Friday, March 24, 2017

Discussions on education

Lots of discussions about education from first principles these days like this one from my friend the admirable Rahul Banerjee Exorcising the maths demon and also on his wall.
About university education, Owen Dixon, a justice in the Australian Supreme Court reminded in 1954 that a university's responsibility remained unchanged: to produce people whose " minds have become better instruments of thought, whose intellectual interests have been stimulated and will often be sustained, and above all who can combine knowledge with reason and both with experience so as to meet the problems of real life."
To some extent, the purposes of school education are similar with the proviso that vocational education also takes place for those who do not want to or cannot go to universities. We do not know what will be needed in future and generally try to ground the students in an all round education which not only teaches facts but also develops habits of thought. For example, we may never use the Euclidean geometry which we learn around ninth grade, but ideas of proof, logical arguments are imbibed at an age where we do not really understand the purpose of such things. It is also difficult to understand every thing that may be need in future but at a young age people absorb like sponges and remember things some of which become clearer later on if one pursues. In my opinion, very few understand calculus in their first attempts, but can acquire some feel and can use it mechanically after a while. And most things we use these days involve calculus, linear algebra and such at various stages. So, one purpose to get these through as much as possible st a young age even if only a fraction use them later on and for most the overall curriculum develops some useful knowledge and habits of thought.  These requirements get larger with time and an average high school graduate now probably knows more than an average teacher a couple of centuries ago. These are achieved through processes of synthesis and pruning. That is for the good part. There are also dubious aims like control, hold children in prison like conditions when their hormones or raging, get them to confirm and become useful tools in the enterprises that the current powers deem necessary. As Foucault wryly asks: ‘Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?’ If Foucault is right, we are subject to the power of correct training whenever we are tied to our school desks, our positions on the assembly line or, perhaps most of all in our time, our meticulously curated cubicles and open-plan offices so popular as working spaces today.'

Generally, there is a disjunct between what we use and what we understand about what we use. All this does not mean laymen like us should not discuss education. Like many other things, there are big chains in every thing and those who try to explain or question existing state of things should study a bit more about these chains and try to explain the consequences of cutting calculus or some other subject from the syllabus and its implications to different groups. Governments are keen about quick successes and appoint various panels to suggest changes and in India often the tendency is to catch up with western success and copy some of their recommendations which may sometimes be influenced by vested interests. For example, this happened with the BT Brinjal recommendations by a government panel. I have some experience with panels as I was once part of a panel to recommend undergraduate syllabus for the whole of India. Since my experience at that time was in reasearch and not teaching, I quietly slipped away from the task. In any case, these syllabi depend on what the governments decide to do at a given time, not arbitrarily but with in some parameters,  and formulated by experts in another chain of expertise parts of which may be dubious. As in the BTBrinjal case ( where the first expert report was a copy of a US government report that was favourable to big business), constance vigilance by NGOs and noise may help to reduce the unsuitability. So I welcome Rahul Banerjee's discussion but on his wall, at the moment it seems to be all over the place. So, my suggestion would be to ask for outside representation in these panels, namely from users interested in teaching and perhaps with some experience in teaching. There are several such NGOs in India.

A readable article on Foucault

Simon Critchley went to talk to his philosophy teacher Frank Cioffi:"Some years later, I went back into his office to ask permission to switch from one course to another. “Which courses?” he said indifferently. “I’m meant to be reading Foucault, but I want to do a course on Derrida.” “Man” he replied “that’s like going from horseshit to bullshit.” "
But there seems to be some thing in the horseshit as this article observes The power thinker
Some quotes:
Foucault wryly asks: ‘Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?’ If Foucault is right, we are subject to the power of correct training whenever we are tied to our school desks, our positions on the assembly line or, perhaps most of all in our time, our meticulously curated cubicles and open-plan offices so popular as working spaces today.
For identifying and so deftly analysing the mechanisms of modern power, while refusing to develop it into a singular and unified theory of power’s essence, Foucault remains philosophically important. The strident philosophical skepticism in which his thought is rooted is not directed against the use of philosophy for the analysis of power. Rather, it is suspicious of the bravado behind the idea that philosophy can, and also must, reveal the hidden essence of things. What this means is that Foucault’s signature word – ‘power’ – is not the name of an essence that he has distilled but is rather an index to an entire field of analysis in which the work of philosophy must continually toil.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mathematics a reality check?

Strangely, doing mathematics seems to be a bit of reality check for me. I still do mathematics off and on and am now trying a slightly different method than before. Last year, revising an unpublished paper, I thought that I saw some thing new that was mildly interesting. Off and on, I worked on it for six months and finally convinced myself after a few drafts. Then I went on a trip came back, it was difficult to get back to mathematics and easier to read other stuff. Finally after four months I slowly started looking at it again and could not understand much. After a few weeks, various steps involved emerged and I could see the general trend though not the details. Before when I was working it was generally rather intense and I used to loose appetite and often sleep until I was exhausted. This time, I started just meditating slowly about each step between doing other things at home and not continuously, even though the particular theme seemed to be in front of my mind most of the time. So, I would let it soak slowly until it seemed more and more clearer and so on with other steps. Then about how to put them together since there seemed different ways of doing it. At the moment much of it is becoming clearer without putting the pen on paper, and I am not loosing sleep. It remains to be seen what happens when I tried to write it down. And whether there is a lesson from this about learning and thinking about other topics.

'Foragers, farmers and fossil fulels' by Ian Morris

A short review by Robin Hanson.
A comprehensive 19 page review by Alberto Bisin

The book is a large-scale history of the world through the different modes of production humanity has adopted over time and their implications in terms of moral values. Morris argues that the predominant value systems of human societies are cultural adaptations to the organizational structures of the societies themselves, their institutions, and ultimately to their modes of production. In particular, the book contains a careful analysis of how the hunting-gathering mode of production induces egalitarian values and relatively favorable attitudes towards violent resolution of conflicts, while farming induces hierarchical values and less favorable attitudes towards violence, and in turn the fossil fuel (that is, industrial) mode of production induces egalitarian values and non-violent attitudes. 

The narrative in the book is rich, diverse, and ultimately entertaining. Morris’ analysis is very knowledgeable and informative: arguments and evidence are rooted in history, anthro- pology, archeology, and social sciences in general. Notheless, the analysis falls short of being convincing about the causal nature of the existing relationship between modes of production and moral value systems. 

From Madhukar Shukla's 'Lives and Lvelihoods'

News from Melbourne University

A fascinating story about tractors

Yes Meyer Wins Abel Prize 2017

From The Guardian and CNRS
Terry Tao comments "I had learned about Meyer’s wavelet constructions as a graduate student while taking a course from Ingrid Daubechies.   Daubechies also made extremely important contributions to the theory of wavelets, but my understanding is that due to a conflict of interest arising from Daubechies’ presidency of the International Mathematical Union (which nominates members of the Abel prize committee) from 2011 to 2014, she was not eligible for the prize this year, and so I do not think this prize should be necessarily construed as a judgement on the relative contributions of Meyer and Daubechies to this field.  (In any case I fully agree with the Abel prize committee’s citation of Meyer’s pivotal role in the development of the theory of wavelets.)"

About migrants

Much of what we know about migration is wrong from Der Spiegel
But there is also news like this "Over the last decade, an estimated $3.8 trillion in capital has left China. Net foreign direct investment over the same period of time has amounted to $1.3 trillion, leaving the country with a net loss."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Rahul Banerjee finds himself on the dais with a District collector

Saeed Khan, was an anarchist to the core and despite being part of an organisation he was always in confrontation with it. He was a journalist of the Hindustan Times, Indore edition, which has now wound up and he believed in staying close to the ground. So much so that he did not own any motorised vehicle and moved around on foot and public transport even though he had an Iphone in his pocket which he used to surf the world at a drop of the hat. I was invited to speak a few words about him in today's commemoration and that is how I landed up on the dais. The commemoration event had been well advertised on FB and Twitter and reading this, the District Collector of Indore too came uninvited and was called up to the dais and that is how we were together there.
The Collector said that in his earlier stint as the Municipal Commissioner in Indore, he had been accosted on many occasions by Saeed who was then diligently pursuing all the misplanning and malimplementation that was manifesting itself in the development of Indore city. He said, that in Saeed, for the first time he met a journalist who did deep research on his stories and would fearlessly flay administrative inefficiency. He also said that normally he is continually invited to chair or take part in various public meetings by organisations and had to refuse them most of the time but this is the first time in his thirteen year career as an administrator that he was attending a meeting like this uninvited simply because he couldn't get over the fact that Saeed was not there anymore and he wanted to share his respect for him.
From a write up by Rahul Banerjee on Saeed Khan

Some articles on quantification

The invention of 'The Economy'', dates it roughly to the mid twentieth century. But the trend for quantification started much earlier in the west, even before the sixteenth century as this article on Quantification suggests. And The risks of quantification.

Michael Hudson

a comprehensive introduction to Michael Hudson's thoughts on the economy As usual I find Michael Hudson very interesting.

Tim Hartford on the problem with facts

The problem with facts, slightly longish but well worth a couple of reads, I think.
P.S.  My tentative view. We are in some ways prediction machines for our survival; that is we store information and try to predict to find our way around. The problem is our limited capacity to store quickly recallable information. This is where we have developed short cuts often based an emotions like disgust. The problem is accentuated even for experts with the modern information overload. Atul Gawande describes one such instance in Cowboys and pit crews. Of course there are attempts to see patterns using big databases and so on but these are not amenable to the common man. So we need chains of dissemination to reach the common man to make reasonable judgements. But these chain are also manned by people with similar biases and self interests. So perhaps what we need are people for whom the interests of other people are more important than their own, perhaps people like Asron Swartz or deliberate attempts to cultivate such attitudes.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chuck Berry RIP

Pete Maravich
In India, I find that biographical writing from admirers tend to make characters like Ambedkar to Gandhi to Ghantasala either godlike figures or from full of polemics from critics. Here is one of a player I admired, warts and all. More about Pistol Pete at several places including a few books like this Mark Kriegel

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Giving women a voice
Via Rahul Banerjee's post

Australian cricketers near Ranchi
An article on the visit Inspiring visit gives Aussies a perspective Glenn Maxwell who scored his first century was one of the visitors.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Two on

The first Amazon is going to kill more American jobs than China did from Market Watch. The second a detailed study ( which I only browsed) from the Yale Law Journal by Lena M.Khan:
ABSTRACT. Amazon is the titan of twenty-first century commerce. In addition to being a retailer, it is now a marketing platform, a delivery and logistics network, a payment service, a credit lender, an auction house, a major book publisher, a producer of television and films, a fashion designer, a hardware manufacturer, and a leading host of cloud server space. Although Amazon has clocked staggering growth, it generates meager profits, choosing to price below-cost and expand widely instead. Through this strategy, the company has positioned itself at the center of e-commerce and now serves as essential infrastructure for a host of other businesses that depend upon it. Elements of the firm’s structure and conduct pose anticompetitive concerns—yet it has escaped antitrust scrutiny.
This Note argues that the current framework in antitrust—specifically its pegging competition to “consumer welfare,” defined as short-term price effects—is unequipped to capture the architecture of market power in the modern economy. We cannot cognize the potential harms to competition posed by Amazon’s dominance if we measure competition primarily through price and output. Specifically, current doctrine underappreciates the risk of predatory pricing and how integration across distinct business lines may prove anticompetitive. These concerns are heightened in the context of online platforms for two reasons. First, the economics of platform markets create incentives for a company to pursue growth over profits, a strategy that investors have rewarded. Under these conditions, predatory pricing becomes highly rational—even as existing doctrine treats it as irrational and therefore implausible. Second, because online platforms serve as critical intermediaries, integrating across business lines positions these platforms to control the essential infrastructure on which their rivals depend. This dual role also enables a platform to exploit information collected on companies using its services to undermine them as competitors. 
This Note maps out facets of Amazon’s dominance. Doing so enables us to make sense of its business strategy, illuminates anticompetitive aspects of Amazon’s structure and conduct, and underscores deficiencies in current doctrine. The Note closes by considering two potential regimes for addressing Amazon’s power: restoring traditional antitrust and competition policy principles or applying common carrier obligations and duties.

Facebook friends

Some Facebook friend seem frustrated with me. They probably consider me as elite material and not doing my bit. But the problem is that I felt most people I met were better than me in some respect or other and I really do not have much to say to them. Secondly, I find things do not come naturally to me. I have to learn, think and work hard to make any 'progress'. How do I know that I make progress in a topic? Most of my time is spent in mathematics where there are accepted norms of proof if you ignore some fundamental contradictions. Generally afte some thing is written, a consensus whether it is correct or not is reached. Since I have a track record with papers written as far back as seventies still being referred to, I assume that I made some progress there.

But in outside areas like social sciences; where I spend a lot of time these days thinking about development issues, it is much more problematic. As words get farther from concrete things, they seem to have a band width, and we seem to mean slightly different things by the same word. I think that this is what makes communication possible and also considerable confusion. So, a conclusion may be that universal models may not be possible and if one is close to real things, some understanding may be possible in specific contexts. I think that mutually understandable language is needed here. Here I tend towards language understandable to common people due to my interest in poverty and development. A case study may be the relative influences of Vemana and Srinadha on the Telugu populace.

Going back to development, I will consider just one aspect of elites. As Brad DeLong said (quoted in the previous post) about moderns "...they engage in complicated symbolic interactions that have the emergent effect of distributing status and power...". It seems to me that this is where the problem is. According to Gabriel Palma in as many as 140 countries, the top ten percent and bottom forty percent together share half the income. As the share of the top ten percent increases which seems to be currently the case, it is at the expense of the bottom forty percent. And the majority of the elites are in the top percent and they like others look after their self interests. I consider this a problem. And that is why I prefer to among the non-elites.

Quotes from Brad DeLong

"But since 1750 or so things have been different. The pace of economic change has been so great as to shake the rest of history to its foundation. For perhaps the first time, the making and using the necessities and conveniences of daily life--and how production, distribution, and consumption changed--has been the driving force behind a single century’s history. Even in the most long-established of professions, the pattern and rhythm of work life today is so very different from that of our ancestors as to be almost unrecognizable. It is these changes in production and also in home life and consumption, and the reactions to them, that make up the center ring action of the history that has made us who we are" and "What do modern people do? Increasingly, they push forward the corpus of technological and scientific knowledge. They educate each other. They doctor each other. They nurse each other. They care for the young and the old. They entertain each other. They provide other services for each other to take advantage of the benefits of specialization. And they engage in complicated symbolic interactions that have the emergent effect of distributing status and power and coordinating the seven-billion person division of labor of today’s economy. We have crossed a great divide between what we used to do in all previous human history and what we do now. Since we are not in the realm of necessity, we ought to be in the realm of freedom." From

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Rahul Banerjee on the recent U.P.elections

Congress is hoist with its own petard "o as long as proportional representation is not introduced in India, there is little chance of individuals or parties fighting for true people oriented development, making any headway in electoral politics. However, there is no need for disillusionment and fear but instead more commitment is needed to pursue grassroots activism which is increasingly becoming a rarity with time." There is also a discussion on his wall.
Related Some political systems handle populism better than others.

Kwame Appiah on western civilisation

There is no such thing as western civilisation. Erudite and all over the place. I do not know what to make out of it. Towards the end we have this passage:
"Culture – like religion and nation and race – provides a source of identity for contemporary human beings. And, like all three, it can become a form of confinement, conceptual mistakes underwriting moral ones. Yet all of them can also give contours to our freedom. Social identities connect the small scale where we live our lives alongside our kith and kin with larger movements, causes, and concerns. They can make a wider world intelligible, alive, and urgent. They can expand our horizons to communities larger than the ones we personally inhabit. But our lives must make sense, too, at the largest of all scales. We live in an era in which our actions, in the realm of ideology as in the realm of technology, increasingly have global effects. When it comes to the compass of our concern and compassion, humanity as a whole is not too broad a horizon."
I am concerned about the vagueness of the approach and sentences like the last one in the above quote. How many can have such effect? I have been acquainted with westerns, whatever that means, since 1964 and lived in the west for about half my life. When you talk to your neighbours or people on the street there are cultural differences since most people live locally. The problem seemed to me is that the percentage of people who are in the global circles has increased. It is not just the .1 percent, but this ten percent or so who are influential, from software engineers to bureaucrats in the European Union, who are influential in the global tends. It seems that they like most others are interested in their own well being as they see it and that is not helpful to the majority of the people. Since the influential sections are generally driven by their own self interests, we have system acting like a centrifugal force sucking the wealth upwards. When the economic growth decreases, this force inevitably marginalises the majority and tries to force them in to subsistence. I believe that armed resistance is futile in view of the strength of the centralised governments. There seem to no alternative to some resistance and decentralisation. Perhaps Fragmentation is the solution not the problem.
P.S.Trancripts of the lectures 123, and 4 which is the one linked above. I wrote the above responding to one paragraph in the fourth lecture which expresses a vague hope which I felt was unrealistic. The lectures as whole make a wonderful reading.

French economist Jacques Sapir

specialises on Russia has a wideranging interview. It seems to be translated from French. Some passages are not clear to me. In the English speaking world, we are mostly familiar with The names of British and American economists. Sapir would be consider heterodox I think but he has influential positions in the French institutions. Worth a look.