Sunday, February 19, 2017

Cixin Liu : Death's End

The third book in Cixin Liu's science-fiction trilogy that began with The Three Body Problem and The Dark Forest, does not disappoint.  Don't read any reviews, just read the book.  If you insist on a review, here is one, from which I quote: "If you thought The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest were expansive, they're nothing compared to Death's End."

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Confirmation Bias?

There are a number of stories about how UnPresident Trump operates:

Caroline Mortimer reports in the Independent,  that Defence Secretary General James Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, convinced Trump to go along with an anti-terrorist raid in Yemen that turned out poorly, by suggesting that Obama would never have been so bold as to actually go through with it (the conception of the operation lies in the Obama era).

S.V. Date and Christina Wilkie report in the Huffington Post that Trump called his National Security Adviser retd. Lt. General Mike Flynn at 3 A.M. in the morning to ask him whether it was a strong dollar or a weak dollar that would be good for the US economy.

Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman report in the New York Times that Trump was angered that he "was not fully briefed on the details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist {Steve Bannon} a seat on the National Security Council".


There are more examples, but these should suffice.  All of these stories are from unnamed sources (which is why I've taken care to mention the reporters' names), they fit in with how we imagine Trump to be (e.g., based on the content and timing of his tweets) but are they true?




Monday, January 30, 2017

Beating Trump: lessons from Venezuela

Andrés Miguel Rondón writes in the Washington Post:

The problem is you.
How do I know? Because I grew up as the “you” Trump is about to turn you into. In Venezuela, the urban middle class I come from was cast as the enemy in the political struggle that followed Chávez’s arrival in 1998. For years, I watched in frustration as the opposition failed to do anything about the catastrophe overtaking our nation. Only later did I realize that this failure was self-inflicted. So now, to my American friends, here is some advice on how to avoid Venezuela’s mistakes.
 Don’t forget who the enemy is.
What makes you the enemy? It’s very simple to a populist: If you’re not a victim, you’re a culprit.
Show no contempt.
Don’t feed polarization, disarm it. This means leaving the theater of injured decency behind. 
Don’t try to force him out.
Attempting to force Trump out, rather than digging in to fight his agenda, would just distract the public from whatever failed policies the administration is making. In Venezuela, the opposition focused on trying to reject the dictator by any means possible — when we should have just kept pointing out how badly Chávez’s rule was hurting the very people he claimed to be serving.
Find a counterargument. (No, not the one you think.)

It’s not that Trump supporters are too stupid to see right from wrong, it’s that you’re more valuable to them as an enemy than as a compatriot.

But it took opposition leaders 10 years to figure out that they needed to actually go to the slums and the countryside. Not for a speech or a rally, but for a game of dominoes or to dance salsa — to show they were Venezuelans, too, that they weren’t just dour scolds and could hit a baseball, could tell a joke that landed. That they could break the tribal divide, come down off the billboards and show that they were real. This is not populism by other means. It is the only way of establishing your standing. It’s deciding not to live in an echo chamber. To press pause on the siren song of polarization.
and 
Recognize that you’re the enemy Trump requires. Show concern, not contempt, for the wounds of those who brought him to power. By all means, be patient with democracy and struggle relentlessly to free yourself from the shackles of the caricature the populists have drawn of you.

It’s a tall order. But the alternative is worse. Trust me.


Friday, January 27, 2017

India: Global Competitiveness Index

 The Financial Express reported
In the last two years of PM Modi’s rule, India’s has jumped a whopping 32 places in the competitiveness index.
Global Competitiveness Report: A graph comparing 10 years of competitiveness in India shows the country’s global competitiveness index remained in the negative for most of the years between 2008-2014

The World Economic Forum report that this news-item is based on is available here (large PDF file).

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Demonetization in India

Two-Wheeler Manufacturers See Contrasting Fortunes In December, 2016 
Some manufacturers saw growth, others saw loss of sales.  This is likely due to serving different market segments.

(emphasis added)
Hero MotoCorp felt the heat of demonetisation as its monthly sales of 3, 30,202 units in December, 2016 was almost 34 per cent lesser than the sales of 4, 99,665 units in the same month last year. 

Although, not all was gloom and doom as the company recorded its highest ever sales in a calendar year by selling a whopping 67, 62,980 units in 2016, which is a growth of 4.3 per cent over the sales of the previous calendar year where it sold 64, 86,103 units.

The cumulative sales of Hero MotoCorp in FY 2017 (April-December 2016), is 50, 24,129 units.
Although it should be noted that the manufacturing plants of Hero at Gurgaon, Neemrana and Haridwar were closed from December 26th-31st for annual maintenance.
 Any corporation that has its highest ever sales in an year, but fires employees because of two months of a temporary downturn is a lousy employer.  A man's wedding postponed because of the in-laws is likely over dowry, which is, technically speaking, illegal.

The All Indian Manufacturers Organization report which claims major disruptions in the Indian economy, also says:
Medium and large scale industries, including foreign companies, engaged in export-oriented activities reported 30 per cent job losses and 40 per cent revenue fall. This is likely to be 35 per cent and 45 per cent, respectively, by March
Nevertheless, exports rose, which is pretty remarkable, considering how the rest of the world is doing (and one wonders how much the exports supply chain can be constrained by lack of cash in Indian hands?)
India's exports continued to grow for the fourth straight month in December 2016, expanding by 5.72 per cent to $23.9 billion compared to $22.6 billion in the same month of previous year.
And here's another headline:
Contrary to fears of slowdown, factory output grows 5.7% in November

I further note that some corporations are probably hiding their other problems behind demonetization, e.g., in this report about two-wheeler sales:
Domestic sales of motorcycles in December 2016 dipped 11% to 1,06,665 units as compared to 1,20,322 units sold in December 2015 while exports dipped 24% to 96,647 in December 2016 as compared to 1,27,460 units exported in December 2015.
Why would export sales be hit because of demonetization?

While the trigger for writing this blog post is a New York Times article, let it not be thought that I did research for this article.  You can read all about demonetization, the good, bad, ugly at BRF, this link will plop you in the middle of the discussion.

There is no doubt that demonetization was an economic shock.  And yes, it most affected the cash-driven sectors that for whatever reason could not turn to cheques or other bank instruments.

FYI, about food prices, remember that annually, the fruit & vegetable market has fresh crop arriving in December ,January.  Anyway, for November 2016, the WPI (wholesale price index) (links can be found in the BRF thread mentioned above):
The index for 'Food Articles' group declined by 1.0 percent to 276.1 (provisional) from 278.8 (provisional) for the previous month due to lower price of fruits & vegetables (7%), moong and masur (4% each), urad (3%), maize (2%) and arhar and condiments & spices (1% each). However, the price of ragi (20%), gram (10%), coffee (10%), wheat (5%), poultry chicken and barley (4% each) and bajra, fish - inland, tea, fish - marine, egg and jowar (1% each) moved up.
and for December 2016:
The index for Food Articles group declined by 2.2 percent to 270.1 (provisional) from 276.1 (provisional) for the previous month due to lower price of fruits & vegetables (9%), arhar (6%), masur and urad (5% each), moong (4%), gram (2%) and poultry chicken (1%). However, the price of ragi (4%), jowar and wheat (3% each), bajra (2%) and egg, barley, pork, condiments & spices, tea and fish - inland (1% each) moved up.
If demand was down because of lack of cash, then the movement of prices should have been uniformly down.  It is not.

PS: also via the BRF thread, this article: Demonetization: Are the Poor Really Suffering?

PPS: Demonetisation: Hero Moto & Honda put 800 contract workers on unpaid leave



Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index

Narendra Modi was elected India's Prime Minister in mid-2014.
In Transparency International's Global Corruption Perceptions Index, India ranked as follows:
Year: Rank (absolute score, on a scale of 0-100)
2016: 79 (40)
2015: 76 (38)
2014: 85 (38)
2013: 94 (36)

Very tepid improvement.  India is currently tied with Belarus, Brazil and China.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Wikileaks, Julian Assange, etc.

ClimateGate and Clinton's emailGate are parts of one pattern

T.R. Ramachandran (@yottapoint) writes: http://electionado.com/canvas/1480388925211
"To understand Wikileaks you need to understand ClimateGate".







Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Failure of Conventional Journalistic Ethics

Margaret Sullivan has an article in the Washington Post: How BuzzFeed crossed the line in publishing salacious ‘dossier’ on Trump.  In it she makes the points:
But at many other news organizations, the rule is caution: “When in doubt, leave it out.”
It’s a bad idea, and always has been, to publish unverified smears.
It’s never been acceptable to publish rumor and innuendo. 
 Let's see how that works in practice.   When Donald J. Trump went on with his birther allegations that Obama was not born in the United States, he repeated rumors and innuendo, and added some of his own unverified smears.

If the rules are as Margaret Sullivan says, why did major news organizations publish what Trump said?

The answer would likely be - the newsworthiness lies in the fact that a celebrity spokesperson is saying something (whatever it is) and not in the fact that what the person is saying is rumors, innuendo and unverified smears.

That puts the news organization in the position that once a celebrity says something, no matter how false, it is newsworthy.  Newsworthiness has been conferred on something by the celebrity uttering it.  If Joe Shmoe has assembled a dossier of unverified allegations, it is not news unless it is verified, and should not be published.

What Margaret Sullivan is arguing has this effect: the news organization ought to be a fact-checker and filter for Joe Shmoe; but is not for the celebrity.

We see the implicit assumption of conventional journalistic ethics here - that we all have a common interest in the truth, and that though what the celebrity is saying is merely rumors, innuendo and unverified smears, the resulting backlash and public disapproval will punish the celebrity.  Therefore, the news organization doesn't need to act as a filter on publishing what a celebrity says.

Well, Trump and his supporters defy this ethical standard.   Trump has zero interest in the truth - he denies saying things that he said that are recorded on video; and his public has zero interest in censuring Trump for lying, repeating rumors, innuendo and unverified smears.

Thus we end up with the 2016 US Presidential campaign.  Trump would have mostly been blacked out of the news had news organizations applied the same rules to what he said to the dossier compiled by the ex-MI6 agent (does knowing that he is Christopher Steele of Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd. change the newsworthiness of what he wrote?  Or does he have to have a TV reality show in order to have whatever he says published by news organizations?)