appughar

Posts Tagged ‘politics’

An Endorsment for Barack Obama

In Uncategorized on November 3, 2008 at 2:29 am

An Endorsement

A PhD thesis to write, five years of acquired procrastination skills, a profound fascination towards web 2.0 and social web et.al and an election looming in corner. You don’t need much eloquence to describe to others (or to myself) the circumstances that has forced myself to put my thesis writing (supposedly unknowingly) in the back burner. I find myself reading all the op-ed of the prominent Liberal press, partaking in discussion forums, and having my share of frustration realising the futility of arguing with a hard-core right-winger

And yes! I am a big Obama supporter and like many others in the world feel it is unfair that I cannot cast my ballot! (Take about Americanization of the world!). However, let me pen out the specific quality of the candidate which has made a profound impact on me.

I had only a very vague idea or interest about American political system till a few months ago. The general notion was that Democrats are better than Republicans. More specifically, Clinton was way better than Bush, Al Gore would have made a way better president than Bush (at-least we could have had a slightly more greener planet). However, I was ambivalent to the internal dynamics of the Democratic party, hence for a long time the democratic primaries did not interest me much.

The first time I realised Barack Obama was in a blog post about his interview at Google. Asked by Eric Schmidt about “the most efficient way to sort a million 32-bit integers,” Obama replied that “the bubble
sort would be the wrong way to go”. That was fancy full. A presidential candidate who has some clue about CS! This was followed by his speech “A More Perfect Union”. I was amazed by his oratory skill (this was made more profound when I compared his ability to articulate to that of the current incumbent American president!). With each of his speeches, notable of them being his Energy speech at Michigan State University and the nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, my admiration for Obama grew. However I still gave adequate weightage to the criticism that he might just be a fanciful orator, who lacks real political skills. Is incompetence and questionable motive getting masqueraded by the sheer glamour and aura of his words and personality.

This blog post aims to detail out how I grew out of the cynicism and moved towards a position of admiration and respect for Mr. Obama. However, I have made a mental note to review my position time and time again (going with the assumption that he will be elected the president of U.S.A).As mentioned earlier, my cynicism had two parts, first – the motivation, second – the skill level (or preparedness). So, I am going to go one by one.

What really struck me in Obama speeches are their clarity, consistency and the ability to say the right things. The juxtaposition of these three qualities are a hard thing to achieve, especially when you are in the media spotlight for an extended period of time. And frankly, this is a breath of fresh air in modern politics, where flip-flopping of stances are ubiquitous and viewpoints itself are ambiguous. I believe, for someone to be this clear and consistent, apart from oratory skills, he/she will need to have extreme passion and conviction on what he/she is speaking about.

One can argue that someone like Hitler also possessed the same set of skills. His arguments and speeches had clarity and to a certain extend consistent. Maybe the extreme nature of his extremist and fundamentalist ideas were not overtly evident in his initial speeches, however Hitler rarely contradicted himself. The fact of the matter is that Hitler also possessed the high amount of passion and
conviction. However, this is where the third and the most important aspect kicks in.

`Saying the right things’. First of all we need to scrutinize whether Mr.Obama is really saying the right things or his ideas are ineffective or even malicious. So let’s do a quick parse on what the U.S Senator is claiming. For the time being let’s keep aside the implementation aspect (for eg, providing Health care via mandatory
scheme or giving tax credits) and concentrate on the intend. Provide health care, make education cheaper, attack global poverty, stop a war, de-polarise a society, protect environment, develop infrastructure. All of them perfectly honourable. No Hitler-like ambition in any of them. I also note in passing most of Mr. McCain’s intention are more or less well placed. Anyway the point I want to raise is that we may effectively rule out malice.

Now let us go back to implementation. Unlike his republican rival, Obama has exhibited a far greater amount of pragmatism. Being, an engineer, my trade is the complicated art of trying to understand and manages trade-offs. Obama has shown far deeper skill and knowledge in the formulation or speculation of the challenges his country is facing. He is also modest in acknowledging his country’s short-comings and limits. And most, importantly he has taken pains in proposing the possible solution (almost always indicating the hardness of the problem) and proposes achievable targets and charts out his action plan in a coherent manner. I would be lying if I claim that there is no optimism in his plans. However, prima-facie most of his plan appears to be do-able, however with a lot of hard work and focus.

So in terms of ideas he is a far superior candidate. This is the most important reason I endorse Obama. If you want to do something (positive) consciously towards a goal, you will have to first imagine it to be possible. You will then have to imagine the process through which you will reach there. You have to build up conviction on your ideas, and you should retain a reasonable amount of clarity. As Micheal Phelps remarked “I think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and you put the work and time into it. I
think your mind really controls everything.”, first step in addressing challenges and expanding boundaries start by imagination. The thought process seems have gone through. Conversely, Bush administration is a
prime example of the problem caused by `lack of imagination’

This is coupled with his ability as a motivator and mobiliser. <to be continued>

ps: Note, my impressions and opinions on politics in general are based on the Indian political and US political systems and landscapes. My familiarity to former based on me being a (passive) part of the system
and the later from media exposure.

A critic on Blind Conservatism.

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2008 at 3:11 pm

“Preserve our {culture|faith|values}”

Every time this quintessential conservative and right-winged argument gets hurled into public arena, a pang of fear+concern wave rips over me. The surprising fact is that I do not have a major disagreement with a community expressing such a sentiment. In-fact, in a good number of ‘specific’ cases I can empathise with such a statement. `Apprehension to change things that are traditionally and historically found to be working reasonably well, providing an order, structure and support system’ is a valid and an essential one. However, the problem with the typical main-stream right wing arguments are their unwillingness to specify what they need to preserve.

Whether it be the RSS/VHP’s attempt to ‘conserve’ the Bharatiya Sanskriti (Indian Culture) or be it Islamic terrorist’s attempt to wage Jihad to ‘conserve’ Islam or be it Raj Thackery and co trying to ‘conserve’ the Marathi pride or be it American right-wingers attempt to ‘conserve’ the American and family value; what is lacking is a good enough specification of what they are trying to ‘conserve’ (and why).
Let me take Sangh Parivar as a case study. The question that I want to raise is what do you mean by Indian Culture and Tradition ? (and the second question is why do you want to preserve it; however this question is irrelevant if the first is not answered). There are off-shot questions like `What constitute the act of conservation ? ‘, `Why should a majority remain a majority and minority a minority ?’. However, I am not going into such sub-questions.

I came to IIT around 5 years ago. Almost all of the 23 years of my pre-IIT life I lived at Kerala. So suddenly, I was thrown into a cultural and traditional landscape totally unknown to me. The belief systems, traditions, festivals that are celebrated, food habits, language dialects all were alien to me. Now isn’t it natural that when someone calls for the preservation of the culture of India, I find it extremely ambiguous and confusing!

Is it the culture of Kerala (if it may be defined) or is it it culture that I see around at Mumbai (if it may be defined) or some other place, say Delhi our national capital that I need to preserve!!! In fact, personally I found that I connected with a western (Australian) culture more easily than I could connected to the Mumbai culture. In my personal metric (dare I generalise to upper-middle class internet age south-indian) cultural distance between South Indian culture to North Indian culture. super-seeds the cultural distance between South Indian culture to Western culture (dare I generalise again!).

But to make my argument more concrete, let’s start by asking ourselves, what do you mean by the term `culture’ ? Wikipedia gave me two related definition

  1. “Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning “to cultivate”) generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activities significance and importance. Cultures can be “understood as systems of symbols and meanings that even their creators contest, that lack fixed boundaries, that are constantly in flux, and that interact and compete with one another”
  2. “Culture can be defined as all the ways of life including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called “the way of life for an entire society.” As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, norms of behavior such as law and morality, and systems of belief as well as the art.”

We will take the second argument, since the first definition innately writes QED for the non-conservative argument.
Similarly, what do you mean by the term `tradition’

  • “On a basic theoretical level, tradition(s) can be seen as information or composed of information. For that which is brought into the present from the past, in a particular societal context, is information. This is even more fundamental than particular acts or practices even if repeated over a long sequence of time.”

Now, the starking common feature from the both these definitions are that, culture as well as traditional are multi-dimensional in nature. So let’s break down by dimensions.

Can we (or the right-wingers) defined what qualities are measured in each dimensions ? Let’s for the time being assume we can. The next question is can we sort out these dimensions according to a relevance score based on amount of preservation that we need to do. Again, let’s assume we can do so. What are the optimal value (positions) that we should set as bench-mark ? Note, here I am not questioning the rationale of converging to a particular value (which opens up another huge lot of moral arguments), I am merely asking to specify what is that we need to converge.

The hate-mongers does neither of these three. The lack of specification is an effective tool, in-fact it is when the extremes of two social forces meet, anarchism packaged as conservatism; nothing can be more potent that that! It is dis-heartening to recollect that how in past couple of decades our nation has ripped apart; by poisonous and under-(nil)-specified {political|religious|geographical}-bogus arguments.
ps: I wish a wikipedian order can transcend to our public political and debate space where I can express my [[citation needed]] tag freely and liberally.