Saturday, October 31, 2009

The future population thanks to globalization :-)

Even the brainiacs don't care about economists?

If Jeopardy is one nerdy show, then what does it say when contestants blank on the category called "Economists"?  And more so when they don't even know the granddaddy of 'em all--Adam Smith!!!

Remembrance of things past-4

Click here for a translation (from the movie Pyaasa, which Time listed as one of the 100 greatest movies ever!)

A statue for the world's first swine flu patient?

The BBC:

La Gloria in Veracruz is home to Edgar Hernandez - as a four year old boy, he became the world’s first swine flu patient.
He survived and became an overnight sensation, putting his family and his village firmly in the global spotlight.
The attention helped bring progress to La Gloria. Once dusty roads are now being paved, and a statute was erected in Edgar’s honour.

Lower fertility is changing the world for the better

A couple of months ago, I authored an op-ed on falling fertility rates in India.  The rapid decrease in fertility rates throughout the developing world is news to most of the "regular" crowd though.  (Not so to the readers of this blog, of course; you are some of the well-informed people!)

The Economist has a lengthy piece on it, yet again.  A must read because of the implications that demographic changes have on all kinds of public policies.  The conclusion:

This link between growth and fertility raises awkward questions. In the 1980s the link was downplayed in reaction to Malthusian alarms of the 1970s, when it was fashionable to argue that population growth had to be reined in because oil and natural resources were running short. So if population does matter after all, does that mean the Malthusians were right?

Not entirely. Neo-Malthusians think the world has too many people. But for most countries, the population questions that matter most are either: do we have enough people to support an ageing society? Or: how can we take advantage of having just the right number for economic growth? It is fair to say that these perceptions are not mutually exclusive. The world might indeed have the right numbers to boost growth and still have too many for the environment. The right response to that, though, would be to curb pollution and try to alter the pattern of growth to make it less resource-intensive, rather than to control population directly.

The reason is that widening replacement-level fertility means population growth is slowing down anyway. A further reduction of fertility would be possible if family planning were spread to the parts of the world which do not yet have it (notably Africa). But that would only reduce the growth in the world’s numbers from 9.2 billion in 2050 to, say, 8.5 billion. To go further would probably require draconian measures, such as sterilisation or one-child policies.

The bad news is that the girls who will give birth to the coming, larger generations have already been born. The good news is that they will want far fewer children than their mothers or grandmothers did.

Quote of the day, on teaching and teachers

In one of Plato's dialogues, Socrates warns a student that teachers can be dangerous. "You do not even know to whom you are committing your soul," Socrates says, "and whether the thing to which you commit yourself be good or evil."
Of course I agree with this quote, which is from Professor Steven Cahn who teaches a graduate course in philosophy to remind doctoral students about the profound seriousness of teaching.  It is with a "handle with care" that I approach teaching because I neither want to to brainwash students, nor to turn off any potential interest in the topics I teach.

This essay comes at a good time for me--during a light-hearted sidebar chat about giving students a break in the class, which I always do, a few students noted that they do not get any break in some of the other classes that also meet twice a week for an hour and fifty minutes each.  I explained to them that they have a right to a ten-minute break, and that such a break is factored into any class that meets for more than 50 minutes.  My point is this: every aspect of teaching--contents, behavior, and even breaks--are far too important for teachers to ignore and neglect.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Quote of the day

Great patriot, but deeply flawed democrat
Notice is a small "d" not the upper case "D" in democrat.  So, do not reflexively conclude that this is from Faux News.  But then Faux is certainly capable of such errors!  Anyway, that is the bottom line that Ramachandra Guha arrives at when remembering Indira Gandhi on the 25th anniversary of her assassination.

Remembrance of things past-3

Public option will cost more than private insurance?

Could Ezra Klein be correct?  My head spins (metaphorically speaking) from reading up about healthcare reform! Klein writes (citing the CBO's report):
the public plan will pay prices equivalent to those of private insurers and may save a bit of money on administrative efficiencies. But because the public option is, well, public, it won't want to do the unpopular things that insurers do to save money, like manage care or aggressively review treatments. It also, presumably, won't try to drive out the sick or the unhealthy. That means the public option will spend more, and could, over time, develop a reputation as a good home for bad health risks, which would mean its average premium will increase because its average member will cost more. The public option will be a good deal for these relatively sick people, but the presence of sick people will make it look like a bad deal to everyone else, which could in turn make it a bad deal for everyone else.
The nightmare scenario, then, is that private insurers cotton onto this and accelerate the process, implicitly or explicitly guiding bad risks to the public option
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (HT)

Droning about Pakistan

Sometimes I wish I were not a news junkie and, more than that, I wish that I had no interest at all in whatever was happening anywhere on the planet.  For one, despite my best attempts to stay focused on my own work and life, I end up blogging like this!  For another, it is damn depressing.

I check BBC for a news update after my coffee, breakfast and shower, and I read this report on Hillary Clinton's Pakistan trip:

it would be hard to imagine a more hostile and sceptical audience for a US secretary of state.
Mrs Clinton acknowledged there was what she called a trust deficit towards the United States in Pakistan because of past policies.
But she said she was working to change that by reaching out to ordinary Pakistanis.
And she flatly refused to discuss one of the major issues that the "ordinary Pakistanis" have with the US: the use of Predator drones.  Now, I could have just stopped with this; no, I had to read more stuff and get depressed and pissed off.  Over at Foreign Policy's AfPak channel, Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedermann provide this chart and write:

The number of civilian deaths caused by the drones is an important issue, because in the charged political atmosphere of today's Pakistan, where anti-Americanism is rampant, the drone program is a particular cause of anger among those who see it as an infringement on Pakistan's sovereignty. A Gallup poll in August found that only 9 percent of Pakistanis favored the strikes, and two-thirds opposed them.
And, according to Philip Alston, a U.N. human rights investigator, the use of drones to carry out targeted assassinations that end up killing civilians may well violate international law.
On Tuesday at a news conference in New York, Alston publicly warned that unless the Obama administration explains what the legal basis is for selecting the individuals targeted by drone attacks, "it will increasingly be perceived as carrying out indiscriminate killings in violation of international law."
Meanwhile, we are just about a week away from the second round of elections in Afghanistan.  Today is Friday--I am willing to bet that the militants are spending the weekend plotting their next violent attacks.  Crap, I should have just slept through today!!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Colbert talks about Einstein and relativity

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Brian Cox
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorReligion

God Wastes Miracle On Running Catch In Outfield

At the end of the Yankees-Angels game last week, it was a hilarious moment when I thought I heard ARod thanking god.  I mean, not only is the spectacle of sports pros thanking god hilarious, but coming from ARod--the guy who is not quite the poster child for following even the rules of baseball, let alone the Ten Commandments :-)

So, I dug into the old archives at the Onion and pulled up this beaut (which is where the title of this post is from):
HEAVEN—Rather than use His almighty power to breathe life back into the 130,000 people who perished in the Myanmar cyclone, rebuild an earthquake-destroyed China, or bring a lasting peace to the Middle East, the Lord God wasted a divine miracle Monday by granting Angels centerfielder Torii Hunter the ability to make a dramatic but otherwise routine running catch in the outfield. "I know many of My children believe My omnipotence would be better spent in ways other than affecting the contest between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Detroit Tigers, and truth be told, there is a possibility Mr. Hunter would have made that catch on his own. But it was a very close game that the Angels really deserved to win," said God, adding that He answered the heartfelt prayers of nearly 50,000 Los Angeles fans by allowing Hunter to make the grab. "Everyone—even the first place Angels, who need to win just a few more close games to give them the confidence to make a World Series run—deserves God's help, not just those suffering from AIDS." God denied that His handiwork was responsible for Angels third baseman Chone Figgins waking up Wednesday morning with no pain in his right hamstring, saying He was as surprised as anyone.

Afghanistan: the Onion sums up the diplomat's resignation!

Matthew Hoh's resignation letter has received the ample attention it truly deserves.  Hoh notes there:
I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war.
Hoh further points out that:
If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc..... the September 11th attacks, as well as the Madrid and London bombings, were primarily planned and organized in Western Europe.
Hoh is absolutely on the mark.
So, why then do we continue to be in that cursed geography?  

The Onion explains:
According to sources at the Pentagon, American quagmire-building efforts continued apace in Afghanistan this week, as the geographically rugged, politically unstable region remained ungovernable, death tolls continued to rise, and the grim military campaign persisted as hopelessly as ever.
In fact, many government officials now believe that the United States and its allies could be as little as six months away from their ultimate goal: the total quagmirification of Afghanistan.
"We've spent a lot of time and money fostering the turmoil and despair necessary to make this a sustaining quagmire, and we're not going to stop now," President Barack Obama said in a national address Monday night. "It won't be easy, but with enough tactical errors on the ground, shortsighted political strategies, and continued ignorance of our vast cultural differences, we could have a horrific, full-fledged quagmire by 2012."
Added Obama, "Together, we can make Afghanistan into a nightmarish hell-scape Americans will regret for generations to come."
 If only it were funny :-(

Is Halloween overcommercialized?

In The Know: Has Halloween Become Overcommercialized?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

iPhone to remotely drive your car

Yes, the app is just round the corner.  Watch this video demonstration of what a German research team did .... it is like the James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies--where Bond drives the BMW using a remote control.

On the marketing of colleges

Some will argue that, at long last, non-profit colleges have joined the real world—one that computer, truck-driving, and other proprietary schools have inhabited for a long time. But many colleges now use promotional tactics that are downright dishonest. A number of students—especially foreigners—are being deceived and getting hurt. Before we reach the point where Harvard is advertising on matchbook covers, we should probably consider whether selling education is significantly different from selling cars or soap.
Perhaps you are nodding your head in agreement as you read this.  Guess when this essay is from?  October 1979.  Yes, thirty years ago was this argument articulated in the Atlantic--by "Edward B. Fiske, formerly the Education Editor of The New York Times, is the author of The Fiske Guide to Colleges, an annual publication of Sourcebooks, Inc."

There is more--and they are so much the case even today.  For instance, Fiske's comment that:
One result of the new professionalism in college advertising is that promotional brochures are beginning to look like cigarette ads. A College of St. Elizabeth brochure, for example, shows a girl with long blond hair lying in a field of flowers and holding one gently in her hand while staring wistfully into the camera's eye. "Especially for women," reads the italic caption underneath, "because women are creative, intelligent and beautiful, resourceful and sweet and generally different from men."
Or how about this one?
Colleges plainly have to adjust their programs to meet changing student needs. But some serious problems are becoming apparent in the headlong rush to embrace the latest marketing strategies of the corporate world.

The most obvious problem is the abuse of simple truth, a virtue with which colleges have often presumed to identify themselves in the past. Many recruiters of foreign students routinely mislead about the programs, reputation, and even the geographical climate of the institutions they represent; but not all such incidents occur across the seas. One Indiana school put out a catalogue picturing a boy and a girl strolling hand in hand past a waterfall, though no waterfall of that sort can be found within miles of the campus.

Truth in advertising?  What was Fiske smoking to ask for that? :-)  And truth in academia?  Hello?  That is a contradiction!!! 
Finally, Fiske writes:
An obvious danger is sacrificing quality in the all-out effort to maintain enrollments and adjust programs to meet a perceived academic need—or at least a market. John Sawhill, the president of New York University, wonders whether colleges will ever flunk students in whose recruitment they have invested so much time, effort, and money. "You have to remember that the end result of education is a degree or a certificate, and that awarding this is a selective process," he commented. "You do have to evaluate students. If you engage in too big a selling effort to get them in, it makes it difficult to evaluate them when you're ready to give the degree."

There is also the danger that the new marketing fad could backfire and lead to greater governmental regulation. "If colleges begin to act like businesses, they will be treated as businesses," observed Arthur Levine, who recently shepherded an eighty-six-page report for the Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education which criticized, among other things, "inflated and misleading advertising" among colleges and universities today. "If they act as hucksters, they will be treated as hucksters.... Neither businesses, nor hucksters, can successfully wear the mantle of academic freedom or autonomy from social control."

The consumer movement in higher education is welcome—in many ways. It has led to substantial improvements in the accuracy and usefulness of information in college catalogues. But it has the potential of pushing the "buyer-seller" analogy too far.

The real chink in the public option armor

The public option in the healthcare reform is a wonderful opportunity to argue--from a political philosophy perspective--the appropriate role for market and state.  One argument is about the efficient market hypothesis.  But, that to me is far less exciting than what Heather Mac Donald has articulated:
Well, then, why not have private providers compete with government across the entire range of government services?  Maybe the supporters of actual market-based competition in health care could offer the following deal:  We’ll give you your health care public option, now open garbage collection, road-building, transit operations, mail delivery, parks maintenance, education, sewage treatment, prison management, inter alia, to private sector competition, and let the most efficient player win.
So, in one sense, Democrats have provided the opening that Republicans have always been pushing for--think school vouchers, for instance.  How is philosophically a debate on school vouchers any different from this whole public option issue in healthcare? 
Strictly from such a perspective, this debate could be the most influential since Bill Clinton's statement on the end of the era of big government.  How odd then that Democratic presidents are the ones to preside over such discussions?  And how much more bizarre that Republicans are dozing through this opportunity?

FWIW, I am neither a D nor a R :-)

Quote of the day

“If the long-term issue is entitlement reform, ... the fact that the political system cannot say no to $250 checks to elderly people is a bad sign.”
From David Leonhardt's piece in the NY Times.  The quote itself is from Joel Slemrod, a University of Michigan economist.

Academic bait-and-switch

An excerpt from the last of a three-part essay:
On the first day of a session devoted to Joyce's Ulysses, Dr. Quentin began by saying, "Describe your reading experience. Please feel free to tell me what it was really like."
"I felt in awe," said Marcus, who sat at Dr. Quentin's immediate left. "Joyce is such a genius. His mastery of language and craft is unsurpassed."
"The best novel I've ever read," said Lucy. Her comment struck me as odd, because in the cafeteria earlier that day she'd called reading Ulysses her worst experience ever.
And so it went.
I didn't doubt Joyce's genius, but the comments of my colleagues annoyed me. Dr. Quentin had asked us to discuss our reading experience, not dance like the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. I assumed he wanted a serious discussion of the challenges that the novel poses for the first-time reader, so I said, "Joyce is clearly brilliant, but if we are discussing the reading experience itself, I didn't enjoy Ulysses at all."
Dr. Quentin's mouth fell open. So did the mouths of all 11 of my fellow graduate students. No one made a sound until Marcus said, "Henry, I don't know quite know how to interpret your statement."
Marcus was tossing me a life preserver, but I swam farther out to sea. Since Dr. Benjamin had used King Kong to explain The Faerie Queene, I assumed I could do something similar. "If I had to choose between rereading Ulysses or Tarzan of the Apes, I'd go for Tarzan."
Excruciatingly calmly, Dr. Quentin said, "You and I will talk after class."

At least I did not ever have to pretend that I read Ulysses, leave alone pretending that I enjoyed it. I think I gave it three good attempts, but never progressed beyond the first couple of pages.

Monday, October 26, 2009

no habla espanol? does not matter. watch this

remembrance of things past

Click here for a translation

Iceland pays for its banking mistakes!

Remember all that analysis of how Iceland played fast and loose with the mortgages that were all packaged up, and how when the bubble burst their banks owed way more than what their GNP itself was?  Iceland was one huge ponzi scheme by itself?
Irony then in the latest development.  Of all businesses, McDonald's decides that it needs to shut down its three burger joints there!:
the restaurants imported the goods from Germany, but that costs had almost doubled, with the falling krona making imports prohibitively expensive.
Mr Ogmundsson said the restaurants had "never been this busy before... but at the same time profits have never been lower".
"It just makes no sense. For a kilo of onion, imported from Germany, I'm paying the equivalent of a bottle of good whisky,"

No, not the McD's!!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The dirt on climate change: in two photos

James Fallows:
Two samples from Lu Guang's work: a power plant in Inner Mongolia, then a migrant laborer in the coal regions of Shanxi province.

China's hidden agenda?

Sometimes I wonder whether China's interest in the US dollar, and keeping its yuan tied to the dollar, is to essentially bankrupt the rest of the world and the US so that it can ultimately prevail as the global power.  You think I am nuts?  Not so fast.  Consider the following:

The Economist notes:
The financial crisis has sharpened fears of what Americans often see as another potential threat. China has become the world’s biggest lender to America through its purchase of American Treasury securities, which in theory would allow it to wreck the American economy. These fears ignore the value-destroying (and, for China’s leaders, politically hugely embarrassing) effect that a sell-off of American debt would have on China’s dollar reserves. This special report will explain why China will continue to lend to America
Paul Krugman writes:

If supply and demand had been allowed to prevail, the value of China’s currency would have risen sharply. But Chinese authorities didn’t let it rise. They kept it down by selling vast quantities of the currency, acquiring in return an enormous hoard of foreign assets, mostly in dollars, currently worth about $2.1 trillion.
Many economists, myself included, believe that China’s asset-buying spree helped inflate the housing bubble, setting the stage for the global financial crisis. But China’s insistence on keeping the yuan/dollar rate fixed, even when the dollar declines, may be doing even more harm now.
To which Dan Drezner adds:
the United States is not the country that's hurt the most by this tactic.  It's the rest of the world -- articularly Europe and the Pacific Rim -- that are getting royally screwed by China's policy.  These countries are seeing their currencies appreciating against both the dollar and the renminbi, which means their products are less competitive in the U.S. market compared to domestic production and Chinese exports.
So, now you tell me why my interpretation is screwed!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Recovery, or "Obama Bubble"?

For some reason, the war in Afghanistan that Bush, the Congress, the American public, and NATO launched back in 2002 is now referred to as Obama's War!  How bizarre is that!!!  All because Candidate Obama kept referring to the Afghanistan War as the "war of necessity" ....

Anyway, that moniker has stuck.  No wonder then that Sean Collins refers to the jobless recovery as Obama bubble.  He writes:
unless the underlying conditions for investment are restored, government money is likely just to pump up further the re-emerging bubbles. Even if the Obama administration recognises this trend, it is likely that lacklustre economic growth and high unemployment will render them reluctant to tighten monetary and fiscal conditions too much.
The unspoken issue at the root of Obama’s dilemma is that the economy’s engine – private non-financial industry - is not investing and innovating. And his response so far is part of the problem, not the solution.
Why does he say so? Because:
the latest rise in the stock market is more of an indication that the finance bubble is returning rather than a harbinger of broader economic recovery. And rather than blame greedy Wall Street types for starting the party before others have arrived, this reinflated bubble has been made in Washington, DC – led by liberal Democrats in the Obama administration, who many Wall Street critics praise for saving the economy from another Great Depression.

Christopher Hitchens kicks up dust down under

I am not referring to his essay on Sydney's dust storms, but the following discussion:

The two Americas: the unemployed, and the rest :-(


Jobless recovery: can the economy stand on its feet?

John Cassidy wonderfully and succinctly summarizes the recession and recovery, and notes:
With short-term interest rates at or close to zero, the government running a record deficit, and taxpayers propping up the housing market and the financial system, it is hardly surprising that the economy is growing again. Even a terminally ill patient often responds positively to aggressive medication, for a while. The big test will come when the government starts to remove the meds. Come the new year, the Fed will be eyeing higher interest rates, and it will also be shutting down some of its generous lending programs. The administration, meanwhile, will be talking about fiscal consolidation. Can the economy stand on its own two feet?
That is, indeed, the gazillion dollar question :-(
Already there is talk of continuing with the first time home buyer tax credit, which otherwise would end next month.  Is that a reflection of the thinking that the economy isn't quite ready to stand on its feet?

The New Yorker Magazine's Oct 26th issue

I might have gotten the full value of the subscription (a gift from my daughter) from this issue alone.  Jane Mayer's detailed notes on the various aspects of using the Predator drones in Pakistan is a must read for every single citizen.  Everything Mayer has to say is important.  One of the questions that she raises that continues to bug me is this: it is one thing to use those drones in Afghanistan, where we are waging a war.  But, when we use it, particularly via the CIA, in Pakistan, isn't that extra-judicial killing by the state, which is something that the US has explicitly forbidden?  A very informative but troubling essay.

The essay on the nasty fires in Melbourne earlier this year is a gripping story.  Had me sit up in my bed as I started reading it.  I recall following it, particularly because my brother and his family live in that city--though they were too much within the city to be affected by the fires. 

And, oh yeah, there is also a piece on James "I'm the king of the world" Cameron and his soon to be released "Avatar." 

Quote of the day (Fukuyama)

You simply can't get good governance without democratic accountability. It is a risky illusion to believe otherwise
Read the interview with Fukuyama. (ht)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Happy birthday, United Nations

The United Nations, which was established in 1945, will celebrate its birthday on October 24th.  A reconfiguration, not retirement, is in order for this 64-year old--to reflect the passage of time and a contemporary world that is far different from 1945. 
Reflexive ruminations about the UN, particularly since September 11, 2001, always seem to be with respect to the crises in the Middle East and Afghanistan.  War and peace were certainly the catalysts for the creation of the organization.  In fact, even the preamble of UN’s charter clearly states the determination of the signatories “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” 
But, of course, when it comes to preventing wars, the UN’s track record is not unblemished.  Furthermore, the first forty-four years of the UN were against the background of the Cold War, and the intense political differences between the United States and the USSR always loomed large over the UN’s businesses. 
Unfortunately, the bright spotlight on the UN’s involvement in peacemaking amidst wars has pushed many other activities of the UN, most of which are nearly irreplaceable, into a media darkness. 
Consider the UN’s High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR.)  Because of wars and famines there are displaced people scattered all over the world, and the UNHCR has an immense task of coordinating relief efforts.  For instance, estimates are that more than four million Iraqis have left their homes in the six years of military engagement there, and the UNHCR assists about a fifth of them.  According to the UNHCR, a staff of about 6,600 oversee the work done in more than a 100 countries, and about 80 percent of the staff are in the field—far away from the headquarters in Geneva. 
Equally important—perhaps even more important than the UNHCR—is the UN’s World Food Program (WFP.)  I am immensely thankful that I have never had to suffer the misfortune of not having food, and every once in a while I do cringe when I exaggerate my hunger with a statement such as “I am starving.”  But, that is not the case worldwide for more than a billion people who are chronically undernourished.  Even with its severely limited resources, the WFP not only works to save lives during emergencies, it also systematically works on strengthening the capacities of countries to reduce hunger. 
These two examples easily show that there is a lot more to the UN than the regular spectacle of grandstanding speeches at the General Assembly, especially from dictators, and the relatively ineffective deliberations and resolutions at the Security Council. 
But, the UN certainly does not seem to be in any hurry to address this huge image issue.  If at all, reports such as the UN's chief envoy not acting on evidence of vote rigging in the yet to be concluded presidential elections in Afghanistan further diminish the agency’s credibility as an international broker of peace. 
However, it is clear that the UN does not have the luxury of being in denial about its increasingly marginalized status.  There is one tangible and compelling reason, more than anything else, for restructuring the UN—budgets.  The reality is that the UN’s finances have not been in the best possible shape for more than a decade, and can be expected to worsen as member countries struggle through the global recession.
If a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, then there is no better time than the current Great Recession for the United Nations to initiate changes.  Learning a few lessons from multinational corporations that seem to be rapidly falling like unstable dominoes, the UN, too, can restructure its operations in order to improve its efficiency and effectiveness.  
Of course, reforming the UN is not entirely a new idea.  The latest effort was initiated by the current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon soon after he took over the office.  I hope that the reform initiatives pay dividends soon because the problems humans face are increasingly global, and an effective United Nations could help mitigate them. 
For now, happy birthday, United Nations!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Saving the public universities

Public universities have been forced to raise tuition largely because state governments, facing huge budget shortfalls, have reduced spending on higher education. But many education experts said colleges must do a better job of cutting costs.
“Colleges need to be looking for ways to permanently restructure, not just cut their budgets,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Costs, Productivity and Accountability. “A perfect example is furloughs, in hopes that eventually the work force can come back. But this isn’t a one-time problem, and eventually they’ll have to bite the bullet and reduce their work force.”
Read the entire NY Times story

I get knocked down ....

But I get up again ....

Richard Dawkins' next book

"Dear Juliet," ... "Now that you are ten, I want to write to you about something that is important to me. Have you ever wondered how we know the things that we know? How do we know, for instance, that the stars, which look like tiny pinpricks in the sky, are really huge balls of fire like the sun and are really far away? And how do we know that Earth is a smaller ball whirling round one of those stars, the sun? The answer to these questions is 'evidence.' "
Apparently that is how Richard Dawkins' next book begins.  It "will be for 12-year-olds, an expansion on a letter about the importance of critical thinking that he wrote to his daughter, Juliet, now a medical student, when she was 10."
Should be great.  Am reminded of the book Sophie's World--I bought that for my daughter when she was in her mid-teens.  Am not sure whether she read that; I did :-)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

AfPak high on opium

"The Afghanistan/Pakistan border region has turned into the world's largest free-trade zone in anything and everything that is illicit - drugs of course, but also weapons, bomb-making equipment, chemical precursors, drug money, even people and migrants," 
That is from the head of UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) who is concerned about opium from Afghanistan and how it generates a whole bunch of problems for the rest of the world too.
UN findings say an opium market worth $65bn (£39bn) funds global terrorism, caters to 15 million addicts, and kills 100,000 people every year.
The UN says corruption, lawlessness and uncontrolled borders result in only 2% of Afghan opiates being seized locally.
The UN says more Russians die annually from Afghan drugs than Soviet soldiers were killed during its Afghan conflict.
Afghanistan produces 92% of the world's opium, with the equivalent of 3,500 tonnes leaving the country each year.
The US fights wars over one of three: oil, drugs, terrorism. Here in AfPak, we have two out of three.

Monday, October 19, 2009

China surging at 8.5%

When Fareed Zakaria writes or says anything in a public forum, he does not give me anything to disagree with.  Maybe because we are both from India?  Ha ha.  His latest piece, on China, makes sense:
China entered the crisis in an entirely different position. It was running a budget surplus and had been raising interest rates to tamp down excessive growth. Its banks had been reining in consumer spending and excessive credit. So when the crisis hit, the Chinese government could adopt textbook policies to jump-start growth. It could lower interest rates, raise government spending, ease up on credit, and encourage consumers to start spending. Having been disciplined during the fat years, Beijing could now ease up during the lean ones.

And look at the nature of China's stimulus. Most of U.S. government spending is directed at consumption—in the form of subsidies, wages, health benefits, etc. The bulk of China's stimulus is going toward investment for future growth: infrastructure and new technologies. Having built 21st-century infrastructure for its first-tier cities in the last decade, Beijing will now build similar facilities for the second tier.
This to me is not a big deal.  After all, the Chinese economy has a lot to catch up with the US.  But, the following ought to make American politicians think twice about what they are up to, particularly the likes of those who want to yell "you lie!":
China is also well aware of its dependence on imported oil and is acting in surprisingly farsighted ways. It now spends more on solar, wind, and battery technology than the United States does. Research by the investment bank Lazard Freres shows that of the top 10 companies (by market capitalization) in these three fields, four are Chinese. (Only three are American.)
The only thing to watch out for, says this FT blog post:
Worries that China is in the grip of a real estate bubble intensified after a five-bedroom apartment in Hong Kong was sold for $56.6m this week. Andy Xie, a Shanghai based economist, argues that China is probably the most bubble-prone economy in modern times - and may be just ten years away from its final day of reckoning.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The joys of a monotonous life

Only yesterday it was that I commented to a friend that life is about the routine stuff.  And then I read this today (ht):
In its essence life is monotonous. Happiness therefore depends on a reasonably thorough adaptation to life’s monotony. By making ourselves monotonous, we make ourselves equal to life. Thus we live to the full. And living to the full is to be happy.

Unhealthy, illogical souls laugh—uneasily, deep down—at bourgeois happiness, at the monotonous life of the bourgeois man who obeys a daily routine . . . . . . , and at his wife who spends her time keeping the house tidy, is consumed by the minutiae of caring for the children, and talks about neighbors and acquaintances. That’s what happiness is, however. It seems, at first glance, that new things are what give pleasure to the mind; but there aren’t many new things, and each one is new only once. Our sensibility, furthermore, is limited, and it doesn’t vibrate indefinitely. Too many new things will eventually get tiresome, since our sensibility can’t keep up with all the stimulations it receives.

To resign oneself to monotony is to experience everything as forever new. The bourgeois’s vision of life is the scientific vision, since everything is indeed always new, and before this day this day never existed.

He, of course, would say none of this. Were he capable of saying it, he wouldn’t be capable of being happy. My observations only make him smile; and it’s his smile that brings me, in all their detail, the considerations I’m writing down, for future generations to ponder.
These are the translated words of Fernando Pessoa.  I had never heard of him until today--shows me, yet again, how little I know about this universe.  In fact, it is even ridiculous to think I know anything at all about this universe!

Why I love muddled and messy politics

Because often I think that is the only true sign of a democracy.

Growing up in India, particularly coming of age when Indira Gandhi imposed a federal emergency rule on the entire country, and the later confusion with the Janata Party, was a fantastic immersion experience of sorts in understanding politics and civics.  And through those teenage years, I used to wonder whether the emergency was better--everything was a lot more efficient, and there was certainly lesser chaos.  But, as I started understanding the dark sides to it, the more I preferred the chaos and inefficiencies.

So, I could completely resonate with the following comments by Ian Buruma, whose blog entry is in the context of the recent Japanese elections:
The victory of Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan has demolished this myth. Japanese no longer felt that their country’s destiny (and economic crisis) was best handled by bureaucrats and ineffectual politicians, who could think of little more than to pour more tainted money into useless bridges, unwanted dams, and roads going nowhere. They wanted more choices. They want to be properly represented. They wanted to feel that their votes actually counted.
The Democratic Party has promised to change the system, to put elected politicians in charge, instead of bureaucrats. This will not be easy. Vested interests in technocracy are strong. But even if the promised reforms don’t happen overnight, or under Hatoyama’s watch, things will not be the same again. Now that Japanese citizens have finally exercised their power to vote the rascals out, going back to the old ways is no longer an option even for conservatives.
This is good news for Japan. And it is good news for the rest of us, especially at a time of low confidence in democratic institutions. The temptation, in periods of crisis, to do away with messy politics and put the experts (or the great leaders) in charge, is getting stronger: look at Italy, or Thailand, or Russia, or Venezuela. The Japanese have chosen the more democratic route. Three cheers to them.
Yes, three cheers to them, and to democracy.

The Baluchs in Iran and Pakistan

Back in June, my column in the Register Guard was about the Sunni and Baloch minority in Iran.  I pointed out there that the Balochs are a minority in both Iran and its neighboring Pakistan, and:
Third, and most important, a group called Jundallah claimed responsibility for this blast. Jundallah, which means “soldiers of Allah,” has gained strength in the post-Sept. 11 years. Jundallah claims to be fighting the Iranian government to secure equal rights for the Sunni and the Baloch people.

Well, I wake up this morning to NPRs news that Jundallah carried out a suicide bombing attack that killed several commanders of the Iran's Revolutionary Guard.  Here is the BBC:
Iranian state television said 31 people died in the attack, in the Pishin region of Sistan-Baluchistan, and more than 25 were injured. ... The deputy commander of the Guards' ground force, General Noor Ali Shooshtari, and the Guards' chief provincial commander, Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh, were among at least six officers killed, state news agency reported.

Morbid update

A round up of some of the deaths that made the news:
  • As of Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009, at least 796 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001
  • Nine die in attacks across Iraq
  • Fireworks blaze kills 32 in India
  • Three soldiers, 25 Taliban dead in Afghanistan
  • 12 dead in gang battle in Rio, which will host the Olympics?
I think this is enough for now :-(

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The ticking deficit bomb

Shouldn't we worry that this damn thing will explode like crazy?

NY Times:
Economists generally agree that annual deficits should not exceed 3 percent of the G.D.P., and that is the level President Obama had vowed to reach by the end of his first term in 2013.
But subsequent spending and tax cuts to stimulate the economy, and lower-than-expected revenues as the recession deepened before bottoming out, combined to push the administration’s deficit forecast to 4.6 percent of G.D.P. for the fiscal year 2013.
At 10 percent of the gross domestic product, the 2009 deficit is the highest since the end of World War II, when it was 21.5 percent. At that level, it already has become a bigger economic and a political issue than any time since the late 1980s.

A "Christian Sharia" in Texas? OMD!

According to this news item from the Times (HT),

A Texas man is due to be executed next month despite admissions by jurors that they consulted biblical passages advocating death as a punishment to help to decide his fate.
Before sending Khristian Oliver to his death after he was convicted of murdering his victim — who was bludgeoned with a gun barrel — jurors read passages of the Old Testament, including one that states that a killer who uses an iron object to kill “shall surely be put to death”.
Note that there was no reasonable doubt regarding the guilt of the accused.  So, the issue is not with establishing whether or not the accused was indeed guilty.  But, it is with the punishment--even though capital punishment is legal in Texas, and even though "the jurors were instructed by the judge not to refer to anything that was not presented as evidence in the courtroom" the jurors' decision to go with the death sentence was guided by passages from the bible :-(
Amnesty International called on the Texas authorities to commute Oliver’s death sentence because since his trial, jurors had admitted that they read the Bible while they decided whether he should live or die. In particular, they said that Bibles were passed around with specific passages highlighted, and that one juror read aloud to his fellow jurors the passage, from Numbers XXXV, 16: “And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.”
This is not a new case--the homicidal act was in 1998.  And apparently the consultation with the bible was known soon after, which is why the death sentence had been appealed:

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals said last year that jurors had wrongly used the Bible and that it had amounted to an “external influence” prohibited under the US Constitution. Yet the court said there was not enough evidence to show they were prejudiced when they decided to send Oliver to death row.
In April the US Supreme Court — the final chance Oliver had to appeal against his death sentence — refused to hear the case, despite being urged to do so by 50 former and current federal and state prosecutors.
Hmmm ....refused to hear the case?  How awful!  So, does the refusal legitimize jurors consulting the bible to award punishments?  What if a few other juries decide to follow this "precedent?"  Isn't the role of the Supremes to essentially make sure we have the correct constitutional precedents for law?  Oh wait, according to Chief Justice Roberts their job is only to call balls and strikes.  Yeah, right!  And this is not a case where he didn't have to worry if it was a ball or a strike :-(

BTW, what an odd coincidence that the Christian jurors consulted the bible to arrive at the death sentence for the accused whose name sounds the same as the faithful, with one difference in the lettering: Khristian!!!

Superfreakanomics: Quote of the day

if you find yourself writing, in all seriousness, as a practical proposal, the phrase "pumping large quantities of sulphur dioxide into the Earth’s stratosphere through an 18-mile-long hose, held up by helium balloons", it is probably time to take a step back and ask yourself if something has gone a little bit wrong with your life.
That was via Brad DeLong on Superfreakanomics, which was featured earlier today on NPR.

Did Levitt and Dubner not learn from Hollywood that most sequels to highly successful movies do not do well, neither at the box office nor with the critics?

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Diwali greeting from President Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama celebrated Deepavali by lighting the ceremonial lamp at the White House amidst chanting of Vedic mantras seeking world peace, becoming the first U.S. President to personally grace the occasion.
“I think it’s fitting that we begin this work in the week leading up to the holiday of Diwali -- the festival of lights -- when members of some of the world’s greatest faiths celebrate the triumph of good over evil,” Mr. Obama said in his remarks on the occasion at a White House function held at its historic East Room on Wednesday.
This is for the first time that a U.S. President attended and celebrated Deepavali at the White House -- thus giving an official recognition to the festival of lights celebrated across the world by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.
 That was from The Hindu.  And here is a cool YouTube video of Obama wishing a happy Diwali. Cool!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Unions, wages, inflation, and deflation

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers
 (CPI-W) decreased 1.7 percent over the last 12 months 
So, here is a question: if a big reason for unions to negotiate a wage increase is to keep up with the uptick in the Consumer Price Index, will unions now negotiate for a wage decrease?
Just asking :-)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bloggers against hunger

NY Times or the Onion? Hard to tell :-)

Remember the Large Hadron Collider?  Remember all the hoopla that it would track down the mysterious particles that physicists are looking for?  And how the gigantic collider came to stop almost as soon as it revved up?  How about this for an explanation for what happened?
the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.
So, let me get this.  This tiny, tiny, particle whose theoretical existence needs to be validated travelled back in time and threw a spanner in the works, so to say, because it is so abhorrent to nature.  Oh my! 
Guess what?  it is not from the Onion.  It is NY Times science report, which adds:

Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan, put this idea forward in a series of papers with titles like “Test of Effect From Future in Large Hadron Collider: a Proposal” and “Search for Future Influence From LHC,” posted on the physics Web site in the last year and a half.
According to the so-called Standard Model that rules almost all physics, the Higgs is responsible for imbuing other elementary particles with mass.
“It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck,” Dr. Nielsen said in an e-mail message. In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, “Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God.” It is their guess, he went on, “that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.”
This malign influence from the future, they argue, could explain why the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, was canceled in 1993 after billions of dollars had already been spent, an event so unlikely that Dr. Nielsen calls it an “anti-miracle.”
I suppose it is only a very fine line between wisdom from a genius and crap from a nutcase :-)  And, yes, the report addresses that too:
As Niels Bohr, Dr. Nielsen’s late countryman and one of the founders of quantum theory, once told a colleague: “We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question that divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct.”

More on Team Obama v. Faux News

John Batchelor has these wonderful words to say, even while chiding the Obama people for going after Faux News:
The decision by the golden-hearted crank Bill O’Reilly to attack the warm-hearted crank Glenn Beck over the latter’s swine flu denial spiel is at once first-rate showbiz and slapstick teamwork. Not since Abbott and Costello have two guys in suits, one tall and impatient, the other chubby-cheeked and childlike, had more fun debating “I Don’t Know’s on Third.”
None of what goes on in the evening has anything to do with government. The president and the Congress are discussed as omnipresent villains in a fairytale that begins with a happy kingdom of worthies, introduces an ogre, a witch, and a curse, and then interviews champions to come forward to rescue the frightened children and save the USA. All the while, Ming the Merciless, aka Rupert Murdoch, rakes up the ratings and the bucks.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CNN: "we will leave it there"

The Daily Show in all its glory :-)
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
CNN Leaves It There
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

China-India relations deteriorating fast

I really hope that Obama and his people are closely following the simmering Sino-Indian tensions over Arunachal Pradesh.  Now, apparently China is upset that India's prime minister visited Arunachal Pradesh--which is a state in India, but which is a "disputed territory" according to China:
China is “deeply upset” over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh, an official said on Tuesday in a statement that is bound to further heighten tensions on the long-running border dispute between India and China.
“Despite our grave concerns, an Indian leader went to the disputed area,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu told reporters here on Tuesday in a regular press briefing. “We hope the Indian side does not create problems on the border area so as to benefit the sound development of China-India relations.”
Election campaign
Mr. Singh visited Arunachal Pradesh on October 3, ahead of the State Assembly elections which were held on Monday. The Chinese statement comes 10 days after his visit. A likely reason is many government offices here remained closed last week on account of an eight day national holiday.
China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website on Tuesday, Beijing was “strongly dissatisfied with the visit to the disputed region by the Indian leader”, not directly naming the Prime Minister.
“We demand the Indian side address China's serious concerns and not trigger disturbance in the disputed region so as to facilitate the healthy development of China-India relations,” the statement said.

Saudi Arabia's crazy logic

I am not making this up--it is from the NY Times, not from the Onion:
Saudi Arabia is trying to enlist other oil-producing countries to support a provocative idea: if wealthy countries reduce their oil consumption to combat global warming, they should pay compensation to oil producers.
What a twisted logic, eh!  Here is the NRDC person quoted in the NY Times story:
“It is like the tobacco industry asking for compensation for lost revenues as a part of a settlement to address the health risks of smoking,” said Jake Schmidt, the international climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The worst of this racket is that they have held up progress on supporting adaptation funding for the most vulnerable for years because of this demand.”
Why would the Saudis put forward such a crazy proposal?

The chief Saudi negotiator, Mohammad al-Sabban, described the position as a “make or break” provision for the Saudis, as nations stake out their stance before the global climate summit scheduled for the end of the year.
“Assisting us as oil-exporting countries in achieving economic diversification is very crucial for us through foreign direct investments, technology transfer, insurance and funding,” Mr. Sabban said in an e-mail message.
Uh, hello, isn't that what the Saudis should have been doing while they were raking in all the dollars?  WTF!

Finally, Obama delivers :-)

You ought to read this one on Obama's White House versus Faux News; an excerpt:

In the most significant exchange on CNN, Dunn stressed that President Obama now personally views Fox as a partisan opponent, rather than a journalistic organization. "When he goes on Fox he understands he is not going on it as a news network at this point," she explained, "he is going on it to debate the opposition."
That's a big departure from how most of the Democratic establishment engages Fox. It's been a long time coming.

Finally! You go, BHO :-)
But, what took Obama and other Democrats this long to reach this point?

It is also because of the Faux News connection that I want NPR to ditch Juan Williams and Mara Liasson--how could any self-respecting journalist collect a paycheck from Faux and then deliver expert comments on NPR?  Worse, how does NPR allow this?

Measure the region’s stability by what’s cricket in Pakistan

With bombs bursting in air and suicide bombers exploding at ground level, Afghanistan continues to be a dangerous place. After eight years of military engagement, we are more than a little behind schedule on finalizing our plans to exit Afghanistan.

The unrest and violence in Afghanistan is intricately linked to Pakistan’s. So, is there any simple metric that we could employ in order to understand whether things are getting better or worse in Pakistan, such that it can then feed into the decision-making process regarding Afghanistan?

Yes, there is: All we need to do is keep track of the game of cricket in Pakistan. As simple as that!

Cricket is played worldwide, mostly in countries that once were Britain’s colonies. In terms of a global following for a sport, cricket is second only to soccer. In the South Asian countries of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, cricket can, and does, trigger passion among its peoples that can make even the most boorish college football fan here seem very tame.

Pakistan has a rich history of outstanding players who were admired for their skilled art by fans and opponents alike. One phenomenal player — Imran Khan — successfully cashed in his popularity to become a significantly successful politician.

For a number of years, Pakistan and India — both with millions of cricket fanatics — did not play each other because of political tensions. I barely had stepped into my teenage years in 1978 when India and Pakistan resumed playing cricket after a gap of 18 years. Watching those games on television was a transformative moment when it dawned on me that the “enemy” team comprised players who looked and talked just like those playing for India.

It became difficult to understand why the people and cricketers from Pakistan were demonized. Thereafter, it was nothing but sheer pleasure for me to watch the talented ballplayers from the neighboring country.

Those were the relatively calmer days before terrorism became a household word. Yet even as conditions in Pakistan started spiraling down, India and other cricket-playing countries continued to send their teams there, but with increasing levels of security.

No more. Now, no country is willing to visit Pakistan to test its cricket mettle because of the immense security risks.

Pakistan was to have hosted a prestigious international tournament — the Champions Trophy — in September 2008. But one country after another withdrew because of worries about safety for players and fans. It was then rescheduled for 2009, but in a different venue altogether — in South Africa.

Sri Lanka was the only brave country that ventured out to Pakistan to play a series of matches there, perhaps having been conditioned by the 25 years of civil war in the island. This visit in March 2009 broke a dry spell since October 2007, which was the last time Pakistan hosted a cricket team from another country.

In a way, that decision by Sri Lanka immediately provided enough tangible evidence regarding the terrorists’ stronghold on the country. The Sri Lankan team’s bus was ambushed in the city of Lahore, resulting in the deaths of six policemen and injuries to players.

Naturally, the Sri Lankan team returned home right away.

As a result, there is now no team that will dare to visit Pakistan, which is a huge loss for the game itself, and for the cricket-crazy fans there. Imagine how Brazilians would feel if they could not host soccer tournaments and if their carnival were canceled. Double that sense of utter disappointment and frustration, and I think we might get close to understanding the loss of international cricket play in Pakistan.

This yardstick of cricket suggests that normalcy might not return to Pakistan for a while. In that case, it might not be realistic to expect that the chaotic situation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas will settle down any time soon.

Therefore, I am all the more worried that we might be stuck in Afghanistan for many more years to come. And that is not cricket!

For The Register-Guard
Appeared in print: TuesdayOct 13, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Buffalo Soldiers

The different ways in which people have served this country; my thanks to all of them.  From the WaPo's report on the annual reunion of the Buffalo Soldiers:

Hairston is a Buffalo soldier, one of thousands of African Americans who served in a segregated U.S. Army during World War II. This past weekend in Silver Spring, Hairston joined dozens of other Buffalo soldiers at the annual reunion hosted by the Washington-based 92nd Infantry Division (Buffalo) Association, founded in 1982 as a means of preserving the division's history.
The 92nd was formed with African American soldiers during World War I and reactivated during World War II. The nickname traces to the one given black soldiers who fought in the 19th-century wars on the western frontier. Historians say the nickname of Buffalo soldier was given by the Indians to their African American adversaries because of their curly hair and as a sign of respect for their valor and prowess.
And here is Bob Marley's take on this and more ....

Memo to students: you are screwed :-(

I have blogged quite a few times here that one of the biggest scams--for want of a better word--in this country is, yes, higher education.  Which is why I did not care much for Paul Krugman repeating the same old lines about the economic returns on higher education.  We are way overselling higher education.  We promise them--sometimes implicitly--that once they get a college degree, well, that they too can begin to live the high life.  This is far from the reality, and increasingly so in this highly competitive globalized economy.

Higher educational professionals do not suffer from such a sales gimmick though; in fact, they gain a lot by catering to a market demand that should not exist in the first place.  Students end up paying for it, and often through huge loans and no job after graduation.  It then becomes grandiose disillusioned :-(

In the context of a WSJ report on how the Great Recession and the credit crunch is affecting the low-income group, Mike Konczal writes:
Now we are currently asking children, 17, 18 or 19 years old, to try and assess how much of a student loan debt burden they can handle vis-a-vis their future income over their entire lives. But, especially compared to their grandparents, uncertainty is so much greater now. The consumption smoothing line invokes a world where everyone with a college degree will get a stable, solid job with certainty (and your employer will, of course, pick up the health care tab).
The person in the Wall Street Journal article almost certainly had no realistic idea for what would be awaiting her on the other side of the associate's degree, and she misjudged this terribly. And, from an efficiency point of view, it's what makes this more perverse than the indentured servitude contract - people under indentured servitude had the job waiting for them. The clock was ticking for the firms who had set up the contract, and they needed to get their value. With student loans, they can sit there for decades, never dischargeable, always getting paid regardless of recession or job market.

On my part, all I can do is keep yelling that the emperor has no clothes!

More on the Nobel Prize for Peace

The nominations were due way back in February:
February – Deadline for submission. The Committee bases its assessment on nominations that must be postmarked no later than 1 February each year. Nominations postmarked and received after this date are included in the following year's discussions. In recent years, the Committee has received close to 200 different nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. The number of nominating letters is much higher, as many are for the same candidates.

Is it all the fault of "market fundamentalism?"

Economists have started examining their discipline, and how much the market can truly deliver.  To criticism from Nobel laureates like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, in a thoughtful essay, Jagdish Bhagwati reminds us, again,  that hundreds of millions were lifted out of poverty in India and China only because of liberal economic policies.  He then writes:

Capitalism works best when those who do not succeed, and are buffeted by the vicissitudes of life, still believe in success—believe that those who do succeed put their wealth to good use, and do not merely engage in self-indulgence. Remember that the Calvinists and the Jains of Gujerat accumulated wealth but spent it not on themselves but on promoting social good.
Capitalism works well when those who lose feel that one day they might also win. This is the great American dream: even when mobility has been less real than imagined, the belief matters.
Today, in the United States, both “stabilizers” of capitalism have taken a hit. There has been far too much flaunting of wealth, even as working-class incomes have stagnated, with magazines on “How to Spend It” in the Financial Times and displays of the insufferably rich glitterati in the Style section of the New York Times. 

I have only one question: why does he spell it as "Gujerat" when in India it is spelt "Gujarat?"  Bhagwati has his reasons, I am sure.  I wonder what those reasons are!  HT

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Guns don't kill. Ergo, sodas don't fatten!

We have heard a gazillion times from the NRA that guns don't kill people.  (yeah, right!)  Consistent with Jorge Luis Borges' observation that all we do is retell stories, now Coca Cola offers its own variation of guns don't kill people. This time, it is "Coke didn't make America fat" .... aww, how "sweet" that sounds to my gut :-)  Before I head to the fridge and get myself a can of soda, let me also note that this argument was presented as an op-ed by Coke's CEO in the Wall Street Journal. I tell you, the joke could not get any better.

Now, when I am opposed to federal taxes on soda, it is not because I think sodas are some super-health drinks.  I oppose taxation because (a) this is the kind of policy issue that is best left to state and local governments, (b) the tax has to be very, very, high in order to provide a strong disincentive, and there is no way we would impose that level of a tax anyway, and (c) getting rid of the subsidies for corn and sugar itself will increase the price of soda by an amount comparable to any tax we might add.

So, you see, one does not need a fake argument on sodas and obesity in order to oppose a tax on sodas.  I wish the Coke CEO had not attempted some crazy arguments.

The global Muslim population

The web and blogging are simply fantastic when it comes to getting updates, discussing policies, ..... Many academics have also taken up blogging big time.  I suspect that in many cases, blogging provides a lot more interactive discussions than a journal article can.  Juan Cole is one of those academics who has blogged a lot--on the Middle East in particular.  Here, he responds to the news item that a quarter of the world's population is Muslim:
I don't think most people in the West realize the implications of the likelihood that one-third of humankind may soon be Muslim. We don't have a real sense of scale in the US. We don't realize that Brazil alone is nearly as big as the US in area, or that the US could be fitted into East Africa. We don't realize how huge Iran is, or what it implies when we call India a subcontinent.

One of the implications is that the US is a little unlikely to thrive as a superpower in the 21st century if its more venal and bloodthirsty politicians go on barking about "Islamo-fascism" (they never said Christo-Fascism even though Gen. Franco in Spain was a good candidate for the label) and denigrating Islam and Muslims and seeking to militarily occupy their countries and siphon off their resources. That kind of behavior may have worked in the 19th century before Muslims were mobilized, but it does not work now.

The Muslim world is the labor pool of the next century, and is also the custodian of much of the world's fuel. New American crusades of the sort favored on the right of the Republican Party may finally induce imperial overstretch and deeply harm the US. Some 5 percent of the population cannot dominate by force 25 percent of the globe and what may eventually be 33% of the globe.
You know, I would never have guessed that there are an estimated 16 million Muslims in RussiaHT

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