Monday, July 29, 2013

The Shear-Sunk Redemption

I find this entire concept of Justice, Punishment and Societal norms very interesting and confusing. I made some attempts at trying to comprehend the entire system albeit I ended with more questions than answers. In the last of the Justice Trilogy – I attempted to understand the purpose of punishment. There were three primary objectives that emerged which are of –

  • Retribution
  • Deterrence
  • Reformation

As was suggested in that article retribution, though obtained vicariously, was easiest to achieve provided there is a speedy disposal of a sub judice case. It is in the objective of deterrence and reformation that punishment has had limited to no impact. I think the primary reason for this is that, the society that we live in, there is little to no incentive to behave the right way and one is not a criminal unless one is caught! Beyond a point even fear of God fails to act as a deterrent.

In the society that we live in where power and money are worshiped there is no incentive for one to behave correct. Also we cannot and should not aim for a 1:1 Civil to Police ratio, hence every crime committed will neither be reported nor be punished. Without any hard statistics at hand I would like to think that off all the people who commit crimes of any nature (traffic rule violation, drunken driving, financial, burglary, corruption, sexual harassment, tax evasion etc.) only a small percentage are reported against. Even among the ones that are reported against, lengthy legal procedure doesn’t ensure punishment. Also off those that are reported against, I think,only a minuscule are declared as convict. Under such circumstances there is an immense incentive to do the wrong thing. Another big factor is that the person who earns power and money by questionable means doesn’t ever suffer any form of social exclusion unless convicted; rather he is always worshiped as an intelligent man and as somebody who has figured out to manipulate the system to ones benefit. Plenty aspire to be this person hence there is no question of social exclusion at all. I would like to believe that any amount of strict laws or stronger punishments would never be sufficient to curb or deter crime

Under such circumstances a person who wants to do the right thing becomes the victim. Sometimes the victimization could be extreme and lead to social exclusion or ridicule as well. I would like to propose that to curb crime and reduce corruption, public policy makers must find ways and methods to incentivize and inspire  the right behavior. It is here that the existing policies have failed. I would also like to suggest that the responsibility to inspire the right behavior is not only of the public policy makers but of all of us as well. I don’t think any major change in civic sense to corrupt practices would be seen unless collectively we all incentivize and inspire the right behavior. There are plenty of opportunities that arise in day to day situations, it is only about recognizing them and not letting the moment pass.

If we notice how the corporate world functions, it is to a large extent dependent upon this incentive scheme. Wrong doers are not always punished but the right doers are definitely rewarded so that more and more people aspire to do the right thing and be benefited in all possible ways. Let me also indicate that incentives don’t essentially have to be monetary in nature. Just to give a simple example - we detest corrupt policemen or cringe at a traffic constable not managing the traffic well - but how many times have we given a complement for someone who was doing the right thing or even given a simple nod of appreciation? Under the lack of any public appreciation - what incentive does a policeman have to remain on the right path? While it may not apply to all situations - it is still worth a try and more thought.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013


Despite all the progress that Humans have collectively made, many fundamental problems of life continue to be a mystery or remain unresolved. On the foundation of such unresolved problems and mysteries stands the structure of human life. The construct seems concrete enough and largely works, till the fundamental questions/problems are revisited. The moment even one such unresolved problem is raised it creates a severe disturbance; opinion and counter-opinion fly from all over. Yet, when hours would have passed one would have realized that they have progressed no further than where they started! 

Something did break loose when a friend of mine, during a discussion, brought up the topic of Rebirth/Reincarnation. It is a topic that is old unresolved and unconcluded yet something that we have brushed aside as life continues irrespective of whether we humans understand it or whether we have managed to find an explanation for the confusion or not.  As happens in moments of such sudden disruption, my mind started racing and I was breathing heavy, trying to grapple with the matter at hand and think about all the points and counter-points related to it. Needless to say that, the argument was inconclusive and refused to reach anywhere. Especially in times when the line between scientific assumptions and religious beliefs has significantly blurred, finding a consistent and unified explanation proved elusive. 

All the major religions of the world, with varying degree and in somewhat ambiguous tone have spoken about re-birth. Most of them tend to speak about rebirth as retribution to the volitional activities that one might have undertaken in previous or the current birth. They also speak about rebirth as multiple attempts by the human soul gets to reach perfection required to put an end to the cycle of birth and rebirth. Ofcourse matters of religion are about belief and often may have nothing do with rational thinking. Though, attempts have been made to rationalize certain beliefs either to convince the fence sitters or to reach out to atheists. Though, I would say, reincarnation is a matter that could baffle and question the rational theories of the staunchest of atheists.

Personally, I think, the question of re-incarnation presents a dilemma. Accepting that there is such a thing appears inconsistent with many of the other beliefs that I hold. Let me present some of the points for which I feel that it is completely inconsistent and incoherent with other beliefs and human endeavor:

  •  Past life decides the quality of next birth
  • Assumes presence of an omniscient and omnipotent force that is monitoring all human activities – automatically takes atheists out of the equation
  • Assumes superiority of human birth over and above all other species
  • Suggests that the geography, religion, family one is born in is not a matter of chance but a result of previous life
  • Sort of indicates graded quality of living where one form of living has got to be superior to the other as a reciprocation of the good behavior of past life or current life
  • Completely turns the argument of equality among humans on its head and sort of sides with Hitler
  • Completely changes the meaning and context of ‘Free Will’
  • Mocks the entire effort to fight poverty and injustice
  • Appears escapist
Having said that, facts that have come up in recent times makes it tough to refute rebirth. Dr Ian Stevenson, did a study involving about 20 kids who started talking about events of past life pretty much immediately after learning to speak. It is baffling and begs for an acceptable explanation. The only recourse between the two extreme positions could possibly lie in accepting a non-causal reincarnation. However we might still be very far from the possible last word.

Thanks to all the respondents who took the survey and gave us a chance to see what the widespread belief was. Based on the survey I present the summary of the findings that emerged.
  • An overwhelming majority of the respondents were Religious
  • Though their belief in reincarnation of Religious people was only marginally higher than the non-Religious respondents:
  • Over all only 36% of the respondents believed in Reincarnation
  • Off the people who believed in Reincarnation - 75% believed our past birth has a strong bearing on our current birth

Survey Results


Friday, July 19, 2013

The Stare-Case

I always wondered, how long one could stare at a person without crossing any imaginary civilized boundary? More often than not, we walk across somebody who seems familiar but we immediately can’t recollect and need to visually gather more information before any memory recall happens. The time needed to gather more visual information could vary and that would mean for whole of that duration either one is staring at the person in question or is stealing glances at him or her. 

Wonder if there are acceptable time  Also we definitely want to save ourselves the embarrassment of greeting somebody who ends up being a close resemblance only of somebody we know.  Needless to say that, I am not referring to people who use this as a ploy to pursue their love interest!
limits that we draw intuitively so that the stare does not cross-over to a lecherous domain or to the domain of ‘being interested’.

But really, is there a mental limit that we have beyond which the stare we receive or give becomes uncomfortable, threatening and intrusive? Does it vary culturally? I know not! All I know is that I have shot myself in the foot few times. 

 In a friends marriage I saw couple of faces that I thought were very familiar to me. They didn’t show any indication of recognizing me, I had to look hard and try and gather as much visual details to confirm that these definitely were the ones that I know. I probably did it to an extent where the couple started showing some irritation. I had two option either stop staring, concentrate on my food and leave with the doubt permanently in my mind or to walk up to them with courage and ask if they could recognize me. For whatever reasons, I chose the latter! I walked upto them, stood before them with a smiling face and hoped that they would recognize me.  They couldn’t at all –I walked away a little embarrassed at the whole sequence of events. My friends, who saw me do this, thought that it was my habit to go upto strangers and ask if they recognized me!!


Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Rolling Rupee gathers no Moss

By now even school going kids know that the Rupee is falling. Since it started its southward trip in 2009, there has been no end to its fascination with it. Sometime it looks like a skydiver on a rapid decline but with the hope that the parachute would open successfully and the fall would be halted and eased till reaching a stable surface. Only that in this instance the parachute is nowhere to be seen or has malfunctioned thus continuing the rapid fall.

While it is being discussed fervently by one and all in the financial sector, many might not know how it influences all of our lives. Also it would be interesting to note if anything could be done to mitigate the situation. Here I present my analysis of the situation and possible steps to rectify the situation
Reasons for the fall:

Firstly, we have to understand that, the Rupee is performing badly against the $ but not essentially against all currencies. So why bother at all? Unfortunately there is plenty to bother about because entire International Trade is done in and measured against the Dollar. Many transactions happen in nothing but the dollar. So, not only the Rupee but every currency in the world has to keep a track of how it measures against the dollar. On an earlier occasion I had presented an analysis to show how this benefitsAmerica

Secondly, this situation can be viewed as a simple case of demand and supply. There is demand for $ but shortage of supply. We know from our common sense that this would undoubtedly lead to increase of the cost of that commodity. That’s exactly what happened. We have to spend more Rupees to buy the same amount of $, in other words $ has indeed become expensive!

Thirdly, why is $ in short supply and why is there a demand for it? Unfortunately to buy Petrol and Gold any some of the other imports we have to spend $. Which means people have to use their Rupees to buy $ and then use the $ to buy the imports. So the $ quantity in country reduces.  So we can see why there is a demand. There is an uptake in demand for the yellow metal and hence more $ than usual is used up to buy Gold hence creating a shortage.

Fourthly, we are also unable to increase the supply of $. Why? Because we don’t control the printing of $ and there is a decrease in interest to invest in India. So FII and FDI have pulled funds out of the country. Also announcement by Fed that it is looking at ending the quantitative easing (more $) as its economy seems to be well on the path of recovery has meant that there is a sudden rush in the market to buy $ now. These $ would be part of forex reserves and when the $ actually reduces in the market the $ reserves would rise in value and help in buying goods for cheap. So both these points put together there is a shortage of $.

Fifthly, India’s current deficit is increasing. Which means we import more than we export or we receive less of $ compared to the $ we send out. Even though with the falling Rupee Indian Exports become cheaper –but the macroeconomic situation in Europe and America is contributing to lesser consumption of exportable goods.

 Impact of a Falling rupee

Beneficial for Some:
For all the organization who are dependent on export, this is a great time to earn revenue as every $ they earn gives them more Rupees.
The family of those people who work abroad and remit their earnings periodically.

Detrimental for Some:
Any organization that is dependent on importing material for its own productivity would find these imports more expensive and hence an impact to their overall health.

Overall impact:

Government of India which relies heavily on imports of essential fossil fuels or other items would find a heavy drag on its exchequer, as all the imports become expensive.
Increased expenditure of the Government will mean lower revenues which could be made up only by increasing cost of products or tax on products
Inflation would increase and impact the common man
With already more Rupee chasing less $, RBI cannot cut any key rates thus leading to stifling of economic activity.

What could possibly be done to stem the fall of the rupee? Here Government policies and RBI intervention are critical to recovering the situation. 

  • Increase $ in the market
  • RBI needs to sell its reserves to increase the $ availability in the market (already done)
  • Making Remittance more attractive – more $ inflow into the country
  • Discourage import of Gold (attempted by RBI by imposing fresher tax)
  • Decrease dependency on imports
  • Increase FDI and hence increase inflow of $ (no wonder Chidambaram is in the USA)
  • Join China in the demand for a neutral currency like IMF SDR for international trade


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Of A Timeless Message and An Ageless Teacher

How do some teachers leave a lasting impression on us? How do some teachers teach lessons which remain relevant much beyond the boundaries of the classroom walls? How do some teachers remain a source of inspiration, even much after we have left school? These are questions that puzzle me - and probably only a teacher would know how they do it. Nonetheless here I am to share a video that a friend was kind enough to share on Facebook,which is about a classroom experiment done by a teacher, a good 40-50 years ago, but that remains equally relevant till date.  

This is a work/effort that I would say is timeless and something that would always remain relevant as far as human history is concerned. The experiment done is to show to her young students what DISCRIMINATION meant and how a flawed or biased perspective leads to hatred. Like those teachers that have inspired us and have become part of us through their teachings, the teacher in this video, Jane Elliot, has become an inspiration for many and the video has become a timeless message of humility and humanity.

I salute the lady and her effort and the powerful message that she managed to get across with the help of her simple but effective experiment. I invite one and all to view this 15 min video that has the power to transform and transcend any barrier

For people interested,Jane Elliot is still active and constantly endeavoring to improve the society that we live in in whatever way possible:


Random: July 2013