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“Give me advertisers and I promise you free content” December 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, technology.
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Thats quoting Subash Chandra Bose. (who some believe is still alive.)

Anyway, this happened when I wasn’t watching. But all forgiven (!) – India Today, which to me is India’s best news magazine, is now available online for free !

Here is Sanjoy Narayan, Chief Operating Officer, India Today Group Digital.

…decided to change to a free access model for two reasons. The first says , “Our earlier subscription model found takers mainly among Indians living abroad or those who wanted information about India. Also, that was a time when Internet penetration was low and the user base was small. Now, with both of these increasing rapidly, particularly among the younger people, we want to tap this audience.”

The second reason is revenue. Online ad revenue is growing and the group feels as though they can attract an audience by keeping their readers engaged everyday instead of just periodically when their magazines are released.

Looks they are going the way of the NYTimes – generate revenue from advertising that comes from having a large readership than from subscription fees. I hate to call tipping-points but is this another statement about internet advertising in India ?

And yes, I will gobble anything that S. Prasannrajan writes, a favorite since the 90s.

Link.

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Indian “Fox” and Public sector unbound December 22, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, politics.
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A friend sends me this video from IBN-live website. This is about the almost completed Golden Quadrilateral and how the changes it brings are far and wide. In his email he adds :

..in the entire program these ***kers have not mentioned whose dream project all this was !!

For those of you who don’t know, he is referring to the fact that the program was initiated during the NDA regime. In reply to this mail (it went to a bunch of other folks), one of them writes in :
when do we hear that a news channel is being run by Swapan Dasgupta or Chandan Mitra or Arun Shouri??? BJP must realize that media is very very powerful; unless they start a media house like Republicans did Fox in US, their opinion will never be heard…
Interesting, while there are newspapers such as Livemint whose editorial stance is fiscally conservatism (and socially liberal), is there any major Hindi/English channel that is to the right of center, at least on the fiscal side.
~~~
On a related note, the Indian Express has been running a series called “Public Sector Unbound” which is tracking all that happened to privatized PSUs (mostly privatized in the pre-MMS era). Certainly not music to many ears, but (and therefore) makes for some good material for debates and discussion on the topic.
Sample this particular (erstwhile) Hindustan Zinc story. Happiness.

NRI worship and the North American Association of Koramangala citizenry December 9, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, humor, india.
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Quite an article from Ram Guha on the new ritual on the Indian calenders – NRI worship !

Well-written, incisive and humorous with all those tales from Hindu mythology and all that (do you call that an allegory ?). The article is about NRIs and this word in the media sure attracts attention. This excerpt here is a long one but it better be for the sake of completeness. NRI or not, do read the entire article anyway.

Sometimes the Family Show-Off takes on a second role, that of the Non-Resident Religious Radical, or nrrr. The nrrr tells you that the only way to build a strong, self-reliant nation is to marry Faith with State. … These nrrrs have been to the Sangh parivar what North Americans Jews are to the Israeli Right and what Irish-Americans have been to the ira—that is, an important source of moral and (more crucially) material support.

Thats only a part of the story. Here is the other half.

But few, it seems, have noticed the steady growth in influence of another kind of diasporic extremist, whom I call the Non-Resident Political Radical, or NRPR. While the nrrrs tend to come from the commercial and professional classes—they are typically doctors, lawyers, and businessmen—the NRPR are located chiefly in the American academy, as students and professors. They are fervently against ‘lpg’: liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. This, despite being beneficiaries of L, P, and G themselves. … Where the nrrrs support a political party, namely the BJP, the NRPR are more prone to support, and influence, those social movements which share their distaste for the state, the market, the establishment; for, it seems, everything – and – everyone – but -themselves.

And finally, the coup-de-grace.

Both kinds of radicals are hypocritical. Living under a Constitution that separates Church from State, the religious radical yet wishes to convert India into a Hindu Pakistan. Living in an open, free society that encourages innovation and enterprise, the political radical yet wants to refashion India into a Burma writ large, into an isolated, autarkic autocracy that shall pass itself off as a socialist utopia.

As has been written numerous times, India’s relationship with NRIs is at the extremes. A love-hate relationship and in fact there is a variety of them – that of the general public, the media, haves, have nots, wants, don’t wants – each of them prevail at the same time. Wonder what it is like among other expatriates.

~~~

Staying on the topic, here is Chidananda Rajghatta’s article on how over the years several ‘Indian’ associations have spawned in the US that have come to reflect India’s ‘diversity’. Surprised anyone ?

I predict the existence of “North American Association of Koramangala citizenry” in the year 2023. After all, the population and the diversityof Koramangala then will be more than that of Estonia today ! In fact, thanks to decades of migration from all parts of India into Koramangala (which is merely good economics and bad governance), a completely new dialect comprising mostly Kannada with several other Indian languages will have been formed. Now if Estonians can have their own association, why not Koramangalites ?

Disclaimer : My association with Koramangala has seldom been beyond visiting a relative at some point, getting a haircut at a saloon at the Raheja arcade sometime in 1999 and using it as a thoroughfare between Indira Nagar and Jayanagar.

HT : Nanopolitan.

Jaywalking in Delhi December 6, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india, policy, weird.
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Threat of harassment allegation

We know that we have violated the rule. But we did not know that such a rule is being implemented and will never repeat the same. But where are the female cops? Keep away from us or else we will sue you for harassing us.

Fear of nuisance value

I will not pay the fine as I do not have Rs 20 with me. If you want to send me to Tihar, then do that. It’s better as I might get free food there.

Call for humanitarian consideration

I had to rush as someone had expired in my family and that is why I did not look for zebra crossing.

There are among the various emotions and states of mind that the Delhi police finds itself in. As the article says:

With the launch of crackdown on jaywalking in the Capital on Wednesday, Delhi Traffic Police had a tough time implementing the drive.

“India after Gandhi” December 1, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india.
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That of course is Guha’s book.

I have not read the Guha’s book and this is not a book review; this is more like quoting from a review of the book. One of the sentences from that review is rivetting.

To comprehend India’s achievement, imagine if Mexico became the 51st of the United States, followed by Brazil, Argentina and the rest of Central and South America. Add Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to give this union the Sunni-Shia mix of India. The population then represented in Congress would still be smaller and less diverse linguistically, religiously, culturally and economically than India’s. If such a state could democratically manage the interests and conflicts swirling within it, and not threaten its neighbors, the world should ask little else from it. If we were such a state, we would feel that our humane progress contributes so much to global well-being that smaller, richer, easier-to-manage states should not presume to tell us what to do.

Incredible, isn’t it !

There is an itch that you see rather commonly (even if rightly) to keep such accounts of today’s India ‘balanced’. For now though, I would rather leave you in the halo of it.

You can catch the first chapter of Guha’s book.

P. S: Each time I quote (on the blog or in conversations) foreign writers and journalists, I prepare myself to take on the abundance of unfair ( and almost racist) criticisms of writings on India by foreigners (See a blogosphere version in the comments section.) Common arguments go along India being too complex a country and hence out of reach of anyone who wasn’t born and spent as many (but not more) years in the country as the critic in question did.

Well, let me just say that for every Tom Friedman’s over-simplified India commentary, there is the Shashi Tharoor’s over-aggrandizing India cliche.

Whats not in the source code ? November 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india, science.
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Look at this piece of news.

The exploration of the human genome has long been relegated to elite scientists in research laboratories. But that is about to change. An infant industry is capitalizing on the plunging cost of genetic testing technology to offer any individual unprecedented — and unmediated — entree to their own DNA.

For as little as $1,000 and a saliva sample, customers will be able to learn what is known so far about how the billions of bits in their biological code shape who they are. Three companies have already announced plans to market such services, one yesterday.

Great ! The next time someone wants to know why I started balding at 19 and am all but done with it at 26, ( “Was it the swimming pool water”, “May be KREC hostel water”, “I am sure it was the Boston Winter”), I might be able to give them an entire subsequence of A, T, G, C for an explanation. (Geneticists out there – does this make sense ?)

Jokes apart, this is precious stuff. Sure, the science is at still at the early stages and so is the technology – I reckon within 2 years the costs of the above indulgence may come down by 20-30%. And I am going to go get it !  What kind of stuff do you find there anyway ?

Like other testers of 23andMe’s service, my first impulse was to look up the bits of genetic code associated with the diseases that scare me the most.

But in the bar charts that showed good genes in green and bad ones in red, I found a perverse sense of accomplishment. My risk of breast cancer was no higher than average, as was my chance of developing Alzheimer’s. I was 23 percent less likely to get Type 2 diabetes than most people. And my chance of being paralyzed by multiple sclerosis, almost nil. I was three times more likely than the average person to get Crohn’s disease, but my odds were still less than one in a hundred.

Seriousness apart (!), the great practitioners of the system of arranged marriages will keep up with the times in a rather queer manner – I presume we in India will soon start circulating and matching DNA substrings instead of the horoscopes for prospective alliances causing a recession in the astrology market.

Of course, astrologers may well be able to predict this recession and take corrective steps. 🙂

War and South India November 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in history, india.
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Another excellent article by Rama Guha :

Malavalli has been untouched by war for the past 200 years; so, in fact, has the whole of South India. This fact needs to be more carefully pondered by professional historians as well as by ordinary citizens. For, of which other part of India, or indeed of the world, could one say that two centuries have passed since the cannons boomed and the tanks roared? In this respect we South Indians have been very fortunate indeed.

This is not a novel thought certainly – maybe Guha himself must have said it before. I remember reading something along these lines a few years ago in one of Naipaul’s essays. Naipaul’s writings of India don’t have too great a reputation, but could someone have got everything wrong ? 🙂 (especially if Naipaul and Guha agree on something 🙂 ).

I wanted to mention this while the North-South debate came up briefly – that the north has repeatedly borne the brunt of violence in the Indian sub-continent , especially external aggressions. But the relative disorder, the relatively large impoverished masses, the caste complexities, the relatively eroded human capital over decades – this is the price that part of India has had top pay. Not altruism but in self-defence one might argue, but I think this has been some sort of a positive externality for the South. This is not of course to defend any racial discrimination either way, but an acknowledgment that there are a few fundamental differences between South and parts of the North. Not all of these differences matter all the time, but some of them matter some of the time.

Whats there in Bangalore November 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in culture, india.
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As MINT launches in Bangalore, it appears they have timed it well to have a special feature on “Why we love Bangalore” (other than that it makes business sense 😀 ). That page there, with famous Bangaloreans singing paeans of Bangalore City.

All that is fine until someone asks you “what is there in Bangalore to see ?” Or to make it sound even worse, what is there in Bangalore for someone who has seen every other Indian city ? Maybe its an unfair question – for a city is more than its monuments, museums and galleries. Yet it only means that Bangalore does not have something to offer to everybody.

I would take someone to the IISc campus – it comes with an attached botanical garden, a bookstore, a coffee shop for some obesity inducing vada sambhar where if you are lucky, you may occasionally catch an eccentric researcher talking to his tea cup. (And if you are not so lucky, a tree may fall on you as you take in the samosa at teaboard.) But then not all friends would appreciate this (would any??) – so maybe it will be Vidhan Souda and Lal Bagh.

The lady in Blue October 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, people.
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A little about Blue in her own words :

Hi. I’m Blue. That’s not my real name, of course, but it’s what you can call me while we spend our time together. I’m going to India in August. To Hyderabad, in Andhra Pradesh. I’ve never been to India before. So… this is my plan: to spend the next eight months writing, linking, connecting, and sharing everything I learn. If you jump on board now, you can follow me through the entire trip.

While in India, blue kinda gets into redistributionist mode. 🙂

In Bangalore I have finally met the “please let me take you to this emporium” auto drivers. They tell me that they will get books for their children, shirts for their backs, cans of petrol for their autos, if I will only take the time to stop into one or two stores.

All she has to do is to agree to get to some store, mouth a particular code name (kinda like the Ba-llywood movies)  so that the merchant can map that to auto driver using his hash table memory, and then she has to hang around there for a bit and leave ! And this auto driver gets paid for having ‘won’ a customer.

Now perhaps the merchant thinks that though blue has not made any purchases, she may show up the next time she really needs to. But if there are so many blues, the merchant is going to come up with additional clauses to pay the auto driver, perhaps that the customer must actually buy something. If the auto driver is pissed off with the merchant A though, he is going to strike a deal with the his rival merchant B and is going to give some seriously bad publicity to merchant A.

So this whole thing is kinda complicated. Academically, textbook-ally speaking (while also putting on the hat of a (libertarian) political scientist), it would also have been morally reprehensible had there been an element of coercion which I don’t really see. Each of the parties – merchant, auto driver, blue – can at any time withdraw from the ‘transaction’. But hey cmon, she is just having some fun.

Whatever. Meanwhile Blue, enjoy the truly Incredible India.

Linked through Abi.

The North-South divide October 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, india.
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Vishnu has an honest personal account of the North-South divide.

If the southern states were not so hospitable, tolerant and unjudgemental of this so called dominance of North Indian intruders into their society incidents like the ones erupting in North-eastern states (of Biharis being abused by ULFA) would have erupted long ago in every IT-hub down south (Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore). And further such hubs are found and are prospering in southern part of INDIA more than northern part only because people have been more accommodative down south than in the north.

…although he concludes on a more cordial note.

I am happy speaking Hindi, English, Telugu as well as Kannada and this post pains me for being so harsh on Hindi speaking people, but I couldn’t help but convey the facts I observed.

I have personally had very good relations across this ‘divide’ ….and will have no similar experiences to recollect. Also 12 years of CBSE schooling and Hindi education therein for more years than even kannada has meant that my Hindi is more fluent than Kannada. 😦 And of course, 2 years of stay in Assam never hurt !!

Ask Germans about Polish and the French about the English and these grouses seem only inevitable. And they do so because of our expectations from the country the size and diversity of India. I very well recognize that the artificial and freak emergence of such an improbabley diverse country as India has certain costs. But it has opportunities too.

I  know I am probably preachy here, but its exactly what I think.

P.S : Just a relevant observation – at every level of granularity, from family to extended family to community to state to country, when we are with people like our own, we seek to distinguish ourselves. And in the company of strangers, we seek out our own to blend with.

The importance of being a plagiarist October 7, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india, rant, science.
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Abi catches Rahul catching “an Anna University group’s paper (published in the Journal of Materials Science) whose abstract is a near-verbatim copy of that of an earlier paper in PNAS from a Swedish group.” You really must see just how verbatim it really is.

While Abi waits to see what Anna University does, the cynic in me takes a shot :

1. Anna University will set up a “high-powered committee” to “look into the matter” which will submit the “report” to the board of “trustees”.

2. Meanwhile, defendent will claim that he has been “fabricated by the Swedish intelligence” and that this is an attack on the India’s scientific community in particlar and “social fabric” of the country in general.

3. Defendent’s professional rival will point to past indiscretions on the part of the defendent.

4. Sagarika Ghose at IBNLive will have a “Face the nation” where she will talk to a panel of experts about how this might be the sign of “larger (with a rolled ‘r’) problem” – sheer (with rolled ‘r’ again) “lack of integrity” in India’s scientific community. When she is unable to find enough air-time to say what she thinks, she will blog about it.

5. One commenter on the Sagarika’s blog will want to the know the caste of the Mr. Muthukkumaran (One of authors of the paper) and might find a link between this and having/not having enough reservations for backward sections of the society.

6. Another commenter will be able to infer the caste of the above commenter and make more inferences.

Cut to 26 months later.

7. The ‘esteemed’ Board of Trustees at Anna University will conclude that there is not enough evidence to charge Mr. Mutthukumaran and his colleagues and will dismiss all charges.

8. Repeat 4.

9. NDTV will conduct a string sting operation where one of the authors confirm on camera that he threatened his Research Assistant and got it done. If the RA did not do it, he would not get his recommendation letter for PhD/post-doc at an American University.

10. Taking note of recent media developments, Board of Trustees dismiss the discredited author.

11. Dismissed author joins politics.

12. Repeat 4.

Indian Post, American marriages, history and the present September 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, history, india, people, politics, statistics.
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Some cool but not-so-well known (to me at least) facts about India :

With 1,55,618 post offices and over 5,66,000 employees, India has the largest postal network in the world. We can also boast of the world’s highest post office, Hikkim (pin code 172114). Located at 15,500 feet, Hikkim is part of the Lahaul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh. And, if you’d like to know about one more postal record, the world’s first official airmail flight took place right here in India, on February 18, 1911. It was a journey that spanned 18 kilometres and lasted 27 minutes. Henri Pequet, a French pilot, ferried around 15 kilos of mail (approximately 6,000 letters and cards) across the Ganga, from Allahabad to Naini.

~~~

On the longevity (or the lack of it) of marriages in America.

More than half the Americans who might have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversaries since 2000 were divorced, separated or widowed before reaching that milestone, according to the latest census survey, released yesterday.

“We know that somewhere between 40 percent and 50 percent of marriages dissolve,” said Barbara Risman, executive officer of the Council on Contemporary Families, a research group. “Now, when people marry, everyone wonders, is this one of those marriages that will be around for awhile.”

That is down from 75% of marriages in the 50s lasting 25 years to about 46% for those married in the 70s.

Of course, one must remember that this has got not only with the fragility of marriage as an institution (though perhaps largely so), but also the fact that several marry very late in life, the above statistic also counts people’s second or later marriages, which more often (relative to first marriages) end with a death of one of the partners.

But yeah, think about it – when was the last time you were at a marriage in India and asking yourself about how long the marriage would last ? Or weirdly still, when was the last time you missed a marriage of one of your close friends and told yourself – “Its okay, there is always a next time.” 😀

~~~

I wrote about the Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C. in my previous post. And forgot to put their intriguing origins.

In 1826, James Smithson, a British scientist, drew up his last will and testament, naming his nephew as beneficiary. Smithson stipulated that, should the nephew die without heirs (as he would in 1835), the estate should go “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”

The motives behind Smithson’s bequest remain mysterious. He never traveled to the United States and seems to have had no correspondence with anyone here. Some have suggested that his bequest was motivated in part by revenge against the rigidities of British society, which had denied Smithson, who was illegitimate, the right to use his father’s name. Others have suggested it reflected his interest in the Enlightenment ideals of democracy and universal education.

~~~

I like what this article says – on Sarkozy’s France – and the way it says it.

Existentially yours, Lord Ram. September 19, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, science.
5 comments

One of Abi’s best posts here on the rather laid back attitude of the Indian scientific fraternity (sorority??), something that bends over backwards to avoid confrontation with the establishment and the public opinion. No excerpts, no clues, just go read it. 🙂

A contrarian (and only slightly more palatable) point of view here.

Digression : Can you “bend over backwards” if you are “laid back” ? Pray, am I becoming Tom Friedman ??

Follow-up post on NRI women September 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, culture, india.
9 comments

Sorry guys, I had been traveling and hence have not been able to reply to your several comments to my previous post. Thanks for all those comments – and quite a windfall at that – and Proses Anonymitus’s very informative and humorous post. Let me try and distill your comments and add a little bit that occurred to me since I wrote the post and which was not touched upon in the follow-up posts/comments so far.

Firstly, the topic of returning to India per se has been often discussed and much has been written on it by people at all points in the spectrum – those who did return and those who did not and everyone in between (see Vishnu’s links here). We are talking about how differently (if ever) women and men approach this question, with the hypothesis being that women have more compelling reasons and show more conviction when it comes to staying back abroad.

Abi, in his post, suggested that it is likely that once we have an opinion on this issue, we are primed to think of examples and no counter-examples, a sort of confirmation bias. We should probably keep that in mind when we think of candidate examples. But once we have sufficient number of people thinking this issue through, we will have a sizable number of both examples and counter-examples. Ideally, this will still be in the ratio of how the initial opinion is and hence, not a random sample. Nevertheless, I believe just having enough cases provides some insight into what are issues out there. So Abi, I am glad you linked to the post and helped initiate this discussion.

Let me address the issues raised in the comments. There appear to be several trails leading out from this topic as complex as this. But as I read each comment, it occurred to me that most of these trails lead to a single underlying reality. That no matter how much India has changed over the years, marriage still changes more things for women than men. This is no secret and is probably true in most societies to varying degrees. The consequences of this phenomenon are as wide-ranging as its prevalance.

From the discussion, a few factors that determine whether women choose to stay back or return appears to depend on –

– Upbringing (from Natasha, Aparna)

This is indeed interesting. On one hand, there may not be any relative improvement for women (relative to men) who already have been brought up in a liberal setup and so that aspect of the appeal is not really there. But as Aparna suggested in-laws not being similarly liberal would deter them from returning to India. Besides, issues relating to extended families and that of colleagues’ (who increasingly comprise social circles) and the general neighborhood that Proses Anonymitus raised are also relevant, no matter how liberal the parental upbringing has been. Women have to adjust more to their in-laws and general neighborhood than men to theirs (do they?).

Whether they came here of their volition (studies, work etc.) or if they came here after marriage (Joy’s comment)

There is little contention one can have with Joy’s comment here. Women who have come here for studies have already made that leap of faith, in terms of leaving behind ties to motherland (in some sense) and heading to an anonymous location thousands of miles away. While homesickness may still be there to start with, come what may they are here at least until completion of their studies (1-2 years). By the time they have completed studies, they are likely used to the system. And several of them have taken loans and would likely want to work here to help repay loans. Those who have no such financial commitments would want some international experience. By the time its all done, they are even likely married to guys here. Why would someone want to disrupt a well-settled married life to head back? Call it status-quo bias !

Of course, much of the above is true of men as well. But there is one aspect of the above that is not yet the same. And it comes down to the fact that the difference between the married life in India versus outside is more often than not, larger for women than for men.

Whether they are married at all and if so, the chemistry with their in-laws (from Sailatha, THE_GIRL_FROM_IPANEMA)

The “Chemistry with the in-laws” comments from Sailatha are critical and take us back to where we started – women have to adjust to their in-laws, men seldom need to. If they are married with dependent visas, then Aparna’s argument – “The class of women that come to the US on dependent visa after marriage are the ones that experience sudden freedom, self-expression and independence. These are the kind of women that would want to stay abroad considering purely these factors.” holds in a large number of cases. If they were here anyway, then we are back to Joy’s point.

This may even depend on more complex attributes like whether the groom has male siblings and if so, whether he is the eldest of the male siblings (especially in communities where the in-laws often stay with eldest son). As a slight digression, we need a freakonomics-like study which must investigate the dependence on families returning depending on the birth position of the man in question and presence of male siblings. 😀

– How supportive their husbands are (Panjumittai Porivilangaurundai, from here)

Panjumittai warned Indian women without supportive husbands to not return to India. That is sane advice, except of course it begs the larger question (but not dealt here lest we digress) of why should anyone put up with nonsupporting husbands spouses in the first place? 🙂

– How long they have been outside India (Achala)

True, along with the (somewhat amusing) corollary being that if the husband is keen on returning to India, he should do so before his wife is acclimatized to the place.

Some points not raised earlier :

Whether it was a love marriage or an arranged marriage.

I have known women who think that inter-caste/inter-religion marriages have a better chance of success for couples abroad. Apparently, men have more confidence about ‘making it’ back home, but women somehow think distance helps cool off things or make them matter less. I don’t know how much of this is really true, but just floating ideas I have heard.

Any ideas ?

– Career-orientation/employability of the women in question

Career-oriented women (or men for that matter) who are not professionals (like doctors/engineers/MBA) have a hard time getting a work-permit as long as the spouse does not have the PR status. This can be frustrating and should lead to the woman arguing for a return to India. ( See this article from the Post ) But how often does that happen ? Does it indicate that workplace issues are really less of a concern than family issues ? Interestingly none of the comments elaborated on workplace differences between India and the US for women. Are there none? ( I have never had a job in India, besides I am a guy  …so no sarcasm there).

Selection Process

For arranged marriages, when alliances are sought for the girl, some parents prefer grooms who are already abroad (some only consider grooms abroad). Their assumption and expectation is that the guy is well-settled abroad and their daughter will have a good future, employed or otherwise. This is a trivial case – a lady in such a marriage already has a strong preference to stay abroad, irrespective of whether the husband changes his mind. The way this process is structured, it ‘selects’ (statistically) girls who intend to stay abroad.

I suspect the reason this might be less applicable for guys is that women who have already spent some time and are currently abroad prefer grooms from more liberal backgrounds and are familiar with her expectations as a married working woman abroad. My guess then is that they are more likely to choose guys already abroad or who have spent some time abroad. It’s a signal (who reliability is debatable, in my opinion) of one’s liberal credentials to have lived and prefer to live abroad.

Some form of selection bias, if you will. Any thoughts from single, studying/working Indian women abroad ?

~~~

As an aside, a lady friend of mine has so far rejected several proposals because grooms intend to settle in the US or at least are non-committal either way. It appears that finally she is getting engaged on the pre-condition that they return to India within 3-4 years. All (my) eyes are now on how this plays out. 🙂

Security and Cyber-security August 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, politics, technology.
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This is both bizarre and scary :

Taking a dig at cyber security preparedness levels, a hacker, who claims to be based in Sweden, posted online this evening the passwords of 100 email accounts of embassies and government offices across the world, including 13 Indian accounts, containing classified information and correspondence.

Top on the list of passwords that have been posted on http://derangedsecurity.com give access to email accounts of Indian Ambassadors to China, US, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Oman, Finland besides officials of the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

~~~

Two articles on consecutive days in the Express about how political correctness is likely to cost India dear. From former IB director :

The worst reaction of a government to such a serious national challenge would be to underplay it, divert the discourse from core issues to the peripherals. Asserting that all is well and nothing needs to be changed, emphasising maintenance of social harmony as the core concern, complimenting people for bravely suffering losses and returning to normal lives, talking about human rights and protection of minorities — these are all laudable objectives. No one disputes them, but they do not address the core issues.

In the face of a threat as serious as this, the national focus should be on: how serious is the threat; its long and short-term implications; our capacities to counter the threat, both in policy formulation and policy execution; and how to address the deficiencies. This would involve considering ways to leverage civil society, media, the scientific community, religious leaders to the best national advantage; ways to neutralise the fast-growing domestic base of terrorism, including availability of hardware and human resource, collaborative linkages of the terrorists with organised crime, gun runners, drug syndicates, hawala operators, subversive radical groups, and how to break the nexus. Debate on the adequacy of the country’s laws, judicial administration, security systems and doctrines, etc, in the light of assessed threats is also important. The right discourse should also centre on our policy options vis-à-vis countries and groups involved in terrorist incidents in India. This is not happening, and that’s the tragedy.

And from Bibek Debroy. Before you head to his article, take a challenge and try to name the location and approximate month of the terror attacks in India since 2000. Once you are done, match your list with Bibek’s list in the first paragraph of the article.

There is some cross-country literature on the link between political freedom and terrorism. In autocratic and dictatorial countries, political freedoms are low, but terrorist acts are also difficult. And in advanced democracies where political freedoms are high, terrorist acts are rare as the political process provides a vent. Terrorist incidents are highest in intermediate democracies. India ought to be in the advanced zone, but seems to be in the intermediate category.

Mughals Vs. British in India August 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in history, india.
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As a sorta follow-up to the previous post, I was a part of the conversation last week where questions along the following lines arose –

a) Take 2 anchor points in India’s history – Babar’s victory in first battle of Panipat in 1526 when the ground was laid for the Mughal empire and the British in 1757 when, after victory in the Battle of Plassey, they really looked like they were taking over). Which of these are found morally reprehensible, worthy of criticism ?

b) How does that change, if at all, looking at India in 1857 when Mughal Empire was ‘officially’ dismantled and 1947 when the British empire in India came to an end ? This is sort of hindsight view since we saw how it all ended up.

Of course, with such charged questions one can guess another’s position on the topic just by knowing his/her positions on other seemingly unrelated topics. But one of the defenses of the Mughal Empire offered was that it is less reprehensible because –

– Babar was an individual unlike Britain which was a democracy.

– Babar and his descendants stayed back in India and assimilated while the British left. Hence, the Mughals did not channel money out of India like the colonists did.

– Indian Economy grew at an average of 0.1% (!!) between late 1700s and 1947. I have no similar numbers for the Mughal era, assuming such figures are available at all.

On the other hand, it was argued that the religious excesses that Mughals are to have indulged in weren’t seen in similar number during the British. Also economic decline may have had more to do with India missing the Industrial Revolution bus much like China, which, in spite of never being directly colonized during the period, went into decline.

What other points in either’s favor can you think of ?

Dividing Iraq August 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, history, india.
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If there was the internet, the online commentators/bloggers out in 1947, there would have been an endless stream of articles talking about the possible consequences (perils ??) of partitioning India, much like this article warns against dividing Iraq into 3 countries, or at least into a “federation of three ethno-religious regions is that it would provide a solution to the ongoing conflict between these groups.”

A final reason to be skeptical of plans to partition Iraq is that they suffer from the same fundamental issue that has plagued the broader Iraqi reconstruction effort—the inability of foreign occupiers to centrally plan liberal democratic, economic and social institutions. Historical efforts to partition countries and regions (e.g., Israel, Korea, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, and so on) have generated benefits, but they have also generated significant unintended consequences that could not have been foreseen at the time of the initial interventions. There is no reason to believe the partitioning of Iraq would be any different.

Weirdly, the writer does not mention the Indian subcontinent in that list.

We (rightly) talk of how the British may have played a role in the lingering Kashmir dispute, or even in the post-partition riots by hurrying through with the partition (with much help our own leaders who were increasingly getting impatient). Sometimes I think we still go away lightly, just wonder how much worse it could have been. (of course, this is just a thought, such lines of arguments can often cloud real issues)

My previous posts on the subject : Comtemplative in India in 1947 and Iraq in 2007 and quasi-speculative in Why partition may have been the best thing happened to South Asia.

 

“VIPs rushed to the spot”. Why ? August 30, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, rant.
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Sagarika Ghose hits the nail on the head.

More than 40 died in the twin blasts at Hyderabad last week, many of them students. What did the Hyderabad police do after the blasts? Did they immediately cordon off Lumbini Park and Gokul Chat Bhandar and seal the bomb blast site? No. Did they launch a methodical investigation to track down the culprits? No. What happened instead? The bomb blast site became a tourist spot for visiting VIPs, bystanders and the media. VIPs from Y.S.R. Reddy to Jana Reddy to L.K. Advani tripped over bits of crucial forensic evidence, roaring, ‘Bring back Pota’ or ‘the HuJI is to blame!” A dog was seen sniffing at blood. Camerapersons were seen dashing about. Is this not just a little bit ridiculous?

When the London terror threat occurred this year, what did we see? Did we see the British Prime Minister grandstanding at the bomb blast site screaming out a political speech about how Pakistan has hatched the plot? What’s the first thing we see about bomb blast sites in London and New York? We see yellow police tape cordoning off the evidence. Media and VIPs are strictly forbidden. The police go about methodically tracking evidence. By contrast, India has lost the highest number of lives to terrorism (after Iraq); over 3,000 Indians have died since 2004 in terrorist attacks and India’s police are still fire-fighting on terrorism.

I have wondered too about how almost every report of bomb blasts has a sentence that goes – “senior officials including certain ministers, MPs and MLAs have rushed to the spot”. Why ?  What will they accomplish at all ? Is it to assure the general public that they really care ? Are  bystanders more reassured when they see investigating teams, police and the police dogs or somehow is the ungainly sight of ignorant, indifferent politicians more becalming ?

I think its got as much to do with our own attitude as that of the politicians. Haven’t we heard ourselves say – “Mr. XXX never came to visit the site when relief work was going on. How dare he now come and ask for votes ?  “

for my hypothetical blog August 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, rant.
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For sometime about an year ago I nurtured the idea of having an anonymous blog where I would just post links to those ridiculous – un-commonsensical and/or unconstitutional and/or unreasonable – things that governments in India often do. Somehow I did not and I don’t really regret. For, I wonder if one person alone can keep track of accounts of indiscretions emanating from those hallowed corridors of power.

Here is one piece of news that would have gotten into that hypothetical blog :

One of the most popular Hindu pilgrimage sites in the country, Tirupati and 19 other temple towns in Andhra Pradesh have a special religious status thanks to the AP government’s order number 747. And the state law — that prevents the propagation of any religion other than Hinduism within 110 kilometres from the identified temples — has left many Christian groups feeling alienated.

If this is not struck down by a court as unconstitutional, I will….I will be immensely disappointed.

@ 60 August 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in image, india, littlerockers.
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Sorry, but I have the right to write yet another article on India’s 60th anniversary.

As you must have noted already, its India all over the place these days with the 60th anniversary just in a couple of days. We are of course having this thanks to that inexplicable obsession with rounded numbers. (Suggestion : how about celebrating only prime numbered anniversaries – 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11 …61, 67… it will probably space out more and more over time 😉 ).

There are scores of articles out there on this occasion. Outlook has an entire issue ( am sure do the other mags – India Today has several, but you can’t get them without a subscription though I rate them better in quality than the Outlook articles). Amit Varma has one here. ( Although I have no disagreement with his ideas, I am getting tired of the same theme ( personal liberties – economic and civil ) in almost every other article – BUT this one is a particularly well-written one ). Almost all articles have the same theme – about how India is not truly yet free, that we should not celebrate yet and have a long way to go. I have of course not yet seen an article that holds George Bush (or Karl Marx for that matter ) directly responsible for all our problems, but then I have not read every article out there :-). I am yet to come across Shashi Tharoor’s article on the topic, but when I do, I promise to skip it – years of writing weekly/bi-weekly columns for Hindu/Times, it appears to me that he may not have anything new to say.

I largely agree with these arguments (italicized above), but I am beginning to get bored even though we are a country about which many interesting things can be said. And they often are. The funniest little extract comes from U.R. Ananthmoorthy’s article :

I never tire of re-telling a story I heard from A.K. Ramanujan, a great poet and translator. Once, when he was collecting oral Ramayanas in the villages of Karnataka, he came to hear of a dialogue between Rama and Sita. Rama had been exiled to the forest and Sita was insisting that she would accompany him. Rama tried to tell her that life in a forest would be hard. In the course of the argument, when Rama came up with a strong argument, Sita replied: “In every Ramayana I know, Sita accompanies Rama to the forest. How can you then say no to me?” This is a fascinating example of the intertextuality that unites India.

I not sure why the story is relevant to what he is otherwise saying, but its a cool one nevertheless – reminds me of movie spoofs in college cultural festivals.

In the midst of the pile, this article stands out as it tracks a journalist’s personal history of the various anniversaries. Lets say I take a cue from Mr. Mitra and ask all of us to write our own personal history of Aug 15ths over the years that we remember.

I don’t recall India’s 35th/40th or even the 45th anniversaries. In fact through most of ‘boyhood’, Independence Day meant a holiday, walking up late enough to just see the flag hoisting on TV. The 50th anniversary is an altogether different story. And as with many other things, the memories relating to these events remain because they (in this case the I-Day celebrations) happened at school.

Firstly, we had this skit whose basic plot was about Mahatma Gandhi, Laloo Yadav, Bal Thackerey and Winston Churchill all meeting up in heaven/hell (as the case might be) discussing India@50. I have faint memories of the script – how I wish I could find it. But I do remember preparing and practicing for the skit and my own rendition of Churchill’s lines about India was and will always be doomed, torn apart by internal contradictions. For the benefit of humanity readers, pictorial evidence of the above event may be relished here.

scan0005

If you are able to recognize from the above details or approximate recollection, you will immediately realize that I am better placed to play Mr. Churchill’s role today – not as much because I agree with him ( though I fear we must not yet wantonly ridicule his prophecies ), but at least because with all the hairs departed, and that receding hairline, there is at least an appearance of credibility. Staying with Churchill, I think if he had said about India what he said about Russia ( “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”), he would gone quarter way to being regarded, even if mistakenly, as an Indophile.

For the record, 3 out of the 5 on the stage are studying/working out of India, with the 4th one on the way out soon. Also I have no idea what the glass tumbler is doing next to Laloo.

A second little thing was the student’s address that I co-wrote. My friend who delivered the speech to this day pulls my leg about how that Independence speech must have the only one out there that does not mention a single freedom fighter by name while still sounding very reasonable. Well, that was probably harsh, but since every other speech did it anyway, it was not all that bad. He does have a copy of the entire speech, but publication shall have to be awaited.

And thus, for want of a better conclusion, my India@60 article ends. 😀

To IISc with love July 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in education, india, KREC, reminisces-2000.
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( that’s IISc – for those who may not know )

An quick-and-dirty letter to a friend from January 2003. I will just let you read it, produced here verbatim ( but for protecting identity of the recipient ) and hence you will have to forgive those dots.

I have come to love IISc….its seems like a romantic so far untragic classic. There is so much freedom here man. When I talk of discipline..its not something that is imposed..nobody is bothered about when and how I do things…. I have the keys to the lab….I can use any machine that is free…infact most of the time I am working on the main server…..I can go sit and chat with anyone who’s willing to anytime. I can use the phone without anyones permission as long as it is a local call…..

I spent my new year day in a party called together by some Ph.D guys….that involved professors and other students…it was something different…These are people who are learned ….with achievements in their field and its nice to brush shoulders with them….Some of them are really eccentric…I must agree…I am treated like a human being…a socially and intellectually responsible individual who is doing something serious…..which may not benefit the institution but it does benefit him…Its a true celebration of learning in its most virgin forms….and I havent seen this anywhere…..I dont deny that there may be better places than IISc…(not in India though)…but this is the best I have seen…..

On Jan 10th….I stayed at the IISc lab…just had some enthu….and stayed overnight…..was alone in that building….it was a new experience…just imagine man…this is the amount of faith that they put in you…..

It was great interacting with the students there…the Ph.D the tech guys….some of these are guys with good perspectives…..I actually came to know more about what reserach is like….what kind of effort it entails….perhaps this brought one of the bigger revelations that I have had here…yeah ..just the feeling that I am capable of reserch……that I can hang on long enough….that when you love your work…its not work anymore. I am beginning to feel it in a totally different way…..

Its a fresher mind…..free of most disturbances that would bug us at KREC. Somehow cant imagine being so much at peace with that place…although i will miss KREC once I leave…..it will be because of MY four years life spent there….and a few people i met …not because the [lace itself was great. On second thoughts it may be tough for any UG school to have the atmosphere that a research kind of place like IISc does…primarily because a UG school especially in India consists of any tom dick and harry who had a momentary lapse of reason during the post class XII period…!!….A research oriented place attracts people who are really motivated and believe me….THAT makes all the difference….

I am having thoughts of continuing in IISc as a research assistant for a year from June….if they are paying…Funds are scarce and it could be tough…but I would rather do something in my field ( DSP) that adds to my resume than hang around in Wipro ( VLSI ). Am not very sure ….but yeah……its on top of my mind right now…..

I don’t know if there is much to add to that except some background 🙂

This was in the middle of my month long work in Dec 02-Jan 2003. For those of you who know me, I went back to the same lab for another year ( July 2003-Jun 2004 ) to work with Dr. T.V. Sreenivas at the ECE Department as an honorary research assistant with the explicit purpose of building research credentials. In the meantime I applied for graduate programs in the United States ; my work with Prof. Sreenivas at IISc ( 2 international conference publications ) may have made all the difference in securing admissions and scholarship for graduate studies. And I shall be immensely grateful to the IISc/”Tata Institute” (as its better known, at least among BTC bus conductors 🙂 ) and my professor for the opportunity.

Back to the gender debate July 30, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, politics.
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Some interesting perspectives have emerged on the Kiran Bedi case. For many she is a role model and while I don’t consider her one, from the little I was exposed to from the electronic media over the years, I at least don’t have any negative vibes about her. But now this controversy about her being overlooked and a junior officer being appointed as the Delhi Police Commisioner. Read more on that here.

When I watched that video, I was more sympathetic to her cause and remember telling myself the usual middle-class rant about our corrupt systems and such. But I am beginning to wonder if I have jumped the gun by not listening to both sides of the story.

Here is an article that talks about Bedi’s not-so-great poor record as an officer and how she has exploited the gender aspect and the fact that she is India’s first IPS officer to her benefit. Not quite directly, but its quite likely that some of her actions may have motivated from the fact that she can get away with it because she is a woman. ( To be fair to Bedi, she has not alleged gender discrimination and we must wait to hear her response to media attacks on her track record). Another article here.

I will not be surprised if much of what the article says is true. For example, person A who belongs to a group that is generally discriminated by person B’s group can take advantage of the situation and do things assuming he/she can get away with it. This is because should he/she be criticized/censured, one can always suggest that he/she is being discriminated against. This is much like a politician always claims that the cases and charges against him are politically motivated. This works and is credible because it is sometimes true, but only sometimes.

A lady IIM student once said that the success rate of women in group discussions/personal interviews was much higher for women than men. This could partly be because the pool of women who clear the first stage of CAT exam is actually more qualified. This could also be that institutes are under pressure to have more balanced classes and hence they are forced to ‘clear’ more women than they would if they followed a gender-blind objective criteria. The same is true it is said when its time for placements where corporates have similar goals of gender-balanced workplaces.

I think this is a complex issue, there cannot necessarily be a correct answer to whether this kind of a sort reverse discrimination is justified or whether it can even be alleged as the undesirable kind of discrimination. It is a public policy issue and as with many others, it really depends on what is that ‘societal function’ you are trying to optimize, your definition of ‘fairness’, all of which finally boils down to personal preferences. But the purpose of writing this post is to point out that in India and most certainly elsewhere, being a woman either sets you back from the start line or gives you a head start.

And that it is politically incorrect to point out the latter. ( and every way expedient to pay lip service to the former. )

Related link : Here is another one on discrimination, but this time of the kind where apparently using credit history in determining insurance claims is a ‘bad’ idea because minorities such as Hispanics and African-Americans have lower scores and thus end up paying more insurance.

Criteria for IIMs July 27, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in education, india, reminisces-1990s.
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I like it when an independent body or the judiciary is able to arm twist a government body into doing what it would otherwise have never done. Here is an example

But how well you do in CAT — after you have been shortlisted which means you have made it to at least the top 10% of all applicants — makes up only a fifth of your final score when it comes to securing an IIM admission. In fact, it’s your Class X and Class XII results that account for more — 25% of the final score; your Bachelor’s degree 15%. The factor with the maximum weightage is your performance in group discussion (GD), GD summary and personal interview — 35%. The balance 5% depends on work experience and whether you have taken a “professional course”.

Such details have been revealed for the first time by the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore which conducted the CAT last year after it was forced by the Central Information Commission to do so last fortnight. This direction came after 22-year-old visually challenged woman Vaishnavi Kasturi, was first refused information by IIMB. The institute declined to give details until the CIC intervened.

What are the possible reasons for not having done this earlier ? Or more generally under what circumstances should an education institution not lay down the criterion on which they admit students ? It would make sense if it is possible to ‘game’ the system by doing well on their criterion and nothing else.

For example, the IITs have been forced to change their exam patterns over the years because they believed that coaching is playing too much of a role and that selection procedure does not throw up the right pool of candidates. For the record, I have not followed this issue well enough to say if the current pattern has gone any distance towards solving the problem.

But in this particular case, it is unforgivable that they were not willing to reveal even the various factors that do matter. (perhaps even without stating the relative importance of each – much like US college/grad school admissions). This matters if a candidate who for some reason did not do well in Class X wants to improve his chances by focusing his energies accordingly. I know one might argue that a good candidate is good anyday and so one must always try to do his/her best irrespective of which factor is more important. But that would only be an artificial system because in the real world we are always faced with having to prioritize and fill gaps when we encounter them. By the way, I now have a feeling this might even deter some who did not do well in X, XII and their Bachelors to not even attempt the CAT ( with an eye on the IIMs at least).

I remember preparing for the IITJEE in the late 90s and not ever knowing what was the likely cut off – what mattered, what did not, whether one of the papers was more important, whether the number of attempts were a factor, there was no information about what branches you are likely to get at what rank and which IIT. Thinking back it might seem silly and its always silly for us ‘somewhat’ grown ups to sermonize on how one must not study with the end in mind and just enjoy the process. It is also not funny for 17 year old planning out his time it really is not. And this only encouraged rumors and these rumor-monger flourished.

Also I don’t think its fair to weigh one’s Class X marks on similar footing as Bachelor’s degree scores. Further, how do they reconcile the not-so-standard grading systems across different colleges/schools/levels ?

Of course, I don’t want the IIT/IIM system to end up like this. Not everything should be laid out to such level of detail that you can game the system. But I am glad we are seeing what we are.

P.S : Prof. Abinandanan, a faculty member at IISc has been covering these and other higher education related issues on nanopolitan. I would be keen to hear his views on this.

Randomized algorithms for Vice-President July 25, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, politics, rant.
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When political processes throw up candidates like Pratibha Patil and now Mr. Rasheed Masood who has the CBI already investigating him, I wonder if the following strategy can be more effective in choosing largely inconsequential positions such as that of President and Vice-President.

Lets us have 4 steps ( not necessarily in this order )

  • Choosing a person (any adult Indian citizen) in random
  • Voting via internet poll (almost limits to tax paying citizens )
  • Voting via SMS poll ( Laymen, homemaker women etc.)
  • Voting by MPs and MLAs

What would be the best way to order these 4 steps ? Each of these steps have their own biases in the kind of candidates they throw up – but a proper ordering can go a long way in avoiding a poor choice.

Should we let the politicians have the final say ? Probably not. Should they have it first ? Well, then they would put up all questionable candidates and rest would have to choose among them – so not advisable. Ideally then the politicians should come in somewhere in between. Where would the random step come in ? Ofcourse, there is the question of where do the first set of candidates come in from ?

Interesting analysis, ain’t it ?

I think getting a reasonable ordering of the above 4 steps has a good chance of bettering our politicians’ choices which are often driven by compulsions such as like Mr. Prakash Karat’s ego. Maybe a Computer Science PhD student working on randomized algorithms and/or the mathematics of political science can write a thesis on this problem. 😀

What ordering would you choose and why ? If you want to add a step or remove one what would that be and why ?

Misc. July 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india, sport, weird.
5 comments

I am all but out of the job market but this job notice coming from everyone’s favorite country is scary. ( HT : Nanopolitan ). And then why should United States be the only government to fudge facts ?

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When we Indians have to explain to an ignorant outsider with an example about this thing about India being a land of contradictions, keep this one handy.

This and that.

You cannot have your rosagulla/gulad jamun/gajar ka halwa/mysore paak. Nor can you eat any of those.

As an aside for several years I wondered how is not possible for someone to have their cake as well as eat it – afterall having the cake is the same as eating it !!

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I am not among those who would automatically equate commercialization with evil but this time I agree with my favorite Cricinfo writer Tim de Lisle comparing Wimbledon and the All England Cricket Club over the years.

On Thursday, I went to Wimbledon…

Centre Court wasn’t quite itself, as somebody seemed to have removed the roof…

 

Coming from cricket, I was very struck by something. No, not the presence of women on centre stage. It was the absence of advertising. There is a little, but it is very, very discreet. The manufacturers’ logos on the players’ kit aren’t visible from most of the seats. On the green-striped lawn, much wider than the court itself, there is plenty of room for billboards, but Wimbledon doesn’t have any. There are only two brand names in sight at all: IBM and Rolex. IBM appears on the little board that gives the speed of the last serve; Rolex is on the main scoreboard. And that’s it. Both these famous names appear in yellow, on the dark green background that is Wimbledon’s signature. Neither logo is big, let alone in your face.

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Yes, even I can get totally turned off by somewhat ‘macro-economic’/moral optimization functions for deciding which pet to have. I hate cats and almost absolutely nothing will make me put up with a member of that species.

~~~

 

 

Indian politics – Worst of UPA edition July 12, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india.
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One of the most unimaginative solutions ever – the combined IQ of Renuka Chowdary and her bureaucrats may not exceed that of any randomly chosen exhibit from here. ( no offense to any of them )

( Hat Tip : Amit Varma )

After this statement from Prakash Karat, even adding him to the left hand side of the above equation, that random exhibit is still going to win !

Karat said his party was adopting a different stand for the vice-presidential election as compared to the presidential poll. “What we said with regard to the presidential candidate does not hold for Vice-President,” he said.

However, political observers feel that Karat’s argument is fallacious because the Vice-President has to run the Upper House and a non-political person may find it impossible to conduct the business smoothly.

Best headlines today describing more than aptly the latest initiative from our insomniac Prime Minister.

And finally a pathetic choice for president.

Oh yeah and funniest lines today :

“Let’s avoid presumptions,” said Daud Abdullah, deputy secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, when asked if Islamists were behind the car bombs in Glasgow and London. “It can be the work of Christians, Jews or Buddhists,” he added. It’s not surprising that the Prime Minister does not stay up nights agonising over the plight of Pandits forced to flee Kashmir. Who knows, their tormentors may have been Buddhists from Ladakh!

Sanjika, remember our discussions about what such a hypothetical thing as a Buddhist suicide bomber might look like !

Ex-defence n all July 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, india, weird.
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A brilliant post on the IE blog about ex-defence officers seeking out corporate positions and the weird incentives they face :

An intriguing aside. Most ex-military officers claim that the CTC of a military officer with around 20 years of service, including all the freebies and perquisites, is around 18 lakhs per annum. The corporate world, however, doesn’t believe it to be true and is not ready to offer a similar deal to them. This argument of CTC is self-defeating. The defence forces are crying hoarse with the government that their salaries are abysmally low and they deserve a massive hike. The corporate world dips into these reports and believes them, rather than a military officer who has no evidence to support his claim, other than a monthly salary slip of 30,000 rupees. As a wag saw it – God forbid, if the sixth pay commission were to consider this claimed CTC for military officers, it would have to bring down the military salaries instead of hiking them!

~~~

 

Oh drunkards, now you may drink more, and more often ! ( Thanks to MR for the pointer )

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 One of the most interesting but weird surveys I ever took.

Assorted links now July 3, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, humor, india.
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The LA Times on the Indian Ambassador (to nowhere in particular).

About 600,000 of the cars still ply the roads. Fans invariably cite its spacious interior, so capacious that police in north India once stopped an Ambassador with 27 people on board, according to Baig.

Owners also say that Ambassadors, with their heavy rear axles, weather India’s rutted roads better than other cars. And when an Amby does break down, even a village mechanic will have the parts and know-how to fix it.

The car is so fraught with historical significance, aficionados note with pride, that Singh’s photos of the Ambassador spent months on display at the Smithsonian Institution in 2003.

Critics say that’s where the car belongs.

27 people ! Thats the whole of my Class XII, leaving out one person. ( If they had to leave out person, maybe it would be me 😀 )

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Without China : This is an interesting self experiment. Like I did with Google, except like a true Indian I did not document my findings. ( HT : Marginal Revolution )

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I like this fella’s list here. Feel free to add more to that one.

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Apparently, “rats do unto others as they have been done to”. Further evidence of non-religious and evolutionary basis of morality ?

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Kenyan Economist on AID to Africa :

Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

More in the interview here. Other viewpoints covered in this article. My previous post quoting Gary Becker on foreign aid.

~~~

Oops, a PR disaster.

On being different July 1, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, education, india.
4 comments

Daphne Merkin’s apprehensions about her daughter, who through high school is seen taking stands and making decisions that involve breaking away from prevailing trends, swimming against the tide. I like this paragraph :

Although as a culture we bemoan the perils of groupthink, it can be very cold once you move beyond the circle of warmth that is the reward for adding your voice to the collective chorus. We celebrate loners and visionaries, but we tend to do so only after the fact, when the class nerd who sat by himself in the lunchroom ends up writing a best-selling software program. Defiant individualism is fine if it succeeds, but for every misfit who becomes a Charles Bukowski or R. Crumb there is one who becomes Jeffrey Dahmer or the Unabomber. Striking up a different tune has always come with certain costs, beginning with ridicule and ending with social ostracism. A famous loner of a British poet once noted that “our virtues are all social” and that there is always the lurking possibility that what you stand for on your lonesome is nothing more than “a compensating make-believe.”

Not because this in any way relates to a personal experience, which in fact was quite the opposite.

I find it a certain paradox about America – in the land where individuality is valued most, I think everyone’s effort to be different ends up with everyone moving lock in step. For instance, I imagine whether girls that hate the pink color have a tough time in American schools 😉 .

From my experience, being different in India costs you your relations with the authorities – whether at school or with adults in the family/neighborhood. However, peer groups are more accommodating of mavericks. I wonder that in America it is the opposite – mavericks are seen by authorities as someone with promise, while they are viewed as a threat to one’s own popularity by peers.

Not an expert on the topic, really appreciate your opinions.

Hiring spree June 30, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, technology.
6 comments

Stuff like this makes one wonder – What on earth is going.

IT major Tata Consultancy Services is on a hiring spree. The company recruited a record number of management graduates from Chennai’s Anna University after taking an online test on the campus. A total of 2,330 students had registered for the test, which included 1,270 undergraduate students and 1,060 post-graduate students. Among the 1,006 students selected 668 were graduates and 338 were post-graduates.

I would imagine that TCS must be working hard to hide this ’embarassing feat’ rather than boast about it as evidence of the company’s growth ( which, well, it actually is ). Because such a statistic begs a few questions – Where in the company are these guys going to be absorbed ? What kind of a career path are they going to choose ? How many of these guys will be around in a year from now ? How different is the organizational structure different from that of a coal mine or a cottom mill ? Will they have 200 people reporting to 1 manager ? Or will they ‘report’ to a computer program ? How wide is the pyramid at the bottom ?

I have never really been in this software services business/sector. If I am asked to talk on this subject, it will probably last 5 minutes. Yet I wonder if there is so much growth coming at such a rate that a company however big it might be is able to make 1000+ offers on one single day from one campus.

Apparently an online test was conducted and that means they are hiring without any interviewing or even a 2 minute chit-chat with the candidates. What does that say about the job they are recruiting for ? And are these people really happy about getting that job ? Perhaps, for the several out there for whom this is a journey to financial freedom, to the many who come in from economically backward sections who will be the breadwinners for their aged parents/younger siblings. For them a job with a big and respectable company like TCS is a great deal, but I am not so sure about the others.

I am the last one to insist that merely because most of these candidates have spent 4 years studying ( meaning – more time learning by rote ideas in ) mass transfer, power transmission, thermodynamics from ‘text books’, they should continue to do seek low paying, routine jobs in other sectors with fewer jobs and less growth. I am just trying to point out that is likely that the job that they are hired for will not require anything more than basic programming skills that can be learnt on the job. Infact the 4 years after secondary school are merely to give some time for ‘kids’ to grow up and be a bit more responsible to take on professional duties.

(I realize that the above paragraph has ended up being a round about way of saying that our way of looking at formal education is completely screwed up. )

As usual I stand to be corrected.

Update : And then we hear stuff like this.

Update 2 : Well, even everybody’s favorite company is starting to have problems.

Update 3 : Buddy from high school and current (TCS’ian/TCS’er ??) Supreeth has clarifications on this – comments section pls.

Assorted Links today June 23, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, ideas, india, politics, statistics.
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Most hilarious article this week.

~~~

After yet another happiness survey, can’t help but be a skeptic of such surveys. ( Link from Mankiw Chacha )

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One of the more interesting articles in a while. Counter-intuitive too. I have been in both situations and now that I read this article, I want to log my own comparative experiences in the coming days.

In the meanwhile, people breaking into lines continue to be on the top of my most-hated-people list. A close second is folks who don’t know how loud they are as they talk into their cell-phones.

~~~

This topic doesn’t cease to be interesting. At the same, more material on it does not cease to come.

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The most important sentence in this article is probably this :

Raghuram’s report doesn’t mention this sponsorship.

I don’t expect the Railways themselves to come out on this, but as an academic I think Mr. Raghuram should have had a disclaimer in there. As he says :

A study sponsored by a subject does not necessarily compromise its objectivity.

Well, its also true that having an unambiguous disclaimer that states the sponsored nature of the study “does not necessarily compromise its objectivity.”

~~~

 

Dec 10th, 1975, Pratibha Patil in Maharastra Assembly :

We are also thinking of forcible sterilization for people with anuvaunshik ajar (hereditary diseases).

I love how things start tumbling out of the closet when you start running for a public post. I have therefore decided not to run for the post of President of India. 😀

~~~

Looking ahead June 23, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, india.
1 comment so far

..with hope that is.

Dharavi is often called the world’s largest slum, though this sobriquet is in all probability an exaggeration. The National Geographic magazine’s recent cover story on Dharavi says that a barrio in Mexico City has four times more people while a slum in Karachi, too, is now bigger than Dharavi. But Dharavi is now in the news because of a more recent sobriquet—Asia’s largest urban renewal project. This project seeks to tear down the old slum and replace it with residential towers, industrial parks, golf courses, a sports complex and hotels. Grime is to give way to glitter. The statistics are truly mind-boggling: 300,000 people, 500 acres, 40 million sq. ft of space to be sold commercially, Rs9,000 crore, seven years— and one man championing it all since 1996.

I wish Mr. Mehta well and nothing sarcastic about it. And no cynicism either. I ( and am sure millions of others ) would love to see this project no just because of what it will do people at Dharavi but really the spill-over effect of its success will reach millions others elsewhere. I remember reading an article a while ago about how at a press conference announcing the project, the government was surprised to see the presence of the international media. Of course, foreign and private Indian companies are (rightly) interested given the money involved.

I am sure though that in the months to come there will be controversy, allegations of corruption and other hurdles – after all, its hard to keep several parties happy and given the not-so-impressive history of such attempts, it helps to be vigilant. In the end though, I hope it turns out well.

The new look June 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, image, india, KREC.
1 comment so far

For KRECians and others who do not know about this new look campus :

KREC

Sourced from here.

And what it used to be and has been ever since I first saw the campus in the late 80s. I really don’t mind this color combination.

~~~

A new look for Bombay ? From this article of Suketu Mehta’s :

Its problems :

Bombay needs to upgrade dramatically essential civic services: roads, sewers, transport, health, security. But, as one planner said, “The nicer we make the city, the more the number of people that will come to live there.” Most migrants to Bombay now come from the impoverished North Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Bombay’s problems cannot be solved without solving Bihar’s problems. And that means that agriculture has to become viable again for the small farmer. Abolishing trade-distorting subsidies in the US and the EU would go a long way toward making, say, Indian cotton competitive with US cotton. Bombay is at the mercy of national and international factors beyond its control.

Solutions ( Won’t happen, dream on Mr. Mehta )

There’s no reason Bombay should be the capital of Maharashtra state. Shifting the state government to Navi Mumbai across the harbor, as originally intended, would free large amounts of space in the congested office district of Nariman Point. Beyond that, legislation should establish a strong executive authority for the city, with real decision-making power. The office of the mayor is currently no more than a figurehead; the city is run at the whim of the chief minister, and the state’s interests are not necessarily those of the city. Smart and brave architects and planners attempt to work with the state government. The city, which contributes 37 percent of all taxes paid in India, gets only a small fraction back from the central government in the form of subsidies.

 

Aside from all of the above, but from the same article :

Shot on the Juhu beach, whats that guy doing in the picture – hanging by that boat !

 

And why would someone name such a ride “Titanic” ! Would that be another addition to this song of Govinda’s – “It happens only in India” !

Assorted links now June 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, assorted, image, india, media, politics.
4 comments

Picture of the day. From the Hindustan Times :

rain.png

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Okay, Madam Patil for President. India’s political class (certainly no pun there ) have revealed the quality of their thought processes and decision making. Let us set aside maybe the 50 odd people from the various parties in the UPA and left who were engaged in coming up with a nominee. Baring these, what is the probability that atleast 1 among the remaining millions considered Ms. Pratibha Patil a presidential candidate. What then is the idea behind calling these leaders our representatives ?

Beats me. And when its happened, selling the idea then as being one of women empowerment is only patronizing to women.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta on the topic, brilliant as usual :

But perhaps the only answer is to genuinely democratise the system. Let there be an open contest in the electoral college. Let parties declare that their members are free to vote for the candidate they wish. Let candidates, rather than parties, make the case for their constitutional credibility. There can be two ways of getting a ‘non partisan’ choice. One is consensus. Since this is not possible, encourage individual legislators to vote with their conscience. Formally, with secret ballots and unenforceable whips, this is the procedure. But it would have been nice if all parties for once did not treat their legislators as mere fodder that comes in neat bundles that party leaders can simply deliver to someone of their choice. This is the premise of the current bargaining game. We need to shift from a focus on arithmetic which allows party leaders to act with hubris. Instead we need space for a more basic question: which candidate, in a free contest, would appeal to legislators nationally?

A fine Barkha Dutt article on the topic.

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There is an article from yesterday’s Indian Express that is about Tiger conservation. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Sonia Gandhi. But the page though looks like this :

Sonia

Some pun somewhere ?

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IT recruiting in India – is someone finally calling a spade a spade ?

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State of the my blogroll :

Deepak is an angry young man, never seen him use words like that. Shiv, Shiv, Shiv !

Aswin, stop living in denial. Blog more !

Dispelling weird notions June 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, india, littlerockers, weird.
4 comments

On late June 13, 2006, a friend (call her Ms. A.) and I were talking late into the night (5 am, so morning really ) when she mentioned she had an interview the next day and must hang up. I told her that her preparation for the interview was done already, implying that her conversation with me the day before the job interview was sufficient interview. When pressed, I explained an even earlier instance of another friend (call him Mr. P. ) with whom I spent most of the night prior to his job test chatting. Mr. P eventually made the job inspite of what he thought was his ‘abysmal preparation’. I, of course was merely joking when I narrated this to Ms. A but she got the job. This became something of a legend and somewhat well-known among my friends.

Last week another friend (Mr. R ) who had heard of this mailed me saying he would like to speak with me the next day. I was amused at the request because R would generally call in without any such prior notice, as friends mostly do. It turns out that Mr. R was trying to be lucky because he had an interview the day after and a phone call with me seemed like a reasonable preparation to do.

Incidentally, I had had a long day, my phone was off and we never got to speak. R had his interview and the day after even got his offer !! He then called me and as we were discussing how the interview went, he mentioned that he had tried to reach me and I never answered the phone.

Oh, am I glad he got the job. For three reasons – a) well, obviously he is a friend and I wish him well. b) the outlandish superstition ( well, thats redundant – afterall all superstitions are outlandish ) that a conversation with me was necessary to ace an interview was dispelled. And finally, had Mr. R not got the offer, a however small but non-negative, non-zero portion of the blame would have been attributed to me. :p

Well, I have a few job interviews coming up in the next few weeks. I intend to stack up further evidence against the above notion – so I will try to get a job without talking to myself ( which I kinda admit will be hard ).

In the meantime, if you have a job interview coming up, try not talking to me the night before. Ofcourse, don’t try so hard that the opposite superstition takes root. Instead, lets do a controlled experiment where a random half of you call me and another don’t initiate contact. If we have a sufficiently large sample, we can get some cool results and publish a research paper 🙂

Follow this link to read more on why much of probabilistic reasoning has to be acquired and there is nothing innate about it.

P.S : Today is also my second computer’s 5th birthday, my KREC classmate ( now at IIMK) Summit Chauduri’s 27th.

~~~

If this were the only evidence available, there would be sufficient grounds to declare MMS as being out of his mind. That picture is somehow symbolic of what MMS would do when the Red Army marches into Arunachal Pradesh.

Former Foreign Secretary suggests a possible response to the Chinese :

New Delhi has to respond firmly to China’s strategic containment of India. We should invite Ministers from Taiwan and establish joint mechanisms to promote economic ties with Taiwan, in line with the policies followed by many South-East and East Asian countries. New Delhi should also facilitate wider publicity for the Dalai Lama’s views on the Sino-Indian border. Strategic ties with Vietnam should be strengthened with military supplies, including Brahmos and Prithvi missiles and a Plutonium Research Reactor.

If the current government does any of the above, I will …er…stop blogging on economics. 😀

Cricket mess n all June 12, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, science, sport.
2 comments

I read this piece and laughed so loudly for so long that my neighbors called 911. Is it just me or is everybody else getting some sadistic pleasure from the crisis in Indian Cricket Coach selection process ? 🙂 Here is latest :

Waking up just about a month ago to hunt for a new coach for its high-profile team, the Indian cricket board on Monday ended up flat on their face after their final pick, South African Graham Ford, turned them down.

Emburey is reported to have told BCCI officials “after coming to India and taking stock of the situation, I am not interested in the position.” The former off-spinner is also said to have conveyed to the BCCI that Indian cricket has a lot of external pressures that a coach should not be made to face.

What Joy ! BCCI, probably the only organization of its size and influence, but does not have a damn website of its own.

~~~

Reading this piece of news and in the light of this fact, I am surprised the Times of India has not yet come after me. Oh, wait a minute, there is a knock on the door. 😀

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The last 4 sentences of the first para along with the first 2 sentences of the second para in this article sure make great poetry !

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Is this just somewhat baffling interpretation due to Sitaram Yechury alone or is this standard knowledge that I had not idea about ?

The first avatar is in the form of a fish. Science has now confirmed that the first life forms evolved underwater. The second is the tortoise, an amphibious creature capable of living both on land and in water. The third is the boar, able to live only on land. The transition of life from underwater to land marks this stage. Next in line is the Narasimha avatar reflecting the transition from the animal to the human form. This is followed by the Vaman avatar, representing the evolution of the human form in its dwarf size. This is followed by Parasuram, who wields the axe as his weapon. This represents the stage of the clearing of forests for human settlement. Rama who follows wields the bow and arrow as his weapon, i.e. a weapon that can protect human settlements by attacking the enemy from a distance.

Balaram, who comes next, wields the plough. This is the stage of evolution of human civilisation to the levels of an agrarian economy. Krishna represents the further advance of human civilisation in the stage of domestication of the cow and the development of the dairy economy. Farther down the line, Kalki, who is yet to arrive, is portrayed as riding a horse representing the stage of the domestication of the horse.

The Das Avataras can, thus, be seen as a remarkable recording of the evolution of human life and its civilisational advance till the Aryans mastered the horse and majestically moved across lands.

Eh !

 

 

 

Data, Women, skills and soaps June 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, assorted, india, statistics, weird.
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Imagine all that data of yours – maybe 60 GB drive – documents, spreadsheets, images, C++ code etc. All audio starts playing and video simultaneously through imaginary speakers and screens on the four walls. Now, all of it goes through a superfast printer and gets printed out. How many pages would that be ? (assume no environmentalists hear about this ). Is your house big enough for that kind of stuff ?

Enough imagination. Don’t worry, ain’t going to happen.

~~~

How multinationals work ( and should ), from the Chief executive of SAP based in Germany.

Q. Why did you necessarily have to globalize your work?

A. There really is no alternative, for two reasons. It’s foolish to believe today that the smartest people are in one nation. The second is sourcing, at least if you are a big company. If you are smaller, and have a team of 100 or 200 engineers you can stay in one country and try to attract the best guys. But if you are a big company, you need to tap into the global talent pool. In Germany, we now have this big public debate about there being a shortage of engineers in the country. Well, I don’t care, or at least not as the chief executive of SAP.

~~~

Mankiw Chacha’s links all :

Keep these numbers handy for your next debate on salaries for Undergraduates in America. ( Upperbound since we are talking of Harvard ). From Mankiw Chacha’s post where a discussion ensues ( in the comment section ) about gender discrimination in pay scales in corporate America. More on gender discrimination in salaries. Oh damn one more – there is Gary Becker’s essay on the same topic. !!

Staying on Harvard, but relevant anyway is the answer to the question of why you must co-operate with people who are engaging in alumni networking. 😀

~~~

Barkha Dutt, on India’s national shame :

Here was someone who was indisputably a doormat from the Dinosaur Age and yet she was a national rage. In a country where we are now asking the military to explain why women aren’t let into combat, television’s most iconic female character inhabited an entirely self-referential world. External realities had absolutely no place for the women in Tulsi’s universe. She and her housemates were entirely driven by petty machinations and domestic one-upmanship. Rising prices, career conflicts, politics, the war in Iraq, nursery admissions, books, cinema, music — the stuff of our everyday conversations was never ever part of their discourse.

Yeah, once in a while I agree with Barkha’s views 🙂

 

 

Kudos, madam Chief Minister June 7, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in ideas, india, politics.
1 comment so far

And finally some politician of note, authority and consequence has the guts to bell the cat.

“Today, the government’s role has narrowed down. There is an increase in public partnership (with the government),” she remarked, insisting reservations had a greater importance when employment opportunities ‘solely’ existed in government. It’s not the case today. Therefore the rows over reservations are becoming untimely. We all need to understand it. We will have to change our mindset over the reservation issue,” she said.

The Chief Minister, whose state was hit by weeklong violent clashes over her pre-election quota promise to Gurjjars, said it was time to ponder afresh over reservations and the government’s role in society.

Is that the closest an Indian politician will come to echoing libertarian ideas. But this is not the first time. Here is an exchange :

Karan Thapar: What about the allegation that you walked the ramp. Are you modelling clothes or once again are you claiming that the press misunderstood your intention.

Vasundhara Raje: Look I have been small industries minister at the centre for four years and in that four year I worked very closely with small industries and also with Khadi and village industries. I know that this is the backbone of the economy of Rajasthan. Handicrafts, textiles and artefacts – these are something for which people come all the way to Rajasthan Jaipur to buy. And as far I am concerned, I have a very vibrant industry but a lot of these people are actually drifted away from this because there was nothing to be gained from the industry.

Karan Thapar: So you are promoting handicrafts.

Vasundhara Raje: Now we have revived these. Each of these we have revived. We have brought them out shown them off and the story that actually took place over here, and that’s the important story, is what happen to the lives of the weavers and that, I am afraid, was missed. As far as I am concerned, if like Mrs Thatcher, I was able to well promote my textile, I would do it with great pleasure because you remember, she actually wore all these, British clothes, only to show them off. British fashion became a thing, only because of her.

Karan Thapar: So you are saying that as a Chief Minister it is your duty to promote handicrafts and if need be, you will wear Rajasthan handicrafts, if the need be you will walk the ramp because that’s your job to promote weavers and handicrafts.

Vasundhara Raje: You can say that absolutely because that is my job and it is also a great sense of pride that I wear what they give me.

Think about it – how many people must have heard of Rajastani garment industry for the first time through this controversy ?

Hats off, Madam Chief Minister.

On our kids ! June 7, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, humor, image, india.
4 comments

Links for you, if you are a parent or plan to be one, one day. ( Okay, before that “our kids” in the title refers to the current generation of kids ( wherever they are ), not my kids which number exactly zero. )

1. What kind of a world do our kids grow up in ? Headmaster of the Doon School, Kanthi Bajpai has an excellent article that asks, albeit indirectly, just that. I will let you read through the entire article here.

What is that big deal about 0.5 % points – competitive as the world becomes, its tending to matter. I don’t certainly like the way things are but then thinking about that Class XII kid who in addition to likely being already marginalized by the quota system, now must get that extra 0.5 points to make it to a top 10 school. The problem – of all that excessive stress on marks – as he points out is a consequence of scarcity in Indian education infrastructure. So nothing new about most of what he says, but powerfully expressed sentiments and worth a read.

Also its heartening to know he concurs ( with my long held view ) when he says :

We think that Indian schools are world-class institutions in the making, that our science and mathematics are the envy of others, and that Indian students are smarter and harder working than anyone else. None of this is true. Indian schools are in a shambles; our science and mathematics teaching are appalling; and our students, while intelligent and diligent, are of the same genetic material as other human beings and, given the burden of our curriculum, are in danger of losing their creativity and energy by the time they “succeed” in school examinations.

2. Another must-read article – “Young, Gifted, and Not Getting Into Harvard”. Beautifully written, I won’t say anything more – just read it 🙂

So its not just about scarcity as Kanthi talks about – even 1000 additional quality tech/med schools coming up in India may help ameliorate the current scarcity, but some will always be preferred to others. Average disatisfaction levels may fall, but we will still be talking about cut-throat competitions and narrow margins.

3. Megan and Raji, Student from US, teacher from Bangalore :

Ms. Suresh, has grown close with the Oylers. She frequently tells Megan she loves her and says Megan always replies, “I love you more.” But earlier in the spring, the Oylers began to worry about Ms. Suresh, who wakes up at 3:30 a.m. so the 12-year-old can do her homework after dinner in North Carolina — and works a full day after that. “I felt bad,” says Ms. Oyler.

When daylight savings time kicked in, Ms. Oyler decided that instead of making Raji get up even earlier to accommodate the new hours, Megan would start her homework an hour later, at 7 p.m., giving Raji some extra sleep. “That was very considerate,” says Ms. Suresh, who lives with her husband and two sons in a three-bedroom apartment in Chennai.

What technology and human enterprise enables ! ( Hat-tip : MR).

Then ofcourse there is this cool cartoon 🙂

4. This is an interesting question and an important one – recently a controversy in India as well. But this article is so damn long, I wonder if a shorter version exists somewhere. 😦

Know nots today June 6, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, economics, india.
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I did not know any of these !

1. India is not among the most unequal countries in the world as our Indian socialists sometime like to remind us. Here is the map – one way to measure income inequality. ( lower the value, the more equal the society is ). Ofcourse, what matters is where we are heading and not just where we are.

2. Why do buttons on drive-in ATMs have braille dots when the blind don’t drive. A possible answer here:

Why do the keypad buttons on drive-up cash machines have Braille dots? It is an interesting question, since the patrons of these machines are almost always drivers, none of whom are blind. The answer, according to my former student Bill Tjoa, is that because A.T.M. producers make keypads with Braille dots for their walk-up machines anyway, it is cheaper to make all machines the same way. The alternative, after all, would be to hold two separate inventories and make sure that each machine went to the right destination. If the Braille dots caused trouble for sighted users, the extra expense might be justified. But they do not.

At the same link, find the answer to this really interesting question :

Why do brides often spend thousands of dollars on wedding dresses they will never wear again, while grooms often rent cheap tuxedos, even though they will attend many formal social events in the future? (Not quite entirely relevant in the Indian context though.)

3. Government jobs in India

The first and most unsurprising response was related to overall preference for a government job…

Government jobs are preferred on a range of criteria: post-retirement benefits (97 per cent), job security (97 per cent), health care benefits (81 per cent), conducive working hours (83 per cent), and higher incomes (58 per cent). Moreover, even in the non-tangibles many consider government jobs to be better: greater job satisfaction (89 per cent), and more respectable (92 per cent). Almost 97 per cent of the respondents preferred a government job to a private one.

From here. There is an India then beyond all the upper middle class doctors, media folks and software engineers for whom the government job is only next to employment.

India – We, the imperialists May 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, india.
2 comments

Imagine your neighborhood shop telling you –

“Well, I know you want X and are willing to pay for it. However, I can only give you Y. Others may be willing to give you X, but you shall not have it because I am your neigbour.”

Now, replace ‘shop’ with Indian ‘Government’ and you being the Sri Lankan Government.

India’s National Security Adviser may require a gentle reminder that when he is talking about Sri Lanka, he is talking about a sovereign country. How else do we interpret these statements :

He said after meeting Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi that ‘we are a big power in the region. We don’t want the Sri Lankan government to go to Pakistan or China. Whatever may be their requirement, the Sri Lankan government should come to us’. However, he said, “India will not provide weapons with offensive capablities to Sri Lanka.”

What pretensions then about criticizing others countries for their imperialist intentions/policies and the like ! Okay, okay, I know its all pandering to the DMK and other pro-LTTE factions within Tamil Nadu. But then, the language !! How about tomorrow’s papers having statements like – “I was misquoted by the press”/”My comments were taken out of their context”.

Kids will be kids, but …. May 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india.
2 comments

Vir Sanghvi does it again – hitting the nail on the head. He talks of the extremely ill-mannered species called the Indian kids.

I am as patriotic as the next man and as unwilling to believe that Indians are worse than foreigners in any respect. But on this score, I’m quite willing to lower the tricolour and put up the white flag of surrender. There’s no doubt that we allow our kids to get away with much more than foreigners do. We are much less concerned when they inconvenience other people. And we take the line that their age exempts them from all norms of socially acceptable behaviour.More to the point, this is true of most Indian children, no matter where they are resident. If you are on a flight back from the US, the NRI kids will be the ones throwing orange juice at other passengers while the American children sit peacefully.

He then adds how their parents could not care less.

A friend of mine was enjoying a quiet dinner with her boyfriend at a Delhi pizza place when the children from the next table began invading their space and wrecking their dinner. Politely but firmly, she asked the mother if she could possibly keep her kids from hassling her table. Rather than offer any apology, the mother turned viciously on her. “I am sure you are the kind of woman who has no children of your own,” she snarled. “That’s why you are complaining.”

What do these kids do when they grow up ? Well, exactly what a bunch of Indian graduate students were doing during the convocation ceremony last week. One of them was engaged in giving a running commentary of the events to relatives in distant India, so loudly as to annoy atleast 2 rows in their vicinity. This person was completely oblivious to a public nuisance he was. Later during the function when the American national anthem was being played, they were engaged in an argument in their native language, roughly about whether both men and women were to supposed to take off their caps or if it was just the men.

Now, for these graduate students from top-notch universities in their convocation ceremonies, surely it can’t be the lack of education ? Infact, as Vir Sanghvi says, those who lack education are in fact more aware of their unfortunate shortcomings and try to follow the average behavior – when in doubt, they are likely to restrain themselves and imitate the crowd (which believe me, mostly works !). It is we, the schooled elite whose schooling has been thoroughly disconnected from education.

Scroll down the article to read Vir Sanghvi’s suggestions ! Can’t agree more.

Amit Varma‘s take :

It’s happened in a restaurant, where kids from a neighbouring table have done unspeakable things to my plate, and on my complaining their mother has said to me, ”Arrey, bacchay hai, karne do na?” My reply that they are her bacchay and not my bachhay made her furious, as if I was a heartless monster for not allowing her children to wreck my evening.

MMS and the PDS May 25, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, economics, india, politics.
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Okay, so Mr. MMS has something to lecture the corporates about – conspicuous consumption, CEO pay and the like. How about starting by putting your own house in order, Prime Minister ? Here is an example :

The Planning Commission study shows that less than half (42 per cent) of subsidised food grains issued from the central pool reaches the poor. The leakage through ration shops constitutes the bulk of the leakage. In Bihar, while the intended subsidy was Rs 4.52 per kg, if we take into account the total subsidy to what actually reached the poor, the subsidy ended up being Rs 50.98 per kg due to leakages and diversions. In Punjab, while the intended subsidy was Rs 4.22 per kg, it ended up being Rs 40.15 per kg of foodgrain.

 

 

So Prime Minister, when you are already robbing the middle-class and the rich, why go after them all over again. Instead. clean up the political system first and then the corporates will have an example to follow.

 

Its a classic case of violating the PCB theory I linked to. In the Public distribution system :

Payer : Tax-payer ( middle-class+upper class)

Chooser : Government Bureaucrats

Beneficiary : The poor, presumably

A solution as suggested by Ila Patnaik in the same article :

If the government decides that it wants the poor to consume dal and oil at subsidised rates then it needs to find more efficient ways of targeting and delivering the subsidy. One proposal is to provide them with smart cards with the required amount of money credited to them and which can be used at certain retail outlets who will get reimbursement from the government. The expenditure will be limited largely to Rs 10 per kg or litre of the dal and oil actually bought by BPL households instead of more than double of that amount lining the pockets of traders on the way. No procurement for the PDS or supply chains will have to be set up as would need to be done for delivery of the PDS.

More comments on this.

Ofcourse, why should stupidity be the monopoly of the Indian Government alone, how can the Americans be far behind. Okay, without reading the previous link, a response sent by a GMU economics professor says it all. It about an act that “requires Federal employees and their dependents, consultants, contractors, grantees, and others performing United States Government financed foreign air travel to travel by U.S. flag air carriers.”

Update: My previous post on CEO pay and wage differentials.

Incredible lifestyles May 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, life, weird.
5 comments

Ram Charan, one of those incredible people I had never heard of.

Consider the itinerary he sketched at dinner one night a few months ago in New York. He had just agreed – for the first time in his career -to let a journalist travel with him and watch him work. “I should tell you where I’ve been the last few weeks,” he began in heavily accented English. “I go to India on the Friday of the week before Thanksgiving. I am Sunday morning in Bombay. Monday morning I am in Delhi. Wednesday I’m in Bombay. Thursday I’m in Bangalore. Saturday I’m in Trivandrum. Wednesday I’m in Johannesburg. Friday morning, at seven, I am in New York. I have a two-hour meeting with a CEO who has flown in to see me. I have two more meetings and I fly out that night to Dubai. I am in Dubai on Sunday and Monday, then I come back here. On Thursday night I fly out to Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Then I come back here. Tuesday morning I have a whole-day schedule in New York. Tuesday night I go to Milwaukee. I came from Milwaukee last night. They diverted my plane so I had to stay in Pittsburgh. I had a meeting this morning in Philadelphia. I had three meetings here in the afternoon. And I’m here tomorrow, with GE. Then an hour-and-a-half phone call. Then I’m going out tomorrow night to West Palm Beach. Monday morning I have a breakfast meeting in New York. And then I’m flying out to Perth, Australia.” At least he flies first-class.

Do read the entire article about other aspects of his life style ( he does not have a house/permanent address for example ).

Do I aspire for that kind of a lifestyle ? Will I enjoy that kind of a lifestyle ? Ofcourse, the answers both questions better be the same (both yes or both no), and in my case, that will be no. But yes, I certainly greatly admire special people like him. Our planet is such an interesting place. 😉

Why generalization is a necessary non-evil May 19, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, rant.
2 comments

..its only the degree that is negotiable.

Of course, if you are a machine learning/AI student, this is rather obvious. But I am talking of generalizing in a broader context of interpreting socio-cultural/economic phenomenon, though the spirit is the same.

Imagine you are a native of London and a friend who just returned from Paris tells you that Paris is a romantic city. You then ask him not to generalize and tell him that the last time you visited, a drainage pipe had broken and entire Paris neighborhood was stinking. The question now is who after all is generalizing ?

Okay I agree, that was a rather straw man argument, but sufficient to get the message across.

Lets get to the point. My friend Sanjika pointed to this WSJ cartoon which I found incredibly funny. As curiosity had it, I looked up to see what others thought. (To generalize), it turns out both Sanjika and I have a pathetic sense of humor. The argument ( here and here ) there is partly about it being not funny ( okay, understandable ) but there are still a bunch of folks talking of how this is just stereotyping etc. etc. Well, caste system is an Indian reality. To say that you have 3 friends from 3 different cases and a neighbor lower caste does not mitigate the larger truth, in fact that is generalizing !

Besides, what is that one statement that you can make of India ( or for that matter any country ) that is true of every Indian and piece of land in India ? I think even people say that we are warm people who invite strangers to our houses and treat them to sub-continental hospitality, they are stereotyping Indians ! “How dare you call me a nice person !!” 😉

Don’t we realize that most of the advertisement is indeed stereotyping. When a beauty store advertisement has a lady wearing pink reading a home decoration related magazine with a soft toy in her lap, they are technically stereotyping and to sound like a political liberal that I am not, “manipulating the minds of women”.

On a related note, even if something is mildly offensive/sad, the humor aspect stands out. Maybe there are different regions in our brains that process these things – something can be offensive/sad and humorous at the same time. The Germans have a word for it – Schadenfreude.

Assorted links today May 19, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, humor, india, sport.
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Apathy at Bangalore, nothing unofficial about it.

~~~

Same guests at 42 weddings. Nothing marital and certainly nothing blissful about it.

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I would be curious to see how American/European governments ( with their humanrights focus as well as sporting infrastructure ) would handle situations like this. Something prodigious about it.

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Read this and answer the question : What specific event is being talked about ?

To me, there is in this incident — and in the entire hoopla surrounding the Indian team’s preparation for the World Cup — the prescription for a disaster in the making. You’ve got to be in India to understand the frightening dimensions of this thing, really. Turn on the television, and every Coke, Pepsi and Brittania are running ads that seem to indicate that the results of the tournament is a foregone conclusion. Switch to a music channel, and we are flooded with songs and videos supposedly meant to cheer on the team.

In combination, what is being created is a form of hysteria that reached a crescendo this Sunday with that tamasha at the Wankhede (and there is a World Cup concert lined up as well, courtesy Pepsi, for the 22nd). I can’t conceive of a sight more ridiculous than to see the Indian World Cup squad lined up on stage, while a stream of industrialists, having paid for the privilege by way of sponsorship bucks, garlanded them and applied tilak to their foreheads.

There were so many industrialists — not forgetting a certain Amitabh Bachchan — queueing up for their share of the spotlight that pretty soon, the players ran out of space on their foreheads for the next tilak-applier in the queue.

And the crowds went wild. Singing and dancing with Abhijeet to the tune of the cheerleading song. Celebrating as though the result of the tournament was a foregone conclusion.

The corporates have good reason for climbing on the Cup bandwagon, and pumping in millions by way of advertising money to cash in on the publicity value — after all, an event like this comes along only once in four years (okay, three in this case). But the net result is that enormous expectation is being built up within this country. In the prevailing climate, nothing will do for the public short of winning the tournament. Realistically, this team would have done wonderfully well if it gets into the semifinals — but after all this hype, even that kind of a performance is not going to be enough.

Answer here.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

 

Caste and Indian politics May 12, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in history, india, media, politics.
2 comments

How ironic that on the very same day in two of India’s leading newspapers, two of India’s distinguished journalists of roughly very similar political persuasions ( slightly left of centre or liberal in the American sense) have almost diametrically things to say on the same topic !

Here is Vir Sanghvi of the Hindustan Times lamenting why we have almost never got our Presidents for the right reasons, that even when we got the ‘right’ people ( Kalam/KRN ), we got them entirely for the wrong reasons.

My concern, however, is that when it comes to the crunch, political parties will ignore the merit of individual candidates. Once again, we will look for vote-banks. We will dredge up backward and minority candidates from the mists of time. And as soon as the regional parties get involved, negotiation and wheeling and dealing will take over — specially now that Mayawati has emerged victorious in UP. In the process, the world’s largest democracy will end up with some politically correct monument to caste and communal tokenism at Rashtrapati Bhavan. And we will once again not have a President we can be proud of.

And then there is Shekhar Gupta of the Express about why caste is slowly ceasing to matter in Indian politics.

All three missed a central point, the pivot around which the new politics of India is being built. That the days of narrow, vote-bank politics are now over. You can no longer secure 25-27 per cent vote in a fractured polity and rule a state. You now need to broaden your agenda, invite, entice, and include others too. Because it is logical that a fast-developing, fast-urbanising society should also evolve a more cosmopolitan outlook. It is tired of divisive agendas, of being taken for granted.

Well, are we generalizing from very few cases here. Do people think in sync ? I don’t understand elections because I have never voted. While I can think of arguments now, I haven’t really had an opportunity to follow an election as a voter, weighing candidates and parties and issues. Its just been as an observer and an interested citizen. So maybe I am not never the right person to speak on this issue.

But when I see things being written, I am skeptical. When BJP lost in 2004, it was reasoned that their arrogance and ‘divise’ agendas lead to their loss. But then they came back in Punjab/Himachal, it was attributed to anti-incumbency rather than a vote for Hindutva. When non-congress, non-BJP parties lost in the states, it was explained as people being fed up of smaller parties with unclear agendas. When BSP and SP dominated the UP results, it is explained that India’s federal structure makes it harder to parties and leaders with national appeal. ( I wish I could provide references for these allegations I make, but if you have followed Indian politics and commentators, you know what I am talking about. )

In a country as diverse as India, it might require something dramatic ( war, emergency etc. ) to get voters to think in sync, to vote on the basis of limited set of issues. Just think of the past few general elections and ask yourself what the issues were. Its always something vague, anti-incumbent rhetoric, secular/communal bullshit or its about personalities. Its not about specific economic policies or foreign policy and even a larger vision for the country.

Its unfortunate but true – for a young democracy with a large illiterate socially, economically disempowered electorate in a land that is still trying define its identity as a nation, it might be decades before such a thing as caste ceases to matter in elections. Let us not forget that caste has been around much longer than India did, it ain’t going away any soon.

And if Bryan Caplan is right about such a thing as the rational voter myth, we might never get there. And those we think have gotten there, haven’t either.

P.S: But having said that I will any day live with this system than go down the way of some of our sub-continental neighbors.

The nation and the national festivals May 12, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in history, india, politics.
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Ram Guha talks about his latest book :

If there is a defining feature it is this: that Indian democracy, the Indian state, has gone from crisis to crisis and somehow we have been able to contain these crises. Since the 1950s there’s a kind of insurgency in Kashmir and then it stops. Then you have the whole linguistic movement, which is contained through the creation of linguistic states. Then you have the Dravidian movement but then the Tamils decide that they want to be a part of India. There is Naxalism, which gets contained. And then there is Punjab. It is a nation that lurches from crisis to crisis, but unlike any other nation in the Asian, African or ex-colonial world, it is not enough to (destroy) the democratic fabric of society except for that brief period of Emergency.

So, a sick man who refuses to die or an warrior who is always at war and each time just manages to scrape through ? But the British in 1947 must have thought ( like Bush does now ( and rightly so perhaps )) that if they leave the sub-continent, India will break up in pieces. Well, we did and we didn’t. Mostly latter. I wrote about this before.

Post-independence history hence is indeed interesting. I recently bought a book “Nehru” by Vincent Sheehan, an American journalist who knew Nehru personally. The first chapter of the book is ironically mostly about Gandhi. (Vincent was covering Gandhi’s prayer function when he ( Gandhi ) was assassinated.) If I get to the second chapter which I often don’t these days, I will write more.

Meanwhile, the Indian Express has something compelling on a related topic.

Without a doubt, 1857 is an important milestone in the evolution of modern India. But the lacklustre character of the celebrations surrounding the one hundred and fiftieth year of India’s First War of Independence raises some profound questions about the relationship between the nation and the important events that made it. The first is the striking contrast we still see between India’s religious celebrations and its civic ones. The former are colourful, spontaneous, diversely imagined and organised by the people. The latter remain for the most part dull, solemn, doled out in standardised formats and manufactured by state.

The question is: why aren’t citizens taking charge of their own history, commemorating them in their own way? The reasons are complex. Part of it has to do with the state constructing 1857 as an icon, rather than lively history. 1857 is also a touchy subject, because there many competing narratives about these events. And for all our talk about unity in diversity, these competing narratives can expose our faultlines. There is also something to the claim that the character of our patriotism may be changing: rousing narratives of sacrifice do not move us in the same way they used to.

True, isn’t it. I can through arguments perhaps talk about how 1857 meant a big deal, but I am not sure that would be too sincere in terms of what I feel. As for state sponsored celebrations like the Oct 2/Jan 26, somehow it feels distant compared to say, Holi.

Assorted links April 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, india.
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Over and above the sadness, the tragic realities of the Virginia Tech massacre, here is an article that argues that there is another hard, sad reality – thats its almost impossible to foresee them.

Barely staying on the topic, here is a response from VTech professor to Dilip D’Souza’s Dinesh DSouza’s article that tastelessly used the shooting incident to launch an attack atheists and atheism.

Errata : The author of the above article is Dinesh D’Souza and NOT Dilip D’Souza. Thanks to Dilip D’Souza for the correction. ( comments section )

~~~

Pratap Mehta takes on the IIM managements and does a good job of exposing them as well.

India looks to its best institutions not just to build a reputation by selecting a few out of hundreds of thousands of students. It looks to them to provide leadership to society, to extend the boundaries of the possible, and to enlarge our ambitions. But we cannot imagine institutions of higher education being able to do this, if they cannot stand up to governments on behalf of what is right and legal. The IIM Ahmedabad website proudly makes two claims. First, that the empowerment of faculty has been the propelling force behind the institution. But there is very little evidence of faculty governance in decisions like this. Second, that the institution combines the best of eastern and western values. I wondered what this referred to. After all it was one of the virtues of the Indian tradition that even kshatriyas used to keep their arms outside before entering the gurukula.

These institutions are supposed to produce the leaders. So after all, terms like “out of the box”, “initiative”, “moral leadership” merely rule the entrepreneurship/leadership/ethics courses they teach. Only if they could lead by example.

 

Abhinav talks about atlas – I have a fetish for maps. I don’t mind waiting at Subway stations/bus stations/airports as long as there is a map ( (drawn to scale helps ) I can keep looking at. Maps with annotations such as sea routes, time differences, rivers marked with names don’t hurt at all.

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Came across this chap on Indian Idol, something I have never followe. Just too good a performance, not to mention the song itself.

Update : And here is the original.

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Pittsburgh is back to being America’s most livable city. ( ranks 1 overall, but 135th among 379 areas surveyed in terms of climate). Boston is 9th overall. Quite frankly it does not change my assessment of how much I like ( which I certainly do) or dislike the place – but yeah, even if the rankings are wrong by an order of magnitude, its unlikely to be in the bottom 10%.

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Some story this. Another side of the story.

Overconfidence as occupational hazard April 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in ideas, india.
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A friend and blog reader Dr. Ashwini Shenoy mentioned recently that its been a while since I ‘took on’ doctors. Well, not that I particularly ‘take on’ them or even ‘take on’ them at all, but this time I think I am 😉 or at the least, I am linking to someone who is.

But docs are taught more medicine than nurses; why are they no better at primary care? Probably because docs are famously overconfident. For example, one study found that on average when docs were 88% confident that their patient had pneumonia, in fact only 20% of such patients had pneumonia. And overconfidence is fatal in primary care.

It is the same in primary care; most patients are simple and boring: sniffles, rashes, and so on. Doctors, nurses, or paramedics can all do primary care well if they know when they do not know, i.e., if they can recognize signs that a patient is unusual, and should be referred to a specialist. And this is where overconfidence is fatal. Someone who knows less medicine, but admits when they do not know, can do as well as someone who knows more, but is overconfident.

Overconfidence is ofcourse going to hurt just about anywhere, but do we have reason to believe that certain professionals ( in certain context – cultures/healthcare systems) are systematically more overconfident than others. Actually, I don’t even know if we can begin to measure phenomena like overconfidence across professions. So lets leave it there.

I don’t ofcourse want to hit and run, not take a stand and be ambivalent about everything. Hence I state that from personal experience I found that if I tell doctor A about doctor B’s diagnosis, doctor A either adds to B’s explanation, or corrects it or mentions an exception to B’s explanation. (my own brother/aunt/cousin/friends included ). So are doctors fiercely competitive in the part of the world I come from ? Is one example enough at all to make such a sweeping conclusions ? But that appears to be true of cricketers too ? And computer programmers ? And economists ? Linguists perhaps ? So am I just singling out doctors ?

Note : I know it depends on specific individuals but I am talking about average behavior.

Whats in a (last) name ? April 25, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, sport, weird.
10 comments

My questions get more and more general as you go down each paragraph ?

What is the probability that a cricketer is better known by his first name than his last name ? In other words (and taking a frequentist view of probability), of all the cricketers you can think of, how many are referred to by their first names instead than last ? ( Forget about people known by their complete names for once – like the Waugh twins). Why is it disproportionately skewed towards last name ? ( Arguing that it is what is written on their shirts ( do they ??) is not an answer – you would have to say why do they choose to do that ( if they do so ). Is it because their last names are more rarer than their first names – ( Rahul/Sachin ) ? Not a compelling argument. Is it true of other sports as well ?

Arguably full names seem the norm applied to Bollywood stars. Why ? Is it because the damn place reeks of in-breeding and nepotism to such an extent that that if you just say “Kapoor”, it could refer to a person or her/his son/spouse/daughter/dad/mom/uncles/aunts/grandparents?

How about celebrities in general ? Politicians ?

What about your friends ? How do you predominantly refer to them in conversations with third parties ( other friends ) ?

Why do people have first and last names at all ( sometimes they have 6/7 – check this guy ) – to decrease the probability that 2 people have the exact same name ? Show respect/affiliation towards city/town/dad/mom ? Why not country ? Is it because the idea of a country is itself so new whereas the sense of belonging towards smaller community is so much older ?

I want answers to all these questions right now ! 😀 ( because the last time I asked Sandeep Shetty about this cricketer’s names, he just said that I am weird providing no anecdotal/empirical evidence to prove his ‘claim’ 😉 )

A zeroth order business model for Bombay University April 22, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, india.
4 comments

My post on corporatization brought in some interesting comments and questions. Aside from the moral concerns regarding the profit-motive, there were concerns about how would the Bombay University function as a corporation ? How would it raise money ? What is the source of profit ? What was a reply to Abhinav and Aswin’s comments I thought is worth a post. You can catch the previous discussion here.

Firstly, thanks Aswin and Abhinav for keeping that discussion alive and going.

I share your concerns about this specific case Aswin. But I am not sure I agree with this ‘providing the best education’ to ‘ensuring the shareholders are happy’ ” as being an either/or situation. One might as well ask if Infosys’ motive is ‘providing for their customers or shareholders’. Very often these goals are aligned and while sometimes there are issues ( like Google/Yahoo in China for eg. ), but for most part they would be aligned. Infact, aligning the goals of the various stakeholders – employees, customers and big/small investors – is good for the organization’s business model.

Yes, one might imagine education is slightly different because of the intangibles and the immeasurables involved. But I am given to think its a model worth trying out and see how the market reacts. I have no idea about their specific intentions but here is how it might work out. If everything goes well, this is what is likely to happen.

— a) “The only sources of income to a Univ are fees/grants.”

Thats the problem so far. Now the new source is the money they raise from the market. Lets say, to start with they manage to raise some money because of their 150 year old reputation, this enables them to invite better researchers and give them facilities for research that the researchers would not get elsewhere. Because there is money, the researchers will come. And then research grants from industry/government will follow. This sets up a virtuous cycle which brings in better students as well from year to year. Faculty without tenure system will have more accountability and their performance can be reviewed every x years. And this university can work exactly on the problems the industry wants without any guilt – a situation that is scarce in India.

Meanwhile, research generates intellectual property – patents/software products for which the university gets royalty. This is another source of profit. Bright students have an incentive on work on these projects. Additional money may enable them to fund bright students with scholarships etc., down the years even attract foreign students.

At the base of it, its not something new. This is how private universities in the US function, except that the initial corpus typically comes from some act of philanthropy. Here its an existing university which wants to change the way it functions.

— b) As for “If a research group’s focus does not seem ‘lucrative’ will it be trashed for something with more commercial potential ? ” :

Well I wont be surprised. That again is how private universities function ( unless there is a private grant for that). Research with extremely high-risk or no commercial potential is the duty of the government. In other words, if something merely drives a social (or even military) benefit, every person i.e. government through taxes must pay for it. If there is no viable business model, the government can take it and no tears for that.

— c) “Considering that the invigilators are part of the univ itself, who is to stop the univ from relaxing it’s correction of papers..”

Quarterly results may have nothing to do with marks/grades. These are considered the means to an end, not the end itself. Infact, who is going to lose if they do that. The university will be cheating itself because if there are no smart students, there will be no intellectual property, no research, no income. And if rest of corporate India can find honest, committed leaders, Bombay University can as well. In fact the shareholders have the right to reject candidates with shady reputations. Do we have a say in who is the VTU chancellor, if such a need arises ?

Their strategy consultants must already have many more ‘tricks’ up their sleeve. I don’t of course know how things will actually pan out or what they have in mind. These things are easy on paper and I just mentioned the best case scenario. Its a big big challenge and I think in the best case, Bombay University will need about 15-20 years to set up that virtuous cycle. And Aswin’s comment about

— “If the administration can handle this well with integrity and provide value to the Univ, nothing like it. I am merely skeptical about that ..”,

Oh yes, I share that skepticism too. But my concern is more about their failure for reasons other than malpractice. If they can’t pull it off, its bad for everyone. And if they do, it opens up a new set of circumstances for an university to operate in and few others can follow suit. Its worth a try and I wish them good luck.

Indian judiciary, roads and infinitesimal humor April 16, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india.
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Interesting things I am telling you that Gautam told Naveen that Naveen told me ( and others ) through the Indian Economy blog :

Main roads in West Godavari are very good. I wonder about the contracting system in place for their maintenance. Gautam Bastian told me some interesting road factoids. Highways are intentionally made curved so as not to have drivers sleep off. Some well maintained roads in Orissa are oddly ill-maintained at certain stretches along the road. Turns out it is so because the road contract was given based on points marked on maps. The slight difference on the map between the parts of the road provided to two different contractors translates into no-man’s land in reality and nobody maintains it!

Even the rest of the post is an interesting read. Ofcourse I don’t know either Naveen or Gautam.

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Funny retort of the day :

A : “There is a big difference between zero chance of becoming wealthy, and epsilon. Buying a ticket allows your dream of riches to bridge that gap.”

B: “…between zero chance of becoming wealthy, and epsilon chance, there is an order-of-epsilon difference. If you doubt this, let epsilon equal one over googolplex.”

Rest of the post about a new kind of lottery is again quite an interesting read.

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Soli Sorabjee, brilliant as usual.

Our Constitution expressly provides that any law which contravenes any fundamental right is void. Again, action of the executive must be within constitutional and statutory limits. It is axiomatic that the limits of power and their transgression cannot be determined by the limited power itself. Therefore it is for the judiciary to determine and enforce constitutional limitations. This aspect was extensively debated in the Constituent Assembly. Ultimately it was accepted that the question whether a law or executive action violates any fundamental right was to be decided by the judiciary which was its legitimate function.

Assorted items April 12, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, assorted, economics, india, life.
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There has been some talk about this issue for a while. In spite of all the good that it does to those have been beneficiaries of it, that it goes against the original intent of the program appears to be both true and not surprising. After all, aren’t laws followed to the maximum permissible deviation from them ?

Again, I think this writer gets the numbers wrong, but the spirit of what he says I think is not entirely incorrect.

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I like book ends and their ability to support themselves. Is it possible to make a book so big that it cannot support itself given that the book end itself is large enough.

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Cynicism of the day, we all need a small dose I guess 🙂 :

I’ve often wondered whether the difference between mankind and animals is not so much the ability to reason as it is the ability to rationalize

Thats from Milton Friedman. One of my favorite activities in the past year has been to point out to myself ( and sometimes to others ) whether a certain line of thought is reasoning or rationalizing.

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So much today to think about – now about reverse sweep in cricket. This is attributed to Ian Chappel.

If the bowler has to mark his guard and announce to the umpire and thus to the batsman whether he is bowling right arm or left arm, over the wicket or around the wicket, how can the batsman change his grip or the position of his feet without announcing it to the bowler, who has set the field for his natural position?

Link from here.

Foreign hand and your permanent age April 8, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, ideas, india, life, reminisces-1990s.
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Funny but evocative sentence today :

MY three-dimensional husband, Scott, became a Flat Daddy this spring, when his frequent absences (he is an active-duty Navy pilot preparing for deployment) made me worry that our two young children were forgetting him.

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What timing for the latest article from Shekhar Gupta ! Only the day before I was engaged in a debate with my colleague Sanjika about how there was a time when everything in India was being blamed on the “foreign hand” – a non-Adam-Smith kinda invisible hand. That hand was always the cause of our problems, it was never something about ourselves, whether as individuals or as a society. Now Gupta writes :

So if, on the one hand, the Congress thinks the Muslims hate it because its prime minister loves the Americans, and the Marxists, who hate both, think their Muslims are conspiring with the same Americans to thwart their new global revolution, you can put it down to one more inevitable contradiction between the leader of this coalition and its biggest ally.

Or, on the other hand, you can figure it for what it is, a very Indian trait, typical of our lazy, self-indulgent, smug hypocrisy, which stretches from our fascination for everything foreign, from brands to money and education for our children, to our perpetual suspicion of everything foreign and, therefore, our perpetual search for the foreign scapegoat. Every time you see this hypocrisy, it reminds you of Jairam Ramesh’s unforgettable line on how we Indians love to hate to love to hate America: Yankee go home, but take me with you.

THE corporate world and financial markets are also not immune to this virus. Every time the Sensex goes up 600 points, it is because the world is finally coming to its senses and acknowledging the Indian growth story. But the moment it falls, it underlines the perils of allowing the unbridled entry of global predators, the greedy, immoral, slash-and-burn-and-grab-your-money-and-run FIIs and, worst of all, hedge funds.

This again reminds me of how when we talk of the British colonial take-over in the 1700s, we never talk about how we as a some loose geo-political entity( well, not quite a nation but anyway ) only aided the takeover, rather than put up a united resistance. Even given that colonialism cannot be justified on these or any other grounds, in the end it was about fighting a war in order to win. Yet, no part of the blame is laid on the strategic myopia and the greed of the rulers of that era. It is on this grounds that an article I read a few years ago ( that I now cant find nor remember the author ) talked about how the idea of celebrating India’s independence in addition to honoring the efforts of the dead and living freedom fighters, also includes a part that shamefully accepts that we were incompetent enough to get into that situation in the first place.

Article link here.

~~~

By the way, whats your permanent age ?

~~~

Doctors as theater artists April 4, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, image, india, science.
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This picture from the article here might or might not be end up causing an outrage. Its about “the doctor plays hangman while waiting for test results during surgery” as the Times says.

3atul_ca3.jpg

Except the doctor in this case is Atul Gawande. Atul is a Rhodes Scholar, MacArthur Grant awardee and one of the famous doctors in America. He teaches at Harvard and was an adviser to President Clinton on American health policies. So for Atul, maybe, they will let go. If you are a doctor somewhere and haven’t read his essays – “Complications” – I am told, you are missing something. I have read one of his essays from this book. Very engaging indeed. Should be more so for doctors.

By the way, I wonder why they call it the operation theater. We commonly associate theaters with performances people pay money to watch. But I am told that surgery is lot about personal touch and there is some art in there. I should know, an intern messed up a stitch on my left eyebrow about 20 years ago and that now goes into official forms when I am asked for “identification symbols” or so. Some people have their own way of leaving a mark on their profession 😀

If I were a doctor and were asked what I do for a living, I would occasionally insist I am a theater artist. ( Albeit not a popular one, since all my art is about ensuring people don’t ask for an encore. 🙂 ) But just to see their reaction, its worth trying once in a while. Ofcourse if they ask me to act out something, I would have to ask them to lay down on the nearest table.

The article itself is about “Music in the Operating Room”. On the lighter side, with more and more Indian doctors in the United States, Anu Malik and co. might find themselves being listened to in unexpected places – American operation rooms. 😉 Bah-lee-vud is truly going global eh :p

That picture is courtesy Erik Jacobs for the Times.

In the name of cricket March 29, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, sport.
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Question : What is being talked about ?

…fly out; force out, with fielder tagging the base while holding the ball in advance of the runner; holding the ball and tagging the runner; a strikeout (looking or swinging); on a swinging third strike, a dropped ball is thrown to first base and bag is tagged; a foul ball on a two-strike bunt; the infield fly rule; a double play; a triple play; one runner passing another runner on the base path; running outside of the base path; interference with the ball while in the base path; the runner is picked off by the pitcher; the runner is cut down by the catcher while trying to steal; a caught foul tip with two strikes; the appeal play.

Not that I knew the answer, although its an easy guess – those are 12 of the more than 12 ways a batsman ( striker ) can get out in baseball. And thats quoting a letter from a NYTimes reader in reply to Shashi Tharoor’s ill-advised article.

Following Mr. Tharoor’ s columns in “The Hindu”, it appears to me that he writes with a sense of entitlement – lecturing the Americans about India and the Indians about his homestate Kerala. And this time in an article in the NYTimes Shashi Tharoor goes about making allegations against an entire nation because they don’t like cricket ! I was trying to see what parts of the article I must quote, but again, I think if I quote something, you may not read the whole article 🙂 . It initially comes off as light-hearted, but as you progress through the article, his ‘attacks’ get more and more vicious. The reactions from the readers then are only obvious.

To know what it means, just imagine a German diplomat in New Delhi writing an article in the Indian Express that goes :

“Football is the king among all sport, played by more nations than any other sport and certainly cricket. Indians prefer slower games like cricket to faster games like football because they are lethargic, malnourished and least productive among the great peoples of the world. Hence, the world is not at all poorer for India’s not playing football.”

a) How many major national dailies will carry such an article ? and b) How long would it take for a bunch of Indians who have nothing better to do, to be on the street burning the diplomat’s effigies and the German flag, stoning her/his car and calling for a boycott of German products ?

Not at all necessary Mr. Tharoor, leave the the Americans alone – the nation has its shown share of sport obsession and headaches, while we have our own.

~~~

I was telling my colleague Sanjika yesterday that the problem with having Tendulkar in the team is that others ( and their fathers ) who are doing not so good, but (doing) better than Sachin get to assert their right to stay on in the team on the grounds that they are doing better than Sachin. And today I read this.

Sadness in San Francisco March 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, india, politics, sport.
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…and therein lies the irony.

San Francisco, pretty much the heart of Silicon Valley, the place that is the home to much and most of technology that touches our lives – Microprocessors, Yahoo and Google – to name but few. I got here 24 hours ago in connection with the DARPA project meeting ( like the kind I attended in Oct 2006 at NYC ) and will be here for another 5 days. And unless something life-changing happens in these 5 days (the probability of which is not necessarily more than any other 5 days anywhere), the memory I am going to take away from here, with some exaggeration, will be that thing called “awful internet access”. And this in a hotel that charges over $150 per day.

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Actually, its not all bad and I have a sense of perspective 🙂 .  Located on the bayside and overlooking one of the runways of the 21st most busiest airport in the world which itself has a line of hills overlooking it,  the room has a view that is more of a treat.

For above and many reasons, blogging will be light over the next week or so.

Update 1 : Meanwhile at the other side of the world, some continue to buy somebody’s disingenuous, deliberate, untruth.
Update 2 : And somebody else has some sense of humor :

Before the game we said ‘Let’s make history today.’ Well, we made history.”
Luke van Troost, the Dutch captain, manages to keep a sense of perspective after Herschelle Gibbs’s six-hitting record

Stuff about blogging we don’t yet know… March 19, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, blogging, economics, india, movies, sport.
2 comments

I was thinking about this now. There is an angle to the influence of the blogosphere that we haven’t yet seen. And we won’t for a while. Not because its a secret, but because some things by their vary nature take time. A few examples : Levitt’s explanation for the link between abortion and fall in crime rate that appeared with a lag of over 16-20 years. Or for that matter, the sudden abundance of 10-12 year old “Aishwaryas” and “Sushmitas” in India ( they won in 1994 ) and Jayasuriyas in Sri Lanka ( after WC 1996 triumph )

Just imagine the magnitude of this possibility – US president of the year 2050 is most likely born already and probably has a blog as well ! Google and their ‘evil’ friends and competitors probably know more about her/him that she/he could imagine. And since anything that goes online almost always stays there ( or somewhere else), it has some real implications.

When the aspirant announces nomination in 2050 for the presidential elections of 2052, out comes her/his several blogs, myspace accounts, delicious bookmarks, flick account photographs, discussions on online message boards and possibly membership on websites with adult content. Although its delicious fodder for her/his opponents, this information overload will likely be a nuisance for the general public and distort their choices.But then the voting public of 2050 will almost invariably have been exposed to information overload all their lives, so I guess they will be used to it.

Ofcourse, the Indian PM of 2070 ( remember we have older PMs 😉 ) probably has an Orkut account already. And if found out in 2070 that she/he was the member of some “hate Pakistan” community on Orkut as I write, it might complicate the peace process 😉

Moral of the story : If you are a 10 year old and plan to run for office in the year 2050, take a course in political correctness right away and resist the temptation to start a blog.

Update : As an aside, one complicated round-about but cool way to judge say Sachin Tendulkar’s popularity would be to look at baby name statistics over the years. I don’t know if such a statistic is easily available for India ( as it is for American citizens ) – but I would think that 1991-92 and 1996-98 would probably peak.

Too many things today March 18, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, politics, sport.
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From today’s newspapers :

This ( “while coach Bob Woolmer walked aimlessly through an army of Irish supporters….Hours later, he was dead.”)

and

that ( ““Every player doesn’t get a grand farewell. As for my future, I am in no position right now to think about it.”)

and

this ( “About 40 per cent of the Rs 12,000 crore that rides on the Indian cricket team in the World Cup … could get wiped out if the team does not reach the final rounds.” )

and

that. ( ” As President Pervez Musharraf deftly distanced himself from the move to suspend the Chief Justice …… speculation is rife that the axe may fall on Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz” )

It all reminds me of Henry Kissinger’s legendary quip several decades ago

Next week there can’t be any crisis. My schedule is already full.

Ofcourse I am not required to fire-fight any of this as Kissinger was in his days as the NSA and/or Sec. of State. But then, how can so many such things happen in a single day ? Why do things worth writing about keep happening ? The newspaper business is evergreen I guess – even if there is a depression, they will have that depression to write about 😦

~~~

And if you ever had any doubt about Kissinger being the modern day Chanakya, watch this video.Other Kissinger quotes. My fav :

Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation. 😀

Quiz no. 2 March 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india.
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 Said who ?

“It’s been something I’ve been fighting with for the last eight months,” he said.

“I was very close to not coming here but I really wanted to give it one last crack and see if I could find that.

“At this level you’ve got to have that motivation and, for me, the enjoyment part is huge. It’s not there any more.”

Whatever your answers, did an Ex-Indian player’s name cross your mind as you pondered over the answer ?

Most of them retire because they have been dropped and have no hope for a comeback. Or in rare cases, there is an excuse about the ageing body, but rarely the lack of motivation.

I must say I saw this long long ago when it really happened and putting it today is sort of not a good idea after all this.  😀 Its not really just about cricket ( and this is not about a certain member in the Indian team) . Are we in general less likely to question the wisdom of our previous choices and take steps for course correction ? How long have you been in something until you are more of an liability than an asset ?

The answer is here.

Assorted links today March 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, history, india, weird.
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Imagine your brother at your door, with half of his house with him.

~~~

An exciting video about the Nazi attempt to steal art worth millions and how museums at Paris, Rome, St. Petersburgh moved around/hidden from the Nazis. Also where was the Mona Lisa during the war ?

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An evidence of what is nuts about our education system. Blame is to be shared by people who do stupid things and those that incentivise stupidity.

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Mint has started a series called Sixty at Sixty.

Sixty in Sixty is a special series that we plan to run through 2007, the 60th anniversary of India’s independence. We will introduce you to sixty Indians—both here and abroad—who are not rich or famous. These are people who are making quiet, but important, contributions without seeking headlines, to help make India and, in some cases, the world a better place.

Good idea I think.

Why the Liz-Nair wedding is good for the Indian economy March 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, india, movies.
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Prakash raises a question about how the Liz-Nair $5 million wedding can ever help the economy ? In other words, how can an “uneconomical” wedding helping the economy. When I wrote the post, I put off writing how exactly I think it helps. It would take too much time. But I am glad someone asked. This is a long article, give yourself a relaxed 10 minutes from your busy schedules 🙂 .

The reason it helps the economy is largely because the money was spent in India. Money spent means someone gave the money to someone else for a service rendered. It just didn’t disappear somewhere.

These are some of the people that are happier off/better off because of the wedding –

a) Jobs that are created on location in Jodhpur

From domestic servants, bus drivers, chauffeurs, food/pantry related, gifts, security guards, event organizers, waiters….the list is endless.

These jobs would not have existed without the marriage taking place there. Arguably most will be around for a month or so and will be gone after the wedding. But a huge number of the unorganised sector relies on these daily jobs and every extra day’s wage is something. Infact, the government is spending 18000 crore of your money to be able to give people work for 100 days/years. Now you know what I mean. Moreover, in many cases, the existing jobs become more productive – meaning the same seller probably sells more items because of this marriage. That counts for something. The caterers who prepared 80 odd dishes – some flown in, others from India – either way, they need so many helpers to prepare the food and waiters etc.

b) Jobs created elsewhere because of the guests’ preparation for the wedding

Consumption is good for the economy. When Preity Zinta went to the wedding from Bombay ( I presume she did, but that is beside the point), she incurred some expenditure ( atleast a few lakhs ) involving clothes and accessories, travel etc. That money was paid to various people – you may still argue that much of it to already ‘rich’ fashion designers, corporate airlines etc. But still someone is better off without hurting anybody else.

c) Tourism and free publicity abroad :

This might yet be the biggest thing ! India attracts fewer international tourists per year than the single Madame Tussad’s museum/Lourve at Paris. Most Europeans and Americans don’t have India on the top of the charts of tourist destinations. There is so much tourism potential in India, but the main problem is getting people to come the first time. What better than the attending someone’s marriage in India. The cultural tourism if one might call that the Indian marriage and the festivities provided is another showcase of its own kind.

Besides all the mentions and photographs in the celebrity crazy British press do so much for an awareness of India. So many governments spend millions of dollars for whole page advertisements in major western dailies inviting people to visit the country. (Indian businesses and government spent $4 million on the “India Everywhere” campaign in WEF, Davos 2005. ) We are getting that for free.

d) Expenditure of guests and bridegroom/groom in India

Rarely does an international guest come the morning of the marriage and leave the same evening. They spend atleast another few days traveling and taking in the country. They spend in rupees, not in dollars/euros. Each person on average spends over $ 15000. Each time they spend a rupee, its been obtained by exchanging them for dollars/euros. Valuable foreign exchange again. They will go around and buy Indian handicrafts/sarees which sell for a premium when it comes to foreigners, which is a great source of revenue. They are going to take it back to their home country and keep them in their drawing room or perhaps wear it. Atleast a handful of people ( especially women who have a thing for interior decoration ) who walk into your drawing room, look at something and ask where you bought it. Now they want it too. One does not need to have an MBA in marketing to know the cumulative effect of these little things. There is even a term for that – word-of-mouth marketing.

e) Imported flowers, wine etc :

Import duty on wine is nearly 400%. That is invaluable foreign exchange for the country. One might argue that how much wine after all and how many thousand dollars will it add to the already huge ( >$ 100 billion ) foreign exchange reserves, but if the country didn’t gain anything from imported wine ( because hardly any of it is imported), then there would be no duty in the first place. And cliched as it might be, little drops of water make the ocean.

f) Feel good factor

One might think that the rich have all that they want and nothing can make them happier. We couldn’t be more off the mark. Being able to attend a celebrity wedding is a matter of happiness and pride for many – infact, for some guests, this might be the happiest point of their social life. There is no price on this. Also the couple likely didn’t spend much of this. Most of it came from the contract that they signed for the pictures of the wedding with the Hello magazine. Readers of the magazine will no doubt be happy.

~~~~~

Its looking crazy, isn’t it ! I must be mad ! If everybody is gaining, somebody has got to must be losing, isn’t it ! I must be missing something. My knowledge of economics is rather elementary, so I really hope I have not missed anything major.

What are, if at all, the undesirable consequences of this wedding and publicity ? Probably, for that one week, the price of incense sticks, onions and other vegetables must have shot up. The merchants and traders still made money from this temporary scarcity. But maybe, the common man had to put up with it. We have to ask them to be sure. Maybe some foreign tourists who otherwise didn’t know how dirty Indian cities can be, now know it ! ( I am sorry folks. ). And then some people had to put up with the hype and news of the wedding on TV and newspapers. There would be some crap on the TV/newspapers anyway. There too the advertisers made the money.

~~~~~~~~

My point is this – let us not look at economic transactions as zero sum games – where only if you lose, I win and vice versa. Or that whenever one person gets rich, another has to get poor. Or that accumulation of wealth necessarily accompanies exploitation. If that were the case, don’t buy anything – because you might end up making the company/shopkeeper rich ! Just keep all the money to yourself and you will sure get richer. With few exceptions, consensual transactions are by definition acceptable to both and that is because each person sees value in carrying out that transaction.

You might think that Shah Rukh Khan has been ripped off by the Omega Inc. when it sells him a watch for Rs. 1 crore. But then for whatever reason, Mr. Khan sees value in it. It is not a wasteful transaction, certainly not an “uneconomical” transcation. And the fact that he is earning as much as does is because he is creating that much revenue and direct/indirect jobs that generate the revenue. Moreover, while nepotism and Bollywood might be inseparable, they are still paid almost purely on the basis of performance (probably even more than we are !) . ( Just ask Abhishek Bachchan if he makes as much as his dad ).

Finally, coming to the ethical argument – you might say that the $ 5 million could be spent to build x schools and y libraries in z villages. Instead what happened – the $5 million+ money has gone to people who were willing to work, they were willing to work because they (mostly) want to spend it in some meaningful way. Its not perfect system, but then what is ?

In this sense, I would argue that this marriage has been more efficient than any anti-poverty “giving away money” program. As they say, immigration and international trade is and remains the most successful anti-poverty program is the world, certainly more than direct foreign aid to governments.

Let us say you close down American borders. Then add up all the money that workers who would otherwise come to the US and send back home and give it to their government as foreign aid. Firstly, it is the American tax payers money and they are not getting anything in return, they won’t be happy. Secondly, it would be a disaster – the money would not reach the right people. Allowing people to work and earn the money – nothing beats this ! That is why its important that people have skills to offer so that they get jobs and here is where human capital – education and work ethic – are so crucial.

~~~~~~

Time to rest my case. I have argued my case without resorting to the word “individual freedom”. I could have just said that on that grounds alone, Liz-Nair marriage in India is “justified”. But that would an ideological stance and therefore unexciting.

And if atleast one person reading this gets the point, good enough.

“No minister”, Indianness etc. March 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in image, india, politics, sport.
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Few years ago – in  Jan 2005 – Sandeep Shetty, my littlerocker friend sent me this funny article on what it means to be an Indian – “We are like this only“. Long, long article, but worth a read. Captures it all, although there is now some psychoanalytic perspective on this.

For all those doubt that there is such a thing as free press in India, watch this video. Imagine doing this in your favorite Middle-eastern country or military/communist/right-wing dictatorship. Link via Gaurav.

Width of the Panama Canal – just this much.  !!

Hindustan times has changed their format, online atleast. It will take a while to change, but looks much much better. [ Last summer, the Indian Express changed theirs, actually they are coming to resemble the NYTimes page ]

Why Inzamam is one of my favorite cricketers – it is not really a joy to watch him bat, but taking questions from media and/or former cricketers.

With Pakistan answering the hackneyed query about missing the pacers with a superlative show on field, all that Inzamam needed to do was repeat those usual lines that are regularly repeated by mimics posing as the burly batsman. He praised his team by saying “ladke mehnat kar rahe hain”, thanked Allah that “sare batsmen runs kar rahe hain aur bowlers wicket le rahe hain” and finally about his form he said that the “ball balle pe lag rahi hai”.

Cricket is a gentleman’s game with umpires almost dressed as if for an evening ball and players  with their trousers on waiting for the ball to hit ( or come on to ) the bat rather than the other way around. Some laziness 😀 .

The “Where your taxes go” series March 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, politics.
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from Amit Varma. ( I will come to that later )

Meanwhile on the topic from my previous post:

Swapan Dasgupta who has been a favorite ( and since somewhat forgotten ( by myself) ) columnist from my high school days and his India Today days rips apart the Indian political class :

Take the presentation of the Union Budget as an example. Those who have been monitoring the speeches of successive Finance Ministers may have noticed an odd ritual: The mandatory thumping of desks in the Treasury benches whenever the Minister announced an increase in the allotment for either a Ministry or a so-called development scheme. The intensity of the approval is invariably linked to the quantum of budgetary increase. Curiously, this ritual is not party or ideology specific. During the NDA years the champions of the Right behaved in exactly the same way as Congress MPs 10 days ago.

The criticism of the profligate Rs 18,000 crore National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is, therefore, not that the state is incapable of alleviating rural poverty effectively but that more money hasn’t been allotted to digging more useless holes and building more mud roads which will be washed away during the monsoons.

On a slightly paranoid note, one thing about earning no income in India and my meager income here not taxed in India is that it doesn’t find itself in expenditure like the NREG. In fact, Amit Varma maintains an excellent series called “Where your taxes go“. [ I am surprised that he has managed only 17 items since July 2006 🙂 . ] Oh yeah, think now of that collective guilt of American millionaires ( there are more than 7 million of them ) whose taxes ( in millions ) go into meaningless misadventures abroad.

Update : Here is a recommendation that says we need a new Ministry of Implementation. Last thing, I would say.

Small government, good government March 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, politics.
2 comments

….yeah, just like a small family is a happy family.

My friend and littlerocker batchmate writes to Gurcharan Das, former Vice-president and Managing Director of Procter and Gamble worldwide.

Respected Sir,

Greetings. I recently read your book “India Unbound” and must say am very much enlightened about economic history of India. I have a relevant experience my life, that I would like to share with you, which has similar context as mentioned in the your book

I am an MBA aspirant working in United States. I decided to apply to top Indian b-schools via the Overseas/NRI quota. I hope its fine to mention the names of those colleges. Particularly I would like to explain my experiences with 2 such colleges – XLRI Jamshedpur and Shailesh J Mehta School of Mgmt IIT Bombay. (IIT-SOM)

IIT-SOM shares its name with the elite parent education body-IIT Bombay. Being one the finest in the world, it is still a state run organization. Recently the list of candidates who made it to the Group Discussion this year was published. Since I am not applying thru the general category, my name was not listed on the website. I had to call the admissions cell to find out my results. Here is what happens

Day 1) Anxious to know the results and not realizing its evening in India, I call up the admissions cell at 6:30 pm IST. Someone picks up the phone and tells me to call during office hours – 10 am to 5:30 pm IST
Day 2) I stay awake late in the night and call up the admissions cell again. Its 1:00 pm IST – lunch time. I am asked to call back at 3:00
Day 3) I call early today, at about 11:00 am IST. A lady picked up the phone and told me that the admissions officer is out of station and will return on Monday. (I was calling on a Thursday.) I told her my situation. She said the servers are down and she is not able to verify my results. She asked me to call back in a day or two.

4) I call again at 11:00 am IST. The same lady from the previous day answers the phone and she tells me that she does not see my name in the list. However she tells me that the admissions officer may have another list with him. He would be back on Monday and I am to contact him then.

Day 5) Monday – I call up the admissions office again. Luckily I am able to reach the right person. Mr. Admissions Officer tells me that I am not short listed. He gives me a briefing about their selection procedure. I thank him and hang up.

It took me almost a week to find out that I was not short listed. And I thought bad news traveled fast.

Now here is another college – XLRI. It has set up nation wide toll free numbers and hotline numbers in 26 cities in India. Aspirants can call up these numbers for any admissions related query. This service is available Monday thru Friday, 8:00 am to 10:30 pm IST!!! I was so delighted that XLRI is providing customer service like the American companies. I make an international call to the hotline number in Bangalore. Since mine was a special case (NRI/Overseas Candidate), the representative did not have sufficient information. He directed me to the Admissions office in Jamshedpur. I made a call to Jamshedpur immediately. The admissions officer told me that I am short listed for an interview round!!! Good news traveled so fast.

At one side, is the State run elite institute and on the other is a high ranking private college. Is India really Unbound?

Thanks and Regards,
Supreeth”

Reply from Gurcharan Das :

Supreeth,

You are right–India is unbound, but the government is not unbound. It will be a slow process, and they will be kicked and dragged into doing it.

Warmly,
Gurcharan

We in India know that the pathetic quality of government services vis-a-vis private is a rule, not an exception. My colleague and a native of Srilanka, Sanjika is quick to remind me that the opposite holds for his country. I am quick(er) to remind him that worldwide, Srilanka might be an exception rather than the rule. He is not sure – our debates go on 🙂 .

By the way, Mr. Das’s India Unbound is a nice read.

PDM and some amazing women March 9, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, humor, india, movies.
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“Toota phoota dil ye humara, jaisa bhi hai ab ye tumhara”

( My broken heart, though good for nothing, is yours. )

That Kishore Kumar song from Muneemji is one of these popular songs from the yesteryears that I have heard hundreds of times and probably know its lyrics by rote but looks like I haven’t paid attention to what is really the meaning in there. What does that above sentence mean ? I mean, how dare he say that to his lover 🙂 .

Imagine yourself in a shop and you come across this thing you want to buy but you found it slightly damaged. You ask the shopkeeper and he says – “Toota phoota item ye humara, jaisa bhi hai ab ye tumhara” – and insists you pay for it, how would you react 😀 .

That one must rigorously analyse and beat to death the lyrics of heavy weight philosophical types like Chingari Koi Bhadke ( which I think is one of the most meaningful songs out there – ask Rajaram ) is a given. But I guess I must more attention to lyrics from these funny songs.

This is the first in the series of PDMs ( The power of Deliberate misinterpretation ) to provide food for thought.

~~~

Some accounts of some extraordinary women from India – like the woman who has lowered dropout rates by giving away bicycles to little girls ( 450 so far ) so they can go to school ; or the one who has planted over 284 plants ( which are now trees taken over by the Govt. ) in the past 20 years to make up as she says, for her inability to conceive. And many more. Take a look.

And I must forget to mention this gorgeous woman’s marriage that is every bit good for the economy. Whats more :

A London tabloid has bagged exclusive media rights for the event for a reported two million pounds, which is expected to comfortably cover the cost of the 300-guest wedding.

Previous post on celebrity and economy.

World Cup Astrologers’ challenge March 8, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, rant, sport.
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Here is announcing the  The <Sponsor’s name> World Cup Cricket 2007 Astrologers’ challenge. ( Leave a comment if you are a corporate and want free sponsorship.  ) 

In about 2 months from now, the World Cup cricket will be won. And whichever team wins, the newspapers will carry headlines about how a certain astrologer/tarrot card reader/palmist had predicted exactly that. “I told so ! that team X would win because the captain’s planetary motions suggested this unambiguously. ”

Think about it – why do we always hear about future predictions when they have become a story of the past ? This gives a chance to all those rationalists to point fingers at astrology and call it bunk. Let us therefore try to redeem the age old ‘science’ and keep this multi-million dollar industry alive.

Herewith calling all astrologers to make their predictions public. Predit before the World Cup starts, the winners of and in addition the runners up, the other two semi-finalists, highest scorer in the final, highest wicket taker and team that will bat first in the final.

Links : Previous post on astrologers. A prediction made ahead of 2003 final – here

Update : Individual sponsors also welcome. First commenter to this post gets the first offer. 🙂

Random things today March 8, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, humor, india, movies, politics.
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Consider this account of this author’s meeting with Rajiv Gandhi.

Rajiv seemed to like that idea too, and said he tried to follow a maxim of Indira Gandhi’s that every policy should be seen in terms of how it affected the common man. I wryly said the common man often spent away his money on alcohol, to which he said at once it might be better to think of the common woman instead. 

Without taking ideological positions on the international women’s day, don’t you think the Congress’ slogan of “Aaam aadmi” is a sexist expression 😉 . 

~~~ 

 Not so random thoughts yesterday.

….I believe that of all the problems we face, many are of the type that merely demand a break. Not to say that sleep solves problems, but when you return, it gives you a different perspective, you are forced to start thinking afresh rather than remain latched to a specific train of thought that dominated your thought process the previous night. Some demand a month’s break, others demand a week; but by far a large number of them require just a good night’s sleep. Maybe many a historical war would have been averted if the king had fallen asleep to avoid listening to the querulous queen instead of staying awake thinking about what his commander told him.

….that was last night, before I went to bed. ( not that I need a reason to sleep 🙂 )

~~~

An insightful sentence I read today :

“I think people should have a right to be stupid and, if they have that right, the market’s going to respond by supplying as much stupidity as can be sold.”

Pretty much the reason why I don’t support bans on Times of India because of their yellow journalism or such. Let us not underestimate the market for stupidity. But you will also observe that I have almost never linked to the paper and that is because I seldom visit the site.  

~~~

Mira Nair’s “The Namesake” releasing tomorrow. I haven’t ever waited for a movie before.

Food for drought March 7, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, india, rant.
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Let us spend the next two hours reconciling these two pieces of recent news coming out of India.

Item 1 :

In a country where millions go to bed hungry, Rs 1 million worth of food meant as a holy offering at Orissa’s Jagannath temple was destroyed on Friday because a foreigner had entered it — an act seen as defiling the premises.

The shrine administration decided to destroy the food that was prepared for offering to the deities, temple official Laxmidhar Pujapanda said. A mud pit was dug in the premises and the holy offering was thrown in it. The priests, who had stopped rituals since Thursday afternoon, performed purification rituals on Friday, he said. The kitchen areas of the temple were washed, he said.

Item 2 :

India, the world’s second largest wheat producer, has banned all exports of the grain for the rest of the year, according to a statement posted on an official Web site. No wheat was sold overseas in 2006 as the country was forced to import the widely-used commodity for the first time in six years following a poor crop.

You can get away with almost anything on the pretext of our ‘5000 year old culture’.

And oh yeah, its the Brits who are racist, isn’t it. :/

Links from here and here.

On Bono’s campaign March 7, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, economics, india, life, rant.
7 comments

Okay, so you thought very highly of Bono and his friends, their African effort, Time Person of the year etc. So now is this another example of making judgments based on people’s intentions rather than results ?

An article out on Advertising Age, a leading ad magazine reports that although $100 million has been spent on the “RED” campaign to raise funds, the funds collected are a mere $18 million. As MR quotes a fellow blogger :

Just to be clear…

  • Total spent on making Bono more famous = $100million.
  • Total spent on drugs for Africans = $18million.

When do they promise to “break even” ? And how much should to raise to justify the $100 million ( and growing ) spent on ‘awareness’ ?

See previous post on foreign aid here.

Numerous attempts at centralized, monolithic and grand designs to change the world has either failed ( Africa ) or ended up worsening the lot of people ( Communist China & USSR) . And this irrespective of how noble the intentions were. As Milton Friedman doesn’t tire reminding us not to judge policies by their intentions but their results.

So now before I am tagged as cold hearted capitalist, let us take stock and in the process make some disclosures. Over the past 1.5 years, I have made a contribution of a total of $ 400, about 2% of my income :

$115 ( Rs. 5500) to my elementary/primary/high school for the Little Rock Silver jubilee project fund to build a Stadium and Science Laboratory expansion

$75 ( Rs. 4000 ) to the domestic servant back home – for her high school going son’s books and college going girl’s introductory computer course.

$240 – to AID ( Assoc. of India’s Development ) – of which 160 was direct and 80 was for my friend’s marathon running fund raiser ( he lost some 20 kgs in the process ! )

The first was out of gratitude for my school and second was something based on a real and present need. The third was out of wanting to do philanthropy ( although latest allegations over AID funds being channeled to Naxalite/Islamist elements in India means I am not doing it this year ).

~~~

My idea of giving away money for philanthrophic causes has changed over the years. From a bleeding heart liberal from the Jeffrey Saachs school of thought, I have moved into the Bill Easterly school now. I don’t believe in grand missions anymore – I think we can help in smaller ways and still make a difference. If you are in India and have a maid, start with her/him. Or go to your son/daughter’s school or your own alma mater and ask to fund a poor, meritorious child’s education. I want to give to causes closer home ( like the domestic servant ) and hence I am discontinuing my funding to AID. One of my friend’s father, a retired banker volunteers to teach at a neighborhood school and I might consider making a small contribution there. I don’t think we must all wait to have a huge income to start giving something. Scarce income means there is incentive to spend and donate more efficiently and purposefully. If I had a lot of money, I am more likely to give away to causes to wash off my guilt even if it might be spend inefficiently.

Let us now get a count of all those who contribute at least 1% of their income to any kind of a philanthropic cause.

On the other hand, let us now turn over the mike to all those who have disposable incomes, no dependents and no contribution but will still pontificate on one or more of the below :

a) Need for globalization with a human face.
b) Budget for Aam aadmi ( common man )
c) Deterioration of values in society and invasion of ‘western culture’
d) Perils of capitalism and capitalists

And now see how loud it gets.

On a departing note, here is an exercise for the reader : 🙂

“Hypocrisy is the ________ (rule/exception), not the ________ (rule/exception).

Is that hard ? How about now 😀

“Hypocrisy is the ____ (rule/exception), not the ________ (rule/exception).

Worst job in the world March 4, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, politics.
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Could there be a less honorable job than being the spokesman of the party in power ?

Congress president Sonia Gandhi is under no obligation of any kind to ‘justify or explain’ the sensitive Ottavio Quattrocchi issue, the party said. All such speculation is futile and sensational. What she says, when she says and how she says is for her to decide. But no one should assume that she is under any obligation of any kind to justify or explain the issue,” party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said.

Defending the indefensible like post-election behavior in Jharkhand and Goa, Bihar dismissal, attempted UP dismissal, Mr. Q, loss in elections, minister convicted of murder, minister absconding, minister charged of UN scandal dismissed/forced to resign, friends like the CPM, and foes like the SP.

<>Its hard to bullshit when you know you are bullshitting, the other person knows that too, you know that the other person knows it, the other person knows that you know that you are bullshitting. You have to be a really really good lawyer or given to disingenuousness, sophistry and plain shameless. Of course, some would contend he is in the former category. I don’t think it is impossible to be in both of the above.

Cricket and reading habits March 3, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, rant, sport.
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Sadiq points me to this article here on whether Indians really love cricket from Amit Varma. Many of the arguments have been made before – “no other sources of entertainment in the 70s, 80s…etc”, “we love stars more and hence don’t follow small club matches” etc. etc. It is still worth a read, if you are able to that is.

I say this because my ability to read such long articles without explicit sub-headings is diminishing. The longer the article, the more the need to sample it before you read it through. To be fair to Amit, I know that each subheading means 20-30 less words and for a newspaper space is at a premium but understanding this fact doesn’t somehow endow me with the patience to endure a long long write-up. ( but when you the longer version of the article on your blog, you could have put them in !)

I know where this bias comes from – reading mostly short unstructured material ( blog posts ) and long structured material ( technical material ). What we read changes us in more ways than previously thought :).

P.S: And just for the record, why do people write mails ( > 5 sentences ) without paragraphs and with irrelevant subject lines like “Hi” ( for important mails ). Pity me, how am I supposed to search for that mail from the archive when all your mails have the same subject line ! ( Full-body search is slow !)

Pleading ignorance again March 2, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, reminisces-1990s.
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Tananananananaaaah … Tananananananaaaah…. from the 90s. So much about this guy I never knew !

“Ask not what the budget can do for you” March 2, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, politics, reminisces-1990s, reminisces-2000.
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[ Arjun, my LittleRock buddy who inconspicuously hangs around on this blog once a while wrote in asking what I thought about the Budget 2007; what started off that way ended up like this. Although I am almost as good as a layperson and not anywhere like being an expert of budget matters, I hope to atleast reveal my ignorance in a later post. What embarrassment ! Sorry man Arjun, but I am glad you at least made me write a long post on something ]

….and ofcourse, don’t even ask what you can do for the budget !

I remember sitting down before the TV every last week of February for several years in the late 90s and early this decade. For several years since independence it used to happen in the evenings but suddenly earlier this decade it was shifted to the early afternoon. There was a certain excitement about the budget at home partly because my dad and mom have been avid investors and then because every middle-class tax paying family hopes that the taxes are coming down (or at least not going up)

 

I think I just summarized it – the main concern was just that – are the taxes coming down at least this time? Are any new taxes going to be introduced? How will the market react to this tomorrow? Should I be prepared to sell/buy something? The questions that interested my mom would again be similar to the above in addition to whether LPG prices are going to rise/fall ( they almost always never fell). Once a while if a major purchase ( PC/TV etc. ) was due there would some interest as to which way consumer goods prices went (they almost always never fell).

 

These were the questions that interested my father and after this part of the budget he would generally walk off much to my surprise while I would sit there trying to absorb that piece of text with large numbers and complicated jargon. This is no urban legend but I think India’s economic situation must be assessed by the number of digits one gets when one expands every large number in that humongous document. I don’t obviously think I got much of what I read and my understanding today is improved, the budget is still a document which very few people understand (or are even interested ) in the whole.

 

Every person has a limited interest in the budget – limited both in time and space. That is, after a while people adjust their spending patterns such that they are back to square one ; thus the budget having lesser impact over time. And most are interested in a part of the document that concerns them. For example, my dad couldn’t care less about how much is allocated to fighting HIV in the north-east (which certain NGOs might) or some tax relief to the steel industry to start a plant in a backward district of Orissa. This of course is true of the corporates as well though to a lesser extent since they might be interested in overall growth of the economy.

 

Looking back, the middle class had a point and their point was that people in the middle class don’t get SOPs that others do (like “Govt to provide 1 lakh jobs for physically disabled with a salary limit of Rs 25,000 a month” or “Backward Regions Grant Fund to be raised to Rs 5800 crore” ) and so there is not a whole lot that budget can do. The least they could ask is that if you don’t give me anything (through SOPs), at least don’t take away (through tax). Overall macroeconomic growth figures were less of a concern although they do realize that these have a bearing on the stock market and certainly on the overall quality of life. I hope I am not generalizing from just one example of my household but I remember discussions at home with visitors etc. where the talk of budget would be restricted to the taxes and excise/customs duties (which have an impact on the prices) It would help if you have gotten reading till here to relate (in the comments section) how things have been at your home to see if my observations extend beyond the biases sample of middle-class bankers I am talking about.

 

Well, atleast people knew such a thing as the budget exists, when its presented and followed selective sections. What about here in the US ? I don’t know – in the past 2.5 years I haven’t come across anything like a day when the budget being presented in the congress and a few million people switch on their TV sets, get their popcorn (!), watch it, call friends to talk about it, follow it in the newspaper the next day and call friends again ! There is obviously a budget but not eagerly anticipated by the middle-class or so. They would rather watch something of no economic consequence and essentially political like the “State of the Union Address” delivered end of every January and count the number of times the speech was interrupted by applause (!) or contained the word “Iraq” compared to last year.

 

I don’t want to speculate but a possible reason for the above might be just this – Americans hate government. Republicans hate government because they think the government is doing too much – collecting too much taxes and engaging in income redistribution (generally helping minorities ) ; and democrats hate it because they think the government is not doing enough – not taxing the ( generally richer ) republicans enough and in the process increasing equality. On one hand, there is an inherent belief especially among the middle class that the government can’t really do anything for them – it’s just got to be done by ourselves. On the other, there is a deep suspicion of the government that runs in their blood – the idea that government takes “their” money so that it can give it to “others”.

 

People argue that the Indian middle class is going this way too – perhaps not for reasons of individual freedoms that form the basis in America – at least for cynical reasons – that the Indian government/bureaucracy is no good because it is essentially corrupt. Either way, I am glad if this is true. In fact, the government is corrupt because we have given it way too much power. I agree with Amit Varma when he says :

The mistake some of us made when we talk about the budget is in assuming that government spending can solve all our problems. The government may spend more on education, but that doesn’t mean that Indian kids will get anywhere near the education they should, or that the education system will become better. Our mai-baap sarkar may announce a safety net for workers, but that doesn’t mean that workers will benefit. It may extend the REGB, but that doesn’t mean that it is doing anything to enable the growth of employment in this country. In some cases, it might actually be harming the cause of those it claims to benefit, by spending money inefficiently that, had it never been taxed in the first place, would have done more good for the economy.

Its high time we realize that the government (with the bureaucracy) is not the panacea, not an entity that is magically endowed with powers ( and intentions ) of upliftment. Think about it. It is merely a bunch of people who spend others’ (read yours) money for sometimes dubious ends of their political masters as a part of their full-time day job.

Its likely your dad had figured it all long ago without watching this or reading this.

Private sector reservation March 1, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, rant.
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Here is some fluff.

Now, I hope the government goes further and begins a campaign, in earnest this time, to force the private sector to recruit others who lurk in the shadows of India’s shining. Indeed, the idea of reservations in the private sector has been tossed about for some time, but now—as the country moves to being a consumer economy and fights an acute labor crunch—is the right time to act. …

My position is not a popular one among Indians in the US who say affirmative action hurts affluent Indians, especially in the areas of science and technology. Nor is this stance a popular one among my friends here, who claim reservations will mean fewer opportunities, fewer seats. But that’s the very point—to help “them” become more like “us”.

Firstly, the private sector that does not depend on the government for pretty much anything has no obligation whatsoever to fund any of government’s populist schemes. Its only responsibility is to its consumers, shareholders and the environment. The assumption behind the above argument is that the government does not have the means to do good, hence must rope in the private sector ( and thus wash its hands off it). Fallacious one indeed. The proof of pudding is in the eating – what precisely did socialism of 1947-1990 achieve ?

Just thinking… February 28, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, india, politics.
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Random thought ( which means no link follows )

– In India when politicians say that they lost because of the so-called anti-incumbency factor, they are half-admitting that they did a shitty job.

– When politicians come into the studio for a 10-30 min debate, I want to know first what is it that they agree on, if at all there is something. I really don’t care what you disagree on ( which is generally everything ). That will probably make them less exciting and TV channels have a stake there.  But then this is not a school competition where you debate to improve your debating skills;  these debates hopefully should be used to let viewers know where the representatives stand on some issues.

I think I am expecting too much.

~~~

More random thoughts :

What makes you feel richer ?

a) A friend who owed you Rs. 5000 ( $100 ) returns the amount after constant reminders.

b) You unexpectedly find a  Rs. 500 note ($10) in one of the pockets of a trouser you no longer use.

Obviously this depends on the relative amounts. What else does that depend on ?

A little high school reunion February 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, CMU, image, india, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s.
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The past weekend produced one of the more memorable occasions ( and good pictures) in a long time. (The same period produced no blog posts.) Here is one.

img_0228.jpg

[ Clockwise from top : Aneesh, Prakash, Sharath, PC, Joyas, Ashith ; Supreeth behind the camera]

That 3 of them have worked or are still working for the company that these guys founded might explain some similarity with the photograph.

Here is another set of pictures – one shot on Feb 24th, 2007 and another on March 30th, 1999. How many subjects are common to these pictures is left as an exercise to the reader. 🙂

img_0224.jpgon-urmilas-bed-march-30-1999-last-day-of-xii.JPG

One of those is in my lab at CMU ( shot thanks to my (hardworking) colleague Sanjika who was in the lab during a weekend ) and another is in Manipal, on the sets of the Bollywood movie – “Hum Tum Pe Marte Hai” ( roughly translated “I am head over heels in love with you” and literally translated as “I die upon you” ). ( That is as close as anyone would ever get to actress Urmila Matondkar’s residence 😀 ) The story of one boy’s patently unsuccessful struggle (in the latter picture) to control his laughter deserves telling. But another day.

Modern electronic technology has meant that :

– There was no need to carry around a second camera with a black and white role to shoot the first of the 3 pictures. It was shot with Supreeth’s digital SLR – a Canon EOS-Rebel TX.

– We are not stuck with a color image if that is how it was shot ( second image). It takes 2 clicks in an image processing software to grayscale what was originally a color image and mistakenly so.

– We are not stuck with a paper version of an image merely because it was shot with a film camera ( Last image shot with Ashith’s 1983 model Canon AE-1 ).

– And finally, India’s IT prowess, American graduate schools and a little luck somewhere has meant that I have been able to shoot pictures with almost 8% of my high school class in my graduate school lab 10 years later, 15000 kms away 🙂 .

Quick links today February 23, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, geo-politics, humor, india.
2 comments

I know someone who could have written this article, but given the name and age, I figure its not the friend I know :-).

Same topic, but this time it gets dirty – you have to see it to believe it.

And then, the role reversal . You get to see all kinds of people in one day – its a big world 😀 .

~~

What is your bathing style – pick one.

~~

Taking on doctors yet again 😉 :

Nobody pretends medicine is easy, but if there’s one thing we ought to be able to rely on, it’s that the doctors looking out for us are doing more than playing hunches. We take certain medicines because they work, right? We go into the operating room for certain procedures because they’ll make us well, don’t we?

Well, maybe. More and more, however, doctors are making the unnerving case that no matter how reliable a drug or other treatment appears to be, too often there’s simply little hard evidence that it would make a long-term difference in a person’s quality of life or prolonged survival. Obviously, drugs are tested rigorously to show that they are safe and effective before they are approved by the U.S. and other developed countries. But a clinical study is not the real world, and just because a drug leads to a statistically significant improvement in, say, cholesterol levels doesn’t guarantee that the desired effect–a healthier heart and a longer life–will follow. Often your doctor is left to make prescription decisions based at least in part on faith, bias or even an educated guess.

I don’t know how to get through this without offending atleast one group of doctors out there. If I say, the above is surprising the doctors might ask me to name one thing that we are really really sure of and suggest that I am naive to have not known this. On the other hand, should I say the above is just a fact of life that we live with, then I risk being admonished for disrespecting a profession that is based on rigorous science. Nevertheless, I lean on the latter.

~~

India and China have per capita carbon emissions of 1.19 and  3.2 (as of 2003) tonnes. The rich countries average about 15. What then happens when we get there ? I don’t know. Do I worry about global warming ? That debate has blood stains over it – the blood of demagogues on both sides – and I claim ignorance, stay away. But I might well be accused of hypocrisy here. Afterall the same is true of evolution/I.D, free market Vs. collectivist societies. Yet, those are favorite topics. Why ? Perhaps because climate change is one of the most boring ( to me ) topics out there. I can’t imagine talking on the topic for more than 2 minutes. ( No disrespect to climate scientists. )

When I was just a little boy…. February 22, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, KREC, life, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s, reminisces-2000.
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He and his wife, Deborah, have two boys and a girl (her favorite subjects are history and math—“a good recipe for what an economist does”).

Linked from here.

That thing in the bracket caught my eye. The small-town/sub-urban ( not in the American sense ) India of the day I grow up in the mid-90s, that would be odd – history and math was impossible to study together after Class X. ( Economics is more mathematical than not, even if there is a fair bit of economic history involved. ) Thinking about it today, its strange – is it true that it is hard to have good aptitude for both ?

Its heartening then that when I asked my 14 year old cousin what she wanted to do after the class X exams, she said – “I don’t know what I want to do, instead I know what I won’t. Medical and Engineering is out of the way.” A few years ago only those who sincerely thought or were made to think that their education upto Class X had not revealed any math or science aptitude would venture to say that. But this girl is somewhere in the top of her class and has been so, for as long as she can remember. While I do not advocate that one be opposed to something out of the commonplace nature of it or merely for the heck of it even if one has excellent aptitude, it is still a positive development. But then I am not sure it has changed that much today, atleast outside of metropolis.

It is not like the only advice I got was to take up Engineering. Here is what I can recall looking back – sitting in the staffroom visiting my teachers during the holiday in April 1996, my chemistry teacher of Class IX asked me if ever thought of taking up writing as a full-time career. Neeta Kishore, English teacher of Class VIII told my mom in July 1996 that I should consider taking up the IFS ( Indian Foreign Service ) because I am argumentative but diplomatic and hence would likely have good negotiation skills. End of 1999 at KREC in the Technical English class after I read an essay out aloud, the teacher said – “3 years from now when you have your placements, if you don’t get an Engineering job, you can consider a news reader’s position.” And finally there is no count of number of recommendations about doing an MBA.

And what did I end up doing – Electrical Engineering for 4 years studying primarily electric circuits, control systems, power systems and moved into signal processing – speech and image processing for 2 years – an year at IISc Bangalore and then at Boston. And now moved into statistics and language/information processing. While these changes have come completely out of choice, I have become an ‘outsider’ every 2 years. Ofcourse, this change is more marginal than others I have seen and I am only a student, beginner among beginners. There are scores of those whose current work has nothing whatsoever to do with their Masters/Ph.D work from the 1970s – these people have continuously moved on from one thing to another ( without writing blog entries about it 🙂 ).

Thinking about it then, becoming an Engineer is the only advice I did not get. And that is probably so because one suggests something mostly when they think the option might not otherwise occur to someone. And Engineering happened to be ( and perhaps continues to be ) a default choice for someone with my background – middle class, good schooling and such, so it was not something to be recommended I guess.

Coming back to the stuff within parenthesis in the extract above, had I attempted to try another combination of History, Economics, Math, Physics and English, what would things be like today ? Likely very different. I believe that baring a few, there might not be such a thing as one’s call. Our comparative advantages build much later in life ( 11+ years ) and a majority of us can develop skills to take up a range of professions. And I believe that admitting this is not an insult to your current occupation/employer/alma-maters.

In other words, “I was born to be <insert a practitioner of your favorite profession> ” might be an exaggeration more often than not.

The Italian connection February 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, image, india, politics.
2 comments

What are the shared aspects of Indian and Italian politics ? ( Ofcourse apart from the fact that India has an italian born prime minister leader of largest political party ? ).

Here is one more.

If you thought that India has elections too often and a list of unforgettable ( and unworthy of memory ) prime ministers, wait till you see this. Since 1946, Italy has had 16 elections and hold your breath, 37 governments and 25 prime ministers. ( because 6 people became PM twice, 1 person thrice and another one person ( Amintore Fanfani ) 5 times !!! ) Mr. Fanfani was PM for some time in the 1950s, 1960s and 80s as well. ( I would have died of nostalgia ! ) There were 12 PMs between the first and the last time he became PM ! How many Italians do you think can name all the PMs in the last 50 years ? ( By the way, how many Indians can name all Indian PMs in order ? No that might be too much, at least get the name right ? )

Looking at this picture of the Italian opposition when the current minister Mr. Romano Prodi ( who just visited India ) was to resign, I wonder what would have to happen to make me half as happy as they look in the picture 😀 . That picture is priceless !!

Inspite of everything, Italy is the 5th largest economy in the world.

Google and Uma Bharati February 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india, technology, weird.
6 comments

The “ad” you see below is NOT an advertisement.

Its an image and is used here because this post is about Google ads.

 

Over an year ago in Dec 2005, I read an article by Vir Sanghvi that was about Uma Bharati’s life, around the time she was on the way towards being kicked out of BJP or so. When I finished reading the article, the ads from Google at the bottom caught my eyes. I generally don’t notice these ads, far from clicking on them and so its clear from Google’s revenue that they can do without people like me. But this was strange and I had the good sense to save that page. Here are the ads.

Okay, its not completely out of place because the article talked about Uma Bharati’s failed affair with Govindacharya in these terms:

When she began to discover her emotions, her rivals in the Madhya Pradesh BJP spread the foulest and most vicious stories about her character. Her relationship with Govindacharya became the subject of scandalous gossip and, ultimately, she was driven to such deep despair that she considered giving it all up.

Yeah, I know – why blame google when Vir Sanghvi is the real curlprit 😀 . Later Vir Sanghvi says :

Meanwhile, we in the media (and as somebody who has been sued for libel by Uma in the past, I don’t think I can exclude myself from this category) did our bit. We called her the sexy sanyasin’. We focused on her gender and her love life to the exclusion of her politics.

So you see, not very surprising because Google uses the linguistic content ( words ) to automatically decide what ads go on to what page. But somehow any follower of Indian politics would find these ads out of place. No, I am not saying they are offensive, just saying they are amusing !This inspite of the fact that in the same article Vir Sanghvi writes :

She emerged from that phase as a sanyasin, having been forced to abandon her last chance at living some kind of normal life.

Now imagine ads that are inviting people to explore a prospective alliance with a “beautiful, hindu, single” sanyasin. But then current technology has not got to a stage where it can use common sense to rule out certain ads. Ofcourse, folks at Google might still argue that if not Uma Bharati, atleast Govindacharya is “beautiful, hindu, single” non-sanyasi 😉 . But lets keep that question aside.

It was now natural to check out what ads are present on the same page right now because ads change depending on several factors. It turns out there are no ads from Google on that page. Why ? Is it because Google no longer considers Uma Bharati “beautiful, hindu and single” enough ? 🙂 Or that she doesn’t read the Gita !

Or is it the more natural reason that people hosting these ads ask google not to put it on a year old page where normal people are unlikely to see it. But I am worried why the Bajrang Dal and VHP haven’t taken this issue up with Google. 😉

We dont need no…cognitive dissonance February 19, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, media, rant, statistics.
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Observe where the commas fall :

Thousand – 1,000 ;

Lakh – 1,00,000

Crore- 1,00,00,000

Thousand crore : 1000,00,00,000

Lakh crore : 1,00,000,00,00,000

Do you have an intuitive feel for that number ? Moreover, is this how you write what you read as 1 lakh crore ? If so, that is one of most ugliest whole numbers out there  – how can the commas just go where they feel like !!

And then there are the Americans :

Thousand – 1,000

Hundred thousand – 100,000

Million – 1,000,000

Billion – 1,000,000,000

Trillion – 1,000,000,000

Okay, more regular. Agreed.

So we know that Rs. 100 lakhs is Rs. 1 crore and a thousand million dollars is a billion dollars. We understand this – it goes with the convention and there is no cognitive dissonance. An example of cognitive dissonance – try to answer this question in 3 seconds :

India is a nation of 1100 million and 18% of it lives in UP. What is the population of UP in lakhs ?

Then why does Rediff* use the notation : Rs. 374.15 billion. Does it also say : “Bill Gates is worth 450 crore dollars.”

Why not ?

* – More recently, rediff has a slightly more palatable format.

A rare compliment to Indian husbands February 18, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, life.
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Mitra Kalita of MINT has a letter to all Indian husbands. Its surprisingly complimentary, one in a long time, as she talks of how behind every successful (married, working) woman, there is an understanding husband. ( that the converse is as true goes without saying)

And so we type this letter (in between meetings, of course) to you as a way of acknowledging you husbands out there who have made our climbs up the ladder possible. You should know who you are because you are likely the ones who either dropped off or picked up the children from school today, paid the electricity and mobile bills, and bought the gift for our great-aunt’s 83rd birthday party this weekend (although we called and reminded you every step of the way). Unlike those who lived a 14 February filled with flowers and perfume, we were grateful to come home to find you reading to the children and the clothes washed and ironed; we kissed you all goodnight and turned on the laptop.

Hurrah, I promised myself exactly this kind of a life when I wrote on this subject before. :-).

Most interesting article and then something else.. February 18, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, economics, geo-politics, india, videos.
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Excellent article on the subject in a long time. Funniest part :

He pointed out that it took the U.S. 15 years after World War II to learn to think seriously about the security of its weapons. Before that, weapons did not have combination locks, let alone complex electronic security codes. Now, most weapons will not detonate even if given the codes unless they are at their designated targets. He recalled that a friend who had a role in developing the weapons told him that one day in the late 1950s, he got off a plane at an air base in Germany and saw a military aircraft on the tarmac with a bomb beside it guarded by a single soldier. In those days there were not locks and codes. The man strolled over and asked the soldier what this was. The answer: “I believe it is a nuclear bomb, sir.” When asked what he would do if someone started to roll the weapon away, the soldier replied that he would call his superiors for instructions. A further enquiry established that the phone was some 300 meters away.

In this 3 minute video, Columbia economist ( and a likely future Nobel Economics winner ) Jagdish Bhagwati has some interesting things to say on the success of Indians in America and why he took up the US citizenship after several years of being a green card holder.

A 2 minute short video again – Nobel Laureate Economist Gary Becker talking about average behavior and idiosyncratic behavior. Nail on the head ! [ Useful for those under one of these categories ]. I wrote about averages in one of my earliest posts.

Any guesses about the US Navy phone bill ? Clue : From this chart it appears that its larger than the entire military budgets of all but top 30 countries.

Yahoo answers stuff February 16, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, humor, india, technology.
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Yahoo answers is an undisputed leader in this sub-discipline of social networking.

Sometimes very interesting things happen. Like this question from Hillary Clinton. Or this one from, hold your breath, Abdul Kalam. ( Yahoo (somehow) ensures there is no impersonation here. ). Some questions though are funny, to say the least. An example. Another example.

Assorted links February 16, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, economics, india, movies, politics, sport.
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If after this match, one must have this to say : “The last time that Australia had a run rate below 3 in a completed first innings of an ODI was in the 1979 world cup”, it goes on to show how dominating the team has been in the first place.

~~

Amit Varma has a new blog layout.

~~

Misfortune awaits. Deepak Krishnan says :

Its been a long time since I felt for any cause after I left college. Dealing with work pressures, adjusting to life in Bombay and a general indoctrination into hi-fi fundas of commercialisation, I had almost forgotten my socialist leanings of the past two years. Time to unleash them!!

Deepak, we must talk. Heard about the Truman doctrine, haven’t you 🙂

~~

Stupid politicians everywhere. We will check back in due course to see how much of this nonsense will be accomplished without rendering solutions worse than the problems.

In a two-hour speech to about 10,000 supporters north of Paris, she laid out a 100-proposal platform, pledging to raise pensions, to increase the minimum wage to €1,500, or about $2,000, a month and to guarantee a job or further training for every youth within six months of graduating from university.

Did I read that right ? 100-proposals ? I am beginning to have an itch that no emoticon can satisfy.

~~

Commonsensical ( and therefore non-obvious ) notes on how blogging is so much like the free market.
~~~

Ripping Amitabh Bachchan. Somebody out there would call a spade nothing but. Another spade-caller ripping the Congress/UPA government.

And the biggest of them all.

To dr. or not to dr. February 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, geo-politics, humor, india, politics.
1 comment so far

“We thought everybody in their right mind ought to get a Ph.D.”

That’s google-mom, I mean, Sergey Brin’s mom. As I enter into the millionth phase of the battle within – trying to answer the question about whether I should go for a Ph.D. or quit and seek out a corporate position, I see obviously unsolicited suggestions 🙂 coming from everywhere – people in the media first and now celebrity moms :D.

Its a bit like the Iraq insurgency – a few months ago I thought that the question was settled – no Ph.D. for me – I thought that the daily battle between the Shias and Sunnis within was nearing the end, that the “insurgency was in its last throes“, until I shot the lawyer…..uuh….. hmm…I mean that metaphor just spun itself out of control.

In the end though, I hope I have a reason for what I decide to do, for I can’t get away by just saying that “the ball was not coming on to the bat and the odd ball kept low.” As I despondently look forward to confidence building measures, peaceful settlement through bilateral talks, my right to self-determination, early resolution of this vexed dispute, issue, matter, idea, theme, thought, CNN-IBN reminds me that there are more important things in life.

Until then I agree to disagree with myself. Sooner or later, when the ice melts I expect a thaw in my relations. With myself. And then I hope all outstanding issues, including the core issue that of Ph.D, will be amicably resolved. Ofcourse, without re-drawing the map.

Looking down on your own February 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, rant.
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I tried picking up some quote from this article by Pratap Bhanu Mehta on the recent Fulbright Scholar Visa controversy. And I couldn’t. Every sentence in that article is worth reading.

On a similar line. although on a different topic, taking the Government to task is Vir Sanghvi.

Indeed, a government that infantalizes its citizens cannot expect them to act as anything but infants.

And you thought … February 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, rant.
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getting a visa for Indians to visit/study in the United States is a problem.

Worst article today February 8, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, politics, rant.
2 comments

and in a long time

Perhaps the BJP, which is bankrupt of issues, may pick up this thread from the Shiv Sena and use the 82 year-old Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the next Lok Sabha elections, sitting on a chair and begging for votes. You can well imagine how the voters are going to react. How are we going to counter this emotional threat that shall be before us in the next Lok Sabha elections? Because elections are not about simple arithmetic. As recent events suggest, they may hinge on emotional chemistry.

The author, Mr. Sanjay Nirupam, fought the last Lok Sabha elections ( May 2004 ) on the Shiv Sena ticket as a part of the NDA alliance headed by Vajpayee. ( I think he lost to Sunil Dutt ). He is now a Congress member. He can do with a little courtesy when he writes in a national daily.

P.S : What is the probability that at 82 Mr. Nirupam will be our former PM ?

420 February 6, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in history, india.
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One of the most informative articles of its kind in a while.

Still, Macaulay might have been amused by the fact that of his vast and complex Code, perhaps only two sections are known to most Indians. These are Section 144, which prohibits gatherings of more than five people whenever the Government perceives a threat to “law and order”; and Section 420, which defines what is counterfeiting. Indeed, the latter section, rendered in the vernacular, has even become a verb: so that we can now call a trickster of our acquaintance a “char sau bis”.

No, I confess, I really didnt know that Section 420 part. Embarassing, I know. ( On second thoughts, maybe because I am not one 😉 ).

"Transparency, Indian Consulate Style" February 4, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, rant.
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I am not going to say anything. Just read this.

Note : Mr. Prakash quoted in the article is the same as the rediff columnist.

Mint : The new bloke on the block February 3, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media.
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Like Amit Sharma ( and not necessarily for the same reasons – he will be writing for them), I am quite excited about the new business paper from the HT – The Mint.

That they have tied up with the WSJ would mean they are going to free-market in their slant. As the editorial says :

Economic freedoms have increased manifold since 1991. Yet, India continues
to have one of the most fettered economic systems in the world. We still live in
a country that is technically socialist and where the right to property is not a
fundamental right. The state can brazenly take over private land for what it
believes to be the public good. The freedom to truck, barter and trade is still
suppressed. A farmer cannot sell his grain in the next state. We believe that
trade among people and nations promotes specialization, transfers knowledge and
advances prosperity. The creative energies of Indians have been suppressed by a
state that once had paternalistic ambitions, but which has become increasingly
corrupt and inefficient. This paper will be a voice in support of the transfer
of power from state to market.

Moreover, as is mentioned here :

We will not dilute our usefulness by attempting to be all things to all people,
or be a general newspaper. Nor will our focus be narrowly stock markets
oriented: While the numbers are growing, less than 3% of all Indians own shares.

Their website looks good – no clutter there – not at least for now. I hope they stay that way. I like the content – whatever I spent a little time surfing. Expect more links from there ! I haven’t been following the Economic Times lately, but I (really) hope Mint breaks their back. Its going to take some time – lets give them 5 years to capture a sizeable market share.

Ms. Rai and her many husbands February 3, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, movies, rant.
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Fighting idiocy with more idiocy.

Aishwarya is a Manglik (astrologically Mars-bearing), which is believed to
have negative consequences for her impending marriage. The actress is said to
have married a peepal tree at Benaras, a banana tree at a Bangalore temple and a
god’s idol in Ayodhya.

Does Mr. Rai realize that if the same set of rituals/principles that suggest that she marry trees because of her astrological endowments insisted that Mangliks be killed at birth, she would not be alive.

And there is more idiocy :

Lawyer Shruti Singh, who filed the PIL earlier this week, says the ritual
promotes untouchability. “I filed a PIL to stop such practices as reportedly
conducted by actor Amitabh Bachchan for his future daughter-in-law Aishwarya
Rai. It is in violation of Article 17 of the Constitution, which prohibits
untouchability. It also violates fundamental human rights,” said Shruti.

No, thats not all. The night before as I was taking the CMU college shuttle back home at 2:30 am, the driver was listening to a radio show where a ‘demonologist’ was being interviewed. Yeah, I don’t know if there is such a word, but yeah, as you guessed, he studies demons for a living.

Now from the CIA factbook, the literacy figures : India : 59.5% ; USA : 99%

CNN-IBN – setting the (lower) bound for Indian journalism January 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, rant.
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CNN IBN’s Raksha Shetty on Suneil Shetty :

Actor Suniel Shetty, also a successful hotelier, attributes his survival in the film industry almost purely to his Bunt background and the disciplined work ethic that comes with it.

“I used to work in my father’s hotel for about 18 hours a day, in the kitchen, doing the accounts etc. So when I came to the film industry it was much easier. It has made me strong here in this industry,” he says.

I have an objection with most of what is written above but primarily with the use of “almost purely”.

Now lets imagine what actually happened. Shilpa Shetty won n all and reporter Raksha Shetty decided that it was a good opportunity to write about the Bunt community. She asked the actor about his background and how it helped him. What could Mr. Shetty say ? He is a celebrity after all and he can’t hurt people’s sentiments nor anger them by saying “No, my community didn’t matter. My father is a hard task master and if I didnt work as hard as he did, he would whip my arse”. He can’t even say – “No comments.” So he said something that that would not piss off anyone and would please his fellow community members. ( including the reporter ). Pareto optimum solution as they say !

Whether what Suniel said is true or whether he said so merely not to piss off anyone, such an exchange is not of any value in a national channel’s website. If you want to highlight the achievements of the Bunt community, it makes more sense to come up with some numbers, sound statistics like Per capita, % with Bachelors degree, number of businesses owned relative to population rather than getting sound bytes from people whose only job is giving them out.

The last sentence from the article takes the cake though :

Call it values or a sheer survival instinct, from the dreaded underworld gangster Sharad Shetty to Aishwarya Rai to this correspondent, the small population isn’t stopping the Bunt community from forging ahead.

Excuse me Ms. Raksha Shetty, you obviously look forward to your children’s success and would love to see them “forge ahead in life” – is the Mumbai underworld a prospective career for them then ? Or was that a tongue-in-cheek remark ?

State ‘conspiracy’ against education January 30, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, politics.
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Thinking about the previous post and the comments from Abhinav, I just thought about all those unrecognized private schools in India. What worries me is that government forces unrecognized schools to close down. There is no need to do that – all that is required is to make sure that people don’t enroll their children into these schools thinking they are recognized. To avoid this :

– Make it mandatory that they inform everyone that they are not recognized.

– One may argue why will the schools do this. So, in addition to the above, let the government release a list of recognized schools in every locality every 4 months.

Recognized schools matter if the student is planning to pursue higher studies. But for now, there are millions who would be happy to get low, good quality education even upto class XII. That itself can open up so many jobs. That way those who want to have education ( perhaps at a lower price ) will go anyway. Moreover, colleges may conduct entrance examinations and if a child from an unrecognized school is really smart, he will make it anyway. May the college have no rules that in addition to having a good rank, the child must be from a recognized school – the fact that she/he has cleared a exam administered by the college itself means she/he is upto the mark.

In addition to the purely utilitarian reasons above, forcing schools to close down

a) is against the right of the individual to expression.

b) deprives many of education, who need it but can’t pay for good private schools or the government schools are far way.

c) puts the teachers who are just happy with their (lower) pay and (lack of) status that comes with teaching at a unrecognized schoo out of jobs.

Who does closing schools help – only the education department inspectors who can make money by taking bribes to recognize schools or from one school to keep a rival school unrecognized !! This is yet another classic example of how the government bureaucracy ( even if inadvertently) conspires to keep millions uneducated.

Update: In the comments section Abhinav alleges that the politicians intentionally ensure that uneducated remain so. Perhaps to a certain extent but something else may be more likely. I would assert that a) there appears to be more indifference rather than direct opposition on the part of the politicians i.e. they do not really care, while they may not go all out to ensure widespread illiteracy and b) in collusion with the bureaucracy, the government brings in excessive regulations in the name of ensuring quality.

My school, their schools January 29, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, india, littlerockers, reminisces-2000.
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A really touching post ( with photographs ) about the state of the government schools and some unrecognized schools in India. Just take a look at those pictures and come back to see the pictures of the school I went to – here, here & here.

No, I come from a middle-class background – nevertheless, my schooling I understand was nearly top class – not perhaps like those Ooty/Dehradun schools, but pretty much value adding.

As Bill Gates says in this fascinating interview with Charlie Rose, birth is the biggest lottery you can get. Its quite another thing that lot of countries have reached a stage where institutions, opportunities and personal freedoms come together to ensure that the vicious cycle of poverty doesn’t set in. We in India will hopefully get there in a while.

In a free country …. January 27, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, rant.
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Apparently Mr. Bachchan wants to pray to the ‘gods’ and in the process, he and his friends in the UP government will trample on people’s livelihood. This can happen only in a ‘free country’ like India. Mr. Bachchan, instead of giving out platitudes about being impressed with the love of your fans and the people of India, do something.

While fans in the city might be a happy lot, local traders are not all that amused. The police have ordered shops to shut down during the visit of the superstars. Therefore it is more of a question of livelihood for them more than a sneak peak at their Bollywood idols.

“It’s a matter of our livelihood. Once they come we will have to shut our shops,” a trader says.

“It’s good to get a glimpse of stars but we will have to keep our shops closed,” another trader adds.

“Once the stars arrive roads will be blocked and it will be difficult for everyone including the other devotees,” another trader says.

So the Bachchan’s spree to please the gods and goddess continues and while the visit has been perfectly timed to Amar Singh’s birthday, sources tell us that a ceremony for Ash and Abhishek is also on the programme.

Economics of misinformation January 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, politics, rant.
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I am not surprised by the results of this survey.

The surveys says :

Instead of asking people about actual economic policies, the survey gave them two fairly worded policy options and asked the people to choose one.

And then it appears that in order to find out whether people support foreign investment or not, they are given these options.

Support: Govt. should allow, foreign companies to come into our country since they bring more capital and technology..

Oppose: Govt. should not allow foreign companies to come in our country because they exploit us and take profits away

If that is how you word your survey, it would require a fool to support foreign investment. What, may I ask, is fairly worded about it ?

When 26% of the entire population believe that reforms have benefitted only the rich as one of the tables suggest, the headline is that “Everyone agrees that reforms have benefited only the rich”. 26 is not equal to 0.

Mr. Yogendra Yadav, don’t tell us to opine what you think and what you we should opine.15 years back if you had asked the general public whether the government should run telecom and ban private cell phone companies, a huge majority would have said yes. What else do you expect when generation after generation is brought up to believe that to have a secure government job is everything. I want to visit your house and see what consumer appliances you use – Kelvinator/LG ? A BSNL net connection or Airtel/Sify.

And all this when barely 3% understand what reforms really mean ? What percentage of the population understands the meaning of “downsizing the government”. I would think that would be less than 3%. Did you explain it to them ? If so, in what words ? Reading stuff like this, I am sometimes inclined to stretch so far as to say that we should consider teaching economic history of the world and free-market economics in our high schools even at the cost of some Trignometry/ calculus/English. While each and every individual who consumes goods and/or has purchasing power is a cog in the machine that the economy is, barely a handful have an idea how economies work even in the most elementary terms.

Some of those in the Indian media should just shut shop. Or not handle subjects when you can’t do it competently. Just stick to Abhishek-Aishwaraya, the item girls and SRK-BigB- in a country of a billion, you will (unfortunately) find at least a few million underemployed who will keep your shop. running.

The more educated you are…. January 25, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, science, statistics.
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Another survey – this about religion and India. A similar table, similar statistics for America. [ Harris Poll ]

Some differences –

57% believe in heaven/hell in India ; 85% according to this survey. [ Remember thats a Fox news poll ! ]

Biggest difference yet I think is this : More educated you are in America, less religious you are. While in India, its the other way around. Baffling, ain’t it – something about American education or Indian religion. :p

Also rural India is less religious than urban India ; in America its possibly the other way around – I have no data on this though. Understandably, food, shelter and clothing is more fundamental needs than belief, philosophy etc. – its not surprising thats on top of their mind.

Top 1% or bottom 1% January 24, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india, rant, statistics.
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One line summary of this post : 20% of those who want to marry virgins have accosted prostitutes. 26% of those who did accost prostitutes want to marry virgins. Hypocrisy wins yet again !!

Consider the question (put to men) asked as a part of the survey : At what age did you first have sex?

Now look at the response and guess the city where the survey was conducted.

LESS THAN 15 YEARS – 11%
16-18 YEARS – 41%
18-21 YEARS – 36%
22-25 YEARS – 12%

Answer : With a robust sample size of 2,559 males across 11 cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Patna, Ludhiana, Kolkata and Chennai), street-corner sampling was used to find respondents from the India Today latest issue.

Wow ! Shocker indeed. Disbelief. Maybe I have lost touch with urban India or was never in touch. Or respondents are plain lying. Or the poll methodolgy is suspect. Its got to be one of them. Those numbers add up to 100 %. Is there nobody in the >25 years bracket ? Not even in Bangalore ? ( Cmon yaar ! I know a few. Well, maybe the survey tells me I don’t know them well enough !). Or did India Today choose to talk to men below 25.

Rajaram, I remember your 1% minority funda. The debate was just about whether that was top 1% or bottom 1% ! 🙂

But I guess according to this survey, the Urban Indian man should get an award for hypocrisy. As the Reuters report quoting the survey doesnt fail to point out :

Nearly two-thirds of young Indian men expect the woman they marry to be a virgin, but nearly half have had sex with prostitutes, according to a poll.

Let me do some math here. If there are 100 men, 50 of them have accosted prostitutes and the other 50 haven’t. Now 63 of the 100 expect to marry virgins. That means in the best case, of these 63, 50 are those who didnt accost prostitutes and 13 are those who did !! In the worst ( and more unlikely case ), of the 63, 50 are those who did accost prostitutes and 13 who didnt !! That means in the best case scenario, 13/63, nearly 20% of those who want to marry virgins have accosted prostitutes. Worse still, 13/50 nearly 26% of those who did accost prostitutes want to marry virgins.

Oh Indian man ! how, I wonder, do you manage to look at yourself in the mirror ? Double standards man, thats the way to go. I really hate people who have so-called ‘single standards’ !

Bollywood, Bush and Nitihari January 24, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, economics, india, politics.
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Amit Varma has well-written post slams Bollywood for its historical potrayal of businesses as unethical, of never having celebrated human enterprise and expresses glee that Bollywood might finally be going capitalist ! While I am tempted to say – “Too little too late, I change my mind” (to Bollywood, not Amit ! ) , I will make a departure and instead say this.

In Bollywood, over the ages, one of the template villains has been the businessman. He will look suitably sinister, will alienate his own children, and will either deal in drugs or arms on the side, or spend his time evicting slum dwellers. Anything for profit, especially murder and rape. Most Bollywood businessman villains were classic caricatures of “the evil capitalist,” exploiting the workers and growing rich on their blood and toil. They often freelanced as mafia dons or were crony capitalists, but when the hero raged against their greed, this distinction was lost: business—and the profit motive—were itself painted as twisted, and the rare benevolent businessman stood out starkly as an exception to the rule.

Amar Singh meanwhile thinks Nitihari is not a law and order problem. He says don’t politicize it – its a problem with the system he says – and proceeds to do exactly that in his next sentence. Well, what if it happened in a Congress/BJP ruled state ?

Karan Thapar: Both, how they handled it before the killings were discovered, when they were avoiding registering FIRs, and afterwards?

Amar Singh: I am fully agreed with you that nobody should be spared. But my only thing is politicisation of this entire issue is wrong.

Karan Thapar:I agree with you. I am not politicising, I am trying to establish the truth and your opposition.

Amar Singh: I am using your forum for a noble message. I am not attacking anybody. Whether it is Nithari; where it is Gurgaon serial killings, where for Rs 100, 28 people were killed; or it is Mukhtsar where the same kind of crime was discovered in the premises of a Congress leader; or it is the Hyderabad skeletons…

Statistical analysis of the State of the Union address. Hmm..statistics catching on in the mainstream media :p. Type in a word to see how often its been occurring over the years.

Foreign aid and welfare January 23, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, india.
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Becker and Posner have 2 essays on the idea of foreign aid to developing countries not quite serving the purpose. Becker cites India as an example :

India is my favorite example to illustrate the failure of government foreign aid. From the fifties until the end of the 1980’s more private and government aid went to India than to any other country. Yet during that same time period, India had a very modest growth in per capita income of about 1 percent per year-sometimes resignedly called in those days the “Hindu rate of growth”. I am not claiming that foreign aid was the main source of India’s mediocre performance, but it clearly did not overcome the bad economic policies of its government. In fact, aid may well have encouraged these policies as the India government could always count on foreign aid to help it out of the worst aspects of any mess caused by its restrictions on foreign trade, severe controls over private investment even by Indian companies, and neglect of basic education, roads, and agriculture.

Fortunately, in the early 1990’s, the Indian government recognized that the real cause of its economic problems was not insufficient aid, but its own policies. Reforms at that time include opening up more investments to the private sector, greatly lowering tariffs, quotas, and other barriers to foreign trade, and changes in its thinking about relying on rich countries to help its development. Indeed, India can legitimately claim that now one important obstacle to its growth comes from the very same rich countries which had been important donors because of their import restrictions that hinder the access of Indian farmers and manufacturers to their markets.

I think lots of Indians would agree with that. So many things I read remind of me of this. [ Or read this ]

But Posner gets my points for being such an excellent writer. He also takes a chance to compare the effects of foreign aid to that of welfare payments – dependence on dole – and also explains what is marginal income tax. I wonder how long he took to write such a well-written piece. I look forward to being so good at at least one thing, one subject so that I can author a few well-written pieces on that topic. I think we should consider such a goal worth striving for.

I linked to Posner before.

The economics of cricket January 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, sport.
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Scheduling matches and locations has got more to do with commerce than meets the common man’s eye.

A bilateral contest between India and the world’s number one team is aimed at capitalising on India’s lucrative pay television market, with each of the planned seven games expected to generate up to $6 million. A triangular contest would mean lesser returns for each participant, apart from relative lack of viewer interest when India fails to make it to the finals as happened in the DLF Cup in Malaysia in October 2006. The BCCI reportedly sold the offshore television rights for each game in the series that featured India for $US5.8m but had to offload the Australia-West Indies matches for only $US1.2m.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Indians are believed to hold the upper hand in the negotiations, for any of the other major nations – West Indies, South Africa, England or Pakistan – would jump at the chance to make millions were Australia to refuse to play. Yet, the paper also cited insiders as claiming that the Indian board was desperate to get the Australians on board if they hoped to raise $ 42 million from the series.

..been a while January 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, sport.
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since we saw a headline like that. Good to have you back, man.

"Unstructured struggle" January 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, life.
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Paul Farhi seeks to burst the myths of American education system in this article. I am not qualified to make overall judgements on his arguments but this little extract seems relevant.

Recently, Newsweek International’s Fareed Zakaria noted Singapore’s success on international math and science exams, but asked Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam why Singapore produced so few top-ranked scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, business executives and academics. “We both have meritocracies,” he replied. America’s “is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well — like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America.”

Its strikingly similar to what I wrote to a friend on July 24, 2005 as I warned him about how its different here.

This whole thing is a long haul – it’s several solitary marathons. Its not like sitting in a class with 100 other students. It’s not just about getting good grades and cracking exams.
This struggle is unstructured – where you have no clear-cut guidelines and precedents to go by. More importantly, its solitary – each case is unique and in the end, apart from your academic ability, what matters is your own ingenuity to see and seize opportunities, take informed decisions and calculated risks. In some sense, it gauges the extent to which you can work within the American system, which places a great importance on unstructured struggle, something that gives the individual a better opportunity to differentiate himself from the crowd than merely from standard exam scores. ( Ofcourse, the American system has other problems – best left for another day! )

When you look back a few years from now, you will probably see that you have had no examples to follow and that much of what you did was never done before. That really will be your legacy.

Mathematics and Government ! January 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, humor, india, politics.
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1. Some tips on how to pass the Class X Maths exam !! I know most of us here dont need it but just saw this and reminded myself that its been 10 years since I wrote ( and passed ) the Class X maths exam. Most amusing of these tips –

List some simple topics, which can ensure you marks as they contain mechanical or direct formula based question.

Do not leave any question unattended in the paper. Write at least the formula and the information hidden in question. This will give you some marks.

Dont expect this in grad school.

2. Sanjika, my colleague and I have regular discussions on myraid topics and several of them turn into a left-right debate. His experience of his country Sri Lanka motivates a different point of view with respect to how much government can do. I obviously see the government as a major force for distortion. Here is now an article from the Times that reviews a book on India and maybe the Author Edward Luce puts it best when he says :

Mr. Luce encounters a woman in Sunder Nagri, a New Delhi slum, whose quest for a ration card entitling her to subsidized wheat and other staples involved bribing an official to get an application form. The form was in English, which she could not read, so she had to pay a second official to fill it out. When she turned up to claim her wheat, it was moldy and crawling with insects. The store owner had evidently sold his good government wheat on the black market.

In the northern state of Bihar, Mr. Luce writes, more than 80 percent of subsidized government food is stolen. Most ration cards are obtained through bribery, by Indians who are not poor. It’s the same story in nearly every area of an economy touched by the groping tentacles of a government that “is never absent from your life, except when you actually need it.”

Who does Sagarika Ghose have that job ? January 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, rant.
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I have a few questions. Watch this program and tell me –

– What is Sagarika Ghose trying to do ?

– Why is she trying to elicit from the panelists ?

– Is she just trying to spin what the panelists say to subscribe to what she thinks ? Anyone who has read her articles knows her views, her politics, her slant and its evident from the program as well.

– What was the question asked to Kiran Desai ? How you put the question can elicit different replies from interviewees ?

– What does she mean by 83% of the views saying that the west and east are on the colision course ? How many people voted ? 10 ? 20 ? 100 ? 10000 ? Is that figure meaningful in anyway ?

– What kind of questions are those – about whether A Roy and K. Desai were awarded the booker for their ethnicity ?

– What does she mean by “millions and thousands of viewers are writing in to us about racism they are facing ? Does she know how many thousands make a million ? And how many million viewers does CNN-IBN have ?

– And whats with that accent dear, that feigned sense of urgency, immediacy and emergency ?

– And finally do you have that job because of who your husband is ?

I have barely watched 30 hours of American TV or any kind of TV for that matter in the past 2.5 years. I find most of it boring. News coverage with a few exceptions is poor and unnecessarily sensational. I thought India TV was more interesting although over the years I have lost touch with the Indian electronic news media. But this came as a shocker.

Personally, hard to disagree with a word that Meghnad Desai or Mr. Bhagchi said.

Indo-British trade January 19, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, india.
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While the Indian communists often allege that foreign trade doesn’t benefit India as much as it does the outsiders, the sentiment in UK is quite the other way around.

And yet while India is keeping its part of the deal, growing at 8% a year, Britain has thus far been slow to profit. A report by the House of Commons select committee on trade and industry recently declared that British business had been left behind. Exports have grown slowly compared with those from other big economies (see chart): a baffling mixture of scrap metal and pearls has constituted almost two-thirds of Britain’s sales to India recently, the select committee found. British firms have also been unadventurous investors. Just 0.5% of their foreign direct investment has gone to India in the past few years, although India’s share picked up in 2005.

Common sense suggests that both of them can’t be right.

Here is something else on the Indian immigrant community in the UK.

They are a conspicuously successful bunch. The most recent survey of what 18- year-olds are up to in Britain could not find enough unemployed Indians to constitute a meaningful sample. Those who have arrived in the past few years have entered the labour market right at the top. Indians have been granted over three times as many visas for highly skilled migrants as any other nationality since the Home Office invented the category in 2002.

Before someone starts singing the song about “Indians being smarter”, let me remind you of this thing called ‘selection bias’ which partly accounts for this difference.

Howling hollow January 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, rant.
2 comments

[ Correction appended ]

I dont know how to react to this.

Hindus in Europe are opposing a German call for an European Union ban on the display of swastikas, the 5,000-year-old Hindu religious symbol that became the insignia of the Nazi Party, saying it was ‘sacred’ to the community.

At the deepest level they may have a point, but more realistically, I only imagine whether this is consistent with we in India renaming cities, streets, bridges, towns and city circles because this reminded us of our colonial masters. I am sure that should offend the 1,300,000 strong Anglo-Indian population out of a total of 1,100,000,000 – rougly 0.00102727273 %. There are about 3 million Hindus in a continent of 751 million ( 0.00399467377 %).

I wont reiterate my position with respect to organized religion all over again but given that we have live with it in the forseeable future, if a country is trying to put its past behind and we form barely a trifle portion of their population, we can do without throwing our weight around in the name of symbolisms.

2.

On a related issue, here is the Indian Express editorial on the Big Brother issue. Long back I wrote
that my position on issues are almost lock in step with that of the Express. I can’t disagree with the Express this time either when it says :

But if for a moment one set aside the prism of race, it would be clear that the TV programme in question is designed to bring out the worst in participants. It can be race, it can be class, it can be gender, it can be any marker, real or perceived, that excites the kind of human interaction that forms the basis of such television entertainment. That Ms Shetty happens to be Indian, that she happens to be a celebrity should not therefore automatically engender a pan-national narrative. Which is to say just as one doesn’t need to be an Indian to find the comments against Ms Shetty obnoxious, being an Indian doesn’t call for indulging in reflexive, overarching condemnation either.

If racism is a fact in many interactions in British society, prejudice is a quotidian reality of Indian social life. It is possible to argue, in fact, that Western societies have a better institutional mechanism to deal with prejudice, that the public space is more alert to bad behaviour and that one of the unfinished tasks of Indian institution building is to develop similar sensitivities. The Indian elite has to do some introspection about this every time it accuses — no matter how strong the provocation — the West of racist bias.

You may want to take a visit to your grand parents house. If you are a Brahmin, its likely that you will still see the maid servant/helper entering through the backdoor of the house, having lunch sitting on plantation leaves ( or plates/utensils meant only for him/her) on the floor and not allowed into the prayer room.

Further reinforces that hypocrisy is the rule, not the exception.

Update : Indian government, has on second thoughts, come up with a ‘cool’ response to it all.

Correction : Anand points out mistakes in my percentage calculation. They are off by an order of 2 !! I used Google calculator to divide and forgot to multiply by 100 to express it as percentage rather than per unit. The sentence should read “I am sure that should offend the 1,300,000 strong Anglo-Indian population out of a total of 1,100,000,000 – rougly 0.102727273 %. There are about 3 million Hindus in a continent of 751 million ( 0.399467377 %).” Ofcourse, even these relatively inflated figures dont change the meat of the argument. Thanks Anand.

Bothering Deepak Krishnan ( and tens of million others ) January 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, india, rant.
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Deepak Krishnan asks :

There are also times when I leave aside blind emotion and think with reason. What can the planners of Mumbai do more than what they have done so far? There is no place to lay extra tracks; and the roads are already loaded beyond their capacity. The only factor that I can blame is the ever burgeoning population of this giant city.

All the bus routes that I can take back home, 373 Ltd, 310, 350 etc are all jam packed, with no opportunity to set foot into them, leave alone have a comfortable ride. And this story holds good for all other bus routes as well. The story of the trains is only too well documented to warrant any attention here. The option of letting a few buses go so that you can take the next ’empty’ one is also thrown out of the window…..

Firstly, I sympathize with DK that he has to go through this.

Having exercised my right to feigned condescension 🙂 , let me make a mention of things people do. I am no urban planner but there are a whole lot of things cities around the world have tried. Some of these things already are in place in Bombay – like restricion on where Autorickshaws can ply. But other things include –

Congestion pricing in London and making parking expensive in downtown areas as in NYC ( $15-40 per hour in some areas – roughly Rs. 300 per hour in terms of purchasing power ) are simple examples. Also parking rates depend on not just day of the week but if there is an event etc. For eg: Parking rates near and around stadia almost doubles/triples if there is an important match ! I guess that should apply to near wankhede for One-day matches, Tuesdays near the Siddhi Vinayaka temple and Fridays near mosques etc.

For the interested you can read this interview with an urban planner. Of the many things he says, this stands out :

For example, someone who starts gaining weight COULD say, ‘Oh the problem is my pants are too tight’. Of course it is true but it is not a useful way to look at the problem. You would probably not ever think of eating healthily or exercising if your focus is ‘tight pants’. Focus on people and goods instead of vehicles and traffic jams. Concentrate on how can we move people and goods in the most efficient ways. When you think like that, you tend to think a lot more about public transport, which is much more space efficient.

What he means by “Focus on people and goods instead of vehicles” is probably :

These include downtown parking policy, the encouragement of bicycling, the staggering of work hours by dominant employers, and the use by medium-sized cities of a “multimode” ticket that charges cars entering the city center a toll equal to the transit fare. The reorientation of urban transport analysis that they advocate will by no means eliminate traffic delays but should speed up the adoption of a richer, more flexible, and ultimately more effective set of policies to alleviate urban traffic congestion.

Another example I can think of is to have schools in the same area start at different times – schools in city centers are a big cause of traffic jams – vehicles have lower speed limits, parents’ cars are parked by the side of the road to pick up and drop children.

Shashi Tharoor quotes the "Epistles" January 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, landmark-post, life, media.
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About a month ago I wrote this post quoting Shashi Tharoor’s article on doctors leaving the Indian shores – the medical brain drain. Since Tharoor took the often cited ( and more than meritorious ) position that the Indian public should not be subsidizing the education if they were to leave Indian shores to adopt foreign lands. Recognizing that this position will not go down well with a section of the public, I wrote :

Although I more than recognize the issue as I wrote before, I will not jump to conclusions right here, right now. In the meantime I will leave Mr. Tharoor to read his weekly quota of hate mails.

Turns out I wasnt entirely right. In his article in the Hindu dated Jan 7th, 2006, Tharoor says :

As is usually the case, the responses can broadly be divided into two categories: agreement (sometimes enthusiastic) and disagreement (often vehement). But many in both categories of respondents are willing to see some merit in the opposite point of view, which has led to somewhat more nuanced positions than anticipated by blogger Sharath Rao in Pennsylvania, who cheerfully wrote, “I will leave Mr. Tharoor to read his weekly quota of hate mails”.

So beautiful ! January 14, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india, movies.
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Director Mani Ratnam comes across as a really intelligent man and an exciting conversationalist in this interview. I could possibly listen to him talk about his art for much longer than 20 minutes. He ofcourse got his MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj in Bombay and look what he says when the scintillating Anuradha asks him how he has used his management education for making movies.

Anuradha SenGupta: Where have you used that degree. Does it come in handy when you are producing your film or I am just being simplistic by making that connection?

Mani Ratnam: There is a sequence in Yuva where Ajay Devgan is in the lock up and he is still talking physics. And when we were doing it, there was an elaborate equation on the wall and he had to learn physics for that scene.

So I was telling him about my econometrics professor who would write an equation right across the board and then look back and say ‘so beautiful’. So that’s what I made Ajay do and that’s the amount of econometrics I have used in my life.

But any education just gets you a way of thinking. It’s not a direct one-to-one application. But you must have an analytical way of approaching a problem.

Passage to India January 14, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, life.
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A little short story here about a woman’s search for an ideal man for her cousin.

For many months after my father and I gave up matchmaking, I felt guilty about our failure. Recently I’ve begun to feel guilty about the attempt. I hear there are several suitors in India who are interested in Neet, but she’s still in no hurry to be married, or to otherwise sort out her future. Maybe we were wrong to think that she should be, or to think that we knew what was best for her.

I suppose all I really wanted was to see my cousin in more secure circumstances. It’s mere chance, after all, that she’s there and I’m here; that she has one kind of life and I another; that opportunities I take for granted are beyond her reach. I’m not saying that one situation is better than the other. But I’m not denying it either.

Whose line was it now ? January 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media.
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When somebody says, “If you ever have a problem, come talk to me.”, it might appear to comes across as a rather comforting one.

Except when its a Mumbai gangster saying it – it probably means somebody somewhere is subsidizing your comfort, maybe with his life.

Identity and America January 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, rant.
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I came across this article by the Indian Consul-general in San Francisco, where he writes about “What it means to be American”. I was quite surprised to see a title as presumptuous as that in an Indian portal. It was quite interesting to read – not that any of that is new – they stand out from what we read in American newspapers, blogs and magazines. Nevertheless, when it all comes into one article, it made for a good reading. I am ripping apart his paragraphs and putting them in a more readable and commentable manner.

a) Respect for the individual and not for any collective entity based on class, religion or sectarian identity.

b) The business of America is business and that the most important freedom is freedom from the government. To be a true American is to distrust the government. The state can be an umpire of our rights, not the arbiter of our fates.

c) The spirit of America is to oppose taxes. Taxes are a necessary evil, no doubt, but if we are true to the first principles, we must oppose any growth in government and above all any new taxes.

d) The right to carry arms makes us distinctive. To be American is to defend the right to defend oneself. Guns define American identity — a point that I had heard made aggressively earlier, which I have described in an earlier column — Guns and Roses.

e) Extremism in the cause of liberty is no vice and moderation in the defense of freedom no virtue — a quote from the arch conservative Senator Goldwater.

Point e. is more of rhetoric and I would not really comment on that.

Point a. has been something I have lived with and agreed with for several years now – my stay in this country hasnt significantly changed that – perhaps some reinforcement.

Point d. seemed absolutely preposterous until quite recently. It seems so even today. But I dont have a defence for the fundamental argument in its favor : Say you are at home with your family. An armed burglar breaks in. If you had a licensed gun, you could protect your life and that of your family. But if the state/government banned firearms, you don’t have one. The burglar comes in and shoots your spouse and child, you are seriously injured. Who is responsible for this ? America translates gun control to – “You dont have the right to self-defence, you have to lay down your life and that of your family for the sake of an ‘orderly’ society.” In other words, in the larger interest of the society, you have to make that big a sacrifice. I cant come to terms with Point d. and may never will. But I wont have a strong rebuttal to the argument above either. Let me know if you have one.

Point C. is getting more and more reasonable by the day.

Point B. is the big one – which I consider as the single biggest contribution of America to my political science education – the relationship between the citizen and the state. For most of my life, I thought that liberty means freedom from slavery/foreign rule etc., that its the freedom from the state is something I can comprehend better now. I have written about it before.

Any of this ‘acculturation’ is not an attempt to be anything other than what I am. We travel, we make homes in different places, within our country and outside and we learn new things – some stay on for the duration of our stay and some forever thereafter. Infact, we adapt to the point that enables us to survive and have a good time – nothing more, nothing less. It happened in Assam too, except not as much as perhaps in a foreign country.

I am of the firm belief that intrinsically the place you grow up is really what we fundamentally are. For the same reason, I disapprove of first generation immigrants who want to bring up their children in a totally Indian way. While the actual reason for settling here is that of a more comfortable life and better economic opportunity (nothing wrong with it per se), it often gets cloaked in alibis like better opportunities for children. And as the children to grow up, they are expected to learn only Bharatnatyam, play the tabla and not the violin, be good at mathematics and science and not American history, play with other Indian kids ( if they are allowed to play at all ). I think its extremely selfish on the part of some of the parents who insist so. If that is what they seek, it can be better accomplished back home without ruining your children’s life, leaving them confused and eventually having them hate everything that India stands for.

Perhaps a little simplistic, but essence is what I am getting at.

P.S: Meanwhile the article itself attacted very poorly expressed comments. I think in terms of meaningful discourse, the Outlook magazine comments section is less of a waste of time.

P.P.S : CNBC reporter asks why :

I would like to guess but will pass. I don’t know whats more worrying, whether they do or they do not. Actually, it is my submission that only 5 per cent of self-exiles actually ask questions. To the credit of this 5 per cent, as I have seen in some cases, they can go through considerable heartburn. The other 90 per cent I would argue, do not even pose these questions. Of course there are many who steadfastly maintain Indian citizenship. We would all know some of them.

I always wonder why Indians (sure, maybe many Chinese do as well) find it so simple to switch nationalities ? Or is it that it does not matter when you are in the flow, student to H1B (or equivalent) to Green Card to citizen. Where is the time or energy to ponder where you really belong ?

Back to India stuff January 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, contemplation, india.
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The Indian Express frontpage has a rather poorly written article on the dilemmas that the NRIs face with respect to returning to India.

I searched for “NRI dilemma” on google and found these articles written ( both written by the same person ) , a non-journalist who puts it all very well.

Not that good.

Not at all that bad.

Geo-predictions January 9, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, humor, india.
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Use the 1,2,3,4,5 counter in the left side middle of this page to see how the world will look in the future.

India and Pakistan must solve Kashmir soon enough because 100 million years from now, its going to be much more complicated.

15 years ago, 7700 miles away January 9, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, reminisces-1990s.
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News from Guwahati :

The violence in Assam is continuing unabated. Even as the Centre says that it would deploy more troops to intensify operations in the state, the ULFA has changed tactics and tried to attack an Army camp late on Monday evening. At least seven persons were injured when two bombs exploded near the cantonment in Satgaon on Monday evening.

I travelled to the Satgoan Cantonment every day for two years in 1991-93, my school – Army School, Narangi – is located in the heart of the cantonment area. I thought it was the safest area in the city ( though a likely target ). I remember when Babri Masjib demolition took place on Dec 6th, 1992, the last thing my parents had to worry about if we were safe at school – the cantonment was the last place you would expect a communal riot to break out. I went to one of my friends’ ( Pankaj Chauhan) dad’s office ( an army colonel ) and played computer games till the evening while the mosque was coming down. ( I hope a 11 year old is not held guilty of indifference/apathy ).

Its been about 14 years, since May 28, 1993 when I left Guwahati for the last time and I haven’t been there since. I am not in touch with anyone but one classmate from those days – inspite of best efforts. I wish they had an alumni association. As I wrote to my Little Rock friends in July 2005 :

I studied at an Army School in Assam for 2 years like you studied in Little Rock Indian School for 3 years. I left 12 years ago like you did 13 years ago. And I am not perhaps as lucky as you to one day crash into over 100 batchmates of mine !! I have not been in touch with a SINGLE classmate of mine. Only last June I caught up with a batchmate � infact a real buddy back then and to my utter dismay, he too has never been in touch with anyone ! So, here we are now, 2 people who are each in touch with 1 person i.e. each other � thermodynamic analog of a closed system ….

House no 21, Jogen Barua Lane,
Jorphukri,
Uzan Bazaar,
Guwahati – 781001
Assam

Thats the place. Courtesy : Wikimapia. The word “Jorphukri” in my address splits up as “Jod” ( joined ) + Phukri ( lake ). It comes from the 2 adjacent lakes that you see in the picture.

I love the city – Guwahati. The early 90s were the peak of millitancy in Assam. Yet, as a 11 year old, I roamed the city, much of it by foot – on walks, shopping, just going around, walking home from dad’s bank or the other way around – either with my parents/family friends/Bharath and so often, just alone. I knew Guwahati, every inch of the city, when I left her in 1993 ;perhaps better than I knew Bangalore when I left in 2004 or Mangalore when I left KREC in 2003. I dont think I have ever felt so liberated in any other city before. Maybe Boston. But then I didnt explore Boston too much either.
When I visit India next, perhaps in mid 2008, I want to make a trip to Guwahati. That will be 15 years from 1993 !

I searched for Army School Narangi and this is one of the pages that showed up. I believe thats a competition being held in the basketball court near the huge Tamarind tree in the middle of the ground ! This single picture brings back an interesting recollection. About 15 years ago I awaited my turn to pick my topic for the English extempore. For someone who was considered ( not at all incorrectly ) extremely unruly and mischievous in class, it turned out that my topic was “The naughty student” and the audience went up in a roar. It wasnt ofcourse my first time on stage , but my talk, as I recall now, was incoherent and by the standards I would choose to measure upto now, an unmitigated disaster. [ As a matter of fact, my entire time on stage right up till 1995 was less than mediocre. ]

Unfortunately though, I dont have a single photograph of myself in the school campus, though several elsewhere in Guwahati.

India in 1947 and Iraq in 2007 January 7, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, history, india, politics.
3 comments

To say I am not impressed by the TOI would be an understatement after having started an Orkut community that goes by the name TOI sucks. But lets give credit where its due. This is quite a cool collection. [ although their choice of Sushmita Sen, Jessica Lal case etc. is debatable ]

This collection infact is better.

India in 1947 reminds me of Iraq of today – centuries of being ruled by minority rulers ( Muslims ) that were intermittently despotic and reasonable, when India finally won independence, the only reasonable solution seemed to be the partition. Over 1 million died and another million went missing and a short war ensued in 1947. Iraq faces the same situation, only this time the minorities are the Sunni sect within Islam.

Carry this comparison a little farther, the prospects that you see for Iraq today – violence, bloodshed, civil war – are exactly what was predicted for India then. [ Read this excellent article about how even in 1967 the West didn’t give India a chance for survival ] Considering it all, India hasnt done all that bad a job maybe. **Unsure**. There is already a talk to ‘India-Pakistan-Bangladesh’ style partition of Iraq into Shia, Sunni and Kurdish Iraq.

Here is what I wrote on this topic on Jan 30th, 2005.

Was reading this blog by an Iraqi about the elections. Am sometimes wondering how it might have been in India around 1947. The partition brought so much of pain, blood, chaos and it really wasnt unthinkable that we get into some real mess that has since befallen colonies that suddenly found themselves having to manage and learn democratic norms and institution building.

What prevented India from slipping into the abyss ? That too an India whose political unity came only as an inadvertent consequence of British consolidation and the independence movement that ensued, even though cultural and economic unity had always existed. Is it due to the political class of those years which was largely virtuous and incorruptible ? Is it that they were really careful about how they should handle things in the light of new found independence compared to those of today who have made democracy their greatest weapon ? Is it that the nationalism that the Independence movement generated hadnt yet become more of a token as it seems today ? Infact why didnt the death of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 ( infact 57 years to this very day ! ) barely months after Independence further lead us into chaos ?

Our first elections were in 1952. How would things have changed if we had elections soon after the partition in 1947 or the British insisted on conducting elections before packing off – this is something that seems to be happening in Iraq at the moment. If the US forces walked out today, a civil war is only a formality. But we managed to have a smooth transition from 1948-1952 ( ofcourse noting that the partition was in 1947 ). I am ofcourse NOT at all a supporter of US occupation but now that they made the mess, they own it !

How could India – a country of 250 million with diversity larger than anything that Iraq comes close to keep itself together as a pseudo democracy until 1952 without a constitution until 1950 ( ofcourse we did have an interim constitution I guess ) ? And how did we imbibe democracy in what was essentially a feudal society even after 1952 ? Was it Nehru and his charisma and his incontestible integrity ? When you look at the Iraq today with its fledgling democracy, that or perhaps something much more complicated India was around 1947.

Before we get too involved in similarities between Iraq of today and India of the yesteryears, we must realize the big difference here. Iraq wasnt liberated by an indegenous independence movement unlike India – the process of liberation didnt unite the country, only divided it. It didnt even throw up any leaders with a nation-wide appeal.

All said and done, in retrospect you feel good about India and how it handled it all. We owe a lot to our political class of that age – Nehru, Patel, Rajagopalchari, Maulana Azad, Shastri, Rajendra Prasad.

Ofcourse today, we live inspite of our political class, not because of them.

Christmas and otherwise, Desi predicaments December 27, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india.
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I went from here to here to here to here.

Read everything, real insight.

Meanwhile, this continues to be sad. And this, infuriating.

What if Masala Puri were un-Hindu December 26, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, rant.
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Okay, here is something.

A case was filed against former Test cricketer Ravi Shastri in a local court here for allegedly hurting the religious feelings of Hindus by reportedly eating beef during the India-South Africa Test match in Johannesburg.

So that hurt your feelings. And thats because something is wrong with Ravi Shastri. Is it not possible that its because something is wrong with you ?

The case doesnt quite worry me – I am a vegetarian ( ofcourse to the extent that egg is a vegetable). I get squeamish thinking about having to eat non-vegetarian food ( although sharing a table is certainly okay ). Why don’t I get squeamish about eggs ? I dont know. Would I quit eating tomatos if they were found to be non-vegetarian ? No. But if say, Hinduism, a religion I am born into, prohibited one of my favorite dishes – Masala Puri for example, I would probably a) eat more of it. b) talk about it. c) post pictures of it on this blog ; just to get the Bajrang Dal guys used to it.

Blinkered Posner et. al December 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, life, rant, science.
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1.

Listen to (mostly) Americans discuss where they would emigrate to if for some reason, they had to leave the US. What country do you think tops the list ?

What about for Indians ? Is the choice more obvious ?

2.

This article is really of no use to me. I am not really an introvert, except when I am surrounded by people who I would rather not be with. And in such a situation, the introvert in me would not want to network !!

3.

When I read his books – Blink and Tipping Point – I remember telling myself that the author Malcolm Gladwell is highly overrated and sits very well in the league of Tom Friedman of the flat world fame. ( I admit that “Tipping Point” is slightly more readable ).

Now here is the fun. An old review ofcourse but reading this brought so much joy. I have never seen a book being ripped apart like this. I mean even if the book were literally ripped apart, it wouldnt be as much fun. I would have to paste the entire article if I had to pick out my favorite paragraph. But I would rather do with this.

Such pratfalls, together with the inaptness of the stories that constitute the entirety of the book, make me wonder how far Gladwell has actually delved into the literatures that bear on his subject, which is not a new one. These include a philosophical literature illustrated by the work of Michael Polanyi on tacit knowledge and on “know how” versus “know that”; a psychological literature on cognitive capabilities and distortions; a literature in both philosophy and psychology that explores the cognitive role of the emotions; a literature in evolutionary biology that relates some of these distortions to conditions in the “ancestral environment” (the environment in which the human brain reached approximately its current level of development); a psychiatric literature on autism and other cognitive disturbances; an economic literature on the costs of acquiring and absorbing information; a literature at the intersection of philosophy, statistics, and economics that explores the rationality of basing decisions on subjective estimates of probability (Bayes’s Theorem); and a literature in neuroscience that relates cognitive and emotional states to specific parts of and neuronal activities in the brain.

Gifts, hype and mathematics December 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, life, science.
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1.

Gift suggestions for Luddites, i.e. where luddites are the recipient. I am no luddite but looking at this list, I wouldnt mind giving/receiving gifts as if I am one. By the way, I think I just did it. The second item on that list is cookies. When Sadiq and I went to Chicago last weekend, we baked a cake for Asha. Eeeks, Asha isnt a luddite by any standards.

2. Hard to disagree.

3. Heard of the flaw of averages ( especially, you B-school guys ).

4. Quite an interesting physical interpretation of the Jensen’s inequality. Never thought of that –

E[U(w)] is less than or equal to U(E[w]) if U”(w) is less than 0: For a risk averse agent, the expected utility of wealth is less than the utility of expected wealth. The reason this is so: If wealth has diminishing marginal utility, losses cost more utility than equivalent monetary gains provide. Consequently, a risk averse agent is better of to receive a given amount of wealth with certainty than the same amount of wealth on average but with variance around this quantity

When mathematics makes sense !

Indian doctors in America December 10, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india.
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Shashi Tharoor revives the brain drain debate, this time with Indian doctors.

Under U.S. immigration rules, a foreign doctor — even if he completes his medical schooling in the U.S., or does an internship or residency at an American hospital — is obliged to return to his homeland for a period of at least two years before he can seek employment in the U.S. There is, however, an exception built into the law. The U.S. Federal Government has designated 2100 areas, mostly impoverished districts at the nadir of the economic recession, as “medically under-served”. If a foreign doctor agrees to work in one of these areas, the standard requirement, of two years outside the U.S. before working here, is lifted. The much sought-after “green card”, entitling the doctor to permanent residence in the U.S., is just a few prescriptions away.

This is particularly relevant to my situation since my high school buddy Dr. Sadiq Sherieef is here in the US attending interviews to qualify for the residency program.

Although I more than recognize the issue as I wrote before, I will not jump to conclusions right here, right now. In the meantime I will leave Mr. Tharoor to read his weekly quota of hate mails.

Update : Sadiq confirms that the above paragraph I quoted from Tharoor is incomplete. Restrictions mentioned above dont apply only for J-1 visa holders ( in the range of 30%).

Exit economist, Welcome politician December 10, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, politics, rant.
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Here is nominating Dr. Manmohan Singh for the Foot in the mouth award.

Beyond symbolism December 5, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, economics, india.
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Atanu Dey has a very interesting observation whose significance we tend to overlook. He writes here about how darkness ( lack of progress ) and light ( prosperity enlightenment etc. ) are not mere symbols. Infact you can actually put a number to them. He refers to the picture of the Earth at night.

Europe is probably the most uniformly luminous; but not as bright as the eastern part of the US and its western coastline. Africa is almost completely in the dark. Latin America is lit, but mostly along the coasts. One can also see Asia’s economic story in the picture: vast swaths, including most of Russia, Tibet, and the Middle East are unlit. Japan looks like a shining moon in the middle of the pacific. The southern part of the Korean peninsula is bright, the north completely dark. China’s lights shine on the coast and slowly fade inland. India is full of a million dull lights, with a few bright spots.

Growing up I remember reading that the United States was the high school bully – that consumes 20% of “world’s precious energy resources” inspite of accounting for a mere 5% of world population. The marxist historians/economists/textbook writers of India revealed their bias in failing to state that it also accounts for 20% of the World GDP.

Yes, I know this is not it – there are other factors as well – pollutor, military spender etc. So this is not the complete picture. But then what my textbooks said wasnt either. We give our precious 12 years to school learning some of which will ( have to ) be unlearnt slowly like a water dripping from a leaky bucket.

Procrastination, Cultural relativism and Bollywood December 5, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, india, life, rant.
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Perhaps they should have been taxed for having written this. Fortunately I am a reverse procrastinator and I have no problems with these issues. It is procrastination which I put off, not work.

Says Tyler Cowen.

I know its all about a change in attitude – it requires no capital expenditure, no fund raising, no personnel management. Yet at the moment what I want to be doing ( at work ) is being procrastinated until the end of this ( and the next ) post. I will, like most people end up procrastinating reverse procrastination as Tyler defines it.

2.

Its an old debate on a new blog but I will find time to read the entire article. For now I just scrolled down to the paragraph on India. Linked in from Bryan Kaplan who doesnt quite agree with the above article. His thought experiments ( or for that matter, thought experiments in general ) I find quite interesting.

My main complaint about Harrison is that he focuses too much on personal culture (work ethic, emphasis on education, family values) rather than political culture (support for the free market, openness to the world economy, etc.) When you look at the success of Jews or Japanese in the U.S., it’s hard not give Jewish and Japanese culture a fair share of the credit. But by international standards, these cultural premia are small: Jews make about 70% more than the average American, and Japanese make about 30% more. This is nothing compared to the 7000% (!) premium Americans in America make compared to Somalians in Somalia.

How much of these is personal culture, and how much is political? Simple test: Move a random Somalian to the U.S. He won’t earn the American average, but he can expect his income to rise twenty times. On the other hand, imagine instilling an American ethos in a random Somalian in Somalia. He’d be relatively successful, but it would be surprising if this did more than triple his income.

3. Amit Varma sometimes has some serious posts that are something other than juvenile/insipid humor which I admit are sometimes effective in getting the point across. [ I remind myself though that “sometimes” is essentially

4. If you pretty much cant stand modern Bollywood, you will love this.

Just realized… December 4, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, littlerockers.
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Schooled in the Indian education system, when the results of a test/exam are released, the most interesting questions ( reproduced verbatim for LRIS nostalgia maniacs !) asked in the chronological order ( and arugably increasing order of actual significance !) were :

1. a) Teacher, what is the highest (,) teacher ?
b) Who (,) teacher ?

In American high schools, the questions are :

2. a) What the class average ?
b) Whats the standard deviation ? ( optional )

These are not superficial differences. These are deep questions because the two numbers considering just 1.a and 2.a have different significance and give different ( though somewhat related) information with respect to how we measure ourselves against our peer population ?

[ When was the last time I wrote an entire post without a single outgoing link – finally an ‘uninspired ‘ though not necessarily original idea ? One of the reasons people blog ! ]

Irreverence pays November 30, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, rant.
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Angry at the desecration of BR Ambedkar’s statue in Kanpur, Dalits in several parts of Maharashtra went on the rampage on Thursday, setting two trains on fire, damaging over 100 buses and clashing with police in violent protests that left three people dead and over 60 injured.

Call me faithless, arrogant, whatever. I dont think there is any person/animal/earthly or heavenly entity/idea I respect so much that his/her/its ‘desecration’ will lead me to destroy public property and kill innocent people. How can this be excused ? Calling them uneducated, ignorant and therefore eligible for leniency by law ? Poor and insecure people ? Or maybe since I have already declared my position in the first sentence of this article, I just dont understand what it is be faced with that situation. Thankfully.

KPS Gill puts it quite rightly.

The contempt for the law is not limited to the state and its agencies, and to those who exercise power through these. It extends to the overwhelming majority of citizens who will ignore, if not actively breach, the law at almost every instance when they feel they are not being monitored and would not be liable to penalties. The internalisation of law and of accepted social norms and mores, the hallmark of civilised societies, is becoming increasingly rare, with our educational systems, as well as the example of elders and the leaders of society, failing comprehensively to encourage or inculcate any desirable value system in our children.

I thought we will break any law if we know we are not being watched. Turns out the qualification wasnt necessary. Just this will do – “We will break any law.”

Band of brothers November 27, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, sport.
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This kind of candor is remarkable. Thats Ian Chappel on great cricketers ( and the not so great cricketers ).

As a captain, the guys who kept me awake at night were guys like Sobers, Graeme Pollock and Viv Richards–a guy who could get a big score and get it quickly. Guys like Geoffrey Boycott couldn’t keep me awake at night, in fact he put me to sleep during the day. I figured that if he got 150 he took so long that it made our chances of saving the game much better. Another reason why I don’t classify Geoffrey Boycott as great was that he was a selfish bastard; he never played for the team, he always played for himself. I heard Bill Lawry call him a great batsman one day, and I said to Bill as he came off the field, “that’s rubbish Bill, he wasn’t a great player”. He hemmed and hawed and I said, “Bill, Gary Sobers averaged bloody 58 and he played every second for the game of cricket and not for himself. Boycott played every single second of his career as a batsman for himself and he averaged only 47. What are you talking?”

His brother Greg is doing well too.

Following the 157-run defeat at Kingsmead, there had been calls in parliament for Chappell to be sacked. When asked about such remarks, he said, tongue firmly in cheek, “They are entitled to make any comment they like. That’s what they are paid to do in parliament.”

And how the section of the Indian Public reacts in the state of West Bengal.

At Kalighat in the southern part of the city, around 30-35 members of `Cricket Lovers Association` raised slogans against the Australian coach saying he has insulted not only the Indian MPs but also the entire nation.

“The mps are people`s representatives. Insulting them is akin to insulting the Indian people,” they said, carrying aloft posters condemning Chappell. “Moreover, Chappell is an outsider, a foreigner. What right does he have to speak about the functioning of our parliamentary democracy,” they asked.

Since when did we start having so much respect for our ‘representatives’.

India and China as imperialist powers November 23, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, india.
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I havent been posting too much on geopolitics as I would have been say an year ago. Looking through my article archive and the broadcaster blog archive, I see a gradual change in my kind of articles that interest me. Once in a while however, I come across some interesting ideas and viewpoints on geo-politics that I cant wait to put up here. Here is one.

Its impossible to know what it must have been to have lived in 17-18th century Europe when most nations set off to acquire colonies and justify the need for them as millions of people were exploited materially and otherwise. What did the media say, were there competing theories or arguments against colonialism, did the public really bother at all etc. The best we can do is to search for some such similar analogy today. Raja Mohan offers one comparing European colonialism to what India and China are doing in Africa – maintain ties with nations with questional credentials merely for trade purposes and import raw materials and either export them as finished products or for domestic consumption. He says :

Western activists argue, not entirely accurately, that the unfolding rivalry between China and India is similar to the scramble for Africa among rival European colonial powers in the 19th century. Irrespective of the analogy, India is certainly competing with China for oil and mineral resources in Africa. New Delhi might be way behind Beijing; but it is on the same road.

The criticism of China and India is sharpest for supporting the government in Sudan, which is facing flak on the human rights front. Beijing and New Delhi, with their huge investments in Sudan’s oil fields, have no desire to sacrifice their energy interests to compel Khartoum to change its behaviour. Support from China and India has undoubtedly emboldened Sudan to defy the international system. The same is true in Burma, where both countries are competing for influence.

Ofcourse, he himself emphasizes, its not a perfect parallel or a case of history repeating itself. But he has a point nevertheless.

Karan Thapar domesticaly violated ! November 18, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, rant.
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Karan Thapar asks:

To begin with, there is the whole question of what the Act means by domestic violence – it covers verbal abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse and anything that tends towards them. For instance, emotional and verbal abuses are defined to include insults and ridicule. That means you can’t be sarcastic to your wife, it means you can’t call you brother-in-law an ass or a mother-in-law a nag even if both are those are correct. Surely, that’s a level of silliness, but it’s a part of your Bill.

Later in the interview, Renuka Chaudury, the minister for Women and Child development says :

I am empowering my women to have the right to access the dignity to their life, if they have been denied justice on other foras, if they have been given ex-parte divorce.

I might take all of this nonsense if Ms. Chaudury certifies that a muslim man insisting that his wife wear the burqa against her wishes ( which happens in non-zero % of the cases ) is considered domestic violence and the man brought to book. ( See this ) Can Ms. Chauduary say this without the Prime minister/Sonia Gandhi stepping in the next day to say that it is her personal opinion or she herself claiming I was misquoted by the press !

Later in the interview :

Renuka Chowdhury: There is always need for corrections and amendments in any law as we progress as a society develops and the needs arise. But for one hypothetically – before I reach the bridge and cross it – if you want me to make amendments, I won’t.

Karan Thapar: In other words, let men suffer first, then I will correct the wrong I have done.

Renuka Chowdhury: It is not such a bad idea, except that I have such pity for men.

She must be reminded that her employer is the Govt of India, not the government of Indian women.

More on women’s status in India.

Women in power ( and powerful women ) November 18, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india, politics, sport.
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1)

This is about women in power. In some good news, France might get a woman president, which would be great ! ( except she is representing the socialist party ). Good times for women politicians nevertheless.

I must quickly add that if anyone and especially women believe that in general their lot will improve merely by having one of their own on the top, you just have to turn to India/Pakistan/Bangaldesh/Sri Lanka for examples or even some of the Indian states. Politicians will do whatever it takes to be re-elected and in most cases, whatever the politicians do, it will be in order to retain power. Though I think they are much less likely to be corrupt. ( That issues such as status of women is not as much of a problem in places like France anymore is ofcourse another thing. )

2)

And here is something about powerful women. Zinedine Zindane has no doubt been an inspiration to millons of aspiring footballers all over the world. And atleast one model as well.

Life’s casual encounters November 18, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, economics, ideas, india.
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Could the word “city” in Sex and the City refer to a 70,000 strong mid-western town ? Empirical social science research tells us something about where people live and why.

1.)

I have wondered why the sex ratios in American cities( and entire developed world I now hear ) are skewed towards more women compared to men. This paper offers a possible explanation that might atleast partially account for this trend.

Throughout the industrialized world, young women outnumber young men in urban areas. This paper proposes that such a pattern may be linked to higher male incomes in urban areas. The argument is that urban areas offer skilled workers better labor markets. Assuming that there are more skilled males than females, this alone would predict a surplus of males. However, the presence of males with high incomes may attract not only skilled females but also unskilled females. Thus, a surplus of women in urban areas may result from a combination of better labor and marriage markets. Swedish municipality data support the results.

2)

The contents of this post and more importantly the comments section came as quite a stunner to me. It says young people move to cities in order to enjoy anonymous and casual sex. Read the comments section – yes, its a small sample indeed but its hard to dismiss a hypothesis that at first might seem rather preposterous. An interesting comment says :

Less people looking over your shoulder, too. In a subruban environment, you’re more likely to know your neighbors and thus get interogated about the strange car in your driveway. Or, instead of letting your guest slip out in the morning, you might have to give them a ride to their car.

On second thoughts, isnt the fundamental motivation similar in sense even in India. Ofcourse this article is about people relocating to cities and also we in India havent gotten to the stage where casual/anonymous sex is the primary factor, maybe its just being around and breathing the same air as ‘interesting’/’hot’ men and women in the same age group. Why afterall do college students hang out on a certain streets in cities ( say MG/Brigade in Bangalore ) and the same people once married are less likely to hang out there ! There are great cinemas and food joints all over the place ! Why do people go to certain pubs because of the quality of the crowd ? Certainly, they arent referring to the average IQ of the crowd as much as they are talking about good looking and/or open-minded party butterflies.

3) Somebody is actually going to write a book on this – Why people live where they do –

Tell me about the place you live. Why did you pick your city or region? How did you go about picking it – what was your strategy? What other kinds of places did you look at? How has that choice affected the rest of your life? Your job or career? Friends, family, or romantic interests? Fulfillment and fun? Real estate jackpots or money pits? Would you do it differently next time? What cities and regions are on your radar for the future and why?

Firstly, I am amazed at the range of books for which a market exits in this country. Secondly, in India what does where you live depend on ? In my opinion, its either economic reasons – jobs/career or where you grew up. There appears pretty much nothing else – partly because moving to another state for reasons other than economic reasons is pretty much like going to another country. Or maybe I am wrong.

4) Staying on the same topic – isnt this such a creative piece of work. Ofcourse, your moral leanings apart.

Its raining CATfundas November 18, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, rant.
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Saubhik Chakravarthy has this question about the recent shows on Indian TV ( I didnt watch any by the way ) that had experts taking questions about the CAT exam from aspiring applicats. He is bang on the mark when he asks :

I wondered though, every time I caught the show this week, whether a televised exam guide was really helpful. Which is to say if an “expert” tells me that my weak areas should be covered and my strong attributes should be optimally used so that I can make up for my weaknesses, would I be any wiser? If I am nervous about the quantitative bit of the test, would the advise that I should focus on the main areas inspire more confidence? If an expert says this year’s exam paper is likely to be easier than last year’s — last year’s was apparently really tough — should I worry less?

I dont blame the media at all. Here is why – we are talking about 20 somethings that the show caters to and this is no comparison to child targetted advertising being unethical. The media will do something because it anticipates that there are aspirants out there who will find the show helpful and consequently viewership translates into advertising revenue.

What I would like to say and in doing so I believe that it might be a favor to Saubhik since he doesnt need to be politically incorrect and bear the burder of calling a spade a spade. If there is any serious aspirant who really finds that these experts will have anything new for her/him a day before the exam, one must cast a doubt on that applicant’s competence, leadership qualities, commonsense, emotional quotient and the sense of initiative. Its quite likely then that the esteemed IIMs ( and this is certainly no sarcasm here ) could do without them. In other words and the words of the aspirants (and their role models) themselves, what is the ‘value-add’ ( to the aspirants’ prospects, not the channel!) of these platitudes at the eleventh hour ?

Infact Sameer my very good friend from KREC who is now at IIM, Calcutta apparently took some questions on this show on CNN-IBN or so. I would like to ask Sameer just to make sure I am not missing something ( I have never written the exam myself) – was there a question from the aspirants that is not quite standard knowledge or that has not quite a standard answer.

Horny people – one billion and growing ! November 12, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india, life.
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Here is something like a day in the life of a Bombay Taxi driver.

[ Linked in from here ]. Actually its also up here where they have translated some of the Hindi dialogues. In particular, imagine telling them to your date :

Jaaneman, main tumhe dil aur jaan se chahta hoon. Tumhari yeh bhari aankh, yeh bhari naak, yeh bhare hontth… main chumma lena chahta hoon.

‘Translated’ as :

My life, my heart, I love you more than my life. Your full eyes, your full nose, your full lips… I want to kiss you.

The CMU statistical machine translation system could do better I imagine. But it wouldnt turn up this funny, uh !

What did that mean anyway. “Ok, Horn Please” that the video is titled.

Here, I realize is my own experience with a Bombay Cabwala. My first day in India during my visit last year Dec 24th, 2005 [ yeah, the date on the photograph is wrong !], I happened to see this :

[ Click for larger version – else its makes no sense ]

why oh why is this happening to my country November 12, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, rant.
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Another Indian holy cow, says the Indian Express.

Aswin has a wonderful post here – which I urge you guys to participate in. I am heading there in a while. But if you read this, it appears that his estimate on the price of human life was rather high !

How to win elections in India – easy, just use the US foreign policy as a plank.

When in the UK, do as Indians do. I have seen this happening in one of the labs here in Carnegie Mellon that has an unusually large number of Desis.

An assignment takes me to the Indian embassy located on a grand structure close to the arty Covent Garden. And you are made to feel right at home, ’cos despite being located in a first world nation, the organisation and services are as third world as can be. The same chaos, same bureaucracy, same untidiness, same passing-of-the-buck that goes on back home. Nehru’s proud bust in the foyer is the official smoking zone, and R. Venkataraman peers through the coat-hangers. Sure, we know presidents are pieces of antique furniture in India, but do we have to advertise that on foreign shores?

As as aside, at the same site I like this tongue-in-cheek remark ( in the context of London ofcourse )

Being a quid-challenged backpacker (a bad word these days), I have no choice but to shack up with a B&B lady. For the benefit of the more affluent, B&B stands for Bed and Breakfast, though I think they should call them C&SL outlets—Cornflakes and Shared Loos.

Whether the weather matters November 5, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, ideas, india.
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This is funny, interesting but does this explain why my home district of Udupi-Mangalore ( the erstwhile Dakshina Kannada ) is one of the most peaceful (with few exceptions), prosperous and educated districts in the country ?

It turns out that rainfall often has a surprisingly strong effect on violence. In a paper on the economic aftermath of the hundreds of riots in American cities during the 1960’s, William Collins and Robert Margo used rainfall as a variable to compare the cities where riots took place with cities where riots probably would have taken place had it not rained. Few things can dampen a rioter’s spirit more than a soaking rain, they learned. After two days of rioting in Miami in the summer of 1968 were finally quelled by rain, they write, the Dade County sheriff joked to The New York Times that he had ordered his off-duty officers to pray for more rain.

Think about it, what happens to an enraged mob when it pours like it does in Udupi ! ( I miss those rains don’t I !). Ofcourse, even bitter cold dampens people’s spirits but then temperatures cannot drop 20 degrees in 5 minutes !!. What about snowfall ? Well, somebody should study that now 🙂 – though the effect may not be that profound.

Well, what explains the fact that Udupi-Mangalore has one of the most highest sex-ratios in India ( 9th when I saw last – dont remember the source ). There are apparently 1020 females for every 1000 males whereas the national average is 972. I assume these are at birth, otherwise the fact that several thousand households have male members working in the middle-east may explain this.

Jawaharlal !! November 5, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in history, india.
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Here is an article that gives an account of the bravery of India’s first Param Veer Chakra awardee. Interesting as it is, this exchange is something I have come across before.

A young army colonel named Sam Manekshaw, who attended the meeting, recalled: ‘As usual Nehru talked about the United Nations, Russia, Africa, God Almighty, everybody, until Sardar Patel lost his temper. He said, ‘Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir, or do you want to give it away?’ He [Nehru] said, ‘Of course, I want Kashmir.’ Then he [Patel] said: ‘Please give your orders.’

For the generations who have been brought up to venerate Nehru, its amusing to note that somebody knew him on first name terms.

Namesake trailer November 3, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, contemplation, india, movies.
2 comments

This has never happened before.

I have never waited for a movie to release, being way too anxious to know how it would turn out to be. Better yet, its never happened that there is a book I read that I loved so much and now that I know its going to be made into a movie, I cant wait to watch it !

I read Namesake in Jan 2004 when I was in Boston, the one year I went to Boston University Graduate School. I read it at at time when I was just 4 months into this country and was myself grappling ( as I still sometimes do ) with issues of my past, my present and everybody’s future. The book itself was set in Boston and written by Boston University Alumna and Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri. The streets and city squares she mentions in the book were those I took every week, if not every day – something that might be normal for NewYorkers but for me, that in itself made for a surreal experience.

Namesake is probably one of the less than 15 works of fiction I have ever read, and much of what I said above explains why it was the most endearing memorable of them all. Watch the trailer here – Irfan looks so real, Tabu’s performance snippets are arresting ! ‘Kal Penn’ rocks.

Rediff has a review up here. I previously wrote a post linking to Lahiri’s article ( read this if you havent ever ).

Vengsarkar speaking his mind :) November 3, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, rant, sport.
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I was pleasantly stunned (!) on reading what Dilip Vengsarkar said and I must congratulate him on that. Its probably the best thing he did since getting 3 centuries in each of the 3 tests at the Lords. 😉

We have talent in the country. There is no question about that. But there is no exceptional talent, which you can introduce into international cricket straightaway. We have the kind of talent that has to gain experience and exposure to the first-class level and the India ‘A’ level.

He later added :

“What I said should work as a motivational tool and players should prove me wrong,” the 50-year-old said. “Exceptional talent, not just talent, never hides, anywhere in the country.”

Note that he just clarified and didnt backtrack for which I congratulate him again. Its quite irritating when google returns 27000 odd results for “I was misquoted” but returns less than half the results for “I stand by my words” or “I stand by what I said earlier”. Get some spine people !

Besides, I think he has a point. I am no cricket historian and maybe Ramachandra Guha should answer this. I am curious to know if there ever has been an Indian cricketer who was picked into the Indian team at say 29-30 years of age who went on to do so well in the next 8-10 years that the entire country regretted that India lost 10 precious years.

In the same interview however, I found this question really amusing !! – “With the experience of 116 Tests, what do you bring to the selection committee?”

I know the reporter didnt mean sarcasm but somehow its just weird !!

Why O Why is this happening to my country ! November 3, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, rant.
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Berkeley economist Brad Delong runs atleast a couple of series in his popular political/economic blog – One of them is called “Why Oh Why Can’t We Have a Better Press Corps” where he lampoons media coverage of political and economic events. An example here. Another series is “Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by This Idiot?”. No prize for guessing who the ‘idiot’ is.

Now, going by the title of this post, it appears I am trying to replicate something of the sort here. Well, not really. I dont promise to – I wont go scrounging ( is it that hard to find ? ) for material that could come under this category. But when I do find something, I will not hesitate to use this title. So here goes the first ( and maybe the last too !) on this topic.

Where does this figure in the list of most serious problems India faces ?

Police have an unusual undercover surveillance job this week, scanning the ramps and observing models at Lakme Fashion Week to check that no one intentionally displays too much flesh.

And what about this ? One country – 2 judicial systems.

In controversial move, the UPA government has defended the Darul Qaza or Shariat courts in the Supreme Court, saying their existence posed no challenge to the country’s judicial system. In an affidavit filed in the court, the Centre even defended the “jaziya tax” imposed by Aurangazeb as a mere “special tax” which non-Muslims had to pay for failing to render military service.

Update : Here is an example of Shariat ‘justice‘.

The SRK-Karan Johar endless statements in the media about ‘each other’, I wonder if one day it is going to all fall apart like this. Karan, you have a spine in there dont you. Or is this feudal ( mai baap ) mindset so entrenched in our civilization ?

I can’t think of doing an ad without Shahrukh, so leave alone a film. He is not only one of the best actors we have now, he is a superb human being. He is a great support to me. I do my best work when he is on my set. If anything is going wrong I know Shahrukh will take care of it. He is like a brother figure on the set.

Look now what the government says about the latest independent survey on OBC figures.

The Government will study the National Sample Survey Organisation’s (NSSO) findings that the OBC population has increased by over five per cent between 1999 and 2005 — though it is 11 per cent less than the Mandal Commission’s estimation of 52 per cent — before submitting its view in Supreme Court on the reservation issue. “The sample size (1.25 lakh households) is too small to reach a population figure,” a ministry official said. But an NSSO functionary contested this, claiming the survey was conducted on “proven scientific” lines.

But the Supreme court has chided the government for sticking to the figure from the Mandal commision which was statistically invalid and incorrect. Does the government admit this ?

Stunned ! October 29, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s, sport.
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I was so stunned by a recent statistic I just read that I left everything aside to pen this post down. This post comes with all the usual disclaimers, in other words – not for the faint hearted. If you have a weak heart, please dont read.

The last time India beat Australia chasing was on April 25th, 1998.

Yeah, that was the Coca Cola cup final – the match after the famous ‘sandstorm match’ ( entire match up here !). I saw that on Cricinfo a while ago but cant find the link :(.

Anyway, lets put that in perspective. In April 1998, I was just about to enter Class XII working towards my JEE exams. I hadnt sent my first email, ever gotten online. None of my classmates were married. My dad was working. India wasnt a nuclear power, Vajpayee was the prime minsiter. Saddam was around, Musharaff was not. The state of Chattisgarh didnt exist but Iraq did !

And finally, Tendulkar was as old when it last happened as old as I am today !!

( A somewhat less shocking statistic is that its been nearly 3 years since India beat Australia at all. It last happened on Jan 18, 2004 – I remember I watched the match at Sadiq’s house in Bangalore – was on the phone with my schoolmate Deepa and Rajaram simultaneously ! )

Lets see when this will be broken ! On a lighter note, I hope India keep losing to Australia chasing atleast until April 25th, 2008, the 10th anniversary ( and Tendulkar’s 35th birthday). 10 is a beautiful number – both in base 10 and base 2. 😉

This raises a few questions – does this fact make that Tendulkar’s innings even more special ? Also does the Indian team itself know this ? Who would care though – only 2 people from that team of April 1998 are still around. Wait a minute – actually that must be reason the others should care isnt it. Because it also means that 9 out of 11 players have no idea what it means to successfully chase an Australian target !

Sigh.

Costs of Education October 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, economics, india.
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A post here from Atanu again supports my position that my education has been highly subsidized.

Just an approximate calculation of my education :

Rs. 350 per month for first 6 years, Rs. 550 per month for the next 4 years and Rs. 800 per month for the last 4 years = Tuition+Food+Transport = 350 x 12 x 6 + 550 x 12 x 4 + 800 x 12 x 4 = Rs. 90,000 + books + misc. = Rs. 1,100,000.

None of the above was ofcourse subsidized – Little Rock is a private school and the Army School in Assam though a Govt. school charged us civilians rates comparable to other private schools.

What was subsidized was Undergraduate Education at KREC – Rs. 10000 per year x 4 = Rs. 40, 000 == $800.00. I would think the subsidy is to the extent of about 90%. So I owe the Indian tax payer atleast Rs. 4,00,000.

I will remember that amount.

Compare that to the education here at Carnegie Mellon – undergraduates pay $40, 000 per year. ( My research work pays my tuition and pays me a stipend that is more than enough for a reasonable lifestyle.) Assuming a dollar to be equivalent is Rs. 15 ( not the official exchange rate mind you !), its about Rs. 24,00,000 for 4 years of Engineering. And no, not that they are all rich and pay up – most of them have a debt of $120,000 on their head. And no, its not their parents that pay up. Typically, people take 5-8 years to repay these loans.

Its time to think of Education as a business – only then will the government be able to charge full fees to those who could afford it. More importantly, only then will the public understand that while primary education might be a fundamental right, higher education is not. You have to pay for what you get. If you can afford, pay. If you cant afford but are credit-worthy, raise a loan. If you arent credit-worthy, government can lend at very low or zero percent interest rates. No, virtually nothing should be free.

P. S : On a totally unrelated note, this post by Atanu Dey best summarizes my position on the Art of Living ‘Guru’ Ravi Shankar.

More than just songs October 18, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, life, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s.
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I have been spending sometime on Youtube offlate – doesnt have anything to do with Google’s latest acquisition ofcourse, I am talking about in the past month or so. I am scrounging around for Old Hindi movie songs and building lists for myself and others who care – people I know and others I never will. A few things of note :

Old songs to me means those before 1980, mostly concentrated in 1960s with a whole lot in 1950s and the 70s. Very few from the 80s – except for a few from Ek Duje Ke Liye, Bazaar, Masoom and a few others. Okay, nearly none from the 1990s – if Bollywood for no particularly reason ( or perhaps because they ran out of new storylines/plots ) stopped making movies since 1985, it would make no difference to my Bollywood experience. Yeah, I wouldnt feel a thing !

So here they are, few playlists sorted by decade –

Songs from 1950-59

Songs from 1960-69

Songs from 1970-79

Songs from 1980-89

The graph shows the number of songs by decades for the Youtube favorites and laptop collection ( local machine ).

Its rather inconvenient for most I know – for how often do we associate a song with a time period. We possibly associate them with the singers, name of the movie, actors its been picturized on, perhaps even the movie theatre/channel you watched it, who you had for company, maybe even the music director but unlikely the decade in which the movie was made. Infact I would love to see a poll of which are the most closely associated attributes with a song.

I see three reasons for this preference which I put on record here in order of their decreasing influence.

The mental map :

Somehow I find it rather trivial to store dates and numbers – its strange that it took over 125 posts for this strange trait to come up. Although I havent sat down to count, its likely that there is currently in storage over 2000 dates – not just birthdays or anniversaries but trivial things, stupid things, unimaginable patterns of what happened today last year or the year before or 6 years back. For example, a memory of what happened on 27th of June in 1997, 98, 99, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004. Or state where I was on any particular day in say, the last 10 years. Or write down the dates of, if you give me 5 minutes, every single overnight bus journey I have ever taken since March 1998. Or just world events from history.

They arent already noted anywhere, no diary nothing, no conscious effort to try and remember, these are just there, present, stored somewhere in the mind and they come out in images when I seek to retrieve them. I have no idea how its happens, but I know beyond a point, it can annoy the hell out of peopl e around you. If I cant explain and havent worked hard for it, so its hard to take credit for it. Nevertheless you mostly feel good and never really regret it because its quite an extraordinary gift.

Actually, my own song collection on my machine follows this pattern – of sorting by decades. And I guess Rajaram is the perhaps the only other person who can manage this collection. Think about it – its not easy – if you want to locate a song and dont have a search facility, you have to know which decade the movie was made. If you know the movie, you can locate it faster than typing your query and searching for it !

Dad and Vividh Bharathi :

I am clubbing the other two reasons into just one because they are closely related. Most of these songs that I have listened to, I havent watched. I have just listened – either on CD/cassette or on radio. So if you play a video from the 60s or the 70s on mute mode, its unlikely I can identify most of these songs. But if you play the song on the radio, I could possibly tell you the movie, the decade, the music director and the lyricist with reasonable accuracy. ( Dad gets it right over 90% of the time )

Much of this is heriditary – whatever I could do, dad could do better and be more accurate at it. His database is far vaster than mine is. Infact, many a time when the prelude music starts playing on Vividh Bharathi, he would rattle the song name, movie, director, when and where he watched it, producer and some trivia related to the song. Often even the actor and the actress. And since many of these songs repeated or atleast movies repeated, I would listen to many of his predictions and pronouncements over and over again. Now listening to a song, I can do much the same myself, almost as I were just repeating his words.

The fact that it was Vividh Bharathi, an obsession from 1996 to 2004 when I left India, and not TV meant that I was left with the knowledge of the song and the decade ( but not often the movie name/actors etc. ) simply because the numbers were easier to remember. Somehow though music director and lyricist were easier.

The above factors have conspired to ensure that my memory of Old Hindi songs has a rather idiosyncratic representation. Hopefully, Youtube and the great guys who put up these videos up there will do something to rectify the situation !!

P. S: A lasting memory from the recent years brings together these songs, the radio, dad’s pronouncements and Rajaram’s visit home. That is worth an entire separate post. And very soon.

Did you knows about India October 17, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, india.
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Its not always that I get my hands on quite a bit of interesting data about India – reasons ranging from there not being enough data in public domain to me not knowing where to find it to there not being data at all !!
This post is so heavy in data that some might prefer to just skim through, although I would think some o of these are trends that are good to know.

About private schools in Hyderbad‘s slum areas :

In each area, we found the majority of school children attending private schools. In the areas officially designated as “slums” of three zones of Hyderabad’s Old City, we found 918 schools, of which only 35 percent were government schools, fewer than the 37 percent of unrecognized private schools. In total, 65 percent of schoolchildren in those low-income areas attended private unaided school.

The raw scores from our student achievement tests show considerably higher achievement in the private than in government schools. In Hyderabad, for instance, mean scores in mathematics were about 22 percentage points and 23 percentage points higher in private unrecognized and recognized schools, respectively, than in government schools. The advantage was even more pronounced for English. In all cases, this achievement advantage was obtained at between half and a quarter of the teacher salary costs.

So, there, as it is said, almost whatever the government can do, the private sector can do, better.

For something totally different but interesting here from rediff :

As against the common belief that India is predominantly vegetarian, 64.4 per cent families consume non-vegetarian food with the highest reported in southern states (92.2 per cent) and the least in north (40.4 per cent).

Backs up my statement when I say that being a vegetarian puts me in a minority even in my home country. Ofcourse this isnt felt because you are never far away from a hotel that serves vegetarian food in India. Infact I wont be suprised if it is found that though there are more non-vegetarians out there, number of hotels serving atleast a small variety of vegetarian food is more. Ofcourse, every hotel that serves non-veg does serve vegetarian food, but there has to be sufficient choice for a vegetarian for it to be considered ( unlike most places in United States ). This south-north divide was even more suprising !

I work in the area of information retrieval and this no doubt interests me.

Internet users in India—37 million at last count in September—will grow to 42 million by March, estimates the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IMAI). Indians also undertake over a billion searches each month, according to a report—’The State of Search Engine Marketing in India’—by the IMAI, a trade body of online content, advertising, e-commerce, mobile content and advertising industry.

Now, to put that in perspective, 42 million is larger than all but the population of 5 European countries. But we arent there yet – what is the net used for and how much a part of life it is – and how much people are willing to spend online decides the size of the market. But this is a sign of just how much growth there is to come in the long run ( which means not withstanding major or minor hiccups on the way ) in India and other developing economies in terms of IT spending by businesses. So when Narayanamurthy and friends are hiring 2000 engineers a month (quite a figure if you have been reading US media about job losses !), they probably know what they are doing.

And finally, here is an example of why businesses have something called an IT budget ! The boldfaced are facts I was quite surprised to know.

Full disclosure : I was sent this link for the simple reason that Sridhar Pai, who has been quoted later in the extract is my mother’s brother.

For example, take Hindalco Industries, the 44-year-old flagship company of the Aditya Birla Group—itself one of the oldest organizations in India, having been founded in 1857 as a cotton trading operation. Hindalco is a vertically integrated manufacturer, extracting bauxite from mines, transforming raw materials into primary metals, and fabricating them into everything from rolled products, extrusions, and foil to alloy wheels for cars. Hindalco’s product portfolio consists of more than 50,000 finished goods. Like many businesses in India, one of Hindalco’s biggest business challenges is managing exploding growth.

To help with that challenge, Hindalco turned to Oracle E-Business Suite in 2003. “When we started the project to convert our business applications to Oracle E-Business Suite five years ago, Hindalco was a [US]$500 million company. Now we’ve grown to $2.5 billion and our plan is to become a $5 billion company by 2010,” says Sanjeev Goel, senior vice president of information technology for Hindalco. The results are spectacular: “We’ve gotten nearly 30 to 50 percent cycle time improvements since migrating to Oracle E-Business Suite,” says Goel. “Production and sales have gone up by nearly 18 to 20 percent, but our inventory has come down—we’ve reduced our outbound inventory by about $12.47 million, while our inbound maintenance, repair, and operations [MRO] inventory has been reduced by about $1.69 million.”

“It’s beginning to occur to everyone that some of the large Indian companies, particularly the fast-growing ones in the automotive, transportation, and banking sectors—plus other sectors—are some of the largest growing in the Indian economy. They’re not just absorbing the software talent, they’re actually doing some of the largest deployments of enterprise applications on a global scale,” says Sridhar Pai, CEO and founder of Tonse Telecom, a Bangalore-based market research company focused on the telecommunications industry. “That means there’s a huge opportunity for companies like IBM, HP, Sun, and Oracle.”

Indian Oil, extroverts, school teachers and prison October 14, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, economics, ideas, india.
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There is no way perhaps to connect the 4 phrases in the post title other than reading this post !

So here, goes, I had no idea about this.

Sitting on the edge of the water in the Gulf of Kutch on India’s western shore is one of America’s dirty secrets. A mass of steel pipes and concrete boxes stretches across 13 square miles (33sq km) – a third of the area of Manhattan – which will eventually become the world’s largest petrochemical refinery. The products from the Jamnagar complex are for foreign consumption. When complete, the facility will be able to refine 1.24m barrels of crude a day. Two-fifths of this gasoline will be sent 9,000 miles (15,000km) by sea to America.

The company’s ambitions in Jamnagar have helped India move from being a net importer to an exporter of refined petroleum products.

Ofcourse that Jamnagar is one of world’s largest refineries was never a secret. Its the stuff in bold that is hard to believe.

And who says there is no red-tape in America. Here is how to fire a public school teacher in America. If you dont have the time to read through this whole process, can you imagine someone could actually go through it !

Here is someone on why extroverts get more than their share of stuff and why they shouldnt.

Who says there is no such thing as free lunch ? Was it Milton Friedman ?

Misleading or mistakening October 10, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, media.
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My jaw dropped when I read this headline from a rediff story. “Indians in US have grown by 50 pc in 5 years”, it said.

And this is actually what the article intends to state :

Immigrants from India in the Washington metropolitan area have grown by an additional 50 per cent over the last five years and foreign-born Indians now rival Koreans as the area’s second most populous group, a media report said on Monday.

I hope that is a mistake rather than eyeball chasing tactics. That apart, the article has some useful information for those who care.