Monday, November 27, 2006

Another Futile Attempt to Rationalize Inequity in the Modern World.

It breaks my heart to criticize the USA. My experience here has been that the average American is probably the most polite and caring person in the world – perhaps because I have not been to Canada – but I really don’t think Canada is a separate country. But this country, though extremely benevolent and kind at a personal level is the source of almost all the world’s problems.

Well, let me change what I said here. It isn’t this country that is guilty for all the world’s problems. It is the segment of society that this country represents: The rich and the resource hungry.

For the middle class in this country (which, according to Lou Dobbs, an Editorial Member of CNN’s news team, is being waged a war against by the administrative classes of this country) has a standard of living comparable to the richest of the rich in India.

In all economies with capitalist tendencies, the rich screw the poor. The lesser the resources a nation has, the poorer the poor of that Nation – and the more screwed they get by the rich. The US has a lot more resources than India – the poor are in a pretty good shape – financially. Physically, the American poor tend to be more rotund – for they can afford only Taco-Bell or McDonalds. The Indian rich eat at joints like the latter – and the poor often don’t eat at all. Wheras the poor in the US are covered under layers of fat, hundreds of thousands of Indians die of hunger every year.

And who is screwing the poor in India? Why can’t they afford to eat? Why the extreme poverty? Is the extreme poverty a consequence of under-regulated capitalist policy, rampant corruption and impotent family planning (note the oxymoron here?

Capitalism is said to empower the common people. But the current Indian capitalism seems to be partial to larger corporations (which are better equipped to deal with corruption by bribing their way through). It is corruption that is favoring the larger corporations, little else.

If there is even an iota of pro-poverty ideology in the (CPI)-Marxists, they must train their energies against corruption; not capitalism. A significantly lower level of corruption is probably the only thing that will uplift the poor: state largesse (socialism) will send the economy into a state of atrophy and utter-unproductivity.

Three Exciting Possibilities

Nobel Laureate Mohammed Younus, one of the few bright lights in Bangladesh has the right Idea. Micro-credit. Lend money to the poor – but at reasonable interest rates – not a foully high interest rates. Lend intelligently, and they will pay you back. They will become wealth generators. Capitalism will come to the rescue to the poorest of the poor in the world. And, yes, it will do so in a sustainable manner.

However, in India, micro-credit (one of Dr. Singh’s economic policies as of now) has only a few success stories. I believe the main reason for this, is corruption. Corruption is so rampant in India that failure rates are very high. Dr Singh’s government has passed the RTI Act, - an act that has proven to be quite a boon to fight against corruption. Though RTI success stories abound (Magsasay awardee Mr. Arjun Kejriwal deserves special mention here), the government is trying to clip its wings – under pressure from beauraucracy. It’s a “yes-prime-ministeresque” drama happening in New Delhi, the policy makers under pressure from the all powerful Beauraucracy

Media watch-dogs in India have started to emerge of late. Sting operations are conducted almost on a daily basis. Corruption – from Bollywood casting couches to high-level defense deals has been exposed. Before asking for a significant bribe, the corrupt official has to think twice. Is there a hidden camera somewhere?

Will these change India? They will. After all, India is a hugely successful democracy. The people don’t like corruption. They will boot the corrupt ones out. I remain optimistic.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A cruel world.

Close to a three hundred thousand brave soldiers (most still in their teens), enlist, often purely by the encouragement of their parents, in a two (and often three) year long battle. They fight no monster; no dragon. They fight and kill each other. All they do is fight for two years, little else. And why do they do this? To avoid an eternity of suppression and repression.

Only three thousand survive this horribly destructive battle. Others are forced to work in the deepest depths of hell, even if they almost survive the ordeal. Before they have the time to relax and recover from the wounds, the government forces them into another equally destructive battle: where they are split into many sub-groups (such as divers, foot soldiers and pilots). They then proceed to kill each other. Some just don't become good divers, soldiers and pilots. They are eliminated easily, and live reasonably fulfilling lives as shepherds. Some, of course revel in this shepherdry (sic.) . All in all, roughly 20 of the 3000 win their respective battles and find themselves as graduate students in MIT and Stanford and the like. Some of the shepherds will end up in IIMs too - where they enlist to fight an equally savage battle with other shepherds.

The IITs might be the biggest names of all as far as engineering education is concerned in the world. But one must bear in mind that what got them there is the merciless bloodshed of the other (unsuccessful) innocent aspirants. The IITs are, in reality, beasts that prey on the egos of innocent Indians who sacrifice two years of their lives with a desire to rise above the rut of mediocrity that the rest of the country is. Their unofficial motto is "Be cruel, kill the innocent."

And this motto extends to the 3000 successful students who pass the JEE. Usually, most freshers into IIT love their Math, Physics and Chemistry - for it takes a true passion (and a LOT of luck) to crack the JEE. And when they join, they come across some joker teaching them Quantum Mechanics - another joker vomiting a book of thermodynamics on the blackboard (without even contemplating an appeal to intuition). The terrible teaching at IIT made me hate those subjects. While students at Caltech had Feynman teaching them Physics, we had these &^@!#$s!

In my very first semester at IIT we had nine courses. Thermodynamics, Materials Science, Chemistry, Maths, Physics, Basic Electrical Engineering, Engineering Drawing, Workshop and Physics Lab.

Developing an intuitive understanding, of course, was possible only if you were an Einstien-esque genius. And unfortunately, most professors assumed the same. There are three kinds of IITians: the Genius, the pragmatic perseverer (sic) and the idealistic victim. The genius does not work, skips classes and scores among the highest in class. (There's usually more than one genius in class!). The pragmatic perseverer, perhaps, dreams of greener pastures in the US of A from day 1 and works toward that goal by taking regular notes and sacrificing the intuitive understanding if he deems it necessary to do so. The idealistic victim, on the other hand, fails to catch what the professor says in class (for he is not a genius), and just does not have the time to work on developing an intuitive understanding of all 9 courses at once. He screws up miserably.

Professors in IIT are cruel too. Except for a few, all expect student to learn by heart empirical formulae to use in the examination. They do a miserable job of teaching. Some professors can't even talk out clearly. Almost all professors have an attitude problem; they reckon the students are just not interested in working hard. In reality, professors at IIT are a pampered lot. They have not taught anywhere else in the world. As a student, I have realized that students at IITs are way more enthusiastic and easy to teach than the students in the US. The professors can teach without "dumbing the material down", like they have to do here. And I have never heard students ask insightful questions like they did at IIT.

IITs are a cruel institution. We are a nation with absymal poverty and opportunity levels. Cruelty is a national phenomenon. We see how exaggerated it is in the nation's premier institutions.