With per-capita G.D.P. still so paltry, the country is a paper tiger. The slightest stir of the wind and grass makes the government nervous. ... If only China gets to develop in peace for another twenty years, the the situation will be different. But now? ... Well, at least it seems we won't go back to the Maoist age.Sums it up well, right? That is the Chinese author/intellectual/politician Wang Meng in a wonderful profile-essay by Jianying Zha in the New Yorker (subscription required.) It is a fantastic essay that provides insights into how intellectuals fit in (or don't) with the Chinese government and politics. I had no idea about Wang Meng until I read this ... it is difficult to judge an intellectual's social and political role from outside the Chinese system, and the essay makes it clear that there are many opinions of him both within China and outside. But, one thing for sure: I want to check out some of his stories.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
Now, yet another star player and payments--this time at Auburn.
The fact that an amateur athlete allegedly soliciting a six-figure payment to secure his services barely raises the eyebrows of college football lifers only serves to highlight how insulated the college athletics echo chamber has become.A lot lies beneath these high profile news items. A lot more mundane stuff that goes unreported. Like courses with diluted standards to keep players within the passing grades ...
Oh well. A few decades ago, the president of the University of California system summarized what it means to keep a university going: parking for faculty, sex for students, and football wins for alumni. So, no point challenging the football-academic complex, which will find ways around any number of Congressional investigations.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
The persistent failure to hold anyone accountable at any level for years of state-sanctioned abuse speaks louder than their words. It has taken this issue from a legal question to a matter of personal taste. What we choose to define as torture is now just another policy disagreement, like extending the Bush tax cuts or picking a caterer. This is precisely the kind of sliding-scale ethical guesswork the rule of law should preclude.Lithwick articulates well the point that we fail to grasp: Waterboarding is not a policy option like tax cuts. She writes:
Indeed, as Andrew Cohen notes, when the men ordering the destruction of those tapes are celebrated as "heroes," who's to say otherwise? Check, please.All these mean then that we are all waterboarders:
All this was done in the name of moving us forward, turning down the temperature, painting over the rot that had overtaken the rule of law. Yet having denied any kind of reckoning for every actor up and down the chain of command, we are now farther along the road toward normalizing and accepting torture than we were back in November 2005, when President Bush could announce unequivocally (if falsely) that "The United States of America does not torture. And that's important for people around the world to understand." If people around the world didn't understand what we were doing then, they surely do now. And if Americans didn't accept what we were doing then, evidently they do now. Doing nothing about torture is, at this point, pretty much the same as voting for it. We are all water-boarders now.
The world could run out of affordable chocolate within 20 years as farmers abandon their crops in the global cocoa basket of West Africa, industry experts claim.If that is not a sign of the coming end of the world!
"What the hell," you say? Why this crisis? It is actually a good thing.
But, how can this be good? Because it makes us wake up to the reality of cocoa production:
UNCTAD, is data from 2005/2006 on cocoa beans production--the share of the producing countries. Note the importance of the two neighboring West African countriesFarmers in the countries that produce the bulk of cocoa bought by the multinationals who control the market have found the crop a bitter harvest. The minimal rewards they have historically received do not provide incentives for the time-consuming work of replanting as their trees die off – a task that usually means moving to a new area of canopied forest and waiting three to five years for a new crop to mature."It's hard to maintain production at high levels in a particular plot of land every time, because of pest problems that eat away at the yields and the farms need to be rejuvenated," explains Thomas Dietsch, research director of ecosystem services at the Earthwatch Organisation. "Although research into new varieties and better management methods could solve those problems, the other challenge is that cocoa is competing for agricultural space with other commodities like palm oil – which is increasingly in demand for biofuels."Meanwhile, as the supply of the raw material diminishes, millions of new consumers in the developing world are becoming addicted to the sweet energy-fix at the end of the processing chain. "Chocolate consumption is increasing faster than cocoa production – and it's not sustainable," Tony Lass, chairman of the Cocoa Research Association, told the annual conference of Britain's Academy of Chocolate last month.Despite price rises on the trading floor, precious little reaches the smallholders who make up 95 per cent of growers, according to Mr. Lass, a former Cadburys trader and ethical sourcing advisor who has co-authored a book on the cocoa industry."These smallholders earn just 80 cents a day," he says. "So there is no incentive to replant trees when they die off, and to wait up to five years for a new crop, and no younger generation around to do the replanting. The children of these African cocoa farmers, whose life expectancy is only 56, are heading for the cities rather than undertake backbreaking work for such a small reward."
A contrast to this geography is the geography of consumption of cocoa.
As one might hypothesize, poor people don't eat a whole lot of chocolates nor do they drink chocolate milk by the gallons.
The following chart explains it all:
Economics aspires to be a science. But in this it does not succeed. Neither does finance. This despite the fact that there is an annual, optimistically named Nobel Prize in “Economic Sciences.”Thus begins Alex Pollock's essay, which, I hope, will trigger responses from academic economists so that people like me can have fun watching the fireworks :)
Financial crises keep happening—the list is long. Could they be avoided if economics and finance were science?
Ever since the onset of the Great Recession, the "scientific" nature of economics has been seriously doubted, and for all the good reasons, as even noted in this ill-informed blog. So, more the discussions on this, the better for our own understanding.
To forecast and, moreover, control the financial future correctly is literally impossible. This is because of the exceptionally complex and very rapid recursiveness of financial markets and the resultant Uncertainty. This “Uncertainty,” with a capital “U,” means, remembering the classic definition of economist Frank Knight, that you not only do not know the odds of events, but you cannot know the odds.In case you thought it was some left-wing publication where this essay appeared, NOT! Pollock is with the American Enterprise Institute.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
To put it crudely, the US wants to inflate the rest of the world, while the latter is trying to deflate the US. The US must win, since it has infinite ammunition: there is no limit to the dollars the Federal Reserve can create. What needs to be discussed is the terms of the world’s surrender: the needed changes in nominal exchange rates and domestic policies around the world.In the graph below, the impacts even before the latest US Fed/Bernanke strategy which has pretty much the entire world up in arms
Strong dollar? Ha!
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|The Word - Nothingness|
Why focus on coal on our way to cleaning up the air?
“I know this is a theological issue for some people,” Julio Friedmann of Lawrence Livermore said. “Solar and wind power are going to be important, but it is really hard to get them beyond 10 percent of total power supply.” He pointed out the huge engineering achievement it has taken to raise the efficiency of solar photovoltaic cells from about 25 percent to about 30 percent; whereas “to make them useful, you would need improvements of two- or threefold in cost,” say from about 18 cents per kilowatt-hour to 6 cents. He recited a skeptic’s line used about the Carter administration’s clean-energy programs—“You’re not going to run a steel plant with solar panels”—and then made a point that summarized the outlook of those who have decided they can best wage the climate fight by working on dirty, destructive coal.living in Oregon means we are lucky to enjoy hydroelectric power (it has a different set of environmental impacts) and we can even forget coal fired plants. It was a surprise to hear on the news the other day about plans to close down the only coal-fired power plant. Which left me wondering where it was. One student in my class knew about this--she grew up in a town that was practically across from this plant. The things I learn from students everyday, and they have no idea about the free education I am getting from them. One other student wondered where all those coal fired plants are in the US. Google gave me the following graphic:
“It is very hard to go around the world and think you can make any difference in carbon-loading the atmosphere without some plan for how people can continue to use coal,” Friedmann said. “It is by far the most prevalent and efficient way to generate electricity. People are going to use it. There is no story of climate progress without a story for coal. In particular, U.S.-China progress on coal.”
closed down as early as 2020.
Monday, November 08, 2010
Barack Obama couldn't have chosen a better country to heal and re-energize after the election results, and feel love without anybody asking for his birth certificate. Whether it is the Beatles or Julia Roberts, India offers plenty to help regroup. One strange, mysterious, puzzling, and crazy country that is, with which I have one hell of a relationship :)
Pakistan, with its identity as anti-India, will not be happy with all this dancing together. And, definitely not with the President's open support of a permanent seat for India at the Security Council:
Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman, Abdul Basit, said Mr Obama's move "adds to the complexity of the process of reforms of the council".
"Pakistan hopes that the US will take a moral view and not base itself on any temporary expediency or exigencies of power politics," he said.
Sunday, November 07, 2010
So, whither NPR and PBS? :)उच्चैरुच्चरितव्यं यत्किंचिदजानतापि पुरुषेण ।
मूर्खा बहु मन्यन्ते विदुषामपि संशयो भवति ॥- सुभाषितसुधानिधिOne must talk loudly even when talking about whatever little you know. Fools will think you are right and the wise may also be put in doubt.
Politics here in the US is becoming, unfortunately, as clownish as the Indian politics. The Tamil Nadu electorate voting out one party in favor of another wasn't any decisive swing because of love for the other either. It was merely to throw one set of bums out with another set of bums, and repeat.
Which is why I like this analysis by William Saletan on why the Democrats and Pelosi did not lose the battle of 2010:
Politicians have tried and failed for decades to enact universal health care. This time, they succeeded. In 2008, Democrats won the presidency and both houses of Congress, and by the thinnest of margins, they rammed a bill through. They weren't going to get another opportunity for a very long time. It cost them their majority, and it was worth it.
And that's not counting financial regulation, economic stimulus, college lending reform, and all the other bills that became law under Pelosi. So spare me the tears and gloating about her so-called failure. If John Boehner is speaker of the House for the next 20 years, he'll be lucky to match her achievements.
I would think that this is the kind of ramming through that Bush had in mind when he talked about spending his political capital on reforming Social Security. Imagine if he and the GOP had carried that through! The same way they had rammed the wars through ...
There is a probability that the economy wouldn't improve a whole lot before the 2012 elections. And we will still have "non combat" troops in Iraq and Afghanistan? American voters will become like those in Tamil Nadu and replace their reps. If the GOP has learnt the lessons, then they too will try to tam through their favorite programs. Crazy, eh?
This is actually better politics in a way: the parties clearly stating what they are for and implementing it. I much prefer a principled government (not the irresponsible populism though) than one in which everybody hails bipartisanship.
Leaves everywhere, from the front porch to wherever I turn. A carpeting that will soon be cleared by nature and humans. The yellows and reds and greens on the trees are spectacular, while the trees that have shed all their leaves look like nudists standing among the evergreens.
During the break in the rains, I grabbed my camera and headed to walk by the river.
In the photo, you can see the dark clouds gathering. Yes, those clouds emptied their bucketloads on me and a few others who were out there. It was well worth the soaking because more than anything I got to see and smell the paradise where I live.
Quite an autumn rain scene it was, those few minutes when I rushed back home.
Why not then leave it to Thomas Hardy to describe "An Autumn Rain-Scene":
There trudges one to a merry-making
With a sturdy swing,
On whom the rain comes down.
To fetch the saving medicament
Is another bent,
On whom the rain comes down.
One slowly drives his herd to the stall
Ere ill befall,
On whom the rain comes down.
This bears his missives of life and death
With quickening breath,
On whom the rain comes down.
One watches for signals of wreck or war
From the hill afar,
On whom the rain comes down.
No care if he gain a shelter or none,
Unhired moves one,
On whom the rain comes down.
And another knows nought of its chilling fall
Upon him at all,
On whom the rain comes down.
Thanks to my neighbors who gifted this plant, in the ceramic pot, three-years or so ago. Though it is way past time for the plant to be re-potted, I am afraid to mess up the good thing here.
A couple of years ago, Bill Bishop argued in his book, The Big Sort, that Americans seem to choose where to live based on their political beliefs. (I would think that my own small neighborhood does not represent Bishop's view--we have everybody from the Tea Partiers to the peace-loving left. Bishop's point does seem to be valid at larger geographic units.) This election underscores that geographic clustering within states:
Exhibit 1, which is a letter in the local newspaper, on the election of the Democrat John Kitzhaber as governor:
Probably comes across as sour grapes, but Gov.-elect John Kitzhaber was not elected by the state of Oregon. He was elected by two ultraliberal counties, Lane and Multnomah. Lane, with the University of Oregon and The Register-Guard, and Multnomah County combined for 67.9 percent for Kitzhaber and 32.1 percent for Dudley. The other 34 counties voted 43.6 percent for Kitzhaber and 56.4 percent for Dudley. Doesn’t exactly come across as equal representation. Of the 36 counties, only seven voted in favor of Kitzhaber, and 29 counties were a sea of red for Dudley.Exhibit 2, which is a short essay in the New York Review of Books, on the re-election of the Democrat Patty Murray as Washington's senator:
Democrats inhabit the low shores of Puget Sound, mostly on its eastern side, in a ragged trail of port-cities that stretches from Bellingham, close to the Canadian border, through Everett, Seattle, and Tacoma, to Olympia, the state capital, at the southern end of the sound. In Seattle, our very liberal Democrat congressman, Jim McDermott, is being returned to D.C. for his twelfth term with a majority (so far) of 82 percent of the vote, which is a tad down from his 2008 figure. In fact, most of western Washington’s Democratic candidates for the House (four successful, one unsuccessful, and one yet to be decided) defended the administration’s record in their campaigns. But when you drive eastward over the Interstate 90 bridge that crosses the long and skinny Lake Washington, to Bellevue and beyond, you enter Republican territory, whose redness steadily deepens over the next three hundred miles to the Idaho border.Update: This letter in the newspaper from the state's capital reflects the view expressed in Exhibit 1:
The north-south line of “the mountains,” meaning the Cascade Range, forty miles east of Seattle, is a rigid political frontier. On November 2, all twenty counties east of the mountains voted for Dino Rossi, while Patty Murray’s support was concentrated in the urban settlements on Puget Sound.