The English Food, Mexico’s Central Heating, and the Egyptian Uprising

Paul Krugman wrote (link) about the “stubborn persistence of bad food in England.” Paraphrasing the article, the quality of food in London dropped significantly due to rapid urbanisation that preceded good transportation system that brought fresh food from the farms. This created a big demand for canned food-based diet, and soon the demand for quality food dropped. This resulted in London being stuck in a bad equilibrium, where good food was not supplied because good food was not demanded. Enough critical mass needed to demand good quality food was created only after many Londoners were able to afford frequent foreign trips.

Krugman also noticed (link) that Felix Salmon attributes (link) a similar reason (among others) for lack of central heating units in Mexico. A given Mexico dweller (including the rich) does not have central heating because other Mexico dwellers don’t have central heating. This “path dependency” creates a bad equilibrium, where one gets through the short-spanned Mexican winter without central heating.

Time columnist, Fareed Zakaria, explains (link) that reforms and revolutions often go hand-in-hand in oppressive regimes. He says that the most dangerous phase in an autocratic regime is when the dictator decides to reform the economy. Reforms expose the citizens to new possibilities and create a demand for better governance. When the government is not able to meet the demands, revolutions occur. This account (link) articulates the line of thought expressed by Zakaria. Zakaria also states that stagnant countries like Syria and North Korea have remained more stable. Thus, a lack of knowledge creates a bad equilibrium.

So, what is common among the English food, Mexico’s central heating, and the Egyptian uprising? They follow a demand-driven economic model, where a bad equilibrium is possible.

Flaws in Google’s “Exposé”

I am unimpressed by Google’s “sting” operation and their accusations (link) against Bing. All Google did was expose a vulnerability in Bing’s algorithm and then cry wolf. Google should have conducted two more experiments before coming their current conclusion. First, I will explain why the current operation does not mean anything (partly explained here). Second, I will discuss other experiments that Google needed to do before making their accusation.

Going back a few years, a search term, “miserable failure,” linked to George W Bush. This “Google Bomb” was achieved in the following way: Suppose a link reads ‘apples’, but links to a webpage on oranges, Google makes as association between apples and the webpage on oranges. If there were 500 webpages had links reading ‘apples’ but pointed to oranges, Google search on ‘apples’ would have led to the webpage on oranges. Similar tactics were used on the search term, “miserable failure,” to lead it to George W Bush’s site. Today, Google’s algorithm is robust enough not to fall for the same tactic.

Bing also makes similar associations based on search strings (used in Google. Amazon eBay etc.) and the websites clicked by the users. Google hard-coded some synthetic, gibberish search string to lead to a specific webpage. After fifteen days of using IE to search for the same synthetic queries and then clicking the link, Bing made the association between the search strings and the webpages. This happened to less then 10% of the synthetic queries. Google then accused Bing of copying their result. Isn’t Google’s experimental results similar to Google Bombs?  The only difference is the source of the data. This just exposed the vulnerability of Bing, and nothing more. Yes, the data comes from the publicly-available results from a rival company. It was not intentional (benefit of the doubt). In the next update, Bing should try and reduce its dependence on that to be fair.

Two more experiments are needed to conclude that Bing copies Google. First experiment is look for common queries that give different results in Google and Bing. Google should freeze the results for that query and then observe Bing to see if the results on Bing change over time to match Google’s results. Second experiment is to look for commonly-used queries that give same results in both Google and Bing. Google should manually change their results and then wait for Bing to reflect the same changes. If Google had designed these experiments and disclosed the results, I would have given them some credit.

I am sure Google knows how to derive conclusions from a set of experiments. They should know better than conclude that Bing is copying Google based on their synthetic-query experiment. Google’s PageRank algorithm and search results (by Google and others) rely of statistical aggregates to work efficiently. Synthetic queries are not statistically significant. Google should not be crying wolf.

Update: Don’t you think that Google looked for examples other than “torsoraphy” and did not find any? If they did, don’t you think they would have reported that?

Bill Bennett’s Islam-Bashing Speech

Update: One of my friends thinks that Islam-bashing may be too harsh an adjective for the speech. There is a possibility that the speaker may not have intended the speech to be assessed in that manner. I acknowledge that. Apart from the questions I have below, I mostly agree with the rest of his speech on media-hyping and their biased reporting.
This is a youtube video of some Islam-bashing speech. Here are some questions I have for the speaker. It is a 11-minute speech. Please listen to it completely before reading the rest of the post.


a) 65% of hate crimes are antisematic.
b) He does not see Muslims condemning jihad.
c) If it (jihad and other bad things) were being done in the name of his beliefs, then he would be out on streets marching to Washington.

Then, why does is he not on the streets protesting antisematic crimes??? Why is he not on the streets for gitmo (where torture is carried out in the name of America’s security)?


Muslims are not victims because only 8% of crimes are anti-islam. By the same logic, America is not a victim because only a small percentage of people who have died of terrorism are Americans (link). Does he believe so?


He says he opposes the ground-zero mosque because the imam behind it is has not opposed Hamas and cannot not condemn America. Will he support the mosque if it were being constructed by someone who opposes jihad and says he loves America?

On Kashmir Issue

There are many articles on Kashmir without the viewpoint of an average Kashmiri. This post assumes that the protests in Kashmir today are not a product of the terrorist movement, but by average Kashmiris who are trying to make ends meet. I have seen a few points by media, friends, and few bloggers on this issue. In this post, I don’t plan to make judgements, but present some flaws in the arguments. I will end the post with an empowering-based solution rather than a secession-based solution. I am not willing to debate on who is currently taking part in the protests as it will rely on circumstantial evidence.

I present the question first, followed by arguments, followed by counter arguments. If you have some answers, the comment section is open. Do not get personal; the comments will be moderated.

0. Can we question Kashmiris’ demand for Independence?


India is a democratic nation and the constitution does not allow secession. Any grievances they have should be addressed within the framework of the law. They have to do that in a democratic way.

Counter Argument:

If one believes in the ideals of democracy, there is a fundamental hypocrisy in questioning the demand for independence. The point, however, that is open to debate is whether or not there is wisdom in Kashmiris making such a demand. We will examine that in the rest of the post

One of the ideals of democracy is to be able to establish a government that is accepted by a group of people. Thus, there is no justification necessary to demand freedom if one believes in democracy. Freedom is an inalienable right. Therefore, from a philosophical standpoint, demanding freedom requires no justification, only the will of the people demanding it. Therefore, arguing about whether Kashmiris should be allowed to demand secession invalids the moral principles behind democracy and republicanism.

1. Is Kashmiris’ demand for freedom without reason?


a. Independence struggle is fought by those who are oppressed against the oppressor. India has not oppressed Kashmir.

b. Kashmir faces several issues today. These issues are faced by many others too. Bomb blasts are a regular occurance in Kashmir. Bombay, Jaipur, Bangalore etc. have all witnessed them too. Elections were rigged in Kashmir in the 80s. Elections are rigged all the time in Bihar. AFSPA is misused in Kashmir. Even in the north-east, AFSPA is misused. Corruption has caused havoc in Kashmir, but corruption is common everywhere in India. When Bihar, Bombay, and other are not demanding secession, why should Kashmiris?

Counter Arguments:

a. That is not entirely true. Massive rigging (allegedly) of elections (more than Bihar and other states) (link) and denial of justice to Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) victims count towards oppression (link). Rigging elections was a concerted effort by the central government to force-feed their agenda. Misuse of AFSPA is also a form of oppression. You only feel it when you lose a loved one. In Karnataka or UP, you know that the guilty is going to get punished some day. There is statistically more chance of accused facing a court of law in Karnataka or UP (for some crime) than in Kashmir (when an army officer misuses AFSPA). This adds to the loss of hope in the Indian administration.

To say that Kashmir is needed for India’s protection is to say that we are using Kashmir as human-shields and that we are using Kashmir for our own good. That is exactly what the British and the rest of imperialists did to its colonies. They used them for their own good.

If you are looking for regions fighting for Independence with reasons that resonate with Kashmir, Chechnya (link) is good example. Torture was used against separatist forces and the elections were allegedly rigged. Inter-ethnic and separatist conflicts have led to 150,000 people being displaced. In both cases, terrorism (only few people involved) has diluted the legitimacy of their demands. But the plight of the common man in both the regions is similar.

b. In isolation, each of those individual issues do not necessitate secession . But is there a place where all of them have happened at the same time? In Kashmir, all misfortunes have happened. That’s why Kashmir is an exception. Let us also look at the magnitude of each of the issues before we say that their demand for freedom is an over-reaction.

Firstly, bomb blasts have happened at the frequency of once a month for last twenty years. What Bombay, Jaipur or Hyderabad have witnessed is not close to that. Secondly, elections are allegedly rigged in Bihar and few other states too. They are mostly restricted booth capturing and bribery. In Kashmir, the entire legislature was allegedly chosen to represent people favoured by the Indian government (link). Thirdly, there have been reports of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) being misused by army officials. The culprit goes unpunished (link). I am not sure of the extent of misuse in the north-east.  We have been neglecting north east and I wont be surprised if we do see a big rebellion there. Fourthly, corruption to rest of India is having to wait for 30 min more in traffic or pay Rs. 500 more to get your passport. In Kashmir, it is a matter of life and death. Don’t expect Kashmiris to tolerate corruption like we do.

Demand for secession is born only when people lose hope of having a better life being part of the parent country. In Kashmir, there is no hope. If you go to market, there is no guarantee that you will come back home alive. In other parts of the country, people are hopeful fora better future. NREGA and farmers’ loan waiver are two examples where even the poor are able to see a better future. You cannot say the same about Kashmir. For 20 years they have only seen violence and there is no indication of the war subsiding.

I am only opposed to the insensitivity with which their protests are viewed. I am not talking about what actions need to taken by India. To be insensitive is to further alienate the Kashmiris. That does not bode well.

So, where is the threshold for justification of demand for secession? Is 10 bombs a year a good enough reason? Is it 15? or 100? I think the answer lies in the answer to the following question: when do the people lose hope in the administration? Do you believe Kashmir will be peaceful in next 10 years as part of India? I am guessing the answer is ‘no’. Does a Kashmiri believe his place will be peaceful in 10 years? The answer is definitely ‘no’.  This also poses another question: When to take these demands seriously? Next part will shine some light on that.

2. Will Balkanisation of India happen if Kashmir secedes.


If Kashmir secedes, the rest of India will also split up thanks to some lunatics who will demand independence for frivolous reasons.

Counter Arguments:

Demands for secession  comes when there is a deep discontent and loss of hope. I am sure that if a poll is conducted in Punjab, Tamil Nadu, or Bihar today, integration with India will be preferred over secession. Even farmers in India have hope. Their loans were waived. They have seen India prosper in other avenues. If there is security and economic prosperity, small uprising against the establishment will not enjoy mass support.

Let us examine some examples of fragmentation of nations in history. Aceh insurgency (link) and Khalistan (link, link) movements are examples of revolts without mass support. There is plenty of evidence of countries breaking up when they are militarily or economically deprived (Yugoslavia: link). Some other fights for secession involve oppression by the parent country (Sri Lanka: link, Ireland: link). The break-up of Czechoslovakia is one example which was carried out peacefully. Czechoslovakia held their first election in 40 years in 1990 (link). The rate of decline of employment also played its role.

None of these examples apply to India. Except in Kashmir and north-east, there is no alleged state-sponsored oppression in India.  Our military is very strong. I need historical evidence that shows fragmentation of an emerging economic power.  Only a historical evidence will make me think of this threat of Balkanisation seriously.

Kashmir protest today is an exception and cannot be seen as just another act of Khalistan-like violence. As argued before, their plight is far worse than an average frustrated Indian. Small revolts in other parts of India will not have mass support and they can be handled easily through dialogues or military action. If there is an mass uprising against the government, it means that the government has failed miserably. It is too naive to assume India will get fragmented if Kashmir breaks off. Demands for secession do not crop up over night. People must be willing to give their lives for it.

3. Why can’t the status quo be an option for Kashmiris when India is doing all it can to satisfy them?


Kashmir is important to India for its strategic location. If India withdraws from Kashmir, India will be put in a vulnerable position. That, however, does not mean we are using Kashmiris as human shields. In our absence, Kashmir is going to face attacks from Pakistan and China for its strategic location (link). Knowingly leaving Kashmir will make us as guilty of genocide that will follow as using them as human shields. Because of Kashmir’s inexperience in dealing with an existential threat on their own, it is imperative on our part to govern Kashmir for both the good of Kashmir and the rest of India.

Counter Argument:

Kashmiris are demanding independence mainly because India is unable to protect them even with our best efforts. Status quo is not working. As India believes Kashmir is an integral part of the nation, we ought to restore confidence in them. If it means we must give some power to Kashmir police, we should be willing to so that.  They trust their own police more than they trust the Indian Army. India armed forces can man the peaks near theb order for its security. This is not an overnight effort. There should be a five-year or a ten-year roadmap built that will empower Kashmiri police to be able to protect themselves from insurgency. Because of the precarious state of the valley and the trust of the Kashmiri people in their own police, the police can be given more powers than the police in the other states. I am almost certain that such a roadmap to peace will be accepted by Kashmiris. A sincere promise of peace can stop the protests.

To say that we are doing everything we can, and Kashmiris are incapable of protecting themselves is akin to the missionaries and the British doing a favour to Indian by bringing civility to idol worshipping Hindus (link).

More autonomy is a point on the continuum between status quo and complete independence. We should look at that option. Kashmiris claim that they can better protect their land with more autonomy. Why shouldn’t we give them a chance? They know the terrain better; they know the people better. We ought to be of good assistance and enable Kashmiris to protect themselves. When Kashmiris are shown a roadmap to peace, the hope will be restored and the protests will stop. Status quo does not present hope.

4. Are their means of protest legitimate?


a. Kashmiri Pundit were systematically massacred in late 80s and early 90s. Kashmiris do not have the moral right to demand freedom as they themselves are guilty of breaking the law and order. They have skewed the demographics.

b. The protesters are violent.

Counter Arguments:

a. I assume that it is the common people of Kashmir who are fighting today. It was the terrorists who killed and drove away the Pundits. We are talking about two different sets of people here. Putting them together is as bad as claiming every Muslim is a terrorist.

Side note: I believe that any referendum that is conducted should include all the pundits who were driven out. It is their land too. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, also believes the same (link).

b. All Party Hurriyat Conference (link) has a peaceful agenda. They have been working towards this in a peaceful manner since 1993. Though election have not been rigged since then, AFSPA misuse has not declined. Peaceful methods have been tried. To resort to violence indicates an average Kashmiris’ frustration with the Indian administration.

Protests are targeted against the armed forces, police and CRPF.  They are not making innocent civilians victims. I assume that it is the general population of Kashmir who are holding the protest and not radical Islamists. Their means are justified except for some stray incidents of burning government property. That is wrong. Then again, it the government they are fighting, not the common man.

5. Why can’t American-civil-war-style forced-action work?

Arguement: US was divided into two, and yet The Union managed to restore it to a single country. Though there may be a popular uprising against the Indian government,  the lesson from the US civil war is that there can be solutions that don’t result in Kashmir being separated from India.

Counter Argument: In the US civil war, two armies were were fighting. There were some slaves who were fighting against their own interest. But just because America did it then doesn’t make it right for us to do the same. In the current Kashmir protests, we will be fighting the very people we call our own. They are willing to give their lives up for the cause. Any forced action upon them with incur the wrath the rest of the world. War against Pakistan or China will cripple the economy (not to mention the nuclear weapons). We all know how the war against the terrorist insurgency is going. Forced-action is not an option. Secession-based solution won’t work either. I think an empowerment-based solution will work the best.

Acknowledgement: I’d like to thank Semanticoverload and Karthik Swaminathan for their contributions to this post.

Games and Matches

In India, we call them cricket matches, football matches and tennis matches. In US, they call them ‘games’ rather than ‘matches’. Regardless of what they are called, it is interesting to see popularity of sports in different countries. Indians, for instance, cannot comprehend the reason for popularity of American Football in the US. Many of the Americans, I am sure, find Baseball to be more interesting than cricket. Entire South Asia feels otherwise. My friend found my interest in American College Football a bit amusing. That triggered a discussion to rationalise the popularity of sports in different places. Here are some of my views on that. This post can also be titled, “why I follow American football?”

The prime reason, in my opinion, for a sport to be followed by masses is that your team (you regional or national team, doesn’t matter) excel at it. Even if your team is not among the best, you are most inclined to follow the sport you team plays the best. Hockey used to be popular in India when we were the world champions. When India became world champions in cricket, the popularity of hockey faded. Given the dismal condition of Indian Hockey today, it has only a few followers. I watch American College Football for the same reason. Penn State is among the top 10 football playing colleges in the country. This is the also reason why I do NOT follow Baseball in US. State College’s team do not play well.  Had they been good at it, I am sure everyone in town would have followed the team.

From my experience, I find that Indians dismiss American Football as mere scramble for the ball. The problem is that most of them do that without any understanding of the game. Calling American Football as only a Quarterback’s game is equivalent to saying Soccer is a mid-fielder’s game. I may not understand the nuances of American football as well as I understand cricket, but still I do understand the game enough to enjoy it.

Also, when you are cheering for your own team, there is emotion involved. During the Soccer world cup finals, almost everyone in India had chosen their favorite team for the final. There was an equal division between those who had chosen France and those who had chosen Italy. Most of the people were, in fact, disinterested in the result of the game. I had then read that nothing comes close to cheering for your own country. And I agree! Nothing comes close to cheering for your own team. I cheered for Steelers during the superbowl game because there were from my state. Still, the emotional roller coaster (if i may use the clichéd phrase) I go through when I watch Penn State play is way more pronounced than that I went though during the superbowl.

In India, regional cricket is hardly followed by anyone other than the national team selectors. It is natural that we find the popularity of college football, as opposed to professional football, surprising in America. English Premier League (EPL) is popular all over the world, including India. To me, it is as bizarre as popularity of College Football in the US. I think, this is because, as a Soccer fan, that’s the only thing you get to see. International Soccer is limited to World Cup, Euro Cup and few more tournaments. I have seen arguments that Indians are not really passionate about cricketbecause we watch only international matches. But soccer fans, on the other hand, follow club football too. So they are more passionate about the game. I think that the argument is nonsense. The sparse schedule of international tournaments leaves fans with no choice but to follow EPL. American sports have similar fate. The games they play is not played by any other country. Thus they have to resort to watching to what they get, their college teams or city teams.

I was also asked if I watch Professional American Football. My answer was no. My friends reasoned that I am not all that passionate about the game. That may be true. But how many Indians, who claim to be passionate about cricket, follow a series between, say, Sri Lanka and New Zealand? As long as you are disinterested in the outsome of a match, you will not follow it. In world cup, every match matters. It’s a little wonder that every cricket fan tries to watch as many matches as they can during the worldcup.

Cultural Insensitivity

A month back, my friends and I were talking about funding for different departments and graduate research assistant stipend during summer. I learnt that some student get twice as much during summer than during regular semester. I hadn’t asked my prof about my pay-check then. I did concede that it was partly because I find it uneasy to talk about money. That’s when it occurred to me about write about cultural differences that I have encountered so far.

Profit is a dirty word

I had read an article (link) by Amit Varma where he talks about ‘profit’ being a dirty word during Nehru’s socialistic governance and later on until economic liberalisations. The thought of profit, and consequently money, being dirty have always been taught to us since primary education. I remember couplets that talk about working hard without really worrying about the result or money that you can get out of it. Also, I remember how angry parents used to get when, as a child, we prayed to god for anything materialistic. The idea that money is last thing to worry about is etched in our minds. Its hard to let go of such ideas in quick time. Asking for raise is not something Indians are comfortable with.

Even e-mailing profs for funding when going for an Internship is hard thing to do. Clearly, expecting money for you work is not wrong. But the idea of money being ‘dirty’ is playing its role here. On the other hand, American students are pretty frank about it. Unlike Indians, they do not go to grad school if they are not funded. Understanding local culture and adopting them and letting go of our conservative mindset is what we need to learn.


Indians in US are infamous for being bad tippers (it could just be a stereotype, but i have seen a few people in my university who refuse to tip). Despite arguing that waiters are not paid as much they are suppose to paid because it’s a ‘tipped-job’, some people refuse to accept what I say. We ought not to be so insensitive to any practice here. I believe that while in Rome, we should do as Romans do. There is a reason why romans do the things they do. We ought to respect that.

Japanese Shopkeepers Handling Currency Notes

I have guilty of being culturally insensitive too. In India, you are always taught to offer and receive anything (including money) with your right hand. Money is offered directly to the hand. Also, both the giver and the receiver should either be inside the house or outside when a transaction takes place. I think it’s just a way of saying, “I respect you”. There were two instances when I was in Tokyo when the shopkeepers asked me to place the currency notes on a tray. Forgetting that I was in completely different country, I gave it to their hand in dominating way. This happened twice. It was only later that I realised that I may have offended them. That was when I made a mental note of being sensitive to local customs. I still don’t know if I have offended them. Anyone who knows, please let me know.


Recently, I read about a case (lost the link … sorry) in Canada about an Indian shop keeper who had used the words, “I will kill her if he doesn’t give the sweets to you” to a regular Canadian customer. We Indians know that “I will kill you” is used in jest by everyone. But in a different place, the implications are completely different. The shop keeper was arrested by the police on a complaint by the customer about the “death-threat”. I think the mis-understanding as later resolved. Such thing do happen by accident but it is in our best interest to adapt quickly.

A lot of things are lost in translation. I have heard this statement, supposedly from Koran: “If people do not convert to Islam, kill them (infidels) by swords”. I do not think it is true but even if it is, I am interested to know the context in which it was said. For all we know, “kill them” can mean “ignore them”. Who know what it meant 1300 years ago?

Student in India use “jobless” to say they are free to do stuff. I once said, “I will be jobless tomorrow, you can call me” and they appeared really concerned. Two seconds later I released my mistake and explained the meaning of “jobless” much to their amusement.

Any such funny or serious stuff you guys have experienced? Comment it.

Social Responsibility

Update: This post has been edited for clarity and typos.

What prompted me to write this is another post shared by my friend on Google Reader. It talks about Sarabjit Singh, a woman who did not want her husband released in exchange for terrorist. Kudos to her! I really admire her because she put her country before herself and her family. I did not appreciate the post when the writer called another person, who was desperate to get her family back during Kandahar hijacking, an anti-national. It is becoming rather fashionable to call somebody anti-national. Be it cutting flag coloured cake, playing musical version of national anthem, or if it looks like someone’s leg is facing the national flag. There are lawyers who make a living out of it. I want to explain why demand or negotiating release of hijacked passengers in lieu of terrorist is not anti-national, but plain human. I know some views are controversial, please do not jump to conclusions before reading this post completely.

One of the jobs of the Govt. is to protect its citizens. The govt. is elected by the people, and consequently it is the job of the society to elect the right government. In other words, it is the society which takes care of itself. When plane is hijacked, the govt. failed in its duty to protect its citizens. So what is wrong with demanding the govt to secure the release of the passengers? It is the govt. which has failed and has to set things right. The society is very much entitled to demand this. It is very disappointing to see that a part of a society thinks otherwise. They speak as if it is duty of the hijacked passengers to die for the country.

It is very easy to judge the relatives who are facing the trauma as “anti-national” by others who have no experience dealing with such uncertainties. Everyone loves their country, most of us love ourselves more. That’s the fact. I am really appalled by the ease with which the author of the post judged the woman  as being anti-national. I bet the author has never been in situation where there was a gamble for his loved one’s life.

Many ask, “If we ‘give-in’ to the terrorists, wont it send the wrong signal to the terrorists that every time a plane is hijacked, they can pull another of their terrorist heroes back from prison?” My response is the following: If you are scared that that signal we sent that day makes them think that hijacking a plane is solution to their problems, haven’t you
already conceded that they will hijack again and there is nothing India can do to prevent that? Are you convinced that we can protect ourselves any more? This, to me, is the real felling of “giving in” to the terrorists.

In some sense, many think that govt. “gave up” to the terrorists. Here’s how I look at it: Had we remained stone hearted and let the passengers be killed, we are sending a signal that if we release a terrorist, we cannot catch him again, that we were very lucky to have caught him.

Lets assume that India has a reputation of storming the planes every time they are hijacked. Think for a moment, as a terrorist, what would you do? Would you attempt negotiation with the govt. from the hijacked plane? Or would you blow it up mid-air or against a tall building out of spite? I have a feeling this has been done before.

For once, before calling anyone anti-national, society ought to step into their shoes and look and the options before them. It is the fault of the government/society that the plane was hijacked. After the harm is done, society should try and rectify it. Not treat the victims like guinea pigs in a failed experiment and let them be killed by hijackers. The society has to take the responsibility of bringing them back alive.

Talking about social responsibilities, let me express my views on capital punishment as well. I am myself not sure about capital punishment, but there is one case where I am against it: in punishing serial killers. I was in favour of capital punishment before watching the movie ‘monster’, which portrays a life of a prostitute who becomes a serial killer out of circumstance. I am against capital punishment given out to psychopathic serial killers.

People don’t just “become” psychopathic serial killers. It is the society which makes them. It is the society which gives them tough choices and it is the society which treats them badly. When the results aren’t favourable, society wants to treat the person like a guinea pig and kill him. I dont like the ‘tax payer’s burden’ argument about keeping them in jail (when there is no hope for them to recover) either. It is the society which made them that way. From a moral point of view, society should pay for its failed experiment.

Another argument I have heard is that we all have lived in the same society, and we did not turn out to be serial killers. My simple answer is that every individual is unique, and if you cant respect that, you are the one who doesn’t deserve a place in society. Some favour death penalty for the ‘sentiments’ of victims’ families. I dont buy that because the decision which the family takes is an emotional one and not necessarily the rational one.

Moving a little away from the topic, people love to call those who have left the country for education or job as anti-national. IITians, and in last ten years, NITs, BITS etc, are the main targets. Let’s examine that claim as well.

Firstly, ‘the lakhs of rupees spent on an IITian’ argument. As an IITian, I can say that we were not put in luxury. We had to pay for everything from electricity bill to Rs 600 for renting a gown for the convocation to ‘security’ for the hostels. They subsidized the mess (which was horrible) up to Rs 8 per day per student which, I agree, is quite significant. But then who isn’t subsidized in India? Petrol is subsidized. Diesel is subsidized for farmers, but other people buy diesel cars anyway (they are real anti-nationals if you ask me 😛 ). Gas is subsidized to every household. Taking all of that into account, I am not sure if the subsidy for us is more significant than what is given to the rest of the country. Profs are paid for research and teaching us. Its their job and cannot be counted towards the “burden” of the tax payers. The only place where, I think, the lakhs of rupees figure makes sense is the licensing of the softwares for research. Sophisticated Labs and Labs Equipments are something which undergraduates seldom use. But, I am sure any research that is done in IITs and IISc comes back to nation as inputs for ISRO, DRDO etc. for India’s development. Most of research is done by PhD students who stay in country. I am damn sure the lakhs of rupees figures is not the true figure. The realistic figure, I believe, is a much reasonable amount. I do realize that rest of the colleges do not even get the minimal facilities that we “enjoy”. That only talks about govt. apathy.

Secondly, lets look at the reason why the “brain-drain” occurs. A student expected to pay back to country though research or through entrepreneurship. As far as research is concerned, it is known that hardly any importance is given to it in India. Expenditure towards research takes a back seat. Infrastructure in India is lacking. Who is responsible for that? Government/Society. How about entrepreneurship? India was a socialist country 20 years back. Little wonder that brain-drain was rampant back then. Today it’s, thanks to economic reforms, much less. Again its the government/society responsible for that. Calling people anti-national is doing society no good. There are very few who put their country ahead of their personal ambitions, they are truly amazing. Other are human, not anti-national.

Also, why is the responsibility of the chosen few to bring the country out of the mess it is in. What is the role of the people who judge others as anti-national? Isn’t that an indication of resigned society putting burden on a some of its members to bring them back on their feet.

Before calling anyone “anti-national” the society should learn its responsibility.

Capitalism: Couple of points

Imagine a situation where there is a wealthy businessman, and he has an excellent B-Plan to make more money. He opens a mall in few villages, and offers low prices for an extended period of time enough to drive the mom-and-pop stores out of business. He makes loss over the period but, as he is wealthy, he is fine. As he monopolizes the villages. He then raises the prices to values higher then before. Is this legal? Yes. Ethical? Thats a different debate. Should the govt protect the small time investors and prevent this situation? Obviously. But How?  Please comment on that after reading the rest of the post.

Just note few of the things which make the situation tricky. The wealthy businessman are few in number. So the competition is that much less. Even if there are a little too many for comfort, it makes economic sense for all of them not to compete against one another. There are better off looking at different villages as market or selling different products. As the govt is obligated to protect the interest of all its citizens, what laws should be implemented to prevent rich business from growing richer at expense of village folks?

All the controversy and walmart bashing that you see is because of their tactics. In US, which is run on the ultimate form of capitalism, huge chains like sears, circuit city, walmart, target, sports academy are present everywhere. But single-shop owners are not present in that large a number.

During our fortnightly lab meetings, another issue came up. It was possible that any of there stores, sometime in future, record the stuff a person purchases, and charge each of them accordingly, i.e., different price for different costumers for the same product. More frequently you buy a product, more you are willing to pay for the it, and hence by a capitalist principle, more they are gonna charge you for it. As scary as it sounds, it not something to be scared about (From my limited knowledge of economics, correct me if i am wrong). Price rises for everyone. And hence the inflation. And so you currency will lose its value. Consequently, your employer will raise your salary. No harm done!

If you are wondering how is the previous case different from this one, remember that the in the previous case, only a part of the population is affected. So raise in inflation is not significant. And so only the village folks get poorer. We need a solution in capitalist domain. If we venture into socialist/communist form of governance we do have some solution. But, get you creativity going in solving this problem in capitalist domain.

I had put this for discussion with a group of friends. Here are some of the points that came up.

A study has shown that  “kiranas” can  coexist with big time retailers. But I am not sure if it talks about India alone or all over the world

Few solutions:

One of the  plausible solutions is moving towards socialist form of governance specifically for food grains, cereals, oil and basic amenities is a govt controlled efficient Public Distribution System. India had a decent network of Fair-Price Shops (nyaya bele anagadi in Kannada) or Ration Depots all over the country. But of course, govt interferenace has its drawbacks of corruption among others. As the Govt gave up it’s exclusive procurement rights, the system died out. Govt no longer has access to sufficient food grains. The private companies are quick to approach the farmers and get the produce at a lesser cost and once they have it, they can import/export or process it depending on the market needs. This can lead to hoarding.

Another solution that was tried (targeted at walmart) was to restrict the area of shopping area to a certain value. In India, too, such a law was tried. They were aimed at stopping tata-birlas from running more business. But it was circumvented by opening business under proxy names.

Charge large taxes on goods sold at higher rates elsewhere. This again is some kind of regulation which might not work too well owing to transportation cost etc.

Capitalism on Waitresses and Waiters:

Tipping culture exists in US because some people are paid less than minimum wage. They are paid less than minimum wage because it is a tipped job! When waitress or waiters earn less then minimum wage even after tips they dont report it because it becomes an excuse for the employer to call them incompetent and fire them. More on that here (via desipundit).

I am a capitalist too and love the idea of free market, but it is quite cruel at its fullest level. Do comment on possible solutions to the problem I described above.

Happy new years to all my readers!

Freakonomics: Orthodox Hindu, Salsa, Bridge and Mafia(Game)

Being in India, you are never more than just couple of hundred meters away from a tradition that is followed simply because it has always been followed. Mythology is used to explain most of the weird superstition. A good work (shuba kaarya) is never started the day after a new moon day as the Mahabharata war started on that day; onion, garlic, tomatoes etc are seldom used in cooking (in highly orthodox places) because they were no created by God but by Vishwamitra among others. The educated ones assume that there is a scientific basis for all of this and carry on the tradition.

One such tradition in followed in Karnataka is preparation of Vada during death Ceremony. Vada is prepared in many families only during the annual death ceremony. If prepared during other times, it is not donut shaped but saucer shaped. This issue came up when my room mate, from Andra Pradesh, wanted to prepare Vada for Diwali or Dasara. It was apparently a tradition at his place. The plan was later ditched as my other room-mate from Karnataka told him about this. Around same time, abcd room-mate was talking his mom getting mad when he had shaved his head once. It is a common knowledge that head is shaved usually in case of death in the family (Thirupathi Apart). If such tradition are broken, it is seen as a utmost contempt and blasphemy.

It should be hard to see that such tradition mostly serve as a form of mass communication to inform the community about whats happening at your place. There are certain kind of dishes that are prepared during a Birthday, and others during the death ceremony. You really don’t want people to come into your place and ask, “is it a birthday or did someone die?” To avoid any such conflict, certain tradition do make sense. It is for this reason that I am a believer in saying, “While in Rome, do as Romans do” Suppose a family moves from their own place to a new one, they shouldn’t refrain from changing their tradition. It is nice to stand up to what you think is right, but at the same time you should be bothered about inviting wrong questions such as the one above, when you are adamant about following the tradition you have always followed.

Many of the card games usually depends on the hand that you get. Bridge is an exception. Played in teams of two, even with the worst possible hand, a game can be won. The game is all about establishing a protocol with your teammate about the hand you have and making right judgment about how many tricks you are going to win. An informed judgment about winning only three tricks and eventually doing so can get bring your team up. I don’t play Bridge, from what I know, there are several tried and tested methods to communicate to the partner over the table. Needless to say that a sound knowledge of them is necessary to win a game.

Salsa in competitions and bigger occasions are rehearsed and performed several times before presenting them on the stage. However, many are dance are performed impromptu when there are experienced dancers. Built on certain basic steps, all the swirls and the turns are established on the spot through dance gesture by the leader and the follower should be responsive enough to reciprocate the moves. Though it takes a lot of practice to look elegant in front of an audience the crux of the whole matter lies in interpreting the leaders’ moves. There are several such standards in salsa too based on the place where they are practiced.

I dont know how many of you would played this wonderful game called Mafia (aka Ware wolf) (not the video game, check the wiki link ). It is a game with the good guys (villages) and the bad guys (wolfs). The wolfs know who else is wolf. Villages are uninformed. Villages, fortunately, have policeman and doctor amongst them. Policeman can find an identity (villager, doctor or wolf) during the game. Doctor can choose to heal a person whom he think the wolf are going to kill. The game proceeds with night time (after all the players are assigned their roles secretly). A moderator asks wolves to open their eyes and point to thei possible victim. After the wolves have come to an agreement they convey it to the moderator (not aloud … no one is suppose to know anything). Then doctor can choose to save a person whom he thinks is going to get killed. And then policeman can get to know the identity of one person from the set of players.

Based on who was chosen to kill, based on policeman’s knowledge, the good guys have to kill all the wolves. Wolves, on the other hand, should try to defend themselves or be sly enough to blame an another person and make the majority vote him out of the game. Remember that policeman simple cannot reveal himself initially as wolves will go for the policeman next night. Same argument goes for the doctor. The game in uninteresting during the begining when there is nothing to go by. As the game moves on based on knowledge of policeman(if he is not killed) game get really interesting and at times emotions and rage runs high.

Having played this game many time in our hostels and also in the Himalayas :), it is a game where communication is the key. Its all about policeman trying to convince others about who the wolves are and wolves trying to implicate others though good arguments. Certain signs of being a wolf is being too attentive or under attentive in the game, or to fumble an argument. Wolf, sometimes, kill deceptively to implicate someone else and thus communicate wrong idea while the opposite works for the good guys.

If you are still wondering what common to Tradition, Salsa, Bridge and Mafia, it the idea of effective communication that makes them a great, for lack of a better word, entity. Nature too has quite an effective communication skill. There is a lull before the strom, tremors before an earth quake, low tide before tsunami and, of course, melting of ice caps before ….

PS: Freakonomics … well i know the article is not about ecomomics .. but couldn’t find a better title

PPS: Pics will come later when I get my own laptop in 2-3-4 weeks.

America – First Impression : 2

I did want to post DC and NYC pics, but I will do that later. There are a lot more things I want to say about the place.


“There are some people out there in our nation who don’t have maps” (link)… that’s so not true. They may not have world map, but many here do have road maps. Finding ways is much easier in India. To get from point A to B, you may have to know about 2-3 three villages or town you should cross and the direction on milestones will take you where you want to go. But here, there are hardly a few boards on Interstates which show the direction. You have to use sites like google maps or mapquest to get direction before you head to a place. The other alternative is road maps. Every highway has several exit roads which interconnect two highways. You will have to hop from one to another about 2-3 times in those many hours (link). Exits from highways may be on the left or the right side of the road, being on the correct lane is very important. If you happen to get lost, you need maps to get back on track. You wont find people on the street on a highway like in India to guide you and neither are there any directions on the boards (only the exit numbers are marked).

I was at Pink Floyd tribute band concert and during the break an old man (American) was talking about way Indians stop in the middle of the highway to check for directions and causing accidents because of fast trucks behind them. He said that about Indian Women driver in particular. he has seen it happen several times.

Road signs:

They are abundant. “Side walk closed, cross here”,”men at work, lower speed limit, 35 mph”, “men at work, turn head lights on”, “yield” etc. My favorite one is seen in Pennsylvania (not in Delaware or New Jersey for some reason): “Bridge may be Icy”. The reason eluded me for a month (thats why it my favorite) until my room mate told me why. In winter, there is sub zero air both over and under the bridge, while roads have cold air just over them, so bridge may indeed be icy in winter but not roads.

Resource consumption

All you read in news paper about USA being the biggest consumer of resource is true. Every two weeks, we go to super market to buy groceries. For every couple of items, we are given a polythene cover. There are loads of them lying in my home right now. Its hard to avoid it as we have to buy stuff all together for two weeks. The concept of commercial shops close to residence area and buying stuff for 2-3 days is non existent here. It is tough to avoid the use of plastic here. I remember the time (nearly 15 years ago) when most of the stuff were handed out wrapped in news papers.

The effort to reduces the consumption is also silly. I found a pamphlet on a hand dryer replacing paper tower claiming hand dryers are environmentally more friendly as trees are not cut. How they forget about the coal for the electricity used by the hand dryer? In my department, the printer gives out a page printing just one line with user name, date and time of the document it is printing out next. Everyday there are at least a pile 200-300 empty (but for that one line in the header) papers next to the printer. I do take some home to work out my assignments, but there is only so much i can do. The fact that upto 2000 pages can be printed every semester doesn’t help.


There is no mrp on the food products and other consumer products which are bought regularly. I am not sure if this is a feature of capitalism or if its is in USA alone. We have to go by the price written in on the rack. They are consistent with price encoded in the bar codes. Because there is no MRP, prices vary from supermarket to supermarket with walmart being the cheapest.


At least in my university, every course has a prescribed text book which is followed. I prefer this system rather having to write notes manage material from several sources. There are tonnes of assigments, quizes with midterm and end term to keep you on your toes all the time. During the orientation, there were couple of lectures on plagiarism in research and cheating etc. Kind if image that is projected in India about USA is that people obey rules student rarely cheat. Well, its not all that rosy. I do find copied work when I grade assignments and the average in assignments is usually high. Bottom line is that there are all kinds of students here.


Though my place is a small town. Many activities happen during the week end apart from foot ball. There are concerts, plays etc happening all the time. The one big advantage of being in a big university is that there are loads of workshops, activity clubs etc in place for students to engage in. Be it adventure club that has a hike, trek or rafting trip organized every week or community dace workshop that meets every week, there are stuff to do that can rejuvenate you from the academic work load.

Big fat Greek fraternities

There are number of fraternities here which are all named with three random Greek letter. “Phi Beta Kappa” “Alpha Pi Epsilon” etc etc (i am making them up, for all that i know, they may actually exist). From the wiki link (link), I find that they are so named to abbreviate they motto in Greek. There is one named “Delta Phi Theta”, and when written in capitals, it reminds me of the deathly hollows 🙂


There is standard protocol for Ads here

A: I have this problem
B: Ok, have you heard of this product?
A: No, what is it?
B: It is <blah blah>
A: What are its advantages
B: <blah blah>

Thats it! and if its an ad for a medicine, it usually end with, “side effects may include headache, nausea, vomiting, fever and liver damage”. Thee are some good ads, but only a handful.

There are couple of new ad style that are common here. Any event that has to be publicized, balloons with the event ‘logo’ are strung around the bus stop area for people to notice. Neat Idea I think. Also, there is this airplane which carries a huge poster around the city all day with Gaico (insurance company) ad on it. I wonder if it is efficient at all. No one looks at it and on foot ball days, when it is most common, people watch foot ball, not some plane flying around the town.


Most of the universities are very old. This is very much evident in the architecture here. It does add to the beauty of the place. There are new buildings in place, but the campus is dominated by the old and red buildings. Purdue is also similar in this aspect. I am not sure about other universities but given that many universities came into existence in 19th century, I wont be surprised if all of them look similar.


The cost of any product is not a multiple of a quarter (25 cents). It can be $2.37 or $4.56. After every transaction, you are left with load on 1 cent, 5 cent, 10 cent and 25 cent coins. I have about 80 (all put together) of them in my room. I have no clue how to dispose them. The bright side is you wallet gets heavier every time you spend :).


Toilet papers are not clean. I have seen people throw cigarette butts carelessly on the roads. Other than that, yeah, the country is very clean. There are dustbins everywhere. With a lower population, it is very easy to keep it clean. Take New York, with so many people, it is as chaotic as India. The traffic is disorderly and the place is not all that clean esp china town area.

Cultural and Religion:

Hmmm … the only thing that you will notice is some people don’t dress according to, lets just say, “Indian Culture” (don’t ask me what it means). When everyone around you is similar, you hardly notice it, and it not at all a distraction. People do wear shorts toclass and no one complains and no one takes an offense.

Many students works here. Libraries, labs etc are all managed by students who earn from part time positions. I think such a system must be developed in India as well. We have them in IITs where a few things are manageed by students, but they are not paid for it. This is very option when scholarship for financially challenged students is limited.

Religion and caste make headlines all the time in India. With most of the country being Christian, it occasionally makes headlines here. In a local daily, it was published that about 14% of Americans were found to be atheist. Thats a pretty big number I thought. There is this person who preaches about Christianity everyday in the afternoon near a building where some people usually gather around. On one occasssion, a few non-believers started arguing with him. As expected, it went on and on. At one point one of them raised a point of being narrow minded when anyone considers Christianity being the real truth. The preacher replied, “To me, calling some one narrow minded is a high school taunt. When you don’t know is murder and rape is good or bad, you are open minded. After all the arguments, when you know that its bad, you are automatically closed minded! It just a high school taunt.” The argument carried on (obviously). I left the place thinking about a similar experience I had when I was called narrow minded for not accepting violence as a solution.



Americans love their coffee as much as South Indians love their filter coffee. Junta get their spill proof glass to buses and classes and having during the course of the day.