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Elections financing is the root of corruption in India?

10 billion dollars spent on our national elections?

And how much was actually legally allowed per candidate? 

How did the parties get so much money? What means did they adopt? 

How can any party make tall claims on corruption? The claims seem nonsensical to me when we look at the money they spent on elections.

Do you really know what traditional Indian food is?

Most Indians have no idea about traditional Indian cuisine of their region or community.

This is best realised by the common misconception about some key ingredients of food without which no Indian kitchen is complete. Most people don’t know that these ingredients are not Indian and came here quite recently.

The biggest one is chillies (Green chillies, red chillies and capsicum). Most Indian kitchens did not use any chillies until about 150 years ago and almost none at all until about 400 years ago. Chillies were brought to India by the Portuguese in the 16th century from the Americas and spread rapidly across India in the following 200 years.

The next two are potatoes and tomatoes. Again, we must thank our colonials from Portugal for bringing these to India. Potatoes came with the Portuguese in the early 17th century. They brought Tomatoes with them in the 16th century.

By the way, cabbage and cauliflower are not Indian either. The Portuguese introduced cabbage to India and the British introduced cauliflower as recently as the early 19th century!

So what really is traditional Indian food and what ingredients did it contain? Surely it must have varied from region to region. Here is an article that throws light on what we had in South India  –

Indian Railways – accidents and language

The Southern Railways wanted to solve the problem of possible accidents due to miscommunication.

The solution they found was correct. That the communication should be in a language that all their employees can understand.

And so the circular should have mentioned English.

Where was the need to mention Hindi, create a furore and withdraw the circular?

Now they have thrown the baby out with the bath water. They are back to a system that can cause accidents.

Ask for English to be used. That solves the accidents problem and will be politically acceptable to all states.

Here is an article on the whole sorry Southern Railways episode –

Now anyone can create “deep fakes” for practically no cost.

Whether it is fake videos or speeches by political leaders or other.

In India, a lot of people on social media are generally gullible and easily believe shoddily prepared fake news forwards from friends and others. We have seen this abundantly in the last Lok Sabha elections.

How will deep fake videos which are sophisticated and indistinguishable from real videos going to impact us?

India must prepare to protect its citizens from such misinformation.

I wonder what is the solution. Maybe to only trust news from certified, leading news sources? After all, they can’t print fake information as they can be held liable.

Here is a link to tech that demonstrates the problem –

Fake news is not just screwing up our politics but is also causing disease and death…

Until a few years ago, superstition and rumours could be fought with sustained, large scale communication and education campaigns  by governments and other organizations. 

This was because the average person on the street did not have the means to communicate with large numbers of people and the velocity of information flow through communities was much lower. Mass media could be used to effectively counter the misinformation.

Now with social media and chat applications, rumours, fake news and superstition spread so easily and so fast that the political behaviour of the people in several countries has changed. Governments have changed as well. Some countries lurching to the right and others to the left.

But it’s not just change of governments. Deadly diseases that were eradicated or on the verge of eradication have resurfaced. This is being driven by anti-vaccine campaigns. Herd immunity is threatened in several communities. An example is the recent and increasing outbreaks of measles in US, Europe, India and some other parts of the world too.

The dynamics of anti-vaccine behaviour is however, very different in the developed world and in India.

In the developed world, the anti-vaxxer is almost always educated and typically has a college degree. The misinformation that causes the behaviour is fairly sophisticated. Countries are now fighting this by making vaccinations mandatory for school attendance.

In India, the average anti-vaxxer has low education levels or is a person easily influenced by traditional group dynamics like religion, caste, peer behaviour etc. In this scenario, making vaccinations mandatory for school attendance may not be effective enough. I wonder what the Governments of India can do to fight this and ensure vaccine compliance.

What is common between all of these anti vaxxers in the developed and developing world  is social media and chat applications like Facebook and WhatsApp. These are the platforms that drive and sustain such misinformation, beliefs and behaviour.

Whatever the commonality or the difference, we are all now threatened by the return of diseases that had been nearly eliminated or already eradicated.

Here is an article on the return of measles in India –

And here is a video about what the social media platforms are doing to combat the misinformation about vaccinations. In my opinion, just as in the fake news problem, they are doing too little for vaccination misinformation –

Are marketers wasting money on behavioural targeting?

This article in the Wall Street Journal suggests that there is evidence now that behavioural ad targeting delivers only about 4% additional effectiveness.

This means that the vast majority of new digital advertising technologies are unable to deliver any meaningful additional value.

Why should an advertiser now pay 100-300 percent premium for behavioural targeting?

With digital advertising now more than 50 percent of advertising spend in the US and also in China, it looks like 10-20 percent of all advertising spends of large corporations are being spent on behavioural targeting premiums. This is a huge amount of (wasted?) money.

In light of this evidence of poor effectiveness, marketers will now have to answer and explain their behavioural targeting spends. It will be interesting to see what the marketers say in their defense and whether they can continue to spend so much on behavioural targeting.

Should some Indian states start encouraging couples to have more children?

Population in the whole of South India and Punjab has started to decline.

To ensure that these states do not suffer the demographic problems faced by countries like Japan, it may be time for state governments to incentivise domicile couples to have more children.

On the other hand, we seem to have a continued high population growth problem in other parts of India. But it appears from the data that high literacy and HDI are the true inhibitors of population growth. The family planning push may not be really working…

Single use plastic ban – mixed results in Navi Mumbai

Maharashtra banned single use plastic a couple of years ago and there are heavy fines on retailers who continue to use and dispense plastic bags.

I live in Navi Mumbai and find that modern retail has mostly complied with this law and the others have not.

The liquor shops are the best. They now hand out cloth bags.

The vegetable and fruit vendors are the worst. Almost all of them freely hand out thin plastic bags (the worst of the bags).

The Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation is one of the most proactive in the country in cleaning up the city. They have done a really good job in the last few years. But it looks like they are turning a blind eye to the unorganised sector retailers and their use of single use plastic bags. Some strong action is in order.

Notification slaves – dance to the tune of others

Notifications popping up on your computer screen or your phone are becoming a huge drain on focus, productivity, creativity and innovation.

You have a new email, a new WhatsApp message, a Facebook/Twitter tag or something else and something on your screen pops up or your phone beeps or vibrates. 

If you wish to contribute effectively to your job or your home and family, please switch off those notifications.

There is sufficient scientific evidence now to show that people distracted continuously by these notifications are less productive than they can be and more anxiety ridden. Here is a short video on the subject –

Schedule time to deal to look at what’s come in as messages and email; and not more than 3-4 times a day.

Jumping to attention every time you phone pings, to open WhatsApp or email or Slack or Facebook is stupid. It shows that you do not have much work or proactive stuff to do and you would rather spend your time and life reacting and responding to what others keep throwing at you. 

Workplaces and employers especially are losing a lot of money as costs and opportunity by allowing their people to be distracted and interrupted hundreds of times every day. A ban on app notifications in the workplace is a good place to start.

Kill the notifications and get a life!

The return of the phage! GMO phage.

Antibiotic resistance is racing through the world and a growing number of pathogens are becoming resistant to antibiotics.

Even worse, extreme drug resistance is growing where the pathogen is resistant to all known antibiotics. An increasing number of such cases end in death. 

It is not just about diseases like drug resistant tuberculosis. A simple finger cut infected by antibiotic resistant bacteria can result in amputation of the arm or death. Such pathogens have started spreading within hospitals and the victims are usually patients who have undergone surgery.

Since 1919, even before antibiotics were discovered, phages have been used to treat diseases. Phages are viruses that kill the bacteria. For every known bacterium, there is some type of phage out there which feeds on the bacteria and kills it.

The amazing effectiveness of antibiotics ensured that the use of phages stopped and disappeared. No further research happened on phages.

Now, it appears that not only can we fight drug resistant bacteria with naturally occurring phages, we can also genetically engineer phages to target any specific kind of bacteria. As this article suggests –

Now this is GMO research even the environmentalists should welcome!

I now hope that phages research progresses rapidly and phage based solutions become widely available before antibiotic resistant diseases ravage our planet and hundreds of millions of people die. This scary scenario is now inevitable unless we figure out new ways of curing antibiotic resistant disease.