Saturday, January 31, 2009

Arthur Silber: The Ravages of Tribalism

It is a thought-provoking set of essays. They're long and you might find much to be skeptical about. Still, it is worth the effort.

Part 1
This series will examine some of the many ways that love goes wrong, the ways in which love destroys the genuine vitality of another soul.

Part 2

(Not the main theme of the essay, but quoteworthy:
We should never treat having fun as something unimportant or trivial: having fun is a deeply serious matter. It is one of the primary ways we experience the inexpressible joy of being alive.

Waiting for part 3.

Say Yes to MOM!

MOM is a proposed rail route through Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex counties in New Jersey. It has been held up by NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) types; but perhaps its time has come.

Dismantling Greenspan

James Grant, Editor of "Grant's Interest Rate Observer", has a collection of essays published in a book "Mr. Market Miscalculates: The Bubble Years and Beyond". This I am reading in an attempt to understand our Wall Street-driven world.

An essay, "Nasdaq's Peak was Greenspan's", from August 3, 2001, had a take down of the fabled Federal Reserve Chairman, excerpts below.

...Insofar as Greenspan leads the market, it is a case of a one-eyed man leading people with two. Perhaps after they refresh themselves on the chairman's errant judgment — especially off the beam on the eve of the 2000 stock-market peak — the sighted will have more confidence in their own judgment.
The fundamental cause of the bubble was the mispricing of capital and credit, therefore of risk. In the hottest, most bubble-like sectors of the economy, investment projects were undertaken purely because money or credit was available to finance them.
Money was easy late in the decade, and when the capital markets chose to make it tight, as in the wake of the 1998 Long-Term Capital Management affair, the Fed insisted on making it easy again.

{Greenspan made a speech on March 6, 2000, before the Boston College Conference on the New Economy, on "The revolution in information technology".} As he spoke, orders for high-tech durable goods in the second quarter were on their way to registering a year-over-year gain of 25%. Four quarters later, in April-June 2001, following a sharp rise in the cost of speculative capital, they would register a 31% decline, the steepest on record. John Lonski, Moody's chief economist, aptly described the surge and plunge as "the picture of a bubble".

It was no bubble to the chairman when he rhapsodized on information technology and productivity growth. Thanks to computer technology, Greenspan declared, business managers were increasingly able to formulate decisions using "real-time" information.......
At a fundamental level the essential contribution of information technology is the expansion of knowledge and its observse, the reduction of uncertainty. Before this quantum jump in information availability, most business decisions were hampered by a fog of uncertainty. Businesses had limited and lagging knowledge of customers' needs and of the location of inventories and materials flowing through complex production systems. In that environment, doubling up on materials and people was essential as a backup to the inevitable misjudgments of the real-time state of play in a company. Decisions were made from information that was hours, days or even weeks old.
Thanks to the clarity afforded by instantaneous communications, Cisco Systems have to write off only $2.25 billion in excess inventories during its third fiscal quarter, in addition to just $1.17 billion in restructuing and other special charges. Using the older technologies — telephone, fax, the mails, citizens' band radio, etc., — the loss would undoubtedly have been greater. Throughout Silicon Valley, makers of PCs, chips, servers, printers, and other digital products have admitted to monstrous miscalculations of final demand. Lucent, Corning, Nortel and JDS Uniphase have been devastated by one of the greatest misallocations of capital outside the chronicles of the Soviet Gosplan. Who can conceive of the size of this waste had there been no email?
The fact that the capital spending boom is still going strong indicates that businesses continue to find a wide array of potential high-rate-of-return, productivity-enhancing investments. And I see nothing to suggest that these opportunities will peter out any time soon.
At least, not for the next 96 hours (the Nasdaq peaked on March 10).

Here was a remarkable set of ideas. What drives a capital spending boom, said the central banker is not — even in part — an excess of bank credit or an artificially low money-market interest rate. Rather, it is the cold and detached analysis of cost and benefit.....

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Our Liberal Media

The TV magnates used to say that because the Republicans are in power, they get more air time. Of course, now that Republicans are in the minority and have lost the White House, CNN gets seven Republicans and just one Democratic congress person in the last few days.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

...with liberty and justice for all

The purveyors of the conventional wisdom are strongly rallying to the idea that Bush Administration officials should not be held accountable for their possibly manifold instances of breaking the laws regarding torture and illegal surveillance.

Glenn Greenwald points out how we're creating a two-tiered justice system, and just how harsh the system is on ordinary citizens. He actually has an entire series of articles, they should be read.

But even if you don't, read below:

Homeless man gets 15 years for stealing $100

A homeless man robbed a Louisiana bank and took a $100 bill. After feeling remorseful, he surrendered to police the next day. The judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Roy Brown, 54, robbed the Capital One bank in Shreveport, Louisiana in December 2007. He approached the teller with one of his hands under his jacket and told her that it was a robbery.

The teller handed Brown three stacks of bill but he only took a single $100 bill and returned the remaining money back to her. He said that he was homeless and hungry and left the bank.

The next day he surrendered to the police voluntarily and told them that his mother didn’t raise him that way.

Brown told the police he needed the money to stay at the detox center and had no other place to stay and was hungry.

In Caddo District Court, he pleaded guilty. The judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison for first degree robbery.

If $100 means 15 years in prison, there wouldn't be enough prison space for all the white collar criminals who steal much more than $100 without the least bit of remorse.

Trade is not good for America?

It ranks up there with Alan Greenspan's discovery of a flaw in his ideology - he thought that financial institutions would be adequately self-regulating out of self-interest. Now, after a financial collapse unlike any seen in the last six decades and the US economy on the verge of a great depression, he goes "oops!".

The "it" that I began with is here:
A few months ago, Robert Cassidy found himself pondering whether trade actually benefited the American economy. "I couldn't prove it," he says. "Did it benefit U.S. multinational corporations? Yes. But I cannot prove that it benefits the economy."......

....More elementally, he {Cassidy} argues, U.S. trade policy should be based on America's economic self-interest. It speaks volumes about the last couple of decades of U.S. trade policy that the man who negotiated many key points of that policy now thinks that they were calculated not to enhance our national interest but, rather, those of U.S. financial and corporate interests.

How many of these "Oops! I was wrong" can we endure?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

American Reality - It Isn't Pleasant

This is a BBC documentary:

An excerpt from The Heathen....

An excerpt from "The Heathen in His Blindness..."

Reconsider Spiro’s claim (1966: 91):

Since ‘religion’ is a term with historically rooted meanings, a definition
must satisfy not only the criterion of cross-cultural applicability but also
the criterion of intra-cultural intuitivity; at the least it should not be counter-
intuitive. For me, therefore, any definition of ‘religion’ which does not
include, as a key variable, the belief in superhuman…beings who have
power to help or harm men is counter-intuitive.

Now it is a matter of established consensus that the Hindus worship
trees, serpents, various animals (cow, monkey, and condor), images and
idols. Are we to consider these people religious? It all depends, one may
want to retort, whether or not Hindus consider the animals as “superhuman
beings that have the power to help or harm men”. In non-trivial
ways, animals can help or harm human beings, but Spiro does not probably
have this in mind. The problem might well be about the beliefstates
of the Hindus: do they believe that animals are ‘superhuman’ beings?
This is a question about the hierarchy of life on earth. Humans are
at the summit of ‘creation’ and animals are well below them in the ladder
of life constituting the ‘infra’ or ‘sub-human’ species. Consequently,
and only because of it, can gods be ‘super-human’. Cultures do exist
which recognise the differences between species, but do not recognise
any hierarchy of life on earth. Even if human life is a desirable form of
life, or even as a privileged form of existence, this does not imply that
either goal or direction is attributed to the emergence and ‘evolution’ of
life. One such culture is India and, in fact, one of the problems of the
Christian missionaries with the Brahmins had to do precisely with this
issue, as Rogerius (1651: 110) records it:

Hier toe an zijn sy niet te brenghen datse souden toe-staen dat een Mensch,
de Beesten overtreffe, end dat den Mensch een edelder Creatuere zy, dan
de Beesten, om dat hy met een voortreffelijcker Ziele zy begaeft. VVant soo
ghy dat haer voor hout, sy sullen segghen, dat oock dierghelijcke Zielen
de Beesten hebben. Indien ghy dit wilt betuygen door de werckingen
van de redelijcke Ziele, die in den Mensch, ende niet in de Beesten, haer
vertoont: soo heb je tot antwoort te verwachten…dat de reden, waerom
de Beesten niet soo wel reden, ende verstant, voor den dagh en brengen,
ende soo wel als de Menschen, en spreken, zijn, om datse gheen Lichaem
en hebben ghekregen, dat bequaem is, om de qualiteyten van haer Ziele
te voorschijn te brengen…
[You cannot make them admit that Man outstrips the beasts and that
he is a nobler creature than the animals because he has a superior soul.
If you try to remonstrate with them on this, they would say, animals also
have a similar kind of Soul. If you try to demonstrate this by the workings
of the rational soul, which is evident in Man and not in the beasts: you
may expect an answer…that the reason why the animals do not exhibit
the kind of rationality and understanding that human beings can show,
why they cannot speak as man does, is because they are not given a body
capable of exhibiting the qualities of their soul…]

In other words, to the Christians, Man was/is at the summit of creation.
To the Hindus, it was/is not so. Where does this take us with respect to
Spiro’s definition? His definition cannot be ‘useful’ to us unless we presuppose
at least some amount of (suitably diluted) Christian theology:
gods are superhuman, which is why they are worshipped; humans are
at the top of the hierarchy of life with animals well below them, and so

This ‘minimal’ definition, which appears reasonable, merely expresses
a linguistic and historical intuition of a religious culture: how could
a religion not acknowledge the existence of ‘superhuman’ powers? This
is a secularised theology, as far from ‘science’ as anything could possibly

Sunday, January 25, 2009


A self-governing country works only if you believe it does -- and we were at risk of losing that belief.
(approximately what Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-D) said today at a townhall meeting.)


The Gaudi Key

The Gaudi Key
Esteban Martin & Andreu Carranza, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman.

This is a book of the "The Da Vinci Code" mode; actually better than that book - which is not saying much. However, I had never heard of Antonio Gaudi and now want to see his creations.

I give the book somewhere between two and three stars out of five.

PS: corrected a URL.
PPS: Made an attempt at a google map showing key locations in the story.

Also, here are some more images of Gaudi's work. It is also from where I lifted most of the addresses for the map.

PPPS: The most comprehensive site on Gaudí and Catalan Art Nouveau

Pakistan - what's happening

SSridhar on bharat-rakshak:
{PA=Pakistani Army; FC=Frontier Corps; TTP=Tehrik-e-Taliban, an umbrella group of Taliban }

We know certain facts about what is going on in FATA. Connecting these data points should give us a picture of what is happening there.

  1. PA’s tall claims of killing so many Taliban are entirely untrue. This untruth has been corroborated by independent witnesses of Pakhtuns fleeing from that area and Pakistani journalists.Here is one from DAWN, today
    “The government isn’t targeting the Taliban,” says Azka, her voice raised. “We don’t hear about any Taliban deaths. We’re the only victims.” . . .Frustrated by his own narrative, Ishaq insists that he has not seen government forces hurt any Taliban commanders or vice versa. “It’s all a drama -- no army officers or Taliban have died, but the ordinary people are losing their lands and missing a harvest.”
  2. As soon as he took over power, Gen. Kayani concentrated on the India border and the PA troops were either withdrawn or were confined to the garrisson in FATA/NWFP. The PA even created incidents in Samba sector to manufacture ‘justification’ for withdrawal of PA units from FATA.
  3. Kayani also resisted successfully the US presuure and asked them to equip & train the Pakhtun-dominated FC in COIN operations. {The FC foot soldiers are all Pashtun while officers are seconded from the regular PA. As an aside, it is this Pakhtun component that causes so much heartburn in Balochistan when FC is deployed there.}
  4. It is the general public that have been subjected to massive gunship and artillery fire with close to about 600,000 Internally Displaced People from Waziristan, Bajaur and Swat now rotting in refugee camps. Entire villages have been demolished in many places and even proudly displayed to foreign journalists as trophies.
  5. Almost all operations against the Taliban were announced ahead of time with a neat timetable of how many days it would last and what places will see action etc. A few days before the start of operations, the Taliban disappeared from these places and re-appeared promptly after the operations were over.
  6. The ANP government complained bitterly that the federal government bypassed it in discussing with the Taliban even in PATA areas which are sole responsibility of the provincial government.
  7. As recently as last month, the ISI Chief described open calls for jihad by the Taliban as ‘freedom of expression’.
  8. Recently, noted journalists like Amir Mir, Yousufzai and Farhat Taj have openly accused the PA of standing by while the Taliban were enforcing their rule and committing atrocities in their full view.
  9. All over FATA, the military checkposts (manned by levies or khasadar or FC) are replaced by the Taliban or wherever the military checkposts do exist, they are supplanted by nearby Taliban checkposts
  10. The quick offer of support against India by the TTP after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and the double-quick acceptance of the same by the PA are clear indications of the synergies between the two. Munir Akram has openly admitted as to why Pakistan cannot withdraw support to jihadists and Taliban, in an article recently in Daily Times.
  11. The US has repeatedly voiced concern that shared intel reaches the Taliban and have stopped doing that.
  12. The NWFP Governor, Owais Ahmed Ghani, recently asked the US to talk to the Taliban Chief, Mullah Omar and also other mujahideen commanders like Gulbadin Hekmetyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani in order to bring peace to the region and he warned that otherwise peace was not possible.The Americans are being led down a garden path by the Pakistanis.
  13. The unanimous resolution that was passed recently in the Pakistani National Assembly, pressed for a dialogue, did not appreciate the actions of the Army so far and did not condemn the atrocities of the Taliban and their frequent violations of peace agreements.
  14. Maj. Gen. Amir Faisal Alvi's assassination is a pointer too.

I had said in a different context that a massively deceptive operation was going on in Pakistan by a coterie. It is to give an appearance of fighting against the Islamists, terrorists and the Taliban while actually making the situation conducive for them. Some Army officers may actually carry out genuine operations without knowing they were being sent in as cannon fodder to camouflage a more sinister plan. The slaughter of the PA at Khar was no sham, it was genuine. In some instances, the surrender of the PA was genuine. So, while some sections of the Establishment and the PA will be mounting efforts against the Taliban, others will be doing presisely the opposite, all controlled by the coterie. All of these groups subscribe to a common denominator that India needs to be vanquished and destroyed. There is no divergence in the view of the Pakistani Establishment or the masses or the political parties or the Islamists or the PA regarding how they view the Hindus and the Jews. Some may have a larger interest of establishing an Islamic Caliphate while others may want to grab power or accumulate wealth or settle scores with others but they will not hesitate to use the Islam and India cards. Islamist political parties like JI, JUI, PPP-Q etc. openly admire the Taliban, mainstream political parties like PML-N provide tacit support and sometimes even overt support, PPP walks a fine line between appearing to be ‘liberal’ while supporting terrorism etc. There is therefore an overlap of reinforcing interests among the various groups.

So, while loss of FATA & NWFP is genuine, it gives the several blind men of Hindoostan enough opportunity to describe the elephant.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Fruitless Fall : The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis

Rowan Jacobsen examines the recently emerged phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder - the mysterious death of honey bee hives, almost all over the world. Science has unable to pin it on any one cause; so there may be a systemic problem and a combination of stresses on honey bees may have crossed a threshold. This is a scientific whodunit narrated in a very engaging style. I'm ordering my own copy as I return this to the library. I strongly recommend it, five stars out of five.

An American Story: The speeches of Barack Obama
David Olive gives us a useful collection of Obama's campaign speeches along with commentary. It will be interesting to come back to this book after a hundred days of the Obama Presidency and compare with the programs outlined in his speeches. Four stars out of five.

The Last Theorem
Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl are/were giants of science fiction, yet this joint effort of theirs failed to hold me. The Last Theorem is that of Fermat - the hero discovers a short proof using only the knowledge that Fermat likely had. Yawn. Two stars out of five.

Emergent Design: The Evolutionary Nature of Professional Software Development
The creators of software ought to be professionals, like doctors and lawyers. Scott L. Bain sets out some of what should constitute professional practice in software design. For its intended audience, I'd rate it three to four stars out of five.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

B. Raman on Londonistan

B. Raman eviscerates the British for their longstanding support of terrorism:

After Pakistan and Afghanistan, the UK has been traditionally for many years the largest sanctuary to foreign terrorists and extremists. Everybody, who is somebody in the world of terrorism, has found a rear base in the UK -- the Khalistanis in the past, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Mirpuris from PoK, the Chechens, the Al Muhajiroun, the Hizbut Tehrir etc. Having allowed such a medley of terrorists and extremists to operate unchecked from their territory for so long, British intelligence just does not have a correct estimate of how many sleeper cells are operating from their country and of which organisations.

"The intelligence agencies of the US and the UK went along with Zia's policy of Arabising/Wahabising the Muslims of Pakistan because this contributed to an increase in the flow of jihadis to fight the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Till 1983, the members of the Pakistani Diaspora in the UK were considered a largely law-abiding people. The first signs of the radicalisation of the Diaspora appeared in 1983 when a group of jihadi terrorists kidnapped Ravi Mhatre, an Indian diplomat posted in the Indian Assistant High Commission in Birmingham, and demanded the release of Maqbool Butt, the leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, who was then awaiting execution in Tihar jail in Delhi following his conviction on charges of murder. When India rejected their demand, the terrorists killed Mhatre and threw his body into one of the streets. This kidnapping and murder was allegedly orchestrated by Amanullah Khan, a Gilgiti from Pakistan. He was assisted by some Mirpuris. The British were uncooperative with India in the investigation and declined to hand over those involved in the kidnapping and murder to India for investigation and prosecution. By closing their eyes to the terrorist activities of the Mirpuris from their territory, they encouraged the further radicalisation of the Diaspora.

"Just as the radicalisation of the Muslims of Pakistan suited the US-UK agenda in Afghanistan, the radicalisation of the Diaspora in the UK, particularly the Mirpuris, suited their agenda for balkanising Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Many Pakistanis from the UK went to the training camps of the Harkat-ul-Ansar (now called the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen) and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba in Pakistan and got themselves trained with the knowledge and complicity of the British. They then went to Bosnia and Kosovo to wage a jihad against the Serbs with arms and ammunition and explosives allegedly supplied by the Iranian intelligence with the tacit consent of the Bill Clinton administration and paid for by the Saudi intelligence. As the Pakistani prime minister between 1993 and 1996, Benazir Bhutto had visited these jihadis in the UK. After waging their jihad against the Serbs, they moved from the UK to Pakistan to join the HUA and the LeT and participate in the jihad against India.

"The most notable example of the home-grown UK jihadis who turned against them is Omar Sheikh. From Bosnia, he came to India to wage a jihad and was arrested by the Indian security forces. He was released following the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar by a group of Harkat-ul-Maujahideen terrorists. After his release, he went to Pakistan and orchestrated the kidnapping and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl. The second notable example is Rashid Rauf, a Mirpuri, who went to Pakistan from the UK to join the Jaish-e-Mohammad after marrying a relative of Maulana Masood Azhar, the Jaish amir. He was allegedly involved in the plot detected by the London police in August 2006 to blow up a number of US-bound planes. This plot was hatched by some members of the Pakistani Diaspora in the UK. (Rauf was recently killed in a US Predator strike on an al Qaeda hide-out in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Barack Hussein Obama Mubarak!

Finally! Finally!

Bidabunch reminds us of The Onion, January 17, 2001.
Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over."

Enlarge Image nation nightmare

President-elect Bush vows that "together, we can put the triumphs of the recent past behind us."

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."

Bush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

"You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration," said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. "Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?"....

Bush concluded his speech on a note of healing and redemption.

"We as a people must stand united, banding together to tear this nation in two," Bush said. "Much work lies ahead of us: The gap between the rich and the poor may be wide, be there's much more widening left to do. We must squander our nation's hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent. And, on the foreign front, we must find an enemy and defeat it."

"The insanity is over," Bush said. "After a long, dark night of peace and stability, the sun is finally rising again over America. We look forward to a bright new dawn not seen since the glory days of my dad."

Monday, January 19, 2009


Obama in the WaPo:
Question: To what extent is the promotion of freedom or democracy something that you think should be part of the foreign policy and, if it is a part, how would you do it differently than it has been done in the past eight years?

President-elect Obama: Well, I think it needs to be at a central part of our foreign policy. It is who we are. It is one of our best exports, if it is not exported simply down the barrel of a gun.

And one of the mistakes, I think, [that] has been made over the last eight years, and, by the way, I'm not somebody who discounts the sincerity and worthiness of President Bush's concerns about democracy and human rights, and I think a lot of the ways that he spoke about it were very eloquent, but I think the mistake that was made is drawing an equivalence between democracy and elections.

Elections aren't democracy, as we understand it. They are one facet of a liberal order, as we understand it. And so in a lot of countries, you know, the first question is, if you go back to Roosevelt's four freedoms, the first question is freedom from want and freedom from fear.

If people aren't secure, if people are starving, then elections may or may not address those issues, but they are not a perfect overlay.

And, you know, issues like arbitrary arrest or corruption may or may not be addressed by an election. So I think what we need to be thinking about is, in various countries, and I use my father's home country of Kenya as an example, what we should be spending more time thinking about is, how can we provide them tools so that somebody doesn't get stopped on the street by a police officer and shaken down, or how do we create a system in which you don't have to pay a large bribe in order to get a job or get a phone installed?

And if we ignore those things, then oftentimes an election can just backfire or at least won't deliver for the people the kinds of -- it may raise expectations but not deliver what they're looking for. And, you know, so we will be working with -- you know, one of the things that I have pledged to do in foreign policy is to ramp up our State Department and restore some balance between the civilian and the military side, to -- and right now we have already begun conducting a thorough review of our various aid programs, our democracy programs, how do these all fit together and how do we view it through a lens that it is actually delivering a better life for people on the ground and less obsessed with form, more concerned with substance.


The above is not very profound or original - but this is the off-the-cuff response of our President Elect, and it is sweet water after eight years of drought. G. 'Dubya' Bush is the eternal badge of shame of the American people.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Regarding the US Airways plane that ditched into the Hudson river, and where seemingly miraculously, all 155 people on board survived:
People keep saying that this was a tribute to competence but it goes well beyond that. This was expertise. Expertise in knowing every ounce of capability of that plane to fly and land without engines. Expertise in setting up training programs for flight crews in emergency situations. Expertise in getting rescue vessels to the plane in minutes. Expertise in diving into icy waters and rescuing the last few passengers inside the plane. Expertise in getting those two women out of the water before they could sink beneath the surface.

We've been living in a time when even mere competence was distained and smartness considered 'elitism' as if that was a bad thing.

Had that fuel filled jet crashed into any part of NYC, the tragedy would have been one of total horror. Sully and his crew, and all the rescuers showed us what the best of the best can do when the chips are down. Let's hear it for experts! - SusanL143 on

I found it fitting that this display of expertise was on the same day as the most incompetent President in US history gave his farewell address to the nation. We can hope that this following is true:
....the one thing that we're not running out of in my view and that's American technological ingenuity. That little piece of Benjamin Franklin's legacy is alive and well - Simon Schama on Bill Moyers (h/t R.P.)

Counting down the hours...

...for Bush to be off the national stage.

Transcript available here.

Friday, January 16, 2009


It's from 2005, so maybe it should be Quote of the Decade. This is from Vladimir Bukovsky, in the Washington Post (via N.K.)
Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over again. These czars were hardly bleeding-heart liberals, but long experience in the use of these "interrogation" practices in Russia had taught them that once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus. They understood that torture is the professional disease of any investigative machinery.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Democrats - good for the economy!

In the past 64 years, net job creation when Democrats were President totaled 57.5 million jobs. When a Republicans were, net job creation totaled 36.2 million jobs. But even that stark difference doesn't show the the whole picture. Republicans held the Presidency for 36 of those years, meaning they accounted for an average of just over 1 million jobs generated per year. The Democrats for just over 2 million jobs a year.

That's right, average annual job creation under Democratic presidencies since 1944 has been twice as good as under Republicans. Is this correlation mere coincidence?

via dailykos

It is not just jobs. Democrats are good for Wall Street as well. (The NYT had some great statistics on this; will post when I find the link.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

See it.

PS: A review that greatly disagrees. It forces me to pinpoint the exact reasons I liked the movie. In large part it is the unquenchable spirit of the young Jamal Malik. Moreover it is a Dickensian story but without the objectionable Dickens' assumption that pedigree shows.

Also, after following the news this week, a loose metaphor floating in my mind was that Jamal is a Gazan Palestinian; and she whom he seeks is the Palestinian state. So despite it all one can hope for a happy ending.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Glenn Greenwald:
Actually, even when it comes to something as relatively petty (and misguided) as their pledge to exclude Burris from entering the glorious, imperial Senate, Senate Democrats -- "led" by Harry Reid -- can't avoid capitulating completely. Jane Hamsher has all of the embarrassing details here ("A seventy-one year old dude who hasn't held office for 14 years, appointed by a crook, takes the Senate Majority Leader to the cleaners"). When you look at the people who have led both parties for the last eight years, was there any outcome even theoretically possible for the country other than what we got: total disaster in every realm?


Christopher Hitchens:
To read Benny Morris is to be quite able—and quite free—to doubt that there should ever have been an Israeli state to begin with. But to see Hamas at work is to resolve that whatever replaces or follows Zionism, it must not be the wasteland of Islamic theocracy.

Dragonback Adventures

The set of six books: Dragon and Thief, Dragon and Soldier, Dragon and Slave, Dragon and Herdsman, Dragon and Judge, and Dragon and Liberator, by Timothy Zahn is an entertaining read, even if directed at young adults (in fact, it won a young adult book award). Our heroes are a boy, Jack Morgan, age 14, and a symbiotic tiger-sized dragon, Draycos, a poet-warrior of the K'Da. The symbiosis is that the K'Da regularly need to assume a two-dimensional form and need a host to sustain them during that period. The setting of the novels is a space-faring galactic culture. Jack and Draycos need to collaborate to clear up Jack's problems and to save Draycos's people from genocide.

Nicely done set of books. Only because they will not be universally to everyone's taste and therefore are not must-reads, I give them a 4 out of 5 stars rating.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Actually this is from 2002. In a story on how Israel aided Hamas as a means of weakening the PLO, only to find Hamas refusing to acquiesce in Israel's existence; and yet to find advantage in that ("But even then, some in Israel saw some benefits to be had in trying to continue to give Hamas support: "The thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the others, if they gained control, would refuse to have any part of the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place," said a U.S. government official who asked not to be named."), we have the following:
According to former State Department counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson, "the Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism."

"The Israelis are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer."

"They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it," he said.

Aid to Hamas may have looked clever, "but it was hardly designed to help smooth the waters," he said. "An operation like that gives weight to President George Bush's remark about there being a crisis in education."

Lot of Indians see Israel and India fighting a common Islamic foe. Not so. Israel's Islamic foe (like America's Islamic foe) is much of its own creation. In fact, to some extent, India's foe is a colonial British and post-colonial American creation.


Via Paul Krugman's blog:
“Most academics are really reluctant to take part in the public dialog, because the public dialog requires you to have an opinion about things you can’t really be sure about,” says Mr. Rajan. “They fear talking about things where everything is not neatly nailed in a model. They stay away and let the charlatans occupy the high ground.” -- Free market economist Raghuram Rajan; his 2005 paper which said that markets could sometimes get things terribly wrong was pooh-poohed by the leading lights of the profession.


Alan Greenspan:

""I have found a flaw," said Greenspan, referring to his economic philosophy. "I don't know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.....I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organisations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms."

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Summary of the Pakistan Problem

I don't think one can be more concise than Vanni Cappelli in stating the truth about Pakistan:

That the Bush administration in the wake of 9-11 turned to the very entity responsible for turning South-Central Asia into a stronghold of Islamic militancy as a “key ally” against these same forces must stand as an instance of conceptual lag unequalled in the history of American foreign policy. Given Rawalpindi’s irreducible geostrategic paradigm of employing Islamic fundamentalism to crush progressive forces at home and extend its power abroad, it is as oxymoronic to look to it as an ally against radical Islamism as it would have been to seek to extend the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union into one against communism.

Pakistan’s army has shown persistence in its endeavours over many decades. Its ties to militants are not the vagaries of “rogue elements” but represent the integrated policies of the military-security services complex itself. Such an entity does not make a sea-change in its ethos merely because it has been threatened with dire consequences unless it switches sides—it only pretends to, especially if receiving billions of dollars in renewed military aid will be the result.

And if some of Rawalpindi’s jihadi assets have slipped beyond its control while the army conducts desultory campaigns against militants to appease America, all the better for portraying Pakistan as a victim of terrorism, rather than the state sponsor of terror it has long been. Allowing a powerless civilian administration in Islamabad to be the public face of the country completes the illusion.

American military assistance to Pakistan over the last half century has enabled Islamic fundamentalism, perpetuated the India-Pakistan conflict, and led over and over again to death and destruction. It has prevented the development of democracy, civil society, and equitable economic relations in Pakistan. With mounting evidence that Rawalpindi continues to support the Taliban in pursuit of its historic goals, it is now being used to kill American and other coalition soldiers.

The incoming Obama administration must confront this fact, and bring American national security policies in line with reality.

Front Yard Warming

What are the iris doing, poking green shoots out of the ground by January 4?

It occurs to me that plants' responses to the seasons may be much clearer indications of climate change than the measurement of glaciers or the global average temperature. It is not dependent on any computer model. Best of all, they are right at your doorstep.

My front yard (north side of the house) seems to be warming. The east side of my house also appears to have a warming trend. Further observations will be posted here.

The credit default swap casino

Credit-default swaps may not be Exhibit No. 1 in the case against financial complexity, but they are useful evidence. Whatever credit defaults are in theory, in practice they have become mainly side bets on whether some company, or some subprime mortgage-backed bond, some municipality, or even the United States government will go bust. In the extreme case, subprime mortgage bonds were created so that smart investors, using credit-default swaps, could bet against them. Call it insurance if you like, but it’s not the insurance most people know. It’s more like buying fire insurance on your neighbor’s house, possibly for many times the value of that house — from a company that probably doesn’t have any real ability to pay you if someone sets fire to the whole neighborhood. The most critical role for regulation is to make sure that the sellers of risk have the capital to support their bets. - Einhorn and Lewis


The Madoff scandal echoes a deeper absence inside our financial system, which has been undermined not merely by bad behavior but by the lack of checks and balances to discourage it. “Greed” doesn’t cut it as a satisfying explanation for the current financial crisis. Greed was necessary but insufficient; in any case, we are as likely to eliminate greed from our national character as we are lust and envy. The fixable problem isn’t the greed of the few but the misaligned interests of the many. - Michael Lewis and David Einhorn in the New York Times.

The "misaligned interests" is why I quote it.

OUR financial catastrophe, like Bernard Madoff’s pyramid scheme, required all sorts of important, plugged-in people to sacrifice our collective long-term interests for short-term gain. The pressure to do this in today’s financial markets is immense. Obviously the greater the market pressure to excel in the short term, the greater the need for pressure from outside the market to consider the longer term. But that’s the problem: there is no longer any serious pressure from outside the market. The tyranny of the short term has extended itself with frightening ease into the entities that were meant to, one way or another, discipline Wall Street, and force it to consider its enlightened self-interest.

In my opinion, this is more widespread a problem than American financial firms.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A curious symmetry

Al Biruni wrote {around 1020 AD, Edward Sachau translation of Tarikh al-hind}
Now in the following times {after Muhammad bin Kasim, c. 700} no Muslim conqueror passed beyond the frontier of Kabul and the river Sindh until the days of the Turks, when they seized the power in Ghazni under the Samani dynasty, and the supreme power fell to the lot of Nasir-addaula Sabuktagin. This prince chose holy war as his calling, and therefore called himself Al-Ghazi (i.e., warring on the road of Allah). In the interests of his successors he constructed, in order to weaken the Indian frontier, those roads on which afterwards his son Yamin-addaula Mahmud marched into India during a period of thirty years and more.

In July 2008, after several years of effort, and a few lives lost to the Taliban, India completed the Zaranj-Delaram highway, opening a route into Afghanistan via the Iranian port of Chabahar.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Will 2009 be a better year for civil liberties?

Glenn Greenwald reviews the last eight years, and 2008 in particular, when civil libertarians were handed a string of defeats.

We lost on redress for illegal surveillance by the government, on the restoration of habeas corpus and on the prohibition of torture. Sadly, the Democrats yielded more to Bush than did his pocket Republicans.

Will 2009, and the Obama Administration be any better? That the Democrats control the House and Senate means next to nothing.