Education, history, womanhood and a Facebook discussion

A provocative discussion started at Facebook by my friend Abhishek, worth mentioning here. There are many people commented in the thread – I am just pasting the conversation(with minor editing) between me and Abhishek.

Abhishek started the thread:

We say the education in early days was in-depth and substancial…..was it because all teachers were ‘Guru’ s (masculin gender)?? [This is an open question…nothing personal…so no offense please…]

I replied:

May be you shoud start by defining “we”. “Early days” needs clarification too.

Abhishek:

its very difficult to define we for you …. because that is different from your environment and don’t worry about the ‘early days’ that is black-and-white syndrome that many of us suffer many a times…..

My reply

Aren’t we talking about something universal? In that case, why the subjective reality should be different for me and you?

Beyond the sexist and misogynistic hint of the theorem you proposed, I think the problem is much deeply rooted. It’s the habit of mass generalization, which comes with sentiments like ‘Bengali’s are academically smarter and cultural’, ‘Scottish people are alcoholic’, ‘Men are incapable of multitasking’ etc. When narrowly defined, there hypothetical generalizations takes fundamental shape – e.g. Muslims = Terrorists.

The saddest part of the whole thing is, that we are the only species who can do these generalization and pattern matching. That’s our evolutionary advantage over others. But this nature also nurture a slippery slope. We try to find a pattern even where there is none. We prefer even a bad theory over ‘no theory’.

Coming back to the very topic you raised – let’s rewind a bit. When we started our journey, as caveman (and woman), we were hunter-gatherer. Men used to hunt and women used to gather and collect 80% of the daily necessities. The economic power of the women was equal or more than men. Then we discovered agriculture and men moved ahead in economic value chain ahead of women – by just sheer brute force. Fast forward couple of thousand years, beyond industrial revolution, at the era of knowledge economy, when brute force is becoming irrelevant – women are again reclaiming their position.

Talking about ‘Guru’ era, i.e. ‘Brahmacharya-ashram’ at gurukul, yes only men used to teach, but only teach men. That too, only an elite class of men (Bramhin and Kshatriya). There was no education for women and the circle perpetuated. Will you call that era as ‘golden’ or model?

Abhishek:

Actually I was trying to get people’s opinion over a few things. First, we know the world is not going in the right path considering the destruction of nature, the disappearing of human values, the failure of proper wealth distribution, etc. and I was trying to get to the roots of cause…..education.

Since we know most human being first get exposed to any data from his/her mother. Of coarse the other factors starts influencing the person as time progress. But the influence of mother is immense. Then comes the schooling where a huge influence comes from the teachers, majority of them are women.

So in this context of soul degradation period what role is expected from the feminine gender? Do they again (according to you) feel satisfied that they are now in competition with men (sometimes going ahead also)? Do they feel proud that they are teaching that stuff which only a small percentage of human population wants us to learn (and learn by heart so that we cannot even question other way)…or Do they ‘still’ surrendering to the so-called ‘System’ as they they have done always?

The matter of fact is a major chunk of education in whatever form comes from this feminine gender and thus a huge responsibility lies in their hand…..Responsibility of each individual….Responsibility of a society…Responsibility of a country….Responsibility of a planet ….Responsibility of humanity….

So to all my lady students and friends who is reading this please give it a deep thought and act accordingly…..

My reply

After 10 years living outside India – still I miss the ‘Adda’ and ‘useless’ debates. You can take an argumentative Indian out of India, but can’t take the Indian out of him! 😀

Again, allow me to disagree.

“…world is not going in the right path” – since when? Isn’t it almost since the beginning of civilization? Why crucify the current era only for that? Let’s do some further deconstructions.

“…destruction of nature” – Human beings are tinkering and disrupting the balance of nature since they learned agriculture. We just realizing the devastating causality of that recently. Why blame only the modern generation now?

“…disappearing of human values” – This is completely opposite of the truth. Look back. When the ‘values’ were in the epitome of human mind? 20th century? With two world wars, nuclear bomb proliferation, mass genocides and more? 16/17/18th Century? With imperialism, colonial subjugations and slavery? Beyond that history gets vague and only talks about King and Queens – not common man. But again, moral standards of that era remains questionable. In sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to historian Norman Davies, “[T]he spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized.” Today, such sadism would be unthinkable in most of the world. This change in sensibilities is just one example of perhaps the most important and most under-appreciated trend in the human saga: Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species’ time on earth.

In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet statistical evidence that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.

In short – I have more faith on this generation, that I had in ours!

“…proper wealth distribution” – again, when on earth this was NOT the case? Just being conscious about a problem is the first step to solve it, and we just began to realize these. But, in no way you can drop the onus on this generation only.

Now, let’s come to the original issue – education! I will wholesomely agree with you on that. But why the responsibility is imposed only on women? Who stopped more men to become teacher?

The baton of responsibility is for all of us to bear. It’s not gender specific. Saying that, and seeing all the mess created by men for last few centuries, I’d rather take my chance with women on lead and give the fairer sex a chance to steward us out of this mess.

Did you notice, in every religion, people refer to omnipotent god as ‘He’ / ‘Him’ (masculine gender)? You might argue different reasons for that, but I strongly believe (being an atheist) – the god must be a man indeed. This massive screwup is not possible by a woman!

Cheers!

UPDATE 10:01 PM May 6, 2010

From Abhishek

I absolutely agree on the points that this nature of human that is disturbing us is not that we have manufactured recently and i do also have a massive faith on the present and coming generations (and thats why i am surviving as teacher)…..

But basically i was trying to emphasize on the point that puts the women ahead of men anyway….as i talked about their greater responsibility (with great power comes the greater responsibility)…..I always felt that it is the women who can play the most important role in re-structuring the world around us…only thing i was worried and wanted to discuss was the about the structure of it….i expected more women (or girl) to participate in this debate…!!

…And still so long lets all thank to this ‘man’-made ‘man’- GOD of ours to allow us discuss so ‘valuable’ points and present us a hopeful generations….

The conversation continues…

But as Facebook threads are not open to all, I thought of posting it here and hope to get some more perspectives.

The Four Horsemen

Richard Dawkins at the 34th American Atheists ...
Image via Wikipedia

30th of September 2007, my favorite 4 ‘militant atheists’, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour discussion, convened by RDFRS and filmed by Josh Timonen.

All four authors have recently received a large amount of media attention for their writings against religion – some positive, and some negative. In this conversation the group trades stories of the public’s reaction to their recent books, their unexpected successes, criticisms and common misrepresentations. They discuss the tough questions about religion that face the world today, and propose new strategies for going forward.

Here goes the complete 2-hour discussion in 2 parts – enjoy!

Part 1

Part 2


This video is provided free online by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS) and http://RichardDawkins.net .

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Open letter to Suman Chatterjee aka Kabir Suman

I was sixteen when I first heard your song. It was, ironically in a CPIM’s meeting at Brigade Parade Ground. I have always been politically conscious, but never involved in active politics. The only reason me and my friend went to the Brigade, was to watch Utpal Dutt’s play (most probably ‘Tiner Taloar’). It was getting late, and as usual, the play was delayed. We decided to abandon the plan and go home. We had to pass through the front of the podium to go out. Then suddenly one guy with a guitar, started a song – ‘Haal cherona bondhu…” (don’t give up my friend…). We stopped…and keep on listening to your songs, one after another…for another hour.

I am still standing there.

Correction, I was still standing there, until recently, when you decided to run for the election as a Trinamul candidate!

I have all the songs sung by you. From ‘92 to 98, I went to at least 50 of your live performances. Anywhere you performed, from Kalamandir to Girish Mancha, I was there. In fact, one of the main reason I started this blog, bigbangbong, is to translate your songs for one of my non-bengali friends.

I never judged you by the context of your personal life, only formed your image in my mind by your songs. Turmoils in your personal life never touched me. Neither I was surprised when CPIM (and their nasty sidekicks) tried to run the dirty character assassination campaign against you. Given their track record, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I never met you personally either. There were many opportunities, I never wanted to. Near Asuthosh college, we were returning from tuition – I saw you at the sweet shop. All my friends rushed to get your autograph. I didn’t. Years later, you were waiting at Dumdum Airport, for a Biman Bangadesh flight to Dhaka, I was waiting there for my flight to Singapore. I felt like going in front of you and say ‘do you know that, whatever I am today, my sense, my soul, you have a huge contribution to that’. I couldn’t. I was scared, what if Suman in person change my perspective of of Suman the singer and one of the building blocks of my life?

And now, you are running for a political chair, as a Trinamul Congress candidate, shoulder to shoulder with Mamta Banerjee! With one statement, with one news – you just massacred one part of my identity. Your political viewpoint and actions are not a matter of your personal choice only, they are the foundations of your songs.

Don’t get me wrong here, I would’ve been same way disappointed, if you decided to run for CPIM. Also, I strongly believe that mass de-politicalization of youth is one big reason of the political downfall of India. But, Trinamul Congress? Why Sumon, why? ‘Enemy of my enemy is my friend’ – is such a medieval sentiment!

I am deleting all your songs from my music library. Thank goodness I don’t have the disks and cassettes here with me – I would’ve shattered them in thousand pieces by now. Thanks for destroying one huge portion of my identity. One thing at least I learned in my 33 years of lifeform – everything changes, still somehow having problems internalizing this!

Dekhte dekhte shaab palte jai

Open letter to all my Muslim friends

Prelude: this introduction is unnecessary for the people who know me. But, just in case… I am atheist and against any organized religion. I am all against discriminating two human beings based on ‘my imaginary friends are different from yours’ basis. I am against all fundamentalism. I am ashamed of incidents of Godhra as well as Mumbai. I am not a Hindu or Muslim or part of any imaginary classification. I am a human being, I bleed red – just like you.

For a long time, any rationalists like me saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where’s the harm?

Mass genocide of World War II changed that, innumerable riots in my country changed that, “Ram Janambhumi – Babri Masjid” changed that, Gujarat Massacre changed that, September 11th changed that. And now, the recent Mumbai Massacre changed that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense; it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labeled only by a difference of inherited tradition. Dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let’s now stop being so damned respectful!

On February 6, 2006, three Pakistanis died in Peshawar and Lahore during violent street protests against Danish cartoons that had satirized the Prophet Muhammad. More such mass protests followed weeks later. When Pakistanis and other Muslims are willing to take to the streets, even suffer death, to protest an insulting cartoon published in Denmark, is it fair to ask: Who in the Muslim world, who in Pakistan, is ready to take to the streets to protest the mass murders of real people, not cartoon characters, right next door in Mumbai?

I am sad. I am angry. Not only for the destruction of hundreds innocent lives. I am deeply hurt by these one after another blow to collective human spirit. I am scared by the increasing probability of the fact that now one non-Muslim will look at a Muslim with more mindful of doubts, fear and prejudices. I am scared for you my friend. Now, no one but you can take the first step against this marching parade of lunatics. Only you can start the jihad against this state-of-fear!

The only terrorist who were captured alive – is just a 21 years old boy!

What kind of brainwash can fill up a 21 years old heart with so much bitterness and hatred? Did he never hugged a kid? Never kissed a girl? Never walked in rain alone and thought, life is not bad after all?

Don’t you have the fundamental duty to condemn everything related to this monstrosity? Stop being just an apologist, I desperately need to see your rage! If your sacred-religious-holy-believe played even 1% part in this, don’t you have a moral obligation to be vocal against that? If your fundamental believes are susceptible to a misinterpretation in this humungous proportion, don’t you HAVE to stand up and scream – I am NOT part of this barbarism!

Instead, to my utter disbelief, I find that you are too busy to decide if Yoga is haram or not! 

Instead, I receive chain mails from some of you, somehow justifying the Mumbai massacre by the ill-treatments of Muslims in India. Well my friends, here are two points summary for you –

  1. Over 90% of Muslims in India are descended from people of converted muslims, people from lower socio-economical strata. They had no other options to escape from the barbaric and ugly manifestations of Hindu caste based discriminations. And unfortunately that sorry state of classification never changed. It’s nothing unique, many civilizations face the similar carry-forward effect of socio-economic strata in various form and format. The religious rigidity didn’t help much either.
  2. There are plenty of Muslims in India who are successful, ironically much more successful than Muslims in Islamic countries. Ever heard of Abdul Kalam? All the top actors in Bollywood are Khans! I can go on, but what’s the point!

Also, please do not try to tell me that all of these are just misinterpretation and Islam got nothing to do with it. Just as a random example –

They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah’s way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper.

~Koran 4.89.

[Just an example verse; there’s a lot more of this nonsense. In case this comforts you – not only Koran; all Abrahamic religious scriptures are full with same tonality of aggressive medieval statements. Fundamentalist Hindu’s are oxymoron by definition, there are NO ‘fundamentals’ in Hinduism to start with. Still they are too all ready to take another human life in the name of their own imaginary friends]

It is the time for you to stand up my friends, to declare those can’t be the god’s words. This is the time to declare you are not only sorry about the incidents, rather you are ready to take on face-to-face with all those murderers.

Because, this kind of murderous violence only can stop when all the good Muslims, including the community elders and spiritual leaders who want a decent future for their country — declares, as a collective, that those who carry out such murders are shameful unbelievers who will not dance with virgins in heaven but burn in hell. And they do it with the same vehemence with which they denounce Danish cartoons.

Let there be light. It’s too dark here now.

Please also read : Thomas L. Friedman | Preet-O | Julia Suryakusuma

Sub-Prime, Credit Crisis, Impact on SMEs in Simple English

[Cross posted at SoulSoup]

If you are not a Rip Van Winkle impersonator, you must be hearing (and unfortunately feeling) a lot of heated, depressing news about Sub-prime crisis, credit crisis and the financial melt down. If the ambiguous and jargon based headlines about the financial crisis still fly mostly over your head, you are not alone, most of us are on the same boat of ignorance.

But this crisis is too important for all of us, and might have a drastic and prolonged effect on every facets of our personal and professional financial life. Following is a list of resources I gathered in last few weeks, which explains the current financial turmoil in comprehensible format.

What is Sub-Prime mortgage crisis?

The sub-prime mortgage crisis is an ongoing financial crisis characterized by contracted liquidity in global credit markets and banking systems triggered by the failure of mortgage companies, investment firms and government sponsored enterprises which had invested heavily in subprime mortgages. The crisis, which has roots in the closing years of the 20th century but has become more apparent throughout 2007 and 2008, has passed through various stages exposing pervasive weaknesses in the global financial system and regulatory framework. [Wikipedia]

Before you jump into the textual section, here goes the most simple and convincing explanation in a short whiteboard presentation by Marketplace Senior Editor Paddy Hirsch.

If you prefer a humorous approach to explain the dire situation, here goes your version:

The story begins with borrowers who have a poor credit history looking to buy a house and are prepared to pay a mortgage rate typically 2% higher than rates charged to people with good credit. Borrowers approach mortgage brokers or conversely get brokers to cold call them. Brokers match prospective borrowers with lenders who further lure borrowers with artfully crafted mortgages such as “no doc” mortgages, which do not require any evidence of income or savings. Big banks and wholesale lenders such as HSBC Holdings buy the debt, repackage them and sell them to Wall Street firms. Wall Street banks and investment houses further repackage these loans in mortgage backed securities (MBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDO). These structured products very often yield high rates of return and are sold to pension funds, hedge funds and institutions.

In a perfect condition : Sub-prime Mortgage

Things initially went very well for the financial institutions that made these loans because in the years that followed interest rates stayed low, the economy continued to grow, and the real estate market continued to expand causing the value of most people’s houses (including the sub-prime borrower’s houses) to go up in value pretty dramatically. This made it relatively easy for these borrowers to make payments on their loans as if they ran into financial trouble they in more cases than not could tap the equity in their home (which came from the increase in the house price) to refinance at more favorable terms or to make their mortgage payment.Because a relatively few of these sub prime borrowers were defaulting on their loans, the financial institutions which held these loans were enjoying the additional profits earned by charging these borrowers a higher interest rate, without many problems.

What happened in reality

As house prices dropped eventually, the equity value of home mortgages goes down, this creates an increase in mortgage defaults which will cause a further drop in house prices. This positive feedback relationship will simply create a snowball effect until the economy has reasons to believe that there are reasons for the reverse to happen. The snowball effect started from that point.

How Sub-prime became a worldwide epidemic?

When the analysts and experts talk about the current financial crisis, they often refer to “credit default swaps.” So, what exactly is a credit default swap? Marketplace Senior Editor Paddy Hirsch goes to the whiteboard for this explanation.

Aftermath

Sub-prime crisis impact timeline from Wikipedia

Who Is To Blame For The Subprime Crisis? by Eric Petroff at Investopedia

Paddy Hirsch explains how banks have gotten frozen in their tracks, awaiting a rescue.

Effect on Small & Medium Size Businesses and Startups

Most of the SMEs, all over the world, tend to finance their working capital by debt or loan or overdraft from banks. Due to the deep rooted and vastly spread nature of sub-prime crisis, banks from all over the world facing an unprecedented situation of asset reduction and lack of liquidity. A lack of liquidity means banks are being more selective and cautious about lending money. Banks often see small businesses as more of a risk, and due to the current financial condition, the level of caution is increased rapidly, resulting into both increase in interest rate (as in UK) and a higher number of refusals. Due to this tightened lending standards for commercial and industrial loans to small firms the access to capital for SMEs is getting reduced significantly. Due to the same reason, option of financing through equity for SMEs are getting limited as private investors are also either affected by the financial crisis or taking precautionary conservative steps.

The credit crunch and small business By Ian Mount, CNN
BBC NEWS | Business | Credit crunch ‘hits small firms’

Effect of the financial crisis already started hitting the technology market. Sequoia Capital, one of the biggest VC firm of Silicon Valley, gave a presentation to its portfolio company CEO’s last week. It’s a long, 56 slide Powerpoint message of doom and gloom in Silicon Valley which starts with “RIP Good Times”! Jason Calacanis, a veteran serial entrepreneur, calling this situation as (The) Startup Depression. In the same article, Jason shared some useful survival tips for startups and SME’s during financial turbulence. Singapore based tech-community evangelist and VC Bernard Leong shared his viewpoints in a blogpost Entrepreneurs and Credit Crunch. TechCrunch started tracking of layoffs from tech companies.

In midst of this crisis of epic proportion, Paul Graham wrote an wonderful article – Why to Start a Startup in a Bad Economy , which starts with

The economic situation is apparently so grim that some experts fear we may be in for a stretch as bad as the mid seventies.

When Microsoft and Apple were founded.

Gujarat Riots: Tehelka Story

Prelude: I read this report through multiple RSS feeds yesterday night, and today morning mentioned this to one of my colleague, who is a ‘person of Indian origin’ 😉 and in general I respect his intelligence and opinions. Unfortunately we do not share same point of view about religion. All hell broke loose and the following debate was (very) heated!

Anyway, just to clarify,

  1. I am NOT only against ‘Hindu fundamentalism’, I am against all religious fundamentalism. Rather let me say, I believe (all) religions poison everything!
  2. Tehelka constantly target ‘Hindu right wing’, I agree, but the point is, they bring proof. Period! Why they don’t go after ‘other’ religious fundamentalists? Yes, I believe they should. But that doesn’t nullify the true investigative journalism they bring to the table. 
  3. There are no Perspective difference of ‘Truth’ when it’s proven. It’s called beyond reasonable doubt.

 

Tehelka has proof on camera that brings to light the compliance of the State machinery in Gujarat in the riots in 2002. It is reported that Narendra Modi gave the rioters 3 days to do what they wished. He asked the administration to look the other way, while the genocide unfurled.

Watch this video of Babu Bajrangi, A local Bajrang Dal leader and one of the main conspirators. And be very very scared and ashamed!

 

Contents of the full report at Tehelka:

 

First-hand accounts from the men who plotted and executed the genocide in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Sabarkantha. Mayhem was meticulously planned and carried out by VHP-Bajrang Dal cadres across Muslim localities. READ »


The VHP and the Bajrang Dal manufactured and distributed lethal weapons across the state, often with the connivance of the police.
READ »


Shocking accounts of how the guardians of the law colluded with the outlaws to make Gujarat’s horror even worse.
READ »


Key BJP, RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal activists speak openly of how Narendra Modi blessed the anti-Muslim pogrom .
READ »

How public prosecutors ran with the hare and hunted with the hound, keeping their sympathies strictly for the accused. Government Counsel Arvind Pandya on how he hopes to subvert justice by manipulating the Nanavati-Shah Commission, set up to ascertain the truth.
READ »

The truth behind Naroda Patiya, the grisliest massacre of 2002. Ahmedabad police’s collusion in the pogrom and its cover-up. Gory details of how former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri was hacked limb by limb at Gulbarg Society, in the words of those who did it. READ »

How spontaneous mob fury was shown as a premeditated conspiracy by the police who produced fake witnesses by bribing, coercion and torture. READ »

Decoding the future with genomics

Stumbled upon this interesting and persuading video of Juan Enriquez ‘s presentation at the TED conference from 2004 entitled “Decoding the future with genomics”. Juan talks about the need to utilize the Genomic data generated from the labs around the world and ended the presentation with views about knowledge-based economy determining the fate of nations. Here it goes:

Scientific discoveries, Juan Enriquez notes, demand a shift in code. The shift from cave paintings to hieroglyphics made possible the rise of Egyptian society, the pyramids, and the conquest of other peoples. The shift to binary code brought with it the era of computing and then the Internet, with vast implications for just about every area of human endeavor. Similarly, the rise of genomics has brought a shift in code toward the structure of life, with implications that are slowly revealing themselves. Enriquez argues that our ability to thrive in the culture created by this shift depends on our mastery of it, and companies whose futures lie with the intersecting fates of science, technology, and computing will do well to mind the knowledge gap — and not get swallowed up by it.

Juan is the author of the 2001 best seller “As the Future Catches You” and chairman and CEO of Biotechonomy, a life sciences research and investment firm.