Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Education is not a panacea - III

There are gated communities all over India where the educated rich live cut off from the rest of the country and cribbing about everything that doesn't resemble Singapore. In Geek Nation, Angela Saini describes one such community in the making, Lavasa -  'a metropolis governed mainly by machines' being built in the middle of the Western Ghats, a region rich in bio-diversity and populated by a few tribal villages. It is a half-billion dollar project that is 'the biggest thing to happen to  the Western Ghats since the Cretaceous Period'.

It is a surreal place  having an American Diner with staff dancing to Elvis tunes, opulent villas, a state-of-art hospital that looks deserted, delicate fountains, a street that looks as if it was in Italy...It sounds as if the promoter has taken the most picturesque parts of Europe and built a collage in the middle of nowhere.The employees say that it 'will be a city that governs itself' using technology, that it can provide a role model for the rest of India.  I got a feeling similar to what Angela Saini had - a 'feeling as if I've arrived in Jurassic Park but the dinosaurs haven't escaped...yet.'

In the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson, the author says that Jobs often disappeared into a 'reality distortion field' which made him view the world in black and white terms with no shades of grey,an ability to convince himself and others about almost anything without any sense of proportion. Similarly many educated people seem to live in a reality distortion field.An article in The New Yorker about the Indian print media gives an idea of why this is so. The desired stereotype is also promoted by television serials.  Nehru's comment in The Discovery of India may not have been off the mark: "I have not discovered any special qualities in a literate or slightly educated person which would entitle his opinion to greater respect than that of a sturdy peasant..."

On average, the educated and uneducated don't seem to be very different when it comes to basic human values. Knowing more about protons or perfect markets doesn't seem to help in this regard. The decision to extend voting rights to everybody without putting any restrictions on the basis of educational qualification was perhaps the wisest thing that Nehru did. Most people were opposed to the idea of giving voting rights to large numbers of illiterate people. But Nehru over-ruled all objections and went ahead with his decision. And his instinct has been proved right in election after election over the decades.

As soon as Indira Gandhi held elections after the Emergency, she was promptly booted out. The Congress did well in the more literate states in the South who preferred to ignore the horrors of the Emergency. It was highly educated, successful people who were likely to overlook the excesses of the emergency and say that population needs to be controlled somehow. It is educated, rich people who are likely to say that a spell of military rule will bring much needed discipline. (I have heard this, I am not making this up.) Talk of short-sightedness!

Granted there are  problems of inducement and intimidation but unpopular governments have been shown the door at regular intervals. If buying votes was so easy, the ruling dispensation would have been able to hold on to power more easily. I have heard servants say that they will take the money offered by both the main political parties in Tamil Nadu and then vote for whoever they like! As Ramachandra  Guha says in India after Gandhi:
...the distance - intellectual or moral - between Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, or between B.R. Ambedkar and Mulayam Singh Yadav, is not necessarily greater than between, say, Abraham Lincoln and George W.Bush. It is in the nature of democracies, perhaps, that while visionaries are sometimes necessary to make them, once made they can be managed by mediocrities.  In India, the sapling was planted by the nation's founders, who lived long enough (and worked hard enough) to nurture it to adulthood. Those who came afterwards could disturb and degrade the tree of democracy but, try as they might, could not uproot or destroy it.
I remember seeing a video where it was stated that in the airport, the people in the queue for first class passengers look more agitated and prone to anger than the economy class passengers. I saw this video after my stroke so I couldn't check it for myself but it rings true. In India whichever party comes to power will have the majority of people voting against it. Every winning party claims that it has the mandate of the people which is far from the truth.Nehru at the height of his popularity got only 47% of the votes. So no government can risk moving too far away from the centre much to the chagrin of the better off sections of society, who seem impatient like the first class airline passengers.

Chetan Bhagat has written a book called Making India Awesome which I have not read. For all I know, I may  agree with most of its contents. My problem is with the title. In all probability the publisher would have thought (probably correctly) that a title that gives the impression of there being easy, clear-cut solutions to complex problems would result in better sales. It is similar to the BJP's penchant for coming up with MBA style mnemonics like 3 'C's, 4 'D's, ABCD etc.

A more humble title like 'Some Suggestions that May improve India's Prospects' may not sell as well. During sales training in Wipro, an advice was given which I thought was sensible: 'it is better to under promise and over deliver than to over promise and under deliver'. I am probably a misfit in a social ecosystem that encourages simplistic bombast. I heard a great line in a talk by Arun Shourie which illustrates the problem, 'Jo hyper-bole so nihal.'  As Nassim Nicholas Taleb says in Fooled by Randomness:
I do not dispute that arguments should be simplified to their maximum potential; but people often confuse complex ideas that cannot be simplified into a media-friendly statement as symptomatic of a confused mind.  MBAs learn the concept of clarity and simplicity - the five-minute-manager take on things.  The concept may apply to the business plan for a fertilizer plant, but not to highly probabilistic arguments - which is the reason I have anecdotal evidence in my business that MBAs tend to blow up in financial markets, as they are trained to simplify matters a couple of steps beyond their requirement. (I beg the MBA reader not to take offense; I am myself the unhappy holder of the degree.)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Education is not a panacea - II

Educated people have caused untold miseries to large numbers of people through their fancy ideas like social Darwinism or medical procedures like frontal lobotomy. The iatrogenic effects of the medical profession are long and make for sorry reading. Educated people have often destroyed the environment and show scant regard for unintended consequences of actions like deforestation, over-exploitation of natural resources, introducing alien species into new habitats, etc., often driven by greed, arrogance and over-confidence. While speculating about the collapse of Easter Island society, which appears to have been cased by self inflicted environmental damage, Jared Diamond writes in Collapse:
I have often asked myself, 'What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?' Like modern loggers, did he shout, 'Jobs, not trees!'? Or: 'Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we'll find a substitute for wood'? Or: 'We don't have proof that there aren't palms somewhere else on Easter, we need more research, your proposed ban on logging is pre-mature and driven by fear-mongering'?
Well, perhaps it was, 'Cut, baby, cut.' Is it a smart idea in the long run to ignore environmental norms for achieving development goals? Many educated people seem to think so. They seem to suffer from what Nassim Taleb calls 'epistemic arrogance' - what they think they know far exceeds what they actually know. As Kahneman says in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow: 'Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore the extent of our ignorance.'(If you are going to read only one book in the rest of the year and the whole of next year, I would recommend this book. I think it should be required reading in business schools.)

Paul Slovic is one of the leading experts in the world in studying how people decide about risk. He thinks that the public has major limitations like over-reliance on emotions and trivial details while experts are are much better in dealing with numbers and amounts. But the issue is not so cut and dried. As Daniel Kahneman writes in his splendid book Thinking, Fast and Slow:
...but Slovic draws attention to situations in which the differences reflect a genuine conflict of values.He points out that experts often measure risks by the number of lives (or life-years) lost, while the public draws finer distinctions, for example between "good deaths" and "bad deaths", or between random accidental fatalities and deaths that occur in the course of voluntary activities such as skiing. These legitimate distinctions are often ignored in statistics that merely count cases. Slovic argues from such observations that the public has a richer conception of risks than the experts do. Consequently, he strongly resists the view that the experts should rule, and that their opinions should be accepted without question when they conflict with the opinions and wishes of other citizens. When experts and the public disagree on their priorities, he says, "Each side must respect the insights and intelligence of the other."
The arrogance of ignorance is often in evidence but what cannot be ignored at times is the arrogance of the educated. It cannot be that if you are highly educated, only your views should count. It cannot be that only those views that benefit me are the sensible ones. Economists and businessmen lead the way in saying that people with viewpoints opposed to theirs are being 'misled'.When the poorest and the most defenceless are brushed aside in the name of development, one should at least pause and think. Democracy involves taking every group's point  of view even if the 'educated' think some views don't make sense.

It is hard to believe that real people on ground decide like economists in TV studios do. In The Black Swan Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes about the harm caused by economists due to their physics envy which makes them think that the behaviour of human beings can be approximated to the behaviour of billiard balls.  Economists as a tribe are too confident about their projections. (I have become wary of people who sound very certain.)  There is also the saying that if you put 10 economists together you will get 11 opinions. George Bernard Shaw said, 'If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.'So where they get their confidence from is a mystery.Andre Beteille, probably the foremost sociologist in India, says in Chronicles of Our Time, 'To be sure, there is a large body of social science literature on modernization, development etc., but that part of it which claims to deal with scientifically established laws of social and economic change is mainly bluff and verbiage.'

Take for instance the land Bill. (I have not read the different versions and don't know the nuances.I am just commenting on the basis of a few talk shows that I have heard.) It seems that economists are looking at the issue from the angle of an intellectual problem to be solved - they don't have any skin in the game. On the other hand, the land-owners are looking at it from the angle of livelihood, social status and prestige, sentimental attachment etc., not just monetary compensation. Maybe the endowment effect is playing a role - not everything can be reduced to monetary terms.The image that comes to mind is of the farmer with small plot of land in the Hindi movie Do Bigha Zameen.

It is a question of differential motivation of the different groups involved, similar to the life/dinner principle in biology: ‘The rabbit runs faster than the fox, because the rabbit is running for his life while the fox is only running for his dinner’. As Andre Beteille says in an article A Right for Every Season:
There is widespread desire for change and betterment among all sections of society, all communities and all professions. Everybody wants to get to the end of the rainbow, but not many worry about how to get there. Economists seek to create their utopias through planning, politicians by legislations, and social activists through empowerment. They all can give detailed and eloquent accounts of  what that utopia will be like once it has been created. But they find it tiresome to dwell too closely on the obstacles the lie on the way. Perhaps in our social environment these obstacles are so pervasive and so oppressive that the mind naturally turns away from them. In the event, people tend to alternate between being utopian and being fatalistic, or fluctuate between a moralizing and a cynical perception of the world.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Education is not a panacea - I

In the  documentary Ram ke Naam, the sensible statements were often coming from those with little literacy and the medieval statements were often being made by the educated.  ('Education' is a flattering word to describe what is imparted in many schools and colleges in India.) Many of the vicious, misogynist, jingoistic comments by trolls on Twitter are by college-going students. Educated, middle-class people take great pride in flaunting their religiosity and finding modern ideas in ancient texts. Meera Nanda points to the peculiar mind-set of many Indians who have an inferiority complex with respect to Westerners which causes them to wear a superiority complex. As she says in Geek Nation by Angela Saini:
'For an ordinary believer, it's just faith.  They don't need to explain it. But there's a certain class of people coming up that need to justify their faith, who need to somehow intellectually put into words why they believe. It's more of a disease of educated people.'
Educated people have the same biases that everyone else has but are often in a position where they can cause much damage. The female-male sex ratio looks worse in some of the more developed parts of the country. Dowry pressure is quite common among the educated. Many of the educated rich seem to have an attitude similar to a comment I heard by a character in a novel by Kiran Nagarkar, 'With great fortitude we bear the misfortunes of others'. Caste, class and regional feelings are very much present among the educated. A Lancet study pointed out the disturbing possibility that recent increases in literacy and Indian per-person income might have contributed to increased selective abortion of girls.

In this video, Ashis Nandy says that more than 95% of the causalities in riots have been in cities, where the majority of the educated live, and not in the villages, where the majority of the population lives. These riots are orchestrated and  directed by the educated. The instances of public apathy, where lots of people look on with exemplary restraint while atrocities are committed in front of their eyes, seem to happen mainly in cities. There are many regressive practices in villages but these sordid realities of cities also cannot be ignored.

Incidents of drunk driving where poor pavement dwellers get killed and the educated perpetrator walks away without remorse happens in cities. There were many insensitive reactions after Salman Khan got convicted in a hit and run case. The most appalling comment was made by the singer Abhijeet, a person who one would have thought was educated enough and well-travelled enough to have some idea of the harsh realities outside his cocoon: 'If a dog sleeps on the road, it will die a dog's death. The poor and homeless must not sleep on roads... I too was homeless once, but never slept on road.'

I heard in a talk by the Dalai Lama that over 200 million people were killed by violence in the last century and most of these were at the hands of educated people. Educated people seem to be more likely to drool over terrible weapons that cause immense destruction somewhere far away and over the costly ceremonials of state power. I was shocked by this report that there is brisk sales of Mein Kampf in Delhi with some management students seeing it as "a kind of success story where one man can have a vision, work out a plan on how to implement it and then successfully complete it".  If education is only about learning skills at the cost of basic human values then there is something rotten at the core of modern education.

Educated people often say that Human Rights groups should not interfere with the working of security forces especially in remote areas. They are ignoring the fact that without checks and balances any group, whatever its ideology, becomes coercive. It is human nature. As Primo Levi says in The Periodic Table, ' is a centaur, a tangle of flesh and mind, divine inspiration and dust.' It is the job of Human Rights groups to ask questions that security agencies find uncomfortable. If they have an amicable relationship with the security agencies, it means that they are not doing their job.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Changing one's mind

You can get some good stuff on the Internet and a lot of garbage. Sturgeon's law  that 90% of everything is crap is more applicable to the Internet than anything else. The other day, I came across a comment by Gandhi which is one of the good stuff.
I would like to say to the diligent reader of my writings and to others who are interested in them that I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am in age, I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will stop at the dissolution of the flesh. What I am concerned, with is my readiness to obey the call of Truth, my God, from moment to moment, and, therefore, when anybody finds any inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the later of the two on the same subject.
Some time back, for some reason, I saw the the titles of a couple of my old posts and couldn't recall what it was all about. After I read the posts, I remembered having typed some sentences in it but for the most part it seemed as if I was reading someone else's post. So it is entirely possible that you may come across inconsistencies in my views. If so, Gandhi has the answer.

It has become the norm to regard changing one's view as a sign of weakness. Our first instinct when shown our contradictory statements is to somehow show that both mean the same thing. Talk shows often have one politician saying that another had said something in the past that is opposite to what he is saying now. I think that it is ok to change one's mind  provided of course that it is based on experience and reason and not due to political convenience depending on whether one is in the Government or in the Opposition.

For example, Arun Jaitly said when in the Opposition that disruption was a legitimate form of parliamentary protest but now he is against disruptions. If he holds on to the changed view whenever he finds himself in the Opposition then the change of mind is credible.

Faith is a realm in which minds are very difficult to change,  with scientific information that contradicts a cherished belief leading people to doubt the study in question. In psychology, the motivation to resolve conflicting ideas is called cognitive dissonance and it leads us to try and resolve the contradiction in whichever is the most personally satisfying way, rather than whichever is the most in tune with reality.

Many people revel in mysteries. Some look at them as challenges to be solved; some like them for their own sake, thinking, like Keats, that explaining a rainbow in terms of its prismatic colors destroyed the beauty of a rainbow. Keats wrote, 'Do not all charms fly / At the mere touch of cold philosophy?' They don't want to change their minds about a mystery and would prefer to be left alone in ignorance. In Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins talks of an incident when Michael Shermer publicly debunked a famous TV spiritualist:
The man was doing ordinary conjuring tricks and duping people into thinking he was communicating with dead spirits. But instead of being hostile to the now unmasked charlatan, the audience turned on the debunker and supported a woman who accused him of 'inappropriate'behaviour because he destroyed people's illusions. You'd think she'd have been grateful for having the wool pulled off her eyes but apparently she preferred it firmly over them.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The 2015 Ig Nobel Prize Winners

The Ig Nobel Prize is for achievements that first make people 'LAUGH then make them THINK.' It is more interesting than the Nobel Prizes. This year's winners are:

  1. CHEMISTRY PRIZE - for inventing a chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg.
  2. PHYSICS PRIZE - for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds). 
  3. LITERATURE PRIZE - for discovering that the word "huh?" (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language — and for not being quite sure why. 
  4. MANAGEMENT PRIZE - for discovering that many business leaders developed in childhood a fondness for risk-taking, when they experienced natural disasters (such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and wildfires) that — for them — had no dire personal consequences. 
  5. ECONOMICS PRIZE — The Bangkok Metropolitan Police [THAILAND], for offering to pay policemen extra cash if the policemen refuse to take bribes.
  6. MEDICINE PRIZE - for experiments to study the biomedical benefits or biomedical consequences of intense kissing (and other intimate, interpersonal activities). 
  7. MATHEMATICS PRIZE - for trying to use mathematical techniques to determine whether and how Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed, during  the years from 1697 through 1727, to father 888 children.
  8. BIOLOGY PRIZE - for observing that when you attach a weighted stick to the rear end of a chicken, the chicken then walks in a manner similar to that in which dinosaurs are thought to have walked. 
  9. DIAGNOSTIC MEDICINE PRIZE - for determining that acute appendicitis can be accurately diagnosed by the amount of pain evident when the patient is driven over speed bumps. 
  10. PHYSIOLOGY and ENTOMOLOGY PRIZE — Awarded jointly to two individuals: Justin Schmidt [USA, CANADA], for painstakingly creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which rates the relative pain people feel when stung by various insects; and to Michael L. Smith [USA, UK, THE NETHERLANDS], for carefully arranging for honey bees to sting him repeatedly on 25 different locations on his body, to learn which locations are the least painful (the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm). and which are the most painful (the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft). 

Monday, September 28, 2015

My antilibrary

In The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb says that the writer Umberto Eco has thirty thousand books in his library. Most visitors focus on the books that are read but Taleb says that one should focus on the books that are not read which he calls the antilibrary. The more you know the  larger should be the number of books that you have not read.  The library should contain as much of what you do not know as you can reasonably store.

Whenever I come across titles of books that look interesting, I bookmark it. You can call this my virtual antilibrary. I keep adding to this list even though I know that I will  be able to read only a small fraction of the books in it (because of the limitations of time). Every book I read seems to give me 3-4 new book ideas. I keep getting surprised by how much I don't know even in areas where I thought I knew something.

Just after getting admission in IIMA, one person told me that in two years I will 'know everything'. It seems as if since then (especially after my stroke  when I've had more free time) I have been chiefly engaged in finding out how limited his concept of knowing everything was. I get disconcerted when I hear people ascribe knowledge to me that I don't have. It is becoming increasingly clear that the MBA degree is over-rated by society.

Meanwhile my antilibrary keeps growing. Of course, it has nowhere near the number of books that are in Eco's physical library. And yes, it now has some books by Umberto Eco because Taleb says that he 'belongs to that small class of scholars who are, encyclopedic, insightful, and non-dull'. I don't know when I will get around to reading them because there are other book ideas that take precedence (for now).

The concept of  the antilibrary explains why people who know the least are the most confident and why relying on the 'wisdom of the youth' is not a very good idea - they don't know how much they don't know. If I had written down my thoughts on various issues when I was in my teens and twenties, they would have made hilarious reading now. Confucius ("Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance"), Bertrand Russel ("One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision")  and Charles Darwin ("Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge") knew what they were talking about.

PS :Taleb uses the analogy of an antilibrary to explain his argument about rare events in his book. The Black Swan, an argument that I agree with - no amount of white swan sightings allows you to make the claim that 'all swans are white' but the sighting of just one black swan is enough to make the claim that 'all swans are not white'. There is an asymmetry in the level of certainty that you can ascribe to statements- you can be very certain about the negative statement but you can't have the same level of certainty about the positive  statement.

The common argument that is offered against any warning of any sort -'it hasn't happened before' - focuses on the books that you have read and ignores the unread books. It illustrates 'the tendency to look at what confirms our knowledge, not our ignorance'.

Monday, September 14, 2015

When I was fooled big-time

One evening I got a a call from Vivek Chandel (Chandel/Chandu) who was my classmate and dorm-mate at IIMA and is currently in Delhi. (You would have come across him in an earlier post.) We had the usual chit-chat, nothing that seemed different from our earlier conversations. The next morning I got a call from Amir Mirza (Sidey), another classmate and dorm-mate at IIMA who was then in Mumbai. He informed me that he was leaving for New York (where he is working) the next day and that we will meet on his next visit.

Jaya  informed me that some visitors who had been expected the previous day were coming that morning. Jaya got me ready and shifted me to the wheelchair. She told me that the expected guests were in a hurry to go back so she took me to the front hall as the visitors were expected soon.

And who do I find there? Sidey and Chandel! They had been sitting quietly lest their voices carry to my room. Sidey said, 'Kesu! Fancy you being here! What a surprise!' P.G. Wodehouse described the expression on the face of a chap who "while picking daisies on the down line, has just received the 4.15 in the small of the back." I had a similar expression on my face when I saw the two of them. You scarcely expect two guys who you thought were in Delhi and Mumbai to be in front of you.

It was the first time since our hostel days that we were together. We had spent a lot of fun times together in our hostel days. Chandel and Sidey had come home separately earlier but this was the first time they had come together. I had thought that they had had enough of my sick jokes but they have more resilience than I had imagined. It was good to know that familiarity doesn't always breed contempt.

We soon got down to discussing old times. And when Sidey is around when discussing old times, the topic soon veers around to the time when a restaurant in Ahmadabad had to close down due to his gargantuan appetite.

The three idiots meet after 22 years: Sidey to the right of me and Chandel to the left of me (and Jaya in front of me with the camera) 

We had gone to a restaurant that offered unlimited Gujarati thaali. Unfortunately for the restaurant, it had gulab jamun on its menu for dessert. With his gastric juices working overtime, Sidey polished off 23 of the sinful sweetmeats. When good food is in front of him, he feels compelled to show his appreciation. He is mindful of a cook's fragile temperament as evidenced by Anatole, the cook of P.G. Wodehouse fame, the one who serves a magnificent  mignonette de poulet rotie petit duc  and a sublime  nonats de la MediterranĂ©e au fenouil (if you don''t know what they are, don't worry; I don't either) and threatens to put in his papers if he finds someone pushing them away and nibbling on spinach instead.

The good Samaritan, whose sole motivation was to protect the self-esteem of a hard-working and often unappreciated cook (any suspicion of gluttony that you might entertain would be making a mockery of the truth) had stuffed himself so much that he told us on the way back, 'Guys, don't touch me or I will puke!' When we came next to the restaurant, we found that it had shut shop and the blame naturally fell on Sidey. His calorie intake was one of those low probability, high impact events that Nassim Nicholas Taleb was warning about in The Black Swan.

Chandel is not to be considered a slouch when it came to punishing (er ...nourishing) the human body with excess calories. Once after finishing our dinner at a restaurant, we were about to leave when he said that he was still feeling hungry. He had eaten 4 parathas but he said that he could have 10. Everyone agreed that if he did indeed have 10 parathas, they will pay his bill. And indeed it turned out that way. (It reminds me of a scene in a Tamil movie.) Luckily for the restaurant, it had a pricing model that was more robust to such rare events.

These and other  hostel incidents formed the bulk of our chit-chat for the next few hours. All too soon, it was time for them to go. When I was checking with Jaya whether their cab to the airport had been booked, Sidey remarked impishly, 'I knew it, Kesu wants to get rid of us as soon as possible!' This visit was a surprise worth having.

PS: Some time back, I was reading Joesph Anton by Salman Rushdie  in which I came across the following lines: "anybody could walk in the front door.  You really had to be somebody to get in through the kitchen door, the staff entrance, the rear window, the rubbish chute." The first thing that I remembered when I read those lines was when I first visited Sidey's house in Mumbai.

When I reached there, I found the front door closed and I couldn't see anybody around who I could ask for directions. I saw a staircase which I thought led to the entrance so I climbed it ...and went straight into the kitchen with Sidey's mother looking in astonishment at the strange apparition that had suddenly appeared in front of her. But she managed to retain her sang froid in what must have been a stressful situation and just said, 'Hello, are you looking for somebody?' She must have known that her son has some weird friends and guessed that this must be one of them.

Fortunately,Sidey entered the kitchen at this moment and said, 'Trust you to enter my house through the kitchen.' I responded with a weak smile. Lacking in sound and fury, it signified nothing but embarrassment. A Bertie Wooster often has a Gussie Fink-Nottle in his circle of acquaintances. I was feeling like the poor cove who drops a dolly at mid wicket on the opening day of a Boxing Day Ashes Test Match in front of a 100,000 strong crowd and then has to endure the damn slow motion replay on the giant scoreboard at the ground with his eyes firmly fixed to the ground.

I have a lot of empathy for such an unfortunate member of the species. In my school days, I was sometimes known as 'gadda' -Hindi for 'hole' or 'pit'. When batsmen hit a catch towards me, they took fresh guard knowing that it would be a miracle if I actually managed to pouch it. I believe the technical term for the possession of such virtuoso fielding skills is 'butter-fingered'. The good Lord, when pondering over his Grand Design for this best of all possible worlds, overlooked an important detail which thinkers across the ages have agreed is a significant ommision - He forgot to provide for the ground to open up and swallow the tortured soul who found himself in such an agonising situation.