Sunday, September 24, 2017

On basketball and race

The claim, from K.L. Reeves' personal opinion, is that it is culture that is holding back prospective white American basketball players.

Whether you admit it or not, deep down inside you, the intelligent reader, kind of believes it, too; that black men are, whether by nature or nurture, better at the game of basketball. And that’s OK. Lots of people feel this way. It’s a part of a belief system that began to develop decades ago, around the time that many of our ideas on race began to shift. During that time of radical change, new systems of racial thought — newer, somewhat more palatable ones — began replacing their older, more objectionable precursors. Through it all, institutional racism remained wholly intact, albeit cloaked in a kind of deceptive civility.
Indeed, since the turn of the new century, white foreign-born players have consistently outperformed their American counterparts. At least in the NBA. And it’s not particularly close, either. Note, for instance, the rosters of the past 16 All-Star Games. Then look at the makeup of white starters and role player. Notice a trend? A majority of them — glaringly so, given population disparity, the game’s historic roots, etc.— are foreign-born.
The careers of Dirk and Nash stand as clear examples white superstars excelling in the NBA. But it’s also true that being born and raised in America carries with it certain, very different notions of what it means to be white. It’s practically considered gospel that race has no place in sports. And yet racial dynamics very much persist. As much as I’ve tried to stay away from it as a writer, I simply couldn’t explain past this one: White American basketball players have a harder time than their black peers reaching their full potential, I think, because of the stigma that comes with being white kid playing a black game.
Young whites in America grow up with the belief, however implicit, that basketball isn’t their game. In the words of Martin Luther King, clouds of inferiority begin to form in their little mental sky, where limitation is placed on that rare and particular dream. We are all, in our own ways, complicit in this, having bought into this powerfully dangerous myth, and the results have been nothing short of astonishing.
If you tell a child he can’t be something; that something isn’t for them: If you do this long enough, that belief system will become his own.
Today, such systems don’t develop as overtly as they once did: say the way blacks were once trained to believe they were incapable of reading — that reading wasn’t for them. Though there may be instances where white basketball players will self identify as somehow inferior, thereby reinforcing the stigmas and stereotypes, the bulk of the belief stems from the unspoken, from inference and allusion. And it can start as soon as they pick up a ball, the glass ceiling glaring back at them. The child is told, through unwitting social cues, often by those closest to him, that he might look up to Michael Jordan, but he’ll never be Michael Jordan.
Again, such psychological short-selling is seldom overt, and almost never malicious.
After all, what parent doesn’t want their child to be great at something they love? And yet, given our lack of proper historical reflection on matters of race and steadfast dependence on categorization, it’s hard not to fall into these habits. No matter where you fall on the social-political spectrum, strong racial beliefs are deeply entrenched. The decline of the white American NBA star is, in this sense, a litmus test. You’re white and want to be great at football? Okay. Baseball? Go right ahead. Hockey? Obviously!
… Are you sure about that?
....When {Larry} Bird was coming of age, the stigma of being a white basketball player simply wasn’t as great as it is today.
If K.L. Reeves is right, then those who are now seeking a genetic explanation for the racial disparity in the NBA are part of the problem.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Culture and genes

Americans of the stupid variety keep trying to justify the way things are by genetics. But the fact is that culture (learned behavior) is far stronger.

Doesn't matter what those who don't make assumptions (e.g., "the NFL is a meritocracy")  but look at it carefully find.
The NFL’s racial divide
Teams don’t consciously build rosters based on race, it just ends up that way

 It’s not that they’re excluding anybody. They’re looking to be successful, according to the pattern that has worked. This is why it gets to be so difficult to shatter tradition. You can’t just come in and show somebody that a black center is as good as a white center in order to displace that tradition. You’ve got to come in and show that he is better.”
The so-called free market (or unbridled avarice, depending on your viewpoint) doesn't turn the culture of an enterprise or of a society into a meritocracy any more than the free market abolishes slavery or human trafficking.

PS: I should add that "best person for the position" often does not have objective measures.

In Memoriam: Summer 2017

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book memo: A Long Way Home

Having seen the movie, Lion, which was well-made, I picked up at the library the book, "A Long Way Home" by Saroo Brierley.   As the title blurb says: "As a five-year-old in India, I got lost on a train. Twenty-five years later, from Australia, I found my way back.  This is what happened in between"; and the book adds significantly to what is shown in the two hour movie.  Definitely worth reading.  It provides all kinds of interesting things to think about.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Date of Zero and Its Larger Consequences

The Bakhshali manuscript is now the oldest extant manuscript on Indian mathematics --  it has recently been carbon-dated by the University of Oxford to date to 200-400 AD.  That date is much older than previously thought, at least by five centuries, if not more.  This now supposedly pushes back the earliest recorded date for the use of zero in a place-value system.

Perhaps however, there is a larger point that is being missed.   E.g., as per Wiki, the Bakhshali manuscript "is written in an earlier form of Śāradā script, which was mainly in use from the 8th to the 12th century, in the northwestern part of India, such as Kashmir and neighbouring regions."

To me it seems that now the inferred dates of everything written in the Śāradā script may need to be reexamined. (e.g., Wiki again:  "The Śāradā or Sarada or Sharada script is an abugida writing system of the Brahmic family of scripts, developed around the 8th century.")   Even with the caveat that Wiki isn't the most reliable source of information, it seems to me that some non-trivial amount of history may need to be re-written.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Rakhigarhi: New player enters the field

I'm still dubious about finding any ancient DNA in the hot and humid conditions of India, but Professor Vasant Shinde of Deccan College, Pune,  and his collaboration with South Korea (presumably Seoul National University College of Medicine) have tried (and rumors have it that their findings are held up due to politics), and now the Times of India reports that another player has entered the field.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

US loss of military competence

Two stories on the radio:

1. Navy Officials Examine Training Procedures After Ship Accidents

After four ship accidents this year , the US Navy thinks years of short-cuts in training might be a contributing cause.

2. Taliban Attacks U.S. Afghan Base In Response To Leaflets

In Afghanistan, propaganda leaflets dropped by the US Army had a cartoon in which the Shahada was superposed on a dog; the dog was meant to represent the Taliban, being chased by a lion that is the US military.  After so many years in Afghanistan, they don't seem to have a clue as to what is instantly offensive to Muslims.

On Rakhigarhi Rumors

Sunday, September 03, 2017

How to handle the Internet

Friday, September 01, 2017

Raining on Humanity's Parade

The Atlantic

For each degree Celsius of warming the atmosphere is able to hold 6 percent more water. For a planet that’s expected to warm by 4 degrees by the end of the century, that means a transition to a profoundly different climate.

“Rainfall extremes have increased in intensity I think at every latitude in the northern hemisphere,” says Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate scientist Paul O’Gorman.

In 2012, a study led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory oceanographer Paul Durack found that the global water cycle was actually speeding up at twice the rate predicted by climate models, likely intensifying by 16 to 24 percent by the end of the century.
See, we knew that climate models were pretty useless, missing factors of two and all!

In the meantime, someone on dailykos points out: Houston, Mumbai, Ontario, Macau, Niger, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Ireland, Sierra Leone...All Flooded

Returning to the Atlantic:

The African Humid Period brought rains to the Sahara, perhaps the result of more sunlight in the northern hemisphere as the Earth carried on its celestial wobble. Today, by warming the northern hemisphere faster than the southern hemisphere, humans may well again bring more water to this, the world’s largest desert, greening its wastes once more. If so, and perhaps quite unexpectedly, the hurricanes that hit our shores a hemisphere away could become more frequent and intense. A verdant Sahara, by reducing the amount of dust wafting out over the ocean, will allow the sun to beat down on the Atlantic more intensely, forging more powerful cyclones. The idea that shifting rains might turn deserts in Africa to green, spurring more intense hurricanes that will eventually hit North America, illuminates the Rube Goldberg connections of the climate system, and proves there may be more than a few surprises in store as the world changes. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

America's mistake in Afghanistan

The US invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and had pretty much routed the villains of the piece.  But instead of exterminating them, the US let them get away.  Remember the Kunduz airlift?  Ostensibly to let "most valuable non-NATO ally" Pakistan save face and rescue its army personnel who were fighting on the side of the Taliban, it allowed (Wiki) "the evacuation of thousands of top commanders and members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, their Pakistani advisers including Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agents and army personnel, and other Jihadi volunteers and sympathizers, from the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan, in November 2001".

Well, he who runs away today, lives to fight another day.   They lived on, and they have kept on fighting and the US is still in Afghanistan sixteen years later, with no end in sight.

Add to the Kunduz airlift the starting of another disastrous war in Iraq instead of finishing the war in Afghanistan first, and that is about all you need to know why the globe's sole superpower is bogged down in fight it can't win.

Well, there's more you should know, such as that NATO paid Taliban-owned trucking companies to ship supplies across Pakistan to Afghanistan; i.e., they were paying the people they were fighting.  Not a way to quickly end a fight.   Why couldn't NATO use some other route?  Well, that is a long story involving Iran. 

In my opinion, there should have been no evacuation.  The Taliban, al Qaeda and Pakistani army and intelligence supporters of those should have been captured or wiped out in Kunduz.   The US should have ended the war six months later.  This is not to say that Afghanistan would have remained stable in the longer term.   The effect on Pakistan on the elimination of a significant part of its jihad-loving military also might have been temporary if positive.   But it would not be America's war any more.


Monday, August 21, 2017

On the Guha interviewer

In the previously mentioned interview, with Indian historian Ramachandra Guha,  the interviewer, Isaac Chotiner, refers to: "Narendra Modi, a right-wing Hindu demagogue".

Let's settle this systematically.

1. Narendra Modi is certainly a Hindu.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Ramachandra Guha on Pakistan has an interview with historian Ramachandra Guha, on the occasion of India's seventieth independence day.

Among the many piles of rubbish spread out by Guha there, sprinkled perhaps with one or two gems of insight, one particular garbage heap to note is where Guha says:
Second is that partition made Pakistan, unlike India, a frontline state in the Cold War. History and geography have dealt Pakistan a bad deal because it became a frontline state in the Cold War. It had to choose sides against the Soviets, which from the 1950s led to the rise of the military in Pakistan, which undermined the democratic possibilities.
The first, and sometimes it seems like the last, native-born American who saw Pakistan for what it was and is, was Margaret Bourke-White.   (There are plenty of first-generation immigrants who understand Pakistan in all its grotesque horror.)  To her everlasting credit, she saw what Pakistan was and would be, right at its birth.  Seventy years of history and a lifetime as a historian haven't given Ramachandra Guha half as much insight. This passage from her is worth repeating (via here).  Pakistan didn't have to be a frontline state in the Cold War. It was a deliberate choice, right from the point of its founding. 

The Messiah and The Promised Land
Margaret Bourke-White was a correspondent and photographer for LIFE magazine during the WW II years. In September 1947, White went to Pakistan. She met Jinnah and wrote about what she found and heard in her book Halfway to Freedom: A Report on the New India,Simon and Schuster, New York, 1949. The following are the excerpts:

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

PM Modi's Independence Day Address


My dear fellow citizens,
Greetings from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the auspicious occasion of Independence Day.
The nation is celebrating the Independence Day with the festival of Janamashtmi today . I can see a number of Bal Kanaiyas here. We are fortunate to have in our cultural and historical heritage from a Sudarshan Chakradhari Mohan to Charkhadhari Mohan.
From the ramparts of Red Fort, on behalf of our 125 crore countrymen, I bow and pay respects to all those men and women who have sacrificed their lives, who have undergone immense sufferings and made sacrifices for the independence, glory and pride of the country.

Minhaz Merchant's advice to Indian authors

Minhaz Merchant has this advice for Indian authors who want to make it big in the West - three very simple rules:

If you want to get your book published abroad, there are three unwritten rules.
Rule one, slam India.
Rule two, slam India.
Rule three, slam India.
These rules apply to movies as well. Satyajit Ray showcased Indian poverty to Western audiences with his film Pather Panchali in 1955. He was lionised globally.
More contemporaneously, Slumdog Millionaire by British director Danny Boyle was a rage abroad. The one stomach-churning scene in the movie starring Frieda Pinto, Anil Kapoor and Dev Patel where a child falls into an excreta-filled sewer was played and replayed on foreign television networks with feigned horror. (The excreta was, in fact, a mixture of peanut butter and chocolate sauce.)

Books receive the same treatment. Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity which retells her experiences living in a Mumbai slum for three years, sparing no gory detail, was published to international acclaim in 2012.

Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness received an equally rapturous welcome abroad as it wended its laborious way through India’s graveyard of troubles: Kashmir, Maoism, poverty, communalism, violence. Roy’s sense of bitter hopelessness about India enthrals foreign publishers.
Now a book by Sujatha Gidla, Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India, is the latest toast of the West. A Dalit Christian, Gidla tells the story of her uncle Satyamurthy, a Maoist leader who fought the Indian state from the jungles of central India.

In a gushing review, The Economist (July 29, 2017) described Gidla as heralding the “arrival of a formidable new writer.” The magazine added: “Ants among Elephants is an interesting, affecting and ultimately enlightening memoir. It is quite possibly the most striking work of non-fiction set in India since Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.”

The names trip of the tongue nicely: Ray, Roy, Boo, Gidla.

Should all of this matter? Emphatically not. India has many flaws – violence, poverty, rape, corruption, casteism. It is right for journalists and authors, Indian and foreign, to write about them......Sunlight is a disinfectant. Shine it mercilessly on our imperfections. Only then will change take place. The problem though is balance.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Militant Mother Goddess

Friday, August 11, 2017

On the Perils of Remaining a Nerd - 3

The nerds have been coming out with "science".  Damore is stating "scientific truths" and is being mini-Galileo-ed, it would seem.

Note that Damore's firing is because how he pissed on people at work, not because of some taboo on "scientific truths".

The fun is that even Damore and his supporters' science and reasoning seems dubious, per an article on Quora. The whole thing is worth a read, but here are some significant quotes.

Do sex differences make women less suited to be software engineers?
I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.
At what point did we jump from talking about personalities to abilities? It’s a massive leap to conclude that a slight difference in average personality must undermine women’s professional abilities in software engineering.

Sex differences in cognitive abilities have been well-studied, so it’s intriguing that Damore chooses to ignore this vast literature to focus on personality. The reason, however, quickly becomes clear when we look at the evidence: namely, there’s zero evidence that suggests women should make worse programmers. On average, women score slightly worse on certain spatial reasoning problems and better on verbal tests. Their overall problem-solving abilities are equal. Women used to score worse on math, but inclusive environments negate that difference. Even the (relatively robust) difference in spatial reasoning can vanish when women are asked to picture themselves as male. The only published study of coding competency by sex found that women were more likely than men to have their GitHub contributions accepted — but if they were project outsiders, this was true only if their gender was hidden.

As Yonatan Zunger explained, empathy and collaboration are also central to competency, especially at senior levels. Published results confirm this: in a study that attempted to identify the factors that influence software engineers’ success, the most important attribute was being “team oriented”. Neuroticism might hold women back from promotions, but there’s no evidence it makes them worse at their jobs.

Thus, to say there’s “significant overlap” in male/female abilities is a massive understatement. There’s no evidence that any known sex differences make women worse at software engineering.

How about preferences? It’s worth remembering that many of the first programmers were women, and that they made enormous contributions to developing the field of computer science. Female participation only declined when programming became a lucrative, gender-stereotyped career.

But suppose women were innately less likely to want to be software engineers. That would, in itself, tend to create a gender-biased environment in which women are unlikely to choose to become software engineers (no matter how innately suited they are individually). In other words, women’s lower average interest would act as an additional filter on both talent and motivation for the pool of available female software engineers. The result, all else being equal, would be that the average female software engineer, who powered through in defiance of gender norms, would be more innately motivated and/or talented than the average male engineer who faced no such barriers.
All in all, we have no reason to think female software engineers should perform worse at software engineering based on female trait distributions. And there’s a huge amount of evidence that promoting diversity improves the performance of teams and companies.
It bears repeating:  "The result, all else being equal, would be that the average female software engineer, who powered through in defiance of gender norms, would be more innately motivated and/or talented than the average male engineer who faced no such barriers."


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

On the Perils of Remaining a Nerd - 2

In an attempt to give a clue to those who still don't understand the Google firing of Damore:

It would be perfectly OK for Damore to say that all employees should get the opportunity to be mentored.  It would have been perfectly OK for Damore to demand it.  It would have been perfectly OK for him to have organized a public demonstration at the public entrance to the Google headquarters.

It is not OK for Damore to say that the employees in Google who currently get mentors are biologically disadvantaged and that is why the mentorship program is in place, and why it is misguided, and so on.  Your colleagues who have been through the hiring process and who have worked in the corporation and have had satisfactory performance are your equals.

And if you can't/don't get this, then I can't explain it any further.

PS: similarly the "truth" of whether women are the same or different than men in the general population is irrelevant.  The issue is whether the women working at Google are qualified to do their jobs.  I'm quite certain the answer is yes - Google isn't operating a charity.   Then if Google finds that women aren't getting their progressions and promotions and so on that their performance record says that they have earned, they are going to find that they need a diversity program. And they do.  This happens, not because Google as a corporation has some intrinsic fault, but because Google employees are hired from a culture which often finds offensive women being something more than just decorative (e.g., think of the scorn heaped on "pant-suit". Or that the country elected Trump).   A corporation can't rectify that in the culture as a whole, they do what they can within their boundaries.

PPS: Also see this: 

PPPS: and this:

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

On the Perils of Remaining a Nerd

A Google engineer, let's call him X, wrote a now infamous memo on the diversity programs in Google, and was fired for it.  Yonathan Zunger wrote a good analysis of this memo, and what he recommended happened - X was fired.  So most of my commentary ought to be superfluous.

Let's note that Google is a business, not a university, think-tank, research institute or public forum.   It is incumbent on every employee not to embarrass their employer, and that too, on the employer's dime, if the employer is not doing anything illegitimate.   X violated this rule in spades, and no matter what the content of his memo, that alone justifies his being fired.

When I first read X's memo, the thing that was important that I latched on to is something Zunger latched on to as well (I read Zunger much later) and that is maybe why I like Zunger's analysis.
One very important true statement which this manifesto makes is that male gender roles remain highly inflexible.
A second thing to note is that as a business, Google would want to keep a good work environment for all its employees.   A senior engineer mouthing off that an entire section of the Google workforce - the women employees - are where they are because of Google's affirmative actions, does not contribute to that work environment.   That too is a good cause for being fired.

A third thing to note is that if you think that X was saying something original, or speaking truth to power or some such, about the nature of men and women, is that no, he wasn't.  It isn't original; it isn't the truth If you think that the scientific literature supports what X says, do remember, most of the research that is relevant is on WEIRD people (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic, acronym via Jonathan Haidt),  i.e., a peculiar and biased sample of the human race.  Taking these to be the way things are is unscientific.

Another issue causing debate, this not from X, but from Zunger is this:
Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. 
If you doubt it, think GNU & Linux,  and all the open source that's out there; the collaborations that produce standards, the engineering and scientific collaborations that produce things like the CERN collider, and so on.  Or cities, and power grids and such.  Google is into producing things of this scale.
If you’re a professional, especially one working on systems that can use terms like “planet-scale” and “carrier-class” without the slightest exaggeration, then you’ll quickly find that the large bulk of your job is about coordinating and cooperating with other groups.
Also note that Zunger does explicitly state that one's technical competence comes first, and is a given for his analysis.  

What about an abrasive personality like Steve Jobs?  Well, first, he had an uncanny ability to get into the mind of the customer and figure out what would appeal to them; and second, if you read about Apple culture, abrasive though Jobs was, he built effective collaborations.  Third, Jobs didn't build a lot that was "planet-scale" or "carrier-class".  The brilliant loner engineer certainly can have something to offer - but probably in a different sort of business than Google.


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

About Dunkirk

Sunny Singh writes in the Guardian:

What a surprise that Nigel Farage has endorsed the new fantasy-disguised-as-historical war film, Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan’s movie is an inadvertently timely, thinly veiled Brexiteer fantasy in which plucky Britons heroically retreat from the dangerous shores of Europe. Most importantly, it pushes the narrative that it was Britain as it exists today – and not the one with a global empire – that stood alone against the “European peril”.
To do so, it erases the Royal Indian Army Services Corp companies, which were not only on the beach, but tasked with transporting supplies over terrain that was inaccessible for the British Expeditionary Force’s motorised transport companies. It also ignores the fact that by 1938, lascars – mostly from South Asia and East Africa – counted for one of four crewmen on British merchant vessels, and thus participated in large numbers in the evacuation.
Perhaps Nolan chose to follow the example of the original allies in the second world war who staged a white-only liberation of Paris even though 65% of the Free French Army troops were from West Africa. 

All storytellers – and novelists, poets, journalists, and filmmakers are, ultimately, just that – know the power we hold. Stories can dehumanise, demonise and erase. Such stories are essential to pave the way for physical and material violence against those we learn to hate. But stories are also the only means of humanising those deemed inhuman; to create pity, compassion, sympathy, even love for those who are strange and strangers. Stories decide the difference between life and death. And that is why Dunkirk – and indeed any story – is never just a story.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Book memo: Billy Bunter & The Schoolboy Broadcasters

"The Schoolboy Broadcasters" is "This week's ripping school story of Harry Wharton & Co. at Greyfriars".  This week is February 12th, 1927, and this is the facsimile edition of The Magnet  published by Howard Baker Press, London.

The students at Greyfriars get a chance to broadcast their stuff over a new experimental radio station, and get into a bigger adventure than one would have imagined. 

The Magnet's Motto: "Clean, Wholesome Literature!".  That it is.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Republic dodges a bullet - barely

While most commentators are focused on the fate of the people and their healthcare, which is proper, I'd like to draw attention to the travesty that Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell almost succeeded in pulling off.

The House gave its assent to a bill that could not otherwise get a majority of the votes in the House on the assurance that the bill would be changed anyway in the Senate; and the Senate was cajoled to do the same on the assurance that the bill would be changed anyway in conference.   That is, this was a way to get through a blank check legislation that could not get votes in the House and in the Senate, and that would take shape in conference.

This attempt failed with 46 Democrats, 2 Independents and 3 Republicans voting against it in the Senate.  While 50 of them had been holding firm from the outset,  one of them, the "political maverick" John McCain, finally put his vote where his speeches have been.

For this travesty of democracy, in my opinion, Ryan, McConnell and all their willing collaborators should be tarred and feathered and driven out of town.

PS: Yes, what is so democratic about tarring and feathering?  Do understand this - in my opinion, Ryan and McConnell are oath-breakers - they have broken their oath to uphold the Constitution, not technically, but in spirit.  Yes, they have broken no laws, they've operated within rules of procedure, etc.  I guess we could try to make airtight rules - but the operation of any system involving humans requires a certain minimum of character and integrity.  It should not require endless rule-making to constrain people to do the right thing.   In my opinion, these folks have forfeited any claim to any consideration, they should be "cast into the outer darkness".

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Josh Marshall: The Darkness and the Rot

One of Marshall's best pieces so far.

The key insight:  "Eventually I sensed that Trump wasn’t inducing people’s self-destruction so much as he was acting like a divining rod, revealing rot that existed already but was not apparent."

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Steve Dickinson: How to sell your high-value equipment in China

Via BRF, I came across these three posts on how to do business in China.  It seems like a credible set of posts to me, and is pretty amazing and dismaying.   I'm not excerpting anything here, read the three parts.  I wonder how all of this squares with WTO, free trade and all the other standard rhetorical garbage that is trotted out. If you have answers, comments are welcome.

Part I:
Part II:
Part III:

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, 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] the city of an enemy, when taken while still in the fury of victory, they venerate the conquered 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.