# Politics Science Education or Science Education Politics or Science Politics Education

I am rather not sure what should be the exact title of this
post. Apart from the two options above it could have been any other
combination of these three words. Because I would be talking about all
three of them in interdependent manner.

If someone tells you that education is or should be independent of politics they, I would say they are very naive in their view about society. Education in general and formalised education in particular, which is supported and implemented by state is about political ideology that we want our next generation to have. One of the Marxian critique of state formalised education is that it keeps the current hierarchical structures untouched in its approach and thus sustains them. Now when we come to science education we get a bit more involved about ideas.

Science by itself was at one point of time assumed to be value-neutral. This line of though can be seen in the essays that some of us wrote in the schools with titles like “Science: good or bad”. Typically the line of argument in such is that by itself science is neither good or bad, but how we put it to use is what determines whether it is good or bad. Examples to substantiate the arguments typically involve some horrific incidents like the atomic bomb on one hand and life saving drugs on the other hand. But by itself, science is not about good or bad values. It is assumed to be neutral in that sense (there are other notions of value-neutrality of science which we will consider later). Scientific thought and its products are considered above petty issues of society and indiduals, it seemed to be an quest for eternal truth. No one questioned the processes or products of science which were assumed to be the most noble, rational, logical and superior way of doing things. But this pretty picture about scientific enterprise was broken by Thomas Kuhn. What we were looking at so far is the “normative” idea of science. That is we create some ideals about science and work under the assumption that this is how actual science is or ought to be. What Kuhn in his seminal work titled The Structure of Scientific Revolution was to challenge such a normative view, instead he did a historical analysis of how science is actually done ans gave us a “descriptive” picture about science, which was based on historical facts. Keeping up the name of the book, it actually revolutionised the way we look at science.

Now keeping in mind this disctinction between “normative” and “descriptive” views is very important. This is not only true for science but also for all other forms of human endeavours. People often tend to confuse or combine the two or many times are not even aware of the difference.

After Kuhn’s groundbreaking work entire new view about science its processes and products emerged. Various aspects of the scientific enterprise which were initially thought about outside purview of science or not affecting science came in to spotlight. Science was dissected and deconstructed from various points of view. Over the next few decades these ideas emerged into full fledged disciplies on their own. Some very valid criticisms of the scientific enterprise were developed and agreed upon. For example, the idea that there exists “the scientific method” was serisously looked into and was found to be too naive. A modified view was adopted in this regard and most of philosophers of science agreed that this is too restrictive a view. Added to this the post-modernist views about science may seem strange and bizzare at times to the uninitiated. This led to what many call as the “science-wars” between scientific realists and postmodernists. The scientific realists who believe that the world described by science is the real world as it is, independent of what it might be. So in this view it implies that there is objective truth in science and the world it describes is real. This view also implies that there is something like “scientific method” and it role in creating true knowledge about the world is paramount. On the other hand postmodernist critics don’t necessarily agree with this view of the world. For example they question the very idea of objectivity of the scientific world-view. Deriving their own meaning into writings of Kuhn (which he didn’t agree to) they claimed that science itself is a social construct and has nothing to do with the real world. The apparent supremacy of “scientific-method” in creating knowledge or presenting us about the world-views is questioned. The entire scientific enterprise from processes to products was deciphered from dimensions of gender, sexual orientation, race and class. Now, when you are teaching about science to learners there should be an awareness about these issues. Some of the issues are usually overlooked or have a logical positivist nature in them. Many philosophers lament that though considerable change has happened in ideas regarding scientific enterprise especially in philosophy of science, it seems corresponding ideas in science education are not up to date. And this can be seen when you look at the science textbook with a critical focus.

With this background I will go into the reasons that made me write this post and the peculiar multi-title. It seems for post-modernists and some others that learning about politics of science is more important than learning science itself. And they feel this is the neutral view and there is nothing political about it. They look at science as an hierarchical enterprise where gender, class and race play the decisive role, hence everyone should know about it. I am not against sharing the fact with learners of science that there are other world-views, what I am against is to share only a peculiar world view which is shaped completely by one’s ideology and politcal stance rather than by actual contents. Many of the people don’t actually know science, yet they feel that they are fully justified to criticise it. And most of these people would fall on the left side of the political spectrum (at least that is what their self-image is). But the way I see it is that these same people are no different from the right-wingers who burn books without reading them. The pomos may think of themselves as intellectually superior to the tilak-sporting people but they are not. Such is the state of intellectuals that they feel threatened by exclusion of certain articles or inclusion of certain other ones in reading courses. They then use all their might to restore the “balance”. At the same time they also tell us only they have some esoteric knowledge about these issues which people like me cannot have. And no matter what I do I will never be able to do what they can. Perhaps they have super powers which I don’t know about, perhaps in their subjective world view the pigs can fly and this fact can be proven by using other methods than the scientific ones. Last point I want to make in this is inspite of all the criticims of science and its products it doesn’t stop these people from refraining use of these products and technologies! This is hypocrisy, they will curse the phone or the computer if it doesn’t work, what they perhaps don’t realise is that it might be working just that the pomos are not able to see it in their worldview.

# Can general laws of physics explain everything?

Many scientists look on chemistry and physics as ideal models of what psychology should be like. After all, the atoms in the brain are subject to the same all – inclusive physical laws that govern every other form of matter. Then can we also explain what our brains actually do entirely in terms of those same basic principles? The answer is no, simply because even if we  understood how each of our billions of brain cells work separately, this would not tell us how the brain works as an agency. The “laws of thought” depend not only upon the properties of those brain cells,but also on how they are connected. And these connections are established not by the basic, “general” laws of physics, but by the particular arrangements of the millions of bits of information in our inherited genes. To be sure, “general” laws apply to everything. But, for that very reason, they can rarely explain anything in particular.

– Marvin Minsky in The Society of Mind pp. 26

# Trump’s Trumpeting Triumph

Election of Donald Trump and Democracy

I have two observations to make for the election of Donald Trump to the president’s office in he United States. First there is a certain sense of bewilderment in general public as well as the intelligentsia, they ask this question: “How can this possibly happen?”, “This is the doom of America” among other things. The arguments that are generally given are he is white-supremacist etc. And one of the major reasons for people to not expect him to win was that major media houses were against him. They portrayed a very peculiar negative picture of him through and through the last few months of campaign. Anything he said was scrutinized and all kinds of people were supposed to be against him. But how did we know this all? It was through the very same media houses that were biased against him. Can you really expect the media houses to give us an accurate description of ground reality when their entire aim was to derail his campaign. So what happened is that the entire rhetoric that was built upon against him didn’t stand actually reflect what the pulse on the ground was. People had different moods and different agendas on mind. And they were frustrated with the nexus that they thought was reason behind their miseries. So all this so called appeal to the “logic” or “reason” of the people to see Trump stood for (according to the media houses) and not vote for him had no takers. All those attempts by his followers were seen as hollow and shallow attempts to demean and demonify Trump. And in the final days to the election the shrillness only increased. Each attempt by a new group or a new person to vilify Trump was seen as desperate attempts to keep him out of power. He was the one who could do something, who promised to do something. He was the hero America needed to be great again. In contrast to this Hillary Clinton’s campaign can be seen as an ass saving campaign. She was caught in many hiccups, but managed to balance the possible derailment of her campaign, be it her emails or other things. The very fact that she managed to come to finals bating Sanders, in spite of so many problems itself reeked of crookedness for many. The entire anti-Trump rhetoric, instead of helping her, hurt her. So for his supporters there was no appeal to reason against him as they were already convinced beyond doubt that he is the person, and at the same time attempts to stop him were seen as conspiracies of the old system. The intelligentsia rhetoric was hollow and appeal to reason was a treason.

The Indian Election of 2014 had a similar trend. In this Narendra Modi was the candidate (also right wing). In this case also we see that the appeal to reason seen as a treason. Though he did not promise a wall, but tall promises were nonetheless made. The entire image was manipulated as if he will deliver all the things in a jiffy, when elected. We see similar bashing of the intelligentsia in this case also, the rhetoric also went overboard by calling anyone not agreeing with their tag line as anti-national, which continues till day.

For those particularly in intelligentsia lament at Trump’s victory as “Democracy has lost”, they are missing a very crucial aspect. The election of Trump actually shows the true nature of democracy. It is literally the rule of the people. And if more people think a particular candidate is good for them they will choose him. To claim it as a “Dark day” is to question the democratic process itself. These same people would have been perhaps happy if Hillary Clinton was selected. But then this for me is just changing of the goalposts when you have lost an argument. If you cannot convince people to vote for someone, it is not loss for democracy, rather it is the way it operates. The democratic process cannot remain correct if some candidate wins and problematic when someone else wins, of course under the assumption that these are fair elections, not rigged ones. This for me reflects obliviousness for the obviousness of democracy.

# Knowledge: Technical and Scientific

Utility had been deliberately excluded from Aristotelian natural philosophy. Aristotle had nothing against practical knowledge, which he called techne; he simply did not consider it to be the same kind of thing as scientific knowledge, which he called episteme. From techne we have the word technology, which means to us largely the application of scientific knowledge, while from episteme we have the word epistemology, a branch of philosophy that deals with the theory of knowledge, scientific or any other. For Aristotle, however, the difference between techne and episteme was not a difference between application and theory, but was one of sources of knowledge and goals of knowledge. The source of technical knowledge was practical experience and its goal was, roughly speaking, knowing what to do next time. The source of scientific knowledge was reason, and its goal was the  understanding of things through their causes.

–  Stillman Drake, Galileo A Very Short Introduction (p. 4)

# A quote from Dennett

I, too, want the world to be a better place. This is my reason for wanting people to understand and accept evolutionary theory: I believe that their salvation may depend on it! How so? By opening their eyes to the dangers of pandemics, degradation of the environment, and loss of biodiversity, and by informing them about some of the foibles of human nature. So isn’t my belief that belief in evolution is the path to salvation a religion? No; there is a major difference. We who love evolution do not honor those whose love of evolution prevents them from thinking clearly and rationally about it! On the contrary, we are particularly critical of those whose misunderstandings and romantic misstatements of these great ideas mislead themselves and others. In our view, there is no safe haven for mystery or incomprehensibility. Yes, there is humility, and awe, and sheer delight, at the glory of the evolutionary landscape, but it is not accompanied by, or in the service of, a willing (let alone thrilling) abandonment of reason. So I feel a moral imperative to spread the word of evolution, but evolution is not my religion. I don’t have a religion.

– Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell (p. 268)

# A verse by Rumi

“All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.”  -Rumi

# A Piagetian Curriculum?

There are those who think about creating a “Piagetian curriculum” or “Piagetian teaching methods.” But to my mind these phrases and the activities they represent are contradictions in terms. I see Piaget as the theorist of learning without curriculum and the theorist of the kind of learning that happens without deliberate teaching. To turn him into the theorist of a new curriculum is to stand him on his head. – Seymour Papert, Mindstorms

Source

# Alternative accounts

The appeal of the alternative account to current political palates is precisely why caution is warranted: a narrative’s popular appeal is a poor indicator of its truth.

# Save Firefox!

Once upon a time, there were two major browsers that virtually everyone used: Netscape and Internet Explorer, locked in a death-battle for the future of the Web. They went to enormous lengths to tempt Web publishers to optimize their sites to work best inside their windows, and hoped that users would follow.

Then, a game-changer: the open, nonprofit Mozilla browser spun out of Netscape, with the mission of putting users, not publishers, in charge. Mozilla defaulted to blocking pop-up ads, the scourge of the early Web. It was a step none of the major browsers could afford to take, because publishers were convinced they would go broke without them, and any company whose browser blocked pop-ups by default would alienate the publishers, who’d throw their lot in with the competition.

A little over a decade later, and the world of browsers is unrecognizable: Mozilla turned into Firefox; Internet Explorer turned into Edge, Apple launched Safari, and Google launched Chrome. Every one of them blocks pop-ups by default! Literally none of the dominant browsers from a decade ago are in widespread use today.

Which is not to say that there isn’t competition. There is, and its as fierce as ever, and as ever, it’s a strategic fight to please both publishers and users, whose interests are not always the same. Publishers want to gather more information on users; users want to keep their information private. Publishers want to control users’ browsing and viewing experience; users want to sit in the driver’s seat.

We need competition; we also need diversity. We need the possibility that young, game-changing market entrants might come along. We need that idea to be kept alive, to make sure that all the browsers don’t shift from keeping users happy to just keeping a few giant corporations that dominate the Web happy. Because there’s always pressure to do that, and if all the browsers end up playing that same old game, the users will always lose.

We need more Firefoxes.

We need more browsers that treat their users, rather than publishers, as their customers. It’s the natural cycle of concentration-disruption-renewal that has kept the Web vibrant for nearly 20 years (eons, in web-years).

We may never get another one, though.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), once the force for open standards that kept browsers from locking publishers to their proprietary capabilities, has changed its mission. Since 2013, the organization has provided a forum where today’s dominant browser companies and the dominant entertainment companies can collaborate on a system to let our browsers control our behavior, rather than the other way.

This system, “Encrypted Media Extensions” (EME) uses standards-defined code to funnel video into a proprietary container called a “Content Decryption Module.” For a new browser to support this new video streaming standard — which major studios and cable operators are pushing for — it would have to convince those entertainment companies or one of their partners to let them have a CDM, or this part of the “open” Web would not display in their new browser.

This is the opposite of every W3C standard to date: once, all you needed to do to render content sent by a server was follow the standard, not get permission. If browsers had needed permission to render a page at the launch of Mozilla, the publishers would have frozen out this new, pop-up-blocking upstart. Kiss Firefox goodbye, in other words.

The W3C didn’t have to do this. No copyright law says that making a video gives you the right to tell people who legally watch it how they must configure their equipment. But because of the design of EME, copyright holders will be able to use the law to shut down any new browser that tries to render the video without their permission.

That’s because EME is designed to trigger liability under section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which says that removing a digital lock that controls access to a copyrighted work without permission is an offense, even if the person removing the lock has the right to the content it restricts. In other words, once a video is sent with EME, a new company that unlocks it for its users can be sued, even if the users do nothing illegal with that video.

We proposed that the W3C could protect new browsers by making their members promise not to use the DMCA to attack new entrants in the market, an idea supported by a diverse group of W3C members, but the W3C executive overruled us saying the work would go forward with no safeguards for future competition.

It’s even worse than at first glance. The DMCA isn’t limited to the USA: the US Trade Representative has spread DMCA-like rules to virtually every country that does business with America. Worse still: the DMCA is also routinely used by companies to threaten and silence security researchers who reveal embarrassing defects in their products. The W3C also declined to require its members to protect security researchers who discover flaws in EME, leaving every Web user vulnerable to vulnerabilities whose disclosure can only safely take place if the affected company decides to permit it.

The W3C needs credibility with people who care about the open Web and innovation in order to be viable. They are sensitive to this kind of criticism. We empathize. There are lots of good people working there, people who genuinely, passionately want the Web to stay open to everyone, and to be safe for its users. But the organization made a terrible decision when it opted to provide a home for EME, and an even worse one when it overruled its own members and declined protection for security research and new competitors.

It needs to hear from you now. Please share this post, and spread the word. Help the W3C be the organization it is meant to be.

Source: Save Firefox!

# Whistleblowing as an act of political resistance

The individuals who make these disclosures feel so strongly about what they have seen that they’re willing to risk their lives and their freedom. They know that we, the people, are ultimately the strongest and most reliable check on the power of government. The insiders at the highest levels of government have extraordinary capability, extraordinary resources, tremendous access to influence, and a monopoly on violence, but in the final calculus there is but one figure that matters: the individual citizen.

And there are more of us than there are of them.

# Batch Converting jp2 to jpg

I do not know why but jp2 files are very very heavy on GNU/Linux systems. Opening a folder full of them might very likely stall your file browser or system. Even a small file below 1 M, might take its own sweet time to open in GIMP.Here is a small command to convert a bunch of em into jpg, thought resulting file is usually 1o times larger.

Use this for lossless conversion

mogrify -format jpg -quality 100 *.jp2

Source

# Designing computer interface

Computers and related devices have to be designed with an understanding that
people with specific tasks in mind will want to use them in a way that is seamless with respect to their everyday work. To do this, those who design these systems need to know how to think in terms of the eventual users’ tasks and how to translate that knowledge into an executable system. But there is a problem with trying to teach the notion of designing computers for people. All designers are people and, most probably, they are users as well. Isn’t it therefore intuitive to design for the user? Why does it need to be taught when we all know what a good interface looks like?

# Known knowns, Unknown unknowns

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know

# After Nehru…

Longish quotes from London Review of Books from After Nehru by Perry Anderson

To be impressive, however, is not to be miraculous, as Indians and others still regularly describe the political system that crystallised after independence. There was never anything supernatural about it: terrestrial explanations suffice. The stability of Indian democracy came in the first instance from the conditions of the country’s independence. There was no overthrow of the Raj, but a transfer of power by it to Congress as its successor. The colonial bureaucracy and army were left intact, minus the colonisers.

For twenty years, across five polls between 1951 and 1971, Congress never once won a majority of votes. In this period, at the peak of its popularity as an organisation, its average share of the electorate was 45 per cent. This yielded it crushing majorities in the Lok Sabha, amounting to just under 70 per cent of the seats in Parliament. In effect, the distortions of the electoral system meant that at national level it faced no political opposition. At state or district level, this did not hold. But there, the centre had powers that could deal swiftly with any local trouble. These too were heirlooms of the Raj, eagerly appropriated by Congress.

No other system of inequality, dividing not simply, as in most cases, noble from commoner, rich from poor, trader from farmer, learned from unlettered, but the clean from the unclean, the seeable from the unseeable, the wretched from the abject, the abject from the subhuman, has ever been so extreme, and so hard-wired with religious force into human expectation.

Fixing in hierarchical position and dividing from one another every disadvantaged group, legitimating every misery in this life as a penalty for moral transgression in a previous incarnation, as it became the habitual framework of the nation it struck away any possibility of broad collective action to redress earthly injustice that might otherwise have threatened the stability of the parliamentary order over which Congress serenely presided for two decades after independence.

By the end of his life, Nehru would have liked a more presentable fig-leaf for Indian rule, but that he had any intention of allowing free expression of the popular will in Kashmir can be excluded: he could never afford to do so. He had shown no compunction in incarcerating on trumped-up charges the ostensible embodiment of the ultimate legitimacy of Indian conquest of the region, and no hesitation in presiding over subcontracted tyrannies of whose nature he was well aware.

Surrounded by mediocrities, Nehru accumulated more posts than he could handle – permanent foreign minister as well as prime minister, not to speak of defence minister, head of the planning commission, president of Congress, at various times. He was not a good administrator, finding it difficult to delegate, but even had he been, this was a pluralism too far.

Nor was Ambedkar consoled by sanctimonious plaudits for his role in drafting the constitution. He knew he had been used by Congress, and said two years later: ‘People always keep on saying to me: oh sir, you are the maker of the constitution. My answer is I was a hack. What I was asked to do I did much against my will.’

Secularism in India, it is explained, does not mean anything so unsophisticated as the separation of state and religion. Rather – so one version goes – the Indian state is secular because, while it may well finance or sponsor this or that religious institution or activity, in doing so it maintains an ‘equidistance’ from the variegated faiths before it.

As with other oppressed minorities in societies keen to advertise their pluralism, a sprinkling of celebrities – a batsman or film star here, a scientist or symbolic office-holder there – adorns, but doesn’t materially alter, the position of the overwhelming majority of Muslims in India.

What the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act effectively does in such zones, the young Indian historian Ananya Vajpeyi has written, is ‘to create an entirely separate space within India, a sort of second and shadow nation, that functions as a military state rather than an electoral democracy, and only remains hidden because it is not, at least so far, officially ruled by a general or a dictator’. This space should ‘not be thought of as a zone of exception, but as a contradiction so extreme that it undoes the totality in which it is embedded’, which breaks down into ‘two distinct and mutually opposed regimes’ that form ‘two nations: India and non-India’.

Had the party or state been truly secular, in each case this would have been a priority, but that was the last thing it had in mind. There cannot be a genuinely secular party or state unless it is willing to confront religious superstition and bigotry, rather than truckle to them. Neither party nor state has ever contemplated doing that, because both have rested, sociologically speaking, on Hindu caste society. The continued dominance of upper castes in public institutions – administration, police, courts, universities, media – belongs to the same matrix.

After Independence, Gandhi’s doctrines were consigned to the museum, but his saturation of politics with Hindu pathos lived on.

Indian secularism of the post-independence period had never sharply separated state and religion, let alone developed any systematic critique of Hinduism.

The BJP does not oppose, but upholds secularism, for ‘India is secular because it is Hindu.’

‘Myths have a way of running away with their proponents,’ G. Balachandran, an Indian critic of this outlook, of whom there have not been that many, has remarked: ‘Belief in the essentially secular character of the modern Indian state and society can often be little more than an exercise in self-congratulation which overlooks or rationalises the sectarian religious outlook pervading large areas of contemporary social and political practice.’

Mayawati’s erection of 150,000 statues of Ambedkar, not to speak of two hundred effigies of her party’s elephant symbol and of herself (the largest 24 feet high, and like the rest covered in pink polythene as the state went to the polls in March, on the orders of the Election Commission, so as not to beguile or distract voters), at the cost of more schools and healthcare, offers an extreme case of this identity politics, which does not seek to abolish caste, as Ambedkar had wanted, but to affirm it.

Castes continue to be, as they have always been, and Ambedkar saw, one of the purest negations of any notion of liberty and equality, let alone fraternity, imaginable. That the Indian state has never lifted a juridical finger to do away with them, but in seeking only to ameliorate has if anything legally entrenched them, says more about its secularism than the omission of any reference to it in the constitution, or the belated passage of an amendment rectifying the omission to embellish the Emergency.

With it has come a large measure of convergence between Congress and the BJP in government, each pursuing at home a neoliberal economic agenda, as far as their allies will allow them, and abroad a strategic rapprochement with the United States. Culturally, they now bathe in a common atmosphere in which religious insignia, symbols, idols and anthems are taken for granted in commercial and official spaces alike.

In India democracy never extended very far from government to the parties contending for it, which were always run from the top down. Today, however, many have become something other than the oligarchic organisations into which the political scientists Ostrogorsky and Michels thought all parties must sooner or later turn. With the exception of the communists and the BJP, they have become family firms competing for market shares of the electorate and so access to public office.

Of the ensuing scenery, André Béteille, the doyen of sociologists of India, has written that the ‘abject surrender’ of Congress to a single family, corrupting all other parties, has done irreparable harm to Indian democracy, poisoning the wells of public life.

The court, now self-recruiting, is the most powerful judiciary on earth. It has acquired such an abnormal degree of authority because of the decay of the representative institutions around it. Even admirers are aware of the risks. In the graphic phrase of Upendra Baxi, India’s leading legal scholar and one of the first to bring a public interest suit before the court, it is ‘chemotherapy for a carcinogenic body politic’

Comparing India and China from another angle, one of the most lucid political minds of the subcontinent, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, has observed that in the People’s Republic, where there is no democracy, communist rule is based on output legitimacy: it is accepted by the masses for the material benefits it takes great care to deliver them, however unequally. Whereas in India, democracy allows just the opposite – an input legitimacy from the holding of free elections, that thereby excuses the political class from distributing more than confetti to the masses who have elected them.

Three years later, with typical dishonesty, the Manmohan regime renamed it as ‘Gandhian’ to fool the masses into believing that Congress was responsible for it.

Caste, not class, and alas, least of all the working class, is what counts most in popular life, at once sustaining Indian democracy and draining it of reconstructive energy.

If the poor remain divided against themselves, and workers are scattered and ill-organised, what of other sources of opposition within the political system? The new middle class has turned against mega-corruption, but is scarcely foreign to the bribe and the wink, let alone favours to kin, at its own level of advantage. Besotted with a culture of celebrity and consumption, on spectacularly vapid display in much of the media, and to all appearances hardening in collective egoism, it is no leaven in the social order. The intelligentsia is another matter. There, India possesses a range and quality of minds that perhaps no other developing society in the world, and not that many developed ones, can match. Whether working inside or outside the union, it forms an interconnected community of impressive acuity and distinction. In what kind of relationship does it stand to the country? Intellectuals are often held, quite wrongly, to be critical by definition. But in some societies, the mistake has become internalised as a self-conception or expectation, and so it probably is for most Indian intellectuals. How far do they live up to it?

A rigid social hierarchy was the basis of original democratic stability, and its mutation into a compartmentalised identity politics has simultaneously deepened parliamentary democracy and debauched it. Throughout, caste is the cage that has held Indian democracy together, and it has yet to escape.

In the 1920s the great Tamil iconoclast E.V. Ramasamy could declare: ‘He who invented God is a fool. He who propagates God is a scoundrel. He who worships God is a barbarian.’

Hindu culture, exceptionally rich in epics and metaphysics, was exceptionally poor in history, a branch of knowledge radically devalued by the doctrines of karma, for which any given temporal existence on earth was no more than a fleeting episode in the moral cycle of the soul.

‘In an overwhelmingly religious society,’ one subcontinental scholar has written, ‘even the most clear-sighted leaders have found it impossible to distinguish romanticism from history and the latter from mythology.’

Moral indignation is too precious an export to be wasted at home. That the democracy of his country and the humanity of his leader preside over an indurated tyranny, replete with torture and murder, within what they claim as their national borders, need not ruffle a loyal Indian citizen.

Nobel prizes are rarely badges of political courage – some of infamy – so there is little reason for surprise at a silence that, in one form or another, is so common among Indian intellectuals.

What is true is that no break away from the union is conceivable in this area, not because of any economic impossibility, but because Delhi can unleash overwhelming military force, as it has done for a half a century, to crush any attempt at secession, and can count on exhaustion eventually wearing out all resistance, as it cannot in Kashmir, where the alternatives of independence or inclusion in Pakistan have not left the Valley, and any free vote would prefer either to the Indian yoke.

Still, at the altar of Trimurti, costs are discounted inversely to gains. Unity, whose moral and political deadweight is heavier, is safer from reproach than democracy or secularity.

The dynasty that still rules the country, its name as fake as the knock-off of a prestige brand, is the negation of any self-respecting republic.

Congress had its place in the national liberation struggle. Gandhi, who had made it the mass force it became, called at independence for its dissolution. He was right. Since then the party has been a steadily increasing calamity for the country. Its exit from the scene would be the best single gift Indian democracy could give itself.

The political ills that all well-meaning patriots now deplore are not sudden or recent maladies of a once healthy system. They descend from its original composition, through the ruling family and its affiliates, and the venerations and half-truths surrounding these and the organisation enclosing them.

# Lists with LaTeX

While writing documents one needs lists. Usually the lists are either numbered or with bullet. The standard enumerate option in LaTeX by default provides Arabic-Hindu numbers for the list.

The standard syntax is as under:
 \begin{enumerate} \item First item \item Second item . . \end{enumerate} 
This will produce a list with Arabic-Hindu numbers with the items at each head.

In case one wanted a list with bullets, we can use the itemize environment.
 \begin{itemize} \item First item \item Second item . . \end{itemize} 

This will produce a list with with bullets
There is yet another environment description which can take user supplied options for list headings.
For example:
 \begin{description} \item[First] First item \item[Second] Second item . . \end{description} 
In this case the descriptors in square brackets after the \item will be used as the item titles. So when I required any alphabetical list, I used to make list in the description environment and put the alphabets/ descriptors manually.

So far so good.

Recently I had to make a list with Roman numerals instead of Arabic ones. The list was fairly long so manual option seemed to be a very un-LaTeX kind of thing to do. Just a little googling and I found a treasury of options that can be used with the standard enumerate environment. This was the enumitem package.

The package provides various options for the enumerate environment like label and its formatting, style, alignment,  indent, vertical and horizontal spacing etc.

The label options that are available are  \alph, \Alph, \arabic, \roman and \Roman,
These can be intialised by using

 \begin{enumerate}[label=\emph{\alph*})]

After this the regular \item  will produce list with alphabets, numbers or roman numerals.

Please see the documentation for more details.

Suppose you have a list which is split in many parts. You can use resume function to continue with numbering left off in the last part of the list. The resume function can be named and you can have different lists to resume.

# Main purpose of the educational sector

The main purpose of the health sector is not to provide other sectors with workers in good health. By the same token, the main purpose of the educational sector is not to prepare students to take up an occupation in some other sector of the economy. In all human societies, health and education have an intrinsic value: the ability to enjoy years of good health, like the ability to acquire knowledge and culture, is one of the fundamental purposes of civilization.

# Time Lapse Film Using Scanner

In this post we will see how to make  a time-lapse animation of something which changes over time, with a scanner. Most probably you have seen some amazing time -lapse photography of different objects. Common examples include the ever changing skyscape, blooming flowers, metamorphosing insects etc. I wanted to do a similar stuff, but due to my lethargy and other reasons I did not. Though the cameras have intervelometer, and I have used it once to take photos of a lunar eclipse, (moon changing position which I was supposed to merge later, but never did), and wanted to do the same with a blooming of a flower. But as Ghalib has said, they were one of those हज़ारों ख्वाहिशें…

The roots of the idea what follows are germinated long back, when I had a scanner. It was a basic HP 3200 scanner. That time I did not have a digital camera, (c. 2002-2003), but then I used the scanner as a camera. I had this project lined up for making collages of different cereals. Though I got a few good images from botanical samples (a dried fern below) as well and also fractals from a sheet of rusting iron. Then, I sort of forget about it.

Coming to now, I saw some amazing works of art done by scanning flowers. I remembered what had been done a few years back and combined this with the amazing time-lapse sequences that I had seen , the germ began can we combine the two?

http://vimeo.com/22439234

Can we make the scanner, make scans at regular intervals, and make a animation from the resulting images. Scanning images with a scanner would solve problem of uniform lighting, for which you may require an artificial light setup. So began the task to make this possible. One obvious and most easy way to do this is to scan the images manually, lets say every 15 minutes. In this case you setup the scanner, and just press the scan button. Though this is possible, but its not how the computers should be used. In this case we are working for the computer, let us think of making the computer do work for us. In comes shell scripting to our rescue. The support for scanners in GNU/Linux is due to the SANE (Scanner Access Now Easy) Project. the GUI for the SANE is the xsane, which we have talked about in a previous post on scanning books and scanimage is the terminal option for the sane project.

The rough idea for the project is this :

1. Use scanimage to acquire images

2. Use some script to make this done at regular time intervals.

3. Once the images are with use, combine them to make a time-lapse movie

For the script part, crontab is what is mostly used for scheduling tasks, which you want to be repeated at regular intervals. So the project then became of combining crontab and scanimage. Scanimage has a mode called --batch in which you can specify the number of images that you want to scan and also provides you with renaming options. Some people have already made bash scripts for ADF (Automatic Document Feeders), you can see the example here. But there seems to be no option for delay between the scans, which is precisely what we wanted. To approach it in another way is to introduce the the scanimage command in a shell script, which would be in a loop for the required number of images and you use the sleep command for the desired time intervals, this approach does not need the crontab for its operation. But with I decided to proceed with the crontab approach.

The first thing that was needed was to get a hang of the scanimage options. So if your scanner is already supported by SANE, then you are good to go.

$scanimage -L This will list out the devices available for scanning. In my case the scanner is Canon Lide 110, which took some efforts to get detected. For knowing how to install this scanner, if it is not automatically supported on your GNU/Linux system, please see here. In my case it lists out something like this: device genesys:libusb:002:007' is a Canon LiDE 110 flatbed scanner If there are more than one devices attached to the system the -L option will show you that. Now coming to the scan, in the scanimage programme, we have many options which control various parameters of the scanned picture. For example we can set the size, dpi, colour mode, output type, contrast etc. For a complete set of options you can go here or just type man scanimage at the terminal. We will be using very limited options for this project, namely the x, y size, mode, format, and the resolution in dpi. Lets see what the following command does: $scanimage -d genesys:libusb:002:006 -x 216 -y 300 --resolution 600dpi --mode Color --format=tiff>output.tiff

-d option specifies the device to be used, if there is nothing specified, scanimage takes the first device in the list which you get with -L option.

-x  216 and -y 300 options specify the size of the final image. If for example you give 500 for both x and y, scanimage will tell us that maximum x and y are these and will use those values. Adjusting these two values you will be able to ‘select’ the area to be scanned. In the above example the entire scan area is used.

--resolution option is straight forward , it sets the resolution of the image, here we have set it to 600dpi.

--mode option specifies the colour space of the output, it can be Color, Gray or Lineart

--format option chooses the output of the format, here we have chosen tiff, by default it is .pnm .

The > character tells scanimage that the scan should be output to a file called “output.tiff”, by default this will in the directory from where the command is run. For example if your command is run from the /home/user/ directory, the output.tiff will be placed there.

With these commands we are almost done with the scanimage part of the project. With this much code, we can manually scan the images every 15 minutes. But in this case it will rewrite the existing image. So what we need to do is to make sure that the filename for each scan is different. In the --batch mode scanimage takes care of this by itself, but since we are not using the batch mode we need to do something about it.

What we basically need is a counter, which should be appended to the final line of the above code.

For example let us have a variable n, we start with n=1, and each time a scan happens this variable should increment by 1. And in the output, we use this variable in the file name.

For example, filename = out$n.tiff: n =1 | filename = out1.tiff n = n + 1 n = 2 | filename = out2.tiff n = n + 1 n = 3 and so on… We can have this variable within the script only, but since we are planning to use crontab, each time the script gets called, the variable will be initialized, and it will not do the function we intend it to do. For this we need to store variable outside the script, from where it will be called and will be written into. Some googling and landed on this site, which was very helpful to attain what I wanted to. Author says that he hasn’t found any use for the script, but I have 🙂 As explained in the site above this script is basically a counter, which creates a file nvalue. starting from n=0, values are written in this file, and each time the script is executed, this file with n=n+1 is updated. So what I did is appended the above scanimage code to the ncounter script and the result looks something like this: #!/bin/bash nfilename="./nvalue" n=0 touch$nfilename . $nfilename n=$(expr $n + 1) echo "n=$n" > $nfilename scanimage -x 80 -y 60 --resolution 600dpi --mode Color --format=tiff>out"$n".tiff

What this will attain is that every time this script is run, it will create a separate output file, depending on the value of n. We put these lines of code  in a file and call it time-lapse.sh

Now to run this file we need to make it executable, for this use:

$chmod +x time-lapse.sh and to run the script: $./time-lapse.sh

If  everything is right, you will get a file named out1.tiff as output, running the script again you will have out2.tiff as the output. Thus we have attained what we had wanted. Now everytime the script runs we get a new file, which was desired. With this the scanimage part is done, and now we come to the part where we are scheduling the scans. For this we use the crontab, which is a powerful tool for scheduling jobs. Some good and basic tutorials for crontab can be found here and here.

$crontab -e If you are using crontab for the first time, it will ask for editor of choice which has nano, vi and emacs. For me emacs is the editor of choice. So to run scans every 15 minutes my crontab looks like this: # m h dom mon dow command */15 * * * * /home/yourusername/time-lapse.sh And I had tough time when nothing was happenning with crontab. Though the script was running correctly in the terminal. So finally the tip of adding in the cronfile SHELL=/bin/bash solved the problem. But it took me some effort to land up on exact cause of the problem and in many places there were sermons on setting PATH and other things in the script but, I did not understand what they meant. Okay, so far so good. Once you put this script in the crontab and keep the scanner connected, it will produce scans every 15 minutes. If you are scanning in colour at high resolution, make sure you have enough free disk space. Once the scans have run for the time that you want them , lets say 3 days. You will have a bunch of files which are the time lapse images. For this we use the ffmpeg and ImageMagick to help us out. # Book Hunting in Boston – Week 2 # Book Hunting in Boston ## Week 2 ## MIT Coop I went to MIT COOP opposite the MIT Press store to check for any affordable items to carry back home. But there were none. 😦 Most of them were over budget for me. But then I checked their basement for stuff. And there I saw one of the most extensive line up for science books that I have seen. They were not just a minor section in the store which usually is the case, but were the major part. All the interesting ones lined up in shelves. But sadly no discount and hence no buy 😦 Also they have all the Dover Publications books in print at one place, sorted according authors. Wow! Too many for me to handle. 😀 But for display only for me did not buy anything. But sure was overwhelming to look at them, all at the same place. ## Boston Public Library This was unplanned for. We were just roaming around the downtown area. And came out near the Boston Public Library established in 1852. The outside decoration is in form of the various authors in all fields of study. A few glimpses of the library Inscriptions on the building McKim chose to have monumental inscriptions, similar to those found on basilicas and monuments in ancient Rome, in the entablature on each of the main building’s three façades. On the south is inscribed: MDCCCLII • FOUNDED THROUGH THE MUNIFICENCE AND PUBLIC SPIRIT OF CITIZENS“; on the east: THE PUBLIC LIBRARY OF THE CITY OF BOSTON • BUILT BY THE PEOPLE AND DEDICATED TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING • A.D. MDCCCLXXXVIII“; and on the north: THE COMMONWEALTH REQUIRES THE EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE AS THE SAFEGUARD OF ORDER AND LIBERTY“. Another inscription, above the keystone of the central entrance, proclaims: FREE TO ALL“. Below each second-story arched window on the three façades are inscribed lists of the names of great historical writers, artists, scientists, philosophers, and statesmen. Across the street from the central entrance to the library is a twentieth-century monument to the Lebanese-born poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran who as a young immigrant educated himself in the Boston Public Library. The monument’s inscription responds to the McKim building reading IT WAS IN MY HEART TO HELP A LITTLE, BECAUSE I WAS HELPED MUCH“. The text is excerpted from a letter enclosed with Gibran’s generous bequest to the library. The quote from Gibran definitely resonates with the experience that I have had with Internet Archive and GP (now sadly dead). I lament that I did not go inside the library for the lack of time 😦 ## Barnes & Noble, Prudential Tower This was again unplanned for. We went to visit to Prudential Tower, the store just comes out as soon as you enter. Since I had heard about it, I did go in. They had some wonderful collections of books, but I did not get anything from there. ## Rodney Book Store Now this one was on the cards as per the original recommended list. I visited this one just before the day of departure. I could not get a photo of the entrance but only of the inside. The store is well stocked and well categorised. I wish I had more time at this store I got the above books at the store. With this one on M. C. Escher by Escher collection of classics is almost complete. # In defense of digital freedom We need to defend democratic principles not only against outside attacks, but also against erosion from within. The strength of an open society is tested especially when it comes under (perceived) threat. # The Worst Get to the Top Yes, you read that correctly: democratic government invariably leads to the rule by “demagogues” who manipulate the most immoral segments of society. The core of this immoral coalition consists of “the lowest common denominator” – the “‘mass[es]’ in the derogatory sense of the term.” The masses consist of the least “educated” and least “intelligent” driven by “primitive instincts.” The unethical leaders add to this core the “docile and gullible.” They are easily manipulated by propaganda that creates “a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently.” Their “passions and emotions are readily aroused” by demagogues “who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party.” The third component of the totalitarian troika is the “most important negative element.” These are the murderous bigots motivated by “hatred of an enemy … the envy of those better off.” # Politics and politicians But politics and politicians are two separate things. Our whole lives are political, they just don’t realise it. # “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” “People expected me to become a high-ranking official in the government or a big company, but I don’t think just because I chose not to become the expected it gives anyone a right to call anyone’s life a failure,” # Something to Hide You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet. via Wired # On Design Design is both the disruptor and being disrupted. It’s disrupting markets, organizations, and relationships, and forcing us to rethink how we live. The discipline of design is also experiencing tremendous growth and change, largely influenced by economic and technology factors. No longer an afterthought, design is now an essential part of a product, and it may even be the most important part of a product’s value. # Dissent Is Treason The year Nineteen Eighty Four is long past us, in fact next year it will exactly 30 years in the past. But if we consider the dystopic vision of George Orwell from the novel, seems with each passing day we are approaching it with ever increasing pace. As if prophetically the Orwell thought about in the middle of last century are coming true. It is as if those in power are taking cues from Orwell’s books.Some famous lines from Nineteen Eighty Four included the following: War is Peace Freedom is Slavery Ignorance is Strength And Big Brother is Watching You Two more individuals also told us something similar. One is a comic book writer and other is a paranoid hacker in the true sense of the word. Alan Moore in V for Vendetta tells us a story of not so distant future, which is very Orwellian. He says in an interview, it was idea in V, that there should be cameras on streets, which is what is implemented in London now. This is like an unintentional self-fulfiling prophecy. Though Alan Moore makes his case, it is after all a fictional story. Given that it might happen, but it is fiction. As is the case with Orwell’s works though fictional it has some real and frightening take home points, so is also with Alan Moore’s V for... I will now come to the hacker. Richard M. Stallman, aka RMS aka Father of Free Software movement. Some of you might be surprised when I am making this claim. What does software have to do with dissent, or for that matter treason? But there are good reasons to make and substantiate this connection. About the poster: The idea behind this poster comes from Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell and current affairs in the world. Across the world it seems that any dissent against the government or those in power is seen as treason. Hence “Dissent Is Treason”This rhymes thematically very well with other in Orwells book which include “War is Peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Similarly no matter how wrong the government is doing, however brutal they may be acting any voice of concern is treated as one would treat treason. The questioning of government and its actions which is essential in a healthy democracy is itself under attack. In this poster the deer has one of its horns twisted in a way which is not normal. This “abnormal horn” metaphorically represents the view point which majority does not see or share. This can be concern for environment or disadvantaged groups, or against nexus of corporates and politicians. The list is endless. But any deer with such a horn, will be shunned in deer society. Similarly in our society usually people who have points of view which conflict with powers to be are treated as traitors. Their acts of exposing the guilty as that of treason. But in fact such individuals are people with extraordinary courage. They include people like Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and countless others whom wedo not know but are thankful. The deer image is from an old issue (c. 1870) of Journal Of Bombay Natural History Society. # Antilibrary of Umberto Eco The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary. Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb I have had a similar experience about myown book collection. People expect that if you have books then you must have read them. But this is exactly what I hold the books for, a reference tool for further knowledge. And then they have a beautiful word in Japanese which describes the spirit in which you buy more unread books. Tsundoku:buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up on shelves floors or nightstands # Faking Feedback How to score brownie points over one’s opponents? Or How much lower can one stoop academically? Disclaimer: This story has a no particular names, feel free to fill in what you like. This is not a work of fiction. This is a story that I heard recently. Though the events mentioned in the story are almost 2 decades old. The story is set circa 1996. The story is an esteemed academic institution in the state of UP. In this institute in a particular department, among many other faculties there were two protagonists of our story. For the sake of keeping a track of their activities let us call them X and Y. Now as it happens in many academic institutes, and in between many academics, X and Y did not go along very well. Added to that they say that X was a bit eccentric to put it mildly and a crackpot to put it okayishly. Less said about Y is better. It would be rather revealed by actions. They would fight bitterly and did not see each other in a good light. Now, it so happens that in this institute at end of the semester the students are given feedback forms for each of the courses that they take. For this purpose another faculty member distributes the forms on the last day of the course. These forms are collected, sealed and given to the HoD for evaluation. Based on the feedback the HoD calls the faculty member to discuss issues worth discussing. This entire process is supposedly confidential and the discussion happens after the exams are over. Now it so happened that in this fateful year, Y went on the last day of X’s class to give the feedback form to the students. The forms were duly collected, sealed and given to the HoD. Now comes the interesting part of the story. When the HoD started to read the feedback forms, he noticed that a few of them were a bit too harsh and nasty. Now it so turns out that though X was a bit eccentric, but was quite popular with the students. So this naturally created a doubt in the HoDs mind. Why only this year the students have given a bad review of X? So the HoD glanced through the feedback forms which were a bit too negative. And guess what! He discovered that the handwriting in all of them was uncannily similar. How can different students writing negative feedback have all the same handwriting? Well one explanation is that they all conspired to do so. Practicing for hours on end to make sure all of their handwriting are similar! But an easier one is that a single person must have written all these negative reviews! Keeping this in mind the HoD compared these negative feedback forms with the handwriting of people he knew. And then guess what it matched the handwriting of someone from his department! Now you will get 10/10 points if you have already guessed what happened next. It so turned out that the handwriting on the negative feedback sheets matched that of Y. After this Y was summoned by the HoD to explain this uncanny resemblance between the handwritings. Well Y did not have much of an answer, even if any answer was given, it is not known to us. Perhaps Y will remember this episode for life. So after this Y was punished for faking student feedback form. This perhaps would be unique charge against a faculty in a premier institute. The punishment was of banishment from the department for one full semester. When he came back he was super embarrassed due to this. Or as they would put in Hindi किसी को मु़ह दिखाने लायक नही राहा And it so happened that this episode was followed by exit of Y from this institute a few years later. It is said that in the new institute that Y joined he continued with his old ways of deceit and treachery, and of cheap tactics. The only difference being that there was no one here to challenge Y and his cheap ways. The sad part is that this continued for over a decade and Y was able to form an empire at the new institute. But then the Indian academia has many such people. Reflecting on this I think how much lower can one fall academically to score brownie points over one’s opponents? On another hand I feel like laughing at botched up attempts to do this, reminds me of Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder. What kind of person would indulge in this behavior? Is such a person fit for any confidential work? And why should any academic institute harbour such a person? This story needs to be spread, told and retold for Y is still out there… # Research and public outreach I like to think that the book writing, public outreach activities can be not oppositional to doing research. I have been inspired to do research projects by thinking about different ways of talking to the public, and I think that you can get the word out there even to your own scientific colleagues by writing a good book. # Sweet (Potato) Harvest A couple of years back I shifted to a flat. We did not have a single plant in our house. So we brought a couple of pots in which to put some plants. We started with “money plant” but it seemed it did notlike growing in our window. We tried many other things but none survived. All of them would die, perhaps due to lack of sunlight or some infestation. It so turned out that the sweet potato is not that sweet after all. It has a low GI (glycemic index). Some of the sweet potatoes that we had brought, and kept in the corner developed some really cool purple coloured shoots. We then thought of planting these and see. And grow they did. The shoots grew at an astounding rate, as if they were on some sort of steroids. Withinn a week they scaled the height of the window (~ 5 ft.). We had to manage them horizontally afterwards. But this was it, the plants became very dense and we planted some more. So we had a nice vine over the window. We never bothered to see if they had grown any roots that we could eat. It was more used like an ornamental plant. When we shifted to our current home we brought the pot with us. For travel, we had cut all the branches and left the root intact. But after coming the new house, where we had access to the sunlight. The plant did not grow, it died. That is when we planted some new shoots in the pot, two of them. And then forgot about them. We water them daily but, it was in a rather inaccessible corner of the balcony so, we could not look at it properly. It so happened one day I noticed something strange. Something (most probably a bird) had dug out the soil in that pot and uncovered what was unmistakably surface of a sweet potato. There were beak like marks on the surface. It was like a treasure was exposed. I promptly covered the exposed area with extra soil. It was then that I noticed that the plant had grown a lot but since its branches were hanging low and at an angle than hid it from us, we had not seen them. So, this is the background. Yesterday, being a Sunday we decided to take out the potatoes out. So what follows is a picture essay of uncovering the harvest of the sweet potatoes. The Plant with its leaves. Put a paper on the floor to collect the soil. Start the digging. Felt like a forager! First sweet glimpse! And they are out! With the roots removed. Washed! Portrait shot No. 1 Portrait Shot No. 2 Nicely cut and washed! Removing the extra water. In the fry pan! And with salt and pepper! That’s it for now folks! # Why I am an Atheist Beliefs make it easier to go through hardships, even make them pleasant. You go against popular feelings; you criticise a hero, a great man who is generally believed to be above criticism. What happens? No one will answer your arguments in a rational way; rather you will be considered vainglorious. Its reason is mental insipidity. Merciless criticism and independent thinking are the two necessary traits of revolutionary thinking. As Mahatmaji is great, he is above criticism; as he has risen above, all that he says in the field of politics, religion, Ethics is right. You agree or not, it is binding upon you to take it as truth. This is not constructive thinking. We do not take a leap forward; we go many steps back. It is necessary for every person who stands for progress to criticise every tenet of old beliefs. Item by item he has to challenge the efficacy of old faith. He has to analyse and understand all the details. If after rigorous reasoning, one is led to believe in any theory of philosophy, his faith is appreciated. His reasoning may be mistaken and even fallacious. But there is chance that he will be corrected because Reason is the guiding principle of his life. But belief, I should say blind belief is disastrous. It deprives a man of his understanding power and makes him reactionary. Open your eyes and see millions of people dying of hunger in slums and huts dirtier than the grim dungeons of prisons; just see the labourers patiently or say apathetically while the rich vampires suck their blood; bring to mind the wastage of human energy that will make a man with a little common sense shiver in horror. Just observe rich nations throwing their surplus produce into the sea instead of distributing it among the needy and deprived. There are palaces of kings built upon the foundations laid with human bones. Let them see all this and say “All is well in God’s Kingdom.” Why so? This is my question. One of my friends asked me to pray. When informed of my atheism, he said, “When your last days come, you will begin to believe.” I said, “No, dear sir, Never shall it happen. I consider it to be an act of degradation and demoralisation. For such petty selfish motives, I shall never pray.” Reader and friends, is it vanity? If it is, I stand for it. # Academia Misfitya 1 The problems of academic misfits =================================== Many things are said which might require a background without which they may appear to be incoherent, or is it that they are actually incoherent and background is not required at all? Maybe I should less drink coffee, otherwise such sense making non-stuff comes of me out …. Miserable lives, pathetic people: 1 —— What happens when you get stuck up with a job that you do not like, but have to do it because you could not get to the place you wanted to be in? At times you feel that the place doesn’t deserve you. You are over-smart for the place. The place is meant for people who are far behind you in the evolutionary seqeuence. This is the feeling that many people in my working place share. They think that they are smart, and are stuck up at this place because of some bad luck. Their heart doesn’t lie in the work that they are doing, but somewhere else. So what do they do to overcome this personal failure of theirs? They make an attempt to make other people’s likfe miserable, just as their own is. I am particularly using the word attempt, as it does not succeed. This just shows the pathological state of mind they are in. Their personal failure of not being able to get into a place where they think their intelligence might be in good company, is displayed in the malice they carry around with their persona. 2 —— They would take up smallest issues and make mountains out it. Hold a personal vendetta against the ones they dislike. This comes to fore in public meetings where their pathetic attempts to undermine other people’s work. So pathetic are their attempts that one can only but laugh at their incompetence even in doing this. This reminds of the series of Rowan Atkinson called The Black Adder. Its dark comedy all around. They should forget about getting to their dream place with this kind of incompetence. Most of them are rejects from places of so called “higher intelliegence” who by hook or crook somehow found their way in this space. Others tell you that their know this person, or is related to that person /who/ is at this high position. Maybe they all conspired to get them here. They were so incompetent that even such people in high position could not get them to their dream places. And what is the result? They are perpetually under cloud of failure, and hence they want to see others also fail. How can others succeed when they, the intelligent beings of the lot, have failed? 3 —— People who have realized this truth behind their hollow lives give them the most fear. Because they know these people are not going to be intimidated by the false aura of intelligence they carry around them. These people can see through them for what they are. They do not give them the false respect that they force their juniors and people working under them to give them. “Call me Sir!” they say, as if the British crown has knighted them. And they are offended deeply if they are not called so. This behaviour is anti-academic, if nothing else. In other places I have seen even the most senior most scientists being called by their first names. But these “academic misfits” think otherwise, to boost their fragile self-ego they make the people under them give them respect forcibly. This perhaps gives them a 10 footer. 4 —— The very fact that they were not able to get to a place which they so much desired, but instead their getting into a ‘popular’ place makes them think that all around them are like that. For jandiced people the whole world appears with a yellowish tint. So it is with this people suffering from academia misfitia. They think they being so much intelligent and superior to others are stuck here, /hence/ the other lesser mortals must also be so. So they think that all others in such a place are also misfits, and perhaps of a worse kind (we yet don’t even have a PhD!). 5 —— To justify their presence in a place where they do not belong what do they do? They change the goals of the place so that they will somehow fit in the new goals. This is the easiest thing to do. When facts are against you, you change the standards of measurement. This is much like what Rutherford had said about science: “Science is what scientists do.” So the goal of a place is the work that people there do. This way they can justify whatever work that they do, no matter whether it fits the agenda of the place or not. But what do they do when you point out that this does not fit into the original agendas? They know they cannot get any higher in academia, if they could they would not be here. So they adapt a time tested approach of being a douchebag. If you cannot rise above others, make others sink. Make their work look as if it is nothing, as /compared/ to theirs. Attack them in public seminars to make them look like fools in front of the people. But even this attempt ends in failure. How much failure one can take? Then they claim that theirs is a ‘serious’ kind of work and any other work which they do not do is a ‘popular’ kind of work, not worthy of anything. And academics is serious work, not popular. If it is so why are they in a place where this happens? This is because they are themselves not good enough for serious work, perhaps only semi-serious work, hence they are stuck here. 6 —— And what is the nature of ‘serious’ work that they take pride in? It is the pinnacle of a huge commercial industry, where they are basking in lights given off from others. There is a joke which is similar to this situation. A scientist, one by one plucks of all the legs of a cockroach and yells it to after pulling out one leg. Initially the cockroach tries to run with the remaining legs, but after last leg is removed it can no longer run. The scientist concludes that the cockroach cannot hear when all the legs are removed. This joke is related to much of the ‘(semi?)-serious’ work by the misfits. They do the first error in statistics, confusing correlation with causality (no wonder they are stuck here). They think that it is their final leg pulling which produces the required results and this they get published in the ever breaking news hungry pop-media! All the false pride that they carry and respect that they get is due to the position they got themselves in by hook or by crook. It is this position as gatekeepers of the last leg, they have developed the pathetic arrogance that they have. There is much to say about these matters, but that will be another post…. # Gandhi on Textbooks M. K. Gandhi Harijan Vol VII, No. 31 pg. 1, 9 September 1939 Text Books The craze for ever-changing text books is hardly a healthy sign from the educational standpoint. If text books are treated as a vehicle for education, the living word of the teacher has very little value. A teacher who teaches from text books does not impart originality to his pupils. He himself becomes a slave of the text books and has no opportunity or occasion to be original. It therefore seems that the less text books there are the better it is for the teacher and his pupils. Text books seem to have become an article of commerce. Authors and publishers who make writing and publishing a means of making money are interested in frequent change of text books. In many cases teachers and examiners are themselves authors of text books. It is naturally to their interest to have their books sold. The selection board is again naturally composed of such people. And so the vicious circle becomes complete. And it becomes very difficult for parents to find money for new books every year. It is a pathetic sight to see boys and girls going to school loaded with books which they are ill able to carry. The whole system requires to be thoroughly examined. The commercial spirit needs to be entirely eliminated and the question approached in the interest of the scholars. It will then probably be found that 75 per cent of the text books will have to be consigned to scrap-heap. If I had it my way, I would have books largely as aids to teachers rather than for the scholars. Such textbooks as are found to be absolutely necessary for the scholars should circulate among them for a number of years os that the cost can be easily borne by middle class families. The first step in this direction is perhaps for the State to won and organize the printing and publishing of text books. This will act as an automatic check on their unnecessary multiplication. # Citation inside a Caption – LaTeX Recently while writing my thesis, I came across a strange error while compiling with LaTeX. The problem arose when I gave a cite command inside a caption environment. The caption was for a figure. For example \caption{This is the caption for a figure. From \cite{friend2005}}  This gave the following error:  ! Argument of \Hy@tempa has an extra }. <inserted text> \par l.89 ...sity estimate. From \cite{friend2005}} ? Runaway argument? \@captype {\@firstoftwo {\@ifstar {\HAR@acite }{\HAR@fcite }}}\def \reserved@b \ETC. ! Paragraph ended before \Hy@tempa was complete. <to be read again> \par l.89 …sity estimate. From \cite{friend2005}} ? A little googling around I found this site which solved the problem in a second. So the command should read like:  \caption{This is the caption for a figure. From \protect\cite{friend2005}}  And the problem is solved. In case you are wondering what \protect does look here. # Anonymity and community in the age of RTI (Draft under work.) The year 2005 was a significant event in the history of India, as it saw the introduction of bill for Right to Information. Under this act any person could request data from government departments pertaining to issues of interest. This was seen as first step towards transparency of government of India, and indeed it was. The RTI act was a weapon in hands of activists, who could now get the required information officially. What was important also was that there was a timeline which had to be adhered to while replying to the RTI query. The information gathered from the various RTI queries which individuals across the country empowered the citizens about their rights regarding many issues. Also equally importantly RTI was a tool for exposing the corruption running rampant in various government departments. A RTI query could expose the irregularities and bypassing of rules and regulations, leading to corruption. There are many famous cases for their expose of big names and massive corruption which were brought to light. (Some examples?) Some people became what are now known as RTI activists. The RTI activists were whistleblowers of the RTI age. These activists exposed many scams at local and national levels. Such expose make the people involved very uncomfortable. And as it happens in many cases the people involved are very powerful and would not stop at anything to attain their goals. In many such cases the RTI activists were “easy” targets. By using the four-fold approach of /saam/, /daam/, /dand/ and finally /bhed/ those in trouble try to stop the RTI activists. Unfortunately in many cases, it turns out the activists were killed as a result of their whistleblowing acts. (Give examples) What the RTI activists in various parts lack is a safety net, by this I mean they lack support from people with similar interests. They also lack, in a sense, a feeling of community who will stand by them in case of such bad incidents. What can be done for them? What kind of mechanism can result in their protection? There was a proposed whistleblower bill, which if enacted will provide security to such people. But the bill was not passed. Is there any other option? Is there a way in which people can still ask for information under RTI, without revealing their identity, so that they cannot be “targetted” as whistleblowers. Is there a way in which despite being anonymous there is a sense of community among the activists of the RTI? It seems there can be an alternative way in which we the people can provide a sense of anonymity and at the same time that of a community to the RTI activists. What follows is such a proposal which will try to cover these fundamental issues. The proposal is to setup a front, which for lack of a name I would call a /collective/ for now, which will mask those requesting RTI from various government departments. The activists can send their queries to the government departments through this collective. This collective will in a sense create a buffer between activists and the respective government departments, and associated problematic elements. Since the RTI queries will be sent through this collective, there will be sense of anonymity for the RTI activists, as their names wouldn’t come under spotlight as in the earlier case. One can also have a way in which the activist need not reveal their identity to collective, that is we should also allow for anonymous requests for queries. Some may point out that this might be abused, but we have to give in this possibility hoping that pros will outnumber the cons. Thus at no point we would have any data regarding the identity of the applicant, hence we will not be able to reveal it, when asked. This as will be pointed out can be abused, but Thus the collective will form a mask for all the RTI requests. Of coure people who want their name displayed for their work, will be proud public faces of the collective. It would be much more difficult to subdue or silence or attack the collective as it would not be single point contact, but rather a distributed system. So what do the activists gain by submitting to the collective, apart from the anonymity. The collective will have a policy that all the data that it receives from these RTI queries, will be put up in public domain. This will in turn create a public archive of information which will be accessible to anyone. Such a archive will address many issues, like redundancy in filing of RTI queries, or making the future RTI queries much more pointed and making material available for researchers. Such is a very rough proposal for the formation of the collective. Suggestions and refinements in the proposal and possible way of execution of this collective are needed. # Edward Snowden’s Moral Courage I have been to war. I have seen physical courage. But this kind of courage is not moral courage. Very few of even the bravest warriors have moral courage. For moral courage means to defy the crowd, to stand up as a solitary individual, to shun the intoxicating embrace of comradeship, to be disobedient to authority, even at the risk of your life, for a higher principle. And with moral courage comes persecution. via Common Dreams. # Equity Over Excellence There is an interesting piece in The Atlantic by Sergey Ivanov on the education system in Finland. Though the article is written from a viewpoint of an American, there are a lot of take home points for everyone and particularly for India. In this post I am trying to make sense of this article from an Indian standpoint. Through out the post if you just insert India for America (which I have done at places), it at once catches. For the problems Indians are facing are also the problems of the Americans, as we have more or less tried to follow their model of education. The basic theme that underlies the article is this: The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence. To many in the Indian context who believe that excellence must be given priority over equity this might be surprising. Surprising because it undermines a basic premise in their logic: that to excel in science and technology the only way is to promote excellence. In India there have been two distinct approaches to education, there is a clear stratification of the students based on standardized tests, and it is these tests which filter out students. But as the Finnish experience shows us that this need not be the case. The newly found fame for Finland’s educational system comes after excellence of their students in the PISA scores since 2000. This seems paradoxical when we learn more about the educational system. The tried and trusted formulae of instructionism and rote-learning, which many people swear by, have almost no place there. The Finnish educational system seems like an educational philosophers utopian materialized in the real world. To understand why it is working, the way it is, Indians will have to give away their long cherished beliefs about educational system. This would make the government more accountable towards education of the people. This is not just cosmetic school reform, but a revamping of the complete educational philosophy with which we are running the show. One of the most intriguing (at least for me) things to notice is: “Oh,” he mentioned at one point, “and there are no private schools in Finland.” This notion may seem difficult for an American (Indian?) to digest, but it’s true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D. (emphasis added) Now, this is interesting. What can we say about India? In fact over the years there has been general trend that we are seeing, that the number of private schools is increasing. And then there are branded schools which are spreading their networks across the country. Not to tell that they charge really hefty fees, and are meant for the elite. And so is the case with the colleges, each professional degree has a price tag, only people who can afford it, get those degrees. The haves not, the non-elites, who are mostly from the deprived classes, remain with almost no education. The government keeps on talking about reaching out to people, and by allowing the private schools colleges to exist, it is actually preventing people from joining in. Another aspect about this is that since there are alternatives to the government schools, the government schools themselves have no pressure to perform. And as any intelligent parents will tell you, it is better to put your child in a private school than a government one. Most of the parents who are in a financial position to put their children in private schools, do so. How many parents do you know who have enrolled their children in government schools, even when they can afford private schools? There was yet another interesting piece If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person in which the author makes a case that it is parents who are driving the change of declining government schools. If the educated parents make a sustained effort of challenging and helping government schools to improve, they will surely improve. The parents adopt the path of least effort, and send their children to private schools, which are supposed to be better. This automatically creates a class divide without asking. Even among the private schools there is an hierarchy. There are international schools, convent schools etc. So the social stratification that exists, is just reflected in the school system. Seen from this perspective, one can understand why are the government schools neglected. They are neglected because the people who are influential and who are amongst the rich and powerful are never affected by the dismal state of the government schools. They have an alternate avenue for their children where these schools never come into picture. There is another thing that is striking in the Indian system, that is of the coaching classes. I do not know if they are present in Finland or even anywhere in the world. But in India, the coaching classes have a complete parallel system of cracking the educational system. The amount money that the coaching classes do attract must be comparable to the amount Government of India spends on education. This is another avenue where the class divide comes in. Only people with enough finances can afford to send their children to the best coaching classes. But the more fundamental question to ask is: Why do coaching classes exist in the first place? The answer to this question is not easy and it related closely to the way in which Indians look at education and its practices. The coaching classes exist because there is a demand for them. And what do coaching classes achieve. Most of the coaching classes are aimed at helping students crack some standardized test or the other. But why do you need standardized tests? Some of the rhetorical questions that one might ask against this question are: From his (Sasi’s) point of view, Americans (Indians) are consistently obsessed with certain questions: + How can you keep track of students’ performance if you don’t test them constantly? + How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? + How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? + How do you provide school choice? The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America’s (India’s) school reformers are trying to do. For example the introduction of CCE or Continuous and Comprehensive Examination introduced as part of NCF 2005 is one such reform. Similarly we have incentives in forms of awards for best teachers, and of course the best students get rewards like getting admission to the best colleges. Their parents are proud, schools are proud, and their coaching classes are also proud. This can be seen by the number of advertisements the coaching classes put up. But all the exams like IIT-JEE, AIEEE, Medical Exams, Olympiads, etc. are standardized tests. These are the parameters of excellence in the country. Similar tests are also found in the US, like GRE, TOEFL, SAT etc. One would assume the standardized tests in Finland would be of very great quality, but in reality they don’t exist there. For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school. The very idea of standardized tests emerged in the shadow of the Second World War. The mass recruitment of troops required a mass approach, which resulted in production of tests. In his book The Tyranny of Testing physicist Banesh Hoffman, criticises the standardized tests that were prevalent in the US, and takes to task the leading makers of these tests on the fundamental premise of their objectivity. Similarly one can, question the fundamentals of the standardized tests in the country. Can any standardized test be really objective? Personally, I do not think so. None of the standardized tests, take into account multiple factors that a student has skills in. These tests make the process of filtering students easier for the administrators. But do they help students at all (except for getting admission to a desired institute)? Do they really test the understanding of the subject matter? Do they take into account various social factors that is part of the mileu of the students? As Banesh Hoffman says the only thing objective about these tests is that once, the students fills in the answer sheet, the grading is objective. But why is that the teachers who are actually teaching the students cannot test them? Why do we need standardized tests to test the students? And here comes in the idea of academic flexibility in the schools. In India even most university department do not have academic flexibility. There is a central committee which decides, what is to be taught and a committee sets a test with which we grade the students. This creates a definite goal in form of “completing the syllabus” for the teachers. This is a malice which pervades the educational system of India from primary schools to university departments. The teachers are in a race to reach the finish line of the syllabus, because if they do not, the students might face questions which they were not taught. Though the teacher is the representative of the entire educational system in the classroom, they are nothing more than, to use a term by Krishna Kumar, “meek dictators” in the classroom. The real dictators are adminitrators and decision makers sitting at the top of the educational system. This perhaps is a colonial mentality which has been deeply embodied in the Indian psyche. But in Finland what happens: Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools. People say that then the teachers cannot be trusted that they will grade their students correctly. So how will they be held accountable? As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.” For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it. This is where the responsibility of the Government comes in. Goverment slowly is trying to distance itself from its role in providing education to all its citizens. But if teachers are themselves left unsatisfied both monetarily and ideologically??, what results one can expect. In this way the Government is indirectly encouraging the private schools and coaching classes, and thus making the class divide even more striking. And while Americans (Indians) love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Paronen: “Real winners do not compete.” It’s hard to think of a more un-American (Indian) idea, but when it comes to education, Finland’s success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation. Compare this with the Indian attitude. Competition seems to be the key to everything and especially education. Where does collaboration of cooperation enter in Indian educational scenario? Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all. Which brings us back to the silence after Sahlberg’s comment at the Dwight School that schools like Dwight don’t exist in Finland. “Here in America (India), parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It’s the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same.” And in India there are coaching classes which prepare students to get into better coaching classes. With both private schools and the coaching class industry around the education and related services have been commercialised to furthest extent possible. This just works in the favour of the already existing class divide. Parents do choose best for their children, and thus do perpetuate the divide as they have no other choices. Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity. This is the state of the educational system in India now. And with the over emphasis on the excellence part which addresses a small set of mostly elite students, the goal should be creating equal opportunities for equity. The idea of equity in the academic circles is unfortunately equated with that of sub-standard or below average. There are people who will tell you, that “Look, there are bright students, and they need special coaching.” The government has to spend the money of bright students, so as to make the country excel in education. This is done at the expense of the average students. One may ask the question, how in the first place do you know a student is bright? The answer comes from scores of the standardized tests, which are the root cause of many problems that the educational system in India is facing now. If one is serious about changing the educational scenario in the country this has to be addressed. Though there are champions of the standardized tests, in India as in the US of Amerika, they are the ones whose existence is based on such tests. Without these tests their existence becomes meaningless. It will certainly increase the workload of lot many people a lot many times. But the problems of magnitude of changing educational system in India is no mean problem and will require solutions of these magnitudes. Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. In the Indian scenario this seems to have been forgotten. And one of the main reasons for this is the presence of private schools and coaching classes where parents can shop for education. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality. This particular quote is exactly opposite of what the Indian educational system does by promoting academic excellence over equity. And this also relates to the qualities that Indians cherish. If good education is equated with chances of making good money, then we know where we are wrong. With private schools and coaching classes the education of a student becomes a balance sheet, which will be brought to green from red by the money that student will make after completing education. In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance. In case of India we have seen implementation of the mid-day meal scheme. But does it extend to the other domains? In fact, since academic excellence wasn’t a particular priority on the Finnish to-do list, when Finland’s students scored so high on the first PISA survey in 2001, many Finns thought the results must be a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed that Finland — unlike, say, very similar countries such as Norway — was producing academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity. And with so much emphasis on coming on top of the class in India, we are getting what we are sowing. Surveys will tell you that students, including even those from the best private schools in the country do fail in simple evaluation. But is this unexpected? If the entire focus of the educational system is to pass standardized tests, why should we expect our students to be better in something else? That this point is almost always ignored or brushed aside in the U.S. (India) seems especially poignant at the moment, after the financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street movement have brought the problems of inequality in America into such sharp focus. The chasm between those who can afford$35,000 in tuition per child per year — or even just the price of a house in a good public school district — and the other “99 percent” is painfully plain to see.

Though India is yet to undergo Occupy BSE protests, it is not long before this happens.

Some people may point out that Finland is a developed nation. It is much more homogeneous as compared to India. Here it might become more complicated than in the US, but the central argument should hold through.

Yet Sahlberg doesn’t think that questions of size or homogeneity should give Americans (Indians) reason to dismiss the Finnish example. Finland is a relatively homogeneous country — as of 2010, just 4.6 percent of Finnish residents had been born in another country, compared with 12.7 percent in the United States. But the number of foreign-born residents in Finland doubled during the decade leading up to 2010, and the country didn’t lose its edge in education. Immigrants tended to concentrate in certain areas, causing some schools to become much more mixed than others, yet there has not been much change in the remarkable lack of variation between Finnish schools in the PISA surveys across the same period.

The social conditions in India do not match those in Finland. We have many factors like, caste and religion, which do strongly affect our educational policies in practice, if not in theory. So is this comparison valid? But comparing Finland with an country whose demographics are similar, namely Norway, we find different results. Which shows it is the educational policy which determines the outcome, and not the demographics.

Like Finland, Norway is small and not especially diverse overall, but unlike Finland it has taken an approach to education that is more American than Finnish. The result? Mediocre performance in the PISA survey. Educational policy, Abrams suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country’s school system than the nation’s size or ethnic makeup.

And time and again it is said that India does not have enough money to spend on its enormous population. Looking at the amount of GDP that is spent on education India ranks spends 3.1% of GDP on education (2006), while the US spends 5.5% (2007) and Finland 5.9% (2007). A more updated list shows this hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. A look at the graph below from the World Bank Data on these matters makes the picture clear. Though Norway spends more than Finland on education, the results are poor. So if we assume that this is the control then it clearly shows it is not the amount of money you spend or your socio-economic status of the people that matter. What matters most is the way in which you have planned for education and its spending.

People tell you that most problems in Indian education system will go away if we have enough teachers! But why are not there enough teachers one may ask? Isn’t it funny that in a country which has second largest population in the world, we do not have enough government teachers? It is surely not a problem of human resources, but of will, both political and social. We do not want to spend more on education, and yet we expect the things to be better. And somehow government is willing to spend on private partners for education, a sort of outsourcing if you want. And with more and more Public Private Partnerships for education, government is just abdicating its responsibility, in the field of education as in other fields.

Finland’s experience suggests that to win at that game, a country has to prepare not just some of its population well, but all of its population well, for the new economy. To possess some of the best schools in the world might still not be good enough if there are children being left behind.

Problem in India is manifold.

“Finland’s dream was that we want to have a good public education for every child regardless of where they go to school or what kind of families they come from, and many even in Finland said it couldn’t be done.”

Clearly, many were wrong. It is possible to create equality. And perhaps even more important — as a challenge to the American (Indian) way of thinking about education reform — Finland’s experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.

The problem facing education in America (India) isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America (India) needs to be more competitive abroad.

Most of us think that utopian ideas are not practicable. The talk about equity in education is essentially seen with that attitude. But the Finland example has just shown us that this is possible. Though it is definitely not to say that we blindly follow that model. But it seems that utopian things are possible, just that we will have to give up on long cherished notions of what we consider excellence as.

# Latex Tufte class in org-mode

Edward Tufte is known for graphical excellence in his famous books. Some enthusiasts combined his design principles into LaTeX and you have the tufte-book and tufte-handout classes for excellence in typesetting. This has support for sidenotes, margin figures, full width figures etc.

Now, since I have shifted to org-mode on Emacs for most of my writing work including that of LaTeX, it was but natural to take this in org-mode output.

For this a small addition to your .emacs file and you are done. Of course after installing the dependencies. I also came to know about another nice package nicefrac for using in the documents.

For Fedora #yum install texlive-tufte-latex should do the job. Also some font problems may arise which can be solved by running updmap and enabling the needed font.

 ;; tufte-book class for writing classy books
(require 'org-latex)
'("tuftebook"
"\\documentclass{tufte-book}\n
\\usepackage{color}
\\usepackage{amssymb}
\\usepackage{gensymb}
\\usepackage{nicefrac}
\\usepackage{units}"
("\\section{%s}" . "\\section*{%s}")
("\\subsection{%s}" . "\\subsection*{%s}")
("\\paragraph{%s}" . "\\paragraph*{%s}")
("\\subparagraph{%s}" . "\\subparagraph*{%s}")))

;; tufte-handout class for writing classy handouts and papers
(require 'org-latex)
'("tuftehandout"
"\\documentclass{tufte-handout}
\\usepackage{color}
\\usepackage{amssymb}
\\usepackage{amsmath}
\\usepackage{gensymb}
\\usepackage{nicefrac}
\\usepackage{units}"
("\\section{%s}" . "\\section*{%s}")
("\\subsection{%s}" . "\\subsection*{%s}")
("\\paragraph{%s}" . "\\paragraph*{%s}")
("\\subparagraph{%s}" . "\\subparagraph*{%s}")))

Once you have added these to .emacs, in the org-mode you have to define #LaTeX_CLASS: tuftehandout or #LaTeX_CLASS: tuftebook to invoke this style in the tex output.

Enjoy the Tuftesque typesetting in your own work! Some snippets from my work in progress, no figures so far.

Title Page

Main text

# World We Live In

“I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. That’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under.”

via Techdirt.

# Triple Standards

With the case of Tarun Tejpal exposed there was a media flurry for breaking the news to the audience. But it was a broken news, it did not need breaking. Though I am not against questions Mr. Tejpal, and some media houses questioning Tehelka having double standards this episode needs a deeper analysis.

Sometime back the Niraa Radia tapes appeared in the public. And they were breaking the news. But soon some very interesting personalities also surfaced in the tapes. They included the likes of Ratan Tata and Barkha Dutt amongst others. And suddenly there was a complete radio silence on that. It seems NDTV especially became really silent about this whole issue. But more importantly none of the other media houses dared to raise questions to Ms. Dutt, the tone and manner which we are seeing in case of Mr. Tejpal, via Shoma Choudhary. Since we have already crossed the double standards, I call this particular episode from media having “Triple Standards”. One for themselves, one for the general public and one for vendetta against fellow reporters who might have made them uncomfortable in the past.

Personally for me, the case against Ms. Dutt was for more serious and grave as the future of entire country was being decided, though no “individuals” were harmed. And also the intent and tonality of the Radia tapes just shows how powerful and at the same time morally corrupt the media have become. So far Mr. Tejpal is concerned he admitted to and will perhaps face law for what he has done. But what about Ms. Dutt? No cases, not even a CBI enquiry! The matter has been suppressed well. Forget about law, one has a feeling that collective amnesia that media is presenting in this case will make even people forget that this incident ever happened. Even after all this there seems to be no remorse and none of other journalist dared ask accountability from Ms. Dutt or for that matter anyone else from NDTV. So this vehement attack on Tehelka on this issue seems more like a soap opera which shows that they do not leave out people from media when they are exposed. What about themselves?

I just no longer see Ms. Dutt speaking on behalf of “We The People” for she is no longer one of us, but rather firmly on the other side.

# Privatization, Responsibility and Corruption

Privatisation seems to have gone from dynamic ideological choice, to route of least resistance for the state to abdicate its responsibility in a variety of policy areas. Anything difficult and measurable – problem schools; elderly care; waste disposal; big infrastructure projects – is left to private capital. In exactly the same way that outsourcing has evolved for private enterprise, it has become an expensive way of getting rid of problems to which those in charge have no solutions.

It is much easier to close a free school than to explain why a state school has gone disastrously wrong.

via theguardian

The same is happening in India. Now they are planning to privatize airports and Indian Airlines on the reasons of efficiency. For education, the government supports private school with aids. When the same money could have been used to better the government schools. In each sector the reliance on private sector to do the jobs is increasing. Even in case of vehicles in government offices, the trend is that you employ a private vehicle and a driver, instead of having a driver on the payroll. So is the case with computer maintenance. In each government office there are private firms which are paid large sums to make sure that the computers are kept running. Why can’t there be an internal department to look after that? The privatization both complete and contractual, lead to massive corruption opportunities for both politicians and the bureaucrats as can be seen in the recent series of scams that have surfaced in India. The main problem that is facing the people is privatization of our natural resources and that of responsibilities of the Government, the resulting corruption is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a symptom of the disease. Even then the major media houses never question, why these mega scams became possible in the first place? They are more eager to make scapegoats out of certain people, but the system which allowed the scams to happen is never challenged.

That said, it seems the ideological stance privatization, resulting in denial of responsibility of state and loss of money from the public purse cannot be halted unless there is a strong pressure from within to halt such measures.

# Topological Art

ILLUSTRATIONS FOR TOPOLOGY

From the book Introduction to Topology by Yu. Borisovich, N. Bliznyakov, Ya. Izrailevich, T. Fomenko. The book was published by Mir Publishers in 1985.

ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER I

The central part of the picture presents the standard embedding chain of crystalline groups of the three dimensions of Euclidean space: their standard groups embedded into each other are depicted as fundamental domains (Platonic bodies: a cube, a tetrahedron, a dodecahedron). The platonic bodies are depicted classically, i.e., their canonical form is given, they are supported by two-dimensional surfaces (leaves), among which we discern the projective plane (cross-cap), and spheres with handles. The fantastic shapes and interlacings (as compared with the canonical objects) symbolizes the topological equivalence.

At the top, branch points of the Riemann surfaces of various multiplicities are depicted: on the right, those of the Riemann surfaces of the functions w=5z√ and w=z√; on the left below, that of the same function w=z√, and over it, a manifold with boundary realizing a bordism mod 3.

ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER II

The figure occupying most of the picture illustrates the construction of a topological space widely used in topology, i.e., a 2-adic solenoid possessing many interesting extremal properties. The following figures are depicted there: the first solid torus is shaded, the second is white, the third is shaded in dotted lines and the fourth is shaded doubly. To obtain the 2-adic solenoid , it is necessary to take an infinite sequence of nested solid tori, each of which encompasses previous twist along its parallel, and to form their intersection.

Inside the opening, a torus and a sphere with two handles are shown. The artist’s skill and his profound knowledge of geometry made it possible to represent complex interlacing of the four nested solid tori accurately.

ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER III

The canonical embedding of a surface of genus g into the three-dimensional Euclidean space is represented 0n the right . A homeomorphic embedding of the same surface is shown on the left . The two objects are homeomorphic, homotopic and even isotopic . The artist is a mathematician and he has chosen these two, very much different in their appearance, from an infinite set of homeomorphic images.

ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER IV

Here an infinite total space of covering over a two-dimensional surface, viz., a sphere with two handles, is depicted. The artist imparted the figure the shape of a python and made the base space of the covering look very intricate. Packing spheres into the three-dimensional Euclidean space and a figure homeomorphic to the torus are depicted outside the central object. The mathematical objects are placed so as to create a fantastic landscape.

ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER V

A regular immersion of the projective plane RP2 in R3 is represented in the centre on the black background. The largest figure is the Klein bottle (studied in topology as a non-orientable surface) cut in two (Moebius strips) along a generator by a plane depicted farther right along with the line intersection; the lower part is plunging downwards; the upper part is being deformed (by lifting the curve of intersection and building the surface up) into a surface with boundary S1; a disc is being glued to the last, which yields the surface RP2. The indicated immersion process can be also used for turning S2 inside out’ into R3.

On the outskirts of the picture, a triangulation of a part of the Klein bottle surface is represented.

A detailed explanation of this picture may serve as a material for as much as a lecture in visual topology.

It is in the interest of the publishers to confuse plagiarism with copyright. And many people wouldn’t know the difference. So here is a difference between the two:

First, plagiarism is a violation of academic norms but not illegal; copyright violation is illegal, but in truth pretty ubiquitous in academia. (Where did you get that PDF?)

Second, plagiarism is an offence against the author, while copyright violation is an offence against the copyright holder. In traditional academic publishing, they are usually not the same person, due to the ubiquity of copyright transfer agreements (CTAs).

Third, plagiarism applies when ideas are copied, whereas copyright violation occurs only when a specific fixed expression (e.g. sequence of words) is copied.

This would also relate to an earlier post, in making the difference between wrong and illegal. It can be exemplified in this case also.

Suppose for her research person A need a particular research article and she or her institution do not have access to it. What does A do?

Institutional Licensees shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that access to the Licensed
Content is limited to Authorized Users and to protect the Licensed Content from unpermitted use.

This clause essentially makes what happened between A and B illegal and just for sharing this article they might terminate the B’s institutional access to JSTOR. Now we can ask this question that whether the gesture on B’s part to help A was wrong and illegal both? As per definition by JSTOR this is clearly a violation of copyright. But what is the status of A’s research which emerges from this article given by B. Is it illegal? Can it be called as plagiarised (A gives proper citation of course)?

If you apply Kolhberg’s theory of moral development, the person who has the most developed morality will perhaps help the other without bothering about the copyright!

# Illegal and Wrong

We have to get out of the mindset of thinking that things are wrong because they are illegal. People make laws and people can change those laws.

Often people equate being illegal to being wrong. Though this may be true at times, it need not be always true. This is a fact that many people forget and do not think about.The laws that we have were made in a specific time with conditions pertaining to those times. And the fact that  they are made by people. They may not be relevant any more. Or it might be just that the laws presented views of the majority or of the rich and the powerful. And many times breaking the law itself is the right thing to do. Gandhi in his life showed this many times. So was it wrong when Gandhi broke the salt law, for example? If there is a law against speaking about wrongs government does, it would be illegal to break such a law, but would it be wrong?

# LaTeX Notes

This is a post for self-reference.

There are many LaTeX packages that I come across, and forget about them.

This page will keep a track of those packages. It will be updated with new hacks and packages that are useful.

\usepackage{libgreek}

\usepackage{pgfgantt}

• For including video/audio files in Beamer presentations

\usepackage{media9}

# Kindle, Lego and E-Books

What do you do when Digital Restrictions Management prevents you from doing a lot of things on your own device. I do not know if we can even say it is a device we own, as the company offering books to us can revoke the books at will, without asking you. This was infamously and ironically seen in the removal of Nineteen Eighty Four from Kindle devices without their owners permission.

This is what RMS has to say about Kindle and its practices by Amazon:

“This malicious device designed to attack the traditional freedoms of readers: There’s the freedom to acquire a book anonymously, paying cash — impossible with the Kindle for all well-known recent books. There’s the freedom to give, lend, or sell a book to anyone you wish — blocked by DRM and unjust licenses. Then there’s the freedom to keep a book — denied by a back door for remote deletion of books.”Richard Stallman

So what do you do against such mal-practices and devices operations which are defective by design?

Since these companies do all in their power to prevent users from taking any stuff out, using all hi-fi programming, what can one do about them?

Here is one low tech solution! And one fine use of Lego Mindstorms!

via DIY kindle scanner

Also if you are rather old-fashioned, and even lower tech solution would be to simply one can just make a carbon-copy of the Kindle e-book from a copier or scanner, thanks to their E ink technology, it is as good as a printed book.

# Case Building

“So this case is building and this case will build,”

via ToI

It seems the US of  A is bent on waging a war against Syria to remove Assad. First the civil war, which was a war by proxy. Many thought that what happened in Libya could also happen in Syria. But Assad proved more formidable than Gaddafi. And after months of civil war, there seems to be no end to Assad’s rule. This must have upset the US much, after all a proxy war also costs money. And if you do not get any returns, we you make more investment to get the returns. This is what US seems to be doing in this conflict. Of course, they could have politely asked Mr. Assad that he should step down voluntarily, but many doubt that if this would have worked. In case of Syria, Russia is backing them, so there seems to be some hope for them.

And it is almost laughable, when US president or his ADCs say the word “evidence”. They are crying wolf again. Maybe one should ask US president, where are the WMDs in Iraq? This was the presumed reason for their invasion of Iraq, though some believe that actually it was the oil of the American companies that the Iraqis were living on hostage, which actually led to the war. But, even after so many years, they have yet to find any evidence for WMDs in Iraq. Perhaps, they supplied them to Syria, which is using them against their own citizens. So this is not a new war, but a continuation of the Iraq War. This is also reflected in comparison of Assad to Saddam and Hitler. And what about Hitler? Since the comparison has been made, this attack might be a continuation of the World War 2, in which holocaust happened, and now due to which innocent people in Syria will be killed with “precision strikes”.  That explains the Israel part well in the column.

And morality it seems has changed its meaning in Amerika. Perhaps one should not forget that US of A has done war crimes

Can a government that supported the use of chemical weapons in one conflict claim any moral, political or legal authority militarily to attack another country for using the same weapons, particularly when the attack is not authorised by the UN Security Council?

Not only did the US aid the use of chemical weapons by the former Iraqi government, it also used chemical weapons on a large scale during its 1991 and 2003 invasions of Iraq, in the form of depleted-uranium (DU) ammunition.

As Dahr Jamail’s reporting for Al Jazeera has shown, the use of DU by the US and UK has very likely been the cause not only of many cases of Gulf War Syndrome suffered by Iraq war veterans, but also of thousands of instances of birth defects, cancer and other diseases – causing a “large-scale public health disaster” and the “highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied” – suffered by Iraqis in areas subjected to frequent and intense attacks by US and allied occupation forces.

Thus what we have now is a situation in which a government (the United States) that has both supported and committed large-scale and systematic war crimes in one country (Iraq) is leading the international effort to stop Iraq’s neighbour Syria from continuing to use chemical weapons against its own people.

via Al-Jazeera

He invoked the crimes of Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and the potential threat to Israel from Syria and Iran… (op cit.)

This perhaps tells us one more thing. This actually might be a continuation of World War 2 and Saddam and Assad are seen as heirs of Hitler. And they have to punished because there was a holocaust, see how logically the problem of Israel emerges in all this chaos!

Of course the next target seems to be Iran, but for now, it seems they would be happy to get Syria as well.

Although Obama has asked for congressional approval for the attack, this approval is not mandatory for the attack. It seems this is just a strategy to make it look legitimate. And after UK has bowed out of the possible attack, it seems that Obama will have to use the later option. And all the (un)evidence, is used to case building the case against Syria.

And finally this entire episode can be seen as actualization of the statement:

If you don’t come to democracy, democracy will come to you.

# Cost of environment

Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha on Tuesday blamed Congress leader and union minister Jairam Ramesh as being “singularly responsible for shaving off 2.5% of the GDP” by not giving environmental clearance to projects during his stint as the environment minister, escalating the war of words between the two.

via ET

Mr. Sinha should understand that economy is not everything. If at all protecting environment costs so much of GDP indirectly, even then it is okay. Perhaps we should provide 2.5% of GDP to protect our environment, and that would ensure it will remain for posterity.  The rampant rape of environment in form of various “developmental” projects and its toll on the flora and fauna is something that needs to be stopped. For example consider the illegal and legal mining in Goa and its impact on the fragile ecosystem there. Ramesh had a choice, and he exercised it. How many ministers do that? If the environment ministry will itself not worry about the environment then who will? Sinha in criticizing Ramesh seems to have forgotten this basic fact. Otherwise what is the reason for the Environment ministry to exist? For there are certain things that cannot be equalized in terms of money, and our flora and fauna is one of them. Mr. Sinha should understand that extinction is forever, no amount of money can bring back lost species or lost ecosystems. But people who are corrupted by lure of money at any cost (to environment and other people) will not understand this. Even if they do, their priorities are set by the bottom line, which is money.

# The Textbook Liberation Project

“We aim for maximum financial impact against the publishing industry and maximum political impact among the University administration and faculty. This will force the complicit parties to declare which side they want to stand on,”

via TorrentFreak.

via Tehelka

# Nothing remains to be held…

” It happens, sometimes, that things are too much.

Stacks overflow.

Trusses break.

I get that.

What I don’t get is: how one barrels through.

Where does that strength come from?

How is it fed?

And if it doesn’t appear on command, how does one hold on, waiting?

Everything is collapsing.

By definition, that means: nothing remains to be held. ”

~ Anon.

via Lessig Blog, v2.

via Techdirt

Consider this was a physical book, you would be fined for smuggling books that you have legitimately brought or your books taken under protective custody by someone, after all they contain the most dangerous things known to humans – ideas!

# Important Lesson

“This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without Congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States,”

via NYTimes

Read the article. What would you do when faced with such situation?

# Open Access Manifesto

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it
for themselves. The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published
over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked
up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the
most famous results of the sciences? You'll need to send enormous amounts to
publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought
valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but
instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow
anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only
apply to things published in the future.  Everything up until now will have been
lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work
of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at
universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It's
outrageous and unacceptable.

"I agree," many say, "but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights,
they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it's perfectly
legal - there's nothing we can do to stop them." But there is something we can,
something that's already being done: we can fight back.

Those with access to these resources - students, librarians, scientists - you
have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while
the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not - indeed, morally, you
cannot - keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with
requests for friends.

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have
been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information
locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It's called
stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral
equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn't
immoral - it's a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to
let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they
operate require it - their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the
politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the
exclusive power to decide who can make copies.

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It's time to come into the light
and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to
this private theft of public culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share
them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to
the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to
to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we'll not just send a strong message
opposing the privatization of knowledge - we'll make it a thing of the past.

Aaron Swartz

July 2008, Eremo, Italy

via | Open Access Manifesto


# NYT Newspeak

Asylum is for people who are afraid to return to their own country because they fear persecution, unlawful imprisonment or even death because of their race, their ethnicity, their religion, their membership in particular social or political groups, or their political beliefs.

Mr. Snowden undoubtedly fears returning home because he would be arrested and prosecuted. But those fears do not qualify him for asylum. And does he really feel safer in a country where Mr. Putin, an increasingly authoritarian leader, has jailed and persecuted his critics?

via NYTimes

This is complete newspeak on part of NYT. Mark the last words in the first quote “their political beliefs”. The case of Snowden is not about military secrets, but about his political beliefs. The belief that those in power should not abuse it, the belief that those who have abused the power should be brought to light. It is in fact for these very beliefs they are targeting him.

And why should not he fear arrest and prosecution? As they have done with Manning, they will do with him and Assange. This would be just to set an example, so that no one else does it. Actually Putin and Obama are no different. If at all someone from any other country, lets say Cuba, would come to the US, having leaked Cuban secrets, won’t the US consider giving them asylum. And does giving that person the asylum, has to do anything with how Obama himself is running the show. If spying on your own people, breaching their privacy to the fullest is okay then jailing and persecuting the critics is no different.

# What is in thy name?

They say “What is in the name?”, I ask “What is in thy name?”

I use the alias damitr in many places. It is actually an acronym for my full name. My name among its various meanings also means something which is ‘the immeasurable.’ But recently while solving an anagram problem it had an idea: what all meanings can be derived from this acronym?

So I used a Free Software named an,  apparently one of the original writers of the program is Julian Assange. But the usage is very simple, and it is available on Debian repositories,

So I typed

\$an damitr

And I got all the possible combinations of these 6 words. It turned out some of them are quite meaningful and do actually make sense why I am ‘the immeasurable’!

Some of the interesting  anagrams are:

dirt am

am  dirt !

dirt ma

ma dirt

dart i’m

i’m dart

dart mi

dram it

Mt. Arid

Mt. Raid

rid mat

rid tam
dim tar

dim art

dim rat
mid art

Dr Mita

Dr. Amit!

Dr Tima

Dr. Tami

Dr. Itam !

di mart
i’d mart
id mart
id tram
i’d tram
di tram

d tarim

Among others…

# Storms Heralding The Monsoon

Continuing with our last post, about the monsoons this is another entry from The Charm of Bombay, an anthology of writings in praise of the first city in India (1915) edited by Rustomji Pestonji Karkaria 1869-1919.

Storms Heralding the Monsoon.

Sir George-Birdwood.

London Times, Jan. 1880

Apud Bombay Gazetteer Vol. XIV pp. 247-248,

# Monsoon Cometh..

Now that Some parts of India are experiencing a heat-wave, people are looking forward to coming of the monsoons. Which mark an end to the annual saga of heat. This post has some descriptions by a British of how coming of the monsoon is experienced in Bombay.

This is from The Charm of Bombay, an anthology of writings in praise of the first city in India (1915) edited by Rustomji Pestonji Karkaria 1869-1919.

BURST OF THE MONSOON.

Henry Moses

The day at length arrives when the windows of heaven are to be opened, and man’s anxious doubts and fears are to be dispelled by this gracious provision for his wants. Dark clouds towards noon, gather in the south-west, and gradually steal over the azure firmament, casting a gloomy shadow upon the earth, and obscuring the intensity of the sun’s rays as they flit over his surface in their onward progress. A current of cool, strange air now denotes some remarkable atmospheric change. The ocean is unusually agitated; the waves are lifted up hurried onwards as the breeze increases — the angry waters come foaming and roaring towards the shore, and are broken with violence upon the rock ; receding but to break again with redoubled force. Distant peals of thunder echo among the lofty Ghauts far down the coast, and vivid streams of forked lightning illumine their peaked summits. The dry leaves of the lofty palms rattle overhead, and the forests are agitated and shaken as the hurricane roars through their solemn vistas, and breaks in upon their profound stillness. The soaring kite flaps his outstretched wings, as he rises alarmed from his lone perch, and is hurried away upon the storm. The cattle on the plains congregate together, as if driven by some irresistible impulse to seek the shelter and protection of each other, and lie down with their heads close to the earth, as if conscious of approaching danger; and the poor Hindoo wraps his muslin kummerband tighter around him, as the cool air expands its many folds, and exposes his delicately formed limbs to the chilly blast. The skies become darkened, and sheets of blazing lightning, followed up by the roar of deafening thunder, succeed each other with fearful rapidity; and, though in broad day, the eye can scarcely bear to look upon the flaming heavens, so in- tense is their brightness.

The elements are indeed at war. Large drops of rain begin to fall ; and falling, raise up, in consequence of their weight, a cloud of dust ; and then, within a brief space, the mighty clouds descend upon the thirsty land. The tempest is terrific to behold, and man trembles beneath the storm. He seeks in haste the shelter of his mud- built cabin, and mutters a hurried prayer to the stone idol which he has set up. The high houses in the Fort of Bombay vibrate with every clap of thunder; doors and windows, and walls and floors are shaken by the loud artillery of heaven. Torrents of water pour down from every roof, and bound over, in broken streams, the sounding verandahs below them, sweeping the various streets as the flood rushes onward, laden with mud and rubbish, towards the sea.

To those persons who have but just arrived in the country, and who, having never experienced the setting in of this remarkable season, have formed from description but an imperfect idea of that change, the scene is pregnant with horror of every kind. The newly-arrived Englishwoman in particular suffers exceedingly at this period, being scarcely able to divest herself of the impression, that everything around her is about to be destroyed or washed away; yet it is very seldom that accidents occur or that property is seriously injured. Occasionally we hear of exposed houses being struck by lightning on the Island, of old palm trees blown down, and of leaf roofs being dispersed to the four winds of heaven ; for woe be unto him who lives in a bungalow with a bad roof, or in one whose spouts are out of order; but with these exceptions, Europeans on shore have but little to be alarmed about for their personal safety.

Sketches of India, 1850, pages 84-88.

# Déjà vu of déjà vu

I was introduced to the term déjà vu from The Matrix. This is how the scene unfolds:

[Neo sees a black cat walk by them, and then a similar black cat walk by them just like the first one]
Neo: Whoa. Déjà vu.
[Everyone freezes right in their tracks]
Trinity: What did you just say?
Neo: Nothing. Just had a little déjà vu.
Trinity: What did you see?
Cypher: What happened?
Neo: A black cat went past us, and then another that looked just like it.
Trinity: How much like it? Was it the same cat?
Neo: It might have been. I’m not sure.
Morpheus: Switch! Apoc!
Neo: What is it?
Trinity: A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.

Now let us leave The Matrix for now and enter the real world. I mean our world, and I am not Morpheus. We had a lot of issues with the quandrangular cat recently at my working place. Now don’t ask what a quandrangular cat is? If you don’t know already, you don’t need to know. Remember, in the first approximation the cow is a spherical object.

Circa, a few months back we had a sorry looking undomesticated cat, who was domesticated, nursed back to health, and attained zen (if you don’t believe me see the picture above (Picture Credits: Rafikh)). This was only possible by the warmth of many people’s affections and efforts. But unfortunately the cat overstayed, unwelcomed by some, on GoI property (without paying any taxes!) which wrecked havoc and created a red alert. To further complicate the matters, we could not for sure determine if the cat was a he or a she! The presence of cat in the campus was as good as an extinction event, extinction of one’s peace of mind and good vibes. that is. This called for extreme measures to show cat (and the ailurophiles ) their respective places. The entire drama was just short of executing the cat (and the ailurophiles ) in public. The cat was sent into exile, and if the reports coming in believed to be true, even there it is creating extinction events!

Now. Yesterday, déjà vu ! I see a similar cat in the same place approaching me similarly, well not almost as same as Neo’s black cat but quite similar. And I almost said as Neo does, (but I am neither Neo) “déjà vu!” First thing I thought was the déjà vu  in The Matrix. But then this is a déjà vu of déjà vu, and cats are involved in both of them. What is it with cats and déjà vu? Déjà vu  recursive, nothing more groovier than that! Four cats in all. The newer cat, which caused the current déjà vu , was smaller and in sorrier state and also approached me on the same table as earlier one. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of the newer cat for comparison. Will this create another leela (pun intended), which would be another déjà vu for both ailurophiles and ailurophobes? Actually if semantics of earlier sentence are seen, then we come to conclusion that leela  and déjà vu are same 😛

Now it remains to be seen what has changed in The Matrix.

PS: This new cat seems to have set the ball rolling, it is already making people uncomfortable, causing extinction events!

# From or with?

My place was not with the heroes, but with the rablle, with the men who had been pressed into the ranks by force of arms, or force of hunger, with nothing to fight or work for and little to gain; whose function in the epics was to be slaughtered by the heroes; whose role, according to the historians, was to provide a mere background for the deeds of great men. The heroes of a money-making society rose from the people, at the expense of the people; I could rise only with the common people.

D. D. Kosambi | The Kanpur Road | Exasperating Essays

# Radical Openness – Scientific Research

“The more we’re getting into this the more it’s apparent this is a radical new way to scientific research. Traditional research is done in an institution with patent protection. IP protection and patents slows progress because it reduces collaboration and makes it harder to build on the work of others. Our project, we don’t have a central body. It’s the public, they’re the ones who get excited. Because we’re not beholden to shareholders we can create a community.”

I just hope that this project is successful and will create a new way of doing scientific research which will involve common people.

# From the speech which was never delivered…

(Sketch by Karen Haydock)

This post has some quotes (and my reflections on them) from the book The Annihilation of Caste by B. R. Ambedkar. The book has an essay of the same title which Ambedkar was to give in a Conference of a anti-caste mandal in Lahore. This particular speech, unfortunately, was never delivered. The organizers of the speech objected to certain ideas and words in the speech, which Ambedkar refused to remove, this ultimately resulted in cancellation of the event. In the book before the actual essay begins, it has a series of letters exchanged between Ambedkar and the organizers. The letters show how many feathers can be ruffled, just by words which are well thought out, well chosen and well aimed. The analysis of problems of caste by Ambedkar, and its possible solution is a radical one. This surely unsettled people then, as it will now, even though lot of water has passed since Ambedkar wrote this essay, people and their thoughts have not changed. But Ambedkar was not only man of words, he was one who had the will to put his words in action too. And he indeed left the fold of Hinduism, under which he did not believe there was any emancipation for the dalits.

The radical approach of Ambedkar was not looked upon kindly by most people, especially the leaders. It exposes the ineffective steps taken by both the National Congress as well as Socialists in eradication of caste. Ambedkar argues that their efforts will never
be successful as the problem of caste is inherent to the way of Hindu religion and is essential for its survival. I think in all
this analysis, it sort of became pressing on Gandhi to write a counter to the essay, so Gandhi wrote against this essay in
Harijan. The the appendix has sections of Gandhi’s view on the essay and Ambedkar’s reply to it. Ambedkar’s reply to Gandhi, to put it mildly, is brutal. The force with which he tears apart the argument put forth by Gandhi in his defence of the varna system,
and his idea of following saints as exemplars of religious faith, is something which must have been brewing in his mind for long. He bisects Gandhi in to two: the politician and the saint, which are trying to live by the philosophy preached by him. And he shows that this philosophy is just clinging on to “archaic social structure of the Hindus”.

Ambedkar gives a rationale for why he wrote a reply to Gandhi:

This I have done not because what he has said is so weighty as to deserve a reply but because to many a Hindu he is an oracle, so
great that when he opens his lips it is expected that the argument must close and no dog must bark. But the world owes much to rebels who would dare to argue in the face of the pontiff and insist that he is not infallible. I do not care for the credit which every
progressive society must give to its rebels. I shall be satisfied if I make the Hindus realize that they are the sick men of India
and that their sickness is causing danger to the health and happiness of other Indians.

This essay is an eye-opener regards to views of Ambedkar on caste system,and gives us his ideological position on the issues. What
emerges from the reading is that Ambedkar was a rational person. In the sentiments that he has expressed in the essay you can feel the urgency about the things he talks about and at the same time they are not just emotional blurts, but well thought about and
exemplified rational arguments. He elaborates profusely with examples from history and his own times and quotes from many, and builds a convincing case for his ideas, and radical they are.

It is a pity that many of his (so called) followers of today don’t follow his ideas in principle or in spirit.

### Prelude to the speech which was never delivered

Ambedkar in his reply on cancelling the Conference for which the speech was made he takes the organizers to task for being not able to keep their word.

I did not expect that your Mandal would be so upset because I have spoken of the destruction of Hindu Religion. I thought it was only fools who were afraid of words. But lest there should be any misapprehension in the minds of the people I have taken great pains to explain what I mean by religion and destruction of religion. I am sure that nobody on reading my address could possibly misunderstand me. That your Mandal should have taken a fright at mere words as destruction of religion etc. notwithstanding the explanation that accompanies them does not raise the Mandal in my estimation. One cannot have any respect or regard for men who take the position of the Reformer and then refuse even to see the logical consequences of that position, let alone following them out in action.

Ambedkar makes it clear that he is not ready to give up his ideological commitments, just for the sake of this speech.

When I see you object even to such a passing and so indirect a reference, I feel bound to ask did you think that in agreeing to preside over your Conference I would be agreeing to suspend or to give up my views regarding change of faith by the Depressed Classes If you did think so I must tell you that I am in no way responsible for such a mistake on your part. If any of you had even hinted to me that in exchange for the honour you were doing me by electing as President, I was to abjure my faith in my programme of conversion, I would have told you in quite plain terms that I cared more for my faith than for any honour from you.

I told you when you were in Bombay that I would not alter a comma, that I would not allow any censorship over my address and that you would have to accept the address as it came from me. I also told you that the responsibility. for the views expressed in the address was entirely mine and if they were not liked by the Conference I would not mind at all if the Conference passed a resolution condemning them.

And finally in exasperation he gives up on the idea of speech thus:

All the grace has by now run out and I shall not consent to preside even if your Committee agreed to accept my address as it is – in toto. I thank you for your appreciation of the pains I have taken in the preparation of the address. I certainly have profited by the labour if no one else does.

I think the fact that speech was indeed never delivered makes it even more powerful, while reading it almost seems that ambedkar is talking to you, directly. And profited, even I have been, by reading this essay.

### From the Speech that was never delivered

In the speech itself, Ambedkar makes it amply clear that he knows that he is hated by caste Hindus and the reasons for it. And he makes it also clear that it was not his, but the organizers choice that he be there. And it is no wonder that the offsprings of these Hindus hate him still.

I have criticised the Hindus. I have questioned the authority of
the Mahatma whom they revere. They hate me. To them I am a snake
in their garden. The Mandal will no doubt be asked by the
politically-minded Hindus to explain why it has called me to fill
this place of honour. It is an act of great daring. I shall not be
surprised if some political Hindus regard it as an insult. This
selection of mine cannot certainly please the ordinary
religiously-minded Hindus.

As for myself you will allow me to say that I have accepted the
invitation much against my will and also against the will of many
of my fellow untouchables. I know that the Hindus are sick of
me. I know that I am not a persona grata with them. Knowing all
this I have deliberately kept myself away from them. I have no
desire to inflict myself upon them. I have been giving expression
to my views from my own platform. This has already caused a great
deal of heartburning and irritation. I have no desire to ascend
the platform of the Hindus to do within their sight what I have
been doing within their hearing. If I am here it is because of
your choice and not because of my wish.

Ambedkar then traces the history of social reforms for caste eradication, in which the National Congress and Socialists choose
political and economic reforms respectively as the approach. The socialists eventually were outnumbered and the National Congress had their way, in bringing political reforms first and then the social ones. Ambedkar thinks that social reforms should be primal over others and without them neither the political nor the economic reforms hold any value. But then he asks :

Does it prove that the victory went to those who were in the right? Does it prove conclusively that social reform has no bearing on political reform ?

Who is fit to rule? Does just the mandate for the political party make it fit to rule? This question is pertinent more today, as we
have experimented with democracy for over six decades now. This is something that we need to ask our political class, why should even after so many reforms and so many years and so many promises many of the facts which Ambedkar states are still existent in India?

Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow a
large class of your own countrymen like the untouchables to use
public school ? Are you fit for political power even though you do
not allow them the use of public wells ? Are you fit for political
power even though you do not allow them the use of public streets
? Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow
them to wear what apparel or ornaments they like ? Are you fit for
political power even though you do not allow them to eat any food
they like ?

And on social reformers who have done some reforms he says the following. The reforms were more of cosmetic nature, which did affect only a few amongst the masses and that too mostly from the privileged classes.

It (social reforms) consisted mostly of enlightened high caste
Hindus who did not feel the necessity for agitating for the
abolition of caste or had not the courage to agitate for it. They
felt quite naturally a greater urge to remove such evils as
enforced widowhood, child marriages etc., evils which prevailed
among them and which were personally felt by them. They did not
stand up for the reform of the Hindu society. The battle that was
fought centered round the question of the reform of the family. It
did not relate to the social reform in the sense of the break-up
of the caste system.

On a side note Ambedkar does not mention the work done by Phule in regards to caste eradication here. He is also critical of the
approach of socialists who consider economic reforms to be primal over religious and social reforms. Here he concludes that any reforms that do not tackle the issue of religion and society first will be futile, like drawing line on surface of water.

The fallacy of the Socialists lies in supposing that because in
the present stage of European Society property as a source of
power is predominant, that the same is true of India or that the
same was true of Europe in the past. Religion, social status and
property are all sources of power and authority, which one man
has, to control the liberty of another. One is predominant at one
stage; the other is predominant at another stage. That is the only
difference. If liberty is the ideal, if liberty means the
destruction of the dominion which one man holds over another then
obviously it cannot be insisted upon that economic reform must be
the one kind of reform worthy of pursuit. If the source of power
and dominion is at any given time or in any given society social
and religious then social reform and religious reform must be
accepted as the necessary sort of reform.

Can you have economic reform without first bringing about a reform of the social order ?

And what do the socialist promise after the revolution? Just assurances do not suffice for him. Is there a concrete plan he asks?

The assurance of a socialist leading the revolution that he does
not believe in caste, I am sure, will not suffice. The assurance
must be the assurance proceeding from much deeper foundation,
namely, the mental attitude of the compatriots towards one another
in their spirit of personal equality and fraternity. Can it be
said that the proletariat of India, poor as it is, recognise no
distinctions except that of the rich and the poor ? Can it be said
that the poor in India recognize no such distinctions of caste or
creed, high or low ? If the fact is that they do, what unity of
front can be expected from such a proletariat in its action
against the rich ?

How can there be a revolution if the proletariat cannot present a
united front?

If Socialists are not to be content with the mouthing of fine
phrases, if the Socialists wish to make Socialism a definite
reality then they must recognize that the problem of social reform
is fundamental and that for them there is no escape from it.

This is only another way of saying that, turn in any direction you
like, caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have
political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill
this monster.

Caste System is not merely division of labour. It is also a
division of labourers.

As an economic organization Caste is therefore a harmful
institution, in as much as, it involves the subordination of man’s
natural powers and inclinations to the exigencies of social rules.

We see the point that Ambedkar is trying to get across to the Socialists. He sees what they are missing and tries to bring them to
the reality of caste which, if not tackled earlier will have to be tackled. It seems many a leaders at that time were under the impression that caste was a minor problem, in time it would magically get resolved, when the society is developed economically and politically. But the current state of affairs just proves how wrong they were. Though there is some political and economical and social development, the deep roots of caste that have permeated to the core of the Indian society are strong as ever.

In defense of the caste system some seemingly rational people broughtin “scientific”eugenics. When Ambedkar wrote this speech, it was a time when still the ugly face of eugenics was not seen in its full force. Attempts to incorporate “survival of the fittest” and of
“improving the human stock” were in vogue. It fitted the imperialistic policies very well. I think the eugenic movement was a zeitgeist of those times, as Indian thinkers also jumped into the bandwagon for the protection of pure-blood strains, origins some of which can be puranically traced to the creation of the Universe itself. And many of the idealogues passed on this jumping to their subsequent followers, who are now in full throttle regarding the purity of the Aryan race and its “contamination” by others. But Ambedkar argues that this is not the case as neither the inter-marriage nor the inter-dining, which are two pillars of caste establishment, helps anyway in selecting the best.

Caste system does not demarcate racial division. Caste system is a
social division of people of the same race. Assuming it, however,
to be a case of racial divisions one may ask : What harm could
there be if a mixture of races and of blood was permitted to take
place in India by intermarriages between different Castes ? Men
are no doubt divided from animals by so deep a distinction that
science recognizes men and animals as two distinct species. But
even scientists who believe in purity of races do not assert that
the different races constitute different species of men. They are
only varieties of one and the same species. As such they can
interbreed and produce an offspring which is capable of breeding
and which is not sterile. An immense lot of nonsense is talked
about heredity and eugenics in defence of the Caste System. Few
would object to the Caste System if it was in accord with the
basic principle of eugenics because few can object to the
improvement of the race by judicious mating. But one fails to
understand how the Caste System secures judicious mating. Caste
System is a negative thing. It merely prohibits persons belonging
to different Castes from intermarrying. It is not a positive
method of selecting which two among a given Caste should marry. If
Caste is eugenic in origin then the origin of sub-Castes must also
be eugenic. But can any one seriously maintain that the origin of
sub-Castes is eugenic ? I think it would be absurd to contend for
such a proposition and for a very obvious reason.

Again if Caste is eugenic in origin one can understand the bar
against intermarriage. But what is the purpose of the interdict
placed on interdining between Castes and sub-Castes alike ?
Interdining cannot infect blood and therefore cannot be the cause
either of the improvement or of deterioration of the race. This
shows that Caste has no scientific origin and that those who are
attempting to give it an eugenic basis are trying to support by
science what is grossly unscientific.

To argue that the Caste System was eugenic in its conception is to
attribute to the forefathers of present-day Hindus a knowledge of
heredity which even the modern scientists do not possess.

This shows that the Caste System does not embody the eugenics of
modern scientists. It is a social system which embodies the
arrogance and selfishness of a perverse section of the Hindus who
were superior enough in social status to set it in fashion and who
had authority to force it on their inferiors.

And for a Hindu society he says that the term itself has a foreign origin. This might ruffle some feathers now, especially of those who are trying to save the “Hindu” cause.

The first and foremost thing that must be recognized is that Hindu
Society is a myth. The name Hindu is itself a foreign name. It was
given by the Mohammedans to the natives for the purpose of
distinguishing themselves. It does not occur in any Sanskrit work
prior to the Mohammedan invasion. They did not feel the necessity
of a common name because they had no conception of their having
constituted a community. Hindu society as such does not exist. It
is only a collection of castes.

Since our childhood, we were fed on the by the media and society that India is a nation that embodies “Unity in Diversity”. We have so much which is diverse, languages, customs, costumes, foods and yet it was told to us that in every one of us there is a thread of being an Indian. This is something which the state propaganda machine has dutifully and very well filled in the Indian mindset. Even during his era, this phrase was much used. The very idea that there is a Hindu society, is something which is not acceptable to him.

In every Hindu the consciousness that exists is the consciousness
of his caste. That is the reason why the Hindus cannot be said to
form a society or a nation. There are however many Indians whose
patriotism does not permit them to admit that Indians are not a
nation, that they are only an amorphous mass of people. They have
insisted that underlying the apparent diversity there is a
fundamental unity which marks the life of the Hindus in as much as
there is a similarity of habits and customs, beliefs and thoughts
which obtain all over the continent of India. Similarity in habits
and customs, beliefs and thoughts there is. But one cannot accept
the conclusion that therefore, the Hindus constitute a society. To
do so is to misunderstand the essentials which go to make up a
society. Men do not become a society by living in physical
proximity any more than a man ceases to be a member of his society
by living so many miles away from other men. Secondly similarity
in habits and customs, beliefs and thoughts is not enough to
constitute men into society.

He summarizes his idea thus:

To have similar thing is totally different from possessing things in common.

And about the anti-social spirit which is so permeating in our society he gives roots in caste system.

An anti-social spirit is found wherever one group has ” interests
of its own ” which shut it out from full interaction with other
groups, so that its prevailing purpose is protection of what it
has got. This anti-social spirit, this spirit of protecting its
own interests is as much a marked feature of the different castes
in their isolation from one another as it is of nations in their
isolation. The Brahmin’s primary concern is to protect ” his
interest ” against those of the non-Brahmins and the non-Brahmin’s
primary concern is to protect their interests against those of the
Brahmins. The Hindus, therefore, are not merely an assortment of
castes but they are so many warring groups each living for itself
and for its selfish ideal.

And on why the aboriginal tribes exist, even when we others are reaping fruits of “development”.

in their midst, and cultivating fellow-feeling, in short loving
them. How is it possible for a Hindu to do this ? His whole life
is one anxious effort to preserve his caste. Caste is his precious
possession which he must save at any cost. He cannot consent to
lose it by establishing contact with the aborigines the remnants
of the hateful Anary as of the Vedic days. Not that a Hindu could
not be taught the sense of duty to fallen humanity, but the
trouble is that no amount of sense of duty can enable him to
overcome his duty to preserve his caste. Caste is, therefore, the
real explanation as to why the Hindu has let the savage remain a
savage in the midst of his civilization without blushing or
without feeling any sense of remorse or repentance.

And on comparing cruelty inflicted by Hindus and Muslims, he sees that the former are actually worse off than the later.

The Hindus criticise the Mohammedans for having spread their
religion by the use of the sword. They also ridicule Christianity
on the score of the inquisition. But really speaking who is better
and more worthy of our respect—the Mohammedans and Christians who
attempted to thrust down the throats of unwilling persons what
they regarded as necessary for their salvation or the Hindu who
would not spread the light, who would endeavour to keep others in
darkness, who would not consent to share his intellectual and
social inheritance with those who are ready and willing to make it
a part of their own make-up ? I have no hesitation in saying that
if the Mohammedan has been cruel the Hindu has been mean and
meanness is worse than cruelty.

And on why Hindu religion cannot have people converted, as again caste factor comes in and has been detrimental to its spread.

Hindu religion ceased to be a missionary religion when the Caste
System grew up among the Hindus. Caste is inconsistent with
conversion. Inculcation of beliefs and dogmas is not the only
problem that is involved in conversion. To find a place for the
convert in the social life of the community is another and a much
more important problem that arises in connection with
conversion. That problem is where to place the convert, in what
caste ? It is a problem which must baffle every Hindu wishing to
make aliens converts to his religion. Unlike the club the
membership of a caste is not open to all and sundry. The law of
caste confines its membership to person born in the caste. Castes
are autonomous and there is no authority anywhere to compel a
caste to admit a new-comer to its social life. Hindu Society being
a collection of castes and each caste being a close corporation
there is no place for a convert. Thus it is the caste which has
prevented the Hindus from expanding and from absorbing other
religious communities. So long as caste remain, Hindu religion
cannot be made a missionary religion and Shudhi will be both a
folly and a futility.

Ambedkar does not see kindly towards the so called “tolerance” of the Hindus. He instead says that they are tolerant because they cannot be otherwise.

The Hindus claim to be a very tolerant people. In my opinion this
is a mistake. On many occasions they can be intolerant and if on
some occasions they are tolerant that is because they are too weak
to oppose or too indifferent to oppose. This indifference of the
Hindus has become so much a part of their nature that a Hindu will
quite meekly tolerate an insult as well as a wrong. You see
amongst them, to use the words of Morris, ” The great reading down
the little, the strong beating down the weak, cruel men fearing
not, kind men daring not and wise men caring not.”

And on social exclusion which was the principal way in which the caste system was forced upon the individual. This fact the entire tyranny of the caste system against the individual, is detrimental to the cause of the caste system. Those of us (like me) who are more or less living in urban areas, cannot perhaps imagine what complete exclusion from the society means, as we always have places to go and in the era of the internet new people to meet, if only virtually. And even there most of us do want social recognition by peers, above everything (How many likes on Facebook? How many views? How many tweets?). Peer pressure is very
demanding and we as an individual are devastated if we do are on the wrong side of it.

Now a caste has an unquestioned right to excommunicate any man who
is guilty of breaking the rules of the caste and when it is
realized that excommunication involves a complete cesser of social
intercourse it will be agreed that as a form of punishment there
is really little to choose between excommunication and death. No
wonder individual Hindus have not had the courage to assert their
independence by breaking the barriers of caste. It is true that
man cannot get on with his fellows. But it is also true that he
cannot do without them.

A caste is ever ready to take advantage of the helplessness of a
man and insist upon complete conformity to its code in letter and
in spirit. A caste can easily organize itself into a conspiracy to
make the life of a reformer a hell and if a conspiracy is a crime
I do not understand why such a nefarious act as an attempt to
excommunicate a person for daring to act contrary to the rules of
caste should not be made an offence punishable in law. But as it
is, even law gives each caste an autonomy to regulate its
membership and punish dissenters with excommunication. Caste in
the hands of the orthodox has been a powerful weapon for
persecuting the reforms and for killing all reform.

Then he talks about the idea of Democracy with reference to the caste system.

Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a
mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It
is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards
fellowmen.

What is your ideal society if you do not want caste is a question
that is bound to be asked of you. If you ask me, my ideal would be
a society based on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Ambedkar also talks about the effects of the social capital in assigning opportunities to people based on their merit, when equal
opportunities are presented to all – would not lead to an equal society. This is perhaps the seed of what was to become the quota
reservation system in the Constitution for different castes in the future.

It may be desirable to give as much incentive as possible to the
full development of every one’s powers. But what would happen if
men were treated unequally as they are, in the first two respects
? It is obvious that those individuals also in whose favour there
is birth, education, family name, business connections and
inherited wealth would be selected in the race. But selection
under such circumstances would not be a selection of the able. It
would be the selection of the privileged.

Ambedkar also dismisses the Chaturvarna theory of the Arya Samaj. In which people would be divided into the four categories dependent on their /qualities/ and not by their /birth/.

Even dependence of one class upon another may sometimes become
allowable. But why make one person depend upon another in the
matter of his vital needs ? Education everyone must have. Means of
defence everyone must have. These are the paramount requirements
of every man for his self-preservation. How can the fact that his
neighbour is educated and armed help a man who is uneducated and
disarmed. The whole theory is absurd.

And on why Manusmriti is still being followed and seen as a rationale for perpetuating the caste system and how it is connected
with the social status quo in India. Perhaps this also explains his burning of this particular book in 1927.

There is no code of laws more infamous regarding social rights
than the Laws of Manu. Any instance from anywhere of social
injustice must pale before it. Why have the mass of people
tolerated the social evils to which they have been subjected?
There have been social revolutions in other countries of the
world. Why have there not been social revolutions in India is a
question which has incessantly troubled me. There is only one
answer, which I can give and it is that the lower classes of
Hindus have been completely disabled for direct action on account
of this wretched system of Chaturvarnya. They could not bear arms
and without arms they could not rebel. They were all ploughmen or
rather condemned to be ploughmen and they never were allowed to
convert their ploughshare into swords. They had no bayonets and
therefore everyone who chose could and did sit upon them. On
account of the Chaturvarnya, they could receive no education. They
could not think out or know the way to their salvation. They were
condemned to be lowly and not knowing the way of escape and not
having the means of escape, they became reconciled to eternal
servitude, which they accepted as their inescapable fate.

…the weak in Europe has had in his freedom of military service
his physical weapon, in suffering his political weapon and in
education his moral weapon. These three weapons for emancipation
were never withheld by the strong from the weak in Europe. All
these weapons were, however, denied to the masses in India by
Chaturvarnya.

And regarding the caste amongst other religion vis-a-vis Hinduism, he makes the comparison and makes the distinction regarding the two. This is something that I have experienced personally being in Nagpur. People are never satisfied with your name, they want to know your surname, so that they can place you in hierarchy of how they want to treat you. If they assume that you are from so and so caste, their behavior towards you will abruptly change, and there is no law, no social sanction against this, against being rude to you based on your caste.

Again it must be borne in mind that although there are castes
among Non-Hindus, as there are among Hindus, caste has not the
same social significance for Non-Hindus as it has for Hindus. Ask
Mohammedan or a Sikh, who he is? He tells you that he is a
Mohammedan or a Sikh as the case may be. He does not tell you his
caste although he has one and you are satisfied with his
answer. When he tells you that he is a Muslim, you do not proceed
to ask him whether he is a Shiya or a Suni; Sheikh or Saiyad ;
Khatik or Pinjari. When he tells you he is a Sikh, you do not ask
him whether he is Jat or Roda ; Mazbi or Ramdasi. But you are not
satisfied, if a person tells you that he is a Hindu. You feel
bound to inquire into his caste. Why ? Because so essential is
caste in the case of a Hindu that without knowing it you do not
feel sure what sort of a being he is. That caste has not the same
social significance among Non-Hindus as it has among Hindus is
clear if you take into consideration the consequences which follow
breach of caste. There may be castes among Sikhs and Mohammedans
but the Sikhs and the Mohammedans will not outcast a Sikh or a
Mohammedan if he broke his caste. Indeed, the very idea of
excommunication is foreign to the Sikhs and the Mohammedans. But
with the Hindus the case is entirely different. He is sure to be
outcasted if he broke caste. This shows the difference in the
social significance of caste to Hindus and Non-Hindus. This is the
second point of difference. But there is also a third and a more
important one. Caste among the non-Hindus has no religious
consecration; but among the Hindus most decidedly it has. Among
the Non-Hindus, caste is only a practice, not a sacred
institution.

On another note I was told that in Kerala, the converts to Christianity are treated as per the caste lines. Those who before conversion were from the lower castes, remain so, even in churches and are treated differently. Is that why even after they have become Christians many in the state of Goa, add GSB (Goud Saraswat Brahmin) as a postfix to their names, just to denote their higher pedigree? And even amongst Muslims, I have seen the idea of caste like structures. The leaders who are nostalgic about the “golden era” of India make the argument that Hindu civilization has survived so many onslaughts, hence it is the fit one, needs a retrospection.

For, I fear that his statement may become the basis of a vicious
argument that the fact of survival is proof of fitness to survive.

Among the solutions to the problem of caste, Ambedkar proposes that inter-marriage between different castes is the solution. The ban on inter-marriage between the castes as the origin and operating mechanism of the castes is something which he elaborates in
another essay of his Castes In India, their Origin and Mechanism, Here he concludes that the custom of endogamy is the main vehicle for propagation of caste.

I am convinced that the real remedy is inter-marriage. Fusion of
blood can alone create the feeling of being kith and kin and
unless this feeling of kinship, of being kindred, becomes
paramount the separatist feeling – the feeling of being
aliens – created by Caste will not vanish. Among the Hindus
inter-marriage must necessarily be a factor of greater force in
social life than it need be in the life of the non-Hindus. Where
society is already well-knit by other ties, marriage is an
ordinary incident of life. But where society cut asunder, marriage
as a binding force becomes a matter of urgent necessity. The real
remedy for breaking Caste is inter-marriage. Nothing else will
serve as the solvent of Caste.

This will give nothing for the holders of caste to cherish for, the pure-blood lines will be mixed and lost.

And on courage of the social reformers he says:

Political tyranny is nothing compared to social tyranny and a reformer, who defies society, is a much more courageous man than a politician, who defies Government.

And given the power of social exo-communication that the society at large holds against the individual, and the trauma one has to go through for defying social norms, from the family members, friends and people around is demanding indeed.

And Ambedkar hits the nail on the head when he writes in his analysis that caste is not a physical object at all, but rather it is a mental state. And the people who have this mental state (dalits included), do not recognize it as a problematic one as they have never thought otherwise but are one with the very idea of caste. This appears a natural order of human society to them, which has divine origins in the /Vedas/ and /Shastras/.

Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks or a line of
barbed wire which prevents the Hindus from co-mingling and which
has, therefore, to be pulled down. Caste is a notion, it is a
state of the mind. The destruction of Caste does not therefore
mean the destruction of a physical barrier. It means a notional
change. Caste may be bad. Caste may lead to conduct so gross as to
be called man’s inhumanity to man. All the same, it must be
recognized that the Hindus observe Caste not because they are
inhuman or wrong headed. They observe Caste because they are
deeply religious. People are not wrong in observing Caste. In my
view, what is wrong is their religion, which has inculcated this
notion of Caste. If this is correct, then obviously the enemy, you
must grapple with, is not the people who observe Caste, but the
Shastras which teach them this religion of Caste.

The only way in which this immense hold on the entire society of
Hindus can be released is when they no longer believe in the divine
origin of the caste system. And in order to do this, we have to
destroy the entire system of religion based on sacred books from
antiquity, which inherently is unequal in nature. As regards to make
people inter-dine and inter-marry in order to abolish caste, he sees
them as only cosmetic changes, which will follow naturally when the
above is attained.

The real remedy is to destroy the belief in the sanctity of the
Shastras. How do you expect to succeed, if you allow the Shastras
to continue to mould the beliefs and opinions of the people ? Not
to question the authority of the Shastras , to permit the people
to believe in their sanctity and their sanctions and to blame them
and to criticise them for their acts as being irrational and
inhuman is a incongruous way of carrying on social
reform. Reformers working for the removal of untouchability
including Mahatma Gandhi, do not seem to realize that the acts of
the people are merely the results of their beliefs inculcated upon
their minds by the Shastras and that people will not change their
conduct until they cease to believe in the sanctity of the
Shastras on which their conduct is founded. No wonder that such
efforts have not produced any results. You also seem to be erring
in the same way as the reformers working in the cause of removing
untouchability. To agitate for and to organise inter-caste dinners
and inter-caste marriages is like forced feeding brought about by
artificial means. Make every man and woman free from the thraldom
of the Shastras, cleanse their minds of the pernicious notions
founded on the Shastras, and he or she will inter-dine and
inter-marry, without your telling him or her to do so.

He then asks the people of the /Mandal/:

You must have courage to tell the Hindus, that what is wrong with them is their religion – the religion which has produced in them this notion of the sacredness of Caste. Will you show that courage?

The destruction of Caste is a reform which falls under the third  (first two are inter-dining and inter-marriage) category. To ask people to give up Caste is to ask them to go contrary to their fundamental religious notions. It is obvious that the first and second species of reform are easy. But the third is a stupendous task, well nigh impossible. The Hindus hold to the sacredness of the social order. Caste has a divine basis. You must therefore destroy the sacredness and divinity with which Caste has become invested. In the last analysis, this means you must destroy the authority of the Shastras and the Vedas.

And he was correct in his analysis that just the inter-marriage or inter-dining is not the solution. Open any matrimonial ads and you will find sections and subsections of caste-brides and caste-bridegrooms looking for prospective partners. Unfortunately even
the followers of Ambedkar, the dalits, seek marriages amongst themselves, this is rather sad, as they are holding on to their
identity of the caste against what Ambedkar said. Just putting his images in same caste marriages, which uphold the very notion and essence of what caste is, is a dishonor to the great man.

And this is a quote from a British, which no people in power would relish, but speaks volumes about the character of people who are in power.

The true answer is that a revolutionist is not the kind of man who
becomes a Pope and that a man who becomes a Pope has no wish to be
a revolutionist.

And on the social reason why caste persists Ambedkar says:

…the Caste system has two aspects. In one of its aspects, it
divides men into separate communities. In its second aspect, it
places these communities in a graded order one above the other in
social status. Each caste takes its pride and its consolation in
the fact that in the scale of castes it is above some other caste.

This is the rule of the game, you ought to invest those under you with some powers over some others. This is a complete hierarchy of
positions, with only those at the lowest pedestal not having any say, but those are mentally bound and are the most downtrodden of all. Here he also explain that everybody who is part of this system, has some stake in it, hence a Marxist revolution is not possible.

The higher the grade of a caste, the greater the number of these
rights and the lower the grade, the lesser their number. Now this
gradation, this scaling of castes, makes it impossible to organise
a common front against the Caste System. If a caste claims the
right to inter-dine and inter-marry with another caste placed
above it, it is frozen, instantly it is told by mischief-mongers,
and there are many Brahmins amongst such mischief-mongers, that it
will have to concede inter-dining and inter-marriage with castes
below it! All are slaves of the Caste System. But all the slaves
are not equal in status. To excite the proletariat to bring about
an economic revolution, Karl Marx told them “You have nothing to
loose except your chains.” But the artful way in which the social
and religious rights are distributed among the different castes
whereby some have more and some have less, makes the slogan of
Karl Marx quite useless to excite the Hindus against the Caste
System. Castes form a graded system of sovereignties, high and
low, which are jealous of their status and which know that if a
general dissolution came, some of them stand to loose more of
their prestige and power than others do. You cannot, therefore,
have a general mobilization of the Hindus, to use a military
expression, for an attack on the Caste System.

But then, how do people who do break the norms of the caste are able to save the caste? There is a solution for that in Manusmriti, for every major and minor offence there is a penance in which the direct beneficiary is the Brahmin. So in this way everyone is happy and the caste system goes on.

He breaks Caste at one step and proceeds to observe it at the next
without raising any question. The reason for this astonishing
conduct is to be found in the rule of the Shastras, which directs
him to maintain Caste as far as possible and to undergo
prayaschitta (penance) when he cannot. By this theory of
prayaschitta, the Shastras by following a spirit of compromise
have given caste a perpetual lease of life and have smothered
reflective thought which would have otherwise led to the
destruction of the notion of Caste.

The rationale for the caste system given are not based on reason or morality, but on some rules which were written by men in antiquity and its defenders are the most learned people in the Indian society, who unfortunately see no reason but only rules. They do not follow principles but rules, which are already written. And it is these rules and the unquestioned belief of people in them that are the biggest problems in the eradication of caste.

Reason and morality are the two most powerful weapons in the
armoury of a Reformer. To deprive him of the use of these weapons
is to disable him for action .How are you going to break up Caste,
if people are not free to consider whether it accords with reason
? How are you going to break up Caste if people are not free to
consider whether it accords with morality ? The wall built around
Caste is impregnable and the material, of which it is built,
contains none of the combustible stuff of reason and morality. Add
to this the fact that inside this wall stands the army of
Brahmins, who form the intellectual class, Brahmins who are the
natural leaders of the Hindus, Brahmins who are there not as mere
mercenary soldiers but as an army fighting for its homeland and
you will get an idea why I think that breaking-up of Caste amongst
the Hindus is well-nigh impossible.

But whether the doing of the deed takes time or whether it can be
done quickly, you must not forget that if you wish to bring about
and breach in the system then you have got to apply the dynamite to
the Vedas and the Shastras, which deny any part to reason, to
Vedas and Shastras, which deny any part to morality. You must
destroy the Religion of the Shrutis and the Smritis.

Rules are practical ; they are habitual ways of doing things
according to prescription. But principles are intellectual; they
are useful methods of judging things. Rules seek to tell an agent
just what course of action to pursue. Principles do not prescribe
a specific course of action. Rules, like cooking recipes, do tell
just what to do and how to do it.

Doing what is said to be, good by virtue of a rule and doing good
in the light of a principle are two different things.

A religious act may not be a correct act but must at least be a
responsible act. To permit of this responsibility, Religion must
mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of
rules. The moment it degenerates into rules it ceases to be
Religion, as it kills responsibility which is the essence of a
truly religious act. What is this Hindu Religion ? Is it a set of
principles or is it a code of rules ? Now the Hindu Religion, as
contained in the Vedas and the Smritis, is nothing but a mass of
sacrificial, social, political and sanitary rules and
regulations, all mixed up.

In his analysis Ambedkar rightly makes the claim that what is practised as religion by Hindus (though I would add all other major
religions here too) is just rituals. There may be a spiritual side to religion, but it is lost in the labyrinth of rituals, based on rules,
which are performed to please the Gods.

What is called Religion by the Hindus is nothing but a multitude of commands and prohibitions.

Religion, in the sense of spiritual principles, truly universal, applicable to all races, to all countries, to all times, is not to be found in them, and if it is, it does not form the governing part of a Hindu’s life. That for a Hindu, Dharma means commands and prohibitions is clear from the way the word Dharma is used in Vedas and the Sinritis and understood by the commentators. The word Dharma as used in the Vedas in most cases means religious ordinances or rites.

The first evil of such a code of ordinances, misrepresented to the people as Religion, is that it tends to deprive moral life of freedom and spontaneity and to reduce it (for the conscientious at any rate) to a more or less anxious and servile conformity to externally imposed rules. Under it, there is no loyalty to ideals, there is only conformity to commands. But the worst evil of this code of ordinances is that the laws it contains must be the same yesterday, today and forever. They are iniquitous in that they are not the same for one class as for another. But this iniquity is made perpetual in that they are prescribed to be the same for all generations.

I have, therefore, no hesitation in saying that such a religion must be destroyed and I say, there is nothing irreligious in working for the destruction of such a religion. Indeed I hold that it is your bounden duty to tear the mask, to remove the misrepresentation that as caused by misnaming this Law as Religion. This is an essential step for you. Once you clear the minds of the people of this misconception and enable them to realize that what they are told as Religion is not Religion but that it is really Law, you will be in a position to urge for its amendment or abolition. So long as people look upon it as Religion they will not be ready for a change, because the idea of Religion is generally speaking not associated with the idea of change. But the idea of law is associated with the idea of change and when people come to know that what is called Religion is really Law, old and archaic, they will be ready for a change, for people know and accept that law can be changed

Then he asks this question that why is not profession of a priest regulated? And also sees the logical consequence of this as complete upheaval of the notions that people cherish above their lives. To attain this would be a true revolution.

Every profession in India is regulated. Engineers must show proficiency, Doctor must show proficiency, Lawyers must show proficiency, before they are allowed to practise their professions. During the whole of their career, they must not only obey the law of the land, civil as well as criminal, but they must also obey the special code of morals prescribed by their respective professions. The priest’s is the only profession where proficiency is not required. The profession of a Hindu priest is the only profession which is not subject to any code. Mentally a priest may be an idiot, physically a priest may be suffering from a foul disease, such as syphilis or gonorrheae, morally he may be a wreck. But he is fit to officiate at solemn ceremonies, to enter the sanctum sanctorum of a Hindu temple and worship the
Hindu God. All this becomes possible among the Hindus because for a priest it is enough to be born in a priestly caste. The whole thing is abominable and is due to the fact that the priestly class among Hindus is subject neither to law nor to morality. It recognizes no duties. It knows only of rights and privileges. It is a pest which divinity seems to have let loose on the masses for their mental and moral degradation. The priestly class must be brought under control by some such legislation as I have outlined above. It will prevent it from doing mischief and from misguiding people. It will democratise it by throwing it open to every one. It will certainly help to kill the Brahminism and will
also help to kill Caste, which is nothing but Brahminism incarnate. Brahminism is the poison which has spoiled
Hinduism. You will succeed in saving Hinduism if you will kill Brahminism. There should be no opposition to this reform from any quarter. It should be welcomed even by the Arya Samajists, because this is merely an application of their own doctrine of guna-karma.

This means a complete change in the fundamental notions of life – it means a complete change in the values of life. It means a complete change in outlook and in attitude towards men and things. It means conversion but if you do not. like the word, I will say, it means new life. But a new life cannot enter a body that is dead. New life can center only in a new body. The old body must die before a new body can come into existence and a new life can enter into it. To put it simply: the old must cease to be operative before the new can begin to enliven and to pulsate. This is what I meant when I said you must discard the authority of the Shastras and destroy the religion of the Shastras.

And this is something the apologists for the golden past of India should keep in mind. But they want the golden past in toto, as it was, with its caste system and aided rituals. This I think was in reference to the general wave of Hindu extremism which was raging in 1930s, which was agreeable to the masses in general, and also is raging on now.

” Every society gets encumbered with what is trivial, with dead wood from the past, and with what is positively perverse… As a society becomes more enlightened, it realizes that it is responsible not to conserve and transmit, the whole of its existing achievements, but only such as make for a better future
society.” — John Dewey
” An individual can live only in the present. The present is not just something which comes after the past ; much less something produced by it. It is what life is in leaving the past behind it. The study of past products will not help us to understand the present. A knowledge of the past and its heritage is of great significance when it enters into the present, but not otherwise. And the mistake of making the-records and remains of the past the main material of education is that it tends to make the past a rival of the present and the present a more or less
futile imitation of the past.”

For his own views Ambedkar puts it rather humbly as:

If you will allow me to say, these views are the views of a man, who has been no tool of power, no flatterer of greatness.

Finally he says that just having freedom (from the British) without the social reforms would mean just giving in to another form of
slavery. And unfortunately this is just what happened.

There is no use having Swaraj, if you cannot defend it. More important than the question of defending Swaraj is the question of defending the Hindus under the Swaraj. In my opinion only when the Hindu Society becomes a caste-less society that it can hope to have strength enough to defend itself. Without such internal strength, Swaraj for Hindus may turn out to be only a step towards slavery.

The caste system is very much alive and kicking and we cannot just wish it away. People still insist on marrying in their own caste, as long as this is true, we are not going to have any respite from this evil of the society. And the belief in puranical texts for all source of knowledge is ever increasing. Rationality is going for a toss, and the future looks bleak.

### Gandhi’s take, and Ambedkar’s response

What Ambedkar wrote did make people uncomfortable. Perhaps he wrote in a way to make people uncomfortable. Gandhi wrote article against Ambedkar’s address, in Harijan. He says:

No reformer can ignore the address. The orthodox will gain by reading it. This is not to say that the address is not open to objection. It has to be read only because it is open to serious objection. Dr. Ambedkar is a challenge to Hinduism. Brought up as a Hindu, educated by a Hindu potentate, he has become so disgusted with the so-called Savarna Hindus for the treatment that he and his people have received at their hands that he proposes to leave not only them but the very religion that is his and their common heritage. He has transferred to that religion, his disgust against a part of its professors.

One can see the agitation in Gandhi’s mind in the following words regarding Ambedkar.

Dr Ambedkar is not alone in his disgust. He is its most uncompromising exponent and one of the ablest among them. He is certainly the most irreconcilable among them. Thank God, in the front rank of the leaders, he is singularly alone and as yet but a representative of a very small minority. But what he says is voiced with more or less vehemence by many leaders belonging to the depressed classes.

Gandhi gives an argument regarding caste and religion, which might appeal to people who believe in ideal world. But nonetheless this analysis is wrong for the real world in which we live in. Gandhi himself might not be subject to the caste discrimination that he was talking against, which Ambedkar was, hence maybe Gandhi was oblivious to see the things as they are in the real world.

Caste has nothing to do with religion. It is a custom whose origin I do not know and do not need to know for the
satisfaction of my spiritual hunger. But I do know that it is harmful both to spiritual and national growth. Varna and Ashrama are institutions which have nothing to do with castes. The law of Varna teaches us that we have each one of us to earn our bread by following the ancestral calling it defines not our rights but our duties.

And then Gandhi goes on to say something which I find hard to digest. This is like making martyrs out of people, just to warn others that they will too suffer the same fate if they followed suit.

A religion has to be judged not by it’s worst specimens but by the best it might have produced. For that and that alone can be used as the standard to aspire to, if not to improve upon.

If Caste and Varna are convertible terms and if Varna is an integral part of the Shastras which define Hinduism, I do not know how a person who rejects Caste i.e. Varna can call himself a Hindu.

That caste should be removed or eradicated, is something Gandhi does not say, as he again gives in to their divine origin and considers them to essential to a Hindu. And this is something that you find even now deeply rooted in the people, even when the dalits get converted to another religion, and by definition are no longer Hindus, they face the same atrocities.

Ambedkar, in his reply, one by one dissects the arguments put forth by Gandhi. The fierce nature in which he tears apart some of them, and his tone tell us something of his character, that he was fighter and a rebel to the core.

First he takes on the idea that it is the good specimens of religion who had more spiritual basis, to be followed. But this is something not for the common people, but for great saints only.

A saint therefore never became an example to follow. He always remained a pious man to be honoured. That the masses have remained staunch believers in Caste and Untouchability shows that the pious lives and noble sermons of the saints have had no effect on their life and conduct as against the teachings of the Shastras. Thus it can be a matter of no consolation that there were saints or that there is a Mahatma who understands the Shastras differently from the learned few or ignorant many. That the masses hold different view of the Shastras is fact which
should and must be reckoned with.

And relying on high-caste Hindus for emancipating the low castes is not possible!

But nonetheless anyone who relies on an attempt to turn the members of the caste Hindus into better men by improving their personal character is in my judgment wasting his energy and bugging an illusion. Can personal character make the maker of armaments a good man, i.e. a man who will sell shells that will not burst and gas that will not poison ? If it cannot, how can you accept personal character to make a man loaded with the consciousness of Caste, a good man, i.e. a man who would treat his fellows as his friends and equals ?

As a matter of fact, a Hindu does treat all those who are not of his Caste as though they were aliens, who could be discriminated against with impunity and against whom any fraud or trick may be practised without shame. This is to say that there can be a better or a worse Hindu. But a good Hindu there cannot be.

(emphasis in original)

Ambedkar uses the example of Gandhi himself, regarding his preaching. Here Ambedkar points out two things, one regarding marriage of Gandhi’s son to a Brahmin girl, and second regarding the occupation which should be ancestral. Applying Gandhi’s own principle recursively to Gandhi himself, Ambedkar exposes absurdity and impracticality of these ideals.

The Mahatma is not known to have condemned him (Gandhi’s son) for not following his ancestral calling. It may be wrong and uncharitable to judge an ideal by its worst specimens. But surely the Mahatma as a specimen has no better and if he even fails to realize the ideal then the ideal must be an impossible ideal quite opposed to the practical instincts of man.

And on ancestral calling, which has been practiced for ages by
Brahmins Ambedkar says:

Not only must such a person be deemed to be bankrupt of all spiritual treasures but for him to practice so elevating a
profession as that of a priest simply because it is ancestral, without faith, without belief, merely as a mechanical process handed down from father to son, is not a conservation of virtue; it is really the prostitution of a noble profession which is no other than the service of religion.

Gandhi’s varna is something that Ambedkar understands as a masquerade for caste. It is just caste reincarnate in another form, as it is connected to birth, and does not say anything about the qualities of the person.

The essence of the Mahatma’s conception of Varna is the pursuit of ancestral calling irrespective of natural aptitude. What is the difference between Caste and Varna as understood by the Mahatma? I find none. As defined by the Mahatma, Varna becomes merely a different name for Caste for the simple reason that it is the same in essence -namely pursuit of ancestral calling. Far from making progress the Mahatma has suffered retrogression. By
putting this interpretation upon the Vedic conception of Varna he has really made ridiculous what was sublime.

If the Mahatma believes as he does in every one following his or her ancestral calling, then most certainly he is advocating the Caste System and that in calling it the Varna System he is not only guilty of terminological inexactitude, but he is causing confusion worse confounded. I am sure that all his confusion is due to the fact that the Mahatma has no definite and clear conception as to what is Varna and what is Caste and as to the necessity of either for the conservation of Hinduism.

In the following line he asks Gandhi, whose interests he is serving? Gandhi seen here seems to have lost the rational element, and is trying to reason something in which he believes to be true. And here what is seen is the cunning nature of Gandhi’s politics, that of being the saint and the politician at the same time.

Why this prevarication ? Why does the Mahatma hedge ? Whom does he want to please ? Has the saint failed to sense the truth ? Or does the politician stand in the way of the Saint ?

The real reason why the Mahatma is suffering from this confusion is probably to be traced to two sources. The first is the temperament of the Mahatma. He has almost in everything the simplicity of the child with the child’s capacity for
self-deception. Like a child he can believe in anything he wants to believe. We must therefore wait till such time as it pleases the Mahatma to abandon his faith in Varna as it has pleased him to abandon his faith in Caste. The second source of confusion is the double role which the Mahatma wants to play – of a Mahatma and a Politician. As a Mahatma he may be trying to spiritualize Politics. Whether he has succeeded in it or not Politics have certainly commercialized him. A politician must know that Society cannot bear the whole truth and that he must not speak
the whole truth; if he is speaking the whole truth it is bad for his politics. The reason why the Mahatma is always supporting Caste and Varna is because he is afraid that if he opposed them he will lose his place in politics. Whatever may be the source of this confusion the Mahatma must be told that he is deceiving himself and also deceiving the people by preaching Caste under the name of Varna.

The image of Gandhi that we have is of a mass leader and a rebel. Both he was, but we have to make certain reservations regarding these qualities attributed to him. But on closer examination, we conclude for some things and certainly when issue of caste was concerned he was very conservative Hindu. What would have happened if the social structure of caste was attacked by Gandhi himself? Maybe many of his devout followers would have left him, maybe he was not yet ready to give up on his dharma just for the sake of caste.

Gandhi accuses Ambedkar for setting a benchmark for Hindu religion, in which all religions would fail, he responds thus:

… I maintain that the standards I have applied to test Hindus and Hinduism are the most appropriate standards and that I know of none that are better. The conclusion that every known religion would fail if tested by my standards may be true. But this fact should not give the Mahatma as the champion of Hindus and Hinduism a ground for comfort any more than the existence of one madman should give comfort to another madman or the existence of one criminal should give comfort to another criminal.

And the problem with the Hindus is their ideals, which Gandhi is trying to defend in some garb or other. And this is what Ambedkar sees through clearly.

If I am disgusted with Hindus and Hinduism it is because I am convinced that they cherish wrong ideals and live a wrong social life. My quarrel with Hindus and Hinduism is not over the imperfections of their social conduct. It is much more fundamental. It is over their ideals.

They still have a mystic respect for the earlier forms which make them disinclined – nay opposed to any examination of the foundations of their Society. The Hindu masses are of course incredibly heedless in the formation of their beliefs. But so are the Hindu leaders. And what is worse is that these Hindu leaders become filled with an illicit passion for their beliefs when any one proposes to rob them of their companionship. The Mahatma is no exception. The Mahatma appears not to believe in thinking. He prefers to follow the saints. Like a conservative
with his reverence for consecrated notions he is afraid that if he once starts thinking, many ideals and institutions to which lie clings will be doomed.

And these final words in the response unmasks Gandhi’s image as a saint, and paints him as an hypocritical, opportunistic, conservative, irrational, lingering on to antique systems for spiritual satisfaction.

In so far as he does think, to me he really appears to be prostituting his intelligence to find reasons for supporting
this archaic social structure of the Hindus. He is the most influential apologist of it and therefore the worst enemy of the Hindus.

And in the words of Mathew Arnold are “wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born”, which was true when it was said eighty years back as it is now.

# Can Stars Be Seen in Daylight?

The constellations that we saw at night half a year ago are now overhead in the daytime. Six months later they will again adorn the night sky. The sunlit atmosphere of the Earth screens them from the eye because the air particles-disperse the sun-rays more than the rays emitted by the stars. (The observer located on the top of a high mountain, with the densest and dustiest layers of- the atmosphere below, would see the brighter stars even in daytime. For instance, from the top of Mt. Ararat (5 km. high), first-magnitude stars are clearly distinguished at 2 o’clock in the afternoon; the sky is seen as having a dark blue colour.)

The following simple experiment will help explain why the stars disappear in daylight. Punch a few holes in one of the sides of a cardboard box, taking care, however, to make them resemble a familiar constellation. Having done so, glue a sheet of white paper on the outside. Place a light inside the box and take it into a dark room; lit from the inside; the holes, representing stars in the   night sky, are clearly seen. But, switch on a light in the room without extinguishing the light in the box and, lo, the artificial stars on our sheet of paper vanish without trace: “daylight” has extinguished them.

One often reads of stars being seen even in daylight from the bottom of deep mines and wells, of tall chimney-stacks and so on. Recently, however, this viewpoint, which had the backing of eminent names, was put to test and found wanting.  As a matter of   fact, none of the men who wrote on this subject, whether the Aristotle of antiquity or 19th-century Herschel, had ever bothered to observe the stars in these conditions. They quoted the testimony of a third person. But the unwisdom of relying on the testimony of
“eye-witnesses,” say in this particular field, is emphasized by the; following example. An article in an American magazine described daylight visibility of stars from the. bottom of a well as a fable. This was hotly contested by a farmer who claimed that he had seen Capella: and Algol in daytime from the floor of a  20-metre high silo. But when his claim was checked it was found that on the latitude of his farm neither of the stars was at zenith at the given date and, consequently could not have been seen from
the bottom of the silo.

Theoretically, there is no reason why a mine or a well should help in daylight observation of stars. We have already mentioned that the stars are not seen in daytime because sunlight extinguishes them. This holds also for the eye of the observer at the bottom of a mine. All that is subtracted in this case- is the light from the sides. All the particles in the layer of air above the surface of the mine continue to give off light and, consequently, bar the stars to vision.

What is of importance here is that the walls of the well protect the; eye from the bright sunlight; this, however, merely facilitates observation of the bright planets, but not the stars. The reason why stars are seen through the telescope in daylight is not because they are seen from “the bottom of a tube,” as many think, but because the refraction of light, by the lens or its reflection in the mirrors detracts from the brilliancy of the part of the sky under observation, and at the same time enhances the brilliancy of the stars (seen as points of light). We can see first-magnitude and even second-magnitude stars in daytime through a 7 cm. telescope. What has been said, however, does not hold true for either wells, mines, or chimneys.

The bright planets, say, Venus, Jupiter or Mars, in opposition, present a totally different picture. They shine far more brilliantly than the stars, and for this reason, given favourable conditions, can be seen in daylight.

From Astronomy for Entertainment – Yakov Perelman Pg: 135-137

Available here.

# On Privacy…

Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.

Too many wrongly characterize the debate as “security versus privacy.” The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that’s why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.

# Surreal Night!

Yesterday night was *really* surreal. As we were about to sleep at 2ish in the night. We heard aloud crash, with two or three huge blasts. and we saw a tanker rammed against a tree on the side of the highway. We could hear lot of HISSSSSSSSSSS sounds. The tanker was on the other side of the highway.

Vehicles were passing by the accident, and we also saw two people going towards the tanker. As we were watching events unfolding in disbelief, Smita pointed to a a white carpet formed on the the nalla that our bedroom oversees. And we could see the white carpet moving and spreading along the channel. Though we could not smell it then, but it clear that something was definitely was not right. That time I had thought that the accident must have opened up some pipeline, but as it turned out later it was not the case.
And in the mean time we saw another tanker pass by this one. And then we could smell the gas, being on the second floor, it took its time to come till there. And we thought of calling the fire brigade….

Then suddenly, BOOOOMMMMMM….

The fireball unfolded before our eyes. And it sort of came towards us, as they show in the movies….
It must be about 10 stories high, the overhead wires of the huge towers, also sparked…
The entire building was shivering from the blast, windows making sounds, and the room became too bright even without the lights on….

Fortunately the window panes were not shattered, neither the flames reached us….

The enitre nalla was on fire, it was as if we were seeing a river of fire…

The trees were burning, and quite long way along the nalla the fire had spread….
The immediate reaction was to run out, as we thought the building would itself catch fire, given the intensity of the fire that rages.

And as we were going out, all other people who were just awakened by the sound and vibrations and the fire, were getting out too, most of them not knowing what had happened…

Many, as we came to know later, locked themselves out in panic, fortunately we left the door open. As we were running down the stairs, heavy smell of LPG was omnipresent…

What I had feared was that the ground floor parking itself might be at risk, fortunately the wall along the nalla, prevented the gas coming to the parking.

People were just coming out of their houses and pouring on the streets…

And in the meanwhile we could hear more blasts in the fire that was raging…..

Lot of people from Mankhurd village started to pour in as well, and some went crossing the road to witness it.

I was really impressed by the response time of the fire brigade, within 5 minutes they were already there. And they dared for their lives as they fought the inferno raging… Tt took them few hours to bring the fire under control.

Then the police came in and the crowds were dispersed and the road was cordoned off to traffic, which it is still so as late as afternoon.

And the water tankers were just too many to count…

We came back to our room around 5ish, the fire was still raging, but in control.

It was only in the morning that we saw the extent of the damage. Most of the ramp leading to the nalla was burnt. And many trees also were burnt. Some of the manhole covers which open in the nalla were thrown  out of their place, and most of the grass that grows in the nalla was blown out…

And we also came to know how fortunate we were, most of the inital blast and subsequent fires were contained in the concrete walls of the nalla. So only way they could go is up.

And then all the questions of what could have been….

If at all the tanker had fallen on this side of the road, just next to our house, then?

If the tanker had not fallen in the nalla, but just on the road then?

And if the blast would have occurred when the other tanker was passing by, then?

Or if the blast had occurred after, 20-30 minutes, of the accident, and gas spreading to a large area then?

This experience just showed how fragile we and our constructs are, and all we have can be wiped out by just a freak event…

Smita and D

Some photos here:

The tree on which the tanker slammed (taken in the morning):

The Firewall

The Compound that saved us

Calling for help

On and below the Bridge

Below the bridge (in night)

Below the bridge (in day) tanker can be still seen, and they were watering it still…

(Last one from our kitchen)

PS: this report tells that the fire also spread the nearby slums, which were on the otherside of the road.

Though I think there is a strict control over the flow of the news, as the event is not showing up at most news sites.

# Deductive Theory in Science

The working of a deductive theory in science. Image from Physics for the Inquiring Mind by Eric Rogers. Though many philosophers of science would disagree with this view, one can surely start with this.

# I will not allow them to chill me

“We want to show the world that we are innovators. We want to show the world that cloud storage has a right to exist. And, of course, when you launch something like this, you can expect some controversy. The content industry is going to react really emotionally about this. The US government will probably try and destroy the new business … you’ve got to stand up against that, and fight that, and I’m doing that … I will not allow them to chill me.”

via Kim Dotcom | guardian

# Aaron Was a Criminal and So Are You

Make no mistake, Aaron was a criminal and, despite popular belief, there was no prosecutorial overreach. The US Attorney who oversaw his prosecution described her office’s actions as “appropriate” and, according to the law, she was telling the truth. The job of prosecutors is to bully and intimidate suspects, using the threat of some of the world’s harshest sentencing laws into plea bargaining for a shorter sentence in exchange for an admission of guilt. This is American “justice;” our current system of severe sentencing and mandatory minimums gives prosecutors overwhelming power – power that was once in the hands of judges and juries – to the point that today less than 5% of criminal cases are resolved by a jury (3% in federal cases).

via Common Dreams.

RIP Aaron Swartz.

# Sharing knowledge and learning collaboratively at schools

We have a vision for a better society in which the values of sharing and collaborating knowledge and technical know-how form an integral part. There are two aspects to this issue. One is why it should be done, and given the current social structure how it can be done. Though the why question is as important as the how one in this article we will try to focus more on how it can be done with aid of proper technology and what are the possible implications of this intervention to the citizens of the future.

The current education system does little to promote and impart the ideas of sharing knowledge with peers to the students who will be the future citizens. In our educational system it is more like each-one-for-oneself; if you help your peers you will be at a loss in the future. Another aspect is that the educational system by its nature is consumerist. By consumerist we mean that the schools system treat the students more like consumers, who are then passively fed in what has already been produced by others. There is no or little scope left for students to produce or construct anything meaningful. So the platform/technology which will address these issues should have the following qualities:

• It should be based on principles of Free Software (see http://gnu.org/education).
• It should allow for collaboration / sharing of knowledge.
• It should allow for active, meaningful and collaborative production / construction contexts, through which students will learn.
• It should give immediate feedback to the student, not the delayed one (year end) which the current school system has. This is essential as it makes children reflective about the work that they are doing.

Learning in the context of constructing some tangible thing is a philosophy of education proposed by Seymour Papert, called constructionism. Constructionist learning is inspired by the constructivist theory that individual learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. However, constructionism holds that learning can happen most effectively when people are also active in making tangible objects in the real world. A closely related term that you might have heard is that of constructivism, but there are differences though.

The potential for transforming classrooms in a revolutionary way is present in the constructionist way of learning, which the existing CBTs (computer based tutorials) do not challenge but reinforce. The advances in technology have made it possible now to implement constructionist ways of learning to masses. So where are the examples of this?

The Sugar learning platform  is just one such example which is specifically developed keeping in mind the above considerations. But the idea of constructionist learning is not limited only to using computers. displayed. The very idea of the platform is centered around the idea of constructionism. Though initially developed for OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) Project, now it can run on almost all computers. Learning in an environment where sharing knowledge is an inherent principle rather than an added externality provides the students with a whole new way of learning. Each activity on Sugar is designed keeping in mind the collaborative, construction context and immediate feedback principles.

The Sugar platform provides construction contexts from different areas to learn collaboratively like language, mathematics, science, drawing, music, games, programming, photography, audio and video recording among other things. For each of this activity can be done collaboratively by the students and can be shared with others. This also provides students to make meaningful connections between different concepts. In this context we have seen a strong urge in the children to share the knowledge and activities that they have with others, but in the current school system there is no or little provision for this. Sharing of activities provides context for feedback from peers, which in turn is fruitful in improving learning. Thus we see that the tools and time is ripe for changing our perspective towards education for a more inclusive and better society, whose core values are sharing of knowledge and collaboration.

There are pilot projects of Sugar running at many places across India, one is the Khairat Project which is running successfully for past 4 years at a primary tribal school of first generation learners near Mumbai, another one is at Merces School near Panaji in state of Goa.

# Public decency and morality

This is what Supreme Court of India had to say when petition was filed to lift a ban in 1964 on Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence:

It is convenient to set out s. 292 of the Indian Penal Code at this stage:

“292. Sale of obscene books etc. : Whoever- (a) sells, lets to hire, distributes, publicly exhibits or in any manner puts into circulation, or for purposes of sale, hire, distribution, public exhibition or circulation, makes, produces or has in his possession any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, drawing, painting, representation or figure or any other obscene object whatsoever, or

(b) imports, exports or conveys any obscene object for any of the purposes aforesaid, or knowing or having reason to believe that such object will be sold, let to hire, distributed or publicly exhibited or in any manner put into circulation, or

(c) takes part in or receives profits from any business in the course of which he knows or has reason to believe that any such obscene objects are, for any of the purposes aforesaid, made, produced, purchased, kept, imported, exported, conveyed, publicly exhibited or in any manner put into circulation, or

(d) advertises or makes known by any means whatsoever that any person is engaged or is ready to engage in any act which is an offence under this section, or that any such obscene object can be procured from or through any person, or

(e) offers or attempts to do any act which is an offence -under this section,

19(1) All citizens shall have the right-

(a) to freedom of speech and expression; (2) Nothing -in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of public order, decency or morality”

No doubt this article guarantees complete freedom of speech and expression but it also makes an exception in favour of existing laws which impose restrictions on the exercise of the right in the interests of public decency or morality.

Condemnation of obscenity depends as much upon the mores of the people as upon the individual. It is always a question of degree or as the lawyers are accustomed to say, of where the line is to be drawn. It is, however, clear that obscenity by itself has extremely “poor value in the-propagation of ideas, opinions and informations of public interest or profit.” When there is propagation of ideas, opinions and informations of public interest or profit, the approach to the problem may become different because then the interest of society may tilt the scales in favour of free speech and expression. It is thus that books on medical science with intimate illustrations and photographs, though in a sense immodest, are not considered to be obscene but the same illustrations and photographs collected in book form without the medical text would certainly be considered to be obscene.

“I think the test of obscenity is this, whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deperave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall. . . . . it is quite certain that it would suggest to the minds of the young of either sex, or even to persons of more advanced years, thoughts of a most impure and libidinous character.”

He wants us to say that a book is not necessarily obscene because there is a word here or a word there, or a passage here and a passage there which may be offensive to particularly sensitive persons. He says that the overall effect of the book should be the test and secondly, that the book should only be condemned if it has no redeeming merit at all, for then it is “dirt for dirt’s sake”, or as Mr. Justice Frankfurter put it in his inimitable way “dirt for money’s sake.

We need not attempt to bowdlerize all literature and thus rob speech and expression of freedom. A balance should be maintained between freedom of speech and expression and public decency and morality but when the latter is substantially transgressed the former must give way.

The taboo on sex in art and literature which was more strict thirty-five years ago, seemed to him to corrode domestic and social life and his definite view was that a candid discussion of sex through art was the only catharsis for purifying and relieving the congested emotion is.

“The law seeks to protect not those who protect themselves, but those whose prurient minds take delight and sexual pleasures from erotic writings.”

The word “obscene” in the section is not limited to writings, pictures etc. intended to arouse sexual desire. At the same time the mere treating with sex and nudity in art and literature is not per se evidence of obscenity.

Exception. – This section does not extend to any book, pamphlet, writing, drawing or painting kept or used bona fide for religious purposes or any representation sculptured, engraved, painted or otherwise represented on or in any temple, or on any car used for the conveyance of idols, or kept or used for any religious purpose.”

This was I think long back, but the views have not changed ever since the. The idea that somethings are bad for everyone is something which all cultures adhere to, and it is very hard for people, especially people in power to let this notion go. This is another way of controlling people. This is what is common to fundamentalism and democracy. The notion that our past was a golden one, and anything new will harm it and jeopardize the future of the culture. From what I feel is that there was no golden past, it just was.

And thinking about morality, though they say that there are some universal principles, everyone does not subscribe to same ones. In his theory Kohlberg, outlines these differences. But that said, he does not talk about obscenity, which I think it is highly cultural. For example a burqa clad woman is a common picture in certain Islamic communities, or a woman with ghunghat is all but common in certain Hindu communities, but at the same time some people might be find it too restrictive. And a woman in short skirt might be a common scene in the urban areas in certain countries, but it might be a great taboo for some others. There are no universal standards for what counts as moral or decent.

# Using Inkscape in Batch Mode

Recently I had to make and print a lot of certificates, each with different names and affiliations. There are programs in the Office environment which do this. They are called as Mail Merge, primarily being used for sending mass mails to many individuals.

Basically following happens:

You have a database of Names / Addresses and Affiliations with you. Lets say there are 500 names in this database. If you want to make certificates for everyone of them, it is not very bright to manually add every name to the certificates. What the program does is takes this list of names, and inserts it into a template and generates a file for each entry in the database. Which is to be printed.

I had designed a certificate for one of the programs using a Free Software   SVG Editor Inkscape, initially the number of entries was not large, but then they became too much for me to manage manually.

So then there is small plugin called the Inkscape Generator that came to help  me big time.

This is something that I had been exactly looking for.

As explained on the page for the plugin the database has to be in a csv format, which can be conveniently generated and edited in any of the spreadsheet programs like Calc for Libre Office. With this it becomes super-easy to generate pdf’s for each of the entries in the database.

Once all the pdf’s have been generated using pdftk one can simple join all the files in a single pdf file and print at one go.

To join:

pdftk *.pdf cat output combined.pdf

As simple as this.

# Does Tulsi has environmental benefits too?

Recently there was a news item in Times of India which had the same heading as that of this particular post. The news claimed

(Around two decades back Dada Dham, a socio-spiritual organization brought together a team of botanists, ayurvedic scholars and environmental enthusiasts to study the environmental benefits of tulsi.)

NAGPUR: Ayurvedic medicinal values of Tulsi are well known. Our ancient scriptures have enumerated the medicinal benefits of tulsi. Its extracts are used widely for curing common ailments like common cold, headache, stomach disorder etc.

But the environmental benefits have been comparatively unknown. Around two decades back Dada Dham, a socio-spiritual organization brought together a team of botanists, ayurvedic scholars and environmental enthusiasts to study the environmental benefits of tulsi.

Now the next claim from an “eminent botanist” that the report does is startling indeed.

“Tulsi gives out oxygen for 20 hours and ozone for four hours a day along with the formation of nascent oxygen which absorbs harmful gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide from the environment,” said Shyamkant Padoley, an eminent botanist.
How would the tulsi plant (Ocimum tenuiflorum) do this? Is it anatomically so different that it is capable to do this? How does the plant regulate this 20 and 4 hour cycle?  I would really like to know. How is that no other plants have this cycle? How did they detect presence of ozone, what detectors they used? What mechanisms in presently known cycle of photosynthesis account for this cycle? And if this is part of the standard photosynthesis process, then all plants should have it. This seems fishy, and a most preliminary search did not yield any positive result. All of them talk about production of oxygen and not ozone, as reported by Padoley. And if this is indeed true, it might lead to change in our conception of the photosynthetic cycle.
And if the ozone report is to be believed at all then this is what ozone does to you quote from Wikipedia article on ozone:
Ozone is a powerful oxidant (far more so than dioxygen) and has many industrial and consumer applications related to oxidation. This same high oxidizing potential, however, causes ozone to damage mucus and respiratory tissues in animals, and also tissues in plants, above concentrations of about 100 parts per billion. This makes ozone a potent respiratory hazard and pollutant near ground level.
There is evidence of significant reduction in agricultural yields because of increased ground-level ozone and pollution which interferes with photosynthesis and stunts overall growth of some plant species. The United States Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a secondary regulation to reduce crop damage, in addition to the primary regulation designed for the protection of human health.
There is a great deal of evidence to show that ground level ozone can harm lung function and irritate the respiratory system.Exposure to ozone and the pollutants that produce it is linked to premature death, asthma, bronchitis, heart attack, and other cardiopulmonary problems.
Ozone is air pollutant, green house gas.
To summarize this is that ozone is NOT GOOD for us at ground level! It may do us good in upper atmosphere to block UV Rays, but down here on ground it is bad. And if this claim of ozone production by Tulsi is true why is the campaign of “Tulsi lagao pradushan hatoa (Plant tulsi, remove pollution)” which follows in the article is being implemented?

Padoley, member of technical committee, ministry of environment and forest, NewDelhi, and forest tech committee, also read a paper at the International Conference on Occupational Respiratory Diseases at Kyoto in 1997 where cyclo oxygenate, an enzyme only found in tulsi was labelled for the first time. This enzyme regulates the entire mechanism of oxygen evolution. (emphasis added)

This again I am unable to understand. It says this enzyme is “only found in Tulsi”, and it also “regulates entire mechanism of oxygen evolution”. One can agree that a particular enzyme is found in a particular plant, but if this enzyme controls “entire mechanism of oxygen evolution”, how do other plants regulate their mechanisms of oxygen evolution.

Dada Dham initiated a campaign ‘Tulsi Lagao Pradushan Hatao’ in 1987 under the guidance of Narendra Dada, the institution’s head. It was under this campaign that the above mentioned panel of experts was formed. After finding out the environmental benefits of the plant, Dada Dham organized a number of programmes like street plays, nukkad sabhas and lectures to propagate the use of the plant.

Dr Dattatraya Saraf, an ayurvedic doctor and expert said, “The plant enriches the environment with oxygen almost 24X7 and also absorbs other pollutants.” He further added that if the size of the plant can be increased, the environmental benefits can be increased.

This statement that “plant enriches the environment with oxygen almost 24X7” is in contradiction to statement by above Padoley regarding 20 and 4 hour cycles. Which one is to be believed? And mind you this is just appearing a few lines later, this is either very poor editing and reporting, or hogwash to the public.

“That is why we want to urge scientists and concerned authorities to make research on the issue of increasing the height of tulsi plant. If big trees can be converted to bonsai plants then big tulsi trees can be possible too,” said Kishor Verma, PRO of Dada Dham.

This is another statement that I would like to contest. Did they compare the rate of oxygen production vis-a-vis to other plants. That is to say simply did they have any control sample? And does making “tulsi tree” make any sense (can one really do it is another question), will it really increase oxygen making capabilities, is it a linear relationship between these two variables? The water is completely muddy in this !

He also citied the research and work by other organization in support of tulsi’s environmental benefits.

“The forest department of Uttar Pradesh, with the help of an organization called Organic India Limited, Lucknow planted lakhs of tulsi saplings around Taj Mahal to protect its surface from industrial emissions. This step has yielded positive results,” Verma said.

“We are just asking the administration to take notice of these extra ordinary benefits of tulsi and take steps for utilizing them. Even simple steps like planting tulsi plants on road dividers, parks etc can bring a difference,” said Verma.

The reporter and also the editor make no effort to correct these glaring inconsistencies in the report itself, forget about doing nay research on the topic, or verifying the claims made by these people. Maybe this was like the paid news that is talked about a lot these days.

What I find here i that the agenda of what is to be done was already set, the conclusions were already drawn, by our ancestors, written in black and white in ancient texts. The point was only to justify what they were doing, and trying to provide a “scientific basis” of what they already believed to be true (for whatever reasons, mostly religious, and presence of a religious organization in this sort of confirms this).

A good example of  pseudo-science and bad science reporting.

# Science, a humanistic approach

Science is an adventure of the whole human race to learn to live in and perhaps to love the universe in which they are. To be a part of it is to understand, to understand oneself, to begin to feel that there is a capacity within man far beyond what he felt he had, of an infinite extension of human possibilities . . .
I propose that science be taught at whatever level, from the lowest to the highest, in the humanistic way. It should be taught with a certain historical understanding , with a certain philosophical understanding , with a social understanding and a human understanding in the sense of the biography, the nature of the people who made this construction, the triumphs, the trials, the tribulations.

I. I. RABI
Nobel Laureate in Physics

via Project Physics Course, Unit 4 Light and Electromagnetism Preface

Do see the Project Physics Course which has come in Public Domain hosted at the Internet Archive, thanks to F.  James Rutherford.

# RMS on Success

“Success” is not our goal; we’re not here to win a race, we are here to win freedom. I didn’t write GCC with the idea of making a “better” C compiler. I wrote it so there would be a freedom-respecting C compiler, and while I was at it, I did the best job I knew how. We didn’t develop GNU to have a “better” operating system than Unix; we developed it so we could have a freedom-respecting operating system. It’s the same today.

# Does your room looks like this?

Then you are a bibliophile!

# Computers in Teaching and Learning

The question of whether a computer should be used in teaching and
learning, is no more interesting than the question whether a book

The interesting question is of how to use the computer to teach and
learn, and how not to use it to teach and learn.

Damitr

Inspired from a quote by – Edsger W. Dijkstra in Accelarando by Charles Stross.

# The Illusion Of Democracy

But, of course, corporate media professionals have long propped up the illusion that the public is offered an ‘impartial’ selection of facts, opinions and perspectives from which any individual can derive a well-informed world view. Simply put, ‘impartiality’ is what the establishment says is impartial.

The major political parties offer no real choice. They all represent essentially the same interests crushing any moves towards meaningful public participation in the shaping of policy; or towards genuine concern for all members of society, particularly the weak and the vulnerable.

US media analyst Robert McChesney observes:

‘In many respects we now live in a society that is only formally democratic, as the great mass of citizens have minimal say on the major public issues of the day, and such issues are scarcely debated at all in any meaningful sense in the electoral arena.’ (McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, The New Press, 2000, p. 260).

PS: Somehow as of today 2-1-2012 1330 hrs IST medialens server is not working and is giving a Forbidden 403 error from my connection. I do not know what the cause is? Is the medialens server down?

# Elites And Us

The longer this worldwide disparity and inequality is perpetuated, the more the masses will revolt and the faster we will internally replicate the Israeli model of domestic control – drones overhead, all dissent criminalized, SWAT teams busting through doors, deadly force as an acceptable form of subjugation, food used as a weapon, and constant surveillance.

Hope that this Orwellian dystopia does not happen.

# Love, personal qualities and infection

She said: “It seems to me that everyone has a quality that can get  the better of love. Is stronger, you see. Like pride. Or honesty. Or moral – even intellectual, even emotional – integrity. Take two people in love. The only thing that can really upset things is this personal quality in one of them. Other people don’t come into it at all. Except in a roundabout way – as intruments of jealousy, for instance. Don’t you agree?”

I wasn’t sure about anything, but I said yes.

“Another thing about love,” the girl with ringlets said, “is its extraordinary infection. Has it ever occured to you that when you’re in love with someone you’re really wanting to be loved yourself? Because that, of course is the natural law. I mean, it would be odd if every time one person loved another person the first person wasn’t loved in return. There’s only a very tiny percentage of that kind of thing.”
The Day We Got Drunk Over Cake |William Trevor

# Che: Alive…

Usually the graffiti on the walls of Mumbai are eyesores. But this one somewhere in Fort was a pleasure to see…

# Coffee that actually tastes like coffee

A nice invite for a coffee place in Berlin, Germany.

# Explosives or Not

We have earlier seen some quotes from the book The Golem: What You Should Know About Science. There are two companion volumes to this book The Golem Unleashed: What You Should Know about Technology and Dr. Golem: How to think about Medicine. These series of books by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch provide us with examples from these fields which most of the times are ‘uncontested’. For example in the first volume they discuss about the famous 1920 experimental confirmation of Einstein’s predictions in general relativity by Eddington. This experiment is told as a matter-of-fact anecdote in physics, where petty borders of nationalism could not stop physics and physicists. But in the book, as they show inspite of scanty or almost no positive evidence, Eddington “Concluded” that the predictions were true. This they term “experimenters’ regress”.

The experimenter’s regress occurs when scientists cannot decide what the outcome of an experiment should be and therefore cannot use the outcome as a criterion of whether the experiment worked or not.

The Golem Unleashed pp. 106

In The Golem Unleashed they present us with many examples of this from field of technology. One of the examples is from the Challenger accident which Feynman made famous by courtroom drama. In this case they call the “experimenter’s regress” as “technologist’s regress”.

Recently I read (all further quotes from the same link)an episode in India which would fit in very with these episodes. This is regarding baggage  scanning machines installed at Indian airports. They were brought at 2 crore rupees per unit in 2010. But in August 2011 they failed the tests on tasks they were supposed to do.

The scanners are called in-line baggage inspection systems as they scan bags that go into the cargo hold of the aircraft after passengers check in and hand over their luggage to the airline. They use x-ray imaging and “automatic intelligence” to verify the contents of bags and determine whether they include explosives.

Now one would think that this would be as easy as it gets. Either the scanner detects whether the explosives are present in the baggage or they do not. But it is not as simple as it seems so. Now when the tests were done, the testers found the machines failed.

During the tests, security sources said that a technological specification committee of officials from the IB, RAW, SPG, NSG, BCAS and the civil aviation ministry passed bags containing 500 gm of six kinds of explosives, including PETN and ammonium nitrate, as well as IEDs through these systems. The scanners did not flag any of these bags as suspicious, the sources said.

So after this “failure” the companies which supplied these machines were asked to improve upon the machines or to share the software to recalibrate them. But the companies and interestingly Airport Authortiy of India AAI said that the testing methods were at fault. Now the explosives were passed and the machines did not detect them, then how can companies say that the testing methods were not working?

The machines work on the so called 70:30 principle.

“Though it works on a 70:30 principle, if there is an explosive in the 70 per cent, it will throw up the image of each and every bag that has dangerous substances. We would like to emphasise that the systems supplied and installed by our company at Indian airports are of state-of-the-art technology and are fully compliant with current standards.”

The 70:30 principle refers to the “automatic intelligence” used by Smiths Detection machines to clear 70 per cent of the baggage and reject the rest, according to the Airports Authority of India (AAI). “The machines reject 30 per cent of the baggage, the images of which are then sent to the screener. These systems have automatic intelligence capability and have been tested against a wide range of substances considered dangerous for aircraft. The details and specifications are never disclosed, or else terrorists would understand the software,”

But if anyway machines are doing the job, why not do it 100%? And the funny thing is that they are not sharing the software, which is the main agenda of the proprietary software companies. This is a case where people realize that they are just Users of the software under question. This argument that  “or else terrorists would understand the software” does not hold. They don’t need to if the machine is going to reject a whole lot of bags And in anyway if there are bus/holes in the software, a thousand eyes repair them much faster than a few. And this is The companies further say that

“The technology or physics is that x-ray based system can’t detect explosives, it is only approximate detection of dangerous substances,”

Why is the AAI siding (they are rather defending the companies) with the companies is something worth pondering.

AAI people say “The problem could be due to the sheer ignorance of officers who lacked the skills to test for explosives,”

Still with no unanimity in the testing results, the case truly presents us with a “technologist’s regress.”

# Gaza Blitz hailed?

It is important to keep this in mind given the accusations of “disproportionality” being hurled at Israel from all directions. They are hogwash. The Jewish state cannot be faulted — but rather should be hailed — for investing precious human capital and limited financial resources to develop a technological miracle: Iron Dome. By intercepting in the last week upwards of 400 rockets destined for Israeli civilian centres, the anti-missile defence system saved countless Israeli lives. Likewise, it also saved Palestinian lives, which surely would have been lost in the event the IDF was forced to retaliate for a direct hit, say, on Tel Aviv.

This is in stark contrast to Hamas’ practice of concealing weaponry in residential buildings, schools, hospitals and mosques, thereby guaranteeing the unnecessary loss of life despite the precision of Israeli strikes.

Ah! This piece of writing is as crappy – biased – hogwash – etc. etc. (are these the right words?, am at a loss of what words to put here) as it can get. And it is not language that is at fault, by the very idea. The idea that Israel can do anything it wishes, without fearing any consequences is what is through an through present in this line of thoughts. The state of Israel has become the new “Untouchable”. The writer glorifies the killing and pounding of the Gaza region, with a logic that is truly cigol. What he claims as a mere “hogwash”, is the reality which the state of Israel is desperately trying to hide, and this with full support of the corporate and major media houses.  Maybe the author is trying to make this fact oblivious (and wants us to be also ) that Israel is the occupying force, and they hold superior fire power. To say killings and bombings should ” but rather be hailed” the author is making an ideological analogy to the holocaust. If someone on the other hand with same argument had replaced Jews instead of Gazans, and justified the killings, there would have been a huge  cry over this. If these killings can be justified, no wait, rather hailed now, why are the Israelis so much adamant that people see the faulty logic and the tragedy of the holocaust. I think this is the same only with the Israelis taking up the place of executioners with impeccable cigol to support their actions.

After all as Orwell says:

War is Peace | Freedom is Slavery  | Ignorance is Strength

And this is what is exactly being practiced here.

Oh and will I get a phone call for this?

‘to criticise Israel can create major problems. Journalists spoke to us of the extraordinary number of complaints which they receive. We have presented our findings to many groups of media practitioners. After one such meeting a senior editor from a major BBC news programme told us: “we wait in fear for the phone call from the Israelis”. He then said that the main issues they would face were from how high up had the call come (e.g. a monitoring group, or the Israeli embassy), and then how high up the BBC had the complaint gone (e.g. to the duty editor or the director general).’ (p. 2)

via | medialens

May be not because I am not a journalist, neither is my blog very famous!

# Free Press and Democracy

A free press is an essential part of a democratic system. In a society like ours, with its stark inequalities, only a media free of government and corporate pressures can ensure that the voiceless are heard. What we are seeing currently is not just blatant collusion between the media and big business but also a deliberate obliteration of much of what happens to the millions who live on the margins.

This is what Media Lens has to say about the BBC which is supposed to be in public interest and impartial.

Instead of providing responsible, public-service journalism, the BBC acts as a conduit for government propaganda. It is particularly noxious that the organisation relentlessly channels the state’s supposedly benign intentions abroad. This is the diet of daily bias and distortion we are all fed. When will BBC heads roll for that?

But isn’t this true of the media in India also? Or elsewhere in the world for that matter. Tehelka reports that many of the barons of power also control the local media in newly formed state of Chattisgad. And what is the use of controlling media when they are not used for gains. When the so called free media becomes a part of the political parties we cannot be sure of what they report.

If the Congress has Naveen Jindal, the BJP has Ajay Sancheti. If the Congress has the Lokmat, the BJP has the Hari Bhoomi. Barring coal, in which both the Centre and the states had their hands in the till, in the case of other mineral resources, the real corruption lies in the states.

It is not that people do not use media for their own gain, media is used for spreading ideology, there are many mouthpiece outlets for political parties and others which propagate the ideas. But what is worst is that the masquerade that many media houses put on themselves claiming to be honest and working in public interest, and people at large believe them, being obliviousto the fact that these very media houses are the ones who are power brokers and very much in the filth as corporates and politicians. A recent example of this was the Radia tapes.

The complete blackout of the Niira Radia tapes by the entire broadcast media and most of the major English newspapers paints a truer picture of corruption in the country than the talk shows in the various news channels and the breast-beating in all the newspapers about the 2G, CWG, Adarsh, and other scams.

via|G. Sampath – DNA

It was not until the non-main-stream media began to show up too much, there was some coverage given. But the very fact that the accused are in complete denial of what happened is what is disturbing. We usually held names like Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi well but these tapes just show how much they are in the filth of what they pretend to expose. From then on, I have given up on NDTV as a reliable source, which earlier I thought it was. But then what do you trust?

At the same time, it is worth noting that neither Barkha nor any of the other journalists whose names have come up have denied that those conversations took place. So why not let the reader or TV viewer read or listen to the transcripts and decide whether Dutt and Sanghvi’s conversations with Radia are a part of “normal journalistic duties” or amount to pimping for politicians and business houses? Or perhaps they were doing social service for the Congress? Play the tapes on your show, na, Ms Dutt, instead of tweeting about them? Why not let ‘We, The People’ decide, instead of you deciding for us all?

via|G. Sampath – DNA

The media blackout of particular events is what I find disturbing. What it shows the kind of camaraderie that exists between different media houses and their corporate and political cronies. That basically means that the news, sorry the Breaking News that you see is like a managed play, with directors and writers deciding what people see, hear and think. In Marathi novel (Ithink it was Swami (स्वामी) by Ranjit Desai) I had read a sentence which fits these situations well, it reads:

मी मारल्या सारखे करतो, तु रडल्या सारखे कर.

( I will feign to hit, you feign to cry.)

This creates an illusion about real problems. Most of the News channels that are beamed in India follow this line. Put all the focus on some non-issues, or twist them from certain angles so that why all this happens remains oblivious to the viewers. If our media was after all serious about the issues that they present, they would have seen to it that things are done.

Many a times what I have also found reading reports on various different news services is that they are same. I mean many a times they are word to word same, as if the reports have been written at one place and distributed. I do not have links right now, but will update this post when I do. This again creates a picture that what news we see is heavily filtered, and sometimes flavours are added to create sensationalism. And the icing is that we all think this is genuine, with “Free Press in A Democracy”. Orwell had a foresight about this as well:

Of course, print will continue to be used, and it is interesting to speculate what kinds of reading matter would survive in a rigidly totalitarian society. Newspapers will presumably continue until television technique reaches a higher level, but apart from newspapers it is doubtful even now whether the great mass of people in the industrialized countries feel the need for any kind of literature. They are unwilling, at any rate, to spend anywhere near as much on reading matter as they spend on several other recreations. Probably novels and stories will be completely superseded by film and radio productions. Or perhaps some kind of low grade sensational fiction will survive, produced by a sort of conveyor-belt process that reduces human initiative to the minimum.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

The only reason I see that India is feudal and corrupt is that the so called Free Press was never able to take up the challenge to the nexus, and ultimately now has become a part of it.

In our age, the idea of intellectual liberty is under attack from two directions. On the one side are its theoretical enemies, the apologists of totalitarianism, and on the other its immediate, practical enemies, monopoly and bureaucracy.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

Though there are dissidents here and there, this now has become global phenomena, with the Indian media people just following the suit. And if this is the case, what difference does it make whether you are living in a democracy or a totalitarian state?

And Orwell wraps it up thus:

A totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist. Already there are countless people who would think it scandalous to falsify a scientific textbook, but would see nothing wrong in falsifying an historical fact. It is at the point where literature and politics cross that totalitarianism exerts its greatest pressure on the intellectual.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

“It’s not important how much money has been earned. It’s important how it has been put to use, whether it has been put to good use or not.”

via Indian Express.

Nitin Gadkari , the incumbent BJP president, is in news for all wrong reasons these days. Apart from the allegations that his business interests have shadyness by IAC activist Arvind Kejriwal, he is also making blunders in quoting and is also facing some rebellion from within his own party. But the quote above comes in his (or his acts?) defence from the RSS camp. And it is amusing too, as at times RSS distances itself from the BJP, saying that it is their internal matter, but at other times also gives self-proclaimed clean-chits to BJP members. It is interesting to note how the very concept and meaning of corruption is being twisted by RSS cheif Mohan Bhagwat in the quote above The act itself is set aside as to whether it is good or bad, while the motive with which the result of the act (the black money) will be utilised determines the morality of the act. Now that being the case how do we decide whether the money is “put to good use or not”? This is an entirely subjective view. Something that is good for a person or a community may be bad for others. For example if someone makes a lot of money and invests it in something else to make more money, then for that person the use is definitely good use, but for others it is not. And there is nothing like free money, corruption happens only when money meant for something else goes to the corrupt person. With this cigol even murders may be justified. Trying to justify the act of corruption by making statements like this one, is making classic Orwellian Newspeak. This just makes the point that the BJP is just another Congress, which comes with a remote control too.

# Science And Certainty

Science is not about certainty. Science is about finding the most reliable way of thinking, at the present level of knowledge. Science is extremely reliable; it’s not certain. In fact, not only it’s not certain, but it’s the lack of certainty that grounds it. Scientific ideas are credible not because they are sure, but because they are the ones that have survived all the possible past critiques, and they are the most credible because they were put on the table for everybody’s criticism.

The very expression ‘scientifically proven’ is a contradiction in terms. There is nothing that is scientifically proven. The core of science is the deep awareness that we have wrong ideas, we have prejudices. We have ingrained prejudices. In our conceptual structure for grasping reality there might be something not appropriate, something we may have to revise to understand better. So at any moment, we have a vision of reality that is effective, it’s good, it’s the best we have found so far. It’s the most credible we have found so far, its mostly correct.

via | Edge

This is something that I think separates science from religion. Religion is about absolutes, trust in the absolute God. And this is the difference that should be also taught to the students of science.

# Experiment in The Classroom

“The experiment is already on, Sir! It is my personal experience that the story is a wonderful magic pill that helps to establish rapport between the pupils and the teachers. Those very boys who were not prepared to listen to me on the first day and who had unnerved me with shouts and catcalls, have become quiet since I started telling them a story. They now have a sort of affection for me. They listen to me and sit as I ask them to. I don’t have to shout at them to keep them quiet. And they don’t leave the school even after it is over!”

via| Diwaswapna

Hope that every classroom would be like that, where the children like to come and don’t like to go home…

Reading without surveillance, publishing without after-the-fact censorship, owning books without having to account for your ongoing use of them: these are rights that are older than copyright. They predate publishing. They are fundamentals that every bookseller, every publisher, every distributor, every reader, should desire. They are foundational to a free press and to a free society. If you sell an ebook reader is designed to allow Kafkaesque repossessions, you are a fool if you expect anything but Kafkaesque repossessions in their future. We’ve been fighting over book-bans since the time of Martin Luther and before. There is no excuse for being surprised when your attractive nuisance attracts nuisances.

via Boing Boing.

I agree completely.Though cases like these are going to become more common, unless we switch to a technology which we can see that is Free as in Freedom. Governments and corporates are going to use this technology against the people who are using it. It will create profiles of “dangerous” people who are reading revolutionary material, for example. It will go unchecked if we just are using the technology without questioning it.

Also see RMS’s view on this topic.

# Drugs and Education

“Education is not getting people jobs in the state and that hurts the self esteem of the youngster. The poor quality of our education system is completely out of tune with the job market. Given their easy supply in the state, drugs become the first crutch of support for all the alienated youngsters floating around,” the doctor continues.

via Tehelka

The above article is on the grim situation of drug abuse among the youth in Punjab. Poor quality of education and lack of suitable jobs afterwards is one of the reasons cited for this, others include proximity to Afghanistan and Pakistan, huge influx of capital after the Green revolution.

Just an afterthought, isn’t education itself like a drug? Let me elaborate on what I mean to say. Drugs are supposed to enhance your mental state, they cater to our so called “pleasure centres” in the brain. And they are also supposed to inhibit certain things that we might do naturally. Doesn’t education also do the same. Does it not hinder many of the natural things that we would have done if not ‘educated’? Maybe the current education system places us on highs “meritocracy?” that the plights of the fellow humans are not supposed to affect us! If someone fails in the exam, it is to our advantage at times, as there will be less competition for the resources that are limited, we are told! Thus we are slowly de-sensitized from being human, riding on the high that we get from our personal success. But it is not limited only to us, it is a social drug, not only your own, but your parent’s and relatives and friends’ pleasure centres are also excited. And they would say we have a smarty amongst us. This is what keeps us going forever in pursuit of further education and that at expense of others. But is it not natural, if they don’t perish you won’t survive. And by the time you are fully educated, you get a decent job, you marry, have kids… and the cycle repeats itself, you tell the same things to kids.

So education in the current  is like a mass hallucination, which goes from generation to generation, spread over both time and space, legitmising ills spread in the society…

# Reason and Faith – Misconceptions in Science Education

Reason does not work in matters of faith. But it may have a chance at clearing misconceptions.

via Tehelka

Truly so. In case of my field of study, namely science education research, it may be the other way round. The classic studies in science education aim at identifying the misconceptions that the learners have regarding a particular subject and then finding a mechanism by which they could be addressed.

This was a very simple but very basic presentation of  what most studies try to achieve, though the methodology may be different. There are some studies which present us with a conceptual framework so that all the responses and the problems with the learners can be seen in light of a theoretical construct. This they say will enable us to make sense of what we see in the classrooms, and what is present as representation in the learners mind. What I think they are trying to say is that we need to get to the conceptual structures that lead to formation of the misconceptions.

Now mind you that many of these misconceptions in science are very stubborn and people are very reluctant to give them up. The reason may be that many of these misconceptions come from direct factual experience in the real world. And from what I know about Philosophy of Science, we might want to make a case that all science is counter-intuitive to our everyday experience. This would explain why misconceptions in science arise. But would this case explain all the known misconceptions?

Let us do some analysis of how a particular misconception might arise.There can be two different reasons for a misconception to arise, if we adhere to deductive logic. That is to say we assume that we have a set of starting statements that are given, whose authenticity is not questioned. And from these set of statements we make certain deductions regarding the world out there. Now there can be two problems with this scenario, one is that the set of statements that we are taking for granted might be wrong, the other is that in the process of deduction that we have followed we made a mistake. The mistake is learnt only when the end result of our analysis is not consistent with the observations in the real world. Or it might be even the case that the so called misconception will lead to a correct answer, at least in some cases.  In these cases we have to resort to more detailed analysis of the thought structure which lead to the answers. Another identifying characteristic of the misconceptions is presence of the inconsistencies across different areas known to the learners. Whereas they might get a particular concept clearly and correctly, in applying same thing for another concept they just might revert to a completely opposite argument and in doing this they do not realise the inconsistency.

We will be clearer on this issue when we talk with a few examples. Suppose that we have a scenario in which we are trying to understand the phenomena of day and night, its causes and consequences. A typical argument in our class goes like this:

How many have seen the Sun set?

Almost all hands would go up, then comes the next question:

How many have seen the Sun rise?

Almost same number of hands go up, excepting a few, who are late risers like me. Some of the more intelligent and the more knowledgeable would say,

“Wait! Sun doesn’t rise and set, it is the Earth that is moving, so it causes the apparent motion of Sun across the sky, the start and end of which we call as day and night. So in conclusion the Sun doesn’t rise and set, it is an illusion created by motion of Earth.”

To this all of the class agrees. This is what they have learned in the text-book, and mind you the text-book represents truth and only truth, nothing else. It is there to dispel your doubts and misconceptions and is made by a committee of experts who are highly knowledgeable about these things. Now let us continue this line of reasoning and ask them the next question in this series.

Does the Moon rise? If so, does it rise everyday?

The responses to this question are mixed. Most of them would say that it does not rise, it is always there, up in the sky. Some would gather courage and say that it does rise.

Does the Moon set?

Again to this the response is mixed, and mostly negative. Most of them are adamant about the ever presence of the moon in the sky. The next question really upsets them

Do the stars rise and set?

Now this question definitely gets a negative response from almost all of them. Even the more knowledgeable ones fall. They have read different parts of the story, but have not connected them. They tell you the following: “No the stars do not move, they are there all the time.” They also tell you that there is something called as the fixed stars and this is in the text-book, which cannot be wrong. And when asked:

Why are we not able to see the stars during the day time?

They tell you “Of course you cannot see the stars during the day time. This is because our Sun, which is also a star, is too bright and the other stars too far away and hence are dim. So our Sun’s brightness, overwhelms the other stars, and hence they are not visible during the day time, but they are there nonetheless. In the night time, since the Sun is no longer visible, the stars become visible. Have you never noticed that during the evening twilight the stars become visible one by one, the brighter ones first. Whereas in the morning the brightest are the last ones to disappear.”

Of course, the things said above and the reasoning given sounds good. So much so that the respondents are convinced that they understand how things work, and have an elaborate reasoning mechanism to explain the observed things, in this case the formation of day and night and appearance / disappearance of stars during night and day respectively.

Don’t you think there is a problem with what you have just said?

“Where is the problem?”, they tell you. “We just explained scientifically how things are in heaven.”

Then you open the Pandora’s box,

“Well you have just said that the Sun doesn’t move really, it is the Earth that moves, and hence we see the apparent Sun rise and Sun set.”

Then they say, “Yes, that is the case. The Sun doesn’t move, but the Earth does.”

You ask, “How do you know this? Do you see that the Earth is moving?”

They say, “The textbook tells us so ” Some of the more knowledgeable ones say that “Galileo proved that the Earth moves and not the Sun. Since we are on Earth, we see only apparent motion of the Sun.”

You say: “But wait, just now you said that the Moon does not move, it is always in the sky. Also you said that the stars do not move, they are there all the time. Now if the Earth moves, then all these bodies should also move, if only, apparently.Then the stars must also move, just like the Sun does, do not forget that Sun is a star too! So other stars should also just set and rise like the Sun, and so should also the Moon!”

Or you can argue just the opposite: “I claim that it is the Sun that moves, Earth does not move. Isn’t it a lot more easier to explain this way, why we do see the Sun moving, because it moves. And we anyway do not see Earth moving! How will disprove me?”

Then the grumbles start. They have never thought about this. They knew the facts, but never connected them. This lead to the misconceptions regarding these things. They were right in parts, but never got a chance to connect the dots, metaphorically speaking.The reason for these misconceptions is the faith in the text-books, but if the text-books fail to perform the job of asking them the right question, where the reasoning alone can get rid of many of the misconceptions.

If we choose the alternative question, of challenging them to disprove that the Earth is stationary, almost most of them are unable to answer the question of disproving that the idea that the Sun moves and not Earth. They would suggest that we can see this from the satellite in the sky (Can we really?).

Most of us take the things for granted and never question many (or as in most cases, any) of them. And many times the facts are something we do not question. We say that “It is a fact.” This statement basically posits that the information which we think is out there can be unquestionable. But there are many flavours of the post-modern philosophy which challenge this position. They think that the facts themselves are relative, that is to say that one culture has different science than another one.  But let us leave this, and come back to our problem of the stars and the Sun and Moon.

Lets put out the postulates for the above arguments and try to deduce deductively the results that were obtained.

Claim 1: Sun doesn’t move.

Claim 2: Earth moves.

Observation 1: We see the Sun moving across the sky daily, it rises and it sets.

Explanation 1:  Since the Earth moves, and the Sun is stationary, we see that Sun moves apparently. This apparent motion of the Sun is seen as the Sunrise and the Sunset by us. This is what causes the day and night.

But we can have Observation 1 explained by another set of claims, which is exactly opposite, namely, that the Earth doesn’t move but the Sun moves.

Claim 3: The Sun moves.

Claim 4: The Earth does not move.

Explanation 2: Since the Earth does not move, and the Sun does, we just see the Sun passing by in the sky, around the Earth. This causes day and night.

We see that Explanations 1 and 2 are both valid for Observation 1, if the claims 1 and 2, 3 and 4 are true then the respective deductions from them, in this case the Explanations 1 and 2 respectively are also true.So in this case the logical deduction is correct, provided that the Claims or assumptions are correct. But this process does not tell you whether the claims themselves are true or not. But both set of assumptions, cannot be true at the same time. Either the Earth moves or it does not, it cannot be in a state of both. If at all we had an explanation which came from these assumptions which did not correspond with the observations, but was logically deducible, then we can question the assumptions or premises as philosophers call them.

Of course, the things said above and the reasoning given sounds good. So much so that the respondents are convinced that they
understand how things work, and have an elaborate reasoning mechanism

We can have one example of this type.

Assumption 5: Stars do not move, there are so called “fixed stars”.

Assumption 5: During the day time the Sun is too bright, as compared to the other stars.

Now in this case combining Assumption 5 (A5) with Observation 1 (Ob1) we would get the following:

Explanation 3: The stars are too dim as compared to Sun, hence we cannot see them during the day time, but they are present. Hence they do not move.

In Explanation 3 (E3) above the deduction has a problem. The deduction does not follow from the assumption. This is the other problem in which we talked about above.

Most of the people who would suggest these responses have mostly no background in astronomy. Even then the basic facts that Earth goes round the Sun and not the other way round are forced upon them, without any critical emphasis on why it is so. Neither are they presented at point with the cognitive struggle of another view point, namely the geo-centric view. So presenting the learners with opportunities that will make them observe things and make sense of the explanations in light of the assumptions that were made, will enhance the reasoning and help them to overcome some of their misconceptions.

But there is another observation which can be made of the skies. And it can be either done in the classroom with the aid of Free Softwares like Stellarium. After the round of above questions, we usually show the class the rising of the stars from the east. In a darkened room with a projector the effect is quite dramatic for those who have not witnessed such a thing before. So you can show the class, just as the Sun rises, all other celestial bodies like the Moon and the stars also must rise and this is an observed fact.

Observation 2: The stars and planets and the Moon also rise and set everyday.

So how do we make sense of this observation, Ob2 in the light of the assumptions that we have.

Assumption 6: Sun is a star.

Explanation 4: We observe that Sun moves during the day, from East to West. Sun is a star, hence all other stars should also move.

Now why this should be the case will be different for the geo-centric and the helio-centric theories. In case of H-C theory the explantion is simple. The Earth moves hence the stars appear to move in the opposite direction. And this applies to all the objects in the sky.

Since the Earth moves all other celestial objects will appear to move. In case of G-C theory we have to make an assumption that the
stars are “fixed” on some imaginary sphere, and the sphere as a whole rotates.

But coming back to the misconceptions, it is just the ad-hoc belief that the stars do not move (“fixed stars”) in conjunctions with another observation that in presence of too bright objects dim objects cannot be seen leads to belief that the stars are immobile and do not rise and set as the Sun does. There is another disconnection from another fact that they know, or are told in the textbooks, that  the apparent movement of the Sun is caused by the actual movement of  the Earth. There is no connection between these two facts which is  made explicit.

We think that providing opportunities for direct observation aided by software, Stellarium in this case, which help in visualizing the movements of celestial bodies will help in developing the skill of reasoning and explaining an observed phenomena.

# The Tyger – William Blake

The Tyger is a poem by William Blake, a English poet, painter and print maker. Blake’s works are considered seminal in poetry and visual arts. This is part of the book called The Songs of Experience published in 1794. It is one of Blake’s most known and analysed poems. Many of the facsimile prints can be seen here.

In the original print the poem is illustrated.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night :
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears :
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, Tyger burning bright
In the forests of the night :
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

I first read this poem in the Rendezvous With Rama series by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee. In the book one of the characters is overwhemled by the appeareance of the giant space-ship named Rama and in wonder says the lines from Blake’s Tyger.

As a species tiger is seriously endangered and its survival depends on just a few thousand (~ 1.5 K) indivduals left in the wild. They say that if immediately steps are not taken, we might not see the tiger in wild beyond the second decade of the century. Illegal poaching and destruction of the habitat are mainly responsible for exponential decline in the tiger population in the country.

# Humble hovel or Palace

How slowly one advances in a boat that does not float along with the stream in a specific direction! How much easier it is when one can connect with the work of great predecessors whose value is not doubted by anyone. A personal experiment, a construction whose foundations one must dig himself and whose walls one must erect himself, runs a real risk of becoming a humble hovel. But perhaps one prefers to live there rather than in a palace that has been built by others.

M. C. Escher | Escher on Escher – Exploring the Infinite

Most of us would have already made the choice. For me the choice is somewhat both maybe the garden of the palace and living space of the hovel. I may try to give up the palace garden sometime in the future but for now it is so. What about you?

# Kafka and Orwell

Two of my favourite authors. Both of them were from almost same era, early part of 20th century. Both of them wrote about bureaucracy, corruption, control, power, and helplessness of individuals in the greater scheme of things. Reading them a dark feeling covers your soul, and all chances of redemption appear bleak. We are, it seems, doomed for life, and only non-existence in to oblivion or death can relieve us of these torments, as it does to many characters of this duo.

The things that are happening now around us, the FUDs and stereotyping of “The Enemy” reminds one much of the situation in Nineteen Eight Four. Maybe the policy makers grew up reading Nineteen Eight Four and found enough material to be implemented in the real world. Or as it happens in The Castle, one can easily identify with the main protagonist whose life is made into an unending sequence of visits to the offices in The Castle. As it happens during visits to most of the government offices.

# Places, Pictures and People

I like to have pictures of interesting and beautiful places I have been, but it seems unnecessary for me to appear in these pictures, and I have never quite understood why other people want that so much.

via Tikal | RMS

Frankly, I could not agree more. It is more like people want to tell you that I have been there. But in case of nutcases they will make sure that every photo that they take, of the monuments and the cityscapes that they went to, will have themselves as part of the photo. This is narcissism at its best. You want to tell the world that “I was there.” How many social-networking pages/posts are flooded with images of monuments with the poster / people as soon as they visit them? Better still live posting! In an earlier era of non-social networking, people used more cruder methods to tell you this. The solution was simple, just put your name on the monument, to tell all others you were there, or that you own the monument. Not that it is a bad thing, but at times it takes away all the beauty of the place under question to limits of what can be considered to be decent.  But this just seems to be just one more human tendencies, which I am not able to relate to, which would be because may be I am becoming de-humanized.

On another note, even kings and emperors could not give up this temptation. Apparently after conquering the Adilshahi kingdom of Bijapur, the last Great Mughal Aurangazeb, made an inscirption on the Malik-e-Maidan cannon (This cannon second largest, single cast canon). Though more artfully made, it is of the same kind.