Friday, April 30, 2010

America's broken policy machine

Via Infoworld, you can get to Lawrence Lessig's excellent presentation on America's broadband policy, internet security policy and copyright laws. They highlight a broken system.

Do watch the presentation, at (You have a choice of formats.)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Beethoven's Sonata no. 17 - continued

Here is a 1934 recording by Arthur Schnabel of the third movement:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is Cell Phone Radiation Hazardous?

Christopher Ketcham, in GQ, answers in the affirmative.
The public should know if they are taking a risk with cell phones. What we're doing is a grand world experiment without informed consent.

Should he prove to be correct, the product liability lawsuits will be enormous.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Deep Homologies

One of the most fascinating things I've read in a while: A group of five genes are involved in growing blood vessels in humans. The same group of five genes work in yeast cells to fix cell walls. The NYT explains
A trait like an arm is encoded in many genes, which cooperate with one another to build it. Some genes produce proteins that physically join together to do a job. In other cases, a protein encoded by one gene is required to switch on other genes.

It turns out that clusters of these genes — sometimes called modules — tend to keep working together over the course of millions of years. But they get rewired along the way. They respond to new signals, and act to help build new traits.

Homology refers to structural similarities of organisms - e.g., bats and humans have limbs with five digits. The reuse of genetic structure is termed "deep homology".

Another example:
Neurons communicate with each other by forming connections called synapses. The neurons use a network of genes to build a complete scaffolding to support the synapse. In February, Alexandre Alié and Michael Manuel of the National Center for Scientific Research in France reported finding 13 of these scaffold-building genes in single-celled relatives of animals known as choanoflagellates.

We are built from these versatile building blocks that take on different functions depending on context. It is this very property that lies at the heart of why evolution is possible.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cheap Wind Power

On dailykos, Jerome a Paris tells us
Bloomberg has a somewhat confusing article about the newest complaint about wind power, but the gist of it is that wind power is an issue for the industry because it brings their revenues down.....

The key thing here is that we are beginning to unveil what I've labelled the dirty secret of wind: utilities don't like wind not because it's not competitive, but because it brings prices down for their existing assets, thus lowering their revenues and their profits. ....

As I've noted many times, the energy sector is one of the best examples of how the financialisation of the economy has brought results that are bad for everybody except the investment bankers and top management; it's also, thankfully, one where reality can most objectively re-assert itself.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Better than the iPhone!

(Via AKG)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

India's 1.2 million elected women - continued

Following up: we are informed by Matthew Yglesias:
MIT’s Esther Duflo has won this year’s John Bates Clark Medal, the most prestigious award around for young economists. I don’t believe this is the main focus of her research, but I think her 2008 paper “Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias?” (PDF) is interesting and accessible.

The paper is about the vast social experiment that is going on in the Indian village panchayats. Being exposed to women in leadership positions changes attitudes.
These changes in attitude are electorally meaningful: after 10 years of the quota policy, women are more likely to stand for and win free seats in villages that have been continuously required to have a female chief councillor.

Friday, April 23, 2010


CIP : I'm not a fan, but for those who want a first hand look at his thinking, you could look here at what he calls his intellectual autobiography. It's the usual sad story: boy meets Ayn Rand, mostly downhill from there.

Read this today

Prof. Brad DeLong.
We aren't independent liberal individuals making a social contract in the rational light of Enlightenment Reason. Instead, we are heirs who have received an enormous inheritance from our predecessors. As Burke wrote, we:
claim and assert our liberties as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity--as an estate specially belonging to the people.
It's not a contract, or if it is a contract it is not one just between those alive today. Again, as Burke puts it, if you are to think of a social contract you have to recognize that it is not:
a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico, or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties.... It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.
But estates that are inherited come not only with assets, they also come encumbered with debts. If we are to be Americans--if we are to take up the wonderul unmerited gift, accept the marvelous entailed inheritance that is offered to us--we must take up not just the benefits and advantages, but also the debts that America owes from its past actions as well.

Beauty in Sorrow

Composed by the last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar II, exiled to Rangoon by the British. Rendered by Mohammed Rafi. Rough translation on this page.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Beethoven's Sonata no. 17 - continued

Here is Daniel Barenboim playing Beethoven's Sonata #17.

First movement:

Second movement (sigh, broken at the end, and continued in part 3)

Third movement:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bhangra Blowout - Year 17

Attended Bhangra Blowout #17 with a Canon 5D and a 135mm f/2. In retrospect, I should have carried the 85mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.2 as well. The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 would have been too slow. Was seated right up front, the second row—but to one side of the stage. The stage was at shoulder height. The floor lights often shone directly into the camera. The left edge of the view was cut off by a large loudspeaker, which intrudes into some of the shots below.  Sometimes I could stand on a seat in the corner, gaining elevation but losing a frontal view. 

  Bhangra Blowout was loud, energetic, colorful, and everyone had great fun!

There was a young lady photographer there with a pair of cameras, one of which had a 85mm f/1.8; and she had considerably more mobility.
If perchance she visits this page, and leaves a URL to her photographs in the comments, that would be a great bonus.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


A very bigoted post is making the rounds - I mention it here to make an essential correction.


Two blind persons wanted to drink water at the Ragi Gudda temple, Bangalore.

When they were unable to operate the tap, this mother monkey opened the tap for them, allowed them to drink water, drank some water herself and then closed the tap before leaving the scene.

Prajavani Kishorekumar Bolar's photograph

PS: Do share this pic with your friends. It is proof that humanity does exist - even if we humans have forgotten it ourselves.

In my opinion, terming the quality exhibited by the monkey "humanity" is bigotry of a high order. And to associate with Homo Sapiens at large the quality of kindness is to fly in the face of the evidence.

I hope that the animals are never banished from the Hindu temples.

PS: Ragi Gudda is a Hanuman temple.

PPS: The Deccan Herald carried a photo from a few moments before or after the one above.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Beethoven's Sonata no. 17 - continued

Here is an interpretation by Sviatoslav Richter.
First movement:

Second movement:

Third movement:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Beethoven's Sonata no. 17

I have no understanding of music except knowing what I like. I can't give any commentary except that this music is part of my soul, if there is such a thing.

Here is a performance by Wilhelm Kempff.
First movement:

Second movement:

Third movement:

And here is the third movement as played by Glenn Gould, insanely fast but very clear.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

India's media war against Pakistan

Supposedly Indian soap operas are aimed at corrupting Pakistan's children and women.
Hindi/Urdu only - but the message is that women neglect their housework to watch Indian soaps on the Star Plus channel. {Star Plus is owned by Rupert Murdoch.} Children learn of family problems, including fights with the inlaws, extramarital affairs, and so on at an early and impressionable age. By seeing Hindus so often, the "nafrat" (hatred) that Pakistanis have for Hindus will be reduced. These are matters of grave concern and so the government should take action. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had after all said that India will wage a media war against Pakistan.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Obama Youtube

Watch this.

(via Andrew Sullivan)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

QOTD - from the land of A.Q. Khan

Terrorists do not need nuclear weapons, especially since their aim is not to conquer territory but to win over people - which they cannot do if they have killed or radiated them.

That was Shireen M Mazari in The Nation, Pakistan.

Who is Shireen Mazari? Wiki to the rescue. Also known as Madame Jalebi, but only on the Bharat Rakshak Forum. (Aside: with the stellar display of American morons such as John Yoo and Douglas Feith over the last decade, and then with Mazari and her ilk, it is getting to be where one would not want to admit to having a degree from an American university — especially the Ivy League; looks like they let just about anyone graduate! )

Please all, do remember, the 9/11 hijackers were here to win over the American people; and the 26/11 attackers of Mumbai, well, they were indulging in a unique form of public relations.

And America keeps feeding Mazari's nation with money and arms!?! There is not a peep about this from the Tea Partying anti-tax anti-deficit libertarian morons - just when they could actually do something useful and try to stop this nonsense.

The Pope should abdicate

Third strike, and he's out.  If only for the good of the Universal Church, in whose name he actively covered for priests who had abused children.

PS: This post is scheduled on April 10 for April 15. Let's see if the Pope resigns by then.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

1.2 million elected women in India

India has 1.2 million women elected to office - primarily in the village panchayats.

Beena Devi is one of many. More precisely, she is one of 1.2 million. That's the number of elected women representatives in rural India, the largest anywhere in the world.

It's not just about numbers. Village women appear to be genuinely empowered by election to panchayats. Or so says the first AC Nielsen-ORG Marg study commissioned by the ministry of Panchayati Raj. The study has found that 15 years after the 73rd Amendment Act of the Constitution reserved one-third of all panchayat seats for women, they are a force to reckon with. Even more encouraging, it found that they have emerged from the shadows of their male patrons.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Opposition for the sake of opposition

From a few days ago, but still gold (video)
The Daily Show's Jon Stewart attacked Fox News and Sarah Palin for ignoring the facts about President Obama's nuclear treaty with Russia. Stewart reminded them that President Reagan had also called for a one-third reduction in nuclear arms, and spoke of a world without nukes.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mullah Zaeef: My Life with the Taliban

Here is Chinmaya R. Gharekhan's review in Outlook India of Taliban Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef's My Life with the Taliban.

Of current relevance:
Tripartite talks between Afghanistan, US and Pakistan were sabotaged by Pakistan, he says. He told the American ambassador more than once that he should contact him directly. “Pakistan is never an honest mediator and will control and manipulate any talk they mediate or participate in,” Zaeef told him.
There is a much harsher characterization of Pakistan found in the review that I do not reproduce here. It is probably a bit of Pot, Kettle, Black.

PS: An example of Pakistani duplicity in the WaPo
The recent capture of the Afghan Taliban's second in command seemed to signal a turning point in Pakistan, an indication that its intelligence agency had gone from helping to cracking down on the militant Islamist group.

But U.S. officials now believe that even as Pakistan's security forces worked with their American counterparts to detain Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and other insurgents, the country's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, quietly freed at least two senior Afghan Taliban figures it had captured on its own.

U.S. military and intelligence officials said the releases, detected by American spy agencies but not publicly disclosed, are evidence that parts of Pakistan's security establishment continue to support the Afghan Taliban.

And speaking of liberty...

Prof. DeLong :
It seems to me that the right analogy to draw is between Arnold Kling, Jacob Hornberger, and company—claiming that 1880s America's political-economic order was preferable to the present—and people like the English Marxist E.P. Thompson, maintaining in 1973 that the Soviet Union was still the Hope of Humanity and the Wave of the Future...

Kling, Hornberger, et. al., neglect the 1880s existence of segregration, few rights for women, and the wars against America's native people, just as Thompson neglected the gulags and forced famines of the Soviet Union.
I think it is fair to say that E.P. Thompson, in 1973, did not really care about the victims of GULAGs and terror-famines. He did not really see them. They were not really real to him--the actual people were much less really real to him than the ideological vision. The victims of the GULAGs and the terror-famines were hidden, for him, behind the shining blaze of cultish ideology.

And so I think that it is fair, today, to say that Kling, Hornberger, and company do not really care about women and African-Americans. They do not really see them. They are not really real to them—the actual people are much less real to them than the ideological vision. Women and African-Americans are hidden, for them, behind the shining blaze of cultish ideology.

Same disease. Same judgment.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Locking up innocents in order to make war

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”.

General Powell, who left the Bush Administration in 2005, angry about the misinformation that he unwittingly gave the world when he made the case for the invasion of Iraq at the UN, is understood to have backed Colonel Wilkerson’s declaration.— The Times, London

Can the US of A be dragged any lower?

Meanwhile, in our bastion of liberty...

I had no idea that the MIT economics visiting committee tried to force Samuelson to call off the publication of his 1948 textbook, on the grounds that Keynesian economics was too left-wing — Paul Krugman

Good news from Bihar

The New York Times reports good news from one of India's most backward states, Bihar.
So when Bihar announced earlier this year that it had notched an 11 percent average growth rate for the last five years, making it the second fastest-growing economy in the country, the news was greeted as a sign that even India’s most intractable corners of backwardness and misery were being transformed. 
Bihar’s turnaround illustrates how a handful of seemingly small changes can yield big results in India’s most impoverished and badly governed regions. It also demonstrates how crucial the governments of India’s 28 states, many of which are larger than most countries, will be to India’s aspirations to superpower status. State governments are responsible for everything from schools to hospitals to policing to building and maintaining most roads. Failing states, especially large ones like Bihar and its troubled neighbor, Uttar Pradesh, could make or break those hopes.
Bihar is a textbook case of how leadership determines development.

LeT conspiring against Islam

NEW DELHI: Indian Ahl-e-Hadees scholars accused their ideological peers in Pakistan on Wednesday – the banned Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LT) group and its parent body, Markaz Dawa al-Irshad – of being part of a global conspiracy against Islam. “We believe Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the LT chief, is a khawarij (rebel) and needs to be punished under the law,” declared Maulana Asghar Ali Imam Mehdi Salfi, secretary general of the Markazi Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees.

The Ahl-e-Hadees sect is often criticised for sharing its ideology with the LT or Dawa al Irshad, headed by Hafiz Saeed. Clarifying his stance, Maulana Salfi said both Hafiz Saeed and the Taliban were part of an international conspiracy. He called these groups marauders and said their struggle was nowhere near jihad. He questioned why these groups did not oppress America when they had aligned with it to fight against the Soviet Union?

Claiming that a majority of Ahl-e-Hadees followers in Pakistan were also “up in arms” against Hafiz Saeed for taking over their mosques and establishments, Maulana Salfi said Islam does not endorse extremism. Maintaining that bomb blasts and suicide attacks were forbidden in Islam, he said there was no justification whatsoever for such acts of terrorism and wanton killings.

Quoting a mutual edict of 36 Ahl-e-Hadees scholars, Maulana Salfi said such acts of violence were more critical than robbery. He, however, said a full and fair investigation was imperative under judicial supervision to ensure that innocent people were not punished in the name of terrorism.

Maulana Salfi said the khawarij, who first emerged in the late seventh century AD, also observed all Islamic tenants strictly, but actually created waywardness and rebellion. “Islam does not believe in extremes,” he added.

From Daily Times, Pakistan.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Deregulate the Poor

In his book  The Science of Liberty, Timothy Ferris discusses the Dickensian London and then has this passage, which I hope Indian planners think about.
The new megacities have no real alternative—and no brighter prospect—than to do the same {as London eventually did}, by absorbing their shantytown compatriots rather than locking them outside the (figurative) city gates.  How might this be done without recapitulating generations of Dickensian suffering along the way?

This question has been ingeniously investigated by the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto. Born in Lima, de Soto was educated in Switzerland before returning to Peru in 1980. There he studied the relationship between government, the law, and urban poverty, interviewing the poor and studying their economic situation with everything from satellite imagery to the barking of dogs—which roughly demarks the property lines of squatters' undeeded homes. De Soto found that the newly arrived poor typically want to work, pay taxes, and own or lease their dwellings, but are discouraged from doing so by dense thickets of laws and regulations that function rather like the stone walls confronted by the suburbanites of seventeenth-century Europe.

When he and his colleages tried to obtain the necessary permits to legalize a small Lima garment-making shop containing only two sewing machines, they discovered that even though with the help of a lawyer, a luxury few squatters could afford, the process took 289 days, and cost thirty-one times the monthly minimum wage. For a family to obtain legal title to the shack where they lived or worked required more than two hundred bureaucratic steps taking twenty-one years of effort.

The effect of all this red tape, de Soto argues, is to erect a "legal apartheid between those who can create capital and those who cannot." Peru "had become two nations: one where the legal system bestowed privileges on a select few, and another where the majority of the Peruvian people lived and worked outside the law, according to their own local arrangements."

A "paper wall," de Soto concluded stops the poor from being able to develop private legal enterprise."
These obstacles many times don't exist for the wealthier parts of the population, because they're continually plugged into lawmakers. Something goes wrong, you talk to your friend the minister, you're well organized in the chamber of commerce and the local manufacturers association, some kind of a guild. The poor don't have a voice, at least not a business voice.
Borrowing a phrase from the French historian Fernand Braudel, de Soto portrayed the established urban elites as living inside a "bell jar". "The bell jar makes capitalism a private club, open only to a privileged few, and enrages the billions standing outside looking in," de Soto wrote in the The Mystery of Capital. Those inside the bell jar—in twentieth-century Lima as in seventeenth-century London—might claim that the poor don't want to work, but when de Sot's team set up storefront offices in the slums of Peru to register previously extralegal businesses, over 276,000 squatters took advantage of it. During the first four years of the experiment, the taxes paid by these newly enfranchised and self-nominated businessmen and women, who previously had paid no taxes at all, totaled $1.2 billion.

This is not isolated to Peru. De Soto examined other developing countries.
In every country we have examined, the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the poor has created wealth on a vast scale—wealth that also constitutes by far the largest source of potential capital for development. These assets not only far exceed the holdings of the government, the local stock exchanges and foreign direct investment; they are many times greater than all the aid from advanced nations and all the loans extended by the World Bank.
But the extralegal poor cannot leverage their assets. Lacking title to the land they occupy and official permission to engage in the businesses that support them, they are unable to obtain loans, credit, or mortgages. Nor can they build up a business much past family-scale, for fear of attracting official scrutiny. Their assets are what de Soto calls "dead capital", money unavailable for investment. The potential of small-scale "live capital" often escapes those of us in the developed world who tend to think of forming a company as a high-finance proposition, but the average US start-up has one employee, under $25,000 in assets, and is funded by a home mortgage.

De Soto urges that legal systems adapt to conditions as they are (a million squatters at the gates) rather than as a ruling elite might prefer them to be....

This lesson, I have little doubt, applies to India as well.

Friday, April 09, 2010

More spring



Thursday, April 08, 2010

Islamist terror and selective justice in India

"Lashkar-i-Taiba: The Fallacy of Subservient Proxies and the Future of Islamist Terrorism in India", by Ryan Clarke, US Army War College

is available here (PDF file).

The story is of a Pakistani sponsored terrorist organization that has globalized and partly slipped beyond the control of its Pakistani sponsors. In particular, the Lashkar is expanding into India, with a child group, the Indian Mujahideen. The report has this warning:

So why are Indian Muslims now willing to be involved in attacks that kill their fellow citizens on a massive scale and try to damage their own economy by hitting hotels and other commercial sites like bazaars?
A major contributing factor for Islamist terrorism in India is the selective nature of Indian justice when it comes to prosecuting acts of communal violence. For example, India relentlessly pushes for the extradition of Dawood Ibrahim from Pakistan for his involvement in the 1993 Mumbai attacks while many of those who perpetrated or instigated the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which scores of Muslim innocents were killed, have not been brought to justice. Contradictions such as these serve as powerful motivators, while evidence is also starting to emerge that some Indian Muslims are beginning to identify with the Kashmir dispute. This is something that could prove disastrous if not addressed.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Civil War was about slavery

Every so often someone comes around claiming the American Civil War was about States Rights or something else; not slavery.  On Ph.D. Octopus, wiz has excerpts from the Declarations of Secession of four Southern states, that should put that nonsense to rest.

On the road to work

Quick captures.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Ununseptium is the temporary name of the newest element to be created/discovered, with 117 protons and 176/177 neutrons. Element 118 was previous created.

Slaughter in Iraq: Wikileaks


sunshinepress — April 03, 2010 — Wikileaks has obtained and decrypted this previously unreleased video footage from a US Apache helicopter in 2007. It shows Reuters journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen, driver Saeed Chmagh, and several others as the Apache shoots and kills them in a public square in Eastern Baghdad. They are apparently assumed to be insurgents. After the initial shooting, an unarmed group of adults and children in a minivan arrives on the scene and attempts to transport the wounded. They are fired upon as well. The official statement on this incident initially listed all adults as insurgents and claimed the US military did not know how the deaths ocurred. Wikileaks released this video with transcripts and a package of supporting documents on April 5th 2010 on

Mistakes can be made, but cover-ups are bad. In any case, it is not even clear that it is a legitimate mistake. Even in this tiny video it is clear that the men are not armed.

PS: Another side to the story

Monday, April 05, 2010

All elements of the sequence, please!

Ondelette (someone's pen name on wrote:
As I wrote in my longer response, you are missing too many events to put together any chains of causality. The choice of your events is also quite far from random. So you are not looking at reality, you are looking at a contrived sequence. If I have a sequence of fractions, 1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4,... and I say what is the sum? And you say, let's look at the partial sum formed by 1, 1/4,1/9,..., I say, but you won't get the correct picture of the sum by looking at that. And you say, but those are facts, ... and I say, but that isn't the sequence, and you say, but that's a sequence and it happened. We can argue all day, but the simple fact is that the sum of the whole sequence diverges while the subsequence you've extracted sums to pi squared over six.

Seems to me that this contrived sequence is what a lot of people indulge in. E.g., on the financial crisis, a bunch of folks are puzzled by the report on Lehman Brothers:
The Examiner did not find sufficient evidence to support a colorable claim for breach of fiduciary duty in connection with any of Lehman’s valuations. In particular, in the third quarter of 2008 there is evidence that certain executives felt pressure to not take all of the write‐downs on real estate positions that they determined were appropriate; there is some evidence that the pressure actually resulted in unreasonable marks. But, as the evidence is in conflict, the Examiner determines that there is insufficient evidence to support a colorable claim that Lehman’s senior management imposed arbitrary limits on write‐downs of real estate positions during that quarter.

This is being taken to mean that effective regulation is not possible, because see, there was nothing detectably wrong with Lehman Brothers.

And it all seems very complicated and mysterious, until you learn of the mis-regulation that made these findings feasible in the first place.
See this OpEd in the NYT.

In 2006, the agencies jointly published something called the “Interagency Statement on Sound Practices Concerning Elevated Risk Complex Structured Finance Activities.” It became official policy the following year.

What are “complex structured finance” transactions? As defined by the regulators, these include deals that “lack economic or business purpose” and are “designed or used primarily for questionable accounting, regulatory or tax objectives, particularly when the transactions are executed at year end or at the end of a reporting period.”

How does one propose “sound practices” for practices that are inherently unsound? Yet that is what our regulatory guardians did. The statement is powerful evidence of the permissive approach bank regulators took toward the debt-dissolving financial products that our banks had been developing, hawking and using themselves for years. And it’s good reason for Americans to be outraged by the “who me, what, where?” reaction of Mr. Bernanke and the S.E.C. to the revelation of Lehman’s Repo 105 scam.

The story is that the regulators proposed some rules, the industry shot it down, the regulators caved. But read the OpEd.

A similar mystery was addressed by rjwalker in the comments to the first post linked.
>>So will there ever be a way for regulators to know whether or not a bank is skirting the limits?

Yes. Re-instate significant liability for lawyers and accountants advising such companies.

In the early 90’s a law was passed reducing/eliminating such liability, making corporate opinion shopping king of the hill and removing a lot of advisor backbone to say ‘no.’

If you disregard the entire sequence of regulations that were dismantled and the mis-regulations that were issued, and then look at only one of the problems, it seems insolvable. This is an area where the system has to be viewed as a whole to understand and control its behavior. And you cannot construct a history or a causal chain if you arbitrarily pick and choose the events you want to consider.

Chief Justice Pakistan

From one point of view, Chief Justice Pakistan (CJP) is helping bring about the rule of law in Pakistan. But that would be viewing very narrowly some recent events only.

Anujan on BRF has this take:
I dont know if anyone is following the great tamasha that is Pakistan. CJP of Pakistan wants reopening of Swiss cases against Zardari saying that the issue of Presidential immunity is not something that has been decided by the courts yet. One might get an idea that this CJP is a eminent impartial Jurist.

Let us examine his record of this gem of a legal mind: He took oath under the PCO promulgated by Mushy, and when 11 judges of Supreme court resigned rather than take oath under the PCO, he was elevated to the Supreme court! The PCO contained the beautiful clause

Supreme Court or High Courts and any other court shall not have the powers to make any order against the Chief Executive or any person exercising powers or jurisdiction under his authority

He then sat on a bench which was to decide a legal petition challenging Mushy's Coup and proceeded to dismiss the petition :rotfl: You might wonder what opinion he wrote: "I endorse the coup because I took an oath to endorse the coup?" - You lack imagination: Actually he did one better, he cited legal precedence of quashing Begum Nusrat Bhutto case against Zia's coup !! (which cited legal gems such as pro coup decisions made in Nigeria and Uganda :rotfl: )

Then our man dismissed a petition challenging the LFO (which gave much of the powers to Mushy, including appointing judges to the court, dismissing the PM and power to amend the constitution). The deep judicial insight was that the petitioner was a bad person because his party (watan party) boycotted the elections and hence was undemocratic {I wonder if the court caught the irony here :lol: } and furthermore the court refuses to consider the case because it does not relate to public interest or does not impact the fundamental rights or liberties of the people :mrgreen:

Then Mushy passed the 17th amendment, amending the constitution, taking all the provisions of the LFO and shoved it up the musharraf of Pakistan's constitution. It was challenged in court. CJP turned up to shower pakistan with more of his legal wisdom. His bench dismissed all petitions with the impeccable argument that since LFO gave the power to Mushy to amend the constitution, he was free to amend the constitution, including incorporating LFO into the constitution thereby now giving him power to constitutionally amend the constitution 8)

Now, Zardari has inherited all the powers which was the illegitimate kid of Mushy F-ing the Paki Constitution. The CJP suddenly thinks President does not even enjoy immunity against prosecution because the SC has not decided about it yet. The interesting thing is that PPP party wallahs gathered and Groper threatened to reopen ZAB's hanging case calling it "Judicial Murder" (please to recall the precedence cited by the CJP in his original judgment legalizing the coup).

It is beer & popcorn time folks!

PS: Wiki
In the wake of the imposition of emergency rule in Pakistan, on November 14, 2007, the Harvard Law School Association decided to award its highest honour, the Medal of Freedom, to Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, following the military crackdown the previous week. He becomes the first Pakistani to be presented with such honour.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry formally received the Harvard Law School Medal of Freedom during his visit to the United States in November, 2008.

John Yoo of the torture memos is a Harvard graduate too, so this is in line with the general intellectual decline of Harvard - they wouldn't recognize freedom if it bit them on the ass.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Kabir for the SMS generation

As a fellow Kabir fan, I say go here.

From my cloudy crystal ball

Professor Juan Cole, too, notes "Pakistan Moves Further Towards Democracy". He is realistic:
Pakistan has a host of daunting problems, including high levels of corruption, the continued undue power of the military and of Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban-driven political violence, and a legacy of support for terrorism in Kashmir and Afghanistan-- neither as yet entirely abandoned. High population growth rates, lack of land reform, and relatively low literacy and internet use all threaten to erode the impressive political achievements of the past 3 years. Even the new bill does not provide any parliamentary checks and balances on the power of the prime minister to appoint persons to high-level positions, and so is deeply flawed.

But there is some good news to be found in Pakistan's political development from time to time, and this weekend is one of those moments. Americans and Europeans should try a little humility, and find it in themselves to praise these positive accomplishments even if no Western troops set them in motion.

In my opinion:

1. Peace on India's western front is possible only if one of two things happens:
(a) Pakistan disintegrates, or
(b) The Parliament is sovereign in Pakistan.

2. Neither condition is sufficient, however they are necessary.

3. Pakistan is limping in the direction of sovereignty of the Parliament. That creates some dangers that will have to be faced. The Army is not going to let go of its power and prerogatives easily. (Parliament is far from challenging the Army yet, but it just may get there in a few years.) The upcoming battle between Army and Parliament and ensuing crisis just may be played out with Army proxies in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, etc.,. The Army will be seeking to create a situation where its supremacy cannot be questioned.

4. India will likely have to bear the cost of this upcoming confrontation.

PS: On the continued domination of Pakistan by the Armed Forces.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Head in the Sand

The Chinese government is taking the attitude that if you can't talk about a problem, then the problem won't exist any more.

The Asahi Shimbun reports that China has banned reporting on 18 subjects.

The banned subjects include: foreign criticism of China, in particular currency issues; the difficulties faced by university students in finding jobs after graduation, food safety and rising prices of cooking oil, problems with vaccines stored at the Ministry of Health, high medical fees; disparity of wealth; reform of the registration system separating urban dwellers from rural residents (Hukou); forecasts of appointments for Communist Party leaders; expansion of autonomy at universities; the collapse of school buildings in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and delays in reconstruction; the beating death of a steel plant president in Jilin province; collusion between police and gangsters in Chongqing; rising real estate prices and the housing shortage; real estate developers trying to increase land prices.

"Most of the subjects that people are interested in have been banned. We don't know what to report on," said an official at a Chinese newspaper.

Freedom - a cultural dimension

Some of what we consider freedom is culturally-determined.

E.g., in India, banning the burqa or asking Sikhs to abandon the turban if they want to serve would be seen as an unthinkable imposition on liberty. And likewise with minarets on mosques. On the other hand, India suffers excoriation by evangelists because it places curbs on proselytization - this is supposedly an outrage against religious liberty.

The Army in 1984 eliminated an exemption that had previously allowed Sikhs to maintain their articles of faith while serving, but officials can issue individual waivers to the uniform policy after considering the effects on safety and discipline, said Army spokesman George Wright. Only a handful of such individual religious exemptions are ever granted....Capt. Tejdeep Singh ... wore a full beard and black turban, the first Sikh in a generation allowed to complete U.S. Army basic officer training without sacrificing the articles of his faith.

Yahoo/Time story
Belgium ... parliamentarians backed a draft law that would ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa in public places....French President Nicolas Sarkozy is pushing for a ban on the burqa to follow a 2004 French law prohibiting students and staff from wearing headscarves and any other "conspicuous" religious symbols in state schools. Headscarves have also been outlawed in schools in the Netherlands, Britain and in many German states, and the Italian government has just started a debate on whether to ban them. The European pushback against Islam has gone even further in Switzerland, where the public last year approved a referendum making it illegal to build minarets on mosques....

Friday, April 02, 2010

Question answered

A few days ago, I asked whether Harvard is still an elite school.

In another context, someone wrote the following, and answered my question:
According to the new 2010 NRC rankings (yet to be released to the wide audience), Harvard is not even in top 5 anymore.

The Market is not the ultimate measure

The New York Times had a mugs gallery, with names and numbers like this:

David Tepper $4 billion
George Soros $3.3 billion
James Simons $2.5 billion
John Paulson $2.3 billion
Steve Cohen $1.4 billion
Carl Icahn $1.3 billion
Edward Lampert $1.3 billion
Kenneth Griffin $900 million
John Arnold $900 million
Philip Falcone $825 million

These are the one year's (2009) personal income of these hedge fund managers. Not life-time earnings. One year's earnings.

Now, compare to say, Einstein. Without Einstein, your GPS wouldn't work very well, and he laid the foundations for the laser. Now, while Einstein did lead a good life, the monetary compensation he got was nowhere close to the list above. And as far as improving life for humanity, expanding the frontiers of knowledge, of having made a difference, Einstein stands way beyond these billionaires. But if we go by market evaluation, Einstein is a midget compared to these giants of hedge funds.

The market is not everything. Yet Americans worship it as such. I'd say - those who can, do, those who cannot, pursue money.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Stuck in a Cold War rut

The US is following strategies that were relevant during the Cold War, but no more.

Michael Lind writes
For the time being, however, America's out-of-touch foreign policy establishment continues to favor the policy of expanding America's geopolitical frontiers while allowing our self-interested industrial rivals to hollow out the American economy. Policies that made sense in the early years of the Cold War emergency continue to be followed out of inertia, when their original strategic rationale has long since vanished. In the words of the philosopher George Santayana, "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim."

Good news from Pakistan

I just hope Fate is not making April Fools of us, but Pakistan has achieved something good, by objective standards.

Will it improve the neighborhood, too? Remains to be seen.

PS: Read Cyril Almeida for a discussion of what was attempted to be accomplished.