Monday, 23 February, 2009
But I find it illogical and somewhat dangerous.
First, the book is based on the premise that nations can be reduced to numbers. This is an oversimplification so gross that some may find it completely unjustifiable.
Having taken this premise, the author generalises. Let me take a typical example. While discussing the factors that may affect the 'turnaround of a failed state', he concludes, among other things, that democracy is not one of the factors.
There are two immediately perceptible problems here. First, democracy is an amorphous concept. North Korea calls itself the Democratic Republic of Korea; India is a democracy; and so is the United Kingdom.
Second, this overall statistic may mean nothing in a particular case.
Let's go off elsewhere to understand this.
Let's say we want to know, from data on donors to a charity that funds children's programmes, if a person's place of residence influences his propensity to give. And we come to the conclusion that it doesn't. A citizen of Madras, picked at random, is just as likely to donate as a citizen of Bombay (picked at random too).
This tells the charity that when, say, it's mailing out appeals, there is no reason to prioritise mailing to any city (or neglect any one).
Yet the conclusion may be completely wrong on in the particular, where place of residence may be decisive. Let's say you live next to a well-run school for poor children; while I live next to a remand home that is hell on earth. You believe giving money will help run similar schools; I believe anything I give will go into more such hell-holes. You are very likely to give; I am very likely not to.
Both of us are probably wrong, but that's not the point. The point is that in our cases, residence mattered.
In an ideal world, this detail, and every other, would be known to the fund-raiser, and he'd be able to act with minimal risk. Of course, he has nothing remotely comparable to omniscience, and does the best he can.
That's probably OK too, because data comes at a price. One has to do a cost-benefit analysis, even if that's intuitive. The 'general' will, at some stage, triumph over the 'particular'.
Now, Collier is not talking about thousands of donors on a mailing list; he is talking about millions of people mired in seemingly hopeless poverty, whose lives can well depend on interventions by Western powers. Is statics of his sort a good tool to decide matters of that magnitude?
"But wait a moment," you'd say, "nowhere does Collier claim that his conclusions will hold in every case. He is simply giving an overall picture. So what's the problem?"
The problem is that his picture is accessible. It will be used by many, directly or indirectly (by those who know Collier from, say, columnists who quote him), to judge their governments, without going into the details and caveats which, surely, exist in Collier's academic papers.
So, let's say you are a policy-maker who must decide if a particular third-world country should get badly needed aid. It is at present under an old-fashioned deranged dictator. Further, your government is not particularly bothered about democracy, choosing instead to worry about economic progress. Nonetheless, in this case, you know that nothing will improve unless the poor country gets something that can be logically called a democracy and free press.
Logically, you should make aid conditional to the dictator's departure. But... you can't. Because, thanks to Collier, everyone knows that democracy doesn't matter.
Obviously, Collier never drew that conclusion. Inevitably, that conclusion, and similar ones, will be drawn.
Malgonkar's book contains a sworn statement by Savarkar stating that the photograph was taken after the crime, by the CID. It was staged!
Which means Savarkar's heirs can probably sue every publisher who has used the photograph for libel. For truth's sake, I wish they did.
PS: I showed this to a friend, who supports Savarkar, and he said something strange: "My father, in spite of being a Savarkarite, believes Savarkar was involved."
Does he believe that the Savarkar was guilty and it was a blot on him; or does he believe that Savarkar did a good thing and got off too, which added to his credit? I didn't ask.
I did however look up Savarkar on-line and soon found savarkar.org. Its contents left me astounded.
Under the section on Gandhi's murder, it had Savarkar's statement in his defence and among Savarkar's associates, it had pictures of Godse, Karkare and Apte, the three who hung. This is inexplicable by normal logic.
In his statement, Savarker makes it abundantly clear that (a) he had no role in the murder (b) these three were not specially close to him and, perhaps most importantly, (c) he considered Gandhi a personal friend. Let me quote from Savarkar's statement:
"...in 1908 Gandhiji resided in “India House” in London owned by the well-known personality, Pandit Shyamji Krishnavarma, and placed under my management and led by me; how Gandhiji and myself lived together as friends and worked together as compatriots, how later on he paid a personal visit with his wife to me and my family and spent hours in happy talks about our old comradeship and current politics. I would not waste the time of the Court in telling how Gandhiji wrote now and then kind notes about me in 'Young India' too... Enough to say that in spite of fundamental differences in our ideologies on some points and in virtue of close affinity on others, there ever continued a mutual respect for and a personal goodwill to each other." (Highlighting mine.)
Savarkar includes several press notes on Gandhi to support this.
Surely it'd be idiotic to suggest that Savarkar was unaware of his supporters' fanatic devotion to him and did not mean what he wrote; that he was building a cynical defence all along, plotting Gandhi's murder!
It'd probably be correct to say, in the light of Savarkar's own statement, that he did not want any credit (if such a word can be used) from his friend's murder. Yet, his followers at savarkar.org include the three convicted murderers among his associates.
Because they were, in fact, associated with his organisation? And because they were inspired by him?
But this goes against Savarkar's own logic, as mentioned in his statement:
"Many criminals cherish high respect and loyalty to the Gurus and guides of their religious sects and profess to follow their tenets. But could ever the complicity of the Guru or guide in the crimes those of his followers be inferred and held proved only on the ground of the professions of loyalty and respect to their Gurus of those criminals? Numerous persons accused of crime have a close association with and cherish reverence for their parents, brothers and relations and subscribe obedience in their letters to them. But are those relatives ever held as accomplices in law with the accused only on the strength of an interference that the accused who were so obedient to them must have consulted them in committing the crime too? Or, are political leaders alone to be held as hostages in the hands of the police and accountable for the crime of any one of their numerous followers who happened to respect and revere them sometime or some way? Does it not often happen that some of the followers do actually try to exploit the moral influence of the leaders to further their activities which the leader had never sanctioned? In 1942 in the 'Quit India' movement some leading workers who had been close associates of Gandhiji as Congressmen and respected him, resorted to underground violence. I am not concerned here with the question whether such an underground movement against a foreign domination was or was not justified. It is enough to say that Mahatma Gandhi condemned all underground violence. But masses resorted under the lead of those workers to arson, sabotage and bloodshed shouting all the while “Mahatma Gandhi ki jai”. But even the British Government did not put Gandhiji in the dock for their crime simply because the masses respected him and were doing those very criminal acts shouting “Gandhiji ki jai”, and therefore they must have had consulted him! In this very case, the Prosecution has examined some Gurus and guides as witnesses who told on oath that they had supplied incriminating and dangerous explosives to some of these accused and actually incited them to murderous crimes such as to take the life of Jinnah and Liaqat Ali who were till then Indian citizens during the very period of December–January last when this conspiracy is alleged to have been hatched. Nevertheless even such admittedly criminal association could not persuade the Prosecution to infer that the accused must have consulted these witnesses in this conspiracy to and that the latter also must be held as incriminated in this crime. I do not say that they should have been incriminated. But I do say that it is absurd and highly unfair that the same Prosecution should infer, nay, assert dogmatically that even the legitimate correspondence and association which Apte and Godse had with me years ago warrants the inference that they must have consulted me in this conspiracy and therefore I should be held as incriminated in it. I do not attribute motives. But the Prosecution evidence itself of the above nature, based only on 'must have been' and 'would nor have been' type of surmises, makes it abundantly clear that more hopeless the Prosecution grew in finding substantive and direct evidence to prove their case against me, the more helplessly and recklessly they fell back on absurd inferences and innuendoes for support to save their prestige which, rightly or wrongly, they felt was at stake." ( Highlighting mine.)
Now, I don't know what Savarkar did for the accused after the trial. I do know that Nathuram Godse's neice did marry Savarkar's nephew. And I do know that the fanatics behind savarkar.org must have a warped logic by which they eat their cake and have it too: Savarkar was acquitted yet may all credit of the deed come to him, and through him, to us.
Otherwise, how can you count the murderers of your guru's friend among his associates? This is data masquerading as truth.
Friday, 20 February, 2009
Well, I don't see why discontent should necessarily lead to a parting of ways. If the employer, client, or anyone for that matter, takes a 'like it all or leave it all' stand, it means he's lost all sense of proportion and closed all doors to self-improvement. Similarly, if he believes that 'if they don't leave me they must love me', he's fooling himself.
Anyway, let's re-look at the sample bit. Let's say I sell you a supercomputer. Surely, you aren't going to ask me for a sample. Instead the payments will be dependent on certificates of delivery, installation, implementation, training, etc.
What if I were selling pins? You may ask me for a sample, but it'd serve no purpose. Because attaching one pin to a bill cannot prove that I sent 10,000 to your store. Again, you need to verify internally.
What if I sold you, say, a design for your new office? You'd probably ask for a set of blueprints. But by themselves they won't prove I did any designing. I can be a fraud who drew a plan based on your existent office (designed by someone else). In other words, the existence of a plan doesn't settle its authorship. So here too you will need other proofs: documents showing I was contracted and that I have delivered.
In no case does the sample seem to verify.
Well, perhap it describes. Instead of describing the work I have done in words, I supply a copy, i.e., a life-size model.
Humm, and why may you need a description, and such an exact one as that, at such a late stage, where the goods have been delivered, presumably accepted, and now only the payment remains to be done? If you haven't bothered to create a easily traceable document trail till now, which contains the description at a fairly early stage, my sending samples with the bill won't get you out of the chaos that you must have gotten yourself into at you end?The sample, I am forced to conclude, can only have symbolic significance: When your auditor asks you about my bill, you will hold up the sample (provided you can find it then) like an exhibit in a court, and all will be well.
I'm afraid I can't see how the sample does you any real good. (It does me a good of course, because it fetches my money.) But you insist on it.
Yet, does it's redundancy (for you) make it unfair?
That's bit tricky, though not from my point of view, which maintains that any rule that doesn't stand up to reason is actually a signal of power. "Stand up when I talk to you, not because it does either of us any real good, but it does put you in your place, doesn't it?"Does a signal for power, more so an inadvertent one, constitute unfairness? Well, much is wrong with this world... yada yada yada... but that doesn't mean that minor wrongs can be passed off as rights.
Friday, 13 February, 2009
Search on Data Visualisation and you're soon to find Dr Rosling, his amazing stats and his fawning tribe. A little thought shows both the good doctor and his tribe are amusing, but hardly amazing: the former, for what he does; the latter, for swallowing his gobbledygook.
He begins with a test for his students and colleagues. He takes 5 pairs:
And asks the test-takers to pick the country with the higher infant mortality from each pair. They score worse than a chimpanzee would (plain chance). He announces that nobody knows nothing.
Now, how fair was that test? Let's look at the actual figures as per the UN:
1.Sri Lanka (11 deaths per thousand births)/Turkey (27.5)
2.Poland (6.7)/South Korea (4.1)
3.Malaysia (8.4)/Russia (16.6)
4.Pakistan (61.5)/Vietnam (19.5)
5.Thailand (10.6)/South Africa (44.8)
The mode, as per the UN data is 13.4, while the median, 21.5. The range is 157.4.
Our pairs are near the middle. Yes, the smaller number is about half the larger one, but that not alone is not enough to take people to task for failing. I mean, it see the students' and other teachers' failure as proof of Western ignorance is far-fetched.
(Can the average student in a US History get these presidents in chronological order: Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Fillmore, Pierce, Hayes, Arthur... Probably not. Is the average student a dunce? Probably not.)
But this is only the beginning. What Rosling does next would be laughable had his conclusion not been so dangerous.
He proves that the world has become a more egalitarian - by measuring the incomes on a logarithmic scale!
Now, why would you do such a thing, unless the differences continued to be of orders of magnitude? His very use of the logarithmic scale gives away that reality is the opposite of what he's supposedly proves!
What follows is worse. He shows how developmental variables change with per capita income, the latter still being measured on a logarithmic scale.
Of course, everything improves with rising income! Rosling warns us against generalization, as a good teacher should. But the damage is done. Trade = increased income = wonderful things: babies stop dying; people start to use contraceptive; we live longer; heaven descends on earth.
Or does it? Do the figures really show that? Or do they show that economics probably doesn't matter. Because measured on a sane scale, poor nations stay more or less where they were (and that matters - more in a moment). Yet development measures improve dramatically.
And, in all probability, that had far more to do with science than all the business that ever was. At least, science made the poor man's life far less miserable than his grandfather's.
Meanwhile, income did crawl up. And by using on a logarithmic scale the enrichment looks phenomenal. It's smoke and mirrors! As one commentator wrote at the TED site, "Using such a scale, you can prove anything." (In a log scale, men and elephant are brothers, with the solar system as their first cousin. So what?) The tragedy is that critics of his antics are few and far between; admiration overwhelms.
PS: Can it be thus: There is high correlation, but no casualty; rather both increase in income (meagre) and betterment in development measures (fantastic) come from the same source - science?
But then Kotak Bank ran an ad saying that we'll need them as long as money doesn't grow on trees.
Err, I always thought that one of the biggest reasons for wanting money was that it didn't grow on trees. I mean, if it grew on trees, we won't want it (just as we don't want, say, guava leaves). So banks will have to switch to giving us something less easily available, say, tadpoles.
Who approves these ads?
Monday, 9 February, 2009
But what's frivolous about serving passengers a meal on a three-hour flight, which usually involves quite a few hours' more of travelling by road and waiting at the airport (security, luggage)? Or giving them a seat slightly better than a school bench? Does adding a few more rows of seats or serving only peanuts and water enormously improve the low-cost carriers' chances?
Or are these excuses - justifications - for the ability to charge realistic fares that business travellers are OK with (though they may not be pleased with)?
By the way, is the casualty rate among low-cost airlines a great deal better than that among the 'standard-fare' ones? Low-cost probably doesn't translate into high-margin. If it indeed doesn't how do these people manage in lean times?
Tuesday, 3 February, 2009
Non-award-winning copywriters have buried by this deluge for far too long. Maybe it's time we make a point or two.
First, what is the evidence that clutter is unattractive? Clutter is unattractive to us inside mainline ad agencies, but not to all humanity. For many, the overkill is what works. Walk into any middle-class drawing room and take a good look at the show-piece shelf. Look at calender art or idols. Personally, I find clutter disgusting, but I cannot make, less dictate, my audience's taste; they can, and perhaps should, decide my professional taste.
(Let me take a step off the road. Americans routinely find Lata Mangeshkar shrill. To almost all Indians, she is the sweetest sound on earth. An American record company which wants to sell to us better not argue with our musical tastes.)
In fact, in direct mail, clutter is considered good. Apparently, we humans instinctively arrange things in our head. When we see a cluttered layout, we try to arrange its elements in our head, that is, we get 'involved', and once involved, we start reading the benefits.
I suspect this is hokum, but it seems to work for that industry pretty well. And it's too big to argue that it caters to a tribe that does not see mainline ads.
In fact, they don't even seem to find this 'rule' (Clutter works better [than neatness].) worth testing. In a dozen years of reading about direct mail, I have come across only one test involving layouts, though scores involving headlines and copy. (It was for a British bed company. They had three ads in magazine. Two were uncluttered and modern, one was classic direct response. I wonder which one pulled more, and why.)
Anyway, my point is that there are plenty who practise and advocate clutter, and they may have a point. These things can probably cannot be tested, yet, like hypothesis in physics or chemistry can be. Nonetheless, unless you have conclusive proof, it is profitable not to believe in something just because others like you are doing it.
(Many middle-class Hindus believe Muslims are terrorists; there must be some reason for their belief; moreover, I am a middle-class Hindu; hence, I too believe Muslims are terrorists. Well, Muslims may well be terrorists, but my logic is all wrong, because not all beliefs need be based on fact.)
Second, let's look at the 'purpose of art' question. Why have art directors when anything goes? Actually, the block-headed copywriter never said, "Anything goes." He said, "For this ad to go anywhere, it needs to say more. And for it to still be attractive, please lay it out."
Two words need thought here: 'art' and 'attractive'. They are related. Art here is not 'high art'. It can be. It need not. Sometimes, it should not.
What's my point? Advertising art has as much to do with the art in gallerias as advertising writing has to do with the writing in novels, even pot boilers. Aesthetics is a tool for us, not an end. We'd write an ugly line if that makes advertising sense: You think we think those horrible bullet points are great literature!
The same should go for an ugly layout. Avoid it if you can; do it if you must. And don't feel ashamed about it, because you're not an artist, but a salesman with colours and lines.
The question, therefore, is not if the reader (viewer) will find a layout (a film) pretty; it is, will he find it interesting? Will he think it worthwhile to read (see) it, in the hope that he may materially benefit? For instance, to return to the beginning, can a cluttered layout signal that a brand has much to say in its favour?
Finally, must we say everything in that ad?
Well, when are we going to notice that our clients and we are the only people who live in our brand's world? Others have other things to worry about, their own lives, for example. If we get an opportunity, if we get a prospect's attention, let's make the most of it. Let's put forth as much as we can, and leave it to the prospect to decide where he wants to get off.
The moment the reader reads the headline (paid attention to my commercial) I can reasonably assume that he is asking me, "What's in this for me?" I better give him a full answer.
By which I don't mean hitting him with an encyclopaedia, but I do mean telling enough to let him decide (if I'm doing a Reason Why ad: If not, none of this applies). So, let us not palpitate about frying his poor brains with an 'information overload'.
Yet, one question remains: If it's logical to say more, why aren't more ads saying more? There can be several explanations.
First, numbers needn't mean much. It's logical not to smoke, yet millions do. It's logical to exercise, millions don't.
Second, not saying much also sends a signal: "These people bought so much newsprint, then said so little. They used it, instead, to provide us 'visual relief'. They must be rolling with money. That is only possible if lots of people are buying from them. That's only possible if they're good." (Sethji is not selling water to pilgrims, he's giving it free. He must me rich, ergo, he must be good. When I get back, my business goes to sethji.)
Third, and this is the most probable one in my book, there are not enough exceptions to prove (meaning tests) the existent rule that 'less is more' because we believe the rule is self-evident truth. Truth it may be; self-evident it isn't.
To sum up, I must say something so basic that my only excuse for saying it is that I'm faced with obsession: Ask what we need to say before debating how we're going to say it. If we answer the first wrongly, common-sense dictates that it won't matter much how we decide the second. For communication is the art of making words count, not the science of counting words.
Monday, 2 February, 2009
La Martinne makes you wonder why someone built a home big enough to house a school. It's being restored.
The Residency is impressive, but the museum shows appalling lack of imagination. What could have become an inspiration for millions is just a rendezvous for Lucknow's lovers.
The Bara and Chota Immambaras are in urgent need for repair and rescue from the clutches of the trust that's letting them run to ruin. Apparently, you can't go into the Bhul Bhulaiya without a guide. Ok, then why not build the guide's fee into the ticket? Instead, you face disgusting chaos. We paid for a 2-person tour @ Rs 75, that is, Rs 37.5 per head, and got a 5-person tour, for which the fee was Rs 100, that is, Rs 20 per head. In absolute terms the difference is trivial for any tourist who can make it to Lucknow, but in percentage terms, 37.5 is 87.5% more then 20. It does a great deal to spoil your fun.
The Rumi Darwaja is impressive, but instead of building a rundown park in which not one child was playing on a Sunday morning, couldn't the city fathers have built a lav and spared the gate their voters' piss?
The unfinished royal observatory deserved to be at least a proud ruin; instead, it stands in neglected shame in a garbage dumb, with a disgusting communal banner around it.
The gallery exhibiting portraits of the Lucknow Nawabs is downright ugly and wretched. The paintings need restoration. A tiny corner of one had been cleaned, and it showed colours very different from the smog that one sees. Maybe we won't get masterpieces, but what's the harm?
Deva Sharif is 40 km from Lucknow, and, like most Indian places of pilgrimage, infested with beggars and hawkers. If it had any capacity of impressing the atheist, its surroundings ensure that is completely ruined.
Interestingly, one notices a whole industry of local music videos doing business at shops near the shrine. The 'hero' is typically a hoodlum; the 'heroine' is a doll, all fair, plump and doe-eyed. She always 'betrays' him, after which he literally weeps his silly heart out. I'm sure this connects very well to real life. But why can't we do better than puppy love in a nation of 1.15 billion?
Lucknow's street food was another disaster. The shops are so dirty that you dare not risk it. The cabbie we hired took us to a place near the Press Club, which was quite nice though.
Queserbaug, which once must have had many aristocratic hawelies and parks, now looks and smells like a sump. It was Republic Day when we visited the Maqbara (tombs) there, and schoolchildren were having breakfast after participating in the morning's celebrations. They made a mess, throwing paper cups, plates and food. I can't blame just them. Not one teacher was in sight, and not one rubbish bin. A park inaugurated by Vajpai lay in disrepair; it's pools, stagnated; its plants, dead.
Lucknow's chikan is beautiful, and very affordable. I'm sure people who make and wear such fine clothes have an highly developed aesthetic sense. Then why do they tolerate such ugliness all around? Why do we have to admire the clinical cleanliness of Singapore while covering our own splendours with grime?
PS: We stayed in Park Inn at Lucknow, where we had gone for a holiday. On our way back to the airport, we asked the hotel to hail a cab. They said it'd cost Rs 400. I was surprised, because the ride from the airport to the hotel, in a similar non-AC car, had cost Rs 230.
The chap at the desk explained that this difference was because they'd include a luxury tax. Now, even at a 20% luxury tax, the fare comes out to be Rs 276, not Rs 400.
However, I could see no cab outside the hotel, in spite of the hotel being very near old Lucknow's shopping district and near a newly constructed mall. So, I didn't have any choice but to ask them to call for one.
I was in for another nasty shock when I tried to pay by card: That's add another 17% to the fare, I was told. Why? Some other tax. I paid cash.
Yet the bill I got was from a travel company, not the hotel. And it didn't mention any tax anywhere.
I naïvely hope that since I have a bill, a record of the transaction exists and they will have to pay the taxes they claimed they would. But why did do they want to do these things? More to the point, why aren't taxies readily available in the capital city of India's most populous state?
PPS: Speaking of the city, we found something rather surprising at the Sahara Mall there – a home store that covered an entire floor and sold everything from hardware to prefabricated kitchens to cushions. We have not seen anything like it Bangalore, Delhi or Bombay.
Why? Perhaps because we didn't look hard enough. Perhaps because there are specialised shops in larger cities and the one-stop-shop doesn't make sense. Perhaps because sky-high real estate rates renders such large shops impossibly risky.
PPPS: South Indian cities are cleaner than North Indian ones, especially when one compares the older quarters. Temples are cleaner too. Why? Culture? Rainfall? Age of cities? Planning? Population?
For example, many of the buildings in the Red Fort were originally painted white in a technique that made the walls resemble marble. That effect can be recreated in pictures. Similarly, Lucknow's Residency and Rumi Darwaja can be recreated. And so can thousands of other monuments, sculptors, paintings, commentaries, etc. Perhaps a whole city can be rebuilt, perhaps in a tiny fraction of the cost and time needed to archaeologically excavate, restore and maintain a site. I'm quite sure such museums will only increase tourist traffic to the real sites, just as photography and video have.
Such electronic reconstruction will be especially attractive and instructive for fossils and skeletons.
Brick & mortar museums should have electronic counterparts anyways, more so in India where the former are criminally neglected.
I'm sure these exist in the West, but I know of no such thing in India. I hope some young entrepreneur takes this up and reap millions.