Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Occidental Empire: The Accidental Catalyst of Indian Democracy

Shashi Tharoor's essay, 'But what about the railways ...?' The myth of Britain's gifts to India
, would be more appropriately titled -- "Boo to the Villains of the Past." Although a vociferous critic of imperialism, I found Mr. Tharoor's article vacuous and regressive. Here, I shall critique this article, and present the following cases:

1. Even though India's historical association with the British empire brought many lasting benefits, crediting the British is absurd.

2. Even though the British rule of India was a terrible period in history, blaming the British is a waste of time today.

3. There are concrete policy reforms India can undertake today, to undo some damage inherited from the British empire, and set the country on a more progressive course.

4. The way forward is to co-opt and transform empire from within. "Embrace and Extend" was Microsoft's strategy, and it should be ours.

To begin, let us ask -- Did the British really sow the seeds of discord in India, or did they just opportunistically add fuel to already burning fires? To answer this question, let us parse a sentence from Mr. Tharoor's article: 
"Large-scale conflicts between Hindus and Muslims (religiously defined), only began under colonial rule;" 
This sentence cunningly cherrypicks history with arbitrary qualifications: "Large-scale", "between Hindus and Muslims", and "(religiously defined)". Removing these confining clauses, I now bring a broader dataset into consideration, and derive a more comprehensive picture, which contradicts Mr. Tharoor. Literary epics from the region depict large-scale wars fought over land, or women. The Aryans conquered and subjugated the Dravidians. The Mughals took over a lot of the region in a series of bloody conquests. The Sikhs and Rajputs were in violent conflict with the Mughals. Numerous petty rajas and nawabs were in continual territorial warfare with each other. All this turmoil and bloodshed was happening in the region, well before the British arrived. How is it relevant whether the violence was "religiously defined" or not? The British once opportunistically incited religious violence, and gained power with their policy of divide and rule. But (let's be quite honest), so did Mr. Narendra Modi, and we forgave him.

In reality, we don't have any means of knowing what might have happened if the British had not colonized the region, though one can spin off several fanciful fantasies:

1. The region could have been liberated by China, and be a proud member of a pan-Asian communist block.

The region could have continued with Mughal rule, and today all "Indians" would be living under "sharia" law, and the dwindling non-Muslim population paying a "jazia" tax.

The region could have become a stagnant backwater as the maharajas and nawabs continued fighting for power and territory; struck by famine in the absence of good governance and resource planning, the bay of Bengal could be notoriously pirate-infested, ala Somalia.

4. The region could have prospered as a trading destination on the Silk Road, attaining its own version of the Enlightenment, which ushers in rationality and secularism. Although several independent homegrown democracies take birth, there is never a unified India. Instead, a tenuous umbrella organization, much like the European Union, is eventually formed.

Each such dystopian/utopian past is an absurdist exercise in futility, since these hypotheses are scientifically untestable today. None of them is quite what we want, and none adds up to a modern, unified, democratic nation called "India." The very notion of the spontaneous emergence of a unified democracy in the region, without the catalyzing influence of British empire, beggars even the richest imagination. 
There is very little evidence to support Mr. Tharoor's claim that an Indian ruler would undoubtedly have unified the subcontinent from Afghanistan to Burma, in a span of 200 years. However, there is plenty of evidence in history against a supposed "impulse to unity".

1. Consider the long and violent history of separatist and secessionist movements in India. Khalistan. Naxalites. Kashmir.

2. Consider the ever-rising number of states in India.

3. Consider the resistance from non-Hindi-speaking states to using Hindi as the official language.

It appears that India is not exactly a collection of free people, living harmoniously in a common union by choice. Without a single, powerful force to repeatedly, and violently crush separatist mutinies, dear India might have crumbled to pieces long ago.

Even if a local ruler had unified the region, what you would get is a dictatorship, ruled by a maharaja. Maharajas are widely known for their corrupt, decadent and debauched lifestyles, and not usually as wise and benevolent leaders with the interest of the people at heart.  The maharajas were the kleptocrats who exploited the poor, and sold the control of ruled territories to the British, in exchange for their own short-sighted, selfish rewards. Tales of the maharajas cruelty, greed, and bloodlust are rife.

Mr. Tharoor, funny that you should mention racism, when your prayer seems to be, "If a boot is going to kick me hard in the spleen, please let it be on a brown man's foot, and not a bloody Britisher's."

But let's not confine our discussion to the narrow elitist history of the rich and powerful few. What about the quality of life for the common man? Does it matter that local artisans produced exquisite luxury goods for the enjoyment of the maharajas, if most people were suffering abject poverty? Was there really prosperity, in a time and place where farmers were (probably) being drafted as soldiers, and killed in bloody wars, fought at the whims of their corrupt rulers?

And what about women? Would women have achieved the right to vote sooner in the region, if the British hadn't arrived? From Razia Sultana, to Laxmi Bai, Indian history mentions scant few women in positions of real political power. Without borrowing the ideals of Western Enlightenment wholesale, India might never have boasted of one of the first female heads of state. Indeed, the fate of women's rights in a traditionally patriarchal, male-dominated society would have been grim.

Throughout his essay, Mr. Tharoor fails to provide evidence of a long-persisting, uniting Indian identity. Instead, we have an anecdote by way of Maulana Azad, translated across languages, distorted by history, in which someone lumps together many people into one labelled group. There is nothing to imply that those people objectively had a common country, national identity, loyalties, language, and culture. The label, "Hindi", when used by anonymous Arabs long ago to group together foreigners from faraway lands, is about as meaningful as the label, "Firangi", which might once have described all Europeans. Need I say, Europe is not a country.

As for the ancient coinage of the word, "Bharatvarsha" ( भारतवर्ष ), perhaps we should refrain from reading too much into it. Just because a word has been coined, doesn't mean that it refers to something objectively meaningful. Take the Sanskrit word, "Vimana" ( विमान ), meaning "aircraft". Do you really believe that actual people once flew in a physical aircraft, nonstop from Sri Lanka to Ayodhya, thousands of years ago? If you do, I've got your press release ready:
"Dear Theresa May, As a result of the British stealing our ancient flight technology and muddling our traditions, India still has to import its aircraft. As reparations, British Airways should provide a lifetime of free flights to all Indian citizens."

Jokes aside, mythopoetic flights of imagination are a far cry from stark reality. We would do well to stop pining for a mythical past that never was, and take responsibility for shaping our own destiny. Playing the victim card and blaming the villains of the past, however justifiably, will only get you so far. More than money, India needs to restore its self-respect. In the long run, blaming the British, and continually defining India in relation to its former colonizers, is detrimental to the nation's self-image. Change begins at home, and there are many steps India can take to start repairing some of Britain's harmful, and continuing legacy. 

1. Institute a Uniform Civil Code. All people should be equal in the eyes of the law, with no exceptions made for any religion.

2. Abolish institutionalized caste-ism. Economic need should be the only basis for reservations. There should be various quotas for the poor, not for scheduled castes/tribes.

3. Stop organizing the Indian army under divisive categories given by the British. For example: The Sikh regiment could be renamed the Bhagat Singh regiment.

4. Adopt Open Source Software, and stop entrusting imperialist powers with your data.

5. Grant gay people the right to marry, and further India's reputation as a forward-thinking nation that celebrates diversity.

Britain once played a unifying role by becoming the common enemy to a number of disparate people. Today, the United Kingdom is no longer seen as the enemy in India, where India-England cricket matches are enjoyed over sips of chai. In this fluid current context, dwelling on the colonial past, dredging up old scars, and trying to stir up Two Minutes Hate with a "British, bad. Indian, good."-rant, are really unnecessary.

Meanwhile, the CEO of Google, the CEO of Microsoft, and the Mayor of London are busy transforming empire from the inside out. The antiseptic turmeric in the curries dished out by Southall's Indian dhabas, is surely healing the colo-rectal tracts of Londoners with the postcolonial blues, even now. Feel the spicy revolution within!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Response to Naomi Wolf's Snowden Concerns

Naomi Wolf expresses concern that Snowden is actually a government agent playing whistleblower. While this interesting theory might actually be true, the reasons given to support it are nonsense.

For example, Wolf thinks Snowden has too much "message discipline", to be a "real whistleblower". I follow Snowden on Twitter, and he does not have the message discipline that Wolf credits him with. He once tweeted, "I would fuck the shit out of [woman's name]." Then, with some Orwellian witchcraft, he retracted the tweet. Sounds to me like a man on the gallows!

Snowden is smart, and knows he has to play a numbers game. He has to be cynical, and media-savvy, as if his life depended on it. So maybe he is too slick to fit Wolf's conception of how a "real whistleblower" should appear.

Next, Wolf says that Snowden is in Hong Kong, and HK is closely related to the UK, and the UK is closely related to the USA. So obviously, Snowden is a covert US agent. Does Wolf not realize how much of a stretch this flying leap is?

Her most damning evidence is that Snowden does not have a lawyer. Why does an articulate man like Snowden need a lawyer? He has not broken any Hong Kong laws, as far as we know. So is Snowden too well-organized, or is he just authentic, and unguarded?

To be fair, there is an extradition treaty between the US and Hong Kong. Yet, Hong Kong is unlikely to extradite Snowden without approval from Beijing. All said, who's going to pull Snowden out of Hong Kong? Batman? And then, can a lawyer stop the Dark Knight?

As long as we're talking wacky theories -- for all we know, Snowden has already been debriefed by the Chinese. Not that they would get much use out of him. They are already in our systems.

Next, Wolf writes, "It is actually in the Police State’s interest to let everyone know that everything you write or say everywhere is being surveilled..."
I think that recent whistleblowers were the last straws, confirming what we already knew.
We are all outraged by the story of NSA surveillance, but really, who is surprised?

"You have zero privacy anyway," then-Sun Microsystems' then-CEO Scott McNealy said in 1999. "Get over it."

I once worked with a bright and affable Engineer from China. He worked in the US Army Core of Engineers for a few years. Then, he worked for a large American e-commerce company. Now, he's gone back to China. He's a great guy, and I don't believe he's a spy. Still, how many American Engineers have seen the insides of Chinese defense installations, and companies?

If Snowden ever stands trial in a US court, I will personally donate 1 bitcoin to charity. I hope Snowden likes Chinese food -- the most popular kind of food in the world.
I hope you like Chinese food too. I do.

Update: I have removed the name of the woman Snowden tweeted about.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The God Bit: Machine Spirituality

Traditional AI paradigms consider consciousness to be a computer program. More precisely, AI tries to model your mind as software. Making an artificial mind is interesting. Hacking your own mind's software is even more interesting.
Let's explore this paradigm. I invite you on an informal Thought Experiment.

Find the God bit in the code in your cranium, and toggle it.
Depending on who you are, you might have tagged it the "belief" bit. Adjust accordingly.

So, if you were an atheist before, you're now a theist.
If you were a theist before, you're now an atheist.

Try switching back and forth.
One setting will probably feel more comfortable than the other. Here's the heart of this experiment -- try living with the "uncomfortable" setting for a few days.

I carried out this Thought Experiment myself.
I imagine everyone's code is unique, so reversing beliefs will produce different results based on identity. YMMV!

Here are my findings from this Thought Experiment:

1. You can change your beliefs as easily as your code. Optimize for fun!

2. Believing ( or not ) does not imply all kinds of things that I once thought it did.

3. I can believe, or not, independently of everything else. That's just how my code is designed.

4. Believing ( or not ) in God, seems to be a highly charged topic for most people, when it doesn't have to be.

5. Editing out the concept of God from your code entirely is not practical today, because the God meme is very much in circulation.

6. Here's some code I wrote recently. It is independent of the God bit. It has made me a much happier person:

   sub is_grateful {

If you try this Thought Experiment, please share your findings! Joy to the World!


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Satoshi Nakamoto: Infinite Suspects, Eternal Suspense

Dr. Ted Nelson and I just now had a pleasant email exchange in which he offered to make a video crediting me with identifying Satoshi Nakamoto, if we turn out to be right. I feel so much better now. I am so glad that a great mind like Sensei Nelson validated my conjecture.

In truth, I don't want Satoshi Nakamoto to ever be revealed.     
If Mochizuki is indeed Nakamoto, then I am sorry to have possibly upset his well-deserved privacy and fortune. It was inevitable that somebody would have posited the same conjecture, sooner or later. 

Satoshi Nakamoto dropped enough clues to narrow this Drake's equation-style search for terrestrial intelligence. Take all the 40-ish, male, Japanese quants, who are fluent in number theory, English, C++, and economics. I'll bet you can fit this league of extraordinary gentlemen in an ordinary room. But would Mochizuki be alone in the room? And even if he were, would that prove that he is Nakamoto?

Hypothesis #1: one brilliant man (intentionally or not) revealed himself. Satoshi Nakamoto is Shinichi Mochizuki.

Hypothesis #2: one brilliant person cleverly misdirected us. We don't know who she/he is.

Hypothesis #3: Satoshi Nakamoto could be Anonymous. Some people in Guy Fawkes masks put on a fun musical show at Bitcoin 2013. I was there, man!

Hypothesis #4: Satoshi Nakamoto is the NSA. At Bitcoin 2013, some knowledgable people mentioned that the lead developer of Ripple worked for the NSA before.

Hypothesis #5: I am Satoshi Nakamoto.
I got a ZX Spectrum+ and taught myself programming in 1984. Now, I am a professional programmer, with a degree in Computer Science. I went through a Nipponophile phase in college, and took Japanese lessons for a couple of years. Next, I worked on a financial trading system on the 102nd floor of the former WTC. I have been hacking away at one of the hardest problems in Computer Science ( the P=NP Conjecture ) ever since I came across the Traveling Salesman problem in the 1980's. I am insanely passionate about the concept of Bitcoin. I would like to work on expanding and improving the Bitcoin economy. ( Got a job? Please contact me. I want to become a global nomad, and hack from anywhere, anytime. Pay me in BTC, and you shall know me by my git commits! )

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Man Who Identified Satoshi Nakamoto?

On May 11, 2013, I posted the ABC-BTC conjecture on my blog. The ABC-BTC conjecture states that Satoshi Nakamoto is Shinichi Mochizuki.

I posted this theory to Reddit, but was censored. I was told that "gossip relating to real life details of people against their wishes is against Reddit Terms of Service."

On May 12, 2013, I emailed Dr. Shinichi Mochizuki, apologizing for the intrusion, and asking him to comment on my theory. He hasn't responded, as of now.

A whole week later, Ted Nelson posted a video to YouTube, rehashing my theory. Reddit did not censor Ted Nelson's video.

These were my feelings:
"Who is this fucker, stealing my thunder? Why hasn't Reddit censored him? Why has he injected himself in the middle, instead of getting to the point? Why the cheap dramatics and the bad Dr. Watson impression? Why is he so certain that my theory is true? It's just a theory, with plenty of plausible deniability. Why has he put Shinichi Mochizuki on a pedestal? Why is he trying to speak Japanese? Mochizuki understands English perfectly well. Gimme a break! I am from India, but if you call me Guru, I'll punch you!"

Now, my feelings have changed.
I realize that Ted Nelson has better established credentials than I.

So it is natural that the mainstream would attribute the theory to him, even though I published it first. Ted Nelson has admitted that he was not the first person to publish this theory online, although he claims that he reached his conclusions independently. This is hard to believe, since Ted could have found my post with a simple Google search for "Satoshi Nakamoto" and "Shinichi Mochizuki".

The dramatics are necessary, so the audience feels the thrill of unwrapping a mystery slowly.
Discovering new things and solving mysteries is the essence of Mathematics.

Check my tweetstream ( @purrperl ) to verify my story.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bitcoin Creator Satoshi Nakamoto Identified?

Here's my wild-ass guess for today: Bitcoin Creator Satoshi Nakamoto is really Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki. Let's examine the evidence:

1. Requisite level of mathematical genius; specifically, work on Number Theory.
2. Male, Japanese, 40-ish, living in Japan.
3. Nakamoto is fluent in English. Mochizuki grew up in the USA.
4. Elusive, reclusive behavior.
5. Same number of Hiragana symbols in first and last names of the two identities.
6. Some have speculated, based on v0.1 of bitcoin code, that the creator was someone with a lot of theoretical knowledge, but not a professional programmer.
7. Caroline Chen's article, "The Paradox of The Proof" doesn't mention bitcoin, but gives a glimpse into the mind of Shinichi Mochizuki. Read this very interesting article, and draw your own conclusions.


1. Satoshi Nakamoto

2. The Race to Unmask Bitcoin's Inventor(s)

3. The Paradox of The Proof

I am a professional programmer with 20 years of Perl and Web development expertise, available for full-time remote programming work. I live in the USA. Here is my resumé.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bitcoin's Potential for Social Change

Perhaps Professor Krugman is too hasty in calling bitbugs "antisocial". Bitcoin encourages secessionist tendencies, yet holds great potential for social change. What if the World Peace movement collectively transitioned to bitcoin? It would be possible for the people to negotiate peace with their warmongering governments.

Perhaps we will see the emergence of a self-contained, underground economy that chooses its own values. The bitcoin economy would perhaps do away with the real/perceived hypocrisy of political discourse.

Will this bitcoin-enabled New World Order be egalitarian? I don't think so. Early adopters, such as the Winklevoss twins, already have a significant advantage in the bitcoin universe. Question is, can we trust our new cyberpunk overlords?

Character is what one does, when nobody is looking. Bitcoin models reality much closer to human nature. Will the human civilization annihilate itself? Will we survive and thrive? We'll just have to trust human nature.

What will it take to bring about this self-fulfilling prophecy? What kind of infrastructure should bitbugs be building?
An easier, more private way of doing bitcoin transactions via cheap, ubiquitous devices, such as smartphones. Applications such as Bitcoin Wallet already enable this.
Yet, a tipping point hasn't been reached. I still think primarily in USD. When I think in a BTC-centric way, the world will be different.

In my opinion, bitcoin is full of open questions, and opportunities. I remain cautiously optimistic about it.

Full disclosure: I own 4 BTC which I bought at 5 USD/BTC.