Atanu Dey On India's Development

September 2, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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What’s a Republic?

I have been poking around in The Federalist Papers recently. Written between October 1787 and August 1788, they are “a collection of 85 articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution.” Fascinating stuff. (The complete collection is here at the Library of Congress.) Here’s a bit from James Madison, Federalist, no. 39, on the matter of what a republic is:

. . . we may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behaviour. It is essential to such a government, that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their government the honorable title of republic.

Let’s remember that this was written around 1788. That over 225 years ago!

August 28, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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Renaming Aurangzeb Road: A Proposal

Indian politicians talk a very loudly talk about India being a democracy, meaning Indians have some say in what happens in India. But when it comes to reality, they are understandably reluctant to put their money where their mouth is. Indian democracy should not be limited to Indians merely having the vote for choosing who is going to be their mai-baap, to dictate to them. To be meaningful, democracy should be extended to the relatively unimportant matter of people deciding who are worthy of being honored by having major roads, schemes and institutions named after them.

So far, most of the major roads, institutions and public schemes have been named after members of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. It’s high time to change that high-handed, dictatorial method and go with a more “democratic” process. The means exist. A significant proportion of the population has the means to vote for all proposed name changes — and there’s a crying need to change all those names. Here’s my proposal.
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August 28, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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Naming “Dr” APJ Abdul Kalam Road: The Administrator

The proposed renaming of “Aurangzeb Road” into “Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road” is doubtless an improvement. It marks a welcome transition from honoring an ancient terrible tyrant to honoring a contemporaneous much-admired administrator who passed away very recently. It could be better but one should be grateful for small mercies in an otherwise merciless world.

I briefly noted in my previous post (“Renaming Aurangzeb Road: The Tyrant“) the tyranny of Aurangzeb. Here I will consider why I believe that we could do better than renaming the road after Mr Kalam. I don’t harbor any illusions that my views will be taken seriously by anybody, least of all the hordes of “Dr” Kalam fans whose first knee-jerk reaction to my characterization of Mr Kalam is name-calling. A thick skin is the first requirement for being a contrarian. I wouldn’t get in the business of calling bullshit if I couldn’t tolerate the reaction from the purveyors of bullshit.
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August 28, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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Renaming Aurangzeb Road: The Tyrant

Though not unique in that respect, India does appear to suffer from a severely debilitating case of personality cult disorder. It is not a minor affliction because, as I will argue later in a separate post, it leads to serious social, economic, and political dysfunction. The condition is chronic but thankfully it is not incorrigible. A little bit of critical thinking among the public at large can eradicate the disease and with it the harmful consequences. Among the many symptoms of this disorder, particularly evident ones are the naming of roads and a variety of institutions after rulers and politicians (which amounts to the same thing.) It can escape no one’s attention that names of the Nehru-Gandhi clan adorn thousands of roads, institutions, and public schemes in India. I conjecture that a list of institutions and schemes not bearing one of those clan member names would be shorter than a list with their names.
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August 25, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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Flash mob performance of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”

One of my favorites, Beethoven’s 9th symphony is his final complete symphony. Composed between 1822 and 1824, it is considered to be his finest and some even think that it is the greatest composition in the Western classical music canon. In the final movement of the choral symphony, the chorus sings the words to Friedrich Schiller’s poem “An die Freude” (composed 1785). Beethoven conducted the symphony when it premiered. He was totally deaf by that time and so he had to see the ovation that followed, rather than hear it.
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August 23, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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The Cycle of Wealth and Poverty

Some years ago, a very wise gentleman told me of a saying that succinctly describes the decline and fall of family fortunes, which happens to cycle in approximately four generations. “Khattu, Nikhattu, Udharichand, Baychumal”.

It begins with the generation that works hard (Khattu) and builds up the family fortune. It is followed by a generation that is lazy (Nikhattu) and lives off the wealth. The third generation becomes more lazy and lives off borrowings (Udharichand) against the remaining assets. Finally, the fourth generation ends up selling the assets and ends up poor.

A version of this cycle must apply at larger scales too, that of societies and nations. It could be a global phenomenon and if so, other societies must have recognized the phenomenon and therefore also have similar sayings. And indeed they do. Here are a few from around the world. I got them off the web.
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August 10, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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Of Yogis, Grihastis and Institutions

If people were self-sacrificing, self-effacing, other-directed, rational, visionary, benevolent beings — “yogis” — then it would not matter very much what kind of institutional arrangements they lived under: the resulting social welfare of their collective actions would be fairly even regardless of whether they lived in a market-oriented capitalist order or a collectivist socialist order. But unfortunately for all of us, people are self-interested, myopic, irrational, imperfect beings — “grihastis”. Given the reality of living in this material world, the institutional arrangement does matter.
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August 9, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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Karl Popper on the Limits of Tolerance

“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”

– Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), Vol. 1, Notes to the Chapters: Ch. 7, Note 4.

“I have insisted that we must be tolerant. But I also believe that this tolerance has its limits. We must not trust those anti-humanitarian religions which not only preach destruction but act accordingly. For if we tolerate them, then we become ourselves responsible for their deeds.”

— Karl Popper. After the Open Society.

August 2, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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The Internet Archive Wayback Machine

One of the best ways to “capture a web page as it appears now for use as a trusted citation in the future” is the Internet Archive Wayback machine. It’s an awesome handy tool. You’ll be glad you know how to use it.

Publications sometimes change their minds and “unpublish” pieces. It is often under government pressure and sometimes under public pressure from special interest groups. When a publication retracts an article or an opinion piece, it is usually because the management (editors and owners) realize that they have published something that on second thoughts they should not have — the equivalent of “oops, did I say that aloud?” The way to do a hurried retraction is to delete the piece from the website. This happens quite frequently in the twitter world. But the incriminating evidence remains if some people do a screen-capture of the relevant tweet.
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July 30, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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Guru Purnima

Of all the Sanskrit sholkas I know, the Guru Mantra resonates most with me. It says —

ॐ Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu
Guru Devo Maheshwara
Guru Shakshat Parabrahma
Tasmai Shri Guruvey Namaha ॐ

Here it is in Devanagari:

guru-brahma

And my interpretation of the mantra follows.
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July 28, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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The Passing of Former President Mr APJ Abdul Kalam

MWSnap0442Former President of India, Mr APJ Abdul Kalam, passed away on 27th July, 2015. He was 83 years old. It is indeed a sad day for India and the millions of Indians who hold him in high regard and genuine affection. He is celebrated for his many professional accomplishments and admired for his character, his sincere dedication to improving India his beloved motherland. He perhaps deserved to be the head of state — a position he held from July 2002 through July 2007 — more than many others who have held or will hold that position. May his soul rest in peace.
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July 24, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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The Only Home We’ve Ever Known

Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite took this picture of earth from 1 million miles away on July 6th.

earth-million-miles-1500-2

(Right click on image above and “Open image in new tab” to see full version.)
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That picture is a lot closer than the photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40.5 AU).
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July 22, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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Constitutions Matter in our Daily Lives

Regular readers of this blog know of my interest in constitutions and how they affect the prosperity, or lack thereof, of nations. A recent conversation with a friend prompted this line of thinking about constitutions and how they matter in our everyday life even though it may appear that constitutions are rather remote and cannot possibly be relevant in our lives.
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July 19, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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We need more Anandamide, not Jihadamide

Ganja, or as it is known in the West, Marijuana is a miracle weed. Hemp is another name. The wiki notes, “Hemp is a commonly used term for high-growing varieties of the Cannabis plant and its products, which include fiber, oil, and seed. Hemp is refined into products such as hemp seed foods, hemp oil, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, paper, and fuel. Other variants of the herb Cannabis are widely used as a drug, commonly known as marijuana. These variants are typically low-growing and have higher content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and other cannabinoids.”

I came across this National Geographic feature piece on the plant. Interesting tidbit —
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July 17, 2015
by Atanu Dey
18 Comments

Circular Firing Squad of Flying Attack Monkeys Target Rajiv Malhotra

An old legal aphorism advises young lawyers that “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.” When you see someone furiously pounding the table, you’d be justified in thinking that he has taken that advice too seriously, and conclude that neither the facts nor the law are on his side.

The fact is that in any battle — of wits or muscle, figurative or real, defensive or offensive — one leads with the best device at one’s disposal. In desperate situations, clutching at straws may be the best one can do when one is in over one’s head and lifeboats are missing. That cliched image comes to mind seeing the recent charges of plagiarism against Shri Rajiv Malhotra.
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July 16, 2015
by Atanu Dey
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The Dreamer and the Dream

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” That’s Carl Jung (1875 – 1961). Wiki says, he “was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology. His work has been influential not only in psychiatry but also in philosophy, anthropology, archaeology, literature, and religious studies. . . . Jung created some of the best known psychological concepts, including the archetype, the collective unconscious, the complex, and extraversion and introversion.”

A few quotes follow.
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