Saturday, December 28, 2013

Evgeny Morozov on privacy

The Real Privacy Problem A long and thoughtful article. Among his conclusions "First, we must politicize the debate about privacy and information sharing. Articulating the existence—and the profound political consequences—of the invisible barbed wire would be a good start. We must scrutinize data-intensive problem solving and expose its occasionally antidemocratic character. At times we should accept more risk, imperfection, improvisation, and inefficiency in the name of keeping the democratic spirit alive."
A shorter version The Snowdon Saga Heralds a Radical Shift in Capitalism.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Focus on cities

Can cities change the politics of fragile states? Some of the points from the article:
"Despite the many difficult challenges they face, cities are easier to fix than states. The political dynamics of running a city are potentially much more favorable than that of a fragile country for a number of reasons:

First, elections work differently. Whereas national polls pit various ethnic and religious groups against each other, and turn into a mud fight between elites for control of rents earned from natural resource wealth or foreign aid, a city’s compact size, blurring of identities, and daily grind makes elections more a test of competence and pragmatism. There are also many more ways to hold officials accountable in a city than in a huge weakly cohesive country.
Second, the compact size of cities make the creation of mechanisms to promote collective action and to institutionalize negotiation between disparate societal interests easier than at the national level. As Goodfellow, Rodgers and Beall point out, “cities arguably also offer the greatest potential for the development of inclusive institutions for managing political conflict rather than suppressing it. The concentration of diverse actors and state institutions in cities make them, in theory at least, critical spaces for institutionalised forms of political debate and participation that translate into demands on the state rather than violence.”"
And more. The first point is not clear to me. Delhi and Mumbai seem different in the first point above. Nevertheless interesting article.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Fascinating article on the effect of social life on gene expression

 from bees and monkeys to humans and how loneliness may be a killer. May be the NRIs are different as Ramachandra Guha suspectedThe Social Life of Genes byDavid Dobbs via Ed Yong's list of long reads for the year.
"Your DNA is not a blueprint. Day by day, week by week, your genes are in a conversation with your surroundings. Your neighbors, your family, your feelings of loneliness: They don't just get under your skin, they get into the control rooms of your cells. Inside the new social science of genetics."

Monday, December 23, 2013

Unconventional Monetary Policy

From Peter Dorman at EconoSpeak"
"On August 12, damaged by the revelations emanating from the leaked NSA documents by Edward Snowden, President Obama empaneled a commission to make recommendations for reforms of US cyber-surveillance.  On December 12 this group submitted its report, “Liberty and Security in a Changing World”.

One item that has attracted a bit of attention is a proposal, lodged in Recommendation 31, that reads as follows:
We recommend that the United States should support international norms or international agreements for specific measures that will increase confidence in the security of online communications. Among those measures to be considered are:  
(1) Governments should not use surveillance to steal industry secrets to advantage their domestic industry;  
(2) Governments should not use their offensive cyber capabilities to change the amounts held in financial accounts or otherwise manipulate the financial systems.....
This last item is interesting.  No documents have yet been released that suggest that the NSA or its foreign affiliates have altered financial accounts through electronic manipulation, but the commission presumably had access to a wide range of materials without knowledge of which will be made public in the future.  It may be the case, then, that they are acting to preempt a future revelation.  Even if there has actually been no such financial intervention, however, it is clear that there could be and that it would be prudent to consider the implications of such actions."



Watched cricket last night until 3AM. Cricinfo calls it one of the greatest draws. I am not sure whether game highlights or reading about it can completely convey the tension or thrill of the last day. With only four bowlers and the spinner fairly ineffective and all exhausted I am not sure how India will fare in the next test. Talking of Swann Darren Lehmann says " you only have to take one or two of them out of the equation and make their quicks bowl more. That was certainly a plan from us." Similar tactics may be applied to India.
My takeaway from the game "But India also showed huge resilience under wrenching pressure near the end to pull South Africa back from the brink of victory, with the seamer Mohammed Shami outstanding with his three for 107 and his incredible controlled finish. De Villiers was bowled for 103, Duminy was out cheaply and, crucially, Du Plessis was run out by a brilliant direct hit from Ajinkya Rahane with South Africa needing only 16 runs." 

If it is so tense for spectators, I wonder how it is for players. Some possibilities here.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


This happened in the early 70s. I was visiting Calcutta and was wandering around College Street lookin for second hand book. I met somebody who started talking in Hindi which I could not understand. I could gather that he was a truck driver from Bombay and was pleased to see somebody from Bombay in that foreign place. I said I could not really understand him and wandered off. Then I ran into him again and it seemed interesting to me that I was able to communicate with somebody in a language that I did not know and continued to chatting. He said that he wanted to buy a watch, he knew the owner of a shop and wanted my help in buying it. He wanted me with him because he liked the watch I was wearing. On the way to the shop, we stopped for tea. He wanted to check how the watch would look on his hand and I put it on his hand. Suddenly he had a coughing fit, went out to spit and never came back.
No wonder that I am considered naive my many. It has not changed with age. More recently, I have been fascinated by this program of Arunachalam Muruganantham and wanted to initiate it in Guntur-Vijayawada area as a way of employment for some poor and better sanitary condition. Even after an year there is no progress even though a gentleman offered space in his work shop. Finally I wanted to approach Ramakrishna Mission rural development centre in Narendrapur which is doing wonderful work and wrote to a friendly monk. This is the reply " I had a bout of uncontrollable (but forcedly silent) laughter at your idea. this certianly will be HIGHLY INAPPROPRIATE
for Narendrapur. Dont talk to monks (except heretics like yours truly) regarding such outlandish schemes.

The main reason is that they will all be totally unco-operative. Secondly they'll start looking at you as if you were some kind of a NUT
(perhaps not so far from the truth though). Finally, they will be reassured that the natural occupational hazards for mathematicians
involve eccentricity and therefore in future will probably humour mine."

Friday, December 20, 2013

tommydan channels on YouTube

Joshua Greene on common-sense morality

In an interview: "Consider the dilemma philosopher Peter Singer posed four decades ago. You see a child drowning. You could save that child's life but, if you do, you will ruin your fancy $1,000 suit. Singer asked if it was OK to let the child drown. Most people say, of course not, that would be monstrous...........
Psychology can help us answer that question. Jay Musen and I recently did a more controlled version of Singer’s experiment and got very similar results—distance made a difference. What does that mean? When you are thinking about whether you have an obligation to try to save people's lives, you don't usually think, well, how close by are they? Understanding what we are reacting to can change the way we think about the problem.....If, biologically, morality evolved to help us get along with individuals in our community, it makes sense that we have heartstrings that can be tugged—and that they are not going to be tugged very hard from far away. But does that make sense? From a more reflective moral perspective, that may just be a cognitive glitch."

A paper on local public goods

Browsed through Ryan Sheely's paper "Maintaining local public goods: Evidence from rural Kenya" recommended by Chris Blattman.
Abstract: "Political Scientists have produced a substantial body of theory and evidence that explains variation in the availability of local public goods in developing countries. Existing research cannot explain variation in how these goods are maintained over time. 
I develop a theory that explains how the interactions between government and community institutions shape public goods maintenance. I test the implications of this theory using a qualitative case study and a randomized field experiment that assigns communities participating in a waste management program in rural Kenya to three different institutional arrangements. I find that localities with no formal punishments for littering experienced sustained reductions in littering behavior and increases in the frequency of public clean-ups. In contrast, communities in which government administrators or traditional leaders could punish littering experienced short-term reductions in littering behavior that were not sustained over time."
   In the end, he says "I argue that the relative effectiveness of the Collective Action treatment is shaped by the legitimacy of public goods maintenance by civil society organizations in Laikipia, Kenya. As a result, it is incorrect to interpret these findings as stating that punishment of littering (and other actions that harm public goods) by governments or communities is always ineffective. In contexts in which punishment of littering by governments or traditional leaders is more closely matched with local norms and practices, we would expect to see much stronger performance of the Chief and Elders treatments."

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Blurring Mandela and Neoliberalism (via Naked Capitalism)
One percent holding the economy back
Dean Baker on inequality and unemployment
Illicit financial flows See also GFI site and Tax Justice Network
Disappearing spy  via Moon of Alabama
Peter Higgs :"After I retired it was quite a long time before I went back to my department. I thought I was well out of it. It wasn't my way of doing things any more. Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It's as simple as that. I don't think I would be regarded as productive enough." via The Guardian
MindHacks on marketing a ADHD drug update on mirror neurons
Carl Zimmer in search of first animals

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Two on AAP

From Jacobin India's Post-Ideological Politician " AAP may find the going tough elsewhere But the Obama-Kejriwal analogy can only be taken so far. Unlike Obama, Kejriwal is coming from outside his country’s dominant two parties, and India’s parliamentary political system means that third parties can make a significant impact on both regional and national politics. The success of the AAP in the Delhi Assembly elections has threatened the political mainstream in a way that Obama’s victory hardly could. Congress party officials, sheepish, have admitted that they have much to learn from the AAP. And commentators have made much of the AAP’s penchant for upending conventional political wisdom by refusing to give handouts like cash and booze before elections, and by largely eschewing identity politics.
The party has tapped into an idealism and a genuine desire to build a better political system, and it has shown that these altruistic feelings can translate into strong election results. But this momentum will likely result in a rapid rightward drift if the party continues to cling to its “post-ideological” approach."
Moreover, the AAP may find the going tough in many other places. My own feel that circumstances in Delhi suited AAP at the moment and any political ambitions on a much bigger scale will only result in disappointment. May be they should first try to clean up Delhi as much as possible. That may provide inspiration for local groups elsewhere to do the hard yakka of working locally for better administration and justice and they may one day get lucky and do even better.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Forms to fill, choices to make

From Corey Robin reacting to Obamacare "More important than the politics, that byzantine complexity is a symptom of what the ordinary citizen has to confront when she tries to get health insurance for herself or her family. As anyone who has even good insurance knows, navigating that world of numbers and forms and phone calls can be a daunting proposition. It requires inordinate time, doggedness, savvy, intelligence, and manipulative charm (lest you find yourself on the wrong end of a disgruntled telephone operator). Obamacare fits right in with that world and multiplies it."
And then from an older post "There is a deeper, more substantive, case to be made for a left approach to the economy. In the neoliberal utopia, all of us are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping track of each and every facet of our economic lives. That, in fact, is the openly declared goal: once we are made more cognizant of our money, where it comes from and where it goes, neoliberals believe we’ll be more responsible in spending and investing it. Of course, rich people have accountants, lawyers, personal assistants, and others to do this for them, so the argument doesn’t apply to them, but that’s another story for another day.
The dream is that we’d all have our gazillion individual accounts—one for retirement, one for sickness, one for unemployment, one for the kids, and so on, each connected to our employment, so that we understand that everything good in life depends upon our boss (and not the government)—and every day we’d check in to see how they’re doing, what needs attending to, what can be better invested elsewhere. It’s as if, in the neoliberal dream, we’re all retirees in Boca, with nothing better to do than to check in with our broker, except of course that we’re not. Indeed, if Republicans (and some Democrats) had their way, we’d never retire at all.
In real (or at least our preferred) life, we do have other, better things to do. "

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Some links

Carl Zimmer on vitamins
No, doctors did not "inject HIV into a dying girl" to treat her cancer
The science of hatred (via MindHacks)
An educational experiment
Biggest barrier to inequality "It's not just the wealthiest 1 percent. 
Fully 20 percent of U.S. adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding outsize influence on America's economy and politics. This little-known group may pose the biggest barrier to reducing the nation's income inequality. "
May be more ""But if you add up the income shares of the 50% of the population just below that rich 10% you find that in almost all countries, they receive about half the national income (see graph 2, below).....‘In Latin America the middle classes seek to defend their share of income with different forms of alliances with the élite (some more successfully than others). This is different to India, for example, where the administrative classes defend their position mostly via alliances with the poor (which gives them the political power to mediate in the different conflicts between the capitalist élite and the state)’. Vintage stuff."

Mandela was never a revolutionary, always a radical

Another ode to capitalism

Capitalism Redefined by Nick Hanauer and Eric Beinhocker. There is no mention of Marx. "This twenty-first-century way to understand economics allows us to understand capitalism as an evolutionary problem-solving system." If " growth must be a measure of the rate at which new solutions to human problems become available" I am sure Marx will come in somewhere.

Another thesis on Kammas

by Dalel (Dalal) Benbabaali (in French)
Conents (in English)
On Facebook
Princeton talk on her thesis
Transcript of the talk.
!988 work by Carl Upadhya The Farmer-Capitalists of Coastal Andhra Pradesh in two parts.
There is another by Y.Keiko in 2008 Politics and representation of caste identity in regional historiography: a case study of Kammas in Andhra which I have not seen.
See also Balagopal's articles at A couple of them The Man and the Times Beyond Media Images.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

More than one percent

A recent press report via Richard Singer
"It's not just the wealthiest 1 percent. 
Fully 20 percent of U.S. adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding outsize influence on America's economy and politics. This little-known group may pose the biggest barrier to reducing the nation's income inequality. "
From an earlier report of Palma's work
 "But if you add up the income shares of the 50% of the population just below that 

rich 10% you find that in almost all countries, they receive about half the national 

income (see graph 2, below).....‘In Latin America the middle classes seek to defend 

their share of income with different forms of alliances with the élite (some more 

successfully than others). This is different to India, for example, where the 

administrative classes defend their position mostly via alliances with the poor (which

 gives them the political power to mediate in the different conflicts between the 

capitalist élite and the state)’. Vintage stuff." 

Friday, December 06, 2013

Nelson Mandela RIP

There have been a variety of comments from right to left in the comments sections of various posts and also from leftist sites. I do not think he was prefect. My feel is more in line with this short article by J.M.Coetzee:
"With F.W. de Klerk, a man of much smaller moral stature, yet also, in his way, a contributor to the liberation of South Africa, Mandela held a turbulent country together during the dangerous years 1990-94, exercising his great personal charm to persuade whites that they had a place in the new democratic republic while step by step emasculating the separatist white right wing.
By the time he became president in his own right, he was already an old man. His failure to throw himself more energetically into the urgent business of the day – the creation of a just economic order – was understandable if unfortunate. Like the rest of the leadership of the ANC, he was blindsided by the collapse of socialism world-wide; the party had no philosophical resistance to put up against a new, predatory economic rationalism."

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Kathak dancer Monisa Nayak

Interview describing her career and explaining the connections with music, difference between different gharanas.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Interesting paper on self-decption

The Evolution and psychology of self deception by William von Hippel and Robert Trivers. The paper is about fifteen pages long and after that pen peer commentaries and response by authors. From the abstract: "In this article we argue that self-deception evolved to facilitate interpersonal deception by allowing people to avoid the cues to conscious deception that might reveal deceptive intent. Self-deception has two additional advantages: It eliminates the costly cognitive load that is typically associated with deceiving, and it can minimize retribution if the deception is discovered. Beyond its role in specific acts of deception, self-deceptive self-enhancement also allows people to display more confidence than is warranted,which has a host of social advantages."