Sunday, October 31, 2004

Go Kerry 

I just came back from a little haunted house put up by my friendly neighbors. I also got done today reading Paul Krugman's The Great Unraveling, a collection of his columns from the New York Times. The book was scarier.

Rather than presenting the columns in chronological order, Krugman has presented them with some categorization. Read each category and you see how Krugman's nagging suspicions (cronyism in the Bush government, the tax cuts, saving Social Security) get progressively confirmed - doubt gives way to dismay. Many people think that Krugman is biased, but there is no questioning that the points he raises are quite fundamental and quite valid.

Take, for instance, Bush Campaign 2000's plan to save Social Security. Remember the controversy generated during Bush's 2000 campaign about fuzzy math? The Bush campaign in 2000 were saying that the key to reforming Social Security was privatization. If Social Security funds were put in investment accounts, they would get higher returns.

June 2000 : what Bush and the Republicans claimed about the privatization model appears to have basic, fundamental flaws. Krugman first points out an issue in June 2000 before Bush is elected. July 2001 : after a Bush-sponsored commission on the reform of Social Security comes out with its report, Krugman points out the exact same error. July 2002 : following a report from the Center on Budget and Policy priorities by Peter Diamond and Peter Orszag, Krugman is still pointing out the exact same error. The result today : the surplus is gone, and nobody knows how Social Security is going to be fixed.

As with so many other issues, it seems like once the Bush government has made up its mind and got things rolling, no force of logic is going to shift the plans. There is, of course, the classical case of the war in Iraq. Many people pointed out that the number of troops on the ground was not sufficient, but they went ahead with the occupation anyway. What has been shifting is the rationale, as Krugman points out. First, the rationale for the war was the Saddam-Al Qaeda link. Then, it was Saddam's nuclear program (nuclear weapons were an important aspect of the "weapons of mass destruction" claim). Then, it was democracy in the region, and a possibility of invading Syria and Iran.

What is amazing is the intrasigence of the adminstration. The policies don't seem to change, only the rationale. There may be only one way to change the policies. Go Kerry!

Video of Kerry addressing Congress at age 27 

We all know about Kerry's famous "last man to die for a mistake" question posed to Congress at age 27. But until now, I hadn't actually seen video footage of the event. The footage can be found here, courtesy of Internet Vets for Truth. It's moving; do watch.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Reasons to vote Kerry 

If there are any U.S. voters among ZS readers that need additional persuasion to vote for Kerry come Tuesday (and I hope to god there are none), let me suggest a few excellent endorsements to read on Sunday. The New Yorker probably has the most comprehensive set of reasons to vote Bush out, while Jann Wenner writes a very personal endorsement for Kerry in the Rolling Stone. RS also has a good interview with Kerry as its cover story for its current issue. Finally, there's also a final pre-election appeal from George Soros, another man I have enormous respect for. And if you prefer your reasons fear and loathing style, here's Hunter Thompson being as crazy as ever. Feel free to send these links along, in case any of you actually know this species known as the undecided voter.

The Iraq death toll 

Until now, the only source of information on the death toll from the Iraq conflict was IraqBodyCount. According to them, between 14,000 and 16,000 civilians have been killed so far. However, now comes news that the count may be far, far higher. According to a study conducted by the public health school at Johns Hopkins (and published in Lancet), an estimated 100,000 civilians have died as a direct or indirect consequence of the U.S. invasion. If you'd rather read the complete Lancet paper than the NYT story I have linked to, you can find it here.

100,000 civilians dead in barely justifiable war. A war, the justifications for which seem to change from month to month. And a very large number of those casualties occurred well after the fall of Baghdad, meaning that terrible post-war planning is primarily to blame. I hope someone has to answer for these deaths someday. If nothing else, I hope history will hold them accountable. That's cold comfort to the families of these 100,000 civilians though.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Blog of the Day! 

Over at Blogstreet India, Zoo Station is the Blog of the Day. Not bad, eh?

Josh Rushing speaks 

A few months back, I had posted a review of "Control Room," Jehane Noujaim's fascinating take on Al-Jazeera. In the review, I had mentioned that a certain Lt.Josh Rushing (the coalition's media man) probably did more good to the image of the U.S. military that anyone else involved in the Iraq imbroglio. Via Crooked Timber, I found a link to Capt. Rushing's interview with NPR today. I guess he's free to talk freely now that he's quit the Marines. I could give you the summary, but why bother when Ted has done the job already over at CT.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Economist rediscovers its sense of shame 

I had made a post a couple of days wondering who the Economist would endorse for president. After having played the part of cheerleader-in-chief for Bush's 'catastrophic successes' for the better part of 4 years, it did seem like the Economist was beginning to have some doubts about the man they so heartily endorsed in 2000 over Al Gore. Today, they finally rediscovered some of their sense of shame and endorsed John Kerry for president. In their endorsement, the Economist paid particular attention to Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo Bay, two issues I feel havent received any attention either in the debates or in the dying days of the campaign.

The biggest mistake, though, was one that will haunt America for years to come. It lay in dealing with prisoners-of-war by sending hundreds of them to the American base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, putting them in a legal limbo, outside the Geneva conventions and outside America's own legal system. That act reflected a genuinely difficult problem: that of having captured people of unknown status but many of whom probably did want to kill Americans, at a time when to set them free would have been politically controversial, to say the least. That difficulty cannot neutralise the damage caused by this decision, however. Today, Guantánamo Bay offers constant evidence of America's hypocrisy, evidence that is disturbing for those who sympathise with it, cause-affirming for those who hate it. This administration, which claims to be fighting for justice, the rule of law and liberty, is incarcerating hundreds of people, whether innocent or guilty, without trial or access to legal representation. The White House's proposed remedy, namely military tribunals, merely compounds the problem.

To succeed, however, America needs a president capable of admitting to mistakes and of learning from them. Mr Bush has steadfastly refused to admit to anything: even after Abu Ghraib, when he had a perfect opportunity to dismiss Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, and declare a new start, he chose not to. Instead, he treated the abuses as if they were a low-level, disciplinary issue.

The Economist describes the choice facing American voters as one between incompetence and incoherence. Errmmmm, doesnt President Bush qualify on both counts?

Bush beats Gollum 

In keeping with the tradition of providing unconventional news about the U.S. elections, here's more. Total Film magazine conducted a poll (10,000 people participated) to find the Villain of the Year and surprisingly enough, George Bush beat back stiff competition from Goullum, Doctor Octopus, Elle Driver and Leatherface (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) to win the coveted award. For his starring role in Fahrenheit 911, of course. Not bad, Mr Bush.

Catblogging goes mainstream 

Regular readers of political blogs like Atrios, CalPundit (now Political Animal) and Instapundit have noticed that these blogs devote a portion of their Friday blogging schedule to posting pictures of their cats (a more human side and all that). Kevin Drum, aka Calpundit, started the fad sometime last year, but now it seems to be catching on like wildfire in Blogistan. And boy, imagine every bloggers suprise when catblogging caught the eye of the New York Times.

Over at Washington Monthly/Political Animal, Kevin Drum, Inkblot and Jasmine look and sound mighty pleased. Triumphant return indeed, Kevin.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Hobbits are for real 

BBC News is carrying an incredible story about the discovery in Indonesia of the remains of a new and tiny species of human dating back to a time when homo sapiens were conquering the world.

The three-foot (one-metre) tall species - dubbed "the Hobbit" - lived on Flores island until at least 12,000 years ago. Details of the sensational find are described in the journal Nature. The discovery has been hailed as one of the most significant of its type in decades. Australian archaeologists unearthed the bones while digging at a site called Liang Bua, one of numerous limestone caves on Flores. The remains of the partial skeleton were found at a depth of 5.9m. At first, the researchers thought it was the body of a child. But further investigation revealed otherwise. Wear on the teeth and growth lines on the skull confirm it was an adult, features of the pelvis identify it as female and a leg bone confirms that it walked upright like we do.

The 18,000-year-old specimen, known as Liang Bua 1 or LB1, has been assigned to a new species called Homo floresiensis. It was about one metre tall with long arms and a skull the size of a large grapefruit. The researchers have since found remains belonging to six other individuals from the same species. LB1 shared its island with a golden retriever-sized rat, giant tortoises and huge lizards - including Komodo dragons - and a pony-sized dwarf elephant called Stegodon which the "hobbits" probably hunted.

H. floresiensis probably evolved from another species called Homo erectus, whose remains have been discovered on the Indonesian island of Java. What is surprising about this is that this species must have made it to Flores by boat. Yet building craft for travel on open water is traditionally thought to have been beyond the intellectual abilities of Homo erectus. Even more intriguing is the fact that Flores' inhabitants have incredibly detailed legends about the existence of little people on the island they call Ebu Gogo. The islanders describe Ebu Gogo as being about one metre tall, hairy and prone to "murmuring" to each other in some form of language. They were also able to repeat what islanders said to them in a parrot-like fashion.

Clearly, this will lead to a rewrite of textbooks describing human evolution. For more on this story, you can also go to Scientific American, National Geographic or Nature.

The Curse has left the building 

Not that I know the first thing about baseball, but the Boston Red Sox have finally ended the Curse of the Bambino, beating the St.Louis Cardinals 4-0 in the so-called World Series. This is the first World Series win for the Sox since 1918, when the legendary Babe Ruth was sold by the Red Sox to the New York Yankees, thereby incurring the curse. You can read all about the famous win at, where else, the Boston Globe.

Now, for that other Bostonian to win come next Tuesday.

The U2 Ipod is here 

So here's the new customized U2 Ipod everyone's been talking about. Once again, Apple has done an amazing job with the design -- 10 out of 10, I'd say. The 20 GB Ipod retails for about $350 (approx $50 more than the plain vanilla models) in the U.S. and will come pre-loaded with the new U2 album, if I remember right. The question is whether this represents a new trend in customizable products or whether you need the sort of brand recognition and strength of Ipod (and U2) to pull this off? For example, would you buy a Matrix Reloaded branded Xbox? More importantly, would you pay a premium for the branding?

In related news, SiliconValleyWatcher reports than Intel has signed an exclusive $20 million deal with U2 to sponsor their tour. Does this mean U2 has sold its soul or does it mean cheaper tickets for fans? Watch this space.

George Bush endorses John Kerry 

When asked earlier today about the missing weapons in Iraq, George W. Bush said this..

A political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as commander in chief.

Mr President, you just made a very good case for why you should not be re-elected! Gen. Wesley Clark agrees.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Economists' Voice 

Folks, I have been meaning to alert y'all to a new economics journal called The Economists' Voice. Published by the Berkeley Press, the editorial board currently consists of Joe Stiglitz of Columbia, Brad DeLong (whose excellent blog I would highly recommend) and Aaron Edlin of Berkeley. Brad laid out the raison d'etre for this journal a while back on his blog.

The Economists' Voice will aim for pieces longer than an op-ed and shorter than (and much more readable than) a piece for a standard journal. We thus avoid the op-ed problem--the problem that op-ed space is too short for an argument, and only provides space to be shrill. But we also hope to stay short enough to be readable, and understandable. And we will aim for quick turnaround--days rather than the years of journals.

The level will be non-technical but sophisticated: perhaps what one expects to read in the Financial Times and the news pages of the Wall Street or National Journal, or perhaps a notch above. The aim will be to provide an economist's argument and point of view on some salient and interesting issue: a survey of something interesting happening in the economy, or a call for some change in policy or institutions--which would consist of a review of what the principal important factors are, what the objective function is, what the constraints are, why the objective function is maximized at the particular set of policies or institutional arrangements that the author prefers.

Two issues old, the current issues include pieces by George Akerlof and Richard Posner. If Brad and Joe Stiglitz are anything to go by, this journal will be an excellent place to read about seriously interesting policy issues.

Homer Simpson for President 

While George Bush and John Kerry battle it out in Florida and Ohio, a poll of 2000 UK readers of Radio Times to choose a fictional character they would like to see as POTUS chose Homer Simpson, beating out worthies like Josiah Bartlett (of West Wing), Frasier and Gil Grissom of CSI. A well-informed choice indeed.

In the rather more serious world of financial and economic journalism, the Financial Times has endorsed John Kerry for president. Is the Economist listening?

Monday, October 25, 2004

Election Talk Everywhere 

As the polling day approaches there are more and more people whirlpooled in taking a shot at predicting the winner (Take a look at the volume on tradesports, where you can bet real money on your choice). Via Andrew Abel, I got to know of this website, run by a professor of molecular biology at Princeton, who predicts the winner.

Infact, this is the only the prediction that I have seen that scientifically takes into account undecided voters. How exactly does he do this? Well, the simple story is that, historically, undecided voters shun the incumbent and prefer the challenger. He esimtates this margin and combines it with several polls on decided voters. His website also has state by state breakdowns and even the areas where you, as a voter, can have maximum impact. So, who, according to Prof. Wang, will win? Check it out.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Social Security 

Andrew Samwick, a professor at Dartmouth, a leading expert on social security and a fine economist, has started his own blog - VoxBaby (Welcome to blogland, Andrew). Here's his post, in simple words, on why social security is an election issue. He promises to outline his recommendations for reform over the next few posts - so keep an eye on Voxbaby.

VoIP suitable for dial-up  

Over the past few months, I have been receiving ocassional emails from my father-in-law with an audio message rather than text. Turns out he's been involved in the development of a product (Vqube) that enables a P2P connection for Voice Transfer (at the risk of not sounding like an anlayst, thats a disclaimer too!). It is remarkably clear even for dial-ups.
I was beginning to get more interested when this article appeared in BusinessWorld.

You can then call and talk to another online user who has also downloaded the product. You can send a voice mail if the person is not online. You can chat or hold conferences.

There are other players too in this market (see the article) and there are technical differences I am incapable of doing justice to. But its free to download from download.com and works really well for calls to India. I can also see several applications of the basic technology - voice searching on the web, for remote learning programs, as an inbuilt OS feature that summarizes all the news you want from a news- voice-bot, maybe even broadcast within net communities, a voice blog that gets to your listeners rather than the listeners/readers getting to the blog etc. It definitely promises a rosier future for your wrists!

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Ron Suskind on George W. 

The week after publishing an in-dpeth profile of John Kerry, the NYT magazine did a similar profile of Bush called Without a Doubt. An absolute must-read (much more so than the Matt Bai profile of Kerry), the Ron Suskind piece lays out the case against Bush pretty dramatically.

''Just in the past few months,'' Bartlett said, ''I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do.'' Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush's governance, went on to say: ''This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them. . . .

''This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,'' Bartlett went on to say. ''He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.'' Bartlett paused, then said, ''But you can't run the world on faith.''

Another example of why Bush continues to live in his coccoon. Noone is allowed to challange him.

In the Oval Office in December 2002, the president met with a few ranking senators and members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats. In those days, there were high hopes that the United States-sponsored ''road map'' for the Israelis and Palestinians would be a pathway to peace, and the discussion that wintry day was, in part, about countries providing peacekeeping forces in the region. The problem, everyone agreed, was that a number of European countries, like France and Germany, had armies that were not trusted by either the Israelis or Palestinians. One congressman -- the Hungarian-born Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress -- mentioned that the Scandinavian countries were viewed more positively. Lantos went on to describe for the president how the Swedish Army might be an ideal candidate to anchor a small peacekeeping force on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sweden has a well-trained force of about 25,000. The president looked at him appraisingly, several people in the room recall.

''I don't know why you're talking about Sweden,'' Bush said. ''They're the neutral one. They don't have an army.''Lantos paused, a little shocked, and offered a gentlemanly reply: ''Mr. President, you may have thought that I said Switzerland. They're the ones that are historically neutral, without an army.'' Then Lantos mentioned, in a gracious aside, that the Swiss do have a tough national guard to protect the country in the event of invasion. Bush held to his view. ''No, no, it's Sweden that has no army.''

The room went silent, until someone changed the subject.

Here's Suskind's run-in with a senior advisor with the Bush administration.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out.

A cousin of mine summarized the trouble with Bush pretty succinctly after reading the Suskind piece.

So, the Bush administration offical who told Ron Suskind "We are an empire, we can create whatever reality we want" is absolutely right.

Sweden IS Switzerland and Switzerland IS Sweden. Welcome to 1984.

Karl Rove and the GOP slanders Wolves 

By now, the political junkies among you have either watched or at least heard of the GOP's new attack ad criticizing Kerry called Wolves. I had a feeling the ad may have been exaggerating/untruthful the first time I saw it. Today, it was confirmed by Wolfpacks for Truth that Karl Rove and company were in fact slandering an honourable beast.

No need to say much more, I guess?

Conan O'Brien on Outsourcing 

Via Prashant, I found this hilarious take on outsourcing from NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Apparently, one of his colleagues has a technical problem with too many pop-ups on his computer and decides to call NBC tech-support for help. Go watch what ensues :)

PS: I would recommend saving the clip to your machine before viewing.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Chess and School Rankings 

Do they have anything in common? Now they do - Four researchers (one of whom, Andrew Metrick, is a colleague at Wharton Finance:-) have used the basic method that rates chess players to rate schools. The article has been covered by New York Times and is in no need for additional publicity. Yet here's the gist of it.

Instead of measuring statistics like admissions rates or having college administrators rate their peers, the researchers analyzed the college choices of more than 3,200 high-achieving high school seniors from the class of 2000. By asking those students where they enrolled when they were accepted by several different colleges, the economists compiled a won-loss record for each college as if it was a competitor in a chess tournament. The researchers then generated a preference ranking for more than 100 colleges, employing the same scoring system used for chess masters.

The method might have some issues (e.g., using students as judges and the potential problems therein) but has one advantage that stands out. It is a much more difficult system for schools to game - a tendency that ratings such as that of US News, Financial Times etc. encourage. In Andrew's words:

"What you are getting in all these other systems is sort of an expert analysis of polling data. This provides a market-based view."

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Red Sox back from the dead 

Warning : this one is a bit graphic.

[Via Jim Warner] This has got to one of the greatest comebacks ever. Down 0-3 in the ALCS, the Red Sox came back to force Game 7. Now, they are up 8-1 top of the 5th in Game 7, and I can't believe it. In the meantime, here is how Schilling was able to pitch in Game 6 despite an injured ankle.

Well the tendon is out of position and out in front of the bone and the problem is that it would slip back again to where it was supposed to be and then slip out again. And it was really just to create a barrier between the skin and the underlying tissue which is called facia so that there wasn’t let’s say a tunnel subcutaneously underneath the skin, it just kind of anchored the skin through the underlying tissue so it would stick the tendon where it was supposed… where it was, so it couldn’t sublux at all."

Talk of a bloody red sock. Inspiration for the Indians to win the Test series, perhaps?

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Google saves life 

Even by the standards of the many amazing things Google has pulled off since it came into being in 1998, this one is unique. Apparently, Aussie journalist John Martinkus was released by his captors in Iraq after they googled him to verify whether or not he was a journalist as he claimed and not a CIA operative as they suspected he might be. I am guessing this is what Martinkus's captors found.

Well, if you ever needed a reason to set up a website or a blog, I guess you just found one?

Fareed Zakaria addresses the missing issue 

Most serious analysts (especially in the economic realm) in America have begun to acknowledge the emergence of China and India as alternative engines to the world economy. In fact, by some PPP measures, China accounted for one-third or more of world economic growth in the past few years. However, the story of the economic emergence of these these countries (and the accompanying geo-political shifts) has been completely avoided in the political space, except when John Kerry wants to take a swipe at outsourcing. The first debate was ostensibly about foreign policy and yet, neither Lehrer nor the candidates thought it worthwhile to discuss the foreign policy implications of the changing economic landscape. Fareed Zakaria analyses this very issue in an op-ed written in today's Washington Post.

There have been two great shifts in the international balance of power over the past 500 years. The first was the rise of Western Europe, which by the late 17th century had become the richest, most dynamic and expansionist part of the globe. The second was the rise of the United States of America, which between the Civil War and World War I became the single most important country in the world. Right now a trend of equal magnitude is taking place: the rise of Asia, led by China, which will fundamentally reshape the international landscape in the next few decades. For the United States, whether it is preserving jobs or security, recognizing and adapting to this new world order is key.

From computer science to biotechnology, one can see the beginnings of Asian science. It's at a very early stage, but again, the arrow is moving in only one direction. Physical Review, a top science journal, notes that the number of papers it publishes by Americans has been falling dramatically, from 61 percent of the total in 1983 to 29 percent last year. The journal's editor told the New York Times that China, which now submits 1,000 a year, has sharply increased its share of the total.

With economic growth comes cultural confidence and political assertiveness. The West has long taken Asia for granted, seeing it as an investment opportunity or a stage where Great Power rivalries could be played out, as in Vietnam and Korea. But this too will change. China and India are both proud and ancient civilizations. They also have large internal economies, not totally dependent on exports to the West. (In the wake of the East Asian crisis of 1997, all the East Asian tiger economies collapsed. But China and India grew solidly, even when demand from the West dried up.) This rise of confidence is just beginning -- it's clearly visible in trade negotiations -- and will only grow with time.

The war on terrorism is crucial; winning in Iraq is necessary; Middle East peace is important. But I wonder whether, as we furiously debate these matters in America, we resemble Englishmen in the waning days of the British Empire. They vigorously debated the political and military situation in remote areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan (some things don't change). They tried mightily, and at great cost, to stabilize disorderly parts of the globe. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the United States was building its vast economic, technological and cultural might, which was soon to dominate the world.

Making Charity More Efficient 

As is well known, the lack of information is a problem in many markets. I have found this to be a significant problem for charitable donations (profitable organizations, such as bond rating agencies, have mushroomed to reduce such gaps in other markets). How many times have you given to a charity a friend is involved with only because you now trust the charity more? There is then a need for an organization that can provide us with information on charities and their 'ratings' - almost like how credit rating agencies rate firms. Except how such an organization would make money is not clear!

Via Gayathri, I came to know of one such entity. In their words:

Charity Navigator works to guide intelligent giving. We help charitable givers make intelligent giving decisions by providing information on over thirty-one hundred charities and by evaluating the financial health of each of these charities. We ensure our evaluations are widely used by making them easy to understand and freely available to the public. By guiding intelligent giving, we aim to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace, in which givers and the charities they support work in tandem to overcome our nation's most persistent challenges.

It focuses only on the US - but here's a start to make the most of philanthropy.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Veerappan killed 

17 years and 120 murders after he first gained notoriety, India's most famous outlaw Koose Munniswamy Veerappan has been killed in an encounter with Tamil Nadu special task force. Entertainment value aside, trekking/hiking in the beautiful hills around Kerala/Karnataka/Tamil Nadu just got a lot safer.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

India-Australia : Test 2, Day 3 

This Border-Gavaskar series is turning out to be one tense, keenly fought, kick-ass series. Kumble took 3 wickets in the second innings against Australia, as India powered their way towards gaining the edge in the second Test.

An intriguing day's play where punch was met by counter-punch and strategy was defied by grit set the second Test up perfectly going into the fourth day. Parthiv Patel and Mohammad Kaif stretched India's lead on to a healthy 141 and then Australia, with Adam Gilchrist showing the way at No. 3, scrambled to 150 for 4, with a slender lead of 9.

As the Australians look ready to keel over in the second Test, it is worth remembering what the Aussies are up against - the Australians have not beaten India in India in a Test series since 1970.

The way India has been looking in recent years, beating India in India in a Test series is going to be very, very hard. I didn't remember anybody doing it in recent memory. A series-by-series check on StatsGuru shows that only 1 team in the past 10 years has beaten India in India in a test series, and that was South Africa in March of 2000. That is one series out of fifteen in ten years! India won 10 out of 15 times, with just 4 tied series.

2003-04 : New Zealand in India, Sep - Oct 2003 : Series drawn 0-0
2002-03 : West Indies in India, Oct - Nov 2002-03 India wins the 3-Test series 2-0
2001-02 : Zimbabwe in India, Feb - Mar 2002 : India wins the 2-Test series 2-0
2001-02 : England in India, Nov 2001 - Jan 2002 : India wins the series 1-0
2000-01 : Zimbabwe in India, Nov-Dec 2000 : Zimbabwe in India, India won 2-0
2000-01 : Australia in India, Feb-Mar 2001 : India wins the 3-Test series 2-1
1999-2000 : South Africa in India, Feb-Mar 2000 : South Africa beat India 2-0
1999-2000 : New Zealand in India, Oct-Nov 1999 : India wins the 3-Test series 1-0
1998-99 : Pakistan in India, January - February 1999 : 2-Test series drawn 1-1
1997-98 : Sri Lanka in India, Nov-Dec 1997 (3 TESTS) Sri Lanka in India - 3 draws
1997-98 : Australia in India, Feb-Mar 1998 : India wins the 3-Test series 2-1
1996-97 : South Africa in India, Nov-Dec 1996 : India wins the 3-Test series 2-1
1996-97 : Australia in India, Oct 1996 (1 TEST) : India wins the one-off Test
1995-96 : New Zealand in India : Oct/Nov 1995 (3 TESTS): India wins the 3-Test series 1-0
1994-95 : West Indies in India : Oct/Dec 1994 (3 TESTS) : 3-Test series drawn 1-1

Australia has lost all 3 of their last 3 series in India. It looks like Kumble might just have done 'em in once more.

Full disclosure : When it comes to cricket, I am pretty darn partisan.

The 100 greatest South Africans 

SABC is running a contest to figure out who the 100 greatest South Africans of all time are. As you can imagine, Nelson Mandela comes out way ahead as the greatest South African of all time. Golfer Gary Player comes in at No:2. Heart transplant pioneer, Dr Christian Barnard comes it No:4, with former president F.W.De Clerk and former PM Jan Smuts following at No:5 and No:6.

So, who is the third greatest South African of all time? Click here to find out. Surprised?

Jon Stewart kills Tucker Carlson 

Appearing on CNN's ridiculous debate show, Crossfire, supposedly to promote his book, Jon Stewart went distinctly off script and attacked Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala for doing a terrible disservice to American democracy with their horrific show. Wonkette has already begun to lovingly describe the encounter as Tuckergate. I think Begala and Carlson fundamentally misunderstood Stewart's show -- they thought he was into political comedy when in fact the show is really a biting satire on the state of the news media in America. They thought he would show up on Crossfire and make fun of politicians. If they had understood Stewart's show any better, they would realise the joke was on them (the media). I think Begala figured this out at some point and stayed out of it, while Carlson dug himself in deeper.

Anyway, there's a bunch of sites when you can watch the encounter. This is where I downloaded the clip from (probably the best quality too). Wonkette has a bunch of links. If you'd rather read just the transcript, go here.

Sullivan points to this most memorable exchange.

Tucker Carlson: You always scold people like this at dinner at your house?
Jon Stewart: If they have a show that's as stupid as this one.
Tucker: You know, you're not as fun as you are on your tv show.
Jon: You know what, you're just as big a dick as you are on your tv show

Friday, October 15, 2004

Malaria Vaccine at last? 

The web has been buzzing all day about the discovery of a seemingly viable vaccine for Malaria. On this blog, I have often commented on the worldwide efforts being made to conquer Malaria, a disease that kills over a million people every year, the large majority of them children. Specifically, I have posted on the use of artemisinin and DDT. Given my interest in the subject, I was truly thrilled to hear about the possibility of a new vaccine. Though the vaccine had a success rate that was not very high, even partial protection (especially for children) must be considered a big step forward.

A malaria vaccine, one of the holy grails of tropical medicine, has proved surprisingly elusive. Health authorities have been fighting malaria since the Panama Canal was a gleam in Theodore Roosevelt's eye. Until the Gates foundation arrived, work on vaccines for tropical diseases had languished for decades because they make little profit for drug companies. (The world spends about $400 billion a year on drugs, but only about $8 billion on vaccines.) The American military, which also does malaria research, had limited amounts of money for it.

The Glaxo vaccine, known as RTS,S/AS02A, has been in development and testing for 17 years, said Dr. Joe Cohen, one of its inventors. It fuses a bit of hepatitis B virus with a bit of the falciparum strain of the parasite, which is the most common, and usually the most deadly, form of malaria. The piece of the parasite is from the life stage that is injected by mosquitoes, so antibodies and white blood cells stimulated by the vaccine attack before the parasite can settle in the liver and reproduce. Pieces of the hepatitis virus were added because they provoke strong immune responses, Dr. Cohen said. (Another malaria vaccine candidate uses a weakened version of a smallpox vaccine to do the same.) The goal, he said, is to create immunity that lasts longer than natural immunity, which fades in adults after they move out of malaria areas.

The results - to be published tomorrow in the British medical journal The Lancet - were comparable to or better than other methods of preventing infection in African villages, like distributing mosquito nets and insecticides.The trial was conducted by the biologicals division at Glaxo and the Mozambique Ministry of Health, with financing from the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which was created in 1999 with $50 million from the Gates foundation.

The WTN X Prize 

Clearly inspired by the success of the Ansari X prize in promoting private space flight, the World Technology Network (WTN) and the X Prize Foundation are asking the public for help (with ideas) in creating a series of X Prizes to tackle the foremost challenges facing humanity today. The BBC has more.

The submissions are likely to centre around some major "holy grails" in health, information and communications technologies, alternative energies and the environment, and material sciences, including nanotechnology. In the three days after the prizes were announced last week, there were already hundreds of submissions, said Mr Clark. So far, they have ranged from new forms of transportation to cures for paralysis and neurological diseases, and solving world starvation.

The website where ideas can be submitted lays out the details of the kinds of submissions it is looking for, from academic, corporate researchers or individuals. It admits the task of finding science and technology's "Holy Grails" are not that simple, stressing that proposals must have a good chance of succeeding within a reasonable timescale.

The WTN is a meeting point and virtual think-tank made up of hundreds of global individual and corporate researchers, organisations and businesses, working on every aspect of science and technology innovation. Each year, new members are peer-selected and are awarded prizes for their achievements. This year, winners included Skype, the voice-over-IP service. Other winning highlights included the prototype of an artificial silicon retina which contains a microchip powered only by light.

Quote du Jour 

"The covers of this book are too far apart." -- Ambrose Bierce

I can think of a lot of books that fit the bill. And "Ulysses" would proudly lead the pack! Even Roddy Doyle agrees with me. Whats more, Amazon.co.uk sold 97,107 copies of "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha" and 2,374 copies of "Ulysses." So there. Rant over.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

The Jon Stewart presidential endorsement 

Not that it comes as any surprise to folks who watch the "Daily Show" regularly, but Jon Stewart has apparently endorsed John Kerry as his candidate for President. I dont think it's a fake endorsement either :)

Google Desktop Rocks!! 

Preempting Microsoft and Yahoo, Google have unleashed the beta version of Desktop Search. For the unitiated, what desktop search offers is the ability to search both your desktop and the web simultaneously. Desktop search gives you the option of searching all e-mail messages, MS office documents and the archive of all web pages visited. After a quick download, the tool indexes all the files on the desktop and then searches that index when you query it.

I've been using it for a few hours now and boy, it rocks. The average time taken to complete a search has ranged between 0.02 seconds to 0.36 seconds. Compare that with the ridiculous amount of time XP search takes and whats more, Google also manages to search through your e-mail in that same time. You can read a more detailed review of the tool at SearchEngineWatch . You can also have a look at Google's Privacy FAQ.

Even the limited time I have spent using the tool has convinced me that this will become as indispensable a tool for me as Google's toolbar is. Highly, highly recommended productivity tool.

Rediff interviews John Kerry 

First, Rediff scored an exclusive interview with George Bush and now they have managed to get an exclusive with John Kerry. In a three part interview with Aziz Haniffa, John Kerry answers a wide range of questions of interest to Indian-Americans and Indians including cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, outsourcing and the Patriot Act.

Cross-border terrorism must stop. Period. I cannot say that often enough. The support Pakistan has given to terrorist actions in Kashmir -- official or unofficial -- must cease.

What I am against is unfair tax laws that practically compel US companies to move operations overseas. I'm against a distorted tax code that rewards business leaders for shutting down American factories and laying off American workers, including those in the Indian-American community. They have been hit particularly hard by job losses in the information technology and medical diagnosis sectors. Look at my record over two decades in the Senate. I have consistently supported free, fair and expanded trade. The outsourcing I oppose results from distortions and inequities in the tax code and other failures of a level playing field. I believe in a trade policy that builds jobs and improves the lives of working men and women.

I advocate a trade policy that is good for America and good for the world. As an advocate of free and fair trade, I will make sure criticism of business practices which harm American workers doesn't generate a backlash against Indian Americans, the same way trade disputes with Japan in the 1980s led to incidents of anti-Asian bigotry.

Like the eight justices of the US Supreme Court, I have rejected the Bush administration's policy of detaining American citizens indefinitely, without access to a lawyer or chance to prove innocence. Some provisions of the Patriot Act -- like the money laundering provisions -- must be made stronger. Others -- like the library and 'sneak-and-peek' search provisions -- must be made smarter, to better protect privacy and freedom while allowing our government to do everything necessary to track down terrorists and defend America

For consumers concerned about firm's bankruptcy. 

In light of US airways' bankruptcy filing (the airline's hub is in Philadelphia), Here's a helpful tip I received. *Go ahead and buy tickets but use an American Express card*

Why an American Express card?

If the airline ceases operation and you, the traveler, were unable to use the tickets you purchased on your American Express card, a dispute can be filed with the Customer Service department. Given a bankruptcy situation where service is halted, the Customer Service department would refund the Corporate Card for the unusable tickets (minus agency service fee). American Express sees airline tickets as services to be provided at some future date and, if those services are not provided, then the contractual understanding has been broken. Historically, it has been much more difficult to receive credit back from Visa and MasterCard because of their bank affiliations. Once you have purchased your airline ticket and paid your bill, that transaction is considered concluded.

This is useful information for all purchases of 'services to be provided in the future' and not just airline tickets. I am not sure if this policy exists in all countries that Amex operates in.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The bright side of Chinese law 

Okay, lack of freedom and democracy is mostly a problem. However, people like Zowie Bowie or Moonunit Zappa or Fifi Trixibelle Geldof must agree that the availability of a little less freedom to their parents may have been entirely beneficial to them (the kids). Anyway, turns out the Chinese government recently disallowed an attempt by a man to name his son @. Reason? It cannot be translated into Mandarin as the law demands. Normally, this could be dismissed as typical undemocratic nonsense by the Chinese government, but in this case, I think a poor kid may been saved a lifetime of embarassment.

The Bloomberg take on Indian Manufacturing 

Staying on the topic of manufacturing in India, Andy Mukherjee writes about LG opening a new cellular phone manufacturing unit near Bombay. Mukherjee also quotes Deutsche Bank economists Michael Spencer and Sanjeev Sanyal who seem equally skeptical of theories floated by the likes of Stephen Roach that India does not have to worry about building a manufacturing base.

Beginning in 2003, Hyundai Motor Co., South Korea's biggest automaker, shifted its entire global production of the Santro compact car to its Indian unit. Unilever Plc's India unit said in May last year that it had been selected by its Anglo-Dutch parent to supply toothpaste to Europe after a study found that India was one of the cheapest places in the world to manufacture personal-care products. And now LG plans to spend $150 million in the country by 2007 and make India its second-largest overseas production base after China.

A renewal of manufacturing in India has been long overdue. Like in most developing nations, the share of agriculture in the economy is shrinking, dropping to 22 percent last year from 28 percent in 1990. Factory production, however, hasn't picked up the slack. Excess rural labor has gotten pushed into low-productivity, unorganized businesses that cater to the needs of a domestic population, which has historically had very little purchasing power. Meanwhile, software and other ``knowledge'' industries failed to create jobs for less-educated workers.

``It's a development motto that has been fashionable in India in recent years -- software, not hardware,'' Deutsche Bank's Sanyal says. ``We doubt that India will be the first country in human history to make the transition from agriculture to services without going through manufacturing development.''A correction is under way. India's booming service industries have now begun to create a significant source of demand for manufactured goods.

Stephen Roach visits India again 

So, Stephen Roach visited India again, this time visiting some of the manufacturing hubs in the Bombay-Pune corridor (he rates the highway a B-, compared with what he's seen in China). As I have mentioned on this blog several times, I really dont understand Roach's continued insistence that a nation of 1 billion people can somehow skip the manufacturing stage and move straight to a services dominated economy. I wish this were true, but.... Roach's insistence seems to revolve around the fact that services are labour intensive and therefore better for India than manufacturing, which is getting less labour intensive. Whatever. Anyway, here's Roach.

In today’s intensely competitive world, manufacturing success is all about productivity prowess -- and the capital-for-labor substitution strategies that are central to achieving such efficiencies. Manufacturing has become an intrinsically labor-saving endeavor, even in low-wage economies such as India and China. Services, by contrast, remain labor-intensive endeavors.

My services-led argument basically fell on deaf ears in India. At least that’s the pushback I have gotten consistently from a broad cross-section of Indian investors, corporate executives, policy makers, government officials, politicians, and academics. Services are viewed as interesting but not essential to India’s economic development. For me, that’s a huge disconnect -- not just from an analytical point of view, but also out of step with India’s intrinsic strengths and recent successes in services. A new India still aspires to do it the old way -- the manufacturing way.

Despite Roach's ideas, I find it difficult to even imagine 700 million Indians writing software code and answering phones. Perhaps a smaller sized economy could pull off a switch to a services economy without bothering with manufacturing, but India?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Novelists vote for Prez 

Slate asks a group of 31 prominent American novelists who they plan to vote for in the elections. The group includes everyone from Amy Tan to Jonathan Franzen to Orson Scott Card. Predictably, Kerry gets 24 clear votes (plus a few more from the slant of their answers) while Bush actually wins 3 votes. Those voting for Bush include Roger L. Simon, Robert Ferrigno and, believe it or not, Orson Scott Card. Both Simon and Card are registered Democrats voting for Bush. Here's Card's reason....

I'm a Democrat voting for Bush, even though on economic issues, from taxes to government regulation, I'm not happy with the Republican positions. But we're at war, and electing a president who is committed to losing it seems to be the most foolish thing we could do. Personal honesty is also important to me, and Kerry is obviously not in the running on that point, given that he can't keep track of the facts in his own autobiography.

Somehow I had expected Card would have realised by now which of the two candidates had a problem with honesty (several leading newspapers and blogs have dwelled at length about this). And Kerry is committed to losing? Quite dissapointing, really.

Seymour Hersh, back again 

A Tiny Revolution is carrying a link to a Q&A session with Seymour Hersh at Berkeley, part of his promotional tour for Chain of Command. I havent yet read the book in full, but have been reading bits and pieces of it. The quick summary has Hersh suggesting that when this whole war business is over and done with, details will start to emerge from Iraqi prisons and Guantanamo that will make every (ok, almost every..) American's head hang in shame. This Q&A has Hersh going into some of the spine chilling details on how the war on terror has been prosecuted. To give you a taste of what to expect, ATR provides a brief transcript of one of Hersh's more chilling revelations.

HERSH: I got a call last week from a soldier -- it's different now, a lot of communication, 800 numbers. He's an American officer and he was in a unit halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border. It's a place where we claim we've done great work at cleaning out the insurgency. He was a platoon commander. First lieutenant, ROTC guy.

It was a call about this. He had been bivouacing outside of town with his platoon. It was near, it was an agricultural area, and there was a granary around. And the guys that owned the granary, the Iraqis that owned the granary... It was an area that the insurgency had some control, but it was very quiet, it was not Fallujah. It was a town that was off the mainstream. Not much violence there. And his guys, the guys that owned the granary, had hired, my guess is from his language, I wasn't explicit -- we're talking not more than three dozen, thirty or so guards. Any kind of work people were dying to do. So Iraqis were guarding the granary. His troops were bivouaced, they were stationed there, they got to know everybody...

They were a couple weeks together, they knew each other. So orders came down from the generals in Baghdad, we want to clear the village, like in Samarra. And as he told the story, another platoon from his company came and executed all the guards, as his people were screaming, stop. And he said they just shot them one by one. He went nuts, and his soldiers went nuts. And he's hysterical. He's totally hysterical. And he went to the captain. He was a lieutenant, he went to the company captain. And the company captain said, "No, you don't understand. That's a kill. We got thirty-six insurgents."

You read those stories where the Americans, we take a city, we had a combat, a hundred and fifteen insurgents are killed. You read those stories. It's shades of Vietnam again, folks, body counts...You know what I told him? I said, fella, I said: you've complained to the captain. He knows you think they committed murder. Your troops know their fellow soldiers committed murder. Shut up. Just shut up. Get through your tour and just shut up. You're going to get a bullet in the back. You don't need that. And that's where we are with this war.

Highly, highly recommended interview.

Mira and the Mahatma 

Most people know about the numerous love affairs of Jawaharlal Nehru, most notably the one with Lady Mountbatten. But what about the Mahatma? In India, he has been glorified to an extent where any talk of him outside the spiritual dimension is considered blasphemous. Fortunately, the mahatma was a great deal more honest than his present-day worshippers/hagiographers and even a cursory reading of his autobriography will reveal a very human side to his personality, including his various experiments with fighting off *temptation*.

So, I am not surprised by Sudhir Kakar's new novel, Mira and the Mahatma, which speculates extensively on the nature of the relationship between Gandhi and Madeleine Slade (Mira Behn). John Lancaster reviews the book in the Washington Post.

Kakar draws heavily on Gandhi's actual letters to Slade, as well as her autobiography and other historical records, to arrive at what he describes as the "emotional truth" of the turbulent relationship between the two. He does not suggest that the relationship ever turned physical. But he does suggest that Slade fell passionately in love with Gandhi, who had taken a vow of celibacy, and that Gandhi may have been tempted by her affections before the intensity of her feelings caused him to all but banish her from his life, to her everlasting despair.

Kakar acknowledged the speculative nature of his conclusions regarding Gandhi and Slade, whose letters to Gandhi -- unlike his to her -- apparently have been lost to history. But Kakar said he is confident that Gandhi "discerned the sexual element" in Slade's strong feelings for him, in part because "he was struggling with the same sort of thing all of his life."

Eventually, however, Gandhi began to find Slade's adoration unsettling and sought to create some distance between them. During a prolonged separation in 1927, he specifically forbade her to visit him, saying it was for her own good. "You must retain your individuality," he wrote. "Resist me when you must."

Mark Tully reviews the book for Outlook as well.

Browser Wars -- the Firefox version 

Every now and then, I am gripped by an evangelical zeal to promote the cause of something or the other. Time and again, I have promoted alternatives to the hideous Internet Explorer on this blog. Ever since the effective demise of Netscape, IE has had a firm grip on over 94% of the browser market. So, the recent successes of Firefox (1 million downloads in the first 100 hours) comes as great news. For those of you who came in late to the revolution to take back the web, here's where you need to head to pronto.

In the meanwhile, I also had a look at the browser stats on this blog and this is what I came up with.

Admittedly, the readers of this blog are probably a great deal more techno savvy than the general public. Even so, it was heartening to see IE not enjoying a total dominance as used to be the case as recently as a year ago. One hopes Firefox will prove a real competitor to IE once it moves out of beta mode.

Indian English back again 

Sometime in the dim and distant past, I had made a post linking to a comment made by Brad that English would remain the global lingua franca in the forseeable future thanks to the huge rise in the number of Indians speaking English. Brad gets support on this theory from leading language expert, David Crystal (author of English as a Global Language). Speaking at a lecture in New Delhi, Prof Crystal suggested that Indian English would become the most widely spoken variant of the language pretty soon.

"Already, a third of Indians are speaking the language, a percentage expected to rise in coming years. With the Internet spreading English like no other tool ever, and Indians at the forefront of the IT revolution, Indian English will reach around the globe and take over from British and American forms." The professor also sees the future bright for other variations of English spoken as a second language. "I believe the mother tongue countries have had their day. It is now the turn of countries where English is spoken as a second language to take the lead,"

Prof Crystal also speaks at length on how and why English grew to become the dominant global language today.

Some 1500 million people therefore speak English today, or a fourth of the world's population - the first time ever that one language has commanded such a vast following. Crystal said this has happened because English has had all kinds of powers vested in it. "The first was political power. With the growth of the British empire, many took to English as a means of accessing political power, besides those who were forced to learn it by the colonisers," he said.

"Then you have information power, the power lying in scientific texts and manuals. Two-thirds of inventors during the industrial revolution came from English-speaking countries, and people had to learn English to make use of their inventions. Even today, about 80 percent of world's scientific literature is in English." Economic and cultural power were the other reasons. English dominated the world monetary system from 19th century itself and in the 20th century also became the foremost language of cultural expression - be it through music, cinema or literature.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Camille Paglia meets Matt Drudge 

Sticking to the blogging theme, here is one of the more bizarre match-ups I have seen in recent times -- avowed feminist Camille Paglia interviewing uber-conservative muck raker, Matt Drudge. I will admit that I do read Drudge 3-4 times every day. Yes, I disagree with most of what he posts, but heck, they are mostly funny and he does scoop mainstream journalists half the time (thanks I am sure due to the earpiece Karl Rove gave him). Reading through the interview, I was surprised by several points Drudge (whom everyone assumes to be an arch conservative) makes...

But the Internet restrictions make me particularly crazy. Hands off my downloads, Hilary Rosen! Get out of my hard drive, Mr. Ashcroft! It's none of their business. And, ironically, Ashcroft argued as a senator that there should be no Big Brother police state on e-mails, even with the most heinous crimes. So to hide behind the World Trade Center to start going into our hard drives is a complete folly, and the Bush administration will pay the price with votes.

I was actually very on the fence on the war. It put me in a difficult position. If you've noticed, I thought I did a pretty clever job of at least sharing with readers what the U.K. Mirror, the Independent, all these antiwar outlets were doing. Probably it was perceived as just mischief-making, but it reflected my own lack of clarity about the war issue. I don't have to be clear, though. I'm not a politician.

Drudge had doubts about the Iraq war? Hmmmm.....I also agree with his take on the state of mainstream media today.

I used to think, at the beginning of the '90s, that we had a relatively free press and that people were out to make their reputations in the Woodward-Bernstein model. But I no longer think that. Most of the reporters on the networks and in main northeastern newspapers are company men—shmoozing careerists who are desperately afraid to rock the boat.

And if you thought, like I did, that Drudge was the grandfather of all the current crop of political bloggers, think again.

In the end I really don't care what I'm called, as long as it's not blogger.

Wonkette at Columbia 

Wonkette is a blog I thoroughly enjoy reading. Noone is bitchier about beltway politics than Wonkette. So, I was thrilled to actually go hear Ana Marie Cox in person at Columbia. I spent some time afterwards chatting with her. First off, she's married (why did it seem otherwise?). Secondly, she's a remarkably cool and down-to-earth individual who had some really funny stories to share about Joe Lockhart and the *least* powerful men in Washington (apparently there's a federal bureau that does nothing but convert from metric). Thirdly, Tucker Carlson thought she was a conservative!!

She also had some interesting thoughts about political blogs. In response to a question I had posed about the NYT carrying a story about Faux News's Carl Cameron making up Kerry quotes without crediting Josh Marshall, who had in fact broken the story, she seemed to think that was the nature of the game -- the big guy not giving a damn about the little guy. Apparently, the NYT would do the same if it appropriated a story from a smaller news outlet. Interesting strategy to become the newspaper of record, I'd say.

Anyway, hearing Ms Cox convinced me I needed to come out of my self-imposed exile from blogging (mostly due to travel). To celebrate the occasion of meeting Wonkette, I have also added a new link to her blog. Enjoy.

Sell or Donate? 

An excerpt from an Economist article quoting someone who managed to distribute 348m condoms and 29m oral contraceptives in Africa, Asia and Latin America last year. Phil Harvey, who owns one of the largest adult entertainment groups and also a non-profit that specializes in distributing condoms and contraceptives in poor regions, says that

rather than donating contraceptives it is better to market and sell them—even if only for pennies. This brings lots of shopkeepers and others into the distribution network, and it also means customers are more likely to value—and therefore use properly—something they have paid for.

The same logic applies to many products distributed freely by non-profits, especially in regions of the world where the non-profit organization's network is not developed.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Robot videos 

I was at Fry's, and I saw the $100 Robosapien on sale. Check out these cool videos of Mark Tilden with Robosapien. The second one on the page is really cool! I love that international caveman language that Robosapien speaks. I also happened across Aibo at the Metreon the other time. There seem to be so many robots floating around. This article in Businessweek summarizes the state of the market.

Some of today's most popular entertainment robots are little more than toys, but they're attracting plenty of attention. With 67 preprogrammed moves controlled by a remote, Wow Wee's $100 Robosapiens have been hot sellers at Fry's Electronics and other U.S. stores. At the other end of the price spectrum is Sony's $1,800 robot canine, Aibo ERS-7, which can fetch, respond to its owner's voice, take photos, and find its recharger when its batteries run low.

Check out this video of Asimo going the stairs. From a robotics perspective, it is harder to implement sophisticated movement with bipedal robots than with six legged ones, and with wheeled ones. Since C3PO had reached quite a decent level of sophistication of walking during the historical timeframe shown in the "Star Wars", I would love to have been able to see what its six-legged and wheeled brethren could do.

News from Mars 

The news from Mars is that they have fresh evidence that there were significant quantities of water on the planet.

Opportunity was the first to send back evidence that a salty sea once covered the area where it landed, a flat plain known as the Meridiani Planum. Spirit also found signs that the massive Gusev Crater, where it landed, had seen small amounts of water.

Now, recent data sent back by Opportunity suggests the area had a second drenching sometime after the plains dried out, scientists said.

The Martian rovers have been nothing short of spectacular. The guys have been making some amazing discoveries while being controlled from here on earth. That should also be a huge plug for robotics and Artificial Intelligence, in general.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

LP (India) writer's blog 

Ever wondered what the travel guide writer must have gone through to get all that information. Well, here's a blog that tracks Matt Phillips' task of updating Lonely Planet's India guide.

G7 (+1) 

The G7 countries met last Friday in Washington. Also invited was China – making the G7 less anachronistic. However, as The Economist notes, China’s invitation might be as much due to it’s inflexible currency policy (China has maintained a peg of 8.28 yuan to a dollar since 1995) as it is for the country’s increasing economic importance. If China heeds to the demands of the G7 countries to move to a more flexible currency regime, the American deficit would surely look less menacing. This, however, is unlikely to occur soon. China, like it had said last year, has promised to follow a steady road towards a market oriented exchange policy although it backed out of giving any timeline. The dollar promptly rose. I suspect John Snow (“We’ll talk to the Chinese about currency flexibility and the need to accelerate the path to it.”) is not pleased.

p.s. The article also mentions the arguments for and against debt relief and Bono’s speech last week. A discussion of debt relief is perhaps an issue for another post – any takers?

FAT patent 

From this story from the Toronto Globe and Mail, one of Microsoft's patents (U.S. Patent no. 5579517) based on its FAT file system was rejected. Based on my reading of the claims of the patent, the patent essentially claims the ability to have long and short file names in the file system using two directory entries. In a nutshell, this is the idea of using a phony entry in the Directory Table to store long file names. I played basketball with Arun, one of the co-inventors on the patent, when I was at Microsoft. Here is wishing him luck.

In a preliminary ruling, the U.S. government rejected Microsoft Corp.'s 1996 patent on technology for saving files on computers using easy-to-remember names.

Microsoft vowed Thursday to appeal the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's decision, setting the stage for what could be long-running negotiations. The office could eventually decide to reject it outright, let it stand or change its scope.

The patent covers technology widely used on computers running Microsoft's Windows operating system. In more recent years, it has also been used for naming files from devices that work with Windows, like digital cameras and portable music players.

How India helped defeat the Nazis 

[From Kuldeep Amarnath] A recent BBC article entitled "Hitler's secret Indian army" has been doing the rounds. So, the Indians were basically Nazi collaborators in the Second World War? Not even close. [This post is a spin-off from an earlier comment]

The Indian contribution to the Allied effort against the Axis was tremendous. According to this article from the BBC, '[t]here were over two and a half million Indian citizens in uniform during the war'. Which other countries had more people who served in the War? The USSR had more than 8 million people killed, so no contest there. It is a fair guess that the United States and China had more people who served, but it appears that even Canada and Australia, who were tremendous allies in the Allied war effort, had fewer people who served. I don't know anybody who questions the involvement of the Australians, who were actively involved in the Pacific theater, or that of the Canadians, who after all even participated in the Normandy landing. However, online estimates place the number of Canadians who served at around one million and the number of Australians who served also at around one million.

The Fourth Indian Division also fought in North Africa, Syria, Palestine, Cyprus and then in Italy. Together with the 8th and 10th Division it participated in the taking of Monte Cassino, after which it was moved to Greece. Four men of the Fourth were awarded Victoria Crosses.

Over 36,000 Indian members of the armed forces were killed or went missing in action, and 64,354 were wounded during the war. Indian personnel received 4,000 awards for gallantry, and 31 VCs.

The land of India also served as an assault and training base, and provided vast quantities of foods and other materials to British and Commonwealth forces, and to the British at home. This necessitated the involvement of more millions of men and women in war work and war production.

It is not just the number of military personnel. If you look at the country-by-country civilian death tolls for all countries in the world at the time (and this includes a number of deaths due to secondary causes such as famine), India is number 5.

USSR: 20.0M
China: 10.45M
Poland: 5.8M
Germany: 5.5M
India: 2.15M

I am not able to get accurate numbers for the French involvement in terms of the number of French citizens who served online. As for the British, many of the numbers include people who were part of the Empire, but were not British citizens. They were included when it came to the numbers, but not in certain other respects, it appears.

In all, some 166,500 Africans were involved in helping to defeat the Japanese. They, and most Indian troops, had to serve under British officers, as colonials were not thought to be 'officer material'.

Although Churchill lifted the colour bar, he sent telegrams to every Embassy and High Commission, telling them to find 'adminstrative means' to reject black volunteers. In the US, black pilots and doctors who had offered to volunteer were refused, as a result of this instruction.

That would very likely put India in the top 7 or 8 in terms of the number of people who served from the Allied side, if not in the top 5. The few thousand troops who went with Bose are simply not comparable to the number of Indians who fought against the Axis, and fought well. The courage and sacrifice of the two and half million Indians is to be remembered and honored even as those of the others who fought with them. India's contribution to the Allied effort in the Second World War ranked with the best. Now, that is fair and balanced.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Influential Books 

Thanks to google, I came across this rather interesting website with a collection of several 'greatest books' lists. The objective was to get to the list of 100 most influential books since the war published by the Times Literary Supplement. The list, one of the several on this site, focuses on social sciences, philosophy, history and science - dated but useful.
I wonder if someone has a 'book club' blog that picks books by this (or some such commonly agreeable list) and discusses them in today's context.