Monday, March 02, 2015

How we lost the cultural war..

A favourite past time in our society -- be it at home or work or in the government or on social media, is the constant pining and whining about the state of affairs. It comes in several forms, pining for the "good old, bygone days", pining for the idyllic village life, lamenting about how this current generation lacks values and culture, and so on.

We're so full of self-pity. We revel in portraying ourselves as innocent victims, mauled away by the big, bad "other." The "other" takes different forms -- the decadent city, the consumerist West, the evil corporate, etc. etc.

One of my latest avocation online is this Facebook group that puts up photos from the Bangalore of yester-years, to bring back nostalgia of simpler, friendlier and cleaner times that this city has seen. In this group, today someone posted a picture of a family sitting on their terrace, having ಕೈ ತುತ್ತು (kai tuttu). This is a kind of family-bonding dinner, usually had on a full moon night, where one person (usually the grandmother of the house) takes a morsel of food and puts it by turns, into the palms of each member of the family who are seated around.

The picture suddenly brought back several memories among a lot of people, and it was easy to see the lament and pain in the messages posted in response to this picture.

It brought me to this inevitable question. How did we end up losing so many elements of our culture so quickly? My childhood times look so different from our lives today, I can only imagine what kind of a dissonance our parents' and grandparents' generations must be having. For several generations, they lived their lives along some routine, having some expectations about what is "normal", and now suddenly, all those cultural norms are quaint, exotic, creepy, and anything but normal.

What happened? There was no war, no invasion, nothing was coerced. So why did we lose out so much so quickly?


I remember the decade of 1990s like it were yesterday. I've still not recovered from it fully.

It was a decade full of exuberance and change. As a fresh graduate, that too in Computer Science, there was only one thing expected of me from the society -- go to USA.

Indeed, at IIT Madras, where I did my Masters' I used to joke that the entire place is like a giant machine, that flung people to USA. If you were a student there, you had to go to the US, else, it meant that you were somehow inadequate -- there was something wrong with you. 

We used to have these couple of "cool" guys in engineering, who knew right from the first semester, what they wanted from their lives -- write GRE and go to the US. They attended classes just enough to pass, and used to be completely mired in their GRE exam guides. 

People used to camp outside the US consulate in Chennai on the footpath for days on end, to get a visa appointment. They spent lots of money and all kinds of tricks to get an allowance to go inside. One of my friend had quipped (sic), "It does not matter how much I spend now, once I start counting in dollars, all these will look like peanuts." 

It was common knowledge that once a desi goes to US (or abroad, in general), the desi remains in US (or abroad). If the desi returns back, then it means there is some serious problem with him. 

But after my PhD abroad, I returned back to India. And got married soon after. At the marriage, I was asked by several folks when was I going back. When I told them that I was not going back, and have got a job here, they gave this understanding look of pity, and an even more piteous look at my wife ("oh you poor thing..")


Clearly, this mass exodus happened by means of opinion diffusion and opinion molding across the population. People of my age used to exaggerate their problems in India, just to find some excuse, and justify to themselves psychologically, about relocating to the US. 

But more importantly, I think there was a much more fundamental factor that fueled this mass exodus. It has got to do with what the respective cultures stood for. 

Indian culture in general, strongly favoured propriety, social order, upholding of tradition, family values, and so on. The collective will was seen to be more superior to individual will, and acting in a socially-acceptable manner was seen as the cornerstone of a good upbringing. Upsetting social norms was (and still is) seen not just as deviant behaviour, but as immoral or even illegal behaviour. 

I remember this conversation from the movie Shankarabharanam, between a Carnatic music Vidhwan and a group of upstarts who were into "decadent" Western music. The youngsters were experimenting with tunes and singing songs in their own way. For which, the music guru explains in a calm, preachy tone that there are specified structures and rules for music, and sounds become music only when they follow these rules. Enjoying what one is doing, and experimenting with it, are strict no-no.. Only "great minds" had the luxury to experiment.

Even much later, as a teacher, I remember this retort by a student, when to a question, I had responded that it depended on our assumptions. He said, "Sir, how can we ordinary people make assumptions about mathematical structures? They are made by great scientists." 

In contrast, the USA of the 1990s was full of memes like freedom, free market, free world, free as in freedom, etc. In other words, freedom. 

There is this quote from Tom Hanks introducing the two kids who are with him to Meg Ryan, from the movie, You've Got Mail that sums it up: "Matthew is my father's son, Annabelle is my grandfather's daughter. We are... an American family."

Such a family, would have been the butt of jokes and condescension in the popular thought that we were brought up in.

In our world, individuals were molded to fit the culture. And out there, the culture was built and fit around individual choices.

So, yes, our cuisine may have been much more complex and intricate than their burgers and fries. But people still lined up for the burgers, even when they were brought here and sold at exorbitant prices. Our "family values" may have been strong, but people still bent norms and reinterpreted values, when they got the chance to go West. Our music may have been much more neat and propah, compared to their pop music, but people still found it cool to be seen in rock concerts and wouldn't want to be seen in a sangeeta katcheri.

Such was the appeal of a culture that respected (or at least appeared to respect) the individual over the collective.


At the end of the day, the core issue is quite simple, but which we have not really fathomed. We have no concept of respecting individual integrity in our culture. The collective is always seen as more important than the individual -- be it in homes, offices or any public space. This causes individuals to feel stifled from within, and make them rush out at the first possible opportunity. 

As an example, we don't even have a concept of people with non-standard gender or sexual identities "coming out" of the closet. Much of our society still cannot imagine a hijra (a transgender) working alongside them in an office or studying in college. They are relegated to extorting money from people at traffic lights or dancing for a fee on some occasions like child birth.

I used to have a metaphor to describe the exodus of the '90s. 

I was standing with my friend in front of a beach in Chennai, and was telling him how this exodus is like, "people rushing off into the water, swimming furiously... not knowing where are they going or even how far away is land on the other side.." And I could not see why were they being so hasty and unthinking. 

But today, I have a different metaphor. That exodus was more like the opening of a cage door, or the breaking of the Berlin Wall. All that mattered was that the cage door was open. And all that one did when the cage opened its doors, was to rush out and not stop to think.. lest it close again.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Guilt and liability

We tend to judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions. -- Unknown

Whenever there is an accident or some form of mishap, it is common to see news anchors on TV and the general public scream out that "The guilty must be punished!" It is also quite likely to see statements like, "He was found guilty of having caused the accident."

Such sentences make no sense. It is one thing to say, "He was found liable for the damages caused by the accident" and yet another to say, "He was found guilty of having caused the accident."

An accident, by definition, is an unanticipated event. While someone is "guilty" if they did something bad, and had intended to do so.

Ascertaining liability is a judgement against the action, while guilt is a judgement against the person.

A person who was found liable for something may be careless or negligent.. But a person who was found guilty of something has a far more serious problem in their character.

But it is amazing how we don't realize the difference between the two and often use the latter, where we need to apply the former.

Be it at homes, schools, offices or even in governance, we attack people's character directly, rather than their actions.

A case in point is a recent TV ad anchored by a former movie star known for his "perfectionism" and preaching down the "truth" to the population. The ad meant to spread awareness about cleanliness, shows scenes where people throwing waste and answering nature's call in the open, are "shamed" into realization, by making them wear a dunce cap, while people around them clap with sarcastic grins.

Sure, it is an unclean thing to urinate in the open. But if someone had access to clean toilets at home or in public places, would they still choose to urinate in public? But no, rather than tackle the bigger systemic problem, we find it easier to attack their character and "shame" them to learn about cleanliness.

Also, it is quite likely that the above argument will be construed as criticizing the celebrity actor in question. Because, we simply do not know how to separate the issue from the people involved. The above argument criticizes our inability to separate issues from people.

Earlier, I used to advocate this separation quite passionately. But these days, I'm realizing that as a culture, we are perhaps not capable of understanding or performing this separation.

We see this everywhere. Children and students are often morally admonished for their actions by parents and teachers -- where, a moral admonishment is an admonishment of their character as a person, while an action could be the consequence of several forms of legitimate intentions.

We are aware of our intentions (even that too, not always), but we can only see others' actions -- not their intentions.

It is important to understand the difference between the two. When we ask someone to pay for damages that were a consequences of their unintended actions, it is not the same as punishing them for a crime. 

Friday, January 02, 2015

Why academic projects?

Often times I have seen a strange mental block against teachers working on large academic projects. Somehow projects are considered "unacademic" and only classroom teaching set to a syllabus, assignments and exams are considered "academic" activity.

Here I would like to address several such myths about academic projects:

Myth 1: Classroom teaching focuses on abstract concepts which is true education, while projects are just skill building and craft

Well yes, abstract concepts are better disseminated in classrooms, while practical skills are best learned by doing. But disseminating abstract concepts is hardly any more "truer" than imparting skills when it comes to academic activity. Imparting skills are just as true academic activity.

Moreover, much of what happens in classrooms are not abstract conceptualization, but symbolic manipulation. The difference between the two is somewhat similar to the difference between mathematics and computation. We often equate our ability to perform slick and fast computation with mathematical expertise. We also equate manipulation of symbols to abstract thinking.

They are not the same.

Abstraction is about extracting and representing the essence of something. And that something is typically an important element affecting our lives. Like for example, an abstract model of a hurricane; or an abstract model of a suspension bridge or an abstract model of an airplane or an abstract model of a computational cloud.

True abstraction is possible only when it can relate to experiential elements of our lives. Without a proper "grounding" in practice, a symbolic representation can have several interpretations -- not all of which are semantically meaningful.

I remember this episode when we were first taught matrices in high school. Our teacher told us that a matrix is a set of values "written in a box." My first internal reaction was.. "what? what box?" And when she wrote a matrix on the board, somewhat looking like this:

And I started to think, "why a box? why not a circle or a rhombus?"

Internally, I'd told myself that "writing in a box" means performing parallel computation. And this interpretation remained consistent when we were taught how to add and subtract matrices -- we just add and subtract the corresponding elements.

Parallel computation. Yes, that was what a matrix was about...

But next we were taught matrix multiplication and it made absolutely no sense given the "parallel computation" interpretation for a matrix!

So again, abstraction is not the same as symbolic manipulation. We were taught the symbolism of matrix arithmetic without being taught what exactly does a matrix represent. Which only ended up making our learning largely "bookish" (just memorize rules for matrix multiplication, determinants, matrix inversion, rank determination, etc. etc. and blindly apply them to the given problem).

Abstraction is only possible when we have some common experience between the teacher and the students that the teacher can refer to, while building the abstract model. And what better way to build this common experience, than to actually do something together?

Myth 2: Projects are a way of employing cheap/free labour to get things done

Academic projects are characteristically different from industry projects. The latter are projects meant to be deployed in the real world for routine operation. There is usually a "customer" who is paying a huge sum of money for the deployment. If an employee is paid x amount for a project, the customer is usually billed 10x of that amount.

In contrast, academic projects are meant to help in testing and demonstrating a concept (typically developed from research activities) and/or to learn some skill. Here, learning and demonstrating are the end goals -- not deployment and operation.

Students working on academic projects are not employees, they are still students. Unlike employees working on industrial projects, nobody will sue the students if their project fails to perform up to quality standards. There is no customer putting their money on these projects and neither are there QoS guarantees and SLAs required by the developers.

But a large-scale academic project still requires the student to learn several practical skills like (in the case of software projects) version control, configuration management, deployment methods, technical communication, project management and coordination, etc.

The other day I was telling students about the kind of "exams" that they may face in their professional lives, which is what they have to prepare for. These exams don't have question papers with marks distribution. They are usually in the form of a legal notice, a midnight knock on the door, pink slips, Arnab Goswami, and such stuff. When employees take home handsome salaries for their projects, they are also signing themselves up to be accountable for such eventualities.

Gain and risk go hand in hand. Academic projects are not about such considerations at all.

Myth 3: Projects are a means of earning easy grades, while earning good grades in courses are much harder

Firstly, course work and exams are so fine grained, I do not know how to interpret the meaning of some student obtaining 99% in a subject while another student having obtained "only" 95%? So, does it mean that the first student knows 99% of all there is to know about the subject? Does it mean that the first student has 4% more knowledge than the second student?

Much of the hair-splitting that goes on regarding scores in conventional course work and exams have no credible interpretation about the concerned student's skills or competence in the subject.

In fact, I have found that the top scorers in exams usually become mediocre professionals. They would have optimized their thinking for "scoring" and not for doing something. They would have become ultra-competitive, while the professional world values cooperation and teamwork.

There was a case when I was teaching some topic in distributed computing comparing different models of distributed systems, when one of the "top" students sitting in the front row was visibly disturbed. When I asked him what was wrong, he replies, "But kind of questions can you ask from these topics?"

So yeah, scoring in courses may be "harder" -- but students have optimized their thinking towards "scoring" and not "learning."

Secondly, is it that the primary objective of teaching should be to make grading as difficult as possible? Even if it is true that scoring is easier in projects than coursework, that makes it no reason why projects are not important or are somehow less important.

The two learning objectives are different and both are important. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Conflict and dimensionality

Whenever there is a conflict in a social space, our first reaction is to jump into the conflict, take sides or pass a judgment about who is right and who is wrong. But here is a completely different perspective on the issue of social conflicts.

A conflict in any system comprising of autonomous, self-interested agents is an indication of insufficient "dimensionality" of the system.

Let me explain with an example.

Consider an intersection between two major roads. As traffic on these roads increase, conflicts at this intersection also go up. Conflict is the result of two or more agents sharing the same state (the intersection) but pursuing different goals (wanting to go in different directions).

We can of course, "manage" this conflict by installing traffic lights, policemen, CCTV cameras, etc. etc. But as the traffic keeps increasing, all of these coordination efforts will eventually saturate. (And of course, the manager -- the traffic policeman deployed at that intersection -- will have to bear the brunt of the conflict.)

But if we change the intersection from a 2D space to a 3D space, by installing grade separators, conflict at the intersection will reduce greatly. The conflict may shift to some other low-dimensionality bottleneck before or after the grade separators, but the intersection in question has now resolved its conflict by increasing its dimensionality.

Similarly, suppose that I have to travel from Bengaluru to Madikeri. What are the different travel dimensions (modalities) do I have? Well, let's see. We can go by road... and that's it. No trains or planes or boats to take us to Madikeri from Bengaluru.

Of course, one can argue that we can go by train to Mysuru or by plane to Mangaluru and go from there to Madikeri. But then, in a travel chain, the weakest link is the link with lowest dimensionality.

Suppose we collect data about people travelling from a given source to a given destination in the state, and connect the source and destination with an edge whose weight is the lowest dimensionality of travel connection between the two places. We can now determine the expected dimensionality of travel within the state, by computing a weighted average (weighted by the proportion of people travelling) of these edge weights.

I suspect that this number will be very close to 1, perhaps a minuscule value above 1.

If we can adopt strategies to increase this expected dimensionality of travel, it will result in an order of magnitude reduction in travel-related woes.

(On an aside, when will we start using major irrigation canals for inland water transport?)

We seldom, if ever, see policy-makers thinking along these lines. Be it the question of safety of cab travel or of religious conversions or any other burning issue, we only think in terms of who is "right" and who is "wrong". We don't see anyone asking what is the dimensionality of this problem space, and how do we increase the dimensionality of the space.

We also equate the term "to regulate" with "to control and restrict". For instance, "Internet-based cabs have to be regulated" means that businesses running Internet-based cabs should be subject to controls and restrictions.

Well yes, regulation needs to have some controls and restrictions; but regulation is as much about enabling and empowerment of legal activities as it is about controlling and restricting illegal activities.

And a lot of the "illegal" activities are due to low dimensionality rather than malicious intent to cause harm -- life wanting to live, but getting stifled.

There was one more news recently about how a family was caught conducting an "illegal" birthday party in Cubbon Park, the other day. Sure yes, using a public place for a private party is not a nice thing to do and definitely undesirable. And they may have broken some law in doing so too.

But look at it this way -- here is a family that wants to do something that is routinely expected from life -- celebrate birthdays. But they find it stifling to conduct such parties in their homes or anywhere else in the city and crave for some fresh air while having the party. What if we increased dimensionality and created publicly funded open, green spaces available for such parties with its own regulatory framework -- like, pick up your own litter, no smoking/drinking and pay a fee for use? The government would earn some more money by way of such use and the public would also get to celebrate with some fresh air without getting stifled.

We are much too eager to "punish wrongdoers" than to "facilitate life to live."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mindfulness about second-order emotions

Situations -- both real and hypothetical -- often create an emotional response in our minds, which we express in a variety of ways.

The general belief is that emotional responses are "irrational" and need to be replaced with stoic and dispassionate reasoning.

But emotions are what makes us human and embody the essence of life. Emotions are our naturally endowed physiological responses to stimuli -- it is our "firmware" in computer science parlance. This firmware logic is encoded in our genes and essentially embodies the essence of what our genetic ancestors experienced.

Our emotional reactions are hence an important repository to understand our history -- basically the unwritten and experiential part of our personal history that we won't find in history textbooks.

Emotional turmoil and mental trauma results not from these emotional responses, but from our "second-order" emotional responses.

Next time, observe how you feel about things. But more importantly, observe how you feel about how you feel about things.

It is these "second-order" emotions that are the root cause of most of our emotional turmoil.

Do you enjoy ice-cream? Do you feel guilty about enjoying ice-cream when you should be watching what you eat?

Does something make you frustrated? Are you depressed that that something makes you frustrated?

Does something cause outrage in you? Do you feel helpless about this sense of outrage, knowing at the back of your mind that you cannot control it and it may end up complicating things?

Do you feel indignation when you witness any form of injustice? Do you feel proud that you feel moral indignation in response to injustice? (That's problematic too!)

Emotions are like a child's reaction to something. A second-order emotion is like someone with a child's maturity, managing a child. It is a sure recipe for disaster. If our response to an emotional reaction is another emotional reaction, it is like an ineffective parent who just screams back at their children when they disapprove, or flatters and pampers them when they approve. The children will only learn how to manipulate around these emotional outbursts from the elders.

The stoic and dispassionate reasoning is relevant here. Replace second-order emotions and not your primary emotions with a stoic abstraction, that is built on axioms that are prudent and humane and represents your mature understanding of the situation. Let this stoic mental model interact with your primary emotions like a good parent -- reasoning with it logically, patiently and with empathy, without trivializing the emotions.

See how things change.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Teachers, not tyrants

Recently there was a case of alleged malpractice in one of the undergrad classes. The TA brought the student to my office when I was in the midst of a research meeting with some other research students. The student was distraught and was vehemently denying any wrongdoing and there was high drama. Not only did this incident interrupt an important meeting, it was not possible for me to arrive at any conclusion even after questioning him for a while.

So, I did what is expected in such cases: prudence. I gave him the benefit of doubt and asked him to formally submit a statement giving his side of the story that can be filed along with his exam papers.

Unfortunately, I did sense in some circles that my decision seems to have been interpreted as "going soft" and "compromising" -- which is alarming to say the least.

So, here is what I'd like to say and provide as guidelines to my teaching assistants on dealing with students.

First, treat them as students, not as suspects or criminals. Our primary duty towards them is teaching, not testing or certifying, Those are secondary goals. As teachers, we have to care for their development and show that we care. Even when we catch them doing something wrong, we have to deal with it not like policemen pursuing criminals, but like parents correcting their children.

Second, do not make certification (grading) dependent on one or a small number of tests administered in sanitized settings. They give us no insight about how the student is likely to perform in the noisy and chaotic professional world, where challenges are hardly in the form of sanitized tests with a predetermined syllabus. Our certification process (grading) should be based on several data points, each of which observe a different kind of activity pertinent to the course. It is difficult, if not impossible for someone to cheat and get ahead in every form of activity.

Third, don't ever forget prudence -- people are innocent unless proven guilty. Assuming that students will indulge in some mischief if they are not under surveillance, is the worst possible and most damaging strategy towards teaching. We have to develop an environment where students look up to us for our profundity and are driven by curiosity.

Believe me, most of the students -- even the so-called back-benchers -- genuinely want to learn. Even those who want to game the system are basically indulging in such behaviours because of deep-rooted distrust about the system. Which in turn was developed because they were treated and accused unfairly by the system.

Remember the movie, Do Aankhen, Barah Haath? Even criminals are people, most of whom deserve to be reformed, rather than just punished. And we are talking about students here who are looking up to us for our purported wisdom.

And as the saying goes -- when you think you know nothing, you get a PhD. Doubting our decisions and not enforcing rules with an iron fist is the hallmark of wisdom, not of a compromise.

None of the above mean that it is okay to compromise on integrity. If malpractice is established -- and only after it is established, we have to take suitable reformative (not just punitive) action. But in the process of establishing the malpractice, we have to be mindful of the intimidation we may be creating, and the damage it may be causing on one's sense of personal integrity. We should always remember that our primary duty is to teach and reform, not pass judgements or administer punishments.

It is always good to remember that there is a knowledge imbalance between us and the students. They don't know what they don't know -- just like us. They may not even know that they don't know what they don't know. And hopefully that is where we are better off, as long as we are aware of our own ignorance.

They do not understand our concerns because they have never been in our shoes. They will interpret our actions according to their mental framework, not according to our intended framework.

If we do something that unfairly violates an individual's sense of personal integrity, we have basically damaged them and their sense of self worth. Which can have long reaching negative consequences. And the thing is, with undergrads who are just fresh off school with no experience to harden them up, violating their sense of integrity happens very easily.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Ownership as identity

There are some characteristic differences between the (20th century forms of the) West and the East in the basic approach to interacting with the external world.

The Western worldview places emphasis on taking charge and being in control of our lives by suitably modifying the environment around us, if necessary. The ultimate objective of being in charge of life is self-actualization -- or emancipation of our free will, to express itself.

In contrast, the Eastern worldview, places emphasis on harmony between us and the environment. It advocates a "hands-off" approach towards the environment urging us to not meddle or interfere with anything in the environment unless absolutely necessary to do so for restoring a sense of balance and harmony. The ultimate objective here is the collective harmony that results from prudent interactions between free-willed individuals and the environment.

These differences result in some curious disparities about our understanding of certain normative concepts. One such concept is that of "ownership."

The Western concept of ownership, historically referred to absolute privileges to impose our free will over something that is owned. For instance, kings were overlords of their kingdoms and enjoyed paramount privileges over everything in their kingdom.

Later on, such absolute privileges were diluted at different levels and the ownership itself was set inside a larger framework in which it is deemed valid. In more recent times, ownership (like that of software) is increasingly taking the form of "licenses" that provides certain limited privileges over the property, bounded by a contractual framework.

Despite all these changes, ownership is still about privileges. Owning property is considered a virtue because it provides us the platform for our free will to express itself.

In contrast, we who have been brought up to value a sense of harmony with the environment, have developed a slightly different definition of the concept of ownership.

In this worldview, rather than self-actualization, the collective synergy resulting from several free-willed individuals interacting harmoniously with one another and with the environment, is the final objective. Emancipation of one's free will per se, is not the goal. People are expected to restrain their free-will if necessary, for achieving a larger harmony.

This is not as bad as it sounds. By restraining our free will, we are actually in a disharmonious state ourselves, which in turn contributes to overall disharmony. If everyone were to live in a restrained fashion, there will be no collective harmony either. So, even though the culture emphasizes on collective interest, individual and collective interests are not necessarily at loggerheads with one another.

Only in specific cases where they conflict, an individual is expected to think of the collective interest first and of one's own interest next.

In such a system, the concept of ownership (as privileges) is somewhat sloppy -- on purpose.

In fact, conventionally it is considered distasteful and arrogant to assert one's exclusive rights on one's property. In movies as recent as the 1990s, the villains usually were depicted with an extremely calculating and hair-splitting personality, while the heroes were depicted with a magnanimous personality.

Indeed, possessing something for the sole purpose of imposing one's free will over it, is not called "ownership" at all -- it is called "indulgence." This thinking permeates even today among the young and old alike -- where technology and gadgets are seen not as tools that make us efficient, but as elements of indulgence that promotes laziness and decadence.

There is however, another definition of "ownership" in this worldview that comes with positive connotations. This basically equates ownership to a sense of identity.

If we "own" something, it means that we associate ourselves with it. What we consider as our own, defines who we are.

We "buy" houses but "own" our homes -- because our sense of identity extends beyond us to our homes. Till the time we don't associate our identity with our house, it is just a place where we live, and not a home. In this sense, ownership is not a formal construct, but an emotional construct.

This kind of emotional ownership is evident when we see how celebrities are treated. Often times we see people demanding certain things from celebrities. More than one celebrity have found themselves in the line of fire from their fans, simply because they voiced their opinion on something that was not the popular opinion on the issue. One of them had famously said that in our country, if you are a celebrity, you need to know the "right" answer to every question on every subject, regardless of what you are famous for. Tennis stars should know what is the correct answer when asked about marriage values. Software czars should know what is the right answer to say when asked about a controversy over river water sharing. And so on..

So what makes people make such demands from celebrities whom they actually idolize? In their minds, people actually "own" the celebrities they idolize, because they associate their own sense of identity with the celebrity.

Some time ago, I was seeing this movie where a poor student is supported by a rich joint family who gives him a room to stay and provides him food. As the story proceeds, the family members fight and the family splits. Seeing the grandmother of the family distraught and crying, the student who is staying at the house goes to console her and says, "I've always thought of this as my own home.." and succeeds eventually in pacifying the grandmother.

Of course, the boy does not mean that he was eyeing privileges over the property, which is what it would mean in the legal definition of considering oneself as owning the home.. :)

What he meant was that his sense of identity extended to the family that supported him. Which in turn means that, he would rejoice in their happiness and would feel sad at their sadness. He considers the family's problems as his problems too. Because they are part of his identity, their ups and downs are his own ups and downs too.