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The Moderator as Firewall

I read both the Instapundit and Scripting News regularly and so I’ve been following the little spat they’ve been having with some trepidation: how would Dave’s unique social skills fare against the John Kerry of the blogosphere?

On the other hand, this post from Matt Deatherage (linked from Scripting News) seems to capture the essence of why Dave doesn’t get why the Respectful Disagreement session went as badly as it did:

Dave’s […] never going to back down just because someone says so. Prove him wrong or sit down. People like Glenn Reynolds are quite unused to this concept.

Ad hominems aside, the “Prove him wrong or sit down” school thought of though works well in science and engineering, it works less well in policy where the ultimate proof of right and wrong may come generations later, if at all.

It works especially poorly when applied to a facilitator of debate, and this seems to be the crux of the problem which Dave blissfully ignores.

The impression I get from the blogs covering the session is that Dave brought this very same quality into a forum in which he was the moderator (or discussion leader). Now moderators can and do have partisan agendas, but the skilled ones steer the conversation and try to give views they support more play — not firewall ideas they don’t like.

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12 May 2005 10:16 am

Blog Mela 2005, Issue 3

Blog Mela - tour the Indian blogosphere Hello and welcome to the 3rd mela of the year! Without much ado –

The Philadelphia radio jockeys who dialed and harassed an Indian call centre worker got a lot of ink from many Indian bloggers this week. Shanti wondered why many Indians cried foul about racism when the jockeys should really have been excoriated for extremely poor judgement and taste. Psybaba posits that the complainers are too touchy by half and that Indians are not blameless when it comes to racial stereotyping.

On the other hand, even as radio jockeys are bad-mouthing call centre workers, JK notes that globalization affects more than IT and auto-parts — IT enabled services now include teaching.

Amit Varma’s posts on the tsunami were predictably nominated, but instead of pointing to the individual posts I’ll direct you to indiauncut-tsunami.blogspot.com where he’s helpfully compiled all his despatches from the tsunami affected areas of Tamil Nadu. Read it all.

Ravikiran, meanwhile, has been wondering why the government of India is intent on destroying the traditional livelihood of the thousands of fishermen who dot India’s long coastline with its new Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) measure. Yazadjal notes that the CRZ is a classic top-down bureaucratic response and offers an alternative.

Yazad also has a set of interesting posts (part 1, part 2) that touch upon the nature of capitalism as demonstrated by the rise in prices of staple goods has been a second disaster for the already-suffering tsunami victims. Pradeep has had similar thoughts and concludes that no-holds-barred capitalism cannot be the answer.

The tsunami could not break Madras/Chennai’s stride though — it was business as usual in the city. Vinod G notes the ATP Chennai Open finished a few days ago to good crowds, even if the highlight of the match for certain sections of the audience seemed to be a certain shirt-changing player.

India signed an agreement this week to build a oil and gas pipeline into the country from Burma through Bangladesh as well as, interestingly, Iran. Given that any Iranian pipeline has to travel through Pakistan (especially troublesome Balochistan), JK notes that this is an excellent opportunity for India to boost its image and build relations in a traditionally volatile part of the world.

The other issue that got a lot of ink was a little too meta, but considering it went right under the radar of most Indian English blogs, I felt it was worth covering. Madhu’s decision to exclude Hindi blogs in the last blog mela (based, as he notes, on very pragmatic reasons) sparked off a lively (and not always very friendly) discussion in the Hindi blog world, one of the first results of which was Chittha-charcha (blog review), a weblog devoted to a monthly roundup of Hindi blogdom, with other Indic languages to follow. I hope they do well, but as I’ve noted before, it’d be great if Indian bloggers used the distributed intelligence inherent in the blogosphere to minimize linguistic differences instead of exacerbating them.

On the other hand, in a post that surely is (fair) fuel for the language wars, Patrix asks why Indians pre-judge other Indians based on their command over English. Even though English receives equal standing with approximately 23 other languages, it is somehow more equal than others.

The petition currently before India’s Supreme Court to remove ‘Sindh’ from the national anthem was received with disbelief and derision from many bloggers. I just hope no one tells the plaintiff about the German anthem, which has Deutschland über alles stretching all the way from Holland to the Baltic.

Praveen submitted a well-written post about the bearded thief, which stood out by not really fitting in anywhere. But I’m guessing every Indian town and village has its characters, and thaadi kallan here could really be from anywhere in the country.

Food-blogging (or should that be food-and-beverages blogging?): Madhu Menon in his avatar as chef-incardinate at Shiok Food leads us to steamed rice nirvana, and even presents a lovely dish to go along with it — orange-lemon chicken, mmm… and Ravishankar Shrivastava has a paean to tea, the lubricant that keeps most Indians moving throughout the day. Then again, Inkspillz writes about life at college with a beverage of another kind.

Finally, food for the soul: Jitendra Chaudhary is out to create an easily accessible Ramayana in Devanagri on the web. So far, he’s got Part I — “baalkaand” — online. Blogger’s group-blogging capabilities could come in useful here, so go volunteer if stuff like this interests you.

That’s all for this week, folks. Thanks to all who nominated entries, and apologies to those whose entries I could not include. The next mela will be held on January 21 at selectiveamnesia.org. You can view the schedule (and volunteer) here.

Update 15 Jan 9:45pm: Updated post in response to this.

21 Comments

15 January 2005 3:22 am

Tower of Babel

2005’s 2nd Blog Mela might have fizzled, but the Hindi Blog Mela equivalent, चिट्ठाचर्चा (BlogReview), has got off the ground with a link-rich collection of Hindi and English links. Good going!

On the other hand, I am not sure who’re behind this site, but I do wish that they’d consider a simultaneously translating their posts to English (like Merde in France). There are many Indians who cannot read Hindi (and even for those who can there are several challenges, but that’s the subject of another post). Also, if चिट्ठाचर्चा’s plans for other language blog reviews get off the ground, these other-language blogs would find a much wider pan-Indian audience if translations were available (and on blogs, poster/commenters’ distributed intelligence ensures that the cost of translations is low).

India is unique in being divided by language like no other nation in the world. It would be a shame if the Indian blogosphere added to this division instead of minimizing it.

5 Comments

12 January 2005 10:09 pm

Call for Entries — Blog Mela 2005, Issue 3

While we wait for the year’s 2nd mela to be put up at Nilesh’s place, all ye bloggers who wish their screeds included in the 3rd भारतीय blog मेला this year — direct your entries this way or comment below. Entries submitted ought to have an India angle in there somewhere (either that, or be scoop-memepool weird). Entries in Hindi are welcome because I can read the language. I’m not going to constrain submitters on ‘personal’ posts, but they have to be well-written to be included in the mela.

Entries for this mela should have been posted between Jan 8 through 14.

Update 12 Jan: The Mela will be up after 9pm GMT 14th Jan.

23 Comments

9 January 2005 4:26 am

Strategic Nationalism

I missed this, but thanks to the wonders of the Bharatiya Blogger’s Digest er, Blog Mela, I was able to find Madhu’s screed on Indian-ness. He asks how he can strongly identify with India when on many points (go read them all) he is clearly out of the Indian mainstream.

Not surprisingly, his comments have attracted (besides the usual accusations of brown-sahibbery) a lot of people who feel the same as he does. I must add here that as little as two years back, I would probably have been firmly in the “me too, Madhu” camp. These days, I’m happy to be at ease about it.

The problem begins with the way Madhu states the problem: just how “Indian” am I?. As we will see, ‘how’ is the wrong question: ‘what kind of’ is a much better one.

Attempts to measure Indianness by counting the number of national stereotypes conformed to is not only misguided but dangerous. Nationalism, except in hate-mongering hands, is an instrument of inclusion, not exclusion. Measured by Madhu’s criteria, Pandit Nehru with his perennial Anglophilia or the pre-South-Africa Gandhi would not have been very Indian either.

Madhu goes on to call himself a cultural misfit. To my mind, this is a good thing: cultural misfits create progress. It is because of cultural misfits that most people don’t think of Sati, or child-marriage, or widow-remarriage-prohibitions, or treating wives like chattel as terribly important Indian values. Conflating the idea of cultural “fits” with Indian-ness is therefore misguided.

The key phrase that underlies Madhu’s thinking seems to be Ravi Kiran’s quote: Every generation finds things we have in common, things that we share, things that we value and things that we can be proud of, and builds a nationalism out of it. This is a classic clarion call to what I call ‘cultural nationalism’: in the early 1900s it was Vande Mataram, khadi and the tricolor; today it’s cricket, B(|T|K)ollywood and Indipop. Easy.

Or maybe not. Cultural nationalism is a great tool to get a nation together where none existed before. It appeals to the masses who then see unity where previously there was diversity. In a nation that already exists, cultural nationalism is a sure road to disaster simply because every special-interest group has slightly different and often conflicting ideas about what the shared ‘culture’ represents. Look no further than the VHP/RSS’ brand of values to see how even majority values can be divisive. Even seemingly harmless values like Bollywood become objects of dispute, as in the recent Karnataka cinema fraças. Most tellingly, the last German experiment with shared cultural values and nationalism left 55 million dead around the world.

Perhaps in response to this, some commenters have suggested that in this interconnected world nationalism is passé, that all it means is a passport, nothing more. This “citizen of the world” thinking has struck me as wooly-headed before, and this is what this post is really about.

Of course, the world is highly interconnected today. 16 year olds in Brazil can contribute to the development of an OS kernel that’ll be used around the world. Teens in Bangalore can buy Evanescence albums almost as soon as they’re out in New York. There is an entire spectrum of global and local experiences that one can be — given the inclination and ability — exposed to.

Let us assume a ‘national average’ of exposure that lies somewhere between completely local and completely global. A typical autorickshaw driver would be skewed towards the local end of the scale. Madhu, on the other hand, is highly skewed towards global end of the scale, much more than the national average. Madhu and others like him are the leading edge of India’s ‘globalization’, and they pay for it with anomie towards the society they inhabit.

Europe is a more balanced example. Today, shared cultural experience in Europe (which was never low to begin with) is at all time high, thanks especially to the common market and free interborder movement for citizens. By the ‘cultural nationalism’ touchstone, then, nationalism must also be at an all time high. Surprisingly, this is not the case. Fervour for nationalism in Europe is low, hindering the progress of the European superstate. The reason is a lack of common strategic interest. Lower-cost Ireland has prospered under the Euro regime where Germany has suffered. France indignantly chastises a resurgent Poland for not ‘knowing its place’ even as it suffers low growth and rise in pensioners.

Nationalism — first and foremost — is shared economic and strategic interest. Everything else, cultural symbolism included, is window dressing.

What kind of Indian is Madhu? An excellent one. Far better, I would argue, than the IAS officer who’s blasé about his district’s poor roads. Far better than the politician who knows that keeping his poor constituency hooked to handouts is the ticket to his own success. Madhu is an excellent Indian because he has a very personal stake in India’s success. He wants his restaurant to do well. For that, Bangalore has to do well. If Bangalore does well, so will Indian IT, and (given IT’s role in the economy) so will India. And while all the macroeconomics flies thick and fast, Madhu goes back to delivering great food and service and creating jobs.

Anyone who’s labour is directed towards making India thrive is an Indian, even if he doesn’t have a passport that says so. Even indirect labour from those offshore counts: those who invest in India, often simply by sending money home; those who by their very lives offshore create goodwill for India; those who, despite feeling like misfits, like India enough to blog about it. Of course, these days we recognize some of these Indians by giving them PIO cards.

Of course, apart from that there is also the little matter of accepting the framework of Indian law and all the obligations that brings about, which is what legally makes you a citizen in the first place (some of us are born into it). However, it is only shared economic and strategic interest that can truly make one a citizen, as opposed to a mere accident of birth.

2 Comments

1 November 2004 12:03 pm

Indiatimes Blogs Update

Indiatimes doesn’t quite get blogging yet. While it’s great that they’ve been linking to several of their blogs off their heavily-visited home page, the blogs (quality-of-writing arguments aside) remain anonymous, with most having only a post or two. IMO this is the wrong way to boot a thriving weblog community. Here are some of the things I’d be thinking about if I was running O3.

First: encourage readers to identify — anonymous weblogs are about as interesting as random Usenet posts. Many users may wish to remain pseudo-anonymous, this is perfectly okay if like Belle de Jour they make clear who they are and what they’re writing about. Of course, many of Indiatimes’ visitors are net neophytes and unfamiliar with online etiquette, but this problem is likely to go away with time. Second: comment spam is a huge turn-off to would-be bloggers, so help them understand how they can crack down on comment spam. For example, the user who wrote this post hasn’t posted again yet — not surprising given the virulent reaction and comment spam he got. Third: use a “quiet period” to let bloggers “find their voice” and actually fill up those pages with something, instead of linking first-post weblogs from the front page merely because they have catchy titles.

That said, I think it’s great that larger numbers of Indian netizens are getting their feet wet with blogs. In a country whose citizens have been talked down to for far too long (by just about anyone with authority, including their elders and rulers) blogs provide an excellent way to reverse the flow.

1 Comment

15 September 2004 6:09 am

Indiatimes Offers Blogs

I’m not a huge fan of Indiatimes, however now that they’ve added weblogs to the roster of services offered, I applaud their using the .Text engine. Dottext and Wordpress have to be the best weblog engines out there, for free or pay. This automatically means Indiatimes bloggers have a far better tool (and far better blogs) than, say, Rediffblogs. I wish Indiatimes would go easy on the advertising, though.

The quality of writing on Indiatimes’ weblogs isn’t anything worth writing home about, though — barring a few good ones, most are faux stream-of-consciousness textstreams.

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24 August 2004 9:35 am

Scripting News and the Kerry Campaign

It’s sad to see Scripting News turn into a soundbite site for the Kerry Campaign. Weblogs are supposed to wear their biases on their sleeves (and Dave has laid his biases bare: this election has one and only one issue for him: Anyone But Bush); however, it is interesting to see which way a weblog turns when there’s a conflict of interest.

Regular readers of Scripting News know that the relationship between webloggers and journalists is a fairly regular topic here. Because of that, the silence on Scripting News about the Swiftvets and their (non-)coverage in the media was mystifying. Here was a story where the weblogs were getting all the action, and I for one expected Dave to point to it and rebutt it vociferously. However, the position on Scripting News was radio silence. Now, this could be simply a result of Dave having too much on his plate, however, given the things he is likely to write about I have to wonder if the silence was a result of a battle between his politics and his professional work (as a thought-leader in weblogging), a battle which his politics won.

A great counterpoint is Scoble’s point about who you should point to: to be an authority on the operating system industry and to become an authority you must point to ALL stuff, not just that that’s friendly. Substitute ‘integrity’ for ‘authority’ and ‘politics’ for ‘operating system’ and there’s a point the guru of weblogging could himself take to heart.

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8:09 am

Blogger Relaunched

Google now has an official weblog.

The Blogger relaunch happened over Sunday night/Monday morning India time. Good new stuff include comments and post-level pages. The default templates are now glitzier. Categories and custom non-html templates would have been good to have, but it’s not there yet. No RSS support either, for completely childish reasons (IMO if the Atom API is tied to Atom-the-format, it reeks of poor design.) And oh, the new interface is not as fast (speed and productivity) as the old classic interface, so could we please have the old one back?

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11 May 2004 12:36 pm

New Blogger Version Soon

New Blogger release on Mother’s Day. Mm, RSS feeds would be nice to have.

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9 May 2004 7:42 pm

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