Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On intellectuals ....

I detect today a certain public scepticism when intellectuals stand up to preach to us, a growing tendency among ordinary people to dispute the right of academics, writers and philosophers, eminent though they may be, to tell us how to behave and conduct our affairs.  The belief seems to be spreading that intellectuals are no wiser as mentors, or worthier as exemplars, than the witch dotctors or priests of old.  I share that scepticism. A dozen people picked at random on the street are at least as likely to offer sensible views on moral and political matters as a cross-section of the intelligentsia. But I would go further. One of the principal lessons of our tragic century, which has seen so man millions of innocent lives sacrificed in schemes to improve the lot of humanity, is--beware intellectuals.  Not merely should they be kept well away from the levers of power, they should also be objects of particular suspicion when they seek to offer collective advice.  ... For intellectuals, far from being highly individualistic and non-conformist people, follow certain regular patterns of behaviour.  Taken as a group, they are often ultra-conformist within the circles formed by those whose approval they seek and value.  That is what makes them, en masse, so dangerous, for it enables them to create climates of opinion and prevailing orthodoxies, which themselves often generate irrational and destructive courses of action. Above all, we must at all times remember what intellectuals habitually forget: that people matter more than concepts and must come first. The worst of all despotisms is the heartless tyranny of ideas
Paul Johnson in Intellectuals, published way back in 1988.

My favorite intellectual, (whom the conservative Johnson does not critique) ....?

George Orwell, of course :)

Why?  Because from the little bit of reading that I have done, Orwell came across as essentially a left-of-center guy who did not care for ideological labels.  And he was highly suspicious of conformity.

Christopher Hitchens says it best:
My worry has more to do with another thing Orwell warned about—the willingness of people to police themselves, and to believe anything that they're told. Especially the willingness of intellectuals and academics to become worshipers of whomever is in power, or passers-on of whatever the reigning idea is. Conformity, in other words. That will always carry on being a threat. People don't remember Orwell for his opposition to conformity as well as they should.
I don't know if I have always had that intense suspicion of conformity, which was then reinforced by reading Orwell, or if watching 1984 at the British Council in Madras was the real trigger.  In any case, Orwell is my go-to intellectual. 

Mehbooba Mehbooba ...

Yes, that old number from Sholay. ...My neighbor gave me a CD of music from India that he picked up at the local Starbucks, and Mehbooba was one of the tracks there ... (Thanks, Joe!)

It was wonderful to recall the childhood days when the movie came out.  I remember watching the movie in Madras, at the "Satyam" theatre.  (Is it there anymore, I wonder!)  It was in that theatre that for the first time in my life I saw an espresso machine.  (Is it still the case that in India the espresso is actually a cappuccino?  Yes, I remember lots of coffee-related events in my life; it is, after all, my favorite and only drug!!!)
My cousin was pumped up even more than us siblings; he had been to the movie and was eager for a second helping.

I clearly recall being blown away by the movie.  Of course, it also helped that Hema Malini was there and I was one of the gazillion pre-teenage boys, and others too, who thought she was the prettiest thing on the planet :)
(My non-Indian readers not familiar with Sholay or the actors: note that the dancer in this clip is not Hema Malini.  Click here for her solo number from the same movie.)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Music video of the day

What happens to female suicide bombers?

Reports indicate that the Russian blasts heard around the world were set off by female suicide bombers.  It is yet another in a long line of incidents where the bomber was female.  I wish I had access to my own op-ed on this topic; maybe I authored it before I returned to blogging.

First, Anne Applebaum, who almost became the first lady of Poland, asks "How Did Russian Police Know Who Bombed the Moscow Subway?," and writes:
I do hope the Moscow police will present the public with hard evidence that two Chechen women really were responsible for this truly grotesque attack before blaming the incident on North Caucasian terrorists.
I am guessing that Czar Prime Minister Putin knows fully well the Cheney approach to use such horrible incidents in order to pursue his own agenda.

If it was indeed the act of female suicide bombers, what is in it for them?  If Islamist male suicide bombers can look forward to being entertained by virgins after their martyrdom, for female suicide bombers?  Here is Michelle Tsai:
religious commentaries argue that paradise will make them beautiful, happy, and without jealousy. The fact that they fasted and worshipped Allah during their earthly lives will also make them superior to the virgins, who only exist in heaven. Some modern clerics argue that in heaven, husbands never grow bored of their wives, even with so many huris around. That may explain why some would-be female suicide bombers have spoken of becoming "chief of the 72 virgins, the fairest of the fair."
Ok.  But are there non-Islamist female suicide bombers?  Of course.  In Sri Lanka the LTTE made horribly effective use of them. India's prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was killed by one such bomber.

Going one step more, is terrorism a male-dominated activity?  Brian Palmer asks whether there is a glass ceiling of sorts for female terrorists; could Jihad Jane ever have risen up to bin Laden's CEO ranks?  Palmer writes:
Women do not hold leadership positions in any of the major Islamic terrorist organizations. When Ayman al-Zawahiri was asked about the highest rank held in al-Qaida by a woman, he replied that there are no women in the group, but the domestic service of a jihadist's wife is heroic. Women may even be second-class citizens in the suicide-bomber set....
Women in the al-Qaida family are frequently used as marriage fodder. Many top terrorists marry their daughters off to colleagues abroad as a way to strengthen ties between regional or international terrorists organizations, just as old-school European monarchs once did. Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar appear to be married to each other's daughters. Indonesian terrorist Haris Fadhilah gave his daughter to Omar al-Faruq, a major al-Qaida operative. These arranged marriages are thought to enhance collaboration and communication among terrorist groups, but there's little indication that the women wield any real power. (Many female Chechen fighters gained their status through marriage, as well. The "Black Widows" are a group of bombers who try to complete the missions begun by their martyred husbands, fathers, or brothers.)

The pension problem ...

First, here is what Nick Gillespie notes that the:
split between private and public-sector workers is one of the biggest issues in contemporary America. We are, as Matt Welch has noted again and again, broke. There's no money left anymore people. We need a fundamental re-do of public sector financing on every level, from entitlement spending to employee compensation. Most clearly, the public sector needs to shift to self-financing of its retirement, just like the private sector has done over the past generation. There are not enough private-sector workers to pay the taxes necessary to continue what's going on in Ohio and elsewhere.
Now, you might dismiss this because Gillespie is, after all, a staunch libertarian with Reason.
But, then here is a report from our capital city's newspaper, the Statesman Journal:
PERS has to increase the contributions to make up for investment losses that occurred during the stock market free-fall of 2008.
"The market downturn dug a huge hole in PERS that needs to be made up," said Brenda Wilson, the city of Eugene's intergovernmental relations manager and PERS consultant to the Oregon League of Cities. "Even though there were positive earnings last year, the hole is bigger than that. Not every single employer will see a rate increase, but the vast majority of them will."
The increase will cost Oregon governments participating in PERS a total of more than $1 billion in additional employer pension contributions, according to information provided by PERS after public-records requests from the Statesman Journal. To cover that expense, cuts to classrooms, parks, libraries and myriad other community services will have to be considered. Some local governments might lay off workers.
Oh well, .... this will be another one to add to the earlier posts related to pensions.  I bet this will not be the last one either.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Quote of the day

Faculty evaluations are:
Freud's notion of the narcissism of small differences—our need to exaggerate the minimal distinctions between ourselves and people very much like ourselves.
Fantastic phrasing.  Read the entire essay here.  Yes, the author cares not for them.  But, as I read it, I was more impressed with the dollar figures quoted there ... no mashed potatoes there :)

Marilyn Monroe + modern Islamic art = ?

Click here for a gallery of more artwork ....

Obama on torture: look back, or merely go forward?

A near-complete copy/paste of a Glenn Greenwald post--to excerpt would be gross injustice to his observations:
President Obama gave an interview earlier this week to an Indonesian television station in lieu of the scheduled trip to that country which was canceled due to the health care vote.  In 2008, Indonesia empowered a national commission to investigate human rights abuses committed by its own government under the U.S.-backed Suharto regime "in an attempt to finally bring the perpetrators to justice," and Obama was asked in this interview:  "Is your administration satisfied with the resolution of the past human rights abuses in Indonesia?"  He replied:
We have to acknowledge that those past human rights abuses existed.  We can't go forward without looking backwards . . . .
When asked last year about whether the United States should use similar tribunals to investigate its own human rights abuses, as well his view of other countries' efforts (such as Spain) to investigate those abuses, Obama said:
I'm a strong believer that it's important to look forward and not backwards, and to remind ourselves that we do have very real security threats out there.
That "Look-Forward/Not-Backward" formulation is one which Obama and his top aides have frequently repeated to argue against any investigations in the U.S.  Why, as Obama sermonized, must Indonesians first look backward before being able to move forward, whereas exactly the opposite is true of Americans?  If a leader is going to demand that other countries adhere to the very "principles" which he insists on violating himself, it's probably best not to use antithetical clich├ęs when issuing decrees, for the sake of appearances if nothing else.
The New Yorker's Jane Mayer -- in the last paragraph of her new article documenting the multiple lies told by former Bush speechwriter and current Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen in his pro-torture book -- offered the best summary yet as to why Obama's "Look Forward/Not Backward" mentality is so destructive:
The publication of "Courting Disaster" suggests that Obama’s avowed determination "to look forward, not back" has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation.  By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn’t protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.
Nothing enables the glorification of crimes, and nothing ensures their future re-occurrence, more than shielding the criminals from all accountability.  It's nice that Barack Obama is willing to dispense that lecture to other countries, but it's not so nice that he does exactly the opposite in his own.

Does the healthcare reform increase the cost burden on the young?

Years, many of them, ago, when I was a graduate student, the university required that we international students have health insurance.  There were a couple of insurance companies we could purchase it from and one semester I got by without purchasing any insurance.  I thought I had saved that much money because, well, I was after all too young to waste money on health insurance!

So, the next semester comes around, and this time the university had become wiser--I guess I was not the only one who had skipped buying insurance.  We were informed that if we did not provide proof of insurance, the university would automatically enroll us in an insurance program and bill us for it.  I decided that it was worth testing it and didn't buy any insurance.  Bad move! Turned out that the university was serious after all, and its program was almost twice the cheapo insurance I could have purchased.

My point here is that the young, for the most part, will roll the dice because they fully know that on an average their healthcare expenses will be far, far lower than that of oldies like me.  So, does it mean then that mandating healthcare will essentially make it less expensive for the oder adults and a lot more expensive for the younger ones?

Here is one answer:
Consider 24-year-old Nils Higdon. The self-employed percussionist and part-time teacher in Chicago pays $140 each month for health insurance. But he's healthy and so far hasn't needed it.

The law relies on Higdon and other young adults to shoulder more of the financial load in new health insurance risk pools. So under the new system, Higdon could expect to pay $300 to $500 a year more. Depending on his income, he might also qualify for tax credits.
At issue is the insurance industry's practice of charging more for older customers, who are the costliest to insure. The new law restricts how much insurers can raise premium costs based on age alone. 
Insurers typically charge six or seven times as much to older customers as to younger ones in states with no restrictions. The new law limits the ratio to 3-to-1, meaning a 50-year-old could be charged only three times as much as a 20-year-old.
The rest will be shouldered by young people in the form of higher premiums.
 Meanwhile, Megan McArdle has started doing research on the implementation of the insurance mandate, and writes:
Big Government has written a post suggesting that the individual health care mandate will not actually be enforced by the IRS.  It will be assessed, but if you refuse to pay it, the normal enforcement mechanisms under Subtitle F of the tax code--such as liens and garnishments--may not be employed.
Politically, this is obviously the safest route; you don't want articles about the nice middle aged lady who may lose her house because she didn't pay her mandate.  But practically, this is disastrous, if true.  It would mean that in practice the mandate would only apply to people who get tax refunds; otherwise, just write the IRS a check for everything except the mandate.  And since you don't have to get a tax refund--you can have your employer change your withholding--anyone who doesn't want to pay it, wouldn't have to.

But it's not clear that this is what's actually going to happen.  If the IRS can reorder the priority of the tax dollars they take from you, then they can simply put any funds towards the mandate first.  That way, if you attempt to go without insurance and then pay the IRS everything except the mandate penalty, you'll end up with a tax liability the exact size of the mandate penalty . . . for which they can now garnish your wages, put tax liens on your house, and otherwise do all the nasty stuff that they are authorized to do under Subtitle F.

But if they can't do this, then the mandate is toothless.  I'd expect people will pay it in the beginning, and then over time, as it becomes public knowledge that the mandate is unenforceable, more and more people will refuse.
The Economist has a great graphic :)

Krugman, economic geography, and the AAG

Earlier I blogged about Paul Krugman in the AAG Annual Meeting schedule.  Looking forward to his comments on economic geography

From Krugman's blog:

DESCRIPTION
Aha. I have to give a talk in a couple of weeks at the American Association of Geographers, and found myself thinking of a sign one sees while driving into New York. I was researching the history of the North New Jersey embroidery industry, and discovered that someone has a Flickr picture.
It’s an interesting history of individual initiative and cumulative causation — the same kind of story now being played out all across the world, especially in China. I still love economic geography.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Heading to a PhD program?

This graphic is just for you :)

iPad ... if you are planning to buy it, read this :)

The iPad goes on sale on April 3rd:

Apple plans initially to sell three iPad models, starting at $499, with built-in support for Wi-Fi wireless networking. Three additional models that can communicate over high-speed 3G wireless networks will go on sale later in April.
....
Apple may sell 2 million to 2.5 million iPads this year, according to Shaw Wu, an analyst at Kaufman Bros. David Bailey, an analyst at Goldman Sachs (GS), says sales could reach 6 million units. Apple shares gained 4.35, or 1.9%, to close at 230.90 on Mar. 26. The stock has more than doubled in the past year.
 So, should you buy one, if you have not already pre-ordered it?  (I am not planning to.  The only "i" thing I ever owned was an iMac, way back when ... Here is a helpful (!) decision-making flowchart :)


Understanding geek v. dork v. nerd v. dweeb

Source
A creative use of Venn Diagrams :)
Of course, this is not the first time I have blogged about how the internet makes sharing such creative work so easy ...

No Test Left Behind :)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

On Corruption

First, this graphic, from America's Finest News Source, about Chicago:

Of course, that was satirical. After all, it is from The Onion.

Foreign Policy--no satire publication--has a different take on corruption.  It questions whether there is "good" corruption versus "bad" corruption:
By the end of President Suharto's 30-year rule in 1998, Indonesia ranked as one of the half-dozen most corrupt economies on the planet, according to Transparency International (TI). Yet in those three decades, the country also experienced growth in per capita income of 6 percent per year, a rate almost unparalleled in recorded human history. The past 30 years have seen comparable economic progress in China: since the 1976 death of Mao Zedong, the Chinese economy has eclipsed even Suharto-level growth rates despite also holding position 79 in TI's latest ranking, tied with Burkina Faso.
This is not to say that corruption has been good for Indonesian and Chinese incomes (though many would argue it has been) -- perhaps they'd be even richer otherwise. But it certainly suggests that not all corruption is created equal.

Cartoon of the day: Joe Biden's colorful language :)

John Dickerson notes that this is, of course, not the first time:
America has a long and honorable tradition of top elected officials using salty language. Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Bush and Clinton all used rough language. Jimmy Carter did, too. (Though his best moment may have come when he didn't mean to: Speaking in Poland, he said "I want to know the Polish people," which was translated into Polish as, "I want to have carnal knowledge of the Polish people.") It is true that our first president was against it: Gen. George Washington issued "General Orders on Profanity" to his troops in 1776.
Ronald Reagan appears to be the modern president who kept it cleanest. He didn't even write out swear words in his diary. ("I'll hail it as a great bipartisan solution," he wrote of his tax cutting plan. "H—l! It's more than I thought we could get.") But he did sometimes resort to them in private conversation.

Frum learns that "you are either with us, or you are against us"

David Frum was fired from his job by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI.) 

Most Americans, in fact even most Republicans, will respond with "David who? and "What is AEI?" So, yes, this is mostly an "inside baseball" kind of an event!

Frum was the gifted (!) speechwriter who coined the phrase "Axis of Evil" for Bush.  But, Frum was not happy with that Warholian 15-minutes of fame.  Instead, he tried to cash in on that through his connections with the (neo)conservatives.

So, towards the tail end of the healthcare reform struggle, Frum read the tea leaves and figured that it was becoming the law of the land, with or without Republican participation.  So, he finds the nutcase Republican strategy to be faulty and has the audacity to express his views.

Well, Frum forgot the other line from Bush: "you are either with us, or you are against us."  His sponsors decided that he was not with them, and declared off with his head (well, metaphorically.)

I say that this is poetic justice.  After all, Frum was the same guy who questioned the patriotism of those who refused to support the Iraq War, and now that same logic was used to question how much of a conservative he really is.  Hilarious :)

Across the pond, The Times notes that:
Mr Frum posted his column within minutes of the Democrats securing the votes to pass health reform last weekend, condemning a Republican strategy of “no negotiations, no compromise, nothing”. He accused his party of trying to repeat its humiliation of President Clinton in 1994 while forgetting that Mr Obama won office with a larger proportion of the popular vote. “We went for all the marbles, we ended with none,” he wrote.
And soon after--within a matter of a couple of days--Frum lost his AEI salary:
On Tuesday The Wall Street Journal dismissed Mr Frum as “the media’s go-to basher of fellow Republicans” and attacked him for “peddling bad revisionist history that would have been even worse politics”. On Thursday he was offered the chance to stay on at the think-tank on a non-salaried basis. He declined.
Yes sir.  If you are not with us, you are against us.  Apparently the US is becoming a place where differing viewpoints are not tolerated (and this more so the case in universities, unfortunately!)  Anyway, the Times also notes:
mainstream figures including the standard-bearers of the Republican Establishment are being forced to the right by purity tests on key issues and a groundswell of Tea Party activism that moderates fear could marginalise the party in the long term.
I am all for the purity tests--let us get rid of 'em all.  In both parties.  Am tired of the politicians we have!

Quote of the day: on life

the most important thing about myself is that my life has been full of changes. Therefore, when I observe the world, I don’t expect to see it just like I was seeing the fellow who lives in the next room. There is this complexity which seems to me to be part of the meaning of existence and everything we value.
Chinua Achebe

BTW, in the interview, reference is made to the incident at Jos.  A horrible massacre, which is, unfortunately, the latest one in a long series of violent incidents:
332 bodies were buried in a mass grave in the village of Dogo Na Hawa, the Nigerian Red Cross said Wednesday. Human rights groups and the state government say that as many as 500 people may have been killed in the early hours of Sunday morning, in three different villages.
Sunday’s killings were an especially vicious expression of long-running hostilities between Christians and Muslims in this divided nation. Jos and the region around it are on the fault line where the volatile and poor Muslim north and the Christian south meet. In the past decade, some 3,000 people have been killed in interethnic, interreligious violence in this fraught zone. The pattern is familiar and was seen as recently as January: uneasy coexistence suddenly explodes into killing, amplified for days by retaliation.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Style your garage: What a neat idea!

The garage sticking out in front of the house is so awfully boring and uninviting a look across streets all along the American landscape .... and in countries like Australia too.  Here is one market innovation that addresses that: billboards that wrap over the garage door.  And not a huge hassle to install it either (well, will be one hell of a challenge for nincompoops like me!).  You see how the garage door does not look like a boring door in the following example?

Taylor Swift ... am catching up with the times :)

I was driving with my daughter and this familiar song played on the radio.  My daughter then says it is Taylor Swift.  "Oh, so this is Taylor Swift?" I remarked--I have heard this song so many times, but it didn't quite register in my head that it was by Swift.
BTW, are all her songs kind of about some teenage heartaches and thrills?

Do all professors think alike?

While commenting about Louis Menand's A Marketplace of Ideas , Thomas Benton (aka William Pannapacker) observes:
More provocatively, Menand asks "whether holding liberal views has become a tacit requirement for entry and promotion in the academic profession" in a period in which political commitment has replaced the ideal of disinterested objectivity. He asks whether there is a "code" in academe that extends to "matters of intellectual, pedagogical, and collegial decorum, [that] the entrants are required to demonstrate for admission to the profession ... including personal manner and appearance."
There is only one response I can possibly think of:

Obama, the Dems, and .... bridge

I play bridge as bad as I teach, cook, or blog!  One of my favorites in bridge is to play "no trumps" and I strategically give away tricks to opponents so that I can later sweep 'em all.

Obama and the Democrats have such an opportunity now: yes, perhaps unintentionally more than as a calculated strategy, they yielded a few tricks to the Republicans.  The MA Senate seat is a trick that they should not have lost.  But, if they get their game back together, they can sweep the rest of the tricks and win the contract--win the re-election in November.  The key here is how they play the game for the next six months.  First stop--a measure that will play well to populism, in addition to some really needed reforms: the financial overhaul

BTW, if you are wondering what the game of bridge is about ... First, all the enthusiasts are not merely low life like me.  Some of the serious players include Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Omar Sharif .... Here is a place where you can learn about bridge, and get hooked on the game--just as I was when I was a teenager, which is when my parents taught us to play ... And here is a site that lets you play the game for free (and for money too!) but more importantly at various levels from novice to world class

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

When obesity, sex, puritanism, and the law intersect :)

Jobs, Jobs, and ... cartoon?

Steve JOBS is Apple's main man.  Apple started a trend with the iMac, and now the ubiquitous "i" for everything.
President Obama is concerned about JOBS.
So, naturally, it was only a matter of time before a cartoonist put the two together to give us this: :)

What do book geeks do during March Madness?

Over to Salon:

Bracket-mad readers are currently participating in the DABWAHA (Dear Author Bitchery Writing Award for Hellagood Authors) tournament for romance novels, the BSCreview (BookSpot Central) competition for science fiction and fantasy books, and a match dedicated to selecting the world's favorite fictional detective.
The grandaddy of them all, however, is the Tournament of Books,mounted by the Morning News Web site and now in its sixth year. Unlike DABWAHA, ToB doesn't offer prizes to readers who make the most accurate predictions, and unlike all the other contests, it doesn't rely on polling readers to determine the winning books. Instead, a single guest judge selects the victor in each bracket, while the tournament's overseers, Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, serve up commentary garnished with the occasional dab of sportscaster lingo ("quintuple toe loop"?). There's even an official statistician who crunches such questionably significant numbers as (I think I have this right) the ratio of an entry's length to its likeliness to ascend to the next round.

:>)

Bond ... James Bond

Freida Pinto as the next Bond girl? Really? I am sure they are kidding ....

And Sam Mendes as the director? I mean, I liked his American Beauty and Revolutionary Road .... but, as a Bond director?

Hmmm .. let us see :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Quote of the day: observation and meditation

Meditation is coming home, to relax, to rest. If that takes place and one finds that though one has withdrawn and retired from activity, the inner movement goes on, thoughts come up, memories come up, then you begin to observe them. Till now you were busy carrying out functional roles, you were either the doer or the experience. From these two roles you have set yourself free voluntarily. You are now the observer. The inner movements come up, the involuntary movement comes up though the voluntary has been discontinued. You sit there quietly, you do not prepare to see, but if thoughts appear, then they are seen by you. It is a lovely state, the state of observation.
Source

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Religion .... blogging on a topic, against my better judgment?

Secular Right had three interesting posts, and I am blogging all the three here ... (BTW, Secular Right is a contrast to the "Religious Right" and one of the people at Secular Right is one heck of a sharp mind, Heather Mac Donald.  She is way too much a libertarian/conservative for my preferences, but that does not stop me from her reading her essays!)

So, the first one is about how rationalists in India seized on the opportunity when "a famous tantric guru boasted on television that he could kill another man using only his mystical powers"

At first the holy man, Pandit Surender Sharma, was reluctant, but eventually he agreed to perform a series of rituals designed to kill Mr Edamaruku live on television. Millions tuned in as the channel cancelled scheduled programming to continue broadcasting the showdown, which can still be viewed on YouTube.
First, the master chanted mantras, then he sprinkled water on his intended victim. He brandished a knife, ruffled the sceptic’s hair and pressed his temples. But after several hours of similar antics, Mr Edamaruku was still very much alive — smiling for the cameras and taunting the furious holy man.

The second one is about the continuing saga of the Danish cartoons on Islam and the Prophet:

UP TO 95,000 descendants of the prophet Muhammad are planning to bring a libel action in Britain over “blasphemous” cartoons of the founder of Islam, even though they were published in the Danish press.
The defamation case is being prepared by Faisal Yamani, a Saudi lawyer acting for the descendants, who live in the Middle East, north Africa and as far afield as Australia.
Mark Stephens, a British lawyer who has seen a “pre-action” letter sent by Yamani to 10 Danish newspapers, said it “specifically says” he will launch proceedings in London.
Yamani is expected to justify the action by claiming that the cartoons, including one of Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban, were accessible in Britain on the internet.

The third one?
some American Christians are fostering religious strife abroad. They mean well, but the damage they’re doing can be seen all the way from Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims are killing each other, to Malaysia ...
The Times story is about an outreach technique that some Baptist missionaries use with Muslims. It involves stressing commonalities between the Koran and the Bible and affirming that the Allah of the Koran and the God of the Bible are one and the same.
I suppose we non-believers are all the more convinced!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Why is everything so hard?

Look out, he is an android :)


Hot New Relationship Book Warns Women: 'Wake Up! He's A Shapeshifter'

Why can't we all get along? The India-Pakistan story

The Hindu's Pakistan correspondent has wound up her four-year assignment there, and writes:
saying goodbye to Pakistan was much more difficult than I imagined. Like other Indians who have experienced Pakistan first-hand, I gained a vast number of friends for life and multitudes of warm memories. Against this reality, it seems absurdly unbelievable that these two countries are not even talking properly to each other, that I cannot visit my Pakistani friends easily, that they cannot come and see me.  ...
the first thing that Pakistanis and Indians ask each other is: “We eat the same food, speak the same language, we even look the same, so why can't we be friends?” The short answer to that is that we cannot be friends as long as we continue looking at each other through the narrow prism of our respective states. Pakistanis must locate the Indian within themselves, and Indians must discover their inner Pakistani. It would help understand each other better, and free us from state-manipulated attitudes. In our own interests, it is up to us, the people, to find ways to do this
The first Pakistani I ever met in my life and interacted with was a fellow student at USC--now almost 23 years ago.  I had to come all the way to the other side of the planet to meet one from across the border :)


Siddiqui (I think that is how he spelt it) was a grad student in engineering.  We laughed at the same jokes, and seemed to share a lot of interests.  Those were the days of me beginning to experiment with cooking.  I  invited him over one day, and we remarked how easy it was for an Indian and a Pakistani to get along.    
Later, when I started working part time with the university's computing services, I had extensive interactions with another Pakistani--I forget his name now.  He was a good 10+plus years older than me.  It was only the age and experiences that differed--otherwise, no problems at all.


When I started teaching in California, one student was the daughter of immigrants from Pakistan.  She was a kid when they came over ...  She often talked to me about the "old country's culture" that was placing constraints on her--fully knowing that I am from India, and not a Muslim either.   There was no India-Pak difference ...


Maybe one of these days I will even get to visit Pakistan, I hope.  Maybe I will start with the former East Pakistan ... 


hey, write me a check for the travel expenses, and I will take off right away :)

Aah, for some tasty food: Cheppankizhangu Fry

Out at Edible Garden I spotted this: Cheppankizhangu Fry
Had me drooling, recalling the cheppankizhangu dishes that mom makes.

The last time I was in India, I went to Mysore for a couple of days to cool down--Madras was hot like how Madras is supposed to be in July.
In Mysore, I went to the lunch buffet at--I forget the hotel's name now--primarily because the tour book had recommended it.  The lunch was great--the tour book was on the money.  One of the items was a cheppankizhangu dish. It was not a fry, but had ginger and black pepper .... which was awesome.  I went for seconds and ate a plate full of nothing but this :)

I wish I could recall that hotel's name. (Update: tracked it down: it is the Metropole)

In case you are not aware of this root-tuber (?) well, the photo below shows how it looks before it is all cooked and ready for salivating people like me :)

Friday, March 19, 2010

What happened on March 19, 2003? Iraq War

Here is CNN:
U.S. President George W. Bush has announced that war against Iraq has begun.
So, how is contemporary Iraq?
Seven years after the first bombs in the war to oust Saddam Hussein, Iraqis went about their business yesterday with little observance of the anniversary.
Perhaps more important in the minds of many was the wait for final results of the country’s second nationwide parliamentary election. The milestone will determine who will oversee Iraq as US forces go home, but it could also point the direction the fragile democracy will take down the road: either deeper into the sectarian divide that followed the fall of Hussein or toward a more secular, inclusive rule.
“Now we have democracy and freedom, but the cost was dire, and Iraqis have paid that price,’’ said Raid Abdul-Zahra, 38, a technician in Najaf.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s coalition appears to be ahead in the tight race. With almost 90 percent of the vote counted by yesterday, his coalition was leading in seven of Iraq’s 18 provinces, compared with five provinces for his closest rival, the Iraqiya coalition led by secular Shi’ite Ayad Allawi.
Many, especially among the country’s Sunni minority that dominated Iraq during Hussein’s rule, blame the United States for the sectarian violence that erupted after the invasion.
“Failure is the word that should be linked with the US war,’’ said Mohammed Thabit, a retired teacher from Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.
“The Americans brought people to power, but those people are specialized in reprisals, blackmail, inflaming sectarianism, and robbing.’’
And contemporary America?
It was a day like any other day — except that it was the seventh anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And, for the most part, that was forgotten.

"Honestly, with everything that's going on in my personal life, it slipped my mind," said Chris Skidmore, 39, as he sipped a drink on the artificial lawn at Raleigh's North Hills Mall. "I've been out of work since August of last year."
It's not that the average American isn't aware that we still have tens of thousands or troops in Iraq, or that nearly 4,400 U.S. military personnel have died there since the war began. Scattered demonstrations were scheduled around the country to call for the troops' swift return.
But with so much else going on — a torpid economy, a climactic debate over health care reform, a mounting conflict in Afghanistan — it's easy to lose sight of the fact that Americans are still fighting and dying in Iraq.

Well, it was March 20th in Iraq when the war began.  Iraq is in the Middle East, and my brother was not too far away from Iraq at that time--he was in Dubai.  Why is my brother relevant in this?  March 20th is is birthday--happy birthday!

BTW, in Iraq, how do they refer to the Iraq War?  Do they call it the "America War" ....?

The sorry state of discussions in America :(

It is one thing if illogical and uncivilized remarks are made on Faux News.  But, the following from a banking professional executive is pathetic:
HERE'S something ridiculous:
Morgan Stanley Asia Chairman Stephen Roach said that Paul Krugman’s call to push China to allow a stronger yuan is “very bad” advice and that increased Chinese spending is a better way of reducing trade imbalances.

“We should take out the baseball bat on Paul Krugman -- I mean I think that the advice is completely wrong,” Roach said in an Bloomberg Television interview in Beijing when asked about Krugman’s call, characterized as akin to taking a baseball bat to China. “We’re lashing out at China rather than tending to our own business,” which is raising U.S. savings, Roach said.
Two points. First, Mr Krugman's advice to China isn't wrong; it's right. China's currency is undervalued, and I think everyone (including the Chinese, but evidently excluding Mr Roach), thinks that an orderly appreciation of the renminbi would be a net benefit to China. Where I disagree with Mr Krugman is in his advice to America. The currency issue isn't a big enough problem to be worth the risks associated with an aggressive American push to get China to revalue.
Secondly, I think it's very inappropriate to wish violence on anyone, and particularly on a very good economist who is just arguing for what he believes. That's a poor way to conduct discourse, though it's probably a good way to get invited back on a television show.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ok, one more on Facebook :)

I am sure Tunku Varadarajan read this piece in the NY Times as well ... about how people use FB to vent, particularly those in relationships! :)
Whether through nagging wall posts or antagonistic changes to their “relationship status,” the social networking site is proving to be as good for broadcasting marital discord as it is for sharing vacation photos. At 400 million members and growing, Facebook might just replace restaurants as the go-to place for couples to cause a scene.
As score-settling on Facebook has grown commonplace, sites like Lamebook have begun documenting the worst spats (which also happen to be the most humorous). On Facebook itself, people can join several groups with names like “I Dislike People/Couples Who Argue Publicly on Facebook.”
For most couples, the temptation to publicly slander each other is overpowered by the instinct to prove to their friends how happy they are, reality notwithstanding. But for others, arguing in front of others comes as naturally as slamming doors.
Wait a minute; Lamebook? The name itself is hilarious!!! I got distracted while reading that in the NY Times and checked Lamebook, where I found this neat little joke:
Why was Saddam Hussein afraid to have sex with a girl?  Because when he opens her he will see Bush
Aah, the future is just about beginning to unfold .... can't wait for the next exciting development.  The ultimate will be pizza delivery right there on the Web :)

More on Wal-Mart doing good things ....

Of course, Wal-Mart, like most businesses, is a mix of good and bad. But, the company is beginning to understand that maybe the critics have a point and, as noted in earlier posts, is exploring the ways in which its business can address those criticisms. 
And, when it makes money sense, well, why not use its market-muscle-power, right?  Which is what it is up to now with check-cashing/payday loan.  What is payday lending, you ask?
Cheque-cashing and payday lending businesses are very common in poor neighbourhoods around the country. They provide the most basic financial services to unbanked customers, at what are typically described as usurious rates of interest—often 400% APR or more.
For years now politicians have been blowing hot air about this and, true to their nature, prefer not to do any damn thing.  Wal-Mart is smelling money in this, in ways that could actually clean up the system and make it less onerous for the poor:

WHAT is retail behemoth Wal-Mart up to these days?
Wal-Mart already has “MoneyCenters” in 1,000 of its U.S. stores, and the company said yesterday it plans to to add 400 more by the end of the year. The centers offer services like check cashing and bill pay that are often considered part of the broader “fringe banking” system. [...] Lots of those people go to local check-cashing outfits that often charge high fees. So Wal-Mart, which charges $3 to $6 cash a check, can be a good alternative, said Alejandra Lopez-Fernandini, who works for a New America Foundation program that aims to help low- and middle-income people build wealth.
Pretty neat, eh! 
This just continues to illustrate how interesting Wal-Mart is as a phenomenon and a mirror of American society and culture. Wal-Mart clearly has market power, which it occasionally uses abusively, if not necessarily illegally. But sometimes, it uses its market power to accomplish things government entities are unwilling or unable to accomplish—pressing environmental standards on its suppliers, for instance, or reining in abusive lenders. I just appreciate Wal-Mart's ability to demonstrate the strangely ad hoc way in which American institutions manage to muddle through. Americans should maybe be taking Wal-Mart's market power a little more seriously, but hey, so long as its ability to shift the economics in local markets accomplishes goals a dysfunctional federal government is unable to address, well, it may be better to leave well enough alone.

Why India (Indians) love Facebook

I wonder what my "Indian friends" on Facebook will have to say about this column by Tunku Varadarajan: (BTW, the one good thing that came out of Rupert Murdoch taking over the Wall Street Journal? Varadarajan fled from that publication!)
Social media was invented for Indians, says Sree Sreenivasan, a digital media professor at Columbia and co-founder of SAJA, the South Asian Journalists Association. "They take to it naturally and with great passion. It allows them to do two things they love: Tell everyone what they are doing; and stick their noses into other people's business." (The gregarious Prof. Sreenivasan, when last I checked, had 4,995 Facebook friends; he, his wife, and his father—a retired Indian ambassador to the U.N.—are all my Facebook friends. My wife and brother are the professor's friends, too. Q.E.D.)
First, let me get this.  Varadarajan has Tamil Nadu connections.  Sreenivasan could easily be a name from Tamil Nadu, and definitely from southern India.  And me, well, .... :)  aaah, too many opportunities for sidebar comments! 

Anyway, that is an interesting way to look at FB and Indians--how FB fits well into an Indian way of life.  More from Varadarajan:
Prof. Sreenivasan of Columbia, no slouch on Twitter himself, says "I tell folks in the U.S. that you ain't seen nothing yet. Wait till Indians really combine their love of the cellphone with social media. Then, Facebook, Twitter, etc, will really explode.
"Take the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008, for example, when so much fuss was made about how Twitter had 'truly arrived' with the way it was used during the attacks. Back then, Twitter worked in India only via smartphones and Web browsers, of which there was only a small number. Today, there are hundreds of millions of cell \phones. Imagine if they could all easily Facebook and Twitter via text message!"
Is it any wonder, then, that Facebook has gone to India—gone, I'd say again, to the place where it belongs?
For whatever it is worth: Yes, I use Twitter. I blog. I am on Facebook with 38 friends :) ht

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Honey trap: spies and sex

Foreign Policy has advice for honey-trappers and honey-trappees (ht).

And, if you are like me (well, too bad for you!) you are wondering why the heck is Foreign Policy discussing honey as if it is a home and garden magazine.

It is because honey-trap means something else in international relations:
MI5 is worried about sex. In a 14-page document distributed last year to hundreds of British banks, businesses, and financial institutions, titled "The Threat from Chinese Espionage," the famed British security service described a wide-ranging Chinese effort to blackmail Western businesspeople over sexual relationships. The document, as the London Times reportedin January, explicitly warns that Chinese intelligence services are trying to cultivate "long-term relationships" and have been known to "exploit vulnerabilities such as sexual relationships ... to pressurise individuals to co-operate with them."...
The trade name for this type of spying is the "honey trap." And it turns out that both men and women are equally adept at setting one -- and equally vulnerable to tumbling in. Spies use sex, intelligence, and the thrill of a secret life as bait. Cleverness, training, character, and patriotism are often no defense against a well-set honey trap. And as in normal life, no planning can take into account that a romance begun in deceit might actually turn into a genuine, passionate affair. In fact, when an East German honey trap was exposed in 1997, one of the women involved refused to believe she had been deceived, even when presented with the evidence. "No, that's not true," she insisted. "He really loved me." 

Map of the day ... a puzzle as well

Kidnapped. Raped. Married.

I have followed Johann Hari's' essays for a few years now.  He is simply fantastic--a clear thinker with an equally clear prose.  I think I have even used his essay(s) on Ayaan Hirsi Ali in my classes.  And then there was the strange case of Hari's essay causing a riot in Calcutta Kolkata after it was reprinted in the Statesman.

This time around, Hari has an awfully depressing piece on Ethiopia--on how women are, well, kidnapped, raped, and married, and then abused throughout their married lives. (ht)  Ok, Hari does show that there is work being done on preventing/outlawing this.  A grim reminder of the state of "half the sky" even as we observe women's history month!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kerala: the "money order economy"

Right from my graduate school days, Kerala, Sri Lanka, and Costa Rica, were classic examples of how social indicators of "development" can be attained even without high levels of per capita incomes.

Sri Lanka then got messier and messier with its civil war.  Costa Rica continues to maintain that shine.

While social indicators in Kerala might make even a few developed countries blush, over the years its economy has started to lag ... a lot. 

It appears that many of the socio-political transformations that made the Kerala miracle possible are pretty much some of the reasons why the state lags behind in economic terms.

The BBC reports:
Many believe that the skewed nature of the economy - it has been called the "money order economy" - is to blame.
Kerala lives off remittances and it lacks a manufacturing base. Economists draw parallels with the Philippines and Sri Lanka, which face similar problems.
A shop in Kerala
The urban-rural gap is the lowest in Kerala
And Kerala has not benefited directly from the rise of its biggest service industry, tourism. Service tax is a federal tax which first goes to Delhi, and is then distributed among different states.
Kerala's biggest advantage - high literacy - has become a strange liability: the vast majority of educated unemployed have to go elsewhere for work.
Economists like KK George, who have spent a lifetime studying the "Kerala conundrum", say the state is facing a "second generation problem" of growth.
"Having fulfilled all millennium development goals, the state has no money left for higher investments. The central government is busy tackling poverty and illiteracy in most states, so doesn't have time or money for Kerala. And successive governments in Kerala have not been able to take it forward," says Dr George.
Yes, they migrate.  The joke, even from my India days, was that when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, he was surprised to see a Kerala tea stall there :) 

More from the BBC:
Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen says Kerala has to "learn from the world". Its famed model of development, which is still touted as the most inclusive one, appears to have hit the buffers.
"The Kerala model is grinding to a halt because the social and political groups having fulfilled their original agenda now have no new agendas. Society has lost its capacity to set collective goals. There are no more big dreams," says Dr George.
"The old change agents like the Christian church and their missionary organisations, social reform movements in various caste groups, trade unions and political parties are acting merely as pressure groups either to defend the status quo or to extract the maximum possible share of a cake that is not increasing in size."
Clearly, Kerala needs a new contract between the state and its people to move ahead and build upon its enviable gains.
Here, Oregon is kind of similar in one respect: up until the 1980s, Oregon seemed to be way ahead of the curve on many critical socioeconomic issues.  And since then, well, as a colleague described the situation yesterday at lunch, "we have it all ass backward now" :(

I now routinely tell my students: "you are screwed."  My hope is that they would wake up to the reality that there are lots of problems in Oregon, particularly for the young and the restless ....

I wonder if somewhere along the road, people and politicians in both these states kind of became a tad too  smug and started believing that the world revolves around them, only to later find out that it now revolves around China. And elsewhere ....

Anyway, if Kerala is the "money order economy," then what might be a catchy phrase to describe Oregon's economy? :)  What says you, ye faithful readers (editor: don't count imaginary chickens!)

Iraq invasion: the re-writing is in full swing :(

I might not always agree with Glenn Greenwald.  Well, I mostly agree with him, and rarely disagree with his views!  But, there is no denying that he is one sharp thinker, never one to rant but always strong with evidence to back him up ... If I get into trouble, it is someone like Greenwald that I want on my side.
In this piece that he has on how the Iraq invasion is being quickly and easily retold by the likes of Thomas Friedman, Greenwald gets to the issue so easily as that damn warm knife through butter:
It was only a matter of time before American elites abandoned their faux regret over Iraq.  For tribalists and nationalists, America can err in its execution but never in its motives.  There's no question -- as this glorifying, propagandistic Newsweek cover story reflects -- that it's now official dogma that this was the right thing to do, or at least that we produced something great and wonderful for that country, as was our intent all along (leaving aside the what is actually happening in Iraq).  It's nothing short of nauseating to watch those responsible glorify what they did without weighing -- or, in Friedman's case, affirmatively dismissing as irrelevant -- the extreme amounts of death and suffering that they caused, all based on false pretenses.  But this is why Tom Friedman is the favorite propagandist of "Washington insiders"-- because he feeds them the justifications they need to feel good about themselves.  Forget all those innocent dead people and destruction you caused; it all worked out in the end.
Yes, it is quite close to nauseating.

Ethics and Congress: Ne'er the twain shall meet?

The Daily Show at its best:
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Monday, March 15, 2010

Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi's continuing limbo status

Over to The Hindu:

The Political Parties Registration Law, enacted by the military junta in Myanmar ahead of general elections to be held later this year, is aimed at keeping the popular leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi out of the electoral process. Only portions of the law have been released and they are outrageous. There cannot be a greater fraud on the electoral process, the sole aim of which is to keep the military junta in power. The international community, led by the United Nations, was hoping against hope that the military rulers would see some reason and make the forthcoming elections an inclusive process. In a slap in their face, the junta has barred anyone convicted of a crime from being a member of a political party. Further, parties that want to register under the new law must expel members who are “not in conformity with the qualification to be members of a party.” This means that Ms Suu Kyi cannot contest the elections, and her National League for Democracy (NLD) must expel her if it is to be eligible to participate in the process.

Teachers, and successful students

In my K-12 years, I had quite a few fantastic teachers.  The fact that years later one of them couldn't even vaguely recall me, but could clearly remember so many of my classmates, was, however, a tad depressing :)  From math (or, maths as it was called in India) to English to science .... they were good awesome.

When I was in graduate school, a professor, Jim Moore, and I were once talking about the teachers we learnt from in K-12, and Jim said that perhaps it was thanks to all the gender discrimination that he lucked out with great teachers.  His logic was that talented and qualified women were not encouraged to go into professions.  The only one that was acceptable was, well, teaching.  The net result, Jim figured, he had these awesome teachers who wanted to make the best of the only opportunity that society would allow them to pursue.

I told Jim that might be my story as well, particularly because we lived in an industrial town where spouses couldn't easily find jobs.  Teaching--and vastly underpaid at that--was all they could find.  Lucky for me, and unlucky for them! 

Since then, teaching has been spoilt by people like me, who give the profession nothing but mashed potatoes :)

Here is the funny thing:systematic research is leading us to the same conclusion:
In the 1950s, smart women, except for truly determined trailblazers, had few professional options beyond teaching. Ditto for blacks and other minorities. If you had a particularly smart and ambitious daughter, people would say, "I bet she grows up to be a teacher!" While many things have happened to public schools over the last 50 years, one of the most important is that this low-cost captive labor pool of extremely talented men and women has evaporated completely—and along with it the respect that was once automatically accorded to those who entered the profession.
In some ways, isn't it an irony that by "professionalizing" the profession we have ended up with an attitude that teaching is merely a career choice?  "Should I become a police officer, or a teacher?" does not have the same weight as teaching as a calling, as something one would want to do whether there is money in it or not ... (there is no money in it, as far as I can see, and looking at the bills I have to pay!)

So:
the question remains: How do we lure more, talented people to the profession and give them—and the many superb teachers who already exist—the support and respect they deserve?
Unlike a politician, I am readily willing to admit that my response to that question is this: I have no idea :(

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Crazy (Indian) faculty, we are :)

Over to the Chronicle:

Madhukar Vable, a professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan Technological U., has denounced what he says is his university's neglect of the classroom experience for undergraduates. To protest, he has taken down and returned his teaching awards.
...
Last October, Madhukar Vable said farewell to two teaching prizes that he had won a decade earlier. He packed the plaques in envelopes and shipped them back to the university and state offices that had awarded them.
Does Professor Vable know that his awards will go well with mashed potatoes? :)

Dickens' Scrooge was a caricature of Malthus. Awesome!

[It] is the height of arrogance for us in the rich world to downplay the importance of our own environmental footprint because future generations of poor people might one day have the temerity to get as rich and destructive as us. How dare we?
I could not have phrased this any better!  I am concerned--worried is more appropriate--about climate change, yes.  But, this whole idea of pointing the fingers at the rapidly growing poorer economies, while we in the rich countries continue to binge is simply not ok and, in fact, comes across as a twisted approach to keeping the poor, well, poor!!!

Anyway, that quote is from Fred Pearce's essay, (ht) where he adds:
Some green activists need to take a long hard look at themselves. We all like to think of ourselves as progressives. But Robert Malthus, the man who first warned 200 years ago that population growth would produce demographic armageddon, was in his time a favourite of capitalist mill owners. He opposed Victorian charities because he said they were only making matters worse for the poor, encouraging them to breed. He said the workhouses were too lenient. Progressives of the day hated him. Charles Dickens attacked him in several books: when Oliver Twist asked for more gruel in the workhouse, for instance, that was a satire on a newly introduced get-tough law on workhouses, known popularly as Malthus’s Law. In Hard Times, the headmaster obsessed with facts, Thomas Gradgrind, had a son called Malthus. In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge was also widely seen at the time as a caricature of Malthus.
Malthus, it should be remembered, spent many years teaching British colonial administrators before they went out to run the empire. They adopted his ideas that famine and disease were the result of overbreeding, so the victims should be allowed to die. It was Malthusian thinking that led to the huge and unnecessary death toll in the Irish potato famine.
We must not follow the lure of Malthus, and blame the world’s poor for the environmental damaged caused overwhelmingly by us: the rich. The truth is that the population bomb is being defused round the world. But the consumption bomb is still primed and ever more dangerous.

Rajneesh's take on Nietzsche's "God is dead"

So, reading one thing and following up on a hyperlink, and jumping from there to another hyperlink led me to this video clip of Rajneesh (aka Osho) talking about what results if god were dead:

I don't know if his talk came first, or the joke that many of us have heard before came first.  If he had lifted the idea from the joke that was circulating around, then I suppose plagiarism is the least of the crimes that Rajneesh and his cohorts committed, eh! :)

How much of the Toyota hysteria is just that?

The Toyota joke that I came up with, which I shared with my students as well, was:
You know why the latest model Prius has problems stopping?
Because, when Toyota upgraded the battery, they used the Energizer batteries and now the Prius keeps on going :)

But, of course, there is a difference between joking around and systematically understanding social issues.  As I posted earlier, I think we are overplaying the Toyota recall issue.  And, as we get more into the data, well, I will use Megan McArdle's words:
[You] don't usually make a profit by killing your customers.  It's too risky, in this age of nosy regulators and angry consumer activists.

Their behavior becomes a bit more explicable when you consider this argument from Ted Frank:
The Los Angeles Times recently did a story detailing all of the NHTSA reports of Toyota "sudden acceleration" fatalities, and, though the Times did not mention it, the ages of the drivers involved were striking. 
In the 24 cases where driver age was reported or readily inferred, the drivers included those of the ages 60, 61, 63, 66, 68, 71, 72, 72, 77, 79, 83, 85, 89--and I'm leaving out the son whose age wasn't identified, but whose 94-year-old father died as a passenger.
 These "electronic defects" apparently discriminate against the elderly, just as the sudden acceleration of Audis and GM autos did before them. (If computers are going to discriminate against anyone, they should be picking on the young, who are more likely to take up arms against the rise of the machines and future Terminators).
And based on the data, McArdle has the following chart:

I tell you, the story is a lot more complicated than a simple narrative that we might prefer.

The other day, a colleague and I were walking from the parking lot to our offices, and I asked him if his wife was enjoying her retired life.  "Yes" he said, and added that she is recovering from an accident.  What happened?  His wife was walking towards her car with a couple of shopping bags when she was hit by a Lexus.  Nothing major, but nothing minor either. 
I asked him whether it was related to brakes/speeding up problems of Toyota--after all, Lexus is a Toyota product.  He said that the driver apologized profusely because it was her fault, and then he noted that it was quite an old woman who was driving it. 
Why mention this?  Because, McArdle reports that it is not only the age, but also ....
a slight majority of the incidents involved someone either parking, pulling out of a parking space, in stop and go traffic, at a light or stop sign . . . in other words, probably starting up from a complete stop. 
and has the following chart:

So, who you gonna believe? :)