Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The death of family values..

It seems individuals of our generation think differently from, say, those of our grand parents' generation. Is this largely caused by an over-dependence on the "nanny" state? Anecdotal evidence of how the welfare state corrupted Sweden:
This degenerated morality and lack of understanding for the real and natural order of things is also evident in areas requiring personal responsibility and respect for fellow men and women. The elderly are now treated as ballast rather than human beings and relatives. The younger generations feel they have a "right" to not take responsibility for their parents and grandparents, and therefore demand the state relieve them of this burden.

... the elderly aren't the only one's finding themselves in the periphery of welfare society while the state is looking after its working population. The same goes for the youngest who are also delivered to the state for public care rather than being brought up and educated by their parents.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Saying it as it is...

Choice quotes from Per Bak's "How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality"

On academic attitudes, Pg. 86: I just wish there was a more open-minded attitude toward attempts to view things in a larger context. I once raised this issue among a group, not of geophysicists, but of cosmologists at a high table dinner at the Churchill College in Cambridge. "Why is it that you guys are so conservative in your views, in the face of the almost complete lack of understanding of what is going on in your field?" I asked. The answer was as simple as it was surprising. "If we don't accept some common picture of the universe, however unsupported by the facts, there would be nothing to bind us together as a scientific community. Since it is unlikely that any picture that we use will be falsified in our lifetime, one theory is as good as any other." The explanation was social, not scientific.

On academic publications, Pg. 92: To appreciate the pain and annoyance that one might feel because of [the rejection of an article by both Nature and Science], it should be pointed out that essentially anything can be published, no matter how insignificant - even in Nature. Most published material sinks like a rock and never surfaces again. It is precisely when you have something potentially new and exciting that you get in trouble. Ironically, dozens of articles applying our ideas ... have since appeared with great regularity in those same journals.

On perspective, Pg. 115: In our everyday research, we tend to view our own field as the center of the world. This view is strengthened by our peer groups, which are, because of the compartmentalization of science, working along the same line. No mechanism for changing exists, so more and more efforts go into more and more esoteric aspects of well-studied areas that oce paid off. ... Nobody has an incentive to step back and ask himself, "Why am I doing this?" In fact, many scientists are put off if you ask this question.

Where have you gone, simplicity?

Simplicity is dying. Most products are jazzy, fancy, showy and cheaply made; rather than simple, elegant, well-made and functional.

Case in point: Try to buy a simple suede-bottom one compartment backpack. Almost impossible to find in the stores.

Getting simple stuff has become a mark of expensive taste, of spending lavish amounts of money. Eg: Movado watches, Mont Blanc pens.

As Sarojini Naidu once said of Gandhi's habits: "It is very expensive to keep Bapu in poverty."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Saw this article today. Excerpt: If you never say no, you will just be ... trying to do a little bit of everything and, ... will almost certainly be superb at none of them.

Hmm. And that reminds me of a certain guy in Washington who never says no.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The evil that men do...

The geographical nation state is perhaps the most insidious invention of the 20th century. The raison d'ĂȘtre of nation states is two-fold:
  1. to concentrate power and wealth in the few, and,
  2. to distribute and dilute responsibility among the many.
Democracy does this in a remarkably efficient and invisible manner and all nation states devolve into democracy. It is, quite possibly, the most dangerous form of governance for a nation state.

When an autocratic or a monarchic tyrant does evil, his tyranny is plain. When a democratic ruler does so, it can remain hidden and be justified as the will of the people for a much longer period.

Monarchs and dictators, whose actions are evil, are overthrown by revolt and revolution and this threat is a real check on their evil intentions, not to mention a competition for the setup of government. A democracy on the other hand, seemingly, introduces competition in governance by lowering the barrier to entry. However, this is superficial. Democracy replaces the real fear of revolution with the innocuous "If you don't like 'em, just join 'em".

Further, in a democracy, the government is a mere care-taker. Care-takers of property, normally, make shorter term decisions with sub optimal economic consequences as compared to owners.

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even absolute democratic power.

The only alternative is the dissolution of statist power and the restoration of individual liberty.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

What is the optimal form of education?

Modern schooling trains one to be a robot, to be a disciplined foot soldier, to be a clerk, but not to be a thinker. Perhaps this is a natural by-product of the design of the system. It is geared to produce extras for there are far more extras than actors. Actors are left to automatically stand out by creating their own path.

Hypothesis: The most effective impartation of learning is through the apprenticeship model.

Proof by examples:
  1. Classical traditions in South Asia and in medieval Europe, mostly before the advent of modern Western influence.
  2. Gradaute research programs use a substantially similar model to this day.
  3. On the job training of new employees at the most firms.
Points to ponder over:
Can such a change be percolated to earlier stages in life?
Can this model scale to everyone? Does it need to?
Can there be a multi-tiered system, wherein actors are subject to an apprenticeship model fairly early while extras go through the current system?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

When does democracy really work?

For democracy to work, following two conditions must hold:

1. Informed and qualified voters, of which a representative sample, actually bother to vote: The qualification can be achieved by restricting the domain of sampling for the votes or by implementing meta-moderation on the first level of votes.

See for instance, voting on online sites to improve signal/noise ratio: it works well on slashdot -- votes say informative, offTopic, troll, funny, insightful etc instead of being binary and each user can configure the weightage for the votes separately. Now that is a GOOD implementation.

2. Low stake in the outcome: The democratic process works well where no-one stands to gain significantly from manipulation. When the votes are used as a basis to give goodies then people have an incentive to abuse it. Eg: the US government. It ain't working so well because the players manipulate it to get significant goodies upon winning.

More examples: "Search engine optimization" is indeed an industry but if we consider a "typical search for information and not for a product", such a search is of a high enough quality. The same holds for the average wikipedia entry on a "typical" non-controversial topic. There are a few "high stake" entries that have manipulation issues but that is exactly the point!