Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The reading list: Jan 2022--Jan 2023

  1. The Arrow Impossibility Theorem (Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen)
  2. The Ascent of Money (Niall Ferguson)
  3. Numbers Don't Lie: 71 Things You Need To Know About The World (Vaclav Smil)
  4. The Great Hunt (Robert Jordan)
  5. The Dragon Reborn (Robert Jordan)
  6. Stalin, Vol. II, Waiting for Hitler, 1928–1941 (Stephen Kotkin)
  7. India Through the Ages (Jadunath Sarkar)
  8. Folktales from India (A K Ramanujan)
  9. Jugalbandi: the BJP before Modi (Vinay Sitapati)
  10. The end of history and the last man (Francis Fukuyama)
  11. Haroun and the sea of stories (Salman Rushdie)
  12. The Big Questions (Steven Landsburg)
  13. The Shadow Rising (Robert Jordan)
  14. The Fires of Heaven (Robert Jordan)
  15. Killing Commendatore ( Haruki Murkaami)
  16. Land of the Seven Rivers (Sanjeev Sanyal)
  17. Friend of My Youth (Amit Chaudhary)
  18. Disunited Nations (Peter Zeihan)
  19. Lord of Chaos (Robert Jordan)
  20. Convenience Store Woman (Sayaka Murata)
  21. Fischer Black and the revolutionary idea of finance (Perry Mehrling)
  22. Planning Democracy (Nikhil Menon)
  23. Day of the Oprichnik (Vladimir Sorokin)
  24. So you don't get lost in the neighborhood (Patrick Modiano)
  25. Chip war (Chris Miller)

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The best laid plans...

On how the Indian economy after independence came to be influenced by one statistician in "... an academic institute in the quiet outskirts of a city far away from the capital...". Excerpted from the book "Planning Democracy: How a Professor, an Institute and an Idea Shaped India", by Nikhil Menon. (Link for story here.)

Good sentences: 

Ultimately, the impact of planning on statistics led to a statistician shaping the Plan.


The Professor left India in order to be relevant in India.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Love in the time of cholera (and beyond)

From 'The cultural evolution of love in literary history' [Bamaurd et al. 2022, Nature Human Behavior]. (Link to paper here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-022-01292-z)


Since the late nineteenth century, cultural historians have noted that the importance of love increased during the Medieval and Early Modern European period (a phenomenon that was once referred to as the emergence of ‘courtly love’). However, more recent works have shown a similar increase in Chinese, Arabic, Persian, Indian and Japanese cultures. Why such a convergent evolution in very different cultures? Using qualitative and quantitative approaches, we leverage literary history and build a database of ancient literary fiction for 19 geographical areas and 77 historical periods covering 3,800 years, from the Middle Bronze Age to the Early Modern period. We first confirm that romantic elements have increased in Eurasian literary fiction over the past millennium, and that similar increases also occurred earlier, in Ancient Greece, Rome and Classical India. We then explore the ecological determinants of this increase. Consistent with hypotheses from cultural history and behavioural ecology, we show that a higher level of economic development is strongly associated with a greater incidence of love in narrative fiction (our proxy for the importance of love in a culture). To further test the causal role of economic development, we used a difference-in-difference method that exploits exogenous regional variations in economic development resulting from the adoption of the heavy plough in medieval Europe. Finally, we used probabilistic generative models to reconstruct the latent evolution of love and to assess the respective role of cultural diffusion and economic development. 

Admirable. Though Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society would likely ejaculate: 'Excrement'.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

The golden sentences series

 From the pen of the peerless Slate Star Codex:

The Pax Americana playbook for international norm violations is: the US slaps sanctions on the offender. The EU expresses “concern”. The UN proposes a resolution condemning it, which gets vetoed by whichever Security Council member is most complicit. And the CIA secretly gives Stinger missiles to everyone involved.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

The reading list: January 2021 to January 2022

  1. Black Coffee (Agatha Christie)
  2. The Armchair Economist (Steven Landsburg)
  3. Call for the Dead (John LeCarre)
  4. The Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien) [reread]
  5. The Constitution of Liberty (Friedrich Hayek)
  6. A Murder of Quality (John LeCarre)
  7. The Possessed (Elif Batuman)
  8. Audition (Ryu Murakami)
  9. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (John LeCarre)
  10. Mansfield Park (Jane Austen)
  11. Smiley's People (John leCarre)
  12. Seeing Like A State (James Scott) 
  13. Incompleteness (Rebecca Goldstein)
  14. Emma (Jane Austen)
  15. Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen)
  16. The Essential Austrian Economics (Christopher Coyne and Peter Boettke)
  17. The Essential David Hume (James R. Otteson)
  18. The Essential Adam Smith (James R. Otteson)
  19. Persuasion (Jane Austen)
  20. The Essential John Locke (Eric Mack)
  21. Babel-17 (Samuel R Delaney)
  22. Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (Samuel R Delaney)
  23. Rocannon's World (Ursula K LeGuin)
  24. The Valley of Fear (Arthur Conan Doyle)
  25. The Looking Glass War (John leCarre)
  26. The Grand Pursuit (Sylvia Nasar)
  27. Dictators (Frank Dikotter)
  28. Who Moved My Interest Rates? (D Subbarao)
  29. The Economics of International Development (William Easterly)
  30. Planet of Exile (Ursula K LeGuin) 
  31. A Mathematician's Apology (G H Hardy)
  32. City of Illusions (Ursula K leGuin)
  33. Exhalation (Ted Chiang)
  34. Economical Writing (Deirdre McCloseksky)
  35. तट पर हूँ पर तटस्थ नहीं (कुंवर नारायण)
  36. Spy Stories (Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott)
  37. A Beautiful Mind (Sylvia Nasar) [reread]
  38. The Essential John Stuart Mill (Sandra Peart)
  39. The war that made R&AW (Anusha Nandakumar and Sandeep Saket)
  40. Five Little Pigs (Agatha Christie)
  41. Among the Believers (VS Naipaul)
  42. Crashed (Adam Tooze)
  43. Whose Body? (Dorothy L. Sayers)
  44. The Postman Always Rings Twice (James M Cain)
  45. The Accidental Theorist (Paul Krugman)
  46. Individualism and Economic Order (Freidrich Hayek)
  47. New Spring (Robert Jordan) [reread]
  48. The Narrow Corridor (Acemoglu and Robinson)
  49. हमज़ाद (मनोहर श्याम जोशी)
  50.  अल्पाहारी गृहत्यागी (प्रचंड प्रवीर)
  51. The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan) [reread]

Friday, January 21, 2022


From the film 'Nafrat ki Aandhi' (tr. 'Gale of Hatred). Composer Bappi Lahiri, lyrics: Indeevar and Anjaan.


ही मैन, ही मैन, आए ऐम ही मैन 

चाहिए... ही मैन ही मैन ही मैन 

 चाहिए... ही मैन ही मैन ही मैन 

मज़बूत बाहों वाला, 

प्यार करने वाला, 

मुझपे ही मरने वाला,

अरे प्यार करने वाला 

टुल्ल लुल्ल लू, टुल्ल लुल्ल लू, मामा चूमा वाला 

टुल्ल लुल्ल लू, टुल्ल लुल्ल लू, मामा चूमा वाला 

ही मैन, ही मैन, आए ऐम ही मैन 

इज़्ज़त पे मेरी बन आएगी 

जब छेड़ेगा रूप का चोर मुझे 

दुश्मन से कैसे बचाएगा 

उस वक़्त कोई कमज़ोर मुझे 

चाहिए... ही मैन ही मैन ही मैन 

 चाहिए... ही मैन ही मैन ही मैन 


He man, he man, I am he man

Needed... he man he man he man

Needed... he man he man he man

The one with strong arms

The one who loves

The one who'd die only for me

Oh the one who loves

Tull lull luu, tull lull luu, mama chuma wala

Tull lull luu, tull lull luu, mama chuma wala

He man, he man, I am he man

Imperilled will my honor be

When the thief of beauty accosts me

From my foe how will I be saved

That instant by some weak knee

Needed... he man he man he man

Needed... he man he man he man


Sunday, August 08, 2021


What is utility? A modern interpretation is mathematical: it is that which is maximized (subject to constraints). This is quite similar to the modern mathematical approach that believes in 'meaning is use' (a la Wittgenstein): a straight line is that which is the shortest distance between two points etc. In the same vein, rational behavior is that which is the outcome of having maximized utilities. 

From this perspective, suicide attackers for example, are fully rational. A lot of criticism of economics centered on the so-called 'failure to account for irrationality' feature, simply misses the point.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Source Unknown

मैंने कहा कि मुझे भूख नहीं है 
और तुम मान गयी 
माँ होती तो ना मानती 


I said I wasn't hungry 
And you acquiesced
If it were mom, she wouldn't have

Monday, May 10, 2021

करीब नहीं

Composer: Yo La Tengo, Album: Painful [1993]

Do you know how I feel
How I feel about you
Do you know this is real
How I feel around you

When I see you look at me
I'm not sure of anything
All I know is when you smile
I believe in everything

Do you know how I dream
How I dream about you
Do you know how I feel
Do you know...

Do you know how I feel
How I feel about you
Doesn't take much to tell
That I love, oh, I...

Everyone is here
But you're nowhere near
No you're nowhere near
No... nowhere near


तुम जानो ये कैसा लगे है
मुझे बारे में तुम्हारे
तुम जानो कि ये सच है
लगे कैसा मुझे इर्द गिर्द तुम्हारे 

मुझे ताकते तुम्हें देखूं जब
हो न निश्चय किसी का
मुस्कुराओ जब बस जानूं ये
यकीन हो चले सभी का 

तुम जानो कैसे देखूं सपने
सपने बारे में तुम्हारे
तुम जानो ये कैसा लगे है
तुम जानो ये...

तुम जानो ये कैसा लगे है
मुझे बारे में तुम्हारे
ज़ाहिर है सब कहना ये
कि मैं प्यार... ओह मैं 

हर कोई है यहीं 
 तुम बस करीब नहीं
हाँ तुम करीब नहीं
  हाँ... करीब नहीं 


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Oldy be goldy

From 'Howrah Bridge' (1958), lyricist: Qamar Jalalabadi, composer: OP Nayyar

बाबू जी मैं चीन से आयी 
चीनी जैसा दिल लायी 
सिंगापुर का यौवन मेरा 
शंघाई की अंगड़ाई 

दिल पे रख ले हाथ ज़रा 
हो जाए ना पागल तू 

मेरा नाम चिन चिन चू 
चिन चिन चू बाबा चिन चिन चू 
रात चांदनी मैं और तू 
हेलो मिस्टर हाउ डू यू डू 

बा बा... बा बा...

Oh darling I came from China
My sweet heart jus' couldn't be finer
From Singapore does hail my youth
From Shanghai its yawn no minor

Keep 'em hands on to your heart
May you not go loony too

Name be mine Chin Chin Chu
Chin Chin Chu baba Chin Chin Chu
Night be moony me and you
Hello mister how do you do

Ba ba... ba ba...


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Reading List: Jan 2020-Jan 2021

  1. Gulag (Anne Applebaum)
  2. Persepolis 2 (Marjane Satrapi)
  3. In Service of the Republic (Vijay Kelkar, Ajay Shah)
  4. A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K LeGuin)
  5. The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov) [reread]
  6. The Tombs of Atanu (Ursula K LeGuin)
  7. The Farthest Shore (Ursula K LeGuin)
  8. Tehanu (Ursula K LeGuin)
  9. Mao's Great Famine (Frank Dikotter)
  10. Serotonin (Michel Houellebecq)
  11. Exit West (Mohsin Hamid)
  12. What we talk about when we talk about love (Raymond Carver)
  13. The Tragedy of Liberation (Frank Dikotter)
  14. The Cultural Revolution (Frank Dikotter)
  15. घाचर गोचर (विवेक शानभाग)
  16. The Fatal Conceit (Friedrich Hayek)
  17. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (Lydia Davis)
  18. Capitalism and Freedom (Milton Friedman)
  19. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)
  20. The Road to Serfdom (Friedrich Hayek)
  21. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
  22. Iron Curtain (Anne Applebaum)
  23. The Better Angels of Our Nature (Steven Pinker)
  24. The Twenty-Seventh City (Jonathan Franzen)
  25. Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity (David Foster Wallace)
  26. The Undoing Project (Michael Lewis)
  27. Life and Fate (Vasily Grossman)
  28. After the Funeral (Agatha Christie)
  29. The Mysterious Affairs At Styles (Agatha Christie)
  30. The Murder on the Links (Agatha Christie)
  31. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie)
  32. Death on the Nile (Agatha Christie)
  33. Mothsmoke (Mohsin Hamid)
  34. Three Act Tragedy (Agatha Christie)
  35. The Great Gtasby (F Scott Fitzgerald)
  36. A Legacy of Spies (John leCarre)
  37. ABC Murders (Agatha Christie)
  38. Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie)
  39. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) [reread]
  40. Harry Potter and the Philisopher's Stone (JK Rowling) [reread]
  41. Sense and Sensibilities (Jane Austen)
  42. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke)
  43. Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens)
  44. Humiliated and Insulted (Fyodor Dostoyevsky) [reread]
  45. Thirty Years That Shook Physics (George Gamow)
  46. Look to Windward (Iain M Banks)

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Reject and don't (re)submit

"We are sorry inform you that your submission for the Journal of Pain and Death has been rejected on account of being too life-affirmatory. We thank you for your submission and hope that you will submit to us again."

Thursday, October 29, 2020

More TASWOSAW Inversion

From 'Jaan Tere Naam' (1992), lyricist Sameer.

तेरे से मैरिज करने को मैं बम्बई से गोआ आया 

पर तेरे डैडी ने मुझको रेड सिग्नल दिखलाया 

डैडी से तेरे क्या लेना मुझे?

तू मुझको चाहे मैं चाहूँ तुझे 

ये अक्खा इंडिया जानता है हम तुम पे मरता है 

दिल क्या चीज़ है जानम अपनी जान तेरे नाम करता है 


To get wedded to you from Bombay to Goa I came

But your daddy he red signalled me all the same 

With your daddy what do I have to do?

You love me and I love you

The whole India knows it that I'd die for you

What trifle be a heart o dear I grant my soul to you 

Friday, October 09, 2020


Trivenis by Gulzar [sung by Jagjit Singh]

ज़िन्दगी क्या है, जानने के लिए 

ज़िंदा रहना बहुत ज़रूरी है 

आज तक कोई भी रहा तो नहीं 

है नहीं जो दिखाई देता है 

आईने पर छपा हुआ चेहरा 

तर्जुमा आईने का ठीक नहीं 

आओ हम सब पहन लें आईने 

सारे देखेंगे अपना ही चेहरा 

सबको सारे हसीं लगेंगे यहाँ 

हमको ग़ालिब ने ये दुआ दी थी 

तुम सलामत रहो हज़ार बरस 

ये बरस तो फ़क़त दिनों में गया 


What is life, to know this

Staying alive is very important

Till date none have

It is not what it seems

The face printed on the mirror

The mirror's translation is not accurate

Let us all wear mirrors

Each will see their own image

All will find each handsome

We were blessed by Ghalib

May you be preserved for a thousand years

This year though passed merely in days

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Pop quiz

How is it that Žižek doesn't have the virus yet?

Monday, April 20, 2020

Backward guidance

First they came as sniffles, then trickles, then in waves, and finally in gushing streams---unbidden, unannounced, unasked for---them tears that is; and threatened to overwhelm her senses, to the acute bafflement of those watching, wondering what did provoke such an onset, the released quarterly earnings only three percent below target after all. Although initially she tried to frame it as misfirings of her overwrought broom of the system, eager to remove traces of its long-dormant lachrymosal inactivity, only much later would she herself begin to grope towards its mysterious incidence and its ambiguous, weakly tethered connection to a set of distant memories she began to be convinced were systematically tampered with and set ablaze.

Monday, February 03, 2020

The Reading List: Jan 2019--Jan 2020

  1. Dune (Frank Herbert) (reread)
  2. Sapiens (Yuval Noah Harari)
  3. Essays (George Orwell)
  4. Homo Deus (Yuval Noah Harari)
  5. The Futurological Congress (Stanislaw Lem)
  6. South of the Border, West of the Sun (Haruki Murakami)
  7. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Haruki Murakami)
  8. The Blind Watchmaker (Richard Dawkins)
  9. Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
  10. Essential Chomsky (Noam Chomsky)
  11. The Dark Forest (Liu Cixin)
  12. Death's End (Liu Cixin)
  13. The Map and the Territory (Michel Houllebecq)
  14. The Night Manager (John le Carre)
  15. Men Without Women (Haruki Murakami)
  16. Thinking, fast and slow (Daniel Kahneman)
  17. After Dark (Haruki Murakami)
  18. English August (Upamanyu Chatterjee)
  19. Against Interpretation and Other Essays (Susan Sontag)
  20. I married a communist ( Philip Roth)
  21. The last samurai (Helen deWitt)
  22. Directorate S (Steve Coll)
  23. साये में धूप (दुष्यंत कुमार)
  24. Pakistan: A Hard Country (Anatol Lieven)
  25. The Best of R K Laxman
  26. कवि-मन (अज्ञेय)
  27. A Beginner's Guide to Japan (Pico Iyer)
  28. Speak, Memory (Vladimir Nabokov)
  29. The Foundation Pit (Andrey Platonov)
  30. The Man who solved the world (Zuckerman)
  31. Normal People (Sally Rooney)

Saturday, December 21, 2019

अथ उवाच अज्ञेय [कवि मन]

'कितना ही ऊपर चढ़ जाओ, जब बैठोगे तो अपने ही चूतड़ों पर'

'अरे यार तो क्या हुआ? उसी जोड़ का सच तो यह भी है कि कितना ही नीचे धँस जाओ, जब खड़े होगे तो अपने ही पैरों पर!'

Friday, September 13, 2019

Corporations as AI

The observation is due to perhaps Charles Stross but the argument goes as follows: an AI tasked with efficient paperclip manufacturing may (mistakenly) destroy all matter in the universe in order to convert it to paperclips, thereby faithfully carrying out its orders. Somewhat similarly, modern corporations, which have been (legally) tasked with maximizing shareholder value are carrying out their duties faithfully, without worrying about attendant poor effects on the environment etc. From this perspective, corporations are similar to AIs and cannot override their programming (even if made aware) due to the imperative logic of goal/objective function optimization.

Is this a valid characterization of a corporation (or indeed an AI)? Why or why not? Explain in brief. (10 points)

Friday, April 05, 2019

Famous Last Words

"Satire and irony were his favorite modes of expression."