Net Neutrality is not about freedom

This post is addressed to all the proponents of net neutrality on the grounds of the freedom of choice of the consumer. But net neutrality has nothing to do with freedom.

The principle of net neutrality is that internet service providers should treat all content equally so that the consumers choice of content is not influenced by the speed at which that content is available.

Let me rephrase that principle without changing its meaning. Internet service providers should not be allowed to contract with content providers on mutually beneficial terms with regards to the speed at which the content will be made available to consumers.

Rephrased like this, it is clear that the principle is not about protecting the freedom of the consumer but about restricting the freedom of the service or content providers to spend their money as they see fit.

Proponents of net neutrality claim that its violation will make it more difficult for startups to compete with bigger companies because they do not have the money to pay the service providers for preferential treatment. That is true. All of the following is true too.

Startups do not have the money to pay great salaries. So how about pay package neutrality? Companies should not be allowed to pay more to attract employees because higher salaries influence the choices of employees.

Startups do not have the money to buy large offices. So how about office size neutrality? Companies should not be allowed to have more spacious offices because spacious offices influence the choices of employees and even of clients.

Startups do not have the money to purchase expensive routers and server farms. So how about infrastructure neutrality? Companies should not be allowed to have redundant server capacity.

Startups do not have the money to purchase advertisements on television. So how about air-time neutrality? Companies should not be allowed to spend more than a certain amount on advertisements.

Startups do not have the money for expensive quality control. So how about quality neutrality? Companies should not be allowed to spend more that a certain part of their budget on testing.

All of these absurd examples indicate the absurdity of the principle of net neutrality. The internet is nothing more than servers, routers, cables, spectrum rights etc. All of these are privately owned and privately maintained. Decisions on the use of these resources rightfully belong to the owners of these resources. That is what freedom means.

Like all violations of freedom, the principle of net neutrality hurts the profitability and efficiency of the most successful producers. And that hurts all of us.

Falling into the Islamist trap

Unlike the recent senseless massacre of children in Pakistan, the attack on Charlie Hebdo is a calculated ploy. Considering the reactions to the attack, the ploy has succeeded.

The perpetrators of these attacks are on a mission to establish a totalitarian Islamic State. A mission not shared by most followers of Islam. They are forced to operate in secrecy and take on the might of most governments. The only way they can succeed is to enlist broader support for their murderous ideology and foment a mass movement.

Most men are too busy living their own lives to bother establishing any kind of state – Islamic or otherwise. Most men are actually just ballast, too confused about the issues at hand to participate in any radical action. Mass movements do not take birth in an atmosphere of peace. Men take up arms only when they are convinced that they are under attack, that they must act immediately to defend their values.

The ploy of the Islamic State is to create an environment where Islam is seen to be under attack. And all the well-intentioned but clueless defenders of free speech, in re-publishing the offensive cartoons, are creating exactly such an environment, achieving for the Islamists what they could not have achieved by themselves.

Most men have little interest in offending others. Even less in ridiculing an abstract idea like religion. But this attack has succeeded in getting people who might never have known of Charlie Hebdo or their offensive cartoons into proclaiming “je suis charlie”.

The issue here is not the right to the freedom of expression. That right is sacred but using it to express what one would not normally express is self-defeating and silly.

The issue here is not the validity of Islam – or any other religion. All religions are fallacious, but ridiculing people’s beliefs is not the way to win them over.

The issue here is how to make the Islamist trap fail, how to prevent the Islamist desperadoes from gaining influence over the majority of Muslims. The key to that is to recognize that men are individuals. They represent themselves, not any community, and certainly not any abstract idea like religion. The actions of individuals professing a particular religion cannot be directly used to judge that religion, and certainly cannot be used to judge other individuals professing the same religion. Attacking the religion merely serves to confuse the judgement of the people professing it, people who would never resort to violence under normal circumstances.

Whether Islam deserves to be ridiculed or not is irrelevant. The murderous pawns of the Islamist State do not represent Islam any more than a peaceful Muslim going about his own life represents Islam. They are all individuals, with their own ideas, responsible for their own actions. Islam stands on its own. As does every religion and every abstract idea.

Thank you, Sachin

All good things come to an end, they say. And they are right. I will wake up tomorrow to watch Sachin Tendulkar bat for the last time in his career.

Greatness stays on however. In the minds of those who witness it, in the actions of those who are inspired by it, in the lives of those who can appreciate it. And that is some consolation.

I have never known cricket without Sachin and I don’t intend to follow it any more after he retires. When I started watching cricket, it was already very popular. And it has only grown more popular over the years. Not surprisingly, the increase in popularity has been achieved at the cost of reducing standards to the lowest common denominator. And that denominator is now too low for me to retain my interest. All these years, Sachin has been the one redeeming factor in a game that has progressively become faster, shorter and mindless. There is a thrill in speed, instant gratification in brevity, and an escape in mindlessness. But they don’t compare to the beauty in leisure, the substance in length, and the art in mindfulness. And Sachin is perhaps the last batsman to embody those values today. In the foreseeable future, there will not be another Sachin. What a pity!

There is nothing much that I can add to what I wrote last time about Sachin, so I will just quote myself verbatim:

“Poetry,” wrote Aristotle, “is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular.”

A similar argument may be made for sport. Sport reduces life to its essentials and expresses its fundamentals in their purest form. Just as poetry expresses the universal through particular characters, sport expresses fundamentals through the actions of individual sportsmen. But unlike the characters in poetry, who are after all, mere figments of the poet’s imagination, the sportsmen are real. Sport then, is likely to fall short of poetry in its power to inspire, to embody the values of life. Perfection and purity is easier to achieve in poetry than in the life of a sportsman.

But once in a while, a sportsman comes along to prove that the difficult is not impossible, that a single-minded dedication can be maintained, that ability can be turned into excellence, that consistency can triumph over uncertainty. And such a sportsman transcends the sport, lends it meaning, makes it real.

Sachin Tendulkar is such a sportsman, and I am fortunate to have grown up at a time when my values could be shaped and sustained by the example of his greatness.

Thank you Sachin!

Rape – and what we can do about it

tl; dr version: Learn to defend ourselves.

Another rape. Nationwide outrage. Full page newspaper reports. Condemnations by celebrities and ministers. Promises of justice. Candle marches. Protests. Demands for tougher laws. Better implementation. Tighter security. And then?

Another rape…

This is the reality we live in. But it hadn’t really sunk in. At least for me. Not until today.

Never mind the complexity of the problem. Leave it to the sociologists to discover the causes. Knowing the causes is not going to help the victims be safe.

Justice, however swift, can only follow the crime. Preventing the crime in the first place is primarily the responsibility of the potential victims. I don’t leave my house open and then protest if I get robbed. I understand that it is my responsibility to ensure the safety of my belongings. If a couple of ruffians were to accost me, I doubt if I could do anything to save myself, let alone protect anyone else. Why have I never realized that it is the same issue? Rapists – and other small-time crooks – are bullies. And bullies are cowards. A little bit of competent resistance is all it would take to put them in their place. Why am I incapable of producing that resistance?

In times gone by, it used to be considered a man’s job to protect the women he cared about. We have outgrown those times. And that is good. So, can women protect themselves today? No. And neither can men! In both of the highly publicized cases in recent memory, the rape-victim was accompanied by a male, who couldn’t even help himself. Huh? Is this progress?

Dependence on state machinery has emasculated us. We think we can delegate all our responsibilities to the state and cry foul when the state doesn’t deliver. We are right to delegate the responsibilities of justice and investigation. But the responsibility of self-defense – like many other responsibilities – cannot be delegated. It is pointless to blame the state for not delivering on the responsibilities we delegate to it when we shirk our own.

It is ridiculous that we who call ourselves educated, have the time, money and inclination to buy gadgets, take holidays, and vent our feelings on social media, who cherish our freedom to do all these things, allow ourselves to be victimized by a bunch of ruffians who have none of these comforts. How difficult can it be to learn a little bit of self-defense?

No self-respecting able-bodied person (male or female) who cherishes his independence should tolerate such a state of affairs. Throughout history, whenever people have been called on to defend their country in a time of crisis, there has never been a lack of volunteers. Don’t we have enough self-respect to defend ourselves?

More on Narendra Modi

For over 10 years I have believed Narendra Modi to be responsible for the 2002 riots in Gujarat – without ever trying to research the facts in any significant detail. Modi’s culpability has been an easy-to-believe narrative. He is a self-professed Hindu Nationalist (I have contempt for both elements of that combination). He belongs to a political party that has never hesitated to exploit religious insecurities for political gains. He was the Chief Minister when the riots occurred. Nothing could be easier to believe.

I have always regarded his culpability to be an indelible blot. A man responsible for the murder of thousands is not fit to live, let alone serve in any public office, no matter what his other accomplishments may be. And so, I have never bothered to research those accomplishments either. They seemed irrelevant, even dangerous. If this country is to be governed by *<insert non-genteel word of your choice here>*, I would rather have them be incompetent.

This blog is dedicated to the pursuit of truth – truth that has an impact on my life and is therefore worth discovering. Narendra Modi has succeeded in capturing the imagination of almost all my peers. Given the alternatives, he might well become the next Prime Minister. If he is the man I have suspected him to be – an efficient, ruthless fascist with a very dubious association with deeply illiberal political parties and no concern for such “niceties” as freedom of speech or justice – that is the worst thing that could happen to this country – far worse than the institutionalized socialist scams perpetrated by all the major political parties – chiefly Congress but not excluding the BJP.

The big question is: Is that the truth?

Modi, in a couple of speeches I have listened to, has been talking of a vision of empowering business and setting it free from the clutches of the government and the bureaucracy. Not by any fundamental reforms. Merely by using the existing government machinery effectively. That is clearly not sustainable in the long run. But it would still be an improvement over what we have today. Even if Modi’s vision is incomplete and short-sighted, it is refreshingly different from the socialist rhetoric that everyone else keeps spouting. To any socialist who has not deluded himself completely, Modi’s vision is extremely dangerous.

Is it possible that Modi is actually innocent and has been vilified in a targeted campaign by populists who would otherwise have no answers to the achievements he claims?

I chanced upon this post by Sanjeev Sabhlok: India should support Modi from the outside – conditionally. It surprised me and following links in that post, I reached this long article by Madhu Kishwar. In light of its contents, that is a question I am now forced to consider.

Narendra Modi – Visionary or Demagogue?

The last time I watched a speech by a political leader was 15 years ago – because my parents used to ask me to listen to the Prime Minister’s or President’s addresses to the nation on Independence Day or Republic Day. Presumably they wanted me to take an interest in politics. It would be difficult to imagine a more effective way to ensure the opposite! That, the stench from the sewer that is Indian politics, and my conviction that politics is fundamentally unimportant (I believe that culture drives politics rather than the other way round), has meant that I have never bothered to follow politics. All the hype around Modi’s SRCC speech however interested me enough to watch his speech.

In his speech, Modi talks of enabling development, condemns vote-bank politics and even has the courage to say “the government has no business to do business”. Had this speech been delivered by a man without a history or a well-established image, it would have impressed me enough to register for a voter identity card. As things stand, it has merely succeeded in confusing me.

Some facts:

  • Modi is part of a political party (the BJP) that established itself by creating and exploiting the Ayodhya Ram Mandir issue.
  • Modi swept the Gujarat elections after the 2002 violence during which he was the Chief Minister.
  • BJP itself is the political arm of the Sangh Parivar, an organization that is best known for using hooliganism as its primary weapon in a mission to safeguard “Hindutva” and “Indian culture”. Many (if not most) of Modi’s ardent supporters seem to be part of the Sangh Parivar.
  • Modi himself has an image of being a Hindutva hardliner, presumably the same obnoxious conception of Hindutva held by the Sangh Parivar.

In his speech, Modi does not make a single allusion to religion, let alone Hindutva, and focuses solely on development. In fact, he openly mocks India’s reputation for being a land of snake charmers and proudly claims that India is now a land of mouse charmers – whose youth transforms the world by the click of a mouse. This, even as the Maha Kumbh mela – a festival of snake charmers – is being celebrated by the Hindutva-vaadis. If what he claims about Gujarat is true – and anecdotal evidence indicates that it is – he has delivered on his vision in his own state.

In his speech, Modi declares that vote-bank politics has destroyed the nation and development politics is needed instead. But his party has always played the same vote-bank politics and continues to do so (witness FDI and fuel price decontrol).

The question remains: What is Narendra Modi? A visionary and a statesman? Or a demagogue and master orator who can tailor a speech to his audience?

And there is another question too. One that I believe is even more important. What do Modi’s supporters really want? Development or Hindutva?

Lance Armstrong

Just watched Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey where he confesses to doping over his entire career. Here is a man who recovered from cancer and went on to win 7 titles in an extremely demanding sport. Only to have it all fall apart. What went wrong?

I have never followed the sport, but judging from the interview and the nature of the sport itself, it seems clear that doping has been a common and widespread practice. In any case there does not seem to be any clear line demarcating what practices should be allowed and what practices should not. A sportsman in such an environment will have only two choices. Dope and compete with others on a level footing or not dope and accept that you will never be able to win. Is the first choice wrong? If so, why?

This is not a question limited to cycling alone. It is very much relevant in other fields as well. Speaking of India, it is clear that all politics and many areas of business are such that success requires breaking the rules. In fact, some of these rules are so flawed that they should not exist at all in any reasonable system. Others rules may not be flawed in themselves, but given the effects of the rules that are flawed, it is nevertheless difficult to follow them. In such circumstances, what should a person with an indomitable spirit and a fierce desire to succeed do? Is it OK to break rules that one thinks are wrong? Is it OK to break rules that are impractical?

Unless one wants to be a rebel and openly fight the “system”, it is wrong to base one’s entire career on breaking rules – regardless of whether those rules are right or wrong. It is wrong because one is then living a contradiction – pursuing success as defined by the very system whose rules one intends to break. In the long term, that cannot work. As Lance Armstrong found out.

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