Friday, December 05, 2008

missing-links dept.

The post-Mumbai popular outburst has provided an interesting insight to me. For too long, the actors (stateful, not stateless ;-)) in Indian democracy have been completely unaccountable pretty much for five years of their elected terms. This has rendered a good state in theory, practically dysfunctional. For any truly functional democracy there has to be a closed loop where the common man gets to hold everyone in power accountable.

There were two crucial elements missing in Indian democracy to close the loop, and now I see those two elements gradually taking their rightful place, and plugging this gap.

The first, with the electronic media, has happened over the last decade, and continues to go from strength to strength. However, someone needs to keep a check on the media too.

The next, with social networks and cellphones, is giving unprecedented community mobilization and expressive power to common people. The next decade belongs to the emergence of this particular piece of the puzzle. For it keeps all of the other pieces in check, and is more or less self-regulated. You can see it throw up temporary structures as responses to particular situations, even though for the most part, it is structure-less. Politicians the world over, with the singular exception of a certain compulsive-Blackberry-using President-elect, are really clueless about this phenomenon.

The result is this amazingly organic system that's really self-evolving, and is mutually accountable. Its not mandated by the Indian constitution, no one set out to create it -- it has just appeared out of thin air. A politician who can keep this formless beast happy can go a long way in life :-).

Perhaps a few years from now, when enough has been written about this phenomenon, the technology has matured and become truly ubiquitous, and the politicians begin to grok it, the 'last piece of the puzzle' will finally get its due, and some official constitutional recognition.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

known-unknowns dept.

The following story is probably very important indeed, but I am still undecided...

Quantum Test Found for Mathematical Undecidability.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

oye-lucky-lucky-oye dept.

Not everyone can take on Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott, and then outdo them.
Its unfortunate that an outstanding movie with great performances has to release at this time :(.
I hope everybody goes out and sees this one.
its-the-end-of-the-world dept.

On September 11, 2001, I was on a flight to San Francisco, sleeping soundly somewhere over the Pacific when the twin towers were attacked. I was originally scheduled to fly on the 9th, but I was down with the flu, and my departure was delayed by a couple of days. Three-fourths of the way from Singapore, the flight was redirected to Vancouver. After landing, the plane sat on the tarmac for five hours before being carefully unloaded. (We were given no information about what had happened until about two hours after we had landed). I then spent two days in Canada, glued to my television set at the Hyatt Regency, where Singapore Airlines so graciously put us up -- a displaced, disjointed lot.

The world changed then, and the world is about to change again. The attacks on Mumbai, in that sense, are exactly the same and seek to send the same message to the world. It would be a mistake to think this is an attack on India. I wouldn't relegate it to such a narrow context. Fundamentally this is an attack by a closed, nihilistic society on an open and progressive one. Ostensibly, the message being sent is, "No matter how superior you think you are, we can bring you to your knees."

Any old-world ideology can be twisted into this template, and made to work in this way. In this case, and this time in the world, Islam is being used in this way. The mental trick being used here is to really zero in on the most intolerant parts of scripture, and use that as an intellectual override for irrational acts. Every old-world religion has enough material in its body of scripture to be vulnerable to this kind of manipulation. After all, they were only created by human beings.

The desired effect of the attack is more subtle, it really seeks to transform the victim (a vibrant, open society) into a mirror of the perpetrator (a prejudiced, closed one).

So when we put it in that context, this is really a sequel to 9-11, and the London Underground bombings and needs to be put in proper perspective.

The scale in terms of physical impact may not be as extensive as 9-11, but its equally powerful in terms of its media impact, and hold on the popular imagination. Also, India has been attacked only because it is the most accessible open society that can be subject to such an attack. New York and London have significantly raised the bar for any attack of this kind, and so Mumbai was the best soft target.

The challenge here is to preserve openness and freedom, without becoming an image of the attacker. The more we seek to defend ourselves, the more closeted we become as a society. So, IMHO, offence seems to be the best form of defence in this case. The hardest part is finding what form the offensive strategy should take, without causing the world to come to an end :-). This last bit because the target of the offensive strategy is a failed state with nuclear weapons. Who really runs this state? Who would be the target of retaliation?

I do hope such an offensive strategy exists, and is found in time by those whose job it is to think more deeply about such things.