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Designing the future; Shinter

TIME Magazine has got an interesting section called 10 ideas for the next 10 years on this weeks issue. It features some interesting ideas dealing with thoughts ranging from why watching Kubrick’s 2001 – A space Odyssey is depressing (I’m always surprised how people attribute the work to Kubrick instead of Clarke), how and why white America will become a minority group, how an increasing amount of people are turning their backs on the rat race to lead more chilled out lives  to how TV will save the world.

Personally i am partial to the one before that last one. Utopic or starkly authoritarian views of the future have always fascinated me; not because they are a contradiction, but simply because utopia never seems to exist in the future unless iron-hard control is exercised throughout the system. Orwell’s 1984 portrays the bad side of it, while Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World shows the psychotic side of it. Iain M. Banks though comes out with a wholly agreeable outlook for the future of humans that i wouldnt mind freezing my brain for another few hundred thousand years to be a part of.

But just like Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 gave us a nice ride through fantasy, Iain M. Banks’s future controlled by super benevolent, super(artificially)intelligent yet independent Minds dedicated to the running of the known galaxy while ensuring all their flesh and blood species led completely pampered lives may seem the stuff of fairy tales come year 1,000,000; our computers can still seriously mess our lives up. But on scales vastly less devious than HALs.

People look at the future and see magic. But then in reality it’s just probably the same us out there with a fancier phone, wearing goofier clothes and holding atrocious moral compasses.

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Wearing a Sri Lankan Sarong; pic by Munir

Lately I’ve been growing increasingly fond of wearing the sarong. I should be surprised because a few years ago i was confident i would never take to the loose wrap around with the tendency to sneakily unravel itself whilst you are asleep.

The sarong is a versatile garment. its easy to put on and take off, it does the job in preserving your modesty (an important factor in Muslim households), it looks decent when properly worn and it manages to do all these things while affording you a great deal of ‘freedom’ and air down there at the same time.

According to wikipedia, sarong wearing is on the drop in Sri Lanka. Apparently there is a strong stigma of it being the attire for the less educated, lower social classes attached to it. Most urban men therefore only wear sarongs for convenience at home or as a night garment. But it is also making a comeback as a fashion statement. At least it did a few years ago, when there was a upsurge of batik/printed sarongs worn to parties all over the place. The craze has died down somewhat i think. But I’ve noticed ordinary people wearing the sarong a lot more in public lately. I put it down to an increased sense of national identity.

Young people are yet to take to the sarong in a big way. Its popular among a few of the new age hipster crowd as a garment to wear when lounging about in expensive cafes but it is still by and large impractical for everyday use. If you’re taking the bus and have to walk around Colombo then wearing a pair of pants is much more practical. Pants were developed with one thing in mind; practicality for Western living. And most of our living originates from the West; from our houses to the way we travel to the way we eat and, consequently, dress. At least, thats a theory of mine.

Anyway, sarongs developed mostly in the Mid East and Asia pacific regions of the world as far as i can discern. The Scots had the kilt but thats not exactly a sarong is it? more of a masculine skirt. Probably more suited to bloody battles on cold winter mornings etc. But in the Mid East, Africa and the Asia Pacific one can see a strong sarong element across various nationalities’ native dresses. Was that sentence correctly constructed? ok nvm. So i guess we evolved our grass skirts in an expansive manner while in Europe they preferred a more compact constriction. But in saying that i’m presuming I know a lot about the origins of pants.

Its all very confusing really. But the phenomenon of skirt like gear is not restricted to our immediate global vicinity either. In fact, looking at what i know of our historical dress codes from all the movies I’ve seen its becoming obvious that men all over the world have started off wearing some form of skirt. Take the Red Indians, the Romans, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Japanese etc etc. The fiercest warriors of countless civilizations have always preferred a skirt. This knowledge has the potential of liberating thousands of henpecked males worldwide forced to let their wives wear the ‘pants in the relationship’ by the realization that wearing the skirt while your wife hogs the pants is probably the more masculine thing to do anyway. Introspection in this area is probably strongly discouraged by the female psyche in such instances.

But all this digression is besides the point of my post. Which is basically about the sarong. And how I’m beginning to like wearing it more and more. I might even start rocking one in public very soon. Be very afraid.

There has been some mystery surrounding the Foreign Policy of our governemnt for some time now. Increasing signs of ‘disturbing’ alliances with ‘antagonistic’ nations such as Iran, Russia and China during the war and subsequent post war events especially in the Human Rights department have got a lot of people wondering why we are so openly going against the West. The following article from the Sri Lanka Guardian sheds some light on the whole affair. Cheers to Zack for the link.

The position of the governments of India and a group of states that can collectively be called the Periphery, such as the U.S. and Australia, were in support of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers, either overtly or covertly. Many of these governments also provided this support tacitly, so as not to close any future opportunity of co-opting Sri Lanka after the fighting was over.

(…)In contrast, the governments of a group of states that can jointly be called Eurasia as a collective entity, such as Iran and Russia, supported the Sri Lankan government. The polar nature of the support by Eurasia and the Periphery for the two different combating sides in the Sri Lankan Civil War betrays the scent or odour of a much broader struggle. This is a struggle that extends far beyond the borders of the island of Sri Lanka and its region.

Why is this so? Much of the answer to such a question has to do with the formation of a growing alliance in the Eurasian landmass against the international domination of the U.S. and its allies.(…)In 2009, the last chapter of the Sri Lankan Civil War was very much a theatre within this process.

– Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Sri Lanka Guardian October 29, 2009

Read the rest or continue for a quick summary

There is growing division among the West and countries of the ‘Eaurasian’ coalition of which the main stakeholders are Russia, China and Iran. Sri Lanka is caught between a power struggle between Western and Eurasian nations due to its strategically important location in a key supply chain line connecting the East with the rest of the world. The West has either wised up to this long ago or had their own ideas of its importance as evidenced by Diego Garcia; a key military base jointly held by the US and British armed forces situated approx 1000 miles exactly south of Sri Lanka.

The LTTE was seen as a threat to the Eaurasian alliance cementing their control of Sri Lanka, as a ‘Balkanized‘ SL would have meant instability and a possible loss of control to the ‘periphery’. So support was provided to the Government of Mahinda Rajapakse to help it eradicate the LTTE. This was not seen in a friendly light by the West and aid from that region declined at a tremendous pace; almost as fast as aid increased from Iran and China. In 2008, within the military framework, Chinese aid reached $1billion while US aid dropped down to $14million. Iran chipped in with interest free loans and extended support fot the GOSL to get its crude oil situation sorted out.

This Eurasian Alliance formed along the lines of the Primakov Doctrine (which chiefly advocates a ‘nonpolar’ world) has formed the ‘NATO of the East’; the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) of which Sri Lanka has become a ‘dialogue partner’ (see right on SCO wiki page). The Hambanthota ‘harbour’ under construction is really a Chinese naval base; A part of the Chinese ‘string of pearls’ strategy to strengthen its military power in the region to secure its supply chains originating from the Mid East and Africa. 

Now the primary interests if the Eurasian states lie in consolidating their influence in Sri Lanka. They need to ensure that a government friendly to them will remain in power in order for them to do this. End of summary.

Given this context, some light is shed on the possible underlying reasons why the president is now referring to Gen Sarath Fonseka as a traitor. We will probably see some strong propaganda coming out of Temple Trees soon to the effect that the General is trying to undo all the hard work put into winning the war in a selfish and frustrated bid for power. Both sides will try and keep all details of foreign influence out of public campaigns; Sri Lankans are notoriously paranoid when it comes to interfering foreigners. But when the dirtypolitik that our campaigns are famous for raises its head, everyone will get a chance to sniff at the garbage.

Back to this emerging Cold War; it does not seem to be abating as some leading local intelletuals seem to think. The recession drove home the importance of economic buoyancy and the increasing need to compete for resources has only emphasized fears of possible threats to independence and security, leading to a need for powerful nations to start preparing for a possible big one.

The West will try its best to preserve the already changing status quo. And they do not want to be faced with a powerful China, Russia or Iran if and when push comes to shove. So they will obviously try and take pre-emptory measures to reduce the possible impact an Eurasian opposition would have in a next Great War or series of mini conflicts that will encompass a sustained Cold War. And the Sri Lankan elections, to the minds of both sides, will be crucial in securing power in the important shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean.

In a setting like this, a small country like ours probably has no other option but to sell its soul. The war has divided our society too greatly for us to be able to unitedly stand against foreign influence. Plus, in a globalized world where we rely so much on foreign help for economic sustenance, staying non aligned for long is a virtual impossibility. Especially when we are caught in such a geopolitically strategic location in the tug of war between two powerful opposing forces.

The best we can do is keep playing a dangerous game to ensure that we keep getting the benefits. But a Faustian game is a tough one to play and you don’t always get rescued by heaven. In the real world Mephistopheles usually caps yo ass, or you get your ass capped because of him, one way or another.

obama peace

It’s beginning to occur to me that Obama must be feeling rather put off by winning the peace prize. In the beginning I thought the whole thing was a publicity stunt of some sort initiated by colluding Western powers. But my conspiracy theory hormonal surge has dulled now, as it usually does, in the face of other emerging trains of thought.

Giving Obama the peace prize is like clapping the big ugly dark dude who just walked into your school heartily on the back and giving him an award for being nice. You know he’s got the potential to be bad. And you know that eventually, given the conditions of the school and its internal dynamics (now that’s phrase you never heard in school), he will be bad. Now imagine that same bloke commanding the fear and submission of all the teachers and imagine his father having enough money to buy ten schools like that and donate it to charity. This dude could run amok and do anything he wants. If unchecked, what will follow is a lot of stolen lunches,  broken noses, stolen test papers, lunch money and a host of other things. Beware the big, rich guy that turns bully.

The Nobel Committee saw this potential disaster unfolding. And how did they see this? Oh just by randomly taking things like the intensification of forces and violence in Afghanistan, the buildup of tensions among emerging superpowers, G-bay, conflicting international policies and Iraq into consideration. None of these situations are particularly heading in a ‘peaceful’ direction.

Not to say that Obama had non-peaceful intentions, but his earlier almost too idealistic rhetoric was starting to give way to a more ‘pragmatic’ bush type approach to conflict. He was slowly beginning to see that things may be just a little bit tougher to fix than he imagined, if he wasn’t planning on using a gun.

And, just a like a guy who set out to pluck apples and found out that the tree is taller than he thought it was, he will contemplate climbing it (the hard way) or chopping through the trunk in order to get at the fruits (going on the warpath). It’s a presumably an easy choice to get wrong for someone sufficiently stressed and distanced from morals and ideals as one is likely to get when caught up in the thick bureaucracy of the red tape jungle, probably what happened to Bush (but let’s not go into that).

So now what the Nobel committee has done is suddenly come on up right behind Obama while he was secretly giving vent to evil thoughts of cutting down the apple tree and surprise him by surrounding him with a horde of happy teary eyed people all applauding him and heartily congratulating him for being the savior of all apple trees, everywhere in the world.

And they’re still watching him. The stature of the Nobel Prize is at stake. The Western world has bestowed its most sought after honor upon its potentially biggest hero. Thereby giving Obama the potential of becoming the world’s biggest zero as well. I mean sure, Bush was mean and he didn’t care much for peace; but at least he was open about it and was in your face, people knew where they stood with Bush.

But Obama, if he does nothing spectacular, will become just a pretender, and that’s far worse than being a villain. The Nobel committee, to boot, will have to explain away a massive embarrassment and deal with arguably irreparable damage as well if he goes moron. So the trust it has placed on Barrack is telling.

(insert heartfelt comment about world peace and trust in Obama’s integrity, to end this post on a audaciously hopeful note, no i never get tired of that quip. )

obama peace 2

Cheers to DeeCee for inspiring me with her forwarded e-mail which contained a number of similar cartoons. Yes, Mondays don’t rock in my nick of the concrete woods.

I think the feminist movement is fantastic. Their primary objective is to get women on an equal plain with men because women are ostracized on a daily basis. They are put down, manipulated and crushed by a system that treats them like second class citizens. The movement fights for equal rights and justice.

In doing so, they set themselves a vision, a goal. An ultimate picture of what the most liberated woman on earth would seem like. A woman who is free to wear anything she wants, work anywhere she wants, and do anything she basically wants to do, aka Superwoman. But while having a vision is commendable, this fundamental vision of the feminist movement has got its wires crossed.

The ideal that they aim for is somewhat disconnected with their core purpose. They tend to confuse ‘injustice’ with ‘values’, and what they fail to realize is that society built up some of these values to protect women in the first place, and not to limit them. If any limitation occurs at all, they are caused by the inherent socio economic nature of our environment. Values are more of a symptom of injustice than the other way around.

On the issue of clothing. Most modern clothing and ‘hipness’ is designed to accentuate beauty. It is mostly to make a woman more desirable. Whether it be form fitting apparel or make up (red lipstick and a painted face are associations to a sexually aroused woman) to ‘sexy’ outfits that reveal more than they conceal, The fashion industry is all about making a woman look attractive.

Feminists rebel against conservative society’s tendency to look down upon provocative clothing, and at the same time they demand that men ‘respect them for who they are no matter what they wear’. The inherent failure in this approach is the failure to realize that conservative society has adopted such an attitude towards such clothing in the first place only because of perversion that males could potentially direct towards women. The values exist because of perversion. Take away the values and the perversion will remain, but take away the perversion and the values may disappear.

This perversion, it is true, stems from bad morals. But to fix the problem then we have to go into the deepest roots of our socio-political-economic-moral-biological state of being. If you find the solution to the problem of male perversion in the presence of rampant skimpily dressed females then you have arguably found the solution to all the problems on earth. You’re possibly then in heaven where everyone is naked and no one has a problem with it.

But back down in Earth, most of the oppression women put up with is due to the erosion of values. It is because of the lack of equal rights and share of voice for women that the justice system discriminates against them. It is because of lack of respect and reverence for women that crimes like domestic abuse and marital rape happen. It’s because of a lack of appreciation and a bias that they are less capable that women find discrimination at the workplace etc.

So correct me if i am confused but the feminist movement shouldn’t be fighting against values but fighting for them. And the feminist movement should be fighting against the objectification of women rather than upholding it as the pinnacle of achievement. This objectified version of the independent woman is a manifestation of decades of marketing and clever branding. And the feminist movement has bought into this branded image of Superwoman so much that they’ve confused their core purpose of liberating women with the obsession of achieving this Superwoman state; blind to the direct contradiction that it represents.

It is possible that my burgeoning understanding of the whole issue is pretty basic and that there is more here than meets the eye. Perhaps certain social ‘values’ by default degrade women. And i have failed to identify them in classing all ‘values’ as being inherently good. I may be like a bleeding carp in the ocean of feminism, more than susceptible to fatal shark bites. But i stick by what I’ve said here on the issue of clothing, nevertheless.

v for victory. or peace?

I never thought i’d live to see the Nobel peace prize become just another meaningless Mahindapattama or a ‘Dr’ Mervyn Silva badge, but Yesterday Barrack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for ‘extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples’. He will join the ranks of recent peace prize winners such as Mohammed El-Baradie, Al Gore, Mohammed Younus, Martti Ahtisaari etc.

Most peace prize winners’ achievements are quantifiable; at least based on albeit broader guidelines. But Obama seems to simply have won this based on what he is best at; rhetoric. No wonder the conservative right is all up in arms about it, just turn on FOX news and see.

What peace he has brought to the world remains in the words of his panoramic speeches. And in the meanwhile, civilians continue to be bombed in Afghanistan, detainees continue to be held unjustly in G-bay and ruthless suppression continues to occur against the Palestinians in the Middle East.

The Economist asks this audacious question,

…is the award premature? Although the prize may be given in the spirit of encouraging Mr Obama’s government, it might have been better to wait for more solid achievements. With so many good intentions, and so many initiatives scattered around the world (and an immensely busy domestic agenda, including health-care reform and averting economic collapse), Mr Obama appears to be racing around trying everything without yet achieving much.

It has a point. Obama currently is talking like a Jack of all trades but is yet to become the master of even one.

According to Nobel’s wishes the award must go to ‘the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses’

Obama’s work, though commendably full of very ‘prize worthy’ words, are yet to materialize in any concrete action. They should have waited another year or so to see if he would deliver. After all, all the other winners had to show concrete results before being awarded anything…

Not economies in recession, economics; the science that its proponets are calling ‘dismal’ to the ‘uninitiated’. A series of articles published by The Economist has brought the discussion of the death of modern economic theory to blogs and armchairs.

to quote

OF ALL the economic bubbles that have been pricked, few have burst more spectacularly than the reputation of economics itself. A few years ago, the dismal science was being acclaimed as a way of explaining ever more forms of human behaviour, from drug-dealing to sumo-wrestling. Wall Street ransacked the best universities for game theorists and options modellers. And on the public stage, economists were seen as far more trustworthy than politicians. John McCain joked that Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, was so indispensable that if he died, the president should “prop him up and put a pair of dark glasses on him.”

In the wake of the biggest economic calamity in 80 years that reputation has taken a beating. In the public mind an arrogant profession has been humbled. Though economists are still at the centre of the policy debate—think of Ben Bernanke or Larry Summers in America or Mervyn King in Britain—their pronouncements are viewed with more scepticism than before. The profession itself is suffering from guilt and rancour. In a recent lecture, Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel prize in economics in 2008, argued that much of the past 30 years of macroeconomics was “spectacularly useless at best, and positively harmful at worst.” Barry Eichengreen, a prominent American economic historian, says the crisis has “cast into doubt much of what we thought we knew about economics.”

And in defence

In its crudest form—the idea that economics as a whole is discredited—the current backlash has gone far too far. If ignorance allowed investors and politicians to exaggerate the virtues of economics, it now blinds them to its benefits. Economics is less a slavish creed than a prism through which to understand the world. It is a broad canon, stretching from theories to explain how prices are determined to how economies grow. Much of that body of knowledge has no link to the financial crisis and remains as useful as ever.

A broad cannon, a prism to look at the world… Yes well, it’s hardly a specific science is it? if there was a problem with economics that led to the current crisis, it was the complete trust in certain branches of economic theory, in complete ignorance of other similarly viable economic barnches of theory.

This ‘dismal science’ primarily studies human behavior, and there is nothing more complex and unpredictable. Psychology is also a science that studies human behavior; on a much more micro level. And it still can’t figure out the complexity of our needs and wants.

Economics relies on certain broad based assumptions to carry out analyses and theorize on a macro level. I.e. on the overall impact to the world from the behavior of its people, and this is a complex task. It’s something that is impossible for one person to fully grasp or understand, leading to many different viewpoints, theories, models and schools of thought on how the world works.

Nobody understands how the world works. Nobody knows the full consequences of largescale financial decisions for example. Least of all the economists themselves.

The world messed up. Again. And now it looking for something to blame. They’ve put the blame already on the banks, rich CEOs, rating agencies, governments and even China. This is just normal human behavior IMO.

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