Monday, October 31, 2005

Anony ...

... mice galore.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Locana -- The Eye: III

A quick look at a few happening places in the Indian blogosphere.

Dilip D'Souza's post titled The Inefficiency Boost is about our infatuation with GDP. The voltage stabilizer industry and the packaged water industry do boost our GDP. But these industries thrive due to inefficiencies in the respective sectors. Check out this post, if you haven't already been there. Loads of fun stuff too: some seem to be asking Dilip to attend a Basket Weaving 101! Also check out the two well written posts by Navin here and here.

Kunal's post about a talk by a lefty professor of MICA is also attracting a lot of attention. An interesting discussion in the comments section over there. I also thought Kunal's ending remark -- I also took hope in the fact that if the left stormed to power with arguments as verifiably false as these, Classic Liberalism/Libertarianism too has a chance -- is pretty funny. Libertarians and anti-libertarians are in agreement there, I guess!

Is Noam Chomsky a capitalist pig? Yazad Jal thinks so at AnarCapLib. Lots of comments there too. Yazad's post has also prompted a long post by Ashuthosh. Let me quote a bit from Ashutosh's final para:

    Men live and die, but it's their ideas which endure. If Chomsky's models endure, after a hundred years, his personal life's activities as such would be a footnote to a footnote, compared to the discussion of his ideas. Even if he does do the things noted above, the motivations could be very different from what have been assumed. Quibbling over the above-mentioned traits of Noam Chomsky, would be, I think, doing a great disservice to his work and the body of knowledge he has erected, on which we should really be spending our time. Irrespective of what Chomsky does, it would be a good idea to consult his references and read his words. The proof of the pudding is in its eating, not in the private life of the cook.
Okay, Chomsky, Arundhati Roy and Praful Bidwai are often beaten up together in the Indian blogosphere. Sometimes P. Sainath too. So I was a bit surprised that Surjit Bhalla's accusation that Sainath cooks up his stats did not find many takers. Uma of Indianwriting had a post about it, and I think that's the only post that I noticed about Bhalla's article. Bhalla wrote:
    Ordinary folks do not have the knowledge, or the interest, or the time, to fact check the data spitted out by journalists. Unlike academics, journalists do not have to cite their sources — it takes too much space and affects the flow. In return for this privilege, journalists have a responsibility to not betray the trust, or at least not to betray it so blatantly.
Anyway check out this article by Sainath too, which Bhalla attacked.

Previous posts in this series: Locana -- The Eye: I, II.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Whales die in stranding

A terrible incident. Reports here, here and here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Blog Quake Day

Today is blog quake day. Check out DesiPundit for helpful links to contribute. Also check out the South Asia Quake Help blog.

Here's PM's National Relief Fund. PM's appeal is here:

    Neither nature's fury nor human compassion recognizes political boundaries. It is in our culture to help one's own and one's neibhours in an hour of need.

    The Central Government is extending all cooperation and assistance to the Government of Jammu and Kashmir to provide relief and enable rehabilitation. The Government of India has also offered help and assistance to the Government of Pakistan.

    I am sure Indian civil society will step forward to the relief and rehabilitation effort. I appeal to every concerned citizen of our Republic to donate generously to the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund to help us help those in need.

You can contribute online here.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Argumentative Indian

I loved reading Amartya Sen's The Argumentative Indian. It's one of the finest books that I have read about India, a work full of insights, a serious work that commands serious reading. Parts of the book were new to me, parts of it have a fresh perspective on things that I knew of, and some other parts made me happy to see that Sen's take on certain issues further illuminates the kind of ideas that I have come across in others' writings, ideas that I have grown to become comfortable with, ideas that, I believe, might work!

It's tough not to take note of writings of such eminence, and naturally Sen's latest book too has got a lot of admiring reviews. The reviewers of The Argumentative Indian include Shashi Tharoor, Pavan Varma, Amit Chaudhuri, and Ramachandra Guha (link via Uma). All these reviews are interesting, but the one that appealed more to my tastes is that of Pankaj Mishra's.

While all these reviews laud Sen's book, some of these reviewers find a central theme of the work a bit unpalatable. The apprehension apparently stems from the fact that Sen makes extensive use of interpretations of our past.

    Sometimes - and for entirely laudable reasons - he ends up making the same uncritical evocation of the past that he rightly criticizes among the Hindu zealots,
writes Pavan Varma. Ram Guha echoes Varma's sentiments when he writes:
    In making these (very large) claims for the relevance to modern politics of ancient history, Sen is at one with the Hindutva camp, except that he differs in who or what to uphold from India's past.
Guha says that Sen is "less than consistent" when it comes to the question "how far must arguments about the present be derived from the arguments of the past?"

This post is motivated by Ram Guha's review.

Sen indeed argues that "the understanding and use of India’s rich argumentative tradition are critically important for the success of India’s democracy, the defence of its secular politics, the removal of inequalities related to class, caste, gender and community, and the pursuit of subcontinental peace". "Silence is a powerful enemy of social justice", and Sen contends that "the argumentative tradition can be a strong ally of the underdog, particularly in the context of democratic practices." Sen's mastery over India's ancient texts is more than clear in these essays, and he does make good use of it to fight the monolithic and manipulated description of India's heritage that suits the political needs of the Hindu rightwing. Sen's passion and pride in India's cultural heritage and her rich contribution to the world of science and mathematics are patently discernible throughout this collection of essays. Guha quotes Sen from different places in the book:

    The contemporary relevance of the dialogic tradition and of the acceptance of heterodoxy are hard to exaggerate. In dealing with issues of contemporary inequality ... the reach and relevance of the argumentative tradition must be examined in terms of the contribution it can make today in resisting and undermining these inequities ... The tradition of heterodoxy has clear relevance for democracy and secularism in India ... Indeed, the importance of fuller knowledge about India’s traditions is hard to overemphasise at the present time.
Where's the "uncritical evocation" here? Not just here, I didn't see it anywhere in the book. The difference between Sen and the Hindu zealots is amply clear to me. The Hindutva guys mystify and mythify the past. The output that they get, they use to fuel hate-mongering and instigate communal tension. Sen's language is that of social justice and human rights. I'll agree that it's dishonest even then to manipulate the past to get to these noble aims. But Sen is not cooking up stories here. He approaches the primary sources with great rigor and with an open mind. For him, contemplating the distant past doesn't end with the interpretations that he presently has come up with. One has a scientific mind here, one is willing to be corrected, one is looking forward to arguments. On the other hand, I can't think of a single Hindutva ideologue who is willing to have a serious discussion on our heritage. For them, everything is a matter of unquestionable faith. A book is more than a few quotes from the book, and I think a serious reader will see the pointlessness of Guha-Varma arguments.

Guha has a possible explanation for why Sen does what he does:

    Sen allies himself with those who seek alternatives to the Hindutva genealogy, by searching for a past usable by the Left. What we have here is a sort of 'Bhakti Marxism', which seeks to excavate an indigenous radicalism which has the right progressive values, such as egalitarianism and secularism.
The way I see it is simple. The past is there, interpreted and misinterpreted. The more you try to understand the past the more you understand. Even if you don't, there's no harm in trying. It so happens that a large chunk of the past is "usable by the Left". This isn't surprising at all as man must have always been materialistic. One doesn't have to "excavate" anything to see this much. One only has to have an alert mind while approaching the primary sources. Now the Left can "use" this past precisely to highlight its misuses. In the fight for social justice, let's not deny ourselves certain effective tools. Use the positives from the past when it's misused to maintain or to propagate injustices in the society. When the past throws up the negatives, do not hesitate to disregard it. In Sen's words, "the reach and relevance of the argumentative tradition must be examined in terms of the contribution it can make today in resisting and undermining these inequities". Discussion, for Sen, is a means of social progress.

The past is a mix of good and bad, of beautiful stuff and ugly things. I'm comfortable with the position that Sen takes: "we need not bring in modernism -- either in praise or in denunciation -- at all, to recognize wisdom when we encounter it". And let's not leave this wisdom to be appropriated by fringe, but powerful, groups. It is indeed necessary, as Sen points out, "to avoid being imprisoned in formulaic interpretations that are constantly, but often uncritically, repeated in intellectual as well as political discussions on historical tradition". You praise something in the past, you are a Hindu zealot. You don't buy something from the past, you are anti-national.

The way Guha has gone about this theme might give someone who hasn't read the book a distorted picture that Amartya Sen has put forward a theory that arguments about the present can be derived from arguments about the past. That's far from the truth. What all Sen is saying is that arguments about the past are also worth looking at many a time. Sen has an unambiguous stand:

    It would be just as much of a mistake to treat the argumentative tradition as being of no relevance whatever to contemporary Indian society as it would be to regard that tradition is powerfully effective on its own, irrespective of arrangement for politics, particularly of democratic politics. ... The argumentative heritage may be an important asset, but its effectiveness depends on its use. Much would depend on the political deployment of the argumentative voice in opposition to social inequity and asymmetry, and the actual use that is made of the opportunities of democratic articulation and of political engagement.
And according to him, "important as history is, reasoning has to go beyond the past". "While we cannot live without history, we need not live within it either", is his stance throughout.

Guha ends his review thus:

    One might choose to take Amartya Sen's side in all these debates -- I would, at any rate. One must nonetheless refuse to endorse his methods of argument. For there must always be maintained a distinction between past and present, between contested historical truths and necessary democratic practice.
Guha wants to appear as if he has a different take than Sen's. But Sen's book is also loudly asking for maintaining "a distinction between past and present, between contested historical truths and necessary democratic practice"!

Is it the case then that there's no disagreement between Sen and Guha. Of course there are differences. Curiously, Guha evades, at least he does not stress, these real differences in his review. Let me just point out a few. Amartya Sen, like many others, believes that the idea of India existed much before the arrival of the British. His arguments for this belief are fascinating. According to him, "it's a serious mistake to think that the idea of a nation requires the prior presence of a nation state". I believe Sen and Guha might differ on the ways they stress aspects of globalization too. According to Sen, "the real debate on globalization is, ultimately, not about the efficiency of markets, nor about the importance of modern technology. The debate, rather, is about severe asymmetries of power". Guha's review doesn't touch upon this aspect at all.

Sen, in this brilliant work, is fighting the battle for an idea of India that militates against "the sectarianism of the Hindutva movement and the cultural ignorance of many of the globalizing modernizers". One needs to be perceptive not to bracket him with the Hindutva movement when he fights the "cultural ignorance" and not to bracket him with the "modernizers" when he fights the Hindutva sectarianists. Sadly it's this perception that's missing in Ram Guha's otherwise excellent review.

Update (Nov 6): Also check out this wonderful post by Qalandar.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Fibonacci numbers

This post is about an interesting property of the Fibonacci numbers. The Fibonacci numbers, as you know, are entries of the sequence


where any given entry is the sum of the previous two terms. The fifth Fibonacci number is 5, which is 3+2, the sum of the fourth and the third entries. The sixth one is 8, which you get by adding the fifth term to the fourth, etc. If we denote the rth term by , then

You must have seen any number of popular math articles dealing with the Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio. The golden ratio is the number which is approximately equal to 1.618. If you consider the successive ratios of the Fibonacci numbers you'll see that these ratios approach the golden ratio as you do the computation with larger and larger entries. A math student might prefer to say that tends to as n tends to infinity.

Love a bit of hype? Then you may want to check out this Guardian article, or even better, give a Google search, and check out a few random links. And don't be upset if you find out that you aren't perfect (check out the comment here by Linda)! On a serious note, you could find a lot of intricate patterns among the Fibonacci numbers here.

To warm up to what we are getting at, let's start with the observation that if n divides m, then divides . This isn't hard to be proved. In particular, you see that if n is not a prime number, cannot be a prime either. Mind you, you cannot conclude that is a prime if n is a prime. That's not correct. For instance, 19 is a prime, but

At this point, you may want to have a look at the factorisations of the first few Fibonacci numbers here. As an aside, perhaps I need to add that it's not known "how many" Fibonacci numbers are prime numbers. There could be infinitely many Fibonacci primes, but this is neither proved nor disproved. In general, questions connecting the two basic operations of addition and multiplication are exceedingly difficult. As Heisuke Hironaka, a well-known Japanese mathematician, put it recently,

    [i]f you really think about the relation between addition and multiplication, it's amazingly strange. For instance, 5 is a prime number, but if you add 1, it immediately becomes 6, which is 2 times 3 - two different numbers come out. It seems stupid to make a big fuss about it, but if you really think about why multiplication comes up in this strange way, it is very closely related to many [difficult] questions in number theory.
In any case, let's focus on the Fibonacci numbers at the prime positions. So have a look at the factorisations here. To avoid a few initial exceptions, I'm going to start looking at primes p>5 onwards. Now

etc. See any pattern? The pattern that you are supposed to see is summarised in the following result.

Result: Let p>5 be a prime number. Let q be any prime dividing . Then p divides either q-1 or q+1. Moreover, p divides or .

What follows assumes a bit of undergraduate level math.

Sketch of a proof: Consider the matrix

Observe that

This implies that the order of A in the group divides 4p, where denotes the finite field of q elements. This is because has order 4 modulo q. On the other hand the order of A divides since A is diagonalizable in . Thus the order of A divides the gcd of 4p and . Since p>5, it follows that p divides , which is what we wanted to prove. The second statement easily follows from the first.

P.S: Thanks to froginthewell for an e-mail communication on this topic.

Update (October 18): Professor B. Sury points out that the result can be further strengthened:

Let p>5 be a prime number. Let q be any prime dividing . Then p divides q-1 (respectively q+1) when q divided by 5 has remainder 1 or 4 (respectively 2 or 3).

Kalam's concern over Google

President Abdul Kalam expressed concern over a free mapping programme from Google Inc. that he said could help terrorists by providing aerial photos of potential targets. ``You will realise that some of the developing countries, which are already in danger of terrorist attacks, have been singularly chosen to provide such high resolutions,'' Dr. Kalam said. [Link]

Well, that's also Part II of 55 @ Locana. Part I of 55 @ Locana expressed my concern over Google maps!

An HTML trivia

Something that I noticed today. Suppose I want to link to my previous post. I type the link name in between

a href="" and /a,

of course with the right brackets. The output appears as Top universities. Now suppose I make a typo that instead of "=" I put a minus "-" after a href. i.e., I type "Top universities" in between

a href-"" and /a;

Here's the output: Top universities. The output links to the current page!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Top universities

The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are ranked the third, after MIT and UC Berkeley, in the 2005 Times Higher Education Supplement's universities ranking for technology, with a peer score of 86.4. The IIMs too show up in the top 100 list (rank=69). The IITs were placed the fourth in 2004. In their ranking for sciences, the IITs come at 36, a drop of 5 positions from last year.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Too much information?

Do blogs hurt tenure bids? Check out this Inside Higher Ed story.

Re-orientation in China?

Chinese communist party looks back at the economic successes of the past decades:

    Awe-inspiring account book figures give outsiders the impression that we are already one of the rich nations, though dozens of millions of our compatriots still have to struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet. At home, impatient optimists appear certain about our expected transformation into an "intermediately advanced" country by 2050.

    But underneath the misleading cover of GDP figures, we are increasingly dogged by the widening income gap between the rich and poor, as well as the divide between urban and rural areas.

    At the beginning of economic reforms, Deng Xiaoping put forward the ground-breaking guiding principle: "Let some areas and people get rich first," and to "ultimately achieve common prosperity."

    Some areas and people have become rich - so rich that the country has reportedly become one of the most popular destinations for the world's luxury goods. Good or bad, our spendthrift nouveaux riches have earned a reputation worldwide.

    Our new imperative is to prevent society's underdogs from lagging even further behind. If left unattended, income disparities have the potential to derail the country's course of development.

    ... ...

    Economic growth is an indispensable element, and sometimes precondition, of social progress. But it is not the whole of development. Many of our current headaches have their roots in our single-minded pursuit of rapid growth.

[Party shifts focus to social harmony.]

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

IIPM, JAM, and Vantage Point

A business firm makes tall claims in full page ads in prominent newspapers. A magazine tries to do a fact-check. Concludes that the facts do not support the claims. A blogger takes the initiative to spread the word. The firm warns of legal action against the magazine and the blogger.

The firm in question, IIPM, "sells" MBAs and BBAs. It's the JAM that attempted the fact-check, whose editor Rashmi Bansal is also a blogger. Gaurav Sabnis of Vantage Point took up this issue in the first week of August. Here are the JAM links: 1,2, and 3. And here's Gaurav's original post.

I think both the article and Gaurav's post were based on facts. If they got the facts wrong, IIPM could have countered that in a civil fashion. I'm not a great fan of those who file anti-defamation suits. Very often the mighty move the court against the less powerful just to intimidate them, not to settle the case in a just manner. But let's grant that the IIPM has the right to move the court in this issue.

They did not stop there. They put pressure on Gaurav's employers (IBM). And Gaurav quits the job, voluntarily, as he emphasises. Ravikiran of The Examined Life put it bluntly:

    Gaurav Sabnis has had to resign to protect his employer, IBM, from “bad publicity”. He had to choose between withdrawing his posts and resigning from his job. He did the right thing. He quit rather than take back his posts and apologise.
It's outrageous that Gaurav had to quit his job for voicing his opinion. It's another example of sheer money power "winning" over ethical concerns. A lot of people are protesting these ugly developments.

I join them.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Sania in Kochi

News from Tokyo best fits on the Kochi page. [Link]

Thursday, October 06, 2005

HDR 2005: Underinvestments in Human Development

The UN Human Development Report 2005 was released last month. A few India centric quotes.

    Why has accelerated income growth not moved India onto a faster poverty reduction path? Extreme poverty is concentrated in rural areas of the northern poverty-belt states, including Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, while income growth has been most dynamic in other states, urban areas and the service sectors. While rural poverty has fallen rapidly in some states, such as Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, less progress has been achieved in thenor thern states.

    At a national level, rural unemployment is rising, agricultural output is increasing at less than 2% a year, agricultural wages are stagnating, and growth is virtually "jobless". Every 1% of national income growth generated three times as many jobs in the 1980s as in the 1990s.

    The deeper problem facing India is its human developme nt legacy. In particular, pervasive gender inequalities, interacting with rural poverty and inequalities between states, is undermining the potential for converting growth into human development.

    Perhaps the starkest gender inequality is revealed by this simple fact: girls aged 1-5 are 50% more likely to die than boys. This fact translates into 130,000 "missing" girls. Female mortality rates remain higher than male mortality rates through age 30, reversing the typical demographic pattern. These gender differences reflect a widespread preference for sons, particularly in northern states. Girls, less valued than their brothers, are often brought to health facilities in more advanced stages of illness, taken to less qualified doctors and have less money spent on their healthcare. The low status and educational disadvantage suffered by women have a direct bearing on their health and their children's. About one-third of India's children are under weight at birth, reflecting poor maternal health.

    Inadequate public health provision exacerbates vulnerability. Fifteen years after universal childhood immunization was introduced, national health surveys suggest that only 42% of children are fully immunized. Coverage is lowest in the states with the highest child death rates, and less than 20% in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. India may be a world leader in computer software services, but when it comes to basic immunization services for children in poor rural areas, the record is less impressive.

    Gender inequality is one of the most powerful brakes on human development. Women's education matters in its own right, but it is also closely associated with child mortality. The under-five mortality rate is more than twice as high for children of illiterate mothers as for children whose mothers have completed middle school. Apart from being less prone to undernutrition, better educated mothers are more likely to use basic health services, have fewer children at an older age and are more likely to space the births -- all factors positively associated with child survival. As well as depriving girls of a basic right, education inequalities in India translate into more child deaths.

    State inequalities interact with gender- and income-based inequalities. Four states account for more than half of child deaths: Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. These states also are marked by some of the deepest gender inequalities in India. Contrasts with Kerala are striking. Girls born in Kerala are five times more likely to reach their fifth birthday, are twice as likely to become literate and are likely to live 20 years longer than girls born in Uttar Pradesh. The differences are linked to the chronic underprovision of health services in high-mortality northern states, which is in turn linked to unaccountable state-level governance structures.

    Translating economic success into human development advances will require public policies aimed explicitly at broadening the distribution of benefits from growth and global integration, increased public investment in rural areas and services and -- above all -- political leadership to end poor governance and address the underlying causes of gender inequality.

HDR 2005: Child Mortality

The UN Human Development Report 2005 was released last month. A few India centric quotes.

    India is widely off track for the child mortality target. The annual rate of decline in child mortality fell from 2.9% in the 1980s to 2.3% since 1990 -- a slowdown of almost one-fifth. As in China, the slowdown has occurred during a period of accelerating economic growth. Developments in India and China have global implications. India alone accounts for 2.5 million child deaths annually, one in five of the world total. China accounts for another 730,000 -- more than any other country except India.

    Why has the rate of progress slowed? One view is that a slowdown in the rate of decline in child mortality is inevitable. Expanding public health provision through immunization programmes and other services can yield big public health gains, especially in reductions from high levels of mortality. Once these "low hanging fruits" have been collected, so the argument runs, the problem becomes more concentrated in populations that are harder to reach, more vulnerable and less accessible to public policy interventions, driving up the marginal costs of saving lives and dampening progress.

    Applied in the current context, the low hanging fruit argument lacks credibility. Some countries -- Malaysia is an example -- have accelerated the rate of reduction in child mortality from already relatively low levels. Others have sustained rapid progress over time, even during periods of low growth. In 1980 Egypt had a higher child mortality rate than Ethiopia does today. At its current rate of progress it will reach Sweden's level by 2010. Egypt has already achieved the MDG target.

    Low income is not a barrier to progress. Viet Nam and Bangladesh have both accelerated the pace of child mortality rate reduction. Indeed, at a lower level of income and a comparable rate of economic growth, Viet Nam has now overtaken China on improvement in child mortality. Similarly, at a lower level of income and with far lower growth, Bangladesh has overtaken India. These differences matter. Had India matched Bangladesh's rate of reduction in child mortality over the past decade, 732,000 fewer children would die this year. Had China matched Viet Nam's, 276,000 lives could be saved. Clearly, there is still a huge scope for rapid reductions in child death in India and China.

    For both countries child mortality trends raise wider questions for public health and the distribution within developing countries of the benefits from globalization. Integration into global markets has manifestly enhanced wealth creation, generated economic dynamism and raised living standards for many millions of people in India and China. At the same time the human development benefits of economic success have been slow to trickle down to large sections of the population -- and the trickle appears to be slowing in some key areas of public health.

    Changing this picture will require public policies that address deep-rooted inequalities between rich and poor people, between men and women and between more prosperous and less prosperous regions. These inequalities are rooted in power differences -- and they are perpetuated by public policy choices. Were India to show the same level of dynamism and innovation in tackling basic health inequalities as it has displayed in global technology markets, it could rapidly get on track for achieving the MDG targets. There are encouraging signs that public policy may now be moving in the right direction. During 2005 the announcement of ambitious new programmes aimed at overhauling the health system and extending services in poor areas appeared to mark a new direc tion in policy. Economic success has expanded the financial resources available for these programmes -- and some states have shown that rapid progress can be achieved. The challenge is to ensure that effective reform takes root in the states and areas that account for the bulk of India's human development deficit.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Time, indeed, to join the crowd

A brilliant essay! Here.