My final thoughts on religion

I have devoted a lot of time studying different religions. While I remain an atheist, religions amused me a lot. I think that stage is over. I do not find religion interesting anymore and I do not wish to study religion and how it affects people. I will however remain a student of mythology.

My final thoughts on religion are as follows.

Religion has broadly three components.

1. Contextual
2. Theological
3. Genetic. (This is my suspicion not backed by any evidence).

As we all know primitive societies were super violent. Each century in human history has been less violent than previous in proportion to the total population. Societies achieve peace by figuring out what works best to establish order. Sometimes it is a complex structure of Dharma as in Hinduism or the man with longer stick wins rule of Islam.

Looks like religion and other associated beliefs play the major role in establishing this sort of order. In modern times when we have an idea of government, law and police and an extremely complex structure of resolving conflicts, religions do appear stupid.

I do not buy the crap that religions were started with “noble” intentions. I am pretty sure it was a completely random process where “what works” survived and “what doesn’t work” died out like in process of biological evolution.

Let me explain the three dimensions I explained earlier to make things clear:

1. Contextual

Religion isn’t science and hence 2+2 is not always 4 in religion but depending on convenience it can be 3 or 5. That does not mean it can 7. While religious interpretations are contextual and people who believe in the religion understand it pretty easily, it does not mean “anything” is possible.

For example as as Hindus have gone to Shiva temple a thousand times. We have seen the lingam. But have we ever thought of it as a giant penis? Rarely. There is nothing wrong in worshiping a penis. Hindus and Buddhists do worship penises and give them importance but Shiva Lingam is never believed to be one of those symbols by us.

On the contrary for any westerner like Wendy Doniger, Lingam is obviously a penis. She even cites the word “Ligam” literally means penis without realizing the word “lingam” as is Shiva lingam predates popular term for penis.

Are these westerners wrong and trying to malign our Hindu gods ?

May or may not be but the real issue here is that they do not get the context that we all Hindus get.

Vice-versa is also true. Christian notion of creation is ridiculous to me as Hindu. There exists a real physical god in Sky who actually created the world in 7 days and the whole crap of Adam and Eve and the snake sounds stupid to me. But around 60% of Americans believe it to be literally true.

My hypothesis: It is not possible to be a Hindu by reading Hindu scriptures alone. It is not possible to be Christian or Muslims by reading Bible and Koran alone. To truly understand the religion and its beliefs one has to be born in the religion, brought up in religious atmosphere or spend substantial amount of time dealing with that religions.

There are examples of Christian missionaries who went into tribal lands for conversions but actually ended up accepting the tribal faith (or lack there of) as their own. They truly understood the other faith with its context.

2. Theological

All religions are not same. There propensity to accept science, other beliefs, violence etc. are different. A lot of these differences derive directly from the theology or The Book.

There is little doubt that Buddhists are relatively more peace loving that Islamist. All these differences flow from the book and they have behavioral consequences for its followers.

However depending upon the context these beliefs might get diluted/strengthened a bit. In countries like USA or India this context is rapidly diluting religious beliefs where as in Islamic societies it isnt.

3. Genetic

I do suspect that genes play a role in people’s religious beliefs. I think people who have spent several generations in one religion and mostly in that majority region tend to be more peaceful and stable than people following the same religion but only recently.

For example Saudi Arabia is 100% Islamic country. But it is peaceful and prosperous. It has achieved that via its own means and methods which are clearly totally different from western world. Saudi might be perceived as oppressive state but nevertheless it is peaceful. I think the Saudi people are genetically evolved to adjust to that sort of oppressive regime and seek peace.

Pakistan is an opposite example. It is genetically a Hindu country trying to cope up with a foreign religion “Islam” and hence despite being 100% Islamic country unable to find peace.

I think India will remain peaceful as long as it remains a Hindu majority country with other religions as minorities. We can already see that where Christianity or Islam reaches majority those regions quickly become unstable. Nagaland and Kashmir are prime examples. West Bengal would be next.

With this I conclude my thoughts on religion. People fighting over religion on Internet forums are stupid because they mostly do not understand that religion as a contextual aspect. Having said that clearly religions benefit by increasing their number and holding to their land as long as possible. People who think that different religions can co-exist peacefully while being religious are equally stupid.

 

 

 

Do marks matter in the long run ?

A wise teacher once told me that any student who is likely to come up with excuses like “this was not in syllabus” or “this was not covered by teacher” for not knowing something that is supposed to be a common knowledge of the subject is likely to fail in life irrespective of how that student does in exams.

I think I am sufficiently old enough to reflect on that thought today and it does seem pretty much true.

Throughout my education what exactly made difference to my life ? The number of marks scored would easily come at the bottom of that list. Marks are a very crude measure of how much effort you have put into learning a subject and the skill of answering the exam.

It is not useless because it is often obvious that the one who scores 90% is far better in the given subject than someone who has scored 35%. However the marginal utility of each additional % might be very little post a reasonable level. For example we cant really say that a person who scored 92% is actually better than someone who has scored 89%.

What would be a good advice that I would give to my younger self in this regard ?

I think your success in life vastly depends on how much knowledge, experience and motivation you have rather than the marks you scored. If you are hungry for knowledge and skill you end up putting efforts into learning and that eventually results into good marks. Memorizing some mindless stuff to gain extra 1% may not be worth it in long run but spending few extra hours on honing your skill or knowledge in your area of interest cant make a lot of difference.

Of course given the scarcity of quality education in the country each single mark counts. I barely got 80% in my SSC and was one of the last person to get admission in Chowgule colleges 5 marks less and I would have ended up in some other college. That could have made all the difference to what I am today.

Third rate Indian education

Around 20% of PhD and Masters graduates in American universities are Indians. Not just that these people are punching far above their weight compared to other communities in USA such as Blacks or Hispanics or even white people.

Back home however, Indian education is pretty pathetic. The recent report ranked Indian students at 2nd place from bottom .

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/Indian-students-rank-2nd-last-in-global-test/articleshow/11492508.cms

Fifteen-year-old Indians who were put, for the first time, on a global stage stood second to last, only beating Kyrgyzstan when tested on their reading, math and science abilities.

India ranked second last among the 73 countries that participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted annually to evaluate education systems worldwide by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Secretariat. The survey is based on two-hour tests that half a million students are put through.

All that Make in India bullshit will be bullshit if Indian education remains third rate. In last 60 years absolutely nothing has changed in education and there is very little hope that anything will change.

 

Arun Shourie’s recent criticism of Mr. Modi and his government

In his interview to well known Modi baiter Dr. Arun Shourie has roasted Modi government.

My opinions might be biased towards Mr. Shourie for the reverence I have for him but he is any day a better mind than most people in the country.

I think Arun Shourie is totally spot on in his criticism of Modi’s economic policies which have been same as Manmohan Singh’s policies which were same as Indira Gandhi’s policies and so on. Narendra Modi while talking about “less government” has actually kept that issue aside and instead has chosen the same socialistic path of “my government will change the society”. Tax terrorism, more regulation and basically everything he criticized MMS for has continued just as in past.

I am however totally stumped by his criticism of Modi’s clothes, the so called attacks on Churches and claim that Modi should have respected opposition. I am really not sure where this comes from.

Attacks on churches as a media noise is pretty common during NDA rule. During Vajpeyi government there was rape case against a Nun which got widespread international and national coverage as act of “Hindu intolerance” later however it turned out that the nun was in fact not raped at all and the people involved where Christians themselves acting out of personal grudge.

I am not sure why Mr. Shourie did not present the similar defence given that this issue of Church attacks seems completely bogus and fabricated from the available evidence.

Farmer suicide is not even an issue

Some man hanged himself in what appears like a theatrics gone wrong during AAP rally in Delhi and almost everyone reported the person as a “farmer” because his father is a farmer. Turns out he was a self employed businessman with his own website and all. Not really a loincloth wearing farmer.

Almost all major studies have shown that rate of suicide among farmers is no greater than average rate of suicides. Thanks to a friend here are some numbers:

Rate of suicides among Indian army soldiers : 8
Rate of suicides among IIT students: 12
Rate of suicides among all Indians : 16
Rate of suicides among agricultural workers : 7

Please note that out of those 7 some of those suicides have nothing to do with agriculture or farming. Suicide rate in china is 22 for all people. For USA it is 12.6.

But as usual smartass politicians and media bimbos are knowledge proof and hence they will cry for the dead farmer.

Government need not do anything about farmer suicides. Giving compensation to dead farmers would only incentivize suicides.

India has many poor people. A lot of them do not even own a piece of land. If these people are not killing themselves then there is no reason why a farmer should.

Here is a quote from BBC article linked above.

“We estimate in 2010 close to 190,000 suicides, so of all the suicides occurring in India, that would suggest [farmer suicides] are only about 10%.”

According to figures from the UN, agricultural workers make up just over 20% of the population.

Another way to look at this is to consider the overall suicide rate in India. Using figures from Professor Jha’s findings and population figures from the UN, the suicide rate in India is around 15 per 100,000. The suicide rate among agricultural workers is around seven per 100,000.

Net Neutrality is not necessarily a good idea

As someone who relies on internet to earn daily bread and porn; net neutrality is an issue that is close to my heart. It is painful to see the crowd jumping “save the internet” bandwagon without realizing they might end up breaking the internet permanently.

You can not have any rights at the expense of others.

Do consumers have a right to demand that they receive unrestricted internet access ? Of course they do. It is not very different than asking for more fuel efficient cars or extra ketchup with samosa.

However what is totally unacceptable is that these consumers go to government to force all telcos to give unrestricted internet access. This is like asking government to make a law that all vehicles should give at least X km/liter mileage.

The only thing consumers could do is to switch to another telco which gives better internet access. In a highly competitive telecom market I think it will be impossible for any business to succeed without catering to even a small % of it’s users needs.

Telecom companies own the spectrum which is a scarce resource. They have purchased it in competitive bidding. If I buy a prime real estate in a market and after I have paid the price if the government passes a law that prohibits me from using to for certain commercial activity that I originally intended it is both immoral, unwise and a form of government terrorism.

Government intervention is always a “strictly worse” option for almost everything else.

Petitioning government is a bad idea because in the name of regulation government might now enforce some arbitrary rules with arbitrary exceptions. As usual government might force the telcos for net neutrality with side clauses such as “Porn websites might be banned”. Very likely the inspector raj will break the internet permanent the way it has broken several other sectors like labor intensive industries, manufacturing, public transport and education.

But is restricted access to internet a bad idea in first place ?

I think this require fair bit of economic reasoning. A lot of people tend to think of their internet usage as “fixed usage” and then think a restricted access might mean more charges. For example if a user is currently spending Rs 200 per GB and using WhatsApp, FB and YouTube excessively, buying all three separate services might cost him Rs 50, Rs 100 and Rs 100 per month so he spends Rs 50 extra and loses freedom to access most other sites.

But people are not foolish. If Reliance is giving internet services as Rs 210 per GB, all Airtel customers will flock to Reliance. (This might sound unreasonable at anecdotal level but at scale even Rs 1 average increase in monthly bill means losing few thousand customers. Yahoo! observed that for each additional 50ms delay in page load they lost 1% of traffic. ).

The only ways Airtel can make more money here is by widening the net of its internet users. For example with Rs 50 for WhatsApp only data connection it might end up converting few million of its voice/text only customers into data users who otherwise were not willing to pay Rs 100 for 1GB.

Airtel’s gamble may or may not work but it is a bold move and certainly they have a right to try it out at their own expense. Others can simple move to Reliance, BSNL or whatever else.

This might be a game-changer for Indian audience which is known to be more price sensitive than quality sensitive and this might mean millions of poor Indian who otherwise do not use data service might now opt in for lower prices and without congesting the spectrum. This means bigger audience of internet advertising and e-commerce and that is why I am not surprised that Flipkart has joined hands with Airtel.

Expanding internet infrastructure

If telcos can derive more value from internet, it means the investment in internet infrastructure will go up. This will help internet penetration and eventually help many Indian start-ups gain more customers.

Will Telcos arm-twist internet companies ?

A truck will not pay toll on a bridge if the profits it will make through that trip do not exceed the cost of that toll. Theoretically if your internet usage is worth $X for you the telecom company can charge you X-1 and you will still use it.

However the only way we can force the telecom company to charge to much less than X is by introducing competition.

Airtel might give priority access to Flipkart and Facebook but it essentially make Reliance’s services look more useful at the same price. The only way Airtel can succeed is by ensuring the prices of its non-neutral internet service is significantly lower than other options for a given user.

As more apps and more services come up, Airtel will find it hard to maintain the value proposition of its plans. Either ways consumers win.

Understanding role of markets

The underlying principle we should not forget is that without any externality, markets tend to optimize resources much better than any one person/government can. What Airtel is doing is a fair game in a market perspective and it might actually end up using spectrum more optimally.

It is also worth noting that what Airtel is doing is nothing new. Blackberry services have always been “restrictive” you could use BES services (email only) alone for Rs 299 and unlimited internet for Rs 999. I used previous option because it saved me Rs 700. As a consumer I won.

If government had forced net neutrality the real plan that I could have gone for would have cost north of Rs 2000. Because airtel would have lost a lot of customers who could not afford any plan higher than Rs 299 making Rs 999 plan unprofitable too.

Net Neutrality : A few thoughts

As someone who uses internet for bread butter and porn, this issue is pretty close to my heart. I see a lot of yuppies talking about net neutrality and claiming that “evil telcos” are planning something nasty. Here is a classic example of the propaganda from someone who seem to have achieved excellent in bullshit.

http://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2015/04/net-neutrality-india-aib-video/

As usual exaggerated, unsubstantiated but sensationalist claims tend to resonate with common folks because finding facts and logic is hard.

Let us get the facts right one by one.

Telcos are not evil

Telecom companies are out there to make money and lots of it. They will use any policy that helps them make money. None of them are interested in harming anyone if that does not lead to their profit.

Telecom companies in India despite their poor customer service and shoddy billing have helped millions of Indian live a better life than the BSNL days. People today communicate more, earn more because of the improved telecom network.

We need to thank them.

Telcos against Net Neutrality

Telecom companies have purchased spectrum from Indian government at a very competitive price. When they were bidding for it, they did it with an assumption that they will make maximum possible profits out of it. Putting restrictions on the use of it would only mean betrayal. It is like selling a car to someone and after that person has paid in full, telling him that he cant drive it on roads of his choice.

Telecom companies are not per say against net neutrality. They want to maximize their profit. Contrary to what yuppies might tell you, telecom companies can not charge whatever they want. They can only charge what the market decides based on competition. If they could decide prices of calls and SMS they would have charged you Rs 5 per minute and not Rs. 1.

At the moment spectrum is scarce. If Airtel gives say 1GB internet for Rs 10 very likely the network will get congested pretty quickly. The very fact that they are charging very high for data shows the extent of this problem.

Clearly Airtel wants more and more people to buy their Data plans without congesting the network. Not many Indians can afford even Rs 100 for 100MB plan. However if Airtel makes it Rs 10 for just whats-app that can solve the problem by giving more poor people access to cheaper internet services (though selective) and relying on scale rather than price to increase profits.

This model has worked very well in India for shampoos, cold drinks and ice creams. It might as well work for internet.

What if we end up paying more ?

There is an unusual fear that is being created that if currently people are paying Rs 200 for 1 GB of unconditional data. With new modern plan people will end up paying Rs 50 for whatsapp, Rs 100 for Facebook, Rs 100 for Google and so on and when you add this up it will be above Rs 200.

This is unsubstantiated because in the current market with cut throat competition if Airtel is giving 1GB of data for Rs 100 then all its competitor too are doing the same thing. If Airtel’s “conditional internet” end up making internet more expensive very likely its customers will move to some other telecom operator.

Will it stifle startups ?

There was hardly any internet penetration 10 years back. Were not start-ups doing good at that time ? Now that we have more internet penetration startups should only benefit.

But the greater point here is that the current crowd which is using pure data, will continue to use the same may be at higher prices. But a large percentage of people who are not using data will start using internet too because of lower priced plans.

This is a good news because now the market size will increase.

Why are people outraging then ?

People buy arguments that evil companies are out to screw us over. They do no apply their mind. But that is only part of the reason. With conditional-internet the “pro” users like me will have to pay higher because we will be using more spectrum than other ordinary users. It is in my interest to oppose Airtel’s move and force government to act.

But government is nothing but a brainless system. It is likely to come up with regulations that will benefit no one but those in power. Do not be surprised if government comes up with ridiculous plans which will make event lack of internet a better alternative.

 

 

Beef or no Beef.

Few years back we had cows and goats. My parents spent on an average 2 man hours a day after this live-stock to get around 3L of milk per day. Adjusted to inflation this was around Rs 100 worth of milk. I am not counting the money spent on animal doctors and time spent because of restriction of always keeping one person at home to look after the livestock. I am not even adjusting the income for the physical labor they did to take care of these animals.

As years passed the marginal benefit of the home grown milk reduced. The animals became a liability and today we dont have any. My parents looked after all the animals with great care without bothering about money and time. The last cow refused to return home and a speeding truck took her life. Calfs and Bulls were given away for free to tribal farmers.

An era ended. Since time immemorial we have always had ample “Go-dhan” (Cow Wealth).

What happened? In recent years we could simple walk to the local market and buy as much milk as we wanted for much lower price. The efficiency with which we generated milk at home was no match for Goa Dairy’s milk which was milked from some distant cow, pasteurized,  packaged and transported in iced container over several kilometers and was still more abundant and cheaper.

The efficiency and low-costs of Goa Dairy milk was what eventually made us give up our cows.

We take pride in the fact that we do not eat beef and we are god fearing people. We go to local temple and offer milk to Shivalingam. We buy that milk from the local shop. When we leave the Shiva temple we touch Nandi the Bull.

Lets lean back a little and look at that milk on floor a bit. It comes from the local shop which buys it from Goa Dairy. It is cheaper hence we dont mind buying it and offering to the God. We would not have purchased that milk if it was Rs 1000 a liter instead of Rs 50 a liter.

Why is that milk cheap ? Goa dairy buys milk from farmers who own cows. Farmers who own 100s of cows are able to produce milk at cheaper rate than those who own just 1 or 2 cows. To gain more milk these farmers need to make their cows pregnant more often. This happens to through artificial insemination for which they use only 3-4 bulls. But when cows get pregnant they give birth to males or females with 50% probability.

What do you do when 100 cows you own give birth to 50 females and 50 males  ?  Of course like my parents you can be nice to all of them and raise them all. But then you have 50 additional mouths to feed, 50 additional candidates for health checkups and space in your farm. All that cost then needs to be recovered from the milk of cows. The dairy then have to pay these farmers more which then in return is to be earned from consumers. You have to pay a few Rs more each time you buy milk.

Of course the farmers are no fools. They can always sell the bulls to the butcher and earn a few bucks increasing their competitiveness benefits of which are then passed to you and me.

Each time you buy milk in your local shop please remember that someone somewhere is eating a Beef Kebab because you saved few Rupees on milk. When the beef business is banned the farmers cant earn from the butcher but they can still cut their costs by simply killing the bulls and burying them or simply discarding them on road to lead a pathetic life and death under a truck.

The recent beef ban will only mean that a lot of cattle will now die either a discarded life or will be smuggled to be killed in inhuman ways.

Remember that next time you pour milk on Shivalingam, you have been responsible for killing some bull somewhere.

Nalanda Scam

Here is a piece about Nalanda Scam lead by Shri Amartya Sen a bengali communist economist.

Here is an interesting para

In the heat of the moment, it is easy to lose perspective. Let us step back and consider what the Nalanda University project is all about. Nalanda University and the South Asian University (SAU) were conceived by the UPA government as world-class institutions that, while being located in India, would be outside the purview of the University Grants Commission and government regulations.

See what ? We are told that the very reason by UGC exists and why government continues to meddle in education is because it helps keep the “quality” but when it comes to the intent of building a world class institution for some reason the governemnt keeps it outside the purview of UGC.

Well, but the keeping it outside of government purview and opening a fund to a scammer hardly builds world class institutions.

At least UPA government admitted that it is no more possible to build any world class institution while the vultures like UGC and AICTE exist. Hopefully Smriti Irani and Narendra Modi will do something about it.

How tuitions are helping students get better education

This website has got some excellent data on state of Indian education. The data is collected by Pratham, an organization run by Nandan Nilekani’s wife Rohini.

There are no surprises in the data. While the overall quality of education in India remains pretty poor, the government schools are far more worse than the private schools. In a separate report it is also mentioned that private schools are around 4 times more cost efficient.

The report further shows that the tuition system which operates outside the government regulation system is doing even a better job of imparting education even in remote areas like Mizoram. The cost of tuition fee is directly correlated with the quality of education they impart.

This is an excellent eye opener for those who continue to bat for government investment and control in education.

There is an argument that education is a very noble profession and we should not commercialize it. This is a good argument. If you look closely, clearly government schools pay more salary, spend more on infrastructure and yet deliver far poor results than the private schools where students pay their own fees.

Government is the real scum here. Because a student who goes to private school not only pays his own fees but in the form of taxes ends up paying for other students who go to government schools. In a sense he pays twice.

The students at government school receive education at the expense of someone else. Which is morally a theft.