Friday, May 28, 2004

Pinochet loses his immunity 

Perhaps there is some justice in the world. Gen Augusto Pinochet, architect of Chile's own 9/11 event and 17 years of brutality afterwards, has just had his immunity lifted by Chilean courts.

The surprise move paves the way for his trial on charges of human rights abuses during his 1973-1990 rule. Unlike previous cases, the latest lawsuit against Gen Pinochet refers to what was known as Operation Condor. This was a co-ordinated campaign by the Latin American military governments of the 1970s and 1980s to crack down on their suspected opponents.

Previous attempts to prosecute General Pinochet in Chile have been dismissed on medical grounds, with judges persuaded that he is suffering from dementia. His lawyers are expected to make a similar argument when they appeal against the ruling at the Supreme Court within the month. The court voted 14-9 to lift the immunity the 88-year-old enjoys as former president. The BBC's Clinton Porteus in the Chilean capital Santiago says the decision came as a big surprise, provoking gasps - and cheers - in the courtroom.

Prosecution lawyer Francisco Bravo said: "This ruling makes the relatives of the victims and the whole Chilean society again trust Chile's justice."

Here's the Damages 

(Via Anya) Here's a website called Cost of War, which provides you a second-by-second update on how much the Iraq war is costing the United States (numbers adjusted until May 23rd, 2004). The site gives you the breakdown by states and communities, but the more interesting part is to compare the opportunity cost in terms of money not spent fighting AIDS, not spent on public education, not spent on children's health etc.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

London School post-doc fellowship 

(Via Laura) The Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation at the London School of Economics has announced a one-year postdoctoral fellowship within the Government, Regulation and Governance group. The four broad research areas are --

1.Cross-national comparative analysis of regulation of public sector bodies
2.Comparison of regulation by government by different institutional mechanisms and different levels of government
3.Comparison of regulatory behaviour and regulatory innovativeness in different environmental conditions
4.Regulation of Professions.

Last date for applying is June 22nd. Salary up to $42,445.

The new IT and Telecom policy in India 

Dayanidhi Maran, the new IT and Telecom minister has just announced a 10 point agenda to boost both sectors. The excellent agenda includes convergence, e-governance, increased broadband penetration, bypassing 3G and moving straight to 4G technologies, a national internet exchange, migration to IPv6, vernacular computing, security and digital signatures and to provide thrust into the outsourcing sector, especially in outsourcing R&D. In addition, there is specific mention of a new mandate for Media Labs Asia, which includes....

1.Providing seamless communication connectivity to rural areas and promoting value-added services and micro enterprises to double the village GDP in a couple of years.
2.Extend quality healthcare services to remote areas using the technologies of telemedicine and Internet access.
3.Use information and communication technology tools to improve literacy through distance education.
4.Promote development and availability of low-cost PCs and communication access devices to increase internet penetration 10-fold in a few years.

Of course, this is just an agenda and could end up translating into nothing at all. However, I am glad Maran is at least paying attention to long overdue issues like a national internet exchange (which will ensure cheaper and more efficient routing of traffic) and the migration to IPv6. Maran is probably the youngest minister in the cabinet and I have some hopes of him, given his background -- Loyola Economics, Harvard Business and looking after one of the arms of Sun TV (south India's most successful TV channel). If this agenda he has come up with is any indication, there's reason to be optimistic looking forward.

And if any of you have doubts about Maran, think of who the alternative was -- Ram Vilas Paswan, who thought providing free phones to 250,000 employees was the way to promote teledensity in the country. You'll feel better already :)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Dido at the Beacon 

For the New Yawkers among you, Dido is doing two shows at the Beacon on June 13th and 14th. Tickets are still available (as of today, both at the door and on Ticketmaster) and cost $36 all sections. Pity I am not back in New York by then.

Phish are done! 

Arrrrghhhhh, today hasn't been the best of days. First, I made the mistake of watching Mani Ratnam's new movie, Yuva, because I decided it had been too long since I watched a Bollywood flick. The first half wasn't too bad with the movie trying to be a cross between a British gangster movie and Run Lola Run. The second half though was vintage Bollywood and I wanted to kick myself for having watched it. Worse still, I got home to an e-mail from Thomas telling me that Phish, one of the greatest jam bands ever, were splitting up for good. A real surprise, given their new album was due mid-June. Unlike the temporary break in 2000, this one seems like the real thing. Here's what Trey wrote on the Phish website.

Last Friday night, I got together with Mike, Page and Fish to talk openly about the strong feelings I've been having that Phish has run its course and that we should end it now while it's still on a high note. Once we started talking, it quickly became apparent that the other guys' feelings, while not all the same as mine, were similar in many ways -- most importantly, that we all love and respect Phish and the Phish audience far too much to stand by and allow it to drag on beyond the point of vibrancy and health. We don't want to become caricatures of ourselves, or worse yet, a nostalgia act. By the end of the meeting, we realized that after almost twenty-one years together we were faced with the opportunity to graciously step away in unison, as a group, united in our friendship and our feelings of gratitude.

So Coventry will be the final Phish show. We are proud and thrilled that it will be in our home state of Vermont. We're also excited for the June and August shows, our last tour together. For the sake of clarity, I should say that this is not like the hiatus, which was our last attempt to revitalize ourselves. We're done. It's been an amazing and incredible journey. We thank you all for the love and support that you've shown us.

Given the paucity of good contemporary rock music, this is really unfortunate. It makes it all the more imperative to somehow wangle tickets for the Coventry show (an impossible task once the news of the split gets around, I am sure). I am just glad I attended that fantastic show in Nassau earlier in the year, which I also have a bootleg of, in case anyone is interested. In the meanwhile, I can only hope the Dead does not decide to stop touring anytime soon.

PS: The opening night at Brooklyn, NY will be simulcast at several Regal and UA theaters on June 17th at 7:30 pm EST. Tickets are $12.50.

The New York Times Mea Culpa on Iraq 

[From the What the Hell is the Liberal Media dept] The mainstream media in the U.S. was a little too gung-ho about the Iraq war, including the Times and the Washington Post. Now that Ahmed Chalabi has been discredited even in neo-con circles, here comes a mea culpa from the New York Times at long last. In what has become a regular exercise (remember Jayson Blair), the NYT has admitted that perhaps it should have verified the so-called intelligence it gleaned from dodgy sources a little better. Better late than never, I guess.

But we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.

The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter, but many shared a common feature. They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on "regime change" in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks. (The most prominent of the anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced reporters to other exiles. He became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles, until his payments were cut off last week.) Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations — in particular, this one.

Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.

When will everyone else who was *misled* into believing dodgy intelligence own up like the NYT? Why hasnt the Times named Judith Miller, given these stories were all hers? How does a newspaper that, through innacurate reporting, sort-of made the case for a dodgy war become the liberal media?

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

People's Car: The Tata edition 

On the heels of news that Tata Motors was going to sell its Indica brand of cars in the U.K. under the Rover brandname, comes news that Tata are planning a $2000 entry level car for the masses. The Financial Times reports that Tata are planning to license the manufacture and assembly of its 4-5 seater utility vehicle to low-level rural businesses.

Tata Motors will begin product development later this year while also setting up a network of low-cost, low-volume manufacturers around India for component production and assembly, acting under license. Tata might retain the manufacture of key components such as the engine, whose size would be about 600cc. Mr Tata told the Financial Times "this new way of manufacturing should also address issues of rural employment" - creating jobs in rural areas is a core theme of India's new government.

The low-cost cars would be aimed at people graduating from two-wheelers to cars. Five million two-wheelers are sold each year in India, while 200,000 Indians made first-time purchases of "entry level" cars last year. The cheapest entry level car is made by Maruti and costs about Rs220,000 ($4,860) excluding taxes. Tata's product would cost about half that. Tata officials believe that demand for the utility vehicle could rise to 500,000 within two years, with opportunities in other parts of Asia and Africa.

Mr Tata's comments follow the announcement last week that Tata Motors plans to expand capacity of its mainstream passenger cars by 50 per cent to 225,000 units a year, capping a remarkable recent turnround. Last year, Tata Motors announced net profit of Rs8.1bn ($180 mn) in the year to March, up 170 per cent year-on-year. Three years ago, the company reported a loss of Rs5bn ($110 mn).

Tata had a huge success with its Indica venture. So, there's reason to be optimistic about its people's car plans. What's more, the last time there was an attempt to create a "people's car", the result was the Volkswagen Beetle.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Something's rotten in the state of Sweden 

I knew something had to give in that overly rosy picture everyone paints of Sweden. A social democratic country with one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world, one of the most beautiful capitals in the world, Nokia, IKEA etc was obviously too good to last. The BBC has the low-down.

A hungry elk already known to raid rose bushes has stolen a bicycle from a garden in Sweden. Bjoern and Monica Helamb, of Vuoggatjalme, said the elk had regularly visited their garden to eat their roses over the last decade. Fed up with the intrusion, and blooming destruction, the couple decided to take action. They placed a bicycle in front of the flowers as their front line of defence. "We thought we would at least protect our favourite roses from her appetite by making it harder for her to get to them," Bojern Helamb told the Associated Press.

But their efforts were to no avail. The elk, dubbed Droopy Ear, leaned through the bike frame to get to the roses and ate away as usual. "Then she disappeared, with the bike hanging around her neck," Mr Helamb said. The couple found the bicycle about 500 metres (1,640 feet) from the house, bent and damaged beyond repair.

What's the point of having a 70% market-share of the mobile handset market when the average elk goes hungry?

Innovation Vs Distribution 

The question of whether a firm should invest heavily in in-house research was very much in vogue during the dot-com boom. In particular, several academic papers examined whether it was better to follow the example of a Lucent, which did a lot of internal R&D or run a firm the way Chambers ran Cisco -- identify lucrative technology and then buy it rather than spend money on developing it internally. The crowning of Cisco as the world's largest company, even as Lucent tanked, seemed to settle that question. Until, of course, the tech bust lowered Cisco to the ranks of a biggish technology company.

Steve Lohr writes about a variation on this theme whilst comparing the printer business of HP (the innovator) and Dell (the distributor).

The confrontation between Hewlett-Packard and Dell is more than a particularly lively bout of competition in the $106 billion-a-year printing industry. It is a clash - and an intriguing test case - of two different models of innovation and corporate strategy.

With its engineering roots and its corporate tagline "HP Invent," Hewlett-Packard is committed to spending heavily on research and then funneling that home-grown technology into new products. Those products, in turn, must be able to command profits high enough to keep financing the corporate invention machine. Hewlett-Packard's printing business is a showcase of success for internal innovation. Dell, by contrast, is pursuing a "virtual" research-and-development model. It does some engineering development work itself, but that typically amounts to tweaking an existing product. Dell's main role is to scour the world for technology, fine-tune the products of corporate partners, wring costs from the supply chain and sell products directly to customers.

Today, Dell is an upstart in computer printing compared with Hewlett-Packard. Dell sold an estimated 1.5 million printers in its first nine months in the business last year. This year, analysts estimate that Dell will sell 4 million printers or more. Its revenues from printers and ink cartridges have already blown past the $1 billion-a-year threshold, the fastest takeoff ever for Dell in a new product category.

Yet the printing group at Hewlett-Packard reported nearly $23 billion in revenue last year. It sold 43.6 million printers, more than double its nearest rival, Epson, reports IDC, a research firm. The business is big and immensely profitable: it accounted for about 30 percent of Hewlett-Packard's sales last year, but 80 percent of its earnings.

The Dell strategy is obvious: build a printer business, attack Hewlett-Packard's crown jewel and, thus, hobble its principal rival. And Hewlett-Packard is trying to return the favor by cutting prices aggressively on PC's with the goal of grabbing sales in the corporate PC market, which is Dell's stronghold.


I heard from more than one reader after I had made the post on Gmail being available to regular bloggers who use Blogger. So, I consider it my duty to point you to Gmail Swap, a site that lets you swap gmail id's for everything from eternal love, ancient roman coins, friends in Istanbul, ascii roses, cold cash, the location of Atlantis, a goat named after you, an Amish hat, a Harvard grad to solve your problems etc.

In the meanwhile, I continue to use my Gmail account to back up important data. Ahhh, a 1 GB mailbox is a wonderful thing to possess.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Stephen Roach continues to bet on services 

In his latest piece on the doubts being expressed about the Indian and Chinese economies (election results and overheating respectively), Stephen Roach tries to assuage fears and remains optimistic of the prospects of both economies. Inexplicably though, Roach continues to believe that India should forget about manufacturing and concentrate on services.

On that count, I continue to believe that success or failure on the employment front will be determined by India's commitment to its unique services-based model of economic development. Manufacturing requires a heavy emphasis on infrastructure and foreign direct investment — long the missing ingredients in the Indian development equation. Services are different. These businesses sidestep India’s weaknesses and play to one of its greatest strengths — a highly educated work force. To the extent that India is now emerging as a world-class competitor in IT-enabled services, its outlook for job creation can only brighten. But shifting political winds have added a new wrinkle into the equation: The intrinsic strength of services may well be perceived as a source of tension — a narrowly based surge of job creation in the educated elite that leads to a widening of income disparities in the Indian workforce. Singh’s recent emphasis on putting a “human face” on reforms lays out an important marker for the new government in facing up to the distributional implications of reforms.

In my view, it would be very disappointing if the new government were to backtrack on its support to services and shift its focus back to a manufacturing-based development strategy. Manufacturing prowess these days is all about labor-saving technological breakthroughs, whereas knowledge-based services remain the quintessential labor-intensive endeavor. India's services sector has just crossed an important threshold — it now exceeds 50% of the nation's GDP. While that's up about 10 percentage points from 1991 and well in excess of China's 33% portion, it's well below the 65% shares more typical of developed economies. Given India’s potential as a high-quality, low-cost input in the developed world’s vast services-providing platform, I believe there is plenty of upside to India's labor-intensive services sector.

As I had expressed in an earlier post, I dont really understand how Roach arrives at this conclusion. India's service sector employs a minuscule fraction of the labour force (he never seems to go into employment numbers within the service sector), even accounting for multipliers. Even assuming a best-case scenario, I dont see how the sector can provide large-scale employment in a country where the vast majority of the population is under 30. I understand China is way ahead of India in the manufacturing game, but does that mean India cannot cater to its huge domestic market?

Calpundit re-reads 1984 

Kevin Drum has just re-read George Orwell's 1984. As far as dystopian novels go, I preferred Animal Farm, which is not to say 1984 wasn't a great read. Pretty much everything in that book would be relevant today, but Kevin posts just these three paragraphs.

Those whose attitude toward the war is most nearly rational are the subject peoples of the disputed territories. To these people the war is simply a continuous calamity which sweeps to and fro over their bodies like a tidal wave. Which side is winning is a matter of complete indifference to them. They are aware that a change of overlordship means simply that they will be doing the same work as before for new masters who treat them in the same manner as the old ones.

The slightly more favored workers whom we call "the proles" are only intermittently conscious of the war. When it is necessary they can be prodded into frenzies of fear and hatred, but when left to themselves they are capable of forgetting for long periods that the war is happening.

It is in the ranks of the Party, and above all of the Inner Party, that the true war enthusiasm is found. World-conquest is believed in most firmly by those who know it to be impossible. This peculiar linking-together of opposites — knowledge with ignorance, cynicism with fanaticism — is one of the chief distinguishing marks of Oceanic society.

The rest is silence.

Buttonwood investigates the stock-market crash 

In an earlier post, I had blogged about how the Indian stock markets reacted to reckless comments by the comrades. Besides, I had speculated on the possibility of a bear cartel at work. Buttonwood suggests the reasons may be more complex and points to the general meltdown in the Asian financial markets, triggered perhaps by the expected rise in U.S. interest rates.

But disenchantment with Indian shares also reflects wariness of risky assets in general and Asian shares in particular. An index of Asian shares produced by Morgan Stanley Capital International fell by 3% on Monday, to its lowest point since November. According to data from Nomura International, more than $5 billion has flowed out of Asian stockmarkets in the past three weeks [Ed:not sure if this includes the FII money thats flowed out of India].

Four fears weigh heaviest: the tense situation in the Middle East and more general concerns about terrorism; a surging oil price (Asian economies are especially intensive users of energy); the threat of higher interest rates in America, which would lessen the need for investors to seek higher returns elsewhere; and, last but by no means least, a fear that the Chinese authorities will pour cold water on the country’s overheating economy. As the region’s economies benefited from China’s rude health, so they will catch a chill when China does.

These worries are unlikely to go away any time soon. The war in Iraq shows no sign of ending; the oil price remains stubbornly above $40 per barrel; the Federal Reserve has yet to put investors out of their misery by raising rates; and it is anyone’s guess what will unfold in China. Still, for Asian equities at least, the fears seem overdone. Granted, economic statistics generally reflect what has been, and markets are supposed to predict what will be, but the numbers coming out of Asia show scant sign of a region in economic distress.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Asian Monetary Fund 

My favourite columnist with the Financial Times, Martin Wolf, moots the idea of an Asian Monetary Fund to stop the inordinate build up of foreign currency reserves in the region. Clearly, such an idea has some merit and if nothing else, will force the United States to sets its house in order rather than to continue borrowing.

In 2002 and 2003, the principal economies of the Asian region ran a combined current account surplus of Dollars 540bn (Pounds 305bn), of which Dollars 249bn was Japan's (see chart). This aggregate surplus covered more than half of the cumulative US current account deficit of Dollars 1,023bn. It would be natural to assume that these huge current account surpluses were the means through which the region exported its excess private savings. But most Asian economies have not been net exporters of private capital.

Why did Asian governments behave in this way? The answer is that they wished to avoid a collapse of the US dollar. They feared a collapse for several reasons: it would have generated additional deflationary pressure, particularly important to Japan and China; it would have undermined their export competitiveness; and it would have reduced their current account surpluses or even generated sizeable deficits, rendering them vulnerable, they feared, to another financial crisis.

This recycling of the foreign currency pouring into the region creates a certainty, a probability and a risk. The certainty is that these countries lose a great deal of money, since the cost of the capital entering the country substantially exceeds the return on the foreign currency reserves. The probability is that they will lose still more when the dollar falls: if it were to fall by 25 per cent, the aggregate losses on Asian foreign currency reserves would exceed Dollars 500bn. The risk is that this huge increase in the monetary base will generate - indeed, already is generating - destructive asset price bubbles and ultimately inflation.

It makes no sense for a region with huge current account surpluses and foreign currency reserves to be so desperate to avoid international financial crises. The US should feel vulnerable instead. A step towards reducing the region's perceived vulnerability would be to create a large Asian Monetary Fund. Armed with this insurance, Asian countries could allow their exchange rates to appreciate, generate greater internal demand and then run current account deficits. This would generate global balance of payments adjustment. Moreover, if Asians do wish to lend money generously, why not benefit their own people rather than Americans?

Preliminary steps have been taken, notably through the Chiang Mai initiative, agreed in May 2000, which created bilateral swap arrangements worth Dollars 40bn. But the aim should be to create a fund with at least 10 times as much money, which would still absorb only a fifth of the region's currency reserves. Such an institution would need to undertake forthright surveillance of the members' economies. Initially at least, this job could be subcontracted to the International Monetary Fund.

Wolf also refers to the absurd power equation within the IMF today.

With total resources of about Dollars 316bn, the IMF is too small to be relevant to the region's larger economies. Moreover, by their arrogant narrow-mindedness over the appointment of the managing director, the Europeans have (together with the Americans) demonstrated once again their determination to keep the IMF under their thumb. It is unlikely that they would accept a large expansion in Fund resources, since this would certainly require a sizeable reallocation of quotas and so of power inside the institution. Today, tiny Belgium, with no currency of its own, has a bigger quota than India. That makes no sense at all.

A de facto Asian secession from the IMF would also teach Europeans an invaluable lesson in humility. Asia should dare to take a big leap forward in trade, monetary and financial co-operation. Americans and Europeans may not like the results. They will have to live with them.

BTW, Wolf is in India right now. Those of you living in Bombay should go listen to him speak (he is doing the speaker rounds), if you can wangle an invite. Unlike Stephen Roach, Wolf actually thinks India could do well to expand its manufacturing base and not depend on the service sector alone.

Unitended consequences... 

The Economist and Businessweek have Dr. Manmohan Singh on their current covers. True to form too, since the Economist has, over the past 2 years, been paying more attention to India than any other western newsmagazine. One of the unintended consequences of Dr. Singh becoming PM may be that ignorance about the Sikh religion (the world's fifth largest) may come down a little bit. Not that I expect rednecks, who attacked Sikhs post 9/11 assuming that anyone who wore a turban had to be an Islamic terrorist, to notice the election of Dr. Singh or read the Economist, but I remain optimistic.

Understanding liberal media bias 

I have often been confused by the labelling of the BBC, Reuters etc by the right-wing as the "liberal media." The right-wing in India does even better by accusing *all* English language media outlets of being biased against them, irrespective of whether they're TV channels or newspapers. So, when I saw these lines by James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal about the Iraq prison abuse scandal, I was not surprised.

[Reuters Baghdad bureau chief Andrew] Marshall claims that before their arrest, the Reuterians were thrown to the ground and threatened with guns, and afterward they were kept in a cold cell, had bags put over their heads, and were forced to listen to loud music and do gross things with their fingers.

The U.S. military denies the charges. We leave it to our readers to decide which is more credible, the U.S. military or the wire service that routinely gives us such headlines as "Giuliani Lauds 9/11 'Heroes' Amid Angry Hecklers."

But we have to say, even if the allegations are true, we don't understand why Marshall is so upset. After all, official Reuters policy is that, in the words of global news editor Stephen Jukes, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." If that's so, isn't one man's maltreatment another man's saturnalia?

I think I am begininng to understand how the right-wing mind works. If one doesnt agree with them, just about anything goes. Not to mention the shrill accusations of being wrong, communist, pinko, anti-semite, biased, moronic, unpatriotic, namby-pamby etc.

Religious nationalist parties 

Someone I know raised this question on a mailing list -- Why isn't the Republican Party called the Christian Nationalist party, given that every western media outlet insists on labelling the BJP as a Hindu Nationalist party.

I think this is a very valid question. Both parties are heavy on the religion thing and on nauseatingly jingoistic nationalism. However, every media outlet in the west consistently refers to the BJP as a hindu nationalist party while the republican party is called just that. If anything, the agendas of the last 2-3 republican administrations have been more influenced by religion than the BJP's agenda the past 6 years. You could argue the BJP didnt get a mandate for that kind of change in the 1999 elections, but the lack of a mandate hardly stopped the Bush administration from ruthlessly following their agenda.


Twilight of the Information Middlemen 

A lot of my doctoral work has focussed on how middlemen profit from exploiting information asymmetries. Though most of my work has focussed on under-developed rural markets, I have been equally interested in the impact of the Internet on information intermediaries at a different end of the market. James Fallows has his own take on why it is harder to put an exact price on intellectual or creative effort than on, say, a bushel of wheat. He also has an interesting take on the blogging phenomenon.

Information is both invaluable and impossible to value. Historically, the main way around this problem has been to pack the results of intellectual or creative effort into something tangible that can be priced and sold: a book, a seat in a theater, an hour of an expert's time. Technology causes economic chaos when it disrupts this packaging plan, as is now happening in the music industry.

At the democratic extreme, blogs are a nightmare vision of a publishing house's "slush pile'' come to life. At the elite end, the dozen or so best-known sites, they are an intensified version of insider journalism. If you don't get quite enough sass, attitude or instant conclusions from the rest of the news media, you can always find more at the leading blogs. But in between are thousands of sites that offer real-time eyewitness testimony from people doing almost anything that some other person might find interesting: training as a surgeon, looking for oil in Siberia, fighting in Iraq.

If blogs represent the uncoordinated efforts of countless volunteer writers, another information explosion shows the institutional might of the state. Taxpayer money still is behind a surprising amount of crucial data: nearly all weather observations and the supercomputer-based models that create forecasts; most basic scientific research; most research into disease causes and cures. In principle, this publicly financed knowledge has always been the public's property, but until a few years ago there was no easy way to get it from research centers to a wide audience. Thus various middlemen arose - notably scientific journals, which did the expensive work of printing and distributing research papers in return for steep subscription costs.

With the coming of the Internet, these intermediaries were no longer technically necessary - but, like the big music companies, they won't just fade away. So, on several governmental fronts, a quiet but intense struggle for survival is raging. Four years ago, as head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Harold Varmus proposed the creation of PubMed Central as a publicly accessible repository of medical research articles. Other "open access" scientific databases have been created, but they are meeting resistance from journals and authors who traditionally have held copyrights.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Here comes Search 

Thanks to Jivha, I now have some limited search functionality on Zoo Station, AtomZ being the provider. The problem, however, is that the search is limited to 500 pages, but something's better than nothing, I guess. Plus, as Jivha mentioned, I can force AtomZ to update its search index, something that was most annoying about Google. Let me know if you encounter any trouble.

Reminder: France Vs Brazil tonight 

This is intended as a reminder for readers in India (and in Asia). France plays Brazil tonight in an exhibition game to mark FIFA's centennial. I am sure Brazil sees it as an opportunity to take revenge for the famous World Cup final loss. Picture this. The two best mid-fielders in the world (Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry) up against Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo! You can't ask for much more in a non-world cup year. On Star Sports tonight at 00:25 hours (thats May 21st).

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


I came across the web-magazine Cerebration, thanks to a heads up I received in the mail. Cerebration hosts writing from around the world on topics ranging from politics and science to literature and music. They also invite submissions for their poetry and short story sections. Have a look at the website and you'll get a feel of what they're looking for from the sort of stuff they have already put up. Since its been founded by two Indian women (Smita Maitra and Amrita Ghosh), it is India-centric right now, but with time I presume it'll become a lot more cosmopolitan as submissions begin to come in from all over.

The editorial advisory board comprises, among others, Gayatri Spivak and Barkha Dutt (Columbia J-school grad and perhaps India's best known newswoman). Interestingly enough, I also saw a poem by Vishnu Som (NDTV news anchor) among the submissions.

Have a look. I think you'll be entertained.

The search for search 

Folks, I need a favour. I have been looking for a search tool that's compatible with Blogger. I know Google is the obvious recommendation, but it didn't work too well the last time I tried.

Let me know if you have any suggestions or even if you know of a way to make Google's search tool work better on a blogspot hosted site like mine. I am tired of having to rummage through archives looking for earlier posts and comments. Thanks.

Almost Famous 

Alright, I am sick and tired of discussing politics. The realisation that wingnuts are the same everywhere (India and the U.S. anyway) took a little while to dawn on me. So, I decided to fuck it and watch for the seventh time Almost Famous, one of the best, if not the best rock n' roll movie ever made. It is also one of the best coming of age movies ever made. For those who came in late, the movie is auto-biographical in the sense that it is based in part on the time Cameron Crowe (the director) spent on the road with the great Led Zeppelin when he was just 15 and doing a cover story for Rolling Stone.

Crowe's story is very entertaining -- think Huckleberry Finn on a tour bus -- but his direction is even better. But the music, the music is what makes the movie. Directed by Nancy Wilson (of Heart fame and Cameron Crowe's wife), the soundtrack is like a who's who of rock n' roll and even includes tracks by Led Zeppelin, who are well known for their stinginess in contributing to film sundtracks. Stillwater's (the fictional band in the movie) music is courtesy of Peter Frampton and the Wilson sisters.

Combine The Who, Bowie, Cat Stevens, Lou Reed, Zeppelin, Allman etc with Crowe's story and direction, great acting by Patrick Fugit, the effervescent screen presence of Kate Hudson (whose Penny Lane is probably Crowe's adaptation of the legendary Zeppelin groupie, Lori Maddox) and you're ready to forget wingnuts. I did. Almost.

Metaphysical boas, economists etc 

The drama in India has finally wound down. Sonia Gandhi has won an incredible moral victory, which has stunned her detractors into silence by stepping away from power (ensuring thereby the political future of her children). India has emerged as the winner with Dr. Manmohan Singh emerging as Prime Minister. A Manmohan Singh/P.Chidambaram team is the closest India will have to a political dream team. In effect, India now has a rocket scientist as president and an economist as prime minister. But more importantly, as Amy Waldman points out...

For India, his swearing-in will be historic, and not just because of the extraordinary political drama of the last week. A Sikh, Mr. Singh will be India's first non-Hindu prime minister. In a milestone that says much about this vast nation's diversity and capacity for co-existence, Mrs. Gandhi, an Italian-born woman raised a Roman Catholic, is making way for a Sikh prime minister who will be sworn in by a Muslim president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

It is precisely this inclusiveness, tolerance and syncretism of Indian civilization that I believe is an example for the rest of the world (especially in these troubled times), and worth defending. In this context, an Octavio Paz quote Sanjay sent my way about Hinduism is worth sharing --

Like an enormous metaphysical boa, Hinduism slowly and relentlessly digests foreign cultures, Gods, languages, and beliefs.

Appropriate and assimilate, rather than convert!

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Foreigner as an alien concept 

Even as I watch the drama over Sonia Gandhi's declining the PM post, I found a piece in Outlook that pretty much reflects exactly my thoughts on Sonia's foreign origin.

Many in the BJP would be familiar with the Sanskrit phrase "vasudeva kutumbakam" which means that the entire universe is our family. The idea of "foreign" and "native" is therefore alien to India's value system. Hinduism, which the RSS-BJP claims as its own, is known for its inclusiveness, not exclusiveness.

And if one were to follow Mahatma Gandhi's credo then there is nothing foreign about Sonia Gandhi. One of the mahatma's most fiery associates during the agitation for Home Rule, Annie Besant, happened to be of Irish descent. And two of his closest companions were of British origin. The disciple known only as Mirabehn, constantly by Gandhiji's side, was the daughter of a British admiral. Another remarkable follower was C.F. Andrews whom Gandhiji named Deenbandhu. Even the pre-Gandhi history of the Congress has a prominent individual of so-called foreign descent. As every school child learns, the founder of India's grand old party, was A.O. Hume, a Britisher who intended the Congress to be a forum for Indians to let some steam against the Empire.

Even in ancient and medieval times India showed a knack of conquering all its conquerors. Some of the most famous invaders such as the Kushans, Macedonians and the Mughals, in fact, became settlers in the land, eventually contributing to the great civilisational depth that makes up India.

That is why it would be intellectually niggardly to call a woman who has married and raised her children in India—besides living through the traumatic assassinations of her husband and mother-in law—a foreigner. Fault her for competence, ability or even a poor accent. But if one were to go by the age-old values of our land, it would be distinctly un-Indian to keep harping on Sonia's origins. Something the BJP must surely have discovered.

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, the concept of "vasudeva kutumbakam" is something any right thinking human being should be proud of, not something to run away from.

Red rags and bulls 

The comrades have lost it. Long used to ranting and raving at trade union rallies in India, someone forgot to tell them running a country was a slightly different proposition. So, they see nothing wrong with going on national TV in India and making comments that cause $50 billion to be wiped out of the stock market, despite knowing that the markets would be nervous in a time of transition.

They also keep claiming the India has given them a mandate to change economic policy. Lets examine this claim. The comrades have 63 seats in a parliament with 545 seats. 35 of those are from West Bengal and 18 are from Kerala, the only parts of the country that have been nuts enough to elect them over a long period of time. From the rest of country, they have 10 seats. It's a tremendous leap of faith to read some kind of countrywide mandate from those numbers.

The other interesting thing about the comrades is the difference is posturing between the intellectual ideologues (translation: the ones that have never run a government) and the ones that have run governments. So, while Jyoti Basu, Budhadeb Bhattacharya etc have been measured in their reaction, Comrade Bardhan, Comrade Yechury etc see no reason for any moderation. Capitalism is an evil that *must* be destroyed. The buggers!

PS: One last comment about the markets. I would not be surprised if there is a bear cartel at work exploting the stupidity of the comrades.

Is that Dr. Paul Hewson or Dr. Bono? 

Folks who know me well know that Bono is one person I have enormous respect for. Not just for his part in producing one of the greatest rock n' roll albums of all time -- Achtung Baby -- but also because of what he does outside of the studio. Specifically, the amount of attention he has focussed on the AIDS crisis in Africa has been exceptional. After all, anyone who can get Sen. Jesse Helms to change his mind about Africans dying of AIDS has to be very special. For more on Bono's views on the subject, you can have a look at his Harvard commencement address from a couple of years back.

Anyway, turns out UPenn decided to confer an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on Bono. The degree was conferred when he showed up to make the commencement address at Penn. I wonder if this is a first? Was Lennon given an honorary degree by any University? Clapton? Hendrix? Anyone know?

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The women leaders of South Asia 

Lets assume that Sonia Gandhi does become PM of India. Let's also assume that if Musharraf were to hold genuinely free and fair elections (including letting exiled politicians return), Benazir Bhutto would win, if the previous results for the PPP were any indication. Aung San Suu Kyi won the elections, but wasnt allowed to take office by the junta. Chandrika Kumaratunga is Sri Lanka's president. Begum Khaleda Zia is the PM of Bangladesh. There you have it. In a part of the world where women are generally treated like dirt, 5 out of 7 (Nepal and Bhutan being the outliers) heads of state are/were women.

Compare this, for example, with the world's oldest democracy that has gone 228 years without a woman standing a chance in a presidential election. Why is that? The closest explanation I could come up with is the prevalence of dynastic politics in South Asia. But then, why doesnt Kathleen Kennedy Townsend or Maria Shriver stand a chance of becoming president either? For that matter, there are plenty of dynastic political families around the world that havent been able to get their women representatives elected into serious political positions.

In effect, the world's most women-friendly societies seem to have an inexplicable aversion to politically powerful women (Maggie Thatcher being the notable exception). Sure, you have examples like Helen Clark, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Kim Campbell and so on. But none of them ever possessed the political power of an Indira Gandhi or even a Margaret Thatcher. Is this just a uniquely South Asian (civilizational) quirk? Maybe not. After all, Queen Hatshepsut ruled all of Egypt in the 15th century B.C. Worth a thought though.

20 themes from the Indian election 

(Via Rajesh) Jivha has one of the best blogs regarding all things India. Today, he has outdone himself by detailing twenty broad lessons to be learned from the Indian elections. These include Sonia's foreign origins, rural India, exit polls, dynastic polls and so on. In particular, I agree with his take on the ruckus surrounding Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin. After all, the usual mailing lists and websites are already buzzing with the pseudo-Hindu (that's my term for people who are perverting the great traditions of Hinduism in the worst sort of manner) crowd fighting each other to hurl vitriol at her. Some of the invective is so vitriolic that it actually tells you more about the person hurling it (more than one accused her of being a "lower middle-class social climber") rather than Sonia Gandhi herself. These feudal, pseudo-Hindus forget that the Indian constitution was actually written by someone born into the "untouchable" class. Anyway, here's Jivha's take.

There are four ways to approach the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin - the patriotic/jingoistic, the constitutional/rational, the practical/unbiased and the realistic.

1. Patriotic/jingoistic: As per this logic most of us cannot comprehend how a lady who was born in Italy can get to preside over all of us. We get all charged up and start talking about what a shame it is that a country of more than a billion people cannot find a “home grown” prime minister and about how the Gandhi dynasty treats India as its personal fiefdom. Some of these very same patriots would also wonder how a woman, whose place should ideally be inside the house in a kitchen, can hope to be PM. Some will wonder how people born into a lower caste can study in the same college with them. Some will still wonder how a mother can love an adopted child the same way as her biological child.

2. The constitutional/rational: I must confess I belong to this category. I believe in not just the words but the spirit of the Indian constitution which ensures that all its citizens are equal before the eye of the law. To me the cornerstone of “equality” for all is the primary idea that powers a democracy. All talk to create a second class of citizens based on various factors like place of birth, religion, sex, caste etc. goes against the very grain of our polity. Either you don’t grant someone citizenship, or if you do then treat him/her the same way as you would treat any other citizen. And please don’t talk about how the USA or some other country doesn’t allow this etc. etc. because I don’t believe in looking towards others to establish your own values!

3. Practical/unbiased: I fall into this category too. This set of people believe that Sonia Gandhi does not have the requisite education, experience or ability to head a country. Fair enough. What about Laloo Prasad Yadav then? What about Mayawati? What about the semi-literate Uma Bharati? Are we to condemn them to a lower level of citizenship because they aren’t educated enough? Further, who’s to decide that? The voter? Or do we envisage a two-level democracy where the masses have a lower voting power than the intellectuals and the elite? Because they aren’t mature enough to know what’s good for them?

4. Realistic: This set of people understand that if a majority of voters in India have given their mandate to the Congress Party knowing fully well that Sonia Gandhi was the party’s leader, then thats what the writing on the wall is. Sonia Gandhi has the mandate of the majority, and in a democracy thats what counts. The Congress Party has the right to elect anyone it chooses as its prime ministerial candidate(provided the person meets all constitutional obligations) and if it selects Sonia Gandhi (and it looks like it will), then Sonia Gandhi will be our prime minister.

Most of the people who’re criticizing Sonia’s prime ministership wouldn’t obviously have voted for the Congress in the elections too. So please try to understand that your candidate/party hasn’t won - get that into your head. A democracy is a rule of the majority, not of everyone. Remember and respect that.

If Sonia Gandhi does become PM, that would mean India has a muslim president and a christian prime-minister in a country that is mostly Hindu, though admittedly neither President Kalam nor Sonia are religious. Where the pseudo-Hindu crowd sees some dark X-Files type conspiracy by the Abrahamic faiths to take over India, I actually see a celebration of the tremendously inclusive and tolerant nature of Hinduism. This example of a truly pluralistic and diverse society should be something for other democracies to aspire to, not something for Indians to be embarassed about.

There are a lot of reasons to be wary of a Sonia Gandhi government, least of which is her competence to rule. Fact though is that she won the election and therefore the Indian constitution gives her the option of becoming prime minister. Perhaps she will screw up totally. We will all know in a little while. But there is nothing in the Indian political system that suggests that only a right-wing government has the right to rule. If Sonia screws up, as her critics insist she will, the Indian voter will toss her out just as efficiently as he/she tossed the NDA government out.

Seymour Hersh has another scoop 

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, Sey Hersh is the closest serious journalism will get to the raciness of a Tom Clancy. He has proved his credentials time and again, with his breaking of the prison scandal only the latest in a long series of scoops. In his newest expose in the New Yorker, Hersh suggests that higher-ups in the Pentagon may have authorised third-degree measures at Abu Ghraib. It's a fascinating read in and of itself, but I was intrigued by something Hersh mentions in passing. I have wondered since the scandal broke why any American soldier would want to record their humiliation of Iraqis on camera. It's one thing to humiliate the prisoners, but why create a record? Photographic records that might come back to haunt you, at that? Hersh has a very plausible answer.

The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq. One book that was frequently cited was “The Arab Mind,” a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by Raphael Patai.

The Patai book, an academic told me, was “the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.” In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged—“one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation.”

The government consultant said that there may have been a serious goal, in the beginning, behind the sexual humiliation and the posed photographs. It was thought that some prisoners would do anything—including spying on their associates—to avoid dissemination of the shameful photos to family and friends. The government consultant said, “I was told that the purpose of the photographs was to create an army of informants, people you could insert back in the population.” The idea was that they would be motivated by fear of exposure, and gather information about pending insurgency action, the consultant said.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

A World Connected - Essay Contest 

(Via Petra) Thought this would interest many of you. A World Connected is hosting an essay contest with some pretty serious prize money -- $10,000 in all, with $5,000 being the first prize. The last date for submission in June 1, 2004 and the topic is outsourcing and its global consequences. Contestants need to, while writing the essay, consider arguments made by Dan Drezner in favour of and Jeff Madrick against outsourcing. Questions to be addressed include..

1. What effect does outsourcing have on the American economy? On the economies of other countries, such as India, which receive outsourced work? On businesses in both the America and in other countries?
2. What are the potential benefits or problems of outsourcing? How should governments respond, if at all, to outsourcing?
3. Are companies that employ foreign workers as part of outsourcing betraying an obligation they have to domestic workers?

Judges include Brink Lindsey and Deepak Lal and results will be announced in September.

NYT travel special on India 

The New York Times is carrying three separate India travel stories in its weekend edition. Amy Waldman explores the Taj Mahal, Nancy Newhouse takes a detour through Rajasthan and R.W.Apple maintains his ongoing love affair with Kerala. Check out the photographs too. Some of them are gorgeous.

There's nothing new in these stories, but serve as reminders to the tremendous tourism potential lying untapped in India. I keep being reminded of this every time I am in India. For example, I was at Adil Shah's fort in Vagator (Goa), one of the most beautiful forts you'll ever get to see -- lagoons meeting sea beneath. There were about 10 people in there, including me. Similarly, the Edakal caves in Wynad (Kerala) boast cave paintings older than Altamira. There's noone visiting those caves, or Wynad for that matter.

India currently gets about 3.5 million tourists a year, while France picks up 70-80 million tourists. Even tiny Thailand picks up 10 million tourists a year. It's high time the worthies in government in Delhi changed their attitudes to tourism. Someone needs to tell them that tourism is slated to become the second largest business in the world after finance and that India cannot afford to miss the bus on this one. Someone needs to tell them that there's almost as much money to be made in tourism as in IT.

For starts, India needs to give up its ridiculous price discrimination policy where foreigners are charged 70%-300% more than locals for everything from air-tickets to entry fees. India is not doing anyone a favour by letting them visit, but rather foreigners choosing to spend their hard-earned money in India, rather than at other destinations, is great news for the Indian economy.

Easing up the visa policy (everyone needs a visa to get into India) will help too. If Sri Lanka can become more pragmatic about visa policy (you get one on arrival), I dont see why India cannot. Finally, allowing more flights into India will ease the impossible seat situation, especially during peak season. Currently, there is no correlation between demand and supply on flights in and out of India.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Global Darkness 

As if the planet did not have enough problems, Kenneth Chang now reports that the world has literally become a darker place. Turns out the amount of sunshine earth has receives has dipped from between 10% to 37% depending on where you live.

No one is predicting that it may soon be night all day, and some scientists theorize that the skies have brightened in the last decade as the suspected cause of global dimming, air pollution, clears up in many parts of the world.Yet the dimming trend — noticed by a handful of scientists 20 years ago but dismissed then as unbelievable — is attracting wide attention.

Satellite measurements show that the sun remains as bright as ever, but that less and less sunlight has been making it through the atmosphere to the ground. Pollution dims sunlight in two ways, scientists theorize. Some light bounces off soot particles in the air and goes back into outer space. The pollution also causes more water droplets to condense out of air, leading to thicker, darker clouds, which also block more light. For that reason, the dimming appears to be more pronounced on cloudy days than sunny ones. Some less polluted regions have had little or no dimming. The dynamics of global dimming are not completely understood. Antarctica, which would be expected to have clean air, has also dimmed.

Yahoo takes Gmail on 

It was inevitable. Yahoo has decided to up its storage allowance to compete with Gmail.

The Web portal and search site's Yahoo Mail will get a bump-up in mail storage space from today's relatively puny 4MB to 100MB, executives said during a briefing Thursday to Wall Street analysts. Premium subscribers, who currently pay between $19.79 and $49.79 annually for 25MB to 100MB of space, will receive "virtually unlimited" capacity, Yahoo said. Yahoo plans to roll out the new storage allotments this quarter or next.

You gotta love competition!!

Rising Oil Prices 

The price of crude per barrel crossed $41 in New York today. There seems to be a consensus that rising demand in China (alongwith the usual OPEC supply games) is probably what is driving prices higher. Of course, trouble in Iraq has meant that the neo-con dream of oil at $20 post-Iraq will remain just that. I dont think the situation is going to get any better as India's (and other major emerging economies') demand for oil surge over the next couple of years. And given what rising oil prices does to inflation, perhaps it is time to pay attention to those who call for Manhattan Project-type investments to develop alternative sources of energy.

Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times that an oil-driven recession might not be all that far-fetched.

The International Energy Agency estimates the world's spare oil production capacity at about 2.5 million barrels per day, almost all of it in the Persian Gulf region. It also predicts that global oil demand in 2004 will be, on average, 2 million barrels per day higher than in 2003. Now imagine what will happen if there are more successful insurgent attacks on Iraqi pipelines, or, perish the thought, instability in Saudi Arabia. In fact, even without a supply disruption, it's hard to see where the oil will come from to meet the growing demand.

But wait: basic economics says that markets deal handily with excesses of demand over supply. Prices rise, producers have an incentive to produce more while consumers have an incentive to consume less, and the market comes back into balance. Won't that happen with oil? Yes, it will. The question is how long it will take, and how high prices will go in the meantime.

To see the problem, think about gasoline. Sustained high gasoline prices lead to more fuel-efficient cars: by 1990 the average American vehicle got 40 percent more miles per gallon than in 1973. But replacing old cars with new takes years. In their initial response to a shortfall in the gasoline supply, people must save gas by driving less, something they do only in the face of very, very high prices. So very, very high prices are what we'll get.

Each $10 per barrel increase in crude prices is like a $70 billion tax increase on American consumers, levied through inflation. The spurt in producer prices last month was a taste of what will happen if prices stay high. By the way, after the 1979 Iranian revolution world prices went to about $60 per barrel in today's prices.

Could an oil shock actually lead to 1970's-style stagflation — a combination of inflation and rising unemployment? Well, there are several comfort factors, reasons we're less vulnerable now than a generation ago. Despite the rise of the S.U.V., the U.S. consumes only about half as much oil per dollar of real G.D.P. as it did in 1973. Also, in the 1970's the economy was already primed for inflation: given the prevalence of cost-of-living adjustments in labor contracts and the experience of past inflation, oil price increases rapidly fed into a wage-price spiral. That's less likely to happen today.

Meanwhile in India, everyone's favourite political buffoon (and member of the winning coalition), Laloo Prasad Yadav, was asked whether oil prices in India (which had been held down during the elections by about Rs 3-4 per litre) would be allowed to rise in response to global price rises now that the elections were over. He replied that he would ensure the use of subsidies to either hold prices at current levels or reduce it still further. That's very reassuring. I can only hope the more sensible folks in the Congress party will prevail over the populists.

India as Hotel California. Holy Cow. 

I first came across Sarah MacDonald's Holy Cow on the tourist trail in India earlier this year. A lot of people seemed to either be reading it or looking forward to reading it. I just finished the book a couple of days back. The book is the tongue-in-cheek, part flippant, part serious story of the author, an Australian radio broadcaster, who travels to India a second time with her boyfriend (New Delhi correspondent for Australian Broadcasting) 11 years after she left promising never to return. While Jonathan is away on assignment, a very bored Sarah does what every other western tourist does in India -- dabble in the spiritual supermarket. Kumbh Mela, Amma, Rishi Kesh, Manali, Hash, Marijuana, Velankanni, the Gurus...its all in there.

Though it can seem condescending at times (to Indians) and a little too obsessed with various bodily quirks/functions, it still is a pretty funny and a racy read. Given the hype among tourists though, I think its a little over-rated. It might even seem a little unbelievable to those who havent ever been to India. To them I say, its all true :)

The most memorable line?

India is Hotel California. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

PS: MacDonald keeps repeating through the book that Indians do not possess self-deprecatory humour. I am not sure how she got that idea, since most Indians are self-deprecatory, even if some are unknowingly so. There are lots of things wrong with Indians, but being told that we possess an American sense of humour is the unkindest cut of all :))

PPS: On the whole, I still think William Dalrymple does the best job of describing India. Very witty, yet informative (even to Indians).

The Language Guide 

Language Guide is an interesting site I came across today which lets you *listen* to commonplace expressions in several different languages. Excellent way to figure out pronunciations of everday expressions in foreign languages. The mouseover illustrations make it easier to understand and use. The only trouble with the site is that we have American masquerading as English :)


Google has a new blog of its own.

So here's the deal. When we post something that's unsigned, it's just general Google information that we think may be of interest to you. Apply whatever filter you deem appropriate. When something is signed by Larry or Sergey or another Googler, that's really them talking about something important to them. You'll likely see lots of both kinds of posts, depending on the subject and who's around to write about it.

In the grand tradition of Google launches, this blog is an experiment. Consider it Googleblog (beta). We're not going to make it entirely first person, because the logical people to write Google blog posts don't always have time to do that. We're not going to make it entirely anonymous because people here have things to say directly to you.

Blogs are living things. Ours was just born and is still adjusting to the loud noises and the bright lights. It's gonna be awhile before we get our driver's license, so you decide if you want to sit in the passenger seat while we figure out which one's the gear shift and which is the turn signal. One way or another, it should be an interesting ride.

Among other things, Google Blog will announce job opportunities at Google. Like this.

We're looking for talented software engineers, top programmers and visionary computer scientists to tackle everything from distributed systems and information retrieval to algorithms, UI, and scalability challenges. And of course to unplug the lava lamps occasionally so they don't overheat.

Whether you're in the market for a challenging engineering position in Mountain View, in Bangalore, or in our new Tokyo office, or somewhere really out of this world, we hope you'll look us up.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

India's elections 

Most people in India are still coming to terms with the shock of the election results. Everyone knew the ruling alliance was in trouble, but noone suspected the amount of trouble they were in. Not even after the horrific defeat of Naidu's government did I suspect this was coming. I will admit I am not overly pleased with the results. For the sake of economic reforms, I would have preferred the NDA to return to power. Ever since the Gujarat riots, I wanted the NDA's cockiness to be dented a bit, but not this badly. I have to wonder how much the Left parties will be a spanner in the works for reforms the Congress has promised to undertake. Then again, the same questions were asked when the BJP alliance came to power in 1999 -- how much the reforms process would be affected by swadeshi elements within the BJP family. Turns out they did creditably well. Let's hope the same is true with the Congress alliance.

The Economist captures some of the confusion surrounding the election results, including the ambivalence a lot of Indians feel right now.

BAD for the credibility of almost every pundit and pollster; bad for political stability; even perhaps bad for economic reform. But the outcome of India's election has been a triumph for democracy, and the ordinary voter's refusal, after being subjected to months of self-congratulatory government propaganda about “India Shining”, to accept rhetoric over results.

Some of these potential partners may balk at supporting Mrs Gandhi as prime minister. One rumoured alternative from within Congress is Manmohan Singh, a respected former finance minister. An unstable coalition government, relying on the support of the Communists, is unlikely to prove radical, and may be short-lived. But the presence of Mr Singh in Congress—as a senior policymaker, at any rate, if not in the top job—is one reason for guarded optimism that the election result will not mean the stalling of economic reform. It was Mr Singh who launched the opening up and liberalisation of the economy in 1991. Congress's manifesto commits it to a policy of sustaining and even accelerating current rates of economic growth. That will not be possible without more reform: cutting the fiscal deficit; continuing to foster competition; privatising more state-run enterprises.

There are other reasons for cheer. First, one of Mr Vajpayee's dreams commands consensus support and will surely still be followed: building a lasting peace with Pakistan, a project dear to Congress the last time it was in power. Second, the electoral rebuke for the BJP from rural India might intensify efforts to spread some of the alleged shine to the gloomier parts of the countryside. Properly interpreted, it should not thwart reform, but spur it.

The last point is crucial in my opinion. The popular way of looking at Naidu's defeat had been to blame him for not taking the fruits of economic reform to the masses. The optimistic way to look at it might be that people's expecatations may itself have increased along the way and perhaps the problem was that Naidu wasn't meeting heightened expectations quickly enough. Perhaps the need of the hour is accelerating reform, not deccelerating it, but accelerating it in a way that the benefits are spread more evenly.

In anycase, I think this election result makes it imperative for policy makers to pay more attention to our RISC model. We have been carping for the longest time about taking the benefits of technology/infrastructure to rural areas if rapid economic growth is to be maintained. Restricting the benefits of IT/Tech to big cities will result in a rural backlash. In a country where 70% of the people live in rural areas, that would be political suicide, as the NDA just discovered.

Martin Wolf disses GWB 

Brad DeLong links to an excellent analysis in the Financial Times by my favourite FT columnist, Martin Wolf. Martin is no "namby-pamby liberal", is a huge fan of America, and when someone like him expresses an opininon like this, I believe GWB has lost all credibility.

Let us start with the administration's faith in the application of US military power. This is a double error. The first lies in its exaggerated belief in force.... The second error lies in its belief in the irrelevance of allies. A country containing 4 per cent of the world›s population cannot impose its will upon the world. It needs permanent allies, not reluctant stooges.... The US had a bigger army than the Soviet Union, but because it offered a more attractive model. The more the US plays the unilateral bully, the more its attraction fades.

Turn then to definition of US objectives. Terrorism is a technique of the powerless adapted to the age of mass communications.... Proclaiming a war against terrorism justifies the indefinite suspension of the rule of law.... The behaviour of the guards at Abu Ghraib is the natural, almost the inevitable, consequence of the position in which the administration has - in its pursuit of its war on terrorism - put detainees. These are... in a legal limbo for as long as the US decides that this so-called "war" continues. Interrogators have absolute power and... absolute power corrupts absolutely....

Now let us turn to the question of competence... Only one institution has shown its effectiveness - the US armed forces.... Everything else has been a humiliating shambles. Afghanistan is, once again, in the arms of the war lords whose behaviour led to the Taliban invasion. The outcome in Iraq now looks far worse.... The decision to wage a war of choice, not of necessity, was a great risk. It could be justified only by discovering the weaponry Mr Hussein was alleged to hold or by leaving the country... in a reasonably stable condition. Having been so resoundingly wrong on the first point, the US must now succeed on the second. Always difficult, the chances of such an outcome now seem vanishingly small. What will Iraq be a few years from now - a military dictatorship, a theocracy, a divided country, an anarchy, or a permanent US occupation? Any of these, except the last, seems more plausible than stable democracy.

It is impossible to exaggerate the dangers attendant upon a US failure in Iraq: jihadis would conclude that they had now defeated a second superpower; friendly regimes would be shaken; and US prestige would be destroyed. Iraq is not another Vietnam. It is far more dangerous than that.... The US has... staked its prestige.. on leaving behind a thriving country. If, instead, it leaves behind despotism or chaos, it will be a grievous defeat, with huge long-run consequences. Responsibility for such a failure must rest with the White House. It cannot be blamed on any subordinate department, not even the defence department. This is the president›s policy and responsibility. The buck stops there.

Crafting a foreign policy for a new era is hard. The last time this had to be done was in the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman more than half a century ago. The institutions they established and the values they upheld were the foundation of the successful US foreign policy of the postwar era. Now, a task even more complex has fallen on this president. He is not up to the job. This is not a moral judgment, but a practical one. The world is too complex and dangerous for the pious simplicities and arrogant unilateralism of George W. Bush.

I agree.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

South African Wine 

South Africa and wine have never been synonymous in my mind. Until this trip to India. One of the real downsides to being in India is that one rarely gets to drink a decent wine. Golconda Red and Port (Goa style) tend to taste like a cross between cough syrup and bad grape juice. So it was a really pleasant surprise to find Zulu Pinotage at a French restaurant in Goa. It really is an excellent wine and is not too expensive either (around $10/Rs450). Pinotage is fundamentally a hybrid varietal exclusive to South Africa (and not very popular there as I understand) that features a cross between Hermitage (cinsault) and Pinot Noir. Since my first glass of Pinotage in Goa, I have sworn by it and have been trying to introduce as many people as possible to this excellent wine, especially my wine starved friends in India.

I have been curious about South Africa's wine growing tradition since then. Frank Prial provides some answers. No mention of Zulu Pinotage here though.

Under the white minority government a single bureaucracy dictated everything in the business: what grapes to plant, where to plant them and how much wine to make. Good European grapes like cabernet and shiraz were frowned upon. Few South African winemakers had worked abroad, and foreigners with modern techniques were not always welcome. The Western Cape was half a century behind the rest of the wine world.

Now business is booming, new vineyards are being planted and new wineries being built. This once-sleepy college town is becoming a chic resort. Reservations in the best restaurants can be as scarce as they are in St. Helena, in California. Franschoek, just over the mountain, is even more exclusive. And if the old wine communities like Stellenbosch, Constantia and Paarl are thriving, so are new regions like Olifants River, Tulbagh, Swartland, Elgin/Walker Bay and Klein, or Little, Karoo.

Even chenin blanc and pinotage have taken on new life. Chenin blanc, known here as steen, and still the Cape's most heavily planted grape, traditionally produced a heavy, flabby wine, better suited for distilling than drinking. No more. A 2002 old-vine chenin from Cedarberg, in distant Olifants River, had the depth and intense bouquet of a fine, dry Vouvray. At the same time, a newfound, almost chauvinistic interest in pinotage has produced some smooth, full-bodied wines that might be mistaken for shiraz.

Black Swans and Randomness 

Petra sent me this interesting piece from Edge -- an essay by mathematical trader, Nassim Taleb. He writes on outlier black swans, randomness and the 9/11 commission. I am certain many of you will enjoy reading this as much as I did. And perhaps the mathematicians, traders, behavioural economists and cognitive scientists among you could leave a few comments on what you think :)

A black swan is an outlier, an event that lies beyond the realm of normal expectations. Most people expect all swans to be white because that's what their experience tells them; a black swan is by definition a surprise. Nevertheless, people tend to concoct explanations for them after the fact, which makes them appear more predictable, and less random, than they are. Our minds are designed to retain, for efficient storage, past information that fits into a compressed narrative. This distortion, called the hindsight bias, prevents us from adequately learning from the past.

Consider: How would an understanding of the world on June 27, 1914, have helped anyone guess what was to happen next? The rise of Hitler, the demise of the Soviet bloc, the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, the Internet bubble: not only were these events unpredictable, but anyone who correctly forecast any of them would have been deemed a lunatic (indeed, some were). This accusation of lunacy would have also applied to a correct prediction of the events of 9/11 — a black swan of the vicious variety.

A vicious black swan has an additional elusive property: its very unexpectedness helps create the conditions for it to occur. Had a terrorist attack been a conceivable risk on Sept. 10, 2001, it would likely not have happened. Jet fighters would have been on alert to intercept hijacked planes, airplanes would have had locks on their cockpit doors, airports would have carefully checked all passenger luggage. None of that happened, of course, until after 9/11.

One can study randomness, at three levels: mathematical, empirical, and behavioral. The first is the narrowly defined mathematics of randomness, which is no longer the interesting problem because we've pretty much reached small returns in what we can develop in that branch. The second one is the dynamics of the real world, the dynamics of history, what we can and cannot model, how we can get into the guts of the mechanics of historical events, whether quantitative models can help us and how they can hurt us. And the third is our human ability to understand uncertainty. We are endowed with a native scorn of the abstract; we ignore what we do not see, even if our logic recommends otherwise. We tend to overestimate causal relationships. When we meet someone who by playing Russian roulette became extremely influential, wealthy, and powerful, we still act toward that person as if he gained that status just by skills, even when you know there's been a lot of luck. Why? Because our behavior toward that person is going to be entirely determined by shallow heuristics and very superficial matters related to his appearance.

Bernard Lewis disses the United Nations 

While on the subject of differing perceptions, another thing that struck me when I first came to the U.S. was the scorn a large part of the American public heaped on the U.N. True, the body was rendered ineffective during large parts of the Great Cold War Game, but most of the people I knew tended to believe that the U.N. was the best alternative in a pretty messed up world. There is also a tendency in the US to equate the Security Council (and its attendant games) with the rest of UN. True, the UN did diddlysquat in Rwanda, but can we forget the eradication of Smallpox, for example? Does being aware of the inherent dangers of a mutli-lateral negotiating body have to mean constantly dissing it and not giving the organisation any credit?

I was reminded of this attitude while reading a piece in the WSJ by Bernard Lewis, a Princeton professor best known for his best-selling Islam and the West. While dissing the UN, he makes an interesting comparison between the current imbroglio in Iraq with Palestine and India.

The record of the U.N. in dealing with conflicts is not encouraging -- neither in terms of fairness, nor of efficacy. Its record on human rights is even worse -- hardly surprising, since the members of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights include such practitioners of human rights as Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. In dealing with conflicts, as a European observer once remarked, its purpose seems to be conservation rather than resolution.

A case in point: In 1947 the British Empire in India was partitioned into two states, India and Pakistan. There was a bitter military struggle, and an estimated 10 million refugees were displaced. Despite continuing friction, some sort of accommodation was reached between the two states and the refugees were resettled. No outside power or organization was involved.

In the following year, 1948, the British-mandated territory of Palestine was partitioned -- in terms of area and numbers, a triviality compared with India. Yet that conflict continues, and the 750,000 Arab refugees from Israel and their millions of descendants remain refugees, in camps maintained and staffed by the U.N. Except for Jordan, no Arab state has been willing to grant citizenship to the Palestinian refugees or to their locally born descendants, or even to allow them the rights of resident aliens. They are now entering their fifth generation as stateless refugee aliens. The whole operation is maintained and sustained by a massive apparatus of U.N. officials, some of whom have spent virtually their whole careers on this issue. What progress has been made on the Arab-Israel problem -- the resettlement in Israel of Jewish refugees from the Arab-held parts of mandatory Palestine and from Arab countries, the Egyptian and Jordanian peace agreements -- was achieved outside the framework of the U.N. One shudders to think what might have been the fate of the Indian subcontinent if the U.N. had been involved in its partition.

There is one relic of partition -- Kashmir -- thats still alive and unresolved. Kashmir remains a problem partly because Nehru in a self-righteous fit (combined with bad advice from Mountbatten) took the Kashmir issue to the UN and offered to hold a referendum -- one that he hoped to win easily given his excellent relations with the older Sheikh Abdullah. The results of that misguided decision has plagued India since. Dont know if the UN can be blamed for Nehru's naivete though.

PS: Are conservative Europeans as dismissive of the UN as conservative Americans?

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Winston Churchill -- A different perspective 

One of the things that struck me when I first came to the United States was the annalloyed admiration for Winston Churchill. Biographies of Churchill sell like hotcakes. Positively hagiographic documentaries abound. Everyone seemed to concentrate on the "we shall fight them in the hills..." side of Chruchill, while ignoring his alterego -- a racist/bigoted and undemocratic (offended by Germany's invasion of Poland but specifying that the principles of the Atlantic charter did not apply to India) pig. Reading Tharoor's biography of Nehru (mentioned in the previous post) reminded me of some of the startling views Churchill held in his lifetime. A few examples follow.

I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion

Or his description of Gandhi at the 1931 roundtable in London

...the nauseating sight of a seditious Middle Temple lawyer striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace to parlay on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.

He followed this up with his description of Gandhi as a "half-naked fakir of a type well-known in the East."

Worst of all was the "diversion of food, in 1943 (on Churchill's personal orders), from starving civilians to well-supplied Tommies which led directly to the Great Bengal Famine." As a result, almost as many people died in Bengal as in the concentration camps of Eastern Europe. Churchill's only response to a telegram from the Govt in Delhi about the famine was to "ask peevishly why Gandhi hadn't died yet."

This is the man celebrated as the apostle of freedom and democracy all over the West.

Nehru: The invention of India 

Here's a short biography of Nehru, that is mostly a re-interpretation of previous research, for those who cant be bothered to read the extended biographies by Wolpert, Akbar, Gopal etc. Shashi Tharoor's Nehru:The invention of India is a short, yet reasonably comprehensive biography of India's first prime minister and the tumultous times he lived through. Though Tharoor is by his own admission an admirer of Nehru, this book goes into Nehru's shortcomings in great detail as well, especially his obsession with socialism. Tharoor puts it best when he writes thusly...

I started the book as divided between admiration and criticism as when I finished it; but the more I delved into Nehru's life, it was the admiration that deepened. Jawaharlal's impact on India is too great to not be re-examined periodically. His legacy is ours, whether we agree with everything he stood for or not. What we are today, both for good and for ill, we owe in great measure to one man.

How TiVo works 

TiVo is the one TV technology I know of that could potentially revolutionize television watching patterns and habits (and one that I intend getting once I emerge from under the breadline). It took me some time to figure out how it all works though. Technology Review has an excellent visualization of how TiVo works. It's in the form of a very informative interactive slideshow.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Site Du Jour -- Trance Airwaves 

Some of you know of my great interest in electronic music. I have also been listening to a lot of trance music of late, especially music that leans towards Goa/Psytrance. After all, there's very few things one can do that beats watching the sun set over the ocean, listening to some amazing Goa trance at the Nine Bar (built on a cliff overlooking overlooking the ocean) in Vagator, Goa. That said, its pretty diffcult to source new music unless you know someone in the know. Mostly its darts -- you just see what sticks.

So, I was pleased to accidentally come across Trance Airwaves -- supposedly the world's biggest trance radio site. It's really brilliant and has been my constant companion while I write parts of my dissertation (bobbing one's head often enough prevents one from falling asleep). Bar a few occasions, the music has been brilliant if melodic/progressive/uplifiting trance is your thing. The sound quality has been excellent too. And if I can get excellent sound quality on my connection in India, it should work brilliantly well elsewhere. The DJ's are mostly European and include Ultrafusion, Sarah Calsworth and Dave Dempsey.

PS: If the music sucks when you first check it out, try a few more times. I'd say I've been lucky with whats been played 75% of the time.

Chinese herbal drug to fight Malaria 

Last month, I had made a post linking to an NYT story on the use of DDT to Malaria. My knowledge of anything but the economic impact of Malaria continues to be minimal, but I thought this Donald McNeil story on the use of a chinese herbal medicine to fight Malaria was intriguing.

The drug, artemisinin (pronounced are-TEM-is-in-in), is a compound based on qinghaosu, or sweet wormwood. First isolated in 1965 by Chinese military researchers, it cut the death rate by 97 percent in a malaria epidemic in Vietnam in the early 1990's.

Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, which procures drugs for the world's poorest countries, opposed its use during an Ethiopian epidemic last year, saying that there was too little supply and that switching drugs in mid-outbreak would cause confusion.

But now almost all donors, Unicef and the World Bank have embraced the drug. The new Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has given 11 countries grants to buy artemisinin and has instructed 34 others to drop requests for two older drugs — chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine — and switch to the new one. "We want countries to move very rapidly to use it as a first-line treatment," said Dr. Vinand Nantulya, the fund's malaria adviser. The fund expects to spend $450 million on the drug over the next five years, he said.

Like many tropical disease drugs, artemisinin is a fruit of military research. Chinese scientists first isolated it in 1965 while seeking a new antimalarial treatment for Vietnamese troops fighting American forces, said Dr. Nelson Tan, medical director of Holley Pharmaceuticals, which makes the drug in Chongqing, China.

Another antimalarial drug still in use, mefloquine, was isolated at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in 1963 for American troops in the same jungles. Under the name Lariam, it is still issued to troops and sold to travelers. Artemisinin, which has no significant side effects, quickly reduces fevers and rapidly lowers blood-parasite levels, which can keep small outbreaks in mosquito-infested areas from becoming epidemics.

Any have more information?

Sunday, May 09, 2004

The perils of righteousness 

Might as well make another post on the subject of Iraq. Sometime in April, I had made a post in which I had suggested that Team Bush's overt over-religiousness was the part that was most scary to me. Joe Klein writes something on similar lines in this week's Time. It's a long-ish post, but it makes perfect sense.

Faith without doubt leads to moral arrogance, the eternal pratfall of the religiously convinced. We are humble before the Lord, Bush insists. We cannot possibly know His will. And yet, we "know" He's on the side of justice—and we define what justice is. Indeed, we can toss around words like justice and evil with impunity, send off mighty armies to "serve the cause of justice" in other lands and be so sure of our righteousness that the merest act of penitence—an apology for an atrocity—becomes a presidential crisis. "This is not the America I know," Bush said of the torturers, as if U.S. soldiers were exempt from the temptations of absolute power that have plagued occupying armies from the beginning of time.

"Liberate Iraq? Rubbish," said a prominent Jordanian businessman. "You occupy Iraq for the strategic and economic benefits. You are building the largest embassy in the world in Baghdad. Halliburton and Bechtel are running everything, at enormous profits. And then I watch Bush on Al-Arabiya and all I see is his sense of moral superiority. He brings democracy and freedom to the barbarians. But who are the barbarians? Even before the Abu Ghraib pictures, we saw male soldiers searching Iraqi women and humiliating Iraqi men by forcing their heads to the ground."

A distressing, uninflected righteousness has defined this Administration from the start, and it hasn't been limited to the President. Bush's overheated sense of good vs. evil has been reinforced by the intellectual fantasies of neoconservatives like I. Lewis Libby and Paul Wolfowitz, who serve Bush's two most powerful advisers, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. It was neoconservatives who provided the philosophical rationale for the President's gut response to the evildoers of Sept. 11: a grand crusade—yes, a crusade—to establish democracy in Iraq and then, via a benign tumbling of local dominoes, throughout the Middle East. Those who opposed the crusade opposed democracy. Those who opposed the President coddled terrorists (according to recent g.o.p. TV ads). They were not morally serious.

But democracy doesn't easily lend itself to evangelism; it requires more than faith. It requires a solid, educated middle class and a sophisticated understanding of law, transparency and minority rights. It certainly can't be imposed by outsiders, not in a fractious region where outsiders are considered infidels.

Moral pomposity is almost always a camouflage for baser fears and desires. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the neoconservatives share a primal belief in the use of military power to intimidate enemies. If the U.S. didn't strike back "big time," it would be perceived as weak. (Crushing the peripheral Taliban and staying focused on rooting out al-Qaeda cells wasn't "big" enough.)

Fareed Zakaria on the price of arrogance 

This is a nice follow-up to my last post. As always, Fareed Zakariagives an excellent and incisive reading of the current situation in Iraq. He touches briefly on some of the points I raised in my previous post.

Rumsfeld went on in his testimony to explain that "these terrible acts were perpetrated by a small number." That's correct, except the small number who are truly responsible are not the handful of uniformed personnel currently being charged for the prison abuse scandal. The events at Abu Ghraib are part of a larger breakdown in American policy over the past two years. And it has been perpetrated by a small number of people at the highest levels of government.

Since 9/11, a handful of officials at the top of the Defense Department and the vice president's office have commandeered American foreign and defense policy. In the name of fighting terror they have systematically weakened the traditional restraints that have made this country respected around the world. Alliances, international institutions, norms and ethical conventions have all been deemed expensive indulgences at a time of crisis.

Within weeks after September 11, senior officials at the Pentagon and the White House began the drive to maximize American freedom of action. They attacked specifically the Geneva Conventions, which govern behavior during wartime. Donald Rumsfeld explained that the conventions did not apply to today's "set of facts." He and his top aides have tried persistently to keep prisoners out of the reach of either American courts or international law, presumably so that they can be handled without those pettifogging rules as barriers.

Rumsfeld initially fought both the uniformed military and Colin Powell, who urged that prisoners in Guantanamo be accorded rights under the conventions. Eventually he gave in on the matter but continued to suggest that the protocols were antiquated. Last week he said again that the Geneva Conventions did not "precisely apply" and were simply basic rules.

The basic attitude taken by Rumsfeld, Cheney and their top aides has been "We're at war; all these niceties will have to wait." As a result, we have waged pre-emptive war unilaterally, spurned international cooperation, rejected United Nations participation, humiliated allies, discounted the need for local support in Iraq and incurred massive costs in blood and treasure. If the world is not to be trusted in these dangerous times, key agencies of the American government, like the State Department, are to be trusted even less. Congress is barely informed, even on issues on which its "advise and consent" are constitutionally mandated.

Leave process aside: the results are plain. On almost every issue involving postwar Iraq—troop strength, international support, the credibility of exiles, de-Baathification, handling Ayatollah Ali Sistani—Washington's assumptions and policies have been wrong. By now most have been reversed, often too late to have much effect. This strange combination of arrogance and incompetence has not only destroyed the hopes for a new Iraq. It has had the much broader effect of turning the United States into an international outlaw in the eyes of much of the world.

Whether he wins or loses in November, George W. Bush's legacy is now clear: the creation of a poisonous atmosphere of anti-Americanism around the globe. I'm sure he takes full responsibility.