Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA: the first salvo

By now, many more people know about SOPA. Thanks in no small part to how Wikipedia and Google pushed the day-long blackout planned for today into the faces of their visitors. They joined online fora like Slashdot, Hacker News, Reddit, Mozilla and the EFF. This crescendo had its consequences (read this and this), two more measures of success for the wave of protest that had started rising over the last several weeks from all quarters great and small in forms both raw and polished. Thanks to Wikipedia and Google, however, more people are now wondering what the big deal is about something they really had not heard about all this time. Several people have, as recommended, contacted their representatives in government to request that they not support SOPA and PIPA. Unfortunately, not all people can be expected to do this -- being vigilant, well-informed and politically active is a combination of qualities that no government, in its present form, expects its citizens to possess. The rise in the number of people who agree that SOPA and PIPA represent something bad is encouraging and this is why the grey/black page Wikipedia redirected you to and Google's innovative logo have been very useful today.

Unfortunately, it won't end here. The people pushing SOPA and PIPA are very rich, very powerful and will push them back in with different monikers or as addenda to innocuous resolutions. They can afford to wait for a short while until all this noise dies down, before they bring the twins back. One can only hope that all the vigilant forces that were active over the past few weeks will remain vigilant, active and interested should the twins return. The average person will soon forget this.

This reminds me of the case of Arun "Demolition Man" Bhatia in Pune in 1999. With a history of having fought and exposed corruption, Bhatia began his tenure as the Municipal Commissioner by ordering the demolition of illegal construction in the city. Anyone who was around in Pune then will hardly forget the sights of extensions of familiar restaurants and the like reduced to rubble near the sidewalks. A bulldozer became more commonly seen on roads than otherwise. It took less than a week for the political machinery to kick in and he was transferred. The twist in the familiar story appeared in the form of a public interest litigation (PIL) to get him back. The middle-class denizens of Pune rose as one and achieved a democratic victory when the Bombay High Court responded to the PIL by reinstating Bhatia. I remember noting a slight rise in my faith in the power of the public, should it choose to "wake up and act." Unfortunately, things were too good to last. The machinery kicked in again and he was impeached. No denizens, no victory. What the people had done once, they could not do again. Persistence in such matters is a virtue that cannot survive without strength and encouragement. The battered could only do so much. I fear that SOPA and PIPA might triumph like that machinery. I pray that I am wrong.

PS: There is enough information online for you to understand what evils lurk behind things like SOPA and PIPA (here's a Khan Academy video, if that's what will work best for you).

Your elected representatives have done shocking things like this before. Remember when most of the libraries of Cobb County faced extinction?

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