Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 2013: Interesting Articles & Links

Interesting articles that came my way in July 2013:

* Desai, Meghnad (2013): THE HINDU RATE OF BACKWARDNESS -
- The Indian State can deliver a nuclear bomb and launch satellites but not universal primary education or decent public health..." -- why?

* Chairborne Warrior - MP Anil Kumar --

* Japan - Tohoku - Social Entrepreneurs --

* Miyazaki Hayao's new movie --
- "Kaze wo Tachinu" -- based on the life of Jiro Hirokoshi, inventor of the Mitsubishi 'Zero' Fighter planes

* Pasanth's review of "Dhe Puttu", Kochi --

* Wang, Helen H(2013): FIVE THINGS STARBUCKS DID TO GET CHINA RIGHT, Forbes, 10Aug12 --

* Making Sense of Sen vs. Bhagawati --

* Gawande, Atul (2013): SLOW IDEAS, New Yorker, 29Jul13 --

* Spolsky, Joel (2013): Victory Lap for Ask Patents, Blog, 22Jul13 --
- The other 40,000-odd software patents issued every year are mostly garbage that any working programmer could “invent” three times before breakfast. Most issued software patents aren’t “inventions” as most people understand that word.

* Embrace Innovations:

* The Rodin-Hoods -- --

* Inside Google's Secret labs --

* Aiyar, SA (2013): UNSUNG HERO OF THE INDIA STORY, ToI, 26 Jun 2013 ---
- On PV Narasimha Rao

* Blog -
- TEDxSSN - Krish Ashok - Disregard Work, Acquire Hobbies ---

* Ghosh, Abantika (2013): IN THE WORKS - AN EPIDEMIC INTELLIGENCE SERVICE, IE 22Jul13 ---
- As per 2008 data, an estimated 21 per cent deaths in the country were caused by infectious and parasitic diseases.
- Of the 9.2 million cases of TB that occur in the world every year, nearly 1.9 million are in India, accounting for one-fifth of the global TB cases.
- About 2.5 million persons have HIV infection in India — the third highest in the world. More than 1.5 million persons are infected with malaria every year. Diseases like dengue and chikungunya have emerged in different parts of India and a population of over 300 million is at risk of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES)/Japanese Encephalitis (JE). One-third of global cases infected with filaria also live in India, while nearly half of leprosy cases detected in the world in 2008 were contributed by India. More than 300 million episodes of acute diarrhoea occur every year in children below five years of age.

* Mehta, Pratap Bhanu (2013): FOUND IN TRANSLATION, IE 22Jul13 --
- The modern age was defined by what the economic historian Kenneth Pommeranz called the Great Divergence: the increasing inequality between the West and the Rest.
-... there is a revolution in knowledge production of all kinds. This will generate new institutional forms of knowledge production, new techniques in social science that render current methods obsolete.

* Reflections of people as they once were --


* Australia to Araria, Engineering a Dream College (Telegraph, 6Jul13) --
- Amit Kumar Das - from Araria distt Bihar, to sydney, Australia -- donating Rs.120 Cr. to start an engineering college in his village
- Journey - Village > Delhi > NIIT >  poor english, refused admission > advise from co-passenger > 3month English language course at British School of Language > back to NIIT > 6 month course > 3 year program > BA correspondence course > NIIT faculty @ R1500/m > start-up in 10x10' space in Bharat Nagar > months later, first project for Rs.5000

* Tripathi, Salil (2013): Snowden Less Heroic --

* Shivakumar, Girija (2013): POVERTY LEVELS DOWN BY 15% IN EIGHT YEARS, The Hindu, 16Jul17 --
- the total number of people below the poverty line in the country is 26.89 crore as against 40.73 crore in 2004-05. In rural areas, the number has reduced from 32.58 crore to 21.72 crore.
- Planning Commission had received criticism for pegging the poverty line cut-off at Rs 28.65 per capita daily consumption in cities and Rs 22.42 in rural areas.
- data based on consumer expenditure information collected as part of NSSO surveys since the Sixth Five Year Plan

* Epigenetics -- Passing on traits acquired during one lifetime --

* Dunning-Kruger Effect --
- Also -

* 10 Tips from the World's Oldest Person --

* Finnish Aid to Nepal - 80% reverts to Finnish consultancies --

* Food Security Bill - critique on Amartya Sen --

* Keefe, Patrick Radden (2013): BURIED SECRETS, New Yorker, 8Jul13--
- How an Israeli billionaire took control of Africa's mineral assets

* Indian Memory Project --

* Kant, Amitabh (Toi, 2013): FOR A MANUFACTURING REVOLUTION, ToI, 11Jul13
- Manufacturing in GDP - 15% -- but only 12% of workforce
- New manufacturing policy -- set to increase share to 22% by 2022 + creation of 100 million jobs  (BCG study says 220m jobs are needed by 2025)
- Need to decrease share of agricultue in employment from 58% to 25% by 2030
- SMEs - 40% of India's workforce, 45% of manufacturing

* Guha, Ramachandra (2013): WHEN EXPERIENCE TRUMPS EXPERTISE, The Hindu, 11Jul13 --
- Uttarakhand ignored its own world class geologist - K.S. Valdiya
- Madhav gadgil's report on the Western Ghats - 2009

* Sengupta, Shomnit (IE 2013): PURITY OF COMMITMENT
- Brigitte Bardot - actress, singer, author, animal activist

* Japan, India and the Real Estate bubble -- 9 Jul 2013 (tue):

* Schumpeter (2013): BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD, The Economist, 6Jul13 --
IDEO’s work in re-engineering services is for NGOs and governments.
There are three main elements to IDEO’s “design thinking”:
> The first is “lots of different eyes”. It employs people from wildly different backgrounds—surgeons and anthropologists as well as engineers and designers—and lumps them into multidisciplinary teams. 
> The second is to look at problems from the consumer’s point of view: for example, conducting detailed interviews with patients about their daily pill-taking routines and how they feel about them. IDEO likes to focus on the outliers rather than the typical customers—people...
> The third element is making everything tangible. The company produces mock-ups of its products and processes, to see how people react to them “in the wild”.

* Green, Emma (2013): A ROMANTIC VIEW OF TECHNOLOGY DESIGN, The Atlantic --

* Negishi, Myumi (WSJ 2013): CAN SPIDER WEB BE REPLICATED? --
- a Japanese startup called Spiber Inc. said it has produced an artificial spider thread that it claims is equal to steel in tensile strength yet as flexible as rubber.
- Spiber President Kazuhide Sekiyama, who came up with the idea to replicate spider thread in college during an all-night drinking session talking about "bug technology."
- Bio-mimicry: Dubbed Qmonos—literally, "spider web" in Japanese—Spiber's thread is the latest example of biomimicry, a field of science that seeks to replicate how things work in nature to solve human problems. Successful examples include Swiss engineer George de Mestral's invention of Velcro in 1941 from seeing a burr stick to his dog and, more recently, Japan's Nitto Denko Corp.'s development of an adhesive that works in super- high temperatures after analyzing how a gecko's foot sticks to surfaces.
- Spider thread can be stretched 40% beyond its original length without breaking. Stronger than steel and bone at the same weight and twice as elastic as nylon
- One gram of the protein produces about 5.6 miles—roughly the height of Mount Everest—of silk.

* Steel Over-capacity (Economist 6Jun13) --
- Despite a weak world economy, global production of steel rose by 1.2% last year to a record 1.55 billion tonnes.
-  Steel consumption in Europe, at around 145m tonnes in 2012, is nearly 30% below its pre-crisis level and demand is still falling.
- Chinese exports are likely to be 30m-50m tonnes in each of the next few years—a small share of the country’s total production of almost 750m tonnes, but an amount that now exceeds the tonnage sold abroad by longer-established exporters such as Japan, South Korea, Ukraine and Russia.
- Iron ore is a sellers’ market but steelmaking, since there has been little global consolidation, is a buyers’ one. ArcelorMittal, way out in front of any rival, has only 6% of the world market, and 60 firms produce 5m tonnes or more

* Japan Times (June 2013) - Chiyoda's Rice Field Rites --

* Kapur, Devesh (2013-BS) --

* NYT - The Busy Trap --

* Asian flush - risk of cancer --

* Swami, Praveen (First Post, Jul13): ISHRAT JAHAN ENCOUNTER --

* Jokes for nerds -

* Reason & Ordinance -

* No Mockery Please, We're American ---
- Despite all this, no more generous, open-minded, and enthusiastic group of students can be found in the world. American students tend to be courteous, responsive, cooperative, eager to acquire ideas and ready to criticize anything whatsoever, not least themselves.
-  For the Calvinist, a delight in anything for its own sake is sinful. Pleasure must be instrumental to some more worthy goal, such as procreation
- To find the cosmos mildly entertaining has always been a sign of power in Britain. It is the political reality behind Oxford and Cambridge wit. Seriousness is for scientists and shopkeepers.
- Americans are concerned about sin, and the British about bad manners. It is all right in Britain to talk about serious matters as long as you also find a way to make them entertaining.

* Peter Attia (TED-2013) - Insulin Resistance --
- Insulin controls fuel partitioning in cells...our fundamental ideas of obesity are wrong!
- Just as Abe Lincoln surrounded himself with a team of rivals, we've got together a team of scientific rivals..


* Exploitation of Africa --

* JICA President's Speech at JNU - 18 June 2013 -
- The import from Japan to India has expanded to 12.5 billion USD in the fiscal year 2012, 1.6 times bigger than that of 5 years ago. The export from India to Japan was 6.1 billion USD, which has expanded by two times during the same period.
- the net flow of FDI from Japan to India was 2.8 billion USD in 2012, more than ten times increase from 2005. That is the third largest FDI inflow into India after Mauritius and Singapore. The share of Japan in the total cumulative FDI to India ranks the 4th place after Mauritius, Singapore and U.K. Recently, the presence of Japanese companies in India has increased two fold from 2008; as of November 2012, there are 926 companies operating in India. In comparison, China's FDI into India 2011 was 180 million USD, only 8 percent of Japan's FDI in the same year.


* The Best Brainstorming Is Not Done in Groups --

* Princess of whales: How a naked female scientist tries to tame belugas in the freezing Arctic --

* 4 Changes to English So Subtle We Hardly Notice They're Happening ---

Friday, July 26, 2013

Gawande's Way: Changing Norms

An interesting article came my way yesterday:

* Gawande, Atul (2013): SLOW IDEAS, New Yorker, 29Jul13 --

"Slow Ideas" is about questions that trouble me to no end:  Why do some innovations spread fast? and how we could speed the ones that don't?

Atul Gawande tackles these in his chosen area of specialization: Medical Technology. He describes how Anesthesia was tested out for the first time in October 1846 by a dentist named William Morton, and how it spread "like a contagion, travelling through letters, meetings and periodicals". Within weeks the procedure had been passed on from Boston, across the Atlantic, to London and Paris. Within a year, it had become a standard procedure in hospitals across the world.

In sharp contrast, Joseph Lister's sterilization procedure spread at a snail's pace. Despite being the biggest cause of post-op deaths, the simple idea of excluding germs from the surgical field, using heat-sterilized instruments and surgical teams clad in sterile gowns and gloves, took more than 20 years to become popular.


Gawande lists possible reasons for this:

  • Ideas that violate prior beliefs are harder to embrace  (germ theory illogical!)
  • Technical complexity -- taking a 'test drive' for gas-inhaled-anesthesia was easier than the painstaking attention to detail required for Lister's asepsis standards
  • Visible immediate problem vs. invisible problem that pops up later (post-op infections)
  • Makes life diffcult for the key player (Docs found scrubbing & cleaning a boring, time-consuming chore; gassing a patient was so simple!)

These days, a nation's health is indicated by two nifty acronyms - IMR and MMR - Infant Mortality Rate and Maternal Mortality Rate, respectively. Globally, 300,000 mothers and 6 million children die around the time of childbirth. In India, latest census reports (2011) indicate that MMR has come down to 212 per 100,000 births while IMR stands at 50 per 1000 live births. This is still far-far away from the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) signed by India in 2000, under which we were to bring down these figures to 109 (MMR) and 29 (IMR) respectively, by 2015.

What went wrong? How is it that we are nowhere near achieving the targets?

Having seen some of our health sector projects in action, in Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, my own answer to this question had been that our medical administrative systems are riven by iron-clad hierarchies and biases. People at the cutting edge of service delivery - nurses, attendants, junior docs - get a raw deal from those sitting in far-away cities, in their cozy AC cabins. Few want to roll-up their sleeves and lead by example.

Gawande puts it nicely:

In the era of iPhone, FaceBook, and Twitter, we've become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, "turnkey" solutions to the major difficulties of the world - hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability.

We yearn for frictionless, technological solutions. But people talking to people is still the way that norms and standards change.

Given our biases & hierarchies will merely talking be enough? -- most of the time, that seems to be the only thing we're doing!

........ .....................................................

* Gawande, Atul (2013): SLOW IDEAS, New Yorker, 29Jul13 --

India's IMR & MMR -- (ToI, 13May13) --
India Census Report - -Vital Stats 2011 --

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Who is Lily Thomas?

The answer to this question lies in an old, familiar story:

Once upon a time, politicians in India were public-spirited freedom fighters and nation-builders. Then came a generation of midgets who made up for their lack of real public support by using criminals to intimidate voters, stuff ballot boxes and bully the opposition. One fine morning, the midgets woke up to discover that their pit-bulls had taken over the podium. Instead of remaining as mere sidekicks, the criminals donned the politicians white costume, and got themselves elected to the parliament and state assemblies.

The old story had, by now, become a real nightmare. In 2012, more than 25 percent of the sitting Members of Parliament (MPs) faced criminal indictment. In State Assemblies, the number hovered around 20 per cent. The public remained largely apathetic -- except for occasional howls of protest from NGOs. So the political parties, already struggling to fund election campaigns, continued to put up candidates who had been flitting in and out of courthouses and jails.

Then, on 10 July 2013, something unusual happened. A Supreme Court bench of justices A K Patnaik and S J Mukhopadhaya held that, "The only question is about the vires of section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951 and we hold that it is ultra vires and that the disqualification takes place from the date of conviction".

Behind all the Latin and legalese, this simply meant that, henceforth, convicted criminals could no longer sit in the Indian parliament, or in the state assemblies.

Who had prodded the Supreme Court to come to this wonderful conclusion? --- An old lady named Lily Thomas.

Lily is one of oldest advocates practicing at the Supreme Court of India.  In 2005, she had filed a writ petition in the apex court along with Satya Narain Shukla, challenging a provision (Section 8.4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951,  which protects a convicted lawmakers against disqualification if they just filed an appeal. It took her eight years to win this fight.

Now around 85 years old, she was of the earliest women to get an LLM degree in India. She began and  her practice in the Madras High Court. In 1960, she moved to Delhi to do a PhD but discovered that she was not really cut out for academia. “I realized that I was not competent to do research,” she says, “so I started practicing in the Supreme Court”.

The criminals in our parliament will surely rue the day she started 'practicing'!



* Kalra, Aparna (2013): Lily Thomas: 87-year-old crusader against 'tainted' legislators, Sify-BS, 14 July 2013 -- url --
* PTI (2013): MPs, MLAs will be disqualified on date of conviction: SC, New Indian Express, 10Jul13 -- url --
* Heroes who have sent politicians scurrying for cover, Mumbai Mirror, 17 July 2013 -- ]
* Bar & Bench article (17 July 2013) --
* Vaishnav, Milan (2011): THE MARKET FOR INDIA'S CRIMINAL POLITICIANS, The Hindu Business Line, 2011

* The Representation of the People Act, 1951 -- url --,%201951.pdf

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Price of Land in India

How is it that India has some of them most expensive real estate in the world?

Intuitively it might appear only logical that land is a scarce resource in country of 1.2 billion people. Yet, in terms of density of population, India, at 380 people/, is nowhere near the top. Singapore leads this list over 7300/, and among larger countries, we have Bangladesh at 10324/

Among major cities, the price of land in Mumbai, for instance, is around Rs. 250 Cr/ Acre (~USD 42m). This puts it in the league of with some of the most densely populated cities in the world like New York and Tokyo.  Similarly, rentals in Delhi's Khan market at Rs. 1225/sq ft/month is among the most expensive retails spaces in the world.

If you thought this was a purely urban phenomenon, consider farmland prices in Punjab. At Rs. 1.5 Crores/Acre (~ USD 251,190), it is 230 times more than the cost of farmland in the wheat bowl of USA - Kansas. In terms of agricultural productivity Kansas beats Punjab hands down. The economy of scales that have been achieved through huge farm holdings (average - 707 Acres) is in sharp contrast Punjab (10 Acres!).

So one thing is clear -- the price of land in India is not based on productivity. Even the most expensive cash crops produced in Punjab would not account for the cost of the farmland on which they are grown. Why, then, have the price of land shot-up over the last ten years?

This was the topic of discussion at a seminar organised at IIC last week. The discussion centered around a book written recently by Sanjoy Chakraborty. He went through the history of 'giving' and 'taking' of land by government through the exercise of 'eminent domain'; compared the productivity based price of land in different parts of the world and criticised the new Land Acquisition (LARR) Bill, as something that would only muddy the waters even further.

However, the mystery of sky-rocketing real-estate prices, remains an unsolved investigation-in-progress. In the absence of reliable data, the speculation was that a combination of factors is responsible for this:

* Numerous, Archaic, Conflicting Laws: The Land Acquisition Act, 1894, is often at loggerheads with 16 Acts with provisions for acquisition of land in specific sectors like railways, roads and SEZs.
* Discretionary Powers: The confusion in laws gives ample space for politicians and bureaucrats to use 'discretionary powers' -- a valuable tool for rent-seeking and election financing. It seems 80% of criminality in India is centred on land.
* Influx of NRI funds: Real estate has become an important destination for investing remittances from non-resident Indians. The flats may remain empty and the beyond the reach of the locals, but, hey, who cares?
* Money laundering: The existing tax structure ensures that unrecorded cash transactions play an important role in this business. So it has become the meeting point for money of all colors and hues - black or white, through petro-dollars or blood-diamonds.

In the ultimate reckoning we ourselves are to blame for this state of affairs. Perhaps at the centre of this tangled web, sit apathetic citizens and their petty political leaders who are unable to envision a country beyond the next elections.

After all, as Maistre said, "In a democracy, people get the government they deserve."

Other tidbits:

* Average Land-Holding: In India, the average size of land-holding is 3 Acres. The smallest holdings are in Kerala (1 Acre), and the largest in Punjab (10 Acres). This is one of the lowest in the world: France (100 Acres); USA (450 Acres); Brazil (600 Acres)

* When did we lose the fundamental right to property?   --- The Constitution originally provided for the right to property under Articles 19 and 31. --- The Forty-Forth Amendment of 1978 deleted the right to property from the list of fundamental rights ---

* What are stylised facts??   ---- Simplified presentation of emperical finding ---

* Why is Magarpatta being cited as the ideal story for a Town Planning Scheme  ??
* Dalal, Sucheta (2007): THE AMAZING STORY OF MAGARPATTA -- -- Interview with Satish Magar
* Magarpatta - slides --


Chakraborty, Sanjay (2013): THE PRICE OF LAND, OUP-India, March 2013 ---

Kansas - average farm size --

Eminent Domain --

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tribes, Crime & Punishment

A Japanese friend stumped me with a question today morning.

Nemoto-san's PhD thesis was on Neo-Buddhists in India. His friends in Nagpur sent him a list of a list of students who belong to a school managed by local Buddhists. This list had three categories - ST, SC, NT and VJNT. The first two, of course, stood for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. But what about NT and VJNT?

"If NT meant "Nomadic Tribes, and if VJ is 'Vimukta Jati', what is the difference," he asked, "between NT and VJNT or NT and NT of VJNT?"  -- I did not have the slightest idea!

Thanks to the Gods of WWW, here is what I found -

For starters, the Indian Constitution is the longest written constitution in the world, containing 444 articles in 22 parts, 12 schedules and 118 amendments. Schedules are lists in the Constitution that categorize and tabulate bureaucratic activity and policy of the Government. Among the Schedules, The Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution (Article 244(1)) provides for the administration and control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes (areas and tribes needing special protection due to disadvantageous conditions). Under this, we have Nomadic Tribes (NTs) and De-notified Tribes (DNTs).

VJ (Vimukta Jati) was the Hindi translation of Denotified Tribes (DNTs). These were the tribes that were originally listed under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, under the British Colonial Regime. After Independence, this Act was repealed in 1952. Also, under Article 366 (25) of the Constitution of India, certain tribes were classified as Scheduled Tribes and were provided with constitutional safeguards under Article 342 (2) on a national basis.

So what about VJNT? Well,  Marashtra seems to have just created this new acronym which basically combines VJs and NTs (just as "SC-ST", but without the hyphen).

In the midst of all these acronyms and numbered constitutional provisions, one often misses the underlying human folly.

Call them "Criminal Tribes" of DNT's but the very idea rests on the absurd notion that a person can be born a criminal. The Denotified and Nomadic tribes make up about 60 million of India’s population (UN 2006). There are 313 Nomadic Tribes and 198 De-notified Tribes. If you belong to any of these tribes, chances are that you will be carged with theft, robbery or murder, even if there isn't a figment of proof. Between 1979 and 1982, forty-two DNTs of the Lodha community were mob-lynched without suspicion of crime but based on their tribal identity. Police have yet to take any action on any of the cases.

I hope the Buddhist school in Nagpur has good reasons for keeping a record of the tribal antecedants of its students.



* Zee News (18 Sep'12): Maharashtra Government to spend Rs 10 crores for nomadic tribal dwellings -
* Rathod, Motiraj (2000): Denotified and Nomadic Tribes of Maharashtra, URL --
* Maharashtra OBC Network --

* Report of the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (2006) --

* UNDP Q&A on Constitutional Provisions for Reservation in Services:

* Provisions of the Indian Constitution having a bearing on Education --

Colonial Act still haunts denotified tribes: expert --

* Maharashtra OBC Network --

D'Souza, Dilip (): Branded by Law: Looking at India's Denotified Tribes, URL --

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Lecture by Prof. Gadgil

Yesterday, NMML organised an interesting public lecture by Prof. Madhav Gadgil, an eminent ecologist.

This was something I did not want to miss -- thanks to an oped article by Ramachandra Guha a few days ago. Written in the aftermath of the disastrous flash floods that hit Uttaranchal, the article ("When Experience Trumps Expertise", Hindu, 11 July'13) says that many of the man-made disasters in India can be traced back to a point where our politicians and bureaucrats ignored the advise of eminent scientists on important issues.

Two examples were given to illustrate this: The state governments at Uttarakhand never bothered to consult a world class geologist -- K.S. Valdiya -- based within the state capital, Dehradun, before permitting construction in unstable areas. The second example starred Prof. Madhav Gadgil. In this case, the central government requested the expert to prepare a plan for protecting the Western Ghats region, and then studiously ignored it.

Why do governments act in this way?

During the course of this two-hour interactive session at NMML, Prof. Gadgil, put the responsibility of this state of affairs, squarely on the apathy of India's educated middle class. We have made all the right laws but lack the will to have them implemented. There is no point is claiming that our institutions have the teeth when the jaws of government machinery refuses to budge.

Apathy of our officials was illustrated with numerous examples:

  • In the Athirapilly Hydro Electric Project, the Kerala government has all but conceded that not enough water to generate electricity, and that the project violates Forest Rights Act 2006, by displacing indigenous tribals from the lower catchment area. Instead of debating and refuting criticism, the state officals just say, “There is too much pressure from the contractors!”
  • In Goa, an area given out for mining has a river running through it. When locals who regularly use this rivulet approached the authorities, they pointed to a copy of their map and said, "In our map there are no blue lines in that area, so the rivulet does not exist!". Nobody had bothered to check ground realities.
  • Lote, Ratnagiri, Maharashtra: A common effluent treatment plant constructed for a cluster of factories is not functional. So the factories have "solved" the prroblem of effluent discharge by digging wells within their premises and just pumping it underground! As a result Vasishti river (sp?) and Dhabol creek have been poisoned.

The solution to this apathy, according to Prof. Gadgil, will come only when the middle class wakes up to demand change from the politicians they elect. If the Germans can clean up their rivers and valleys through the Green party Movement, why can't we?



"Science = Organised skepticism"
* Unreasonable Doubt --
- in the 1960s by the American sociologist of science Robert Merton. He described science as organised scepticism. Most working scientists would probably be happy with this definition—indeed, most would agree with the Nobel prizewinning physicist Andre Geim’s remark that you can’t be a scientist without being a sceptic. This is how scientific ideas are tested, and disproving a hypothesis can be as significant and prestigious an achievement as proving one.

Kalhana's "Rajatarangini" (12th century Kashmir)
- Excerpts --
. Mark Aurel Stein - expert on Kalhana's work, archeologist, explorer, professor -- ttp://

* The Western Ghats -  Gadgil Report --
* (BL 17Apr13): Panel for ban on mining in 37 % of Western Ghats --
- Identifying 37 per cent — or about 60,000 square km — of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive, a high-level panel has recommended that “destructive” activities such as mining, thermal power, major construction, and some hydel power projects should not be allowed there.
*  (BL 21Dec12): Gadgil report: Kerala Assembly seeks wider consultation with States --
- the report ... demarcated a grid of 81 sq km as ecologically sensitive area


* KSEB 'prays' for clearances --PPT--

- Report submitted in March-April 2012

* Response of Ministry of Minies - Action Taken Report --


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Bose Speakers...and Suspensions!

Amar Bose passed away yesterday.

I have always been in awe of this inventor + professor + entrepreneur + visionary engineer.

The first time I heard about him was on a sultry afternoon of 1987, at a home in Thiruvananthapuram. My friend Ram had brought me there to see the 'best music system ever'. As crystal clear music filled the room, I realized that the big boxes, the woofers and tweeters, were nowhere to be seen. It seemed so incredible that those tiny black boxes perched on the walls, pointing in odd directions, could pack in so much of the power of music!

Amar Bose was a pioneer in the field of Psychoacoustics -- the science of sound perception. He was the first to realize that 80 percent of the music you heard in a concert hall came to you, not from the stage, but indirectly, bouncing off the walls and ceilings. So his 'jewel cubes' did the same - instead of pointing at the listeners, they aimed at the walls first.

Many glowing obituaries are now being written about Bose. One such article published in NYT, credits him for breakthrough products like the noise-cancellation headphones and innovative suspension system for cars.

I did a double take on that -- Suspension system for cars?? -- what does that have to do with psychoacoustics or sound engineering??

According to HowStuffWorks, Bose suspension systems use the concept of amplifiers in a completely different setting. Instead of the usual spring-driven suspensions, these use -
"linear electromagnetic motors (LEMs) at each wheel...with Amplifiers that provide electricity to the motors in such a way that their power is regenerated with each compression of the system...they can extend and compress at a much greater speed, virtually eliminating all vibrations in the passenger cabin. The wheel's motion can be so finely controlled that the body of the car remains level regardless of what's happening at the wheel. The LEM can also counteract the body motion of the car while accelerating, braking and cornering, giving the driver a greater sense of control."
As with the acoustic speakers, the Bose suspension systems too must be frightfully expensive. But I guess that is a small price to pay to learn from a teacher who set the highest standards for himself, to tackle high-risk problems in science and engineering.



* NYT Obituary -
* HowStuffWorks: Bose Suspension Systems --

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Give & Take Relationship

Is it really true that while rich countries give $130 billion in aid to poor countries, they actually extract stuff worth $ 2 trillion every year?

Data published by the UN shows that 300 years ago, rich countries were only three times richer than poor countries. By the end of colonialism in the 1960's this rose to 35x. Today, the difference is 80x!

Rich countries try to compensate by giving aid to poorer countries each year. This amounts to about $130 billion. If you think this is a large amount, consider the fact that large corporations are taking more than $900 billion out of poor countries each year in a form of tax avoidance called "trade mis-pricing". Also each year, poor countries pay $600b in "debt service" to rich countries, paying the originally borrowed amount many times over. Add biased trade rules that costs poor countries $500 b every year (Univ Massachusetts study), and you have the rich-poor divide in two startling figures:   Every year, in exchange for $130 billion in aid, rich countries take back home a total of $2 trillion!

Here is an info-graphic video that conveys this much better:

So, how does this work?

Take the case of Guinea, West Africa. A recent article in the New Yorker (see here), describes in detail how two transnational companies, Rio Tinto and BSGR, "lobbied" their way to gain control over the Simandou Mountains, which was, "without doubt, the top underdeveloped tier-one iron-ore asset in the world." In 1997, the Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto gained exclusive rights to explore and develop the mines.

Ten years later, Guinean officials passed these rights to a much smaller Israeli company, Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR). No fees were paid for the exploration license. Since BSGR had no expertise or experience in the iron-ore business, it sold a controlling stake (51%) to Vale, a Brazilian mining company,  for $2.5 billion. So, in exchange for 'investing' $160m (mostly bribes to the ruling elite?), BSGR got $ 2.5 million, plus a 49% stake in a $5 billion asset.

However, as of now, the Simandou mountains are still intact. The iron ore will continue to remain unexploited until the big boys settle their fight and find a way to transport the ore to a seaport. Until educated and public- spirited Guineans take control of their own affairs, the country may continue being one of the poorest in Africa.

Until then, perhaps it is good to remember what Joan Robinson had to say -- "The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all."

Simandou mountains in Guinea are near Nzerekore, which is tucked away next to Liberia


* Simandou Mountains -
* Economics Quotes -
* Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries --