Miscellaneous: my job situation, the Tatas, and taking a break…

The Diwali is here, already!

This year’s Diwali isn’t going great for me. I am still jobless—without reason or rhyme. It is difficult to enjoy Diwali against that backdrop.


As you know, engineering colleges affiliated to the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU for short) have been telling me that my Metallurgy+Mechanical background isn’t acceptable, even though the rules have changed to the contrary, and say that I now qualify (in my interpretation).

Recently I attended an interview, and it seems like I may be able to obtain a clear-cut answer on my eligibility (i.e. the equivalence of Metallurgy and Mechanical) from SPPU.

The thing is, SPPU has been having no Dean for its Engineering faculty for about a year or more by now, because the Maharashtra state government hasn’t so far undertaken the procedure to elect (or select) the next Dean.

This recent interview which I mentioned above, was for a Principal’s post, and I was short-listed. As is the common practice here, the short-listed candidates were all invited at the same time, and thus, I had an opportunity to interact with these other, senior-level professors.

These senior professors (some of them already active as Principals at other colleges) told me that it isn’t just SPPU, but all the universities in Maharashtra. They all are currently having only an in-charge or acting Dean for their engineering faculties, because the procedure to appoint the next set of Deans, which was due to occur this month (October) has once again been postponed by yet another year.

Policy decisions such as the Metallurgy and Mechanical equivalence at SPPU have been pending, they told me, because the acting Dean can easily say that he has no powers to do that. Though the other universities are clear that I would qualify, if a genius running an engineering college under SPPU thinks that I don’t, then the matter normally goes to the Dean. If the Dean is not official, if he is only acting, he doesn’t want to take “risk,” so he takes no decision at all. Not just the equivalence issues, there are certain other policy decisions too, which have been pending, they told me. The in-charge Deans have been processing only the routine work, and not taking any policy decisions. The next set of Deans were expected to get appointed by June 2016, and then, after postponement, by October 2016. (“achhchhe din!”)

Now that the appointments have been officially postponed by one whole year (“achhchhe din,” again!), the colleges themselves have begun going to the universities for obtaining the professor’s approvals, arguing that faculty approvals is a routine matter, and that they cannot properly function without having approved faculty.

Thus, the university (SPPU) has begun appointing panels for faculty interviews. There has been a spate of faculty recruitment ads after the current semester got going (“achhchhe din!”).

The particular interview which I attended, these other candidates informed me, was with a University-appointed panel—i.e., of the kind which allows approvals. (Otherwise, the appointments are made by the affiliating colleges on their own, but only on a temporary, ad-hoc basis, and therefore, for a limited time.)

Please note, all the above is what I gathered from their talk. I do not know what the situation is exactly like. (Comments concerning “achhchhe din!,” however, are strictly mine.)

But yes, it did turn out that the interview panel here was from the university. Being a senior post (Principal), the panel included both the immediately past Dean (Prof. G. K. Kharate) and the new, in-charge Dean (Prof. Dr. Nerkar, of PVG College, Pune).

During my interview, if the manner in which Prof. Kharate (the past Dean) now said things is any indication, it means that I should now qualify even in the SPPU. This would be according to the new GR about which I had written a few months ago, here [^]. Essentially, Prof. Kharate wondered aloud as to why there was any more confusion because the government had already clarified the situation with the new rules.

I took that to mean that I qualify.

Of course, these SPPU geniuses are what they are, and therefore, they—these same two SPPU Deans—could very well say, in future, that I don’t qualify. After all, I didn’t ask them the unambiguous question “With my Metallurgy background, do I qualify for a Mechanical Engineering (full) Professor’s job or not? Yes, or no?;”  and they didn’t then answer in yes or no terms.

Of course, right in the middle of an on-going job interview couldn’t possibly have been the best time and place to get them to positively confirm that I do qualify. (Their informal indications, however, were clearly along the lines that I do qualify.)

Now that the Diwali break has arrived, the colleges are closed, and so, I would be able to approach Prof. Dr. Nerkar (the currently acting/in-charge Dean) only after a week or so. I intend to do that and have him pin down the issue in clear-cut terms.

At the conclusion of my interview, I told the interview committee exactly the same thing which I told you at the beginning of this post, viz., that this Diwali means darkness to me.

But yes, we can hope that Prof. Dr. Nerkar would issue the clarification at least after the Diwali. If not, I intend to approach Prof. Dr. Gade, the Vice-Chancellor of SPPU. … I could easily do that. I am very social, that way.

And, the other reason is, at the university next door—the Shivaji University—they did answer my email asking them to clarify these branch-equivalence issues. The SPPU is the worst university among the three in the Western Maharashtra region (the other two being, the University of Mumbai and the Shivaji University Kolhapur). [I want to teach in Pune only because it’s my home-town, and thus convenient to me and my family, not because SPPU’s standards are high.]

Anyway, I now do have something in hand to show Prof. Dr. Gade when I see him—the letter from the Shivaji University staff. … At the Shivaji University, I didn’t have to go and see anyone in person there—not even the administrative staff let alone the acting Dean or the Vice-Chancellor. The matter got clarified just via a routine email. There is a simple lesson that SPPU may learn from the Shivaji and Mumbai universities, and under Prof. Dr. Gade, I hope they do.

… Of course, I do also hope that I don’t have to see Prof. Dr. Gade (the Vice-Chancellor). I do hope that meeting just Prof. Dr. Nerkar (the in-charge Dean) should be sufficient.

If they refuse me an appointment, I will get even more social than my usual self—I will approach certain eminent retired people from Pune such as Dr. Bhatkar (the founder of C-DAC) or Dr. Mashelkar (the former Director General of CSIR, India).

Here is a hoping that I don’t have to turn into a social butterfly, and that soon after Diwali, the matters would get moving smoothly. Let’s hope so.

And with that hope in my heart, let me wish you all a very happy and prosperous Diwali. … As to me, I will try to make as much good of a bad situation that I can.


Still, I don’t find myself to be too enthusiastic. I don’t feel like doing much anything. [In a way, I feel tired.] Therefore, I am going to take a break from blogging.

I have managed to write something more on the concept of space. I found that I should be able to finish this series now. I had begun it in 2013; see here [^].

Concepts like space and time are very deep matters, and I still have to get enough clarity on a few issues, though all such remaining issues are relatively quite minor. I should be able to get through them in almost no time.

From the new material which I have written recently, I guess it would be enough to write just one or two posts, and then the series would get over. What then will remain would be mostly polemics, and that part can be taken on the fly whenever the need to do so arises.

I may also think of giving some indications on the concept of time, but, as I said, I find myself too lacking in enthusiasm these days. Being jobless—despite having the kind of resume I have—does have a way of generating a certain amount of boredom in you, a certain degree of disintegration at least to your energy and enthusiasm, even if not to your soul.


So, let’s see. Let the Diwali vacations get over, and I should come back and resume my blogging, telling you what all transpired in my meeting/interaction with the in-charge Dean, and the related matters.


Since I am not going to be blogging for some time, let me note a couple of notable things.

One, the US Presidential elections. I am not at all interested in that. So let me leave it aside.

Two, the Tata Sons issue. It does interest me a bit, so let me write down a bit on it.


I was not as surprised as some of the newspaper editorials and columns say they were. The days of JRD are long gone. The Tatas already were a changed company when Cyrus Mistry took over from Ratan Tata.

Once I returned from the USA in 2001, despite my resume, I never got a chance with the new Tatas (either at TRDDC or at TCS). Such a thing would have been unthinkable during JRD’s times. … Even keeping it aside, what all I observed about the Tatas over the past 1.5 decades was enough for me not to be at all surprised by something like the current fiasco.

No, Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, reading things from where I sit, the Tata fiasco doesn’t do any significant harm to the social legitimacy of Capitalism in India. People—common people—have long ago observed and concluded what had to be. If what the common people think were to be caricatured, it would look like the position you ascribe to the “cynics”. But no, IMO, this position isn’t cynical. To carry realistic impressions about hallowed icons is not quite the same as being a cynic.

Yes, as Harsh Goenka astutely pointed out in his comment in today’s ToI, Ratan Tata’s tenure coincided with the semi-liberalization era: 1991–2012. Whenever you come to compare Ratan Tata with Cyrus Mistry, you cannot overlook that broad context.

I have always thought that JRD left too big shoes for any one to fill in. But, with due respect to Ratan Tata, I still would have to say that no one could possibly entertain thinking in similar terms, when it comes to Ratan Tata’s retirement.

Looking at the facts and figures reported this week, I don’t think Mistry was doing a lousy job. Reading through his letter, I in fact marvel at how well he understood his job—and for this reason, I speculate that he must have been doing his job pretty well. …

Realize, the letter was written within a day or two after an unceremonious removal from the top post of a 100+ years old Indian icon, a $100 billion behemoth. Seen against this backdrop, the letter is extraordinarily restrained; it shows an unusual level of maturity. To expect any more “restraint” is to actually confess ignorance of such basic things as human nature and character. (Sadhus, let me remind you, are known to kill each other in their fights at the Kumbh Mela, just for the priority in taking the Shahi Snaan. Keep that in mind the next time you utter something on nobility of character and culture.)

And yes, I also had come to think that the Nano project was doomed—I just didn’t have the sales and profitability figures, which got reported only today. My reasons were simple; they were purely from an ordinary consumer’s point of view. If you are selling the Nano at around Rs. 2.5 lakhs, just think of the alternatives that the consumer has today: you could get a used car in a “good enough” condition, not just Maruti Alto but even a somewhat more used Toyota Innova, at roughly the same price.

Anyway, I don’t understand these corporate matters much, so let me shut up.


But, yes, knowing the house of Tatas and their brand managers, I can predict right away that in the near future, you are going to see the Tatas announce a product like “Tata Quantum Dot,” or “Tata Silicon Dot,” or something like that. … Why do I think so?

I started writing on quantum mechanics, and roughly around the same time, the cable-less Internet, based on the electromagnetic waves (mobile, Wi-Fi) was getting going in India. So, the Tatas came out with the Tata Photon. Yes, “Photon”. The Tata Photon. … It meant nothing more than the usual Internet dongle (2G, and then 3G) that everybody else was already supplying anyway. (And the Tata Photon never worked too well in areas other than in the Mumbai city.)

Then, the USA was abuzz with the catch-words like nano-technology, and the Tata brand managers decided to do something with that name, and thus came the Tata “Nano.” By now, every one knows what it means.

Today, the USA and other countries are abuzz with words like “Quantum Supremacy” and things like that. You can only expect some Tata brand managers to latch on to this buzzword, and launch a product like, say, Tata Quantum Dot or Tata Silicon Dot—or both!

Tata Silicon Dot, I predict, would signal the arrival of the house of Tatas into the business of supplying the sand required for civil engineering construction.

Tata Quantum Dot, on the other hand, would mean that the house of Tatas had taken an entry into the business of plastic dart toys. Or, the business of the “bindi”s that ladies wear. That is what the house of Tatas would mean by the name Tata Quantum Dot.

And here our policy analysts think that something happening to the house of Tatas is going to affect the credibility or social legitimacy of Capitalism itself in India! Oh wow!!

Ummm…. Does any policy research center in India have any data on the proportion of the private business in the overall Indian economy (including both the organized and the unorganized sectors) over the years, say starting from 1930s? Also, the quantum of the government expenditure in the Indian economy, and its proportion in the national GDP over the same period? Would they care to share it, please? Or is it that they don’t have to look at such data for their policy research purposes? … As to me, I have been on the lookout for data like that for quite some time now, but never could see it compiled anywhere. That’s why the request. Please drop me a line if you spot a reliable source.

OK, bye for now.


A Song I Like:

Since I won’t be blogging for a while, let me give away the “other” song right away, I mean the song which had somehow happened to strike me as being similar to the song “too laali hai savere waali”; see the Song I Like section here [^]. This other song is:

(Hindi) “bhigee bhigee raaton mein…”
Music: R. D. Burman
Singers: Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

I take the “raaga” of the earlier song (“too laali hai”) as “pahaaDee”—or at least that’s what I got from an Internet search. The “raaga” of the current song (“bhigee…”) isn’t listed at any Web site. Assuming it’s not “pahaaDee” (or a variant on that), the question becomes, why the two songs might have struck at least somewhat similar to me—why, humming one song, I very naturally and casually happened to remember the other song.

It would be interesting to see if Data Science can be used to spot (and quantify) similarities in songs. The traditional music theory puts too much emphasis, IMO, on “raaga” alone. But there can be other bases for similarities, too. The sound patterns of musical pieces, I think, don’t get exhaustively (and at times not even essentially) characterized by the idea of the “raaga” alone. Talking of these two songs in particular, the similarity I caught might have been connected with certain ups and downs in notes with a somehow similarly sounding tempo. The style of the tunes sounds similar. Guess Data Science might be able to shed some light on things like that…. It would be interesting, to look into that, no? That’s what I had thought…

I mean, I had thought. … But then, these days, as I said, I am unable to work on this topic, too…  I just don’t have any enthusiasm left. Honest. I somehow finished this post, only because I won’t be posting for a while…

So, there. Bye for now, take care, and best!


[E&OE]

 

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Summer, boredom, city skyline, etc.

Boredom. That’s what my life has become of late. … Boredom. … Pure boredom.

Life is boring.

Nothing interests me. Don’t feel like writing anything.

No, it’s not called a writer’s block. To have a writer’s block, first you need to be a writer. And my problem is that I don’t even want to be a writer. Not even just a plain reader. Both are boring propositions.

Life, somehow, has become boring to that great an extent.

Summers always do that to me.


While at IIT Madras, we (a few friends of mine and I) had begun using a special term for that: (Sanskrit) “glaani.”

Usage pattern:

“Did you work out those lab calculations?”

“.” [No answer from me.]

“Ajit, did you complete those lab calculations?”

“.” [No answer.]

“Machchaa…”

“.” [Still no answer.]

The fellow turns around, lethargically. [He, too, doesn’t have much energy left to pursue anything; the heat has been that bad…] … Begins to drag his feet back to his room.

“glaani.” [One attempts some answer, some explanation.]

The fellow does not even care to look back.

The use-case scenario is over.

Currently, it’s summer time, and this year in particular, I am finding it even more lethargy-inducing and boring than it usually is…


Here is an idea I had. I wanted to expand it in a blog post. But since everything has become so summer-ly boring, I am not going to do that. Instead, I will just mention the idea, and let it go at that.

How do you visually estimate the water requirements of a human settlement, say, a city? Say a city with skyscrapers, like Mumbai? (Skyscrapers? In Mumbai? OK, let’s agree to call them that.)

Start with a decent estimate of per capita water requirement. Something like, say, 135 liters/day/person. That is, 1.35 \times 10^2 \times 10^{-3} = 1.35 \times 10^{-1} cubic meters. For one year, it translates to 0.135 \times 365 = 49.275 \approx 50 cubic meters.

An average room in an average apartment is about 10 feet X 12 feet. With a standard height of 10 feet, its volume, in cubic meters, is: 3.048 \times 3.6576 \times 3.048 = 33.98 \approx 35 cubic meters.

Of course, 135 liters/day is an estimate on a slightly higher side; if what I recall is right, the planning estimates range from even as low as 50 liters/day/person. So, taking a somewhat lower estimate for the daily per capita requirement (figure out exactly how much), you basically arrive at this neat nugget:

Think of one apartment room, full of water. That much volume each person needs, for the entire year.

If one person lives in one room (or if a family of four people lives in a 2BHK apartment), then the volume of that apartment is their yearly water requirement.

Hardly surprising. In the traditional water-harvesting in Rajasthan, they would have single-storied houses, and roughly the same volume for an underground reservoir of water. Last year, I blogged quite a bit about water resources and water conservation; check out tags like “water resources” [^].

So, the next time you look at a city skyline, mentally invert it: imagine a dam-valley that is just as deep as the skyline’s height, containing water for that skyline. That would be the residential water requirement of that city.

Of course, if the population density is greater, if one apartment room accommodates 2, 3 (or even more number of) people (as is the common in Mumbai), then the visualization fails. I mean to say: You then have to imagine a deeper (or wider) dam valley.

… I used to be skeptical of residential water harvesting schemes. I used to think that it was a typical NGO type of day-dreaming, not backed up by hard data. I used to think that even if every 3-story apartment building covered its entire plot area (and not just the built-up area) with a 1 to 2 story-deep tank beneath it, it wouldn’t last for even a couple of months. But when I did the actual calculations (as above), I became convinced of the utility of the residential water harvesting schemes—if the storage is big enough.


Of course, as one often hears these days, if common people are going to look after everything from electricity (portable gen-sets, batteries and inverters), water (residential water harvesting), garbage (composting in the house/terrace garden), even security (gated communities with privately paid watchmen), then what the hell is the government for?

If your anger has subsided, realize that only the last (security) falls under the proper functions of government; the rest should actually be services rendered by private businesses. And if government gets out of every thing but the defense, the police and the courts, the economic progress would so humongous that none would bother reading or writing blog posts on residential water conservation schemes—there would be very competent businesses with private dams and private canals to deliver you clean water very cheaply (also via private trains, if the need be)… But then, I am not going to write about it.  Writing is boring. Life is boring. …. So, just look up Ayn Rand if you want, OK?

… Yawns. Life is boring.

BTW, did you notice that boring also means digging, and I was somehow talking about inverting the skyline, i.e., imagining wells and valleys. Kindaa double meaning, the word “boring” happens to have, and I happen to have used it in both senses, haven’t I?

Oh well. But really, really speaking, I meant it only in the simplest, most basic sense.

Life is boring. … Yawns….

[E&OE]

 

 

From the horses’ mouths

My first choice for the title was: “From the Nobel Laureate’s Mouth”; I had spotted only the opinion piece by Professor David Gross in yesterday’s Indian Express [^]. Doing the ‘net search today for the URI link to provide here, I found that there also were three other Nobel laureates, also joined by one Fields Medalists. And they all were saying more or less the same thing [^].

… That way, coming from a Marathi-medium schooling background, I had always had a bit of suspicion for the phrase “from the horse’s mouth.” It seemed OK to use in the news reports when, say, a wrong-doer admits his wrong. But purely going by the usage, I could see that the phrase would also be used in the sense: “from the top-gun himself,” or “from the otherwise silent doer himself.” This guess turns out to be right [^]. Further, since there were as many as five “horses” here, the word to be used would have to be in the plural, and if you say it aloud: “From the horses’ mouths” [go ahead, say it aloud, sort of like:“horseses” mouth) it really sounds perfect (for something to be posted on the ‘net).

So, that’s how comes the title.

As to the horses’ thoughts… Ummm…

[But please, please, give me just a moment to get back to the title again, and congratulate me for not having chosen a title like: “From Dave Himself.” You see, Professor David Gross had visited COEP in 2013, and I might have been, you know, within 50 meters of where he was sitting. I mean, of all places, in the COEP campus! Right in the COEP campus!! [^]. Obviously, you must compliment me for my sense of restraint, of making understatements.]

OK. As to their thoughts… Umm….

I think these guys are being way too optimistic. Also naive.

Without substantial economic reforms, I see no possibility of the Indian Science in general undergoing any significant transformation yet again. And substantial economic reforms aren’t happening here any more. In fact, no one is even talking about it, any more. [Check out Arnab’s hours, or Sardesai’s, or Dutt’s, if you want to find out what they are talking about. [I don’t, because I know.]]

It was the 1991 that could propel, say a Mashelkar into prominence several years later, and help transform the 70+ CSIR labs from something like less than 100 patents a year, to thousands of them per year—all within a matter of a few years [less than a decade, to be sure]. If the same momentum were to be kept, the figure should have gone up to at least tens of thousands of patents by the CSIR labs alone—and with a substantial increase in the share of the international patents among them. Ditto, for the high-quality international journal papers.

Why didn’t any of it happen? Plain and clear. The momentum created by the economic liberalization of the early 1990s has been all but lost. Come on, face it, 1991 was twenty-five years ago.

To an anthropologist, 25 years is like an entire generation! More than enough of a time to lose any half-hearted momentum (which, despite the hysterical Indian press, the liberalization in the early 1990s was).

It’s been years that we entered the staleness 2.0 of the mixed economy 1.0. Even today, the situation continues “as is,” despite a change of regime in New Delhi. Yes, even under “Modiji.” [I am quoting Professor Gross—I mean the word.]

But, yes, the five gentlemen were also being realistic: Each one of them emphasized decades.

Decades of sustained efforts would have to go in, before the fruits could begin to be had. [But you know that decades isn’t a very long period—just recall what was happening to India’s economy some two decades ago—in the mid ’90s.]

Talking of how realistic they actually were being, Haroche even pointed out the lack of freedom in China [obvious to any one outside of California], and its presence in Europe [I don’t know about that] and in India [yeah, right!].

But anyway, it’s nice to hear something like this being highlighted after an Indian Science Congress, rather than, say, “vimaanshaastra.”

Both happened during “Modiji”’s tenure. So what is it that really accounts for the difference? I have no idea. (It can’t be a “pravaasi” whatever, to be sure; they would be too busy booking the next Olympics-size stadium.)

Whoever within the organizers of the Congress was responsible for the difference, compliments are due to him. (Hindi) “der se kiyaa lekin kuchh achhaa hi to kiyaa.”

In the meanwhile, bring out your non-programmable desk calculators and do some exercises: 0.8 \times \dots, 2.7 \times \dots, 4.4 \times \dots and 2.1 \times \dots. Oh well, you will have to refer to the ‘net.

OK then. Find out also the R&D spending by, say, (i) Baba Ramdev’s pharmaceutical industries, (ii) the top or most well-established five industrial groups in India (Reliance, Tatas, Mittals, whoever…), and (iii) the top three (or five) Indian IT firms. Compare them to those in the advanced countries. Let your comparisons be comparable: pharma to pharma; oil, steel and engineering (and salt!) to oil, steel and engineering (and salt!); IT to IT [engineering IT to engineering IT]; overall (GDP) to overall (GDP).

And, never forget that bit about freedom. Don’t just count the beans “spent” on research. Think also about whether it is the government spending or the private spending, and where the expenditure occurs (in private universities, private labs, independently run government labs, public universities in a country with a past of a private control, etc., or in the in-service-pensioner’s-paradises with something like “laboratory” in their titles).


But why didn’t the “horses” cite any specific statistics about how many Indian students go abroad for their graduate studies, and choose to permanently settle there—their trends?

Obvious: Nobel and Fields laureates (and in fact any visiting dignitaries to any country (and in fact any visitors to a foreign country)) generally tend to be more polite, and so tend to make understatements when it comes to criticism (of that host country). That’s why.


A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “kahin naa jaa…”
Music: R. D. Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Singers: Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar

[E&OE]

What are the rules for hiring?

There is a matter of a suspense which should break by the time I come back for my next post. Here is the story. (Narrated, as usual, tortuously and at a length. (Don’t read if such posts turn you off.))

The mechanical engineering professors in the Savitribai Phule University of Pune, as you know, have been pitted against hiring of people with a background like mine: BE and MTech in Metallurgy; PhD in Mechanical. “You must have had at least one of the pre-PhD degrees in mechanical, why didn’t you?” they have been respectively saying and asking (in a probing manner).

Most people occupying the working of the faculty of engineering in this university these days, in fact have come not from the University of Pune (or the University of Poona) itself; they have come from other universities. Typically, they have come from Aurangabad, Amaravati, and Walchand—but not from IITs or IISc or the better ranked universities in the UK/USA.

In my experience (i.e. with the exception of the late Prof. Dr. S. R. Kajale, who did have has UG degree from Amaravati), all of them carry faulty notions about the traditions at this university. In the Pune (or Poona) University, these professors have tried to explain to me, in a tone consisting of a feeling of an utmost certainty as arising from a superior educational experience, the ordinary exasperation arising after not being understood, an abstract projection of an abstract feeling for the acute concerns of the jobless-ness of the person sitting across the table, as well as, all in all, a very definite sense of their own unquestionably high moral and intellectual superiority, that there always has been this policy. [They have never felt it necessary to enjoin in their comment their own experiences or knowledge of their undergraduate universities/colleges. They were in the University of Pune, they knew what they were talking about, the matter ended there, as far they were concerned.]

Wrong. Factually wrong.

The other universities might have historically had this problem, but not the University of Pune (i.e., barring a few well-known personality-related issues concerning the Mechanical and Metallurgy Departments at COEP—the only engineering college this university had, for a long time).

IIT Bombay (with a heavy institutional-cultural influence of the Russians that lasted for too long a time) also have had this problem (concerning branch-“jumping”) but rather in an off and on manner; the University of Mumbai, to my knowledge, never (not at least concerning the specific branches of Metallurgy and Mechanical).

IIT Bombay did have this problem in the mid-1970s; they were against this particular branch jumping (even while promoting their interdisciplinary research centers). Then, during the mid-1980s, they didn’t have this problem. (I could have got an MTech in Mechanical Engineering at IIT Bombay (I had enough of a GATE score to be competitive back then); it’s just that I chose not to pursue anything at this IIT—this IIT was too strong on hype and too low on the academic freedom to the student concerning mixing courses from different departments.) Then, over a period of time, by the time I was applying for PhD admissions during the early naughties, IIT Bombay had once again gone back to having a problem about branch-“jumping”. I don’t know which way blows the wind of their whims, as of today.

So, historically, other universities might have had problems with “branch-jumping,” but not so, for a long time, the University of Poona/Pune. Certainly not before the people from Amaravati, Aurangabad, Shivaji etc. began rushing in to fill the ranks of professorships, in this university. (Surprisingly, the University of Mumbai carried on their more liberal policies concerning the metallurgy and mechanical branches, despite a similar trend of demographics occurring also at its affiliating colleges; I don’t know the reason why. It’s possible that they, too, weren’t being too liberal; it was just that they didn’t have a separate branch of Metallurgy, and so, the issue of the turf-battles and the academic self-inflations of the Mechanical departments, never arose.)

In contrast, COEP and University of Poona actually had no issue admitting BE Metallurgy graduates to the ME Mechanical program—the only requirement was a first class at BE Metallurgy. (And, a higher second, if the BE was in Mechanical itself. Also, vice-versa: For ME in Metallurgy, a first class would be required from the BE Mechanical graduates, and a higher-second from BE Metallurgy graduates.)

How do I know? Because I myself had taken admission to ME Mechanical program at COEP once, back in 1989/1990 (I have forgotten precisely when). Having decided to pursue computational mechanics, I had taken admission to ME Mechanical at COEP, just as a fall-back option to my US applications, back then, I think. And, yes, even back then, I was interested only in computational mechanics. I had just an interest, no real idea of what all this sub-field involves. I in fact didn’t even know programming at that time. But, by that time, I had already spent 1.5 years on the IIT Madras campus, gotten some idea about FEM and computational modeling, and after spending some time in industry now had come to realize that computational mechanics was the field of my life’s calling. That’s how, I had taken an admission in the Mechanical department.

Actually, I had forgotten about it—I mean this admission of mine. I was reminded of it when, starting mid-2002, I tried to get admission at COEP, now for a PhD in Mechanical (with a thesis in computational mechanics, on a topic of my choice).

By the time it was April 2003, after having going through 12+ guides (all of who declined to be my official guide), and after having been declined by IIT Bombay (for branch-jumping issue), I finally was accepted by a professor at COEP. And then, the then director of COEP, Ashok Ghatol, kept my application in abeyance for more than six months.

During this time, one day in mid-2003—mid-2004, I received a letter from the COEP library threatening me with a legal action. The letter said that if I didn’t return the books I had borrowed, I would face action by the police. Yes, police, it had explicitly mentioned. The letter was delivered not by ordinary post (the way such letters usually are), and in fact not even by registered post (with the acknowledgment-due slip), but, as far as I remember it, by SpeedPost. Further, it noted that until the matter was legally resolved, I would be barred from many things such as: issuance of any certificate from COEP, applying for a job at COEP, and applying for admission for any further studies at COEP.

I first went through the collection of my books to locate this book, but couldn’t find it. (I in fact didn’t even recognize the book by its title, back then.) Until 1990 (when I went to the USA, and so, some of my habits here broke away), I would keep an excellent record for all the books I had. The book mentioned in the letter was not there in this list. (I would maintain this list in an old 80-page notebook, not in a PC database.) So, I visited the COEP library to figure out the issue. After some four/five visits to the administration building and the library on some six/seven separate days, I finally gathered that the book was supposedly issued to me not when I was a BE student, but when I was an ME student there!

Oh yes! Then the bulb lit up!! I was once a student of ME (Mechanical), at COEP! I had never attended a single class, but I had officially registered for the program, anyway.

Ashok Ghatol, the Director of COEP in 2003–04, it would seem, was being very conscientious. How else could the administration of my alma mater wake up about this library book only now—after a few months after my acceptance by a PhD guide? After all, as far as this library book went, they had never sent a single letter any single time over the earlier 12+ years. But, looking at my PhD application with this guide, they did somehow think of it. Conscientious, nay, very, very conscientious, COEP had turned, in the decade+ time that had elapsed when I was a student here last (in 1989/90).

As would be very easy for anyone to predict, it turned out that the record of the books borrowed by me were, indeed, very meticulously kept also in the COEP library. However, the signature for the last entry on my reader’s card—the entry for the un-returned book—was not mine. It did look somewhat like mine, but it wasn’t actually mine. At least I had a hard time identifying it as my signature. I could convince the library folks about my doubt, but only after not only repeatedly signing in their presence but also bringing and showing my passport to them. Finally, they yielded, and acknowledged the possibility of the existence of a doubt.

But what/who was the source of this extra line? I don’t know. I still don’t. But no, I didn’t even think of accusing the COEP folks with any malpractice. A far more likely possibility here was that some other student (say one of my co-students at ME, or, friends in the Metallurgy department, or a student whose ME project I had informally guided in the late 80s—he had won a University Gold Medal for that project) might have borrowed my library card, and might have used it to borrow a book for their use. (This used to be a common practice at COEP. The number of books to refer could easily exceed the number of books allowed. So, people would freely use each other’s cards, often without knowledge of which book had been checked out on one’s name.) And then, probably, he had forgotten to return the book. Possible. And, of course, there could be other possibilities, too; I don’t know. (The book was not on a topic of one of my own interests back then—viz. computational mechanics.)

Anyway, even as I became very well aware of Ghatol’s utmost conscientiousness by this time, I also, by this time, was a sufficiently grown up educated Indian to be well aware of the way that Indian governments work. I would be asked to pay a fine, I was sure. And the fine, I was sure, would be within a few hundred rupees. It would have to be only a fine, not a book-replacement. Two reasons: (i) There would no possibility of book-replacement for the COEP library. The missing book, I think, was an old one, and so the possibility of finding a replacement was remote. Further, this being a government college, a policy of book-replacement would, in principle, go against the policy of procurement of any of the library holdings only in the bulk and only by the college itself, not by a student, and only from one of the approved list of book vendors. (ii) The rules for the fine would refer only to the original cost, not to the current market price, or the price arrived at after accounting for inflation. The settlement of issues via the latter route would not only violate the principle behind the procurement policy, but it would also require making a reference to the State Accounting and Finance Department in Mumbai, and there in fact would be no precedent or a policy on how to make this reference—none would even know what category the outward register’s entry should note.

I didn’t divulge the above two reasons to the COEP staff; I merely let them decide. Of course, it took a few visits to the COEP library and the main administration block, before the whole issue could be settled. The end result was, I ended up paying a fine, I think an amount less than Rs. 500. (Yes, I had to write an application, get it endorsed from two different people each in the administration block and the library, fill four copies of the challan, get them endorsed, and then go to that World Famous branch of the SBI on the COEP campus, to make the payment of this fine.) But yes, this part of the institutional objection against my PhD admission was, thereby, cleared.

[I had shown my willingness to get them a replacement copy, but this request of mine was politely declined. Apart from that feeling of guilt (who knows, had I checked that book myself and signed in a hurry?), it anyway would have been the fastest action towards properly closing the issue. Naturally, I was requesting them to let me see if I can find a replacement for the book. But they said no. Apart from the procurement policy, they were well aware that books do undergo change over editions. And, they were sure, that “the government” would always be able to find some way to source the replacement of the same edition as lost, some time later, according to its proper procedures. (I don’t know, but it is possible, that they had another copy of the same book with them anyway, stored sufficiently out of the reach of any student(s).) On the other hand, a patiently and friendly talking Distinction Class alumnus’ PhD admission could not now be held in abeyance forever, in their better judgment. Also, in their judgment, sufficient time had elapsed that even the most conscientious of the most conscientious Director could not point an accusing finger in their direction, should the matter ever come up for a review. Quite a few months (could be more than six months) had elapsed since my PhD admission application had gone in, and questions from the other side could also be raised: why had this issue come up only now, after 12+ years? Wouldn’t conscientiousness also go in the other direction? So, they let me go with a fine. Exactly as I had predicted, while explaining the matter several months earlier, to my mother. (She was unnecessarily aghast, once she read this mention of the police, on that letter.)]

But of course, obtaining the library clearance took sufficiently long time that, COEP, under Ashok Ghatol, had in the meanwhile revised the list of Emeritus Professors in the Mechanical Engineering Department, and thusly, the only guide who had accepted me as a PhD student (after a search for a guide lasting for one year and going over 12+ guides), was now denied a continuation of his Emeritus Professorship. He was declined an extension at COEP despite his having retired from COEP as a HoD, despite his being active in the field of education—including being on the board of an NIT, and despite the national level Fellowship which he had at the same time been granted by the UGC/AICTE at New Delhi. He still was declined an Emeritus Professorship. With no active professor at COEP available for guidance (it would be some months before I would approach Prof. Kajale), the matter had come back to square one at COEP.

BTW, in case you don’t know, the current dean of the Savitribai Phule University of Pune, Gajanan Kharate, has done his PhD under the guidance of Ashok Ghatol.

But of course it would be too much to expect that Gajanan Kharate could possibly be aware of the kind of institutional memory that the institutions under the University of Pune are capable of keeping: being aware of such possibilities requires a finer and longer experience with institutions in general.

Therefore, it would be too much to expect of him that the same University where he currently is the Dean, would, as recently as in 1990, in fact allow the mixing of the metallurgy and mechanical branches—even at the ME level, not just the PhD level (where the rules are anyway more relaxed).

This better practice was stopped only some time later, roughly around the same time that the IIT Bombay changed its whims in their regularly irregular course. It was the same time during which the hoards of the even more enlightened souls from the Amaravati, Aurangabad, and Walchand/Shivaji universities (but not those from IISc or IITs or foreign universities) had joined the ranks of the Approved Professors at the University of Pune. It was also the same time during which COEP’s name was slapped with the “Government” prefix, to make it fall in line with the similar Government-run colleges elsewhere in the state. If COEP had later dared to drop this part of its moniker (which, too, happened during this same period), then its alumni couldn’t possibly be relied upon to know about the better practices concerning engineering education elsewhere. Conscientiousness would be a key value to keep, especially during those troubled post-liberalization times, and especially in respect of the more exceptional ones among the COEP alumni—at least those who thought of themselves as being exceptional, anyway.

Now, cutting to the present, as far as this branch-“jumping” issue goes, there were many people wanting to go back to the (somewhat) better times, of course. (I know of at least one past Dean of Engineering of the University of Pune who did. In fact, two.)

Some other people were really not aware of the better times, but they simply faced the practical inconvenience of not getting a Government Job, and so were trying very hard to persuade both the university as well as the state government. The Maharashtra state government could only be sensitive to the representations if these were made in a democratic manner, and it would only be willing to review the mere technicalities involved, but of course, according to its own time-table—as a part of its ongoing Plans for a further expansion of the state expenditure.

Thus, while the efforts of these other people at the Savitribai Phule University of Pune didn’t at all bear fruit—I suspect that something other than conscientiousness might have come in their way—their tenacious representations to the state government certainly did. Over a period of some three years (give or take a few), the Mantraalaya finally did come to the point of concluding its ongoing reviews, and thus come to the point of issuing a GR.

It was thus that, in mid-2014, the Maharashtra State government came out with a GR affirming certain new eligibility criteria for the hiring of professors in the Government-run colleges in the state, as well as for the non-aided colleges in the state. These new criteria included allowing the graduates of the production, metallurgy and materials science branches (as also certain other new branches such as CAD/CAM, CFD, etc.) to become (full) Professors of Mechanical Engineering, if the candidate also had his PhD in Mechanical. (If he has a PhD, but if his PhD is not in Mechanical, the candidate now can still be hired, but he can now become only an Associate Professor, not a Full Professor. But at least, he can now get a job in any university falling under the jurisdiction of the Maharashtra State, now. More importantly, he can get a Government Job.) Including at the very highly conscientious university that is the Savitribai Phule University of Pune, Pune.

The GR had come out in the mid-2014. However, I didn’t know about this development. In the University of Mumbai, none was aware. None of my numerous friends (more than 10) working as Professors, HoDs, and Principals, in the private engineering colleges in the Savitribai Phule University of Pune, knew about it. Not a single one of them. And, Gajanan Kharate, even if he sure would be aware of the development, did not clarify the matter in response to the emails I sent (keeping him on the cc field for my application for a Principal’s position). In fact, he sent no replies at all—not even to the other email I wrote; this email was addressed to my friend’s friend (and a COEP alumnus), one who is a Principal at one of the (better) engineering colleges in Pune, and whose ad I was responding to. The Dean didn’t deem it fit to clarify the matter to a Principal of a leading engineering institute in Pune.

So, how did I come to know about the GR?

Only by accident, and only around mid-June 2015, i.e. one full year after it had originally been issued, while idling browsing the Web site of COEP. … You see, I have been looking for an opportune time to show them—the current COEP professors—down, and so, I sometimes do check out their Web site, esp. their recruitment section. For their latest recruitment advertisement, COEP had now put up this GR on their Web site. That’s how I came to know of it.

But, by this time—mid-June 2015—professors’ posts at the leading colleges in Pune had already been filled. (I saw all their advertisements in the Pune papers during April and May, but ignored all of these, concentrating my efforts instead only on the colleges in the better run University of Mumbai, because Mumbai had no issue concerning the metallurgy-to-mechanical branch-“jumping.”)

Anyway, the point is that after mid-June, I began applying to (and indeed also sporadically interviewing at) the private engineering colleges affiliated to the Savitribai Phule University of Pune.

The current status is that chances are high that I would get a job offer at at least one engineering college in Pune. I have been offered a position by phone and I have confirmed my acceptance by phone, but I have not received the offer by email. Once the latter happens, I will update this post when that happens.

I also want to see if this blog post goes against my getting that job offer (or any other job offer). No, not exactly for fun, but I do want to do that. … It’s just me, you know… I am just so talkative. And, readative. And, also, writative. Blogative, in fact. … I just can’t help blogging…. And so, it’s quite natural to want to see if (my) blogging habits come in the way of (my) getting job offer(s). Check back for any updates concerning this aspect.

Update on the same day (2015.08.11, 5:30 PM): Yes, I have received the job offer by email. I should be joining the college right this week. More, later. [The section on a song I like has returned immediately, however; check out below.]

 

[Some editing, as usual, is due, and I may effect it, but I am not in a hurry. Done. I may go out of town for something other than the job-related matters, too, in the meanwhile…. Either visit a friend, or go on a short trip driving in the mountains, or something like that… Check back after a couple of days…]

 


A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “ashkon ne jo paayaa hai …”
Singer: Talat Mahmood
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Music: N. Dutta
[E&OE]

My take on Harry Binswanger’s interesting article in the Forbes

The Objectivist philosopher Dr. Harry Binswanger has written an interesting article in the Forbes. The following is what he yesterday noted at his Web site, HBL [^], from where I got to know about that article. BTW, he frequently updates the front page of HBL, and so, I am taking the liberty to quote his yesterday’s noting in its entirety:

“My new post is on the debt of gratitude the 99% owe the 1%. It contains a proposal, probably familiar to those here, that anyone who earns over a million dollars be exempted from all income tax.

It’s a big hit on Forbes. How big, you ask? Well it beat my previous record which was against gun control. That had an amazing 38,717 views, over a few weeks. The current article has had 88,000 views in one day. And it’s only going up from here.”

He then provided a link to the article, which is here [^].

Yesterday, I went through the article, and also quite a few comments. … Obviously, Dr. Binswanger should be happy about the interest the article has generated! As of writing of this post, the number of hits to this article had reached a mind boggling 164,409, and the number of comments, 585!

A notable feature here is not just the volume and the nature of the comments, but also Dr. Binswanger’s clean, direct, thorough, and gentlemanly responses to those comments. … I myself couldn’t have kept as much of patience replying back some of those nasty comments. (And you could tell that much about me, couldn’t you? (LOL!))…

The last time I commented on his Forbes column/blog [^] was in response to his article on immigration [^]. I dug it up today; it’s here [^]. …Wow! it’s seven months already! … Of course, I should have known—I have changed my stand since then; now, I am willing to  go for work anywhere, even to the USA!

Anyway, coming back to this week’s article of Dr. Binswanger’s, I thought it best not to comment on the Forbes blog, because I thought that the format of those immediate comments and re-comments, all done at the e-speed, wouldn’t be appropriate for what I had to say in response to that article…. What I have to say is something I wanted to do in a bit more relaxed mood, thinking aloud. My position is that I do not fully agree with Dr. Binswanger here. … So, before continuing to read any further, if you haven’t already done so, please go and completely read that article, and also at least the comments “called out” by the author, before continuing here.

I now presume that you have read the article and the prominent comments.

I will not bother noting down what all are the good or even great points in that article. With Dr. Binswanger, you always expect that. I will note only concerning my objection, the point where I disagree. But before that, a bit about the context.

For context, if you don’t know it, Dr. Binswanger’s obvious intent here is to counter a recent cultural idea that has gained a lot of traction among businessmen, both in the USA and in India. I don’t know who formulated this particular expression of it, but knowing that detail is not very important. What is important that many—far too many, in fact—prominent American businessmen and rich people have espoused it. Including not just Warren Buffett but also Bill Gates. (Some in SF Bay Area might want to reverse the order of noting down the two names here!) They, and others like them, have been canvassing for rich people to take a pledge to “give back” to the society.

The basic idea is ancient—it is as old as altruism is—but its specific formulation here is more in the Christian mould, and more couched for the American businessman. And, despite Ayn Rand Institute’s moral defence of the right of Microsoft not to be split in that DoJ case in the 1990s, Bill Gates, apparently, hasn’t learnt anything. On the contrary, he has been an enthusiastic front-runner in this recent “give back” drive.

Dr. Binswanger, for good reasons, would wish to counter this expression of altruism in the American culture today. Ayn Rand had a principled opposition to what she called the axis of mysticism, altruism and collectivism [^]. She instead upheld reason, rational egoism and individualism, in their respective places. (These are the main issues of contention respectively in epistemology, ethics, and politics.) Collectivism, she demonstrated, leads to statism and dictatorships, whereas individual rights lead to Capitalism. So, given this nutty but highly influential “give back” drive, and the fact that he is a pro-Capitalism philosopher, it was obvious that while writing for a business magazine, Dr. Binswanger would engage this battle against collectivism, at a level more basic to it: at the level of ethics, and on the issue of altruism vs. [rational] egoism.

His latest article is to be seen in this light. And, seen this way, if he were to be completely consistent in his position including also on the application side, I couldn’t possibly have had any issue with it.

However, I do have a problem—that way, a minor problem, but a problem, nevertheless—with this article. Dr. Binswanger here seems to have advocated a position that is, I think, perhaps a bit too narrow for an unqualified and immediate endorsement.

I don’t have any problem with the basic idea behind his suggestion: that if at all giving back should be the issue, then it’s the 99% that should give back to the 1%. The only issue I have are with the details.

The first detail: Is it really only the 1%? Or should it rather be something like, say, 2%? 5%? … I don’t know, but I am just wondering… It’s a very minor, quantitative detail, but still, that 1% figure seems to me, off-hand, too small—even elitist.

And, I have another, relatively much more important, issue here—call it a problem if you wish: Just how do you decide who constitutes the top x%?

Here, Dr. Binswanger follows the historically valid criterion: the income. Historically, it seems, the income would have made for a valid criterion in the USA: the government interference was almost nothing as compared to today, and so, “income” would have been the same as “the money made in the [mostly] free market,” which would have been the same as “the earned money,” which, in turn, would have been in direct proportion to “productive achievement.” So, it would have been valid to say that if you made a million, you are an honourable man because you are so productive. Productivity (including creativity, etc.) is a virtue.

The trouble is that today’s system is not capitalistic at all. Not even in the USA. Even though Americans habitually forget this simple fact.

Today, the income no longer is tied with the productive achievement of a man or how  worthy his output actually is (and can be). In fact, the whole issue comes up precisely because the government exercises such a great deal of coercive control in the economy (and with government, all controls are always coercive; there is no such a thing as a non-coercive government control—it’s a contradiction in terms).

Here, realize that the one element of Dr. Binswanger’s suggestion, namely that Congressional Honors (and only that—honor) may be bestowed on productive individuals is not in itself bad. We live in such bad times that it “instinctively” seems to us that selection procedures followed even if “only” for honors would always be fully problematic, even if it were to be a completely free, Capitalistic society. (And, so, we tend to overemphasize the idea that in a free society, there would be no government honors.) However, historically, in the USA, that never was the case. American presidents were known to boast of the wealth they personally made, and simultaneously, also used to be eager to bestow social honors on the other, wealthy, individuals, all in a manner so innocent as to seem to belong to a realm of fairy tales, today. And, people would by and large have no problem with who was thus honored and who was not. The goodwill among people was so great and so authentic. So, in that sense, honors, even Congressional Honors, by themselves, would be fine by me.

The trouble is, when the government is so big as to create as much of a mess as the one in which we currently live, the very idea that some government- or politicians-bestowed honors should go, without qualification, to all the millionaires seems preposterous not just out of envy/jealousy, but also because far too many of us have (or at least I have) the sense that far too many of them simply made a killing precisely exploiting government-enforced restrictions or controls of the economy—or at least influenced government in some way to derive benefits (“grabbing,” really speaking).

From what I gather by regularly reading HBL site, Steve Jobs is Dr. Binswanger’s favorite example of a great money-maker—and Jobs indeed was one, in very many important ways.

But Jobs himself was found at least actively supporting if not outright canvassing for the DoJ to “break the back of Microsoft” just a decade ago—the times incidentally coinciding with quite some part of the wealth he made. And, the quoted words are his own; he said that in a fairly serious even if somewhat passionate settings—or at least the local Palo Alto and San Jose newspapers had carried such news items back then. Now, suppose you supply some great (objectively valid) contextual material to show how Jobs was simply tired of, say, Microsoft‘s abuse of the government power, by some background deals they struck with the government and all, and so, to save his business, with no better alternatives left (despite ARI’s presence right in his home state), he had to begin, say, “encouraging” the DoJ only as a counter-measure, and therefore, he really would deserve honors despite all those utterances. Suppose you say that, in Jobs’ defence. It still leaves open the issue of whether you then want the honors also to go to both Bill Gates and Scott McNealy, together with Jobs. And, also to that guy who founded some company called WebVan or so. People would want to buy vegetables online, he thought. People would not want to leave their armchair and go to market, have a direct look at vegetables like spinach and ochra, they would not want to touch and press a couple of apples or grapefruit from all sides, before coming to the conclusion that that material was good enough to take to their kitchens, he thought. Give people some good stock photographs of fresh vegetables on the Internet, and some great discount deals, and the convenience of delivery to their door-step after just a mouse-click, and they will happily buy even perishable food items like vegetables online, he thought. And bet his company on this idea. The company went bust, of course, but he made millions via what is known as the “exit parachute.”

In Dr. Binswanger’s scheme, he could have easily received the congressional honors for some 2–3 years in a row, before the company went bust, and also for a few years after that—due to the exit parachute, he would continue to make millions every year for some more years even in case the company went bust. Some money-making personality! Or, make it a plural, a sizeable one at that. Personalities!

Dr. Binswanger, it might seem, is naive.  Possible. More probable is this possibility that first he thought of this neat interest-generating idea, of turning the “giving back” idea on its head. This part is actually neat. But then, he probably simply got carried away a bit too far.

Though ideations in terms such as (economic) “class” and all that was so unlike Ayn Rand, she did once observe (though I can’t off-hand tell you where I read it) that the middle-class is the most productive among the three classes. The middle class, she had noted, is a product of Capitalism; it had never existed in any civilization and in any culture prior to the rise of capitalism.

I used to work in the SF Bay Area—arguably one of the most competitive places of work for software development—during the late nighties and early naughties. I have come across (though not necessarily personally) many, many examples of highly productive men—entrepreneurs and engineers, and even marketing people—making it big purely on their own hard work and merit. Some—in fact, many—might have become millionaires. (Microsoft, at that time, was minting a relatively very big number of new millionaires (was it 100?) per month.) And yet, I must note, per my actual, direct observations, the Venn overlap between the millionaires and the productive was only partial. There were enough on both sides of the “left-out” areas that one couldn’t possibly ignore them. Many good, productive people never made millions, though they did earn respectably well (in excess of $100 k/year).

My informal feel is that if you take the income distribution curve, the most productive would be in a band next to the top income earners. I mean to say, if you superimpose the distribution of the productivity of people (i.e. number of productive people at a given income level) on top of the income distribution curve, then, at least in today’s USA, the peak of the productivity curve would likely be on the higher income side, but not at the very topmost income levels. It would be somewhere next to it.

… Best surgeons—those who actually perform surgery as in contrast to those who don’t perform any surgery and only own or manage hospitals—would be found at, say, around the $500 k to $1 million levels. (Am I right?) Perhaps $5 million levels. But they won’t be found at the $50 million level. And, further, their density would be significantly high also in the $100 k to $250 k levels. Similarly, for lawyers and engineers. Greatest engineers are often “happy” working anywhere between, say, $70 k to $250 k. They typically miss the millionaire club. (And, I don’t buy the idea that Steve Jobs was great and his engineers relatively dumb, because it was only he who thought that so much slimming down of cell-phones was possible, or desirable. From what I know of the Bay Area engineers, that’s not possible, in fact. Engineers would be smart enough to think similarly too, though outwardly they would say: “it can’t be done.” The reason wouldn’t only be a relative incompetence, not in all cases anyway. A more likely reason would be simply that they were gunning for all those bonuses and stock options, which, BTW, wouldn’t come their way if they didn’t make it look difficult. And all of that money would still put them within only the $100 k to $500k bracket.)

I am not denying Jobs’ genius. I am pointing out another, orthogonal fact, viz., that if you take that distribution of # of productive people at a given income level, then some of the higher-level parts of this curve may go up and include some of the highest money-makers too. But its peak will not be at the highest income levels. If you want to approximate it via an all-or-nothing band (by cutting off at some low enough a level), then, the resulting band would certainly fall short of the topmost income levels.

Where does that, then, leave us? Fortunately for us, the number of the topmost earners would also be much much less than the number of productive but not-so-wealthy people. And, fortunately for us, I think, at least in the USA, the productive people’s band would lie right next to the topmost income peoples’ band. And, this make it easy to device a policy. We can afford to be generous, club the two together, and advocate for a top 2%, 3% or 5% or so. As an approximate band, they may be singled out for the remaining majority to be grateful towards them. I don’t care if you take it to the top 10% or even 15% levels. Just remember, as you widen the group, its inspiration-generation potential drops. And, that’s the last point I want to write about, today.

Nobody is really (i.e. in actual fact) inspired by a top money-makers such as Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs. And the reason is not, as many Objectivists think, that the culture is that bad. The fact is, people are awed, even mystified, by the top money-makers, esp. the wealthiest ones in today’s mixed economy. But people do not want to emulate them. Not even the most ambitious but productive among the low-earners. And not even if all tax was to be exempted for top earners like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. The reason is not a lack of ambition or moral strength or ability, and the reason is not “bad culture.” The reason is: because people are smart enough to realize, and correctly so, that these are the rather “freak” cases, speaking statistically. The amount of wealth they made came about via such a narrow and unique set of circumstances that it’s impossible for someone starting afresh to plan his career using as narrow and unique combination as that, and also not face in the process the risk, not just of possible failure, but also of too high expectations coming crashing too cruelly down. And therefore, the smartest and even the most productive among the topmost income earners (i.e. leaving aside all crooks and government’s bed-fellows aside) do not actually have a great inspiration potential.

Admiration potential? Yes. But potential for inspiration, in the sense Dr. Binswanger would desire? So as to effect the cultural change towards a better culture? LOL! Not really. People may talk in terms like “Bill Gates inspires me,” simply because they are just looking for some words to use, but in their mind doesn’t really seem to act that way—inspiration is not what their mind seems to derive.

There might be a few areas of exceptions here, of course. I am just continuing to think aloud. Top athletes (like Michael Jordan) may perhaps actually inspire the potential top athletes. But the phenomenon does not carry over more broadly into all fields of productive endeavour. And, for that matter, even among athletes, top money-makers don’t necessarily inspire the potentially best athletes, anyway. Think: who is not inspired by Sachin Tendulkar? And then, think: but who all athletes are inspired, in the real sense of the term, also by all those other millionaire cricketers? And then, also think: what makes people want to top, say, the carom tournaments or represent India in hockey team? Why does the great amount of money present in cricket still fails to inspire them to go to cricket? So, when it comes to inspiration, the top money-makers don’t inspire others, top performers do. … Indeed, it’s probably only in the finance and finance-dominated fields that top money-makers might also be the most inspiring people—I don’t know, but that could easily to be the case. In most other fields, the correlation simply does not hold good. Performance “out-inspires” money. And not because of any dichotomy the element of statism introduces, but simply as a fact of the human nature.

So, if the intent is reversing the bad cultural trends, Dr. Binswanger could have advocated honoring the most productive ones—and stopped there. But he went further, and made the issue conceptually narrower, by focusing on income as the criterion. And that’s where I disagree. Just the way he fights collectivism by taking the battle to a more fundamental level, that of ethics (altruism vs. egoism), similarly, he could have taken the suggestion to a bit more fundamental level, and advocated the most productive ones, instead of the richest ones. The former are the best candidates to appreciate the goal of bringing about a cultural change for the better, anyway—the latter may or may not be (and in today’s mixed economy, often are not).

People wouldn’t mind (or even care) if Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs get honored—or at least get all those tax exemptions, which too is what Dr. Binswanger suggests—so long as they could see that the actual productive geniuses also were getting honored, in fact a relatively greater number of them.

At a personal level, I don’t care if Mr. Forbes gets honored by the government or receives tax exemptions—so long as both Dr. Binswanger and I get 100% tax exemption on all our respective incomes, whatever these may be. That’s the bottom-line.

Otherwise, since the statists and collectivists aren’t going to reduce the government spending ahead of all that cultural change even if they accept Dr. Binswanger’s suggestion, what, effectively, he ends up doing is asking me to shell out even more income tax out of my income, in order to subsidize the top money-“makers” of today’s. And, why? Because they are productive geniuses, that’s why. Tough luck.

Now, that, really, is the bottom line.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

Update: I could locate Ayn Rand’s take on the middle class. She uses even stronger words—strong enough that no additional emphasis is necessary!:

“A nation’s productive—and moral, and intellectual—top is the middle class. It is a broad reservoir of energy, it is a country’s motor and lifeblood, which feeds the rest.”
–Ayn Rand

See the excerpts here [^].

 

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “kai din se mujhe, kabhi sapano mein..”
Singers: Hemlata and Shailendra Singh
Music: Ravindra Jain
Lyrics: Ravindra Jain

[May be I will come back and streamline this writing a bit.]

[E&OE]

My loud thinking concerning the recent questions about Narendra Modi

Recently, I felt like writing a response to the following questions [^] as soon as I read them:

“What is Narendra Modi? A visionary and a statesman? Or a demagogue and master orator who can tailor a speech to his audience?

And there is another question too. One that I believe is even more important. What do Modi’s supporters really want? Development or Hindutva?”

The answer I wrote on the fly [and as usual, at a great length] appears below, but, first, an important note: I am just copy-pasting my answer. It certainly needs to be edited, but in the meanwhile, there was a kind of medical emergency at home and so, I will do the editing/expansion later. [My mother had to be hospitalized soon later, on Feb 11th; she still is in hospital—and, BTW, this is a reference which I am going to remove in the subsequent editing.]

As far as editing goes, in particular: the form of the answer needs to be changed from a personal reply to an independent blog-post in general; certain points need to be put in a slightly better context; and, as usual, some words need some qualifications or need to be changed; etc. Also check out on the “Applying philosophy…” blog my subsequent elaborations: [^] and [^].

Also, to keep the perspective/context (which often is lost days, weeks, months or, more understandably, years later, and which often is deliberately dropped as a part of the “follow up”), make sure to also check out the recent flurry of media articles/opinion pieces (some of which appeared just days after the above-referred discussion in the blogosphere), e.g.: Chetan Bhagat and Swapan Dasgupta’s pieces in the last Sunday’s Times of India, Tavleen Singh’s piece in the last Sunday’s Indian Express, and most recently, the blog-post by Pritish Nandy at Times of India.

[Links to all to be added.]

Anyway, here is the answer I had written on the fly:

* * *

He is not a statesman, that’s for sure.

We have had mixed economy for such a long time that it would be next to impossible for any one of his or younger generation to rise to that level. The cultural trends have been mostly taking a downturn for such a long time that, these days, all politicians are all driven by the compulsions of democracy—the actual, *systemic*, compulsions imposed by the rule of the mob, within a constitutional framework that contains too many contradictions and so succeeds in giving only a semblance of cohesion or integration to the polity. For instance, the constitution prohibits changing parties, thereby inducing the herd effect to a greater extent. Gone are the days of being true to “conscience.” In fact, conscience is a word which one would run into at least once a week some three decades ago, but doesn’t find mentioned anywhere for months together, these days.

Still, about the cultural downturns, I said “mostly.” That’s observation-based, not an expression of a general pessimism.

The only noticeable cultural *up*swings have been those in the wake of the *political* liberalization in the early 90s (which itself was driven by the *economic* compulsions and the better, liberalizing, terms set by the somewhat better, i.e. the Western, elements in the World Bank, when we had gone bankrupt due to our socialistic political pursuits). Though liberalization was a political process, in reducing shackles and exposing India to the (whatever remaining) better elements in the West, it also allowed betterment in *culture*.

However, these accompanying *cultural* upswings have been countered by the other cultural *down*swings, in particular, those of the religious kind.

BTW, I don’t think we have had a *cultural* downswing of the communist/socialist kind since the 1970s. All the recent downswings in India have been of the religious kind. Sonia Gandhi’s NAC-inspired socialistic programs, or, to a lesser extent, Vajpayee’s populist programs, have been downswings on the economic side, not cultural. For that matter, even when the left was a part of the power at the Center in UPA1, they were completely ineffective in promoting the leftist trend in the *culture*. Bollywood continued with the pelvic thrusts, and even artsy “socially conscious” cinema chose themes like Peepli Live, Shwaas and Deool, rather than a glorification of egalitarianism, of redistributing poverty.

So, the main thing to worry in today’s India, as far as *cultural* degradation is concerned, is: religion, not socialism. Notice the lack of any enthusiastic coverage in the urban, well-educated, middle classes about the movie: Deool. Its theme contains too many undercurrents uncomfortable to the religious mystics of the modern Indian variety.

Incidentally, despite India being a mystic country for such a long time, the execution model they (the religionists) have tried to follow in recent times is not indigeneous in origin; it’s a recent import from America. The recent Indian model is based on the upswing of religion in America, which itself is a rather recent phenomenon (gaining ground after 1970s, and consolidating during the Reagen years).

Thus, Jansangh, for instance, would never have put up a rippling-muscles, six-pack abs kind of a portrayal of Shri Ram on those wide-view flex boards in the cities; it would take the BJP to do that. The traditional Indian portrayal, in fine arts, sculputre and literature, of this God, even if he was a “kshatriya”-born, is that of a middle-aged deity with a somewhat roundish body and carrying a vague, almost nurturing kind of a smile, with the deity situated in a rich, opulent, but peaceful settings, together with family—not that of an angry, young warrior, taking aim with a tautly stretched bow-and-arrow, with his clothes flying in the strong winds as he stands alone on a treeless strech of brownish land, with anger uncontrollably shooting out of eyes. (With all that evident anger, it would be difficult to hold aim to the target, one wonders.) The traditional Indian portrayal of this deity—qua deity—has been different, the history of there actually having been a major war notwithstanding.

The elder Indian even today sometimes does an involuntary double-take at the spectacle of “teertha” (holy water) being sprayed onto those wildly dancing, hysteric masses from a high platform as in the rock concerts, using water-pumps and hose-pipes to spray the “teertha”. To the earlier generation of the religious Indian, “teertha” is always taken in a small quantity using the right hand. A small bamboo “pichkaari” is acceptable at the time of Holi, but it’s not a religious event. Using a *hose-pipe* and a *pump*, for *spraying* “teerth” is too much.

Before these trends spread elsewhere in India, they had begun in those massive religious gatherings in Gujarat, during the times of Modi’s rise to, and assumption of, the political power.

One reason the elderly Indian winces at such sights is: an Indian, true to his color, would in principle be averse to any grand-scale show on the material side. Especially so, when it comes to the matters related to religion. The Indian tendency, particular in the spiritual matters, is to turn the gaze inwards, not outwards. The Indian is not averse to the bodily power; but in his view, either the bodily power is to be subjugated to the spiritual wisdom, which is all outwordly, or the entire matter is superfluous to him simply because it pertains to this world. There is a reason why the “gopur”s of our temples may be grand on both artistic and spatial scales, but the “garbha-griha” is spatially so small as to hardly admit only a few people at a time. When it comes to temples, the idea of a vast space or a large auditorium accomodating a large gathering, with a high pulpit for the priest, is specific to the Abrahamic religions, not to the Indian ones. Clearly, “event management” of *this* kind is a recent import. (We have always had massive religious gatherings, e.g. Kumbh Mela or Wari, but these have been more noticeable for their messyness, randomness, than for masses being coralled together and aroused to a common passion by an organized priesthood. The Indian religious philosophy is far too outworldly to ever care for any organization or purpose in this world, especially that on a large scale. Our temples may have large spaces surrounding the main building (“aawaar”), but these spaces noticeably lack the pulpits to address the assemby—in fact, there never is an assembly, only a random and overcrowded collection of people.)

We have only recently imported the more effective, large-scale, techniques of management of mobs on the basis of religion as a uniting force.

Modi’s management style seems to reflect his times; it seems to be a mix of an upbringing in the traditional organization mold of the old RSS (itself based on an awkward mixture of the European fascists of the early 20th century for the most part and some Scouts-like activities thrown in for good measure), *and* these modern techniques of religion-based political management imported from America.

In short, there have been cultural betterment in certain areas. For example, today, we can openly advocate capitalism in India, without any fear of ridicule, which was not possible as late as when I was in my 20s, i.e. in 1980s.

However, overall, the net cultural change has been to go on to the down side.

Since, as you observed, culture (in the broad sense of the term) does drive politics, the culture of politics also has been going down. (I never thought it stinks to the extent you and many others do.) It’s in the recent atmosphere that it’s difficult to produce statesmen. Try to think of a successor to Jamshedji Tata, in today’s world. Or even to JRD, for that matter. Politics is hardly different. You don’t expect a Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan or even a Shankar Dayal Sharma, in today’s world; the alternative to Pratibha Patil was Bhairo Singh Shekhawat. Even if IMO politics does not stink to the extent you seem to think it does, it is very obvious that we can no longer expect statesmen to rise in today’s India.

So, the smart spin of Modi’s internationally outsourced image consultants aside, he simply can’t be a statesman. The very suggestion is ludicrous, and a direct product of his spin-doctors. (He is not alone in employing/benefitting from spin-doctors; his anticipated 2014 opponent, Rahul Gandhi, supplies an easy example.)

Is Modi a visionary? Ok. Can you use that word to describe a fascist? To clarify this issue, let’s take a more extreme example of a fascist: Can you use that word for Mussolini? If yes, then, sure, Modi is a visionary. He has the “vision” of unleashing the Hindu religious kind of irrationality, on India (and if possible, elsewhere, too), and to preside over the accompanying political power in an executive capacity. That’s his “vision.” (He might succeed in “achieving” it—simply because Rahul Gandhi is what he is.)

Is Modi a demogogue? In view of his political success in Gujarat, he must be. But then, of course, there are so many demogogues, even within his own party. Rajnath Singh, for instance. An array of them could be witnessed during the recent FDI issue. That hardly makes him special.

Is he a master orator? I don’t think so. I haven’t seen the video you refer to, but from whatever his earlier speeches I have seen, they seem to indicate skills lesser than those of a master orator. A master orator is different. Balasaheb Thakarey? Yes. Narendra Modi? Not really. Of course, he does have that ability to deliver effective speeches, often with a lot of punches. But then all politicians routinely do that. When you say a master orator, the person has to go beyond that level. I would certainly put Lalu Prasad Yadav ahead of Narendra Modi in that department. This is not humour; I mean it. When it comes to superior oratorial skills, just the way Vajpayee is (rather was) a master orator, so is Yadav.

Rather than pieces of superior oratory, Modi’s speeches seem to be like *events* that are quietly and masterfully coordinated in the background. The actual speech seems like just the tip of the icebert. The silent coordination is palpable. Right from creating the atmosphere for an upcoming speech, including coordination in the media (not just locally, not just in the neighbourhood or with the people in the city, but specifically within media), to the necessary followup capitalization on what(ever) he said.

The only way to explain the extraordinary effectiveness of this not-so-extraordinary personality is to make reference to the quiet work done for him by those “swayamsevaks.” Take away the aura they impart him, and then, judging him for himself, Modi comes across a far more ordinary personality—not just in speeches but also in every respect. There are times when I wonder if he could be described as a pigmy. He is said to divide all people into two camps, and evoke extreme passions of either admiration or loathing in them. The description is accurate except for the starting word: you have to replace “he” the person by “he” the image—nay, the rather seamless sort of an enormous collage—built up by all those collectivist “swayamsevaks.”

As to demoguery, I think more than being just a demogogue, he is a shrewd “organization man,” capable of slowly but surely advancing over his competition, especially internally. Here, I think a definite credit is certainly due to him. Not just in a value-neutral sense. I think he has put in very honest and very hard efforts in rising through his organization. To a certain extent, esp. for politicians, personal honesty *is* compatible with a contradictory or irrational political agenda.

He is not a typical BJP leader. Nope. He is more pure-minded on their agenda, more hard-working on that agenda, than any others from his party. Compare him with your ordinary, compromising sort of a guy like, say, Ram Naik, Nitin Gadkari, or even Rajnath Singh. When it comes to the BJP agenda, Modi would be more ruthless compared to any other BJP leader. Not because he lacks emotions, or controls them better, or manages to suppress them. Not even because he wants to be ruthless with people—in fact, quite the opposite is very likely, from whatever I can gather from his coverage on TV in general (never saw him in person at a close distance). It is easily possible that he is responsive and sensitive.

Still, he will end up being more ruthless simply because he would be morally more unshakeably convinced about the moral worth of the BJP agenda.

I think that it is possible to imagine Modi’s developing inner doubts privately, when it comes to his assessments of his own abilities, his own capacity to lead and to rule. He certainly does seem to be both sensitive and intelligent enough to be able to develop such doubts, at least some times. But what he seems entirely incapable of doing is: ever challenging the moral worth (to him: the moral *superiority*, nay, *infallibility*) of the *moral* agenda of his organization, of his party. It’s this greater—moral—conviction which would make him more ruthless. And it is this emphasis on the moral agenda rather than a political agenda which permits him enough flexibility to be a chamelion on many political issues or to even strike some compromises—the reason why so many Muslims do in fact support him. They too are religious, like him, but too short range, unlike him.

It’s Modi’s moral convictions that set him apart from the others in his party. It’s not any particularly superior personal set of qualities, except for being a better organization-man among them. Honest hard work, a lot of them do. Shrewd, a lot of them are. May be, he is slightly more shrewd, that’s all—though I honestly doubt that. From all that you can gather about him, he is very shrewd, but he could even be more sincere than shrewd. So, the real difference setting him apart from his colleagues is his willingness to go all the way down along the path of their shared morality. And the real reason why he can make that contradictory morality work, is: using his superior skills as the organization-man. The burden of the contradictions is calculated to fall on those outside the organization, the enemy camp (whoever they may be), and, since a contradiction nevertheless has a way to also run in the opposite direction, i.e. internally, the burden then has to fall on to those who have lesser skills to make the organization work for them. (One reason for this last also is the lesser strength of the same morals. There does seem to be a feedback loop here.) And so, when it comes to his individual assessment, the actual reason can only be ascribed to the depth to which he carries his (wrong) moral convictions.

Finally, coming to his supporters. In wondering about what *Modi*’s supporters want, if you are at all going to set up an *alternative,* esp. an alternative between Hindutva and “development” (whatever that means)—or, for that matter, between Hindutva and anything else—then, I would say, you are politically so naive, so very naive, that I have a suggestion for you: consider abstaining from voting regardless of where you are (i.e. even in places/elections where the BJP is weak/absent), for, when it comes to politics, you obviously cannot be trusted to choose wisely. :-) [This last was just a joke, BTW.]

Too long, in fact longer than usual. Hope you tolerate. (It was just a writing on the fly.) Guess one of these days I should write a slightly better organized piece on Modi, at my own blog. I wanted to do one well before the heat of the campaign begins, and right now might as well be a good time to do that. So, unlike my comments on spirituality and all, this time round, this comment might actually move very quickly to my blog. Though, guess I will let it begin its course here.

[E&OE]

That’s One Farmer-Suicide One Couldn’t Care Less About!

The farmer in question, you must have guessed, is none other than Anna Hazare.

This is one guy about who I had wanted to write for a long time. However, for some very good reasons, it kept on getting out of my mind. His latest fast-unto-death episode just served to remind me. … Not that I have a lot to write about him—his persona just doesn’t permit one. But still, here we go.

First of all, let’s recognize that you cannot escape considerations of moral and political philosophy in this issue. A fast-unto-death is a means of putting a moral pressure, which, in this case, is for achieving not just social objectives but also certain specifically political ones. Further, since it’s a fast-unto-death, the issue demands that we must bring to the issue as much ruthless kind of honesty as we can. That is the only way we can assure ourselves a clean conscience. In particular, a wooly sort of hope, a blind kind of optimism, simply won’t do. And, finally, since it is Hazare’s fast-unto-death, we must also look at his person, as an individual—including at least a sketchy kind of moral evaluation of him, against an objectively validated code of ethics. For convenience, let’s begin with the man, his background, work and convictions, and then to the objectives he explicitly seeks to accomplish through his current fast.

So, who is Anna Hazare? Since I come from the same region that he does (had early schooling in, and have relatives in, the rural parts of both Ahmednagar and Pune districts of Maharashtra state), and since he has been profiled so profusely in the media, one didn’t really have to dig up anything. Still, out of interest, I read up his biography at his (presumably official) Web site: [^]. This biography notably lacks any mention of his education—formal, or informal (as gained via reading of books in an extracurricular manner). Which, incidentally, is precisely what one would have expected. A guy who can bask in the glory of being described as a crusader doesn’t think it’s important for him to let us have any clue of any kind of conceptual thought his mind is capable of conducting, if any.

Per the biography, he joined Indian Army in 1963. Began some social work in his home-town, Ralegan Siddhi, in 1975. Retired from the Army after 15 years (which makes it in 1978). Devoted himself to full-time social work after retirement.

He showed some great initiative and did some really good social work initially, in his home town. The work included watershed development as well as multifaceted development of his village.

One began hearing about him a few years later, say around mid- or late-1980s. The reports usually were full of praise for him. Perhaps it was around this time that one derived the impression that he was given the Magsaysay award. A search at the official Magsaysay award site [^] fails to confirm that he did receive that award; however, Indian media seems intent on saying so; e.g., see this search [^].

In Pune, one heard a lot of stories: of how the village had been transformed; of how a once barren land had been transformed into greenery rivaling Mahabaleshwar; etc. etc. A casual drive through the area in late 1990s, and I failed to spot even outstandingly thick greenery let one rivaling that at Mahabaleshwar. (One then realized, a prominent guy among them was a BJP+RSS-wallah PuNeri Brahmin. These characters always rely on spinning stories—the primacy of consciousness is their basic premise—they actually believe that the same thought repeated enough times can actually bring about change in physical reality without recourse to anything else.)

OK, but that digression was about the BJP-RSS-wallahs. But as far as Hazare himself goes, so far, so good. No arguments about his good work in Ralegan Siddhi.

Another piece. As I said, I have many relatives and acquaintences in rural parts, and I now recall a talk years ago (perhaps in late 1980s/1993–94 times) with some of them. The topic was: How farmers can improve their lot. My position was that the farmers were perhaps not helping themselves enough. To buttress my argument, I gave the example of Anna Hazare’s work in Ralegan Siddhi.

In Ralegan Siddhi—one of them emphasized. “Has he been able to do similar work in any other village?” he continued. Turns out, Hazare has always been a one-village wonder. He has not been able to similarly transform even a single other village. For whatever reasons, he has not been able to. He has been offered help by IAS officers and all. Funds have been arranged. They do run workshops in Ralegan Siddhi, on watershed management. OK. But that integrated sort of transformation? “Nowhere else,” I was informed. And, then, I was asked: “What do you think? Don’t we want to better ourselves? Aren’t there enough people in our villages to replicate Ralegan Siddhi?” And, then, what then was a shocker (which, then, I didn’t believe in.) “Do you think Anna Hazare even bothers to go to other villages, if not to work then at least to inspire people? Do you know how arrogant he is?” There was no personal enmity between the people informing me of ground reality and Anna Hazare. No rhyme or reason for them to hold any. Why would they say the way they did? I could not figure out, and left the question at that.

It took a few years more, and I ran into people, even stranger, casually telling me (or discussing among themselves, in ST (bus) journeys and all) that Anna Hazare does not even like to discuss the issue of why his social experiment has not worked out in any other village. He gets angry. He begins calling people in the non-honorific (Marathi) “are ture” sort of way, once anyone raises the issue. He insults them as lazy bums who cannot do anything to help themselves. He can insult people, but won’t stop to face the fact that indeed that there is a failure of replication. Naturally, no analysis is even permissible: What might have led to the failure. And, no betterment: Having understood the reasons for failure, what can be done to overcome them and remedy the situation. None of that is possible. The way he behaves, people indicated, is to enjoy his senior status in his village, to bask in the media glory outside it, and to refuse to even consider the possibility that even very honest applications of his approach might encounter failures elsewhere—let alone suggest ideas to overcome them.

Ideas—outside of the media-adored Ralegan Siddhi experiment—seems to be anathema to this man. That was an inescapable (though a tentative or intermediate) conclusion I drew.

A few years passed by, and I was in the USA and all, and so had lost touch with the everyday sort of happenings taking place in India. But, after I returned in 2001, I heard that this guy (Hazare) had progressed far too ahead on that line. He had not been able to control the Ralegan Siddhi success go to his head. This accusation seemed to be true.

No longer were people questioning anything about his approach, I observed. Instead, people, notably those from the BJP and Shiv Sena, were egging him on to take ever bigger role, riding on his brand-name as a social crusader (much of which was anyway generated only via the media-hype), and many “middle-class” variety of social workers also were running after him. He had established a group/forum/NGO against corruption, and the clever BJP folks were using him to tactically gain political advantages against their enemies: the Indira Congress, but even more notably (given their predominance in the areas where he primarily operates): the NCP.

Ok. That’s so much about politics. But one thing was for certain. Given his combative style, his inability to introspect, his inability to reach out to his critics—and, what the heck, I will name it—his plain stupidity, he simply couldn’t be a Gandhian. (To call someone a Gandhian is not the greatest compliment in the world, IMO. But for all their flaws and inconsistencies, one still associates names like Yashwantrao Chavan, and many many other, small village freedom-fighters who need not be named, and why, even Sardar Patel and Morarji Desai, with the term “Gandhian.” One has heard the first in public meetings more than once, and read about the other two.) And, yet, his (implicit) media managers were now portraying him as a Gandhian. And, the retards that Indians are, none was raising even a suspicion. His wearing “khaadi” dress and Gandhi “Topi” was enough to make him a Gandhian. Undestandably so. If a usual Indira Congress moron could be a Gandhian, why not this guy. And, after all, how many “Gandhian” sort of people could BJP wouldn’t mind hooking into and magnifying (if you discount Vajpayee himself—who, for obvious reasons, couldn’t be portrayed as a Gandhian, of course!)

In short, Hazare had already become a useful pawn to political parties, and a fond avancular figure for the wooly-wishy sort of social workers (some of them retired IAS/IPS types too), by mid or late 1990s. That is, about a decade or more ago.

Ok. So, that’s the man we are talking about, here. Now, what are his convictions? And what does he bring to the table?

The first question is very easy to answer. As far as his convictions are concerned, whatever bunch he does carry around, they are not very consistent. Let alone sucsceptible to be any serious scrutiny (let alone a thorough, objective validation).

If you don’t believe me, consider these facts. Ok. Before that, let me state what is it that I do consider to be an objectively validated set of ideas. The prime part of the answer is: Ayn Rand’s philosophy—Objectivism. Politically, the answer is: the actual motivating spirit (and most of its articulation as well) which led to the creation of the American political system—the spirit of Enlightenment. Given the spectacular success of that original American political revolution, I do not think it is necessary to stress here that any individual or group who addresses the government in India, and asserts his moral authority to the extreme degree of fast-unto-death, must remain open to have his convictions examined against that golden standard: The original American political innovation, and the complete (and consistent) integration with philosophic fundamentals as found in Ayn Rand’s philosphy. Is such a process of judgment difficult to undertake? Not at all. Consider the following.

If Anna Hazare can hold India’s government to task, what is his position vis-a-vis Capitalism? Is he a Capitalist? Any answer? … Nope. Perhaps, he doesn’t even know the word. But since so many of his group-mates do, and since none of them has ever publicly spoken of any unreservedly good remark about Capitalism, we may take it that this guy Anna Hazare, when the chips are down, is likely to go/wither away from Capitalism. That’s his “conviction” no. 1. As always, the more fundamental an issue, the better judgment we can have. So let’s go to a bit deeper level.

Ok. So, consider this: What does Anna Hazare think about Individual Rights? Blank out. How about his having a crusade for restoring full property rights by amending the amendment forced on us by the semi-dictatorial Indira Gandhi? Blank out.

On the other hand, does he have the usual socialist sort of ideas? Hint: Don’t check with him—he is too stupid (I told you so!). Check with his associates (both in and out of the political “right” in India). They will tell you. If not, consider that in the last set of elections, BJP was equal to everyone else in promising Rs. x/kg of rice, wheat, “tur daal”, etc. etc. etc.

Hmmm. Now, how about his metaphysics and epistemology… Boy, are you insistent or what? I have already begun yawning here…. I think I will not entertain your request to enquire into these aspects of Anna Hazare’s set of convictions, explicit or implicit. Not at all necessary. What we observed above is enough to draw a rational conclusion.

Namely, that this guy has basically never bothered too much with ideas despite his burning ambition to do something at the national, constitutional etc. etc. levels. He is that stupid. And, he evidently, is easy to get misled (which is not surprising if he hasn’t bothered to have a firm and consistent set of convictions—consistent with reality, that is).

Now, I haven’t at all discussed anything about that supposedly people-friendly “Lokpal” bill, and its provisions. The point is: I simply don’t know enough about it, and am still in the process of reading and absorbing what say different political parties have about it. And, that, incidentally, leads to the conclusion of this post.

If someone like me—someone who at least browses through all the headlines and all the titles on the edit pages of at least 3/4/5 newspapers (both in a local langugage and in Englihs) on a daily basis, apart from browsing on the net—still doesn’t know enough about the Lokpal bill, obviously, the “civil society” (in the true sense of the term) hasn’t even begun discussing it. Newspaper editorials have barely begun doing so. (For a couple of good pieces, see today’s Indian Express, and a bit of half-hearted piece by DNA’s V. Rao, on the front-page.)

If, absent sufficient discussion in the “civil society,” this guy goes all the way out and jumps into a fast-unto-death, can we, applying any proper standards, consider it a major issue? A national issue? I mean, shouldn’t his action be taken as a rather open way of committing suicide? And, given the absence of any consistent and solid intellectual and moral positions, and given the absence of his jumping ahead to the last resort prior to the occurrence of any national debate, is there any reason why one should care about him?

There is only one point you may validly raise. And, it deals with “corruption.” Given the way my mind works, it is impossible for me to tear out of context anything like “corruption” and start beating the chest about it. Sure, corruption is bad. But if thinking of Hazare and, say, “crusade … to end … corruption” is at all permissible, then surely it also must be permissible to think of such issues as: the kind of the working morality whose realization a given kind of government facilitates; the proper nature of government, the principle of checks and balances, and the fine ways in which it has been realized or deterred in a given system of government; the role of constitution in shaping the life of a nation—including introducing artifical stresses and strains in the fabric of its life if not serving to tear it apart; the systemic reasons for corruption; etc.

Surely, if you can give the idiot that is Anna Hazare so much of a latitude, you could give me some, and allow me to post on these matters at my own pace, some time later on in future.  … I think I will open the next post on these matters, esp. corruption, by observing not corruption itself directly, but something different (which, hopefully, you will find relevant to the issue corruption, the way I think it is). A small example not related to legalities, constitutionality, national issues, etc., but one that I think is relevant anyway.  … I am too busy (both in my day-job and my leisure-time work), and so, please excuse if I don’t write that next post immediately.

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A Song I Like:
[NB:  I do like this song, but not all of its associated aspects… If you know me, you could easily figure out why; just read on to see why I say so 🙂 ]

(Hindi) “Aana mere pyaar ko naa tum…”
Music: Jatin-Lalit
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultaanpuri
Singers: Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik

[PS: I have just written, but not read even once after writing, this post. If I find time (and I hope I do), I will streamline it a bit.]

[E&OE]

Whither Capitalism…

Note, the first word in the title of this post is not “whether;” it is: “whither.”

While writing and updating my last post, many memories began surfacing. This post, again, is based on a particular, in a way trivial incident which occurred during my initial years with Objectivism. But there is a reason to share that incident because it shows a few things relevant to the debates concerning introducing capitalism in India today.

The time was 1984 or thereabouts. My friends from COEP and me had graduated from COEP (1983), and had begun “tasting” work-life and organizations (i.e. companies). Criticism of government, esp. over taxes, was a norm in the corporate life even back then, and generally, any young trainee engineer could easily come to appreciate that there was something to be said about economic freedom, even though no corporate honcho or intellectual would directly mention Capitalism or Ayn Rand as such.

The most prominent and honorable exception to this rule came from JRD, the then Tata Group chairman, who later on was most justifiably honored with a “Bharat-Ratna,” India’s highest civic award. Way back (I suppose perhaps as back as in the 1960s), JRD had financed production and distribution of pamphlets to managers (working anywhere, both in and out of Tatas), expressly meant for defending capitalism. These pamphlets did mention all of the three words: “Laissez-Faire,” “Capitalism,” and “Ayn Rand,” I have been told. (I myself never saw one of these pamphlets, but was told by very reliable people, senior managers teaching at management institutes or so.) Another similar exception was Rahul Bajaj. I don’t think he went so far as mentioning Ayn Rand herself. But he was a ruthless critic of the license-quota raj, of bureaucracy, and of mixed economy. Both the facts: his being a Bajaj, and his being a Harvard business school graduate, meant a lot in those days. He used the platforms and fora such as those provided by the Pune-based Mahratta Chamber of Commerce and Industries, very effectively. (Agriculture still was not included in the title back then; it still was only MCCI in those days.)

So, many freshly working engineers, who otherwise had never bothered with economic ideas, with isms, as engineering college students, had sort of discovered during their first few years in jobs that it was OK, perhaps even respectable, to discuss the “pros and cons” of different economic systems in a way that can be pro-business, so to speak.

Having nothing to do in life in the evenings (back then, engineers with even five years of experience could not get or afford scooters; the scene had just begun changing with the entry of the new Japanese collaboration bikes such as the Ind-Suzuki and the Yamaha RX 100), we, then fresh engineers, would often eat each others’ brains out in the evenings. A few had decided to give MPSC/UPSC a try, and therefore, were especially in the “knowledge” and “discussions” mode. Many had begun pursuing part-time MBAs, and therefore, were reading up economics in a serious way for the first time in life anyway. Others had ambitions of going to IIMs. Many of us shared apartments, in a “hostel” sort of life-style. Naturally, discussions were aplenty.

In one of such evenings, this same guy from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute who I mentioned in my last post (the COEP + Bajaj graduate through whom we had come to know of Objectivism), was visiting Pune. We were eager to ask and discuss with him, about many things, both Objectivism and business and life in Mumbai in general—the sort of things young COEP juniors might ask one of their seniors. He had MBA in finance, and would talk in awesome terms about “strategy.” After a while, the discussion naturally turned to economics.

Now, since many of these other guys had not shown any interest in Objectivism earlier, they had no idea as to what precisely capitalism would mean, require, and imply. So, some time in that discussion went in that direction. Those few (3 or 4, myself included) who had read Objectivism did come from a moral angle. That satisfied the basic curiosity of almost every one. And yet, the UPSC types were still unsatisfied. This is all OK in theory, they thought, and perhaps would also hold out in practice if some of us were insisting it would, they said, but neverthless, they continued in an anxious way: “If this issue of Capitalism vs. Socialism comes up, what the hell do I tell the UPSC interview committee—i.e. if I at all make it to the interviews stage?” That was their basic question. In other words, it was OK if Capitalism is not politically correct (the term was unknown back then). But is it at least within the bounds enough to be used at the XPSC group discussions and interviews?

Confronted with this question, almost every one (but certainly not me) tried to think of a smart way that would combine both an enlightened advocacy of Capitalism and a killer impression on the UPSC interview committee. None could succeed. Few realized that a success in matters such as these simply isn’t possible. Yet, the atmosphere seemed to be settling towards a pro-Capitalism position. Plus, it was not yet time for the evening mess, and so the discussions could certainly continue.

At this point, I introduced a question that had bugged me a lot for sometime back then. Actually, I would have been more happy to ask it to some professor from a management institute (or the Gokhale Institute of Economics and Politics). But having a senior who had read Objectivism was good enough for me. So, I blurted out something like the following (which is a streamlined description of a lot of discussion by way of clarifying the question itself):

If Capitalism is to be introduced in India, then for a country as large, complex, and ancient as ours (even if as a nation we were young), its obvious that it can’t be done in one day.

Our lawmakers and the rest of politicians, and our bureaucrats, would obviously be against it. (Back then, I said so more out of the then lawmakers’ ideological convictions/inclinations rather than out of a consideration of their concern for protecting their turf/power-base/corruption-base, though both were considered and introduced by me in the subsequent discussion.)

Now, the world history shows that all deep systematic changes at the scale of a nation involve a lot of readjustments in the least, even pains many times. (Revolutions also happen.) A change in system involves pains. Since Capitalism is good, broadly speaking, I said, only the bad can experience the pain, the good won’t. Yet, the pain will be there. The entrenched interests of politicians, bureaucrats, and the life-sucker’s “rings” around them would be certain to experience it—and fight against the change using whatever means. (This observation had made a lot of serious impact without having to labor the point; the Emergency still was less than a decade in the past.)

If so, given the entirety of your knowledge of economics, of India, and of the current state of mixed-ness of India’s mixed economics, what do you think, I asked, would be the specific areas, or sectors, or industries that can be the best candidates for freeing up the economy, so that the requisite slow change towards Capitalism can occur with the least pain—so that, I added, we don’t lose out on whatever popular support for Capitalism that we can have. Implicit in the change is that the dishonest/corrupt people who lose their power would start barking, defaming Capitalism in the process. The question is: which areas etc. of the economic/political life of India offer us the best path for opening them up to free markets—and what could be the overall sequence or direction, in specific industries/economic sector terms, in which we could pursue such a program.

Well, none had an answer, not even a vaguest possible scheme by way of an answer, back then in 1984. None had even a speculation back then. The general agreement was that this was too complex a question. The senior friend then added that to the best of his knowledge, even Ayn Rand had not addressed this question, possibly because it was too complex even for her. I was not convinced. An approximate answer or a range of options could be good enough, I said. The point is, why not do this kind of thinking?

It was almost as if for most thinkers back then, even the advocacy for the moral nature of Capitalism itself had seemed to involve an uphill battle.

The reason I mention this question today is that even 26 years after that incidence, almost 20+ years after the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Russia, and some 18+ years since “privatization,” “globalization,” etc. began in India, people still are not able to feel free enough to think of beginning addressing this particular question.

Yes, there are advocates of “Capitalism” today, in India, and they have been vocal for some time now. During the BJP regime, they were busy asking why they can’t run a beer bar at the basement of their house, without mentioning in entirety the rational basis for Capitalism—and of course, without mentioning Ayn Rand. And, the Congress party was attacking the BJP for picking up for privatization only those government-run companies that were actually profitable, and selling them for a price far inferior to what their true worth would be, to foreign investors. (Hints of the “cut” made in selling these companies also were in circulation.)

Having made such charges back then, after coming to the political power, the Congress has completely forgotten about this entire privatization program. This is not a neutral position as might be supposed—it does help statism get entrenched in the system out of sheer intellectual inertia. People do silently draw some implicit conclusion to the effect, which, if wordified, would run something like this: “the government interference in economy has always been a ‘done’ thing in our country; it’s the normal state; may be it should be increased.” Since economics, like all areas of human endeavor and condition, is a dynamic phenomenon, not static, with finite limits (including the finitude of life-span), a seeming “neutral,” in matters like these, is not at all a neutral; it *is* a bias for statism, for coercive government controls.

And then, of course, apart from thus subtly stopping the privatization program in its tracks, the Indira Congress has since then also gone ahead with a whole array of welfare programs, thereby returning to such glorious pre-1991 times as under “Rajiv-ji” and “Indira-ji.” (If you don’t believe me, continue reading, for example, Shekhar Gupta. Or, Prabhu Chawla.)

Thus, all in all, the position is not even neutral; it is: increasing statism.

In Indian politics, as in the American one, political Opposition has always been avoiding any principles-based policy. No not that, they have been avoiding even a talk that is in any consistent way refers to principles. They don’t see their role of democratic political opposition, in terms of principles at all! All that they are interested in is blowing up this corruption scandal vs. that scandal. …

Ok. That is a political necessity, I can understand. You have to show the man on the street something dramatic every few months, else you lose even the basic touch with him—and together with that, your own political future. So, sure, corruptions and scandals have to break with some regularity. … There is a deeper malaise behind it. In a mixed economy, the media is always influenced by the government—i.e. by the political party that happens to be in power. So, a rational, even-handed media coverage is of course a first casualty. Therefore, just to stay in place, the opposition has to keep throwing up in the citizen’s mind one scandal after another. Corruption-related stories and scandals have their place.

The crucial question therefore becomes: Does the spectrum of opposition’s political activity *end* with these scandals? Or does it *begin* there? Do they then also go and offer some robust policy program that is based on rational principles—in this case, a morally based defense of capitalism?

If the answer to the above question were to be yes, then the opposition (today, the BJP; a sometimes, the Congress) would have not only released a blueprint of what they want to privatize first, but they would also have shown how and why. Alternatives in privatizing can exist. The political parties are the ones who are supposed to do their home-work in this regard and take a stand—not just vague talk, but a definite stand in terms of concrete courses of action.

Neither the BJP nor the Congress, in their roles as Opposition, have ever even dreamt of doing such a thing.

To the Congress, repeating catch-phrases like “aam aadmi,” “secular” etc. is enough—even if in de facto pursuing pragmatism, they have been ending up looking even worse than the Left. If you think this is far-fetched, then, considering the actual evidence of their actual government spending programs, and ambitions for the same, ask yourself: who is better (or worse): a Somnath Chatterjee or a Sonia/a Rahul/an XYZ from the Indira Congress? You may be hard-pressed for the answer.

As to the BJP, they are *not* pragmatic. Their long-term program seems to be clear: First, uplift India into the Hindu counterpart of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Then (or simultaneously), try to dissolve both Pakistan and Bangladesh under a single pan-Indian sub-continent Hindu dictatorship, based on the pre-Renaissance, pre-enlightenment variety laws given by the like of, say, Manu, Chanakya, etc.

Neither is concerned with Capitalism—certainly not the Indira Congress, but not even the BJP (no matter what Atany Dey’s, and his blog-commenters’ convictions).

And it is for this reason that people—not just ordinary people but even the most “right” among our intellectuals—really are far away from even considering a question like the above, viz., what would be the best path to Capitalism in today’s India, what sectors/areas/industries should be freed up first—and the reasons thereof. Questions like these are so remote to them that they don’t even have the reality of a fiction to them. Capitalism is actually reduced, by them, only to a convenient catch-phrase, a phrase that means nothing in particular except perhaps a “feelgood” glow in the heart, a term that may be abused any which way. That’s how Capitalism remains an unknown ideal even to those who say they are pro-Capitalism.

It’s a pity that the best of our public voices still discuss “Whether Capitalism,” not “Whither Capitalism.” [With my limited knowledge of English, I think, the word “whither” can be used here. If not, please let me know.] The word “whither” here is to be taken in the sense: which areas do we choose to begin freeing up such that greatest positive impact is made towards the popular support for Capitalism, and least political resistance is encountered.

Any ideas or suggestions on this topic would be welcome—whether as comments/replies to this blog, or as posts at your blogs, or as independent essays or articles in the media. If you know a better word than “whither,” please do let me know. Thanks in advance for both.

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A Song  I Like:
(Hindi) “main jahaa chalaa jaaoon, bahaar chali aaye…”
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

[I may revise/streamline this post a bit later on.]
[E&OE]

Wanted: Bean Counters…

Recently, I was searching for some key numbers concerning India’s economy, and Googling some related phrases didn’t help at all.

The data I wanted were mostly concerned with the annual government expenditure in India, as well as the total sizes of the public and private sectors in India.

For instance, I wanted data like:

  • The size of the public sector in the years 1947, 1950, and for every year (or five year period) since then. Also, it would be helpful if also similar data for the years before independence are available. The size of the public sector is to be measured in terms of both total money spent on them (planned and unplanned expenditure, capital invested, the money spent to cover up the losses they made etc.), as well as the percentage of the annual GDP these organizations came to occupy. (It’s OK even if no data are made available on the pork portion of these numbers.)
  • The relative size of the total government spending in India
    • It should be available separately for the Center and for each of the States/UTs.
    • The fraction of the total government expenditure in India that was spent in providing the three specific services of Defence, Police, and Courts (i.e. the entire judiciary), and for all the other activities of the government. Also, similar data, if available, for the money directly spent on the legislative branch.

Ideally (since I am so lazy) I would like it if the data have already been adjusted for inflation—any base year would do.

The data might be only rough (ballpark) estimates.

I would also like some important related data such as the number of people employed in each sector (and branch of government) are available, though some of these type of data are already available at Wikipedia here[^].

More than 25 years ago, I had already started believing in Capitalism. As a part of understanding the world around me better, I would go out and buy a small pocket book of the title (if I remember it right) “Statistical Outline of India”. It was a book that all socialists and academics but no businessman would buy. It used to be brought out, if I mistake not, by some concern of Tatas—possibly, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay. I guess they used to issue a new edition every year or so, because I distinctly remember having bought a different version more than once.

If you know of any Internet links for the above kind of data, please drop a line to that effect.

And, if you fail to find any easily accessible links for even as important and salient data as these, think about the depths of socialism/statism to which this country has already plunged.

[E&OE]

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A Song I Like:

(Marathi) “jay jay mahaaraashtra maajhaa…”
Lyrics: “raajaa baDhe”
Music: “shreenivas khaLe”
Singer: “shaahir saabLe”