Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Strangeness of attention

I had written about how Gandhi spoke calmly forcing people to strain to hear him. A similar situation is described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Antifragile. He writes of the time when he had to give some lectures. He was asked to do some antics on the stage to attract attention and speak in a clear voice which he refused to do. He writes:
I find it better to whisper, not shout. Better to be slightly inaudible, less clear...One should have enough self-control to make the audience work hard to listen, which causes them to switch into intellectual overdrive. This paradox of attention has been a little bit investigated: there is empirical evidence of the effect of 'disfluency'...The management guru Peter Drucker and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the two people who mesmerised the crowds the most in their respective areas, were the antithesis of the polished-swanky speaker or the consonant-trained television announcer.
Psychologists divide the brain conceptually into two parts: System 1 represents what we call intuition and System 2 represents reason, self-control and considered decision making. System 1 is fast and does not require much effort. System 2 is slow and requires effort. We rely most of the time on System 1 for our regular activities and it does fine. Occasionally, this causes problems. There are times when using System 2 would have been beneficial but we often skip it since it requires time and effort. Advertising, political, nationalistic and religious messages target System 1 which is why they are so effective.

The brain measures what psychologists call the ‘cognitive ease’ of a given situation. If it determines a particular situation to be easy, it decides that extra effort need not be made to process it and that the information can be processed by System 1 by itself without bringing System 2 online. When you can hear a speaker clearly, the brain determines a situation of cognitive ease and extra effort of System 2 is not called upon. (Of course, this should not be taken too far. If you can’t hear a speaker properly because say, fire-crackers are going off around you – as happens during Diwali – your System 2 working at full tilt is not going to help you.)

Similarly, when the font is large and you can see the writing clearly, the brain has a sense of cognitive ease and it avoids extra work.  I have experienced this effect quite often. When I get a book that  has fonts a bit smaller than usual, I have some difficulty in seeing it. This makes me read a bit slower than usual and this helps in grasping the matter better. Again, this should not be taken too far. There is a certain ‘twilight zone’ where the greater effort of System 2 is effective. Before reaching this zone, the quick but superficial System 1 is in charge. Beyond this zone, System 2 is ineffective.

The situations of cognitive ease and strain have various effects on how we process information. When you are in a state of cognitive ease, you are more likely to like and believe what you see and hear. You are also likely to be more casual and superficial in your thinking. In a state of cognitive strain, you are more likely to be vigilant and invest more effort in whatever you are doing. Daniel Kahneman writes in Thinking, Fast and Slow:
…predictable illusions inevitably occur if a judgment is based on an impression of cognitive ease or strain. Anything that makes it easier for the associative machine to run smoothly will also bias beliefs. A reliable way to make people believe falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. . Authoritarian institutions and advertisers have always known this fact.
A psychological effect called the Dr Fox effect shows the impact of speaking styles on an audience. An actor with no formal training in a subject was told to give a convincing, exciting lecture and a bland, formal lecture; with the content for both lectures being  basically nonsense. It was found that people felt they had learned a lot more from the engaging lecture rather than the more conventional one even though they didn’t notice that in both cases the talks were gibberish.

The audience tends to get distracted by the speaker's hand movements and fails to pay attention to what he is saying. This was demonstrated to me during a communications class when I was working in Bajaj Auto Ltd. The speaker told us to follow his instructions. He then told us - 'Touch your forehead', 'Touch your ear', 'Touch your eye'...All the while his hands were doing what he was saying. Then he said, 'Touch your cheek' while he touched his chin. I think everyone in the room without exception touched his chin. He kept repeating, 'Touch your cheek' while we stared at him wondering why he was repeating his instructions. We realised our mistake a moment later and stared at each sheepishly.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Commemorative days

Every day seems to commemorate something. There is Father's day, Mother's day, Valentine's day, Friendship day, etc. Most of these are marketing gimmicks to enable shops to sell more cards and gifts.  But there are some less well-known and more interesting commemorative days. Did you know that today is French Toast Day? Here are some more such days:
  • World Pangolin Day is the 16th of February. The pangolin, also known as a scaly ant-eater, is a rare, scale-covered mammal about the size of a house cat. It is insectivorous and mainly nocturnal. It is a shy animal that rolls up in a ball to protect itself. It can fend off lions in this manner, but not poachers who just pluck these critters out of the jungle and toss them into sacks. Pangolin meat and scales are quite valuable on the black market (the meat is considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam and the scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine) .  The pangolin is thought to be the most trafficked mammal in the world. So one can't grudge it having a day to itself.
  • Pi (Greek letter ) Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world.  It also happens to be Albert Einstien's birthday. In 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution designating March 14 as "National Pi Day" to encourage “schools and educators to observe the day with appropriate activities that teach students about Pi and engage them about the study of mathematics.” This is the day for you to bone up on some facts and impress everyone at parties.
  • Towel Day (25th of May) is celebrated as a tribute to the late author Douglas Adams (1952-2001). On that day, fans around the universe carry a towel in his honour, a way for them to say 'Thanks for all the fish'. The importance of the towel was explained in his book The Hitch hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: 
A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough. 
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost." What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
  • World Beard Day is celebrated the first Saturday of September. Whether you prefer a goatee, Van Dyke, mutton chops, or chin curtain this is the day dedicated to your facial glory. It is all about promoting and elevating the global status of the the beard. Shaving on World Beard Day is universally considered to be highly disrespectful. Things can get quite weird on this day. For eg., in the Swedish village of Dönskborg, anyone without a beard is banished from the town and forced to spend twenty-four hours in a nearby forest. Back in the town, the hirsute burn effigies of their clean-chinned loved ones. The "Official World Beard Day All-Bearded Human Pyramid" pits countries against each other in a battle for national pride.
  • Ada Lovelace Day is an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). It is celebrated on 13 October. It is aimed at highlighting role models to inspire the next generation in the hope that increasing their visibility will inspire future generations. Ada Lovelace Day was founded in 2009 because of a worry that women in tech were invisible. Lovelace was Lord Byron’s daughter, though she didn’t know her father very well. She was schooled in maths and science, unlike the majority of girls at the time she was growing up. Her social circle included Charles Babbage, and her grasp of the potential for his Analytical Engine has led her to be hailed as the first computer programmer.
  • International mud day is celebrated on June 29th. It is the day where children, adults, and organizations across the globe get muddy to raise awareness about the importance of nature for children. After all, as American botanist Luther Burbank said, “Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers,water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade…bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to toll, sand, snakes and hornets; any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of…education.”
You will never be short of 'days' to celebrate if you visit daysoftheyear.com where you will find Trivia Day, Peculiar People Day, Laugh And Get Rich Day, Unique Names Day, Tell An Old Joke Day, Cliché Day, ...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Indian epics - II

In certain versions of the Ramayana, Sita is Ravana’s daughter. She has a curse on her head that she would bring death to her father. Knowing about the curse, Ravana tries to get rid of her, and she ends up in a strange northern land where she marries Rama. An unsuspecting Ravana kidnaps Sita and ultimately gets killed by Rama. Here Rama, as the son-in-law of Ravana, can be seen as the substitute son.  Thus the story has shades of the Oedipus story in Greek mythology where the son kills the father.

Ramanujan says that folk versions of the epics often contemporise the action at various points, often raising a laugh. He gives one example from a folk play in Northern Karnataka. When Rama was exiled, the weeping people of Ayodhya followed him to the river bank where he bid them to return, ‘Brothers and sisters, please go home now. I’ll be back in fourteen years.’ When he returned after fourteen years, he found a small group of people standing at the same spot in tattered clothes, long and grey hair and beards and dirty uncut nails.

When he  asked them why they stood the way they did, they said that they were the eunuchs of Ayodhya. Rama had bid goodbye only to the men and women of Ayodhya by addressing them as brothers and sisters. ‘You didn’t bid us goodbye. So we stood here waiting for you.’ Rama was touched by their devotion and ashamed of his oversight. So he blessed them and gave them a boon, ‘O eunuchs of Ayodhya, I’m greatly touched by your devotion. May you be reborn as the next Congress party of India and rule the country!’

Another example of contemporisation of the Ramayana: Since the 18th century, the British had been a powerful presence in India and Ramanujan gives an example of how this fact got reflected in a folk narrative of an epic. In  village enactments of the Ramayana, suitors from all over the universe come to the function where Sita was going to choose her bridegroom. In a North Indian folk version, an Englishman with a  pith helmet, a solar topee, and a hunting rifle regularly appears as one of the suitors of Sita!

The oral traditions give a different picture of women from  that in the written texts. Ramanujan gives two examples. When the Tamburi Dasayyas of Mysore sing the Ramayana, the focus is on Sita's birth, marriage, exile etc.The Tamil story of Mayili Ravanan is set in a time when Rama has defeated the 10-headed Ravana. A 100-headed Ravana arises to threaten the gods and this time he is not able to win. It is Sita who goes to war and defeats the demon.

Ramanujan contrast the characters and moral tone of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The heroes of the Mahabharata are polyandrous, two of the brothers also have other wives while the hero of the Ramayana is strictly monogamous. In Mahabharata,  the characters are complex and each fails spectacularly in the very quality for which he is well-known. For eg., Arjuna, the greatest of warriors, loses his nerve at the first moment of war or the strong Bhima who can defeat Duryodana only by cheating. Ramanujan writes:
The values are ambiguous; no character is unmixed; every act is questionable, and therefore questioned. Not dharma, the good life of right conduct, but dharmasuksmata, or the subtle nature of dharma that mixes good and evil in every act, the impossible labyrinth of the moral life, is the central theme of the Mahabharata. So, the character of every person and the propriety of every major act is the subject of endless legal debate and moral scrutiny.
But in the Ramayana, personal integrity..., fidelity, is supreme. Like an existential hero, Rama picks his way toward his ideal, through accident, obstacle and temptation.  He is in fact, untemptable, cruel in his vow of chastity, admirable but unlovely in his literal insistence on what is just, even against faithful and obedient wife. As character is all, the Ramayana is full of suspicions and doubts - every character and virtue, even the chastity of Sita and the fidelity of Lakshmana, are tested in the crucible of doubt. The Mahabharata is replete with legal debates because dharma itself is subtle, the Ramayana is replete with doubts, tests and acts of truths because everything in dharma depends on character. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Indian epics - I

In one of his essays, A.K. Ramanujan says that Hindus don’t come across the Indian epics for the first time by reading and when they do finally read it, it won’t be in Sanskrit.They would be familiar with it from stories told by parents, elders, discourses, village plays, and other such oral traditions.

Ramanujan says that though it is generally thought that writing is fixed and speech is constantly changing, it is not necessarily so in the Indian context. A text like the Vedas is fixed but was not written down until 2000 years after its composition.They were considered magical texts that would devastate anyone who mispronounced them. They were transmitted using elaborate teaching systems by experts learned  in grammar, syntax, logic and poetics. So though they were in the oral tradition,  they retained high fidelity in transmission.

On the other hand, a text like the epic story in the written tradition of the Ramayana seems to allow endless variation. Hundreds of variations exist, written, sung, danced and sculpted in South  and Southeast Asian languages. The epics are texts that were originally oral traditions. Writing did not necessarily fix them, nor did it prevent their having other and parallel lives. Such fixed-phase and variable-phase forms exist in both written and oral traditions and cannot be generalized.

Classics like Mahabharata and Ramayana have multiple existences - in many regions, languages and versions, in oral and written media, in 'classical' and 'folk' modes, in ancient and current renditions. These epics are known widely - among literate and illiterate, among young and old - which is not the case with Western epics like the Illiad. The Indian epics are  in daily consciousness though proverbs, phrases, songs, movies, magazines and TV. In Europe, only the myriad uses to which the Bible is put can be compared to these epics.

In all traditions, especially Indian, the oral and written forms are deeply intermingled. Ramanujan says that many of the differences in the texts of Indian epics may be 'due to the way the texts do not simply go from one written form to another but get reworked through oral cycles that surround the written word'. This pattern means that Western analytical methods may not be suitable for reconstruction of these epics. These methods are aimed at making tree-diagrams that relate one text to another reaching back to an Ur-text which is deemed to be the original text from which the others descended.

There are around 300 Rama stories in different languages and countries of South and South East Asia. Ramanujan prefers to call these different stories tellings rather than variants or versions because the latter words imply that there is an original or Ur-text from which these stories have later been derived. This Ur-text is often assumed to be Valmiki’s Sanskrit Ramayana but many tellings have significant variations from Valmiki’s Ramayana. (Ramanujan’s essay 300 Ramayanas had stirred up a controversy.) Indian epics may not have such a reconstructable Ur-text 'enmeshed as they were in oral traditions at various stages of their composition and transmission'.

More than 300 Ramayanas have been written and in the later Ramayanas, comparisons will sometimes be made with other Ramayanas. Ramanujan gives the example of the Adhyatma Ramayana, probably written in the 11th century. In it, like in other Ramayanas, the hero Rama is exiled. He tries to dissuade Sita from going into the dangerous forest with him. But Sita insists on sharing the exile and hardships with him. After the argument continues for some time, an exasperated Sita comes up with the knock-down argument, 'Countless Ramayanas have been composed. Do you know of one where Sita does not go into the forest with Rama? Ramanujan writes:
Such self-reference to other or prior examples of the narrative, often implicit, makes texts like the Ramayana not merely single, autonomous texts but also members of a series with a family resemblance. When we add Jain Ramayanas and folk Ramayanas, the Rama story becomes a language with which each text says many different things in different periods and regions - but they require each other because they refer to each other.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

‘Internal amputation’

I was reading A Leg to Stand On by Oliver Sacks, a physician by profession. He injured his leg while climbing a mountain and found himself on the opposite side of the table from what he was used to - he was now the patient. The injury was severe but straightforward to fix but the psychological effects were much more complicated. Sacks experienced paralysis and an inability to perceive his leg as his own, instead seeing it as some kind of alien and inanimate object, over which he had no control. He says that it felt as if  he had had an 'internal amputation'. The book is an account of Sacks’ ordeal and subsequent recovery.

My stroke happened over 18 years ago and my memories of the early months are hazy. In fact I now have to refer to the early posts in my blog to recall certain details. Certain experiences that Sacks describes seemed similar to mine so I will give them here. He describes the first time a physiotherapist had visited him and asked him to move his leg a week after it had been put in a plaster cast but he had failed to move it:
The session with Miss Preston left me pensive, and grim. The strangeness of the whole thing, and the foreboding I felt...now hit me with full force, and it could no longer be denied. The word 'lazy' that she had used, struck me as silly - a sort of catchword with no content, no clear meaning at all. There was something amiss, something deeply the matter, something with no precedent in my entire experience. The muscle was paralyzed - why call it 'lazy'? The muscle was toneless- as if the flow of impulses in and out, such as normally and automatically maintain muscle tone, had been completely suspended. Neural traffic had stopped so to speak, and the streets of the city were deserted and silent.
It was the deadness of the muscle which so unnerved me. And deadness was something absolute, unlike tiredness or sickness. This was what I had felt, and suppressed, the previous evening: the sense, the foreboding, that the muscle was dead.It was, above  all, its silence which conveyed this impression - a silence utter and absolute, the silence of death. When I called to the muscle, there was no answer. My call was not heard, the muscle was deaf.
I did not get these feelings all at once after the first session of physiotherapy. I was unconscious during the first few physiotherapy sessions and was only aware that I was being pulled this way and that by somebody or something. Once the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly happily fluttering around doing as he pleased. He suddenly woke up and didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt that he was a butterfly, or he was a butterfly who had dreamt that he was Zhuangzi. I was in a similar state of confusion when I started regaining consciousness after my stroke and the above feelings crept in over many subsequent days.

After his initial physiotherapy session, Dr. Sacks sunk into despair. He quotes Nietzche, ‘If you stare at the abyss, it will stare back at you.’ All the experience he had accumulated previously  were totally useless in ‘the limbo of Nowhere’. It seemed to him that he had ‘fallen off the map, the world, of the knowable’. He felt a great sense of fear because not only was his knowledge useless now but had now ‘the sense and feeling of passivity’ which he found humiliating. But after a few days he mysteriously began to change – ‘to allow, to welcome this abdication of activity’.  He writes:
Thus my limbo….started as a torment, but turned into patience, started as hell, but became a purgatorial dark night; humbled me, horribly, took away hope, but, then, sweetly-gently, returned it to me a thousandfold, transformed.
In this limbo, when I journeyed to despair and back - a journey of the soul, for my medical circumstances were unchanged,...and in an agreement, not uncordial, between my physicians and myself not to make any reference to 'deeper things' - in this limo, this dark night, I could not turn to science. Faced with a reality, which reason could not solve, I turned to art and religion for comfort. It was these, that could call through the night, and these only,could communicate, could make sense, make more intelligible - and tolerable. 'We have art, in order that we may not perish from the truth' (Nietzsche).
Art certainly is a comfort (for eg., listening to Kunnangudi Vaidyanathan on the violin is divine; for Tamilians, here is him playing some great songs on the violin) but religion never appealed to me even though I was surrounded by it. Since most people are religious, especially in India, I must be a mutant. Although personally nothing has changed, I have become more sympathetic to religion than before. Rubbishing religion and putting science and technology on a pedestal has harmful consequences. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Case for Astrology

In The Tao of Cricket, Ashis Nandy says that astrology was not used as a serious guide to the future in ancient India. He relates a story to show that it did not have uncritical acceptance. Two kings consulted the same astrologer before going to war with each other. The result came out reverse of what the astrologer had predicted. Instead of keeping quiet, the two kings demanded an explanation from the astrologer. The astrologer said that the loser had taken the battle casually after hearing the prediction that he was going to win and  the winner tried even harder after hearing the prediction that he was going to lose. The astrologer said that in such cases astrology was useless!

Ashis Nandy says that not just the truth value but also the social uses of astrology should be considered. Take for example cricket which ‘is a game of chance and skill which must be played as if it was only a game of skill’.  The same characteristic exists for films and politics. All three fields are highly susceptible to the charms of astrology because it gives the actors the feeling that they are doing something to control the uncontrollable. Similarly people who feel threatened by the winds of social change will clutch at astrology so that they get ‘an internal locus of control when dealing with outside forces’. He quotes a journalist as saying:
Today, the phenomenon in India is ironic. The westernized section of the youth, who do not know which Indian rashi they belong to, or even the names of the rashis, who have not seen their horoscopes, and who scoff at superstitious Indians, the section considered the most modern, liberal, the hope of the country, are the ones who believe the most in newspaper forecasts.
Horoscopes are often exchanged between parents before fixing marriages. Many times, horoscopes are used by one side to reject certain marriage proposals which they may not be keen on for some reason. Even if the other side produces an astrologer who says that the horoscopes match, an astrologer can always be found who will say that they don't match.  In these cases, giving rational reasons for the rejection might cause friction among old friends and relatives who may find themselves on opposite sides. Citing mismatched horoscopes as the reason for the rejection enables both sides to shrug their shoulders and continue relationships as before.

Horoscopes can be used to used to justify certain decisions which have been arrived at logically. Ashis Nandy illustrates such a situation with a story by Tagore. In the story, a mother is hostile to the marriage between her daughter and the latter’s lover because their horoscopes don’t match. The husband overcomes her opposition by revealing to his wife that he had doctored his own horoscope to marry her 21 years ago because their horoscopes too did not match!

People may take astrological help as an additional insurance which may or may not help while they take normal, rational steps to cope with the problems of life. 'Maybe it has some effect, who knows!' could be the reasoning. The psychology is similar to a story I once read of an atheist philosopher who started praying on his deathbed. When he was asked why he had started praying, the philosopher replied, ‘This is no time to to be making enemies!' Nandy concludes thus:
It is possible to argue that, even as a proper superstition, astrology is less harmful than taking glucose, or taking multivitamin capsules daily in response to advertisements or bottle feeding one’s baby or drugging it with overdoses of sugar, food preservatives, or hydrogenated, hydroxyquinoline derivatives used as anti-diarrhoeal agents. At worst, the first kind of superstition benefits small-time cheats who are ill-organized and scattered. At best, the second kind of superstition is a global enterprise; it makes us a victim as well as a participant in a centrally organized, capital-intensive structure of exploitation. 
The multi-million dollar global superstitions include the prestige of quaffing certain sugared waters, the idea sold by the global arms industry that increased spending on national security will increase people's security, books on tips to beat the stock market / guarantee business success / increase self-confidence etc. (based on the belief that everything is within your control and that luck is irrelevant), fairness creams, health foods...(To a large extent, the consumers of these superstitions are the educated.) I am reminded of Gandhi's statement in Hind Swaraj, 'I am prepared to maintain that humbugs in worldly matters are far worse than the humbugs in religion.'

And looking at the jet-setting, globalised modern swamis who abound in India, they seem to have a greater following in cities than in villages, among the educated than among the illiterate, among the rich than among the poor. If you thought that superstition is due to lack of education, you are ignoring reality. Ashis Nandy writes in Bonfire of Creeds:
It is a feature of the recipient culture which is to be created though the modern state system, that the superstitions of the rich and the powerful are given less emphasis than the superstitions of the poor and lowly.This is the inescapable logic of development and scientific rationality today.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Words that create a mental fog - III

In  Politics and the English language, George Orwell bemoans the deterioration of the English language with people now using vague generalities to cover-up realities. He illustrates his point by translating into modern English a well-known sentence in Ecclesiastes - 'I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth.' His translation and analysis:
Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
This is a parody, but not a very gross one...It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations – race, battle, bread – dissolve into the vague phrase "success or failure in competitive activities." This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing – no one capable of using phrases like "objective consideration of contemporary phenomena" – would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. 
The first contains 49 words but only 60 syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains 38 words of 90 syllables: 18 of its words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase ("time and chance") that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its 90 syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from ECCLESIASTES.
A more contemporary example of such vagueness is the explanation of the financial crisis of a decade ago by the former chairman of the American Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke. Paul Krugman said that the explanation had a Hirohito feel to it. (When announcing Japan’s surrender in 1945, Emperor Hirohito famously explained his decision as follows: “The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”) Bernanke's explanation: “Market discipline has in some cases broken down, and the incentives to follow prudent lending procedures have, at times, eroded.”

The noise made by party spokespersons almost always tries one’s patience. They often say something to fill the time For eg., a BJP spokesman said that when growth picks up, job growth will improve. And the discussion was about there being jobless growth in the past decade! And as if by reflex, the Congress spokesman criticized the statement without showing any sign that he remembered that a major portion of this period occurred when his party was in power and it was making similar statements at that time. In the above-mentioned essay, Orwell writes (the first two paragraph are combined into one paragraph in the essay):
In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line." Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White Papers and the speeches of under-secretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, home-made turn of speech. 
When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases – BESTIAL ATROCITIES, IRON HEEL, BLOODSTAINED TYRANNY, FREE PEOPLES OF THE WORLD, STAND SHOULDER TO SHOULDER – one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance towards turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.
Political language - and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. 
PS: A paper by a Princeton University professor called ‘Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly’ explores the habit of many students of using complex words to give the impression of intelligence. You would no doubt have noticed such a tendency to utilize erudite vernacular irrespective of necessity in this blog. What to do, I am like that only (sic)!