Friday, December 20

My First Mistake


An amusing story about the first mistake made on a job. Such is life son. I remember mine. I was left in charge of the overnight support for a software company. And a call came from a bank at 12 midnight that the batch had failed. So I called Philadelphia which is where our main support is and they investigated and recommended rerunning the batch which I dutifully relayed. 

It buggered up the database because id forgotten to tell them to go to backup first. 

This was 24th dec. you were just born. And I spent the next 4 days at the bank. With countless others. Working to fix the issues. That was a bad bad situation. Not something that I'd like to repeat. 

Nobody blamed me. I was hardly 3 months into the job. But there you go. 



My First Mistake


    The victim of the first big mistake I ever made was a gentleman to whom I had never been properly introduced (and whose name I still do not know) but who was possessed of three singular qualities: he was alone in a room with me, he was without his trousers, and he was very, very dead.

    Some context might be useful. It was the winter of 1962. I was eighteen years old and had taken a year off before going up to Oxford University. I also had a girlfriend far away in Montreal, and in the superheated enthusiasm of my puppy love, I had promised to visit her. The fact that I then lived in London and she three thousand miles away meant that fare money had to be amassed: I had to get a job, and one that paid well enough to allow me to get away to Canada as quickly as possible.

    London had two evening papers back then, the News and the Standard. It was in the classified columns of one that I spied the advertisement: “Mortuary Assistant required,” it said. “Eleven pounds weekly.” The bar to entry was hardly Himalayan. “Some basic knowledge of human anatomy an advantage, though not essential. Telephone Mr. Utton, Whittington Hospital, Highgate.”

Saturday, December 14

Nothing stops you from learning

not poverty, not the lack of a school, not the lack of money, just a teacher, a wall and willing minds


a temporary school under some under construction flyovers in New Delhi, India with couple of volunteer teachers.


Friday, December 13

The Writer Who Built the World’s First Engine-Powered Submarine

What a man. Quixotic yes but there's a man with a vision. Truly before his time son. Somebody who can achieve much! He failed to operationalise his submarine but he is remembered for being unreasonable and not taking no for an answer. And then he was a writer fighting for what he believed in. 

And a wonderful happy birthday to you son. You're 18 now. A man in all senses. My prayers are with you for you to have a happy life son. 



The Writer Who Built the World’s First Engine-Powered Submarine

Narcis Monturiol loved the ocean’s corals so much, that he built a machine so he could better enjoy them

image image image

A man cannot one day just decide to build a submarine, much less the first poweredsubmarine, much less if that man is a writer. Yet that is just what Narcis Monturiol did.

As a young firebrand of the mid-19th century, Monturiol flirted with inflammatory subjects including feminism and Communism, placing him under the watchful eye of an oppressive regime. When he fled to Cadaqués, an isolated town on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, he found a peaceful fishing village where he could expand on his ideas of a Utopian world. It turned out that Cadaqués would also be the inspiration for his biggest idea.

Thursday, December 12

Mapping temperaments



A fascinating visualisation of how artists show off their temperament. You may debate the placements, but its very interesting to see where the chaps are placed, eh?

Wednesday, December 11

Why would you want to repair your hymen 5 times?

This news story is just erm bordering on the off the wtfness scale so many times like its a demented bottle fly banging its head against a window.


I quote the last bit which also completely bewildered me.

Possibly the most interesting thing about both of these websites is that they feature bundle offers—at, you can get five artificial hymens for $114.95;, you can get five of them for $103. I’m honestly trying to envision the situation that would call for five artificial hymens—I haven’t had any success yet. It could be a good device in a grim yet devastatingly entertaining farce by Pedro Almodóvar.

Monday, December 9

Exporting Christianity: Governance and doctrine in the globalization of US denominations

Modelling the spread of Christianity, fascinating study here.

In this paper we build a model of market competition among religious denominations, using a framework that involves incomplete contracts and the production of club goods. We treat denominations akin to multinational enterprises, which decide which countries to enter based on local market conditions and their own “productivity.” The model guides us in estimating how a denomination's religious doctrine and governance structure affect its ability to attract adherents. Using data on the foreign operations of US Protestant denominations in 2005 from the World Christian Database, we find that (1) denominations with stricter religious doctrine attract more adherents in countries in which the risk of natural disaster or disease outbreak is greater and in which government provision of health services is weaker, and (2) denominations with a decentralized governance structure attract more adherents in countries in which the pastor cost of connecting with congregants is lower. These findings illuminate factors shaping the composition of religion within countries, helping account for the rise of new Protestant groups. They also provide empirical evidence for the recent theoretical developments in organization and trade.

India is one of the countries where there is a pretty significant missionary push. Entire states have been proselytised out of their ancient Hindu/Animist background like Nagaland and as one has noted, that sometimes comes with a rather strong pushback. I quote from their conclusion:

The literature provides explanations for why strict religious groups have prospered in Israel (Berman, 2000) and Indonesia (Chen, 2010), based on Iannaccone's (1992) model of religious groups as clubs. Our contribution is to show theoretically and empirically how denominations compete for believers and how country characteristics affect the market value of a denomination's attributes, which is helpful for understanding the global expansion of Protestant Christianity. Strictness is more desirable in countries in which individuals are more exposed to shocks associated with natural disasters and disease outbreaks, and less desirable in countries with better health services. Weak governments and weak institutions may thus favor strict religious organizations. What may in part account for the recent globalization of Protestant Christianity is the lowering of state barriers to religion (Barro and Hwang, 2007), coupled with the slow expansion of state capacity in many developing countries, leaving individuals without adequate means to insulate themselves against risk.

So the pushback against missionary Christianity is not just in India but also in many other countries. Combine that with weak state power, bad infrastructure etc. etc. and then you wouldnt be surprised that the local populace reacts badly.

Sunday, December 8

Getting the team mobilised to help the school

So the project is slowly spinning up. One of my close friends put me in touch with this school which requires fund-raising and other assistance. This is a fascinating place, a school associated with a madrassah providing secular information in a poor area of Delhi. The key element of charity and institutional building is sustainability. Its too easy to just give money, but to make the charity self sustaining, to make it work long term, to have proper governance, that requires people, time, money, energy and direction.

So what I did was to introduce the Enactus team at LSE to them. We have some great people in here. Very smart and intelligent chaps. Very driven and full of passion and enthusiasm. They have created a project team and are now in contact with the school.

By the way, the school has a new website, do check it out. Very good work that these brilliant chaps are doing.

Getting the team mobilised to help the school

So the project is slowly spinning up. One of my close friends put me in touch with this school which requires fund-raising and other assistance. This is a fascinating place, a school associated with a madrassah providing secular information in a poor area of Delhi. The key element of charity and institutional building is sustainability. Its too easy to just give money, but to make the charity self sustaining, to make it work long term, to have proper governance, that requires people, time, money, energy and direction.

So what I did was to introduce the Enactus team at LSE to them. We have some great people in here. Very smart and intelligent chaps. Very driven and full of passion and enthusiasm. They have created a project team and are now in contact with the school.

By the way, the school has a new website, do check it out. Very good work that these brilliant chaps are doing.

Friday, December 6

Professors’ Pet Peeves


You'll be heading off to uni next year so some of these lessons learnt are important. It helps being professional at uni. Treat teachers with respect son. 

But there's one thing which I'm disappointed about in here. I firmly believe that if the student hasn't learnt the teacher hasn't taught. Far too many teachers teach as if it's a job and not a vocation and mission. You'll remember the great teachers son because they firmly believed that everybody can learn and also that a child/student isn't a vase to be filled but a fire to be lit. 

Here's hoping you have great teachers son. 



Professors’ Pet Peeves » Sociological Images

I got this email from a Yale student when I arrived to give a speech. She was responsible for making sure that I was delivered to my hotel and knew where to go the next day:

Omg you’re here! Ahh i need to get my shit together now lol. Jk. Give me a ring when u can/want, my cell is [redacted]. I have class until 1230 but then im free! i will let the teacher she u will be there, shes a darling. Perhaps ill come to the end of the talk and meet you there after. Between the faculty lunch and your talk, we can chat! ill take make sure the rooms are all ready for u. See ya!

To say the least, this did not make me feel confident that my visit would go smoothly.

I will use this poor student to kick off this year’s list of Professors’ Pet Peeves.  I reached out to my network and collected some things that really get on instructors’ nerves.  Here are the results: some of the “don’ts” for how to interact with your professor or teaching assistant.  For what it’s worth, #2 was by far the most common complaint.

1. Don’t use unprofessional correspondence.

Your instructors are not your friends. Correspond with them as if you’re in a workplace, because you are. We’re not saying that you can’t ever write like this, but you do need to demonstrate that you know when such communication is and isn’t appropriate.  You don’t wear pajamas to a job interview, right? Same thing.

Thursday, December 5

Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?


You do fantastically well in science and mathematics. You are also awesome in the arts, history and drawing etc. Don't ever let anybody tell you that you can't do maths or science or physics if you're interested in them sweetheart. :) 

This is a bit of a long article but It's good to read about how other women managed to succeed in the sciences. 



Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?

Last summer, researchers at Yale published a study proving that physicists, chemists and biologists are likely to view a young male scientist more favorably than a woman with the same qualifications. Presented with identical summaries of the accomplishments of two imaginary applicants, professors at six major research institutions were significantly more willing to offer the man a job. If they did hire the woman, they set her salary, on average, nearly $4,000 lower than the man’s. Surprisingly, female scientists were as biased as their male counterparts.

Wednesday, December 4

Harnessing the Science of Persuasion


Fascinating article on how to persuade people. 6 principles. Quite a lot of science behind this, but I would like to talk more about 2 things, the principle of liking and the principle of reciprocity. The principle of liking is the first and foremost, son. People will do what you tell them if you genuinely like them. And that cannot be faked. So tell people that you like them. I know it’s a British thing not to talk emotions and beat about the bush, but tell people straight off that you like them. And you want to do business together. Or whatever. It has to be genuine, mind you, and that’s what you need to cultivate, son. A deep abiding interest in other people. Know what they are doing, what they are up to, what is going on, what are their likes and dislikes. Understand their fears and emotions.

The second thing is reciprocity, son. I already told you that I was so happy to hear that you were helping out your friend. You haven’t seen the godfather film yet, you should son. It’s quite an interesting film. See how a man rose to become the godfather. You know what he did? He did favours for other people. That’s what I like to do, not because I want to be a godfather, but because its good. People know me as a person they can come for help. I very very rarely ask for a favour back. Almost never, but that’s the thing, son, you don’t need favours back. Help others, give help to them, make others successful. That’s the key thing in persuading people. Ensure that you are making them successful or removing a problem from their laps. And they will recognise that, son. People aren’t stupid. They are smart. But if you want them to do something that you want then you have to make sure that they are getting something out of it. So do favours for them, every time, all the time, son.

Rest, read this. It will help you throughout your life, son.




Harnessing the Science of Persuasion

by Robert B. Cialdini

A lucky few have it; most of us do not. A handful of gifted “naturals” simply know how to capture an audience, sway the undecided, and convert the opposition. Watching these masters of persuasion work their magic is at once impressive and frustrating. What’s impressive is not just the easy way they use charisma and eloquence to convince others to do as they ask. It’s also how eager those others are to do what’s requested of them, as if the persuasion itself were a favor they couldn’t wait to repay.

The frustrating part of the experience is that these born persuaders are often unable to account for their remarkable skill or pass it on to others. Their way with people is an art, and artists as a rule are far better at doing than at explaining. Most of them can’t offer much help to those of us who possess no more than the ordinary quotient of charisma and eloquence but who still have to wrestle with leadership’s fundamental challenge: getting things done through others. That challenge is painfully familiar to corporate executives, who every day have to figure out how to motivate and direct a highly individualistic work force. Playing the “Because I’m the boss” card is out. Even if it weren’t demeaning and demoralizing for all concerned, it would be out of place in a world where cross-functional teams, joint ventures, and intercompany partnerships have blurred the lines of authority. In such an environment, persuasion skills exert far greater influence over others’ behavior than formal power structures do.

Which brings us back to where we started. Persuasion skills may be more necessary than ever, but how can executives acquire them if the most talented practitioners can’t pass them along? By looking to science. For the past five decades, behavioral scientists have conducted experiments that shed considerable light on the way certain interactions lead people to concede, comply, or change. This research shows that persuasion works by appealing to a limited set of deeply rooted human drives and needs, and it does so in predictable ways. Persuasion, in other words, is governed by basic principles that can be taught, learned, and applied. By mastering these principles, executives can bring scientific rigor to the business of securing consensus, cutting deals, and winning concessions. In the pages that follow, I describe six fundamental principles of persuasion and suggest a few ways that executives can apply them in their own organizations.

The Principle of Liking:

People like those who like them.

The Application:

Uncover real similarities and offer genuine praise.

The retailing phenomenon known as the Tupperware party is a vivid illustration of this principle in action. The demonstration party for Tupperware products is hosted by an individual, almost always a woman, who invites to her home an array of friends, neighbors, and relatives. The guests’ affection for their hostess predisposes them to buy from her, a dynamic that was confirmed by a 1990 study of purchase decisions made at demonstration parties. The researchers, Jonathan Frenzen and Harry Davis, writing in theJournal of Consumer Research, found that the guests’ fondness for their hostess weighed twice as heavily in their purchase decisions as their regard for the products they bought. So when guests at a Tupperware party buy something, they aren’t just buying to please themselves. They’re buying to please their hostess as well.

Tuesday, December 3

What Men Like in Men: An Argument from 1902

Quite an interesting article son even though this was written in 1902, 110 years back. I quote the last para 

What then is the conclusion? Men like in men these traits: the honour that ennobles; the justice that insures the right; the reasonableness that mellows and makes plain; the courage that proclaims virility; the generous instinct that disdains all meanness; the modesty that makes no boast; the dignity that wins respect; the fineness and the tenderness that know and feel. But when one thinks of it more carefully, may he not sum it up in just a single sentence, and accept it as truth, that all men like a gentleman?

There isn't any definition of a gentleman although the above characteristics do apply son. You can't be born as a gentleman although upbringing helps. Some traits can be learnt as well. One thing which I missed above and that's a sense of humour and the ability to laugh at yourself and others. How about optimism? Surely a vital trait? Passion? The burning desire to do something?



What Men Like in Men: An Argument from 1902

Editor’s Note: The following article appeared in a 1902 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine (which started out as a quality family magazine before becoming a women’s rag). I think it raises an interesting question: What do men like or admire in other men? Lots of articles these days are about what men find attractive in women or what women find attractive in men, but rarely discussed are the qualities that men respect and admire in each other. It seems like men sort of intuitively know what traits we respect in other men, but we often cannot articulate them. This article attempts to put such thoughts into words.
I’d be curious to know if you think the same traits that the author found noteworthy in men over 100 years ago are still ones that modern men admire in each other. What traits would you leave out or add in? Share in the comments!Please remember as you read this article that it was written in 1902. So the author has some opinions — particularly about women — that might offend modern sensibilities. “What Men Like in Men”
By Rafford Pyke
Cosmopolitan Magazine, August 1902

If you were to ask the average man to tell you offhand just what qualities he likes in other men, he would probably boggle a good deal over his answer. His first impulse would be to say, “Oh, I don’t know!” which is with men a convenient formula for avoiding thought upon unexpected or (to them) uninteresting topics. A little later, after turning the matter over in his mind, he would give you a catalogue of qualities to which he would be willing to swear. His list, however, would bear a strong resemblance to the “hundred-best-book” lists made my persons who sincerely believe that they are expressing their own literary preferences, but who are actually indulging in a bit of intellectual pose. Just as these individuals mention the books which they feel they ought to enjoy reading rather than those which they really read, so the average man will name a number of qualities which he thinks he likes, rather than those which in his heart of hearts he actually does like.

Monday, December 2

Islam’s Medieval Underworld


Here's a fascinating story about how thieves and burglars operated in the Islamic Middle East. Imagine going around with a tortoise in your bag? 

But imagine you are a householder and wake up at night and see this eerie candle moving around on the ground? Scary. 

And then again this quote; 

who used the Islamic religion as a cloak for their predatory ways, well aware that the purse-strings of the faithful could easily be loosed by the eloquence of the man who claims to be an ascetic or or mystic, or a worker of miracles and wonders, to be selling relics of the Muslim martyrs and holy men, or to have undergone a spectacular conversion from the purblindness of Christianity or Judaism to the clear light of the faith of Muhammad.

. People are so gullible in terms of religion. Their brains turn into hay and mush. Serves them right. 



Islam’s Medieval Underworld

Arab city

An Arab city of the early medieval period. Urban centers in the Middle East were of a size and wealth all but unknown in the Christian west during this period, encouraging the development of a large and diverse fraternity of criminals. From a contemporary manuscript.

The year is—let us say—1170, and you are the leader of a city watch in medieval Persia. Patrolling the dangerous alleyways in the small hours of the morning, you and your men chance upon two or three shady-looking characters loitering outside the home of a wealthy merchant. Suspecting that you have stumbled across a gang of housebreakers, you order them searched. From various hidden pockets in the suspects’ robes, your men produce a candle, a crowbar, stale bread, an iron spike, a drill, a bag of sand—and a live tortoise.

The reptile is, of course, the clincher. There are a hundred and one reasons why an honest man might be carrying a crowbar and a drill at three in the morning, but only a gang of experienced burglars would be abroad at such an hour equipped with a tortoise. It was a vital tool in the Persian criminals’ armory, used—after the iron spike had made a breach in a victim’s dried-mud wall—to explore the property’s interior.

Friday, November 29

Boycott the English language says top French intellectual

I thought you might like this story about how the French are trying to protect the French language from being polluted by English. 

Languages are a bit like religion kids. They have a root, but they evolve and change as life goes on. When their speakers die or they don't want to change, the language also dies with them. Like so many religions have died as their worshipers died. It's a bit sad that that entire culture disappears like so many languages have done so as well. But life goes on and needs to evolve. Darwin would be nodding. You don't change you become extinct. 

Nobody speaks Latin or Sanskrit any more in common parlance. That's because they refused to change and therefore local vernacular languages took over. Classical Arabic is going the same way. Very few young people read or understand it. And so that's on its way out. 

And life goes on. 



Boycott the English language says top French intellectual - Telegraph

A leading French intellectual has called for a boycott of all products whose advertising slogans use English and of films whose titles are not translated, in the latest salvo in a rearguard action against the “invasion” of Franceby the English language.

“There are more English words (in adverts) on the walls of Toulouse than there were German words during the Occupation,” said philosopher Michel Serres, a member of the Acadamie française, the state body which aims to protect the French language.

“I want to invite the French to go on strike. Each time that advertising is English, you don’t buy the product, each time a film’s title is not translated, you don’t go into the cinema,” he said in an interview with la Depeche du Midi newspaper.

Thursday, November 28

Science: A New Map of the Human Brain
You will find surveys and classifications like this all over the place. It's interesting to read but can you actually change what you are? No. Not easily anyway.
But the trick is to recognise others son. You need all kinds of people around you. Some doers. Some dreamers. Some checkers. While you're the visionary and planner. Of course as you start your career you have to do the basics like doing dreaming checking etc. Either you do these jobs or read about them.
You can get more things done through others than yourself son.

Wednesday, November 27


I first did public speaking when I was about 14 and to my surprise I won third prize at a debate competition. It was a book by dale Carnegie on how to win friends and influence people. 

And then I read his book on public speaking. Where he talks about Demosthenes. Brilliant orator son. He defended his city against Phillip of Macedon, father of Alexander. 

He wasn't a natural orator but he trained himself to be one. And that's the key son. You are destined for great deeds son I hope and your ability to speak convincingly to large multitudes and convince them is very important. You've already got something that I'm very happy about, self control son. The next is to convince others. 

Read about him. Read about rhetoric. Learn how to light a fire 



Demosthenes - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Demosthenes (English pronunciation: /dɪˈmɒs.θənz/, Greek: Δημοσθένης,Dēmosthénēs [dɛːmostʰénɛːs]; 384–322 BC) was a prominent Greekstatesman and orator of ancient Athens. His orations constitute a significant expression of contemporary Athenian intellectual prowess and provide an insight into the politics and culture of ancient Greece during the 4th century BC. Demosthenes learned rhetoric by studying the speeches of previous great orators. He delivered his first judicial speeches at the age of 20, in which he argued effectively to gain from his guardians what was left of his inheritance. For a time, Demosthenes made his living as a professional speech-writer (logographer) and a lawyer, writing speeches for use in privatelegal suits.

Tuesday, November 26

Three essays on the economics of gender, health and happiness.


you don't have to read the full dissertation, but at least check out the first chapter. It is a fascinating study in the field of happiness and economics. As you know, one of the objectives of life is to be happy so there is a burgeoning body of research which is analysing this area.

the first one was about headscarfs, i don't understand this but then who does….there are strange reasons given to cover your head and wear ties, but as long as its done voluntarily, who cares? but in this case, the Ataturkian militantly secular state bans headscarfs in public institutions. Result? women are statistically significantly unable to work as well as they could, hence they stay at home and pump out more babies resulting in more babies being brought up by women in veils. If the idea was to reduce the number of religious people, it fell foul of the law of unintended circumstances. As a libertarian, you will appreciate this, eh?

the second one was interesting, as you know, in our family we have a tradition of donating our bodies to medicine and organs for transplants. Your great uncle did so, Dadu and Didu have written so in their wills, while your parents have organ donor cards. This is informed consent, son. But where this happens, the rate of organ donation is very low. But where there’s presumed consent, like in Belgium, where bodies are taken assuming consent has been given, the donation rates are double or triple. Excellent news, eh? the nudge theory, son. This is why you need to be very careful about what questions and public policy angles you take. Its like the question, “when did you stop beating up your dog” and you can only answer yes or no. stiffed. in some cases, it works like in pension provision. Everybody knows that you should save for your pension, but hardly anybody saves. Read the HSBC report I linked into. But there is a difference, if you have presumed consent and force everybody to store and save before your salary lands in your bank account, then automatic savings happen.

And finally the question of charity. As you know, I do loads of this stuff and yes, I feel good, so its not purely altruistic. The lady in question has found evidence for this. But yes, that makes me happy. Doing stuff for others, son, makes you feel good, really really good. So I felt so proud when you were teaching your friend. Seriously proud. I know you are getting a reputation of a good friend and somebody who is always willing to help others. Keep it up, son, it helps to be happy with helping others.

If you were a libertarian, then each of these cases will challenge your thinking and enforce your principles even better. It’s the gray areas where the principles are tested, son. Religion, personal aspects, etc. etc. Fascinating area to keep thinking and challenging one self.





    1. From headscarves to donation: Three essays on the economics of gender, health and happiness.




Ugur, Z.B. (Tilburg University)


Abstract: Zeynep’s research interests are mainly in the field of health and labor economics. In this thesis, she explores a broad range of topics within the domain of the economics of gender, health and happiness. The first chapter provides the motivations for the studies and summarizes the main findings. The second chapter documents differences in educational attainment, labor market outcomes and childbearing among women by their use of headscarves and investigates the impact of the headscarf ban in Turkey on women’s educational attainment, labor force participation and childbearing decisions. In Chapter 3, she explores the relationship between presumed consent legislation and various organ donation indicators such as willingness to donate one’s organs, organ donation card holding, actual organ donation rates and kidney transplantation rates. The last chapter looks at the relationship between pro-social behavior and subjective wellbeing and tries to quantify the happiness effect of donating in the Netherlands.

Monday, November 25

Words to ponder

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” –F.A. Hayek in The Fatal Conceit.

quite an interesting quote no? I know its called as the dismal science but it just tells you how the best laid plans of mice and men can be buggered up.

Friday, November 22

What They Left and What They Kept: What an Antarctic Expedition Can Teach You About What’s Truly Valuable


This is a great article. Really boils down what you hold dear. 

Knowing what you can drop is very powerful son. People walk around with a huge amount of baggage. Travel light. All you need is inside your head and good health. Rest you can get back again. 



What They Left and What They Kept: What an Antarctic Expedition Can Teach You About What’s Truly Valuable

“Do you hear that? We’ll none of us get back to our homes again.”

Tom McLeod, member of the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, stood anxiously on the deck of the Endurance. He looked out on a nearby ice floe where ten Emperor penguins stood wailing a mournful cry. None of the ship’s twenty-eight member crew had seen such a large group of penguins gather together before, nor heard them issue such a strange and chilling sound. Surely, McLeod thought, this was a foreboding omen.

Ernest Shackleton, leader of the expedition, bit his lip. One did not have to be superstitious to feel the crew’s prospects were bleak. The Endurance had been stalled out for months, having become trapped in an ice pack as it sailed towards the South Pole. The crew’s aim was to launch an expedition that would traverse the Antarctic continent. But now the ice floes surrounding the ship had begun violently pinching and twisting it, tearing open holes in the hull through which freezing water poured. The men had worked for days in exhausting, round-the-clock shifts, pumping out the water by hand. But Shackleton knew their efforts were not enough to save the ship; the next day he ordered the Endurance abandoned. “She’s going boys,” he said. “I think it’s time to get off.”

What They Left and What They Kept: What an Antarctic Expedition Can Teach You About What’s Truly Valuable


This is a great article. Really boils down what you hold dear. 

Knowing what you can drop is very powerful son. People walk around with a huge amount of baggage. Travel light. All you need is inside your head and good health. Rest you can get back again. 



What They Left and What They Kept: What an Antarctic Expedition Can Teach You About What’s Truly Valuable

“Do you hear that? We’ll none of us get back to our homes again.”

Tom McLeod, member of the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, stood anxiously on the deck of the Endurance. He looked out on a nearby ice floe where ten Emperor penguins stood wailing a mournful cry. None of the ship’s twenty-eight member crew had seen such a large group of penguins gather together before, nor heard them issue such a strange and chilling sound. Surely, McLeod thought, this was a foreboding omen.

Ernest Shackleton, leader of the expedition, bit his lip. One did not have to be superstitious to feel the crew’s prospects were bleak. The Endurance had been stalled out for months, having become trapped in an ice pack as it sailed towards the South Pole. The crew’s aim was to launch an expedition that would traverse the Antarctic continent. But now the ice floes surrounding the ship had begun violently pinching and twisting it, tearing open holes in the hull through which freezing water poured. The men had worked for days in exhausting, round-the-clock shifts, pumping out the water by hand. But Shackleton knew their efforts were not enough to save the ship; the next day he ordered the Endurance abandoned. “She’s going boys,” he said. “I think it’s time to get off.”

Thursday, November 21

Thank you Baba

I am going to kick off a short course on Roman Architecture soon and have been reading up on the great and good like old man Julius and Octavian Augustus. Horace was a good old egg at that time and here’s a lovely poem which I read from the man.

Still, if my character’s flawed by only a few little

Faults, and otherwise sound, just as you’d censure

Perhaps the blemishes scattered over a noble body:

And if no one can accuse me in fairness of greed,

Meanness, debauchery, if in truth, in my own praise,

I live purely, innocently, loved by my friends:

It’s due to my father, who though poor, on poor land,

Wouldn’t send me to Flavius’ school, where fine lads

The sons of fine centurions went with their tablets

And satchel hanging from their left shoulders, carrying

Their eight coins as fee on the Ides of each month,

But instead he bravely whisked his son off to Rome,

To be taught the skills senator or knight would expect

To be taught his son. And if anyone noticed my clothes

And attendants, a big city scene, he’d have thought

The expenses were being met from ancestral wealth.

He, the truest of guardians, toured all my teachers

With me, too. What can I say? He guarded my innocence,

And that’s virtue’s prime ornament, he kept me free

Not only from shameful actions, but slander as well.

He wasn’t afraid someone might call him foolish

If I’d only followed the trade of an auctioneer

Or collector of dues like himself: I’d not have complained

As it turns out I owe him still greater praise and thanks.

It is considered to be one of the most wonderful paeans of praise to a father. Makes one think, no? And while we are at it, thank you Baba.

Wednesday, November 20

Bits and bobs on the charity front

So have been fairly active over the past month, but didn't get a chance to blog. Lets see

  • We are working on improving the international scope and scale of helping with the anti rabies campaign at the Mayhew. Its a challenging business, so many developing countries do not have good infrastructure to cater for this. My uncle died because a dog bit him. Find it so bit personal. So we are trying to see if we can expand the work in various countries ranging from India, Russia, Peru, etc. etc.
  • And it just infuriates me when I read about animal cruelty. Bastards. See our latest appeals on abandoned animals.


  • What else? Well, had a nice chat with the LSE Enactus students. We are going to work together on hopefully three projects. (1) to help improve the data mining at the Mayhew, (2) to see if we can put together a training pack for families with young children in distress for savings and reduced spending for the Home Start Hillingdon charity and (3) help with the School in India with funding, libraries and stuff. It was humbling to see the excitement in their faces and the passion with which they approach life. Beautiful. Truly a fire to be lit.

Friday, November 15

Orality, Writing and the Image in the Maqamat: Arabic Illustrated Books in Context

This was one of the most interesting articles about an antiquarian book that I have read. This is about a book called as Maqamat of al Hariri, going back to the 13th century, by which time Islam had well established for 2 centuries and Islamic traditions were moving from the violence to the cultured. So this book had elements of art, rhetoric, Islamic jurisprudence, dramatics, legal disputes, charity, painting, politics, etc. etc. It was popular across the world, at least the Islamic World. The book has a series of chapters, each chapter about how a man preaches amazingly on a particular topic and then gets quite a lot of alms and charity and then is exposed as a charlatan. I quote

The pattern established in the first story remains relatively unchanged throughout the text: each new episode is narrated by al-Harith, who witnesses a masterpiece of eloquence by an old or a young man, a woman, a poet, a storyteller, an orator, a person able to read the stars, to resolve grammatical problems, to pronounce authoritatively on legal issues, and so on.5 All of them turn out to be one and the same Abu Zayd, whose performance earns him a generous reward, after which al-Harith discovers the subterfuge; in most cases, he goes on to confront Abu Zayd before both characters part.


What I found amusing was this part.

Besides a solid educational background, the owners of illustrated versions of the work must have boasted some degree of material wealth and deemed pictorial representation acceptable, at least in private, like many people in society appear to have done. In this era, figural art was being deployed on an unprecedented scale in manuscripts, ceramics, textiles, metalwork, statues and figurines, particularly in Iran, Iraq and Syria.30 This phenomenon was, needless to say, not to the liking of all. ‘The angels will not enter a house in which there is a dog or an image’, a well-known religious saying asserted.31 An equally widespread hadith warned that ‘on the Day of Judgement, those who make images (al-musawwirun) will be punished most severely by God’, with some versions adding that they ‘will be called upon to breathe life into what they have created, but they will not succeed’.32

the recent arguments about the Mohammad Cartoons is evidence that so many people still have their heads up the backside of some fundo view of the world. As can be seen, rebellion against this senseless stricture was pretty much widespread across the world and since the beginning. And this is also why accusations of hypocrisy is widespread. I again quote

Such vehement proscriptions did not reverse the societal trends which they implicitly denounced, but one consequence may have been that figural art was generally reserved for private consumption. There is little direct evidence to support this idea, apart from fact that the objects bearing such images were of a private rather than public nature. But it seems likely on the basis of context. The enclosed space of urban homes and their inner courtyards were sheltered from outside interferences by Islamic law. This applied even to houses in which the owners gave themselves over to such unlawful activities as music and drinking, so long as the sound or odour did not blatantly reach outside their walls.35 Theological injunctions against images and legal protection from zealous intrusion thus appear as two sides of the same coin, reflecting a reality in which the norms of religious orthodoxy were plainly ignored by many.


but thankfully as the author says, these wonderfully illustrated books came down history for us to see and admire.



and what’s this???are they kissing? :P



Thursday, November 14

The Islamic View and the Christian View of the Crusades: A New Synthesis

I have been reading up on the Islamic view of the crusades over the past few years and besides it being bloody dry and boring, it was literally the mirror image of what the Christian views were. But I always thought that they were being discussed from 2 different matters. After all, Islamic conquests were imperialistic in nature and they just followed what the Greeks, Romans, etc. etc. did. So this article came as a surprise. I quote the abstract:

Conventional wisdom maintains that the Islamic world and western Christendom held two very different views of the crusades. The image of warfare between Islam and Christendom has promoted the idea that the combative instincts aroused by this conflict somehow produced discordant views of the crusades. Yet the direct evidence from Islamic and Christian sources indicates otherwise. The self-view of the crusades presented by contemporary Muslim authors and the self-view of the crusades presented by crusading popes are not in opposition to each other but are in agreement with each other. Both interpretations place the onset of the crusades ahead of their accepted historical debut in 1095. Both interpretations point to the Norman conquest of Islamic Sicily (1060–91) as the start of the crusades. And both interpretations contend that by the end of the eleventh century the crusading enterprise was Mediterranean-wide in its scope. The Islamic view of the crusades is in fact the enantiomorph (mirror-image) of the Christian view of the crusades. This article makes a radical departure from contemporary scholarship on the early crusading enterprise because it is based on the direct evidence from Islamic and Christian sources. The direct evidence offers a way out of the impasse into which crusade history has fallen, and any attempt at determining the origin and nature of crusading without the support of the direct evidence is doomed to failure.

The trip to Sicily in the summer opened my eyes because I never thought about Sicily as part of Italy ever being under Islamic domination but it sure was. The result can be seen all over the island, either in terms of the food or architecture or literature or what have you. A significant amount of architecture and landscape is driven by the Islamic occupation and then the reconquest by the Franks. We stayed in Cefalu which is a classical Frankish town. More interestingly, the Arabic imperialists don't react to the Sicily reconquest in the same way they react to the Spanish reconquest. Interesting.

So this article removed and questioned quite a lot of my previously held conceptions. The crusades did not start by the famous appeal in 1095. As it so happens, the crusades actually started way before when Sicily was reconquered. I quote again.

Six years after the crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, a legal scholar and preacher at the Great Mosque of Damascus, ‘Alī ibn Ṭāhir al-Sulamī (1039–1106), presented an account of the crusading movement in his book Kitāb al-jihād (‘The Book of Holy War’). His interpretation of the crusades came to enjoy canonical status in the Islamic historiographical tradition and was eventually incorporated in the main historiographical tradition of the Middle East.

Al-Sulamī was able to see the crusading movement in its full range. He does not confine crusading to a brief and localized conflict that centred on the Holy Land or the eastern Mediterranean. Instead, al-Sulamī presents the crusades as a Christian jihād against Islam that had three main fronts: Sicily, Spain and Syria. This ‘holy war’ began with the Norman conquest of Islamic Sicily (1060–91), then spread to Islamic Spain, and, by the end of the eleventh century, had advanced on Syria:

A host [of Franks] swooped down upon the island of Sicily at a time of division and dissension, and likewise they took possession of town after town in Islamic Spain [al-Andalus]. When reports mutually confirmed the condition of this country [Syria]– namely, the disagreements of its lords, the discord of its leading men, coupled with its disorder and disarray – they acted upon their decision to set out for it [Syria] and Jerusalem was the chief object of their desires . . . They [the Franks] continued zealously in the holy war (jihād) against the Muslims . . . until they made themselves rulers of lands beyond their wildest dreams.8

hmmmm, makes one think, eh?

Wednesday, November 13

How the British and American Missionaries converted Nagaland

this dissertation is a good overview of how Nagaland moved from a tribal animist society to a Christian society, how the rules of nationhood entwined closely with religions aspects and the prospects thereof.

  I quote

John Thomas’ dissertation, Missionaries, Church and the Formation of Naga Political Identity, 1918-1997, historicizes the formation of Naga political identity. It examines the intersection of religious and national identity in the formation of the Naga self by critically evaluating missionary, colonial, and nationalist representations of Naga political identity. Thomas is critical of a particular theological perspective, produced by American and Naga Baptist missionaries that mediated this identity formation. This theological perspective is based on a particular interpretation of Christianity based on a fundamentalist variety of Evangelical Christianity that emphasizes “ahistorical and fundamentalist reading of the Bible; solely interested in questions of personal sin, morality and salvation; aggressively exclusive in relating with secular ideologies and other religious faiths; and yet supportive of preserving the existing status quo” (p. 10). This kind of fundamentalist, evangelica understanding imposes a particular religious identity on national identity “wherein being an evangelical Christian increasingly becomes a pre-requisite towards being a Naga” (p. 10). Therefore, this theology is limited by a narrow focus on individual salvation, which reiterates a colonial logic of “saving the savage,” thereby taming the understanding of the Naga self. As such, it is inadequate to understand the complexities of the social, political and cultural specificity of the Naga situation, Thomas argues.

More crap is being pumped in across the country further fanning flames in AP, Orissa, etc. etc. But then again, they should be allowed to preach. Freedom of speech is absolute. Still you wonder if this is really helpful when such a complex tribal animist persona is now being subsumed into being seen solely via a fundamentalist christian worldview. Sad

Tuesday, November 12

Contested Nationalisms and Propaganda: Birth Pangs of a Malaysian Nation, 1957-1969

one of my recurrent little moans is the lack of good history books on Malaysia. Whenever I have been to Malaysian bookstores, you never get a good solid feel of the history of the country. So many other countries have absolutely tomes of books on the formation of the country, the background, etc. etc. I mean, its not like Malaysia is unique in terms of the colonial history, the emergence from WW2, the multi ethnic nature of the population, etc. etc. , there are tons of books on Pakistan, India, Bangladesh etc. etc.

So it was interesting to read this dissertation review. I quote

In the first twelve years of Malaya/Malaysia’s independence, there was a fundamental disagreement among the country’s populace about national identity. On the one hand, the Malay majority, basically supported by the structures of government, conceived of a special role for the ethnically Malay population, the Malay language, and Malay culture (including Islam and other cultural trappings). On the other hand, non-indigenous groups, particularly the large Chinese population, imagined a nation wherein all ethnic groups, as well as their languages and cultural practices, would be celebrated and on equal footing. Cheong Soon Gan has chosen the vantage point of propaganda to probe not just the ideological incompatibility of these two visions but even more the practical, daily, lived contradictions in the government.

the reviewer notes that Malaysian history is more about Great man of History like talking about Tunku Abdul Rahman and Lee Kuan Yew, etc. But here its more about Indian barbers, letters to newspapers and reports by Malaysian civil servants, a perspective which will be closer to the ground..fascinating.

Monday, November 11

can you make out what this is?


this is a wall

there are parallel marks on the wall

get it?















this is the photo of the wall inside the Auschwitz Gas Chamber, when the inmates realised they are being gassed and they tried to escape the concrete walls.

Never again.

the full photographs, journals and diaries of the King Tut expedition

I just stumbled upon this site. Amazing.


On November 5th 1922, Howard Carter wrote in his pocket diary: 'Discovered tomb under tomb of Ramsses VI investigated same & found seals intact.' The subsequent excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun captured the public imagination. The complete records were deposited in the Griffith Institute Archive shortly after Carter's death.

Our aim in publishing this material online is to provide an essential resource for scholars, school children and interested adults alike. This demanding project has taken 15 years and has been directed by Dr Jaromir Malek, the former Keeper of the Archive.

Friday, November 8

Herding Cats

Truly managing academic departments is like herding cats. I am involved in several universities in a management and/or teaching capacity and over the past few years, have seriously come to believe that there is definitely a dedicated God in charge of tertiary education. Because only through divine intervention can the results happen like teaching students. The level of confusion, incompetence, ego’s, administrative log jams, misaligned incentives, lack of strategic direction, planning, coordination, budgeting, risk management etc. etc. is simply gobsmacking and the fact that they keep on running and also end up educating our younglings is a miracle which can only be attributed to divine intervention.

So it was with interest that I read this paper. I quote the 2 quotes:

“There is a lot of difference in managing a group of employees in a plant and (managing) faculty
members,… Trying to manage faculty members is like herding cats”
“The reason why disputes in academia are so bitter is because the stakes are so low”

Truly herding cats indeed.

Here’s the abstract:

Using a tried and tested measure of management practices which has been shown to
predict firm performance, we survey nearly 250 departments across 100+ UK
universities. We find large differences in management scores across universities and that
departments in older, research-intensive universities score higher than departments in
newer, more teaching-oriented universities. We also find that management matters in
universities. The scores, particularly with respect to provision of incentives for staff
recruitment, retention and promotion, are correlated with both teaching and research
performance conditional on resources and past performance. Moreover, this relationship
holds for all universities, not just research-intensive ones.

When I see university management, I sometimes wonder. Just because you are a good teacher and/or a researcher does not mean that you are a good administrator. Specially here in the UK. Take a peek over the pond, there they have professional administrators and that’s what we need more of. Universities are complex beasts and they need professional trainers to train and perform. Specially the staff.

Thursday, November 7

Bankers and their Bonuses*

A very interesting article.

We analyse the role of financial sector workers in the huge rise of the share of earnings going
to those at the very top of the pay distribution in the UK. Rising bankers’ bonuses accounted
for two-thirds of the increase in the share of the top 1% after 1999. Surprisingly, bankers’
share of earnings showed no decline between the peak of the financial boom in 2007 and
2011, three years after the global crisis began. Nor did bankers’ relative employment position
deteriorate over this period. We discuss proposed policy responses such as transparency,
bonus “clawbacks”, numerical bonus targets and tax.

Bankers seem to be doing very well out of the crisis. And this was a well argued paper. For example: I quote:

In terms of policy, we begin by considering whether there is really any “problem” to be
addressed. If bankers are paid in a competitive labour market and simply rewarded for their
talent, there seems little reason for government intervention, at least on efficiency grounds.
However there seems to be substantial evidence of rents within the sector – a result of
imperfect competition or arising from the implicit and explicit guarantees and subsidies that
the sector receives from the government due to the “too big to fail” problem. We discuss
various policy options that seek to either remove the basis for these rents or to tax them ex
post. Finally, we note that on equity grounds, policy may seek to reduce the post-tax income
taken by those in the upper echelons of the income distribution – which implicitly targets
bankers given their prominence among high-earning workers. This has primarily taken the
form of higher marginal tax rates.

The authors argue that regulators are unable to remove the rental issue. Which is a curious argument to make but then in the absence of a truly global government with one currency, this issue will keep on happening as national regulators will keep on making suboptimal decisions based upon large banks presence in multi country jurisdictions. We have been here before, remember the Dutch and East India companies? They were also too big to fail. So I suspect and concur with the authors that the result will be to increase the marginal tax rates on the top earners. This can have unforeseen implications.

See for example what happened in France. Here’s one example:

Over 8,000 French households paid taxes topping 100% of their incomes, according to French Finance Ministry data. See Taxes on Some Wealthy French Top 100% of Income. You may scratch your head in disbelief. How is that possible?

Stateside, you might guess it was the alternative minimum tax. In France, it was a one-time 2011 levy on incomes for households with assets over 1.3 million euros ($1.67 million). 8,000 families paying 100% may seem a small number, but nearly 12,000 households paid more than 75%. The percentages sure do grate.

Or this:

Hollande's 75% supertax on the mega-rich is at the centre of another row after French football clubs said they would cancel all matches scheduled for the final weekend in November to protest at the levy.

The symbolic tax – a 75% tax on income exceeding €1m (£850,000)a year – has caused a headache for the Socialist government since it wasthrown out as unconstitutional by France's top court. To avoid the embarrassment of a major policy U-turn, ministers redrafted the tax earlier this year to shift the burden from individuals to employers – a legislative shimmy that has spooked football clubs, which famously pay vast salaries even to bit-part players.

Clubs say they are already under financial pressures and that the tax would spark an exodus of top players to rival leagues abroad, killing the domestic game. In spite of a poll showing that 85% of French people are in favour of the tax being applied to football clubs, the clubs decided to step up their protests.

this promises to be fun. Much more ink and excited electrons will flow below the bridge before this is settled.

Wednesday, November 6

The role of stock ownership by US members of Congress on the market for political favors

this was not surprising at all. I quote the abstract:

I examine whether stock ownership by politicians helps to enforce noncontractible quid pro quo relations with firms. The ownership by US Congress members in firms contributing to their election campaigns is higher than in noncontributors. This bias toward contributors depends on the financial incentives of politicians and the relation's value. Firms with a stronger ownership–contribution association receive more government contracts. The financial gains from these contracts are economically large. When politicians divest stocks, firms discontinue contributions to the politicians, lose future contracts, and perform poorly. Politicians divest the stocks in contributors, but not in noncontributors, in anticipation of retirement.

In a way, from a purely economics view, this makes perfect sense. Incentives are everything, no? So the fact that both the congress and the companies work to ensure each other get remunerated shouldnt be a surprise, eh? This allows both parties to skate around the bribery restrictions. Neato. bah!

The author gives two publicly available news stories.

The Case of Representative Jerry Lewis (R-CA)

Representative Jerry Lewis (R-CA) is a 16-term member of Congress and has been a member of the House Appropriations Committee since 1980. From 2005–2006, he served as chairman of the full committee, and he currently serves as a ranking member. Rep. Lewis’ ethical issues arise from misusing his position on the Appropriations Committee to steer hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks to family, friends, former employees, and corporations in exchange for contributions to his campaign committee:

“In 2005, shortly after becoming chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Lewis was asked to buy into an initial public offering of a fledgling bank, Security Bank of California, headed by his close friend James Robinson. Rep. Lewis’ initial investment of $22,000 for 2,200 stocks in Security Bank was worth nearly $60,000 in 2006, an increase of almost 300%. The stock was recommended to Rep. Lewis by Mr. Robinson's wife, a former chair and board member of the Loma Linda University Children's Hospital Foundation, a branch of Loma Linda University Medical Center. Rep. Lewis has helped direct more than $200 million in federal dollars to the medical center, which has facilities named in his honor. In June 2006, Rep. Lewis acknowledged that the medical center benefitted from $40 million in earmarks. Many of Security Bank's board members have also contributed to Rep. Lewis’ campaign and are linked to businesses that received federal earmarks. They include Zareh Sarrafian, an executive with Loma Linda Medical Center and president of the Hospital Foundation's board, and Bruce Varner, a friend of Rep. Lewis’ who served on the board of the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino. The center has received more than $800,000 in federal funds.” (CREW report 2009, pp. 37–38)

The Case of Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA)

Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) is a 10-term member of Congress and a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee. She arranged a meeting between the Department of Treasury and OneUnited Bank, a company with close financial ties to Ms. Waters, involving both investments and contributions:

“In September 2008, Rep. Waters asked then-Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson to hold a meeting for minority-owned banks that had suffered from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac losses. The Treasury Department complied and held a session with approximately a dozen senior banking regulators, representatives from minority-owned banks, and their trade association. Officials of OneUnited Bank, one of the largest black-owned banks in the country that has close ties to Rep. Waters, attended the meeting along with Rep. Waters’ chief of staff. Kevin Cohee, chief executive officer of OneUnited, used the meeting as an opportunity to ask for bailout funds.... Former Bush White House officials stated they were surprised when OneUnited Officials asked for bailout funds.... In December 2008, Rep. Waters intervened again, asking Treasury to host another meeting to ensure minority-owned banks received part of the $700 billion allocated under the Troubled Asset Relief Program… Within two weeks, on December 19, 2008, OneUnited secured $12.1 million in bailout funds… This was not the first time Rep. Waters used her position to advance the interests of the bank. Rep. Waters’ spouse, Sidney Williams, became a shareholder in OneUnited in 2001, when it was known as the Boston Bank of Commerce. In 2002, Boston Bank of Commerce tried to purchase Family Savings, a minority-owned bank in Los Angeles. Instead, Family Savings turned to a bank in Illinois. Rep. Waters tried to block the merger by contacting regulators at the FDIC. She publicly stated she did not want a major white bank to acquire a minority-owned bank. When her efforts with the FDIC proved fruitless, Rep. Waters began a public pressure campaign with other community leaders. Ultimately, when Family Savings changed direction and allowed Boston Bank of Commerce to submit a winning bid, Rep. Waters received credit for the merger. The combined banks were renamed OneUnited.... In March 2004, she acquired OneUnited stock worth between $250,001 and $500,000, and Mr. Williams purchased two sets of stock, each worth between $250,001 and $500,000. In September 2004, Rep. Waters sold her stock in OneUnited and her husband sold a portion of his. That same year, Mr. Williams joined the bank's board.... OneUnited Chief Executive Kevin Cohee and President Teri Williams Cohee have donated a total of $8,000 to Rep. Waters’ campaign committee…. On October 27, 2009, less than two months before OneUnited received a $12 million bailout, the bank received a cease-and-desist order from the FDIC and bank regulatory officials in Massachusetts for poor lending practices and excessive executive compensation... the bank provided excessive perks to its executives, including paying for Mr. Cohee's use of a $6.4 million mansion…” (CREW report 2009, pp. 123–125).

Tuesday, November 5

the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

I popped into the British Museum the other day and I swung by the Parthenon Sculptures to wonder at them.



Here’s one of my most favoured sculptures, came out behind from the East Pediment. These are the Lapith Women. And boyo, do they get me all tingly and excited. Absolutely beautiful and exquisite. I have also seen the Parthenon and whilst I was unable to see the marbles there (the museum in Athens wasn't constructed when I was there late last century), I can see them here.

The argument whether or not the Marbles should be sent back is a difficult one and has been argued for many many moons. Here’s one recent argument which I read. I quote

Lord Elgin’s theft was the most ignoble act of the neo-classical era. Today, his actions seem as redundant and repulsive as slavery and colonialism, and I am being quite serious when I say we should see the Marbles continued presence in London as vestiges of both, for had the Greeks not been enslaved to the Ottomans, they would surely never have allowed this vandalism and theft to take place. I won’t go on - it will be bad for all our blood pressure. But I will just say that there is a moral imperative to try to right the wrongs past, just as Her Majesty’s Government has done by apologising for illegal acts committed in Northern Ireland and Kenya.

As it so happens, I did a small course on Ancient Greece around this time. And I learnt how Athens demanded protection monies from other Greek Cities and then Pericles used the money to beautify Athens with temples and statues including the Parthenon. I quote from Plutarch

But that which brought most delightful adornment to Athens, and the greatest amazement to the rest of mankind; that which alone now testifies for Hellas that her ancient power and splendour, of which so much is told, was no idle fiction, — I mean his construction of sacred edifices, — this, more than all public measures of Pericles, his enemies maligned and slandered. They cried out in the assemblies: "The people has lost its fair fame and is in ill repute because it has removed the public moneys of the Hellenes from Delos into its own keeping,2 and that seemliest of all excuses which it had to urge against its accusers, to wit, that out of fear of the Barbarians it took the public funds p37from that sacred isle and was now guarding them in a stronghold, of this Pericles has robbed it. And surely Hellas is insulted with a dire insult and manifestly subjected to tyranny when she sees that, with her own enforced contributions the war, we are gilding and bedizening our city, which, for all the world like a wanton woman, adds to her wardrobe precious stones and costly statues and temples worth their millions."

3 For his part, Pericles would instruct the people that it owed no account of their moneys to the allies provided it carried on the war for them and kept off the Barbarians; "not a horse do they furnish," said he, "not a ship, not a hoplite, but money simply; 159and this belongs, not to those who give it, but to those who take it, if only they furnish that for which they take it in pay. 4 And it is but meet that the city, when once she is sufficiently equipped with all that is necessary for prosecuting the war, should apply her abundance to such works as, by their completion, will bring her everlasting glory, and while in process of completion will bring that abundance into actual service, in that all sorts of activity and diversified demands arise, which rouse every art and stir every hand, and bring, as it were, the whole city under pay, so that she not only adorns, but supports herself as well from her own resources."

So before people get too excited, this is what the Athenians did.

But then comes the question of if its right for the Brits to gob on to the Marbles. Question is whether its right or wrong in terms of justice. And I was reminded of this when I read the Melian Dialogue. Written by Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War, it talks about the confrontation between Athens and Melos. Melos wanted to be independent but Athens said that questions of justice does not arise between unequal powers, and ended up besieging Melos, killed the men and sold the women and children into slavery. I know Melos wasn't strictly independent as they had relations with the Lacedaemonians or Spartans if you will. Let me quote the operative paragraphs of this discussion.

89. Athenians. For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences--either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us--and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Lacedaemonians, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

In your face! one of the most famous sentences in the history of human relations and international politics. The British took the marbles and keep it because they can. Greece has to suffer what they must. I am sure the Greeks can appreciate this, eh?

So its going to be interesting to see how this turns out. The Turks and Egyptians have successfully managed to get their antiquities back, no?

Monday, November 4

Why do we still read Homer

A fascinating article by Professor Andrew Szegedy-Maszak. who lead the Ancient Greeks course which I read recently. If you ever wanted to know WHY one should read Homer then this is a great article to read. Great professor and his video lectures were really nice and interesting :)

thank you Professor, really appreciate you taking the time to educate the world!

Thursday, October 17

Tut's comet


This is such a fascinating story. It weaves astronomy, archaeology, history, Egyptology, and astronomy along with chemistry. 

Comet remains not found anywhere else other than in this piece and that too in king tut's brooch? 

Amazing story
Can you imagine the ancient Egyptians standing and looking up at the comets blazing across the sky and thinking what kind of a message the gods are sending them? 




From <>:
[Go there for pix]
Brooch of Tutankhamun Holds Evidence of Ancient Comet
Tue, Oct 08, 2013
Even more, scientists confirm first-ever finding of a fragment of the
comet's core.
Most have heard of the treasures of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh
Tutankhamun, first discovered by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon in
1922 when they uncovered his tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
Few are familiar with his impeccably preserved brooch, recovered along
with the numerous other artifacts within the tomb. Fewer still know
about the striking yellow-brown scarab that is set at its center, and
that it is made of a yellow silica glass stone procured from the sand
of the Sahara and then shaped and polished by ancient craftsmen. The
silica glass was originally formed 28 million years ago, when an
ancient comet entered the earth's atmosphere and exploded over Egypt,
heating up the sand beneath it to a temperature of about 2,000 degrees
Celsius and resulting in the formation of a huge amount of the yellow
silica glass, which lies scattered over a 6,000 square kilometer area
in the Sahara.

Wednesday, October 16

The Commoner Who Salvaged a King’s Ransom


Can you imagine the debt we pay to this man who helped the recovery of so many amazing historical artefacts from the building sites in London? 

The Cheapside treasure hoard will be exhibited in the museum of London.  So if you want to go visit it, that would be great. See what a lovely and interesting link to India. India was a huge gems and jewellery producing country. Most of the huge ancient diamonds came from India, you may have heard of the Peacock Throne. Etc etc. fascinating stories behind these glittering stones. 




The Commoner Who Salvaged a King’s Ransom

George Fabian Lawrence, better known as “Stoney Jack,” parlayed his friendships with London navvies into a stunning series of archaeological discoveries between 1895 and 1939.

It was only a small shop in an unfashionable part of London, but it had a most peculiar clientele. From Mondays to Fridays the place stayed locked, and its only visitors were schoolboys who came to gaze through the windows at the marvels crammed inside. But on Saturday afternoons the shop was opened by its owner—a “genial frog” of a man, as one acquaintance called him, small, pouched, wheezy, permanently smiling and with the habit of puffing out his cheeks when he talked. Settling himself behind the counter, the shopkeeper would light a cheap cigar and then wait patiently for laborers to bring him treasure. He waited at the counter many years—from roughly 1895 until his death in 1939—and in that time accumulated such a hoard of valuables that he supplied the museums of London with more than 15,000 ancient artifacts and still had plenty left to stock his premises at 7 West Hill, Wandsworth.

“It is,” the journalist H.V. Morton assured his readers in 1928,

perhaps the strangest shop in London. The shop sign over the door is a weather-worn Ka-figure from an Egyptian tomb, now split and worn by the winds of nearly forty winters. The windows are full of an astonishing jumble of objects. Every historic period rubs shoulders in them. Ancient Egyptian bowls lie next to Japanese sword guards and Elizabethan pots contain Saxon brooches, flint arrowheads or Roman coins…

There are lengths of mummy cloth, blue mummy beads, a perfectly preserved Roman leather sandal found twenty feet beneath a London pavement, and a shrunken black object like a bird’s claw that is a mummified hand… [and] all the objects are genuine and priced at a few shillings each.

H.V. Morton, one of the best-known British journalists of the 1920s and 1930s, often visited Lawrence’s shop as a young man, and wrote a revealing and influential pen-portrait of him.

This higgledy-piggledy collection was the property of George Fabian Lawrence, an antiquary born in the Barbican area of London in 1861—though to say that Lawrence owned it is to stretch a point, for much of his stock was acquired by shadowy means, and on more than one occasion an embarrassed museum had to surrender an item it had bought from him.

Tuesday, October 15

The Effect of Education on Religion: Evidence from Compulsory Schooling Laws


Religion has problems with modernity. Without fail. It has to happen. Religions pump out the idea that they have infallible truths which are immutable. If there is something that's immutable that is that nothing is immutable. 

But still we have morons who go about saying that their religion is the best and they are very happy to kill for it. Read a Ricky Gervais quote. Blasphemy is the idea that an all powerful god is upset because somebody said something bad about him. That's the level of thinking that religious people believe. 

So what do you do? This article gives an indication. Educate the populace and that will reduce the stranglehold of the priests and mullahs on the populace. Proof. 

Then again, a significant number of terrorists are highly educated. Counter factual there. And it's not necessary that higher education always leads to good civic behaviour. The ex president of Egypt has a doctorate. The ex president of Iran is an engineer. And both of them have religion coming out of their asses. 



The Effect of Education on Religion: Evidence from Compulsory Schooling Laws

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For over a century, social scientists have debated how educational attainment impacts religious belief. In this paper, I use Canadian compulsory schooling laws to identify the relationship between completed schooling and later religiosity. I find that higher levels of education lead to lower levels of religious affiliation later in life. An additional year of education leads to a 4-percentage-point decline in the likelihood that an individual identifies with any religious tradition. This is a reasonably large effect: extrapolating the results to the broader population would suggest that increases in schooling could explain most of the large rise in non-affiliation in Canada in recent decades.

Monday, October 14

Indian Nationalist Art History and the Writing and Exhibiting of Mughal Art, 1910–48

Art is usually the handmaiden of campaigns and ideologies. Think about all the songs, paintings, architecture, sculpture, poems by various great artists.

I just read this poem by Tyrtaeus of Sparta who after the First Messian War, encouraged his fellow male citizens to go forth and do battle.

You should reach the limits of virtue
before you cross the border of death.

For no man ever proves himself a good man in war
unless he can endure to face the blood and the slaughter,
go close against the enemy and fight with his hands.

Here is courage, mankind's finest possession, here is
the noblest prize that a young man can endeavor to win,
and it is a good thing his city and all the people share with him
when a man plants his feet and stands in the foremost spears
relentlessly, all thought of foul flight completely forgotten,
and has well trained his heart to be steadfast and to endure,
and with words encourages the man who is stationed beside him.

Here is a man who proves himself to be valiant in war.
With a sudden rush he turns to flight the rugged battalions
of the enemy, and sustains the beating waves of assault.
And he who so falls among the champions and loses his sweet life,
so blessing with honor his city, his father, and all his people,
with wounds in his chest, where the spear that he was facing has transfixed
that massive guard of his shield, and gone through his breastplate as well,
why, such a man is lamented alike by the young and the elders,
and all his city goes into mourning and grieves for his loss.
His tomb is pointed to with pride, and so are his children,
and his children's children, and afterward all the race that is his.

His shining glory is never forgotten, his name is remembered,
and he becomes an immortal, though he lies under the ground,
when one who was a brave man has been killed by the furious War God
standing his ground and fighting hard for his children and land.

But if he escapes the doom of death, the destroyer of bodies,
and wins his battle, and bright renown for the work of his spear,
all men give place to him like, the youth and the elders,
and much joy comes his way before he goes down to the dead.

Aging, he has reputation among his citizens. No one
tries to interfere with his honors or all he deserves;
all men withdraw before his presence, and yield their seats to him,
the youth, and the men his age, and even those older than he.

Thus a man should endeavor to reach this high place of courage
with all his heart, and, so trying, never be backward in war.

To the Soldiers; after a defeat
Now, since you are the seed of Heracles the invincible,
courage! Zeus has not yet turned away from us. Do not
fear the multitude of their men, nor run away from them.
Each man should bear his shield straight at the foremost ranks
and make his heart a thing full of hate, and hold the black flying
spirits of death as dear as he holds the flash of the sun.

You know what havoc is the work of the painful War God,
you have learned well how things go in exhausting war,
for you have been with those who ran and with the pursuers,
O young men, you have had as much of both as you want.

Those who, standing their ground and closing their ranks together,
endure the onset at close quarters and fight in the front,
they lose fewer men. They also protect the army behind them.
Once they flinch, the spirit of the whole army falls apart.
And no man could count over and tell all the number of evils,
all that can come to a man, once he gives way to disgrace.
For once a man reverses and runs in the terror of battle,
he offers his back, a tempting mark to spear from behind,
and it is a shameful sight when a dead man lies in the dust there,
driven through from behind by the stroke of an enemy spear.

No, no, let him take a wide stance and stand up strongly against them,
digging both heels in the ground, biting his lip with his teeth,
covering thighs and legs beneath, his chest and his shoulders
under the hollowed-out protection of his broad shield,
while in his right hand he brandishes the powerful war-spear,
and shakes terribly the crest high above his helm.
Our man should be disciplined in the work of the heavy fighter,
and not stand out from the missiles when he carries a shield,
but go right up and fight at close quarters and, with his long spear
or short sword, thrust home and strike his enemy down.
Let him fight toe to toe and shield against shield hard driven,
crest against crest and helmet on helmet, chest against chest;
let him close hard and fight it out with his opposite foeman,
holding tight to the hilt of his sword, or to his long spear.
And you, O light-armed fighters, from shield to shield of your fellows,
dodge for protection and keep steadily throwing great stones,
and keep on pelting the enemy with your javelins, only
remember always to stand near your own heavy-armed men.

Spartan Soldier
It is beautiful when a brave man of the front ranks,
falls and dies, battling for his homeland,
and ghastly when a man flees planted fields and city
and wanders begging with his dear mother,
aging father, little children and true wife.
He will be scorned in every new village,
reduced to want and loathsome poverty; and shame
will brand his family line, his noble
figure. Derision and disaster will hound him.
A turncoat gets no respect or pity;
so let us battle for our country and freely give
our lives to save our darling children.

Young men, fight shield to shield and never succumb
to panic or miserable flight,
but steel the heart in your chests with magnificence
and courage. Forget your own life
when you grapple with the enemy. Never run
and let an old soldier collapse
whose legs have lost their power. It is shocking when
an old man lies on the front line
before a youth: an old warrior whose head is white
and beard gray, exhaling his strong soul
into the dust, clutching his bloody genitals
into his hands: an abominable vision,
foul to see: his flesh naked. But in a young man
all is beautiful when he still
possesses the shining flower of lovely youth.
Alive he is adored by men,
desired by women, and finest to look upon
when he falls dead in the forward clash.

Let each man spread his legs, rooting them in the ground,
bite his teeth into his lips, and hold.

When you hear this in the Greek as you can feel the rhythm pounding into your feet and speeding up your blood before a battle.

When you come to India, it becomes heavily complicated. What do you do about Mughal Art when you are trying to remove colonialism? Is that Indian? Weren't the Mughals Imperial? they came from outside didn't they? but then they became Indian as the next man. Let me quote the initial paragraphs of the article to explain what happened early part of the last century when Indian Nationhood was being developed.

Writings on Indian modern art and art history have mainly concentrated on the developments that took place in Bengal in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when art and nationalist politics came together under a new conception of Indian culture and civilization, mainly steeped in a refashioning of India's Hindu past.1 From the opening years of the twentieth century, Indian nationalist art history promoted a historical understanding of Indian art in defiance of colonial distortions.2 Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy and Ernest Binfield Havell, the dominant voices of the new nationalist art history, sought to elevate Indian art by emphasizing its spiritual aspect, especially that of its Hindu legacy. Confronted with the dismissal of the symbolism and historical development of Indian art when judged against Western classical benchmarks, nationalist historians of Indian art aimed at inverting this pattern. But this often happened to the detriment of Mughal art and architecture that had been deemed worthy of praise by colonial officers and scholars, precisely because they perceived it as stemming from outside India.3 In doing so, Coomaraswamy's work drew connections with South East Asia and what was then known as ‘Greater India’, while Havell's effusive prose stressed the Hindu character of all aspects of Indian art.4

By contrast, accounting for the ‘Indianness’ of foreign-born Mughal art and architecture presented a major challenge for nationalist art historians. Mughal art had been incorporated into collections and exhibitions of Islamic art, but its position within Indian art history proved problematic. As Coomaraswamy explained:

Over against the metaphysical bases of Hindu art, the Mughals brought in a cult of personality and historical interests; Mughal painting is like Renaissance in curiosity about the individual, and in its historical preoccupations. … It is just these qualities which have made an appreciation of Mughal art, painting and architecture alike, easy for the modern European. This appreciation, however well justified in itself, nevertheless cannot be regarded as taking the student deep into the heart of Indian life or thought, from which the Mughal court life, except under Akbar, remained essentially aloof.5

The widespread exclusion of the Mughal legacy from major surveys of Indian art such as Coomaraswamy's History of Indian and Indonesian Art (1927) and from the work of foreign scholars such as that of Heinrich Zimmer attested to the influence of religious and philologist interpretations and ideologies. By relying on Sanskrit texts, rather than oral traditions of living Indian artisans or concerns with historical patronage, Coomaraswamy, but also Zimmer and later Stella Kramrisch, all participated in the construction of a Sanskrit canon that formed the basis of a newly conceived Hindu civilization.6 As several historians have commented, one of the achievements of Hindu cultural revivalism is that it succeeded in presenting ‘a civilisation incessantly talked about in terms of the spiritual and the metaphysical, … to be factual and realistic’.7 Crucial in this process were the ‘translations and interpretations of Western oriental scholars [that] were appropriated and fed into India's reconstructed past’.8 This imposed an interpretative framework for Indian art defined partly in exclusion of India's Islamic heritage, and often turned the latter into the very cause of the perceived decadence and corruption of Hindu civilization.9

It was fascinating to read this angle on Indian history and how the current events, like the riots in Muzzafarnagar as well as the nomination of that fellow from Gujarat plays out with reference to the struggle between secular India and the Hindutva India. The article also talks about how the nation moved away from excluding Mughal Art as the other and brought it into the syncretism loaded secular idea of India.