Saturday, September 15, 2012

India and China

While India sinks slowly into morass - the India Shining story having been replaced by India Whining and finally India sinking, if anybody still thinks we are competing in China - here is a reality check.

From the moment you enter Tibet (now a part of China for all practical purposes), the roads are smooth at all places. Yes. Read that right. There is no pothole in Tibet. There are beautiful roads- sufficiently wide, with shoulders if required at heights that go almost upto 4000 metres in hilly mountainous terrain - the kind of terrain which we would rate as 'navigable by mules'. And these have been built in fairly quick time.

On the contrary, our marquee cities (barring Delhi which since our senior politicians cannot take bad roads) have as much potholes as the moon has craters. And in our cities,  where mostly we dont have an altitude of 4000 metres nor are we hampered by mountainous terrain, our roads suck. Bigtime. And we take about a year to build a flyover - there are some which have taken 3 or 5. Yes, in our cities. And I am not talking about Arunachal Pradesh.

Exhibit II. In China, the mobile network is crystal clear - everywhere highways, mountains, deserts, lakes - you can call up your family from Mount Kailas and get them to talk to Shiva as well (in case you found him). The network is that clear.

And in our cities (forget highways, villages and other parts), we still have people dangling off buildings to 'catch' the signal. Near my place, I experience enough 'Bermuda triangles' where the network just dies.

If we are a superpower, it is in scams. Nothing else.

What social media can you ban?

Our ruling Under Performance Alliance alliance has a plan up their sleeves. Of banning Social Media. Because they think, social media is the root cause of a lot of rumours. What is unsaid is that it comes in the way of covering up scandals, turning up heat on the media (bowled over by the Congress) and prevents the glorification of the dynasty (raison d’etre of existence of some media outlets).

Claiming social media as the reason for the recent political disturbances and riots, many worthies would like social media to be clamped. Like banning it in certain states for certain durations (read election time) or during communally sensitive times (the rest of the time when we have no elections).

It is also an amazing coincidence that the leading opposition party and a certain Mr. Modi and his supporters are big on social media.

Think about it. If we ban Facebook and Twitter to begin with, will that be an end to rumours? Perhaps not. There are many other social media sites – like Orkut, Myspace and then some. That will have to be banned too. And then there are independent websites which often fake pictures. And then don’t forget that the internet carries this whole message, right? But what about newspapers that may print those pictures? Don’t they deserve to be banned too? And people, real human beings, circulate these very pictures.

And by the way many newspapers commit mistakes (mostly unintentionally, but who knows especially when it comes to politics) while printing. And the next day, they carry an apology of an apology on a forgotten corner of a page – which nobody reads.

Where am I heading? The point being, social media is a small part of rumours. Rumours have been around possibly since the time humans reached a sizeable number and had an evolved mechanism of communication like language. During the NE ‘exodus’ from Bangalore, the security guards at my apartment left not because they received SMS’es or they were on FB/Twitter, but because there were physical threats. And when we spoke to them – they said, we are afraid for our lives, therefore we will leave. The whole debate about social media and SMS ignores  the fact that physical threats were also a big part of the shameful return of NE people from various parts of India.

Will banning SMS’es and social media sites let us live in a rumour free society? Unlikely. A few years ago, there was a run on ICICI Bank – once in 2008 and once before. These rumours did not happen due to social media. Word of mouth rumours spread regardless of whether social media exists or it doesn’t. Infact, the opposite is true – that many a mass rumour can be quelled using social media. The KP exodus out of Kashmir happened without any ‘social media’. Many an organized protest and rumour mongering and riot has happened in India way before social media existed in its present form.

Take this great example of the American revolution of Paul Revere – covered by Malcolm Gladwel in his book Tipping Point: On the night of April 18th, 1775, Paul Revere was instructed to ride from Boston to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British Army was marching towards Boston.   He set out near midnight for Revere’s now famous 2-hour, 13 mile journey.  Along the way to Lexington Revere stopped at numerous small villages to warn the townspeople of the impending threat.  In every town he knocked on doors and explained the situation to local villagers.  The result was that news of the British troop movements spread like wildfire.  Church bells rang.  Drums were beat.  Revere’s actions are believed to have triggered as many as 40 additional riders were believed to have traveled throughout the surrounding areas on horseback to spread the news.  The viral nature of Revere’s message resulted in a well-organized and fierce resistance for the British when they arrived in Lexington. [Link]

What is viral marketing for one, is rumour for another.

Throughout human existence, viral messages have been spreading. Community gatherings are hotspots for rumours. The old chaupal were people gathered under a tree in villages are very effective to spread rumours. Leaflets have been used in the past. Also, you will find black boards in many intersections across the country – with the latest news. Again, great way to spread rumours. And of course, mass media like TV and newspapers have also played their parts in spreading rumours. Telephones incidentally help spread rumours.

Then, the logical way to quell rumours to to ban all media? Social or otherwise? And then considering that human beings are social animals, any interaction is also bound to potentially cause a rumour? In which case, we should all be gagged? Is that the direction we are heading towards?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Leftist Corporate

It would be funny if it were not an irony to see people who make their living off comfortable jobs hold leftist views. How does one explain that many of our corporate warriors who earn capitalist salaries hold leftist views? This also includes trusts and NGOs and businesses which are floated with capitalist earnings yet whose owners evangelize a leftist vision.

Do I hear you say, what is wrong with that? Practically everything.

Any corporate job is based on a simple premise. Merit. There is nothing other than merit that gets you there. In a way it reflects the market they serve in. The products and services they sell are not sold or bought for any other reason than the fact that they serve their target market in terms of price or service.

Yes, you will be tempted to jump in saying that companies and product markets are hotbeds of caste and religion and discrimination. Find out how many purchased their last car or washing power or mobile phone or software based on caste or religion. Also find out how many people are retained in companies only due their last names. Quite a few, you may say. Unfortunately, any company that prefers this mode will find itself out distanced by the competitor who follows merit because the marketplace is unforgiving.

Case in point, government enterprises, where political patronage triumphs merit are inevitably behind their private peers. Sure, some exceptions remain but they are mostly in monopolistic areas.

In a nutshell, this is what drives capitalism. Capitalism is all about people and markets. Socialism (and leftism) on the other hand is an enforced order where the government (an all-knowing god) decides what the minions deserve and proceed to serve this fare to them over 5 year plans that inevitably fail.

In an utopia, this will work, but in any society it wont. Because the natural scheme of any society is progress and evolution. Even in religions where equality is claimed, discrimination is rampant. You might as well be open about it and let people progress. And even in socialist countries, there is a vast difference in the quality of life of leaders, important cats paws and the common folks. Ask yourself who is working on making life better? And who should? People or planners? Or both?

And this where it all falls in place. When you lead a life of capitalism - which is all about you having a job or running your own business in a market - it is fairly impossible for you to substantiate leftism - while you quaff mineral water and eat at fancy (or ordinary) restaurants. When you head a trust that makes its money off corporate donations - please do not go out and diss the corporates for the work they do especially at capitalistic cocktail parties and capitalist conferences (airfare paid by capitalists, please note).

Look closely and you will find that the corporate organization is far better organized and set up than your average political party or NGO or trust. The corporates shun nepotism unlike your dynastic political parties. Also, note that the corporate is structured as an 'going concern' whereas the others usually decline or die once their leaders decline.

So, if you are still a leftist, please give up your corporate job, shun corporate and business donations and wear unbranded clothes, go to government hospitals and eat dal chawal (bought from PDS stores, preferably). Beyond that your argument is about as valid as a certain activist who lives in a house built on encroached land while arguing for tribal rights!

(Cross posted at Friends of BJP)