Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Much Ado About “Nothing we didn’t already know”

Confidential reports about the state of the war in Afghanistan was recently released by an organization called Wikileaks :- an organization devoted to whistle blowing (collecting and releasing documents that wikileaks feels the public ought to know). It headlined in 3 leading newspapers :- NyTimes, Guardian, Der Spiegel, while every other piece of news including Iran’s sudden “ Oh. Now that you really really really mean to punish me by meting out sanctions, is there somewhere we can sit and discuss this?” was fully submerged. By the end of the day, the documents’ revelations- ISI collusion with the Taliban, civilian casualty, bribe and corruption, the strength of Taliban’s military capability were concluded as “there’s nothing new here. We already knew this.” Yet the manner in which it all came out, the sensational undercover Wikileaks organization, its platinum-blonde, handsome and forthright editor-in-chief & spokesperson Julian Assange and the sheer magnitude of the reports made it meaty media material.

Editorials and opinions swarmed the internet, and again, they concluded that we knew all this already. Perhaps a few things have been distorted. We were lead to believe that American Helicopters were shot down by guns and artillery whereas they were shot down by heat seaking missiles that the Taliban possess. Some of the money going into the war is being used to bribe Afghan officials into doing their job. Afghan civilians are even more scared about the Taliban than we originally thought. But really, these are questions of degree, not of outright lying and purposeful misleading. Terrorism in Afghanistan is real and present. If it isn’t stopped, the rest of the world is going to be attacked. AGAIN.

White house officials for their part got all childish and insisted that it put their troops in risk (because until now the Taliban and the ISI thought that the US had believed their bluff about being nice people ???). They insisted that the person who had passed on these reports be found and prosecuted, only making ordinary people ask “ Why are you so scared that we know the truth. What else are you hiding from us. Did we never land on the moon either ?”. Ultimately however, everyone had to at least revisit their opinion about the war strategy.

For a while now, people have pretended that this war is anything like other wars- where the battlefields are clear, where civilians can wait safely in their houses, risking only those lives that are in the battlezone. And we’ve also pretended that there is a mathematics to it that will let us set an unambiguous deadline for finishing the war and heading home. It seems that the American people must be reminded more frequently that Afghan Terrorism exists today because we sought their help while fighting the commies and then hung them to dry when we’d finished with Russia. We left them in the lurch then. To do that again would be not only foolhardy, not only unfair, but also dangerous. Afghan anger against Americans and allied forces is fully justified. So also is their fear and perhaps even their belief that the Taliban will do them more good as long as they listened and abided by every radical rule that was imposed on them. To earn Afghan loyalty is of prime importance – as rightly and strongly outlined in Gen. Petraeus’s CounterInsurgency Field Manuals. To abandon them, when some of them may at last be seeing hope outside of Taliban’s dictatorship would be ridiculous. Earning trust is not something we can put a timestamp on. Neither is saying “we’ll protect you for the next 3 years. After that we’ll throw you to a pack of wolves”, which is what it must seem like to the Afghans. Thankfully, the US congress finally approved more funds for the war and perhaps president Obama will stop the nonsense about discussing timelines come December.

Meanwhile, all is not lost. Media in Afghanistan is ramping up. At least some people are looking at soap operas, of lives lived in foreign lands and are beginning to wonder if they could live like that too. Gossiping about the neighbor, plotting against mother-in-laws may be a luxury that they will soon begin to yearn. At least some people are listening to criticism against the Taliban and are wondering if there may be some truth to it. And at least some of them are looking at images of cities with roads, hospitals and education and are hoping that they too can be like that someday.

And already women are beginning to get enrolled in schools. And people are beginning to talk to each other non-stop on cellphones and landlines. And thanks to US occupation, many of them can at least apply a band-aid on a gash if not have their hip replaced. Some of this is worth fighting a really long time. Even if the peace lasts only a day or two, there will be some kids that will go on to remember what it was like to play in fields of hay and will strive to make that last in turn.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Not another friggin choice!

Disclaimer : As usual, I'm 2 years behind on "what's-up-in-gizmo-land". But what the heck... my emotion is very current.

So I read about these uber smart chaps who want to save the planet (whether they believe in climate change is beside the point), and they've come up with a way to help.


So from now on, instead of having a million receipts in ur hand, you can have them all emailed to you.

This means for some of you, you'll have additional labels and filters in your gmail and everything will be neatly organized. And you can keep track of every starbucks latte you've had. Some of you whack-jobs will then write this tiny program to extract all the starbucks lattes you've had and plot it on a graph to track caffeine intake and probably correlate it with your work productivity/sleep deprivation/food binges/ paranoia. Note: Please factor in all the time it took for you to write this crazy program, instead of you-know, doing real work. And hey, while it doesn't sound like it, trust me, I salute you.

This is what it means for me.
Another choice ?

This means a series of answers at the checking counter.

Cash or card.
Credit or debit.
Swipe a million times coz the credit card machine really likes being polite and certain.
Do you want it in your hand, in a bag, giftwrapped ?
Do u want a paper bag or a plastic bag.
Do you want the receipt in ur hand or in the bag.


would you like the receipt emailed to you ?

Please give me your email address.
Is it right ?

< I don't even want to go into whether there's going to be an additional verification step; perhaps you have to login, click a link, enter a captcha, perhaps set another online shopping account, with secret password questions and hints. I'm sure they'll tell you that if you created an account, you can set the choices such that the store will never have to ask you what your preferred billing method. Pretty soon, there will also be another one of those iphone apps for it. Maybe you just have to wave the iphone across their computer and it'll figure it out >

You know what I don't care. Just do what pleases you.

Coz I am now going to end up with a million receipts in my hand, bag and in my email address that I going to completely lose track of what I'm spending. This is how financial collapses happen. By giving people completely unwarranted freebies.
Luxury of choice, by definition, shouldnt be this affordable.

Congress! Are you listening! I know you love freedom of everything (including the right to bear firearms ???), but could you please curb some of my freedom to make choices ? Can u mandate that every single store, across the board, does exactly one thing ?



Since you love making databases, can u at least let me register my choice once and have all these guys who're so desperate to keep me happy, know what I want, instead of asking me every single time ?

Coz what I really want, is not to make these many decisions.

All I want is my latte.
And the most I'm willing to do... in order for you... to keep me happy... is to tell u I want it non-fat with caramel sauce. That's it.

If that's good enough for me, it had better be good enough for you.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Putting it simply!

For US : The education system

For India : Absolutely everything else!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

the Amnesiac

What did the great sages and scribes have in mind when they sat down and painstakingly chronicled the nature of human folly; when they etched it on papyrus and couched it in so grand a setting that the stories would be told to children for ages to come. Might they have been in awe of the possibility of imagination ? To experience an entire story as if it were he in that story, he in that miserable state, he who is caught in the grips of passion and he who is enduring an ordeal so painful that it ought to have been avoided. And surely showing us the ways in which our ancestors became successful, the ways in which they failed, the things that made them laugh and the things that made them cry, would settle once and for all what each of us must do in our miniscule time on earth- rather like the stars and the galaxies had managed to settle among themselves what they need to do over and over again across millenia.

Yet. We forget. All the time we forget about our errors. And the few times we remember, we convince ourselves that we are now so practiced in erring that we are incapable of making them any longer. And all the time enemies are made for reasons that should've long since stopped surprising us but each time we are caught off-guard. Wars are fought over things we needn't desire and we never stop. And all the time we burn our fingers as though since the last time, we'd grown an entirely new kind of skin. All the time we feel hurt, pain and anguish and we promise ourselves never to let it happen again. For reasons not altogether different, it happens again. And we're shocked. Did the scribes forget man's impressive ability to forget ?

Everyday children attempt to walk after falling over and over again. They forget the pain. And everyday mothers feed their children having forgotten the need for gratitude. And in several corners of the world scientists and artists are experimenting, having forgotten the embarrassment of their last failure. And all over the world peope are learning to love again having forgotten the last time their heart was broken. And several of these children will fall again before they really walk. And mothers will cry quiet tears at night. And scientists will go drinking at bars and new lovers will sometimes never go on to become old lovers.

But when the cavemen drew gory drawings about wolves who steal his kids, we tamed the wolves into dogs. When they drew about the wrongful deaths of their brothers who asked nothing else but their fair share in the day's bounty, we came to create democracy. The scribes told us about the scary world, about the hyena ridden valleys and the cheetah's lair. And we crossed all of that and made it to the moon. And there we saw the stars and the galaxies repeating their lives all the time. But they too are moving further and further, faster and faster, in search of something. They clash, collide and bang their heads against enormous walls and seethe in fury.

Meanwhile, the universe decrees rather simply that we RINSE......