Archive for June, 2009

Riding on the guru’s coattails

June 25, 2009 5 comments

Just read an interesting and passionate post by Pratiksha Baxi on the practice of Indian academia to hire from a closed coterie of students and sycophants. It is indeed fairly common, in fact the practice is not restricted to universities as she seems to suggest. Every appointment I have known at the science research institutes in Calcutta (probably in India, because it’s done by the same lot, but I don’t know most of the inside stories) has been to please someone. The new faculty may have been a PhD student or a post-doc of a member of the selection committee, or a student or post-doc of some bigshot that the institute’s Director wishes to please, but never is a hire made purely on the basis of the quality of work produced by the candidate.

That is not to say that the new hires are necessarily of poor quality — in fact in some cases they are quite good. Sometimes they do well after being hired — the early boost in career can encourage people — but rarely does one see a young scientist striking out and forging new paths. Or even seriously trying to improve the administrative and scholastic environment of the institutes where they are. Which is what is to be expected when a scientist is hired, not on the promise of the future, but on the record of past collaborations.

Anything that can exist, must

June 20, 2009 1 comment

Via Peter Woit (Not Even Wrong) : The NEW justification for multiverses (from Thibault Damour) seems to be `Leibniz’s “Principle of Plenitude”:

all logically possible “things” (be they objects, beings or, even, worlds) have a tendency to (and therefore must, if one does not want contingency – be it God’s whim – to reign) exist.

I wonder if that applies to the Dyson sphere.

(It is also worth thinking about why the ‘t Hooft-Polyakov monopole does not exist.)

Categories: Physics Tags: , ,

Traffic question (RTI)

June 9, 2009 Leave a comment

The West Bengal police should be asked the following:

1. In any year (say 2008, or April 2007- March 2008 if that is more convenient) how many vehicles were booked by the police for `traffic violations’?

2. How many of these were booked for not carrying appropriate papers?

3. How many were booked for driving dangerously, including for not stopping at a red light, and how many were for causing actual damage to persons and property?

4. How many of (2) were found to have valid papers which they were not carrying at the time?

5. How many, in all, were finally given some kind of punishment?

My guesses are (1) not a whole lot, maybe a few thousand, (2) majority, (3) small fraction and tiny fraction, (4) about half, (5) a small fraction.

SMZ after SEZ?

June 9, 2009 Leave a comment

ASSOCHAM — the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India — has recommended that states rich in minerals, like Jharkhand, Orissa, Chattisgarh etc be declared SMZ — Special Mining Zones, like the special economic zones (SEZ) in the news so much these days. Their point is that this will bring in lots of foreign money, and along with it foreign technology far superior to what is currently available in India.

Their argument is correct, but I think that their demand should be opposed for the long term benefit of India. It is necessary to develop engineers and technicians in India, and allow Indian inventors to grow, so that we don’t need to borrow foreign technologies every time we need something.

If foreign companies invest, most of the profits will go abroad — although there will be some for their Indian collaborators and agents. In addition, the technology, and  its upgrades, will remain with the foreign companies (probably developed by Indians working abroad), so India will have no hope of utilizing these mines fully.

On the other hand, if the industrialists and investors of ASSOCHAM invest in mining education and research, in less than one generation India will have the technology that we need. And all the profits from these mines can stay in India. Since there is no legal requirement to allow foreign companies to take charge of our mines, we ought to take the path of preparing ourselves to take charge.

The other issue is that if the SMZ is like the SEZ, Indian law will not be applicable in these areas. That is dangerous. For the same reasons it is dangerous for SEZs.

Sourav’s school (RTI)

June 8, 2009 Leave a comment

Answers from the government to these questions may be interesting:

  1. What did Sourav Ganguly pay the government for the land for his school in Salt Lake?
  2. What was set as the reserve price of the land when Justice Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee’s Salt Lake house was auctioned?
  3. What are Sourav Ganguly’s credentials for running a school that he was given permission to build one?

Update: The RTI has been filed for the first question (the answer to the second question is known — see links above). The third question has not been put, but people are asking it. Did he get the land because of his closeness to CPI(M)? And why is The Telegaph so critical about the protest?

Categories: Calcutta, RTI question

Policemen are above the law

June 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Ok, that’s not news. But I was rather surprised that the Supreme Court says so. I mean, the court should try to ensure that the law applies to everyone equally, that only the court can decide whether someone is guilty or not. Yet the court decides that policemen cannot be prosecuted without prior permission from their superior officer, in fact the Additional Director General of Police. Whenever someone commits a crime (in this case it was organized crime) that person can be prosecuted if there is sufficient evidence — usually police don’t even care about the last part. No permission is needed from anyone. By putting in additional barriers against their prosecution, the court is putting policemen above the law de jure, which they already were de facto.

Categories: Law and governance

Sabotage by Lalu loyalists?

June 2, 2009 Leave a comment

The profits of Indian Railways have made headlines in recent times. What has not is the fact that despite the rail minister being from the East for the last 10 years (and on several occasions before), the trains in Eastern India have the worst service records. Here trains start late and arrive later, the toilets are dirtier than hell, the passenger compartments are as dirty as toilets elsewhere, and so are the stations. The trains stop wherever and whenever, without any apparent reason. Often the real reason is that some passengers pulled the chain to stop the train, just so that they can get of somewhere close to their homes. Bihar is reputed to be the worst state in the country in this regard, trains going through Bihar are low on passenger safety, seat reservations are routinely ignored by local passengers, and complaints are routinely dismissed by the travelling staff as well as the railway police in Bihar.

Now a new drama unfolds as the ministry changes hands from a known corrupt Bihari, Lalu Prasad Yadav, who misapprpriated thousands of crores in his various avatars, to a known clean Bengali, Mamata Banerjee. It seems that the day Mamata took charge, an order was issued to cancel 33 unprofitable halts, all in Bihar. This was done without the knowledge of the new minister, but the timing was perfect to make the Bihari consider it a snub on Bihar. And trains burned — railway property worth crores went up in smoke.

Why were the halts there in the first place? To get voted for Lalu, of course. That didn’t quite work, Lalu got wiped out in the elections. but people had gotten used to the new halts — especially the fact that there are no tickets to be bought at any of these.

Quite clearly, the stories of improved law and order in Bihar under Nitish Kumar is not much more than a myth. Bihar is as it was.

Categories: Law and governance Tags: