Tuesday, December 30, 2014

MS Dhoni's Departure and Culture in Sports

Indian Test Cricket Captain – MS Dhoni - retired from Test Cricket; both as the Captain and a player. I had a spirited exchange with a young fan of Dhoni back home and I argued that Indian Captain, highly acclaimed player with most towering sports personality in a Billion Plus Country of India and Cricketing Global fraternity (with equally great pay check, probably in the vicinity of Peyton Manning’s), missed on Test Cricketing Culture in executing his departure from Test Cricket.

Test Cricket has been played over a century and is the most classic, longest and complete form of cricket game; all rich in tradition. At the heart of it is Civility, Sportsmanship and Team Spirit. As such, Captain of a Test Cricket Team occupies the special place and role in all that – all inspiring, leading from front and “captain leaves the sinking ship last” mentality. Generally retirements at such stratospheric level of Test Cricketing and profession are handled gracefully and methodically. This means that for MS Dhoni, despite howsoever disappointing the current Test Series has been going; he was required to declare that he would put down his Captaincy cap after completing the home away series in Australia. He owned at least that much to the game and rich heritage of Test Cricket.

But in MS Dhoni’s case it seems like his propensity towards a practical, non-emotional approach saw better of him and he simply cut the chord – instantly, in all too unfamiliar manners of Test Cricket. As I explained to the young fan in India, it is true that all Indian Test Team players are multi-millionaire adult athletes; but still it gives an impression that Dhoni abandoned them in the middle of action.

May be MS Dhoni never had much heart in the rich heritage and tradition of Test Cricket, neither much cared beyond a point what Test Cricket has bequeathed over a century to Billions of people of this globe. I am not saying this because I am sad for his departure. No, I am not his fan in Test Cricket and the decision for MS Dhoni to quit now is right. Test Cricket and One Day Cricket formats have developed so far at this point that to expect that one single player fulfills roles of captaincy in both formats as well as succeeds as a player is too much to ask for. That is injustice in a sense to the player as well as to the game. So yes, sooner or later India indeed needed to find appropriate players for captaincy roles in these two separate teams. It is just the jarring manner in which MS Dhoni pulled off that; otherwise one of the most respected, ethical and honorable players of the game.

The thing is it is not Test Cricket only which has tradition and respected players are expected to honor that seminal heritage. Here is the case where Jonathan Chait explains the meaning of losing of my home town Football Coach – Jim Harbaugh of 49ners - to Michigan University which has American Football history of more than century.

Sports is fun because we humans reconnect to ‘our ancestors’ in some unique fashion to establish continuity of present life with past and it is only human that the athletes we love and respect realize, preserve and nurture this emotive craving of we spectators.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Interview and Fed Responsibility

As SONY attempted to correct its earlier decision of not 'releasing the movie'; what is required of Americans is to flock to watch the movie and assert our freedom of speech. I enjoyed my viewing using Google Play on Christmas Eve on the beautiful West Coasts of Fort Bragg; the same coast threatened by North Korean ICBMs.

The movie is nothing great. The picture it portrays of Americans as generally ignorant and unaware of things happening in rest of the world is by and large plausible. But the whole movie continues on this dumbness of audience. Perhaps those who are familiar with Bollywood movies can readily recognize such movie making and would not find 'the dumb audience' assumption so out of place. Mercifully, the movie is not long. For other critical reviews, one can read here and here.

The movie raises few important questions.

First, about hacking and cyber security. Clearly SONY's protection of its digital assets (essentially everything what it creates) and it's digitized information has been very poor. As a profit making company, it clearly failed its share holders by not adopting a stronger digital security regime. However, such problems are not limited to one single global corporation. Most publicly traded companies as well as other big organizations are more or less in the same boat. No wonder cost of digital security breaches is pegged already at around Half a Trillion dollar. As more and more our Economy depends on Digital Products and assets, it is bound to surpass a Trillion dollar mark soon, probably within a decade or so. Global Capitalism is only now waking up for the true challenges posed by 'hacking'; blissfully assuming it is all State Responsibility so far.

Imagine a big hacking attack on Gazprom of Russia or ICBC of China or Saudi Armaco of Saudi Arabia or Petrobras of Brazil. (There was one such cyber attack on Saudi Armaco in recent years.) In each of these nations, attack on these state owned public companies will be regarded as sovereign cyber attack. The political pressure in wresting control of Internet on national basis will be unstoppable and right there 'fragmentation of open, global Internet' would start. Among global corporations, only Banks (especially American Banks) seem to have invested continuously to digitize operations and secure those operations all along. Most non-banking corporations seem completely vulnerable. Even company like SONY for which only assets are it's digital creations; its digital security is all too porous. Beyond corporate data, hard assets like oil and gas pipelines, industrial automation (Stuxnet!), water grids, electrical grids and telecom / broadcasting grids; all are susceptible for cyber attacks

Question is what can be done. One way is Silicon Valley way - keep pouring money in cyber security start-ups. But it is wild wild west chase here with no guarantees of finding any 'holy grail' of digital security. Besides, the problem is inherently difficult to address - how to secure data when there are practically infinite ways in which one can reach data to destroy or steal it (because data without data movements in and out of that 'data sink' is of no use and does not exist). Sure there is money to be made here and Valley VCs will ensure that effectively there are no dollars left behind on the table so far as cyber security goes. But again there are no guarantees.

Another way is companies with cyber empires, mostly American companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook; but upcoming non-American companies like Alibaba as well; undertake more co-operation with Federal Government as well as international agencies to keep intact open global Internet structure while making it more secure. Since these companies have maximum stake in retaining secured open global Internet; these companies need to take lead and spend as needed to fashion a uniform response.

Finally, Congress needs to make necessary legal amendments to put in foundation which makes secure cyber possible. For example, before the world of SEC; corporations were lax in security trading. Today we cannot imagine a public company without a vetted audit. But one has to understand that all those regulatory requirements which we take it for granted were imposed on industry by State (do you hear any more noise about Sarbanes-Oxley Act?). In the same manner, may be time has come where 'data security audit' of public corporation is mandatory. Or else liability insurance premium for such corporations should skyrocket. Congress needs to formulate all such policies and pass necessary laws. But one cannot be much hopeful here considering interests of GOP dominated Congress. (Where are the leading lights of GOP? Nowhere so far as cyber security is concerned. All the brain power of GOP is busy in institutionalizing snake oil mechanics of dynamic scoring when many in GOP themselves are wary of 'tax cuts for everything' policy.) 

The second issue SONY hacking exposes is what should be the government responsibility in underwriting security when cyber attack linked threats are made to private companies. Sure, SONY chickened out in releasing the movie in theaters. But part of the reason was SONY was not sure about its protection when an American Movie Theater would be blown up and hundreds of Americans would die in that physical world terrorist attack. Legal liabilities and reputation loss would have completely wiped out SONY in that eventuality. That is where we stumble upon the missing piece - it was all right for President Obama to call the bluff of SONY in not releasing the movie; but it was precisely required from him as the Commander-in-chief and nation's leader to keep some record straight and make it explicit Fed's security underwriting. As many have noted, indeed American Government does so in many industries. While being coy about what State needs to do but to pillory SONY for being coward - that just seems a cheap trick to solicit clapping from chest thumping Republicans. (You got it - Nationalism, Patriotism, Freedom of Speech, Right to make any movie we want or our Right to watch any movie we want: once such hoary phrases start flying, like a moth to a flame; all these Republicans started jumping on the bandwagon of SONY criticism.) Again, one appreciates President Obama's forthrightness in pointing out where SONY failed; but politically the heavy lifting is left out. That Americans understand, if they want their rights to be preserved, just trotting guns is no use; but occasionally they can be victims of these cyber terrorist attacks as well. The political bulwark which President Obama does not seem to be undertaking is education of America that it has to take the lead in securing global cyber world.

For decades, American Navy guarded Oil tanker passages all over Earth's oceans to guarantee that wheels of global commerce continue to flow. Now is the time for America to do so again in the Cyber World. It is as much a political task as legal and technocratic. With a solid start to his fourth inning, President Obama has an enormous opportunity and duty to lead America in laying down foundations of global cyber security for all and for ages to come.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Massacre in Peshawar

On the eve of Sandy Hill Tragedy anniversary, we get another horrific news of school killing in a far away place. One cynical way to look at all this is - 'Pakistan is a true ally of USA'. America was feeling lonely in her inability to stop the gun culture, the culture which tolerates annihilation of its own progenies on the pretext of right 'to make money by selling military weapons to civilians' disguised as Second Amendment right. American hypocrisy is all too evident when we Americans will stop cars for Flashing Red Lights of Yellow School bus way at a distance, almost in some of kind reverence to school going kids; but we will simply not see the stupidity of what havoc our permissive gun policies do to our own kids and people. Now America need not feel lonely, Pakistan has been forced to join her ranks.

Well, ranting against America's gun culture aside; this massacre is utterly inhuman. Evil does not respect the holiday season or feeling of 'giving, sharing and love' during these festive days. I guess Taliban stated it - they were 'giving'; what they were interested to give was 'pain of loss of loved ones' to Pakistani Military.

Clearly the cause honored in awarding Malala is right one - the right of Pakistani kids to pursue education safely. What is unclear is how did that award honor scores of many other Pakistani school going kids who brave the stupefying violence and in the end pay the ultimate price as like many kids did in this killing spree.

There have been so many wake-up calls to Pakistani Society and her Politicians about the danger of playing with fire i.e. guns and Taliban. They have an opportunity not to be America - where our political class (and judiciary too) is simply beholden to the gun makers lobby. True, reasons and motivations for violence in these incidents are different. In Pakistan's case clearly it is the war waged by Talibans against larger Pakistani Society; fundamentally a different issue than America's failure to control guns. But Pakistani Army has tended to harbor terrorists for petty tactical gains against India or Afghanistan or simply opposing political force for too long and her politicians have failed to rein it so far. Like America, it is the failure to stop causes of violence.

Pakistani PM is responding in right ways to the tragedy - publicly grieving for families who lost their loved ones, visit Peshawar and help manage the crisis on immediate basis. Early on in his term, PM Sharif first extended his hand of friendship to Talibans despite political perils of such an approach. Taliban rejected that and he has reluctantly started to mop up Talibans militarily. PM Sharif needs to continue on this path strategically and needs to bring together the entire Pakistani Society with him to fight terrorism of Taliban. It is a common enemy of Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and even USA. 

Many young and affluent people in Pakistan get lured by theatricals of Pakistani Opposition Politician Imran Khan. They need to realize, it is much better and much patriotic to join Pakistani Government and Army in their fight against Taliban rather than getting embroiled in some flimsy agitations perpetrated by Imran Khan for his political opportunism. It is time for Pakistan to come together and take decisive steps in getting rid of Taliban. Specter of South Sudan is never far away. 

India needs to help Pakistan as much as possible in this fight against Taliban (but still continue the policy of armed response for any terrorist adventures from Pakistani side on Indian border). Immediate reaction of PM Modi is setting the right tone, India needs to sustain it over a period.

The biggest actor who can take Taliban head-on is Pakistani Army. First it needs to stop playing Taliban against India or Afghanistan or USA or political opponents. Then only it can wage an effective war against Taliban. It is not about doing favor to America or anyone in fighting Taliban. It is all about protecting children and families of Pakistan itself. The enemy has reached at the heart of Pakistani Armed forces - their progenies. 

(From tactical perspective it is utterly foolish to attack Pakistani Military Personnel's school. This will remove any ambivalence of Pakistani Army against Taliban. It is a direct provocation of Pakistani Army and Taliban just ensured that there will be a brutal counter-attack by Pakistani Military against Taliban. One hopes it does not escalate into some kind of mindless violence.)  

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Dissonance of American Politics

Bill Cassidy crushes sitting Democratic Senator from Louisiana by around 15% or so. How does he enjoy his victory? By saying this:

“[ObamaCare] It’s pounding the American people...People are upset about this law, and we must do something about it.”


The contradiction and pathetic state of our politics is all evident here. Republicans are not winning by pointing what needs to be improved either in ObamaCare or in our health care system. They are getting elected by demonizing a working law, by spreading outright ignorance and pledging their political capital to further destruct an improving system rather than constructing something more useful.

Another example - again and again it has been proven that the 'voodoo economics of tax cuts for rich bringing prosperity to all' is a gimmick which does not work. GOP wins Congress in 2014 and what do its bosses plan the first thing to do - start the campaign to force CBO to adopt 'dynamic scoring' (the one which has intellectual foundations provided by one Herman Cain). Sam Brownback destroyed State Finances by giving un-affordable tax cuts without benefiting the State. What do American Voters do? He gets re-elected with a full mandate of possibly further destroying the state of Kansas by his 'voodoo economics'.

We have had 57 months of continuous job growth and in November we get signs that finally income growth could be happening for average Americans too. On this background, considering above pronouncements by GOP politicians, one gets the sense that GOP is all set to wreck incipient American economic recovery. By 2000, Bill Clinton brought prosperity to large number of Americans. GOP promptly destroyed all that economic build up by starting a un-related war and Trillion Dollar Tax Cuts for rich. Only when those Tax Cuts were reversed in 2012 after Obama re-election; did the Federal Deficit took a decisive turn for better. But with GOP intent on resorting back to 'voodoo economics', we are about to see the movie of Bush Republican era again. (Feels like American Politics is nothing but one party repairs the damage while the same culprit comes back again to break it.)

In the remaining two years President Obama will need to wield his veto lot more frequently to fight back all these destructive policies unless saner minds in GOP prevail.