Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann. This is the book I have had in my hands for a few weeks. Now, dont get me wrong. The book is a great great read. Indeed I would wholeheartedly recommend it anybody who is interested in human nature and human behaviour. It is a power packed course in psychology. With the added bonus that it will show us, how we think. Think thats impossible? Try out some of the exercises in the book.

This book is no easy read. Well, you could skim through it, but that does no justice to the book or the topic. Daniel Kahnemann divides the brain into S1 and S2. S1 is the Quick-Gun-Murugan. S2 is the laid back arm chair Sherlock Holmes. Bad comparison, but this is written from S1 - so there! S1 is hasty, snappy and quick to make connections complete with all existing biases. S2, will, of course, give you the real whodunnit. Only if you choose to engage S2, because S2 is, well, lazy, among other things.

This book cannot read at S1 levels, has to be read at S2 levels. So, go for it.

And all you political analysts out there, do read this book. Very very instructive.


I picked up a copy of Taslima Nasrins book - Lajja - its English translation actually published by Penguin. I have not read the original in Bengali - and I suppose assuming that translations usually do not capture emotions as well as originals. The original must have been quite a dark novel.

Reading the novel was quite depressing. The book pulls no punches - it is in your face and quite unemotional in describing violence and the despondency of the situation the protagonists go through. Also, it offers none of the usual politically correct language which one sees in a novel with a theme like this.

Anyway, if you have the guts to read it, do it, but be sure it will stick in your mind. Read the book for the rest, I suppose!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Statues in Mayaland

The Election Commission has decided to issue a notification asking for the numerous elephant statues and Mayawati statues to be covered as part of the Election Code in the run up to the UP elections. This is straight out of Alice in wonderland.

Does the EC really think those statues will affect the outcome of the elections? Does the EC really think that the electorate is so stupid and brainless as to be affected by the presence of the statues of a few leaders? And statues the only reason why people vote? So, overall, this is a laughable edict. By covering the elephant statues does the EC really think they are doing something to ensure free and fair elections? And by covering the statues as well? And what about real elephants?

What if Maya decides to show wildlife documentaries on TV all day long as part of a "conservation programme" never mind that there are no elephants in UP. And what if there are special screenings of "Haathi Mera Saathi" in theatres? Or if the radio blares "Chal Chal Chal Mere Haathi" all day long. But perhaps they are doing their job - or showing that they are doing their job. Like security theatre, this is election theatre.

Do see the absurdity in this proposal when taken to its logical conclusion. The Congress symbol is the "hand" - the human hand. Does this mean peoples hands will have to covered? I mean, they walk into the polling booth with two symbols of the Congress per person. This is subliminal advertising - is it not. I suspect the people will have to either cover their hands with gloves, but that would make it too obvious, or boxing gloves perhaps.

And then what about those numerous statues of Nehru, Indira and Rajeev? Will they be covered too? What about some of their pictures in government offices? And actually the picture of Mahatma Gandhi who Congress evokes not so subtly as part of their campaigns will also need to be covered. Especially in those currency notes - regardless of whether they are passed off as bribes for voters? May I propose Sodexho coupons? Or perhaps Credit Cards?

And by the way Bangalore and other cities have JNNURM printed all over its newer city buses. JN stands for the initials of Indias first Prime Minister who the Congress never fails to invoke. And there are the many roads named after quite a few Congress politicians - mostly first dynasty members. What of them? A temporary name change perhaps? And then there are a thousand schemes named after various members of the first family all over the country. Whitewash them perhaps? And there are some buildings, hospitals, bus stops, bridges which sport the dynasty names. Cover them all up in packing material perhaps?

And that is just the Congress. What about similar edicts in future elections? MNS Maharashtra, if I am not mistaken has the "Train" for its symbol. So, are we planning to shut down Mumbais local trains during the run up to the BMC elections? Or will trains run sans locomotives? And what of the lotuses? The Baha'i temple is a huge concrete lotus in the heart of the capital, dammit. And what does one do about the pesky sun - the damn thing rises each day. And I wonder what the EC did about it in the run up to the Tamil Nadu elections- given that it is a symbol of DMK? And then if I remember right, the bicycle is a party symbol too. Do bicycle riders keep them at home or cover it up and ride them? The AIADMK has two leaves as its symbol. I shudder to think of the implications.

A quick glance at the election symbols will tell you that the symbols are everyday objects by and large  - designed for easy recollection across linguistic and cultural barriers. Parties can and will make bigger things out of them just as the Congress party has perfected the art of naming various government schemes across the country. So, the first thing to do is to perhaps reverse those naming conventions and move onto a more apolitical nomenclature.

Overall, the EC does have a point. But then, the ruling party should not be allowed to politicise names of buildings, bridges, roads, schemes - because needless to say all these have subliminal effects. Of course, no subliminal effect is as great as cash transfers during elections or fatwas issued by certain communities and the election  commission would do well to focus on the real things that affect the outcome of elections than statues in Mayaland.

(This was published as an Op Ed in The Pioneer, here)