Monday, January 30, 2012

Vacuous and Verbose- 31

The Times of India reports:

Australian captain Michael Clarke feels a "team-first orientation of sustained pressure and sacrifice" led to his side's thumping triumph over India in the just-concluded Test series.

I wonder what he meant by ‘team-first orientation of sustained pressure and sacrifice”

Does he believe that the thumping victory gives him the right to talk nonsense? Or couch it in corporate-style jargon?

He should be made to forfeit 100% of his match fees ( and whatever amount he earned for being named the Man of the Series). A strong message must be sent out to all the jargon-maniacs of the world.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The sameness of time

In the same New Yorker piece by Adam Gopnik on “imprisonment’, that I had linked to in my previous post, there is this passage in the beginning:

One day in the life of an American prison means much less, because the force of it is that one day typically stretches out for decades. ... It isn’t the horror of the time at hand but the unimaginable sameness of the time ahead that makes prisons unendurable for their inmates.The basic reality of American prisons is not that of the lock and key but that of the lock and clock.

....That’s why no one who has been inside a prison, if only for a day, can ever forget the feeling. Time stops. A note of attenuated panic, of watchful paranoia—anxiety and boredom and fear mixed into a kind of enveloping fog, covering the guards as much as the guarded.... As a smart man once wrote after being locked up, the thing about jail is that there are bars on the windows and they won’t let you out. This simple truth governs all the others. What prisoners try to convey to the free is how the presence of time as something being done to you, instead of something you do things with, alters the mind at every moment.
While it is generally known that prison is not a desirable place to be in due to loss of one’s freedom, the full extent of the horror is not known. For someone who hasn’t been to a prison, it is perhaps difficult to imagine the tyranny of counting time. The movie, "Shawshank Redemption', with its gripping narration and acting, did a great job in bringing home this horror.

Needed: Jail, revised edition.

In an earlier post, I had linked to some articles which went into the question of why we imprison people.

I had quoted Kwame Anthony Appiah, a philosophy professor at Princeton University, as saying that our practice of imprisoning people is certainly destined for future condemnation.

Adam Gopnik, in a piece in the New Yorker, reflects on the increase in the number of people imprisoned in the USA and wonders why so many are caged. “How did we get here?” he asks. “ How is it that our civilization, which rejects hanging and flogging and disembowelling, came to believe that caging vast numbers of people for decades is an acceptably humane sanction?”

True, with increase in incarceration, there has been a sharp decrease in crime rate in the US, and the unquestioned assumption was that there was a direct correlation. This has been turned on its head in Franklin E. Zimring’s new book, “The City That Became Safe,” that Gopnik refers to. Zimring explains that the reduction in crime rate in New York did not come about from jailing superpredators and other such steps. Instead,” small acts of social engineering, designed simply to stop crimes from happening, helped stop crime. In the nineties, the N.Y.P.D. began to control crime not by fighting minor crimes in safe places but by putting lots of cops in places where lots of crimes happened—“hot-spot policing.” The cops also began an aggressive, controversial program of “stop and frisk”—“designed to catch the sharks, not the dolphins,” as Jack Maple, one of its originators, described it—that involved what’s called pejoratively “profiling.

On the contrary, while more people were getting imprisoned in the rest of USA, the number of inmates was actually reducing in New York during the period when crime rate was coming down.

So, Gopnik asks, should we think differently about imprisonment?

Since prison plays at best a small role in stopping even violent crime, very few people, rich or poor, should be in prison for a nonviolent crime. Neither the streets nor the society is made safer by having marijuana users or peddlers locked up, let alone with the horrific sentences now dispensed so easily. For that matter, no social good is served by having the embezzler or the Ponzi schemer locked in a cage for the rest of his life, rather than having him bankrupt and doing community service in the South Bronx for the next decade or two. Would we actually have more fraud and looting of shareholder value if the perpetrators knew that they would lose their bank accounts and their reputation, and have to do community service seven days a week for five years? It seems likely that anyone for whom those sanctions aren’t sufficient is someone for whom no sanctions are ever going to be sufficient. Zimring’s research shows clearly that, if crime drops on the street, criminals coming out of prison stop committing crimes. What matters is the incidence of crime in the world, and the continuity of a culture of crime, not some “lesson learned” in prison.
It will be interesting to look at statistics in India on incidences of crime in each state and number of people in jail. Does imprisonment have an impact at all on the future crime rate?

Babbling in different languages

As one who is severely handicapped when it comes to learning new languages, I am always in awe of people who can speak many languages fluently. I speak Tamil and English, and if in the course of travel in the rest of India have to speak a few words of Hindi, need to formulate the sentences in my head first before uttering them. Such is my sad state.

That’s why I found this review of a book “ Babel no more” quite interesting.

The ability to speak multiple unrelated foreign languages fluently counts among a short list of showstopping talents, like the ability to play a Bach fugue or fly a helicopter (assuming one isn't a harpsichordist or pilot by profession). It impresses in part because it suggests discipline, time, and effort -- and, perhaps, other hidden skills.

….Harold Williams, a New Zealander who attended the League of Nations is said to have spoken comfortably to each delegate in the delegate's native tongue, or the American Kenneth Hale, who learned passable Finnish (one of about fifty languages he was reputed to speak convincingly) on a flight to Helsinki and allegedly learned Japanese after a single viewing of the Shogun miniseries.

The most famous hyperpolyglot is Giuseppe Mezzofanti, the nineteenth-century Bolognese cardinal who was reputed to speak between thirty and seventy languages, ranging from Chaldaean to Algonquin. He spoke them so well, and with such a feather-light foreign accent, according to his Irish biographer, that English visitors mistook him for their countryman Cardinal Charles Acton. (They also said he spoke as if reading from The Spectator.) His ability to learn a language in a matter of days or hours was so devilishly impressive that one suspects Mezzofanti pursued the cardinalate in part to shelter himself from accusations that he had bought the talent from Satan himself.

I wonder how their brains work. How do they shift from one language to another ? Do they burn up some extra grey cells? Sometimes it can go wrong. I had a colleague who could speak all the South Indian languages. The only problem was he would speak Kannada in Kerala, Tamil in AP, Telugu in Kerala….

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bradman's character

Bradman had the reputation of being a run-getting machine on the field, and a hard Australian off it.

Neville Cardus narrates an incident involving Bradman :

At Adelaide in November, on a night I shall never forget, he told me of his plans to win the rubber. He expected that O’Reilly would tie up Hammond by a leg-stump attack of good length. For the whole evening, he discussed cricket- we were alone in his house. At eleven o’clock he told me he would have to turn me out, as he had a call to make at the hospital. But as the hospital was on the way to my hotel, he drove me into Adelaide, on a night of great beauty. He ran up the step of the hospital and I waited in the car. After a short while he came back, took the wheel and said, “ I’m afraid the poor little chap isn’t going to get through."
The next morning, the death of Bradman’s baby was announced.

I hope I am reticent enough about the night’s happenings. I hope nobody will misunderstand me. I want to give an idea of Bradman’s character.

Source : Cardus on Cricket.

First to jump on to a life boat.

In the 26/11 incident, the employees of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai conducted themselves with rare courage – many giving up their lives in trying to protect the guests. A study done by HBR reports:

During the onslaught on the Taj Mumbai, 31 people died and 28 were hurt, but the hotel received only praise the day after. Its guests were overwhelmed by employees’ dedication to duty, their desire to protect guests without regard to personal safety, and their quick thinking. Restaurant and banquet staff rushed people to safe locations such as kitchens and basements. Telephone operators stayed at their posts, alerting guests to lock doors and not step out. Kitchen staff formed human shields to protect guests during evacuation attempts. As many as 11 Taj Mumbai employees—a third of the hotel’s casualties—laid down their lives while helping between 1,200 and 1,500 guests escape.

…the Taj Mumbai’s employees gave customer service a whole new meaning during the terrorist strike. What created that extreme customer-centric culture of employee after employee staying back to rescue guests when they could have saved themselves? What can other organizations do to emulate that level of service, both in times of crisis and in periods of normalcy? Can companies scale up and perpetuate extreme customer centricity?

We believe that the unusual hiring, training, and incentive systems of the Taj Group—which operates 108 hotels in 12 countries—have combined to create an organizational culture in which employees are willing to do almost anything for guests. This extraordinary customer centricity helped, in a moment of crisis, to turn its employees into a band of ordinary heroes.

In contrast, during the fire at the AMRI hospital in Kolkata, the employees were accused of scooting from the scene of disaster, ignoring their duty to save the patients first.

When the Coasta Concordia sank last week, Captain Schettino is reported to have been one of the first to have jumped on to a life boat ( His version is that he accidentally fell into one). Marine tradition of a captain going down with his ship has been so glorified, even romanticised, that Captain Schettino’s act has come in for a lot of criticism and condemnation.

Is it fair to judge Captain Schettino’s actions based on some old ideas about valour and sense of duty? By risking his life to save others’ what was he going to achieve? Would he not let down his own family waiting for him, by attempting to adhere to old-fashioned views of captains going down with sinking ships? Ok, he may face a week, a month, maybe a year of stinging criticism, or spend a few years in prison for dereliction of duty- but he’ll have the remaining years to live. The world would have long forgotten the incident.

How do we know how each one of us would behave under similar circumstances? Have we been tested? Why should I sacrifice my 'personal' life while trying to discharge a duty defined for my professional self?

As Theodore Darlymple asks in this interesting piece:

Courage is a virtue and heroism is admirable, but do we have a right to demand them? Which of us cannot look back on his or her own life and remember decisions, or compromises made, or silences kept because of cowardice, even when the penalties for courage were negligible?

If we are cowardly in small things, shall we be brave in large? Have we the right to point the finger until we have been tested ourselves?

If there'a fire in your office when some clients are visiting you, would you make sure that their lives are saved first before yours or your colleagues? How do you know how you would behave if such an event happens?


Ian Jack writes in The Guardian:

Bernard Shaw, writing a month after the Titanic sank, wondered about the "effects of a sensational catastrophe on a modern nation". Rather than weeping, prayer or sympathy for the bereaved, the result was "an explosion of outrageous romantic lying". The typical British shipwreck, Shaw wrote, had three "romantic demands" in particular: that the cry "Women and children first" should be heard, that all men aboard ("except the foreigners") should be heroes, and the captain a superhero, and that "everybody should face death without a tremor".

Shaw traced the origins of these expectations to the wreck of the Birkenhead, a troopship (and one of the Royal Navy's earliest steamships) that had hit a rock and foundered off the coast of South Africa in 1852.

While the few women and children on board were being loaded into the boats, the troops held ranks at attention on deck, even though the ship was breaking up beneath them. Hundreds died, including all the senior naval officers. A story of self-sacrifice and stoicism set a pattern for behaviour in Britain's merchant and military navies that enhanced, and sometimes confused, a captain's traditional responsibilities for the welfare of his ship and crew. The "Birkenhead drill" meant a seafarer stared death in the eye while the weaker sex was rowed to safety. In the 18th century, a captain could be both a patriarch and a tyrant, a drinker and flogger. Now, as he took his seat among his passengers at that new Victorian social arrangement, the captain's table, he became a kindlier and nobler father figure. Still a patriarch, but one who would place your needs and life above his own even to the ultimate sacrifice; or so the story went.

Update: 24/1/12:
Ingrid Rowland writes in the NYR Blog:

It is hard to know who we, who coach from the sidelines, might really turn out to be if we should ever run up on the shoals: one of the passengers who snatched other people’s life vests, stepped on little kids, and escaped early, or one of those who turned back to save one more person more helpless than themselves and never escaped at all, like the missing musician, age 25, who let a woman with a baby take his place on a lifeboat. It is so easy to judge a a situation that most of us cannot imagine.

…And of course there are larger questions crowding the surface of these troubled waters. Old salts are shocked by the idea of a captain who abandoned his ship. Ostensibly, the timeless, immutable law of the sea is the cement that binds an international crew like the thousand-plus who worked on the Costa Concordia, the lawHas something changed in seafaring? Has it become self-centered like everything else in the contemporary world, or is the fact that these colossal floating pleasure palaces are barely conceivable as ships and hence no longer obey the law of the sea? that bound even the immortal cads of Greek myth to keep faith with their crews.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Periyar dam

The book, “Irrigation in India” by Herbert Wilson and published in 1903 carries an excellent description (page 189) of the Periyar dam and the planning that went into it. It also has some sketches and a couple of photographs of the construction in progress.

The Periyar project for the irrigation of the Vaigai Valley, in Madras Presidency, is probably the most interesting illustration of the combined storage work and irrigation canal system to be found in India, especially as it was sanctioned as a protective work. The project includes the construction of a dam to close the valley of the Periyar River to store 300,000 acre-feet of water, of which 150,000 acre-feet are above the sill of the outlet tunnel and are thus available for irrigation; the construction of a tunnel through the watershed dividing the valley of the Periyar from that of the Vaigai River for the purpose of drawing off the water from the reservoir, with the necessary sluices and subsidiary works for controlling the passage of the supply of the Periyar down the valley of the tributary called the Sooroolly, by which it reaches the Vaigai; and finally, the construction of the works necessary for the regulation and distribution of this supply for the command of 107,050 acres of land in the Vaigai Valley, of which 76,445 acres were irrigated in 1898-99.

As the waters of the Periyar flow westward into the Arabian Sea, they are thus diverted across the peninsular divide, the Ghauts, to the eastern coast of India, where they enter the Bay of Bengal. The project has come of further examinations made by Mr. Smith and Major Pennycuick, though to the latter are due most of the later details, and under him is being conducted the construction of the works. It was in this report that Major Pennycuick submitted the first proposals for the substitution of a masonry dam for one of earth. These final proposals were submitted in 1882, and included the construction of a dam located at the same point as that chosen by Mr. Smith, 7 miles below Major Kyves's site, the height to be 155 feet above the bed of the river, and the summit surmounted by a parapet 5 feet high and 4 thick. The dam proper is 12 feet thick at the top and 114 feet at the lowest part. It is constructed throughout of concrete composed of 25 parts of hydraulic lime, 30 of sand, and 100 of broken stone. The front face is covered with a plaster composed of equal parts of lime

The area of country which is irrigated by this project was described by Major Ryves, in his early report on the project in 1867, as being about 1,200 square miles in extent, with a population of nearly half a million. Up to the present time irrigation has been practiced from native tanks, most of which, however, have become very shallow, and from which the waste of water by evaporation is at least 30 per cent. In very good years the water supply from the Vaigai itself is sufficient to irrigate 20,000 acres. Agricultural operations in this region are rarely rewarded by a good crop, although the land where water can be provided is of the most fertile character. During the famine of 1876 as much as $600,000 was expended in relief in this district.

The idea of utilizing the water of the Periyar for the irrigation of the Vaigai is an old one. It was first reported in 1808 by Sir James Caldwell, who condemned the project as decidedly chimerical and unworthy of further regard. The subject was occasionally discussed from time to time, but it was not until 1867 that it was practically brought forward by Major Ryves. Major Ryves's proposals included an earth dam 162 feet high, with an escape crest 142 feet above the river bed, and the water was to be diverted into the Vaigai Valley by a cutting having a maximum depth through the watershed of 52 feet. Other examinations were made, and finally a project was submitted by Mr. Smith in 1872, which included a dam 171 feet in height, to be constructed by the silting process and having an escape of 400 feet in length blasted out of the saddle at the right bank.


It's war out there.

Judging from the public response to the defeat of the Indian cricket team, it is clear that we have forgotten that cricket is a sport. Amongst the reasons attributed for the defeat were hubris, IPL, BCCI’s lack of vision, team spending time at go-karting instead of net practice, old cricketers clinging on to their positions when they should have retired long back, blah blah. That the cause of the defeat could have been Australia’s superior performance was never put forward.

It would appear as if sports, instead of helping build national character, is reducing us to a bunch of whiners and cribbers who can’t accept defeat gracefully and move on to the next event with quiet determination.

Do we really need sports, if it doesn’t help in building a ‘sporting’ mindset? And, if all it does is to generate bitterness.

There are two rival theories at work:

1) Human beings, like other primates, are innately aggressive, and this pent-up aggression comes out when it reaches certain levels. Tribal wars and modern wars among nations result when the aggression boils over. Sports help in channelizing such aggression into less violent activities, while artificially maintaining the intensity of a ‘battle’. Therefore, sports serve a useful purpose

2) To simulate warfare, the intensity of sports has to be so high that, quite often, the tipping point is crossed and the pretense is gone. It acquires the character of a real battle. Therefore, modern sports which lack necessary built-in controls are designed to cause harm.

On any of the animal programs involving the big cats and their cubs, the commentators take pains to explain that the ‘games’ the cubs play with their mother actually equip them with fighting techniques and serve to prepare them to become better hunters and killers later on. One wonders if human games also will turn out to be means to sharpen the killing instinct.

I leave you with this engaging piece, “Do Sports build character or damage it”. An extract from the article:

The kind of intensity that sports—and especially kinetic sports like football—can provoke is necessary for any society: Thymos must have its moment. But that intensity is mortally dangerous for society and for individuals, too. Sports can lead people to brutal behavior—I see no way to avoid the conclusion. To any dispassionate observer, it is clear that athletes find themselves in more brawls, more car wrecks, more spousal assaults, more drunk-driving episodes than the average run of the population.

Sports can teach participants to modulate their passions—sports can help people be closer to Hector than to Achilles—but they can foment cruelty as well. Athletes, as everyone who went to an American high school will tell you, can be courtly, dignified individuals. But they're often bullies; they often seek violence for its own sake. Some athletes take crude pleasure in dominating others; they like to humiliate their foes, off the field as well as on it.

All too often, the players who go all out on the field but can't readily turn it off elsewhere are the best players. They're the most headlong, the most fearless, the most dedicated. And when they encounter a modulated, more controlled antagonist in a game, often they, the more brutal players, win.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Great Escape

‘The Great Escape” is one of the most thrilling movies that I have seen. The fact that it was based on a true story made it even more admirable.

A recent attempt by British engineers, archeologists and historians to establish clearly how the escape was accomplished, as reported in this article in the New York Times, made interesting reading.

The team’s task was to employ “reverse engineering” by uncovering the tunnels and what remained of the tunnelers’ jury-rigged equipment to replicate the wartime fliers’ ingenuity. Ultimately, the team members were stunned that, even without the menace of the ever-watchful Nazi camp guards, they were unable to match their wartime counterparts fully, particularly in the most crucial skill, digging a tunnel 30 feet below the camp surface without repeated collapses of the sandy soil above .
The team concluded:

What those men did at Stalag Luft III was an astonishing feat of improvisational engineering. Their resourcefulness was beyond belief. It wasn’t a case of one man’s genius, more the accomplishment of a team, one man’s skills complementing another’s. And they had one precious resource, time. If you have time, somebody will eventually come up with something, and the others will say, ‘Let’s give it a go.’

…By the measures of ingenuity, courage and persistence, the tunnels built almost 70 years ago in sandy scrubland near the small town of Zagan, 130 miles southeast of Berlin in what was then Hitler’s Germany and is today western Poland, were a legendary feat of engineering.

Some useful tips for Rahul Dravid

There was a cricketer called George Gunn who played for Nottinghamshire and England. Quite a character, he was, going by the description of him by Neville Cardus.

His test career was a pretty long one too. He played 15 tests over a period of 23 years. According to Wikipedia:

His Test career was an unusual one, all but one of his 15 Tests being outside England. He was not selected for the 1907-8 tour of Australia, but visited the country anyway, for the good of his health. It was arranged that he could be called upon by England if necessary. In the event, it was necessary, and he appeared in the first Test at Sydney. Scores of 119, in his first innings in Test cricket, and 74 ensured that he would play in all five Tests. He made another century, 122, in the fifth Test, also at Sydney. He topped the averages, with 462 runs at 51.33. He was only chosen for one Test in England's home series against Australia in 1909, making 0 and 1 in the second Test at Lord's, but toured again in 1911-2. Though not quite as successful as four years earlier, he made 381 runs at 42.33. After World War I, he was out of favour, and his final four Tests did not come until 1929-30, on a tour to the West Indies when several veteran players (e.g. Rhodes and Sandham) seem to have been chosen as a reward for long service.

Anyway, let me tell you why I suddenly remembered George Gunn. Cardus writes that George Gunn had a keen sense of wit. Once when he was clean bowled he picked up the fallen stump- much to the bemusement of the fielders and the umpires- placed it back on the hole and gave it a friendly tap, before nonchalantly walking back to the pavilion.

Seeing Rahul Dravid getting bowled repeatedly in every innings and walking back dejectedly, I wish he would follow the example of George Gunn. The next time he is bowled, he should casually pick up the uprooted stump, inspect it carefully for damages, place it back on the hole, give it a friendly tap with his bat, check the alignment and replace the bails,  before walking back to the pavilion. I am sure that this will completely spook and disorient the Aussies, and make things easier for the Indian batsmen who follow.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Thank you for the water, respected sir.

The Asiatic Journal and monthly register for British Indian and foreign dependencies (page 650) carries this sycophantic letter written in 1825 by a group of Parsees to the British Governor, thanking the latter for digging wells and providing water.

"To the Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone, President in Council, Bombay."

"Hon. Sir :—Deeply impressed at all times, with a sense of gratitude for the benefits which, during your administration and that of the present members of your honourable Board, have been conferred on all classes of the inhabitants of Bombay, so creditable to the name of the British government, we, the undersigned, beg more particularly on the present occasion (having been blessed by the high Providence with a favourable season of rain, and expecting a most abundant crop of all descriptions of grain) to offer you our sincere and grateful acknowledgments for your most munificent and charitable exertions in providing against the want of water during the fast dry season.

"The kindness of your disposition, which makes you beloved by all; the obliging condescension which leads you to attend, with the greatest readiness, to the wishes and applications of those under you; but above all, the noble liberality with which you patronize every public institution for the good of the country, need not now any mention from us; they are engraved on our breasts, and they will be associated in the minds of our children with those institutions, which must remain as a memorial of their founder.

"But the more immediate benefits which we have just experienced, as well individually as collectively, who compose so great a proportion of the population of this island, call forth the most lively sentiments of gratitude; and we are therefore constrained by every good feeling, to offer you our humble tribute of thanks. Permit us to express our gratitude for the benefits we lately experienced by the opening of the sally port through the ramparts, which has been so useful to the inhabitants of the port, in getting water both by day and night; and, also, by the opening of the wells in every part of the island where it was probable they could be of service: and likewise in the construction of the new tanks, and in improving and repairing the old onej which benevolent steps have saved the inhabitants from considerable distress.

"Such acts as these, at all times considered as the most charitable in this part of the world, permit us to assure you, are particularly at this period appreciated as they ought to be by all classes of our fellow subjects; and with every sentiment of esteem for your justice and liberality, and with every good wish for your prosperity, and that you may continue long to administer the government of this island, we beg to subscribe ourselves, with the greatest respect, honourable sir,

Your most grateful,

Devoted and obedient servants,

"Hormanjee Bomanjee, Cursetjee Ardeseer and 40 others

Bombay, 31* Oct. 1825.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Makara Sankranti

The Makara Sankranthi day that usually falls on January 14th,  falls on January 15th this year. According to Wikipedia:

Sankranti is the Sanskrit word in Indian Astrology which refers to the transmigration of the Sun from one Rāshi (sign of the zodiac) to another. Hence there are 12 such sankrantis in all. However, the Sankranti festival usually refers to Makara Sankaranti, or the transition of the Sun from Dhanu rashi (Sagittarius) to Makara rashi (Capricorn).

For this purpose, the signs and houses of the zodiac are calculated using sidereal time, not tropical. As such it does not account for the Earth's precession. The festival therefore takes place around 21 days after the winter solstice (between December 20 and 23) that marks the starting of the phenomenon of 'northward apparent migration of the sun' or Uttarayana, literally meaning northward journey of Sun.

Considering the winter solstice marks the beginning of the gradual increase of the duration of the day. Scientifically, the shortest day of the year is around December 21–22 after which the days begin to get longer, hence actual Winter Solstice begins on December 21 or December 22 when the tropical sun enters Makara rashi. Hence actual Uttarayana is December 21. This was the actual date of Makar Sakranti too. But because of the Earth's tilt of 23.45 degrees and sliding of equinoxes, Ayanamsa occurs. This has caused Makara Sankranti to slide further over the ages. A thousand years ago, Makar Sankranti was on December 31 and is now on January 14. Five thousand years later, it shall be by the end of February, while in 9,000 years it shall come in June.

While the traditional Indian Calendar is based on lunar positions, Sankranti is a solar event. So while dates of all Hindu festivals keep changing as per the Gregorian calendar, the date of Makar Sankranti remains constant over a long term, 14 January. Makar Sankranti is celebrated in the Hindu Calendar month of Magha

I couldn’t follow the reasoning, but it appears that some kind of tweaking is done in the calendar to account for the earth’s tilt. Will it be on Jan 15th next year too? I don’t know the answer.

Anyway, I was curious to know if the Makara Jothi event in Sabarimala that falls on Makara Sankranti also got shifted to Jan 15th this year.

Yes, it did.

The divine light, it appears, also does the same tweaking that humans have done with the calendar and manifests itself to devotees accordingly.

Update 160112:

A commenter has linked to an old article in The Hindu which quoted the President of the Travancore Dewaswom Board (that administers the temple) and the Chief Priest of the temple as saying that the Makarajyothi was man-made. It quotes a few others as well who disagree with above.

The statement made by Kummanam Rajashekharan, Hindu Aikayvedi general secretary, that “Makarajyothi, whether it is man-made or not has found a divine religious niche in the minds of every Ayyappa devotee” is interesting. It conveys that a devotee has a right to believe what he likes to believe. That’s what ‘faith’ is all about.

An aspect of faith rationalists tend to ignore is that, in its benevolent form, it binds people together in a common cause. If a million devotees need to assemble in a place, the binding factor must be something extraordinary. One can argue that ‘faith’ in an artificial entity is irrational, but if that irrational faith can serve to unite people, it is stupid to disregard its positive features. I know many people who form their own groups every December and start their preparations for a Sabarimala visit. The countdown to the actual travel involves prayer sessions in houses of different members, and manages to bring together families and friends. For these groups, the question whether the jyothi is man-made or a divine phenomenon is of no significance. There is a larger, unstated purpose - coming together as a group and revelling in each other’s company. The 'faith' provides the solemn  'pretext' for the meeting. I don’t join these groups on their travel or in their prayers, but I certainly look forward to the opportunity of catching up with friends, when invited to any of the sessions.

Faith can take a dangerous form, as we well know. But to keep harping on this is to take a very cynical view of the world.

Also, all of us living in the modern world, are victims of some kind of brand-conditioning. Faith in a brand is no less irrational than faith in a divine light.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Commenting on the success of the song “Kolaveri di”, A.R.Rahman said, “It is a nice, simple tune. Every now and then a clutter-breaker emerges in music. Jai Ho was one such clutter-breaker. Kolaveri di is in the same category”.

The expression clutter-breaker is common jargon in the advertisement industry. When many ads tend to look or sound similar, along comes one which looks refreshingly simple and different and manages to grab the attention. (See this article here where leading advertising agencies talk about the clutter-breaking ads that they had each created).

Clutter-breakers are required in every field to remove staleness. We need a political party that can view any issue objectively without being burdened by legacy. We need sports officials and selectors who can instill freshness into the whole process. We need restaurants which will come up with simpler themes and simple, good food. – going against the trend of restaurants getting fancier and fancier. Most innovations that are successful have had a very simple idea at the core.

“Simplify. Simpify. In proportion as we simplify our lives, the Universe will appear less complex. “ as Thoreau said.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The football fan.

I was amused to read this news report yesterday :

East Bengal had to bear the wrath of fans who laid siege to their home turf with players and officials locked inside for about 30 minutes following their humiliating 1-4 loss to minnows Aryan Club in the local football league on Tuesday.

Angry with their second successive loss, three days after they were blanked 0-2 by bitter-foes Mohun Bagan, the fans turned violent near the exit gate, forcing the players to remain stranded in the ground before police could pacify the situation.

The police sneaked through the back door to rescue the team, especially East Bengal coach Trevor Morgan, who was the prime target of the supporters.

Why do people take a game so seriously? That’s because any sport was intended as a benign form of war and to keep tribal instincts at check. Any game therefore has the potential to degenerate  into surrogate warfare, at the slighest provocation. To excel in sports one needs to hone one’s competitive spirit with a view to inflicting a defeat on the opponent.The flip side of this build-up  is that any failure is considered too humiliating for the sportsmen and the fans alike, which leads to violence and bloodshed.

Last month, a football referee in Venezuela was shot dead by a fan after a match, because he had refused the substitution of a player. Football, more than any other game, seems to activate the reptilinear cortex of the brain and to cause the most primitive behavior.

This tendency was well illustrated in a short story, " A slight case of sunstroke",  by Arthur C Clarke set in a nation called Perivia in South America. The story describes a tense football match being played. Towards the end, the referee disallows a goal scored by Perivia and the crowd of 50000 refuse to take it lying down. They simply,instantly and literally  reduce the referee to ashes, One of the spectators, the narrator, explains the manner in which the referee was killed:

Have you ever annoyed anyone by flicking a pocket mirror across his eyes? I guess every kid has: I remember doing it to a teacher once, and getting duly paddled. But I had never imagined what would happen if fifty thousand well-trained men did the same trick, each using a tin-foil reflector a couple of feet square.

A mathematically minded friend of mine has worked it out for me, not that I needed any further proof, but I always like to get to the bottom of things. I never knew, until then, just how much energy there is in sunlight; it’s well over a horsepower on every square yard facing the sun. Most of the heat falling on one side of that enormous stadium had been diverted into the single small area occupied by the late referee. Even allowing for all the programmes that weren’t aimed in the right direction, he must have intercepted at least a thousand horsepower of raw heat. He couldn’t have felt much; it was as if he had been dropped into a blast furnace.
“They play football for keeps in Perivia”, concludes the narrator in a matter-of-fact tone. A slight case of sunstroke, indeed.

Yes, they play football for keeps in Kolkata as well.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ethics without religion

There is a tendency to think that ‘ethics’ have a religious basis and must be firmly explained in the form of God’s commands- “Thou shall ” or “Thou shall not". When a fundamentalist carries out an act of terror, he genuinely believes that he is an ethical human being, adhering to laws prescribed by his God.

Religion and ethics need to be viewed separately.

Ethics, to apply Darwinian logic, is a product of natural selection. By laying a proper framework for social relationships, it confers a survival advantage on our species. As this essay explains:

We became fully human when we were able to find ways of inhibiting tendencies to socially disruptive action and ways of reinforcing our altruistic capacities. Practices of punishment may well have played a role at early stages of the process. The crucial step, however, consisted in internalizing the check on our behavior. We became able to formulate rules for ourselves, or to remind ourselves of exemplary cases of conduct: we invented a crude system of ethics.

Thus it is that societies such as ones in Scandinavia that are pre-dominantly atheistic have a well-developed ethical framework to act as their moral compass. Their commitment to protecting the environment or in adhering to a clear code of conduct in the public space emerges from this moral compass.

As Dawkins has explained, religion was an unintended byproduct of human evolution, and is completely anachronistic now. The sooner we abandon it, the better. The word ‘secular’ actually means ‘independent of or uninfluenced by religion”. It does not mean “embracing all religions” as is commonly misused. A secular state is supposed to act objectively.

We need not fear that ethics will not have an anchor in the absence of religion. It can exist and evolve by itself.

Violins old and new.

According to this report in Discover, the claim that old violins (such as the ones crafted by Stradivari) sound better than new ones is just a myth. When a research team asked a group of professional violinists to test out Stradivarius violins and new ones (without being told which of the violins was the Stradivarius’) they couldn’t make out the difference. Scroll down to the comments section of that article and you'll find an admission by one of the professionals who took part in the experiment.

When a Bengali swears that rosogollas of K.C.Das are the best in the world and unmatched in taste, consistency and flavor, test him out. Blindfold him, give him 10 rosogollas made at different outlets and ask him to identify the one made at K.C.Das. Chances are he will not be able to. Similar will be the result when you test people with expensive and cheap wines.

That’s where the power of the brand comes in. For you to appreciate the superiority of a Stradivarius violin, you should know beforehand that it is a Stradivarius violin. That “brand conditioning” is required to make it stand out from a crowd of generic violins.

Just think. If we can liberate ourselves from this conditioning, we could save hell of a lot of money. Do I really need the Gillette razor that costs 4-5 times as much as a ‘lesser’ brand? Would I know the difference between the two in a double-blind test? Do I have to stick to Color-Plus trousers that cost a fortune? For what purpose? Am I really more comfortable in them, or do I just feel so?

Of course, brand managers will tell you that a brand gives you that feeling of security, the assurance of quality, the comfort of familiarity, etc. All that hype is part of the conditioning. The poor fellows have to earn their salaries to be able to pay for stuff that they themselves are being conditioned to buy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Parental dilemma

In a lovely post on the subject of ‘parenting’, Shruthi writes:

Parenting doesn't come with a manual. And to add to that, every child is different. Besides, we will be deluding ourselves if we think that we are the only ones who have an effect on our children. The fact is that we live in a society, and inputs and influences come from every direction.

As a result, we are trying to nudge our children in a direction that we think is best - in the midst of all these thousands of little pushes that the child keeps receiving every day, every minute.

And sometimes we don't even know whether what we are doing is right or not. Is it going to hurt her in the long run? Is this going to result in some other behaviour problem later in life? We don't know. We cannot possibly know. So we always do what we think is right at that point of time. Of course we have a long-term view at the back of our minds, but sometimes, we just cannot be sure of what is right.

If you glance through my “Conversation with daughters “series of posts, you’ll note that I don’t come out shining as an awesome parent who always had the appropriate response to whatever challenges parenting threw my way.

When teaching my elder one to drive a car, for instance, I had to ask myself, “Should I train her to scrupulously follow all the traffic rules, or should I explain that she should use her discretion to ignore some rules once in a while?” In particular, should I caution her not to stop at certain points when the light was ‘red’, as speeding cars from behind will crash into hers, taken by surprise at the utter stupidity of someone stopping there for a red light?

I decided that I wouldl set the right example. I would teach her to follow all the rules. I made her apply for a ‘learner’s licence’, stick an “L” Board on the car and, in a few weeks, after I felt that she had got the hang of driving made her go through the proper process at the RTO including the driving tests, etc. She went in at 8 am and came back at 4.30 pm, tired but triumphant.

The next week, a friend of hers was at the RTO. This friend had not taken a learner’s licence, had not gone through the rigour of driving classes, but was getting her licence straightaway because her dad knew someone who knew someone else who could arrange for a licence to be issued without any of the rigmarole that I forced my daughter to submit to.

I emerged from this episode, looking even more foolish than I was before.

Also, when teaching her to drive, I had to make her stick to the lane and stop at all the signals to wait for the green light. All kinds of idiots would keep honking from behind, but I had to urge her to ignore them. The thought that crossed my mind frequently was that I was conditioning her to an impractical saintly mindset, while the rest of the drivers moved past blatantly violating the rules. Should I also teach her a few of those tricks that would render her more street-smart and worldly-wise?

Anyway, what I did explain to her was that I would teach her how she ought to drive, rather than how I actually drove. This was to prevent any smart-alec comments from her on how I was not practicing what I had preached.

Parenting is hard work, meant for professionals. If you are an amateur and attempting it at home, be very careful.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Advice to Indian cricket team.

A study suggests that Dhoni and team should stop thinking consciously about their game, and to let their brains do the work automatically.

What the study says is:

Whether on the court, field or course, the body depends on the brain for direction. But the brain is a busy taskmaster, with duties beyond guiding motion, making it difficult to focus on that particular job. Like chess masters and virtuoso musicians, superior athletes are better than novices at turning on just the parts of the brain relevant to the desired task. In professionals, the overall brain activation is much lower, but certain connections are enhanced.In other words, experts employ only the finely tuned neural regions that help enhance performance, without getting bogged down by extraneous information.

In contrast, the study found that the brains of beginner golfers preparing a swing showed much more dispersed activity — especially pervasive in the basal ganglia and limbic system, regions of the brain that control emotions and make people consciously aware of their movements.

Such differences in brain activity reflect the players’ different concerns. “The novices were worried about all kinds of things — wind, water and sand,The pro golfers just hit the ball.

..Devoting too much conscious attention to swing mechanics could actually hurt performance, even among big leaguers...When professional golfers think too long about their shots, the athletes activate parts of their brains that they haven’t used during golf since first learning the game, throwing finely tuned sensorimotor pathways out of whack. This is because the expert’s brain has already figured out the optimal solution, and anything they consciously change will disrupt that,

The experience of “being in the zone” could simply be what happens when the brain regions making athletes conscious of their movements are finally quieted and motor centers get free rein to guide the players to victory.”
Taking some lessons from the study, Dhoni and team should stop thinking. Just go into the ground and let your instinct- sharpened by training- take over.

As I concluded in an old post, throw out the coaches and laptops.

A dishonourable society

When trying to turn left at any traffic junction in Chennai, one needs to either presume that a ‘free left turn’ is allowed, or wait patiently for the signal and be subjected to sneers and abuses from the vehicles behind, especially the auto-rickshaw variety. Nobody knows what the default setting is.

In the absence of a clear sign that says ‘free left turn” or a clearer sign that says “No free left. Wait for signal”, one can conveniently presume the former, except that every now and then a cop would have stationed himself immediately after the left turn to nab the culprit and slap a fine legally or collect a bribe. Ask him where does it say that ‘free left turn” is not allowed, he will retort: “Where does it say it is allowed?”. On some other days, the friendly cop positioned just ahead of the left turn would wave his hands urging you to carry on, thus lulling you into a false belief that it is indeed the default setting. A nice way to set you up for the trap the next time round.

In fact, in no traffic junction can one find all the lights working. In an intersection near my house, when approaching the signal from the east, the green light doesn’t work, so absence of red light means “go”. When approaching from the south, the red light doesn’t work, so absence of green light means ‘stop’. As I cross that intersection frequently I know the protocol, but there are many who don’t. So, much confusion is caused. And, it’s been this way for months, though many of us have complained many times. It’s an excellent hunting ground for the prowling cops.

Unclear rules or ambiguity in law is the main cause for corruption. Law-enforcers can apply their own interpretation and trap the unwary citizens. Soon, some of the citizens learn to outsmart the system and to remain vigilant while breaking the rules. Dubious methods employed by the law-makers and dishonourable survival techniques used by the followers create a vicious cycle.

Similar dishonourable methods are to be seen in all laws- income tax, commercial taxes, electricity rules, you name it. Wrong and exaggerated claims are made by the departments ( the tone of the notice will imply that you are a dangerous criminal who deserves to be imprisoned) and the assessees will find some dishonourable method to settle the claim, even when they know that they’ve done nothing illegal.

If we need to clean up our society, we should start with the traffic signs first, and then move on to larger things.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Expunge that from memory

If you were given the option to selectively eliminate or minimise the impact of unpleasant memories from your mind, would you go for it?

Well, it’s not in the realm of science fiction. Neuroscientists are currently researching the possibility. As this article explains,

The first speculative steps are now being taken in an attempt to develop techniques of what is being called “therapeutic forgetting.” Military veterans suffering from PTSD are currently serving as subjects in research projects on using propranolol to mitigate the effects of wartime trauma…. In addition to the work with veterans, there have been pilot studies with civilians in emergency rooms. In 2002, psychiatrist Roger Pitman of Harvard took a group of 31 volunteers from the emergency rooms at Massachusetts General Hospital, all people who had suffered some traumatic event, and for 10 days treated some with a placebo and the rest with propranolol [a beta blocker]. Those who received propranolol later had no stressful physical response to reminders of the original trauma, while almost half of the others did.”

Obviously, there are those who argue that there are grave risks in tinkering with human memory. The American Council of Bioethics, felt that editing memories could “disconnect people from reality or their true selves. While it did not give a definition of “selfhood,” it did give examples of how such techniques could warp us by “falsifying our perception and understanding of the world.” The potential technique “risks making shameful acts seem less shameful, or terrible acts less terrible, than they really are.”

Anyway, this can make an excellent theme for several B/K/T/Molywood films. Actually this is an old theme for them, as several movies in the “70s and ‘80s used ‘amnesia’ to good effect in their stories. The stories can be revived again and a new scientific spin injected. The heroine is witness to a murder scene. The culprits grab her and quickly operate on her brain or inject propranolol whatever to remove the piece of memory that has just lodged itself…..

Cardus on Cricket

Neville Cardus wrote this in an essay in 1932.

Cricket is a capricious blend of elements, static and dynamic, sensational and somnolent. You can never take your eyes away from a cricket match for fear of missing a crisis. For hours it will proceed to a rhythm as lazy as the rhythm of an airless day. Then we stretch ourselves on deck chairs and smoke our pipes and talk of a number of things- the old ‘uns insisting that in their time batsmen used to hit the ball. A sudden bad stroke, a good ball, a marvelous catch, and the crowd is awake; a bolt has been hurled into our midst from a clear sky. When cricket burns a dull slow fire it needs only a single swift wind of circumstance to set everything into a blaze that consumes nerves and senses. In no other game do events of import hang so bodefully on a single act. In no other game does one little mistake lead to mischief so irreparable You get another chance at football if you foozle a nick; but Hobbs in all his majesty must pass out of the scene for hours if for a second he should fall into the error that hedges all mortal activitiy. Many a great match has been lost by a missed catch; terrible are the emotions of long-on when the ball is driven high towards him- and he waits for it- alone in the world- and the crowd roars and somebody cries out, “E’ll miss it- ‘e’ll miss it”.

The laws of cricket tell of the English love of compromise between a particular freedom and a general orderliness, or legality. Macdonald’s best break-back is rendered null and void if he should let his right foot stray merely an inch over the crease as he wheels his arm. Law and order as represented at cricket by the umpires in their magisterial coats (in England it is to be hoped that these coats will never be worn as short as umpires wear them in Australia, much to the loss of that dignity which should always invest dispensers of justice). And in England umpires are seldom mobbed or treated with contumely which is the lot of our football referee. If everything else in this nation of ours were lost but cricket- her Constitution and the laws of England of Lord Halsbury- it would be possible to reconstruct from the theory and the practice of cricket all the eternal Englishness which has gone to the establishment of that Constitution and the laws aforesaid.

From: Cardus on Cricket.

Where's Part-2 of the story?

News items usually come in pairs. For instance, if there is a story on a terrorist attack, there will be a complementary item which will say, “PM condemns the incident”. A report that “Cyclone Thane threatens the coast of TN” will have an accompanying “Fisherman have been advised not to venture into the sea” report. Stories on “100 people killed in hooch tragedy or 20 people drowned in boat capsize” have as an adjunct a report that “CM announces ex-gratia payment of Rs 1 lakh to the kith and kin of the deceased.

I suspect that these are automatically generated by the computer at newspaper offices without any human intervention whatsoever.

The reader or the listener is conditioned to getting these stories in pairs. You read out the first part of the story and he can complete the second part. And, if by chance, the second part of the story is not reported, there is a sense that something is missing- as was evident from this incident.

A landing on a footbridge in Chennai gave way yesterday, injuring 4 persons. One of them, Yuvaraj, was admitted in a hospital and this is what he had to say when media persons met him later :

“It has been several hours since the incident took place and we have not received any information on compensation or ex gratia until now,” Mr. Yuvaraj said from his hospital bed at 9.30 p.m.

The man could have vented his ire at the poor state of infrastructure and the lack of maintenance, etc. But what was uppermost on his mind was the ex-gratia rightfully due to him and why the second part of the story had not played out as per script. That’s conditioning, for you.

By the way, in this case, the Govt is obliged to compensate the victims. It was caused due to failure of a Govt dept to maintain a public facility in proper order .I am not sure about the hooch or the boat tragedy, though.

Vacuous and Verbose- 30

The centre-spread of The Hindu today is dominated by an op-ed by Amartya Sen. The title itself, “The glory and the blemishes of the Indian news media” should warn the reader of Sen’s diabolical intention of unleashing a verbal fussilade. And one look at the piece below the title confirms the worst fears. It must easily run into tens of thousands of words.

Some kind of demon possesses these eminent people when they hold a pen to write or touch a keyboard to type. They just can’t stop showing off their knowledge. Words become long sentences, sentences form long paras, paras run into thousands and pages get consumed.

Fortunately, death-by-boredom rate among readers is low as nobody reads these op-eds.

No idea requires to be elaborated in more than 1000 words. If it stretches beyond that it can only mean one thing. That the writer has made use of some filler text from a Lorem Ipsum generator.

Anyway, as Sen has taken such pains to write his thesis, I have taken the trouble of reading it. Here is my response and counter-argument.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Curabitur eu risus nisl. Nulla tortor felis, aliquet a tristique ac, placerat a mi. Nullam sed erat odio. Vestibulum mattis risus lobortis justo vehicula id viverra enim lobortis. Vestibulum dapibus facilisis leo quis dapibus. Nunc non urna libero. Fusce in tincidunt elit. Cras dolor eros, tincidunt in fermentum vel, blandit ac massa.

Aenean velit tortor, dictum sit amet commodo sit amet, sollicitudin quis leo. Duis vel sapien non libero adipiscing ullamcorper. Duis ac mi ut quam interdum cursus. Maecenas gravida nulla sit amet diam fermentum in euismod urna fermentum. Aliquam lectus mi, sollicitudin id mollis consequat, convallis quis quam. Etiam porttitor, nunc et pretium interdum, mauris purus elementum velit, id pretium libero magna et purus. Vestibulum auctor, nibh mollis ultricies faucibus, elit massa consequat dolor, non feugiat risus tortor a orci.

Proin nulla nibh, dignissim congue blandit sit amet, elementum nec magna. Donec nec mi ut sem fermentum lacinia ut ac arcu. Cras semper, nisi id volutpat adipiscing, urna urna varius mauris, ac aliquet quam turpis a orci. Nunc blandit eros orci. Integer auctor posuere nibh, eget porttitor turpis vestibulum vitae. Mauris tempus ante eu risus congue porttitor. Quisque vitae est urna, in euismod lacus. Etiam posuere eleifend purus, non tempus augue porta ac. Suspendisse ut ligula justo. Cras sit amet nunc sed justo pharetra cursus ac quis eros. Donec rhoncus dolor ac lectus aliquet varius.


Friday, January 06, 2012

Vacuous and Verbose-29

The Vice President of India Shri M. Hamid Ansari has said that Deafness affects 6-7 per cent of the Indian population and is a major problem. Delivering inaugural address at the “64th Annual Conference of Otolaryngologists of India” at M.L.N.Medical College, Allahabad today, he has said that these figures point to the magnitude of the challenge facing the country, and especially the concerned specialists and professionals. He has said that our ENT surgeons can do a lot not only to treat it but to prevent it and we also must make concerted efforts to increase the numbers of ENT specialists and Otolaryngologists to tackle this problem effectively.

The Vice President added: “Noise pollution is the other menace contributing to hearing loss. Today we not only have to deal with environmental noise due to traffic or industry, but also recreational noise ever present in the form of loud music etc”. ( Source)

The VP himself is a soft-spoken man, but only the day before he gave this speech he was conducting the proceedings at the Rajya Sabha, which witnessed some of the noisiest sessions ever. The MPs were screaming collectively at high-octave, high decibel levels, not even bothering to use the microphones. One of the ministers made a noise that reminded me of the barking of a pack of German Shepherds let loose, or Naais ( if you know some Tamil)

The Otalaryngolists (what a fancy name) would do well to fit some silencers on to the throats of the MPs, before turning to the rest of the population to apply their methods.

Be brief and be gone.

If there is one thing that is more boring than a boring book, it  is a boring review of the boring book. I remember seeing some reviews of Amartya Sen’s book, “Argumentative Indian” that were as stretched and verbose as the book itself.  It is difficult to outdo Amartya Sen on verbosity, but the reviewers put in valiant efforts.

An article that appeared in The Slate refers to the three rules of book review:

1. The review must tell what the book is about.

2. The review must tell what the book's author says about that thing the book is about.

3. The review must tell what the reviewer thinks about what the book's author says about that thing the book is about.

The third rule must not be taken as a licence for the reviewer to present an entire thesis on what he thinks the author is saying. Brevity is the soul of a review.

That’s why I liked this story I came across:

In 1944 a children’s book club sent a volume about penguins to a 10-year-old girl, enclosing a card seeking her opinion.

She wrote, “This book gives me more information about penguins than I care to have.”

American diplomat Hugh Gibson called it the finest piece of literary criticism he had ever read

Ostracise hard-working people

Any successful person- whether a business leader, actor or sportsperson- likes to attribute his or her success to hard work. Nobody likes to admit or create an impression that success happened by chance or a lucky break or due to being around at the right time and in the midst of right circumstances. Mr Narayanamurthy of Infosys was once quoted as saying, “I am the hardest working person I know’. Better to invite sympathy than jealousy, I suppose.

Hard work is a virtue that is over-hyped. If there is a direct correlation between hard work and success, a completely different set of people would have succeeded instead of being stuck where they are.

Yes, hard work may be essential for an enterprise to succeed, but to hold that as responsible for the success is ridiculous. And for us to have hard-workers as role-models is completely wrong. A truly successful person is one who achieves more with less effort, and such a person should be our role model.

All these thoughts occurred to me after I read this 1932 piece by Bertrand Russel, in which he demolishes the myth that work is virtuous:

Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: 'Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.' Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached…

I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.

A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.

I think I have finally found the philosophy that suits my temperament.