Saturday, September 13, 2008
Are political markets clear prognosticators of election results? Quite a tough question. According to the Iowa folks, "The market is closer to the eventual outcome 74% of the time. Further, the market significantly outperforms the polls in every election when forecasting more than 100 days in advance."
The Iowa market's price chart shows a tightening race. Contract price charts for McCain and Obama from Intrade show that McCain stock is rising and Obama's is falling. The values for Obama and McCain are nearly identical and reversed between these two markets.
Obama's chart from Intrade is on top, and McCain's is below that.
Notice how their respective prices have changed over the year, and in recent weeks.
Update: I wondered whether there were any changes in the bin Laden stock--on whether he will be captured soon. Look at the line beginning to trend up again, after sloping down for a while :-)
It is not outside the domains of possibility. But, imagine for a moment that happens--even as late as the Monday before elections. The global implications will be HUGE--far more than influencing the elections here on November 4th.
For starters, nabbing bin Laden or Zawahiri will just swing the elections to the Republican side. Not only the presidential elections, but even the Congressional seats. Every Democrat who opposed Bush's approach on the war on terror will pretty much be on an ejection seat. While as loyal citizens, Democrats will be thrilled with the capture of bin Laden or Zawahiri, I am guessing this will be ultimate nightmare scenario.
(I think early voting might make all the difference then. I suspect Democrats will urge their faithful to vote as early as possible--taking such a scenario also into consideration.)
Not only will Republicans end up winning it all, it might then take Democrats more than a decade to recover and gain any significant political strength. Conservatives would have completely taken over the Supreme Court by then.
If such a scenario unfolds, then we can expect Britain's Labour Party to be thrashed at the polls. Gordon Brown is a weak leader even now. We can also expect tough-on-terrorists parties to sweep elections in continental Europe. This will also strengthen Putin and Medvedev, who think that anybody who disagrees with them is a terrorist.
Israel will be tempted to become even more aggressive towards Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran. In turn, Iran will feel even more threatened and could start volleying missiles in the Strait of Hormuz, and shut down oil shipping for weeks.
Many Islamic countries will have to deal with a public face of being happy that the terrorists were caught, but will have to deal with the internal displeasure from a significant percentage of their citizenry that won't be happy if bin Laden is caught or found dead.
And, given that the world's economy is quite in doldrums now, I can only imagine that this (more so if Iran shuts down Hormuz even for a month) will trigger a global economic depression.
My own personal preferences aside, as an academic interested in politics and public policy, this is a scenario that completely fascinates me.
Friday, September 12, 2008
And then it clicked--it was "Maddy Lennox". (not her real name, of course!)
Maddy was a student in one of the courses that I taught maybe three years ago. I was also her advisor, for the minor she was working on. Maddy was superbly confident, and didn't have time or patience even for fellow students who expressed opinions that she was not in agreement with. (This is my blog; I will end sentences with "with" whenever I want!) In my upper division classes, by the middle of the term students who were strangers to each other four weeks earlier become loose enough to express their ideas in ways that otherwise might not be ok.
Well, Maddy was always her fiery self. And this was no old-style, man-hating feminist. She was a feminist all right--one who would not let anybody tell her what she can or cannot do. Always professionally attired, almost as if she were heading to a job interview. Oh, a Republican too.
The discussion one meeting was about land use and zoning. I think I commented something like "there might be activities that some might view as immoral, but are legitimate economic activities, such as porn. The issue then is how to decide on where such economic activities ought to be located."
Naturally, this drew quite a few reactions. I then added that porn is an industry that practically never experiences any recession--always growth. A male student in the back row said something like, "I don't care for porn. I think it is wrong. But, at the same time, I have been investing in the stockmarket, and that is how I pay my bills. Looks like I should invest in a porn firm. Do you know what stock market symbols those firms have?"
I laughed. Almost simultaneously, Maddy yelled out from the front, even without bothering to turn around and look at that male student: "That is so awful. I hope you crap in your pants."
A term later Maddy came to my office to iron out a few kinks in her graduation requirements. As she sat down on the chair, I told her that she delivered the most memorable line ever in my academic life. She didn't blush. She didn't look taken aback. She was her usual confident self, and she said I was probably referring to "crap in your pants."
It was a very different kind of a strong woman that I saw in Maddy. And, since Maddy I have had a few more female students who are in that same mold--socially conservative Republicans, totally against the idea of pro-choice, who are absolutely strong-willed, quick-thinking, good debaters, and completely Democrat-hating.
I suspect that we will see a lot more of such women in politics, irrespective of whether the McPalin ticket wins or loses.
I also remember that it was in that same class more than two-thirds of the students identified themselves as Republicans. They gave me my best reward: that they felt very comfortable expressing their Republican ideas in my class, even though they sensed that I was not in their camp. One student remarked that he would never have let anybody find out he was a Republican in any other class. Who cares if we don't get paid that much--such certificates are worth a lot :-)
Robert Kaplan worries that:
What we might watch for in the months ahead are signs of a creeping,
undeclared coup, in which Zardari and opposition leader Sharif engage in a soap
opera of political machinations against each other, while the tribal areas and
other parts of the country slip into partial anarchy. The military would quietly
assert itself, filling the gap in governance. Military rule would prevail, in
all but name. That scenario is what the former playboy Zardari threatens to
Of course, Kaplan does have a track record of talking about the coming anarchy :-)
And The Economist:
Exasperated at the continuing infiltration of armed militants from Pakistan’s
tribal areas, America has launched air-strikes—and even sent soldiers—on its
soil. This seems intended in part to focus Mr Zardari’s wayward mind on the task
in hand. But it also causes huge resentment in Pakistan, especially since at
least one raid killed civilians instead of militants. As the United States is
finding in Afghanistan itself, there is no surer way of angering local people,
undermining a friendly government and boosting Taliban recruitment than killing
civilians. It is no way to treat an ally, even Mr 10%
BTW, notice the difference in the journalistic style? The Economist uses "Mr. Zardari", whereas for Kaplan it is "Zardari". I couldn't care for Mr. or Dr. or Mrs. or whatever!
- Should old faculty retire when they are eligible for retirement so that the younger ones waiting for a (tenure-track) job can get one?
- At what age--80+,90+, 100+--do advanced medical treatments for the old become wasteful expenditures?
Here in the US, the elderly are a powerful bloc--both economically and politically. Slate has been looking at different aspects in its geezer special. Slate has also listed the most powerful 80 who are over 80, and are highly active. Who are the top-ten in this group? Here is that list:
- John Paul Stevens, 88. Associate Supreme Court justice since 1975. Justice Stevens is currently the court's oldest and longest-serving member and wrote the most-cited opinion in American law, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council.
- Kirk Kerkorian, 91. President and CEO of investment company Tracinda Corp.; majority owner of Las Vegas-based MGM Mirage. As of March, the Armenian-American Kerkorian was the 41st-richest person in the world.
- T. Boone Pickens, 80. Chairman and founder of the hedge fund BP Capital Management. Pickens' fortune stands at $4 billion and growing. A famous Texan wildcatter, Pickens is now turning his attention to alternative energy.
- Si Newhouse, Jr., 80. Chairman and CEO of his family's privately held Advance Publications, which owns Condé Nast—home of fancy titles like The New Yorker and Vogue. According to a recent New York Times profile, micromanager Newhouse personally hand-counts ad pages in both his magazines and in their competitors
- Sumner Redstone, 85. Chairman and CEO of National Amusements Inc., which has controlling interests in Viacom, the CBS Corp., MTV, and Paramount. Redstone's net worth is currently estimated at $6.8 billion.
- Robert Byrd, 90. Senior senator from West Virginia and a vociferous critic of President Bush and the Iraq war. As president pro tempore of the Senate, Byrd, a Democrat, is third in the line of presidential succession
- Henry Kissinger, 85. Secretary of state under President Nixon; guardian of realpolitik theory, practitioner of détente. Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his role in arranging a cease-fire between the United States and North Vietnam
- David Rockefeller Sr., 93. Grandson of John D. Rockefeller; patriarch of the famous clan since 2004. In his own right, he is the former chairman, president, and CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank. Rockefeller's lifetime charitable donations are approaching $1 billion
- Edward Albee, 80. Hailed as America's greatest living playwright. Albee's most famous plays include Zoo Story, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Seascape, and Three Tall Women. When asked how it felt to have won three Pulitzers, the famously cantankerous Albee replied, "Hmmph! It's not very many."
- Liz Smith, 85. New York gossip columnist, at various publications, for 32 years. Her 2000 memoir, Natural Blonde, was a best-seller
BTW, I am far from being in this 80+ club :-)
- “If they (U.S. troops) tried to walk in from Afghanistan it would be the duty of the Frontier Corps or the Pakistan Army to repel them. And U.S. ground forces, these days, are incapable of fighting without massive air support. So if they called in airstrikes within Pakistan the PAF would have no alternative but to support their own kin, and use their American-supplied F-16s to counter violations of Pakistan’s airspace by US aircraft.”So is the United States walking into a quagmire in Pakistan’s border areas? Or will a series of “surgical” raids be enough to destroy the leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban and turn the war in Afghanistan back in Washington’s favour? Reuters-UK
- Islamabad was stunned by President George W Bush's speech at the US National Defense University on Tuesday in which he named Pakistan as one of the major battlegrounds in the fight against terrorism and that the US has stepped up raids into Pakistani territory from Afghanistan to attack militants. On Wednesday there was another shock in the form of a detailed roadmap of American strategy outlined by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, during an address to the US Congress. The key element of this is the conviction that the only way to win in Afghanistan is to open a new war theater in Pakistan. Asia Times
- If the United States sends troops across the border from Afghanistan, and its alliance with Pakistan is weakened, or, worse still, Pakistani forces try to repel them, who wins?
The answer to many Pakistani analysts is obvious -- al Qaeda, the Taliban and a host of Islamist militant groups who want the United States out of the region and Pakistan in chaos. Reuters-India
- Despite the political divisions in Pakistan, no one in this country can possibly endorse what Admiral Mullen may have in mind. Attacking across the Durand Line in recent days has cost the US a lot of Pakistani support by forcing even those who fear Al Qaeda more than American action to retreat from their defence of the international coalition against terrorism. ...
The latest Mullen pronouncement is adjudged by everyone in Pakistan as the last hurrah of an administration that has committed many mistakes in the conduct of the wars it undertook under its neoconservative ideology. If the American army chief says he is not winning the war in Afghanistan he probably knows why the war has gone wrong. It is acknowledged on all hands that the Afghanistan invasion under the UN Charter failed because the Bush administration had a flawed vision. Daily Times
- There is an escalating sense of furious impotence among the ordinary people of Pakistan. Many -- perhaps most -- of them are strongly opposed to the spread of Talibanisation and extremist influence across the country; people who may be described as 'moderates'. Many of them have no sympathy for the mullahs and their burning of girls' schools and their medieval mindset. But if you bomb a moderate sensibility often enough it has a tendency to lose its sense of objectivity and to feel driven in the direction of extremism. If America bombs moderate sensibilities often enough you may find that its actions are the best recruiting sergeant that the extremists ever had -- and the extremists will be quietly delighted at the civilian deaths as they know that more feet will turn to the path that leads to their door.
There seems little that we can do to stop the Buzzers killing non-combatants; and by the same token it is difficult to construct a rhetoric that would dissuade those new recruits from joining the extremist camp. America is daily deepening the well of resentment against itself that no amount of aid input or pious diplomatic platitudes will ever fill; and Uncle Sam should not be surprised if his interests and assets within Pakistan become the target of extremists -- because at least some of those extremists will be the product of his own actions, his very own recruits. General Kayani's men will have to fight these new recruits as well, and fighting one's own people never sits easily in the mind of any fighting force. Be careful what you bomb Uncle Sam, be very careful. The News
Thursday, September 11, 2008
"[India has a] Hindu woman for President, a Muslim as Vice-President, a Sikh as Prime Minister, a Dalit as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and an atheist as Speaker of the nation’s Parliament. That’s apart from the fact that the leader of the country’s ruling party is a Christian. As complex and confusing as it gets. Though perhaps logical when politics is seen as a mix of so many diverse streams. In the U.S. — the first modern nation to legally separate the church and the state — it’s different."
Practically everybody in India walks around clearly presenting their religious faiths. Which is not something that appeals to me when I visit India. Though, as problems go, it is not even a blip in the radar compared to how the poor live.
As the writer points out, it's different here in the US. But, the difference--according to me--is that here in the US, we pretend that we live and operate with a wall that separates church and state. Humbug! It is a mere facade. I way prefer the what-you-see-is-what-you-get of religious fundamentalists for that reason. Maybe, that too is a reason why it is easier for me to work and interact with people who wear their religion on their sleeve than with those pretending that they approach pubic interactions and policies devoid of their biases.
In essence we already agreed to the bail out some time ago. Have you ever spent $17,000 on a car and asked the dealer what the warranty for the car "really meant"? Well, the Chinese spent $340 billion on agency debt and probably asked the same question at least once or twice. They live in a world of secret agreements with leaders, not transparent democratic arrangements. So when it comes to the U.S government decision, we're not just starting from scratch here. How many phone calls do you think Hank Paulson has received from the Chinese central bank since August 2007?
"Are you *sure* that paper is safe enough for us to keep on buying?"
We'll never know exactly what kind of verbal dance Paulson concocted in response, but just look at the resulting flow of purchases and the relatively slight mark-up over Treasuries over that period of time. The Chinese (among others) thought we were standing behind the securities, at least in any world-state short of federal government quasi-bankruptcy. (In fact Paulson is in a total bind once that phone call comes in. He doesn't have much incentive to just say "tough luck" and precipitate a crisis when otherwise no crisis is on the horizon.)
So should we try this: "Oh, is that what you thought? Guaranteed? Did we use that word? Sorry, try reading our signals better next time. We love you. Great job with those Olympics. And when it comes to those Treasury Bills, we really do still mean it. And don't forget to support us on Iran and North Korea."
And we pretend that we are the world's sole super-power who can do anything we want. It is bizarre that China has more influence on our policies than the USSR ever did.
Money is more powerful than guns! No wonder that Putin too is going the same route of flexing his petroleum riches.
If you live in Greece, Italy or Egypt, you'll probably choose textiles over technology. Greeks spend almost 13 times more money on clothing as they do on electronics.
"Italians and other Europeans love fashion; the greatest designs in the world come from those regions," ...
If you live in Australia or Taiwan, you might be more tempted by a new laptop computer or flat-screen television. ...
"Some areas in the Pacific Basin are technologically savvy, and clothing is very casual," Mr. Slater said. "In Australia, what else do you need besides a bathing suit and a pair of Uggs?"
It is a great joke. By Bob Barr--the Libertarian Party's candidate for the presidency. Reason reports on the jokes he delivered at the 15th Funniest Celebrity in Washington contest
- It is good to be back in Washington, D.C.! The home of civil liberties and personal... no, wait. That's an old card.
- Me, John McCain and Barack Obama are sitting there in a debate.
- I won't say we're close, but the last time he interviewed me, he asked me to rub neosporin on the claw marks Joe Scarborough had left on his back.
- I like to record my phone calls—as a former congressman and a former CIA guy, you like to have a record of things. But the other night I accidentally erased the tape, and I had to call the White House to get a copy.
- As a Libertarian, I can really picture a world in which there's no war. But George W. Bush would probably invade it, too.
- Being a Libertarian isn't always easy. We like to say, 'let the free market take care of everything!' I went on Jeopardy. I wound up with -$10,000.
- I know it just looks like I'm reading material. But I figured, hey, it worked for Sarah Palin. Why not for me, too?
- What's the difference between a bull dog and a hockey mom? A bull dog gets vetted.
General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, considered by the US as a pivotal figure in the "war on terror", said yesterday Pakistan had never agreed to allow the US to operate on Pakistani territory, and that unilateral attacks risked undermining joint efforts against insurgents.All I can do is add this to my growing list of posts on Pakistan :-(
"Falling for short-term gains while ignoring our long-term interest is not the right way forward," Kayani warned.
Kayani usually keeps a low profile so his open rebuke of the US is likely to make policymakers in Washington sit up and take notice.
Today, Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, said Kayani reflected government opinion and policy.
Robert Dreyfuss, writing in The Nation, compares the US' forays into Pakistan with how we expanded the war from Vietnam into the neighboring Cambodia. Dreyfuss writes,
The Times reports today that President Bush gave an order in July allowing US Special Forces "to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government ...
... There could hardly be a worse strategy. It risks inflaming Pakistani public opinion against the United States and boost the religious parties. It will make the new Pakistani government look like pawns or puppets of the United States, which won't exactly make them popular among Pakistanis. And, of course, it won't be successful in eliminating Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Historians of the Vietnam war might compare the strategy to President Nixon's ill-fated decision to expand the war across the border into Cambodia in search of alleged Viet Cong "santuaries." That didn't work out well. ...
... Yesterday, testifying at a House committee, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs ("frankly, we are running out of time") pretty much confirmed the Times report: The nation's top military officer issued a blunt assessment yesterday of the war in Afghanistan and called for an overhaul in U.S. strategy there, warning that thousands more U.S. troops as well as greater U.S. military involvement across the border in Pakistan's tribal areas are needed to battle an intensifying insurgency.
Mullen has been the point man in US efforts to put pressure on Pakistan to allow more aggressive American attacks directly into Pakistan, meeting repeatedly with Kayani and other officials to demand that Islamabad surrender its national sovereignty.
Vallejo is an ominous portent for other cities, and some states, few of which are accumulating financial resources sufficient to fulfill pension promises they have made to employees. Are you weary of the crisis du jour -- subprime mortgages and all that? Get a head start on worrying about the next debacle by reading Roger Lowenstein's new book, "While America Aged: How Pension Debts Ruined General Motors, Stopped the NYC Subways, Bankrupted San Diego, and Loom as the Next Financial Crisis."
"Next"? This crisis has arrived in Jefferson County, Ala., which includes Birmingham. Like Orange County, Calif., a few years ago, Jefferson County made risky investments in a desperate attempt to achieve asset growth commensurate with the cost of an infrastructure project. When San Diego was earning the sobriquet "Enron by the sea," firefighters could retire at 50 with 90 percent of their pensions -- almost full pay for not working during half of their expected adult lives.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Pre-Game Coin Toss Makes Jacksonville Jaguars Realize Randomness Of Life
Of course it is a satire and, as always, fantastically done by The Onion. How do they do it every time? Simply awesome. I particularly liked this: "what meaning can life have if the future can be dictated by the random chance of this coin? Existence is a vulgar absurdity." Fantastic :-)
It is fantastic because yet again we prove that merely paying "market" prices for players considered to be some of the best does not make a successful team. If only we would understand this in society, and in our public policies. There is a growing ideological belief that the "market" knows best, and the Yankees are wonderful evidence that the market knows crap.
So, what money are we talking about?
- N.Y. Yankees $209,081,579, at an average of $6,744,567 per player. The highest in all of MLB
- The division leading Tampa? $43,820,598 for an average of $1,460,687 per player. Only the Marlins have a lower payroll.
BTW, here is a comparison: the annual operating budget of the university where I work: about $42 million. It is a crazy world that we live in where the "market" certainly prefers allocating resources to baseball and other forms of entertainment. Oh well.
- Aravind Adiga The White Tiger
- Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture
- Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies
- Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
- Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency
- Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole
Adiga, who is Times magazine's Asia correspondent, exposes the underbelly of
India's new Tiger economy. The story is told through the letters of Balram who
escapes the poverty of rural India to become a rich businessman in Delhi, but
has committed a murder to reach his place in the "new" India
This reminds me of a big-time businessman in India, Ramnath Goenka. I recall reading an interview with him--perhaps during my high school years. In the interview, Goenka said something like "the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak" when asked whether he had killed anybody. Now, I am not sure if that interview question, and the answer too, was probing something that was real. Truth can be a lot stranger than fiction.
Monday, September 08, 2008
What a fantastic growth rate in merely 30 years!
I wish our broadband speeds had gone up at such growth rates! I think we got DSL connections in Bakersfield about nine, maybe even ten years, ago. Yet, the connection to the internet today does not seem to be that much faster than what it was a decade ago.
How much have we fallen behind in broadband speeds? Too far :-(
USA Today reports that "The median U.S. download speed now is 1.97 megabits per second — a fraction of the 61 megabits per second enjoyed by consumers in Japan, says the report released Monday. Other speedy countries include South Korea (median 45 megabits), France (17 megabits) and Canada (7 megabits).
"We have pathetic speeds compared to the rest of the world," CWA President Larry Cohen says. "People don't pay attention to the fact that the country that started the commercial Internet is falling woefully behind."
the potential victims were central banks and foreign institutions that have
bought their debt by the boatload. It's no accident that the takeover was
announced in the middle of the day on Sunday. (Barry Ritholtz chronicles a slew of
other recent Sunday credit-related announcements.) It was timed to get out
before the Asian markets opened for trading on Monday.
He then ends with:
The bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be sold and marketed as an effort
to shore up the U.S. housing market. Maybe so. But it is mostly meant to shore
up our damaged international financial standing, preserving leadership and
making sure the U.S. Treasury Secretary doesn't get tarred and feathered at the
next G-8 meeting.
Really? And not to protect the interests of the American consumers and taxpayers? it is e e cummings all over again :-(
Its location offers a distinct advantage over Vegas:
Macau airport is operating at nearly double its capacity, but with 2.2 billionJames Fallows had a similar narrative in The Atlantic a year ago. I use that multimedia piece in my classes. Of course, my students don't seem to be as impressed with the Macau story as I am :-)
people living within five hours' flying time, it's a good bet that the number
will soon double again. Construction on a bridge linking Hong Kong, Macau and
Zhuhai in southern China is scheduled to begin soon. Work has begun to expand
Macau's northern border gate to accommodate 500,000 visitors a day.
Oregon's seven colleges and universities made incremental gains in increasing
their minority student ranks over the past decade, failing to keep pace with
minority increases in the state's general and high school populations.
Minority faculty teaching in the universities increased by 1 percentage
point over the decade to 9 percent in 2007-08, with the number of African
American professors actually declining from 64 to 59.
Members of the State Board of Higher Education meeting at
Portland State University on Friday afternoon expressed concern about the
minimal progress and vowed to make increasing diversity among faculty and
students a higher priority.
Reading that news item reminded me of my opinion piece that was published in the Register Guard on March 10, 2008. Here it is:
An Honored Ambassador For All of India
When a freshman student in the honors program said, "Dr. Khe, you are the first nonwhite teacher I have ever had," two others immediately jumped in with "mine, too."
Of course, even a kindergartner will easily figure out from my appearance and accent that I am from another country. But until that chance conversation, it had never occurred to me that I would be quite a few college students' first nonwhite instructor ever.
When I left India, I came to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where the graduate student population was so multinational that race and ethnicity were nonfactors in my daily life.
After completing graduate school, we lived in Bakersfield, about a hundred miles north of Los Angeles. While not the ethnic salad bowl that Los Angeles is, Bakersfield, too, had a significant nonwhite population. Every once in a while I ran into people who thought I was Latino until my accent gave it away.
It is more than five years since we moved to Oregon. Living here has been a wonderful experience, and all my interactions have been pleasant. If all of a sudden I am the personification of "diversity" to my students, it is because for the first time I am at a university where only about 13 percent of the students are nonwhite.
This percentage reflects the demographic characteristics of Oregon; according to the 2000 census, whites accounted for almost 87 percent of the population. It is therefore quite possible that both white and ethnic students had nothing but white teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade.
My lack of experience with such an educational environment - despite all the discussions of diversity and multiculturalism - meant that I was not quite prepared for the idea that I am the embodiment of "diversity" to many students. Later, when I engaged my upper division students about this topic during the warm-up before class, their responses were similar to those of the freshmen.
James, a nontraditional student who had initially kept quiet, suddenly came alive with a question: "Hey, Dr. Khe, does this mean you feel a huge responsibility now?"
The answer was a no-brainer. "Yes, because I now feel that if I mess up, there is a good chance that students might think all Indians are awful." With such a responsibility, it is no wonder that I have nagging shoulder pain!
I am concerned about making a good impression, particularly because of the saying in the Tamil tradition in which I grew up, which translates to, "You need to sample only one grain to ensure that the rice is cooked." That one small piece tells us whether the entire pot of rice is ready for consumption.
Of course, the rice analogy does not translate well to human experience. Statistically speaking, we ought to have a random sample that can then substitute for the entire population before we can draw a conclusion. However, I would guess that it is not uncommon for people to draw conclusions based on strange events. We are humans - and we err!
Thus, to a large extent, I now have an opportunity that is presented to very few people. To my students, I am now the metaphorical single grain of rice representing a billion-plus Indians. In the months that have passed since that conversation with freshmen in the honors program, I feel a constant reminder that every day in the classroom could easily be a make-or-break situation for the planet's Indians.
While this is a huge, and perhaps unfair, burden, it is an incredible honor and privilege to fill such an ambassadorial role. I am hoping to make the best of this newly discovered honorary position that I never knew I had.
Wish me luck.
The Disappearing Beach from Granta magazine on Vimeo.
Gregg Easterbrook starts his review of Friedman's latest multi-million dollar generator, er, book, with:
Buzz. BUZZZZZZZZZ. There are so many buzz phrases in Thomas Friedman's new book that it practically vibrates in your hand. Code Green. Day-trading for electrons. Green is the new red, white, and blue. Subprime planet. Petrodictatotrships. The Common Era, Friedman tells us, should be supplanted by the Energy Climate Era; the year is 1ECE.
So, Easterbrook was expecting something other than buzz phrases? As always, Easterbrook does a wonderful job. I liked his jab: "The cynical view is that his embrace of max-PC alarums about global warming is Friedman's bid to make everyone forget he pounded the table in favor of an American invasion of Iraq." Good point, man!
And then Easterbrook writes,
He presents many examples of higher world resource demand, noting that even ifMore troubles for Friedman:
America cuts back, reductions here will be swamped by increases elsewhere: "The
biggest downside [of globalization] is that in raising standards of living,
globalization is making possible much higher levels of production and
consumption by many more people." Yet if resource trends and climate change are
driven by rising population and rising affluence, which of these, precisely, do
you propose to ban?
his factual assertions are impossible to weigh, since Hot, Flat, and CrowdedAnd then:
contains no footnotes or source notes. Friedman asserts, for instance: "In fact,
the American pet food industry spends more each year on R&D than the
American utilities industry does." Good luck figuring out the "in fact" part.
Friedman's book-talk schedule for the first month alone of Hot, Flat, and Crowded promotion requires jet aircraft trips that, the calculator at Terra Pass estimates, will generate about 3 tons of carbon dioxide—the same as driving a Hummer for almost half a year. Friedman counsels, "[P]ersonally lead as environmentally sustainable a life as you can" but himself lives in a 11,400-square-foot mansion, whose carbon footprint may be visible from orbit. Rather than address this straight on, he squirms to paint his lifestyle green ... Friedman can't bring himself to admit he is lord of a manor and racing through more resources in his daily life than 10,000 rural Africans.I do agree with Easterbrook on this point:
First, the author. Few who reach the top of any occupation have remained so hard-working, intellectually curious, and professionally conscientious. Despite considerable personal means, Friedman is in constant transcontinental motion, including to not-glamorous parts of the world, and constantly exposes himself to criticism by speaking at colleges.
BTW, before you jump into any conclusion that I am a global warming denier: no, I am not.
Also, youcan save yourself the few dollars by not buying Friedman's book. Instead, you can read a much better version of Friedman's argument, which was a neat, short, and to-the-point essay in Foreign Policy. Easterbrook also refers to this essay. I have used it in my classes too. It is in such essays that Friedman shines. And I like his metaphor of "First Law of Petropolitics."
While I have seen many of the facts that he refers to, I have not seen them together at one place, which is why his column is great. A couple of excerpts:
what about conservative talk-radio titan Rush Limbaugh's audience? Surely the ditto-heads are dumb, right?
Actually, according to a survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, Rush's listeners are better educated and "more knowledgeable about politics and social issues" than the average voter.
Voters today are smarter than they used to be.
Actually, by most measures, voters today possess the same level of political knowledge as their parents and grandparents, and in some categories, they score lower. Here's what makes these numbers deplorable -- and, in fact, almost incomprehensible: Education levels are far higher today than they were half a century ago, when social scientists first began surveying voter knowledge about politics. (In 1940, six in ten Americans hadn't made it past the eighth grade.) The moral of this story: Schooling alone doesn't translate into better educated voters.
Young voters are paying a lot of attention to the news.
Despite all the hoopla about young voters -- the great hope of the future! -- only one news story in 2001 drew the attention of a majority of them: 9/11. Some 60 percent of young voters told Pew researchers that they were following news about the attack closely. (Er -- 40 percent weren't?) But none of the other stories that year seemed particularly interesting to them. Only 32 percent said that they followed the news about the anthrax attacks or the economy, then in recession. The capture of Kabul from the Taliban? Just 20 percent.
Six years later, Pew again measured public knowledge of current events and found that the young (aged 18 to 29) "know the least." A majority of young respondents scored in the "low knowledge" category -- the only demographic group to do so.
[In] academe, where some faculty members prefer to hole up with their books
rather than interact with colleagues, an aversion to conflict is not uncommon.
Those who have been bullied will often elect to keep quiet rather than risk a
nasty public battle.
That was from the Chronicle of Hr. Ed.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
As the economist Irving Fisher observed way back in 1933, when highly indebted individuals and businesses get into financial trouble, they usually sell assets and use the proceeds to pay down their debt. What Fisher pointed out, however, was that such selloffs are self-defeating when everyone does it: if everyone tries to sell assets at the same time, the resulting plunge in market prices undermines debtors’ financial positions faster than debt can be paid off. So deflation in asset prices can turn into a vicious circle. And one consequence of what he called a “stampede to liquidate” is a severe economic slump.
That’s what’s happening now, with debt deflation made especially ugly by the fact that key financial players are highly leveraged — their assets were mainly bought with borrowed money. As Paul McCulley of Pimco, the bond investor, put it in a recent essay titled “The Paradox of Deleveraging,” lately just about every financial institution has been trying to reduce its leverage — but the plunge in asset values has nonetheless left these institutions with more debt relative to their assets than before.
Greg Mankiw is not too happy with the bailout/takeover. He writes:
The problem is far from over, as the future of these institutions and a large segment of the financial system is still to be determined. The worrisome part is that this future will be determined by a political system that both created the GSEs and failed to provide sufficient oversight, even when many economists suggested reform was needed. To believe that the Congress will do a good job of it would be the triumph of hope over experience.
First, on Obama:
And now, on McCain
First, autarky is "the idea that a country should be self-sufficient and not take part in international trade." It might sound as if nobody is advocating for autarky. But, when you aggregate the following ideas that I have listed here as examples--not necessarily from the same interest groups--then the collage is nothing but a variation of an autarky:
The recent clamor for "energy independence" leading to "drill now"
Locavores insisting on consuming "locally"
Worries that outsourcing is a problem
Paranoia over illegal immigration
Propaganda to buy only "Made in America"
All these different concerns will be very happy with closing access to America. So, hey, we can make everyone equally happy or equally unhappy by adopting an autarkic policy, right? I tell you, American political discussions are far from reflective of the world's most powerful country.
Healthcare reform? We'd rather hear about Obama's deadbeat Muslim dad.
Social Security? We want to know about Cindy McCain's millions. Welfare? The
only teen mother we're interested in -- now that Jamie Lynn Spears has delivered
-- is Bristol Palin.
It would be nice to think that the American public is smarter than this,
but time after time we turn to the story -- absurd or not -- because it's easier
to digest than a policy paper. And whether it's a candidate's operatives or his
enemies telling the tale, everyone knows the ones that stick are, just like what
dominates the new-fiction bestseller list, the most sensational. It's the same
impulse that has us slowing down as we drive by a traffic accident.
And in a world that only gets scarier, we need stories more than ever. We
especially need the catharsis we experience from hearing about other peoples'
suffering. When we were kids, we learned about Abe Lincoln reading by the light
of the fireplace, about George Washington who could not tell a lie, about
Patrick Henry who demanded liberty or death. But such stories just aren't good
enough any more. They can't compete with "Gossip Girls" or "Heroes." They
definitely cannot compete with the never-ending news.
In 1984, I was a production assistant for a political media consultant. We
had many Democratic clients, from a candidate for state Senate to Walter
Mondale. We wrote campaign slogans and produced 30-second spots like mini-movies that spun the candidates' narratives precisely. We told their stories honestly,
but we made them as dramatic as possible. As Alfred Hitchcock famously said,
"What is drama, but life with the dull bits cut out?" It was after my year in
politics that I moved to Hollywood. The kind of storytelling that happens here
feels more honest.
Read the entire op-ed by Diana Wagman at the LA Times
Republicans should not allow the fringes of the party to set a radical agenda
that no more represents the mainstream of Republicans than environmental
extremists represent the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Only by faithfully
fulfilling our stewardship responsibilities can we expect to remain the majority
Far more important, our nation's continued prosperity hinges on our
ability to solve environmental problems and sustain the natural resources on
which we all depend.
Guess who said that?
On the issue of dividend taxation, Barack Obama may be the candidate with
the best chance of preserving George Bush’s legacy.
That is the bottom-line from Greg Mankiw.
In light of Senator Obama’s stand, the politics of dividend taxation may
take some surprising twists. Senator John McCain wants to maintain the current tax rate of 15 percent on dividends (while cutting the corporate tax), but it is a good bet that if Senator McCain is elected president, while Congress remains Democratic, Congress won’t give the Republican president what he wants. They would instead let the Bush tax cuts expire, returning the dividend tax for high-income taxpayers to about 40 percent.
By contrast, if Mr. Obama is elected, Congressional Democrats will be less likely to balk at his proposed 20 percent dividend tax rate and thus embarrass the new president from their own party.
This leads to one of the great ironies of the political season. On the issue of dividend taxation, Barack Obama may be the candidate with the best chance of preserving George Bush’s legacy.