Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is all this higher education really necessary?

It is a question that has been revisited many times in this blog, always with a resounding "NO" as the response.  This time around, my thoughts are triggered by this piece in the Atlantic, from which I have borrowed the title for my post here.  The author writes:
I couldn't shake the sense that the college simply wanted to enroll as many students as possible - and that colleges in general had become more focused on the bottom line than in my day. The system had ended up expanding in ways that industry always expands: by jacking up prices, putting money into public relations, and broadening the customer base by marketing even to customers dubiously served by the product.

If my informal observations about the tenor of our national discourse are accurate, however, many of those customers are finally starting to ask some tough questions - chief among them: Is all this higher education really necessary?
There is simply nothing for me to disagree here, and that is the really awful thing!

The author adds, almost like a postscript:
And while the colleges do claim to instill critical thinking skills, these days, I'm not sure they're thrilled to be the focus of so much critical thought.
True. In all my years since the first day as a graduate student, I have never been a witness to this much of a public scrutiny and commentary on the higher education institutions.
Speaking of critical thinking skills of students, one of the common worries that faculty like me have is that students don't seem to spend enough time on their readings, homework, projects, and the like, which we collectively refer to as "study time."  There are plenty of reasons one might explore, and that is what this essay in the AACU's Liberal Education does.

While more often than not we tend to pin the blame on students, the essay points out that students have rational explanations for their behavior.  I am immediately drawn to reasons like "More students are now working for pay, and the number of hours worked has risen as well" and "employers may be relying less on grades and more on educational pedigree, that students have recognized and responded to this preference, and that this has reduced achievement orientation in college."

And those are often talked about a lot, even within the academic walls.  But, what is usually avoided within those same walls is the following:
Between 1975 and 1984, the proportion of faculty at four-year institutions who reported a greater interest in teaching than in research dropped from 70 percent to 63 percent. Faculty agreement with the proposition that teaching effectiveness, not publication, should be the primary criterion for promotion dropped from 70 to 58 percent. And the share who agreed with the statement “In my department, it is very difficult to achieve tenure without publishing” rose from 54 to 69 percent (Boyer 1987). These comparisons use 1975 rather than 1961 as the baseline, so they likely understate the full extent of the change in faculty attitudes and departmental practices between 1961 and 1981. But it is clear that the sharp decline in study time roughly coincided with an increasing emphasis on scholarly productivity in faculty incentives and preferences
Of course, when we have shifted the emphasis from students and their learning and, therefore, teaching, to research, most of which is pretentious, well, we draw a similar response from students, right?  We are at a ridiculous stage now that faculty and administrators at universities like mine might not even want to refer to themselves as being at "teaching universities" anymore! OMG, if anybody should think of teaching!

US bombs US schools

The American Dream declared dead!

America's Finest News Source reports that this happened in Pennington, IL, at 12:14 pm:

American Dream Declared Dead As Final Believer Gives Up

India's missing women

India's census tallies report that its population is on course to surpass China's numbers by 2030, and perhaps even by 2025.  More on that here.

There are lots of positive aspects that we ought to recognize--like the increase in literacy rates, decrease in the population growth rate itself, etc.  Population growth rate slowing down will certainly help the economic growth rate ...
"Reducing the growth rate is our objective. What we already have is a large youth population without enough schools or jobs for them," said Abusaleh Shariff, chief economist at the National Council for Applied Economic Research .

"It (the decline) reflects the desire of even poor people to educate their children and for a better life. They know that having too many children will be counter-productive," he said. 
But, there is a worrisome trend, as the following chart shows:

Just a tad of a good news even amidst this serious drop in fifty years ...
The states that had the worst sex ratios in the last census—Punjab and Haryana—and which have been the focus of the anti-female-feticide work of social work groups, showed somewhat improved sex ratios, although they were still very low.
Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar federal territory also did not post a worsening of the child sex ratio. But most others states and union territories of India have shown a decline in the child sex ratio since the 2001 census.
Mirror, mirror, mirror on the wall, which was the worst one of all?
Delhi has recorded the lowest sex ratio, 866, according to the early results of the 2011 national census released by the registrar general and census commissioner C Chandramauli on Thursday.
The slightly better data then reflects in society:
The good news is that the overall sex ratio of the country has increased from 933 in the 2001 census to 940 in the 2010 census. While the sex ratio is still bad in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Haryana, it has improved in most Indian states.
Despite attempts to glean any positive stories, the data ought to worry us.  But, this is not anything new either; twenty years ago, I read about it in a piece that Amartya Sen wrote about the 100 million missing women, though not all in India:

In view of the enormity of the problems of women’s survival in large parts of Asia and Africa, it is surprising that these disadvantages have received such inadequate attention. The numbers of “missing women” in relation to the numbers that could be expected if men and women received similar care in health, medicine, and nutrition, are remarkably large. A great many more than a hundred million women are simply not there because women are neglected compared with men. If this situation is to be corrected by political action and public policy, the reasons why there are so many “missing” women must first be better understood. We confront here what is clearly one of the more momentous, and neglected, problems facing the world today.
Sen pointed out then that Kerala is very different from the rest of India in this regard, and it continues to be a positive outlier even according to the latest census:
Kerala with 1084 has the highest sex ratio followed by Puducherry with 1038,
For a comparison, the following are the data for the United States:
at birth: 1.048 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.75 male(s)/female
total population: 0.97 male(s)/female (2010 est.)
A reminder that there is still a long way to go in liberating women

The picture on the right is from this news story that reports on an Indian village ruling that unmarried women cannot use cell phones :(

More on "it is the energy, stupid!"

A follow up to an earlier post from a few days ago.

In the Atlantic, Julio Friedmann writes about why it is hard to talk about energy, and notes:
Energy is the largest economic activity on earth (much larger than agriculture) and the industry with the highest capitalization (much higher than car manufacturing). Energy units are confusing (megawatts, kilowatt-hours, tons of carbon, CO2 equivalents, BTUs and Gigajoules), but the scale of the system makes these units even more remote (terawatt-hours, exajoules, gigatons, quadrillion BTUs). This makes it hard to bring the discussion home -- the discussion starts in a rarified, almost other-worldly place. (Click chart below for larger view.)


Let's talk gigatons -- one billion tons. Every year, human activity emits about 35 gigatons of CO2 (the most important greenhouse gas). Of that, 85% comes from fossil fuel burning. To a lot of people, that doesn't mean much -- who goes to the store and buys a gigaton of carrots? For a sense of perspective, a gigaton is about twice the mass of all people on earth, so 35 gigatons is about 70 times the weight of humanity. Every year, humans put that in the atmosphere, and 85% of that is power.
Now, that gives us a sense of scale, when we realize that we put in the atmosphere about 70 times the weight of the entire human population on the planet.  Wow!

So, what does the president propose?

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

I hope that we will, sooner than later, talk about energy as grown up and responsible adults.  As the world's leading energy consumer, it has to begin here in the US.  But, that ain't gonna happen with the tweedledums and tweedledees that we have in politics.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Was "Mahatma" Gandhi gay? A bisexual? Do I care?

A couple of days ago, after reading, in the NY Times, a review of Great Soul, I added that book to my list.  The review made it clear that it was a book that expected the reader to have had a great deal of background knowledge about Gandhi, and that it is not for the uninitiated.

In particular, I liked the way the review essay began--it is too good to be excerpted.  And the following sentences:
“Gandhi had hoped to bring about India’s freedom as the moral achievement of millions of individual Indians, as the result of a social revolution in which the collapse of alien rule would be little more than a byproduct of a struggle for self-reliance and economic equality.” Foreign rule did collapse, in the end, “but strife and inequality among Indians ­worsened.”
Gandhi is still routinely called “the father of the nation” in India, but it is hard to see what remains of him beyond what Lelyveld calls his “nimbus.” His notions about sex and spinning and simple living have long since been abandoned. Hindu-Muslim tension still smolders just beneath the uneasy surface. Untouchability survives, too, and standard-issue polychrome statues of Ambedkar in red tie and double-breasted electric-blue suit now outnumber those of the sparsely clothed Mahatma wherever Dalits are still crowded together.
Gandhi saw most of this coming and sometimes despaired. The real tragedy of his life, Lelyveld argues, was “not because he was assassinated, nor because his noblest qualities inflamed the hatred in his killer’s heart. The tragic element is that he was ultimately forced, like Lear, to see the limits of his ambition to remake his world.”
So, it is not difficult to imagine why I would add the book to my list.  But then ...

Gandhi is practically a saint in India.  And, that means one ought not to investigate into a saint's life other than to sing his praises.  Humanizing the saint, which is what I understand this book does, is a no-no, even if the reality is that most Indians, and for all purposes the entire lot of politicians, have completely forgotten, and systematically contradict, Gandhian principles.

One Indian state has already banned the book, and another is toying with that very idea.  Why?
The book claims the Mahatma was bisexual and had a German-Jewish bodybuilder lover in architect Hermann Kallenbach. Gandhian experts have panned the book and said this was a complete disregard for facts.

Chief minister Narendra Modi] said the writer has a distorted view of Gandhi. "The writer has hurt the sentiments of the people of the country. This attempt to defame Mahatma Gandhi cannot be tolerated and the state assembly will agree with my sentiments," he said. 
This is the same Modi who was the mastermind behind the horrific violence that targeted Muslims in the state for which he is now the chief minister.  One of the many examples that we could list of how "anti-Gandhi" this Modi has been.  Oh well, Brutus is an honorable man, and they are all honorable indeed!

BTW, the NY Times review did not come across as "panned the book" ... 

Back to the reactions in India ... Gandhi's grandson thinks the book is crap, but at the same time writes that this:
alert us to the folly of banning books not because we respect the subject of their scrutiny but because it pays to appear as its protector. Gandhi, least interested in self-protection, is best protected by the strength of his own words and the wordlessness of his own strength.
The editorial in the Indian Express worries about the knee-jerk responses to ban books:
what’s truly abhorrent, even though it has been seen over and over again in India, is the alacrity with which we ban and proscribe books. Instead of letting people judge Lelyveld’s book, and discard it if the scholarship fails to persuade, the state declares it incendiary and closes off the possibility of reading it at all.
Apparently the federal government is also thinking of banning the book!

I care not what the book says about Gandhi and his sexuality.  If there is evidence, then I am all the more impressed that Gandhi was that much a regular mortal like all of us, but was able to orchestrate a freedom movement without guns and bullets.  What a fantastic achievement!

The rising cost of higher education

This time, from my own university--from the student newspaper
Simply awful :(

The UN Resolution is not a support for the Turd Sandwich, er, Libya War

Somehow, all the discussions on the Libya War having an international authorization completely and conveniently skips a critical piece of information: Out of the fifteen members, ten voted in favor and the remaining five abstained.

Breaking this down in a couple of different ways:
  • Of the five permanent members (US, UK, France, Russia, China) two abstained: Russia and China
  • Of the ten non-permanent members, India, Brazil, and Germany abstained.
  • I.e., the ones who did not commit themselves to this Resolution are: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Germany.  Put those bold letters together, and you get BRIC.
    • BRIC is the group that is now driving the global economy, and Germany is Europe's and the Euro's economic giant.  This means that the Libya War does not have the support of the major economic forces of the day.
    • BRIC + Germany is turning out to be one powerful alliance.
  • The combined population of these five countries is nearly three billion, out of the 6.9 billion in the world.  
    • Germany is the smallest among the five abstaining members, but has the 14th largest population among all the countries.
  • Among the "yea" voters are the following countries that supported the US, France, and the UK: Portugal, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Gabon, South Africa, Nigeria, Lebanon, and Colombia.  South Africa is the only influential economy here.  Add up the population of all these countries and ... well, it is obvious, isn't it?
After the bombing began, the Indian government officially stated its regret over the war.
India views with grave concern the continuing violence, strife and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya. It regrets the air strikes that are taking place. The measures adopted should mitigate and not exacerbate an already difficult situation for the people of the country
It is not that I am presenting any sour-grapes argument similar to how in the US we complain about a state like Wyoming having the same weight at the Senate that a mighty California has.  I agree that we work with the established systems that we have.  But, while broadcasting the UN Resolution as the measure of international support for this unconstitutional war, we are conveniently ignoring the fact that the global economic and populous powers are not behind this war.

Well, come to think of it, I am not sure if I can refer to this as "war," given the various euphemisms that the administration prefers instead.  I do like the "turd sandwich" term :(

First up, Jon Stewart
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
America at Not-War - Obama Defends Military Action in Libya
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

And now, Colbert:
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Turd Sandwich in Libya
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Liberals tell Neocons that in wars "anything you do, I can do better" :(

A long, long, time ago, in my first year of graduate school, which is when I began the transition from electrical engineering to the social sciences, Jennifer Wolch, now a dean at Berkeley, remarked in her lecture that external wars are often used to legitimize the state.  Yes, a standard poli.sci. argument, but it was new to me then.  And, as I started getting more and more into understanding such issues, I could get a sense of why a Burkean-conservatives might not want to poke their noses into places where they don't belong, but that otherwise we could have interventionist arguments made from the conservative side of the political spectrum as well as from the liberals.  It is then a harsh reality that there aren't very many people around who would not want to initiate conflicts.  As in conflicts that are not a result of self-defence.

Thus, under the previous presidency, the (neo)conservatives got to wage wars, and now it is the liberals' turn.  Anything you can do, I can do better!  So, while the neoconservatives made fun of the French while singing "bomb, bomb, bomb; bomb, bomb Iran," the liberals are bombing now with active assistance from those who supposedly would rather spend their evenings with cheese and wine while listening to Edith Piaff!

Does Sarkozy have any special interest in this?  Of course, it is a wag-the-dog story, writes Anne Applebaum:
Sarkozy clearly hopes the Libyan adventure will make him popular, too. Nobody finds this surprising. At a conference in Brussels over the weekend, I watched a French participant boast of France's leading role in the Libyan air campaign. A minute later, he heartily agreed that the war was a ploy to help Sarkozy get re-elected. The two emotions—pride in French leadership and cynicism about Sarkozy's real motives—were not, it seems, mutually exclusive.
See--external wars and legitimation strategies.

But, haven't we learnt any damn thing from the three-trillion-dollar fiasco that the Iraq War is?  Apparently not:
while this intervention has been couched in the language of humanitarianism and of the global good deed, invoking the so-called Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the U.N.’s new doctrine that is supposed to govern those instances when outside powers must step in militarily to prevent tyrants from killing their own people, the more important goal has been to support the insurgency, which is to say, to bring about regime change. Had it been otherwise, the bombing could have been halted once the Libyan government attack on Benghazi had been halted. Instead, it goes on, with various French, British, and American politicians and military officials at odds mainly about how much (not whether) the bombing campaign should be widened, and whether Colonel Qaddafi is himself a legitimate target for assassination from the air.
This war—let us call it by its right name, for once—will be remembered to a considerable extent as a war made by intellectuals, and cheered on by intellectuals. The main difference this time is that, particularly in the United States, these intellectuals largely come from the liberal rather than the conservative side. Presumably, when the war goes wrong, they will disown it, blaming the Obama administration for having botched it, in much the same way that many neoconservatives blamed Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld for his strategic errors, rather than blaming themselves for urging a war that never had a chance of transforming Iraq in the way that they hoped. The judgment of history will almost certainly be that it was Iran, not the United States, which won that war. And Libya? Anything is possible, of course, but the odds of this war, so grandiose in terms of the moral claims made for its necessity and so incoherent in its tactics, turning out in the way its advocates are promising seem remarkably small.
Holy crap, is all I want to say! 

Meanwhile, over at the other party ....

Ironic, isn't it, that the "progressive" Democrats are often caricatured as anti-war peaceniks?  It is all bloody tweedledum and tweedledee :(

Bush said "Mission Accomplished." What did Obama say?

And, with respect to the, ahem, Constitution:

Bloody warmongering country we have become :( 

Journalists seem to say "forget the dead and the homeless. We only cover Fukushima"

Everyday, I come across a new YouTube video of the tsunami wiping out a harbor or a village.  Every new video brings about the same level of sadness and horror as the ones before.  I simply cannot even begin to really understand the scale of destruction of life and property and, even worse, how people will gather the needed energy to put one step forward at a time and move on to rebuild.

And, yet, the overwhelming news coverage is about the nuclear power plant.  I do not mean to minimize the complex problems from that plant, for Japan and the rest of the world.  But, to ignore the tens of thousands who are dead, and the hundreds of thousands who are shellshocked and homeless?

Brendan O'Neill deplores this sorry state of "navel gazing" journalism that is always so keen on hyping up versions of doomsday scenarios:
The coverage of the Japanese disaster confirms that, given the choice between reporting what we know (that thousands of people have died in an historic catastrophe) and speculating about what we don’t know (what exactly will happen at Fukushima), journalists will choose the latter. In an era gripped by a culture of fear, where everything from children getting a bit chubbier to a small rise in global temperatures is presented as the harbinger of a future hell whose parameters we cannot precisely predict, journalists have descended on Japan not to report its tragic truths, but to get their rocks off about the apocalyptic promise lurking within Fukushima. It’s not journalism.
Screwed up, we are!

Meanwhile, the rest of Japan is reeling from electricity shortage--homes and businesses alike, and estimates are that it might be more than a year before supplies can get anywhere near the demand.
The places most affected are not only in the earthquake-ravaged area but also in the economically crucial region closer to Tokyo, which is having to ration power because of the big chunk of the nation’s electrical generating capacity that was knocked out by the quake or washed away by the tsunami.
Besides the dangerously disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, three other nuclear plants, six coal-fired plants and 11 oil-fired power plants were initially shut down, according to PFC Energy, an international consulting firm.
By some measures, as much as 20 percent of the total generating capacity of the region’s dominant utility, the Tokyo Electric Power Company — or an estimated 11 percent of Japan’s total power — is out of service.
I have always wanted to visit Japan ... I am now all the more convinced I ought to, sooner than later, and get a real feel for the daily lives and ethos there.

BTW, watch this video of the tsunami slowly wiping out the entire harbor front--make sure the sound is on, so that you will hear the tsunami alert sirens and the sound of the furious ocean waters and car alarms ... will make you shudder at the horror:

Monday, March 28, 2011

I like Stiglitz's arguments on the deficit and debt. But, politics sucks!

Do I worry a lot about the growing trillions of dollars of debt?  Of course, yes.  Do I worry even more about the unemployment levels?  Yes, dammit.

Is there a way to address both?

Joseph Stiglitz says, ahem, yes, we can!  I like the points he makes, in explaining why he refused to sign off on the bipolar bipartisan group of former chairmen and chairwomen of the Council of Economic Advisers' letter "that stresses the importance of deficit reduction and urges the use of the Bowles Simpson Deficit Commission’s recommendations as the basis for compromise":
In my report, I outline the low-hanging fruit that could easily exceed the $4 trillion dollar target set by the Bowles-Simpson Commission. For example: (a) The Cold War ended more than two decades ago, but we continue to spend tens of billions on weapons that don’t work against enemies that don’t exist. Fruitless wars have not increased our security and our military’s credibility. Rather, they have undermined both.

We could have more security with less spending. The commission recognized this — but didn’t go far enough. Congress and the Obama administration have not gone far enough either.

(b) The health care reform bill did little to eliminate the trillion-dollar giveaway to the drug companies, resulting from restrictions on the ability of government (the largest buyer of drugs) to negotiate prices. In contrast to every other government in the world. While much more can, and should, be done to control health care costs, this little change would make a big difference.

Eliminating corporate welfare, both that hidden in our tax systems and in the hidden give-aways of our country’s natural resources to oil and gas and mining companies; eliminating the unjustifiable and harmful tax breaks for speculators and companies that keep their money out of the country, and taxing activities that generate large negative externalities—whether the environmental pollution that threatens our health and our children’s future, or the financial transactions that brought out country and the world to the brink of ruin—could all easily generate trillions of dollars in revenues. At the same time, they could also create a fairer society, a cleaner environment, and a more stable economy.

Deficit reduction is important. But it is a means to an end — not an end in itself. We need to think about what kind of economy, and what kind of society, we want to create; and how tax and expenditure programs can help achieve those goals.
Greg Mankiw, who was Bush's CEA Chair, differs. 

I am not sure whether one even needs to get into the content of their disagreement, or whether we can merely use the proxy qualifiers: Stiglitz headed the CEA during Clinton's presidency, and Mankiw had the job when "W" was the president.  I suppose it would be news if those two had advocated contrary positions.  Which makes me wonder then where the science of economic calculations is, and where the politics begin!

BTW, did you catch this news item about GE--the country's largest corporation--having paid no income taxes, thanks to all the gazillion tax loopholes that its army of accountants and lawyers exploit, after those loopholes were created thanks to the gazillion lobbyists? 
At a tax symposium in 2007, a G.E. tax official said the department’s “mission statement” consisted of 19 rules and urged employees to divide their time evenly between ensuring compliance with the law and “looking to exploit opportunities to reduce tax.”
Transforming the most creative strategies of the tax team into law is another extensive operation. G.E. spends heavily on lobbying: more than $200 million over the last decade, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Records filed with election officials show a significant portion of that money was devoted to tax legislation.
 Ah, good ol' US of A.

Americans don't have a right to know why we launch wars?

A follow-up to my earlier posting on the monarchical decision to bomb the shit out of Libya:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How washing machines liberated women

A few years ago, I was pleasantly shocked to find washing machines in homes in India.  Shocking because it is after still a country with unreliable power supplies, and inadequate water supplies.  But, pleasant because it was a reflection of how much women were liberating themselves from the traditionally defined rigid roles.  And it is this liberation from the time-consuming and low-productive chores that is essentially the story of women, and the story of economic progress itself.  I often remark in my classes, which begin tomorrow, that the story of economic progress is also a story of the changing roles for women.  And when we discuss demographics, I tell them we might as well forget men.

Hans Rosling makes a wonderful case for this:

My favorite example from India is not even the washing machine as much as the elimination of the "aattukkal."  It is, as the writer here describes in a fantastic essay, "the traditional stone-grinder, to grind the dough for idli and dosai."  The traditional cooking involved a whole lot of grinding, and the "aattukkal" was the big grinder for huge volumes, and which also required water.  The "ammi" was the small grinder, primarily for dry grinding.

The grinding work--yes, literally a grinding work--took up at least two hours every day.  And, yes, this was a task for the women.  About forty years ago, my mother was liberated from these chores thanks to machines.  A small mixer, which could do both dry and wet grinding, the "Sumeet," was one heck of an addition to the kitchen.  My mother, always a careful and diligent worker, put that to excellent use and maintained it well enough to get more than twenty years of service from that machine.  I bet she alone knew how valuable it was in her life.

But, the attukkal was still in use--after all, the mixer couldn't handle large loads of wet grinding. 

And that too changed when another machine entered the kitchen, and it completely eliminated the need for an attukkal.  With the machine, mother could simply dump the soaked rice into it, press start, and go about her other household chores.  Or, simply sit down and read a magazine.  Even after all these 35 years, she uses that same machine.  Mother knows how to treat machines well, and they respond equally well to her tender loving care, it seems. 

What a liberation is has been for women even within my life time!  There is still a long way to go for many of the women on this planet.  But, we ought to pause for a moment and celebrate what we have achieved thus far. 

Why not eradicate malaria, instead of bombing the shit out of people?

In my introductory classes, I almost always show them this TED talk that Bjorn Lomborg gave a couple of years ago.  Lomborg, who is probably a banned word in the academic hallway where my office is given that I am surrounded by self-proclaimed Socialists and Marxists, makes a neat and simple point:
If we had say, 50 billion dollars over the next four years to spend to do good in this world, where should we spend it?
Apparently America's answer is that we would rather spend it on bombing a country.  I mean, think about the cost of the recent wars and what they actually deliver in terms of returns.  Joseph Stiglitz, who initially estimated the cost of Iraq War at $3 trillion--yes, 3,000 billion dollars--had to revise it upwards:
two years on, it has become clear to us that our estimate did not capture what may have been the conflict's most sobering expenses: those in the category of "might have beens," or what economists call opportunity costs. For instance, many have wondered aloud whether, absent the Iraq invasion, we would still be stuck in Afghanistan. And this is not the only "what if" worth contemplating. We might also ask: If not for the war in Iraq, would oil prices have risen so rapidly? Would the federal debt be so high? Would the economic crisis have been so severe?
The answer to all four of these questions is probably no. The central lesson of economics is that resources -- including both money and attention -- are scarce. What was devoted to one theater, Iraq, was not available elsewhere.
And now, we are on to yet another war of choice--in Libya.  It is not cheap.  Mark Thoma summarized it in one single sentence; a sentence heard around the blogosphere:
We have enough money to pay for military action in Libya, but not for job creation?
The Economist's correspondents are engaged in a debate on this very issue of guns and butter.  Exhibit one:
If our foreign policy aims to prevent suffering and death with finite resources, it makes sense to ask whether this war makes sense on those grounds. I grasp the tiresome point that the choice on the table was not a choice between taking out Libya's air defences and buying bed nets. The choice was between taking out Libya's air defences or not. But the question nagging some of us is why this was the choice on the table. Why did this come up as a matter requiring urgent attention and immediate decision? Why is it that the choice to express our humanitarian benevolence through the use of missiles and jets gets on the table—to the top of the agenda, even—again and again, but the choice to express it less truculently so rarely does? If our humanitarian values really set the agenda, how likely is it that the prospect of urgent military intervention would come up so often?
It's important that we take the logic of humanitarian justification seriously, but it's true that talk of bed nets tries to do this in a somewhat confused and confusing way. What we really need is intelligent insight into the death and suffering intervention in Libya can be expected to prevent relative to other feasible options. That no one seems even to try to do this in a serious or systematic way—that it seems almost surprising when someone notes the existence of options "between sitting on our hands and launching something close to all-out war"—suggests that objective humanitarian success isn't actually the guiding light of Operation Odyssey Dawn.
Exhibit two is an argument with this colleague, explaining why we Americans and our government prefers the bombing approach than the malaria tent approach:
it simply isn't true that we aren't faced with calls for peaceful humanitarian interventions as often as we are faced with calls for military ones. We are faced with calls for peaceful humanitarian interventions all the time. People are asking for more money for USAID. People are asking for more money for UN peacekeepers. People are asking for more money for the United States Institute for Peace. They're asking for more money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. If you want America, collectively, to be doing more of this sort of thing and less of the bombing sort of thing, then what you need to do is to argue that those sorts of activities are central missions of the United States government, because the most powerful political forces in America over the past couple of decades have been arguing that they aren't, and that's why we're not doing more of them.
In other words, yet again the argument is that we the people are to be blamed--we haven't emphasized enough to our warmongering politicians that we would prefer our tax dollars to spent otherwise. 

Well, as we go about bombing the shit out of countries, we need to keep this in mind:
If the experience of the last ten years has taught us anything, it should be this: We can bomb our enemies into the Stone Age, but we cannot bomb them into the 21st century

Remembrance of things past: Caravan

As a kid, I loved listening to Hindi film songs even though I had no clue about the lyrics thanks to knowing only a few words in that language.  That fascination hasn't exited my system one bit.  Here is a video from a movie that came out forty years ago, and I bet I knew this song only because of my sister, five years older than me--I wonder if she knew what they were singing about :)

Thanks to this fantastic site for the lead into the collection here.

Normal bombing operations resumed in the Middle East

“WE APOLOGISE for the unplanned hiatus in bombing of the Middle East. Normal service has now been resumed.”
That is what Obama ought to have said, right, to go along with his global apology tours? 

Oh well, it will be damn funny but for the reality that we have opened up yet another front for military operations.  Anyway,. that quote is how the Economist's Lexington's comments begin.  But, it does seem like at the end of it all, Lexington prefers this than otherwise.  In fact, the more I think about this Lexington column, the more it seems like there is nothing new or profound or analytical.  It is just blah, like a Bob Herbet NY Times column; BTW, I am glad Herbert is departing.

Robert Kaplan says that Libya is like Kosovo, and not Iraq.  He writes:
Even if Libya's new leaders carried copies of Thomas Paine in their rucksacks, they would find themselves reigning over a wasteland, and not just physically—a country bereft of democratic traditions, institutions, or the slenderest levers of a civil society. Someone's going to have to step in and spend tens of billions of dollars and devote years or decades of hard effort, to helping the Libyan people develop such things—and to do so with the backing of a large police or military force to provide security in the meantime—or face the prospect that a nastier group of people, from within or outside, will take over and impose a different sort of social order, a new, perhaps more threatening, dictatorship.
The biggest flaw in U.S. strategy for the Iraq war was the failure to do any planning for postwar stabilization. This failure unleashed all the nightmares that followed. Libya is not Iraq. Obama's motives for intervening in Libya were much different from George W. Bush's motives for invading Iraq, and the level of this intervention is explicitly much lower—more, at least avowedly, in support of the European and Arab leaders who took the initiative and have more vital stakes in the outcome. But there are still lessons to be gleaned from Iraq's postwar power vacuum and the chaos that ensued as a result.
Obama took such pains to make clear that the United States was playing a mere supporting role in the Libyan war—and even went ahead with a scheduled trip to South America to demonstrate that this war is not a major, all-consuming thing—in part to make clear that we wouldn't be playing more than a supporting role after the war is over.
But who will? Who can? And shouldn't someone have thought this through before the bombs started falling?
Yeah, shouldn't someone have thought this through?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pakistan needs a lot more Veena Maliks!

From the Spectator 
we are going to need many more like the Pakistani actress Veena Malik. Watch her take on a mullah, who is trying to accuse her of immoral behaviour. This is no small accusation in Pakistan where Islamist death squads and their collaborators in the state intelligence service, operate at will. The talk show setting of the attempt at trial by media is commonplace too. The murder of Salman Taseer followed days of hacks whipping up “Muslim rage” against him.
Instead of being frightened, Malik turns on her accuser and the journalist, who helped set her up, and lets them have it.
Brave, beautiful and utterly magnificent.
Yes, it is one powerful video that MEMRI has made available with English subtitles.  Hey, this is a must watch video.

Secular Right, where I came across this, notes:
So long as there continue to be people in traditionally Muslim countries with the courage to speak out against bullying clerics and the rising tide of retrograde and brutal religious intolerance there are, I think, still some grounds for some hope. 
Yes, indeed.

I didn't know anything about Veena Malik until now.   Slate notes:
Malik is a Pakistani actress who appeared on the Indian reality show Big Boss 4. Like Sheen and Brown, she’s a celebrity with a lot of anger. Unlike those miscreants, her anger is just and well-placed. Since her return to Pakistan, Malik has faced death threats for “humiliating Islam” and faced harsh criticism from conservative mullahs. Fortunately, she’s not running and hiding. She appeared on a show called Express News TV (think The O’Reilly Factor, only not as polite) in late January and first dismissed the question from the host asking whether her appearance on the show—as well as her “dresses and action—was an affront to the “ideological foundations of Paksitan.”
India's NDTV reports on this:
"Maulvis sexually assault children in madrassahs under their care. People are burnt alive in Pakistan. Corruption is rampant. Women are gang-raped and there is extremism everywhere and yet no one talks about these evils but everyone is concerned about me what Veena Malik did," she said.

Malik broke down when the host of the show called her "Begairat" (shameless) and she shot back at him.

"Who are you pass such indecent remarks about me who gave you this right," she questioned.

The criticism on Malik comes at a time when the country is facing a clear divide over the blasphemy law and religious fundamentalism appears to be spreading and where the liberals and moderates are afraid to express their views.
But, for various reasons, including romance, it appears that Veena Malik will be in India, and not in Pakistan, for quite a while.

Nutty Republicans dig into Wisconsin professor's emails!

Just when I thought the Republicans had sunk low enough and had hit rock bottom, they provide more evidence for "it ain't over till it is over." (Oh, the Dems are screwed up in their own ways, as if it is all a variation of Tolstoy's famous line that "all happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way")

What is the latest?  The Republicans in Wisconsin want to get their dirty political hands on a University of Wisconsin history professor's emails:
the Republican Party of Wisconsin has filed an open records request demanding access to any emails Cronon has sent or received since Jan. 1 containing the search terms "Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell."
The obvious goal is  to find something damaging or embarrassing to Cronon -- although judging by Cronon's account, smoking guns seem unlikely to be lying around in plain sight. (Eight of the names referenced in the request belong to the eight Republican state senators targeted by Democrats for recall.)
Is the request legal?  Sure it is.  I have always operated under the understanding that emails received at, or sent from, my work address is "public property" because I work at a public university.  But, this Republican tactic appears to be be for all the wrong reasons. 

How much ever I find this Republican approach reprehensible, I agree with Jack Shafer, who points out that, well, this is allowed under the Freedom of Information Act:
Cronon's beef isn't with the Republican who filed for his emails but with the law. If he thinks that exposing university emails to the scrutiny of FOIA laws is an abomination, he should spend less time crying wolf about how the university's precious academic freedom is under assault and more time getting the law changed.
Professor Cronon also betrays a bit of naiveté in railing against "highly politicized" open records requests. Has he never inspected the FOIA docket? Many requesters have "highly politicized" motivations, and those motivations don't nullify their petition. Nor should they.
Yes, we have academic freedom.  But, academics in public universities ought to have known that academic freedom doesn't trump the laws of the land.  For some reason, even Paul Krugman argues that the law doesn't apply:
nobody, and I mean nobody, considers such academic email addresses something specially reserved for university business. Actually, according to Cronon he has been especially careful, maintaining a separate personal account — but nobody would have considered it out of the ordinary if he mingled personal correspondence with official business on the dot edu address. And no, the fact that he’s at a public university doesn’t change that: when my students take jobs at Berkeley or SUNY, they don’t imagine that they’re entering into a special fishbowl environment that they wouldn’t encounter at Georgetown or Haverford.
Uh, hello?  Really?  We might want to adopt a Dickensian stand that "the law is a ass, a idiot," but the law is the law, even if we are academics.

Andrew Leonard writes that perhaps this is the best time to pick up books by Cronon:
I just bought two of Cronon's books. We can't shape the future without understanding the past. The potency of Cronon's current involvement in the hottest political struggle of the day is all the proof I need that my own understanding of how the world works will benefit from more exposure to his work -- whether manifested in a blog post, New York Times Op-Ed, or book. What better response could there be to an attack on academic freedom than to spread that academic's ideas as widely as possible?

Stay away from religion: it is literally healthier!

As is my routine every morning, I scanned the latest at Arts and Letters Daily

One of the links there was to a CNN report that "frequent churchgoers frequently fatter:"
frequent religious involvement appears to almost double the risk of obesity compared with little or no involvement.
What is unclear from the new research is why religion might be associated with overeating.
So, for now all they have done is establish a strong correlation?  Well, it appears that the researchers were looking into a question on cardiovascular risks, and churchgoing pops up unexpectedly:
The new research, presented at an American Heart Association conference dedicated to physical activity, metabolism and cardiovascular disease, involved 2,433 people enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study.  The group was tested - at first between 20 and 32 years old - for various cardiovascular disease risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, and smoking.  Those same tests were repeated in the same group over the next 25 years.
The results were mixed for many risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but as researchers analyzed the data, one disparity stood out.  Those who reported attending church weekly, or more often, were significantly more likely to have a higher body mass index than those who attended infrequently, or never.
I liked even more the following paragraphs in that report:
Yet another irony is the number of studies suggesting that religion and faith are actually beneficial for health.  Recent studies suggest that a "relaxation response" in the brain among people who pray, meditate, or engage in otherwise relaxing activities may alleviate anxiety and stress. Stress is implicated in many illnesses.  Other studies suggest an association between church-going and longevity.
"On the whole being religious has been shown by many studies to be associated with better mental health, lower smoking rates, lower mortality rates and better overall health status," said Feinstein.  "There are a whole lot of things religious people are doing right, but it's just this specific area where there appears to be room for improvement."
The upshot of the new research, said Feinstein, is that knowing there may be an obesity problem among church-goers provides a captive audience for intervention.
Yes, "captive" audience, indeed!

If there is only website that I am allowed to visit every day, then A&LDaily would be the one. Thanks to the late Denis Dutton for starting this site as a resource for all of us.  An exciting moment for me as a blogger happened three years ago: Denis Dutton had left a comment on my blog post!

Here is Dutton talking about his his last book with Colbert:

Friday, March 25, 2011

The end of "My Family" :(

For a couple of years I have chuckled and laughed away watching the beeb's "My Family" that PBS broadcast on Saturday nights.  (Ahem, does that mean admitting that I had nothing else to do on a Saturday night?)

BBC is ending that show soon:
The BBC has decided that, once the 11th series is over, we shall never again be treated to the sight of Robert Lindsay hanging out of his bedroom window in his underwear. My Family, that warhorse of ever-so-slightly risqué sitcoms, will reach its last corny punchline later in the year; the show following the travails of dentist Ben Harper is apparently just too long in the tooth.
I recall one of the really funny recent episodes in which Susan decides to hire a housekeeper, much against Ben's preferences.  When it turns out that the housekeeper is one heck of a Mary Poppins, well, Susan goes comes up with crazy schemes to get rid of her.

I suppose at some level all sitcoms get to be corny and they reach their expiration date.  Thank goodness South Park is still funny--though sometimes grossly so--anytime I am able to catch one. 

Wisdom, according to "Pickles." One good reason for newspapers!

The local newspaper, likes most papers, runs the comic strip only in black/white on all days of the week except on Sundays.  I so wish that the funny pages will be in color all seven days of the week.  But then how many people read the newspapers in print form anymore, eh :(

When I travel outside the US, which is mostly to India these days, I miss the funny pages the most.  We are in comics heaven here in America.  Our paper features two pages of comics every day, and then a grander and colorful Sunday edition.  I wonder what the reason is for us Americans (note how I identify with this adopted land!) to enjoy comic strips that much.

It is not that newspapers in India are dying either; in fact, the dailies there have a lot more pages than here.  The state of newspapers in India seem to be perhaps as healthy as the industry was here in the 1970s.  But, not a huge spread of comics though.  Don't other people like to smile and laugh every morning at least to temporarily forget all the depression that results from the news pages?

Money and March Madness: NCAA basketball on PBS. not ESPN!

I noted here how many of my left-leaning colleagues are ardent college sports nuts fans, who easily set aside the gazillion dollars that drive the NCAA and, even worse, even organize March Madness betting pools!  One heck of contradictory responses; but then perhaps that is consistent with the ultra-left's obsession with "contradictions."

It is simply awful that colleges and universities, whose "non-profit" and public status is related to the commitment to education, have morphed into money-making multinational corporations themselves.  PBS will be airing a program (on March 29th) on the money behind March Madness; check your local listings, and make sure you tune in, think, and act.
the new president of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, defends the amateurism of college basketball and rejects any form of payments to players. “I think that it would be utterly unacceptable to convert students into employees,” Emmert tells Bergman. “The point of March Madness, of the men’s basketball tournament, is the fact that it’s being played by students. ... What amateurism really means is that these young men and women are students; they’ve come to our institutions to gain an education and to develop their skills as an athlete and to compete at the very highest level they're capable of. And for them, that’s a very attractive proposition.”

Yeah, right!

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

The sea floor was "a graveyeard." Revisiting the BP spill

We are fast zooming in on the first anniversary of the catastrophic explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico,  The incident began on April 20th of last year, and the final sealing of the leak itself was completed on September 19th.  I haven't forgotten how transfixed and depressed I was while obsessively following that story.

Claudia Dreifus, whose reputation as the NY Times science writer has now been eclipsed by the fame and notoriety as a result of the book on higher education that she co-authored with Andrew Hacker, has a neat interview with Dr. Samatha Joyce, whose team of scientists were the first independent trained and qualified observers to investigate and report on the crisis.  In response to Dreifus' question comparing Japan's recent and ongoing nuclear crisis with the BPO spill, Joyce replies:
No one can prevent earthquakes. That’s up to Mother Nature.
However, building nuclear power plants on an island adjacent to an active tectonic zone is inherently dangerous. Likewise, deepwater drilling into gas-overcharged sediments is dangerous. For me, both of these disasters are a very loud plea for green energy.
Yes, indeed.  Every major energy incident over the last forty years ought to have sharpened our attention on how much we are tied down by fossil fuels and nuclear power, and yet here we are in 2011 with carbon and nukes even more dominant in our lives than ever before.  

I wonder why.  Is it because technology to tap into other energy sources has not developed at the rate at which we think it ought to have?  Were/are we naive to think that somehow green energy technology will arise out of whatever levels of science and technology we now have?  If we were to use a comparison, and suppose that an iPhone symbolizes the level of green energy technology.  How much ever something like an iPhone might have fascinated people fifty years ago, well, it would have been impossible at that time given the scientific understanding we had then and the technological capabilities, right?  So, along that line of thinking, how far are we from an "iPhone green energy" technology?

For sure, I would hate for us to continue to burn, smoke, spill, and radiate for another fifty years.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why carbon might rule over the 21st century, too

The versatility of carbon, explained in this video:

I wish we had such videos when I was in high school; I would have become even more of a nerd then :)

In my classes now, I routinely bug students about various aspects of carbon.  Often I tell them that perhaps my fascination with it is because I grew up in a town where the entire economy was built around carbon from under the ground--lignite mining.  The lignite then used for power generation.

Anyway, back to carbon in the 21st century.  There has been a lot of talk about carbon nanotubes and graphene.  But, so far it has been only that--a lot of talk.  A little while back, in the context of the Nobel Prize for the graphene scientists, Wired explained some of the potentially transformative applications.

But, I am not sure how many students find any of my stories interesting enough ... oh well, even if neither carbon nor I are a student's best friends, an allotrope of carbon is a best friend to at least one half of the population, right?

Too Many Doctoral Programs. Well, of course. Duh!

The Association of American Universities has a new leader, Hunter R. Rawlings.  His opening shot?
Mr. Rawlings did, however, make clear that he's concerned some universities, seeking the prestige of a top ranking, may be operating too many doctoral programs, producing students without good job prospects.
Way to go,  Dr. Rawlings.
(BTW, why does the Chronicle use a dull "Mr." ... is that their editorial policy?)
"It's thrilling to have a genuine humanist be the head of an organization like that," said Stanley N. Katz, a legal historian and higher-education policy expert at Princeton University. "He's one of the most deeply thoughtful people I'm acquainted with in higher education."
At the same time, Mr. Katz questioned the plausibility of Mr. Berdahl's suggestion that the country trim its number of research universities, and predicted that Mr. Rawlings will be no more successful in cutting down on doctoral programs.
... "It's not whether we will have fewer research universities—I think inertia will keep them going—but whether they'd be willing to police themselves," Mr. Katz said. "And the answer there is just clearly, flatly no. There's absolutely nothing in the history of research universities to suggest that they're capable of the kind of self-evaluation that he's talking about."
Every time I go to the annual meeting of scholars in my current discipline, and watch the many, many, eager beaver doctoral candidates, I can't but think about Marx's phrasing of the "army of unemployed."

The story is similar in most disciplines, and even more horrific in a few.  Yet, universities continue to churn out PhDs. 

We are in Libya because .... ?

Who better than Jon Stewart to point out that we don't have a clear idea of why we are doing what we are doing in Libya.  And, in the process, he does a great job of satirizing the charade that we go through before, during, and after wars.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
America at Not-War - Obama's Communication Gap
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Remembrance of things past: high school ends :(

This March, it is 30 years since the final class XII, CBSE, exams ended.

I recall "Alaigal Oivathillai" as the defining Tamil movie of the year, with a whole bunch of songs that seemed to be at the loudest volumes at every street corner.  Wikipedia says that the movie was released in 1980, but ... perhaps my memory is faded.  Or, maybe like we instruct students, hey, don't trust Wikipedia :) ...

Anyway, as I think back now, I realize now that I had intense pangs about leaving the town and school, which had been my world throughout my entire life until then. I was barely a month past turning 17 when the exams were all over and I had no idea how to express in words my anxiety that I might never see most of my classmates again.  It was much later in life, when I watched American Graffiti for the first time that I was even able to package all those high school leaving emotions into something understandable as one of the important milestones in one's life.

Thirty years!

I recall watching a movie in Bangalore, where a bunch of us went to take some stupid exam.  I couldn't care about the exam, and was a lot more excited by the fact that it was my first ever trip to that city.  All I remember from that trip was an important intersection in town called the Kempe Gowda Circle.  And the cinema hall where we watched Love Story was near this intersection.  Here is a song from that movie:

Did you catch something that sounds almost like an Abba tune in the beginning of the song, and throughout?  Oh well, the composer, R.D. Burman was notorious for mixing popular music from the West into his compositions.

Educating College Graduates So They Can be Unemployed

That is the title of this post at the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. 
if young people with college degrees can’t survive in the post-recession era, nobody can. And this explodes the idea that education alone, instead of monetary and fiscal policy, is the way out of our current high unemployment rate.
I’ve been on a kick of watching the employment rates of 20-24 year olds with college degrees as a barometer for our economy’s health for some time. Some people on the right get that this is going to kill a generation – David Frum in particular has done great work. But in general everyone on the right is screaming about the Europeanization of the U.S. economy. Ironically, they have been screaming about the part where we could get universal health care and some decent trains and not the part where the young generation that is supposed to start building their careers, innovating and creating the future of the economy, is sitting idle. The part where a generation becomes permanently detached from the formal labor markets. An economy of insiders and outsiders.
I simply cannot understand why we fail to even acknowledge this growing and urgent problem of the idling of the youth.  For their own personal and professional growth, and for society as a whole, the youth need to be actively involved in the economy.  Yet, that is not happening.  And, we are hell bent on making it worse for them by forcing higher education down their throats and then idling them.

Colleges and universities are having a great time as a result--record enrollments.  Don't listen to the faculty or administration talk about not having enough money.  Of course that is what ponzi schemers will try to convince you.  After all, if they don't have money, how come they build multimillion dollar buildings with rock-climbing-walls, right?

I wish we would stop telling students in high school that a college degree is their passport to successful middle class lives.  Allow them to pursue their own interests, and don't put down their vocational curiosities.  If they want to learn about Socrates, awesome. But let us also make sure they understand that understanding Socrates will not necessarily lead to dollars; perhaps cents, yes.  And if they still want to learn, terrific!

Obama, Libya, and his Nobel Peace Prize ... and more

Pictures easily convey what a gazillion words might not:

Oh the irony of being the only Nobel Peace Prize recipient to have launched missiles!  But then maybe he is Bush; on Obama and his advisers being the center-left version of Bush and his neo-conservative advisers:

So, maybe Obama deserves not the Nobel but the Oscar for ...

Do we have any alternatives?  Nope; all we have is crazies like this:

Or this one:

Meanwhile, the deficit and debt keeps growing; the mushroom cloud we need to worry about:

But, in a democracy (however weak it might be) the state of the nation depends on we the people:

So, what is the bottom line?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Do the actions in Libya mean Iran will speed up the nuclear bomb?

The words recently used by Secretary Clinton, Senator Kerry, Ambassador Rice, ... well, the list of people is endless ... the words used to describe Gaddafi range from "delusional" to a much milder "dictatorial" ...

There are lots of delusional leaders of government. North Korea's Kim Jong-Il and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe are way on top of that pyramid, along with quite a few others.  These two together have been the cause of millions of their peoples dying early deaths.

We might even bomb the hell out of Zimbabwe, but the world knows that we won't go anywhere near North Korea.  Why?  North Korea has the bomb.  Having the bomb is the ultimate security blanket for any regime that tries to hold on to power.

Libya's Gaddafi was on that same path of acquiring a bomb--even tried buying from India!  In the end, in the international games that governments play, Gaddafi decided that he might be better off extending a peaceful hand to the West and, thereby, consolidate his choke-hold over Libya.  Thus, he abandoned his nuclear "Islamic" bomb project, and won kudos from the West.

The then British PM, Tony Blair, was all cuddly with "our man in North Africa"
Blair saw political capital in embracing the monster. The ostensible reason for this bargain was that Gaddafi would graciously abandon his WMD programme – although there is no real evidence that he has. Blair believed, too, that Gaddafi would be a valuable tool in the global war against Islamist terrorists.
And there was more in this Faustian bargain. Not only would the Bush administration welcome any intelligence that could be gleaned from this obscure part of North Africa, but Shell and BP would gain extensive drilling rights in an oil and gas-rich country much nearer Europe than the Gulf.
Imagine if Gaddafi hadn't abandoned his nuclear project.
the 2003 deal removed Colonel Qaddafi’s biggest trump card: the threat of using a nuclear weapon, or even just selling nuclear material or technology, if he believed it was the only way to save his 42-year rule. While Colonel Qaddafi retains a stockpile of mustard gas, it is not clear he has any effective way to deploy it. “Imagine the possible nightmare if we had failed to remove the Libyan nuclear weapons program and their longer-range missile force,”

So, that means that we have all the more highlighted to Iran's Grand Ayatollah Khamenei and president Ahmadinejad that their theocratic regime might want to insure itself by speeding up making the bomb.  So, should we be surprised with news like this?

 This also means that Israel will now be all the more itchy to prevent Iran from getting one.  Jeffrey Goldberg's thought experiment seems more real now than when his essay was published:
What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft. (It’s so crowded, in fact, that the United States Central Command, whose area of responsibility is the greater Middle East, has already asked the Pentagon what to do should Israeli aircraft invade its airspace. According to multiple sources, the answer came back: do not shoot them down.)
In these conversations, which will be fraught, the Israelis will tell their American counterparts that they are taking this drastic step because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people. The Israelis will also state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years. They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice. They will not be asking for permission, because it will be too late to ask for permission.
Happy spring, everybody :)