Saturday, March 28, 2009

Democracy is passé

Just as any other idea is, when it needs the conservatives to prop it up. We're not just talking about India and other fledgling democratic countries, but of the supposed torchbearers of modern democratic movements.

Also see some rather brilliant exhibits here, here and here (The last one in particular is going viral these days - We can replace Brown and UK with Manmohan singh and India and the indictment is still valid.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs of our fourth estate when comic strips and comedy-show hosts have had to take up the cudgel for accountability from the "serious" folks. If one still has doubts about the importance of units and the context, Here's exhibit 2:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Intentions and interpretations

We have had apologists for all kinds of social evils in over the ages: People claiming how the intentions of caste system were purely professional classification; Claims that dowry was a system of maintenance; Claims that the church was usurping power merely to protect the society from destruction and dare I say, how Burqa is actually a symbol for women empowerment and how the Islamic militants today misinterpret and misuse the sacrosanct sayings of the Prophet.

It is high time these apologists (supposed progressives and liberals form the majority amongst them) woke up to the reality. To be a true progressive means to critically analyze and evaluate each and every act committed and purge (or atleast attempt to) the society of these evils. The caste system was vilified regardless of its intentions and rightly so! Over the centuries, it stood as a symbol for oppression by the elites in the society regardless of what its intentions were. Similarly dowry is rightfully criticized by one and all.

Why then, are we hung up on these interpretations of The Qu'ran? After all, it is not us, but the perpetrators of violence who interpret The holy book in ways that suit their agenda. It is moot to discuss whether the interpretation they use is right or wrong.The road to hell is paved with good intentions it is said. Ultimately the intentions don't matter half as much as the outcomes.

If any, it becomes imperative for the other schools of thought who oppose these interpretations to drown out these voices, cry for reform and enlighten the rest of the world. Until then, I believe it is a cardinal sin to ask(and to do) the rest of us ignoramuses to stop listening to our enemies, because "they don't represent the truth." A territorial conflict may be resolved by over powering the opponent, but a war of ideas and ideologies can't and won't be won in ignorance.
"Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy, but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril."
---Sun Tzu, "The Art of War"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

of Civilization and violence

It is perhaps a romantic notion and very fashionable for the "psuedo-libertarian" group to diss the institution of police and state. But, as Dr.Pinker demonstrates in this talk, contrary to popular idea, we are living in the most peaceful of times.

That means that we are doing "something" right. It is important that we discuss the ills of our society as it exists today and strive to improve. However, that is not the same as the thoughtless nihilism being exhibited by some in the name of "libertarianism"

Friday, March 20, 2009

Why should we vote?

The middle class in India seems to take great pride in not participating in the elections each year, claiming shelter under the "Cynicism" flagship. However hard they try to hide beneath this veneer, it is not cynicism but sheer laziness that drives them. Take for instance the beloved arm-chair libertarian about whom I had written earlier here:
.....So we must choose: It is either “democracy” or The Rule of Law. We cannot have both......

However, the sad story is that not one of our political parties is talking this language. Whether Tweedledum wins, or Tweedledee, or Tweedledumber, central spending policies are going to be the same
These are the same people that laugh at socialists who ask, "But if no one decides the policies, how will the society function?" That is the irony and tragedy of our times.

To commit the fallacy of "Argumentum ad hominem" against such people is very easy. Let me instead explain the reason why we should vote in a language that most would have no trouble understanding, that of money:

Votes are our currency, political parties are selling themselves and their policies. The sellers' products will reflect the demand from buyers, in other words: Why will I include features you want in a product when you aren't going to enter the market to buy an item, either from me or from my competitor? Am I not better off including features that my customers want?

Not participating in this market and then accusing the sellers of not providing you the products is quite disingenuous. For people who want to take it a step further: Once you start using your currency, sellers will automatically pop up with products that you want to buy. Isn't that the core of libertarian and capitalist market theories?

Here's an excerpt from a recent economics paper : "Polluting polls: When citizens should not vote"
"Irresponsible individual voters ought to abstain rather than vote badly. This thesis may seem anti-democratic. Yet it is really a claim about voter responsibility and how voters can fail to meet this responsibility. On my view, voters are not obligated to vote, but if they do vote, they owe it to others and themselves to be adequately rational, unbiased, just, and informed about their political beliefs...... We are not obligated to drive, but if we do drive, we ought to be responsible drivers. The same goes for voting."
And as a lot of votes are being sold for money, it becomes all the more important for those who believe that they are rational and informed to go out there and vote.

I do support the "None of the above" Vote, because that will at least send a signal to the politicians that you are not apathetic, but merely dissatisfied. In its absence however, apathy and dissatisfaction are indistinguishable and your voice won't be heard.

If these reasons weren't good enough, there is one last reason that trumps all: To deny the goons a chance of rigging your vote.

Varun Gandhi must go

Again this provides a golden opportunity to the BJP to put to rest accusations regarding its communal agenda. Whatever the RSS or the BJP may claim, such inciting speech is not welcome and he should be punished for that at the very least by edging him out of the elections.
But, we all know that it wont happen. And here's why:

(1) Gandhi is a powerful family name to have and the BJP think it is a great fortune to have one of them (and so young at that) fighting on their side at a time when Rahul is supposedly taking the youth by storm.(Youth voting as the young is a phenomenon I just cannot get my head around but that is a different issue altogether).

(2)There are sympathisers to what Varun Gandhi voiced amongst the BJP cadre.

(3) Some of them might even view the opinions aired as being merely "reactionary" i.e even the most incendiary of statements began with a "if a Muslim attacks .."

(4) The Double standards - Ram Vilas Paswan used none less than an "Osama bin laden" look-alike in 2005 elections. and of course the worst of them all

(5) We don't punish openly communal messages like these and some of our intellectuals like Shabana Azmi even ratify them to a certain extent by statements like:
Yes, except you know when people say that this is for Muslim votes, I do not see any problem with that. If there is a constituency that is voting for you, then hopefully, you will pay attention to that constituency. There is nothing wrong with that.That’s what you are supposed to do. You see, if you have voted me into power, then it is my business to protect your rights. What’s wrong with that?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

These idiots!

Some people have way too much time on their hands. Of all the things to be "offended by", statue of Charlie chaplin near a temple !
I have held the UPA bunch of communal goons in great contempt for the past few years because of the way they've gone about dividing the society for minority vote politics. I admire some of the NDA leaders for having an intellectual capacity and a backbone to stand up for their ideas like Mr.Arun Shourie, Mr. Jaswant Singh, even L.K.Advani.
But these idiots lower down have gone about the past few years thoroughly dismantling any and every opportunity handed to them on a plate by the UPA. It is sad to see that the leaders don't condemn these ideas either.
Some BJP leader said in this context:
The local head of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist and India’s main opposition party, said there was no place for Chaplin in the region. “If the locals are against such a statue, I am also against it,” he told The Times of India. “Why should one bother so much about Charlie Chaplin, who was not even an Indian?”
That explains the motivations. It doesn't matter whether it is right or wrong, politicians formulate policies that get them votes. Similar is the tale of N.Chandrababu Naidu and TDP in Andhra Pradesh. He was a pioneer in bringing about reforms and cutting down on the bureaucracy etc. But he was voted out in 2004 and he is now driven into an unholy alliance with the very parties that he had made thoroughly insignificant - the CPI, CPI(M).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Media and Us

One of my most consistent complaints has been against the double standards in the media. Of course, they are not the perpetrators, merely abettors in the cause that is - the rape of our society. But, why am I more concerned about the media than about our politicians?

The answer lies in (1) accountability and (2) impact.

We are the consumers who pay for the very existence of the media that has been conspiring to such an extent in trying to dupe us. Take a look at this clip

My aim in trying to point out inconsistencies in media reporting are similar in nature. The only way to avoid serfdom is for us to demand quality from our fourth estate and watch out for our own selves. It is also not without reason to assume that they go a long way in shaping the public opinion as has been repeatedly seen by the propagandas in totalitarian regimes.

Mind you, I'm not asking for absolute neutrality and bias free reporting- That would be idealistic and impractical. I'm merely asking for a representation of the entire spectrum of voices so that with forces pulling in all directions, the extremists' and fundamentalists' plans are dampened down and the system may settle in an equilibrium with the domination of moderate voices.

PS: Ruminations brought about by the recent happenings on this episode of daily show.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Governments around the world are just a huge waste of time and resources primarily trying to create more work to justify their existence (or atleast justify their huge budgets).
The latest offering comes from the Government of Scotland - a Sin tax on chocolate:

A controversial call for a tax on chocolate to curb obesity was narrowly rejected by doctors today.Lanarkshire GP David Walker led calls for an increase in chocolate prices as a way of tackling weight-related conditions like diabetes.

But delegates at a British Medical Association (BMA) conference in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, today voted down the plan. The motion was lost by two votes, the BMA said.
I hate it when government tries to poke its nose into places where it doesn't belong. Whether I starve or stuff myself should be my choice and not that of a hundred other people who have nothing to do with my life! Of course, the extra money generated by such a tax would only serve in the government having to find more reasons for its existence and a vicious cycle of interference and "Big brother" hood.


The essay "Keep your identity small" by Paul Graham makes many poignant points.
I think what religion and politics have in common is that they become part of people's identity, and people can never have a fruitful argument about something that's part of their identity. By definition they're partisan............

.........The most intriguing thing about this theory, if it's right, is that it explains not merely which kinds of discussions to avoid, but how to have better ideas. If people can't think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible......

......A scientist isn't committed to believing in natural selection in the same way a bibilical literalist is committed to rejecting it. All he's committed to is following the evidence wherever it leads.
I do agree that the identity can cause a partisan bias. Therefore, the foremost trait to infuse your identity with, would be a strong streak of self-awareness and self-criticism. This will automatically lead to pruning of the useless edges that start taking roots in one's identity from time to time. I also like the way he proposes this theory but claims no authority over its veracity.

His other essays are also enjoyable and thought-provoking and my first contact with his writing came through the essay: "Lies we tell our kids".

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Objectivity of truth

Orwell writes in the Tribune on Feb 4, 1944 in his column "As I please":

...Up to a fairly recent date, the major events recorded in the history books probably happened. It is probably true that the battle of Hastings was fought in 1066, that Columbus discovered America, that Henry VIII had six wives, and so on. A certain degree of truthfulness was possible so long as it was admitted that a fact may be true even if you don't like it. Even as late as the last war it was possible for the Encyclopedia Britannica, for instance, to compile its articles on the various campaigns partly from German sources. Some of the facts — the casualty figures, for instance — were regarded as neutral and in substance accepted by everybody. No such thing would be possible now. A Nazi and a non-Nazi version of the present war would have no resemblance to one another, and which of them finally gets into the history books will be decided not by evidential methods but on the battlefield.....
My admiration knows no bounds when it comes to Orwell's insights. Take the recent Israel-Palestine conflict which has produced gems like Pallywood or the "Al-Dura murder":

Or our very own "Godhra riots", one version of truth is vastly different from another. Orwell says later in the same essay:
The really frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits ‘atrocities’ but that it attacks the concept of objective truth; it claims to control the past as well as the future.
A totalitarian regime doing this is not surprising, but a whole bunch of cronies running the media, doctoring the truth to protect their life-long investments into a hollow ideology is catastrophic.

"We are not the sole owners, but custodians of the liberties we enjoy today . We have inherited these liberties which were won by bitter struggles of our predecessors and it is our duty to safeguard them for our successors."[1]

For the past few years(decades?) we have grown complacent and turned into that fat behemoth that is crushed under its own weight. It is high time we cast away our apathy and learn to shoulder our responsibilities.

[1] I cannot recollect who said this

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Take a look at the interview. By her own admission, Mrs. Shabana Azmi had a very secular upbringing and she was only questioned about her "Muslim origins" after the Mumbai riots.("It is only when they were affected that they woke up" ) She claims that this led to her "digging in her heels". Let us turn that around for a moment. Let us discount the earlier part of her statement which provides a rationale for the discrimination she had to face(not judging the validity of it), Isn't it entirely plausible that most of the "Right-wing" activism taking place these days maybe a reaction to the way anything and everything to do with "the majority's way of life" is vilified as regressive and pre-historic?

Here is Mr.Arun Shourie writing in "Strong to the weak, weak to the strong"

Many Hindus also notice the other thing -- the one I mentioned as the reason as against the rationalization for no artist ever being galvanized by the creative urge when it comes to painting the features of the Prophet. They notice that the artists do not do so, not because these masters cannot do so, nor because their muse never goads them in this direction, but because they know that, were they to do so, they would be set upon. And that the State -- which is weak, and which also has internalized the same double-standards to rationalize its weakness -- will not come to their rescue. Therefore, more and more Hindus are concluding that we too should acquire the same reputation, we too should acquire the same capacity. In a word, three things are teaching the Hindus to become Islamic: the double-standards of the secularists and the State, the demonstrated success of the Muslims in bending both the State and the secularists by intimidation, and the fact that both the State and the secularists pay attention to the sentiments of Hindus only when the Hindus become a little Islamic.....
Finally, a forecast : the more the secularists insist on double-standards, the more Islamic will the Hindus become.
I wonder if people like Mrs.Azmi have ever heard of "Cognitive dissonance"
It is alright for the youth to take on a radical ideology because they were boxed into that corner by discrimination, but it is not right for the majority to associate that ideology has anything to do with the actions of these youth. In other words, "victimisation of the aggressor."
Correlation does not imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively to 'look over there' (xkcd). Perhaps it is important to take a look at why there is such a high correlation between certain ideologies and acts.

Monday, March 09, 2009


and incentives for terrorist activities (in Kashmir):

I cannot decide whether I should laugh or cry:

"किसी के साथ मानवी चेहरॆ से पॆश आना अपने देश का नागरीक है और इस्के साथ हम आशा करते है की हमारे देश मै शांति स्थापित होगी "

"To deal humanely with anyone is our culture, and we hope that this step will lead to greater peace in our country" Indeed!
(Please note this was around sometime late January, 2008 when the great goat Mr.Shivaraj Patil was still our home minister) Link from here

Sunday, March 08, 2009


I cringe each time I hear sentences like "She was like 'I didn't do it' " or " We were like enjoying ourselves". I understand language is more about being able to understand the other and not about a set of rigid rules to be followed, but Why, oh why? Why can't people learn to simply drop the word altogether. The sentences are perfectly fine without "like".

Sunday, March 01, 2009


Whatever may be the shortcomings of India as a democracy, there have always been a few saving graces. The Office of the President as we all know was sullied long ago, first in 1975 and then in 2007. However, one office remained above this menial bickering. As kids, we learnt from daily cartoons about the mythical powers of the Election Commission using which T.N.Seshan, put political parties in their place. Alas that time is no more.

Know our next Chief Election Commissioner, Mr. Navin Chawla, better:

At the time of the Emergency of 1975-77, Navin Chawla was private secretary to the lieutenant governor of Delhi Kishan Chand (who later committed suicide unable to bear the 'humiliation' following the adverse finding about him in the Shah Commission's report). According to Justice Shah, Chawla, along with his cohorts in the police at the time, 'exercised enormous powers during the emergency because they had easy access to the then prime minister's house. Their approach to the problems of the period relating to the citizens was authoritarian and callous. They grossly misused their position and abused their powers in cynical disregard of the welfare of the citizens, and in the process rendered themselves unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others. In their relish for power, they completely subverted the normal channels of command and administrative procedures.'
Declared by the same commission's findings to be “unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others”, Ladies and gentlemen! join me in giving a warm welcome to our next Chief Election Commissioner.