Sunday, March 30, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke brings back IIT Memories

The passing of Arthur C. Clarke brought back the experience of hearing him some twentyfive (no kidding!) years ago at IIT Madras. There was this marvellous series known as the `Extra-Mural Lecture' series. It was a stunning for all of us young men and women to see and hear these living legends. What I actually remember of those extraordinary lectures is very little. I do remember some of those we heard. There was Charles Duke who was an astronaut who had walked on the moon, and then there was a lecture by R. K. Laxman. He actually took a slide and a black pen and drew a cartoon for us with half a dozen pen strokes. Here in IISc we have (had?) this Frontier series which also has brought many impressive personalities. I remember a historian Sabyasachi Bhattacharryya, Medha Patkar and Mrinalini Sarabhai as being particularly impressive as speakers and/or personalities.

I must say that while we talk so much about all the `Institution builders', e.g., Bhabha, Sarabhai, Raman, etc.., it would also be great to know who are those that were behind the Extra-Mural series, the Frontier series. Who are the silent and men and women that actually turn the wheels of these great Institutions? Or atleast oil them? Why are they unknown, anonymous?

It is not just the extra-curricular activities that I wish to think about: Would all the great alumni of these great Institutes be what they were without the unknown men and women who established these institutes, set up the syllabus, ran the exams and gave out the grades? Would the Khoslas, the Vaziranis, the Madhu Sudans, the Rekhis, the Narayanamurthys, and my own classmate Phaneesh Murthy's be what they are? Of course there are others who have made their fame elsewhere: in academe, in letters, etc..

There were poignant stories sometime ago of one IIM Prof., Ramu Iyer, who passed away due to cancer and was unable to pay his medical bills, although his students were Wall street billionaires. I wonder how many such stories are there about the IITs and indeed of all the other myriad educational institutions in our country. I don't just mean sad stories; even happy stories which are all unknown.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thompson and Tits share the Abel Prize for 2008

The Abel prize which is now regarded as something as an equivalent of the Nobel prize for mathematics has been announced for the year 2008. It has been awarded to Thompson and Tits. You can read about it here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

BELLE experiment's results on direct CP violation

The BELLE experiment in Japan seen direct CP violation in B mesons, but finds a difference between the signal in the neutral and charged meson signals. The exciting story is here.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More things in heaven and earth...

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.''

Hamlet Act 1, scene 5

This is what came to mind when I read about the explosion half-way across the Universe. Just as we thought we knew everything about celestial objects, this has happened. It would be really interesting to know what it is. There are several stories about this, but this link should tell you more. I am reproducing this below because of the fear of link-rot about which Abi has written recently.

Cosmic blast 7.5 billion years old, seen with naked eye

2 days ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) — NASA has detected the brightest cosmic explosion ever recorded -- a massive burst of energy 7.5 billion light years away that could be seen with the naked eye from Earth, the US space agency said Thursday.
The explosion, a gamma ray burst older than Earth itself, was monitored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Swift satellite and shattered the record for the most distant object seen without visual aid.

"No other known object or type of explosion could be seen by the naked eye at such an immense distance," said Swift team member Stephen Holland of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in the eastern state of Maryland.

"If someone just happened to be looking at the right place at the right time, they saw the most distant object ever seen by human eyes without optical aid."

Gamma ray bursts are among the most violent phenomenon produced in the universe. NASA described them as the most luminous explosions since the "Big Bang."

The satellite's burst alert telescope discovered the explosion on Wednesday and located it in the Bootes constellation, with telescopes on Earth adjusting to witness the afterglow.

NASA measured the explosion as having occured 7.5 billion years ago, before Earth was formed and more than halfway across the visible universe.

Until now the most luminous object visible with the naked eye was galaxy M33, a "relatively short" 2.9 million lightyears from Earth.

The explosion seen Wednesday "blows away every gamma ray burst we've seen so far," said Neil Gehrels of Goddard Space Flight Center.

Gamma ray bursts occur when huge stars use up all their fuel and their core collapses, forming black holes or neutron stars that release bursts of gamma rays, ejecting particles into space at nearly the speed of light and generating afterglows.

The burst, named GRB 080319B, was among a record four bursts detected by Swift on Wednesday, the same day of the death of prolific science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke who wrote "2001: A Space Odyssey."

"Coincidentally, the passing of Arthur C. Clarke seems to have set the universe ablaze with gamma ray bursts," said Swift team member Judith Racusin of Penn State University.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

TV channels and propaganda

We accidentally ended up watching most part of a movie `Maxwell' on History channel last night. The movie was remarkable in the understatedness of the screenplay (teleplay?). I was astonished at the fantastic histrionics of the main actor who played Maxwell, the woman that played Mrs. Maxwell, and all the other minor actors. The sparseness of dialogue is also noteworthy. I contrast this movie with the yelling, screaming and melodrama of an average movie on TV in one of our languages. That apart, it seems to me that the depiction is quite different from Maxwell was in reality. There is a suggestion that Maxwell was trapped by his enemies in the film, and comes across as something of a tragic figure. There was plenty of personal tragedy in his life --- lost his relatives in the Holocaust, lost a son in an accident, seems to have lost a child in early childhood. However, the biography of wikipedia holds his responsible for the collapse of the pension funds. In other words, the BBC rendition is something of a fiction based on his life. I was also struck by adverts during the telecast of a new film `Saddam's Tribe' purportedly based on narratives of his daughter. The total demonization that is implicit in the sound bites of an entire Tribe is also shocking. Why would they put out a movie on Saddam and his cruelty when the world can see for itself the cruelty of the US invasion, of the Abu Ghraib's and the countless other incidents. To supply a post-hoc justification of the invasion? Shows the power of cinema to twist anything in any way you want. It is also clear that History channel is really a propaganda channel for Anglo-American imperialism. As are National Geographic and Discovery. It is amazing how interspersed between programmes on crocodiles and butans are programmes on war-planes, latest tanks and artillery. Of course, no matter what kind of artillery is used by western armed forces, it is always in good intent. Even the programmes on crocodiles are always loaded with messages of might being right, big eating small, survival of the fittest. Talk of subliminal propaganda.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Blogging on blogspot with the Safari browser

Does any one of you out there blog on a apple on blogspot with a safari browser? Somehow I find it very limiting to blog from this browser. Even more strange is trying to post a comment on blogspot. It asks for word verification in a space alongside of which is the symbol for handicapped persons. Is this a coded message or what? Any insights into why it uses this symbol?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Predatory Growth" by Amit Bhaduri

The following article was sent to me by Sitaram. It is worth reproducing in its entireity. It appears at many places in netlandia. I don't know where it was first published.
Saturday, 23 February, 2008
Amit Bhaduri - Predatory growth

Predatory Growth

Over the last two decades or so, the two most populous, large countries in the world, China and India, have been growing at rates considerably higher than the world average. In recent years the growth rate of national product of China has been about three times, and that of India approximately two times that of the world average. This has led to a clever defence of globalisation by a former chief economist of IMF (Fisher, 2003). Although China and India feature as only two among some 150 countries for which data are available, he reminded us that together they account for the majority of the poor in the world. This means that, even if the rich and the poor countries of the world are not converging in terms of per capita income, the well above the average world rate of growth rate of these two large countries implies that the current phase of globalisation is reducing global inequality and poverty at a rate as never before.

Statistical half truths can be more misleading at times than untruths. And this might be one of them, in so far as the experiences of ordinary Indians contradict such statistical artefact. Since citizens in India can express reasonably freely their views at least at the time of elections, their electoral verdicts on the regime of high growth should be indicative. They have invariably been negative. Not only did the ‘Shining India’ image crash badly in the last general election, even the present prime minister, widely presented as the ‘guru’ of India’s economic liberalisation in the media, could never personally win an election in his life. As a result, come election time, and all parties talk not of economic reform, liberalisation and globalisation, but of greater welfare measures to be initiated by the state. Gone election times, and the reform agenda is back. Something clearly needs to be deciphered from such predictable swings in political pronouncement.

Politicians know that ordinary people are not persuaded by statistical mirages and numbers, but by their daily experiences. They do not accept high growth on its face value as unambiguously beneficial. If the distribution of income turns viciously against them, if the opportunities for reasonable employment and livelihood do not expand with high growth, the purpose of higher growth would be widely questioned in a democracy. This is indeed what is happening, and it might even appear to some as paradoxical. The festive mood generated by high growth is marinated in popular dissent and despair, turning often into repressed anger. Like a malignant malaise, a sense of political unease is spreading insidiously along with the near double digit growth. And, no major political party, irrespective of their right or left label, is escaping it because they all subscribe to an ideology of growth at any cost.

What exactly is the nature of this paradoxical growth that increases output and popular anger at the same time? India has long been accustomed to extensive poverty coexisting with growth, with or without its ‘socialist pattern’. It continues to have anywhere between one-third and one-fourth of its population living in sub-human, absolute poverty. The number of people condemned to absolute poverty declined very slowly in India over the last two decades, leaving some 303 million people still in utter misery. In contrast China did better with the number of absolutely poor declining from 53 per cent to 8 percent, i.e. a reduction of some 45 percentage points, quite an achievement compared to India’s 17 percentage points. However, while China grew faster, inequality or relative poverty also grew faster in China than in India. Some claim that the increasing gap between the richer and the poorer sections in the Chinese society during the recent period has been one of the worst in recorded economic history, perhaps with the exception of some former socialist countries immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The share in national income of the poorest 20 per cent of the population in contemporary China is 5.9 percent, compared to 8.2 per cent in India. This implies that the lowest 20 per cent income group in China and in India receives about 30 and 40 percent of the per capita average income of their respective countries. However, since China has over two times the average per capita income of India in terms of both purchasing power parity, and dollar income, the poorest 20 percent in India are better off in relative terms, but worse off in absolute terms. The Gini coefficient, lying between 0 and 1, measures inequality, and increases in value with the degree of inequality. In China, it had a value close to 0.50 in 2006, one of the highest in the world. Inequality has grown also in India, but less sharply. Between1993-94 and 2004-5, the coefficient rose from 0.25 to 0.27 in urban, and 0.31 to 0.35 in rural areas. Every dimension of inequality, among the regions, among the professions and sectors, and in particular between urban rural areas has also grown rapidly in both counties, even faster in China than in India. In short, China has done better than India in reducing absolute poverty, but worse in allowing the gap to grow rapidly between the rich and the poor during the recent period of high growth.

A central fact stands out. Despite vast differences in the political systems of the two countries, the common factor has been increasing inequality accompanying higher growth. What is not usually realized is that the growth in output and in inequality are not two isolated phenomena. One frequently comes across the platitude that high growth will soon be trickling down to the poor, or that redistributive action by the state through fiscal measures could decrease inequality while keeping up the growth rate. These statements are comfortable but unworkable, because they miss the main characteristic of the growth process underway. This pattern of growth is propelled by a powerful reinforcing mechanism, which the economist Gunner Myrdal had once described as ‘cumulative causation’. The mechanism by which growing inequality drives growth, and growth fuels further inequality has its origin in two different factors, both related to some extent to globalisation.

First, in contrast to earlier times when less than 4 per cent growth on an average was associated with 2 percent growth in employment, India is experiencing a growth rate of some 7-8 per cent in recent years, but the growth in regular employment has hardly exceeded 1 percent. This means most of the growth, some 5-6 percent of the GDP, is the result not of employment expansion, but of higher output per worker. This high growth of output has its source in the growth of labour productivity. According to official statistics, between 1991 and 2004 employment fell in the organised public sector, and the organised private sector hardly compensated for it. In the corporate sector, and in some organized industries productivity growth comes from mechanization and longer hours of work. Edward Luce of the Financial Times (London) reported that the Jamshedpur steel plant of the Tatas employed 85,000 workers in 1991 to produce 1 million tons of steel worth 0.8 million U.S. dollars. In 2005, the production rose to 5 million tons, worth about 5 million U.S. dollars, while employment fell to 44,000. In short output increased approximately by a factor of five, employment dropped by a factor of half, implying an increase in labour productivity by a factor of ten. Similarly, Tata Motors in Pune reduced the number of workers from 35 to 21 thousand but increased the production of vehicles from 129,000 to 311,500 between 1999 and 2004, implying labour productivity increase by a factor of four. Stephen Roach, chief economist of Morgan Stanley reports a similar case of the Bajaj motorcycle factory in Pune. In the mid-1990s the factory employed 24,000 workers to produce 1 million two-wheelers. Aided by Japanese robotics and Indian information technology, in 2004, 10,500 workers turned out 2.4 million units, i.e. more than double the output with less than half the labour force, an increase in labour productivity by a factor of nearly 6. (Data collected by Aseem Srivastava, ‘Why this growth can never trickle down’, One could multiply such examples, but this is broadly the name of the game everywhere in the private corporate sector.

The manifold increase in labour productivity, without a corresponding increase in wages and salaries becomes an enormous source of profit, and also a source of international price competitiveness in a globalizing world. Nevertheless, this is not the entire story, perhaps not even the most important part of the story. The whole organized sector to which the corporate sector belongs, accounts for less than one-tenth of the labour force. Simply by the arithmetic of weighted average, a 5-6 per cent annual growth in labour productivity in the entire economy is possible only if the unorganized sector accounting for the remaining 90 per cent of the labour force also contributes to the growth in labour productivity. Direct information is not available on this count, but several micro studies and surveys show the broad pattern. Growth of labour productivity in the unorganized sector, which includes most of agriculture, comes from lengthening the hours of work to a significant extent, as this sector has no labour laws worth the name, or social security to protect workers. Sub-contracting to the unorganized sector along with casualisation of labour on a large scale become convenient devices to ensure longer hours of work without higher pay. Self-employed workers, totaling 260 million, expanded fastest during the high growth regime, providing an invisible source of labour productivity growth. Ruthless self-exploitation by many of these workers in a desperate attempt to survive by doing long hours of work with very little extra earning adds both to productivity growth, often augmenting corporate profit, and to human misery.

However inequality is increasing for another reason. Its ideology often described as neo-liberalism, is easily visible at one level; but the underlying deeper reason is seldom discussed. The increasing openness of the Indian economy to international finance and capital flows, rather than to trade in goods and services, has had the consequence of paralysing many pro-poor public policies. Despite the fact that we continue to import more than we export (unlike China), India’s comfortable foreign reserves position, crossing 230 billion U.S dollars in 2008, is mostly the result of accumulated portfolio investments and short term capital inflows from various financial institutions. To keep the show going in this way, the fiscal and the monetary policies of the government need to comply with the interests of the financial markets. That is the reason why successive Indian governments have willingly accepted the Financial Responsibility and Budget Management Act (2003) restricting deficit spending. Similarly, the idea has gained support that the government should raise resources through privatisation and so-called public-private partnership, but not through raising fiscal deficit, or not imposing a significant turnover tax on transactions of securities. These measures rattle the ‘sentiment’ of the financial markets, so governments remain wary of them. The hidden agenda, vigorously pursued by governments of all colours has been to keep the large private players in the financial markets in a happy mood. Since the private banks and financial institutions usually take their lead from the IMF and the World Bank, this bestows on these multilateral agencies considerable power over the formulation of government policies. However, the burden of such policies is borne largely by the poor of this country. This has had a crippling effect on policies for expanding public expenditure for the poor in the social sector. Inequality and distress grow as the state rolls back public expenditure in social services like basic health, education, and public distribution and neglects the poor, while the ‘discipline’ imposed by the financial markets serves the rich and the corporations. This process of high growth traps roughly one in three citizens of India in extreme poverty with no possibility of escape through either regular employment growth or relief through state expenditure on social services. The high growth scene of India appears to them like a wasteland leading to the Hell described by the great Italian poet Dante. On the gate of his imagined Hell is written, “This is the land you enter after abandoning all hopes”.

Extremely slow growth in employment and feeble public action exacerbates inequality, as a disproportionately large share of the increasing output and income from growth goes to the richer section of the population, not more than say the top 20 per cent of the income receivers in India. At the extreme ends of income distribution the picture that emerges in one of striking contrasts. According to the Forbes Magazine list for 2007, the number of Indian billionaires rose from 9 in 2004 to 40 in 2007, much richer counties like Japan had only 24, France had 14 and Italy 14. Even China, despite its sharply increasing inequality, had only 17 billionaires. The combined wealth of Indian billionaires increased from US dollars 106 billion to 170 billion in the single year, 2006-07. This 60 per cent increase in wealth would not have been possible, except through transfer on land from the state and central governments to the private corporations in the name of ‘public purpose’, for mining, industrialisation and special economic zones (SEZ). Estimates based on corporate profits suggest that, since 2000-01 to date, each additional per cent growth of GDP has led on an average to some 2.5 per cent growth in corporate profits. India’s high growth has certainly benefited the corporations more than anyone else.

After several years of high growth along these lines, India of the twenty first century has the distinction of being only second to the United States in terms of the combined total wealth of its corporate billionaires coexisting with the largest number of homeless, ill-fed, illiterates in the world. Not surprisingly, for ordinary Indians at the receiving end, this growth process is devoid of all hope for escape. Nearly half of Indian children under 6 years suffer from under-weight and malnutrition, nearly 80 per cent from anaemia, while some 40 per cent of Indian adults suffer from chronic energy deficit. Destitution, chronic hunger and poverty kill and cripple silently thousands picking on systematically the more vulnerable. The problem is more acute in rural India, among small children, pregnant females, Dalits and Adivasis, especially in the poorer states, while market oriented policies and reforms continue to widen the gap between the rich and the poor, as well as among regions.

The growth dynamics in operation is being fed continuously by growing inequality. With their income rapidly growing, the richer group of Indians demand a set of goods, which lie outside the reach of the rest in the society (think of air conditioned malls, luxury hotels, restaurants and apartments, private cars, world class cities where the poor would be made invisible). The market for these good expands rapidly. For instance, we are told that more than 3 in 4 Indians do not have a daily income of 2 U.S dollars. They can hardly be a part of this growing market. However, the logic of the market now takes over, as the market is dictated by purchasing power. Its logic is to produce those goods for which there is enough demand backed by money, so that high prices can be charged and handsome profits can be made. As the income of the privileged grows rapidly, the market for the luxury goods they demand grows even faster through the operation of the ‘income elasticities of demand’. These elasticities roughly measure the per cent growth in the demand for particular goods due to one per cent growth in income (at unchanged prices). Typically, goods consumed by the rich have income elasticities greater than unity, implying that the demand for a whole range of luxury goods consumed by the rich expands even faster than the growth in their income. Thus, the pattern of production is dictated by this process of growth through raising both the income of the rich faster than that of the rest of the society, and also because the income elasticities operate to increase even faster than income the demand for luxuries.

The production structure resulting from this market driven high growth is heavily biased against the poor. While demand expands rapidly for various up-market goods, demand for the basic necessities of life hardly expands. Not only there is little growth in the purchasing power of the poor, but the reduction in welfare expenditures by the state stunts the growth in demand for necessities. The rapid shift in the output composition in favour of services might be indicative of this process at the macro level. But specific examples abound. We have state-of-the-art corporate run expensive hospitals, nursing homes and spas for the rich, but not enough money to control malaria and T.B. which require inexpensive treatment. So they continue to kill the largest numbers. Lack of sanitation and clean drinking water transmit deadly diseases especially to small children which could be prevented at little cost, while bottled water of various brands multiplies for those who can afford it. Private schools for rich kids often have monthly fees that are higher than the annual income of an average unskilled Indian worker, while the poor often have to be satisfied with schools without teachers, or class rooms.

Over time an increasingly irreversible production structure in favour of the rich begins to consolidates itself. Because the investments embodied in the specific capital goods created to produce luxuries cannot easily be converted to producing basic necessities (the luxury hotel or spa cannot be converted easily to a primary health centre in a village etc). And yet, it is the logic of the market to direct investments towards the most productive and profitable sectors for ‘the efficient allocation of resources’. The price mechanism sends signals to guide this allocation, but the prices that rule are largely a consequence of the growing unequal distribution of income in the society. The market becomes a bad master when the distribution of income is bad.

There are insidious consequences of such a composition of output biased in favour of the rich that our liberalised market system produces. It is highly energy, water and other non-reproducible resources intensive, and often does unacceptable violence to the environment. We only have to think of the energy and material content of air-conditioned malls, luxury hotels and apartments, air travels, or private cars as means of transport. These are no doubt symbols of ‘world class’ cities in a poor country, by diverting resources from the countryside where most live. It creates a black hole of urbanization with a giant appetite for primary non-reproducible resources. Many are forced to migrate to cities as fertile land is diverted to non-agricultural use, water and electricity are taken away from farms in critical agricultural seasons to supply cities, and developmental projects displace thousands. Hydroelectric power from the big dams is transmitted mostly to corporate industries, and a few posh urban localities, while the nearby villages are left in darkness. Peasants even close to the cities do not get electricity or water to irrigate their land as urban India increasingly gobbles up these resources. Take the pattern of water use. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General report released to the public on 30 March 2007, Gujarat increased the allocation of Narmada waters to industry fivefold during 2006, eating into the share of drought-affected villages. Despite many promises made to villagers, water allocation stagnated at 0.86 MAF (million acres feet), and even this is being cut. Water companies and soft-drink giants like Coca-Cola sink deeper to take out pure ground water as free raw material for their products. Peasants in surrounding areas pay, because they cannot match the technology or capital cost. Iron ore is mined out in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Orissa leaving tribals without home or livelihood. Common lands which traditionally provided supplementary income to the poor in villages are encroached upon systematically by the local rich and the corporations with active connivance of the government. The manifest crisis engulfing Indian agriculture with more than a hundred thousand suicides by farmers over the last decade according to official statistics is a pointer to this process of pampering the rich who use their growing economic power to dominate increasingly the multitude of poor.

The composition of output demanded by the rich is hardly producible by village artisans or the small producers. They find no place either as producers or as consumers; instead, economic activities catering to the rich have to be handed over to large corporations who can now enter in a big way into the scene. The combination of accelerating growth and rising inequality begins to work in unison. The corporations are needed to produce goods for the rich, and in the process they make their high profits and provide well-paid employment for the rich in a poor country who provide a part of the growing market. It becomes a process of destructive creation of corporate wealth, with a new coalition cutting across traditional Right and Left political division formed in the course of this road to high growth. The signboard of this road is ‘progress through industrialisation’. The middle class opinion-makers and media-persons unite, and occasionally offer palliatives of ‘fair compensation’ to the dispossessed. Yet, they are at a loss as to how to create alternative dignified livelihood caused by large scale displacement and destruction in the name of industrialisation. Talks of compensation tends to be one sided, as they focus usually on ownership and, at best use rights to land. However, the multitude of the poor who eke out a living without any ownership or use right to landed property, like agricultural labourers, fishermen, or cart-drivers in rural areas, or illegal squatters and small hawkers in cities, seldom figure in this discussion about compensation. And yet, they are usually the poorest of the poor, outnumbering by far, perhaps in the ratio of 3 to 1, those who have some title to landed property. Ignoring them altogether, the state acquires with single minded devotion land, water and resources for the private corporations for mining, industrialisation or Special Economic Zones in the name of public interest. With some tribal land that can be acquired according to the PESA (1996) act only through the consent of the community (Gram Sabha), consent is frequently manufactured at gun point by the law and order machinery of the state, if the money power of the corporations to bribe and intimidate prove insufficient. The vocal supporters of industrialisation never stop to ask why the very poor who are least able, should bear the burden of ‘economic progress’ of the rich.

It amounts to a process of internal colonisation of the poor, mostly dalits and adivasis and of other marginalised groups, through forcible dispossession and subjugation. It has set in motion a social process not altogether unknown between the imperialist ‘master race’ and the colonised ‘natives’. As the privileged thin layer of the society distances itself from the poor, the speed at which the secession takes place comes to be celebrated as a measure of the rapid growth of the country. Thus, India is said to be poised to become a global power in the twenty-first century, with the largest number of homeless, undernourished, illiterate children coexisting with the billionaires created by this rapid growth. An unbridled market whose rules are fixed by the corporations aided by state power shapes this process. The ideology of progress through dispossession of the poor, preached relentlessly by the united power of the rich, the middle class and the corporations colonises directly the poor, and indirectly it has begun to colonise our minds. The result is a sort of uniform industrialisation of the mind, a standardisation of thoughts which sees no other alternative. And yet, there is a fatal flaw. No matter how powerful this united campaign by the rich corporations, the media, and the politicians is, even their combined power remains defenceless against the actual life experiences of the poor. If this process of growth continues for long, it would produce its own demons. No society, not even our malfunctioning democratic system, can withstand beyond a point the increasing inequality that nurtures this high growth. The rising dissent of the poor must either be suppressed with increasing state violence flouting every norm of democracy, and violence will be met with counter-violence to engulf the whole society. Or, an alternative path to development that depends on deepening our democracy with popular participation has to be found. Neither the rulers nor the ruled can escape for long this challenge thrown up by the recent high growth of India.

References for sources of data and other information.

India Development Report, edited by R. Radhakrishna, Oxford University Press, 2008.

Alternative Economic Survey, India 2006-2007, by Alternative Survey Group, New Delhi, Dannish Books, 2007.

Government of India, Economic Survey, 2006-2007, New Delhi, Ministry of Finance, 2007.

‘Revisiting employment and growth’ by C. Rangarajan, Padma Kaul and Seema, Money and Finance, September, 2007.

‘Service-led growth’ by Mihir Rakshit, Money and Finance, February, 2007.

Inclusive Growth in India, by S. Mahendra Dev, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2008.

Green Left Weekly issue no.710, May, 2007.

Information from Forbes quoted in ‘Globalisation: the Indian experience’ by Anil Kumar Jain and Parul Gupta, Mainstream, Delhi, February 8-14, 2008.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Saturn's rings

Oh my God, global warning has done it again?! See this story from NASA science news:

NASA Science News for March 18, 2008

Amateur astronomers around the world have noticed, something is
happening to Saturn. The planet's rings are rapidly narrowing and, if
this continues, before too long they will be reduced to a wafer-thin
line invisible to backyard telescopes. What's going on? Check today's
story for the answer.


this link.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sarabjit and Afzal

I could not believe my eyes when I read these headlines: ``BJP offensive: If Sarabjit hangs, so should Afzal''. There is no connection between the two. The first is a case of (espionage) in a Foreign Country by an Indian citizen. The second case is about an Indian citizen in the Indian judicial system, for a case against Indian people in India (the issue of involvement of a foreign power is not relevant to the juridical aspects of the case). So, it seems that BJP is again trying to rake up a religious angle to a juridical matter.

Update: Thanks to Anonymous, I stand corrected, having got my facts mixed up. It is not espionage but a terrorism case in the case of Sarabjit Singh. I am not debating the facts of the case. Anon. may be right on both counts, about trumped up charges against Sarabjit Singh, and about the Afzal case also. I am debating something else. See my response to comment.

New York events

You will all agree that the print and electronic media have thrust into our lives names that we did not know before, and real need not know. These include Elliot Spitzer, Silda Walla, Alexandra Dupre, and now Mr. and Mrs. Paterson. Of all these it appeared to me that Mr. Paterson is someone who was worth knowing about. He is legally blind and fought many odds to get where he did. He will become Governor of New York today. Eliot Spitzer was around in the news some years ago, known for the charms of a pit-bull. He was bandied about as a latter day Eliot Ness. I was struck at that time by his last name, which he shares with the great Lyman Spitzer, renowned astrophysicist and the one who conceived of the space telescope. The similarity stops there. The younger Spitzer was known to be a vicious jerk, who went around crushing his enemies, and something of a thug. He activities were liked as his victims were normally those that everone loved to hate, such as Wall Street brokers and investment bankers. But it turns out that he is a lawyer himself, and something of a multi-millionaire, son of a real estate tycoon. Now, I think in the list of those that everyone ought to revile, real estate tycoons ought to figure prominently. Here is Bangalore, that is certainly the case. But I digress. The news today reports that each of the Patersons themselves revealed that they had extra-marital flings. I have no problem with that. But I have a problem with the sanctimonious humbug of individuals all the time claiming how they did this for the fami-lee and that for the fami-lee. We were regaled with idiotic pantomimes at the time of the French elections both by Segolene Royale as well as the Sarkozies. These have now played themselves out. Returning to the Spitzer case, it is now being debated whether he committed a felony as Dupre was paid to cross state lines. Then there will be a debate of whether or not tax dollars were used for his activities. What is not being mentioned at all is one important thing: it is the exercise of the class privilege of powerful men. No matter how pretty Dupre is, nothing will change the ugliess of a situation where a woman has to do this to pay rent and pay bills. That is the long and short of it. I do not see this mentioned anywhere.

Events in Tibet

My mother asked me yesterday how come I had nothing to say about what is happening in Tibet. Good question. The answer lies in the fact that I really don't know much about it. Prima facie it is clear that a lot of innocent people have lost their lives. It is also obvious that the Chinese Government is very brutal in its crackdown. They will always have a rationale for what they do. So there is no point in listening to them. Of course one must condone condemn this kind of state repression.

Just as in many regions of the world, the national question is not settled there either. The real tragedy is that in India we know so little about our most important neighbour. Maybe it is the huge mountain range. Maybe it is the colonization experience. Maybe it is the westward gaze that clutters the mind and one does not feel obliged to learn more about China. Maybe there is no real excuse.

Update: Thanks to one of the comments, I have made a correction

Monday, March 17, 2008

Anniversary of My Lai

It is the fortieth anniversary of My Lai.
Silent remembrance.

Five years of the Iraq war

This is just to mark the anniversary of the atrocious warn on Iraq. There is nothing more for me to say than what I have said before (my view on the Lokrajsangathan page, on `Crime against peace'.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The 'thinking Indian's' newspaper

Of course if you are a `thinking Indian' (t. I.) you have no doubt which newspaper I am talking about. It the Mahavishnu of Anna Salai, or do I mean Mount Road. So what makes this the t. I.'s newspaper? Well, for a start, the headlines on most days are about stories in Pakistan. Thanks to the t. I's newspaper, Asma Jehangir is almost as famous as Sachin Tendulkar. And I now know what the 'Muree accord' is. Let us not forget that on the day all other newspapers, those of non-t. Is were reporting on atrocitires in Nandigram, the Mahavishnu had a lead story on lawyers in Karachi protesting against the suppression of democracy. Then on page 9 there is the story of some visiting scholar who gave a talk somewhere in Madras about why US imperialism is the worst enemy of mankind. Not police repression in Nandigram, but the machinations of Dick Cheney and Condi Rice. But it is important for the t. I. to be well-versed in matters of the Rio accord, of the most recent speeches of Hugo Chavez. Turning finally to the Mahavishnu's Sunday magazine section, normally the first page is about some horrifying story in the country about female foeticide, starving peasants, but by the time you turn the page, you read stories of how their columnist watched games of the Krishnans in various idyllic settings. In fact, not just that: you learn that the columnist's alma mater is that preminent college in Delhi, where this humble blogger recently gave a talk, and you also discover that "shift-I" is the most used letter in that column. There must be stiff competition among suppliers of this valuable letter on the keyboard to replace that on his keyboard. If some reason that columnist's column is missing, take heart: the t. I. can look forward to an article by an alumnus of the self-same college, retired official of the United Nations organization, author of novels at least one of which tailors itself loosely on the life of the big B (surprising he never faced a libel suit!). The template here is also available: start out with soup with a lady friend at a restaurant in New York, or in Paris if it is really special, move on to sylvan landscapes in Kerala, a little bit of self-indulgence and name dropping and the t. I.'s apetite for intellectual satisfaction is whetted. And then by the time the t .I. reaches the last page of the pull out section, he or she finds themselves walking along the banks of the Rhine with sunsoaked vineyards, or in Ireland, and at times in the Swiss alps. So unlike Rahul Siddharthan, why do I still keep buying the Mahavishnu? Here is the secret: the only crossword that I have a chance at cracking is the Guardian Quick Crossword that the Mahavishnu reprints in the Metrosection. But that is only on the weekdays. I must confess my addiction to the Literary Review in the Sunday edition and I can never remember which weekends it appears and so I buy every Sunday's edition.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

ILC matters

While on the topic of physics related issues, I was very pleased to receive in the mail the four volumes of the Reference Design Reports for the International Linear Collider (ILC). I am happy to say that I am one of the (many hundreds of) authors of the volume on physics at the ILC. The home page of the ILC is here. Of course I am not happy to say that there are great difficulties on the path of the linear collider in the adverse funding environment in the USA and also in the UK. There is a good sign: there is now talk of collaboration between those advocating CLIC (Compact Linear Collider), CERN initiative with its own novel design and advantages, and the ILC. I also observed that the next CERN Director-General designate (elect?) Rolf-Dieter Heuer has been with ILC. Hopefully things will work out. I remember my giving a talk at an ECFA workshop in 2002 at St. Malo and had to reply to some insightful questions from an experimentalist who I had not known before. I peeked at the name tag and that was Heuer! On a lighter note, when I was giving a talk on polarization at the ILC at IIT Bombay, a well-known nuclear physicist Prof. Yogi Gambhir looked at the annoucement and was asking some one why some one was giving a talk on LIC policies! (For non-Indian readers of this humble blog, if any, the acronym LIC has only one hegemonic expansion: it stands for the Life Insurance Corporation!).


CDMS stands for Cryogenic Dark Matter Search, whose home page is here. I understand that thsi experiment now has the best constraints on cold dark matter. As you know, dark matter has been with us now for many decades, first discovered by Vera Rubin in the rotation curve of galaxies. Dark matter is an important ingredient for constraining extensions of the standard model particle content and their interactions. It is one of the keystones for the interlinking of cosmology and particle physics. It would be very nice if some one could come around and give us a talk on exactly what this experiment has done.

Downdate: Fritz Zwicky had already suspected the existence of dark matter couple of decades before Vera Rubin. Should have written that too.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The first chapter of 'Palimpsest'

According to my online dictionary, Palimpsest is defined as under:

pal·imp·sest [pal-imp-sest]
a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.
[Origin: 1655–65; < L palimpséstus < Gk palímpséstos rubbed again (pálin again + pséstós scraped, rubbed, verbid of psân to rub smooth)]

That is the name of the new novel by my friend K. Sridhar of the Department of Theoretical Physics of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. Its first chapter has just been published by New Quest and the link is
here. Here is wishing him luck with finishing the book and all future endeavours.

The Right to Strike

So, here is an article by my famous uncle (Periappa) Alladi Kuppuswami on the `Right to Strike'. Unlike me who has no credentials in jurisprudence, he is a retired Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh, a great scholar, author and jurist. The point of view is from a juridical point of view written in response to a judgement of the Supreme Court some years ago, and in response to some observations of the Hon. court. A must for anyone interested in the subject, no matter of what point of view. I am giving the link here, and am also cutting and pasting the article.

The right to strike

By Alladi Kuppuswami

It is true that in some cases the right to strike is being misused but that is no reason why all strikes should be condemned as immoral.

IN T.K. Rangarajan vs. Government of Tamil Nadu and Others (the Tamil Nadu Government Employees Case), Justice M.B. Shah, speaking for a Bench of the Supreme Court consisting of himself and Justice A.R. Lakshmanan, said, "Now coming to the question of right to strike — whether fundamental, statutory or equitable moral right to strike — in our view no such right exists with the government employee."

Even as early as 1961, the Supreme Court held that even a very liberal interpretation of Article 19 (1)(c) cannot lead to the conclusion that the trade unions have a guaranteed right to strike as part of collective bargaining or otherwise [1962 (3) SCR 269)]. In support of the theory of "concomitant right" to collective bargaining, reliance was placed on Romesh Thappar's case (1950 SCR 404) where it was observed, "There can be no doubt that freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of propagation of ideas and that freedom is ensured by the freedom of circulation." It was argued if freedom of speech and expression "in Article 19 (1) (a) was given the liberal construction so as to effectuate the object for which the freedom was conferred, a similar construction should be adopted regarding the freedom of association guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (c)."

The Supreme Court observed, "There was no analogy between the two cases", that it was "one thing to interpret each of the freedoms guaranteed liberally" but it was another "to read each guaranteed right as involving the concomitant right necessary to achieve the object which might be supposed to underlie the grant each of such rights, for such a construction would, by ever expanding concentric circles in the shape of rights concomitant to concomitant right and so on, lead to an almost grotesque result."

The Supreme Court in the instant case also referred to Kameswar Prasad vs. State of Bihar (1962) Supplement 3 SCR 369 in holding there is no fundamental right to strike. The Supreme Court was perhaps therefore right in following its earlier judgments that there is no fundamental right to strike.

The Supreme Court referred to Tamil Nadu Government Servants Conduct Rules 1973 where Rule 22 provides that no Government employee shall engage himself in strike or in incitements thereto or in similar activities. In view of this rule the Supreme Court was right in holding that the strike was illegal. It is not known whether other Government Servants Conduct Rules contain a similar provision.

Earlier, before referring to the Tamil Nadu Rules, the Supreme Court gave the reason for holding the strike as illegal that there is no legal/statutory right to go on strike. The Supreme Court was evidently referring to the case of the Tamil Nadu Government employees with which it was concerned, for there are statutory provisions like the Industrial Disputes Act, which gives the right to strike to certain categories of employees.

Even if the judgment refers to the absence of statutory provision in the case of Tamil Nadu Government employees, it is respectfully submitted that no statutory provision is needed to enable employees to go on strike. If the right of an employee is denied by the employer or is interfered with, he has the right not to do work, i.e., to go on strike. If it is denied to a group of employees or all the employees, all of them can refuse to work for the employer (or go on strike) and a union representing the employees may ask them to go on strike.

As Soli Sorabjee, the Attorney-General, pointed out, the right to strike is a valuable right. In B. Singh's case, Justice Ahmadi observed that the right to strike is an important weapon in the armour of workers as a mode of redress. Therefore, no statutory provision is needed to confer on the employees the right to strike.

It is quite another matter if any statute or rule makes it illegal for the employees to go on strike unless and until the statue or rule is struck down.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court goes further and says that there is no moral or equitable justification to go on strike. Though broadly worded as if to apply to every employee, it is clear from the sentence that follows, viz., "Government employees cannot claim that they can take the society at ransom by going on strike," that the Supreme Court refers to the moral right of Government employees.

Even so, it is respectfully submitted that the Supreme Court is not right in saying that Government employees have no moral right to strike. There may be many instances when the employees may be harassed and all avenues of their rights being recognised are closed, in which case the employees may have no other course than to go on strike.

Evidently, the Supreme Court was carried away by the fact that nearly two lakh Government employees went on strike in the instant case and the Government machinery came to a standstill. It seems to have also been influenced by the fact stated by senior counsel for the State Government, K.K. Venugopal, that 90 per cent of the State's revenue in Tamil Nadu is spent on salaries of Government servants.

It is true that Government employees everywhere are paid better salaries and enjoy more privileges and amenities than other employees. The public sympathy is generally against Government employees who go on strike. But that is no justification for the Supreme Court to say that Government employees have no moral justification to go strike in every case.

Not stopping with the case of Government employees, the Supreme Court refers to several categories of employees in the following words, "In case of strike by a teacher entire educational system suffers... In case of strike by doctors innocent patients suffer; in case of employees of transport services entire movement of the society comes to a standstill; business is adversely affected and number of persons find it difficult to attend to their work, to move from one place to another or from one city to another. On occasion public properties are destroyed... "

It is respectfully submitted that there was no necessity for this extreme reaction against all cases of employees when the Supreme Court was dealing with the strike by Tamil Nadu Government employees. The Supreme Court must be certainly aware that in certain States teachers are not paid salaries for several years. Doctors, especially junior doctors, have on many occasions genuine grievance against the Government or other employers. Destruction or damage of public property is not always the result of strikes. It is true that in some cases the right to strike is being misused but that is no reason why all strikes should be condemned as immoral.

There seems to be some move to have the judgment of the Supreme Court reviewed. As far as the Tamil Nadu Government is concerned, the Supreme Court, perhaps having in mind the judgment of Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer that even illegal strikes need not attract dismissal (vide Gujarat State Steel Tube Case), directed that all employees who were suspended except those who resorted to violence should be reinstated if they apologise and that direction has been complied with. So there is no need for review in their case.

In case of other employees, the strong opinions expressed against strikes by other categories of employees is not even obiter dictum and is the mere expression of personal views of the two judges concerned and there is no need to ask for any review except as regards the obiter dicta that there can be no strike if there is no legal/statutory right to do so.

(The writer is a former Chief Justice of the Andhra Pradesh High Court.)


As all of us know, 1729 is the number associated with Ramanujan and Hardy about the number of the cab that Hardy took which he thought was not a very interesting number. In reply to which Ramanujan said not so, it is the smallest number that can be expressed in two different way as a sum of two (positive) cubes: 1729 = 1^3+12^3 = 9^3+10^3.

On the other hand, the number 935 has a less interesting history. It is the number of lies that was uttered by the Bush administration in order to start the Iraq war. Keep it it mind.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Violence in US college campuses

So one may wonder why one more post on this subject. And from some one in India. Is there not enough violence in India to write about? Of course there is. But can I deny that there are many stories that have been in the public eye and have dominated the collective consciousness of many over the last year? Virginia Polytechnic Institute, University of Northern Illinois, etc.. The reason to respond to this is that so many of us have actually spent some years in campuses such as this. It is very sad to see such events. But many questions to pop to one's mind which is of a universal kind. The question that is asked is "how could something like this happen here?" The question is whether it is really possible to have an isolated subsystem that is totally out of contact with the rest of society. One would agree that with the launch of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the USA has become the largest purveyor of violence. In order to carry out wars like these, one has to degrade human life day in and day out. Degrade it here because the recepients of the violence are the Taliban. Degrade it there because they are Sunni extremists. And so on. Now in such an atmosphere, if guns are plentiful, what is the outcome when there are those who are on the edge of insanity? The results are there for everyone to see. There have been other sad stories about University campuses. The murder of two students in Louisiana, another at Duke University, yet another in Scranton, PA, all of Indian origin. These were young men just as I was when I got there and so I can see my own image there. Then there is the sad story of the young women in southern USA. One at Auburn University and the other at University of North Carolina. The second one was 22. I could not help noticing that she was born a few days before the demise of Meera at Philadelphia, in practically the same circumstances. Is it inequity that has caused such violence? If this is the purported reason, then it would be an insult to all those milliions and billions of poor and needy who are as gentle and non-violent as it can get. What is it then? Of course in the era of globalization we are not very far behind. There is that sad story in Gurgaon of a kid being killed by his class mates. And these were not the poor. This was in a fancy `international' school. The reason to bring up all this is to think about how to make the world secure for `our children'. If any one thinks that they can simply make it safe for their children without thinking about the children of others, then it will be just a pipe dream.

L K Ananthakrishnan Memorial Lecture

Many readers of this humble blog are aware that I am associated with the Kumari L A Meera Memorial Trust. The Trust organizes one annual lecture in Meera's memory and started another series in memory of the founder, Meera's father Mr. L. K. Ananthakrishnan. Typically this lecture has not been in Bangalore. However, the 8th lecture will take place in Bangalore, and will be at the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium. Thanks are due to the kindness of the Director, my friend Chandrakant Shukre for so kindly agreeing to host it. The lecture will take place on Saturday, March 29, 2008, at 6 pm, and will be delivered by Prof. Alladi Sitaram on "Harish-Chandra: A Mathematician's Mathematician". (Of course my friends know that among other things, I am Sitaram's cousin.) Notice is hereby served all readers of this humble blog. Please make a note and attend. Coffee and snacks will follow the lecture.

Update as of March 30, 2008: The lecture has been conducted and was well attended. The pdf file of the lecture booklet is now available online at the website of the Trust, under activities.

Reviving my blogging

I just noticed that my last post had been in early December, 2007. The post previous to that was entitled `Where have I been?'. There I seem to have offered excuses that I was not blogging as it was a teaching semester. Well, the teaching ended in November and I have not blogged since then. So that cannot be the reason. So here is one more try to start blogging again on a regular basis. Much of it may be simply interesting, corny links to stories here and there. With Nanopolitan dominating the blogging horizon, there is very little to add. Fortunately for me, unlike the host of Nanopolitan, I can afford to be flippant and give links to unconventional stories. Does it mean that I have not been writing at all? I have been writing a little for Lok Raj Sangathan. I also received a mail from Arunn Narasimhan that Nonoscience which disappeared temporarily from netlandia altogether has been restored, but he has become a different kind of blogger. I have not visited this new blog very much. On the science scene, I still get a lot of information from `Not even wrong'. I do not take sides on the issue, having no competence, but I find it a very important source of information. Since the last post, on the scientific front, we finished a piece of work on constraining the electromagnetic formfactor of the pion using information from so called `spacelike' data. It used some old techniques developed by Virendra Singh and Ashok Raina, but we modernized it suitably. I gave a colloquium here right here in scenic IISc Physics dept.. I later gave the same talk at Jamia Millia Islamia University's new Centre for Theoretical Physics, and a talk on polarization at the International Linear Collider at Delhi University, and a general talk at St. Stephen's. One uppity kid told me that I should have given a more advanced talk, but my friends Lishi and Keshav told me that there were some in the audience who would not have been able to keep up with an advanced talk. So, here again, is my new promise to keep blogging. Let us see if I do atleast one a week.