Friday, September 22, 2017

My experience with Indian toilets

Last four days, I spent a few hours a day tending to the garden doing weeding, pruning, mowing etc. in the process I did not go for my usual walks. Today, I went for my usual 30 minute morning walk and it was not that easy. The imagined benefits of reduction in smoking are not apparent. But I did manage to finish the walk rather slowly without a break. The prospect of the Indian trip is beginning to look more daunting. I have been planning to spend time in small places visiting villages and possibly without western type toilets, generally avoiding the affluent and the elite. May be old age is irreversible.
P.S. From 2008.
This episode and "He'd had to keep getting up to go to the restroom" reminded me a recent trip of mine inside India. I wanted to travel from Hyderabad to Vijayawada by bus; it was a trip that I used to make about twice year when I lived in Bombay enjoying Andhra pachadis along the way. I booked at a local RTC outlet and was told that it was a nice air-conditioned bus and would take only six and half hours with a couple of stops. My cousin in Vijayawada told me that after the main stop in Vijayawada, it would travel along Eluru road and if I requested, they would stop at a place ten minutes from his house. I should be there by 6:30 PM and he would be waiting at the bus stop.
When I got in to the bus in Hyderabad, they said it would be more like seven and half to eight hours. The bus stopped at several places in Hyderabad to take passengers and took two hours to get out of the city. I was already feeling the ned to visit a restroom (not unusual when one is nearly 67) but the next regular stop came after 2-3 hours. When I got down there was no regular restroom I could see and many including some women were using the open space with a few bushes. I could not see myself holding my own in that surroundings and tried a squatting position which I had not used for several years. The bones must have got stiff because of old age and I kept falling back. Finally with the help of one hand on the ground behind me, I finished the job and got back to the bus. At that stop or next stop we were delayed for half an hour because some passenger went for a drink and came late staggering. Finally when we reached the outskirts of Vijaayawada, there were traffic jams. We were told that there was a big bandh and they would try to get us to the main bus stop some how or other. It was time to enquire about my cousin's bus stop but the driver told me that he was from Telangana and did not know the local stops. After another hour so, the driver said that we wold not be able to reach the main bus stop that day and would leave us at the City Bus stop. By this time it was about 9 PM. I decided to stay in a hotel for the night and was told that the hotels were full because of the bandh. I was resigning myself to staying in the bus stop for the night (which had restrooms). Luckily an auto driver said that even though he could not drive me to my cousin's place because of the bandh crowd, he could take me around in the neighbourhood to look for a hotel room. Finally I found a hotel room by about 10 PM and phoned my cousin on my first borrowed cell phone and found that he was still waiting at his bus stop. Thanks to another cell phone, his wife sent him the message and I met him the next morning. I came back to Hyderabad by train but that is another story. 

From a comment in Small world

Best male solos of 1948

"The SoY Award for the Best Male Playback Singer of 1948 goes to Mukesh. And the best song is Gaaye ja geet milan ke or Kabhi dil dil se takarata to hoga." says Songs of Yore

Thursday, September 21, 2017

From the preface of James C. Scott's new book

75
He started on this project in 2011 at the age of 75.
"Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States" by James C. Scott :

"Was I ever in for a surprise! The preparation for the lecture upset a great deal of what I thought I knew and exposed me to a host of new debates and findings that I realized I would have to put under my belt to do justice to the topic. The actual lectures, therefore, served more to register my astonishment at the amount of received wisdom that had to be thoroughly reexamined than to attempt that reexamination itself. Homi Bhabha, my host, selected three astute commentators—Arthur Kleinman, Partha Chatterjee, and Veena Das—who, in a seminar following the lectures, convinced me that my arguments were not remotely ready for prime time. Only five years later did I emerge with a draft that I thought was well founded and provocative."
Next paragraph:
"This book thus reflects my effort to dig deeper. It is still very much the work of an amateur. Though I am a card-carrying political scientist and an anthropologist and environmentalist by courtesy, this endeavor has required working at the junction of prehistory, archaeology, ancient history, and anthropology. Not having any particular expertise in any of these fields, I can justly be accused of hubris. My excuse—which may not amount to a justification—for trespassing is threefold. First, there is the advantage of the naïveté I bring to the enterprise! Unlike a specialist immersed in the closely argued debates in their fields, I began with most of the same unexamined assumptions about the domestication of plants and animals, of sedentism, of early population centers, and of the first states that those of us who have not been paying much attention to new knowledge of the past two decades or so are apt to have taken for granted. In this respect, my ignorance and subsequent wide-eyed surprise at how much of what I thought I knew was wrong might be an advantage in writing for an audience that starts out with the same misconceptions. Second, I have made a conscientious effort, as a consumer, to understand the recent knowledge and debates in biology, epidemiology, archaeology, ancient history, demography, and environmental history that bear on these issues. And finally, I bring a background of two decades trying to understand the logic of modern state power (Seeing Like a State) as well as the practices of nonstate peoples, especially in Southeast Asia, who have, until recently, evaded absorption by states (The Art of Not Being Governed)."

Noah Smith on why workers are loosing

Why workers are loosing to capitalists:
"In other words, the two most conventional explanations for rising inequality and falling wages might both be correct. A perfect storm of robots and free trade -- and some monopoly power to boot -- could be shifting power from the proletariat to the capitalists. With all these factors at work, maybe the real puzzle is why workers aren’t doing even worse than they are."

Education and poverty

Education Can't Solve Poverty—So Why Do We Keep Insisting That It Can? By Jennifer Berkshire ( via Chaitanya Diwadkar). Certiainly not overall but at an indicdual leve. As Kenneth Arrow said long ago : "In a system where virtually all resources are available for a price, economic power can be translated into political power by channels too obvious for mention. In a capitalist society, economic power is very unequally distributed, and hence democratic government is inevitably something of a sham.” 

An old interview Zbigniew Brzezinski

An old interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski
"Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [From the Shadows], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?
Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, closely guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention." ( via Chaitanya Diwadkar's wall)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Michael Pettis on Chinese economy

"In fact, I would argue that “the end of China’s stellar growth story” has already occurred, and occurred quite a long time ago. Growth in the Chinese economy has collapsed, but growth in economic activity has not collapsed (let us assume, with Grenville, that somehow the reduction in GDP growth from over 10 percent to 6.5 percent does not represent a slowdown in economic activity). The growth in economic activity has instead been propped up by the acceleration in credit growth and by the failure to write down investments that have created economic activity without having created economic value. In that case, high GDP growth levels simply disguise the seeming collapse of underlying economic growth in a way that has happened many times before—always in the late stages of similar apparent investment-driven growth miracles." says Michael Pettis in Is China’s Economy Growing as Fast as China’s GDP? P.S. Michael Pettis mentions a book by Diane Coyle on GDP. Here is a Discussion With her about the book.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Before Piketty

Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. From. Review by David Ruciman in 2011:
"The real beneficiaries of the explosion in income for top earners since the 1970s has been not the top 1 per cent but the top 0.1 per cent of the general population. Since 1974, the share of national income of the top 0.1 per cent of Americans has grown from 2.7 to 12.3 per cent of the total, a truly mind-boggling level of redistribution from the have-nots to the haves. Who are these people? As Hacker and Pierson note, they are ‘not, for the most part, superstars and celebrities in the arts, entertainment and sports. Nor are they rentiers, living off their accumulated wealth, as was true in the early part of the last century. A substantial majority are company executives and managers, and a growing share of these are financial company executives and managers.’"
The review is a review of two books, the other being 'Tax Havens' by Nicholas Shaxson and was posted before. Somehow this book did not draw much attention outside America.

Two new books reviewed by John Lanchester

How civilisation started by John Lanchester in The Newyorker
The two books are Against the grain:A deep history of the earliest states by James C. Scott, and
Affluence I thought abundance:The disappearing world of thebushmen by James Suzman
An excerpt
"When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession—as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life—will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease."

Monday, September 18, 2017

a longish article on chronic back pain

‘We always thought of it as acute pain that just goes on and on – and if chronic pain is just a continuation of acute pain, let’s fix the thing that caused the acute, and the chronic should go away,’ she said. ‘That has spectacularly failed. Now we think of chronic pain as a shift to another place, with different mechanisms, such as changes in genetic expression, chemical release, neurophysiology and wiring. We’ve got all these completely new ways of thinking about chronic pain. That’s the paradigm shift in the pain field.’ From 
Where pain lives :Fixing chronic back pain is possible only when patients understand how much it is produced by the brain, not the spine by Cathryn Ramon

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Tariq Thachil on the rise of BJP in India

The social service wings of RSS played a big role in BJP's rise to power: Yale professor:
"Tariq Thachil, assistant professor of political science at Yale University, has the rare quality of making dry theory come alive with living, breathing examples from the always rich treasury of Indian politics. His first book, Elite Parties, Poor Voters: How Social Services Win Votes in India, explores the reasons for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s success among marginalised Indians. Thachil backs his research with empirical data to show how and why the BJP’s strategy worked. And perhaps because he grew up in India, his feel for the subject is natural and instinctive."

Pentagon spending on Syrian rebels

Revealed: The Pentagon Is Spending Up To $2.2 Billion on Soviet-Style Arms for Syrian Rebels
"[Patrick] Wilcken said that such a vast inflow of weaponry raised fears about the future of the Middle East.
“Given the very complex, fluid situation in Syria … and the existence of many armed groups accused of serious abuses,” he said, “it is difficult to see how the US could ensure arms sent to the region would not be misused.”"

Gulzar Natarajan revisits Piketty

Piketty, Price markups, and Houston floods:
"There are two ways to critique something which questions strongly held conventional wisdom. The honourable way is to question the core of the argument, and a less honourable way is to detract attention from the core issue by picking holes on incidentals. 

Consider three examples - Thomas Piketty's book highlighting the issue of rising incomes at the top of the ladder and widening inequality, a recent paper on rising markups in US businesses, and the Houston floods and the debate on zoning regulations in urban areas.

Take Piketty. Never mind that the primary takeaway from the book was the fact that inequality is  increasing alarmingly across the world, the right-wing critique of the book was focused on picking holes at Piketty's argument that the returns to capital was higher than economic growth, thereby increasing the incomes of the rich and widening inequality. No, they argued, capital, especially the modern information technology based ones, depreciates fast enough to offset any high returns. Or, that among all returns to capital, it is increases in property prices that forms the vast majority of wealth creation.

Sure, there are some policy implications based on what are drivers of widening inequality, but is it a necessity for taking action on the first order issue that incomes at the top of the ladder are rocketing up even as those of the overwhelming majority are stagnating or declining?

As to the debate about whether r > g, the recent work of Alan Taylor, Oscar Jorda, and Co, on the returns to property, equity, bond, and government bills for 16 countries for the 1870-2015 period is only a confirmation of Piketty's argument. I have not seen too many blogposts in Marginal Revolution on this or their extended work! "


Two Telugu film directors