Tuesday, August 06, 2013


NPR were playing the Fray's -How to Save a Life in a podcast review!- Love that song. Got back home to find the Mrs. playing Ramadasa Keerthanas. Haven't heard them too many times, but just enough to find them magical. Instinctively I find them magical...
But this little experience had me thinking me about a broader and more significant point than my new found versatility in musical taste. 

So let me endeavor to get to that -
Sowmya had this introduction to Nagumomo

Most of it is in Tamil, but she makes a point about a key traditional 'ceremony' that is losing place in modern Tamil or more precisely Tam Brahm weddings - The Nalangu. For the uninitiated - The Nalangu is an informal event that follows a day of hectic proceedings. The bride and the groom settle down to play a few games (get your mind out of the gutter before you read further :) with the families on either side playing audience/referees and the occasional pain in the ass (I mean that in a nice way). Most weddings are now doing away with these events to save time or money or both. I find that a pity. 


The tricky part in prose is to connect an/set of observation(s) to a point. I've gotta admit I don't have a smart way to introduce the subject of Identity at this point in the post, so I'll just say this :

Sowmya's near lament had me thinking about the Indian Identity in general. 

I personally believe that our identity should represent our antiquity while allowing for our status quo. In other words what makes us unique is our cultural evolution over 5000 years or more and we need to be cognizant of that, in fact ensure that we are identified through that social and cultural evolution. 

However, the ground reality is that as our economy becomes more conducive for upward social mobility, we find ourselves getting more alienated from our bearings. 

  • We talk Yank, the queen's english but refuse to learn a new Indian language in an Indian state
  • We shed our traditions and celebrate advertised 'days' from the trite Mother's day to the imaginative National Orgasm Day (no kidding.., look it up on Google)
  • We drink from the same kool aid on values, priorities and mannerisms while refusing to reference the treasure trove of information and perspective that our history begets us
  • In short as time passes, slowly but surely we're turning ourselves into Americans and Englishmen in India

Before you sigh and dismiss this as a rant of a newly born traditionalist, let me state that I ain't one and this isn't a call or time to turn outright traditional either. 

The fundamental problem that we have is we look at choices as black or white. We are not good with nuance as being nuanced involves more hard work often at the risk of no material benefit. 

So, Let me explain my preferred choice of identity :

A good lot of us in the current generation are in a nice place, we can walk out of a Metallica concert on one day right into Marghazi mahautsavam or a Ustad Zakir Hussain concert on another.
In my opinion this amazing ability that the current times have bestowed on us should forge our identity. That is while we retain an Indian core that holds our value systems, our traditions and culture - we also soak in the variations and appreciate what the rest of the world has to offer.

Unfortunately, at this point in time we are polarized on either side depending on which end of the economic spectrum we lie. 

I'm convinced that either ends are not the right place to be. 

But in the interest of closure, I let myself play the devil's advocate. So I asked myself as to why we need to base our identity on our past, why not just flow with the current tide? In other words, why the effort to prevent an extinction of a culture? Why not let creative destruction or a survival of the fittest take it's course ?

And the response I came up with is Novelty. I need the Novelty that my heritage has to offer that few cultures around the world compare to.
I need the benefit of the lessons learnt from 5000 years or more
But most importantly I need the Novelty that would ensure that I am not just another Tom, Dick or Harry with a brown skin. Hence the nuance!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Moral Policing and related shite..

There's a technique out there, if one would like to denounce something-anything, one would do well to invent a condemning 'catch phrase' - something that need to make just enough sense to be sold to an ever obliging herd and not more..

Moral Policing to me is one such catch phrase... Every time some idiot god-man or a politico utters anything half baked that is pedantic and mis quotes a tradition of some sort - a certain section of the herd who've gone long on the absolute liberalism and freedom concoction take up the cudgels with cries of 'Stop this Moral Policing'..

There are 2 important lines of thought that leave me exasperated with people such as these and I state them below :

Absolute and complete freedom is a myth

We live in a severely partisan and unequal world. If we can roughly agree that the kind of stuff that shapes an individual and his/her thoughts are an hitherto undetermined combination of genes, the socio-economic environment in which one is raised, the company that one retains and the literature that one encounters - then there are a lot of variants of each of these stuff that are made available to each of us in different proportions. Which is why we form a part of various encapsulations that include, but are not limited to language, creed, economic status, religion and state.  
The most telling of these encapsulation is that of economic disparity. Nothing and I mean nothing effects the behavior of people the way economics or more aptly economic policy does. In a society of have's and have not's - the 'haves' demand for absolute liberalism will always be at logger heads with the 'have nots' need for parity in life. When the proportion of these two sets of people is out of whack and if the policies of a state are not conducive for social mobility - then the primal need of man to seek material will be satiated by anti-social activities. What hope can there be of Absolute Freedom under this setup ?
Simply put, For absolute freedom, one needs absolute agreement - an implicit sync in thought and actions which in turn needs absolute equality and societal equanimity.
However we live, always have and may always live in a disparate society and man is predisposed to be divisive  - consequently we will always have limits in what we can say and do. 

Morality isn't a bad word, it's a necessary word

Stanford studies say Morality is :
  1. descriptively to refer to some codes of conduct put forward by a society or,
            some other group, such as a religion, or
            accepted by an individual for her own behavior or
  2. normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.
If one is allergic to the first definition, then the second offers more purpose. In it's most basic form it is a code of conduct for a society. 
My fundamental doubt is - What could be refutable about a code of conduct for a society ? We have code of conducts in educational institutions, places of work and public establishments - so why not for a society at large ?
While I vehemently oppose the imposition of an individual's perspective of morality onto another, I firmly believe that it is important for a society to have a code of conduct in place that outlines social behavior and limitations..
This is where my buddy Rex and I differ..Morality is too interconnected an entity for it to be reduced to a perspective

And finally the hypocrisy of it all gets my goat - I was speaking to a very sensible friend and mother of two teenage girls last week at work - who was equally frustrated with the aforementioned phrase as I was but for more substantial reasons. Apparently the kids didn't appreciate any sound practical advice anymore and countered any suggestions offered for safety and security with - "Amma, stop this moral policing... "  
To the impressionable mind, the constant narrative had turned morality into something that needed to be despised.

When my mother tells me - be careful what you say, what you wear , what you carry and when and where you step out - she isn't being a moral police as much as a prudent advisor. If I walk into a dark alley with a fully loaded wallet - I will get mugged. This doesn't mean I justify the act of mugging, it means that I recognize the way the world operates. 
And Yes, while our constant endeavor should be to clear the world of dark alleys, we need to be aware that human nature and divisions may make it a pursuit of utopia. If we can have a consensus on a code of conduct - we may never have someone hijacking and enforcing them on us..
But we need to be interested in a consensus and stupid phrases will always form fundamental impediments..

Monday, December 31, 2012

We are the herd

Most(All) of my abstract posts in this blog have not been the thoroughly researched kind. There are practical reasons for that - I have a day job and absolutely no time for research on most of the deep topics I try and talk about. Blogging is a weekend indulgence for me - hopefully I will be able to organize myself better in future to do some look up. However at this point in time - most of these posts are driven a lot by instinct - fueled by personal experience and observation of people around me.

I subscribe to the theory of the grand narrative - Outside of the sciences, every other knowledge discipline is 'man made' and is susceptible for manipulation. So we've been intravenously fed people, events and opinions from the day we are born in a manner that is almost nefarious because of it's subtlety.  To boot, we've had families, friends and acquaintances sprinkle their own lines into the narrative. Simply put, our thoughts do not originate from within us like we lead ourselves to believe. The originate from high school textbooks, erudite speeches, bland talks, an opinionated uncle in the family, corporate cliches, movies, bad fiction, good facts, media (both the social and the anti-social kind - if you get my drift..) etc. etc.

There are delusions of independent thought or more precisely thinkers - the most prominent one's being the contrarians. We sometimes fancy ourselves intellectual by going the diagonal opposite way of the conventional view and pat our backs when proved right. This is nothing but a glorified - you miss, I hit - view that the changing context substantiates. So, if the conventional view held good today, the contrarian will do so tomorrow - in a matter of speaking. That isn't independent thinking, that is hedged thinking. It may be smart, but it isn't intellectual!

I firmly believe that around 90% of us are born to be led - in that we are not meant to be independent thinkers - we will never want to or need to!The prime movers of the world are a smaller 5% - the only independent thought that they subscribe to is that of a personal agenda - to run the world or a good part of it. And they run it safe in the knowledge of the above percentages. 
The remaining 5% are probably split between the confused and the genuine independent thinkers. It's no wonder that the Shankaracharya's, Buddha's and the Vivekananda's are once in a multi generation personalities!

So how does one separate the true intellectual from the psuedo's ? 
The best way is to try and trace back to a motive in the real world. If there is no such thing, there's a good chance that we have a real mccoy

I genuinely believe that the world would be a much better place if it was full of independent thinkers. Contrary to a more chaotic environment - it would groove to the tunes of a very counter intuitive symphony. Because it would be a world that recognizes the inherent futility in material overdraft, negative sentiments and most importantly influencing and converting others.
In a seemingly strange way, we would tend to agree more often if we thought independently!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


When two conflicting concepts sound equally compelling, it can mean one of the following

  1. That it's a case of incomplete understanding of one or both of them
  2. That the context separating them is so thin, that it tends to get overlooked
  3. That the context separating them may be thick, but tends to get overlooked anyways
  4. That one of them is clearly wrong! but is pedaled for some vested reason
  5. That one is utopian and the other pragmatic
But I've just stumbled across a conflict that has me beat as it can't seem to be explained by any of the above.

Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes (considered two of the greatest of the 20th century) decided that they'd polarize the world around two opposing ideologies.

Milton was an advocate of the 'free market' (no force on the markets from anyone including the government)
Keynes was the inventor of Keynesian-ism which advocates government intervention as and when appropriate

In this video - 

Milton makes a compelling case for the absolute need for no government intervention. 
  • He sets the stage by asserting that - even the best of intentions of an individual (and by an entity such as a government) should not be enforced onto another individual. 
  • That the integrity of the 'self' is paramount i.e - don't do good or bad for others, but just let one be!
  • The reason he says is because even the best of intentions would be corrupted in the hands of authority - Absolute power corrupts absolutely! 
  • He makes two profound observations in that both Sincerity and Philanthropy are overrated! 
  • To substantiate the point on sincerity - he brings out the example of Hitler and Mussolini - the former more sincere in his cause and therefore more dangerous to the world as opposed to the latter who lacked absolute conviction!
Hard to refute, but why was it that this approach/philosophy actually failed during the Great Depression of the 1930's ? or even for the current Financial crisis ? On both these occasions - it was actually Keynes theory of 'government intervention' that saved the blushes for those who followed it..

Keynes essentially postulated that (severely paraphrasing and simplifying) 
  • When a country is going through a bust cycle (invariably following a boom), instead of letting the markets to 'self-correct' over the long run
  • It may in-fact be prudent for the government to intervene and stimulate the economy through assertive fiscal policy
  • This stimulation has the net effect that aggregate demand (of goods and services) in the economy is increased and therefore leads to a subsequent increase in aggregate supply leading to economic growth which is to be continued till this growth becomes self sustainable
  • Sorta like kick starting a 2 wheeler once it has slowed down, until the engine cranks up and starts running
Here's a video from Khan Academy that explains Keynesian-ism

We are living in a time where both of the above are being tried out simultaneously :

  • The former policy of non interference from the government in Europe
  • The latter Keynesian option in the United States
At this point, the scoreline reads Keynes - 1, Free Market - 0

But the point of my post was - 
How does one reconcile Friedman's hypothesis with it's anti-thesis from Keynes, if one agrees with the logic of respect for the 'self' and non interference from individual or entity (govt.)? 
How would Milton have defended his words in light of the Financial crisis of 2008 ?
Is there a Reason 6 that explains this discrepancy ?

In general - Is there an inherent futility in being wedded to a single concept/philosophy ?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Witnessing The King - For No Human Can be a God!

This is going to be a short post..

Ticked off a huge item of the bucket list this week when I saw Federer play DelPo at the O2. 

A couple of quick points...

1) The King has a slight strut - that is more noticeable when one watches him live!
2) His one handed backhand looks even more amazing when you can spot the wrist movement!
3) The Audacity of the Player is to be seen to be believed :
Here's my assessment of Federer's genius - We've all grown up playing team games, For those of us in India that game would have been cricket.
Invariably there would have been a whiz kid in the group. He may not have scored the most runs, not taken the most wickets, but when he played - he looked extremely good! - no other way to say this. You wanted him on the team because you didn't want him on the opposite side. He may have even given an impression that he didn't give a damn about the game or his own incredible natural ability! 
Now if that kid managed to grow up and not change anything about his demeanor and become the greatest exponent of his sport. That would be a huge slap on the face of convention!
Federer for me is that kid - This is not to say that he doesn't take Tennis seriously or the fame and glory don't mean much to him. But in the short period when he's actually playing he's uncompromising! 
Almost every other rally that he and DelPo built up was altered by Federer either trying a cheeky volley or by altering the angle to force a winner. The fact that DelPo was up for that game is moot to the central point. 
Federer had 36 forehand winners, 16 backhand winners and 36 unforced errors!
DelPo had far lesser winners and more importantly errors too!
4) When Federer loses points - he loses it in a heap - it looked like that he doesn't have a Plan B when his attacking game is not translating to a winning game! In these moments, he looks extremely ordinary
5) Most importantly - the King looks extremely fit for a couple more years at the courts - that is not to say that he would be around. Fitness and motivation do not necessarily have the direct of relationships!

I also had a chance to see a man who could probably be seen as the anti thesis of Roger Federer - but who's in no way less revered :

Ivan Lendl

PS : Point 3 could be the reason why Federer has never had a full time coach!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Discussions and Arguments

I've spent a good 10 mins. trying to work out a catchy title for this post. To No Avail!

But my new found realization that no effort ends up futile as long as one is able to retro fit it into a different context leads me to postulate as below :

The pressure of having to come up with an 'eyecatcher' far outweighs it's benefits if the time spent in deriving the eyecatcher is anything more than 30 seconds.

Moving on - I'm going to stick my neck out and say that most of us have probably been in more conversations that have tipped over from being a discussion into an argument.
I certainly have -a number of times - that I've now started wondering why...

The problem with cause and effect study is that they are effective when applied to systems that comply to the laws of physics. However when trying to understand human behavior they need to be supplemented with another important component namely motivation. And working out the motivations that lead to a set of causal effects is a complex endeavor.

So this post will not venture to do so..

But this post claims to offer the following as root causes for 'arguments' :
1) The Tone
2) The Subjectivity Trap aka The Lack of a Context
3) Ready, Fire, Aim
4) I'm here and I'm going to say something..

1) The Tone - This key dimension of conversation is often understated or it's effect under realized. It has a profound effect both in written and oral communication. More often than not people react to the tone of a conversation rather than it's content.
Let me illustrate this with an example from my favorite blogger :
The first of what I hope to be numerous saniyan pudicha series (literally meaning Satan Captured, but really meaning "ducking idiot")

A damning review of Suhashini Maniratnam.


Although Hawekeye is not out to reform Suhashini through an induction of self realization - a rant of that kind of classy vitriol should serve the purpose of inducing some self introspection into it's target. But if Suhashini ever got to reading it - her chest (in a matter of speaking) may just get heavy with indignation and if necessary she may hit back with a post on how the blogosphere is filled with right wing conservatives with a narrow view on people and the world!
The reason she would do that is because when she first reads the word Saniyan Pudicha - there would be a longjmp to a piece of code called insulting_tone that would set the emotional counter in her brain (in a matter of speaking) that would prevent her from ever looking at the post as useful feedback! Again - not that Hawkeyeview cares.., but then you get the point.

People are more content deaf/blind than tone deaf and by that I mean that it's perfectly natural for us to skip a couple of lines when reading something (especially something long) as long as we get the context, but we never miss the tone. The tone detection unit is a intuitive, always turned on, inbuilt device.

2) The Subjectivity Trap - I was discussing this with my buddy Ajith over facebook the other day. Discussions are necessary to gain objectivity on a topic that is fundamentally subjective - if it wasn't there would be no need for a discussion.

But for the discussion to progress - the conversations would need to progress through objective exchanges.

For instance -

Subject : The Lokpal Bill
Dude 1 : It should be implemented. We need something to over see corruption.
Dude 2 : But who would oversee the over see'ers
Dude 1 : Why the cynicism ? There are credible folks who've offered analysis for it and virtous people backing it.
Dude 2 : That still isn't substantiation. There is analysis against it too.
Dude 1 : But it's worked in Hong Kong - They've had an Ombudsman for long. You really should read up instead of arguing.
Dude 2 : I will.., But isn't Hong Kong a fundamentally different society, demography and culture to ours ?
Dude 1 : But so are most societies - you're never going to get an exact fit.You're just cynical..
Dude 2 : as you are gullible and naive!
and so on!

it's easy to guess that there's not going to be a consensus.
Hopefully technocrats and policy makers would be analyzing loads of data, evaluating contexts and converting that diatribe into a proper discussion before arriving at a decision.

Another example would be  the second of the Saniyan Pudicha posts - this time directed at desi folks who's opinions don't matter and support Obama.


The real target of the post were idiot desis who discussed pro-life, gay rights, abortion etc issues which have no bearing on their lives - just to do some self attribution of significance in their lives. However, the post came out damning everyone who discussed politics and invited quite a few - hypocrite cries - rather unnecessarily!

In general - if there is no context on offer - then again there is a longjmp to the assumption subroutine in our brains that sets the context counter to 'general or across the board' and when stuff is read under that flag - it's again a case of heavy chest and indignation .....

3) Ready, Fire, Aim

This is a two way street and if discussions fail because of the instigator, then they also fail because of the receptor. I speak out of personal experience when I say that people dont comprehend before reacting, the blogosphere is littered with comments that have very clearly come through inadequate reading of posts and articles. The reason for this could be plenty -
  • Attention deficit issues
  • Assumptions and Predispositions
  • Arrogance or as Leo De Caprio eloquently puts it in the Departed - a sense of 'scum bag entitlement' to comment on anything and everything
This often leads to - "But I am not saying that stupid...
which again tends not to be taken well and as you can guess by now triggers the indignation loop ...(all over again!)

4) I'm here, I'm going to say something - types of people
The genuine trolls - the dickheads that creep into every sort of conversation and sometimes annoyingly with high voices and misplaced eloquence - who have this ability to not only hijack a conversation, but to partisan the others involved around unrelated sub topics. Suhel Seth springs to mind - going by quite a few TV discussions.
There is just no escaping them...

However : -

Once the above realization of causals seeps in, the operations of the world start making sense
  • The chances of a discussion sustaining it's state is minimal in most environments. 
  • That being the case, it is no surprise that nothing gets done in these environments
  • It is also not surprising that politicians are necessary and behave the way they do! 
  • Turns out that the only thing that would converge people doesn't exist in a natural state - it needs to be created - hence the narrative!
The problem therefore 'Ladies & Germs' is not them - the problem is 'us'. If only we learnt not to argue!

PS 1 : This isn't a post from a perspective of offering guidelines to steer people from avoiding arguments. It's more an attempt to articulate the reasons for discussions tipping into arguments
PS 2 :Although most examples I have given are from the written communication front - they are equally applicable for oral communication too

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Intelligent or Intellectual

There were various instances growing up where I was personally reminded of my lack of street smartness in certain contexts.... - "Look at person X deal with the auto rickshaw driver, I was told (to quote an example) -, look at him smartly negotiate - that's the way you ensure that you don't get ripped" -in an obvious reference to my alleged gullibility when it comes to handling money!

Over the years - I'd like to think I'd like to think I've imbibed a few of these aspects - but the point is it didn't come naturally to me. I guess I was pre-disposed to trust people. I use the past tense because once you become a parent yourself - you also become a cynic of everything (but that's a subject for a different day)...

I've realised that street smartness is heavily genetic, some of us have it, the rest of us have to work darned hard to get it...

But how do we figure out what we have ? 

It comes down to the understanding of two terms - 

Wikipedia defines Intelligence as follows :
 "Intelligence has been defined in many different ways including, but not limited to, abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, communication, reasoning, learning, having emotional knowledge, retaining, planning, and problem solving."

But in the real world - Intelligence is simply understanding the system - the matrix - and acting according to it's specifications. 
For eg. - an intelligent movie maker would rather rip-off than try and be auteur as it makes 'business sense'

Wikipedia defines Intellect as follows :
Intellect is a term used in studies of the human mind, and refers to the ability of the mind to come to correct conclusions about what is true or real, and about how to solve problems. 
Historically the term comes from the Greek philosophical term nous, which was translated into Latin as intellectus (derived from the verb intelligere) and into French (and then English) as intelligence.

That definition makes it sound like Intelligence was derived from Intellect..

However an Intelligent Person and an Intellectual couldn't be more different (they sometime reside within the same person..)
An Intelligent person sizes up his environment, understands what it's flaws and strengths are, realizes it's futile to evaluate and judge and toe's it's line while exploiting it's loop holes. Cynics may call that selling out - but the Intelligent man scoffs at cynics as he knows their words can't hurt him. An intelligent man is happy with his life in the matrix.
An Intellectual on the other hand is the exact anti thesis in behavior, he analyzes the system deeply and is scathing in criticism or abundant in praise. He isn't overawed by the matrix.

The intellectual is Morpheus, Neo
The intelligent person is Cypher

It's also largely believed that 
The intellectual is Tesla
The intelligent person is Edison

But you get the picture..

Random observations on the categories over the years :
  • It takes an intelligent man to be successful, but it takes an intellectual to shape the future and define epoch's.
  • The easiest way to create some frustration would be to force fit an intellectual to be intelligent all the time.
  • One of the biggest positive effect of a good economy is that people who belong to both categories can do well and even flourish.  
  • It's imperative that we are not one or the other, but both. However it's equally important to understand the percentages. 
 As for me - I'd rather try and figure out why certain auto drivers end up being the scums of the earth while some others are courteous and decent. With some luck - I may even come up with a Malcom Gladwell like analysis..

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Virtual Integration and the Partisan effect

So there are gazillion bytes of data already on the internet and a few billion bytes get added every hour. Interactions, commerce and information are all virtual. 
I've always believed that the accuracy of counter intuition is borne out of lack of a deep analysis in conventional views.
On the surface, this virtual information overload can only be a good thing - everyone has access to it and consequently can take an informed stance - right ? 
I conclude that the net effect of information overload is infact a more partisan and confused world. 

Here's why - Non Empirical Information on the net or news has the following features :
  • They are made by commentators pedaling a specific view. The intent is to say something is wrong and something else is right
  • Information is devoid of context. 
  • Oversimplification is the order of the day. The premium is placed on people who can break down complex blocks of data into something that the layman can understand. While this has it's advantages, the dangerous unintended consequence is that it shapes large scale opinion through superficial analysis. The devil is always in the details and devoid of them - opinions are like the -you know what holes- that everybody has...
  • Most of us do not take the onus to really understand underlying concepts prior to taking a stand. We rely on personal priors, effective articulation and anointed expertise to direct us. In other words, we are open to manipulation. 
Let's take the example of the reactions to FDI policy - if I had a rupee for every negative conclusion drawn on the policy - I'd have enough to pay for my next stint at the Kerala Ayurvedic massage parlor.
We conclude it is bad without an understanding of :
  • Fiscal deficit and federal debt levels
  • Significance of FDI to growth
  • The implications of slow or stunted growth on India's economy
  • Why governments borrow ?
  • How economies grow ?
  • Inflation, deflation and stagflation etc. 
After reading reasonably on the subject - I am as ambivalent as ever, but I feel that FDI is a good thing if implemented correctly.  
However this post is not about whether the general populace have got FDI right - it's more about the general implications of information making us more partisan than ever. If one despises the current govt. - they are more inclined to be taken in by the naysayers - if one likes them - they are more likely to follow articles that are positive. And that's the fundamental problem - despite all the information - it's not the specifics and the context but our prior dispositions that continue to drive us...
I'm going to leave this open ended as I don't have sufficient conviction to state a circumvention or a possible solution to this issue. 
Instead I'm going to state another example - It's been fun to see the democrats and the republicans go at it with regards to the fiscal situation management in the USA. While one set load their arguments in favor of more spending to grow - the others go the other way in favor of restraint and austerity. The general readers who don't know squat about Keynes or Hyak are neatly segregated along their natural predispositions. 

Arriving at an opinion should be a 3 step process :
Information -> Analysis -> Conclusions
When we get sucked into a narrative, we skip the key middle step, thereby rendering our opinions useless. The real travesty is that we inadvertently perpetrate the bad effects of half knowledge on a large scale !

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Randian Hero...

For some strange reason, I follow American politics....
hang on.. 
That's not true - I know the exact reason - It's a great show! and superbly packaged (which brings up the reason why I don't follow Indian politics closely - I don't find it entertaining enough) 

My sources - the :
  • The NPR - It's All Politics Podcast!
  • Fareed Zakaria's GPS &
  • Harvard Historian Niall Ferguson's & Nobel Laureate Economist Paul Krugman's  ongoing slug fest 
ensure that the drama unfolds intriguingly...
So this year, we are made to understand is a tight race between a somewhat aristocratic, not so conservative, uber rich, mormon republican and the incumbent, first African American President, great speech maker democrat who's feeling the heat of a lackadaisical economic performance..

As if that set up wasn't partisan enough - Mitt Romney added a certain Paul Ryan to the mix as the vice presidential candidate. I first heard of Paul Ryan when Professor Ferguson talked him and up and Krugman talked him down on Fareed's show. 
But here's what takes the biscuit - Ryan is apparently a Randian, seriously - A Howard Roark wannabe or something like that..

Krugman says here :

"For those who somehow missed it when growing up, “Atlas Shrugged” is a fantasy in which the world’s productive people — the “job creators,” if you like — withdraw their services from an ungrateful society. The novel’s centerpiece is a 64-page speech by John Galt, the angry elite’s ringleader; even Friedrich Hayek admitted that he never made it through that part. Yet the book is a perennial favorite among adolescent boys. Most boys eventually outgrow it. Some, however, remain devotees for life.

And Mr. Ryan is one of those devotees.

Reading the piece got me reflecting on my own Ayn Rand association. I read the Fountain Head when I was in my early to mid 20's - not quite adolescent - yet impressionable nevertheless and was floored. Let's face it - when someone makes such a compelling case for something like 'the virtue of selfishness' - it's bound to appeal. It still does when I live within my head, but when I step onto anything that is remotely associated with the physical world - I find it and how do I put this succinctly - stupid!

My take on Rand is that she took a fledgling thought that was justified by the circumstances she was raised and extrapolated it into the "be all and end all" virtue across all contexts. The thoughts seeded in Communist Russia took wing in her writings and appealed to an American populace that in all likelihood was looking for an alternative philosophy. However despite all the book sales and the cult status of her work - it remains little more than a popular fad. 

Former Fed. chairman Alan Greenspan was another fan and consequently a true believer of the free market. And as we know the worst financial crisis happened under his watch...!

There's something inherently dangerous about casting policy around a philosophy because one gets implicitly tied to the context that the philosophy was conceived under. So if America was anything like the Proletariat worshiping Russia of the early 90's - then yeah maybe Randian'ism would have worked out, but it isn't. There is a good reason that Howard Roark is a fictional character and has no precedence in history.. 

It's all nice and dandy for a philosophy to stay with the realms of a best seller, but it should never 'consume' a policy maker - The operative word being  consume, I'm sure that there may be several aspects of the Randian philosophy that a policy maker could use as a guidance for certain circumstances, but little else....That's my take!

Getting back to the elections :
Therefore the contest is between a liberal who's been labelled as a socialist on one corner and a mermom who's convictions no one knows about and a sidekick Rand fan boy on the other! (with all due respects to Joe Biden - but there's no scoop on the man!). 

Interesting...I will continue to watch closely...

Disclosure 1 : My insight into Rand is only from her books - The Fountainhead, a bit of Atlas Shrugged and We the Living. In fact the only thing that is likely to remain common between the great economist Fredrick Hayek and myself is that the both of us haven't got through Atlas Shrugged
Disclosure 2 : I am not a US resident and have no political affiliations whatsoever in my country of residence or visit. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Professor Niall Ferguson in his book - Civilization - quotes that you cannot have physics when the particles have consciousness. He was speaking from the context of trying to predict future activities based on the data points from the present and the past..

But I am constantly reminded of this fact whenever I contemplate on families. There's a certain amount of generalization among families all over the world. 
One is born and raised in them - during which period - an emotional bond circles and holds the members together for a substantial period of time. 

Good stuff this, but this bond does not raise it's dubious nature until a long time in the future. It grows and under pins itself as the foundation of any decision making for the family. 

So the parents work out their complete life around their kids and their convenience. There is an implicit payback expected. In the realms of emotions - payback is a bad word - but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a ....

I have always wondered on the sustainability of the institution of marriage as it goes against the very fundamental tenets of human/societal instinct. 
Why are parents keen to see their children married off - if - they're honestly uncomfortable with the subsequent trappings that a marriage brings along. 
Why do perfectly rational people succumb to incongruous instincts when it comes to interactions that a marriage union has brought forth ?
Why does the insecurity index of parents rise a 100 fold if their wards and their spouses nurture a fresh bond ? This is an extremely reliable index. Unfortunately it cannot be tapped for investments. If it could - then governments wouldn't need to issue bonds..;)
Why does one refuse to take a step back and look at the whole situation objectively ? After all, there is clarity to be sought in the deepest of emotional states too, isn't there ?

Over a period of time - one realizes that it's a bloody waste of time to ruminate on any of these...

The Emotional Bond Circle that is created within a family cannot and will never be truly extended within the same circle. The extension is just a point of contact with another circle. Our parents have created our circles and we will create new ones. There will be a point wherein children are a part of two circles - the one's they are raised in and the one's they have created. The problem will be to balance the centrifugal forces of both these bonds. 

Throughout this, the illusion of a single circle needs to be maintained. Since Illusions are never real, they need to be managed..

Therefore, Relationships post marriage need to be managed not solved. If there is ever a point where life has political lessons for an individual - this is it. 
That being said - I believe that everything that is done needs to be, keeping in mind the premise of long term sustenance of all key relationships. Some one needs to play the Objective Project Manager who's job is managing relationships. 

The risk is that the folks at the center of it all may not have the aforementioned premise. In which case something will give.. and bitterness will be propagated!
And the quirky thing about the whole charade would be that - the problem would have had a very easy solution - but unfortunately with no takers!

The sad thing is that one rarely gets into a marriage union with the above perspective realized. 

Disclosure 1 : I have seen the aforementioned irrationality in almost all families that I have encountered. Haven't met a single exception  as yet!
Disclosure 2 : The intent of this post is not to suggest that the problem is with either of parents or children. The truth is that the problem lies with both these interacting entities.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


is what I am...

Fareed Zakaria has been suspended for Plagiarism..

For the past 2 years : Every Monday morning (now Wednesdays), I make it a point to religiously download the weekly edition of The Global Public Square and listen to Fareed and his guests take on American Foreign Policy, Economics, Politics, the works..
The allure of Fareed's show  is in the simplification, the articulation and the information. A simplification that could possibly have resulted only when an astute mind met deep expertise.Granted that the views sometimes are CNN colored, that the political views tilt evidently to that of lib dem's and the lingering effect of oversimplification to cater for the least common denominator is prevalent - however Fareed had your attention and one came out of the show with a host of information and perspective...

Over the past couple of years - he was someone I started to look up to and while that doesn't necessarily mean that I agreed with what he had to say all the time - I was impressed with his vast knowledge and information assimilation ability.

So this is a bit of the - catholic kid finding out about Santa Claus - moment for me! (Couldn't think of anything similar in the Iyengar world..)

Further, If we were to dissect Fareed's apology :

"Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column on gun control, a version of which was posted here on Facebook, bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore's essay in the April 23rd issue of The New Yorker. They are right. I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time and CNN, and to my readers and viewers everywhere."

He says - I made a terrible "mistake". The mistake here could only be one of two things :
- Plagiarizing the article without realizing..
- That he thought he could get away with it.

A Harvard and Yale graduate - Fareed is surely not naive to copy something without realizing he's doing so. And if it is indeed the latter - Did he underestimate the implications of his actions? or was he just smug ?

Eitherways, it's a fall from grace and while I will continue to retain my penchant for GPS, at the back of my mind I'll probably always wonder on the novelty of Fareed's words...

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Complexity Postulates

Complexity = the  variable effect

Take the case of figuring out the price of oil or commodities. 
In a non volatile world, all one would have to do is forecast the increase in demand and the supply and use basic mathematics to come up with a price - say one year down the line. 
But if you were to throw into the mix the likely hood of a war or a radical policy change in support of hybrid fuels or a double dip recession in a part of the world, a relative slowdown in the other and complex financial trading - then the task becomes unfathomably difficult. 

That is to say :: The more the variables in a problem, the bigger challenge it poses for humans with their knowledge and their accessories to compute. And hence by definition it is complex. 

Now that the definition is out of the way, let me state what I believe are the postulates of complexity :
  • Complexity is always relative. 
  • Complexity has but 2 shapes - The Depth and The Breadth
  • When standalone components of any kind start interacting, the complexity shape changes from depth to breadth (Visualize a T)
The reason I was contemplating on complexity is because it appeared to me that most of us have successfully stereotyped it.
TechStuff had a podcast on Dennis Ritchie and had a passing remark on Steve Jobs standing on the shoulder of Dennis Ritchie. While one couldn't fault the logic, unless I was tone deaf I couldn't have missed the condescension of the certain geek cults towards Steve.  
I'm not an Apple fan boy so I will not lose objectivity on the subject of Steve Jobs, but for me Steve and Dennis cracked the 2 different shapes of complexity. 

While Dennis defined the digital era by defining the depth of the software stack - The operating system - and it's language. Steve redefined marketing and made digital devices ubiquitous along the breadth of the world. The decision on which one is a more complex problem is not that straightforward as it's made out to be. There are considerable variables for both problems and while Ritchie's genius was in his intellect, Steve's genius was in his convictions and execution. I can imagine a re-spin on the "Standing on giants" narrative to a "Making Technology useful" - which is why I find this whole comparison banal. 

Another example of the complexity shape change is between Product based IT companies to Service based one's. While Product Based companies develop technology, service based companies connect and orchestrate them to develop applications that implement services for end users. A move from products to services consequently does not mean a movement from a high complexity work to a lower one as much as it means a move from the depth complexity to the breadth. 

This nuance has been of particular use to me as I try to figure out the difference in challenges that come along with this shape change!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


There are essentially 2 kinds of people - 
1) One who believe that life has a meaning and that actions have consequences and therefore intentions matter
2) Others who think that - Life is a chance happening, nothing is interconnected and therefore one is free to live the way one choses (albeit within the tenets of public ethics)

The second category exist because the meaning of life has not been emphirically proved, the first exist because by nature they don't seek a proof for everything. They are wired to take a leap of faith with regards to it's existence and often rely on anecdotal evidences for substantiation

The day the E=mc2 equivalent of life is discovered - the second category would definitely cross over. I believe that this is more probable than the lack of existence of an equation for life. 

But until that day, the ambivalence ensures that one may choose his natural dispositions towards any of the above categories. Which is fair enough!

Until such a time - pedagogy from either groups will form the root cause of a polarized world

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Risky Toss off..

Human Civilization can perhaps be viewed as one mega data set. However one rarely gets to contemplate on it because individual lives are governed by narratives. Right from the point when one begins to blink - a set of do's and dont's take over. As one grows up, a transition is effected every day from the ideal to the practical so much so that by the time the age of indulging in economic activity is reached, one is rendered incapable of thinking beyond a template - The Matrix!

The biggest casualty from my early years into adult hood has been morality. Growing up in the world of comic books and text books - almost every story, fiction or other wise had a moral lesson. It was a compelling narrative. 
Interestingly with age, a different narrative took over - that of success, freedom and the good life. Morality then got dissected, intellectually rejected and worst of all made to look subjective. 
All of this happened so organically that one can be forgiven for missing the effect!

Over the past 3 weeks, there have been incidents of molestation of a girl by a bunch of hoodlums in Guwahati and an incident in Mangalore where some activists interrupted a party and beat up those involved in the name of culture.
To make my stand clear, I unequivocally feel that both the hoodlums and the activists should be bought to book. The former should be severely punished and the latter should be made to realise that taking law into their hands is not done!

But on more reflection, I find it strange to say the least that almost every media narrative on the subject has chosen to flaunt the "morality is moral only when voluntary" angle. 

So is Morality moral only when voluntary ?
My understanding says No! In my opinion, Morality is to live a life governed by a set of principles and guidelines to sustain the societal framework within which one operates. 
It's a guideline which means one can chose to follow it or not. Consequently, it should not be enforced. 
But here's where I break away from the current convention - There's nothing subjective about Morality. There's no your morality and mine, one cannot justify being immoral as the right thing.
In an ideal world, there proabably wouldn't have been a need for such guidelines. The world would be full of good people and 'Prevention is better than cure' would have been a non existent phrase. 
But in the real world...the ordeal can be a bitch!

The 2 common arguments that I have seen made against morality are :
1. Conflicting with Freedom of expression
2. As long as one leads a non interfering life, one should be allowed to do what one wants. 
The problem I have with point 1 is that Freedom is made out to be all about what to wear, drink and whom to do. This is bloody myopic and hypocritical especially when one has no qualms of putting on a uniform or signing a behavior claue for economic incentives. The Hindu had an article on the Guwahati incident today where the author attributed this nit picking to a narrative driven by consumerism. She stated beautifully that there are many other ways to feel liberated - seeking the pub and disco are not necessarily the right indicators. 
Point 2 is blatantly wrong. Things that are seemingly non interfering are in reality very propagating. The doped dude in the rave party can potentially run over a few pedestrians on his way home. The drunk idiot may not think twice about molestation or any other lewd act. At a more fundamental level, they can cause harm to self , to close one's or someone unrelated. The world is interconnected now more than ever. 

On the other side of the debate, leading a moral life can be overbearing, suffocating even. Religious substantiation of morality can sound dubious to the questioning mind. It's not attractive, is completely man made and sometimes gets in the way...

Which begs the question - Are morality and freedom mutually exclusive ? 
Fortunately, I think not, but for both of them to co-exist,  it would require one  to understand the concepts of control, bounds/limits and societal obligations. 
So, we need a narrative that helps us seek and gain that control, that awareness - 
The issue however is that we have bought into one that promotes the (false) sense of freedom at the cost of morality. What we need is someone to tell us constantly - 
That in the real world, actions have reactions, so follow the equivalent of a balanced diet in the way you lead your life. 
The last thing we can afford is a toss off...

Friday, July 27, 2012

The curious case of Kamal Haasan

Kamala Haasan messes with a fan's affinity levels like no other. It's like he's playing some of us like a top, sometimes hurtling us away and suddenly pulling us closer or vice versa
For someone who was raised in the eighties and nineties watching Tamil movies - Kamal is a central figure, the versatile actor, the singer, the experimental movie maker - the do-it-all-dude. Growing up, I remember more than one conversation where I've proclaimed that Nayakan is the best movie that I have ever seen - without a semblance of thought. I am not so sure anymore. 
Make no mistake about it, Kamal Haasan's movies form a good chunk of my collector's items : Nayakan, Aboorva Sahodarargal, Michael Madhana Kamarajan, Thevar Mahan, Mahanadhi, Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, even Hey Ram are cult classics (this is not the exhaustive list). Most of these movies have gone ahead and achieved the double whammy of 'popular - money spinning' cult classics. 
In an era where cable television was not ubiquitous and the gazillion movie channels were non-existent, Kamal offered an alternative from the dreary run of the mill stuff, he dared to use his imagination. 
He was a dancer, all 4 brothers, a crazy man, a retard, a psychopath, a man spurned, a social reformer - all roles that no other actor would have touched with a 10 foot pole - and was convincing and entertaining in all of them. He was the reason a lot of arguments for Regional cinema over Bollywood were won. 
There was simply no equivalent in most people's mind. Every cinema had their super stars and the next rungs of actors, but none pushed the envelope like Kamal did. 
The image that he built was compelling - of one close to genius if it had reached full fruition in the later years. 

Unfortunately that was not to be - 
Over the past decade, Kamal has messed up and managed to traverse the reckless path from a great actor to a lousy movie maker. 
If I were inclined to dramatize, I would say something like - It's a condescension of epic proportions! 
Sample the following :

  • Manmadhan Ambu
  • Dasavatharam
  • Alavandan
  • Kadhala Kadhala
  • Pamal K Sambandam
  • Anbe Sivam
  • Indian
  • Mumbai Express
  • Vasool Raja MBBS

The movies above can safely fall under the following categories :

  • Duds
  • Inspired Duds
  • Pseudo Intellectual Bullshit

If one were to plot a graph of movie quality over time - Kamal's movies would show a continous downward dip that is currently seeking a bottom.
So what happened ? - Why wasn't that leap from 'acting greatness' to 'film making genius' not made ?
I have the following explanations to offer :
Unrealistic expectation
Maybe Kamal never had it in him to make that leap. Maybe he lacked the aptitude, the exposure and the creativity to make movies that juxtaposed entertainment with intellectualism. Or maybe it was the attitude that was the stumbling block. It's also entirely possible that fans like myself extrapolated his image to impossible levels.
The audience have progressed, but Kamal hasn't
It's not so much the technicalities of movie making that I am talking about. One has to just listen to any of his interviews to realise that Kamal is in sync with the changes in techniques and technology of films. The fact is that Kamal's biggest USP - the surprise element, the expectation that he's going to bring out something different - has ceased to be a surprise anymore. In a world where any average movie watcher is exposed to cinema from all over the world - this was bound to happen. Kamal just hasn't kept pace.
The Fan Boy Effect
This is unlikely to have had a direct effect, but I'd like to throw it in just to rant on the sheer stupidity of fans who pedal movies like Indian and Dasavatharam as stuff of genius. The Olaganayakan moniker is as idiotic as they get. 
Half Baked Convictions
Kamal claims to be a rationalist and an atheist - nothing wrong with that - but to our chagrin, he insists on spreading the virtues of both the 'ists' to the world through his movies. The problem is that convictions shouldn't be forced, they should be arrived at through contemplation. Take Anbe Sival for example - Kamal loaded the movie with black and white characters. The theist is a bad man, the atheist is the man with values so stop believing in God for love is god. 
(How different is this from a Vijay movie where he is the epitome of all good up against bad asses) There are so many things wrong with that message that it would take a different post, but in the context of the current one, I'll stick to saying that in the real world - people are more nuanced. A subject like this requires a lot of research. When someone like Kamal makes a movie - the expectation is that the research has been done. 
The Creativity Vs. Commercial Tussle
This is the problem to crack for movie makers. How does one make a 100 crores from a movie that inspires the audience to think and not just turn up ? especially when the average Intellectual Quotient of the audience is fairly low. How does one entertain by not offering what is expected?
This problem is usually solved by one of 2 ways :
The Rowdy Rathore way - self explanatory
Small scale movies - where the operating costs are lesser and therefore the experimentation can be scaled up to still churn a profit. 
The expectation from Kamal was to crack this for good and not work around - for him to make those mega budget movies that made the masses show up and want to think through. Instead he decided to walk half the way or less by trying to retro-fit some intellectual elements within the scope of commercial cinema. The result was a disaster - case in point - Dasavatharam. 
By all accounts, Kamal is a hard man to work with - which explains why he hasn't worked with too many directors of note lately. Reportedly, he likes to be the master of puppets which might be a part of the problem. 

All said and done, there seems to be no reprieve on offer soon. The trailer of Viswaroopam eerily reminds me of Alavandan  (in an experiment gone wrong sort of a way)!

I see one of the following play out in decreasing order of probability :
I re calibrate my image and expectations, so any little quirk in a sea of mundane stuff is par for the course for Kamal's movies
Kamal decides to submit himself to the whims of good directors
I am completely proven wrong and Kamal begins to make movies that appeal to the mind's eye and they all turn out to be box office scorchers too.

All of the above are in an increasing order of 'wishful thinking'..