does not hold anything back. The book is all about the history of India and it pulls no punches. And when I say, pulls no punches, it really does not pull any punches and you feel that when you read the book. The book hits you as you read it.

The brutality of the Islamic invasions, presented to us in our history books and movies in its sterilised glory, is an open wound here, bare and bloody and rotten and stinking. The author relies on historical sources (which is given in the end) and also points the hyporcisy in the left wing circles through caricatures and nearly realistic presentations.

The translator has also done a great job - since the book genuinely makes the reader 'feel'.

All in all, we have been fed a Hello Kitty version of our history - as if we as a population cannot handle the truth.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

History we are not taught

At the time of Indian independence, the outgoing English government (if we can call them so) was replaced by an Indian government. Very little changed. Instead of white masters, we had brown masters. The bureaucracy continued. The framework continued. The exact system of government that the English instituted to exploit the natives was passed onto the natives themselves who now continued to do the same thing that the English did.And the natives did worse. They moved onto so called socialistic principles which has left the country languishing at the bottom of the pile on almost all developmental parameters. Part of this faux socialism demands that the population be taken care of by a gargantuan and benevolent government that is supposed to know what is best for the populace.

And therein lies history.

We are taught a very doctored version of history in our schools. If I had read only my school history books, and made a movie out of it, this is what it would look like. The movie would have two heroes - Nehru and Gandhi with a few bit actors coming in and going out and most likely clowning around. None of the side actors would add any value to the story and at best, they would provide nuisance value coming in the way of great warriors Nehru and Gandhi. It took me many years until I read India, a history by John Keay and Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and then again other books like Tamas by Bhisham Sahni and Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh to read more of the reality and the horrors of English rule. There is surely more and I gathered more tidbits from Amitav Ghosh Opium series and so on. And I am sure I have not got the whole story yet.

The Mughal rule was presented to us as some sort of a benign foreign rule where they levied a teddy bear tax known as jaziya which made the rulers want to hug the locals by leving a friendly tax. Of course, they accidentally demolished some hundreds of temples which were mostly weather beaten. They also took great care of the population beating them up when the weather did not. They accidentally converted a few temples into mosques and a few million people as well. Of course, they were benign rulers and they developed India into a superpower. But a Narasimha Rao book gives a quickish idea of the latter part of their rule in the Hyderabad state. And of course, Mughal court chronicles give a great picture of the rule - which our historians prefer to ignore. And then again, the rise of Shivaji and his own documentation of the brutality of Mughals (and exhibited in how they treated his own family). Also how they treated Guru Gobind Singh are all dismissed as some of sort of footnotes in anotherwise peaceful takever of the Indian subcontintent. The truth is probably the reverse.

And in these big stories - Mughals and the English and their atrocities hides the very little known Portuguese rule in Goa. And the last post refers to a novel set in that era. Till then apart from stray articles on the internet (Thanks rediff - this is a must read), we had no idea that this happened. The Wiki page is here.

Kanchan Gupta writes:

And this silence is not because there exists no evidence: There exist, in full text, orders issued by the Portuguese viceroy and the governor. There exist, in written records and travelogues, penned not by the persecuted but by the persecutors, full details of the horrors perpetrated in the name of Christ. Yet this silence has been maintained -- a silence willed by secular historians and politicians; an illegitimate silence legitimised by the popular belief that missionaries and their patrons were, and remain, a benign lot who could never hurt a fly.

All in all, the story of Indian history in a nutshell, is how two foreign powers and religions committed atrocities on Hindus. Exploited them. Exploited the resources. Looted, plundered and killed. And how the Indian kings fought back. And by the way they also left no stone unturned in spreading their religion through various campaigns of hate, destruction and violence - apart from peaceful means of offering money or forgiveness. Both these intruding civilizations thought that there offering deliverance or civilizing them - this ignorant Hindu population. This, is the big story. There are footnotes of goodness, of secularism, of large hearts and so on, but the big picture is the bad story. This, then is the story - it is not the reverse as it is often painted in our history books in school.

Should we hide behind the layer of falsification or tell the truth to our citizens or have successive governments thought that we are immature to understand the true history of our country?

South Africa created the Truth and Reconciliation commission to bring the truth in front of their population. Can we?

Guardian of the Dawn

Guardian of the Dawn is a book by Ricardo Zimler which I chanced upon after this interview by the author which I later realized was a 2005 interview.

The book is a delightful read. The author skilfully depicts Goa set in the 1600s as he takes us through the travails of a Jewish family living under Portuguese rule. (Goa was under the Portuguese, remember?) As he tells us this story, one gets an idea of an India then. And then the Inquisition begins - which is a sordid tale in itself (but hey guess what, our history books forgot to teach us that - a post on this coming up soon) and this family gets caught in the Inquisition.

What is the inquisition? The wikipedia has a chapter on it. Goa Inquisition.

In this process, he meets other prisoners and they narrate their story (based on the authors research of Inquisition documentation). And it is indeed a sordid tale.

The rest of the story is then how the protagonist comes out of the inquisition and get back his life - and that part is quite a page turner with some surprises at the end.

All in all, I liked the book. One, for bringing alive a chapter of Indian history which has all been buried from Indians. Second, for interweaving a story within it that brings it alive in all its forms rather than a boring historical chapter. Third - the details. The book feels like an Amitav Ghosh novel where the history, fact and fiction interplay in a glorious tapestry.

This is a must read book for anybody who wants to know the story of the Portuguese story in Goa which often escapes attention because they were a smallish occupant of India as opposed to the English, but in many ways, more brutal. And then again, they are given a free pass because they are 'Western' but that is another topic for another day.