Saturday, August 09, 2008
When Bush looked into Putin and was "able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country", I suppose Georgia did not show up anywhere. All we have been doing since then is irritating the cold, calculating, shrewd, and highly political Putin.
Anne Applebaum writes in Slate that the time to deal with this conflict was two years ago or four years ago. That there was a security vacuum in the Caucuses; that this vacuum was dangerous; that war was likely; that Georgia, an eager ally of the United States, would not come out of it well; that a successful invasion of Georgia, a country with U.S. troops on its soil, would reflect badly on the West—all of that has been obvious for a long time. Cowardice, weakness, lack of ideas, and above all the distraction of other events prevented any deeper engagement.
If you are like me, you probably are wondering how much President Bush's bizarre policies contributed to this. Well, here is Brendan O'Neill of Spiked: The bloodshed that occurred over the weekend, as Georgian forces bombed the breakaway territory of South Ossetia and Russia responded by attacking Georgia, can be seen as the destructive outcome of Washington’s increasingly hungry and erratic foreign policy. .... From the Ukraine to Uzbekistan to Georgia, Washington has backed a string of dodgy ruling parties and dictatorial leaders as they have upped the ante with their former rulers in the Kremlin. ....
Georgia, like many of the former Soviet republics, is a state with no real reason to exist. Lacking a unified national elite or identity, it is another of those Caucasian and Central Asian states that were born by default when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. It is fragile, changeable, and has various ethnic or ‘national’ groups within its borders – not only in South Ossetia (which wants to join with North Ossetia) but also in Abkhazia, a Black Sea region that has largely run its own affairs since defeating Georgian forces in a war in 1992-1993.
Over the past decade, Washington’s foreign policy – increasingly patternless and self-defeating – has helped to make the unstable state of affairs in the former Soviet republics worse. America has sought to turn these republics into outposts in its ‘war on terror’.
In Portland, Ore., which has somehow escaped excess civic nosiness, strip clubs proliferate in family-friendly neighborhoods, as commonplace as a burger hut. What’s more, you can drink and gamble in the clubs. The city is said to have more strip clubs per capita than any other in the country — including Las Vegas — in part because of Oregon’s liberal free speech provisions in the state constitution.And yet, the city, has low crime, uber-fit citizens, and it’s clean.
On the other hand, if this is true, well, I would never have guessed this attribute of Portland's ... Something new and strange everyday!
- You can only sync music and video through iTunes. Want to drag-and-drop content from your hard-drive? Would like to sync music from another store -- from Amazon, for example? You are out of luck.
- You can only install apps through iTunes. Never before has a cellphone maker slammed the door to an open development enviornment and received nothing but praise for doing so. Imagine Microsoft creating a gated software ecosystem and installing themselves as the gatekeeper. They would be eaten alive by the press. Apple gets a free pass.
- Apple deletes useful applications. Nullriver's modem app went to the grave with no reason stated. Apple's digital business is dependent on the music and movie industry's whims. How long before the industry dictates which applications we can run?
- Apple might not accept apps which might be detrimental to its own business. We won't hold our breath for competitive products to appear on the iPhone anytime soon.
- You can only run one third-party application at a time. An instant messenger that runs in the background and collects messages while you are away? Not happening.
- Apple might not allow app vendors to open up their apps. The terms of the NDA that potential application developers for the iPhone need to sign, effectively restrict redistribution of the source. Apple has created OSX on the back of FreeBSD; Safari on KHTML, SproutCore library used in MobileMe, and now they have built a layer on top that excludes others. Nik at TechCrunchIT laments that "the same community who demand all from Microsoft, feel gifted and special when Apple give them an inch of rope... Applications can only be installed from a single source, iTunes, and open source applications and distribution is near impossible. How do you install an iPhone application without iTunes? Where are the community advocates arguing for a standard interface, openess and free code?"
- Limited Bluetooth use. The iPhone 3G has Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR but can you transfer files over Bluetooth? Does it support A2DP? Stereo Bluetooth? No on all counts. As of now, all you get from Bluetooth are headset voice calls, and that's it.
- No copy-paste. This might be more of an interface issue that Apple is seeking to solve, than anything else. But it only underlines the drawbacks of a walled garden. If development was as open as say, it is on the Palm platform -- you would have a hundred different solutions by now, and at least one you could actually use. This also underlines how much the innovative spirit is killed by a controlled development environment. The iPhone ecosystem doesn't encourage software tinkering and probably won't spur garage breakthroughs that drive the industry forward.
- No MMS. While you can e-mail photos, multimedia messaging is absent from the device. And speaking of videos...
- No video recording. In the world of YouTube, the iPhone 3G does not offer video recording.
- No voice command. For a touch-screen-only phone, voice controls would have been a huge plus for hands-free or one-handed control. Can we expect this functionality to be added by a third-party app?
- Hardware locked to carriers. You cannot use any SIM card with this GSM device. How stupid is that? Hello monopolies, goodbye competition. Thanks to carrier lock-in when the phone launches in India, the iPhone 3G might not even enjoy 3G until months afterwards. How do you like them apples?
Friday, August 08, 2008
- Continuing tensions in Afghanistan and Iraq, of course.
- Musharraf's impeachment
- The implication of Olmert's departure for Israeli government, and for the Palestinian peace process
- Mugabe's atrocities in Zimbabwe
- Sudan, and Darfur in particular
- Any development in Iran
Thursday, August 07, 2008
[The] Democrats may have made a big strategic error: allowing the election to become a referendum on their candidate rather than a verdict on the Bush years. This was probably inevitable if you run a mould-breaking candidate (in retrospect, the Democrats might have been better advised to run a white male rather than getting into a slugfest between a woman and a black). But Mr Obama is hardly a master of deflecting attention from himself.
The junior senator from Illinois is strikingly self-obsessed even by the standards of politicians. He has already written two autobiographies. He seems to be happiest as a politician addressing huge crowds of adoring fans. .....
Mr Obama needs to reframe the election so that it is less about him and more about the issues. And he needs to abandon the rhetorical high ground for the nitty-gritty of policy. Otherwise the general election could prove to be the second coronation in a row, after Hillary’s implosion, that has ended with a surprise.
I am reminded of a previous blog post:
Today Now!: How To Pretend You Give A Shit About The Election
"Given the unconscionably bad environmental state of the area in and around the site of the 2008 Summer Games, we cannot in good conscience allow Chinese athletes to compete in China," said Olympic committee spokesman Sun Weide. "We deeply apologize to China for the bitter disappointment they will feel at not being represented in these Games. However, we place the blame squarely on China for their failure to prepare a suitable venue for international competition."
Of course, this is from The Onion:-) The rest of the story here
Last night, I watched on C-Span a Brookings discussion on US foreign policy challenges this fall and beyond. Bruce Riedel talked about Pakistan. About How the military and the ISI might easily be tempted to play the India card, with a new twist: that India is working with Afghanistan, and using its embassy in Kabul to launch its anti-Pakistan activities, to squeeze Pakistan from all sides. If the country gets sold on this argument, then, say hello to mushroom clouds over the subcontinent.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Economics is a sophisticated guessing game. No, a good economist is like a good lawyer, and an excellent one will come up with something a la Johnnie Cochran's famous, "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit" argument. Science has excellent predictive abilities--economists can't even agree on what happened in the past, leave alone being unanimous in their predictions!
Want evidence? Here is one.
Context: how successful was the idea of the rebate check that the Congress and the President signed off on, and the money we have all spent? Will it be wise to do another round of rebate?
Paul Krugman's left hook: There is, however, a case for another, more serious fiscal stimulus package, as a way to sustain employment while the markets work off the aftereffects of the housing bubble. The “emergency economic plan” Barack Obama announced last week is a move in the right direction, although I wish it had been bigger and bolder
And Martin Feldstein's right jab: The Tax Rebate Was a Flop. Obama's Stimulus Plan Won't Work Either. All of the evidence on one-time tax rebates implies that the Obama plan to send $1,000 rebate checks would do little to raise consumer spending and stop the decline in employment.
So, who you gonna believe? :-)
Gas pricemarks pushing $2-a-gallon ; local drivers 'don't mind,' expert says
By CHIP POWER Californian staff writer e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Statewide gasoline prices are kissing the $2-a-gallon level, with Bakersfield motorists near the head of the line.
Local prices now are $1.97 a gallon for self-serve regular, according to a AAA Motor Club survey, nearly 12 percent higher than a month ago. The statewide average in California, which has the highest gas costs among the continental states, was $1.86. San Francisco prices are at $2.05
Fuel industry analysts have dismissed the effects of the increase in crude oil production promised by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries as being too little, too late to affect U.S. retail petroleum prices this winter.
Some analysts are speculating about possible energy shortages if the United States encounters a colder than normal winter. The accuracy of these predictions is difficult to verify.
As long as the U.S. economy hums along with little threat of inflation or a recession, most confident motorists are shrugging off the current high prices with little changes in their driving or purchasing behavior, said Sriram Krishnamurthy, a Cal State Bakersfield economist specializing in environmental resources.
"People don't mind spending a few extra bucks here and there if they feel like the economy is humming along," said Krishnamurthy.
However, there does come a point when people may cut back their driving and avoid the popular, gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, he said.
When that adjustment comes is hard to say, but Krishnamurthy said it would likely be well past $2 a gallon and would also need to be accompanied by a big change in the larger economic picture, such as higher interest rates, shrinking job growth or run-amok inflation.
"If you had those sort of changes, vehicles such as the Jeep Cherokee would sell at a discount instead of a premium," the economist added. But that hasn't happened yet.
I was right: it took a few things to come together for people to run away from SUVs.
And, yes, Krishnamurthy was my last name before I legally changed it.
McDonald's, one of Britain's largest low wage employers, is creating 4,000 new jobs in Britain to cope with increased demand for its keenly priced Big Macs, McNuggets and McFlurry ice creams.
While upmarket US healthfoods supermarket chain Whole Foods may pull out of the UK altogether, McDonald's appears to be thriving in the economic downturn.
Its recruitment drive comes two weeks after McDonald's operations in the UK and France generated some of the strongest growth for the world's largest fast food chain. European comparable sales for the three months to June 30 rose 7.4%, with the UK and France slightly ahead of this figure.
The group's 1,200 owned and franchised outlets in the UK have seen a rise in the number of customers of two million a month.
And, Whole Foods shares have taken quite a beating. Bloomberg reports that the stock plunged $4.30, or 19 percent, to $18.62 at 9:42 a.m. in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading, the biggest decline since November 2006. Earlier the shares fell to $18.26. The stock had lost 44 percent this year before today.
In other ways too, I find the youth to be far better--in general--than the youth of the past, and agree with Christopher Ferguson's observation in the Chronicle of Higher Education: According to several significant indicators, today's youth are actually faring much better than did other recent generations: They are less violent, less suicidal, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, and less likely to experience teen pregnancy (despite a small increase in teen pregnancies in 2006, they remain much lower than in 1991). But why doesn't anyone seem to know that?
Monday, August 04, 2008
Yes, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
And this is exactly the arrogance that Brendan O'Neill, the editor of Spiked, wrote about. He writes, When is the loss of 12,600 jobs a cause for celebration? When those 12,600 workers are mere Starbucks baristas, young men and women in green aprons who use annoying words like ‘venti’ and ‘wet’ (what drink isn’t wet?) while serving overpriced coffee to harried young professionals. Who cares if these workers – many of whom work at Starbucks to finance their studies – are stripped of their livelihoods and forced to peruse the ads in soulless Job Centres? Serves them right for getting a job with the Evil Corporate Coffee Empire in the first place.
At least, that is the implicit message of much of the whooping and cheering that has greeted Starbucks’ economic turmoil.
Here is the irony of all: it might even be a myth that Starbucks drove "mom and pop" coffeeshops out of business. Writing in slate.com, Taylor Clark argued that the chain actually helps those very mom and pop coffeeshops. Starbucks, on the other hand, is often more expensive than the local coffeehouse, and it offers a very limited menu; you'll never see discounts or punch cards at Starbucks, nor will you see unique, localized fare (or—let's be honest—fare that doesn't make your tongue feel like it's dying). In other words, a new Starbucks doesn't prevent customers from visiting independents in the same way Wal-Mart does—especially since coffee addicts need a fix every day, yet they don't always need to hit the same place for it. When Starbucks opens a store next to a mom and pop, it creates a sort of coffee nexus where people can go whenever they think "coffee." Local consumers might have a formative experience with a Java Chip Frappuccino, but chances are they'll branch out to the cheaper, less crowded, and often higher-quality independent cafe later on. So when Starbucks blitzed Omaha with six new stores in 2002, for instance, business at all coffeehouses in town immediately went up as much as 25 percent.
Oh, for the record, I hate Starbucks coffee. A long time ago, when they were spreading into Southern California, I bought a Starbucks mug at the store, got the coffee and sat down to drink it. I expected manna from heaven, and was shocked at how horribly it tasted. I can't even remember the last time I stepped into one to get myself coffee.
|2||Southern California||Pete Carroll||3.8|
|3||Ohio State||Jim Tressel||2.6|
|8||West Virginia||Bill Stewart||0.8|
|14||Texas Tech||Mike Leach||1.75|
|15||Virginia Tech||Frank Beamer||2.1|
|16||Arizona State||Dennis Erickson||1.1|
|21||South Florida||Jim Leavitt||1.5|
|22||Penn State||Joe Paterno||1.5|
|23||Wake Forest||Jim Grobe||1.2|
|25||Fresno State||Pat Hill||1.23|
Published: August 4, 2008 12:00AM
Recently, I have pre-empted the “paper or plastic” question at our neighborhood Market of Choice grocery because of the reusable shopping bag I bring with me.
I suppose I am resuming this practice after suspending it for quite a few years. When I was growing up in India, buying groceries and produce meant that we walked to the nearby shop. We had a bag or two at home that were referred to as the “grocery bag” — not too big, not too small, just the right size to carry vegetables and groceries. Vegetables and fruits would get mixed up because there were no plastic bags to keep them separate, and we would sort them out at home.
After coming to the United States, I saved the bags given away as mementos at conferences and took them to India, because my parents thought they were just the right size for their shopping.
India was very different then. It had not become the outsourcing and tech-support capital of the world. In a way, the shopping bag captures that change. Beginning in the early 1990s, as India eased government restrictions on economic activities, the seemingly pedestrian activity of taking a bag from home to the store changed almost instantaneously.
I noticed during my visits to India that even the mango seller on the sidewalk had thin plastic bags for his wonderfully juicy mangoes. The vegetable lady bagged potatoes separately from the tomatoes, and these small bags were then dropped into larger plastic bags.
And on more recent trips I was blown away by the American-style grocery stores, where I could walk down the aisles and pick up what I wanted. And yes, at the checkout counter all these purchases are dropped into convenient plastic bags. No more designated “grocery bags” at homes.
On the other side of the world, here in the United States, we are slowly beginning to understand that our way of life, which includes bags and bags of stuff, might not be compatible with a sustainable planet. The plastic bag itself is more than an environmental nuisance. In a way that is more than symbolic, the use of plastic bags represents the global environmental challenge.
For many decades, we in the United States provided the yardsticks for measuring what it meant to be a developed and rich country. Going to mega-stores where there are umpteen varieties of everything, carting off the purchased goods in the trunk of a car, and then coming home and unloading the plastic shopping bags are scenes we all know too well. It is no surprise that people in India, too, want to enjoy the material life that we have considered as an inalienable right in the pursuit of happiness.
It is easy to forget that it has barely been a generation since India’s economy took off. Yet there is enormous pressure — externally, in particular — to change course and care for the environment.
It’s no wonder, then, that even the chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, R.K. Pachauri, has asked developed countries to “get off the backs of India and China.” He went on to say that the rich countries should assist countries such as India move to a path of sustainable development that will have lesser impacts on the environment.
Yet even many people in India beat me in getting (back) into taking reusable grocery bags to the store. A few states in India actively are discouraging the use of plastic shopping bags. The city of Mumbai attempted a complete ban on these bags, but it apparently failed because of pressure from the plastics industry.
While many in India protest being unfairly blamed for the global environmental crisis, their constructive responses, given their level of economic development, is impressive.
Well, I am returning to my old ways of taking my own reusable bag to the grocery store. Of course, the carbon footprint from my next trip to India will wipe out the small gains that result from taking my geographers’ conference bag to the store.
But, hey, one guilt trip at a time, please!
Copyright © 2008 — The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA
[The] key determinant of the dollar’s long-term value is that it must decline enough to shift the US trade balance from today’s deficit to a surplus. That won’t happen anytime soon, but it is the direction in which the trade balance must continue to move. And that means further depreciation of the dollar.
An important factor in this process will be the future price of oil and the extent of US dependence on oil imports. In each of the past four years, the US imported 3.6 billion barrels of oil. At the current price of more than $140 a barrel, that implies an import cost of more than $500 billion. The higher the cost of oil, the lower the dollar has to be to achieve any given reduction in the size of the trade deficit. So a rising oil price as measured in euros or yen implies a greater dollar fall, and therefore an even higher oil price when stated in dollars.
Thanks to Ajay for the link.
While I am all in favor of transparency in government, I am not at all happy that they have listed the payroll information on every individual NY state employee. There is something creepy about listing individual employees and their earnings. No, I don't feel this way just because I too am a public employee. I don't want to see the earnings of every publicly-held company's employees either. I can see the need to understand patterns and averages. I can also see the need to understand how much the highest paid officers--public and private--earn, and a comparison of that with the average earnings in that organization. But, the listing every single employee? What next? A direct link to every individual's tax returns?
The libertarians have crossed the line here.
Sunday, August 03, 2008
A few years ago, one book attempted to explain globalization by viewing it through the lens of soccer in How Soccer Explains the World. But, that story did not get into any possible geographic shift in power. Why? Because Europe continues to dominate soccer. While Brazil is a five-time world champion, it lacks the sheer demographic numbers of a China or India.
But, what if either China or India became a big player in a global sport? That is exactly we see happening in cricket. The power shift has happened so quickly and profoundly that “It is no longer correct to speak of the ‘globalisation’ of cricket,” says Gideon Haigh, an Australian writer on the game; “we face the ‘Indianisation’ of cricket, where nothing India resists will occur, and everything it approves of will prevail.” (The Economist)
And then somewhere in my mid-to late teens I read three books, which I am not sure if I really understood them at that time. George Orwell's 1984, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and Solzhenitsyn 's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. A few years after that, I got to watch the movie version of 1984 at the British Consulate in Madras. The pot had been stirred enough. The old facades were rapidly collapsing within me, and the world started becoming clearer and clearer. To this day my parents wonder how I changed my mind and took off to America--after all, I was not a big fan of the US when I was young. I don't think they know how much Solzhenitsyn, among others, played a role.
It is not that I am a rah rah fan of America. Of all the imperfect societies that exist, I am convinced that I will gladly take the US over others. Unlike Solzhenitsyn, I do not ever consider myself to be in exile in America from any country. I suppose he was too much in poetic love with Russia for him that any soil other than Russian was only a temporary lodging. His jingoistic feelings for Russia rubbed many, including me, the wrong way, more so when he casually put down the feelings of non-Russians. And, the philosopher he was, Solzhenitsyn ought to have known that poetic love is idealized way too much that real life then is a failure. Well, he returned to Russia, only to be shocked at how impoverished the country was.
But, thanks to Solzhenitsyn, even if now I don't recall any of the specifics from The Gulag Archipelago. So, hey, thanks.
Dear Prudence,I have recently started frequenting a popular clothing-optional beach. This beach is fairly secluded, so I feel very comfortable tanning and swimming naked. The other day, however, I had a very embarrassing encounter. As I lay naked on my towel trying to improve my tan, one of my old college professors walked by me. (He was fully clothed, incidentally.) We recognized each other; however, neither of us said hello out of (I assume) mutual embarrassment. Afterward, I felt rude for not acknowledging him and am now concerned that he may feel that I snubbed him. Was it appropriate not to greet him? Do you have any advice on how I should behave if this happens again?
—Not a Never-Nude
Dear Nude,There are certain situations in which not acknowledging an acquaintance can be the most graceful thing to do. One is if you're in a restaurant, and the spouse of a friend in mid-canoodle with someone who is not your friend looks up and sees you. The other is when you are lying nude on a beach towel and strolling by is your former professor, who may be doing field work, though I doubt his field is conchology. While you are worrying that you snubbed your professor, he's worrying that you think he likes to ogle the shore life. If he comes wandering by again, this is an occasion in which it would be perfectly acceptable to roll over and, figuratively, bury your head in the sand.