Thursday, March 30, 2006

Schwartz and Engelhardt on Iraq

Michael Schwartz paints a very different picture of the cause of the insurgency in Iraq than is commonly acknowledged. His article and preceding commentary by Tom Engelhardt are worth reading, available here.

The Iraqi economy was largely state-owned, the American attempt to privatize it was too sudden and too drastic. The economy collapsed, and the popular discontent fed into the insurgency.

Some excerpts:

...if you don't understand what these plans did to the daily economic lives of most Iraqis, as our regular news just about never does, there is simply no way fully to grasp ...

...the fundamental cause of the war-after-the-war – the American attempt to neo-liberalize Iraq...

...This process of dismantling included attempts, still ongoing , to remove various food, product, and fuel subsidies that guaranteed low-income Iraqis basic staples, even when they had no gainful employment....

...Because the privatizers of the Bush administration were, however, in control of a largely prostrate and conquered country, the Iraqi reforms were enacted more swiftly and in a far more draconian manner than anywhere else on the planet. Within six months, for example, the American occupation government, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), had promulgated all manner of laws designed to privatize everything in Iraq except established oil reserves. (New oil discoveries, however, were to be privatized.)...

...At the same time, state-owned enterprises were to be demobilized and sidelined. They were to be prevented from participating either in repairing facilities damaged during the invasion (or degraded by the decade of sanctions that preceded it) or in any of the initially ambitious reconstruction projects the U.S. commissioned. This policy was so strict that even state-owned enterprises with specific expertise in Iraqi electrical, sanitation, and water purification systems – not to speak of Iraq's massive cement industry – were forbidden from obtaining subcontracts from the multinational corporations placed in charge of rejuvenating the country's infrastructure....

...millions of unemployed workers and soldiers, lacking the money to feed their families, also lacked the money to support local merchants.

These depressed neighborhoods became incubators for ferocious criminal gangs, who sought to redress their own economic hardship by looting public buildings and private dwellings of anything that might yield a return on the black (or export) market...

...They ignore the eternal verity that the willingness to fight and die is regularly animated by the conviction that otherwise things will only get worse.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

European IQs

From The Times of London, March 29, an article about the average IQs in various European nations, according to data from Richard Lynn, University of Ulster.

I'm reproducing the table from the article here, plus adding a column for population, using the World Factbook from

The IQ League

107 Germany 82.4 million
107 Netherlands 16.4 million
106 Poland 38.6 million
104 Sweden 9.0 million
102 Italy 58.1 million
101 Austria 8.2 million
101 Switzerland 7.5 million
100 British Isles 60.4 million
100 Norway 4.6 million
99 Belgium 10.4 million
99 Denmark 5.4 million
99 Finland 5.2 million
98 Czech Republic 10.2 million
98 Hungary 10.0 million
98 Spain 40.3 million
97 Ireland 4.0 million
96 Russia 143.4 million
95 Greece 10.7 million
94 France 60.7 million
94 Bulgaria 7.5 million
94 Romania 22.3 million
90 Turkey 69.7 million
89 Serbia 10.8 million

Of what use is this data? Anyone who has followed discussions on and about ex-Harvard President Lawrence Summers' remarks on why there are so few women physicists, knows that one side believes that it is all explained by IQ distributions. IQs are distributed in a bell curve; the average IQ (or math ability) of men is slightly higher then the average for women (the difference is five points or less) and men's IQ distribution has a larger variance than women. The result is that at the extremes (very high or very low IQ, 3 or more standard deviations from the mean) there are many more men than women.

Well, the standard deviation is typically 12-15 points, and so we see, e.g., that the German mean IQ is a half standard deviation greater than the British mean IQ. We could estimate the number of people of the various nationalities with IQs above, say, 150, and Germany, with its large population and its 107 mean IQ would dominate.

So, here is a testbed to check whether the idea supposed to explain difference in outcome between men and women in physics faculty jobs, applies elsewhere. E.g., Germany should probably easily dominate the Math Olympiad among the European nations.

The other amusing thought is that Professor Lubos Motl, who has a rather high measured IQ (158 or 165 or something, I don't remember, you can search his blog) and who is from the Czech Republic is probably unique there, but Motls are a dime a dozen in Germany.

PS: for instance, go to a normal distribution calculator like this one. For a mean (for Czechs) of 98, and standard deviation of 12, the fraction above 160 is 0.00000012 and the Czech Republic with 10.2 million people will have approximately one such person (more precisely, 1.224). In this example, 160 is 5.167 standard deviations above the Czech mean, but only 4.417 standard deviations above the German mean; Germany will have approx. 0.000005 * 82.4 million = 412 such people; on a per capita basis people with such IQs are 42 times more common in Germany than in the Czech Republic.

PPS: I should make it clear that I think IQ is mostly humbug.


CIP coined the word "stuplicity", the combination of stupidity and duplicity that characterizes the Republican party of today.

The Republican candidate for Congress in the 50th district in California, Howard Kaloogian posted the picture below with the accompanying text:

"We took this photo of dowtown [sic] Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it - in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism."

There are a lot of reasons to believe that the picture was taken in Turkey.
Proof conclusive is now available in the comments on this thread. The picture is from Bakirkoy, a suburb of Istanbul. "jem6x" found the picture on, from the portfolio of a photographer named Faruk. (Like jem6x, I too am hosting copies of the photos, not that traffic from my site is going strain anything.)


You can see the structure of glass and blue metal with a triangular roof, the billboard with the little girl, and the poster all along one wall of someone with sunglasses in both pictures.

BTW, I had asked on, soc.culture.turkish, whether anyone could identify the place, and there too, someone answered Bakirkoy.

All I can say is that if Kaloogian gets elected, he'll simply be one among many in the rascals and scoundrels in that august body known as the House of Representatives, and won't be outstanding in any way. I don't know why we are so stupid to tolerate such people in public life.

P.S.: the "2.NOTER" is Notary Public #2, and is likely to be "BAKIRKÖY 02, MERYEM SEVIL ÖZDEMIR", another find by a kossack.
(see Isn't the Internet amazing?

P.P.S: It is a staffer's fault.

P.P.P.S: He was for it before he was against it.


More spring flowers

I'm at home today, using up one of the carry-over vacation days from 2005 that expire on March 31. It is a very bright day, and the brilliancy of the colors gets washed out (and I'm not patient enough to figure it out). Anyway, here are the early blooms.





Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Interned among the Insane

There may be nothing worse than being a sane person, locked up with all the insane, and categorized as such. So, I must acknowledge some voices of sanity in the lunatic asylum called Pakistan. Here they are:

Munir Attaullah in the Daily Times.

That phenomenon known as “a policy failure” has never been admitted as part of our official history, for our leadership has always been blessed with “success”. As for placing by far the largest share of the blame for our many woes squarely where it belongs, who dares criticise an institution that promotes itself as the embodiment of the Pakistani ideal of manhood, believes itself to be the ultimate guarantor of our federation’s integrity and, as a clincher to silence any critic, can claim to have paid in blood while unflinchingly defending us from our enemies?

Kamran Shafi in the Daily Times:

While we should have been inured to the shenanigans of the military government by now, it having lorded it over us for far too long, it never ceases to amaze by going one better every succeeding time. If there were a prize for most U-turns on a matter of the greatest import in the shortest possible time, high in shamelessness to wit, it would go hands down to the unthinking, unfeeling, devil-may-care, military-led government of the Citadel of Islam.

Irfan Husain ("Mazdak") in Dawn:

Had it not been for 9/11 and the ongoing western operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan would have been relegated to the backwaters of the world, together with Myanmar, Somalia and Rwanda.

We dug ourselves into this hole, and we can climb out of it, provided we accept the fact that we are in a hole. The first obvious step is to understand that there is no place in today’s world for state-sponsored or even state-tolerated terrorism. The presence of thousands of armed men loosely organised under various fundamentalist and ethnic banners is unacceptable to the rest of the world, and should be unacceptable to us.

Musharraf must realise that words are not enough to combat this plague of mindless violence. His litany of ‘enlightened moderation’ must be matched with action, something that has long been missing from his agenda. .....

Far from providing a solution, he has now become a part of the problem.

Apostasy and Blasphemy

Continuing our study of America's foremost allies in the Global War On Terror:

This Amnesty International page on the death penalty laws in Saudi Arabia notes the following:
The absence of a debate on the death penalty cannot be attributed to Islam or Shari'a rules, because the works of Muslim jurists are full of interesting debates on crime and punishment, including the death penalty, which is reflected in the diversity of penal policies and practices in different Muslim countries. In Saudi Arabia, the fundamental reason for the absence of any debate on the death penalty is due to the threat of the imposition of the death penalty itself, in that anyone other than the state taking the initiative to start a debate risks being categorised as apostate or as ''corrupt on earth''. This is so because religion and politics are the ownership of the state. Dissent, be it religious or political, can easily be seen as ''corruption on earth'' or a deed harmful to the unity of the nation, and both of these acts can be categorized as capital offences. This is why Saudi Arabia has no political parties, trade unions or even a bar association. Given these factors, as well as the government's harsh penal policy, linked as closely as it is to religion, a debate on the death penalty in Saudi Arabia seems a distant aim.

I am told that a similar situation exists with regard to the blasphemy law in Pakistan. To criticize the law is to risk being guilty of blasphemy.

The Bamiyan Buddhas

Pakistani Daily Times

Swiss documentary on Afghanistan: Pakistani, Saudi engineers helped destroy Buddhas

By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: The Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan were destroyed by the Taliban with the help of Pakistani and Saudi engineers.

According to an account published here on Saturday, a local Afghan told the makers of a Swiss documentary on the giant statues which had stood there, carved in the side of a mountain for hundreds of years, had been destroyed by engineers from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The dynamiting of the statues took place in March 2001. Swiss documentary filmmaker Christian Frei, who has made several documentaries that have won praise at various international film festivals, shot ‘The Giant Buddhas’ in Afghanistan. The film is due to be shown at the National Gallery of Art in Washington on 26 March.

The Taliban went ahead with the destruction of the giant statues, revered for centuries, because they considered them “offensive to Islam”. They ignored appeals from around the world, including UNESCO and an appeal from the then Government of Pakistan, made, it would appear now, more “for the record” than any serious intent to stop the Islamist zealots from destroying what the rest of the world considered mankind’s heritage.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Ayaz Amir in Dawn

Rajan Parrikar pointed me to this Ayaz Amir piece in the Pakistani English daily, Dawn.

Some observations:

1. Many detractors of Islam would agree with Ayaz Amir that "moderate Islam" is a sham. It is not clear to me that he would welcome that agreement.

2. For a Pakistani whose reflections on 1971 are confined to regretting military rule, and who has never once said that Pakistan should not support murderous thugs in Afghanistan (e.g., Hekmatyar) complaining about American atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq is rich. As someone put it, Pakistan has killed more Muslims than anyone since Hulaku the Mongol sacked Baghdad.

3. Daily dishonesty provokes outrage, so says Ayaz Amir. Official Pakistan doublespeak has crossed such a point that it no longer provokes outrage in me; it is no longer dishonesty to me, it is the noise from a lunatic asylum.

4. One cannot but admire the courage and tenacity of the Taliban, the courage of their convictions, so says Ayaz Amir. Or, if one knows them to be lunatics, one can wonder at their pathology, so say I.

5. Taliban have self-respect, unlike the Pakistani establishment, which toadies to the US. Anyone is better than the Pakistani Establishment which thinks that all of Pakistan's problems are image problems.

In "A Matter of Honour", a history of the British Indian Army, Philip Mason touches upon the internal and external sense of honour that motivated the soldiers, and kept them going when things got tough. The modern Pakistani Establishment has lost all sense of internal honor. Honor which consists purely of what others might think of you simply promotes hypocrisy.

This concern with image and nothing else is why the Dictator General Musharraf accused Pakistani women of crying rape in order to get Canadian visas. (More accurately, they get themselves raped for this purpose. Namely
You must understand the environment in Pakistan. This has become a moneymaking concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.

6. Islam minus the theologians is a revolutionary faith. Islam is not opposed to learning and reason. I might agree with him, but I haven't witnessed Islam without the theologians. For instance, any objective person, who read the Quran and the Hadith, would agree that there is nothing like a theory of government in these works. If I were a true believer, I would believe that this means that Allah has not bound me to any particular form of government, I am free to choose. It is the entire weight of tradition that would pronounce me an apostate, for such an idea, however, and demand my life in payment.

As Leila Ahmed notes ("Women and Gender in Islam"):
Interpretation is of necessity part of every act of reading or inscribing a text....The role of interpretation in the preservation and inscription of the Quran is, however, suppressed in orthodox doctrine, and the belief that the text is precisely as Muhammad recited it is itself a tenet of orthodox faith. Similarly, to question whether the body of consecrated Islamic law does in fact represent the only possible legal interpretation of the Islamic vision
is surrounded by awesome interdictions. That its central texts do embody acts of interpretation is precisely what orthodoxy is most concerned to conceal and erase from the consciousness of Muslims.

So far I'd say, if this were a game, is theologians, 100, Muslims 0. "Awesome interdictions" is an understatement. Islam may be revolutionary, but is not revolutionary enough to shed its theologians.

7. Al Qaeda strives to achieve a response to the excesses and double standards of American foreign policy in relation to the world of Islam; we can quibble about the appropriateness of their tactics, so says Ayaz Amir. The problem, which Ayaz Amir fails to acknowledge, that the means and the ends are not separable. The wrong means does taint and pervert the end. Ultimately, Americans are responsible for what they do, and Al Qaeda is responsible for what it does, and "you made me do it" is a child's excuse. (Yes, that applies to you too, President Bush!).

8. Finally, a Pakistan-watcher suggested to me that Musharraf trashed Ayaz Amir in some news conference, Ayaz Amir being part of the opposition, and this Taliban-admiration is part of Ayaz Amir's positioning himself for the next political battle (I hesitate to call it elections.) I.e., one cannot be sure of whether Ayaz Amir means all that he says.

More on indebtedness

From my previous post you can establish that today, the US Federal Government debt, on a per person basis, roughly 70% of the average personal income.

The Federal debt amounts to 8.35 trillion dollars.

From this Federal Reserve page, you can establish that household debt payments (both mortgage and non-mortgage) consume almost 14% of disposable personal income and the total debt exceeds 10.0 trillion dollars. This amount of debt is larger than the Federal debt and is no doubt at a higher interest rate, but it should be clear that a non-trivial portion of one's income before and after taxes is going to service indebtedness of various sorts.

Anyway, personal debt is running at more than 80% of annual income.

I should be able to find state and municipal debt on the previous links, but somehow am missing it. Here is another link. From it you can establish in 2002, the US state and municipal debt amounted to 1.4 trillion dollars, a pittance compared to personal and Federal government debt. It amounts to roughly 12% of personal income.

Thus, today, the debt that an American bears in amount is somewhat more than a year and a half of personal income.

The saving grace is that US debt is in US currency. Just for a rough comparison, Argentina had $120 billion of external debt when it ran into trouble in the 90s, when the economy (GDP) was roughly $180 billion (my guesstimates), or a debt of two-thirds of national income. I cannot repeat the per capita indebtness estimate for Argentina; I wouldn't know where from to get the data. The Argentines had to delink their currency from the dollar and devalue the currency, or else see dollar flight from the country and go into default. Presumably the US can inflate its way out of debt, but at the cost of future investor confidence.

The Burgeoning National Debt

If being in debt is healthy, then there is cause for celebration, each man, woman and child carries an obligation of $28,000 on behalf of the Federal Government. State, municipal and personal debt is extra.

Daylan Darby has the numbers - not adjusted for inflation, the per capita debt has risen a thousand-fold since 1901.

According to this link,
in 1901 the nominal GDP per head was $288, so the per capita debt was 10% of the average annual income. In 2004, the per capita nominal GDP was $40,000, and so the debt per person is now 70% of the average annual income. (I know, I'm mixing up GDP and GNP. But the numbers are stark, and there is no need to get more precise than this.)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sarah Chayes on Afghanistan

This Sarah Chayes article is a must-read.

I'm excerpting a few of the most stunning paragraphs below.

The steadily worsening situation in southern Afghanistan is not the work of some ineffable Al Qaeda nebula. It is the result of the real depredations of the corrupt and predatory government officials whom the United States ushered into power in 2001, supposedly to help fight Al Qaeda, and has assiduously maintained in power since, along with an "insurgency" manufactured whole cloth across the border in Pakistan--a U.S. ally. The evidence of this connection is abundant: Taliban leaders strut openly around Quetta, Pakistan, where they are provided with offices and government-issued weapons authorization cards; Pakistani army officers are detailed to Taliban training camps; and Pakistani border guards constantly wave self-proclaimed Taliban through checkpoints into Afghanistan.

But beleaguered Afghans have a hard time getting U.S. political and military officials to focus on these two factors, which feed on each other. U.S. personnel cling to the fictions that Afghans are responsible for the local officials who rule over them--despite the overwhelming moral and material support the United States has provided these officials--and that the Pakistani government is cooperating in the war on terror. And so the Afghan villagers, frightened, vulnerable, and disillusioned, are obliged to come to terms with the "fairies who come at night."

This state of affairs is so bewildering that Kandaharis have reached an astonishing conclusion: The United States must be in league with the Taliban. They reason that America, with its power and riches, could bring an end to the "insurgency" in a month, if it so chose. They figure that America remains a close and munificent ally of Pakistan, the country that is sponsoring the "insurgency," and so the continuing violence must be a deliberate element of U.S. policy. The point is not whether there is any factual basis for this notion, it's that everyone here believes it. In other words, in a stunning irony, much of this city, the Taliban's former stronghold, is disgusted with the Americans not because of their Western culture, but because of their apparent complicity with Islamist extremists.

Most Americans tend to think of Musharraf as the bulwark against the Islamist tide in Pakistan. Actually, he and the whole Pakistani military apparatus, are part of the problem. The military is a leech on Pakistani society. It is like a city fire department that promotes arson to justify its existence; it has deposed the mayor and the town council, and it zones land to its own convenience - Pakistan still has on its books an old colonial-era law regarding land allotment that was used to encourage recruitment to the British army, and the Pakistani army takes full advantage of that. As kgoan on put it:

You want a real "nightmare" scenario for the Pak Army? Okay, here's one:

Musharraf goes nuts and passes a rule that from now on that forbids any General from owning agricultural land, limits the sale of plots to officers, and prohibits all officers from selling the plots they already own except to sell them back to the Pak Army's Agriculture Division.

*Now* you'll have an instantaneous revolution. Guaranteed.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Gardening start

Today did my first work in the garden this year. The ground seemed dry.

A look at the NJ State pageCoastal North Drought Region is reassuring in that stream flow and and reservoirs are normal; but the precipitation is in the "moderately dry" range, which is not good for the garden or lawn.

Surely global warming can oblige and help to deposit a few more inches of rain?

Oil in your breakfast.

This essay by Chad Heeter tries to do an energy budget for what seems to be a simple breakfast.

According to researchers at the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Agriculture, an average of over seven calories of fossil fuel is burned up for every calorie of energy we get from our food.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Executive compensation

Paul Krugman in today's NYT:

Forbes tells us that the compensation of chief executives at the 500 largest corporations rose 54 percent in 2004. In effect, Bill Gates walked into the bar. Average income rose, but only because of rising incomes at the top.

Speaking of executive compensation, Mr. Snow, it hurts your credibility when you say, as you did in a recent interview, that soaring pay for top executives reflects their productivity and that we should "trust the marketplace." Executive pay isn't set in the marketplace; it's set by boards that the executives themselves appoint. And executives' pay often bears little relationship to their performance.

You yourself, as you must know, are often cited as an example. When you were appointed to your present job, Forbes pointed out that the performance of the company you had run, CSX, was "middling at best." Nonetheless, you were "by far the highest-paid chief in the industry."

Krugman says that the economic situation today is as though the wealthiest of ten men at a bar walks out and Bill Gates walks in. The average income and wealth has greatly increased, but the nine haven't seen any change in their situation.

Why did I post this? I don't believe the US is anywhere near a free-market economy, as you may have gathered from previous posts; it wouldn't be so easy to find counter-examples otherwise.

Is the above about chief executive pay some kind of liberal/leftist handwringing?

From a March 6 news-item I found only in google cache:

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman Warren Buffett used his latest annual letter to shareholders to blast excessive executive pay, a ballooning U.S. trade deficit and rising fees for professional money managers.

"Too often executive compensation in the U.S. is ridiculously out of line with performance," said Buffett in his 2005 letter.

Buffett said the problem lies in the way executive compensation is decided.

"Huge severance payments, lavish perks and outsized payments for ho-hum performance often occur because comp committees have become slaves to comparative data."

Buffett said compensation committee members are bombarded with pay statistics and told about new perks that other managers are receiving.

"In this manner, outlandish 'goodies' are showered upon CEOs simply because of a corporate version of the argument we all use as children: 'But, Mom, all the other kids have one.'"

PS: Is there an Efficient Market in CEO Compensation?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

To avert Global Warming

NPR:Fresh Air:Terry Gross:Tim Flannery - caught a bit of the interview. The amount of greehouse gases we've put into the atmosphere should be causing a lot more warming than is observed. What is masking it?

1. After 9/11, all commercial airplanes were grounded for two days over the US, and climatologists had a unique chance to study the effect of airplane con-trails on the weather (if not climate). Well, we are told that the surface temperature rose by 2 degrees. Apparently, airplane exhaust helps seed cirrus clouds, which reflect sunlight and reduce the effect of the carbon dioxide we've put into the atmosphere.

2. The dirty coal burned by China produces a lot of sulphur dioxide and particulate matter that also serves to mask the warming. As China deploys cleaner coal-burning technology, (for reasons of the respiratory health of its population, if nothing else), the masking effect will go away.

So, to mitigate global warming it seems you should try to max. your frequent flier miles, and burn poor quality coal in your fireplace. :)

On the other hand, aluminum foil is a good reflector. Maybe if we wrap all the GW-deniers in foil, that'd work too!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Central Asian Slave Traffic

From Mahmud of Ghazni till the eighteenth century, the conquerors of India exported large number of slaves to the Central Asian slave bazaars. Funny how we've forgotten it. You can read Scott Levi's introductory paper; and perhaps you'll wonder like me if we've forgotten history because we're fatalistic or because we're always looking forward, letting bygones be bygones.


As I mentioned previously the colored powders have uses other than decorating each other, as on Holi. This kind of temporary painting on the floor is also great fun (I now know thanks to my niece). This one was done sort of unplanned, freehand; it just grew from the center, till everyone agreed that it was done.


(Scale - the floor tiles are a square foot each).

The picture does not do justice to the candles, but the camera can capture either the candlelight or the colors. Some Photoshop mangling of another picture gives this:


Further links on rangoli, here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Indian Supreme Court declines cartoon case


NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a writ petition seeking criminal prosecution of Uttar Pradesh Minister Haji Yaqoob Qureshi who announced a reward of Rs 510 billion to anyone who beheads the Danish cartoonist who caricatured Prophet Mohammad.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and judges A.R. Lakshmanan and C.K. Thakker while dismissing the petition filed by V.K. Tiwari asked him to file a criminal complaint against the minister in the concerned district court.

Counsel said a complaint could not be registered because the petitioner was told that unless the aggrieved party filed the complaint it could not be registered.

The bench said the statement made by Qureshi last month was unfortunate but "this is not a case which calls for our examination".


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Why Wall Street Hates Auctions

Those of you with a NYT subscription can read Joe Nocera's Open and Fair: Why Wall Street Hates Auctions for yourself.

My interest is in pointing out the fact that if the auction method for initial public offerings, which is just getting off the ground, is free market, then the old way was not:

...a big firm rounds up the usual suspects (institutional investors), conducts a splashy road show, sets a too-low price that will ensure a big first-day "pop" in the stock, prevents anyone but its Wall Street friends from participating, and then charges the company going public an exorbitant 7 percent fee.

Nocera notes:

The purpose of an initial public offering has never been to enrich big, powerful investors with a guaranteed one-day profit....The purpose of an offering is to raise as much capital as possible for the company, capital it can use to hire employees and roll out products. When an issue is underpriced, it means the underwriter has hurt the company that has hired it. And when an issue is purposely underpriced, it means that the underwriter is taking care of Wall Street instead of its client.

(Remember that the company going public gets only the initial offering price that it sold its stock for, and unless it issues more stock, gets nothing from the first day "pop").

The auction doesn't involve any new technology. It is a different business process. It is better for the company going public than the traditional method. It faces strong resistance from Wall Street insiders (obviously). It mostly has not been practiced. I'l guess that auctions are feasible now, because companies are less vulnerable to the lack of goodwill on Wall Street (there are more players and more sources of the other services). But chalk up one more for non-price barriers to market entry.

"Free market economy" - hahahahahaha! More of a myth than God in Heaven! The core of capitalism consists of, and has consisted of, for the longest time, cronyists and insiders.

A question for the future is - why are we so assiduously sold this myth?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Art of Sudarshan Patnaik-2

Traditional themes:

11. Ganesh


12. Hanuman, showing Rama, Sita in his heart.


13. Durga




14. Saraswati


The Art of Sudarshan Patnaik-1

Here are the news-photographs that I've been able to collect of the work of Sudarshan Patnaik, Sand Sculptor Extraordinaire.
They are not in chronological order.

1. After the Asian tsunami.


2. After 9/11. Some idiots thought that the artist was celebrating 9/11, hence the on the photograph. I haven't been able to find another source for the photograph though.


3. After the Kashmir earthquake.


4. After the stories of Abu Ghraib prison hit the news.




5. HIV/AIDS awareness day.


6. The 2004 Olympics.



7. Osama bin Laden


8. Pope John Paul II


9. Castles of the World


10. Taj Mahal, in Houston, TX


Friday, March 17, 2006

The one that got away?

Desi, at miaculpa, has a regular feature called "Caption this", in which she invites readers to provide a caption to a news-photo. I don't know if she realizes that the sequence of photos over the past several months have a story to tell. Here it is, laid out for you. I should really have tried to put comic-strip borders and so on, but I don't know how.

Caption this!


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Dying in Saudi Arabia

The maximum amount of Death Compensation (Diyya) generally admissible in Saudi Arabia, in respect of road/traffic/fire accident, murder, etc. is as under:

Death Compensation in respect of a male person:

i. Muslim - SR. 100,000/-
ii. Christian/Jew - SR.50,000/-
iii. Other religions : such as Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, etc. - SR 6666.66

In the case of death of a female, death compensation allowed is equal to half the amount as admissible to males professing the same religion. Further the amount of compensation admissible, is based on the percentage of responsibility fixed on the causer e.g. if the causer is held 50% responsible for the accident resulting in the death of a Muslim, the amount of Death Compensation admissible will be SR 50,000 only.

I wonder if death-bed conversion is possible in emergencies.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Happy Holi!

Today is Holi!


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sandra Day O'Connor speaks

Sandra Day O'Connor, a Republican-appointed judge who retired last month after 24 years on the supreme court, has said the US is in danger of edging towards dictatorship if the party's rightwingers continue to attack the judiciary.

I think we should take her seriously.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Sunil's panegyric to mangoscauses me to post this photograph from a few weeks ago, of a mango tree, peeking above the second storey roof of my parents' home.


Barriers to market entry

Please note, I do not use any of the products mentioned below. So my interest is purely academic. They are interesting because they show non-price barriers to market entry and increase my suspicion that our so-called free-market is something of a myth.

The first of these is rabbit, and then, thinking about rabbit, I remembered something I had read about hard cider (fermented, alcohol-bearing apple juice). Both readings are presented below. In both cases, it seems to me that there are barriers to market entry for these products created by government regulation. Not that Americans would be swilling cider over fried rabbit in case these barriers did not exist. It is just that myths whether they be religious or economic, need to be examined critically.

In the New York Times magazine, Randy Kennedy (The Way We Eat) extols the culinary virtues of rabbit, and laments that it is extremely hard to find fresh rabbit for sale. Why is this so?

The short answer is that modern Americans - except maybe during World War II, when rabbit was sold cheaply because of food shortages - have never fully accepted Orcytolagus cuniculus as food. Perhaps as a result, Congress doesn't mandate inspection of rabbits. If they want a voluntary federal inspection, processors must pay, which pushes prices up. And since many stores won't carry non-U.S.D.A.-approved meat, rabbit is harder to find.

What I read about hard cider was long ago, when a fellow graduate student extolled its virtues to me. IMO, cider, unlike beer or coffee, is not an acquired taste. No chance of me finding that write-up again. Google however is helpful, and confirms most of my recollections. America had a long history of cider drinking. It has gone from being a daily drink to being a niche product. Apparently, the reasons are quite complex, according to this excellent essay. Nevertheless, barriers were put on cider as compared to beer, post-Prohibition.

Another curious factor seems to have been added to the mystery early in the century, however. Evidence exists that the beer industry, keeping a wary eye on its once formidable rival, perhaps aware of the fact that cider continued to rival beer consumption in England and Canada, bought up what little remained of the cider industry. And as if this wasn't enough, in the Federal alcohol regulations of 19?? [sic], for unexplained reasons, cider was expressly prohibited for sale if it contained any added preservatives. What made this suspiciously noteworthy is that wine and beer were not subject to the same restrictions. They could continue to be sold across state lines even though they contained sulfites and other preservatives. Only cider was so restricted. The result, of course, was to forestall the redevelopment of any cider industry. This explains why today cider can be sold at farm stands but that there is only a tiny cider industry which is just now trying to become national. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the beer industry did its part to make sure that cider would never again become America's favorite low alcohol drink.

I have a vague memory of reading about discriminatory taxes against cider in many states as well, but that might just be my memory playing tricks on me.

With the apple-juice industry in the US facing increased international competition, some are looking to revive cider production.

PS: a little more search found me this.

(This article appears in the April 1996 issue of the Wine Business Monthly.)
Washington Recognizes Hard Cider Category

Washington state is among the first to place hard cider in a lower excise tax category, similar to the rate charged for beer. E. & J. Gallo was behind the new law, which includes pear hard cider.

From 1997
American cider producers won a significant tax break in legislation recently passed and signed into law. Currently, cider from large producers is taxed at a rate comparable to luxury drinks like champagne although it has half the alcoholic content. Ciders are, however, most often marketed alongside craft-brewed beers in quality taverns and alehouses. The bill gives relief to apple growers and cider producers by reducing the federal excise tax from $1.07 per gallon to 22.6 cents per gallon -- the same rate as microbrewed beer.

So perhaps my memory is not so off the mark.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The First Flowers of Spring


This was how it was just a month ago!


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Musing on the free market

According to an article in yesterday's New York Times, contamination by salmonella of the chicken produced by the nation's meat processors is on the rise. If not killed by careful cooking or if it contaminates some other food during the cooking process, it can cause mild to severe gastrointestinal distress, and is dangerous to those in poor health.

Contamination declined during the 90s, but after a federal agency tried to shut down a producer for persistent problems and was taken to court and lost, contamination is on the rise - some 16% of all chicken sold has salmonella.

My question is - Why isn't the market taking care of this problem? Presumably being salmonella-free involves extra costs and does not give the producer sufficient competitive advantage. Only government regulation can force all producers to shoulder these costs and only government enforcement can make sure the producers do not cheat.

Perhaps the problem is the fact of salmonella contamination is not easy for a consumer to discern, and the market works onl with the available information. I can imagine a chicken producer labelling the product to be "Tested to be free of salmonella", but perhaps the cost of doing the testing versus the perceived benefit is not there. Is it waiting for better technology or for more demanding consumers?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Resistance is futile

When non-Muslims see the life of Islam and see the love and affection it teaches," he said, "they automatically become Muslims. But if non-Muslims say, ‘No, we won't live with you or allow you to spread Islam,' then fighting is the last resort for a good Muslim with the help of Allah."


Health care

Figures are supposed to speak for themselves.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Bush's achievement

Today on NPR what's-her-name asked their commentator (Doyle McManus(?)) about the US-India nuclear deal recently completed during Bush's visit to India, and that no such deal is in the works with Pakistan. The commentator said to the effect - Bush is saying that it is OK for a non-Muslim country to have nuclear weapons and not OK for a Muslim country to have nuclear weapons.

The commentator reveals an old and tired attitude, which dates back to colonial days, when the British equated the Muslim League with the Indian National Congress (more on that later) and continued post-Independence where India and Pakistan were constantly bracketed together like siblings. It also points to another old, tired attitude, where in order to win points with the Muslim world, the Muslim League or later, Pakistan would be given some concession, entirely unreasonable from the South Asian perspective.

Bush said in Pakistan:
I explained that Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories. So as we proceed forward, our strategy will take in effect these well-known differences.

Whatever the actual merits of the nuclear deal (I do not know enough to weigh in) and whether the politically weak administration (approval ratings at 34%) can push the deal through Congress against the non-proliferation ayatollahs, this break with the past has to be counted among Bush's achievements. It shows he is not entirely within his private bubble world. Much as I dislike Bush, I have to grant him that.

The NPR commentator should note that India is not a non-Muslim country, it has as many if not more Muslims than Pakistan. India's heartbeat, however, is secular. The commentator would also do well to distinguish between a Muslim country and a country with an Islamic form of government. E.g., Turkey is Muslim country with a secular government. Iran is a Muslim country with an extremist Islamic government, and Pakistan is a Muslim country ostensibly following an Islamic path of "enlightened moderation".

Saturday, March 04, 2006

UnAmerican activities

Via ennis on -

Believe it or not - trying to pay off your debt in a hurry is an unAmerican Terrorist Activity and gets you in trouble with the Department of Homeland Security.

See this Scripps Howard newsitem. The Soehnges decided to pay down some debt on their credit card.

They paid down some debt. The balance on their JCPenney Platinum MasterCard had gotten to an unhealthy level. So they sent in a large payment, a check for $6,522.

After sending in the check, they checked online to see if their account had been duly credited. They learned that the check had arrived, but the amount available for credit on their account hadn't changed.

So Deana Soehnge called the credit-card company. Then Walter called.

"When you mess with my money, I want to know why," he said.

They both learned the same astounding piece of information about the little things that can set the threat sensors to beeping and blinking.

They were told, as they moved up the managerial ladder at the call center, that the amount they had sent in was much larger than their normal monthly payment. And if the increase hits a certain percentage higher than that normal payment, Homeland Security has to be notified. And the money doesn't move until the threat alert is lifted.

When the Federal Government is $7 trillion in debt, one must do one's patriotic duty and follow its example.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Sorry, this blog also serves as a scrapbook for me. The following is not very edifying.

Thomas Babington Macaulay,
From a speech made to the House of Commons, March 9, 1843

...His Majesty is the ruler of a larger heathen population than the world ever saw collected under the sceptre of a Chriistian sovereign since the days of the Emperor Theodosius. What the conduct of rulers in such circumstances ought to be is one of the most imortant moral questions, one of the most important political questions, that it is possible to conceive.

There are subject to the British rule in Asia a hundred millions of people who do not profess the Christian faith. The Mahometans are a minority: but their importance is much more proportioned to their number: for they are an united, a zealous, an ambitious, a warlike class.

The great majority of the population of India consists of idolaters, blindly attached to doctrines and rites which, considered merely with reference to the temporal interests of mankind, are in the highest degree pernicious. In no part of the world has a religion ever existed more unfavourable to the moral and intellectual health of our race. The Brahminical mythology is so absurd that it necessarily debases every mind which receives it as truth; and with this absurd mythology is bound up an absurd system of physics, an absurd geography, an absurd astronomy.

Nor is this form of Paganism more favourable to art than to science. Through the whole Hindoo Pantheon you will look in vain for anything resembling those beautiful and majestic forms which stood in the shrines of ancient Greece. All is hideous, and grotesque and ignoble. As this superstitition is of all superstititions the most irrational, and of all superstitions the most inelegant, so is it of all superstitions the most immoral. Enblems of vice are objects of public worship. The courtesans are as much a part of the establishment of the temple, as much ministers of the god, as the priests. Crimes against life, crimes against property, are not only permitted but enjoined by this odious theology. But for our interference human victims would still be offered to the Ganges, and the widow would still be laid on the pile of the corpse of her husband, and burned alive by her own children. It is by the command and under the especial protection of one of the most powerful goddesses that the Thugs join themselves to the unsuspecting traveller, make friends with him, slip the noose round his neck, plunge their knives in his eyes, hide him in the earth, and divide his money and baggage. I have read many examinations of Thugs; and I particularly remember an altercation which took place between two of those wretches in the presence of an English officer. One Thug reproached the other for having been so irreligious as to spare the life of a traveller when the omens indicated that their patroness required a victim. "How could you let him go? How can you expect the goddess to protect us if you disobey her commands? That is one of your North country heresies."


Found the following on the IndianCivilization yahoo egroup.

The significance is that in the Standard Model of Indian history, civilization in India begins with Mehrgarh, which is to the west of the Indus, and the Gangetic plains civilization only started much later.

Do you know that Uttar Pradesh site of Chopanimando has a pottery earlier than Mehrgarh?

Yes. Chopanimando, located at the Belan river, near confluence of Ganga and Yamuna in its phase of "Advanced Mesolithic" presents "dull red and brown grey wares" (Fuller 2005: 330) at the level also called Chopanimando III (see also Pal 1986). Fragments of this pottery were dated 8080 +- 115 BC with wild rice grains impression (Sharma et al. 1980).

This means that Chopanimando's pottery is more than 2500 years older than Mehrgarh's pottery which starts around 5500 BC.

This comes to support other early pottery dates at UP, like Lahuradewa of 6200 BC, and sites like Baghai Khor, Lekhahi III-IV,
Ghagharia, and Morahana Pahar (Fuller, Ibid.).

Dorian Fuller recognized this antiquity also in a personal communication: " other areas like Lahuradewa ceramics have
thousands of years of earlier history, which is also suggested by Chopanimando..." (pers. com. e-mail 22-Feb-2005).

Carlos Aramayo
La Paz

2009-06-18: Please note Carlos Aramayo's correction in the comments.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Not by bread alone

Stopped at the grocery to get some bread. But man doesn't live by bread alone. So the purchases expanded to biscotti (almond orange), double-churned chocolate ice-cream, and an assortment of muffins (chocolate chip, lemon-poppy, pistachio-walnut, cranberry-something).

Hey, it might snow enough tomorrow that shovelling the drive will work all of it off. :-)