Saturday, May 16, 2015

Perversion as Parody?

The "A Bad Girl Poster" girl may be a fact!!!

Today I read this article in 'The Hindu'[1], which extolled a poster created by some student(!) from Bangalore. The article motivated me to create the following graphic with my response:

These are my responses. What are yours?!


Friday, May 15, 2015

Frugal living: Tips to live on a budget

Frugal living is not being mean and tightfisted but it is a principle/discipline aimed at understanding the difference between wants and needs and arriving at an optimal solution to maximize benefits! 

Now-a-days, there are many articles in the internet on frugal living. While, I take some hints from them, I do have my reservations. For one, these articles seems to propound tight-fisted approach bent on saving money, with no concern to health or other aspects. As a person, who has been successfully practicing frugal living since 1999, I share my thoughts in this article: 

1.       Differentiate between a ‘need’ and a ‘want’:

This is the primary key for frugal living. A cup of coffee, for many, is a need to get your horses kicking. However, a coffee from Tim Horton’s or Starbucks is more of a want than a need. The amount of caffeine that gets you started is also available in store bought instant coffees. I used to buy a pound of Nescafe from Walmart for ~10CAD; with 4 teaspoons per day the coffee lasted for over 5 months. In other words, the cost of my coffee/cup was ~7cents. While a cup of coffee from Tim Horton’s is ~ 3CAD!!!

Similarly, smokes and drinks are wants, not needs. Some wants can and will be deleterious to your health like smoking and drinking. There is a study that links ageing to alcohol consumption1.

My strategy to identify want and need:
Need: “Could I survive without this?” if your reply is ‘no’, it is a need!
Want: “Could I survive without this?” if your reply is ‘yes’, it is a want!
Needs need to be fulfilled, but wants can wait!

2.       Health is your greatest asset:

While I buy coffee from Walmart, I never buy vegetables or fruits from Walmart. For one reason, they tend to go bad soon. Another reason, it is hard to find organic or non-GMO products there. While some may argue that an anti-GMO stance is Paleolithic, as a scientist, I’m personally not satisfied with assurances of the companies based on statistically insignificant study samples. Further, there seems to be direct correlation between the number of allergy and cancer cases and the amount of GMO products used by countries. The causality or mechanism has not yet been established behind the correlation, it also happens to be their defense.

I don’t consume alcohol or smoke for the same reason! - Health

While life is not that valuable, health is! Why take risk? (Ask a life insurance personal the value of your life…J)

3.       Babies:

Having babies is among the most difficult both emotionally and financially. It is a dilemma. Every parent is emotionally guided to buy beautiful clothes and toys for them, though we know that they’d out grow them quite fast. It is smart to use hand-me-downs for clothing. Similarly, it is smart to buy toys from second-hand stores (But don’t forget to sanitize before use!). Sometimes, we buy toys that we think the babies would like but we would only find them showing least interest in them. My baby is a great teacher for me in this regard. For babies, the most lovable toys are its parents, don’t ever forget that…!

4.       Set weekly budget targets:

We live on a 100CAD/week budget (for 3) on groceries with a 10% margin. While my wife is the implementation chief on that, I set the targets based on our consumption characteristics. Living with 100CAD is pretty tough, but not impossible. Such targets have also helped us to stay away from temptations, such as cookies or other snacks doused with cornstarch and corn-syrup, produced from GMO crops. Good for our health. In the last 2 years, we haven’t been to any restaurant but we buy only organic produce. If there was some amounts left due to some promotions are stuff, we would indulge ourselves with a cup of ice-cream shared between us. We share ice-creams more because of the health concerns than because of financial concerns.

5.       Source your supplies:

This is quite tricky and requires some knowledge of your locations. Some products are always cheaper in certain stores than in other. Before each week grocery shopping we try to compare prices of produce from different stores and then plan our trip so as to minimize our walking and cost of shopping. Networking is also a great idea to identify sources. My wife’s networking enabled us to find new sources, which we expect to reduce our costs further.

If interested in gardening, small vegetables grown at home are another good source of food practically free!!!

6.       Exploit coupons:

This is a key idea, if you’d like to save some money and most web sites would advise the same. However, sourcing the coupons and timing is the extremely important. For example, when we go for shopping at Bulk barn, we usually buy a pound of Almonds and if it costs less than 10 CAD, we would buy some other things until our bill amount is exactly or slightly over 10 CAD to take advantage of their coupons. We use 6 almonds per day (more almonds mean more fats), which would last until the next coupon is issued. Buying the same amount of almonds from any other shops in our locality is extremely expensive.

7.       Clothing- Trim your wardrobe:

Women would take particular exception at this. Anyway, I have exactly one boots, 1 pair of sneaker and 1 flip-flop. I have exactly 14 pairs of underwear. I don’t mind wearing the same clothes (but not underwearJ). It saves money not only in accessories but also in laundry. Technically, since we don’t have a washing machine in our apartment, my budget target for yearly laundry is 100CAD max. So far so good and I don’t smell like a fish.

8.       Take Transport, only if you have to:

We go by walk to all places within 5 Km radius. Advantage is that we walk at least an hour and it is the best exercise one could have with a baby, who is more than content to enjoy the view outside. Running may not be option to everyone. I damaged my ligaments by trying to run. So, if you have not been practicing sports, it is better you don’t take damaging sports but take mild ones. To save money, try to integrate them with your daily chores like shopping, etc. For me, I really don’t have the patience to wait for the bus, which works in my favor. By walking, you may end up saving over 9000$, an average annual cost to own a car2.

9.       You are not cheap:

We don’t take bus, if we could. However, we don’t walk 5Km to an organic store if their sales for the weak doesn’t break-even our cost of time to walk to their store. Time is more valuable than money.

10.   Dump your gadgets:

This includes TV, Xbox, iPhone, etc. Having TV makes you pay more taxes in France. Xbox and iPhone are more likely to waste your most valuable asset – Time. Further, TV is not really good for babies/toddlers. It is better avoided altogether. Think about the amount of subscription charges you may save2!

I hardly have had any cell phone. In my perspective, the phone itself is cheaper in comparison to the amount we have to shell out every month for the data plans and services. I would happily invest that money in something, like I did it on my education and would do it on my children’s education. 
Remember, by throwing off your smartphone you might save around 1700$ per year3!

11.   Small is sweet:

When it comes to living, smaller apartments or homes are sweeter. For one, they keep the family closer. On the other hand, reduce you electricity and maintenance costs. Smaller living space also means kids have to go out to play, where there is no TV, which would greatly benefit their fitness and reduce your headache in cleaning their mess...!

The amount of savings that you could realize is directly proportional to your place of residence. However, these principles had never let me down since 1997, when I started to save money to buy books for engineering entrance exams! Hope, they help you too…J


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Consent, not age is the problem in early and child marriage - Really?

Recently, I came across an article in ‘The Hindu’1. The article is based on a report by Nirantar Trust, on child marriage. While child marriage is deplorable and is being increasingly shunned by communities, the study focuses on only 8 states (out of 36, incl. union territories). 

The highlight of the article is, “Based on research in eight States where early marriage is widespread, the report shows how in a system that wishes to control female sexuality, acknowledging that girls can have sexual agency and desires is a threat.” The article states that adolescents are actively discouraged from even conversations on contraception and safe sex to avoid giving them bad idea. Then, it talks of a newspaper baron, who was married at 14 but still pursued her interests.

Finally in the article, the director of Nirantar Trust, says that there exist a lot of funding for work on early and child marriage in India. Apparently, this study is funded by the American Jewish World Service.

Before getting into detail, my question is whether this study is peer-reviewed? If so, who are the reviewers? If not, how can it be trusted, even if any error/misrepresentation is not intentional. Given, the level of corruption in India, and the need of NGOs to competitively air Western ideologies, any error could well be intentional

The article created enough interest in me that I started to peruse the report. The report in its executive summary says that data are collected from 7 states: Rajasthan, Jharkand, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and New Delhi. In its executive summary, the report gives the following as root causes of child/early marriage:
  • Economics of marriage: Even though the study is skewed, as the data is only from 7 states of India, it argues that women in India are considered as “someone else’s wealth“. This type of inference couldn’t even pass the principles of induction. Had the report argued that, poverty is the main cause of child/early marriage, I would have agreed. But ascertaining intent, trying to tie it with a skewed sampling, makes one think of conspiracy or lobbyist mentality.
  • Sexuality: 
    • Based on the response of an adolescent girl, the article argues that the primary role of marriage in India is to sanctify sex. This is nothing but a defamation of the institution of marriage. It speaks low of a country that had queens ruling the nation when women in many Western countries thought to be incapable to do men’s job. 
    • The report also argues, “In a system that wishes to control female sexuality, acknowledging that girls can have sexual agency and desires is a threat. The anxiety caused by this is so strong that even conversations around contraception and safe sex are shameful and actively discouraged, lest they give adolescents the “wrong ideas.”” In India, it is not just the girls’ but also boys’ sexuality is controlled. I have known students expelled from schools (boys) for errors as silly as trying to talk to a girl. I also like to draw attention to the numerous “rape” cases where boys are charged with “rape” charges for trying to marry the girl of their choice. While, I’m not particularly happy about the situation, now as a postdoctoral researcher, I believe that I wouldn’t have come this far had those conditions were not in place. Such conditions are mostly designed to provide the opportunity for youths to mature and achieve their goals. While some have succeeded after marriage, for many it is not possible. Regarding the “wrong idea”, a conversation with an adolescent “to have safe sex” would only translate to “have sex”. So, please don’t give a wrong idea to the audience. 
    • The report quotes a female interview respondent, “A girl may wear 10 burkhas, but she will be violated and what happens in the bedroom one will never know until you put a camera there” – This statement is deplorable as it is intentionally designed to make the audience assume and make an impression that women are constantly being violated in their bedrooms. While, I may appreciate the craftiness of the statement, I deplore the intent. When no information is available from the bedroom, insinuating one on other is highly deplorable.
  • Gender norms and masculinity
    The report states that “the perceived masculinity of a girl’s father lies in his ability to control her sexuality”. This is totally misrepresented; the perceived masculinity of a girl’s father lies in his ability to teach his daughter to control her sexuality and to protect her when required. The same goes in the case of boys too. If the parents fail to raise their sons to control their sexuality, or be “responsible”, the parents are equally shamed. So, the intended perception is misleading.
  • Educational and Institutional gaps: 
    In this context, the report highlights that “the trade-off of being “allowed” higher education is a greater conformity to the norms of a “good-girl” who can be trusted to “do the right thing” and stay on the “right path”, which usually implies staying away from romantic relationships and ceding control over other parts of their lives”. By this does the report, and by extension the trust, encourages promiscuity and adultery?  
    What is wrong being expected to do the right thing? Every parents fear for the well-being of their children. So, what is problem? It is not always true that romantic relationships are discouraged. But in a country were caste and class exhibit extreme control, and where men can run away after impregnating a girl, these are precautionary measures. I believe the audience get an idea what the report is trying to imply!
  • Centrality of marriage
    This is true as well as false at the same time. Same sex-relationships are legally still a grey-area. Are the authors of the report inciting potential-illegality?!
  • Risk, vulnerability and uncertainty
    Here the report highlights, “Within a rapidly globalizing society risk and uncertainty create anxiety, reinforcing the perception that marriage is one of the only sources of security within a family and larger community”. The interesting thing is, the report say that early marriages are more likely in regions highly prone to disasters such as floods and riots. I’m not sure, how this observation match with the information conveyed from the highlight. From my perspective, this could well be an evolutionary approach to ensure the survival of species. What are the counter arguments?
  • Age as axis of power
    While I agree with the authors, that not giving power of decisions to youths are making them vulnerable to societal norms and rules enforced by parents and other, I would like to ask if the author is ok, if the girl ended up as a prostitute or the boy ends up as a terrorist but flouting the societal norms and rules? Further, what scientific study could prove that children in their youths are capable of protecting themselves and taking right decisions without guidance? If so, why do we need juvenile law? Do the authors intend to undermine the activities of those against the recent modification to the juvenile law?
The rest of the report goes on to discuss the impact, strategies and their approaches, which are usual mumbo-jumbo. The central flaw in the study is that it fails to understand why child marriage is prevalent in certain states and not others? In fact, most of these states studied don’t have good social development index or prosperous (except for Maharashtra, even though its ranking is less other states). At the best, the conditions and causes, could be applied only to these regions and I believe that the report should not imply a nation-wide trend/cause.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Austerity begets austerity?

Currently most of the western countries are embarking upon some form of austerity measures (reduction of debt-to-GDP ratio), to various extents. In some cases, these measures are forced by its neighbours and allies (Ex: Greece).  There are many info available on austerity measures. However, I tried to put my hypothesis in simple terms. My hypothesis is that austerity only leads to further austerity measures, until the country goes broke or some innovative steps are taken to break this vicious cycle, depicted in the figure below:

While being one amongst the many suffering because of these measures, what confounds me is that why none is asking the right questions:
  • Explain how these measures would help us in the short and long term? (in layman terms but quantitatively not equivocally!)
  • Countries have been deploying austerity measures since 2008.  Prove that it has worked!
  • If some are being benefitted by these measures, who are they and why? Why not others? When would other be benefitted?
  • Irrespective of many economic theories and empirical studies that would support anti-austerity, why are you deploying those measures? Why are the banks forcing such measures? How they reason it will benefit our economy?
  • It is a simple business/economic knowledge that spends cuts are good only if they become investment. This principle is well known to almost all CEOs and CFOs. If so, show how the spending cuts have generated more income, in an attempt to reduce to the debt-to-GDP ratio.
  • Who is responsible for the mess, in the first place?
I'm no economist but a "student" interested in the socio-economic-strategic affairs. I have tried to put, in simple terms, how austerity would only breeds further austerity until either the cycle or the country is broken. I would very much like to hear the counter arguments to this hypothesis! (Please leave your thoughts in the comments below...)


Blyth, Mark (2013). Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019982830X.