Thursday, December 13, 2007

Some prosperity

The coastal districts of Guntur and Krishna seem much more prosperous than in my childhood days. I have mainly visited relatives in villages and the towns of Guntur and Vijayawada and these are the impressions gathered from talks with some of the relatives. Relatives on my father's side were mostly small farmers and the next generation except for one moved to towns, new professions and trade. One was driver who became a APRTC driver later, another a APRTC mechanic. One became a Veterinary doctor, and there are enigineers doctors and teachers. One cousin became a widow early and with my mother's encouragement took up 100 rupees a month job with medical firm and raised her family. All seem to have focussed on the education of their children and most of the next generation are now professionals. Currently some are abroad, some in Vijayawada and most of them, including the cousin who was earning 100rupees a month, seem to be prosprous now. Many of them seem to have properties worth crores, good apartments and houses and comfortable living styles, all except the one who remained in agriculture. I do not know where the prosperity came from. For some, it seemed to be earnings from abroad, For some thrift and later contracts, and for some professions.
There seems to be a time gap in development between these families and families on my wife's side. Her brothers and sisters have started focussing on the education of children a bit later ( my father was the first graduate in our family and my wife the first in her family). Two are still in farming, one with a fair amount of land and another a tenant farmer. Both say that it is an uncertain profession and hard going. Generally, the transport and roads are better, all villages can be reached by buses or autos. Different villages seem to be at different levels of well being. Some have new buildings and a few have returned to them after retirement, in many others families have moved to towns for children's education and even though they still look attractive, they are somewhat deserted. Good old houses with some land seem to be available for about two lakh rupees.
Another village Thullur where my father used to work seems to be thriving. A kin Gadde Venkateswara Rao Says that he was instrumental in bringing Krishna water to the village through a pumping scheme near Raipudi and they charge only 300 rupees per acre as water charges. His sister told me that according to her brother I am the sixth greatest mathematician in the world and that they are very proud that a Gadde made his mark in the world.
P.S (23rd December)Due to the uncertainity of returns from rice farming, some farmers have shifted to other crops and even eucalyptus plantations on the land that they were using for rice farming. Some predict that there will be food crisis in the next five years.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A micro effort

Benjamin Kaila who has been organinizing Ambedkar fellowships has initiated a micro finance effort through his cousin, pastor P.Sunder. It seems that rural pastors of his denomination do not get salaries but get by with offerings from their congregations.
I visited Modukur (where Mr. P.sunder is currently pastor), Jamudupadu (where he was pastor for 5 years) on 7th. Dec. and Veluru (his native place)on 10th. Dec. I am giving below my impressions. These visits were done in between vists to relatives and may not be completely accurate in all details.
The Current programmes are in Jamudupadu (5) and Veluru (3). I spoke to seven of the beneficiaries. In all places, Mr. Sunder was received with regard and warmth. Most of the programmes involve grocery type activities,one on push cart (topudu bandi) and one just carrying idli and dosai and such during mornings and evenings on her head. All are about 2500 rupees each and all except one (which was given later than others) are repaid. Interest is one perecent and after the first month the interest is charged on what remained of the loan and so on.The recovered loans are recycled. I have seen the accounts. I understand that Spandana charges are much higher and practices of the village lenders can be worse.
The money is used to for groceries or eqippment (like stove,vessels when cooking is involved). These loans made it possible, according to their own accounts,of some desperate cases like widows , accident victims to make a living. To come to a stage where they can finance their purchases themselves. Continuation of loans for one or two more periods and in some cases some increase in the amounts may be necessary.
Jamudupadu has 70-80 dalit families and there are some more applications of different nature (one needs a bit more cash to buy a buffalo and there are some agricultural labourers who lease one to two acres and need investment for seeds and ferlizers). At the moment they pay exorbitant interests and can make money only if the weather is good and that mainly on a second crop of lentils.
The strength of Mr. Sunder in Jamudupadu seems to due to his work as a pastor and has moral authority and popularity to make beneficiaries repay.
Mr. Sunder's position is stronger in Veluru. It is his village, has a number of friends and relatives and one of his nephews seems to know the system of loans well. The village has about 500 Dalit familes living in approximately 300 houses. The only library in the village, named after Gurram Jashua is in the Dalit part. There is voluntary type (with some minimal payments when possible)tution by two Dalits who finished school. There is an agricultural labourer who helps students with tution and books when he can.I spent more time in Veluru and spoke to many who applied for loans. The applicants include a muslim, a vaisya, a chakali and kummari. The total amount needed for new applicants as well as continuation seems to be around 50 thousand rupees. The village has a leftist background and I was told that the caste relationships are good. So far Mr. Sunder refrained from giving loans in Modukur since he feels that at the place he is working, there may be unhappiness if does not suport all the urgent cases. I think that both Veluru and Jamudupadu projects are worth supporting.
P.S. (21st December). This has also been posted with an additional comment in

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Debraj Ray

Julius Silver Professor of Economics in New York University has a survey article on 'Development Economics'. Ray's bookon Development Economics has been used by Dani Rodrik and others in their courses.There is aseminar at Crooked Timber on Dani Rodrik's book "One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalizat, Institutions and Economic Growth".
I vaguely remember that Ray was among a group of three young economists who came back to India in the early 80's to find a suitable job and work on development. Only one of the three is in india now. I think that one of them is in Australia and Ray is in USA.
More links to development economics here

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I completed reading "Economics, A Very Short Introduction" by Partha Dasgupta. For an outsider like me trying to get some understanding of economics, this seems to be the best of the popular books that I have read or browsed through so far. Earlier, it seemed to be a subject driven by politics and hegemony, a view supported to some extent by the articles of Mike Reay and Marion Fourcade. This book indicates that basic economics can be used with a view of sharing scarce resources and planning for the future irrespective of ideolgy. I recall David Warsh's comment from
"Each book targets a different audience. Often there are advertisers lurking in the background. The primer I have enjoyed most, the one I would recommend to a friend who wanted to learn how economists think about the world right now, is one that passed almost completely unnoticed into the stream, perhaps because it is so slight. But then, that is the point of Economics: A Very Short Introduction, by Partha Dasgupta, the Frank Ramsey Professor of Economics at Cambridge University. He boils down everything that's ordinarily included in a thousand-page introductory text, and more, to 160 graceful but undersized pages."
I feel that elementary books in sciences, at least at the level of understanding current news, should be available in regional languages. I think that this book fits that criterion. I am taking a copy of it to A.P. with the hope that somebody may translate or write articles in Telugu based on this book. If I cannot find anybody, I may attempt to do it myself, even though my Telugu is not that good.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Going to India

on a long trip. Possibly very few posts in the next months.
Happy holidays and new year to all.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Lorraine Lee Rose

pictured hereis an Australian bred rose. In the last ten years, I never watered it and sprayed it only once. It seems to flower most of the year.

Two posts on eco-friendly housing

Rahul Banerjee explains his efforts making his house in Indore eco-friendly :
"All the kitchen waste is composted to yield manure. What is more even at the height of summer when the temperature in Indore hits 45 degrees centigrade our house remains cool because of its leafy exterior. We have a natural air-cooling system as the house has been designed with a lot of cross ventilation and all we have to do is hang some khas grass curtains on the windows and wet them through drips and the air blowing in becomes cool. We do not have to run fans let alone air conditioners. Our average daily consumption of electricity is 1.75 units (kwh) only."
The ecofriend blog on Agro-Housing:
"The concept of Agro-Housing is to have housing programs that will allow the formation of a new social and urban order that can be replicated as it represents basic human values lost in the process of modernization and progress. Additional expected benefits from Agro-Housing include the decline in commuting, the decline in further transportation system development, and the replacement of the zoning strategy by more sustainable urban conception. As the world’s population burgeons at startling speeds, it’s a proposal that’s more necessary than simply clever."

Friday, November 02, 2007

NYTimes on Babajob

Anand Giridhardaswrites about Babajob(via Angry Bear):
"The best-known networking sites in the industry connect computer-savvy elites to one another. Babajob, by contrast, connects India’s elites to the poor at their doorsteps, people who need jobs but lack the connections to find them. Job seekers advertise skills, employers advertise jobs and matches are made through social networks.

For example, if Rajeev and Sanjay are friends, and Sanjay needs a chauffeur, he can view Rajeev’s page, travel to the page of Rajeev’s chauffeur and see which of the chauffeur’s friends are looking for similar work.

Mr. Blagsvedt, now 31, joined Microsoft in Redmond in 1999. Three years ago he was sent to India to help build the local office of Microsoft Research, the company’s in-house policy research arm. The new team worked on many of the same complex problems as their peers in Redmond, but the employees here led very different lives outside the office than their counterparts in Redmond. They had servants and laborers. They read constant newspaper tales of undernourishment and illiteracy.

The company’s Indian employees were not seeing poverty for the first time, but they were now equipped with first-rate computing skills, and many felt newly empowered to help their society.

At the same time, Microsoft was plagued by widespread software piracy, which limited its revenue in India. Among other things, the company looked at low-income consumers as a vast and unexploited commercial opportunity, so it encouraged its engineers’ philanthropic urges.

Poverty became a major focus in Mr. Blagsvedt’s research office. Anthropologists and sociologists were hired to explain things like the effect of the caste system on rural computer usage. In the course of that work, Mr. Blagsvedt stumbled upon an insight by a Duke University economist, Anirudh Krishna.

Mr. Krishna found that many poor Indians in dead-end jobs remain in poverty not because there are no better jobs, but because they lack the connections to find them. Any Bangalorean could confirm the observation: the city teems with laborers desperate for work, and yet wealthy software tycoons complain endlessly about a shortage of maids and cooks.

Mr. Blagsvedt’s epiphany? “We need village LinkedIn!” he recalled saying, alluding to the professional networking site.

He quit Microsoft and, with his stepfather, Ira Weise, and a former Microsoft colleague built a social-networking site to connect Bangalore’s yuppies with its laborers. (The site, which Mr. Blagsvedt started this summer and runs out of his home, focuses on Bangalore now, but he plans to spread it to other Indian cities and maybe globally.)

Building a site meant to reach laborers earning $2 to $3 a day presented special challenges. The workers would be unfamiliar with computers. The wealthy potential employers would be reluctant to let random applicants tend their gardens or their newborns. To deal with the connectivity problem, Babajob pays anyone, from charities to Internet cafe owners, who finds job seekers and registers them online. (Babajob earns its keep from employers’ advertisements, diverting a portion of that to those who register job seekers.) And instead of creating an anonymous job bazaar, Babajob replicates online the process by which Indians hire in real life: through chains of personal connections.
Mr. Krishna, the Duke economist, called it a “very significant innovation,” but he cautioned that the very poor might not belong to the social networks that would bring them to Babajob, even on the periphery."

More information here.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Synthesizing the wisdom of experts

Julie Rehmeyer at Mathtrek talks of the work ofBruce Bueno de Mesquita :
"The New York University political science professor has developed a computerized game theory model that predicts the future of many business and political negotiations and also figures out ways to influence the outcome. Two independent evaluations, one by academics and one by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, have both shown that about 90 percent of his predictions have been accurate. Most recently, he has used his mathematical tools to offer approaches for handling the growing nuclear crisis with Iran.

Bueno de Mesquita provides the computer tools, but he relies on political or business experts to identify specific issues, their possible outcomes, and the key players. He asks experts narrow, carefully delineated questions about which outcome each player would prefer, how important the issue is to each player, and how much influence each player can exert. But he does not ask about the history of the conflict, the cultural norms of the area, or what the experts think will happen.

With careful interviewing, Bueno de Mesquita finds that he can get experts to agree on what information the model needs as input, even when the experts disagree sharply on expected outcomes. Once, after generating a report for the CIA using information from the agency's experts, he had his students assemble the same information from news reports. "Over 90 percent of them came up with the same results as I got [when I was] locked in a lead-lined vault at the CIA headquarters," Bueno de Mesquita says. "It's basic information that experts agree on and that you can even find in The Economist." "

She also refers to Mesquita & Roundell, a company he founded that uses his model to advise businesses and governments and this article , according to which they advised Union Carbide.

Vacation links-1

Going on a long trip to India soon and may not have internet access during parts of the trip. Trying to keep track of some articles to be read again.
Alex Gunz on hate (via Abi at Nanopolitan).

Robert Burton on prejudice at

Holly Arrow on sharp end of altruism (needs subscrpton). Abstract:Simulations show that war drives the joint evolution of altruism and hostility to outsiders.

Current Biology article "Cooperation peaks at intermediate disurbance".

Vilaynur Ramachandran on 'THE NEUROLOGY OF SELF-AWARENESS' (via 3quarksdaily). There are some predictions and a surprising statement towards the end: "Here again was, evidence that two seemingly contradictory aspects of self — its the individuation and intense privacy vs. its social reciprocity — may complement each other and arise from the same neural mechanism, mirror neurons. Like the two sides of a Mobius strip, they are really the same, even they appear — on local inspection — to be fundamentally different."

Arun Thiruvengadam on Arundhati Roy.
P.S.(7th Nov.) Nice survey but not up-to-date:
Wilson and Wilson on the survival of the selfless *with references to Turchin):

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

M.S. Swaminathan on India's urban-rural divide

"The disconnect between farmers and researchers can be overcome by bringing Internet and telecommunications to rural villages, he argues.

Swaminathan's research foundation aims to set up at least one village telecom kiosk for every six villages. Farmers will be able to go to the kiosks for information about livestock management and crop diseases.

One of the keys to this scheme is training villagers to become advocates for ICT in their communities. Many past ICT projects have failed in India, largely because they failed to listen to the villagers themselves. "
The longer source article is in Nature.

Partha Dasgupta's primer on economics

is drawing some attention. I recall Partha Dasgupta's comments from the foreword "Poverty, Environment and Society: The Role of Natural Capital in Economic Development": "Despite the interdisciplinary nature of my enquiries, the lens through which I have studied the social world has been that of economics. I have assumed a point of view of the circumstances of living that gives prominence to the allocation of scarce resources - among contemporaries and across the generations. One hallmark of the viewpoint is to study human well-being in terms of its commodity determinants and the institutions that shape our lives. Another is to reason quantitatively. Moreover, because it is subject to empirical discipline, the inquiry encourages approximations. Inevitably, the viewpoint is partial. But increasingly I have come to realize that it is possible to look outward from that partial view to catch a glimpse of the larger enterprise called "living".
I do that regularly in the essays that follow and, in the one methodological essay in the present collection, I respond to several prominent critics of contemporary economics by showing that they misunderstand the foundations of my discipline.

While re-reading the essays here, I noticed that I have rarely ever published an article in which the bird I was ultimately able to catch was in fact caught. This is because I have rarely ever known what it was that I was really after. Maybe I knew it subconsciously, but I doubt that. In my case, a discovery has meant a growing realization, not a blinding revelation. Usually, it has taken me several publications, brick by metaphorical brick, before I was able even to understand what the phenomenon I had been working on was, let alone to uncover the pathways that give rise to the phenomenon. I don't know whether this is a common experience among scientists, but I doubt it. I suspect there is nothing common among the processes by which we gain an understanding of the world around us."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Links: October, 28

Raj Chetty explains some of his background and motivation in this Rediff interview (via V.K. Chetty):
"In my case, I realised that my long-term objectives lined up better with a PhD than other paths. At a young age my dream was to discover something that would have a great impact on the world and help a lot of people. I think I was very aware of issues such as poverty and lack of growth partly because of my background, having grown up both in India and in the US. I remember, quite vividly, going to the Taj Mahal when I was eight. It was immaculate and beautiful inside. But outside, you see extreme poverty in Agra. Experiences like that sparked my interest in understanding how to improve the economy. "

Two articles on non-Smithsian developments; one by James Fallows and another by David Ludden (via Brad DeLong links).

Discussion on Tyler cowen's article on private contractors; in particular the first comment by Bruce Wilder:
"Tyler Cowan: "the overall problem is not private contracting in itself; ... but rather ... the sins and virtues of . . . governments"

There you have the whole of Tyler's philosophy.

The rest of his op-ed treats us to a tour of a few of his many unfounded prejudices, helpfully re-lit from novel angles to support his thesis.

Ordinarily, Tyler is obsessed with progress. It is actually one of his more endearing traits, and a founding concept of his blog, Marginal Revolution. It kind of disappears in this op/ed, though. A necessity, if you are going to argue that "privatisation" of warfare is not a regression to the brigandage of the 16th century.

Efficiency is another Tyler favorite, which is replaced, here, by an undefined, "flexibility". ". . . the use of contractors is not a free lunch" Tyler helpfully informs us, but he never gets around to mentioning just how much more, American mercenaries cost then the also paid soldiers of a volunteer Army. Of course, very few of our soldiers in Iraq are Republican campaign contributors. But, then, how could they be? General Petraeus costs Uncle Sam less than the lowliest thug employed by Erik Prince, and charged to Uncle Sam through three layers of contractor and subcontractor."

Andrew Leonard reports ecouraging trends from South Korea:
"South Korea, write World Bank researchers Woojin Chung and Monica Das Gupta, is the first Asian country to reverse the discouraging trend of "rising sex ratios at birth" -- by which is meant families taking advantage of new sex-selection technologies (or good old-fashioned female infanticide) to favor boys rather than girls. (Thanks to Ben Muse's Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement blog for the link.)

The trend is all the more noteworthy because until relatively recently, South Korea's authoritarian government did its best to legislate societal adherence to radically Confucian traditional values that emphasized the primacy of the male lineage and the extreme necessity of having sons to care for one's ancestors, both living and dead. In the view of the authors, Korea's example offers promise for other Asian countries, especially India and China, where "son preference" is also rampant and social demographics have become highly skewed."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mike Reay on the uses of economics

Mike Reay's "ACADEMIC KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERT AUTHORITY IN AMERICAN ECONOMICS" based on his interviews with American economists was linked before. He continues the study in "The Uses of Economics". It seems throw some light on the influence of American economists. Here is a fairly long quote from the introduction of the paper:
" Such notions of ideology and hegemony fit into a wide range of work on the symbolic authority of scientific knowledge, its tendency to be viewed as ‘objective’ and incontrovertible, and its complicity in ‘co-constructing’ naturalized social and political institutions (e.g. Habermas 1970, Shapin & Shaffer 1985, Latour 1987, Haraway 1991, Gergen 1994, Jasanoff 2004). However, these ideas of the influence of economics are also somewhat in tension with work on the large-scale shift and perhaps even decline in the authority of science in Western nations since the 1960s. Some researchers in this field suggest that universalizing scientific ideologies are breaking down because their very dominance has revealed their internal inconsistencies and limitations (e.g. Lyotard 1984(1979), Beck 1992), while others explore the commercialization of academia and of expertise formerly monopolized by national governments that might conceivably lead to an external pluralism problematizing claims to universal truth (e.g. Leydesdorff & Etkowitz 1996, Slaughter & Leslie 1997, Nowotny et al 2001, Krimsky 2003). Either way, science is thought to no longer easily serve precisely the kind of global legitimizing,
coordinating, and naturalizing functions that observers such as Bourdieu and Callon
ascribe to economics.
The influence of American economics thus poses something of a sociological puzzle. If it really involves hegemonic technocratic domination, how can this be reconciled with notions of the apparent transformation of scientific legitimation? And if it does not involve such domination, what was in fact going on with its global spread
alongside neoliberal political regimes? The following discussion attempts to resolve this puzzle by looking more closely at how neoclassical economics was actually used in the United States towards the end of the Twentieth Century. It does this by considering a range of work on the activities of professional economists – often by economists themselves – and on knowledge-based authority and the practical utilization of science. It also uses an original set of face-to-face interviews with professional economists working in a variety of different academic and non-academic jobs at century’s end.
It argues that both ideological/hegemonic and skeptical/pluralist phenomena were being generated by three underlying features of how economics was used. The first of
these features is the existence of three basic effects of economic expertise, paralleling Steven Lukes’ famous three ‘dimensions’ of power; substantive influence on particular decisions, symbolic exclusion of others from decision-making, and background framing of possible courses of action. The second feature is flexibility. This refers to how, as predicted by a range of work on social construction and uncertainty in science, economics could always sustain a range of answers to specific policy questions, such that different groups could use it to support different, often conflicting claims. The third feature is the softness of the influence of economics, that is, the way it tended to fall short of strict
determination of outcomes, and hence left room for other political, cultural, and
interpersonal processes. Taken together these underlying features of knowledge not only help explain the situation of economics in the US, but also suggest ways to improve and combine models of ideology/hegemony and pluralism/contestation in modern science."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Photos from Andhra Pradesh

Found these nice photographs mostly from Andra Pradesh while following up a racchanada message .
The linked news item in Telugu from AndhraJyoty says that some of the statues of gopis in Velpuru Venkateswara temple (on the road from Tanuku to Attili, West Godavari dt.)were considered obscene and clothed in some sort of undergarments. That seems to be the gist of it but my Telugu is rusty and I may be mistranslating a bit.
Googling 'clothing naked statues' shows that there are many other instances.

Some economics links, October 25, 2007

Nouriel Roubini revists his predictions from last year and says:
"As for decoupling of the rest of the world from the US slowdown this author argued as early as August of 2006 - and again throughout the fall of 2006 - that the decoupling view was conditional on the US achieving a soft landing; instead, conditional on a US hard landing twelve separate financial, trade, currency, confidence and other channels would imply that the rest of the world would not decouple from such a US hard landing."
Dani Rodrik on economists with snake oil. From Roubini's post it seems that some main stream economists are not exempt either.
Brad Setser on who is holding up the dollar:
"The funny thing is that the emerging world has been able to muster support for massive, global intervention needed to hold the dollar up –"
James Surowiecki supply side economics via Brad DeLong
"It’s more like saying that the best way to treat sick people is to bleed them to let out the evil spirits."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

George Monbiot on Matt Ridley

in Business Guardian via Felix Salmon:
"Ridley and I have the same view of human nature: that we are inherently selfish. But the question is whether this nature is subject to the conditions that prevailed during our evolutionary history. I believe they have changed: we can no longer be scrutinised and held to account by a small community. We need governments to fill the regulatory role vacated when our tiny clans dissolved.

I can offer nothing more than speculation, but Ridley has had the opportunity to test his beliefs. He took up his post - which was previously held by his father, Viscount Ridley - in 2004. Under his chairmanship, the Economist notes, Northern Rock "pushed an aggressive business model to the limit, crossing its fingers and hoping that liquidity would always be there". It was allowed to do so because it was insufficiently regulated by the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority. When his libertarian business model failed, Ridley had to go begging to the detested state. If the government and its parasitic bureaucrats had not been able to use taxpayers' money to clear up his mess, thousands of people would have lost their savings. Northern Rock would have collapsed, and the resulting panic might have brought down the rest of the banking system.
Wherever modern humans, living outside the narrow social mores of the clan, are allowed to pursue their genetic interests without constraint, they will hurt other people. They will grab other people's resources, they will dump their waste in other people's habitats, they will cheat, lie, steal and kill. And if they have power and weapons, no one will be able to stop them except those with more power and better weapons. Our genetic inheritance makes us smart enough to see that when the old society breaks down, we should appease those who are more powerful than ourselves and exploit those who are less powerful. The survival strategies that once ensured cooperation among equals now ensure subservience to those who have broken the social contract.

The democratic challenge, which becomes ever more complex as the scale of human interactions increases, is to mimic the governance system of the small hominid troop. We need a state that rewards us for cooperating and punishes us for cheating and stealing. At the same time, we must ensure that the state is also treated like a member of the hominid clan and punished when it acts against the common good. Human welfare, just as it was a million years ago, is guaranteed only by mutual scrutiny and regulation.
I doubt that Ridley would be able to sustain his beliefs in a place where the state has broken down. Unless taxpayers' money and public services are available to repair the destruction it causes, libertarianism destroys people's savings, wrecks their lives and trashes their environment. It is the belief system of the free-rider, who is perpetually subsidised by responsible citizens. As biologists we both know what this means. Self-serving as governments might be, the true social parasites are those who demand their dissolution."
P.S. Matt Ridley is one of my favourite science writers. I liked his "The Red Queen",large parts of "Nature via Nurture" and "The origins of virtue". Allen Orr is critical of parts the later two books as mentioned in one of the early posts.

Innovation Race

India lagging behind say some Indian scientists:
"Although India's potential is high, it is not nurturing innovation, Sri Krishna Joshi, scientist emeritus at India's National Physical Laboratory, told delegates at a conference on inventions and innovations in Delhi, India today (15 October).

India's education system "kills any spirit of innovation" by failing to close the gap between industry and academia, said S. Srinavasa Murthy, professor of electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

He said very few PhD theses in technical institutes are linked to industry and innovations, and the bulk of academics — even at the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology — are not industry-savvy because their promotions are only linked to publications in peer-reviewed journals.

A World Bank report released this month (4 October) also warned that, despite an impressive growth rate of eight per cent in gross domestic product since 2004, India's full innovation potential remains unrealised.

Of the top 50 applicants for patents in India between 1995 and 2005, 44 were foreign firms, while only six were Indian. "

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sanskrit Knowledge Systems

on the Eve of Colonialism is a relatively new site that I have come across in a Telugu discussion group 'racchabanda'. It looks interesting and will make available digital copies many manuscripts. However,the few available science related articles by the team members that I browsed through do not look particularly impressive.
P.S.(25th October)There is some interesting discussion in'racchabanda'
See inparicular the messages 18603-05 by Hanuma Kodvalla.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A message about rural women from

Rural women have to fetch wood for cooking from a long distance away. They suffer bruises during collection; headache / backache / neckache during the walk back; and respiratory diseases from smoky kitchens - apart from depleting trees and ground cover more rapidly than it can self-generate.

Integrated Research and action for Development (IRADe), Delhi, has been working on this issue and has succeeded in getting the Planning Commission to incorporate this issue in the 11th Plan but both need realistic ideas on how to reduce these problems.

e.g. Should every village have a planters' cooperative which grows such trees within 1 km; Or should subsidised LPG / kerosene be provided; OR are alternate energy sources e.g. biogas, solar cookers, etc. feasible?

Please email your suggestions for this and any other rural problem.

Happy Dussehra!
Vinay -- helping to conquer the evil spirits within and without

Saturday, October 20, 2007

World Bank on Agriculture

From WSJ blog:
"After decades of preaching the benefits of urbanizing and industrializing as the best path to development, the World Bank is going back to the roots — agriculture.

“We need to give agriculture more prominence across the board,” said World Bank President Robert Zoellick as the bank released its annual World Development Report. The bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, are holding their joint annual meeting this week.

While 75% of the world’s poor live in rural areas, only 4% of official development assistance goes to agriculture, the bank said. Growth in agriculture is about four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors, the report concludes. To turn agriculture into an engine of growth, efforts must be made to increase productivity, and to connect farmers to global markets, the report said."
P.S. (21/10/07)World Bank Report here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Confirmation for Dunbar's theory of gossip?

Robin Dunbar's theory of language and gossip developed in here and in his books "Grooming, Gossip and evolution of language" and "The Human Story" (See also the Wikipedia article on Dunbar's number)seems to get some more confirmation in recent research according to "Facts Prove No Match for Gossip, It Seems":
"The donor was told that the source of the gossip didn’t have any extra information beyond what the donor could already see for himself. Yet the gossip, whether positive or negative, still had a big influence on the donors’ decisions, and it didn’t even matter if the source of the gossip had a good reputation himself. On average, cooperation increased by about 20 percent if the gossip was good, and fell by 20 percent if the gossip was negative." (via 3quarksdaily)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


New Scientist has a discussion on the spinning dancing girl and says that "What this animation does not involve is different sides of the brain, as the initial post claims. What you see is purely due to your perceptual and cognitive flexibility."
I am not so sure. Reversal rates seem to vary and some can see only clockwise or anticlockwise motion.
This Wikipedia artcle says:
"Reversal rates vary drastically between stimuli and observers, and has been found to be slower for people with Bipolar disorder ("sticky" interhemispheric switch in bipolar disorder)".
Combining motion and sound has interesting effects like the McGurk Effect.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Duetting is symptomatic of monogomy?

At least in tropical birds and some primates, says Sarah Hrdy in "The Woman that Never Evolved" (page 46, last paragraph):
"Before the report by Telson and Tenaza (published in 1976), no one suspected that Old World Monkey-much less a langur- would be monogomous. Until then, known cases of monogomy in higher primates came from either New World monkeys or gibbons. My own first respnse was increduality. It was only when Ron Wilson played me a recording of a male and female Mentawei langur singing duets that I believed my ears. I had to. As has long been known for tropical birds, duetting is symptomatic of monogomy"

Friday, October 12, 2007

New Economist Blog recommends

"The Origins of Western Economic Success:Commerce, Finance, and Government in Pre-Industrial Europe" by Meir Kohn:
"This is a detailed and fascinating work, written in a clear prose. I look forward to its publication and the ensuing debate."
Most of the draft is available at
From the first chapter:
"Why does one economy do better than another? What is holding back the less developed
countries from catching up with the more developed? What problems do the former communist economies face in their transition to a market system? And perhaps the most basic question: What are the origins of the economic success of the West? Our answer to these questions depends on our understanding of the process of economic
growth. Only with a sound understanding of this process can we hope to formulate
economic policies that promote economic progress and, perhaps more important, avoid
economic policies that hinder it.
Modern economics offers an explanation of economic growth that has its origins in
the work of Ricardo and Malthus.1 This ‘Ricardian’ theory sees the potential output of an economy as being determined by the resources and technology available. At any time, producers exploit this potential to the full: there is no slack. Consequently, for output to grow, the economy needs either more resources or better technology. With no change in technology, output per worker—and so income per capita—can grow only if each worker uses more capital or more land. If more capital or more land is not available, then total output can still grow if population and so the number of workers increases. However, in these circumstances, total output will grow by decreasing amounts—the law of diminishing returns. As a result, as population grows, average output and so income per capita will fall. Malthus saw in this a mechanism that would constrain the growth of population: falling income would raise mortality and so keep population in check. The great hope of escaping this 'Malthusian trap' is technology: better technology can increase output per worker even without additional resources. Consequently, technological progress becomes for the Ricardian theory the key to long-run economic growth. Despite its pivotal importance, however, the theory offers no economic explanation of what determines the rate of technological progress. Rather, it emphasizes non-economic factors: culture—the degree of mechanical and scientific curiosity—and politics—the extent of government support or opposition.
The can-opener in the Ricardian theory of economic growth is the market. The market is simply taken for granted: it plays no explicit role in the Ricardian theory. But in the real world, markets cannot be taken for granted. Contrary to the Ricardian view, it is not technological progress but rather the creation and expansion of markets that drives economic growth. Technological progress is a consequence, not a cause. It is a lack of well-functioning markets—not a lack of resources or of technology—that explains the stagnation of the less-developed world and the problems of the transition economies. The economic success of the West is explained, not by its cultural superiority or by the wisdom of its governments, but by its greater success in developing markets. Of course, the obvious question is, Why do markets develop more successfully in one place rather than in another? Answering that question is a primary goal of this book."

Reality Check

The Age reports Monkey chants for Symonds:
"THE ugly spectre of racism has returned to cricket, with sections of the Vadodara crowd subjecting Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds to monkey chants during yesterday's one-day international at the IPCL Sports Complex.

The incident occurred in the second half of the Indian innings when Symonds was fielding on the boundary. An unspecified number of spectators taunted Symonds with the monkey noises, which have been the scourge of European soccer for years.

In a separate crowd incident yesterday, play was halted for several minutes after a section of the IPCL Sports Complex pelted the playing surface with bottles as Australia's batsmen, Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting, closed in on a nine-wicket victory. But it is the taunting of Symonds that most upset the Australians, who are entering the final leg of the Indian tour."
Prospect of defeat bringsreconciliation talkfrom John Howard:
"Speaking last night to the Sydney Institute, he indicated he now accepted that the symbolic side of reconciliation — which he previously rejected — was important, along with the practical side of reconciliation.

But he is still refusing to make an apology to Aborigines, saying the approach must be acceptable to "traditional" Australia — "people who think this country has basically done the right thing".

In a highly personal and extraordinary admission, Mr Howard said his journey to this point " has not been without sidetracks and dry gullies".

And he laid part of the blame for his failures on the era in which he was born, saying: "The challenge I have faced around indigenous identity politics is in part an artefact of who I am and the time in which I grew up." "

Monday, October 08, 2007

Guardian Obituary of Bain D'Souza

From the
Guardian Obituary of Bain D'Souza(via Dilip D'Souza):
"In the heap of venality that passes so often for government in his homeland, he was one of those diamonds glittering in its depths, men and women who remain, despite all odds, dedicated to the idea of public service, a notion becoming almost quaint in modern India's world of swashbuckling capitalism. His sadness at the decline of those ethics hid from him his own impressive contribution to India's long, tortured progress towards social justice."

Saturday, October 06, 2007


TIFR booklet about
Eminent Indian Scientists with the purported aim:
"The compelling factor for the choice of these few, from among the many in the country, is the time and circumstances under which they worked. Their achievements are nothing short of heroic. With no infrastructure and with little support from the Government of the day, they have built up world class scientific institutions and a scientific heritage we can be proud of. The institutions they built still stand proud and are rated highly by the scientific community here and abroad."
From a recent article on the persistence of caste
"The model of the caste system in the paper is more appropriate to pre-colonial India, or more specifically before the introduction of the British law courts. (Dirks 2001) argues that British policies introduced changes in the caste system. A snapshot of the pre-colonial economy shows a robust thriving economy. Lord Clive in 1757 noted that Murshidabad “is as extensive, populous, and rich as the city of London, with this difference that there were individuals in the first possessing infinitely greater property than in the last city”. According to (Maddison 2003), in 1700 India’s share of world GDP was 24.4% compared to Western Europe’s 21.9%.7 The economy was largely agricultural but was noted for the high quality its manufactures. Another feature which is often called characteristic of the economy was its ability to sustain a high degree of division of labor. At the same time there is not much evidence of a well developed courtsystem.
This leaves us with two questions. First, can we model the caste system to better understand it and the reasons for its persistence over the years? Second, how was the economy able to sustain a high degree of specialization without a strong enforcement system? In answer to both these questions, I argue that the caste system functioned as a means of contract enforcement, thus providing an economic reason for its persistence over the years. I offer a model of how the system provided contract enforcement and check for testable implications. "
From The Age:
"ACCORDING to local newspaper reports, the Indian team spent much of its time here attending Twenty20 world championship victory ceremonies and endorsing sponsors' products. Hardly the preparation a sixth-ranked team requires for a showdown with the 50-over World Cup titleholder, and it showed during Australia's 47-run victory at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium last night.

Save for the batting heroics of Yuvraj Singh, and the solid contributions of Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Dhoni, the Indians found few reliable hands in their pursuit of Australia's 7-290. Perhaps the time for self-congratulations is over."
From Herald Sun:
"THE genesis of India's problem child Shanth Sreesanth and his aggression can be traced to the teachings of Steve Waugh.
Sreesanth has used Waugh's cricket memoirs as his guide to life as an international cricketer.
"I am a big fan of Steve Waugh. In his autobiography he said he always enjoyed proving people wrong. I have read the whole book. It is big and I really enjoyed it," Sreesanth, 24, said. "He said if you are down in the seventh, eight or ninth round you can come back in the 10th.
"He taught me you have to do the small things, the things others refuse to do.
"Steve says to never back down, so that is what I will be trying to do." "
From Economist:
"IT ISN'T just the average working people of developed nations who've taken a more sceptical view of globalisation in the past few years. Members of the economic community, as well, have begun to question the extent to which freer trade has been good for American workers. Just this week, Mark Thoma quoted Thomas Palley at length, arguing that "barge" capitalism generates a race to the bottom, causes job loss in nations with higher regulatory and tax standards, and "promotes downward wage equalisation." Dani Rodrik similarly took Austan Goolsbee to task this week for saying that "globalization is responsible for 'a small fraction' of today's income disparities." "

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Anil Gupta on 'How local knowledge can boost scientific studies'

Anil Gupta of Honey Bee Network (see hereand here for descriptions of some of their work) talks about how local innovations can help scientific research:
"Local innovations could help inform scientific research, if only scientists would invest the proper resources into exploring them.

Scientists do not respond as enthusiastically as they should because they are often sceptical about the value of traditional knowledge. There are few opportunities for understanding the real potential of grassroots innovations and the rewards of validating or further developing them may seem limited.

Peer pressure can push scientists to focus on high-impact research with wide visibility and students shy away from work that won't guarantee them a successful career. Sometimes there is simply a lack of encouragement, or even authorisation, from research heads for such work.

A bias towards chemical-intensive technologies can also exist and often researchers are put off because the protocols for validating non-chemical grassroots innovations require different approaches.

Lastly, the pressure from local innovators and traditional knowledge holders to influence policies is feeble, fragmented and easy to ignore.

Providing incentives

Yet in my more than 25 years of experience serving on scientific committees, I have not found a complete lack of awareness of the need to work on grassroots innovations. So why has it taken so long to build the bridges between formal and informal science?

The NIF — set up by the Department of Science and Technology in 2000 to provide institutional support for scaling up grassroots innovations — works with the Honey Bee Network and has an annual budget of about US$300,000.

Having sold products developed by grassroots innovators across five continents, the NIF has proved that there is space in the global market for these types of goods. But the speed, scope and scale of these markets can become much bigger with the addition of formal scientific research."

Friday, September 28, 2007

Review of Indra Sinha's "Animal's People"

by Uma in Frontline. An earlier post by Uma in her blog.

Goitein, Geniza and Amitav Ghosh

While rummaging through my son's books I stumbled upon Amitav Ghosh's "In an Antique Land", found it engrossing and finished it in one sitting. As the cover quotes from Sunday Times:
"Ghosh's book is extraordinary; a travel book that reaches back into twelfth century as it touches on the dilemnas of our own times".
Cohen's article gives a description of how Amitav Ghosh started on the book:
"Later, the world-at-large got the chance—from an unexpected corner—to read about the thrills of the India trade as portrayed in Goitein’s Geniza. The story I am about to tell exemplifies Goitein’s global impact. I refer to the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh and his wonderful book, In an Antique Land, published in 1992. Ghosh, while an Oxford doctoral student in social anthropology in 1978, chanced upon the India trade while reading Goitein’s magnificent collection, Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders (1973). In that medieval, cosmopolitan world of commerce and travel, Ghosh met up with one of Goitein’s twelfth-century India merchants and his Indian slave and business agent. The young scholar from Calcutta identified with his twelfth-century countryman and resolved to tell his story.
He began by choosing to do his anthropological fieldwork in Egypt. His quest later brought him to Princeton in 1985: he wanted to meet Goitein. But Goitein had recently died, so poor Amitav Ghosh got me instead, a distant runner-up. That began an association that lasted several years while Amitav researched the Indian trade documents in the Geniza, first in Princeton, then in Cambridge, England, reading the Judaeo-Arabic texts about his characters in the original, and writing chapters for his book. It is a riveting story, interweaving his own experience as an Indian living in Egyptian villages of the late twentieth century with that of Bomma, the Egyptian(?) slave of that Jewish merchant who travelled between Egypt and India 850 years earlier.
Ghosh’s book catapulted Goitein and his research into the world of fiction readers, for Ghosh was already known by 1993 for two acclaimed novels set in India. Indeed, In an Antique Land reads like a novel. Early on I told Amitav that his book, when published, would do more for the Geniza and for Goitein’s reputation as a scholar than any number of the books Goitein or his students had written or ever would write. I was not wrong. The book has sold many thousands of copies, and many of the reviews mentioned Goitein. Readers of the Washington Post learned that “S.D. Goitein, almost certainly the greatest scholar to have written on the social and economic history of the Near East, made brilliant use of the Geniza materials in his exhaustively researched, fluently written, and magisterial five-volume work, A Mediterranean Society.” Clifford Geertz, who knew Goitein during the years he spent as a long-term member of the Institute for Advanced Study, told readers of The New Republic: “It is on these materials that Goitein based A Mediterranean Society, his magnificent synthesis of medieval society in the region, oneof the most considerable historical works of our time.”
Goitein would have loved In an Antique Land, for he was deeply committed to broad educational goals."

Addendum (30th Semptember): While posting the above I did not realize that "In an Antique Land" is considered seriously by several anthropologists and has been a part of various graduate courses in anthropolgy and literature. For a layman like me it was a multi-faceted, engrossing and finally a humble book giving a glimpses of the changing world we live in and an elegy to a world that seemed to have diappeared with the advent of Portugese and other European powers to the Indian ocean trade. To be sure there is not much about women or common people of the earlier period, a point taken up by Claire Chambers in this article. Here is another intersting article which discusses Ghosh's book.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

India's economic rise not so clear cut

says Michael Blackman:
"SEEMINGLY from nowhere, Indian companies have emerged in recent years as big overseas investors, particularly in Europe and the US. And with each acquisition, the Indian media has been triumphant. Exactly why, is not clear.

India remains a capital-scarce economy and yet foreign direct investment (FDI) out of India is skyrocketing. Foreign acquisitions abroad have been funded partly by bond issues or loans raised abroad but even so, India's Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry said in March that they expected FDI outflow for the year to be $US15 billion ($A17.3 billion), and FDI inflow to be $US12 billion, meaning that India will actually have a net capital outflow for the year. The contrast with China could not be starker — China currently pulls in about $US6 billion in foreign investment every month.
All this when the Indian economy is supposedly growing at about 9 per cent a year. That so many Indian companies still want to diversify out of India is instructive about the true state of the Indian economy despite the headline growth rate."
His answer seems to be:
"India still spends comparatively little on infrastructure.

It spends far less than China, for example. One estimate is that for every $1 that India spends, China spends $7. It has some of the world's highest rail costs — moving a standardised container one kilometre in India has been estimated to be 53 per cent more expensive than in the US. And it takes an average of 85 hours to unload and reload a ship at India's major ports — 10 times longer than in Singapore.

Getting good managers in India is difficult. Many leave to work overseas. And that suggests another reason for investing in Europe or the US — good management talent in developed economies is not hard to come by in the way that it is in India, where too few good managers are being chased by too many companies.

Still, it is true that India's economy is doing well. But then, what economy isn't? Furthermore, India's economy is growing from a low base; it should be doing well. That an economy like India's records a 9 per cent growth rate should not be surprising. That a mature economy such as Australia's is likely to grow by 4.4 per cent this year, according to the IMF, is remarkable.

But then, World Bank data shows that when the world's economies are ranked by their average GDPs for the five-year period 1980-84 and then for 2001-05, India's position among the world's economies actually fell one notch; meaning that for the periods examined, India was doing little better than the average and worse than many.

India's economic performance today is good because in the past it has been so bad.

So it is no surprise that Indian companies remain cautious. They have endured decades of unbelievable red tape and little or no growth.

At last they have some surplus cash and, with relaxations on overseas investment and foreign exchange controls, they are lining up to diversify out of India.

But in doing this, they are not striking a blow for Indian pride. They're just being prudent."

"The bus always seems to be heading in the wrong direction"

Reading " The fallibility of human reason in everyday life" recommended by Tabula Rasa a few months ago, I do not find it as convincing as "stumbling on happiness" by Dan Gilbert or " Mistakes were made (but not by me)" by Tavris and Aronson. On page 67, Thomas Gilovich says " The belief that "the bus always seems to be heading in the wrong direction" is particularly interesting in this regard because of an important asymmetry between positive and negative events: Certain kinds of negative events can accumulate in ways that positive events cannot. I can become convinced that all the buses are headed in the wrong direction by observing quite a umber headed in the wrong direction before I encounter one going in my direction. Note that the opposite cannot happen..... If a bus is going in my direction, I take it. Because of this asymmetry, we can expect a certain kind of "bad streak" but not a complementary streak of good fortune."
There may be an element of this but there can also be real asymmetries as this well-known example shows. Suppose that the buses are going at one hour intervals in both directions but depending on one's bus stop, the following asymmetry can arise. At some stop (far from the mid point) there may be a gap of 50 minutes between the times when my bus arrives and the one in the other direction arrives and only 10 minutes for the other gap. If I go to catch the bus arbitrarily without checking the timings, it is five times more likely that I will notice the bus going in the opposite direction.

A story about Rene Thom

Even though Rene Thom was one of my heros and I used to read any thing about him that I could find, I did not know this story about Thom:
"To algebraic geometry, Mr. Grothendieck brought an entirely new level of power and abstraction, so much so that his colleague RenĂ© Thom — a Field medalist and a great mathematician — acknowledged that he left pure mathematics because he was oppressed by Mr. Grothendieck's "crushing technical superiority." His technique was only a part of his genius. Mr. Grothendieck was a great mathematical visionary. Like mystics searching for the face of God, he was passionately concerned to see the unity of form behind various mathematical experiences. He did not simply solve isolated problems but, as Mr. Ruelle writes, enveloped them "in a rising tide of very general theories." " (via 3quarksdaily)

Peter Roebuck on T20

Like me, Peter Roebuckis a T20 convert:
"BEYOND all reasonable argument, Twenty20 was a resounding success. A vast audience was transfixed by the event. Soccer-mad youngsters switched over to the cricket. Shouts from downstairs indicated not that Manchester United had scored but that Yuvraj Singh had hit a six. Parents dismayed by their offsprings' coldness towards the game suddenly found those selfsame youths organising cricket parties. Television sets in pubs were switched to the game and the grounds were full of fun. Where the World Cup was po-faced, the game now laughed, not least at itself. Dammit, I am a convert.

Happily, the tournament produced a final to fit the occasion, pitting against each other two proud sides led by daring captains and full of passionate youngsters, two neighbours who for so very long could not play cricket across the divide. Two teams, also, that had cast aside their elders and given youth its chance. Pakistan and India were also the two best teams in the competition because they played with their hearts and also usually their brains."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Glenn Archer retires

Footy (Austrlian Rules Football) legendGlenn Archerretired yesterday. Footy is my favourite game and Wayne Carey is probably the best player I have seen but Archer epitomizes the heart and soul of football.

An inspiring story from Visakhapatnam

Madhukar Shukla at AternativePerspective links to this story in Al-Jazeera:
"Fatima and Shaikh Salary in a slum area in the Indian town of Visakhapatnam
Most of the high-paying jobs in India's $50bn information technology industry go to India's privileged elite.

But, with the help of her husband, one woman has managed to earn her university degree as well as a job at on of India's top IT companies. Rajesh Sundaram travelled to Visakhapatnam to meet her.

Fatima lives with her husband in a slum area in the Indian town of Visakhapatnam.

Her husband is illiterate, earning his money as a street food hawker. He makes about two dollars a day.

Six years ago, when Fatima was only 15, her parents took her out of school and arranged her marriage, a story common to many other young girls in her neighbourhood.

Fatima had been a brilliant student and she thought her marriage to Shaikh Salary, her husband, would mean an end to her dreams of becoming an engineer.

"When I said I wanted to be an engineer, my parents and others just dismissed my dreams," Fatima told Al Jazeera. "They said a girl from the slums could never get become an engineer or work for the big technology companies."

But, she says, Salary was different.

Fatima said: "When I told him about my dreams, he was very encouraging. He saved money from his meagre earnings to help me go to school and then to engineering college."

Poverty and tradition

Poverty and tradition still sees many girls in the slums drop out from school early
The couple received little help for Fatima's studies initially. They went hungry to pay for her books and university fees and Fatima's mother was even asked by neighbours to dissuade her from studying.

Rasia, Fatima's mother, told Al Jazeera: "The neighbours would say it is against our religion, they would ask me, 'Why you are allowing your daughter to go to school after she is married, what will you gain by that? Are you going to send your daughter out to work?'"

Very few girls in Fatima's poor, mostly Muslim, neighbourhood are encouraged to study. Poverty and tradition still sees many girl children in the slums drop out from school early. Most are married off and expected to raise children and do housework.

"They did not educate their daughters and so were opposed to my daughter going to school," Fatima's mother said.

Eventually, a charity gave Salary and Fatima a soft loan to part finance her engineering degree and despite the odds, Fatima worked hard and earned her engineering degree with distinction.


Salary was pleased for his wife, and told Al Jazeera that it was their love for each other that had helped them achieve their goal.

"I am a poor illiterate man. I did not want her to be like me," Salary said. "Now that she has worked hard and achieved so much, people will look at us with respect."

For the time being Fatima helps her husband at his kiosk in the evening, but soon she will begin a job at one of India's top information technology companies where she will earn $600 a month.

She will have to move away from the slums to another city for her new job.

Salary will move with her."
There are also u-tube links in the post.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cosma Shalizi's latest post

The erudite Cosma Shaliziwrites about Iraq:
"If James Wimberley can invoke Timur-i-Lang for a discussion of climate change, I feel free to resurrect his old interlocutor, the great historian and pioneering social scientist ibn Khaldun, in regards to our strategy in Iraq.
Why is the United States government unable to impose its will on Iraq? It is because it has too few soldiers, too far from home, among too alien a population. (If our army of occupation was a million soldiers strong, the fact that almost none of them can make themselves understood would be much less of a problem.) Some have suggested that the problem is insufficient will or solidarity on the American side, but this seems implausible; assuming we actually want there to be an Iraqi population to govern, simply killing more of them is unlikely to work (never mind the moral issues). What ibn Khaldun would advise, I think, is to find an Iraqi group which is numerous, has the solidarity needed to dominate the rest of Iraqi society, and can be brought into alliance with us; and he would advise us to look at either the deserts or the mountains. I submit that there is exactly one group which fulfills the necessary conditions: the Kurds.

They comprise a reasonable fraction of the Iraqi population; their effective 'asabiyya is demonstrated by the fact their militias, a.k.a. peshmerga, already control Iraqi Kurdistan militarily; and they have, notwithstanding the unpleasantness of the 1970s and 1980s, a by-now long-standing alliance with us. Our strategy, then, should be to offer them our support in a bid for military and political domination over the rest of Iraq — with the understanding that they are to leave Turkey strictly alone. That is, they not only get Kirkuk, they get Baghdad and Basra, and not just the north's oil but all of Iraq's oil. Of course, this will be horribly undemocratic and bloody, and it will make anyone even remotely sympathetic with Arab nationalism hate us even more, but I suspect many in Washington would view those attributes as features rather than bugs in any policy."
P.S. (17th March, 2005). Just noticed a update where Cosma says that he is not seriously advocating this.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

End Poverty in South Asia

is is a new blog by Shanta Devarajan, the Chief Economist of the South Asia Region at the World Bank (viaBayesian Heresy). If this comment from the second post is any indication:
"I left Champaben’s house with a renewed appreciation of how both markets and governments have failed poor people; how poor people are essentially helping each other; and how they do so with charm, grace--and humor. I want to go back.",
it will be an interesting blog to follow.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bleak Prospects for Young Researchers in USA

says The Chronicle of Higher Education :
"It is the best of times and worst of times to start a science career in the United States.

Researchers today have access to powerful new tools and techniques — such as rapid gene sequencers and giant telescopes — that have accelerated the pace of discovery beyond the imagination of previous generations.

But for many of today's graduate students, the future could not look much bleaker.

They see long periods of training, a shortage of academic jobs, and intense competition for research grants looming ahead of them. "They get a sense that this is a really frustrating career path," says Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

So although the operating assumption among many academic leaders is that the nation needs more scientists, some of brightest students in the country are demoralized and bypassing scientific careers.

The problem stems from the way the United States nurtures its developing brainpower — the way it trains, employs, and provides grants for young scientists. For decades, blue-ribbon panels have called for universities to revise graduate doctoral programs, which produced a record-high 27,974 Ph.D.'s in science and engineering in 2005. No less a body than the National Academy of Sciences has, in several reports, urged doctoral programs to train science students more broadly for jobs inside and outside academe, to shorten Ph.D. programs, and even to limit the number of degrees they grant in some fields.

Despite such repeated calls for reform, resistance to change has been strong. Major problems persist, and some are worsening. Recent data, for example, reveal that:

Averaged across the sciences, it takes graduate students a half-year longer now to complete their doctorates than it did in 1987.

In physics nearly 70 percent of newly minted Ph.D.'s go into temporary postdoctoral positions, whereas only 43 percent did so in 2000.

The number of tenured and tenure-track scientists in biomedicine has not increased in the past two decades even as the number of doctorates granted has nearly doubled.

Despite a doubling in the budg-et of the National Institutes of Health since 1998, the chances that a young scientist might win a major research grant actually dropped over the same period.

The job market in science is now shifting faster than graduate programs can keep up, leading often unhappy Ph.D.'s to hunt for careers far from the academic homes where they hoped their degrees would lead."

Steve Hsu responds:
"The article covers a lot of ground, but one thing that I think could have been emphasized more is that, no matter how dismal the career path becomes for US scientists, there there will still be foreigners from India, China and eastern Europe willing to try their luck, as well as a sprinkling of American-born obsessives (like me) who should know better. However, a significant number of talented Americans will simply choose to do something else."
Some of the responses to Hsu's post are also interesting.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Gulzar Natarajan on Urban Poor

Vijayawada Municipal Commisoner, Gulzar Natarajan in his recent posts considers some points discussed inThe Economic Lives of the poor by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. Banerjee and Duflodescribe how some of the poor earn money in several countries. In one example from A.P. :
"Walking down the main street of the biggest slum in the medium sized Southern Indian city of Guntur at nine in the morning, the first thing one notices are the eateries: In front of every sixth house that directly faced the road, by our count, there was a woman sitting behind a little kerosene stove with a round cast-iron griddle roasting on it. Every few minutes someone would walk up to her and order a dosa, the rice and beans pancakes that almost everyone eats for breakfast in South India. She would throw a cupful of the batter on the griddle, swirl it around to cover almost the entire surface and drizzle some oil around the edges. A minute or two later, she would slide an off-white pock-marked pancake off the griddle, douse it in some sauce, fold it in a newspaper or a banana leaf and hand it to her client, in return for a rupee (roughly 15 cents, at PPP).
When we walked back down that same street an hour later, the women were gone. We found one inside her house, filling her daughter’s plate with lunch that she had cooked while making the dosas. She told us that later that day, she was going out to vend her saris, the long piece of decorative cloth that Indian women drape around themselves. She gets plain nylon saris from the shop and stitches beads and small shiny pieces on them, and once a week, she takes them from house to house, hoping that women would buy them to wear on special occasions. And they do buy them, she said confidently. All the other dosa women we met that day had a similar story: once they are done frying dosas, they do something else. Some collect trash; others make pickles to sell; others work as laborers."
Gulzar Natarajan in his post "Alternate lives of the Urban Poor" describes describes some of their main customers (I remember eating in such places with my father):
"Typically houses in urban slums are very small and do not have full fledged kitchens. Most often there is a single room which has a makeshift kitchen in one corner. Most slum dwellers have to get up early and go for work, and therefore have limited time available for cooking the morning breakfast. Further, South Indian breakfasts are inherently difficult in preparation and takes inordinately long preparation time. Early morning hours are valuable for slum residents for a number of reasons. Apart from their personal tasks, the women have to catch and store water (which is typically released for a couple of hours in the morning), wash vessels and clothes, get children ready for school, and also prepare lunch for the entire family (typically both husband and wife work during the daytime).

Further, a majority of slum households have atleast one tenant. The houseowner rents out a portion, generally a room, to supplement his income. (They get around Rs 500-1000 every month from this). The tenants generally do not have the space for establishing a kitchen and invariably rely on these eateries for their breakfast. These tenants are a substantial customer base for these food vendors. "
In an earlier post "Lottery Bonds", Natarajan discusses the relevance of Tufano's ideas to help the poor in saving.

On social segregation and economic inequality

Julie Rehmeyer reviews in sciencenews
the recent paper Is equal opprtunity enough? A theory of persistent group inequality by Sam Bowles, Glen Loury and Rajiv Sethi. Excerpts from the review;
"...the power of segregation may be even greater than commonly thought. The study shows that even when there is no history of discrimination between two groups, social segregation alone can cause dramatic economic inequities to develop.
They imagined a situation in which discrimination that had historically existed between two groups of people came to an end, so that people from both groups who had equal skills subsequently began earning equal wages. The researchers then asked whether, over many generations, the income of the two groups would tend to equalize or whether the disparity would persist.

The model incorporated the idea that parents tend to invest more heavily in giving their children the skills that employers value when they expect that investment to pay off later in higher wages. It also included the fact that children are more likely to succeed when they are surrounded by other children who are succeeding. For example, studies show that having friends with strong vocabularies helps a child to pick up more words with less effort.

The latter effect makes informal, social segregation particularly damaging, the researchers found. People who have been subject to discrimination in the past are less likely to have acquired the skills needed for high-wage jobs, compared with those who were not subject to discrimination. Their children, then, are less likely to pick up those skills naturally at home. Furthermore, in a socially segregated society, children will mix mostly with peers from their own group. As a result, children from the less-advantaged group will be less able to pick up high-wage skills from their friends.

These impediments make parents' investment in their children's future wage-related skills less likely to pay off, leaving parents less inclined to make the investment than parents in a socially advantaged group. The children are thus likely to have less economic success in adulthood.

"If you have enough integration between the social networks of the two groups, the inequality will go away over generations," Sethi says, but otherwise, the inequality could get worse, the study shows.
The positive side of the study, however, is that integration has a powerful effect in ending inequalities. "If equality between groups is a social objective," Sethi says, "the way to do it is through integration." "

Saturday, September 15, 2007

These keep another generation going

From Dilip D'Souza's blog:
"The email, messages, calls and letters have overwhelmed us. But perhaps none more than the man who wrote to the Times of India (September 7):
I was saddened to read about the death of JB D'Souza, ex-chief secretary of the Government of Maharashtra. ... I have not come across another civil servant like him. I served under him when he was Director of Relief and Rehabilitation, Chandrapur, for the resettlement of Bangladesh refugees.

He was ... dedicated to the welfare of the common man, a visionary but practical, unassuming but bold, strict but friendly in and out of the office, patient and well-organised. He never lost his cool: and his respect for subordinates was exceptional. ...

UV Joshi
We had never heard of this Joshi, never heard my father mention him. But after this letter, we tried to reach him via a friend in the Times, then via another friend who knew whom to call at the hostel accommodation Joshi had listed as his address. Drew a blank. "Give us his room number", they asked, and we were lost right there.

Then, after dinner two days later, the bell rang. At our front door, a slender scruffy man with twinkling pale eyes, unshaven and tired, 78 years old and pants torn at one knee. "I am Joshi", he said, and we knew at once. He had taken the train from town, then walked from the station -- two km, near enough -- searching for the building, asking all the way. Sat with us, switching from fluent English to fluent Marathi to fluent Hindi. Has a son in the Army who has abandoned him. Lives with a friend in Nagpur. Felt he had to come see us, to "pay my respects". Looked often at the framed photographs on our table, affection and sadness in soft eyes. We told him, your letter brought tears to our eyes. Just telling him so brought more."

Raj Chetty

Caren Cheslerin a series about young American economists writes about Raj Chetty, son of old friend V.K.Chetty in The American:
"While his study on dividend taxes was influential, Chetty hopes to have his greatest impact in another area: social programs that help cushion risk. In a study entitled “Consumption Commitments and Risk Preferences,” published this year in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Chetty and Berkeley colleague Adam Szeidl contest the popular belief among economists that unemployment insurance is too generous. George Akerlof, who also teaches at Berkeley and won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2001, describes Chetty’s insight in the study as revolutionary. “He had a new way of looking at the problems of the unemployed,” Akerlof says. “Raj emphasized that they find it very difficult to meet their prior commitments. For example, they must pay their rent or their mortgage, and these commitments very much add to the difficulties of being unemployed. Economists were just not thinking of that until Raj came up with it. This is a very big innovation in the theory of unemployment.”

Chetty believes that if he can bring models and theories into better alignment with real-world evidence, he will help shape economic policy. It’s an ambition that runs in the family: his father, V. K. Chetty, was an economic adviser to Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the 1980s, helping her privatize the government-run cement industry as India’s economy began to make the transition from socialism to free-market capitalism."
Since none of children took to academics, I seem to be gloating in Veerappa'a son's success. V.K. Chetty himself was considered a brilliant economist after his thesis on 'Chetty money', but my impression is that he did not fulfil his potential. Probably got caught up in the caste prejudices that he encontered in his younger days. It seems that caste still takes an inordinate toll on the energies of Indians.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Neglected diseases

Free access articlesin Nature:
"Tropical diseases affect more than one billion people, yet there are few effective treatments. And despite much research activity, scientific innovations with therapeutic potential are not making it out of the laboratory. The articles in this Outlook examine what can be done to stimulate the development of effective medicines and deliver them to the people who need them most."
Some other free access articles from Naturehere.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Helping Low-Income Families Save More

Gulzar Natarajan in 'Lottery Bonds'links to an article of Robert Schiller and ideas of Peter Tufano about'Helping Low-Income Families Save More'. Excerpt from Schiller's article:
"According to Tufano, the fundamental problem in encouraging low-income people to save is that they need the money not just to manage their lives years in the future, when they retire, but also to deal with short-term crises. But if government programs designed to promote saving by low-income people don’t tie up their money for many years until retirement, they will often succumb to temptation and spend the money frivolously.

Tufano approaches the problem with real sympathy for these people, and a realistic idea about how to help them: premium savings bonds. In addition to normal interest payments, these bonds have an attached lottery – an enticement to keep the money in savings. Low-income people manifestly enjoy lotteries, and they will acquire the habit of looking forward to the lottery dates, which will deter them from cashing in their bonds. But if a real emergency arises, they can get their money."
From the podcast, it appears that Peter Tufano himself came from a family which struggled to save for his education.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A novel about Srinivasa Ramanujan

Amardeep Singh talks about The Indian Clerk, a novel about Ramanujan by David Leavitt. There are also links to an interview with the author and some excerpts from the novel.

"Indians are privately smart..."

From an interview with V. Raghunathan, author of "Games Indians Play: Why We Are the Way We Are" and a former professor at at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. I guess that this kind of statements have to be taken with a grain of salt but it is possible that certain attitudes and practices may be prevalent with certain sections at a given time. I noticed that with economic discussions, even though there are heated discussions in Indian blogs and many refer to western blogs, very few Indian seem to take part in western blogs even when the discussions are about Indian economic matters. I wonder whether many of them are shy.

Mismeasurement of science

Peter Lawrence in Current Biology says that 'modern science. particularly biomedicine, is being damaged by attempts to measure the quantity and quality of research'.
Very interesting article (via Greg Mankiw).

Saturday, September 08, 2007

I go to a bookshop

and find that I am probably vain. Yesterday I saw 'Poincare's Prize" by George Szpiro and noticed that there was a reference to me and immediately bought the book to show off to my family. Strangely, at the time I wrote the paper, I was not particularly interested in the Poincare conjecture. Much earlier, I got hooked by mathematics after reading a popular book 'Men of Mathematics" by E.T. Bell. It soon became a passion and going to a research institute seemed an easy way of learning good mathes. I was not sure whether I could do a Ph.D. but it seemed one could always go back home and teach in some college. I kept reading what I liked and what I could understand and slowly one could find some problems in research papers and connect the dots. That seemed to be about it. While reading Papakyriokopoulos's paper, it occured to me that I could improve his conjecture and wrote a note. It did not take more than a week and since I was not particulaly interested in the conjecture, i left it at that. Somewhat later, I noticed that those conjectures had to be wrong since Papa's approach implied that every homology 3-sphere would be real 3-sphere. I was surprised that nobody mentioned it; may be it was due to respect and affection for Papa.
But as time went on, I found that I spent more time on research and less on reading. Problems kept bugging me and it was not always easy to prove what seemed to be correct. I found myself working 14-15 hours day trying to prove what should be correct. I became more and more specialized and by the time I realized the Poincare conjecture was part of a bigger programme, I did not have the strength or technolgy to either work on it or understand the solution when it appeared. So it goes.
By the way, the book is interesting, with many stories about Poincare and the origins of topology that I did not know.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Fabric 'safe enough to eat'

I came across this story in Made to Stick. In 1993, Bill McDonough, an environmentalist and Michael Braungart, a chemist were hired by the Swiss Textile manufacurer Rohner Textil,which produced textiles for Steelcase chairs to create a manufacuring process without using toxic chemicals. As McDonough says in
Newsweek Interview:
"... we designed a fabric safe enough to eat. The manufacturing process uses no mutagens, carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, heavy-metal contaminants or chemicals that cause ozone depletion, allergies, skin desensitization or plant and fish toxicity. We screened 8,000 commonly used chemicals and ended up with 38. When inspectors measured the effluent water, they thought their instruments were broken. The water was as clean as Swiss drinking water. A garden club started using the waste trimmings as mulch. Workers no longer had to wear protective clothing. And it eliminated regulatory paperwork, so they've reduced the cost of production by 20 percent."
Braungart and McDonogh went on to build MBDC,a product and process design firmto promote and power the next 'Industrial Revolution" though intelligent design. More about their programmes can be found in the article by Nicolas Boullosa at faircompanies site. From Boullas article:

"With its headquarters in Charlottesville (Virginia, USA), MBDC was founded to work with any business that asks for its help in employing strategies of product and process design based on eco-effectiveness, ideas developed in Cradle to Cradle.

The American company divides its activity into distinct areas: consulting on the design of products related to eco-effectiveness; education and training based on the ideas developed in its philosophy; and strategic consulting related to the environment for large firms.

Surprisingly, given the radicalness of the change proposed by eco-effectiveness, McDonough and Braungart don't seem to have problems finding clients or large-scale projects. MBDC has worked, since its birth in 1995, in the integration of the regenerating ideas of Cradle to Cradle in projects of BASF, BP, S.C. Johnson, Nike, Ford Motor Company, Visteon, Volvo, Herman Miller, Victor Innovatex, Designtex, Rohner Textil, Pendleton y Miliken & Co.

C2C certification

MBDC has created a certification, C2C Certification, for those products that accomplish the criteria established by the consultancy's "environmentally-intelligent" design concept. "

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A strange solution for preserving biodiversity

" The rapid expansion of oil-palm crops in equatorial regions has raised concerns about its potential detrimental effects on southeast Asia's biodiversity, leading to intense media debates between environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the oil-palm industry.
We think that this debate has been fuelled, on the one hand, by the NGOs' lack of awareness of the socioeconomic realities in countries that produce palm oil, and, on the other, by the crop growers' failure to appreciate both the threat to southeast Asia's unique biodiversity, and the conservation potential of non-pristine habitats. To break this agriculture–biodiversity deadlock, we suggest a new strategy of using revenue from oil-palm agriculture to fund the acquisition of land for the establishment of private nature reserves.
In our view, because the oil palm is such a high yielding and lucrative crop, a unique opportunity exists for NGOs to acquire relatively small tracts of existing oil-palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia and use the revenue generated to establish a network of privately owned nature reserves for biodiversity conservation."

Downloading Wisdom from Online Crowds

Knowledge.Wharton discussesDownloading Wisdom from Online Crowds. Excerpt:
"Specifically, Saiz, in the real estate department, and Simonsohn, in operations and information management, argue in a new research paper that the likelihood that a topic is discussed online, in relation to a given location, correlates with its relative prevalence in the real world. "We are interested in the possible 'wisdom' resulting from the aggregation of a very specific kind of judgment, namely, the determination of which topic is worth writing about," they write in a paper titled, "Downloading Wisdom from Online Crowds." For example, they wanted to discern which countries, U.S. states and big U.S. cities people perceived as the most corrupt. So they plugged the appropriate terms into a search engine called Exalead. By assessing how many documents contained the word "corruption" within the same paragraph as the location's name, they came up with corresponding corruption rankings."

New ILO report on labour productivity

FromILO Press Release:
"The ILO report, entitled “Key Indicators of the Labour Market (KILM), fifth Edition” indicates that the U.S. still leads the world by far in labour productivity per person employed in 2006 despite a rapid increase of productivity in East Asia where workers now produce twice as much as they did 10 years ago.

What’s more, the report also shows that the productivity gap between the US and most other developed economies continued to widen. The acceleration of productivity growth in the US has outpaced that of many other developed economies: With US$ 63,885 of value added per person employed in 2006, the United States was followed at a considerable distance by Ireland (US$ 55,986), Luxembourg (US$ 55,641), Belgium (US$ 55,235) and France (US$ 54,609).

However, Americans work more hours per year than workers in most other developed economies. This is why, measured as value added per hour worked, Norway has the highest labour productivity level (US$ 37.99), followed by the United States (US$ 35.63) and France (US$ 35.08).

Increase in productivity is mainly the result of firms better combining capital, labour and technology. A lack of investment in people (training and skills) as well as equipment and technology can lead to an underutilization of the labour potential in the world.

“The huge gap in productivity and wealth is cause for great concern,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “Raising the productivity levels of workers on the lowest incomes in the poorest countries is the key to reducing the enormous decent work deficits in the world.”

In East Asia where productivity levels showed the fastest increase, doubling in ten years, output per worker was up from one-eighth in 1996 to one-fifth of the level found in the industrialized countries in 2006. Meanwhile, in South-East Asia & the Pacific productivity levels were seven times less and in South Asia eight times less than in the industrialized countries, the report reveals.

In the Middle East and Latin America & the Caribbean, the value added per person employed is nearly three times less than it is in the developed economies; in Central & South Eastern Europe (non-EU) & CIS the level is 3.5 times less, and four times less in North Africa. The widest gap is observed in sub-Saharan Africa where the productivity level per person employed is one-twelfth of that of a worker in the industrialized countries."
More information atILO site.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Disney Metaphor

From Made to Stick:
".. Disney calls its employees "cast members". This metaphor of employees as cast members in a theatrical production is communicated consistently throughout the organization.
... street sweepers are some of the most highly trained cast members, since their very visible public presence - coupled with the fact that they are Disney employees - makes them an obvious target for customerts' questions about rides, parades and rest room locations. Having them think of their role as performance, rather than maintenance, is key part of the park's success. "Employees as cast members" is a generative metaphor that has worked for Disney for fifty years"