Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spending Patterns

I recently conducted a minor experiment in class where I asked my students: 
"What would you do if I gave you five hundred rupees right now?"

The sample size was 75 students.

The results yielded some interesting patterns, and not a small measure of memorable comments.  As expected the majority of the students wanted to eat out or save the money for a future time.  However, what was curious was the number of students who held debt or were spending money on betting on sporting events.  Only one student had "donate it" as their choice, and more than ten percent had "cigarettes" or "alcohol" as their choice of expense.

Figure 1 is a frequency chart of the data

Figure 1 - Choice Frequency Bar Graph

Figure 2 is a breakdown of the most common choices and ignoring outliers.

Figure 2 Choice Pie Chart
Here are are also some of the choice comments received:
  • "Hide it under my pillow"
  • "Save it till you get more, then spend bigger"
  • "Give to friends as loans and charge interest"
  • "Make a deodorant flamethrower"
  • "Depends on my roommates financial condition"

Thank you all for participating in this exercise.

The source of this idea comes from an Open Space campaign.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Barefoot Economics

A superbly insightful discussion on the theory of "Barefoot Economics" by renowned UC-Berkeley Economist Manfred Max-Neef.  He presses on key ideas including confluential learning, the folly in divorcing "humanity" and economic progress, a new definition of economics and the concept of "under-developing nations".  Ignore his crazy rant on "The Mayan Calender".

Keep watching to hear author and activist Derrick Jensen talk about how the Dominant Culture is destroying the world.

"Your love don't pay my bills, I need money..." 
~ John Lee Hooker

Source: Democracy Now

Friday, April 19, 2013

What Grinds My Gears

There are things that rile me up.  Some of them I can talk about, others are best left unsaid.  Everyday the news depresses me.  Heroes fall from grace and vile people are put on pedestals as a beacon of progress.
Narendra Modi - really, this is the man we now consider as a hero?  Are we reverting back to a time when it was acceptable to trod on the lives of others for reform?  Have we learnt nothing from our past.  Are we really simply ignorant or do we choose to wear blinders from the truth? 
I was shocked and ashamed to hear that there are some people who treat the Godhra Riot, not as a blemish on this nation's soul, but as a small matter that needs to be overlooked in the name of economic progress.  The debauchery and seething hate fostered and encouraged by the Modi administration is nothing short of horrific and should never be forgotten.  At the risk of evoking Godwin's Law, let me state that the greatest autocrats and despots of our time swayed the people with the promise of economic reform and progress.  When your ideology states: "Muslims, they don't deserve to live!"  I shudder if our fate is to have this man as the prime minister of India.
Enough about that ass (do I risk getting arrested now?).
Then we have the two clowns Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius, way to further ruin the integrity of sport for me.  I was already reeling from the football match fixing scandal...

And In Other News

In a week where a lot of things have happened, the Boston Marathon Bombings have captured the public's eye - with no small measure of help from the 24x7 news media.  A lot has been written about it already without me adding to the stir.  What I do want to comment on is how conveniently we shroud ourselves in ignorance against violence in some cases, and storm with rage in some cases.  We very subjectively choose to react to tragedy.

The Boston bomb is not the first explosion in the world this year, month, week, or even day, so why has it occupied every news station for the past two days?  Not only do we still not know much about it, the news has served no other purpose than to precipitate a plethora of speculation, fear, and hate mongering.  Yes, this was the first attack on US soil since 9/11, more than a decade ago.  I understand.  It's not a question of sympathy or condolence, please, weep; but also weep for the thousands of soldiers, civilians, women, children being torn apart in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and about another hundred places in the world.  By the US's own maxim of every life is sacred, it seems ironic, that a Boston life is worth more than others...  

I can barely write or put thoughts on paper, so I will let Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian UK do it for me. 

It appears that we find it acceptable when there is death and destruction in a setting of predisposed violence (read: war).  The US government changed the status of people arrested under the Patriot Act and shipped off to Gitmo as "enemy combatants" to create the aura of war (and of course to circumvent the Geneva Convention).  When injustice and violence takes place in an act of war, it becomes perfectly acceptable to us, or rather we don't even discern it as death, but as a natural sequence of events in a war zone.  At some primal level we know that violence in some cases is not only perfectly acceptable, it is a necessity.  For all our iPhones and spaceships, we are essentially still primitive when it comes to our basic instincts.  Fifty thousand year old habits can hardly be erased by a hundred years of technological progress.  

And there is also the head in the sand attitude with violence we feel righteous.  As Greenwald writes, booby trapping bodies is evil, but drone attacks and deliberate targeting of civilian populations[1] are, well, necessary - we are fighting terrorism after all.  Where is the outrage there?  

[1] When Julian Assange first hacked into US MILNET in 1989, a part of the evidence he uncovered was that the attack on civilian centers were a strategic military target approved by the US government.  Not much has changed in the Second Gulf War.

Students are the Priority

(Fiduciary Disclaimer: This is a joke!)

I did an impromptu survey in my economics class about what they had to complain about their educational experience.  In my own perverse way I was trying to assess the way students prioritize their world and their learning environment.  I am listing these in the order they were suggested.  
  1. No vending machines
  2. The desks were too small
  3. The wall colors were not soothing
  4. The toilets did not have toilet paper (this is due to vandalism)
  5. The toilet flushes rarely work
  6. Alternative toilet paper (not sure what this means)
  7. No dedicated pen store on campus (no wonder my students come to class without pens)
  8. A 4G wi-fi system (not sure what this means either)
  9. Food
  10. No swimming pool
  11. No movie theater
  12. No smoking lounge
  13. No hookah bar
  14. No bar
  15. No proper pool table in the students lounge (yes, we have a pool table in the student lounge, but apparently it's not proper)
  16. No shooting range (so we want guns on campus?  Make up your minds)
  17. No go-karting circuit
  18. No cotton candy machine in the Gymkhana (KIS speak for tuck shop)
  19. No polo grounds (no horses for that matter either, or did they not realize that?)
  20. No golf course (yes, mountain top golf courses are all the rage these days)
  21. No paintball course (more advocacy for guns on campus, strange)
  22. Teachers (the note was "teachers who are both good and evil" - I wonder where that leaves me?)
  23. No good concerts like Tiesto on campus
  24. Better and more attractive notebooks
  25. New textbooks (the present ones are almost a year old)
  26. No Jacuzzi (for the SS Dept please!
  27. A better Student Council (I suggested, perhaps better students as well)
  28. Everything

I'm surprised no one mentioned that we don't have a Space Program idea... 


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pop the Pill and Party

A brilliant lecture by James Robert Brown outlining how pharmaceutical companies have stagnated medical research and are detrimental to innovation.

Here is an article corroborating his insight, that although, the popular anti-depressant Prozac is essentially nothing more than a placebo, except in the most extreme cases, its and other drugs in same class have continued to be prescribed by doctors around the world.

Medical research and information is so tightly controlled by pharmaceutical companies that our rate of innovation for every dollar spent on research has actually decreased - a sort of a reverse Moore's Law, aptly called Eroom's Law.  And we call it progress...

The same extension can be applied to oil companies researching alternative technologies or tobacco companies researching the effects of cigarettes or coal companies debunking global warming.  Scientific research has been bought, its authenticity and sacrosanctness pillaged, and we are none the wiser.  

Face it ladies and gentlemen, the "Free Market" has failed Science, we should accept it.

Monday, April 15, 2013


(n.) a complete absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; talking pleasure from gentle, soothing things.

Pronunciation | “hU-ge (hU is pronounced with the U sound, closer to hyoo than hoo; ge is short, closer to g than geh)

Monday, April 08, 2013

Know Thyself, Challenge Thyself

I'm becoming increasingly attracted to “confluential” studies – integrating different fields to arrive at universal solutions for the development of humans as a species.  There needs to be a change in the common social belief - a zeitgeist if you will.  A social, economic, and scientific revolution is overdue and I hope it happens in my lifetime.

A friend recently told me about how more and more people are becoming aware of injustice.  Young people and students want to do something about it, but the options are currently limited.  While that is true, in my opinion, the movement has not reached critical mass to precipitate a change.  We still live in a world where the top 300 people have the wealth equivalent to the bottom 3 billion.  Take a moment and fathom that staggering statistic.  How can we hope to overturn the status quo, particularly politically and economically in such a toxic environment?  And science, the forbearer of our future, is servile to politics, economics, and the social zeitgeist.

Humans as a species prefer having authority figures reign over them.  It is the Savannah spirit of having herd leaders.  We need someone to take the blame.  It is never our fault.  No soldier is ever responsible for war… they were simply following orders.  Consider the Stanford Prison Experiment, or the rise of authoritarian governments like Mao, Mussolini, Hitler, Pol Pot, Kim Jong Un… the list is endless.  Why do we allow ourselves to be subjugated?  Perhaps it is our inherent animal nature to have a leader to follow – to take orders.  The ones that break out of this mold become the subjugators.  We rarely question leadership, and when we do, we approach it with chaos, indiscipline, and in a morally ambiguous manner.

So, where does that leave us?

Well, for my part I hope to make my students economic revolutionaries – to have the ability to think for themselves, develop a sense of social responsibility and question what most of us around take for granted.  Challenge the zeitgeist.  That doesn’t mean they should become anarchist, or ape around in the classroom pretending to be challenging authority.  It is unfortunate most students are too immature to truly perceive what I mean by challenging conformity.  It means to allow oneself to become a free thinker - to question life in the Socratic sense. 

Recently, I had a conversation with a student about the role of women in sport and at the end of the conversation she said, “Wow, I’ve never even thought of that”.  And therein lies the rub.  We have stopped thinking because we are surrounded by different machinations aimed at keeping our youth distracted and absorbed in intellectually mundane activities.

Not to mention a majority of privileged students squander their educational opportunity – the ability to think and question and challenge the social norms – and instead feel satisfied festering in a pool of their intellectual poverty and distractions.  It is sad how in some of the best schools in the world has a culture that belittles intelligence than celebrating it.  They are happy, following in the footsteps of their silver spoon and entitled lives.  It is quite saddening and pathetic.

However, it is our responsibility as teachers to create the watershed moment in our students thinking.  Teachers and educators have enormous influence on how we think and perceive the world.  Sometimes it scares me how much power and influence educators really have – much more than any CEO.  We are shaping the mindset and vision of an entire generation of leaders and the effects of this influence is going to resonate for years to come. 

Challenging the socially accepted norms is the foundation and hallmark of innovation.  We must be taught to think and question.  But that is what is lacking at most places, and in most teachers, and consequently in most students.  Let’s hope that changes.

An interesting commentary on the apathy and indifference of India's elite.