Dog breeds and caste

On Sunday I took a very long walk with a very old friend. We talked about several things during the course of the two hour conversation, including dogs.

We passed by a couple of dogs that seemed rather friendly and were tugging at their leashes to come and greet this friend. Now, this guy is an animal lover and photographer, and spent the next twenty minutes educating me about dog breeds, and about why “indie” dogs are great.

Now I don’t know if it is a coincidence that at around the same time we were taking our walk, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on his radio show Mann Ki Baat extolling the virtues of Indian dog breeds.

“Their purpose is to make Indian breeds better and more useful. Next time when you think of keeping a dog then you must bring one of the Indian breed dogs home. When self-reliant India is becoming the mantra of the masses then no area should be left behind,” Modi said in his monthly Mann Ki Baat address.

In any case, the reason indie dogs are preferable to pure breeds is that the latter go through a whole load of inbreeding. You must be aware of this common “doubt” about the Old Testament – Adam and Eve had two sons Abel and Cain. Cain killed Abel. How did Cain then propagate his genes?

If you believe in evolution, this isn’t much of a joke – it can be simply assumed that Cain found a near-human species to propagate his genes with. If you don’t, there is a bit of a, er, problem.

In any case, the way dog breeds are created (over several generations) is that dogs that possess certain traits (over and above their friendliness to humans – which is what makes them dogs and not wolves) are interbred. This desirable trait gets a wee bit stronger. In the next generation, another pair of dogs that have this wee bit extra of this desirable trait get interbred. And the process continues.

Now, it’s likely that if you take a boy dog and a girl dog who both have a high degree of this desirable trait, they share a fair bit of their ancestry. So within a few generations of starting the breed, you will have a fair degree of interbreeding.

It’s a bit like the royals of the Middle Ages – thanks to their insistence on preserving their blue blood, they only wanted to marry other royals. Soon, they ran out of royals to marry, unless they married their aunts and cousins and nieces that is. And that’s precisely what they did.

And so you had emperors such as Charles II of Spain who “was so ugly he scared his own wife”.

Charles II of Spain could barely walk because his legs could not support his weight. He fell several times. Marie died in 1689 without producing an heir for Charles II. The Spanish monarch was depressed after his first wife died.

Depression was a common trait among the Habsburgs. So was gout, dropsy, and epilepsy. The lower jaw was the kicker, though, as it made Charles II seem stunted. His ministers and advisers suggested the next move in Charles II of Spain’s reign: to marry a second wife.

He was apparently the descendant of “16 generations of Habsburg inbreeding”. Now you know why pugs have spinal problems, and why ____ (forget the breed, my friend mentioned on Sunday) have heart issues. Inbreeding, apart from selecting for the desirable traits, also unwittingly selects for some undesirable traits.

In any case, dog breeds are created when dogs with some desirable traits are forcibly mated with other dogs with similar desirable traits by some “higher power” (the human master). In some ways, you can think of dog breeding as similar to arranged marriage – rather than letting street dogs bonk whoever they want, dog mates are carefully arranged in the breeding process.

Now, “being forced to mate with someone desirable by a higher power” – what does that remind you of? Isn’t it like traditional Indian arranged marriage (the sort where you don’t even see your spouse until the time of marriage)? And what do you get when a “higher power” forces arranged marriage upon you for a large number of generations? The caste system, of course.

The basic feature of the Indian caste system, you might remember, is endogamy – caste rules largely meant that Indians married within their own caste. In fact there is research that has shown that for some 2000 years or so a large number of Indians have mostly married within their own caste.

Now, you can think of this as some Lamarckian quest to create the perfect breeds for humans for each profession (remember that castes started off as job divisions). So if two blacksmiths marry, their offspring will be a better blacksmith. And by thus marrying within the blacksmith community, over a few generations, they will create the “perfect breed of blacksmith” (this applies to all other professions, of course).

Of course, given that a large part of the skill that goes in being good a profession is learned rather than inherited, this inbreeding hasn’t done much to create the perfect breed of human for any particular job. Instead, what it has done is to saddle us with lifestyle diseases.

Having written nearly 900 words, I realise that I’m not alone in comparing dog breeds to caste, or Hinduism. Aadisht Khanna, my friend from business school, had written a blogpost to the same effect a few years ago. That’s enjoyable as well. Read it.


PM’s Eleven

The first time I ever heard of Davos was in 1997, when then Indian Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda attended the conference in the ski resort and gave a speech. He was heavily pilloried by the Kannada media, and given the moniker “Davos Gowda”.

Maybe because of all the attention Deve Gowda received for the trip, and not in a good way, no Indian Prime Minister ventured to go there for another twenty years. Until, of course, Narendra Modi went there earlier this week and gave a speech that apparently got widely appreciated in China.

There is another thing that connects Modi and Deve Gowda as Prime Ministers (leaving aside trivialties such as them being chief ministers of their respective states before becoming Prime Ministers).

Back in 1996 when Deve Gowda was Prime Minister, Rahul Dravid,  Venkatesh Prasad and Sunil Joshi made their Test debuts (on the tour of England). Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath had long been fixtures in the Indian cricket team. Later that year, Sujith Somasunder played a couple of one dayers. David Johnson played two Tests. And in early 1997, Doddanarasaiah Ganesh played a few Test matches.

In case you haven’t yet figured out, all these cricketers came from Karnataka, the same state as the Prime Minister. During that season, it was normal for at least five players in the Indian Eleven to be from Karnataka. Since Deve Gowda had become Prime Minister around the same time, there was no surprise that the Indian cricket team was called “PM’s Eleven”. Coincidentally, the chairman of selectors at that point in time was Gundappa Vishwanath, who is also from Karnataka.

The Indian team playing in the current Test match in Johannesburg has four players from Gujarat. Now, this is not as noticeable as five players from Karnataka because Gujarat is home to three Ranji Trophy teams. Cheteshwar Pujara plays for Saurashtra, Parthiv Patel and Jasprit Bumrah play for Gujarat, and Hardik Pandya plays for Baroda. And Saurashtra’s Ravindra Jadeja is also part of the squad.

It had been a long time since once state had thus dominated the Indian cricket team. Perhaps we hadn’t seen this kind of domination since Karnataka had dominated in the late 1990s. And it so happens that once again the state dominating the Indian cricket team happens to be the Prime Minister’s home state.

So after a gap of twenty one years, we had an Indian Prime Minister addressing Davos. And after a gap of twenty one years, we have an Indian cricket team that can be called “PM’s Eleven”!

As Baada put it the other day, “Modi is the new Deve Gowda. Just without family and sleep”.

Update: I realised after posting that I have another post called “PM’s Eleven” on this blog. It was written in the UPA years.

Narendra Modi and the Correlation Term

In a speech in Canada last night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the relationship between India and Canada is like the “2ab term” in the formula for expansion of (a+b)^2.

Unfortunately for him, this has been widely lampooned on twitter, with some people seemingly not getting the mathematical reference, and others making up some unintended consequences of it.

In my opinion, however, it is a masterstroke, and brings to notice something that people commonly ignore – what I call as the “correlation term”. When any kind of break up or disagreement happens – like someone quitting a job, or a couple breaking up, or a band disbanding, people are bound to ask the question of whose fault it was. The general assumption is that if two entities did not agree, it was because both of them sucked.

However, considering the frequency at which such events (breakups or disagreements ) happen, and that people who are generally “good” are involved in such events, the badness of one of the parties involve simply cannot explain them. So the question arises – if both parties were flawless why did the relationship go wrong? And this is where the correlation term comes in!

It is rather easy to explain using vector calculus. If you have two vectors A and B, the magnitude of the sum of the two vectors is given by \sqrt{|A|^2 + |B|^2 + 2 |A||B| cos \theta} where |A|,|B| are the magnitudes of the two vectors respectively and \theta is the angle between them. It is easy to see from the above formula that the magnitude of the sum of the vectors is dependent not only on the magnitudes of the individual vectors, but also on the angle between them.

To illustrate with some examples, if A and B are perfectly aligned (\theta = 0, cos \theta = 1), then the magnitude of their vector sum is the sum of their magnitudes. If they oppose each other, then the magnitude of their vector sum is the difference of their magnitudes. And if A and B are orthogonal, then cos \theta = 0 or the magnitude of their vector sum is \sqrt{|A|^2 + |B|^2}.

And if we move from vector algebra to statistics, then if A and B represent two datasets, the “cos \theta” is nothing but the correlation between A and B. And in the investing world, correlation is a fairly important and widely used concept!

So essentially, the concept that the Prime Minister alluded to in his lecture in Canada is rather important, and while it is commonly used in both science and finance, it is something people generally disregard in their daily lives. From this point of view, kudos to the Prime Minister for bringing up this concept of the correlation term! And here is my interpretation of it:

At first I was a bit upset with Modi because he only mentioned “2ab” and left out the correlation term (\theta). Thinking about it some more, I reasoned that the reason he left it out was to imply that it was equal to 1, or that the angle between the a and b in this case (i.e. India and Canada’s interests) is zero, or in other words, that India and Canada’s interests are perfectly aligned! There could have been no better way of putting it!

So thanks to the Prime Minister for bringing up this rather important concept of correlation to public notice, and I hope that people start appreciating the nuances of the concept rather than brainlessly lampooning him!

How 2ab explains net neutrality

I’ve temporarily resurrected my blog on the Indian National Interest, and this post is mirrored from there. This is a serious argument, btw. After a prolonged discussion at Takshashila this morning, I convinced myself that net neutrality is a good idea.

So Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set off this little storm on Twitter by talking about the relationship between India and Canada being similar to the “2ab term” in the expansion of (a+b)^2 .

Essentially, Modi was trying to communicate that the whole of the relationship between India and Canada is greater than the sum of parts, and it can be argued that the lack of a “cos \theta” term there implies that he thinks India and Canada’s interests are perfectly aligned (assuming a vector sum).

But that is for another day, for this post is about net neutrality. So how does 2ab explain net neutrality? The fundamental principle of the utility of the Internet is Metcalfe’s law which states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of entities in the network. In other words, if a network has n entities, the value of these n entities being connected is given by the formula k n^2 . We can choose the unit in which we express utility such that we can set k = 1, which means that the value of the network is n^2.

Now, the problem with not having net neutrality is that it can divide the internet into a set of “walled gardens”. If your internet service provider charges you differentially to access different sites, then you are likely to use more of the sites that are cheaper and less of the more expensive sites. Now, if different internet service providers will charge different websites and apps differently, then it is reasonable assume that the sites that customers of different internet services access are going to be different?

Let us take this to an extreme, and to the hypothetical case where there are two internet service providers, and they are not compatible with each other, in that the network that you can access through one of these providers is completely disjoint from the network that you can access through the other provider (this is a thought experiment and an extreme hypothetical case). Effectively, we can think of them as being two “separate internets” (since they don’t “talk to” each other at all).

Now, let us assume that there are a users on the first internet, and b users on the second (this is bad nomenclature according to mathematical convention, where a and b are not used for integer variables, but there is a specific purpose here, as we can see). What is the total value of the internet(s)?

Based on the formula described earlier in the post, given that these two internets are independent, the total value is a^2 + b^2. Now, if we were to tear down the walls, and combine the two internets into one, what will be the total value? Now that we have one network of (a+b) users, the value of the network is (a+b)^2 or a^2 + 2 ab + b^2 . So what is the additional benefit that we can get by imposing net neutrality, which means that we will have one internet? 2 ab, of course!

In other words, while allowing internet service providers to charge users based on specific services might lead to additional private benefits to both the providers (higher fees) and users (higher quality of service), it results in turning the internet into some kind of a walled garden, where the aggregate value of the internet itself is diminished, as explained above. Hence, while differential pricing (based on service) might be locally optimal (at the level of the individual user or internet service provider), it is suboptimal at the aggregate level, and has significant negative externalities.

#thatswhy we need net neutrality.

The Prime Minister has lunch

Much has been made of the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had lunch at the parliamentary canteen a few days back. The “event” has been covered by newspapers in excruciating detail, and the opposition Congress has taken a jibe at the PM for “eating subsidised food”.

That something like the PM having lunch at the parliamentary canteen being news suggests that something is seriously wrong. I mean, I know that the PM is a busy man and may not have time to socialise during lunch and all that, but considering that he’s also an MP and that parliament is in session, the parliamentary canteen is possibly the most logical place for him to have lunch if he didn’t have any other plans!

Some of the reports also talk about the fact that no prime minister in the last <numbers vary> years had done this, and reports also go on to make a big deal that Modi paid for his own lunch. The amount he paid and the amount he got back as change is also well noted. It is possible that there may not be much news happening, but the footage this event has received is definitely overblown.

Anyway, apart from the fact that this shouldn’t have been news, I have one other quibble with the whole episode. The Indian Express writes:

“As is standard operating procedure, the security personnel accompanying the PM tasted the food before it was served to him. They also took samples of all that was served to him — which is also the standard drill,” a senior catering official said, adding that these samples would be preserved for 72 hours during which they would be sent for testing.

Now, I know that we need to take utmost care for our Prime Minister’s health and safety and all that, but I found this bit a little weird. I mean, while it might be standard operating procedure, this event discloses a level of distrust in the food prepared by the government (IRCTC to be precise) run parliamentary canteen, and that cannot be good signalling!

Understanding the by-election results

Kindly note that this post falls under the category of “political gossip” and not under the category of “policy analysis” that this blog is mostly filled with

So the BJP has got trounced in the by elections that were counted yesterday. People have been quick to call this a referendum on Modi’s government and are asking him to change course (each commentator is calling for a change of course in a different direction – possibly with the vector sum of them being nothing). I got an email this morning asking for reasons of the BJP’s poor performance and this is what I wrote back:

So in that one vote that you have, you need to collectively express a range of emotions – like which party you want to form the government, who you want the prime minister to be, who will take best care of your community in your constituency, who is the best person to represent your constituency in the assembly, which local person you can  turn to in times of trouble, etc. (it’s a very long list). So your vote is essentially a weighted average of your emotions in all these aspects.
In the elections in May, thanks to the non-existence of a government for a very long time, the weights given to a stable and strong government at the centre and choice of prime minister shot up. Like crazy. And it was clear before the elections that there was only one party and one man who could offer this kind of a government.
Since the weight given to this factor in the minds of people was so high, it trumped everything else, and even the proverbial lamppost on a BJP ticket (especially in Uttar Pradesh) managed to get elected! And thus we got a party with full majority. And we got the desired man as PM. And we will most likely have a stable  government for the next five years.
A bypoll is different – especially when you have a small number of by polls they simply don’t affect who forms the government and who the prime minister should be. Thus, the weight given to those elements of the vector, which were extremely high in May,were set to zero. Thanks to that, people voted based on the other components – like caste, local dominance, community support and all that. In that respect I’m not surprised at all in terms of the result.
Also it’s not fair to compare the performance in these bye-elections to the party performance in the respective assembly segments in the lok sabha elections. What we should compare these bypolls to is to the parties that held these seats before they fell vacant. The media has once again succeeded in distorting the narrative to come to hopefully desired conclusions?



I hereby propose that the venerable institution that was created earlier this year after a meeting in Fortaleza, based on an extension of a concept that the venerable Jim O’Neill proposed some ten years back, be renamed CRIBS.

There are several reasons for this. Primarily, the new name reflects the relative power of the countries that form the now organisation – there is no doubting, for example, that China is the most powerful nation in this grouping – indeed it can be argued that China is the most powerful nation in the world (with all the US treasuries they hold and all that).

The next more powerful nation in the group is of course Russia. Look at how they’ve quietly invaded Ukraine with impunity, knowing fully well that the Western powers can do little beyond cheap talk to contain them. Look at them forming the Eurasian Union, getting the support of Kazakhstan and Belarus – fairly inconsequential, of course, but with strong signalling value. Also let us not forget that inconsequential the UN and the UN Security Council may be – both China and Russia are permanent members of the council. Taking this forward it is not hard to see that these two are more powerful than India which is more powerful than Brazil (under recession now) which is more powerful than South Africa (which was never a part of the original grouping that O’Neill proposed).

The other reason for renaming the group is that the new name is more apt in terms of communicating the absolute pointlessness of a group of nations that has little in common but for the fact that they are large, significant in their respective local geographies, supposedly growing (though Brazil is not now) and were put in one paper by a famous economist working in a famous investment bank.

The third reason is that “BRICS” reminds people of bricks, which is constructive (pun intended). There is nothing constructive about this grouping, notwithstanding the bank that they are going to set up. Thus, the current name of the grouping is misleading and unfair to the general public.

I’m sure many more reasons can be invented, but these three are good enough reasons to rename the grouping. I hereby request our Dear Prime Minister Shri Narendra ModiJI to refuse to contribute India’s share to the bank unless it is renamed -after all none of the other countries are any good at English, so India should be able to bulldoze its way on this one!

Narendra Modi should short the Nifty

The common discourse is that businesses like Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, and that India’s economic growth would get back on track if he were to become PM following the elections this summer. For example, this view was articulated well by my Takshashila colleague V Anantha Nageswaran in an Op-Ed he wrote for Mint last Tuesday, where he spoke of a “binary outlook for India” – either economic growth under Modi or further populism and stagnation under a Third Front.

Based on this view being the consensus, one can expect that the Indian stock market would go up significantly in case of a Narendra Modi victory, and would tank in case the Modi (and/or his party BJP) ends up doing badly. So what should Modi do?

He should short the stock markets, and fast. He needs money to run his campaigns, and he might be taking funds from friends and well-wishers, who expect some kind of payback in kind if/when Modi becomes PM. The question, however, is how he will pay them back in case he fails to become PM!

He will not have the power to pay back in kind. There is only so much he will be able to do as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. And given that he has got a lot of fair weather friends over the last couple of years, some of them might be disappointed that he didn’t become PM, and will ask for immediate payment. So how does Modi service these debts?

A part of his campaign budget should go into shorting the Nifty – perhaps by means of buying puts (with a May expiry – not sure they’re traded yet). This way, in case of his victory, he will end up losing his premium, but he will be able to pay back his creditors in kind, since he will be PM. In case he loses? The markets will tank anyway, and he will end up making a packet on these puts, which can then be used to pay back his current well=wishers!

Easy, no?

Kabaddi, Jesus Navas, Digvijaya Singh and Modi Bhakts

Writing during the last FIFA World Cup in 2010, I mentioned a concept that I named after the Spanish (and now Manchester City) winger Jesus Navas. It was the strategy of one guy breaking off separately from the rest of his teammates, and ploughing a lonely furrow in a direction different to what his teammates were working on. So when the rest of the Spanish team played tiki taka and relied on a slow build up based on intricate passing through the middle, Jesus would come on and run away on his own down the right flank. It was a useful distraction for the Spanish team to have, for now the opposition could not mass its defences in the centre.

In the same post, I had mentioned that it is similar with Kabaddi. When a team is “defending” all but one person in the team form a chain and try to encircle the attacker. The other guy works alone, and his job is to lure the attacker deep into the territory so that the chain can close in around the attacker. This way, the lone ranger and the team work together, towards a common objective, just like Jesus and the rest of the Spanish team.

Having observed Indian politics for a while now, I realize that the Indian National Congress has successfully adopted this strategy, while the BJP has failed to keep up. Now, the reason you want to use a lone ranger in politics is slightly different, but on the same lines. Sometimes, there can be disagreements within a party on certain issues. For political reasons, the party can officially adopt only one of the two possible paths. Yet, they know that by sticking to this official path, they might lose out on some support. How then can parties tackle this issue of giving out the “dissenting judgment” while still appearing united?

This is where people like Digvijaya Singh come in. Digvijaya is a known loose cannon, and has mastered the art of taking a line different from the mainstream Congress line. In case he turns out to be right, later on the party can claim that he was right all along – and quietly bury the official party line. In other cases, the party can publicly castigate him, and distance itself from his claims. In a way that I can’t fully understand, the Congress has mastered the art of managing the loose cannon, such that they “recognize” his statements when he is right and unceremoniously ditch him otherwise.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, hasn’t got its act together. The biggest problem with the BJP is that there is no one loose cannon with whom an agreement can be struck on the lines of what the Congress possibly has with Digvijaya. At different points in time different party leaders espouse views that are out of line with the party’s official line, and this being hard to control, the party gives off an image as being disunited. The matter is made worse by the thousands of online fans of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who like to voice their personal opinion which may not tally with the party line, but whom the party cannot publicly dissociate from.

It is in this particular issue that the BJP significantly lags the Congress when it comes to media management. As a BJP supporter mentioned on twitter yesterday, Digvijaya can say whatever and the Congress can get away with it, but whatever a Modi Bhakt says gets attributed to the BJP. It is this differential handling of fringe elements that leads to significantly worse press for the BJP than for the Congress. The answer lies in appointing an official lunatic whose job it is to make outrageous statements and be prepared to get censured by the party frequently.

Too many fringe elements, all of them shooting off in different directions, weakens the core, and weakens the focus of the attack. One can be managed, and is useful. More is the problem.