Monday, September 28, 2009

Effect of Military Aid on Conflicts

From a preliminary report by Oeindrila Dube and Suresh Naidu Bases, Bullets and Ballots: the Effect of Military Aid on Political Conflict in Columbia (via Chris Blattman Your aid dollars at work… suppressing voters):
"The findings suggest that foreign military aid may strengthen the capacity of non-state armed actors, undermining domestic political institutions". They suggest that the paper has clear policy implications in giving military aid to countries where there are informal connections between the armed forces and illegal armed groups and briefly discuss the cases of Iraq, East Timor and Mexico.
More papers by Suresh Naidu and colloborators are available here and Oeindrila Dube's profile here

Another paper by Arindrajit Dube, Naidu and Ethan Kaplan Coups, Corporations, and Classified Information is reported in Slate They Made a Killing:
"With a U.S. puppet back in the president's mansion, UFC's profits were safe. But it appears the company wasn't the only beneficiary of this Cold War cloak-and-dagger diplomacy: A recent study by economists Arindrajit Dube, Ethan Kaplan, and Suresh Naidu argues that those in on the planning process also profited handsomely. By tracking the stock prices of UFC and other politically vulnerable firms in the months leading up to CIA-staged coups in Guatemala, Chile, Cuba, and Iran, the researchers provide evidence that someone—perhaps one of the Dulleses, Cabots, or others in the know—was trading stocks based on classified information of these coups-in-the-making."
P.S Further discussion between Andrew Gellman and the authors in The effects of U.S. military aid on political violence in Colombia: a back-and-forth regarding the strength of the causal evidence.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mixing populations

Reconstructing Indian population history has been commented on By Dienekes
560K SNP study reveals dual rigin of Indian populations (Reich et al. 2009), Rajib Khan Indians as hybrids (a.k.a Aryan invasion in the house!) , John Hawks SNPtastic India and others. John Hawks is somewhat skeptical but the other two are more positive with some reservations and so it is probably an important paper. Dienekes says:
"The paper does demolish some theories that have been popular in some circles:
There is no evidence of caste as simply social division of labor. This thesis is inconsistent with differential ANI admixture (and distance from Western Eurasians) across the caste hierarchy.
There is no evidence that Indo-Aryan and Dravidian speakers differ only in language. It is now clear that they are different from each other genetically as well, and this difference is not an "internal affair" of India, but is related to populations outside it. Indo-Aryan speakers differ precisely in having a larger ANI component.
There is no evidence that Indo-European languages originated in India. Let us consider what this would entail:
Suppose postulated ancient Indian PIE speakers had a similar genetic makeup as modern Indians (i.e., a mix of ANI and ASI). Then, the absence of the ASI component outside South Asia cannot be explained.
If ancient Indian PIE speakers had a purely ANI makeup, then the absence of the ASI component outside South Asia -as in (1)- can be explained. However, this would entail that sharply differentiated populations (ANI and ASI) co-existed in India without mixing for thousands of years; ANI-like PIEs spread from India with their languages; ANI and ASI admixed afterwards. To say that this scenario is not parsimonious would be charitable.
The only way in which PIE languages may have originated in India would be if they spread without the spread of people. However, before the advent of writing and modern means of transportation and communication, the only way to spread languages was by migration of people."
As far as I can see ASI, ANI are mathematical constructs. From the Supplementary Information which is available online:
"In our data, the hypothesis of mixture emerges naturally from
PCA (Figure 3), which shows that nearly all the Indo-European and Dravidian speaking groups spread out on a one dimensional gradient in a plot of the first versus the second PC.

Modeling the history of many Indian groups as a mixture of two ancestral populations is an oversimplification. In reality, even if ancient mixture did occur, it is likely to have been between substructured populations instead of homogeneous populations, and it is likely to have occurred at multiple times and at multiple geographic locations. However, approximating the history of many Indian groups as a simple mixture of two homogeneous ancestral populations provides a good fit to the summary statistics of allele frequency differentiation, and we believe that in this
sense it is a useful starting point for future analyses that can detect more subtle events."
Rajib says " generally agree with the gist of this. The main issue I would also highlight is that these results only clarify and solidify what was likely from previous analyses of worldwide genetic variation. That is, the populations of Northwest India are closer to those of the Middle East & Europe than those of Southeast India are. It was rather awesome that they confirm that the Onge, who are almost extinct, are a relatively unadmixed ancient population. The Onge branch seems to descend from an ancestral population which also gave rise what is termed in the paper "Ancestral South Indian" (ASI). They exhibit no admixture with "Ancestral North Indians" (ANI). This paper confirmed and clarified as well as that the proportion of West Eurasian related lineages increases both as a function of geography and caste. That is, there is a SE-NW and lower-to-upper caste gradient whereby West Eurasian related lineages become more prevalent. This has long been known, but this paper did it with more SNPs across the genome."
There is some more discussion in Rajib's post The politics of genetic history in India : "Now, let me state something clearly: on average an individual from an Indo-Aryan or Dravidian speaking group in South Asia is going to be more closely related genetically in terms of total genome content to anyone in the Indian subcontinent from Indo-Aryan or Dravidian speaking groups than they are to some from outside the Indian subcontinent."
Law and Other Things wonders in The origins of caste :
"For lawyers, it does. International law and legal institutions have developed to deal with racism. Caste, seen as a one-region problem, has not received similar attention. The issue became controversial in 2001, when the International Conference on Racism in Durban took place. Many dalit groups insisted that casteism was a form of racism; while the government, in keeping with its approach to all international monitoring of human rights, strongly refuted the claim. If caste was indeed race, India would be pulled up by the international institutions that deal with racism."
From Rajib's first post:"Note that upper caste South Indian groups clearly have more ANI than lower caste South Indians, but they have a lower proportion than some North Indian lower castes, and are in the range of one North Indian tribal group." It all seems to be a matter of proportion and perspective.
P.S. The original paper of Reich et all is currently available online:
The supplements are available at the Nature link. Rajib Khan has two more posts on the topic. In this post he links to a write up by an Indian geologist Suvrat Kher.
P.S. Rajib has given a link to the pdf file of the paper:
Link to the supplentary information is abve:
and supplementary appendix:

Friday, September 25, 2009

some follow up links

Push to change foreign student laws:
"COLLEGES could face limits on how many foreign students they enrol, or how many students they take from a single country, under possible changes to the laws governing Australia's $15 billion international education industry."

Felix salmon on The uses of Kiva with a link to his views on micro finance Don’t invest in microfinance. Take away sentence: "I’m a fan of genuinely local, bottom-up microfinance."

Alex Tabarrok on Teacher Absence in the Developing World and Teacher Absence in the United States

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Actress -singer S. Varalakshmi passed away on 22nd Sepember:
"One of the last in a long line of talented actors such as Bhanumathi and Savithri, Varalakshmi, however, opted for roles that offered her scope to sing and act as well. "Many of her songs, such as Manam Kanintharul' (in Veerapandiya Kattabhomman') were huge hits," said film historian Randor Guy. "Although many actors and actresses sang in films, Varalakshmi's singing was a class apart,"said film chronicler, Film News Anandhan.

Before entering the world of films as a child star, Varalakshmi received vigorous tutoring in Carnatic music and this strong foundation not only gave her an alternate career she was a concert performer but also formed the basis for a strong friendship with M S Subbulakshmi. The two frequently exchanged notes during the shooting of Seva Sadhanam' a film by K Subrahmanyam, in which M S was the heroine and Varalakshmi was her friend.

Although she got a break as a heroine in 1948 in the Telugu film Balaraju' which featured A Nageshwara Rao, in Tamil she was content to play character roles, such as that of the wife of Veerapandiya Kattabomman' played by Sivaji' Ganesan. She had memorable roles in Ayiram Thalai Vangiya Apoorva Chintamani,' Raja Raja Cholan', Panama Pasama', Kandhan Karunai', Maattukara Velan' and Poova Thalaya' among others. In a career spanning several decades and over 500 films in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, she acted with all the top stars, including M G R and Jayalalithaa.
In her condolence message, Jayalalithaa recalled fond memories when, as a four year old, her family moved into the house next to that of Varalakshmi. "I used to spend all my time playing in her house and used to be mesmerised by her singing," she said in a press release.

Although she was a successful actor, Varalakshmi, who married the late A L Srinivasan (brother of poet Kannadasan), briefly fell upon hard times, and it was M G R who sought matronly roles for her. Varalakshmi was conferred the Kalaimamani Award and the Kalai Vithagar' Kannadasan award, the latter in 2004."
Her film 'Balraju' was the very first film I saw and still remember her song "O bAlarAjA ". Though she had a very good voice and was trained singer, she did not seem to be lucky (in terms of the number of remembered songs) in the songs offered to her in Telugu. In the 1961 song "navanIta chOruDu ", she more than matches the more popular singer Jikki. Both are available
in oldtelugusongs.
P.S. GollapudiMaruti Rao write up ఎస్.వరలక్ష్మి అస్తమయం
From Eenadu write up by Cheekolu Sundarayya
Obituary from Prajasakti ఆ స్వరం ఇక వినబడదు.. య'స్వర'లక్ష్మికి నివాళులు
P.S. A more recent tribute by Paruchuri Sreenivas సహజ గాయని ఎస్. వరలక్ష్మి with links to a few of her songs.
A photograph from one of her first films with M. S. Subbulakshmi

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Econospeak posts about the green revolution

Norman Borlaug's Death and Did the Green Revolution Succeed in India?:
raise some questions. One of the comments:
"A massive, complex intervention into human and natural systems like the Green Revolution can't be understood even within a 40-year time frame. It should still be seen as an experiment. It has had some undeniable benefits, but the jury is out on its long run net effect. This is especially true for its reliance on pesticides and irrigation."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some economics links, Sepember 22

Why The World's Poor Refuse Insurance . Excerpt:
"It might seem logical to partner with established microlenders, yet insurers are finding that their policies as microloan tagalongs come with their own set of problems. In its Pakistan health-care trial, Swiss Re has seen many fewer claims than expected submitted by people receiving insurance as part of a loan. Giné, who has observed similar results in the Philippines, suspects loan officers sweep the added benefit under the rug. Reason? They fear that potential customers will walk if they feel they're paying for something they didn't ask for. So they never know about the coverage they have."
Some recent opinions:
A former head of the Reserve Bank of Australia's research department says in Outside the bubble:
"In an asset price bubble, Gruen points out, investors expecting to earn 15 or 20 per cent returns on their funds are unlikely to be deterred by increases in official interest rates of half a percentage point.

''If you tighten monetary policy early and the bubble keeps growing, what do you do then? You've managed to slow the economy down, unemployment has risen a bit, and the bubble is still growing.

''You can't drive the economy into the ground,'' he says.

The way forward may not be clear, but in the end this physiologist turned macro-economist has a disarmingly modest aspiration for how economics might develop in the wake of the crisis.

''The hope is that the discipline will be invigorated and find the real world interesting again - rather than being stuck in that windowless cabin.''"

From the journalist Mark Wade in Resilient India defies downward trend:
"''The global downturn did not affect India to the same extent as many other countries - for us it has just caused a slowdown,'' says R. Venkatesan, a senior fellow at the Indian Council of Applied Economic Research. ''This is because India overall is not as integrated into the world economy as most other economies in Asia.''

This relative isolation is reflected in India's exports, which accounted for only 15 per cent of gross domestic product in 2008, compared with more than 30 per cent in China.

The nature of the banking sector added another layer of insulation. Most of India's banks are still publicly owned and adopt very conservative investment strategies. India's financial sector had little exposure to the toxic assets that caused so much trouble on international financial markets.

As a result India did not face the systemic shock to its financial system experienced in other parts of the world.

Another unexpected positive has come from the remittances sent home by the large Indian diaspora. An expected slump in this lucrative source of foreign exchange did not materialise.
Economist Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar wrote in the Times of India that remittances from overseas Indians hit a record a record $46.4 billion in 2008-09, up from $43.5 billion the previous year. Swaminathan estimates the 2008-09 flow was worth 4 per cent of GDP."

From a Scientific Advisor to the Economic Studies Directorate at the French Ministry of the Environment A “modest” intellectual discipline:
"Economic knowledge is diffused throughout society and eventually affects the behaviour of economic agents. This in turn alters the working of the economy. Therefore, a model can only be correct if it is consistent with its own feedback effect on how the economy works. An economic theory that does not pass this test may work for a while, but it will turn out to be incorrect as soon as it is widely believed and implemented in the actual plans of firms and consumers. Paradoxically, the only chance for such a theory to be correct is for most people to ignore it.

One example of a consistent theory is the Black-Scholes option pricing model. Upon its introduction, the theory was adopted by market participants to price options, and thus became a correct model of pricing precisely because people knew it. This is so because such a pricing rule is consistent with the “efficient markets” hypothesis, meaning that no profitable arbitrage opportunity is left once the rule is applied. By contrast, any theory of pricing that leaves arbitrage opportunities would instantaneously be defeated by the markets as soon as they believe it. The attempts by participants to make profits by exploiting the arbitrage opportunity would alter prices in a direction that will invalidate the theory."
P.S. Colander's testimony. Is it Models or the Economists? Statement by David Colander has a link to the full testimony before the House Science and Technology Committee.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A brain boosting video game

Tetris is FOR KIDS: A brain-boosting video game says Science News.
For another interesting piece of information about kids, see What do children remember from a museum? in Marginal Revolution.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

From an old article on development

The Ideology of Philonthrophy :
"The ideology of the dominant developmental theory stands in clear relief in Latin America. Bodenheimer writes how the theory devalues the importance of class differences, thereby practically eliminating the problem of stratified power relationships. An analysis of the problems of Latin America that ignores the importance and implications of widening social-class differences is, to put it generously, myopic. But because the theory is dedicated to the concepts of order and stability, and because class conflicts invariably threaten these, the dominant theory is ill-equipped to raise the possibility that only a radical reorganization of existing social relations can lead to meaningful development. Instead, the theory "projects a pious hope that development can be achieved without paying the high cost of removing the social and economic obstacles, that the impoverished masses can somehow be upgraded without infringing on the interests of the established elites." 82 Such an attempt is consistent with the foundations' sincere efforts to alleviate the misery of the masses through gradual, ameliorative reform, while at the same time leaving society's direction -- at home and abroad -- in the hands of a carefully nurtured elite.

DiBona's study of the impact of Western development theory in India reaches similar conclusions. 83 He notes the influence on Indian educational planning of the American economists of the human resource school, particularly Schultz, Harbison, Myers, Denison, Anderson, and Bowman. Their emphasis on the training of high-level manpower for developmental purposes has influenced Indian economists to argue in favor of generous funding for institutions of higher learning. Because of the scarcity of resources available in the Indian economy, however, this emphasis on higher education has led to reduced levels of support for primary education, particularly in rural areas. The vast majority of Indians, of Course, are village dwellers. The increasing proportion of educational expenditures on higher education -- which is generally available exclusively in urban areas -- only widens the gap between the urban elites and the rural peasantry.

An increasing number of commentators have raised questions about the direction of conventional developmental theory, its efficacy, and its impact on traditional societies. Ford Foundation vice-president Francis Sutton has noted the inability of this theory and of existing Western social science to address the problems faced by most developing countries, particularly the establishment of "governments that have extensive control over their economies and are broadly socialist in character." 84 Former Secretary of State Kissinger, in discussing the overthrow of the regime of the Shah of Iran, recently alluded to a problem of conventional development theory. "The enlightened view," he said, "was that there was a sort of automatic stabilising factor in economic development. That has turned out to be clearly wrong." "

In the zone

From an interview with Virender Sehwag 'I've never been in the zone' :
"What about being in the zone? Tendulkar said that what people call the zone, he calls the subconscious mind. "… All you need to do is look at the ball and play and the body is going to react. The concentration is such that you don't think of anything else." What's your definition of being in the zone?
I have asked him many times what the zone is. He tells me that's when "I see nothing except the ball". I ask how that is possible. I have never felt something like that. I have asked Rahul Dravid the same thing. He says sometimes when he is in really good form, he sees only the ball - and not the sightscreen, the non-striker, the umpire or who is bowling, he just sees only the ball. But I have never entered that zone even if I've scored triple-centuries twice. Maybe I will enter that zone they talk about in future.

Perhaps you are always in the zone?
You can say that, maybe. Perhaps the definition of zone is different for me. They have both experienced what I have never experienced. Right from the time I was growing up there would be people moving along the sightscreen, but I would never get distracted. But if somebody shouts and says there is someone near the sightscreen then I will stop and move the guy. "

Another Telugu film song

with nice lyrics cheMgula ala mIda by Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry is available from the oldtelugusongs site. The lyrics:

"చెంగున అలమీద మిడిసి పోతది మీను
చినవాడు ఎదురైతే మరచీ పొతవు మేను
కాదంటావా చినదానా

వల్లమాలిన మమత కమ్మతెమ్మెర లాగ
కమ్ముకున్నది నిన్ను చినదానా
సమ్మతైన వాడు సరసనే ఉన్నాడు
పల్లకుంటావేలే చినదానా

చినికిన చినుకెల్ల మంచి ముత్యము కాదు
మెరిసిన మెరుపులో లేత వెన్నెల లేదు
అందని చందమామ కోసమని
ఆశాశ పడినావె చినదానా నీవు
అల్లాడి పోయినావే చినదానా
చివురంటి వయసున చక్కని జీవితాన
చివరకు మిగిలింది చీకటేనా
చినదానా కారు చీకటేనా"

పుస్తకము (vina vedula, Malladi's film songs, published by RK Books, Nallakunta, Hyderabad, 2005)లో 'పల్లకుంటావేలే' బదులు 'వల్లకుంటావేలే' ఉన్నది. ణేను మొదటి
మాట యుక్తమనుకుంటున్నాను.
There is a translation here:
but I thnk that crazyfinger misinterpreted some words.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jashuva children poems sung by Ghantasala

గుర్రం జాషువా పాపాయి పద్యాలు: విష్ణుభొట్ల లక్ష్మన్న .
Some more moving lines about children in a different context by Jashua: స్మశాన వాటిక :
"ఆలోకించిన గుండియల్గరగు; నాయా పిల్లగోరీలలో
నేలేబుగ్గల సౌరు రూపరియెనో! యేముద్దు నిద్రించెనో!
యే లీలావతి గర్భగోళమున వహ్నిజ్వాల జీవించునో?
యీ లొకంబున వ్రిద్ధిగాదగిన యేయే విద్యలల్లాడునో?"

Interviews with Murray Gell-Mann

Discover Interview The Man Who Found Quarks and Made Sense of the Universe (via 3quarksdaily). Excerpts:

"Then how did you settle on physics?
After my father gave up on engineering, he said, ‘How about we compromise and go with physics? General relativity, quantum mechanics, you will love it.’ I thought I would give my father’s advice a try. I don’t know why. I never took his advice on anything else. He told me how beautiful physics would be if I stuck with it, and that notion of beauty impressed me. My father studied those things. He was a great admirer of Einstein. He would lock himself in his room and study general relativity. He never really understood it. My opinion is that you have to despise something like that to get good at it.

Why is that?
If you admire it sufficiently, you’ll be in awe of it, so you’ll never learn it. My father thought it must be very hard, and it will take years to understand it, and only a few people understand it, and so on. But I had a wonderful teacher at Yale, Henry Margenau, who took the opposite attitude. He thought relativity was for everybody. Just learn the math. He’d say, “We’ll prepare the math on Tuesday and Thursday, and we’ll cover general relativity on Saturday and next Tuesday.” And he was right. It isn’t that bad.

You’ve known some of the greatest physicists in history. Whom do you put on the highest pedestal?
I don’t put people on pedestals very much, especially not physicists. Feynman [who won a 1965 Nobel for his work in particle physics] was pretty good, although not as good as he thought he was. He was too self-absorbed and spent a huge amount of energy generating anecdotes about himself. Fermi [who developed the first nuclear reactor] was good, but again with limitations—every now and then he was wrong. I didn’t know anybody without some limitations in my field of theoretical physics.
When you think about people like Feynman or Einstein or some of the other physics legends, do you think of them as geniuses? Is there such a thing?
Einstein was very special—I mean, creating that theory, general relativity [which describes gravity as a product of the geometry of space and time]. To do it today or to do it 34 years ago would be striking, remarkable, an utterly remarkable achievement. But to do it when he did, in 1915, that’s just unbelievable.

When you were at the Institute for Advanced Study, Einstein was also there, although he was near the end of his life. Were you able to absorb anything from him?
I could have. I could have made an appointment with his secretary, the formidable Helen Dukas, and gone in and talked with him. I could have asked him some questions about the old days. If it were today I would do it in a moment. But all I could see then was that he was past it. He didn’t believe in quantum mechanics, didn’t know about the particles that we were studying. And he didn’t know about this and that. If I showed him what I was doing, he wouldn’t make anything of it. And if he showed me what he was doing, I wouldn’t believe it. So I didn’t do anything. I would say: “Hello. Good morning.” And he would say, “Guten morning.” That was about it."

Another interview in Science News also discusses his views on linguistics Interview: Murray Gell-Mann . Further discussion and comments in The Holy Patron of String Theory and its Holy Grail (Not Even Wrong) and Murray Gell-Mann: 80th birthday and interview (The Reference Frame). The later has links to news of several other important physicists.
P.S. More from Edge.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Minsky on capitalism

From Boston Globe Why capitalism fails:
"By the end of the 20th century, the financial system that Minsky had warned about had materialized, complete with speculative borrowers, Ponzi borrowers, and precious few of the conservative borrowers who were the bedrock of a truly stable economy. Over decades, we really had forgotten the meaning of risk. When storied financial firms started to fall, sending shockwaves through the “real” economy, his predictions started to look a lot like a road map.

“This wasn’t a Minsky moment,” explains Randall Wray. “It was a Minsky half-century.”

To prevent the Minsky moment from becoming a national calamity, part of his solution (which was shared with other economists) was to have the Federal Reserve - what he liked to call the “Big Bank” - step into the breach and act as a lender of last resort to firms under siege. By throwing lines of liquidity to foundering firms, the Federal Reserve could break the cycle and stabilize the financial system. It failed to do so during the Great Depression, when it stood by and let a banking crisis spiral out of control. This time, under the leadership of Ben Bernanke - like Minsky, a scholar of the Depression - it took a very different approach, becoming a lender of last resort to everything from hedge funds to investment banks to money market funds.

Minsky’s other solution, however, was considerably more radical and less palatable politically. The preferred mainstream tactic for pulling the economy out of a crisis was - and is - based on the Keynesian notion of “priming the pump” by sending money that will employ lots of high-skilled, unionized labor - by building a new high-speed train line, for example.

Minsky, however, argued for a “bubble-up” approach, sending money to the poor and unskilled first. The government - or what he liked to call “Big Government” - should become the “employer of last resort,” he said, offering a job to anyone who wanted one at a set minimum wage. It would be paid to workers who would supply child care, clean streets, and provide services that would give taxpayers a visible return on their dollars. In being available to everyone, it would be even more ambitious than the New Deal, sharply reducing the welfare rolls by guaranteeing a job for anyone who was able to work. Such a program would not only help the poor and unskilled, he believed, but would put a floor beneath everyone else’s wages too, preventing salaries of more skilled workers from falling too precipitously, and sending benefits up the socioeconomic ladder.

While economists may be acknowledging some of Minsky’s points on financial instability, it’s safe to say that even liberal policymakers are still a long way from thinking about such an expanded role for the American government. If nothing else, an expensive full-employment program would veer far too close to socialism for the comfort of politicians. For his part, Wray thinks that the critics are apt to misunderstand Minsky. “He saw these ideas as perfectly consistent with capitalism,” says Wray. “They would make capitalism better.”

But not perfect. Indeed, if there’s anything to be drawn from Minsky’s collected work, it’s that perfection, like stability and equilibrium, are mirages. Minsky did not share his profession’s quaint belief that everything could be reduced to a tidy model, or a pat theory. His was a kind of existential economics: capitalism, like life itself, is difficult, even tragic. “There is no simple answer to the problems of our capitalism,” wrote Minsky. “There is no solution that can be transformed into a catchy phrase and carried on banners.”"

But A Year Later, Little Change on Wall St. and Economic Donkeys
P.S. A discussion of the article in Economist's view Who Has All the Answers? with a strange comment by Mark Thoma "We don't know, and until we do, I will continue to use the model I think gives the best answer to the question being asked."
Another discussion in The Big Picture (American)

More on online courses

College for $99 a Month says "The next generation of online education could be great for students—and catastrophic for universities." (via 3quarksdaily).
Abi has more links and excerpts in Annals of online education and says:
"Key take-aways:

internet will do to universities what they have already done to newspapers -- either decimate them or make their (commercial) life miserable.

these are early days, so expect a lot of experiments [I especially like the comparison -- I don't recall where I saw it -- with TV's early days when radio programs were beamed with a picture]."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A comment on 'sumatisatakam'

From the introduction to Colonial Lists, Indian Power by Michael Katten (available online):

"Long before a postcolonial, centralized Indian bureaucratic state arrogated to itself controls over the allowable uses of specific labels referring to groups in society, the Sumati Satakam and those who recited it changed the ways they depicted various sectors of that society. A number of the verses of the Satakam are not used today because they stereotype and denigrate a variety of Telugu játi communities. But the changes in a few particular verses, prior to the relatively recent center-imposed censoring, indicate the power of category and identity formation, and the ways in which epistemologies of játi in society were subject to changes introduced from below.
అల్లుని మంచి తనంబును
గొల్లని సాహిత్య విద్య,కోమలి నిజముం
పొల్లున దంచిన బియ్యము
తెల్లని కాకులును లేవు తెలియర సుమతీ

A good son-in-law,
A learned Golla, a truthful woman,
Rice produced by pounding the paddy husk alone,
A white crow: the wise person knows there are no such things.

This is the verse as it has been printed in the late twentieth century, amid what has become a standard ordering of the verses, and fairly consistent versions of each. But examination of a number of palm-leaf versions reveals that earlier versions of this particular verse used (Kómati, a játi name) instead of (kómali, "woman"), almost exclusively. The substitution of "woman" for a játi group name indicates the lack of control a dominant sector of society (Bráhmans)–certainly of literary society–had over the use of categories. In other verses we see such changes as the substitution of the phrase "bad person" for "Sudra" and ఖలునకు ("bad man") for (Velama, another játi name), as later versions of the Satakam were produced.

Of course, one counterpoint to this interpretation has been that ("Golla") is still in the verse. Bráhmans and those who continue to recite this verse explain that "Golla" no longer refers to the group that may have at one time lived as shepherds, but instead means someone who is a dullard–"golla" with a lowercase "g." In fact, the use of that word in this verse is now being contested in contemporary society, to the extent that the verse cannot be freely cited. The removal of "Kómati" early on (in the version cited here, and certainly by the beginning of the twentieth century) shows that meanings applied to terms referring to groups were becoming closed. This reflected the fact that labeling for communities had become a source of empowerment for those groups who sought to be referred to in particular ways, including those instances of the use of játi names. That there were political and power valences to the terms meant that those terms would no longer be open for use as disparaging labels in general. This is exactly the reason for the importance of categories that I will try to show throughout this work. It is also the reason that categories, and group identity in particular, are so important in our being able to see the flow of power from all sectors in society, while it is not usually evident in overt forms such as the records and other printed texts."

In one more note about this verse, here it is significant that "woman" can be substituted for a játi group name. This is consistent with Chatterjee and Mani (women became markers for control by men over the cultural domain), but mostly it reveals the general intent and structure of this verse genre. The Sumati Satakam is a means of reinscribing control over society in general. As a text of this sort it is one item in the larger set of discursive media available to Bráhmans. It is a normative text. And it performs its normativizing function through its existence as a satakam (a "traditional" literary form), and by locating–reifying the categories relating to–those whom Bráhman males, and other dominant groups who might recite such a work, would choose to contain. The changes in the text, including that of "woman" for Kómati or "bad man" for Velama, very likely represent the assertion of the power of the articulation of categories–játis–that made certain terms no longer available for use in such a set of signifying verses. Alternatively, Gollas as a group had not yet reached the point of being able to assert játi in the same way. So the printed twentieth-century versions of the Sumati Satakam represent intermediate steps in this particular reflection of changing epistemologies."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Articles on financial services to the poor

From Debunking Myths about the Poor and Financial Services by Suyash Rai and Sona Varma ( via India Development Blog):
"The poor are not sophisticated in using financial services, so access to finance may end up damaging their livelihoods: On the contrary, research on the use of financial services by the poor shows that given the complexity in their financial lives, the poor are very sophisticated in their use of financial instruments. Due to the absence of well-designed formal services, they end up creating a complex mesh of informal financial mechanisms around their lives. It seems this is the only way they can meet multiple needs using informal instruments. For example, financial diaries of the poor show how they creatively use a variety of loan sources to deal with the irregularity in their incomes and expenditures. Research also shows quite convincingly that on an average the chronic poor, i.e. those who fail to move out of poverty, do take initiatives to change their conditions. Failure to move out of poverty is primarily because of lack of access to capital and relevant networks. The recent evaluation of a micro credit program in India shows how entrepreneurial households consistently use credit to start successful new businesses or improve the profitability of existing businesses."
Chris BlattmanThe main problem with living on $2 a day…:
"The central finding: cash management is even more important for the poor than it is for you and me. Every household had both savings and debt, and often those savings and debt were scattered about 4 or 5 or 10 different people and places. They spread out their risk. This built a portfolio of the poor.

Unfortunately, they’re miserable about it. Informal financial obligations are unpleasant and insecure, but the poor don’t have any alternative.

This raises an important point: people value microfinance even if it doesn’t lead to rising incomes and development (like some recent evidence might suggest). They like it because microfinance helps them manage their day to day cash problems without the messy social obligations or discomfit. They want their financial intermediation to be impersonal.

It’s a nice point, convincingly made."

Brief summaries with links some micro finance studies by Duflo, Banerjee et all( a study from the slums of Hyderabad), Karlan and Zinman ( a study in Philippines)and an article by Dennis Rodman on self help groups are in these two posts from India Development Blog:
Apples and Jackfruit?
New Light for SHGs?

Pallavi Aiyar on India and China

Interview and links here:Smoke and Mirrors: China and India. One of the links has links to excepts from her book :SMOKE & MIRRORS WINS THE VODAFONE CROSSWORD POPULAR BOOK AWARD, 2008.
An article in Asia TimesIn the men's room, China leaves India standing and a longer article:India' Untouchables and China's Internal Migrants.
From :China through Indian eyes:
"But were I one of the millions-strong legions of cleaners, sweepers, janitors or night soil workers in India, I would probably prefer by some twist of karma to have been born Chinese.

But on other days I felt differently. There were days when I spent hours hunting for a Chinese source amongst the country’s think tanks, universities and research institutes for fresh insight or an alternative point of view on an issue for a story I had been working on. It was always such dishearteningly hard work."

Monday, September 07, 2009

SRI in Tiruchi

From System of rice intensification technique boosts paddy yield :
"The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has helped farmers in Tiruchi district to cope with an unreliable monsoon and shortage of farm labour, according to the district administration.

Speaking to The Hindu, District Collector T. Soundiah said the production cost of paddy under the new cultivation technique is in the range of Rs.2,000-3,000 a hectare, whereas it is close to Rs.10,000 under traditional cultivation methods. Where traditional methods of paddy cultivation yielded about two tonnes of paddy a hectare, under SRI farmers are able to get up to 6.7 tonnes a hectare.

The use of SRI is spreading in Tiruchi: the technique is being successfully implemented here on 20,000 ha out of a total of 70,000 ha under cultivation, according to data provided by the district administration.

“For many farmers, this has meant an additional income of Rs.25,000-30,000 per acre,” according to S. Sivaraj, Deputy Director, Agriculture, Central Government Schemes.

The SRI helps economise on resources use while maximising the yield.

“It requires a high level of farmland manure and a minimum quantity of seeds,” Mr. Sivaraj said. Only 2 kg of seeds were required per acre. The minimum age of seedlings would be eight to 12 days.

“Other important factors include wider spacing between seedlings and the use of the Cono-Weeder four times during the crop cycle,” Mr. Sivaraj said. Most important, SRI requires minimal use of water, according to Mr. Soundiah.

“The aim is to maintain the soil by wetting, not by flooding the fields as traditional cultivation methods suggest,” he said.

The district administration is implementing subsidy schemes for harvester and weeder machines to further boost productivity."

Earlier posts on SRI here and here.
SRIHome page.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Higher education in developing countries, Pakistan experiment

discussed in 3quarks daily Pakistan's Higher Education Reform Experiment. There have been several posts in Nanopolitan about Indian higher education. Anoop Kumar has some relevant comments here. See in particular Pervez Hoodbhoy's letter in 3quarksdaily:
""Pakistan's Reform Experiment" (Nature, V461, page 38, 3 September 2009) gives the impression of providing a factual balance sheet of Pakistan's higher education under General Pervez Musharraf's former government. Unfortunately, several critical omissions indicate a partisan bias.

Mention of the billions wasted on mindless prestige mega-projects is noticeably absent. Example: nine new universities were hastily conceived and partially constructed, but abandoned and finally scrapped after it became obvious that it was impossible to provide them with the most crucial ingredient - trained faculty. Similarly, fantastically expensive scientific equipment, imported with funds from the Higher Education Commission, remain hopelessly under-utilized many years later. They litter the country's length and breadth. For instance, my university has been
forced to house a "souped-up" Van de Graaf accelerator facility, purchased in 2005 with HEC funds. A research purpose is still being sought in 2009.

The authors conveniently choose not to mention that the 400% claimed increase in the number of publications was largely a consequence of giving huge payments to professors for publishing in international journals, irrespective of actual substance and quality. Not surprisingly these cash-per-paper injections had the effect of producing a plagiarism pandemic, one that is still out of control. In a country where academic ethics are poor and about a third of all students cheat in examinations, penalties for plagiarism by teachers and researchers are virtually

Citing Thomson Scientific, the authors claim a large rise in the "relative impact" in some disciplines, based upon citation levels of papers published between 2003 and 2007. But did the authors try to eliminate self-citations (a deliberate ploy) from this count? If they had - as I did using an available option in the Thomson Scientific package - they might actually have found the opposite result."

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Two tributes to YSR

The more complementary part from YSR: Searching For History's Verdict By K.V. Baparao
"His political success as a grassroots Congress leader is especially remarkable, given the AP tradition of senior Congress leaders who, almost without exception, made an infantile subservience to the High Command their sole qualification for high office; if they failed to obtain the Chief Minister's post, these leaders would seek to make the state ungovernable by anyone else, by engineering riots or perhaps a violent agitation. There was always a premise that the Congress High Command did not look kindly upon strong state leaders who were competent and popular in their own right, but will placate those who throw violent tantrums.

Given this climate, for YSR to have succeeded in balancing his personal power in the state with what is from all accounts an excellent relationship with the High Command, while taking his rivals along, speaks of a high degree of political astuteness and skill.

He also deserves special appreciation for taking steps to improve public access to health care, including emergency services. The ubiquitous presence of ambulances, and the increased use of modern hospitals and clinics by the poor, speaks of an interest in improving health matters on the part of the late Chief Minister who started out as a doctor. Because this has historically not been a widely-shared interest among the numerous doctor-politicians and doctor-businesspersons who populate the upper echelons of the state, YSR's death gives rise to concerns as to whether these nascent services are doomed to stagnate and perish from entropy, or whether they will grow into a serious policy of delivering measurable and accountable health services to all."

From Remembering YSR by Pushpa Iyengar:
"Stories were legion about him......And what a paradox it was that a man known as a “permanent dissident” had brought the Congress together after many years of bitter infighting."
I gather from some friends in Hyderabad that his principal secretary K Subramanyam who also died in the crash was an outstanding IAS officer. Apparently he came from very poor background and some local christians saw that he was bright and helped with his education. He married a christian lady and left two children behind. The son suffers from autism and the daughter is considered very bright.
P.S. See also Kuffir's post r.i.p. victims of hyderabad riots, december 1990. and the comments.
Some say that property rights have taken a tumble. Land and site occupation with the help of mobile goondas seemsto have increased.

A demonstration of India's Diversity?

Food Choices on Indian Airlines from Language Log.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Do teachers discriminate?

From Do teachers discriminate against minorities in India? (ungated version of the original paper here):
"Teachers discriminated against minority students in the grading of exams, but the results were modest. It is important to note that our study only facilitates reflection on one element of discrimination within the classroom. Other, more blatant types of discrimination may exist in the classroom as well. If we hope that education can help “level the playing field,” further work needs to be done to understand how to improve the treatment of minority students in the classroom."
P.S. Related post by Anoop Kumar Pandit Ramchandra Guha and the post of Mysore University Vice-Chancellor -II (via Blogbharti)

It is 'arrant nonsense'

says William Safire in Arrant Nonsense:
"If you Google errant, you get nearly three million citations, their sense "roving, straying, sometimes from high standards"; arrant gets only one-tenth as many. But if you enter the phrase "arrant nonsense," you get 35,000 to a mere 772 for "errant nonsense." People know the word with the a means "utter, thoroughgoing, complete," usually carrying the connotation of disapproval. Arrant, the former variant, is now out on its own, its meaning independent of the wandering errant. Let the dictionaries catch up with the living language."
The link from a comment in the very interesting post The Nature of Modern Finance:
"Is modern finance more like electricity or junk food? This is, of course, the big question of the day.
Given what we’ve seen over the past 12 months, which way should we lean: towards believing in the positive power of finance, until the opposite is proven; or towards being skeptical of finance in its modern form, until we see evidence that this actually makes sense?

Surely out skepticism should extend to financial innovation. Show me the evidence that this kind of innovation really adds value, socially speaking – rather than providing a very modern way to extract amazing “rents”."

The comment which drew the response is from "Old Lady in Red":
"To summarize the common understanding of the principle, “Of several acceptable explanations for a phenomenon, the explanation containing just the facts will do.”

What is happening today in finance is errant nonsense, fantastical craziness, bizarre lunacy and, fifty years from now, we will not be able to fathom how we could have been so stupid for so long."