Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bill Moyers interviews Andrew Bacevich

Bacevich: The Limits of Power (from 'The Big pictue')'. Flavour of the opinions (with which I am much in agreement) from this one quote:
"BILL MOYERS: Here is one of those neon sentences. Quote, "The pursuit of freedom, as defined in an age of consumerism, has induced a condition of dependence on imported goods, on imported oil, and on credit. The chief desire of the American people," you write, "is that nothing should disrupt their access to these goods, that oil, and that credit. The chief aim of the U.S. government is to satisfy that desire, which it does in part of through the distribution of largesse here at home, and in part through the pursuit of imperial ambitions abroad." In other words, you're saying that our foreign policy is the result of a dependence on consumer goods and credit."
There are several articles by Andrew Bacevich in Tomdispatch

Robert Feinman explains the financial crisis

The Crisis Explained - Really:
"Analogies are never perfect, but here's one using horse racing. Don't expect a perfect correspondence to the banking situation, but I think it is close enough for government work.
Joe goes to the track and bets $2 on a horse.

Two guys standing nearby get into a discussion and Fred says to Sam, "I'll bet you $5 that Joe wins his bet."
Next to them are Bill and Bob. Bill says: "I'll bet you $10 that Fred welshes on his bet if he loses."

Next to them is Sally. Sally says: "For $3 I'll guarantee to Bill that if Bob fails to pay off, I'll make good on the bet."

Sally then goes to Mary and borrows the $7 needed in case she has to ever pay off and promises to pay back $8. She doesn't expect to every have to pay since she believes Bob will always make good. So she expects to net $2 no matter what happens to Joe.

A quick calculation indicates that there is now 2+5+10+3+7 = $27 riding on the outcome of the horse race.

Question how much has been "invested" in the horse race?


$50,000 by the owner of the horse who is expecting to recoup his investment from the winnings of the horse and other future deals. Everyone else is gambling, not investing.

The issue with the home market is that the only "investor" was the person who bought the home. All those engaged in the meaningless derivatives spun off from this are gambling. You can see how quickly the face value of all these side bets can exceed the underlying investment. Who is holding these side bets - not the homeowner? It is the people at the failing investment banks, hedge funds and similar enterprises. Notice that the bailout is being directed at them not the homeowners.

The real world is, of course, even more complicated. Over the last 30 years people have been allowed to place bets on everything starting with the value of stock averages. They might as well bet on the temperature in Newark at 8:00 AM.

So when you hear everybody saying this is a crisis caused by the housing collapse, be skeptical. We are in the midst of a classic pyramid or Ponzi scheme and there is no way out except for people to lose a lot of money. All that is different this time is that it is the taxpayers who are being asked for the cash."

And Dean Baker on the bailout Why Bail? The Banks Have a Gun Pointed at Their Head and Are Threatening to Pull the Trigger:
"In other words, the worst case scenario is that we have an extremely scary day in which the markets freeze for a few hours. Then the Fed steps in and takes over the major banks. The system of payments continues to operate exactly as before, but the bank executives are out of their jobs and the bank shareholders have likely lost most of their money. In other words, the banks have a gun pointed to their heads and are threatening to pull the trigger unless we hand them $700 billion."

What do I know? We paid off the house mortgage and in about ten years, the price went up five times. People around said that I was wasting my resource; I should borrow money on the house and invest. They also said if I do not have at least fifty thousand dollars an year, retirement will be hard. I did not invest since I did not want to get in to some thing which I did not understand and I am getting much less than fifty thousand a year but it seems more than enough to survive comfortably and even send some money for charities. Now the retirement funds are hit and I will probably get less. May be I will grow more vegetables, keep plenty of cash and provisions to ride out a few months of crisis.

Some good news from Australia-Paid Maternity Leave

PM's maternity leave pledge:
"PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has signalled his support for a national parental leave scheme, after a report recommended that taxpayers fund 18 weeks' leave for working mothers and two weeks for fathers at an annual cost of $450 million.
"We are still some ways off resolving the financial policy detail, but what I am saying to you loud and clear today is that this Australian Government believes the time has come to bite the bullet on this and we intend to do so," Mr Rudd said.
The recommendations will now go to public consultation. A final report is due next year. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has already indicated that businesses would not accept them."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Some overviews of the financial crisis

Both from Project Syndicate. Robert Skidelsky in http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/skidelsky9:
"Cycles of economic fashion are as old as business cycles, and are usually caused by deep business disturbances. “Liberal” cycles are followed by “conservative” cycles, which give way to new “liberal” cycles, and so on.
At issue here is the oldest unresolved dilemma in economics: are market economies “naturally” stable or do they need to be stabilized by policy? Keynes emphasized the flimsiness of the expectations on which economic activity in decentralized markets is based. The future is inherently uncertain, and therefore investor psychology is fickle.
Liberal cycles, the historian Arthur Schlesinger thought, succumb to the corruption of power, conservative cycles to the corruption of money. Both have their characteristic benefits and costs.

But if we look at the historical record, the liberal regime of the 1950’s and 1960’s was more successful than the conservative regime that followed. Outside China and India, whose economic potential was unleashed by market economics, economic growth was faster and much more stable in the Keynesian golden age than in the age of Friedman; its fruits were more equitably distributed; social cohesion and moral habits better maintained. These are serious benefits to weigh against some business sluggishness."

Harold James in The Geopolitical Consequences of the Financial Crisis:
"First, private sector solutions have been tried but have failed in a breathtakingly short space of time......The second question is what kind of government can do the job? Not just any government will do. Mid-sized European governments can possibly rescue mid-sized European institutions, but in the case of really major financial conglomerates at the heart of the world’s financial system, there are probably only two governments that have the fire power: the US and China.
China is the America of this century. The initial stages of the credit crunch in 2007 were managed so apparently painlessly because sovereign wealth funds from the Middle East, but above all from China, were willing to step in and recapitalize the debt of American and European institutions. The pivotal moment in today’s events came when the Chinese SWF China Investment Co. was unwilling to go further in its exploration of buying Lehman Brothers. CIC’s turning back will be held up in the future as a moment when history could have turned in a different direction." The thesis seems to be that the Great Depression could have been avoided if America stepped in to rescue Europe and now China should step in to save USA and the globalized world economy.
Brad Setser too has been discussing the role of China in the crisis, for example,here:
"China — by far the largest official holder of Agency bonds — also seems to have expressed its concerns directly to the Treasury. Harden and Cha of the Washington Post report that Chinese officials told the US to do “whatever is necessary to protect their investments.”"

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Interesting Telugu blogs-1

At one time, I felt that there should be at least that much development in regional languages to communicate everyday matters that we come across in newspapers. But being away from A.P. for 40-50 years, I did not really have the know-how or vacabularly to write in Telugu. I found one dictionary by Baudaraju Radhakrishna written for journalists which I thought would be useful to overseas Telugus. I have been trying to make it available on the internet and it may be available in a few months. Meanwhile, there has been an explosion of Telugu blogs and many of them are writing in Telugu on matters that I thought would be difficult to write. I think that these blogs will help communicating in Telugu on many matters at least up to a certain level of difficulty. I have been visiting Telugu blogs off and on and will slowly point out blogs which I think are communicating relatively difficult(for me) and useful topics in Telugu. Here is one కలగూరగంప . I particularly enjoyed the posts in తొంగి చూసే చరిత్ర series. The blog has a useful list of Telugu equivalents of many English words. The author has several blogs and I vaguely remember than in one of them, he expresses strong beliefs. So, agnostics like may have to be careful.

Review of a Soros book

and an overview of the current financial crisis He Foresaw the End of an Era by John Cassidy in The New York Review of Books. An earlier overview from Harvard Magazine:Debtor Nation, The rising risks of the American Dream, on a borrowed dime

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Interesting discussion at Space_Bar

I have been trying to follow, not very successfully, this discussion The Spaniard In The Works: Husain's Response. It is about the current US financial crisis in which a number of very erudite Indians are taking part. The post is by Mir Ali Husain, a professor of Business and a lyricist. Many of the commentators seem to be in various professions with some knowledge of finance and some of them seem to have even worked in related professions. Quite a few seem to be interested in poetry. A dominant (I have problems with writing English and one of the commentators ridiculed the knowledge of those who misspell)commentator in the discussion is Falstaff who blogs at
He seems to be against singling out Wall Street for moral outrage and thinks that without social change, it is difficult to find solutions. This seems right but at the moment Wall Street has the ability to make big mistakes and these affect people all around the world. The amounts invoved seem to be arrived faily casually. See
Bad News For The Bailout which says:
"In fact, some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.

"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number.""

Coming back to the discussion in Space_Bar's blog, I quote below from one comment of Falstaff which seems reasonable to me:
"I don't believe we can keep these kind of crises from recurring without fundamentally changing the social ethos, and I'm not sure how we do that - beyond working through non-profits to instill greater financial prudence and having a larger conversation about what we value as a society. I know that isn't terribly compelling as a solution, but I think accepting that there is no easy solution is better than randomly assigning blame for it to the first available scapegoat. I'm not saying I know the answers (at this point I don't think anyone does), I'm saying that giving Wall Street a bad name and hanging it is not the answer and to the extent that kind of villain-making derails the real conversations we should be having we need to get past it. I'm perfectly willing to admit that I don't know how to solve the problem, I'm not willing to let overwrought emotional statements that do nothing to bring us closer to the solution go unchallenged."
Falstaff later explains the possible problems with too much outrage:
"Though I'm not sure that misdirecting the blame and creating the illusion that it all happened because Bankers are Sith Lords is likely to lead to any useful solutions either. What it is likely to do is allow the McCain-Palins of the world to advance their anti-elitist agenda. "Look at all these fat cat bankers who screwed you over. You don't want people they went to college with making national policy, do you? No, what you need is to put a maverick in power - people who are outside the system, who are mavericks, who are pure of heart; people who will make decisions based not on the voice of reason but the voice of God." If there's one thing the GOP is good at, it's channeling outrage. And if there's one thing the Bush years should have taught us, it's that outrage is not a useful input into national policy."
In his own blog Falstaff explains the sort of situations where one can express outrage :Ap-Palin-g . I think that Falstaff makes some very good points. Possibly 'moral outrage' is too stong a word. But it seems natural to use strong words for problems which affect a large number of people. Perhaps less shrill discussions?
P.S. There are more comments and a follow up post by Husain.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Another good speech

and shorter from Rep. Marcy Kaptur

Bush gives a good speech

I was not planning to read it but read it following Felix Salmon's recommendation Didn't Panic:
"Whoever wrote this speech deserves some kind of medal. It explained complex matters clearly, without oversimplifying, and without talking down. You want the history of the credit crisis in 355 words? I don't think you could do much better than this....
Of course, one can quibble."
Here is the transcript of the speech President Bush’s Speech to the Nation on the Economic Crisis .

P.S. Already, the link to Felix Salmon's post does not seem to work. Here is the bit from Bush's speech that Felisx Salmon quoted:
"For more than a decade, a massive amount of money flowed into the United States from investors abroad, because our country is an attractive and secure place to do business. This large influx of money to U.S. banks and financial institutions -- along with low interest rates -- made it easier for Americans to get credit. These developments allowed more families to borrow money for cars and homes and college tuition -- some for the first time. They allowed more entrepreneurs to get loans to start new businesses and create jobs.
Unfortunately, there were also some serious negative consequences, particularly in the housing market. Easy credit -- combined with the faulty assumption that home values would continue to rise -- led to excesses and bad decisions. Many mortgage lenders approved loans for borrowers without carefully examining their ability to pay. Many borrowers took out loans larger than they could afford, assuming that they could sell or refinance their homes at a higher price later on.
Optimism about housing values also led to a boom in home construction. Eventually the number of new houses exceeded the number of people willing to buy them. And with supply exceeding demand, housing prices fell. And this created a problem: Borrowers with adjustable rate mortgages who had been planning to sell or refinance their homes at a higher price were stuck with homes worth less than expected -- along with mortgage payments they could not afford. As a result, many mortgage holders began to default.
These widespread defaults had effects far beyond the housing market. See, in today's mortgage industry, home loans are often packaged together, and converted into financial products called "mortgage-backed securities." These securities were sold to investors around the world. Many investors assumed these securities were trustworthy, and asked few questions about their actual value. Two of the leading purchasers of mortgage-backed securities were Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Because these companies were chartered by Congress, many believed they were guaranteed by the federal government. This allowed them to borrow enormous sums of money, fuel the market for questionable investments, and put our financial system at risk."

Digby explains the US financial crisis

Influential blogger Digby in an interview with Glen Greenwald:
" This is a trap that they are - look, this happens all the time. There is a historical pattern that we can turn to, which is that Republicans make a habit of looting the treasury - this isn't the first time it's happened. During the vanted Reagan years, we had the S&L crisis which up 'till this point was the largest since the great depression, which was also a Republican crisis. And the problem is that they fetishize this idea of deregulation, they create shadow banking systems, which is essentially what the S&L scandal was, and again, here we have another shadow banking system, that they created with no regulations, and with this huge amount of exposure and risk, to the economy as a whole. They make a lot of money over a period of time; I mean tremendous amounts of money. Over the last few years, when people look at the wreckage of this particular scandal, they're going to find that people on Wall St. were swallowing a fire hose of money, for years now. We've been talking a lot about the new gilded age - this is what we're talking about. And so, they have this pattern of deregulating and creating these opportunities for themselves to take these huge risks knowing that the government is going to essentially be the bailout of last resort if it doesn't work.

This is the biggest moral hazard in world history, to allow this to happen. And we are having, we wind up again with the gun to our heads, going, well, okay, either fix it, or we're going to take everybody down with them."
Moreover, according to James Grant, there is the problem of 'deficits without tears':
"The dollar emerged at the center of the monetary system that took its name from the 1944 convention in Bretton Woods, N.H. The American currency alone was made exchangeable into gold. The other currencies, when they got their peacetime legs back under them, were made exchangeable into the dollar.
.....and the Nixon administration, on Aug. 15, 1971, decreed that the dollar would henceforth be convertible into nothing except small change. The age of the pure paper dollar was fairly launched.

In the absence of a golden anchor, the United States produced as many dollars as the world cared to absorb. And the world’s appetite was prodigious. “Balance of payments” crises were now, for this country, things of the past. “Liquidity,” that bubbly speculative elixir, gurgled from the founts of the world’s central banks.

It was the very lack of gold-standard inhibition that permitted the buildup of titanic dollar balances overseas. At the end of 2007, no less than $9.4 trillion in dollar-denominated securities were sitting in the vaults of foreign investors. Not a few of these trillions were the property of Asian central banks. So, although the United States has run heavy and persistent current account deficits — $6.7 trillion in total since 1982 — they have been “deficits without tears,” to quote the French economist Jacques Rueff. The dollars American debtors sent abroad America’s creditors sent right back in the shape of investments in American stocks, bonds and factories.

Under the Bretton Woods system, worried foreign creditors would long ago have cleaned out Fort Knox. But, conveniently, the dollar is uncollateralized and unconvertible. America’s overseas creditors hold it for many reasons. Some — notably Asian central banks — acquire dollars simply to help make their exports grow. But even the governments that scoop up dollars for no better reason than to manipulate their own currency’s value presumably put some store in the integrity of American finance.

As never before, that trust is being put to the test. In the best of times, the Treasury and the Federal Reserve pretended as if the dollar were America’s currency alone. Now, in some of the worst of times, Washington is treating its vital overseas dollar constituency as if it weren’t even there."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gurajada and others

Excepts from Colonial Knowledge and Literary Representations: Construction of Gender Identity in Colonial Andhra by Madan Mohan Rao V:
"In the Telugu writings of the 19th century, we find three recurrent women characters – chaste Hindu wife, bounded widow and the vicious nautch girl. The ‘lot of women’ was, sought to be ‘improved’ through education. They were to be taught child-care, cooking, health care, house keeping, sewing etc[30]. In the literature, marital relationship was glorified, sanctified and it was conveyed in subtle to women to be virtuous, self-denying, sacrificing and serving. Panuganti in an essay titled “Mahapativrata” writes that “the man with brahmaznanamu (knowledge of universal truth) may get moksha (liberation) after fourteen births, but the woman with devotion to her husband and in anticipation of no returns (nishphalapekshamina patibhakti) from her husband could definitely get mukti (attainment) in one birth/life. Further it was stressed that only such a grihini (housewife) was sure of attaining mukti”.[31]
For Kandukuri Viresalingam, the husband was a socially necessary master and without them women had no life. “The husband is to be held as God, since he provides all comforts and caters to the pleasures of the wife; hence she should dedicate herself to his service: if need be, tolerate his anger, abuse and patiently endure even beating and physical violence … the wife should not wear flowers and jewels and should not laugh loudly when the husband is away”. To shape the ‘ideal Hindu patni’ on these lines he started the journal ‘Strihita Bodhini’ and wrote ‘Satyavati Charitramu’, ‘Chandramati Charitramu’, ‘Satya Sanjeevani Patni’ and ‘Hita Suchani’. “At night after entire work was complete, she had to clean up the kitchen, take bath, touch husband’s feet and then mangalsutra and finally to bed” writes Viresalingam. The impact of this idealization was such that a young girl wept after reading ‘Hita Suchani’ for failing in her callings. This took place in 1887 and was narrated by Viresalingam himself in his ‘Sweeya Charitra Sangrahamu’.
But an attempt at altering this discourse can be seen in the writings of Gurajada. Well positioned both in traditional learning and western education, with a vast reading and wide travel, being an active participant in the ongoing spoken language movement, enjoying the liberal patronage of a reformist raja and surrounded by forward looking writer friends and sensible to the contemporary theatre, Gurajada for himself could see the shallowness of the ongoing reform activity and writings. He problematised the whole reformist discourse in –Kanyasulkam- a satirical play. His works are marked with pun, rare sensitivity and deep insights. In a poem a male partner narrates:
“Husband is an old word.

I am your friend,

poor without your love.

But if I have it, I’m

richer than the kings of gods”.
No wonder, his partner was perplexed at this. In essence it’s a double-edged sword. While advocating the relation between partners, it exposes the emptiness of the reformist ideas in practice.
The society in which Gurajada lived could not capture the subtleties of his writings. Moreover his short span of life and meager literary output could not create an influential literary legacy. As a result the subsequent writers could not take this discourse to its logical conclusion. Efforts of Unnava Lakshmi Narayana, Kallakuri Narayana Rao, Jashua and a host of other writers were swamped by the larger discourse that was outlined above. Chalam’s writings created an outburst of violent criticism rather than meaningful debate, which would have set the ball rolling. Writers like Kodavatiganti and Sri Sri who were heavily influenced by the Marxist thought could not address the issue."

Gurajada's meditations on history

I saw this piece in Arudra'a article on Gurajada Apparao in 'Samagra Andhra Sahityam" and also in his article 'sasanaparisodhakulaga Gidugu-Gurajada' in "Marosari Gidugu Ramamurthy". Apparently, it is the notes of his propsed 'Kalinga Desa Charitra". The manuscript seems lost now. At some stage one of his trunks was stolen in Madras station. What remained of his manuscripts were in two trunks and bought by a publishing house which could not edit them due to lack of funds and since the organizerswere underground for a period. The trunks were shifted for a period to Madras(?), since the publishing house owners were afraid that their properties might be burnt. During the off and on efforts to edit, one of the editors took some of the manuscripts home to edit and lost some of them. These are the sort of stories I heard on a trip to A.P. The remaining papers are now microfilmed are in the Govt. Archives in Hyderabad with copies in Tirupati and Visakhapatnam. The manuscript of the "Kalinga desa charitra' seems lost though some keep hoping that it may turn up somewhere. Here are Gurajada's words:

"ప్రాచీన శిధిల భవనాలను, శిల్పాలను, అవశేషాలను చూసినప్పుడు మనం వ్యాకులపడతాము. వ్యాకులముతోపాటు మనకు ఆసక్తి కలుగుతుంది. ఆ వస్తువులచుట్టూ జాలీ, ఆసక్తీ గొలిపే వాతవరణం అలుముకొని ఉంటుంది.
రూపు చెడని కోట కన్నా, రూపు చెడిన కోట, విశేషించి దానికి చరిత్రలో అనుబంధం వున్నప్పుడు, మనకు ఎక్కువ ఆసక్తిని కలిగిస్తుంది. ఊహించుకొందుకు వీలున్నప్పుడు మన ఆసక్తి మరీ ఎక్కువౌతుంది. సహజంగా మనకు కొన్ని ఊహలు పుడతాయి.
కొన్ని వందల సంవత్సరాల క్రితం ఈ కొటలో కొందరు నివసిస్తూవుండేవారు. అనేకుల జీవితాలు వింత వింత అభిరుచులతో, అనుభవాలతో, ఆశలతొ, నిరాశలతో, ఇక్కడ గడిచి పోయాయి. వాళ్ళ కష్టసుఖాలు, సుఖదుఖాలు, ఎటువంటివో. ఇక్కడివాళ్ళు ఒక్కొక్కొప్పుడు అత్యంత ధైర్యోత్సాహాలతొ ఇంకొక్కప్పడు మహాభయాలతో కాలం గడిపి ఉంటారు. జీవితంలో అనేక జయాపజయాలను చవిచూసి ఉంటారు. వీళ్ళ ఆశలతో నిరాశలతో ఆనందంతో విచారంతో ఏ వాతావరణం ఒకప్పుడు నిండివుండేది. ముఖ్యంగా ఇక్కడ నివసించిన చివరితరం మనుషులు ఎక్కువ ఒడిదుడుకులను ఎదుర్కునివుంటారు. అనేక కష్టాలుపడివుంటారు.
ఛారిత్రకంగా వీటి ఉనికి ఏమిటో? "

P.S. I am enclosing the version in English for any advice and corrections.
"praacheena Sidhila bhavanaalanu, Silpaalanu, avaSEshaalanu chuusinappuDu manam vyaakulapaDataamu. vyaakulamutOpaaTu manaku aasakti kalugutundi. aa vastuvulachuTTuu jAlii, aasaktii golipE vaatavaraNam alumukoni unTundi.
ruupu cheDani kOTa kannaa, ruupu cheDina kOTa, viSEshinchi daaniki charitralO anubandham vunnappuDu, manaku ekkuva aasaktini kaligistundi. Uhinchukonduku veelunnappuDu mana aasakti maree ekkuvoutundi. sahajamgaa manaku konni uuhalu puDataayi.
konni vandala samvatsaraala kritam ee koTaloe kondaru nivasistuuvunDeavaaru. aneakula jeevitaalu vimta vimta abhiruculatoe, anubhavaalatoe, aaSalato, niraaaSalatoe, ikkaDa gaDichi pOyAyi. vaaLLa kashTasukhaalu, sukhaduKhaalu, eTuvanTivO. ikkaDivALLu okkokkoppuDu atyanta dhairyOtsAhaalato imkokkappaDu mahaabhayaalaTo kaalam gaDipi unTaaru. jeevitamloe anEka jayaapajayaalanu chavichuusi unTaaru. veeLLa aaSalatoe niraaSalatoe aanandamtoe vichaaramtoe E vaataavaraNam okappuDu nimDivunDEdi. mukhyamgaa ikkaDa nivasimchina chivaritaram manushulu ekkuva oDiduDukulanu edurkunivunTaaru. anEka kashTaalupaDivumTaaru.
Chaaritrakamgaa veeTi uniki EmiToe? "
P.S.2 Archives website:

Temptations of vegetarianism

Chris Blattman: Why, one day, I might become a vegetarian. Maybe. I am almost a vegetarian; I cook meat for the children but eat meat only when there is nothing else in the house to eat.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Kuffir wonders about intercaste marriages

in this post.
In Blogbharti he links to a post by Svairini which may explain some of the mechanisms at work. Here is a long excerpt with apologies to Svairini (I have seen similar things in Coastal Andhra families of other castes, Svairini writes about Iyengars):
"Typical scenario, the family (nuclear also), and its immediate surroundings are seeped in "tradition". Tradition means celebrating every festival with ALL the rituals, no matter how impractical. Every religious occasion - new moon, full moon, crescents in between, month beginning, month end, saturday, tuesday, thursday and all days in between - are observed with appropriate piety. Men and women, supposedly have assigned roles and should stick to them, with..ahem...exceptions.
This is carried to the extreme and results in ridiculous situations! Like the time my aunt me I couldn't join a new job on a pre-set date - it was a Navami (god knows whats wrong with the number 9, other religions praise it!). I had to explain to her that the corporate world works just a tad differently and I better join if I wanted to have a job! Or the fact that my mom insists that dad and I get out of the house first, whenever the family goes out - threes are unlucky, see! I tell my mom she should have planned better - can't estrange herself from my father every 5 minutes to make up!
These things might sound harmless enough, but they are like ivy, creeping up on you slowly, choking the life out of you, slowly...very slowly. There are constant irritants that leave you longing to escape, leave you shaking your head in disbelief. See, its not all backward - thats the most incidious part of the situation. These families educate their women, send them to work even, but still they have to follow TRADITION, no matter how much it harms their lifestyle!
Its not done through coercion, its done through conditioning. For a long time, I beleived that having a period was "unclean"...something to be ashamed of! Biology classes didn't help - this was Madras and no one explained very clearly what was happening. I had to (and still do) sleep separately, on a plank (that has changed now, after some 15 years) with a rexin pillow. I was given water in a separate bottle and had to stick to one chair (only) for 3 days - these things continue even today! I couldn't go into the kitchen (that one I don't do anyways ;-))...I couldn't go near the gods for sure...I couldn't take the food plate from my mom's hands - had to pick it off the floor, no matter I had cramps that left me (and still do) crying out loud! Oh, by the way, I had to bear the pain of those cramps - tablets were considered harmful! Pain that left me confused, bewildered, wondering how my mom couldn't understand my suffering, pain I couldn't share with others - it made me feel guilty."
As they say, read the whole post. Recently, I read a few books mainly by Westerners of different schools on the topic: "Castes of Minds' by Nicholas Dirks, "Colonial Lists" by by Michael Katten. Earlier books (now all in one placs in the Cohn Omnibus" by Bernard Cohn are also very interesting. A book by Richard Eaton "The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760" explains agrarian expansion basis for the spread of religion (Hinduism too spread in this process but much less than Islam at that time, but similar things might have happenned earlier in the spread of Hinduism according to D.D. Kosambi). It is available online from http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/
P.S. Apart from the rituals and traditions within castes and subcastes, I think that one should also bear in mind the interaction or lack of it between different castes. I remember such an interaction from around 1950 when caste was indeliably imprinted in my mind. I was 9 or 10 and my father who was a teacher sent me to stay in the house of another teacher in a different village so that I would not waste the vacation. Thet were very nice and friendly and I used to play with his children and sleep in side by side beds. But for the whole time of about two weeks, I could not eat with them. I had eat in the verandah and take the babnana leaf outside in view of several on a public road to throw it in the garbage. Later, when I studied in Madras, one day a classmate came very upset since Gemini Ganeshan married Savithri from a 'lower' caste. One can only imagine the experiences of the untouchables. Have things improved any since then? If my observations from occasional visits to A,P. are any guide, I do not think that there is much improvement.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Some old Telugu movies

are available online from:
I watched 'Palletuuru' which I missed those days. The villages in which I grew up did not have cinema halls and we had to walk 2-3 miles to watch relatively old movies. But we heard lot of the film songs. Others I misses and watched recently are 'Pathalabhairavi' and 'Peddamanushulu'. I am still waiting for 'MLA'. I am not very proficient in either Telugu or English, but I grew up in Telugu villages and the medium of instruction was Telugu. So, the memories of villages and Telugu songs are strong and as I grow older many old songs which I have not heard for 30-40 years seem to come back suddenly. I always carried 3-4 books of Gurajada Apparao and Srirangam Srinivasarao because their Telugu is easy to understand. For some reason, I still count in Telugu and some Telugu seems to have remained strongly with me. So, it was enjoyable to watch 'Palletuuru', particularly the village scenes (it was still chedugudu in the film) and the early songs. Some of the songs have shades of Shankar-Jaikishen and I think that 'Shavukaru' with similar village scenes is a better film.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Swedish banking crisis response

In long post The Swedish banking crisis response - a model for the future? , Ed Harrison wonders why the Swedish plan is not widely discussed. Conclusion:
"This is an immense task that the Swedes took on. Their entire banking system was effectively insolvent. Yet, they were able to fashion a workout scheme that had bi-partisan political support, did not unfairly reward shareholders, dealt with moral hazard, separated regulatory and workout roles so as to reduce conflicts of interest, and that quickly wrote down valuations and liquidated the bad debts as opposed to dragging the process out. The Swedish authorities should be especially commended for dealing with the liquidity and solvency concerns simultaneously, while keeping moral hazard to a minimum.

I thoroughly suggest you read this memo, save it and pass it on to your local elected official. It should be mandatory reading for the BoE, the Fed, the ECB and key government officials in he UK, US, Ireland, and Spain where the magnitude of the housing bubble is largest. See the link below for the full article.

Why this plan has not been more widely discussed remains a mystery."
(via 'Naked Capitalism')

Friday, September 19, 2008

Gurajada's lost papers

In the introduction to "Girls for Sale", a translation of a part of the second edition of "Kanyasulkam' by Gurajada Apparao, Velcheru says that "Apparao's personal diaries, letters, other papers, all of which he wrote in English, have mysteriously disappeared, except for a few at the Andhra Pradesh State archives, Tarnaka, Hyderabad." I just came to know that many more are available from this year in the Archives with copies in Tirupati and Visakhapatnam.

Another Development Blog

Dani Rodrik recommends this development blog. Thereis a recent post What’s Kerala’s Secret?. Abstract:
"What emerges is a picture of an educated population, able to use whatever they can extract from the state to further the welfare of their families. What is lacking is the long term economic capacity to underpin this. In Jeffrey’s words:

‘Democratic politics, involving large sections of a population, can be made to provide services that people need and, consequently, use. Literate, confident women will, as domestic managers, turn such services into better health for men and women alike. Birth rates will fall. What one yearns for is a further stage in which enough wealth is produced – and politics guarantees its fair distribution – to ensure far higher measures of well-being for all.’"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Interesting books

In an effort to understand a bit about India I have been reading some books (somewhat like imagining that one is travelling by reading travel books). Here ia a partial list of books which I found interesting that I have read or have been browsing through recently. Just finished reading Bernard Cohn's "India: The Social Anthropology of a Civilization", "Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge", Partha Chatterjee's "The Politics of the Governed", Gurajada Apparao's "Kanyasulkam" and its translation "Girls for Sale" by Velcheru Narayana Rao. Browsing through Sanjay Subrahmanyam's "Penumbral Visions", Brian Larkin's "Signal and Noise' and K.V. Ramanaraddi's "Mahodayam". From the last, I learnt that the family name Gurajada was originally Gurujada.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

An organizer in the Bradman class

There is some interest in Telugu sites and Telugu blogs about scientists of Telugu origin. My remembrance is that many were multiligual and multicultural but remembering the origins may help others with their aspirations. In 2004, I wrote a somewhat personal account about Komaravolu Chandrasekharan from Bapatla, a town about 7 miles from Chintayapalem where I finished school. At that time I did not see my friend Raghunathan's excellent article "Artless innocents and ivory-tower sophisticates: Some personalities on the Indian mathematical scene" in this issue of Current Science. It is rather long and if there are any copy right problems, I will remove it. I think that it gives a more objective assessment by one of our best mathematicians. It is difficult to share thoughts or enthusiasm about excellence in specialized fields with others but Raghunathan does it well. Here it is in his own words:
"the people I have spoken about so far are no more. The next person I am going to talk about, K. Chandrasekharan, is living – in retirement in Zurich, Switzerland. He was born in 1920 and was initiated into mathematics by – who else – Ananda Rau in Madras. He went to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton to do postdoctoral work. Chandrasekharan worked in number theory and summability – like many others of his generation. His mathematical achievements are of the first rank, but his even greater contribution to Indian mathematics, I think, lies elsewhere. He was an extraordinarily gifted organizer and administrator of science – in the Bradman class, if we use Hardy’s terminology. Homi Bhabha visited Princeton in 1949 when Chandrasekharan was there and offered him a position at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. There is a story about this which I have not attempted to authenticate, but it rings true.

Chandrasekharan was taking a walk with the great von Neumann when they saw
Bhabha walking with Einstein at a distance. von Neumann asked Chandrasekharan if it was true that he was planning to move to Bombay to work at Bhabha’s institute. When Chandrasekharan responded in the affirmative, von Neumann said, ‘That man is as good a physicist as any, but do not let him intimidate you – stand up to him’, or words to that effect. It would appear that KC as Chandrasekharan was known, followed that advice – differences of opinion with Bhabha seem to have been among the causes that led to his leaving TIFR in 1965 and move to Zurich.

I should like to tell you another anecdote relating to KC, of which I have first-hand knowledge. This again goes back to my Princeton visit in 1966–67. I once accompanied a friend with expensive tastes to a clothing shop in Princeton. My friend ordered a suit for himself, while I acquired a scarf (which cost me 16 dollars – in 1966, mind you!). The shopkeeper who kept up a conversation
right through asked us if we knew, von Neumann and we said that we knew of him. Then he asked us if we knew Chandrasekaran and we told him that we did indeed know him; at which point he said, ‘They are the only two gentlemen from that Institute who knew how to dress!’

In the decade and a half that he spent at TIFR, Chandrasekharan transformed the fledgling School of Mathematics there into a centre of excellence, respected
the world over. Chandrasekharan initiated a very successful programme of recruitment and training of Research Scholars at TIFR; the programme continues to this day, along the same lines that he set down. He was uncompromising in insisting on high standards. In his Princeton days, he became acquainted with many of the leading mathematicians of the world and put these contacts to excellent use. Herman Weyl gifted his collection of Mathematische Annalen volumes to the TIFR, thanks to Chandrasekharan. With his unusual abilities, he was able to persuade many leading
mathematical figures to visit the Tata Institute and deliver courses of lectures
over a period of two months and more, to his carefully selected Research Scholars.
Among the many distinguished men who visited the Tata Institute in the fifties,
two names stand out: L. Schwartz (a Fields medallist) and C. L. Siegel. They both had tremendous influence on the way mathematics evolved at TIFR. Schwartz persuaded many of his colleagues and students to visit the Tata Institute. Research Scholars were asked to write notes for the lectures given and these lecture notes enjoy a great reputation in the mathematical community to this day.

Chandrasekharan was an excellent judge of mathematics even in areas outside his own specialization, and responded quickly to the achievements of his wards. Equally, non-performance at the high level he had set had no place at TIFR. Chandrasekharan managed to instill in the students at TIFR, strong commitment to hard work without their losing their romantic attachment to mathematics. One important reason for
his success was the freedom he gave the students to work on what they pleased. The visitors gave them exposure to different mathematical areas, many of them far removed from KC’s own interests, and students were encouraged to pursue whatever caught their fancy. Rev Father Racine from Madras whom Chandrasekharan knew from his Madras days and whom he held in great respect, provided him with a steady stream of talent......

Chandrasekharan’s influence went well beyond Indian mathematics. For some 24 years from the mid-fifties, he was a member of the Executive Committee of the International Mathematical Union (IMU). He also served as the Secretary for two terms and as President for one term. His initiatives on this committee were numerous and valued greatly. He was responsible for the IMU sponsoring the International Mathematical Colloquium held once every four years at the Tata Institute starting 1956. These meetings have been on diverse topics in mathematics; topics that are of current interest internationally and to which Indian mathematicians have contributed
substantially. They have been a great success over the years and an invitation to the meeting is considered prestigious.

I should like to mention a personal experience in this connection. In 1964, Tata Institute held a Colloquium on ‘Differential Analysis’ and the organizing committee headed by Chandrasekharan extended an invitation to me to give atalk. A few weeks before the colloquium, I was told that I should rehearse my lecture before KC in his office. My teacher Narasimhan was also present at the rehearsal. Chandrasekharan’s own mathematical interests had little to do with the subject of mytalk; nevertheless, he listened to me patiently for more than an hour, interjecting now and then to tell me how I should present something and generally giving me tips on lecturing. I had in those days, a reputation as a poor speaker (which I hope does not hold now) but as it turned out, thanks to Chandrasekharan, I gave a lecture that
was received very well indeed.

In the fifties, Chandrasekharan held the editorship of the Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society. During this period, several great papers appeared in the journal thanks to Chandrasekharan’s abilities at persuading some of the great
names in the field to publish there.

We at the Tata Institute certainly owe a great deal to Chandrasekharan and are
grateful for the great start he gave us."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Interesting article by Jonathan Haidt

on WHAT MAKES PEOPLE VOTE REPUBLICAN? leads to very interesting commentaries on truth, science, religion, morals etc by Daniel Everett, Howard Gardner, Michael Shermer, Scott Atran, James Fowler, Alison Gopnik, Sam Harris, James O'Donnell, Roger Schank (via 3quraksdaily). It is the kind of discourse that I have been waiting for. Unfortunately, the punchline may be Roger Schank's:
"Republicans do not try to change voter's beliefs. They go with them. Democrats appeal to reason. Big mistake."

A momentary aberration

From a poetry discussion by space_bar, a quote of Revathy Gopal:

I could match her now, word for word.
I could meet her now, on equal terms. I think
I could draw blood.

('Lines on Meeting a Cousin, Long-Lost'. Revathy Gopal)

Even out of context, as space_bar says, it stands by itself. I think that I have seen this sort of emotion among cousins and sisters (men actually draw blood, I think). I tried to see how to say it in Telugu. Since I do not know any thing about metre, I freely translated thus:

ఇప్పుడు మా అక్కంటె నాకు అంత లెక్క లేదు
దానితో సమానంగా వాదించగలను
దాని వంక చురచురా చూడగలను
కావాలంటే ఒక వాత కూడా పెడతా
Any other versions are welcome.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Martin Wolf on the coming US presidential election

Martin Wolf says in What the presidential choice could mean:
"This presidential election might well determine the character of the next, possibly final, epoch of Anglo-American global hegemony. The question is whether the American people will choose the instinct for conflict or that for co-operation."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Luxury cars and farmers

From Luxury car tax defeated in the Senate; Rudd angry:
"PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd accused the Coalition of pandering to Porsche and Ferrari drivers by blocking a luxury car tax hike......
Senator Fielding said the Government's tax hike would hurt farmers and tourist operators.
"How can you slug them when they are doing it tough," he said."

Browsing through Telugu blogs

I have been trying to find Telugu blogs with discussions about contemporary social and political issues. Many seem to have come up in the last few years.
The two aggregates kindly supplied by Maganti Vamsi and Sirish koodali and jalleda, have led to posts like this, this,this and this. Any links to specific blogs of this type are welcome.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Remembering Fr. Racine

Seeing the obituaries of Henri Cartan I am reminded of Fr. Charles Racine, one of the big influences in the development of modern mathematics in India and started wondering whether his name will be recalled much after some more years and whether I would have done mathematics without him.
I do not remember being interested in mathematics or any thing in school days. I was an average student though I seem to have done well once in mathematics in the ninth grade ( I came to know about it since Umamaheswararao sitting next to me who was usually first in the class tore off his answer sheets). My doing well might have some thing to do with the teacher Paruchuri Sambasivarao and his reputation as a good teacher as well as a womanizer. At one stage, I was too young to get admission in an Engineering college and my father decided that I should do Mathematics Honours since it might help in getting better scores for I.A.S. exams. My date of birth was also adjusted so that I would get four chances rather than the usual three. It was then in 1956 that I joined Loyola College, Madras where Fr. Racine was the Head of the Math. Dept. People loke Ramamathan Krishnan and Akbar Khaleeli were still in the college and we were more fascinated by them than discrepit teachers. Later I learnt that two of the students who were wearing dhotis the Tamil way were Raghavan Narasimhan and C.P. Ramanujam. For some reason, we had once a week a discussion type class by one Krishnamutrthy. I forget his first name but he is the only good teacher I remember from college days and was wonderful teacher. Up to that time mathematics was just manipulations and calculations which I could do some extent but did not find particularly fascinating. Krishnamurthi wore dhoti the Telugu way, wore a cotton jacket and traditional headwear. He was serene, had beatiful handwriting, rarely backtracked his steps on the board and his pace was just right for me. He explained to us about natural numbers, rational numbers, real numbers and why there were more real numbers than rational numbers. For the first time, mathematics seemed to be about things one could understand and not just manipulations. And there were beautiful concepts and arguments like Cantor's diagonal argument and I was converted. I started borrowing books from the library read with partial understanding many books and parts of books outside the syallabus. Some like "Men of Mathematics" indicated that a life of mathematics could be exciting. Two books from those days which I still cherish are Artin's "Galois Theory" and Hausdorff's "Set Theory", the second determined the research direction that I was to take later. I slowly found much of the class material outdated and boring and by next year started cutting classes.

I still did not meet Fr. Racine. Around this time I started growing (nearly ten inches in one year) and found it more and more difficult to attend classes and was thrown out of college. I might have met Fr. Racine around this time but I am not sure. What I remember is that Fr. Racine wrote to my father that I had potential and that I should come back to college, The next year I went to college again but the story repeated ieslf. It was during this time that I used to go to his room in the fathers' quarters, chat about mathematics, borrow books from him. But I had to leave again, I heard that he was unhappy but could not dissuade the authorities.

After a few months at home, I found that the only one I could discuss mathematics was my mother and went to another college where attendance was not strict and after my bachelor's degree, Fr. Racine asked to come again to Madras. This time, the college did not insist on attendance or other protocols. I survived two boring years and joined TIFR, Bombay in 1964 full ten years after finishing school. At last, I could study and work on whatever I liked. Senior colleagues would sometimes go out of their way to study and lecture on topics that I was interested in even when they did not specialize in those areas. I pursued Topology of which I had some glimpses in Hausdorff's "Set Theory". It was only later I found that I was given a wide bearth because many seniors were Fr. Racine's students and there were some requests from him about dealing with me. Since then until recently when social problems started bothering me, it has been a life of mathematics. I do not know how well I did or whether I fulfilled Fr. Racine's expectations but most of the time I did not feel that I was working since I was 'working' on things that interested me. It was also during this period in Bombay I found out about his influence on Indian mathematics. He was in touch with some of the top French mathematicians and some of their latest work was available to him . Through seminars in Madras, he seemed to have influenced many mathematicians like K. Chandrasekharan, Meenakshisundaram others. More of this later. I was probably a difficult case but he did modernize courses as much as possible under the university restrictions. N.U.Prabhu in Probabilty modelling across continents talks of the influence of the mathematics courses on Analysis from the books of De La Valle Poussin and Goursat by Fr.Racine. I found that the mechanics courses taught from the books in early 1900's for British polytechics particularly horrible. When I got to know him, I complained and he immediately gave some notes that he prepared himself which were more in the spirit of Banach's "Mechanics".
His interest in his students continued even after we left Loyola College. Around the end of 1974, I visited France for a few months and before my visit, Fr. Racine wrote to me asking me to say 'hello' to Henri Cartan. Henri Cartan was an institution in France and I duly ignored the advice. One day, I saw an old gentleman near one of the steps outside IHES in Bures sur Yvette, and the gentleman said "You must be Swarup, Racine wrote to me about you". It turned out to be H. Cartan and soon after he translated a paper of mine (which, unfortunately was not a good paper) and published it in Comptes rendus. Here is Ragunathan's description of some of Fr. Racine's contributions:
"Father Racine was born at Tomay-Charente in France in 1897. He enlisted for active service in the First World War in 1916 and was demobilized three years later after an ankle injury that left a limp for the rest of his life. He then entered the Jesuit order and was ordained a priest in 1929. He spent four years studying
mathematics in Paris and obtained a doctorate in 1934. He was sent to India to
work at St. Joseph’s College, Tiruchirappalli. He moved to Loyola College, Madras in 1939 and stayed there till his death in 1976, nine years after his retirement in 1967.
Father Racine had worked with Élie Cartan and Hadamard, both legendary figures in mathematics. He counted André Weil and Henri Cartan (another famous mathematician and Élie Cartan’s son) among his friends. With this background, Racine naturally had an excellent perspective on mathematics, which he brought to India with him. He began weaning some Indian mathematicians away from traditional Cambridge-inspired
areas and Minakshi was his first big success; and there was a galaxy of brilliant
students to follow; the list would occupy substantial space in any ‘who’s who’ of Indian mathematics. To mention a few names: K. G. Ramanathan, C. S. Seshadri, M. S. Narasimhan, Raghavan Narasimhan, C. P. Ramanujam.

Father Racine was apparently not an exciting speaker. Students found his classroom lectures difficult to follow. His French accent combined with what amounted to mumbling to the blackboard, made things worse. It was, however, outside the classroom that his influence was decisive. He was remarkably good at spotting talent and then encouraging it. He liked talking informally to his students, especially the talented ones and gave them invaluable advice in their career decisions. Mathematical activity was by no means Father Racine’s sole preoccupation. Apparently, he was a spiritual adviser to the Jesuit community of the college and was engaged in resolving personal problems for the Catholic laity around him. The French government conferred on him the coveted ‘Legion d’honeur’ in 1962. In all the 42 years he spent in India, he made only two trips to France; yet he remained very much a Frenchman. But there can be little doubt that he loved India more than France. I was not privileged to be his student, but remember with pleasure the one long and informal meeting I had with him in the company of my teacher M. S.
Narasimhan. He was an excellent example – by no means unique – of the coexistence of the cassock with a lively disposition."
Ragunathan's article Artless innocents and ivory-tower sophisticates: Some personalities on the Indian mathematical scene appeared in Current Science, 2003 and has a photograph of Fr. Racine. Raghunathan's photo appears in the photo section of this blog.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

This made my day

Today is our day to babysit. Soon after Leila came, I went out to smoke (I know, I should give up)and Jhansi said "bad thatha". Leila responded "No, good thatha".

I have been trying nursery rhymes, wiggles etc to put her to sleep but a Telugu song, not exactly a lullaby seems to work best. After a few of other stuff, I try Yedu Kondala Vada. She listens to it once, says 'again' and falls asleep.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Poetry according to Nannechoda

From The Arrow and the Poem by David Shulman:
"An arrow shot by an archer
or a poem made by a poet
should cut through your heart,
jolting the head.
If it doesn't, it's no arrow,
it's no poem."
P.S. A new book by David Shulman Spring, Heat, Rains: A South Indian Diary

"Bridging the divide between science and politics'

Sci.Dev editorial here. Excerpt:
"When SciDev.Net was established seven years ago, it was an article of faith among its founders that developing countries needed better ways to incorporate scientific information into their decision-making machinery. Our network and website were seen as ways of making this happen.

This need has been confirmed by one of the largest international studies to examine the interface between science and development policy. The study was commissioned last summer from researchers at the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI). The full results have just been published, and are based on responses to an electronic survey of more than 600 scientists, intermediaries and policymakers (see Survey backs intermediaries in science communication)."
The link to ODI report does not seem to work but one can go directly to ODI Working Papers and it is Working Paper no.294: 'Political Science? Strengthening science�policy dialogue in developing countries' by Nicola Jones, Harry Jones and Cora Walsh.