A note on the Indian National Congress

The New York Times, reporting on Modi’s win in India –

What scion? Rahul Gandhi is a mediocre politician at best, and a terrible orator on most days. His gaffes at the mic and in front of the media are legendary. Videos of him screwing up basic general knowledge, though certainly well edited by the BJP and its paid media houses, shed light at how utterly incapable he is as a leader.

I’m as liberal as they come, and to me, it is a joke that the media pits Modi’s wins as the rise of nationalism vs the liberal left. It is not. It is a backlash against Congress, one of the most corrupt political parties in the world. In many ways, Modi’s victories are not just the BJP and Amit Shah’s doing. The ‘blame’ lies also on Congress’ own shoulders. Here are the reasons –

  1. The first mistake Congress has made is corruption. Decades of corruption scandals, unchecked fraud, unjailed politicians and business leaders, and unending investigations, have led the commoner to believe less and less in the party’s ability to lead us into the next century. In that backdrop, any leader who shows a spine would seem to be a better option, let alone someone with media savvy and a track record for economic growth.
  2. The next mistake is complacency. What change has Congress brought in itself, that voters would look to them with hope? The biggest joke is the idea of the politician working for the people (I don’t even want to address the ‘servant of the people’ idea), because that’s not what dynastic politics is about – it’s about serving oneself and one’s own future generations. At every step, Congress has done well for its own coffers, but less and less for the people. That is not to say that there has not been economic growth under Congress, but has been been due to, or despite? The current political climate in India is a response to that question.
  3. The most important mistake that Congress has made is that it is not a political party of India. It is the Gandhis’ political party in India. It is a personal club that every Gandhi automatically has entry into. This is wrong. If Congress wants to become relevant again at the national stage, it needs to come out of the shadow of its current leaders and let new voices be heard. The definition of letting the youth take reins is not the let the next Gandhi in line become your new lynchpin.

I’ve called before for the removal of Mark Zuckerberg as CEO of Facebook. Regardless of who has been responsible of the many, many security and privacy blunders by Facebook over the years, the person most responsible for them, the one who set company culture, who oversaw the main aspects of how Facebook makes money, is Zuckerberg. Letting him go will let Facebook focus on what is important – building a platform people want to come to. Right now, Facebook is mired in infighting, theatrics, and a faltering ethical compass that is not helped by Zuckerberg’s total domination over the platforms he runs.

The same is true for Rahul Gandhi. Far from being a charismatic leader or an adept politician, Gandhi is a no-name entity in Indian politics, bound to keep making the same mistakes or worse, that have so marked Congress’ recent history in India. Why should the people not demand his and all other Gandhis’ removal from the party, so that it can reboot, refresh, and move forward?

The Indian democracy is still young, and can afford to make some mistakes. But letting the Gandhis maintain control over Congress is not just a small mistake. It weakens the largest democracy in the world by beholding an entire national entity to the whims of a few inept politicians. The path from being the largest democracy to the greatest one lies through a few important sacrifices.

Let’s make sure that we hold Congress responsible for their choices, so that India as a country can make better ones.

Vice News Tonight should not have covered these two topics on April 27th

We watch Vice News very frequently. Every few days, we’ll sit and watch the Vice News Tonight for the last few days. It’s almost become a ritual now – a few days of Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu, then one night of Vice. It’s a good way to get a very different perspective on world news.

I’ve never had any problem with the way they cover their topics. But recently, I saw the April 27th episode and I have a request and a complaint. Vice News Tonight made a mistake with these two topics –

  1. Milo
  2. The writers guild strike

The Milo topic should just not be covered. Why give a vile man any more screen space than he deserves – none? The entire segment was just dedicated to giving him as much time to show his face as possible. That’s just offensive to anyone with any sensibility.

The writers guild strike is an important and interesting topic. But after the initial explanation of the topic, the Vice News reporter launched into a story about how the writers’ strike has helped Donald Trump in the past. There are many different perspectives from which this topic would be very interesting and I’m sorry to say but this was by far the worst of them all.

I understand that Vice must give a certain level of creative freedom to their reporters and must also consider a lot of variables when thinking about how to best present a story. But among all those ways to cover the story is also the wrong and untimely one. Had the question been about Donald Trump’s rise to celebrity, this would have been the right approach. But it wasn’t. It was about how the writers’ guild strike would affect people – viewers, writers, and those dependent on the writers to churn out scripts. The segment ignored all of them to focus on the one man who could easily not have been brought into the topic.

Vice also ensures that when we see a topic, we look at the money behind it. The report about bats and the white nose disease told us how bats save billions of dollars worth of crops a year. The report about Nollywood told how it is a $3 Billion business, instead of just focusing on the cultural aspect of it. The report about Bananas and monocultures showed us that depending on a single clone of a crop is just bananas. But when it came to the writers guild topic, they went off on a tangent.

Hopefully Vice will not make such editorial mistakes again. I love every TV offering by Vice and feel they really hit the mark every time. Which is why it’s irritating when they missed this one time.

How to make GIFs of sites using WayBackMachine

So… I like following fivethirtyeight’s interesting 2016 Election Prediction page. It shows the ups and downs and the general mood of the election. I’ve been staring at it for so long that I wanted to collect the daily changes and make a nice GIF. I know the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine collects archives of popular websites, so I went there and found that the Election Prediction page is on there too.

So, I started looking for ways to make a GIF from the WayBack machine. There were some node and ruby scripts and applications which didn’t really work. But then I landed on waybacklapse. Its developer – Kyle Purdon – works for bitly and has built two versions of waybacklapse. The older one is python, node, imagemagick and then some. The newer one is python3 and docker. Eww. I followed the steps of the tutorial for the older version, with a few notable exceptions –

  1. The tutorial is for OS X and is a little dated. What I have on hand is an Ubuntu 15.04 VM, so I went ahead and used apt-get install instead of brew
  2. The tut tells you to use the command “git checkout -t v1.1.0”, but it should be “git checkout -b v1.1.0”. Technically v1.1.0 is a tag, not a branch, but I didn’t know that and just used -b, which worked, so why mess with a good thing, amiright?
  3. You need to have node installed, but not the new node. Install old node with “apt-get install nodejs-legacy” and use the command “nodejs app.js” when you’re running screenshot-as-a-service
  4. The tut doesn’t mention that you need to actually *run* screenshot-as-a-service. I went to the github page for the service and found out that I need to run the above “nodejs app.js” command in order to run a server on the localhost. Technically, waybacklapse has code in it to warn you that the server isn’t running. But that didn’t work so well for me.
  5. The user prompts for waybacklapse only allow for monthly or yearly snapshots. But fivethirtyeight has only been running the site for about 3 months, with daily updates, so those didn’t make sense to me. I wanted to get all the changes. So, after installing waybacklapse with pip, I went ahead and modified the code inside /usr/local/lib/python2.7/dist-packages/waybacklapse/waybacklapse.py with one small change to get all the screenshots instead of just monthly or yearly ones –
    1. In the create_payload function, I commented out the collapse variable as follows –

All was well and good, but not really. Turns out, screenshot-as-a-service pulls a screenshot of the entire page, not just above the fold. Which is great, and not so much. I was looking at a GIF that was way too long to be palatable. So, I needed a way to extracts parts of the screenshots so I could make a nice, clean and small-ish GIF. Luckily, waybacklapse made me install imagemagick. So I looked around and made the following script.

It must sit inside the screenshot folder. It parses through the screenshots and converts them into smaller versions of themselves. Finally, I found the command inside waybacklapse which creates the GIF. I modified it a bit and used it to recreate the GIF.

convert -delay 30 /root/fivethirtyeight/2016081011081470853418/final-*.png /root/fivethirtyeight/2016081011081470853418/timelapse/2016electionforecastss.gif

Now, I could go about changing waybacklapse and submitting the code to the author, but he’s moved on to docker and in-house solutions for the dependencies, so I doubt it’ll be a benefit to anyone. Instead, I’ll just leave these notes here so I can reference them in the future. If they helped you, shout out in the comments section. Oh, and I’ll leave you with the GIF I made. –

FiveThirtyEight's Election Forecast in a GIF

Word of the day: Russophobia

Ever since I read the novel Poland by James Michener, I’ve been interested in Poland and its neighbors. Thus, I follow a few organizations which often talk about Poland, one of which is the Center for Eastern Studies(OSW) based in Warsaw. They run an online publication which explains what‘s been going on in Eastern Europe in detail. Today, I can across a Point of View article on their site which talks about Russophobia, which is the political and information strategy used by Russia to make its residents believe that the Western world hates/fears/wants to destroy Russia. All well and good. They run a propaganda machine and we understand that.

Reading the paper, I came across this quote, found in footnote 11 on page 16 of the PDF document –

He regrets that the “ungrateful” Ukrainians are dismantling monuments to Lenin, “to whom, after all, they owe the awakening of Ukrainian national consciousness.”

‘He’ is a former head of a Russian intelligence analytic group. The words above echoed in my mind and connected the dots with another topic I’ve read about today. What could I be thinking of while reading those words? Well, here‘s the quote –

“Those involved in this ludicrous case should recognize that the British Crown Jewels is precisely the right place for the Koh-i-Noor diamond to reside, in grateful recognition for over three centuries of British involvement in India, which led to the modernization, development, protection, agrarian advance, linguistic unification and ultimately the democratization of the sub-continent.”

Who said that? Historian Andrew Roberts, in regards to the latest case by an Indian group, asking for the return of the crown jewel, Koh-i-noor, of which they believe India is the rightful owner. Andrew Roberts, of course, disagrees.

Notice the similarity in the statements? The oppressive power, having trampled, abused, stripped of all riches and domineered over the oppressed nation, then assumes a state of victim-hood and faux-chivalry. “We gave you education, liberty, civilization and nationality, and this is how you repay us?”

Frankly, this ugly act is ill-suited to super-powers. They are aware of their transgressions and should accept their role in enslaving the masses of their colonies instead of acting like hurt Starfleet officers thwarted in their attempts to uplift the masses of an alien civilization.

The fact of the matter is that the Prime Directive has only been a myth of science fiction and history has always shown that the greater power will only suppress the lesser, no matter how much their historians wax eloquent about the noble goals with which these super-powers stepped on foreign soil. At the end of the day, this propagandist Russophobia and this false British victim-hood isn’t fooling anyone.

 

Word of the day: bugbear

A bugbear, according to Wikipedia is a legendary creature (not epic, just the stuff of stories) similar to a bogeyman, mostly used to frighten children into obedience. It was used in this article today to describe how India perceives China’s influence (interference?) in regional affairs in South East Asia –

And then there is China, India’s regional bugbear.

The article is titled ‘Why India is concerned about Nepal’s constitution’ and talks about how India is worried that Nepal’s new constitution is not comprehensive enough. This has caused concern among residents of the southern plains of Nepal, known as the Terai. The communities living in Terai, including the Madeshis and the Tharu ethnic minorities, which comprise about 40% of Nepal’s population do not agree with the seven federal provinces delineated in the constitution and this has caused violence in those regions. India is rightfully concerned that this violence will spill over to Bihar, which is something that has happened in the past, during Nepal’s long and bloody battle with Maoism.

I spent some time this year reading the book ‘The Bullet and the Ballot Box’ by Aditya Adhikari, which talks about Nepal’s struggle with the Maoist revolution and how everything in Nepali politics has one looming external factor which plays a heavy role in deciding things – India. No analysis of Nepal’s history is complete without looking at India’s interference in their local politics. The following are some highlights which I made while reading the book. They may seem out of context, but I hope to write these out along with explanations in a later post one day, so please skim through them for now. These are excerpts from the book –

At the heart of the matter was the question of how Nepali communists should view the monarchy, the parliamentary parties and the Indian state.

The monarchy, the parliamentary parties and the Indian government were equally their enemy.

A number of Bhattarai’s colleagues from university had gone on to careers in Indian politics, civil service and academia, and so he was tasked with contacting them. In early 2002, Bhattarai managed to contact the Indian Prime Minister’s Office through his old acquaintance, S. D. Muni, a scholar of Nepali politics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University who had briefly been ambassador to Laos.

Prachanda raised the spectre of an Indian invasion to provide ideological justification for a royalist–Maoist alliance among the party’s rank and file […]

Soon after, India announced a freeze on military aid to Nepal, as did the United Kingdom and the United States.

But India, unplacated, maintained its arms embargo. Gyanendra then resorted to a strategy his father had used in the past: he sought to cultivate China as a counterweight against India. India, ever wary of Chinese influence in Nepal, only grew more hostile towards the Nepali government.

Never before had the Maoists been able to establish contacts at such high levels of the Indian establishment. Antagonized by Gyanendra’s extreme measures and his efforts to cultivate China, the Indian political class, which had hitherto seen the Maoists only as a terrorist group, was growing less reluctant to recognize them as a political force.

Although India was not a signatory to the twelve-point agreement, it did influence its content. Various Nepali leaders had long been requesting mediation from international bodies like the UN to resolve the conflict. India did not want any third-party involvement […]

Hindu groups in both Nepal and India were outraged by the godless regime’s tampering with sacred tradition.

Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee had assured the president of their support for revoking the government’s decision.

The Indian state was familiar with such games. They had, after all, been played before, often successfully, in dealing with hostile groups in Kashmir and Northeast India.

The above notes may seem as random lines picked up from the book, but the underlying pattern is clear – While India may always be afraid of China and their growing strength in every country around India, for smaller countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka, the only bugbear to be scared of is India, their giant next door neighbor.

Word of the Day: sabre-rattling

Sabre-rattling, according to Wiktionary, is from the early 20th century when a military officer would threaten to draw his sabre as part of an argument. But the metaphorical meaning is an overt show of military strength to prove a point or to imply a threat. It was recently used by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, to accuse Russia of unwarranted “sabre rattling” when Russia declared that it would be adding forty Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to its nuclear arsenal this year. That, of course, in response to increased US activity in NATO allied eastern European countries, which of course, Putin sees as a threat.

“This nuclear sabre-rattling of Russia is unjustified. This is something we are addressing, and it’s also one of the reasons we are now increasing the readiness and preparedness of our forces,” Stoltenberg said.

Continue reading

“Which way to Svoboda?”

I was reading a BBC news report of how, recently, pro-Russian sites are popping up in the Czech web sphere, which could allude to some serious USSR-style propaganda. The article referenced the 1968 Prague Spring, which was when the then Czechoslovakia government tried to establish reforms which would lead to freedoms to the press and private sector, the division of Czechoslovakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia and a general upliftment of the people who were suffering cruelly under the rule of the Soviet Bloc. Needless to say, Soviet Russia didn’t take kindly to this and, along with their friends of the Warsaw Pact (Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and East Germany) attacked Czechoslovakia to take back control.

Of course, they won. Even with the way things were under the USSR, they had tanks, weaponry and manpower and Czechoslovakia had, well, a leader who told his people not to resist. But resist they did. Without the necessary means to win the war, they resisted in the only other noble way – confound the heck out of the enemy. In the most peaceful way, road and street signs across the country were painted over or removed so as to completely confuse the incoming force.

The result was hilarious. Supposedly, one could see troops stopped in rural areas trying to study maps and making sense of how every village they’d visited was called either Dubček or Svoboda (which means freedom). Road signs were painted over, except those that led to Moscow. The result of that was that an invading force from Poland spent a day roaming around before being routed out of the country, empty-handed.

Now, these reports come from Wikipedia and further from two separate sources, but I’d say you should take them with a grain of salt regarding their veracity. However, the point to understand is that in those days, it was possible to confound an incoming force by the sheer ingenuity of changing your road signs and hiding all the maps. Of course, today’s military will simply whip out their iPhones and tell you where to invade next. But this episode lends importance to the idea that with the accumulation of power so dependent on finding your enemy, it is important to also control the means of finding the enemy in the first place. This is obviously the reason why countries like Russia, China and India as well as the EU are working to create their own version of the GPS system (which, mind you, is owned by the US Government).

Clearly, in tomorrow’s war, one of the first efforts will be to either block the enemy’s signals, thereby preventing them from finding our accurate locations. The other, more radical one, would be to try to shoot down their navigation satellites, a scenario that has given birth to more science fiction movies than we care to admit.

But, going back to that wondrous time when people still had to use maps and ask for directions from locals, I must say that it is remarkable that someone thought of the simple idea that perhaps one way of stalling the enemy is to paint over the signs which will tell them how to get to the capital. That’s your trivia for the day.

Word of the Day: illiberalism

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, illiberalism, quite simply, is the lack of liberal values. But that begs the question, what is liberalism? Is it the ability of a community to be forward thinking and self-critical? Is it the incessant forward march of a government without caring for the social, political and emotive values of its peoples? Or is it the protection of the freedom of expression of an author writing about a sensitive topic with the backdrop of a community to which he does not belong? Hindustan Times certainly believes in the last definition.

First, it shows that it is not only the sangh parivar or Islamic organisations that are at the forefront of such illiberalism.

Source: Liberal values are being trampled upon in Tamil Nadu

The issue at hand is that the author Puliyur Murugesan wrote a bookBalachandran Enra Peyarum Enakkundu (I am also known as Balachandran), about the life and troubles of a transgender, who is sexually harassed throughout life and faces an upward battle of identity. The protagonist belongs to the Gounder community and by now, you would have guessed where this is going.

The Gounder community decided to take offence to this ‘insult’ to their people and instead of rationally sitting down with the writer and asking for edits to the story or a total redaction, decided that the better course of action would be to abduct the author and brutally beat him up in the middle of nowhere. To add insult to literal injury, the police has filed a case against the author for provoking a riot, writing and circulating obscene content, selling a book containing defamatory matter, intentional provocation of breach of peace and causing fear or alarm to public. Wonderful, isn’t it?

HT, in their laconic article, asked an interesting question – why is it that only current authors face the brunt of such injustice? Why do authors such as Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, the acclaimed author of Devdas, who “had made uncharitable remarks about some non-Bengali Brahmin clans”, not face such public ridicule and outrage? Perhaps, if it were in fashion, political parties and illiberal communities will also start attacking famous people from India’s history books. Oh wait, they already do!

Word of the day: calumny

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

According to Bing Definitions, calumny means defamation or a defamatory statement. Most certainly applied where the writer wants to depict the vilest of attacks on a person’s character, calumny is used by Sunil Dutta in his piece today, talking about the terrible tragedy currently unfolding in Ferguson, MO. He uses it as follows –

It is also a terrible calumny; cops are not murderers.

Source: I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me. – The Washington Post

Sunil talks about the Ferguson riots and the near-military state situation from a seat of experience. He was with the LAPD for 17 years before he started his teaching career. While some might see the article as a simple Do/Do Not list for when one is approached by a police officer, the underlying tone is that of frustration. Too often, people overreact to a casual situation when a cop is involved, myself included. Sunil explains how the officers themselves are mere humans who are trained well to be calm in all situations, but have legal backing to take action in case they feel that their own life or the lives of others is threatened.

Sunil’s explanation for police violence is that it is never brought forth against people who follow the rules, remain calm and obey orders. He agrees there are exceptions in terms of corrupt or aggressive cops, but the majority of incidents that happen are because of people who act out against cops. This might seem like a very opinionated view, but that’s exactly what’s needed right now. No one is talking from a coherent point of view from the other side. The police are being demonized by media from all over the world and no one from the authorities are talking about the investigation into the incident.

John Gruber, a blogger and Internet personality, has criticized this article by summarizing the suggestions laid out by the article as follows – “Don’t question authority or you might get beaten or shot. Astounding.” Frankly, that’s a fairly negative and populist opinion. What happened that night in Ferguson was a tragedy, but if you look at it from the side of those charged with not just uphold the law but also to enforce it, you’ll realize that there’s more to every such story than mere shades of black and white.

UnAAPologetically Indian

So, Kejriwal is in jail for a defamation case (charged, not convicted) and India’s social janta is going nuts after the fact. Ever since he quit his short-term Chief Minister-ship of Delhi, the people of India have rebuked, ridiculed and made Kejriwal the butt of every political joke not directed towards Rahul baba. Now, people are asking if he’s relevant any more, whether being sent to jail means his political career is at an end and if he should just remain there. Continue reading