Saturday, 24 May 2014

Addiction

It disrupts my essence today - a precursor to inevitable future regret. Riven by guilt and haunted by fear I stay...impossible to escape this cesspool of depravity. My addled state delays the inevitable pain that is mine to bear. I run. I aspire to aid my convalescence by an ephemeral balm of sensory amnesia. It is hopeless.

The sins of the present will be paid with interest in the future.

The procrastinated pursuit of predestined purpose will prove to be mere pusillanimity.

Normative logic and a sense of severe urgency scream at me senseless attempting to overturn the tide of desperation building in me. It is useless. It is pointless. I walk down the damned and dreaded avenue towards refuge.

I shall reason on the morrow.
Knowing I reasoned every morning before the one that is to come.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Lesson from a Facebook debate - Questioning Intentions of the Author

I recently had a small Facebook fist fight with a good friend over the relative merits of an article that was being shared a lot. The article elicited cries of protest from several people who took offense at its free-wheeling and rambunctious dismissal of India's prospects for the future, particularly if seen in the light of the idea of India that was sought after by stalwarts such as Gandhi, Nehru and Patel.

The skirmish started and ended in a couple of hours and when I looked back at it today I realized a simple problem that was at the heart of the debate -  the question over authorial intentions.

It should be simple enough, in hindsight of course. Before that, an overview of the type of arguments offered today is necessitated.

The lowest, the basest of arguments, take place when people just stand by their opinions and tell the opposite side to accept the divinely inherited wisdom they propound. As useless as this description sounds, it's in most vogue on our public fora.

Then, comes the interesting part. Ideally, any debate should be on the arguments of the piece. That's difficult. For that one needs to either have subject expertise or she has to make the effort to individually research the points made and come out with conclusions and rebuttals. It is even more difficult than it sounds.

And then there's the middle rung. The one where you don't consider yourself foolish enough to reiterate your beliefs but you also can't find the time to understand the nuances of the argument. You still dislike the article but you feel you're intellectual (or neutral) enough to not simply say that.

That is the case when a debate is fought over questioning the intention of the author. As was the case in my little battle. If you can't go into the claims of the author, just disparage him by claiming he works against the nation, or that he is part of an elite, or that he is part of a West appeasing cult. There, you say that and you build your case over protecting the honour of your nation. In which case, a randomly lurking lackey will latch onto your topic with relish and fight for honour (never mind the ensuing hilarious implications).

What I missed, however, is the fact that a battle over intentions is also difficult. And well nigh impossible especially when dealing with acclaimed intellectuals. That's because you have no way of judging the intent of an author without knowing her body of work. A brief study tells you about her stature, her consistency (+1) and periodic if any instabilities in sticking to a stance (-2). In my example, the author is universally known as a man who disputes the assumption of western superiority, going on to embellish the stature of Asian statesmen. That implies a fair amount of cognitive dissonance when connected with an appeasement narrative. That is if my friend had that knowledge, obviously. Instead, the claim was coupled with vague assertions of finding weak arguments and not believing in the data shared. Without sharing the weak points and coming out with the right data, of course.

I didn't freely see it then. A debate on intention is not possible without any knowledge of the author's oeuvre. It's like calling Tarantino a racist because he uses the n word a lot. But that was the case in my spat.

Lesson learnt.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Two Cents of Electoral Wisdom

Very quickly, I'd like to give my take on the decisive mandate given to Mr Narendra Modi:
  1. End of the Coalition: As much as we'd like to talk about the benefits of federalism, one of the bigger reasons why India has faced stagnation, paralysis, even corruption (though that is more fairly shared among all and sundry) is the fact that parties have been shackled by the often unjustified and obstructionist demands of their coalition partners. This election ensures that all flimsy agenda fall back to the back burner. The country can finally breathe.
  2. The Power of Media and Perception: If not today the next Lok Sabha election will have an overwhelming number of people influenced by social media. A lesson in planning, pitching and strategic perception building - now called electioneering - was born. Brands were created. And the marginal effects of social media were visible this time too, especially for the urban voter. If other parties don't form a serious PR and media plan soon eventual irrelevance is guaranteed.
  3. Weight of Expectation: All eyes are well and truly set on Narendra Modi. He has been rewarded with an empowering mandate. The expectations are just as high. He will have the power to push his ideas onto the country at large but he also has no excuses for failure. It would be interesting to see if he will temper his nature now that he leads India and it would be important to know if he is ready to conform to the expectations of those voters who have reposed considerable faith in the hope that he will put equitable development ahead of ideology.
  4. Illusion of Left-to-Right Change: Politically and ideologically, the right of center party has won. I wonder though, if there'll be any significant change in the economic thinking towards the Right - the concept of limited government. It will be a huge call to take - the country is still predominantly dependent on our (dysfunctional) safety nets. Will radical changes be made? I wonder...
  5. A Two-Party System: I don't really buy the notion of the Congress being decimated for all eternity. One simply cannot forget the organizational strength of the party and its pan India presence. Vote share percentages also tell us that it received the second highest vote percentage, not only in India but in important states as well. The mandate is a timely reminder that just about anyone can be dumped onto the streets by the power of the ballot and that's good. The Congress would be expected to come out cleaner and lighter from this chastening experience. The writing is as stark as it can be - evolve or perish. And just as we need a strong party at the center, we also need a strong opposition. Let the country churn. Let the country grow.
  6. AAP Test: It's tough to call AAP's future. Hindsight tells us they spread themselves too thin and that voters were disappointed by their perfunctory treatment of the seats they received at Delhi. Forming a party on a wave is one thing. To carry the unit forward is another. It requires tremendous patience, a willingness to leave behind your professions and other ambitions, and also having a core principle of existence. Without these, it may be difficult to sustain the goodwill and trust they had managed once. The Delhi elections will be crucial.
  7. The economy is still screwed: The economy is going through a period of manic stress and it doesn't seem likely that it can be kickstarted in one or even two years. The policy solutions are more or less decided and in place. Vagaries such as the El Nino persist and it is anyone's guess how the many pending clearances can be delivered without making a number of grassroots people unhappy. It'll take a miracle to turn this ship around.
  8. Reading Habits: At any rate, it is heartening to see that people have finally abandoned the Bennett and Coleman stable (TOI & ET) to push forward arguments. The intellectual command of these two newspapers in particular is so abysmal I find it hard not to herd them in the category of tabloids. The quality of content in ET has deteriorated at a stunning rate. In the same vein, quoting the Kasturi and Sons' products (Hindu and Business Line) apart from other far more competent b-papers such as Business Standard and Financial Times is a welcome sign.  All is obviously not so well. In the mania of wanting to believe their biases (an overwhelmingly widespread publicly available example of confirmation bias), a number of people resorted to using blogs with no or shabby data back-up to argue their cases. The best model for us to emulate would surely be the debates on the blogs of even normal students of economics in the West, with reasoning backed by actual papers and data from accepted statistical institutions. Things have improved, however, in sum.
  9. Data: I wouldn’t call it a closed case but the debates finally did churn out discussions on facts. A discussion with data is always difficult – it being a hell lot easier to just give an opinion formed from your surroundings. Which is why politics is so popular. It gives people the illusion of arguing for economic policy, manifestos and social indices with as much knowledge as Hodor’s vocabulary. It gives people a sense of empowerment, of pseudo-intellectual stimulation. That, and Ayn Rand’s drivel. The latter stages did bring out people armed with facts and that made the debates worthwhile and surprisingly enriching
  10. It's finally over: It really is. The media had hijacked our lives with an incessant and often unnecessary cacophony of analyses. Newspapers such as the Economic Times forgot their raison d'etre and instead fed us tales of politics with unabashed and unhealthy glee. Facebook became a street for breathless, excited supporters who held us witness to all their biases and over-the-top proclamations of the weight of Destiny. By the end of it, I am glad it's over.
Let's sit back and watch our new government perform. My hope is for decisive and clean governance with focus on all sectors of the populace. My apprehension is over an increase in intolerance of our plurality (that is actually a concern; plurality meaning the ability to be yourself in different dimensions). I wish them the very best.

I have to end with a personal belief that stems wholly from Asimov’s Foundation series. The events and the relative importance of even a handful of elections will not deter the country from following the macro-level path set for it by long term indicators. That is not to change with any change in the ruling party.

At the same time, with a touch of realism and humility, I remember those famous lines of Keynes as he exhorted governments to act and not to expect that economics would save us in the long run:

“In the long run, we’re all dead.”



Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Fiscal Crisis

Every year for the past three years I have made a simple straightforward resolution. I restrict my ambitions to this one aim and fervently hope to abide by the solemn vows taken on January 1. The stifling, restrictive environment of my room is the primary reason I have lost out on that promise once more. That's what I tell myself. It's a sorry state all right...

The past few months have seen several peculiar challenges faced by the eccentric author of this blog. The most gripping and clearly the most critical of these has been what I call the surplus problem.

Now, most governments in the world are stuck in a recessionary gap and are struggling to generate enough demand and buoyancy in their countries to revive their economic fortunes. Our own country has been beset by a nasty slowdown. The elections may throw up any radical Prime Minister with vision, strength and character. Nothing will improve for the next three years as I see it. But I leave that for another post.

No, the reason why I allude to these worldly problems is my own crazy predicament of a huge surplus. That's right - I am in an inflationary sprawl and this is how the current situation looks like:

Forget those boxes. That stack of newspapers has to be read.

Needless to mention, I must read all of the 150 newspapers or so that are awaiting my scrutiny. Within a month. If I don't then I risk causing great damage to my plans of upgrading from 4 newspapers a day to a far cooler 5 per day (don't ask).

H

The exciting conclusion to the crisis of the century!
http://hamstersqueaks.blogspot.com/2014/09/a-balanced-budget.html

Change

Less than a month remains before I wrap up my two year sojourn at a job.

I can study again.

(Last part in this series: http://hamstersqueaks.blogspot.in/2014/02/change.html)