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The year was 2004, and we used to wait for someone to write in our Orkut scrapbooks. Broadband connections were nowhere nearly as fast as it is today, but we refreshed our scrapbooks every few minutes.  The arrival of each scrapbook entry made us happy. It’s easy to call us losers, but social networking websites met a fundamental human need. There was a time when I used to wake up at 6 to log into my Yahoo mail account. My internet connection was too slow that I couldn’t read mails before 8.  But when I could, I felt happy.

I spent many hours every day in Yahoo chat rooms. The boys in my hostel found this a waste of time. But I was instantly a hit with chicks. I metamorphosed into an online Casanova. Jocks in my college were worried. They said I was cheating. The plain truth is that I wrote well. Always on the lookout for great genes, teen girls didn’t miss this. Nerd is the new man. I felt pleasure when I was flooded with offline messages when I logged into Yahoo Messenger after many days. When I did not see enough of them, I was sad. Such pleasures and disappointments are what the internet and social media are all about. It is easy to call all this trivial. But this is big deal, because social media is our culture. For a nerd, the cost of sending out an instant message isn’t much, when compared to walking up to someone. Through small chunks of text I sent out and took in, I was creating a whole world inside my mind. My understanding of human nature became deeper over a long time.  Continue Reading

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This is not a list of the best books of 2014, but the books I read, or reread in 2014, and liked.

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Steven Pinker-The Sense Of Style

Alain de Botton-The News: A User’s Manual 

Antonio Damasio-Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain 

Gregory Clark-The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility

James D. Watson-The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA

James D. Watson-Avoid Boring People

H.L. Mencken-A Second Mencken Chrestomathy

H.L. Mencken-Happy Days

Nicholas Wade-A Troublesome Inheritance.

David Livingstone Smith-Why We Lie

David McRaney-You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways Youre Deluding Yourself

George Serban-Lying:Man’s Second Nature

Oliver Sacks-An Anthropologist On Mars

Avi Tuschman-Our Political Nature

Paul Bloom-Just Babies

Paul Bloom-How Pleasure Works

Paul Blumberg-The Predatory Society

Arthur Melzer-Philosophy Between The Lines

Simon Baron-Cohen-The Maladapted Mind: Classic Readings in Evolutionary Psychopathology

Matthew D. Lieberman-Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect

Toshio Yamagishi- Evolution, Culture, and the Human Mind

Chris Anderson-Free

Chris Anderson-The Long Tail

Chris Anderson-The Makers

Clay Shirky-Cognitive Surplus

Clay Shirky-Here Comes Everybody

David Weinberger-Everything Is Miscellaneous

David Weinberger-My Hundred Million Dollar Secret

David Weinberger-Too Big To Know

Joy Hendry-An Anthropology of Indirect Communication

Jonathan Glover-Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century

Kishore Mahbubani-Can Asians Think? Understanding the Divide Between East and West

Alexander Luria-The Mind of a Mnemonist

Simon Winchester-The Professor And The Madman

David Agus-A short guide to a long life

David Agus-The End Of Illness

George Orwell-All Art Is Propaganda

Patrick French-The World Is What It IS

Graham Vickers-Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov’s Little Girl All Over Again 

Vladimir Nabokov-Pnin

Vladimir Nabokov-Selected Letters

Vladimir Nabokov-Strong Opinions

Books

The symbol of fire in one’s mind!

One evening, when I was in a restaurant, the waiter pointed his finger at a very young girl standing outside and said to me with a sly smile: “Look, she is smoking”. I looked at her, assessing the merits of the notion that a woman’s good looks will purchase indemnity for even her most grievous sin. Perhaps I should join Goethe in admitting that baseness attracts everybody.

Men and women are not expected to go beyond a certain point, when these are precisely the points they want to cross. When even the bravest man or woman tries to push these boundaries with self-righteous iconoclasm, they do it hoping against hope that the harshest judgment of the world wouldn’t be reserved for them.

Manu Joseph expresses it so well: “Sometimes I am amazed at how women in India go through life being women. No matter what they do, they can never be invisible, and it is very important to be invisible. There is a peculiar stoic expression they have when they stand out in the open and smoke. They know everybody on the street has judged them. Even on my lane in South Bombay it is true. I’ve not conducted a poll yet, but I am certain that nobody on Third Pasta Lane believes that a woman who smokes can also be a virgin.”

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I am having a sort of running debate online with Sainath’s sycophants all over the world. I wouldn’t have ruthlessly criticized Sainath if I knew that he had such a huge fan following. Fed up with them, I have decided to plug a few blogs which expose his real face, which, indeed is very ugly.

Aadisht writes on how Sainath make statistics appear in a manner which would push his real agenda, which would be taxing and humiliating the rich as much as possible.

Sainath had written that the maternal mortality figures of India is as much as the total maternal morality figures of Nigeria, Afghanistan and Congo togethor.What is significant is that the population of India is five times the total population of these three countries taken together.

“P. Sainath being innumerate is actually the most charitable explanation for this editorial. A less kind explanation is that his bias is making him too lazy to do his research properly, and a very unkind explanation is that he’s actively using scare tactics to push an agenda.”

Aadisht continues:

“Does Sainath not understand the concept of per-capita mortality rates (which makes him innumerate at best and stupid at worst), or is he intentionally not bringing them up (which makes him dishonest)?”

Salil Thripati too has some very nice things to say about Sainath:

“A journalist is good at reporting facts; he is not a therapist. Accepting this limited role needs humility.”

By juxtaposing a fashion event with the Vidarbha farmers’ suicides, Sainath is pitting the so-called India against Bharat, or “shining” India ­versus “declining” India. In any case, how sound was Sainath’s analysis of rural India and the solutions he offered? Sainath also lamented that eight million people have given up farming in the past decade and many are looking for urban jobs “that are not there”. Really? As the informal sector of unorganized workers is far larger—and undocumented—on what basis can one conclude that there are no jobs for migrant labor in towns and cities? And what’s wrong with a few million farmers giving up farming? Many economists have shown that Indian farm productivity is low because the land-holdings are too small, making efficient farming unviable. There are too many Indians trying to work as farmers and many would prefer to do something else. The land is not productive; agriculture’s share of India’s wealth is declining, and the sector is not growing rapidly. A transition to services or industry is a good thing.”

What is interesting about the libertarian blogger Gaurav Sabnis is that he really has some interesting things to say about Sainath. He gives him the respect which he deserves and I appreciate the nobility of Sabnis’s soul. I deeply respect Gaurav Sabnis for this. It is something I can’t do. It is hard for me to believe that Sainath is a well meaning person.

“P Sainath is the recipient of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award. Sainath thoroughly deserves the award. I have great respect for him, because he has always displayed something sorely lacking in the Indian media – initiative. Bucking the urban-centric trend of journalism, he travels to the hinterland and brings us stories from there. Sainath’s work is thought of by some as the injection of reality into our affluent middle class world views. Which is why personally I am very disappointed at the inadequacies of the way he brings us this reality. Often I get frustrated, because he is obviously a very intelligent and circumspect man. I can only blame those inadequacies on the lack of objectivity. Even though he does a fantastic job of unearthing stories and documenting them, the spin he puts on it betrays his own beliefs, which are at the very least left-of-centre.”

“His book was about people who were nothing but victims of the state. Those displaced due to dams, coal mines, and so on, and now leading a penniless existence. Tribals who were forced up to give up the very forests that sustain them. There is one thread common to all these stories – someone sitting either in the national capital or state capital deciding what is the best for everyone. And a complete lack of the sanctity of property rights, due to which anyone, whether it is the government or a private corporation which has bribed the government, can steal your land from you.”

“But “sanctity of private property rights” probably seems like too capitalist an idea for Sainath. The truth is interfering with his subjective opinions. Which is why most of the times, Sainath is there-but-not-quite-there. Some of his opinions like the ones here are correct. The WTO IS a sham. Subsidies ARE cornered by the elite. Food security IS a myth. And anyone who knows free markets will join Sainath in voicing those opinions.”

“Where he falters very often is labeling the post-1991 policies as “free market capitalism” and saying they have been as bad, if not worse for the poor of this country, as socialism was. The neo-liberal policies often cop the blame from him. But whenever you take an issue he has raised and dig deeper, the underlying reason is still statist interventionism. However his overall writing continues to create the illusion, willfully or otherwise, that free market ideas are part of the problem.”

It has become fashionable to write about the farmer deaths in Vidharba. Yes, farmers had died in Vidharba. And they will keep on dying unless we change our policies. Farmers in India are not allowed to sell their land for non-agricultural purposes. In fact, they are not allowed to switch occupations, even when reality demands so. If industries want to take over the land, they have to approach the Government and the Government forcefully takes over the land, as happened in Nandigram and Singur. The only way out is to make sure that the farmers have property rights, which mean the sole right to do whatever they want with their own land. As long as Sainath doesn’t write for the sanctity of private property rights, he too is partly responsible for those farmer deaths! He is much, much guiltier than the middle class which he so derides as he is actively pushing the opposite cause.

With all my good will, I can’t believe that Sainath is really concerned with poverty. If one were really concerned about poverty, the first thing he would do is to find out the causes of poverty. He would look at the nations of the world and ask himself why some nations are poor while the other ones are prosperous. The prosperity of United States, the collapse of Soviet Union, the case of Hongkong, the past difference between east and west Berlin, the cases of nations where variants of socialism were practiced, all would convince him beyond doubt that the only cure for poverty is a free market. The world was most peaceful from 1815-1914 when it was closest to Capitalism. England, the then freest nation was the richest. Which poor African country has a decent level of economic freedom? The evidence is too much that no sensible person can ignore them. Yet, the people who claim to be the most concerned about poverty are the ones who would be first in throwing stones against Capitalism. Why is it that it is only the intellectuals who are unaware of this? It should be clear now that ignorance on such a large scale is not out of ignorance, but out of power lust.

“Intellectuals” like Sainath have a deep inferiority complex and envy the rich too much that they can’t see the realities in their true proportions. It is their envy and power lust that prevents them from seeing the truth. In some debates, I tried my level best explaining to the collectivists how make work projects would create more unemployment and hamper productivity, but no matter how well I explained, they got more and more convinced that they are right. The fact is not that they are unable to see the truth, but that they are so consumed with envy and power lust that they can’t see it. What else could be an adequate explanation for this? Quoting the great philosopher Ayn Rand, “Do not ever say that the desire to “do good” by force is a good motive. Neither power-lust nor stupidity are good motives. “

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Most educated Indians I have come across have read Ayn Rand. A lot many of them think highly of her. In the eyes of some, she was a brave raconteur, but when it came to politics, she was a moth-eaten individualist. Yet, it can’t be doubted that her influence is growing at an amazing pace. Recently, I came across an article, “Why Is Ayn Rand Respected More in India”. The author, Jerry Johnson, says it is partly because Rand’s reputation “has escaped the lies, mischaracterizations, and attacks of the intellectual and academic elite in the US.” Another reason is that Indians could easily relate to what Ayn Rand wrote. We live in a highly collectivist society. An American libertarian friend of mine told me that in India, corruption is there for everyone to see. It is glaringly obvious that it can’t escape anyone’s attention. Jerry Johnson thinks that “Rand’s uniquely powerful, persuasive, bold, and lucid style of writing is perfect for the tastes of the Indian audience who are not into obfuscations, meandering musings, and equivocality. Rand’s admirable style of revealing things as they are, never faking reality, and calling a spade a spade, seems superbly customized for the Indian readership.” One of the greatest merits of Ayn Rand’s writings is that she writes in such a straight-forward manner. Philosophers usually hold highly nuanced and contingent views. One is left wondering what they really meant. Ayn Rand will have none of this disrespectful treatment of the reader. I don’t think anyone will have any confusion over what Ayn Rand really meant. Jerry Johnson ends by saying that the phenomenon of “growing out of Ayn Rand” is catching up in India too, as Indians like to ape the west. I know at least half a dozen young Indians who claim to be “over her already”. Not a good sign!