Splitting BBMP and gerrymandering ToK

Kannada organisations have argued against splitting of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the civic agency that is supposed to govern Bangalore, arguing that a three-way-split of the municipal corporation, as has been proposed, will lead to “non-Kannadiga mayors” for some of the newly created corporations, and hence this is an “anti-Kannada” move. In a funny twist, the Chief Minister himself has had to make a statement that the split won’t lead to “Telugu and Tamil mayors”.

A couple of months back, Thejaswi Udupa had written this tongue-in-cheek post on the geopolitics of Bangalore, for April Fool’s Day on Takshashila’s Logos blog. The Business Standard picked it up and published it as an Op-Ed the next day. The reason the piece matters is that it introduces the larger public to the wonderful phrase ToK. Quoting,

The largest of disputed territories in Bangalore is that of ToK. Tamil occupied Karnataka. These are large swathes of interconnected parcels of land in the South-Eastern quadrant of Bangalore. ToK’s existence is mostly under the radar, and people notice it only when the census figures come in once a decade with its linguistic break-ups, and suddenly people realise that nearly 25% of Bangalore’s population is Tamil. However, there are many who believe that ToK stands for Telugu owned Karnataka, as most of the land here is owned by Telugu landlords.

So basically the concern of the Kannada organisations is that when Bangalore is split ToK (however you may define it) will become an independent city. While some people might consider it a good thing in a “ok those buggers are not in our city any more” sort of way, these organisations will see this as a loss of territory, and consequently as a loss of power. So this is a genuine problem.

While this might be a genuine problem, the fact is that there is a “genuine” solution to this problem. We had seen last month about how Bangalore city is so badly gerrymandered in terms of splitting its assembly constituencies. For example, my constituency (Padmanabhanagar) looks like a dancing hen. To refresh your memory, this is what Bangalore’s assembly constituencies look like:

So if assembly constituencies are so badly gerrymandered, what prevents us from gerrymandering the municipal corporations? And there is further precedence to this – there are primarily three Parliamentary constituencies in Bangalore, and it is not hard to argue that they have been gerrymandered in a similar manner.

It all finally comes down to the mechanics of how we split the city. If the city is cut into three by drawing North-South lines (creating “Bangalore East”, “Bangalore West” and “Bangalore”), we have a problem, since the Bangalore East thus created will largely coincide with ToK, and we might end up with non-Kannadiga mayors there, as the Kannada organisations fear.

However, considering that Bangalore is being split for purely administrative efficiencies, and for no real cultural reasons, there is no reason we need to split the city in that way. All we need to do is to draw the lines in an East-West fashion, as we have done with our Parliamentary constituencies, giving us a “Bangalore North”, “Bangalore Central” and “Bangalore South”. A split like this, well done and well gerrymandered, will ensure that ToK is split evenly into the three new corporations, and all will remain under the control of the Kannadigas.

So the Kannada organisations don’t need to fear the split. Solution exists. Only thing they need to fear is the way the split is implemented. And with precedence (parliamentary gerrymandering) on their side, they really have nothing to fear!

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Varun Shenoy for the discussions leading up to this post

Value addition through comments

My friend Joy Bhattacharjya is a star on Facebook. He has a large number of friends (I haven’t bothered to see how many), most of whom seem to have him on their “good friends” list thanks to which they get each and every one of his updates (I had recently cribbed about Facebook’s algorithm, but when your friends love you, it doesn’t matter). And most of his updates are extremely insightful, some of them funny. If you are his friend, it is not hard to guess why his updates are so popular.

There is only one problem – it is impossible to comment on them. I mean, the comments section is always open, but the problem is that by the time you see an update, so many people would have commented on them that adding one more comment there doesn’t add any value. Writing something there, it seems, is not worth the time, for you assume that given the sea of comments the author won’t have time to read and appreciate your wisecrack. And so you move on.

Recently one friend announced his engagement. Another announced the birth of her child. It was again impossible to add value via comments to either – there had already been so many comments that adding one more wouldn’t add any value! I doubt if these “announcers” even bothered to read through all the comments people had posted. A compression algorithm might have done the trick for them, for most of them were extremely banal and non-value-adding “congrats” posts!

The last time my birthday was listed on Facebook (2010, if I’m not wrong), I got so many scraps on my wall that I had no time to read them, let alone respond to them. I promptly delisted my birthday from Facebook, with the result that nowadays hardly anyone wishes me on my birthday. Not on Facebook, at least, and I’m happy about not having to respond to a mechanical action!

On a similar note, one thing I get very pissed off (on Facebook) is “thread hijacking”. You get a nice discussion going in the comments thread on some post, and then someone else comes in (usually an aunty) and says something so banal that you don’t want to be seen on that thread any more, and the discussion goes for a toss. Oh, and such thread hijacking is more prevalent on Facebook’s other product Whatsapp (:P ), especially on groups where lack of threaded conversation means deep discussions are highly prone to being disrupted by long forwards someone sends!

Recently, Facebook introduced the threaded comments feature, one that I loved so much that I resisted a move away from Livejournal for ages just for that one feature, and when I moved to this blog, one of the first plugins I installed was one that allowed for threaded comments. Facebook has done badly, though. I use it primarily through the iPad app, and the threaded comments suck big time, requiring way too many clicks to navigate. If done so badly, I’d prefer blogspot-type dumb linear comment scheme only!

I sometimes wonder why I’m on Facebook at all. I used to use it at one point in time to look at people’s photos, and what they were up to. But now i find that it’s impossible to subscribe to a person’s photos without subscribing to her political views also, which are generally downright uninformed and sometimes extreme. And thanks to blogger-style comments, you cannot keep uninformed people out of your discussion on Facebook, unlike Twitter – they just keep popping up.

And there is no way for me to explicitly tell Facebook I want to see more or less of someone’s feed (like I could with Pandora, back when I used it). I have to rely on the algorithm.

All in all, Facebook seems like a dumb social network. To use a concept I’d mentioned here a few months back, it’s an “events and people” social network, with Twitter being more conducive to ideas. I sometimes end up asking myself why I’m on Facebook at all. And then I realise that there is no other way for me to access Joy’s updates!

Dominant affiliation groups

I was writing an email to connect two friends, when I realised that when you know someone through more than one affiliation group, one of the affiliation groups becomes “dominant”, and you will identify with them through that group at the cost of others. And sometimes this can lead you to even forgetting that you share other affiliation groups with them.

In social networking theory, affiliation groups refer to entities such as families, communities, schools or workplaces through which people get connected to other people. It is not strictly necessary for two connected people to share an affiliation group, but it is commonly the case to share one or more such groups. Social networking companies such as Facebook and LinkedIn sometimes suggest connections to you based on commonly identified affiliation groups.

So my hypothesis is that when you share multiple affiliation groups with someone, you are likely to have been more strongly connected to them through one than through others. For example, you might have gone to the same school and then worked together, but your interaction in school would have been so little that it almost doesn’t count. Yet, the school  remains as a common affiliation group.

Does it happen to you as well? Do you forget that you share an affiliation group with someone because it is not the “dominant” one, since you share another? And due to that do you miss out on making connections, and thus on opportunities?

I had this hilarious incident two weeks back where I was meeting this guy W with whom I share three affiliation groups – BASE (the local JEE coaching factory), IIT Madras and IIM Bangalore. Due to the extent of overlap and degree of interaction, I know him fundamentally as an “IITM guy”. And there’s this other guy X who I also know through three affiliation groups – BASE (again), IIM Bangalore (again) and a shared hobby (the strongest).

So I was talking to W and was going to bring up the topic of X’s work, and suddenly wondered if W knows X, so I said “do you remember X, he was in your batch at BASE?”. And then a minute later “oh yeah, you guys were classmates at IIMB also!”.

The rather bizarre thing is that I had completely stopped associating both W and X with IIMB, since I have much stronger affiliation groups with them. And then when I had to draw a connection between them, I even more bizarrely picked BASE, where I hadn’t interacted with either of them, rather than IIMB, where I interacted with both of them to a reasonable degree (X much more than W).

I know I didn’t do much damage, but in another context, not realising connections that exist might prove costly. So I find this “interesting”!

Is there anybody else in here who feels the way I do?

Agile programming and Parliamentary procedures

Supposedly the latest (ok not that latest – it’s been around for a decade) thing in software engineering is this thing called “Agile programming“. It’s basically about breaking away from the old “waterfall model” (which we had learnt in a software engineering course back in 2003), and to a more iterative model with quick releases, updates, etc.

I’ve never worked as a software engineer, but it seems to me that Agile programming is the way to go – basically get something out and keep iterating till you have a good product rather than thinking endlessly about incorporating all design specifications before writing a single line of code. Requirements change rapidly nowadays, and unless you are “agile” (pun intended) to that, you will not produce good software.

Agile methodologies, however, don’t work in parliamentary procedures, since there is very high transaction cost there. Take, for example, the proposed Goods and Service Tax (GST). The current form of the Goods and Service Tax is an incredibly flawed bill, with taxes for movement of goods across states and certain products being excluded from the ambit altogether. Mihir Sharma at Business Standard has a great takedown of the current bill (there is no one quotable paragraph. Read the whole thing. I’m mostly in agreement).

So it seems to me that the government is passing the GST in its current half-baked form because it wants some version (like a Minimum Viable Product) off the ground, and then it hopes to rectify the shortcomings in a later iteration. In other words, the government is trying some sort of an agile methodology when it comes to passing the GST.

The problem with parliamentary procedures, however, is that transaction costs are great. Once a law has been passed, it is set in stone and the effort required for any single amendment is equal to the effort originally required for passing the law itself, since you have to go through the whole procedure again. In other words, our laws need to be developed using the waterfall model, and hence have full system requirement specifications in place before they are passed.

It’s not surprising since the procedure for passing laws was laid down back at a time when hardly any programming existed, leave alone agile programming. Yet, it begs the question of what can be done to make our laws more agile (pun intended).

PS: I understand that Agile software development has several features and this iterative nature is just one of them. But that is the only one I want to focus on here.

Arranged Scissors 16: Liquidity

Ok so the last time I wrote about Arranged Scissors was more than five and a half years back, when the person who is now my wife had just about started on her journey towards ending up as my wife. And today she made a very interesting observation on arranged marriage markets, which made me revisit the concept. She tweeted:

It is a rather profound concept, well summarised into one tweet. Yet, it doesn’t tell the full picture because of which I’m writing this blog (more permanence than tweet, can explain better and all that).

Reading the above tweet by the wife makes you believe that the arranged marriage market is becoming less liquid, because of which people are experiencing more trouble in finding a potential partner on that market. And there is a positive feedback loop in play here – the more illiquid the arranged marriage market becomes, the more the likelihood for people to exit the market, which results in making the market even more illiquid!

But this makes you believe that there was a time when the arranged marriage market was rather liquid, when people were happy finding spice there, and then it all went downhill from there. The fact, however, is that there are two countervailing forces that have been acting on the liquidity of the arranged marriage market.

On the one hand, more people are nowadays marrying “for love”, and are hence removing themselves from the arranged marriage market. This is an increasing trend and has resulted in the vicious circle I pointed to two paragraphs earlier. Countervailing this, however, is globalisation, and the fact that the world is becoming a more connected place, which is actually increasing the liquidity of the market.

Consider the situation a century back, when most marriages in India were “arranged”, and when it was the norm to pick a spouse through this market. While that in theory should have made the market liquid, the fact remained that people’s networks back in those days was extremely limited, and more importantly, local. Which meant that if you lived in a village, you could get married to someone from a village in a small radius, for example. Your search space was perhaps larger in a city, but even then, networks were hardly as dense as they are today. And so there was a limited pool you could pick from, which meant it was rather illiquid.

And over time, the market has actually become more liquid, with the world becoming a more connected place. Even a generation ago, for example, it was quite possible (and not uncommon) to get “arranged married” to someone living in a far-off city (as long as caste and other such factors matched). In that sense, the market actually got better for a while.

But it coincided with the time when social norms started getting liberalised, and more and more people found it okay to actually exit the arranged marriage market. And that was when the illiquidity-vicious-circle effect started coming into play.

In recent times, connectedness has hit a peak (though it can be argued that online social networking has helped extend people’s connections further), and the vicious circle continues unabated, and this is the reason that we are observing that the arranged marriage market is becoming less liquid.

Oh, and if you’re in the market, do get in touch with the wife. She might be able to help you!

On dealing with good and bad news

So I was having a rough time an hour or so back and called the wife, and told her so, and that I’d been stuck in this vicious circle of negativity for a while now. In response, she said there was this nice TED talk that she had seen on the topic recently, and I should watch it too. And so she sent me this:

It’s a nice TED talk, but I think she uses too many words to describe what she needs to describe. It’s just not “quick enough” (check out the wife’s blog post on distractions caused by professors being too slow in class. She only talked about the throughput of words here, but I think it’s deeper and extends to throughput of information content) and it doesn’t need ten minutes to communicate what she has said here.

And so I thought about how I could convey the message better. I realised that the entire talk above could be condensed into one little finite automaton. And then I drew it (using the Paintbrush App on my Mac).

Goodandbadnews

I must say I’m feeling much better already! Tell me if this is a good representation, though!

Gerrymandering in Bangalore

So a couple of years back, just before the Karnataka Assembly elections, I had taken a look at Gerrymandering within the constituencies of Bangalore. This picture shows the boundaries of the parliamentary constituencies in the city, and you can see that it is bizarre. For example, parts of the Bangalore North parliamentary constituency (black) lie to the south of all of Bangalore South constituency (green)!

Now, the word “gerrymander” was invented in the 1800s, when one Mr. Gerry, who was the governor of Massachusetts, redrew the districts (constituencies) in the state in order to maximise the chances of his further election victory, and the redrawn districts looked like some kind of a mythical creature, which was given the name “gerrymander”.

Now, while the Bangalore figure above looks bizarre, no doubt, it doesn’t really resemble any animal, mythical or otherwise. However, with the proposed BBMP Restructuring, Bangalore’s wards are in the news again. And I was just looking at the population densities in different wards, and happened to take a look at Padmanabhanagar, which is my current assembly constituency. And this is what it looks like (different components are the different wards within the constituency, and intensity of colouring indicates population density within these wards).

padmanabhanagarYes, really, that is the shape of the Padmanabhanagar assembly constituency. If you have any doubts, get the data from http://openbangalore.org and check out for yourself (that’s where I got the mapping data from; density data came from the BBMP Restructuring site  – there’s a link there with excel file on areas and populations).

Anyway, so what do you think Padmanabhanagar looks like? To me, this looks like a hen that is running. To Thejaswi Udupa, with whom I shared this picture, it looks like a “hen doing ballet”.

Whatever it is, such gerrymandering leads to atrocious policy and implementation. My house, for example, is very close to the beak of the hen described above. In other words, it’s in one extreme corner of the constituency. Actually, if you look at the portion forming the hen’s head, that’s Yediyur ward, and my house is at one extreme of Yediyur ward, too.

The road outside was dug up a year and half back and hasn’t yet been asphalted. Stone slabs covering storm water drains were removed four months back for desilting and are yet to be placed back. And because we are at one extreme edge of both assembly and BBMP constituencies, neither MLA (R Ashok) nor corporator (NR Ramesh) bothers.

If there were no gerrymandering, there wouldn’t be any “extreme corners” like this one. And that would mean less chance for elected representatives to ignore certain parts. And that would lead to better governance!

Update:

This is what all the constituencies of Bangalore look like (click for a full size image)

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Let your imagination run wild!