004 – A Murder on Malabar Hill, Milk Teeth


Aadisht Khanna and Ashish Kulkarni were joined by Nehaa Chaudhari to discuss two novels set in the Bombay and Mumbai of the past: Sujata Massey’s A Murder on Malabar Hill; and Amrita Mahale’s Milk Teeth. The conversation took its usual diversions, and covered television legal dramas, the deleterious effect of Kolkata on Parsis, the major changes Indian houses have gone through; and, of course, coffee.

This episode has mild spoilers for A Murder on Malabar Hill and serious spoilers for Milk Teeth.

Nehaa is @nehaachaudhari on twitter.

What We Discussed

Vivek Tejuja’s Twitter thread

Goodreads: A Murder on Malabar Hill

Goodreads: Milk Teeth

IMDb: Midnight in Paris

Goodreads: Taj Mahal Foxtrot

IMDb: Chhoti si Baat

Goodreads: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Goodreads: Maximum City

Goodreads: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Goodreads: English, August

IMDb: Sex Education

The Days Are Just Packed

Goodreads: Normal People


(coming soon)

003 – Because Internet, Mothers Against Digital Danger


Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna discussed a book about language on the internet, and a podcast episode about what it would take for the internet to disappear. The book was Gretchen McCulloch’s Because Internet, and the podcast was the episode Mothers Against Digital Danger from Rose Eveleth’s Flash Forward. As always, Aadisht and Ashish digressed a lot, and especially into nostalgia for the internet of the 1990s and the early 2000s.

What We Discussed

Goodreads: Because Internet

Wikipedia: My Son, the Physicist by Isaac Asimov

Goodreads: Sea People

Youtube: Mission Impossible II trailer

Wikisource: The Adventure of the Dancing Men

Flash Forward: Mothers Against Digital Danger

YouTube: Limp Bizkit – Take A Look Around

Other Reading

This section covers articles that fit in with what we talked about, but which we forgot to mention, or which we found only later on.

The Atlantic: How the Coronavirus Generation Will Use Language


002 – Locust


Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna talked about Locust, a book by Jeffrey Lockwood that discusses the science and history behind locust infestations in the United States of America more than a hundred years ago; and discovered that there’s much more to the book than locusts.

This episode was recorded on 12 May 2020, about three weeks before the first swarms of locusts reached India; and so does not discuss the problems India has faced with locusts in the last couple of weeks.

What We Talked About

Goodreads: Locust

Goodreads: Antifragile

Goodreads: The Wizard and the Prophet

Goodreads: A Dominant Character

Wikipedia: Phylloxera

Goodreads: The Drunken Botanist

Goodreads: Vermeer’s Hat

Goodreads: Jurassic Park

Goodreads: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Wikipedia: MS Excel date error

Goodreads: Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation

Additional Reading

We remembered these connections after we recorded our conversation.

Goodreads: Amsterdam by Russel Shorto, for more reading related to Vermeer and Amsterdam’s position at the centre of global trade


001j – Fat and Acid


Aadisht Khanna had read Samin Nosrat’s cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and also watched the TV show. In this episode, Amba Salelkar joins Aadisht and Ashish Kulkarni to talk not only about Fat and Acid as explored in Samin Nosrat’s book and television show, but their own favourite fats and acids to eat and cook with. This discussion frequently turned to Ashish and Amba’s own favourite cookbooks.

What We Discussed

Goodreads: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

IMDb: Salt Fat Acid Heat

YouTube: Salt Fat Acid Heat official trailer

Goodreads: How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

Goodreads: Thai Street Food

Goodreads: Every Grain of Rice

Goodreads: How to Be a Domestic Goddess

Wikipedia: Balsamic vinegar


001i – Jeeves and the King of Clubs; Coffee; The Siege of Paris 1870-71


Aadisht Khanna and Ashish Kulkarni talked about Jeeves and the King of Clubs, a pastiche by Ben Schott which is an homage to PG Wodehouse; an In Our Time episode about the history of coffee drinking, and another In Our Time episode about the siege of Paris that followed the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

What We Discussed

Goodreads: Jeeves and the King of Clubs

Goodreads: Titus Groan

Goodreads: Just William

Goodreads: Good Omens

Goodreads: Leave it to Psmith

Goodreads: Types of Ethical Theory

The passage which Bertie Wooster reads from Types of Ethical Theory when he opens it at random is as follows:

The postulate or common understanding involved in speech is certainly co-extensive, in the obligation it carries, with the social organism of which language is the instrument, and the ends of which it is an effort to subserve.

Carry on, Jeeves

In Our Time: Coffee

Goodreads: The Coffee House

In Our Time: The Siege of Paris

YouTube: Do You Hear the People Sing (Les Miserables)

Wikipedia: Castor and Pollux (elephants)

Wikipedia: French Onion Soup


What are you reading now and what have you read in the past? How do the things that you have read in the past help you understand what you are reading today or in the future for that matter? And what if it wasn’t just what you read but what you listened to or watched and hey what if this could be shared with lots of folks. Welcome to- that reminds me! 

This is episode 1i featuring a conversation between Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna recorded on the 3rd of April 2020. Ashish and Aadisht discussed Ben Schott’s book Jeeves and the King of Clubs and 2 episodes of the podcast in our time about the history of coffee and the 1870-71 siege of Paris. This episode took many digressions including Ashish and Aadisht’s own coffee habits,the possibility of Lord Emsworth secretly being his own spy master, and how Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series may also be a Wodehouse setting gone terribly wrong.

Aadisht (AD): Good afternoon Ashish, how are you?

Ashish(AS): Doing good, doing good. Day 8 or 9 of the lockdown I am beginning to lose count here. But all good. 

AD: Day 12 according to me, but as you said- who’s keeping count. 

AS: [laughs] Pretty much, exactly.

AD: Alright, moving on to cheerier topics- we are going to speak about 3 of the posts that you have written right? So we are back to I interviewing you. 

AD: Yeah, except I’m thinking that more and more it ends up the 2 of us asking each other questions and quoting books to each other- not that there’s anything wrong with that.

AS: Nothing at all, but it’s good to keep up pretenses.Thats all we seem to be doing these days. 

AD: Exactly.

AS: Alright so the 3 things that we are going to be speaking about today. I will just for the benefit of the listeners count them out. The 1st is Jeeves and the King of Clubs- this is written by Ben Schott, the 2nd is the siege of paris from 1870 to 71- this is from in our time and the 3rd is once again an in our time episode and this is about coffee. I’ve got those right, correct?

AD: Yeah, can’t wait to get started.

AS: All right so lets begin with the one you and I are not even secretly the most passionate about Jeeves, Bertie Wooster and the magical, magical world of PG Wodehouse. I have not read anything about Bertie and Wooster that is not directly from the pen of PG Wodehouse and I actually would have considered it a- almost a sacrilegious thing to read a Jeeves and Wooster story penned by somebody else but you seem to have thoroughly enjoyed it.

AD: That is true. I got recommended this book last year, only got down to it once lockdown started and I decided that I want to spend as much time reading as light fiction as possible. And it’s really worked out well for me. 

AS: Okay, so before we start talking about this particular book, for the benefit of our listeners, and if at all there is somebody who’s not heard of Bertie and Wooster or not yet experienced PG Wodehouse’s penmanship- could you give a brief introduction to the original Jeeves and Bertie series and your opinion on what Wodehouse was trying to do with them?

AD: House was a writer of comedy, he created the character of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves in the 1920s. He kept writing books featuring Mr Jeeves and Wooster well into the 70s. While the environment and circumstances changed around Jeeves and Wooster, Jeeves and Wooster remained very much a sort of 1910s 1920s kind of characters. A rich, young London man who didn’t have to work for a living and his personal servant. How the joke starts off is that the man servant is much smarter than Bertie Wooster actually is. He has a huge wealth of education. He is also able to solve complicated problems involving relationships, money through either counselling or sheer trickery and guile and he keeps getting Bertie out of all sorts of trouble, whether that trouble involves being engaged to the wrong woman, whether it involves stealing art for his aunt or whether it involves his friends being engaged to the wrong people.

AS: And as it turns out- that’s a pretty good summary- and as it turns out in the current book you’re reading the one by Ben Schott all of this seems to be an elaborate cover for Bertie simply isn’t as absentminded or as hopeless as he’s made out to be- that’s all just for show apparently.

AD: Well, that’s my interpretation. But it’s not that Ben Schott makes it explicit in the book. But he certainly does Bertie Wooster in a way that is much more- well maybe not much more- but certainly more intelligent than Wodehouse himself wrote Wooster and once you have that initial direction set of Wooster being a little smarter than you’ve traditionally see him I went on the path of saying ‘hey, what he was much much smarter and all the original books are just Wooster making himself out to be an idiot.

A: So as a Wodehouse trivia fan I can’t help but ask the one time- I think there is only 1 story when Jeeves writes it in the first person and Wooster is described in the third person.

AD: That’s correct. 

AS: How will that story fit into your theory?

AD: Before we get into that there is 1 story which Jeeves writes in the first person but there’s also 1 story where there is a 3rd person narrator and Jeeves features but Bertie Wooster doesn’t.

AS: That’s the little girl . . .

AD: the story you brought up does have little girls and is the story of how Jeeves manages to discourage Bertie Wooster from adopting girls. The story that I am talking about is a full length book which features Bertie post world war 2 off at a school which teaches rich people how to function in a postwar economy. Okay, so the reason that I brought up the story that I did is to ask you how your theory might still stand up to scrutiny under the fact that Jeeves in that doesn’t seem to have a very high opinion of his master’s capabilities either. 

AD: One of the advantages of my theory is that any of the original stories can be explained as simply providing cover.

AS: okay, alright.

AD: so, let me begin with the good reads summary you posted the goodreads description of this particular story and one thing that I take very seriously is- as I’m sure anybody that reads PG Wodehouse does- is the quality of the word play- and the goodreads review says that this new version is full of everything that you would expect from a Wodehouse story except most importantly the Wodehousian word play. As a connoisseur of this word play would you say that Ben Schott lives up to expectation in this regard?

AS: What I feel is that Ben Schott’s word play is almost as good as Wodehouse’s without being exactly the same. But, as I mentioned when I first wrote about this book- even Wodehouse’s later books did not really live up to the wordplay of his earlier books, while still being delightful. And I feel what Ben Schott has written is slightly comparable to that. It’s just as good without being the same. 

AS: And you mean that as a compliment, not a criticism?
AD: I do mean that as a compliment. 

AS: let’s delve deeper into this particular book itself and let’s see what it reminds me of. You are combining a whole variety of genres here, you are speaking about maybe potentially there being- or there should be a sci-fi or time travel explanation to the saga of the time travel of Wooster’s stories. Could you build on that a little bit? 

AD: As I mentioned when we were speaking about a brief explained of which Jeeves and Wooster are- the setting of the Jeeves and Wooster books are pretty much the setting of the time in which the books were written in. There are books written in the 1920s which are set in the 1920s, there are books written in the 1950s which are set in the 1950s, there are books written in the 60s and 70s which are set at that time.

AS: Right. 

AD: In all this time only 5 or 6 years have passed in Jeeves and Wooster themselves. They are still very young people. Bertie Wooster’s aunt Dahlia has not aged at all and she is still as active as she was, whereas if she had been aging at the same time as the time around them she would have been in some sort of old age home and barely able to leave the bed. SO you have this sort of internal inconsistency which is that the technology around the characters is changing all the time (but) they themselves aren’t aging and this is also the sort of time that you see passing in the Archie comics and also in the children’s book series of William. With the William books we did get a sci-fi explanation in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omen’s they said that William created an aura around himself where time simply did not move from the idyllic period of the 1920s.

AS: This is the Just William series you are talking about?

AD: It is

AS: Ah, Richmal Crompton. That’s a serious blast from the past!But the first thing that this reminded me of and I really want to explore this in more detail. There is a part of me which is wondering if this is all 1 giant conspiracy right now. I just have begun to think that Lord Emsworth would make a very very very good spy master, Blandings castle is eminently suited for the role and I if I were to bring in a little bit of James Bond- it can’t be coincidence that his name is ‘M’sworth.

AD: Ashish I was taking a drink of water right now and you almost made me spit it out laughing.

AS: I will take that as a compliment. But, come on- it can’t be a coincidence. There is a greater conspiracy afoot over here. We just happen to be the first ones to have dug it out.

AD: Ian Flemming did come up with the James Bond series about 30 years after PG Wodehouse with Lord Emsworth. So we’ll again need a science fiction and time travel explanation to explain how that inspired the other. 

AS: But I maintain worth pursuing it would be an excuse to read Wodehouse and Flemming for the remaining days of the lockdown. And what better task to set oneself. 

AD: My personal conspiracy theory or extended universe theory about a lord Emsworth and Blanding castle’s books involves the other science fiction-ish, fantasy-ish series called gormenghast . .

AS: I haven’t read this 

AD: Yeah, I don’t think it is very familiar to Indian readers. A quick explanation for people who aren’t familiar with it- Gormenghast is a sort of feudal castle with a village surrounding it. Over 3 or 4 books we find out that it’s not in the past it’s in the far future and it is just that this one castle with a really crazy family inside it has been completely cut off from the world around it, has maintained this feudal life all the time while in the world outside technology has moved on and you have flying cars and similar (things). So, my personal explanation for this is that in the Blanding’s world leave it to Smith- Smith manages to get Baxter so enraged that he spends a whole morning bringing flowers into lord Emsworth’s room and gets fired. Now, what if Gormenghast is the world where Baxter did not get fired- keeps Blanding’s castle within his organizational capabilities and makes it so regimented that the family never breaks from routine and goes still crazy and both blandings castle and the village next by completely fall under the spell and are stuck in this frozen, very regimented world.

AS: It says something about how enamoured I am by your theory that I almost want it to be true because it gives me a shot at visiting this place at one point of time. 

AD: At Gormenghast things go pretty wrong so it’s as if Smith was the only thing standing between Baxter’s world domination and how bad it could have made things.

AS: Although the story in which Baxter and Smith meet at Blanding’s is probably one of my 2 all time favourite Wodehouse novels- I just needed to mention that.

AD: It’s a good choice. 

AS: Although we can keep on going- I’m not even referring to your notes right now- just delving into my memories of Wodehouse but this also raises the question about the role of uncle Gallahad.

AD: I think uncle Galahad would make a fabulous M.

AS: Oh absolutely! This might end up taking us somewhere. But anyway- back to your notes and I will be tempted to go away from them and into the Wodehousian universe every now and then. But it turns out the types of ethical theory is actually a real book!

AD: Again for the benefit of our listeners who may not be familiar about the complete works of PG Wodehouse- the first time we ever encountered Bertie Wooster and Jeeves is the story in which he hires Jeeves for the first time. He is at this time engaged to a lady called Florence Craye and Florence Craye is a woman who is far more serious than Bertie’s happy go lucky ways and is trying to make him read a book called types of ethical theory. And we start off with Bertie Wooster opening up types of ethical theory at random- reading out a very weighted passage and wondering how on earth he’s able to get on with it. Towards the end of the story we find that Jeeves points out that the woman who is making him read types of ethical theory is not perhaps the ideal wife for him.

AS: That’s putting it mildly [laughs]. 

AD: All this while I thought that types of ethical theory was simply a fictional creation within the story it turned out to be a real book. 

AS: I am tempted to try and see if it is available to buy just so to keep it with me at one point of time. There is one thing that I wanted to- and this is a reference from the Wodehousian universe once again- we are skipping between our collective memory of Wodehouse and your notes. But that also happens to be the first story- I don’t know if memory serves me correctly- where we hear about Jeeves’ magic pick me up which contains Worcester sauce and a raw egg.

AD: I believe so- yes.

AS: I was in school at that time so I didn’t understand. But the first time I woke up with a hangover I was wishing that that part of the story were actually true. I could have done with something like that. The other thing that I was a bit confused about is this character called Iona. Would you mind elaborating on who she is and what her role is in this series?

AD: It’s actually time to get into the plot of this book rather than the plot of all the old Bertie and Jeeves books. 

AS: Jump right in.

AD: Okay, so Jeeves is a member in the Wodehouse books themselves of a club called the Junior Ganymede which is supposed to be a club for butlers, valets and other personal manservants. The premise of this book “Jeeves and the king of clubs’ is that the Junior Ganymede club is actually an association of secret agents working for British agents. The rationale for this is that anyone who is a VIP and who is entertaining foreign visitors or who is entertaining members of various political parties, etc will have servants in attendance. And if these servants are discreetly eavesdropping they can report back to British intelligence about exactly what these foreign visitors are up to . . . This is the set up the person within formal military intelligence who is interfacing with the Junior Ganymede club is a scottish gentleman called Lord McCusland and his daughter is also involved in espionage activities (as we find out over the course of the book). She is actually a photographer in the book and is employed as a photographer but the perks of being a professional photographer she will simply land up at various places and no one will know that what she is focusing on is not the tourists in front of a military base but the military base itself. 

AS: So before we move on to the rest of the plot one thing that I wanted to mention is it just struck me how many stories based out of england seem to rely on clubs and its either a central plotline or crucial to moving the plot along whether it is the club that we are speaking about right now or the Sherlock Holmes club Diogenes or the club- I can’t for the life of me remember the name right now but the club in the Yes minister series.Clubs are central to quite a few of these plots. 

AD: Yes and I think we can talk about that when we talk about coffee.

AS: Yes, that is an excellent way to segue into that blogpost. But, alright, please continue with the plot over here.
AD: This is something which perhaps is exaggerated but it does seem that clubs whether with clubhouses or not and the general associations which people form in the united kingdom have really contributed a lot to lots of things happening and that literature reflects this and you and I are both fans of Neal Stephenson so when we looked at the baroque cycle and how the royal society starts simply as a association of amateur scientists and then ends up hosting people who make major discoveries of the modern age is also a real, historical example of this. 

AS: Yes, absolutely and the two things that this reminds me of- they are 2 very weird references to give- especially together.One is Bill Bryson has written a book called “seeing further the story of the sciences and royal society” which- if you haven’t read it- not just you but also the others- our listeners- is worth reading about how the society came to be. And the second is even weirder a reference- I am trying to get my daughter to like reading and we are just starting off on the first secret seven story and that also- believe it or not begins with a club. So there is really something to the idea that the British isles has come up with a pretty good idea when it comes to clubs. 

AD: And I am wondering why this is so. And this is probably a good time to mention Alexis Tocqueville and his theory that America was very good at voluntarism and voluntary associations. But somehow American voluntary associations have never seemed to have the impact that British clubs do or at least they have never been lending to literature the way british clubs have.

AS: I honestly think we should consider taking donations from sociologists from this episode on.

AD: Or we possibly start getting sociologists in on these calls.

AS: [laughs] The first method gives us more money so I will go with that one. 

AD: We can use it to hire transcriptors or pay them.

AS: There’s a thought [laughs]. Alright now back to the plot so we have this club and we have this daughter who is supposed to be a photographer but she is more than that. What happens after that?

AD: This is a nice coincidence which hooks up with the last episode which we recorded- as we already know from the original wodehouse books of Jeeves and Wooster- there is a character called Roderick Spode who is a fascist- a British fascist. Spode is based on genuine British fascists. The fascist movement was not related to Germany or Italy there were attempts to have fascist political parties in Great Britain too- prior to the outbreak of the world war. What the book is trying to examine and suggest is that these fascist political parties are upto no good and finally Spode is one of the villains involved in this. And another of the villains in this story turns out to be Bertie Wooster’s bank manager. The interesting thing which comes here is that the author has mentioned in endnotes that this particular villain- the bank manager- is based on a real manager of the bank of England who helped to transfer the foreign exchange or the gold reserves of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany after Germany invaded and annexed Czechoslovakia. Why this ties up with the last episode we recorded is that counterparty this person Bank of England head that was dealing with Germany is a person called Hjalmar Schacht who was the head of the German Reichsbank who’s idea was to use the new currency to combat hyperinflation. 

AS: This is fascinating

AD: And Hjalmar Schacht head of the German Reichsbank had in fact asked this Bank of England governor to be the Godfather of one of his children. 

AS: One of the entirely unexpected advantages of having these conversations Aadisht is that you tend to remember the weirdest of things. Like when you were speaking about the British fascist for some reason I remembered a novel by Ken Follet in which a group of people try to escape England during the second world war- one of which happens to be a family who’s head is a sympathiser of the Nazi’s in Germany. I can’t remember the name of the story but it involved flying across the atlantic in a blimp if I remember correctly. 

AD: Sorry I’ve never read any Ken Follet but why not?

AS: [laughs] yeah, why not? That is kind of the point of these stories and I also happened to be looking up the Wikipedia article on Sir Roderick Spode while you were talking and I wonder how much of- not the Ben Schott’s story- but how much of Wodehouse’s writing of Sir Roderick Spode was based on his being kept under house arrest/ imprisonment- call it whatever you will during the 2nd world war.

AD: Not much because he was introduced before the 2nd world war at a time when British fascism was active.

AS: Ah, okay. Coming back to the plotline and the stories- is this the only novel he has written so far or are there more in the pipeline. Do you know? 

AD: It is certainly the only Jeeves and Wooster novel that he has written. I’m not sure if he has written other novels. He certainly has written something else but I can’t remember if it was a novel or something non-fiction. But he did get a blessing from PG Wodehouse’s step grandson. And I’m not sure if this was an official or unofficial blessing but PG Wodehouse’s step grandson did encourage Ben Schott to write this book.

AS: Okay, so not only is this added to the list but this shoots to the top of the to read list so I will be sure to read this and perhaps I will come back and be able to speak more about it. I think we covered all of what we did with Wodehouse- I must and you must keep ourselves from speaking of Wodehouse. So the next episode we shall be speaking about should be coffee and it’s not like we are ever going to complain about having to speak about coffee but this is the second time we are recording this episode, right? 

AD: yes unfortunately last time we had a slight error recording it.

AS: So if we sound rehearsed- that is because we are. It actually is going to end up being my favorite episode if we are going to end up speaking about both Wodehouse and coffee. So there can’t be too much wrong with the episode. But before we begin let’s speak to our audience about our mutual love for coffee and how addicted I am and I think you are as well to the beverage. 

AD: That’s true this is something which I have been drinking for 22 years. I started off with instant coffee, went on to using coffee grounds and I have to use a lot of instant coffee still because I travel so much- collecting coffees from across the world, trying coffees across the world and it’s been a very very pleasurable dependence/ addiction or habit depending on how much I’m complimenting myself or how much I am going with my wife’s perspective of things. 

AS: If it is any solace to you we are sailing in the same boat where our own opinions about- I’m going to call it habit- and our wives’ opinions about it our addiction is pretty much the same story.

AD: On the bright side I have got my wife to share the habit- at least up to one cup a day. Which I count as one of the successes of my marriage. 

AS: [laughs] we are in the same boat there as well. My wife prefers coffee to tea and that’s one of the major successes of my 12 years of marriage. But alright let’s start talking about coffee and what you have written about it- this is from a podcast that you listened to called- ‘in our time’. The entire episode is about not just the history of the coffee bean itself but also the social impact it has had. Aadisht we spoke in the earlier blogpost about clubs and how segueing over to this will be worth our while because we are speaking about the emergence of coffee houses, the emergence of newspapers and the link to the british fascination with clubs. WOuld you mind expanding on this with regard to what you had written in the blogpost?

AD: Sure, so when coffee drinking reached Britain it’s important to understand that this is in the 16th or 17th century. And making coffee and just sourcing coffee itself is extremely difficult and right from the origins of coffee from the Ottoman empire- coffee is not a drink which you make at home. Coffee is a drink which is made by somebody and served. What ends up happening is that groups of people who have shared interest which could either be a professional interest they are all merchants or they are all soldiers or it could be an amateur interest that they are all interested in a certain aspect of science form slight associations start congregating at specific coffee houses and go there to have coffee. But the culture at the coffee house is that coffee is prepared somewhere off table, served at a table but there is only one table. The social norm here is that you come down, sit at the table and strike up a conversation with whomsoever is sitting next to you.

AS: You mentioned on your blog that another way to think about this is that coffee house is the material form of the right to form associations. 

AD: Yeah- very much so because we can refer to Adam Smith now and his quotation about man’s tendencies to barter and associate if I am getting it right. Even if I am not- there is a propensity to associate. It is difficult to associate if you don’t have a public place to do it in. And the coffee house was serving that purpose. 

AS: It was serving that purpose as recently as the television series friends. So there is a long and rich cultural history to this. The other thing that you mentioned in your blogpost which is equally fascinating especially as an economist is the fact that coffee is not just a drink that requires division of labour but also requires a phenomenon called urbanization. Which to me was fascinating.

AD: As I said coffee has always been a difficult drink to source.  In addition to this it is also a very difficult drink to prepare. You first have to source beans, you then have to grind beans and in between the sourcing and the grinding you have to roast your beans up to the desired level of darkness-

AS: bitterness

AD: Yeah. And once this is done we finally get down to the brewing. There are so many steps involved that no single person can start with raw coffee beans and make a drink of coffee for himself or herself without spending a ridiculous amount of time. To have that division of labour and that economy of scale that will make it worthwhile to serve coffee- you don’t get that on a farm or in a village. You need cities for that.AS: A couple of other points that I wanted to speak about where this particular blog post is concerned- A. differential pricing- particularly in Italy- but this is true throughout Europe. We have coffee that is served- so to speak- standing up. And coffee that is served on the table.

AD: That is correct. The panel in the ‘in our time’ episode mentioned this and they mentioned that coffee served when you sit down and coffee served when you just drink the cup at the counter and push it back have different prices. And for Italy- I don’t know about the rest of Europe- this is true for food as well. The food which you eat at counter costs less [Aadisht said more by accident but he meant less] than the food you eat sitting down- even if all you are having is a sandwich.  

AS: I would much prefer to not have coffee from starbucks because I think they over roast their coffee beans although that is a matter of opinion. But I am sad to report that in India starbucks does not carry this practice forward. It does not matter if you take the coffee in house or to go it’s price remains the same. 

AD: That is true whereas in Italy- as the panel explained- because this practice of differential pricing has been in place so long culture has evolved around it and Italians prefer to drink their coffee standing up. Whereas Starbucks as policy focuses on getting you to sit down and enjoying the experience. And so not only are Starbuck’s prices much higher in Italy than the competing espresso bars. They face resistance among customers who simply are not used to sitting down and having a coffee.

AS: True, and the other thing that I wanted to ask you was that coffee is an urban drink explains why Starbucks is more prevalent in democratic states than in Republican states. I think this is understandable but just to make sure that I’m not getting the inference completely incorrect would you mind explaining what you mean by this?

AD: Yeah, so we’re talking about the United states over here and if concentration or spread of starbucks is mapped across the spread of America you find that they are much more prevalent in states that vote for democratic government than in states that vote for republican government. And this is probably to do with the association that more urbanized locations tend to vote for the democratic party whereas less urbanized and more rural and suburban places tend to vote for the republican party.

AS: If only it worked in reverse as well. If only we could somehow cure the world by opening up multiple starbucks the world over. 

AD: It might be worthwhile to see if you map the political party and you also map the spread and revenue and the number of outlets of starbucks. Which one follows the other? 

AS: Yes, exactly! Unfortunately we must move on to the 3rd blogpost right now. Although there is a lot I want to speak about coffee. Maybe we can do another episode about this sometime later?

AD: Sounds fantastic!

AS: Alright, let’s move on to the 3rd of the blogposts we were going to speak about today. This is the siege of Paris 1870-71. This once again comes from the podcast- ‘in our time’. This is about the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war although there are other ends to this blog as well which will become clear as we start speaking about them. I had the pleasure of visiting Paris twice recently. But I get the sense that the kind of Paris that has been described over here is very different to the kind of Paris I got to see 2 years ago. 

AD: And, why is that?

AS: For a variety of reasons- not the least of which is that it was under siege. It was anything but under siege when I visited it. But it’s not just the fact that it was under siege I get the sense by reading this blog post that the culture of Paris was very different then than it seems to be right now. The word Bohemian comes to mind in the current context but I suspect that is not the feeling that one gets while listening to this podcast. 

AD: No. This podcast is full of violence, revolution and brutal dictatorship.

AS: Could you build on that please? What exactly was the setting like in 71 and why was Paris under siege? 

AD: Well, in 1870-71 and this goes back to what we discussed in the previous episode. France was at war with Prussia and Prussia had invaded France and had been extremely successful at it. The French government withdrew from Paris. Paris itself was under siege from the Prussian [Aadisht said French but he meant Prussian] army and during this period of time the working classes decided to set up their own government and act as an independent state and they called themselves the Paris commune. Because there was just so much violence involved I ended up losing track of who was at war with whom at what time.

AS: That sounds classically French. 

AD: But there was a situation where there was a Prussian army outside the city but the French government itself which had stood for peace was now faced with the task of getting the capital back. So the Paris commune which had started out purely as an attempt by the citizens of Paris to resist the invading Prussians ended up being in a civil war with the French government itself.

AS: You mentioned in the blogpost that while listening to this podcast you were wondering if Les Miserables was set in the siege of Paris and that apparently you got wrong. I am sure I would have gotten the date wrong myself but the one thing that this reminded me made me wonder if the French onion soup came out as a consequence of this particular siege.

AD: This is something we should look up. 

AS: Yeah. I wouldn’t mind looking it up as we are talking but I remember reading on the wall of some restaurant- I can’t for the life of me remember which one now- in Paris about how the French onion soup came about as a cheap easy way to feed the masses during one of the wars that Paris seems to have made a habit of getting into every now and then as you mentioned. And I found myself wondering if the French onion soup was because of this particular siege.

AD: In fact in one of the sieges and I don’t remember which one- which speaks to how many times Paris ends up being besieged- was that as the population started starving they first began eating horses once the beef ran out and these were not horses that had been raised for meat. They were eating horses out of transportation stables. 

AS: Wow, okay.

AD: And once the horses ran out- they started eating zoo animals and once the zoo animals ran out they started eating rats. 

AS: [stunned silence] okay. So this is new information. Not very palatable considering that I still have to have lunch. But I will try and forget all of what I just heard. 

AD: I’m sorry about that. Maybe we should go back to coffee.

AS: [laughs] with pleasure! But speaking about Paris- the other thing is and we spoke about Simon Winder’s book. I am presuming that this is the same book that we spoke about in the last episode. It has a line that goes along like this- “it took no deep, strategic sense to notice that at periodic intervals France went mad and invaded everybody. And you suggested shifting that to Paris having a revolution at periodic intervals.

AD: Yeah that is correct and the original line was in the context of how first I think it was Louis XIV in his attempts to increase both France’s actual territory as well as its overall influence in Europe. Then followed by Napoleon and the Napoleonic wars which were actual invasions and finally the Franco-Prussian war. And we were discussing this last time in the context of how  Prussia felt that it simply had to organize all of Germany into a cohesive whole to prevent French influence. Finding out that Les Miserables is from a completely different revolution in Paris compared to this one makes you wonder how many revolutions does Paris have every now and then because they went to the barricades in 1960s as well. SO it does seem that is something about Paris which encourages everyone to have a revolution.

AS: Possibly yes. I was speaking to some friends of mine when I visited Paris earlier this year and they were mentioning the strikes of the 1960s as well. But apparently at that point of time the middle class was not just not against the strikes they were vehemently in favor of it. 

AD: And participants

AS: And participants- exactly!

AD: Yeah which is untrue of the siege of Paris being described in this episode the middle classes fled the city along with the government, hated the working class uprising and were encouraging the government to reinvade Paris and put down the revolution

AS: Not quite sure how to think of Paris along these lines. The last time that we were there as a family that was in November 2018 the day on which we left is the day on which the Gilets jaunes movement started. The green vests of orange vests- I can’t remember-

AD: -yellow vests. 

AS: yellow vests! I’m sorry. The yellow vest protests started so the tradition of Paris losing it and going ape seems to continue even in the modern context. 

AD: Well, as far as I know from very removed news hearing the yellow vest movement was more rural working classes getting annoyed and invading Paris. 

AS: We were very safely out of Paris the day on which it started so I was not as removed as you were but close enough . . So I don’t know what the truth is but Paris does seem to attract its share of revolutions that much is certainly true. Alright Aadisht- let us stop over here for today. 3 episodes out of which I don’t mind admitting that because of the bias that I have the Wodehouse one was my favorite by far. 

AD: Truly, we did spend much more time on that than we do usually. 

AS: And I speak for myself but I think also for you when I say that we had to tear ourselves away from that one but hopefully we can circle back to that episode or at least something related to it soon.

AD: We did have to tear ourselves away from the coffee episode as well. But the happy news is that we can go back to an actual coffee. 

AS: Absolutely! And that is about as good a note as we can end on ever. So thank you Aadisht, I hope to speak to you soon. 

AD: So do I. Take care.

AS: You too! Bye.

You’ve been listening to “That reminds me” episode 1i. Today’s conversation was between Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna. Ashish’s blog is https://econforeverybody.com/ and Aadisht’s blog is http://www.aadisht.net/blog/ . That reminds me is a podcast produced by Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna. You can find all episodes of this podcast at https://www.thatreminds.me/ . You can leave your comments. You can also email us- our address is feedback@thatreminds.me . The podcast is supported by emergent ventures. The show music is the carnival of the animals performed by the seattle group symphony at the https://www.usopen.org/index.html  [MUSIC]

Transcript is provided by Simran Gopal (https://www.linkedin.com/in/simran-gopal-42a1281b1/)

001e – Crimes in Space, Paleofantasy, and George Will


Ashish Kulkarni talked to Aadisht Khanna about a Flash Forward episode about what happens when a crime is committed in space; Marlene Zuk’s book Paleofantasy, which discusses and debunks the idea that modern humans ought to do what their Stone Age ancestors did; and Russ Roberts’s EconTalk interview of George Will.

What We Discussed

Flash Forward link: Moon Court

Goodreads: Paleofantasy

Marlene Zuk at the University of Minnesota

EconTalk Episode link: George Will on The Conservative Sensibility


001d: St Augustine, Big Business, I’ll Be There For You


Ashish Kulkarni talked to Aadisht Khanna about what he’d been listening to: an In Our Time episode about St Augustine’s Confessions, an EconTalk episode in which Tyler Cowen was interviewed about his book, Big Business; and what he’d been reading: a Kelsey Miller book, I’ll Be There For You, which discusses the history of the TV show Friends.

What we discussed

In Our Time Episode Link: St Augustine’s Confessions

Wikipedia: St Augustine

EconTalk Episode Link: Tyler Cowen on Big Business

Goodreads: Big Business

Goodreads: I’ll Be There For You


What are you reading now and what have you read in the past? How do the things that you have read in the past help you understand what you are reading today or in the future for that matter? And what if it wasn’t just what you read but what you listened to or watched and hey what if this could be shared with lots of folks. Welcome to- that reminds me! This is episode 1d featuring a conversation between Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna recorded on 22 november 2019. Ashish and Aadisht talked about St Augustine, Tyler Cowen’s big business and Kelsey Miller’s (book) I’ll be there for you.

Ashish: Alright Aadisht, good morning and welcome to This is what now- beyond beta so around 3 of our conversations about that reminds me. 

Aadisht: I think this is delta

Ashish: Oh, it’s delta, is it? okay

Aadisht: Gamma got lost when we forgot to record, but I don’t think we are up to actual numbers yet.

And also, well we hope the podcast becomes popular for that to be worth millions- the lost episode. One can hope, one can dream. 

Ad: Yeah. Let’s go

AS: Let’s go. Okay, 4 episodes that we hope to speak about in today’s conversation. We will get to each of the 4 in turn. But let’s begin with the one I actually know the least about and therefore am the most excited about. This is the conversation that Russ- sorry, my fault- this is Augustine’s confessions on BBC radio 4. So, as I was saying I know very very little about St Augustine and just reading from your notes about the conversation helped me understand a couple of things that I need to learn more about. So, why don’t we begin by you giving us a brief overview about the episode itself.

Ad: Yeah. So, I think even before we get to the brief overview of the episode let’s have a brief overview of St Augustine. 

AS Sure

Ad: St augustine is considered one of the founding or (one of the) more influential people behind the catholic church today. But oddly enough and we will get to that- the protestant church considers him even more relevant to their church than the catholic church.  He was born in- I think the 400s or the 500s, no- he was born in the 4th century and died in the 5th century. 354 to 430. This was needless to say a time when book printing was non-existent and books were not very wide spread so the fact that when he wrote a book and he wrote a series of books called confessions. And the fact that they made it to the (inaudible) is itself remarkable.

As: Alright, now onto the episode itself. What was the episode about-the gist of it. 

Ad: Yeah well, the episode title is, well Augustine’s confessions and books that he has written are collectively called the confessions.

As: Okay

Ad: And it does explore a lot of things including Augustine’s personal life and also the later impact of his work. We will go through them one by one. In terms of his personal life. He was born in what is modern day Algeria or modern day Libya which was at that time under the control of the Roman empire. And, his father was Roman but his mother was a local Berber. So, he is a half Roman, half Berber African Roman who grows up in north Africa and goes to Europe to study, comes back to Africa to be a priest. And, in terms of his personal life, his mother is extremely ambitious, she’s come out of poverty so she really wants her son to get a high ranking position either in the government or in the church so that the family can make its money. Now, if we look at where we may have heard of St Augustine prior to this episode- one quote which frequently comes up is Augustine talking about how he has been a sinner in early life. And how he has found God after sinning so much. And his 10 books the confessions have been pretty much about that path. 

AS: okay

Ad and there is a bob dylan song called I dreamed I saw St Augustine I can’t quite remember the lyrics right now. 

AS: Alright, I think that is enough for us to get started with. Lets begin with the second point that you mentioned on your blog post- about Augustine saying that the original sin was not lust but pride. 

AD: the story behind original sin is that God creates Adam and Eve, he creates them inside the garden of Eden which has a number of trees. He warns Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of knowledge. The serpent shows up and tells Eve to go ahead and eat the fruit. She does eat the fruit. She gains knowledge and she makes Adam eat the fruit too. And having knowledge they realize that each one realized that the other is naked and they immediately make themselves clothes to cover up their shame. At which point God realizes that they have eaten the fruit of knowledge and throws them out of the garden of eden. Which is called the fall of man and coming out of the original sin. Now, the popular conception of the original sin is that the sin in question is lust. They have seen each other naked and having knowledge. And they start lusting after each other and this is why God kicks them out. According to St Augustine the sin in question is not lust but the sin in question is pride because it is Eve’s pride and her feeling that she knows better than God and she knows better than to follow God’s instructions which leads her to eat the fruit.

AS: Right, I would not just argue that the second argument is more persuasive but the thing that I am reminded of the most probably is- (to AD)have you seen the movie the big short?

AD: I haven’t

AS: So, both the book and the movie speak about this. I can’t for the life of me remember the guy’s name- but the role played by Steve Carell. 2 young Jewish boys in a home and one of the boys is reading the Talmud in order to find inconsistencies in the word of God. And the original sin, I would go so far as to say, is not even pride it is questioning authority. 

AD: One thing that I have been thinking about a lot is how difficult it is to draw lines between pride and self esteem and vanity. And how you can very quickly slip from one of these to the other. And while it is very clear that in some ways they are, well sin is a strong word, but maybe they are destructive. Either to yourself or to others, but you probably can’t make a decent life without a little bit of self approval or self esteem. 

AS: Right

AD: And, I don’t know if it’s really possible to draw a line between that and pride. 

AS: Okay, depend on who is asking- the people in power or the person who is questioning that power. 

AD: Right.

AS: So, if you think about religion from an evolutionary perspective it is just a, well just is perhaps too strong a word but it is a code of or a set of codes or rules that is going to guarantee the survival of society. SO, from that viewpoint don’t go against the word of God is simply saying don’t go against what we have said in the rules. It just is a way for us to perpetuate ourselves. From that perspective the original sin being pride isn’t so much pride as just don’t question authority is the point that I would most probably be reminded of. So, that being one and the other being the 3rd bullet point in your blog post actually kind of relates to this the determination that Augustine’s mother has to see her younger son do well. So, 2 perspectives here- one- family is a subset of religion and second- that I’ll get to in a little while is stories about your great grandmother. But first the family link between Augustine’s mother and his upbringing and Augustine himself. Could you speak about that? 

AD: Yeah, so Augustine, as I said earlier, is a young man in North Africa. This is part of the Roman Empire so Augustine is a citizen or a subject of the Roman empire. But, he is not an Italian or even a European. He is half European- half Berber. His mother is Berber which is the local North African tribe. She has married a minor Roman official and had Augustine and Augustine’s brother. But, the Roman official is very minor and so she is really determined for the family to rise in society and to rise within the Roman empire. She has this very clever young boy Augustine. And she wants him to get ahead as much as possible. And, she sees him as becoming a Roman provincial governor, marrying a rich woman and getting the family a massive dowry.

AS: Okay.

AD: Yeah, she has very material ambitions for Augustine and because the only way we know about this is through Augustine himself, we have Augustine’s view of this. It’s important to mention that one of the major points about Augustine is that he has a concubine- which may be a misleading term because we are talking about a time when he would be in his teens or his early twenties.

AS: Wow, okay.

AD: So, let’s say he has a girlfriend. He says in his confessions that he is extremely in love with her. The panelists raise a point that because there is a major societal difference between them even if he is in love with her it is quite possible that this young woman being poor and from a much poorer societal background is in quite an exploitative relationship with Augustine . But, again as we only have Augustine’s account for it, we’ll never really know. And, Augustine is being forced by his mother to give up this girlfriend because if he marries her he cant marry the rich daughter of a Roman politician and bring home the dowry and he cant himself rise in Roman society.

AS: Right

AD: Yeah, so he has this extremely ambitious mother. He has to give up his childhood girlfriend. And, ultimately he does go along with it. He does become a figure in the Roman Catholic Church. But, again I have not read the confessions myself, but I get the feeling that he is doing it with some sense of loss and sadness that he’s lost his old girlfriend for whom he seemed to have very sincere and close feelings.

AS: Okay, and the second point related to this is about your own great grandmother, who also you say gathered wood in the forest.

AD: Yeah, so like Augustine’s mother Monica, my great grandmother Meeravaali Khanna according to the family stories had gathered wood in the forest and milked goats to sell so her sons could get educated. And pretty much like Augustine’s mother she did all she could to get her elder son educated and married to a rich woman so that other 2 brothers could have a little capital to raise themselves up.

AS: Fascinating. Moving on to another point and one that reminded me of an essay by David Perell recently. This is about Christian theology being the sort of faith that makes you want to find out about something more than just faith. So before I speak about what it reminded me of, could you explain what you yourself meant by this?

AD: So, a lot of the In our time episodes in the last couple of years that I have listened to. Whenever in our time has taken up a Theologian or taken up an aspect of theology, it seems to go for theologians who see religion as more than just faith and who try to find a justification- either for God or for a virtue or for a mode of behaviour- that relies on more than just faith. 

AS: Okay, the thing that this reminded me the most of was this recent essay by David perell on Peter Thiel. And David Perell makes a point that Peter Thiel being Peter Thiel is a direct consequence of Peter Thiel’s religious belief, about Christianity being in a sense, I am paraphrasing over here but, upward looking. And what I mean by that is the Christian belief that Peter Thiel has, encourages Peter Thiel to want to do better. Is that something that you had in mind when you spoke about the differences between Christianity and Hinduism for example?

AD: No, not really.

AS: Okay, because within the essay itself, and I don’t have the essay in front of me, so this is from memory so perhaps I am getting the specific details wrong. But the idea is Peter Thiel often mentions that, or rather David Perell often mentions that Peter Thiel is Peter Thiel because you want to be able to build something outside what religion will be for you as an individual human being. It’s more societal than it is individualistic. And therefore the consequence being of a Christian faith in a sense almost forces Peter Thiel to do better by his own yardstick for society. It isn’t so much inward looking as it is outward looking. And I interpreted what you wrote about over here as being something more than just faith. Faith rewarding the inner self, the inner soul but faith as a code of, a set of codes that helps you do better for society, allowing people to do better for society itself. And I am wondering if that might be one of the differences between Hinduism and Christianity.

AD: So, I think that both Hinduism and Christianity are much more diverse than a single stereotype. Both now and in the past because one of the things this episode also talks about is just how many sects there were at the time Augustine was operating, about 3 of which no longer exist anymore. But, we can come back to that later I suppose. So, if we’re talking about that I suppose there are a large number of churches- both protestant and catholic where the followers are encouraged to work primarily on faith. And there would be other churches where faith is not be all and end all and you are also encouraged to live a virtuous life. And the same would be true for a number of different Hindu traditions as well. You also mentioned over here about who in Hinduism has that sort of approach and you say in parentheses certainly not the Bhagavad Gita. Could you build on that a little bit? Why would you think that the Bhagavad Gita doesn’t have that kind of approach?

AS: So, according to me the Bhagavad Gita is- there is certainly a tradition where people focus on only chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita. Which is where we get 1 shloka about focus on your actions and not on the fruit of your actions. But i feel that if you take the Bhagavad Gita as a whole- what we see in the Bhagavad Gita is that chapter by chapter Arjuna expresses particular doubts to Krishna. Krishna for the first few chapters comes up with reasoned arguments for Arjuna to not have doubts, for Arjuna to go and fight. But, over maybe 15 or 16 chapters this voice of reason is not able to convince Arjuna at all. And, it’s only when Krishna reveals himself to be the cosmic force and the God almighty-that Arjuna is terrified seeing this vision of Krishna his God. And all his reason based earlier arguments or prudence based arguments of the last 16 or 17 chapters are dropped. And he says nothing is left to me now except faith or bhakti and I’m going to go and fight because you are God and you have told me to do it. So, I mean if you take an individual chapter  or an individual shloka of  the bhagavad gita- then sure, there is a lot of reasoning inside it. But, if you look at the Bhagavad gita as a whole it seems to be a satire of reason and it seems to be putting out a message that ultimately faith will be more important than any reason based arguments that you bring to a discussion of theology or to a discussion of life for that matter.

AS: Weirdly and in a sort of closing the loop over here it reminds me of Eve choosing to disregard God’s instructions. So, go by faith and not by trying to reason it out by yourself seems to be the message in both the original sin that we spoke about as well as Bhagavad Gita. 

AD: Right.

AS: Truly fascinating!  Okay, so (I) don’t think that we have the time to delve into this in detail- I wish we did. (to AD) But could you very quickly speak about how this relates to what you spoke about with regards to Buddhism?

AD: So, one of the most meaningful books I have read this year has been “Why Buddhism is true” by Robert Wright. I think Robert Wright (we checked- it is by Robert Wright!). And, it is also something I discovered through an econ talk podcast. And this is a book that makes a very heavy case that the teachings of the Buddha are parallel to what we know today from psychology or even from evolutionary development. The book spends a lot of time saying- ignore the supernatural aspects of Buddhism, once you strip those away what remains is very useful for getting through life. 

AS: Wow! Okay, duly bookmarked and hopefully I’ll get around to reading it before the year is out. Okay, I’m tempted to jump into Neal Stephenson but that can take us off on multiple tangents so lets just speak about stealing pears for fun. 

AD: Yeah, so one of the major stories in St Augustine’s confessions is he talks about as he was a boy he had a group of friends. They see a pear orchard and they decide that they want to steal pears just for the fun of it. They steal the pears and they aren’t hungry- they don’t want to eat the pears. So, having stolen the pears they just throw the pears to the pigs- for the pigs to eat. Augustine apparently goes into this extremely long self examination of this incident  and goes into this position that- if I was not even hungry why did I steal the pears and the only reason is that i am intrinsically wicked.And this comes back to the point about original sin.

AS: Fascinating. Fascinating for two reasons- 1 that you just spoke about and the 2nd in a very weird way allows me to segway into the 2nd blog post that we are going to be speaking about today- the conversation that Tyler Cowens and Russ Roberts had on a book that Tyler Cowen wrote recently called “big business”. (it is) Important on the outside to state that I have recently been awarded a grant on emergent ventures- in which Tyler Cowen is very heavily invested. So, take what you will, make what you will of that in terms of what I have to say about Tyler Cowens going forward. But that having been said, stealing pears for fun reminded me of a story that came out- I think it was the Atlantic that ran with it- and I’ll put up a link to it with regard to his book on big business- where when you have automated checkouts and people have the ability to walk out of the supermarkets without any interventions. It was observed that at least some people tend to steal. Not necessarily because they are evil, not necessarily because they are wicked but just because they have the ability to do so. I’ll search for the link and we will put it up whenever we will put the podcast out in public. It was a truly fascinating story and it is a weird way to jump from St Augustine to modern business today. 

AD: Yeah, and it is unfortunate that we have decided to leave that episode behind because there is a lot to talk about on this particular and while we are talking about Atlantic stories- recent Atlantic stories that brought me back to this position of original sin or intrinsic wickedness is the one they had earlier this week about children who are born psychopaths

AS: Wow, I haven’t read this one.

AD: And that was also extremely fascinating. But yeah even the- we are getting very far away from the topic of the Tyler Cowen episode so I’ll try to make this quick. But even the panelists in the “in our time” episode about Augustine they say- look, stealing pears is not that evil, it’s kind of wicked, most likely it’s naughty. And, yeah there is always going to be a certain thrill in doing something wrong and getting away with it and doing something wrong not even to get away with it but to see if it is possible to get away with. And a lot of- for example the modern IT  security industry is built on the very (inaudible) people trying to push limits of systems. S yeah, that kind of impulse is a little antisocial but it’s also very useful and maybe there are filters in our head which allow us to do something which is mildly wicked but not completely wicked. 

AS: So, just test how far we can go against authority. 

AD: Yeah. 

AS: I am tempted to tie it back to the- what I think is going to become the recurrent theme of this episode- the original sin but I get that it is a dangerous road to go down in terms of the time we have left. Okay, so let’s- and I noted the fact that you wish to speak a bit more about St Augustine and we will get back to it if we get the time. But let’s start speaking about “Big Business” and the conversation that Russ Roberts had with Tyler Cowen about big business. For everybody who is listening Tyler Cowen- an economist at George Mason university recently wrote a book called s: A Love Letter to big business or something along those lines- I don’t remember the exact title.

AD: I think it is Big business: a love letter to an under-appreciated hero or under-rated perhaps. ( Aadish was close- the exact title is Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero ). 

AS: And in the book he speaks about big business being vilified far too much for the times that we live in. The whole book is a contrarian take on what society ought to think about big business. The conversation that Russ Roberts has is- at least I listened to part of it- I haven’t listened to the whole episode and the part I listened to did not seem to be so much about the book itself but about a whole variety of other things. I mean who are we to complain about given what we do in this podcast. 

AD: That’s true.

AS: But, lets begin with what you took away from that conversation- beginning with Tyler Cowen dissing parties. 

AD: Yeah.

AS: So, could you tell me why parties ought to be rated a little bit more than Tyler Cowen seems they ought to be?

AD: So, I have forgotten the exact context in which this came up but there was a bit in this interview where I think Tyler Cowen was  being contrarian against how its felt that looking at your phone or checking your twitter timeline or facebook or checking your messages is antisocial considering you could be interacting with human beings face to face at a party and he took this as an opportunity to really diss parties and say parties are terrible- all that happens at parties is that you drink a lot and listen to loud music and it presents a massive opportunity cost in terms of you could be having an interesting conversation instead. And he did want to say that yes for someone who is in that 18 to 21 year old period where it is more important to build a social network than to have meaningful conversations within the social network parties are useful but not outside that limited context. And while the specific point about loud music and not having meaningful conversations is true I think he does the overall genre of parties a disservice by saying that it is complete;y impossible for  interesting conversations to happen within parties especially because one of the functions or outcomes of the party is introducing strangers to each other so that they can have all nes. Interesting conversations.

AS: I would in fact go so far as to say that one other area where I disagree with Tyler Cowen is getting drunk and then having a conversation is truly magnificent 

AD: Well, I suppose it depends on how grunk and what the particular person does when drunk? 

AS: Sure, so not so drunk that you can’t stand but getting a little buzzed and having a conversation is better than having a sober conversation- at least in my experience. 

AD: Sometimes in my experience too but my reaction to alcohol has varied a lot over the years and there were a couple of years- around 2010/2011 where I would have been in absolute agreement with Tyler Cowen when 1 drink would have done nothing for me, 2nd drink would have made me miserable so in those 2 years I would have been very happy to stay sober and make my interesting conversation without (the) assistance of alcohol.

AS: Okay, this actually reminds me of an old russian proverb and my all time favorite once- “2 drinks is enough, 3 is too few”. 

AD: And there are of course all the cartoons and infographics about the 7 stages of drunkenness. And, brooklyn nine nine also had a very nice sketch about this- maybe we can find a link to that too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKBWqvFn7Xw 

AS: Done. In fact the thing that I look forward the most to  in this conversation was the bullet point where you managed to link Tyler Cowen, Jean Jacob- Jane Jacobs  sorry (Jake Peralta- from brooklyn nine nine), Deidre McCloskey and Akar Patel. Speak a bit about Baniya values.

AD: So, if anyone has been reading Akar Patel’s columns he is now with the times of India but I am speaking of a time when he used to be with mint lounge. Akar Patel has a bit of a bit of a bee in his bonnet, so he seems to see any kind of problem and eventually link it back to caste in India. And, as part of this he would also talk about how baniyas and related castes- shetis, shetias, etc and in business would have to learn to negotiate, compromise and be able to work and find solutions much better than others. This is of course a gross generalization that is probably untrue but nevertheless very enjoyable but how it links to Tyler Cowen is that in the interview Tyler Cowen says that if there is one thing that we should appreciate about business and enjoy about business is that business teaches you the value of cooperation and persuasion. You cannot make a successful business unless you are able to cooperate within the team or unless you are able to persuade either your team members or your customers or anyone else in the value chain you are working with. This links up pretty clearly with Deidre McClowskey’s repeated writing about the difference between convincing someone which refers to defeating them and making sure that they follow what you do and persuading someone which is done through speech, which is done through words and which has more long lasting outcomes. And, Jane Jacobs while she spoke less about persuasion she did have this line about how the job of a city is to facilitate humane and friendly interaction between strangers. Which I think is also what Tyler Cowen is talking about. And I think that what Akar Patel misses when he says that Baniyas are able to perpetuate is that they probably don’t have that great a track record of cooperating with strangers.

AS: Okay, so 2 things that this reminds me of, weirdly both are related to what I do in terms of my career right now. I teach at a university in Pune and the thing that petrifies me the most about taking up the job is the sense of complacency that while doing it I don’t have as a full time employee of a particular institute- academic institute in particular the need to persuade people. And I worry whether I might lose the ability to literally do business as a consequence of being forever placed with this particular institute until I choose to leave.

AD: Okay.

AS: 1 and 2nd- this relates to the famous lost episode now but it’s also somewhat tied to how I view conducting a class. The distinction that you made between speaking from a position of authority and trying to defeat someone in an argument vis-a-vis having a conversation and trying to convince a person. Classes I think are far too much about the former and enough about the latter- at least in my experience in Pune.

AD: Okay.

AS: I don’t know if you would agree with that or not- but business really is about cooperation and convincing than it is about speaking or position of power. In academia I would have used the exact opposite.

AD: Well, one of the complaints that I have about my career is that so much of sales is now done purely on price and whoever is the lowest bidder in a reverse auction that the scope for persuasion between myself and the customer has been brought down massively. Of course even within that I still have a lot of persuasion to do with my colleagues- juniors and seniors, with suppliers. But I think we tend to worry a bit that we are not getting the opportunities for persuasion that we wish were there. But, I don’t know how it is for you in your career but I imagine that while setting the syllabus, while setting the course structure and having it approved you will still be drawing upon your powers of persuasion.

AS: Right.

AD: So, maybe not in the classroom- but outside the classroom sure. Of course, that doesn’t fix the issue that the classroom is still a place where convincing rather than persuading is going on. But I think that as far as your personal angst that your skill of persuasion is falling maybe you’re a little too worried.

AS: [laughs] I will take it as a compliment, thank you. Okay, the next bullet point that I wanted to speak about was about moving from cities- sorry moving to cities in order to escape monopsonies. What it reminds me the most of is Dr Ambedkar’s tyranny of the village. I don’t know if that’s the point that you and me or Tyler Cowen may have had in mind but the need to escape to cities is something that I think is an imperative for Indian societies.

AD: So, I did not have Dr Ambedkar’s description in mind while listening to this episode. I don’t think Tyler Cowen had this in mind either. They were speaking more in terms of an issue that has been discussed on econ talk before- which is that in an extreme case where- A. if you are an employee and if you are in the market for a job and your job market is both geographically isolated because it’s in a rural area somewhere and if there is only one large employer around which could be a large petrochemical plant or a large agribusiness plant or a food processing plant. You are in danger of being in a monopsony market where there is practically speaking only 1 purchaser for your labour or your employment. And, not to get too much into it but this has been a running argument on econtalk for many episodes. I think there was an episode with Noah smith which comes up in pretty sharp detail but it is talking about discussion prevalent both in economics and in popular culture now which is that as business is getting bigger are there fewer and fewer employers and because of that are people who are looking for jobs having to face with a monopsony or an oligopsony and Tyler Cowen’s point is that- look, the monopsony is a danger only in a very rural area where a single large employer can dominate. And the best way to escape a monopsony is to head to a city where there are multiple large employers.

AS: Okay, I was just as you were speaking looking up the original Ambedkar quote. He mentions the love of the intellectual Indian for the village community is infinite if not pathetic, what is a village but a sink of a den of localism, narrow mindedness, communalism. Ignoring the sociological aspects in a sense, maybe it’s a confirmation bias on my part but I am tempted to link at least a sink of localism with monopsony behavior. The idea is and at least Ambedkar spoke about this- I don’t remember the context with which he wrote about this now (but) the idea is that it is almost imperative for India to be able to escape the narrow mindedness that the village offers. Whether it is the sense of a monopsony when it comes to economics or a monopsony when it comes to seeking out hierarchy in a village it comes out only in terms of caste. 

AD: Well, probably not only in terms of caste. I mean I think we’ve been quite ingenious in finding other ways and axes on which to be nasty. Of course none of that takes away from what Dr Ambedkar has said. If I have some pessimism about that I feel that- especially on the sociological aspects moving to the city is necessary but not sufficient. 

AS: True. Okay, there was a point that I was intrigued about- coming back to the blog post on the Bryan Capling take down  referring to the human capital having measurable effects. Can you speak about what the context was over here? 

AD: Okay, so Bryan Caplan and- I think we have spoken about this in the lost episode- has a belief that all of education is signalling that you have a credential. It is a big game of credentialing. And that students are wasting a lot of time and money spending 4 years in college and paying to get a degree. And I don’t know if he’s the one who made this argument but in extreme form this argument goes that high school students should just write SATs and send their SAT scores to employers and employers should then take in the high scoring students. The 4 years along the way is just a waste of time and money and Tyler Cowen then cites a lot of examples to say that no, education is not really credentialing- it has measurable effects which show that it is actually building skills and giving you problem solving abilities or some kind of knowledge base.

AS: Alright, I don’t think we’re going to have the time- especially in this particular episode to delve into the Churchill episode so let’s just finish by talking very briefly about the friends’ episode or rather the friends’ book that you just read. For a variety of reasons and not the least of which is that I’ve always enjoyed watching friends. There was a remarkable, at least to me, fall in terms of quality over the last 2 or 3 seasons. But what did you enjoy reading about where the book was concerned. 

AD: I mean I’d go so far as to say that it peaked in season 5 and everything after that was downhill. But, this is ofcourse a matter of taste and I don’t know if you want to make it that kind of podcast. 

AS: I’ll interrupt you to say that the first 3 or 4 seasons were a little like seinfeld which to me is a very big compliment and the others weren’t and that to me is how I think about pre and post division time. 

AD: I mean- I think again at some point something becomes really, really big and popular- the fans of that can be far more annoying than any mistake that the thing itself makes. 

 AS: Oh yeah, I agree. 

AD: Okay, so this is a book called “I’ll be there for you” the one about friends which is by a writer called Kelsey Miller. I think she works with Refinery29 (she did when we last checked!) and it’s just a very short, quick book so I don’t think it has a lot of original research but it documents the costing process for friends, it documents what Kaufmann and Crane were doing before they started writing friends and became successful with that. It talks about how the 6 main cast members used to collectively bargain for what they would be paid. And a couple of chapters on other issues- on, for example, on how friends treated lgbt issues and how that treatment was very much part of its time.

AS: Okay, so 2 questions that I had about this with regard to what you just spoke of. !. What did Kaufmann and Crane do- in terms of what experiences they had which got them to the stage where they could write friends?

AD: So, Kaufmann and Crane had originally been I think in college together and in the theatre club maybe it was a program as well. They then completely lost touch- somehow they ended up together. They wrote a bunch of other series- one was slightly successful and it was one of the early HBO original series- I can’t remember the name right now. That caught them notice. They then turned in about 3 complete duds. And it does make it seem that if they had they turned in another dud instead of friends it might have been the end of the road for them.

AS: Remarkable. And the second point- the one that unfortunately because of the lack of time we will probably have to end with right now- Is it to you weird or notable that friends is still somewhat a cultural totem pole for anybody who watches television. There has not been a replacement for the cultural significance that friends has had. I mean of course there have been other series that have been popular but the way that people still watch and revere friends- is it not weird and perhaps depressing? 

AD: I think its perhaps not weird that people still watch and revere friends. What I find slightly off putting is that people rewatch friends. 

AS: [laughs] I am slightly ashamed to say that I am going to plead guilty to that.

AD: So am I- I have been doing it for the last couple of weeks. I do feel that if you are rewatching friends there is a massive opportunity cost of what you could be watching or reading in its place.  

AS: That is perhaps the most depressing thing to think about so let’s not. 

AD: But yeah, I mean this book does focus on how- even 20 years later and young people are still getting into friends and watching it for the first time because it does have a certain premise that is slightly fantastical but still very enjoyable 

AS: – and relatable

AD: – well it says its not that relatable because something like this could never happen in real life but it is something that you would always want to happen in your real life

AS: Aspiriously relatable 

AD: Exactly!
AS: Alright, great! Aadisht- Thank you so much for your time and hopefully we will be able to do this again.

AD: Thank you Ashish, see you soon. 

AS: See you, bye.  

You’ve been listening to “That reminds me” 1d. This conversation was between Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna. Ashish’s blog is https://econforeverybody.com/ and Aadisht’s blog is http://www.aadisht.net/blog/ . That reminds me is a podcast produced by Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna. You can find all episodes of this podcast at https://www.thatreminds.me/podcast/ . You can leave your comments. You can also email us- our address is feedback@thatreminds.me . The podcast is supported by emergent ventures. The show music is the carnival of the animals by the Seattle group symphony at the https://www.usopen.org/  [MUSIC]

Trancript is provided by Simran Gopal (http://linkedin.com/in/simran-gopal-42a1281b1/)