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March 30, 2009

Finished reading “Train to Pakistan”

Filed under: book, India, social change — neosurya @ 17:36

A very touching book. The movie is a reasonably honest reproduction of the book. However, I thought the art of penning the emotions was a bit more refined than acting them out. I purchased the 2006 edition that has pictures by Margaret Bourke-White. Quotable quotes:

==== Page 61:

Iqbal sat up rubbing his forehead. His countrymen’s  code of morals had always puzzled him, with his anglicized way of looking at things. The Punjabi’s code was even more baffling. For them truth, honor, financial integrity were ‘all right’, but these were placed lower down the scale of values than being true to one’s salt, to one’s friends and fellow villagers. For friends, you could lie in court or cheat, and no one would blame you. On the contrary, you became a nar admi – a he-man….

==== Page 92-93

The Bhai told me of a truckful of Baluch soldiers who were going from Amritsar to Lahore. When they were getting near the Pakistan border, the soldiers… read the rest yourself.  🙂 This book has very interesting anecdotes.


An Indian Congressman…

Filed under: India, politics, social change — neosurya @ 12:46

Look at this pdf file. It is an article summarizing the “PROCEEDINGS AND DEBATES 0f THE 87th US CONGRESS, FIRST SESSION”, comments by “Dalip Singh Saund”. Some of the content is summarized below:

Let us àuppose that the Congress had
passed this kind of a bill 3 years ago.
That was the time when Iraq was governed
by a King and Prime Minister who
were very friendly toward the United
States. Suppose then we had promised
the King of Iraq an annual sum of $100
million for 5 years to improve the canal
system. One daywe wokeup to find that
the King and Prime Minister were gone
and the Government was taken oiler by a
revolutionary leader not very friendly to
the United States of America. Then if
we had decided later that It was not in
the best interests of the United States to
give this massive aid to the new government
of Iraq, where would we be? We
would be in a position of offering apologies
and making excuses for not giving a
foreign government our own money. We
would be placed in a position of refusing
to give funds to build canals for the people
because their rulers had changed.
In Korea there was a big upheaval.
Syngman Rhee was our friend. We do
not know where we stand with the new
government, although we are friendly
toward it. What would be our position
if we had promised Syngman Rhee $400
million annually for economic development
on a 5-year basis?

No one will dispute with me that the
purpose of this program is to help the
less fortunate peoples in the underdeveloped
areas of the world achieve a better
and fuller life. And by that I mean
all the people and not a thin strata on
the top.
That has been our mistake all along.
We have been identified with the ruling
classes. We have been coddling kings
and dictators and protecting the status
quo. The status quo for the masses of
people in many lands means hunger,
pestilence, and ignorance.
There are glaring instances where our
aid has helped to make the rich richer
and the poor poorer. And we then wonder
why the people of the underdeveloped
areas of the world do not appreciate
the help of Uncle Sam.

What compelling arguments from a congressman!!! I wonder when our politicians would pen such comments instead of throwing chairs and damaging the parliament. Here is another snippet by Sanjeev Sabhlok from the FTI mailing list:

I’d like us to focus on the Australia vs. India (or UK vs. India) example. Westminster democracies, similar in most ‘laws’ and structures, yet functioning quite differently. Comparing (good) apples with (bad) apples is a good way to learn.

Both Australia and UK have tended towards the welfare state and moved far away from capitalism, and if I had my way I’d make them more competitive and reduce the welfare state.

However, the structures they have designed allow ordinary good people – with absolutely no means – to succeed in politics. That is very important for us on FTI to note.

Consider my neighbouring electorate in Melbourne. Conrad D’souza, an Indian doctor my age  (came a few decades ago to Australia) has been nominated as Liberal Party candidate a few times now and secured a good number of votes (not yet won). He is an ordinary person; no extraordinary means – like most of us on FTI. Yet, the Liberal Party found him suitable and nominated him on a number of occasions.

Penny Wong, a relatively more recent migrant to Australia not only was nominated on the Labour Party seat but is now the Climate Change minister of Australia.

Kevin Rudd, PM of Australia, was an ordinary diplomat (counterpart of IFS in India) in China before rising to chief secretary in Queensland and then joining politics at a young age. A person of modest means, but extremely sharp mind, Australians have nominated him, and made him PM.

Most Australian politicians are ordinary middle class people. Julia Gillard now Deputy PM Austrlia was a mere Ministerial advisor (a junior policy position) a few years ago.

Most Australian politicians live very ordinary lives in ordinary houses. If you come for coffee to the Deli below my office, you’ll often find many politicians there, and also wandering about in the streets, like any other common person. People don’t even look at them and indeed, most people don’t even recognise their politicians.

I can go on and on.

Merit counts, and despite its many shortcomings, democracy works in Australia. It is a free country for the most part, as well. And everything works (99%). Shantanu, Anil, Dipinder, etc. can enlighten me whether UK works at least better than India (I’ve never been to UK).

I don’t see the need to get into debates about what is a republic/ how we should have 50 plus 1 per cent votes for selection, etc. FPTP doesn’t create severe problems in UK, so why should it do so in India?

These are fine academic debates to have once good people enter and clean up politics in India. Till then I am inclined to simply suggest we **learn** the detailed mechanics of why these democracies work well and ours doesn’t (despite very similar laws), and thus to seek to improve our democracy.

Also, I’m not ready to even remotely consider the Singapore model for anything. We have excellent, historically proven models to learn from. India’s constitution is fine (as far as its democracy goes); let’s stick to democracy.

I do not need to say more. I dream of a day when my daughter will not have to think of entertainers and sports-persons alone as her “Indian idols”.

Free trade

Filed under: market, politics — neosurya @ 08:24

Read an interesting post at cafehayek on Free trade.

Anyone skeptical of free trade must explain why political borders are economically relevant.  With the exception of pointing to (mostly rather vague and poorly considered) national-defense issues, protectionists have never managed — and I dare say never will manage — to impart genuine economic relevance to political borders.

Because all reasonably prosperous countries today impose no, or only very few, internal restrictions on trade, two facts stand: (1) free trade is in fact quite common, and (2) free trade is beneficial.

While this is very true, the devil is in details (as it usually is), and no country would eagerly grab this ideology. Humans never fail to revive their distrust and fear of each other. Today’s TOI had a front page report of how the Chinese Govt. had hacked into embassies of several countries all over the world (Times UK report). There was an editorial of how South Africa had denied visa to the Dalai Lama (BBC report).

My guess is that if left to their own schemes without large societies to mess with their thoughts, humans would be rather OK interacting with each other.

March 26, 2009

The cooking has started…

Today’s headline in the TOI, Mumbai edition:

Under pressure, BJP too cooks up rice recipe

There will be a lot more cooking happening in the next few weeks… Will you come for the tasting? Do come, it is the biggest party on earth, the Indian General elections, and there is biriyani and arrack to be had.

I saw the Congress party’s ad on maaa TV today (I am sure Bhajpaa also has ads).

Lok Satta is also running ads. A few are here:

The difference between ads by the two parties are striking; Lok Satta has a modest budget and this is reflected in their ads. There is a serious, witty message on screen with only a guys voice being the human connection. The former has hajaar money to spend, apparent by the length of the ad and the song and dance sequence (literally!!!). A different congress ad has a bunch of kids and this travelling movie guy breaking into a song. The guy further shows all congress faces right from Indira to Sonia/Manmohan…. At least the ad people get to show their skills !!!

March 25, 2009

Research on global warming.

Filed under: global warming, NGO, science — neosurya @ 22:33

Saw the following article in the Times of India, page 18, 25th March 2009….

Ocean test to fight global warming fails
Amit Bhattacharya | TNN

New Delhi: LOHAFEX, the Indo-German Antarctic scientific expedition that had triggered a storm of protests when it set sail in January to test a controversial method of fighting global warming by getting a huge amount of CO ² to sink deep into the ocean, has returned with disappointing results.
The team found that the amount of CO ² —a greenhouse gas chiefly responsible for global warming—eliminated from the atmosphere as a result of the experiment turned out to be far less then expected. This has led the scientists, 29 of them from India, to infer that the Southern Ocean near Antarctica may not be as good a site for ‘ocean iron fertilization’ as previously thought.
Iron fertilization is a method of seeding the ocean with iron to prompt the blooming of phytoplankton, a class of tiny plant algae which take up CO ² from the air and quickly die off, sinking deep into the ocean with the carbon. If conducted on a large scale, it was touted as a way of sucking millions of tonnes of CO ² , thus reducing the level of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. The LOHAFEX team, however, found that though the algae mass doubled in size after four tonnes of dissolved iron was dropped in a 300 sq km patch of ocean, most of it was quickly eaten away by a crustacean zooplankton species. ‘‘This grazing resulted in most of the CO ² trapped by algae to be recycled into air,’’ said S W A Naqwi from National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, the co-chief scientist of the project.

Funny feeling I get – A few days ago, I had written about the one straw revolution, and how science and business collude in an unholy matrimony, resisting from seeing all parameters before implementation of an idea. This article is another (though milder) embodiment of that observation.

Interesting blog on individualism and socialism….

Filed under: India, socialism — neosurya @ 07:32

Saw these entries on a blog:
In defence of individualism

A Second Republic

== Begin Quote ==
To understand the pitfalls of the notion that collectively held property actually exists, the reader should take a walk around Lutyens’ Delhi. All the bungalows there are public property: They belong to the state.But does this mean that they belong to us, the people? Certainly not. If anyone of us were to try and enter one of these compounds, even if just to admire the flowers in the opulent garden (maintained at public cost), we would be turfed out pronto.


So let us consider how the socialist state acquired these titles. It owns all these bungalows, all over the country, where its functionaries reside for free.

It owns all these enterprises which it leases out to its cronies. It operates a land monopoly in most cities, including the Capital. It owns all the forests, all the rivers, all the mountains, all the oil under the ground, all the minerals: It practically owns the entire country.

For the rest of us, property titles are extremely insecure. We really own nothing. Tribals get booted out of their traditional homelands, which are leased out to forest officials and contractors for private gain.

In Karnataka, the state government is passing law to take over temples: God is being nationalised!

At this point, let us pause to reflect on the fact that there can be some truly public properties which every citizen and even every foreigner is free to use like a public thoroughfare or a public park.

Liberal economists call these public goods and call for public investments in public goods alone. This is because businessmen will not invest in goods which everyone can use for free.

In India, although this is a planned economy, the state has not invested in these public goods at all. Instead of investing in roads, it invested in an automobile factory. It owns Scooters India. It owns oil companies. Hotels. Steel plants. Airlines. Should liberal jurisprudence hold these property titles to be valid?

Absolutely not. These are all criminally acquired titles. The taxpayer’s interests have not been represented in this planned socialist democracy. Instead of investing in public goods, they have invested in private goods. This is planned theft.

== End Quote ==

Very interesting observations about socialism; kinda agree with these views. Individualism is interesting but is not a completely tested concept. I wonder how certain things like social security, safety, and quality of life would pan out.

March 24, 2009

How to get onto the voters list in India

Filed under: election, form 6, India, indian elections, jaago rey, voters ID card, voters roll — neosurya @ 10:13

I checked from election commission’s website that Koramangala falls under 172-BTM Layout. Relevant documents:
Electoral Registration Officers in Bangalore and
Electoral Registration Officer’s (EROs) of 21 New (Delimited) Legislative Assembly Constituencies of BBMP.
Folks from office also verified that my house falls under BTM constituency.

Next, filled out form 6, attached photocopy of passport and ration card and submitted at the ERO office at the BBMP office in Madiwala, next to ayyappa temple (wikimapia link) . The office timing was from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM and 4:00 to 8:00 PM; I was there at about 9:30 and it took around half-hour to submit the form. They gave me an acknowledgement and said that the name should show up in about one week. The BBMP office in Madiwala is not indicated as an ERO office on the pdf files. You can call the ERO office before you go and verify if there is another center closer to you.

Many are checking out jaago re to get their names onto the voters list. Jaago rey lets you fill out the information on form 6 directly as pdf. You have to hand over the form yourself. I did not use jaao rey, preferred to download the form from Govt site.

The Govt. websites themselves are not too bad. Karnataka has a website that shows wether your name is on the voters list or not.

Once your name gets onto the electoral rolls, you should be able to go to the local ERO office and get your voters ID card. Today, there was a huge crowd outside the BBMP office for getting the ID card; hopefully it would not be necessary to go to the BBMP office to get ID card. During election time, like right now, one can also get a voters ID card at local offices like at the Chinmaya school in Koramangala. The latter serves local communities and would be less crowded.

PS: This is the first time I am in India during General Elections as an adult, and I +vely want to be on the voters list.

March 20, 2009

Ration card zhaalaa, getting a ration card in bangalore

Filed under: India, social change — neosurya @ 16:19

I got my ration card today. It is India’s version of social security. Subsidized gas, food, and a host of other services.

One needs the following documents:

  • “Deletion certificate” showing that your name has been canceled from your father’s ration card.
  • If you do not have a deletion certificate, they may want you to sign an affidavit saying that you do not have ration card elsewhere. They will also need an NOC from your native place.
  • Marriage certificate, if married.
  • Birth certificate, if you have any minors who need to be added to the list.
  • Proof of citizenship: Birth certificate/passport/voters ID card.
  • Copy of address proof: Phone bill, bank statement (Only nationalized banks),
  • Two passport sized photos.

Take all documents to the card office. For Bangalore, the office is located at coordinates: 12°57’25″N 77°34’3″E. It should not be a problem finding parking in one of the bylanes there.

Applying at the center (I had gone there on 10th Feb 2009):
Ask any one where you need to apply for ration card. There is a lady sitting in front of the “computer rooms”. Pay Rs 10 as application fee. She will stick your photo in a registry, write an application number next to your name, and put that app # on a blank application, stick your photo on the application and return it to you.

You now fill out the application and take it to one of the officers. He will check the documents, and sign them.

Next, you return it to the lady, who will check the signatures, and will put a receipt number at the acknowledgement that is located in the bottom of the application. The acknowledgement receipt is returned to you with a date within which an inspection would be done. You should be present at home for the inspection. Some folks have said that if a visit is not needed, you would get the card on the spot. My application needed an inspection, so one month wait. She gave me a date of 10th March.

Visit by inspector:
A food inspector visited our house in about 3 weeks. The guy verified that we did indeed exist, but was concerned about our gas connection. We are using a gas connection from a friend, and the inspectors claim was that we could not get another one at the same address. Well, we said – if that is the law then it is fine (AFAIK, that is not the rule – the connection has to be in my name for him to refuse); we would go without a gas connection and get the ration card alone. The dude said: “I will give favourable report only. There will be another officer who would come, and if you Request maddi to him, you will get gas also.” I asked him if I could give the request in writing, and for good measure also asked the format in which the request should be written 🙂 (In all likelihood, his request meant ghoos). The other officer never showed up.

Collecting ration card at center on 24th March:
You have to take all your family members with you. Minors under 1 year are exempted.
I did see one person have his picture taken for a new ration card. His wifes name was also added on his card; she had not come.

You show your acknowledgement receipt, collect your application form.

Go to the computer desk. Wait for your name to be called. They will photograph you, take a fingerprint, you pay Rs 45, your card is printed and laminated. You return home and enjoy your “social security”…

Both visits to the card office took me about 45 minutes. If you are not anal with these people, they will be quite friendly and help you with filling your forms. The fees are legit. There is also a tatkal scheme, where you can get it the same day; costs about Rs 100.

There are several Govt. run FAQ’s which can be great resources:
[1], [2], [3], [4] .

I met “The One straw revolution”….

Filed under: agriculture, book, Masanobu Fukuoka, the one straw revolution — neosurya @ 03:01

Sometimes, you read a book and feel that you have met in the author, a part of yourself. In my case, “the one straw revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka is one such book. Some quotes:

==== page 74.

Modern research divides nature into tiny pieces and conducts research that conforms neither with natural law nor with practical experiments.

Even if you can explain how metabolism affects the productivity of the top leaf when the average temperature is eighty-four degrees (Fahrenheit), there are places where the temperature is not eighty-four degrees. Moreover, if the temperature is eighty-four degrees in Ehime this year, next year it may only be seventy-five degrees. To say that simply stepping up metabolism will increase starch formation and produce a large harvest is a mistake. The geography and topography of the land, the condition of the soil, its structure, texture, and drainage, exposure to sunlight, insect relationships, the variety of seed used, the method of cultivation-truly an infinite variety of factors-must all be considered. A scientific testing method that takes all relevant factors into account is an impossibility.
==== page 87.
If one farm household or one cooperative takes up a new process such as the waxing of Mandarin oranges, because of the extra care and attention the profit is higher. The other agricultural co-ops take notice and soon they, too, adopt the new process. Fruit which is not wax-treated no longer brings so high a price. In two or three years, waxing is taken up all over the country. The competition then brings the prices down and all that is left to the farmer is the burden of hard work and the added costs of supplies and equipment. Now he must apply the wax.

In this chapter, Fukuoka indicates how physical deformities are not indicative of the nutritional value, but are still preferred.

==== Page 97 first paragraph.
It is the same with fertilizer and chemicals. Instead of developing fertilizer with the farmer in mind, the emphasis is on developing something new, anything at all, in order to make money.
==== Page 97
The fundamental question here is whether or not it is necessary for human beings to eat eggplants and cucumber during the winter.
====  Page 115
I do not particularly like the word “work.” Human beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think this is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their livings by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive.
==== Page 158
Why do you have to develop? If economic growth raises from 5% to 10%, is happiness going to double? What’s wrong with a growth rate og 0%? Isnt’ this a rather stable kind of economics? Could there be anything better than living simply and taking it easy?

This book does not subscribe to escapism, or suggest that one should be lazy. Fukuoka makes it very clear that the life of natural farming is very difficult, that every plant has to be studied, and significant manual labor is involved.

As for me, the current definitions of development, and the behavior of science and business are quite irresponsible, and out of balance. The book says the same in the area of agriculture.

For example, the quote from page 87 (above) describes a “Waxing” phenomena that we can see happening at several other industries. The parallel is easier to understand in the IT business where margins have become razor thin as more companies outsourced and competition increased. IT companies routinely slave their workers. The loss of quality of life was not apparent initially, but is now being seen all around.

I do not think that one should stop scientific research; I believe however that large scale experiments with untested scientific research is akin to shooting yourself in the foot.

March 14, 2009

Market – and only market.

Filed under: Carl Jung, gandhi, gandhian principles, market, Sigmund Freud — neosurya @ 19:36

We had been to Satish’s farm last Saturday. Their story is similar to that of Srikanth and Priti at vanashree: I will not repeat the aspects of simple living and so on over here. It is better described at several other websites.

I wonder what would be the social implications if people take to such lifestyles on a large scale. Often, people say that such a simple life, or “the Gandhian way” is anti-development. I beg to differ. The way most “development” is designed right now, it is designed to only serve a “market”. The larger the market, the better the development. This cannot be the best model that our economists, researchers, and industrialists can come up with.

There has to be a middle ground between crass commercialization, market economy principles, and the North-Korea/Cambodia style defeatist principles. As for a window into current “market development”, it would help looking at a sample of the products that hit markets, I quote an article I saw on Onion:

== Begin quote ==
“Often, when we’re assigned a new order for, say, ‘salad shooters,’ I will say to myself, ‘There’s no way that anyone will ever buy these,'” Chen said during his lunch break in an open-air courtyard. “One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless shit?”

“I hear that Americans can buy anything they want, and I believe it, judging from the things I’ve made for them,” Chen said. “And I also hear that, when they no longer want an item, they simply throw it away. So wasteful and contemptible.”
== End quote ==

Of course, not all products are this bad. Some innovations are really useful. But much of it is junk, or given the environmental hazards posed, worse than junk :). The effect of a purely market economy can go deeper than creating junk. It subtly alters people to think that they are happy while indulging in products, and satisfying such an indulgence is most important for “life”. BBC had a series called “The Century of the Self”. It is a documentary about the understanding of human behavior vis-a-vis market economy and large businesses (Available on google video). The works of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud make for very interesting reading here.

This is where Gandhian living kicks in. It focusses on people satisfying their basic needs through their own hard work, and looking for external resources only when absolutely needed. A typical argument against this lifestyle is that it stunts progress; Science is like evolution and needs to be done in baby steps (I agree with this). If one ventures to science only when absolutely needed, there will be disorganized, slow, or stunted development. For example, if vaccum cleaners were never invented, the “roomba“, an automatic vaccum cleaner would never have been invented. This is a very subjective argument for which a short answer is not possible. However, in the current era, it is easy to see that most science has been overtaken by a market phenomena. Too frequently, the fundamental technology, and even a study of its effectiveness at solving the stated problem gets much less importance than the buzz factor generated. It gets even more dangerous when profit becomes the prime driving force behind industry. A lifestyle that is focussed on only solving the most important problems will not let go of scientific advances completely. It may be a model that can eliminate mass-producing the “junk” that gets generated by intermediate results.

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