Monday, July 14, 2008

A sensible way to run a website dedicated to debate about India's national security affairs

I have been thinking about this issue after exchanges with several of my readers on the last thread.

Presently, we are confronting the aftermath of a terrible moderation failure inside the forum. However in the context of discussions on the moderation failure, a number of issues have come out - pertaining to the role of politics, to the role of the "original conception" of the website, and the addictive nature of power - just to name a few.

Though I confess my heart is heavy after this episode and I feel a lot of my own dreams about the forum and website have been crushed - I would like to have something positive come from this mess.

Needless to say - these are my views - not those of anyone I may or may not know.

To begin - the problems we are seeing are the direct result of a lust for power. Power corrupts, it removes the sense of balance that keeps personal ambition in check. In order to run a website like this - one must create instutional safeguards against power lust.

A relatively simple scheme to guard against this tendency is to have a single fixed time period for forum administrators. The knowledge that the stay in a position of power is a limited one time affair, will deter abuse.

While this places great pressure on the system to select new moderators, there is a way to mitigate this. If one creates a tenure scheme by which any poster who has posted for longer than a certain number of years, and has made certain (significant) contributions to the website in the form of publications, organisation etc... will automatically be up for promotion to moderator rank.

Once such a poster has accepted moderator rank - they will be bound by a rigid code of conduct which will cover their public utterances on political, sectarian and ethnic issues. The power of such moderators will be clearly defined and administrative actions will have to fit a transparent format. A transparently moderated debate will eliminate the need for special management procedures that have hitherto been in vogue.

The next question is - what will happen to the old moderators and founding fathers?

I propose that the founding fathers form a board of governors. A governing board like this could focus on the development of the wider interests of the website. Barring extreme situations, there would be no reason for the members of the board to intervene in the running of the website or the forum though they would be free to contribute in any way of their choosing as ordinary members. If the founding fathers can remain on the forum as ordinary members - then surely the newest of the newbies will learn a great lesson in humility - a lesson they will carry forth into their stay as moderators.

I suggest that upon retirement the former moderators and site administrators (if they so choose) be invited to stay on the forum as ordinary members. Having renounced their moderator rank - they would be free of the burden that it carries. Their presence on the forum, would effectively create a large local pool of knowledge and enrich the collegiate atmosphere necessary to mentor newer and younger members joining the forum.

With adequate mentorship and moderation - I do not see why such an experiment would not succeed in producing a vibrant environment for sensible debate on India's national security issues.

Friday, July 04, 2008

On the practice of "Isharaabaazi"


A discussion has come up in the earlier thread about the use of "isharaas" or indirect suggestion/speculation/comment to convey points in the debate on the forum. The "isharaa" technique is particularly powerful because it holds out the implicit claim of detailed and verifiable knowledge. Backed by a serious body of research and peer reviewed publications, a speculative framework can be constructed and in the right place and time - a speculation can open new fields of thinking. However on the flip side - a poorly constructed argument can also be inflated with "isharaas" to seem substantial.

Despite this drawback - I don't see how one can avoid this practice as a whole as speculation is a very big part of debate.

I do have the following concerns:

1) I don't like the idea of this "isharaa" technique being used against GoI. I recall a NPA blogsite that carried "isharaas" about the similarity between compounds used by DAE to refine fissile material and compounds used to make methamphetamines. While I do not doubt that an NPA blogger could be very well versed in both those things - i.e. making meth and making fissile material - the "isharaa" was aimed to suggest that DAE was in the drug trade. I fail to see how this kind of "isharaa" is useful to Indians. Can the supporters of this technique please comment on how such a pitfall is to be avoided?

2) The text of the "isharaas" often targets Western MNCs and indirectly accuses them of unfair and improper business practices. While the indirect nature of the comments makes a libel charge difficult to sustain, it may be recalled that Indian MNCs can be subject to a similar campaign of villification. This campaign is likely to be even more effective given that most Indian MNCs can't buy the kind of publicity that western MNCs routinely do. Can the proponents of the "isharaa" technique please provide a prescription against such a use?

3) The sum of several "isharaas" can add up in unintended ways. For example, someone makes an "isharaa" to indicate that Agni has X-range with Y kg warhead. Someone else steps in and "isharaas" that a *computer* simulation suggests that the Agni's range can be extended from X- X++ with a Y-- warhead. Then someone else comes in and "isharaas" that with X++ range and Y-- warheads, an entire city in a land far far far far away can be wiped off the face of this earth provided a Y-- capability warhead can be built. Soon the security services of this nation far far far away develop a sense of concern about all these "isharaas" flying around and when Secy to the GoI visits this country, the security people ask him/her "so what is with the Agni, we hear you are planning to hit us?". Can the people who use this "isharaa" technique please tell me how they intend to contain a widening of the "isharaa"sphere?

I am confused as to how this "isharaa" technique is entirely harmless.

I remain open minded on this issue.