A Conservation Law for Empathy?


Funny( especially the expected value of the KL divergence), interesting and mildly true.

Some Thoughts on a Mysterious Universe

Earlier this week I found myself in Rome in the morning with about 20 minutes to spare. Walking around the neighborhood I was staying in (Trastevere), I came across an elderly nun walking along one of the bigger, and more crowded, streets of Rome. As I waited for her to go through a narrow passage in the sea of people, a young woman pushing a stroller physically nudged her out of the way, using the stroller to deny the physical space in front of and adjacent to the older woman as she overtook her. The nun grimaced but seemed resigned to what happened. I saw this unfold despite having been out for only about ten minutes. In contrast, having walked US streets in San Francisco, Boston, and New York for over twenty years, I don’t recall seeing a similar situation happen even once. It follows that frequentist estimates of such…

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Demonetization


This is what I had written about demonetization back in 2011 when the not-so-good idea was broached by Baba Ramdev – https://anirudhacharya89.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/democracy/

From all the stuff I read in the news, looks like the chaos I had anticipated was pretty accurate. I guess in the coming months, we will get to see if all the inconvenience was worth it and if the government was able to put a lid on the black transactions at least to a certain extent.

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Thoughts on the Proceedings at The Centre for Civil Society Conference


Almost a year back I had watched this video of Rajesh Jain and Atanu Dey proposing the idea of a new constitution for India, of course this was a continuation of the Mission 272 that got the BJP elected in 2014. Seeing that BJP was not doing much, I had rather liked the idea of radical changes to our existing constitution.

Here he argues for a new constitution and has come up with a draft of the new constitution. I understand that it might be a initial draft to get the conversation going , but I have a few things to say about them.

Like it – Article 7, Article 13, Article 6.

Needs more thought – Article 9a and 9b, Article 11a 11b and 11c, Article 15.

Not sure if it is right – Article 3a section 5.

Doubt if it is feasible – Article 6 section 5, Article 14.

I really liked reading the document, it gives a lot of food for thought, like solving a puzzle. Though in the long run I think it will be radically reforming the existing constitution rather than replacing the constitution that will work.

I will try to write more about it and post it as a comment on the original post, so I may get to know what the authors think of my comments.

It would be interesting to know what the others spoke about in the conference, hope they publish the proceedings. (The abstracts are here – http://ccs.in/svraju/abstracts)

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Update on 11/12/2016

Here is is what Jaithirth Rao spoke about – Why liberal parties fail at the hustings I think he raises very good points, also makes references to the founding of the Republican party in US under Lincoln and how BJP could be placed in a very similar situation in India in the near future, and the time may be right to bring in the essential fundamental changes in our constitution to reinstate property rights and have market based pricing of goods and services. Hopefully BJP uses its political capital in the right direction, they will need a combination of fighting caste and promoting economic growth.

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Charities and Causes


Following are some of the charities and causes I prefer to contribute to. They deal with either education or preserving the environment/wildlife, causes I care about. I try to contribute on the occasion of Yugadi and Deepawali. I am thinking I should make it thrice a year by including Sankranthi. The purpose of writing this post is to, in a way endorse the organizations and express trust in what they do. Hopefully in the long run I will be able to contribute more meaningfully rather than just donating money.

  • Anandwanhttp://www.arpanfoundation.org/our_projects/baba_amte.asp – This is the organization started by Baba Amte. It is a bit sad that a selfless man like Baba Amte did not get the recognition he deserves.
  • Wikipedia – https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Ways_to_Give – Wikipedia is so brilliant and useful that it is worth it to keep it free.
  • Ramakrishna Mission – http://donations.belurmath.org/ – Schools and Education institutes run by them are pretty good. I have known a couple of the alumni from these schools, and I have only heard good things about them.
  • Ekal Vidyalayahttps://www.ekal.org/ – It is an organization that provides education in remote and tribal areas. This is a worthy endeavor, and the organization, I think, is linked to the Sangh Parivar.
  • Chengeta Wildlife – http://chengetawildlife.org/ by https://www.quora.com/profile/Rory-Young-1 – These people fight poachers responsible for endangering elephants and rhinos in Africa. I have followed the activities and writings of Rory Young for more a couple of years now, and I have nothing but respect for him. Sometimes they sell merchandise for high prices, so that they can double as donations. I am kind of waiting for when they do it the next time.
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Thoughts on Trump and Trudeau


10/12/2016 Update –

Nitin Pai recently shared a nice parable on his blog, that I tought was relevant to this post –

There was a pink rhinoceros at the cocktail party. All the guests saw it but no one talked about it. They believed it would be rude to do so, for who knows what reasons the hosts might have had to let it into the room. Maybe it was a dear pet. Maybe it escaped from wherever it was kept and the hosts couldn’t put it back in time. The hosts, for their part, didn’t talk about it either. For they thought it rude to make comments on guest’s companion, human or animal.

So the pink rhinoceros walked about the room, sometimes nibbling on the canapés, sometimes bumping into the guests, but mostly standing around looking mildly confused.

Mr Grindle, as usual, was a great conversationist. He spoke at length and in great detail about the weather, history, sports, art, food, wine and the great events of the day. He was always at pain to be factually accurate. He went to great lengths to mention both sides of any debate, before stating his own position. He cited empirical evidence. His knowledge made him humble, and he readily acknowledged that there were limits to his own knowledge. He didn’t, however, even once mention the word rhinoceros, less acknowledge the pink animal that at the very moment, was trying to snatch grilled asparagus off his plate.

Mr Leroy’s idea of a good conversation was to listen to the sound of his own voice, which was usually in a state between a rant and a harangue. He usually spoke utter nonsense about the weather, history, sports, art, food, wine and the great events of the day. He was poorly informed, massively prejudiced and utterly illogical. His ignorance made him arrogant, and he would engage in sharp attacks on anyone who challenged his strongly held opinions. In his conversations, he not only mentioned the pink rhinoceros but said that such animals should not be allowed at cocktail parties. Moreover, he said, they bring bad luck to people who saw them, and the guests better be extra careful over the next few days.

As the guests went home, they were mostly of the view that Mr Leroy might have his faults, but is a far more credible man. After all, how could anyone believe in all the things Mr Grindle said, when he couldn’t even be trusted to mention the pink rhinoceros they could clearly see? Of course, Mr Leroy is the trustworthy one, because he talked about the animal and confirmed their fears that it would bring them bad luck.

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My comment and observation was ( http://acorn.nationalinterest.in/2016/12/08/the-pink-rhinoceros-at-the-party/#comment-157417 ) –

Pink rhino is Islamic terrorism, Grindle is Obama, and Leroy is Trump.

 

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I believe politics always exists in a context, it is not always possible to divide the issues of a country into left wing and right wing, and make false equivalences across national borders.

For instance, even if I am moderately aware of US elections and politics, my understanding of the issues and their potential solutions will always be limited. I would not be able to make a call whether Obamacare is good or not because I have not lived through these issues. And my opinions on racism might not mean much because fortunately I have not faced racism during my stay here, but that might not be saying much because my interaction with average working class Americans is pretty less.

So though I generally have some skepticism towards the hypocrisy of Liberals and their neo-liberal globalism, I do not share strong opinions about the leaders or the elections of America.

This is what I thought of Trump initially –

screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-1-33-36-pm

My reaction when Trump won the election, was that the fears around his presidency might be slightly exaggerated.

Recently Castro( the Cuban dictator ) died and Trump’s view on Castro was –

Source – http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2016/11/26/trump-says-castro-was-brutal-dictator-who-oppressed-his-own-people/t23gmg21BSqLqM8Bqs2CWP/story.html?s_campaign=bostonglobe%3Asocialflow%3Atwitter

And following was the statement by the liberal heartthrob Canadian PM Trudeau –

Screen Shot 2016-11-26 at 1.37.13 PM.png

At least on this particular matter Trump seems to have a better hold on things than Trudeau.

Following is a quote by Lee Kuan Yew, which I think is brilliant and every world leader/politician should heed his advice.

“I do not want to be remembered as a statesman. First of all, I do not classify myself as a statesman. I put myself down as determined, consistent, persistent. I set out to do something. I keep on chasing it until it succeeds. That is all… Anybody who thinks he is a statesman needs to see a psychiatrist.” ~ Lee Kuan Yew

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 Update 17/12/2016 –
How the republican party went from the party of Abraham Lincoln to the party of Donald Trump.
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Monkey and the Fish


There was once a monkey in a forest, which saw a fish swimming in a pond. It thought the fish was drowning, picked it up, put it on a tree and went around the forest claiming it saved the fish’s life.

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Organic Food vs Genetic Experimentation in Agriculture


I think genetic experimentation in food agriculture is in general a very good idea, and the importance or merits of organic products are highly overrated.

organic

For instance this is what a lot of fruits and vegetables would be like if they were not genetically modified over a 1000 years – http://www.businessinsider.com/foods-before-genetic-modification-2015-8/#wild-banana-3

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Discussion about Israel and Socialism


Source – https://deeshaa.org/2016/07/12/ask-me-anything-the-sparrow-edition/#comment-29870

Hi Atanu,

Israel is a strongly Socialist country( with state controlled economy and conscription etc..), how do you explain the success of this country? They seem to have done well in both social and economic factors, they are also at the cutting edge of science and technology.

I remember Milton Friedman telling that he disapproved of Israel’s state controlled policies, but the country continues to do well. In this context, would you agree that the chances of success/failure of a state controlled vs a free-market economy depends largely on the geography and demography of the country under consideration?

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Anirudh,

Good question.

Let me tell you about what I call the “George Burns Syndrome.” George Burns was an American actor who lived up to a ripe old age of 100 (1896 – 1996). He smoked cigars like a chimney and drank like a fish (although I doubt that fish drink all that much.) It would be incorrect to conclude that the secret to a long life is to smoke & drink like he did. The fact is that Burns worked out regularly — daily swimming, walks, sit ups and push ups. No doubt genes also had something to do with it.

The regularities that we observe in nature always admit exceptions. The exceptions prove (where the word ‘prove’ is meant in the sense ‘test’) the rule. The rule does not get invalidated but tested by exceptions.

Socialism tends to fail to produce prosperity. That’s a regularity. Why socialism fails to produce prosperity can be analytically understood and empirically verified. The fact that Israel prospers despite being somewhat socialist (if that is indeed the case; I don’t know that for a fact) does not invalidate the analytical or the empirical fact that socialism is a bad way of organizing an economy.

Smoking and excessive drinking is bad for your health even if Uncle George lived a very long life. Perhaps if Uncle George had not smoked, he could have lived to 120, who knows. Israel is successful no doubt but could it have been even more so if it were not partially socialist?

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Thanks for the reply Atanu. I don’t find this a convincing answer, in fact it is far from convincing. But nonetheless, thank you for replying.

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Book Review: The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar


Source – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1821010921?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

The above book is a collection of essays that he wrote, so it is not a book as such but a collection of his articles.

I first started reading about Ambedkar ~2011 from here – http://pragati.nationalinterest.in/wp…. It really explained how Ambedkar was vastly misunderstood in the public space.

And it was then that I started reading his articles. A lot of them are very sensible, and good critiques of both Gandhism and of course Hindutva. Some of the essays that I liked from the collection are –
– Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah
– Caste, class and Democracy
– Buddha and Karl Marx
– Is there a case for Pakistan
– The Hindu Code Bill

On reading his writings one gets the sense that he was probably the more sensible and less emotional sorts from the freedom fighting generation. I feel people should take time out and read atleast a few of his articles.

A special mention for his writing style, though most of his subjects were very complex he writes in a very simple and clear language. Needless to say the reading is very heavy and the essays I have read are over a period of 5 years.

Pretty interesting interview from him –

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Elzeard Bouffier and Andrzej Bobiec


Recently I was reading this brilliant story called ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’ by Jean Giono. It tells the story of a man who single-handedly regrows a forest in the valley at the foothills of Alps. It is the story of how Elzéard Bouffier leads a very tranquil life and has found peace in solitude. It is a pretty quick read, and I thought the story was brilliant. The opening lines of the story best describes the book –

For a human character to reveal truly exceptional qualities, one must have the good fortune to be able to observe its performance over many years. If this performance is devoid of all egoism, if its guiding motive is unparalleled generosity, if it is absolutely certain that there is no thought of recompense and that, in addition, it has left its visible mark upon the earth, then there can be no mistake.

There was an animated film that was made based on this book by Frederick Back in 1987, which was also quite good.

When I was reading this I was strangely reminded of another story narrated by Alan Weisman in his book ‘The World Without Us’. This is a story of how the Polish forest ministry tries to ‘protect/manage’ a forest as opposed to an individual growing a forest like in Giono’s story.

You MAY NEVER have heard of the Bialowieza Puszcza. But if you were raised somewhere in the temperate swathe that crosses much of North America, Japan, Korea, Russia, several former Soviet republics, parts of China, Turkey, and Eastern and Western Europe—including the British Isles—something within you remembers it. If instead you were born to tundra or desert, subtropics or tropics, pampas or savannas, there are still places on Earth kindred to this puszcza to stir your memory, too.

Puszcza, an old Polish word, means “forest primeval.” Straddling the border between Poland and Belarus, the half-million acres of the Bialowieza Puszcza contain Europe’s last remaining fragment of old-growth, lowland wilderness. Think of the misty, brooding forest that loomed behind your eyelids when, as a child, someone read you the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. Here, ash and linden trees tower nearly 150 feet, their huge canopies shading a moist, tangled understory of hornbeams, ferns, swamp alders and crockery-sized fungi. Oaks, shrouded with half a millennium of moss, grow so immense here that great spotted woodpeckers store spruce cones in their three-inch-deep bark furrows. The air, thick and cool, is draped with silence that parts briefly for a nutcracker’s croak, a pygmy owl’s low whistle, or a wolf’s wail, then returns to stillness.

The fragrance that wafts from eons of accumulated mulch in the forest’s core hearkens to fertility’s very origins. In the Bialowieza, the profusion of life owes much to all that is dead. Almost a quarter of the organic mass aboveground is in assorted stages of decay—more than 50 cubic yards of decomposing trunks and fallen branches on every acre, nourishing thousands of species of mushrooms, lichens, bark beetles, grubs, and microbes that are missing from the orderly, managed woodlands that pass as forests elsewhere. Together those species stock a sylvan larder that provides for weasels, pine martens, raccoons, badgers, otters, fox, lynx, wolves, roe deer, elk, and eagles. More kinds of life are found here than anywhere else on the continent—yet there are no surrounding mountains or sheltering valleys to form unique niches for endemic species. The Bialowieza Puszcza is simply a relic of what once stretched east to Siberia and west to Ireland.

The existence in Europe of such a legacy of unbroken biological antiquity owes, unsurprisingly, to high privilege. During the 14th century, aLithuanian duke named Wladyslaw Jagielîo, having successfully allied his grand duchy with the Kingdom of Poland, declared the forest a royal hunting preserve. For centuries, it stayed that way. When the Polish-Lithuanian union was finally subsumed by Russia, the Bialowieza became the private domain of the tsars. Although occupying Germans took lumber and slaughtered game during World War I, a pristine core was left intact, which in 1921 became a Polish national park. The timber pillaging resumed briefly under the Soviets, but when the Nazis invaded, a nature fanatic named Hermann Goring decreed the entire preserve off-limits, except by his pleasure.

Following World War II, a reportedly drunken Josef Stalin agreed one evening in Warsaw to let Poland retain two-fifths of the forest. Little else changed under communist rule, except for construction of some elite hunting dachas—in one of which, Viskuli, an agreement was signed in 1991 dissolving the Soviet Union into free states. Yet, as it turns out, this ancient sanctuary is more threatened under Polish democracy and Belarusian independence than it was during seven centuries of monarchs and dictators. Forestry ministries in both countries tout increased management to preserve the Puszcza’s health. Management, however, often turns out to be a euphemism for culling—and selling—mature hardwoods that otherwise would one day return a windfall of nutrients to the forest.

IT IS STARTLING to think that all Europe once looked like this Puszcza. To enter it is to realize that most of us were bred to a pale copy of what nature intended. Seeing elders with trunks seven feet wide, or walking through stands of the tallest trees here—gigantic Norway spruce, shaggy as Methuselah—should seem as exotic as the Amazon or Antarctica to someone raised among the comparatively puny, second-growth woodlands found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Instead, what’s astonishing is how primally familiar it feels. And, on some cellular level, how complete.

Andrzej Bobiec recognized it instantly. As a forestry student in Krakow, he’d been trained to manage forests for maximum productivity, which included removing “excess” organic litter lest it harbor pests like bark beetles. Then, on a visit here he was stunned to discover 1 0 times more biodiversity than in any forest he’d ever seen. It was the only place left with all nine European woodpecker species, because, he realized, some of them only nest in hollow, dying trees. “They can’t survive in managed forests,” he argued to his forestry professors. “The Bialowieza Puszcza has managed itself perfectly well for millennia.” The husky, bearded young Polish forester became instead a forest ecologist. He was hired by the Polish national park service. Eventually, he was fired for protesting management plans that chipped ever closer to the pristine core of the Puszcza. In various international journals, he blistered official policies that asserted that “forests will die without our thoughtful help,” or that justified cutting timber in the Bialowieza’s surrounding buffer to “reestablish the primeval character of stands.” Such convoluted thinking, he accused, was rampant among Europeans who have hardly any memory of forested wilderness.

To keep his own memory connected, for years he daily laced his leather boots and hiked through his beloved Puszcza. Yet although he ferociously defends those parts of this forest still undisturbed by man, Andrzej Bobiec can’t help being seduced by his own human nature. Alone in the woods, Bobiec enters into communion with fellow Homo sapiens through the ages. A wilderness this pure is a blank slate to record human passage: a record he has learned to read. Charcoal layers in the soil show him where gamesmen once used fire to clear parts of the forest for browse. Stands of birch and trembling aspen attest to a time when Jagiello’s descendants were distracted from hunting, perhaps by war, long enough for these sun-seeking species to recolonize game clearings. In their shade grow telltale seedlings of the hardwoods that were here before them. Gradually, these will crowd out the birch and aspen, until it will be as if they were never gone.

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