Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On GG's latest - Cause and Effect in the Terror War

Greenwald's main point is that military action against al Qaeda is [xxxxx] counterproductive. It is not clear whether Greenwald means [xxxxx] to be "sometimes" or "always".

I'd argue that wherever there is an effective government (as is the case in Yemen), al Qaeda should be treated as a intelligence plus law-and-order problem.

The comments are uniformly depressing. One, omooex, did say what I did when I quit writing on that forum:

Glenn, the disagreement

Its in the reality that merely stopping our wars in those countries won't stop the terrorism. Wars have only exacerbated the problem, but its one that stems from US economic, cultural and political hegemony in the Islamic world. Certainly, stopping our wars is a really good idea, and that should be our first step. But I don't think it would stop the violence.

Monday, December 28, 2009


or Londonabad?

“There are basically two meccas,” argues Egyptian-born Mamoun Fandy of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “There’s a Mecca that Muslims should visit, and the mecca of jihad that is London.” — quoted in the Christian Science Monitor

PS: from the same article
“I’ve felt for a long time that if radical Sharia law comes to the rest of the world it will start on the streets of London,” says a Pakistani expert on militant Islam who asked not to be identified....The Pakistani analyst, who has close ties to London mosques, argues that nearly every Pakistani radical he knows in London has gone through a “night club” phase. They try out a “clubbing life” that is ultimately unsatisfying. “They try to experience something like a dream of life in the west. About a year later they show up in the mosque, grow beards and are ‘good Muslims,’” he says.

Krugman's Zero Decade

Prof. Krugman suggests that 2000-2009 be called the Big Zero decade. "It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true."

So here’s what Mr. Summers — and, to be fair, just about everyone in a policy-making position at the time — believed in 1999: America has honest corporate accounting; this lets investors make good decisions, and also forces management to behave responsibly; and the result is a stable, well-functioning financial system.

What percentage of all this turned out to be true? Zero.

PS: For instance, NYT: Banks that bundled bad debt also bet against it

“The simultaneous selling of securities to customers and shorting them because they believed they were going to default is the most cynical use of credit information that I have ever seen,” said Sylvain R. Raynes, an expert in structured finance at R & R Consulting in New York. “When you buy protection against an event that you have a hand in causing, you are buying fire insurance on someone else’s house and then committing arson.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bush the Messiah

If I extrapolate from current trends, where already George W Bush inherited the 9/11 attack from President Clinton, and he was fixing unemployment instead of watching it rise from 4.2% to 6% over his first two years in office, then no doubt in a few years, he will be the Messiah, risen to save humanity.

PS: Steve Benen:
Bush was arguably one of the biggest and most painful presidential failures in American history, which makes Republican operatives like Matalin all the more anxious to keep the "blame Clinton for everything" meme going strong, even now.

The underlying spin isn't exactly compelling. The Matalin pitch, in a nutshell, is, "Sure, Obama inherited the Great Recession, two wars, a job market in freefall, a huge deficit, and crushing debt, a health care system in shambles, a climate crisis, an ineffective energy policy, an equally ineffective immigration policy, a housing crisis, the collapse of the U.S. auto industry, a mess at Gitmo, and a severely tarnished global reputation. But what Bush got from Clinton wasn't exactly a walk in the park."

Except it was. After cleaning up H.W. Bush's mess, Clinton bequeathed a prosperous, peaceful country, held in high regard around the world, with a shrinking debt, and surpluses far into the future. There was a burgeoning terrorist threat emerging, but Clinton's team provided Bush with the necessary tools and warnings necessary to keep the nation safe. Bush failed miserably, despite having been given an incredible opportunity to succeed.

Matalin would have us believe Bush "inherited" a mess. If she were capable of shame, she ought to be embarrassed peddling such nonsense on national television.

PPS: The Onion, ever-prescient, Jan 17,2001 : "Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'"


See it. In 3-D.

To repeat here something S. said to me: The Panchatantra was composed for the education of some little princes who refused to apply themselves. James Cameron has similarly made this movie for the education of a culture that is similarly playing the truant.

An observation

Since CIP's blog's Haloscan comments is not working, I'm posting this here, maybe he will see it.

Radicalized in the London mosque/coffee house scene, more or less trained in his mother's home country of Yemen, this child of extreme privilege epitomizes the vulnerability of Muslim youth to the siren call of preachers of violent jihad. I worked for a Muslim owned company for a number of years and observed first hand the process of peer recruitment of youthful fanatics in England.

The consensus (ijma') based nature of Muslim understanding of what consitutes Islam and,what does not, makes small groups of young people recruited initially by peers susceptible. Is this true of other religions as well? Yes, to some extent, but religions that are hierarchically "driven" in terms of acceptance of types of behavior are not so easily exploited by small group pressure.

This vulnerability to small group radicalization is a phenomenon that will persist. It is only made worse by the invasion and occupation of Muslim countries by Western forces. pl
From turcopolier

Zeppelin Adventure

Rajan Parrikar coasted over the Bay area.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Carol of the Bells

Variations (or in 3 movements?)

And to cleanse the palate:

Desi Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Friday, December 25, 2009


Shiv, trying to make bharat-rakshaks have a sense of proportion:
...Don't let NDTV, Zee and Star fool you into thinking that India is wonderland. Just like RAPE** we insist that all is hunky dory in India and that these bloody Mohammad worshipping Mooslims are the biggest threat. That is cloud cuckoo land.

Indian Muslims may be a problem community but the threat they represent is hardly the biggest or the most severe. Allah may try his best to be the biggest threat but he just can't compete with what India throws back at him and at everyone else. It's just one more problem - one more fracture in a body full of crushed bones. No water No food. No money. No health. No justice. No education. No opportunity. No nothing for 600 to 700 million Indians - of whom 300 million are children and suddenly Allah is worshipped here as the biggest threat. Allah is a pipsqueak as problems go.

**RAPE: Rich Anglophone/Anglicized Pakistani Elite.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all who read this!

May the world be plagued with a serious outbreak of peace!


Somewhere I have Pierre Ramond's slim volume on QFT. And binders full of John Preskill's lecture notes. Warren Siegel's Fields. Oldies like Itzykson & Zuber, Bjorken & Drell. The newest are a pair of books by Gregory Naber. There is a two-foot high pile in front of me. To what purpose?

Thursday, December 24, 2009


A leading expert, Gregory Johnsen, is interviewed by Glenn Greenwald. Worth a listen (or read the transcript).

To highlight a few points, al Qaeda in Yemen was decimated by November 2003. It since has resurrected since February 2006, and has been gaining strength since. Johnsen says it will be difficult to dislodge and it does pose a threat to the United States. Glenn Greenwald asks questions to test his belief that if the US just leaves them alone, they won't harm the US; and Johnsen disabuses him of that.

Johnsen says that there are structural problems in Yemen - declining oil reserves, high birth rate, declining water supply, and so on - that make Yemeni youth susceptible to radicalization. Johnsen thinks that al Qaeda will keep being able to resurrect itself there unless the US undertakes a {huge} development effort to address some of these structural problems.

The one point on which Johnsen validates Greenwald is that the current military strikes against al Qaeda are counterproductive. However, while Greenwald thinks (or used to think) they are unconditionally counterproductive, Johnsen thinks that with the proper preparatory work, they are required. (The population must be first alienated from al Qaeda before any strikes are made.)

There is a further irony in this. Ondelette is the pen-name of a commenter on Greenwald's blog, who is a humanitarian - who believes that the US has an obligation to help develop Afghanistan. In contrast, most of the other commenters are either libertarians or isolationist-leftists. They think the US should simply leave Afghanistan, not worry about development, and likewise elsewhere in the world. In their simplistic worldview, absence either makes the heart grow fonder or makes for forgetfulness. If the US had no presence in Afghanistan, they believe, then no terrorist plots targeting the US will be hatched there. They, including Glenn Greenwald, have made life unpleasant for Ondelette, and essentially driven him off the board. Now the expert on Yemen that Greenwald has interviewed has essentially validated Ondelette - Yemen needs long term US military AND development involvement, and without that, there is a growing threat to the US.

Depending on your point of view, Greenwald's questions can be considered to be penetrating, or a desperate try to preserve his world-view. The real test of the man is whether he can change his mind. We shall see. Here are excerpts of some of his questions:

* How would you characterize what is being called al-Qaeda in Yemen in that spectrum, and how significant of a threat it is really to the United States, not within Yemen, but outside of Yemen and in the homeland?

* You say attacks throughout the region - is there evidence of any substantial plots against the United States itself that have originated with al-Qaeda in Yemen?

* I guess my question really was: is there any evidence of any credible or significant plots originating from al-Qaeda in Yemen that have been directed against the United States. Not rhetoric, not "death to America", but actual plots.....Right. I don't mean if we have a presence in Yemen or in Saudi Arabia, I mean against the United States itself.

Glenn Greenwald at his best

In pointing out the inconsistencies and utter lack of principle of the US media, Glenn Greenwald has few equals.

When it suits them -- meaning when the CBO issues negative findings about Obama's domestic policies -- Reason holds up the CBO as an authoritative oracle not to be questioned. Three weeks ago, Reason's Nick Gillespie warned of "massive premium hikes" based on "the CBO's latest assay of the Senate's health-care reform plan." In March, Reason's Jacob Sullum cited CBO decrees to warn that "federal deficits will total $9.3 trillion during the next decade if Congress implements President Obama's fiscal proposals." Just last month, Suderman himself cited the CBO's conclusions to argue that health care reform was not deficit neutral. In September of this year, Suderman claimed that the CBO had contradicted Obama's statement that "nobody is talking about reducing Medicare benefits" and wrote: "this sort of direct contradiction from an agency as respected as the CBO isn't going to do much to calm seniors' fears." The same month, even Welch himself cited CBO reports -- using the verb "analyzed" -- to argue that Obama "lied" in his claims about health care.

For the first half of the year, Obama's right-wing opponents heaped praise on the CBO's authoritative stature because, back then, the CBO was reporting that the Democrats' health care proposals would increase the deficit. These same individuals then completely and shamelessly shifted gears once the CBO began reporting that the revised iterations of the proposal would actually decrease the deficit. And the "principled non-partisan libertarians" at Welch's Reason led the way in this rank intellectual dishonesty.

But read the whole thing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Noor Jehan remembered

Dawn has a nice article online.

Her legend begins thus:
When Allah Wasai was born on September 21, 1926 to an impoverished musician Madad Ali in Kasur, her aunt rushed out to greet her father thus: ‘Congratulations brother! This girl will change your fortune for she cries in tune.’

Some notes

The title "Ann Coulter of Pakistan" was apparently bestowed on Shireen Mazari by Khalid Hasan (Dec 28, 2008).

Also from that article:
And now the unvarnished truth.

Since 2006, Pakistan, against better advice and reasons that have been blown sky-high by Mumbai, had kept the [United Nations Security Council] sanctions from being clamped [on Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jama'at-ud Dawa] with the help of China. However, after the Mumbai attacks, China informed Pakistan that it could no longer block the terrorist group and individuals from being sanctioned. The question the neocons and the super-patriots should ask, but don’t, is: Why was Pakistan blocking sanctions against a terrorist group?

And this takes me back to Pervez Musharraf’s first visit to the US after his coup. At a meeting with a group of journalists among whom I was present, my dear and much lamented friend Tahir Mirza, then the Dawn correspondent, asked Musharraf why he was not acting against Lashkar-e Tayba and Jaish-e Muhammad. Musharraf went red in the face and shot back, “They are not doing anything in Pakistan. They are doing jihad outside.”

Irfan Husain
Talking of extremism, I was bemused recently by the sight of large bearded men blocking the aisle and access to the galley and toilet in a Sri Lankan Airways flight as they spread out mats and knelt and bowed in prayer. It was bad enough when the small club class section was thus used as a flying mosque, but when passengers from economy seats began encroaching, people complained to the staff.

Apparently, these devout Pakistanis were members of the Tablighi Jamaat; one of them, no doubt taking me for a Sri Lankan, suggested in English that I study Islam. I was so annoyed by this time that I told him rather brusquely in Urdu that I did not need his advice or guidance.

This kind of thing often happens in PIA flights, but to inconvenience other passengers is hardly Islamic, especially when there is a clear dispensation from praying for travellers. And there is nothing to prevent people from praying quietly in their seats.

The hypocrisy of these people was exposed when we were waiting for our baggage at Karachi airport. The maghrib azan was relayed over the sound system as our bearded fellow-passengers stood around the luggage belt. Not one of them moved to pray, although there was ample space available. So clearly, their ostentatious display of devoutness while we were airborne was purely for show.

Glen Greenwald on Michael Crowley

 Glenn Greenwald in his blog today:
Americans love to believe that the differences in perception between themselves and the Muslim world are due to the fact that Americans are rational, well-informed, free and advanced, while those in predominantly Arab or Muslim countries are propagandized, irrational, primitive, conspiratorial, and misled (here's a classic case of that self-loving view from The New Republic's Michael Crowley today, fretting that anti-Americanism is so high in Pakistan not because of what we do [God forbid] but because those Muslims are so paranoid and irrational that they insanely fantasize that we're up to all sorts of nefarious things).

The problem with the above is that Michael Crowley's article is correct. Michael Crowley is rather careful - he writes of the prevailing atmosphere in Islamabad (and nowhere even implies that this extends to all of Pakistan), and the contribution of Pakistan's media to that environment (nowhere does he implicate all Pakistanis). Even his historical incident from 1979 - the torching of the US embassy because of a rumor that the US attacked Mecca - occurred in Islamabad.

The problems with the Pakistani media are pointed out by Pakistanis themselves. Examples abound (e.g., this, a humorous one).

Glenn Greenwald's reaction?
"What a shock that macgupta jumps in to agree that Pakistanis are primitive, irrational, conspiratorial, misled, and any other negative adjective you want to apply.

Whether they are or not is not the point. If Crowley condemns Americans for being the same way when it comes to Muslims, you'd have a point. The point is that Americans typically think this about Muslims when it's often true of themselves."

But, to quote Irfan Husain (please read the whole column at dawn.com)(emphasis added)
In a sense, our relations with the US have become hostage to a virulent media that seems hell-bent on bashing Washington at every turn. Over the years, I have opposed American policies in many parts of the world. But I recognise that the US has global interests and can be a force for good.

So who is whipping up this anti-American sentiment? A lot of the blame must be placed at the White House gate. The blank cheque to Israel is the source of much anger. The invasion of Iraq fuels some of the fury. Avoidable civilian deaths in Afghanistan are another cause. In Pakistan itself, the drone attacks that have killed so many Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders have also caused considerable collateral damage.

But there’s more to it than these policies and perceptions.
In the current venom-laden environment, it is clear that ordinary Pakistanis are being manipulated by cynical groups. Unfortunately, our media is more accustomed to pandering to existing prejudices than challenging them. So if anti-West sentiments are the flavour of the day, TV channels are happy to fan the flames to improve their ratings.

Currently, the religious right, the liberal left and the military establishment are riding the same anti-American bandwagon. The mullahs tacitly support the Taliban and what they stand for; the left hates the US more than it does the Taliban; and the army is sick of being told by Washington that it isn’t doing enough. By amplifying these anti-West feelings through the media, our generals can tell Americans that they cannot act take tougher action against the militants in Fata as it would inflame public sentiment and might destabilise the government.

Note the emphasis. Glenn Greenwald's oeuvre focuses primarily on the first - American actions - which is fine, because the reform of America is what he wants. Where I think he goes wrong is in never conceding any importance to the second - that there is more to anti-Americanism than just reaction to America's actions - "But there’s more to it than these policies and perceptions."

Whatever mirror Glenn Greenwald wants to construct for Americans to peer into to see their own defects, the Crowley article is the wrong material.

PS: Irfan Husain wrote: "the left hates the US more than it does the Taliban". If the US is taken to mean the Federal Government, then this is true of a section of the US Left as well - they hate the US more than the Taliban.

Measurement in QM

A conference was held at Boston University in 1996, the proceedings of which are in "Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Mechanics", edited by Tian Yu Cao (amazon.com link). The conference included philosophers and physicists. Quantum Field Theorists included Steven Weinberg, David Gross, Bryce DeWitt, Arthur Wightman, Sidney Coleman.

Excerpt from one of the discussions:
Saunders: .....in measurement processes we have what appears to be a violation of unitary dynamics. It seems we cannot implement measurement processes unitarily....
Colseman: There is a position on measurement theory which grossomodo is shared by at least Bryce and me and probably other people, which eventually goes back to Hugh Everett and which denies the existence of non-unitary process of measurement, and says that it is just a process that can be eliminated. That's easy to prove but hard to believe. And I don't want to go into it now, although I would be happy to go into it privately. And during your stay at Harvard I gave a public lecture on this topic....
I want the transcript of that public lecture. I haven't been able to locate it yet.

In the excerpt above, Saunders might be Simon Saunders, in which case he was at Harvard during these relevant time periods:
1995-96: Associate professor, Department of Philosophy, Harvard University.
1990-95: Assistant professor, Department of Philosophy, Harvard University.

This is a rather long period over which to search :(.

PS: As per Wolfgang's comment, it is "Quantum Mechanics in Your Face (streaming video)" (A lecture given by Sidney Coleman at the New England sectional meeting of the American Physical Society (Apr. 9, 1994).)

On the climate deal

In this Mark Lynas piece, mostly China and a little bit India comes in for criticism for the failure of the climate talks at Copenhagen.

Let us look at some numbers, provided by Wikipedia.

As of 2006, per capita, China emitted 4.6 tons of carbon dioxide annually, India 1.3 and the US 19. If we take Denmark as the exemplar, (as Thomas Friedman does), note that it is at 9.9 tons of co2 per capita per annum and falling.

It is simply not politically feasible for the governments of India or China to yield on the theoretical increased standard of living for their people, when their economies use more energy and increase emission — in the case of China double, and in the case of India, increase 7-fold — to the level of Denmark any more than it is politically feasible for the US to agree to halve its per capita annual emission of carbon dioxide from 19 to 9.5 tons per annum.

Of course, the bargain being sought is to balance theoretical future growth (of China, India) versus existing standards of living (of the United States, other OECD countries).

Yes, this is overall suicidal for humans on the planet. Even the Denmark-level of co2 emission on a global per capita basis is too high for the planet. But get realistic. Unless it is provable that a high standard of living is possible at a lower level of emission, or that everyone on the globe aims for the same lower level of emission and standard of living, there will be little agreement.

PS: let us also note that the US has in effect shifted a portion its emissions to China by outsourcing manufacturing but not reducing its material consumption.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An element of fun

Bee is recently appointed professor of physics at Nordita in Sweden; her husband Stefan is resident in Germany. They're together for Christmas - read their baking adventures :)

Longevity in 18th century England

The NYT carried a book review by Andrea Wulf, of "Behind Closed Doors" by Amanda Vickery.
Amanda Vickery, a reader in history at Royal Holloway, University of London, finds them in fashionably decorated Yorkshire mansions and dirty London lodgings, in downstairs kitchens and gilded parlors and gloomy garret rooms. She opens resolutely shut doors and peeps into the private lives of servants, aristocrats and the “polite and middling sorts” — merchants, clergy members, doctors and lawyers. “Behind Closed Doors” examines what privacy meant in 18th-century Britain and how people negotiated both their domestic space and their domestic relationships.

My purpose here is to highlight one interesting thing the reviewer says (emphasis added).

“Behind Closed Doors” also leads the reader into the rooms of spinsters and widows, an important inclusion, since in 1700 the average marriage lasted only 10 years.

Marriage ended with death (not divorce). The very different life expectancy back then should not be forgotten when thinking of history. Imagine, say you're married at twenty (probably considered a late marriage?) and it can be said that you or your spouse will, on the average, have expired by 30.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

...Strange New Worlds....

Water World (at dkos). I hope some descendant of humanity gets to wander the galaxy.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

AMNH's The Known Universe

Via dkos:

The Process of Mathematical Creation

What little we know (PDF).

Global Warming, Illustrated

The shift of plant hardiness zones, 1990-2006, in the continental US is displayed by the Arbor Day Foundation.

PS: How the map was produced.

PPS: USA Today article explains more.

1. The 1990 map (Kramer, Marc Cathey) is based on 13 years of data.
2. Climatologists say a 30-year average is appropriate.
3. "Kramer's 2003 map rejected by the USDA was based on data from 1986 to 2002 and showed a significant march northward of boundaries for warm-weather plants. For example, plants that for decades had frozen and died in Nebraska suddenly were doing just fine."
4. Example by USA Today of the effect of the time-span:

"For example, the average annual low temperature for Columbia, S.C., based on the 1990 map (1974-1986) is 10 degrees. The 2003 draft map (1986-2002) is 16 degrees. The new map is based on data from 1976-2005. Using data from those years, the average is 13.5 degrees."

5. New USDA map using 30-year averages to be released Fall 2008 (but I can't find it).

6. SF Chronicle article about controversy

Although the USDA denies it, there is also lingering suspicion that the Bush administration's discomfort with the concept of global warming played a role in the rejection of the 2003 map. "The fact that the map shows warming put a big exclamation point out there," says Kramer. The draft map remained on the AHS Web site for several months until the USDA's Kaplan asked the organization to take it down or alter it: "We wanted them to make it clear this was not the official USDA map."

Three years later, the National Arbor Day Foundation released an updated version of the rejected map. "It's basically a duplicate," Kramer says. "They added some years to it, so it's not identical."

In the meantime, the USDA decided its next update should reflect 30 years of data. Oregon State University's PRISM Group is working on the new version. Kaplan says the result will allow users to zoom in on locales, or type in their ZIP codes and get back a zone. "Doing this at the GIS level, we can work at a much finer scale than ever before," she explains. "The zone borders will be much more refined." How soon will it be available? "The best I can tell you is the near future," says Kaplan. "The running joke," says AHS's Ellis, "is that it's not going to come out until we get a new president in office.
[AHS=American Horticulture Society]

Friday, December 18, 2009

Revealing a mind-set

The Friday Times of Pakistan reports on the Pakistani press: [TFT is a subscription site, I'm relying on the bharat-rakshak forum]

Wrongly explained state

Chief Editor Jinnah [of The Nation] wrote that PPP spokesperson Fauzia Wahab told the press that Pakistan was not a security state but an economy-based state. He took strong exception to this and observed that Ms Wahab should not have said this in the open. Because not terming Pakistan a security state could harm the PPP government. He stated that if Ms Wahab had said it in rage (tap gai) she should learn to control herself. He thought an economy-based Pakistani state would have to normalise relations with India and that was not acceptable.

The Epicenter of Terrorism

A revised version of deceased Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's autobiography "Daughter of the East" has been released by Simon & Schuster, as per this link, and a new chapter has been added. Supposedly Bhutto writes there:
"I really do think that there is at least some degree of causality that most major terrorist attacks took place when the extremists did not have to deal with a democratic Pakistani government...this includes both the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Bombay blasts, the Indian Parliament attack, the attack on the US embassies in Africa and the USS Cole in Yemen."

The blame-America-only crowd (as found in the comments section on Glenn Greenwald's blog on salon.com) needs to think about that. The "but-that's-arch-rival-India's-propaganda-only" crowd need to ponder it too.

h-bar in HTML

, the reduced Planck's constant (h/2 π) is ℏ

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On the Pakistani middle class

Mohammed Waseem in The Dawn (Karachi)
More than any other section of society, the middle class is ideologically oriented in the two domains of religion and nationalism. It adheres to scriptural Islam as opposed to syncretic Islam. It supports the madressah-oriented written tradition as opposed to the shrine-based oral tradition of Islam. It is pan-Islamic in its vision. It seeks the unity of the Muslim world and upholds a dichotomous worldview based on conflict between Islam and the West. Secondly, the middle class supersedes all other classes in its nationalist framework of thought, which operates essentially in negative terms. In six decades, it has projected nationalism in the context of the perceived enemies of the nation. It has been all along anti-Indian, anti-Soviet Union in the first four decades and anti-American in the last two decades. It is also anti-communist and anti-secular.

The composition of the middle class has changed in two generations. Previously, it came from the impoverished aristocracy, politicians, the intelligentsia, lawyers, judges and public careerists of various kinds.

In recent decades, the professional middle classes — doctors, engineers, architects, accountants, corporate managers and information technologists among others — have been the descendants of military officers and bureaucrats in increasingly larger numbers. Their political outlook reflects their social background.

The middle class, most typically if not universally, hates democracy. Partition shaped the social, cultural, political and economic views of the emergent middle class along security-oriented lines and a state-centred rather than society-oriented policy framework.

This class lacks a social reformist vision and a public conscience. It distrusts the capacity and thus the right of what it considers the uneducated, irresponsible, superstitious and ‘primitive’ masses to exercise their vote and elect governments.

An absolute majority of the middle class is rightist in its collective thrust for policy and ideology. This includes: the moneyed right, i.e. the commercial elite committed to the preservation of the current privileged structures; the moral right, as the upholder of a conservative code of ethics; and the religious right, with its increasingly radical Islamic worldview. The rightist middle class, or parts of it, often served as a constituency of army rule in Pakistan.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The price of progress?

The NYT has a review of "Perfect Rigor", Masha Gessen's book about Russian mathematician Gregory Perelman, famous for proving the century-old Poincaré conjecture.

By the time Perelman got to university, his fingernails were so long they had begun to curl. He wanted little more than to continue his work undisturbed — and protected by a Who’s Who of Russian mathematicians, he seems to have gotten his wish. After emerging from graduate school as the Soviet Union crumbled, Perelman taught briefly in the United States in the early 1990s (where he wore the same brown corduroy jacket day after day and survived on a diet of black bread and fermented milk). But soon he returned to St. Petersburg and the seclusion of his mother’s apartment. It was there that he would spend most of a decade working on the Poincaré conjecture.
He then resigned from the Steklov Institute in 2005 with a letter that read, “I have been disappointed in mathematics and I want to try something else.”

What kind of life is this? Why did those mathematicians encourage Perelman in this? A pox upon them!

If this is the price of progress, then in my opinion it is too much to pay. We cannot offer up such human sacrifices in the name of the advancement of mathematics.

Monday, December 14, 2009


I *love* the "alternative" take on the Indian wedding.

I was only recently lamenting the low standards to which we hold a non-Indian photographer's take on an Indian wedding. It's supposed to be full of great colors and shapes. And it is, it really is. It's like having a porsche instead of a minivan. Or Gisele for a model instead of Rachel Ray. It should be really f$%ing easy to get nice shots. And we get all giddy when we get (or see) some reasonbly-nice images from an Indian wedding. Woohoo. Where is somebody doing something different with all this great material. Where is somebody actually looking past the pretty colors and seeing everything else?
On fredmiranda.com Follow the link if you can.

Dil dhadakne ka sabab yaad aya

Sorry, the sound quality is rather poor.
PS: A somewhat better version:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

God is Back?

A book review by John Gray worth reading, again with a theme emerging:
More generally, they assume that ideas which emerged from within western Christian traditions can be applied anywhere. But as energy and power flows eastwards, the secular ideologies that developed from Christianity are likely to dwindle in influence.

Rightly, Micklethwait and Wooldridge note that the grand secular belief systems of the past two centuries continued Christian ways of thinking: “Marx found it impossible not to think in terms of grand eschatologies . . . He employed numerous religious tropes – communists are latter-day gnostics, communism is heaven on earth, the revolution is the Last Judgement, workers are saved and capitalism is damned.”

In other words, God never really went away, for secular political projects were continuations of Christianity by other means. But if Marxism is a post-Christian creed that is now obsolete, why should liberalism – in its militant, proselytising form – be any different? In fact, it has been in decline for some time, a process that began with the fall of communism.

However, it goes much deeper than just these religious tropes. Christianity underlies today's social theories just like Euclid's fifth postulate fixes his geometry. A different postulate is possible and leads to just as consistent and complete a geometry.

A second insight is this:
Another is their assumption that modernity is a Good Thing. Like so many western commentators, the authors berate the Muslim world, supposedly stuck in medieval torpor, for its failure to modernise. One had hoped that it was now understood that Lenin, Stalin and Hitler were not throwbacks to the Middle Ages. In their different ways, all three were radically modern – just like al-Qaeda today. If a certain type of pluralism appears only in modern times, the same is true of totalitarianism. There are many ways of being modern, some of them far from benign.


One of Balu's messages is that much of what passes as the social sciences is really secularized Christian theology. (This essay of his perhaps may be easier reading.)

So this in today's NYT immediately caught my eye (emphasis added)
Yet the rise of China means more than the emergence of a new great power. Its deeper import is that the ideologies of the past century - neoliberalism just as much as communism - are obsolete. Belief systems in which the categories of western religion are reproduced in the guise of pseudo-science, they are redundant in a world where the most rapidly advancing nation state has never been monotheist.
The John Gray essay from the New Statesman from which this is taken is here.


The ideas that shaped a decade

Neoliberalism: Three policies central to the neoliberal "Washington consensus" were low taxation, privatisation and the deregulation of financial services. Key thinkers: Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick.
Neoconservatism: The term was originally applied to disillusioned liberal critics of the welfare state. By the beginning of the 21st century, neoconservatism was associated principally with an aggressive US foreign policy. Key thinkers: Henry "Scoop" Jackson, Leo Strauss.
Political Islam: "Islamism", or political Islam, is dominated by two distinct and extreme strands of thought: the Salafist or Saudi Wahhabi tradition; and the work of Sayyid Qutb, who saw Islam as a political movement based on Quranic principles and from whom Osama Bin Laden derived the doctrine of violent jihad. Key thinkers: Sayyid Qutb, Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Feed the Birds



India joins the club

According to this, India has joined the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Canada and South Korea in having decoded the human genome.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ranjish Hi Sahi Dil Hi Dukhane Ke Liye Aa

An attempted translation of the lyrics.

PPS: The first lines I think are more accurately described by this [spellings corrected]
Ranjish means bahut purani dushmani..[a longstanding enmity] In Mumbaiya bhai log ka lingo.. Purana Locha.. What this ghazal by Mehdi Hassan means is, even if you have problems with me, even if you consider me an enemy, even if you want to only inflict pain on me.. even then .. please come.. (All he wants is the beloved should come.. whatever else happens .. it doesnt matter...)



Ondelette on salon.com

And just for once, it would be nice to live in a society where of the two entities, the one most likely to fail the Turing Test was the computer.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Dil Ke Jharoke Mein

Listening to the CD (the CD sounds much clearer than the youtube):

From the 1968 movie:

Sri Ganesh

A decades' worth of accumulated loose change was transmogrified into a new lens. All in the interest of a neater household :)

Sri Ganesh

Wide open, with 12mm extender tube, at Minimum Focal Distance, very dim lighting.
PS: not a good example of what the lens can do.

Reading list

This is just the non-fiction that I have an intention to read. This effort is an act of faith that some understanding and perhaps even some use of the ideas will follow. Some of it will probably never be completed, as new directions reveal themselves.

Grouped together, but in no particular order:-

Russell L. Ackoff's Ackoff's Fables, Recreating the Corporation, The Art of Problem Solving; Ralph de la Vega's Obstacles Welcome;

a 1996 symposium - Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Field Theory, edited by Tian Yu Cao; Gregory Naber's pair of books on Topology, Geometry and Gauge Fields; Roger Penrose's The Road to Reality as a sort of overarching road-map;

Shrikant Talageri's The RigVeda and the Avesta (he may be wrong, but he is brilliant); Jaswant Singh's Jinnah - India, Partition, Independence. These last two books are part of a long ongoing "project". Then I have for pride of ownership's sake a book I cannot really read - Christoph Luxenberg's "The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran. There is the comforting thought that perhaps another lifetime will be vouchsafed for me to get some understanding of this field. Hey, what is the point of being a Hindu without punarjanma?

Lastly but not leastly - remember these are in no particular order- Don Margulis' Photoshop Lab Color, a basic book, Richard Harrington's Understanding Photoshop CS4 and Tom Ang's Digital Photography Masterclass.

So, if I neglect to pick up the phone, you can imagine what I might be doing :)

PS: Luxenberg's book is the 2007 **English** edition.

A sad reflection

In his Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan books, K.M. Munshi writes of the wife as sahadharmachaarini. The modern bania has a strange conception of dharma. The radiant presence of the Lakshmi of the house is not what is sought, instead, gold, cash and goods, from her father's savings is what is ardently desired. The Lakshmi herself is secondary.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sir Winston Churchill, S.O.B.

From S.:
[Churchill] told the Americans during WWII that if a constituent assembly or national government reflecting the true majority of Hindus [in India] was constituted, the Muslims in the Indian Army would refuse to fight the War. Churchill even lied about the Muslim percentage in the Indian Army to get Americans to acquiesce in denying India a constitution and self-rule.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Kabhi Kabhi Aditi...


On the fredmiranda.com forum, the question was asked: what is the difference between a candid shot from a snapshot.

As one participant put it : "To me, a snapshot is a picture that looks as though the photographer didn't spend much time composing or worrying about their camera's parameters."

The quote of the day is:

I would think there is a difference and its important that we take more "snapshots" as they are part of the collective memory of our planet.

As a photographer I take shots as requested by paying clients or what I want for my personal work. What I don't do enough of is take snaps of family and friends which just record a moment in time.

Just an other take on the place of the snap shot in our world.

A response by shootr was:
Thats a very interesting idea John.

I have begun to find it odd that virtually every one of my friends who doesn't shoot professionally has literally thousands of images documenting and capturing the various moments of their lives.

I am lucky if I have a handful.

The tales and stories that their images tell live many years past them. I was reminded of this recently by a few deaths of people I knew. Two separate and distinct twenty something girls I hung out with. At their memorials, and online were gathered a massive collection of visual reminders of who they were, their vibrance and life.

It really stopped me dead in my tracks when it struck me that if I would so tragically end, how little of who I was could be shared beyond the sequestered groups of friends I maintain.

At those memorial services, I relived happy memories, as well as developed some new ones from images where I had not been a participant. I left the memorial knowing that they were incredibly diverse and wonderful people who impacted so many people's lives in so many positive ways.

So I fully agree with your notion of improving the collective memory of the planet.

Life as a Dhimmi-6

Times of India:
AMRITSAR: A Sikh advocate in Pakistan was reportedly thrashed and threatened with dire consequences recently if he did not convert to Islam, forcing his family to run for safety to a gurdwara in Hassanabdal near Rawalpindi.


The disadvantage of upgrading my satellite TV service to HD is that seeing George Will in high definition induces a certain biliousness.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tom Lehrer's The Elements

Using IQ as a predictor

Back in October, CIP posted some stuff about IQ as a predictor, and in particular, this quote:
The upshot of this research is that general mental ability (IQ and related tests) was the best predictor and work sample tests (e.g., seeing if people can actually do key elements of a job -- if a secretary can type or a programmer can write code ) were the second best of the 19 examined.

Well, if you examine the comments thread, you will find if you chase down the original research results, IQ is second best, after work sample tests. But there was something else, that did not strike me with full force back then.

Look up the Handbook of Industrial, Work and Organizational Psychology: Personnel psychology,by Neil Anderson on books.google.com (g is the supposed real life "thing" that IQ purports to measure.)

Schmidt, Gooding, Noe and Kirsch (1984) performed a 'bare bones' meta-analysis (McDaniel, Hirsh, Schmidt, Raju & Hunter, 1986) of the predictive efficiency of g for job performance. Schmidt et. al. reported an average validity of .248. Ree and Carretta (1998) corrected this value for range restriction and predictor and criterion unreliability using the meta-analytically derived default values in Raju, Burke, Normand and Langlois (1991). After correction, the estimated true correlation between g and job performance was .512.

What is the "corrected for range restriction"? A comment on this blogpost explains (context: a study of eight graders at a school showed that school performance correlated much better with measures of self-discipline than with IQ).
this study covered only eighth graders in a relatively privileged school.
I was thinking this during the whole post, and then here's confirmation. In statistics, this is called "restriction of range" for some variable, here IQ (because the school is privileged, indicating that students of low or average IQ are unlikely to be found in the expected proportions). The less a variable varies, the less power it has to account for some outcome.

The point is that if you include the full range of human IQs, from the severely retarded to the highest intelligence, there is a stronger correlation between IQ and performance (at work, or at school or whatever) than in a limited population.

But think about it - when using IQ as a practical predictor, e.g., for college admissions or for selection for a job, you always, in practice have "restriction of range" - the candidates you are considering all are pretty much very similar. So, unless you are dealing with conscripts - involuntary applicants - or are a social engineer on a grand scale, IQ is, precisely because of the range restriction, a pretty useless predictor. This sentence is thus total B.S.
After correction, the estimated true correlation between g and job performance was .512.

On the radio: a new science of education

From Krista Tipett's program, Speaking of Faith, a interview of neuroscientist Adele Diamond (full transcript)

First, my obligatory bash of I.Q. (IMO, the emphasis on "intelligence" as displayed in IQ rather than the skills mentioned below has ruined a great many lives, and that, apart from its shaky foundations, is why I execrate I.Q.).
Ms. Tippett: I think, was it Vygotsky who maintained that a child's ability to play creatively with other children is a better indicator of future academic success than IQ? And you've also said that discipline is a better indicator than IQ.

Ms. Diamond: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: Which, when I was growing up in the 1960s, '70s, you know, everybody got IQ tests, but I remember being aware even then that they didn't know what to do with it. Right? And that they would …

Ms. Diamond: Oh, you see, when I was growing up in the 1970s, they segregated us by IQ. So they had the intellectually gifted classes whose children had scored higher in IQ. And if you had a super high IQ and you were a girl in New York City, you could go to Hunter High School.

Ms. Tippett: OK.

Ms. Diamond: So IQ meant a lot in terms of tracking back then. But it turns out, the work of Angela Duckworth and Marty Seligman shows that even in college discipline — being able to exercise discipline and keep at it and practice and study and finish your assignments and start your assignments when you need to — is much more important than IQ. Which is kind of hopeful because then you don't have to worry, you know, gee, I wasn't born with this high IQ so I can't achieve. And the evidence is that that's not so.

Second: executive functions:

Ms. Tippett: The early childhood educational method that Adele Diamond has evaluated is called "Tools of the Mind." It incorporates the kind of role-playing mouth-ear exercise she just described as well as structured or formal dramatic play. This approach is based on new understanding of what is called executive function. Executive function describes the brain's capacity to coordinate the many kinds of mental activity that are involved in any human experience and certainly in learning, from how we focus to how we feel. Executive function enables us to take charge of our responses and actions. It is different from innate intelligence but Adele Diamond and others in this field say that more directly than intelligence, this determines how well we learn, how much we achieve, and how we apply what we learn in real life. Executive function is, in part, about what Adele Diamond describes as inhibitory control.

Ms. Diamond: You need inhibitory control to stay on task when you're bored or when you meet initial failure. You need inhibitory control to focus in on something in the environment so that you're not overwhelmed by all the other things around. You need inhibitory control — for example, let's say you see an old friend that you haven't seen in years. And your first reaction on seeing your old friend is, "My god, how much weight you've gained." But you don't say that. Instead you exercise inhibitory control and you instead say something to make your friend feel good.
And if you think about it more in terms of the things the Dalai Lama talks about, the Dalai Lama talks about how easy it is when you get hurt to react by hurting the next person. But if you exercise inhibitory control, you can say, "Wait a minute."
Another aspect of executive function is working memory. It's holding information in mind and playing with it, and you need working memory for anything that unfolds over time. You also need working memory for creativity because the essence of creativity is holding things in mind and disassembling them and putting them together in new ways. That's where you need working memory.
And the last executive function is cognitive flexibility. It's being able to switch your perspective or switching the way you're thinking about things, being able to think outside the box. And of course, that's also an aspect of creativity.
So those are the basic aspects of executive function, and out of that, more sophisticated executive functions like planning and problem solving get built up.

A very simple example:
Ms. Diamond: The having to do it when your first inclination isn't to do it. An example in a math context is a lot of children will do mirror writing. Like, they'll write a six reversed.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Ms. Diamond: Now, that's very normal, but a lot of teachers will pull their hair about this, so they might have the child write 6 a thousand times. It doesn't help, but they'll try whatever they can to try to get the child not to do it. And Elena Bodrova has a very simple way and after an afternoon or an evening, the mirror writing is gone. What she says is when you go home tonight and you do your math homework, every time you're supposed to write a 6, put down your pencil and pick up a red pencil. That's all she says. That's the whole instruction. None of this "you're a bad kid." No. And the reason it works is because the child has an automaticity to do this mirror writing, and what the child really needs to do is take a moment and think and do what you really know you should do but is not your first inclination. But if you ask a child this young to wait it doesn't help.

Ms. Tippett: That is really interesting.

Ms. Diamond: So it gives the child some way to wait, which is the time it takes to put down the pencil and pick up the red pencil.
Some of the components of executive function would contribute to I.Q.; but I doubt inhibitory control is part of it. Classical cultures value inhibitory control greatly; you see the mention of the Dalai Lama already.  But it goes much beyond that.  E.g., one of the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita is to master the ability to do what you have to do ignoring your likes and dislikes.  The path to liberation requires a well developed inhibitory function.


PS: a blog post on Duckworth and Seligman.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Verizon's advertising scam

See here.

PS: full disclosure: I work for T.

The Lawn Game

November twenty-first, and I could be observed mowing the lawn. Why?

The weather has been warm (50s and 60s Fahrenheit) and the grass has been growing. That makes the lawn surface uneven. There is the matter of leaves. Whichever lawn has the smoothest finish accumulates the least leaves for clean-up. The wind tends to blow them off and deposit them elsewhere. Lastly, because I do my own lawn work, I **can** mow my lawn (unlike most of my neighbors). Most lawn service companies seem to have wound up their activities for the year.

Mumbai 26/11: Arrests in Italy

Via BRF, a AP newsitem (link will probably disappear), about the Italian police arresting two Pakistanis for involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai massacres.
ROME — Italian police on Saturday arrested two Pakistani men accused of providing logistical support for last year's terror attacks in Mumbai, officials said.

The two, father and son, were arrested in an early morning raid in Brescia, police in the northern Italian city said.

The suspects managed a money transfer agency and helped fund the Nov. 26 attacks, police said in a statement. The day before the attacks they transferred money to activate an Internet phone account that was used by the attackers and their accomplices, said Stefano Fonzi, the head of anti-terror police in Brescia.

Italian police began the probe in December after being alerted by the FBI that the money had been sent from Italy, Fonzi told The Associated Press.

Two points of interest are that the Pakistani conspiracy against Mumbai reached around the globe; and that it was the FBI that tipped off the Italian police.

PS: CNN has this:
Italian police started their investigation the following month after being alerted by Indian authorities and the FBI that funds had been transferred from Italy, Fonzi said.

So much for AP reporting.

PPS: Bloomberg and BBC agree with CNN, not AP.

Saturday Snark

Glenn Greenwald on primitive East European notions of the rule-of-law.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


No one who put this person near the nuclear button should have a future in public life.
Andrew Sullivan on John McCain's responsibility for Sarah Palin.

Systems thinking - Russell L Ackoff

Starting an exploration (HuffPo).

"Problems dissolved, never to return? What are you talking about? If such a thing were true, how come I haven't heard of it before? If Russell Ackoff - and no disrespect intended... may he rest in peace - helped develop such a miraculous way of solving problems, how come he isn't as famous as Einstein? In fact, how can you compare someone who's unknown to someone as famous as Einstein?"

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Diwali at Princeton Chapel

The first Diwali in Princeton University Chapel was held yesterday (though this says it is the second; I believe the first "official" recognition of Diwali was last year, and this is the first event in the chapel).

The event was captured the spirit of Diwali. Well done!

The Chapel isn't exactly the best place to hold an event. It is large and full of reverberations, is dark with wood panelling and is poorly illuminated. The acoustics and lighting are challenging to say the least. For this photographer, lighting and position/perspective, both were less than optimum. 5D at ISO 3200, 70-200mm f/2.8 and flash were used - but the chapel seems to absorb all the light. A 200mm f/2 or 85mm f/1.2 would have been a good lens to have. Some pictures are here (clicking on the picture below will take you to a Picasa album). Consider these to be news photographs. :)
Diwali at the Chapel

PS: Trying Picasa's embeddable slideshow:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Misunderstanding the problem of time

Physicist Sean Carroll as quoted on NEW:
Every time you put milk into your coffee and watch it mix and realize that you can’t unmix that milk from your coffee, you are learning something profound about the Big Bang, about conditions in the very, very early universe. This is just a giant clue that the real universe has given to us to how the fundamental laws of physics work.

Sorry to say this, but the standard of physics at Caltech has gone down greatly. When you learn that you can't unmix milk from your coffee you simply learn that physical systems that occupy a very, very, very large volume of phase space require a lot of work to be reduced to a very, very, very, small volume of phase space. The increase of entropy would be true even if God created the universe as described in the book of Genesis. It would be true even if we were heading to the Big Crunch. Now if you contemplate why your milk and coffee and you yourself exist, then you are learning something about the initial conditions of the universe. You realize that you and the milk and the coffee could have arisen only from a preceding state with lower entropy, and thus, at the Big Bang, the Universe must have been in a relatively low entropy state. Now that is something profound. But that is not what Sean Carroll writes.

Extraordinary Rendition

I report here a case of extraordinary rendition. Not much is known about the subject, the photograph below was obtained by a covert operation, and was released to the public under the freedom of information act. The subject below was last seen being carted away in a white truck purporting to be that of "Lil' Bugger Pest Control Services". He was suspected of biological warfare in the attic. Toxic residues of his activity were found there. Unlike the unfortunates in the CIA's custody, he will not be subject to torture or the risk of death in custody.

Friday the 13th was not his lucky day.


The Depravity of Our Political Class

Sickening. (Senators voted in favor of keeping US government contractor provisions requiring employees to keep mum about rape, and are upset only because they went to a floor vote where they can be held accountable for their votes rather than a vote by acclamation.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The immutability of IQ?

Via Yglesias:
Their answer – a provisional one, since they are still refining the research – is that feeding primary school kids less fat, sugar and salt, and more fruit and vegetables, has a surprisingly large effect. Authorised absences, the best available proxy for illness, fell by 15 per cent in Greenwich, relative to schools in similar London boroughs. And relative to other boroughs, the proportion of children reaching Level Four in English rose by four and a half percentage points (more than six per cent), while the proportion of children achieving Level Five in Science rose by six points, or almost 20 per cent.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Via here
where this gets scary is when you hear a conversation like:

Person 1: “The Taliban couldn’t have blown up the market in Peshawar because a Muslim wouldn’t do that.”

Person 2: “No, the Americans did it. But you know, the market that got blown up catered for women. And you know it’s haram for women to go out of the house.”

Person 1: “oh…..yeah”

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Clever Desalination Idea

I'm not a chemist, but the idea seems plausible; it will be wonderful if it works!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

QOTD - Keynes

The NYT has reviews of two new books on the economist John Maynard Keynes.

The reviewer, Justin Fox, tells us that "what’s vital about Keynes today is not so much a well-defined economic doctrine as the attitude and the tools with which he attacked economic problems". "He thought theory — including conventional economic theory — was important and useful. But he was willing to go straight back to the drawing board when it didn’t provide satisfactory answers to his questions. The contrast with modern academic economists and their attachment to elegant mathematical models is instructive."
Neither should the Keynes comeback be seen as an attempt to establish his “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,” first published in 1936, as an economic bible to be consulted at every turn by students and policy makers. Keynes would have found such an effort silly. He was dismissive of those who leaned too heavily on rules derived from a sacred text, be it the Koran or “Das Kapital.” Clarke quotes him saying in 1944, after a meeting with several of his American disciples, “I was the only non-Keynesian there.”

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Space photography on a budget

$150. See here.

Diwali 2009


Brahma Kamal (pseudo)

As per Wiki, Brahma Kamal is Saussurea obvallata, a Himalayan plant that grows at altitudes of 4500 meters. Raat ki Rani is a jasmine-like flower, Cestrum Nocturnum, native to the West Indies. The flower below is Epiphyllum oxipetalum, Night blooming Cereus, or Dutchman's Pipe, and is from South or Central America. Nevertheless, google shows that a lot of people call it Brahma Kamal. By any name, it is a spectacular flower.

Canon 5D, 24-105mm f/4 @98mm, 1/60 second, with flash, default lightroom settings.


The camera metering did well, there is no highlight clipping in the exposure. But the lack of detail in the flower is bad.

Problem is I don't know the recipe for fixing it. Here is one (extreme) attempt using Photoshop. A lot of detail shows, but at the cost of brightness and whiteness.


Musings on a runner's death

Peter Curtin, age 23, MIT graduate student in chemistry, topper in his Princeton undergraduate class, general all-rounded, collapsed and died at mile 25 of his first marathon. There was absolutely no known medical reason he should not have run the marathon; the cause of death is still under investigation.

From the point of view of materialistic philosophies, there is no sense to be had from this tragedy. All we can do is find the material cause - and maybe be able to screen future runners to prevent further such tragedies. In addition, from the point of view of the religions where God has a Plan, humans may struggle to find just how this fits the unknown divine plan, but must accept that somehow it makes sense. From most of the Indic traditions, whatever one may say about karma, god's will and so on, ultimately one must accept that this is unfathomable. Even if there is some meaning behind this tragedy, it is beyond human comprehension.

There is no comfort to be had from any philosophy. This is a part of the human experience, one simply has to accept it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rangoli 2009

Rangoli 2009, courtesy my niece N. Note the central 11-point star - not easy to draw free-hand. (Our rangoli rules require no "cheating"). I was away in sunny Kerala this Diwali and could not participate.

Rangoli 2005-2008.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Then and Now

Arrighi, et. al.
Ever since Roman times Asia had been a purveyor of valued goods for the tribute-taking classes of Europe and had thereby exercised a powerful pull on Europe's precious metals. This structural imbalance of European trade with the East created strong incentives for European governments and businesses to seek ways and means, through trade or conquest, to retrieve the purchasing power that relentlessly drained from West to East. As Josiah Child's contemporary Charles Davenant observed, whoever controlled the Asian trade would be in a position to "give law to all the commercial world" (Wolf 1982: 125).

Until around 2001, you could argue that it was: China’s overall trade position wasn’t too far out of balance. From then onward, however, the policy of keeping the yuan-dollar rate fixed came to look increasingly bizarre. First of all, the dollar slid in value, especially against the euro, so that by keeping the yuan/dollar rate fixed, Chinese officials were, in effect, devaluing their currency against everyone else’s. Meanwhile, productivity in China’s export industries soared; combined with the de facto devaluation, this made Chinese goods extremely cheap on world markets.

The result was a huge Chinese trade surplus. If supply and demand had been allowed to prevail, the value of China’s currency would have risen sharply. But Chinese authorities didn’t let it rise. They kept it down by selling vast quantities of the currency, acquiring in return an enormous hoard of foreign assets, mostly in dollars, currently worth about $2.1 trillion.

A quote from the heyday of the British Empire

In the days of Lord Curzon there had been a popular saying, 'lift a mullah's beard and you will find the Union Jack'. - from American Anti-Colonialism and the Dissolution of the British Empire, William Roger Louis International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 61, No. 3. (Summer, 1985), pp. 395-420, which you can find on the web.

I take the meaning that in those days, the British Empire was a major sponsor of religious obscurantism and fundamentalism among Muslims. Similar policies continue to this day. The US partnership with Saudi Arabia is one such. Sixty years of US-Pakistan relations with the US continuing to pump arms and aid to Pakistan's increasingly fundamentalist army is another (remember "Allah, America, Army - the 3 pillars of Pakistan" ?). The sponsorship of the Afghan Jihad is yet another.

The terrible costs of those policies are only now becoming somewhat apparent to the policy-makers.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

American anti-colonialism

E.g., (PDF)
(American Anti-Colonialism and the Dissolution of the British Empire
William Roger Louis
International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 61, No. 3. (Summer, 1985), pp. 395-420.)

It would be a grave mistake to underestimate the genuine admiration felt by most Americans for English values, or for that matter Scottish, Welsh and Irish values. The same cannot be said for the creed of the British Empire. With the exception of some fanatical Anglophiles of the English Speaking Union, and the romanticists of the 'white man's burden' (and perhaps a further more rational minority who regarded British rule as an instrument of progress), Americans did not admire British imperialism. If ever there were an example of one organ of the press catching the collective sentiment of the American public, it was the 'Open letter to the people of England' published by Life magazine in October 1942 at the time of the 'Quit India' movement:
[Olne thing we are sure we are not fighting for is to hold the British Empire together. We don't like to put the matter so bluntly, but we don't want you to have any illusions. If your strategists are planning a war to hold the British Empire together they will sooner or later find themselves strategizing all alone. . . .In the light of what you are doing in India, how do you expect us to talk about
'principles' and look our soldiers in the eye?
The ideology of the American anti-colonial campaign was more than a reflection of
self-interest. It was a force in itself which helped to shape the substance of defence, economic, and foreign policy. It was a set of principles that most Americans upheld. The essence of it was the belief that colonial subjects had the inherent right to become independent and to rule themselves.

Liveblogging The Lifting of the White Man's Burden

Professor J. Bradford DeLong has posted an editorial from the Economist, September 3, 1939 as Europe slid into war.
An excerpt follows, emphasis added.

These, then, are the four principles of peace: Democracy, an International Order, Restitution and Generosity. Their translation into precise details is a matter which cannot now be undertaken. But there are certain points to which it is essential that we should all now commit ourselves as publicly as we can, while our visions are still unclouded. There must be no annexations of German territory and no indemnities. There must be disarmament, but no expectation that Germany will remain disarmed while other nations are armed. There must be a genuine sharing of colonial benefits and responsibilities through the widest extension of the mandatory principle. There must be a new League of Nations, with the hesitations and half-commitments of the old removed. There must be an end of the more senseless forms of economic nationalism.

In the madness and the agony that is to come, we must cling fast to these principles. Only so can we be quite sure that, in defending democracy, we shall not betray it, and that the freedom for which we fight is that freedom for all men on which alone permanent peace can be built.

What is the "mandatory principle" referred to above?

Following WWI, the League of Nations established a system of "Mandates." In theory, the Mandate system had the benevolent intention of preparing the "natives" of various regions for self government. In practice, the granting of mandates often represented nothing more than the granting of spoils to the different victorious allied governments. The basis of the mandate system was Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which gave broad authority to the mandate powers regarding preparation for self-rule.

"Colonial benefits" - what are those? The ideology of colonialism is that Europeans (and later the Japanese) were shouldering the burden of civilizing the rest of the people in the world at great cost to themselves, the fact that there were benefits to the colonizer, that the very reason for colonialism were these unspoken benefits was not commonly spoken of.

The fact is that Germany, Italy and Japan were latecomers to the colonial game, and so the empires they desired had to come at the expense of the existing ones, and that was the root of World War II.

"The freedom we fight is for" is "freedom for all men" - so Africans and most Asians were not fully human. The colonial benefits, the Economists editors hoped, would continue beyond the conclusion of the great war.

Let us remember that the "evil" Axis powers and the "good" Allied powers were two sides of the same coin, both fighting for control of the system of exploitation of what is now called the third world.

Notice that colonialism was perfectly compatible with "freedom", "democracy", "capitalism", "free markets" etc., as those were conceived of in 1939. Let us remember then that these words in scare quotes mean only as much as is put into actual operation. Whatever the existing order is, the masters of that order will talk of it in terms of "freedom" and "democracy". (In the Cold War, both the West and the Soviet Union claimed to have "freedom" and "democracy"; the dispute was over the economic system.) In 1939, 30 million Englishmen might sing the praises of "freedom" and "democracy" even while denying it to 300 million Indians.

World War II utterly annihilated that evil system, and the world breathes freer today. Had Hitler not incinerated so many people in his death camps, World War II might be even now known as the Great War Of Liberation (though liberation was an entirely unintentional consequence of the war). I suspect in the long term, when history is not dominated by European preoccupations, that is how the cataclysm of WWII will be remembered.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Derivative evaluation in real life

The algorithmic complexity of pricing derivatives and possible intractability are, in a sense, irrelevant, given behavior like that reported below.

McClatchy reports:
As the housing market collapsed in late 2007, Moody's Investors Service, whose investment ratings were widely trusted, responded by purging analysts and executives who warned of trouble and promoting those who helped Wall Street plunge the country into its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

A McClatchy investigation has found that Moody's punished executives who questioned why the company was risking its reputation by putting its profits ahead of providing trustworthy ratings for investment offerings.

Instead, Moody's promoted executives who headed its "structured finance" division, which assisted Wall Street in packaging loans into securities for sale to investors. It also stacked its compliance department with the people who awarded the highest ratings to pools of mortgages that soon were downgraded to junk. Such products have another name now: "toxic assets."

Algorithm Complexity Theory meets Financial Derivatives

Derivatives are computationally intractable - so is the claim made by Sanjeev Arora, Boaz Barak, Markus Brunnermeier, and Rong Ge in their new paper Computational Complexity and Information Asymmetry in Financial Products.

One of our main results suggests that it may be computationally intractable to price derivatives even when buyers know almost all of the relevant information, and furthermore this is true even in very simple models of asset yields.

The lemon problem clearly exists in real life (e.g., "no documentation mortgages"), and there will always be a discrepancy between the buyer's "model" of the assets and the true valuation. Since we exhibit the computational intractability of pricing even when the input model is known (N - n independent assets and n junk assets), one fears that such pricing problems will not go away even with better models. If anything, the pricing problem should only get harder for more complicated models. (Our few positive results in Section 5 raise the hope that it may be possible to circumvent at least the tampering problem with better design.) In any case, we feel that from now on computational complexity should be
explicitly accounted for in the design and trade of derivatives.

Link to original paper.

Will watch with interest whether
(1) the result bears up under scrutiny from complexity theorists.
(2) the result has any practical implications.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I remember one day my seven-year old son Shakir came home to complain that he had been punished in his religious studies class. When I asked him why, he replied: “The teacher asked me what Islam taught us, and I replied Arabic. So she made me stand in the corner.” - Irfan Husain, in The Dawn, Karachi

Nathan Myhrvold isn't so smart after all

Bill Gates supposedly said: "I don’t know anyone I would say is smarter than Nathan."

Read this.

Well, Gates would probably also say that Windows is a wonderful operating system :)


People laugh at the common Indian preoccupation with astrology; and then turn around and consult economists!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Margaret Bourke-White's view of Pakistan

This was written around 1947. Bourke-White clearly saw then Pakistan's set-up as a rentier state.
What plans did he have for the industrial development of the country? Did he hope to enlist technical or financial assistance from America?

"America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America," was Jinnah's reply. "Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed" -- he revolved his long forefinger in bony circles -- "the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves." He leaned toward me, dropping his voice to a confidential note. "Russia," confided Mr. Jinnah, "is not so very far away."

This had a familiar ring. In Jinnah's mind this brave new nation had no other claim on American friendship than this - that across a wild tumble of roadless mountain ranges lay the land of the Bolsheviks. I wondered whether the Quaid-i-Azam considered his new state only as an armored buffer between opposing major powers. He was stressing America's military interest in other parts of the world. "America is now awakened," he said with a satisfied smile. Since the United States was now bolstering up Greece and Turkey, she should be much more interested in pouring money and arms into Pakistan. "If Russia walks in here," he concluded, "the whole world is menaced."

In the weeks to come I was to hear the Quaid-i-Azam's thesis echoed by government officials throughout Pakistan. "Surely America will build up our army," they would say to me. "Surely America will give us loans to keep Russia from walking in." But when I asked whether there were any signs of Russian infiltration, they would reply almost sadly, as though sorry not to be able to make more of the argument. "No, Russia has shown no signs of being interested in Pakistan."

This hope of tapping the U. S. Treasury was voiced so persistently that one wondered whether the purpose was to bolster the world against Bolshevism or to bolster Pakistan's own uncertain position as a new political entity. Actually, I think, it was more nearly related to the even more significant bankruptcy of ideas in the new Muslim state -- a nation drawing its spurious warmth from the embers of an antique religious fanaticism, fanned into a new blaze.

Then it was the communists, today it is the Taliban, Islamic fundamentalism and the nuclear bomb.

My view of Pakistan

The ideology and establishment of Pakistan are a cancer upon the world. However, in this case, it is the tumor that is threatening the world with radiation therapy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Kerry-Lugar Bill

Aid to Pakistan. Bears repeating, no good will come of it:

Najam Sethi threatens a huge terrorist attack in India

The Friday Times continues its honorable tradition of delivering the message of terrorist blackmail.

The purpose would be to derail any push against the Taliban/al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It will happen unless Pakistan's powerful national security and military establishment is "accorded a greater role in America’s roadmap for determining Afghanistan’s future as a peaceful and stable state that is friendly and not hostile to Pakistan."

It is very clear (that as per Sethi) the recent attacks by Taliban/al Qaeda in Pakistan against Pakistan's "powerful national security and military establishment" are part of the dangerous game that that establishment continues to play. The Taliban/al Qaeda are after all, its long-term assets (despite the attacks):

"The Pakistani military leadership cannot concede the proposed American strategy to confront the Al-Qaeda-Taliban network because it will risk losing its long-term “assets” for political adjustment in Afghanistan."

What the world will not acknowledge is that the Pakistan national security and military establishment is a cancer.

From the Friday Times:

Options for war or peace

Najam Sethi’s E d i t o r i a l

Two inter-related and significant developments in Pakistan in the last seven days have hit world headlines. But there is an underlying third dimension that has not been explicitly debated. Consider.

Pakistan’s military leadership has whipped up the religio-nationalist media and opportunist political opposition to attack the Kerry-Lugar Bill as an unacceptable American attempt to undermine Pakistan’s sovereignty. But a close look at the Bill’s conditions doesn’t reveal any extraordinary trespass that is significantly different from the past under military regimes. So, why has GHQ rapped the US administration and the Zardari regime?

But the Pakistan army is also on the receiving end. The Al-Qaeda-Taliban network has smacked it squarely where it hurts. Four major terrorist attacks in seven days, including the audacious daylong siege of GHQ, and 114 killed, including a Brigadier and a Colonel. What is the message of the terrorists to the army’s leadership?

Is there a link between these two developments that explains what is going on?

A debate is raging in Washington DC. The US national security establishment led by the Pentagon in DC and General Stanley McChrystal in Kabul wants a 40,000-troop surge in Afghanistan. But the liberals in the Obama administration, media and think tanks want to bring the boys home and let Afghanistan boil in its own sordid juices. There is now a third option on the table from Joe Biden, the US vice-president. He wants the status quo on troop levels to be maintained. But he also wants US war-strategy to focus on the Al-Qaeda-Taliban network in Waziristan and Balochistan rather than in Afghanistan. In other words, he is advising a defensive and holding posture in Afghanistan and an offensive and forward position in Pakistan. Hence the recent debate about the pros and cons of targeting Mulla Umar’s “Quetta Shura” in Balochistan. This is also another way of pressuring the Pakistan army to go into Waziristan all guns blazing, stop protecting the Quetta Shura and finish the job itself.

Here’s the rub. The Pakistan army doesn’t like General McChrystal’s idea of an American troop surge or Mr Biden’s notion of an aggressive posture inside Pakistan’s tribal areas. Emotional issues of “occupation” and “sovereignty” aside, both options would amount to the same thing for GHQ: if successful, they would strengthen the current Washington-Kabul-New Delhi axis now calling the shots in Afghanistan and deprive Pakistan’s military of political leverage based on select pro-Pakistan and anti-India Taliban or Pakhtun “assets” in any future political dispensation in its backyard. The Pakistan military is also uneasy at the prospect of launching full–scale operations in Waziristan without first having fully mopped up Swat and motivated its soldiers for the tougher task ahead. The onset of winter and the regrouping of the Pakistan Taliban under Baitullah Mehsud’s successor Hakeemullah make the task even more daunting.

Obviously, the Al-Qaeda-Taliban network doesn’t like these options either. So the Afghan Taliban launched a well-planned and ferocious attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul and the Pakistani Taliban a desperate and audacious one on GHQ in Rawalpindi last week. This is meant to signal that, far from digging in to withstand the proposed US-Pakistan offensive in Waziristan, the Al-Qaeda-Taliban network is determined to carry the battle to the heartland of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Meanwhile, India and Pakistan are pointing to an ISI hand in the attack on India’s Kabul embassy and RAW’s behind the attack on GHQ respectively. Therefore the two America-sponsored options can be scuttled by a terrorist attack inside India that unleashes the demons of Mumbai and brings the two countries to the brink of war, diverting and diminishing attention from America’s “war against terror” and leading to political convulsion and possibly regime change in Pakistan.

The Pakistani military leadership cannot concede the proposed American strategy to confront the Al-Qaeda-Taliban network because it will risk losing its long-term “assets” for political adjustment in Afghanistan. It also cannot balk over a bold new operation in Waziristan alongside the Americans because that will lead to a blow to its wounded pride over the attack on GHQ. The media that backed it to the hilt over the red herring of the Kerry-Lugar Bill to deflect American pressure to up the ante against the Afghan Taliban in Waziristan is now demanding a similar “honour-saving” exercise from the army against the Pakistan Taliban. The problem, of course, is that, while we may talk of different categories and targets of Taliban, we are in fact dealing with a dangerous nexus between Al-Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban and Pakistan Jihadi and sectarian parties and groups that has become one network aiming to seize Kabul and then Islamabad.

Clearly and realistically speaking, the powerful Pakistani military and national security establishment must be part of any regional solution. It must be accorded a greater role in America’s roadmap for determining Afghanistan’s future as a peaceful and stable state that is friendly and not hostile to Pakistan. If that doesn’t happen, the odds are that the Pakistani military will strike back. The Kerry-Lugar bill is the first casualty. If renewed tension with India and regime change in Pakistan follow, there will be no winners and losers in the region.