Monthly Archives: July 2010

Attlee: A Life in Politics by Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds | Book review | Books | The Guardian

Thomas-Symonds adds to that patronising picture with the bland announcement that the victorious leader of the Labour party had agreed to form a government on “Ernest Bevin’s instruction”. Clearly Thomas-Symonds believes that, at least until he became prime minister, Attlee was, in Churchill’s words, “a modest man with plenty to be modest about” and that it was luck rather than talent that carried him into Downing Street.

There is no doubt that circumstance rather that the admiration of his colleagues made Attlee the Labour leader, and even after he led the party to victory, powerful voices still called for Herbert Morrison to replace him. George Strauss – a minister in the postwar government who had served under Morrison on the London County Council – told me: “If the parliamentary party had been allowed to vote, Clem would have been out.” Then he added: “And we would have made a terrible mistake.” That is not Thomas-Symonds’s view. He believes that dumping the man, described by Hugh Dalton as “a little mouse”, would have improved Labour’s chances of becoming “the natural party of government”. In consequence, although A Life in Politics scores high marks for meticulous accuracy, it is flawed by a failure of judgment.

Thomas-Symonds can argue in his own defence that Attlee himself endorsed – at least in public – a highly limited view of his Downing Street role. He saw himself as a PM, not a proto-president – a man who, as Thomas-Symonds rightly says, would not stand a chance of leading a party in the modern world of celebrity politics. He famously asserted that “the essential quality of the PM is that he should be a good chairman, able to get others to work.” Worse still, in the estimation of commentators who believe in a Promethean style of leadership, he defined his duty as articulating party policy rather than dictating it. But, typically, he underestimated himself. He was not a man for dash and daring, but when it mattered, he imposed his will on the cabinet. He insisted, with admirable determination, that the government press on with plans for Indian independence. Less laudably he made sure that, in Bevin’s phrase, there would be “an atomic bomb with a union jack on it”.

Paradoxically, Thomas-Symonds, while dwelling on the limitations of the “good chairman” definition of Attlee’s premiership, criticises his decisive decision to nominate an early date at which the Raj would end. Yet setting an imminent deadline was essential to getting the job done at all. The man we should remember and revere is the prime minister who replaced Wavell with Mountbatten as viceroy and accepted the hard necessity of partition. The postmaster general who explained that, despite concerns about hygiene, dismantling a “telephone instrument” for cleaning would risk “damage to its delicate parts” grew into a statesman who changed the world. Thomas-Symonds’s emphasis on the Pooterish prelude to greatness is as irritating as are his occasional (“dissociate themselves with”) grammatical lapses.

The description of Attlee as the great conciliator with limited personal aspiration does have the advantage of allowing the story to end with a dramatic denouement. The Labour government fell in 1951 after weeks of bitterness and recrimination which, Thomas-Symonds suggests, should have been avoided by a PM who prided himself on reconciling conflicting ideas and rival personalities. But it was not Aneurin Bevan’s resignation from the government – ostensibly in protest at Hugh Gaitskell’s insistence on introducing health service prescription charges – that dealt the fatal blow. In truth, Labour lost office because, in the phrase of the time, it “ran out of steam”. A better metaphor by which to describe the malaise, and one which points a moral for future Labour leaders, is “lost its way”. The party not only failed to set out a clear and coherent idea of what it proposed to do. It was not even sure about the purpose of its existence.

The clash of personalities – Morrison ambitious, Dalton disruptive and Bevin loyal but impatient – was only the symptom of the underlying problem. What Attlee, in 1937, called “unnecessary personal suspicions and personal attacks” which “play into the hands of our enemies” always surface when Labour has no clear unifying purpose. The lesson of 1951 is not that Attlee failed to massage Bevan’s ego by making him foreign secretary or that he vacillated about the proposal to expel Bevan from the party – neither dismissing the preposterous idea nor endorsing it. Labour lost because, thanks to its distaste for ideology, it surged ahead when the political climate – demands for a free health service, full employment and colonial emancipation – was favourable, but had no idea what to do when the weather changed. Let the next Labour leader take note.

The article is written by Roy Hattersley and was published in The Guardian.

Attlee: A Life in Politics will be available with Liberty Books in the next couple of weeks. Please visit our website or our stores.

The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World by David Kirkpatrick

IN LITTLE MORE THAN HALF A DECADE, Facebook has gone from a dorm-room novelty to a company with 500 million users. It is one of the fastest growing companies in history, an essential part of the social life not only of teenagers but hundreds of millions of adults worldwide. As Facebook spreads around the globe, it creates surprising effects—even becoming instrumental in political protests from Colombia to Iran.

Veteran technology reporter David Kirkpatrick had the full cooperation of Facebook’s key executives in researching this fascinating history of the company and its impact on our lives. Kirkpatrick tells us how Facebook was created, why it has flourished, and where it is going next. He chronicles its successes and missteps, and gives readers the most complete assessment anywhere of founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the central figure in the company’s remarkable ascent. This is the Facebook story that can be found nowhere else.

How did a nineteen-year-old Harvard student create a company that has transformed the Internet and how did he grow it to its current enormous size? Kirkpatrick shows how Zuckerberg steadfastly refused to compromise his vision, insistently focusing on growth over profits and preaching that Facebook must dominate (his word) communication on the Internet. In the process, he and a small group of key executives have created a company that has changed social life in the United States and elsewhere, a company that has become a ubiquitous presence in marketing, altering politics, business, and even our sense of our own identity. This is the Facebook Effect.

The book is available here

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The Dawn Blog » Blog Archive » What could not be recovered from the crash site

Just the way you wouldn’t hand weapons to an untrained army, you wouldn’t hand cameras and a press pass to untrained media representatives. However, fact of the matter is that time and time again we are reminded that the latter has been taking place in Pakistan almost constantly.

A country expects its army to protect and defend them and similarly a country expects its media to responsibly broadcast news to them.

What we saw yesterday in the wake of an enormous national tragedy was not responsible reporting. We could not even wait a few hours before we started looking for suspects to pin the blame on. We couldn’t even wait to verify the death toll before reporting that there were 40 survivors. We couldn’t even let a day pass before inviting talk show guests to discuss conspiracy theories. And most of all, we couldn’t even focus on what the language we were using must sound like to a grief stricken nation.

Yes, 152 people died in the Margalla Hills. They perished. Their families are grieving. The rescue teams and media personnel who saw the crash site first hand must also be grieving. But we are a hasty nation. We want results, we want culprits named and we want to suck every emotion and thought out of your mind when we get a hold of you. And for all of that, we will tell you that the black box was found, even though headlines this morning state that is not the case. We can not play with people’s hopes and emotions – how do you even expect a nation to trust you?

Shoving the mic in the faces of crying relatives, the media asked “How do you feel?” How do you think they felt, respected colleagues? What was a reporter thinking when she boasted about running barefoot to be the first one to ‘break the news’ for her channel?

Later at night, news channels could have easily invited weather experts, CAA officials, air force pilots who fly in those areas, geologists to explain the terrain and possibility of survival, and impact experts – what we got instead were officials who discussed the possibility of planes being shot down near the no-go zone.

Anchors harassed Rehman Malik to explain what happened and how the tragedy took place. Why would you ask Rehman Malik this question? I understand he is a government official but he doesn’t even know how security lapses allow suicide bombs to go off everyday, so how would you expect him to explain the technicalities of a plane crash?!

Perhaps we have become used to covering terrorist attacks in the most blatant way possible but we could have shown some sensitivity here. Since there was nothing but debris to show on the screens, cameraman panned the tattered chequebooks and broken make-up kits of the crash victims. Yes, because if I had just been killed in a horrible accident, my family would definitely want to see my belongingness scattered next to my remains.

The pilot of the “doomed flight” is not sitting at home with his family. Neither is he facing an investigation of the accident. He is among the dead too. He has a family too. He was not a terrorist who wanted to take a plane full of people down with him. But we didn’t consider that when we immediately starting pointing out his age, his fatigue and his medical conditions. Even if there was a problem or a mistake at his end, lets wait for CAA and Air Blue’s official statements and investigation results before brandishing him as the one responsible for the tragedy.

Hundreds and thousands of us have travelled this airline before and because of their safe landing, we are sitting in front of our computer screens today. Yet all of a sudden we are complaining on public forums about what terrible landings travellers of the air line have to face. Guess what angry people – tons of flights often have bad landings but you cannot use that excuse to justify what happened yesterday.

I believe we are a curious nation but I do not believe we are an insensitive one. The prayers, the tears and the shock yesterday proved we have emotions – television channels played with those emotions yesterday. They didn’t realise that a mother of a victim was in shock before asking her what her daughter was like in person. They didn’t realise that flashing “honeymoon couple dead” on their tickers, would not be any more hard-hitting that the deaths of all of those who were not on their honeymoon.

I expect illiterate people or unbothered citizens not to read this but the media can and should read this. What are you doing? I may be just a few years old in this field and I may not understand the implications of being in a media rat-race, but nothing can justify what we did yesterday. Instead of giving the nation the sensitive and true reports it needed, we gave them traumatizing visuals and crude commentary.

I have spoken out loud about media ethics before but never have I felt as embarrassed as I do today to be considered a part of this ‘industry’. If any one in a position of authority understands this, take action and train your team. It’ll be the best public service you could do for a nation of lost souls.

Shyema Sajjad is the Deputy Editor at Dawn.com

This article was published on The Dawn Blog.

No survivors – The Express Tribune

ISLAMABAD: It was not until late Wednesday afternoon that the actual scale of the tragedy set in. It was then that all hope – even the slightest strand, slipped away from the families of 152 passengers on board Airblue flight ED 202.

There were no survivors.

At ten-to-ten Wednesday morning, the passenger jet swerved in the hazy skies over Islamabad, ultimately careening into the serene Margalla hills. All that was left is the remains.

The ‘rescue’ operation there was temporarily suspended in the night to resume on Thursday morning. “We have cordoned off the entire area and check posts have been established all around the site. The search and rescue operation will resume in the morning” said the Deputy Commissioner Islamabad, Amir Ali Ahmed.

Most importantly, he added, “We have no confirmation about the recovery of the black box.”

The most important component of the investigations, the black box, could not be found till the time this report was filed.

With the search for the aircraft’s black box still on, all that is known is the reported conversation between the control tower and the captain.

Officials of the Civil Aviation Authority claimed that the pilot of the plane had been warned by the control tower twice before its first failed attempt to land at Benazir Bhutto International Airport Islamabad.

“He was told that he was deviating from the runway. Subsequently, he was asked to turn to his left since he was heading straight towards the Margalla hills. He had replied to both warnings that he could see the runway, before he lost contact with the tower,” said an official.

When he headed towards the Margalla hills, the pilot was again contacted by the Radar tower, the official claimed. “The radar tower warned him that he was entering a danger-zone. The pilot did not reply. The tower again tried to contact him to warn him of his direction but received no reply” said the official.

For now, no one knows for sure what happened. Just that 152 people lost their lives.

The official said that the 62-year-old pilot of the plane, travelling from Karachi to Islamabad, Pervaiz Iqbal Chaudhry, was an experienced and professional pilot.

Over at the site, the scenes were bleak. Merely 15 to 20 dead bodies could be recovered in identifiable form from the site of the crash. Officials from Islamabad administration said there were no survivors. “There are no survivors. Rescue workers are collecting the remains of dead bodies from the site” said Imtiaz Inayat Elahi, the Chairman Capital Development Authority. Interior Minister Rehman Malik also confirmed that no one on the plane survived. There was no official word on the cause of the crash. However, officials of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) feared human error might have caused the plane to careen into the hills since the Airbus A321 had no technical problems and weather was not too bad at the time of crash.

Difficult mountainous terrain and overcast conditions hampered the efforts to access the site of the tragedy. More than two hundred rescue workers, police officials and volunteers, however managed to reach the spot within an hour of the incident. “All we could see were body parts. There were no injured,” said a volunteer Pervaiz Akhtar, who was among the first few people to reach the site of the crash. “We shifted the remains to the top of the hill from where they were lifted by helicopter” he added.

More volunteers and rescue workers reached the site later in the afternoon. It was not before 2:00 pm that the first ambulance carrying the remains left for the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) Islamabad. Ambulances could not go beyond the Daman-e-Koh road, but the rescue workers managed to form a track through the thick forest surrounding the crash site to transport the remains on foot. “The forest is very thick. We had to cut the protruding tree branches and remove bushes to make a way for us to approach the site. It took us more than an hour to reach the spot and we walked for over an hour on our way back to Damn-e-Koh Road” said Allah Bakhsh, a rescue worker who, along with a group of volunteers, had brought five bundles of remains to the road from where they were shifted to Pims.

The hospital received remains of over 130 passengers till the filing of this report. At least 24 dead had been identified with the help of their identity documents.

The dead bodies of all identified victims were handed over to their families. The rest will be identified through DNA tests on Thursday. Talking to journalists, Minister for Health Makhdoom Shahabuddin said that DNA tests will be conducted on the remains to determine their identity.

According to eyewitnesses, the airliner hit the ridge on its belly first and then broke into pieces. “It was flying dangerously low. I screamed when it hit the hilltop with a bang. I was sure no one would have survived,” said Mussanif Shah who was an eyewitness of the deadly crash. “We rushed to the place and our fears came true. No one was alive there,” he added.

The official also said that, prior to the ill-fated plane, a Chinese airliner was diverted because of bad weather. In its initial inquiry report, the Civil Aviation Authority has claimed that poor visibility and the plane flying below the given altitude were the causes of the incident.

Experts said the black box, once found, would have to be sent to either France or Bangkok for interpretation of data captured in the box.

Published in The Express Tribune , July 29th, 2010.