Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On the Nature of Belief

On "The Heathen in His Blindness..." yahoo group, vnr1995 had a perspicacious statement, which I paraphrase - Satan (the Devil) **believes that** God exists, but Satan does not **believe in** God (which is why Satan is doomed).

We Hindus are not required to **believe in** anything, at least to the best of my knowledge of the Indic Traditions.  To my understanding, the Mimamsakas will tell you that the Vedic mantras retain their efficacy whether or not you **believe in** or **believe that** about anything about them.  In that sense, you are also not required to **believe that** about anything.

Of course, we Hindus **believe that** about many things.  However, no set of beliefs confers any kind of virtue.  In the Ramayana, both Rama and Ravana **believed that** about the same things.

One may be born into the Hindu fold.  One may join the fold and/or become a practitioner by only by practicing; one leaves the fold by explicit exit.

In bringing up Hindu children, I don't think they need to be told to **believe that** or **believe in** anything.  They just need to get a general understanding of the daily life, festival, emotional, intellectual, etc., aspects of practice; and their parents' own actions will be their immediate guide.

I think the same applies to the followers of Mahavira and of the Buddha, as well.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ta-Nehisi Coates interviews geneticist Neil Risch

In our paper, we tried to show that a trait can appear to have high "genetic heritability" in any particular population, but the explanation for a group difference for that trait could be either entirely genetic or entirely environmental or some combination in between.

So, in my view, at this point, any comment about the etiology of group differences, for "intelligence" or anything else, in the absence of specific identified genes (or environmental factors, for that matter), is speculation.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Barbara Liskov - The Power of Abstraction

Software Defined Networking

My friend N.K. dislikes networking, and in the technical talk here, Professor Scott Shenker, from the University of California, Berkeley, in the first 16 minutes explains why. As the Professor says, if one of his computer science students designed some of these networking protocols, he'd be failed. The good thing is that Software Defined Networking can change that.

Be warned, this is a technical talk. The second frame below begins the talk from the beginning; but first link starts the talk in at a point where there is a message that is useful for everyone.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Dropped Quantum Diaries Survivor from the blog-roll for promoting a really bad pseudo-scientific pre-print.  Being open-minded is one thing, having your brain fall out is altogether another.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Definitely not a hummer!

Definitely not a hummer! by macgupta
Definitely not a hummer!, a photo by macgupta on Flickr.

Seen this morning.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Racism in India

The Washington Post published an article: A fascinating map of the world's most and least racially tolerant countries.  India shows on the map as the least racially tolerant country.

Tracing back from the newspaper article to the journal article to the source of data lands one at the World Values Survey  (WVS) (http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org).  The data on which the findings are based date to the WVS survey questionnaire from 2005, that was conducted in India in 2006.  The questionnaire was translated into Hindi by some of the researchers, back-translated to English by someone else, and the whole thing was approved by the WVS organization.  The Hindi master was used for translation into other Indian languages.   The way the polling was conducted was exit polling - random selection of voters at randomly selected polling stations at randomly selected constituencies in 19 or so states.

So this is a survey of opinions of actual voters, at the time of elections - which are emotionally charged times, when politicians appeal to caste and religion.

Apart from the WVS survey, there was an extensive questionnaire on the respondents's background.  I do not know whether this was done before or after the WVS questions.  I do know that question 18 of this background survey had a very fine-grained division into castes,  including e.g., just for Muslims - Muslim Ashraf, Muslim Mughal (Khan),  various Muslim OBCs, Muslim Dalit, so you can imagine the categorization of Hindus.  Why this is significant is if one asked the background questions before the WVS questions one has made the respondent intensely aware of his caste identity at the time of posing the WVS question. (Question 77 of the background survey is about language.)

Apart from that the survey question in Hindi was posed with "jaati" for "race".   "Jaati" does not have the meaning or connotations of "race".  "Jaati", IMO, is best defined as an endogamous group of people, and a connotation will be "having a common profession".  The survey question is at the end of this post.

Anyway, what is interesting is that the WVS survey was conducted in India in 1990, 1995, 2001 also.  I do not know how the survey sample was conducted or how the question was posed in those surveys. Let us assume that these are all comparable.   Then what is interesting - more so than the absolute numbers - is the trend.

(You would not like to have as neighbors people of different race.)
1990 - 34.9% (2500 respondents)
1995 - 36.0% (2040 respondents)
2001 - 41.8% (2002 respondents)
2006 - 48.8% (1786 respondents)

For comparison (You would not like to have as neighbors immigrants/foreign workers)
1990 - 36.6%
1995 - 33.1%
2001 - 38.2%
2006 - 39.2%

Interestingly, only in the 2001 survey the question was posed (You would not like to have as neighbors people of the same religion)
2001 - 41.8%.   I'm guessing this must be a data-entry error.

"Jaati"-intolerance seems to have risen, while intolerance of  immigrants/foreign workers - who are almost certainly of a different jaati,  but maybe common profession -  has not moved much.

Assuming the data at each survey is meaningful and the data is comparable across surveys, this trend in jaati-intolerance is to be explained - why has it risen so much in 15 years?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Krugman in the New York Review of Books

About the current economic woes, and the policy response, Krugman wrote:
I’d argue that what happened next—the way policymakers turned their back on practically everything economists had learned about how to deal with depressions, the way elite opinion seized on anything that could be used to justify austerity—was a much greater sin. The financial crisis of 2008 was a surprise, and happened very fast; but we’ve been stuck in a regime of slow growth and desperately high unemployment for years now. And during all that time policymakers have been ignoring the lessons of theory and history.

It’s a terrible story, mainly because of the immense suffering that has resulted from these policy errors. It’s also deeply worrying for those who like to believe that knowledge can make a positive difference in the world. To the extent that policymakers and elite opinion in general have made use of economic analysis at all, they have, as the saying goes, done so the way a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination. Papers and economists who told the elite what it wanted to hear were celebrated, despite plenty of evidence that they were wrong; critics were ignored, no matter how often they got it right.
Please to read in full.

Stephen Colbert on the dark art of race craft

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the dark art of racecraft

Prof. Delong's preface is worth noting,  or you can jump straight to Ta-Nehisi Coates.
We should first be clear that there is nothing mysterious or forbidden about purporting to study race and intelligence. Indeed, despite an inability to define "race" or "intelligence," such studies are one of the dominant intellectual strains in Western history.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Dumbification of America

A real school science quiz. Read and weep!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

10% less of me

Since the last few pounds are quite hard, I'm posting this as a sort of public promise that I'll have to honor.


Weight taken twice a day, at identical points of my routine, not necessarily at the same hour of the day.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Tarek Fateh on Global Terrorism and Islam

Published on Apr 30, 2013

Canadian writer and advocate of a progressive and liberal Muslim identity Tarek Fatah delivered his lecture in a seminar organise by India Foundation in New Delhi on Global Terrorism and Islam.

M J Akbar: The Indian Perspective on Global Terrorism and Islam

Published on May 2, 2013

NewAgeIslam TV presents a speech by a senior Indian Journalist M J Akbar on Global Terrorism and Islam. He provides an Indian Perspective to the global phenomenon of Islamist Terrorism. Indian has been a victim of terrorism exported from Pakistan through state and non-state actors for a long time. India has been a victim of Islamist terrorism much longer than Europe or America, almost since its inception as a modern democratic republic. Indian media personalities like Mr. Akbar have been reflecting on the issue for a long time and have far more experience to share than their European or American counterparts.

Friday, May 03, 2013

The P.I.E. metaphor - 2

On dailykos.com alevei continued:

In my previous post, I wrote about coming to terms with the metaphorical nature of Proto-Indo-European (PIE), which may or may not ever have existed as an actual language spoken by actual people at an actual moment in time but that is posited to be the common ancestor of most of the languages of Europe and many in western and central Asia.

To recap, the gist of that post is that the Indo-European hypothesis is large and contains multitudes and that the options seem to be to accept the astonishing inexactness of the metaphors or submit to the paralyzing mind-blowingness of what we use them to try to explain. I suggested that the latter option could be inconvenient if you're trying to discuss historical linguistics and language relatedness in a class that meets for an hour and fifty minutes twice a week for 15 weeks.

Anyway, continuing on the topic of the metaphors that we use to try to create some kind of manageable order out of the chaos that is the story of human language and how it got this way, we turn now to a fellow name of August Schleicher (1821-1868), a German linguist by training and profession who specialized in classical and Slavic languages. Schleicher, who may have had some of the same concerns that I have about how we can possibly even try to conceptualize an unattested 5,000 to 7,000-year-old super-ancestor Ur-language that might not even have actually existed, decided that it was time someone got around to the task of trying to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European.

....Anyway, in 1861, Schleicher published his reconstruction of PIE in a book called Compendium der Vergleichenden Grammatik der Indogermanischen Sprachen, known in English (and available in translation here) as A Compendium of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-European Languages. Revisions and reissues appeared well into the 1870s, although Schleicher himself died in 1868 at age 47.

"What does all this have to do with metaphors?" you might be thinking. Everything. It has everything to do with metaphors. For one thing, even as Schleicher published his reconstruction of a 5- to 7,000-year-old dead language that might not have existed in the first place, he also made it clear that he knew all along that he was dealing in metaphors, and particularly in a big PIE-shaped metaphor, one that made it possible for him to reconstruct what was quite possibly a mythical language. As he wrote in the Compendium in 1861 (although of course he actually wrote it in German):
"A form traced back to the sound-grade of the Indo-European original language, we call a fundamental form. When we bring forward these fundamental forms, we do not assert that they really were once in existence." (Emphasis added.)

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The P.I.E. metaphor

On dailykos.com, alevei writes, about Proto-Indo-European:

But the idea of PIE itself still remains mostly a metaphoric prop. It is more a way to try to make sense of something that so far remains firmly in the 'unknowable' column (although it sees plenty of action in the 'theorizable' column) than an actual unified language that was actually spoken by actual people at some actual point in time.