Monday, November 30, 2009

POV

Blogger Penelope Trunk on why she tweeted about her recent miscarriage...  The tweet that caused some brouhaha went as follows: "I'm in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there's a fucked-up three-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin."

Some people say that a miscarriage is too private to discuss at work. But why? It's an important part of a woman's experience. It is not dirty or evil or shameful. A large number of women will have miscarriages in their lifetime. It's part of being a woman. And most men at the office have lived through the miscarriage of a significant other. It's an experience that happens over weeks, not hours. And it happens at work. We talk about death at work. We talk about violence at work. We talk about emotional problems such as breakups and mishaps and major disappointments. Why can't we talk about miscarriage?

From the archives...

Chapter 24 titled 'Treblinka' from the book: A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army by Vasily GrossmanToday, the trial of another German Nazi monster (probably the last such trial) gets underway in Munich...

Inside the women's barracks was a hairdressers. Naked women's hair was cut with clippers. Wigs were removed from the heads of old women. A terrible psychological phenomenon: according to the hairdressers, for the women, this death haircut was the most convincing proof of being taken to the banya. Girls felt their hair with their hands and sometimes asked: 'Could you cut it again here? It is not even.' Women usually relaxed after their hair was cut, and almost all emerged from the barracks with a piece of soap and a folded towel. Some young women cried, mourning their beautiful long plaits. What were the haircuts for? In order to deceive them? No. Germany needed this hair. The hair was a raw material. I've asked many people, what did Germans do with these heaps of hair cut from the heads of the living dead? All the witnesses told me that the huge heaps of black, blonde hair, curls and plaits were disinfected, pressed into sacks and sent to Germany. All the witnesses confirmed that the hair was sent in the sacks to Germany. How was it used? No one could answer this question. Only Kon stated in his written evidence that the hair was used by the navy for stuffing mattresses or making hawsers for submarines.

Consumerist watch

Aren't we ashamed yet of our freewheeling ways? Here are some spending numbers from the Black Friday madness that pervades the store fronts of Wal Marts and the Circuit City's all over the nation every Thanksgiving...

The National Retail Federation, meanwhile, issued a gloomier report, estimating with its survey partner, BIGresearch, that shoppers spent $343.31 per person, versus $372.57 per person a year ago, a 7.9 percent decrease. Total spending reached $41.2 billion, versus an estimated $41.0 billion in 2008. But traffic increased to 195 million shoppers visiting stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 172 million last year.

Notes

A British actor talks about domestic violence... (memories from his childhood)...
Our house was small, and when you grow up with domestic violence in a confined space you learn to gauge, very precisely, the temperature of situations. I knew exactly when the shouting was done and a hand was about to be raised – I also knew exactly when to insert a small body between the fist and her face, a skill no child should ever have to learn. Curiously, I never felt fear for myself and he never struck me, an odd moral imposition that would not allow him to strike a child. The situation was barely tolerable: I witnessed terrible things, which I knew were wrong, but there was nowhere to go for help. Worse, there were those who condoned the abuse. I heard police or ambulance men, standing in our house, say, "She must have provoked him," or, "Mrs Stewart, it takes two to make a fight."

Science watch


For science nerds who love history, the Royal Society has put online 60 of its most memorable scientific papers. (via)

Below: James Clerk Maxwell's paper on the electromagnetic theory... (pdf here)

On Muslims in Europe

NYRB highlights the issues behind Muslim integration here. The following passage (paradoxically) illustrates how Italy's agriculture, food, and its landscape are largely the work of Muslim immigrants:

Italy has lately received more than half a million immigrants a year from Africa and the Middle East, mostly to work in its farms, shops, and restaurants. The market price of certain kinds of Italian produce, so Italian farmers say, is in danger of falling below the cost of bringing it to market. Under conditions of globalization, Italy's real comparative advantage may lie elsewhere than in agriculture, in some high-tech economic model that is remunerative but not particularly "Italian."...Traditional ways of working the land may be viable only if there are immigrants there to work it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Readings

Paul Graham on some of the reasons why Google might have adopted the 'Don't be evil' mantra (the article is a little bit on the wonkish side, but if one persists then there are lessons for a larger world)...

Should Apple care what people like me think? What difference does it make if they alienate a small minority of their users? There are a couple reasons they should care. One is that these users are the people they want as employees. If your company seems evil, the best programmers won't work for you. That hurt Microsoft a lot starting in the 90s. Programmers started to feel sheepish about working there. It seemed like selling out.

A new order in Europe?

Swiss voters approve ban on construction of mosques (minarets on mosques actually, but the message is clear)...

 Swiss voters approved a proposal to outlaw the construction of mosque minarets, from where Muslims are called to prayer, the government said. The ban, sponsored by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, was approved by “a majority of the Swiss people,” the government said in a statement from the capital Bern today. It didn’t give a breakdown of the vote.

Chart porn




Across USA, food stamp usage soars. Full article here.

Sunday video

We are all quasi Keynesians now...right?

The WSJ profiles yet another Keynesian (Arthur Cecil Pigou) - looks like that is in vogue now (also a bit of populist writing from a newspaper who breathes and quacks like Ayn Rand should curry favor with its left leaning readers)...

Mr. Pigou pioneered the study of market failure—the branch of economics that explores why free enterprise sometimes. But while Mr. Pigou believed capitalism works tolerably most of the time, he also demonstrated how, on occasion, it malfunctions. His key insight was that actions in one part of the economy can have unintended consequences in others. Thus, for example, a blow-up in a relatively obscure part of the credit markets—the subprime mortgage industry—can undermine the entire banking system, which, in turn, can drag the entire economy into a recession, as banks refuse to lend.

Consider...

the costs in Afghanistan... (via)

The White House is suggesting the price tag (is) ...$1 million per new soldier per year. ...That means that a surge of 40,000 troops will cost approximately $40 Billion on top of the $65 billion/year the US is currently spending on its military deployments. The health care bill that is being considered by the Congress now costs approximately $85 billion/year -- just to set some context. For more context, Afghanistan's nominal GDP was $11.7 billion last year. That's right. . .$11.7 billion -- and we are considering spending ten times that on this military engagement.

Readings

This bit in the Sunday Times explains the clear and present danger of economic overcapacity in China and the lessons they could learn from previous missteps of the kind that have happened to growing Western economies in the 1900s...

 China uses American spending power to enlarge its private sector, while America uses Chinese lending power to expand its public sector. Yet this arrangement may unravel in a dangerous way, and if it does, the most likely culprit will be Chinese economic overcapacity. China has had a 30-year run of stellar economic growth. But it’s only human nature for such expansion to breed too much optimism, overextending an entire economy. Americans have found this out the hard way in their own financial crisis. History has shown that no major economy has grown into maturity without bubbles, crises and possibly even civil strife or civil wars along the way. Is China exempt from this broader pattern?

Three trees








Thanksgiving video

Remember this Adam Sandler classic from SNL on Turkey day from ages ago... (via)

Lighter note

On 'sopping' - a Thanksgiving ritual...

When most people talk about “sopping” gravy they use the term casually, unaware that it is a highly technical maneuver for eating food. Sopping is a precise science, and in my family it is utilized with military precision, exactly twenty-five minutes after the meal is served. Sopping bread means placing it in the hand with palm up, firmly pinching it between your thumb and pinkie, and quickly flipping your hand over into the sauce, using your middle three fingers to press and guide the bread. If it isn’t done this way, it’s not a Sop. In fact, there are a variety of gravy-obtaining methods that are often mistaken for the Sop, including: the Soak, the Pat, the Tap,

Readings

James Surowiecki on our debt economy and myths about tax breaks...

Debt didn’t get dangerously out of scale because the system was broken. It got out of scale, in part, because the system worked. The government doesn’t make people go into debt, of course. It just nudges them in that direction. Individuals are able to write off all their mortgage interest, up to a million dollars, and companies can write off all the interest on their debt, but not things like dividend payments. This gives the system what economists call a “debt bias.”

Rumblings

When a staunch supporter like the New York Times calls Obama's plans in the Middle East to be 'unraveling', one knows that something is amiss. Evidence of lopsided policies include Obama plans to send another 34,000 soldiers to Afghanistan in the hope of winning an unwinnable war.
Nine months later, the president’s promising peace initiative has unraveled. The Israelis have refused to stop all building. The Palestinians say that they won’t talk to the Israelis until they do, and President Mahmoud Abbas is so despondent he has threatened to quit. Arab states are refusing to do anything. Mr. Obama’s own credibility is so diminished (his approval rating in Israel is 4 percent) that serious negotiations may be farther off than ever. More here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thursday photo


Linkage

The last bastion of uninterrupted communist rule for 40 years erodes...

Additions to the lexicon from Schotts - this time it is Ji-Hobbyists

Masturbation and the government of Spain

Mallika Sarabhai at TED India on the arts

Really not sure if Obama enjoys this part of his job responsibilities

The New York Times reports on cousins marrying - a new trend?

The Malagasy people and making textiles out of spiders web...

On facilitated communication and a Belgian man who woke up from coma after 23 years and doubts thereof...

A cornucopia of Thanksgiving lists from the archives of McSweeneys...

Hedge funds set for rebound to pre - crisis levels - or what? Looks like Wall Street is back to its usual sh*t...

A photoblog documents hijras, weddings and Indian customs

How the H1N1 vaccine is made

Catholic priests upto their usual tricks - this time in Ireland...  results of a dogmatic repression?

A geography of obesity in America

When climate scientists f*** up - a parable of how global warming naysayers would suck up every little opportunity to belittle the greatest issue in front of our noses...

Future watch...

Google vs. Justice Chin...

Google has by now digitized some ten million books. On what terms will it make those texts available to readers? That is the question before Judge Chin. If he construes the case narrowly, according to precedents in class-action suits, he could conclude that none of the parties had been slighted. That decision would remove all obstacles to Google's attempt to transform its digitizing of texts into the largest library and book-selling business the world has ever known. If Judge Chin were to take a broad view of the case, the settlement could be modified in ways that would protect the public against potential abuses of Google's monopolistic power. (via)

Middle East Katrina?

On the Dubai bubble...

It came in a short statement about the restructuring of Dubai World, one of the emirate’s biggest and best-known companies, with the big news buried near the end. But the decision to ask bondholders of the company and its most troubled subsidiary, Nakheel, to extend maturities from December to May 2010 was a bombshell. And the Middle East’s most glamorous and creative emirate will pay the price of its decision for a long time to come.

Picture stories

Pictures from Afghanistan here. If one does not learn from history (USSR vs. Islamist Mujahideen Resistance), one is condemned to repeat it...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blogging taking a short break...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Redeeming a vampire squid...

The New York Times has an idea to exorcise Goldman Sachs...

On the day of Mr. Blankfein’s non-apology, Goldman pledged $500 million over five years — crumbs from its table — to help 10,000 small businesses. It is hard to take seriously Goldman’s claim that the program was not motivated by its public relations problems. The money will be welcomed by the recipients, but if Goldman wants to make a meaningful contribution, it would have to be in the billions and aimed more directly at taxpayers. So, here’s a thought: A multibillion-dollar gift to the federal Bureau of the Public Debt, which accepts tax-deductible donations to reduce the national debt. The donation can come from the bonuses; that way, it would not harm shareholders, because they only get their cut after the bonuses are paid. Goldman’s tax savings from the donation could help finance the small-business initiative. And a contribution might help Goldman ward off the alternative: serious calls for a windfall tax on bonuses, which would be justified since the profits they are based on are in large part the result of government efforts. One way or another, the taxpayers will demand their due, and one way or another, they just might get it. Checks can be made out to the Bureau of the Public Debt and sent to Bureau of the Public Debt, Dept. G, P.O. Box 2188, Parkersburg, W.Va., 26106-2188.

Lighter note

Could not stop laughing after reading this about Palin - especially in the wake of her unwelcome new book...  (via)

There are no lies in Sarah's book; nor in her life, nor in her heart. Utterances that seem untrue are not lies, because Sarah believes them true. If she says one thing, then later forgets what she said and says the opposite, Sarah Palin is neither lying nor mistaken, nor forgetful, because at each moment, she believes what she has said. And a minute later, she will believe something else, if she says it. Whatever she says, if she says it, will be true. But if it's not, so what? It's words, only words.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Notes...

on leaders visiting the Great Wall.... Bush takes the cake.


Richard Nixon, visiting the Great Wall of China in 1972, said: ‘I think you would have to conclude that this is a great wall.’
Ronald Reagan, visiting the Wall in 1984, said: ‘What can you say except it’s awe-inspiring? It is one of the great wonders of the world.’ Asked if he would like to build his own Great Wall, Reagan drew a circle in the air and said: ‘Around the White House.’
Bill Clinton, visiting the Wall in 1998, said: ‘So if we had a couple of hours, we could walk 10 kilometres, and we’d hit the steepest incline, and we’d all be in very good shape when we finished. Or we’d be finished. It was a good workout. It was great.’
George W. Bush, visiting the Wall in 2002, signed the guest book and said: ‘Let’s go home.’ He made no other comments.
Barack Obama, visiting the Wall on Wednesday, said: ‘It’s majestic. It’s magical. It reminds you of the sweep of history, and that our time here on Earth is not that long, so we better make the best of it.’ During Obama’s visit, the Starbucks and KFC at the base of the Wall were closed.

Dénouement in the EU

I am glad that Iraq war supporter Tony Blair (and Bush poodle) did not make it  to be the president of the EU but I did not expect a haiku spouting unknown Belgian to be the one...

Leaders of the 27 countries of the European Union on Thursday night chose Herman Van Rompuy, the Belgian prime minister, as the European Union’s first president, and Catherine Ashton of Britain, currently the bloc’s trade commissioner, as its high representative for foreign policy. The vote was unanimous. Both officials are highly respected but little known outside their own countries. After the European Union’s eight-year battle to rewrite its internal rules and to pass the Lisbon Treaty that created these two new jobs, the selection of such low-profile figures seemed to highlight Europe’s problems instead of its readiness to take a more united and forceful place in world affairs.

His best haiku production...

"Hair blows in the wind
after years there is still wind
sadly no more hair"

Meanwhile...

The Glenn Beck tomfoolery continues...

Glenn Beck, the popular and outspoken Fox News host, says he wants to go beyond broadcasting his opinions and start rallying his political base — formerly known as his audience — to take action. To do so, Mr. Beck is styling himself as a political organizer. In an interview, he said he would promote voter registration drives and sponsor a series of seven conventions across the country featuring what he described as libertarian speakers.

Mumbai jihad - remembering some of the perpetrators...

When neighbors can turn out not to be...

In almost every way, David Headley was the perfect neighbour. When the 49-year-old American citizen began renting an apartment in Mumbai last year he charmed his landlord, treated his laundry boy with respect, and befriended Bollywood figures at a local gym. He told them that he was Jewish, and running an immigration agency from a respectable part of town. “Sweet and charming,” said his landlady. “Down to earth,” said his personal trainer. Not until the past few days did they learn of his alleged other identity — and of quite how close security figures claim India may have come to a repeat of the militant attacks on Mumbai a year ago next week. Apparently, Mr Headley’s original name was Daood Gilani. He was born in Pakistan, and is suspected of helping the terrorists who carried out last year’s Mumbai attack, and of planning another atrocity this year...
This blog covered the Mumbai attacks previously here...

Linkage

Friday, November 20, 2009

Photo



Sunset, St. George, Staten Island NY

Readings in ethnocentric policy making

When one ponders on the reasons why European colonialists were so arrogant and condescending towards their subjects (the British Raj in India offers stark examples, the Belgians in Congo is another one that readily spring to mind), one often makes connections between the brutalities and their perpetrators; one often concentrates on the individuality behind the viceroys and administrators who bought their own brand of iron fisted justice to the faraway lands they lorded over... In fact, many history books in India explicitly deal with individuals and their racist actions paying little attention to the fact that many of them were schooled to think that the white race was the superior race. The reality included the fact that this was a standard and rational way to think about ethnic superiority in the nineteenth century. It was fashionable to do so and individuals espousing contradictory viewpoints were relegated to the fringes. A new book by James Bradley titled ‘The Imperial Cruise A Secret History of Empire and War’ offers clues into indoctrination into an Aryan mindset that was prevalent even in the Americas of the nineteenth century. It chronicles Americas forays into colonialism and the decidedly ethnocentric Anglo-Saxon thoughts of leaders like Theodore Roosevelt.
"One after another, White Christian males in America’s finest universities ‘discovered’ that the Aryan was God’s highest creation, that the Negro was designed for servitude and that the Indian was doomed to extinction... Another chapter describes the means by which the idea of exporting suffrage and democracy to primitive societies needed to be adjusted for Hawaii, with its existing native monarch and vastly outnumbered white population. Here and in its discussion of China, the book particularly emphasizes the way American assumptions of white superiority made the patriotism of other populations hard to understand. Roosevelt’s “inability to recognize third-world nationalism” is cited again and again, not simply as a prejudice but as an obstacle to effective policy.
Yes, many times public policy could be determined and shaped by ones own ethnic prejudices that paradoxically one is most comfortable with. A stark example of this is seen today in America's very public exasperation over the inability of the elected Iraqi parliament to finalize an election law out of very democratic structures that we helped erect in the name of democracy (apparently passing a comprehensive election law seems to have stalled for the 12th time via a veto yesterday by one of the two vice presidents of the Presidency Council of Iraq) while at home we are perfectly OK with the clear intransigence of our Senators who have been bickering over universal healthcare for over 20 to 30 years and it still has not come to pass.



British army blowing Sepoy mutineers from guns in 1857

Strange news

Ideas for fighting the swine flu...
The Moldovan Army is issuing garlic and onions to help its soldiers ward off a growing epidemic of swine flu in Eastern Europe. ...The chief medical officer for the Defense Ministry, Col. Sergiu Vasislita, was quoted as saying each soldier would get the equivalent of one small onion and two garlic cloves added to his diet as an immune-system boost.

Comment on the recent Mammogram/Pap smear decisions

Two new recommendations that advise for delaying the start of screening for breast cancer to age 50 and pushing the age for cervical cancer tests (first Pap smear at age 21) could have a lot of ramifications for the universal health care legislation winding its way thought the Senate. For one, it gives dimwits like Glenn Beck to say things like - look here is an example of the government mandating changes to your health care and this is the kind of rationing that will happen when universal health care rolls around.  Secondly it throws a lot of women into a state of confusion - most women in America have been conditioned to think that screening for cancer early using mammograms and Pap smears is a good and a vital thing. Now the recommendations point out to the fact that screening at less frequent interval prevents cancer just as well with reduced costs and also points out the fact that avoids unnecessary early interventions could be harmful to an otherwise healthy woman.

To purveyors of the rhetoric spouting from the likes of Glenn Beck, one must bear in mind that the recommendations issued was not be any government body but by outside experts that advise the Department of Health and Human services. Half of the members in the panel are made up of women. Also, 'the American College of Physicians made similar recommendations two years ago and the National Breast Cancer Coalition, an advocacy group for patients, has been saying for years that mammography screening has been oversold, has significant limitations and can cause harm' (via). Despite all of that the likes of Glenn Beck and Faux News could care less – we know.

To the latter issue regarding women's confusion regarding the changes, one must keep in mind that we are reaching a stage where intuition and gut feel and guidelines from doctors whose back pockets are filled with goodies from pharmaceutical companies should slowly be replaced by the use of concrete data in setting of standards. A lot of the legislation written into the universal health care bill also is based on evidence based medicine whose time has finally come rather than intuition based medicine which is slowly being phased out. I am sure initially we would see resistance and outrage from women’s groups but the longer run will make it clear that due process trumps intuition

Lingo update time...

The cartoon lounge brings up an interesting point with the media calling sex tapes  mmm... 'sex tapes'

Everyone in the world has a sex tape. This week alone, b-list celebrities Jennifer Lopez, Carrie Prejean, and Shauna Sand each had a sex-tape scandal. Obviously, people are making these tapes in record numbers for two reasons: publicity, and the fact that it is kind of cool to see your own butt, a thing that is typically outside of one’s own line of sight. ...The real question about these sex tapes is why do we keep calling them “sex tapes”? No one has committed a sex act to VHS for decades. With the exception of a few hipsters in Williamsburg who are shooting old-timey, ironic Betamax sex tapes and Polaroid sex flip books, all “sex tapes” in recent memory have been digital. So, I think it’s time we start calling them “sex movies” or “sex DVDs” or even “computer-sex apps.”

WTF news...

Megalomania watch...

From here: This past Sunday, two hundred beautiful women were paid seventy-five dollars each to attend a private party in Rome. Expecting a fancy dinner, the women were bused to a villa, where they waited around for an hour. At the end of the hour, instead of dinner, Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi appeared and delivered a 45-minute speech on Islam and a women’s role in Islam. They were sent home with the Koran for bedtime reading. In passing 'he also added that he would pay for them to visit Mecca, the duty of every Muslim, if they converted'...

Photo



Liberty, Evening of October 18, 2009

Future watch

Should our children learn Mandarin? At least Blackstone, Carlyle Group and buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts think so...

Chinese private equity funds are emerging in big cities as China promulgates new regulations aimed at creating a homegrown private equity industry, one that Beijing hopes will strengthen the country’s capital markets and fuel private sector growth in an economy overly dependent on government investment. Industry experts say that to compete with China’s growing funds, global firms like Blackstone, the Carlyle Group and even the buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts are scrambling to form funds denominated in renminbi. Analysts say it has suddenly become the currency of choice for private equity firms operating in China.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'Capitalism is king' watch

Today's what-if question is derived from a Cato institute report that tackles the following question: "What if India had liberalized sooner"? (India followed a Soviet based socialist model of development until 1980. In 1981, the finance minister opened up the doors a bit inviting direct foreign investment... (via)

It finds that with earlier reform, 14.5 million more children would have survived, 261 million more Indians would have become literate, and 109 million more people would have risen above the poverty line. The delay in economic reform represents an enormous social tragedy. It drives home the point that India’s socialist era, which claimed it would deliver growth with social justice, delivered neither.
I am not advocating Soviet style five year planning run by hypnotized apparatchiks, but I am left wondering how many countries (whose stated aim is to get to consumption patterns akin to the United States) can the world sustain responsibly at any one point of time without catastrophic breakdown? This article on 'Chimerica' is an eye opener - albeit more narrowly focussed towards the US China imbalance...

By the way, has anyone bothered to look at the steady state economy model?

Last couple of months of news from Goldman Sachs summed up in tidy one liner

"H1N1 inoculated vampire squid doing God's work says they participated in wrongful deals and have reason to regret"

OK, lets parse my bright one liner....

  • H1N1 inoculated: The fact that Goldman Sachs employees got their H1N1 vaccines before the hospitals
  • Vampire squid: Rolling Stones infamous quote describing Goldman Sachs as a "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity" in a tell-all article
  • Doing God's work: That is what the CEO of Goldman Sachs thinks the bank is doing...
  • Reason to regret: Goldman Sachs CEO tells the world that selling shady CDOs whilst prop trading short was fait accompli and thus regrets actions...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Onward and Upward stories

The story of an African woman who pursued her dreams and actually made it. Made my day.


Noted



From the works of Mike Keefe (Denver Post)

Window view


New York City, evening of November 16.

Unvarnished

GQ does Ayn Rand. The illustration on the GQ article page is priceless.

2009’s most influential author is a mirthless Russian-American who loves money, hates God, and swings a gigantic dick. She died in 1982, but her spawn soldier on. And the Great Recession is all their fault.
...Feeling fisted by the Invisible Hand of the Market lo these past fifteen months? Lost a job lately? Or half the value of your 401(k)? Or a home? All three? Been wondering whence the too-long-ascendant political and economic ideas and forces behind Greenspanism, John Thainism, blind Wall Street plunder, bankruptcy, credit-default swaps, Bernie Madoff, and the ensuing Cannibalism in the Streets? Then you, sir, need to give thanks to Ayn Rand Assholes everywhere—as well as the steely loins from which they sprang.

Culture watch

On modern day messages designed to aggravate...

And when the tech specialist who has been unable to help you and seems now to be blaming you for his inability asks, ever so politely, “May I put you on hold for a minute?” you know (a) that you have no choice (b) that one minute will become five and then 10 (c) that you are likely to be cut off and put in the position of starting all over again and (d) that in the event he does in fact return, you will be asked to execute still more procedures that will leave you exactly where you were when you were so foolish as to make the call in the first place.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Linkage

A new ad funded operating system patent from Apple (shape of things to come?). I would have expected this from Microsoft given their eagerness to milk cash out of every little tidbit...

Diaries reveal that Italy's Mussolini was a rabid anti-semite who called Adolf Hitler "a big romantic".

'What If We Fail in Afghanistan'? The New Yorker explores four possible scenarios.

VQR featuring part one of a four-part series on the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.

Classified under "yucky signs o' the times": Bacon breath mints and teeth jewelry (gives the term brass knuckes a biting edge)

Dreamers - a photo series (via)

Bangladesh mass poisoning mystery solved. Who would have thought....

The Guardian says something we already know - Fox News is faux news...

Spiegel chronicles a new exhibition that highlights how the Nazis subtly tried to take Christ out of Christmas.

Deconstructing the photoshop of the audio world (auto-tune) with "Weird Al" Yankovic. Must see.

Sign o' the times...

Loved this headline in the New York Times business section:



Have we reached such a stage of profligacy that companies can advertise a loss of over a billion dollars and cite 'progress'....? Either that or corporate America must take the rest of us to be completely dumb.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nature watch

On the smell of the universe... (I was not surprised ;-)).

 Sagittarius B2 is less than 400 light years from the galactic center. They found over 50 chemical compounds there, but one of the most interesting? Ethyl formate, which we typically form on Earth by reacting ethyl alcohol (the alcohol found in wine, beer, and liquor) with formic acid (which is commonly produced by ants and bees). ...Yes, it's an organic molecule, but we produce these in space all the time. What's particularly interesting about Ethyl Formate? It's what gives Rum its smell, and give Raspberries their flavor! And that's at least, partially, what our galaxy smells like! Any Andromedans out there reading this? We smell like Raspberries and Rum! I have no idea what you smell like, but in comparison, I bet you stink compared to us!

Europe watch

On Europeans and Muslims in their midst...

... mass immigration in Europe was predicated on several assumptions, nearly all of them false. Needing cheap labor to fuel their expiring postwar industrial economies, Europeans assumed that the immigrants they turned to would be temporary; that they would not qualify for welfare; and that those who remained would assimilate and shed the cultural mores and habits of their home countries. The Europeans were wrong on all counts. When its textile mills and factories closed in the sixties and seventies, Europe was left with a vast, imported underclass with one tenuous link to its adopted countries: the welfare payments on which it had come to rely.

Sign o' the times...

An interesting point of view on Indian women...

The position Indian women are in today- is strangely dichotomous. One the one hand you have some who can head a Biocon, and on the other you have those who equate a date with marriage instantly. The only reason we ask them out has got to be marriage. If you say you just want to get to know them better they reply, why not as friends? It's this disparity between professional and social freedom that baffles. This is probably because the idea of marriage has been drilled into everyone's heads as the sole reason a girl exists. Even among educated society. Wanna date me? Marry me first. The evolution of the Indian woman has been a little strange- from an emancipated personal life in ancient times, to wonderful professional opportunities nowadays.
Long ago she could still sleep with the Sun God no less, have a child, remain a virgin, ditch the child, have no regrets or guilt, and then years later, blithely ask the same child not to kill her 'real' sons with absolutely no qualms whatsoever. She didn't get to rule, but she was the power behind the throne. Paradoxically, in modern times, our women are given a lot of freedom to pursue careers (more or less). But personal morality is of paramount importance. She has to be 'pure'. She shouldn't wear short skirts even to play tennis. She shouldn't hang out in pubs. She should be 'perfect' and should be married by 25, otherwise she's deemed 'too old'. It's different for us menfolk, we can fuck who we want and get away with it (grins wickedly- Yeah baby!)- but somehow an Indian woman's virginity is of paramount importance. As to why, that's beyond me. Is it objectification of women? Maybe. I mean YES! It's just crass and low. That being said, I think I'm gonna dump my girl tonight- her forehead's too wide, one nostril is wider than the other and I didn't like the location of her tattoo.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Readings...

Getting a sense of "what it would be like to kill someone" - from a restaurant critic - the kind who might sometimes say you need to personally kill what you eat.

I shot a baboon in Africa, last Wednesday, just after lunch. Shot it dead. Those of you of a nervous disposition should look away now. This article contains graphic scenes and may upset the sensitive. But it doesn’t contain flash photography, so while it may make you froth at the mouth, it won’t make you bite through your tongue, jerk about on the floor and wet yourself.

War is so f****d up



David Guttenfelder, the chief Asia photographer for The Associated Press documenting the war in Afghanistan. Picture shows Afghan people running away as an Afghan military helicopter crashes in the Panjshir Valley after a memorial ceremony marking the 4th anniversary of rebel commander Ahmad Shah Masood Saturday, Sept. 10, 2005. Two passengers were injured, but no one was killed, in the helicopter which was carrying military and government officials from the memorial events. via

Meanwhile in India

Of turtles and Gods...

From Reuters: Hundreds of poor Hindu villagers in eastern India have refused to hand over a rare turtle to authorities, saying it is an incarnation of God, officials said on Tuesday. Villagers chanting hymns and carrying garlands, bowls of rice and fruits are pouring in from remote villages to a temple in Kendrapara, a coastal district in eastern Orissa state. Policemen have struggled to control the gathering and have failed to persuade the villagers to give up the sea turtle. "We have asked the villagers to hand it over as it is illegal to confine a turtle, but they are refusing," said P.K. Behera, a senior government wildlife official. The turtle is protected in India and anyone found keeping one without permission can be jailed for a year or more and fined. But adamant villagers have refused to give up the reptile, saying the turtle bears holy symbols on its back and is an incarnation of Lord Jagannath, a popular Hindu deity. "Lord Jagannath has visited our village in the form of a turtle. We will not allow anybody to take the turtle away," said Ramesh Mishra, a priest of the temple.
via

Photo




Leaf on wood

Question

Why are American press websites in a frisson today over NASA supposedly finding water on the moon when NASA themselves credited the Indian Space Research Organization with finding water on the moon a couple of months back?

<UPDATE - Nov 14>

Google should have known better...


Image of 'water on moon' from their home page today...

Apropos



Ripped from the Nov 16th 2009 issue of the New Yorker magazine.

Pray, tell me again - why did we go there?

In Iraq, we did not find the purported weapons of mass destruction, we did manage to have thousands upon thousands of American and Iraqis killed in the mindless war that ensued, managed to maim (for life) hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, managed to effortlessly spend over a trillion ($1,000,000,000,000.00) dollars under fancy sounding categories that includes 'reparation' and 'reconstruction' - the list goes on - One might think that at the very least American companies have their foothold in Iraq with respect to lucrative business deals that stem as part of the recovery... well, think again...

The NYT reports: America’s war in Iraq has been good for business in Iraq — but not necessarily for American business. American companies are not seeing much lasting benefit from their country’s investment in Iraq. Some American businesses have calculated that the high security costs and fear of violence make Iraq a business no-go area. Even those who are interested and want to come are hampered by American companies’ reputation here for overcharging and shoddy workmanship, an outgrowth of the first years of the occupation, and a lasting and widespread anti-Americanism.

How Goldman Sachs sees healthcare reform...

Heath care reform and guaranteeing healthcare for millions of the nations uninsured are deemed the worst case scenarios that could tank stocks of healthcare insurance companies... - according to Goldman Sachs... Yes, those same companies that could deny coverage on a whim because that acne suddenly becomes a pre-existing condition... One can trust Goldman to come up with BS like this...

A Goldman Sachs analysis of health care legislation has concluded that, as far as the bottom line for insurance companies is concerned, the best thing to do is nothing. ... What the firm sees as the best path forward for the private insurance industry's bottom line is, to be blunt, inaction. The study's authors advise that if no reform is passed, earnings per share would grow an estimated ten percent from 2010 through 2019, and the value of the stock would rise an estimated 59 percent during that time period.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Quotable

Michele Bachmann (a graduate from the Oral Roberts fold and House Representative from Minnesota) on health care reform. In my view, she is Sarah Palin 2.0.

"If you look at FDR, LBJ, and Barack Obama, this is really the final leap to socialism, the Democrats are about to institutionalize cartels -- that's what they're very good at -- they're trying to consolidate power, so we need to do everything we can to thwart them at every turn to make sure that they aren't able to, for all time, secure a power base that for all time can never be defeated.  ... What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing, ... this will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn't pass." (via)

Here in this clip, she is doing her thing and exposed on the Jon Stewart show...

WTF of the week OR adventures in delusion....

Goldman Sachs claims it is doing "God's Work"...  eminently laughable...

While acknowledging the role of banks in the financial meltdown, the CEO of Goldman Sachs said recently he believes his company is doing "God's work." Like many others banks, Goldman Sachs lent too much money before the financial crisis and had to be bailed out by the government. But now the company has paid back that money, is making massive profits and planning to pay billions in bonuses. "We're very important. We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital. Companies that grow create wealth," CEO Lloyd Blankfein said in a recent interview. "This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth. We have a social purpose."

My Country 'Tis of Thee

About veterans who are homeless... (1/3rd of the homeless today are veterans).

From here: Gen. Eric Shinseki was famously shunned by the Bush administration for daring to state the true costs of occupying Iraq. As President Obama’s secretary of veterans affairs, he is, thankfully, no less candid about the grinding problems veterans face at home. They lead the nation in depression, suicide, substance abuse and homelessness, according to data that Mr. Shineski is delivering in salvos in his current role. About one-third of all adult homeless men are veterans, and an average night finds an estimated 131,000 of them from five decades bedding down on streets and in charity sanctuaries. About 3 in 100 of them are back from Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem of homelessness for Vietnam veterans is, shamefully, well known. But the men and women in this growing cohort took just 18 months to find rock bottom, compared with the five years-plus of the previous generation’s veterans.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Readings

On meat and Americans in the New Yorker...

Americans also love to eat animals. This year, they will cook roughly twenty-seven billion pounds of beef, sliced from some thirty-five million cows. Additionally, they will consume roughly twenty-three billion pounds of pork, or the bodies of more than a hundred and fifteen million pigs, and thirty-eight billion pounds of poultry, some nine billion birds. Most of these creatures have been raised under conditions that are, as Americans know—or, at least, by this point have no excuse not to know—barbaric. Broiler chickens, also known, depending on size, as fryers or roasters, typically spend their lives in windowless sheds, packed in with upward of thirty thousand other birds and generations of accumulated waste.

Weird science watch

Now they are investing time and money into research to develop replacement penises... (yes, you did read that right). Bobbitts of the world now need to reconsider and rethink strategies...

In the future, the compliment to give a guy will be to say that he's hung like a rabbit. It'll imply that he has the super-high libido that comes with fully-functional, custom-engineered penises like those being successfully implanted in bunnies. I don't know how the fluffy creatures lost their most precious parts in the first place, but scientists decided to grow entire penises from scratch and implant them into a group of rabbits. The result were fully-functional, completely responsive sex organs in all the rabbits and "when given the chance to have sex, eight [of them] were able to ejaculate, and four became fathers." Impressive conception rate considering they were working with brand new equipment. The hope is to one day reproduce those results for humans and aid those requiring penile reconstruction. Until then though, I suppose that "replacement penis" will keep implying the involvement of batteries. 
via

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Noted

Andrew Sullivan calls the Fort Hood killer like what he should be called - a jihadist - plain and simple!

The politically correct MSM would not touch this. As noted here before, there was no question...

SNL pans Goldman Sachs' H1N1 planning (or how Wall Street gets in front of the line everytime)


Weekend picture


Friday, November 06, 2009

Our gun fascination - theories...

Yesterday, a religious zealot shot up soldiers in Fort Hood using civilian firearms, today there is news of another individual shooting up people in Orlando, FL - apparently the guy was disgruntled. He shot 19 innocent people... When are we going to have the attention of our lawmakers? One theory being bandied about in an attempt at explaining this gun culture of ours is as follows: Did we get enough time to really get civilized and accept the fact that the state as an institution is an able protector of individual freedoms and liberties? An article in the latest New Yorker explores this in some depth...


In Europe, homicide rates, conventionally represented as the number of murder victims per hundred thousand people in the population per year, have been falling for centuries. Spierenburg attributes this long decline to what the German sociologist Norbert Elias called the “civilizing process” (shorthand for a whole class of behaviors requiring physical restraint and self-control, right down to using a fork instead of eating with your hands or stabbing at your food with a knife), and to the growing power of the centralizing state to disarm civilians, control violence, enforce law and order, and, broadly, to hold a monopoly on the use of force. (Anthropologists sometimes talk about a related process, the replacement of a culture of honor with a culture of dignity.) In feuding medieval Europe, the murder rate hovered around thirty-five. Duels replaced feuds. Duels are more mannered; they also have a lower body count. By 1500, the murder rate in Western Europe had fallen to about twenty. Courts had replaced duels. By 1700, the murder rate had dropped to five. Today, that rate is generally well below two, where it has held steady, with minor fluctuations, for the past century.... The American homicide rate has been higher than Europe’s from the start, and higher at just about every stage since. ...What accounts for this remarkable difference?

Comments/questions on the shootings at Fort Hood - II

For all those who will start to profess theories that the Fort Hood shooter was mentally deranged by the atrocities that he heard from soldiers coming back from war and was so discomfited that he finally went postal, it is instructive to also realize that the man was a rational cold blooded religious zealot who murdered human beings in the name of Islam. There does not seem to be any other way to put it - politically correct or not...  Especially when one considers the deliberative steps (below) that he took before committing the act...

Hasan had apparently been a devout Muslim; Arabic words, reportedly a Muslim prayer, had been posted on his apartment door in Maryland; in conversations with colleagues he had repeatedly expressed sympathy for suicide bombers; on Thursday morning, hours before the massacre, he had supposedly handed out copies of the Koran to neighbors. A couple of these facts eventually surfaced on CNN, but only briefly; they were rushed past, left untouched, unexamined; the network seemed to be making a masterly effort to avoid giving this data a cold, hard look. Meanwhile it spent time doing heavy-handed spin — devoting several minutes, for example, to an inane interview with a forensic psychiatrist who talked about the stress of treating soldiers bearing the emotional scars of war. The obvious purpose was to turn our eyes away from Islamism and toward psychiatric instability as a motive.
And of course, some reports also suggest that the man shouted "God is Great" - Allahu Akbar in Arabic before he started killing people. Go figure...

via

Glenn pwned!!!

Here. A must watch 8 minutes of Jon doing Glenn. For a taste of the actual madman, see this and this...

Comments/questions on the shootings at Fort Hood

Even if authorities are checking to see if the handguns used in the Fort Hood shootings were licensed or not, would this spur our lawmakers to enact comprehensive gun laws that make it illegal for anyone to purchase a gun from a local store with sometimes as little as a drivers license as proof of identity?

Would the fact that the Fort Hood shooter having a Muslim background mean that life will get even more difficult and spur new levels of bigotry focused towards dark skinned Asians (like our family) and Sikhs in particular (with their turbans)?

Will this incident provoke a change in Obama's Afghanistan troop policy - would he be more willing to increase troop levels (teach radical Islamic elements that we mean business anyway) or less inclined to send more troops (maybe better to concentrate on radicalism in our own midst)?

I guess the people caught in the middle are the troops - who now seem to face not only foes in the battlefield, but confronting that vague feeling that foes might be embedded in their midst...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Remembrance of things past

Despite its supposedly racist overtones, I liked Asterix comics. While Sesame Street (which I am sure my children will remember as fondly as I remember Asterix - or would they go the Manga way) turned 40 years old today, Asterix comics turns 50.

The Indian fondness for Asterix remained a mystery to me for years, until Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge revealed in an interview that they had chosen to weave a certain kind of public school English into their translations of Asterix from French to English. This generation of English-speaking Indians prefers a more robust, home-grown flavour to the language, but a previous generation had different and distinct preferences—we liked our English birthed by the BBC, consecrated by Kipling and baptized with a sprinkling of P G Wodehouse and Frank Richards. The richness of the puns in Asterix—especially with the names of characters, from Tragicomix—the dashing, handsome, ever-so-slightly ridiculous husband of Panacea; the Latin-English quips and the catchphrases (“These Romans are crazy”) draws from this tradition, and it’s a dying one.

The rendition ghost comes home to roost...

Even if Obama is not planning on looking back at practices like extraordinary rendition, the Italians are not letting go... It remains to be seen if they can manage that international arrest warrant against the individuals convicted...

The heaviest sentence — eight years in prison — was handed down to the former head of the CIA’s Milan station, Robert Seldon Lady, while 21 other former agents got five years each. U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Romano was also sentenced to five years, despite a request from the Pentagon that the case should be tried by U.S. courts.

Here we go again...

The next bubble might be in the Asian real estate markets - reports the WSJ...

... The World Bank warned Tuesday that the sudden reappearance of billions of dollars in investment capital in East Asia is "raising concerns about asset price bubbles" in equity markets across Asia and in real estate in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam. Also Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund cited "a risk" that surging Hong Kong asset prices are being driven by a flood of capital "divorced from fundamental forces of supply and demand." Behind the trend are measures such as cutting interest rates and pumping money into the financial system, which have left parts of the world awash in cash and at risk of bubbles, or run-ups in asset prices beyond what economic fundamentals suggest are reasonable.

Sign o' the times...

Facebook investor might find himself a target of Facebook users angst...

Billionaire Facebook investor, Peter Thiel, has donated one million dollars to NumbersUSA.  NumbersUSA, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center is one of six core groups in the movement for anti-immigration. ... Facebook participants are outraged by Thiel’s donation.  The members of Facebook have begun using his own medium against him, in making an online group, on the network’s “grassroots page,” to lobby for the removal of Thiel from the Facebook board of directors.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Tuesday video


Meat Appreciation: A NYC Restaurant Honors the Whole Animal from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo. via

Weekend colors






The Times on Claude Lévi-Strauss.

In his analysis of myth and culture, Mr. Lévi-Strauss might contrast imagery of monkeys and jaguars; consider the differences in meaning of roasted and boiled food (cannibals, he suggested, tended to boil their friends and roast their enemies); and establish connections between weird mythological tales and ornate laws of marriage and kinship. ...His interpretations of North and South American myths were pivotal in changing Western thinking about so-called primitive societies.

Old virus, new tricks...

HIV patients are now living longer but with a trade off - they now experience accelerated ageing and dementia...


Some fifteen years into the era of protease inhibitors and drug cocktails, doctors are realizing that the miracles the drugs promised are not necessarily a lasting solution to the disease. Most news accounts today call HIV a chronic, manageable disease. But patients who contracted the virus just a few years back are showing signs of what’s being called premature or accelerated aging. ...Doctors are also reporting a constellation of ailments in middle-aged patients that are more typically seen at geriatric practices, in patients 80 and older. They range from bone loss to organ failure to arthritis.

Readings

From the movie review of a must-see movie 'American Casino'

... when the perpetrator actually explains it to you your reaction falls somewhere between nausea and hilarity. It’s as if the Russian Mafia had paid a Colombian drug cartel to certify its integrity. The banker, apparently still a young man, grows more chagrined as he digs further into absurdity. The debt obligation, thus packaged and affirmed, was divided into tranches—bonds rated from an inflated AAA at the top to worthless at the bottom. The bank then took one of the lower sets of tranches, consisting, say, of BBB bonds, repackaged them as a new instrument, and magically rated perhaps eighty per cent of them AAA.

Linkage


  • TED India site here. I am sure they will have a great set of videos soon (as usual).
  • Droolworthy pictures of NASA's new Ares 1-X test vehicle here.
  • Results of mashing time travel and quantum computing here.
  • Toyota creates new plant species to offset the CO2 created by Prius assembly. How cool (or bizarre - depending on your point of view) is that...
  • Essay on our declining Tower of Babel. 100 years from now, about 6000 languages in use today will reduce to 600.
  • How Goldman Sachs left foreign investors holding the subprime bag. The third in a series of investigative articles about that firm by McClatchy.

Chart porn


Great collection of comparative prices of healthcare procedures across major industrialized nations. Looking at the assembled data there is no question, we are simply paying a lot more than the others. Obama's healthcare reform really does not address this part of the equation. My fear is that without a reduction in medical payments across the board (accomplished by structural re-engineering of healthcare delivery) while simultaneously increasing the extent of coverage (adding more people into the fold) we are just digging ourselves deeper into that deficit hole that already looms large.
The chart below (via Andrew Sullivan) is indicative and pretty shocking.

Meanwhile


Arundhati Roy examines the effects of the Maoists and their influence on growth rate obsessed India.

Meanwhile, the Indian establishment has unleashed its most potent weapon. Almost overnight, our embedded media has substituted its steady supply of planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about ‘Islamist Terrorism’ with planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about ‘Red Terrorism’. In the midst of this racket, at Ground Zero, the cordon of silence is being inexorably tightened.
... The real problem is that the flagship of India’s miraculous ‘growth’ story has run aground. It came at a huge social and environmental cost. And now, as the rivers dry up and forests disappear, as the water table recedes and as people realise what is being done to them, the chickens are coming home to roost. All over the country, there’s unrest, there are protests by people refusing to give up their land and their access to resources, refusing to believe false promises any more. Suddenly, it’s beginning to look as though the 10 per cent growth rate and democracy are mutually incompatible. To get the bauxite out of the flat-topped hills, to get iron ore out from under the forest floor, to get 85 per cent of India’s people off their land and into the cities (which is what Mr Chidambaram says he’d like to see), India has to become a police state. The government has to militarise. To justify that militarisation, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalists.

New scrouges


How rapidly evolving product designs and upgrades on cellphones will come back to bite us...

Per a whitepaper by global consultancy Deloitte:
With the absence of a proper recycle and reuse program, about 8,000 tonnes of toxic cell phone components are estimated to be dumped in landfills by 2012.
... The problem begins when retired handsets end up in landfill sites or if they are dumped illegally, leading to toxic substances seeping into the groundwater, making disposal of old cells a problem for the world.
... About 65 per cent of subscribers in Asia, Europe and the Americas replace their cell phones at least once in two years. This means every 2 years, about 100 million cell phones reach landfills if they are not recycled or reused.

Toon

Cartoon by Mike Peters. Seen in the Sunday Times (week in review section)...

More damning stuff from McClatchy yesterday... (via)

In 2006 and 2007, Goldman Sachs Group peddled more than $40 billion in securities backed by at least 200,000 risky home mortgages, but never told the buyers it was secretly betting that a sharp drop in U.S. housing prices would send the value of those securities plummeting.
Goldman’s sales and its clandestine wagers, completed at the brink of the housing market meltdown, enabled the nation’s premier investment bank to pass most of its potential losses to others before a flood of mortgage defaults staggered the U.S. and global economies. Only later did investors discover that what Goldman had promoted as triple-A rated investments were closer to junk.
Now, pension funds, insurance companies, labor unions and foreign financial institutions that bought those dicey mortgage securities are facing large losses, and a five-month McClatchy investigation has found that Goldman’s failure to disclose that it made secret, exotic bets on an imminent housing crash may have violated securities laws.