Monday, June 30, 2014

De-Macaulayization - 7

Sankrant Sanu writes:
A few years ago I set off to villages in Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttarakhand to do a study. I carried with me non-verbal IQ tests normed on the US population. I administered these to children in the US, children in English-medium urban schools and children in village schools. In my sample, Indian village children outscored both Indian and US urban children in IQ. In a small village Khandodra in Haryana, 30 per cent of the children scored above the 90th percentile. I was stunned. When I spoke to the principal of the village, he spoke about how the English class system in India affected the children’s self esteem and their chances of future progress.

हमारा ग्रामीन क्षेत्र है। अगर हाईर ऐडूकेशन से टच में है तभी बच्चा सफल हो पाएगा। जब वो आठवीं क्लास पास करता है, दसवीं तक जाता है, उसमें इंगलिश की ऐसी हीन भावना आ जाती है, की ऊपर जाता है—काॅम्पिटिशन में भी इंगलिश-मीडियम है।
(Ours is a rural area. To succeed these children need to be in touch with higher education. However when the child passes 8th class, goes into 10th, he experiences a feeling of inferiority in dealing with English; to go higher the competition is in English).
This encounter created my passion to reverse this injustice. A child in Turkey, in Malaysia, in Korea or Japan, does not face the same discriminative glass ceiling as the child in a village in Khandodra. Some years ago, Malaysia made an explicit decision to change its highest court system to allow Bhasha, its native language (a word ironically derived from Sanskrit). Yet in this ancient land of scholarship of ours, which influenced other civilisations for centuries, we cannot plead our case in the Supreme Court in any Indian language.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A debate worth watching

Excerpts of a debate - via MEMRI - among Mussalmans, that is very important; which side prevails in practice will determine the fate of a large portion of humanity. And sorry, not watching, but reading the sub-titles for most of us.

The Paradox of The Veda

Sri Aurobindo wrote (PDF):

1. The difficulty of the language:

We have in the Rig Veda, — the true and only Veda in the estimation of European scholars, — a body of sacrificial hymns couched in a very ancient language which presents a number of almost insoluble difficulties. It is full of ancient forms and words which do not appear in later speech and have often to be fixed in some doubtful sense by intelligent conjecture; a mass even of the words that it has in common with classical Sanskrit seem to bear or at least to admit another significance than in the later literary tongue; and a multitude of its vocables, especially the most common, those which are most vital to the sense, are capable of a surprising number of unconnected significances which may give, according to our preference in selection, quite different complexions to whole passages, whole hymns and even to the whole thought of the Veda.
2. The existing commentaries and difficulty of interpretation:

In the course of several thousands of years there have been at least three considerable attempts, entirely differing from each other in their methods and results, to fix the sense of these ancient litanies. One of these is prehistoric in time and exists only by fragments in the Brahmanas and Upanishads; but we possess in its entirety the traditional interpretation of the Indian scholar Sayana and we have in our own day the interpretation constructed after an immense labour of comparison and conjecture by modern European scholarship. 

Both of them present one characteristic in common, the extraordinary incoherence and poverty of sense which their results stamp upon the ancient hymns. The separate lines can be given, whether naturally or by force of conjecture, a good sense or a sense that hangs together; the diction that results, if garish in style, if loaded with otiose and decorative epithets, if developing extraordinarily little of meaning in an amazing mass of gaudy figure and verbiage, can be made to run into intelligible sentences; but when we come to read the hymns as a whole we seem to be in the presence of men who, unlike the early writers of other races, were incapable of coherent and natural expression or of connected thought. Except in the briefer and simpler hymns, the language tends to be either obscure or artificial; the thoughts are either unconnected or have to be forced and beaten by the interpreter into a whole. The scholar in dealing with his text is obliged to substitute for interpretation a process almost of fabrication. We feel that he is not so much revealing the sense as hammering and forging rebellious material into some sort of shape and consistency.
3. The paradox

Yet these obscure and barbarous compositions have had the most splendid good fortune in all literary history. They have been the reputed source not only of some of the world’s richest and profoundest religions, but of some of its subtlest metaphysical philosophies. In the fixed tradition of thousands of years they have been revered as the origin and standard of all that can be held as authoritative and true in Brahmana and Upanishad, in Tantra and Purana, in the doctrines of great philosophical schools and in the teachings of famous saints and sages. The name borne by them was Veda, the knowledge, — the received name for the highest spiritual truth of which the human mind is capable. But if we accept the current interpretations, whether Sayana’s or the modern theory, the whole of this sublime and sacred reputation is a colossal fiction. The hymns are, on the contrary, nothing more than the naive superstitious fancies of untaught and materialistic barbarians concerned only with the most external gains and enjoyments and ignorant of all but the most elementary moral notions or religious aspirations.
Part of the "most splendid good fortune" is the civilizational effort to preserve these in the original sound.   In fact, an entire school of philosophy says that it is the sound that matters, not the meaning.

How far are we from the robots taking over?

The shipping time for container shipping from China to New York is between 20-30 days.   For a fashion-driven industry like textiles and garments, the advantage of cheaper labor in China would be offset by the extra month it takes to respond to the changing market.   If robots could reduce the human labor component of garment production to insignificance,  it would be advantageous to serve the US market with robotic factories located in the US.   It would seem then that robotic manufacturing is not yet ready to take over, at least from an economic feasibility perspective.

There are alternatives, of course, which could explain this.  For example, the garment industry could be still in a relatively slow supply chain model, so that the extra 3-4 weeks for shipping from China don't matter.  What I mean is that what you see in the store displays today might have been planned up to an year ago, rather than weeks ago.  If the business model is that slow-moving,  where manufacturing is located may not matter.  

Anyway, here is an article from 2012, from the Indian Textile Journal. 

Sri Aurobindo on the meaning of the Vedas

A passage from Sir Aurobindo's "Secrets of the Veda":

From this past history of language certain consequences derive which are of considerable importance in Vedic interpretation. In the first place by a knowledge of the laws under which the relations of sound and sense formed themselves in the Sanskrit tongue and by a careful and minute study of its word-families it is possible to a great extent to restore the past history of individual words. It is possible to account for the meanings actually possessed by them, to show how they were worked out
through the various stages of language-development, to establish the mutual relations of different significances and to explain how they came to be attached to the same word in spite of the wide
difference and sometimes even the direct contrariety of their sense-values. It is possible also to restore lost senses of words on a sure and scientific basis and to justify them by an appeal to the observed laws of association which governed the development of the old Aryan tongues, to the secret evidence of the word itself and to the corroborative evidence of its immediate kindred.

Thus instead of having a purely floating and conjectural basis for our dealings with the vocables of the Vedic language, we can work with confidence upon a solid and reliable foundation. Naturally, it does not follow that because a Vedic word may or must have had at one time a particular significance,
that significance can be safely applied to the actual text of the Veda. But we do establish a sound sense and a clear possibility of its being the right sense for the Veda. The rest is a matter of comparative study of the passages in which the word occurs and of constant fitness in the context. I have continually found that a sense thus restored illumines always the context wherever it is applied and on the other hand that a sense demanded always by the context is precisely that to which we are led by the history of the word. This is a sufficient basis for a moral, if not for an absolute certainty.

Secondly, one remarkable feature of language in its inception is the enormous number of different meanings of which a single word was capable and also the enormous number of words which could be used to represent a single idea. Afterwards this tropical luxuriance came to be cut down. The intellect intervened with its growing need of precision, its growing sense of economy. The bearing capacity of words progressively diminished; and it became less and less tolerable to be burdened with a superfluous number of words for the same idea, a redundant variety of ideas for the same word. A considerable, though not too rigid economy in these respects, modified by a demand for a temperate
richness of variation, became the final law of language.

But the Sanskrit tongue never quite reached the final stages of this development; it dissolved too early into the Prakrit dialects. Even in its latest and most literary form it is lavish of varieties of meanings for the same word; it overflows with a redundant wealth of synonyms. Hence its extraordinary capacity for rhetorical devices which in any other language would be difficult, forced and hopelessly artificial, and especially for the figure of double sense, of slesa.

The Vedic Sanskrit represents a still earlier stratum in the development of language. Even in its outward features it is less fixed than any classical tongue; it abounds in a variety of forms and inflexions; it is fluid and vague, yet richly subtle in its use of cases and tenses. And on its psychological side it has not yet crystallised, is not entirely hardened into the rigid forms
of intellectual precision. The word for the Vedic Rishi is still a living thing, a thing of power, creative, formative. It is not yet a conventional symbol for an idea, but itself the parent and former of ideas. It carries within it the memory of its roots, is still conscient of its own history.

The Rishis’ use of language was governed by this ancient psychology of the Word. When in English we use the word “wolf” or “cow”, we mean by it simply the animal designated; we are not conscious of any reason why we should use that particular sound for the idea except the immemorial custom of
the language; and we cannot use it for any other sense or purpose except by an artificial device of style. But for the Vedic Rishi “vrika” meant the tearer and therefore, among other applications of the sense, a wolf; “dhenu” meant the fosterer, nourisher, and therefore a cow. But the original and general sense predominates, the derived and particular is secondary. Therefore, it was possible for the fashioner of the hymn to use these common words with a great pliability, sometimes putting forward the image of the wolf or the cow, sometimes using it to colour the more general sense, sometimes keeping it merely as a conventional figure for the psychological conception on which his mind
was dwelling, sometimes losing sight of the image altogether. It is in the light of this psychology of the old language that we have to understand the peculiar figures of Vedic symbolism as handled by the Rishis, even to the most apparently common and concrete. It is so that words like “ghritam”, the clarified butter, “soma”, the sacred wine, and a host of others are used.

Friday, June 27, 2014

How to fold a fitted sheet

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bruce Reidel: An Impossible Partnership? Pakistan, America....

Bruce Reidel at the Dickey Center: May 13, 2014.

Riedel joined Brookings following a 30-year career at the Central Intelligence Agency, a tenure which included multiple overseas postings. He served as a senior advisor to the last four U.S. presidents on South Asia and the Middle East, working as a senior member of the National Security Council. In the 1990s, Riedel also served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Near East and South Asia at the Pentagon and a senior advisor at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels. A member of President Bill Clinton’s Middle East negotiating team, Riedel took part in the Camp David peace negotiations, as well as other Arab-Israeli summits. An adviser to President Clinton on South Asia, Riedel organized the president’s trip to India in 2000.
In January 2009, at the request of President Barack Obama, Riedel chaired a review of American policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Obama announced the results of that review in a speech to the nation in March 2009. In 2011, Riedel served as an expert advisor to the prosecution of al Qaeda terrorist Omar Farooq Abdulmutallab in Detroit. Later that same year, Prime Minister David Cameron requested that Riedel deliver a briefing on Pakistan to Britain’s National Security Council.

Transcript from around @17:56  "The third factor, after the state within a state, and the obsession with India is that Pakistan carries the very unique attribute of being both a patron state sponsor of terrorism -- I would argue probably the leading patron state sponsor of terrorism in the world -- and a victim of terror at the same time.   Pakistan supports groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that attacked Mumbai in November 2008.  It doesn't support groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba; as Dan knows better than almost anyone, it **runs** Lashkar-e-Taiba.   Or to put it more accurate, the Army,  the ISI, the Lashkar-e-Taiba are one entity, that is entwined, deeply.   We know that from the Mumbai attack.  We have the confession of the Pakistani-American David Headley, who was involved in all the planning of the attack, and he tells us in detail how the ISI, Lashkar-e-Taiba were working together. "

"But that's not the only group.  Jaish-e-Muhammad, Hizbul Mujahiddin,  the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network -- these are all instruments of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.  They control their safe havens,  they control their media outlets,  they provide them with assistance and funding, and assistance in getting weapons.  For example, the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a man who has a $10 million bounty on his head, isn't hiding in Pakistan; he is on Pakistani television once a week.   He routinely comes on Pakistani television and says, "Hey CIA, you looking for me? Channel 45, here I am!  And tomorrow I'll be live on channel -- whatever."

"And yet, at the same time,  somewhere around 50,000 Pakistanis have died in militant-related violence in Pakistan since 2001.  That is the Pakistani code word for terrorism."


Bruce Reidel noted earlier in his talk that the last two US Presidents - Bush and Obama - have given Pakistan $25 billion, mostly in arms, and continue to fund Pakistan.    So inconsequential are Indian (and Pakistani civilian) lives!  When Georgetown Prof. C. Christine Fair, speaking at the Heritage Foundation, suggested levying sanctions against specific Pakistani Army and ISI officials - for their involvement in the killing of American soldiers in Afghanistan - just like has been done for some of Putin's associates during the recent kerfuffle in Ukraine -- the two ex-State Department men on the panel were dismissive of that idea.   So inconsequential are the lives of American servicemen!

PS: around 32:00, Reidel points out that the US Congress, which is on a budget-cutting spree, routinely passes aid for Pakistan without a debate.  As he put it, even the Tea Party votes for aid for Pakistan.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Then and Now

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Krugman reviews Geithner

Krugman's review of Geithner's book about the 2008 financial crisis, Stress Test in the New York Review of Books.

There’s a curious change in tone about two thirds of the way through Stress Test. Up to that point—basically, up to the stress test itself and its immediate aftermath—Geithner tells a tale of heroic activism, of good men and women pulling out all the stops to save the world. Thereafter, however, Geithner turns apologetic and self-exculpatory. He acknowledges that more stimulus and debt relief would have been good things; he claims that he wanted to do much more, but that practical difficulties and political opposition made stronger action impossible. The can-do hero of the financial crisis, endlessly creative in finding ways to bypass institutional and political obstacles to do what needs to be done, suddenly becomes a passive observer of events.

Is that really how it was? I’m sorry to say this, but Geithner doesn’t appear to be a reliable narrator here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Blatant Hypocrisy

When something like this happens in India, we get thundering editorials from the New York Times, and a whole raft of OpEds about the lack of freedom of expression in India.

Or if that infamous video been withdrawn, the one that provoked riots in Libya and Egypt and that may have been part of  the motivation for the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi in which four Americans actually lost their lives --- the howls of "censorship" would have been deafening.

But the following, oh, it is business as usual:

The Metropolitan Opera announced on Tuesday that it was canceling plans to simulcast John Adams’s “The Death of Klinghoffer” this fall to cinemas around the world, drawing praise from some Jewish groups who object to the opera, but laments from the work’s fans and a warning from its composer that the decision promotes “intolerance.”

The opera, considered one of Mr. Adams’s masterpieces, depicts the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by members of the Palestine Liberation Front, and the killing of a disabled Jewish American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer. The work, which sought to give voice to Palestinians and Israelis, and hijackers as well as victims, has attracted controversy since its 1991 premiere. Some Jewish groups have questioned the Met’s plans to present it.

The Met decided to cancel its planned Nov. 15 Live in HD transmission of “Klinghoffer” to movie theaters and a radio broadcast after discussions with the Anti-Defamation League. The league praised the Met’s decision, saying that “while the opera itself is not anti-Semitic, there is a concern the opera could be used in foreign countries to stir up anti-Israel sentiments or as a vehicle to promote anti-Semitism.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Cheney: December 2007

In an interview with Politico,  one of the architects of the Iraq mess, then Vice President Dick Cheney, December 2007:
Cheney, who has been widely criticized for overly optimistic — and sometime flat wrong — projections in the past, sounded as confident as ever that the Bush administration will achieve its objectives in Iraq.

“I am fairly confident we’ll have [Iraq] in a good place, where we’ll be able to look back on it and say, 'That was the right decision. It was a sound decision going into Iraq,'” Cheney told us in a 40-minute White House interview.

Sounding a note of caution, the vice president said: "We've got a lot of work to do. We're sort of halfway through the surge, in a sense. We'll be going back to pre-surge levels over the course of the next year."

But Cheney said that by the middle of January 2009, it will be clear that “we have in fact achieved our objective in terms of having a self-governing Iraq that’s capable for the most part of defending themselves, a democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a nation that will be a positive force in influencing the world around it in the future.”
All of that by 2009? “Yes, sir,” he replied.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Atif Mian on the Leonard Lopate Show


Economists Atif Mian explains his new book on the Leonard Lopate show. (House of Debt: How They (and You) Caused the Great Recession, and How We Can Prevent It from Happening Again by Atif Mian and Amir Sufi).

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Bail out the banks, not the borrowers?

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a long essay "The Case for Reparations".  Here I just want to point out one passage:

In 2010, Jacob S. Rugh, then a doctoral candidate at Princeton, and the sociologist Douglas S. Massey published a study of the recent foreclosure crisis. Among its drivers, they found an old foe: segregation. Black home buyers—even after controlling for factors like creditworthiness—were still more likely than white home buyers to be steered toward subprime loans. Decades of racist housing policies by the American government, along with decades of racist housing practices by American businesses, had conspired to concentrate African Americans in the same neighborhoods. As in North Lawndale half a century earlier, these neighborhoods were filled with people who had been cut off from mainstream financial institutions. When subprime lenders went looking for prey, they found black people waiting like ducks in a pen.

“High levels of segregation create a natural market for subprime lending,” Rugh and Massey write, “and cause riskier mortgages, and thus foreclosures, to accumulate disproportionately in racially segregated cities’ minority neighborhoods.”

Plunder in the past made plunder in the present efficient. The banks of America understood this. In 2005, Wells Fargo promoted a series of Wealth Building Strategies seminars. Dubbing itself “the nation’s leading originator of home loans to ethnic minority customers,” the bank enrolled black public figures in an ostensible effort to educate blacks on building “generational wealth.” But the “wealth building” seminars were a front for wealth theft. In 2010, the Justice Department filed a discrimination suit against Wells Fargo alleging that the bank had shunted blacks into predatory loans regardless of their creditworthiness. This was not magic or coincidence or misfortune. It was racism reifying itself. According to The New York Times, affidavits found loan officers referring to their black customers as “mud people” and to their subprime products as “ghetto loans.”

“We just went right after them,” Beth Jacobson, a former Wells Fargo loan officer, told The Times. “Wells Fargo mortgage had an emerging-markets unit that specifically targeted black churches because it figured church leaders had a lot of influence and could convince congregants to take out subprime loans.”

In 2011, Bank of America agreed to pay $355 million to settle charges of discrimination against its Countrywide unit. The following year, Wells Fargo settled its discrimination suit for more than $175 million. But the damage had been done. In 2009, half the properties in Baltimore whose owners had been granted loans by Wells Fargo between 2005 and 2008 were vacant; 71 percent of these properties were in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Madhusree Mukerjee on Churchill

Rajan pointed me to Madhusree Mukerjee's 2010 book "Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II".   I found an interview with Mukerjee here.
My indictment is based on what Churchill did, not on what he said.
Of the six questions to Madhusree Mukerjee, I reproduce three here:

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Ian Jack's review of Madhusree Mukherjee's book on Churchill


Just occasionally, though, a book really does alter your view of the world, so much so that you insist others read it and sometimes foist it on them as a gift. This has just happened to me with Madhusree Mukerjee’s account of the Bengal Famine, titled Churchill’s Secret War. I’ve been absorbed and shaken by it. I don’t think anyone who reads Mukerjee can ever see Churchill in the same light again. This may scarcely matter in India, but Britain still sees him as its greatest-ever prime minister and the saviour in 1940 of the civilized world. That reputation, which is both grounded in fact and self-created, will probably survive; so much of Britain’s sense of itself still depends on ‘our finest hour’. But in Mukerjee’s book another kind of Churchill emerges to rival the war hero: obstructive, wilful, egocentric, foolish, and wickedly racist — ‘insane’, as more than one of his colleagues remarked, when it came to India.

On Churchill

Winston Churchill was about as imperialist and as racist as they come.  His good reputation comes from the fact that history is written by the victors.  Somewhere between 1.5 million and 4 million people died in Bengal just as surely as if they had been gassed by Hitler.