Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Heinrich Zimmer on linear and cyclic time

This following is a chapter form "Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization" by Heinrich Zimmer.    This rendering by Zimmer of a story from the Brahmavaitarta Purana may be read before reading this chapter.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Eric Prydz - Generate (2015)

First heard on an aircraft entertainment system.  Way to get it out of the head is to post it here :)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

History: a profound cultural difference

"The idea of history as a space where the salvation of individuals as members of a “nation,” a “race,” or a “faith” manifests is alien to Indian thought."
A clearer statement than the above cannot be found.  Of course, modern Indian thought seems to be  rapidly alienating itself from the roots of Indian culture.  Maybe modern Indian scholarship can rescue it.

The quote is from here.


As is the one below, with emphasis added:
The fact that everything transpires in history and can therefore be arranged temporally is a relatively banal insight. As a taxonomic principle it is no more compelling than those Foucault discovered on reading Borges in The Order of Things. So the distinguishing feature of the contemporary view is neither the insight into the historical nature of all existence (a discovery variously attributed to Vico, Herder, Humboldt, Hegel, and Ranke) nor the relating of events and discoveries to historical time. Rather, what is distinctive about historicism is the significance attached to history—a significance that, as Löwith rightly notes, originates with the Jewish and Christian experience of awaiting the Messiah. The Greek concept of time is cyclical: historical narratives exist but history itself insofar as it is chance and accidental cannot be the subject of an episteme (science). The proper object of knowledge is the eternal laws and customs that uphold the cosmos and ensure its orderly functioning. As Löwith notes, “In this intellectual climate, dominated by the rationality of the natural cosmos, there was no room for the universal significance of a unique, incomparable historical event.” Contrast this with the Jewish and Christian experience, for which “history was primarily a history of salvation and, as such, the proper concern of prophets, preachers, and philosophers.” There is now a tremendous interest in studying history. As the sphere where man’s salvation plays itself out, history acquires a new significance. To the extent that they regard themselves as Geschichtswissenschaften (historical sciences), the contemporary humanities also stand in this tradition. They have replaced philosophical understanding and ethical self-cultivation with reading the historical tea-leaves.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Can the Earth have a runaway greenhouse effect?

Stephen Hawking is in the news, having said that the Earth could experience an accelerating greenhouse effect that renders it uninhabitable, like Venus (e.g., here).

Back in 2013, the Scientific American had this story:  
Fact or Fiction?: We Can Push the Planet into a Runaway Greenhouse Apocalypse
A new study suggests human activity could, in theory, bring about the end of most life on Earth
The new study was this paper in Nature Geoscience:
Low simulated radiation limit for runaway greenhouse climates, Colin Goldblatt, Tyler D. Robinson, Kevin J. Zahnle & David Crisp

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Intelligence & genetics

A news-item on GenomeWeb:

Rather than having genetic variants that make them smart, brainy people may lack mutations that make them less clever, New Scientist reports.

In a paper posted to BioRxiv, researchers from the University of Edinburgh report that they genotyped some 20,000 people from the Generation Scotland family cohort to tease out the effects of gene variants on intelligence, extraversion, and neuroticism. As the cohort includes family members, the researchers could delve into variants not typically found in genome-wide association studies of unrelated people.

In particular, New Scientist says that CNVs, structural variants, and rare variants seem to affect intelligence. As rare variants are more likely to be harmful, New Scientist says it appears that a person's intelligence might be in part due to their mutational load.
Note 1: CNV = copy number variations
Note 2: It would seem high intelligence is the norm, and variation away from the norm reduces intelligence.  Rather amusing, and this would be a blow to the IQ-metricians, I think.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Grey Catbird

New to my yard, as far as I can remember. I believe it is a grey catbird.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Acceleration in the rate of sea level rise

Some people are looking at sea level data and trying to fit a quadratic time curve to find the alleged acceleration in the rate of rise of sea level.   This doesn't work, and so they are very skeptical that the rate of rise of sea level has accelerated over the last century.

IMO, really they should be looking for piecewise linear fits, and a change in slope of the line segments. The point is that acceleration is simply a change in a rate; and nobody has claimed a constant acceleration in the rate of sea level rise. The rate of sea level rise has changed.

E.g., using data and the graphing utility at sealevel.info, here are three graphs.

Here is sea level data at Delfiziji, Netherlands from January1865 to December 2015.  The fitted line has a slope of 1.72 +/- 0.14 mm/year.

1/1865 - 12/2015 - 1.72 +/- 0.14 mm/yr
The web page also gives this:
  y = B + M·x
  y = 6797.353 + 1.716·x mm
  y = B' + M·x + A·x²
  y = 6784.346 + 1.716·x + 0.00685·x² mm
  Date range = 1865/1 to 2015/12
  x = (date - 1940.46(i.e., 1940/6)
  slope = M = 1.716 ±0.141 mm/yr
  acceleration = 2·A = 2×0.00685 = 0.01369 ±0.00722 mm/yr²
The posited constant acceleration is there, but extremely tiny and buried in the noise.

We now break the time series into two periods of about 75 years each, from January 1865 to December 1940; and January 1941 to December 2015.
The first period has the sea level rising at 1.31 +/- 0.37 mm/year.
The second period has the sea level rising at 2.25 +/- 0.43 mm/year.

Note that the confidence intervals don't overlap (i.e., 1.31 + 0.37 = 1.68; 2.25 - 0.43 = 1.82).
The rate of sea level rise has increased, ergo, accelerated.
1/1865-12/1940 - 1.31 +/- 0.37 mm/yr

1/1941 - 12/2015 - 2.25 +/- 0.43 mm/yr

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Government of India's credit rating

Moody's rates the Government of India at Baa3.  This is the lowest investment grade rating. Per Ashwath Damodaran at NYU this translates into a country risk premium of 3.13% (I suppose this means that the Government of India would pay interest on loans at 3.13% above the risk-free interest rate.)  The credit rating a notch above Baa3 is Baa2, and countries with that rating have a risk premium of 2.71%.

India's debt to GDP ratio in 2016 was 69.5%.  If India's credit rating improved from Baa3 to Baa2, and if all this debt could be refinanced at the lower interest rate,  the Government of India would save 0.3% of GDP in interest payments, that is about USD $6 billion a year.  Nothing to sneeze at.

Despite India's decent economic performance, Moody's chose not to upgrade India's credit rating (this from December 2016). 

The decision to maintain a positive outlook on the Baa3 rating rather than assigning a stable outlook to the rating at either Baa3 or Baa2 reflects two drivers:

- Economic and institutional reforms introduced since the positive outlook was assigned, and potentially forthcoming, continue to offer a reasonable expectation that India's growth will outperform that of its peers over the medium term and that further improvements in its macro-economic and institutional profile will be achieved.

- However, the reform effort to date has not yet achieved the conditions that would support an upgrade to Baa2, in particular in accelerating private investment to support high, stable growth, without which the government's debt burden -- a key constraint on the rating -- is likely to remain high for a sustained period.
Among the factors constraining the credit rating:
Meanwhile, on the revenue side, India's large low-income population limits the government's tax revenue base. At 20.9% of GDP in 2015, general government revenues were markedly lower than the 27.1% median for Baa-rated sovereigns. Although the implementation of GST and other measures aimed at enhancing income declarations and tax collection will help widen and boost revenues, the effects will only materialize over time and their magnitude is uncertain so far. 
I imagine the "other measures aimed at enhancing income declarations" include demonetization. 

A better credit rating would serve to attract more investment to India.  Widening the tax net in India and improving government finances is a high-stakes game.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Prehistoric migrations into South Asia

A new paper here, its abstract, and commentary from Rudradev on BRF:
A diffusion based study of population dynamics: Prehistoric migrations into South Asia
Mayank N. Vahia, Nisha Yadav, Uma Ladiwala, Deepak Mathur
Published: May 11, 2017

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hard evidence on the emergence of patriarchy?

The May 2017 issue of the Scientific American has a story "Of Meat and Men: Ancient Bones may hold clues to the origin of male domination in society".  Following the breadcrumbs leads to this:

"Shifting diets and the rise of male-biased inequality on the Central Plains of China during Eastern Zhou"

Farming domesticated millets, tending pigs, and hunting constituted the core of human subsistence strategies during Neolithic Yangshao (5000–2900 BC). Introduction of wheat and barley as well as the addition of domesticated herbivores during the Late Neolithic (∼2600–1900 BC) led to restructuring of ancient Chinese subsistence strategies. This study documents a dietary shift from indigenous millets to the newly introduced cereals in northcentral China during the Bronze Age Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771–221 BC) based on stable isotope analysis of human and animal bone samples. Our results show that this change affected females to a greater degree than males. We find that consumption of the newly introduced cereals was associated with less consumption of animal products and a higher rate of skeletal stress markers among females. We hypothesized that the observed separation of dietary signatures between males and females marks the rise of male-biased inequality in early China. We test this hypothesis by comparing Eastern Zhou human skeletal data with those from Neolithic Yangshao archaeological contexts. We find no evidence of male–female inequality in early farming communities. The presence of male-biased inequality in Eastern Zhou society is supported by increased body height difference between the sexes as well as the greater wealth of male burials.
Or, in the words of the Scientific American:
"The bone chemistry indicates that male and female diets were similar during the Neolithic period, which started about 10,000 years ago and in which agriculture began. Both sexes ate meat and grains. "During early farming, females contributed a lot to food production. [Men and women] ate the same things, and they're of more or less equal standing,"  says Kate Pechenkina, an archaeologist at Queens College, City University of New York, and senior author on the paper.

"The menu shift began at the end of the Neolithic and continued through the Bronze Age, often estimated to have begun in China around 1700 BC.  People there increasingly planted wheat, which leaves a carbon signature distinct from that of the millet they had already been growing.  The osteoanalysis shows that between 771 and 221 BC men continued eating millet and meat—but the latter disappeared from women's diets and was replaced with wheat.   Women's bones also began showing cribra orbitalia, a type of osteoporosis and an indicator of childhood malnutrition. "It means already from early childhood, young girls are treated poorly," Pechenkina says.
Very interesting work.  The one thing that bothers me is the compression of the time scale in the commentary.  1900 BC is the most late date for the introduction of wheat; 1700 BC is the date for the beginning of the Bronze Age in China; and the diet shift for women occurred almost a thousand years later.

Friday, April 14, 2017


Yuval Noah Harari has an article at Bloomberg: Humankind: The Post-Truth Species.  He indulges in an Abrahamic-religion centrism when he writes:
"We are the only mammals that can cooperate with numerous strangers because only we can invent fictional stories, spread them around, and convince millions of others to believe in them. As long as everybody believes in the same fictions, we all obey the same laws, and can thereby cooperate effectively."
The wars in the great epics - the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and I think in the Illiad, are all among people who "believe in the same fictions".

In The Heathen in His Blindness, Balu points out:

The Roman empire was made up of about 1200 city units, plus a considerable number of ethnic groupings which we label `tribes’ and/or ‘client kingdoms’.The divine forces worshipped in each of these units might be seen as similar, analogous, or parallel; one obvious example is the Juno, the cohesive force which gives life to any social unit, whether a family or a city-state. The Romans worshipped not only the Juno who had once belonged to their own kings – Juno Regina – but also the Junones of other states whom the Romans had invited to abandon their original communities and settle at Rome...These Junones were parallel, but not identical, in the same way as the many Jupiters and Zeuses worshipped throughout the empire were parallel but not identical. Each cult honoured its own god. (Wiedemann 1990: 69.)

( Menucius Felix, a Christian writer from around 210 C.E., has Caecilius – the pagan protagonist in The Octavius - )

[The Romans adore all divinities]...in the city of an enemy, when taken while still in the fury of victory, they venerate the conquered deities...in all directions they seek for the gods of the strangers, and make them their own...they build altars even to unknown deities...Thus, in that they acknowledge the sacred institutions of all nations, they have also deserved their dominion. (The Octavius, in Roberts and Donaldson, Eds., n.d.,Vol. IV: 177.)
Indian cultural unity and that thing called "Hinduism" arises similarly.

It is the Abrahamic religions that have made myths into truth-claims - supposedly objective statements about reality - and have slaughtered millions and destroyed entire cultures.  And Harari turns these Abrahamism into those of all of humanity. 

Data Recovery from Network Attached Storage

I found this page on data recovery from Network Attached Storage to be useful, but it wasn't at the top of my search results, so adding a link to it.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Vegetarian Neanderthals and what that implies

Per NPR studies of the dental calculus (hardened plaque, tartar) from three Neanderthal specimens showed that the individual from a cave in Spy, Belgium was largely carnivorous; while two individuals from El Sidrón cave in Spain were vegetarian.

Laura Weyrich, the lead on this study is quoted as follows:
She says the difference in diets reflects the fact that the two groups lived in two very different environments.
Northern Europe, including Belgium, had wide open spaces with grasslands and many mammals. "It would have been very grassy, and kind of mountainous," says Weyrich. "You can imagine a big woolly rhino wandering through the grass there." Perhaps tracked by hungry Neanderthals looking for dinner.

But farther south in Spain, the Neanderthals lived in dense forests. "It's hard to imagine a big woolly rhino trying to wedge themselves between the trees," says Weyrich. And so, she says the Neanderthals there feasted on all kinds of plants and mushrooms. "They're very opportunistic, trying to find anything that's edible in their environment."
We are told by supposedly respectable historians that want to write a grand narrative for the human race that the human body has evolved handle a particular diet.  The very fact that humans adapted to environments from the frigid north where little green grows, to the equatorial regions, or at least environments as varied as ancient Belgian grasslands and dense Spanish forests indicates that humans were not evolved to handle any particular diet.   (Don't quibble that this study is about Neanderthals, not homo sapiens sapiens; our non-Neanderthal ancestors were more successful than the Neanderthal line, and so likely were even more adaptable than the Neanderthals.)

What is amazing is that people with a supposedly scientific temper swallow this historian nonsense with little to no skepticism.   Since I don't think we evolved to credulously believe historians, I'm not sure what is the basis for this lack of skepticism.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How far behind China is India?

Using the United Nations Human Development Index 2016 and associated data (available here), one can construct the following table, showing India's 2015 value and the years bracketing the period when China crossed that value.  So, for example, both China and India have young but  aging populations; India's median age of population in 2015 was 26.6 years; China had that value sometime between 1990-1995 (the data is given at five year intervals).

Human Development Index (HDI) is yearly, and so one can say that India's 2015 value of 0.624 was crossed by China sometime between 2003 and 2004.

One can see that India, per capita income-wise is about 10 years behind China, but in HDI is 13-14 years behind.  In some health and education indicators India is 25 years behind China.  By these measures, India is not getting increases in human welfare commensurate with its increasing income.

Index India 2015 When China
Human Development Index (HDI) 0.624 2003-2004
Demography-Median Age (years) 26.6 1990-1995
Education-Adult Literacy Rate (% ages 15 and older) 72.10% before 1990
Education-Expected years of schooling (years) 11.7 2006-2007
Education-Mean years of schooling (years) 6.3 1999
Education-Population with at least some secondary education (% ages 25 and older) 48.7 1995-2000
Health-Infant Mortality rate (per 1000 live births) 37.9 1990-1995
Health-Life expectancy at birth (years) 68.3 before 1990
Health-Under-five mortality rate (per 1000 live births) 47.7 1990-1995
Gross Domestic Product per capita (2011 PPP $) 5730.1 2000-2005
Gross National Income per capita (2011 PPP $) 5663.5 2005-2006

A commenter asked for the trajectories, two are shown here:

Human Development Index 1990-2015 (light blue: China, dark: India)

Human Development Index 1990-2015: China and India
Gross National Income per capita (2011 PPP $) 1990-2015 (light blue: China, dark: India)
Gross National Income per capita (2011 PPP $)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

What is Itihasa?

In 2014, Professor S.N. Balagangadhara (Balu) gave a talk to the Indian Council of Historical Research, "What do Indians Need, A History or the Past? A challenge or two to Indian historians"; and in the accompanying paper, one can find an explanation of what Itihasa is.

That paper is long, and also might be a little difficult for some, so here are the excerpts of what I consider to be the main points.  I assume that the reader of this blog is interested in the answer, and not in the exploration and arguments that lead to the result.  For such details, follow the link.

We have to start with adhyatma, which for various reasons, Balu leaves undefined in his paper, but we take adhyatma to be combination of two words अध्ययन and आत्मा, i.e. अध्ययन of आत्मा. I will leave आत्मा - Atma - undefined and untranslated.  The danger of using an English word is that unwanted connotations of words sneak in, and to even try to remove these takes a long essay. The danger in what I've done is that it creates a possibility of misunderstanding adhyatma.

Now follows edited excerpts:
‘Itihasa’, a compound Sanskrit word, is normally split as iti+ha+aasa. It is also translated as ‘so-it-happened’ or ‘thus-it-verily happened’. From such translations, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that ‘Itihasa’,as a word, picks out literature that chronicles the past or that it is history of the ‘bygone era’.

The facts: the Chandogya Upanishad speaks about itihasa as the fifth Veda, placing it next to the four Vedas; Shankaracharya mentions that recitations of itihasa was part of certain major rituals; the classical Indian poetics lay down the rule that Mahaakaavyas and Naatakas (drama) draw on itihasa to work out their themes; to this day, performing arts in parts of India (Talamaddale, Yakshagana, etc.) follow this rule... And so on.

Let us begin with the translation of the word: let us accept the conventional translation of itihasa as ‘thus it happened’. Now the question is this: what is being picked out by the referential word ‘thus’ or ‘iti’?

If you look at, say, the Mahabharata as a standalone text and make use of the western conventions of telling a story, the conclusion is obvious: ‘thus’ picks out a story that is yet to be narrated. Under these conditions, that the Mahabharata is considered as ‘Itihasa’ and that this word picks out the story narrated in the text become obvious.

However, Sanskrit is not English and India is a culture that is different from the West. ‘Iti’ in Sanskrit is a meta-linguistic word that picks out what has already been linguistically spoken. When we call the Mahabharata an itihasa text, we are actually saying that it refers back to something else that has been already said and that its discourse is at a meta-level regarding what has already been said at an object-level.
When compounded by other words (ahaasa) or by a name, the word also identifies what
follows. The stories of Mahabharata are called itihasa because the iti prefix refers also to something other than the story. Iti does not refer to the conclusion or the moral purport of the story. Iti is at the beginning of the story; the story merely illustrates what has preceded it. Therefore, unless we figure out what this ‘iti’ is, we cannot understand the itihasa tradition. Here is my hypothesis: Adhyatma is the only possible reference of iti. That means itihasa is a story that illustrates Adhyatma or imparts Adhyatma through an elucidation. That is why it has such an exalted place in the Indian intellectual traditions and not because Indians are narcissists, who revel in repeating constantly their own histories to themselves.
So how did "itihasa" become "history"?
When people from other cultures came to India and studied her culture, they brought together some native cultural elements and categories in a different way. They split things apart, as it suited their way of describing the world, which are united in India. They could not understand that Mahabharata and Itihasa had to be situated in a particular context, namely the Adhyatmic context. Itihasa was compared with a genre familiar to the Western culture; they could be seen as mythologies or histories. As a result, Itihasa became ‘history’; the whole of Mahabharata and Ramayana stood for the ancient Indian historiographical traditions.

‘Absurd and fantastic’ stories of the itihasa traditions led them to search for a factual/historical core of these traditions. These efforts also strengthened the Western notions of a heathen India, which was described using different frameworks: the theological, the empirical, the philological, the romantic, and so on. Western scholarship has tried to come to grips with Itihasa as literature, religious text, history, so on, but none of these fits Mahabharata.

As a result, Adhyatma was split apart from itihasa: one was the domain of religion and another became the domain of history. Educated Indians inherited such discourses. Thus, Itihasa stopped making sense to the western educated Indians, who were informed only by the Western interpretations. They see Mahabharata as an epic written by someone called Vyasa, or by multiple authors over millennia, with interpolations and interpretations by different Brahmin groups with vested interests. It thus acquires a loose structure of katha (story) and upakathas(sub-stories) knitted together to oppress the ‘Dalits’ in India. This book, however, is anything but empirical history. No one has attempted to explain the function of this book in a culture that produced it, except in terms of intellectual weakness that produces fantastic stories
guided by the malefic desire to oppress the ‘Dalits’. At best, it exhibits the naïve historical consciousness of Indians, or functions as a source for the reconstruction of life and thought of ancient Indians, or providing ideals and morals for our life. As far as the latter is concerned, no one has been able to provide a coherent picture of the morals of this book as a whole. At worst, it embodies Brahminical conspiracy.
Reminder: adhyatmic stories are **not** moral stories. A moral story tries to inculcate moral behavior; adhyatmic stories are meant as an aid to adhyatma.
To proceed fruitfully, we have to begin with the fact that itihasa tradition survives in multiple forms among Indians. Mahabharata, in whatever form it exists today, is itihasa because it is structured for a particular purpose. It prepares the ground carefully and knits the stories and upakhyanas (discourses) systematically together into a structure. The stories become itihasa when they find place within this structure.

Mahabharata, as it is today,is a product of the creativity of itihasa tradition over millennia. Creativity has to work under certain cognitive and epistemological conditions, if it has to be productive. Otherwise, creativity does not distinguish itself from delusional expressions, whether oral or written.

Mahabharata works under constraints laid down by Adhyatmic reflections. It works within that structure. That is why it is creative. People just did not add new stories randomly. If Indians did that, why did they not interpolate pornographic pieces, or any such irrelevant parts into Mahabharata? Of course, Mahabharata had enormous scope for pornography... That must be because pornography obviously violated some cognitive condition that Mahabharata was working with....Adhyatma is not concerned with a description of the empirical world of existence. That is why Pornography is irrelevant to Mahabharata.

One could ask whether or not the {Kurukshetra} war is empirical. The answer is simple: Mahabharata does not describe war {i.e., is not a factual history of the war} but merely identifies it as a reference point for what requires saying.

Why illustrate adhyatma through a story unless adhyatma is deeply intertwined with these stories? Each must be supporting the other. The stories must embody adhyatma. Adhyatma is not a moral of the story that comes at the end. Adhyatma comes before, not after the stories. What is the story then? Story is an illustration. That is why itihasa is ‘Thus it happened’ or, even, ‘thus it is imparted generationally’.
If the above is understood, this next drives the point home:

Talamaddale, a performing art, does precisely this. How can people listen to intellectual discourses for hours and be fascinated by it when it takes the form of performing arts? Mahabharata is simply a background for this performance; as a story, it hardly plays a role. It simply sets the context to a learning process. If such is the case, itihasa has nothing to do with a past event, either in the sense of ‘past’ as a time period or as a temporal domain separated from the present. It has no references to the facts of the past and plays no function in preserving the memories about past events. The reference is to something else. It is a learning process through stories about adhyatma.

If one sees this, one will realize the unity that itihasa and adhyatma are. The scholarship of the last four hundred years has pulled them apart to make this division a fact of thecommonsense today. There appears to be no connection between the Mahabharata and what Shankarahas written, say Brahmasutrabhashya. One appears as philosophy and the other as kavya (poetry) or as a story or as an expression of our primitive sense of history.

How does Itihasa help adhyatmic learning? What the Mahabharata does is to put the latter in
the form of a story. Instead of developing a theory, it puts that in the form of a story. So you must know how to read (and listen and see) this story, you must know how to understand the story. You must know how to practice the story. And you must know how to perform the story. When you are following a story of Mahabharata, watching a talamaddale or yakshagana performance, you are actually thinking. Talamaddale teaches you how to think. It does that by transforming adhyatma into anubhava (translated as ‘experience’ in English)

For extra credit, this:
Consider this: it is only through and in Samsara (Worldly life) that we can hope to achieve moksha (liberation). If we are not in worldly life, we cannot achieve liberation. Each of us, in worldly life, is afflicted by avidya (ignorance) and only though this ignorance (i.e. realizing that we are afflicted by ignorance is how we arrive at knowledge) can we hope to reach vidya (knowledge); only through this world, which is asat, (the Unreal), can we reach Sat(the Real). Therefore, there is no break or opposition between these realms; one is needed to reach the other, i.e., only through the one can we reach the other.

Mahabharata clothes Adhyatmic truth as conventional truth. It is through the conventions of the daily life that you get access to Adhyatma. In fact, the latter is realizable only in worldly life. That is what these stories do: help reach the adhyatma through convention. The whole of Mahabharata is only about our lives but it is telling us about adhyatma and is a passage way.
Unlike the discourse of history, which makes the past completely external to a human being, Indian stories can be taken up by any individual from any context and can use them to reflect upon their own lives and experiences. Any context can be transformed into any other context. One uses talamaddale to shed light upon anything human, be it power, money, status, etc. It is thus that these stories become the story of the person using it. However, as I have said repeatedly, to go to Adhyatma we need to go through the worldly life.
What happened is that when Westerners started studying Mahabharata or Ramayana, they recast the story of these epics by putting them in the genre of traditional historical account. In that process, they severed these from their adhyatmic context or content. These stories are basically crafted to illustrate the adhyatmic truths. The adhyatmic content of the epics was severed and cut off from these stories and put in the category of religion; therefore even Adhyatma ceased making sense. The traditional Indians related with the Itihasa tradition that these epics basically are through a unifying experience of these two. However, the educated Indians ceased making sense of either of the two, therefore lost their memory of how to relate with itihasa.

To the ‘modern’ mind, Adhyatmic Gurus became the ‘god-men’ of India, figures of ridicule or leaders of ‘cults’ or ‘sects’. The only possible intellectual engagement they could now have to these texts is to either fight for establishing the historicity of these epics or relegate them to the status of myths or strive for some convenient hybrid of the two {which is the dilemma we encountered yesterday}.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The BJP election manifesto for Uttar Pradesh

The new BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, is a polarizing figure, with many inflammatory statements directed at Muslims in his account.  He has had various charges to face including attempted murder, and rioting. He is also a 5-time member of Parliament. It is true that to survive in Uttar Pradesh politics, which over the past forty years has become utterly lawless, one has to be something of a thug, and many politicians there have a similar record. The BJP promises to start to  change all that.  It remains to be seen whether with the reins of power in his hands, Yogi Adityanath can indeed be the Chief Minister of all people without partiality to caste or religion.  If you want to worry, there are plenty of good reasons to worry.

Uttar Pradesh is a huge electoral prize, and success in improving the situation there could secure Prime Minister Modi his second term in office in the 2019 elections.  But more relevant to me than the fate of specific politicians is the fate of India's 1.3 billion people, of which Uttar Pradesh holds 200 million. 

If Uttar Pradesh improves its development performance India can really soar. If Uttar Pradesh continues on its current trajectory, the PM Modi development project for India will likely take a big hit; and so will the Prime Minister's political standing; and since PM Modi campaigned on development rather than dynasty, religion or caste, other Indian politicians will learn a very wrong lesson. 

The BJP campaign in Uttar Pradesh was largely about development, but there were enough "dog whistles" that it wasn't completely so.  The situation that the BJP finds itself in now is nicely depicted  by cartoonist Manoj Kureel: on a tight-rope, balancing development and Hindutva, while their political opponents and media personalities feel the burn and fume.

Anyway, in case you wanted to know, here's a rough translation of the BJP manifesto for the UP 2017 elections.  The main list is numbered because folks want to keep track of whether the promises of the manifesto are kept.  Do note that the 32 page document is a five year program for a state of 200 million, one of the poorest states in India.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Irish and the Indians

Today, on a day of significance to the Irish, St. Patrick's Day, it is worth remembering:
On 26 January 1950, Éamon de Valera was asked to be guest of honour at a reception in Birmingham to celebrate the declaration of India as a republic. At first glance it seemed an unusual choice. The organisers were asked why they had not chosen a fellow Indian. Their response was unequivocal:
‘We and the Irish had strong ties of friendship. We suffered under the same tyranny for many centuries. They had the Black and Tans; we had the massacre of Amritsar. They had de Valera and Casement and MacSwiney; we had Gandhi and Nehru and Bose. They had Sinn Féin; we had our National Congress. They had the IRA; we had the INA. It is not only for the smile and the shamrock we know Ireland. It is for the toughness of their leaders and for the rebellion in their hearts.’
Subhas Chandra Bose noted in February 1943:
Of all the independence movements we Indians have studied closely and from which we have received inspiration, there is perhaps none that can equal the Irish struggle for independence....The debt of gratitude which India's patriots owe to Irish heroes for the inspiration they have received will be difficult to repay.  In fact, it would not be the slightest exaggeration to say that among the fighters against alien imperialism, whom I have known personally, there are perhaps none whose friendship I cherish more than that of those brave men and women who have uncompromisingly stood and fought for the Irish Republic.
It goes beyond this "united against the common oppressor".  In the great Bengal Famine of 1943, when Churchill callously let the Indians he hated so much to starve,  it was Ireland (along with nationalist China, whose remnants are now in Taiwan) that shipped food aid to India.  Jawaharlal Nehru noted in his The Discovery of India,
“The governments of China and Eire (Ireland), poor in their own resources, full of their own difficulties, yet having had bitter experience themselves of famine and misery and sensing what ailed the body and spirit of India, gave generous help (during the Bengal famine of 1943-44). India has a long memory, but whatever else she remembers or forgets, she will not forget these gracious and friendly acts."
A lady in the checkout line, all decked out in St. Patrick paraphernalia saw my green shirt and remarked "So you're Irish today!".     Yes, for one day at least.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

India: Total Fertility Rate

A United Nations document "World Population Prospects - The 2006 Revision" (PDF file) has India's total fertility rate (TFR, number of children per woman, projected, "medium variant")

2005-2010: 2.81
2010-2015: 2.54
2015-2020: 2.32

The "World Population Prospects, 2015 revision"  has revised these to:

2005-2010: 2.80
2010-2015: 2.48
2015-2020: 2.34

The Indian National Family Health Survey (NFHS) has these total fertility rate figures.

NFHS-3 (2005-2006): 2.7
NFHS-4 (2015-2016): 2.2

As you can see, NFHS-3 is right in the middle of the UN figures; but NFHS-4 shows TFR has fallen faster than the medium-variant projection.

Per the 2005 UN document, India's 2050 population ("medium variant") was projected to be 1.658 billion,  per the 2015 document 1.705 billion.

In the "low variant" of UN's 2015 population projection, India's TFR 2015-2020 is 2.09, and  its population in 2050 is projected to be 1.509 billion.

Thus the "low variant" population projection is still a viable lower bound for India's population;  the "medium variant" is an upper bound that can be tightened substantially, I think.

But we also see that projections just ten years out can be wrong, so perhaps more useful is what India's 2021 census will show.  The low variant is 1.387 billion; the medium variant is 1.404 billion.  The difference is about a Netherlands' worth of population.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Some power stuff

1. What is a peaker plant?

Wiki tells us:
Peaking power plants, also known as peaker plants, and occasionally just "peakers," are power plants that generally run only when there is a high demand, known as peak demand, for electricity. Because they supply power only occasionally, the power supplied commands a much higher price per kilowatt hour than base load power. Peak load power plants are dispatched in combination with base load power plants, which supply a dependable and consistent amount of electricity, meeting the minimum demand.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Autism breakthrough?

Studies: Autism risk linked to herpes infection during early pregnancy
NEW YORK - Scientists from Colombia University and the Norwegian Institute of Public Heath have discovered that women actively infected with genital herpes during early pregnancy was twice as likely to have a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) later on in life.
About one in five American women has HSV-2, also known as genital herpes. HSV-2 is a highly contagious and lifelong infection, usually spread through sex.
More here:
The finding mirrors earlier epidemiological data indicating that activation of the maternal immune system during early-to-mid-pregnancy is associated with long-term developmental and behavioral problems in offspring.
However, of these pathogens examined : Toxoplasma gondii, rubella virus, cytomegalovirus, and herpes simplex viruses type 1 and 2, only herpes simplex virus type 2 was implicated.

“The cause or causes of most cases of autism are unknown,” says senior author W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity and the John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School. “But evidence suggests a role for both genetic and environmental factors. Our work suggests that inflammation and immune activation may contribute to risk. Herpes simplex virus 2 could be one of any number of infectious agents involved.”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Cixin Liu : Death's End

The third book in Cixin Liu's science-fiction trilogy that began with The Three Body Problem and The Dark Forest, does not disappoint.  Don't read any reviews, just read the book.  If you insist on a review, here is one, from which I quote: "If you thought The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest were expansive, they're nothing compared to Death's End."

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Confirmation Bias?

There are a number of stories about how UnPresident Trump operates:

Caroline Mortimer reports in the Independent,  that Defence Secretary General James Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, convinced Trump to go along with an anti-terrorist raid in Yemen that turned out poorly, by suggesting that Obama would never have been so bold as to actually go through with it (the conception of the operation lies in the Obama era).

S.V. Date and Christina Wilkie report in the Huffington Post that Trump called his National Security Adviser retd. Lt. General Mike Flynn at 3 A.M. in the morning to ask him whether it was a strong dollar or a weak dollar that would be good for the US economy.

Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman report in the New York Times that Trump was angered that he "was not fully briefed on the details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist {Steve Bannon} a seat on the National Security Council".

There are more examples, but these should suffice.  All of these stories are from unnamed sources (which is why I've taken care to mention the reporters' names), they fit in with how we imagine Trump to be (e.g., based on the content and timing of his tweets) but are they true?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Beating Trump: lessons from Venezuela

Andrés Miguel Rondón writes in the Washington Post:

The problem is you.
How do I know? Because I grew up as the “you” Trump is about to turn you into. In Venezuela, the urban middle class I come from was cast as the enemy in the political struggle that followed Chávez’s arrival in 1998. For years, I watched in frustration as the opposition failed to do anything about the catastrophe overtaking our nation. Only later did I realize that this failure was self-inflicted. So now, to my American friends, here is some advice on how to avoid Venezuela’s mistakes.
 Don’t forget who the enemy is.
What makes you the enemy? It’s very simple to a populist: If you’re not a victim, you’re a culprit.
Show no contempt.
Don’t feed polarization, disarm it. This means leaving the theater of injured decency behind. 
Don’t try to force him out.
Attempting to force Trump out, rather than digging in to fight his agenda, would just distract the public from whatever failed policies the administration is making. In Venezuela, the opposition focused on trying to reject the dictator by any means possible — when we should have just kept pointing out how badly Chávez’s rule was hurting the very people he claimed to be serving.
Find a counterargument. (No, not the one you think.)

It’s not that Trump supporters are too stupid to see right from wrong, it’s that you’re more valuable to them as an enemy than as a compatriot.

But it took opposition leaders 10 years to figure out that they needed to actually go to the slums and the countryside. Not for a speech or a rally, but for a game of dominoes or to dance salsa — to show they were Venezuelans, too, that they weren’t just dour scolds and could hit a baseball, could tell a joke that landed. That they could break the tribal divide, come down off the billboards and show that they were real. This is not populism by other means. It is the only way of establishing your standing. It’s deciding not to live in an echo chamber. To press pause on the siren song of polarization.
Recognize that you’re the enemy Trump requires. Show concern, not contempt, for the wounds of those who brought him to power. By all means, be patient with democracy and struggle relentlessly to free yourself from the shackles of the caricature the populists have drawn of you.

It’s a tall order. But the alternative is worse. Trust me.

Friday, January 27, 2017

India: Global Competitiveness Index

 The Financial Express reported
In the last two years of PM Modi’s rule, India’s has jumped a whopping 32 places in the competitiveness index.
Global Competitiveness Report: A graph comparing 10 years of competitiveness in India shows the country’s global competitiveness index remained in the negative for most of the years between 2008-2014

The World Economic Forum report that this news-item is based on is available here (large PDF file).

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Demonetization in India

Two-Wheeler Manufacturers See Contrasting Fortunes In December, 2016 
Some manufacturers saw growth, others saw loss of sales.  This is likely due to serving different market segments.

(emphasis added)
Hero MotoCorp felt the heat of demonetisation as its monthly sales of 3, 30,202 units in December, 2016 was almost 34 per cent lesser than the sales of 4, 99,665 units in the same month last year. 

Although, not all was gloom and doom as the company recorded its highest ever sales in a calendar year by selling a whopping 67, 62,980 units in 2016, which is a growth of 4.3 per cent over the sales of the previous calendar year where it sold 64, 86,103 units.

The cumulative sales of Hero MotoCorp in FY 2017 (April-December 2016), is 50, 24,129 units.
Although it should be noted that the manufacturing plants of Hero at Gurgaon, Neemrana and Haridwar were closed from December 26th-31st for annual maintenance.
 Any corporation that has its highest ever sales in an year, but fires employees because of two months of a temporary downturn is a lousy employer.  A man's wedding postponed because of the in-laws is likely over dowry, which is, technically speaking, illegal.

The All Indian Manufacturers Organization report which claims major disruptions in the Indian economy, also says:
Medium and large scale industries, including foreign companies, engaged in export-oriented activities reported 30 per cent job losses and 40 per cent revenue fall. This is likely to be 35 per cent and 45 per cent, respectively, by March
Nevertheless, exports rose, which is pretty remarkable, considering how the rest of the world is doing (and one wonders how much the exports supply chain can be constrained by lack of cash in Indian hands?)
India's exports continued to grow for the fourth straight month in December 2016, expanding by 5.72 per cent to $23.9 billion compared to $22.6 billion in the same month of previous year.
And here's another headline:
Contrary to fears of slowdown, factory output grows 5.7% in November

I further note that some corporations are probably hiding their other problems behind demonetization, e.g., in this report about two-wheeler sales:
Domestic sales of motorcycles in December 2016 dipped 11% to 1,06,665 units as compared to 1,20,322 units sold in December 2015 while exports dipped 24% to 96,647 in December 2016 as compared to 1,27,460 units exported in December 2015.
Why would export sales be hit because of demonetization?

While the trigger for writing this blog post is a New York Times article, let it not be thought that I did research for this article.  You can read all about demonetization, the good, bad, ugly at BRF, this link will plop you in the middle of the discussion.

There is no doubt that demonetization was an economic shock.  And yes, it most affected the cash-driven sectors that for whatever reason could not turn to cheques or other bank instruments.

FYI, about food prices, remember that annually, the fruit & vegetable market has fresh crop arriving in December ,January.  Anyway, for November 2016, the WPI (wholesale price index) (links can be found in the BRF thread mentioned above):
The index for 'Food Articles' group declined by 1.0 percent to 276.1 (provisional) from 278.8 (provisional) for the previous month due to lower price of fruits & vegetables (7%), moong and masur (4% each), urad (3%), maize (2%) and arhar and condiments & spices (1% each). However, the price of ragi (20%), gram (10%), coffee (10%), wheat (5%), poultry chicken and barley (4% each) and bajra, fish - inland, tea, fish - marine, egg and jowar (1% each) moved up.
and for December 2016:
The index for Food Articles group declined by 2.2 percent to 270.1 (provisional) from 276.1 (provisional) for the previous month due to lower price of fruits & vegetables (9%), arhar (6%), masur and urad (5% each), moong (4%), gram (2%) and poultry chicken (1%). However, the price of ragi (4%), jowar and wheat (3% each), bajra (2%) and egg, barley, pork, condiments & spices, tea and fish - inland (1% each) moved up.
If demand was down because of lack of cash, then the movement of prices should have been uniformly down.  It is not.

PS: also via the BRF thread, this article: Demonetization: Are the Poor Really Suffering?

PPS: Demonetisation: Hero Moto & Honda put 800 contract workers on unpaid leave

Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index

Narendra Modi was elected India's Prime Minister in mid-2014.
In Transparency International's Global Corruption Perceptions Index, India ranked as follows:
Year: Rank (absolute score, on a scale of 0-100)
2016: 79 (40)
2015: 76 (38)
2014: 85 (38)
2013: 94 (36)

Very tepid improvement.  India is currently tied with Belarus, Brazil and China.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Wikileaks, Julian Assange, etc.

ClimateGate and Clinton's emailGate are parts of one pattern

T.R. Ramachandran (@yottapoint) writes: http://electionado.com/canvas/1480388925211
"To understand Wikileaks you need to understand ClimateGate".

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Failure of Conventional Journalistic Ethics

Margaret Sullivan has an article in the Washington Post: How BuzzFeed crossed the line in publishing salacious ‘dossier’ on Trump.  In it she makes the points:
But at many other news organizations, the rule is caution: “When in doubt, leave it out.”
It’s a bad idea, and always has been, to publish unverified smears.
It’s never been acceptable to publish rumor and innuendo. 
 Let's see how that works in practice.   When Donald J. Trump went on with his birther allegations that Obama was not born in the United States, he repeated rumors and innuendo, and added some of his own unverified smears.

If the rules are as Margaret Sullivan says, why did major news organizations publish what Trump said?

The answer would likely be - the newsworthiness lies in the fact that a celebrity spokesperson is saying something (whatever it is) and not in the fact that what the person is saying is rumors, innuendo and unverified smears.

That puts the news organization in the position that once a celebrity says something, no matter how false, it is newsworthy.  Newsworthiness has been conferred on something by the celebrity uttering it.  If Joe Shmoe has assembled a dossier of unverified allegations, it is not news unless it is verified, and should not be published.

What Margaret Sullivan is arguing has this effect: the news organization ought to be a fact-checker and filter for Joe Shmoe; but is not for the celebrity.

We see the implicit assumption of conventional journalistic ethics here - that we all have a common interest in the truth, and that though what the celebrity is saying is merely rumors, innuendo and unverified smears, the resulting backlash and public disapproval will punish the celebrity.  Therefore, the news organization doesn't need to act as a filter on publishing what a celebrity says.

Well, Trump and his supporters defy this ethical standard.   Trump has zero interest in the truth - he denies saying things that he said that are recorded on video; and his public has zero interest in censuring Trump for lying, repeating rumors, innuendo and unverified smears.

Thus we end up with the 2016 US Presidential campaign.  Trump would have mostly been blacked out of the news had news organizations applied the same rules to what he said to the dossier compiled by the ex-MI6 agent (does knowing that he is Christopher Steele of Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd. change the newsworthiness of what he wrote?  Or does he have to have a TV reality show in order to have whatever he says published by news organizations?)

Monday, January 09, 2017

UN World Population Projections

This is from 2015: (PDF file)

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Kazanas on the fallacies of Proto-Indo-European

The article is here: http://indiafacts.org/fallacies-proto-indo-european/, please leave comments there, not here.

A sample:

10. The biggest fallacy and central to any discussion regarding the Protolanguage in IE studies is exposed by the presence of roots or more correctly dhātus ‘lexical seed-forms’ in Sanskrit. When all the paraphernalia of PIE reconstructions are laid aside the investigator finds that, in plain fact, only Sanskrit and Avestan (to a much lesser degree) have roots! The other IE languages have verbs and nouns etc. but not roots, as such, from which verbs and nouns etc. are derived. Even Sanskrit has many words that cannot be analysed or traced back to a dhātu (apart from borrowed words): e.g. kakud ‘peak’, nṛ/nara ‘man’, putra ‘child/son’, balakṣa ‘white’, śūdra ‘servile’ etc. But it has 2000 dhātus all told and about 700 fully active in the early language.

In his Dictionary, Walkins gives 5 roots ser, and of these he connects number 2 with S ̦√sṛ > sarati/sisarti ‘moves/flows/runs’ and then gets lost in the labyrinth of IE complexities. This |sṛ| is not found as an independent word noun or adjective, but is found in S as stem in sṛ-t ‘running’, sṛ-ta ‘having gone/passed’, sṛti ‘way’ etc. Then there are sara saraṇa, sarit, sāra, sārin etc. This is found also in a cognate form in Tocharian salate, in Gk hallomai and L salio, all meaning ‘leap/rush’, but only as verbs, not as roots and with very few derivatives. The most curious fact is that it’s derivative saras ‘eddy, whirl, wave, lake’ is in the name of the ancient river saras-vatī. This is cognate with Avestan haraxvaiti, also a river’s name; but there is no root nor other word connected with this harah in Iranian, so it stands alone!

The mainstream theory, that wants the common Indo-Iranian tongue and culture in Iran, says that the Indoaryans went to Saptasindhu and there gave their version of the name to a river to remind them of their former country. This of course is utter, wilful nonsense, because saras has a rich family of lexemes and a dhātu, but the Iranian haraḥ is a lonely orphan! So the movement must have been the other way round and the Iranians just lost dhātu and derivatives retaining only the name and memory of the river in Saptasindhu. (See§7-8.) Otherwise, it is impossible that the Indoaryans left Iran with only harah/saras and once in their new habitat started developing other lexemes and the dhātu √sṛ.