Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sambar and Other Recipes for Hapless Indian Bachelors

Ye Tamils stranded in foreign countries, here is your beacon of hope - the holy grail for bachelors: a Rainman Recipe for simple Sambar online:

Sadha Sambar

1. Keep Puli (Tamarind; not Tiger) in water soaking

1a. Cut Capsicum ( That is the only kind of Sambar I know)

2. Boil Toor Dal in cooker

3. After cooker whistle,

4. Take a vessel and put Puli water (filtered) with Kuzhambu podi flat 3 spoon, turmeric, LG Perungayam (very little), Salt (2 spoons typically) and the cut Capsicum

5. Ready heating vessel, with 2 spoons coconut oil,

6. Put mustard in it and heat

7. After mustard blows up in your face, Add Vathal chilli(1), Dhaniya(little) and fry light

8. On this boiling oil, pour Puli water with all that you mixed in step 4; pour fast and run

9. Let it boil for 15 minutes

10. Pour Puli water second time (that is make some more)

11. Boil again for 10 minutes

12. Take Toor Dal from cooker and pour into the almost ready Sambar

13. After 2 minutes stop heating (that means switch off the gas - not pouring water on the fire) 14. Add Karuvepilai for flavor. You got yourselves some Sambar. Now if you only had some poriyal..
I. Plantain Curry1.Cut two plantain - cut in half, remove skin, cut each half into 3, then cut more.
2.Boil plantain, with turmeric and salt in vessel with 3 times water - till is looks thoroughly defeated (at least 20-30 mins)
3. Cut some green chilli into small bits
4. Put oil, mustard in a vessel and after mustard gets angry at being so treated, add Urad Dal (Ulultham Paruppu) and wait till Dal brown.
5. Take some cut coconut
6. Put plantain (after filtering out water) in oil and run.
7. Fry somewhat
8. Add more salt(2 spoons typically)
9. Switch off
10 Add some karuvepilai
11. Add the coconut
That finishes plantain.
You can make poriyal with cabage the same way - except that cabbage is a green vegetable. So no need to boil it in water first or even add lots of water while it is boiling.
If you are in the mood for Koottu:
1. Cut cabbage (into little pieces - don't cut in two halves and wait for me to call you a moron)
2. Wash
3. Fry Paasi Paruppu. no oil
4. When it is light brown, pour water.
5. Now add turmeric, salt and cabbage
6. Take Green chili - 4, cut coconut, cumin (Cheerakam), LG perungayam, little water, put in mixie and grind
7. When Cabbage "looks" glassy (this is my wife's term)
8. Pour ground items from mixie
9. Boil - till bubbles come.
10.Add milk 1/2 cup (don't ask me why; I have no idea)
11. Light boil - 1 minute
12.Add little Coconut oil in top(not on your top; on the boiled cabbage) and Karuvepilai

Now, if only we had some Rasam (Amma used to make it; I miss hooo)
Hold on cry baby - it is not so difficult. Here is Rasam:
Refer to the Sambar recipe if you do not understand some stuff. Rasam is really Sambar (according to the Sambarites) and Sambar is really Rasam (according to the Rasamites). Come to your own conclusions:
1.Soak Puli in water
1a. Cut tomato
2. Boil Toor Dal, turmeric in cooker - 2 hand fulls of toor dal - double water
3. After cooker whistle,
4. Put Puli thanni with Kuzhambu podi or Rasam podi flat 1 spoon, turmeric, LG Perungayam, Salt, Cut Tomato
5. Keep Vessel, with ghee, mustard and heat
6. Add Jeeragam, Vathal chili after mustard goes bananas; fry light
7. Pour Puli thanni
8. Boil - 10 minutes
9. 2nd time Puli thanni
10. Boil light (5 mins)
11.Pour Dal from cooker into rasam
12. After 1 minute stop boiling
13. Add Coriander (Kothamalli), Karuvepilai
With Rasam, if you got the smell you are done - who cares about how it really tastes.
Now, how do you cook Aracha Sambar, a special version of Sambar that only the most superior cooks know and pass on from generation to generation?
Refer the Sambar section for some details;
1. Soak Puli in water
1a. Cut Sambar Onion without skin.
1b. Get some drumstick ready
2. Boil Toor Dal in cooker
3. After cooker whistle, -- take Kadalai Dal, one red chili, Dhaniya, small amount Toor Dal and fry without oil
4. Take cut coconut and fry Mix with the above

5. To Puli thanni add Kuzhambu podi flat 3 spoon, turmeric, LG, Salt, drum stick
6. To vessel, add 2 spoons cocnut oil, mustard and then wait for mustard to express its displeasure

7. Add the cut onion- fry well

8. Pour Puli thanni

9. Boil - 15 minutes

9a. Add the above combination from 3 and 4 and mix in the mixie.

10. Add 2nd time Puli thanni

11. Boil well - 10 minutes

12. Pour Dal from cooker into Sambar

13. Boil 1 minute

14. Add the above Mixed stuff

15. Boil one more minute

16. Add Karuvepilai

You are done!!!

A few notes to cokking poriyal - as you have seen I have not delineated how to make potato fry and other poriyals. They all follow the same logic of plantain - except that with cabbage, Lady's finger etc you should not boil them too much in water (except if you want to do it for fun and that is your idea of fun). With potato:
1. Cut potato
2. Put oil and mustard in vessel and heat
3. After the noise dies down, add potato, turmeric, some sambar podii, salt and water
4. Let potato boil
That is it - very poor man's potato poriyal is ready!
I think most of the above should work - if you had some common sense. For example, the LG is meant to be added in little bits. I know of people who added lots for flavor and then almost passed out eating the result.

Also watch other cookers (I mean people who cook) carefully until they get uncomfortable. Ask stupid questions. That way you can learn more.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

To Saral Or Not To Saral

I believe there are two kinds of men – those who look forward to filing Form-16 (saral or whatever) and those who get diarrhea thinking about it.
My friend Ramesh is of the first kind – he said he feels the thrill of adrenaline as he contemplates a tax form; he knows Tax law better than most lawyers. He has a separate tax chair where he sits and pores through the ancient lore of tax evasion; loopholes; deductibles;HRA; nothing upsets him.
I, on the other hand, think deductibles are sea monsters.
I believe tax evasion has a long history – if you asked American scholars (Howard Bloom, as an example) they may trace the earliest tax evasion to Athens; and go on and on about how they fought against taxes and the Persians. In American history, everything traces back to Athens; then they move onto Rome and then jump straight to 1776.
But why do people feel the need to not pay taxes?
I interviewed an anonymous source (Ramesh) for this and he explained I am looking at this the wrong way – it is not that he is avoiding tax; he said tax loopholes are similar to the Easter Egg celebration. It is an annual game in which the government hides some statement such as “Whereas the wherewithal for hereupon the party of the first thereafter habeas corpus Ramesh no pay tax” in the 1179th page of the budget. And then they go, “Now go find it”, to all the kids. Ramesh wants to be the first to find it.
What does finding that information give him (apart from lots of money)?
So, I asked him, “Why do you find loopholes in tax law?”
And he said, “Because they are there”.

My company’s accounts department helpfully sent all employees an excel sheet with formulae for everything so that we could easily figure out the tax we owed.
I opened the sheet and looked at rows and rows of “HRA (18-C)” and thought, “This must be simple”.
I entered all my information and scrolled down eagerly to look at my tax liability.
It came up to 200000036749.50.
It seemed huge even to me; I experimented with adjusting the numbers and got it down to 174642397.8.
At this point I thought I needed to get out of the country fast because I seemed to be paying the most tax in the country. I had two choices – either get out of the country or go to the accounting department at 4th floor.
I steeled myself and decided to get out of the country.

I had heard horrible stories of the 4th floor accounting section – there were people who went there and never returned. Some came back permanently scarred waking up screaming from nightmares in the middle of the night.
The accounting section also sent weird emails with lots of explanations (that they probably thought were helpful). I put them in junk mail and was now paying for it (literally).
I was packing up to go to some place where there were no taxes (Moon – I know that the astronauts in the International Space Station pay taxes; it is called tax deduction from space) when a couple of other tax-challenged zombies suggested going up and talking to the accounting guys. I went up.
I have always noticed that accountants have the same smirk on their face when talking to employees as auto mechanics. Have you ever tried to explain what is wrong with your car to a mechanic? He scratches his ass when you are talking, shares jokes with other mechanics, blows his nose, spits on the ground and then blows cigarette smoke in your face. The reason is they believe you are a moron – if you do not know that the carburettor power screw nuts are slightly bent, then how good a programmer are you?
Accountants are the same way – if you do not know that section 418C is one of the three health savings account deeds under which you can claim standard exemption – what good are you? Why do you even exist? You are the reason the country is going to the dogs.
(By the way, both automobile servicing and accounting are apparently men’s jobs. I have never seen a single female accountant yet.)
But accountants do not scratch their asses while you are talking to them. You have to give it to them. They are much more sophisticated.
So the accounter guy stared at me with thinly vined contempt.
“This is your excel sheet?” he asked me, showing the printout.
He surveyed it and then showed it to the guys sitting next to him. They all had a hearty laugh.
He then asked me what I paid last year.
I told him.
He smiled again and said, “I did not ask your yearly tax; I am asking about the monthly tax”.
I said, “That is the monthly tax”.
Now all of the department was paying attention to me. I smiled to myself; “so you bastards now know how important I am”.
But the accountant said, “You cannnot have these kinds of savings for that monthly tax. You need to buy a home”.
I was still smiling. “I am going to buy one soon”.
The accountant nodded, looked at the excel sheet and did some calculations. Then he said, “You are not going to be paid for the next 4 months.”

“And we need your passport.”

The war for Earth

Probably I am more politicised than most Indians, but I thought I should build a primer Political ideas and their relation to International politics – basically about a set of patterns that politics follows in most countries. I also believe there is a giant fight looming ahead (I compare this to the War for Middle Earth).
The reason I focus somewhat on America is because the fight there is well defined; the positions are well marked; and the internal politics there has repercussions across the world. I believe the same war is going on in India, but here it is more at a visceral level than at the level of ideas.
We know that most developed countries have a two-party system – in UK it is the Conservative and the Labor. In the USA it is the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Very soon after the USA became the world’s first constitutional republic in 1776, the leaders of the revolution split out and formed the Republican and the Democratic parties. For a hundred years after that the Democrats represented the Southern slave-owning white farmers; while the North got more and more industrialized and was heavily supportive of the Republican party. In the runup to the elections of 1860, Abraham Lincoln was the Republican candidate.
How did the Republican party move from being the party of Lincoln to the party of Bush?
To understand this we have to consider the flow of ideologies since the Industrial Revolution.
The Ideas of the Modern Era
Voltaire, prior to the French Revolution had come up with the idea of human rights – that all humans are basically created equal; that the they had the freedom to express their opinions; that governments were formed from the consent of people; that they had the rights to pursue life and liberty.
This was a departure from the then prevalent ideas of a government as an aristocracy. Government became an arrangement that people would form themselves; that they would choose a set of people among themsleves to take care of forming policies; and implementing them.
This was in line with the pure forms of democracy and self-government that had existed all around the world (not just in the West). In Africa, in China, India, the counties of England and in the puritan societies of 17th century New England – there existed village councils. These were adminsitrative and regulatory councils whose members were generally elected; in which most male members of the society could debate decisions.
So, the idea of human rights was radical; but that of self government was not. But both of these combined to inspire the founding fathers of the USA.
At this same time, philosophy of secularism had also originated (and reflected in the constitution of the United States). That government ought not to discriminate against citizens of minority religions or races was expressed in the constitution (but not fully realized until the 20th century).
Adam Smith had published his “Wealth of Nations” by this time. There was a consciousness of the market and its cycles. Capitalism was recognized as a mechanism of creating wealth. Immediately, there was tension between two sets of ideas in regulating economy – Adam Smith was of the opinion that since the market regulates itself, government ought not to interfere in business. This is the idea of “laissez faire” capitalism. It means “leave alone” in French. The people who believed in laissez faire, believed that governments ought not to step in and regulate business at all – if they do so, they will upset the market dynamics. They COULD cause a less capable business to survive better than a more capable business. This will, as an end result, affect consumers. Laissez fare capitalists also believed that government should stay out of business – that is the government itself should NOT run any business. They believed it would be inefficient to do so and would again go against the laws of the market. (This is what we call in India as a move towards privatization). As an example, laissez fare capitalists will not approve of the Government of India running the Indian Railways.
The opponents of laissez fare thought businesses, if unregulated, would completely pursue profit by all means and thus ignore public good. For example, a business would not respect protection of the environment and would completely exploit resources and labor unless it is regulated. Some of these opponents also believe that the government SHOULD run some services – such as transportation or water supply.
As a summary, we see a set of ideas taking shape in the world of 18th century – democracy, constitutional republics, human rights, self-government, secularism, and ideas of economics and regulation. Some of these ideas existed before – but they were crystallized in the constitution of the United States.
Let us consider one more pivotal idea before moving on to the 19th century – the concept of a commune.
In the 16th century, the “Utopia” was published. This book talked about a mythical land were people live in a small “commune”. They do not own priivate property. They all work together and share the fruits of such work. Since the Utopia came out a small group of philosphers contributed more to the idea of “communism” and thought this is where human society should head for.
It is critical to understand that Utopia was meant to be a GOAL that the world should work towards. The ideal of communism at that point had not been associated with labor and the revolution.

The Effects of the Industrial Revolution
The sum of ideas explained above were radical; for example secularism was a major departure from previous ideas of government policy. When these ideas originated, they were immediately met with opposition. The idea that all humans are created equal meant slaves would have the same rights as their owners. In the beginning of the 19th century, the United States was going through a period of religious revivalism. Mormonism was founded around mid 1800s. The Mormons challenged the idea that government could interfere in private beliefs. If government could regulate economy, could it control who owned guns and who did not? There were obviously limts of government regulation. Opinions varied from zero regulation (that is the philosophy of small government or Libertarianism) to complete regulation. For example Libertarians in the USA do not believe that drugs should be banned; they believe government should NOT control individual use of drugs.
So, the ideas of democracy, secularism and government’s own role were being challenged already. Meanwhile, industrialization was creating a new class of humans – Labor.
At this time, of course, the world was in the grips of powerful colonizers such as Britain and Spain. Colonialism and racism were being justified by intellectuals across the world.
In this specific context, Karl Marx published the “Communist Manifesto” along with Engels.

We should remember that although Karl Marx’s name evokes strong reaction around the world, he is still respected as one of the three great economists of all time (along with Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes). Marx’s theories are taught in top economic schools around the world; and they have not really been refuted. Marx was first and foremost an economist – then a philospher.
When Marx analyzed the economics of Industrial world, he came to the conclusion that the world was heading towards complete exploitation of labor by capitalist businesses. He wrote that businesses, in their natural process, tended towards complete control of the three means of productions – Capital, Resources and Labor.
This led to the frightening scenario of a world dominated by huge corporations that “owned” the labor – a complete polarization of the haves and the have-nots.
In order to prevent this, he advocated revolution – organization of the labor into unions; and collective bargaining. He also thought ultimately such a revolution would create a world in which private property will not exist; the market will not exist; and “the State will wither away”.
The difference between communism and capitalism is summarized in these statements – Capitalism advocates from each according to his need; to each according to his capability. Communism advocates from each according to his capability; to each according to his need.
This is just a hint of his opinons; Marx also had wide ranging thoughts on colonialism; imperialism;even the Indian caste system.
Marx was chased from country to country for organizing labor and advocating communism.

The idea of socialism is that government should play a major role in making sure that resources of a country are spread equitably. Socialists may not be opposed to the market or private property; provided government meets the above objective. The modern ideas of universal free health care for all citizens, public transportaion, social security and pensions are all in the socialist spectrum.

The Formation of the Left
Broadly, the philosophies of communism, socialism, liberalism, progressivism, environmentalism (the greens) come together to form the leftist spectrum of ideas. What do typical leftists believe in?
They believe in democracy – they believe that government should be representative. Contrary to popular beliefs, even communists believe in democracy.
They believe in decentralization – atleast most do. In the Indian context, they believe that states should have more powers. Leftists such as me believe that states should give more powers to panchayats and city councils.
They believe in strict government regulation of the economy and businesses. They believe businesses should be environment conscious; not allowed to exploit their emloyees. The whole idea of corporate citizenship that is being promoted is rightist. Leftists hate that idea.
They believe workers have a right and a say in the businesses. They believe in trade unions and collective bargaining (such as negotiations on bonuses).
They believe that government should run basic services – for free. They should do this by taxing the rich heavily. Governments should provide free health care for all; build public hospitals; build public schools; run public transportation.
Governments should protect what are called “public commons” and never give it to private ownership. An example is water bodies.
Governments should NOT discriminate against any religion or race. In fact governments should provide special protection to minorities and allow them to flourish.
For leftists such as me, nationalism and patriotism are worthless ideas. In an ideal world, nations will not have borders restricting immigration, because it prevents an equal distribution of resources.
Leftists do not believe in Free Trade – they believe that this is calculated to promote the products of richer countries; and they believe it is anti-poor.
Leftists also believe in consumer protection.
Leftists are generally against capital punishment (the death penalty). They believe prisons should be reformed.
Leftists believe that corporate ownership of media is wrong.
Leftists oppose huge defense budgets; any aggressive war.

As an example, I oppose sending an Indian manned mission to the Moon – I believe it is a fruitless exercise of nationalism; and also that with that budget we can provide free primary education for all in India.

As you can see above, the broad thrust of leftist philosophies is based on the belief in human rights; the belief that humanity is a common brotherhood; and the belief that human nature is basically good and it is the duty of society to provide the right conditions for development. As Harold Lasky said “Liberty is that state in which a man can realize his full potential”.
Now ranged against these are rightists – but rightists do not share a common thrust as leftists do. A collection of groups challenged by leftist philosphies form rightists – such as
Religious right – these (in any country) consider their religion as threatened. They consider the leftist philosphy of secularism as evil and unacceptable.
The Corporations – these are challenged by regulation,and cannot fulfill their goal of profit maximization.
Capitalists – these consider the path to wealth fastest if government has a small role; and also consider any regulation of the market as dangerous.
Nationalists – these consider their nation to be exclusive; unique and exceptional. They pursue importance in world affairs and believe in geo politics as ameans of gaining power. They are challenged by the left’s denial of borders; promotion of immigration; and the assertion of universal brotherhood.
Racists – these are similar to nationalists.
Fascists – These believe in unbridled corporatism and militarism. They are challenged by the left’s insistence on human rights.
Libertarians – who believe in small government and zero regulation.
Colonialists and Imperialists – Those who believe that their countries have the right to attack and conquer resources (including labor and markets).

We should remember the following while staking out the above positions:
Leftists are organised in a spectrum – for example, progressives believe that in the fight, we do have the right to comment on certain indvidual beliefs – for example, a progressive has no problem saying a religious person should be corrected. A liberal would balk at this position because of its judgemental attitude. Leftists fight as fiercely among themselves as with rightists.
The United Nations (other than the Security Council) is organized in the principles of liberalism. The United Nations Charter is a good expression of liberal beliefs.
The constitution of India is based on liberal beliefs – Sections 36 to 41 of the constitution are called the Directive Principles of State Policy; these are clearly liberal.
Gandhians are leftists.
Nazis were rightist.
Some of the first laws passed by the Indian Parliament were for labor protection.
Most leftists agree that there should be a market – they just think it should be strictly regulated.

Given the above let us walk through the war over the last hundred years playing out all around the world.

The 20th Century and the War Against the Right
In the beginning of the 20th century most of the world was faced with wars; racism; unbridled capitalism; and colonialism under which a billion people lived. Meanwhile, Gandhi had started the Satyagraha in South Africa – he had expressed interest in civil disobedience.
Meanwhile the “suffargatists” were fighting for voting rights for women and all adults in the USA and Britain
Meanwhile there was an armed revolution in Russia and the establishment of the first Socialist state.
Meanwhile the First World War had started and ended killing millions. Fascism as a movement was born in Italy and Germany.
Meanwhile the Great Depression was under way in the United States.
It was obvious that the prevailing governance model in the world could not be sustained.
There was a global consciousness of community mobilisation – that people had to come together as a community and fight for their rights. In the USA, both the left and the right were organising well – the left for civil rights and desegregation and the right for racial purity.
It was at this time, as the USA was coming out of the depression that Roosevelt announced the New Deal. The New Deal basically established Social Security; more than that it was a giant acknowledgement of the leftist ideal that society has to share its resources equitably. With this, the developed countries started incorporating more and more socialist principles in their public policy.
The Right fought back – while it won some, it lost many. The Left won the battle for civil rights (for blacks) in the USA. The Left won abortion rights for women. The Right has tried to hit back at Social Security repeatedly – seeing it as opposed to capitalist ideals. But it has failed till now.
Most developed countries are more leftist than the USA – Sweden has tax rates upto 60% and provides free health care, free education and good public transportaion for all. Sweden, Canada and Newzealand have the best living standards among nations and have the highest Human Development Index.

The Corporations, on the other hand, have also tried to fight back; they lead the fight for Free Trade and Globalization. The World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – all have highly secretive unelected members and all have played havoc in developing countries with policies such as “Structural Adjustment”. The IMF policy of privatising education has directly led to the current plight of thousands of students in India. McKenzie consulting’s restructuring advice in Andhra Pradesh led to the thousand of farmer suicides there.
The Religious Right in the USA is now in direct alliance with corporations – the Right successfully mobilised voters to put George W. Bush in power.

Developing countries are trying to cut down on public expenditure – water was privatized in Bolivia; this caused riots to break out. Genetically Modified (GM) crops have been banned in most European countries – and still the Indian government appoves them.

Thus there is a global war going on, right now between the Right and the Left. In India, most people are not aware of this war. The Indian middle class has trite beliefs – that “Socialism is dead” even though it is the principle by which most Western governments are run.. They readily believe in the superpower myth created by the media. They do not understand what philosophies have survived; been proved good; and what have lost.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Thinkers and Designers

I was chatting with a potential recruit to my company. He was thought to show promise by HR; he was confident, expressed himself clearly. Around 5 years of experience.
I asked him what his role was in his company. He said he was a designer. (Ofcourse, he meant software design). I asked him if I could ask him coding questions.
He gave me a condescending look and said he had not coded for the last 9 months. He purely "designed".
I asked him how he "designed" without reference to technology; he dismissed that question. He just decided how things should work. It was upto lesser "programmers" to implement his design.
He also informed me that his company had a special design team; that people were promoted to it for "outstanding" performance. They apparently stopped the lowly job of coding on reaching that team; they just designed.
I asked him specific questions on a couple of simple technologies and he had no clue. He had no knowledge about design methodologies; software development processes or any knowledge of design as a discipline.
I have always been surprised by this - how can technical people, in the beginning of their career, reject coding as menial labor and style themselves as designers? Isn't that career suicide? I would never hire a person to a technical position if they did not know hands-on coding. It is my belief that you can never really design a good software system without knowing the technologies used to some degree. Technology-agnostic design does not exist.
Does this mean a .NET architect can never design a good Java based enterprise system? It does not mean that. But it is essential to have a good grasp of atleast one suite of application technology.
As an example, let us say you are asked to create a data warehouse that aggregates data from different systems. It does help to know the concepts of Extraction, Tranformation and Loading; it helps to know multi dimensional querying; it helps to know dimensions and measures and aggregate queries. If you did not take into account specific technologies; if you have not even tried your hand at MDX; I would claim you cannot come up with a useful design.
All that you can do is draw a few blocks and say this little box talks to that big box and sound knowledgeable. CTOs can do that - not system designers. Design is more than that. It is actually creating an integrated system taking into account functional and non-functional requirements. If someone says "I sit and design a web application without being skilled in any programming language", then that person is a worthless hire.
I had the same experience with a guy in my neighborhood. He was 3 years out of college and he said his job was to "think". I am serious - he said his company pays him to think. I pictured him sitting in his cubicle contemplating the monitor. He thinks and he thinks and then he said he comes up with a solution. He then kindly shares it with the dumb programmers and they go and just do the simple job of coding. He said he did not do coding. I was surprised by this and he explained to me that he does code - sometimes - because he takes it upon himself to do a module. He was careful to clarify that nobody actually makes him code the module; he does it out of the goodness of his heart.
Actually that is what this attitude comes down to - these guys are ashamed to say they code because then that means they take orders from someone. They bow to no one. And they want to be tech leads.
That is the other aspect of interviewing - I have noticed that some people love to be questioned on "concepts". To them, a set of coding questions is insulting - one guy I interviewed in Philadelphia said it was like a quiz. I think this is just a sham attitude. If you did hands-on coding, it is the duty of the interviewer to find out. I can keep on asking vague questions about your last project, your attitude to team work, your strengths and weaknesses and crap like that - it does not help in judging your value as a technical person. A technical perosn must know coding and must answer specific coding questions, period.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

My experiences in Karuthu

Around an year back, Kanimozhi Karunanidhi and Karthik Chidambaram started a message forum called Karuthu ( They wanted to promote free expression of thoughts - this was the peak of PMK's Talibanism, and during the Kushboo episode.
I became a member right away - I enrolled on Nov 13 2005. Since then I have regularly posted there till a couple of weeks back.
Why did I write in Karuthu?
Karuthu over time became a very vibrant community with around 10000 members (although only around 200 of them are active, regular). There is no doubt that these are kindred spirits - that like me, they feel passionately towards social, economical, cultural issues. They feel the need to communicate and reach across to others around the world. Almost all are Tamils and they are spread across the world. I found an opportunity to challenge people on capitlism, religious fanaticism, historical beliefs. Initially my goal was to project ideas about liberalism, and clarify where opinions stand - if they are conservative or liberal. For example, language promoters in Tamil Nadu have been accused of being fanatics. An opinion such as "Let us make Tamil education compulsory in all schools" is thought to be fanaticism - even though such an opinion in the global spectrum is actually liberal. Media and higher classes have successfully projected such opinions as retrograde. But, kids go around in Tamil Nadu without even knowing their native tongue. They have no connection with modern Tamil literature and have a tendency (along with their parents) to communicate entirely in English when outside. Is it true that they are doing this because they are liberal? No - they are doing this because they have no conception of what the social, cultural and even economic effects are of not learning the native language where you live in.
The way these people misunderstand is exemplified by this question - "How would our children survive outside Tamil Nadu?". Survival outside Tamil Nadu does not require learning all subjects in English. It means you should know English as a language. And nobody is preventing that. All that we ask for is coexistence of Tamil. All that we ask for is that Tamil be also learnt. For this we are branded as fanatics.
Thus protection of language is a liberal cause - it is conservative to say a language should not be protected.
This difference in ideologies and where opinions fall under - this I wanted to highlight.

My experience in Karuthu
In several posts starting in November 2005, I could convey my sets of opinons. I wrote a piece criticising President Kalam - and it became a general discussion of capitalism and India's path to modernism. I also participated in several discussions on women's role. I could convey my position with the underlying principle of post-modernism. I recently wrote a post on "The Good Fight" on the looming fight between leftists and the neo-liberal, corporate, religious right. I generally got attacked by right wing economic champions; but the discussions were civil. The admin moderates responses very well.
Our community involved a few colorful online personalities - many of them posted opposing views, but I respect them as fellow debaters.

Now, about the actual views of the modern Tamil onliner:
The most positive aspect with Karuthu is that many people are from ordinary backgrounds and care for the disadvantaged. Many of them have struggled in life with poverty. I rarely found Hindu fanatics. I would say many were more liberal than, say a typical North Indian posting in I have got ino debates in, and there is no doubt that Karuthu users are more knowledgable, down-to-earth and none have the fantasies that rediff readers seem to have about Indian ultra-nationalism.
1. Generally there were many who supported the DMK heavily. I found very few ADMK supporters. The people who supported the DMK could not defend it much, but still supported the party. Many of these did not have a clear idea about the role of political parties in a democracy. They treated parties as rivals and supported one camp or another, as if it is a football game. The belief that a party is a private, monolithic entity is well entrenched. This is not good for democracy. For example, most of them did not see anything wrong in Dayanidhi Maran's sudden appointment and rise in prominence - they thought it was fine as long as he did a good job.
2. There is a widespread belief that Periyar and his DK were fighters for social justice - even though most evidence points to them being a fascist entity. I wrote a post about this.
3. There is lots of space for Tamil race fanatics - by this I do not mean supporters of the Tamil language (of which I am one). I mean the ones who think the Indus Valley civilisation is Tamil; those who believe in Lemuria; those who cannot stand Sanskrit as a language. These people are as bad as the Hindu fanatics; and they think they are liberal!! I frequently got into very depressing debates on history with them.
4. One unsurprising note is that there is lots of anti-Brahmin feeling among the debaters. many of them drag in Brahmins into debates that have nothing to do with them. The overall Tamil attitude to Brahmins is very similar to the Hindu fanatics attitude to Muslims. Most Tamils seem to regard Brahmins as an alien race and think evidence for that is well-established.
5. People have a very flexible attitude towards history - most people read things online and found nothing wrong in forming outlandish conclusions. I pointed out in a post that history is as much a science as physics. While nobody would question the theory of gravity, I found people ready to say "Violence was brought into India by Aryans" and then defend it.
6. The discussions on economics were very illuminating - people were pretty knowledgeable. But, I did find that the standard (untrue) view that "Socialism has collapsed" expressed repeatedly.
I have to point out that most of the negatives above are actually more pronounced in national message boards such as or
Overall I found it a very vibrant, self-aware community. Some of the debates were very bitter and I got into several fights. Surprisingly the bitterest fights were with fellow leftists - particularly progressives. Missionary-like zeal runs through many progressives and I found their attacks more disturbing than the rightist fanatics.

My post in DailyKos on American Patriotism

My first diary in DailyKos was about American Nationalism and its effect on the world. The post was titled - "World cannot afford American patriotism".

Barack Obama to the Chicago Council on Globl Affairs:

Only through this phased redeployment can we send a clear message to the Iraqi factions that the U.S. is not going to hold together this country indefinitely -- that it will be up to them to form a viable government that can effectively run and secure Iraq.

I am not American; I am an East Indian who had lived in America. I was in America during the September 11 attacks; during the attack on Iraq; during the Kerry challenge to Bush. I have been a member in Daily Kos for some time, and this is my first post.
When the attack on Iraq was being planned, I was talking with a friend, an American, member of the Democratic party. I said atrocities WILL be committed by American troops in Iraq. He laughed me off - he claimed the American army was far too disciplined for that.
Another friend claimed that Iraqis who were bombed to death during the war and subsequently, deserved it - his argument was that America had declared war on Iraq and whoever remained should have been prepared to be bombed. I argued that America actually never declared war and that by the same logic, the 9/11 attacks could be justified (Osama had declared war on America).

I noticed that Americans had a very narrow view of the world and its history - including the Leftists. For example, the guy above thought all the Iraqis should have left for Jordan when the Americans started bombing; no idea about the size of Iraq or its population (let alone the unfairness of requiring that people leave when America decides to bomb).
The American character, I have found, has a very strong belief in their government system and its capabilities. An indomitable conviction that their military is different from everyone else in the world (inspite of every evidence to the contrary). Americans appeared convinced that their democratic legacy traces from the "origin of democracy" Athens. A lot of historic revisionism has established to the average American that their system is the best that could have evolved.
But, the battle for morality has already been lost by America - even the America of liberals such as Obama.
Obama, Clinton and many Democratic public figures keep complaining about Iraqi leaders not being good enough. The debate in public space in America is suddenly about how bad the Iraqis are - the Bush camp asks for a little more time with them and Democrats want to give the Iraqis an "ultimatum". The MSM reports these worthies' statements religiously with no challenge.
Americans have succesfully taken the death of a hundred thousand Iraqis and made it a domestic campaign issue about liberalism and conservatism - without any analysis of their culpability in these deaths. Most of America is discussing the deaths of their beloved Marines, the debate is about "our sons and daughters" - not about the innocents slaughtered by their own military. Human interest stories abound in WaPo and the NYT about the Marines' families and their morale.
Now all the blame for this slaughter has been posted over the wall to the bloody Iraqi militias and their not-so-civil war. The whole world is supposed to be in thrall over the opinion polls of this great country - about how many points this president's approval rating went up or down.
Actually the world has moved on; most people around the world realise that the moral war is lost.
America has no hope unless its politicians and citizens realise their country is no more unique, no more greater than any other nation - They are no different from any other coloniser in history. Their war-time idol cannot be Winston Churchill, seriously - the Churchill who presided over the war-time famine in Bengal that killed a million Indians? The Churchill who called Palestinians a Mongrel race?
The world cannot afford this continuing expression of American patriotism now in the bloody streets of Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad or Kabul, previously in Vietnam.
How about apologising to the Iraqis, promising a percentage of American GDP to Iraq for the next 50 years, and pay compensation to every killed Iraqi's family?