Technology: Aspiring Artist’s Best Friend

Those of you who know me will agree that I am technologically backwards in that  the latest electronic gadgets hold no fascination for me. It is somewhat incongruous I suppose since I work at a major technology company. I have never bought a computer (I have always had a work computer) and I still have not been tempted by the smartphone revolution. That being said I am a very passionate advocate of technology and find it incomprehensible when people use their smartphones with their right hand and bash technology with their left. The varied benefits of modern technology are too numerous to list and it is not my intent here to launch into a tirade against anti-technology folks. Instead I want to shed light on one particular aspect of technology that has perhaps been overlooked: the role technology, particularly in the last 50 years or so, has played in democratizing the arts.

Art is an outward expression of an idea in our head and as such needs a medium of expression. Without the medium there is no art. My assertion is that technology has not only created a wider variety of artistic mediums but also ensured that these mediums are available to a broad spectrum of people. Now more than any other time in human history it is easier to bring your creative vision to reality with technology. An aspiring writer need not use the traditional medium of pen and paper to get his writing to people nor does he need to pound the pavement and wait for an editor to get published. You can start a blog like yours truly. The number of people you can reach is only limited by your ability to be social online. What technology has done is lowered the barrier for entry into all types of artistic endeavors.

Aspiring musicians have benefitted from technology tremendously. A wide variety of music software exists to facilitate music creation. You don’t need a big music studio to record music. Software can provide you with all the bell and whistles you need to add to your own compositions. You can jam with your friends remotely. Musicians across different continents and cultures can create music together without spending money on flights and hotels. Technology has even done away with the need for recording on physical media. Photography is another relevant example. No need to mess around with chemicals in dark rooms. And if you believe the hype around Lytro, focussing will become a thing of the past. This new fangled camera allows you to focus after the images are taken!! You can play around and create the perfect picture in the comfort of your home on your computer long after you pressed click. How cool is that?

In addition to providing newer mediums for older art forms technology has also created brand new art forms such as web design and video game creation. Not only is content creation made easier, marketing and selling that content is also faster with technology. More people can dream of making a living through art. And if that is not possible technology makes it simpler still for an average joe such as myself to create his own art and not merely be content with consuming the art created by the professionals. Now that is cool indeed.

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And Homo Sapiens Shall Inherit the Earth

Life as we know, on our planet or for that matter in the entire universe, first stirred in a primordial sea of organic molecules from which were formed the more complex molecules such as amino acids that are the building blocks of proteins which in turn are the basis of all life. Most people of the non-nut variety accept this theory of origin of life. Single celled organisms formed first and thus started the fantastic assembly line of evolution that gave rise to the incredible number of species that exist on earth today. From fossil records we also know that quite a few of these species became extinct along the way. Modern man’s direct ancestor Homo Sapiens only appeared on the scene a few hundred thousand years ago. We are most closely related to the chimp on the evolutionary ladder. If you think about it we have come a long way indeed from such nondescript beginnings. We now lord it over all other species of life.  Question is what makes us so special?

You don’t have to be Darwin to guess that it is the human brain that gives us the advantage. If it were a contest of pure brawn we would have lost out a long time ago. Our brains are significantly larger than any other species on the planet, size does matter in this case I suppose. We obviously know the importance of the brain, that no doubt is the reason we call ourselves Homo Sapiens (translates as “wise or knowing man” from Latin). Large brain essentially translates into a more complex brain. If we were computers we would say that we are equipped with the best software. The real question is what does this fancy brain of ours permit us to do that let’s say animals cannot.

Actions of animals are dictated by survival and biological imperatives entirely. It is as if there is a very simple instruction set stored in their simple brains. If hungry then eat else just rest; if predator approaches then take evasive action else do nothing; if prey spotted attack prey else do nothing. You get the picture. You might be tempted at this point to chime in with cute stories about cats and dogs to counter my picture of simplicity. A dog is smarter yes but its actions are still dictated by training. Cats are a little different I suppose but they are either looking for mice, evading dogs or going to the neighbor’s yard to lounge. It is surely not thinking about what tomorrow holds nor is it reflecting on its accomplishments of the day. It is not troubled by visions of an apocalyptic future and what can be done today to prevent such a future.

Most of the time human actions are similarly simplistic. To make matters worse we have another simplistic motivation of just having fun. But as mentioned before our brains are just a wee bit more complex and therein lies our salvation. Through evolution we have developed a capacity for imagination and a capacity to weigh the pros and cons of our actions, specially when the cons are long-term and pros are short-term. We can imagine what a given course of action might lead to in future. A case in point would be fossil fuel consumption. Reasonable folk would agree that global warming is real and fossil fuel consumption is a major contributing factor. So we can imagine a day when multiple generations from now human race will be in trouble. This is where we need to use our ability to trade short-term pain for long-term gain for all of humanity. That view tells us we gradually need to stop our reliance on oil and gas and think not just about ourselves but about our future generations also.

That was just one example but the same thought process can apply to a multitude of scenarios. We have to think in this fashion to ensure the survival of human race in a distant future. Naysayers will tell you that it can all go to pot by events outside our control but be that as it may we have to do what is in our power. It is not easy but every small thought and step in the right direction counts and builds momentum towards a better tomorrow.

Your Soul is in the Cloud

I draw your attention not to the fluffy white clouds where angels sing but to the data storage cloud where companies like Google and Facebook store the information they “collect” on us. All our actions on the internet are essentially a bits and pieces record of our personality. What we search for, read, watch, like, dislike on the internet can provide a window into our soul. In a day not so far off in future, it will be possible to “construct” a virtual you just from the fingerprints you leave behind on the internet. It may sound far-fetched to some of you and I can see the skeptics shaking their heads in violent disagreement. But it is already beginning to happen. The signs of what is to come are plain for all to see. On your Gmail and Facebook you already see online ads that are targeted to your own individual quirks.

I got started on this train of thought after reading this news item from last week, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16801154. It talks about the legal challenges to living online after your death. Question asked here is whether you can assign a legal representative who will have access to your online persona after your death. Aside from the legalities, there are some very serious philosophical and religious implications. To get started let us assume that one day advances in computer algorithms will make it possible to build a virtual avatar of any individual from the information (data) on that individual present in the cloud in the hyper connected future (this is exactly the kind of future that makes some of us want to live off the grid). This “software” avatar will behave exactly like us sans the flesh and blood. The word avatar comes from Hinduism by the way and means incarnation or manifestation. It is interesting that even in technology we stick to such mystical/religious terminology.

This is not a coincidence in my opinion. Religion and science both offer us hope of immortality after their own fashion. In the world full of relative truths death is the only absolute. Since the beginning of times we have strived to wrap our brains around it. Religion says that there is something else to come for us after death and it is not the end. Science on the other hand has focussed on means to postpone death (physical destruction of our body) for as long as possible. But it appears now that technology, the child of science, is beginning to align itself more and more with religion (witness the hordes of iPhone devotees at the temple of Apple for example). Science is primarily concerned with inquiry and thought whereas both technology and religion aspire to make us feel better. Inquiry and thought never makes one feel better!!

So this is how it will come to pass. Through the wonders of technology, we will have a copy of our soul in the cloud in the form of our software avatar. It will not be subject to the mortality of the physical world and go on living long after the original copy is destroyed along with our physical selves. Our flesh and blood loved ones that we leave behind could still interact with the virtual us. The software avatar/soul will be “aware” and continue to “grow” through these interactions. Your soul/personality could also be plugged into a physical body and voila the world of Caprica and Battlestar Gallactica will become a reality. If this sounds like the stuff of your nightmares, log off Facebook and go outside. It is rather sunny for February.

Note: The featured image is from www.angelsghosts.com.

Twenty Signs of an Ornery Personality

I am having trouble thinking deep and profound thoughts today, must be the food from panda express I had earlier. Too much philosophy, political or otherwise is never good for the soul and rational thoughts only carry you so far. Sometimes you just need to express your anger like a healthy human being. And hell all other pundits rant, why shouldn’t I? So I have decided to indulge myself and write a somewhat frivolous post. I am going to rant about people, places and behaviors that tick off yours truly. The central theme is how nothing is ever just perfect. As the title suggests, this is obviously tongue-in-cheek and intended as a poke at myself. The absurdity should be self-evident. However if you are the type of person who cannot recognize humor even if it hit you in the head wrapped around a brick, please read the disclaimer before you continue. Here goes:

  1. Sales reps in stores who consider service beneath them.
  2. Sales reps on the other end of the spectrum who dog my every step when I am in a store.
  3. Drivers who won’t give way when I tail them; it moves me to curse violently in my native tongue (Hindi).
  4. Drivers who tail me; you will have to ask them how they respond.
  5. Extra chatty customers and clerks in extra-long check-out lines.
  6. Grill cooks at work who hate making veggie burgers; maybe it insults their culinary skills.
  7. Sly kids on flights who are always kicking the back of my seat.
  8. Co-workers chatting away around the coffee station, blocking everybody else’s access to coffee. Hint: This is not your living room.
  9. My fellow Indians who do not know the concept of standing in line.
  10. Random people at work who want to join me for lunch; I try my hardest to look as unfriendly as possible and I still fail.
  11. Bartenders in crowded bars who will serve pretty girls and ignore me; how dare they!!
  12. People who do not understand my accent.
  13. People whose accents I do not understand.
  14. People who tell me I complain a lot.
  15. People who complain a lot.
  16. Hipsters at the bar with their noses glued to their smartphones.
  17. Bars that make me feel extremely unhip and uncool.
  18. Bars where Stella Artois is the only concession to European beer.
  19. Sandwiches with wrong filling/bread ratio.
  20. And lastly those who ruin my wife’s hair.

If you were offended or did not find any of this funny, feel free to unload your burden and vent using that wonderful idea of leaving a comment.

Note: The featured image is from xtwe.com.

Big Government: Myths and Realities

In this season of republican primaries there has been a lot of talk going on about how big government is strangling our economy. At the same time we are being told that the democrats are hell-bent on turning the U.S. into a european style socialist/welfare state. It is alleged that innovation and creativity is being stifled by the big government. The republican rhetoric, backed as it is by guns and bible, is rather loud and obnoxious. But that is no excuse to not look at the issue provided we do so with a dose of logic and reason thrown into the mix. Humbly I ask you to lend me you ear (or should it be eyes) and I promise to reveal you the real truth and shed some misconceptions along the way.

All right so the republicans would have us believe that the real cause of our current economic struggles is big government, over-regulation and over-spending being two main facets. It is a clever strategy to employ. Most people in U.S. are habitually suspicious of big government. It is a land of immigrants, most of whom came here to be free. Republicans know how to play on that emotion. Let us look at the issue of regulation first. I am sure there are some government agencies and laws that only have a nuisance value and need to be reformed. We have all encountered government bureaucracy at some point and it is a frustrating experience (DMV anyone?). In fact, government is synonymous with inefficiency. We naturally respond positively to the notion of trimming down the government.

 Be that as it may, we are fortunately not living the Kafkaesque nightmare of forms filled in triplicate to get even a simple task done. You would think that the talk of reining in big government would center around eliminating inefficiencies. Alas, the emphasis is on mindless de-regulation, ostensibly to help businesses. We are already being told to forget that the financial crisis was triggered by a lack of regulation, not because of over-regulation. Environmental regulation is another favorite topic in the regulatory saga; EPA is constantly derided by the republicans. Give me a break, do you know what happens when we do not force businesses to care for the environment. We only need to look at India and China to see the results of that policy. The irony is that the republican majority in the house has been primarily responsible for the inefficient government we have had to contend with for last year or so. It takes months for this current congress to pass legislation that could help the economy. Inaction due to bull-headed ideology trumping practicality passes off as reining in government I suppose. Their stance on social issues is even more hypocritical. Apparently more regulation is better when it comes to gay rights and women’s rights. So yeah, we cannot have people marrying who they want and women cannot have control of their own bodies but businesses can pretty much do anything.

Similarly muddled thinking is prevalent on the topic of taxation and spending. There obviously has to be a balance between the two. From republicans’ standpoint social safety net programs — unemployment, social security, Medicare and Medicaid, are the root of all evil. I will grant that we need to reform these programs. For example, increasing retirement age is something that has to happen, we are living longer on average. But these programs are not to blame for all our budgetary problems. We cannot forget that the two expensive wars, one somewhat justified and one completely unnecessary, we fought in the last decade contributed significantly to our current predicament. Any talk about cutting government spending must include cuts in defense spending in addition to cuts in government spending on social programs.

But I suppose it is too much to ask for lucid and rational thinking from present-day republican leaders. They are too busy chanting slogans given to them by the tea-party faithful. Mitt Romney is the only semi-decent candidate in their ranks and they are desperate to find an alternative to him. They have bought into their own spin to the point that the myth of big government is the only reality they can see. It will all end in tears.

Marines behaving badly — Whose fault is it anyway?

I am sure by now everyone has read or heard about the U.S. Marines who urinated on dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Officials on both sides as well as the media have been unflinching in their criticism of the perpetrators. There has been a distinct rush to pass judgement on the soldiers involved. We have dubbed the act deplorable, repugnant, morally reprehensible, inhuman and disrespectful to the dead. It is all that of course and I am in no way suggesting otherwise. We have been quick to express moral indignation but I wonder if we need a pause. The situation is not as black and white as it appears on the surface. Not a word has been said about the psychological impact of “society-sanctioned” killing on the soldiers. In the flush of victory when adrenaline levels run high events like this are more common than the society would care to admit. Can any of us in all honestly say there is not even a remote possibility of ourselves behaving no better under similar circumstances?

Had this event occurred in a normal milieu (i.e not war), the first thing that would have horrified us is the killing and then the post-killing act. The circumstances of war however make us overlook the killing. Instead we are focussed on what was done after. A true discussion about morality in this case would have to start with the original act of killing. But I digress. That gets into the morality and justifications for war in the first place. I am neither a war mongerer nor am I a pacifist. I am well aware that in the real world there will always be wars and to win wars soldiers have to kill enemy combatants. So yeah, we need armies to protect ourselves and to achieve that we take ordinary human beings and train them to kill other human beings. I am no expert on psychology but for most people killing other human beings is not exactly a therapeutic act. Au contraire, the person doing the killing is likely to experience great emotional distress and trauma.

In order to follow orders and do their “duty” soldiers have to come up with some means of coping. From what I understand, one commonly employed coping technique is to not think of the enemy as human. In other words it is easier to kill another person when you think they are inhuman and are clearly undeserving of common human decency. It is easy to see where this road leads to. After killing the enemy there are bound to be celebratory acts and these acts sometimes involve the victors literally taking a piss on the vanquished. Our sense of outrage is clearly misplaced. We are effectively asking our soldiers to be efficient killing machines, to only kill at order and then switch off. 

Of course this is incredibly unrealistic. What compounds this situation is the young age of the soldiers who are on the front lines in all wars. It is said that our rational brains do not fully develop till we are 25 years old. I suppose that is why the youth of the nation is the primary target for military recruiting. A completely rational individual is never going to sign up for this racket in the first place. All right, so we take these young kids, train them to disregard all concerns for their own safety, kill enemy soldiers and to disregard the fact that they will watch their friends die. On top of it all, we expect them to retain their moral compass under these most demanding of circumstances. We are in effect letting our youth (soldiers) bear the moral costs of war that should actually be borne by all of us. Frankly, it is a little too rich of us and smacks of self-serving morality.

As long as we are going to ask our younger generation to fight wars on our behalf the least we can do is equip them with proper psychological tools and training to cope better with the decidedly inhumane acts of war. Barring that, we can at least be sympathetic and understanding of their torment. For it is not they who failed us, it is us who failed them.

Keeping Resolutions: How I Quit Smoking

It has been almost a year since I quit smoking. That was my new year’s resolution for 2011. I had been smoking for fifteen years before that and it is still hard to believe that I was able to do it. I wanted to share the circumstances and thought process that made it possible for me to quit smoking. It goes without saying that this successful attempt was preceded by numerous failed ones. Lasting success often has failure as its foundation. My hope is that this will comfort and inspire you in equal parts, comfort in knowing that our struggles are the same and inspiration from the knowledge that we can succeed eventually.

Let me begin with the extent of my habit first. I was definitely not a casual smoker, you know the type, someone who smokes only while drinking and rarely buys their own cigarettes. I smoked whether happy or sad, stressed or relaxed and sometimes just out of sheer boredom. It was a rather integral part of my existence. I tried quitting on multiple occasions and did not succeed. Smoking was like a crutch that I needed and also a little treat that I looked forward to. Thinking about quitting always triggered this feeling of looming tragic loss as if I was about to part company with a dear friend. Pardon me if I appear to romanticize smoking, that is not my intent. On the contrary I merely wish to illustrate how warped our thinking can be. We are almost afraid of giving up something even when we clearly know the said thing to be harmful to us.

This is not helped by the way we think about long-term cost and short-term benefit. This is specially true when we are younger. We perceive an immediate benefit to smoking whereas the health cost is in a distant future. Human brain is particularly adept in these dark arts of rationalization. So naturally the battle has to be won in the mind first. It is fair to point out at this juncture that I was prodded into action by my wife. She was also a smoker and she insisted that we both stop smoking before thinking about kids. I gave a non-committal sort of grunt but she was having none of it and under pressure I suggested an arbitrary quit date, Jan 15th 2011, in this case.

Setting deadlines does not guarantee success however. It was the summer of 2010 when we set our quit date. Deep down I must have known that I would need about 6 months to truly convince myself that I needed to quit. That was probably the biggest difference compared to previously unsuccessful attempts. Everyday I thought just a little bit about the idea of quitting. Slowly it crept into my resistant brain and I started to “buy into” the whole concept. I effectively reprogrammed my brain. I am proud to say that I achieved this without any external aids (Nicorette, Chantix etc). On the face of it you could say that I quit cold turkey. But that is not the case. It is worth remembering that I gave myself plenty of time to come to terms with the reality of the situation. So while on the surface the transition was quite abrupt, in my mind it was smooth and facile.

It had to be that way. I don’t know about you but my brain has a built-in resistance to change. I had to come up with a more “organic” solution so to speak. In this case it involved chipping away at my own resistance in a slow and steady fashion. Once I conquered my mind, the physical struggle was practically non-existent. I am convinced that the same principle can be applied to achieve success in all endeavors of life. I look forward to hearing other people’s experiences on this topic.

War in Iraq: Folly of Nation Building

President Obama recently announced the official end of war in Iraq, ten years after we invaded Iraq presumably to find WMDs. It is well established now that we acted on wrong information. Moreover, our actions were quite unilateral and even if Iraq had WMDs there was no sign of that country’s involvement in 9/11. Regardless of the lack of justifications for the war we did “liberate” the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. We also participated in another recently concluded battle, which ended with Gaddafi’s death in Libya. If you recall Libya did not occupy our collective national consciousness in the same way as Iraq did and will continue to do, mostly because the engagement in Libya was almost “cost-free”. There were two reasons for this. First, we did not act unilaterally in Libya but as part of a broader NATO coalition. Second reason is, and this may be more important, that the NATO forces were actually aiding a popular Libyan uprising against Gaddafi. Iraq war was unpopular both here and in Iraq. Libyan uprising barely registered here and was obviously popular in Libya. Cost of war both in terms of money and human lives was unpalatable to both sides in the case of Iraq, not so with Libya. 

Libyans were very thankful for the help received from NATO. Iraqis on the other hand, happy though they were with Saddam’s capitulation, expressed gratitude grudgingly if at all. The reason is that people anywhere in the world do not like an occupational force no matter how noble and lofty the said force’s aims are. So while the US forces viewed themselves as liberators they were necessarily seen as oppressors by Iraqis. I grant that the Iraq situation was confounded by other political factors (oil, balancing Iraq against Iran, why did we not get rid of Saddam during the original gulf war) and was not a simple case of us overthrowing a dictator. But let us for a moment put aside the cynicism of politics and assume that we actually have a noble aim, untainted by any ulterior motives, of nation building based on democratic ideals. Does that give us the right to attack a country and impose our political/cultural beliefs and values? Are we entitled to tell them we know what’s best for you, you will only thank us later? More importantly, is this approach going to be successful? To answer all these questions we need to view a society as a collection of individual human beings and treat the society as a “super” individual.

One of the more basic truths about human nature is that we do not like unsolicited advice, no matter how beneficial, nor do we appreciate forceful attempts to change our behavior, irrespective of good intentions. Any true change in an individual needs to come from inside. Same holds true for a society. The spark and desire for democracy must start with-in for it to be sustainable. If a country is not ready for democracy no amount of external intervention will help. No wonder we had to stay in Iraq for so long and even after all the effort I am not sure what we have achieved. Imposing our way of life on people who are not receptive to our ideas is never going to work. All we can do is make sure that people everywhere get to see our way of life (in this hyper-connected information age it is going to happen anyway); we have to let them decide on their own that only true democratic ideals form the basis of a thriving society. As a parting gift, I recommend this movie, Manderlay, which highlights the pitfalls in assuming that everyone wants our way of life.

Love the skin you are in

This is not an advertisement for body or face lotion. That may please most of you and displease some. It is a time dear reader for reflection, not lotion. Didn’t you hear, the world is about to end. That’s what the Mayans predicted anyway. But as you and I both know the world will not end, that will perhaps be too easy. No, we will be experiencing all that life has to offer for the foreseeable future. And what better way to start the rest of our lives than with a little reflection on what has gone before. As you must be aware by now I am given to bouts of reflection, perhaps a tad too much one might argue. Most of the deductions from these reflections are rather fleeting in nature but this one in particular has stayed with me: “know and accept thyself”. You can see how well that works with the title, I thought it was quite clever of me. Enough of this frippery though, why don’t we get to the juicy bits?

Awareness of self is an important tenet of eastern philosophy. Knowledge on its own does not matter however, what matters is what you do with it. This is where “being yourself”, a central belief in modern western societies, comes into play. Basically we need to marry knowledge with acceptance. That’s nice philosophy you say but why should we care? The answer is that this philosophy can help us in leading more enriching and fulfilling lives. Remember we only get one life and more often than not we need to make consciously smart decisions to make the most of it.  And as you may have guessed already, awareness of self is the first step towards that. Self awareness can be as simple as knowing your likes and dislikes but in a deeper sense it is to know your strengths as well as weaknesses. If we have a good idea of what makes us tick, the things we are good at and things we are not good at, we give ourselves our best shot at life. In the world of sports, players and coaches always talk about playing to your strengths. I am simply advocating the need to adopt the same approach in other spheres of life.

This knowledge of self that I speak of is not that difficult to come by. As we interact with our surroundings, we start to develop a fairly good notion of who we are (see disclaimer below). In fact it is amusing that we spend half of our lives running away from ourselves, trying to become the exact opposite of who we are and therein lies the rub. One of the major issues in my opinion is that we have always been taught to measure and compare ourselves against others. In itself that is not a bad thing, without competition and incentive society would probably come to a standstill. It becomes problematic however when we start tying our self-worth and self-esteem to how well we fare compared to others. If we think about it clearly the whole notion is downright silly. No matter what walk of life we are talking about we can always find somebody who is better than us and somebody who is worse than us. If that’s the case why worry about it at all? It will be more fruitful in the end if we can just focus on performing to best of our abilities and according to our inclinations. Too often this tendency towards comparison leads to self-doubt, which can snowball into a sort of identity crisis. We are liable to start heading down the wrong roads in such a state of confusion. At some point or other in our lives, we have all experienced it I am sure. I speak of a state where we are not comfortable in our own skins and think that people are constantly evaluating us when in fact we are doing it to ourselves. We want people to like us so much that we create an outer persona that is not us. Of course it does not lead to intended consequences. Most of us appear rather foolish and unattractive when we try to be somebody we are not (except for some people who are very good actors and manage to fool themselves along with everybody else). We are instinctively leery of people who do not appear genuine to us, why should we assume that others will welcome us when we are not being true? So take a good look at yourself, start liking what you see or else life will be a long, lonely, arduous and ultimately futile trek.

Disclaimer: I am well aware that a large percentage of my fellow human beings on this planet are trapped in extremely de-humanizing circumstances and philosophical musings do naught to counter hunger and poverty. For that reason I am specifically talking about the fortunate ones who do not have to live under such circumstances.

Two deaths and the occupy movement

Two players in world politics died recently: Vaclav Havel, the ex-Czech president and Kim Jong-il, the North Korean despot. Vaclav Havel was a remarkable man who was in the main responsible for ushering in “the velvet revolution”, so-called due to its smooth and bloodless nature, thereby ending communist rule in what was then Czechoslovakia. Havel was one of very few artists to have become the head of state in any country. Given our penchant for the dramatic it makes sense that he is the least known of the two figures. Kim Jong-il on the other hand is rather well-known. He inherited his country’s rule from his equally despotic father and had been single-handedly responsibly for inflicting untold horrors on the people of North Korea. We should be glad that he is dead but his son is ready to occupy the vacuum left behind and continue the politics of oppression. 

You must be wondering why am I essentially repeating what everyone has already read or heard through various news media. The reason as always is that the two events got me thinking about various forms of governments that have been tried throughout our civilized history. These two figures in their own completely different ways did a lot to prove that democracy is the only viable alternative, however imperfect it might be. Any form of government that does not grant full freedom of speech and the right to organize is not a true democracy. Just for that reason alone we should celebrate the occupy movement. You can argue for and against the motives and debate if it was done right ad nauseam but you cannot doubt its legitimacy. It was just a group of people frustrated at feeling left out of the democratic process who were simply asserting the power of the people, which is the very essence of democracy. I will attempt to describe the circumstances leading up to the occupy movement and the varied reactions it provoked. See what you make of it.

Money is power, it always has been so, and it is never going to be equally distributed. The role of the government is to ensure that the weakest members of the society (disabled, elderly, children, mentally ill etc.) are taken care of and that everybody has access to basic necessities such as food and shelter and also to make sure that a system exists in which anyone can get ahead if they try hard enough. Of course government pays for all that thru taxation and it must be so. But it does not mean that we start taking money from the rich and start handing it out to the poor. Anytime we talk about redistribution of wealth we start to inch closer to communism and history shows that it does not work. It kills all individual incentive and breeds a dead society. We are all responsible for our own fortunes in the end and if we start to have a victim mentality that the government needs to take care of us we can kiss good-bye to a thriving society. I don’t mean to sound all self-righteous and preachy on this one but it is an important point that needs to be made. There are far too many people in the country who feel a sense of entitlement and it is because of them that the occupy movement had its fair share of detractors. There is no smoke without fire however and there were legitimate reasons behind the whole movement.

The unfortunate reality of the current state of affairs is that the free market capitalism in this country is degenerating into a deviant form of capitalism that carries with it no risk of failure. The one basic tenet of free market capitalism is that everything is driven by forces of supply and demand, which in turn dictates the profits and losses of any enterprise. Now this system has broken down big time in the nebulous world of financial industry aka wall street. What has transpired there in last few years is nothing short of outrageous. The big banks made risky bets with public money, lost their bets of course and still came out smiling at the end of it all. They had become too big to fail and had to be saved with public money again. It’s as if their actions had no punitive consequences for themselves, only for everybody else. Isn’t this a sweet set-up? In effect the general public provided the big banks with an insurance policy that the banks did not have to pay for. It was a win-win situation for the banks: if their bets panned out they stood to make enormous profits and if they failed their bets were protected anyway. Last time I checked this is completely antithetical to the basic ethos of capitalism; risk must come with its own rewards and failures. Any tampering with those basics necessarily violates the essence of capitalism. I am not saying that the bail-out for the banks was not needed. Of course it was needed, the consequences for the economy would have been catastrophic. But what is also needed is more regulation of the financial industry so as to not let the situation worsen to a point where the whole country is held hostage to the banks’ fortunes. The financial industry as a whole has become far too powerful because of what it specializes in: Money. We need to act to correct the balance of power (driven by money) that has become concentrated in too few hands. Our democracy is threatening to turn into an Oligarchy and the occupy movement was our democracy’s cry for help. And that’s what it was all about.