Friday, December 31, 2010

MMX - a ride through 2010

cover story

Unless you’ve spent the last few decades living under a rock or vacationing in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri (or living under a rock while vacationing in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri), chances are you might have noticed that planet Earth isn’t exactly in the best shape. Every passing year has left permanent scars on the planet, and 2010 was no different. Here’s a look at the year that was:

The Backdrop
  • Terrorism: Just like the years that have gone before it, 2010 was not a big fan of peace. The year saw terrorist attacks and bombings in many parts of the world, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Northern Ireland, and even Sweden; attacks in various cities of Pakistan throughout the year claimed hundreds of lives. Globally, a few terrorist attempts were also thwarted, including the Times Square car bombing attempt (May) and the cargo planes bomb plot (October).
  • Natural disasters: Earthquakes, floods, typhoons, blizzards, landslides…the world experienced a number of catastrophic disasters during 2010. The worst natural disaster of the year was the Haiti earthquake (January), which claimed an estimated 230,000 lives, injured nearly 300,000, and left 1,000,000 homeless; other calamities included the Yushu, China earthquake in April (over 2,600 deaths); the Chile earthquake in February (around 520 fatalities); the Sumatra, Indonesia earthquake and tsunami in October (more than 400 casualties); and the eruptions of Mount Merapi which started in October (over 350 deaths). Also, the eruption of a mountain in Iceland disrupted air traffic in Europe (see April), while heavy monsoon rains caused extensive damage and devastation in Pakistan (see July).
  • Also, load shedding: [insert preferred expletive here]

The Events

- Year of Youth: 2010 was designated as the International Year of Youth (starting August 2010) by the United Nations. The youth of the world celebrated this by remaining generally unaware of the fact that 2010 was designated as the International Year of Youth by the United Nations. (2010 was also the International Year of Biodiversity.)
- Inauguration of Burj Khalifa: The tallest man-made structure ever built, the Burj Dubai Khalifa skyscraper in United Arab Emirates was officially opened, making it the tallest building in the world.
- Success of Avatar: Within days of its release, James Cameron’s film Avatar (2009) had been declared both as successful and as rubbish awesome as his 1997 film, Titanic. By January 2010, Avatar had surpassed Titanic to become the world’s highest grossing movie, and the first film ever to make more than $2 billion. 2010 also saw Pixar’s Toy Story 3 (released in June 2010) become the first animated film in history to make over $1 billion worldwide.

- Winter Olympics: Canada hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, an event that was generally well received by the world. The biggest winners at the games included Canada (Gold: 14; Silver: 7; Bronze: 5), Germany (G: 10; S: 13; B: 7) and United States (G: 9; S: 15; B: 13). Pakistan made its first Winter Olympic appearance with skier Muhammad Abbas competing in the Men’s Giant Slalom event; he placed 79th, which means he wasn’t last, therefore hurray!! *confetti toss* The XIX Commonwealth Games in India (October) and XVI Asian Games in China (November) were also held in 2010; both events gave Pakistanis multiple reasons to celebrate as the country won medals in sports including wrestling, boxing, cricket, squash, and hockey.
- ROKS Cheonan sinking: A South Korean Navy ship, Cheonan, was allegedly sunk by a North Korean torpedo off the country’s west coast, killing 46 of its 104 personnel; this issue further deteriorated relations between the two countries, and the stability of the Korean peninsula would remain a cause for concern throughout the year.

- Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza’s engagement: The Pakistani media suffered from a severe attack of TMZ syndrome at the news of Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik and Indian tennis player Sania Mirza’s engagement (and subsequent wedding in April), leading the nation to ponder important questions such as WHO CARES?!!

- Iceland volcanic eruption: The eruption of the impossible-to-pronounce Eyjafjallajökull – which possibly got its name after someone threw the letters of the alphabet into a hat and pulled out characters at random; either that or it’s Icelandic for "island mountain glacier" – left people stranded all over the place when it filled the sky with ash, causing enormous disruption to air travel in parts of Europe. The volcanic activity slowed down in a few weeks, and the eruption was declared officially over in October.
- Gulf of Mexico oil spill: An explosion at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig resulted in the "largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry ", with thousands of gallons of oil gushing into the sea. Many efforts to stem the leak – which included stuffing the well with everything from golfballs and tyres to SpongeBob SquarePants and the souls of dead sea creatures – were unsuccessful; the leak was finally controlled in July, and the well officially sealed off in September.
- iPad: Apple launched its shiny new laptop-lite/iPod-mega tablet computer called the iPad; the gadget became a huge success. Later in the year (June), Apple released iPhone 4 which suffered from the much publicised antenna problem.
- N.W.F.P. renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa: The name of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province was changed to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa after they couldn’t come up with something that was even more difficult to spell.

- Creation of synthetic genome: Scientists “created a functional synthetic genome”, successfully synthesizing "the genome of the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides from a computer record”, and transplanting it into “the existing cell of a Mycoplasma capricolum bacterium that had had its DNA removed". I don’t have to tell you how important that is, which is good because I have no idea what it means.
- European financial crises: While parts of the world recovered from their latest encounter with recession, parts of Europe suffered from a sovereign debt crisis; Greece’s economy received a €110 billion bailout package by the Eurozone and the International Monetary Fund. Ireland would also continue to deal with its ongoing financial crisis and would get a €85 billion rescue package in November.

- FIFA World Cup: The football world cup made its way to the African continent for the first time as an invisible swarm of bees invaded the stadiums; conjecture suggests that the bees might have been upset about the annoying drone of the vuvuzelas, and claiming copyright infringement; the event also made the now-deceased Paul the most famous octopus on the planet following his 100% accurate match outcome predictions during the tournament. As for the football, Spain eventually emerged victorious, taking home the World Cup title for the first time.

- WikiLeaks and the Afghan war logs: After stirring controversy by releasing the "Collateral Murder" Baghdad airstrike footage in April, whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks published over 90,000 Afghan war documents, making Julian Assange an internationally recognized figure, and Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning – the alleged source of leak (who reportedly downloaded the information onto recordable Lady Gaga CDs by erasing the music and saving the intelligence data) – a prisoner who has since been held in solitary confinement. On the bright side, someone finally found a use for Lady Gaga CDs!
- Pakistan flood: Massive flooding took more than 1,700 lives and displaced millions following heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan; an estimated 20 million people were directly affected by the flooding. The country is said to have suffered from economic losses of up to 43 billion dollars; property, infrastructure, crops, and lives have been destroyed, some, possibly, forever.

- Cricket spot-fixing allegations: Pakistani players (Salman Butt, Mohammad Aamer, and Mohammad Asif) found themselves caught up in a match fixing scandal, after The News of the World revealed an alleged cricket betting scam centred on a Pakistan and England Test match at Lord's. With this, Pakistani cricket succeeded in its mission of always being in the news for all the wrong reasons. The tradition continued in November with wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider’s disappearance from Dubai (and subsequent reappearance in the UK) after receiving threatening messages from match fixers.
- End of U.S. combat mission in Iraq: American troops ended their combat mission in Iraq, marking the end of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and the start of "Operation New Dawn" (from 1st September).

- Quran burning plan controversy: After announcing plans of burning the Muslim Holy Book on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pastor Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center in America were condemned globally before backing down and cancelling the plan, giving the world a glimmer of hope that at times sanity does prevail. Earlier in the year, the Everybody Draw Mohammad Day campaign had generated anger among the global Muslim community and led to a ban on websites including Facebook in Pakistan during the month of May.

- Rescue of Chilean miners: 33 Chilean miners trapped nearly 2,300 feet underground for 69 days were lifted up, becoming one of the most, umm, uplifting events of the year, just as a light bulb lit up over the head of a Hollywood movie executive.

- WikiLeaks and the American diplomatic cables: Continuing on their mission to poke every hornet’s nest in sight, WikiLeaks released a collection of over 250,000 American diplomatic cables, revealing shocking details such as: war is bad, politicians are corrupt, and Santa Claus isn’t real. This, unsurprisingly, led to outrage against WikiLeaks: how dare they not let us live in blissful oblivion?
- Release of Aung San Suu Kyi: Burmese opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest; the pro-democracy leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 had been under house arrest for almost 15 of the last 21 years.
- Antimatter atoms trapped: For the first time in history, humans succeeded in trapping antimatter when researchers at CERN held 38 antihydrogen atoms for about one- to two-tenths of a second each. Now lets all hope the Illuminati don’t find out about this or it could lead to global annihilation, or even worse…another Dan Brown novel!

- Arsenic based life form: In the midst of a media hoopla, NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe-Simon published a paper claiming to have discovered a bacteria in California’s Mono Lake that can grow using arsenic instead of phosphorus; the implications of the GFAJ-1 (GFAJ = "Give Felisa a Job"; no, seriously!) bacteria were huge and the hype intensified because of NASA's extraterrestrial diversion and it’s possible link to alien life. Then someone read the paper and found that it was highly flawed. Now no one’s sure about any of it anymore, which means everything’s back to normal and life makes sense again.
- Lunar eclipse: A lunar eclipse coincided with the northern winter solstice on December 21 for the first time since 1638; the next time an eclipse will fall on the same calendar date as the solstice will be in 2094. The 2010 eclipse could be seen in parts of North and South American and Europe, but unfortunately was not visible from southern and eastern Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. I say we file a lawsuit against the moon for geographical discrimination. Who’s with me?
- New Year’s Eve: The world very eagerly bids farewell to 2010 and looks forward to 2011, a year that can possibly, potentially, hopefully be better than its predecessors. As they say, good things eventually come to those who wait, and wait, and wait...
  • Alexander McQueen (40) – British fashion designer.
  • Blake Edwards (88) – American film director; worked on films including Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and the Pink Panther film series; husband of Julie Andrews.
  • Charlie Wilson (76) – American politician; subject of George Crile’s 2003 book Charlie Wilson's War and its subsequent 2007 film adaptation.
  • Dennis Hopper (74) – American actor; appeared in films including Easy Rider (1969), Apocalypse Now (1979), Blue Velvet (1986), Hoosiers (1986), and Speed (1994).
  • Erich Segal (72) – American author; wrote the novels Love Story (1970) and co-wrote the screenplay for The Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine (1968).
  • Farooq Leghari (70) – President of Pakistan from 1993 until 1997.
  • Gary Coleman (42) – American actor; best known for his role in the sitcom Diff'rent Strokes (1978–1986).
  • Gloria Stuart (100) – American actress; appeared in films including The Invisible Man (1933) and Titanic (1997).
  • Imran Farooq (50) – Pakistani politician; associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
  • Jerome David "J.D." Salinger (91) – American author; wrote The Catcher in the Rye (1951).
  • Juan Antonio Samaranch (89) – Spanish sports official; seventh President of the International Olympic Committee, served from 1980 to 2001.
  • Lech Kaczyński (60) – President of Poland from 2005 to 2010.
  • Leslie Nielsen (84) - American actor; known for his comedic roles.
  • Martin Gardner (95) – American mathematics and science writer.
  • Miep Gies (100) – Dutch citizen; helped hide Anne Frank and her family during World War II, and discovered Anne Frank’s diaries.
  • Patricia Neal (84) – American actress; most notable films included The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and Hud (1963).
  • Richard Holbrooke (69) – American diplomat; served as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2009 to 2010.
  • Tsutomu Yamaguchi (93) – Japanese national; only person to have been officially recognised as having survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings during World War II.
- Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 31 January, 2010

Rewind (2010)

music in 2010

  • The Black Eyed Peas released their new album, The Beginning, which left us wondering if all four of them had missed grammar day at school.
  • Katy Perry, Ke$ha, and Lady Gaga continued to suck the soul out of music while rendering respectability obsolete. In related news, the correlation between talent and the ability to look trashy and wear meat continued to remain zero.
  • Muse lost a few dozen cool points by contributing yet another song to the Twilight series soundtrack. My Chemical Romance gained a few gazillion cool points by refusing to contribute a song to the Twilight soundtrack, and then writing a song about this!
  • Mumford & Sons released a very decent folk rock album. This was generally deemed as a bad move.
  • Weezer released an album that was considerably less atrocious than their last few albums.
  • Some of the biggest names in music got together to butcher the songs We Are The World and Everybody Hurts. Their only saving grace was that the singles were for charity and the proceeds went to the 2010 Haiti earthquake victims.
  • Lee DeWyze won the chance to be the next Taylor Hicks when he was crowned the winner of American Idol’s season 9 beating Crystal Bowersox, while AI’s ratings continued to decline. Simon Cowell left the show, soon followed by Ellen DeGeneres’ exit from the series, which led to an AI makeover; Kara DioGuardi departed as Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler joined the judging panel.
  • Biebermania swept the tweenage world as Justin Bieber serenaded listeners with thought provoking songs featuring meaningful lyrics such as "Baby, baby, baby, oh/like baby, baby, baby, no/like baby, baby, baby, oh/I thought you'd always be mine, mine." Deep.
  • John Mayer tried to make a second career out of saying stupid things.
  • Willow Smith’s debut song Whip My Hair became a YouTube hit. The jury’s still out on whether it was extremely infectious or extremely irritating. Or both.
  • Fifteen years after leaving the band, Robbie Williams rejoined Take That and the band released a new album, Progress; 90’s fan-girls rejoiced.
  • NKOTB + BSB = NKOTBSB = increase in sales of earplugs worldwide.
  • Florence and the Machine gained international recognition for their smart and absurdly catchy pop music. All the cool kids liked it.
  • Rihanna continued to remain ubiquitous.
  • Miley Cyrus released a ho-hum new album titled Can't Be Tamed, starred in the critically panned film The Last Song, dealt with her parents divorce, and reportedly broke up with Liam Hemsworth, all the while trying desperately to shed her Hannah Montana image. Oh and she also turned 18 and celebrated by smoking salvia. Good times.
  • In standard child star fashion, Demi Lovato checked herself into rehab after leaving the Jonas Brothers World Tour. Meanwhile, in a rare display of mercy on its viewers, Disney cancelled the Jonas Brothers’ TV series.
  • Newer artists including Diana Vickers, Lena Meyer-Landrut, Nicki Minaj, B.o.B., Jason Derulo, and Bruno Mars found chart success.
  • Eminem went from Relapse to Recovery, mounting a well-received comeback.
  • The new Hole album suggested that Courtney Love could use a hug…and a therapist.
  • Soundgarden reunited, as did The Dresden Dolls, and Bush.
  • Glee became the world’s guilty pleasure of choice.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Trent Reznor’s new band How To Destroy Angels released their debut EP to the general interest of nobody.
  • The world finally noticed Arcade Fire’s existence after they released their third album The Suburbs.
  • Christina Aguilera released an album. It was on the wrong side of listenable. She also starred in a movie. It was on the wrong side of watchable.
  • T.I. was released from prison. T.I. was sent back to prison.
  • Kanye West returned with a new album that was met with critical acclaim. Disappointingly, he didn’t interrupt any more Taylor Swift award acceptance speeches, even though the country starlet continued the tradition of getting showered with awards.
  • Duets were in vogue. Collaborators included Eminem and Rihanna (Love the Way You Lie), B.o.B and Hayley Williams (Airplanes), Lady Gaga and Beyonce (Telephone), Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars (Billionaire), Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg (California Gurls), Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull (I Like It), Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow (Shame), almost everyone and Nicki Minaj…
  • British girl bands Mini Viva and Girls Can’t Catch disbanded before anyone could even notice their existence.
  • Michael Jackson’s first posthumous album led to questions regarding its authenticity.
  • And artists including Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift, Cheryl Cole, Linkin Park, Rihanna, Kylie Minogue, Katy Perry, Cee Lo Green, Gorillaz, MGMT, Usher, Imelda May, James Blunt, Maroon 5, and Shakira, returned to the charts with new albums.

  • Abbas Ali Khan: 2010 was a dead year for Pakistani music and industry. I don’t recall anything that caught my attention; the only thing relatively better was Coke Studio. In classical music, some great things happen; for example, the Tehzeeb Festival, which I attended and really enjoyed. As for me I only released a tribute track called Raat Yun Dil Mein Teri and got great response from people who understand that sort of music. 2010, for me, was a year for reinvention, and 2011 will be happening, InshAllah.
  • Annie Khalid: I think the highlight of 2010 as far as Pakistani music is concerned was Coke Studio, because there was such amazing talent coming out; this year was one of my favourites out of all the seasons because it just keeps getting better and better, and the public were more tuned towards that than anything else. People’s albums were released this year but there wasn’t much done about it – there was lack of promotion and publicity, so that was kind of the downside of Pakistani music. The highlight of my career for 2010 was Be My Baby, the collaboration with Jules; Kya Yehi Piyar Hai album being released; and also all of the charity work I did with the Red Cross for flood relief. Although it is a shame that Fire Records didn’t do as much as they could have as far as promoting my album was concerned – so much could have been done especially considering the fact that I worked so hard on it and there were so many people involved in the production of this album – and they didn’t really do anything for it, to be very frank with you, and that’s something I can honestly openly say; it’s kind of upsetting. That said, Kya Yehi Piyar Hai itself as a single was number one on all of the music chart shows in Pakistan and so was Be My Baby, so I’m happy. 2011 is all about collaboration for me. I’m looking so forward to 2011 because I’m going to be releasing a lot of collaborations with some big international and Pakistani artists; I’ve always wanted to work with different people so finally I’m getting to do that. I’m definitely thinking of making some new videos for my album and then I’m going to start working on my third studio album, so I’m really excited.
  • Goher Mumaz: Pakistani pop was overall down due to many reasons. There were no releases by mainstream artists. The one thing that took over 2010 was Jugni by Arif Lohar and Meesha and Mein Tenno Semjhanwan Ki by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan; these two amazing songs got the exact platform that they deserve. Our top-notch record labels failed to create an artist who could rule 2010. As for Jal, we just finished recording half of our new album and went on a 22-city concert tour of Pakistan, which went great. During that tour, I felt that the fans have been waiting for the new album because whenever we announced that we are coming up with the album, they went crazy! This means that our market has got potential, but probably some "big giants" are scared to take a few risks and release new albums. 2011 is going to be the biggest year for Jal once again, that I can assure you, InshAllah.
  • Mustafa Zahid: The Pakistani music scene graph was still going down in 2010. There was very less Pakistani content on music channels, and nothing got noticed because of the political scenario, hence everyone ended up doing nothing. As for Roxen, we did a track with RDB for their album, Worldwide; it is one of my most superb compositions called Teardrop (Aansoo); we also did another song for them for a film which is under production and will be released in 2011. We have also worked on a couple of other productions in Bollywood films, which are tentatively lined up for a 2011 release, along with our second album Bhoola Samundar.
- By S.A

Us Magazine, The News - 31 December, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mis-hit by Mezrich

book review

Book: The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal
Genre: Non-Fiction, Business
Author: Ben Mezrich
Publisher: Doubleday
Excerpt: “One look at the kid, and it had been obvious to Eduardo that he didn’t know the first thing about the sort of social networking one had to master to get into a club like the Phoenix. But then, as now, Eduardo had been too busy chasing his dream to spend time thinking about the awkward kid in the corner. Certainly, he had no way of knowing, then or now, that the kid with the curly hair was one day going to take the entire concept of a social network and turn it on its head, that one day the kid with the curly hair struggling through that prepunch party was going to change Eduardo’s life more than any Final Club ever could.”

According to an often repeated maxim, “There are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth.” However, with all the people involved in the tale of Facebook, the story of the world’s biggest social network has about a dozen different (and often contentious) sides. The Accidental Billionaires, the book that formed the basis of the critically lauded 2010 film The Social Network, chronicles the creation of Facebook in a Harvard dorm room by Mark Zuckerberg and his college friends Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes and the ups and downs following its success. It also includes Napster co-founder Sean Parker joining the company and the legal trouble faced by Facebook due to the assertion by three Harvard seniors — Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra — that Zuckerberg had stolen their idea and intentionally mislead them.

The book, as Ben Mezrich states in the Author’s Note, offers “a dramatic, narrative account based on dozens of interviews, hundreds of sources and thousands of pages of documents, including records from several court proceedings,” and it seems to rely heavily on Eduardo Saverin’s side of story. This is the book’s first problem; Mezrich failed to find access to the account and perspective of Mark Zuckerberg, who declined to speak to the author, and without any input from Facebook’s chief creator and the person most responsible for its inception, creation, and success, there just isn’t much to the story. A lot has already been written about Facebook in magazines and on websites and The Accidental Billionaires is not only brought down by its unobjective sources and hindsight bias but it also fails to provide a unique take on the subject and is lacking in terms of content that would offer any revelations.

The book’s second problem is its style. The author works with limited content that has been stretched and padded to a book-length narrative, producing an account focused on being more dramatic than informative. The literary licence and practice of sensationalising the entertaining elements of the story in effect take away from the credibility of the book and at times, the poor style and language choices even come off as rather crude. Also, the book has no way of offering any form of conclusion on an active subject, and much has been added to the Facebook annals since The Accidental Billionaires was first published last year.

In short, the story at the core of Facebook’s inception could have been, and indeed has been, told better in fewer pages and seems more suited for an article-length piece. Most of the facts are even nicely summarised in the Wikipedia entries about Facebook and key people involved in the company. Plus, if you’ve been keeping up with the contentious tales and legal drama that have plagued the website, then you already know most of what this book aims to reveal. If you know nothing about the social network, then The Accidental Billionaires is probably not the best source to shape your perceptions of the company and its creators, as it clearly isn’t the most clean and objective take on the story.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 12 December, 2010