Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kurkyala inscription

is inInscriptions Of Andhrapradhesh Kareemnagar District by P.V. Parabrahma Satry, 1974. The introduction says that the field studies were conducted byvarious assistants and the inscriptions copied by P.V. Parabrahma Satry. It is discussed on page 15 and a copy is on pages 41 and 42 (not the original pages of the book but page numbers on the digitized version).
Recently, I acquired a copy ofDr. P.V. Parabrahma Sastry Felicitation Vol.. The discussion about Kurkyala inscription is in the article "Dr. P.V.P.: An Embodiment of Scholarship" by Professor A.V. Narasimha Murthy and "Jaina Centres in Andhra" by Dr. G. Jawaharlal.
P.V.P was born in Pedakonduru village (1921) in Tenali Taluk, studied Telugu and Sanskrit. In the forties, he went to Benares for an advanced study in Sastras but came back with B.Sc. degree specializing in mathematics. By that time Hyderabad was amalgamated in to India, and he became a Headmaster of a Telugu medium School in Jalagaon in Warangal District. After 3 years he moved to Hyderabad as a mathematics teacher. He was recruited to Archeological Survey of India in 1959 by one Dr. P. Srinivachary who spotted P.V.P's talents. This is how his work in epigraphy, numismatics, history etc. started. He is also well known for his history of Kakatiyas for which he was awarded a Ph. D. in 1976 and his discovery of early Satavahana coins in Kotilingala (1978). He seems to have retired from Govt. service in 1981 but as far as I know continued his work and probably still working. I will find out on the next trip to Hyderabad.
P.S.1. There are more details in a Telugu book Bharatiya Sampradaya Bhumika Bhinnatvam lo Ekatvam by M.Prabhakara Rao, published by Janana Prasunamalika Prachuranalu, Tirupati, 2000.
"When we say that there is no Jain literature in Telugu, we only mean that there are no Telugu works composed for the propagation of Jainism. In fact, there are three important Telugu books of the ancient time which are associated with Jainism. They are: (1) Pavuluri Mallana's Ganitam, (2) Malliya Rechana's Kavijanasrayam (a book on Telugu prosody) and (3) Adharvanacharya's Adharvana Kaarikaavali which is a commentary on Aandhrasabdachintamani, a Sanskrit book of verses on Telugu grammar. 'Ganitam' is the Telugu rendering of an original Jain Prakrit work on Mathematics. But the author of the Telugu version, Pavuluri Mallana, is a Veerashaivite. But still a few examples related with Jain culture may be found in this book. , Kavijanasrayam' 's authorship is controversial. Some of the verses are found addressed to one Malliya Recha. This Malliya Recha is identified as the author of the book by some scholars and he is identified as a Jain. But even this work is not directly related with Jainism as such, though a few examples in this book refer to Jain culture. "
The observations in the first post script indicates that Jain works were destroyed but the above survived because they were refrence works but some verses were changed to distort authorships and dates to bring them more in line with the prevailing ideologies.

Networking in Research

Networking, citation of academic research, and premature death:
"Our results do suggest two directions of implication. The first is to confirm the conclusion of Robert Merton and successive sociologists of science that citations are not an especially pure measure of scientific impact and may be affected by strategic considerations or information costs. The other is that networking may have a significant impact on the dissemination of research findings and diffusion of valuable knowledge. This second bears on the organisation of research and can have implications for public policies towards the production of basic research."
RelatedData show extent of sexism in physics in 'Nature News' needs subscription but the abstract and comments can be read.

Lots of downloadable books

from hereby clicking on 'Texts' on the right. I just dowloaded a 1912 book containg the list of Telugu books in the British Museum.

News and Views

From John Lanchester's review of 'Flat Earth News':
"So only 12 per cent of what is in the papers consists of a story that a reporter has found out and pursued on her own initiative; and only 12 per cent of key facts are checked. The rest is all rewritten wire copy and PR. This remaining 88 per cent is, in Davies’s stinging coinage, ‘churnalism’. No wonder the papers feel a bit thin."
Science reporting does not seem to be exempt either; lot of it is coming from the publicity departments of universities and seems very thin based on few experiments with students or various type of scans.

From Charm Beats Accuracy:
"Why should we expect this to be any better for other kinds of news? If viewers can watch the same person day after day making predictions about something they care about and personally verify day after day, and still not care much about accuracy relative to looks and charm, how much can we really expect people to care about accuracy of news on unrest in Thailand, the credit crisis, or a new medical study? Can we really expect people to track the accuracy of advice from their doctors, lawyers, or interior decorators, relative to their looks, charm, and general impressiveness?"
From Monica Hesse's articleTruth: Can You Handle It?:
"Inhabitants of the Wiki-world, consider these random but related events, most of which pertain to the under-25 set, all of which occurred in the past six months:

The launching of, a wiki-weather site in which users can collaboratively decide whether it is raining outside.

The release of "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society," Farhad Manjoo's exploration of the "cultural ascendancy of belief over fact."

The addition of "collateral misinformation" to The entry: "When someone alters a Wikipedia article to win a specific argument, anyone who reads the false article before the 'error' is corrected suffers from collateral misinformation."

And a scholar at the Hoover Institution performed an experiment with totally unsurprising results: When 100 terms from U.S. history books were entered into Google, the topics' Wikipedia articles were the first hits 87 times.

All of these examples are signs of the times.

And all of them get at a big question: For the Google generation, what happens to the concepts of truth and knowledge in a user-generated world of information saturation?"
From the comments of Wikiality, or the Death of Libraries:
"Yes, BUT... books (or journal articles) are no guarantee of truth. Especially textbooks. And, as for "critical thinking", most students gather from it precisely enough technique to make them more critical of views they don't hold and thus more confident that their own prejudices are right."
And "I think the sad reality is that the human race may be no closer to the truth than when historians and textbook publishers had a monopoly on the info. I'm one of the most skeptical people I know, and I've been duped online more than once."
What is 'Wikiality? Apparently this term is due to Stephen Colbert for "a reality where, if enough people agree with a notion, it must be true."
P.S.According to Enrique Mendizabal at ODI blog a possible approach for reliable information in a complex world is 'think nets'.

Modular Robot

reassembles when kicked apart. From the comments section of the post Self-Copying Factories in 'Overcoming Bias'.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sobers' 254

by Nagaraj Gollapudion the Sobers' 254 between the World 11 and Australia in 1971:
"Sobers:Sir Donald Bradman thought it was the greatest innings he ever saw played in Australia.
Benaud:Sobie's innings would be second in my all-time list.
Ian Chappell: I head over in his direction to congratulate him, and he says: "Sit down, come over here." So just the two of us are in a quiet corner, and after I pour him a beer, he has a sip and then says, "Prue's left me." Prue being his wife who lived in Melbourne in those days. I said: "Sobie, if that's the bloody thing that's annoying you so much, give me her phone number, and I'll tell her to get bloody home straight away." You know, he just laughed. And it didn't make any difference - he came out and belted us again."
Interestingly, I phoned somebody for arranging some tution for our children a few years ago. He told me on the phone that he married the ex-wife of Sobers. But I never met him. I wonder whether it is the same lady.
It seems that IPL is the not the only place where Australians and Indians are collaborating. Robert Bednarik in "Dawn of a millennium:the Ascent of Indian Rock Art Research" says "... India and Australia were both parts of Gondwana, in specific forms of sand sheters. In both coubtries, these shelters have given rise to rich traditions of rock paintings.... It is therefore not surprising that Indian Rock specialists now collaborate more closely with Australians than with any other colleagues"

Women priests in a Hindu temple and other miscelleny

S.N.V. Sudhir writes in AP temple celebrates womanhood :
"In the temple complex of Devipuram, womanhood is celebrated in more ways than one. The mother goddess is the central deity of the temple and more importantly, the priests are mostly women. These young women, who have chosen priesthood as their vocation, vouch that they feel empowered after studying the scriptures. They have had rigorous training in the Vedas and have been systematically taught all the duties and rights of priests. "
In an earlier postMuslim is a priest in Hindu temple Sudhir wrote:
"Mira, who used to work as a gardener at the site chosen by the archeologists for excavations of Bhuddhist aramas on the hill Seethammavarikonda, found a three feet statue of the Maa Durga during his regular work of cutting trees. He says it changed the entire course of his life. From that day onwards the Goddess used to come in his dreams, he used to see her wherever he went and whatever he did. A sort of unknown holy feeling developed in within him. Then he decided to personally serve the goddess by performing pujas and other rituals."
I accidentally came across this interesting blog while looking for information on Jinavallabha, a younger brother of Pampa. Apparently there is a Kurkyala(Kurikyala) inscrption interpreted by P.V. Parabrahma Sastry (P.V.P.Sastry). From this inscription, Professor Sastry deduced that Jinavallabha assisted Malliya Rechana in writing Kavijanasraya. This means that Rechana lived at least one hundred years before Nannaya, who is considered Adikavi (first poet)of Telugu. I heard of this possibilty before from anarticle of Iravatham Mahadevan but this is the first concrete evidence modulo confirming the dating and details of the Kurkkyala inscription. There is very little information about Kurkyala on the internet but Kuryala is in Gangadhar(am) Mandal and the inscriptions are more often termed Gangadharam inscription(s). The word Gangadharam led to Mr. Sudhir who mentioned a person Gangadharam.

Natural State

In a recent post Arnold King links to his article which summarizes Douglass C. North (and colloborators)'s ideas about Natural State and applies to them to Iraq. Some excerpts:
"NWW claim that there are three types of societies. Primitive orders are small bands of hunter-gatherers, and they are of little concern here. Limited-access orders are societies that provide meaningful political and economic rights only to narrow elites. Open-access orders are capitalist democracies that give political and economic rights to most citizens. NWW argue that limited-access orders are the "natural state:" they are stable, they resist economic progress, and they only rarely make the transition to open-access orders.

For NWW, these three types of order are like the three chemical phases of solid, liquid, and gas. That is, they are clearly distinct from one another, and transitions between different forms of order take place only under special conditions.
A key insight of NWW is that the rulers of a limited-access order must restrict the rights of the masses. If everyone has economic and political rights, then the rulers have nothing special to offer to pacify would-be usurpers. Potential political competitors can only be bought off if they receive rights that are exclusive. But giving exclusive rights to one group necessarily entails restricting the rights of other groups. To say to the rulers of a limited-access order, "We insist that you get rid of corruption" is to ask them to commit political suicide.""

"The limited access order is a social equilibrium. The equilibria share common characteristics:

1) Control of violence through elite privileges.
2) Limits on access to trade.
3) Relatively strong property right protection for elites and relatively weak property right protection for non-elites. To the extent a natural state is characterized by the rule of law, it is for elites.
4) Restrictions on entry into and exit from economic, political, religious, educational, and military organizations.

Accordingly, the transition from a limited-access order to an open-access order is quite problematic."

"NWW argue that three conditions are necessary before a transition from a limited-access order to an open-access order is even conceivable. These three "doorstep conditions" are:

1. rule of law for elites
2. perpetual life for organizations
3. political control of the military

In a country where even elites depend on personal relationships for personal and economic security, the first "doorstep condition" is not met. Think of Russia today, where even members of the wealthy oligarchy can be summarily stripped of rights by the head of state. On the other hand, in Great Britain in the period just prior to the full advent of democracy, elites developed an expectation that due process of law would apply to them.

Perpetual life for organizations means that there exist corporations or other institutions that can be expected to outlive their key members. If there are no such organizations, then that means that every organization is held together by personal loyalty. Once people see an organization as living beyond its current leaders, they begin to support contractual relationships with that organization. When the government starts to provide a legal framework to protect contractual relationships, a key element of open-access orders is in place. NWW argue that in order for any organization within a state to have perpetual life, the state itself must have perpetual life. If all of a ruler's legal rulings are subject to nullification when the ruler dies, then that condition is not satisfied.

Political control of the military requires that there be no independent organizations with a capacity for large-scale violence. Lebanon, where Hezbollah is an independent military force, clearly does not enjoy political control of the military. On the other hand, if a single faction takes control of the military, that is not NWW's definition of political control of the military. Instead, such a regime is a military dictatorship."
All this looks plausible but what is not dicussed is the role of various states in the transition of other states and the possibilty of reverting from open access state to a limited access state. The application to Iraq seems strange to me. But it is worth a read.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Battle with bacteria

From Science Daily articleHumans May Lose Battle With Bacteria (via Evolutionary Psychology Discussion Group):
"In his article, "Coevolution: Mankind and Microbes," Mitscher chronicles the advent of antibiotics in the 20th century. Sulfonamides, the first anti-infectives, were introduced the mid-1930s. Penicillin — "the first true antibiotic" — was employed widely during World War II. In the decades since, dozens of important antibiotics have been developed and marketed around the world.

"These were called `miracle drugs,' " said Mitscher. "Unfortunately, that had a downside. They were so relatively safe and so effective that we became careless in their use and in our personal habits. That has caused much of the resistance phenomenon we have today."

Microbial resistance to these drugs has been an ever-increasing problem because of the speedy reproduction and evolution of microorganisms.

"Bacteria that survive the initial onslaught of antibiotics then are increasingly resistant to them," said Mitscher. "The sensitive proportion of the bacterial population dies, but then the survivors multiply quickly — and they are less sensitive to antibiotics. The sensitivity goes all the way from requiring a longer course of therapy or a higher dose, to being totally unaffected by the antibiotic."

Humans have overused antibiotics in areas such as agriculture, worsening the dilemma of highly resistant bacteria.

"People are surprised to learn that almost half of all the antibiotics produced in the world are used in animal husbandry," said Mitscher. "I'm not referring to using antibiotics for curing infections of animals — what I mean is use of antibiotics in relatively small doses as an animal-feed supplement. Animals then grow quicker to a marketable size, and this is seen as a universal good. The difficulty is that use of antibiotics in that setting is an invitation towards resistance. Unfortunately, humans get infected with resistant strains that were generated in animals in this manner."

These days, with so-called "super-bugs" like Methacillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) making news, resistance is becoming a major public health problem.

"Resistance that started in a hospital setting quickly spread into the community, and now resistance is essentially all around us," Mitscher said. "That does not mean to say we're all going to die in agony in the immediate future. But this is an important phenomenon that needs to be addressed more carefully than we have in the past."

Part of the solution is to use antibiotics sparingly for industrial, agricultural and medical purposes. When an antibiotic is called for to treat an infection the best one should be used with appropriate intensity.

Mitscher said that drug corporations must develop antibiotics with the potential not only to kill microbes but also to inhibit their ability to mutate. These new drugs would be made more effective still if they enlisted the body's own immune system to battle infections.

Alas, because of the economics of the drug industry, Mitscher said such "triple treat" antibiotics might be a long time coming.

"The pace of antibiotic discovery has fallen off, partly because the intensive research on them has lead to increasingly diminishing returns," said Mitscher. "Pharmaceutical firms have, for a variety of commercial reasons, de-emphasized antibiotic research in recent decades.""
Meanwhile a Scientific American article onDormant Bacteria (via 3quraksdaily)says:
"Israeli researchers announced this week that they have developed a new technique that may wipe out stubborn bacteria that elude antibiotics. Some infections such as tuberculosis (TB) can lay dormant in the lungs for decades before reactivating and causing symptoms— even after most of the disease-causing bacteria have been leveled by antibiotics.

But scientists at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that they discovered a way to eradicate the stubborn bugs and prevent them from suddenly striking again when an individual's immune system is off guard. The new method capitalizes on the dormant bacteria's need for nutrients such as iron and magnesium. Such cells can avoid antibiotics when they're starved and become inactive. But the researchers were able to reduce populations of persistent bacteria by up to 99 percent by first perking them up with nutrients and then blasting them with an antibiotic."

Public Intellectuals

There is some discomfiture at a list of top 100public intellectuals. My feel is that with the current flow of information and comlexity of the world, it is impossible for anybody to have an informed opinion on any matter unless one specializes and it is difficult for any one person to specialize on too many issues. There are various efforts by people like Ethan Zuckerman to channel information to some extent and there are think tanks. But according to Enrique Mendizabal at ODI blog:
"Think tanks like ODI have traded successfully for decades on creating and sharing specialised knowledge by hot-housing groups of smart people. But they may not be able to do so for much longer.

First, new communication technology is decentralising the production of knowledge. Specialist knowledge is being created worldwide in informal spaces. As a result, individual think tanks can rarely claim to have the best in-house experts on everything they work on. There are almost certainly better ideas elsewhere – if we look hard enough. The difficulty lies in finding them.

The second challenge is that new technology is also changing the way that people communicate and access knowledge. Users don’t wait for knowledge any longer. There is an increasing reliance on syndication and mash-up technologies to aggregate knowledge from a multitude of sources without ever visiting them. Users no longer just ‘take it all in’; they are selective in what they want from each source. The location in which information is accessed is closely related to how it is accessed. Social and professional networks take time to develop – even online – and the time spent accessing information in these places is proportional to the value assigned to the knowledge obtained. So think tanks do not just compete with other specialist knowledge producers, they must also compete with the knowledge spaces their audiences are creating for themselves. This is the real challenge. "
His solution is what he calls 'think nets'. The whole article is worth reading.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Some outsourcing news

India's kinder, gentler debt collectors remind Americans to pay their bills. I hope that some of the micro finance organizations in India will follow the example.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Another food post

Andrew Leonard summarizes some of his recent discussions on the current food crisis in the postThe Washington food crisis consensus. One point that was ignored was the one pointed out by Madhukar Shukla. Andrew Leonard concludes:
"It's not the whole story -- just as biofuels, or changing diets in China, or low interest rates, aren't, by themselves, the whole story. It may even turn out that high commodity prices, in the long run, are exactly the incentive poor developing nations need to kickstart their agricultural sectors into productivity. But getting to that point without millions of people starving is going to be a struggle."
P.S. More from Andrew Leonard: Where has all the rice gone?. The good news is that "Chief Executive Officer of China-Africa Development Fund says about 5 billion United States dollars have been earmarked for the production of food and cash crops in Liberia and other African countries over a 50-year period." The bad news is that China is trying to supply arms to Mugabe.
Discussion of Esther Duflo'sFood prices: The need for insurance.
Facts and figures from BBC.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Daniel Gilbert Conversation

in NY Times. Excerpt:
"We know that the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends.

We know that it’s significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health. That’s what the data shows. The interesting thing is that people will sacrifice social relationships to get other things that won’t make them as happy — money. That’s what I mean when I say people should do “wise shopping” for happiness.

Another thing we know from studies is that people tend to take more pleasure in experiences than in things."

Food Crop Diversity

is key to sustainability M.P. Jones in a SciDev.Net article.
"Only 150 crop species are grown commercially on a global scale, with wheat and maize alone providing over half of the world's protein and calorie needs. Another 7,000 species play crucial roles in poor people's livelihoods but are otherwise underutilised.

These underutilised species have important traditional uses for food, fibre, fodder, vegetable oil and medicines. But they also have unexploited commercial potential and, if used more widely, could provide important environmental services.

They could be developed to improve food security, alleviate poverty, improve nutrition, raise incomes, and sustain critical and fragile ecosystems.

Growing them commercially could make a vital contribution to halting and indeed reversing the loss of biodiversity in farming systems — which will be the inevitable result of continued reliance on a narrow portfolio of crops.
The revival of the African rice cultivar Oryza glaberrima is a good example of the potential benefits to be derived from making better use of non-commercial crops.

In the 1990s, researchers at WARDA (the African rice centre) began to screen their holdings of African rice cultivars. They had discovered that O. glaberrima had a number of agronomic properties that are valued by farmers who have limited access to agricultural inputs. Yet O. glaberrima was underutilised and endangered. This influenced the decision to hybridise O. glaberrima with Asian rice O. sativa. The aim was to capture the high yields of O. sativa but reduce unwanted characteristics like lodging and shattering while gaining the high stress-resistance of African glaberrima. The successful hybrids were released as NERICA (new rices for Africa) types.

Today, the NERICAs are being widely adopted by Africa's rice farmers. They are opening new opportunities for sustainable agricultural development, especially in rainfed environments."

Professor Shukla suggests that there is considerable of waste in the food chain and a reduction of this is needed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chris Blattman's summary of IRRC

background paper on rice scarcity here. Excerpt:
"The briefing note puts much of the blame for the current spike on hoarders and speculators. This is an interesting argument, and suggests that the current price has much to do with psychology and expectations—both of which could be managed by intelligent policy.

At root, however, the problem is that demand is outracing supply. The report names its culprits: stagnant agricultural R&D; little room for expansion of area in Asia; increases in Asian wealth (and consumption); the increasing popularity of rice in Africa; and extreme weather events.

The solution, according to the authors, is clear: increase productivity and production. Most especially, a Green Revolution in Africa is required.

This strikes me as good common sense. But if IRRI is right, and speculation and hoarding are aggravating the spike, something more fast-acting is required. I was disappointed not to see the brief pursue that angle."

IRRC's letter to the World Bank says that USAID proposed a cut to their funding of agricultural research. From the figures I have seen elsewhere (cannot recall the links) Asian governments or even BCCI can easily cover the proposed cuts.
See also Professor Madhukar Shukla's views here.
Professor Shukla suggests in a recent post that a considerable amount of what is produced goes to waste in the food chain. Perhaps one measure could be the reduction of this waste.
Chandan Sapkota has a series of posts on the food crisis at

DNA Day 2008 in Hyderabad

on April 25th. Message from Anil Kumar Challa:
"DNA Day 2008

Understanding the structure of DNA, the key chemical entity determining genetic inheritance, is considered to be one of the most significant events in 20th century science. The description of the DNA structure by James Watson and Francis Crick was published on 25th April 1953 and fifty years later, in 2003, the genetic manual for
humans (the human genome) was sequenced in its entirety under the aegis of the Human Genome Project. To celebrate these remarkable events in scientific history, April 25th is being celebrated as the DNA Day. This is the first time that Hyderabad will be celebrating the DNA Day at the BM Birla Science Center and invites everyone to be part of the celebrations."
The program is from 10 AM to 5 PM. For further details, contact Anil Kumar Challa at
Another program. The Ambedkar scholarship awards programme also will take place this weekend:
The function is from 3PM to 7PM on Sunday, 27th April.
St. Mary Centenary Jr.College,
St Francis Road,,
Behind Key's high School,
Near Sangeeth Theatre,
Secunderabad 500025
Rev. P.Sundar may make a presentation of a micro finance program that he has organized.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Quote of the day

From the comments in the postFood: Scarcity or Bubble? of EconoSpeak:
Hopkins and the Brain Trust were criticized for excessive spending by conservative members of Congress, who claimed that the economy would sort itself out in the long run. To which Hopkins replied, "People don't eat in the long run, they eat every day."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

V.S. Ramachandran reviews

'Mirrors in the Brain' by Giacomo Rizzolatti & Corrado Sinigaglia in Nature. Last paragraph:
"There has been a lot of media hype surrounding mirror neurons. The real danger is that too much is explained, not too little. This is inevitable with any new discovery but does not, in itself, vitiate the discovery's intrinsic importance. Nearly a decade ago, I wrote that "mirror neurons will do for psychology what DNA did for biology". It remains to be seen whether they will turn out to be anything as important as that, but as Sherlock Holmes said to Watson: "The game is afoot.""
P.S. Ignore the last sentence that appears pn the page; it is the full review.

Hand-in-Hand in the news

I 'met' Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy during some discussions in Telugu sites and developed friendly relations with him; my son-in-law Gavin met him when he visited Chennai. From this news item in Hindu, I find that he is the Chief Executive Officer, Micro Finance of Hand-in-Hand. The news item days:"For implementing the CSR programme, Chief Executive Officer, Salcomp group, Sweden, Markku Hangasjarir, signed a memorandum of understanding with Hand-in-Hand, Tamilnadu, represented by the Chief Executive Officer, Micro Finance, HiH, Tamilnadu, Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy at a function held at a school in Kolathur on Tuesday.

While it has been proposed to train a total of 2,250 men and women in soft and technical skills, environment protection programmes such as solid waste management, construction of toilets with people’s participation and to improve facilities at primary health care centres would be taken up, said Mr.Pamarthy.

Funds for two years

Salcomp would be releasing Rs.5.20 lakh for each village for two years to Hand-in-Hand for implementing the corporate social responsibility programme."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Review of "Flat Earth News"

by John Lanchester in London Review of Books. Excerpt:
"Davies’s book explains something easy to notice and complain about but hard to understand: the sense of the increasing thinness and attenuation of the British press. It’s not literal thinness: the papers, physically, are bigger than ever. There just seems to be less in them than there once was: less news, less thought (as opposed to opinion), less density of engagement, less time spent finding things out. Davies looks into all those questions, confirms that the impression of thinness is correct, explains how this came about, and offers no hope that things will improve."

Lively review of "Grothendieck -Serre Correspondence"

by Leila Schneps which appeared in 'Mathematical Intellegencer'. He was (and still is) one of our heros when we were sstudents in TIFR. Even though many of us were not working in Algebraic Geometry, we heard of him through C.P. Ramanujam and others. With his powers of abstraction, insistence on seeing things the right way and that theorems should fall out (more as a cocession to the rest of the mathematical world), there seemed to be no one like him before in mathematics. Leila captures this spirit, the creative processes of two geat mathematicians and thir interaction in this article which is readable to een those outside Algebraic Geometry or even mathematics. Wonderful review of a 'living mathematics book'.
P.S. An interesting collection of math, reviews here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ragas and film songs

While searching for the music in 'Kshudito Pashan' I came across thesetwo links. Any more suggestions are welcome.

Angus Deaton on Indian researchers

After a recent comment on an EPW article inIndia Development Blog, I was reminded of a comment by Angus Deaton and Valeri Kozel on Indian researchers and EPW. It is in the paper "Data and Dogma: The Great Indian Poverty Debate" by Angus Deaton and Valeri Kozel. It is available from Deaton's papers and says:

"Another lesson for researchers from India is the importance of high-quality domestic researchers. Analysis by foreign scholars or by World Bank researchers can often be helpful, but it has a quite different effect from a domestic debate among local researchers, policymakers, and the press. Although few countries currently have India’s group of domestic researchers who can work with the basic data, it should be noted that this is a relatively new phenomenon in India too.The Indian press also plays a distinguished role in the debate, not only through the dailynewspapers that regularly give attention to new findings on poverty, and regularly carry seriousop-ed pieces, but also through the presence of Economic and Political Weekly, in the pages of which much of the Indian debate took place. EPW is a cross between an academic journal (it has equations, and econometrics) and a magazine, such as The Economist. It provides rapid publication and acts as a unique bridge between research, the press, and policymakers, and itcould well be emulated in other countries, including many rich countries. "
And there are many more laudatory mention of Indian researchers like Minhas and the empirical work done in India.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

India's Common People

According toIndia Development Blog, India’s Common People: Who Are They,How Many Are They and How Do They Live?by Arjun Sengupta, K P Kannan, G Raveendran ( March, 15, 2008)is a must read article. According to the authors, there are some caveats: "The need to adopt indicators of deprivation, other than consumer expenditure, is so compelling in the Indian situation that the case for a multidimensional approach is quite strong. In this analysis we have been able to bring in directly only indicators on education, social status and activity status(because these are collected in the employment-unemployment surveys) but these are striking in their association with the incidence of poverty and vulnerability. There are other equally compelling indicators of deprivation such as infant mortality, children under nutrition or anaemia among adult women. Our analysis here starting with consumer expenditure and linking them with social, educational and work status dimensions tell us that there is a strong case for building up a multidimensional profile of poverty, however complex the exercise might be. The idea is not to reduce everything into a single index but to provide a framework for using appropriate indices of deprivation for specific policies and programmes rather than a single measure of poverty for all programmes." They are also other questions like using the official poverty line.
Perhaps, the next quotation gives an indication of their attitude:"The trickle-down effect of growth would be often too meagre and too distant. Market forces almost invariably promote those who have market power and economic growth powered by them often bypasses the poor and the vulnerable who are the overwhelming majority of our people. Ultimately, the success and failure of all our programmes and polices including those for promoting economic growth, will have to be reckoned in terms of how they have fulfilled this basic objective of increasing the welfare of the common people". The'common people' consist of extremely poor, poor, marginal and vulnerable. These consist of people with DPCE (Daily per capita expenditure, 2004-05) of about 9,12, 15, and 20 rupees respectively. These are about 75 percent of the people. Some of their conclusions:

"To sum up, an overwhelming majority of the Indian population, around three quarters, is poor and vulnerable and it is a staggering 836 million as of 2004-05. This includes 70 million or 6.4 per cent who may be characterised as extremely poor with a per capita consumption of less than or three-quarters of the official poverty line. To this should be added 167 million of those who are poor with consumption not more than that fixed as the official poverty line. If this is relaxed to include those with a per capita consumption of up to 25 per cent above the poverty line, called marginally poor here, then we find another 207 million. These three groups account for 444 million or 40.8 per cent of the population. To this we add those with a per capita consumption between 1.25 and two times the poverty line as vulnerable and this group of poor and vulnerable comes to 836 million of Indians or well over 75 per cent of the population.
The next major finding is the close association between poverty and vulnerability with one’s social identity. The two social groups who are at the bottom by this classification are the SCs/STs, who constitute the bottom layer, and the Muslims, who are in the next layer. This does not mean that the other groups are far better off. The next group is the OBCs but better than the two bottom layers. Even for those
who do not belong to any of these groups,the incidence is 55 per cent.
The obverse of this is equally important. It says that in all communities there is a class of better-off, called the middle and high income group, which varies with social identity. Therefore economic differentiation across social groups is a fact of life in contemporary India, albeit in varying degrees.
A much more powerful factor in this differentiation seems to be that of educational endowments. There is no doubt that no or low education is more strongly associated with poverty and vulnerability. But the interesting finding is that for the socially considered lower groups the threshold level of education required to cross poverty
is higher compared to other social groups. What we find here is the close correspondence between social identity and educational attainments.
Over time there has been some change but we have characterised the speed of this change as “snail’s pace”. For the two bottom layers of the social category, i e, SC/ST and Muslims, the change is largely from poverty to vulnerability. Perhaps the speed of change is also determined by a combination of social identity and educational endowments.
Despite the formidable constraints, education seems to provide the best hope for overcoming poverty and vulnerability. The speed of change has been faster wherever the educational attainments are higher."
There is an increase in the percentage of middle+higher income group from 16.2 perecent in 1993-94 to 23.3 percent in 2004-05.
If we use another mesurement for' middle class' ( I do not how the two are related) India may be doing better than USA in one respect. According to Christopher Caldwell of FT:"A standard measure defines “middle-income” households as those earning between 75 and 150 per cent of median family income, now about $60,000. Where 40 per cent of American households met that definition in 1970, only 35 per cent do today. (Using “income” as a synonym for “class” is crude, but that is how US social scientists do it.)". However, it seems that 53 perecent identify themselves as middle class.

Friday, April 11, 2008

No concensus on math. education

Sciencemagazine has two articles:U.S. Expert Panel Sees Algebra As Key to Improvements in Math
and Expert Panel Lays Out the Path to Algebra--and Why It Matters
on National Mathematics Advisory Panel report which came out a few months ago. It seems that there is no concensus but two points of agreement seem to be (From an interview with the chairman of the panel):
"Q: The report notes that U.S. elementary students do okay on international math tests and that the falloff begins at the end of middle school and accelerates into high school. So why focus on K-8 math?
L.F.: You can also argue that the falloff reflects the inability of students to handle algebra. If you look at success rates in algebra or proficiency in algebraic concepts, there's ample evidence that students are not succeeding, and our charge is to increase the likelihood that they will succeed.
Q: Why do so many students have trouble with fractions?
L.F.: Fractions have been downplayed. There's been a tendency in recent decades to regard fractions to be operationally less important than numbers because you can express everything in decimals or in spreadsheets. But it's important to have an instinctual sense of what a third of a pie is, or what 20% of something is, to understand the ratio of numbers involved and what happens as you manipulate it.
Q: What's the panel's view on calculators?
L.F.: We feel strongly that they should not get in the way of acquiring automaticity [memorization of basic facts]. But the larger issue is the effectiveness of pedagogical software. At this stage, there's no evidence of substantial benefit or damage, but we wouldn't rule out products that could show a benefit. If a product could be demonstrated to be effective on a sizable scale under various conditions, the panel would be interested."
There is a link to the report in the second panel but it does not seem to be working.
From the first article "Taking aim at watered-down courses, the report defines the content of a rigorous algebra course as well as what students need to know before taking it. It urges school districts "to avoid an approach that continually revisits topics, year after year, without closure," part of what critics deride as a "mile-wide, inch-deep" math curriculum. It recommends giving teachers more authority to choose those educational materials and practices best suited to their students. It also calls for more useful assessments of what students know and for shifting educational policy debates "away from polarizing controversies.""
I remember taking Algebra for the first time in 9th grade. My father was transferred twice and I ended up having three doses of Algebra in that year and never had problems with Algebra since then. But I feel that it is mainly a language to study other interesting things in math. and not an end in itself.

Two papers on reservations in India

Both the papers are by NISHITH PRAKASH, University of Houston.
Does Political Reservation for Minorities Reduce Poverty? Evidence from India .
Affirmative action policies have been proposed and used in both developed and developing countries to raise the well-being of disadvantaged minority groups. Among the most radical of these policies has been to mandate political representation for minorities. This paper examines the effect of political reservation for minorities on poverty in India. The Indian constitution stipulates that the share of reserved seats for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes - two principal disadvantaged minorities in India - be the same as their share in most recent decennial census of population. I take advantage of the state - time variation in minority political representation generated by the aforementioned policy rule in the Indian Constitution and the timing of elections to provide exogenous variation in minority representation. Using state level panel data, I find that increasing scheduled tribe representation significantly reduced rural and urban poverty, while increasing scheduled caste representation reduces urban poverty but has no impact on rural poverty. Interestingly, it appears to be the people just below the poverty line, not those far below it, who are benefiting. These findings survive a variety of robustness checks.

Impact of Reserving Jobs for Minorities on Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from India
Affirmative action policies in employment are proposed and used in both developed and developing countries with the goal of promoting economic progress for members of historically disadvantaged minority groups. Whether they actually help the targeted groups overall, and whether some subgroups benefit more than others, are open questions. This paper evaluates the effects of one such policy - setting aside jobs for minorities - on minorities' labor market outcomes. I take advantage of the fact that public sector jobs in India are set aside for minorities based on a strict policy rule to identify the causal effect of job reservations for minorities. The policy rule is stated in the Indian Constitution, and requires that the share of reserved jobs for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes - the two principal disadvantaged minority groups in India - be the same as their share of the total population in the most recent decennial census. The policy rule and the administrative lags in its implementation generate plausibly exogenous variation in share of jobs reserved for minorities. I implement this identification strategy using individual-level data from multiple rounds of the National Sample Survey. The main finding is that increasing job reservations for the scheduled castes significantly increases their presence in “good” jobs, but increasing job reservations for scheduled tribes has no significant impact on scheduled tribes at conventional levels of significance. The benefits for the scheduled castes appear to be more pronounced for members who reside in urban areas and who are less educated. That members of scheduled tribes do not benefit may be due to their concentration in remote rural areas; there is a spatial mismatch between where most of them live and where most public sector jobs are. Thus, although scheduled tribes and scheduled castes both have much worse socioeconomic outcomes than non-minorities in India, the findings suggest that distinct policies for each minority group may be needed to narrow the gaps.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Some cognitive dissonance results questioned

After struggling for a day to convince myself that one should switch doors in the Monty Hall Problem, I came across this article by John TierneyAnd Behind Door No. 1, a Fatal Flaw . Excerpt:
"The Yale psychologists first measured monkeys’ preferences by observing how quickly each monkey sought out different colors of M&Ms. After identifying three colors preferred about equally by a monkey — say, red, blue and green — the researchers gave the monkey a choice between two of them.

If the monkey chose, say, red over blue, it was next given a choice between blue and green. Nearly two-thirds of the time it rejected blue in favor of green, which seemed to jibe with the theory of choice rationalization: Once we reject something, we tell ourselves we never liked it anyway (and thereby spare ourselves the painfully dissonant thought that we made the wrong choice).

But Dr. Chen says that the monkey’s distaste for blue can be completely explained with statistics alone. He says the psychologists wrongly assumed that the monkey began by valuing all three colors equally.

Its relative preferences might have been so slight that they were indiscernible during the preliminary phase of the experiment, Dr. Chen says, but there must have been some tiny differences among its tastes for red, blue and green — some hierarchy of preferences.

If so, then the monkey’s choice of red over blue wasn’t arbitrary. Like Monty Hall’s choice of which door to open to reveal a goat, the monkey’s choice of red over blue discloses information that changes the odds. If you work out the permutations (see illustration), you find that when a monkey favors red over blue, there’s a two-thirds chance that it also started off with a preference for green over blue — which would explain why the monkeys chose green two-thirds of the time in the Yale experiment, Dr. Chen says.

.....says Daniel Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard. “He has essentially applied the Monty Hall Problem to an experimental procedure in psychology, and the result is both instructive and counter-intuitive.”

Dr. Gilbert, however, says that he has yet to be persuaded that this same flaw exists in all experiments using the free-choice paradigm, and he remains confident that the overall theory of cognitive dissonance is solid.
Dr. Chen remains convinced it’s a broad problem. He acknowledges that other forms of cognitive-dissonance effects have been demonstrated in different kinds of experiments, but he says the hundreds of choice-rationalization experiments since 1956 are flawed."
P.S. See also the discussion here.
P.S.2. NYTimes has now a provision to play the Monty Hall Problemonline.

Elephant drawing a portrait of an elephant

Amazing(via Human Ethology Discussion Group).
More information here.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Some links I liked related to the subprime crisis

Tranche Warfare from "In These Times".
Central Banks Are Dangerous from 'Interfluidity'.
The poor are financing the profligates from Brad Setser's Blog.
Where did the money go? Part 3 from Angry Bear.
Defining Deviancy Down from 'Independent Accountant'.
a letter from Hyman Capital from a comment in a post of Nouriel Rubini.

Coming food crisis?

Paul Krugman and dday at Hullabaloo think that there is a coming food crisis; the latter has links to organizations which are trying to help. Dani Rodrik quotes Bob Zoellick here about cutting subsidies and says:
"As for the real impact of food prices on poverty, we can avoid much confusion by recognizing the diverse and heterogeneous effects that food prices have on poverty around the world. The impacts depend on whether you are a net seller or a buyer of food (which is determined in part by whether you live in urban or rural areas), as well as on net supply elasticities (a large enough price increase can turn you into a net seller even if you were not one initially).

Now repeat after me: it depends..."
In the comments sectionThe sustainable development blogger responds:
"1)High food prices are caused by biofuels and emerging countries growing demand but also by speculation on commodities markets.

2) 2/3 of the poor lives in rural areas and depends on agriculture and many of the urban poor are former peasants.

3) Many developing countries, even if they are net importing countries, have still an important potential in expanding their agricultural production.

These elements mean that high agricultural prices are positive for most poor in developing countries but the risks are very high because urban poor uprising (caused by high food prices) can destabilize several developing countries.
This mean that we need to find solutions to reduce these risks and the adjustment costs. "
From what I have seen in coastal Andhra, I tend to go along with this blogger. Almost all the farmers I know are unhappy with growing rice due to high costs, uncertain results and lack of any sort of insurance. Some have even turned rice filelds to eucalyptus plantations because lower investment and more certain results. About 40 years ago, a farmer owning about 10 acres of land was considered a man of substance in coastal Andhra but now people who have similar acerage are looking for part time jobs during the off season. For agricultural labourers who want to lease land it is difficult to get loans except at very high interests from local lenders. The estimates are about 12,000 rupees for one acre of a rice growing fileld. May be micro finance and some sort of insurance can help.
P.S. Another article with links to reports from International Food policy Research Institute here.

A micro finance debate

From New York Times articleMicrofinance’s Success Sets Off a Debate in Mexico :
"Microlenders, the original and still the most common type of microfinance organization, help the poor start or expand businesses in places most banks shun, like the slums of Calcutta or these impoverished hills in Mexico’s sugar cane country, three hours south of Mexico City. Their efforts are widely considered successful in transforming the lives of developing-world entrepreneurs, particularly women, and their families.

Many microlending advocates, including Mr. Yunus, say that success is threatened by Mr. Danel and Mr. Labarthe’s market-oriented model, with its emphasis on investor returns. ....
Both sides agree that there is a need for capital, too great to be met by the donor groups that initially financed microlending. Deutsche Bank estimates the global demand for microfinance loans at about $250 billion, 10 times the amount that has been lent.

But Compartamos’s decision to go public last April became a flashpoint in what had been a genteel debate over how microfinance could tap into the financial markets’ vast resources. The initial public offering gets special mention at every microfinance conference, and has been condemned by Mr. Yunus, the Nobel laureate.

Alex Counts, president of the Washington-based Grameen Foundation, said Compartamos’s poor clients “were generating the profits but they were excluded from them.”

Earlier mrajshekhar of fracturedearth has written about some of the failures of microfinance in India in microfinance and women's empowerment.His site does not seem to be working at the moment. some excerpts from hia article are in my posthere.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Julie Rehmeyer explains a math. strategy

One strategy in attacking a difficult math. problem is to break it up in to a number of hopefully simpler problems. Sometimes an opposite strategy also works as Julie Rehmeyer explains in Creeping up on Reimann:

"Mathematicians attack really hard problems like the Riemann hypothesis with a strategy that might initially seem odd: they try to prove a claim that is even bigger and bolder than the original one. By embedding the problem in a larger context, they can build bigger tools to attack it.

To see why that might be useful, imagine that a mosquito is pestering you. If you can't manage to swat it, you might instead try a bug bomb, killing every insect in the room—and being sure to get that darn mosquito in the process. Thus killing all the bugs might be easier than simply killing the one wily mosquito. This technique of generalization is the same one that brought down both Fermat's Last Theorem and the PoincarĂ© conjecture."

Andhra Natakam

A new site forAndhra Natakam.
It has audios and videos for sale and it seems that the money will go to the artists. From their aricle on Padyanatakams:
"As the titles suggests, Padya Natakams consists of many padyams (verses) along with dialogues. In the beginning years, these dramas were performed by organized troupes with more emphasis on acting and dramatisation than rendering padyams with elaborate ‘aalapan’ of ragas. Emphasis was given on rendering padyams in a lucid way to enable audiences to understand the words and meaning of the padyams. There was team effort and the main characters of Sri Krishna, Sri Rama, and Harishchandra used to be performed by a single actor, who had to read about 60 to 80 padyams by himself.
As time passed on the taste of audiences veered towards elaborate aalapana(singing) of ragas in the padyams and due to introduction of sales of tickets for seeing the natakams, the actors had to sing the padyams with elaborate ragas(dhirgaalapana) to stay in the race for audience appreciation. Contractors took over the running of the dramas and to make profits, started to the practice of casting 3 or 4 artists to do the main characters like Sri Krishna, Sri Rama, harishchandra etc who could sing for long period to cater to the taste of the audience. A sort of Hero worship gripped the audience and they used to buy tickets for the dramas if their favorite artists and singer of padyams is in the start cast. The contractors and some artists made lot of money due to commercial aspect. As a result, the dramatic element started to take back seat. The performance as a while became a sort of fight between popular actor singers to out sing one another with prolonged RagaAlapana in the highest pitch(Sruti) possible without any regard for sahithya(content of the verse) and action and Bhava.
One peculiar aspect of telugu audience is to shout “Once more” after one artists sings a verse to their liking and some of his favourites used to come to the stage and offer their monetary rewards. One funny and farcical thing is in this regard is when the artist sings a verse with full raga and falls down in the act of dying, the audience shout “Once More”. Then the artist who is on the stage gets up again and sings the same and again falls down. I have personally witnessed some instances when this happened, and I could not comprehend the logic behind the response of the audience. I will give u another funny anecdote. When one artist is singing a verse for about 3 minutes, the other artist on the stage goes behind and comes to the stage when he is due to singing his Padyam. The audience does not mind the absence of the second artist and the lapse in the continuity of the Drama. The artists repeat the same verse and the other artists on the stage stand as mute witnesses to this drama within the main drama (antharnatakam). Then the other favorite actor of the audience renders his verse in the same in his style trying to out sing the earlier actor. Then the audience repeat the same act thus the dramatic aspect(natakiyatha) retreats completely and the performance starting from about 10 PM in the night goes on till early in the morning."
The site has an accompanying blog.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Ethan Zuckerman on his eye problems

It seems that the prolific disseminator Ethan Zuckerman has not been working at full capacity. From his latest post My Eyes:
"When I experienced a similar bleed two weeks ago, I ralized it was time to try something different, as I would estimate that I’ve been offline or working at some sort of degraded capacity roughly a quarter of the time these past three years."

I have been finding it difficult to keep up with his pace even though many of his posts are interesting. I find very very little coverage of recent Media Republic postsin the blogs is a visit. I found many of them, in particular the posts aboutManuel Castells and Roberto Suto, interesting.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Different community friends

Test Scores Go Up with Best Friends of Different Race:
"Having a best friend of a different race can make a big difference in the academic achievement of black and Hispanic high school students, according to a University of Arkansas study."
I have heard from many friends and my father how they did 'combined studies' with students of other castes.
(via Evolutionary Psychology discussion group)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A.K.Dasgupta memorial lecture by D.M. Nachane

of Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research appeared in the current issue of EPW. Abstract:
"Neoclassical economics occupies a virtually unshakeable position in current, mainstream economic thinking, which is attributable to an uncritical acceptance of an orthodox version of the unity of science principle in philosophy. This paper traces the philosophical discourse, distinguishing between the orthodox version and the newer and more flexible version of neoclassical economics. Can we find an alternative approach that breaks away from the limitations of neoclassical economics?"
The Previouslecture by Andre Beteillealso appeared in EPW.

A recent Churumuri post

From a Churimuri post:
"In rising, shining, incredible India—in the nation with the fourth most number of dollar-millionaires, which has clocked an 8 per cent growth in its GDP four years in a row, whose non-residents sent back $27 billion last year—a civic worker in the country’s first planned City enters a manhole in Devaraja Mohalla to clear a blocked drain after heavy rains. "

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

From 'India Development Blog'

India Development Blog links to
Group versus Individual Liability:
A Field Experiment in the Philippines
"Group liability is often portrayed as the key innovation that led to the explosion of the microcredit movement, which started with the Grameen Bank in the 1970s and continues on today with hundreds of institutions around the world. Group liability claims to improve repayment rates and lower transaction costs when lending to the poor by providing incentives for peers to screen, monitor and enforce each other’s loans. However, some argue that group liability creates excessive pressure and discourages good clients from borrowing, jeopardizing both growth and sustainability.
Therefore, it remains unclear whether group liability improves the lender’s overall profitability and the poor’s access to financial markets. We worked with a bank in the Philippines to conduct a field experiment to examine these issues. We randomly assigned half of the 169 pre-existing group liability “centers” of approximately twenty women to individual-liability centers (treatment) and kept the other half as-is with group liability (control). We find that converting to individual liability from group liability but keeping other aspects of group lending such as weekly repayment meeting does not affect the repayment rate, but leads to higher outreach by attracting new clients."

There is a caveat: the experiment is on a sample of individuals who joined a group liability programme earlier.
I have been examining a small programme where the lending is done through a pastor in the parishes he worked. So far ( it is over an year old) the repayments are hundred perecent.