I love this country

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I hope my Republican & Democrat (& other) friends can rally behind this simple truth. We all love this country and we all want to keep making it better.

As a naturalized citizen, I am very proud of the United States. It has given me a sense of security, safety and also given me hope that life is worth living. Nowhere else in the world is it this easy for an outsider to just show up and integrate as it is in the United States. Americans are some of the friendliest and nicest people I know. Diversity and inclusivity is ingrained in the culture. People born and/or brought up in the US may not appreciate how liberating and freeing it feels to be an American. When I was a young boy in India facing state persecution, it was the United States that gave me hope that there were better people in the world and that I had a chance at a better life.

It is so disheartening to learn that many of my Liberal friends do not feel proud of this country. They think the US is not good enough. I wish I could show them how wrong they are. I wish I could tell them how important it is to recognize how good the United States is, as doing that directly translates to improving the expectations and standards all over the world. It’s very useful to be critical, and we should always strive to improve, but we also have to recognize all the amazing work we are building on. The liberal cynicism often ends up hurting the world.

Is is also equally disheartening to see my Conservative friends rally behind someone who is no longer functioning in the best long term interest of our great country. We are defined by our values, and we have such inspiring values. Our government functions under some basic assumptions of propriety and we have stretched and strained the limits almost to the breaking point. We need to restore accountability, checks and balances, and truthfulness.

This is such a hard year for all of us. All over the world. The United States has an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how to focus on things that really matter. How we can roll up our sleeves and get going. We have already started new businesses at the fastest rate in a decade. Here’s to us working together, helping each other avoid our blind spots, and keep running this inspiring experiment that this great country is!

Comparing Fox News & Washington Posts coverage of the same story

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Fox News article on the left. See the headline. It actually links to the Washington Post article on the right as its source. See that headline. And if you read the article it says the US actually ranked 19th on risk and vulnerability to biologial threats. And if you look at the report it does show that the US has higher scores, but countries are grouped into cohorts, and none of them are considered to be fully prepared.

No wonder we are literally living in two different worlds of sense-making. Best is maybe both sides should read news from both sides. That way we can reduce our blind-spots and demand better quality and accountability from our primary sources?

This is going to take longer than we think, and that’s ok

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[Skip this if you don’t like bad news. I don’t enjoy saying this one bit. And I don’t want this to be true. I’d like things to go back to normal next month. But they are not.]

I believe things will not get back to normal until we have a vaccine.

The various treatments undergoing trials will help, but they are not “cures”. They help reduce the duration and the mortality rate by some percentage. But they don’t reduce the numbers enough to allow us to end social distancing.

We have flattened the curve. But that just means we have pushed the surge further down. We are propping up the dam walls. The minute we ease up, the waves will come crushing through. We have to keep holding up the dam until we have a vaccine. Even gradual easing will result in the numbers surging again. We are talking millions of lives in months if we let go.

We need to do everything we can to ease the stress it creates for all of us. We need to provide a monthly “stipend” to all that empowers everyone to sustain themselves and keeps commerce ticking and for new patterns and behaviors to emerge spontaneously from the bottom up. We need to adapt society to this new reality so that it becomes easier to live through it.

It’s like a meteor about to hit earth. And we are using a tractor beam to delay the hit until we have time to build the lasers to disintegrate it first. We can’t fall for the false sense of safety that the delay creates. We cant turn off the tractor beam.

Think of the movie Independence Day. When aliens attack, we don’t talk about the economy. We figure out how to defeat the enemy. And we all make sacrifices.

Now for the good news. At worse this takes 24 months. Which is really nothing if we can detach from it and see the big picture. And the more quickly we can embrace this possible reality, the easier it will be for us. This is a test for us. Can we demonstrate the human ingenuity and adaptability that has made us one of the most successful species on the planet? Can we help each other get through this?

Deepfake videos in Indian elections, what does it portend?

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Here’s how it has kinda evolved:

  • In the early days you had to speak on a stump to connect with your voters.
  • Then you had access to a megaphone to make your voice travel further.
  • If you wrote and published your writings, you could always have help to polish it up, or even have someone ghostwrite it.
  • Then came broadcast video where body language and micro-expressions and subtle cues started to influence perception
  • Then came edited video where the right cuts, the right montage, the right soundtrack started to influence perception

And now, AI deepfakes can learn how you speak and then make you say anything in any language. If you use it for yourself, just to scale yourself, it falls in line with all the other stuff above.

But now it’s also to use it on your opponent. What does that mean for politics? And with end-to-end secure communication that is broadcast to hundreds of millions within seconds without any social oversight or feedback loops, the person physically sitting next to you is going to be literally living in a totally different world than you. For some more time the only thing common between us is going to be air molecules that enter our lungs. Everything else is completely personalized. What does that mean for our ability to reason with each other about things that are important?

When the Delhi BJP IT Cell partnered with political communications firm The Ideaz Factory to create “positive campaigns” using deepfakes to reach different linguistic voter bases, it marked the debut of deepfakes in election campaigns in India. “Deepfake technology has helped us scale campaign efforts like never before,” Neelkant Bakshi, co-incharge of social media and IT for BJP Delhi, tells VICE. “The Haryanvi videos let us convincingly approach the target audience even if the candidate didn’t speak the language of the voter.”

https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/jgedjb/the-first-use-of-deepfakes-in-indian-election-by-bjp

Here’s a fascinating article by Vice that explores this topic in more detail.

Republic Day of India in San Francisco

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Jan 26, 2020 was the Republic Day of India. People in San Francisco came together to celebrate the 70th year of the adoption of the Constitution of India, at the Consulate General of India in San Francisco.

🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty- sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.

🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳 🇮🇳

It was also the day when people showed up in support for and to voice their opposition to the recent Citizenship Amendment Act that violates the constitution.

The intense scrutiny Facebook added on people posting political ads

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Facebook, in principle, has a very solid premise. An online social graph where every individual is a real person and has the same social norms and consequences as in the real world is a social graph that is good at regulating itself. But they added in non-people into this graph to generate revenue and ended up with a highly profitable business model where a highly engaged audience of all humans on earth can be targeted and reached by a business.

All this is fine if the only evil is businesses trying to get you to buy things. But this got totally upended when a “business” is a foreign government and what they are trying to “sell” is just chaos, polarization, divisiveness, voter self suppression etc. So Facebook finds itself in this very unfortunate position where the tool they have built for a different purpose is getting weaponized in a way that is beginning to destroy the world.

I was doing an experiment and was very happy to discover what they are doing now to address this problem. I am very critical of Facebook but I also want to give them credit where credit is due. And here I am very pleased by the effort and the sincerity behind it!

The ad I was trying to post is this:

Turns out I can not just go and post a political ad. It is reviewed by a human and then gets flagged in the following way.

When I opt in to confirm my ID, it gets into quite an onerous process.

I have to upload my drivers license / passport, answer a bunch of ssn-related identity questions, then FB scrubs my timeline to verify that I indeed seem to be living in the US based on my entire history of posts and social graph, and then still it wants me to share a physical address where they will send a letter with a code to confirm I have physical access to that address. Then and only then can I make a politic ad!

This step brings some of the strengths of the original social graph. When identity is tied to a constraint, like in this case real physical people, then the social norms can be a powerful way to self-moderate. Of course there’s always a flip side to this and we do lose anonymity which is freedom. These two things will always be in tension it seems.

A brief, selective history of India

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[Just putting together some thoughts. Welcome fact checking / corrections / perspectives.]

28,000 years ago
The oldest definitively identified Homo sapiens fossils yet found in South Asia are Balangoda man. Named for the location in Sri Lanka where they were discovered, they are at least 28,000 years old.

10,000 years ago
Indians who are lactose-tolerant show a genetic pattern regarding this tolerance which is “characteristic of the common European mutation.” This suggests that “the most common lactose tolerance mutation made a two-way migration out of the Middle East less than 10,000 years ago. While the mutation spread across Europe, another explorer must have brought the mutation eastward to India – likely traveling along the coast of the Persian Gulf where other pockets of the same mutation have been found.

4000BC
Most of the first wave of Caucasoids into India were proto-Dravidian who migrated into India around 4,000 BC from a region later known as Elam in modern day Iran. The Dravidian languages were brought to India by immigration into India from Elam. Samples from the Indus periphery population are always mixes of the same two proximal sources of AASI and Iranian agriculturalist-related ancestry.

2000-1800BC
The Indo-Aryan migrations started in approximately 1,800 BCE, after the invention of the war chariot, and also brought Indo-Aryan languages into the Levant and possibly Inner Asia. It was part of the diffusion of Indo-European languages from the proto-Indo-European homeland at the Pontic steppe, a large area of grasslands in far Eastern Europe, which started in the 5th to 4th millennia BCE, and the Indo-European migrations out of the Eurasian steppes, which started approximately in 2,000 BCE.

1800-1400BC
The Proto-Indo-Iranians, from which the Indo-Aryans developed, are identified with the Sintashta culture (2100–1800 BCE), and the Andronovo culture, which flourished ca. 1800–1400 BCE in the steppes around the Aral sea, present-day Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The proto-Indo-Iranians were influenced by the Bactria-Margiana Culture, south of the Andronovo culture, from which they borrowed their distinctive religious beliefs and practices. The Indo-Aryans split off around 1800–1600 BCE from the Iranians, whereafter the Indo-Aryans migrated into the Levant and north-western India.

1500BC to 1000 BC
The Aryans established themselves in India by defeating the natives whom they called Dasas or Dasyus. The period when the Aryans first settled in India, is known as Early Vedic Period.

1000BC to 600BC
The Aryans spread to Indo-Gangetic plains in the later Vedic Period and this region came to be known as Aryavarta. The Aryans were the first people in India to know the use of iron and brought horses along with them.

1500BC
The Rigveda was written in Sanskrit, an Indo-European language.
A reasonable date close to that of the composition of the core of the Rigveda is that of the Mitanni documents of northern Syria and Iraq (c. 1450–1350 BC), which also mention the Vedic gods such as Varuna, Mitra and Indra.

400BC
The Mahabharata was written

7BC to 3AD
The Ramayana was written – which mentioned the mythological character Rama. (In 2019 the Indian Supreme Court granted this mythological character legal standing.)

At that time, all the Central Asians, Middle Easterners, Europeans, Dravidians living across the Indus River in Pakistan were called (H)Indus by the Central Asian and Middle Easterners and Europeans who were on the other side of the river

0AD Jesus was born

The Christian faith was introduced to India by Thomas the Apostle, who supposedly reached the Malabar Coast (Kerala) in 52 AD.

Christian communities were firmly established in India by the 6th century AD

570AD Mohammad was born

623AD the first mosques were built in India by seafaring Arab merchants

So for thousands of years outsiders kept arriving into India and bringing with them whatever was in vogue at the place where they were coming from

1400s the Portuguese traders came to the subcontinent

1600s the British, Dutch, Danish & French came to the subcontinent

1858 – the British established complete rule over all the kingdoms in the subcontinent

1947 – the British left the subcontinent leaving the kingdoms and regions to determine their own future. Some aligned with a redefined territory called India, some aligned with a redefined territory called Pakistan, and some like Kashmir decided to stay independent.

1948 – Pakistan attacked majority-Muslim Kashmir whose Hindu king decided to then join India instead in return for protection. A war was fought. The U.N. stepped in. It was decided to conduct a plebiscite so the people could democratically choose where they want to be. But till date the conditions have never been neutral enough for the vote to take place. (In 2019 India revoked the special status the Kingdom of Kashmir was awarded while the issue was supposed to get sorted and completely annexed it into India.)

1948 – Gandhi was assassinated by a fellow Indian who belonged to a political party called the RSS – a right wing, nationalist, para-military organization.

1949 – Hindu activists broke into a mosque in the city of Ayodhya and placed idols of Rama and Sita inside claiming the mosque sat right on top of the physical place where the mythological character Rama was born. People were led to believe that the idols had ‘miraculously’ appeared inside the mosque. None of the Hindu texts prior to this year mentioned Ayodhya as a place of religious significance and it had no history of Hindu pilgrimage.

1960 – the center of the British India empire, the State of Bombay, was split into two smaller states Gujarat & Maharashtra along linguistic lines. The city of Bombay was given to the newly formed state of Maharashtra. In 1995 a local political party renamed the city to Mumbai and rewrote history claiming that Bombay was part of the Maratha heritage despite absolutely no Maratha presence in Bombay until the British built the first fort on what was otherwise just swampy land. Pune was the seat of the Maratha heritage but it is now relegated to a second tier city. All major landmarks in Bombay are now named after Maratha rulers and icons.

1964 – the VHP was formed. An affiliate of the RSS, “to organise, consolidate the Hindu society and to serve and protect the Hindu Dharma.” In 2018 it was classified by the CIA as a militant religious organization.

1965 – Goa, the last remaining European colony in India was won by the government of India in war with the Portuguese.

1980 – the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Sangh Parivar affiliates began an agitation to build a temple to Rama in Ayodhya, with the Bharatiya Janata Party lending political support to the movement. In 1990, the government of India decided to implement some of the recommendations of the Mandal commission, and announced that twenty-seven percent of government jobs would be reserved for people from lower-caste backgrounds. This announcement threatened the electoral constituency of the BJP, which decided to use the Ayodhya dispute to unite the Hindu vote by mobilising anti-Muslim sentiment.

1990-1992 – the BJP announced a rath yatra, or “chariot journey” across the country to Ayodhya. The procession was led by L. K. Advani, and involved thousands of kar sevaks, or volunteers, from the Sangh Parivar. The yatra began in Somnath on 25 September 1990, and passed through hundreds of villages and cities. It traveled approximately 300 kilometers a day, and Advani often addressed six public rallies in a single day. The yatra caused an outpouring of both religious and militant sentiments among Hindus, and became one of India’s biggest mass movements.
The yatra also triggered religious violence in its wake, with riots in cities across North India. As a result, Advani was arrested by the government of Bihar as the yatra passed through that state, and 150,000 of his supporters were also arrested by the government of Uttar Pradesh. Tens of thousands of activists nonetheless reached Ayodhya and demolished the 16th-century Babri Mosque, resulting in a pitched battle with security forces which left 20 dead. These events caused further Hindu-Muslim riots to break out across the country, in which hundreds were killed. Muslims were often the victims of these riots. Following these riots, the BJP made significant gains elections, both at the national and the state level, on the back of religious polarisation caused by the yatra.

2014 – a RSS and VHP member, who was personally banned from the U.K. & the US for his human rights violations record, was elected the Prime Minister of India. Narendra Modi. He belongs to the organization that murdered Gandhi.

2019 – the Supreme Court of India upheld the demolition of the mosque and cleared the path for building a Hindu temple there instead. A constitution created in 1950 was used to go back in time to resolve a dispute claimed to be from the 1500s. Under this distorted interpretation, people who arrived to India in 700BC (the Aryans from Central Asia) are allowed to displace / destroy / usurp the people who already lived here (the Dravidians), but people who arrived in 700AD (more central Asians and middle easterners) are selectively and retroactively disallowed from that.

2019 – Kashmir’s special status which protected its Muslim population was revoked, all politicians were placed under house arrest, the military swarmed the state, the internet and cellphones were shut down, and the annexation was complete.

2019 – the constitution of India was amended to require a religious test for Citizenship. If you claim to be Hindu, you have a path to citizenship. If you are not Hindu, you don’t have a path to citizenship.

If we look at history – many Indians today (both Hindus and Muslims) are just a bunch of Europeans and Central Asians fighting with each other in a new place they moved to only since 1500BC!

Sondland Testimony, CBS vs Fox, ‘quid pro quo’ or not?

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Exact same testimony, exact same words being reported. CBS says “Sondland confirms a quid pro quo”. Fox says “Sondland confirms Trump told him no quid pro quo”. Now it may seem like one of them is blatantly lying. But that’s not true. They are reporting different aspects.

Sondland confirmed he thought there was supposed to be one and also confirmed Trump told him the exact opposite.

In other words, CBS is saying that a witness says he thinks the suspect committed a crime. And Fox is saying that the witness says that when the witness confronted the suspect the suspect denied the crime.

In my personal opinion, despite both reporting one part of the truth, the Fox aspect is slightly more misleading here. Because we would all agree that reporting that a suspect denied their crime is not really newsworthy, right? At the same time CBS comes across as if this is more certainly provable than it actually is.