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"The Future is not an Inheritance, Its an Opportunity and an Obligation" – President William Jefferson Clinton

Month: August, 2012

“The (US) Open” – Welcome to New York

Novak Djokovic with the US Open 2011 Trophy - on top of the Empire State Building

Novak Djokovic with the US Open 2011 Trophy – on top of the Empire State Building

Ladies and Gentlemen, “Thank You, Quiet Please, Players are Ready …”

Its here – and its finally here. In less than 24 hours the first ball will be served in one of the four (well – five, this year) most important tournaments of the year. As much as Sharapova, Kvitova and Federer would love to win in Toronto, Ohio, Madrid and Monte Carlo, it is inevitable that they themselves consider the majors as a significant ‘yardstick’, when it comes to judging excellence at the end of a fabulous career. Over the years, I have gotten myself to call it – “The Open”. There is a certain sense of justified ambition and understated presumptuousness to it, if Wimbledon can call itself (just) – “The Championships”, then New York City can call this “The Open”. So, let us just stick to that – “The Open”. Its like Sean Parker dropping the ‘The’, from Facebook. I like it – it sounds better. Welcome, and make yourself comfortable because you are going to be here for a couple of weeks. Pizza and beer – are on the way.

I used to fly up to Bridgeport or Westchester County (New York), or where ever my best friend was to watch each grand slam final for four years during my graduate school. I can visualize the metamorphosis with time, at times I can imagine myself to be a boy who refuses to grow up and take the next step into an adult world – a world filled with responsibilities and commitments. Its not too dissimilar from trying to fit a square peg into an elliptical void. Similarly, I remember cringing when a young Djokovic taking on an adoring home crowd (Roddick’s crowd) after defeating him, only to have the entire crowd root for his opponent, two days later. Djokovic had the crowd eating off his hands here in New York – with his imitations. “Whether you like it or not, its like that“, as Djokovic said – I kept thinking, disaster, a nightmare of a PR disaster. That is the sort of statement that sends your PR team pulling all-nighters for two weeks straight.

He might have won more down under, but this is really the place where he navigated through the slippery slope, transitioning from being an entertainer, to becoming a champion. I think he just got tired of warming up the seat for the ‘FE-DAL’ Battle Royale. He took his hits along the way, but he finally got his trophy last year. Any tennis fan would tell you his semifinal victory the first time (2010) against Federer in the fifth set, after being two match points down is in more ways than one – ‘A Watershed Moment‘ in his career. That very second saturday was when – “The Joker”, became – “Novak Djokovic”. “Its one of those matches which you would remember for the rest of your life”, right Novak ?

With time, the tradition of spending time analyzing grand slam finals together with my friend died, but the memories survived. It feels like another decade when that happened, it probably is another decade. The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, housed ten miles east of Times Square finds itself caught in the energy and fuel of “The City that Never Sleeps“. The phrase is not just metaphorical, you can quite nonchalantly get stuck in traffic at three in the morning in downtown Manhattan. Because of its position in the calendar year at the end of the North American swing, “The Open” either solidifies a player’s year, or it provides renewed confidence that he or she can take into the upcoming indoor season and world championships, depending on whom the winners are.

It is indeed very hard to look past Serena this year, given her form coming into New York. There is little doubt that when she is on, there are very few (actually – none in the current field) who can hold their own with her on the baseline. But quite ironic isn’t it ? that New York is also the place where she has had monumental meltdowns. Defaulted against Clijsters, and that Aren’t you the one who screwed me over last time again ?, that’s not cool, that’s totally not cool, we are in America the last time I checked“. I cringe – as I cringed with Djokovic. As critical as other people are, as a fan one cannot help but admire such visceral emotions on the court. They unmask a raging desire to win regardless of whether they are justified or not, approved or not, or even – legal or not ? That’s the thing about New York, it provides entertainment – The Good, The Bad – and ofcourse, The Ugly. Serena should blitz the field if she can keep her temper in check, Kvitova and Sharapova are contenders for the title as well. Speaking of whom, have you tasted the new Sugar-Povas ?

More often than not, 9/11 co-incides with the US Open, and the players are sensitive to that. Last year, both Djokovic and Nadal paid respects to the victims and families during their speech after the finals. This year, the tournament ends a couple of days before the day – but you can expect references to 9/11 in the award ceremony.

The tennis purist in me roots for the Olympic Gold Medalist – Andy Murray, so that we have each member of the top four win a grand slam this year. Besides, Murray feels home on the hard courts of New York more than anywhere else, and one cannot help wonder, if the Olympic win against Federer is probably the catalyst he needs to get that first slam win. Many will follow, after the first one. For that to happen – he needs to send the five time champion and eternal crowd favorite – Roger Federer packing. Remember, this is where Federer donned the “DARTH – Federer” all blacks ensemble that put Metallica to shame, and its so unique that it can only be successfully pulled off in the US Open. This is one of the few times Murray ended up in Federer’s half, and hence they are set to meet on the second (SUPER) Saturday. It will be electrifying if Murray takes on Federer with the golden sun about to set beyond the skyscrapers, after a warm and toasty evening in New York City. Its a coin toss on who would win that encounter, and pardon my indulgence in picking Federer.

If Juan martin Del-Potro is feeling it (more like – feelin’ it), then there are few players who can send him packing, and he finds himself in Djokovic’s half. Del-Potro is as serious a dark horse we can get. But for an evening of inspired tennis from Del-Potro, we should expect Djokovic to keep his date for the second sunday. Is it too early to think about the second sunday now ? Ofcourse, but where is the fun in not predicting results ? The defending champion is the best defender and returner on hard courts, and his strength predicates on how quickly he can transition from defense to offense. His game is tailor made for faster hard courts, and if he might have pulled out the second set in Cincinnati against Federer in that breaker, we could have had a barn burner in the end. It was closer than the scoreline suggested. He failed to show up against Federer in the Wimbledon semifinal – and by his standards, it was a disappointing performance. We had one of those matches where Federer ventured into ‘Fed-TOWN’ for those rarefied five minutes at a crucial juncture in a match.

However, at this point in their careers, on a good day, I pick Djokovic over Federer on hard courts – and the Serb has had a lot of those in New York City the past three years. The betting man in me says Djokovic, the purist in me pulls for the Scot, the romantic in me wants Del-Potro, and nothing really is out of the Swiss Maestro’s reach every time he wields  his wilson. Somewhere deep inside though, we all miss the the resounding sound of a ‘Vamos‘, deep in the fifth inside Arthur Ashe – as the ball curves in from way outside the doubles alley to kiss chalk on the sidelines. As we say – “It Must BE LOVE

Welcome to New York !

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Finally, To the Future of A CASHLESS World: Squareup and Smartphones

Paying with Squareup

Paying with Squareup

I am a touch odd – in the fact that I despise actual cash and sun dried tomatoes. The practice of carrying actual cash in my wallet has always stressed me out to no end, from the time I had to handle my own expenses. Its because you are asking me to predict the future. Can you predict the future ? Its because, you are asking me predict how much I might need to spend this evening. I don’t know is the simple response to that question. It might be five bucks for a couple of Americano’s at the local Starbucks over a book, it may be fifty bucks over beers with friends on a decent night, it may be hundred bucks over the latest New York Times bestsellers at Barnes and Noble, or it might be a couple of hundred bucks when am feeling pretty adventurous with my Christmas shopping. I don’t know, and I simply do not want to think about it. I am a huge proponent of not thinking, when I don’t need to, so please do not ask me to.

So, have you ever thought about why certain cheap (I call them – classless and crass) shops do not accept cards ? It is because when you pay using your visa, master card or american express, the card company takes a fraction of the transaction  Ofcourse, the shops that are so inexorably cheap think that they save, if we only pay in cash. But what are you really telling me, when you say you don’t accept cards ? Essentially, you say you don’t value me over the parasitic margins of profits that you make if you don’t use my card, right ? But from my perspective, it is all about user-experience, if I purchase a good from you, I need the monetary transaction to be as fluid as possible. When you don’t value my user experience, you not only lose my business that time, but you lose it forever. In the end you lose more than you gain. There is no way I would step into a shop that only accepts cash – I am fairly positive there are a number of great tasty little food joints around the city. I do – I passionately despise shops that take only cash. They put themselves before the customers. Ofcourse, I understand in some cases that it is driven by sheer economics and the shop owner can use every penny she can get, that’s fine. I do not have a problem with it, I just will not give you any of my business.Why would I ? Its a free market and I have millions of options – for a tasty dinner.

To each of those shops that demand cash – Welcome to the 21st Century. Not only are you one step behind now, but two gigantic steps behind technological evolution. Its not that dissimilar to using Office 2003 in a modern day setting. You may as well close the doors tonight, and find another craft.

I went to Comet this time in Ann Arbor – if  the Gods wanted a cappuccino, this is the cafe they would go to in my home town. As one of my statistics professors in Michigan so elegantly phrased it, ‘Coffee is the nectar of the Gods, right ?’. I saw a neat white (apple white) square block connected to an iPhone, using which the barista swiped my card. No card machine, no huge card reader monstrosities, no wires connected to the wall – a simple rectangular white square not too dissimilar from a poker chip. It was attached to the iPhone and she swiped my card in it. I paid my five bucks for the cappuccino, signed electronically, even got my receipt sent to my email electronically – and walked out in less than three minutes.

Welcome to Squareup – founded by Jack Dorsey, the original inventor (and later ousted) of our Tweet-Universe. That is ingenuity draped in elegance. Jack basically changed the way we pay for goods – for decades to come. Every small retail shop and organic cafes can have a Squareup now – because it only charges 2.75% of the transaction in return (much lower than other card companies). Squareup just went pro – it recently signed a partnership with Starbucks, and the eventual intention is to not even make us carry a card to get a cup of vanilla latte. You have an app called ‘Pay with Square‘ for iPhones, iPad and ofcourse – Androids. When you download the app – you essentially enter all your card details such as your name and card number on your phone, and have it electronically saved on your mobile device. Your device will already determine the Starbucks stores in the vicinity that use Squareup, and it will display the various locations of the same. In this framework, you do not pay using your card details, but by using your own name.

As you walk into a Starbucks from a really hot day for an iced Americano, the barista at the counter has her Squareup. Her iPhone will already tell her that your name is ‘Maryam Dagher’, and you just walk up to the counter and say, ‘Hello, My name is Maryam Dagher, and can I have an iced venti Americano, Please ?’. She identifies your name on her mobile, processes the transaction and you walk out with your iced Americano in less than two minutes. No cash, and not even cards – and it can potentially extend to any business around the world.

Isn’t it technological heaven ? As we rapidly approach a world where we don’t even need to carry our credit cards, to purchase goods any more – I just wanted to provide an honorable mention to those shops that still require cash. C-A-S-H –  the last time I used cash was when Jesus Christ walked this earth, and I heard even he tried to use his master-card, when he went out for coffee with Mary Magdalene.

PS: A special happy bday for one of good friends, who indeed bought an iced Americano at Starbucks, using Pay with Square

The Libertarian in You? Google, Same Sex Marriage, and Contraceptives

Atlas, in front of Rockefeller Center, Manhattan, New York City (Credit: Brooklyn Prints)

Atlas, in front of Rockefeller Center, Manhattan, New York City (Credit: Brooklyn Prints)

“He was a man who had never accepted the creed that others had the right to stop him” – Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged)

There is a deep ‘Libertarian’ streak in me. I don’t think it works as a political ideology when implemented without modifications in our real world. But ‘Freedom of Choice’, and consummate political and economic freedom in spirit – is embodied in Libertarianism. I find my ideas regarding political governance and policy – most closely reflected by the Democratic Party, and if I have to classify myself, I would call myself a left-centrist. But as with anything else in the world, the solution to complex problems needs to have a balance, and it is always a blend of different political ideologies. Recently I came across four discrete incidences, and I came to completely different conclusions when I viewed them through the prism of Libertarianism.

We know Chick-fil A and their recent tryst with disaster. They are a nationwide fast food chain, and they announced their views publicly about their belief in the traditional concept of marriage, and how same sex marriage is not acceptable under the institution of religion. They have also been weakly linked with supporting anti-gay political organizations. In protest of their sentiments, different pro same sex marriage groups had what they sarcastically called as ‘Chick- fil A Appreciation Day’. No press is bad press, right ? While the protests were in opposition, they inevitably only increased the sales of Chick – fil A, simply by focusing the nationwide attention on the corporation with regards to such a sensitive political topic [1].

Another incident,

A baker in Denver (Colorado), denied to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. He cited his non-acceptance in same sex marriage as the principle reason for denying service. He said he would bake any other cake for them, not just a wedding cake. The baker of course owns a much smaller organization in comparison to Chick-fil A. On the other hand the baker actually denied service to the gay couple as opposed to Chick-fil A, who only voiced their opinions against same sex marriage. Is one worse than the other ? Personally, I do think so [2].

More shockingly, a 24 year old rape victim (in Oklahoma) was recently denied emergency contraceptions by a doctor within the country. As shocking as it is, the doctor actually cited his (or her) lack of belief in contraceptives. The young victim was not actually pregnant, but tried to avoid potential pregnancy in vain. Most people probably would agree that the doctor was wrong ? But, we might differ on where we draw the line, was she wrong in her belief in not using contraceptives itself, or was she wrong in imposing her beliefs on another individual (a victim of a despicable crime nonetheless) ? Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma have been off the rails for some time – in their policy structures. Oklahoma actually has what they call as ‘Conscience Clause‘ – which states that a professional doctor can deny medical coverage to an individual, based on their own personal beliefs [3]. As Thomas Friedman once famously said, “We Really are All Stocked Up on Crazy Right Now“.

Finally,

GOOGLE announced last week that they are going to include the issue of copyright when displaying search results in the future. It essentially means, that if a webpage has copyrighted material embedded in it (or has such a pending complaint in court), then Google will not display that webpage at the top – even if the webpage fits best with your search key words. We all know that hardly anyone looks at the second page in Google results. To me, Google embodies the spirit of Libertarianism more than any other corporation in the world. Even its smallest actions, have massive rippling consequences around the world, because of its relevance and reach on a global scale. I know Google keeps tabs on us and saves our preferences (even when they promise international courts that the data is deleted), to advertise more relevant products based on consumer preferences. But where do we go, when we need an open answer to the millions of questions we have in our lives ? – GOOGLE. Integrating copyright legal issues when displaying what Google itself calls ‘The most relevant results for your search‘, betrays what Google embodies in spirit – Complete Freedom of Information. On a comparative scale, Google is as Libertarian as they come.

So, where do we, as a society draw the line ?

Under a true libertarian society, if you have the freedom to be correct, you also have the freedom to be completely wrong, right ? So, when do we step in and draw the line ? Its a fascinating question.

The issue of same sex marriage today, is the same as the civil rights freedom for African Americans fifty years before. How many times have we looked back at history and thought to ourselves, ‘Did we really do that ?’. The Libertarian in me says, in a society predicated on consummate freedom – one has the liberty to be completely wrong. I can live with that. But, just because you have the liberty to be wrong, does it mean you can ruthlessly impose those beliefs on other people, when your actions have significant real world consequences? In a twisted way, while both Chick-fil A and the baker in Colorado are equally worse, the latter is worse than the former because he actually denied service to the gay couple. In hindsight however, let the free market be the judge for both of them. If you do not agree with Chick-fil A’s same sex marriage views, don’t go there for lunch – its a simple, yet effective solution. In fact the free market has already affected their profits and ratings – the average national approval rating for food chains is approximately 43%. Chick-fil A dropped below 40% last month. If the baker does not serve gay couples – do not go to him, am not from Denver, but I am fairly positive the great Mile-High city has more than its fair share of incredibly toothsome bakeries. Let the free market decide, and then businesses have a tough decision to make: are we business agencies first, or are we political agencies first ? If you choose the latter, then your profits are at a serious risk – given your beliefs. But we should still let the free market decide – and it will, with time. It already has – for Chick-fil A.

With regards to medical help we cannot simply let the free market decide – because these are time sensitive issues [3]. Doctors and fireman (or firewomen) serve the society, as opposed to business agencies that sell products. I think this is where our libertarian streak should draw the line. As a professional doctor who believes in not using contraception, you still must serve all people without prejudice. Its very a slippery slope to continue with such a trend – what comes next ? The state fire department is going to say they do not extinguish fires in the residence of a gay couple (hypothetically speaking) ? I almost take a contrasting position – with Google. We as information consumers have a prerogative to demand Google that it preserves what it stands for – A libertarian commitment to providing information. I don’t think of information policing when I think of Google, in fact Google is the anti-thesis of any version of policing. Mr page and Mr Brin, let the copyright issues be resolved where they need to be – in courts. Your commitment to a libertarian freedom of information is your spirit – and do not betray that at this juncture.

So, where does your own Libertarian streak end ?

References:

1. Let Chick-fil A Fly Free. August 1st 2012, New York Times – Link

2. Jack Phillips, Denver Baker who Refused Wedding Cake to Gay Couples Defends his Stance. July 30th 2012. The Huffington Post. Link

3. Rape Victim Denied Emergency Contraception by Doctor, June 1st 2012. The Young Turks – Link 

4. An Update on Search Information. Google Blog – by Amit Singhal, SVP Engineering, Google – Link

Inception

Inception

Inception

An exquisite work of science fiction is – almost Believable, right ? For science fiction to appeal to people, it needs to be constructed based on an underlying human element. Uber advanced machines in battle for the entire movie, while it may appear to be an irresistible theatrical spectacle, the most exciting of science fiction and science based super hero tales are predicated on human emotions, behavior and most importantly – human frailties and the dark, invisible corners of the human mind.

Dominick Cobb.

Cobb, in his quest to purchase his way back into the United States, undertakes what we assume will potentially be his final, most dangerous and ofcourse – the most elegant expedition into the Dream World. Calling ‘Inception’, a tale about corporate espionage is analogous to calling Leonardo da Vinci, ‘An Architect’. He is, but the complete essence of his being expands infinitely beyond the same.

Cobb left his home in a last minute attempt to avoid incarceration, as he was falsely accused of murdering the love of his life, his wife Mal. Is she alive ? My responses would be more towards No, than Yes. We all dream, right ? What has been your most irresistible dream ? Mine has been – I dont know, I dont really remember. All I know is I’ve had a number of amazing dreams, but never could recall them.

Creating a dream based on real images is dangerous, because when you are in the dream it all feels real, when in fact it is not. If we both can share a dream then it is distinctly possible for both of us to exist in the same dream, right ? Except, if we both are in your dream, then the projections of your subconscience will feel threatened by me. Your subconscience have neither seen me, not interacted with me until now – its natural they feel threatened. You cannot ask your subconscience to not attack me as well, right ? Remember, they are your subconscience – you cannot control them.

Dreams aren’t about logical infallibility, they are essentially interesting by virtue of the fact that they do not obey laws and conform to theoretical rules of physics in our real world. They also originate out of an emotional impulse, rather than a logical one. It is indeed the distinct lack of logic that separates dreams from reality. Dreams, do they express how normative architecture must be far away into the future ? Architects love paradoxical formations, such as the illusion of the never ending, but non-utilitarian Penrose Steps – The Infinite Staircase. As Cobb practises his craft in navigating into the convoluted, intricate, nonsensical and dark minds of people – in an attempt to sow the seeds of self doubt, he runs into people who actually have an applicability for his skill set.

He meticulously assembles experts, who help him create, hyptonize, infiltrate, and escape the dream. As Ariadne calls it, it is Pure Creation. In this world encompassed with mundane tasks and painstaking responsibilities, pure creation is innately inspiring, as is creativity, elegance and imagination. As they nonchalantly travel between reality and the mystical dream world, an elegant way to keep track of reality is the miniature sculpture you carve out for yourself. In the dream – the sculpture, the totem never stops spinning (Cobb uses a top as his totem).

Your mind works infinitely faster when you are in a dream. It projects and creates with no lag time in between, it is similar to dextrously bending two ends of a rectangle towards the point where they – almost touch each other without breaking. In a dream you are completely relaxed, and your mind has the space and time to work over-time without you ever knowing it. Dreams are a power uncontrollable medium to create ideas.

The most elegant solutions to complex problems always originate from simplicity. Remember, before space pens that work in zero gravity were invented, America invested millions of dollars to invent such a pen, and in the mean time Russians simply used a pencil. Simple, yet elegant solution for the problem. It is true in life, as it is with science fiction. Planting a thought in someone’s mind is a complex process, but the thought almost always, is a very simple one. If effective, the cancerous growth of the simple thought will metastasize itself into an all encompassing one, to its own destruction.

Cobb knew such a thought can be planted deep inside a person’s mind, by getting into their subconscious mind, and conversing with them by sharing a dream with them. He is trying to plant such a thought in Robert Fischer’s mind (heir apparent for a billionaire energy tycoon), in an attempt to get to destroy his own corporation after his father’s demise. Peter Browning, the most senior manager of the corporation is also in line to take over, if the opportunity presents itself. Hired by Fisher’s leading global competitor (Saito), Cobb knows if he finishes this job on route from Sydney to Los Angeles, he will win his freedom back to see his children – James and Phillipa. Saito has powerful friends, and he will erase records about Cobb’s troubled, unfortunate past. But how does Cobb know that planting such a lethal falsified thought, into someone’s subconscience, is even possible ?

Because he did it first, to the love of his life – Mal. Cobb suspected they were in a dream world. He wanted to escape the dream in which both of them were living for half a century, and he wanted to go back to his children in reality. As Mal continued to believe that her world was the real one, Cobb ingeniously sows the seed of doubt in her mind. The seed continuously whispers that their world – is indeed a creation of her imagination. Mal eventually commits suicide – as the one person she trusts most in her life betrayed her. Cobb cannot keep her out of his own subconscience – and when he shares his dreams with his team in a world created by Ariadne, Mal wreaks havoc each time. Believable, barely. Creative – but infinitely.

As the layers become deeper, the dream lasts longer. A dream, if its lasts for one minute, with sedation the time for the dream within can be compounded, and you can escape it with a kick. Its true isn’t it ? As we dream, a kick that can make you feel as if you are falling now – will wake you up. The theater projects science fiction, but hinges on human frailties to explain the work of imagination.

Impressions drive behavior, and suspicions feed off themselves. As they all share a dream on the flight, the three layered (dream within a dream, within a dream) creation ensues. Fischer is made to be suspicious of Browning in the first layer – by the team, when Browning says he does not want the corporation to be dissolved. The team gains Fisher’s trust in layer two – as Fischer’s own impressions (subconscience) feeds off itself in layer two. The seeds of doubt combined with trust – eventually leads to Fischer finding the secret in the snow mountain terrain of layer three. Fischer thought there would be secrets, and that drove him to – finding them in layer three. Since we suspected someone of being dishonest, we created a image of himself. Then we find evidence to support our suspicion, and in an all encompassing act of retribution – we do exactly the opposite of what he wanted to happen, when in fact what he said wanted to happen – was indeed a projection of himself by our own subconscious mind. ‘Inception’ of the idea succeeds as Fischer dissolves his inheritance.

As Cobb returns home to see James and Phillipa, one cannot help wonder how such an elegant tale was predicated on science fiction, but was fueled by the fundamental pristine human emotions of love, greed, trust, betrayal, suspicion, and retribution. We leave Cobb’s home with an inexplicable few seconds of the totem spinning in its merry own way, leaving us to wonder excruciatingly, if we were stuck inside the last two and a half hours in Cobb’s dream?

Is the Dream really Collapsing ?

The Sound of ‘Pearl Jam’

Pearl Jam – During their 20th Anniversary (Eddie Vedder on the far right)

Music resonates with memories, and it recreates images long lost and gone in the sands of time. Hans Zimmer can stimulate a visualization of geometrical symmetry, with objects of different shapes and contours in free fall within a four dimensional space. He can provoke an imagination of your very own self at the focal point of the intersection between two lines, you can feel as if you can view the path traveled to get to this point, and the projected path you will potentially travel in time. You can almost visualize the geometrical shapes buoyant in unison. For an odd reason, it is what I visualize when I hear to ‘Dream is Collapsing’, from Inception.

Great artists have a sound, a unique sound that captures the very essence of their music. With time and evolution, their music might change, but the essence remains the same. It has to, and at least for the great ones, it almost always does.

Pearl Jam: Where can I even begin to describe?

I used to think Creed sounds like Pearl Jam, and I used to get berated mercilessly in Ann Arbor for such a dense observation. With time, I grew into Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, and I realized they sound nothing like Creed. Creed is at best, a substitutable imposter if you are stuck in an island craving for Pearl Jam, and all that has remained from the cast away shipwreck is a sad old Creed album.

Memories of south Chicago, a really warm summer with a theoretical math internship (Argonne), good old boys in an ever so small apartment inside the bushes, a soaring childhood crush ending up in a heart break, all come flooding back when I hear to Pearl Jam. I think it was Wes (still remember Wes, and how kind he was) who introduced me to Pearl Jam during summer 2008. I used to fly to New York and Connecticut to watch slam finals with my best mate, and we used to hear to Pearl Jam on the long, convoluted and incomparable drives from La Guardia (New York) to Bridgeport, Connecticut. Of course, a drive into downtown Manhattan eventually ensues, before the first ball is struck, and before the first beer is opened. What followed Peal Jam was the quite incomparable Federer and Nadal Wimbledon 2008 final – at least that is what is left of, in my memory. Life was different, and on slam final days, both of our lives came to a stand still.

To me, Pearl Jam defined ‘Authenticity’. When you heard to them, you knew they were for real. In more ways than one, when Eddie started playing he made me stop everything, be completely silent, and listen to him. You knew they had a sound, which converged classic good old rock, and grunge rock. Their sound gravitated more towards classic rock rather than grunge rock, almost a symmetrical contrast to Nirvana. Pearl Jam and Nirvana were contemporaries in the time of early nineties, riffin’ rock as it should be, they always had an internal competition as they both were founded in Seattle.

Pearl Jam lived the breathed on lyrics, and at times politicized lyrics, smooth as cognac classic riffs, the drums not so much as holding the song together but blending themselves into the song quite nonchalantly, and the quite incomparable deep and resounding voice of Eddie Vedder. Nothing stands out, as all parts of the ensemble work in unison – and that is their innate sound. The guitar sounds how it would sound when you play it flawless with such nonchalant ease. Again, the riffs were immaculate, with economy (almost no moving parts) being their biggest strength.

Pearl Jam was not some overrated Finnish metal band, whose record you can hear to for ten minutes before stopping it. The riffs never sounded strained, and they never sounded as if someone is playing a riff essentially a few notches above their capacity, fingers bleeding due to exertion on stage. As Rachel leaves to Paris in the final episode of Friends, its hard to escape ‘Yellow Ledbetter’ in the background.

Rearviewmirror sits ever so proudly on top of my shelf, and it is one of the very few two part albums (two CD) I can hear and completely get lost unto itself from the first song to last. It must be the memories I talked about above. I have always loved Eddie’s left field choices in terms of covers. Never before, have I enjoyed a song as much as his rendition of ‘Redemption Song’ from Bob Marley. There are few blends between western grunge rock and south Asian musical instruments that are better than ‘Long Road’, performed by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder. It is as mystical as its transcendental. It tugs away at you, each time you hear the flawless blend of its rendition. You cannot help but notice Eddie decrease the pace of his words a bit more, and softens his voice in an attempt to blending in with the tabla ensemble.

With the unenviable task of picking three songs from such an exquisite lifetime catalogue, I pick Long Road, Immortality and Jeremy Spoke. Authenticity – that is indeed the Sound of Pearl Jam. As Eddie says himself, “I have wished for so long … how I wish for you again …”

Shadow Wars

President Obama

President Obama

Source used for essay: Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and The Soul of the Obama Presidency (Author, Daniel Klaidman) Link

What is War ?

Does war mean we should have thousands of boots on the ground ? Does the definition include having military tanks and army bases in a strategic region ? Does it mean we have a tacit (and at times, murky), yet mutual understanding of co-operation between both governments (the one that attacks, and the one whose land is a strategic base) ?

These encompass a few of the traditional definitions about warfare. As the world marches towards development, progression and a need for sustainability – there is little doubt that the rules and the art of warfare and counter-insurgency have changed significantly.

No more does a government needs boots on the ground, and neither does it need to acknowledge its official presence, and in strict legal vacuum, it might even present a reasonable case that it is not at war in countries other than Iraq and Afghanistan. These are what we call – ‘Shadow Wars‘. The ones that are very effectively lethal, with almost no footprint on the ground. Are they a moral and legal nightmare ? Probably …

National Security Policy is the holy grail of any presidency – it is as complicated as its political. It is intrinsically complex because it is at the intersection of the congress, and the departments of defense and justice. Add to it the political punditocracy of the ever present media, Guantanamo detention policy, and lobbying groups for human rights such as ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) – it can get pretty chaotic on the first hour, of day one. Then there is always the little obligation of keeping the country safe.

We can have a Republican congressmen who argues her case with merits – indicating that a person who has attacked a country does not deserve the same rights as a criminal, and hence should not be treated as one, in a court in southern Manhattan (and must be shipped away to Guantanamo for detention indefinitely). The devil is always in the details, right ? Does this standard apply to terrorists, or potential terrorists the administration picks up ? Make no mistake, the potential terrorist is just as dangerous as the ones who have already committed the crime, but the crime has not been committed yet – nonetheless. On the contrary, we can have ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) presenting its case (with merits, again) for all criminals needing to be treated adhering strictly to the United States constitutional framework. The latter argument resonates the principle of ‘We are not Them, and we are different from those who want to destroy us‘.

There is no one size fits all responses to these questions, and neither are there any easy responses. I loved these lines from the book: “lawyers, they lived in a world of abstract constitutional analysis and intellectual reasoning, insulated from the raw immediacy of terrorism and its political fallout”. It is true, and I have learned it with age. One of the most important talents of an artist is to choose the most appropriate tool from the box, for the job in hand. Choosing intellectual analyses over middle ground – when it comes to events as visceral as terrorism is analogous to playing flute to deaf ears. As much as the administration wanted to close down Guantanamo, the deal breaker predicated on what one would do with the two hundred inmates.

The Republican congress and the people in general – never warmed up to the idea of bringing the prisoners into the country. Even the few chinese dissidents (incorrectly picked up) were held onto for almost seven years because there was no where they can go – even though the administration wanted to set them free. They were finally shipped off to Bermuda. One has to pick his battles to win, and with the political climate in Washington – the President picked health care policy and economy over detention policy (and some might argue, over constitution). However, decisions made by presidents do not occur in vacuum, and they definitely cannot be binary. In Obama’s case – he always intends to converge rather than dissent, and find middle ground rather than hold on to a specific side of the spectrum.

With time, fact tends towards fiction. In more ways than one, the current administration’s counter-terrorism policy and warfare reminds me of Steven Speilberg’s ‘The Minority Report’. With the rapidly increasing drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, Obama’s administration has walked the fine line between taking terrorists and at times – potential terrorists off the grid with lethal precision. There are perfectly acceptable arguments for both moral and legal standards – on both sides of this complicated spectrum (i.e. right V wrong). But I am more interested in ‘what is‘, in this case rather than ‘what it ought to be‘.

At times, they take out potential combatants through hell fire missiles and drone strikes fired from above. These strikes eliminate high value targets with precision, and intend to avoid civilian casualties at all times (women and children). The classification of which target to eliminiate, and what metrics to apply – for deciding those targets are evolving. As it is with any process that is evolving – mistakes have been made.

Perhaps the lack of attention towards reforming detention policy – dovetails elegantly with the question of what to do with a high value target, when you identify one? If you take him alive, then he proves to be a repository of information using which potential future attacks can be neutralised. But if you take him alive, you have to mirandize him, and would you try him in a military or a civil court of law? Would you bring him into the United States and risk another political fire-storm? At times they keep the target (if captured alive) in a vessel, off the coast near a strategic base, and I find the term ‘Floating Guantanamo‘ for the vessel intriguing. Once they extract immediate information about potential attacks, the FBI take over – for the justice department to handle the case, after the counter-terrorism experts have gotten the information they wanted.

The justice department does not accept any information provided by the prisoner under stress, and hence there has to be a clean transition between the counter-terrorism investigation, and the FBI investigation (which can be used in court to prove the act of terrorism). The conditions provided to the prisoner must be in adherence to The Geneva Convention, and if the prisoner asks for an attorney – you have to provide him one. Most importantly – if the prisoner is a citizen, then it changes the entire dynamic. The more prisoners you capture, the more you will have to house them somewhere. The administration does not know what to do with one Guantanamo, and it definitely does not want to open another one.

Eliminating targets and exercising executive power to make such decisions – are fraught with risk, right ? Setting such presidential precedents are analogous to ‘a loaded weapon lying around’. The grating question of how my successor would extend the limits of such executive decision making remains in every incumbent’s mind, as it does with President Obama’s mind.

As I said, there are no easy decisions. At some point it comes down to the overall benefits and costs of a decision – right? The option of Kill or Capture, will be more of an actual option, when the detention policy is reformed, if its reformed.

Apple versus Android: Tring Tring, Welcome to Round One

Apple v Android

Apple v Android

If you are a techno – geek, how can you not look forward to the heavy weight boxing prizefight that is Apple – v – Google, expressed more often than not in the form of iPhone – v-  Android ?

An iPhone and Android share a dynamic very similar to that of defense attorneys and state prosecutors – in that their relationship is adversarial by nature. Google with its prized possession of the Samsung powered Android – has elevated itself from an also-ran (to the iPhone), to a boxing heavy weight inside the ring competing for the global mobile market.

I must confess, I have an iPhone and a Mac, and my dad (despite my vehement disapproval and pleading), got himself an Android. I also have friends who have Androids, and hence I have had plenty of opportunities to play with them. I must say, Google with time has earned the grudging respect of an Apple KAD (Kool Aid Drinker – or Fanboys, as my friend Rajat would call it).

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the iPhone changed the dynamic of mobile phones in the world forever. It changed the rules of the entire game when it was first released in 2007.  As someone who cannot understand directions (in any shape or form), my life became infinitely better once I got my hands on an iPhone. It helped me find directions, a hilarious condition from which I have suffered all through my life. Finally, someone helped me to get to my dates on time.

Then came Android.

I can absolutely see how Apple claims that Samsung and Google pretty much reinvented (Apple – uses the word ‘ripped’) their ideas during the initial stages of developing the operating system. Anyone with a sense of reasonability will concur, but Android fanboys would also point out that Apple and Microsoft ‘reinvented’ the idea of a mouse from Xerox (undeniably true). Real Artists, Ship – right ?

There are so many intricate and inter-dependent layers of complexity to this dynamic.  For all the criticisms of the free market, one has to embrace and admire the role of the Invisible Hand – in providing us this sheer spectacle of Apple – v – Android. There is little doubt that the US patent system is completely preposterous – in fact it has broken down. However, it is the free market that consistently drives Apple and Android to the very periphery of their technology development capacity. The very first operating system of both products almost seem like mock-projects, when compared to their current products in the market – and it has only been five years since the iPhone even came into existence. As much as they both wish the other one did not exist, they know that both of them drive each other to extraordinary limits and progression. Even something as minor as the reverse camera that helps you see your own face – it came into existence only in iPhone 3. Its one of my favorite features, and the progress with product development is outstanding.

Their corporate culture and theory of product development could not be more different. Apple, in their own type – A controlling demanor, intend to control both the hardware and software. In fact some times I get the feeling Apple only allows me to rent their iPhone, as an iPhone does not work once you move from one continent to another. So, do I really own my iPhone ? I am not entirely sure. My freedom loving software friends have a field day by citing the above often – with regards to their criticisms of Apple. Google develops the Android operating system, but the hand set is manufactured by Samsung. It is true that any hand set can potentially have the capacity to install an Android in it, but what Google gains in open access – Apple claims its competitor loses by significantly compromising user experience (that is true – for the uninitiated, please try a HTC hand set with Android, and you would run back to Cupertino)

It is an undeniable fact that customers love your products, when you appeal to their emotions and not to their intellect (well, not first anyway). As much as we appreciate the chip capacity, and processor speed – you have to sell the product based on how an artist, a teacher, a scientist, or a child with hearing difficulties, can use it. Just ask Steve Jobs – it is indeed when he almost taunted me with his ‘If you don’t have an iPhone – well, you just dont have an iPhone‘ that got me to order mine within the next thirty minutes. With time I can clearly see the transition with Android – they no longer present me with their technical capabilities, they have started to appeal to my intrinsic emotions with their advertisements. Mountain View is learning, and its learning fast.

Look at the names of their operating systems, they sound like something which you would eat in an ice cream parlor. The names of the various Android operating systems are Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice-cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean – sounds fun, doesn’t it ? Nothing remotely technical about it. It is probably a reflection of Apple’s mac operating systems – Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion and Mountain Lion, nothing even remotely technical about it, now is there ? Sounds like an African safari expedition. It is the principle of appealing to our emotions and sense of entertainment – rather than same old boxy mobile phone and technical specifications. You don’t sell a Ferrari by citing its engine capacity do you, you sell it based on the fact that it has highest probability of getting you a date (diplomatically speaking).

They both are as dependent, as they are aspiring to be independent. Apple, in their quest to become more independent have made the courageous decision to exclude the best map software in the world (Google Maps), in their upcoming iPhone 5. They have decided to go with an inbuilt program for maps – the jury is out on that one. Apple have also gotten rid of the YouTube (Google owned) app in their latest upcoming iPhone. As just an icing on the cake – they both are involved in a massive lawsuit in court currently, where Apple hold Samsung culpable for duplicating their original ideas.

As far as the features that I enjoy most, I love the Apple’s center bottom home button as much as I enjoy the caps lock on Android. I prefer the Swype keyboard in Android to the auto-correct in Apple. There is no doubt I don’t like the bottom left button in Android that adds an additional layer of complexity to each webpage, when contrasted with the  sheer elegant simplicity of an iPhone.

Any way you look at this eight ball – we as technology consumers and connoisseurs,  have the most to gain in this heavy weight prizefight. It has all the familiar elements of a vintage rivalry – they compete for the same market and intend to reach out to the same consumers, they both lead the world in terms of technology development for the mobile market, they both don’t really like each other, but they feed off each other – to create their own success, they also reinvent (Steve uses a different term in this context) ideas from each other with ruthless disdain, they try and be independent of each other’s strengths, and most interestingly – they are less than ten miles away from each other. Its a ten minute drive to Cupertino from Mountain View, after all. But I get the feeling this is just the inception of a fourteen round heavyweight competition. We are just getting warmed up, right ? I only wish we had a certain Steven Paul Jobs to add to this theatric spectacle.

Tring Tring – Welcome to round one.

The Second Amendment of the Constitution: The Need for Supporting Legislations

The Second Amendment

The Second Amendment

When does it get ‘Too Much ‘ ? When do you say, ‘This has Gone Beyond Control‘ ? Remember that line from Joe (Friends), when he talks to Chandler about Kathy?  – ‘Over the line ? You’re so far past the line – the line is a DOT to you’.

As I woke up this morning after treating myself to an athletic banquet last night in the form of Usain Bolt and Andy Murray – a part of me felt empty reading New York Times over coffee. Ever since I remember, how many mass shootings have I known about ? I don’t think anyone can forget the NFL wide receiver – Plaxico Burress shooting himself accidentally in a New York nightclub. Ofcourse, the Columbine high school in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2007 stand out in my memory. When you are young, you only realise something bad has happened, where as when you grow up – you appreciate the gravity and profundity of the event in itself.

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ was released last month, and the mindless killing of young students happened in Aurora, Colorado. Then last morning, more innocent civilians were killed – of all the places inside the country, inside a place of worship (A Sikh Temple, in Oak Creek, Wisconsin).

When I went to the Capitol Hill earlier this summer, I purchased a personal copy of the US Constitution – I have always wanted to own a personal copy. The laws of the land are simple, and so is the interpretation of the Second Amendment. It was adopted on 12/15/1791 along with the other Bill of Rights. In simple interpretation: It states that as someone who lives in the country, you have the prerogative to purchase and own firearms. Amongst other amendments, the second amendment embodies the intrinsic fabric of Liberty that defines the United States of America.

On the contrary, what some call Liberty, others call it Disturbing. There is little doubt that the issue of gun control is back into the discussion in Washington DC, it will eventually find its way into one of he most important talking points in Presidential debates between now and November. The problem is not with the amendment in itself, but with how it has been taken advantage of (as with any law – if its not revised with changing times). There are certainly many law abiding citizens out there who use firearms for protection and hunting, and that is perfectly legal. The real problem originates when people driven by racism and hatred, and psychologically unstable individuals get their hands on dangerous firearms.

As with any law written during the beginning in a country’s time – we have a tendency to consider it as set in stone. One of the biggest strengths of the United States Constitution is the fact that for the most part – it is still relevant to this day. Think about that – a document written almost 225 years ago is still relevant to this day – which innately indicates that our founding fathers got it right for the most part. That is an enormous achievement in itself.  In contrast, think about the number of religious texts that we still hold on to – which seem like they have no real correlation to our current world. The problem is not with the second amendment in itself – but the lack of supporting legislations that allows an individual to exploit it.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the biggest organizations that defend the second amendment. Their lobbying power and leverage in Washington is unquestioned, and in certain parts of the far conservative right, they hold a sacred place within the political framework. The real truth of the matter is, President Obama does not have enough votes to pass legislations, and curb such mass shooting incidents before the elections. The Republicans will never go for such policy measures, and even some of the Democrats embrace a similar stance. At its core – this is not about the right – versus – left, it is about protecting our citizens. The Huffington Post had an excellent article on Nancy Pelosi discussing Washington and gun control earlier this evening.

So, let us be smart about it. Let us frame the question differently, can we ? There is no doubt we can work within the existing structure of the second amendment. A good start would be to consider every mass shooting incident as a ‘Domestic Terrorism’ event. That inevitably places a higher burden on the perpetrator of the crime. Secondly, legislative proposals can be introduced to perform comprehensive quality checks on the potential firearm buyer’s past history and psychological health. I understand in most cases, completely law abiding individuals with no prior misdemeanors actually commit the crime. Hence the additional legislative proposals are at best – risk hedging strategies with a high probability of reducing such incidents in the future. It is very important to control the types of firearm sold to civilians inside the country (as our President said, AK-47 belongs in the hands of soldiers in warfare, not in the hands of civilians in downtown Denver).

One can draw parallels from ‘The DREAM Act’ and the immigration policy under the current administration. Through a series of strategies, President Obama got to his eventual objective of not deporting minors and especially, minors with no criminal records out of the country. He was able to achieve that despite the opposition support for strictly adhering to the immigration regulations. As someone who is deeply passionate about the intrinsic freedom and liberty offered by this country, I am confident about the fact that the problem is not with the second amendment in itself. It is not feasible for us to change that, and we probably don’t need to. The underlying problem is predicated on the lack of supporting legislations that allow us to maintain the integrity of second amendment, while at the same time – keeping our innocent civilians safe. It is time for the highest office in the country to have a serious policy discourse with regards to The Second Amendment.

No more Jokers in Gotham !

References:

1. United States Constitution: Link

The Politics of Climate Change: A Young Independent Voter Perspective

Independent Voter

Independent Voter

As much as we would like to believe that elections come down to the votes of the entire population, its not as simple as that, is it ?

Any presidential candidate hopes to tick at least each of these three boxes: energize his (her) own base of supporters, win back (or sustain) the independents, and in a good year – potentially get a few of the opposition voters to his side by pandering to their base. There are different strategies to how all the three boxes can be successfully checked, and more often than not  – previous successful presidential candidates have achieved the trifecta.

In a very unique case of the 2008 elections, the entire landscape of the voting population changed significantly  – especially african americans and the younger demographics. Since the Obama campaign strategy team determined that there simply were not enough voters who would vote for their candidate (over Clinton to start with) – for them to win, they engendered such an incredulous level of political activism at the grass roots level. It eventually resulted in millions of new voters (especially, african americans and young college kids) being added to the ballot that it is quite possible the democratic party achieved what was previously called – ‘Impossible‘. If you cannot find sufficient voters who will vote for you in the existing structure, then add new members to the structure who will most probably vote for your candidate (Audacity to Win – David Plouffe) [1].

As they always say, ‘You Campaign in Poetry but Govern in Prose‘ – right ? Each election comes down to a multitude of factors, some of which are under your control, but a good fraction of it is not. Perhaps, economy, election year issues, sending clear messages to the public, integrity of the candidate, and  even the degree of success of the incumbent rank right up there in terms of factors that govern the results of a presidential election.

Among many election year issues (which I hope to discuss between now and November), the economy ranks first. I can reasonably assume that national security, gun laws and second amendment rights, immigration policy and deportation of illegal immigrants, clean energy and climate change management, and abortion laws in the country – are always usual candidates for discussion during presidential debates.

At the risk of over-simplifying, it is not entirely unreasonable to say that independents determine the election results more than the supporters on the right and left. Let us look at the electoral votes, Bush – Gore (271 – 266) in 2000, Bush V Kerry (286 – 251) in 2004, and Obama – McCain (365 – 173) in 2008. If the base remains loyal to their own parties, then it is indeed the independents who determine the elections.

With that as a reasonable premise, let us look at how our younger demographic thinks about climate change. This survey conducted by Stanford University in 2011 (with Ipsos and Reuters) – asked the youngest member in each house (and they took demographic variability into account) about their beliefs on the various dimensions of climate change [2].

Among the respondents, 91% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans believed the the temperature of our planet has been increasing consistently over the years. Where as, only 38% of Democrats and 14% of Republicans believe that climate change is caused by only anthropogenic (i.e. human driven) activities. There is more: 88% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans believe that climate change will continue to affect our planet in the future. There is a clear and consistent pattern that highlights a Republican’s lack of belief in climate change, and a comparatively higher degree of belief on the part of a Democrat with regards to the same issue.

If you look at the independents, 84% believe the temperatures of our planet has been increasing consistently, 25% believe climate change is caused by human activities, and 70% believe that climate change will continue to affect our planet in the future. Perhaps most interestingly, almost two thirds of younger independents believe that climate change is caused by anthropogenic activities (either partially, or to a higher degree).  We can quite clearly see that independents are indeed – ‘Independents’. They find themselves some where in the middle between Democrats and Republicans. One hopes that they would demand for policy changes that reflect their beliefs in the near future, and depending on which candidate they think will implement such policies – they would cast their votes, come November.

The very phrase Climate Change (or the less accurate term – Global Warming) has been dragged through the mud so much that it is considered as a loaded and a politically toxic term in Washington these days. As we discussed earlier, presidential elections are determined by a number of election year issues and talking points.

The landscape of new voters is in continuous transition – with an increasing fraction of mexican american population being able to vote currently (as they become legal), parts of Arizona and New Mexico are tending towards becoming battleground states in 2012. At the least, one fifth of the voting demographic is between 18 and 24 years old nation wide (and it tends towards one fourth in certain locations in the west coast) [3]. If our reasonable premise of party loyalties hold true – then come November 2012, can the Republicans convince more than two thirds of younger independents that they are incorrect about their beliefs in climate change ? This in essence highlights the power of education to help shape the future of our children. Education is one of the best policy tools available for us to create more informed and environmentally sensitive voters in the future.

If environment and climate change is a serious talking point in this election, based on which the younger independents vote – then the Republicans needs to change their talking points – President Obama holding a Kenyan passport  might be a good place to start with.

References:

1. Audacity to Win: David Plouffe

2. Stanford University and National Survey on American Public Opinion Study – Link

3. Young Voter Demographics – Census Bureau

The Metamorphosis of the American Press

Mainstream Media

Mainstream Media (Credit: Andre P. Siregar, from funcrowds.com)

The Press has the power to shape our future,

“If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd President of the United States, on Press)

“The press should be not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, but also a collective organizer of the masses”

Vladimir Lenin (Russian Communist Revolutionary and Premier of Soviet Union 1922 – 1924, on Press)

There is a beautiful scene in ‘Game Change’ (about the 2008 presidential elections) when John McCain’s chief strategist Steve Schmidt says to Sarah Palin: “No News Cycle Lasts for More than 72 Hours Anymore, News is Consumed for Entertainment Purposes Only“. As I witness the non-stop electoral politics 72-hour news cycle every day, I cannot help but wonder whether Schmidt’s words should be set in stone.

There is little doubt that media significantly influences the outcomes of presidential elections, more so these days than any of the elections in history. Gone are the days when politicians without charisma can hope to one day – become The Leader of the Free World. With the continuous convergence of electronic and print media, it is safe to say that Google owned ‘YouTube’ is indeed the television of the twenty first century. The New York Times can be read on print, just as easily as it can be flipped through on your iPad or Android.

It is the uninhibited power of the information and internet age. Youtube has no pressure of viewership, (in most cases) censorship and (again, in most cases) geographical boundaries, and hence it reaches infinitely more people than the traditional outlets can ever hope to do. In my mind the traditional television outlets include (not exhaustive) MSNBC, CNN, NBC, CBS, Comedy Central, and Fox News.

In fact I rate Rachel Maddow’s Show (MSNBC), The Daily Show (Jon Stewart on Comedy Central), The Late Show (Letterman on CBS), and The Tonight Show (Leno on NBC) very highly. If we include fringe commentators on both sides – then we should include Bill Maher, and the radio shows presented by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Let us be gracious and accept Fox News as an actual news channel and not as a propaganda machine. Even then, with a 24/7 news cycle there are not many shows that one can watch to get actual undiluted news. One way for news channels to push their left centered, or right centered agenda is by claiming that the show is presented by a Commentator (implying, he interprets rather than reports), and not a reporter. Sean Hannity from Fox News  comes to mind.

Other than the few shows mentioned above, have you ever wondered how our traditional media identifies the most trivial of news pieces everyday, preferably one that increases rating and panders to sensationalism, and hammers home the message day in and day out. Over the top reactions using phrases such as Obama’s Watergate, and Obama’s Social Justice and most incredulously – Nazi references describing the current administration, leads someone with an actual appetite for undiluted news to switch off the television in search for more authentic outlets.

I think ‘The Young Turks’ (the largest YouTube news channel in the world) came to the rescue of people who want the truth, and nothing more. I have a few issues with its host Cenk Uyger, but he is by far the most consistent political commentator you can find outside of television. He is as critical of Obama, as he of the Republican party, but he lends credit where it is always due.

Let us consider the print (and electronic outlets). On the left is New York Times, and on the right are Wall Street Journal and Politico. A personal favorite of mine has always been Huffington Post, and I have an innate and profound admiration for Ariana Huffington. Just yesterday, Huffington Post had an excellent article on India’s electricity failure, and beyond that – it is consistently is on the mark with respect to the pulse in Washington each day. Read Huffington Post each day, and you can almost be rest assured that you are not wasting your time on chaff and mindless chatter (traditional media?), you get actual news that reflects the pulse in Washington. Sometimes, there is unadulterated chaff originating out of Washington in itself (e.g. Eric Holder contempt), and that is not really Ariana’s fault, that really is Washington’s fault. Oh well, its an election year after all.

The media can make or break your career, and in most instances there is nothing called as bad publicity. News is consumed differently than even from five years before. I no longer read news papers in print (and my dad still does so – religiously every day), and I get my news exclusively from online. Since my time ach day is limited, I quite logically go to outlets that probably fit with my interests. Is it not surprising, that a left centrist will probably read the New York Times rather than the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) ? Even though reading the WSJ in my case will potentially provide me a more diversified viewpoint. I think I do not read WSJ any more because when I finished reading an article, it is loaded with propaganda and same old archaic talking points (e.g. trickle down economics), I almost feel like independent of what the story is, the WSJ will inevitably find a way to get the banal talking points into the article. I am sure New York Times has been held to the same standard (or the lack of it) by the right, but I still think it reports news, rather than integrate talking points consistently.

I remember our president saying to Jon Stewart (on The Daily Show) that he no longer watches news, for he feels he does not learn anything from it. I am fairly sure he watches news at some point, but I concur with his assessment of most outlets these days. We all remember the 9/11 First Responders Bill (the bill that lends them medical benefits) – called as the Zadroga Bill, and how it lost traction in the senate? The news got lost somewhere between us keeping up with the Kardashians and Trump’s birther issues.

Among all the traditional and print outlets inundated with seasoned commentators, it was indeed a political satirist – Jon Stewart, who saved the bill from doldrums and got the senate’s attention in a span of two days. It passed the next week, and it provides medical benefits to 9/11 first responders to this day. How ironic is that? As ironic as Ariana Huffington (The Huffington Post) and Cenk Uygur (The Young Turks, here is Uygur on Obama) delivering is with the news that we as people who are involved and interested in out political governance, policy and electoral politics  – truly deserve.

Roger Ailes (President of Fox News) started the ‘Fair and Balanced’ network in 1996, and he has exclusive meetings with Richard Nixon outlining how to present the GOP to the American people. He also outlined how to inform people about Fox’s version of the truth, and it is probably not surprising that Fox was the first channel to announce the 2000 election to Bush (Bush V Gore). I am positive that the left centered channels are involved in the same information feed to the people, probably to a lower extent than Fox News.

There is no doubt that the news machine treated our President favorably, when compared to Clinton in 2008, and there is no doubt that they will exert a significant influence in the outcomes of presidential elections in the eons to come. Freedom of the Press is a prerogative, but it must be earned. With power comes responsibility, unfortunately most of our traditional outlets have way more of the former than the latter. Huffington Post, The Young Turks and Jon Stewart, remain as unique exceptions to the current media in our political system.