Wednesday, 11 October 2017

An Early Prediction For India's 2019 Election

In financial markets, two types of analysis are common. Fundamental Analysis goes into all the factors that affect markets, and attempts to predict them, and thereby their impact on the prices of assets. But Technical Analysis completely ignores fundamentals. Operating under the idea that "price discounts everything", Technical Analysis looks purely at the movements of prices, and attempts to discern patterns from time series data.

I've decided to do some Technical Analysis of the Indian Lok Sabha (parliamentary) elections. I'm going to look at vote shares and seat shares, without worrying about the fundamentals that impact them. We will see that this approach has some merit too.

The Indian parliamentary elections of 2019 are likely to be the biggest in the world, as usual

First off, I noticed a curious fact, i.e., that the sum of the seats of the two main parties, the Congress and the BJP, has been virtually the same in the last two elections, suggesting that the gains of one come mainly at the expense of the other and not any third party.

[In 2009, the Congress had 206 seats to the BJP's 116, for a total of 322. In 2014, the BJP had 282 seats to the Congress's 44, making a total of 326. The strength of the house is 543.]

I then plotted the correlation between the BJP's vote share and its number of seats between 2009 and 2014, interpolating for all the percentages in-between. A screenshot of the spreadsheet is below.

A straightforward analysis with some stark results

In interpreting this spreadsheet, I made two fundamental assumptions.

1. The BJP's vote share of 31% in 2014 is unsustainably high, since it represents a swing of 12% in a single election. It will have to drop in 2019.

2. However, the BJP's vote share is unlikely to drop below its 2009 level of 19%. That represents its core base.

Hence, we have to look at all the vote share percentages from 20% to 30% (inclusive) to assess the likely outcomes.

And two facts are immediately obvious from this analysis:

1. The BJP will not succeed in replicating its absolute majority in 2019. Even a 1% drop in vote share will take its seats tally to 268, which is below the 272 required for an absolute majority. Hence a coalition government is virtually guaranteed even if the BJP does return to power. It will have to be as part of the larger NDA coalition.

2. It is highly unlikely that the Congress-led UPA will return to power. The BJP's vote share will have to fall from 31% all the way down to 22% or less, for the UPA to have a chance at returning to power. In no case will the Congress get an absolute majority on its own.

In spite of these fairly certain outcomes, the power dynamics after the results are out are likely to be very interesting. A lot depends on the personal characteristics of Modi himself. His flexibility, humility and ability to reach out to different groups in a spirit of compromise will be on test. So far, he has shown discomfort in dealing from anything but a position of absolute power.

Those days now look numbered.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Real Miracles In Scripture -1 (Kanakadaasa And The Idol That Turned)

One of my pastimes is to ponder "miracles" from scripture and conjecture how those stories must have originated, since, after all, there are no such things as miracles. As Sherlock Holmes says in the case of The Sussex Vampire,

This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.

When we look at the stories of miracles with a completely rational eye, we begin to see things that we would have missed had we swallowed the mystical explanation.

In this post, I want to analyse a "miraculous" episode in the life of the Kannada poet and mystic, Kanakadaasa.

Kanakadaasa and the "miracle" that granted him access to his deity

To cut a long story short, Kanakadaasa was a devout person who once visited the town of Udipi and wanted to see the idol of the god Krishna in the main temple. The priests denied him entry because he was of a "low" caste. Kanakadaasa was despondent, and he went to the rear of the temple and sang his devotional songs. The story goes that the idol of Krishna turned around during the night to face the rear of the temple, and a hole mysteriously appeared in the temple's rear wall, allowing the "low caste" devotee to have a darshan (view) of his deity.

This sequence has been dramatised (melodramatised, perhaps) in the eponymous Kannada movie.

The miracle scene in "Bhakta Kanakadasa" (Devout Kanakadasa), set to a very melodious tune

To this day, the idol of Krishna at that Udipi temple faces the rear wall. A window placed where the hole is said to have miraculously appeared is now the standard way for devotees to obtain a darshan of the idol.

The rear is now the new front

It should be obvious to us as rationalists that no miracle actually occurred. The god Krishna did not turn his idol around, nor did some divine force break a hole in the wall. Yet, the idol is turned the other way, and the rear wall does have an opening in it. Someone human must have done these things. Who was it?

It's in pondering these "miracles" that one realises something fairly heartwarming. Society at the time was officially observant of caste rules, which is why Kanakadaasa could not have been allowed entry into the temple, but someone's humaneness ensured that the man got his darshan after all. I'm betting it was one or more of the temple priests. No one else would have had free access to the sanctum sanctorum where the idol was installed, and it is highly unlikely that anyone else would have dared to enter that area to do something so sacrilegious. If caught, their punishment could have been severe.

No, my bet is on one or more kindhearted priests who did what they believed was the right thing. (I think we can rule out bribery, since Kanakadaasa was probably too poor to afford that.) They turned the idol around, made a hole in the wall, perhaps whispered a "Psst!" to Kanakadaasa to come and get his darshan, and then they must have put on the act of their lives to convince everyone around that a major miracle had taken place.

I'd say a miracle took place all right. Human kindness, and the willingness to break rules to ensure justice, never fail to touch me.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Fixing The Symbolism Of The Dashaavataar Mythology

The mythology of the ten incarnations of the god Vishnu is one of the best-known in Hinduism. It is known as Dashaavataar (dasha - ten, avataar - incarnation).

A beautiful representation of Vishnu popularised by ISKCON, a Western-oriented sect of Hinduism
(yet another favourite example of mine to illustrate the advantages of cultural cross-pollination)

Each of the avataars of Vishnu is believed to have appeared at a critical juncture, to save the world and the righteous from the depredations of some evil character or natural calamity. A nice twist is that the tenth avataar, Kalki, is depicted as one who has not yet arrived. This is a future avataar who will save humanity from a final apocalypse.

There's also a very intriguing interpretation of the dashaavataar that treats it as an allegory for the theory of evolution.

I will cover these aspects, but first, there are two major problems with the dashaavataar as it stands.

One, the exact identities of the ten avataars is not settled. There are two major variants in the popular narration.

Two, a significant avataar is omitted in both of the popular variants, and this needs to be addressed.

Let's look at both these issues before I propose my variant.

1. Who are the ten avataars of Vishnu, exactly?

This rendition, popular in the North of India, has the following avataars:

In the South of India, this version is more popular:

The differences may not immediately be obvious, so the following diagram should make things clearer.

The first set (the typically North Indian variant) is shown on the left, and the other is on the right.

In other words, one variant treats the eighth and ninth avataars as Krishna and the Buddha, respectively, while the other treats them as Balaraama and Krishna. Krishna's place in the overall line-up is secure, but there is some jostling for the eighth position.

The problem with Balaraama as an avataar is that his value is not clear-cut. This avataar exists at exactly the same time as Krishna, so it is not quite clear why two avataars should have appeared at the same time. Besides, this also violates the no-two-avataars-at-once rule that is often invoked to explain the retreat of the otherwise unbeatable Parashuraama when he finally confronts Raama.

The inclusion of Buddha, on the other hand, is troublesome because it seems to be more of a cynical ploy to deny the separate identity of another religion by co-opting it under the Hindu umbrella. If the Buddha is just another avataar of Vishnu, then Buddhism is just another sect of Hinduism and not an independent religion in its own right. In addition to angering Buddhists, this interpretation doesn't seem to have much scriptural basis, since the teachings of Buddhism are quite distinct from the mainstream Hindu canon (significantly, in rejecting the supreme authority of the Vedas).

[As an atheist, I also enjoy my mythology unadulterated by actual history. Treating a real-life historical character like the Buddha as an avataar of Vishnu is, to my mind, a bit like saying Noam Chomsky is a member of the Justice League. While I admire both Chomsky and the superheroes of the Justice League, I prefer them in separate compartments.]

I would find this juxtaposition cringeworthy

2. A significant omission

In addition to the above question of who the eighth and ninth avataars really are, there is a significant one that is entirely missing! Every avataar listed above appears exactly once, as per scripture. However, there is another avataar of Vishnu who appears at least three times at different junctures to save the day! Yet this avataar is curiously never included in the two common variants of the Dashaavataar shown above.

The missing avaatar is Mohini.

Mohini is a female avataar, and Vishnu takes this form on at least three occasions:

1. To distract the asuras (demons) when amrit (the nectar of immortality) is being served to the devas (gods)

2. To turn the power of the demon Bhasmaasura against himself, and thereby save Shiva

3. To mate with Shiva to produce the warrior-god Ayyappa, since a prophecy holds that only the progeny of Vishnu and Shiva can vanquish the demoness Mahishi

It is most curious that an avataar of such obvious (and repeated) utility should be neglected in the pantheon. I ascribe this to the pervasive misogyny of Hindu society, in which brahmin males have traditionally controlled the narrative.

Here is Mohini doing her thing.

Mohini using her charms to persuade the swarthy asuras to wait while she first serves the nectar of immortality to the clean-shaven devas. (Predictably, the asuras get nothing)

Mohini tricking the demon Bhasmaasura into copying her dance moves and ultimately touching his own head, turning himself into ashes, saving the cowering Shiva from his rashly granted boon

Mohini seducing Shiva, so as to enable the birth of Ayyappa, a god with their combined powers

3. My proposed version of the Dashaavataar

My version makes room for Mohini, and removes the two troubling inclusions that detract from the elegance of the sequence.

Why do I believe this is the most elegant? Ah, for this we need to look at the evolutionary analogy.

4. The Dashaavataar as an allegory for evolution

The idea that the Dashaavataar represents evolution has been around for a long time. The first five avataars represent the physical evolution of animal species, while the latter five represent the sociological evolution of humankind. The sixth avataar is the crossover point.

Physical evolution from lower forms of life to humankind:

1. Matsya - Fish
2. Kurma - Turtle/tortoise (reptile)
3. Varaaha - Boar (mammal)
4. Narasimha - Half-beast/Half-man (early primate)
5. Vaamana - Midget/dwarf (early hominid)
6. Parashuraama - homo sapiens

Sociological evolution:

6. Parashuraama - A violent, merciless society
7. Raama - A society governed by the rule of law, but an unbending one
8. Krishna - A pragmatic society that understands subtlety, diplomacy, Realpolitik, and shades of grey
9. Mohini - A gender-equal society that is also accepting of gender fluidity
10. Kalki - Future human society

I would say the world is currently in transition from the Era of Krishna to the Era of Mohini.

I would recommend this version of the Dashaavataar as the preferred mythological narrative for both believing Hindus and cultural Hindus to embrace. It is scripturally supported and its symbolism plays well to modern sensibilities.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Full Lyrics For Hari Ravi And Anil Chitrapu's Hindi Remix Of Ed Sheeran's Shape Of You

If you haven't heard Hari Ravi and Anil Chitrapu's brilliant Hindi Remix of Ed Sheeran's Shape of You, you really should:

I've lost track of the number of times I've played this. Each song melds seamlessly into the next, as if it were one big composition

It's a delightful melange of snippets from various Bollywood hit songs, culminating finally in the English number that inspired it all.

Here are the lyrics, in iTRANS notation:

enna sONaa kyuun rab nE banaayaa
enna sONaa kyuun rab nE banaayaa
(Song: Enna Sona; Movie: OK Jaanu)

ham tErE bin ab reh nahiin saktE
tErE binaa kyaa wajuud mEraa
(Song: Tum Hi Ho; Movie: Aashiqui 2)

saarii raat aahein bhartaa
pal pal yaadOn mein martaa
maane naa mEri man mEraa
(Song: Mann Mera; Movie: Table No. 21)

kabhii jO baadal barsE
main dekhuun tujhE aankhein bharkE
tu lagE mujhE pehlii baarish kii duaa
(Song: Kabhi Jo Badal; Movie: Jackpot)

hOr Ek tEri khair mangdii
main mangaa naa kujh hOr
Ek tEri khair mangdii
naa TuuTe dil kii DOr
(Song: Teri Khair Mangdi; Movie: Baar Baar Dekho)

paani daa rang vEkh kE
ankhiyaan jO hanjuu ruul dE
(Song: Pani Da Rang; Movie: Vicky Donor)

jii lE zaraa, jii lE zaraa
kehtaa hai dil jii lE zaraa
(Song: Jee Le Zara; Movie: Talaash)

hua hai aaj pehli baar
jo aisE muskuraaya huun
tumhein dekhaa tO jaana yeh
ki kyuun duniyaa mein aayaa huun
(Song: Hua Hai Aaj Pehli Baar; Movie: Sanam Re)

kabhii kabhii aditii zindagii mein yuhiin koi apnaa lagtaa hai 
kabhii kabhii aditii woh bichaD jaaye tO Ek sapnaa lagtaa hai
(Song: Kabhi Kabhi Aditi; Movie: Jaane Tu... Ya Jane Na)

aisE mein koi (from previous song)
nashE sii chaDh gayii Oye
kuDi nashe sii chaDh gayii
patang sii laD gayii Oye
kuDi patang sii laD gayii
(Song: Nashe Si Chadh Gayi; Movie: Befikre)

O O jaane jaana
DoonDhe tujhE diiwaana
sapnOn mein rOz aayE
aa zindagii mein aanaa
(Song: O O Jaane Jana; Movie: Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya)

habiibii lei, habiibii lei, habiibii lei-lei lei-lei lei-lei-lei
let me love you, oh-oh-oh
(Song: Habibi (I Need Your Love) - Shaggy & Mohombi)

tuu chiiz baDii hai mast mast
tuu chiiz baDii hai mast
(Song: Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast; Movie: Mohra)

dE dii, dE dii, 
dil chiiz tujhE dE dii
(Song: Dil Cheez Tujhe De Di; Movie: Airlift)

diiwanii, haan diiwanii
mastaanii hO gayii
(Song: Deewani Mastani; Movie: Bajirao Mastani)

arre bhOlii sii suurat 
aankhOn mein mastii 
duur khaDii sharmaayE
(Song: Bholi Si Surat; Movie: Dil To Pagal Hai)

I'm in love with the shape of you
We push and pull like a magnet do
Although my heart is falling too
I'm in love with your body.
Last night you were in my room
And now my bedsheets smell like you
Every day discovering something brand new
I'm in love with your body.
I'm in love with your body
I'm in love with your body
I'm in love with your body
Every day discovering something brand new
I'm in love with the shape of you.
(Song: Shape of You - Ed Sheeran)

Monday, 18 September 2017

Follow The Money - The Economic Thread Linking Attacks On Indian Muslims

A recent news item, that Muslim artistes were prevented from performing at a Hindu socio-cultural event in Gujarat, brought home to me an insidious element linking the various, seemingly sporadic attacks on Muslims in India since Narendra Modi's BJP took power in 2014.

There has been widespread denial among educated Hindus about the rising level of intolerance since Modi took over. I hope incidents like this are making it clearer that intolerance is not just a creation of the media but a very real phenomenon.

I am also postulating that attacks on Muslims are not random but are being planned and directed. It is not a grassroots phenomenon or a spontaneous reaction, although it may feed on existing grassroots resentments.

If you don't believe this, observe one aspect of all these attacks. They are all *economic* blows at the Muslim community.

Even in prior riots, you would find curious aspects like the destruction of weavers' looms. It is not just a physical attack, which takes place over a couple of hours before peace is restored. What is achieved is a longer-lasting economic blow, since the predominantly Muslim weavers have lost their means of livelihood.

The whole cow slaughter/beef ban controversy has the same characteristic. Muslims are employed throughout the beef supply chain. Shutting down beef immediately strikes at the community economically.

Muslims are also employed in the music industry. Striking at their ability to practise their profession hits them economically.

It's a plan of diabolical genius, and I believe this has been hatched in Nagpur, the headquarters of the RSS. The RSS tends to commit crimes that do not require courage, and all they engage in is Chanakya-style planning. The actual violence is delegated to other organisations within the Parivar umbrella, such as the Bajrang Dal and various senas in different states. The latter organisations provide the stormtroopers who carry out the dirty work of the syndicate in Nagpur.

Someone in Nagpur a long time ago has "followed the money" and worked out how Indian Muslims earn their livelihoods. They are now putting their plan into action. They are going to starve Muslims. What the ultimate aim is, I do not know. Do they hope that Muslims will convert en masse back to Hinduism? Perhaps some of them will. Do they hope that when pushed to the wall, some Muslims will take to extremism, and that will then provide an excuse to physically wipe out many more? I don't know, but I fear the worst.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Why The Church's Arguments About Marriage Equality Are Bogus

I read a comment on the wall of a friend on Facebook. My friend expressed support for the "Yes" vote on the coming plebiscite on marriage equality in Australia. This gentleman opposed it, and in support of his position, made a number of arguments. I'm grateful to him for marking his position so explicitly, since I could then address each of his points and show that they were essentially baseless.

I've quoted each of his statements below and added my response under it.

1. "Unfortunately a lot of people think changing the law that has been around for more than 100 years is justified."

Laws are not sacrosanct merely because they've been around a long time. There was a time when inter-marriage between whites and non-whites was illegal. As society progresses, backward laws have to be removed from the law books.

2. "We will see more [homosexuality] on the streets."

Yes, so? How is that a problem? Homosexuals are among us already. They form 7%-10% of the population. You want to keep them invisible and ashamed of who they are. Too bad the world is progressing and leaving your kind behind. Yes, you will see more homosexuality on the streets, in the sense that you will see same-sex couples holding hands or kissing in public. I think it would be good for your kind to get used to it.

3. "Churches will be sued for not allowing gay marriage" Right now, churches are exempt from the laws that force the rest of society to behave with decency. That will change. Churches will pay taxes like every other organisation, and they will stop demonising and discriminating against a group of people because an outdated book written centuries ago by semi-educated, bigoted men says so. It will be a welcome development when the church is finally civilised.

4. "The bible could be burned as its against homosexuality as is God as mentioned throughout the Bible."

The bible can be burned even today. It's perfectly legal. Any book that preaches discrimination against human beings for their sexuality deserves to be.

5. "People against lgbtq+ will be persecuted"

As they should be. If you discriminate against people of another race today, you can be prosecuted. Same principle.

6. "There is a hidden agenda here have a look at what the green party are proposing once the law gets passed. There will be no freedom of [speech] they will get rid of the title father and mother as its discrimination against the lgbtq+ people"

Nonsense. Nobody will take away anyone's freedom of speech. More people will start to use neutral terms like "caregiver", that's all. It's just like you can continue to use gender-specific terms in your speech today, such as "he", but more people have started to use gender-neutral terms like "they".

7. "Our kids will be taught they can wear a dress if they want [to]. Toilets will be unisex boys who wear a dress can go into a girls toilet area at school will just open a can of worms"

That's what gender identity means, and you'll just have to get used to it. Yes, changing attitudes is uncomfortable and feels like opening a can of worms, but that's how society progresses. I'm sure it felt like opening a can of worms to your grandparents' or great-grandparents' generation when the laws against racial inter-marriage were repealed.

8. "People will then have rights to marry [their] sex doll or dogs etc."

Nonsense. There is no slippery slope. The principle applies to adults and informed consent, and does not apply where those conditions do not exist. Yes, this will open the door to the legal recognition of polyamorous relationships, but that will be the extent of it. Paedophilia will not become legal (children cannot consent), people cannot marry their pets (animals cannot consent), people cannot marry sex dolls (dolls are inanimate and cannot consent), people cannot marry robots (well, maybe they can, when artificial intelligence progresses to the point when a robot's consent is legally recognised).

9. "There are 85+ types of lgbtq [categories] and soon there will be more."

Why is this a problem for you?


If you are straight, no one is forcing you to marry someone of the same sex.

If you are cisgendered, no one is forcing you to wear clothes associated with the other gender or to use toilets associated with the other gender.

Your children will not "turn gay" or "turn transgender" if exposed to the idea that LGBTQ+ people are normal. If they are straight to begin with, they will remain straight. If they are cisgendered to begin with, they will remain cisgendered. But this is the important part. If they are gay or transgender to begin with, they will gain the courage to accept this and society will accept them too. It will be a far more humane society than what we have today, where gay people have to hide their sexual orientation, and transgender people have to hide their gender identity, because of the unnecessary shame, guilt and menace that society forces upon them.

Your opposition comes from unfamiliarity, and the solution is simply to get used to the change that is underway. Your religion is not based on the word of a "god". Your "holy" book was written by human beings with their own prejudices and biases.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not choices. People are born that way. (Even if it *were* a choice, it should not be a crime to choose.)

Crimes only occur when consent is violated. I suggest you look within the churches you care so much about, and set your house in order. A lot of sexual abuse has taken place within churches, and the facts have been coming out for a few years now. The full extent of the damage is yet to be recognised, but the churches will pay the price. There's no doubt about that.

Churches and churchgoers must stop imposing their mediaeval and harmful ideas on the rest of society. This ends here.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

If Your Spirituality Teaches You Gratitude, Then Say Thank You To Science - Now!

I came across this interesting list of ways in which "healthy" religion is supposed to differ from "unhealthy" religion.

Healthy and unhealthy religion (Click to expand) - but who's to say "no religion" isn't the healthiest of all?

It seems like a nice enough point of view, but as a rationalist, I simply cannot get past the very first question in my mind, "What is the evidence for these claims?"

As I thought more about this position (that there is a "healthy" way to be religious, as opposed to not being religious at all), I found myself getting a little angry, to be frank.

I was angry because I felt that the people espousing this point of view were being profoundly ungrateful. The very first point listed in that table was gratitude, and yet they were failing to show gratitude to the one thing that has improved their lives, and the lives of everyone on the planet.

That something is science.

Just take four specific examples.

These are my favourites - smartphones, cars, breakthroughs in medicine, and surgical techniques

Everyone uses or gets the benefits of these in their lives.

Everyone has a smartphone. The processing power of a modern phone is greater than that of a desktop computer just at the turn of the millennium. In terms of its functions, it can single-handedly replace a dozen earlier gadgets, and is so much handier to carry around.

"So you took our jobs?"

Cars have advanced so much in such a short time, and are getting better every year on dozens of parameters - fuel efficiency, environmental friendliness, ease of driving, safety, you name it. We are likely to have self-driving, fully-electric cars by 2030.

Tony Seba's talk on the future of energy and transportation is a classic

Everyone goes the doctor for medical treatment when they have an illness and they expect to be diagnosed and cured in short order. As I have mentioned earlier,

There are still many human ailments that elude a cure, but for which there are already glimmers of hope -- blindnessdeafnessdementiaAlzheimer'smultiple sclerosisparalysisAIDScancerEbola, -- the list only grows.

AI is getting better at diagnosis, and it often surpasses the capabilities of human doctors.

If someone has a serious ailment that requires more drastic intervention, they can rely upon advanced surgical techniques to cure them, more quickly and painlessly than was possible in earlier years. Keyhole surgery is now available for many more conditions than ever before, and patients can often go home the same day. Robot-assisted surgeries are becoming commonplace. In the future, robots will take over surgeries entirely.

My position is that all of these enormously beneficial breakthroughs have come about because of investments in hard science. Workers at smartphone factories do not sit around praying until smartphones fall into their laps. There is a lot of hard science - electronics, mainly - that goes into making them ever smaller and more powerful. Physics is hard at work, solving multiple constraints and barriers, and the results are there before us. Remember what phones used to look like just a few years ago?

The pace of change has been breathtaking

The same is true for all the other areas as well. It's investment in hard science that delivers results, not prayer or woolly-headed belief in spirituality.

I'm particularly angry with the modern tendency to exploit science while enjoying the luxury of spirituality. If a loved one has a serious illness, people will not neglect to take them to hospital and get them the best medical care. And yet, if their loved ones recover, they will thank "god" or a higher power. If they don't recover, they will blame the doctor or the hospital. This strikes me as dishonest and ungrateful.

I believe people who fail to acknowledge their debt to science, and who further claim that some "spiritual" entity is responsible for all their blessings, are spitting in the plate they eat from.

It's particularly galling that these are the very people who make such a fetish of the notion of gratitude.

If gratitude is what you claim your spiritualism has taught you, then express your gratitude to science! By "express your gratitude", I don't mean the "spiritual" way of expressing gratitude, which is to bow one's head, close one's eyes and murmur "thank you". It means to walk the talk of science, to acknowledge through action the engine that drives science - rational thinking. Science is not so much a body of knowledge as a way of thinking. It is rational thinking that makes us scientific, not advanced degrees. Indeed, we see so many sloppy thinkers with advanced degrees that the need to get back to basics has never been more urgent.

So start practising science and rationalism in your own lives! Stop accepting ideas that are not backed up by evidence! You will be doing yourself and others a huge favour. And you will be an intellectually and morally honest person.