Thursday, July 30, 2015

Bonya Ahmed: Fighting machetes with pens

Avijit Roy (Bengali: অভিজিৎ রায়; 12 September 1972 – 26 February 2015) was a Bangladeshi American online activist, writer, blogger known for pioneering Bengali freethinkers’ weblog-forum, Mukto-Mona. Roy was a prominent advocate of free expression in Bangladesh, coordinating international protests against government censorship and imprisonment of bloggers. He founded Mukto-Mona, an Internet community for freethinkers, rationalists, skeptics, atheists, and humanists of mainly Bengali and other South Asian descent. He was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 26 February 2015; Islamic militant organization Ansarullah Bangla Team claimed responsibility for the attack.
Avijit Roy's wife, Bangladeshi American Rafida Bonya Ahmed gave a talk to the British Humanist Association, "Fighting Machetes with Pens". Here is the 2015 Voltaire Lecture by Rafida Bonya Ahmed hosted by the British Humanist Association. It is a must-listen.  If you can't watch, then a full transcript is available on the British Humanist organization's website.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tarek Fatah: Why Balochistan needs the attention of the USA

Tarek Fatah: Why Balochistan needs the attention of the USA
Speech at a discussion on The Hill in Washington DC on the conflict on Balochistan hosted by congressman Chris Smith on July 22, 2015.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

More on the Bengal famine of 1770

The East India Company took over the taxation of Bengal in 1765.  There ensued the great famine of 1770.  10 million people -- one-third of the population -- is estimated to have perished.

Here is what Wiki says about the contributing factors:
  • the widespread forced cultivation of opium (forced upon local farmers by the British East India Company as part of its strategy to export it to China) in place of local food crops
  • as lands came under company control, the land tax was typically raised fivefold what it had been – from 10% to up to 50% of the value of the agricultural produce
  • ordering the farmers to plant indigo instead of rice, as well as forbidding the "hoarding" of rice. {In Madhusree Mukherjee's talk she says that the custom at that time was for farmers to stock two years worth of their food consumption of grain.}
How were the British any different from Stalin or Mao, under whom enormous numbers of people starved to death?  Stalin's famine in the Ukraine killed 7 million people.  That was a quarter of the population.  Mao's great famine killed somewhere between 30 million and 45 million in China.

Ah, but Stalin forcibly collectivized the Ukrainian farms, you say.  But the East India Company extracted the Bengali farmers' entire surplus by raising taxes fivefold.   Is there a difference?  I can't really see one.

And let us remember, the era of Victorian holocausts was yet to come.  I mean, you could possibly argue that once is an accident.  But almost two hundred years of repeated such "accidents"? 

The kindest thing that can happen to the world is that Scotland breaks away from the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom thereafter fades away into history just as the Soviet Union did.

After listening to Madhusree Mukherjee's talk, I tweeted to her (with no reply) about how could she know what she knows without becoming a revolutionary?

PS: as large portions of Bengal returned to the jungle and as labor productivity in Bengal plummeted, the British Parliament, to help alleviate the East India Company's troubles, raised the taxes on tea in America....

Friday, July 24, 2015

India: more news of renewable energy investments

Solar and wind energy are crucial components of the electrification of India without adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.   There is some encouraging news of possible investments.

Japan's foreign aid arm, the Japan International Cooperation Agency plans to fund solar parks in India.  CRISIL, an analytics and ratings company, majority owned by Standard & Poor's, estimates that conditions are favorable for the Indian wind energy sector to add 4 GW of capacity each year over the next five years.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Madhusree Mukherjee: The Imperial Roots of Hunger

The demise of the United Kingdom is something that is to be devoutly hoped for; it was as genocidal as the Nazis. Only the fact that it won the World Wars and thus wrote our current history is the reason why it is "respectable". I predict that if India and China continue their ascent in the world and come to write the accepted version of world history, the United Kingdom will achieve its correct lowly place along with Nazi Germany, Genghis Khan's Mongols, Stalin's Soviet Union, Mao's China and so on.

The IMF and World Bank and the powers behind them will also be consigned to the same dung heap. The unthinking disciples of Adam Smith are, I hope, burning in hell.

Video has autoplay on, and so am putting it beneath the fold. [PS: Video seems to have gone kaput]

PS: sample exhibit - the East India Company took over the taxation of Bengal in 1765; in 1770 there was a famine in which 1/3rd of the population of Bengal perished - 10 million. Among the contributing factors was the forced cultivation of opium for the Chinese market.

The Piano - how they used to play it

Rachel Nuwer had this in the New York Times that I found fascinating.  Apparently modern piano playing technique is considerably different from that in Mozart's time; and apparently it makes a difference.

Rolf Inge Godoy, a professor of musicology at the University of Oslo..struck up a collaboration with Christina Kobb, a doctoral candidate at the Norwegian Academy of Music and head of theory at Barratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo. Ms. Kobb has developed an unusual expertise: She has learned how to play the piano according to techniques described nearly 200 years ago.

....she gradually replaced her modern way of playing with 19th-century technique, gleaned from around 20 treatises. Most were written in Vienna in the 1820s, while a few were published in France and England. Her primary source, however, was “A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instructions on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte,” the seminal 465-page treatise published in 1827 by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, one of Mozart’s students.  {you can find the English translation of the German work online, it is a 300 MB PDF file}.
While modern players tend to hunch over the keys and hold their forearms nearly perpendicular to the keyboard, 19th-century style dictated that pianists sit bolt upright. The posture prevented players from bringing their weight to bear on the keyboard, instead forcing them to rely on smaller finger movements. The elbows were held firmly against the body, with forearms sloping down and hands askew.

As Ms. Kobb became more fluent in this approach, she found that certain movements — jumping quickly between disparate chords, for example — became swifter and more fluid. “The elbow against your body serves as a sort of GPS, so you always know where you are,” she said.

Chords and scales sound smoother and can be played faster, Ms. Kobb also found, and dramatic pauses between notes — often a matter of physical necessity rather than of style — are lessened. The old style also allows the performer to be more discriminatory and subtle in choosing which notes to stress, Ms. Kobb learned, producing a performance that is subdued by today’s standards.
Turns out there is at least one youtube:


On the British "gift" of railways to India

Reginald Reynolds in The White Sahibs in India (1937) writes:

The history of British railway policy in India is that of probably the largest item in the existing public debt of the country.  By 1931 the total capital expenditure by the State on railways stood at nearly £ 600,000,000. According to Sir John Strachey's Finance and Public Works of India the railways built by State enterprise between 1869 and 1881 involved a total outlay of £26,689,000.  The rest of the railways were, in the great majority of cases, built by Guaranteed Companies, most of them having since been purchased by the Government."

The nature of the contracts by which these Guaranteed Companies built Indian railways is probably unique in the history of financial operations.   The Company would be guaranteed an interest on its capital by the Indian Government at a rate which was itself excessive when compared with the prevailing market rates.  Free land would be granted by the Government, thus obviating the principal difficulty with which the railway speculator usually has to contend. If and when the railway showed a profit, that profit was the property of the Company; but when there was a loss the Company's dividends would be paid from the Indian taxes. 

Thus with a minimum of cost to themselves, a group of financiers could, without any of the normal risks of speculation, invest their capital with the certainty of a minimum dividend and the hope of a surplus.  The people of India, who were their sleeping partners in this astonishing arrangement, were compelled to balance the shareholder's losses and to produce, in addition, substantial dividends for them out of their taxes.

After pointing out that such a financial arrangement combines the disadvantages of private enterprise and public ownership with the benefits of neither, Reynolds continues:

An additional evil arose from the clause, inserted in these railway contracts, that the State might purchase the railway after a certain period of years.   Inevitably this caused an artificial inflation of stock prices as the purchase date drew near.   According to one authority the wastefulness of the system was officially perceived in the early years of the Crown Government, following the Mutiny.
Sir J.P. Grant, President of the Viceroy's Council, objected to the procedure as uneconomic, and the Finance Member of the Council (Mr. Laing) pointed out that the Companies looked exclusively to the Guarantee for their dividends.

In 1884, a Select Committee of Parliament examined a number of witnesses who gave evidence on this subject.   Among these witnesses was General Sir Richard Strachey, who said with regard to the Guarantee system:
Not only has it been productive of wasted money, but it has also created a very valuable property at the expense of the taxpayers of India, which has passed into the hands of third parties without their having incurred, in any sort of way, any risk.
 As regards the disproportionate rate of interest paid under the Guarantee, both Sir Richard Strachey and Mr. Westland (afterwards Finance Minister of India) stated that if the Government had built the railways itself it could have borrowed at a cheaper rate. "The probability is", said Sir Richard, "in fact it is almost a certainty, that they could have borrowed the money on better terms than the Company."
At an earlier enquiry, a witness stated that "the contracts are a perfect disgrace to whoever drew them up."
"This", said William Thornton, speaking as an expert, "is the necessary result in which the way they are drawn up...the undertakers of the railway, the Company, are deprived on one of the great inducements to economy; they know that whatever blunders they make, those blunders will not prevent their getting full current interest on their expenditure."
 Similar evidence was offered by Lt.-Colonel Chesney, who for six years had been auditor of the railway accounts.
"Railways began in India in 1848, when the first staff of engineers were sent out...These gentlemen were sent out to make railways and there was a kind of understanding that they were not to be controlled very closely....Nothing was known of the money expended till the accounts were rendered...It was quite understood that whatever was spent must be eventually passed.

The Right Honourable William Massey, who had been Finance Minister of India under two Governors-General, stated the matter even more bluntly.   According to him, "enormous sums were lavished, and the contractors had no motive whatever for economy." 
"All the money came from the English capitalist, and so long as he was guaranteed 5 per cent on the revenues of India it was immaterial to him whether the funds that he lent were thrown into the Hooghly or converted into bricks and mortar."
Massey estimated the cost of the East Indian railway at  £30,000 per mile and said of it, "It seems to me that they are the most extravagant works that were ever undertaken."  Lord Lawrence himself, who as Governor-General had condemned the system, reinforced this expert evidence with the authority of his high office, and told the Parliamentary Committee:

"I think it is notorious in India amongst almost every class that I ever heard talk on the subject, that the railways have been extravagantly made; that they have cost a great deal more than they are worth or ought to have cost.

"With a guarantee of 5 percent, capitalists will agree to anything; they do not care really very much whether it succeeds or fails; 5 per cent is such a good rate of interest that they are content to get that, and not really look after what is done."
 The figures of expenditure prove convincingly the justice of such strictures.  The Congress Report gives a table showing the cost per mile of twenty-five different railways, compiled from figures supplied to the Select Committee of 1884.   This table shows that, as between the same types of railways (that is to say, railways of the same gauge and traversing the same type of country) those constructed by the State cost half the amount that was spent under the Guarantee system.

Even Sir Juland Danvers, who for several years had held the post of Government Director of Railways in India, and was not himself hostile to the Guarantee System, admitted that
"the cost of lines now constructed" (that is to say, by the State) "has been much less than the average cost of these railways, which form the original main system.  Instead of £18,000 and £20,000 per mile we now see lines constructed on the five feet six inches gauge for £4,000, £5,000 and £9,000."
Reginald Reynolds tells us:
The loss on the Indian railways is incalculable.  Payments of deficit in guaranteed interest alone account for about £40,000,000, and this figure does not take into account the value of free land given to the Guaranteed Companies or the loss incurred by wasteful methods of construction.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

MJ Akbar at Manthan, Hyderabad

An excellent talk, I highly recommend.  The talk starts with India-Pakistan and continues to the ongoing World War IV (the Cold War was World War III).   The current battlefield of WW IV extends from India's western border all the way to Morocco.

Monday, July 20, 2015

RISA Lila - 3?

Prof. Narayanan Komerath explains.  Rajiv Malhotra has been accused of "plagiarism" -- in brief, because he quotes the passages that he debunks.
Rajeev Srinivasan succinctly describes the attackers. They come from a lobby where three interests converge: First are the fundamentalist Protestant conversionist/ ‘evangelists’ out to Save the Souls of people all over the world, particularly India, by destroying their native culture and religions. The second lobby is the extreme-left combination of Marxist anarchists relevance-challenged by the demise of global communism, and the extreme-Islamists funded from the Pakistani/Saudi Wahabi cartels to destroy democracy. These are people who stand around in San Francisco or New York on July 4 and August 15 holding posters proclaiming “Death To Terrorist India and America!” or “Brick by brick, wall by wall, US Imperialism will fall!” . The third are the supporters of the Indian National Congress party, who are now out of power and hate those who voted them out.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A problem with India's IIP

IIP == Index of Industrial Production.

This news-item tells us: Per India's Index of Industrial Production, industrial growth is subdued (e.g., 2.7% in May).  However indirect taxes are up 37%.  There were some changes in the tax code, and if those are taken into account indirect taxes are up 14.5%. 

So there is a problem:
“There is some mismatch between Index of Industrial Production (IIP) growth and excise duty collections, even after doing away with the effect of petroleum products,” said Devendra Pant, chief economist, India Ratings. “IIP is an index with a base year. If you add consumer price inflation of about five per cent (for April-May) to it, the total effect should be an eight per cent rise in excise duty collections. However, excise duty is much more even after taking out the impact of petroleum. This means we are not measuring IIP correctly.”
Besides, experts said IIP was volume growth and didn’t give data in value terms. Therefore, one doesn’t know whether high-value production items are rising or those of low value. For instance, doubling of dispatches of Alto car models would lead to the same rise in the IIP as those of sports utility vehicles or sedans. Excise duty collections will be on the value of production and, therefore, cannot be gauged correctly from IIP.
I hope the economists work on this problem.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

What is the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge (MPGC)?

Million Pollinator Garden Challenge: A nationwide call to action to preserve and create gardens and landscapes that help revive the health of bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other pollinators across America. We will move millions of individuals, kids and families outdoors and make a connection between pollinators and the healthy food people eat.

Register your pollinator habitat here.

(Note: while not part of the MPGC, if you scroll the map over, you will see there are some habitats registered from Bangladesh and Pakistan.)

India's Carbon Intensity

 Per this article in the Hindu:
India emitted 0.65 kg of carbon dioxide per $1 of GDP in 1990, which fell to 0.53 kg in 2010.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Political correctness vs Islamic fundamentalism

Nick Cohen writes about the brave secularist Bangladeshi bloggers:

Liberals in Bangladesh are therefore on both Islamist death lists and police arrest lists. If killers with meat cleavers don’t get them, cops with warrants will. To Bangladesh’s shame, the state has threatened friends and allies of Ahmed and Roy with prison for the crime of “hurting religious sentiments” and jeopardising “communal harmony”.

Lenin said: “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” Islamists must feel the same about the “moderate” governments they want to destroy. Instead of taking extremists on and upholding human rights, Bangladesh justifies extremism by turning on the liberal critics of religion and treating them as criminals. In one of the most pathetic interviews you’ll ever read, Sajeeb Wazed, the son of Sheikh Hasina told Reuters that his mother had found it prudent to offer only private condolences to Roy’s family after his assassination. Although “we believe in secularism”, the wretched man explained, the prime minister could not make a public stand “because our opposition party plays that religion card against us relentlessly, we cannot come out strongly. It’s about perception, not about reality.” (Incidentally, they are both related to Tulip Siddiq, the new Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn.)

Avijit Roy lost his life because he wanted to change reality, not perception. He knew the dangers, but knew too that there are fights that cannot be ducked. “Those who think victory will be realised without any bloodshed are living in a fool’s paradise,” he wrote before his death. “We risk our lives the moment we started wielding our pens against religious bigotry and fundamentalism.”
Compare the bravery of Bangladeshi intellectuals with the attitude of the bulk of the western intelligentsia. Whole books could be written on why it failed to argue against the fascism of our age – indeed I’ve written a couple myself – but the decisive reason is a fear that dare not speak its name. They are frightened of accusations of racism, frightened of breaking with the consensus, frightened most of all of violence. They dare not admit they are afraid. So they struggle to produce justifications to excuse their dereliction of duty. They turn militant religion into a rational reaction to poverty or western foreign policy. They maintain there is a moral equivalence between militant religion and militant atheism.