Edutainment?


A friend who works with ‘Education’ (as we in the third sector often like to put it) once told me ” In India its difficult enough to obtain an education without having to worry about its quality too”.

I like to believe in the potential of private enterprise to do do wonders for education, professor James Tooley’s new book – the beautiful tree, does a great job of pointing how this might be plausible with primary education.

I’m also a long seasoned advocate of the Friedman argument that the Government has no business being in business. In India there is no business quite as complicated (both on the regulatory scenario front and on the potential impact front) as the business of higher education.

The argument against the utility of certification and regulatory roadblocks to offering and receiving higher education more common sense than anything else.

Sadly though, when one takes sides one often (and I am guilty of this in more ways than one) — one forgets to account for the losers in the short-run. Take the ICFAI mess in the cities of Hyderabad and Jaipur for instance.

So what can you do, as a student – while the rest of us sit and pontificate about the merits and demerits of who should be in the business of education or who shouldn’t?

Take a look at this article which suggests that students’ check the following four things before committing a good year or more of their lives to an ‘institution’ –

a. Is the Institution awarding the degree, either a valid University or Deemed to be University? If yes, is it operating within its authorized jurisdiction?

b. Does the course/ programme have the approval of the relevant professional council?

c. Does the institution have valid accreditation?

d. Is the institution awarding the degree a member of the Association of Indian Universities?

I recommend everyone who is contemplating any sort of higher education (in India) read this piece thouroughly!

As the author points out towards the end:

“…it is important that students know the regulatory environment in the field of higher education in India. Knowing the legal requirements and taking reasonable care in these matters can help the youth of this country avoid losing money and precious years to well marketed, money-oriented educational business empires. It is certainly better to be careful than to be sorry!”

Persistent Questions


Some questions require critical thinking to answer. Such questions are by definition rigorous- a rigorous question requires answers that are beyond a hypothesis.

Then we have yet another class of questions- questions that are like nagging doubts – these cannot be answered fully and most likely suffer from having failed to become what is popularly known as a Fermi problem.

A Fermi problem is a question so designed that it generates a well judged proximate response. Elsewhere, in this blog – I have discussed how proximates are good enough to make decisions. Anyhow, what (Enrico) Fermi was good at and what Fermi problems are meant to do is to test how strong a set of assumptions are and how they bear out without the availability of much data.

I see this happening around me all the time, a good project manager has to in some sense answer Fermi problems everyday.

Why don’t people follow procedures when they have been explicitly laid out? Why don’t households opt for credit schemes which are to their obvious advantage? Why don’t risk-sharing designs work on the ground the way they do in development economic models? Is money supply endogenous? Will Lehman cause the next great depression? Why does income and saving vary across groups to which discrimination models don’t apply?

The great art to project management is unlearning the science of sufficient assumptions, it is to accept constant refinement and probably much more.

A Working Mystery


Unless you are a qualified professional or an IT person in India; chances are you can identify with what I am just about to say.

You begin job hunting —  you’ve spent a fair sum of money obtaining a higher education, a bunch of degrees, you’ve been a good and dedicated student and an active participant in extra-curricular activities. By no means are you a blithering idiot or a fool and therefore you feel entitled to a well paying job.

Now here’s the problem- every job you look for and feel qualified for will state minimum requirements along the lines of “5 to 8 years experience”.  If students are busy getting qualified how are they supposed to have that kind of full-time experience? Unless of course they are expected to also work while studying, which is against collegiate law in most full-time university courses.

Higher education is supposed to qualify you to handle jobs that simple graduates cannot- which I gather is why people spend time and money doing it. If you emerge from a higher degree and still find the job market biased towards a decade of experience how are you supposed to deal with it? Simply put, where do students get this decade of experience? If no one wants to pay or hire articulate, young and bright yet inexperienced people – how do they become the ‘experienced’ people these companies want?

One solution is the ‘internship’ idea which works remarkably well in some cultural and national contexts, for example, in America. The only reason it works is because potential employers are willing to consider internships in lieu of full-time working experience. Most times they do; they also carefully consider waitress experience, window-washer experience and even the experience of planning a wedding!

A career counselor in Washington asked me rather quizzically why the  ‘internships’ on my resume were simply not put-down as ‘work-experience’. I had a hard time explaining that in India internships are not generally acceptable as quasi work-experience qualifications; at least employers don’t see it that way. In my lifetime – I am yet to see an Indian company hire a data quality person who has McDonald’s on their resume.

So we have a problem. One plausible explanation is that Indian internships, except at premiere institutions, are simply not ‘good enough’. Employers demand such exorbitant years of experience because candidates with lesser experience are simply not good enough.

This however seems like a fairly poor explanation to me two counts; the first one is best explained by an analogy to Indian sports (think Beijing Olympics) — how is it that a billion people seem to be able to produce only three world-class sportsmen? In a similar vein, what is it about the Indian education system or the job market that makes the vast majority of college graduates unemployable? The second reason for my skepticism is simply that the explanation is not intuitive enough to be true.

The truth seems to be mid-way and is really an economic phenomenon. Increasing the ‘experience required’ section narrows the pool of applicants which makes an HR person’s job much simpler. Just as most of the hiring in any company is done first through network exploration and lastly through the Internet.

Understanding this simple truth is like crossing a huge ice filled river with deep dangerous crevices to arrive upon a gigantic smoking sausage and a cup of hot chocolate. Strangely enough most job seekers begin their job searches on the Internet and turn to their networks last. In my case which I suspect is rather ‘normal’ this has more to do with self-esteem than extreme stupidity.

In India reducing the HR executive’s load is a vital exercise mostly because we turn out a huge number of potential employees from educational institutions, who are at the very least ‘formally qualified’. Reducing the number of applicants is therefore one way of reducing huge transaction costs and makes things easier.

Unhappily for a job-seeker, the incentives too are designed to make this system work and sustain itself. Because people are seldom paid what they deserve and even less so in response to the amount they actually work; there is a fairly large pool of people with a decade plus of experience who will work for peanuts. My network mostly consists of such people, which, explains the bit about self-esteem.

There are other powerful incentive structures in place to skew the job market and the economics of hire-and-fire. One of the more apparent of these is the simple fact that by hiring people with ‘at least half a decade or more of experience’ companies bypass training costs for their employees. A new recruit is almost always more costly than a more experienced one, especially in a situation where jobs are fewer and farther in between than there are people to claim them. By increasing the amount of experience required of potential candidates employers offset training costs to themselves at the expense of a prior company who actually invested in the recruit when he/she was new.

This, of course, is of no consequence whatsoever to the average job-seeker who jumps at the opportunity of a marginal pay raise in a new company. There is nothing surprising about this sort of behavior. Indeed a systematic study of the resumes of people ‘forty and above’ versus ‘thirty or below’ will reveal similar truths.

The vast majority of those who started working before higher-education exploded (which is vaguely linked to the arrival of the computer generation in India and the persistent presence of the government in higher education) have changed as few as three companies in their entire career spans, the more eccentric of these get to five. Contrast this with the BPO happy crowd and you will see a plethora of companies all over their resumes, a vast majority of these companies don’t even make it to the candidate’s CV thanks to space concerns and a ‘job-hippy’ tag.

Why does this happen? I reckon this has to do with the fact that job loyalty has hardly any benefits in India. This too is a consequence of the large pool of candidates companies can choose from. The costs of re-hiring, conventionally known as ‘menu-costs’ in economics, in the whole scheme of things are now negligible.

Little wonder then that more and more young people desperate to beat the ‘experience barrier’ fake everything from degree divisions to references and now increasingly ‘experience’ on their fancy templated resumes written on pirated versions of Microsoft Word. You have to admit the temptation to do so is strong – so strong in fact that there is unlikely to be a better man-made designed incentive structure to get people out of their beds and to work every single day of the week.

Companies are now moving towards investigative firms that do ‘background checks’ – which is all rather pointless given the incentives for these companies to ‘fake’ background reports themselves is astronomically high.  India will have yet another informal information market functioning in the blink of an eye and it will be perhaps be one of the most effecient prototypes the world has seen so far.

I get paid to do ‘Development’.


I was looking for career principles online and I stumbled upon Ajit Chaudhuri’s post on irmans.org to freshers. Its brilliant and reproduced below for anyone who wants to work with/in development.

———–

Welcome freshers !
Tue, 30/01/2007 – 01:03 — maverick
“S/he who follows another’s footsteps leaves no footprints”*

Despite not (yet) having achieved gurudom, I am occasionally asked for advice about joining the development sector. Most of those enquiring can be slotted into two categories. The first are well-spoken but mediocre people who are getting nowhere in their chosen professions and have (therefore?) developed a social conscience. Their impression of the sector is as a place where the effort to returns ratio is second only to the spirituality business. The second are those whose short-term career objective is to join Kofi Annan in New York, and their impression of the sector is as a place where one hops on to intercontinental flights with the same regularity that you and I used the local public transport system in our student days. But occasionally, very occasionally, some young person approaches me with intent in his or her eyes, not knowing what ‘development’ is, with this vague idea of working with people in some faraway place and dirtying their hands, firm only about using their good qualifications and skills to do something different. I never know what to tell the former types – whether to play up their fantasies or to give them a reality check. As to the latter, this is what I have to say.

First, to address the basic questions:
Is there scope for good people here? The development sector needs bright people coming in as much, if not more, than other sectors of the economy. The array of problems that the sector addresses is mind-boggling in its variety, intensity and complexity and, should you decide to make a career here, you will require all the skills and drive that you think you possess. The sector also offers the opportunity to make one’s mark, and leave one’s footprints, in ways that are not possible elsewhere. So please rid yourself of the notion that this is a sinecure for the mediocre, the retired, the idle rich and the infirm.

Is long-term financial survival possible here? All of us have nightmares about being middle-aged, washed out and broke. Whether this sector provides more scope for such a turn of events than others is debatable. Most people here, as elsewhere, manage to get by, build their houses, educate their children, etc., etc. It is possible, and quite easy if you are good, to move to more lucrative segments within the development sector at some stage in your career. But – you will have to deal with the ass kissing, red tape and white domination that often go with the money. Anyway, by that time you will be aware of the pros and cons of the decisions you take. If money is important in the short term, however, then forget about coming here – you will be better off peddling soap or consulting or doing whatever it is that you are alternatively qualified to do.

What to do? Where to go? You need to figure out some basic questions before you start looking, such as rural or urban setting, in which part of the country, in an activist or a welfarist set up, and how close to the community you want to work. Finding organizations to work in that suit these settings is fairly simple after that, and good organizations are always looking for good people. Donor organizations are good places to enquire about these matters.

And now for my personal advice on what you should do:
Start out doing a field job – one that involves living and working directly with a community. The community consists of a large number of people who don’t have to say yes sir or yes ma’am to you and don’t care which fancy institution you did your post-graduation from – you have to earn your spurs from scratch, throw management theory out of the window and prepare to be surprised and tested every single day. You will discover that the class 5 pass man working with you is much better at the job than you will ever be, or that the supposedly pathetic women your activities are directed towards have much more guts than the modern, educated babes back home. Doing something here involves stress, fun and serious learning, and it is this part of your life that will stay on with you wherever you go. Spend a good amount of time here, ensure that you are not stuck with the report and proposal writing jobs and ayah-duty (i.e. escorting funding agency wallahs into the field) that you will be passed on because of your English-speaking skills, and see that you leave something intangible behind when you go. Later in life, when you are dealing with NGOs from a funding or consulting perspective, you will have plenty of NGO-wallahs giving you the what-would-you-know-you-city-asshole vibes – watch their tunes change once you let slip that you were once in their position.

Do the above with a good NGO – be careful about this because, though there are many good NGOs, they are still a small proportion of the total number of NGOs around. Good NGOs, in my opinion, are honest, secular and transparent. They formulate their plans and activities on the basis of the needs of the community they work with and are answerable to them for this. So be careful about this – you would not want your CV littered with associations with family businesses, feudal empires, pimping and middlemen set-ups, money laundering operations, touts, donor puppets, crooks, etc., masquerading as NGOs.

Become an expert – by the time you have put in 2-3 years in the field, there should be some topic relating to your work that you know more about than anybody else in the world. This means relating what you do on the ground to the larger picture, to what is happening elsewhere in the world and to the latest academic debate on the subject. Keep up to date, keep writing, and write to publish. This is easier said than done, field people have an innate distaste and little time for serious writing, but it is this that will separate those who will later go on to effect policy from those who will remain community organizers all their lives.

Eschew jargon – people in the development sector, like the IT sector and several others, have a peculiar predilection towards using jargon. The problem with this is that it serves to exclude people whom you would wish to include and include people whom you would probably want to exclude. Words like participatory, empowerment and sustainable, which you will find bandied about like toffees on a domestic flight, actually mean different things to different people and very often don’t mean anything at all. And when an organization wants to recruit dedicated, motivated and committed people, it usually means that they want to pay less for more work and therefore only suckers need apply. So don’t get caught up in this bullshit, learn the art of communicating exactly what you mean in a simple and understandable way.

Be humble and be nice – nothing like these qualities, even if put on, to enable you to get along. Having said that, don’t put up with nonsense beyond a point that even fake humility and pleasantness can’t handle. People and organizations that cross the line should end up spitting out teeth with their blood, so to speak.

Watch your love life – you will find yourself working closely with members of the opposite sex, often in very intense situations, and you will find yourself liking some of them and vice versa. Have your fun! But, my advice is, don’t find yourself marrying and/or having children with anyone you would not have done so with had things been different. The fiery young activist can end up a leach of a middle-aged man, worrying more about what is happening in Red Square than in the well-being of his immediate family and quite happy to leave you with all the responsibilities while he gabs on about revolution. And the passionate free-spirited feminist is unlikely, later in life, to have a hot cup of tea ready for you when you come home after a hard day at the office. And you will be shocked at how easy it is to forget people once they are out of context.

Should you take the plunge into the sector, you will find yourself interacting with a wide variety of people. Watch out for the following types –

People with halos – you will find a number of people claiming to be doing a favour to humanity by working in this sector, especially at the higher echelons. Many of them have active PR machineries supporting their claims to sainthood, and some even believe in their own hype. You can be sure that, like everywhere else, being hardworking, intelligent and capable are not enough to reach and stay at the very top – you also have to be ruthless and slimy. There are no exceptions to this. So, whenever you hear or read the words ‘S/he/I could have been rolling in it in any other line but chose to sacrifice her/him/myself to the cause of the poor/destitute/vulnerable blah, blah, blah” be warned of the existence of yet another hypocrite in the world.

Emperors – they are the lords of all they survey, and don’t distinguish between their personal assets and their organization’s resources, and this usually includes its women employees. Yes, most, but not all, emperors are males.

Pompous employees of donor agencies – donors have an inexplicable penchant for recruiting morons. They do sometimes go wrong, and you find yourself dealing with someone who knows his or her job and who is able to have a positive effect on your and your organization’s work. But you do often have to deal with someone who thinks s/he has arrived because s/he represents the money, and/or someone to whom development is about budgets and utilizations more than people. While there is no known cure for stupidity, sometimes it helps to let the former type know that they have their nice air-conditioned offices and fancy credit cards because people like you are willing to slog in the sun for peanuts. Don’t take crap from them and, much more importantly, don’t become like them if and when you are in their position at some later stage in your life.

Development tourists – these people travel the world to conferences and seminars on money that is meant for the poor. They are the self-appointed spokespersons for India’s (and sometimes the entire third world’s) poor in Geneva, Stockholm and such places. Their slick presentations, that have audiences thanking God for having created them in this tumultuous world, invariably disguise the fact that they last did something on the ground about twenty years ago – they have since been too busy traveling. Don’t make the mistake of getting impressed by these parasites. And don’t join them expecting to see the world; you will be lucky to have more than a Bangladesh visa stamped on your passport.

If you are still planning to join the sector – a very hearty welcome to you!

By Ajit Chaudhuri (PRM 8)

* A Confucian saying after having undergone a gender audit

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The original url is here.

Mathematical Matters


I’ve spent the better part of my cognitive existence disliking all things even remotely mathematical. So extreme has been my dislike that I once told a dear and well-meaning friend who tried teaching me quadratic equations that I gave a “rat’s arse” to maths! I now realize that this had more to to do with bad teachers and a deeply ingrained fear of the numbers. Consequently I failed to grasp the beauty of all that is mathematical. Now faced with the prospect of running multi-variable regressions for my social science dissertation, I wish I had taken ‘Maths With Mummy‘ a bit more seriously. I have to admit that I have gotten plenty of help in recent times though.

the Klein bottle is a certain non-orientable surface, i.e., a surface (a two-dimensional topological space) with no distinction between the One avenue of help has been ‘The Language of Mathematics’ by Keith Devlin. Not only is the book beautifully written, with amazing illustrations of the Klein bottle, minimal surfaces and so on; but is also a really fascinating journey through the history of mathematical thought. I didn’t know for example, that Riemannian geometry upset Greek mathematical thought so much, (Devlin discusses the Greek precursors to Riemannian geometry) that mathematicians were thrown off ships!

What I find the most engaging and elegant though, is Devlin’s definition of mathematics. As he points out, maths is not only about numbers and what you can do with them, it is the study of patterns. Some thoughts, like this, change the way you look at a subject forever.

The other avenue that has in recent times fueled my mathematical curiosity is Michio Kaku’s book on Hyperspace. I grew up watching Star Trek Enterprise; with Spock materializing and re-materializing between dimensions. In later years I graduated to Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent racing through hyperspace to save civilizations, eat and create improbability fields out of Brownian motion and a cup of tea.

Like my mathematics, my physics too was terrible all through school. I had no idea why Anti-Logs mattered or why thea minimal surface is a surface with a mean curvature of zero. Ohm’s law always gave the same result. I did however love science fiction, and still do. Michio Kaku’s book is probably the only science book I have ever read without a break. It abounds with tales of flat-landers, goldfish and the mannerisms of some of the greatest physicists the world has ever seen.

What I particularly love about this book though, is not the fantastic ease with which it has been written, but the fact that the author tells me how a physicist thinks. Mathematicians and physicists do what they do because they see beauty and elegance in proofs. Wow.

If there are just two books in your entire life that you should read concerning all things mathematical, read these. They’ll change the way you look at numbers and perhaps even your life. And along the way, you might, just like me find writing a mathematical dissertation a little less painful if not fun too!

If you had to philosophize…


For some reason, Philosophy is the least understood of all subjects in the Humanities as a choice of study that someone would consciously take up. I’ve always had a hard time explaining to people what Philosophy is about or indeed why one should ever study it in the first place. Plenty of people have asked me for a good book on Philosophy that will “give them a broad and general idea”, and I have rarely been able to comply with this request.

Its not that books like this do not exist, several do and some are excellent as well. The trouble with me, is the acceptance of the idea that an entire discipline can be summarized in one book. Its like asking a Historian to recommend one complete book on all facets of History.

Normally, in situations like this I tell people I’m willing to point them to books they should read on Philosophy which cover at least some substantial philosophical thought in original. This too is a terribly deficient way of readind up on Philosophy, but it appears to me, to be better than the alternatives.

Here’s a list of Philosophical writings (or texts if you like) that are on my essential reading list (fifty titles) for Philosophy. Several of these don’t classify strictly as texts of philosophy, some deal with language, science, physics and even literature.

  1. Plato – The Republic, The Symposium and The Apology
  2. Aristotle – Nicomachean Ethics, The Politics
  3. Epicurus – Sovran Maxims
  4. Cicero – On Friendship and Old Age
  5. Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
  6. St. Augustine – Confessions
  7. Severinus Boethius – The Consolation of Philosophy
  8. Desiderius Erasmus – In Praise of Folly
  9. Thomas More – Utopia
  10. Niccolò Machiavelli – The Prince
  11. Nicolaus Copernicus – Revolutions of Celestial Orbs
  12. Francis Bacon – The Advancement of Learning
  13. René Descartes – Meditations of First Philosophy, Discourse on Method
  14. Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan
  15. Blaise Pascal – Thoughts
  16. Baruch Spinoza – Ethics
  17. Isaac Newton – Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
  18. John Locke – An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
  19. Gottfried Leibniz – Monadology
  20. George Berkeley – Principles of Human Knowledge
  21. David Hume – Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
  22. Jean- Jacques Rousseau – The Social Contract
  23. Adam Smith – The Wealth of Nations
  24. Immanuel Kant – The Critique of Pure and Practical Reason, The Metaphysics of Morals
  25. Jeremy Bentham – Principles of Morals and Legislation
  26. Thomas Paine – The Rights of Man
  27. Mary Wollstonecraft – The Vindication of the Rights of Women
  28. Le Marquis De Sade – Philosophy in the Boudoir
  29. Auguste Comte – Positive Philosophy
  30. Carl Von Clausewitz – On War
  31. Hegel – The Philosophy of Religion
  32. Arthur Schopenhauer – The World as Will and Idea
  33. Marx and Engels – The German Ideology
  34. John Stuart Mill – On Liberty , A System of Logic
  35. Henry D Thoreau – Walden
  36. Charles Darwin – On the Origin of Species
  37. Friedrich Nietzsche -Beyond Good and Evil
  38. William James – Varieties of Religious Experience
  39. Sigmund Freud – Psychoanalysis
  40. Albert Einstein – Relativity
  41. Ludwig Wittgenstein – Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
  42. Adolf Hitler – My Struggle
  43. A. J. Ayer – Language, Truth + Logic
  44. Jean-Paul Sartre – Existentialism as Humanism
  45. Alan Turning – Computing Machinery and Intelligence
  46. Karl Popper – The Logic of Scientific Discovery
  47. Thomas Samuel Kuhn – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
  48. Simone de Beauvoir – The Second Sex
  49. Fyodor Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov
  50. Franz Kafka: The Trial, The Castle, Metamorphosis

There are probably many many more that should have made it to this list, still, I think anyone looking to read Philosophy beyond the mere crash course should look at these.

Book Byte


Most friends consider me anti-social thanks to my habit of crawling under a blanket with a book. Most times I consider this a compliment. I have over fifteen assignments (varying in degrees of difficulty) due before the first week of next month, and therefore it is the perfect time to turn to completely unrelated literature to refresh my mind.

Anyhow, the point is a couple of hours ago I started randomly browsing and ended up here. Webdeposite.com is an awful website and an excellent source for free books at the same time. Its awful because of the horrible ads all over the pages, I recommend looking at it only through Firefox with AdBlocker on. Despite all the ads, I found close to forty books (Actually I found more, I downloaded forty) in PDF across a mind-boggling array of subjects. The beauty of it, of course is that its all free.

Some of these books I’ve wanted to buy desperately, and some I could never decide about at bookshops. I found books like the Evolution of Civilizations, The Economic Origins of Evolutions, almost all of Chomsky, The Oxford Classics series on Natural Theory, Books on SAS, Differential Evolution, The For Dummies Series, the Routledge Philosophy Series, The Very Short Introduction to…. Series (The Very Short Introduction to Economics, by Partha Dasgupta is a beautiful book), The Guide to Mental Health, Problems in Real and Complex Analysis, The Chemical History of a Candle and a whole host of others. If you’re looking for a great E-book resource this is it. Some of the books are in the .djvu format. You’ll need to go here to download the free viewer.

Of course there are other places to go as well, the Gutenberg Project was my last favourite resource and still remains the only place where I found the complete and download-able version of the Devil’s Dictionary. The text file format of books bugs me though, and I haven’t found much aside of classical texts. Take a look at this blog post for an updated list of where to find free books on the web.

Learning


 

Sometimes education can be very satisfying, not necessarily institutionally but just by way of reading and learning. I was thinking back to a couple of years and wondering on what basis I held a whole bunch of my beliefs. Most of those have now been turned on their heads.

Little knowledge is not necessarily dangerous, but a relatively fuller education does have its distinct advantages. Here are are some ideas/concepts/notions I now (long dissertation coming up) wish I’d known before or at least alongside the idea of market failure, monopoly, cost-benefit analysis and Pareto efficiency, property rights and all the other stuff I thought I knew about.

 

There are probably a gazillion more. So much for always having been “bright”!

 

D

De-Stress(ed)


I’ve had a long and tiring three months across all fronts- personal, work-wise and so. Music has always helped me calm down, last night with a impending forty page document I took to reading music. I read one of my favourite songs after ages- The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel. It goes thus;

I am just a poor boy, though my story is seldom told.
I have squandered my resistance,
For a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises.
All lies and jest.
Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

When I left my home and my family I was no more than a boy,
In the company of strangers,
In the quiet of the railway station, runnin’ scared.
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters,
Where the ragged people go.
Lookin’ for the places, only they would know.

Asking only workman’s wages I come lookin’ for a job,
But I get no offers,
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue.
I do declare there were times when I was so lonesome,
I took some comfort there.
And I’m laying out my winter clothes, and wishing I was gone, goin’ home
Where the new york city winters aren’t bleedin’ me, leadin’ me goin’ home.

In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade,
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down,
Or cut him ’til he cried out in his anger and his shame,
“I am leaving, I am leaving.”
But the fighter still remains, still remains.

….

Here’s what I thought. The Boxer is whoever and whatever you want it to be, your story and mine is the journey we make of it. I also thought of peace and justice and the value of going on. I’m now writing page 30.

V

Philosophical Proclivity


The tragedy of education is rather evident. It really begins to kick and scream for attention though, when, you are time and again faced with the height of witticism, which runs thus:

“…studying philosophy has made you a certified philosopher!…” Sometimes, to my horror the intent is not even to be funny, but to be profound; as in: So, what is your ‘personal philosophy of life’? EGAD!!!!!!!!!!

Of course this is just as well, for somewhere in a much celebrated institution that teaches ‘policy’– I’m told that Ayatollah was American, that there isn’t much more to Sustainable Development aside of equity and that dead weight loss is possible in perfect competition.

Philosophy like policy is about tangibles, established doctrines, and facts that are at some level indisputable. Years ago when I found philosophy fascinating it wasn’t because it was easy or because an endless rigmarole of how and why is capitvating. Philosophy did not help me ‘find myself’, it was not only about the means, nor was it about metaphysical mumbo-jumbo that no-one really understands.

Philosophy answers some really fascinating questions, just as probability does (what is the probability that, if you were to pick a random year, that year would start with a Sunday?) or game theory does (If you contrive to always differ whatever you’re asked in a game that based itself on choice, you’d win three-fourths of the time…) or for that matter economics or any other discipline does.

Sample this; the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio exist in nature. Is that an accident or divine? What if a person could indefinitely predict the outcome of a coin flip? What does it mean for the universe and for you and that chap in particular? Can you be an absolute pacifist and still practice a martial art? How can your tell your left foot from your right foot when there is nothing much you can say about one that doesn’t apply to the other? Could a brand new theory (mathematical or concerned with physics) contradict and even disprove an axiom of logic?

The point that I’m getting at is pretty simple really, what you derive from a discipline is a function of how much imagination you have the limits to your understanding. That is real beauty, isn’t it?