Monthly Recommendations (December 2021)

There is no specific theme for this month’s recommendation list. It is an assortment of the articles I read over the past year which had one thing in common: I wanted more people to read them and decide what they thought about the underlying institutions and people that these articles described. So, we have two articles about the tennis world: one about an athlete within the world and another about the incentive structure of the sport; one article about a non-contrarian CEO with some interesting ideas about running companies that he does not divulge, and another one about a politician with new realizations that helped him confirm 3 nominees to the US Supreme Court even though the confirmation of a single Supreme Court nominee was hailed as a big achievement just a few years ago on the TV Show, West Wing.

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Notes and Review - Meditations on First Philosophy (Descartes)

Descartes has a gift for reasoning that I will not attempt to summarize in the few paragraphs of this review. Descartes’ essay is worth reading if you have ever wondered about the philosophy behind his saying “I think, therefore I am.” It is worth reading if you have a few hours to yourself and you want to think. It is challenging, and some of the philosophy went over my head. Despite that, I got a basic understanding of what he was trying to do. He attempts to reason from scratch to prove the existence of the “soul” and of “God,” for he believes that if he is able to prove their existence, then even the most irreligious person would follow his reasoning and become religious. I was not completely convinced by his logic in this regard, with regard to his proof of God’s existence. But I was convinced about the reasoning behind his quote connecting doubting, thinking and existence1. In this review, I have explained both Descartes’ lines of reasoning and the doubts that arose within me when I followed these lines “without prejudice”2.

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India's National Monetization Pipeline

The National Monetisation Pipeline was a policy announced by the BJP government in India in August 2021. This policy was not widely covered in any of the national newspapers, and there were no policy analyses that went deeper than the headline numbers highlighted by the government. While some articles started coming out in September with more details about the government’s expectations, I couldn’t find any criticism of the government’s approach. A tired comparison to Australia’s asset monetisation plan was everywhere, but this did nothing but scratch the surface. (The same comparison was repeated in multiple publications including The Print and India Today.) This post is a summary of my understanding of the policy after reading some detailed coverage in the September 27, 2021 issue of the India Today magazine.

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Monthly Recommendations (November 2021)

The theme for November’s list is Nature. Movies starting with Jurassic Park have tried to show humans that Nature’s powers are wielded at the most uncomfortable times for human beings and that there is really no consideration for us. This does not stop us from wanting to change the natural course. And this forceful change in nature’s course that we effect through our actions, our scientific understanding of fundamentals, our engineering acumen to build huge structures, and our knack for planning long, complex adventures with far-fetched goals in mind is the theme of this month’s recommendation list. It includes one article about a ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal, a team of people who want to set a world-record and thus circle the globe 1.5 times in their pursuit, and the story of a government’s need to do data-driven policy gone haywire.

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Monthly Recommendations (October 2021)

I have tried to stay away from COVID-19 on this blog. Most people are writing nearly constantly about it and I don’t have many original takes on this topic. But this month, I reverted back to a way-of-life that was typical for me before the pandemic began. I traveled to another city to meet relatives; I went on a vacation; I traveled to some places in the city that I am in; I went out to restaurants and dined-in. These experiences signal a return to normalcy which seemed unlikely in March 2020, 18 months ago. These experiences also shined light on a change within myself: I have gotten used to not being among strangers. Going back to a previous lifestyle, seeing and listening to strangers again has been an interesting return to normal. (I am glad that the “new normal” was transient.) So, this month’s theme is a receding pandemic. I look back at some of the articles which I read at various milestones during the pandemic, starting from the beginning of the pandemic in Japan last year, through the emergence of the vaccines, and right up to the most recent article about the long-term effects of this crisis.

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Climate Change Fever, Late 2021 Edition

If you haven’t caught the climate change fever yet, you almost certainly will catch it in the next few weeks. Even a cursory glance of the news will familiarize you with COP26. As the climate conference approaches, Western publications have gone all-in and bet that the conference will generate a large amount of news. They are right about this, the conference is definitely going to be a hotbed of some stunning news stories. Some countries might announce new targets, others might go back on their existing targets or not commit to anything new, etc. Every change in policy will be followed extremely closely and dissected and analyzed from every possible angle. Only one question will remain unanswered: What is the point of all this hoopla?

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America: An Unreliable Ally

The American political system is strange. It has three branches; the Executive, Congress and the Judiciary. Judges within the judiciary are appointed by the Executive with approval from Congress. The President is the highest official in the Executive branch and elected directly by the people. And all members of Congress are also directly elected. All the lawmaking power lies with Congress and it is generally very hard to repeal laws which have already been enacted. On the other hand, the Executive branch is a fickle-minded body where the current President’s whims and fancies are the primary deciding force. Treaties are signed by the Executive branch. And wars begin and end at the Executive branch’s will. This makes America an unreliable republic to have any kind of long-term agreement with.

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Monthly Recommendations (September 2021)

This month’s theme is the Chinese state. Lately, there has been a lot of news out of China. As Xi Jinping guides the China story towards the inevitable conclusion of overtaking the US economy in size, he has started announcing reforms that look unthinkable to many but deal with the key underlying issues in late-stage capitalism. Rising tuition fees and the unsustainable costs of tutoring are a key issue in India. Coaching classes that train students for the entrance exams of leading engineering and medical colleges cost about INR 50,000 per annum, which is a third of the annual per-capita income of India. China’s crackdown to make these coaching classes non-profits is the most refreshing reform that I have seen imposed on this industry in the past decade. Another industry that has been on the rise in India is online gaming and online gambling. The rise of this industry has made strange cases unusually frequent. (These cases remain the exception and not the norm.) China’s recent regulation on gaming time for minors is an ambitious step. I am not convinced about its utility; but I can see that drastic changes are required to curb Big Tech’s unfettered access to data collection and the Chinese state does not balk under pressure from Big Tech lobbyists. This alone is encouraging to me and I hope that it convinces democratic governments to try something in their own jurisdiction.

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Open Source Software Business Models

A few days ago, AWS released version 1 of OpenSearch, a fork of ElasticSearch. OpenSearch is open-source software licensed under the Apache License v2. ElasticSearch’s creator, a for-profit company called Elastic Co. has been involved in a dispute with AWS for months now. The dispute began when AWS packaged ElasticSearch and started offering a managed service on their cloud platform. There seems to have been no partnership between AWS and Elastic, and this lack of a partnership has irked Elastic no end. This raises a question that others have attempted to answer: What is the business model for free and open-source software? Who should fund its development? Who should benefit from the profits made using that software?

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Suggestions For Better Government Services

I have dealt with government services in multiple places now, and I believe that I have found the common pitfalls that service providers often fall into. This post is not a rant. There is already a lot of documented evidence of governments that were unable to deliver services well, frequently leading to consequences ranging from mild annoyances to tragic outcomes like death: Regional passport offices, post offices, nationalized banks like State Bank of India and Regional Transport Offices (RTOs) in India, Immigration centers in Japan, and healthcare.gov and DMV in the US. This post lists some of the simple enhancements that service providers can implement at low to medium costs to improve the consumer’s experience.

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