Tuesday, July 31, 2012

And the Flag Was Still There

On the Moon, that is.

(Photographs reveal that 5 of 6 American flags planted on the Moon are still standing.)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Is Algebra Necessary?

Andrew Hacker, emeritus Professor of Political Science at City University of New York, has an op-ed in the New York Times today, asking Is Algebra Necessary?  ( CIP found this article provocative, too!)

Hacker's main point is that flunking in algebra is the cause for students to drop out of high school, not qualify for university, or to drop out of university.   Therefore, eliminating such math requirements would lead to more success, and anyway most people don't use these skills later.

To my view, high school algebra is the simplest first exercise of abstract thinking; and if students are failing it, it should be viewed as the canary in the coalmine of school - it is a signal that the students have not acquired the learning process.  Eliminating the canary will not improve matters.

But there is something else Hacker writes that I want to focus on here:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Eurozone Debt 2011

This BBC page from 2011 has a nice interactive graphic of who owes what to whom.  It also contains this:

Country         Foreign Debt/GDP    Govt Debt/GDP
France           235%                    87%
Spain            284%                    67%
Portugal         251%                   106%
Italy            163%                   121%
Ireland         1093%                   109%
Greece           252%                   166%
Japan             50%                   233%
Germany          176%                    83%
UK               436%                    81%
US               101%                   100%

As you can see, for some of these countries, private debt dominates. Take the first row, for example - France. French government debt, even if it was all foreign debt, would still leave private foreign debt to be 235% - 87% = 148% of GDP.

As Krugman pointed out, it was private, not public, borrowing that created the mess in many of these countries.   And when both private and public sectors simultaneously try to reduce debt, the result is an economic recession or depression.

PS: Four year old information from the McKinsey Global Institute, but still useful I think to get a qualitative understanding of what is going on.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The future of renewable energy

(Via Krugman), this interesting list of underestimates of renewable energy growth, examples:

In 2000, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published its World Energy Outlook, predicting that non-hydro renewable energy would comprise 3 percent of global energy by 2020. That benchmark was reached in 2008.

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated that total U.S. wind power capacity could reach 10 gigawatts by 2010. The country reached that amount in 2006 and quadrupled between 2006 and 2010.

In 1996, the World Bank estimated 0.5 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic in China by 2020, but China reached almost double that mark—900 megawatts by 2010.

PS: In other news, Ravindra Sunagar on Facebook tells us: ( 1 crore = 10 million)

This solar panel laid on the vast stretches of agricultural channels in Gujarat generates 1 MW of electricity per KM & prevents evaporation of 1 crore liters of water every year.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Canon's new mirror-less camera

Read about it here: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/indepth/canon/announcements/canons-first-mirrorless-camera-eos-m?BI=8911&kw=CanonMirrorlessArticle

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Garden - July 9, 2012


Garden - July 9, 2012, a set on Flickr.

The petunias are regularly decimated by deer.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

True wealth

D.V. Sridharan's website, (India is a million new initiatives now and GoodNewsIndia is dedicated to publicizing them) is active again. His message:

In search of India's wealth-makers

I stopped updating GoodNewsIndia in 2006 when the question arose in my mind if publishing 'good' stories about India by itself was good enough as a service. I have narrated my thoughts in greater detail in this article. Thus began work to restore a parcel of abandoned land near Chennai, christened pointReturn.

Six years on, I am comforted the land is responding to the efforts put in. A small team of young volunteers are into growing food and taking care of the land. By their kind courtesy, I am free now to resume my travels in search of 'good' stories in India.

It is a changed India today. I no longer retain my early confidence that a sustained economic boom will be like the tide that raises all the boats. Indeed, I am certain today, that it will not. I further believe that a 'modern' economy cannot create true wealth, let alone one shared with all. On the other hand, it can be destructive of what wealth we inherited and still possess. The true wealth of any nation is in fertile soil, abundant water, clean air, safe food and its people educated for independent action and free to practice it.

I shall go searching for people who are trying to make India wealthy in this manner.

-D V Sridharan
Apr 6, 2012

Friday, July 13, 2012

Frugal innovation

Worth a read - India's frugal dynamism.

But India’s leadership in “frugal innovation” goes beyond downsizing: it involves starting with the needs of poor consumers – itself a novel term (who knew the poor could be consumers?) – and working backwards. Instead of complicating or refining their products, Indian innovators strip them down to their bare essentials, making them affordable, accessible, durable, and effective.

Indians are natural leaders in frugal innovation, imbued as they are with the jugaad system of developing makeshift but workable solutions from limited resources. Jugaad essentially conveys a way of life, a worldview that embodies the quality of making do with what you have to meet your needs.

But jugaad is not about pirating products or making cheap imitations of global brands. It is about innovation – finding inexpensive solutions, often improvised on the fly, within the constraints of a resource-starved developing country full of poor people. An Indian villager constructs a makeshift vehicle to transport his livestock and goods by rigging a wooden cart with an irrigation hand pump that serves as an engine. That’s jugaad.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Regressive Plan to Sabotage America

Robert Reich:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Florida's Crazy Legislators

A NYT editorial begins:
A federal court has struck down one of the more nonsensical of Florida’s many risky gun laws — one that banned the state’s thousands of doctors from ever discussing firearms with their patients. There was no evidence that this was ever a problem or a common occurrence, yet the law was enacted last year on the strength of an anecdote from a couple who complained to their gun-obsessed legislator that their physician inquired if they owned guns.

The court wisely upheld the free-speech rights of physicians.
It remains to be seen if the Florida voters throw the bums out or are equally crazy.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Tax plans - Obama vs the Republicans

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Indians in denial

(via S.)   It is Indians that are in denial, about the fundamental nature of the Pakistani state.

However, there is need to discuss who is in a state of denial, Pakistan or India. We all know what the Pakistani state is all about, so if we still have not understood what they are up to, and why they won’t acknowledge the role of Abu Jundal (or Zabiuddin Ansari) in directing the 26/11 terrorists, we are in a state of denial.

The prime purpose of the Pakistani state is to oversee India’s failure as a state. Which is why when we brandish Abu Jundal’s dossiers, they smirk. They will toss it into a dustbin and ask us “what evidence?” When we sent them the dossier on Hafiz Saeed, the Pakistani foreign secretary in February 2010 called it mere “literature.”

We should never be in denial of this reality till Pakistan itself, through an internal process of rediscovering their relatedness to us, shed their anti-Indian identity.
PS: The article linked above is by R. Jagannathan.  Tavleen Singh has more on the issue.

Friday, July 06, 2012

If you could talk to yourself 20 years later

20 years ago, actor and filmmaker Jeremiah McDonald used a video camera to send a message to his future self. This year McDonald — now 32-years-old — took that message and created this awesome video of himself as an adult talking himself as a child.

IPC 295(a) raises its evil head again

Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code and its extensions are from the British India era and carried over into independent India.  It was an abomination then, passed in the name of Hindu-Muslim unity, passed to pacify those who rose up in mob violence and mayhem against perceived insults to Islam.  It has since been used by every powerful group, including Hindu groups, to silence anyone they don't agree with.  As seen below, here it is being used by the Catholic Church in Mumbai.

From here:

Sanal Edamaruku, President of the Indian Rationalist Association, has for decades been a tireless campaigner for science and against superstition. He is widely known for his exposure of the tricks used by self-professed ‘God-Men’ and gurus and has often been on Indian television explaining the everyday science behind supposed miracles.

After one such exposure – he pointed out that "miraculous" water dripping from a statue of Christ at the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Velan Kanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai in fact originated from a leaky pipe – Mr Edamaruku was widely condemned by the Catholic authorities in Mumbai, with the Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay, Agnelo Rufino Gracias calling on him to apologise for "hurting" the Catholic community. Formal complaints about Mr Edamaruku were then made to the Mumbai police by three local Catholic groups, the Catholic Secular Forum, the Association of Concerned Catholics and the Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum.

He stands accused of “deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community”, an offence under Section 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code. No arrest warrant has been issued but the case is "cognisable" meaning the police can arrest without warrant at any time. He is being harassed daily by the Mumbai authorities who, under pressure from Catholic groups, are insisting that he turn himself in. His petition for “anticipatory bail” was turned down on 3 June 2012  on the bizarre grounds that he would be safer in custody. If he is arrested he will therefore most likely be detained in jail until court proceedings are concluded, which could take several years. Fearing arrest, he dares not stay long at home or work.
India has long suffered sectarian hatred and violence and section 295(a) is designed to prevent speech being used to foment hatred and disorder. It is not designed to enable a powerful religious institution to silence those whose message it finds embarrassing. India’s constitution explicitly protects free speech: article 19(a) guarantees the right to free speech and expression and clause 13(2) forbids the state to pass laws which take away or abridge such rights. It follows that the courts of India are required to interpret the Penal Code so as to protect free speech. Mr Edamaruku would be happy to answer his accusers in court, confident that the Indian justice system will vindicate him. However the threat of peremptory imprisonment for an undefined period is a very serious one.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Serena Williams

The press is full of this picture of Serena Williams, as she powered her way with 24 aces into the finals at Wimbledon. Power, determination, aggression, athleticism personified.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Why atheism is a belief system at present

Jayanth Kannan tweeted thusly: " shows how ignorant you are. Atheism is not a belief system, its just acceptance of facts, based on verifiable data not bullshit." 

Since I do not have the time or space or inclination to put together all the capital needed to make this argument, I'll pose my reply as a "What if..." - that is, suppose what I say below is true, would my conclusion, that atheism is a belief system, follow.

1. Atheists generally accept the validity of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

2. The modern conception of human rights, however, arises from a specific theological, not scientific, view of man and his relation to other people and to the world (for the argument in more detail, see here) Many of the conflicts we have arises from people who recognize that this view is in opposition to their own theology.

3.  One may argue that the validity of an idea is not contingent on its origin.  That is true.  But the atheist community has not given us a justification of human rights based on scientific grounds.

4. The atheist may reply, it is not just the idea of human rights, but the specific theological conception of the nature of man that is valid.  Again, the atheist has yet to demonstrate this scientifically.

5. The atheist may reply that empirically, what we have today is better than all those other cultures had, that had a different understanding of the nature of man, and that is sufficient.   That is a matter of opinion, not of facts based on verifiable data.  Incidentally, the very values by which one judges "better/worse than" come from the dominant theological discourse.

6. The reason we have the illusion of universality is because of the historical fact that the world is politically, economically and militarily dominated by one civilization.  Its religious manifestation may have faded to the point of invisibility, but its theological preconceptions are still buried deep in our social "sciences".

The atheist is thus in the position of accepting all the infrastructure provided by a particular theological view, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  but of rejecting their theological basis, without having built up any other foundations.  If some Asian culture stood on equal grounds with the cultures of the West, never having been vanquished by it, it would likely squarely place the atheist as a variant of the Christian, because today's atheism simply reproduces its own values from that religion.

What about the rest of us, from cultures that have been subordinated to the West?  Yes, we are, like it or not, secularized Christians too, until we find the foundations for the ideas that we live by today in our own cultures.  Otherwise over time our cultures will wither away and we will be simply variants of the West.

-- As an almost trivial example of what I mean that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is based on theology, let us look at the statement of Article 18:
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
As Professor Arvind Sharma pointed out, in this, one has the right to just one religion at a time.  However he has census data of the form e.g., that in Japan the Shintoists and Buddhists add up to more than 100% of the population (this previous is just an illustration, the specific facts must be found in his paper.)   The empirical reality both in present and historically is that in many cultures in Asia, people have simultaneously belonged to several of what in Christian theology would constitute religions.   The very idea that "a person either adheres to exactly one religion or else is an atheist" is not a scientific idea, it is a theological idea.  

A truly Universal Declaration of Human Rights must take this fact into account, but you can imagine the amount of upset the Vatican and the Ayatollahs would have if a person was allowed to adhere to both Islam and Christianity at the same time.

Growing Islamophobia

Call me an Islamophobe, because I probably am one or am becoming one if I am not.  The factual basis for this phobia are stories like this one, which, as far as I can ascertain, have been happening for centuries;  and happen **everywhere** that an Islamic population that is in control and there is a non-Muslim population that is significant enough to dare to complain.  In Pakistan, in Malaysia, in Bangladesh,  in Egypt.    It cannot be argued away that this is an aberration of a specific place and time.

PS: I should describe the pattern.  From the non-Muslim point of view, a girl - a minor, or even a married woman - is abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and "married" to some Muslim.   The authorities however, accept the declaration from the abductors that the conversion was "voluntary".  If the woman was married, this conversion automatically annuls her wedding to her non-Muslim spouse. Moreover, this "voluntarily" converted girl or woman is typically not permitted to meet her non-Muslim family any more, presumably to keep her from being contaminated by kafirs.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The US Navy Jack and the GWOT

This flag is the US First Navy Jack: (a copy is purchasable here)

The history of the Navy Jack is narrated here.  The Navy Jack is displayed when the ship is in port, and on special occasions. On May 22, 2002, all US Navy ships were ordered to fly the Navy Jack in lieu of the Union Jack for the duration of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).

This is the Union Jack (from here:)

The Navy Jack seems to me a very apt warning to al Qaeda and its allies.

It may also be a means of knowing when the end of the GWOT is official.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Summer Heat Gardening Tips

 Reminders to self:

1. The annuals and soft perennials need daily watering during the summer heat.

2. The Gardener needs watering every half-hour or so.

3. Gardening in the summer is an early-morning activity - (except for motorized lawn mowing, which, in the early morning, will make you very unpopular with your neighbors).

4. Even retreating to areas of shade as the sun rises higher in the sky, by 10:30 AM or so, it might be best to go indoors.

Please add in the comments any more you have!