Saturday, October 31, 2009

Boo!


Top ten Wall Street Halloween costumes here. Of course, in order to scare liberals, all one needs to do is to don a Ayn Rand costume and chant 'Here comes John Galt'.

From here: “All her life, when left to her own devices, she tended to wear shapeless garments for days on end. She was between 5’ and 5’2” and stocky and didn’t wear clothes terribly well. She loved her legs, though. She loved to wear high heels.”
...Rand had a habit of appearing in Adrian clothes at odd times, once wearing a silk and velvet dress embossed with astrological signs, with a 12-inch fan-shaped train, to dinner with another couple. “She was extreme,” Heller says. “On the one hand, her husband was always upbraiding her for her stockings that had runs and her hair that was never washed or combed. On the other hand, she loved to dress up.”

Pumpkin power pictures





Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday flowchart

(click to enlarge)



Quotable (filed in the WTF section)


"I didn't force her, but used my experience to convince her of my love, and then we agreed to marry"

--- Ahmed Muhamed Dhore, a 112 year old Somalian man after his marriage to a 17 year old child named Safiya Abdulle.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Linkage


POV


Excerpted from an essay by Paul Graham on startups... Lots of sage advice too...

One thing that surprised me is how the relationship of startup founders goes from a friendship to a marriage. My relationship with my cofounder went from just being friends to seeing each other all the time, fretting over the finances and cleaning up shit. And the startup was our baby. I summed it up once like this: "It's like we're married, but we're not fucking."

Readings


Excerpted from a book by Omar bin Laden, the son of ... yes, you guessed it! (via)

With so many wives and ex-wives, my grandfather had so many children that it was difficult for him to maintain a relationship with each child. As was the custom, he did give extra attention to the eldest sons, but most of his children were seen only on important occasions. This did not mean he did not follow the progress of his children; he would take time out of his busy schedule to make cursory checks to ensure that his sons were advancing in school or that his daughters married well. Since my father was not one of the eldest sons, he was not in a position to see his father regularly.
... Although most men, regardless of their culture, are tempted by the sight of a different female from the ones in their life, my father was not. In fact, he was known to avert his eyes whenever a woman not of his family came into his view. To keep away from sexual temptation, he believed in early marriages. That’s the reason he made the decision to marry when he was only 17 years old.
.. You might have guessed by now that my father was not an affectionate man. He never cuddled with me or my brothers. I tried to force him to show affection, and was told that I made a pest of myself. When he was home, I remained near, pulling attention-gaining pranks as frequently as I dared. Nothing sparked his fatherly warmth. In fact, my annoying behavior encouraged him to start carrying his signature cane. As time passed, he began caning me and my brothers for the slightest infraction.

A commonality?


Seen on chinaSMACK - an online daily-updated collection of translated internet content from the Chinese-language internet... Here a lady rants about her husband in a series titled "Chinese Wives’ Complaints About Husbands"...

1. Never does anything in the house, difficult to even get him to wash a bowl. Even when I was pregnant, it was I who cooked for him.

2. Not the least bit romantic. The gifts he give me I can always guess. This is pretty weird too.

3. As long as he is sitting, it is the PSP [PlayStation Portable], though he seems to be better than many of the husbands here.

4. So afraid of his mother he is like a pig that has seen a tiger.

5. Not self-confident, easily shaken by people who talk about him, not like a man.

6. Sometimes I am already so hurt I am crying and he will still be on the side saying “I do not understand you, what are you crying about.”

Sign o' the times...


From CJR's daily blog comes the latest 'sign o' the times'...

Meet Jonathan Woodlief, the fellow who is: coordinating nearly a million and a half online protesters; leading one of the Web's fastest-growing viral movements, a revolt against recent changes made to Facebook's News Need feature; administering the CHANGE FACEBOOK BACK TO NORMAL!! group on the social networking site, adding new members at the rate of roughly 100 people a minute; and, in his spare time, attending the eighth grade. "His parents were not aware of this," Charlotte's News & Observer reports in a delightful mini-profile of Jonathan, 14.
Oh, kids.

Readings


Paul and Rachel Chandler's final detailed post before the British couple were captured by Somalian pirates as they were sailing around the world...

Our outboard has arrived and is being run-in. The boat full of diesel, fresh water and fresh provisions. All we have to do now are the exit formalities, which will take more than a day. Immigration officials now have our passports and later we must collect a clearance letter for the harbourmaster. The harbourmaster collects outstanding harbour dues and then returns our ship's registration papers (which he's been holding while we've been based here). After that we can move to the customs quay where they will inspect us, then the chaps from immigration will turn up, return our passports and say goodbye! So we expect to leave tomorrow sometime. We'll be at sea for 8 to 12 days, maybe 14 as we are now getting into the period of transition between the south monsoon and north monsoon, so the trade winds will be less reliable and we may get more light winds. We probably won't have satellite phone coverage until we're fairly close to the African coast, so we may be out of touch for some time.

Link to blog detailing their amazing adventures here. I hope they make it back.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oh no.. Republicans endorsing the swine flu!!!


I offer no rambling preambles... The Onion at it's biting best...

From here: Claiming that the president was preying on the public's fear of contracting a fatal disease last week when he declared the H1N1 virus a national emergency, Republican leaders announced Wednesday that they were officially endorsing the swine flu. "Thousands of Americans—hardworking ordinary Americans like you and me—already have H1N1," Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said during a press conference. "Now Obama wants to take that away from us. Ask yourself: Do you want the federal government making these kinds of health care decisions for you and your family?" Other prominent Republicans opposing Obama's declaration of emergency include Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, who urged residents of his state to continue not washing their hands, and radio host Rush Limbaugh, who made a point of dying of the virus during his show on Wednesday.

Skies





Pictures taken over 3 days... (First picture taken over the New York Harbor, second in Staten Island, NY and the third in the town of Spotswood, NJ)

Noticed


an interesting puzzle over at Tierney's lab...

“It’s cocktail time, my love,” said Count Dracula to his wife. “Shall it be the usual?”

“The usual,” said Mrs. Dracula.

The count took from his liquor cabinet a bottle containing one quart of vodka and a smaller bottle containing one pint of human blood. He poured a small quantity of blood into the vodka, shook the bottle vigorously, then poured exactly the same amount back into the bottle of blood. Hence at the finish there was again a quart of liquid in the large bottle and a pint in the small bottle.

Mrs. Dracula was sitting with her back to her husband, but she was watching him in a mirror on the living room wall. The count was following the standard Transylvanian procedure for making a vampire martini.

Assume that when vodka and human blood are mixed, neither alters in volume. After the two operations just described, is there more vodka in the pint of blood than there is blood in the quart of vodka, or less, or are the two amounts the same?

Answers can be parsed in the comments section...

The case for proselytism - II


Recently, Pope Benedict approved a decree, under which Anglicans not happy with women priests and gay bishops will be allowed to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of their Anglican identity. While there are tangential advantages (discussed in this blog here), below is a handy list of some Catholic beliefs that defecting Anglicans must embrace in this process...

  • Jesus prayed that his followers should be one. Catholics believe Christian unity under the authority of the Pope to be an imperative. He is infallible when “he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals”.
  • Women can never be ordained to the priesthood. Only a baptised man can validly receive ordination.
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, was conceived “immaculately”, which means she was protected from sin from birth.
  • Homosexual acts are “contrary to the natural law . . . under no circumstances can they be approved”.
  • Transubstantiation, or the doctrine that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Future watch


Drew Endy, an assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford University on creating life in his lab by combining elements of engineering, chemistry, computer science, and molecular biology.

... “it’s scary as hell, it’s the coolest platform science has ever produced, but the questions it raises are the hardest to answer. If you can sequence something properly and you possess the information for describing that organism—whether it’s a virus, a dinosaur, or a human being—you will eventually be able to construct an artificial version of it. That gives us an alternate path for propagating living organisms
... My guess is that our ultimate solution to the crisis of health-care costs will be to redesign ourselves so that we don’t have so many problems to deal with. But note, you can’t possibly begin to do something like this if you don’t have a value system in place that allows you to map concepts of ethics, beauty, and aesthetics onto our own existence. These are powerful choices. Think about what happens when you really can print the genome of your offspring. You could start with your own sequence, of course, and mash it up with your partner, or as many partners as you like. Because computers won’t care. And, if you wanted evolution, you can include random number generators.”

... Can I show you something?” he asked, as he walked over to a bookshelf and grabbed four gray bottles. Each one contained about half a cup of sugar, and each had a letter on it: A, T, C, or G, for the four nucleotides in our DNA. “You can buy jars of these chemicals that are derived from sugarcane,” he said. “And they end up being the four bases of DNA in a form that can be readily assembled. You hook the bottles up to a machine, and into the machine comes information from a computer, a sequence of DNA—like T-A-A-T-A-G-C-A-A. You program in whatever you want to build, and that machine will stitch the genetic material together from scratch. This is the recipe: you take information and the raw chemicals and compile genetic material. Just sit down at your laptop and type the letters and out comes your organism.” We don’t have machines that can turn those sugars into entire genomes yet. Endy shrugged. “But I don’t see any physical reason why we won’t,” he said. “It’s a question of money. If somebody wants to pay for it, then it will get done.”

More Fall Pictures



From the backyard and nearby

Linkage


  • Link to yet another one of those pointless 'Is God dead or not dead' articles...
  • How Somalia's pirates actually benefit the local fisher folk.
  • A new book shows us that the only we could really show that we are caring about saving the planet is by eating our house pets. No, really.
  • Advice for those amongst us (including Bill Maher) who seem to think taking the swine flu vaccine could lead to the end of the world.

POV

TQD has a piece on real and perceived problems that the United States faces with respect to Iran/Israel... Must say the arguments are laid for the most part very fair and square.

Americans die every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why? Ask any politician this Tuesday, and they'll give you a reason. Ask them next Tuesday, you'll get a different reason. Whatever: the American penchant for sticking our nose in other people's business is a hellhole of hubris that makes a Greek tragedy look like a sitcom. Removing our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan so they don't die there like lab rats would be a change I can believe in, Mr. Babyface Barack.
... Iran is supposedly thinking of making supposed nuclear bombs. It's no problem that America, Russia, Britain, France, Israel, India, China and Pakistan actually HAVE the bomb, it's only a problem that Iran MAY get it. Talk about the pot calling the kettle a 100% saturated black. What would be the problem if Iran had the bomb? Israel would squeal like an insurance company faced with a major surgery claim. Big deal. Israel actually has from 200 to 400 nuclear bombs, but we don't seem to mind, even given their record of bombing everyone around them. Iran has a record of not bombing anyone around them for thousands of years, except once when Saddam Hussein attacked them. Israel having the bomb is way scarier than Iran getting it.
But isn't Iran a dangerous theocracy that funds the terrorists Hamas and Hezbollah? Depends on your point of view. In the case of Hezbollah, Iran is funding their Shia buddies in Lebanon where the Shias have always been treated like second-class citizens, and Hezbollah is the mainstay of charities and education for the Lebanese Shias. In the case of Hamas, it's basically a game of tit for tat. The US supplies Israel with weaponry and money to the tune of $3 billion a year, and Iran supplies Hamas with funds. Israel uses our money and weapons to bomb the Palestinians, and Hamas uses funding from Iran to fight back. What's the difference? The US and Iran are doing exactly the same thing.

The case for proselytism


Pope Benedict's recent controversial outreach towards the Anglican Church urging them to join the Roman Catholic fold may reek of naked proselytism. The very same proselytizing attitude the Roman Catholic Church had shown hundreds of years back with a lot of success in the Philippines, Coastal Africa and Latin America. The only difference this time around might be that welcoming errant Christians (more and more of them are starting to believe in assertive faiths like Mormonism, Pentecostalism and Islam) into the Roman Catholic fold may be our only bulwark against a rising Muslim fundamentalist attitude which in turn fosters a virulent sense of conservative Muslim identity that in my honest view may not be what the world really needs.

From here: But in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind — not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam. Here Catholicism and Anglicanism share two fronts. In Europe, both are weakened players, caught between a secular majority and an expanding Muslim population. In Africa, increasingly the real heart of the Anglican Communion, both are facing an entrenched Islamic presence across a fault line running from Nigeria to Sudan. Where the European encounter is concerned, Pope Benedict has opted for public confrontation. In a controversial 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, he explicitly challenged Islam’s compatibility with the Western way of reason — and sparked, as if in vindication of his point, a wave of Muslim riots around the world.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bush's war - after effects still linger


Let's not forget, we are still living the after effects of a war that was really not necessary and whose rationale was sold to people in the United States on what was essentially lies (remember yellow cake uranium and non-existent weapons of mass destruction) by the previous administration.

From here: Two car bombs in central Baghdad have killed at least 136 people and wounded more than 550 others, police sources have told Al Jazeera. The blasts went off less than a minute apart on Sunday, near the ministry of justice and the headquarters of the Baghdad provincial administration close to the Tigris river. Firefighters pulled charred and mangled bodies off the streets near the provincial government building while burnt-out cars were piled up at the blast site.


Image ripped from the New York Times...

Today evening

Evening skies, October 25, Spotswood, NJ

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Finds from an archival dive…


An article titled ‘The Sexual Criminal’ written by Dr. James Weir, MD in The Medical Record, a weekly national journal of medicine and surgery (Vol 47, Jan 5th 1895 - June 29th 1895)

Native born Americans, whose ancestors came form Great Britain and Europe, are remarkably free from the evil effects of degeneration, consequently the native-born white sexual criminal is of rare occurrence. The negro violator, on the other hand, is quite numerous, springing up everywhere in all of the Southern States, where his race is mostly domiciled. His criminality is not due to degeneration, but is the result of perfectly natural and, for him, normal mental habitudes. Let us study, for a moment, the psychology of this semi-civilized savage. The childlike simplicity and happy-go-lucky carelessness of the negro, and I mean, throughout this paper, the true negro, not the half-breed, is notorious. The cares of to-day are sufficiently burdensome for him; he lets tomorrow take care of itself. Two hundred years of civilization have given him a thin, a very thin, veneer of superficial morality. In fact his moral nature about equals that of a white child five or six years old, who has no real knowledge of abstract ethics whatever. The negro cook who steals your flour, butter, sugar, and eggs does not consider her peculations to be thefts; she numbers such acts among her inalienable rights, though she is very careful to conceal as much as possible her petty rogueries. When she drops on her knees and asks God to pardon her, your butter, sugar, flour, and eggs do not form any portion of her burden of sin. The negro who robs your watermelon patch and your henroosts on Saturday night will be found Sunday morning in the deacons' corner of the sanctuary. His full, rich, sonorous voice will sound all the better in prayer and song, on account of the fat chicken and luscious watermelon that he has eaten before he donned his long-tailed coat and hied himself to church. His religion is pure and unadulterated superstition. God and the devil (Voodoo in some form or other), are equally objects of his superstitious regard.
… The records of the police courts, wherever the laws against fornication are enforced, will show that the negro, both male and female, has little or no regard for virtue. Northern sentimentalists nave declared that the slave-owning whites were to blame for this moral laxity. This is nonsense, for it is a well-known fact that three half-breeds are born to-day where there was one born during slave time, thus showing conclusively that the negro women voluntarily yield up their virtue. But why argue this question; the history of the world shows that the women of the lower races, wherever found, eagerly enter, as a general thing, into concubinage with men of the white race. The men of the lower races passionately desire the embraces of the women of the white race, and this accounts, in a measure, for the numerous rapes upon white women by negroes. The negro is rarely accused of committing rape on the females of his own race. The reason for this is found in the natural complaisance of the females of this race; the male being able to easily satisfy his desire without resorting to violence. For the same reason a white man is seldom guilty of raping a negro woman. No amount of legislation will ever make people accept the negro as their social equal. Common-sense teaches them that he is their inferior, while science shows conclusively that he is of lower origin. Hence it happens that when a white girl is raped by a negro the disaster is simply appalling. She feels as though she had been dishonored and defiled by some monstrous beast; her moral courage is gone forever; her honor and her virtue can never be regained. These feelings are also entertained, to a certain extent, by her relatives, friends, and, in fact, by every white individual in the whole country.

Fall


Friday, October 23, 2009

Linkage


Readings


Orwell on Gandhi...

Close friendships, Gandhi says, are dangerous, because “friends react on one another” and through loyalty to a friend one can be led into wrong-doing. This is unquestionably true. Moreover, if one is to love God, or to love humanity as a whole, one cannot give one's preference to any individual person. This again is true, and it marks the point at which the humanistic and the religious attitude cease to be reconcilable. To an ordinary human being, love means nothing if it does not mean loving some people more than others. The autobiography leaves it uncertain whether Gandhi behaved in an inconsiderate way to his wife and children, but at any rate it makes clear that on three occasions he was willing to let his wife or a child die rather than administer the animal food prescribed by the doctor. It is true that the threatened death never actually occurred, and also that Gandhi — with, one gathers, a good deal of moral pressure in the opposite direction — always gave the patient the choice of staying alive at the price of committing a sin: still, if the decision had been solely his own, he would have forbidden the animal food, whatever the risks might be. There must, he says, be some limit to what we will do in order to remain alive, and the limit is well on this side of chicken broth. This attitude is perhaps a noble one, but, in the sense which — I think — most people would give to the word, it is inhuman. The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals. No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid. There is an obvious retort to this, but one should be wary about making it. In this yogi-ridden age, it is too readily assumed that “non-attachment” is not only better than a full acceptance of earthly life, but that the ordinary man only rejects it because it is too difficult: in other words, that the average human being is a failed saint. It is doubtful whether this is true. Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings. If one could follow it to its psychological roots, one would, I believe, find that the main motive for “non-attachment” is a desire to escape from the pain of living, and above all from love, which, sexual or non-sexual, is hard work. But it is not necessary here to argue whether the other-worldly or the humanistic ideal is “higher”. The point is that they are incompatible. One must choose between God and Man, and all “radicals” and “progressives”, from the mildest Liberal to the most extreme Anarchist, have in effect chosen Man.

Beneath the veneer


This nugget reminds us to dig deeper... New age racists like Glenn Beck and WASPy country types could also learn by reading...

One cultural aspect that shows how just how deep that multi-racial mixture goes is too often forgotten, and that is: The banjo is an African instrument. Yep, the signature hillbilly instrument, the key to bluegrass (and by extension, white country), the sound that conjures up "Deliverance," corn liquor, and high-speed backroad getaways, was brought over here on slave ships.
... Sure, everybody knows how white people co-opted blues to create rock and roll (and black musicians like Jimi Hendrix and George Clinton swiped it right back to make psychedelia and funk). But not many people realize that when they see "Deliverance's" Banjo Boy tear up Dueling Banjos (or heck, when Earl Scruggs and Steve Martin -- one of the whitest guys alive -- do Foggy Mountain Breakdown), they're seeing an art form that has its roots in Africa. Even the (supposedly) whitest of white music is inextricably linked to black culture and our history of slavery, and we're richer for it.

This morning

Lone ship, Upper bay, Manhattan

Quotable


On the recently announced pay cuts on Wall Street - my view is that the Obama administration is putting out window dressing to shield themselves from the flak that is going to hit them when firms like Goldman Sachs start to disburse their $20 billion bonus pool.

"This is a shock to the firms. A 90% drop in cash compensation is worse than the harshest expectations, this is going to destabilize these firms, because these folks have a standard of living they are accustomed to. ... This might make Citi or Bank of America unworkable for them."

--- Jeff Visithpanich, principal at Johnson Associates, which advises several Wall Street firms on compensation.

Poor Wall Street hedge fund managers, their 'standard of living' would be affected. I guess they will now have to downgrade their plans for buying that Maybach with a measly Maserati... I feel very sad for them..

Photo


Waiting at the railway station this morning, I found this dull brownish warbler squawking incessantly at something above it its little furry head. The hardy metal I beams that held up the concrete shelter of the station hid the apparent source of frustration of the little bird – as hard as I tried to discern the cause of the commotion, I could not. One is not too sure if the station cleaners that had passed by a few minutes earlier had wiped out its nest or was it the fact that winter was coming and this was the bird's way of heralding the change in seasons or it was just another morning and the bird was doing what it knows best - warble...

Myths...


A book review of Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression, by Morris Dickstein briefly touches upon a myth surrounding modern capitalism and the belief that everyman can make it to be a millionaire...

Since the nation’s founding, people believed or pretended to believe that America was fundamentally a classless society, or one in which class borders were porous enough to accommodate the Horatio Alger myth of the poor boy who makes good. “There is no permanent class of hired laborers amongst us,” Abraham Lincoln noted a year before he was elected president. “Twenty-five years ago I was a hired laborer. The hired laborer of yesterday labors on his own account today, and will hire others to labor for him tomorrow.” It didn’t matter that only a precious few ever rose above their circumstances; social mobility was the bedrock of the American dream. As long as there was one Abraham Lincoln, one Andrew Carnegie, one Jack Dempsey, one poor boy who lifted himself up by his bootstraps, then every white male, at any rate, could make it.

No comment



From the Oct 26, 2009 issue of the New Yorker magazine. Cartoon by Gahan Wilson.

If the enemy is over there, why are we here?


If most of the bad guys and the source of the problem (see below) is in Pakistan, why don't we just shift gears and get to the root of the problem and correct Pakistan? Why still linger on in Afghanistan?

... most leaders of the Afghan Taliban are based in Pakistan, directing their forces from hide-outs across the border. Mullah Omar and his top deputies are believed to be in or around the southern Pakistani city of Quetta. Two other major factions in the Afghan insurgency are led by veteran Afghan warlords, Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who are in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the Pakistan Taliban is strongest. Al Qaeda’s leaders, including Mr. bin Laden, are believed to be hiding in the same tribal areas of Pakistan. While it has been weakened by American missile strikes, the terrorist network nonetheless is believed to have provided support for the Pakistani Taliban’s strikes against the Pakistani government.
More here. Today, I ran into a bit of news that tells me that Pakistan has suicide bombers targeting a nuclear weapons site. One fears for the safety of an entire sub-continent now...

Take. Pakistan. Out. Now.

Conveniently overlooked


Paul Krugman unthreads the vexing dollar-yuan currency peg and sheds light on how China is hurting poor countries as a result... Of course, the Chinese couldn't care less...

The value of China’s currency, unlike, say, the value of the British pound, isn’t determined by supply and demand. Instead, Chinese authorities enforced that target by buying or selling their currency in the foreign exchange market — a policy made possible by restrictions on the ability of private investors to move their money either into or out of the country. ...The crucial question, however, is whether the target value of the yuan is reasonable. 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. Many economists, myself included, believe that China’s asset-buying spree helped inflate the housing bubble, setting the stage for the global financial crisis. But China’s insistence on keeping the yuan/dollar rate fixed, even when the dollar declines, may be doing even more harm now.
...And that’s [keeping its currency pegged to the dollar] a particularly bad thing to do at a time when the world economy remains deeply depressed due to inadequate overall demand. By pursuing a weak-currency policy, China is siphoning some of that inadequate demand away from other nations, which is hurting growth almost everywhere. The biggest victims, by the way, are probably workers in other poor countries. In normal times, I’d be among the first to reject claims that China is stealing other peoples’ jobs, but right now it’s the simple truth.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Afghan conundrum...


Ideas for Afghanistan - and many of them lean towards not staying there... What is difficult in this argument is that if we stay there, we will be bogged down in a counter insurgency that we just cannot win (unless we plan to deploy about half a million boots on the ground). On the other hand, if we pack up our bags and leave, then critics will be quick to point out that this is just another bumbling, foolhardy American exercise - get into a nation, f**k it up (if it has not been f****d up already) and then leave when things spiral into a meltdown or when it has gone out of fashion (isn’t that what they say about Vietnam and Nicaragua?)

We have been fighting in Afghanistan for twice as long as we fought in World War II, with a current price tag estimated to be more than $60 billion a year. Standard counterinsurgency ratios of troops to civilians suggest we would need 650,000 troops (including Afghans) to pacify the country. So will adding 40,000 more to the 68,000 already there make a difference to justify the additional annual cost of $10 billion to $40 billion, especially since they may aggravate the perception of Americans as occupiers?
... My suggestion is that we scale back our aims, for Afghanistan is not going to be a shining democracy any time soon. We should keep our existing troops to protect the cities (but not the countryside), while ramping up the training of the Afghan Army — and helping it absorb more Pashtuns to increase its legitimacy in the south. We should negotiate to peel off some Taliban commanders and draw them over to our side, while following the old Afghan tradition of “leasing” those tribal leaders whose loyalties are for rent. More aid projects, with local tribal protection, would help, as would job creation by cutting tariffs on Pakistani and Afghan exports.
Remember also that the minimum plausible cost of 40,000 troops — $10 billion — could pay for two million disadvantaged American children to go to a solid preschool. The high estimate of $40 billion would, over 10 years, pay for almost half of health care reform. Are we really better off spending that money so that more young Americans could end up spilling their blood in Afghanistan without necessarily accomplishing much more than inflaming Pashtun nationalism?

Lolling locally

Michael Silverstein, author of “Women Want More” expounds on women from New York...

Silverstein talked about particular findings regarding New York women. “Women in New York have enormous issues with money, enormous issues with time,” he observed. “They are more likely to get divorced, and they are more troubled about finding love.” Only seventeen per cent of New York women rate themselves “highly satisfied” with their sex lives, compared with twenty per cent nationally and twenty-five per cent globally. On the other hand, New York women have more friends than anyone else on the planet: the average New Yorker would invite at least sixty-five friends to her wedding, compared with a national average of fifty-nine. Called upon to explain this phenomenon, Silverstein remembered a recent visit to a New York Bikram-yoga studio. “I have been to Bikram yoga all over the country, and this was the friendliest, most conversational, most open yoga class I have ever been to—like, in a different category,” he said. “I have been there twice, and the instructor knows me by name. I have been to the studio in Chicago forty times, and the instructor doesn’t know me.”

Sign o' the times...

With respect to rearing children, are we becoming part of a new 'yell' generation? My parents belonged to the spank generation...

Many in today’s pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children. We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (“Good job!”), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells.
“I’ve worked with thousands of parents and I can tell you, without question, that screaming is the new spanking,” said Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, which teaches parenting skills in classes, individual coaching sessions and an online course. “This is so the issue right now. As parents understand that it’s not socially acceptable to spank children, they are at a loss for what they can do. They resort to reminding, nagging, timeout, counting 1-2-3 and quickly realize that those strategies don’t work to change behavior. In the absence of tools that really work, they feel frustrated and angry and raise their voice. They feel guilty afterward, and the whole cycle begins again.”
... Parental yelling today may be partly a releasing of stress for multitasking, overachieving adults, parenting experts say. “Yelling is done when parents feel irritable and anxious,” said Harold S. Koplewicz, the founder of the New York University Child Study Center. “It can be as simple as ‘I’m overwhelmed, I’m running late for work, I had a fight with my wife, I have a project due — and my son left his homework upstairs.’ ”
Numerous studies exist on the effect of corporal punishment on children. A new one came out just last month. Led by a researcher at Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy, the study concluded that spanking children when they are very young (1-year-old) can slow their intellectual development and lead to aggressive behavior as they grow older. But there is far less data on the more common habit of shouting and screaming in families.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ways of life...

In a review of a book by a former nun titled 'The Case for God', Ross Douthat tells us that a Hindu observance of religion 'as a way of life rather than observance of a set of strict tenets' needs to be brought more into the mainstream and approaches like these are lost in the mind of the modern atheist.

... she doesn’t just argue that her preferred approach to religion — which emphasizes the pursuit of an unknowable Deity, rather than the quest for theological correctness — is compatible with a liberal, scientific, technologically advanced society. She argues that it’s actually truer to the ancient traditions of Judaism, Islam and (especially) Christianity than is much of what currently passes for “conservative” religion. And the neglect of these traditions, she suggests, is “one of the reasons why so many Western people find the concept of God so troublesome today.”
Both modern believers and modern atheists, Armstrong contends, have come to understand religion primarily as a set of propositions to be assented to, or a catalog of specific facts about the nature of God, the world and human life. But this approach to piety would be foreign to many premodern religious thinkers, including the greatest minds of the Christian past, from the early Fathers of the Church to medieval eminences like Thomas Aquinas.
These and other thinkers, she writes, understood faith primarily as a practice, rather than as a system — not as “something that people thought but something they did.” Their God was not a being to be defined or a proposition to be tested, but an ultimate reality to be approached through myth, ritual and “apophatic” theology, which practices “a deliberate and principled reticence about God and/or the sacred” and emphasizes what we can’t know about the divine. And their religion was a set of skills, rather than a list of unalterable teachings — a “knack,” as the Taoists have it, for navigating the mysteries of human existence. It’s a knack, Armstrong argues, that the Christian West has largely lost, and the rise of modern science is to blame. Not because science and religion are unalterably opposed, but because religious thinkers succumbed to a fatal case of science envy.

On Republican thought...

This is what the high priest of the Republican party (Rush Limbaugh) had to say about a New York Times reporter who focuses on writing about the environment. With their most important ideologue highlighting death to reporters who write about environmental degradation, whatever little bit of objectivity that the other side gave to conversations is also over...

I think these militant environmentalists, these wackos, have so much in common with the jihad guys. Let me explain this. What do the jihad guys do? The jihad guys go to families under their control and they convince these families to strap explosives on who? Not them. On their kids. Grab your 3-year-old, grab your 4-year-old, grab your 6-year-old, and we're gonna strap explosives on there, and then we're going to send you on a bus, or we're going to send you to a shopping center, and we're gonna tell you when to pull the trigger, and you're gonna blow up, and you're gonna blow up everybody around you, and you're gonna head up to wherever you're going, 73 virgins are gonna be there. The little 3- or 4-year-old doesn't have the presence of mind, so what about you? If it's so great up there, why don't you go? Why don't you strap explosives on you -- and their parents don't have the guts to tell the jihad guys, "You do it! Why do you want my kid to go blow himself up?" The jihad guys will just shoot 'em, 'cause the jihad guys have to maintain control. The environmentalist wackos are the same way. This guy from The New York Times, if he really thinks that humanity is destroying the planet, humanity is destroying the climate, that human beings in their natural existence are going to cause the extinction of life on Earth -- Andrew Revkin. Mr. Revkin, why don't you just go kill yourself and help the planet by dying?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Quotable

With the renewed vigor that Pakistan displays while trying to root out militants in the South Waziristan, it is useful to remind oneself the following:

From here: "One of the concerns we've had in recent years is that there appears to have been a tendency in some parts of the Pakistani establishment to think there are good terrorists and bad terrorists. The good terrorists are the guys who go off and bomb Indians, and kill Indians in India. And the bad terrorists are the ones who attack Pakistani interests, whether in Afghanistan or inside Pakistan, now that sort of distinction -- which I'm not saying is held at the highest levels of government, but certainly has been held in some elements on that side of the border – that distinction must disappear"

--- Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

C'mon, it is difficult to top this one...


An alternate future...

Members of the Maldives' Cabinet donned scuba gear and used hand signals Saturday at an underwater meeting staged to highlight the threat of global warming to the lowest-lying nation on earth. President Mohammed Nasheed and 13 other government officials submerged and took their seats at a table on the sea floor — 20 feet (6 meters) below the surface of a lagoon off Girifushi, an island usually used for military training. With a backdrop of coral, the meeting was a bid to draw attention to fears that rising sea levels caused by the melting of polar ice caps could swamp this Indian Ocean archipelago within a century. Its islands average 7 feet (2.1 meters) above sea level. "What we are trying to make people realize is that the Maldives is a frontline state. This is not merely an issue for the Maldives but for the world," Nasheed said. As bubbles floated up from their face masks, the president, vice president, Cabinet secretary and 11 ministers signed a document calling on all countries to cut their carbon dioxide emissions.

Maldivian Minister of Defense and National Security Ameen Faisal, center, signs a document calling on all countries to cut down their carbon dioxide emissions ahead of a major U.N. climate change conference in December in Copenhagen, in Girifushi, Maldives, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009. Government ministers in scuba gear held an underwater meeting of the Maldives' Cabinet to highlight the threat global warming poses to the lowest-lying nation on earth. Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed led Saturday's meeting around a table on the sea floor, 20 feet (6 meters) below the surface, with ministers communicating using white boards and hand signals. (AP Photo/Mohammed Seeneen)

Beckscapades...



Definitely confounding..

Friday, October 16, 2009

Noted

Even if we have a Democratic majority in the House and the Senate it is clear every time they manage to pass legislation, the Republican agenda wins... I had a lot of hope for the proposed consumer financial protection agency until I read this today...

Bowing to political pressure from community bankers, the House Financial Services Committee approved an exemption on Thursday for more than 98 percent of the nation’s banks from oversight by a new agency created to protect consumers from abusive or deceptive credit cards, mortgages and other loans. Representative Dennis Moore was a co-sponsor of the Miller-Moore amendment giving an exemption for banks with assets of less than $10 billion and credit unions smaller than $1.5 billion. The carve-out in legislation overhauling the regulatory system would prevent the new consumer financial protection agency from conducting annual examinations of the lending practices at more than 8,000 of the nation’s 8,200 banks, leaving only the largest banks and other lenders subject to the agency’s examiners.
Earlier in the day, the committee completed its work on a different contentious provision of the legislation when, on a nearly straight party-line vote of 43 to 26, it approved tougher regulations over the derivatives market. That provision, too, contained exemptions for many businesses.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Linkage


  • How our Republicans protect gang rapists... Jon eminently deconstructs.
  • Pictures of super tubes here.
  • On the origins of the word Ketchup and related lessons in globalization...
  • On what poker can teach US (via).

Readings...

From a book excerpt by Andrew Ross Sorkin in Vanity Fair chronicling last years financial meltdown (the time is Sept 08). This bit once again shows how government regulation saved market behemoths like Goldman Sachs from failing (Goldman declared profits of 3.2 billion this morning...).

The 50th-floor office of Goldman’s fixed-income trading unit, in Lower Manhattan, was in near meltdown by lunchtime on Thursday. No trading was taking place, and the traders themselves were glued to their terminals, staring at the GS ticker as the market continued its swoon. Goldman’s stock dropped to $85.88, its lowest level in nearly six years. Jon Winkelried, Goldman’s other co-president, had been walking the floors, trying to calm everyone’s nerves. “We could raise $5 billion in an hour if we wanted to,” he told a group of traders, as if to suggest that nothing was amiss. But just then, at one p.m., the market—and Goldman’s stock—suddenly turned around, with Goldman rising to $87 a share, and then $89. Traders raced through their screens trying to determine what had been responsible for the lift and discovered that the Financial Services Authority in the U.K. had announced a 30-day ban on short-selling 29 financial stocks, including Goldman Sachs’s. The squawk boxes on Goldman’s trading floor soon crackled to attention. A young trader found a recording of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the Internet and broadcast it over the speakers to commemorate the moment. About three dozen traders stood up from their desks, placed their hands over their hearts, and sang aloud, accompanied by rounds of high-fives and cheers
... Trying to determine what had been responsible for the lift and discovered that the Financial Services Authority in the U.K. had announced a 30-day ban on short-selling 29 financial stocks, including Goldman Sachs’s.

More of the same... Here we go again...

Just got back from a vacation and the news that hits one between the eyes is that of another impending bubble - the DOW crosses 10,000. Most of Wall Street is rejoicing while the truth is out in the open - mortgage professionals expect that foreclosure rates will keep rising, unemployment rate is creeping up to 10% as the recession plunges more and more Americans towards poverty.

I am not sure what it means anymore when the DOW climbs up to 10000. Maybe it is time for us to think that gauging a nations mood by the value of a purported leading market indicator is a false barometer.

In light of depressing news that surrounds foreclosure, unemployment and poverty, JP Morgan reports a profit of $ 3.6 billion (yes, that is 'billion') and Goldman Sachs reports profits of $ 3.2 billion. Meanwhile, these very banks were on the government dole barely a year back. Talk about irony.

Of course, here is the kicker: Just one year from the much discussed “death of Wall Street,” major U.S. banks and securities firms are set to pay their employees about $140 billion this year, according to a study by the Wall Street Journal.

For those of you who are brave enough to click through, here is a chart from the WSJ of projected employee compensations at major U.S. banking entities...

Monday, October 05, 2009

Nosting Potice


This blog is on vacation till 14 October... A little bit of travel with family...

Friday, October 02, 2009

Up yours, Creationists!!

Creationists, at least now can you join the Ardi party and stop spouting the 'God created everything about 6000 years ago BS'?



(Click on the image for a higher resolution... ). Image from the NYTimes.

Readings

On Gandhi... (excerpted from the Jul - Dec 1922 copy of the Atlantic Monthly)

To the Western mind, uninitiated in the Hindu religion or Indian politics, the title Mahatma has, until quite recently, carried with it a spiritualistic significance. Mahatmas appear at stances — or they did in Madame Blavatsky's time; and it was rightly concluded that their occult powers were acquired by the practice of an asceticism understood only in the East. One met mahatmas at Benares and Buddh Gaya, but one did not associate them with politics. Exactly when Mr. Gandhi became Mahatma Gandhi, it is difficult to say, for mahatmahood is not conferred on one after passing an examination; the word implies saintliness, and is the spontaneous tribute of a nation. Officially, I understand, this inconvenient saint, or politician, is still Mr. Gandhi.
Probably there is no figure in contemporary history who means so many different things to so many different people. To the incurious Westerner, the name of Gandhi calls up the picture of a saint, or a charlatan, an ascetic, fanatic, or freak. If he reads many newspapers, the Mahatma will appear in turn as patriot, martyr, high-souled idealist, and arch-traitor; evangelist, pacific quietist and truculent tub-thumper and revolutionist; subverter of empires and founder of creeds, a man of tortuous wiles and stratagems, or, to use his own phrase, *a single-minded seeker after truth'; generally, in the eyes of the tolerant who are without prejudice, a well-meaning but misguided politician. Certainly a complex figure, probably very few, even of the Anglo-Indian community on whom his personality impinges directly, a very substantial incubus, have made up theirhttp://digital.library.cornell.edu/a/atla/index.html minds which of these things he is. It calls for more than a little sympathetic imagination in an official of the dominant race to recognize the good points in a rebel.

... Gandhi's spirituality has been discounted, on the ground that he is a politician. Yet every seer or founder of a creed, or system, has been a politician. Gandhi has his own answer to these imputations on his good faith. 'Jesus,' he said, 'in my humble opinion, was a prince among politicians. He did render unto Caesar the things that were Caesar's. The politics of his time consisted in securing the welfare of the people by teaching them not to be seduced by the trinkets of the priests and Pharisees'. Gandhi argues that the system of government is so devised as to affect every department of the national life. 'If, therefore, we want to conserve the welfare of the nation, we must religiously interest ourselves in the doings of the governors and exert a moral influence on them by insisting on their obeying the laws of morality'. Gandhi regards himself, not only as a national leader, but as a missionary of civilization to the West. Not that he tilts at Western culture; he draws his gospel from Tolstoy, and is only less indebted to Ruskin and Thoreau than to the Bhagavadgita and the Sermon on the Mount. It is modem civilization that he abhors — the curse of industrialism, the hurry and drive of mercantile competition, the multiplication of luxuries, our gross material activities destroying simplicity, killing the ideal. Mills, factories, telegraphs, motor cars, railways, though he uses them and admits his inconsistency, are his abomination. He believes that economic progress is antagonistic to real progress, and that India may again become the religious teacher and spiritual guide of the West.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Thursday video...



Future watch

Minority Report type science in action...

From here: DARPA is funding all kinds of work that will result in cybernetic insects, or hybrids of biological and electronic bugs, whose implanted electronic controls make them respond to remote control. The defense community is interested in this new toy because it wants the animal-machine hybrids to transmit data from mounted sensors, like video and audio surveillance or gas sensors. The main part of the research is growing living pupae around MEMS electronics. That way, once the moth or beetle grows up, it can be remote controlled by sending impulses to the implanted electronics. You can see in this video that applying voltages causes the insect to feel the need to turn left, turn right, stop and start flying.

Here is a video.