Wednesday, September 29, 2004

FOX News and debates 

As the US presidential candidates get ready to engage in the first of the debates, this should put a chill up your spine:
Fox News Channel, whose turn it is under a rotation system to operate the "pool" cameras for all the networks in the first debate on Thursday in Coral Gables, Florida, said it would follow its own editorial judgment in operating its cameras. (from Reuters)
Fox News Channel and editorial judgment go together like... eager to hear your comments!

Schindler's Ark 

This is a departure from norm, but this story is way too interesting for it not to be on ZS. I stumbled upon it while surfing the Granta site. Essentially, it is a story of how Booker Prize winning author, Thomas Keneally stumbled upon Schindler's List in Beverly Hills, or as he puts it, how Schindler's List stumbled upon him. Enjoy.

'Here's what I wanted to point out… I know a wonderful story. A story of humanity man to man. I tell all the writers I get through here. Sitcom guys. Reporters for the LA Times. I get famous producers or their wives. Did you know Howard Koch? Howard Koch wrote Casablanca. A really nice guy. You see, everyone needs a handbag, everyone needs an attaché case. I tell everyone I know the greatest story of humanity man to man. Some listen—an article there, a news item here. A nice young man, executive producer of Simon and Simon at Paramount…he does what he can. But it's a story for you, Thomas. It's a story for you, I swear.'

Every writer hears that sentence. People without an idea of how long a book takes to write pass on the tale of an amusing uncle or aunt, along with the strange addendum: I could write it if I had nothing else to do. The suggestion is sometimes passed on tentatively, sometimes with the sincere expectation that the writer will answer, Wow! That he will drop to his knees and embrace this jewel of a story. That it will take him a few weeks' leisure to produce the finished manuscript.

But I had never heard the words pass the lips of a soul so vivid, so picaresque, so full of life, as Poldek.

I said, 'What is it?'

He said, 'I was saved, and my wife was saved by a Nazi. I was a Jew imprisoned with Jews. So a Nazi saves me, and more important saves Mischa. So although he's a Nazi, to me he's Jesus Christ. Not that he was a saint. He was all-drinking, all-black marketeering, all-screwing. Okay? But he got Mischa out of Auschwitz, so to me he is God.'

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Political status of the states 

(Via Walker Willingham) This eminently readable list has capsule summaries of the political statuses of almost all our modern countries. Quite impressive, and a useful starting point for further research.

I wonder how up-to-date everything is. In the entries for the few countries about which I had enough information beforehand, I didn't see any falsification.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Manmohan Singh and Edward Said 

Manmohan Singh was on Charlie Rose, and Amardeep Singh has a summary of his interview. It is interesting that Manmohan Singh talks about comparative advantage as opposed to absolute advantage in the context of outsourcing. One should perhaps look at the opportunity cost of producing those goods in America whose production ends up being outsourced. Americans are probably better employed at innovation and developing new technologies, things that they are best at.

On Outsourcing, the PM claimed that it's a predictable phase in the globalization of goods and services, provable by Ricardo's "Comparative advantage Theory." [That's correct – after 150 years, Ricardo is now a household name]

Charlie Rose outdid him a bit here, suggesting that in fact outsourcing a net-job gainer for the U.S., since the disposable income it produces in the Indian middle-class is spent on consumer goods either produced in the U.S., or that have U.S. Brand names."

Also on his blog, Amardeep Singh has a nice introduction to Edward Said, Orientalism, and postcolonial literary studies.

The oriental is a myth or a stereotype, but Said shows that the myth had, over the course of two centuries of European thought, come to be thought of as a kind of systematic knowledge about the East. Because the myth masqueraded as fact, the results of studies into eastern cultures and literature were often self-fulfilling. It was accepted as a common fact that Asians, Arabs, and Indians were mystical religious devotees incapable of rigorous rationality. It is unsurprising, therefore that so many early European studies into, for instance, Persian poetry, discovered nothing more or less than the terms of their inquiry were able to allow: mystical religious devotion and an absence of rationality.

Friday, September 24, 2004

U2 are back and here's Vertigo 

U2 have just released 'Vertigo', the first single from the new album, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." The single was just released a few hours back and you can download it here. You can also watch a reasonable quality video of Vertigo here. This is not the video for the song being shot in Spain, but the performance from Top of the Pops recorded on the 24th of September.

I think its an absolutely brilliant song. Bono was right -- there's a lot of Edge in there. The band also sounds eerily like The Ramones mixed in with a dash of The Who perhaps. But yes, the song almost sounds like a tribute to the Ramones. And as several fans have indicated, the acronym HTDAAB could also stand for Have they done another Achtung Baby. I cannot wait for the album release in November. In the meanwhile, enjoy 'Vertigo'.

UPDATE: Macphisto informs us that Bono is planning a Live Aid II alongwith Bob Geldof and backed by Tony Blair to help ease third-world debt. Bands that have signed on include Oasis, Radiohead and Coldplay besides U2, of course.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The blogs strike back 

To paraphrase a line I read a while back in Time magazine - when God created heaven and earth, to the Left, He gave newspapers and TV, and to the Right, He gave talk show radio. Now, it seems like he also gave the right-wingers blogs. Nancy Gibbs writes in the Time cover story on how the Bush campaign has effectively utilized the amazing power of blogs to narrowcast.

While leery of the old media, this White House is expert at narrowcasting to the new. From the Amish to snowmobile users to stockcar-racing fans, the Bush coalitions are sliced like Bible leaves and addressed according to their specific priorities.

The campaign also keeps a close eye on the blogs, using them, just as it uses Limbaugh, to mainline information to the G.O.P. faithful. "Blogs are what talk radio was a few years ago," says Bush campaign communications director Nicole Devenish. Her staff members regularly write, along with the message for the talk-radio circuit, the one that will go out to blogs and websites that link to the Bush campaign site.

As blogs come of age, they have begun to influence mainstream media, and none more so than in the recent CBS document controversy. In that story and in others, bloggers and their readers have acted as watchdogs to the watchdog role traditionally assigned to mainstream media. Andrew Sullivan writes a paean to bloggers in the latest Time magazine, as he makes that point.

Does this mean the old media is dead? Not at all. Blogs depend on the journalistic resources of big media to do the bulk of reporting and analysis. What blogs do is provide the best scrutiny of big media imaginable—ratcheting up the standards of the professionals, adding new voices, new perspectives and new facts every minute. The genius lies not so much in the bloggers themselves but in the transparent system they have created. In an era of polarized debate, the truth has never been more available. Thank the guys in the pajamas. And read them.

Thanks, Andrew. This post's for you.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Another week, another patch 

Ho-hum - another week, another patch. Andrew Brandt at the PCWorld blogs posts about a new vulnerability that apparently affects all applications on Windows that can display JPEGs.

The bug requires you to patch not only Windows (apparently Windows XP SP2 is unaffected), but any applications that can display JPEG images. That includes:

* Your office applications suite (including all versions of Microsoft Office).

* Your browser (Mozilla has some problems of its own).

* Any image-editing program you might use, including Photoshop, or PaintShop Pro.

Check out the list at Microsoft's site - it is more comprehensive, and includes Windows XP, Office XP (Outlook, Word, Excel, Powerpoint) and Office 2003 (ditto). A whole bunch of patching to do. I already have a Linux machine. I am thinking it might be simpler to simply power down my Windows box. Or perhaps, make it a dual-boot with Linux, and stay primarily on Linux.

Software vulnerabilities have been the cause of all kinds of hostile action - from industrial espionage to extortion. Stephen Baker in BusinessWeek (carried therefrom by Yahoo! Finance) had this story on denial-of-service attacks linked to extortion rackets.

With this step into extortion, denial-of-service attacks are becoming a lucrative racket. In the Web's early years, hackers unleashed similar attacks against the likes of Microsoft Corp. (NasdaqNM:MSFT - News)or the Recording Industry Association of America simply to strut their power or voice political grievances. Now they want cash. And online casinos make an easy first target. Illegal in the U.S., many are based in countries such as Costa Rica and Antigua, whose police are ill-equipped to battle sophisticated international cybercrime. Casino operators, some of whom face illegal gambling indictments in the U.S., grouse that the FBI does little to battle attacks against offshore gambling sites.

This brings me to the sermon of the day. A good number of Internet attacks can be prevented by simply installing firewall software. Firewall software is something that I think everybody should have running on their computers because one, this is software that is available for free, and two, in addition to preventing denial-of-service attacks, the firewall protects the privacy of your own data. I would highly recommend installing one.

Especially if you have a broadband connection, and especially if you are brave enough to run Windows on that machine :) Full disclosure : I am on a Windows machine on a broadband connection, but I usually go through a proxy, which does application-level filtering. I am also running Cisco's VPN client, which includes a "stateful firewall". (I am guessing that means that it is a multi-layer stateful firewall, maintaining state on packets and connections between the OSI layers.)

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Bush, Kerry quizzed on science and policy 

(Via Slashdot)   The science journal Nature put 15 questions on US administration policy as it relates to science to both Senator Kerry and President Bush. Read the candidates' responses on some current topics such as greenhouse emissions and manned spaceflight to Mars.

Deja Vu 

Feels like you have read this somewhere and you know what's coming next? This New York Times article might tell you why. The article summarizes the recent attention that the phenomenon of deja vu has received from the scientific community and some theories out there. Apparently,

People who travel a lot are more likely to report the experiences than homebodies, for instance, and those with college or advanced degrees report having it more often than others, perhaps because they have encountered its sweet strangeness in the literary accounts of Proust and Tolstoy - or are more likely to rent the movie "Groundhog Day." Rates seem to peak in young adulthood and to fall off gradually through retirement age, when, Dr. Brown suggests, many people live daily routines that really are familiar.

p.s. Groundhog Day is hugely popular among followers of buddhism! Take a look at this article in the Independent.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Roger is back! 

Via Atrios, I just found that Roger Waters has a couple of new songs out. The tracks are "To Kill the Child" and "Leaving Beirut." The only lines you need to listen to figure where Roger is headed, are these two from the latter song.

Oh George! Oh George!
That Texas education must have fucked you up when you were very small

But, Roger, the trouble is George never did study in Texas. His education was in Andover MA (Phillips Academy), New Haven (Yale) and Boston (HBS). Okay, I am nitpicking, so go listen to the songs instead.

Another dubious first for India 

According to Richard Feachem of the Global Fund, India has overtaken South Africa and is now the country with the most HIV infections.

Latest U.N. data show the HIV virus has infected 5.6 million people in South Africa and 5.1 million in India. But Feachem said he and many other experts believe India's actual figure is much higher, surpassing South Africa's. The official estimate leaves out many people in this vast country of 1.03 billion who could be carrying the virus without knowing or reporting it, he said. "I won't put a figure on it. I will simply say it is considerably more than 5.1 million," he said. "I am happy to be wrong. But I think I will proved right, soon." Feachem called the Indian epidemic "on an African trajectory ... and incidence of HIV/AIDS is rising rapidly."

This is very bad news. If anything, these numbers are on the lower side because of under-reporting and the difficulty of gathering accurate data in large parts of the country. Once the disease spreads from high-risk populations into the mainstream, controlling it will prove to be ten times as difficult and there is a real danger this might already be happening. I can only hope this will serve as a wake-up call for politicians and bureaucrats involved with the health ministry. Unless this situation is tackled on a war-footing (and yes, that includes mentioning the words 'condom' and 'sex' in public), this could turn out to be a real disaster for the country. The economic and human costs of the devastation wrought by HIV/AIDS are severe. Ask Botswana.

John Kerry on economic policy 

I don't know if its John Sasso's influence, but John Kerry has no intention of going down to the Bushes like Michael Dukakis did in 1988. He has been sharpening his attacks on Bush and in today's Wall Street Journal, he lays out the broad outlines of his economic policy. He reminds readers of his record on fiscal issues and trade (which is exemplary) and the presence of Messrs Rubin, Iacocca and Buffet on his economic team. As a matter of interest to the readers of this blog, he clarifies his stand on outsourcing, and it sounds fairly reasonable to me.

I am not trying to stop all outsourcing, but as president, I will end every single incentive that encourages companies to outsource. Today, taxpayers spend $12 billion a year to subsidize the export of jobs. If a company is trying to choose between building a factory in Michigan or Malaysia, our tax code actually encourages it to locate in Asia. My plan would take the entire $12 billion we save from closing these loopholes each year and use it to cut corporate tax rates by 5%. This will provide a tax cut for 99% of taxpaying corporations. This would be the most sweeping reform and simplification of international taxation in over 40 years. In addition, I have proposed a two-year new jobs tax credit to encourage manufacturers, other businesses affected by outsourcing, and small businesses that created jobs.

A Democrat proposing a 5% cut in corporate taxes? That's got to be new! Kerry also addresses the increasing fear of America losing its innovative edge.

Some of our best scientists are being encouraged to work overseas because of the restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research. President Bush has proposed cutting 21 of the 24 research areas that are so critical to long-term growth. We need to invest in research because when we shortchange research we shortchange our future. My plan would invest in basic research and end the ban on stem-cell research. It would invest more in energy research, including clean coal, hydrogen and other alternative fuels. It would boost funding at the National Science Foundation and continue increases at the National Institutes of Health and other government research labs. It will provide tax credits to help jumpstart broadband in rural areas and the new higher-speed broadband that has the potential to transform everything from e-government to tele-medicine. I would promote private-sector innovation policies, including the elimination of capital gains for long-term investments in small business start-ups.

To ensure we have the workers to compete in an innovation economy, we need more young people to not only enter but complete college, we need more young women and minorities to enter the fields of math and science, and we need to make it easier for working parents to get the lifelong learning opportunities they need to excel at both their current and their future jobs.

What development? Whose well-being? 

How can economic development alter social norms, morals and ethics? How can economic development that increases the set of choices we have reduce well being? How do politicians/lawmakers/ideology shapers play a role in the convergence of economic deveopment and well being?

Joe Stiglitz's essay in Daedalus' new issue on Progress provides an easily readable platform to scratch the surface of these heavyweight and important questions. The essay is titled "Evaluating Economic Change" and can be found here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Public Service Announcement du jour -- Free Ryanair Tickets 

Okay, so Ryanair has done it again. Just when you thought the airline was in trouble, they come out with an offer thats as good as any I have ever seen. They are offering seats on select flights (from end-Sept to early Feb,2005) for FREE. You only have to pay taxes and security fees. Select flights sounds like a catch, I know, but seats are available aplenty out of both the Dublin and London hubs. I tried several dates in November between London and Dublin and all of them were free. Just be a little patient (transaction cost, I know) and you'll find a fare.

Clearly meant as a promotional exercise, the deal which was supposed to end on Thursday has now been extended until Monday, the 20th of September. If you have some time to spare, whats your (applies to those of you in Europe and also to those of you who can get to London cheap) excuse for not doing a European holiday now?

Monday, September 13, 2004

New Creative Commons License 

Creative Commons has announced an intriguing new Developing Nations license, designed to give developing nations the freedom to "copy, distribute, display, and perform the work" and "to make derivative works". Otherwise full copyright applies to those in the developed world.

This is a great concept, which is not unlike the policy of some shareware software authors - charging for commercial or corporate use, while allowing free personal use. It will be interesting to see what types of high-profile content creators adopt this license.

Offbeat Outsourcing 

Beneficiaries of the outsourcing trend are now not limited to call centres and software engineers. During my trip to India, it came to my attention that some non-traditional industries are now growing thanks to business from the West. Rina Chandran, a journalist and a friend, writes on how Indian animators have benefitted.

Cute cartoon characters and slick special effects may not seem obvious candidates for outsourcing, but Indian studios are popping up alongside software firms and call centres that do work for firms in the West. In films, television shows and electronic games, latecomer India has started to gain favour over more established animation centres such as Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and the Philippines.

India is winning animation contracts for the same reasons it has become such a hot outsourcing destination for other industries: lower costs, a large English-speaking workforce and a track record in meeting Western companies' technology needs.

While language and technology remain advantages even in some of these creative sectors, the bottleneck might be the supply of skill (after all, how many training centres are dedicated to animation?). An area where this is not a problem is in financial research. With greater interest in small and mid-cap stocks, a large number of such stocks on the American exchanges and skilled indian management graduates, it is not surprising that small cap equity research is also finding its way on the outsourcing bandwagon.

Does anyone know of more non-traditional outsourcing trends?

Atrios blows his cover 

I have been meaning to post this for a while. One of the most frequently asked questions in blogistan -- Who is Atrios? -- has been answered. Atrios is Duncan Black, a "recovering economist" based in Philadelphia. To celebrate the occasion, I have added Atrios to the blog links on the right. To keep up the appearance of fair and balanced political opinion, I have also added Andrew Sullivan, uber-conservative blogger, who appears, of late, to have been burnt by the light he saw at the end of the runnel.

Movie Recommendation -- Laurel Canyon 

Just watched Laurel Canyon last night. Watching the movie left me feeling the same way I felt after watching Lost in Translation, and that is very high praise indeed. Of course, I could review the movie here, but why bother when Stephen Holden has already done the dirty work? I will add though that this is probably the best performance by Frances MacDormand I have seen since Fargo. Highly recommended viewing (the looseness of the script actually helps the feel of the movie), especially for the rock n' roll fans among you.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Mira Nair to direct adaptation of "The Namesake" 

Mira Nair's next project after "Vanity Fair" is a movie adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Namesake". The Chronicle story also talks a little bit about Nair's interpretation of Thackeray's classic from a post-colonial perspective.

"The chief character in 'Vanity Fair' is really the early 19th century world, which was getting fattened on the plunder of the colonies, especially in India," Nair says. "The middle classes were all getting rich on the spoils from India and the colonies, and that's what gave them the money of aristocracy, but not the status and the title. So everybody wanted something they could not have. India is a total character in this movie. The myth of India. The symbol of India. The fact that Jos Sedley, a completely ordinary buffoon in England, can become a maharaja in India. That was the empire. It's within the realm of 'Vanity Fair' that I can show you my winking. All the lines I chose -- like 'Let him marry Becky; better her than a black Mrs. Sedley and a dozen mahogany grandchildren.' These aren't lines we invented. These are Thackeray's incredibly acute reading of his own society."

I haven't read "The Namesake" yet (it is definitely on my readng list), but I thought Jhumpa's "Interpreter of Maladies" was one of the most acutely observed set of stories about Indians in America. I was lucky enough to catch Jhumpa when she was in the Bay Area and get an autographed copy of "The Namesake". Here is looking forward to some good reading.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Hooters in India? 

Via Dan Drezner, I came across this MSNBC story that Hooters were planning to open franchise locations in India. As David Letterman would say, WHAAAT?

"I am looking forward to the 'recreation' of this dining atmosphere," Sunil Bedi, Managing Director of franchisee H.O.I. Pvt. Ltd., said in a statement. They'll be in charge of hiring local waitresses (a 1997 settlement allows Hooters to keep an all-female serving staff, at least in the United States) and choose the menu, with ultimate oversight from the Atlanta headquarters. Between five and 10 Indian locations are initially planned, with the first opening next year.

Hooters' expansion is the latest sign that U.S. businesses have awoken to the potential of the Indian middle class and its growing disposable income, said Jagdip Ahluwalia, executive director of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston.Hooters already has a strong global presence with some 370 restaurants, including 26 overseas locations in such places as Austria, Guatemala, Singapore and Taiwan. This is its first location in South Asia, where more modest sensibilities often prevail. But it has aggressive plans for further expansion -- including its first restaurant in China, due this fall, three restaurants in Thailand and elsewhere.

Well, if this report is accurate, the custodians of middle-class morality (and, I guess, the anti-globalisation crowd) in India will be operating at full-employment levels the next few months.

World Vote in the U.S. elections 

Most media outlets have carried the story about Kerry winning in a landslide, if citizens of the world were allowed to decide between him and Shrub. Now, there's an even less scientific, online version of a similar poll that you can access at this website. You cannot see the results just yet, but the website promises to start releasing poll numbers starting around Sept 16th. Here's how the site justifies its existence.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been the world's only superpower. Some say a "hyperpower". America holds sway over the world like no other country in the entire history of humankind. It dominates in the 5 spheres of power: political, economic, military, technological, and cultural. In light of this fact, the question we should ask ourselves is: If the US holds such influence over the rest of the world, shouldn't all citizens of the world have the right to vote in the next US presidential election? We invite all citizens of all nations to vote for the next President of the United States of the World. Of course, your vote won't count on November 2nd but speaking-up does.

United States and Cricket 

By now, most of the cricket fans among you have heard of the 210 run thrashing the Kiwis handed to the U.S. cricket team in one of the opening games of the Champions Trophy. Obviously, the result comes as no surprise and one has to feel sorry for the inexperienced U.S. team since they run into the Aussies next. But, thats not what this post is about. Cricket in America is, at best, a fringe sport and it will probably not make it into the mainstream anytime in the next 30 years. It is in this context that I found this Intl Herald Tribune article about the U.S. cricket team very interesting. It contains some fascinating trivia about the history of the game in the U.S., which I found very surprising.

The United States is the lowest-ranked team in the competition, but also the oldest, having played the first-ever international match, against Canada in 1844. Before the Civil War, cricket was the most popular game in America. The baseball historian Harold Seymour records an audience of 24,000 for a match in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1859.

Its displacement by baseball was symbolized by the role of the English-born Wright brothers, Harry and George, former cricketers and sons of a professional, as manager and star player respectively of baseball's first professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, in the late 1860s.As late as the early years of the 20th century, Philadelphia had a cricket team capable of matching English counties. One Philadelphian, Bart King, is still mentioned in debates over who is the greatest ever bowler.

Cricket, the most popular sport in the U.S.? The mind boggles!

Friday, September 10, 2004

A new Islam 

Two events in the past few weeks have prompted this post. One is the Indian Census Commission's report on the growth of the Muslim population in India (the figures claim that the Muslim populace in India has grown by 36% as opposed to the Hindu population's 20.4% in the decade spanning 1991-2001). The other is the imminent release of Dr Rafiq Zakaria's book Indian Muslims: Where Have They Gone Wrong.

For the growing Muslim population in India to actually fit in and contribute to the country's development, nothing short of a reformation will help. The Muslims I know in this country are almost all well educated and aware. Many of them are journalists and software engineers. But unfortunately, they belong to a very small minority of Muslims who are content with what they have and don't want to disturb the stasis. This is sad because the other, larger section of Muslims are simply not equipped to bring about change. In a recent column in Mid-Day, Aakar Patel quoted figures from a poll and said: "A recent poll revealed that just under 90 per cent of Mumbai's Muslims, presumably the most progressive in the country, rejected a secular civil code preferring instead Shariah law, favouring polygamy, triple talaq and Islam's unequal inheritance laws which allow women half as much property as they allow men. The views of most younger and educated Muslims and of women were also the same, in almost the same proportion."

I find this appalling. If there is any way a religion has to survive, it is to react to change and appropriate that change. This, as Aakar says later in his column, has to be achieved by pragmatic thought. From all my interactions with Muslims from various sections of society, I fail to see where this pragmatic thought will come from. Figures from polls like the one Aakar quotes and separate interactions I have had strongly suggest that as far as the average Muslim in India goes, emotions far out weigh any semblance of pragmatic thought.

Dr Zakaria makes a brave attempt at a solution. He not only suggests that Muslims must join hands with Hindus, participate in Hindu rituals but even seek an EU model by reuniting India and Pakistan. While this may seem bold and even sensible, I fail to see how it will occur when Muslims in India don't even have a role model to look up to.

Even the man most intelligent Muslims in the country look up to - the poet Allama Iqbal, in his famous Shikwa (complaint), where the believer is in conversation with God for abandoning the faithful, says there just isn't a leader to take up the cause. In the words Jalwa-e-Tur to maujood hai, Moosa hi nahin (The miracle of Mount Sinai is still there, but where is a Moses?) which God poses to the believer, lies the crux of the problem.

Any reform movement needs a man or woman leading the charge. In India's case, all we have apart from Azim Premji and APJ Abdul Kalam are lilly livered intellectuals who talk and do little else. The other Muslim role models are cricketers who endorse Pepsi and certainly not resisting the enactment of the Shariah or triple Talaq.

As far as the average Muslim in India goes, read the comments posted at the end of Aakar's column and you'll see what I mean.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Rock & Roll's 10 least wanted men 

Riverfront Times has a hilarious list of the ten most hated men in rock n' roll. Before going any further, RFT lays down the criteria for "hating" a rock star.

Have talent, use it well for a substantial period of time, then intentionally squander it for commercial riches, fame and/or forced mass appeal.

So, the initial talent is key here. RFT also clarifies that they hate Sting so much he doesnt even make it to the top 10.

This turtleneck-sweatered Jaguar shill has so desecrated his Policeman legacy that we're not entirely convinced the current soft-rock incarnation isn't the original Sting's evil twin. He is, without question, the most hated man in rock.

Once you're done with Sting, the top 10 are, in order -- Paul McCartney, Carlos Santana, Jimmy Buffett, The Adams Family (Ryan & Bryan), Elton John, Conor Oberst & Chris Carrabba, Fred Durst and Bob Weir. Here's a little taste of their hatred of McCartney and Bobby Weir.

Barely qualified to carry John Lennon's roach clip while both toiled with a grotesquely overrated boy band known as the Beatles, Sir Paul's true colors have reverberated loudly and horribly since Mark David Chapman put a tragic slug in Yoko's hubby. "Band on the Run" could have been written by a third grader, and McCartney's duets with alleged pedophile Michael Jackson -- and the ensuing public pissing match over Wacko Jacko's savvy purchase of the Beatles' catalogue -- cemented McCartney's legacy of poor taste and idiocy. We can only hope Satan delivers the goods to Sir Paul in Hell, where knighthoods carry no currency.

"Rock Star Bobby" is the worst of the bunch, a bona fide gravy trainer who would've probably invited frequent guest Huey Lewis to join the band as a full-time harmonica player had Garcia not understandably kept his pink Izod-wearing ass in check. Weir's side project, Rat Dog, is basically a below-average bar band with a frontman who needs a teleprompter to remember his own lyrics. But frankly, given our unyielding love for all things Garcia, we were willing to forgive and forget until Weir & Co. jumped on a stage in a movie-studio lot to appear on Leno recently. With Garcia on the injured list (for good), Weir stepped in to sing lead vocals on "Touch of Grey." Horribly. Why he didn't just defecate on Jerry's headstone instead, we'll never know.

This is inspirational stuff. A must-read. Will someone also tell me why Dave Gilmour doesnt make it to the top 20? Are Pink Foyd that inconsequential or is it that they hate Waters even more?

Paul Samuelson weighs in on the outsourcing debate 

According to the New York Times, Paul Samuelson, the legendary economist, has joined the debate on outsourcing with a journal article that challenges the conventional wisdom (among most well known mainstream economists) on the benefits of outsourcing to the U.S. economy.

Sure, Mr. Samuelson writes, the mainstream economists acknowledge that some people will gain and others will suffer in the short term, but they quickly add that "the gains of the American winners are big enough to more than compensate for the losers." That assumption, so widely shared by economists, is "only an innuendo," Mr. Samuelson writes. "For it is dead wrong about necessary surplus of winnings over losings."

According to Mr. Samuelson, a low-wage nation that is rapidly improving its technology, like India or China, has the potential to change the terms of trade with America in fields like call-center services or computer programming in ways that reduce per-capita income in the United States. "The new labor-market-clearing real wage has been lowered by this version of dynamic fair free trade," Mr. Samuelson writes. But doesn't purchasing cheaper call-center or programming services from abroad reduce input costs for various industries, delivering a net benefit to the economy? Not necessarily, Mr. Samuelson replied. To put things in simplified terms, he explained in the interview, "being able to purchase groceries 20 percent cheaper at Wal-Mart does not necessarily make up for the wage losses."

The global spread of lower-cost computing and Internet communications breaks down the old geographic boundaries between labor markets, he noted, and could accelerate the pressure on wages across large swaths of the service economy. "If you don't believe that changes the average wages in America, then you believe in the tooth fairy," Mr. Samuelson said.

The NYT also has a response from Jagdish Bhagwati, one of Samuelson's best known students and leading light of the free-trade movement.

Mr. Bhagwati does not dispute the model that Mr. Samuelson presents in his article. "Paul is a great economist and a terrific theorist," he said. "And in markets like information technology services, where America has a big advantage, it is true that if skills build up abroad, that narrows our competitive advantage and our exports will be hit." But Mr. Bhagwati says he doubts whether the Samuelson model applies broadly to the economy. "Paul and I disagree only on the realistic aspects of this," he said.

Mr. Bhagwati and his co-authors write that such an assessment of the education systems of India and China "almost borders on the ludicrous." In an interview, Mr. Bhagwati said, "You have a lot of people, but that doesn't mean they are qualified. That sort of thinking is really generalizing based on the kind of Indian and Chinese people who manage to make it to Silicon Valley."

The Samuelson model, Mr. Bhagwati said, yields net economic losses only when foreign nations are closing the innovation gap with the United States. "But we can change the terms of trade by moving up the technology ladder," he said. "The U.S. is a reasonably flexible, dynamic, innovative society. That's why I'm optimistic." The policy implications, he added, include increased investment in science, research and education. And Mr. Samuelson and Mr. Bhagwati agree that the way to buffer the adjustment for the workers who lose in the global competition is with wage insurance programs.

Arnold Kling links to the response published by Bhagwati, T.N.Srinivasan and Arvind Panagariya. Kling also provides the gist of the trio's argument (since it is a 44 page document).

The authors point out that some of the concern is not about trade per se but about the accumulation of capital and know-how in China and India. They suggest that this could harm the U.S. if it reduces trade by eliminating the division of labor. That is, suppose that the U.S. stays stagnant, but China and India learn how to do everything that we know how to do. Then they will no longer export cheap goods to us, and we will lose. This, they claim, is what Samuelson's theoretical paper describes. If so, then it does not really describe outsourcing.

It sounds as though Bhagwati and company think that Samuelson's article is a bait-and-switch. The bait is outsourcing, but he then switches to a model of relative stagnation, in which the U.S. stops doing things that increase productivity while other countries rapidly increase theirs, leading to less comparative advantage and trade.

My problem with Samuelson's piece is rather more mundane. What is the alternative to outsourcing, given that he himself agrees that protectionism is not the answer? I agree the real beneficiaries of globalisation (if it plays out free and fair) will probably be countries like India and China and not the United States. But what can you do about it? I have said several times on this blog that the answer, from an American perspective, must lie in policy changes as both Samuelson and Bhagwati suggest. But how easy is that going to be? You can take a horse to the water, but you cant make it drink, can you?

PS: Given Samuelson's awesome reputation, get ready to hear a lot more about this debate once his piece is published. I'd like to hear Krugman, for example, weigh in on this.

Nobel Laureates on the Economy 

The Wall Street Journal asks a clutch of Nobel laureate economists some pertinent questions about the state of the economy. The laureates include Milton Friedman, John Nash, Vernon Smith, Robert Solow, Ronald Coase, Joe Stiglitz, Ken Arrow and George Akerlof, among others. The questions are:

1. Which economy do you expect to be biggest 75 years from now: the U.S., the European Union or China?
2. Which country comes closest to getting economic policy right today, and why?
3. Who was the most important economist of the 20th century besides you?
4. Who deserved the Nobel but didn't get it?
5. What single breakthrough in economic thought in the past 50 years has had the most significant impact on the everyday lives of people, and why?
6. In what sphere of life, if any, do you think it most important to limit the influence of market forces?
7. What do you consider the world's single greatest economic challenge today?
8. Do you think the fruits of the global economy will be distributed more evenly 50 years from now, or less evenly, and why?

To Q1, the majority seem to think China will emerge as the largest economy, though the U.S. will continue to have a higher per-capita income. To Q2, almost all of them agree that the U.S. does *not* have the best economic policies. The consensus points in the general direction of Scandinavia. To Q3, even Milton Friedman thinks it's Keynes. To Q5, William Sharpe has a tie between Friedman's monetary theory and Keynes's macroeconomic theory, which even he admits are strange bedfellows. In response to the final question, some of them think that the rise of India and China will lead to a greater redistribution within the global economy.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Does Microsoft Need China? 

We've seen already Microsoft's pared-down Windows XP offering for developing countries (read: places of high piracy) being roundly laughed at by the tech community because it limits the number of simultaneously open applications and has a maximum resolution of 800x600 pixels, making it quite useless for many.

Here's an interesting story from CFO analyzes the financial case for Microsoft not only in China, but in developing Asia. The chart at the end of the article is a useful comparison of how much it costs folks in various developing Asian countries to buy a Microsoft "toolset":

  • Does Microsoft Need China? -
    The tech giant is on the rebound, but its future may lie in how it decides to adapt its pricing model to the developing world.
    Tom Leander, CFO Asia
  • Monday, September 06, 2004

    Number one 

    Who would have thought that the person to unseat Tiger Woods in a game that is often viewed as elitist would be, of all things, a person of Indian origin? Three years ago, people were worried about the death of golf because of the unassailable dominance of Tiger Woods, and a lack of credible competition. As Reuters reports, Vijay Singh has finally done it. He takes over from Woods as number one.

    Woods had monopolised the world rankings for a record 264 consecutive weeks since reclaiming the top spot with his one-shot victory in the 1999 U.S. PGA championship at Medinah.

    The article also mentions Daniel Chopra, who is of Indian-Swedish origin.

    John Rollin and Swede Daniel Chopra finished on 10-under-par to tie for fourth with Chopra earning his PGA Tour card for next year with winnings of $700,000 this year.

    Friday, September 03, 2004

    An Asian monument (of sorts) in the Balkans 

    Here's your dose of weirdness for the day: can you think of a connection between kung-fu legend Bruce Lee and the Bosnian city of Mostar?

    Answer: Mostar is soon to become the first (I'm guessing) city to honour the legend with a life-size statue in the centre of town, according to a BBC news story I heard on the radio this morning. Writer Veselin Gatalo, who came up with this idea, aired his hopes that the Bruce Lee monument would be a symbol of peace (?!) — an idea that sounds a little less bizarre when you consider the following logic, from the Ananova version of the story:

    One member of the group behind the plans wrote on the Bosnian and Herzegovina website Bljesak: "Raising a Bruce Lee monument will be a reminder that before the war we had a peaceful childhood, when we used to have working class heroes like Bruce Lee."

    Can anyone think of any other European city with a prominent monument to any Asian figure?

    Wednesday, September 01, 2004

    Is SETI on to something? 

    If you've been looking at tech news today, you're probably aware of a breaking story that SETI researchers have found an "interesting signal" which cannot be attributed to the usual signal suspects. So far. The story first broke in the New Scientist, but this link seems to be down for now. This piece from the Scotsman was the next best I could find.

    Unexplained radio signals had been detected twice by the same telescope in these areas and scientists were trying to confirm the findings. It may sound fanciful, but a report in the journal NewScientist reveals how the team has now finished analysing the data, and all the signals seem to have disappeared - except for one which has got stronger. Detected on three separate occasions, the signal is "an enigma", say researchers.

    So far, explanations have included conjecture that it could be generated by a previously unknown astronomical phenomenon, or may even be something far more pedestrian, such as an artefact on the telescope itself interfering with measurements. But the astronomy team says that it also happens to be the best candidate yet for a contact by intelligent aliens in the six-year history of the SETI@home project, which uses programmes running as screen-savers on millions of personal computers worldwide to sift through signals picked up by the Arecibo telescope.

    Named SHGb02+14a, the possible alien communication has a frequency of about 1420 megahertz - one of the main frequencies at which hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, readily absorbs and emits energy. The unexplained signal appears to be emanating from a point between the constellations of Pisces and Aries, where there is no obvious star or planetary system within 1,000 light years, and the transmission is also very faint. So far, the telescope has managed to pick up the signal for only about a minute in total, which is not sufficient for astronomers to analyse it fully.

    Skeptics abound, including SETI folks.

    Dr Jocelyn Bell Burnell (Ed: of LGM1 fame), of the University of Bath, said: "It may be a natural phenomenon of a previously undreamed-of kind - like I stumbled over." Paul Horowitz, a Harvard University astronomer who looks for alien signals using optical telescopes, believes that the drift in the signal makes it "fishy". David Anderson, the director of the SETI@home project, is also sceptical but curious about the signal. He told NewScientist: "It is unlikely to be real, but we will definitely continue to observe it."

    The SETI Institute is maintaining a studied (and understandable) silence.


    A snapshot from Sunday, August 29 (click to enlarge). Posted by Hello

    Google in Bangalore 

    Google has chosen Bangalore to house its first R&D facility in south Asia. What I see on their charter sounds very exciting. They are looking at inventing locally and launching globally. This is not just refreshing, its downright amazing. I know at least a dozen extremely talented techies in dead end coding jobs who will jump at this opportunity. Also, since every other Google R&D facility is located in some swish, well-equipped first world country, it will be interesting to see their reaction to Bangalore's dismal infrastructure.

    The Google Bangalore R&D centre is a full peer of our other engineering facilities: Mountain View, Santa Monica, New York, Zurich and Tokyo. This office will inherit Google's unique attributes:

    Charter to invent: Google Bangalore's charter is to innovate, implement, and launch new Google technologies and products to a global audience. Anything is fair game and the team here gets to decide its agenda.

    Focus on computer science: Our work here touches many fundamental areas of computer science, including information retrieval, distributed systems, machine learning, data mining, theoretical computer science, statistics and user interfaces.

    Freedom to move: Google Engineering will be one virtual campus extending around the world. Engineers in Bangalore can relocate to other Google R&D centres worldwide.

    Technical ladder: Google engineers can rise to the level of a VP purely based on technical accomplishments. They do not have to get into management to advance their careers.

    Quality of colleagues: Hiring standards in India will be exactly the same as in the US. This includes a rigorous, technical interview.