Open minds for open societies

These are extracts of extracts of Michael Bloomberg’s speech to the graduating class of University of Michigan

Today, elected officials who decide to support a controversial policy don’t just get angry letters, phone calls and faxes. They also get millions of angry tweets and Facebook posts denouncing them in the harshest possible terms. This is democracy in action. But this kind of instant condemnation also makes elected officials afraid to do things that, in their heart of hearts, they know are right….

…. In 1960, only 4 to 5 percent of Democrats and Republicans said they would be upset if a member of their family married someone from the opposing party. In 2010, one in three Democrats and one in two Republicans said they would disapprove of such a marriage. In 1960, most people would never have believed that interparty marriage would attract such resistance, while interracial and same-sex marriage would gain such acceptance. [Link]

Specifically about what colleges are for:

The whole purpose of college is to learn how to deal with difficult situations — not run away from them. A microaggression is exactly that: micro. And one of the most dangerous places on a college campus is a safe space, because it creates the false impression that we can insulate ourselves from those who hold different views.

We can’t do this, and we shouldn’t try — not in politics or in the workplace. In the global economy, and in a democratic society, an open mind is the most valuable asset you can possess. [Link]

Cross posted here.

A good result for Virat Kohli

It was the best result for Virat Kohli in the end. What? Have I lost it? No. Stay with me. I wrote, after his stunning performance against Australia, that his self-belief was staggering and that it was even frightening. On Thursday evening and in the build-up to the semi-finals match, the ‘frightening’ part had taken over. In an oft-seen and familiar story of media and the man making each other, taking turns, Kohli’s persona had taken on a much larger-than-life image. Against Australia, he was focused and he allowed himself the luxury of a pumped fist only after a six in the closing overs of the game that brought India closer to victory.

But, here, it was half substance and half show. No doubt that he batted brilliantly again in the final overs but there was the showmanship, unmistakably, which was missing in the ‘quarter-final’ match against Australia. There was no rudeness; unsportsmanlike behaviour or anything like that. But, the image appeared just a shade bigger than the man. I could have been imagining too.

So, when he came on to bowl – I must say that it was a good decision – and took a wicket, it appeared that he could do nothing wrong. Dhoni trusting the man of the moment to turn dust into gold seemed like a brilliant instinctive play. It was not to be. The winning runs were hit off Kohli.

Turn to Chris Gayle. This match was billed as the contest between Kohli and Gayle. Kohli had played his part. A circumspect Gayle did hit a boundary but his attempt to be too responsible made him miss a dipping full toss. Had he batted with his usual attitude, he might have whacked it for runs, if not a six.

So, in a way, both the showmen came up short in their own ways, when it mattered. That might sound too harsh, in particular, as a judgement against Kohli. But, I suppose you get the drift. It is not a sporting judgement but a philosophical one. It matters for the game that it happened. Far more importantly, it matters to them that it happened. It is good to come down to the earth. It is more secure when the feet feel the ground beneath them. It is a different matter altogether that they may not see it this way. The system is organised in such a way as to prevent them from seeing it. But, if they can and do, they will stay and shine for long.

Kohli would have realised that there are limits to what he alone can do. Who would have thought that India would pick up two wickets off two no balls and a brilliant catch by Jadeja and Kohli would end up as a six! What a fantastic drama! Sure, most Indian fans would not have seen it that way. There was no place for fun and enjoyment amidst all the flag-waving, face paints and cupped faces. Pity.

The match, nay, this tournament, has been a victory for the Indian philosophy of Dvaita (loosely put, there is ‘us’ and there is God) over Advaita (God is intrinsic to humans). No, do not get me wrong. West Indies was not representing the Dvaita School and the Indian team the Advaita School. Hardly.

I just felt, after the match, that there had to be a God who not only had a wicked sense of humour, irony but also brilliant in story, screenplay and direction.

The memories of T-20 World Cup that preceded this one seem like a blur to me, perhaps, because I did not follow them that closely or I did and I had forgotten. That is something to remember as Indian fans fret over the defeat over the weekend. It ain’t going to last. Media and the marketing machineries will create the next mania and soon. They have to move on and so will we.

For now, however, for sheer drama, this T-20 World Cup ranks at the very top. Slow wickets, low scores and tense finishes. Batsmen not always dominating. Great sporting feats, reminders of mortality and the drama. India won when they did not appear to deserve it – against Bangladesh. Against Australia, India won when the match appeared all but truly lost. Here, India lost when they thought they had won! Humans and mortal, after all.

Such fantastic drama could not be spontaneous. It is the work of a brilliant story and scriptwriter and Director. There has to be a God – extrinsic to us – who keeps humans dancing at the end of the string, he manipulates so brilliantly.

Now, let us come to cricket. I could watch the match from the 13th over of the Indian innings. After hectic two days in Bangalore attending a Board meeting, I made it to the airport by 6 PM itself, anxious to catch the match from the beginning. My flight to Singapore was at 11 PM. I did not expect the Singapore Airline check-in counter to open before 7. They opened at around 7:35 PM. The departure hall in Bangalore airport has no TV. Immigration counters were thinly manned. By the time I made it to the lounge, 12 overs were gone. There was a bit of a lull in the Indian innings between overs 7 and 12. Those six overs yielded ‘only’ 43 runs. But, that is normal. It is hard to complain about the batting performance when the team puts up 192 on the board. I thought the score had at least a 10-run cushion for India.

Things went according to plan, for India, that is. Nehra bowled tight. Whenever he is hit for a four off the first ball, Ashish Nehra bends his back more and manages to produce a tight over despite that. He did that again in this match. Ashwin had been a disappointment against Australia and against West Indies. Perhaps, a spinner does not need to have such a big final delivery stride. Well, that is hindsight wisdom. Some have criticised Dhoni for not giving more than two overs to his star bowler. But, the man watching the bowler from behind the stumps knows his rhythm. I think Dhoni was right to ‘rest’ Ashwin after two overs, in both the games. One more ego downsized, at least for the moment. Around the 12th over of the West Indies innings, it dawned on me that they were very much in the game. So it turned out. I liked the way that they kept going. No matter there was dew and the ball was wet, it is not easy to chase 192 in the semi-final of a major tournament.

Whichever team won, I was inclined to bet on England winning the tournament. They appear a more complete unit compared to others. But, after this win for West Indies, the eventual winner has become that much more difficult to predict. For a sport-fan and a sporting fan, that is the best thing to happen.

As for India, there is no shame. Except for those two no balls, India did not do much wrong. They bowled eleven wides and won against Australia. Here, they did most things right and lost. Enjoy the irony of life. It was just a cricket match.

(Cross-posted here)

Clash of civilisation and clash of classes

This piece on Islamic terrorism had been in my in-box for nearly two months. Finally, I got around to reading it.

For some reason, the piece by Ms. Giovanna Jacob made me think about my own position on a couple of current issues, to clarify and re-confirm them. After the exercise, I felt more reassured about my own positions. So, here is a ‘Question & Answer’ that I conducted with my own conscience.

(1) The root-cause theory

(a) The case of Donald Trump

I examined the root-cause theory advanced by apologists for Marxism and/or Islamic terrorism. I wondered if I too had not advocated a variant of the ‘root cause’ theory for the Trump phenomenon.

My answer to my own question: Yes and no. The causes of any phenomenon are many and complex. Financial globalisation, asset bubbles and economic inequality are, undoubtedly, few of the causes behind the rise of Donald Trump. There are other factors too. Disgust with political correctness and hypocrisy. Mistakes made by Republicans and neo-cons among them in shutting down government, shutting down dialogue on things like gun-control, on deficits, on undermining Social Security, on reforms to Wall Street, etc.

Second, the resort to a ‘root cause’ argument can never be an excuse to avoid action in the here and present. That is the message of the quote from the article: “If someone is trying to kill you, you do not start listing up your sins in thought, word, deed and omission from your childhood to the present day: you just try to stop the assassin.” In the case of Donald Trump, there is nothing illegal about what he is doing or saying. Hence, there is no need to contemplate taking action against him even while addressing the root cause.

Indeed, if we have to take action in the present and address root causes of a problem at the same time, one has to remember two things:

(i) The action itself should not exacerbate or enhance the complexity of the problem. For instance, in the case of Donald Trump, if the Republican Party were to thwart his nomination through questionable and unfair means, will the backlash it produces be worse than or better than a Trump candidacy and eventual victory?

(ii) That we had correctly identified the root causes of the problem and not just the one that is convenient to us and one that shoves the blame on the ‘other side’. For example, Western oppression and exploitation are routinely cited as justifications (not explanations) for Islamic terrorism now. Even if one were to accept that argument for the sake of advancing the discussion, it is important to think about other root causes. Muslims have to introspect and reflect on those.

The author alludes to the weak and often silent responses of the moderates among Muslims. There are others too. Historian Bernard Lewis refers to many of them in his book ‘What went wrong?’ written immediately after 9/11. So, a discussion of root causes – even if it is not at the exclusion of immediate actions – has to be comprehensive and not shy away from turning the gaze and the spotlight on oneself and one’s groups and other affiliations.

(b) War reparations, hyperinflation and the Great Depression and the Nazis and Hitler:

Then, there was the discussion on German, Nazis and the emergence of Hitler. Ms. Giovanna Jacob points to the fact that many countries suffered from hyperinflation and the Great Depression. But, not all of them saw an emergence of a ‘Hitler’ in their countries. This is similar to the argument that is advanced against Islamic terrorism. Not all poor and exploited countries take to terrorism to settle scores and, second, those among Muslims who have taken up violence have not necessarily come impoverished families.

This argument too is linked in some respect to the ‘root cause’ issue. That made me think of whether my argument that economic (income and wealth) inequality and diminishing economic opportunities are one of the causes behind the Trump phenomenon was correct.

After my own reflection, I came away satisfied that it was not wrong, for the following reasons:

(i) There are necessary and there are sufficient conditions. I did not and do not think that economic causes are the sole factors. Causal factors in complex phenomenon are usually not simple. Simple and single explanations might be too simplistic.

(ii) There may be other factors too at work. But, sometimes, a spark is needed to light the fire. Hitler got that spark from the economic misery of Germany. So, one cannot rule out a role for German’s economic misery in the rise of Hitler nor can one rely on it for explanation to the exclusion of other factors.

This response might disappoint those who look for neat and black or white explanations. But, the world is not neat nor do simple explanations suffice at all times.

[Parenthetically, I must add here that Jared Bernstein, former Chief Economist to American VP Joe Biden thinks that stagnation in real wages is the reason behind the real anger among American voters that are propelling them towards Donald Trump or, for that matter, Bernie Sanders, I must add.]

(2) Two wrongs not making it right

We know that and often use it with our own children that one mistake does not justify another and that two wrongs do not make a right. There too, it is not clear that we apply the principle at all times evenly.

Trump, again

For example, the question can be raised on the Donald Trump phenomenon too:

“Yes, we agree with you, Nageswaran, that financialisation, financial globalisation, central bank hubris and consequent asset bubbles are all deeply wrong and need to be addressed. But, is Donald Trump the answer? You cannot solve one wrong or mistake with another.”

My response:

(i) We do not know if Donald Trump will be the answer. He may not be elected as US President in November 2016. Second, he has not been foisted or thrust by anyone unfairly. The democratic process that we commit to, has thrown him up. Do we want to complicate the situation by abandoning our core principle of democracy by sabotaging his nomination? Second, what guarantee can we give that the situation would not become worse if one unfairly and undemocratically ejected him? As a tactic too, it might backfire making many consider him an underdog and more sinned against than sinned and rallying around him.

(ii) There is also a need for humility on our part. We do not know if Donald Trump is the answer to the problem. That lies in the future. For now, that he would be a disaster is a view. We should be humble about our certitudes because we did not know or anticipate many things. There are counter-arguments at the practical level too:

(a) Campaign utterances usually do not form the basis for governance. In mature and stable democracies, governance happens at the middle, for better or worse. Campaigns in democracies are often extreme these days but governance, more often than not, is not so, fortunately.

(b)  In the past, the same was said of Ronald Reagan. But, he remains one of the most popular President in many polls in America. Further, although there are debates on the long-term consequences of some of his actions (in Afghanistan, his support for Pakistan, his deficit spending, etc.), for the US, he restored its primacy, dominance and cemented its status by destroying Soviet Union. Importantly, he restored the faith of American people in their own country and in themselves. These too are undeniable.

(c) Finally, shall we also pause and think about the responsible and sober people that brought the world to the brink of collapse in 2008 and have again done so, with their post-2008 policies? Robbing the savers and pensioners and engineering transfer of wealth from them to debtors, through negative interest rates, is an extreme form of redistribution. What yardstick allows us to look benignly upon such actions? Can Trump really do worse than them?

Babri Masjid 1992

Another issue that came to my mind is the issue of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 in India.

The question/argument can run as follows: “Yes, the demolition of Hindu temples was wrong. But, did the demolition of the Masjid there help to solve or complicate the situation in India? Was one wrong the right way to correct another wrong?”

My response:

(i) It is a convention that has evolved through usage that one wrong is not the answer to another wrong.

(ii) But, it is an eternal principle or Dharma of nature that all actions have consequences. That overrides (i) above because that is more powerful. Hence, actions will always have consequences. Unfortunately, we cannot determine the form and the timing of the consequences occurring. There is no expiration date for the consequences. Nature determines that. It is, indeed, inevitable.

(iii) Further, the nature and severity of the original action, as perceived by the victims, make reactions and responses of an equally violent magnitude, inevitable. It can and will have to be tackled as a ‘Law and Order’ matter at the specific instance but it cannot be judged unfair or unreasonable, from other planes.

(3) The dharma of ‘Actions have consequences’

This dharma caused another question to pop up in my head. If actions have consequences and if one cannot determine the nature, the form and the timing of those consequences, perhaps, Western nations are simply reaping the consequences of their sins against natives, colonies and others over the years or centuries. Can that be a basis for understanding Islamic terrorism, philosophically?

My response: It is true that the West is indeed reaping its own consequences. However, it can only be a philosophical explanation but it becomes problematic as a practical explanation for several reasons:

(i) The natives or the blacks or slaves or citizens of former colonies are not retaliating or rebelling against the West or Christian Whites. Do Islamists have really a grievance against the West?

Question: Didn’t you say that one couldn’t predict or dictate the form that consequences would take?

My response: Yes, true but that brings me to the second part of my response which has three parts, in turn!

(ii(a)) Islamic nations and citizens have received assistance from the West economically and militarily. They have been squandered by their own rulers and further, their religious heads have kept the societies chained to dogmas. Hence, they have battles to wage internally with their rulers and with their religious dogmas first.

Indeed, that leads us to another important dharma that is hard to practice: we cleanse ourselves before we point out the dirt in others.

(ii(b)) If you are still not convinced that you should condemn Islamic terrorism, here is my final answer: please remember that all actions have consequences. Just as the West is experiencing the consequences for its actions, the ‘consequent’ action of Islamic terrorists is the first link in the next chain of ‘action-consequence’ cycle. Islamists too will face the consequences of their actions now. Indeed, just as the Western societies face the consequences for the mistakes their governments have committed in their name, Muslims too would face the consequences for the acts of terrorism committed in their name. That is why it is a cycle of retribution.  It is permanent.

(ii(c)) Finally, you have no idea whether Islamic terrorism is about securing justice or about dominance and re-fashioning of the world.

(4) Conclusions form the ‘interview’

Balance and fairness is hard work

I realise that how complex and difficult these questions are. It is possible to conflate and confuse people who have no time (not as jobless as I am) nor inclination to delve deeper into these issues. Achieving consistency with dharmic principles, balance in thoughts, fairness in arguments, improving one’s situation and achieving dominance over the other are not only difficult but also incompatible.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that most of them are taken in by the proximate, most insistent and most persistently repeated explanations no matter it is mostly misleading and incorrect. Cognitive biases that we are born with, virtually guarantee such an outcome. That too is in the nature of things.

These situations easily lend themselves to selective interpretation and selective application of logic and principles. It is easy to be seduced by the certitude of one’s own logic without realising that one is merely applying it selectively and conveniently. Reasoned and reasonable thinking is just a lot of hard work. That is why achieving the right balance in our thoughts and actions consistently is not easy at all.

That is why, much as we can and do debate the action-reaction cycles, the fairness and unfairness of them all, most of the cycles are inevitable and indeed, Nature ordains them. There is no getting away from it.

Nature restores balance from imbalance

If individually, all of us, are balanced, fair and truthful in our own judgements, there is a greater chance of the collective will being balanced, fair and truthful. Otherwise, nature will find its own way of imposing that balance. That won’t be pleasant. Indeed, the longer the imbalance continues in our thinking and the more pervasive it is, the bigger will be the shock that Nature would administer to remove the imbalance and restore balance.

Currently, there are so many imbalances within societies, nations and in the wider world that have accumulated over the last two to four decades, that a great upheaval awaits us. Three decades of debt-driven economic growth has created a class of rich and a class of indebted poor. The middle class is either hollowed out or thinning in several Western countries. Then, there is the scourge of Islamic terrorism. The backlash from Europe towards refugees is only its most recent manifestation. Therefore, there is a simultaneous clash of classes and clash of civilisations. Worse, the warring parties in each clash collide and collude with the parties in the other clash resulting in a clash between the clashes too!

Virat Kohli

There are occasions when it sinks slowly into our consciousness that we are watching something special, something that happens rarely, extraordinary and beyond normal human effort and that we are simply lucky to be watching it.

Those who watched Virat Kohli carry India to victory, almost single-handedly, on Sunday night at Mohali would have had that feeling.

At the end of fifteen overs, the match was as good as last because the ‘asking rate’ had climbed to two runs off every ball. I remember seeing on the screen that the quotient was 55 runs off 27 balls.

At that time, it appeared that India’s generosity with wides (eleven of them) and the last two balls would prove decisive.

How he managed to tame both James Faulkner and Nathan Coulter-Nile in two overs with mostly cricketing shots would be talked about for a very long time. He almost made them bowl where and how he wanted them to and he found gaps in the field at will. It was almost as though Australian players had vacated the arena leaving an empty ground for Virat to score at will, which he did.

His self-belief was staggering and frightening.

Shikhar Dhawan had perished to a pre-determined shot. He wanted to hit another six in the square-leg region regardless of the ball. Rohit’s dismissal was a consequence of a pre-meditated charge down the wicket. Suresh Raina succumbed to his old weakness. Yuvraj hobbled and that must have been both a distracting influence and a negative influence on energy levels.

It did appear that Kohli would suffer a lapse in concentration in his Thirties and perish. He appeared frustrated and distracted then. Luckily for him and for India, he regrouped and how!

Amidst all the well-deserved praise being heaped on Virat Kohli, we should not forget the excellent bowling spell by Ashish Nehra and by Ravinder Jadeja until his last over. Nehra delivered just when his captain desperately needed him, he kept his cool when all those around him were losing theirs. He is 37. He bent his back. Ravi Jadeja stands and delivers. It would be nice if he did bend his back, at least once in a while.

As Steve Smith told Sanjay Manjrekar, 160 was a par total although Australia looked set for bigger things at the beginning. It was a good last match for Shane Watson. He would have been happier with a better finish to his international career but one diminutive man stood in the way.

The professional satisfaction that comes from your adversaries’ acknowledgement is something special. Virat will savour some of these tweets for a long time.

T-20 World Cup – some personal reflections

The sixth edition of the T-20 Cricket World Cup Tournament is underway in India. I did not expect to be watching this tournament. I had lost interest in following all cricket there is, simply because there is too much of it.

But, because this one is beamed late in the night into Singapore homes and a good way to unwind somewhat mindlessly, I decided to follow them. I must happily concede that I have been enjoying the matches.

First, I loved Chris Gayle’s 11 sixes against England and their new dance of celebration.

Then, came the low-scoring nail-biter between Australia and New Zealand. Happy to see NZ win, no doubt.

I am not a big fan of England. I do not root (pun intended) for them. I am being polite here. But, the way they beat South Africa by scoring 237 runs was truly magnificent. Joe Root was special. They thoroughly deserved it.

As I was watching this match, my mind wandered back to 2005, the year of a memorable Ashes Cricket Series between Australia and England. I could not immediately recall the names of the English pacers including that of their famous all-rounder at that time. Thanks to the Internet, it was no issue. I was struggling to recall the names of Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison.

I then came across as the series of articles ‘Daily Mail’ had done on Flintoff last October. I read only one of them. I found it fascinating. Here are some sentences from that:

‘When you search for things you are not always happy with what you find,’ he said. ‘In the early years of retirement that was what drove me. It was escapism. 

‘The mask became the man and it was exhausting,’ he writes. 

The India-Pakistan match was, well, the show of the tournament for India. Mamata Banerjee’s screaming at the top of her voice, as she opened the match, in her own English was somewhat hard to take.

Quite why and how Afridi let the pressure slip after having India reeling at 23/3 is somewhat hard to explain.

On that day, Kohli was in a different zone. That should have helped him to erase the memories of his 11-ball inglorious stay at the crease in the World Cup ODI finals in Melbourne last year.

Sri Lanka – West Indies match was a bummer. Sri Lanka was way below par. They are missing good leadership, perhaps. Something is missing.

New Zealand vs. Pakistan – it was a match that I could not complete watching. When I went to sleep, Pakistan were, in reply to NZ, at 24/0 in two overs. Good start. But, they had gone on to lose the match. If Australia beat them, they are out of the tournament. Then, it will be up to Australia and India to slug it out for the second spot. Hard to pick the eventual winner of that contest. Both teams are playing below par.

In a way, the slower pitches that this tournament has featured are useful for the game of cricket. They have elevated the status of the bowlers from being mere whipping boys for the batsmen. They are no longer passengers. They have played a key role in matches.

The ‘dumbification’ of cricket with too much pre-eminence and leeway given to batsmen is par for the course in modern times where anything is nothing if it is not a viewing spectacle that provides cheap thrills.

These times are about superficial over the subliminal in everything we so. There should be no surprises that cricket has not been exempt from this trend.

Was at a book launch function last evening in Singapore. A research fellow at ISAS, Ronojoy Sen, was releasing his book, ‘A Nation at Play – India’s sporting history’. He came across as an unassuming, thoughtful and a good researcher.

One Mr. Manu Sawhney formerly of ESPN-Star, current CEO of Singapore Sports Hub, was the keynote speaker. It was interesting to listen to him about how the fees had changed. From USD8mn for a four-year right in the early 1990s, now it is USD17mn per match, regardless of the form of cricket – test, 50-over ODI or T-20.

No surprises that TV, instead of telecasting the cricket that is played, dictates how the game should be played. We, humans, are always good at elevating the ‘means’ to ‘ends’ and reducing the ‘ends’ to irrelevance. These are, btw, not comments on him. Perhaps, it is not just cricket that has been afflicted.

Of course, while I view IPL T-20 cricket league phenomenon with disdain, I must concede that the copycats it has spawned in other sports in India has been welcome. Many livelihoods have been improved beyond imagination and a sporting culture is taking root in the country. Whether it is Kabaddi, Badminton, Football or Hockey league, all these games have been granted new leases of life in India. Especially, Kabaddi. Very welcome indeed.

In this context, I came across this wonderful article from ‘The Week’ on the revival of board games in India. These are subtle but extremely effective ways to maintain and preserve our traditions and civilisations. When we play these games with children, we bond and we share other stories about age-old customs, practices and other Puranic stories too.

Pl. read the article and support those who have found a way to pursue these besides their other avocations. My Namaskarams to them.

Now, we come to the final (as of now) match that I watched: India vs. Bangladesh. Quite how and why Bangladesh lost the match would take some explanation. They had done everything right even right into the last over of their innings. They never allowed any Indian batsman to get away with the game. They took a stunning catch when Pandya looked like he would take India beyond 160.

Then, they chased well. What was the turning point? Was it Bumrah’s comeback overs? Should Bumrah have been named the ‘Man of The Match’? Or, was it Dhoni’s lightning stumping? Or, was it the masterstroke that made him keep a slip fielder for Ashwin? Was it Yuvraj’s save of a certain four? For my money, the player of the match should have been Ravinder Jadeja or Dhoni. Jadeja scored 12 runs, took two wickets and took a very good catch in the final over.

It was hard not to feel for Bangladesh. They had played very well, planned and executed well. They deserved to win. It was sad to see some spectators crying and one player too, as he walked off the field. Could the Indian players have commiserated more with them? I do not know. I think they should have tried.

Perhaps, this comment in Cricinfo reflects some justifiable frustration at their loss.

Two days later, I watched the South Africa – West Indies match. West Indies made heavy weather of the modest target that South Africa had set. In fact, they made such a meal of it that the equation came down to 20 runs off the last two overs. South Africa could not contain the West Indies. The latter won. As I watched the final overs of the West Indies batting, a thought came to my head. Do these tense situations help to bring out the worst or the best in players?

Very few appear capable of handling the pressure without losing their intrinsic composure. Others want to brazen it out by closing their eyes to the situation and simply lashing out at the ball, hoping that it would somehow connect and relieve them of their troubles. There is hope and denial in that; not so much planning. Joe Root, Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni seem the honourable exceptions. Of course, AB de Villiers is one of them too. When he was around, Steve Waugh of Australia was another. In the past, Australian Michael Bevan stood out for his calmness in challenging circumstances. I would reckon that it played a big role in him helping Australia win out of impossible situations.

Lest someone think a cool and collected head writes these lines, perish the thought. It is easier to be a critic than a doer.

Enjoy the rest of the tournament.

Ordinary and original

You could say that this post is a follow-up to the one on the virtues of staying ordinary. But, chronologically, this one should have appeared earlier. The article by Simon Kuper was published in January. My good friend, Rajeev Mantri, had forwarded it a while ago. But, I just managed to read it last night. It resonates rather well with the message of the post I had done on the virtues of being ordinary.

This is the comment I posted on the article:

May be, the reason why most of the comments focused on Arsène Wenger is that the author keeps coming back to him, as though he was the prime example of what he was trying to convey – that original thinkers simply are at ‘it’ for its own sake.  In the process, he appears to have lost some of his readers, if the comments are any indication. That is a pity. The article makes an important point.

The choice between ‘original thinking’ and ‘winning’ finds its echo in other situations.

For example, one can extend the logic of the article to business situations. It could be about choosing to grow big or stay small. Think of Google or Apple today and what they stand for and the compromises they have made along the way and contrast them with the high values they espoused and got us excited about them.

Or, it is also the choice between quantity and quality. Both may and can co-exist in commerce but not so in creative arts, culture, thought and communication.

Also, staying ‘original’ is also about staying true to one’s values and not having to compromise one’s integrity by showing some ‘flexibility’ to grow richer and bigger.

Thus, there is more than one dimension to the central message of this piece.

It is all about the courage to resist the temptation to seek fame and wealth at the expense of values and principles. That is the advantage of staying ordinary and original.

For better or worse, this is the message (from the Bhagavad Gita) that the partner of Charles Assisi had told him:

When your ambitions and values come into conflict, the onus is on you
to decide what side of the fence you want to stand on. [Link]


Virtues of staying ordinary

I had a problem choosing the title for this blog post. Initially, I wanted to say, ‘The morality of being small’. It could be misconstrued. I discarded it because it was not a romantic, activist view of all things small and a scornful view of all that was big. I also realised that ‘infamous’ is not quite the opposite of ‘being famous’. So, that ruled out the title, ‘The virtues of being infamous’.

What is this preamble about? This morning, I read the article, ‘The New Mind Control’ written by Robert Epstein and circulated to his readers by John Mauldin. I was excited after I read it. It had multiple messages for me.

I shared it with nine friends. Six did not respond. Two thought that it was no big deal. One said that it confirmed what we knew already. Well, I felt that the article was more than these.

The article is about how Internet Search Engines present results in a way that could influence your preferences for candidates in elections. Specifically, it was about Google and in the light of the support extended Hillary Clinton by Eric Schmidt. Apparently, he had financed a start-upthat is helping Ms. Hillary Clinton with her campaign. The company has only one web page and no other links. It is called ‘The Groundwork’.

The article had much interesting content:

An unsettling quote from the British economist Kenneth Boulding: ‘A world of unseen dictatorship is conceivable, still using the forms of democratic government.’ Could this really happen, and, if so, how would it work?

Most of the vacuous thoughts and intense feelings our teenagers experience from morning till night are carefully orchestrated by highly skilled marketing professionals working in our fashion and entertainment industries.

Google, for all intents and purposes, has no competition, and people trust its search results implicitly, assuming that the company’s mysterious search algorithm is entirely objective and unbiased.

Some courts have even ruled that Google’s right to rank-order search results as it pleases is protected as a form of free speech.

In the 2012 US presidential election, Google and its top executives donated more than $800,000 to President Barack Obama and just $37,000 to his opponent, Mitt Romney. And in 2015, a team of researchers from the University of Maryland and elsewhere showed that Google’s search results routinely favoured Democratic candidates.

We published a detailed report about our first five experiments on SEME in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in August 2015.

In our PNAS article, Robertson and I calculated that Google now has the power to flip upwards of 25 per cent of the national elections in the world with no one knowing this is occurring.

Gmail users are generally oblivious to the fact that Google stores and analyses every email they write, even the drafts they never send – as well as all the incoming email they receive from both Gmail and non-Gmail users.

Google can share the information it collects about you with almost anyone, including government agencies. But never with you. Google’s privacy is sacrosanct; yours is nonexistent.

By 2020, China will have put in place the most ambitious government monitoring system ever created – a single database called the Social Credit System, in which multiple ratings and records for all of its 1.3 billion citizens are recorded for easy access by officials and bureaucrats.

We now have evidence suggesting that on virtually all issues where people are initially undecided, search rankings are impacting almost every decision that people make.

In one of our recent experiments, biased search results shifted people’s opinions about the value of fracking by 33.9 per cent.

In April 2015, Clinton hired Stephanie Hannon away from Google to be her chief
technology officer and, a few months ago, Eric Schmidt, chairman of the holding company that controls Google, set up a semi-secret company – The Groundwork – for the specific purpose of putting Clinton in office. The formation of The Groundwork prompted Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, to dub Google Clinton’s ‘secret weapon’ in her quest for the US presidency.

We now estimate that Hannon’s old friends have the power to drive between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes to Clinton on election day with no one knowing that this is occurring and without leaving a paper trail.

What were my take-aways?:

(1) Many strongly and sincerely believe that they we are rational, logical and are in control their preferences and decisions. Indeed, it is only a belief system. But, it is worse than religious beliefs that such people usually despise and hold in contempt. It is actually funny that such people mock those who hold religious beliefs. The latter at least seem aware of their limitations and realise that they need a higher power to guide and support them.

(2) It is one thing to manipulate our minds and tastes to sell products. But, it is another thing to manipulate us into choosing a leader who would alter destinies of millions for better or worse.

(3) There is utter lack of accountability to the individual human being from the companies with the Search Engines (Google is the daddy ’em of all) and from the State that has winked at this lack of accountability.

(4) Mr. Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Alphabet, supports Hillary Clinton. Perhaps, Google has donated more to her than to other candidates in this election. In a sense, she represents continuity in a world that probably is actively seeking discontinuity and is ready for it in more way than one.  A detailed article in Washington Post on her backers from the financial services community here.

(5) I doubt if Eric Schmidt and Larry Page wanted to influence and shape the world in this manner when they were a start-up in a garage from whom some venture capital funds ran away. But, here they are: largely unaccountable and unanswerable to those who are providing them their revenues and manipulating them, using humans’ inherent and intrinsic cognitive limitations, for other ends, whose morality is hard to define and, perhaps, equally hard to defend. How to interpret, ‘Don’t be evil’, in the light of this?

(6) That brings me to the final point. This applies to individuals and institutions. Perhaps, there is some deeper purpose and good in remaining ordinary as opposed to being or becoming big, famous, influential and powerful. As the latter happens, morality and values are either re-interpreted or abandoned and newer identities are acquired. Even if they are for a larger purpose, who is judge if the larger purpose is noble and for the greatest common good?

In the Mahabharata, Kunti, the mother of the five Pandava brothers, is said to prayed to Lord Krishna that life should always be full of difficulties and worries for her so that she would never forget him.

I can understand the meaning behind that prayer.

If one wishes this life to be a journey to non-identity, then there is virtue in being ordinary and staying ordinary. There are fewer reasons, excuses and opportunities to abandon one’s values and cross moral and ethical boundaries.

Finally, it is important to be happy and content about being ordinary.

[Cross-posted here]