Why AAP should win Delhi

Though I frequently write analytical pieces about elections, this is NOT one of them. It’s pure unbridled opinion.

I had mentioned this a couple of years back before the elections in 2013, and I mention it again now. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) should win Delhi. To rephrase, Delhi should be “sacrificed” to them. If only to illustrate how ridiculous some of their policy ideas are, and why them having a larger role in Indian politics is a terrible idea.

Now, from my timelines on twitter and facebook, I see that a lot of people I know are big fans of AAP. What attracts them to the party is their image of being “clean” and “beyond corruption”. There is also the TINA factor – the Congress has proved time and again that it is incapable of governance and the BJP has this looney fringe with ridiculous social ideas which they actually pay attention to. Given such worthy alternatives, people are plumping for AAP as a party that can provide superior governance.

Except that they seem incredibly commie, except perhaps in name. Look at some of their policy prescriptions (free power, free water, etc.) and you can imagine one of the communist parties coming up with the same. They want to bring back big government in areas where government interference has been cut down after significant effort. They believe that the solution to corruption is more layers of bureaucracy (Jan Lok Pal, etc.). And as the Somnath Bharti incident showed, they are not paragons of virtue when it comes to social freedom, either.

The problem with the AAP is that they haven’t got enough opportunity to show their incompetence, which is why people worship them. They got an opportunity last year, when the Congress supported their minority government in Delhi, but they perhaps wisely saw that their incompetence was being shown up, and Kejriwal resigned in a hurry. And from what opinion polls show, this gambit seems to be working for them. The problem with gambits is that they are tactical weapons, and usually don’t work over a long-drawn period.

So it is time to give the AAP another opportunity to show off their incompetence and bad ideas. Delhi is in that unique position where there is the central government and the municipal government that tread on over one foot of the state government, so the state government can’t do too much damage. And Delhi is also a small state, so any damage will have limited scope.

From this perspective, it is a great idea to “sacrifice” Delhi to the Aam Aadmi Party. I hereby call upon voters in Delhi to vote for the muffler broom.

The Ramayana and the Mahabharata principles

An army of monkeys can’t win you a complex war like the Mahabharata. For that you need a clever charioteer.

A business development meeting didn’t go well. The potential client indicated his preference for a different kind of organisation to solve his problem. I was about to say “why would you go for an army of monkeys to solve this problem when you can.. ” but I couldn’t think of a clever end to the sentence. So I ended up not saying it.

Later on I was thinking of the line and good ways to end it. The mind went back to Hindu mythology. The Ramayana war was won with an army of monkeys, of course. The Mahabharata war was won with the support of a clever and skilled consultant (Krishna didn’t actually fight the war, did he?). “Why would you go for an army of monkeys to solve this problem when you can hire a studmax charioteer”, I phrased. Still doesn’t have that ring. But it’s a useful concept anyway.

Extending the analogy, the Ramayana was was different from the Mahabharata war. In the former, the enemy was a ten-headed demon who had abducted the hero’s wife. Despite what alternate retellings say, it was all mostly black and white. A simple war made complex with the special prowess of the enemy (ten heads, special weaponry, etc.). The army of monkeys proved decisive, and the war was won.

The Mahabharata war was, on the other hand, much more complex. Even mainstream retellings talk about the “shades of grey” in the war, and both sides had their share of pluses and minuses. The enemy here was a bunch of cousins, who had snatched away the protagonists’ kingdom. Special weaponry existed on both sides. Sheer brute force, however, wouldn’t do. The Mahabharata war couldn’t be won with an army of monkeys. Its complexity meant it needed was skilled strategic guidance, and a bit of cunning, which is what Krishna provided when he was hired by Arjuna ostensibly as a charioteer. Krishna’s entire army (highly trained and skilled, but footsoldiers mostly) fought on opposite side, but couldn’t influence the outcome.

So when the problem at hand is simple, and the only complexity is in size or volume or complexity of the enemy, you will do well to hire an army of monkeys. They’ll work best for you there. But when faced with a complex situation and complexity that goes well beyond the enemy’s prowess, you need a charioteer. So make the choice based on the kind of problem you are facing.

 

The deflation controversy

This is my first ever blog post on hand-egg, or the sport that the Americans call as “football” despite you being allowed to run with the ball. I’m writing this as I try to watch the SuperbOwl and try to understand the rules while I’m doing so. So far it looks like a heavily discretised form of rugby, but with none of the elegant pass-and-move routines. People like to fall too much it seems.

Anyway, this post is not about this game. This is about the semi-finals, where the New England Patriots were accused of “deflating” the ball. Over the last week my twitter and facebook timelines have been filled with this controversy. People have mostly been outraging about it one way or the other. I’ve had to mute a lot of people on Twitter for this reason.

As far as I can see it this controversy is similar to the reverse-swing controversy that dogged cricket in the 1990s. The question is if you are allowed to change the ball to suit your conditions as the game goes on. In cricket, people spit on one side of the ball and shine it and try to wear down the other side (sometimes using illegal means such as lozenges and bottle tops respectively). The convention in cricket, however, is that as long as such illegal materials aren’t used to change the ball, there is no problem with maintaining the ball in the way it suits you best. And the opponent (the batting side) can ask for a change of ball if they think it’s been changed too much.

Drawing an analogy from there the rule in hand-egg should be simple. Players should be allowed to do what they can to change the condition of the ball to suit them (inflation/deflation/whatever) as long as they don’t use “illegal materials” for the purpose. So if they use a pin to let out air from the ball, it’s possibly illegal. But if they just use their hands? Possibly not. And so forth.

The only problem is that unlike cricket, hand-egg is a simultaneous game (both teams have opportunity to attack at any point in time), so you might have the two teams wokring the ball at cross purposes. Then again, as long as you have the rule that the opponent can ask for a change of ball in case they think it’s been changed irretrievably, it’s fine!

So coming back to the semifinal controversy, I think the fault lay with the quarterback of whoever the Patriots beat. That guy, if he were clever, should have figured out the “tampered” ball when he got it, and asked for a change. It appears that he was either not clever enough to figure that out or that the Patriots had so much possession that he didn’t have a chance to even touch the ball!

No point crying after the game was up!

The Ambareesh Principle and First Come First Served Nature of Calendars

The story goes (this is third hand information, so take it with adequate amount of salt) that a few years ago a bunch of people went to actor (and now Minister) MH Ambareesh’s house asking him to be a chief guest at a function they were going to organise three months hence. Ambareesh, it is said, gave them a funny look, saying it was impossible for him to commit to something so far away. He asked them to get back to him ten days before the event.

Based on this (possibly apocryphal) story, I christen this the “Ambareesh Principle” – when someone invites you for an event or meeting that is way too far away for you to plan, you refuse to commit and ask them to come back to you a reasonable number of days before the event. (Perhaps Ambareesh might not like his name being attached to this principle, but since he is a public figure, I’m entitled to use his name).

The problem with calendars (of the variety we use on our computers, like iCal or Outlook) is that they operate on a “First Come First Served” basis. The way calendars are designed, you need to decide whether you are going to attend an event or not in an “online” fashion – without knowing what other event might come up at the same time. This can at times lead to suboptimal decisions, and unsavoury cancellations, for you have to go back on your commitments when something more interesting comes along.

Because of the FCFS nature of our calendars, you have people (the usually busy types – CEOs and suchtypes) who have their calendars blocked for ages together, and in order to get an appointment with them, you have to take one a long time in the future. And with such appointments you never know if you might get pre-empted by something else “more pressing” that might come along in the meantime. Leading to lower efficiency all round.

The question is if we can redesign the calendar, and the “blocking time” system in order to make it more efficient, and make it compatible with the “Ambareesh principle”. Is there a way that we can respond to far-flung meeting requests with “too far to take appointments. Ping me <= X days in advance”, or set some kind of a auto reply to our calendar systems to send the above message for meeting requests sent too early?

And what is going to happen when CEOs and other such “important people” decide to implement such a scheme where they don’t take meeting requests more than N days in advance? Maybe we should get Ambareesh to answer! :)

More on NPS

Chitra Rao, principal of NPS HSR Layout has spoken to Bangalore Mirror regarding the case of the student who committed suicide recently after being suspended by the school. It’s a good interview and Rao makes some important points, but there are a couple of things about the report that I found funny.

The first thing might sound funny because only Rao’s responses have been published and not the questions she was asked. Nevertheless, in the interests of humour I’ll give the benefit of doubt to Bangalore Mirror and assume that the only question they asked were those that have been reported. So Rao says:

All I can say is I handled the issue with compassion. The tone was always gentle and never derogatory. I never intended to humiliate. I also want to state that NPS is not a pressure cooker and we have a host of activities for the holistic development of the child

The second sentence here is key. From the article it doesn’t appear that Bangalore Mirror asked her a question about the pressure at NPS, but she made it a point to mention that. That she has made it a point to mention that “NPS is not a pressure cooker” without any prompting is telling, in my opinion.

Then later on in the piece (it’s a fairly long one), the piece reports a letter that Bindu Hari, director of NPS, sent to parents of students. The piece says:

The letter also added that the school’s policy on discipline and pastoral care emphasises behaviour modification through guidance and counselling. It was a step-wise and sequenced process keeping intact student dignity.

I’m quite intrigued by the use of the word “pastoral” here. For when I see the word “pastoral”, the first thing I think about is sheep. And if the school’s official letter claims that they offer “pastoral care”, then it all starts making sense!

Depression and TARP

When the US Treasury initiated the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in the aftermath of Lehman Brothers’ collapse, they imposed one condition on banks – banks were forced to borrow money under the scheme irrespective of how they were doing. So you had banks that weren’t doing badly such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan taking TARP money, and getting flak for giving fat bonuses (“from TARP money”, as the press claimed) to their employees who had helped them survive the crisis.

The reason even well-to-do banks were forced to take money under TARP was for the signalling effect. If only banks that really needed the money were to take money from TARP, then banks who really needed the money would be loathe to take it, for it would them mark them out as being ‘in trouble’. By making the well-to-do banks take money under TARP, this stigma of borrowing under TARP was removed, and the American banking system was “saved”.

The reason I got reminded of this was this piece on actor Anupam Kher coming out with his depression. This is on the back of actor Deepika Padukone coming out with her depression, which was reported yesterday. From the article on Kher’s “coming out”:

Kher says what Padukone had done is a very brave and wise thing to do. “People look up to her. When they know that she is consulting a therapist, they will understand there is no problem in getting help, and it is an okay thing to do,” he says.

 

The thing with depression is that it affects people from all over the spectrum – some of them are wildly successful despite their depression, like Kher or Padukone, while depression ruins some others. And then there are others who are ravaged by depression, and lead mostly “middling” lives.

Depression is an illness to which much stigma is attached. Especially in India, if you are consulting a therapist, or taking psychiatric drugs, people assume something is “wrong” with you, and discriminate against you. This gives people with depression a strong incentive to hide their illness, and appear to the world as if they’re fine.

The consequence is that people end up not seeking help even when it is prudent for them to seek help, and this leads to their depression possibly consuming them, sometimes even leading to fatal consequences.

In this context, when you have people who have had successful careers despite being ravaged by depression “coming out”, it makes depression a little more “normal”. On the margin, it can lead to the depressed person seeking help, and potentially getting better, rather than letting depression continue to waste them. Thus, successful depressed people owning up to depression makes it easier for less successful people (who might be worried about the stigma attached to mental illness) to come out with their condition and seek help.

In that sense, “coming out” with depression is similar to banks that were not in trouble taking TARP funds! Oh, and while on that topic, here is my “coming out essay”, from almost three years back.

Grassroots of middle fingers

Note: This post is being written immediately after a trip to Kolkata, where I was greeted by the photo of Mamta Banerjee pretty much everywhere in the city. When I first saw those photos on Thursday night, I thought I’ll liken them to the photos and cutouts of Mahinda Rajapaksa that I saw all over Colombo on my visits there in 2010 and 2014, but then yesterday’s election result perhaps makes that comparison moot. 

There is a special relationship between Mamta Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and the middle finger. First, almost a decade back, quizmaster Derek O’Brien, who is now a Rajya Sabha member and a spokesperson for the Trinamool congress, held up his middle finger in the middle of Landmark Quiz, Bangalore, in response to some negative feedback from bloggers following his handling of the same quiz in Chennai earlier that year.

Now, another spokesperson of the same party, Mohua Moitra, has shown that she is not one to be left behind. On Arnab Goswami’s Newshour show last week, she held up her middle finger. And I must say that this is one level better than Derek, for while Derek used his middle finger on a bunch of hapless unsuspecting quizzers, Mohua used hers on Arnab, the greater news anchor of them all, and on prime time television.

Considering that the Trinamool Congress is a breakaway of the Indian National Congress (the name gives it away), it is appropriate that the party chooses an election symbol that reflects that it was one part of the INC’s “Hand”. Considering its spokespeople’s fondness of display of this body part, may I humbly suggest that the Trinamool Congress adopt the “middle finger” as its party symbol? The flower-and-grass symbol the party currently uses seems too tame for it!