Sunday, December 09, 2018

The climate does not know what it is doing

The title of this post must surprise you.
I am blaming the climate itself for its increasingly strange behavior. Yes, scientists keep telling us after every major disaster event, that that particular one cannot be, in good conscience, blamed on global warming. They are, in the main, correct.
But, in one sense, they are not being true scientists: being bold, risk taking etc. It is only by being bold, Einstein brought about the revolution in physics; it is only by taking a risk that Darwin and Wallace hypothesized natural selection to describe how the variety of life forms on the earth would have come about.
I am not going to list out all climate-related catastrophes to make my point. I will make a general statement, which is open to questioning, even for abusing me. It looks to me that about a dozen disaster events that on probabilistic basis have a return period of 100 years have bunched themselves together over the past five years or so across the globe – torrential rain, extreme heat spells, extended drought, severe floods, and more intense hurricanes/cyclones. The list can continue but I will stop here.
I stopped only to request our climate scientists take up the task. The fancy word now in use is “Big Data”. I think we have enough data on all of the above extreme climate events to feed the “Big Data” into our climate simulation models on supercomputers. Are they doing it? I would suspect yes. But, none of the researchers are going out on a limb, however short it may be, to assert yes, the climate is changing and any particular extreme climate event does nothing but increase their confidence level a tiny bit.
I am not blaming them. They are waiting for more data and their wait may not be for too long. However, in the midst of all this, we have a severe cold wave (again, probably with a return period of 100 years!) in some corner of the world, and the climate-denying termites come out of the wood. It is global cooling and we must push more CO2 into the atmosphere. Donald Trump is one such termite; his recent twitter post makes it clear.
The 95% of the climate scientists who have concluded that the globe is warming at, say, 98% confidence level, are hit by this sidewinder (mixed metaphor, I agree). Who should I blame?
The climate, of course. It has to convey – how it would do it, I haven’t the foggiest, but it should – to the scientists that they must throw their statistics and probability based models and start afresh. Why?
The climate is not your everyday weather. When it changes, it is done wholesale, gobbling up all the data scientists have and are still accumulating. So, any climate science research must “unlearn” (Oh, how I hate that word) everything they have learnt thus far. It is a not just a new ball game; it is a new sport altogether. I am not denying that there must be some tenuous connection with the non-global warming past (earlier to the beginning of the 19th century) but it should be given only minimum weightage. Look at the wonderful Keeling Curve, and you would see that the curve gets steeper and steeper year-on-year and inexorably. No blips. That must warn us.
At some scale of miniaturization (zooming in), we must have the confidence to say that the curve is not continuous. That point of discontinuity, when established, must be the response to the sidewinding arguments against global cooling.   That is a clear admission, by the scientific community, that we do not know how the climate is going to respond, because the climate itself does not know how it should respond to the new levels and of ever newer kinds of input into and from the earth’s atmosphere.
Here, then, must come the next point. We do not know, but we can guess and it so happens that if the globe does warm up, we do know what kind of consequences we would face – dreadful; and how soon would such a scenario would unfold – too soon for us to respond in real time.
But, what if the globe is indeed cooling? No sweat (pardon the pun). It would not be drastic. How do I know? Look at the Keeling Curve again. The climate should merely retrace as there must have been no break from the earlier models. We have time on our hands. No urgency.
Therefore, the danger is in the response we can offer to changes in the climate. One, if the globe is warming it has to be now and intense. If, on the other hand, it is cooling, it can be leisurely. The choice is obvious. We cannot sit on our hands now and wait for global warming to hit us hard and fast. We must assume the worst and prepare for it. Discard the old adage: hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
It is now, prepare for the worst. Ignore climate modelling. Do not waste time whether it is at 95% or 95.5% confidence level. Use no actuarial calculations. Take it as 100%. Act as if the worst is happening in the here and now. Take insurance.
Let climate do whatever it does. We would not care. We are ready.
Raghuram Ekambaram
P. S Ramblings from a know-nothing.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Nobody does it better than you

You are being warned: Don’t cross me on this.
I love James Bond movies. I can see them a million times but won’t get tired of them. I can repeat the pithy dialogues – no long dialogues in James Bond movies, and that in itself is a plus point.
While I have said once before that Q drives the plot, now my focus in on the violence. The action scenes are believably unbelievable and violently nonviolent. Yes, there is gore, but it is never an extended scene. In Skyfall, if directed by any Indian director, the penultimate and also the last scenes would have been at least ten times longer. In Casino Royale, when the African dictator came for his money, the violence in the staircase is unbelievable, yet not much gore; the opening scene in Spectre, no different. It was the same all through the 26 movies of this highly successful franchise. Violence but not violent.
The next best thing is the egregious stereotyping! It is so bad, one has to conclude, it was deliberate, deliberately exaggerated to show the inanity of seeing people in terms of a stereo-typed whole, no individuality – Japanese behaviour, habits and wedding rituals (The Man with a Golden Gun), East Europeans, Romanian gypsies, Caribbean Voodoo, Indian snake charmers (Octopussy), Central Americans (Timothy Dalton’s first show as James Bond), South American dictators (Quantum of Solace), Soviet spies, tight lipped Brit (one on North Korea) and of course, the obnoxious American (Wade, in at least a couple of movies, including Golden Eye and of course, the Louisiana sheriff in Live and Let Die). If you noticed, James Bond is the only franchise that puts down Americans; sure the latter help Bond, but only as side-kicks. I can’t imagine how Trump’s America is putting up with this!
Now, there is a genius to James Bond plots in that a new plot line, with copious references to his childhood – that one word, ‘cuckoo’ from Ernst Stavros Blofeld was enough – is being constructed, starting with the organization SPECTRE, which sort of anchored Sean Connery’s Bonds. I am not sure George Lazenby’s Bond had any connection to Spectre. But, what I liked about Roger Moore’s Bonds and to some extent Pierce Brosnan’s is that the sentiment was merely, “I have to kill you before you kill me!” This focus on killing for the sake of killing – though the numbers of people meeting death is more now than before – appears to have been downgraded. Now, Bond’s movies follow a chronological trend, M ( a female at the top of MI6! Times have indeed changed) shown to die after four  Daniel Craig’s appearances.
The signature music score has not changed, though it has come to occupy fewer and fewer frames. That is sad. I felt it was haunting and I still do. Duran Duran’s is the best. The production value scores on high on my mark sheet. Though when I said this to someone who is into movies of the arty kind, he just about choked on his fork. Different strokes for different folks.
Let me finish this where I started – Nobody does it better than James Bond.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Some pithy sentences/phrases, likely to be unpopular

‘Hope sits at the center of what makes healing possible’ – Hammad Khan
But, hope alone is not sufficient to heal. That is, hope perhaps is a necessary condition but is definitely not a sufficient condition, my mathematical mind tells me.
We hoped that my mother-in-law would come back from the hospital and occupy her rightful place in our living room, the couch. It did not happen. The doctors were trying to infuse hope in us, and some of the patient’s relatives (yours truly not excepted) took the doctor’s statements, if not at face value, at least as hope-inducing. But, that hope did not “make healing possible”. Yes, my assertion is empirical and anecdotal. But, it does not gainsay the general statement I have given at the beginning.
‘It’s terrible – and counter-productive – to make people feel idiots for working hard for you’ – Anthony Bourdain
I am not sure I will ever find a boss, at whatever level who would agree with the above! “I am hopeless” is the self-assessment a boss cherishes from every one of her subordinates. Is there any statement other than, “You are good for nothing,” that a boss says? I dare say Jeff Bezos knows no other sentence in English! It is a measure of control, induced through fear. Terrible it may be, but necessary it is, the management schools must be teaching.
‘To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought (or) measured with money’ – (Sir) M(okshagundam) Visweswaraya
I do not have to say this, but say it, I will. Sir Mokshagundam’s “something” translates into “Value”. OK, Sir Mokshagundam, whoever that is, may not ring a bell with you; I will take you to a fictional situation that surely would, a scene and a few words in the James Bond flick Spectre. “...for the sake of democracy, whatever the hell that is.” The words, said with utter contempt by a person with a serious authoritarian streak, lead me to the next item.
But, before that ... yes, just as democracy cannot be measured, whatever management people say, value also cannot be measured, but it is reality, unmeasurable reality. The sooner managementese accommodates this word in its vocabulary, the better we would all be. Then, the word “service” would enter our daily life more meaningfully.
‘It is the mark of a superstitious, authoritarian age that it confuses expertise with infallibility, and dismisses experts if they are not infallible’ – Tabish Khair
This will take me to “five sigma”, one sigma less than what Jack Welch supposedly delivered at GE, the industrial behemoth. But, five sigma is what was required and achieved at CERN to “prove” the existence of Higgs Bosons. Understand this: CERN’s expertise is unmatched but is never infallible. This gap, created by the enterprise of science to maintain its integrity, is what enables superstition and authoritarianism to continue to exist. There is a society of flat earthers. And climate change is not proved. In an academic setting I heard an old faculty member proclaim loudly that “Darwinism has been proven wrong”, but the congregation remained moot. Why? Because natural selection by evolution has not, and indeed cannot, ever fill in all the gaps. Those of you who are aware of Zeno’s Paradox would appreciate this.
‘If you've got a religious belief that withers in the face of observations of the natural world, you ought to rethink your beliefs – rethinking the world isn't an option’ – P Z Myers
Myers does not understand. “Ought to” withers in the face of “Shalt not”! Be it the Ten Commandments or any activity or thought proscribed in any scripture of any religion carries implicitly the word “Shalt not”. Religious beliefs cannot be “unlearnt” (I hate to use this faddish word, but my lack of facility with English compels me).
Now, the last words of this meandering post: If you would notice, except perhaps for Sir. M. Visweswaraya, no one else would be in the list of anyone’s rolodex of “People to be quoted”. That list is for professional writers, and I am but an amateur.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Allure of America

In the interest of full disclosure ... I had spent 12 years and 5 months in the US. Yes, even for a non-Jewish like me America was the Promised Land. But that promise became shattered within about 2 years after my landing there. Details need not concern us, except to say that even while enjoying the facilities I had access to, I never felt at home, particularly after an incident during 1979-1980.
The feeling of always being the other screwed my mind to such an extent that I essentially forgot what I came to the US for in the first place. It took another 10 years to detach myself from my craving to be in the US – to become a Green Card holder and subsequently obtain the coveted US Citizenship – and I came home, without any regret to face an uncertain future. I was not immune to the allure of America, though it got diluted slowly and steadily, without my noticing it.
During those ten years, I immersed myself in reading about the US – history, political and economic systems, the Civil War, the unfolding of the Constitution Amendment for Equal Rights and its final collapse, other socio-political-economic pathologies, veneration of personalities – from the highest to the lowest, the importance given to the so-called Commerce Clause of their Constitution, the conflict between the federal and state governments, activism from the Bench of the Supreme Court, not from the perspective of the experts in the field but as a layman. I found that there were dreams and also nightmares. No personality was without any flaws – Bill Cosby! I read about Martin Luther King Jr. and also on Malcolm X in the context of the Civil Rights movement. I read The Bible, four different versions and also the “Documentary Hypothesis”  
My reading spanned the gamut of self-congratulation and self-flagellation by Americans; not of the native kind, I must add. Truly.
In this post, I try to question myself whether I would have been 90% Aye and at best 10% Nay to go the US and stay there now, but anachronistically aged between 20 and 30 years. Whence that 10% Nay?
This is obviously contrafactual as whatever I decide on this question cannot ever be answered without raising further and more awkward questions. The critical point here is that my estimated Nay would be rooted in what I would have read in social media, an unimagined source of news – MSM and Fake or Fox – in the decades of the 20th century.
It is in the above perspective, I am unable to criticize educated Indians, having enjoyed subsidies from Indian taxpayers (however inefficiently delivered), flocking to western countries (besides the US, the UK, Australia, Germany, New Zealand ...).
To summarize, I cannot thumb my nose at people choosing to go to the US now, even after learning how broken up the system is there.
How broken the system is in the US? “Grab them by the pussy” does not matter to them. Kavanaugh’s nomination to be a Supreme Court judge does not matter to them. Ivanka Trump’s profit-seeking outsourcing of manufacturing does not matter to them, while her father is TRUMPeting bringing back jobs to the US. Trump’s craven effort to promote his business interests does not matter to them. The silence of the US GOP controlled Congress to question their president does not matter to them. What matters to them is the strength of their Curriculum Vitae (CV). It is no different than what it was some 50 years ago as regards goods: “Made in the USA”.
That is, the allure of the US has remained the same over the past few decades, changing only appearances. It has always been a wolf in sheep’s clothing and I fell for it 40 years ago. Having been a victim, I cannot criticize others falling victim to the same attractions, with or without social media. But, I can wonder whether craving would, if ever, reduce.
Conclusion – Allure of America for Indians would never subside, even after Trump gets out of the White House and Pence ensconced in 1600, Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C.
P.S. Does anyone remember the name of the never elected POTUS, the VP under Richard Nixon, who went on to lose to Jimmy Carter?    

Friday, May 25, 2018

Statistics – what it is not, it should not be ...

This is something on which I have been meaning to write for years, indeed a decade, and I just could not delay it any further. You may think that that I had been searching all around me to find something to write on and I could finally pick only such a trivial matter, finally, and I am giving a post-facto justification. You may not be wrong; but, please bear with me.
I do not know how many of you have followed the current edition of IPL, Vivo IPL 2018. But, no matter, any exposure to any edition of IPL is good enough to make sense of the senseless statistics that one seen on the tv screen. It goes something like this.
The batting side has made in 6 overs and 2 balls, say, 47 runs, for the loss of 2 wickets. The tv screen has a nice graphic proclaiming that the batting team would make, at “current run rate” 148 runs, at 8 runs an over for the remaining overs, 156, and at 10 runs an over for the remaining overs, 184 runs (rounding off to the higher integer, if you wish to be precise, damn accuracy).
It all looks impressive on the tv screen. But, it is simply and averaging out for an arbitrarily assumed run rate for the remaining overs. There is no compulsion on the batting team to stick to any integral value (like 8 or 10, the IPL statistics team chews out) for the remaining balls/overs. For all the continuous blabbering of the tv “experts”, it just does not strike anyone that things like the total the team makes depends on wickets falling, catches dropped, misfields, free hits and on and on.
Note also that, for the case at hand, say one of the batsmen gets out on the 39th ball, not much changes in the so-called “projected runs” at such-and-such runs per remaining overs. In that case, it is 155 for 8 runs an over, 182 for 10 runs an over, and most impresssively – 145 runs at the “current” run rate. That is, the wicket is worth no more than 4 runs in the aggregate.
Yes, I am aware that, in T20, results change on a dime. But, be honest, and tell me whether you have ever heard the captain/coach of the losing side saying they were 2 runs short. Never; it has always been “15 or 20 runs”. If that be so, does it make any sense at all in the so-called statistics, obviously endorsed by the commentators and “experts”, to keep track of “projected score” ball-by-ball? It is a big eye-wash, just to show some activity, not on the field, but on the tv screen. But, how many of the “millions” who watch has noticed this idiocy. I did, the very first time, I thought about it and that was, I think 10 editions ago.
Statistics is when you have reasonably large set of data, and learning from prior knowledge (Bayesian), and making sense of the situation. Real experts are good at it. But, these pseudo-experts on IPL tv screens would do better to stay away from it all.
That is for spotting idiocy whenever and wherever it raises its head. That is, even at the risk of thumping my chest or more modestly, patting myself on the back, is scientific temper.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Ides of _________ (fill in the blank)

What is it about 15th of a month? Why so many things go wrong on that day?
So you want me list the things that indeed have gone wrong on that day. Here I go: Romans set 15th of March as the date for settling debt. That was in the Julian calendar and now in the Gregorian it would translate into March 26th. But that is just not picking. Ides of March refers to March 15th, no matter the calendar, as far as this post is concerned. Be honest, aren’t you one of us who files tax returns at the last minute? I thought so. The date may have changed and varies from country to country, but the global truth is no one feels good paying taxes. It may not be Ides, but a specific date it definitely is. It just so happens I have found a few critical disasters (you say that a disaster defines criticality, like the Three Mile island, Challenger shuttle, Chernobyl ... I don’t disagree, but I wanted to make a critical point on the date and therefore the disaster became “critical”)
Then, Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15th as per the calendar that bears his name (and hence, “Beware the Ides of March”).
I hear you say, “All of that is history. Come to now!” Yes, I am going to do just that.
Remember September 15, 2008? Lehman Brothers went down that day. It developed into a global financial tsunami. Note the date: 15th. Ides of September?
Now, the British construction giant Carillion has done pretty much the same, on...
You guessed it – January 15th. 40,000 plus people will be losing their jobs. No one can say for sure there will not be a contagion like it was in 2008. I am not believing it.
So, Ides of January?
I love capitalism, surely nasty and brutish, and definitely neither short nor solitary. From 2008 to 2018 is not short, nearly a decade. Across the Atlantic, not a pond, capitalism has friends (Lehman in the US and Carillion in UK) – not solitary. If it picks up more friends around the globe (China can help, by defenestrating its state-supported monopoly-capitalism and get real), I suspect that within the next say two or three decades, we can have Ides of January, February, ..., December.
As Hobbes said that governance by fear is the best thing there is, come every 15th, people will be afraid. Now they are afraid only on Friday the 13th that happens on a long period average reckoning 1.7 times a year.
Add to this, the fear of the consequences of global warming, in the same timeframe. One really would really be in a constant state of being scared.
Hobbes will be happy.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Necessary (?) Data

You have been warned - this is a rant. You try finding logic in it at your own peril.
The place where I work decided suddenly that it would like to be approved by a government agency. So far so good. It is a compilation job of enormous proportions – area (carpet area, to be precise), no. of rooms, no. of toilets (for men and women), areas for laboratories and on and on and on … These details are secondary to the goals of the institution, though I must admit, some of them are enablers.
But, my rant is about something else. At the outset let me tell you that I have paid my taxes as honestly as I have understood the laws. The details the institution is seeking – under duress it appears from the government agency – from its employees have nothing to do with its goals and most importantly it is of such personal nature (like how much income tax the employee has paid over the past five years) an employee may seek redressal for parting with such information. It also asks for the names of employee’s mother and father and notably, not that of his/her spouse! Bank account (which one, in which my salary is credited, I presume) including its IFSC! Also, AADHAAR number and PAN number, and the irony is the Indian Supreme Court is beginning court proceedings to decide the legality of AADHAAR. Timing? So perfect!
The problem is not with the information per se but the time pressure to put it up in the form. “You had to do it yesterday!” is the tone of the request! Some request.
Why would a government agency looking to certify an educational institution needs the income tax details of the institution’s employees, that too, over the past 5 years? Beats me. Can it at all come under the heading “Essential data”? I doubt it. I do suspect that the government agency has computing power and memory storage much in excess of what is legitimately required, and is filling up space by asking for unnecessary data, which would, if only people are conscious, will give them the creeps!
Anyway, I will be sitting in front of my computer this evening just giving what is asked, knowing full well that there is no justification for these details to be asked and no reason for not giving it when asked. Such is the condition of an Indian citizen.